Letters from Adastra
According to the account of Seth Mase‘s familiar Akuma, upon their arrival in the Material Plane Akuma and his tome experienced an arcane binding event. Akuma knows everything that is written in the book. Seth has chosen to leave the book in the care of Mayor Chance in Adastra, enabling Adastra’s people to contact him. Some letters written to Seth follow.
- – -
Chance here, writing the evening after your departure. It occurred to me belatedly that we should have tested the book beforehand but I do not have the resources to send a scout after you. This is not the first time I’ve felt you’re one step ahead of me, but usually the feeling is not quite so literal. If you are receiving this message, I trust you are safe and are watching the vanguard that you perpetually find yourself on.
It is customary for members of the (recently un-)landed class to date their letters but I confess I am not sure what to write. “5 Reorxmont 351 AC” would be technically accurate, but of late both the Cataclysm and the gods seem an archaic way of reckoning time. Some of the refugees have devised a new way. It started as a joke – “When’d you get that scar?” “Oh, you know, when they brought the bank down on us – Puncture plus two -” but it’s begun to be used in earnest, recent events having aligned all our thoughts in terms of how long it’s been since the Puncture. The Puncture occurred on the night of 26 Sirrimont; thus I write this letter ten days after the Puncture, or on day P+10.
I try your patience with nuances of date and time, Seth, primarily to illustrate the pace of events since the Puncture. Each day has had its own personality; we have had no routine and on most days we have awoken in quite a different place from the previous morning, myself excepted on account of my imprisonment. Today the Long Ridge miners broke down the back wall of Clement’s tomb, beyond the great open chamber with the narrow rafters, to find a large cavern behind; it is through this cavern that the promised river runs. All have been relieved at the great bounty of cool, fresh water and the horses have been glad of the high ceiling. One miner took a bad fall from the rafters and badly sprained an ankle and Biltz recruited some apprentice carpenters to make necessary renovations. Bratha compels him to make use of off-duty militiamen for this task, for though their strong arms lack precision she feels it necessary that they be kept busy with useful labor. Commoners were set to work camouflaging the tarpaulin that conceals the Tournament of Skill arena or finding the fruit-bearing trees, all under strictest cover. Most today ate sparingly from the food stocks, except for Rhody and a few other earthy types who brought back a small deer and several rabbit, which they were allowed to cook and eat as a reward. So you see, P+10 was a very different day from P+9, and P+11 will be different yet. In this way we have all become adventurers.
No doubt you fear for us greatly, but be at ease, for we live or die through our hard work and there is not an idle hand in Adastra. We too fear for you but trust that you and your friends will miraculously surmount your trials as you always do. Walk in the sun.
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[Akuma reports that the following partial letter has been written and then angrily scribbled out.]
We al of us ar very bizy sins you left yestirday. In the
affter aftirn midday today I tuk my bow and felled a larj bor, wich the mayer sez wil amply feed
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I’m sorry about the last letter. While I was writing it the awful sage Mr. Cambrian interrupted me and read over my shoulder and started to laugh like a fat old scoundrel. He hurtfully said I don’t know how to write, which is not true, but at his request I’m having him take down the rest of my letter for me, since anyway he is useless and can’t hunt or do useful work. [I have in fact been busily consulting with Bratha about the most readily grown native flora for purposes of food, medicine, and camouflage, and about certain other matters which I do not expect young Rhody to understand; I interrupt her letter, Seth, purely so that you may be reassured that all of us are hard at work. KC]
I was just telling you how I shot a boar as it was pawing among some stones looking for roots. It found them, but my arrow found it at about the same time, so I came back to Adastra with a boar and some roots. We cooked it in the back chamber with some straw that I wet first to make the smoke even whiter and less obvious, in case there’s a gap in the cave ceiling. There was enough meat on the boar for everyone in Adastra to have a small bite for dinner along with their rations, of which we have only a few days left, I heard someone say. Tonight I’ve been treated like a hero and Chance even let me use the book, because, he said, everyone would be relying on me. I don’t know what to do, though, because even on my best day I can’t feed a whole city. The most common animal is rabbit, which may feed two, but if I take too many there will be none left, and rabbits don’t come out much in winter anyway, much less boars. There are others helping, but they aren’t as good and make too much noise. I wish we were all gnomes so that we didn’t need to eat so much.
I need to wrap up this letter so I can get an early start tomorrow. I miss you, Seth! Goodbye, or something!
[The day is Puncture plus eleven. I will see to it that Chance and Bratha bring Rhody into our discussions about subsistence, lest she misapprehend that our survival depends on her alone; several other plans are in motion, though we may starve for a few days before they bear literal or figurative fruit. Truly, however, Rhody through her attendant enthusiasm (and meat) is keeping us all in good spirits better than anyone else. May your burdens be no greater than ours. KC]
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The hand that holds the quill is that of Amos Greenvelt, though I don’t doubt you’ve forgotten my name. I am one of the five wizards of Adastra – ah, would there were five or fifty more! I have been elected head wizard on account of being the first among peers to rediscover the lost spell of sleep, whose requisite elemental energies are subtle and strange, yet oddly intuitive. I am to be your liaison on matters regarding enchantment.
Day has dawned on the twelfth day since the Puncture, or so we are told; I have not been up to see for myself. This brings me to the subject of light. It is said truly that the dwarves of Thorbardin live all the year beneath the mountains yet never miss the sunlight – a testament, I think, not to dwarven heartiness but to their eyesight, a gift bestowed by the Graygem to match their habitat. But we humans – oh, elder race that we are! – lack such providence and have been much put upon to make do with the enveloping dark of Adastra’s catacombs. You will recall, Seth, that the ceiling of the Tournament arena is enchanted to permit spectators to view the pits, but forbid contestants from ever glimpsing the outside – Majere help me, I laid that enchantment in a past life! These qualities, alas, are now exactly inverse to what we need: a transparent window to the sun’s bounty, and an opaque shield against the pernicious eyes of angels flying overhead. Your quick mind has already thought of the obvious rejoinder, and some of the cleverer miners today are working at evaluating the physical foundations of the glaes, and whether the obvious can be accomplished without shattering the whole; but this is the work of weeks, not hours.
In the meantime, the darkness is Stygian, and a few, left too long in the dark, report visions of phantoms that in their ignorance they took for real. Mayor Chance has ordered that the amount of smoke produced by our settlement be strictly limited to prevent detection, curtailing our use of natural lamps – though of this it must be said that our herbalist has rendered some of the fat of last night’s boar as a kind of tallow, and that the candles provide some solace against the darkness. The few light orbs recovered from the temple in Zaradene have been of more help, illuminating a few of Adastra’s great chambers, but it is we, your five humble disciples, who have been of most aid; we have each mastered the method of summoning light and have thus become social foci. Had I more time, I would wax philosophical on how the adversity of darkness, a metaphor for the chaos wrapping our plane, has turned folk once viewed as outcasts into literal beacons to whom people turn for light and life! But no, I have duties to attend to; Bratha has required me to set out with the hunter girl this morning, the better for her to ascertain the applicability of our art to the problem of food, and subsequently my time will be quite consumed with the magical resolution of numerous quotidian dilemmas. Fare thee well, Seth!
- – -
I was astonished this morning when I made inquiries and found that no one has written to you for four days. Forgive the inexcusable lapse; you must be worried for us. The day is Puncture sixteen, and much has passed since we last wrote. I’ll tell some of it, and Aspic shall tell the rest later today.
Three nights ago, an otherwise unsuccessful foraging party returned to Adastra with ten men calling themselves the Resurgents. They tell us they are survivors of Goodbay, sent to Adastra by your team. We have done our best to integrate them into the town, but they do not take orders well, and most of them speak with pervasive pessimism about the new world in a way that has damaged morale. Their attitude is pernicious, and thus I have kept the Resurgents remote from town where possible, plying their considerable talents at discreet outdoorsmanship. They may take orders badly, but their coordination within their unit is exceptional; they bring back enough meat and plants to feed twice as many men each day, and their twice-daily combat drilling is rigorous enough that we have already taken to rotating some of the militiamen and tradesmen between their ordinary work and the Resurgents’ tutelage. The Resurgents will need to reform if they’re to remain in Adastra, but I can’t deny that they are terribly useful in the meantime.
We have bent our minds and talents towards the problem of food with particular urgency, as the supplies we took with us from Zaradene have been virtually exhausted in spite of severe rationing. Cambrian identified a strain of subterranean fungus that grows rapidly in moist soil, and the miners have therefore built large mushroom fields in an annex to the arena. The soil in this part of the prairie is rich, and we shall rotate it as needed to speed mushroom production. Rhody was excited to discover a large rabbit warren at a distance of two miles from Adastra, under sparse tree cover. Rather than take the rabbits, we have deployed some of the farmers to work during the night to fertilize and enrich the plants there; judicious hunting should keep the rabbit population at equilibrium, while providing us with a little crucial protein. All this and foraging is still not enough, and we have had to slaughter all but two of the horses, which each eat as much as five people — and may feed fifteen. Their owners were satisfied with the promise of a fair price to be paid when we retake Zaradene. As the fungal fields reach full production over the next few days, we shall stave off starvation until other plans which circumstances have delayed may come to fruition.
The rest I leave for future missives. Be well and be wise, Seth.
- – -
Hail, Seth. I’ve got to say I’m a little surprised how releived I am, writing to you like this. On some torn pages you said you’d be able to read by magic. I still wonder whether you might have been lying — you know, a white lie to help us get through your abcense. But if you were lying I’m grateful for it. Oh, it’s Puncture sixteen, same as when Bratha wrote you earlier.
So if you were’nt lying and you are reading this, I guess you’d want to know that things have been creepy around here for the last few days. I tell you hand to Paladine I was laughing at the farmers with everyone else about their rumor-mongering, their talk of spirits, but I’ll be dammed if I did’nt see a ghost myself last night. The farmers were carrying dirt by the sackful to the new fields and I was supervizing along with another fellow I thot was one of the clerics. Because of how he was dressed, in long dirty robes, and he had a small staff. But I couldn’t see very well, and the farmers were complaining about the darkness, so I called Amos to come help. Hand to Paladine Seth, as Amos came with the light, the cleric just disolved. The more clearly I could see him, the less there was to see, if that makes any sense at all, until he was gone. The farmer didn’t see anything but said it must have been the ghost, and I do’nt dissagree. So I’ve been trying to learn the gossip, right? But no one knows anything. One of the minnitmen said a ghost saved him from falling in the rafter room on our third day here. Maybe he’s telling the truth. Cambrian thinks I’m “deluded” and says it’s because of the darkness. I do’nt know what to beleive.
The other thing is that we saw some of the feys. I guess I probbly should have said this first. I did’nt see them myself, but it was the Resurgents the day before yesterday. It turns out there’s a lake some hours north of here, and the Resurgents say it’s easy to hunt there because the animals come to drink. The red moon was full and the Resurgents spotted the feys in the light. They say there were four, all in red and dressed to move quick, very quiet. And one of our treehoppers was very brave and got above them. You aren’t going to beleive this, but they were making a map. We all had a good laff about it when we heard. It was like seeing Paladine ask directions to the nearest temple. Anyway they didn’t see us and everyone is safe.
Sorry I went on so long, and for my bad spelling which I only learned since I became the Docks alderman. I think you know that before that I used to smuggle a little, and one thing I learned is that there is honor among theives after a fashion. I mean we’d double-cross each other and sell each other out, but that was over business. One time a guy was trying to mussle in on my business because his dotter was sick, I pushed him off my turf but I still tried and helped pay for the medicine, you know? When you suffer with someone you want to help each other even if you wo’nt get much in return. That’s how it is in Adastra. We’re all doing our best for each other and I think we all know how much we need each other to live. I just know I’m forgetting something but this will have to do. I hope you’re well, wherever you are. Good luck.
☼ Aspic Palmeri