• Nial stumbles east out of Andris, face burning as though a Lich again melted it with fire. Blind to the world and somehow fallen to his knees, he crawls along the path until his left hand traces the beginning of the rocky outcropping. The stone feels cuttingly firm; on its surface, his fingertips tremble northeast. The ranger makes lurching progress toward the sea.

    When he feels the water slurping over his boots, Nial forces himself to open his eyes and confront the damage he has done to himself. His eyes practically glow crimson, blood-red lines crossing them like scars. Given how far they have sunken into his skull, he supposes he resembles a daemon of legend--or perhaps now reality, given the Wraiths he confronted hours earlier. And his nose is worse, a bloody ruin that drips a mixture of mucus and...he hesitates to think.

    To think that this is now one of Marali's few defenders, muses Nial to himself, the mixture of sarcasm and vitriol intensifying the bitter taste in his mouth. If only the good Captain could see me now.

    For one brief moment, Nial is glad that Captains Octar and Charonia have business elsewhere. For a longer time after that--as Nial splashes as much salt water on his face as he can stand--Nial regrets his words, the guilt stinging more than the salt water. He needs their order as much as the Majors' (or Commander's) orders, and no other duties will suffice to lift him from this fiasco.

    Nial drinks the salt water until he nearly throws up, and then forces himself to breathe some water. After the water has left his insides and his robe a sodden mess, Nial rummages around in his pack for a piece of damp parchment and a quill. One duty is obvious, and he has shirked it long enough.

    125. Blue. 443.

    Message from Kalt. Strange, loud one. Said wealth-seeking Trader in Mirith. Sought escort to Andris.

    When arrived, party had departed. Reached them not far. Portal blocked. Enemies abound. Trader enjoyed fight. As did I.

    Lerilin Vanguard member Dakanto and Trader cleared path. Kalt and I handled survivors.

    Almost disappointing amount of resistance. Then, five Brigands. Anticipated Shelter, fire. Got Brigand Thug.

    [Nial has sketched out a startlingly lifelike recollection of the scene]

    Thug flayed skin to bone. Even with Pots, scar. Joins collection elsewhere.

    Nial wipes at his face and coughs, the feathered quill tickling his eyelids as it brushes past. How many scars did he have, marks from crazed rushes into the fray that would never fade, no matter how often Clerics pulled him from the gray? Would she have minded? He pauses at his reflection, noting a smattering of silver amongst the black hairs on his head. Perhaps other things should concern him more.

    No matter. Scum died soon enough to swords and arrows. Joined the rest of his miserable brethren in ditch. Will rot in open air, as deserved.

    Bridge to Andris. Unusual foes. Forest Trolls. Two Hill Giants. Trader surprised. Would have fallen without Dakanto's steady blade, Trader's opportune attacks, and Kalt's magicks. Made it through.

    Trader noted wealth attracts all kinds. Most disturbing part. Brigands and Trolls threw selves on blades. Practically begged for death. For what? Chance at coin? Few thousand boards? Crazed beasts, all.

    Several skirmished. Dakanto tired. Had to stop at bridge. Offloaded Crates onto me. Almost featherlight. Easy to lift. Glad I could assist.

    Talked to Trader along way. Many mistakes. Sometimes talking is foible. Suggested faster procession. delimew appeared and obliged with well-timed backstabs.

    In Andris. Grand, vain, and celebrating. As recalled, long ago. Trader met with Craftsman in arch shop. Moment similar to mine. Crates deposited.

    [Here, Nial has captured the scene of the Craftsman and Trader discussing the shipment, which Chester delivered in prior years]

    Rewards from Trader: red RoP, red rose. Add robe to useless collection; add rose to beautiful preserved specimens. deli received three full detox for efforts. Generous all around. Perhaps more generous than wise. Will keep in mind for future.

    Troubling business, how foolish creatures toss away existence for profit. At least supplies delivered. No doubt put to good use during festival.

    Nial knows that both money and supplies are used and exchanged freely at the Blue Moon Festival. He himself took place in the large auction, along with several others. He shouted his bids until his voice ran hoarse and he was spending his Vanguard's money. More than that, Nial remembers the thrill of so much wealth brought into play, the auctions a dangerous guessing game in which the price was many moons of wages.

    It felt like the most gleeful madness Nial knew.

    In his report, Nial makes no note of his mistaken identity of the Trader; that is an issue he will ponder later, when his head doesn't feel like a sack of twitching steaks. Instead, he thinks back to Lerilin. The hours of mining, many with Octar. Far from the rocks, the ants, carrying their precious crystals to the Queen. Inside the cemetery, the skeletons (it was only skeletons then), circling the graves in a mindless, macabre tribute to the end.

    All of this seemed a crazed hive of activity. Adventurers squandered hours enchanting crystals to sell, only to squander hundreds of thousands at the first sight of a gambler. Dreams were fulfilled or killed--often quite literally--in the pits of Maralian Roulette, all for a fee. Through the haze of...whatever he had done to himself, Nial for once saw all of it as insubstantial and dissonant, a gilded chord of a facade against a hidden, cacophonous laugh.

    Feeling increasingly nauseous, Nial resigns to leave the note in a public place. He signs it in a cursory manner and tries to find a quieter place to be sick.