An excerpt from Piotr Zaytsev’s journal

Year of the Illustrious Foundation, Descending Fire 21st – late afternoon

We have finally arrived in Siegsdorf after a longer journey than I had anticipated. The Doctor insisted that we take a detour to visit Fox Creek to gather more herbs. He had not found exactly what he was looking for at Firefly Mound, he said, with his purse full of various herbs already. Alas, I am in no position to deny him – I would take him all the way to The White Sea if that is what he required in exchange for his medicine. The pains and cramps always return to my leg eventually when I stop taking the drops, and it just gets worse and worse until I can not even stand upright anymore. To think whether he fully realizes the amount of power he has over me fills me with great apprehension.

Brother Sun assured me that he would conclude his business in Siegsdorf well before dinner time. Having spent all day traveling in his company I have no intention of attending his sermons here as well. I may not agree with him or his order’s ideals, but I can agree with his silver in my pocket. Hopefully we’ll be on our way back to Vendig timely as planned.

The wraiths have been growing increasingly restless over the last couple of fortnights. Getting around on my own is no trouble at all – the wraiths are about as sharp as a common stag, so as long as you spot them first then evading them is simple. However, I do not believe an encounter would be favorable given my present company. I am afraid the wraiths will be easily drawn to my noisy companions, not to mention The Doctor’s foul smell.

Speaking of foul smells, I should visit Marta and purchase a wedge of her goat cheese since I am in town.

Year of the Illustrious Foundation, Descending Fire 21st – midnight

As I had feared, our journey back to Vendig was not without trouble.

We left Siegsdorf in the evening and come twilight we had not even reached Vendig’s clearings. The Doctor did not seem to realize the peril we would soon have to face and kept suggesting that we stop in Willow Grove to make one last attempt at finding some Coltsfoot. I managed to convince him that we must make haste for Vendig straight as the crow flies, and yet his stride remained onerously relaxed. Brother Sun was remarkably stoic as well, but he at least had no trouble keeping up. I have a feeling that despite his soft speech and manner he is a man you would want fighting on your side rather than against you.

As daylight faded away I could see the wraiths, roaming around the woods, searching, like hungry wolfs. I shudder to think about their gaze – cold eyes, clouded by death, but aware and ever searching. Soon enough they were drawn to us and we were forced to break into a sprint. We left the road behind and headed straight for Laughing Water Creek. I had not realized this before, but The Doctor explained how the wraiths are hesitant to cross running water, and we used this fact to our advantage. We followed the stream south toward Vendig with a wraith hot on our heels. As we reached Merchant’s Bridge outside Vendig the wraith came to a sudden stop and was thankfully unable to pursue us any further.

The Doctor took great interest in the wraith, approached it and attempted to converse with it. I trusted that he knew what he was doing and observed from a distance. Remarkably, The Doctor somehow managed to affect the wraith. Its posture and demeanor changed dramatically, its hunger for us seemed to subside and it took off back north toward the woods.

The Doctor refused to reveal to me the meaning of what had happened. I can not help but wonder what dark secrets The Doctor hides beneath that mask …

Year of the Illustrious Foundation, Descending Fire 26th – afternoon

What magnificent prey – I never thought I would lay my own eyes on a simhata, and no less fell one!

I was doing business with the leather worker down by the Grand Canal this morning when I first heard talk about a merchant vessel that had smashed into the harbor. I paid it no mind until I overheard two guardsmen who hurried past, long pikes in hand, talking nervously about great tiger-like beasts on that ship. I followed them down to the south-west docks, and sure enough a merchant carrack had crashed into the harbor. A large crowd had gathered on the mangled dock around the wreckage, and for some reason the ship’s bulwark was on fire and I could see Hailong trapped up on the deck.

Standing down there among the crowd would do me no good, so I pushed my way through to the port which took me behind the fish market where I could climb up onto the roof. As I steadied myself on one of the dormers I heard Hailong addressing the crowd and stating his intent to conquer the beasts. He had three leashes tied to the ship’s foremast and I can only assume that he set the bulwark on fire intentionally. Had the beasts lurking in the ship’s hold been ordinary tigers, or even mountain lions, I would have respected Hailong’s bravado. But what emerged from the ship’s hull changed my sentiment entirely.

Hailong aroused more than just the crowd and one of the beasts jumped up through the cargo hatch on to the ship’s deck. And what a sight – as big as a sumpter horse, bright orange fur with deep black stripes, paws that could crush a man’s skull and fiery golden eyes. Hailong would be no match for the simhata, and I believe he realized this as soon as he laid eyes on the beast.

He charged ahead nonetheless and threw one of the snares around the simhata’s neck. It managed to swiped at him before he got away though and his chest ran crimson red with blood. The beast proved its strength and snapped the leash loose from the ship’s mast easily. Hailong made a run for the ship’s main mast and swiftly scaled it up to the lowest boom. The simhata proved no less competent at climbing and followed. Hailong then leapt gracefully down from the boom and landed on the simhata’s back clutching its mane. The simhata did not seem to approve of this unwelcome rider, dropped down to the deck with Hailong hanging on and a brutal struggle ensued.

I was not going to sit idle and watch the beast tear Hailong apart, so I knocked an arrow to the bow and loosed. It hit the simhata square in its flank and threw it off long enough for Hailong to make an escape. It took two more arrows before the simhata fell, and by that time the guardsmen were clambering up onto the ship’s deck. The remaining two simhata below deck in the ship’s hold were then slaughtered by the guardsmen like rats in a cage. The poor things – they deserve better than that.

And now I have a simhata’s carcass and a lot of work waiting for me. I promised Vlad that I would give him the bones, said he needed them for some ritual, and I think I will give the front paws to Hailong as a trophy to accompany his scars. I should check on him once I am done here, he did not look too good last I saw him down at the docks.


Belicht Dionysus