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Chapter 1 of the Tales of Aeternum, Frederico's Letters....
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|In The Morning|
I have informed Lady Isabella of the news. The loss of her brothers at sea the year before was hard enough for her to bear, but the passing of her mother and father has dealt a terrible blow to her spirit. I have not yet informed her of the debts in her father's name, as I am still going through the accounts. To lose what remains of her family and the fortunes within a year… it is a tragedy. The debts seem given over heavily to one of the new companies, that of the “Red Sign”. I am unfamiliar with it, but both her father and brothers seemed to have paid quite an expense on their joint enterprise and exploration of the islands around the New World… it is rather confusing in parts, but I am parsing the information piece by piece. Despite the loss, she has remained strong. Each morning, she goes to the church on the grounds and prays. I have asked the local priest to visit her, and bestow what support he can. - F
|Visiting the Church|
…we traveled there by coach over several days, and I was not privy to the visit. Isabella met the man in his cell alone, and spoke with him for hours before she finally returned. Her eyes were bright, and where the tedium of days had worn upon her, she seem invigorated with new life. I have seen this look before, and I do not like it. It was the light that burned in her brother's eyes – her father's eyes. Worried, I asked her how the conversation had gone, and she said, the treasure upon the man was not the Azoth, but the man himself. He was living proof that the Fountain of Youth existed, and it could grant eternal life to those who found it. The isle of Azoth was no legend – it was true. I asked her what could be gained from such knowledge, and she laughed lightly and replied, “Because he says he can take us there.” - F
Isabella claimed the isle the prisoner had spoke of was called “Vitae Aeternum”. Whether this was the prisoner's name or the translation bestowed upon his mad ramblings, I am uncertain, but the name has stuck – much like the prisoner's offer, I fear. Isabella has taken his knowledge as if it has lit a fire in her, and it has given her a frightening sense of purpose. I urge her to rest – cautiously – but she will not hear of it. The mere hint of the Fountain of Youth's presence has moved her to action. The crown was not so understanding – and Isabella had the misfortune to speak of the source of the fountain. They had been willing to back her request to see the heretical prisoner, but a Fountain of Youth returned a different, more scornful answer. It turned out that she might have tried a different tactic, had she thought of it – but as it happened, her father's debts caused an unexpected result. - F
|Fortunes of Azoth|
Had Isabella chosen to mention “azoth” more in her conversations with the crown, I suspect the Expedition may have turned out quite differently – and she may not have been our Captain at all. As it turns out, the royal family were not the only ones interested in the azoth. The properties of the substance had already sparked rumors throughout the nations, amongst alchemists, and even companies were formed as to how the substance could be replicated – or found. Even if those who heard did not believe the Heretic's tale fully (or even knew of him), the weight of nations putting backing behind such expeditions was enough to scare others into not being left behind. And it seemed the companies might be moving faster than the crown – one, in fact, had already been partnered with Isabella's family, if the ledgers were to be believed. And her father owed them a sizable debt indeed. - F.
It still is a question to me how the companies organized so quickly. The New World was surely one such inspiration, but to those who had landed on the new continent, no source of this “azoth” had yet been found. The only proof lay with a madman and his preaching. Even though the Church had locked him away, I fear that in doing so, it simply gave more credence to his claims. The men seemed unconvinced of the truth of this, but they accepted it. They returned to Isabella many times over the coming month, pressing her for details. I thought that perhaps she would want them kept from the grounds, but over time, I realized she was allowing the visits – for the sake of negotiation. - F.
|A Heretic's Title|
“He used to be a priest,” Father Dante told me. As if it was obvious. “And he speaks blasphemy. He claims we worship the wrong power: that the divine rests within the earth, and that God is false.” I told him surely such a man would have been executed long ago, and Father Dante shook his head and whispered conspiratorially. “Word is, they have tried, and it… does not take.” I think he sought to make a joke at my expense, but the poor nature of the jest simply proved him a fool, not I. - F.
I examined the contract Isabella had signed and found the imprint of their seal to be rather… unusual. As expected, it was embedded in red wax, but I felt that the symbol almost expressed the color of crimson in its strange geometry. I could not make sense of it… yet could not tear my eyes away. Isabella, noticing my gaze, said that she had seen the symbol… drawn with who knows what… inscribed on the walls of the Heretic's cell, also in red, but not in wax. “Azoth is not the isle's true wealth. Vitae Aeternum's value lies much deeper than a vial of blue fire, even if it rises from the ground in such quantities it is akin to a field ready to be harvested.” - F.
How she managed it I do not know, but Isabella is to command the Expedition. I have no idea how she negotiated such a result, or where she received the gold to back the three ships of the expedition… I suspect she concluded the contract with the Red Sign, and the company now moves with a faith in the presence of azoth that matches Isabella's. The three vessels of the Expedition – the Santiago, the Santa María de la Consolación, and the San Cristóbal, are to set sail in a matter of months, yet there is still the question of where these vessels are bound. Do they intend to scour all of the Atlantic? And what had she offered them, when she has no gold to her name, nor any lands to speak of – or any influence at all? - F.
|The Expedition Embarks|
On the day the expedition set sail, I discovered what Isabella had used in her negotiation. It was shackled below decks of the Santa María de la Consolación – a dirty, hunched man, with a great beard and eyes like embers in the hollows of his face. His wrists and ankles were clapped in irons, though there was nowhere for him to run… lest he sought to plunge over the side and drown, perhaps. She had freed the Heretic from his church cell. This… man… barely human at all, was to be our guide – if I had known, I would never have come aboard, and now I fear where the words of this man will take us – to the bottom of the sea, or worse, to hell, I do not know, but it is some place far from God's grace, of that I am certain. I was to learn later on, the Red Sign had sought to extract the knowledge of the isle of Azoth from the madman many times, but the only one he said he would show was Isabella… she must be the captain, he said. Do this, and I shall show you the way to Vitae Aeternum. It is a devil's price, and Isabella has paid it. - F.
Isabella spends more and more days belowdecks, speaking to the Heretic. It concerns me, but each conversation seems to calm her… and we adjust our course after each discussion. Strangely enough, except for Father Dante, the crew have not questioned the man's presence. Perhaps they thought he was imprisoned early in the voyage for some crime, but they know not the truth of it. I fear the day they learn he is providing guidance to our efforts. There would be mutiny if they knew whose hands were really steering the ship. - F.
|The Sea is Against Us|
This letter is faded with age
The expedition suffers. At first, the lack of wind proved difficult, now the storms strike us. We seem to circle sections of the ocean, always at Isabella's insistence, but it is almost as if the navigation provided by the Heretic is meant to cost us time, our food stores, and our faith. Our supplies run low, and tempers among the crew have risen. I suspect the crew would blame Isabella were it not for her bouts of sickness… not from the voyage, but the fever that seems to strike when the winds become calm. Father Dante has taken to caring for her during these times. When the storms beset us, she is on deck, with an authority and command that puts the crew to task. The men fear her, and just when it seems treason might overshadow these thoughts, her presence quells their doubts. It is a strange sort of command – she uses not facts, but conviction to cow those around her. Even I fear her. I have not mentioned my journal, nor the letters I brought from home chronicling our voyage. I have a strange feeling that Isabella would not be pleased with them. - F.
|The Skill of a Chief Pilot|
The Santiago and the San Cristóbal seem to fare little better than we. Once, a storm almost separated us from the Santiago, but Chief Pilot Keyes on the San Cristóbal found her and brought her back to us. I fear that only Keyes' navigation through the storms has saved us… not once, but twice now. I did not have much opportunity to meet Keyes at port (I took her for a servant, in fact – she is rumored to be from the West Indies, but not a slave, curiously enough) but I pray we do not lose her before we discover we need to turn back, for she is exceptionally gifted… or lucky. I will take either. - F.
|A Coming Mutiny|
The last storm nearly ended us. In its wake, the disposition of the crew has become ugly. Fights have broken out, and the other day, one man stabbed another for a perceived insult. Both now sit in the brig, accompanying the Heretic in chains. The crew's whispers about the Heretic have grown louder. Father Dante speaks of him as a curse, exerting a devilish influence upon the voyage and the Captain. I fear that if we do not find some hint of Aeternum soon, the crew will mutiny. Captain Isabella seems unconcerned, and I fear she will not see a mutiny until it is too late. - F.
This letter is smeared with salt water
We lost sight of the Santiago first. We fear it now lies on the bottom of the ocean, but we caught no sign of its lights in the great waves buffeting our ship. Whatever has become of it and the San Cristóbal, only God knows their fate – we are fighting for our own lives, and we may not last the night. Yet over the storm, I heard laughing from belowdecks. It was the Heretic, laughing – but at what, I do not know. He has led Isabella to this hell, and we were fools enough to join them. - F.
|The Captain Lands|
This letter is faded with age
We are alive! Much of the crew is missing, but Captain Isabella is undeterred – she has been scouring the shores, looking for supplies and organizing the men. Our ship lies upon the rocks… it is almost as if the rocks themselves rose from below, splintering the ship's hull so that it became a crown. I believe we are stranded here, for I see no means by which the ship could be repaired. This thought chills me, but Isabella does not seem concerned. And I see we are not the only ships to run aground upon this isle – its beaches are covered with the wrecks of previous ships, some familiar… some that seem much older, indeed. I asked her if we should begin searching for the crews of the Santiago and San Cristóbal, but Isabella did not seem to hear me, insisting that we must explore the isle and learn more of our surroundings – and that we must focus on helping ourselves. The Heretic survived. He was waiting for us on the beach, still shackled by the arms and ankles, yet he was smiling, staring about him. Sand was on his brow, his face, and his lips, as if he had touched it to the shore, kissing it as welcome. -F
We have made camp and gathered what supplies we can from the ship. This isle of Vitae Aeternum, for better or worse, is now our home until rescue comes. Captain Isabella has not spoken of the other two ships we have lost, and has given no orders to search for them – only survivors from our own ship, as if somehow they might “escape” into the isle. I realize now her concerns lie in that they find something she herself seeks and somehow take it from her. It is disturbing, but gives her purpose. I recovered my footlocker with the journals and letters, all dry and intact – I confess, I would have felt better had another crate of provisions washed ashore instead, but the writings give me comfort. - F.
The men, already close to starving before the storm hit, have taken to hunting and foraging for supplies. Isabella is reluctant to let them out of her sight. She has ordered them to report any discoveries to her first and not to investigate them on their own. The Heretic proved no help, giving me further cause to believe he had never set foot on Aeternum. He scoffed at the hunters - and the foragers picking at berries - and remarked rather oddly, "It does not matter. Aeternum provides bounty, but one cannot starve to death here." I have grown sick of the man's chattering – every rattle of his chains irritates me. To know that he survived when many of the crew did not… it makes me think there is no justice here except where we make it. - F.
Isabella's health has improved from the voyage. While at times the fever rises, her spirit seems calmer upon land, as if anchored by finally being upon Aeternum's shores. The determination she showed at the darkest parts of the voyage is still with her, but there is a crueler edge to it. It worries me, for when the crew return from hunting and scouting the isle, she asks them many questions as if searching them for a trace of a lie. I have taken to hiding my journal pages. I now know for certain Isabella would not take kindly to reading them, and their existence would not paint the journey and its goals in a favorable light. Although I could burn the records, my hand hesitates… I have recorded all I have seen truly, and I fear if it were destroyed, Captain Isabella's expedition would be hers to recount alone, and it would be far from the truth. - F.
The End of the series of letters. Thanks for reading through sl3nder's New World Lore Series - Tales of Aeternum-Frederico's Letters, part 1
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