The 1st Month of the 2nd Year of the Kingdom of Arboria
It has been years since I recorded anything in this journal, but the last few weeks have been so strange that perhaps it is time to take up the habit again. Upon my return from Varynhold (a story in itself, but for another day), I found the city of Bandit's Rest in flames. The citizenry's panicked description was a 30' tall beast, part owl, part bear, which had savaged the city guard and destroyed many of the buildings. Being unemployed, I volunteered my services to the city's leadership. As it seemed rather unwise to track the beast solo, I first set out to find the Lords of Arboria, inform them of their realm's plight, and relay the request for aid from the city.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the path of the beast and the Lords of Arboria was intermingled for many miles, but eventually diverged. Shortly after, I found the Lords of Arboria at the entrance to a cave—a lair of some kind, although I only made it to the entrance—in which they had clearly fought a pitched battle. Scorched spiders and centipedes crunched underfoot, and nearby were the remnants of some extraordinarily large mushrooms and what appeared to be… a tree perhaps? Strange. I couldn't see much further into the gloom, but the Lords had clearly explored further. One was carrying what was unmistakably a baby owlbear (for what purpose, I don't know; but it seems unwise). Another had a bundle of looted treasure. The Baron Gelros held what looked suspiciously like a head in a sack, but it's not my place to ask questions.
Having delivered my message, I again volunteered my services to track down "Papa" owlbear, as he was apparently now affectionately known amongst the Lords. (It seems likely to me that the cave was Papa's lair, but why the Lords were there in the first place they didn't say.) After some six hours, we found it… rampaging through the forest and behaving quite un-owlbear-like, in my opinion. The Lords of Arboria engaged and killed it, with some minor assistance on my part. Annihalted, more like; it was impressive. I thought I was skilled at hunting such creatures, but the level of pain produced by the Iron Lady and the ranger with his cat… I'd not cross them if I were you.
The Lords of Arboria themselves are a exceedingly informal lot. They don't use titles amongst themselves; Gelros even went out of his way to request that I not call him "Lord." Perhaps it is a sign of leadership that values wits and skills over rank and station? That would be a welcome change from the lands to the North. Gelros himself is a compelling leader and appears quite capable as a ruler. Iron Lady Shella is hard as nails and, frankly, frightening. Apparently she believes combat is worship of her deity or some such; whatever it is she is certainly effective. I understand her to be the military leader of the realm. Kris, the ranger? druid?, is hard to read, and it isn't clear what his role is. Jaric Yongostich, the war priest, was somewhat dour, but that may have been on account of his near-death experience in the cave? He strikes me as a man of civilization; I would think his talents would be better spent closer to the city than in his current role of Marshall leading patrols of the borders. Which brings me to the magician Narzeth and his consort Raven. Narzeth himself seems personable and highly knowledgeable, if a little off. The lady Raven, on the other hand, scares me for reasons I can't put my finger on. There is no question that both of them have a powerful grasp of the arcane, as demonstrated in battle.
But where was I? We returned to Bandit's Rest to find extensive devastation and significant unrest. I can't blame the townsfolk for being unhappy about the aftermath of the owlbear's unnatural rampage, even if Shella did parade its head through the streets in a show of force, and even though Gelros had two fallen local leaders raised from the dead. (Deep pockets! I don't believe one just casually raises the dead.)
As the leadership dispersed to deal with the situation, I found a spare moment to inform Gelros of the strange situation in Varynhold. At this point, he put me on retainer and requested that I stick close. (Interestingly, I have even been privy to several council meetings, as nobody told me to leave. I suppose either my reputation for trustworthiness precedes me or else they are too foolish to keep my ears away?)
Gelros invested significant effort in investigating the cause of the owlbear's rampage. Apparently they had found a ring of uncut gems bound together with hair back in the owlbear's lair that appears to have been used against the owlbear and somehow influenced the situation. Gelros consulted some type of water spirit living to the west of the city as to its origins. (Interesting acquaintance there; I wonder how he made that particular alliance?) who informed us that the magic was beyond what she knew to be available in the area. After examining the ring, Narzeth informed us with confidence that it was a ring of bestial friendship, which allows the charming of magical beasts, but that it was cursed. He claims to have very specific knowledge of the curse as well: the curse would enrage the charmed beast and cause it to seek out civilization and attack. (How one gets all of this out of a mere ring, I don't know, but the others appear to trust Narzeth's judgment and it certainly isn't my place to question it.) But stranger yet was when Narzeth attempted some type of magical ritual in his tower in order to discern information about the ring's creator: the ring exploded in his hands in an electrical storm! (I was there at the time, dutifully awaiting an assignment from Lord Gelros, I mean just Gelros. And I don't know what was worse, the electric shock or the strong smell of burnt hair that came with it when the ring blew apart…) Whether this is a normal outcome of magical rituals I am not sure, but I plan to keep my distance next time.
We are not much closer to solving the mystery of the owlbear rampage. Plus, there is the disappearance of every soul in Varynhold to worry about. Coincidence? Perhaps… but suspicious. This River Kingdoms move has proved far more interesting than I thought it would be. Now to see if I can peddle this short-term contract for Gelros into a permanent position. After all, it appears Varynhold won't be needing a head scout just now, so I am still unemployed.
P.S. What did the lady Shella do with that owlbear cub anyway? When it grows up it will be quite interesting to see if she can truly keep it under control.