Aria

Last journal of Jara the Eridian

Erid, the golden city, has fallen to the golam hordes. Through treachery and guile they breached our walls, and have moved house to house, slaughtering all they find within. As far as I know, only those of us who escaped the initial bloodbath and sought shelter at the door of Janu’Kovir yet live.. The sacred shield admitted those of the blood who offered the pious greeting, “Il eliyah El a Istha a mardu samiir, yori e abeywah.” (By the grace of El, Istha and the divines, a friend approaches.) And yet holds the enemy at bay.

3rd day: They have tried and failed to breach the barrier many times. Their blood prevents them from entering this holy place. But we cannot leave. Few of us have arms, and a horde awaits us just beyond the shield. We shall pray to the gods for deliverance, and place our trust in our patience. They will soon give up and leave.

7th day: The sky is gone. The earth has arisen and swallowed the city. A great and terrible magic has been wrought, and the sky is gone, buried beneath and untold amount of earth. Only the strength of our bulwarks and the shield of our faith yet preserve us. The only exit we can see is the through the market to the east. but we have been bottled in, and the enemy have kept it well-guarded.

8th day: Alaha (Blessed is He/Sighted of the Gods) Janu’Kovir has not returned. We fear he is dead. Unless he or another sage of sufficient wisdom returns, we cannot enter his door. It is closed to us. Thus we find ourselves stuck between the swords of our enemy, and the equally unforgiving walls and security of our esteemed friend and savior.

11th day: There are no warriors among us now. Bhata, Sura, and Yudvahn attacked the enemy in the dark of night, for the guard is lightest in the early morning. But the attack failed. The golam, though slaughtered. were able to call for reinforcements, and now Pavana blood cools on the ground in the market entry, the glittering tiles mere stone now. The golam have learned not only to kill us, but also to destroy our works. Their cruelty and malice is without end, and I weep for the world we have left to them.

12th day: We are trapped. The enemy gave up and left. However, first they destroyed the columns preserving the entry to the market against the weight of unknown earth. Buried three of their own in the process. One survived, for a time, and mewled piteously, until the unfortunate wretch suffocated and was overcome. But it appears the enemy has left. All is silent, save for our prayers.

14th day: We have cautiously probed the entrance to our prison. The rubble is not difficult to dig but more stone and dirt ever takes its place as we dig, and more expeditious measures only created another collapse. But we hold on to hope.

21st day: A few days ago, we concluded that there is no hope of digging ourselves out from the way we came. But perhaps if we could pass through the house of Janu’Kovir, we might find another way out. Among our number is Vayati, an apprentice Paeshweaver. He has worked on many projects Mal’achemiir (for the glory of all that is good), and is resourceful. He must find a way to deactivate Alaha Janu’Kovir’s securityworks.

23rd day: Vayati worked with grace and care, but it was not enough. Something went wrong, and he and his 4 assistants could not even escape. Amid their cries of shock, and screams of terror and agony, the door of Janu’Kovir has again closed to us.

47th day: I awoke to screams. It seems Durbhala and Laghu gave into despair. While the rest of us slept, they slit the throats of the younglings under their care, and then turned their knives upon themselves. We are now down to three. I counsel them to not give up, though in truth it seems the gods have forsaken us. Perhaps our prayers are useless. Perhaps without an Alaha’durai (Blessed Sage/Sighted One of the Gods), the gods cannot hear our cries. All we can do is wait,

167th day: Even with just the 3 of us and rationing, supplies are dangerously low. Perhaps because of this Balaka took Laghu’s knife. He did not rise with us this morning. May Ishta take him and keep him, for he was yet young and new to this world. It should not have been his time, but his sacrifice has given us a few more days.

183rd day: Between the two of us, there is only food for a few more days. We are already beginning to starve, I can feel it. There’s nothing for it, we must escape or we will die.

185th day: This shall be my last entry. Rogi and I attempted to dig our way out to the market. We are gaunt now and only needed enough space to crawl, carefully shifting rocks aside, praying that the earth held. We could feel outside air, tantalizing, tempting, just out of reach. But the earth shifted. Rogi cried out in surprise. It was the last thing he did. I think his head was crushed. I almost escaped, hah, escape where? Back into my tomb. Almost. my legs are pinned and crushed. I don’t have the strength to free them. I can feel my blood leaving, sluggish and thick. Soon the cold will overcome me. May Istha take and keep me. My final surprise. I thought my death would be different. I expected to feel angry, terrified, cursing the enemy, cursing those whose failings have brought me low. I expected… …to feel.

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Exercise in Mrissan Morphology!

Based on the snippet of Mrissan data below try to answer the following questions.

notes
’ – glottal stop, like the T’s in a British pronunciation of “butter,” or the clenching in the middle of between the two halves of “uh-oh” or “uh-uh”
double vowels represent long vowels.

Data:

azaa’ta – large man
akyatal – grassy sea (steppe)
akyazi – grassy plateau
a’taharika – old/great man
kukadin – little woman
ilikzi – warm plateau
kushaman – birds
siirkush – songbird
uzaiyunesh – cool flame (a name)
kusiira’ta – little singing man
sesharika – old/great sound (language)
iliksiir – warm song (a name)
azakush – large bird
a’taaman – men
ilikyunesh – warm flame

What are the morphemes in this language for the following English words?
grass –
plateau –
cool –
old –
small –
man –
woman –
bird -

Translate the following into English:

ilikyuneshharika (this language’s word for the sun) -

Translate the following from English:

large old grass woman (shamanic deity name)-

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Aarta Arc Part 2
Aarmies in Aarta

So, Phaedra was gone.

Frankly, Gillam had been waiting for the day when she would flounce off and leave her duty. The timing was odd though, but then again she had been acting odd on the journey to Aarta. She had been strangely reserved, hardly talking at all, and would wander off when they made camp.

He didn’t say a word. Erol was clearly deeply concerned and racing through the streets with an uncanny certainty for where he was going. Even though Erol regularly paused to wait for him, Gillam struggled to keep up in his armor.

He followed Erol into an alley by the docks and found the Mrissan staring at a distinct gash in the piled-up ropes.
“She’s gone,” Erol said again.
Gillam didn’t have time to think of something to say before another two men entered the alleyway. Erol’s eyes grew wide in surprise.

They soon found themselves walking through endless halls and corridors in the labyrinth that was the Academy. Ahead of him, Erol and the Rabhanastrian called Hakeem talked of research and magical this-and-that. Gillam gazed around disinterestedly at the bookshelves, charts and paintings that were placed anywhere there was a space. Outside the expansive windows, the Academy’s courtyards the bustling with refugees from the hinterlands seeking refuge within the walls.

Hakeem took them to his apartment and sat them down to a cup of tea at his desk. His room was a landfill of books and artefacts. While Erol explained their story, Gillam surely dozed off a little. He must have because he dreamed of floating sugar cubes dropping into their teas.

There were no quarters left available but the professor, or whatever he was, gave them a lecture hall to stay in, adding that Kushlu and the others had already been escorted there. They rested there for the night, though they sent Wendika off to slip out of the city and attempt to locate Phaedra, wherever she may have gone to.

A young soldier came the next day to escort Gillam and Erol to meet with Commander Claitus and the other Aartanian generals. Taking Kushlu and Mahala with them they were brought up a turret atop which sat one of the massive ballista.

The commanders gave a show of the ballista’s power and reach. Claitus pointed out a small bushy hillock so distant they needed an eyeglass to see it properly. The ballista fired a rock high into the air and hit it with such precision that Gillam made a mental note of never attempting to invade Aarta. The commanders also assured them that, with Aarta holding the bay, there was no fear of starvation through siege. “We shall wait for the Dalyrians to give up,” Claitus chuckled. It wasn’t that funny.

He then personally took them back to the Academy and deep within to the Dicemvirate – the council of ten eggheads who ran Aarta. They entered a rather unassuming room furnished solely by a round table. The members of the Dicemvirate gazed at them with knowing eyes that made Gillam rather uncomfortable. Among them was Hakeem. He was the only one who smiled warmly and assured them they would answer any questions.

So they asked about how the war started. They admitted Aarta did shoot first but only because of a letter they had received. It read:

“To my esteemed colleagues in the Decemvirate,

On behalf of Dalyria, and the council of lords, whom I represent, we are sincerely disturbed by the lack of cooperation that has been expressed in our most reasonable requests of late. Given the long-standing brotherhood between our great nations, we are, disappointed. Yet the situation has not changed. We require cooperation to defeat a common foe. Surely you can understand this. At this juncture, we respectfully demand that full access be given to the Harbor in Aarta, to assist in resupply and strategic importance in our campaign against the traitorous Phyrans. We will be most disappointed if this request is ignored. I expect you answer by tomorrow at midday.

Lord Spiros, Representative Dalyrian Council of Nobles.”

“Their fleet arrived the next morning and their land army had already amassed on the border by the eleventh,” one of the council added. It was clearly well-orchestrated.

By the end of the meeting the Aartanians had requested arms, intelligence and such from Aaren.

As they walked from the council chamber, Gillam was insistent that they return to Aaren. Erol, though, Erol wished to spend some time tracking down Phaedra. But then their discussion was interrupted by a boy called Bjorn, a Lugardian in service to the Dicemvirate. He was eager to accompany them as a representative should they return.

And so, the next morning, Kushlu spoke to the naval commander and blagged them a fishing boat down to the southern end of the Aartanian coast. With Bjorn in tow they disembarked at a lonely beach and started their trek across the unmapped farms and woods.

One night on their journey back, they were woken by voices. Erol tracked Marian men heading to a farmstead. They followed only to see the band of five kill the old man on his doorstep and take his daughter inside. With Mahala’s stealthy aid, they killed the rapists, and then dumped their bodies, gave the farmer a proper burial and took the girl to her uncle’s place the next day.

Another night had them dealing with thieving yokels but they eventually returned to the border pass unscathed.

Dhonyl was there, keeping the refugee camp in order. He was surprised they had returned so soon but was glad of it – the refugee situation was growing out of control and the Dalyrian envoys were increasingly snappy at being kept waiting. They gave their report and presented Bjorn who gave him the Aartanians side of the story.

They had not been there long before troubled erupted once again. During the night, Liri, the freedom fighter whom Phaedra had befriended, had been caught sneaking around the Dalyrian envoy’s tent and the man was found to be dead the next morning. While she was cleared of guilt – the man had ‘heart attack’ written across his fat belly – there was no doubt of the guilt of the Dalyrians when Bjorn suddenly started choking on his breakfast. The boy lived, but the Dalyrian men very quickly went from guests to prisoners.

That morning also brought news from Dalyria itself, of a great fire that had rage through the docks leaving behind what was colloquially described as a big “black turd”.

There was clearly something wrong with Dalyria and something had to be done, now. For Gillam, there was only one course of action: invade and liberate. It didn’t take long for Lord Dhonyl to agree and within a day Gillam found himself at the lead of the small Aaren army marching into Aartanian lands. (It was a big job, but he knew he was up to the task…)

They marched on to Karpathia with speed, shocking the Dalyrian roadblocks into quick surrender. In a few days they were on Karpathia and wasted no time waiting to attack the occupying army.

Flanking on three sides, they squeezed the enemy back in the town. As their ranks dwindled, Erol finished the battle for good by blowing their commander’s head clean off his shoulder with a perfect arrow. When the Dalyrians noticed his sudden lack of presence, they soon routed.

It took short time to round up the stragglers and the others encamped around the town. They were thanked graciously by the town leaders and asked to stay and protect them. However, they had to keep moving and the next day they were on the march again in spite of a few hangovers and drizzly weather dampening the ground and the soldier’s spirits. As the march slowed, Erol broke from the column and ran ahead to Aarta with to inform the commanders of their approach.

A couple of days later, they were able to see Aarta, and came across a Dalyrian camp just out of ballista range. The large camp was manned by about a quarter of the men, though, and they soon scattered at the sight of the approaching force. They raised their banners then, to show Aarta their arrival; on the assumption that Erol had managed to deliver the message ahead of them.

As it turned out, Erol’s journey had been perilous. He had narrowly avoided being found by a band of Dalyrians at a watering hole by diving into the cold pool and holding his breath. Other misadventures with bears and such had left him miserable and suffering a bad cold.

Even so, support came from Aarta and the combined force flanked a Dalyrian army approaching up the coast, before turning around to pick off the encampments that surrounded Aarta one-by-one.

However, when they considered the task ahead of them, it was agreed to offer a parley. So the next day a tent was erected in an open area some 100 paces out of ballista range. Gillam and Erol joined Dhonyl in representing Aaren in support of Aarta, who had Commander Claitus and half of the Dicemvirate including Hakeem.

Finally, they got to meet Lord Spiros of Dalyria – a lean, snakelike man. On either side of him were two heavy-browed generals who said little.

And behind them, looking sheepish beside some priest, was the Marian rogue herself. Her eyes widened and a smile grew flashed her face when she saw them. Gillam realized he was scowling at her, but Erol was keeping a straight face and they kept up the act of not knowing one another for now.

The boasting and bickering went on for some hours. There seemed to be no resolution in sight. Voices grew in anger, and accusations flew.

And then, Lord Spiros stood, spread his arms, and implored them all for calm.
“Let us take a second, and calm down. Yes, be calm; we’re all friends here…” His voice was oddly soothing and Gillam felt it seep like honey in his ears as he repeated his sonorous words.

It was only when Erol whispered to him “What’s going on?” that Gillam snapped out of it and looked around the tent. All the others were slouching in their seats; even Kushlu’s body was slackening as she said, “He has a good point”.

Erol tapped Hakeem and Dhonyl on the shoulder. The Rabhanastrian immediately sat upright and quickly realized that something was wrong. He asked for a break, but Spiros answered, “I don’t think we should do that.”
Immediately, Dhonyl and the other resting participants repeated his words.

Claitus, who thankfully seemed to be himself, went to take Dhonyl by the arm, but the Lord of Aaren cried out, “Don’t you touch me!” and drew his sword.

Erol didn’t wait a moment longer and sent a flurry of arrows at Spiros’ face. He blocked them with his arms and ordered his general to deal with the archer. The man’s eyes reddened and skin blistered as he turned.

Gillam knew that he had to protect his lord and went to grab Dhonyl, even as he flailed wildly with his sword. As he held Dhonyl tight, he saw Phaedra approach Spiros and shout, “I killed your wife.” Spiros simply nodded with a look of amusement and barked an order to his man, Bessian.

Even among the confusion, it was hard to miss a man seemed to burst out of his own human skin and take the form of a great hulking ogre, tearing through the roof of the tent.

The other general went at Erol, but Claitus took him on while Erol continued his stream of arrows at Spiros. Bessian picked up Phaedra and began squeezing and shaking her and booming, “Submit”, as Wendika (he, too, reappeared at some point) struck blows at his side to minimal effect.

Gillam was desperate to get Dhonyl away, but the lord would not stop struggling. Finally, Gillam slapped him. It worked. Though this wasn’t a complete blessing. Dhonyl rose his hand to his cheek. “Did you just slap me?” Gillam had no time for it, pointing out the chaos behind them, before hurrying over to Vaprus and getting his lord mounted.

They heard a shout and an explosion that was familiar to Gillam. When he looked back, he saw Claitus in flames and no more general. Beyond the fire, Spiros was bloating up like the other demons before, and slaying men here and there with a spear.

Dhonyl fled, and Hakeem followed, just as Bessian roared in pain, and Phaedra arced from his grip with a broken sword glistening. Claitus rolled to the ground to pat out the fire but suddenly he was in the air, dangling from a barbed line. It was Spiros’ tongue, and it flung Claitus like a doll at Erol. The archer dodge but the commander was dead.

Spiros ordered Bessian on another charge, but the brute missed his target and kept on going… and going. This left them just the demon lord to finish and he was eventually brought down in a burst of fire.

The Dalyrian forces quickly withdrew after that and went back to their continuing petty civil war with Phyra. With Aarta saved, the Dicemvirate gave over a parcel of land to House Sandemar, and offered Gillam, Erol and Phaedra any reward of their choosing. Gillam simply took some greenhorns to join his academy. Erol asked for another paesh stone, which eventually one of the councilmen grudgingly gave him. But Phaedra shocked all of the Aaren contingent by requesting that a monetary offering be made to the Temple of the Steward. Whatever happened while she was abroad had clear addled her brain.

But really, it was good to see her back safe and sound. Gillam kept that thought to himself.

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Phaedra in Dalyria

Day 1
-Phaedra stepped through the portal onto what she recognized as the docks on the southern edge of Dalyria. She was alone except for an incredibly surprised and also very drunk homeless man. She promptly knocked him out with the hilt of her dueling sword. Having immediately regretted her decision to travel through the tear, Phaedra drew the dagger again and attempted to open a portal back to Aarta. While she succeeded in creating the tear, to her alarm it opened not onto the city streets, but into a raging inferno from which a steady stream of lava began to flow. Phaedra’s boots caught fire and she quickly turned and dove into the water, leaving the unconscious man to his fiery death. When she emerged from the water she could hear shouts of alarm beginning to ring out from the docks and, although her view of the flames was obscured, she could see great pillars of smoke begin to billow into the air as nearby warehouses caught flame.

-Phaedra was lucky to avoid hypothermia in the frigid winter waters and managed to pull herself out of the sea a few hundred yards away from the fire. She trudged her way, freezing and in pain, to an inn on the eastern side of the city where she spent the night recovering before drifting into an uneasy sleep.

Day 2

- On her second day in Dalyria, Phaedra travelled around the northern edge of the city in an attempt to avoid the section devastated by fire. When she arrived in the market square she saw a large crowd milling around a dais upon which a number of important looking people addressed the crowd. Phaedra recognized her father among them, although he was standing near the back talking with a richly dressed man. Speaking was a woman who Phaedra learned was Lady Vasilika Spiros, whose husband was helping to lead the Dalyrian army against Aarta. Phaedra observed the unusual way the crowd seemed to respond to her words, almost swaying with the cadence of her speech. But something even more curious occurred after Phaedra sidled her way up to the front of the crowd. As Vasilika’s gaze swept over her audience, her eyes seemed to find and rest on Phaedra. An almost unperceivable shadow of uneasiness crossed her face, and for the rest of her speech, Phaedra got the distinct impression that Vasilika was deliberately avoiding her gaze.

- When Vasilika’s speech ended, the crowd slowly dispersed, but Vasilika stayed behind to meet any member of the public who seeking an audience. At once curious and suspicious, Phaedra fell into line and waited to meet with the Lady. Her father had left the square with the well-dressed man, so she was not concerned about being seen. Phaedra introduced herself as Valyria and inquired after the Lord Spiros and the health of the troops. She also learned that the mysterious fire on the docks the night before had claimed the lives of approximately thirty innocent Dalyrian citizens and had destroyed a number of homes in addition to empty warehouses. Phaedra used every ounce of self-control to hide the feelings of horror that stole through her heart at this news. Phaedra left the conversation distraught, although she had not been so distracted that she missed Vasilika’s apprehensiveness throughout their interaction – something that only added to Phaedra’s mounting suspicions.

- Deep in thought, Phaedra almost missed a familiar face stealing through the dwindling crowd just ahead of her. It was Laras, the member of the band of smugglers she had ditched the night she had first encountered Gillam and Erol in Lugard. The last time Phaedra had seen Laras, he’d been unconscious and tied to a tree after a making failed attempt on her life. As she passed him, Phaedra’s hand deftly slipped through the folds of Laras’ cloak and she felt her finger’s close around his wallet. However, at the same moment, she felt Laras’ hands pull her own wallet from her belt. He’d pickpocketed the pickpocket! A moment after both Phaedra and Laras realized what had happened, they stopped and turned to eachother. Apparently Laras had not recognized Phaedra as quickly as she had him, and when their eyes met she saw surprise blossom on his swarthy face. Apparently he had also remembered their last encounter because an instant later he turned on his heels and raced headlong through the crowd and disappeared into the tangle twisting alleys that made up the surrounding district.

-Not one to be outshone, Phaedra broke after Laras and, after some time, caught up with him. Laras had finally tripped and was dangling from a rooftop by his fingertips. Phaedra slipped a rough rope noose around his neck and demand that he answer all of her questions or else feel a “short drop and sudden stop.” When Laras wet himself, Phaedra was convinced that he was sufficiently scared. She pulled him back on the roof and proceeded to question him, not only about his reappearance in Dalyria, but also about the city’s state of affairs and the mysterious Lady Spiros. Phaedra then offered to help subsidize some of Laras’ significant debts if he would serve as her spy during the remainder of her time in Dalyria. Surprised yet again, Laras consented. They agreed to check in every other night at the inn Phaedra was staying at. Laras’ first task would be to gather information about Phaedra’s family and track Vasilika’s movements.

-After leaving Laras, Phaedra bought some new boots from a merchant he had recommended. Then she made her way south, bracing herself to witness the devastation her fire had wrought. The sight was horrific. A vast section of the docks had been reduced to smoldering rubble and relief teams were still attempting to administer aid to those who had survived while others prepared what remained of the dead for burial. Revulsion washed over her and she had to steady herself against a wall to keep from sinking to the ground. When her legs regained their strength, she found herself wandering away from the scene in the direction of a temple to the Steward that she knew was nearby.

-Upon entering the temple, Phaedra felt some of her uneasiness ebb. Seeing a number of burn victims being cared for and displaced families staying in the corners, she deposited a hefty amount of gold into a donation box near a statue of the Steward and sank into a pew. After a short time, a priest of the Steward found her and offered her some words of comfort before returning to his chores.

-When Phaedra eventually left the temple, night had fallen and she made her way back to the inn, feeling more weary than she could ever remember feeling before.

Day 3

-The next day Phaedra awoke with the goal of finding out as much about Vasilika as possible from the common people in order to determine what made her so popular. She returned to the market square and asked around for opinions about Lady Spiros and her husband. The majority thought very highly of her, believing that she genuinely cared about their problems. They appreciated that she took the time to meet individually with those who requested an audience with her. Phaedra encountered only a small number of detractors, and these people were more opposed to the war and Lord Spiros’ part in it than Lady Vasilika personally.

- Later that afternoon, as she was wandering around the western districts of the city, Phaedra got the uneasy feeling that someone was following her. She took a few side alleys in an attempt to shake her pursuer. However, as she stepped around a corner she found herself at a dead end. She when she turned around, slim man blocked her way. He grinned at her menacingly and drew a short sword. The assassin coated his sword with a thick, black, rancid smelling oil and moved to strike at Phaedra. The engagement was short lived. Phaedra narrowly avoided a few well-aimed thrusts before lodging her own sword firmly in the assassin’s gut. She searched his body and found a full wallet of gold and a letter addressed to Lord Markos.

- Phaedra returned to the temple of the Steward that evening on her way back to the inn and deposited another handful of gold in the donation box. She took a seat in a pew close to a large statue of the Steward and examined it closely. He was a kind-faced man dressed in simple clothes, and on his shoulder sat two ravens. As she sat, the same priest from the day before approached her and told her that the ravens’ names were Fis and Thyne. He explained, “The Steward is worshiped as guide. His wisdom and guidance is believed to help petitioners through tough times. During the war of heaven, he created two entities They are part servant, part avatar, of the Steward himself. Fis and Thyne are embodiment of true sight and memory, and were said to take the form of spectral ravens, or disembodied floating lights. There are stories of people in dire straits who where visited by these entities and led out of harm’s way. They are symbols of hope, and signs of the favor of the Steward.”

- That night in the inn she opened the letter that she had taken from the assassin. It read,
“My dear Lord Marcos,
It warms my hear to hear of the good tidings and recent successes you and your partner’s latest ventures have brought in. My husband will be pleased, and I shall pass this good news along to him. As for your next venture, may I suggest that I heard from a reliable source that Banythian Smokeleaf will get a hefty price in Rabhanast, and desert spices and dried figs would surely be a good addition to our business ventures here.
-VS”
Phaedra assumed the message must have been encoded. Later that night, Laras reported that he had seen a man identified as Lord Markos meeting with Phaedra’s father a number of times, and that they appeared to be business partners. Alarmed, Phaedra ordered Laras to shift his attention to Lord Markos, determine what his business was with Vasilika, and how they were connected to her father.

Day 4

-Her fourth day in the city was rather uneventful. After the assassination attempt yesterday, Phaedra decided she ought to spend some time laying low.
-When Laras returned to Phaedra that evening, he reported that Lord Markos had paid a visit to Vasilika that afternoon which appeared to have gone poorly, as Markos left looking angry. At this point, Phaedra made the decision that at last, it was time to meet with her father. Either Lord Markos or Vasilika (or both) had hired the assassin to take her out, and it was reasonable to assume that her father might also be in danger. Phaedra penned a short message to her father asking if he would meet her at the temple of the Steward the next day and entrusted it to Laras to deliver.

Day 5

-The next morning, Phaedra headed immediately to the temple of the Steward where she would be meeting with her father. She felt an almost overwhelming amount of anxiety around the meeting – she had not actually spoken with her father since she ran away from him years before – but she knew it was necessary. Vasilika was clearly more than she appeared to be and Phaedra understood the amount of danger her father would be in if he was not warned. The reunion was emotional. Phaedra’s father expressed how much he regretted his actions those years ago. From the moment she had left, Stefan had done everything he could think of to find her and make it right again, but to no avail. He explained to Phaedra how, he had partnered up with Lord Markos and together and business had boomed. Phaedra asked after her mother and sister, and Stefan explained that he had had them accompany a shipment of spices to Rabhanast and that the two seemed to be enjoying their time there. When Phaedra warned Stefan about Vasilika, he was initially disbelieving, but upon seeing the letter that the assassin had been carrying, Stefan agreed that maybe his trust in Vasilika and Markos had been misplaced. He told Phaedra that Vasilika was supposed to meet with a college of priests at the temple of the Warrior in the northwest side of town the next day, and that maybe she could get some more information then. Finally, just before the pair separated, Phaedra made Stefan promise not to tell anyone that he had seen her, even her mother and sister. Phaedra feared the worst would happen if Vasilika or Markos learned that they were connected. Stefan reluctantly agreed and embraced Phaedra, wishing her good luck.
-Phaedra exited the temple through a small back door and saw that a large number of people were making their way south along the docks and towards the burned district. Phaedra followed the crowd until she reached the perimeter of the wreckage. She saw Vasilika addressing a crowd of people who had gathered around the cooled river of lava. She assured those gathered that a full investigation would be launched to uncover the cause of the mysterious fire and that those responsible would be brought to justice. Just has before, her speech seemed to have a hypnotic effect over those gathered.
- Unsettled once again, Phaedra felt a strong desire to return to the temple and seek out the priest she had spoken with on her visits. She found him near the votive candles and expressed to him her concerns about Vasilika. The priest seemed unconcerned, but offered anoint her with blessed oil. After a short ceremony, the priest added that he would pray that Fis and Thyne grant Phaedra guidance in her time of trouble. Phaedra returned to the inn a short time later and dreamt of the ravens.

Day 6

-The temple of the Warrior was empty when Phaedra arrived there the next afternoon. She found the room where she assumed the priests would be meeting Vasilika and spotted a closet in a far corner that she could hide in without much trouble. After waiting a short time, Phaedra watched through a keyhole as a number of priests filed into the room. One of them was dressed in resplendent robes and gold jewelry, and Phaedra assumed that he must have been the high priest of the Warrior. Last to enter the room was Vasilika, who stopped before closing the door and sniffed the air. Her eyes flicked towards the closet where Phaedra was hiding.
-When everyone had taken their seats and the meeting began, Phaedra listened intently as the priests expressed to Vasilika their concerns that the war with Aarta was going against the will of the gods, and that she and her husband were leading Dalyria to disaster. They brought the fire on the docks forward as evidence of the gods’ displeasure. Vasilika dismissed the concerns of the priests insinuating that they were merely being superstitious and reminded them that an investigation was underway to identify the real cause of the fire. The argument became heated, however, when the priests threatened to publicly denounce the war if changes were not made.
-The conversation dragged on for quite some time and Phaedra’s body was beginning to ache from crouching the cramped closet. A bead of sweat drop trickled down past her eyebrow and fell into her right eye. She cursed silently as her eye burned and filled with tears, and when the pain finally subsided, Phaedra peered once again through the keyhole and had to stifle a scream. In the place Vasilika had been standing there was no woman, but a monster. The demon looked startlingly like Harald had in his true form when she, Gillam, and Erol had seen him in Kohlen. When she spoke, a long spiked tongue flitted through the air. Astounded, Phaedra saw that the priests did not appear to see what she now could.
-Phaedra burst out of the closet and drew her sword. She was greeted by shouts of alarm from the mouths of the priests, but upon seeing Phaedra, Vasilika dropped her façade. Her tongue flashed out of her mouth and nearly hit Phaedra who attempted to slash at it with her sword, which merely bounced off. She drew Vasilika out of the back room and into the temple proper. Vasilika lashed out her spiked tongue again and narrowly missed Phaedra’s face, but this time Phaedra, with a certain amount of luck, whipped her paesh dagger through the air, ripping open a small portal and severing several feet of Vasilika’s tongue. Vasilika let out a piercing scream and picked up the remains of her tongue, which she then transformed into a wicked black spiked whip. Phaedra managed to stab Vasilika with her dueling sword, but, just as it had with Harald, the attack caused little damage to Vasilika’s corpulent skin. Vasilika caught Phaedra with the spiked end of her whip and Phaedra felt pain explode through her body and fell to the floor. Vasilika reached out a hand to close around Phaedra’s throat, but the second her fingers made contact with Phaedra’s skin, a burst of light and electricity exploded and Vasilika was thrown back and landed on the ground. Phaedra ran forward and once again stabbed Vasilika, this time connecting with skin. Vasilika pushed Phaedra off of her with a cry and with inhuman strength seized a pew and threw it in Phaedra’s direction with all of her strength. Phaedra almost managed to dodge the pew, but the corner of it clipped her left arm with a resounding crack. Phaedra knew that her arm must be broken, but she felt completely numb. Tightening her grip on her dueling sword, she stabbed the demon clean through her gut. Phaedra saw the end of her dueling sword protrude from Vasilika’s back and for a flicker of an instant thought she had won, but with a roar that shook the walls of the temple, Vasilika seized another pew, lifted it over her head, and brought it down on Phaedra’s head. Phaedra’s vision exploded with white light and her body crumpled as she was crushed by the weight of the pew. She was vaguely aware of the sounds of shouting priests mingled with Vasilika’s own screams. She could feel the last remains of her strength fading away as pain lanced through her crushed limbs. She closed her eyes and almost conceded defeat, but then a vision of her father’s face once again passed through her mind. Phaedra’s eyes flicked open and she saw the underside of the pew and the sounds around her exploded into focus. She crawled out from under the pew, her breath coming in ragged gasps. Vasilika was doubled over clutching her gut. Phaedra’s vision wavered for a moment as she stood and picked up her sword, but with her last ounce of remaining strength, the duelist staggered over to the exposed demon, slipped behind it, and brought her sword down through the back of it’s skull.
-A blast of fire and hot air knocked Phaedra to the ground several yards away, where she lay, barely able to move. Vasilika’s body was engulfed in flames and a horrible voice was emanating from the blaze promising chaos and the downfall of Dalyria, just as Harald had. The fire went out and what remained of Lady Vasilika Spiros smoldered on the ground. Knowing that the immediate danger had now passed, the priests rushed forward to attend to her. As the chief priest bent down to get a better look at her, Phaedra caught a glimpse of her face reflected in a large gold pendant that hung from his neck. Her left eye looked as it always had, although a sizable bruise was blossoming underneath it, but her right eye was not its usual brown, but the color of burnished gold. With that, Phaedra’s body gave a shudder and her vision faded to black.

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Phaedra -- Aarta

Phaedra hadn’t slept well in days. Travelling through hostile territory had worn her down to the last nerve. The cold camps and Gillam’s awkwardness around Kushlu were hardly helping. She sat up in her bedroll with a scowl and cursed the empty air. By force of what was now habit, Phaedra leaned over and began to shuffle through her pack until her hand found the paesh handle of her dagger. Despite the chill of the night, the feel of stone under her fingertips sent tendrils of warmth up her arm and through the rest of her body. She drew the dagger from her pack and cradled it to her chest feeling the sense of warmth deepen.

Looking around the camp, she saw that most everyone had fallen asleep with the exception of a handful of Gillam’s men who were on watch. Deciding that sleep would simply not come to her as easy as to the others, Phaedra laced up her boots and walked to the far edge of camp with the dagger. She took a ready stance and slowly moved the dagger through a series well-practices offensive maneuvers, but as she twisted to administer the killing blow to her imaginary opponent, the dagger seemed to catch in the air. Curious, Phaedra allowed the dagger to slowly carve it’s own path through the open air and to a nearby tree stump. The dagger continued to entirely pass through the stump with only the slightest resistance and without leaving a mark.

She examined the stump with curiosity. Phaedra had witnessed hints of the dagger’s strange power before, but it had never lasted for more than a moment. Moving back to her original position, she once again brought the dagger through the offensive steps, this time carefully feeling for the invisible chink. She found it again without too much trouble, but instead of following it carefully as she did previously, Phaedra took a deep break and whipped the dagger through the stump.

For an instant, the forest was lit up as a burst of the brightest light pierced the night. Just as suddenly, the light disappeared. Phaedra rubbed her eyes to clear her vision and after moment she became aware that the stump appeared to have split, almost as though the dagger had cut through a seam. However, instead of exposed wood, the split had revealed a wall of solid stone. And from the edges of the seam rippled what appeared to be a frayed curtain of the blackest fabric imaginable.

Forgetting her wits for a moment, Phaedra reached out and touched the stone, although she was careful to avoid the billowing cloth. It felt just as it should, and she felt a twinge of disappointment. She moved to touch the black fabric with her hand, but something in her gut urged her to stop, so she drew her short sword and moved it towards the fabric. As a fold enveloped the end of her sword, Phaedra felt the weapon become significantly lighter. Alarmed, she sharply pulled back to free the sword from the fabric, only to realize that there was nothing to free. The end of the sword had simply disappeared. Excitement flooded through her. She had finally discovered the power of the mysterious blade.

Phaedra had only vaguely been aware of Erol rushing towards her shouting, “What do you think you’re doing?”

The edge in his voice was off putting – did he not understand how incredible this was? She shoved what remained of the short sword flat against his chest.

“Erol! Look at this,” she crowed loudly. Erol examined the end of the sword anxiously.

“Terrifying is more the word I would use.

Phaedra scowled. “Erol… I can cut to other places!”

Before Erol could lift a hand to stop her, Phaedra spun around and flashed the dagger once more through the air, and as she did so, an image of her Dalyrian homeland slipped through her mind. However, when the flash of light subsided and her eyes once again adjusted to the darkness, Phaedra’s breath caught in her chest. The cold air of the forest was now mingled with a warm breeze carrying the smell of salt water, for the image that Phaedra had seen for an instant in her mind’s eye had appeared in front of her. Beyond the rippling blackness she saw an untouched bed, a familiar tapestry, a writing desk strewn with loose bits of parchment and old books, just as she had left it.

My room… My. HOME!

As if possessed she reached a trembling hand through the rip. Stepping forward, Phaedra allowed her head and shoulders to follow, paying no heed to the blackness waving but an inch from her face. As if from a great distance she heard Erol yelling her name. She took another step and her knees buckled, and before she knew it, she was falling forward into the room. Moments before she hit the ground a hand grabbed hold of her shoulder from behind and attempted to drag her back.

In the last second before she was wrenched back into the forest, the face of a startled, middle aged man appeared in the doorway of the room. They made eye contact for an instant, and the rip sealed itself.

“DAD!” Phaedra let out a shriek that split the cold winter air before sinking to her knees in the hard snow. She was vaguely aware of Erol’s attempts to comfort her. She leaned her head into his shoulder and wept.

She slept fitfully for the last few hours before dawn and packed up her bedroll in a daze. All in a moment her life had been shattered. She found it impossible to erase the image of her father’s face from her mind. She had seen him_. She had smelled the Dalyrian sea breeze. She had been home_. A longing such as she had not experienced in years had taken a firm grasp of her heart last night, and it seemed that she would not easily shake it.

As they travelled that day, Phaedra’s feelings of sadness turned so those of anger.
_
Why are we helping those Aartanian bastards at all?_

Liri’s face flashed across her mind, but it was quickly replaced, once again, by the face of her father. Her father had once been a successful merchant. She had run away from her home to begin with because bad luck had jeopardized his livelihood and forced him to make an unfortunate deal, in which she would be married into a wealthier merchant family. And here, these gutless Aartanians had initiated a war by attempting to choke Dalyrian trade — and we’re helping them get away with it! If the Aartanians won the war it would not only devastate her family, but would be the violent end to the Dalyrian way of life. The thought of an Aartanian invasion of Dalryia made her feel nauseous.

For the remainder of the day’s travel, Phaedra kept herself in the rear of the group, making little eye contact and speaking even less. At one point they encountered a squad of Dalyrian foot soldiers and needed her assistance, but with a thoughtful bluff, the situation resolved itself fairly quickly and they were on their way again.

The party flew a white flag as they crossed the no man’s land, and before long they were greeted with suspicion by the Aartanians. Phaedra had felt her mood darken even more as they drew close to the great city. The streets were largely deserted but instead of concern for the obvious tension, she felt distain for the Aartanian rats, bold while scavenging, but gutless at the first hint of retaliation.

After introducing themselves as scions of House Sandemar and explaining their mission, the group was ushered to the barracks where they met with the general of the Aartanian forces. As she had most of the day, Phaedra stood back while Gillam and Erol spoke with the general, but when Erol presented the general with the Dalyrian battle plans they had decoded, she clenched her fists so hard that her nails dug into her palms. Erol clearly sensed Phaedra distress because when the council disbanded he approached.

“Phaedra…” he started, reaching a hand to touch her arm, but Phaedra swatted it away sharply.

“No. Errol, this is stupid. Why are we helping these Aartanian bastards?” She spat out that last word. “My homeland, my family is in danger — and we just helped them tip the scales!”

Erol, clearly caught off guard by her ardor, failed to reach her with his words. Gillam appeared similarly confused. How could they not understand how she must be feeling? How could they not understand her loyalty must be to her family and homeland, and not to the strange Aartanians? But then, the thought gave her the briefest pause – she too had been surprised. What did she owe her family? They had been willing to give her away. They betrayed her. But then, once again, the image of her father’s face broke into her consciousness and she felt her eyes burn with tears.

“We can’t do this.” She croaked, and with one hand covering her face and the other shoving Erol out of her way, she broke into a run and raced from the room. As she bounded down the stairs, startled shouts called after her, but the only thing she could hear was the rush of pounding blood in her ears. All she could feel was a stabbing pain in her heart. All she could see was the lifeless body of her father… Her mother… Her sister. This was the fate set before them if Phaedra could not find a way to stop the war. She had to go home.

Phaedra burst through the front door of the barracks and whipped around the corner of a nearby alley. Without missing a beat, Phaedra seized her dagger and tore it through the air and stone in front of her. There was a bright flash of light, and when it faded, she felt the cool Dalyrian sea breeze softly brush her cheek, as if to dry her tears. The black curtain rippled as Phaedra stepped from the shadow of the alleyway into bright light.

Home.

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Erol's Journal - Aarta 1
Departures

Damn.

I looked down at the rope I was using to set up my shelter for the evening and frowned.

Frayed… Looks like I’ll have to start over.

I sighed, sat down, and got to work re-tying all the knots. As I worked the ropes through my hand by memory I let my eyes drift over to our camp. Traversing the middle of a warzone we had been running cold camps since entering Aartanian territory. Several of the scouts I had trained over the winter exchanged stories with Gillams new guardsmen. Nearby, Gillam and Kushlu were sitting next to each other eating their dinner, Gillam looked uncomfortable yet still there was happiness in his eyes. Gillam shuffled in his seat he made an awkward joke that, from an average person, would likely have drawn groans; something he seemed to realize this as soon as he had said it, but Kushlu smiled and let out a laugh. I too couldn’t help but smile. My gaze drifted towards the back of the camp where Mahala sat up high in a tree watching Phaedra and Wendika sparring. Despite sustaining injuries earlier in the day Phaedra always seemed insistent on her practice with Wendika, it helped her focus. Something I could understand. Looking out at the camp I felt oddly content despite our precarious surroundings. Though I had enjoyed the solitude of wintering alone, I was glad to be back on the road with these now familiar faces. Years as a guide had taught me the strength one can draw from living a life of relative isolation and what I could learn of the world when meeting it on my own terms. However, I now knew why my father always had his wistful smile when he would tell me stories of his tribe. I now understood the value of companionship, and I was glad that I too had found a group that I could call my comrades, my friends. There were many things uncertain in our future and I knew there was a great danger beyond any of our understanding approaching, but I knew we would face it together.

As I finished retying the rope I made my bed hoping for a good night’s rest before our expected approach on Aarta the following day. I had barely closed my eyes when I heard familiar heavy boot steps approaching. I opened my eyes and looked up to see a somewhat nervous Gillam, fiddling with his ring.

“Evening, Gillam. What can I do for you?”

“There’s something strange with my ring.” He said and he held out his hand. That his ring was magical, that I already knew and witnessed. I asked him what exactly he meant, and he explained that is felt warm, and had changed colors. Intrigued I focused on the ring, watching the arcane energy flow around his hand. It seemed to emanate energy in waves. Gillam mentioned that as he wore it, he felt stronger than before, though that could have just been due to his new training regimen with his subordinates. I looked closer and assured him that there was indeed something special about the ring. I asked him if I could see it and he handed it over, somewhat hesitantly. The moment the ring left Gillam’s hand it went cold and the emanation ceased.

“Curious…,” I said, “Though I am unsure exactly how your ring works it appears as though you have somehow formed a bond with the ring as it stops responding when it leaves your person. I wish I had a more complete answer than that but it’s all I can tell you friend. We’ll have to keep an eye on it to see if it changes.”

He looked somewhat disappointed in the answer I gave but he understood, thanked me for my time, and headed back to his bedroll. As I watched him go my mind began to race with possibilities over the cause of such energy. I lay awake thinking of potential explanations for at least another hour, though I eventually drifted off.

As I slept I suddenly felt a stabbing pain as an immense wave of arcane energy washed over me. I sat up with a start, wincing and in a cold sweat. I looked out over our camp, desperately trying to find the source of the energy. The camp was quiet, and everyone was sleeping. Then I saw it. Phaedra, was standing slightly outside of the camp looking with wonder at…something. I could feel the energy flowing from around what looked like ripped cloth, but there was no cloth, just the air. Arcane energy was spilling from around the tear but at the tear itself I could feel nothing, in fact it appeared to be consuming the energy around it. I saw Phaedra raise her hand as though she was going to touch the tear, I screamed out at her,

“STOP! DON’T TOUCH IT!” I bolted out of my bed roll and made a mad dash for Phaedra, in my haste I tripped over the dammed frayed rope. As stood up I felt momentary relief as Phaedra had opted to test her short sword on the tear instead of her hand. I got up and made my way over.

“What do you think you’re doing!?” I asked, unable to mask the fear and slight anger from my voice. Phaedra just looked at me with excitement and wonderment.

“Erol! Look how awesome this is,” as she said this she thrust the short sword at me, the top half of the blade was gone and the tear had closed. “Isn’t it incredible.”

“Terrifying is more the word I would use.”

“Don’t be such a stick in the mud! I can cut to other places!”

As she said this she blindly swung the dagger in the air. There was another flash of light and I winced as the wave of energy burst out again. As my vision cleared from the blinding flash I saw Phaedra and the smile had faded from her face. There was another “tear” where she had sliced, and from it I could see the inside of a stately manor. Phaedra nearly collapsed into the “tear” as she barely mouthed the words “_home_”

I tried to grab her as she fell, but she proved to be as slippery as ever. I could see tears welling in her eyes as she slowly tried to crawl through the rip in reality. I looked to the sides and saw the infinite black “fabric” begin to fold in on itself, and Phaedra. Instinctively I grabbed her by the collar and yanked her back out just as the “tear” closed. As it closed Phaedra let out a scream that shook me to my very core. It was a scream of anguish, loss, and regret. I knelt down and held my hand out to her and said,

“Our path will certainly lead us back to your home, but that is not the way.”

She burst out crying. I tried to console her but fumbled with my words as I always do, so I decided it was better to just be quiet and sat up with my friend and let her cry it out. Gillam, who had by now awoken looked on quizzically. I told him it would be fine and that he should get some rest. He nodded knowingly and headed back to camp. After a while Phaedra stood up in silence, didn’t say a word, what was there to say really, and returned to camp. I did the same, rubbing my eyes knowing dawn was fast approaching.


I awoke what seemed like moments later as the sun rose over the hills of Aarta. Today we would reach the capital if we maintained our current speed. Kushlu and Phaedra had managed to mostly translate the orders we had taken off of the ambush of Dalyirian soldiers. It appeared as though they were to move their troops in hopes of locating the Aartanian military from Karpatia which had gone missing. I suspected the Karpatian forces had headed for the coastal road since we saw the tracks headed that way slightly outside the city. However we could worry more about the movements of armies when we reached the capital and found out exactly what was going on. As we broke camp I could see Phaedra was still troubled by the events of the previous night. To see a vision of home, I am certain that I too would be troubled with my own regrets. Though I was more worried about the immense power that dagger contained, it was a dangerous tool and we would do well to use it with caution.

About an hour after breaking camp we reached a small valley with a road crossing through it. As we drew near I saw a horseman, flying Dalyrian colors approaching, headed toward the sea in a hurry. We opted for caution and let the man pass, rather than get entangled in more trouble. After he passed we crossed through the valley. Upon reaching the valley floor I noticed a large number of booted tracks heading in the same direction as the horseman, seemed a military force heading that direction, likely Dalyrian. Seeing this we knew time was short and pressed onward toward Aarta.

As we approached the city, it became clear the open fields outside the walls had become a no man’s land. It would be dangerous crossing. However before we could even decide how to approach that territory we spotted several Dalyrian archers keeping watch towards to city. We had no desire to engage them directly, hoping to avoid bloodshed, and Phaedra was decidedly against killing her countrymen. So we cooked up a plan where Phaedra would disguise herself as a high ranking military official and try to lure the men off. She agreed to the plan and set up her disguise.

She approached the group and immediately began barking orders at them in Marian. Whatever she said seemed to work as the men ran off in the direction of the sea, and away from us. Despite her troubled heart Phaedra was still a professional, always working wonders. We were truly lucky to have her in our party.

The archers dispatched, we next needed to decide how to approach no man’s land, whether to fly colors, and if colors for which nation. Eventually we decided to fly white, hoping to avoid confrontation. This seemed to work though as we approached the wall we noticed a very well-armed “welcoming party” waiting for us. Gillam took point here speaking directly to the sergeant who stepped out to greet us. He flashed his seal of office as a Scion of House Sandemar, and eventually we were able to convince them to let us into the city to meet with the general of the Aartanian military.

The city seemed completely different from when I had last visited, barely a month prior. The streets were quiet and there was uneasiness in the air. As we were brought into the barracks the atmosphere remained grim, yet determined. We were swiftly brought into a command room and introduced to the general. Gillam and I explained where we had come from and why and also told him about our suspicions of the military movements. Upon seeing the Dalyarian orders we had acquired the entire room quickly jumped into action and we found ourselves pushed to the side, and told to wait.

As we sat waiting, Phaedra’s mood seemed to turn darker and darker; she eventually burst out in frustration,

“This is so stupid! Why are we helping these Aartanian bastards? My family could be in danger.”

I tried to explain to her the danger of what she had seen and that we would find a way to her home, together. But I stumbled over my words and just made her more upset. Gillam tried to appeal to her sense of honor and duty to Dhonyl. But she was clearly upset and charged out of the room in a huff. I wanted to go after her but felt it might be best for her to have a moment to refocus on the situation at hand. So Gillam and I sat there as the Aartanians moved around us. Suddenly I felt a familiar sensation wash over me and sat up with a start, my heart dropped. Phaedra is using the dagger.

I got up with a start and ran to the source of the magic. Gillam called after me asking what in the bloody hell I was doing. I didn’t respond and began to run, my heart racing, I didn’t have much time before the portal would close. I looked down several alleyways and saw nothing. I followed the source but then it was gone. My heart sank; I turned the corner and looked upon where I felt the source of energy. But there was nothing but a pile of cut ropes. I picked up the frayed end and clenched it in my fist. Just as I did so Gillam rounded the corner.

“Where do you think you’re running off to?” He asked me in a worried tone.

“It’s Phaedra, Gil.” I said in defeat, “She’s gone.”

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Second Winter Downtime & Aarta Part 1

It was an interesting winter. Once they had returned from their investigation in neighboring Kohlen, they reported to Lord Dhonyl and apprised him of everything that had occurred – almost everything. Though he was perturbed to find that their identities had been revealed, he couldn’t help but be pleased when Erol handed him the letter from the Lord Tulleken pledging friendship, trade and even military allegiance between the two cities.

As reward, he decided to raise them to scions of his house, offering them a title and lands. For Gillam, this was a no-brainer – he was made to be a lord. He may have started out as a miner’s boy scrambling around in the dark, but this was his true calling. Finally, a chance to be in charge and set the world to rights with some authority. He accepted without hesitation. Still, old habits were hard to break, and when Captain Yahn came over to congratulate him, he called him “Sir” as always (though in the back of his mind he kept the thought that the city watch could do with revolutionizing with him as its new commander).

Erol and Phaedra, however, were more hesitant in accepting, neither of them desiring a position of power – at least not power so conspicuous, in Phaedra’s case – but in the end they could not help accepting the offer when the freedom to build to their pleasure and a sackful of gold coins was thrown in.

Erol then disappeared for the rest of the winter, setting up on his new lands surrounding the northern pass between Tavalen and the nation of Aarta. Gillam got to work creating his own military academy with an adjoining mansion for himself right in the center of town. It had bunks for his new recruits, as well as an armory, infirmary and training hall, and in the mansion a library with garden for a special someone.

The construction went well, but Gillam soon found himself more than a little peeved when he found a newly-established theater had been built right next door by a certain little rogue. On the surface it was a legitimate theatre company, but Gillam knew there was more going on behind closed doors. For now, though, he left it be.

His academy opened its doors with a first batch of recruits and Gillam soon got into the role of instructor and captain, despite the odd squabble between the lads. Leading was easy – you just told people what to do – but dating was hard.

Early in the winter, he joined Erol in visiting the Griiz residence. They found Mahala hale and healthy and climbing the walls, but it was Kushlu he had come to see. As before, they slipped outside while Erol and Griiz discussed matters of artefacts. She greeted Vaprus and patted his neck like she did, and Vaprus whinnied happily to see her. Then they took a stroll.

They walked in silence at first, Gillam searching his brain for the words that would not come out. But it was Kushlu who spoke first. She asked about Kohlen and Gillam gladly recounted his adventure. When he finished, though, she did not give him the congratulations he had expected. Instead, she kept silent, gazing off into the distance as her hand rested on Vaprus’ neck.

When he asked what was on her mind, she began talking about old Rabhanastrian stories.
“In the desert it is easy to get lost,” she told him confusingly, but explained that there were tales of evil spirits who were unharmed by cuts from swords and went up in a puff of smoke if they were destroyed. But if one failed to defeat them, one would be enslaved.

Some days later he asked her the full tale. It originated in the southern wastes where creatures of smoke and flame known as the La’Habin were said to have terrorized villages, emptying them wherever they emerged. Whole armies sent to depose of them were enthralled. Then, a great hero, blessed of the gods, called Saafh’Adin went in to the desert and tracked the La’Habin to the center of a great mountain. There the hero slew the monsters, freeing the many people from enslavement and ending the reign of terror. There were certainly some similarities to what they had seen and it was worth looking into.

But on this particular day, Gillam and she continued on in silence. And at that particular time, Gillam’s desperate mind decided to pop a question that had been lurking at the back of his mind (and probably should have stayed there). He began to tell her about his promotion and lordship and she was thankfully impressed. This encouraged Gillam a little too much, however.
“I’m going to have many more duties from now on,” he babbled. “So, I think… I want you to be there beside me. So what I’m trying to say is, I think, would you… would it be ok if you’d join… Erm, you know I’m to be a Lord, I was wondering if you would like to become a Lady?”
Gillam’s head was spinning and he only realized he had said it when she saw her face blush. She chuckled, “I wonder what my father would think – a Lady in a Lugardian city.”
In the end she agreed to accompanying him on their travels, for now, and they left they subject at that.

Once the snows of winter receded, the grass began to turn back green and they entered a fresh new year, a brand new crisis emerged. It began when Erol returned to town from his estate in the mountains. He was huffing and sweating buckets when he burst into Gillam’s office, announcing that he had run the whole four-day journey here in just two and that he had an urgent report to give Lord Dhonyl. They picked up Phaedra, right in the middle of directing a fresh play after the success of her first production, and hurried to the hold.

Erol announced his news to Dhonyl and his advisors. Part of deal in which Dhonyl had granted the large tracts of forested highland to Erol was that he would serve Aaren in patrolling the borderlands. Up there, Erol had trained a squad of scouts into his service and it seemed they had done their job.

While on a regular patrol, they had discovered a group of men, lacking the markings of any lord or city, taking up a position ready for ambush in the trees along the road. And this was in Lugardian territory. They avoided detection and informed Erol, who had only returned to his estate from Aarta less than a week beforehand. Knowing he was the fastest thing on two legs in the entire region, he decided to bring the report to Dhonyl himself.

With no news coming out of Aarta and no knowing the identity of the men, Dhonyl decided to take all precautions. He sent Erol, Phaedra and Gillam with his best recruits back to the borders, ahead of an army of some 100 men led by Captain Yahn.

They left immediately and reached Tavelen two days later. But as their squad entered Gillam’s home village, one of Erol’s scouts found them. He reported that the ambush had struck an Aartanian envoy, captured the party and had marched them back into Aarta. But no sooner had they gone, than a trickle of refugees began to appear in the pass, and it appeared more were to follow.

So far, Erol’s men had blocked the refugees’ passage, so Gillam and the others decided to visit the temporary camp that was forming and attempt to glean some information about the situation.

There they found Mahala, who had been wintering in Erol’s manor. She had been observing the camp and reported a certain suspicious member – red hair, blue eyes and wearing a muddy cloak and torn trousers, plus a streak of dirt across her face for good measure.
“She seems too perfect a refugee,” Mahala said.

They went around the camp and talked with some of the refugees. They soon learned it was the Marian city of Dalyria that was invading Aartanian territory. One boy – whom Phaedra spoke to and became so enamored by that she tried to recruit – said he had overheard his father, a guard, talking about extra men being needed at the bridge over the river border to Dalyria. That was the last he saw of his dad before he and his mother left their home in a hurry.

Another camp member, a merchant who was selling his wares to the refugees, told a rumor from a sailor friend that five days prior Aarta had “chucked stones at ships on the horizon”. With Aarta controlling the mouth of the large bay of Dalyria, it wasn’t a leap of faith to guess whose ships they were.

Phaedra located the suspicious woman and took her to speak in private among the trees. She soon broke down the refugee disguise and learned from the woman, who called herself Liri, that half of Dalyria’s invading army were tearing around the countryside, burning and looting, while the other half surrounded the city. She was part of a home front hoping to protect the town of Karpatia and had come to seek aid from Aaren. Phaedra was moved, and came back to the others insisting that they do all they could to help this woman’s cause.

They decided to return to Lord Dhonyl with this information, on the way passing he column of men lead by Yahn and advising him to maintain the camp until they had orders from the lord.

But as they returned to the hold in Aaren, they found the lord already with a visitor: an envoy from Dalyria. They regarded him with suspicion, knowing the fate of his Aartanian counterpart, but held their tongues till they could speak with Dhonyl privately. Eventually, the lord excused himself and took Gillam and the others into his office.

He considered the news they told him.
“That envoy has just come from Kohlen,” he said, “but they turned him away – they have their own internal situation to sort out. So now they have come to us seeking support against Aarta. Their claim is that Aarta attacked first.”
He paused before adding, “If Aarta blockades the bay with their catapults, Dalyria’s trade is ruining.”

When he turned to them for their advice, they found themselves siding with Aarta, but in truth they had next to no knowledge of the events surrounding this war. With that, Dhonyl decided to hold the border, and send them into Aarta to investigate, keeping a low profile as he requested (but they were unable to do due to extraneous reasons) before.

A few days later, they were in Aartanian lands. With Kushlu, Wendika and Mahala joining them, plus his soldiers and Erol’s scouts, Gillam led a company grown to 21. They kept to the main road at first, not finding much hint of war in the hilly farmland as they came down from the mountains.

But as they came to the outskirts of Karpatia they saw a road block. Erol could see they were Dalyrian and not friendly. Rather than get in a diplomatic tangle with them, they went off road, taking a wide detour around the west of the town through fields and pocket woods.

In one thick wood, they made cold-camp, even though the nights were still chilly, as they feared a possible Dalyrian patrol. And sure enough, during that night, hours before dawn, they were woken up by Erol’s scouts who had been on watch. Seven people were passing through the trees just north of their camp, they reported. Phaedra went to check.

She came back shortly afterwards reporting that the men were armored, carrying crossbows and clearly led by one in a dark cloak but wearing armor underneath and a Marian helm. They had spoken little, but did mutter about seeking out ne’er-do-wells and the Aartanian army.

They quickly packed up their bedrolls and set off, giving the patrol a wide berth. Their walk continued through fields until, about midday, they came to what was clearly a main road heading west to the sea, east to Karpatia. Erol and Phaedra quickly noted the terrible condition it was in, realizing that a huge number of feet, hooves and cartwheels had trampled along it. On closer investigation, they figured they were all heading to the sea. They agreed it was better to head straight to Aarta than follow, and so they crossed the road and continued.

That evening, as they followed a trail through a forest, they noticed woodsmoke rising. Phaedra went ahead and found a small lean-to and a mother, father and child surrounded by three armed men.
“We can’t have you running back and telling on us,” one of them was telling the family just before Erol stepped out. They turned and the fight began, and was soon finished. Erol arrowed one to death where he stood as Phaedra killed another. The third, seeing his buddies fall, tried to run but Mahala dropped from the trees and punched him out.

While Gillam manacled the unconscious one and roped him over Vaprus’ back, the others spoke to the family.
“When we heard the Dalyrians were coming to Karpatia, we decided to get out before they arrived,” the father said. “We were hiding here when those men came. I think they were guards. They’re supposed to be on our side!”
They asked the family whether they to stay or join them to Aarta, and they chose the latter.

When the Karpatia guard woke the next day, Gillam was already on hand to interrogate.
“Good morning! What’s your name?” he asked genially, while holding a sword point to the man’s neck. He eventually got his name, rank and number and learned that he was indeed a guard in Karpatia, but had ran from the approaching army. Gillam felt compelled to spell out his crime to him – that he had attacked the very people who he was supposed to defend – but he clearly knew already by the look of failure in his eyes.

Gillam tried to get some more from him, but he knew little of the movements of either army and only muttered a guess that Dalyria’s invasion was part of the civil war across Laegen Mar, that had arose since Prince Doukas had taken power, much to the ire of the nobles.

Though he was dead weight, and never spoke again, Gillam refused to kill him as Erol and Phaedra would have liked. Instead he lashed him over Vaprus’ back so that he could face proper justice in Aarta.

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Aaren Downtime Research

While Wintering in Aaren, and enjoying their new rights and privileges as scions of House Sandemar, Erol, Gillam, and Phaedra each engaged in a bit of research, in an attempt to answer questions they had discovered in their previous exploits.

Ackamann Stones

Ackamann Stones, after an old scholar, named Ackamann, who was reknown for his quirk of carrying obscene amounts of notepaper on his travels, which were extensive, and writing down his every observation into volumes. It was he who first noticed similarities between Ackamann stones in both Altae and Rabhanast, among other areas, in terms of indestructibility, and the shape classification into rods, boxes, and disks. The first research into the stones was largely based on his notes, several decades after his death, and speculation as to their purpose has continued in the several hundred years since. Some theorize that Ackamann stones served as currency, while others suppose that they were (and are) objects of great power, but the access and function of which is unknown. Others suppose that they may simply have served as decoration and symbols of office. These latter theorists are supremely unpopular.

The legend of Rabhanastran Djinn

There are old stories of a hero called Saafh’Adin, the golden, who rid the southern wastes of the La’Habin. These La’Habin were monsters of smoke and flame, and had powers of possession. When they emerged from the wastes, villages emptied one by one. It was said that an entire army sent to deal with them simply lowered their arms and surrendered willingly upon first contact with them. It was at this time that Saafh’Adin, blessed of the gods, ventured into the wilderness. He tracked the La’Habin and their minions to a great mountain, and there, through combat and cleverness, slew the monsters of flame, and freed those therein enslaved. And so ended the La’Habin reign of terror.

Book of obscure and exotic animals

Contains a list of some interesting and exotic animals and beasts from the known world:
Giant Cave Scorpions – A subterranean species, with varieties found in both the mountain caves of Aria and Banythia, as well as the southern Rabhanastran mountains. The scorpions are generally harmless, as they are averse to bright light and loud sounds, and will flee from larger animals, including humans, if given the chance. If startled or cornered, however, the cave scorpions are more than able to defend themselves with their claws, strong enough to part flesh and crack bone, as well as their sting. Especially this latter weapon is best avoided at all cost, as the sting is excruciatingly painful, and even if not immediately fatal, produces profound and long-lasting muscle weakness in the victim, often causing those afflicted to become unable to escape from the cave, and later dying from other causes.

Amelkedes, more commonly known as ‘Climbers’, are a form of beast-men native to the seaside cliffs of Qar’Tam, in the far Western reaches of the Rabhanastran empire. There are also stories of other climbers far to the East, beyond the reach of civilization. The climbers make their homes in small groups high on the sides of cliffs, and are primarily carnivorous, feeding on fish and other small animals they catch. The climbers have extremely keen eyesight, and can spot prey from hundreds of yards away. Feathered, they have long, deformed shoulder blades, and skin folds on their backs that, when extended, form a sort of ‘wing’. Using their wings and similar, smaller folds on their lower legs to steer, the climbers cannot truly fly, but they can glide with considerable skill and maneuverability. They use this ability to move between cliff faces, and when hunting, ambushing terrestrial prey, diving for fish, and even intercepting birds in mid air. Standing at about 4 feet tall, the climbers are very slim, and possess long, articulate fingers and toes that end in sharp claws.

Petal-bugs are an indigenous insect found In East and Central Altae, and extending north into Caramnia. The life cycle of this insect is most peculiar. The central Altean Pear tree, in the spring, produces flowers, but no petals. Then, one morning, innumerable Petal-bugs emerge from seemingly everywhere and congregate in the trees, drinking necter from the flowers, and appearing for all the world as as bright orange flower petals. The insects, gorged on nector, produce a powerfully-scented oil, with slightly intoxicating effects, and then swarm around the trees, in a frenzy of mating. In at least one Caramnian culture, this oil is gathered and used as a sweet perfume to anoint the dead. In the evening, the Petal Bugs will mate and swarm, and by the next morning will have disappeared again until the next year. Specimens that are caught and collected have the unfortunate tendency of dying the following day and shriveling up into a dry white husk, which then disintegrated into dust when touched or disturbed.

The Al’Qeri, as they are known to Marian traders, and more commonly known as “Frog Men,” are neither wholly frogs, nor are most of them men. They are largely nomadic, and can be found in underwater bubble-cities, or on land near water, oftentimes found in trees. The Al’Qeri have a fondness for plants, and are are generally amiable and welcoming, albeit easily startled. Al’Qeri society is tribal, nomadic, and Patriarchical. The reason for the Al’Qeri’s nomadishness is unknown, but there is speculation that the unusual aspects of their physiology and society leave them unable to assimilate well into traditional settled societies.

The Grün are a bestial race from the dense forest-lands South-East of Shaien. In their homeland, they are the apex predators. The male Grün are hulking, muscled beasts, on the order of 6-8 feet tall and possessing great strength. The Females are smaller, of average size compared to baseline humans. The 4-armed Grün are adept at climbing trees in dense forestry, unlike anything known in Aria, and they are also adept at digging, be it through dense undergrowth or soil. The Grün are covered in thick, dark bristles, that is extremely hard, said to even be proof against many weapons. Not much else is known about these beasts, however, as their land is difficult to access, even harder to survive in, and the Grün are known to kill savagely kill intruders on sight.

Legendary Weapons

Some examples of magical weapons found in the past, name, short description, current location (but keep in mind, the book is over a hundred years old)

Alithis – the Spear of Truth – this Paesh spear, though short, and ceremonial in style, could be used to test the truthfulness of a victim. The spear would be thrust into the victim, and, should they utter only truth, when withdrawn, there will be no injury. Could only be wielded by a favored priest of the gods. Other handlers would suffer severe burns. Current location unknown.

Anemos – The agile knife – This curved sword requires intricate ritual to bind to a bearer, but once bound, grants its wielder preternatural speed in combat. Current location unknown, formerly in the possession of the captain of the Shaltean Emperor’s guard. Lost during the collapse of the New Shaltean Empire.

Amach – A legendary Mrissan bow, was owned by the great unifier, Han’Baaka. With this bow, he was able to outshoot any challenger, even while blindfolded. It was said that this bow would send arrows where he intended, regardless of circumstance. Current Location Unknown.

Elam – The Scholar’s whip – This barbed whip causes, on contact with flesh, excruciating pain in the victim, and is rumored to allow the wielder to exert domination over the victim by sheer force of will. Control and activation mechanisms unknown. Currently in possession of the Great Library of Rabhanast.

Sakhra – Knightsbane, aka The Poor Staff – This staff, made of Paesh, seems to be able to ignore the protective effects of armor, inflicting its full effect even on well armored opponents. Does not seem to require activation. Last known to be on a Rabhanastran warship that was destroyed in battle in the Antirran Strait. Presumed lost.

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Kohlen Part 5 [final]

Two weeks passed since the fight with the monster in the dark. In that time, they were allowed to stay in the castle but had a small detachment of guards following them at all times. Though it was dressed up as a reward, they were clearly being monitored. Frankly, after the whole giant centipede thing, Gillam didn’t blame them – he’d have a battalion watching Erol.

They heard news about the blockade in Gosfallen being gradually reduced and a grain ration begun. Bruht also seemed to have pulled through, though he continued to be bedridden. And the cult had gone quiet.

Gillam had Vaprus brought to the hold and commissioned a new shield – this time a large sturdy steel one with an added punch. Oddly, Phaedra frequented the hold’s library almost daily, and Gillam would see her later grinning or muttering some poem over and over. In the end, she revealed she had been meeting up with Wendika who was somehow slipping his way in and out of the hold, and that she had sent him off to deliver a message to Aaren

Erol also had a revelation. While meditating in the gardens he had met Vitora and for some reason now seemed certain that her safety was paramount. Thus, he told them, he had decided to put his snake in her room. For a brief moment, Gillam thought this was a euphemism for something. Then he remembered Erol’s spirit animal and the Mrissan explained that it would watch over her and alert him if trouble occurred.

As two weeks came to an end with no emergencies, Gillam caught himself thinking, just for a second, that maybe the trouble was over. But of course it wasn’t. One day, the hold was in a sudden uproar of activity and they were told to return to their rooms. After a few hours they were all brought to the audience hall though.

They heard from Jaren that his younger brother Oleh had returned from Durica with a contingent of their men (intended to assist with the situation in Gosfallen) but instead of entering the city, he had made camp outside – blocking the road north. It was clearly an aggressive gesture, but as yet the brother had made no demands, as if waiting for something to happen first. On top of that, further attempts to kill Vitora had been found and foiled, including one man almost succeeding in scaling the walls of the hold. He had been found just before he reached the top and had been sent plummeting to his death. Furthermore, some cultists had been caught, proving that that dark threat was still present.

When the council session was briefly adjourned, Jens scurried over to them to request their advice to put to Jaren. In the hour that they had, they decided to speak with Bruht. The captain was still stuck in bed but was being kept up to speed with all the current events in spite of his healers’ advice to take a break from it all. He told them all about the history of feuding between the Tullekens, but they were also keen to know who his most trustworthy man was. Of course it was his second-in-command, but since Bruht was out of action the man was overwhelmed with work and was a little dull-headed besides. They pressed him – keen to know who could be trusted to watch over Vitora – and he gave them his three lieutenants: loyal Ivar, cautious Brit, and respected Daag – who was also infatuated with Vitora.

They returned to Jens with their ideas: allow them to talk to the captives, have Jaren and Eva present a united front, and have Daag guard Vitora. The first two were approved by the court, but the third was laughed out of the hall, much to the embarrassment of Daag. Instead, Jaren had his own men do the job.

The Lord decided that, with threats both inside and outside his city, and currently unable to do anything about the one outside, the inside one needed to be dealt with with all haste. He assigned three companies of guards, some 300 men, to Gillam, Erol and Phaedra to command as they wished.

Their first course of action was to see the imprisoned cultists. It was a man and woman. Both were unresponsive, jabbering away in whispers about their master. Erol noted they were both manual laborers and had mud and splinters on their ragged clothes. Phaedra and Gillam began playing good cop, bad cop, but neither got through to them.

It was up to Erol to try something. He touched their heads and muttered a few words. The woman showed no change, but the man jolted as if he had sat on a pin. Gillam didn’t know what Erol did but something in the man’s expression showed that he was back to his own self. As he own thoughts returned to him they slowly learned about who he was. Tom, from Asegard district, had been in deep debt but had been told about a guy who could help. Since his memory was still hazy, he could not remember much detail about his contact, so they left him – in a separate cell from the woman – and sent their companies of men to investigate the docks and warehouse quarters of the city.

The next morning they woke to learn that a person had attempted to break through to the inner walls and by being uncompliant with the officers on watch had ended up dead. While they were investigating the body, finding splinters on his clothes, they were informed by a messenger that the company doing the rounds in one of the Lower Kahnard warehouse districts had gotten information from a local baker regarding unsavory folk behind his shop.

When they arrived, the baker, Jahn, was very quick to advertise his bread as the best in the city, and to prove it even offered some breadrolls for free. Phaedra and Gillam gladly took them and they were good. Though, if these were truly the best in the city, it was probably time to start importing bread.

Down to business: he said that there were often gangs hanging about in the back alleys, usually wanting to steal something, but he had noticed the ones lately showed no signs of interest – instead they seem to just skulk about.

They went to the back-alley and found nothing, but it seemed worth returning to. On the way out, Phaedra stuffed her expansive pockets with as many free breadrolls as they could take.

They went to visit the captive cultists again the following morning. Despite his best efforts, Erol still could not reach the woman, but the man was improving, though he still suffered slight shaking and fever. From the little chat they had, they learned he had gotten into his debt by playing dice, which was held on random nights in random locations around the warehouse quarter – you had to hear from a friend of a friend to find out where the next would be. After getting into his debt he had been telling his best mate Jahnny over drinks at a street bar when he was approached by an older man – whom he eventually remembered as having a long scar that went from his jaw all down his neck – who told him about a contact who could solve his money problems. Regarding the day of the meeting, he could only remember walking to the rendezvous point before everything went black and waking up in the cell – what he thought was 3 days later, but in reality was almost a month.

While Erol and Phaedra went to find his friend Jahnny to gain more information about the mysterious man (they found him successfully but he could only confirm his mate’s story), Gillam returned to the alley to take a better look. For quite some time he carefully looked up and down the alley for anything unusual. The alley was well trodden, but he eventually noticed certain groups of tracks that came from the road and stopped at a sewer access which had evidence of being opened regularly.

Leaving Vaprus above, he ventured down into the sewers and followed the tunnel until he came across some boxes full of crude axeheads and foodstuffs – clearly not something you would expect to find in a sewer. There were marks beside the boxes where other things had been left and later taken away and further scratches on the walls which led him up a short passage and a sewer access he figured out was beneath a warehouse in the fifth district of Lower Kahnard. He left it at that for now and returned to the hold for a good scrub in the bath.

All three of them returned to that warehouse the following day, but not before having men from one of the companies split into groups of three and guard every known access and exit of the sewer, including where it spilled out into the Snakewater river. They approached without any trouble and from the outside the place looked like any other. Phaedra approached the foreman and surreptitiously inquired about any dice games. He disinterestedly waved her inside and told her told speak to Roer. As the others went to find him, Gillam held back a little. He took a good look around while Phaedra did her work. There was nothing unusual about the place inside either and the sewer access did not seem to have been opened recently.

Phaedra quickly turned to conversation to the dice games, managing to show interest in them because she truly was interested in getting involved, but the man was still hesitant to give details to the newcomers. Showing off her money and having Erol add how rich she was only made it worse – his expression soured. They left unable to get the information out of him, but Phaedra was determined to come back and try again.

They hadn’t been back at the hold for long before they were visited by Brit, one of Bruht’s lieutenants. She told them dreadful news that the guards at the sewer outflow had been attacked, killing all but one who was left badly beaten. They visited the man and heard his story of a group of people come down the road toward them with a wild murderous intent in their eyes. They were not carrying anything but basic weapons and never spoke, not even as they beat the watchmen to death with superhuman strength.

The next day, they learned that Jens’ attempts to talk with Oleh had once again been rebuffed, as they had been every day. The three of them went to the outflow pipe in the hope of finding further clues in the area. They had also focused the search areas of their three companies to just three districts in Lower Kahnard, meaning that the men could pick through those areas in detail. It wasn’t long, then, before a messenger came to them saying that someone resembling the description of the scar-necked man had been found coming out of a warehouse that was officially listing as unused. When a group tracked the man, he had lashed out at them, but thankfully was subdued.

With impressive speed and organization, the three companies arranged themselves so that one company surrounded the warehouse while the others covered every road and sewer in the area. By the time the three arrived at the scene, everyone was in position and an army of men stood before the building.

The lieutenants looked to them for a strategy. They chose Daag to lead, knowing how popular with the men he was (and hoping to see him succeed after throwing him in the fire when he was embarrassed in front of the court). As nothing was known about just how many cultists were inside, they suggested a cautious approach and drawing them out somehow.

While the commands were given, Erol and Phaedra scaled an adjacent building hoping to get a view through the skylight windows. Down below, the army of guards began throwing stones at the warehouse, hoping that this would draw the cultists out, but there was no passion in their voices. Gillam, sat upon Vaprus, did his best to give the men a rousing speech. He didn’t remember what he said – probably something involving “our city” and “those bastards” – but it seemed to work and the men were throwing both stones and heckles.

Without warning, the doors burst open – jolting the guards into silence – and out of the building rushed an army of axe-men followed by a couple of robed chanters. The cultists formed up in something resembling order, facing the guardsmen, and for a moment the two sides stared at each other.

But behind them the warehouse doors suddenly burst open and a corpulent mass squeezed through, chipping off bits of mortar around the frame. It stood up, twice as tall as a man, its skin slimy and frog-like. It spoke with a booming croak laced with evil. “Ah, the infidels have come.”

Erol didn’t waste a heartbeat – he drew his bow and scored a shot on the closest chanter, and just to make sure he had all their attentions, called out to the man-beast, “You get uglier every time I see you!”
Harald didn’t look surprised as he gazed up at Erol on the rooftop. “I thought I could smell your magical stink…”

As the chanting began, Harald picked up a crate beside him and threw it with surprising speed and accuracy at Erol. The crate exploded in a thousand bits and where there was once a wall and rooftop there was only a hole and a cloud of dust. Gillam thought he saw Phaedra slip away before Erol began his taunting, but he had no idea whether the archer had managed to avoid getting hit full in the face by that projectile or not. There was no time to dwell on it though: the two armies clashed into each other and the chanters at their back were rouses the axe-mens’ spirits – it was clear in their eyes.

Gillam rode Vaprus through the fighting, spectacularly vaulting a pile of sacks and ropes that split the battle into two. They charged at one of the chanters, cutting, hoofing and biting him. A moment later, Phaedra reappeared out of the warehouse, came up swiftly behind the chanter and mangled him. She gave Gillam that look like she always did.

Just then, over their heads another crate flew and burst against the wall, and Harald laughed. But looking in that direction, a moment later they saw Erol pop his head up from the hole. It was good to see he was still alive but the fool insisted on aggravating the giant monster and quickly took another shot. Harald shrugged the arrow off and stomped over towards Erol, throwing another crate. Gillam and Phaedra were right in his path – though he didn’t even notice their presence – and quickly split up again.

Gillam charged over to the other chanter and finished him quickly. He glanced at the battle then and saw the axe-man army were now notably less organized and the guards were quickly picking up on this too. Their voices raised as they felt the tide of battle turning to their favor. Gillam looked over to where Harald now stood beside the building. At his feet, Phaedra was stabbing away, but he didn’t even notice. He had found Erol. With a grin his tongue shot out and, like a whip, wrapped around Erol’s legs and lifted him into the air. Erol went limp and flailed about at the end of the tongue. Then, with a flick, he was flung into the wall of the warehouse, smashing through it.

This time, Gillam was sure the Mrissan was dead. He charged over on Vaprus to join Phaedra at Harald’s feet. They hacked and slashed and cut. Vaprus bit a chunk of his flesh off but was so disgusted by the taste spat it out. Gillam managed to cut deeply into his leg down to the bone, but as soon as he pulled out, the flesh healed, and he realized why Phaedra was looking so desperate.

Harald turned his attention to them. He casually swung a huge mace and sent them flying across the battleground – picking off a few of his own men with it. In the panic at that moment, the cultists turned from the guards and routed. Gillam was just getting to his feet and gathering Vaprus’ reins when they all heard a shout from the direction of the warehouse.

There was Erol at the doorway, struggling to keep on his feet, and suddenly, from within the warehouse, a barrel shot overhead and smashed into Harald’s fat face. It sent him flying backwards in the wall of the building with a crash.

Everyone fell silent and looked at the spot where Harald had fallen beneath a pile of rubble. A heartbeat later and the rubble burst into flame. A claw reached up and a thin figure followed – its outer corpulence dissolving into a thick smoke before their eyes. The figure’s form was charred and burned with an intense inner fire like hot coals and its eyes blazed like lightning contained in glass marbles. The figure craned its neck back and howled with an inhuman shriek. Gillam felt the hair raise on his back.

Suddenly, the howl stopped and the figure snapped upright. It began slowly walking towards them, as a hellish voice resounded in their ears, “You have not won this day. Wheels are already in motion.”
The figure threw its arms open wide as if expecting to be embraced. “There is nothing you can do to stop it. My lord’s return is nigh! All works of mortals shall fail and splinter before him.”
Its leg snapped like burnt wood, and it fell to its knee. Unconcerned, it continued, “You believe you can make order; impose your will upon the world. Cities… kings… peace…” He spat the last word out. “It’s all a lie – an illusion. He will make you see the truth!”
As the figure shook with unearthly laughter, one arm gave out with a sharp dry crack and fell to the ground. The voice continued, unchanged, “Kohlen is doomed. My work here is complete.”
At last, its eyes burst in a gout of fire and flames consumed the body which now fell still.

All around the battlefield a roar of cries of agony and confusion went up from the injured cultists. Those who had turned to flee, stopped and blinked, wondering where they were. Gillam carefully approached the smoldering pile and picked up the fallen arm, but it simply disintegrated in his hands.

Over at the warehouse, Erol had collapsed to the ground. Phaedra rushed to him but the pain and exhaustion was making him go faint. Just as Gillam approached, he struggled out the words, “Get to Vitora.”

With Erol lapsing in and out of consciousness, they put him on Vaprus’ back and hurried back to the hold – leaving Daag’s men to clear up. Once they were through the gate of the inner walls, they found the yard filled with noble women and children with their guards close and noblemen-at-arms milling around looking desperately unsure what to do. A guard told them that just two hours before Eva had stormed out with her retinue and personal guards.

They went inside, carrying Erol between them, and entered the court. The room was full to bursting with men shouting words of fealty to their lord, yet the lord himself was not present. They found Jens collapsed to his knees against a wall where some of the men in their eagerness had knocked him aside. When they asked him what had happen with Eva, he was as clueless as they were though.

They helped him to his feet and joined him in seeing Jaren in his own quarters. Jaren was pacing restlessly up and down, shouting a myriad of orders to a stream of guardsmen coming and going. The left side of his face was wrapped in a bloody bandage. Captain Bruht was also there, sat on a chair.

They gave a brief report of their defeat of Harald, but he was not interested in it. “The assassin was here!” he gasped. After having the door locked, he calmed himself enough to explain. After breakfast, Vitora had returned to her room to freshen up. As a romantic gesture he gathered some flowers and brought them to her in person. They had only been in there together a few minutes though when Eva burst in with her men. Seeing her brother there she hesitated, expecting him elsewhere, but only for a moment; she soon ordered them to kill Vitora. Jaren had defended her and his men came to fight at his side and with her plan foiled, Eva fled both the hold and the city, most likely to join Oleh.

With a distraught look, Jaren murmured, “My own sister…” At this, Phaedra gave a look that said she had her suspicions. Everyone noticed, including Jaren, and she wasted a good few minutes digging her way out of that hole.

Jaren looked at them all and asked, “What do we do now?”
“Is Eva really with Oleh?” Erol asked.
Bruht answered him, “She was seen leaving the city gates and approaching Oleh’s camp.”
“So now that the assassination attempt failed,” Gillam wondered, “what’s their plan B? Are they preparing for war?”
No one knew – they still hadn’t received a message from Oleh. However, it was known that some men had left the city guard to side with Oleh, bringing his host to approximately 3,000. The number of men still loyal to Jaren also numbered about the same. But despite Bruht’s hints to hit them quickly while they were still unprepared, Jaren had to ask, “Are we prepared?”
“No,” Bruht admitted – apart from everything else, his men were simply not trained for open battle.

As they pondered, there was a knock at the door. A pair of Kohlen guards entered flanking one man – he was Durican and he had a message from Oleh and Eva. Jaren took it reluctantly, broke the seal and read. It was an invite to parley just outside the city. That was all.

While Jaren thought about his answer, he sent them away. They took the opportunity to investigate in their own way – Erol went to Vitora’s room (though she had been moved) and Phaedra went to Eva’s quarters. Gillam strolled around and chatted with a guard. The man was not really sure what was going on, but knew he and his buddies were tired from all the elongated shifts. But he did know something interesting about the last assassin that had attempted to scale the walls and fell to his death. “He was carrying a magic scroll!” he exclaimed.

However, when Gillam asked Jaren as they reconvened later, he simply passed them the ‘magic scroll’. It read, “Kill the witch-queen.” Phaedra, meanwhile, had also gotten a hold of something – an ornate little box – though she made no show of it and, while the discussion of Jaren’s reply continued, she fiddled with it constantly. Finally, it clicked open revealing money and a small pearly white stone. Though Phaedra tried to hide it again, Erol was keen to see the stone and she grudgingly gave it over.

In the end, Jaren made his decision: he would go to the parley and he would have them accompanying him. So, the next day, they went out to the spot riding in litters (which was quite the experience…) Then began the long discussion – or rather squabbling with extended bitter silences. But at least there was food.

“What do you have to say?” Jaren began it by arrogantly demanding. They repeatedly demanded his abdication. Eva looked like she didn’t have a wink of sleep, but her anger kept her awake. Oleh, on the other hand, was alert, and was constantly on his feet, banging on the table. Jaren was red in the face looking frustrated as everything he said went unheeded by them. Again and again, they pressed him to stand down and Oleh said that he should be lord.

Eventually, Erol could not keep his silence and said, “A would-be assassin would be a lord…”
The younger brother turned on him, telling him to stay out of it. “Mrissans know nothing.” And then he flipped. He shouted at the top of his lungs, at both of his siblings. He pointed at Eva, “You have failed at everything you were supposed to! And you,” he pointed at Jaren then, “went and married a whore who all despise!”
They both tried to shout back at him but, despite the request that everyone come unarmed, he suddenly whipped out a dagger. Gillam was about to tackle Jaren out of the way, but the brother thrust it point down into the table. It successfully silenced them all. He slapped Eva as he ordered, “You will do as I say.”

“What do you propose then?” said Jaren flatly.
“You will continue to be lord, but you will act like a lord should and marry a lady of suitable standing for the benefit of our House and City, and, to be certain of your promise and our guarantee of her safety, I shall marry Vitora in your stead. But if you continue your folly, know that your wife will be removed one way or another, and rejecting these terms will mean war.”

They left giving Jaren a few minutes to consult his advisers. He looked stricken – the thought of having his beloved paraded around with his brother in front of him day after day must hurt. On the other hand, with a weak political position, and with Bruht out of action, war would have no good chance of victory, and mean devastation for Kohlen even in the best case. They wracked their brains for any other possibility, but none of their suggestions would do.

Oleh and Eva returned for his answer and he gave it to them solemnly. “So be it.”
He laid his head on the table as they left, less of a man than he who came that morning.

The party returned to the hold. As they walked through the gates, they saw Vitora above, waving down. But Jaren could not meet her gaze. He went inside and locked himself away.

After Jens made the announcement to the massed nobles he came to speak the three of them. He thanked them for their help and service and promised to see the transition go through smoothly, to ensure the people of Gosfallen were aided and that Jaren too was looked after. They thanked him for all his assistance in return; Erol adding a request to pass word of the growing darkness to the other branches of the priesthood. With a hug, and handshake and a pat on the back they said goodbye.

But as they were preparing their stuff to leave Kohlen, they had one last visitor: Lord Jaren. He also thanked them, though his face did not truly back his words. He added that he had spoken to Jens and suspected their connection to Aaren, though he did not ask them to confirm it. Finally, he gave them a letter to pass to Lord Dhonyl and left.

They left Kohlen hopefully cleansed of evil and facing an age of stability – and took the road back to Aaren.

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Lord Ulahf Marton's Journal

This small, black leather-bound book was in an oilcloth bag, tightly knotted shut, and then secured about his own neck with a strong strip of leather. It has entries dating back to the past two years.

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54th year in the reign of Stephon, late Spring-Month, 13th day

I have been plagued with nightmares of late. I suppose that I am just not sleeping well, for the weather is unnaturally warm this time of year. I should make a hunt into the mountains. the air there is yet crisp, and would do well for my health. ‘Tis a shame I have no sons to take along. Gier is a disappointment. A nephew will do where i must use him, but he’s not a real man. Still, short of adoption there’s noone else. Perhaps I’ll hire a tutor for him. The good reputation of House Marton will not be sullied while I can help it!

54th year in the reign of Stephon, Mid-Summer-Month, 26th day

We’ve been making excellent time on the water since leaving the Citadel at Logan. The weather is balmy and the men are in good spirits. We were making such good time that I put in for a night at the village just up from Obenar. They have excellent pies, and the men can’t get into much trouble there. I gave them leave for the evening, and they were off. Between one tavern and the next, I stumbled upon a traveling show. I’ve seen a fair share of acrobats and sword-swallowers in my time, and I would have passed it up altogether, but for something unusual that caught my eye. There was a freak show. The showman billed it as a spider-goat abomination. I was initially skeptical, and keen to move onto more soldierly pursuits, when I caught a glance of the thing through the door of the tent, and became overwhelmingly intrigued.

It seemed a man, I dare say, a man more than anything else, but he, it, was exceedingly odd. Chained in his cage, and in dim light, it was covered in dark bristles like a porcupines. Though I made no move to touch it, the showman warned against approaching too close in any case. The thing was huge! It sat, shackled with a chain through a ring in the floor of its cage, but it must be taller than any man standing. If it CAN stand, that is, in the dim light I couldn’t rightly say, not being able to see legs beneath it. It had four huge arms, and large hands, all covered in those dark bristles. But I was enraptured in the strangest thing of all. Its eyes were large and glowed burnished gold in the firelight, with broad boxy pupils like a goat’s. On the whole, I agreed with the man’s description. It was apt. If this thing was half as strong as it looked, and huge, it would a formidable foe in battle, mark my words. A bead of sweat rolled down my brow and stung my eye. I realized that I was leaning forward, holding my breath, when suddenly it snarled. A low guttural growl than grew louder and louder, and I suddenly had the distinct impression that it was laughing at me! The showman shoved past me brusquely, and poked a rod through the bars of the cage, cursing the occupant for silence. I took my leave, feeling oddly disquieted.

54th year in the reign of Stephon, Late Summer-Month, 12th day

Despite an unseasonable rain and high water delaying our ship, we’ve made it back to the estate. The last few nights there has been an unwelcome addition to my now regular nightmares. The bizarre four-armed beast with strange eyes now haunts my dreams, now laughing, now brooding, now hunting me down like a boar. Still, best not think too much on it. The sooner I forget about that abomination, the sooner the dreams, too, will fade.

54th year in the reign of Stephon, Early Autumn-Month, 21st day

I do not know why I longed to spend time in Aaren in my younger years. I suppose it was for the lust of adventure, but now I mainly find it stifling. Dhonyl is a good man, I suppose, and will work hard to live up to his Father and Brother’s examples. He just, i don’t know, precisely, he tries too hard. it shows. He makes much ado about little things, and pores over meaningless details in a manner that bores me to tears. Still, it’s good to be on the road again. Perhaps I’ll send my nephew in my stead come winter. He’ll suffer it better than I, and it’ll do him good to go on a hunt and get his feet wet. I’ve never been able to convince him to go on one, but perhaps Dhonyl will have an easier time of it. If nothing else, the man has a talent for getting his way with things.

On a lighter note, I’ve spent the last day traveling with a most extraordinary young man. A priest from Sallen, but I can tell he will be going places. He approached me in the morning and inquired as to our direction of travel. I told him we were heading a day more toward the river, and that he’d be welcome in our company. I’d not do bad by a priest, and it’s bad luck and worse to cross them, so we set off. The lad, for he is quite young yet, is observant and wise. I confessed to having bad dreams, and he advised me that dreams are often signs of things to come, or things we should keep watch out for. If only Gier had a head on his shoulders like this one!

55th year in the reign of Stephon, Early Spring-Month, 16th day

I have been sleeping worse than usual. The nightmares have not eased their grip over my resting mind, and now their ill effects are intruding upon my waking mind as well. I have become prone to splitting headaches. The light affects me harshly, and when they strike I retreat to my room.

55th year in the reign of Stephon, Early Spring-Month, 24th day

Today, I was in the stables, checking my saddle and tack, for it was recently repaired. I was quite sure that I was alone, for the Stablemaster is off visiting some sick relative, and I’d sent his apprentice off on an errand. Still, alone with but for the horses, I felt ill at ease. When I took down my saddle and began to inspect the stitching, I felt like I was being watched. When I went to check that all had been properly oiled, thought I saw movement in the corner of my eye. I turned, but there was nothing there. I slowly made to stand, and lifted my saddle to its post, when I saw a dark brooding figure out of the corner of my eye. I spun around, saddle and tack thumping to the floor, but I was alone. My throat was dry, and I realized I was breathing heavily. Hastily, without turning away from a commanding view of the stable, I picked up the saddle and tossed it onto a nearby shelf, without regard for the tools knocked awry, and, I must confess, all but fled the place.

55th year in the reign of Stephon, Mid Spring-Month, 9th day

Everyone is acting strange around here. I can tell. No one will say anything, but I can feel that something is amiss. When I call on the servants, they are a shade too slow to respond, or else a bit too quick. Even my own family is in on it. They smile too soon around me, but drag their feet and talk in secret. Only Onder is straight and true. I can trust him, he’s not left my side since this last boat trip, and still follows my orders immediately and without question. A good soldier, that one, well deserving of bearing my House’s arms. He has the respect of the rank and file, too, so I my authority may yet have some power. The rest though…

A paper, folded and inserted into the book

My Lord Marton,

I was most grateful for your company on the road from Aaren, and so it is with utmost joy that I received your letter. Though it pains me to think that those about you breed treachery, I am glad to be in a position to help a dear friend. Still, we must act with haste, lest your betrayers anticipate our plan and try to head you off.

Here is what you must do. Steal way this night. The moon is waning and almost empty, so the darkness will conceal your exit. Take with you only those men you trust, and leave the rest. They will get theirs in good time. From there, travel only under the cover of darkness, and meet me in the copse of birch off the road just before Sallen. I have identified one of the conspirators here in Sallen. To him, we will pay his due.

As to your symptoms, I am familiar of the illness that which produces the effects you have described. It is a disease bred of betrayal and worry, and ill favor of the gods. In this, I can also provide assistance. With divine restoration will come physical and mental healing. Thus, it is of the utmost importance that you heed my counsel and come henceforth, or the ill effects will worsen unbearably.

Do not speak of this to anyone, lest the conspirators speed up their plans.

Your friend in all things,

Harald
(Mid Summer-Month, 4th day)

55th year in the reign of Stephon, Mid Summer-Month, 8th day

I am on the road to Kohlen now, having left Sallen behind. I am alone now, and I confess myself worried of what will happen when I show up to Kohlen alone, but I am confident that Harald will come find me. Spurned by my liege, retainers, servants, and family, Aaren is not a safe place for me any longer. Still, with what Harald demonstrated this past night, I have hope to become wholly well again.

When we arrived in Sallen, I met Harald in the wood, as arranged. He took Onder and two of my men to fetch the conspirator. They returned with a body. Apparently the wretch had fought them rather than face his crime. Harald had my men set up a pole and tie the corpse to it. “This traitor to the realm”, he said, “will serve as a warning for the rest, and” he continued “to begin the healing process for our lord.” Taking my hand, he explained that I had been cursed by the conspirators. They had summoned a dark spirit to cloud my vision and be blind to their conniving, but it was only through my strength of character and discipline that I had noticed it before it was too late to do anything at all. Thus, he bade me to pass the affliction onto the corpse and be free of it.

“Let your eyes not deceive you, for they are your own” Said he, as he gouged out the corpse’s eyes. “Let your ears remain your own, and not be misled with lies.” Said he, as he cut off the ears. “Let the tongues of evil have no effect on you, for their words can be sweet as honey, while poisonous as a viper’s bite.” Said he, and cut out the tongue. And finally, producing a nail, “And release the hold of their conniving on your mind!” said he, as he drove the nail into the corpse’s head, fixing the tongue there.

The rite seemed gruesome, to own. But worse has been done to criminals in the name of justice, and furthermore, the effect was immediate and astounding. I felt the weight on my shoulders lighten, as something left my body. My every sense seemed heightened, the grim faces of my men clear and distinct, even on the moonless night. I met the other’s eyes, and realized with a start that, for the first time in weeks, my headache was gone. The other smiled.

“You see?” he said, “I can help you.”

I had to own, that I was feeling much the better for it. We left the copse and went back to the road. There, the other informed me of the results of his investigation. Even in Sallen, I would not be safe. We had eliminated one conspirator, but there were others, and more would come once the body was found. But the other, clever and wise, had already outsmarted them. He bade me to leave immediately for Kohlen, where he would afterwards come and find me. There we would be safe from any from Aaren. Old rivalries would see to that. As for my men, the other bade me to leave them under his command, and bade them to secret across the river, and stay hidden until called for. He would use them to lay a trap for the conspirators. When others came to investigate the death, he would contain them in the village, and then have my men cut the lot down under the cover of night. Onder, eyes blazing with what could only be indignant fire of anger over the threat to myself, readily agreed. As did I. It was a good plan. Pin down the tail of the snake, and then cut off the head when it came to investigate. In different circumstances, I imagined that the other could have taken to martial command as well as he had to divine ministration.

I shall await him in Kohlen.

55th year in the reign of Stephon, Late Summer-Month, 15th day

Harald says I’m still sick. I am not yet cured of that foul disease of the mind and flesh. The curse if cone, but the illness remains. I can feel it. He says that he can fix me. The road to wellness will be long and fraught with suffering, but I must endure. If I fail, my fate is slow death, and they’ll have won. I’ll show them!

Early Autumn

I try, I try. I do what I can to do what that master bids. I must to get well. But everyone doubts me. Even the master. I can see it in his eyes when he looks at me. He knows something but won’t tell me. I fear that I may succumb to this illness. I’ve lost track of days.

(some pages later)

Trapped. I’m trapped. Master’s in, but I’m out! I can’t get in. I must find a way in. I’m alone. Alone! I need to get in! I’ll find a way…

(after a few pages of illegible scribbles and crude drawings)

It’s dark in here. The others are loud, threatening. They say I’m weak. They say they’ll hurt me. I’m a failure. All alone. I’m frightened. When will Master come and get me out?

(on the last well-ordered page in the book)

I don’t know the date, or how long I’ve been here, but if my journal is any indication, I am not often lucid or coherent these days. I’ve been abandoned. That much is clear. My head. It pounds. I can no longer differentiate the voices of my fellow prisoners from those cannot possibly have originated from mortal men. The prisoners seem to fear me now. there was a body in the cell this morning. I think… I think I killed him. I don’t know how. I don’t know how long I will keep control. I can feel a powerful hunger, deep inside. I am as scared of myself as this place and these common cutthroats I bed with.

I reread my journal. I remember that night in the field in Sallen. I… it felt a relief then, that a weight had been removed. I now shudder on that thought, for now I know what I was relieved of. Builder and Mother forgive me! That night I surrendered my humanity for a brief respite. Now I have nothing left to give, and no more will to resist. I am tired…

The rest of the pages are blank.

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