The Kerick Letters
Contents of the Kerick Letters
These letters contain the writings of Gareth, a Trinsician soldier during his travels throughout Britannia between the years 263 and 274 A.C. They were given to the Lycaeum upon the death of Kerick in 276 A.C.
 
Britain ............................... 2 

Buccanner's Den ............... 3 

Cove ................................. 4 

Dungeons .......................... 5 

Jhelom ...............................6 

Magincia  ...........................7 

Minoc ................................8 

Moongates  ........................9 

Moonglow  ........................10

NuJel'm ............................11 

Ocllo .................................12 

Serpent's Hold ...................13 

Skara Brae .........................14 

Shrines ...............................15 

Trinsic ................................16 

Vesper ...............................17 

Wind ...................................18 

Yew .....................................19


Britain

I know it has been too long since my last letter, my young friend, but there are many battles and long miles between opportunities to rest and write. For any transgressions, I humbly apologize. Upon my departure, I told you my intention was to travel to the fair city of Britain. The fame of our capital city has reached all corners of the realm, and I thought it would be an auspicious start to my career to swear fealty to Lord British in person. It is common knowledge that he lives in a shining castle on the western edge of the city, but no one had told me of the other marvels to be found in Britain. My first impression of the city was its remarkable cleanliness. There are crowds of people living in the magnificent stone buildings and wood-and-plaster shops and houses, but they respect each other and their city. The place seems to shine with the gladness everyone feels simply to be there. It is indeed a place of wonders, and magic and technology exist side by side. Britains are the first people to sample any advancement that is made in the realm. Gadgets from Minoc, scientific discoveries from Moonglow, or engineering triumphs from Trinsic are all brought to Britain to be funded and put to use. Magic is researched with diligence and discipline that matches the most rigorous military training, and every day it seemed that there was an announcement of some new application for magic. My admiration for this amazing city grew to new heights when I discovered that it is a self-sufficient community, able to house, clothe and feed its people without any outside aid. So it is only economic wisdom, not necessity, which inclines Lord British to use foreign cities as sources for military training, technology, building materials and foodstuffs. I have heard nothing but good of our kind ruler, and indeed met him briefly when I gave him my oath. His nobility extends from him like an aura, and I harbor no doubt that he is worthy of his crown. I am delighted to tell you, Kerick, that he has a noble disregard for petty politics. There are many in that city who would pull you aside and say scandalous things about events they never saw and conversations they never heard. Our liege is not like that. I had heard from wastrel nobles that Lord British and the notable Blackthorn are bitter rivals, but I know that is idle gossip. As I was leaving the castle, after a magnificent feast in the dining hall, I saw them greet each other warmly and sit down to play a game of chess. Blackthorn has the sharp look of a man who thinks much on things, and I do not doubt that they respect each other's opinions. I was, alas, unable to remain in Britain overlong, as they have no true need for my sword-arm. A local militia keeps the law enforced, with a tried and true judicial system to ensure just punishment. Any potential enemies they might have in far-off cities are either cowed by Britain's power or won over by its generous and gracious policies. I look forward to returning here someday.

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Buccaneer’s Den

Recently I have been to an island known to the realm as Buccaneer's Den. My quest was to rescue and return a kidnapped citizen of Skara Brae, a task that suffered a sad lack of challenge. The brigands who absconded with the maiden returned forthwith to their hideout, and as it was the first place I looked, the adventure was over inside of two weeks. I tell you, Kerick, if I had known so much of my time would have been spent in sailing, I should have considered buying a ship and simply renting my steed. Buccaneer's Den is a miserable, filthy collection of hovels and shacks. It is peopled by the erratic comings and goings of pirates - as far as I can tell, only the malevolent blacksmith is a permanent resident. The island remains wild and untouched, for people of this ilk are not inclined to put plowshare to soil ... but even granting that the wilderness is splendid, I would gladly see the entire place, from shore to shore, sink beneath the waves. It is a wonder that the deceit, debauchery and immorality do not rise from the island in a dark plume, and call down the wrath of all good men upon it. It will come as no surprise to you that there are ties to that gaudier cesspool, Nujel'm. I think that the rulers of the pleasure city see the pirates' stolen gold as an income opportunity - a despicable thing to any right-thinking citizen, to be sure. I can only hope that someday I am called to expose the alliance and cleanse the realm of this stink. As it was, the craven buccaneers slunk away as I arrived, and I had no opportunity to engage any in righteous combat. They vanished into trapdoors even as I entered their stinking dwellings, and having recovered my quarry, I did not try to pursue her kidnappers down into the seemingly endless tunnel through which they fled. I returned the victim to her family, and wrote a letter offering my services to Lord British should he ever wish the thieves captured and the town burned. Perhaps even such measures would be without effect, however, since evil ever springs up without seed or sun, and in even the rockiest of soil.

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Cove

For the first time in a month, I feel rested and at peace. I am currently in Cove, a tiny coastal village located between the great Britain and bustling Vesper. This small community has won a place in my heart that the marvelous cities and islands have yet to achieve. The people here are simple folk, but open and friendly once I earned their trust. They share their plain but hearty meals with me, and were distraught that they had no inn or fine rooms in which I could lodge. I told them that fancy lodgings were nothing I desired, and arranged my camp in the lee of their lighthouse. This ancient edifice was built long ago as a watch tower against enemies, but for a century or more it has fulfilled a more peaceful function. It impresses me that generations of this humble town have diligently and steadfastly held watch for the safety of others. It is an accepted fact that, when the large lamp at the top of the tower is smashed by a gale, the entire village will brave the storm to repair the damage and restoke the flame. There is an elderly grandmother who lives nearby. She tells stories of the old days, to which I've taken to listening in the agreeable company of the children of the village. Last evening she told of the time the lighthouse stairs unexpectedly gave way to rot, and only she - a child then - could climb the remnants. During the weeks that they were being replaced, every night she would climb through the darkness carrying coals in a pail. She spent each night at the top, watching the stars slowly spin over the sea. To keep awake, she made up stories about the "pictures in the stars," and she still tells those stories to the children today. I'd never noticed, but she's right: there are pictures in the stars. I am glad to be here, if only while awaiting a new quest. I spend my time fighting the orcs which attack from the south. These same pitiable orcish tribes have plagued the good people of Cove since the town was first built, but within living memory have never been more than a minor nuisance kept firmly in check by regular patrols from the garrison at Britain. I cannot tell you the joy of a day spent pitting my skill against the creatures of darkness, followed by a bracing swim in the sea, and completed with a steaming bowl of thick fish chowder and warm brown bread. I know I will leave soon, but if ever you cannot find me, leave word in Cove and it will reach me eventually.

The following letter was written several years later when Gareth passed through Cove following the attack by a large force of orcs.

I hope that you and your parents are well, and that the weather is clement.  I trust your life is beginning to take a strong path, in a worthy direction.  One that will give your life meaning.  One you will never have to doubt.  Or regret.  Regret is a bitter thing.

I do not regret my own path.  I live by the sword and by violence, but such has ever been my nature.  I am a fighter.  When I made the choice to fight only for true and just causes, to lend my strength to the weak, I knew that it would be a hard life.  I knew I would never grow rich, or live comfortably, or die in peace. I accepted that stricture, and thought it was my best chance to make a difference... to shed light and scatter shadows.  I believed Iwould be called to quest wherever I was most needed.

But now I don't know.  As I write this, I am filled with doubt.

I passed thrugh the honest village of Cove today, and it is beset by orcs and lies in ruins.  And I could not stop.
I can feel the call summoning me to some unknown place in the north.  I do not know how far I must go.  I do not know how long I will be.  I cannot even tell if after my quest is complete will I return to Cove, that I might assail its enemies and avenge its losses.  I would have spilled out my lifeblood to prtect that small hamlet, and yet I heard no call when its hour of need came.  I slept soundly through nights when the noble lighthouse stood dark, when the brute creatures overan the walls and pitched torches through windows.  i didn't know.  I couldn't aid them.  And now I have the geas of a quest upon me, and as I rode through Cove, a place I'd come to love as my own home, I could do nothing more than wonder at the fortifications and encampments and grieve.  And know that if I had been a mercenary, I could have drawn my sword and fought back the minions of evil that have infested this innocent woodland.  But I did nothing, and perhaps nothing will be done.  Where there was once a light, will there only be a scabrous place in the dust?

My heart grieves for Cove.  And I fear, as I have never feared man nor creature, that my path may not return here.

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The Dungeons

You asked why I have not mentioned any dungeons in my letters. You are right, I have been in dungeons on numerous occasions. Sometimes, between quests, my camp is near to a dungeon and I can feel the evil lurking beneath the ground. If time and circumstances allow, I like nothing better than to try my hand at eradicating these foul nests of monsters. It is good practice, it hones my soul in righteousness, and it is my only dependable source of income. It would be better, of course, for me to return any gold or treasure to its rightful owners, but I have never been able to find anyone who could honestly claim it, and neither have I heard of anyone else doing so. If my words sound tinged with guilt, my young friend, it is true to some If I could do otherwise, I would. I cannot, and try not to fret over it. The dungeons of which I am aware are: Covetous, Deceit, Despise, Destard, Hythloth, Shame, and Wrong. Wrong was once a prison, but seems changed by something more sinister than simple time. The evil caves, however, are found wherever monsters live near cavernous ground. I have found them near cities, in wasteland and on islands. Some are more shallow than others, and some seem bottomless. You may recall, Kerick, that the old songs and tales all speak of "The Eight Dark Dungeons of Britannia," and knowing your facility with numbers, I doubt not that you have already noticed that my catalog above numbers only seven. All I can say on this matter is that if ever there was an eighth great dungeon, it's name and location have been utterly lost to contemporary knowledge. There are no caves near Trinsic - the ground is too sandy until the foothills to the west are reached - so you do not know what a natural cave is like. A cave is always cool, even in the hottest days of summer. It is moist with groundwater, often dotted with crystal clear ponds that are sweet and cold to the tongue. The ceilings and floors are decorated with wondrous stone artwork that seems to flow without moving. It is a place of marvels, peopled principally by pale lizards and small furry bats. A dungeon, however, is different. There is a malign intelligence to its design. There are fewer caverns – almost none - and the narrow corridors twist and turn to lose you in their depths. Landmarks will repeat themselves, and when you seem to be most safe is the best time to check for traps. Creatures that inhabit dungeons are aggressive and evil. They can see in the dark as well as you can see in daylight, and there are always a few lurking behind you, ready to attack if your torch ever fails. I like light spells; they leave my hands free and don't drip pitch on my armor. If you would ever like to go into a cave, I will take you. If you are curious about a dungeon, I'll find you a book on the subject. Write and let me know how your studies go.

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Jhelom

As you might have guessed, Jhelom was one of the first places I visited when I had a few days' leisure to travel for pleasure. I had never been on a ship before, and I am grateful to be able to report that I did not contract the water sickness that afflicts so many travelers. The journey to the Valerian Isles was short and pleasant; it took much less time to reach the southern island than I expected.  Jhelom was far different from Trinsic - more so than I expected, as both are devoted to the military arts. The mercenaries of Jhelom are much more casual than I am used to ... quick to drink and quicker to anger. It seems for every small slight, real or imagined, they leap into a duel. On the other hand, duels are over quickly, with usually a scratch being enough to end the bout. It was very confusing, and I am only grateful that I saw how lightly duels were undertaken and settled before I hurt someone out of ignorance. Do not imagine, Kerick, that these duels of which I speak are common street brawls. If anything, the guardsmen of Jhelom are more vigorous than the norm in curtailing irresponsible violence. The duels of Jhelom all take place in their ungracefully named "duelling pit," where any two consenting contenders may face off against one another in complete legality, whether they desire a friendly test of one another's skills, or a bitter duel to the death. There is no doubt that Jhelom has a mostly transient population. Since mercenaries go where the battles are, there is no feeling of permanence in Jhelom. Things are slapped together with no attempt at lasting stability, and more than once I put my hand through a wall just by leaning on it! The locals just laugh and say that after training in Jhelom, fighters appreciate sleeping on the ground under a wagon ... where they know the ceiling won't leak and the floor won't collapse. There were fine things to be bought, however. I felt like a fine lady of Magincia, I was so thrilled by all the shops and markets. They had weapons, armor and gear of the finest - and the sorriest - sorts. There was quite an impressive assortment of magically enhanced weapons, armor and potions, too. However, the honest warriors who rule Jhelom have no love for magic, and have decreed that all magical commerce be confined to the city's small second island. Of course, what brought a tear to my eye was the war-horse market. Ahh, Kerick, I thought my mount a fine one, but those horses made my mare seem fit for nothing grander than plowing a field. My next steed will be from Jhelom, if I need slay every Ettin from Jhelom to Minoc to get the gold. One thing unique to Jhelom is that it is ruled entirely by officers retired from the military life. It lends a familiar feel to the city's administration, and I felt quite at home. Indeed, except for the constant dueling, I felt I was welcomed to Jhelom, on no merit other than that I was from Trinsic. There is a feeling of goodwill among fighters that I've missed since my days back home. It is not the same, of course. Their sense of honor is much more self-centered, and lacks any true luster. The thieves, also, are thicker than they are in Trinsic. But what can you expect of a place where "watch your back and that of your friends" is espoused as the highest of virtues? It was an interesting place to stay, but I was glad to leave, nonetheless.

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Magincia

In my travels I have visited places that I disliked, spoken with people whom I have distrusted, and seen such things that have filled me with distaste. Now I know that those were but shadowy emotions compared to the loathing I feel toward the eastern island of Magincia. It is far too bright, too glamorous. The people are buoyed up by a fountain of wealth, and have begun to think they are divine. Magincia simply cannot spend money fast enough to outstrip its income. They work diligently at spending it, I grant; it is the only thing at which they labor. The streets are lined with precious metals and the buildings are encrusted with gems. Anything that has been invented or created in the realm, Magincia has purchased. Perhaps this flagrant waste of gold would not be so dismaying, were it not for the people themselves. They do nothing which resembles work: daily chores, study, even the creation of arts is too tedious for their hands. They glory in their laziness. I tell you true, Kerick, that there are citizens of Magincia who have never lifted a finger for themselves. What technology or natural abundance cannot supply for them, magic furnishes. Everything is imported, while the forests are bursting with fruit and the plains are golden with grain. If it is hard for you to imagine such a place, let me give you an example. When Magincians meet one another, they do not inquire of each others' health. Instead, they display their latest toy or bauble for their acquaintance to admire. They feel nothing but repugnance for any who cannot match their economic status. In fact, a Magincian will not talk directly to a common laborer under any circumstances. Those that are forced, by necessity, to communicate with a worker will hire a servant - one sufficiently lofty not to be infectious, apparently - whose only task in life is to speak in the stead of the upper-class citizen. They would not breathe air if breathing meant losing superiority of status. I cannot tell you how greatly I take offense at the attitudes of Magincia. It is a jewel-encrusted canker, with all the charity of a nest of rats and all the goodness of a festering wound. Were this city - and its people and treasure - to be blasted into ashes, I would say it were no loss at all.

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Minoc

Do you know about Minoc? Everything I'd heard of this small community of artisans and tinkers is out of date. It has been discovered that the mountains surrounding Minoc are full of precious ores. In the last few years, apparently, it has changed from a small hamlet to a mining town. The old-timers still seem shocked, but they are hard to pick out amid the crowds of Britannians who have flocked here recently. It is fortunate that the Guild of Tinkers was already based in Minoc. Although I think that it simply started out as a practical confederation of the many artisans who lived here, it is now occupied with devising various ways to extract the ore from the ground and the lumber from the forests. Minoc has what other cities only dream of ... more money than people. They need miners, and need them badly enough that the wages are enormously generous. Minoc provides most of the ore and lumber for Britain, Magincia and Vesper, and could produce even more had they more people. Of course, the only place near enough to spend these wages is Minoc itself, so the small city is thriving. It is not surprising that the taverns get most of the coin, and that thieves and brigands fare nearly as well. I think that when the mines are emptied, the city will empty, too. Until then, however, it will remain an interesting place. The people are marvelously creative, and there is very little that they won't try to "fix." There is dancing, which people seem to enjoy, drinking to excess, which people profess to enjoy even more, and barroom brawling, which they enter into with abandon. They do fiercely love their freedom, and will unite in a moment to defend it. I think it gives them overmuch license, but it seems more good than ill, with very little harm done in the end.

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The Moongates

Your letter has finally found its way to my hands. I am glad that all is well in Trinsic. You asked why I depend so on ships when there are the magical moongates to provide instantaneous transportation within the realm. There are two answers to that query.  My first response is simply that the moongates do not go everywhere ... and I must go where I am called. Equally important, when I must go, I must go immediately. I cannot afford to wait for the phases of the moons to come into alignment. A ship will take me anywhere there is water; a horse will take me anywhere there is land. The second answer is less lofty. I cannot dependably predict when a door will open, and where it will lead when it does. It is to my shame ... I have studied the explanations, and I believe that for a while I truly understood. As time passes, however, my comprehension has faded. It is the numbers, Kerick. I have a difficult time doing the figuring, and the mathematics keep getting jumbled in my head. If it were a simple case of half moon here and full moon there, I would be able to step through any gate with confidence. It is not so straightforward, and frankly, I get confused. So I ride a horse and take ships. Actually, your question has caught me when I am most troubled about my inability to predict the gates. I was recently in pursuit of a quick rascal who had knowledge that I needed. He chanced upon an open gate and leapt through just before it closed. He did not care where he chanced to alight, as his only goal was escape. To my shame, I was unable to follow, or even to determine his destination. If it were not for some sharp-eyed rangers taking custody of him outside of Jhelom, I would have been hard pressed to find him again. Sadly, I must recognize that in my occupation I cannot choose to remain ignorant. I must find a scholar to teach me, buy the scope, and learn how to do the numbers. I had hoped being a fighter was all strength and stamina...

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Moonglow

Tell me, my young friend, is Mattikan the Mage still in Trinsic? I thought of him often these last few weeks, and the haughty way he would lift an eyebrow when one of his students showed ignorance as to the proper use of battle magic in the field. Not the most popular man in town, I fear, but I have found that may not be entirely his fault. I have recently been to Moonglow, his city of origin, and the entire populace is as like to him as leaves on a bush to each other. Their only thoughts are of study and knowledge ... all else is beneath their notice. It was not, really, an unpleasant experience; my tutelage under Mattikan taught me well how to deal with such serious scholars. Moreover, it is a wild and beautiful island, since the mages would far rather study than tend to crops or shops. At first I thought they would eschew any technological "gadgets," but apparently they use technology as a way of reducing mundane work so they can further explore the arcane. Indeed, every labor-saving device I have ever heard of is in common use in Moonglow. Although they do not produce their own goods, I know that they take a quick interest in any unusual thing brought from the outside. They'll tinker with a new item the way a dog worries a bone, and won't sleep until they understand how everything works. They will not fix it if it breaks, but it is a matter of pride to them that they could if they wished. Most of the study takes place at the Lycaeum, which seems to be part university and part command headquarters. Sorcery, enchantment and alchemy are everywhere in evidence, and I doubt not that in some dark basement there may be necromancy at work. Indeed, it is true that most of the realm's research into new magic originates from within the Lycaeum walls. The ether is so strong that it can be felt hanging in the air like a miasma. After one notable explosion, it was so thick that I choked on it and could not stop coughing. If it seems that I do not have respect for the people of Moonglow, let me correct myself. The people are fanatic, yes, and not inclined to be friendly, but they are more than helpful in all things academic and arcane. Some say they have too much freedom, but I think they earn it. They eagerly share their knowledge with the rest of the realm, asking no remuneration or recognition. They do have a strong air of superiority, but I can see that they have given themselves a fair claim to it - and as long as they stay on their eastern island of Verity, I am satisfied all is for the best.

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NuJel’m

Would you believe that I have been to the pleasure city of Nujel'm? I never thought I would, but I swear upon my honor it was a quest that carried me there. The city itself was more of an adventure than any battle I've fought, if you'll believe me. It was established, ages ago, by colonists from Jhelom, or so I'm told. It was not successful as a colony, due to its great distance from the parent city, and Jhelom abandoned it to its own devices. Those folk who were hardworking and decent left, and pirates moved in to replace them. It is my theory that the pirates were soon disgusted by the actions of those colonists who remained, for it isn't peopled by robbers any longer, but by the decadently rich. It is not a city of restraint, by any means. It is beautiful, with elaborate, artistic frippery everywhere, from the city walls to the wisps of fabric that the locals call clothes. I admit to thinking that their clothes looked comfortable, and certainly mine were overly warm, but even so I would not wear such garments. They protect the wearer from nothing, neither a raider's axe nor the rays of the sun, and the popular goal of these folks is to roast themselves as brown as a nut. They are an accepting lot, I will grant them that, although I do not know if it is a virtue or a vice. They use magic with the same casual air that you or I would use soap. It serves to keep servants out of sight; twice I saw the dirt and dust in a hallway shimmer and disappear ... and once I walked through a doorway and suddenly my clothes were as bright and soft as though they'd never been worn. They have non-magical gadgets, too, but they never seem to accomplish much of any real benefit. It is all surface sparkle and no substance, a place for moneyed people to spend their gold. They produce nothing more than fancy drinks, and seem content to be ruled by despots. I have seen, however, that behind the white walls and marble columns there is a sad and sordid underside to all the frivolity. The poor folk there are desperate, with no way to earn an honest living and no opportunity for escape. All in all, it is a very clean place that befouls all who walk it. I advise against travelling there.

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Ocllo

Although I say that all lands call Trinsic friend, that is not altogether true. The wicked do not love us, nor do the fine people of Ocllo. There they have never heard of Trinsic, as I am sure you have never heard of them. By the way, Kerick, Ocllo is pronounced "Awk-yo," although they insist on spelling it otherwise. Ocllo is a civilization unto itself, located on an island just south of Magincia. They have no concept of the wheel as we know it, but neither do they seem particularly hindered by their ignorance. They are as organized and literate as one could wish, although I will say I was surprised by how different their city is from anything I have seen elsewhere. They farm right up the sides of the mountains, for they do not have enough flat land to till. They have spent centuries leveling the land in thin strips, like giant stair steps, and their mages spend most of their time either moving water uphill to irrigate the crops, or researching new and better ways to do so. Their magic is different from ours, but nonetheless very powerful. I was astonished to discover that although they are polite, they are a caste society ... and my profession is the very lowest they can conceive! They hold their nobles, of the "anpana" caste, the highest. Below those are the various levels of society, who are always scheming to improve their standing, and below those are the workers. They respect mages, whom they call "cashuals," and also have something called "priests." Priests are a bit peculiar - each follows a divine being and they are each very insistent that other people follow the priest's divine being, too. Apparently more followers equals more social power. The people of Ocllo are kind to the lowly laborers, although they seem to believe they are more property than citizens. Below the lowest worker, my friend, are the fighters. They have no external enemies, you see, so fighters are merely people who like to pick fights. To them, I am a worthless tavern-brawler. It would have been better if I were a woman, I discovered, as woman are automatically granted a higher status than their male counterparts. I cherish the whole experience as an invaluable lesson in humility. They have a legend that, in ages past, out of the great salt lake near their town a great fist burst forth, holding the first people of Ocllo. They were divine females - thus the higher status for women - who founded the entire mountain civilization. They call themselves the "Huansuytin" but as far as I can tell, that just means "people" or "us." They are friendly enough, I suppose, and are skilled in metalwork and sculpture, but I doubt I will return there unless called by need.

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Serpent’s Hold

I am writing to you tired after a full day of training. I am pleased beyond words! When I left Trinsic you congratulated me on finishing my training, and I replied that my training would only begin when I encountered true battle. I was half-right. Battle teaches many things such as steadfastness and confidence, but I have discovered that when it comes to technique, it is best learned from a master. So I went to Serpent's Hold to see what their teachers could impart. It is a place that rings with the clang of weapons and the yells of training. There is no farming or hunting in the area, and since the populace is mostly soldiers looking for new techniques, the only familiar faces from one visit to the next belong to those who provide services. I need very little in the way of equipment, but there is a fine market there for nearly everything that I could imagine. Unfortunately, my first day I made a bad impression on the locals. I offered to teach some basic battle magic spells to someone in exchange for pointers in the use of the war hammer. I have always been clumsy with hammers. Apparently magic is considered "cheating," and I earned myself a reputation as a sneak among the soldiers. It took three alley brawls before I regained a name for myself. It's ridiculous, but that's the way this city works. While Trinsic, Jhelom and Serpent's Hold are valiant political allies in a grander scheme, there tend to be jealous rivalries that surface primarily in taverns. They are a proud group, these men who train at Serpent's Hold, and I have twice heard the tale of the silver serpent which saved Lord British' life - serpents represent prowess and courage in battle. The warriors here have a strong sense of duty to the realm, their own brand of chivalry, and a sense of discipline based on duty to king, country and commanding officer. All of this is admirable. To my mind, what makes Serpent's Hold an entirely different place than Trinsic is its approach to birth days. Each man celebrates the anniversary of his own birth with his friends or family, and it is considered something like a tiny holiday. The next time I return to Trinsic, I shall endeavor to discover the day I was born. If I am lucky, someone will give me a free war hammer lesson.

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Skara Brae

I was glad to visit Skara Brae, for you have often told me of the years you spent there. It is not much changed from your descriptions; it is still open and fair, with shops, schools and homes all connected by the shining stone walkways. The winds from offshore were sweet and cool, and the surrounding hill country was green from the rains. I had known that Skara Brae was a ship-building community, but I hadn't known that it was a place of spiritual contemplation as well. Even the mages primarily study enchantments that focus the mind and spirit. Communication and understanding seem to be their goals, which I believe is unique to the magic of this island. The general philosophy of the people is one that I admire, although I am uncertain about its validity. They rate cleanliness of primary importance, which is unfortunate since I entered their gates after several weeks of living outdoors. I normally consider myself to be a cleanly man, but I felt as foul as a beggar in Skara Brae. I rode down the streets, and mine was the only horse leaving mud clods. I'd cleaned and polished my armor but two days before, and I could still smell the creek silt on it. They have soap in Skara Brae that can melt the shell off an egg, I can attest to it. Their philosophies also inspire them to spend their spare time in music and other spiritual arts. They admire anything that can represent their ideals of intellect and emotion. I have had poetry read to me in markets, in inns and once in a blacksmith shop while my horse was being shod. They are skilled shipwrights, but they are increasingly plagued by pirates. Britain's navy protects those ships heading toward the mainland, but those heading outwards are preyed upon by rogues. The lands around Skara Brae are fairly trouble-free, though, since there are scores of rangers who are attracted to the philosophies of the city, and visit often in substantial numbers.  A point of note is that in Skara Brae, the body is revered without adornment or modification, and those who enter soon learn to remove earrings and cover any tattoos. They say that each "shell" - be it a human body, an animal's or a plant's - contains a spirit, and that the shell should be respected as well as the "etheric culmination" within. I cannot help but think of the undead creatures and ghosts I have encountered, and wonder what they think of spirits lacking the surrounding body shell they regard so highly. Perhaps I will ask them on my next visit.

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The Shrines

I have had perhaps the worst week of my life, although the expression seems incongruous. I knew it was eventually to happen. The teachers back in Trinsic warn us all of its inevitability, and our spiritual advisors do their best to prepare us. Still it was quite a shock to look down and see the broad blade of a villain's battle axe buried deeply - far too deeply - in my chest. It was a strange sensation, I can attest. There was great pain, though I could not cry out. There was some surprise, and some disbelief. Mostly there was dismay that I had failed in my quest. My failure seemed palpable, like a vast black chasm opening before my eyes, and when the rogue wrenched his weapon from my body, I seemed to fall forward into the chill darkness. I have never died before. I do not recommend it. It seemed for a moment as though I were absorbed by everything in the universe ... and the universe is not a pleasant place in its totality. It is difficult to explain, but it seemed almost that time was traveling sideways. Then I had a sensation of coalescence, and regained a more normal outlook on the world. I looked down upon my prostrate form and knew I was dead. Thereupon I began my search for a shrine. When I was alive, shrines seemed to be everywhere, nestled in and near cities, carved with the image of an ankh. While searching for one, however, they seemed few and distant. When I finally completed my incorporeal journey and touched the magical site, I was restored to a physical form ... although as weak as a day-old lamb. It is a point of mild interest that I do not know if I was returned to my original body, magically healed, or whether an identical one was created around my spirit. But now I must leave off writing and seek the healing balm of sleep, that I may redress the harm that was done when I was so rudely torn from my quest.

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Trinsic

I fear I often err in rambling on about mine own adventures without inquiring into your welfare. How do you fare in Trinsic?  I have no doubt, truly, that you could not have any fortune but good in that city we shared for so long. It is southern enough for the weather to be milder than most, although the eastern winds off the ocean still put fangs into winter's bite. Truth told, when I lived there I did not know how fortunate we were in the liberality of the water, but the fish from the vast river, along with the daily catch from the sea, provide a bounty that I have yet to see equaled. The gardens provided food enough, as well, but it is the seafood that I remember on nights when I have little to sustain me besides hardtack and murky water. When I left, you had not yet decided on what path your fate would take you. A warrior's life seemed to tempt you, but in truth I do not believe that is your calling. You see the warriors with their fancy Jhelom war-horses and shining mail, but Kerick, the cry of battle has never stirred your blood. I urge you to consider this alternative: Trinsic is home to the Guild of Engineers, and I have always thought your mind was as sharp as a honed blade. You live in one of the foremost technological centers of Britannia, and I believe much honor could be found in creating devices that would serve the realm, whether in war or more pragmatic arenas. There are many schools, scores of teachers and opportunities galore for you to make a difference that would outlast the efforts of any soldier. I can promise you that any city would far rather have a cleverly reinforced wall about it than an extra sword-arm within it. Engineers are well respected by all warriors who truly have the benefit of their city at heart. Consider it, and always know that I stand ready to support any decision you make. Speaking on matters of security, please let me know if any progress has been made against Trinsic's oppressors. The giants, trolls and ogres that live nearby have always been more aggressive than their need, I fear, and the pirates are a scourge I would happily see eradicated. I trust that the warriors-in-training can keep the situation from worsening, and moreover I have never encountered anywhere in Britannia a city better defended than our home, with its moat around the entire city, its battlements and towers of hewn stone, the barrier island and the causeway and the many other defenses which the engineers have created. Nonetheless, should Trinsic ever need me, I will come at first call. I have been gladdened by the realm's opinion of Trinsic, I must say. In my travels I have heard no harsh words against our city. The entire realm knows that we only wish to serve and protect all of Britannia, and there are few who do not call us friend.

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Vesper

I have found Vesper to be an odd place. I think it must have been designed with a painter's eye, for it is certainly lovely. It is to the north of Britain, past Cove, and sits on the eastern coast where a great river breaks into many smaller waterways before joining the sea. The air is cooler, and seems to hold more light, somehow, although that may be a trick of the architecture. The many canals seem to be natural outcroppings of the river, roughly hewn from the land and covered with blooming ivy and multi-colored lichen. There is an army of artists, sculptors and artisans here, and they all work to earn Vesper the reputation as a gem among cities. However ... I feel that if I were to brush against the stonework or stumble against a wall, all the gilt would flake away. It is, in fact, a maze of avarice and intrigue. People either do not notice or do not care. Some, I am sure, feel quite at home in this den of material greed. They would say it "provides opportunities." They use magic the way a baby uses a rattle: a mindless pleasure, to be dropped and forgotten when the next pastime appears. When I arrived, it was the fashion for the ladies to have their hair spelled, in order that it float about their heads in billowing waves. One week later, none would deign to spell her hair, but their clothes would change colors as you looked upon them. It is all frivolity, without substance. They have access to some of the greatest technology that Britannia has to offer, but they admire nonsense as much as marvels. It is a center of trading, and all things reflect that. People throng the streets, and are heavily policed by ever present guards. Food is brought from overland and down river, but no matter how fresh it is, it is so heavily seasoned with exotic spices that I yearn for a simple meal of bread and cheese. During my stay, it became clear that they also trade in secrets, lies, stolen property and death. Truly, anything that can be bought, can be bought in Vesper ... and usually for twice the coin.

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Wind

At the end of my last letter, I had entered the forest of Samlethe. It seemed as though a path opened up for me to guide me to the fabled city, and that is indeed the case. It is certain that without the aid of the mages of Wind, I would have spent weeks searching for the entrance to that mystical city. Wind is divided into two parts: flat-faced cliff buildings and platforms that cling tenaciously to the side of the mountains, and the tunnels within the mountain itself. It is almost like two cities, for outside in the cold the people wear furs and drab colors, while within the warm inner city they wear brightly colored flowing robes, slippers and long, unbound hair. That is, at least, what I was told by the guide who came out to greet me. It seems all the people of Wind are accomplished mages. From what I saw, it is true; they have no technology, but posses a library which is a nigh infinite source for information on the arcane arts. They have magical devices and scrying techniques that let them see anything of interest to them, and use spells of invisibility and similar things to prevent being discovered by those of no interest to them. Most remained invisible to me, but the family of the infant was welcoming and grateful, and led me to the wonders of their city as an honored and respected guest. I saw their underground farms, where they grow the peculiar glowing fungi which are their main vegetable staples. They showed me the methods that allow them to watch over and care for the mutant races in the Samlethe forest, for which they feel responsible. I even wandered for a time through the magical garden they maintain within the mountain, complete with a magical sun to provide nurturing light and warmth. Perhaps the most impressive element of the people of Wind is their belief in balance. Moderation is their one desire. They say that people cannot be forced to behave ethically, but must instead grow into the desire for and knowledge of right and wrong. This, I believe, is the true reason for their isolationism ... contact with the outer world might upset the balance by bringing in unpredictable elements. They say, instead, it is that they wish to improve the balance of the world, and those who develop the world as a whole must be therefore hidden so that reliance upon them is impossible. They are an undoubtedly powerful people, and I am relieved that they are not an aggressive one.

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Yew

Today I have been to Yew, home of the famous Empath Abbey. I like it; it feels like a good place. It was a long journey to the northwest region of Britannia, made longer by the dense forests and poor roads in the area. In fact, I nearly missed it altogether, for Yew is not a city or truly a town, but rather a collection of homesteads built within a vague distance of each other. They are not even close enough for me to say they are clustered together. There are Druids there, no doubt responding to the lush expanse of nature. The magic they practice is unlike any I've ever encountered ... it is an herbalistic and healing discipline that sometimes seems more alchemical than ethereal. Many people migrate to Yew in order to learn how to use the forces of nature to focus their power. The druids oblige them, but the most valuable lessons they teach are on the formulae for potions, elixirs and healing salves. Those who are not involved with nature arcana tend sheep and raise crops. The best fields are the vineyards, which grow grapes that become the finest wines of the realm. I have spoken with some people, and wine making seems an almost mystical process. There are pastures with livestock, a bustling market for produce, and I was most impressed with the quality of the yew bows and oaken staves. It is good to find both a practical and spiritual people. It seems a peaceful and serene place, but as is often the case with rural settings, the people of Yew are harassed by the monsters which dwell in the forests. Ettins, orcs and goblins seek their prey nearby, and see little difference in whether they take woodland creatures, livestock or local residents. I am glad to say that nearly all other regions gladly come in Yew's times of need. Rangers, in particular, flock to protect this marvelous area. Perhaps because they are a simple people, or due to their close relationship with so many other places, I have found Yew to be a town where kindness and justice prevail. All seek to help those in true need ; I was invited to a "barnraising," although I did little more than carry lumber; and rate community service a high priority. They manage to be helpful and supportive without treading on others' need for privacy. It is, all in all, a warm and friendly community. Should you get the chance, Kerick, I recommend it as a place to visit.

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