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Aphonion Tales (New posts 6/13, 6/15, 6/19)

“They’re dressed up like clowns, but they’re not happy like clowns are supposed to be. And they’re mean.”

“Those would be more of the Algarothian assassins that Quinliart hired, then.”

The Farsensor coughed lightly. “Your grace, if I may… we would be happy to deal with them for you, under the circumstances.”

“Thank you, we would be most grateful. And if they can be taken alive for questioning…”

“I’ll ask my captain to do his best.”

Within a few moments, the gray elf captain and a detachment of elves entered, carrying two unconscious forms. “We were able to take them without difficulty. Those crystal manacles and leg braces will drain off any psionic energy.”

“What about psionic attacks? Some of the other assassins have been killed by their master to prevent them from giving up information.”

“The bonds would absorb psionic energy from outside sources just as easily as their psionic reserves.”

“Perfect. We should be able to interrogate them then.”

“Your grace,” interjected Dame Brionna, “we’ll need to check them for traps and suicide methods.”

“Of course… Lady Constance, perhaps?”

The elderly diabolist joined them presently. “Hmm. No spinal bombs in this one, but a large poison sack. He could probably spit one dose, although even that would kill him.”

“Huh. Surprisingly safe.”

“I wouldn’t say that, your grace. The poison would cause its victims’ body to disintegrate into goo.”

“Yes, but only one victim. I would have expected something to kill many people.”

“Perhaps.” Lady Constance finished the work of removing it and handed the sack to a waiting devil. As she turned to the second drow, she smiled. “Most interesting… he has no traps at all, although I think he is a mage as well as a psion. I should guess that he’s an officer.”

“Excellent,” said Alistair.
 

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“But how can we interrogate him?” asked Mahler. “We can’t let him speak without risking spells.”

“Most spells require somatic components,” said Dame Brionna.

“Yes, but not Suggestion,” said Alistair. “Normally, we could have Kit read his mind…”

“But not while he’s in the psionic damper shackles.”

They discussed the problem for some time before reaching an unpleasant conclusion.

“If he’s in enough pain that he can’t concentrate, he won’t be able to cast,” said Alistair. “We could also use the Gem of Truth to force him to answer our questions.”

“Let’s interrogate the other one first,” said Dame Brionna. “What we can get from him will help determine whether we need to use the Gem of Truth on the officer, and it will give us better questions in any event.” She looked over at young Lord Brightspan. “Perhaps it would be best if you joined Abigail and your brother, your lordship.”

Alistair frowned. “You may leave, if you wish. But you will be a great lord someday, and you should learn some of the less pleasant parts of your duty. You may hear disturbing things, including things about your family… but there is no room in the life of a noble for ignorance.”

“Can I stay over here in the corner, far away from him?”

“Yes.”

“Both you and the Archduke must, in fact, stay well clear of the prisoner, just in case,” added Dame Brionna.

“Then I’ll stay here with my friend.”

“I will stay also, if I may,” added the Farsensor. “I think his answers may be as relevant for my Kingdom as they are for yours.”

“As you wish. We would not have the prisoners to interrogate at all without your great assistance.” Alistair nodded to Dame Brionna, who carefully woke the prisoner.

“Amazing. I’ve been captured alive.”

“Who are you, and why are you here?” asked Alistair.

The prisoner stared at him, eyes wide and poorly focused. “We are emissaries from the Prince of the Stone City, lent to the Commander of the Sixth District.”

“And yet you fight on? Even after the Ninth District moved in force against Quinliart?”

“His setbacks are temporary, but the glory from raising one of the ancient cthons will not be temporary. Short-sighted is his cousin.” The drow worked himself up into a frenzy as he continued ranting. “She does not see the great picture, and she rejects the teachings of Lord Morgroth. And he still lives and he still moves, beneath. He has lost some allies and his cousin slew his kinfolk, but he still lives.”

“But your plans against the Archduke will all fail,” said Dame Brionna.

“One of us will succeed. It is written in the pillars in the depths of the city in the Seachen lands.”

“Perhaps the prophecy has been misunderstood?” suggested Alistair.

“No! It is written that the one the elves love well will fall in the light of the red moon, on the night of the rise of the Cthon of Cats and the return of the Council of the Vermin to their proper place. And given the aid Singing Leaves gives you, who else could ‘the one the elves love well’ be? Had you but yielded… Great could have been your reward. But now, with the rising of the Cthon, the Cthon, together with the newly ennobled molydeus, will join us in a strike north against Singing Leaves. We have waited 3000 years. Our wait is almost at its end…”

“Why do you care about the Archduke?”

“The royal house must fall. The seers have looked. While you stand, the wood will not fall. And your young god will not permit this.”

“But your attempts are failing. What hope do you have now?”

The drow struggled for a moment, but his insane urge to rant overcame his knowledge that it would hurt his cause. “He will still die. When the coronation comes… Those of us that remain will spread out in the crowds and begin to kill. The basis of your power is their understanding that they serve you and that you protect them. You will have to intervene when they begin to kill. And there are not enough of his accursed kind to protect you when you do.” He gestured with his head at the Eldar.

The Archducal Council exchanged worried glances. It was a dismayingly good plan.
 

Dame Brionna asked, “And what about the rituals and the sacrifices? When will those take place?”

Kit added, “You might as well tell us since the prophecy will ensure that it will happen anyway.”

“The final sacrifices will take place at the third point thirty days before the completion. The vessel is being brought forth. Both great circles that have been formed will act. One from beneath the sea, and one from on the land. The Spice Lands army will be devastated. When they reach the city that he used to rule and offer up the vessel, he will rise, and enter into one of the unclaimed planes of the abyss. The artifacts will be consumed. Their energy will strengthen him.” He glared at Alistair. “You should have cooperated. You would have been received with great favor.”

“Perhaps it’s not too late… If I chose to offer myself at the ritual, where would I go for the final sacrifice?”

“To the ancient city of the Serpent folk. They defeated him in his first incarnation. His discarnate form has already occupied their city in the deepest point of the rock’s impact. And though they think that only they know where the lost city is, they are fools, for we also remember. You should go there, and you can join the greatly favored ones.”

“Who were the others?”

“A young member of the House of Caldra, offered willingly by her mother; the second, a willing servant, a young boy born crippled from the womb, who offered himself willingly to the Abomination; the third, the unwilling virgin, the Princess Anastasia of Hanal, in the fortress of the Muldar, two and a half months from now.”

“And what if I wished to seek out Quinliart first, to make amends and to ally through him?”

“Quinliart passes beneath in the underways, but dares not surface. And there are those among the rebels who also support this cause, so he passes unhindered, although all of his personal household were killed in the bombardment.” With that, the drow ‘s eyes rolled back in his head, and he slumped over, unconscious.

“He must have willed himself unconscious to stop talking,” said the Farsensor.

The Council agreed and sat in silence as they thought about what they had learned. He had confirmed much of what they had thought and had given them some additional information, but knowing what was happening and how to stop it were two very different things.

End of Session 12
 

Session 13:

The following morning, with six days left before the coronation, the Council gathered to review the reports. The City report was brief-- after the capture of the two Harlequins, the murders in the City had completely stopped. Dame Brionna had received some reports of movements, perhaps of spies, outside the City but without any details. Based on their motions, her contacts could not be sure that the spies’ target was the Archduke. The spies might be altogether unrelated to the Archduchy.

“Spies, huh?” responded Kit. “Sounds like my department. I’ll check it out.”

“Can you also have your people look for the rest of the Harlequins?” asked Dame Brionna. “Even with the capture of these two, the four killed by the voller’s artillery, and the one Quinliart killed for meeting Stythus, that leaves thirteen still active.”

“And that’s assuming twenty was an exact count,” added Alistair. “We need to eliminate a lot more of them before the coronation. Otherwise, their plan will be very difficult to stop. He was right-- if they start openly attacking during the coronation, we’ll have no choice but to respond. And if we can’t defeat them…”

“Don’t worry,” said Kit. “My people will find them.”

Kit slipped out and passed the word about what she was looking for on to her network. One of her standard contacts quickly approached her with a report.

“Don’t know what to tell you ‘bout the clowns, ma’am. They were active throughout the City until yesterday afternoon, then pfft-- nothing. They’ve disappeared from the underways, no signs of them in the slums… We’ll look for ‘em, but if they lie low, it’ll be hard.”

“What about the plague vials they were spreading?”

“We’ve been hauling those in by the handful, and bringing them to the temples like you said. We’ve got almost all of them by now.”

“That’s good, but not good enough. I need every last one of those off the streets.”

“Yes, ma’am,” said the rogue, a little chastised. “I’ll have our people work harder.”
 

Kit nodded, satisfied, and went to meet one of her operatives who specializes in counter-intelligence. “Do you know anything about some spies operating outside the City?”

“Yes, Dame Katherine. There’s a lot of activity, but only one group really concerns me. A group of rangers were dropped off by a fast-moving voller northwest of the City.”

“Any idea whose voller it was?”

“We don’t know for sure, but I’d wager it was from Hanal. It was a clearly human make, but it moved fast-- much faster than almost any human vollers. They keep some of their best back, so…”

“Right. Thanks.”

Kit passed on the report to the rest of the Council.

Dame Brionna frowned. “Why does everyone else have plenty of vollers? Our sky fleet has a handful of vessels, but even second-rate powers have as large a fleet as we do.”

“Most human realms on Drucien buy their vollers from Hanal,” replied Alistair. “Even at the best of times, our relations with Hanal have been a little strained. The elves never sell their vollers, so there are only a handful of ships of elven make that have been gifted to people out of their control.”

“I understand all that, your grace, but it still frustrates and worries me. It’s a serious strategic liability. Perhaps we should look into developing a domestic voller industry.”

“Fine, we’ll work on that after we’ve dealt with the pressing matters. What do you think the spies could be looking for?”

“If they’re even just spies,” said Dame Brionna. “A group that size, setting up in the wilderness… that sounds more like an ambush to me.”

“An ambush targeting who?” asked Kit. “They’re too far out for it to be aimed at Alistair…”

“If they’re northwest of the capital, that’s the path that the One of One’s will travel with his party to attend the coronation,” Dame Brionna replied. “Surely there are some people who would benefit from something happening to him.”
 

“We’re not going to figure out what they’re about from here. Do we have someone we can send to investigate?”

“What about the Huntmaster, your grace?”

“Is he still busy recovering plague vials?” asked Kit. “I have my people trying to recover the last few, but we can’t afford to miss any. And I thought he was mostly city based?”

“I think that his role in that has basically finished. If your people can finish it up, he should be available. He says that he’s equally good at tracking in the wild.”

“Good,” said Alistair. “If he is free, send him.”

Jacques returned from his trip near the end of the day and reported to the Council. “There are about twenty of them. I can track them for short distances, but I was not able to trace them back to a camp.”

“Do you know anything about their intentions?” asked Dame Brionna. “Could you hear any of their conversations?”

“No, I wasn’t able to get close enough to them to hear their conversations without risking discovery. They are operating immediately around the royal preserve.” Jacques paused. “They’re also killing local woodsmen.”

Kit looked at him in surprise. “Do you think there were fights?”

“No. These are more like assassinations-- they attack the woodsmen from behind, kill them quickly with a few strokes. They're either trying to eliminate anyone who might bring back reports about them, or they just want to kill people.” Jacques waited to see whether there were any other questions.

“Thank you for the report,” said Alistair in dismissal, his mouth tight with anger.
 

After Jacques left, he spoke firmly. “We’re going to send the army to clear them out. I don’t care what their goal is or where they’re from. They’re killing subjects of Canberry within our realm. That stops now. What troops do we have available that would be good for the terrain?”

“The area around the royal preserve is heavily wooded, your grace, so we’ll need to send infantry instead of cavalry. We don’t really have much of a force of rangers, just a few scout companies attached to some of the field armies.”

“Fine. The First Field Army is in the capital. We’ll send one of their legions, along with the scout company to guide them.”

“An entire legion, your grace?” asked Dame Brionna dubiously. “That’s a thousand troops. Isn’t that a little excessive for twenty infiltrators?”

“I want to make sure there’s no possibility of escape. That should be enough troops to surround the entire area and then close in, while still making sure that any area the murderers try to engage will be sufficiently well supported to ensure they can’t break through.” Alistair thought. “Choose the commanding officer carefully. We’ll want to use this as an opportunity to field test and season a rising young officer, since we still have a weakness in our senior officers corps, but I also want to make sure the mission gets run well.”

“Not one of the generals, then,” said Kit.

“Right,” said Dame Brionna. “I’ll work on identifying a promising captain to place in command. We’ll get the troops moving within an hour or so.”
 

While Dame Brionna took care of organizing the expedition, the Chamberlain presented his report to the Archduke. “Your eminent grace,” he began, bowing deeply, “several more parties are approaching the capital. It is beginning to get complicated planning for how to deal with all of them. We have a delegation from the Theocracy of Tang-- they have crossed the border and are approaching the capital at speed. As the One of Diplomacy arrived prior to the funeral of Her Eminent Grace the late Archduchess, we presume that this party includes the One of Ones.

“We also have someone approaching from the City of the Pass, which I was not expecting. I had not thought that they would send anyone. Even more notably, we have a small party from Ko Re Pek coming. There is also a voller from the Kingdom of the Haunted Mountains on Khamista, presumably an emissary from the White Witch. We would not normally expect the high level of interest from realms we have had little contact with, but it is a demonstration of respect for your grandmother’s significant involvement in international politics. We are also receiving an emissary from the Empire of Tarhanna; except for the occasional Tarhannian priest, we don’t hear much from them.”

“Do we have room for all of these dignitaries?” asked Kit.

“Barely, Dame Katherine. I must say, planning all of the arrangements is a challenge.”

“Do we have a Minister of Protocol?” asked Alistair. “Who’s handling the details?”

“I’m as close to a Minister of Protocol as we have, your grace, and I’m coordinating the planning. I’m keeping all of the arrangements on many slates-- I don’t dare commit it to parchment until we’re sure nobody else will arrive. And there are some trying details… I had to give Tarhanna precedence over Tang, even though Tang is closer to us.”

Alistair nodded. “But Tarhanna shares our faith. No one will fault you for giving our coreligionists precedence within each category.”

“Thank you, your grace. The more important question is where to house all of them. I have been having the hardest time finding a reasonable place for the White Witch’s emissary.”

“What about placing her with the ambassador from the Grand Duchy of Ergmoth and the Paranswarmian nuncio? Since she is tightly tied to the church of Paranswarm, that should avoid offending or scaring anyone.”

“An excellent suggestion, your grace, I’ll make those notes immediately. Oh, that reminds me: do you wish to take offense at the Protector of the Faith’s decision to not attend personally?”

“The Grand Duchess of Ergmoth? Gods, no. We’ve had some cooperative interactions with the Inquisition; why would I want to make an enemy unnecessarily when we have so many real enemies? We’ll express our gratitude that she sent an emissary all the way from Ergmoth and leave it at that.”

“Very good, your grace. Unless there are any further questions, I should get back to making my arrangements.”
 

After he left, Kit and Alistair each went to attend to other tasks. Kit checked with her scribe on the progress deciphering the notes they had recovered. He reported slow progress; there were thousands of pages, all in codes and ciphers, and it would be some time before they could all be deciphered, cataloged, and organized. The scribes working on the decryption were still unsure as to her position, but there were extensive spy reports on Hanal, Masque, and the “Kingdom of the Rat Sorcerors.”

Alistair met with Mommy Cupcakes, his old nursemaid who was on the list of people who intended suicide. The elderly hobbit smiled her friendly smile at him.

“Good day, Mommy Cupcakes. I wanted to talk to you…”

“Of course, dear. What’s the matter?”

“I was shocked to hear that you’re planning on killing yourself.” Alistair’s face and voice grew very sad. “I’ve lost so many of those I was close to… My father, and then Grandmother. The thought of losing you as well, and for no good reason… I was hoping I could beg you to reconsider.”

“Why, Alistair… I wouldn’t have thought you would care. I thought you didn’t think much of me, now.”

“What would ever have given you that idea? I know I wasn’t always the most obedient of children, and that after my father switched me to the care of tutors I didn’t visit as much as I ought to have, but…”

“But that’s just how young lads are,” finished Mommy Cupcakes. “I knew to expect that.”

“Than why?”

“It was just your brother always told me… Your brother told me terrible things, Alistair.”

Alistair swallowed heavily. “My brother, Mommy Cupcakes? Which brother?”

“Luva. Oh, I didn’t want to believe it, but…”

Alistair closed his eyes briefly. “You know that Luva was plotting against me, don’t you? We had to arrest him.”

“Yes, I’d heard that. But I never thought that he would be lying. Truth be told, I didn’t think he would have been smart enough to try to poison people against you.”

“He may have been put up to it. For all I know, he may have believed what he told you. I know he was being manipulated by his aunt, and she was working for the Noldar who killed my father.”

“Yes, I suppose he might have been. I couldn’t understand how you could have turned into… never mind. And that might explain why he was trying to get access to your old room.”

* * *

I can't promise updates for the next couple of days-- I'll be at AnonyCon (and if you're anywhere near Connecticut, you should be, too), along with the players of Kit, Dame Brionna, Delbon, and others, and the Aphonion DM. In fact, he's even running a game on which the security of Canberry depends. :) But anyway, I may post if there's net access in the hotel and I have time, but we'll have to see.
 


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