Monday, June 5, 2023

Alliances Offered, Part Two

Lady Tabitha followed the paladin Anica into the stone room. It was about what she'd expected from a temple: stone walls, floor, and ceiling, all of them well-polished but otherwise undecorated. The furnishings were simple: a bed, a desk, and a wardrobe; someone had set a candle-lamp on the desk. 

She nodded graciously. "This will be fine." 

Anica chuckled softly. "Not quite, lady Andiras. For tonight, I'll be sleeping out here, and you may have either of those two rooms." She gestured at a pair of doors on the far wall, and after a moment lady Tabitha crossed to the one on the left and pulled it open. It was similarly appointed, but the bed was smaller and entire room small and narrow, half the size of the outer room. "You would have me take the servant's room?" she asked, momentarily puzzled. 

"It's not a--" For a moment, the paladin looked thoughtful. "I suppose I can see why you might think so, but no. This is a family cell. The smaller rooms were intended for children, while the parents would share the main room. This is the Temple of Amun: we don't have servants here, but we do have married couples, and sometimes those couples have children."

What? "Paladins can't--" She cut herself off by an act of will. Well-bred young ladies did not have outbursts. "I did not know that paladins could marry. I thought your vows prohibited that."

"Ah," said Anica, and colored slightly. "That is true of the priests and paladins of Helios. Amun bids us to be part of the community, and that includes marriage and children should such opportunities be desired and found." She paused for a moment, then added: "If you like, you can meet my son tomorrow."

"You're married?" Tabitha devoutly hoped that she managed not to sound shocked.

"Yes," said Anica, and Tabitha was suddenly certain that there was more there. Anica wasn't lying to her, but she was definitely leaving some things out. 

"And Tavros?" Tabitha asked. "We understood that he wasn't married, despite considerable attention at Court when he was first raised to the Solari."

"Tavros isn't married," said Anica, and there was nothing indefinite in that statement. 

She didn't add anything else, and for a moment Tabitha was at a loss for how to continue. Finally she said, "So, I am to have the child's room?" 

Anica sighed, sounding genuinely exasperated. "Lady Andiras... Yes. You are to sleep in the child's room, so that you will have another room -- this room, with me in it -- between you and the rest of the temple. But that's to protect you, in case someone decides that you're a spy for the pretender Bouvier and tries to do you harm. It's also to protect us, in case you actually are a spy for the pretender Bouvier. It also allows you to be properly chaperoned during your stay here, so that nobody can try to claim that any other sort of impropriety might have occurred."

Well, when you put it that way... "I... I see," said Tabitha, pulling herself together. "I have been rude. You are trying to protect us both, while I am still behaving as if I am at Court. There, to be placed in the smaller room is, well..." She searched for the words to express how it felt. "...It is to actually be lesser."

Anica nodded, looking uncomfortable. "It's not at all that way here. Most of us sleep in cells like the one you'll be staying in -- even the Abbess herself. Your cell isn't small; this one is large, because it was intended for two people instead of one. And your cell isn't subordinate to this one; it's guarded by it. I swear on my honor, nobody here will be laughing because we tricked you into sleeping in the smaller room. Nobody here cares."

"I see that," said Tabitha. "Truly." Nobody here cares. The difference in perspective was almost incomprehensible, but also strangely liberating. If nobody cared, then she didn't have to care either. If it was possible not to care, maybe these things weren't truly important. If nobody cared... "Is that why His Majesty was so... informal?"

"Tavros?" Anica shook her head. "Tavros is just about as direct and honest as you can get. I once watched him kill a hill giant in hand-to-hand combat, and his idea of threatening the hobgoblin chieftain into leaving was still just to tell him what would happen if he didn't."

Tabitha drew back. "That... Did that actually happen?"

Anica nodded. "I was there. One of the tribes moved in and raided a nameless village on the shores of Lago Gota. The priests were busy organizing supplies and other assistance, so they sent Tavros, me, and Tarric -- he's my husband and a paladin, you'll probably meet him later -- on ahead. We found a tracker there, investigating, and learned that the attackers had departed with prisoners. So we followed, but we were captured. A simple net trap, but none of us saw it until it was too late." She paused to draw breath."They had a whole ritual arranged, including a contest. If one of us could defeat their champion, we would all go free; if our champion was defeated, they would eat us."

She paused, but Tabitha gestured for her to continue. 

"Tavros volunteered to face their champion, then told us to find ways to get ourselves and the prisoners out of there regardless. I honestly thought he was going to die. I thought he was sacrificing himself; we're paladins, we do that kind of thing. But Tavros went out into the clearing in the middle of their village, and he fought that thing, and he killed it. And while he was fighting it, we were killing our guards and taking their weapons, and trying to move everyone out of the village. But the moment the hill giant was out of the way, Tavros went after their priest and killed him, and then he walked up to their chieftain and just... explained that one way or another his tribe was going to end up annihilated if they didn't go back to their traditional hunting practices."

Anica swallowed and said, "The chief agreed. We haven't had any trouble from them since. Occasionally one of the goblins comes to the temple to report that they're still subsisting off the wilderness. Sometimes they report that they're having trouble, and we send food or other supplies. Tarric and I have gone out there twice, to help them deal with things that were just a little beyond their immediate abilities."

She paused, then shook her head. "It's not that they're loyal to Sol Povos. They don't need to be. It's not even that they're so terrified of Tavros that they don't dare attack. That isn't true at all. It's that he saw that the human who was giving them new ideas for rituals and traditions was corrupting them, and the moment he had the chance he killed that guy, and then reminded the tribe of what they should be. They did the rest on their own."

Tabitha took a moment to digest that, then said: "So what we were told at Court was true. Tavros Fontaine really did slay a hill giant to rescue the survivors of a goblin attack. That was why he was chosen to join the Solari." She tried to look apologetic. "We don't... didn't... always trust the King's pronouncements, and Tavros was the King's nephew."

Anica actually laughed. "You thought it was an exaggeration to cover nepotism?"

"It might have been," Tabitha replied defensively. 

"No," said Anica firmly. "It happened. But what you might not have been told, and what you might want to tell your Mistress, is how Tavros defeated the hill giant."

Tabitha frowned. "I mean, he is half-dragon..."

"You've never run into giants before, I take it. In full armor, with a blade, he might have been evenly matched against a hill giant. Bare-handed? He should have died. He knew it, I knew it, Tarric knew it."

"I take it that it wasn't luck, or the will of Amun," observed Tabitha. 

Anica shrugged. "Perhaps some of that as well," she conceded. "But mostly, it was an elderly herbwife from the village, who was able to mix up a particularly virulent poison that Tavros could coat his claws with. Once he'd made contact, he just had to survive long enough for it to take effect." She paused and drew a breath. "What I want you -- and your Mistress -- to know... is this: Tavros is strong by himself. But what makes him truly dangerous is his willingness to trust his friends." She paused again, fixing Tabitha with her gaze. "Be his friends."

Tabitha nodded back. "I assure you again, we are." She drew a long, slow breath. She didn't think Anica had been exaggerating anything she'd just told, let alone lying outright, and that alone was enough to set her mind reeling. Someone like that... a king like that... She shook her head. "Of course I'll tell my Mistress."

Anica nodded. "Are you ready for some rest?" she asked. "Or would you like to tour the temple? I could show you some of the places where you could occupy yourself while you're here." 

Helios protect me, not yet. None of that yet. She was suddenly very tired. "I think... I think I would prefer to sleep. It has been a very long day. A very long series of very long days." 

"There's a bathing room at the end of the hall," said Anica. "I'll have to accompany you, of course." 

"That won't be a problem," Tabitha told her. Noble ladies were permitted privacy only in limited ways, and in any case she was determined to adapt. "A thorough bath and a full night's sleep will put a great many things to rights." She paused, then added: "Thank you for talking to me, and for your..." She hesitated. ""

Anica sniffed. "Life at Court sounds very unpleasant. I'm glad I never had to be part of it."

Tabitha managed not to gasp at that unexpected heresy, but it was a near thing.

Friday, June 2, 2023

Dark Armor: Diplomacy

"It was simple wisdom," said Kareth Teres, Wizard-King of Teregor, conceding nothing.

"It was at that," replied the High Magister Tamirya Edrias. It could have been a compliment, but something in her tone suggested that she knew damned well that he hadn't had any choice, and was enjoying the leverage that gave her. "And, of course Edrias will be every bit as suspect as Teregor, so it was only wisdom to agree."

"It is good that you understand that." The wizard-king's tone was firm. "Still, if we are to work together as we must, there will need to be reassurances to prevent betrayal." 

Darkest Gods, Pallian thought, The old bastard thinks he's actually going to be able to wring concessions from her, from a situation where we're in just as much danger as they are. Does he just not see it? Or is the need to be a bastard making him stupider than he has to be? He didn't say any of that out loud; his father would have re-scheduled his execution for the following morning if he had. Instead, he forced himself to relax and made his face expressionless so that he wasn't just gaping at his father's arrogance.

"Indeed there must," said the High Magister of Edrias. She touched one of the scroll-pouches at her belt. "I have here a treaty, in which we would both affirm the borders in their current positions and each concede that all artifacts in each kingdom's possession were lawfully theirs as of the time of the signing."

The Wizard-King of Teregor frowned, suspicious. "You would concede that the Spear of the First was lawfully, rightfully ours?" 

The High Magister nodded. "The treaty specifies such. As we have both seen, it is too dangerous to fight over, and far too dangerous for anyone to carry into battle." She paused, then added: "But to guarantee such concessions, there would need to be bonds between our kingdoms."

"What sort of bonds?" asked the Wizard-King.

The High Magister answered simply: "Marriage. You have sons; I have daughters. I propose an exchange, one for one. Your second prince will marry my first princess, and my third princess will marry your first prince."

"Your third princess?" asked the Wizard-King. "That seems... uneven."

The High Magister glanced at her daughter, the second-princess Arwidden, and nodded briefly. Arwidden stepped forward, bowed to the Wizard-King, and said: "No insult is intended. When I am wed, I will have a princess rather than a prince."

Pallian nodded, but his father sneered. "Then in truth the third princess will be a more worthy match." He flicked a glance at the High Magister. "But I will be most offended if she says such and then takes a prince for her own."

Standing where he was, Pallian couldn't see Ravaj's expression; his older brother stood still and calm. He, on the other hand, rolled his eyes before he could stop himself. He forced himself to relax again, to lower his shoulders and keep his face expressionless. His father couldn't help being insulting, but the High Magister was making him look increasingly unreasonable. Which means I might actually end up being required to marry the first princess of Edrias. He wasn't sure how he felt about that. Marriage?

He'd thought about it, of course. He'd even fantasized about falling in love with someone, and being granted permission. It was just that he'd always been too busy attending his father's moods and whims, keeping himself safe in the court, and later on serving as the Black Knight. That had kept him safe, but also isolated. 

The third princess met his eyes, her expression momentarily speculative, and he offered an uncertain shrug. No, he definitely didn't know what to make of this.

"The borders to remain where they are," his father said. He sounded frustrated, as if he'd wanted more but also realized that he wasn't in a position to press for it. "The Spear to remain in our keeping. Alliances by marriage. You sound as if you realize that you could never defeat Teregor."

"I do what I must to protect our lands," said the High Magister of Edrias. It was a sentence that could be taken in several ways, Pallian realized, but his father smiled. 

"Let us see this treaty."

Darkest gods, I might actually have to get married. He stayed silent, as his father had ordered, but all of a sudden his heart was racing.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Good!Party: The True Name of the Dark One, and the Assault on the King in the North

Having found little of use at the party, we head on to Vrist with Rin Stonehammer. Once he’s pounded his steel for as long as he can and passed out on the floor, we go out into the hallway and sneak down the hallway towards the school. There’s a bit of a commotion coming from up ahead. 

It sounds like a teacher is giving someone a stern talking-to. The boy is sad about his dead rat. The teacher is pointing out that the rat is dead and needs to be buried. The boy is almost certainly Vecna Orlok. After a moment the teacher slams out of the room, and then just as we’re about to go inside, another door opens and there’s some whispering. A moment later a rat squeezes out under the door, and a moment after that a young boy and girl come pelting out after it yelling, “Catch it! If the Headmistress sees it we’ll both get kicked out of here.” 

We follow them, but they spot us and whip around and try to act innocent. Vecna: “Um… can you help us find our rat?” We agree to help, and the kids slip away to distract the Headmistress before we can ask the Dark One’s name. 

Eva sniffs out the undead rat; Martini pulls on gloves, then hits it with Power Word Stun. 

Dark One: “Did you do that? How did you do that?”

Martini: “I’ll tell you if you’ll tell me your name.”

Her name is Galvera. She is so interested in Martini’s magic. We talk to the kids for a bit, and then we get the hell out of there. 

We return to the Temple of Amun, where Tavros is getting breakfast when someone drops from the chandelier and stabs him in the back. The assassin stops because Tavros is not dead. Tavros throws him across the room, breaks his arms and takes him off to Vigo. Vigo comes back in the afternoon and reports that this one is not from Bouvier; he’s from Lamont. 

Martini takes Ruin and Marshall off to murder the would-be king, Duke Lamont, while Tavros, Geddy, Eva, and Leira will get smuggled into Wellfort by The Silver Fox. 

Martini, Ruin, and Marshall arrive at the rebel base a little southwest of the High Grove. Lamont is holed up in a well-fortified keep. So, we’re not going to be able to just teleport in. However, there are certain ways in and out. The Antechamber before the throne room does allow Teleportation, but you can’t teleport out from there. There is a teleportation room with a circle keyed to strategic locations; but the rebel wizards think they can intercept the link and insert us into that room. The third option – many gnomes died to bring us this information -- the keep was built on some old ruins, and it might be possible to use them to get in and out. 

The elven mages teleport us into one corner of the very, very ancient catacombs. Ruin can see bones scattered around, and we can hear something moving. Martini throws False Life on herself, then makes herself invisible, and we prepare to move into the dungeon. Martini draws her weapons. Ruin draws his weapons and says, “We need Light.” (Also, how the hell is Darkvision not on the Assassin spell list???)

Marshall casts Holy Aura and then casts a quickened Light spell. The light draws the attention of some sort of troll abomination, which immediately comes around the corner towards us. It moves remarkably fast, and slaps Ruin with a tentacle and grabs him, pulling him into the spikes on his body. Martini begins studying the thing, and moves in to attack it while it’s flat-footed. Martini attacks with her dagger but fails to get through its ridiculously thick skin. Martini heads up the wall and over the thing and comes down on the far side of it. Ruin uses Dimension Door to get out of the grapple, and hides. Marshall tags it with firestorm and injures it a lot. It starts flailing around, cracking the walls, and then charges down to the far end of the hall. Martini fires Disintegrate at it, but doesn’t get through its spell resistance. Ruin stays hidden, and Marshall finishes it off with another Firestorm. 

There’s a sort of black ichor oozing off the corpse; this was clearly some sort of primeval creature. We take some samples. Martini thinks this might be worth hundreds of golds a vial; we fill about ten vials. We head back to the one available door, which is at the end of a short side-passage. Martini checks the door over, and it is locked but not apparently trapped. 

She tries picking the lock, and Ruin – after a massive effort – manages to haul the door open. Ahead of us, there’s the corpse of some sort of undead creature which has -- have?-- been thoroughly gnawed upon. There’s also a massive Black Pudding in an intersection up ahead. 

Martini casts Disintegrate again, and disintegrates it. Ruin heaves a HUGE sigh of relief. He’s seen enough Hentai to know where this was going.

We sneak up and survey the intersection, listening. Looking to the right, we see the ruins of some sort of vampire nest: splintered coffins, disassembled undead. Marshall slips off to search the coffins and returns with a sack of 100 GP wrapped in his tail. We turn left and find our way to the troll abomination’s nest. We continue exploring and find the bodies of four guards; this looks a little fresher. Each has 10,000 GP worth of equipment; we manage to pick up a tabard that hasn’t been completely destroyed. The tabard has a device; a tree on the left, twin lakes on the right, and a crown over the whole thing. Presumably this is Lamont’s new coat of arms. After a bit of looking around we find a secret door – not trapped – that goes to the stairs. 

We find another secret door over by the vampire nest; Martini checks it for traps, and finds one. She promptly disables it, and claims it for her own: she now has a Wail of the Banshee trap. She then turns her attention to the lock. She opens the door, finds a chest, and checks that for a trap; it’s trapped, of course. She removes the trap and unlocks the chest. We find 3,000 Platinum and a luck blade with 1 wish. Martini tosses it to Ruin, who tucks it into his belt. (+2 Shortsword; possessor can reroll one roll each day.

We take the stairs and emerge into Lamont’s treasure room. This is probably the remains of the treasury from Janbridge; it’s wall to wall, shin deep. It’s not all coins, either; there’s a bunch of valuable tomes, clothing, goblets, etc. Coffers, sacks, chests, paintings… 

We take everything in the room, and in the process locate a secret door. There are traps on the other side, but we can’t get at the mechanisms and we can’t tell what they do. Marshall uses Shape Stone to create a giant statue of a middle finger that will block the door from opening. We also find a cube of force along with the 260,000 GP worth of stuff; we scoop it all into our bag of holding. 

Then we head back downstairs and teleport back to the resistance like Santa Claus. 

We wait a day, restore our spells, and apply Death Ward to ourselves. 

Getting out of the treasure room is too risky; we go back down, plot our way over to the next room, and stone shape a hole in our ceiling/the nobleman’s floor. There’s a nobleman standing there looking at the hole in the floor as an invisible Martini emerges. She stabs him. He’s wearing Lamont’s emblem on his chest. 

She stabs him and he goes down and begins bleeding out. Ruin climbs out and delivers the coup de grĂ¢ce. We look over the corpse, but while the clothes are fancy the jewelry is fake. We’ve killed a body double. We check the medallion, and it’s equipped with an alarm spell. Martini disables it, but keeps the medallion. We also take some keys off the body.

We dump the body downstairs and cover the hole with a rug. The bookshelf only has a single book on it. There’s a spiked pit trap on the book case; it fits between the lower-level walls. The book triggers the trap, but the mechanism is intricately linked to the mechanism to open the secret passage. There seems to be a way to open the secret door by manipulating the book. Ruin looks at the Very Ceremonial Sword on the table. It’s jeweled enough that Ruin grabs it and drops it in our treasure; ditto the shield, which has the new coat of arms. 

We find some royal-level clothing, which we set aside for Tavros. The bed is made of pure rubywood, so it’s probably worth thousands of gold. (It’s a 10,000 GP bed.) Marshall transforms into a colossal snake and eats the bed for us; that's how we're going to steal it. He now has twenty-four hours to get it back out. Nightstands have lots of perfumes and oils and combs and brandy, for a total of about 10,000 GP worth of stuff. 

We move to the door out of the room, which is both locked and trapped. Martini is now the proud owner of an Energy Drain trap. We do not hear anything the next room, but we can now hear things happening in a room beyond – and it sounds like quite a few people, and probably in the throne room. Martini gets it open and we’re now in some sort of office. 

There’s nobody here, so we start searching the desk. It’s… rubywood, worth at least as much as the bed, maybe more. Martini disables another Energy Drain trap and claims it for her own. She then opens the drawer, and we find some notes about the teleportation circle and the teleportation room, and eight stylized keys. Each key corresponds to a location, and there’s a safehouse; the safehouse can only be accessed if you possess the scepter. If it’s lost, you’ll need to obtain samples of all three creatures again and throw them on the three braziers. 

This only works from the teleportation circle in this castle. We did not find the scepter on Fake Lamont; it’s probably with Lamont, and they’re probably both in the safehouse. 

We have Marshall eat the 11,000 GP desk as well. 

We continue searching, finding gold and platinum scales worth 4,000 gp. Martini checks the bookcases for traps. The first one has a trap on the cabinet on the bottom, but not on the stuff on the top; the stuff on the top is loose-leaf record. Ruin dumps it into the bag on Lamont, and Martini disables and claims the trap from the bottom, and pulls out this carefully-wrapped, tied stack of three books. They were a prize from one of Lamont’s generals; +4 con, +5 cha, +5 Str stat books, taken from the mages. We claim them. 

Bookcase the Second is also trapped, and she disables it but doesn’t manage to keep the trap. The top is a bunch of scrolls, some magical and some non-magical, worth 2,000 GP. The bottom contains a set of ledgers outlining the duke’s accounts. All his shadow accounts, etc. So we could have the thieves’ guild folks help us, and with Geddy to gather information from the account books. We could give him the +5 Cha stat book and turn him loose on this, and (later, when we actually do this) we lift 270,000 out of Lamont’s accounts. We’re about to move on when Martini kicks the table over to reveal a trap door. She disables the trap on it, unlocks it; it contains a small coffer with another 26,000 in gold and gems. Rainy Day Fund, we decide. 

As we listen, an elvish voice says “But please, Master Silas, we cannot pay; we have no money!”

A gravely voice says, “That is unfortunate. Very well... Then we will hold your wife in our dungeon until you can find it.”

The throne room is most likely filled with a permanent Zone of Truth and Invisibility Purge, which is going to affect our planning on this. We check over the next door, and step through it into a little waiting area which is equipped, among other things, with a fancy cask. The crystal beside it is worth 3,000 GP. Both of these barrels bear the marks of really fine wine. We think the big one could be worth 10-20,000 GP; the smaller one could 20-60,000 GP. They’re heavy, though. Still, we can stick them in the bag of holding, so we do. Geddy will auction them later for 15,000 and 40,000. 

We stop and listen. 

Cardinal Silas is holding court on behalf of King Lamont; he has bishops with him at the front of the room; he also has some devils in there. There are also some more… human-sized devils in there. There are also a bunch of petitioners in there; they are innocent, and will need to be protected as best we can from becoming accidental casualties. (Ruin will hate it if any of them get hurt.) Among the devils, the big ones are horn devils, and the regular-sized ones are barbed devils. The whole place is dimensionally locked, and invisibility isn’t going to work either. Also, we won’t be able to lie. 

We've basically spent several hours stripping the chamber that should belong to Duke Lamont, the would-be King in the North. We’ll begin the attack on the throne room next week.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Vendril: A Gift from the Clan, Part Four

It was late and the dining hall was empty, but Aesa and Vendril had disappeared into the kitchens and returned with trays of bread, cheeses, and some fruit preserves. Doubtless the cooks would complain in the morning, but it wouldn't be right not to feed their guests.

Aviril pulled a loaf of bread from the stack and offered it to Tavros. "Will you break bread with us, Your Majesty?"

Tavros took the loaf, broke a chunk off the end, and handed it back. "It will be a pleasure."

Aviril broke off a somewhat larger piece for himself, then handed it to the younger woman beside him and reached for the jar of cherry preserve. She followed suit, taking a piece and passing it down; the scowling man beside her took the end, nodded, and pulled a fresh piece of bread to hand to the woman at the next seat down.  

"We are grateful for your hospitality," said the woman beside Aviril, who had given her name as Talyra.

"It would hardly be right not to welcome you after you came all this way," said Tavros. "Even if you had your own reasons for the journey."

The man beside Talyra -- Valaar, his name was -- grunted softly, but everyone ignored him so Tavros did likewise. Aviril said, "It is a rare pleasure to meet the Fontaine heir. Our clan has long been loyal to the throne, though we show it mainly by sending some of our number to support the force at Fort Dido. The attempt by Giles Bouvier to take over has been troubling, but thus far we have not suffered for refusing to come to his assistance."

"Would you come to mine?" asked Tavros, sounding more curious than anything else.

"As we could," answered the elder, cautiously. "Understand that I lack the authority to negotiate; I was sent for... other reasons." 

Tavros nodded. 

"That said... Yes, we would help as we could. Some archers, some scouts, some dark-walkers... And, of course, you have the loyalty of our Sacred Shadow. Even so, we are not a military force. We are a clan of related families. We pay little in taxes, for we produce little that humans consider valuable; we do not hold lands; and we live... strategically. But for all that, we do pay when assessment comes."

"I would not ask more," Tavros said simply, and took a bite from the bread in his hand. 

Aviril finished layering the cherry conserve on his own bread, and took a bite as well. 

"Giles Bouvier is a concern for me as well," Tavros said, when he had finished swallowing. "Perhaps when you return, your clan might send someone to speak with me officially. The assistance you spoke of... Bouvier has been moving almost unopposed, and I would like to see his power-seeking slowed. Were some of his food and materiel to disappear, perhaps, or his wagons to develop a rash of broken wheels... I'm sure we could work out some suitable compensation for anyone willing to risk such attempts."

Aviril looked thoughtful. "Again I tell you, I cannot pledge my clan. Still, I think the elders would be amenable to some such arrangement. Likely they will send someone."

"Have them send someone if Bouvier comes after your clan as well," Tavros said quietly. "I will send what aid I can."

Aviril glanced at Vendril, who nodded back with a slight, almost invisible movement of his head.

"It is well," he said. "Now come, tell us of yourself, and we will tell you of our people, and in the morning we will depart for home."

Vendril is a mix of ranger and rogue, about two parts ranger to one part rogue. He is also now the Sacred Shadow of his clan, which gives him some additional resources. Talyra, I think, took a single level of rogue and then switched to wizard; she's perfectly capable of going Full Wizard for blasting or buffing or conjuring, she just prefers to be more subtle. Valaar is basically a pure ranger, except that in the Clan tradition rangers get sneak attack instead of favored enemy. Aviril is, I think, a wizard turned loremaster.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Vendril: A Gift from the Clan, Part Three

"Come in!" called the voice, and Vendril swung the door open:

"Your Majesty? A small delegation has arrived..."

Tavros turned, stared, frowned for a brief moment, and then said: "So it's true. I'd heard rumors that the Silver Fox was still here. What have you been up to?"

Vendril kept his expression blank, as much a mask as the fox had ever been. "This delegation..."

"Now?" Tavros glanced at the window of his small cell. He wasn't supposed to be here -- Vigo hated when he did this -- but Vendril knew he stayed here as often as he could manage. And the half-dragon didn't seem irritated, merely surprised. 

"They came under cover of darkness," Vendril explained. "They come from my clan -- not Duendewood elves, but dwellers along the coasts around the Forbidden Desert."

Tavros looked at his quill, then moved it away from the parchment before it could drop the ball of ink gathering at its tip. He wiped it and placed it back in its holder, then capped the bottle of ink. "They came to see me?" he asked.

Vendril suppressed a wince. "Not exactly, Majesty. They came seeking me, but with that matter resolved I thought they should speak with you as well."

"Well... all right," said Tavros, and rose. He was still in his armor, still wearing his sword. If he reclaimed the throne he would be a warrior-king, and not some spoiled child whose advisors served only to remind him how wise he truly was. "Have they eaten? We could meet in the dining hall, if they have not."

Vendril managed not to shake his head. For all the airs that Vigo wished to force on the half-dragon heir... he was a paladin at heart, with a paladin's priorities. Still, unlike the nobles, Vendril's clan would appreciate that. "I'll bring them there."

He'd thought to give Tavros a few minutes to prepare and be waiting when his clan-mates entered, but Tavros simply nodded and said, "I'll come with you."

Oh yes, Vigo is going to be most disappointed. The Silver Fox suppressed a grin at the thought.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Vendril: A Gift from the Clan, Part Two

Vendril had his rapier out and was lunging at Valaar. In the same motion, his free hand sent a dagger spinning through the air towards Talyra. He'd expected them both to come at him at once, but Talyra dodged his knife by lunging at Valaar as well. Valaar came up with a pair of shortswords, parrying madly, and managed to cut Talyra once before she got inside his guard and traced a line of blood up his arm with her dagger. 

Then Vendril's rapier connected, and Valaar staggered back, shaking out his shoulder. "That--" He twisted around Talyra, trying to put her between himself and Vendril, but she moved with him, reflexively denying Vendril a shot at her back. She attacked him again, and for a moment they merged into a blur of motion, weapons sliding against and around each other so quickly that Vendril couldn't focus on a target. 

He lunged again anyway, stabbing with the rapier and drawing a fresh dagger. 

Valaar took the blow and collapsed, and Talyra stepped away from him, wariness in every line of her body. "Now how did you manage that?"

Her familiar appeared behind him, becoming suddenly visible as it reached out to attempt an attack. Vendril ducked aside, and it missed, cursed, and flapped away again. He'd been expecting that; he hadn't forgotten that for all that Talyra trained in stealth, she was also quite adept as a wizard. He also remembered that Talyra could work her magics without speaking or gesturing, and had doubtless used that skill to prepare in advance for this encounter. 

She didn't attack immediately, though, and Vendril circled warily. "I was right," she said. "It should be me, but if it isn't me it should be you." 

Vendril glanced around, but her familiar -- an imp -- was invisible again. He wished he was wearing his mask; he could have given the little demon quite a surprise. "For the clan," he said simply, and stepped in. 

She turned his rapier with the blade of her dagger, holding it close against her forearm in a reverse grip, then stepped in closer to try to stab him. He blocked her second dagger with his own, rolled the rapier blade around her forearm, and stabbed down at her gut; she raised her arm beneath it, forcing the point away, and he rocked back to make room for his longer blade, then tried a light stab of the sort known as pointing. 

Talyra hopped up and back to keep her knees out of the way; the blades of her daggers weren't long enough to block a low-line attack. She came in again immediately, blades shifting and stabbing, and Vendril felt one of them open a line of fire across the back of his forearm. He flinched away immediately, and managed to slip loose from magic that the blade released. Lucky, lucky... That magic would have pinned him in place, left him open for Talyra to finish. 

She must have put everything she had into preparing for this, all of it done without words or movements. Talyra was more mage than rogue, and might have done better to stand back and take him with spells; but perhaps she wanted to prove that she could hold her own in this sort of close combat. 

Then Valaar came up from the ground and slammed into Talyra's side, just as her familiar appeared again and touched Vendril's shoulder with the force of a small thunderbolt. He staggered, twisted, and cut with his rapier; the imp fell to the ground, stunned. Talyra, wholly surprised by Valaar's deception and the fall of her familiar, looked down at the shortsword in her gut, and crumpled to the ground as well. 

"Of course you'd both be afraid of me," snarled Valaar, and came at Vendril. He seemed surprised when Vendril flicked his blade aside and extended, just in time to let Valaar run onto the tip of his rapier. Valaar staggered back, shaking his head, looking down at his chest and not seeing any blood. 

In that brief moment of distraction, Vendril leaned in with his other hand-- not attacking with his dagger, but touching the back of Valaar's right hand with his silver ring.

Valaar snarled again and shook his hand as if bee-stung. "What was that?" he demanded. 

"A battle-kiss," Vendril told him. "Come and see what it does."

Valaar attacked, but now his blows were rough and imprecise; his blades wanted to jerk back, to turn aside. His body no longer seemed willing to attack, however much he demanded it. And when Vendril leaned in and lined up his rapier, his hands were slow to bring his swords across to defend. That dull-gray metal blade poked him in the chest: once, twice, a third time. Darkness closed in around the edges of his vision, and Valaar went down. 

Vendril sighed, sheathed his rapier, then bent down and sliced Valaar's cheek with his dagger. It wasn't much of a wound, just enough to draw blood and perhaps leave an interesting scar. Then he stepped back quickly, looked at his uncle Aviril, and said: "Blood has been shed. The terms are met."

Aviril clapped his hands. "The terms are met. The Choosing is finished."

Vendril's rapier is magic, and is imbued with the Merciful enchantment: it deals non-lethal damage unless he commands otherwise. When Vendril is out for blood, he uses daggers instead.

Friday, May 26, 2023

Dark Armor: The Greeting

The throne of Teregor was the heart of the Obsidian Citadel, of a piece with the rest of glassy structure. It was layered in enchantments that connected it to the whole of the keep, and from there out into the surrounding city and the lands beyond. It was said that the Wizard-King of Teregor could sit upon his throne and know all that transpired in his kingdom, alter the weather, send commands to his troops, and turn the land itself against his enemies. 

Pallian suspected that such things were said mostly because they were true, and because they were the sorts of things that people ought to know if they wished to avoid being struck down and turned into more of the animated skeletons that kept the depths of the Crypt clean and free of vermin. 

From where Pallian was standing, the throne was thirty feet away and fifteen feet above him, overlooking the shadowed hall where he waited with his father and his brother. The Wizard-King had diplomatically elected to meet the royalty of Edrias in the hall itself, but the throne still loomed on its raised platform behind him. Ravaj stood at their father's right hand, wearing an elegantly-cut black jacket over a ruffled white shirt, a ruby medallion and a set of matching rings to add a touch of color. Pallian himself had been placed to their father's left, and slightly back: arguably subordinate, but also the sort of placement a bodyguard might occupy.

A scribe sat at a discrete desk off to one side, all but invisible in his dark gray robe; a handful of half-familiar ministers had spread out quietly around the edges of the room, knowing better than to speak without their king's permission. The other nobles, however, had been sent away, perhaps as a precaution against ill-considered words. The House of Edrias was, after all, a long-standing rival to the House of Teregor.

The Royal Steward -- for a moment, Pallian couldn't recall the woman's name; then he found it: Vathira -- stepped into the throne room and then placed herself beside the wall just inside the great doorway. "The House of Edrias," she announced, and her voice filled the whole of the hall, almost strong enough to drive out the shadows. "High Magister Tamirya Edrias, and her body-servant." 

The woman who entered the room was tall and willowy, graceful even in a heavy robe, and had her hair swept up into a knot that was held in place with a pair of silver pins. She was followed by a massive, heavyset figure of leonine cast: clawed fingers, warm-gold fur, hair and beard that resembled a lion's mane. Even his face held something of that shape, the jaws protruding into more of a snout than any of the the uninitiated ever would, his nose reworked into a feline configuration. Pallian squinted, but yes: those were whiskers, as well. 

"Second-princess  Arwidden Edrias," announced Vathira, and another woman entered the throne room. She was shorter than her mother, with broader shoulders, and her dark brown hair was cut short against her skull. She wore the clothes of a woman soldier -- a split skirt and heavy blouse with a vest -- but in expensive silk decorated with elegant embroidery, and she wore a shortsword on her left hip. Her eyes flickered across the royalty of Teregor, and settled briefly on Pallian; she might have given a faint nod.

Vathira's voice filled the room again. "Third-princess Ashmire Edrias." 

This woman wore an understated, courtly dress, and both her hair and her makeup had been carefully assembled. She moved gracefully, falling into place beside her mother and opposite her sister; then she stopped behind them and off to the side, opposite Pallian himself. 

The High Magister of Edrias shifted her head, and Pallian could see a few lines of silver tracing through otherwise-black hair. "Wizard-King of Teregor," she said, her entire attention focused on Pallian's father. "We have come at your invitation." Then she smiled, sharp as a knife. "It must have really hurt to send that."