REPORT TO THE THANESON RANCLIFFE 3RD.
I trust this communication finds you well treated by the world. Forgive if you can the outlandish nature of its contents, or, if it pleases you, treat this missive as no more than a storyteller’s idle fancy - but believe me when I say that all that is contained herein came to pass.
What comes before may be found in other reports that I have made, and also in the chronicles of the mage Master Sanguine, but this branch of the road begins at Swarkstone, to where Ballantine, Sanguine, the dwarf Roggen and myself had travelled in May of ______ in order to trace through scholarly investigation the reasons for the strange and vexing restlessness which had grown in our minds the past few months in Ashwell.
What we uncovered here in a safe deposit box, left for our eyes alone several hundred years before by none other than Preston Elliott, so that we might find it in there and now, has been detailed by Sanguine, but there may be some value in a recap:
A Drow’s sword which was new to me, yet for which I felt an unusual attraction
A dagger, which I also nabbed.
A strange pistol and bullets, claimed by the trigger-happy Ballantine.
A clay maze in miniature.
An unusual ornamental watch, silver.
A flint held within an odd contraption which made a flame.
A magnifying glass, tinted blue.
A pouch of stones.
A paper envelope of herbs (for Protection).
A pendulum and spell stone.
A sealed notebook.
The notebook was opened, and its contents devoured by the willing Sanguine, and over the next few days, while Roggen Thurgood drank herself into jail with Doch, the mage uncovered its meanings and laid them bare for us. Among various arcane notations more the province of herbalists, mystics and their like, and some writings in a foreign tongue, there were instructions contained within detailing how we might ‘find ourselves’ - and since we had for some little time been feeling lost, we determined to return to Ashwell and follow them.
But first, after bailing Roggen out of jail and sending her back to the inn from whence she had come, Ballantine and I learned from Sender of the disappearance of two of our spies who had been trailing Aston Deagh. Then, from a one-legged ruffian named Mipic, we discovered that these two, Adam and Joe, had followed the Deagh out to sea, where he seems to have kept rendezvous with the pirates of the Silk Purse. This, however, did not find the spies for us, and at last we started homeward.
There, following Elliott’s instructions, we walked the old maze - though not the oldest - while bearing smoking Luteus in the ceramic labyrinth, and at once, while it seemed our feet yet trod the Ashwell path, found ourselves transported to a strange and dreamlike world.
We stood upon a towpath. To our left was a canal, to our right forest. Walking on in this quiet place, we faced then a choice of bridge of stone, or a path up to a burnt-out village. We chose the bridge, which had been attacked it seemed as though by soldiers, and crossed the water into a yellow field, where a road led out towards a distant forest.
Continuing on, we saw figures approaching - there came a knee-high stick creature called Pogol who seemed to recognise us, and beyond it a centaur named Galen, who was unable to come too near. The hippety-hoppety stickman told us that Sister Luana was sleeping in the Summer Isles, beyond the forest - welcome news indeed that she was still alive - and then led us off the track, at length arriving in a clearing where a great slate had been raised as a tombstone.
It was an odd place to come upon a solitary grave. Odder still, that within us all there chimed the notes of an almost-memory, a half-recollection from another place or time. We knew whose resting place this was. We knew without knowing, and yet we did not speak.
“Why won’t anybody say?” said Sanguine softly, his voice laden with fear and wonder. “Why won’t anybody say whose grave this is?”
It was with some reluctance at disturbing the poor soul’s resting place that Ballantine bodily ripped the lid from the casket and flung it away. There beneath, his dry and withered body on a bed of smooth stones, lay Sanguine, dead as a Deagh. Naturally, we thoroughly searched the corpse at once, and Live Sanguine found a pouch around Dead Sanguine’s neck. Inside was a small crystal. Live Sanguine took it, and at once, as he told us, a flood of recognition poured back into his mind. His lost memory, the entirety of his life and lives was returned to him, so that Live Sanguine, Other Sanguine, First Sanguine and Dead Sanguine all stood or lay before us like one big Sanguine, and yet, seeming just like the Sanguine we had always known and loved.
“Sanguine, are you all right?” asked one of us.
“Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes,” he said, although in truth, the Mage seemed weighed down by the uncommon burden of seeing himself laid flat and long dead in the ground.
Time was running out. Something told us that it was dangerous for our physical selves to have reached the end of the Ashwell maze before we returned there from this dreamlike plane, and so we said farewell to Pogol, who for some reason gave us an acorn, and hurried back through the meadow and over the bridge. We were fortunate not to be seen by a black-clad soldier, one of the Rise, who it seems were occupying the ruined village, but we regained the towpath just in time and found ourselves completing the maze at the moment we returned there...you see how confusing it gets sometimes, being us?
Thankfully, our confusion, for the present at least, was at an end. For no sooner had we returned to our bodies and stepped from the maze, than it became clear to us who we really were. My Liege, I shall not dwell too much on this point, because in truth it is not at all clear to myself, but the crux is this: for the last two years, since we returned from Farfax, we have been living ‘other’ lives, and yet, these lives have been just as ‘true’ as our truly ‘true’ lives, which we now recall in all aspect and detail, except of course for those parts we can’t remember. Our false ‘true’ lives were bestowed upon us by a certain faction of the Altus Conclave of the Caldbeck Rise, in order that we might not perish, and to deceive those of the Conclave who wished us obliterated for, as they perceive it, crimes against reality. Naturally we are innocent of any charges that may be levelled against us either in the future or past, or in any plane you may care to mention.
And now that we remembered the true story of our lives, all that happened to us in the last two years, which was frankly not much, began to fade in our minds and become dreamlike. We determined to follow further the advice of Elliot, and go to the city of Turen, where there was a place of refuge. But we were exhausted, and so, leaving Sister Kael, who had observed our walking of the maze, we returned to the Raven’s Feathers to rest.
After midnight, a great storm arose, with heavy rain, and lightning and thunder the like of which has rarely been seen in peaceful, temperate Ashwell, and an hour or so later, there came a knocking at the door. The barmaid informed us that Aston Deagh was below and wished to speak with us. She brought us tokens from him - the small crystals, chips off the Shard, which had been taken from Sanguine and myself by the Rise in an earlier encounter, and also those which Ballantine and Roggen had lost. These were of unreckonable value to us, but we were suspicious and tired, and it was with reluctance that we trooped downstairs, only to find that it was Haydn and not Aston Deagh who had come to pay us a visit. It seems that those called Deagh live ever by deception, both trifling and momentous, and so it was now, from beginning to end.
Haydn Deagh had come to make us an unusual proposal - or so he said. In exchange for knowing whether or not Preston Elliott was dead, he would give us the Shard, which we might return to its rightful place on this plane, in Ashwell. He said it was to keep it from Aston’s hands, but the whole thing seemed pretty fishy, and eventually we declined his gift. Telling him the fate of our friend Elliott went against the grain, and it seemed that he must have an ulterior motive he would not disclose. He did, however, managed to weasel some information out of us, although it is difficult to say exactly what it amounted to - what he says and what is true remain two things utterly opposed. And, through the cold charm of his silver tongue, he contrived as usual to tell us nothing, though saying much. We did discover one thing - that there was only one Preston Elliott. Apparently he belonged to the House of Elliott, and there are many such Houses. Deagh’s visit raises two questions in my mind - how did he come by our crystals? If through the Rise, does he himself have allies there? And why did he give them back to us? Actually, that’s three questions.
But he left, suddenly, and the reason for that, at least, soon became apparent why. Gill, mage of the Altus Conclave, had arrived in his carriage of the night, and he meant to kill us. Bravely, we ran like buggery, but he found us on the green, and faced us with murder in his eyes. We fought long, we fought hard, we fought stupidly. Roggen was hexed and slashed out at Ballantine, Sanguine fought off magical fires, and I had to contend with a plague of insects. We were sorely wounded, and when at last we had the mage dying on his knees, once again our softness almost led to our downfall. Succumbing to the mage’s illusions, we listened to his stalling blather and clever lies while he healed himself, and were it not for the intervention of Gwen, who somehow communicated with Sanguine, and Sanguine’s own quick-thinking, we would have been lost. Gill’s true identity was revealed to us - as Randolph Dean Cargill, another blasted Deagh - and so we slew him there and then, hacking him into the ground. As it was, in his death throes he let loose one last spell, by chance directed at myself, and the wound I sustained would have been mortal, had not Sanguine somehow found the power to heal me as I lay bleeding in the mud. Indeed, he healed us all, and in jubilation at our victory, we severed the mage’s head from his neck and kick it about in the mud, for what else is one to do with the remains of a Deagh?
We rested, then left. As Preston Elliott had told us it would, the book took us, the book by Briony Wells - who is Briony Wells? - and so we travelled through the ether and landed upon a clouded hilltop, from where an old track led down past the hut of a man who seemed near as old. He was a friendly fellow who almost begged us to rob him, but we were hardly tempted, and he gave us directions to Turen.
The city rises like a mountain itself, walls built on walls into the steep hillside, overlooking a great stretch of water, maybe river, maybe sea. Ships come and go, and a continual throng of humanity and other races presses through the gates in a never-ending stream. Here, mayhap, is a city as old as time itself. On the lower levels, the vagabonds and thieves dwell in shadow, and urchins and beggars are a constant nuisance. You need a guide, or surely you will lose your way. As one rises up through the gates, so the quality of life and light improves, and the air is cleaner. One can only imagine at the splendour of the dwellings in the highest regions - fit for you, perhaps, My Liege, but not for such as I. I can’t speak for the others, but I felt quite at home on Level Two, and Level Five, where we found rooms, is most congenial.
We sought a friend of Preston Elliott, a fellow called Easterbrooke, but he proved a hard man to see, and so, at length, we solved a small conundrum of keys, and located the residence of Elliott himself, who dwelt in Turen and had a store there. We found it unlived in, dusty and full of old things, antiques of rare value, many not so rare, with rooms upstairs covered in postcards, a trick to foil the searching Eye. The Eye, however, found us soon enough: before an hour had passed, there came a knock at the door, and a gnome called Lexor soon made himself and his arrogance known to us. He claimed to be an emissary from Telac of the Altus Conclave, the lizard creature which had saved us from oblivion. He was surly, and asked many questions, while telling us little. I listened without making myself known to him, yet heard him say he had some knowledge of my Drow sword. I have a question for him: how did he find us so soon after we arrived in Turen, when this place of Elliott’s was supposed to protect us from the Altus Conclave? Oh, and why should we trust him? That’s two questions. But the answers, My Liege, must needs wait for next time, for here ends this report.