1 – I am spent. Months of a relentless pace have worn me from a honed point to a practice edge, and I am falling apart physically.
It feels like it began to accelerate when I arrived at the guild hall on the morning of Fireday, 16th of Lamashan. Amarro had apparently received an invitation from a representative of Korvosa’s Acadamae the night before; their Breaching Festival was approaching, and our guild apparently had drawn the eye of the world stage. Amarro had then assembled a team from the night regulars (Screech, Varro, Artanis (of course), and… aside from Tomoe, I fear I am forgetting someone…) and passed through the portal offered, and that was that. Why was I not kept appraised of this well-known event’s approach by my informants? We could have planned a party which was assured of victory… Again, the plates are dropping in this performance; there is nobody to keep them spinning.
I have, meanwhile, been recovering from a bout of influenza, and the reports have piled in my absence; possibly that is where the Breaching Festival warnings are buried. I am trying to catch up, but things are obviously being missed. I have awoken at my desk several times in this last month alone; I am operating on, at most, four hours of sleep each night, and restless sleep at that. Artanis is stealing reports no doubt, and I no longer have the energy or focus to counter her efforts.
The three time-dilated months I’d spent within Hao Jin’s vault – which were, in actuality, no more than two weeks – have also taken their toll on me; the vault was not so much “wonderful” (as one would expect) as it was overwhelming and horrifying, in equal parts. Although the oni who managed it were accommodating, their presence and the presence of some of the horrible artifacts within the vault wore at me mentally. Such destructive potential contained within those walls… I wonder at anyone gaining access. I am constantly anxious about such an event now. Our enemies are powerful, we are blind, and even one man possessing even one of such artifacts could wreak untold destruction upon the world… and there are dozens of such artifacts within that vault of horrors. Hundreds!
So, illness struck, and despite the minimal recuperation time I was afforded I was caught surprised by a visit from a wolf as I dragged myself home from today’s work at the temple. Well, it was more a worg, but even in my exhaustion I recognized the hulking beast as the monk Tomoe’s mount and companion. He informed me that the party who’d traveled to the Acadamae had returned, and Tomoe had requested my presence at her home following her arrival. With no further elaboration, he then departed. I had resolved to visit the next day, but I arrived home to find the hedge witch Gretchen within my house. She was going through my mail, of course; Savram said he had tried to stop her, but she just pinched his cheek and told him to fetch something for her to drink. He was still rubbing his cheek in concern.
Gretchen quickly started speaking when I greeted her; she waved off the welcome and sprung into what was likely a prepared conversation: she was leaving for an indeterminate time; she and the druid Marrok Grimnar intended to temporarily return to the Lands of the Linnorm Kings to collect some research materials, and I should probably look in on Tomoe in her absence… then she actually turned and began for the door! She looked extremely short-tempered (even for her) and seemed to be nursing some manner of emotional upset, but that was no surprise; the only time I’d seen her since I’d dispatched a group to Stonespine Island six days ago with her help was when she was treating me for the influenza, and her emotional state was erratic at each meeting, even then. Still, her makeup was running on her face and she avoided looking at me this evening; something was bothering her, but I declined to ask, and she declined to explain. As she passed by, she tersely reminded me to look in on Tomoe a second time, then took the door. I was spun around by the 30-second meeting, but sighed in relief: rest would go uninterrupted; meetings with those women had tended to run long in the past. I realized as I lay down to sleep that she was dressed to travel, but I was unconscious within moments of my head striking the pillow.
2 – Nightmares kept my intermittent dips into unconsciousness restless again, and I found myself remembering the past. I was at a funeral; it wasn’t Kokoro’s as usual, though: rather, her cousin’s, who I’d never met. I recall in the daylight hours her mentioning him offhand as having worked himself to death, and that his funeral was “depressingly sedate”. I wonder about this; is it a warning? I am definitely overworking myself, but to death? Either way, my subconscious has apparently dispensed with subtlety.
I am hesitant to ask for help. The tasks I manage require care and dedication, and I see none of that in any of these guild members. Yes, they are enthusiastic, but they show zero comprehension of what we face, and a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. I wonder about their ability to manage clandestine affairs, or a full-blown shadow war, for that matter. I shoulder responsibility because none of my peers here appear able to do so, and none have offered. It is unfortunate; yet still, the self-examination is true: I am working myself to death, and I wonder how much longer I can do this for. Already, I have noted myself slipping.
I attempted to sleep until 10 am this morning, finally giving up the effort and getting after my morning when I was unable to rest. The boys were gone already, and halfway through breakfast I suddenly remembered Gretchen’s request to look in on Tomoe, not to mention the monk’s own delivered message. I was out the door within 5 minutes, though in my self-recrimination for how my mind wanders, I nearly ran over Tomoe’s worg again. Roukan, he said his name was, and he had an appraising, even tone when he reiterated his request that I visit his friend; “sooner is better than later”. I begged his forgiveness at my negligence and promised to follow him that moment.
Arriving at the apartment, I was led within. Roukan was silent, and we quickly arrived at a sort of sitting room where my host was seated; the rooms the women were renting were small, though tastefully appointed. Normally, the same is true for my host… entering the room, she was similar to her state upon our last interaction within my private journals, though I realized quickly why she wasn’t collecting me herself on this occasion: she was enormous; wider than she was tall, and appeared to have gained enough weight at this point that she was unable to even move herself from the couch she rested upon. There were a few food package remains near her – but not near so many as I could recall her formerly consuming during a sitting while within the guild hall – and she was dressed only in a robe which appeared to fit much better several sizes ago. Nonetheless, she was pleasant, and welcomed me, apologizing for the relayed invitation and her grotesque size. I waved such things off; the respite was odd, but welcomed. I normally wish to get to my tasks quickly, but justified the visit as possible guild business; we had just lost a powerful mage and her companion, and appeared to be due for further suffering, judging by the monk’s size. She would possibly provide more answers on Gretchen’s path – but even in my exhausted state, I noted conspicuous spots on the shelves and walls where something had rested, and was now missing… I realize in hindsight that I was very slow in putting the pieces together.
I… something about her presence broke the fugue I was in and chased such thoughts from my mind, though. Despite being immensely obese, she no longer carried the tension she had previously struggled with; she was an oasis of calm. She sipped from her tea and almost immediately explained that she’d returned from her trip to Korvosa with a dangerous gift: tempted by a contract devil, she had immediately buckled and begged the removal of her curse, that which kept her hungry and increasingly fatter. Surprisingly, the contract devil – named “Chyvvom” – acknowledged the apparent curse by immediately meeting her request, though she was left to lose the weight she’d piled on herself, and now suffered from a different, inverted curse. Still, she was disarmingly relaxed; she said that with the removal of the curse of hunger, she was finally able to begin working off the weight… though she was now bound to Chyvvom’s mysterious master, an infernal duke named “Lorthact”. Despite this significant setback, she saw the end result of both as the same thing; losing the weight would surely happen alongside getting stronger in anticipation of a battle with Lorthact, and, more importantly, she had quiet within her soul and mind, something she’d feared lost forever. She considered this a temporary victory in a road likely to contain several.
At this, she held up a single scroll, her pudgy hand barely extending beyond the slope of her immense spherical body, and her expression became concerned. She explained the previously-unknown fate of those in the Breaching Festival, and, despite having accepted a surely terrible deal, had immediately attacked and killed Chyvvom following her release from her torturous curse. Unfortunately for her, when the matter was nearly over and done with, Chyvvom made his reappearance and claimed an unexpected (and temporary) ally found on the demiplane they had escaped, leaving almost immediately after seizing her… and took the second copy of Tomoe’s scroll, ultimately removing from her the power to change her fate through confrontation with Chyvvom. Thus, she remains at peril, according to the final interpretation of the terms of her contract.
Tomoe’s frown deepened at this point, and she went quiet for a short while. I had only been partially listening until this point, and saw my opportunity to ask about the witch, but the small woman had decided to broach that topic herself: she had returned with the grim–yet–hopeful news of the scroll’s solution only to be met with an indignant rage from her (former) roommate. Gretchen told her she was selfish, stating that she should “think of others”, and an argument was quickly joined. Gretchen had reportedly fallen in love with her patient, and there were bitter words exchanged about who was enabling who… and then the witch had apparently removed the spell which had been keeping Tomoe’s size at a manageable level, returning her to the state I was talking to her in.
Tomoe had, at this point in their confrontation, naturally become likewise upset, but stated that she was unable to remember any further points of the confrontation with clarity due to suffering cardiac arrest from her heightened emotional state; apparently at her current size she is in constant danger of this. I will interject here to say I don’t fully believe this, but I feel the situation is a little too close to personal information for my tastes; the private affairs of guild members are their own business. Regardless, Gretchen had apparently revived her from her dying state, then quickly packed her things… where she’d moved to was unknown to the monk, as there was no note, but she suspected the research laboratory at the temple of the Lucky Drunk here in Oregent.
I found my interest in speaking with her growing over several hours of conversation, and I exited the house in the mid-afternoon with a head clear of stress and filled with clarity of purpose. Tomoe requested that I take the contract’s scroll and hide it, and maybe to check up on her every so often to make sure she hadn’t wound up with her head stuck in a chamber-pot or attacked by devils. She had also said that, although she couldn’t walk or even move her arms much, she would be fine: the witch had animated several of the house’s amenities which would care for her in most every way except for conversation, as well as the occasional hiccup in their very specific behavior patterns. That was all, though; if I desired to keep her company for conversation again, the door was open.
I have already decided to return tomorrow; I found myself possibly sharing too much about my recent struggles when she’d asked (the weariness must have lowered my walls; I did say I was slipping), but her advice and responses were carefully considered and sympathetic. She’d also seemed thoughtful when I mentioned the lack of reliable help managing the guild’s affairs. She told me that she understood the desire to not saddle others with that which they may not be able to handle, and requested that I consider her assistance; she could start tomorrow, as she couldn’t really do much else unless rolled there.
This disarmed me, but it was perhaps because of cultural similarity; she knows that a Tian man will never ask for help when he doesn’t know about the capacity of others to provide it, being Tian herself.
=A phrase is written in Tien here which roughly translates as “that night, I slept peacefully”.=