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

Lord Silverleaves simply walked into the Council chamber without pausing to wait for an appointment. A quick signal from Dame Brionna reassured the startled guards who followed him in, and they resumed their regular posts.

“I have completed my efforts to sense the artifacts that were stolen in Debonai.”

“We are glad to hear that, your lordship,” answered Alistair. “Were you able to locate them?”

“I can confirm that the Chalice is in the South. I thought I would be able to sense two of the artifacts, but I can only sense the Chalice.” Annoyance covered the Eldar’s face, as if any task at which he could not succeed was a personal affront. “The others are hidden.”

“How would you hide something like that?” asked Kit.

“There must be a sufficiently strong aura near it, created by a powerful entity-- I can rule out a Noldar, I would have recognized their stench immediately, but I cannott rule out a major unseelie, or the avatar of a powerful extraplanar being.”

“Could the Abomination of Shur conceal the artifacts?” asked Alistair.

“No, not the Abomination of Shur-- it is too weak a power. It could be a cthon or a daemon lord. In any event, the Chalice of Simonea is much further south than the army of Debonai. There are many muted minds about it-- likely about all of the artifacts, though as I said I could not be sure.”

“Muted minds?” asked Kit. “What does that mean?”

“There is some sort of revolving shield over the minds-- it must take a lot of power, or someone very expert. Whatever it is, it is near Shur. Any of those artifacts can be teleported or apported, so I suspect that after the thief struck, they were transported via magic or psionics.”

“Thank you for this information. It will greatly aid our efforts to understand our enemies and also to recover the lost artifacts.”

Lord Silverleaves nodded gravely to Alistair and departed as suddenly as he had arrived.
 

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Shortly after Lord Silverleaves’s departure, the page of the day announced that a scholar-priest from the Archdiocese was waiting in an antechamber. The Council had him shown in immediately, eager to gather some more information about the Order of the Ram before choosing whether to use precious commune questions on it.

As the priest genuflected formally, Alistair cut to the heart of the matter. “What can you tell us about the Order of the Ram, and the extraplanar being which the Order serves?”

“Ah, that heresy. The Order of the Ram has a deal with a cthon, Azazael the Hairy Beast. Azazael is the abyssal cthon of rams and lord of the 433rd layer of the Abyss. Let me see… he has some allies-- some connections with Krezel, demon of laziness and impurity; with Malphus, who commands 40 legions; and with Meripheme, prince of pestilence. There are also connections to the other cthons, of course.”

“Is there a cthon of cats?” asked Kit, looking for a connection to Shur.

“No, there is no cthon of cats. The Catlord is the closest being to such a role, but he is not a cthon. You must be the lord either of a type of vermin or of the verminous members of the species in order to be a cthon. As is revealed in the Book of the Six Dooms, Azazael is connected to the worst aspects of rams, but he also has virility, fecundity, and strength in his portfolio. As abyssal lords go, he is not of great political power-- he has no legions, and his plane is mostly filled with dumb beasts.”

“What is the nature of the Order’s bargain with him?” asked Dame Brionna.

“It is a very straightforward bargain-- the members of the Order are promised twenty years of great fecundity, virility, and strength, after which they die and he consumes their life force-- that is how he remains on this plane. He has maintained almost unbroken residence here for millennia, despite the great cost in energy.”

“When you say their life force, do you include their souls?” asked Alistair.

“No, the soul is a quite distinct metaphysical entity from the lifeforce. Azazael does not traffic in souls at all. That probably makes his deals all the more attractive. Of course, even without trading in their souls, his pact leads many members of the Order into damnation.”

“Where does he live?” asked Dame Brionna.

“I cannot be certain at present. He has made bargains and agreements with many places. He appears much as a particularly stinky satyr might; at one point, he dealt with the pirates of the Kingdom of the Inner Isles, but his bargains have also been struck in Tarsh, in Debonai, and the Utolian City States. Those are just the traditional areas of his influence that we know of-- he may have other, and of late his conduct has been unusual. We believe that he has recently entered an agreement with the Forbidden Priesthood, along with a failing creature in the Southlands, the Abomination of Shur.”

“The Forbidden Priesthood?” asked Kit. “Are they connected to the Old Ones?”

“Indeed. The Forbidden are the followers of the Old Ones. That alliance is more interesting-- after all, he is largely concerned with the material plane, even though he has a plane in the Abyss. The Old Ones seek only destruction, which would not seem to serve his interests. As I said, he has no interest in souls, but he enjoys the excesses of the flesh. He has been known to engage in enormous orgies, drinking vast amounts of alcohol, and consuming many women.”

“Not literally, I hope?” asked Kit.

“No, thank the Lord of Light but, ahem, it is easier for me to say that than to be more direct about such things, especially with ladies present,” responded the priest. “As I was saying, he must think he has some way to fool the Old Ones. Otherwise, he is becoming nihilistic, which we had not previously observed in him.”

“How does he convince people to deal with him? Do they know that they deal with a cthon and a power of the Abyss?”

“Some may, your grace, but in all likelihood, most do not. Azazael is the only abyssal cthon. So he tells them that he is just a cthon, not an abyssal figure. Dealing with a cthon is certainly contrary to the teachings of the Church, but it does not have the clear depravity that a deal with the Abyss would.”

“Most cthons are not abyssal?” asked Alistair in surprise. “I had assumed they all were, as the Abomination of Shur is abyssal and could have become a cthon.”

“That would have been only the second abyssal cthon, a master of mangy and verminous cats. But it chose not to assume that role, for its own deranged reasons, and thus Azazael remains the only abyssal cthon. All cthons are somewhat unsavory, but he is the only one that is also an abyssal lord.”

The Council thanked and dismissed the priest.
 


In preparation for the Archbishop’s commune, the Council asked the Sixth Daughter to examine the private chapel thoroughly for listening devices. It wouldn’t do to tip Canberry’s hand right as it gained new information about its strategic situation. After a half-hour of searching, the Sixth Daughter returned to the Council, bowed, and reported that there were no listening devices, but that she had discovered a hidden chamber directly below the high altar. With Kit watching, she carefully opened it, revealing a small alcove containing a heavy book. Kit puzzled through the words on the first page and brought it back to the rest of the Council. The tome was the private log of Bishop Williams, recording his tenure as royal chaplain. After a short discussion in which Dame Brionna stressed the importance of preserving confessional confidences while Alistair and Kit focused on the need to recover any strategically useful information yet preserve the Archduchy’s secrets, they settled on a plan. They passed the book on to Father Waters, with instructions to prepare a confidential report of the most important information. They all agreed that they could rely on his discretion.

After the formalities of greeting the Archbishop, the Council accompanied him into the private chapel. He prayed long over the altar, chanted an elaborate invocation, and then nodded to the Council. Alistair began asking the questions that they had carefully drafted in advance.

“Will the army from Debonai attack Canberry?”

“No,” said the Archbishop, his normally carefully modulated voice replaced with a monotone trance as Glor’diadel spoke through him.

“Is the army from Debonai planning on establishing a new kingdom?”

“Yes.”

“Is Cano Flavore a loyal servant of Glor’diadel?”

“Yes.”

“Is Ulrich Garand a loyal servant of Glor’diadel?”

“Yes.”

“Is the bishop without portfolio traveling with the army of Debonai a loyal servant of Glor’diadel?”

“Stupid but loyal.”

The Council chuckled at that response. Apparently Glor’diadel had a sense of humor. Alistair continued, “Will the orcish hordes attack the army of Debonai?”

“No.”

“Is the woman the Duke of Snatterkaz has rescued Princess Anastasia?”

“No, only her body.”

“Can her mind be recovered?”

“Yes.”

“Does Duke Edelford know that he has made a deal with an abyssal creature?”

“No.”

“Could he be persuaded to attack Azazael by informing him of what Azazael is?”

“Briefly.”

“If Duke Edelford and the other members of the Order of the Ram were eliminated, could Canberry take control of that army?”

“Unclear.”

“Is the Seachen army in league with the Abomination of Shur?”

“No.”

“Would Alistair marrying Kaitlyn be a good thing?”

“Yes; quick heirs.”

“Are any of Kaitlyn’s close advisors or associates a significant threat to Canberry?”

“No.”

“Are there multiple active Alistair imposters?”

“Two.”

“Are either of them a here’ku?”

“One.”

“Is the Abomination of Shur connected to the recent rise of the Old Ones?”

“Yes.”

“Were the Unseelie behind the theft of the relics of Debonai?”

“Yes.”

“In order to restore Anastasia’s mind, should Duke Snatterkaz remain in the South?”

“No; extraction requires stealth.” The Archbishop blinked rapidly. “That concludes the commune. Blessed be Glor’diadel, whose Light guides us on our way.”

Alistair and Dame Brionna automatically responded to the formula, answering “Blessed be Glor’diadel,” while Kit joined in a half beat after the others.
 


Another short update:

----

“I hope that those answers will aid the Archduchy.”

“Indeed. There is much for us to discuss in what Glor’diadel has revealed.”

“I just wish we knew more about how to restore Princess Anastasia’s mind,” added Kit. “We know it takes stealth, but that still leaves a lot for us to figure out.”

“Perhaps we could ask Glor’diadel for a little more guidance?” suggested Dame Brionna. “Now that we have something more of a focus, a divination might work.”

“If the Archbishop thinks it is wise,” responded Alistair. “We would not wish to anger Lord Glor’diadel by relying too much on his counsel.”

“The gods can be frustrated by too frequent inquiries, your grace, but I do not think the Lord of Light would begrudge a single additional question. What would you have me ask?”

After some more discussion of the precise formulation, Alistair said, “What should we do to recover Anastasia’s mind?”

The Archbishop swung the incense censor again, and cast another spell as the cloud of scented smoke engulfed him. He repeated the question and then his voice changed again. “Send those well versed in stealth and action to the Black Isle,” he intoned. As the incense dissipated, he bowed. “With that, your grace, I believe I should depart.”

The Council thanked him profusely and discussed what they had learned, and what they needed to do about it.
 

One of their conclusions was that they needed to inform the ambassador from the Seelie Fey of the involvement of the Unseelie with their enemies. They found him in the garden, continuing to speak with and encourage the growth of the plants.

The ambassador looked up with a smile. “Greetings, the beauty of the day is brightened by your presence.”

“Greetings to you as well, Flower Lord. We regret that we have grave matters to discuss.”

“Is this more news of the orcish hordes? We have been harrying your enemies, but they are more difficult to intimidate than their kind usually are.”

“We thank you for your assistance in that matter. We would appreciate any further aid you can give greatly. Our allies have broken the morale of one of the hordes-- the Lidless Eye-- but further efforts by your troops may have great effect in preventing them from rallying.”

“If they are broken, the knights of the local Tor may make short work of them. They are a vile clan-- we have long known of their depredations. You may rely on us.”

“For that, you have our thanks. But the matter that brings us here is rather more troubling: Unseelie Fey have formed an alliance with a creature known as the Abomination of Shur and various demon lords. We do not know the full extent of their plans, but they have stolen mighty relics of Glor’diadel and provided much support to the Abomination.”

“We knew of the plots of the Abomination-- a foul creature, although not worthy of great concern to us. But the Court of Winter aids it? Word will go out to all the fey of the South. This is an alliance that must attract our attention and our actions.” The Ambassador’s placid demeanor gave way to boldness and anger. “It could strengthen the Unseelie greatly; this cannot be allowed. We are pleased that you have told us of this. The Council of the Great Court will be particularly pleased to have been told of this, as will the Queen.”

“We are honored to have been of service.”

“I assure you, we will not soon forget this service. If I may, I must contact the Council.”

The Council left the Sidhe lord to his psionic efforts. The ambassador seemed utterly oblivious to the fact that Canberry might have had its own goals in informing the Seelie of the enemy alliance, and the Council felt no need to enlighten him.
 

Later that afternoon, a minor chamberlain informed the Council that Lady Meredith the Dazzling wished to speak with them via a projection at a specified time. They duly cleared their schedule, and she appeared in an illusion that could not be distinguished from actual presence except that it did not trip their wards.

“You wished to speak with me, your grace?”

“Indeed. I wondered of your opinion of young lord Devin Rollingheath. He has done some great services for us in the Duchy of Furrows, and by his minotaur companions we could infer that he had some connection to you.”

“He handled some sensitive issues for me in the far north, near the holdings of Lady Jane Peryton. She did not lose her lands in the recent invasion, and he both provided support to her and dealt with some other matters. That situation has now stabilized to some extent, whereas some matters in your region have not, so I provided him some additional support while suggesting that he might turn his eyes back to the South.”

“We are considering putting him forward as a possibility to fill a vacancy in our vassal’s vassals, particularly if he continues to score victories against the orcs. Would you consider him a worthy choice?”

“He is loyal and bright. If he survives the next couple of years, he will do well.” Lady Meredith paused for a moment as she thought of her own concerns. “I do hope the mage with him survives-- his master is a member of the Council. But yes, I should say he would be a reasonable choice for such a position.”

“We thank you for your counsel, wise as always. We will encourage them further and provide such support as we can. Glor’diadel willing, none of the principal members of his group will perish, but it is a hazardous situation. Beyond that, I can but assure you that we would seek to recover and raise any bodies if they do not survive and are not mutilated beyond resurrection.”

“I understand. We did not encourage them to address the situation without an awareness of the dangers they would face. I simply shared the additional reason I have for some concerns. If I have addressed your questions?” When Alistair nodded, Lady Meredith made the smallest gesture and disappeared as suddenly as she had appeared.
 


My apologies for the long delay. Fortunately for the readers of this storyhour (although less fortunately for me), I spent all day yesterday stuck in an airport waiting for a plane. So I now have several updates worth. I'm going to post about twice a week until I run out of material-- I'm thinking in general Monday and Thursday mornings or so. With luck, I'll be able to keep writing at a pace that will sustain that posting schedule for a long time. And now...
----

Session 29:

The next morning began smoothly. The Council reviewed a missive from the Zorplona-Aragoni announcing the installation of a new leader in Region 9, Prince Hinuu’sinta, while the current coordinator attended to the succession matters. The message read:

“Unto His Most Eminent Grace the Archduke Alastair, Protector of the Faith of the Light on Drucien, Guardian of the Skies, Ruler of the Heights and Depths of the Barrier, Ally unto the 9th Region of the House of Moriquendi'rim

From Prince Hinuu’sinta ap Curini'rim Moriquendi'rim

All Hail and Greetings:

I am honored to address an ally of my beloved cousin Princess Del'reada Cilthronosi'thalindril ap Curini'rim Moriquendi'rim and bring to him and his empire the guarantee of the continued friendship of the 9th Region, of Zaploni-Aragoni and of this family within the great house of Moriquendi'rim.

Be it known therefore to His Eminent Grace and his court that I will arrive together with my seneschal to take charge of the court in Zaploni-Aragoni during the 2nd week of Skard, probably upon the 18th day of the month.

I look forward to meeting with you after my arrival upon the continent. I have heard wonderful things of you – and look forward to entertaining you at my court.”​

“What do all of those odd titles for you mean?” asked Kit. “Guardian of the Skies and Ruler of the Heights and Depths? I’ve never heard those before.”

Alistair thought for a moment. “I think one of my ancestors claimed those titles at some point. They never really became part of the standard style, and they fell into total disuse some time ago. A generation or two before my grandmother, I think?”

Dame Brionna added, “But that isn’t very long ago at all for the Noldar. They probably wrote down the style your grace’s ancestor used and still treat it as part of proper etiquette.”

Alistair nodded. “In any event, we will certainly need to accept his invitation for political reasons.”

“I guess so,” said Kit, “but I don’t like it. The Noldar are far too dangerous for me to be comfortable about the idea of you going into one of their strongholds.”

“I agree with Dame Katherine. If we could avoid it completely, that would be best.”

“The Noldar are evil, but they are also mostly honorable, with the notable exception of Quinliart. I find it hard to imagine that they would strike against a guest. That would constitute at least as grave a violation of elven hospitality as it would among humans.”

“Perhaps, Your Grace, but it still concerns me. It is my responsibility to keep you safe, which will be nigh impossible in their sphere of control. Also, I worry about what the Noldar might mean by ‘entertaining’ you.”

“As for that, I am an adult and can be trusted,” said Alistair.

“You are an adult, your grace.”

“Dame Brionna!” remonstrated Alistair in mock outrage, while the whole Council, including Alistair, gave way to laughing. After a long laugh, he continued, “Still, I think we need not worry overly much. If he behaves according to Noldar forms, he will set up his court upon arriving in Drucien. That will take a few weeks as he ferrets out some conspiracies. We will then probably be the first court he will visit-- he will visit the major human kingdoms that are not openly hostile in descending order of power. I would guess that after Canberry, Ulfay will be next. It would be Debonai, but the rebellion there will damage them badly in the Noldar perspective. After the major powers, he will work his way down. It should be fairly easy for us to reciprocate shortly after his arrival, by Noldar standards, while still postponing the visit for a decade or longer. In this case, their different sense of time works in our favor. You also don’t really need to worry about their entertainment. It will be much like what you would expect in a human state visit, although more grandiose. We should, of course, bring our own means to detect poison, although they will also supply food tasters and the like.”

“As long as we can postpone the visit for a long time, your grace, I won’t worry too much now. We can simply send the appropriate diplomatic response and move on.”
 
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After the chamberlain received his instructions, Dame Brionna headed over to her sister’s townhouse to check what intelligence she had been able to gather.

Lady Elaine welcomed Dame Brionna warmly and brought her in for tea. Her arrangements managed to convey both formality and intimacy at once.

They made small talk for a while, chatting about the pages and Abigail’s progress and so forth. After a few minutes, however, Lady Elaine asked a more serious question. “Are things going as direly in the west lands as I have heard?”

“What have you heard?”

“That there are orc hordes and trolls raiding; that some villages have fallen; and that there are insufficient troops to put down the hordes.”

“There have been raids, and Grokken did fall. But with some adventurers and their troops now in the area, things will be dealt with soon. I can’t say that I’m surprised that there are some rumors, especially after the ship crashed.”

“Yes, but rumors had already begun. Some of the talk, really, started before the coronation, after the incident involving the House of Caldra.”

“Sympathy for the House of Caldra?”

“Not per se-- there is a lot of faith in His Eminent Grace, but also a lot of worry among the ladies. They are, for the most part, being kept here, rather than returning to their homes. And they talk of fear of the orcs, fear for their estates-- a lot of fear, except for the Great-Aunt of one of the nobles, the Baron of Bitterspring. Dame Alicia Bitterspring assures any who will listen that the situation will be dealt with soon and brooks no argument. But when she isn’t present…” Lady Elaine trailed off.

Dame Brionna nodded. “What have you heard from the nobles of the South Kingdoms?”

“There is great hope. Most hope that they will be taken under the guardianship of Canberry, through the obvious means. I should add that there is also great hope based on your position, because if he is so open that you have risen so far, there is hope that they could advance as well if they swore loyalty to Canberry.”

Dame Brionna spluttered a little, modestly trying to minimize her own importance.

Lady Elaine simply waived aside Dame Brionna’s humility, and then moved on. “Did you know that there is a rumor that a number of distant branches of some of the families survived?”

“Of the noble families?”

“Of the royal families,” corrected Lady Elaine. “Not close branches, but of the blood.”

“Where are they?”

“I am not sure that it’s not completely rumor, but supposedly at least two branches of the family of the Isle that had lived on the mainland survive. If you credit the rumors, they live among the refugees but have carved out more substantial holdings. ‘Thorneydale’ is supposed to be the holding of one of those branches. I am not sure where that is, but I gather it is somewhere in the west. Reports are that they brought in some troops, stabilized the populace there, and have directed the building of forts.”

“Interesting, and worth following up on,” commented Dame Brionna. She thought about how that might complicate any annexation plan but decided to keep that to herself.
 


It's great to be back to posting, Fimmtiu! I'm just happy that there are still people reading.

I've updated the post two posts ago-- I located a copy of the letter and fiddled with some of the dialogue. Here's a new post as well:

“What is your assessment of the Princess herself and her close retainers?”

“Her Royal Highness has a certain amount of hope, but she is under no illusions. She hopes, at best, to be the junior partner in a political marriage, to give the Archduke children and heirs, and to bring her people under his protection. She is remarkably straightforward for someone of her rank.”

“She was never meant to be the heir, of course.”

“Perhaps that is it. In any event, she has hope, finds the Archduke comely enough, but does not expect to ever capture his heart. But then, you know how rarely marriages are for love among people of our rank.”

“You loved your husband,” Dame Brionna observed.

“Deeply, but we were the exception rather than the rule. I never had the impression that you felt similarly towards Sir Denro, for example.”

“We would have made an honorable marriage,” protested Dame Brionna. “Perhaps we didn’t get caught up in overly romantic things, but…”

“I meant no criticism. I was simply observing that your marriage would have been more about honor and responsibility than about love. That is not a bad thing, but simply how things are for most nobles.”

Dame Brionna shifted the topic quickly. “What about her mage?”

“He was the reason she survived. He is a potent wizard. I do not know for certain how powerful he is, but he can cast at least the lowest cycle of the rune spells. That is unusual for a human mage. Based on that level of power, he may still owe allegiance to the Court of Chaos. I think he would prefer to go back to teaching; he was at the academy, when our homeland still stood.”

“Really? We plan on founding an academy. Perhaps we could honor her by appointing him to the faculty, while also protecting her from chaotic influences.”

“Note that I have no evidence for his association with the Court of Chaos, simply his power. I also believe he is older than he appears. According to rumors, he is beyond his ninetieth winter.”

“My thanks for that information. We will conduct some investigation of our own. On a different topic, have you heard any recent rumors of inappropriate behavior by His Grace in the North or cruelty?”

“Yes, but they have been disregarded out of hand. The general sense is that he is a womanizer but not harmful. His reputation seems to have started when he was quite young.”

“That certainly seems to be his reputation,” replied Dame Brionna.

“Not that I would suggest that His Grace is in fact a womanizer,” added Lady Elaine, with perhaps a slightly too pious tone to be fully believed.

“Of course not. I would never suggest such a thing.” Dame Brionna winked at her sister. “Just between us, I choose his grace’s chambermaids carefully. For security reasons.”

“Oh? Has that been a source of threats?”

“There was an assassin placed within the palace. Quite comely--I have no doubt that she was intended to seduce His Grace into a circumstance where she could attack him. Fortunately, we kept her, and all other particularly attractive servants, well clear of His Grace to eliminate any risks as a precaution even before we knew that there was an assassin among the servants. When we did find out and went to arrest her, she exploded.” Dame Brionna shook her head sadly. “A good guard died in that incident.”

“The whole thing is shocking. Still, your precautions were clearly wise. Even if His Grace’s reputation is overstated, he is a young man…”

Dame Brionna deliberately made small talk for a while before bringing up the next topic. “What are the rumors with regard to Dame Katherine of Lyneham?’

“That is an interesting question. She is known to be a member of the court--it is not fully public, but enough people have seen her that word has spread. There is some talk about the possibility that she is a rogue.” On the last word, Lady Elaine’s voice dropped into a whisper. Dame Brionna relied on years of practice to keep a straight face. “There has always been a popular sport among the nobles of Canberry of trying to figure out who is a member of the Archduke’s secret circle. The odds are running against her, 3:2, because she is too obvious, but some people think that she is the Royal Rogue. Others think that it is just an artful disguise, and that she is the royal psionic advisor. She has never shown any psionics, of course, but that is precisely why some people wonder. And then there are one or two that maintain that she is the Archduke’s mistress, but most observers agree that she would be hidden better if she were.”

Dame Brionna resolutely gave no confirmation for any of those guesses even though she knew that they were all true. “Nothing about her background?”

“Not much is known. She is clearly titled but no one is quite sure where Lyneham is. Most people guess her title is foreign?”

“Lyneham is a prosperous barony in the North. Good hunting there.”

Lady Elaine nodded. “Ah, that would explain why few can place it.”
 


I'm glad that that amused you, Baron. We don't really know much of anything about the Courts of Chaos-- the only references I've heard to them have been from you, and the vague references that this party has encountered. I assume you had much more contact or involvement with them in your games in Aphonion?

----

After Dame Brionna’s conversation with her sister, she returned to the palace. She found a palace security report of unusual activity. One patrol of palace guards had been found tied up and dipped in flour. She nodded in approval; the Sixth Daughter had clearly gone to work. A note with them suggested that something be done about increasing the fields of vision from the towers. The patrol had been ambushed while in a blindspot along the wall. The note also stated that a detailed report would follow after some additional testing.

Dame Brionna returned to the Council and ran through the most important of the information from her sister. “Rumors of the orc raids have hit the City, and your nobles are worried, Your Grace.”

“Not surprising-- I’m worried,” responded Alistair with a touch of exasperation.

“With regards to Princess Kaitlyn, the Southern nobles are hopeful. My sister reports that the Princess hopes to be the junior partner in a political marriage, with no illusions about either the nature of the marriage nor your relative standing.”

Alistair nodded. “Good. That will make things easier, if we go that route. Did you learn anything about Manyhands?”

Dame Brionna shared Lady Elaine’s comments about him.

Alistair whistled softly. “Rune magic is usually only used by elves, but others can learn it. Almost all rune spells are persistent, generally attached to objects. For example, rune magic is the basis of the wards on the palace.”

“Why are elves the only people who regularly practice rune magic?” asked Kit.

“Very few humans have the knowledge to be capable of it. Rune magic starts with spells of the tenth circle and works up from there. It is not unheard of for humans to learn rune magic, but only the most powerful human mages can even try.”

“I am more concerned about his possible association with the Courts of Chaos, your grace,” commented Dame Brionna. “If he has the blood of some entity of chaos-- or even if he is simply aligned with the forces of chaos-- he could pose a serious threat to the Archduchy.”

“I don’t disagree, but I think your plan of shunting him off into teaching at the school of magic could handle it well. He would greatly increase the attractiveness of the school to parents of potential students, but that would also remove him from playing a political role.” Alistair thought for a moment. “We might want to look into developing some resources of our own in that regard. Are there families that have magical powers derived from bloodlines with celestial or divine blood associated with Glor’diadel?”

Dame Brionna nodded slowly. “There are, your grace, but not on this continent. Most of those bloodlines are on Khamista, with perhaps a few on Zest’qua.”

“We should look into persuading some scions from those lines to resettle to Canberry, and we should take some active steps to breed their powers to new levels of strength, like what we have discussed with regard to the sight.”

“As you wish, your grace. I will contact the Church to arrange contact between the Archduchy and the more prominent families with divine or celestial descent.”

“Good. That should also help move the Archduchy into the first tier of realms in terms of magical prowess.”

Dame Brionna continued, “The last thing we should discuss is the betting with regards to Dame Katherine.”

“Have people figured out our relationship?” asked Alistair.

“No, for the most part. There is heavy betting on what role she plays, but relatively few people suspect the truth. There are some who hypothesize that she might be the Rogue.”

“The Rogue?” repeated Kit. “What does that mean? Is it the same as the Mouth?”

“Not quite,” answered Alistair. “It’s a position that fell into disuse. My great-grandfather had a Rogue, my grandmother did not-- she believed that it was not necessary and trusted her Mouth. It is not as ancient a position as the Mouth-- I suspect that it was an added role, but that my grandmother dropped it without anyone realizing. The Rogue traditionally did the hands-on work of the Archduchy. The Rogue personally snuck into others’ halls, to listen to them or for more direct purposes. If the Archduchy needed to secure an item and could not find a better way, the Rogue might be sent to bring it back. That sort of thing.”

Kit nodded in understanding. “I can see how that would be useful. And it’s probably better to have them think that I’m the Rogue then to know about my actual role.”

Alistair proceeded carefully. “True enough. We might think about whether it would be better for people to know about us, though.”

“I’m not sure that I want people thinking of me as just your mistress, Alistair. I’ve earned my status here, and I don’t want people thinking it’s just because of us. And that will make things a lot more difficult with Princess Kaitlyn, or whoever.”

“It would make things a little more difficult, but less than you might think. Such things are at least somewhat accepted. As for your titles and status, of course you’ve earned them. Everybody who matters knows that, and you shouldn’t worry about what other people think.” Alistair backed off based on Kit’s expression. “I’m not saying we need to do anything like this. It’s entirely up to you. I was just suggesting that it might help conceal your actual services to the Archduchy better.”

“Maybe. Let me think about it.”

“Besides, we could make a killing in the betting markets by placing some bets through proxies and then revealing our relationship.”

“We hardly need the money, your grace,” said Dame Brionna reproachfully. She could barely tolerate the existence of organized gambling among the nobles-- the idea of the Archduke participating was quite shameful.

“Still, it’s always useful to have a little more, and debts from nobles are also helpful in other ways than just money-- they can be used to get favors with regards to things I don’t want to, or can’t, give orders about. But mostly, it would be fun.”

“Wait!” Kit interrupted, her voice suddenly completely serious. “Something is happening. The dog is in trouble, in the market.”
 

Baron Opal

First Post
Cerebral Paladin said:
I'm glad that that amused you, Baron. We don't really know much of anything about the Courts of Chaos-- the only references I've heard to them have been from you, and the vague references that this party has encountered. I assume you had much more contact or involvement with them in your games in Aphonion?

I was a friend of the founders. Mok, Vex, Greystar.. we all adventured together. We were pals so they invited me along as the token lawful. I ended up getting involved with some intrigue with Sabrey and she pulled me along to the Enclaves. Which I've regretted ever since, by the by.

Not that this gives you any inside info, really. Greystar relocated to Ma'Sagavin, Vex to the Land (different primes). Mok died in an orgy of sex and violence, near as I can tell. I gamed in Aphonion 20 years ago. Heh. It's cool that there is a continuation of thought that has run this long through several editions of the game.
 
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Dame Brionna leapt up. “I can get there quickly on my mount.” Alistair nodded and she began rushing out of the room, while Kit hastily established a mindlink.

Kit said, “I’m going to send Alvin there as well. He should be able to get there almost as fast as Brionna.” She broadcasted a message to both Alvin and Dame Brionna. <<There is some sort of attacker in the main marketplace. My agent reported “brown hair, tall, tall, horse, stink, with pus, rot and ruin.” Check it out.>>

<<I will be there presently,>> sent back Alvin.

Dame Brionna arced in over the marketplace, flying high on her winged unicorn. The attacker was obvious: an incredibly evil mounted warrior with a hooked sword riding after a panic-stricken dog. The warrior’s aura was so evil that Dame Brionna could feel it while still flying, without even calling upon Glor’diadel to sense it. <<I have spotted the enemy chasing your dog,>> she sent back to Kit over the mindlink. <<I am charging him and evacuating the market.>>

With that, Dame Brionna leaned forward in the saddle, turning her mount into a combination dive and charge. She couched her lance as she picked up speed, calling on Glor’diadel to bless her strike against the forces of evil. The lance slammed into the rider, spearing clean through him and into the horse beneath. As the lance struck, an illusion faded, revealing the true forms of both horse and rider. The horse was skin and bones, but actually a living horse. The figure incredibly emaciated rider in contrast was clearly not among the living: the skin on his face and other parts of his body hung in ragged tatters from his discolored skeleton. He looked up at Dame Brionna and sneered, “holy b----!” as she rode past.

Before he had a chance to strike her, however, Dame Brionna was able to wheel her mount and charge him again, inflicting another great blow with a second holy smite. She heard the beginning of the words “my liege” carried on a wind as her foe called out to someone far away, but he had no time to do anything else before coming apart into a pile of bones, tendons, and scraps of skin. With its master destroyed, the horse collapsed to the ground, dead. Dame Brionna felt an odd sensation as her lance pulsed with energy, but it did not break.

The dog looped around a booth and then charged back, before turning and sending to Kit, <<She got him, mistress, she got him.>>
 

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