A Rose In The Wind: A Saga of the Halmae -- Updated June 19, 2014


First Post
Yikes! That's a nasty fight. Can't wait to see how it turns out.

So, is the game still going on in July 2012?
Oh, yes...yes, it is.

I am actually sitting here on our little yellow couch *grinning* just thinking about our upcoming session. (And there's plenty of story still coming to a story hour near you, too.)

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Nyoko shivered at the unfamiliar voice in her head. It wasn’t Brother Ono—it wasn’t anyone she recognized—and the force of its terrible command threatened to shake all of her considerable willpower.

Nyoko took a deep breath. There were still seven guards—two of them inhumanly fast, but on fire from Twiggy’s fire spell—and everyone was in bad shape. Mena and Kormick were petrified. Savina, Twiggy, and Mawu seemed at death’s door. Tavi was surrounded. Yudai was immobilized on spikes. Rose was—at best—insane. Nyoko concentrated and aimed for one of the guards. Her arrow flew wide.

Arden was hurt, but still moving: she ran at one guard, stabbed him in the chest, swept her arm across his face, flipped the knife in her hand, and stabbed him in the back as she ran past. That left six guards.

Tavi spun where he stood, knocking down two of the guards who surrounded him. They didn’t move. Tavi chased the third one on to the dais, and slashed him with his flaming sword. The guard tumbled down the stairs in a heap. That left three guards. But Tavi staggered, clearly on the edge of consciousness.

Mawu stared at the three remaining guards. “Come here,” she said, her voice steady despite her near-fatal injuries. “I have something to show you.” She reached into her bag again, and something glinted. Even Nyoko found it unsettling. Two of the guards fled. One remained.

Kill, Nyoko heard again, in her head.


Kormick blinked his eyes open and took a great gulp of air. His vision cleared quickly, but his chest was tight. His limbs were weak, and he felt disoriented. A moment ago, he had been surrounded by fighting. Now, up on the dais, Yudai was immobilized and Tavi was bleeding, taking great heaving breaths, Arden was bleeding profusely against a column, Twiggy was unconscious, Mawu was barely standing . . . Rose was curled in a ball on the floor, clutching her head. Nyoko was the only healthy party member, and she was loosing arrows at an impossibly fast guard, the only one remaining . . . Where were Savina and Mena? Kormick felt the slightest bit of panic rise in his chest. Both of them had been turned to stone. The Mother Superior stood in the center of the dais, virtually unscathed, rebuffing the Synod members one by one.

Rose cried out with a throaty scream. “MAKE IT STOP!”

She hurt Mena. She hurt Savina. Kormick was boiling mad. But he didn’t have the strength to move. He heard a buzzing in his head. It rose to a roar, and then quieted to a hiss. Kill Rose. Kill Roseanna di Raprezzi. The voice kept repeating. He wanted it to stop. It wouldn’t.

Nearby, Arden stabbed the last remaining guard, but he didn’t go down. Instead, he dashed up on to the dais and spat at Yudai’s enormous foot. “That’s for you and your Affirmation,” he snarled.

Kormick finally felt strength in his legs again, and he snapped into action. He ran up the stairs, vaulted the railing, and fired his crossbow at the last guard. THUNK. The guard went down. “And that’s just for you,” Kormick said.

Then he turned to the Mother Superior, who finally had no one left to help her. “And now for you,” he said.


Mena gasped and felt consciousness return. But with consciousness returned the voice, that hissing, whispering voice. Kill Roseanna di Raprezzi, it said. It’s your duty. Your responsibility. Make the sacrifice. Kill her.

No, thought Mena, and willed her legs to move. They felt slow and stiff. She couldn’t make them work. Mena seethed. She had no patience for stiff legs when there was a Mother Superior to beat. On the dais, Arden and Tavi flanked the Mother Superior, and Yudai attacked her from the front with bladed might. Kormick dashed behind her and pounded her with his warhammers. Good. Kormick’s okay. One of Nyoko’s arrows flew right past Yudai and into the Mother Superior’s chest. Brother Ono Arato tackled the Mother Superior backward into the wall. Finally, they were doing some real damage.

Away from the dais, Twiggy was barely conscious, but she and Savina were attempting to minister to Rose, who was rocking and screaming, unresponsive. Suddenly Twiggy wheeled, reached into her bag, and charged up the stairway to the dais. “You’re hurting her,” she said, and threw a bag of acid at the Mother Superior. It barely reached the woman, but Mena could see her skin burn where it hit, and the Mother Superior growled in pain. Good girl, Mena thought. Use what you have.

Rose seemed lucid for a moment. She sat up and gripped Savina’s arm so hard the skin around her hand went white. “Don’t let them kill me,” she said.

“Never,” Savina replied.

Mena began to feel control in her legs again. She limped forward, but was still too stiff to take more than a few steps. Kill Roseanna, said the voice, again. Mena concentrated on driving the voice out of her head, but couldn’t. And though she tried, she couldn’t ignore it. She tried to place it: whose voice was it? But she couldn’t do that either. It didn’t sound familiar. Just a nameless whisper, insistent, angry, eager, with an increasingly irresistible command . . .

But then there was another voice, a familiar one. A voice she’d yearned to hear since she was a child. A voice that she had known she’d never hear again. The voice whose loss had turned her into a Defier. Don’t listen, it said. You don’t have to listen.

Mena felt a flood of confusion. That new voice, so clear, so familiar, so impossible. Maybe it meant she was going crazy. Or maybe—just maybe—it meant Ehkt hadn’t given up on her.

She saw Kormick, up on the dais, two steps from the Mother Superior. He cocked his head, as if listening to something. He smiled. He looked down at Mena.

“Jan!” Mena yelled up to the dais. “Will you hit that Mother Superior bitch for me, please?”

“You bet,” he replied. And then he did. He swung hard and hit the Mother Superior right in the kneecap. There was a cracking noise.


Nyoko stared down the shaft of an arrow at the Mother Superior’s head and adjusted downward to follow the head as the Mother Superior’s knee buckled, then collapsed.

“Yes, kill me,” said the Mother Superior, raising her head—another arrow adjustment—and looking from Kormick to Yudai. “That’ll resonate with the people. Let the word spread that heathen members of the Inquisition killed the Mother Superior in defiance of Kettenek’s law. The Sovereignty will explode against the godling worshippers . . .”

“We won’t kill you,” said Kormick. “But you’ll wish we had.”

The whisper in Nyoko’s head spoke again. Kill the Mother Superior, it said. Do it.

We are here to arrest her, not to kill her, Nyoko inwardly told the voice.

Let the word spread that the Sedellan mob killed her, it continued. None will be the wiser.

I am an Adept, Nyoko insisted to herself. And I must Witness what I see.

You are but one voice against the roaring of the wind, the voice said, insistent, and for a moment, Nyoko believed it.

Then: No, she thought. I am Nyoko the Adept. I Witness the truth. I am the rock. The rock does not move. She shifted her aim downward, and let the arrow fly. It landed perfectly in the Mother Superior’s shoulder.

The Mother Superior stumbled, then fell forward, unconscious. And as she did, the voice in Nyoko’s head, and the fighting outside, grew quiet.



Rose bent down to pick up a piece of torn cloth from the ground. It skittered out of her reach, caught on the wind, and landed a few steps away among a small pile of glass shards and debris. She lurched after it for a few steps, before the wind caught it again, blowing it again out of reach. The city streets were empty of people now—the military and the Inquisition had cleared them—but they were still littered with wreckage, mental and (Rose could not help thinking) emotional, of the riot. The cloth flitted out of sight. Whisper flew after it. He returned a moment later with the scrap caught in his talons.

It was nearly dusk, and they were walking to services for Sedellus Rising—or Sedellus Fallen, as the Sovereigns called it. After they had arrested the Mother Superior, Yudai had searched her office and quarters, and had found a wealth of evidence that not only further incriminated the Mother Superior, but also revealed future plans of the Tide. Everyone else’s mood was somber, but hopeful, as they walked: They had, no doubt, undermined the Tide’s plans for Cauldron. By doing so, they hoped, they had brought themselves one step closer to meeting Lady Akiko, the head of the Inquisition in the Sovereignty and heir to the Lord High Regent, and to fulfilling the first admonition of the Prophecy about Rose’s destiny. Find the last breath of the dying king…

But, Rose knew, it had come at a price—everything about me comes at a price, Rose thought, feeling the exhaustion deep inside her, an exhaustion as deep as any she’d felt. She recalled the anger of the rioters, the voice in her head telling her that their efforts were futile, that she needed to die, that she should let herself be killed, that her friends would kill her . . .

Tavi, walking beside her, put his arm around her shoulder. “Easy now. You’re safe now,” he said, and squeezed her shoulder comfortingly. Tavi could always read her expressions. She took a deep breath and tried to feel safe, tried to remember safe. Her mind wandered to Taku, and their night together, how it had felt. It was the only thing she could think of that felt safe—or easy, for that matter.

As the sun began to set, the services began, with Sister Sweet Scent—bruised, but strong—presiding. “It’s the first time ever that a priest of a Godling has presided,” Nyoko explained as they filed into the pavilion, surrounded by Cauldron’s elite. But if that was revolutionary, the service was still foreign, as Sister Sweet Scent, rather than praying for Sedellus to grant the bounty of autumn harvest, praised Kettenek and the earth for the crops it provided.

Nyoko raised an eyebrow when Sister Sweet Scent praised the earth as “it,” rather than “he.” Perhaps this service was a change, after all.

Of course, even a Hennan service for Sedellus Rising would have been foreign to Rose’s experience. At home, Sedellus Rising was her mother’s annual “locking of all the doors and staying inside” ceremony. “Weird to be out on Sedellus Rising, isn’t it?” Twiggy whispered as they retired from the service to dinner beside the pavilion, hosted by the Ring of the Priesthood. The meal was, like so many Sovereign meals, a combination of simple and sumptuous, delicious and disgusting, carried by servants on massive platters to the silk-lined tables. The group had its own table, near the front of the room, away from the other tables. A position of honor.

“If you get the button, don’t swallow it,” Nyoko advised.

“Wait, which one is mutton?” asked Kormick.

“Not mutton, Honored Justicar. Button.” Nyoko followed up with an explanation of Sovereign holiday tradition: One of the dishes contained an inedible button, made of amethyst. It apparently represented the poison with which Sedellus betrayed Rikitaru. Whoever got it was said to “have the Lady’s eye on them,” for good fortune or ill.

Over dinner, they chatted about their fight with the Mother Superior. All agreed that it was frightening, and serious. Nyoko pointed out that it was, from a historical standpoint, unprecedented.

“Will there be stories about us someday?” Twiggy asked, with a combination of eagerness and trepidation.

“No doubt songs are already being written,” Nyoko replied.

“I prefer to think that when they tell stories of us, you’ll all be played by very famous actors,” Kormick said, indicating the rest of the group, “and I’ll be played by the clown that survives at the end. That’s how I sleep at night.”

Everyone laughed, but Rose knew that even Kormick wouldn’t find it easy to sleep that night. The topic shifted to the events of the fight itself.

“It was terrible,” was all Rose could bring herself to say as the others discussed what each had heard in their heads. Savina comforted her.

“We should be encouraged that we are stronger than the voice,” said Nyoko.

“But what was the voice?” Twiggy asked. “Who was it?”

“The first voice, I don’t know,” said Kormick, “but the second was my sister.”

“What second voice?” asked Tavi.

“Telling me not to kill Rose. My sister,” Kormick continued, matter-of-factly, “must be an angel of Alirria.”

“I don’t think that’s how it works,” said Twiggy. “People don’t become angels. But . . . I don’t mean to say . . . I mean . . . I believe you heard her. Just not—anyway, I just heard the one voice.” Twiggy looked down, guilt sounding in her voice. Rose touched her hand lightly. Twiggy couldn’t help what she heard.

“I also heard two voices,” said Mena. “The whispering telling me to kill Rose, and then another. The voice of my mentor at the Keeper’s temple.” She gazed for a moment at the scars on her hands and arms. “He said I had a choice.”

“And you, Arden?” Twiggy asked. “Did you hear a second voice?”

“Yes,” Arden replied. “A—a friend, who died when I was enslaved.” She ran her thumb along her cuff, as she so often did. “He told me ‘no, you need not do this.’”

No one could explain the voices—only that they were powerful. And that, following their ordeal, everyone was thankful that Rose was safe.

Safe, Rose repeated in her mind as they walked home. Safe, she thought, as she silently, secretly, fingered the amethyst button in her pocket.


31x02: Interlude

Thanks, Seonaid!

This week we have a Very Special Treat: A guest post from Jenber, providing us the wonderful, dark (and mysterious!) tale that is Mena's backstory. I should note that this was, essentially, as played: Twiggy actually asked Mena about her personal history during this session, which was when I (and Twiggy!) first learned it. Many thanks to Jenber for writing it up.


31x02: Interlude

Mena suspected that Twiggy had something on her mind. The girl had been giving her curious sideways looks since dinner, and Mena knew from experience that when Twiggy wanted to know something, she generally did her best to find out about it. Better to have it out before her student exploded with the effort of trying not to say anything in front of the others. It was with that in mind that Mena waited until everyone had gone their separate ways to pack, and then knocked on Twiggy's door.

"I thought you might like some help packing your things and Rose's."

They packed in silence for no more than a minute before Twiggy dropped a pouch of sundries onto her bedroll and blurted, "Mena, can I ask you a question?"

Mena smiled to herself as she calmly folded a tunic: she'd expected to have to wait at least twice that long. "Always."

"You never talk about your past--and I don't want to pry--but at dinner you said that when we were fighting the Mother Superior you heard the voice of your mentor at the Keeper's temple. Was--well--who was he?"

Mena was silent for a moment. She'd expected that question. She'd even thought that she had a nice, pat answer that would probably satisfy Twiggy enough to put the matter to bed, at least for now. Just now, though, looking at the earnest young woman in front of her, Mena found that she herself was unsatisfied with the easy half-truth she'd prepared.

She sighed heavily. "Very well. You remember what I told you about my family, back in the Ketkath?"

Twiggy answered as if reciting a lesson she'd learned by heart. "Your father's business partner cheated him and altered records so that it looked like your family was in debt. You were only four and your mother took you to the Keepers' temple so you'd be safe, but your parents and two older brothers were sold into slavery. You don't know where they are...and you don't want them to know that you became a Defier, but you didn't tell me why."

Mena's mouth twitched up in the fraction of a smile her students recognized as approval. "Just so. The why happened eight years after my mother left me with the Keepers and has directly to do with who my mentor was. It's not a happy story, mind, and I am not a hero in it. Are you sure you want to hear it?"

Twiggy nodded her head, just once. Mena picked up one of Rose's formal sovereign dresses, and as she folded it carefully along its long length, began to tell a story full of shadows and fire.

* * *

Brother Spark was supposed to be asleep. She would have been, too, if someone outside hadn't made such a racket as they approached the Keepers' temple. The moon was still high in the sky; dawn was still far away.

Perhaps if she just lay here quietly and ran through her lessons in her head that would put her back to sleep: the major export of Dar Karo was exquisite handcrafted items; the modern Alirrian Givers had been founded by Mother Amaryllis three hundred and forty-two years ago in Dar Pykos; the new king of Dar Und, Lukas von Volken, had so far cut down on crime in the city--mostly by being better at it than the criminals, which Spark respected as a strategy; fire required as fuel both flammable material and air; a proper set of martial forms should be performed with perfect attention to every muscle until one no longer needed to pay attention to any of them to achieve perfection.

Spark closed her eyes and tried to will herself to sleep. The soft murmur of voices floated in from outside and broke through her concentration. "Ehkt's balls," she swore under her breath, then glanced around to see that the other students were still asleep and hadn't heard her: Brother Shining, her favorite teacher among the Keepers of Light, didn't like his students to swear, and some of the others were tell-tales. Shining said that a mind that truly strove to reach intellectual excellence had no need of coarse language. Spark saw no reason why she couldn't do both, and anyway, the teachers among the Keepers of Flame swore about as often as they drew breath, so it seemed likely that Ehkt himself might be of two minds about it. Spark reasoned that until she chose to devote herself to either intellectual excellence as a Keeper of Light or physical excellence as a Keeper of Flame, she could probably get away with the occasional expletive, as long as she did it very quietly and didn't get caught.

"Brother Shining won't like that, you know." The voice was pitched low and was shockingly close to Spark's pillow. She started and twitched gracelessly into a defensive crouch that owed more to the constant repetitions of maneuvers in her various drills than to any real intention on her part.

"You wouldn't strike a cripple, would you? That would almost be worse that the swearing." The voice shook a little with the effort of holding back laughter. Spark relaxed and nearly toppled off her bed. It was Brother Kindle, her very best friend and frequent co-conspirator.

"What are you doing awake?" she whispered, half-accusingly. "Normally you could sleep through the whole temple coming down around your ears."

Kindle shifted his weight to lean more heavily on the sturdy stick in his left hand. He didn't like to use the crutch more than he had to, Spark knew, but sometimes the twist in his bad leg made it hard for him to stand for very long or move very quickly. "Voices outside, talking to at least three of the teachers. They woke me up. Something about them seemed...wrong."

Spark rolled her eyes in the dark. "How can voices seem wrong?"

"I don't know. They just...don't belong here. We need to go out and have a look."

Spark snorted, then froze a moment as nearby student shifted in his bunk. "What in the name of Ehkt's hairy hindquarters would we do even if they were up to something? I'm sure the teachers don't need our help to deal with a couple of strangers."

Kindle grabbed her arm with his free hand. "We can't just do nothing. If there's something bad happening, we have to at least try. If it's nothing, we'll come right back in and I'll give you my dessert for a week."

In the pale wash of moonlight from the dormitory window, Spark could just make out the concern on Kindle's face. It wasn't unusual for her friend to worry; frankly, sometimes Spark thought Kindle could be a bit paranoid. It was unusual for him to instigate the kind of trouble they'd be getting into by sneaking out and spying on the teachers and their mysterious guests this late at night, though. Very unusual, actually. Their teachers always said that Kindle would be an exemplary Keeper of Light with his thoughtful approach to the world, while she would be better as a Keeper of Flame. Well, except for Brother Shining: he always said that she was every bit the thinker Kindle was, she just lacked the discipline that came naturally to her friend. He seemed to think it was something she could learn. She sighed. This was apparently not the night to start on discipline. There was luck for you.

"Okay. Let's go have a look. Remember, you said dessert for a week." She swung her legs out of bed and pulled on shoes as silently as she could manage. She crept quickly to the door and eased it open as Kindle made his slower way across the room. The door closed noiselessly behind them, and the two young Keepers stood in the cool autumn breeze listening for voices. The sounds of heated conversation drifted out from the temple's main building, and Spark and Kindle snuck over to the closest window.

The window was closed and latched from inside. The talking inside wasn’t loud enough to be intelligible, but Spark recognized Brother Shining's voice among the jumble of sounds. He didn't sound happy.

"We have to look over the sill. Help me balance," whispered Kindle. Spark nudged a fist-sized rock out of their way and hooked one arm around Kindle's waist as they both stood on tiptoe to peer into the room.

At first, Spark couldn't see much of anything: the window was strangely dark. Then the darkness moved away and she realized that it had been a black hooded cloak worn by someone standing very near the window. As the figure moved away, Spark saw that there were several other people in dark cloaks standing throughout the room, their faces obscured by the shadows cast by the heavy hoods.

Brother Shining was shaking his head at one of them and saying something that didn't seem terribly friendly. The other teachers in the room were nodding their heads in agreement with Brother Shining, and one of the Keepers of Flame had, almost unconsciously, settled her weight onto her back leg in what Spark recognized immediately as a defensive stance.

Spark glanced at Kindle. "This is bad," she said. "Who are those people?"

Kindle shook his head. "I don't know. I just don't know. I need a minute to think."

Spark opened her mouth to reply but the words stuck in her throat as she heard Brother Shining shout loudly enough for his words to penetrate the thick glass of the window. "Ehkt's balls!" The absurdity of Brother Shining, of all people, being mad enough to swear nearly made Spark laugh out loud.

Then—with no warning—the room inside exploded into one giant mass of fire.

Spark heard Kindle scream, then realized she was screaming, too. Brother Shining and the others were on fire, and there was no way out of that room through the flames. "Do something!" Kindle screamed. Spark looked around frantically, and caught sight of the rock she'd moved away earlier. Maybe, if she was lucky....

Spark let go of Kindle and hefted the rock. Without stopping to think, she slammed the heavy stone against the window to break the glass and let Brother Shining and her other teachers--her brothers--out.

Fire requires air to survive.

As the window shattered, the fire surged out into the night in search of fuel. It found not only the night breeze, but also the tender skin of the two young keepers. Spark threw her arms up in front of her and felt the flames sear through her hands and forearms, making them blister and crack. Dimly, through the excruciating pain, she was aware of Kindle's initial scream, and then his quiet gasping.

She would learn later that he'd been clinging to the wall where she'd left him and hadn't been able protect himself from the fire. It had washed across his unprotected face and chest before subsiding back into the burning building. She would also learn that she had crawled to his side and deliriously tried to fight off the Keepers who had rushed out from the other buildings at the sounds of screaming. It had taken three Keepers of Flame to hold her back so that others could tend to Kindle, and they held her until she finally succumbed to the pain and a horrible, deep blackness.

Many hours later, Spark woke alone in the dormitory to find her hands and arms wrapped in bandages. The light of the day she'd missed was beginning to give way to twilight, and sounds of crying and angry voices drifted into her from all directions--the Keepers were mourning. An Alirrian Giver came to Spark's bed with a glass of water. "We're glad to see you awake, little one. Those burns of yours are healing, but they're going to need a bit of extra attention if we're going to prevent scarring."

Spark stared at the Giver as if he had suggested that she put on a pretty dress and worry about her hair. He seemed to guess that scars were the very last thing on her mind and had the grace to color slightly. "I know that doesn't seem important now, but scars can make your hands stiffen if you don't care for them properly."

Spark continued to stare at him. Finally, she croaked, in a voice still raw from smoke, "What happened?" Once the Giver had given her a few details--where she'd been found, how she'd fought to protect her friend, the sort of injuries Kindle had--she asked the worst question: "Where is Kindle?"

The Giver looked away from her. "I'll find one of the brothers to come talk to you. You drink that and try to rest." He stood and walked quickly away.

Spark clenched her fists, ignoring the waves of pain from her damaged skin. The Giver's behavior meant only one thing: Kindle was dead. And if Kindle was dead, it was her fault. She broke the glass and brought the fire down on them, she left him clinging to the wall unable to get away on his own. She had acted without discipline, and she had killed her best friend. Brother Shining would be so disappointed...he could never forgive her for this.

In an instant Spark realized that Brother Shining truly would never forgive her: he was dead, too. She was on her feet and out the door before she realized what she was doing. She made her way to the ashes of the temple and fell to her knees in a cloud of soot that rose up around her like an extra shadow. She closed her eyes and began to pray to Ehkt: for help, for some sort of penance, for forgiveness. She waited there, among the ashes, for an answer until the last of the light was extinguished from the sky.

No answer came. Spark knew why: Ehkt clearly did not want the prayers of a girl who hadn’t thought things through. Whose impulsive actions had killed her brother. Ehkt clearly did not forgive her. She would not bother him again.

Spark turned from the ruins of her temple home and began to walk steadily away. She did not return to the dormitory for her things. She did not say goodbye. She did not look back.

* * *

Mena looked up from the stockings she'd just finished folding. Twiggy had stopped packing and was gripping a silk scarf so tightly it seemed in danger of fusing to her hands.

Mena reached over and gently eased the crushed fabric out of the girl's fingers. As she smoothed it out, she continued, "I wandered for a few days until I ran into a group of Defiers. Defiers, as you know, all come to the sect because some catastrophe has broken them past all hope of repair. The one thing they have left is a desire to spend whatever life they have left pitting themselves against Sedellus's evil in whatever ways they can. So I studied the things that would help us thwart the Bitch. I learned that Sedellus is a harsh mistress who demands that her followers dare to defy her, and destroy themselves if necessary to stop her. I began to believe that any learning is meaningless if not used against Sedellus, and that strength without purpose will wither and die.” Mena added, almost to herself, “Fire cannot live without Air."

Twiggy managed a question. "Weren't you young to join a group like that? You were only twelve."

Mena gave a shrug. "I had to make a fair argument to the Sisters. But Defiers don't generally turn anyone away if they truly want to be there. Have you noticed that Defiers all have rather hideous names?"

Twiggy shook her head, puzzled. "Philomena' isn't hideous."

Mena chuckled. "'Philomena isn't my formal name. Defiers all take names that represent the event that brought them to the sect, to remind them of the reasons why Sedellus must not be allowed to go unchecked. My formal name is Dame The Searing. When I was told that my next assignment would be teaching a young noble girl and her brother, I adopted something less...menacing, so as not to frighten my students before I'd even opened my mouth. It seemed only sporting."

Twiggy was quiet for a long moment. "Dame Mena," she ventured. "I don't think you did anything wrong." Mena stiffened, but Twiggy went on. "You were trying to save your teachers, and Kindle wanted you to do anything you could to save them. It was an accident."

Mena folded a final pair of stockings. "Sometimes we mean well and do great harm anyway," she said softly. "Our intentions might be very admirable indeed, but we're still responsible for acting without thinking." She shook herself and tucked the stockings into the pack. "That's why I always insist that you do your research and think things through. There, I think that's everything packed up now." Mena moved as if to leave, but Twiggy spoke again.

"But that’s not my point. It’s not just that you’re not culpable, as the Justicars would say. It’s also that you did your best. You always tell us to do our best, and that’s exactly what you did under the circumstances. That means there's no reason for Ehkt to turn his back on you. And I think Brother Shining would agree with me, or he wouldn't have spoken to you when you needed him."

Mena stared open-mouthed at her student for a moment. Twiggy seemed to be oscillating between being very pleased with her point and being nervous about her teacher's reaction. Finally, Mena nodded sharply. "I'll have to consider that a while." She paused, then added, "Thank you, Twiggy."

With another fraction of a smile, Mena left Twiggy with a bed full of packed bags and walked back to her own room, full of tempting, dangerous thoughts of Ehkt and the kinds of fire that leave no scars at all.



The next morning brought a sheaf of messages, nearly all requesting meetings. Meetings, Twiggy mused, appeared to be one of the consequences of success.

Lord Ono’s message, “Come at once,” was atop the pile.

In Lord Ono’s office, Twiggy stood on tiptoes to spy the top of the Inquisitor’s head, barely visible behind the stacks of paper that, if anything, had grown since the day before. “Several of my men did not show up for work today,” he said, shifting one pile under another. “If I could ever have called them my men. Best that they’re gone. Of course that means more paperwork . . .”

He stopped. “But that’s not why I summoned you. It seems you’re famous,” he said, emerging from behind the desk with a scroll of heavy parchment. He focused on them as he conveyed its message. “‘Lady Akiko-sama, head of the Inquisition in the Sovereignty, heir to the Lord High Regent, has received word of the Cauldron Inquisition’s achievement in quelling the Tide. She requests a meeting with the heathen Inquisitors and the Adepts who witnessed their work.’ You should prepare to leave for Divine Mark tomorrow.”

Twiggy’s heart danced in her chest. This meeting was what they’d been working for! She allowed herself to bask for a moment in the feeling of having done something important, something that made a difference in people’s lives, something worthy of notice from the head of the Inquisition in the entire Sovereignty. Twiggy had always believed that what they were doing for Rose was important—personally, politically, and even divinely—but, she allowed herself to muse, meeting the heir to the Lord High Regent was a very long way from tugging at Mama Rossi’s apron in the kitchen of the Estate. Twiggy looked at Rose and beamed. The most important thing wasn’t what they’d accomplished so far, she knew. It was that this brought them closer to understanding the prophecy . . .

Acorn coughed as a cloud of dust rose from a shifting pile of papers. I bet Lady Akiko-sama has a clean office, he interjected.

Shush, Twiggy thought. Lord Ono is talking.

“As you know,” Lord Ono continued, rummaging through more papers, “There is no teleport circle in Divine Mark. The teleport network will take you as far as Overlook. We will arrange your lodgings there for tomorrow night. From there it is a few days’ travel over the plateau to Divine Mark.”

Well if we’re leaving tomorrow, Acorn thought, I’m having a bath tonight.


The rest of the morning was a whirlwind of meetings and preparations. Mena met with Sister Sweet Scent, who expressed her gratitude to the entire party and wished them good fortune. She gave Mena a pair of beautiful dice, carved from Ketkath ivory. “Thank you,” Mena had replied. “I think Sedellus’s change has worked for the better in me.” And she meant it, although it felt strange to say.

Mena also joined Nyoko in meeting with Brother Ono, who was, gradually, becoming more comfortable with the Priesthood’s need for his personal variety of unmoving rock.

Over lunch at the Inn, everyone else reported on their meetings. Kormick met with the head of the Eighths, although he didn’t say why. Tavi met again with Lord Ono, who praised his leadership and gave him a sturdy cloak bearing the Inquisitors’ symbol. Nyoko spent hours cloistered with Lord Masa, giving him her Witness of the months’ events. Twiggy met with the Head of Military, who gave Twiggy a pair of golden bracelets and extended a permanent invitation to play Go. Everyone had done some shopping, to provision themselves for the trip.

“And the visit to Mother Satsuki?” Mena inquired. “How did that go?” Savina, Kormick, and Arden had spent much of the day with her, helping her settle into her new office in the main Temple. They reported that Brother Trickling Fountain had been found, soggy, washed up on the shore of the Lake. Mena was relieved that he was alive—and that he didn’t seem to want to return to his position on the Synod.

“Mother Satsuki gave me a bottle of ointment,” Savina reported, “and Kormick offered her his help with anything she might need in the future.”

“Yes,” Kormick chortled, “Why did I do that?”

“Alirria moves through you,” Savina said.

“Yes, yes, she moves through us all,” Kormick responded. Kormick seemed determined not to recognize how . . . downright Alirrian he seemed, sometimes.

“I’m going to the library to do one last bit of research about the prophecy,” Twiggy reported as she finished her tea. “I have some more shopping to do,” said Savina, standing, and one by one, the room cleared.

“I should shop too,” Mena observed to Kormick, when the others had left. “I need to get a dagger, or something.” Her mind flashed to the helplessness she felt in the battle with the Mother Superior, as her legs wouldn’t move and the fighting was too far away for her to help. “I’m fine with a sword, but I need to be able to fight at a distance.”

“Dame Philomena, you are much more than fine with a sword,” Kormick grinned. “You are terrifying.” He stood up. “But come here. I have an idea.” He unclasped a hand-crossbow from its place on his hip and held it out to her. “Let us go to the courtyard and try with this.”


At the Adept library, Twiggy headed straight for the corner that housed the history of the Sheh people. She had read nearly everything she could find about them, but there were just a few scrolls she hadn’t gotten to . . .

Plus, she wanted to say goodbye to the librarian, who had helped her so much during their time in Cauldron—not only with the prophecy, but with everything: making her comfortable, teaching her Go…

But when she arrived, he didn’t greet her. He remained on the other side of the library, his nose in a dry-looking book about the dietary habits of the Ketkath electromagnetic marmot. “Tomako-san?” she asked, quietly, thinking perhaps he hadn’t noticed her.

“Twiggy-san,” he replied, shifting uncomfortably on his cushion, “perhaps you can help yourself today?”

“Is something wrong?”

“It’s only . . .” he shifted again, “As much as I might wish to, I cannot assist you.”


“You know I am a member of the Ungato family?” Tomako asked

Twiggy had not known. She hadn’t thought to ask, she realized. “No, I’m sorry,” she replied. “But why would that matter?”

Tomako looked surprised at the question. “On account of the blood-feud,” he said.

“Blood-feud? What blood-feud?” Twiggy had only the vaguest conception of what one was, much less why it was relevant here.

“Why, the blood-feud between Lady Ungato Tashita and Lady Roseanna di Raprezzi.”



“Kormick? Arden? Can I talk to you?” Rose gestured Kormick to the corner of the Inn’s common room.

Arden was already nursing a cup of tea at the common room’s corner table. Savina still insisted on bringing a tent when they traveled, and Arden had just finished packing a heavy array of Sovereign textiles. She was steeling herself for the return to pack-carrying.

Kormick and Rose settled at the small table beside Arden. “I . . . don’t know quite how to ask this,” Rose began, “but I’m hoping you two can speak to someone on my behalf.”

“You want me and the murder-slave for talking? Not for kneecapping?” Kormick asked.

“This is serious.” Rose insisted. Arden could see concern in her eyes, and fear. “I’m in a situation,” she continued, “and I think you can help. You see, I had . . . an evening with a gentleman, Uroki Takumi, and it turns out that he was betrothed to someone else, and now that girl—Ungato Tashita—has challenged me to a duel, a duel to the death, and I don’t know what to do, you know I can’t kill anyone, and dying . . .” she held out the letter bearing the challenge. “It arrived this morning.”

Arden stared down at the parchment without taking it. “Oh, Rose—” she started to say, caught herself, and changed it to “Signora…” She trailed off in dismay, speechless.

“When, exactly, did this take place?” Kormick asked.

“When you were at the Indulgence Party.”

“You had sex at a puppet show?” Kormick asked.

“Savina lied about the puppet show. We stayed here at the inn. Taku came here. We had supper, and—he didn’t tell me he was betrothed. Really, he didn’t. And Savina said . . .”

Never underestimate Savina di Infusino, Arden thought, for the hundredth time. “Signora,” she asked, “why do you think we can help?”

“The other girl’s family is in the Eighths. The Ungato family. You’ve been dealing with the Eighths. Maybe you can get them to call it off?” The idea was so naive it was almost funny.

Kormick was muttering to himself. “Go take the rich girl on a trip, Kormick. You’ll be back before summer. Oh, no, nothing can go wrong. No chance that she’ll have a one night stand that could anger an entire city’s network of organized crime. Noooo.”

“I was just having some fun,” Rose said. “You have fun, I thought I could have some fun. And I really liked him. The only men I ever see are my brother and you. And he really liked me. I know it.”

“You, little miss ‘I went to a puppet show, and now I have a blood-duel,’ you don’t get to defend yourself. There’s no universal right to fun.” Kormick shook his head. “Young love.” He grumbled again, and then stood up. “You—” he pointed at Rose— “stay put. Arden, you and I will go to the den of crime, now, and do what we can do.”

Even coming from Kormick, it sounded naive.


“Stew? Stew. Two stews,” Kormick announced, as they sat down at their usual table at the Inn of Generous Portions. “Arden, you know what to do. Lurk and wait to stab.” Arden sighed into her stew. It was, she had to admit, tasty stew.

Soon, Daisuki joined them, flanked as usual by two muscled men.

“We are hoping to talk with you about a misunderstanding,” Kormick began.

In response, one of the muscled men sat down. Daisuki raised his eyebrow, but let his henchman talk: “I am Ungato Kunami. I think you’re here for me.”

“Your daughter is betrothed to Uroki Takumi?”

“Since birth,” the man responded.

“And your daughter has challenged our friend, Roseanna di Raprezzi, to a duel?”

The man nodded.

“You should know,” Kormick said, “that the young man deceived Roseanna. She did not know he was engaged. With this in mind, we hope it may be possible to satisfy your daughter’s honor through conversation and reparation, rather than violence?”

Ungato Kunami sighed. “It wasn’t my idea for my daughter to cause a stir with the heroes of the moment.” He gestured to the Inquisitor’s robe that Kormick had left folded on the table. “She’s picked up some bad habits from the Ehktians. But she’s set her teeth on this one. I already told her to call it off, and she wouldn’t listen. Says it’s an Ehktian rite and it can’t be called off.”

Ehktians, Arden sighed inwardly. Spoiled rich kids.


Arden and Kormick returned to the common room of the Inn of Comfortable Repose to find it anything but comfortable. Tavi was pacing back and forth with his hands on his hips. Savina was standing behind Rose, with her hands on Rose’s shoulders. Nyoko was sitting off to the side, focusing very intently on a cup of tea. Twiggy was hiding behind a potted plant.

Mena was as angry as Arden had ever seen her. “By the grace of the Gods, you’ll make it to older. But you are so very young. You don’t even understand what you did wrong?”

“He seemed very nice,” Savina said. “I was there. We had tea first . . .”

“Signora di Infusino,” Mena hissed, “You. Will. Be. Quiet.”

Savina pouted and stared at Mena before continuing. “Tavi, you met him too . . .”

“I didn’t sleep with him,” Tavi growled. “Savina, you—”

Savina stamped her foot. “Just because you’re obsessed,” she turned to Tavi, “and you’re paranoid,” she turned to Mena, “doesn’t mean—”

Rose threw a cup at the wall. It shattered. Everyone froze.

“I consulted an Alirrian priestess in a matter of love. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“You really don’t understand,” Mena took a slow, controlled breath. “It’s not that you consulted an Alirrian priestess. It’s not that you met a boy. It’s not even that you had a relationship with him. It’s that you didn’t do your research.” Her voice hardened. “This could all have been prevented with some simple research.” She took another slow, controlled, terrifying breath.

“Mena?” Kormick interjected from the doorway. Everyone in the room spun to stare at him. “You seem angry.”

“Thank the Gods we have a guide to interpret these things,” Mena spat back at him.

“We talked with the girl’s father,” Kormick continued. “She’s an Ehktian. Thinks this is an Ehktian ritual of some sort.”

“Perhaps it’s a Tide plot to convince the girl to pervert the faith of Ehkt?” Twiggy stood up from behind the plant.

“No,” Mena replied, “The blood-duel is a real Ehktian rite. A very old one, and not commonly used anymore, but it’s real.”

Mena paused for a long time. “I have an idea.”


First Post
Ehktians, Arden sighed inwardly. Spoiled rich kids.

I love this. I can see where Arden is coming from. "Challenges just for the sake of being challenged? The rest of us get challenged by life if we like it or not. Only folks who need to seek out 'challenges' are folks who have it so easy they don't know what being challenged is all about."


First Post
I love this. I can see where Arden is coming from. "Challenges just for the sake of being challenged? The rest of us get challenged by life if we like it or not. Only folks who need to seek out 'challenges' are folks who have it so easy they don't know what being challenged is all about."

Mena will point out that not everyone who is confronted by life's challenges makes any effort to meet or overcome them. She will also point out that there is nothing inherently lazy or inferior about choosing to push yourself to do better than you did yesterday.

She will further point out that it's just as easy to make out sects of other religions to be nothing but spoiled rich kids: people who devote themselves to nothing but love? or the perfection of dance? or memorizing all the laws to the last word but not acting to change them? Gracious, what useful purpose is any of that?

All of which is to say that Mena doesn't think it does much good to judge others based on one's own lack of understanding of the value of their pursuits. Tends to lead horrible things. Like politics.

Her player wishes to add that sometimes people pursue challenges because they've been hit with so many difficult things that they need to make sure they can still overcome things. Sometimes the people who need to prove they can do it are the ones already surviving more than their fair share of "real" challenges. Mena and I clearly agree that a little less judgement is probably in order.


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Rughat -- You've nailed Arden's feelings just about precisely. Because of her background, the Questors, in particular, often make little sense to her at a gut level (not that this girl was necessarily a Questor). I believe there was a day in Pol Aego when she was all over bruises and sunburn and blisters and she watched a pair of Questors galloping down the road and just thought... what a luxury they have.

Jenber -- Arden and Mena's friendship has gone far to open Arden's mind to Ehktian philosophy over the course of the campaign, and she wholeheartedly supports Mena's own take on the Ehtkian worldview.

For myself out-of-character, I've loved stories of knights-errant since I was 8 (?), so I'm more tolerant of questin'.... ;)


First Post
Jenber - Oh, I understand Mena's point of view too! I've done things just to see if I could, and set myself to challenges to improve myself. Oh, and I've got a 6 year old who seems to be a born Questor. It seems like every new object is a challenge saying "how high can you climb on this?"

What I loved about Arden's statement was how I had not seen that part of Arden's personality before, but with just that one phrase I suddenly understood a lot more about her.

I wasn't judging the philosophy in the story - I was commending the craft of those telling it!


Say, is it time for a bump? Then let this be a complimentary bump.

Fajitas, besides the awesome game, great job on Leverage this year. Frame-Up & K-Street were terrific.

Sent from my MB860 using Tapatalk 2



Thanks for the bump! It's always so encouraging to know that people are looking forward to updates. And sorry for the delay in posting -- real life commitments have intruded on our fun writing time. But have no fear: there's lots more in the pipeline!


“Not that business again,” Brother Burnout said, as Mena stood in his office at the Temple of the Keepers. “Tashita-san is one of our most active members. She showed me the book explaining the blood-duel. I advised against it, but it was in the book. I couldn’t forbid it.” He ushered her in through the anteroom of the Temple of the Keepers of Light into his office.

Mena was still angry—angry at Savina for putting Rose in danger, and even angrier at Rose for making such a preventable mistake—but although she wished someone had given her some advanced warning about Ungato Tashita’s plan to challenge Rose, she wasn’t angry at Brother Burnout, and in any case, she knew anger wouldn’t help her here. She scanned the shelves of Brother Burnout’s office and, to her relief, found the text of Ehktian sagas she was looking for. “May I?” she asked.

Brother Burnout nodded.

“There are many tales of Ehktian blood-duels in history, and great variation in how they are carried out.” Mena flipped through the book until she found the saga she had in mind. She’d thought it was funny when she was a child; she’d never thought it would be useful. Now, it might be the one story in Ehktian history that could prevent this disaster. “Take this one, for example,” she continued. “The blood-duel of Brother Ember and Brother Bright.

…and thus accused, they wrestled mightily, until Brother Ember was covered in the mud and Brother Bright was clean, and Brother Bright bade him bray like a donkey, and he did, and the crowd let up a cheer to see Brother Ember so humiliated. And thereafter it was known that Brother Ember was defeated, and forevermore he drank ale not from a mug, but from a bowl.

You see,” Mena continued, “some blood-duels result in actual blood, but they don’t have to. This one didn’t.”

Brother Burnout considered for a moment, and then asked Mena to wait. He returned in a few minutes with a spiky-haired girl of about 13. She had recently dyed her hair red and pierced her eyebrow, but Mena recognized her instantly as the girl who’d been so eager to hear her stories when she first came to the temple, months ago. She’s just a kid! Mena thought, and settled in to teach a history lesson.

It wasn’t easy. The girl was as excitable as promised, and wouldn’t pay attention for more than a few minutes at a time. But by the end, she agreed to a bout with practice weapons, designed to humiliate rather than injure. “But Taku will be there to watch when I kick her butt,” the girl insisted. “I’ll knock her down and make her look funny.”

Mena thought that was just fine.


Tavi was worried as they approached the Ungato home. My whole life, he thought, and it all comes down to this. “I’ll be right there, ready to switch places with you if you’re hurt,” he said. “You won’t have to draw blood.”

Rose seemed a good deal more comfortable than he did. “I know.”

“Look. She’s going to hit Rose with a stick, Rose will fall down, and we’ll be on our way to Divine Mark,” Kormick told Tavi. It wasn’t terribly comforting. True, they’d done their research this time. They could find no connection between Ungato Tashita and the Questors’ previous attempt to capture Rose. They knew that something was out to get Rose—they’d faced too many swarming attacks on the road to Cauldron to think otherwise—but they weren’t on the road now, and whatever shady forces drove those attacks, there was no discernible tie between them and Ungato Tashita. So this probably wasn’t an assassination attempt, and Kormick was probably right.

But that didn’t mean Tavi wasn’t concerned. My whole life, he thought again, and the refrain kept racing through his head. Our whole lives come down to this.

A servant let them into the estate and to a courtyard behind the house where the girl’s father waited with his arms crossed. Uroki Takumi stood beside him, shoulders slumped, not making eye contact with anyone.

There was a pit in the middle of the courtyard, filled with vegetable and animal waste. It smelled horrible. Two narrow posts stood in the middle of the pit, with planks leading to them.

Ungato Tashita—dressed in bright red, her spiky hair glinting in the sunlight—strode from the house carrying two wooden swords and a large stone. She handed the stone to Nyoko and held out one of the swords to Rose. “We’ll stand on the posts. The Adept will drop the stone. When the stone lands, we’ll fight. Whoever falls, loses. Right?” She looked at Mena, who nodded.

Tavi prepared himself. Our whole lives…

The girls walked across their respective planks to the posts. Servants removed the planks, leaving just the posts. Tavi held his breath.

Nyoko dropped the stone.

Ungato Tashita swung her wooden sword like a bat.

Rose waved her hand. The post holding Ungato Tashita disappeared and instantly reappeared three feet away.

The girl fell, with a squelching noise, into the muck below.

Rose fey-stepped the few feet from the post to solid ground. “Can we go now?” she asked.

Everyone else exhaled.


As the others were preparing to leave, Twiggy stopped by the Adept library to say goodbye to Tomako-san. When she arrived, he had a stack of books and scrolls ready for her to read. “I think I found some things that might help with your prophecy,” he said, visibly relieved that he could talk to her again. “About that Sheh madwoman.”

Indeed, he had gathered some interesting information. Twiggy wasn’t sure how it fit together, but she finally, after spending so much time reading old Sovereign texts, was starting to feel like she was getting closer to the larger picture.

The first was a basic matter of translation: In the language of the Old Ones, the word “Sheh” meant “wall.” That tended to support Kormick’s idea that the Sheh had something to do with the “guarding tower” in the prophecy. Find the last stone of the ruined wall, Twiggy thought. The records showed that the Sheh were eradicated—but maybe they really weren’t. Maybe they had to find the last of the Sheh.

The second piece of information was both more worrisome and less helpful. At the time that the Sheh madwoman was executed, there was apparently a rash of murders of infant girls. The records indicated that there were multiple killings by multiple killers, and that they seemed to spread East toward the coast from somewhere deep in the western Ketkath. The Sheh were from the western Ketkath, Twiggy knew. It meant that the Sheh madwoman wasn’t the only one killing infant girls. But beyond that, it was hard to know what it meant.


Not long after dawn, the group gathered up their bags and bundles and headed to Cauldron’s teleport house. Unsuku was waiting for them there.

“Ready to meet Lady Akiko, heir to the Lord High Regent?” Kormick asked as the telemancer prepared the circle for their travel to Overlook.

“We have a good bit of walking from Overlook to Divine Mark, first,” Unsuku reminded him.

“But I’m still looking forward to it,” Twiggy replied. She grasped Rose’s hand and squeezed as they stepped into the teleport circle.

The teleport activated. The world went white, and instantly, the sulphurous smell of Cauldron was gone. A telemancer said “Welcome to Overlook.”

Twiggy’s hand was empty.

Rose was gone.



Tavi opened his mouth to taste the freshness of the Overlook air. He opened his eyes and turned to share the moment with Rose. “It’s so—” his throat closed. Where? Rose? Where? The words circled each other in his mind.

A telemancer had been talking. “…are you new to Overlook?”

“You.” Tavi nailed the man with a glare. “What have you done? What is your name? What is your title?”

The telemancer backed up hastily. “G--Goodman Rafael Miele, at your service.” He bowed in the Sovereign style, although his name and clothing were Hennan. “Chief Telemancer of the City of Overlook for the di Raprezzi teleport network. And I’m afraid I don’t know what you—”

“You’re incompetent, or lying,” Tavi pressed. “Surely you can count. There were nine of us in Cauldron. Now there are eight. You left my sister behind.” Tavi took a step forward. “My sister, Roseanna di Raprezzi. I am Octavian di Raprezzi, and this—” he gestured toward the open space beside him— “is unacceptable.”

The telemancer’s eyes widened as he realized he had, in effect, lost the boss’s daughter. “But Signor,” his voice wavered, “that cannot be. I don’t know how…one moment…” He arranged some spell components on the workbench behind him, closed his eyes, and muttered an incantation. In a few seconds, he looked up. “The telemancer at Cauldron says she left from there, and everything was normal. There was no sign of tampering. The circle here is normal. It is not possible to teleport some things in the circle but not others. This has never happened before. I—I don’t know what—”

“Then find out,” Tavi barked. He was as angry at himself as he was at the telemancer. Our whole lives… he recalled his worry from the duel, so trivial in retrospect. My one job is to protect her. And I don’t even know where she is.

“I will. Right now. I will find out.” Miele turned back to his workbench and arranged more spell components for what Tavi recognized as diagnostic cantrips. His face looked like Twiggy’s did when she was following the paths of magic with her mind. He stayed like that for what felt like an eternity. Tavi had to remind himself to breathe.

Suddenly the telemancer opened his eyes. “This shouldn’t be possible.”

“What? What is it?” Twiggy asked, even before Tavi could.

“She was pushed from the teleport,” the telemancer said, as if it was a phrase that made sense.

“Pushed?” Kormick asked.

“That’s the only way I can describe it,” the telemancer replied. “She went into the teleport, but something knocked her off course before she reached Overlook,” he said. “I can see the residual energy. But I cannot see how it was done, or by whom.”

“Someone ‘pushed’ at the precise moment she was mid-teleport? Wouldn’t that take incredible luck?” Mena asked.

“Or incredible skill,” the telemancer replied.

“But she is alive,” Savina said, “isn’t she?”

“You sell scrolls of sending, don’t you? Twiggy said, pointing at a wall of scrolls in the teleport center’s front room. She held out a pouch. Tavi knew the price of a sending scroll; 360 Gold was enough to exhaust Twiggy’s purse. Tavi was sure he could convince Miele to give them the scrolls, but he knew the telemancer would have to account to the di Raprezzi household for every scroll. If a scroll went missing, the telemancer would have to explain why, and then their mother would know they were in Overlook. Unless our mother is to blame for this whole mess in the first place, Tavi steamed. But if she didn’t know, paying was best. And paying—and protecting Rose—was Tavi’s job. Tavi thrust his purse in front of Twiggy’s.

“By all means, Signor,” the telemancer replied, and put Tavi’s gold in a lockbox in the front room. He returned with a scroll.

Twiggy’s hand shook as she took it. “Here’s what I’m going to say,” she said, as she unrolled the scroll. “‘We are safe in Overlook. What happened? Where are you? Are you ok? Are you in immediate danger? Be careful, love Twiggy et al.’ That’s twenty-four words. We could use one more if we needed, but—”

“That’s enough questions for four sendings,” Tavi replied.

Twiggy held the scroll, closed her eyes, and concentrated. The scroll’s words faded into the paper as its expended its magic.

Twiggy furrowed her brow, gave a ragged breath, and opened her eyes. “Nothing,” she said. “She may be too far away… but I was really nervous. Maybe if I tried again…”

The telemancer nodded. “You’re welcome to try a second scroll, but—”

Tavi couldn’t think of anything he cared about less than money right then. His sister was missing, for the gods’ sakes. He poured his purse out on the workbench. “Whatever you need.”

The telemancer handed another scroll to Twiggy. Tavi took Twiggy’s hand. It was sweaty. He put his hand on her shoulder. Mena was at her other shoulder. Tavi could feel her breathing settle as she concentrated again. The words faded into the paper again.

Suddenly, Twiggy grabbed a quill from the table, and started scribbling on the scroll. “Am okay,” she wrote. “No immediate danger, I think. In forest, probably Ketkath. Very freaked out. Trying to build beacon. Have telemancer look for signal. Love, Rose.”

Tavi exhaled. “Goodman Miele?”

The telemancer was already arranging things on his workbench. “I don’t know what she expects me to see. I looked a moment ago—hey!” he interrupted himself. “I can sense it. Something like a teleport circle, but not a teleport circle. In the mountains, over a hundred miles from here. To the East, and I believe, the south. Fifty to a hundred miles off the Follow Road. I can’t be more precise. It’s very crude. No offense meant, Signor. It is impressive. But crude.”

“None taken,” Tavi replied. “So tell us, how do we retrieve her?”

“The difficulty is getting to where she is. I can sell you a scroll of linked portal that will get you back here from there. But there is no teleport circle where she is. We will need a more…improvised ritual. She has managed to create a beacon. If we can use that to get a fix on her location, it may be possible to send you to where she has placed the beacon. It will,” he sighed, “take time to improvise the ritual, I’m afraid.”

“How long?” Mena asked. “Someone pushed her out of the teleport. They could use that beacon to find her. Or maybe they already know where she is.”

“Hours. Several. Many. I will need to do research. Fewer hours if you help me,” he said. He was sweating. He began pulling books from a shelf over his workbench. Twiggy began to flip through one. Tavi picked up another book and started to skim.

“Aha!” Miele exclaimed, about an hour later. “Come here. Look.” He was staring into a pool of water in a metal bowl. Tavi looked over his shoulder. Savina looked over the other shoulder. Nyoko poked her head behind Savina’s. In the water’s reflection, Tavi could see a forested area. A pile of sticks and feathers and crystals sat in the middle of it. The beacon, Tavi realized. Behind the beacon, there was a hill of scree, leading up to a mountain face.

“Schist!” exclaimed Nyoko.

“What?” Tavi turned to face her.

“Schist! Garnetiferous schist! With a lamellar band of hornblende!”

“Are you speaking Common?” Tavi asked.

“Those are kinds of rocks, Signor,” Arden said, from behind him.

“Yes, kinds of rocks that are only found together in a few parts of the Ketkath,” Nyoko replied, “and only one is east of here.” Everyone stared at her. “All Adepts learn Geology,” she explained, “when we’re young.” Unsuku nodded. Nyoko and Unsuku pointed the telemancer to an area on a map of the Ketkath. Rose was surely within a half-day’s walk of there, they assured Tavi.

Savina was still staring at the scrying pool. “There’s something odd here,” she said. “As I follow the scry, I can sense what pushed Rose. It’s not regular teleport magic. There’s something divine about it. Something Alirrian. But it’s not quite a prayer, either.”

“Teleportation is arcane,” Mena said, “but travel is Alirrian. And it’s possible to blend arcane and divine magic, although it’s rare. Some mixture of arcane and Alirrian magic would be the best means of doing something like this.”

“And it’s so precise,” Tavi remarked. “It reminds me of the animal swarms that attacked Rose. Somehow, someone knew when we were on a travel route, and where we were, down to the minute. Someone is watching us when we travel, and attacking us when we do. Mena’s right, that sounds like an Alirrian with arcane ability.”

“But why would an Alirrian want to push Rose from a teleport?” Savina asked the question, but Tavi knew everyone was thinking it.

No one had an answer. The room fell silent, everyone lost in thought. The telemancer returned to work. Everyone helped in their own ways. Tavi, Twiggy, and Mena researched. Savina brought tea. Nyoko shared the stronger stimulant she made a habit of chewing. Arden retrieved spell components from the teleport center’s storeroom. Kormick told stories of stakeouts in Dar Und.

The sun began to set. “Aha!” The telemancer exclaimed again. “We have it!” Twiggy was placing a crystal in a circle of spell components on the other side of the room. “Remarkable! An improvised ritual in only twelve hours!” Tavi didn’t think that the word only was appropriate. But he was relieved, and gladly handed over an additional 360 Gold for the privilege of sending to Rose that they were on their way.

Five seconds later, Twiggy scribbled Rose’s response. “Have had to move. Am hiding in a cave. Woods not safe. Have left you a trail.”

Everyone but Unsuku—who grimly pointed out that someone needed to stay behind to bear their Witness if they never returned—crowded into the small improvised circle.

The world went white, then dark. Tavi peered upward. A faint sliver of moonlight flickered through twilight tree cover. Leaves crunched under his feet.

Tavi peered into the darkness and reached out to his left and right. Nothing. “Hello?” No response.

Tavi was alone.


Oh no! Where is everyone?!? Eeee!

Also, I love this Story Hour and I love the writers and I love the players and I love the GM.

Level Up: Advanced 5th Edition Starter Box

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