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 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."

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Tavros: Alliances Offered, Part One

"I still think a Kingsmoot would--"

"No," answered Tavros in a tone of absolute finality. "He would have prevented us from stopping the Tarrasque, and left the beast to continue its rampage. He is a traitor to the people he wishes to rule, unworthy of land and title, and he needs to be deposed. Now."

Vigo paused. "You plan to take care of it yourself, then, Majesty?"

"Yes," said Tavros. "We wouldn't want to risk any lèse-majesté, and if we take him out ourselves we can spare his armies. I suspect we're going to need them before this is all over."

Vigo fell silent, and Tavros could almost see the loom spinning in his head, tracing out plans, contingencies, possibilities...

"And after him, Lamont?" Vigo frowned. "That will be dangerous, Majesty; if Bouvier falls, Lamont will be warned."

"Not after," Tavros said. "At the same time. Martini will organize that expedition."

"I see," said Vigo. "And your concerns of lèse-majesté?"

Tavros was quiet for a moment. "You know Lamont's reputation. Bouvier, at least, can claim that he was trying to restore order and rebuild the kingdom. Lamont took his troops into Duendewood to try to carve out an independent kingdom for himself at the expense of the elves. Bouvier may be permitted to die with some small dignity... but for Lamont, nothing."

"We may make a proper king of you yet, Majesty." Vigo bowed and started to turn away. 

"Your Majesty!" called another voice, and Tavros suppressed a groan as Vigo stopped and turned back. 

Werendril was coming down the hallway, moving lightly with long, easy strides. He stopped and offered a bow, with just a hint of a mischievous smile to let Tavros know that he was doing this even though he knew that the half-dragon hated it. "You have a messenger, your highness."

Tavros turned his head slightly to the side. "From whom?"

"A young woman just arrived," said Werendril. "Human, neatly dressed. She claims to be the lady Tabitha Andiras, in the service of Jacqueline Bouvier."

"And where is she now?" asked Vigo, cutting in automatically. 

The true elf paladin studied Vigo the Whisperer for a long moment, then turned his attention back to Tavros. "Tarric and Anica took her down to the dining hall, Majesty. They sent me to find you."

Tavros motioned for Werendril to lead the way, and Vigo fell in beside him as he followed. "Slow down," Vigo whispered. "You must keep a dignified pace." 

"Later," said Tavros. "Tell me about Jacqueline Bouvier."

Vigo fell silent for a long moment. Then he said, "Jacqueline Bouvier is the eldest daughter of Giles Bouvier. She would be... twenty-four now, I believe. She's said to be well-educated, skilled in the courtly graces, and not unattractive -- though I have not had the privilege of meeting her myself."

"Any idea why she would send a messenger to me?" 

"Many," answered Vigo, "but none that I would care to place money on. Perhaps once we have heard the message, Majesty."

Ahead of them, Werendril reached the wide doorway of the dining hall and passed through. Tavros slowed, and Vigo slowed with him. With dignified steps, he entered the hall.

There was indeed a human woman sitting with Tarric and Anica, plates of food in front of all three of them. The woman looked up, saw him, and started to rise -- but Tavros shook his head and gestured, and she settled herself again. It would have been awkward to have her trying to bow or curtsy while trapped between the table and one of the long, wooden benches. 

The room wasn't terribly full, but it wasn't empty either. A handful of novices and acolytes were clustered at one of the round tables in the back corner, and the Abbess and Sister Tiva had managed to settle in to eat within easy earshot of the new arrival. Brother Alaric was chatting with a couple of the newer clerics over near the serving area, and one of the other paladins was having a quick meal alone; his spear leaned against the wall beside him. 

Tavros crossed directly to the bench opposite the young woman, and seated himself. 

"You-- Your Majesty," she said, catching herself neatly. 

"I'm told you carry a message for me," Tavros said, as Vigo slid onto the bench beside him. 

Lady Tabitha Andiras glanced around. "Would you have me speak of it here, Majesty?"

Tavros considered that briefly, because that had been exactly what he intended. Still... "I could arrange an audience at my mother's estate," he offered, "if you would prefer that."

The lady clicked her tongue once, then shook her head. "No, better here. I only thought..."

"These are my people," said Tavros, glancing around. "I do not care what they hear. But if the message is particularly sensitive, I will arrange for a smaller and less haphazard audience."

The young woman studied him for a long moment, then said: "I suppose it matters not. I am lady Tabitha Andiras, in the service of lady Jacqueline Bouvier. My lady sent me to bring you warning."

Vigo opened his mouth and drew breath to speak, then closed it again and exhaled when Tavros looked at him. "What sort of warning?" asked the half-dragon. 

"Lady Jacqueline warns that her father intends your death. He has sent some of his Solari to ambush you should try to destroy the great beast in Summerwind; he has hired assassins to find you at your mother's estate; and he is considering mounting an attack to conquer Caristhium itself."

"He's going to be badly surprised," muttered Anica. Tabitha glanced at her, but she shook her head. 

"They failed in Summerwind," Tavros observed. 

"Already?" asked Tabitha. "May I ask how you managed that? The Sorceress Reina was very strong, one of lord Bouvier's best."

"Ours proved better."

"And the great beast? It is slain?"

"Turned to a statue in the town square," said Tavros. 

"A great victory for Your Majesty," said Tabitha, looking down at the table. 

"I would credit my friends," Tavros observed wryly. "Though I suppose that choosing the right allies is the mark of a good king." He had changed that much, he thought. He had begun to think that he might have the makings of a king.

Lady Tabitha looked back up, studying him while trying to look like that wasn't what she was doing. He wasn't sure what she read on his face -- being a half-dragon gave him a very different bone structure, and his expressions weren't easy for most people to read. He'd long ago learned not to show his teeth when he smiled; his fangs were sharp, and made it look like he was snarling even when he was nearly helpless with laughter. 

"As to the assassins," she continued a full breath later, "my lady says not to fear a night attack, but rather to check and re-check anyone recently taken into service."

Tavros glanced at Vigo, who nodded. "I will speak to the lady Emiliana."

"As far as my lady knows," Tabitha said, as Tavros returned his attention to her, "her father has not gathered forces for an assault. He has merely made plans, perhaps only as a contingency."

Tavros nodded slowly. 

Anica said, "Good. Any force marching on Caristhium is in for a nasty shock."

"How do you mean?" asked Tabitha. 

Anica shook her head, and Vigo said: "It is good for you know that we have forces prepared to defend this place, but not their nature, disposition, or capabilities."

Tabitha nodded. "Lady Jacqueline said you would think me a spy, and all this a trap. I do not know how to convince you otherwise, but... she would be your ally."

"Why?" asked Tavros, because it seemed that someone needed to.

"Giles Bouvier," she replied, "has lost the Mandate of Heaven; such were my lady's words. She says that her father might be forgiven for trying to murder the last remaining Fontaine heir, were you a fool or a madman; but it is obvious that you are neither. And I was there when she begged him not to kill you before you had a chance to slay the great beast, but he insisted that the best opportunity would be while you were busy fighting it. He would have left it alive to destroy what it would, just to be rid of you."

Tavros frowned thoughtfully. "Does your lady seek shelter?" he asked. "I am willing to provide it, even to the firstborn child of Giles Bouvier."

"She dares not leave the court at Wellfort," said the lady in waiting, "at least not yet. That is why she sent me."

Vigo's eyes narrowed, but he said nothing. "Very well," he said. "What of you? Would you prefer to remain here, or return to your lady?"

The young woman who had introduced herself as Tabitha Andiras swallowed, then said: "I would prefer to remain here. I am sorry; I know that makes me look even more like a spy. But it would be even more of a risk to try to return than it was to leave." She hesitated, then added: "Lady Jacqueline bade me tell you that she can still speak to me while I am here, and hear my replies. I know how that sounds, but she said that we must begin with honesty to avoid misunderstandings later."

"I see," said Tavros slowly. "She too is a sorceress?"

"A wizard," lady Tabitha replied.

"Then in honesty, your lady should know that I am going to have to execute her father."

Lady Tabitha paled. "She would hate that," she said, but then after a heartbeat she added: "But I think she would understand."

"Very well." Tavros looked at Vigo, then rose. "You may stay. We will assign someone to watch over you, to serve as guard, bodyguard, and guide."

"I'll do it myself, for tonight," said Anica, and Tavros nodded. "No doubt the Abbess can arrange things for tomorrow."

Tavros met the Abbess' eye as he stood, and she winked at him. Yes, someone will definitely be keeping an eye on lady Tabitha. He stepped out from the bench, turned, and departed again; Vigo followed slightly behind him. 

"It's her," said Vigo, when they were out in the hall and safely out of earshot. 

"What?" said Tavros. "No, that's insane. Why would Jacqueline Bouvier come here herself when she actually could send one of her ladies to spy for her?"

"I don't know," muttered Vigo darkly, as if the admission pained him. "But I'd swear to it. There was a moment there when she very nearly said 'my father', and her reaction when you told her you planned to murder Giles Bouvier--"

"Execute," corrected Tavros. 

"--execute Giles Bouvier," Vigo restated. "It was too firm, too definite. She knows that Jacqueline Bouvier would understand because she understands, and she is Jacqueline Bouvier."

Tavros took a moment to weigh that and try to find a measure for it. Finally he said, "You may be right, but it's still utterly ridiculous. And regardless, for now we treat her like the lady-in-waiting and possible spy that she appears to be." 

Vigo nodded. "I hear and obey, but also -- I concur, Your Majesty."

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Vendril: A Gift from the Clan, Part One

Vendril was throwing knives in the practice yard of the Temple of Amun when a voice behind him said, "Master Fox?"

He turned easily, then nodded down to the halfling priest Birno, with whom he'd passed a couple of pleasant evenings at cards and stones. "Master Birno?"

The halfling quirked a grin. "Could I borrow you for a small matter? I have a group of elves at the gates, but they won't come inside. They're looking for someone, and it might be you -- if your true name is Vendril."

Birno knew damned well that the Silver Fox's true name was Vendril, but the Abbess had decided that it was better to keep that a secret from the townsfolk, and so half the temple didn't know or had grown confused. The other half, including Birno, was cheerfully pretending to have no idea as to the true identity of the Silver Fox, even if he'd deigned to take shelter among them. 

So Vendril frowned and nodded. "I'll see what I can do," he said, and they left the practice yard and made their way back to the gate.

There was indeed a group of elves there, and they were indeed familiar.

"Uncle Aviril," Vendril said quietly, and offered a bow. 

The elf regarded him without expression. There were others gathered behind him, a dozen or so cousins of varying degrees, and they bowed politely while the older man remained still. "I see you, Vendril. I call you forth."

Vendril stepped forward automatically. "I answer. What is the matter, Uncle?"

"The matter is the Choosing," said Aviril. "The Tellers of the Clan have read the signs, and they say the time has come again. The Clan must have its Sacred Shadow." 

Vendril nodded. Beside him, the halfling priest Birno said, "Should I call for...?"

Vendril shook his head. "No. Only step back, and witness. This is not secret, but it is sacred." 

"Ah," said Birno. A moment later, with unexpected and devastating insight, he asked: "Then do you wish me to send for Aesa?"

Vendril hesitated, then nodded. 

Aviril held himself still as Birno withdrew, and pulled in one of the acolytes to carry the message. As the young man hurried away, the elder elf asked: "And who is Aesa?"

"My beloved," answered Vendril. "A priestess of Amun. You will see momentarily."

"Let it be so," Aviril said, and nodded sententiously. "All involved should witness."

"And who all," asked Vendril, "is involved?"

One of his cousins straightened, grinning like a wolf. "Vendril," she said. "I hadn't expected you to be hiding here."

He shrugged. "The clever hunter places himself where the prey doesn't expect him. Talyra, it is good to see you. You were selected?"

She nodded. 

"Well earned. It will be a pleasure."

"Tchah!" said a male voice, and both Vendril and Talyra turned to look at their cousin Valaar. "Vendril, you should withdraw your claim. You do not serve the clan; you are much too far away."

The elder Aviril drew breath, but Vendril spoke first: "I did not make my claim," he said. "It is not my place to withdraw it. I serve as best I may. If you fear to face me, perhaps you should withdraw your own."

Valaar scowled. "I do not fear to face you, Cousin." 

Vendril offered him a bow. "Then it will be a pleasure to face you as well."

Aesa came into the gatehouse then, but stopped beside Birno to regard the scene. Vendril could see his kin evaluating her, feel their reactions, but he held himself completely still and waited. She came forward after a moment, stopped just behind his right shoulder. "May I fight beside you?"

Vendril shook his head. "This is a matter of individual prowess, but you are my beloved and you should witness it."

There was a momentary pause while Aesa digested that. Then she nodded. "You know I trust you." She stepped back, paused, and added in very precise Elvish: "Kick their asses into next week." Then she went to stand beside Birno. 

"Is there any further reason to delay?" asked Aviril. It was a ritual inquiry. 

Vendril held no doubt that his own father had submitted his name as a candidate, and refused to either withdraw it or summon him back. That was why the challengers had come here. "I find myself suitably armed," he said. "I am prepared to begin."

"Likewise," said Talyra. 

"At last," said Valaar. "I stand ready."

"Very well," said Aviril. He stepped back, drawing the remaining cousins with him. "Let the will of the gods be written in blood. Begin."

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Caristhium: The Golden Children Part Three

"You're here to see Ruin?" asked Anica, and her face was a momentary stormfront. 

"I had heard from Grandfather something of what happened when he first arrived here. I was... curious about what you had partaken with him. So when the Twiceborn passed into the depths of Duendewood, I sought him out and discovered for myself."

"...And he went along with it, of course," said Anica. She was still frowning, but her expression was relaxing from anger into resignation.

"Of course," whispered Aesa softly, but loud enough for Anica to catch. Just as he did with us.

Anica sighed and sat back. "I apologize. Please continue."

"I'm not here for him," said Rita. "I'm here because Grandfather thinks he should know the full number of his children... and I think also in case something happens here. I think He wanted me placed to defend his temple, should the need arise."

"Will you?" asked Werendril.

"With my children here?" Rita started to rise, but Werendril made a calming motion. 

"It was a request," he said. "I do not doubt you." 

Rita settled back.  "Are we... rivals?" she asked.

"No," said Aesa firmly. "Do you want Ruin? As a... mate? A long-term partner?"

Rita frowned, but the expression was thoughtful. "No. I wouldn't mind more of... but no."

Aesa glanced at Anica, raised her eyebrows, and then turned back to Rita and nodded. "We are in much the same place-of-mind." The phrase was elvish, but Rita didn't appear to have any difficulty translating. "That being so, we are not rivals. We might, I hope, be partners."

"Partners?" asked Rita, looking slightly dubious.

"Everyone here defends the children. All of our children. To the best of our ability, whatever it takes. We keep this place safe. And we work together to do it."

"I am not accustomed to working together," said Rita. "In the jungle..."

Anica raised her eyebrows. "Are you saying you've never needed assistance?"

"From--?" Rita cut off abruptly, blinked several times in rapid succession, and then said: "No. I am not saying that. And I have fought alongside others... once. Forgive me. I see the need, but I need time to adapt to the idea. And I suspect we will need to practice hunting together before was can assist each other to best effect."

"That's what I was hoping for," said Aesa. "We know you're stronger than any of us. But you're still safer, the children are safer, all of us are safer if we're all fighting together."

"I see it, Chosen of Amun. I hear Grandfather's wisdom in your words."

"Then perhaps we should rest for now," suggested Werendril. Tarric, who was casually leaning back against him, nodded agreement. "This is not easy, and I think we all need a bit of time to... adapt."

Rita considered, then nodded. 

"Then if you'll come with me," Aesa said, and rose to her feet, "I'll take you to a place where you can rest."

"My children..." 

"The nursery has them in a room with my daughter and Anica's son, and no others."

Rita frowned. "Do they have claws? Scales?"

Aesa shook her head. "No, but one of the lesser mages apparently figured out a way to drop some magical protection on them. I think they'll be safe with each other."

"Let us look in on them first," said Rita, "and if all is well, then yes: I shall rest."

Monday, May 22, 2023

Caristhium: The Golden Children, Part Two

Tarric found them before Aesa could find Anica. 

"Is everything well?" he asked, hurrying over. His eyes were on Aesa, so it took him a moment to process that the woman with her was a true elf, and unfamiliar; it took him another moment after that to realize that the children who accompanied them were covered in golden scales. "More half-dragons?" he asked, glancing at Rita. 

She simply tilted her head slightly, studying him. 

"Yes," said Aesa. "Ruin's, apparently."

Tarric frowned. "Ruin's? But how could Ruin make--" He froze for a moment as he put it together, then glanced at Rita and swallowed. "Ah. You are welcome among us, soror semideum." 

Rita winced. "You have the worst accent imaginable, but I thank you."

"My apologies," Tarric said, as Aesa tried not to grin. "I'm out of practice, and I was never a good student to begin with."

He turned, knelt, and regarded the half-dragon toddler Scar. "Hello, young one. It's good to meet you."

Scar promptly bit him. Fortunately, he was still in armor and the new-formed teeth merely scraped across the metal of his bracer. "Fearsome," Tarric said, keeping his face and tone entirely serious. "It'll be a pleasure to teach you weapons."

"Will you?" asked Rita. "Teach them weapons?"

Tarric glanced at Aesa and nodded. "Everything I can," he said. 

"Frater ignis," Rita said. "Let us proceed."

Friday, May 19, 2023

Dark Armor: Nightfall and Smoke

The small retiring hall served a variety of purposes; padded chairs and small tables were placed beside the walls, and a love seat was positioned near the fireplace at the back. Amedin was already there, tracing a line of ash across the floor as he described a particular design. "Stand there," he directed absently. "Not the central circle, but the wave-edged triangle beside it. Disturb nothing."

Pallian didn't bother to nod, and crossed the half-finished design carefully to stand in his appointed place. He waited patiently, shifting his weight in small movements to keep his joints and muscles from growing tired and his mind from wandering.

The half-dead finished the design, nodded decisively, and rose smoothly to his withered feet. He turned to Pallian, and said: "I'll need your blood." 

Pallian nodded, drew his dagger, and made a small slice along his fingertip. He squeezed the finger as Amedan extended one desiccated hand, fingers cupped, and let the blood fall. 

"Good," said the half-dead. "Now spit." He nodded towards the same hand, so Pallian spat into the half-dead's palm. He shifted his own grip to apply pressure to his wounded finger, and felt the faint itching that suggested the cut was closing already. 

"Yes, that should serve..." The half-dead priest turned away, stepping out of the design and crossing to one of the small tables, where a small bag sat with its mouth open. He reached inside, pulling out three small censers of delicately-hammered bronze, and spilled a bit of the mixed blood and spittle into each of them. Returning to the design, he placed them carefully, then lit them with a muttered word and a snap of his fingers. Wisps of incense-smoke began to curl upward immediately, wandering towards the obsidian ceiling. 

Pallian watched as the half-dead crossed to his bag again, and returned with nothing more complicated than a handful of dried leaves. He placed those in the central circle, then paused, watching as the narrow streams of incense rose and began to gather into a faint cloud. After a moment, he stepped forward again, dipping a hand into the small pouch of ash he carried. He touched his fingertip to Pallian's forehead, and Pallian once again held himself still against the urge to flinch away. Four quick movements sketched some particular design, and then the half-dead stepped back, taking himself out of the design on the floor. 

He spoke the same word and snapped his fingers, and the leaves caught fire as well, pouring a great cloud of smoke towards the ceiling. "When I tell you," said Amedin, "Speak these words." Safely outside of the place of the initiation, he spoke. 

For a moment, Pallian's mind refused to process. Then he recognized the language, and caught the meaning: 

Smoke borne at the speed of wind
Smoke become one with me
I become the smoke
Smoke carry me

The last of the leaves crumbled into ash, and Amedin nodded. 

Pallian spoke the words. 

For a moment, impossibly, the smoke slowed in its currents of movement. Standing there, just beside the center, Pallian could feel the moment when something came to invest it. Then he inhaled, and the smoke rushed into him. 

It should have choked his lungs, so much smoke at once, but instead it continued on, spreading out through his limbs, filling him and settling into place. For a moment, he could see how to direct it, and he did so immediately. He needed to lock that knowledge into place before it faded. 

For a heartbeat, the world turned a hazy gray and the sound of rushing wind filled his ears. Then he was standing behind Amedin, faint swirls of smoke dissipating around him. His clothing was still in place; better still, his weapons were as well. 

He tried it again, taking himself back to the place beside the three bronze censers, where everything  -- all the smoke, and even the ash that had formed the design on the floor -- was gone. He stopped there, trembling and suddenly weak. That was all the initiation was good for just yet: two short jumps, and it would have been better and safer to stop himself at one. Still, even newly implanted and as far as possible from its eventual strength, it would serve. 

"Success," said Amedin, sounding deeply satisfied. 

"Success," Pallian acknowledged, forcing himself to breathe slowly and hide his sudden exhaustion. His other initiations were already working to restore him, and he now had his first initiation that was more than a simple physical enhancement. For a brief moment, he allowed himself to be pleased. "Will I see you at the greeting?" 

Amedin shook his head. "The Wizard-King wishes me to attend to the security of the libraries. If you wish further counsel, we can meet later."

Pallian did not, under any circumstances, wish for the half-dead's counsel; but it was important, on several levels, to be seen to seek it. So he nodded and said, "I will set aside time for that when I can."

"Until then," said Amedin, and turned to gather his bag. 

Pallian took that as his cue to depart. He would be expected in the throne room before too much longer, and he did not intend to be anything other than punctual.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Good!Party: Back into Fanaxia

We return to the remaining group: Martini, the elf assassin; Eva, the gold dragon; and Geddy Lee Geddy the bard.

But first, we take a minute to remember Fanaxia. We had a magic mirror that let us view the past where it involved the dark one. We got a couple of glimpses of her early childhood, and then the moment when the Archmagister Prospero first invited her to study at the castle Fanax. She refused to go, not wanting to leave her mothers or her best friend, Vecna Orlok. So, we went to view her parents’ house. 

The little girl was the pride of the Von Styne clan. There was danger, but she and her parents would have guards. Then the Night of A Thousand Fangs came, and her parents were murdered. The guards fled with the girl, to a tavern. It burned down later, but we went and looked anyway. There was a basement or something under the inn; we made our way inside and found an underground passage. At the end was an ancient bunker full of coffins. There is, however, one room with a bed. The mirror: vampires attempt to console her. The Dark One, cursing and pacing and utterly disappointed with the King’s failure to hit the Wallingtons with more than a token punishment. This is why she betrayed the king; this is why she founded the worship of Urgroth. She had vowed to subjugate the Wallingtons… who eventually wound up as her worshipers. Martini was very impressed with her initiative. 


The next vision shows one of her vampire protectors apologizing that they must leave if she agrees, but Vecna’s dad – Count Orlok – is willing to adopt her. She broke ties with the vampire clans at that point. But clearly she re-established contact later. Kroni, however, was a Dashcov, not a Von Styne – which isn’t the clan that was originally protecting her. 

So apparently at some point at some point Vecna and Kroni joined the vampires, probably under assumed names. We broke into Count Orlok’s castle, found the boy Vecna’s old rooms, and set up the mirror: this vision showed Vecna, sick in bed with his nurse.Then there were alarms and screams about fire, and the nurse left. A moment later a mist flowed into the room, materialized into a man – Kroni – and drained him. Ruin tries out in the garden, and we get glimpses of the Dark One here and there. She had a hidden cave, that had once been used as a campsite. The visions here are extensive and illuminating: this is where the Dark One met Kroni, who was then a refugee of the Dashcov clan. She kept the relationship secret, and over time began to experiment on Kroni, who was perfectly willing to go along with it. Her powers grew. Then in the midst of a great thunderstorm, the Dark One came to Kroni, crying over Vecna’s illness and impending death. She asks Kroni to save him. She’s twelve at this point, but she starts laying out orders and explains the plan. It was soon after this that she went to the castle to study under the Archmage Prospero. 

Ruin, Martini, and Azrael found all this. Azrael, at the time, pointed out that her true name holds power over her; that’s why she’s essentially erased it. Most likely, she took somebody else’s name – Vecna’s. And the boy who was once Vecna might be the only one who still knows her name. We did eventually find the boy, but not his soul; his soul must exist somewhere else. 

So this is the knowledge we have as we approach Ezra Cardon at the appointed time, on the edge of the lake, in the fucking rain. 

(JESUS CHRIST SEND THE DRUNK DM THE PLAN FOR THE NEXT FEW SESSIONS. Murder Lamont, Murder Bouvier - both ideally in surgical strikes, with Vendril getting the Bouvier Crew into Wellfort.

ALSO NOTE: GOZARTD THE DRUNK DM resents that. Yes, he is demanding that I add that to the notes.)

So Geddy, Eva, and Martini head to Lago Gota, where a man in tattered robes leans on his walking stick and waits for them, lightning flashing dramatically behind him as the rain pours down. “Do you have the crown?” 

We do.

“The gem in the crown! That is the Heart of Vecna. You must find the child formerly known a Vecna. With the crown, I can send you back in time to Fanaxia, to rediscover the True Name of the Dark One!”

Eva: “Gods this guy is an asshole.”

Geddy: “Guys, I think I’m kind of done with this whole time travel thing.”

Eva pulls out the crown and Ezra sends us to the City of Fanax just outside the castle. There are fireworks blasting into the sky. It’s an evening of great celebration; King Baldric is throwing a spring ball. 

Eva will be a merchant, the Lady Quixote. Martini is Mistress Balaam, who is quite upset with the merchant for trying to steal away her diplomatic and quite handsome pirate husband Imperius Rax. 


Eva and Martini: “No. No we are not.”

Next plan: Geddy will be Lord Lando, Martini will be Lady Leia, wife of Han Cholo, and Eva will be Han Cholo, bodyguard of Lord Lando. 

Or maybe it’s Geddy will be Lando the bodyguard, and Martini and Eva will be Lady and Lady Cholo. 

The Dashcov’s and the Von Stynes were the vampire clans; the Wallingtons and the LaSonts were the werewolf clans. Elaine and Gloria were the parents of the dark one; Count Orlok was the adoptive father. 

We approach the castle, and a steward asks who we are; we motion for “Lando” to introduce us. Geddy explains that we come from Solo, an obscure holding northeast of Styre. 

Turns out the king is most welcoming of his northern allies. We stroll into the castle, casually mentioning to the Magiknights that they’re all going to get slaughtered. We recognize some the groups – the big guys with the beards are werewolves, for instance. Geddy is somewhat distracted; his memories are pulling him in various different directions. 


Small groups have gathered around a couple of wizards. There’s also an older man who has a bunch of people around bowing very officially and offering greetings. Then there’s a couple over in the corner, looking slightly intimidated but gracious; another old man who has that I-don’t-give-a-fuck air about him is surveying the room. There’s also the really large, muscular guy over in the corner sipping wine. There’s a tall man with pale skin on one corner who’s just kind of controlling the people around him. There’s also a smaller man with a young boy staying next to him. 

So the ladies Han, with their loyal manservant and bodyguard,  head over towards the hot lesbian parents. Martini: “Oh my dearest Elayne and Gloria, we met at that one event…” The dark one’s mothers look a bit deer-in-the-headlights, but Dmitri Von Styne swoops in and introduces himself. Martini immediately sets to flattering him. 

He says that surely we know his tailor….?

“But we so seldom get to Vrist,” Eva chimes in. 

There’s some discussion of the Archmagister Prospero planning to apprentice the girl, and for reasons none of our characters understand he really doesn’t want anybody to know her name. It turns out that she’s back in Vrist because Vecna Orlok is summering in the school. 

We head for the older guy with the boy beside him, and he’s a broad-shouldered guy with pale skin. He’s Alexandra Daschcov, and this is his son… Kroni. Kroni, who eventually became a dark demigod; Kroni, whom we killed to free Sacha from his evil influence.

The trumpets sound, and the herald announces a martial demonstration. Young Kroni tenses. He and Fenric Wallington shall entertain the room with their skill at arms. Fenric goes into his half-wolf form, and pulls out his arm-blades. Kroni is too fast for him, though, even though he can't possibly be a vampire yet. He’s just really, really good. Eventually Fenric gets frustrated: “Arrogant blood-drinkers! You won’t last the year, I swear it.” But Kroni has clearly won, and Fenric is very upset; Fenric’s dad pulls him aside and give him a stern talking-to, probably because he's making threats that will reveal their plans.

Geddy notices that Fenric almost certainly said more than he should have. Kroni is just hanging out with his dad, Alexandra. His attention doesn’t seem to be anywhere in particular, except for the folks who are congratulating him on his victory. A Soothsayer proclaims that dark times are coming to Fanaxia. A time of breaking is coming, when three dark gods who are but two will bring ruin and destruction to our land. The nobles are too blind to see it, and the king will allow it to happen but punish the gods who did it. 

The king orders him arrested, and the magiknights drag him off. The Ladies Han go to talk to Prospero, who was very impressed with the Dark One but can't remember her name. Behind him, his apprentice rolls his eyes and claps his forehead. Geddy sidles over and talks to Victor, Prospero’s apprentice; he thinks the dark one is too young for that kind of power, and they should slow her down and have her come to the capital in a few years. 

The trumpets sound again, and a group of knight march forward and kneel before the king. “Come forth, Thybalt of the Magiknights. Rygar, Barnabus," and the others who were old when we were in Fanaxia later on.

Thybalt has just been knighted as the new head of the Magiknights, to thunderous applause. 

We circulate a bit more. Gerwulf Wallington, and some LaSonts, and the other werewolf clan. Boris LaMorgan was the big werewolf we fought; Martini giggles. Gerwulf is reminding the king that they’re the major economic powerhouse in the region, and they want to be reassured that they have his support. The King and Prospero agree that they have long been allies, and with the expansion of the Magiknights they will need quality supplies. 

“Oh,” says Martini, and walks away. 

We go check out the heavily built guy in the corner, who’s clearly a jock in the company of nobles. Martini: “How do you feel about threesomes?” 

He’s in favor of them. His name is Rin Stonehammer. 

Rita considers this for like a half a second, but she’s in. This guy is just… a classic himbo. And if we have to go to Vrist… yeah, definitely a diversion first. Lord Lando, meanwhile, has made his way over to Count Orlok, and that old guy is bitter about the werewolves and the vampires having all this power. The King is playing along with this. 

King Merric doesn’t seem to be under any particular magical influence, he’s just trying to balance a lot of very fractious and powerful political factions. Geddy starts trying to spread Alex Jones-style conspiracy theories. “Oh yes, everybody always forgets about Clan Kwalish.”

Geddy: “Did I hear that you have a son?” 

“A great disappointment to me,” says Count Orlok. “He’s a soft boy. I hope that the magic school will serve him. I would put him in a military academy, but I fear he lacks the constitution for it. He’s always cheating off that Khaledi bitch…” 

So Rin Stonehammer has just finished a big commission up in Vrist, but he doesn’t know the Dark One’s name either. Martini and Eva draw him away from the party, and they go off to find a bed, preferably one with a lot of room.


So it’s only Geddy who’s there when the Alexander Dashcov attempts to introduce Rin Stonehammer, and presents that young blacksmith's arms and armor to the king. 


Rin, meanwhile, is in our hotel room, getting his world rocked. Afterwards, he tells us about how much trouble this Khaledi girl has been. Apparently his forge is right next to the school of magic. And even though she nearly destroyed the forge, Dmitri won’t hear about it. And Vecna Orlok is doing summer school up there, so the Khaledi girl has stayed and keeps distracting him. He also mentions a cave that they might be sneaking out to, but he hopes not because it’s dangerous. 

We return to the party, and Dmitri comes to ask us why we’re here asking so many questions. 

Dmitri: “I understand that you’re not properly part of the aristocracy, but you must understand that economics will win the day.” He starts explaining how having higher-quality weapons will drive the Wallingtons out of business. 

Martini: “That’s true… unless the werewolves threatened you directly and you stupidly ignore it, and then they murder you all. Which actually just happened.” 

She walks away, and Dmitri does too. 

Walter Crow shows up as we’re leaving, with a petition requesting permission to drive out the half-beasts -- the centaurs -- and reclaim the lands for the king’s benefit. Martini grins, because we kill him later. Still, King Merric is not what you'd consider an upstanding individual, even by the standards of politicians. 


We'll head for Vrist next, because clearly the only way we can get the true name of the Dark One is to ask the young man who is still, for the moment, Vecna Orlok, directly.