To: Abbot Touchsteel, High Heart of Holy Hill
Revered Father-- I arrived here today at Fort Balasar with my companion Sirocco (Yes, I know you think him a scoundrel, but I also know that you hold the same grudging fondness in your heart for him as do I.)
As you had feared, what was once the shield of the empire has fallen into total disgrace. Your old comrade General Balasar appears, I am sorry to have to report, to have surrendered to senility and boredom. His men have taken advantage of his abandonment of discipline, and those who have not deserted are slack and unprepared. I welcome the humility of privation, but the 'inn' here could make a prison look homey. Last, the folk of the town are downtrodden not by some baron or robber-prince but by their own lack of hope. The promise of the West has been lost to them since the steel of Fort Balasar was undermined by the heedless east. If, as you hope, we can once again push the borders of the empire West of the old ruins of [censored] we will need new settlers even-- to be found, perhaps, in the surplus sons of the nobility and the upstarts of the wharves and alleys.
A half-day's travel north of the village found myself, 'Rocco, and some other adventurous companions outside of any control exerted by Balasar in the last fifteen or so years, by the looks of it. A watchtower, once constantly manned, lies abandoned miles from town and past that is chaos-- but at least the chaos is keeping control over itself. By this I mean that we have found no signs of a unified Eastern push-- we ran across the evidence of a kobold-goblin war, cleaning up several scattered bands of scouts and hearing a larger force on the move in the distance. We avoided them. The goblins appear to have armed themselves with Empire equipment from their invasion battles over the last centuries, but the kobold had no such armaments. Instead, they bore peculiar relics from an older time, and I fear that they may signal an influx from farther west that is pushing the goblins onto Balasar's outskirts in return. What will follow the dirty scale-monkeys, only the gods know.
The general lawlessness of the area has allowed dangerous creatures to roam within hours of Empire farmhouses. We avoided the stalkings of three Rage Drakes of a size I have not seen since the early days of the Southern campaign. Most worrisome, we scouted the mouth of a den of evil of a magnitude that I fear I cannot yet face, even with the strength of Moradin and my companions. Under a black tree lives a gnarled, haggard woman who consorts with wolves and stakes the corpses of the dead outside her filthy abode. We witnessed her flay a forest boar in under a minute, thankfully distracting her as we made our narrow escape. If you have any advice, Holy Father, please send a message back to us at the One-Eyed Hag in Fort Balasar. A company of archers would be almost as much a relief as your blessing.Honor, Brother Hauk