A letter written by late Eladrin Quintilla, guest lecturer at the University of Shard:
I hope this letter finds you well. The arbors should be in full bloom by now. How I miss the greenery of home! Here in Shard I am surrounded by dull stone, and the black ash from the Foundry leaves its residue caked onto all things. I have planted the seeds you send me and I appreciate the thought, but I find that their growth is stunted in this land. They seem shriveled and constricted, though I wonder if the hand of their gardener has transferred her own feelings into them. I have made offerings to Wild Melora, but I question whether she can hear my prayers over the hubbub and noise of the warrens of this city.
Perhaps my own fears are coming through stronger than I had intended brother, for I sound so gloomy! I should not be so. I should be celebratory. I have written to you before of my struggles at the University, where the study of magical artifacts seems to be considered a bastard art unworthy of serious consideration. However, I have been working with a visiting scholar from across the Inland Sea, a tiefling named Paramonos. His respect for magical artifacts was the first encouragement I’ve had in the long years toiling at the University (has it been so long since I left home? Corellon preserve me!) and together we made progress on a pet project of mine. It turns out it was one of his as well.
I don’t wish to write much of the artifact, because honestly…it frightens me. I have reason to believe, between the research that Paramonos and I have done, that Shard was not the first empire in these lands. This is well-known; there are legends of a goblin kingdom that stretched across the plains and now and again old, isolated outposts are found to support that rumor. No, I believe that there was another empire before the goblins and left few traces that have survived to the present day. Piecing together records of cultic activity in this region, I believe that remnants of this empire lasted through the Goblin Era all the way to the human City-State of Shard. The Lord’s Guards thought of them as isolated incidents of devil worship and aberrant cults dedicated to dark gods, but I believe they were in fact disparate splinters of the Old Ways. Echoes of the past only silenced within the last century or so.
I believe I have found the resting place of a powerful artifact of this cult. Unfortunately I believe that my supposition that the cult was a dead one may have been mistaken. I have felt eyes peering at me from darkened alleyways as I have walked the streets and I cannot shake the feeling of never being alone. Worse still, my colleague Paramonos has disappeared. Given his excitement at our research and his sudden vanishing, I fear that someone has become aware of our research and seeks to silence us. We have perhaps delved too greedily.
I received a letter from Paramonos, or someone claiming to be him, wanting to meet me at the Portside Markets. I may be a scholar cloistered in a monastery of parchment, but I am not a complete fool. I have secured the services of a party of sellswords. I know, I know. They’re only as loyal as the next coin you’ve promised them. I can hear your voice saying so from across the miles as sure as you were standing next to me. That said, they had excellent references and they have my trust. They’re a strange bunch. One is a dwarf woman, who wields a hammer as tall as herself. Her face is a mask of iron, but her eyes suggest something much softer within. Then there’s the tiefling cleric of Bahamut – an odd vocation for a tiefling, in my experience, but they seemed quite dedicated to their patron. The third was a halfling, who was frankly rather unsettling. It wasn’t anything he did, exactly. He was just…strange. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had some kind of arcane aura surrounding him. Then again, his necklace made of the skulls of squirrels and rabbits and birds doesn’t exactly suggest the most comfortable presence either!
I ramble. I admit, I write this to procrastinate what must be done. I am scared, my brother, and I fear this may be the last missive that I write to you. And instead of writing what actually matters, I fill this vellum with gibbering. If my fears are misplaced and I do find this artifact, it will be the find of the century. But what I fear is that the artifact and its guardians have found me. I shudder to imagine its gaze turned upon me.
I love you, my brother, and I miss you. If the next word you hear of me is that I have left this world and passed through the Gates of the Raven Queen, I ask that you take the empty shell I leave behind and plant a tree upon my bosom as is the way of our people. I may live amidst the clatter and stench of Shard, but I wish to rest in death feeding a tree in my beloved Sylvans.