Garrick's Journal is the primary source of information on the world of Spellbreak.
The journal is written by a Vowkeeper named Garrick Sagemark during an apocalyptic event known as The Fracture.
This page lists all current lore entries in chronological order. Up until launch, new entries were published every release on Reddit.
However, it is recommended that you read them in release order first, to experience the intended narrative structure.
Excerpts from the Journal of Garrick, Enlightened Vowkeeper
Book 1 - Page 38
I knew he would not understand. He feels that the order is only for the children of peakborn tyrants. The very fact that he thinks my talents are wasted with the Vowkeepers makes me want to join them even more. He has always wished I would stay in Westmar and take over the merchant stall. Ever since my apprenticeship in Dustpool, he has dreamed I would become an accountant. I did not work for years in school to simply sell apples and yearicots all day. I want to study. I want to grow. I want to chronicle history. There is so much knowledge we do not yet know.
Book 1 - Page 44
I leave tomorrow for Fort Halcyon to meet with the other acolytes. It has been four days since I have spoken with my father and I assumed we would not talk again before I left. When I woke this morning there was a note scrawled on a scrap of parchment along with a key. The note read, "You have much to learn even in Westmar." Picking up the key, I knew what it was for. This was the key to the chest that contained the belongings of my great-grandfather.
I don't remember anything of my great-grandfather. He died when I was very young. I know he trained in the Vowguard and had fought some long forgotten battles. My grandfather and father spoke very little of him growing up. Whenever he was mentioned, there would be deflection followed by knowing glances that I only noticed in the last few years. I never pushed for much information even though I desperately wanted it. The handful of letters I found from him that I stashed under my bed were quickly taken and put in his chest. There are few times I have seen my father so upset than when he found that I had discovered those letters.
The chest sits in the root cellar mostly hidden behind barrels. I have known it was there for years and apparently my father also knew that I discovered the chest as well. I went immediately to the cellar with the key. I had no idea what I would find in that chest but I can tell you my imagination was running wild!
The chest itself is not very big and despite the age the wood is incredibly strong and heavy. I think it is made from Coldwood, which would mean even the chest itself is valuable. Inside I found the letters I read several years ago and a journal. There was an honormark there as well signifying that this man was a hero. I sat for a moment wondering why my grandfather and father seemed so ashamed of even the memory of this man.
Then, I found out why. Near the bottom of the chest, wrapped in some scraps of cloth I felt something heavy and possibly metal. I leaped back when I realized it was warm to the touch, thinking there was a family of grainrats that had moved in. After prodding a few times I finally realized it was not a rodent and picked it up.
I hesitate to even document this but under that cloth was a magic gauntlet. Judging from the Brilstones it was a very powerful one and the heat radiating from it must mean it is fire in nature. After looking at the beauty of the design for what felt like hours, I quickly wrapped the gauntlet back up and carefully placed it in the chest. I moved the chest back as far as I could in the cellar and stood for a moment thinking what to do next. I stacked barrel after barrel in front of it in an attempt to get as much distance as possible from my family's past. For the rest of the day I have avoided my father entirely and I hid the key in my hidebox below a floorboard in my room.
Do I report this when I get to Fort Halcyon? The fact that this gauntlet exists and has not been turned over to the Vowguard is against the law and also heresy! Why did my father want me to know this now? Did he think this would make me not join the Vowkeepers knowing that my great-grandfather used magic?
I need sleep. Tomorrow starts a long trip to Fort Halcyon.
Book 2 - Page 132
On the way home from class today, I decided to take the long way through the gardens in Halcyon Village. The neighborhood is full of exquisite mansions. I knew that Garth Fullpeak, the Hand of People, lived in one of them. There were rumors that he would occasionally meet people in the public square and speak with them. That is what the Hand of People is known for.
As I walked by, I found Garth speaking in the square to a large crowd of people. Recently there had been an accident during a logging operation in Shadowgrace. The rumors had spread all through Halcyon. Other acolytes in my class were discussing it. Each time I heard the story it became more grizzly.
Garth was there speaking to the group wearing a logging outfit. He was extolling the virtues of progress and that the work the loggers were doing was leading us to better times. I stayed for awhile and listened. I couldn’t help but nod along to everything he was saying. It all seemed so correct. So easy to follow and understand. Looking around, the entire crowd was entranced. I left impressed with the sincerity that Garth showed to the people.
I never considered ever working for the alliance, but now I could see the appeal. The response and the power that came with the title seemed very alluring. It seems like a good way to genuinely help people.
Book 2 - Page 144
Lowland! It pains me to even write it out. My first solo apprenticeship and he sends me to count delinquent children enrolling in the Vowguard. Of all the places in the Highlands this is certainly the worst. I would rather go to Mossburn and be forced to live in the stinking marsh during the rainy season!
I was so mad I took the long way back to my room to think. Over and over I considered all the possible ways I could appeal the decision. Anything that I could use to get a better placement. After spending the rest of the afternoon storming about, I returned to my room.
Unfortunately I have no choice. I am scheduled to leave tomorrow midday so I must pack and be quick. The assignment will last through the fall and I want to make the most of it.
I was given a package that contains details of my commission. The instructions read to meet the Master Instructor and her apprentice in management of recruit training. There is also a map of Lowland Outpost and it is larger than I expected from the other history books I had read. I still need to find a way to pack all the books I hope to read while there.
Book 2 - Page 146
The road is not long between Fort Halcyon and the southern gates of Lowland Outpost. As the ridge wall rose into view I felt my heart beat quicker. This may not be the opportunity I most desired but I am committed to making the best of it.
The trip had taken most of the day. In the light of the setting sun I was able to get a good view of the surrounding area. I had read descriptions of Lowland Outpost before and had the map, but I was still surprised by the structured layout. It felt specific and ordered, with rows of garrison housing neatly aligned with training fields. This was one of the first areas of the Highlands I had visited that felt laid out purposefully.
It was late by the time we passed through to the center of the outpost. The Master Instructor was not present as I pried my belongings from the wagon. Our escorts informed me that she was on a training patrol and would meet with me in the morning. They offered me some dinner but I was too nervous and tired to eat.
The encampment itself was still buzzing with people. There seems to be little here that is not built to be functional. That stands in strong contrast to my time in Fort Halcyon where there is much beauty and care for form. I am starting to understand that this assignment will give me valuable perspective on aspects of the Highlands I have been previously unaware of.
Book 2 - Page 147
I awoke before sunrise to knocking on my door. The bangs were not overly aggressive but instead sharp, precise and remarkably impatient. Based on the sounds I was expecting an overly virtuous young recruit was sent to fetch me. Instead I was greeted by a hard looking older woman with deep lines on her face and eyes that held both wisdom and a dose of skepticism.
The woman introduced herself with the standard two arm salute of Vowguard. Her name was Nila Qay and she was the Master Instructor for Lowland Outpost. She made a point to explain that I had overslept and that my assignment started at that moment.
I did not realize my assignment included physical training.
I joined Nila on a training patrol with several other recruits. She spoke very little and I was thankful for that. I struggled to keep up, so the thought of holding conversation did not seem promising.
The march brought us into Fever Ridge. I had read little about this area in the past but from what I remembered, most civilized people had little reason to travel there as there are barely a few small settlements. The only fact I knew was that Ghoul Grass grew there and that it was used as an herb in many medicines.
As a child I had to ingest Ghoul Grass twice. I remember both incidents vividly because of the herb’s vile taste and smell.
Our path did not bring us through the Ghoul Grass fields but I did see a spare group of dilapidated houses spread between a few hills. This was just on the edge of Northmarch Pass, the trade road that leads into the mountains. We stopped for a time while Nila and a few others scouted the area. The houses seemed deserted to me but I had heard this area was once used by drifters and outcasts for any number of unsavory things.
Not long after we stopped, Nila returned and we continued on. I was thankful for the break. Upon returning to the outpost we had breakfast and I started my formal apprenticeship.
Book 2 - Page 165
My free hours I have split between the field library and studying Nila Qay. Nila is fascinating. She is an incredibly strict instructor but also smart and wise. She is not a Vowkeeper and seems somewhat annoyed that she was assigned another apprentice.
While she has not been forthcoming with much it seems clear she does not trust the Vowkeepers. She resents that they are involved with the Vowguard at all. I am surprised to see that even in the higher ranks of the guard very few interact with Nila at all. They seem to avoid her whenever possible.
I sense Nila knows things. I can only imagine what a lifetime in the guard exposes a person to. While there has not been a major war or conflict in my lifetime I know Nila has been around much longer.
Book 2 - Page 172
I have always wanted to know more about Ora Fernfall. Ora created the Vowguard generations ago. She was an honored Vowkeeper who was also an extraordinary strategist and warrior. Many of the texts speak of the impressive glory she brought to the Vowkeepers by conceiving and enforcing the Vow Mandate.
A copy of this order exists in the field library here. It reads as a doctrine proclaiming the risks of the use of magic of all sorts and calls for total abstinence. It also greatly restricts the trade of all magic artifacts and regulates the travel of all non-humans through the Highlands.
The mandate itself is credited with bringing prosperity and stability to the Highlands and securing the moral future of us all. All the teachings we have received so far do not point to why this mandate was proclaimed. In all my readings there is not much I can find about what happened before this time. There is also very little information on the history of magic artifacts or studies on how they work.
I have heard there are some accounts that discuss life in the Highlands before the mandate came to pass. From my time in Fort Halcyon I am convinced that none exist in the Vowkeeper library. I was hoping to find some here in the field library. Some old maps I found show that Lowland Outpost was established before the Vow Mandate came to pass. Who used this base? Did they resist when the Vowguard took it over?
I have never understood why the Vowkeepers would restrict any knowledge. Our purpose is to instruct and educate so that history will not repeat itself.
Book 2 - Page 178
I awoke this morning to find a book on my nightstand. This book contains notes from the field from a Storm Guard unit. These notes are old, from before the Vow Mandate. I skipped breakfast to read as much as I could. There are actual entries from the founding of the Vowguard!
From what I can discern the Vowguard was once called the Storm Guard and their role was to protect and run the Aegis Spires. The text is not clear on why the Aegis Spires needed protection in those days. There are hints of past conflicts but this book contains no specifics. It speaks of a recall order that was given just before the Vow Mandate and only contains a handful of entries following it.
Before the final entry I found a note. It appears to be Nila's handwriting. All it gives is a date and a location to return the book. She must know that I am curious about history and have many questions of my own. I must be very cautious with any of this knowledge. Why does she want this kept a secret? Who should this be kept secret from?
I actually look forward to the patrol tomorrow just for more time to think.
Book 2 - Page 179
Below are more notes from the field journal that was left in my room. The information is from a Storm Guard unit during the Lost War. There are meticulous notes on every battle, logs of every order received. The author was quite thorough. I appreciate that.
There are several mentions of the Aegis Towers. These structures were created by the Banehelm scholars to protect against the Spelltides. It appears the Storm Guard was normally tasked with defending these locations, but this unit was ordered to leave the tower and move south to help reinforce the Dreadcurtain. The author seems to disagree with this decision, and makes note of a formal complaint. There seems to be great unease about entering the territory of the Bogmore Collective.
The reports from the battles at the Dreadcurtain are terrible. There are dozens of battles mentioned with numerous losses just within this single unit. One battle in particular stands out. It appears that the Dreadcurtain was breached by the enemy and this unit was forced to retreat to Castle Bogmore. They assumed the enemy would regroup and pillage Mossburn, but instead they went straight north toward the Aegis Towers. Not a single civilian was harmed in Mossburn. This unit was recalled to defend the south eastern most tower. There is a note on preparations for that battle, but no after action report.
There is also mention of several new recruits brought in. The author makes mention of many of these soldiers being far too young and undisciplined. There is a request for additional senior troops that seems to go unanswered. It appears that the war took a massive toll on the people all across the Highlands.
Book 2 - Page 181
I spent the morning on patrol. We traveled west across the beautiful countryside just south of Dustpool and into a small village called Witgrave. The march would have been spectacular if it was not for the driving rain and dense fog. I welcomed the rain, it always helps me think. I had never been to Witgrave before. The residents of Witgrave all seem to be lumbermen harvesting the Ribbonwood and Dawnsong trees. We did not venture too far into the village itself. One of the men in the group was born in Witgrave and was quite disappointed he could not see the many mills he remembered as a child. I did not see them either, maybe on another visit.
Nila led the march in silence. We had not spoken since the mysterious field journal appeared in my room. I finished reading all the entries and made some notes on the previous pages of this journal. For now I have the book hidden away in my room but based on the instructions on the scrap of paper placed in the pages I must return the book before tomorrow night.
Having had time to contemplate I feel that I have put some important pieces together. I will attempt to lay out my analysis here.
The Storm Guard was originally tasked with protecting the Aegis Spires and keeping general order across the Highlands. The threats were both external and internal. External threats including bandits and interlopers from outside the Highlands while internal threats mostly focused on local power struggles and petty crime. There is word of an extended campaign outside Castle Bogmore but there are few references. This group was never deployed into that area.
This enemy frightened the Storm Guard. They speak of it almost like a plague or a sickness. I think that is because of how drawn out the fight was and how terrible the losses. The entries from those times speak of whispers within the Storm Guard of this being some sort of punishment for the Storm Guard’s use of magic.
This specific excerpt calls it out:
Last night we had a rotation of the guard from the Dreadcurtain in the heart of the southern marshes. The situation certainly seems dire but I have never seen men so distraught. They said that they would rather die in battle than live with the corruption on their essence from their magic. These whispers keep coming and word has it that Commander Fernfall is the source. She wants us to change tactics and feels this war is unwinnable. This is insanity and the worst time for a power struggle within the ranks of the Storm Guard!
It seems like the owner of this journal -- sadly the first many pages have been removed so I cannot tell who they were -- was very skeptical of this idea. They felt that this was a political push by Lyre Venthim, although they do not use his title, and, at the time, Commander Ora Fernfall, who herself was also a member of the Vowkeepers. The Vowkeepers are mentioned by name several times but it seems that they had much less influence at the time than the history books I have read. These notes indicate that over the course of several seasons of battle the Bogmore Collective was put under incredible pressure and even with the support of the Longwatch Protectorate it took the entire Five Hand Alliance to end the threat. It is surprising how much effort went into obscuring details on this actual enemy, it seems deliberately vague even in these personal notes.
The fieldnotes continue on to discuss how after switching tactics away from the use of magic the Storm Guard was miraculously able to defeat this unknown enemy rather quickly. This allowed Commander Fernfall to rise in the ranks all the way to General. I have never seen her titled this way because in all historical references I have seen before this there is no mention of the Storm Guard at all. It seems that after this rapid victory came the origins of the Vowguard, the Vowkeepers and the Vow Mandate.
It is common knowledge -- taught to every Vowkeeper initiate -- that in the aftermath of those battles the modern Vowkeeper movement was born with the creation and enforcement of the Vow Mandate. The story speaks of Lyre Venthim, the Awoken, having a divine realization upon contemplation of the stories in the ancient Vow of Honor texts. It all seems very wondrous and appears that in a time of total chaos, dismay, and strife it was the Vowkeepers who brought order and honor to the Highlands. Few, if any, of the details I have listed above were ever in any record or teaching I have found.
I understand what I am about to put down on paper and the consequences of such thoughts, but I cannot escape where these facts are leading me. While I do not question the faithfulness of Venthim the Awoken it is clear that this group of Storm Guard surely did. I must admit in my studies of the Vow Mandate I have always had a few questions.
I spent too many late nights searching of an original copy of the Vow Mandate itself to understand that none exist. There is not a single original copy in the Vowkeeper library in Fort Halcyon and after several long correspondences with Banehelm it appears they do not have a copy either. Why would these be lost or destroyed? It means the only official records of this incredibly important set of laws is second hand and only found in Vowkeeper authored books.
The actual mandate itself also has a few puzzling lines. As a doctrine it seems oddly non-specific in places. When discussing the usage of magic there are details around the powers of brilstones to focus elemental magic and to provide powerful abilities but then several confusing lines regarding other forms of brilstone magic. There are no other forms of brilstone magic that I have seen discussed in historical texts. It is certainly taboo to openly seek knowledge on magic of any form but why was this included in the mandate?
Too many questions left to answer and I still have more to do tonight. I can only imagine what Nila must know but I still do not understand why she wanted to show this to me. I fear that the more answers I uncover the more questions I will find below.
Book 2 - Page 186
I went last night to return the field journal to Nila. I left it in the required spot and did my best to ensure I was not seen or followed. Upon waking this morning there was another note on my nightstand. I again heard no noise and my window and door were still locked.
The note read to report to Nila early.
Nila has shown no recognition that I returned the journal and she has barely acknowledged me at all. Upon entering her room she sat alone with a sour look on her face. On the table before her was a message on what I recognized immediately as expensive parchment. I had seen that rich, almost luxurious, parchment one time before: when I received my letter of acceptance into the Vowkeepers.
This letter, however, was an invitation to a meeting of the Five Hand Alliance! Nila asked me to attend with her as her aide. I simply do not understand why she would be so upset about this. The Five Hands are the most powerful people of the Highlands. I leaped at the chance to attend, and it is going to be held at the Verdon Estate! I’ve always wanted to visit the estate; I have heard so much about the vast variety of rare plants and birds on the grounds. It is supposed to be quite the sight.
Book 2 - Page 188
We left early for the trek to Verdon Estate. Nila has been more solemn than usual along the march, saying very little. She has always been rigorous and serious but I feel she is almost avoiding me. I hoped now that we were alone, I would get a chance to discuss the Storm Guard and ask the many questions I have swirling around in my head. Along the path we traveled through Witgrave and planned to stay the night just on the other side so we could reach the estate early the next morning.
Witgrave is a little talked about village. I have never traveled through it before. The people here are mostly midborn workers, many spending their time logging the Ribbonwood trees found in Shadowgrace. Easy access to both Banehelm Keep and Charity Crossing meant that we saw a variety of travelers also passing through. It reminded me of home.
While moving through the village Nila finally turned and spoke to me. She wanted to make one stop before reaching our resting place for the night. There is a hill surrounded by several spires that sits alone. At the top is a monument that looks out over a peaceful vista. Nila walked ahead and stood just in front of where the inscription should have been. Whatever plaque once explained this memorial was long gone. It seemed fitting that even this simple gesture of remembrance and honor brought about more questions for me. In that moment I felt truly lost in my beliefs and my understanding of right and wrong. The despair and loss on Nila’s face I felt in a very different way.
The remaining walk through Witgrave felt like an eternity. We continued our journey in silence and it was not until after we had eaten dinner and were both sitting by the fire that Nila spoke again. I will never forget that moment because the question she asked me seemed like such a non-sequitur that I almost fell out of my seat. She wanted me to guess how old she was. At first I could not tell if this was some sort of joke, a way to break the ice after a long awkward silent journey but I could tell she was deadly serious.
Nila looked slightly older than middle age but still extremely fit and clearly incredibly sharp minded. I guessed 50, hoping very much to not offend here. To my astonishment she told me she was 172 years old and lived through many of the battles in the field notes she gave me to read. This just lead to further questions, I didn't even know where to start. How is that even possible? Records I have seen say occasionally that the oldest among us live to be 70 or 80 years old. Ancient lore spoke of men living to be 300 or more but no one believes those stories.
She told me that there are magical powers and abilities that have been lost or hidden for too long by the Vowkeepers. The fact that I am an initiate worried her but she wants me to know the truth. I wanted to ask her, “Why me?” This was supposed to be my first chance out in the world to grow as a Vowkeeper. This was supposed to be easy. This was supposed to be too easy! After asking many more questions which just led to more questions I could tell Nila was growing tired. This was not going to be resolved tonight.
The final words she said to me were, “Young one, you have much to learn and too much to unlearn, but first we rest.” With that she went to bed. That was many hours ago now and as I sit here wide awake still contemplating the last few days, I can see dawnbreak over the hills.
Book 2 - Page 189
Last night I barely slept. The mystery about how Nila could possibly be over 150 years old has eaten away at me. Nila awoke several hours before sunrise and seemed surprised that I was not asleep. We packed and made the remainder of the trip in total silence and it took every ounce of my strength to not ask more questions. I could see the pained look from Nila that she also had more to say but her determination and focus remained steadfast.
We arrived at the Verdon Estate just after dawn broke. The meeting will take place later this evening and there is much prep to do before that. Nila has tasked me with reviewing a large series of documents that are all notes on the current readiness of the Vowguard. In all my excitement and recent distraction I had nearly forgotten that my objective here is to collate information for the Longwatch Protectorate.
Nila briefed me that my role during the meeting would be to capture notes on any mention of the Vowguard. I was not to speak and would be seated behind her. She warned me to remain calm and reminded me that there is incredible penalties for anyone that breaks the bond of secrecy tied to these meetings. As if I was not intimidated enough by the coming meeting I am certainly petrified now.
I never thought that my studies with the Vowkeepers would bring me to a Five Hand Alliance meeting. This is such an honor and yet I am not energized. The weight of the recent revelations from Nila have drained me. Furthermore, I know that this distraction will likely swallow my focus and ensure I am not at my best during the proceedings. I must find clarity and leave this all behind to serve the Longwatch Protectorate, the Vowguard, Nila, and represent my order.
Book 2 - Page 190
The meeting just ended and we’re well past twilight. I feel a second wind of exhilaration. To be in the same room as the most powerful people in the Highlands was a true honor! Even in my childhood dreams I never thought I would come to be in the same room as the Shadehand and to actually hear their voice! I had always wondered how they protect the identity of the Hand of Secrets and now I have seen it myself. I do admit that it was difficult to not stare and it was fascinating to see whatever runic magic was being used to obscure sight and sound. But that is something to ponder on another day.
Nila did not give me any information about the context for the meeting. I know from history that there are no regularly scheduled meetings and that any member can call a meeting if they deem it required. It was not clear who called this meeting but there were some surprising moments to document. Nila made it clear that I was to make a note of everyone who attended. It felt like just another exhaustingly thorough request that Nila was known for but it seems it was much more than that.
The various envoys for each kingdom and Hand were represented as expected, but then there was a sixth group. To my surprise, this envoy was lead by Ferec Snowlash, the youngest person to become the head of the order of Vowkeepers. I have never met him, but I have heard of his incredible intelligence and wisdom. Even Nila appeared to not know they would be in attendance.
I cannot commit any of the notes I took during the meeting into this journal. All proceedings are to remain secret. The overwhelming amount of information I have been inundated with over these last few days has left my mind swimming and overflowing. If only my father could see me now, complaining about too much knowledge. Tomorrow we had back to Lowland Outpost and I hope to get some answers from Nila about some of this. I worry that I still have many more questions to uncover.
Book 2 - Page 191
I awoke this morning to several precise knocks at the door. The guard that woke me brought with him a letter. I had orders that I was to return to Fort Halcyon and that my apprenticeship was reassigned. The letter was signed by Nila Qay. Why would she do this? What did I do wrong? There are so many unanswered questions and she seemed so ready to answer them.
I packed my belongings and left midday for Fort Halcyon. It was a fast trip as I wanted to push myself to keep my mind from racing. The brisk walk was good for me, even carrying my heavy pack. It reminded me of the first days of my apprenticeship and how much I have learned in this short season. Most of all, it gave me time to think.
Nila wanted me to uncover some long buried truths. She hoped that I could help her and that I would be able to slow some shift she sees coming. I also think she wanted the relief of pulling back the lie she has been living for decades. Nila is hiding, but I don’t know from whom. This reassignment must be related to that. I need to find a way to reach her but I cannot expose any of her secrets. I wish I knew more! It feels hopeless to be wrapped up in something I simply do not understand.
Tomorrow I am to report for my reassignment.
Book 2 - Page 192
Before I made it to the hall to meet my new instructor, I was amazed at how unaccustomed I had become to the chaos of Fort Halcyon. Having spent much time in the rigorously organized Lowland Outpost this all felt alien to me. The small stalls and markets were bustling with people moving from place to place with purpose. I wanted to get some fresh air and I have come to greatly enjoy morning exercise. The sun was bright and gleamed sharply off the towers of the High Court. I was expecting my return to Fort Halcyon to feel like coming home, but it was just a somber emptiness I felt.
My mood did not improve upon receiving my new assignment. I will be tasked with a merchant apprenticeship for the Dustpool Conglomerate. My instructor is a gratuitously rotund man by the name of Bovo Finestride. I will leave in two days time to join him in Dustpool Hold. It appears he is a merchant that focuses mostly on things like high-end spices and wine. At least I will learn more about those products and who in the Highlands can still afford them.
I returned back to my room after dinner tonight to a letter on my side table. My new quarters do not have any windows and the door was still locked. Without even opening the letter, I knew it was from Nila. With all the bustle of the day and the new assignment, it was the first time I have not been stuck contemplating the information she provided and why she had me re-assigned.
The letter was simple and contained no signature or foremark. Nila wanted me to meet her tomorrow night at the campsite outside of the Verdon Estate. I know I should not go. I know that if my master caught me I could be removed from the Vowkeepers. Depending on what Nila wanted to tell me or what she wanted to do, I could face excommunication or worse. The prudent thing to do is stay home. Ignore this mystery and consider my training. That is what my father would say. He will be so proud that I am going to learn from the lavishly wealthy in Dustpool.
But I am not my father.
Book 2 - Page 194
The campsite was nestled between a few hills and in the waning daylight, it was hard to make out the trail. I packed light as I did not intend to stay the night. Even with a small pack, I was thankful for the training I had been doing.
Nila had started a small fire. I was grateful for the warmth on a cool autumn evening but the lighting gave Nila’s face an almost sinister look. Nila stood as I approached and I instinctively gave the Vowguard salute. She returned it. We stood there a moment just looking at each other and then she pointed me to a space on a log near the fire.
As expected there was no preamble and Nila got straight to the point. She knew I came with questions and that she would allow me to ask each one and she would answer in turn as best she could. Before we started she gave a simple warning: what I was about to hear would almost certainly put me in danger. She also made clear the trust she was putting in me and what the price would be for breaking that trust. I could not look away from her gaze. The fire was reflecting in her eyes, but I simply cannot explain it. It seemed like her eyes went alight and the fire grew in intensity and heat. All I could do was nod as a drop of sweat rolled down my face.
My first question was why did she have me reassigned. Her answer was simple. She felt that she had taught what was necessary to uncover the truth and that by staying with her I would only put myself in more danger.
Next I asked why she hated the Vowkeepers. She was surprised by this and I can say it might have been the only time I have ever seen Nila surprised. As she went to answer, I watched the sadness and grief sweep over her face. She asked if I knew what the Vow meant in the Vowkeeper name. I responded, as I had been taught hundreds of times, memorizing the various rules listed in the Vow Mandate. I went on about the resistance to temptation and a focus on purity. Her look of disappointment stings even now, many hours later.
Nila went on to explain the original Vow was about one thing. It was a promise to not corrupt one’s soul. That corruption was said to come from the use of magic, specifically Vital magic. The Vowkeepers believed that the power of vital magic would only lead to corruption, no matter the strength or purity of the user.
Then she asked me if I knew of the Vowbreakers. I was unsure how to answer. The word itself was so taboo that I do not think I had ever uttered it before tonight. I only remember stories that were told by misbehaving adolescent boys talking about the treason and terror of truly corrupt men. She told me that anyone could break the Vow and that the use of magic was a choice we all had the right to make. Even though this did not answer the question I asked, I decided it was best to leave my original question unanswered for now.
The last question I asked her was the one that had been eating at me most. I needed to know how it was possible that she could live to be over 150 years old. She paused just briefly and gave one final look. It felt like a last change before a point of no return. After that moment she reached into her bag and produced a large brilstone. It was deep crimson with several markings. It gave off a faint glow and I could almost feel it resonating with power.
I have seen brilstones before, mostly in jewelry but sometimes in other ornate things. I have never laid eyes on a brilstone this size or one cut so intricately. Nila sat in silence holding the stone and let me stare. It felt like an eternity but I know it was only a few heart beats before she spoke again. She explained that this was her Vital Stone. It was attuned to her and that she could use it to return to life no matter the damage to her physical form. If the Vital Stone was destroyed it would mean her permanent death. She said the stones we’re not everlasting and that the light and power within would dwindle over time.
As I processed what she was telling me, I felt a sense of panic rising. My mind was racing but also torn asunder. This was against everything I had learned in my training. This was all wrong and the exact sort of temptation of power I was taught to avoid. I couldn’t help the stream of questions that came to my mind. Had Nila used the Vital Stone? How did she get it? What did it feel like? I think this internal struggle was clear on my face because Nila quickly put the Vital Stone away and stood up.
I did not try to stop her. She packed her things as I sat there lost in the torrent of my own thoughts. She turned to me and said that she knew this could destroy me but that she hoped I would take on a difficult task she was unable to complete. At that point her face grew taut with anger and she said that Vital Stones do not lead to corruption, they lead to life, and there must be a very good reason why the Vowkeepers want to ensure they’re never used.
With what looked like a snap of her fingers, she extinguished the small campfire. I caught a glitter of metal on her hand. She left me sitting there in the dark. It felt like hours had passed but as I saw the moon starting to rise, I knew I needed to get back to my quarters before I was found out.
As I write this, dawn is breaking. I am set to leave for Dustpool Hold. This all seems so wrong. Why would Nila want me to do this? Why would she abandon me in this task? Why do I even trust her when I barely know anything about her.
I can hear my father’s voice in my head telling me to grow up. I think that is what I must do. I must bury this and grow up. Tomorrow I will remove these pages from my journal and hide them away but I hope I never need to return to them.
Book 2 - Page 198
The trip from Fort Halcyon to Dustpool Hold was not long. I traveled alone and was thankful for that. The lack of sleep found me moving far slower than I wished. The trek reminded of the many marches I did with Nila and the Vowguard training unit in Lowland Outpost. Even though it has only been a few weeks, it felt like a distant memory now.
I stopped briefly in Gritfeld, taking a respite in the shade after a long afternoon under the harsh desert sun. The small, sandy village is very different from my hometown of Westmar. The architecture is stout and the materials strong to protect from the frequent sandstorms and baking sun, but it has an air of elegance and craft I have not seen before. The village was quite active in the early morning with many workers heading off to the brilstone mines to the north or the logging camps in Shadowgrace to the west. Dustpool is known much more for the savvy and brilliance of their merchants than the hard work of their laborers. It was surprising to see the other side of all that glitter.
I stopped at a small fruit cart along one of the avenues and was immediately reminded of home. They did not sell yearicots but they did have shimmerplums. I remember many years ago getting a bag of dried shimmerplums that tasted so sweet with just a hint of salt. I was shaken from my reminiscing when the purveyor told me I was very lucky to find fresh shimmerplums. He said they usually only have a two week season and this one had lasted a full nineteen days. These had been picked only a few days ago, and so were still near peak freshness.
Shimmerplums come from glitterbark trees, which are amazing plants. They flower and fruit incredibly rapidly based on the amount of water the roots can absorb in a short period of time. These trees, which are really more like bushes, are only found in Dustpool’s deserts. Before this trip I had never seen one with my own eyes. In books they’re described and mostly scraggly without many leaves during most of the year. During Dustpool's brief rainy season the trees bloom bright purple flowers in small clusters. Their perfumed scent fills the air, creating sweet winds that are said to fill the entire region. Within days their fruits appear, ripen, and drop. Hours after the rains stop and pools of water evaporate, the trees go back to their dormant state.
The shimmerplum was exactly what I needed to refresh myself. I packed up quickly and made for the northern pass out of Gritfeld. A short walk from there and I got my first view of Dustpool Hold. A large, golden dome shined far off in the distance, glittering so brightly in the midday sun that I couldn't look directly at it. It appeared from this distance that the walls themselves were glimmering as well. I could not tell until I got much closer, but the entire hold was filled with a large series of channels and fountains, diverting water all throughout the castle and surrounding city. I was taken aback by the opulence required to create an oasis in the desert, but I did marvel at the engineering and craftsmanship required to build such a feat.
I was met at the front gates by another Vowkeeper initiate and was escorted into the main hall. I was surprised by her outfit; it was not the standard vestments, cloak, and hood of the order. She wore a sharply cut doublet and stylish trousers with a hint of golden thread along the seams. I hoped that I would be able to wear such a uniform as well, as it seemed far more practical for the desert climate.
All along the pathway were busy shops with merchants and customers haggling for the best price. There was all manner of goods for sale, everything from bright patterned tapestries to large vases and much more. It is easy to see why Dustpool was known as the Jewel of the Highlands and the main economic nexus. But more than material goods, I was more excited for the wealth of knowledge the city offered. I am sure father would be most proud that I will be trained by the best of the Dustpool Conglomerate in all manner of accounting and business. I just hope I also get to learn some of the history of this place as well.
We traveled up a series of ramps near the center of the hold and entered the Great Hall, though it was unlike any hall I had ever seen. There are no walls, and the domed ceiling sits atop a number of ornate pillars. At this point I was left to await my new master, Duncan Grandwell, the cousin of the current Hand of Commerce.
Inside the Great Hall is a massive glitterbark tree, more enormous than I could have ever imagined. The entire structure surrounding the tree acts as a well, allowing water to flow down to the glitterbark's roots and allowing it to stay in constant bloom. The smell was intoxicating.
Below the tree was a massive banquet filled with foods I'd never dreamed of tasting. It all seemed so luxurious against the stark desert backdrop in the distance. I stood there for what seemed like an eternity, without any guest so much as looking in my direction. When Master Grandwell did appear it was clear he had been enjoying a bit too much glowblush brandy. I was shocked to see a man of his rank, a Vowkeeper of authority and prestige, in such a state so early in the afternoon. Had he not obligations to attend to this afternoon?
He greeted me quickly, swaying a bit as he told me a number of facts about the glitterbark tree behind him. It was clear this was the crown jewel of Dustpool Hold. Dustpool's opulence shined as brightly as the tree's bark, and I couldn't help but compare it to Gritfeld village that I passed through earlier in the day. I had been to large cities before, having spent much time in Fort Halcyon, but this felt completely foreign to me. Where Fort Halcyon was built to be a home for many people, Dustpool Hold felt like a palace built for very few.
Duncan had me escort him to his chambers in the eastern part of the hold, which is where I will be staying. Once inside he quickly fell asleep, and I retreated to my room to rest as well. I pulled out the last shimmerplum I had purchased the day before and enjoyed that for dinner. Tomorrow I will make my way to the Vowkeeper stores in Lux Vault to start my internship there.
Book 2 - Page 468
Today is my fourth day in Dawnholm and I now wish I was staying much longer. The sunrise over the Brimbriar mountains was magnificent. I have not felt this alive in many years. Even in the depths of my research into this fascinating place, I can barely pull my mind away from thoughts of her.
I must focus…on my work.
In the histories of Dawnholm, there are mentions of a vault locked deep within the central keep. The doors have been sealed for ages. Curiously, when I asked Keeper Harmon, he became quite defensive. I get the sense he does not want me here; he has made it clear it is not his job to help in my task.
The keep itself has long been used as a school and training facility. Many Keepers come here for instruction and guidance. The lower floors contain numerous vaults and libraries full of a vast array of artifacts. I am surprised that so few of them have been properly cataloged, but that is why Hope asked for help.
While most people love to dig through jewels and treasures, I am most interested in scrolls and tomes. There were many in the first vaults I explored, but now that we're entering the older stashes, I have seen very few. It almost feels as if they were taken elsewhere, but I know the vaults have remained untouched for centuries. I did find one torn page within an old chest that read "Truths of Gyle". I have seen that name in only one other book and was certain it would not be written anywhere else.
Book 2 - Page 476
This morning I found something rather strange in a manifest of Brilstones. There were two listed at the end marked as Vital Stones. These were worth orders of magnitude more than the other gems listed. Old teachings of the Vowkeepers speak of Elan Stones as being a source of corrupting magic in the same way as the Brilstones placed in gauntlets. I suspect that these Vital Stones are in fact Elan Stones.
I had not thought much about Elan Stones since my days as a student. Some part of me thought they did not even exist. Runechips are common enough and many Brilstone gauntlets still exist, but I have never seen an Elan Stone.
Elan Stones were considered the highest of treason and they were also the most mysterious. Vowkeeper initiates were simply taught that using an Elan Stone was the ultimate corruption, but were given no insight into how they worked. The texts I could find spoke of these stones granting eternal life. The information in my notes was confusing, listing that a user could still die but would return in time. One account listed a fallen mage that was able to stay in a form of stasis and the power of another was able to revive him.
I wish there was more information here, but it is just a line in a ledger. There must be more information on these Vital or Elan stones somewhere.
Book 2 - Page 489
This morning I discovered something wondrous within a seemingly forgotten old merchant chest: a runestone. These old relics allow their caster to focus and channel runic magic. This is not the first time I have seen a rune object. While runic magic is outlawed under the Vowkeeper doctrine, it is still common to see runechips. These days I have only seen runechips used for fun tricks during name day celebrations.
My curiosity got the best of me and I must confess I had to know if it would still activate. Before I knew it I dashed from one end of the vault to the other in an instant. The runestone works! I feel guilty admitting my exhilaration.
I have spent many hours contemplating why many of the ancient texts do not mention runes at all. Many in the order believe the omission is purely accidental. I am not convinced. I believe runic magic is different from the elemental magic I have studied. I think it may even have a different origin altogether.
The chest also held seemingly innocuous letters and a ledger. This ledger is very old but details trade routes from Halcyon to Vidallah. It has been over a century since there was free flowing trade running through Brightswell Tower. Much of the business detailed in the ledger is around runestones. It makes mention of several I have never heard of before.
While the discovery of new runestones is exciting there is more to study in the ledger. Since the border closing we have heard very little from the Prisma. From my readings they were once great allies of ours, and from the looks of this ledger, great trade partners as well. It seems that they had access to runes but hungered for brilstones and opalesce ore in great quantities.
Furthering this research will keep me occupied for the next several days and I am already falling behind with each new vault I visit. I need to be careful about my focus because I tend to lose track of time. I really don’t want to miss another dinner invitation with Hope.
Book 3 - Page 12
I have nearly finished my work in the bowels of Dawnholm. If not for the summer evenings I have been spending in the fading sun with Hope, I am sure I would go mad. The amount of dust and well-aged grime I scrape from my boots each night is a constant reminder of how deep I delved. The last few weeks have been mired in boredom; ever since I found that working runestone, nothing else has seemed exciting.
Until today. This afternoon, upon moving a large old bookcase, I found what appeared to be a hidden door. The door itself is made of solid stone and I could find no clear locking mechanism. As luck would have it, through the passage of time, a chip has formed in one edge and I could peer through the crack. Through much hard work and some ingenuity with a broom I swiped from my quarters, I was able to pull a few loose papers through.
There is not much to go on from the scraps, but it appears to be a manifest of items. I cannot easily decipher what all the items are, but they appear to be incredibly valuable. The location is also not apparent but there was a foremark from a family that owns large portions of Luxvault. This needs more investigation and I must determine a way to open that door without Keeper Harmon—or anyone else—taking notice.
Book 4 - Page 38
"We were too late. The Fracture happened just before dawn. The corruption of Gyle has been unleashed. The earth shakes as the world hollows. The feral elements are draining from the land and into the Spellstorm. What has she done?"
Book 4 - Page 42
The damage is worse than I imagined. The bridges leading north from Fort Halcyon are now shattered, even the bridge at Halcyon Pass. The quakes continue, only furthering the destruction. No messages have reached us from Banehelm Keep and it is only rumored that Longwatch may be unscathed. Word from across the land seems to only get worse with each new report.
The Spellstorm surged last night and took with it the Vowguard unit I dispatched to recover the Vowkeeper stores from Lux Vault. Seeing the storm rise I had assumed the worst. To my surprise, a single survivor did return this morning. She seemed different, but the captain of the guard dismissed her so quickly I did not have time to study her for myself. I told the other Vowkeepers to be mindful if they hear of her and report back to me.
Our job now is to serve the people and contain the heresy that caused this disaster. I knew this day could come and I was unprepared. I cannot let that happen again.
Book 4 - Page 48
The aftershocks started to subside not long ago. It has been only a few days since The Fracture but I can't know for sure. The first survivors who surveyed the devastation have all been consumed by the spellstorm. Even Fort Halcyon is said to be little more than rubble. Castle Bogmore is in disarray and there are no spare men to cover the lookouts. I fear the worst. Massive explosions ring out from the south, even as the quakes settle. Siren's Step had not needed defending in many seasons, so a fresh patrol was dispatched only four nights ago.
The men returned this morning and said they had seen the edge of the world. At the cliffs the storm is still raging. Where there was once mountains and marshes, only clouds now remain. It is clear that the Highlands that I have called home have become hollow and I can't help but feel it is our fault.
We received word last night that Longwatch still stands. There is little time to waste, we leave within the day. It saddens me that untold amounts of knowledge will be left behind but one day we will return. We must leave the Highlands now, no matter the cost.
Book 4 - Page 49
The first caravans are leaving for Longwatch. We got confirmation they escaped the terrible fracture somehow. There is still a small pass connecting it to the Highlands. Word is that the quakes may force it to collapse, so the order is to move as quickly as possible and take only what we need. I can’t remember the last time I disobeyed a direct command, but I feel that I can’t leave without a stop back home. I must return to Westmar, to the house of my father. I only hope it still stands and that my father still lives.
The road will also lead me through Dawnholm. I have avoided news of the school there but the limited reports I have heard are grim. Many times I have made the journey to Longwatch but I cannot escape the feeling that this will be the most difficult trip of my life.
Book 4 - Page 51
The devastation of Dawnholm is unspeakable. Where there was once old roads, the world itself is torn asunder. The grounds I once strolled through are now fields of ash. On the road to Longwatch I knew I would see many terrible things, but nothing prepared me for that.
My knowledge of how this disaster unfolded is limited. I was unable to venture too close, but the destruction appears magnified towards the center of the keep. I knew that place well. It is nearly unrecognizable now, mostly just splinters. There are shards of stone puncturing the grounds, giving the ruins a vengeful aura I did not expect.
My memories of Dawnholm will now live only within the pages of this journal. I feared for the worst, but I believed along the road I would get word from Hope. No word has come. Seeing the ruins of Dawnholm for myself, I am more crestfallen than ever. If only we could have shared one more sunrise.
Book 4 - Page 53
The state of Dawnholm prepared me for the worst. I must admit with relief that Westmar, while still quite devastated, was not as bad as I had expected. Many of the houses still stand. I could see from the edge of the village that the house of my father was still roughly intact. From the first sight my stomach tied in knots, and it was not due to missing many meals since the fracture.
I had left my caravan behind in Dawnholm and the eerie silence was stifling. It was clear the village was empty and there were no signs of life left. As I slowly walked towards my childhood house, I let the emotion flow over me. I wondered if I would find my father’s body somewhere within the walls before me.
The house itself still stood. Technically. Several walls had collapsed and the roof was mostly gone. I did a quick check of the premises to see if I could find any bodies and I saw nothing. I wonder if my father survived. He may have been on the caravans to Longwatch. Part of me expected to find him here. It has been decades since we have spoken and I assumed he would die before I spoke with him again. I now hope I get a chance to see him once more.
My room was almost as I left it. The roof had collapsed but it was all too familiar. Night was coming so I had to move quickly and brush aside any nostalgia for another day. I moved my bed with some effort and found the floorboard I was looking for. It took longer than I expected to pry open the floor and find the hidebox. It was still there, just as I remembered all those years ago. Holding it up, I shook it lightly and heard the satisfying rattle of the key I needed inside.
The cellar door was covered in debris. I quickly cleared it off and went inside. The fading light of the day was not much help and I stumbled down the stairs that I went down hundreds of times as a youth. Tossing barrels aside, I made my way to the chest. It was covered in dust. It had not been touched since I left all those years ago. The key was sticky, but it still worked. The Coldwood was still strong and rigid to the touch.
I was able to recover the letters and the journal. I could not leave the honormark behind. What I came for was at the bottom of the chest, wrapped in cloth. The gauntlet was still there. Still hidden. Still warm. Ornate. Beautiful. Massive Brilstones showing in it. I dared not put it on but I must admit I was tempted. If there was ever a time to break my vow, now feels like that time.
I placed it in my bag with the rest of my great-grandfather’s belongings and made my way out of the cellar. I only made it to the edge of Westmar before it was too dark to venture further. I hope there is no Spellstorm tonight because there is no shelter here. Tomorrow I will venture south to catch one of the caravans heading to Longwatch. I hope they don’t question what I carry because I fear I may expose my own heresy.
I am already questioning my decision to take the gauntlet with me but there is so much I can learn from it. I hope the rest of the trip to Longwatch is boring, I could use the time to think.
Book 4 - Page 73
I heard rumors that a group was able to return to the Hollow Lands and escape. Despite my distaste for these looters, I hunger for knowledge of the state of the world. Through my own means I was able to learn what they recovered. Besides several gauntlets, some with gems still intact, there were a few scraps of parchment. The fools could not read them, so I was able to acquire them for little more than an old rune.
The scrolls contained powerful glyphs, the teachings of Waylyn the Scout. The stories say she was a phenomenal hunter, blessed with a gift of foresight. She was a formidable mage in her own right, but even more impressive leading a hunting party. With training we should be able to teach these skills to anyone that seeks enlightenment.
Book 4 - Page 80
I still remember the first time I laid eyes on Fort Halcyon. Growing up in Westmar meant being in the shadow of the massive towers, although they were always just a bit too far away to make out clearly. One year, I had the chance to go with my father while I was a young boy. We went to see the coronation of a new Hand of the Halcyon Kinship.
The towers were truly magnificent, stark white with gold trim against the deep blue of the sky. Fort Halcyon was always said to be the largest and most magnificent of the castles in the Highlands. The High Court, as we were taught to call it, is made up of the four major statues along the inner walls. That is the location where the Five Hand Alliance agreement was signed, bringing together the kingdoms of the Highlands.
Every child learns about the Five Hands of the Highlands as part of their upbringing. Tradition dictates that citizens of a kingdom remain loyal to that Hand and are given advantages when pursuing work within that area of expertise. Marriage is common across factions and although rare, some do choose to change their affiliations.
There have always been several kingdoms in the Highlands. History before the alliance is little more than folklore but the stories say that these kingdoms often fought in extended blood feuds. The Five Hands were formed many generations ago to stop the fighting and better organize the kingdoms. Although it was never explicit in the school teachings, I remember reading some messages from the time that indicated the alliance was forced to unify before an external threat. I was never able to confirm that and the books I found in the Vowkeeper vaults never seemed to cover it.
The idea was to ensure that there would never be one single tyrant ruling over the Highlands. Instead, each kingdom would get a vote in matters that pertain to the entire region. Each Hand in turn would have responsibilities and would manage a different aspect of the alliance. This is all laid out in one of the few books I was able to save during my escape after The Fracture.
Excerpts from Highland History by Nova Brightwill
Chapter 5 - The Five Kingdoms of the Highlands
Halcyon Kinship, commonly referred to as “The Kinship”, is the largest and most centralized kingdom in the Highlands. Its massive area of control extends from the edges of the Ruby Grove to the east, Hymnwood to the south, all the way to Edgewall Gate in the west and to Charity Crossing to the north. Despite the large size, it is still controlled as a single state, even though there have been attempts to split off the heavily populated regions of Westmar and Dawnholm.
Largely temperate in climate, The Kinship’s land is the largest in terms of population and food production. Most of the farmland in the Highlands is in this region. Much of the population outside of Fort Halcyon and Halcyon Village are primarily farmers or lumbermen. The members of The Kinship are known for their deep pride in the kingdom, their passion for hard work, and their fellowship to each other.
Fort Halcyon is considered by The Kinship to be the most impressive castle and fortification in the Highlands. The four massive statues known as the High Court were erected after the forming of the Five Hand Alliance to show that the other four Hands were always welcome in the fort. These figures are seen looking out from the center of the keep as if protecting it.
Fort Halcyon is the seat of government in the Highlands. The warden of Fort Halcyon is known as the Hand of the People and is meant to represent their wishes and voices inside the alliance. Since the forging of the Five Hand Alliance, the wardens of Fort Halcyon have all come from the Fieldbrand family. Alad Fieldbrand was the architect of the alliance and is credited with bringing several of the other kingdoms together.
Banehelm Academy is the smallest kingdom in all of the Highlands. Nestled far north near the Brimbriar mountains is Banehlem Keep. The keep itself houses the largest library in the Highlands as well as much of the research and advancement done by academy scholars. These researchers are credited with charting the Spellstorms and developing the Aegis Spires used throughout the region.
The Academy itself is focused on both research and teaching, and it houses the largest population of students studying a wide variety of disciplines. The primary schools inside the academy focus on brilstone research and extraction, chemical formulation, and Spellstorm meteorology. There is also a school of philosophy which has become widely controversial for criticism of Vowkeeper teachings and was all but shutdown in the years following the Five Hand Alliance.
Banehelm Academy has few exports beyond teaching and research. The population is small and condensed mostly around Banehelm Keep. The warden of Banehelm Keep is known as the Hand of Knowledge and is tasked with research and learning within the alliance. The people of the region are most known for their focus on knowledge above all, the steadyhand of logic, and a deep respect for wisdom.*
*I was born and raised as part of Banehelm Academy.
Dustpool Conglomerate is the most powerful member of the Highland economy. Started many generations before the Five Hand Alliance, the Dustpool Conglomerate is a commercial entity and seen as a central body responsible for ensuring prosperity.
The Dustpool region is home to the only known brilstone mines in the Highlands. In the far north of the Highlands, the territory is largely arid and would be considered by many as barely habitable. The wealth brought on by the brilstone mines has transformed the area to allow for bustling marketplaces and villages, along with the massive Dustpool Hold. The majority of the workers in the mines come from outside Dustpool itself with the promise of wealth pulling many people from Halcyon Kinship and even other areas outside of the Highlands.
Dustpool Hold is considered by many to be the most exquisite of all the castles in the Highlands. The strong contrast of the deep pools and lush greenery to the harsh desert just outside the walls makes it something of an impossibility. The original design was done by several members of Banehelm Academy who all mysteriously went missing in the years following the original construction. The people of the region see the hold as a pinnacle of achievement showing the great power of open markets and human ingenuity.
Unlike the other Hands of the alliance, the Hand of Commerce is actually not the warden of Dustpool Hold. The honor of being the Hand of Commerce is voted on by the directorship of the Dustpool Conglomerate and is generally the wealthiest current member. This leads to strong rivalry internal to the conglomerate that has often spilled over into small skirmishes and family violence. The conglomerate holds several values in high esteem, the first being charisma and the ability to make a deal. The second is the importance of luxury and the third is prosperity at any cost.
Longwatch Protectorate is the hub of the military. Located far to the south just beyond Dawnholm, the looming fortress of Longwatch stands tall on the Stormeave Plateau. Longwatch itself is home to numerous training grounds, garrisons and supply facilities. While much was moved to Lowland Outpost following the Five Hand Alliance, the vast majority of military might still lies within those walls.
The warden of Longwatch is the Hand of Defense and the leader of the Vowguard. Following the Vow Mandate and the ensuing enforcement there was many different outposts created throughout the Highlands that the Hand of Defense is tasked with controlling. The various Aegis Spires are also under the protection of the Vowguard.
Leading into the Five Hand Alliance there was worry that the kingdom of Longwatch would simply demand power since they have long controlled the largest standing military. This has never been the case due to the focus of the people on a sense of enduring loyalty, a clear code of honor and a tradition of service to all people of the Highlands.
The Bogmore Collective is the most secretive of all the kingdoms in the Highlands. Little was known about the inner workings before the Five Hand Alliance and the collective still allows in very few visitors. The region itself is known as a difficult place to live and has long been considered the most dangerous place in all the Highlands. There are stories of raiding parties from outside of the Highlands entering the region but there has been no confirmation of those conflicts.
Castle Bogmore is shrouded in the hazy fog of the southern marshes. The kingdom is well suited for the Hand of Secrets, responsible for information both foreign and domestic. The identity of the Hand of Secrets is closely guarded and it is said that even the other Hands of the alliance are not given that information.
There is a certain level of zealotry to the members of the Bogmore Collective, members are all given a tattoo but the purpose and differences are not known to outsiders and never discussed. The people of the collective value strong ambition, cunning in the face of terrible odds, and a grace in even the most difficult of situations.
Chapter 6 - Forging the Five Hand Alliance
Before the Lost War there was an uneasy truce between the kingdoms of the Highlands. There were scattered bonds and agreements between various leaders but little organization. Few original documents remain from that era, so most information is pieced together from other sources.
The rising threat that would lead to the Lost War was the driver to come together as a unified Highlands. We know this from a series of letters of the architect behind the alliance, the first Hand of the People: Alad Fieldbrand.
At the time, Fieldbrand was the warden of Fort Halcyon. He had forged partnerships with Banehelm Academy and the Dustpool Conglomerate. There are numerous records of his correspondence with Kanah Grimtree, the first Hand of Knowledge. Other historians believe this may have been a romantic relationship. His uneasy friendship with Verec Grandwell, the first Hand of Commerce, is also well documented. There are many trade relationships that were signed by these three and it is clear there was strong ties.
Gryff Lawkett, the first Hand of Defense, had an adversarial relationship with Fieldbrand. There were disagreements about a longstanding truce which allowed the Storm Guard to protect the Aegis Spires. The main issue was that many of the spires were located within the Halcyon Kinship. The Storm Guard had wide jurisdiction within the Halcyon Kinship region, and this lead to friction between the kingdoms.
Little was known about the first Hand of Secrets or any person that has ever held that role. There are no known records of the internal workings of the Bogmore Collective during the times leading up to the forging of the alliance. External reports from the Storm Guard and members of the Halcyon Kinship Patrol state that there were increasing incursions and raids. There are a few registered trade agreements from Halcyon Reach that are signed by the Collective but that is all the known contact from this era.
As the rising danger of the Lost War escalated Fieldbrand made the decision to call a meeting. Records indicate this happened just after a caravan of traders were slaughtered on the Summer Road just north of Halcyon Reach. Reports of the incident show that many of the merchants were killed while others were taken or otherwise left unaccounted for.. While some records are contradictory, it appears that Fieldbrand’s niece was killed or taken as part of this attack. Initially this escalated tensions greatly between the Bogmore Collective and the Halcyon Kinship. Letters I found indicate that there were rumors of an all out war growing imminent.
Correspondence between Fieldbrand and Grimtree showed painful discussion of loss and revenge, but that Grimtree had offered to mediate a meeting between the two kingdoms. This meeting would eventually become the first meeting of the Five Hand Alliance but only after word spread to the other leaders that either bribed or forced their way in. The location was set for Verdon Estate because of the central location as well as the neutral standing of the host.
Verdon Estate was created by one of the most wealthy merchants of the Dustpool Conglomerate. Shelbi Khade was born into a mining family in the Dustpool village of Gritfeld. Her excellence in negotiation and economics secured her a fast track into the upper echelons of the Dustpool Conglomerate. She was the first lowborn to become a partner and became one of the wealthiest people in the Highlands. Her signature deal was a multistage trade negotiation that tied all five kingdoms together for the first time. Other members of the Conglomerate were furious because it overruled existing agreements but few could argue with how lucrative a deal it was.
Over time this lead to a series of internal disagreements on what is best for the Conglomerate as Khade advocated for reducing profits in some instances to improve long term prosperity of the entire Highlands. Eventually this forced Khade to exit from the Conglomerate and sell her ownership. That sale was at the peak of massive economic boom that would later be seen as the most unprofitable single transaction the Conglomerate was ever a party to.
Upon leaving Dustpool Khade simply renounced all five kingdoms as she saw no need to align to any single one. Her personal letters indicate that she purchased the land of Verdon Estate from the Halcyon Kinship not long after her exile from Dustpool. Many inside the Conglomerate still saw her as a visionary and their custom is to weigh profit opportunity over holding a grudge. This meant that even in exile she would be asked to help with certain negotiations between kingdoms when needed.
The estate itself remains a treasure of the Highlands, and Khade’s political independence made it the ideal location for such an important meeting. There was some resistance from the Dustpool Conglomerate initially but they quickly realized that they had little of value to bargain with.
With the location set and attendees ready, the meeting occurred in private just after sundown. As has become tradition, the meetings are always done in the early evening. This stems from an original request from the Bogmore Collective. Accounts of the first meeting show that the Bogmore Collective was able to enter the estate unbeknownst to Khade's security or that of the Vowguard Elite. All parties in attendance stayed until after sunrise the following morning.
Notes indicate that the discussion covered knowledge-sharing related to the incursions and raids happening throughout the southern Highlands. There were specific accounts like one from a witness privy to the attack which killed Fieldbrand’s niece. This was the only time where true conflict arose and required Lawkett to call in some Vowguard Elite to settle the room.
The initial meeting led to a series of meetings over a fortnight. The idea for a formal alliance was originally floated by Grimtree and Grandwell. Both of them wanted support from the Longwatch Protectorate as well as information on the unknown enemy first reported by the Bogmore Collective. This lead to a series of partnerships that would establish the roles and responsibilities of each kingdom and each Hand.
A portion of The Five Hand Alliance documents are copied below.
We, the free kingdoms of the Highlands, come together to form a single grand alliance. This alliance is created to share the skill, power, and protection of the Highland people to ensure our continued prosperity. Each kingdom shall have its own responsibilities and rights but also share the burdens and successes of this united group...
...In this document, we enclose our shared promise for freedom, trust, and support as one common group for the further prosperity of our people.
Alad Fieldbrand, Hand of the People
Gryff Lawkett, Hand of Defense
Verec Grandwell, Hand of Commerce
Kanah Grimtree, Hand of Knowledge
Shadehand, Hand of Secrets
Excerpts from the Journal of Garrick, Enlightened Vowkeeper
Book 4 - Page 85
Refugees from the Hollow Lands continue to pour into Longwatch. They appear more and more wretched with each passing day, starved and barely clinging to life. Some that return have a look of corruption in their eyes and I know they have gazed into the Spellstorm. It pains me to see it, but I also find myself frequently watching the procession of these people.
Ardin, the warden of Longwatch, has somehow established order…for now. I have been working with the city guards and the other Vowkeepers to provide support. We have not been successful in stopping the Vowbreakers from returning to the Hollow Lands. I suspect that many of them are even using the very same terrible power that caused The Fracture. I can always tell when a breaker returns because they seem somehow immune to the decay of the Hollow Lands. In my studies, I have found no teachings to put my concern with the breakers at ease, which fuels my curiosity further.
We must remain strong and resist the urge to use these ancient items of power because we do not understand them. My studies have pointed to a book, very old, that could broaden our knowledge. There are mentions of an armorer, or even an entire race of them, that crafted the gauntlets. I must find this book, even if it means hiring a group of breakers to search for it.
Book 4 - Page 91
This morning, a Breaker came to see me. Imagine my surprise. She was quite a sight. Her hair was disheveled, her clothes worn and tattered, and she was clearly fresh from the Hollow Lands. As I am often reminded, appearances can be deceiving and are rarely important. The item this Breaker carried was what interested me. The Breakers know I pay a high price for any scraps of history they can bring me.
It was a journal, very old, and likely very dangerous. I have spent the rest of the day and most of this night poring over the contents. Large sections are missing—which may be for the best—but I offered the Breaker considerable coin if she can find them. This journal supposedly once belonged to Ferec Snowlash, the grandfather of Leoven Snowlash, my current master. I have no way to know if it is authentic, but it is now my mission to find out.
The contents of the journal read like a training manual for Breakers. It discusses, in detail, ways to control the power within the gauntlets. There are ideas and theories for how best to wield these weapons alone as well as in teams. Most of the back half of the journal is missing, so it is unclear who Ferec was training and what they expected to face.
If this truly is Leoven's grandfather's journal, it means that he broke his vow long ago. I must think more on this, so it seems sleep shall have to wait yet again. My mind yearns for the days that I could make a trip to Respite Rock in the Hymnwood to ruminate in peace under the warm sun. It saddens me that those days will likely never come again.
Book 4 - Page 95
A group of Breakers returned from Dawnholm. I knew this day would come. During the chaos, I attempted to push her out of my mind and focus only on the people and the vow. It was a futile attempt to protect a shred of the past.
My fears were confirmed. I heard the tale from a young boy that the Breakers found shelter within a vault. Hope had led him and several others there to protect them from the Spellstorm. She did this again and again sacrificing herself to look for other students. They found her not long after the second night of storms. Her eyes were hollow. He gave me a ring that she had left to him with instructions to find me. I have never seen her wear it. Someday I will research this ring, but not today.
The Breaker that brought the boy to me also carried a strange sash. I have seen several Breakers with these strips of cloth tucked away, mostly out of sight. I realized they are covered in markings, almost like a record of feats completed in the Hollow Lands. It is risky to carry something so obvious—but the Breakers are an open secret. I will see if I can get my hands on one of these sashes to better understand what the Breakers are doing in the Hollow Lands.
I am growing less uncomfortable with the Breakers. I know the choice they made and what that choice is likely doing to them. My curiosity is growing dangerous again, but I cannot help myself.
A long walk will serve me well.
Book 4 - Page 110
I woke this morning to a message. With order restored in Longwatch, more attention is being diverted to the Breakers. I need to be more careful about my meetings with them. I have instructed them to leave a mark by the Ribbonwood trees I pass on my morning walk if they return from the Hollow Lands with something of interest. While I empathize with their excitement, I must guide them to be more subtle next time.
I met a single Breaker outside the southern refugee encampment. The number of survivors entering Longwatch has slowed to a trickle but the camps are still overflowing. Ardin has done impressive work managing these efforts without descending into utter chaos. I worry for him now that he must deal with the politics of the Vowkeepers and Vowguard all wrapped into a single city. And that without mentioning the challenge the Breakers will present to him…
I could tell from my first glance it was an old relic. The style was clearly not from the native masterworkers of Dustpool. The Brilstone was cut with incredible precision and adorned with intricate scrollwork. Truly magnificent craftsmanship that glittered in the morning sunshine.
Holding this treasure brought memories flowing back. Its weight reminded me of traveling the Gildway as an apprentice learning accounting and trade. The power I felt emanating from the Brilstone made the hair on my neck stand up, just as it did the first time I discovered the ancient gauntlets of my grandfather. The feelings and memories were wondrous, enchanting, and dangerous all at the same time.
The Breaker wanted me to identify the necklace. She was quite disappointed when I explained that I could not. The only way to understand the power of that Brilstone was to wear it. The Vowkeeper doctrine does not forbid me from wearing such powerful artifacts, but I worry about the temptations that it would bring.
I heard rumors that there was still an armorer hiding somewhere in Longwatch. He may be the only person with the knowledge to identify such a relic. His kind has long been missing from the Highlands, even well before the fracture. While travel is not truly outlawed, the Vowguard is incredibly suspicious of outsiders. Edgewall Gate has been blockaded since I was a child, closing the entrance to the Red Stairs. The Gildway was still left open until Bron Odium took control of Dustpool Hold. His fear of outsiders outweighed his better judgement and his greed. Since those days I have seen very few armorers and even less of their wares.
When I pressed the Breaker on where she found the necklace, it was clear this is not the only treasure she uncovered. It appears that the fracture may have cracked open some previously hidden areas of Luxvault. I had heard rumors and found traces of rare items stored there many years ago. If my memory serves me well, most of that area was endowed to the Vowkeepers for use. That may mean this amulet—and whatever else this fortune seeker has found—once belonged to the order. That is both worrying and confusing and I must think on what it means.
Book 4 - Page 124
The summons was abrupt, but that is not unusual for Master Ferec. I learned long ago that the best way to deal with his impetuous decision making style was to always be prepared. Ferec had sent an initiate to find me. Perhaps I am just getting older, but this young man looked barely older than a child. As he spoke, I heard a crack in his voice. Looking into his eyes, I know the experiences of the last several months have aged him more than his body will show. My days as an initiate were hard enough and the thought of experiencing the fracture during that time is unimaginable.
I quickly gathered my most recent notes and followed the initiate towards the upper keep. Although my standing meant I could also reside in the keep, I preferred the quiet and privacy of my terrace home. I knew that Ardin was reluctant to allow the Vowkeepers to occupy such a visible location. The whispers had started almost immediately; had Ardin lost his powers as warden? I was not surprised, Ferec can be very convincing.
To my surprise upon entering the upper hall I was met by both Master Ferec Snowlash and Warden Ardin Wynro. They could not be more opposite in appearance and seeing them side by side felt almost comical. Both a bit past middle age, Ferec was slightly balding and clearly enjoyed too many shombi nut pies. It would be easy to dismiss Ferec as feeble if not for the glacial blue eyes that projected immense intelligence. Ardin had only a few flecks of grey in his black hair, strongly built from years of physical training and a clear rigidity gained from his military service. They had been in a deep discussion and both turned to me as I entered.
I was prepared for a discussion on the state of the refugees or to get a new directive to pick up my previous work cataloging historical artifacts. What I was not expecting was a flurry of questions about the Breakers. Somewhat foolishly, I had expected the focus of the Warden and current ranking member of the Vowkeepers to be on the suffering refugees of the Highlands. Instead they wanted to know any information I had on the Breakers. They wanted to know how they were getting to the Hollow Lands, what they were looking for, how they were surviving the spellstorm, and more.
Unfortunately, in all my previous research, I found little recorded on the Breakers. What little I do know beyond the power of the gauntlets and runestones relates to Vital Stones. The use of a Vital Stone is central to the breaking of the vow. I have no idea if or how these Breakers found Vital Stones or even if they use them. All I know is what was in my research.
Judging by the looks I received from Ferec and Ardin, I do not think my answers were satisfying.
My gut response of being defensive is concerning on later reflection. Am I starting to empathize with the Breakers? I know the corruption that has befallen them. I know my own curiosity on their nature and their power. But am I willing to stand by and let them continue their illegal ways? Am I going to stand up for them? Defend them? Or worse...
Book 4 - Page 133
I had never ventured to the outer fringe of Longwatch before. On my morning walk, I saw the message from the Breakers and knew they wanted to meet. The lower bailey was on the easternmost edge of town far from the refugee encampments. It was a well kept secret because it was only accessible through some winding back alleys. Few people came here as this area was patrolled by Breakers at all hours. It has become a stronghold of sorts but to the annoyance of the Keepers the local Vowguard was too busy to crack down here. There was no crime reported in the area but almost everyone knew the sorts of crimes being committed.
I left around dusk and veered into one of the side alleys, my mind wandering on about what the Breakers could have found. In recent days they were making more frequent trips to the Hollow Lands. Either they are getting much better at timing the spellstorms or perhaps the worst storms have subsided. I know long ago the men of the Highlands would predict the spelltides and be able to seek shelter. The ruins of many aegis spires still dot the countryside, although they have not been activated in generations.
Word had spread that the fragile pass connecting Longwatch to the Hollow Lands was starting to splinter. Luckily it seemed that the stream of refugees had all but stopped at this point. It still saddens me that so few managed to make the journey. But that meant that the Breakers must have found another way to access the Hollow Lands. I had thought on this idly for quite some time and did not expect to find out the truth of this tonight.
Making the final turn before the outer courtyard I was met by a group of Breakers. Some of them looked familiar. In all my interactions with them up until now I had never bothered to ask any of their names. I feel a bit ashamed about that, but I know that I know my dealings here were already questionable enough. One of the Breakers held up a gloved hand and I stopped. Several heartbeats passed as I waited and watched. A whistle came from inside the courtyard and the Breakers moved aside and ushered me in.
The courtyard itself had been turned into a small tent city. It was shockingly well organized with a handful of young people buzzing in and out carrying various objects almost all wrapped in cloth. I entered a tent near the center and my escorts peeled off to return to their posts. Upon entering a young woman pushed her way around a massive table covered in scrolls and a very large map. She introduced herself as Avira Emberdane and she was the leader of this small group of Breakers. I realized that this was the same young woman that had brought me that incredible amulet many days before.
This time she did not have a magic amulet, a runestone or even a Brilstone gauntlet to show me. Instead she had a single letter. She told me this letter is proof that the fracture itself was not some catastrophic accident but instead was caused by the Vowkeepers themselves. She held the letter up to me and said this was the first bit of proof. She wanted my help to uncover the rest. I took the letter and took my leave for the night, telling her I needed to think on her request.
I walked quickly back home as if the letter I carried was some beacon of corruption. Upon entering my bedroom I pulled the letter out, stomped the floorboard that contained my hidebox and slipped the letter in quickly. I was not ready to read the letter just yet. In my haste to take the letter from Avira I was able to catch just one thing: the letter was addressed to Ferec Snowlash.
Book 4 - Page 146
It has been several days since I last met with the Breakers. In that time I have not been able to bring myself to read the letter sitting in my hidebox. The letter has been on my mind and the accusation and offer from Avira Emberdane have not been forgotten.
I have been summoned nearly every morning to help Ferec and Ardin with recovery and rebuilding efforts. Ferec wants me there to further make it clear how valuable the Vowkeepers are at this point and I think Ardin hopes I will help bring a more moderate voice.
Longwatch, and the splinter of the Stormeave Plateau that we now reside, appear to be safe from the Spellstorms and aftershocks. It has been weeks since The Fracture and there has not been a hint that we might be unprotected here. That has put the survivors more at ease and I have felt the relief that the immediate danger has passed.
Ferec has called on me to organize a meeting of the five Hands, or what is left of them. With my time spent organizing the refugee camps there is hope that I can help identify and collect a leader to represent each kingdom. So far I have been able to find representatives from Banehelm Academy, Halcyon Kinship and of course Longwatch Protectorate. Even though there is an enclave of the Bogmore Collective in the northern refugee camp I have been unable to get them to meet with me on any official terms. There appear to be very few remaining members of the Dustpool Conglomerate and they say they need to convene the directors before any new Hand of Commerce is chosen.
All of this has taken me away from my time to contemplate on the cause of The Fracture. It has also meant that several messages from the Breakers left in the Ribbonwood tree have gone unanswered. I wonder if they think I have chosen to not take them up on their offer. I will need to do something soon.
Book 4 - Page 155
The meeting this morning went well despite my concerns. Security was kept tight by Ardin and the Guard. I had some last minute worries that a group of Breakers may attempt to infiltrate or disrupt the proceedings.
The Dustpool Conglomerate was efficient in selecting a new Hand of Commerce without much delay. Tracking down the Shadehand has proven to be the most difficult part of all of this. The Bogmore Collective has taken up roost in an area just outside Longwatch. The people now refer to it as “Shiverdock” for the way rocks look upturned where the Stormeave Plateau broke away from Velnor. I was unable to get much detail, but they said in order to appoint a new Shadehand, they had to complete a ritual which could only be done on a night where both moons were visible. I dug into the small library in Longwatch but could not ever find reference to two moons. I felt foolish even looking it up since everyone knows our planet, Primdal, has but one moon known as Sipra. Maybe one day I will take the time to learn more of the Collective’s ways.
Despite not being a member of the Five Hands, it was Ferec that set the agenda and moved the meeting along. There was considerable business held in the morning session as this was considered a true meeting of the Five Hands. This meant that the room had a large number of people between each Hand and their delegation. It has been many years since I was witness to one of these meetings and in many ways I wish I could have excused myself from this one.
Each kingdom provided a report on their losses and status. It was a somber and dire ordeal. Even though it has been several weeks since the Fracture, there is still so much unknown and so many unaccounted for. The worst of it came from the accounting of the Guard. The overall strength of the Guard is vastly diminished but worse is the near total loss of the training core from Lowland Outpost. I have not thought of my time with Nila in those barracks for many years. In my own rush to escape my focus was elsewhere and I had just assumed that Nila would survive and endure as she always had. While I was tempted to ask specifically about her during the report, I knew it was not the time or place for such a request.
I am embarrassed to say that I was distracted for much of the rest of the day and into the evening. The weight of all this destruction has been difficult to bear. It is times like these that I feel most frustrated with my own knowledge and the teachings I have dedicated my life to. It seems insufficient to spend all this time learning if it cannot be applied to help others.
I feel drained but every time I return to my room I am reminded there is more work to be done. I know the letter from Avira still sits in my hidebox unread and I know tomorrow I will see another mark on the Ribbonwood tree during my morning walk. I need to refocus on the people that require aid and those that I can actually help.
Book 4 - Page 156
The second day of meetings has gone much like the first. The Conglomerate was most concerned about many of the items they attempted to recover from Lux Vault. The vault itself was ripped open during the Fracture and they were the first to raise the concern of Breakers returning to the Hollow Lands in search of such valuables. I expected that the Breakers would be mentioned during the proceedings but even I was caught off guard by the reactions around the room.
It is not a secret that Vowbreakers exist. They use magical items and ignore many other rules in the Vow Mandate. It is just rare to openly discuss their existence, especially in the company of the Vowkeepers and the Vowguard. I watched as almost everyone in the room sat up straight at the mention of the word. The person that actually looked most comfortable with the whole thing was Ferec.
Ferec made it clear that Ardin and the Guard had a plan for dealing with the Vowbreakers. He reiterated that the reason why the Fracture occurred was due to the misuse of magic. The Fracture was punishment for the selfishness of the Breakers. They planned to clear out the encampments that they suspected contained anyone breaking the Vow Mandate. He made an impassioned speech about how he hated devoting resources away from those who needed it to deal with such a problem but acknowledged that the Vow Mandate was still the order of the land and must be upheld at any cost.
This discussion brought about many vigorous nods of agreement and then the group moved on. The rest of the day was filled with more of these talks covering all manner of petty concerns from each of the Hands. The outcome was a new set of responsibilities and a plan for reconstruction and organization of Longwatch and the Stormeave Plateau. This is exactly what the people need. I am happy to see such progress is being made and pleased to be a part of it.
I did not stay for the final dinner because there was an unfinished task waiting for me. On my shelf I keep a bottle of Glowblush brandy for special occasions. It seems the only reasons I have opened it recently have been more medicinal than celebratory. I poured a glass that would normally seem much too tall and kicked open the floor board where my hidebox was placed.
The letter Avira gave to me was addressed to Ferec Snowlash. The foremark on the letter is unmistakably from someone in the Banehelm Academy. There was no name and the bottom portion of the letter had been ripped. This was an update on a research project. It seemed like an innocuous note. The typical boring dry research report I usually love. However, after reading it twice, I know why this seemed so important to the Breakers.
It appears that Banehelm Academy, at the secret request of the Vowkeepers, is seeking to find a way to reconstitute a shattered Vital Stone. That is all I am willing to write in these pages.
Book 4 - Page 160
It all happened so fast. The meeting had adjourned and each Hand and their delegation were leaving. I was one of the last to file out of the room and into the spring evening. We were all heading to a well deserved banquet and reception across the courtyard. I was barely outside a moment when I felt a glacial wind, unseasonable for this time of year. Screaming broke the pleasant, hopeful conversations as I watched the Hand of Commerce collapse a few steps in front of me. He clutched his chest and rolled over, revealing a large shard of what looked like ice protruding from his back and frost growing quickly across his skin.
The Vowguard leapt into action. I did not even realize there were so many around us. The shouts were methodical, the orders practiced. They rapidly moved the remaining delegates into a safe location under the meeting hall and fanned out with incredible precision. I knew they would not find the assassin. It was clear this was done by a Vowbreaker.
We sat for several hours huddled in the cellars under the hall. Small groups of terrified people sat in tight circles as the Guard took shifts watching over us. It gave me time to think and process what I had just witnessed. There was a young woman huddled together with other trembling aides from the Dustpool Conglomerate. The pain in her eyes filled me with a deep sadness and I realized she had not only lost an overseer but also a friend and mentor. She reminded me of the young Breaker that asked me to identify a powerful necklace she had recovered from the Hollow Lands weeks ago.
In a time of such devastation, it seemed we were so close to a breakthrough, a tiny spark of hope. In an instant that hope seemed to be extinguished before it ever really had a chance to light the way. It sickens me that I once thought of helping the Breakers.
This attack was especially vile and cold-blooded after all the progress we made these past few days. The Five Hand Alliance was reforged, and through painstaking work we were finally working towards improving the lives of all those who survived the Fracture. This assassination could put all of that into jeopardy. A new Hand of Commerce would need to be selected, appointed, informed on policy, placated and reasoned with. There is no telling what sort of demands they might have or concerns they may bring to the current negotiations.
In all likelihood, the Dustpool Conglomerate will blame Ardin and the Vowguard for failing to keep everyone safe, especially the newly appointed Hands. This could make everything unravel very quickly. There is no telling how damaging this will be. I am ashamed that I let my faith in the Vowkeepers waver, even for a moment. It will not happen again.
Book 4 - Page 162
I awoke this morning to a strong knock at my door, and opened it to find a short and very stout looking Vowguard Initiate with a summons. I was to report to Ferec with all haste. I had hoped for a morning walk and a trip to the baths, but the glowering look on the Vowguard’s face made it clear I was to leave with him immediately.
Ferec was in the upper hall along with Ardin and several aides. Both Vowguard and Vowkeeper attendants fluttered about a main table that held a large map of the Stormeave Plateau and the Hollow Lands. I was too far away to make out any particulars on the map itself, but it seemed to have considerable detail of the current state of the Hollow Lands. That was surprising to me, considering only Breakers could travel there. At least that is what I was led to believe.
Upon my arrival, Ferec quickly dismissed the aides and Ardin’s face flashed with annoyance. This was Ardin’s hall, and I had a feeling he wanted to be the one giving orders. I thought that Ferec's power would wane with the founding of the new alliance, but that didn't seem to be the case. Rather than lose face after the assassination of the Hand of Commerce, his influence has seemed to only grow.
Once all the aides had left, Ferec began to praise my work with the new Five Hand Alliance. Ardin agreed, but his tone remained serious, even defensive. It was quite the contrast between the relaxed manner of Ferec and the watchful, disciplined nature of Ardin. I must admit, I allowed myself to bask in the praise for longer than I should have considering the events that transpired last night. It felt good to feel as though I had done something right in a time where so much had gone wrong
However, the conversation soon changed direction. Ferec's relaxed manner quickly faded away, and his easy praise began to turn into an interrogation. Ferec wanted to know who I thought would be the new Hand of Commerce. I explained what I knew of the process, and they seemed disappointed that I did not have more details. It would be days before the Dustpool Conglomerate would announce the Hand's successor. Their rapid-fire questions had an oddly conspiratorial tone to them. I did my best to explain what I knew of the surviving members of the Conglomerate, but neither Ferec nor Ardin seemed satisfied.
Without missing a beat, Ferec dove right into discussing the current status of the Breakers’ colonies. He went methodically through the details of where they were located and their numbers. Each time Ferec said the word “Breaker,” Ardin would wince as if pinched. I was not surprised that Ferec knew so much, since the Breaker colonies were both disorganized and far too open with their activities. The Fracture and the ensuing chaos has allowed them to operate brazenly in a way they never could before. The entire time, I could tell Ferec was waiting to see how I would respond. I did my best to act as if this was all new to me and truly horrifying.
At the end of our conversation, Ardin gave me an assignment. He needed me to seek out the Shadehand in order to determine the unknown location of several Breaker colony leaders. He handed me a sealed letter that I opened and scanned as he continued giving me details. I knew what I would find when reading down the list, but I could feel my heartbeat ring in my ears as I saw the name Avira Emberdane.
The letter is sitting on my desk as I write this. I have not been able to get the screams of last night out of my head. I know I should be sleeping, for the task before me will be very difficult. I am not sure why I was chosen to do this, but it is my duty. I faltered once before, but I cannot allow myself to do so again. Not after last night.
Book 4 - Page 169
Getting an audience with the Shadehand was no small feat. I arrived in Shiverdock many days ago, but was refused at its entrance. Instead, I was told to wait in a tent outside the walls. There is a bed here, and a place for a fire, but little else. It has been several days, but still no word from the Collective.
During that time, I received word that a new Hand of Commerce was chosen. As I suspected, he's refused many of the compromises made in the Alliance's last meeting. The Dustpool Conglomerate demanded that Ardin and the Longwatch Protectorate pay reparations for the death of the previous Hand. However, it seems that Ferec was able to negotiate privately with the Five Hands and come up with an agreement that will completely change the Alliance
The Five Hand Alliance has designated an executor on their behalf with emergency powers to deal with the cataclysm of the Facture and the threat of the Vowbreakers. The unanimous decision was to put that power into Ferec’s hands. This is a truly exceptional step, and one that will strengthen the position of the Vowkeepers. I think it has always bothered Ferec that the Five Hand Alliance never formally recognized the Vowkeepers, even after the Vow Mandate. Now is his chance to change the world for the better.
Book 4 - Page 171
Little is known about the Bogmore Collective. They are a secretive order, and it is said that even the delegation that attends the Five Hand Alliance meetings does not include the true Hand of Secrets. I have been fascinated by their rituals since I was a child, and still remember the first Alliance meeting I attended. I will never forget the first time I laid eyes on the Shadehand.
A Bogmore escort came to my tent last night. She was thin and wore a dark cowl that covered most of her face. All I could see were her dark green eyes in the moonlight. She handed me a strip of cloth and instructed me to put it over my eyes. I did my best to quickly comply. All I could see was darkness as I was led out of the tent.
After a short time, or what seemed like a short time, the strip of cloth over my eyes was incredibly disorienting, I was gently but forcefully put into a seat. My instinct was to uncover my eyes, but I refrained. A voice that did not sound human instructed me to remove the blindfold. It took only moments for my eyes to adjust to the pitch black room. Across the table was a person in a full mask and hood that completely obscured their face. In the darkness, the mask seemed to move as if it was alive.
The Shadehand knew exactly who I was and why I was asked to meet with them. While I had theorized that would be the case, it was still unsettling. With a gloved hand, they slid an envelope across the table. Was this the information I sought? I didn't dare ask. I sat there a moment, looking at the envelope and wondering why I was brought to this face-to-face meeting if the information could have been simply handed off.
As if I had asked that question aloud, the Shadehand pulled out a small trinket covered in a shimmering cloth. Without saying a word, they pulled off the cloth and revealed what appeared to be a bird skull with softly glowing green eyes. The eyes began to pulse, and the rhythm of my heartbeat slowly began to match. I could not look away. That is the last thing I remember. I awoke back in my tent, and would have thought the whole experience a dream if not for the fact that I still held the envelope.
As I write this the dawn is breaking. I feel completely fine, even good, as if I had a wonderful night’s rest. I have no idea what happened last night, and have no time to ponder it. Ferec and Ardin will be waiting for this information.
Book 4 - Page 186
Over the past few nights, the Vowguard has swept through all of Longwatch and rounded up any Breakers they could find. The information I gathered from the Shadehand was instrumental in this task. The raid on the outer courtyard where Avira’s group had taken up residence was several nights ago. Though I cannot bring myself to now walk through that part of Longwatch, I know I made the right decision.
This morning Ferec called me to his private chambers. I noticed that he had taken over a large area of apartments originally dedicated to be used by the five Hands.
Ferec seemed unusually concerned and serious. The room where we met was nearly empty except for a table and a few chairs. There were no notes, or maps, or really any other objects around. Ferec pointed to the chair across from where he was seated. He did not say a word until he heard the main door close. It even sounded as if we were being locked in.
Ferec leaned in close to me, his eyes ablaze with intensity. He said that the threat of the Breakers had been contained and that many of them were being held in a makeshift prison camp on the far end of the Stormeave Plateau. However, he quickly made it clear that was not why he summoned me.
He asked me what I knew of the Fracture, and I recounted my experience. I discussed the moments just after the first quakes, the realization of the destruction in Dawnholm, my escape to Longwatch, all of it. I even shared with him my theory that it might have been caused by a Breaker. Without mentioning Nila by name, I admitted to Ferec that I knew of the Breakers as long ago as my earliest assignments. He dismissed my confession in an instant and told me that those old sins no longer mattered.
And then Ferec told me everything. How the Breakers created the Fracture by misusing the power of the Vital Stones. That it was their selfishness and lust for power that caused all the pain and suffering that had befallen the Highlands. He spoke of the Vow Mandate, revealing that it was created to protect us from this very occurrence, from the dangers that the Vital Stones presented. And finally, he told me that he had been working with Banehelm Academy all along to try to understand what the Breakers were up to, but wasn't able to stop them before the Fracture was created.
While telling me all this, I noticed him watching me intently. Gauging my reactions and testing me. I am at a loss on if I passed his test.
Ferec paused to let me take in all this information. My heartbeat was ringing in my ears. My mind was racing from all the details I had ever learned about the Breakers and Vital Stones. I was reminded of my conversations with Nila, and of the revelations of my own great-grandfather and the chest of his I once opened. I was lost in thought for what felt like hours when Ferec snapped me back with a name.
That is the Breaker that caused the Fracture. His greed or hubris or simple stupidity caused all this devastation. Now Ferec wants my help to figure out how to find him.
Book 4 - Page 189
I felt hopeful when I woke this morning. With the Breaker threat mostly contained, I could settle into my next job of researching and finding Thadius Vanderun and determining how he caused the Fracture. After my long morning walk in the sunshine, I went to the Longwatch libraries for the day. I looked for any trace of Thadius in the ledgers, but it will take many days to search through even just the limited records we have from Halcyon Pass.
I am still considering how to research the Fracture and the power of the Vital Stones. After the Vow Mandate, all records detailing the uses of Vital Stones were ordered to be destroyed. I can only hope a few documents survived and that I will be able to find them. The Longwatch library is pretty limited, but tomorrow I will seek a consultation with the Hand of Knowledge. While I must tread carefully, considering the nature of this research, I am sure that the Banehelm Academy must have recovered some of their work after the Fracture.
For now, I am going to enjoy a long walk home.
As I rounded the corner on my walk home, I noticed a fresh mark on the Ribbonwood tree. That can only mean one thing: Avira is still free. How could she possibly think I would meet with her and the Breakers after all of this? I need to rest and think more on this in the morning.
Book 4 - Page 191
It was dark. The Shadehand was there, beckoning me to sit. The walls shook around him. Books, candles and knicknacks were all falling to the floor. Somehow the Shadehand was steady, never flinching even with the loud crashes outside that were either explosions or thunder. It reminded me of the night of the Fracture and the terrible aftershocks that happened in the ensuing days. The Shadehand’s piercing eyes under the hood were unyielding. Somehow I managed to find a chair and sit.
On the table in front of me was a parchment. The Shadehand simply pointed knowingly at it. There was only a single sentence that read, “What is true in one hand is a lie in the other”. As I read the words aloud I heard my heartbeat in my ears. The world around me trembled. I could only focus on those words, repeating them in my head.
What is true in one hand is a lie in the other.
That is when I awoke, just before sunrise and drenched in sweat. This is the third time I have had such a dream in the days since my meeting with the Shadehand. I never believed the childhood stories that the Collective could control dreams, but now I am not so sure.
After a bath I decided to go for a walk. Later in the day I was planning to meet with the Vowguard and tour the areas of the city where known Breaker encampments once were. The mark on the ribbonwood tree was still there. I have not decided yet what to do with this message from Avira. I tried not let it bother me as I felt the warmth of the sun on my face.
It is still a marvel that Longwatch was essentially untouched by the Fracture. Besides the sundering of the Stormeave Plateau from the mainland, the keep and surrounding area is relatively untouched. There were a few collapsed buildings due to the earthquakes, but Longwatch is very well kept compared to the rest of the Hollow Lands. I marveled at the artistry of a nearby building on the way to meet the Guard. I was to start my tour in the northern end of the market district.
As I approached, I saw another small group milling around with the Guard. They wore the outfits common for the Banehelm Academy. I was surprised to see that the Hand of Knowledge was amongst this group. Lyna Springflare is the youngest of all the Hands currently serving.. Though I’ve had limited interactions with her, it is clear to me that she is both brilliant and curious. That curiosity must have led her to wanting to see the Breaker encampments with her own eyes.
We traveled across Longwatch to several small areas where Breakers had set up shelters. There was not much difference between these shantytowns and the regions across the Stormeave plateau being used to house refugees. All along the Captain of the Guard swelled with pride, pointing out the many areas his men outsmarted the Breakers. The final place we visited was the courtyard where I met Avira. It was slightly larger than some of the other camps, but not the largest. What struck me in all of this was the relative lack of evidence of a struggle. It looked like there was very little, if any, fighting. I suppose the Breakers decided it was best to go quietly? That did not seem right to me.
The entire tour, I had been watching Lyna. She said very little but was making frequent notes on a slim piece of parchment. As we entered the last encampment the Captain informed us that a dozen Breakers were captured in this area. That was far too few, as I had seen more than fifty people in this area before. Just as I was about to ask, Lyna beat me to it. She commented that this camp has at least sixty eight beds, so a dozen Breakers was nowhere near the entire group. They either knew ahead of time that the raid was coming or they were able to escape.
That is when she suggested they must have a secret entry point. The Captain rapidly swung from a look of smug self-satisfaction to one of agitation. He was clearly annoyed that Lyna was intimating that his troops may have allowed some Breakers to escape. He quickly called for his men to fan out and search the area and we were instructed to wait. Lyna nodded her head just slightly to her group. They subtly spread out enough to keep in view of the Guard.
I watched as one of the Banehelm acolytes pulled something from their pocket and opened it. It looked about the size of a large pocket watch, but it was clearly not being used to tell time. I had seen one such device before; a dowsing jack, used to detect fluctuations in the Spellstorm. Why they had one here I did not know. Lyna noticed me and her expression changed from clever focus to hauntingly serious.
I moved over to Lyna and whispered that I would not report the dowsing jack. While it was technically illegal under the Vow Mandate, I was certainly more interested in why they were using it than in reporting them. She told me that she thought there was a Storm Hatch in this area. I was puzzled for many long moments. The Stormeave plateau has long been protected from the Spellstorms due to a specific topological quirk known as The Awning. This series of high shelf ridges shelters the plateau. Or so I thought.
Lyna did not say anything and simply looked at me with some frustration as I made a confused face back at her. She informed me that a Storm Hatch is a portal. A way to connect two areas via conjured spellcurrents. That is how Lyna thinks the Breakers escaped.
She told me that two years ago they discovered three of these portals in and around Banehelm Keep. They were studying one of them but couldn’t figure out how to activate it . A dowsing jack can be used to detect if a Storm Hatch was recently activated, so that is what they were searching for. Before I could ask for more information or if her acolytes had found anything, I was interrupted by loud barking of orders.
The Captain returned a few moments later with the same smug look as before. He announced they found the secret passage and he had dispatched several Guard units to cover the area. Given the current unsafe state of the surrounding district, the Captain wanted to escort us away quickly. He did not bother to thank Lyna for the suggestion, but that really did not surprise me.
Book 4 - Page 205
More than any other member of the Five Hand Alliance, the Hand of the People is supposed to be the speaker of the masses. As a young man, I failed to see the level of performance and the disingenuous nature of many of the public gestures. The Hand of People is the only leader elected through a vote. The land owners of Halcyon come together every five years to decide on a new Hand. A new vote was to be cast this autumn.
I was surprised to be summoned by Sera Crestwood. Following the Fracture, Sera was given emergency powers as the Hand of People. The previous Hand, Jarod Pineward, did not make it out of the Hollow Lands. By law, the remaining council members choose a new Hand of People to serve as steward until such a time that an election could be held. It will be quite some time until that point.
The ribbonwood tree had a fresh mark. I knew Avira wanted to meet. Enough time had passed that I was willing to meet and hear what she had to say. I left a note inside the tree and kept walking to meet Sera.
Most of the Halcyon refugees had set up on the western side of Longwatch. I loathed to go to this area because it was a reminder of home. I constantly worried I would meet someone from Westmar that I had known long ago. I walked through the camp without incident and made it to Sera’s tent.
The tent was empty except for Sera. That seemed odd to me because I expected the Hand of People to always be surrounded by an entourage. Sera was direct, shockingly so. She wanted to know how I felt about the current status of the Five Hand Alliance. I responded truthfully that I felt that the talks went well and that we were continuing to progress as a society. Our next step should be controlling the Spellstorms and working to rebuild the Stormeave Plateau and Longwatch. I told her it would be a long road, but at least we were safe for now.
She looked surprised at my answers. After some hesitation she asked me my thoughts on purging the Vowbreakers. I was a bit caught off guard by the question. Sera was there the night of the murder. She saw the same ruthless act that I did. I told her the Breakers should be pushed out and that the Vowkeepers will do everything we can to save those who were tainted by magic. It is our duty to both those individuals and to the greater good.
Sera did not look satisfied, but she let me take my leave.
Book 4 - Page 212
Last night I had another dream with the Shadehand. The specifics were different but the message remained the same.
“What is true in one hand is a lie in the other.”
Those words continued to reverberate around my head as I made my way to meet Avira. It was a cloudy morning. Foreboding. It fit my mood and the task I had set forth for the day. I was reminded of the murder I had witnessed many weeks ago. The cold washed over me once again as I pictured the shard of ice and the face being slowly covered in frost. I shook off the vision before entering a side alley. The unmarked door I was looking for sat at the end. I waited a few heartbeats before entering to ensure I was not followed and that I could hear no commotion from inside.
Avira was just inside the door waiting for me. The area was a cellar of sorts; I think it belonged to a nearby pub. There was a long table and half of it was covered in a series of crates. The only light came from two oil lamps beside Avira, which meant the hall and much of the rest of the room was shrouded in darkness. Avira pushed the chair across from her out with a quick kick and asked me to sit.
She reached into her satchel and produced a book and a soft satin pouch. The book was in rough shape, the cover torn beyond recognition. Avira stared at me intently as I flipped through the pages. It was a series of notes from Lyna Springflare. There were drawings, schematics, and observations. These must have been written years ago when she was still an apprentice at the Academy. I continued to read on and when I turned the next page my breath caught in my throat.
This was the project written about in the letter to Ferec. These notes were about reconstituting a Vital Stone. Not just any Vital Stone; the mythical Vital Stone of Gyle. I never thought this stone was real. No one did. The story is ancient, one of ritual and lore back to the creation of the world. It is part of the Vowkeeper faith, but I never took it literally. Until now.
Avira sensed the recognition on my face and seemed somewhat satisfied in my horror. She reached out to the pouch and opened it, dropping the contents onto the table in front of us.
A single splinter of a finely etched and cut brilstone sat on the table. The world around me started to pulse in the same way as my dreams. I could not look away from the splinter. After a moment Avira scooped up the shard and put it back into the pouch.
She looked at me with concern and asked if now I believed her. I answered the only way I could.
“I don’t know.”
Book 4 - Page 218
The vision pounded to a rhythm. It started completely unclear and then came into focus. I can’t tell how it became clear, maybe it was something I did. There was a young man, he could not have been more than fifteen years old. He was soaking wet, in a torn uniform that had clearly seen combat. He looked familiar in some way but I could not pin it down. In his hand was a journal and an insignia. I had never seen that insignia before, it was not the symbol of the Vowguard.
The young man walked up to a stern looking woman. His steps were slow, with a painful limp, and he had a large bandage around his right hand. I couldn’t make out her face. He gave the Vowguard salute. He looked exhausted, but beyond that he looked hollow. The woman returned the salute and then fixated on the journal. Her face pulsed, making it impossible to read, but the eyes were crystal clear. They were haunted. They knew what the journal and the insignia meant. The face slowly came into focus and it was one I recognized. It was the face of Nila, my old instructor from Lowland Outpost. I watched as she mouthed, “No,” over and over. The image shook, everything pulsing to a heartbeat. I thought for a moment the vision was over, but it was not.
Focus returned to a woman kneeling. It was Nila. Her back was rigid and straight, her face distraught. In her hands was a wedding bracelet, matching the one on her wrist, and matrimonial ribbons. The ribbons were beautiful as they waved gracefully in the breeze. She was in front of a monument I had seen before on a hill outside Witgrave. I could see the inscription and make out the name Renee Qay, as well as a short epigraph. "Beloved Daughter, Loving Wife."
Then I awoke. Soaked in sweat. These dreams have become all too regular.
It had been days since my meeting with Avira. I still question what I saw. I have had little time to think it over as I have been inundated with work and requests from the Ferec.
When I went on my morning walk, I noticed there was a mark on the ribbonwood tree. When I first started communicating with the Vowbreakers the system was meant to be kept simple. a single mark indicated we should meet, and a series of three marks meant a package was left for me. The bark of the ribbonwood tree regrows quickly, so each time I would see a mark I would strip the bark off. This was the first time I had seen three marks in weeks. I decided to make a detour to check the hidebox I had slipped into the wall along the path by my quarters. Inside was a letter. I slipped it into my journal to read after I met with Ferec. I did not want to leave him waiting.
Ferec had assigned me more work with the Five Hand Alliance. He wants to prepare a new revision of the Vow Mandate to be ratified. There is no question that life after the Fracture has changed forever. The original writers of the Vow Mandate never planned to deal with a catastrophe of this magnitude, nor outlined a way to handle all Five Kingdoms settling within the Stormeave Plateau. I knew what he was asking of me, but it made me uneasy. Ferec seeked emergency power through the Vow Mandate to create a seat within the Five Hand Alliance specifically for the Vowkeepers.
I understood his desires; it would allow for quicker action to improve many lives. It was considerable work and coordination to get the Five Hands together, and with the assassination it meant that all meetings were suspended. Even though it had been weeks, there was still significant fear amongst the Hands and their entourages. Despite great effort from the Vowguard, the murderer had not been caught.
With my new assignment, I took my leave to the library of Longwatch. It was not as grand as the library in Fort Halcyon and nowhere near the Hall of Knowledge in Banehelm Academy, but it was a good place to work. I had been able to secure a private room there to use as an office. As soon as I got inside and shut the door, I pulled out the letter.
The envelope was sealed with an insignia. I did not recognize the symbol but there was something about it that felt familiar. I carefully removed it to save for further contemplation. I slipped it into the top drawer of the scratched desk. The letter was short. Only a single sentence.
“It is time we meet. - Thadius Vanderun”
Reading that name gave me a chill. For a moment I could hear my own heartbeat in my ears and I thought for a brief moment I was in a dream. The pounding quickly subsided.
I had heard the name Thadius Vanderun spoken on very rare occasions. The rumor was that he was the leader of a secret organization of Vowbreakers. It always seemed impossible to me, since my experience with most Breakers showed just how disorganized and splintered they were. My Vowkeeper teachings predisposed me to think of them as reckless and selfish, and many I have met fit that description. I had never seen a group actually work together until I was introduced to Avira’s group.
The name Thadius was common enough, but I could find nothing on the name Vanderun. It was as if the family never existed. After hours of searching, I must admit my frustration. I understood the risks of agreeing to meet with Thadius, but I felt like I needed to learn as much as I could. I felt like I owed Avira another chance after what she showed me. And to be honest, this mystery also piqued my curiosity.
On the walk home I left a single mark on the ribbonwood tree to confirm I would meet.
Book 4 - Page 220
I was able to finish much of the revised Vow Mandate for Ferec earlier this week. There were just some final addendums to add for a few extraneous cases. The lack of information around the first Vow Mandate makes creating an updated one very difficult. This document needed to include many of the rules we so painstakingly negotiated with the new Five Hand Alliance. I wonder what the newly anointed Hands would think of all this.
The new agreement would mean progress could be made while the Five Hand Alliance was out of session. That seemed necessary. The continued suffering amongst the people within Longwatch was building to growing unrest. I could sense a hostility directed at many of the more comfortable and well off peakborn that acted as if the Fracture had never really happened. There were reports of a fight that broke out at the wedding of the daughter of a Dustpool Conglomerate after several vagabonds broke in to steal food.
I had hoped to deliver the new Vow Mandate draft to Ferec by the end of the day for review. I figured it would take him several days to read over it, so my meeting with Avira would go unnoticed. That was not to be the case.
Ferec asked if I could sit on a meeting tomorrow with Sera Crestwood to help discuss the new emergency powers. I asked if it could be delayed because I needed a day of rest after completing my mountain of work. Ferec asked if I had some other plans. He knew well I did not have a family or other obligations. Normally Ferec would always grant me a day of rest after a long work session. After a bit more probing he finally relented. It left me feeling quite exposed.
I finished the final revisions to the Vow Mandate and brought it to Ferec’s quarters. It was well past sunset so he was no longer in the main hall or meeting with other Vowkeepers. Ferec thanked me genuinely for my hard work and somewhat less genuinely wished me a restful day tomorrow.
On my walk home I felt a presence. There appeared to be someone following me. This is not the first time I felt this since the murder. At first I thought it was simply paranoia from witnessing such a horrific event, but now I was convinced it was real.
As I approached the outer gardens, I reached into my cloak for the hidden pocket in my right sleeve. I quickly activated the runechip sewn into the garment and while briefly invisible I skipped over the wall. I heard footsteps stop abruptly and then approach very rapidly. As I sat silently, I considered the runechip. I know the Vow Mandate forbids all magic use. Runechips are considered mostly harmless, used for party tricks, and thus ignored by the Vowguard . Even knowing that, I never thought I would actually bring myself to use it. I pushed the guilt aside as something to revisit later and strained my ears to listen. The footsteps moved quickly off. I waited several more heartbeats and then took a longer route back home.
I could not tell who was following me, but I know that I must be incredibly careful. There is more going on here than I truly understand. This meeting with Thadius should help put more of the pieces together.
Book 4 - Page 224
Avira brought me to the back of the cellar. She made a subtle gesture with her hand and the wall in front of us ripped open. I could not see anything. It was as if staring into a complete abyss. Inside the rift was total darkness, like a torrent of emptiness. This was the first time I heard Avira laugh. She put her hand up to her mouth to cover her lips and told me this was a Storm Hatch. Without another delay, she grabbed my arm and pulled me through.
I can’t easily describe the feeling of traveling through the Storm Hatch. My head felt like I was accelerating at incredible speed but my stomach felt like I was falling. It was unpleasant.
Avira gave me a moment to compose myself on the other side. I needed it. Looking around, I realized we were no longer on the Stormeave Plateau. There was architecture surrounding us I had never seen before. It took me a moment and I realized we were actually standing across a series of floating islands.
The whole thing appeared to be a very old training ground of sorts that was clearly further destroyed in the Fracture. While the crumbing ruins appeared incredibly old there was also new construction. The area was well laid out and organized. There was a series of tents up the hill ahead of us. A large flag was waving with an insignia that looked familiar. It looked like the symbol from my dream about Nila several nights ago, but something was off. It had a similar shape but appeared different. It looked broken. I wish I could remember the dream more clearly.
As I composed myself, two other Vowbreakers approached. They were both wearing what appeared to be uniforms. Each one was adorned with the same symbol as the flag. This must be the Order of the Vowbreakers. Avira is one of their members! I had long heard rumors of this secret society but never thought they existed.
This was just the first of many revelations I was to have today.
As we approached the main tent I heard arguing inside. I could make out a young man furiously shouting. I couldn’t comprehend the whole conversation, but caught the last line before the young man stormed off. It sounded like he said, “If you bring him here then he can never leave.”
When we entered the tent, the young man was gone. Standing at the far end of the tent was a man I assumed to be Thadius Vanderun. When we approached he introduced himself as such. Thadius looked calm, but I sensed a certain disdain when he set eyes on me. He quickly attempted to hide it, but after many years I can always tell when someone judges me for being a Vowkeeper.
I was not sure what I was expecting, but he appeared more refined than I thought. Looking at his hands, it was clear he had worked for many years of his life. He had a large scar across the back of his right hand, but he carried himself with a serene intelligence. This was not the blasphemous thug I figured I would meet.
Thadius gestured for me to take a seat. Before anything else he thanked me for the assistance I had given Avira and the other Vowbreakers since the Fracture. This brought up a sense of guilt and a general unease. I knew that helping the Breakers was wrong, but ever since that young disheveled girl brought me the journal of Leoven Snowlash I felt an internal conflict brewing. I have always been a seeker of knowledge and truth, and I fear that there is much I do not know. That much of what I do know is a lie.
Thadius asked me if I knew why he asked to meet. I told him I did not. He looked disappointed with that answer. He went on to say Avira told him I was seeking the truth about the Fracture. He told me he would offer me the truth if I would help him stop the new Vow Mandate from going into effect.
To say I was shocked to learn that he knew of Ferec’s plans is an understatement. It took me several moments to recover. Thadius sat there cooly just watching me. I felt a sudden flush of anger wash over me about all of this. What was I doing here? This was all so wrong.
I asked him why he thought I would help him. After all, the new Vow Mandate was required because a murderous Breaker assassinated the Hand of Commerce. The Hand of Commerce! Not even a warrior or a member of the Vowguard. Someone who was completely defenseless.
Thadius shook his head slowly. He let my anger wash over him without a response. I was embarrassed at my outburst and attempted to settle myself. He told me that the Vowbreakers did not commit the murder of the Hand of Commerce. The implication lingered in the air. If a Vowbreaker did not commit the act, there was only one other group that could handle a frost gauntlet so lethally. A member of the Vowguard elite. I scoffed at the suggestion. The mere thought that a member of the Vowguard, whose entire mission was to uphold the Vow Mandate, would possibly use magic, was unfathomable.
My surprise quickly flared to another spark of anger. I asked him why I should believe such an accusation. After all, I had it on good authority that it was his legion of Vowbreakers who caused the Fracture. If those under his command held such little regard for the entirety of the Highlands, why would the Vowbreakers flinch at murdering a peakborn?
Thadius gave out an audible sigh. He leaned in close to me and asked if I knew of Vital Stones. I told him I did. He told me, with a whisper, that it was not only the Vowbreakers that used Vital Stones. He asked me, “What if everything you’ve been told was a lie?”
I felt my heartbeat pound in my head.
What is true in one hand is a lie in the other. I asked him how he could be so certain that the Fracture was not caused by the Vowbreakers. He looked at me with a deep intensity that is only forged through pain and spoke very slowly.
“My granddaughter created the Fracture.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. We sat in silence for what seemed like hours before Thadius told me that I now must go. He asked me to consider his offer.
My mind was racing and dozens of questions came into my head. Thadius waved to the two Vowbreaker escorts that brought me to the tent, and I knew I would only have time for one more question.
I looked at Thadius and asked him why he trusted me. By all rights he should not. I was a Vowkeeper, a sworn enemy. I wanted to look into his eyes and try to understand everything that was going on. His serious look broke for the first time and he smiled. He pointed off to his left towards the back of the tent and said, “Because of her.” When I looked up I saw an old woman, but her eyes were clear and her back was strong. It was Nila. I had not seen her in more than 30 years.
My mind briefly flashed back to the dream I had the other night. The wounded young man, with his right hand bandaged, that was Thadius. He was a member of the Storm Guard. He was the one who told Nila her wife was dead.
Avira was by my old mentor’s side. The ease of their stances showed a familiarity, and I wondered just how long they had known each other. Nila patted Avira’s hand and waved her away before walking slowly and confidently up to me. Thadius and Avira retreated to the back of the tent, giving us privacy. I did not know what to say. This had all been too much to process.
I stumbled with my words. I apologized for not being a good apprentice. I apologized for not trying to see her again. I apologized for not searching for her after the Fracture. She stopped me firmly before I blathered on more. She thanked me for listening to her all those years ago and staying away. She thanked me for keeping an open mind and staying curious. She seemed to know so much about me. With a stern look, she told me that uncovering the truth was in my hands. At that moment, I could feel my heartbeat pounding in my ears. Nila gave me a brief hug and told me she hoped we would meet again.
As Avira walked up to me I couldn’t hear her voice. I knew she was talking to me because I could see her lips moving but all I heard was my own heartbeat. The trip through the Storm Hatch was a blur, and Avira left me as I stumbled out into the cool evening in a daze.
My head still pounding, I stumbled back to my room and did my best to record all of this. I have been sitting at my desk for hours and it is now close to midnight. The pulsing has become a constant rhythm, repeating itself with the words:
What is true in one hand is a lie in the other.
Book 4 - Page 226
I awoke to smoke filling the room and panicked shouting outside. I instinctively rolled off the bed and onto the floor, barely able to see. With tears streaming down my face and a terrible burn filling my lungs, I felt my way to the hidebox and grabbed all the contents inside. I pushed aside the false bottom and pulled the lever.
With a loud crack, the trapdoor beside the bed opened showing the tunnel underneath. I scrambled into the darkness and away from the searing smoke above. In a few moments I was able to hit the lever inside the tunnel and close the door, but I know that when this is all over they will realize this escape route exists and that I was able to get free.
As I moved slowly through the tunnel, I thought back to the day I moved into this place. When I was given this room the old groundskeeper told me this was the previous master’s son’s quarters. He remarked that the son was an odd fellow, often disappearing for days. The rumor was he was sneaking away to get drunk with his friends. The love notes I found in the hidebox told a different story.
The spare cloak I left still hung at the end of the tunnel. It was damp. I pulled the hood over my head and waited. The fire was still raging above but help had arrived to fight against the flames. I figured I could sneak off into the night, but not without taking a glance at who could have done this. I stepped out into the night. The new moon made for a dark night, but the blazing building casted long shadows as people ran down the street.
I could not make out any uniforms. There were no Vowguard and I did not recognize any Vowkeepers. I hurried away as best I could to not draw any attention to myself or the large satchel I now carried under my cloak.
I know I must go. I know these journals cannot fall into the wrong hands. I know my grandfather's possessions must be kept safe. I feel terrible leaving this burden to someone else, but I have no choice.
This will be my final entry.
A Letter from Garrick Sagemark, Enlightened Vowkeeper
I am sorry to bring you into this.
We have never met. I knew your mother long ago. I trusted her with my life back then, and I trust you with my life now. I don’t know who is hunting me and I pray they never find you.
The Fracture changed everything. Of course you know that. But I have always had my worries and suspicions.
Over the past several months I have been searching for the truth. I was not able to find it. That is the task I must leave to you. This chest contains my journals. Use them to put the pieces together. There must be something I missed. You also now have my map of the Hollow Lands. There are secrets still left to uncover there.
The gauntlet is one that belonged to my great-grandfather. I could never use it. I don’t think you should either, but I will not judge you if you must. I cannot help you learn to wield it, but I know someone who can.
I am sorry to leave this burden on you. Your mother would certainly not approve.
I miss her too.
Soon after you read this someone will come for you. Her name is Avira. I'm not sure I trust her, but I have no choice. You need someone to teach you.
Someday I will return and explain everything. I am sorry.