Pa'Aerth

...in this deck, the High Priest and the Fool are the same card.

Late October, European Calendar; Mekhir Waning, the time of Going Forth, Stygian Civil Calendar

As has been the case with many entries of late, recent days have seen the passing of many new things. Our group has been tested by the natural and supernatural…and emerged the better in all cases. We have begun clearing the land that was awarded to the Gray Hand for actions in the defense of Avignon. Much work remains before the vision we have shared will take root and grow…but the course has been set and we are started on our path.

In our efforts to rid the land of dangers, we uncovered a dark thing below the fortifications in Vacluse – A temple to foulness, intact with rotten guardians and their master enshrined. We brought the beasts to heel, but not without undue trouble. Treachery and spite allowed the master of these wretches, a soul dedicated to evil and disorder, to take possession of our compatriot, Connor.

Age nor power seem to be a trump to discipline and orderly thought…for the ancient evil was easily duped with promise of mayhem and spreading of human misery. As such, it willingly allowed itself to be delivered into the hands of its sworn enemy – the Church of the Great Deceiver.

It satisfies me to think of that mighty, twisted spirit…trapped in that mace for ages untold…driven, single mindedly toward the destruction of the Maker…an author of untold destruction and malevolence…faced with what now lay ahead for it. It is a pity that its screams are silent.

So be it. It is away from us, Connor is returned and the Gray Hand may have gained some leverage on taxes in the exchange.

It is important to capture here that in all these dealings, Emrys did not prove false. She worked her portion of our agreement exactly as agreed. Such was a pleasant surprise and has earned her further consideration for future endeavors.

As such, our journey to Avignon has concluded and we are set on the way back to Vacluse. Once returned, we will resume our work to reestablish civilization. To this end, I had hoped to find evidence that the Stygian archers of the Red Circle had survived the attacks on Avignon…word on the street is that they died at their post. Such men would have served well in both finding game and as constables in the securing of our space in the dark of the wood.

I have almost forgotten…on the topic of darkness…we have met the High Priest of Vacluse, a recently vested Inquisitor named Saul. He is full of wisdom that is not his own and overflows with stories he has been taught to share. It will be interesting to watch how he manages what he finds in his dealings with the Gray Hand. Perhaps we can persuade him to accompany us into the lands of Pandemonium. He has boasted that he should like to have his faith tested…with such charges as his…he should be careful for what he wishes.

The fire grows dim here and must be tended. I shall provide another update once we have returned to our holdings.

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New Beginnings

And so it begins, we set in motion our elite plan on a grand scale. We set the church against itself by entrapping the mystical creature within Connor to deliver it back to it’s creator in the church. Oh how wonderful our guise. Now the fools must reward us even further through their folly. The joy of seeing them suffer in their labor as they do our bidding. This room that we are in holds many secrets to which I could divine and use for future plans. I anxiously await the purge of this entity and hope that I can figure out how it’s bound or captured. I can feel the energy pulsating throughout the chamber and welcome the unknown with rabid anticipation.

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Taming the Beast - Connor

Having defeated the evil beast within the caverns, we rested within the village of Vauclusa. But, there is work to be done within the caverns to investigate other potential access points upwards to the Fort. I must also decide how best to defeat and control the malignancy that caused the wights. For now, I will endeavour to protect my companions by studying the item, hoping to chance upon a method that will neutralize its effects. So far, I am strong enough to withstand its attempts to contact me. I will continue to struggle and keep the Grey Hand safe. I shudder to think what might occur if it were to become dominant within a group as powerful as ours.

We return to the caverns, and disable (permanently?) the Symbol of Pain trap. Exploring the passageways and small mausoleum chambers, we find one room vacant, one room full of the dead, and one room blackened with soot. Necahual offers to speak with one of the dead, hoping to find some answers. She expects that we should be able to ask 4, perhaps 5, questions. They must be detailed and specific, as she explains the dead are unwilling to be disturbed.

She animates the residual lifeforce of one of the bodies and begins to ask our questions..

1) Is there another way out other than the main door to this hall?
The only path is the path to Kharneth. (As I recall from my religious studies, he is one of the elder gods of Chaos.)

2) Whilst living, who was the person buried in the coffin?
The “Butcher of Souls”.

3) Are there secret chambers with this hall?
Foul answers and non-compliance.

4) Are there other worked rooms in the tunnels?
Foul answers and non-compliance.

5) What was the purpose of the small, soot-stained room behind the dais?
To bring souls to Kharneth.

So, we uncover yet more Chaos here within the demesnes of Avignon and France. The forces are strong here. This Kharneth worshipping cult must have been the downfall of Vauclusa. We leave the Hall, burning the wight bodies as we do. Searching the caverns yields nothing. Depending on Lewanna for her skills in survival and searching, we eventually determine that we’ve covered all the spaces within.

We rest and upon awakening, I am challenged again by the Presence. Rage, hate, vileness, contempt, chaos.. it all spins through my head but I am strong. We leave the caverns and head to the Fortress above. Searching all three dilapidated buildings finds nothing.

DAMN and All. What have I been doing! I read through my older notes and wonder if I have been in asleep. Perhaps, I’ve been dreaming my way through some imagined wonderland of life, blown in the wind as others take the lead! This will change, NOW.

What in the seven levels of Hel is this futile progress that we make searching through shit and foul bedding. There is NOTHING here to find in the fort. Instead of wasting our time, we should be strengthening ourselves to confront the forces of the Maker! This is a fool’s errand we have undertaken. The Maker’s children in Avignon should be our next “project”, destroying them while they are weak and mewling like worms. The almost-defeat they somehow survived at the hands of the Chaos Cults has made them ripe for the taking.

Erebus is getting on my nerves, for months, he has been cajoling me to lend my support to Sutekh Djet. Now, I feel as though a veil has been removed from my eyes.. and he is HESITANT! What is this? I am his supporter and companion, but he is becoming a stone around my neck, asking me why I act as I do. What does he think? I am a staunch supporter of the Grey Hand, and now can see how it can be used to fulfill our Destiny. The time to move is Now!

Now we discuss and “vote” for the change to reclaim our Power through a trip to Pandemonium. How can we NOT go and still look at ourselves in a mirror, proud of our efforts. We must grasp every possible chance to grow and expand our potential. NOW. We must walk the planes with Kiel NOW. These puny bastards fear the planes.. I become disgusted with them. Erebus continues to nag me.. Perhaps he is a stumbling block to our Success?? For now, I need them all. That may change.. or I may change the composition of the Grey Hand through my own creative efforts.

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The Way of the Creator

Middle October, European Calendar; Mekhir Waxing, the time of Going Forth, Stygian Civil Calendar

Here in the quiet of Vacluse…far from the grinding and constant noise of Avignon and recent battles…only the buzzing and croaking of night creatures disturb one’s thoughts. On nights like this, I look up at the sky and the myriad stars and wonder at the beauty of this place.

And in doing so I am reminded of the Prophet Anok-Sebek’s teaching on the Way of the Creator.  If I can recall this lesson, it was  –

     ‘Do you want, my brother, to go into solitude? Would you seek the way yourself? Pause just a moment and listen to me.

     ‘He who seeks may easily get lost himself. All solitude is guilt – or so proclaims the herd. You, brother, have so long belonged to the herd that it’s voice echoes deep within you. When you say, “I no longer have a common conscience with the herd “ it will be a lament and an agony.

     ‘For that agony itself was born of one and the same conscience and the last glimmer of that conscience still glows within you and betrays your affliction.”

     ‘You say you want to go the way of your affliction, which you expect is the way to yourself? If you are true, then show your right and the strength to do so! Do you possess some new strength or a new right? Are you a first motion? A self-propelling wheel? Can you compel the stars in the heavens to revolve around you?

     ‘No. You can not. Yet there is so much lusting for heights! There is a convulsion of ambition! So me that you are not of the lustful and ambitious!

     ‘There are so many great thoughts that do no more than a bellows: they puff up and make emptier.

     ‘You call yourself  free? I want to hear your ruling thought – not that you are escaped from a yoke.

    ‘Are you one of those entitled to escape from a yoke? There are many who cast away there final worth when they cast away their servitude.

    ‘Free from what, then?! What does it matter to old Anok-Sebek! Even so, your eye should clearly show me – FREE FOR WHAT?!

    ‘Can you give yourself you evil and your good and hang your will above your head as law? Can you be judge for your own self and avenger of your law?

    ‘It is terrible to be alone with the judge and avenger of one’s own law. Thus is a star thrown forth into the void and into the icy breath of solitude.

    ‘Today you still suffer from the multitude, you individual: today you still have all your courage and your hopes.

    ‘One day solitude will weary you. One day your pride will yield and your courage will quail. You will one day cry: “I am alone!”

     ‘One day you will no longer see your loftiness and will see your lowliness. Your sublimity of self will frighten you as if it were a ghost! You will then cry out: “All is false!”

     ‘There are feelings that will want to kill the lonesome one; and if they do not succeed, they themselves must die! Are you capable of murder?

     ‘Have you ever known, brother, the word “contempt”? In so doing have you known the anguish of your justice in being just to those who despise you?

     ‘You force many to think differently about you; they charge that heavily to your account. You came near them and yet went past: for that most will never forgive!

    ‘You go above and beyond them; but the higher you rise, the smaller you appear in the eye of envy. Even so, the one who flies is hated most of all.

    ‘How could you be just to me? You must instead say, “I choose your injustice as my due portion.”

    ‘They throw their injustice and filth at the lonely one: but brother, if you would be a star, you must shine no less for them on that account!

    ‘In so doing, beware the good and just! They would crucify those that devise their own virtue – they hate the lonely one.

    ‘Be wary of holy simplicity! All that is not simple is unholy to it – and it plays with fire too – as well as the stake.

    ‘To many men you should not give your hand – only a paw; and I would want your paw to have claws too!

    ‘Know these things and that the worst enemy will always be one’s own self; you lie in wait for yourself in caverns and forests.

    ‘Lonely one, you are going the way to yourself! And your way goes past yourself and to your seven devils!

    ‘You will be a heretic to yourself and a witch and soothsayer and fool and doubter and unholy one and a villain!

    ‘You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame: how could you become new if you do not first become ashes!

    ‘Lonely one, you are going the way of the Creator; you would create a god of yourself from your seven devils!

    ‘My tears follow you into your loneliness, my brother. I treasure him who seeks to create over and beyond himself and thus – perishes.’     

These were the words of Anok-Sebek.

I am alone. I have companions, but they are not of like mind. They hop about like frogs from one desire to the next. They fear and avoid focus as if it were an executioner’s killing stroke.

We are a collection of individuals and, as such, are weaker as a result.  

I am alone. My own kinsman, Olliver, seems distant even though we are the only two of our kind we would find even in months of travel. He partakes of devotions, but we have shared only a few memories of distant Stygia. Now Connor, even, has been claimed by some malignant force. I would be eager to match his enthusiasm for bringing down the Deceiver…if the words were his.

I am alone. While I keep devotions, I do not hear the fiery voice of Sutekh Djet. His touch is distant and his will unknown.

These situations have brought me into dealings with Emrys. I do not trust her, but I will see our agreement through to aid Connor and sow madness within the ranks of the Deluded. Our plan is a simple thing – and it serves Emrys well to travel our agreed course to conclusion.

If we work together, we can serve multiple purposes and create great advantage for ourselves. For some, however, this is not enough reason!

If she reveals herself false, may Darkness curse me in death and set me on the path of vengeance.

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Clearing the nest
Holding our own

Entering the inner chamber we encounter a ward which causes pain to some members of the party. I stand steadfast and resolved as I shake the power of this trap. We find area chamber filled with wights and a coffin set upon a dias. A silver thread forms a bond to the lid which we break. Exploding forth from it’s tomb lies a warrior in heavy armor with glowing red eyes. Avari s a staggering blow to the fiend as it rises to it’s feet. The blow is pronounced and the warrior calls for his guards to protect him. From the walls come several wights which drained power from a few of our party. Tobadzistsini protects me. The battle is fierce as Avari falls the leader with a thunderous blow from Rancor. More wights fall when the lord began to rise from the ground. The leader then commanded that members bow to him,…some kneel. Avari then takes the battle back to the re-spawn leader and causes him to retreat. My party members came to their senses and were able to continue the attack. We combined our attacks and defeated the enemy with a resounding thud as the final foe fell. The cost was very high. We leave the area in order to recoup from our injuries and recover our resources. We plan our re-entry.

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Diversions and distractions

Early October, European Calendar; Mekhir Waxing, the time of Going Forth, Stygian Civil Calendar

Though much has happened since my last entry to this journal, haste demands this brevity.

The forces of Chaos were routed at Avignon. How they managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory I am not certain. It seems to be a favored trick of the Deceiver – delivering his faithful from the end they have earned.

I have also grown more certain that Destiny is a cruel master – with a long memory. The turn of events at Avignon found us honored among those who raised sword or wove sorcery to defend the city. This honor included noble titles for each of my companions and a grant of land…the domain of Vacluse…for the Hand. The land came with a maintenance requirement and, therefore, a necessity for development. This investment in the Hand could certainly address prior concerns others have had about establishing a base of operations – intentions that, until now – have gone ignored because we did not intend to stay. Now we find ourselves entrusted with a gift that will certainly afford the Hand many advantages – and to reap these rewards, we must remain close…if not attached to it.

One facet to consider is that the Hand must govern the grant. Each of us have been appointed roles that must be filled to ensure that the necessary affairs of state are carried out to good effect. Erik has taken to the role of General…and will raise and manage any army that our land will require. Nachual has taken up the title of Marshal and will patrol the wild spaces at our borders – perhaps with minions of her own creation. Kael, for lack of a more intuitive selection, was asked to manage the treasury and Olliver will serve as our chief academic and educator. Connor will serve our representative in matters of diplomacy and Avari will establish our clandestine services and information networks.

For me, Destiny intended that I find myself back in a role for which I am familiar. I am to protect the leadership of the Hand and ensure that the cities are free of the human filth that would violate our laws and circumstances that tempt disturbances of the peace.  Not unlike my years among the Fangs of Set protecting the High Priest and his sorcerors.

Of Emrys, there is disappointment. We saw it fit to place her in the role of ruler. In this she would be the public face of the Hand and lend her particular skills to the execution of this role among the nobles and highborn of other realms and domains. It would seem she has misunderstood the intention of this placement. While the benefit of her in this place is evident in her planning through how to best utilize our grant to best effect, a side of her has become evident that causes concern. She has taken to broad pronouncements and notions of privilege…even among the very members of the Hand that have seen fit to place her in such a position.

It may become necessary to align her…and other new associates met at Avignon…to the arrangement that we have through the Hand. The Hand is the owner of the grant, not any single member of the organization. Additionally, while it is clear that we need people to fill the roles that we have appointed, the decisions of direction and purpose of this grant will fall to the full members of the Gray Hand organization. To date, Emrys has not embraced the requirements of full membership…and will need to do so to have even a single vote to cast. Until then, those with full membership can hear her ideas and proposals…and make necessary decisions as it befits the Hand, not Emrys.

I will discuss this among others and propose that we hold a discussion to ensure that this is clear to all and, if agreed, invest those with interest with the opportunity to gain full membership in the Hand.

In the morning, we set out to clear the caves and caverns beneath a villa on our grant…perhaps there will be some important discovery here that will yet again reveal the Hand of Destiny in our adventures here.

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The work begins...
Surveying the land

As we enter the village I see a Orc step out of a building to my right. Quickly it bolt’s inside only to run out of the back with others in it’s group. I make mention of their route of egress as it m may be the area in which they return. Myself and Oliver clear the remaining buildings of many further vermin only to find filth upon filth strewn floors and walls. Erebus and I begin to make regular patrols of the area. We reform with the rest of the party to discuss how we should go about exploring the mountain pass that meets with the waterfall. The waters here are polluted with Orcs and their filth. Connor sets about to cleanse the pool. I am told that a water spirit of some sort lives here and Connor is trying to make contact with it.

Setting out to explore the tunnels leading up to the manor we find a few undead. One wearing the armor of a High Priestess and the other of an Inquisitor. Broken weapons lying around the rubble. Emrys request to have the armor and weapons of both of the fallen. Lawanna shape shifts into an earth elemental and digs through the collapsed area of the tunnel until we find a worked area of the tunnel with another undead in our path. Crushing the creature we are faced with a locked door. Emrys defeats the lock and traps and the group advances. We have to maintain our discipline in order to prevail in this element….much danger is ahead.

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Rebuilding Vauclusa - Part 2 - The Caverns (Connor)

- Rebuilding Vauclusa – June 27, 2013 – Sept 24th, Wednesday, 1208 -

For our immediate future, we will clean up our new holdings..

We have arrived.. with Lewanna’s new pack of dogs. As we enter the hamlet, we come upon a small band of Orcs lounging in one of the buildings. As they catch sight of us, the gibber to each other, then run as fast as possible out the back door. No worry.. if they return, we will “clean” then as well.

Evaluating the hamlet, we see that it will take awhile to get it into usable shape. Lots of hard work and generally mind-numbing cleaning ahead of us. I wander to the river and find it polluted with dead fish and dead Orcs. No time like the present, so I begin cleanup.. it’ll take the rest of today and part of tomorrow at my best guess. I use my unseen energies to drag the bodies onto the far shore, with plans to burn the garbage once completed.

We sleep together in the Druid’s conjured campsite, feast on goodberries. Next day I continue on the river.. still no sight of our lovely river nymph. Around noon, I finish cleaning up the river new the hamlet and have some lunch. We decide that it is time to start exploring the caverns beneath the Fort, searching for usable resources in the caves, hoping to find stairs up into the Fort.

We search through the cave, finding the other exit we’ve seen before. Turning back, we take another turn and find a caved-in section of the tunnels as well as worked-stone. This must have some tie-in to the foundations of the Fort above. Lewanna transforms into an earth elemental and begins digging through the mess.

Suddenly, she spies a skeletal hand covered in tattered clothing. The clothes appear to be those of a Priestess of the Maker. As she digs up to it, the skeleton stands and attacks. Its eye sockets glow red and it reaches for us. We dispatch it and find another skeleton.. This one in the red lacquered armor of an inquisitor of the Maker. It does not animate, but Emrys takes the opportunity to acquire the broken armor. I believe that one of us with arcane or divine magic may be able to mend it.

As Lewanna clears the rubble, we come to a closed stone portal marked by the glowing symbol of the Maker. After attempting to hold a Symbol of the Maker up to the door and receiving no response, Emrys tries a different approach. She concentrates, using her talents, shifting what I can only imagine is her magical aura. As she holds the Symbol up to the door again, we hear noises within the wall that sounds like bolts and locks shifting. As we push the door open, we spy wights on the other side, red eyes glowing and ready to attack…

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New Lords
Just Reward

Leaving Avignon for Vaucluse we openly discuss our new positions that we will cover while we clear out our new domain. Our obligations have increased tremendously with this new found bounty…or is it? The burden of having to align ourselves to this wretched kingdom turns my stomach; I take solace in the day I will drive them before me, hobbled, chained, and bound. Second watch…the air is disturbed with the howl of a pack of wolfs setting in upon us. The alarm is raised and we muster to slay the beast when Lewana changed form and challenged the pack leader. Slaying the Alpha, she dominated the rest of he pack. Arrows saved as far as I care, perhaps these animals can be used to assist us in our travels. I thank Tobadzistsini the Great War Spirit for guiding my hand in the death of so many of the enemy. I vow that many more will fall to my hand as I pronounce his greatness.

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Notes from The Gray Hand's acquisition of Vauclusa - Olliver
(+ OOC annotations)

After much discussion we, the remaining members of The Gray Hand, have decided on our intended roles and responsibilities concerning the administration of our newly acquired holdings. (for the time being)

-Emrys is to be the Ruler of Vauclusa (Cha +5 to Economy)
-Lewana shall act as Councilor (Wis +5 to Loyalty)
-Eric will hold the position of General (Str +5 to Stability)
-Connor will use his talents as our Grand Diplomat (Int +5 Stability)
-The High Priest is to be appointed by The Church of The Maker (Wis +4 Stability)
-Olliver will serve as Magister (Int +7 to Economy)
-Necahual will Marshall our lands (Wis +3 to Economy)
-Avari shall lend his talents as Spymaster (Dex +4 Economy)
-Kael is to serve as Treasurer (Wis +5 Economy)
-Erebus will stand as our Warden (Str +3 Stability)

Stability Check Modifier: +17
Economy Check Modifier: +24
Loyalty Check Modifier: +5

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