17th day of Abolition, 13th year of Morlas
The sun is setting, but I’ve managed to slip away from the Tower past the lax eye of its so-called defenders. The Dipped Quill, a small inn just within the city walls had a room available, sold cheap candles, and had the aroma of warm stew drifting in from the kitchen. Pork Gumbo, the innkeeper called it, and with the room was surprisingly cheap for a few coppers.
I sit now on a threadbare chair, using the first inch of my bought candle to document this journey. It has been years since I slept outside of the tower, yet even this was my first time in an inn. Shutters thrown wide I let the sounds of the city wash in but kept my chair far back enough to hopefully not catch the smells. The inn is on a quiet backstreet, but still the din of music and drinking from downstairs and the general city murmur acted like a beat to the cries of seagulls winding down for their evening rest. Once I have finished checking my pack, I am going to join them, testing their ale and, more importantly, their gumbo.
This is the first day of my Trial of Vulnerability, and I feel like I have yet to truly begin it, sitting in warmth with the promise of food to fill my belly. Yet, I know hard days are to come, indeed, they must come, for what has surprised me most in my tenure in the tower is that the arcane is surprisingly practical. It uses the tools of your own experience to comprehend and utilise the subtle alien energies of magic. Even now, my one known, one prepared spell thrums in my mind, curiosity manifest, aching to be released and to understand what it sees. Alas, part of my trial is to hold it in its mental prison, to await journeys end, to gain, hopefully, my prize. I must endure its bleed out, its drive to discover all things, and hope it does not drive me to excess at the ale barrels.
I must admit, there is trepidation for my journey. I must hide my nature in public, merely appear to be a young scribe journeying for a contract in the country. My pack feels heavy but is light. A small tent, a bedroll, 2 rabbit snares, a pocketknife, spark stick, a pot of ink, 2 quills, my journal, a small book on edible plants, an oilskin to wrap them, a cookpot, 10 days of dried rations, a small flask of brandy, my waterskin, twine, spare under clothes, cloak, and walking staff. My coin purse holds 2 silver and 5 coppers. This journey should take 30 days, but there are inns, woodlands, and rivers to replenish my supplies.
18th day of Abolition, 13th year of Morlas
Today has been one of discovery. The lands beyond the city wall, the rolling hills, nestled woodlands, and the reason why the “Pork” Gumbo was so cheap. I write this huddled in my bedroll, shivers wracking my body. I would throw up if anything was left to come out. My waterskin has been drained and refilled 3 times so far in an attempt to flush out my body.
The day started out so well, a light breakfast of breads and cheese, a mug of bracing coffee. As I left the inn, the weather was warm, there was little wind, and the city seemed in a good mood as I made my way through the western gate and struck out along the southwestern road. It was packed earth, not being the main trade route west, but was well trod by the local farmers and tradesmen. I was to make 15 miles today, and reach the village of Hemmay Post, which had an inn of the same name.
The boundary farms and fields were busy today, being Abolition, and the fields were being stripped and prepared for the planting, barns and walls were being cleaned and repaired, and livestock were still acquainting themselves to the outside world after their long cold months of captivity. More than an hour of conversing with the farmhands were spent satisfying the thrumming curiosity in my skull, not all which I could blame on the arcane prisoner I held there.
It was as the cultivated fields gave way to walled livestock pens and then to untended grass and meadows, did the first feelings of nausea and vertigo visit me. At first, I thought it was the nerves of being so exposed, of the journey ahead of me. I soldiered on, drinking in the sites of countryside and the ephemeral barrier where civilisation gave way to the wilds.
It was after coming to a ford of a small stream did it hit me. I had wondered upstream looking for some fast-flowing water in which to refill my skin when a clawed hand grabbed my insides and squeezed. The next few hours were spent, to put it delicately, purging my digestive system. Luckily the nearby stream meant I had a source of water, and I was far away enough from the road that I felt safe pitching my tent and curling up inside.
At the end of my auspicious first day, I have likely travelled only 5 miles. I have no map, but the directions I was given were simple. South to Hemmay Post, west to Stedding Fields, and into the Hunting Woods. Therein lies my destination, Firewatch Tower.
The sun is still in the sky but will set soon. I do not think I will be able to eat this evening, but tomorrow is a new day.
20th Day of Abolition, 13th year of Morlas
The last 2 days have been horrific. I feel my luck has been stretched to its breaking point. That I am even able to write once again in this journal is astounding, for the feeling has only just returned to my hands, with flash itching and hot needles searing the skin. A stool supports me and all the blankets I have found in this rustic inn, and my city candle is all I have for light since I barred the shutters for warmth. Still, I have not been poisoned by the food of the Hemmay Post, so it has elevated itself from the city inns in that respect.
The morning after my streamside ordeal began with notes of optimism. I was able to keep down some food, and using my foraging book, managed to even find some fresh greens! Fiddlehead ferns, dandelions, and morel mushrooms for some welcome freshness with the hard tack. The dandelion roots I tied to outside of my pack to dry. The book told me that a brew made of roasted dried roots tastes surprisingly like coffee, and I was eager to try.
As my boots once again found the trail to Hemmay Post, the optimism quickly faded. Out of the tree cover, the wind was cold and biting. Looming on the western horizon, rising ahead of me like a titan of legend, was a wall of thick, black, boiling clouds. While the journey was but 10 miles, I did not think I would be able to make it to Hemmay before that storm hit. I steeled myself for hardship, ensured my pack was secure, and strode towards the storm wall.
I thought I would be able to handle the storm, but when it finally consumed me, I understood the depths of my hubris. The wind cut through my clothes like paper, the rain and snow stole the little warmth I had and quickly turned the ground into a clawing, grabbing swamp. The patchy woodlands were far to the east now, and I had since descended into the sparce valley where Hemmay lay. The village would be no refuge now, for it was still miles down the exposed valley, and in just getting off the trail to crouch in the lee of a tree, the storm had closed such that visibility was in feet. I had to find shelter, and soon. In the hours before the storm hit, I had spied some boulders down the valley, large enough to break some of the wind and were within the range I thought my body could travel: a mile or so.
It’s hard to describe holding the knowledge that if I fell and did not rise, I would likely die. I trudged alongside the dirt path, now a river of freezing mud waves breaking to the east. What I thought were wild animals huddled against the weather, turned out to be rocks, or bushes, dressing themselves with thickening snow. My feet became stone stilts on which I balanced; my hands became useless clubs.
Like a mountain redoubt, the boulders I had been seeking resolved themselves through the rain. 15 feet tall, they offered some protection from the wind, but the snow was still rolling from atop, forming drifts against their bulk. Hoping, praying, for a reprieve from the weather, I crawled into a gap between 2 stones where the snow had yet to drift. Unable to pitch my tent, I simply used it as a bag for myself, my pack, and my bedroll, and hoped it would hold what little body heat I had remaining. I chewed on my near frozen greens and tack, and took a swig of brandy, hoping the warmth would help.
The wind ripping around the rocks sounded like a banshees wail and try as I might I could not fight the bitter cold and sleep for more than a few moments. I shivered in my bedroll and hoped, prayed, that the storm would end. The light faded as I chewed on more tack, but still the wind howled its fury. Outside my hole the snow had drifted and piled up to the entrance of my haven, slowly insulating the space I had claimed from sound, light, and thankfully, the cold. I slept.
Waking with short breaths, I managed to flail myself free of my roll and tent, to feel around my dark little hole. Feeling had not returned to my hands, but a section of wall was more pliable than the rest, and with mad desperate clawing, a hole appeared, filling the hole with light and air. I stuffed my bedroll and tent into my pack, and used it as a shovel to dig my way to the outside.
It was there that I found him. Curled in a ball against one of the stones, dressed in rags, bleeding from the head and arms. Long, lank hair frozen to his face. Breath expelled from him as misty clouds, dispersing into the air. Not dead, but not far from it. Visibility was much better on this day, and I could see the lights and smoke of Hemmay no more than 2 miles down the valley. Though I felt near death myself, the confrontation with its true state shook me out of my delusion. I was cold, I was tired, but I was very much alive. Heaving him on to my shoulders, as I have seen the sea wardens do, I began my slow march.
Even with the extra weight on my shoulders, the lack of wind made progress easier than yesterday. The man barely weighed anything, and his bony ribs were quite uncomfortable as they poked my shoulders. It was cold enough that the path retained its sea in storm undulations, but my feet held true. As the sun fully breached the valley walls I made it to the outer fields of the village. Wind had torn fences, walls, livestock. The hard work of Abolition would need to be redone.
A group of tabarded men spotted me and approached, shouting on seeing the charge I was carrying. One took him onto his own shoulder and headed towards the village with the rest, while one stayed behind to escort me in. As I managed to enter the blessedly warm Hemmay Post Inn and order rooms and hot food, my escort stayed for a drink. He explained I was very lucky, for the man I found was an escaped prisoner on his way to meet the Mayor’s justice for banditry. A known murderer, who had once held a price on his head – a fraction I was to receive on the morrow for his recapture.
I was left to ponder what would have happened if he discovered me in my hide while he had strength, before heading to my room to finally sleep.