Transcript – Dear Diary

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Scroll & Dagger presents
The Pensive Tower
Episode Thirty Two: Dear Diary

[A click, and the strange whirring of the venoscribe begins]

This is the memory of Essenda Korring. Taurox, aged fifty seven, identified as female. Memory regards an old diary and a strange sighting in the hills of western Sangland. It was donated on the nineteenth of Leafturn, in the year 722. Inscribed by Paxton Ferox on the twenty-eighth of Bloomingtine, 730.

We Begin.

I’m a merchant by trade. Have been for as long as I can remember, same as my mother and her mother before her.

I’ve been working with my mother since I was old enough to stand, though of course I did have to take the usual break in my late teens to go and do my time in the harem. I had a few royal calves and then it was back to my real life with the family business.

It’s not a large enterprise. We own three decent-sized wagons and there are a couple of other merchants who usually travel with us. Safety in numbers and all that. The wagon drivers, Niald, Ju-Rugan and Timms, they’ve been with my mother for years, and we usually hire a couple of mercenaries on the longer journeys, just in case we’re attacked by bandits, or worse.

I worked with my mother as an apprentice for a few years then, when I’d proved I knew what I was about, she made me a partner. Then, about ten years ago, I took over. Mother had earned a nice retirement, bought a small place on the Pascorrean Coast. Meanwhile, I carried on with the work.

I mostly kept to western Sangland. Things have been getting dangerous out east, I hear. Potential war with Coopia, and there have been more khirroc attacks than normal. I figured it was safer to stay in sight of the mountains.

And for a time, it was. We did quite well, travelling up to Almari during the summer then, as the weather started to turn, heading back down south to winter in Haranford.

And it was on one such journey that all of this began.

This was last year, middle of autumn.

We’d had quite a good year, made some good trades in Almari and Zalatan, and made a good bit of profit.

As the leaves began turning, I knew it was time to head south so the caravan began its yearly journey.

We crossed through Manacca and Grazia without any trouble, even managed to stop over with my mother for a weekend in her new cottage.

I’d wanted to stop there, not only to see my mother, but to get her advice on something.

See, the previous winter, the caravan had stopped at a small village called Siluvan. There’s an old woman who lives there, by the name of Amissa SinHale. I’d met her years before, back when my mother still ran the caravan. She was one of those people you get in villages like Siluvan. Not a doctor but a smart woman who knew a lot about herbs and history and such, so the locals would go to her for remedies or advice.

She was always interested in books and had quite a collection of her own, and she would always peruse any new volumes we’d picked up on our travels and sell us any of hers that she was done with. Obviously we’d only take the ones we actually had a chance of selling but there were usually quite a few rare and valuable books among those that she gave us.

The Three alone know how she gets a hold of them. Siluvan’s high up in the hills, on the edge of the Allann Forest. Hardly a place many people go to. I suppose there are probably other merchants who come through and she gets them off of them.

Anyway, the previous winter I had bought a whole stack of books from Amissa which had included quite a strange one. The pages were old, and I mean really old. So old I felt like I shouldn’t have been holding them for fear they might crumble to dust in my hand.

They were bound by wood that was probably as old as the pages but had been kept in good condition. As delicately as I could, I had looked through the pages. What I could make out was written in a strange, blocky text that I didn’t recognise.

Amissa told me it was written in Ittilic, an ancient language, that it was supposed to be directions to some treasure, buried somewhere in the vicinity long long years ago, but she couldn’t read it. She said if I could find someone to translate the book, and if we found the treasure, we could split it fifty/fifty.

I’d kind of laughed it off at the time, but I’d taken the old book and kept it safe wrapped in a box at the bottom of one of the wagons and I’d more or less forgotten about it. But when we were passing my mother’s house, the memory of it popped back into my head and I remembered that my mother had studied ancient cultures when she’d been at university and so might know someone who could translate the thing.

I showed her the book and she, like me, was amazed it wasn’t in a museum. But she did have a look at the writing. She said she’d never been much of a linguist but she did still have the old Ittilic dictionary she had used during her university days.

We worked on that across the weekend. For all my mother claimed not to be good with languages, she certainly seemed to have a knack for translating.

We didn’t get everything, but we got enough of the broad strokes to get the gist of what the book was. It was a journal, written by someone hundreds of years ago. Much of it was about this person’s day-to-day life but one section did seem to detail the location of some great treasure.

It was hard to say where exactly it would be though, since the places were all named what they would have been at the time the journal was written which, suffice to say, have changed quite a bit over the years. So names like “Ulanya,” “Alan’Aka,” and “Korinlad” meant nothing to me.

But I figured that someone in Siluvan might know enough local history to make some connections. Amissa might know herself, she certainly seemed the type to know random things like that.

So I left and we continued south. Soon we reached the River Akia and followed it up into the hills towards the Allann Forest.

It was early evening when we arrived at Siluvan, the setting sun sending up streaks of dark red and purple into the sky.

I led the caravans into our usual spot on the village green, drawing them up in a semi-circle. Then, leaving the others to set up their stalls and such, I took the journal to Amissa’s house.

As I walked through the village, I saw a few familiar faces and greeted them and was greeted in return. But I did notice that a few looked a lot more care-worn than they had looked in previous years.

Jardan Witt, who’d always been quite an energetic man and had always greeted me with enthusiasm, hardly seemed to notice I was there, just giving me a half-hearted wave as I went past.

Ordinarily I might have stopped, asked him what was wrong, but I wanted to get the journal to Amissa.

When I arrived, the old woman greeted me warmly and invited me inside. She, at least, did not seem to have been drawn into the dark cloud that seemed to have descended on the village.

She asked me if I’d had any luck with her book. I told her I had and handed over the pages of notes my mother and I had made. I talked her through what we had found out, that I did believe she had been right, that there was a treasure to be found.

At least, I added, there had been. For it had occurred to me that this treasure, whatever it was, would have been hidden hundreds of years ago and might not be there anymore. It might have been found already, or something else might have happened to it.

Amissa waved my concerns away like a cloud of bothersome flies. The treasure would not have been taken, she assured me, no one could have found it by accident. It would take a special skill to find it.

I was about to ask how she would know that when she let out an excited squeak.

“It is here!” she exclaimed, “I knew it! I’ll show that Jalissa who knows what!”

She stalked over to a coat rack in the corner of the room with the air of someone on a mission. As she passed me I noticed something I never had before. Amissa had a tattoo on the back of her neck. A very strange looking thing. It looked like a coiling serpent with arms and legs, with lighting shooting out from it.

I didn’t ask what it was, it was none of my business.

Amissa swept a cloak around her shoulders.

“We’ll need to have a word with Dommin,” she said as she fastened the cloak in place.

I was taken aback. Dommin was a name I knew, he was an old man who lived just outside of the village, I’d sold him some new kitchenware just the previous year. What I didn’t know was why we needed to talk to him all of a sudden.

I asked Amissa who looked back at me and smiled.

“Dommin knows more about this sort of thing than me,” she said, “I know this place,” she gestured at my translations, “Alan’Aka is around here somewhere, but I don’t know exactly where. Dommin will know.”

I said that was all very well but why did she want me to come along?

“Well you can’t expect an old woman to go treasure hunting alone, can you?” she replied, haughtily, “besides, I’d assumed you’d want to be there when we find it, make sure I actually do split it evenly with you.”

I chuckled and did then follow Amissa out into the street. We walked back through the village and I noticed again how despondent everyone seemed to be.

I asked Amissa about this. She glanced at one of the passers-by as if she hadn’t even noticed the change in the general mood of the village.

Then she seemed to remember something and said she had no idea what was causing it, but a little over a month ago an air of melancholy had descended on the village. At first, one or two people had come to her complaining of sleeplessness. Then, over time, more and more people had come. And soon the whole village was complaining of the same thing. As far as she could tell, no one had had a good night’s sleep since then.

Suddenly I wasn’t surprised at how listless the whole village seemed to be. I thought back and realised that a little over a month ago, I’d been with my mother, translating the journal.

It took us nearly half an hour to walk to Dommin’s house. It was a large building, of course, Dommin was a drakarian. He had moved to the village about a hundred years ago and, for the most part, kept himself to himself.

When we arrived, Amissa banged loudly on the door with a bony fist.

“He’s nearly deaf as a board,” she explained, “you have to be loud or he won’t hear us.”

A little while later, the huge door opened, squeaking on old hinges, to reveal a weathered and reptilian face.

Dommin must have had fine, emerald green scales in his youth but age had dulled them and, in patches, they had started to flake away.

A pair of spectacles was perched on his long snout.

“Ah, Amissa,” Dommin said, smiling as he recognised the old woman, “and Miss Korring! Is it that time of year already?”

I said yes it was and that it was lovely to see him again and how was the tea set? Meanwhile Amissa had bustled into the house and had gone straight to the living room.

Apparently not surprised by this, Dommin turned ponderously and followed her in, leaving me to take up the rear, closing the door behind me.

“The tea set is working nicely,” Dommin said as we entered the living room and sat down.

Amissa had put the pages of my translation down on the coffee table. She said we weren’t there to take up much time, we just needed to know where Alan’Aka was.

Dommin blinked at the name.

“Alan’Aka?” he asked, sounding perplexed. “why would you be wanting to go there?”

I asked what what Alan’Aka was. Dommin explained it had been an ancient fortress, built possibly before the Dark Age. It had been abandoned, he said, sometime around fifteen hundred years ago. Nobody knew why but all that was left of the place were some dilapidated old walls and some mouldy stones.

Amissa, clearly getting a little impatient, asked again if he could tell us where it was.

Dommin nodded and shuffled over to a book shelf. He searched through a small box for a minute or two before pulling out a small piece of paper, which turned out to be a map of the local area.

He showed us where the ruins of Alan’Aka were and where they were in relation to Siluvan. I glanced over at Amissa during Dommin’s talk and saw her face was a mask of annoyance and disappointment. I could imagine what was going through her head.

Alan’Aka, as it turned out, was a good half-day’s hike away and was high up in the hills. It required going through some pretty tough terrain. Nothing too onerous for someone used to walking but it was obvious to me that Amissa would not be up to the journey.

When Dommin asked why we were so interested in the place, Amissa didn’t answer so I cooked up some half-truth about the journal, saying I’d come across it in my travels and it had mentioned Alan’Aka and I’d just been curious.

Amissa didn’t say a word as I said my goodbyes to Dommin and then we left.

I thought the old woman would accept defeat and leave it there but I was surprised when she turned to me and said she was relying on me ow to bring that treasure back. I half thought she was joking, I mean, how could she be serious?

I couldn’t just go off on an adventure, I had a caravan to manage.

But there was a fire in Amissa’s eyes that told me she was deadly serious and, what’s more, that she would not accept no as an answer.

So I agreed. I told my workers what was going on and to just keep trade open until I got back. And, the next day, I set off into the hills in search of Alan’Aka.

I didn’t go alone, of course. Amissa enlisted the help of one of the local hunters to make sure I didn’t get hurt. Ellian was his name, Ellian Carmine. He was a human, quite tall, with long, shaggy brown hair. Handsome in a rugged kind of way. His daughter, Oria, came with us as well. She was a turshen, I’d guess in her late teens or early twenties. She was tall, like her father, and was clearly used to moving fast through the hills as, despite being as tired as the rest of the village, she would run out ahead of us, her long ears twitching excitedly. Her father told me she was hoping to join the army as a scout.

Thankfully, Oria’s talents were wasted as we came across nothing for our whole journey.

Well, I suppose that’s not entirely true.

I could merely be speaking with the benefit of hindsight, but that feeling of unease, that melancholy that hung over Siluvan… well I felt it get worse the closer to Alan’Aka we got.

I didn’t talk about it with Ellian. He didn’t seem to be feeling the effects at all, and I didn’t want him thinking I’d lost my nerve.

When we arrived at Alan’Aka, I admit I did feel disappointed. I know that Dommin had said there was barely anything left of the place but, after all the build up, I suppose I’d hoped he’d been exaggerating.

If anything, he’d been doing the opposite. There was hardly anything left of the place. In fact I’d say if I hadn’t heard Dommin say that it had once been a fortress, I wouldn’t have given it a second look.

There were walls, I suppose, or what was left of them. The highest bit of them barely came up to my knees. From what I could tell, there had once been three walls, thick and circular, one inside the other. I imagine it must have been quite imposing, once upon a time but now, well, I don’t think the word “ruin” was ever quite so appropriate.

Ellian, who looked about as unimpressed as I felt, turned to me then and asked what we were supposed to do now.

I flipped through my notes and translations that related to the treasure. None of it was much use until I came upon one sentence that mother was able to translate as “the wheel within wheels.”

I nearly skipped over it but then I stopped, looking back again at those walls. And I thought what if the original Ittilic was better translated as “circle” instead of “wheel”?

I shared my idea with Ellian who shrugged and said it was worth a look so he, I and Oria made our way to the middle of the innermost wall. There was nothing there, nothing but an empty patch of grass and weeds.

It wasn’t exactly encouraging but I wasn’t yet willing to give up on my theory so I unpacked the spades we’d brought and began digging. After a moment, Ellian and Oria picked up spades and joined me, though Oria did hesitate, looking over at the nearby treeline. When her father asked what she was looking at, she said that she thought she’d seen someone but when I looked where she was pointing, there was no one there.

I went back to my digging but, as it turned out, very little was needed. We’d barely begun when the shovel blades clanged into stone.

It took a little work but, between the three of us, we were able to scrape away the topmost soil to reveal what lay beneath. It was a disk of solid stone, must have been six or seven feet across. Using the spades and some water, we were able to clear it up enough to see that there was a symbol carved into the surface. It wasn’t anything elaborate or particularly impressive. It was just three circles, one inside the other. What was more notable was that there was a line running through the centre of the disk. A gap! Which meant this could be a door or something like that, something which could be opened. Which meant there would be something underneath it!

The sight of this finally seemed to impress Ellian. I think, up to that point, he hadn’t really believed anything was up here and was just going along as a favour to Amissa. But seeing that gap changed something in his mind and now he was committed to our little treasure hunt.

The question was how to open it. There was no handle or keyhole that I could see.

Oria, who was getting quite excited now, asked if there was any hint in the notes from the journal. I looked but nothing from the journal had even hinted at a door, never mind how to open it.

“Maybe its like the hidden caves in the stories?” Oria offered, “you have to use a magic word to open the door.”

Ellian gave me an apologetic look but, honestly, I had no better ideas. Unfortunately, I said, if it was something like that, the password was likely in Ittilic. Oria asked if maybe there was something in the journal itself.

I took it out and began looking through it, being careful not to be too rough with the pages. I found the section that focussed on the treasure. I noticed, at the bottom of one page, was one sentence written in red ink. The writing was so small and so cramped that I had missed it before. I read it aloud.

“Ceo’ls Iun Tikran-nu”

It meant nothing to me.

But it apparently meant the right thing to the stone door because, as soon as I’d said that, the two halves began sliding apart to reveal an opening beneath. Before I could look down, there came a blast of stale air and dust from below that sent all three of us coughing.

When we’d recovered and I was able to properly look down at what we’d found. It was a pit, perhaps six feet deep and lined with the same grey stone that the disk had been made of. And at the bottom of this pit, lay the treasure. I had been expecting gold or gemstones or something like that but, instead, at the very bottom of the otherwise empty pit, there was a hammer.

Not like a warhammer or anything like that, just a simple blacksmith’s hammer. At least, that’s what it looked like. It can’t have been a real hammer. The head was made of glass. I assumed it must have been some kind of ornament.

Oria hopped down into the hole, her ears twitching, and she picked up the hammer, looking confused.

“Is this it?” she asked. She sounded somewhat disappointed. I couldn’t blame her. I was looking over at Ellian, about to ask if we should try somewhere else or just head back, but he wasn’t looking at me. He was looking over at the treeline. He looked horrified. I followed his gaze and saw… something.

This is going to sound bizarre but I swear I’m not making this up.

It looked like a person, but it was… you know when a small child draws a picture of a man? And it’s got all the right bits, two arms, two legs and a head but the proportions are all off? This… thing, it looked like that. The arms and legs were too long and too thin, the head was too small. The torso was weirdly bulbous. I couldn’t see any particular features. It was getting on in the day and the shadows were long by now. And this person, this thing, was standing beneath the trees.

I felt a wave of… of terror wash over me and, the next thing I knew, I was running. I was vaguely aware of Ellian shouting something, I think he was telling Oria to run. Then I heard… I don’t really have the words for what I heard. Then I heard howling, like a wolf, and then… I don’t know.

A part of me wanted to turn and look but I just kept running. I don’t think I stopped until I was back in Siluvan, it’s a miracle I didn’t hurt myself. Amissa was annoyed at first that I’d come back empty handed but she got real quiet when I’d told her my story.

She didn’t tell me anything, just said me and my caravan should be on our way as soon as possible. I didn’t need telling twice.

We were back on the road before the next morning. I don’t know what happened to Ellian or Oria. I hope they made it home… but something tells me they didn’t.

Final notes; this is the kind of memory I dreaded receiving when I was assigned to this job. Donated by a person who is nearly constantly on the move set in a place out in the middle of nowhere that seems incapable or unwilling to respond to any messages. The nearest town was no help at all, knowing nothing of any missing persons cases out in a village “no one cares about”… their words.

Mirella Korring, Essenda Korring’s mother, did at least answer our messages, but she merely confirmed that her daughter did visit her with an old journal written in Ittilic and she helped translate some of it.
As for the rest… well, Szelia was able to confirm that Alan’Aka was a pre-dark age fortress located in western Sangland, but why it was built and who owned it have obviously been lost to time. Aside from that we have been unable to find any confirmation that these events even took place, let alone get further information about glass hammers and strangely proportioned people.

There has been no reported sighting of Ellian or Oria Carmine since this memory was donated.
There is one part that does jump out at me. This business of the village’s population all experiencing sleepless nights and an aura of listlessness settling over the place. For the past few days I’ve noticed similar expressions to the one described in this memory on the faces of the tower staff, particularly those who work late. And I myself have not been sleeping well recently.

Inscription complete.

[The venoscribe clicks, and the whirring stops.]

[The end theme plays and the Announcer recites the credits.]