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I journeyed to the border of Nightlund, the domain of the death knight Lord Soth. Soth's tale is well known by most in Ansalon, but I figure it bears repeating here.

Evil, pure evil.

The one name that signifies corruption and evil is Lord Soth of Dargaard Keep.

The Knight of the Black Rose.

Such was not always the case. Once, in years before th gods punished mortals with the cataclysm that shook these lands to the core, Lord Soth was a great and noble soldier for Good, a member of the renowned Knights of Solamnia. In that most famed of famed brotherhoods, Soth attained their highest honor, the Order of the Rose. For a time, he fought for justice and freedom. His heart remained pure then, his soul unspotted. When it came to resemble the symbol of his order - the flawless red rose.

Yet it was not long after Soth married and brought his wife to Dargaard Keep that darkness settled upon his life, a darkness so profound he has never escaped it, a corruption so complete it made the once-proud knight a willing agent of Takhisis, The Queen of Darkness.

Some claim that pride undermined Soth's will to do good, others say lust, and still others greed. Of those who still walk beneath the triple moons of Krynn, only Soth himself knows for certain the cause of his own doom. The world is left to construe what it will from the skeletal bits of history.

Soth's wife befitted a man of his station and potential. A noble's daughter and only child, she offered the young knight much in the way of worldly goods. That love had little traffic in Dargaard in those days was apparent to all who visited the keep, if they found Soth there at all. The lord of the castle spent much of his time traversing the Solamnic countryside in search of suitable wrongs to right, accompanied by thirteen knights loyal to him above all others.

The summons to Palanthas, most beautiful of all cities, came to Soth early in the spring. He and his retainers set off for the Knights' Council to be held in that unconquered city, buy before they reached its perfectly planned streets, temptation bested the Knight of the Rose. He and his men came across a mob of ogres attacking a small band of elven women. The knights easily defeated the brutes, save one who had snatched up an elfmaid and dashed off into the woods.

Lord Soth himself battled and conquered this, the strongest of ogres. The women he saved, a young elfmaid on her way to take her vows as a Revered Daughter of Paladine, dazzled him with her innocent beauty. Soon after, they became secret lovers, though in doing so Soth broke both his sacred marriage vows and the Code of the Knights of Solamnia.

It seemed as if the lord of Dargaard Keep believed this blot on his soul would remain hidden forever, for he went to the Knights; Council as if nothing had transpired between him and the elfmaid. Yet two things conspired to bring Rose Knight's shame to the pure light of Kyrnn's sun. The first was the news that Soth's wife had disappeared from Dargaard Keep. The blood found in her chambers cried foul play, and the nobleman's almost casual reaction to this shocking news made many in his order wonder for the first time if they had judged Soth to highly.

The second incident that shouted Soth's guilt to those gathered at the Knight's Council was the elfmaid's sudden illness. When it was discovered she was with child, many suspected Soth, for he had kept company with her even before his wife's disappeareance. The other elven women who had been rescued by the Rose Knight and his followers that faithful day confirmed those suspicions and revealed Soth's faithlessness.

The minutes at Soth's trial are recorded elsewhere in history. Here I will note only that he was found guilty of many crimes, sentenced to death, and dragged through the streets of Palanthas in shame. Death would have been a kinder fate than the one eventually claimed by the fallen knight.

The nobleman's thirteen loyal followers rescued him from his prison on the knight before his planned execution. Accompanied by the elfmaid, the disgraced band slunk from the walls of the city and made their way to Dargaard Keep. The true Knights of Solamnia pursued the renegades, but Soth reached the safety of his castle before they could capture him.

In the months that followed, the lord of Dargaard attempted to build a new life within the walls of his besiged castle. He married the elfmaid and went through the motions of honoring his order's rituals. Though none who stayed within Dargaard's walls for long lived to tell the tale, legend has it Soth grew moody and violent. Not even his wife , heavy with child, was spared the disgraced knight's mailed fist.

The gods granted Soth enough self-knowledgeto see how he'd fallen, and the realization fanned the few sparks of honor left in the weave of his besotted soul. In Dargaard's long-unused chapel, Soth prayed to Paladine, Father of All Good, and his elfmaid bride offered her hopes to Mishakal, the Light Bringer. Again the gods favored Soth with the ability to see, thought this time it was a vision of the kingpriest of Istar, who some named prophet and others labled madman. Paladine himself charged Soth with a sacred task: prevent the kingspriest from demanding power from the dieties who oversaw Krynn.

Had Soth succeeded in this quest, Ansalon - nay, all of Krynn - would be a very much different place today. Yet the fallen knight never reached the city of Istar. The elven women he had once rescued now poisonedhis mind with intimations of his wife's infidelity, and Lord Soth returned to his castle before his quest was done. Raging like a lunitic, he confronted his elfmaid bride, mother of his newborn child, with the imagined transgressions of their vows; at that very same moment, the kingspriest raised his voiceto the heavens, demanding the power to eradicate all evil on Krynn, ordering the gods to bow down and serve those mortals who offered them worship.

In their fury at this affront, the gods hurled a mountain at the prideful city of Istar. The desrtuction wrought by that most terrible of heavenly messengers is known as the Cataclysm. Yet few who know how that catastrophe twisted the land realize the manner in which it altered Lord Soth's destiny, as well.

As a flaming mountain struck Istar, a fire engulfed Dargaard Keep. Soth's elfmaid bride, trapped in the blaze and dying, held out her infant for the fallen knight to rescue. Still possessed by jealous rage, he turned away.

For failing in his quest, for letting his own child burn to death before his eyes, Soth's elfmaid bride called a curse down upon the once-noble knight. "You will die this knight in fire," she wailed, "even as your son and I die. But you will live for every life your folly has brought to an end!" Some say Some say the elfmaids curse still echoes throught the mountains around the castle. Others claim Lord Soth repeates the words to fill the silence of his long and sleepless nights.

The flames took Soth's life that night, but he did not die. Blackened and burned, he was reborn as an unliving, undead creature of evil. He still wears the charred armor of a Knight of Solamnia, but the rose emblem that once told of his honor was scorched and twisted by the fire. It is by this corrupted symbol - the black rose - that many know Soth; and for more than three hundred years he has walked the earth, doing the bidding of the most evil of evil deities, Takhisis, Queen of Darkness.*


The above is what is usually told in taverns and around firelight in the wilderness by travelers and storytellers. However, it is not entirely the full story. As I have noted, it seems obvious that Galen Dracos, having failed to fulfill his plans in the last Dragonwar extended his influence into the realm of Istar, twisting the principals and heart of the Kingpriest and those clerics who followed him blindly, or who were more concerned with their own temporal power than with true devotion. Istar's dream threatened to consume the entire world, and Dracos hoped that the Kingpriest would invoke the gods of light to enter Krynn fully so that Dracos could act in some way and bring his plan for godhood to fruition. The gods of light, however, did not do so, and some tales suggest that it was the Dark Queen who sent the flaming mountain down upon Istar in their stead.

However, Soth's tale is one worth mentioning for it has always been said that Paladine gave Soth the opportunity to atone for his sins if he could kill or stop the Kingpriest. The fallen Knight was heading towards Istar when the three elven maidens -- his elfwife's sisters -- accosted him and filled his mind with even more poison and jealousy, leading him to turn back.

All too convenient for Galen Dracos, I'm sure you see.

I set out for the border of Nightlund. My plan, you see, was to try to seek out the Knight of the Black Rose to tell him something of what was transpiring in regards to Galen Dracos and the archmage's minions. Of late, the ascension of Kitiara uth Matar to the position of Blue Dragon Highlord attracted the attention of the death knight, who has been reported to think of her as the reincarnation of his wife (I assume his first wife, although I may be wrong). Kitiara is the only being Soth cares about, for whatever reason. Her presence in the Flying Citadel once used by Galen Dracos -- and currently home to some version of him in the "chamber of orbs" (as Ke'Lanthinel put it) -- may suggest she is being influenced, especially if three of Dracos's wyrms are also present there.

If I cannot safely speak with Ariakus, I might be able to convince Kitiara of what I know, that Dracos hopes to use Ariakus to do what the Kingpriest had been prevented from doing. Meeting with Kitiara would be dangerous in Dracos's citadel, especially if she is under some influence, and the offworld renegade wizard who "serves" her may likely be a dupe of Dracos, as well (or perhaps, given his tendency to associate with individuals from several worlds, the lich Zeloth, who pursues his own agendas, but whom I am sure would not mind usurping what he could of Dracos's power). However, Lord Soth is undead, cursed by his wife and presumably by the dark god of the undead, Chemosh. While Chemosh is a very evil god, he is still a god, one of the lords of the higher worlds, and probably not keen on Galen Dracos, as well.

Soth's concern for Kitiara's welfare and prosperity should also, hopefully, lead him to be interested in what I have to say, and he may be able to convince Kitiara of what I have to say without placing myself in the clutches of Galen Dracos's minions.

So, I journeyed towards the border of Nightlund, wherein Dargaard Keep could be found. I did not penetrate Soth's domain, choosing to remain on the other side of the river bordering the western part of those lands, and I called out into the night, letting the spectral winds carry my desire to speak with the death knight to his unholy ears.

Several days passed in that lonely place until a spectral herald appeared on the other side of the river, wearing old Solamnic finery. This was not the death knight but one of his messengers, bearing the banner of his lord. I explained, diplomatically, who I was and that I bore news that would be of interest to Lord Soth, in regards to forces that may be seeking to manipulate the Blue Lady -- and news that may be of interest to Soth in regards to the fate of Istar, while mentioning Kasa'Anath and Galen Dracos. The spectral figure told me that he would relay my request to the death knight, and that I should expect to hear something by midsummer.


The months passed, and my companions and I were aboard my ship heading towards the Ice Wall. It was but two nights after the attack by the amphi dragons, as I was preparing for bed. Suddenly, a spectral figure appeared in my cabin -- Soth's messenger.

You see, I was born but 34 years after the Cataclysm and did not live through its immediate occurence or aftermath. It seems that Soth's elfbride, and the elfbride's sisters, are relatively closely related to me, making me, by marriage, a family relation of the Knight of the Black Rose. The death knight's twisted sense of honor bade him to treat me as a member of the family (if distant). Indeed, as I investigated this matter (for the records of the three sisters had officially been stricken), I discovered that they were indeed the aunts of my cousin Lil'Athrial.

If Galen Dracos had wanted Soth stopped, one should remember that it was these sisters who had done so. I contacted my cousin and the next night she appeared aboard my ship as we met in private, using the private sanctum spell to insure privacy.

Indeed, the sisters were Lil'Athrial's aunts, but she had known them only as a young child. At this point, I was forced to deal with Sorrow's Thorn again -- she had been responsible for pushing Dracos's Chaos cult into Silvenesti, and she had been the one to lead Lil'Athrial into a century of bondage to the will of Kasa'Anath.

Although she has recovered somewhat, with the dissolution of the Chaos marks upon her, Sorrow's Thorn retains something of a child's mentality currently. I had to resort, accordingly, to mentalist magicks to penetrate her memories, in an effort to discover if the three sisters, Lil'Athrial's aunts, had been servants of Dracos.

What I discovered was troubling. Sorrow's Thorn had memories of the days before Sithas, before the founding of Silvenesti, for somehow she was not bound by the "gift" of the Dark Queen (i.e., mortality). In her youth, she had been apprenticed to several Tobril sorcerers, wizards of pattern and law in the days before the Conclave. However, ogres (likely Irda) had captured her and cast her into the Halls of the Dead, the ogre Chaos realm, and left her there to rot. When she finally escaped that realm, she was quite mad and quite tainted.

She was approached by seven dragons -- Cyan, Sable, Kryonosia, the red, and the blue who served Dracos...as well as his two other wyrms, who had been created using metallic dragons (a bronze and a brass). They gave her five crystal shards that would help stablize her personality and mind -- but at the same time, these objects bound her to their and Dracos's will. In fact, as I swam through her memories, I noted that one of them had been destroyed when we came across her obelisk in Qualinesti, and another was imbedded under her skin in the back of her neck, between her vertebret.

Taking note of this (to share with the Master of the Conclave, Justarius, after I was done -- especially since it allowed the dragons of Galen Dracos to see through her eyes whenever they desired to), I then searched for any memories of the sisters. Oh, and so I did. She entered their family estate one night, while they slept (the same family estate that had been home to Lil'Athrial and Kr'yün), and place three slivers of crystal into the very young sisters. Indeed, Dracos, through Sorrow's Thorn, had directed the women to stop Soth. When that had been done, and they were sure he had turned away from Istar, they returned to Sorrow's Thorn...

...who murdered them in a corrupted Huldre city in Silvenesti, hidden from the eyes of most folk. Indeed, this was the hidden city from which Sylvyana, Zeloth, and Caras had led Hate's Heart, and I saw their ivory and crystal tower there in Sorrow's Thorn memories. I also saw her murder the sisters, arranging their corpses in a garden, as if they were having tea.

Now, given that these sister had been cursed after death to become banshees, haunting Dargaard Keep and singing of Lord Soth's betrayal and failures every evening, I would suspect that they continue to further some aim of Dracos in death. At the very least, the crystals are still tied to them, and these wraiths are likely Chaos-tainted even in undeath...and they may react negatively were I to inform Lord Soth of what I hope to share with him.

Of course, it is also possible that Soth is also tainted by Chaos -- but Soth seems much more free willed than one might expect. The banshees, if the tales are true, continue to torment his mind every night, most likely so that he cannot ponder too greatly what has been done to him or what truly happened.

After all, I suspect Lord Soth would be very...perturbed...were he to realize more of what truly happened to him.


So, I must be wary of these banshees in dealing with Soth -- oh, yes, the spectral messenger aboard my ship...apparently, Soth has granted me safe passage to his court as a guest, and he supposedly is always somewhat suspicious of undue influences on his Kitiara. He has granted me a two-week window in the next spring to meet with him, and I think I shall journey there with Gwynnion, should she be willing. I am somewhat paranoid about bringing Alexis and Samkin, and I can only imagine Tomas's reaction to being asked to come.

As it is, I will have to act cautiously, and keep this meeting as secret as possible. Although, I am growing quite convinced that it is about time we made war upon Dracos's wyrms. For too long they have been allowed to do as they please, in the shadows. It is time to cast back the veil and shine the daylight upon them, to make them afraid and angry, and to ultimately destroy them.

As always, easier said than done. But doing so would slow down Dracos by limiting his most capable agents in this realm. Also, I must journey to this hidden city, where Hate's Heart can be found -- if I can deal with the crystal needles that bound them in life, perhaps the banshees will only become mad spectral undead instead of controlled mad spectral undead.

-- spring, 362 AC


* [Actually from Knight of the Black Rose, by James Lowder, the novel telling the tale of Lord Soth's brief sojourn through the Demiplane of Dread, Ravenloft.]
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keleren

August 2006

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