Sunday, April 30, Tallow
At last, here I have the time to write. We have been on the move since first daylight three days past, with little rest from the difficult trek through these dense woods.
We have traveled far from our homeland, and yet we have still many leagues to go. The King has sent urgent word from us to make for the city of Muirthemne, where we are told we shall receive further news from His Majesty's messenger. There was little time to negotiate details of our quest when we parted.
We have left our ship at the port, and are now residing in the town of Tallow. In a few hours, at dawn, we start the journey to Muirthemne. There is a path through the woods there, as was graciously told to us by the townsfolk. They are weary: There have been sightings of black smoke rising from the East of late. Yet still I wonder if the path to Muirthemne is not haunted, by the fear and surprise in their voices upon the telling.
Our guide and leader from here on, Crúniac, is nothing short of deranged. There are myths about him, none of which I can clarify at this first meeting, but it makes me weary for the days ahead.
I have only a few moments before I must go. Already Crúniac is summoning the troops to wake; our scouts have reported sightings of shadowy creatures lurking in the bushes near our encampment. It seems Crúniac has changed his mind about leaving at dawn. I have gotten but a few hours' sleep, and now I must rise again.
Wednesday, May 3, near Muirthemne
We are four days outside of Tallow, on the road to Covenant. Crúniac has given us little rest from this incessant marching, and he insists that we keep these pauses to a minimum if we are to reach Muirthemne at all before a month has passed. I do believe he is trying to find out who is unworthy for the journey, or to perhaps leave behind those too weak to go on under these conditions.
Our food rations are small, and hardly enough to sustain us until we next eat. On Crúniac's orders, we are not to eat unless he permits it first, for perhaps a wild animal should be lurking nearby and smell it, and forthwith give away our position. He acts as though we are in constant danger of being attacked. I must say I believe he is over doing it; there is no logical reason why anyone would wish to kill us: For our only crime is that of walking upon a road, which, by the looks of it, has been long abandoned.
It is small wonder that the man is rumoured to have companions of the living dead -- no thinking being would willingly follow him.
Friday, May 3, outside of Covenant
We were ambushed last night by a group of brigands; ravaging thieves that Crúniac identifies as the "Tain", mutated beasts from the South. Many of our comrades' lives have been taken, save but half the men we started out with. A myriad of villages on the North of Covenant have been ransacked by the Tain in the last three weeks, including Innímriard and Cáriadon. I cannot help but suspect Crúniac might be in league with them; never has Covenant been attacked by the enemy before he set foot here. I wish not to condemn him with ill thoughts, but not needlessly do the living dead kill the innocent. I will leave further misgivings to time.
We have sent a runner to Tallow, warning them of the Tain's odd behavior.
Tuesday, May 9, Muirthemne
We have reached Muirthemne only to find it in a state of ruin. It appears to have been attacked repeatedly throughout the recent months, by creatures nothing short of nightmares made flesh. Though many of the townsfolk lie dead in the river, a few that still live would tell us nothing of the slaughter save that the women and children were taken captive farther up the river, towards the falls. I shudder to think of what creatures we might be engaging in battle with in the next few hours.
Crúniac has ordered us to keep moving to the falls, and he plans to surprise our enemy at daybreak with an attack from the forest. I worry that we shall not return from this errand of madness. It is not our mission, and I feel we should not stray from that which is.
We depart in a few minutes...
Wednesday, May 10, near Tharment, outside of Caves of Elérased
I can hardly believe what I have witnessed. I thought I knew what fear was, or that I had known fear. This night, I have experienced true fear. The Tain are nothing like I imagined -- nothing like I have heard in tales. They are cursed from a darker age; soulless, lifeless. They saw our movement in the trees and attacked, though luckily we have only four men lost.
The screams of the tortured prisoners rang out through the valley, until it seemed the very earth would crack with the weight of their suffering, and the utter cruelness of the Tain. It seems I was wrong to suspect Crúniac; for he alone ventured into the caves when the troops dared not go near. He emerged amazingly unscathed given the number of Tain I surmised must be hiding in the caves, clutching the shredded body of a young boy. The rest, he relayed, were dead or too late to be saved. He left their tattered carcasses tied to the wall among the slain bodies of the Tain. We took the boy into Tharment in search of medical help; there was none. We left his deceased body in the corn-field and returned to Muirthemne by dusk.
Crúniac is angered by the destruction upon the towns surrounding Muirthemne, and Muirthemne itself, and has decided to track the Tain in their rampage and "stuff them like a turkey". When I told him it was not our place to destroy the Tain, he said that any man who disagrees with his wishes shall be left to their mercy when we next encounter them, and told us to march on. He has no thoughts for the King, or of His Majesty's messenger, who was supposed to have met us here in Muirthemne but is undoubtedly one of the corpses rotting in the dirt. Myself, I am worried.
Thursday, May 18, in search of the Tain
Our runner sent to Tallow has returned, bearing news that Tallow, along with all other towns on the eastern side of the forest, have been pillaged and burned. I am becoming increasingly alarmed at the rate which the towns we have visited are dying, and I know now that there are other forces at work here. It cannot be possible that the Tain, who have lay dormant for a period of sixty years, have awakened and spread their darkness so swiftly.
Crúniac will not admit he has lost their trail. Where is he leading us? We do not know. The men grow weary and our stomachs are all starved, but Crúniac keeps saying that we cannot afford to rest at this time. I know not what is going on between his ears, but I fear it is not in our favour.
Saturday, May 20, lost
It would be a lie to say that Crúniac has any idea where we now reside. So far as I can tell, we are perhaps on the east side of Tharment, as we were last week on the south side and we have traveled far since then. The sun sets before us now, and earlier it was behind. The path we are on has veered us far from Muirthemne, and from all human civilization.
Still, Crúniac insists on good spirits. He plans to lead us to the Tain yet, and he says we are gaining. I no longer doubt his judgment of this fact, as we have found numerous footprints and slaughterings along the way, but I am afraid he lacks the sense to realize that we are only twenty men and himself, and the Tain have taken at least eight towns yet. They cannot be few in their armies, and I wonder that Crúniac expects to win should we encounter them.
The men are nearly dying from exhaustion, hunger and thirst. Crúniac has finally allowed a rest, though not in good cheer. Reluctantly did he give the order to halt, but he knew it was critical to do so.
I have been examining a footprint left, by my reckoning, but three hours before we passed here. It is not a Tain footprint; the toes are elongated into claws that dig deep into the earth, and a second set of prints lies in pattern in front of each back set; whomever left these travels on four legs. There is a third set scattered not far from these, which I cannot identify as belonging to anybody. They are not of feet, nor even of wagon wheels.
Crúniac gives the order
to keep on. I must go for now, and I am not certain when I shall be
able to write again. Having given us a longer rest than we can
afford, likely we shall not stop until dark, if that.
Thursday, May 25, inside of Valhalla
Finally we reach the city of Valhalla, but with it come only ill news. The Tain cannot be stopped. They have banded with other brigandous races of the South to form an army more powerful and terrifying than anything I could ever have imagined. They cannot be overpowered. Our weak defenses have fallen under the reign of these wretches, save only a few men and myself.
We have been imprisoned in caverns deep in the mountainside for little more than a few hours, but already I can hear the armies of darkness gathering and amassing themselves into one giant monster, bred for a single purpose: To turn all that still lives into a fiery hell. I do not know what has become of Crúniac; he was parted from us soon after we were captured. I am uncertain as to if I was correct in assuming he was with the Tain, for I know not where any of my comrades are save the ones here with me.
A heavy pounding of drums comes from the deep, and I feel water at my ankles. The cave is flooding.
Men are coming. I hear calls from the passageways around me. The torch I have here is fading, and soon I shall be unable to read my own writing.
Thursday, May 25, inside of Valhalla
We have been stripped, beaten and questioned by the Tain, and many of our former companions were tortured to death. Their cries of agony echoed from the desert outside. There is no end to our enemy's cruelty. I fear these words shall be my last; any moment our captors shall be returning to carry us away into the fires. We shall die here, and the world with us.
Crúniac now leads the armies of the undead forward to war, as I feared. Betrayed, here we shall burn. Here we shall die...