Into the Ashlands

Prologue (4/12/2009)

The tale begins simply enough, I found myself doing my usual thing, selling quality goods and even finer stories to the fine people of Holborel. A group coming out of the desert caught my eye, or rather the giant bag of goodies they were carrying, but I digress. I introduced myself, offered my services, a relatively distrusting group it seemed, but when it comes to trade, distrust only goes so far, eventually everyone needs a service done.

I find them again at the inn, later on in the evening. We share some drinks, some stories, hopefully a few laughs as well. I always make it a point when first speaking with a potential client not wear my welcome thin, so I excuse myself for the evening. My hopes that that wouldn’t be the last time we met were answered, although perhaps a little too early in the morning. Their need for secrecy and the level of suspicion in their eyes intrigues me, but their gold looks the same color as anyone elses, so business shall be done.

It was going well, a few back and forths of trade, they had some relatively interesting finds from out in the desert; and then there was the blue rock. The blue rock… I curse it for the pain I felt in my hand, but perhaps it was a blessing. I’m a gambler and I understand quite well when fate is casting the die for you; The moment I spoke that word and the rock left its mark on me… I knew the die had been cast. Clearly the other two understood that as well as we made great haste in leaving the inn; imagine my surprise when I found out that I was in the company of thieves, although the stable masters anger probably outweighed my surprise. I think I could’ve maybe difused the situation, but the overly generous human was quick to throw gold at the situation. Oh well, perhaps in time I can make them less likely to throw away their riches… well, to anyone except for me.

Our hasty retreat out of town was cut short but the sight of a Praetorian army on the horizon. I may later regret getting caught up with these two if I end up in a Praetorian cell someday. The townsfolk were kind enough to create a successful diversion for us and we slipped out of town unnoticed. Moons passed, stories were shared; the one called Udo seems to be working on his sword skills with the help of his travelling companion. We were having a good point at this time, I think we were nearing the town of Aethelstan, although I’m not sure anybody has actually told me yet where we’re headed; and then, Praetorians. My concern about my future with a Praetorian cell grows, but not by much as it was a rather small force and none were left alive. This of course led to the discovery that I’m not only traveling with thieves, but cold blooded killers. It adds some irony to their original accusations towards me when we met; It also goes to proove that everyone in this world is at least somewhat a criminal.

I’ll have to stop my story short here, perhaps I can let you hear more the next time we meet, provided you have the coin.

Randyl Weaver

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Diary entry 4/12/2009

Dear Diary,

This is going to be a short entry because I decided it was time for a career change for a few months. I’m a bit tired of the adventuring life so I settled on a job with one of the locals from Holborel. The chubby guy is named Bodwin and he offered me a simple job moving cargo with his trade caravan. It’s sad to be leaving my new friends but I think I need some time to grow a new beard before I could get into a proper fight again.

My last entry ended with us taking a nap on top of the temple that we had finally conquered. We weren’t looking forward to trekking across the desert again (especially not Ari who had to carry Carric’s body on his back) but we the longer we waited and the more dry my tongue got. We first made our way to the ant oasis to restock on fruit and water and to rest for a full day. We started back into the real journey on sundown after that.

We pretty much ran out of food after the first day of walking, but Ari was able to catch a rabbit on the second day so we had something to pick our teeth with. On the third day we were running low on water even and Udo was starting to look like a scrawny roasted chicken to me when we saw some men on horseback off on the edge of the horizon. After getting up close to them we discovered that they were a group of Anar’s people the Hazzaqi. Of course they all bowed and prayed to him after they figured him out to be some sort of holy figure, but I was too tired to make fun of him.

We took up their offer to ride on some of their humped horse things (camels or something) the rest of the way to Holborel. Ari took this chance to part ways with us and make his own way to the forests of the elves to properly bury Carric. I gave Carric a hug on the way out since I figured he wouldn’t mind being that he was dead and all. Ari didn’t want a hug though which made me sad. I’ll make a point of being more insistent with my hugs later.

The rest of the journey to Holborel was uneventful and I spent most of my time sleeping or eating. We worried a little bit that the village wouldn’t let us enter after the horse stealing stunt we had pulled last time but when we looked at each other’s faces covered in sunburn, cracked lips and hair mostly burned off we thought that it would be a miracle if any of them recognized us. We reached a guard outpost right outside the village and they had a few gruff words with us but the Hazzaqi leader was able to smuggle us inside.

Once inside the village we met Bodwin and he immediately offered me a job carrying cargo. I accepted but had to help Udo and Anar go through the temple loot before I could join the new caravan. We met a strange short guy named Randyl who offered to help us out in that area so we said meet us at the Inn and headed over there for some food. The innkeeper remembered us and ended up giving us free room and board for saving his life last time we were in town, so we gobbled down a quick meal before barricading ourselves in our room. We paid special attention to barring the windows remembering what happened to us last time here.

We picked through the junk we grabbed from the Temple but there wasn’t much in the pile that was interesting to me. The solid gold mask was pretty shiny so I took that along with the weapons and armor I rightfully won from the bald dwarf. I made sure to give out some solid hugs to both Anar and Udo since I wouldn’t see them again for a while when they were off adventuring, and then I left to meet up with Bodwin.

Hoping that my beard grows back twice as long,

Orson

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Diary entry 3/22/2009

Dear Diary,

I woke up feeling a lot better than I did when I went to sleep. After some nightmares about that stupid curse of the tomb garbage I got up and didn’t feel sick anymore. Being scared of moldy old curses is for sissies anyway. We packed up our things and headed back downstairs to face another dreaded bridge over lava. I’m really getting sick of bridges, and lava, and combinations of bridges over lava. If I ever design an underground temple I’ll be sure to put catapults or some other quick method of crossing lava because I’m sick of walking over crumbling rocks.

Anar crossed first and whispered back to us that he saw some robed figures ahead. They were probably more temple guards so we all snuck across the bridge and waited to see what they were doing. We heard some yelling in languages we couldn’t understand and then some other guys yelling in common before a fight broke out. We waited a little bit for a few of the guards to kill any of Ignatius’ men that they could and then we ambushed them all from behind. They had a big brute of an orc for a commander but made quick work of the group anyways. Investigating the nearby rooms we found a couple of Ignatius’ men dead and some bags of gold and gems that they had taken from elsewhere in the temple. I’m not one to let stuff go to waste so I grabbed up all the riches and we kept exploring.

The rooms leading off the large cavern didn’t lead anywhere else so we continued to the south. The ground slowly turned more and more into cooled lava rock and the air got stifling hot. Eventually we found ourselves surrounded on both sides by large smoldering pools of lava. We picked our way slowly south further until we saw what looked like rocks moving in the lava. I figured stuff had just fallen from the ceiling and was melting away until a whole bunch of red beetles crawled out and attacked us. I want to say that some sort of insect god was watching over this temple because we seem to run into lots and lots of bugs. A few taller people looking things made of lava attacked us too so we’ve finally run into the “lava monsters” that Chel was talking about. Covered in sweat we finally beat all of the lava creatures, but we have to retreat back north for a while to rest because we can barely breath in here.

Rested up we continued on once again. The air continued to get hotter and hotter. At some point the ground became so heated by the lava that it actually burned our hands when we touched it. Luckily I had a stout pair of boots on but I bet the other guys were suffering a bit in their lighter shoes. A bit more time passed and we started to hear a whispering inside our heads. Ignatius’ voice rang out and asked us what we thought we were doing. I thought it was pretty obvious that we had come down here to beat the crap out of him and take all his stuff. He tried bribing us with piles of gold and shiny jewels but we argued that we could just knock him out and still get the money so he stopped bothering us and lifted the thick layer of smoke hiding him in his little castle. Who would have thought to build a freaking castle inside a lava filled cavern underground in the desert?

Frustration set in on us immediately when we saw a huge river of lava with plates of rock floating on it separating us from Ignatius and his crossbow wielding minions. We slowly picked our way across over to him and started to scale the walls of his tiny castle. The battle wore on and as we started to get up on the battlements Ignatius used magic to jump to another castle wall across yet another river of lava. He was smart enough to have destroyed the bridge here so it was really difficult for us to get over to him. Anar put on his jumping shoes and made a massive leap across to the other side. I was going to follow him but Chel picked this exact moment to backstab us all (me literally!) and knocked me out. After waking me up with the battle was finished the other guys said he was the shapeshifter we had encountered earlier in Holborel. I had to take their word for it because I was out for the majority of the fight after Chel stabbed me. Apparently the other boys were able to take care of Ignatius and his men but the crafty shapeshifter got away before Ari could kill him. We’ll have to keep an eye out for him in the future and probably just kill any wounded Halflings that we find under piles of rocks. Just to be safe.

Ignatius died before he was able to complete his ritual to open the altar underground here so we were able to get the spoils first. The important thing was we got Udo’s box back, and found another vial (this one with a square top) that fit inside the box perfectly. Having collected that and the rest of Ignatius’ stuff we headed back to the surface of the temple. Exhausted from a long day we pushed one of the gold discs aside and sealed the temple. As I write this I am still trying to think of how we can get even one of these discs back to town but all of our horses are dead and Ignatius didn’t leave any wandering around the area. I wonder how long Udo could carry it if I tied it to his back?

Enjoying a nap,

Orson

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The path ahead...
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Diary entry 3/8/2009

Dear Diary,

It’s been another busy day for us as we were all very motivated to find Ignatius now that Carric was killed by some of his thugs. I plan to hit him repeatedly. I’m thinking in the groin. I’m also thinking of using a hammer. Anyway, we woke up and packed up our few belongings and started down the left staircase where Ari found some tracks. This level of the temple was getting pretty heavy with soot and ash because of a lava patch coming up from the ground. It was also pretty stifling hot which makes me regret my choice of armor from time to time.

Moving to the south through a large stone archway we enter a huge natural cavern area. The ceiling is so high up we can’t even see it with the light from the sunrod. It is also even hotter in this room than previous and I’m starting to have trouble breathing. We explore for a little bit and then hear a faint voice calling for help. Investigating further we find a small Halfling trapped underneath some fallen rubble. He says he was part of Ignatius’ hired gang to look for some item inside the temple but he got left behind during a fight with some lava monsters. As much as meeting a lava monster sounds cool (or should I say, painfully hot!) I’m going to avoid them in the future.

We argue for a bit on what to do with Chel (the Halfling) but when he offers to help us find Ignatius we dig him out and bring him along. Ari is always keeping a close eye on him so I’m not particularly worried. Besides he’s shorter than me, isn’t half as wide, and he has less of a beard than a dwarf woman so what could he do? A bit more wandering around in the cave and we got ambushed by a bunch of weirdo bats. Some of them were even on fire which confused me to no end. In my mind if you lit a bat on fire they would eventually fall the ground and die but it took us a while to finally stamp out all of the little beasties.

After a quick water break we continue searching for Ignatius. Not too far to the south in the big cave we find the same lava river we ran into on the upper floor. There is a small rock bridge leading across it. I have a bad feeling about this river so I convince the group to search the rest of the cave before we cross it. We end up finding tunnels leading east and west that were not immediately apparent to us as we had all moved straight south through the cave. I push everyone to the west tunnel just so we can get away from the damn lava.

The tunnel leads to a rough hewn room that has the same natural look of the big cave we had come from. There are a bunch of bones piled up in the middle of the room along with several stone carvings of big beetles. Ari checked around and he saw what looked like 3 sets of footprints leading into the room and edging around the very outside of it. We hear some scuttling noises coming from the bones but decide to follow the tracks anyway. I walk into the room first and almost immediately a bunch of man sized beetles burst out from the bone piles and rush to eat us. I’m getting really tired of getting beetle and bat juice stains out of my clothes.

Investigating the rest of the room we find a small pit that has a fire roaring up from it and a several clay vials on a table with a shallow basin in it. Ari realizes the liquid in the basic is actually blood from the beetles and that if we put the blood into the bottles we could drink it later to make ourselves more resistant to fire. I don’t think I would want to fall in the lava after drinking it but it might be helpful later if we meet anymore fire beetles.

After finding out that the tracks led nowhere (they were probably eaten) we had back into the big cave and take the east tunnel. As we travel down the tunnel we run into a couple more smaller rivers of lava cutting through our path. These are a lot smaller than the large river so we can jump over them pretty easily. At the end of the tunnel is another gate made from bones like we had run into before. Using an arrow dipped in the lava to light the candles we open the gate and step into the next room.

We see 2 small orbs of light circling the center of the room along with 4 or 5 holes in the floor where fire and lava come upwards from the ground. Standing still in the center of the room are spiked skeletons like the ones who had attacked us in the scorpion’s room. As we slowly walk into the room the stand to attention and attack us. They are joined in the fight by fire skeletons that crawl out of the holes and a bunch of rotting skeletons crawling out from various tunnels leading off the room. This was a tough fight and we had to drink 3 of our fire beetle potions to survive the damn fire skeletons throwing lava at us.

We’re all really worn out after the fight but are able to push ourselves to investigate the rest of the tomb area. We find a few bodies of Ignatius’ thugs on the ground but they have nothing interesting on them. Exploring the tunnel offshoots from this room we find a few more tombs and are able to open a few of them. We find a leather and cloth helm with horns on it, some well preserved sandals, and a few gems. In another alcove we find a tomb that we can’t open due to some magical warding, and a bunch of skeletons of worshippers of Udo’s god. He gathered up the dust from their bones to give them a proper burial above ground. He also found a suit of armor, a sword, and a necklace all with the symbol of the sun on it that he took to liberate from the primordial worshippers he said.

A few of the other tunnels we looked into had lava holes in the front of them so we couldn’t get very far. We did find a few more carved gold statues, some gold discs, and a silver scepter with some carvings on it in another alcove though. After that we were all basically exhausted so we went back up the spiral stairs and camped out again. We figured Ignatius would have to come past us at some point so we thought it was okay for us to sleep here again.

Sleepy time now,

Orson

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Diary entry 2/22/2009

Dear Diary,

This week’s entry is really sad because our friend Carric died when we got ambushed by a bunch of thugs . Things didn’t start off so bad when Ari and I were able to convince Anar and Carric to let us go back and explore the spider caves some more. I think Ari really wants to find whatever it is that Ignatius is looking for down here before he does. Personally I just want to find some expensive shiny stuff that’s easier to carry than a gigantic gold disc so I can fill myself to the brim on ale and mutton. Mmm mutton.

Anyways, we headed back to the webby area and had Carric burn his way through the tunnels for us. Eventually we came to another small room with a tomb in the middle but we couldn’t risk lighting the webs on fire in case everything went up in smoke. After cutting our way into the middle Carric was able to read the runes on the box, “Desmoo the Eye Falcon”. I’m curious as to what exactly an Eye Falcon is but I wasn’t able to think about it long before a bunch of spiders came out of the walls and started biting us.

I think spiders are icky so I didn’t hesitate to squash them all with my hammer. One of them was able to get away which always bugs me because I absolutely hate it when I go to squish a bug and it crawls under a table or somewhere I can’t get it. I don’t think I’ll be sleeping very well until I find the stupid spider. Ari rushed to open the tomb up and grabs a few things before running out. The dead guy in the coffin had a pretty swell mask on made out of gold that I’m sure he wouldn’t miss so I quietly stuck it in one of my pouches and caught up with everyone else.

I think Anar and Carric are pretty mad with us by this point since they made everyone return to the room with the jackal statue and floaty fireballs. As we’re standing around trying to figure out what to do that damn imp we ran into a few days ago swooped down and stole Udo’s brooch. This was apparently really bad because one of the fireballs immediately jumped on top of him. I ran in and pushed him out of the fire (burning even more of my hair off) before he burned up. I wasn’t even done brushing the burnt hair from my beard before Ari walked over and gave Udo his brooch back. Apparently the imp didn’t get very far before Ari skewered him on a couple of arrows. I wonder what imp on skewers over a fire would taste like?

We milled around some more while Carric and Anar tried to grab a couple of fat rubies from the eyes of the jackal statue. I thought it was pretty funny watching a couple of guys so against grave robbing to be stealing gems from a holy statue thing but I was able to cough and pretend like I wasn’t laughing. After Anar crawled down from retrieving the gems we noticed the room get cold and all of the fireballs faded and disappeared. With the heat a bit less oppressive in here Ari is able to find some tracks in the middle of the room leading off to the west and to the east. We flip a coin and decide to tromp off to the west.

This tunnel is just as boring as every other tunnel down in this stupid temple, but it does have some neat scorpion statues carved from black stone. I get a sinking feeling in my stomach though as it seems whenever we see a statue of something we end up running into the real thing later on. If I see a statue of a dragon down here I quit.

At the end of the tunnel we come to this huge auditorium room that has sandy floors and rows and rows of benches lining the walls. Another big statue of a carved scorpion is in the center of the room and off on the side opposite of us there is a wooden gate. Ari told us to be quiet as the gate started to rise up. Then we watched a couple of skeletons slowly shamble out dragging chains attached to a live giant scorpion. I would have settled for scorpions the size of the statues we saw in the tunnel, but Anar was pretty set on us not letting the skeletons get away so we ran into the room and started bashing some heads (or whatever it is that scorpions have if they don’t have a head).

After we finish with the scorpion everyone wanted to use the gated room to sleep for the night. I wasn’t very tired since I spent most of the fight standing still after the damn scorpion stung me in the leg and I went numb from my waist down. Oh well. A pile of refuse that were likely people at one point reveals a charred ring with the seal of Holborel on it so we know that Ignatius has been in the area recently. We rest for a time and then head back into the jackal room to investigate the other tunnel.

After a bit of a walk we come upon a pair of doors on opposite sides of a tunnel with melted and scorched flooring. We’re not really sure what to make of this mess until we see a slimy pile of goo ooze out from under 1 of the doors and go underneath the other one. We could see bits and pieces of half eaten things floating in the slime so we don’t even hesitate to clean up these gross bastards. Among the junk in the slime we find another Holborel signet ring and figure that Ignatius must be close. A quick glance through the rooms the slimes were patrolling turns up some gems and gold that we pocket quickly on our way through to another door to the east.

Immediately after stepping through this doorway we trip over a mixed pile of hobgoblin and human bodies. It seems the temple guards tangled with Ignatius’ goons here and a bunch of both groups died and their corpses were left laying. Approaching the door to the north we can smell sulfur and burning coming from beyond it. I hoped that we might find Ignatius’ burning corpse on the other side, but my luck as always stinks. Instead we ran into a freaking river of LAVA cutting right through the tunnel with some rickety slabs of stone stretched across it as a bridge.

Playing it safe we send Anar across first with a rope tied around his waist as a anchor. Slowly everyone begins to make their way over the bridge, but things got even worse for us as a group of Holborel dweebs left behind by Ignatius stumbled upon as just as we were all getting away from the lava. A bunch of humans with some big dogs and a bald headed dwarf with a beard that wasn’t even half as long and full bodied as mine. I immediately charged the dwarf and met him head on because he was the obvious leader of this ragtag group of misfits. In the confusion of battle the bridge must have gotten wrecked as Carric ended up stranded on the other side of a big jump between him and the safe ground.

The fight raged on for a long time as everyone was bleeding from multiple wounds and that stupid bald dwarf was just shrugging off all of our strikes. Carric fell under a hail of crossbow bolts which must have pissed Ari off something fierce, because he kicked that crossbowman right into the lava. We finally took the dwarf down and were able to get across the lava to try and help Carric, but Udo said that we were too late and he had already died from his wounds.

We all stood around forlornly while Udo cast some magic on Carric to keep his body from rotting before we could take it out of the temple (I even took off my helmet like a respectable dwarf). We couldn’t take him with us so we were forced to leave him under a carefully stacked pile of rocks with Udo’s warding magic on it. Our first priority right now is to find Ignatius, but then we need to get Carric back to the city and try to scrounge up enough money to get him healed. I wonder how much somebody would pay for braided beard hair if I scalped the other dwarf.

Feeling sad,

Orson

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Temple of Fire 2
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Diary entry 2/8/2009

Dear Diary,

This is going to be a short entry this week diary because it isn’t very safe to sleep inside the Temple of Fire now that we finally got here. It is kind of a bummer because I really like these sleeping bags we got from the Earl, I think I’m going to forget to give them back later. He probably won’t care much since he’ll be so mad we got his horses killed haha.

Anyways, we got started in the Temple by moving the gold disc doodad on top of the pedastal that had a depression on it. As soon as the light of the sun hit the disc a ring of fire shot up from both pedastals and the stone gate lowered into the ground. Apparently an unlucky guy got jammed in the doorway and died because his skeleton came down with the gate. I’m guessing it would not be a good idea to stick your foot in this door to try and stop it from closing.

Walking in past the gate we found a rough hole leading straight down into darkness. There were some rusty rings set in the wall with chunks of a moldy old rope ladder dropping off. One of the other guys was rich enough to afford some rope to let us climb down the hole. Some day I plan to save up enough money to buy some rope. I hope I get there before I get too old to enjoy tying things up. Udo pulled out a sunrod and lit up the area so we could start exploring.

The room we climbed down into wasn’t very big, but there was a hallway leading off to the north. I don’t think we make very good explorers because the first thing we ran into in that hallway was a trap that spewed fire from the walls. We couldn’t find any way to turn it off. Anar didn’t seem to be too disturbed by this though and he ended up just running off down the hall without even really trying to dodge the fire. I didn’t want to look like a wimp so I ran off after him. This proved to be rather painful because my beard caught on fire, and at the other end of the hall Anar had met a bunch of bandits who all got mad at him and were attacking. I think word has spread that Anar has a dinosaur that he doesn’t like to let other people ride so I bet we’re going to be getting beat up a lot until he learns the importance of sharing.

The rest of the group eventually made their way through the fire hallway while Anar and me fought with the bandits. I was so busy swinging my hammer that I didn’t have time to put out the beard fire I had going on. It’s a lot shorter now but I wanted to get it trimmed anyway so that fire trap really just saved me some time. After we got done beating up the bandits we dug through their stuff and found a bunch of extra food and water. We were pretty happy to find something new to eat because I’m sure the bandits wouldn’t have tasted all that good.

Moving on we came into a larger open room that had two orb things lighting the area that were on top of immovable stone blocks. There were hallways leading off 3 different directions with some candles there lighting the way. Walking to the east we came to a gate made out of a bunch of bones lashed together with rope and other junk. I’m pretty impressed that these temple guys would be smart enough to use bones out here in the desert, but I suppose there isn’t a lot of wood to go around so you have to make due with what you got. The gateway led into another large room with about 5 smaller tunnels leading out from it. The floor was tiled and had a wierd design in the shape of some guys face done in different colored tiles. A ring of fire was floating over this guys forehead that painfully reminded me of my beard burning encounter earlier with the fire traps so I stayed far away from it. Carric seemed to think the fire ring was something to stop intruders so I hoped we didn’t find anymore of them later (yeah I was wrong).

Most of the tunnels leading off from this room had these stone archways covered in rune carvings. Carric said the runes mentioned something about tombs so this must have been the temple’s burial ground for the higher up priests and stuff. We explored each of the tunnels but just found a large casket at the end of each of them that was covered in dust and didn’t look to have been disturbed in years. There were more of the firey circles floating around in some spots so we decided to skip the entire area and move on since Ignatius probably hadn’t been through here.

Backtracking we took the large tunnel to the west which led into another big room with a face made of tiles on the floor. I was itching at this point to find some jewels and treasure since we were obviously in a pretty rich temple, but all we found over here were more tunnels. Tunnels covered in huge webs that didn’t look like fun to walk through. I made a point of marking on my little handdrawn map SPIDERS for this room and we left quickly.

We backtracked one final time and headed north through the last tunnel. As we approached the next area we saw the very odd sight of a slowly floating ball of flame circling through the next room. In fact there were several of these balls of flame circling the room. They didn’t seem to give off a lot of light but nobody in the group wanted to get near them for fear of being burned even more than we already were. Anar ran past one of them into the center of the room to investigate the statue of a big jackal that was carved from gold. I was rubbing my hands together at the thought of chipping a leg or ear off this big guy when we heard approaching foot steps and voices from the south. Apparently the group of hobgoblins we fought outside the temple was not the only ones in the area so we had to crack some more heads when they attacked us.

Hobgoblins aren’t very smart as we were able to lure them in close to us by hiding behind some pillars and then we rushed their archers and one spellcaster guy and took them all out pretty easy. I’m happy to say that my beard didn’t get burned by anything else before we sat down to rest so I think we had a successful day. I hope to write again soon diary but we can’t rest for long here or else more hobgoblins might find us.

Toodles,

Orson

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