Aphonion Tales: The Archducal Council -- Unedited notes; later posts are edited transcripts (posts MWF, update 2/2/22)

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 137 (January 20, 2022)

26 Tar
Alistair and Kit sleep in until after breakfast, when Dame Brionna calls them in for a meeting.

“We have news from the south border, from the commander of the border guard. There is a small group of prisoners, wagon of goods, and troops. They have a writ directly from Randall the Purified. During the war, they found that certain targets were focused upon—graveyards, priests of the dead, and monasteries of Paranswarm. They found some who had given themselves over to the Queen-Empress of Hanal, and received special powers, the like of which neither Randall nor any of his magi had ever seen, and they wanted to convey them to the Emperor of Southern Drucien.” [Report and credentials from Randall the Purified attached.]

The Council quickly agrees that they have to accept them and investigate, and that this is likely either Seen-Unseen matters or translucent-blue-flames things. They send a voller, with lead to contain the possessions and a team of people who are well capable of carrying this.

Kit also has a report of apparitions being seen near the northwest border, and several people report feeling like they’re being watched.

All of the rest of her briefing has been good news; salt shortages are under control, no imminent risk of famine. [See attached.]

Kit follows up on the reports of apparitions and gets a list of specific villages—they’re all clustered in a group, right near the northwest corner.

The Council asks to meet with Lord Silverleaves, who gives Kit a flower that eases the difficulties of very late pregnancy. They ask him if he can get a closer look on those villages.

He settles down and begins to focus. “Interesting. Someone’s been destroying mausoleums up here. Some of them are Glordiadelian cemeteries, some are Death cemeteries, and the Priest-house in the cemetery of Death has also been blasted. Hmm. And the sense of something watching… yes, I feel that. Ah, yes, that missing voller you have been looking for is right there.” Suddenly a blast of psionic energy knocks him backwards. For just a moment, hovering above the village, there is a twisted elven visage visible.

Alistair ducks out of the room immediately, and grabs a human psion to link him to Princess Curinirim’s duty psion.

“The Princess is not available, your majesty. How may I help you?”

“The renegade Noldar voller we have been hunting has been located. This elf is with them and attacked a Farsensor psionically. We cannot reach them before they go to ground, but hoped you might be able to.” Alistair gives them the location, and his psion projects the image from his mind of the elf.

“Let me call her general.”

The General joins the mindlink. “That elf is there? That is Alvinus, the only of Lord Raf’s followers who remain mobile. We still have our voller in the area—we’ll try to engage them, though they must be shielded extraordinarily well. And he should not have been able to harm a Farsensor at that range—perhaps his psionics is being boosted by necromancy. Was it that Grandmaster you have visiting who was scrying?”

“Yes, he is a Grandmaster and of great elven blood.”

“Good. A human would have been killed. We may not catch them, but we’ll try.”

“Good hunting.”

The Council then quickly reaches out to the nearest major center of Glordiadelians—a convent of the Order of the Silvery Veil. They immediately head out to evacuate the local communities and to protect them against undead that we expect are attacking. They will move them back to a local castle. They also send messages to conventional troops to move in as reinforcements, but the nearest substantial numbers are days, maybe weeks, away. A voller could get them there sooner, but the Council doesn’t dare send a human voller into possible conflict with a Noldar voller.
[cont'd]
 

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CPaladin

Explorer
[Session 137, cont'd]
Lord Silverleaves says that it was far beyond Alvinus’s normal psionic abilities—perhaps boosted by demonic energy. It should not have been within the capabilities of a Twilight Elf. It will burn him out—when you routinely use energy beyond the capability of a given mind, it damages them. But it might take decades for that to happen. A Noldar could handle that power, but a Twilight Elf could not.

“I know that elves who are not born as Eldar can become Eldar—is the same true for Twilight Elves and the Noldar?”

“It’s extremely rare, even among us, and even rarer among our cousins. They will almost never have the support of the existing structure, as it offends them. But it is possible—it would take a great Redactor, but then, Lord Raf is a Redactor.”

The Council speculates that Lord Raf may be willing to do this because he’s now fully renegade, and not mobile either, and thus may want more Noldar followers.

“He could not be a full Noldar—I would not have survived then.”

“But a half-Noldar, perhaps?”

“Perhaps. And that is the stage he would pass through. It’s possible.”

The group also speculates that the fact that Glordiadelian dead can be turned into undead might suggest that the funerary rites were performed incorrectly—perhaps due to corruptions among the seminaries.

They call for the Archbishop, planning on tracing where those parish priests were trained, who else was trained there at a similar time, and so forth, so they can check whether the training was adequate. They also pass on information about this and the attack on the house of the priest of Death to the Mother of Death.

The Archbishop attends upon them quickly, with a variety of people with many scrolls.

Alistair describes the situation to him and their concern.

“That’s interesting. I have heard from the Ecumenical Council that this new Mother of Death has a great deal of clean-up to do. Her predecessor did not seem to be corrupt, just completely and utterly incompetent. Our priests have mostly been seminarians. But in areas where there are circuit priests, or elderly priests, funerals are often carried out by deacons. In theory, the graves are later properly sanctified by a priest. Out in those areas… so many funerals have been handled by deacons. And I have no method of verifying that those graves have been properly blessed.”

“Perhaps they could be sent an episcopal letter emphasizing the importance of that duty and that a higher emphasis is currently being placed on that?”

“Yes, I think that might be wise.”

“Would I be correct that the circuit priests would also be consecrating Holy Feast and leaving it in the tabernacle for distribution by the deacons?”

“Of course, standard practice.”

“Since we know that they have been stealing some Holy Feast, they may be stealing more in these villages.”

The Archbishop calls in an abbot, and asks him about his research about what heretics could do with the Hosts.

“If it were stolen, and then abominated, it could be used in principle to undo any consecration.”

“What about bolstering undead against turning?”

“Yes, it could be made almost impossible to turn undead.”

“And what if it were used to deconsecrate a Church?”

“Than any rituals performed on the consecrated ground would have been ineffective—the Enlightening of children, the funerals of the dead, the like.”

They agree to have a set of priests work with the Grandmaster Farsensor to verify the holiness of all the churches in the archdiocese. Also, the archdeacons are called upon to verify the ordinations of the deacons—the priests are ordained by bishops in cathedrals, and the bishops would almost certainly notice if there was a flaw.

They warn the Mother Superior of the Order of the Silvery Veil through a sending that the undead may be highly resistant to turning because of abominated Hosts and that they should be careful to secure the Hosts as they withdraw.

A group of priests works with the Grandmaster Farsensor in building a map of all the churches and checking them all. As they cast, blotches start appearing on the map. After they are all done, they file out. “Two areas of concern. The major one is the northwest. Also, this thing off the southeast trade road—two villages. They didn’t exactly sense it as unholy, but I didn’t know how else to mark it. They sensed it as blank.”

“Shielded?”

“Not by psionics, or magic—I would recognize it. But you might be right, as the other blank area is the area around the tor. But that’s your undead army, north of the border about two days’ march, and most of the churches in the area have been desecrated. Not that one, though.”

“Can you tell why that one isn’t?”

He reaches out. “Ah. It has a dedicated priest assigned there. He is not able bodied, so he stays in the church at all times.”

Alistair contacts Princess Curinirim’s duty psion and tells her about the undead army, in the hope that they will attack the army after attempting to deal with the renegade Noldar voller.

Kit asks her people about whether there have been any efforts to steal Host that they were aware of. She is told not recently, but a while ago in Tusslefields and some of the other major cities (Kesselford) (though not Canberry City proper) there were people soliciting it. None of her people in the Guild took the job, but in a large city, hard to know. The person asking had credentials from the Guild of Slayers, from Enclaves. There’s no local Guild of Slayers, but they recognize their credentials locally. The warning scared anyone off—they were told that if anyone tried to cheat them, they would be hunted down and bled to death over a pit of vipers. This was about two and a half months ago. People didn’t take the job though—they found him off, even for a Slayer, and the job was strange. He was offering gold coins.

Kit asks to have a (via a blind) meeting with someone who spoke with the Slayer.

Kit also reaches out to people in Enclaves. She has a real fast fan conversation with her person in Enclaves.

“Oh, that would be Devon, Lord of the Pit. Didn’t always have a lot of money, but someone gave him a big contract recently. Everyone knows who he is, since he’s done some high profile jobs—not what he looks like, but who he is. He’s good at changing his face—remarkably good at it.”

“Not quite human talent?”

“Don’t know. Never seen him—or if I did, don’t know it!”

Separately, they send a warning to Archbishop Humbold of Enclaves about the risks that people may try to steal consecrated Hosts.

Alistair contacts the Tor Lord. He sheepishly confirms that there are some changelings there—some of the Tor Lord’s children, and the wards are there to protect them.

27 Tar
Kit goes into labor and has an easy labor over the course of a couple hours.

After the baby is born, Alistair gives Kit several gifts. He first confers upon her the title of Countess of Lyneham, with the personal style of Your Grace, ranking with but after the Duchesses of the Archduchy of Canberry, and with their children ranking with but after the children of the Dukes and Duchesses of the Archduchy of Canberry of equivalent birth order. The son is named Lord James Duncan Fitzalistair-Lyneham (called Jamie, at least in his childhood).

Alistair also gives a more significant gift: he brings out a lap harp and plays a love song that he wrote for her, that describes his love and admiration for her in all sorts of different ways, including her beauty, her courage, her ingenuity, her sexiness; as he plays, illusions form through his bardic magic and also there are bursts of empathic psionic emotion that can only be perceived by those with psionics, expressing the love, lust, and admiration as psionic feelings. The psionic bardic music is not sufficient to alter emotions, but uses them as another part of the experience, solely for people like Kit who can perceive them. By the end of the song, Kit is crying. Alistair kisses her tenderly and holds her and the baby as they snuggle and slide into an exhausted sleep.
[End Session 137]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 138 (January 27, 2022)

28 Tar
Kit’s mother has been with her the full time since she went into labor. Jamie is now mostly in the care of a wet nurse—carefully selected for the combination of appropriate very petty noble rank, fanatical loyalty, and high intelligence, to eventually become a core part of the “Jeweled Necklace,” the new Body part devoted to palace intelligence and counter-intelligence. Kit is slowly getting to fully understand the way in which she can use her wet nurse and the rest of the staff to only do the fun parts of parenting a young child, while foisting off the annoying parts to other people.

Bishop Waters plans a formal albeit private Enlightening ceremony for Jamie in seven days. Dame Brionna and Lord Silverleaves are the godparents—well, the non-fairy godparents, because the Tor already assigned a fairy godmother.

They arrange to send a letter announcing the birth to Lyneham and announcing a feast day in celebration of the heir-apparent’s birth. Alistair also asks to endow a second day of feasting from “Jamie’s father, Alistair,” in Lyneham.

Dame Brionna reports a military intelligence report that a force from Alberyth, between two to three months ago, intercepted and defeated a force of the enemy—20 human cultists, six ram demons, some drow followers of Quinliart, and the sister of Alvinus, who was captured and delivered to Zorplona-Moriquendarim for interrogation. The human cultists were led by a powerful corrupted cleric of Glordiadel.

"For Your information

I have just obtained information from an asset we possess in the near Underdark that between two and three months ago, the forces of the City of Abburth (a mixed city of cadet and renegade drow) together with a top unit from the Enclave of Zaploni-Moriquendi’rim ambushed and destroyed a unit containing 6 Ram Demons, over 20 human cultists, over 20 drowan guard, the Lady Sister of Alvinus, the former seneschal to Lord Quinliart of the Aragoni - prior Proconsul of the Enclave and servant of the Eldritch.

It is suggested that the lady has been captured and is being returned to Enclaves for interrogation (by now is there).

It is also suggested that the drow with her were part of Quinliart’s personal guard and surrendered after her capture.

Lastly, it is suggested that the human contingent was commanded by a former priest of Glor’diadel, fallen into service to the abominable - and that he is of considerable power.

I wished to let you know directly."

Kit receives a report, also from about two months ago. The court of Dame Brenda the Dispossessed had a purge of people who were found out to be traitors, followers of the Abominations. Two grey elves fled and escaped. They speculate that Zorplona-Moriquendarim may have passed on actionable intelligence to Dame Brenda from interrogating the sister of Alvinus.

They call for Lord Silverleaves, who is very disturbed. He says that Dame Brenda could provide more information.

“She has been in a tizzy since we learned that three of our people were fallen to the enemy, and two escaped.”

Dame Brenda is in laen battlearmor, tinted in the color of Redaction. She tells them that they received a report from an unexpected source, and that she trusted it enough to perform the test. One of them was revealed by the test—the traitor from her cousins had somehow managed to create a secret way into Tidbiddle and tempted some gray elves into collusion and then corruption. The other two then fled, taking a war schooner with them. They had already stolen another schooner, that of the Crown Prince of the House of Glyr. He came in a small war schooner, with only his seneschal and a body guard. They entrapped and killed him, and then moved his schooner away. Both she and the House of Glyr assumed he was attacked on the way back to his home, and they searched the land in between, but found nothing. In fact, he was slain and his body hidden in a secret chamber. She explains, "We only found out because our cousins overlooked the bloodfeud and informed us. It was tempting to blame them, as Quinliart came from their stock, but that would be playing into the hands of the Eldritch, who have after all sought to corrupt all, and from our cousins' perspective, he is a renegade beyond all renegades."

She is considering turning her prisoner over to Zorplona-Moriquendarim, though she is hesitant. Alistair also suggests that she might consider hiring a unit of Kathroven illithid, who have Coercers stronger than most others besides the Noldar.

"Two more schooners together with their man of war is a formidable force facing anyone but the elves. I'm certain that Alvinus can use them effectively. I have indirectly warned trade partners that they should take extreme care with their flying assets, and let me do the same to you."

"Indeed. We wanted to make sure that you know that we fear that Alvinus may be boosted by either necromancy or demonic power. We also have speculated-- although it is pure speculation-- that Quinliart may be using redaction to transform him towards being a Noldor."

"That would strengthen their hand. The Noldor generally don't permit that because of their beliefs about hierarchy and status, but Quinliart has likely left those behind. He seems to have left every reasonable emotion behind."

"Would you be willing to send us impressions of the traitors?"

"Oh, by all means."

"We worry that they may seek to infiltrate other elven groups."

"You are more experienced in the world as young as you are. I assumed automatically that they would flee to their principal."

"They might. That would be a bad thing in that it strengthens their capabilities but less bad than them, for example, finding themselves in the Court of Singing Leaves."

"It is possible that they may make other attempts. Gray elves are well regarded and well received by nearly all the human kingdoms on the rare occasions that they appear."

"It's true. To be perfectly honest we would welcome a gray who had some reason to take up residence here in Canberry City. And that is despite the fact that we have much more power than many human kingdoms."

She sends them images of their lives in her court for the past 2000 years. There are plenty of them to send, and they see a cascade of images of the course of their lives. One is female, the other male. The male appears to be a military officer. When the cascade finishes, they're quite sure you would know them instantly even in any disguise.

"I will speak to my cousin the Queen of Singing Leaves, and see if I can break the news to her gently."

"Might they try to corrupt members of her court as well?"

"It is probable that they were able to entice three of mine because my court is larger than theirs. They had secret access, and the abominable offer great rewards. Even so, elves falling to them escapes me. I understand the humans."

"We've been told that the last time, essentially no elves did."

"I know of one that did." She tells them that one of the Noldor did fall to corruption in the First Age, and almost undid the alliance against the Eldritch. An Aufaulgautharim general realized, and then struck the traitor down with a wrath terrible to behold. The Noldor have either forgotten this or, more likely, refuse to tell this under any circumstances due to the shame.

"We greatly appreciate this, and we will do our best to locate and capture the remainder of your traitors." After some mental prodding by Kit, Alistair asks, "I wonder if you could be more specific about how you found out there were traitors."

"Lord Moriquendarim sent the Prince of Gwyr back to us after they uncovered a hidden stepping pad in the sub-basement of the Palace of Gargoyles. Once we knew that there had been a way for them to enter the Palace of Flowers here, I began to suspect. I accepted the Mother of Death's suggestion that we perform a test--you may not know that she has developed a spell that can uncover Eldritch taint."

"Yes, we've received copies of it."

"Fortunately, almost immediately we uncovered one of the traitors. I cannot speak their name to you now. But then we noted that two others had fled the court. At first, I did not realize they fled the court. I thought for a moment that they were so disgusted by the fact that a member of our race fell to this that they had left to be sick in private. But when they did not return within a few minutes, I reached out to one of my guard, and they had already departed in the war schooner. We pursued, and then were temporarily forced to stop and do battle with a great flying cloud of bones and skulls that attacked the vessel, and by the time that we had eradicated it, they had disappeared. We initiated a search pattern with our man-of-war, but we were unable to locate them."

"We will see what we can can do in that regard."

"I could not bring myself to ask Lord Moriquendarim to commit his man of war as well. I simply could not. I fear the crews would have killed each other anyway. He appears strangely immune to the blood fury. I knew that the great elves could control it, but he appears truly immune. He is effective, but he's very young, very young. I can't imagine putting a mere 157 year old in charge of a major enterprise for an empire for even a moment, but it is what it is."

The humans all try to keep their faces steady at this statement.

"In any event, he does not need to control himself. He does not need his ambassadors to take an incredibly expensive potion to be able to exist in our presence for a few minutes without deciding to kill us. He simply acts like we were anyone else."

[cont'd]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
[Session 138, cont'd]
"Do you know anything of how the Moriquendarim found out about this?"

"Yes, they found an ancient tome that referenced a hidden storeroom. They didn't know of any hidden storeroom so they scoured their cellars until they finally uncovered the trigger, and it opened the door. Within the storage room was a stepping pad, that leads to a hidden part of my palace, three corpses in caskets, and the personal effects of the three of them separately. And in the greatest imaginable disgrace, he had written in the Sacred Book, 'So ends the House of Gwyr. I, Quinliart have done this.' I will kill him for this, if I can reach him."

"Would that be within your power?"

"Not to reach him currently. Even the High Clanslady of Aufaugautharim only killed a few field armies, and I am not her equal."

"I asked out of curiosity, because others have said things that suggested that they do not think they would be capable of besting him in combat. Do you think then that you could best Quinliart, if you have access to him?

"If I do not attempt to attack him mentally, for he will crush me psionically--but if I only defend and can physically reach him, yes. I must not engage him in psionic combat--deflection and defense is all I could possibly do, even bolstered by armor and allies. He is powerful beyond nearly any mental contact I've ever seen."

"And reaching him would be difficult in the extreme, with the great barrier around the capital city of Hanal and the blood driven turned loose. Perhaps if we colud get both the Noldar and the Eldar to assault the barrier at once..."

"I do not believe it would required a combined effort. We have breached the outer barrier, and now there is hope if someone could crush several of the supporting towers inside the city. But first, they would have to get inside the city and overcome the defenses."

"We'll have to think on that."

"Yes. Please keep me in mind while you're thinking on it."

"Indeed. Is there ought else we should hear of?"

"Just that you must be wary of confronting the stolen voller in the air, because this is effectively an Eldar war schooner. You know the different classes of warships for us? I understand that there are some different ones for humans."

"At least vaguely. There are armadas and men of war?"

"Armadas are the largest, next men of war, and then there are the war schooners and the flitters. And then you go to the barges and the scouts and other things that we haven't used in thousands of years. The schooners are the third largest of the ships and the most common because they're quicker to grow, they're easier to impress, which is what you must do with a voller to have good control of it. If you are going to fly with a minimal crew, which even for a schooner any less than three is a minimal crew, then you also should impress the weapons so they can fire on their own. Most war schooners mount one energy lance. Occasional war schooners mount one rear and one forward energy lance."

"Did this one mount two?"

"Of course. It was from the House of Gwyr. I'm sure if they allowed their young heir to travel all the way to Drucien, probably because he was young and adventuresome and wanted to, House Gwyr would send him well protected. House Gwyr is of course one of the six great houses--one of our six great houses, I should say--and the house that primarily grew our vollers historically. It is the house that focused the most heavily on psychokinetic abilities within the six houses, and on magic of elements."

"I take it there's some mystic significance to six?"

"Divine significance. No mystic significance that I know of."

"What is the divine significance?"

"When the Brothers were young, and the divide began, before the Kinslaying and the bloodletting, each of the Brothers chose six champions. After the bloodletting, from those champions came the six houses on either side. And never have we shot to increase the number either upon our hand or upon theirs."

"But of course that would be sacrilegious."

"Yes."

"And Quinliart just ended one of those lines."

"That is why the death of the heir of the House of Gwyr is such a blow."

"I cannot help but wonder if their next effort will be to end one of the Noldar lines."

"There was the death of the young Curinirim lord. He was the heir to that house, but I am not certain if he was the only one. I do not discount the possibility that he had already reduced the Noldar houses to five, and seeing the opportunity to also take the heir of one of the Eldar houses, could not help himself. And of course the inscription. Yes, it was boastful, but it was bound to be uncovered sooner or later."

"And under other circumstances, could have renewed the Kinslaying at the time when it might lead to the fall of the world."

"Indeed, that might almost be the purpose in and of itself had it happened before his perfidy was discovered."

<<That would be my thought,>> Kit sends to the others as Dame Brionna departs. <<What do you think would have happened if unsuspected conspirators in the court of Dame Brenda had convinced her to insist before the Council of Opposition that Zorplona-Argoni search for any signs of the boy? And then if they had been the ones to "accidentally" stumble upon the secret pad that led to the heir's body in Zorplona-Argoni? What do you think would have happened?>>

<<They might well have attacked Zorplona-Moriquendarim directly. And then the Argoni would respond in kind and then off to the races... That raises another concern about the traitors. If gray elves known to be associated with Dame Brenda were to, say, find and murder a Noldar youngling...>>

<<You mean like the Noldar lord you're fostering, your grace?>>

<<I got there a moment after I thought that, but yes.>>

Alistair heads over to explain to the Noldor lord personally why he's confined to the palace for the near future. They have a quick conversation about why he must stay in the palace, because of the risk of assassins (like the candy seller) and have his friends visit him. He understands immediately, in his child-like way, and agrees that he is the only high-born young Noldor outside the homelands. The next youngest in age beyond the homelands, though somewhat lower in status, is the Lord Proconsul Moriquendarim, and he is at least in full adulthood.

They also contact the Cities of Crystal to warn them about the gray elf traitors.

Finally, they think about something else Dame Brenda said:

“The temple of Glordiadel purged out a man well on the way to becoming a bishop, perhaps six months ago. Bishop Humbert would be the person to speak to about that. He uttered the word of entropy and escaped. There was recently a battle in the Underdark. My cousins have cadet houses down there—pretentious--and engaged in a battle to protect them.”

They decide to contact Archbishop Humbert about the fallen priest through the Archbishop. The Archbishop recognizes him as likely Peregrine Godric. "He became a priest from a humble beginning and rose rapidly. He fell into error and was removed shortly before he would have been elevated to one of the new dioceses. He'd been a priest in Enclaves, I believe. It was a considerable scandal. He was an excellent scholar, and had formidable powers. His word was said to be almost hypnotic."

"How long ago did he fall?"

"Less than a year, but certainly more than a few months. I'm aware of this primarily in conversations you may recall where we put Humbert and other people back in contact recently during the incident with your parents." The archbishop nods to Kit. "And he did send out a warning letter telling everyone that the priest was corrupt and had fallen into ultimate error, although he didn't exactly define that given the Ecumenical Council, and that if he appeared in any of our dioceses he was to be seized immediately by paladins of any of the most devout orders and held for questioning. That is an unusual instruction from Humbert."

"Unusual in that he would usually not be that aggressive?"

"Yes, Humbert gained his nickname 'the holy' for his extreme piety and humbleness before the light, not for sounding like a bishop militant and choosing someone for the question is about as out of character for him as I can imagine. It sounds almost Paranswarmian."

"We believe that as of a few months ago, the apostate may have been active in the underdark with various forces aligned with the enemy."

"Do you have any idea where he has gone?"

"No. We think he was not captured, but we're not certain."

"He's been described as being almost hypnotic. I cannot imagine that he's lost that gift of rhetoric."

"Almost hypnotic as in charismatic speaker or as in he had some other gifts that made it actually hypnotic?"

"People found it difficult to disagree with him..."

"So, we're thinking coercer," says Kit.

"How would he talk about the Light?"

"He talked about the Light like any other young enthusiastic priest, but something came up. I'm not privy to the exact details-- I'll send a missive to Humbert and see if he's willing to share the details, but something came up. The church did some form of an investigation and concluded he needed to be defrocked. And he got away. I cannot speak to whether or not it would be coercion. I don't know enough about those things."

"It really does sound coercive," says Alistair. "Does Enclaves check its people for psionics?"

"No," says Kit. "They don't because usually there aren't enough to make it worth testing and nobody knows what to look for anyway. That's how I got away."

"The Ministry of the Mind does here, although their record of identifying everyone who has in fact psionic is spotty. Lots of people go undetected especially if it was a more subtle gift like coercion. Most people would just think he was a charismatic preacher, unless they knew what to look for. And of course that could also be either that he had an untrained gift that manifested in that way, or that he was already working with, for example, the corrupted elves."

"Or that they saw his gift and recruited him because of it. Actually, for a young ambitious priest, being offered the way to a way to make your oratory more persuasive and convincing..." Kit trails off.

"That in and of itself could have been a key step in the tempting," continues Dame Brionna. "Especially for a low born priest. That can be a path to power and influence."

"Right, but that's why I'm wondering about the content of his sermons," says Alistair. "It doesn't sound like they were explicitly leading people theologically astray, in and of themselves."

"Oh, there's no excessive talk about purity, if that's what you mean," adds the Archbishop. "He talked a great deal about righteousness and the Light, and about self-sacrifice."

"That is not that unusual a topic."

"No. Wouldn't be consistent with falling into a Sytrian heresy, shall we say, but I'm not certain. I will contact Humbert and see what he's willing to share."

They discuss the need to systematically check the clergy and the nobility, as well as anyone with magical power, for corruption. They also make sure that they're contacting other major courts about the gray elves, but quietly--so that an inner circle will know to respond if they show up, but not tipping off the enemy that they know of them.
[End Session 138]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 139 (February 23, 2022)

29 Tar
In the morning, Alistair raises an idea for the Council. "We spoke yesterday about our fears that the enemy are targeting the young scions of both the Eldar and the Noldor. I had a thought about that. Perhaps we could use the young Noldor lord who is our vassal to entrap the gray elf traitors, or perhaps some other servitors of the enemy, if we created an image of him out and about in the city to lure them into attacking him when he is 'vulnerable,' while he actually stays safe in the palace."

Kit thinks for a moment. "Wouldn't gray elves be able to see through that sort of illusion?"

"If they interacted with it closely, certainly. But we might be able to lure them in close enough to check, and then mouse trap them. I thought this might be a task for the Sixth Daughter to supervise."

"Oh, she'd be most interested in that."

"Ideally, we would have the image surrounded by his actual companions."

"Yes, that way if they have intelligence about who he associates with, it would seem to confirm their intelligence that he's out and about in the city."

"We would need both his permission and that of his friends to endanger them in that sort of way," notes Dame Brionna.

"Of course."

"Wouldn't they be able to sense that the Noldor lord's mind wasn't present?" asks Kit. "Powerful psions, especially ones who are not yet fully trained, have unmistakeable psionic signatures."

"We could let it be leaked that he has a ring of mind shielding--which we do in fact have access to. That might work. If we are all agreed, I will go speak to him to ask his permission and advice on picking the right friends to ask."

Dame Brionna accompanies Alistair to meet with the Noldor lord. As Alistair approaches, the lord gives him the elaborate, almost gymnastic, Noldor greeting of obeisance. Alistair returns it with a respectful, but much more subdued, nod. "That whole greeting isn't really necessary, you know. We don't do that sort of thing here."

"No, my lord, but it is proper. You are the Emperor, and I should show my respect."

"Yes, but it's also proper for you to use the same sorts of signs of respect that any of my other vassals would use. I'm not criticizing, mind, I'm just saying that it would suffice to follow local custom."

"I will do as you request. You are the Emperor."

"I wanted to speak with you further about why we have asked you to remain within the palace for the time being, and also about possible action we might take connected to those reasons. As you know, the Eldritch have become much more active, and they have corrupted various highly placed people. They have sought to achieve greater problems. We believe that they were responsible for murdering the young prince of House Curinnirim, who, you may remember, was killed on his research schooner some time ago, as well as the Crown Prince of the House of Gwyr--one of your cousins' noble houses-- and thus we fear that they would view you as being an attractive target without the full protection of either a Noldor necropolis or an Eldar forest."

"I see," replies the Noldor lord.

"We believe that the wards of the palace--recently re-empowered and strengthened as they are-- to be sufficient to keep you safe within these walls. We can't be as confident that you would be safe elsewhere in our lands. And so, until this threat has passed, we think it wise to keep you within the palace."

"Thank you, my lord."

"There is an opportunity, however, that presents for us in taking the fight to the enemy, which is, that if we can mislead them into thinking that you are elsewhere and unprotected, they may commit substantial forces to try to capture or kill you, allowing us to then ambush those forces."

"I don't have much formal military training yet, but that seems reasonable."

"Now, we can't use you personally, because the risks to the overall cause would be too high were you to be injured or even killed. But we could use the appearance of your seeming to try to lure them in nonetheless. The most effective way to make that convincing would be for some of your actual friends, who are known to be your friends, to be involved with the ruse. This would put them at risk. There's no way of avoiding that. So we would, of course, not do that without both your permission and theirs. But we wondered if you thought that there might be some of your known friends and companions who might have the right mix of bravery, but not foolhardiness, and capabilities to take care of themselves, that might make them suitable to use in such an effort."

"I think they're all very brave, my lord, but I can't choose for them."

"No, of course not. I'm not asking you to do so. We would not ask for you to do so. What we were asking is if you might make suggestions of ones among them who it might make sense for us to ask, and do note that I mean ask, and not command." Alistair is privately unsure that one raised among the Noldor would understand that distinction, but he makes it nonetheless.

He gives a few names of friends he would suggest--Gregory, his closest friend, or perhaps Todd.

Dame Brionna says, "Thank you, and again, we do need to ask you to stay safe in the palace and take no part in this. It is not that we do not wish your assistance in this regard, but at this point, you do the cause of Light and of good far more help by remaining safe yourself."

"Thank you, Dame. I think I'll go pray in the chapel."

"A wise plan. We all have great deal of experience with needing to keep ourselves safeer than we would wish, and not being able to do as much actively as we would wish," adds Alistair. "I know it's hard that you can't go out and play with your friends or have adventures with this as they may. There will be a time when you will be one of the last of your people on Aphonion, and it will be your place to carry the banner for all that is good and right in the world against forces that are beyond humanity's capabilities. That time will come, but that's still some thousand or several thousand years in the future."

"Thank you, Lord." He bows to Alistair, although much more clumsily than with the complex Noldor salutation.

They then head back to the Council chamber and call in the Sixth Daughter, who is enthusiastic about the plan--almost disturbingly so.

Dame Brionna sends one of her guards to summon Gregory--one of the Noldor's friends that he recommended--to the palace. A short while later, the guard rushes back in and throws himself prostrate before the Council.

"My lord! The youth has been kidnapped, along with one of his friends. Those who were around him cannot seem to speak, and he's gone! His younger brother indicated that the ones who took him went into the air, upward into the air, and disappeared. He cannot speak well, and they can barely move. I'm having others carry them here, as we speak, my lord; I hope I did not exceed my rights."

"No, that's good and let's call for some healers and some redactors."

"And young Lord Brightspan," adds Dame Brionna.

"They're trying to bait him out," says Kit.

"But we may still be able to turn this to our advantage..." [The GM noted with amusement that our plan tied right into, and somewhat short-circuited, his plan for the evening's events.]

"With your permission, your grace, if you will deal with the people here, I could go to investigate the scene of the crime with some of my squads," says Dame Brionna.

"My concern is that that we know this is a trap. I suppose you can investigate the scene, but be careful."

Kit is meanwhile comforting the boys who were brought in, because they are young and traumatized by the event, crying about their friends who are missing. The most functional of the boys is Todd--an eleven year old who is crying about the fact that they took Gregory and Thaddeus.

"Yes, we need to rescue Gregory and Thaddeus. Do you understand that this was a trap to try to kill your friend?"

"Yes. They thought I was sleeping. Would they know when he's not in this building, like I know when he's not in this building?"

"You know when he's not in here?"

"I can't hear him when he's in here. When he's not here, I can hear him in my mind if I listen for him. I can hear what people are thinking if I concentrate, but not in here."

"Yes, there are powerful wards. By the way, did you have those abilities before you met the Prince?"

"Never!"

"Really? Are there people in your family who had strange hunches, or..."

"Oh, sure! But I never did, and he said I ought to be able to talk to him when we work together. And ever since I have."

"He activated your latent talent," says Kit. "Have you started receiving formal training yet?"

"Training?" he asks, obviously confused.

"Well, we're going to change that now because you you can be taught to do a lot of really really useful things, and serve your country."

"Can I be taught to rescue Gregory and Thaddeus?" asks Todd.

"That's exactly what we were going to begin discussing," replies Alistair. "They want your friend the Noldor Lord to go racing off with you and some of your companions trying to come to the rescue, so they can then try to capture him. We want to send out a group that will be perceived as including him. But it will not, so that when they try to grab that group, our hunting party can grab them, and hopefully also, by grabbing them, get access to actually rescue Gregory."

"That sounds good. I've got a knife."

"A knife, huh?" says Kit. She's shocked that the Noldor lord would have suggested an 11 year old, but from his perspective, they're all children, so he didn't distinguish between the teens in his coterie and the younger children. "I believe you that you are trained and I believe you that you are brave and want to do whatever you can to rescue your friend, and we're going to find a way for you to help. But you have to understand the people that took your friend are really powerful and so we need to give you some more help, so that you don't have to go face them by yourself."

The child nods.

Alistair continues, "I need you to understand this could go badly. There's no guarantee that this will be successful, and there's no guarantee that even if it is successful that everyone who participates will make it home. So you need to understand that you're taking a chance that you'd get killed or that you would return with your mind broken, so that you couldn't think properly or your body broken, so that you can never walk again. There is a place in the Heavens for those who fall in the cause of Good. But even I, as the Emperor, can't order you to do something like this, because the risks are too high. I can only ask you."

"I can't leave my friends with them."

"I just wanted to be clear about that."

"Thank you, your majesty..." he says, while remaining determined.

Kit uses the mindlink. << We are going to keep this kid far away from anything who can hurt him. He's just a child! We are not going to throw him out there for the for the gray elves to attack.>>

<<No, but but he may need to be part of something so that they can see him.>>

<<That's fine as long as he is far away from any danger.>>

Alistair says, "There's someone we'd like you to meet who will be leading the effort to make sure that that your friend and you make it back safely, and that the people who are trying to hurt your other friend are brought to justice. She can be a little intimidating, but she means well, or at least she is loyal to the Empire." He sends for the Sixth Daughter again.

Meanwhile, Dame Brionna travels to the scene of the kidnapping. She is no longer in the upper city, because the Noldor’s friends are drawn from all ranks of society. She’s in a reasonable working class area. The house is open, and there are guards present.

“Can you tell me what was reported to you?”

“At some time around the fourth hour of the morning, a malaise fell over the house. The goodwife awoke, but could not move. She is the only one who can speak. The children have now been carried off to the palace. They were in the common room of the house. They had drunk grog and played dice late into the night. A malaise fell, and they were stricken to the ground, though she was not. A group of figures entered, though she had difficulty describing them except that one of them was an elf. She touched the children on the forehead, and then took her son and one other.”

Dame Brionna heads in to speak to a woman who is weeping in the kitchen, and sometimes whacking a man who is standing with her, as if she blames him as well.

Dame Brionna greets her and says that she is here to investigate on behalf of the Archduke. She tells her that they believe that her son has been taken as a hostage because of his friend.

Dame Brionna asks if one of the investigators could take a mental impression.

“She is Coercively obdurate, which is why she could resist the Coercer. It must have been Coercion. But she must have been held unmoving by some other mechanism. I have the image of the elf, but it was in truth no elf as we would say it. He was a twilight elf. The malaise is not permanent, but is still having some residual effect until it passes because of how powerful the effect was.”

The investigators also find an elven rune freshly carved in the side of the table—it represents the eye. The mage in Dame Brionna’s group reports that it’s magical, and still active. Her psion does psychometry and tells her that it was slashed in by one of the boys, as if he had no control over his own limbs, but then enchanted by one of those who have gone over completely. He must be concentrating very hard—he’s having trouble holding that many of them with his Coercion.

The mother reports that in addition to the elf, there were 5 strange figures who were largely transparent.

When that’s reported, Alistair calls for Lord Silverleaves. “I bear word from the Queen. There are a total of at least 4 elven ships within the barrier. Only one of them is a powerful ship, but with them is a sloop, a schooner, and a war flitter. They appear to be from both races. There are not enough elves to man them, so they are likely stolen, and they will not fly well with human control. But while they are at anchor, they are a light squadron by elven standards. That would be capable of destroying a whole human battlegroup.

The Noldor lord’s friend Todd says that the other missing person is Thaddeus. Gregory is the Noldar lord’s best friend.

Suddenly, the cook drags in a sullen looking boy, who said that he was given three pence to deliver this message to that nice young man who likes my cookies.

“Esteemed young lord, you have forty-eight hours to come to a location that will be provided to you mentally. If you do not come within forty-eight hours, Gregory will be sacrificed to my lord and his soul lost to this plane.” It is signed with a Noldar ideograph.

Dame Brionna has the rune “discovered” and then destroyed. She has some scent hounds sniff around, and they follow the trail for about a block before sudden confusion. Asking around, they get reports of some men walking down the street and then flying directly up into the air, perhaps two-hundred or three-hundred feet. And then they vanished, though they could still be heard talking.

A psion checks their memory. “I think they fled in a voller—under an invisibility cloak.”

They make a plan: they’ll send the Noldor lord out wearing a ring of mind shielding. He’ll then remove the ring, some distance out from the palace, but still reasonably close, with the Sixth Daughter, Lord Davion, and Lord Silverleaves protecting him. Once he has the location, he’ll put his ring of mind shielding back on, and return to the palace. And then Lord Davion, the Sixth Daughter, and Lord Silverleaves will plot to ambush the people who want to ambush him.

They implement the plan: he takes the ring off, some discussion ensues mentally, he falls to his knees and begins crying, and then clumsily puts the ring back on and is brought back into the palace.

“They’re cutting Thaddeus! They showed me. They said that if I came to them, they’d let them go. They said that I’m the one they want.”
[cont'd]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
[Session 139, cont'd]
"Oh, I'm so sorry," Kit tries to reassure him. "We are going to get them back. We're going to heal any hurts that have been done, and this is not your fault."

"He said, if I came to them, he'd let them go. He said I was the one they wanted."

"They're lying," says Alistair. "If you come to them, then they will certainly kill your friends. That's why we're not letting you go there."

Kit adds, "We're going to keep you safe, and we are going to take care of this. What you just did was very, very brave. Good job."

"The brave thing was coming back when they told me to come and save them?"

"It's very, very hard to do your duty when your duty involves letting other people remain in danger," says Alistair. "Protecting yourself at the risk of others is much harder than doing your duty when that requires being brave about your own peril."

"I would cut the elf who sent me the message if I could. He's evil. He's a traitor."

"That is true, but that is also another reason for you to not be the one who performs the rescue. Sometimes we need to harm people for the evil they do. To make them suffer because of your anger at them is a path to evil. It leads away from what we try to do as as lords and as warriors. We sometimes need to harm people because it's necessary to protect our society, our people, the greater good. But there's a difference between ordering someone executed because of their crimes and of a need to send a signal and ordering someone tortured and killed because of the desire to exact vengeance upon them. One of those is the path to Glordiadel in the Heavens, albeit not an easy path, and one that may require us to seek forgiveness for the evils that we must do. And one of those is a path to Paranswarm in the Hells."

"If you say so..."

"The same can be said, of course, about the great gods that most of your people follow. That is not an area where I am as comfortable speaking of it."

"What I can tell you, young lord," says Dame Brionna, "is that in my desk drawer I keep a piece of parchment with two numbers on it. Currently those numbers are 31 and 15. The first number is the number of times I have helped prevent His Majesty from being assassinated. The second to the number of people I have personally killed. And I pray for guidance, and mercy, to the Lord of Light for both of those numbers. I play that I may continue to protect His Majesty, but also that the second number may not grow larger unless there is need--mostly in service to the first number."

"Thank you, Dame. I'm going to go back to the chapel."

"If I may, before you leave..." Alistair pauses to make sure that the Noldor youth will accept it, and then gives him a tight hug.

He bursts into a fresh set of tears, losing his composure altogether.

Kit takes over hugging him, and providing handkerchiefs.

"If you could see him to the chapel, he'll probably be able to pull himself together there."

Kit nods, and leads him away, ready to talk if he wants, and just to be quiet with him if he doesn't. He remains silent. He knows that he can't save them, and believes that the Council can. When they reach the chapel, she asks, "My lord, would you prefer to be alone? Would you like me to send Bishop Waters?"

"Yes, maybe a priest would be good?"

She nods, and quickly briefs Bishop Waters, who happily goes to minister to him.

Meanwhile, Alistair, Dame Brionna, and the Sixth Daughter are planning the response. Lord Silverleaves got the location from the young Noldor lord. It's odd--it's outside the city in a direction that they would have thought the Fae would have been aware of, but they haven't said anything so they appear not to be aware of it. It is in the same direction as the Tor, but not all the way to it.

Alistair decides to reach out to the Tor to see if they can cut off flight in that direction. "The Sixth Daughter should scout it and figure out a plan for a line of attack. And then we'll bring down the hammer with all of our heaviest hitters."

"Yes, lord. If I get to stick a dagger in one of them, I will be content," says the Sixth Daughter, with a gleam in her eye.

"I am sure you'll get the opportunity to get some. Can I ask, you won't have problems in a military operation with a Noldor lord and an Eldar lord, will you?"

"I know who the enemy is. My mother knows who the enemy is. Lolth will ride with me."

"Some drow would know that but still find themselves unable to avoid attacking their allies."

"Yes, I know." She makes a flippant motion with her hand. "They're not well trained. My men are."

"Understood," says Alistair. He also suspects that the Lolthian drow may have lost some of the blood fever, but he isn't about to point that out.

The Minister of the Mind reports that the children will be recovered after maybe 8 to 12 hours in skin. It is simply the aftereffect of Coercion, although the most powerful aftereffect he has ever seen. He also confirms that there must have been a mass hold effect if the Coercively obdurate person was unable to move, as Coercion would not have affected her at all. They assume that it was simply a second layer, as a precaution against the first failing, because there is no evidence that they perceived her trying to move. That suggests that they are operating effectively and taking precautions against possible failure points.

They also notify the childrens' parents that their children are safe but in the palace and that the young Noldor lord will be rescuing the lost ones shortly.

They consult with Lord Silverleaves on the best way to scout the enemy. "There might be a way with the Fae that they could send an animal and see through its eyes. That's not psionic as mine would be, and not magical; for if they have a mage of sufficient power to cast a mass hold, he will also be capable of detecting magic. But just sending a bird flying over..."

They reach out to the Tor lord.

"Your Majesty, when shall we see you for another... you're very serious at the moment."

"Yes, I am very serious. There will be time to frolic together soon enough, but for now we must talk of more serious things."

"Very well. Are you in danger now?"

"There is a trap that has been laid for the young Noldor lord, who is with us."

"Who would lay a trap for such a one?"

"A Twilight Elf, who is among those who have fallen to the greatest corruption."

"I see."

"Perhaps a Twilight Elf who is being advanced in some way, or having his powers augmented in some way, as he's demonstrated more Coercive capability than most Twilight Elves would be capable of. We believe that they are located in the area. We are planning a rescue operation, but we wondered if it might be possible for you to gather some intelligence through the eyes of an animal without using psionics, without using arcane magic or divine magic in the conventional sense, but using the natural magics of the world that you are more in tune with."

"Of course, Your Majesty. After all, we are bound to the land. You could do it as well, but you haven't the training."

"If I were interested, could you teach me?"

"Oh, aye, we could teach such things. They are simple, not the great spells of the land. You probably do not have the life span to learn those but the small spells, of course. In the meanwhile, I will link your vision to the animal that I send. Now you will be seeing through a bird's eyes, so therefore it is different than seeing with your own eyes."

"Perhaps a raptor would have the right visual perspective for what we need."

"Very well." The Tor lord speaks to the air for a couple of minutes, and then, all of a sudden, Alistair is soaring high about the earth in long lazy spirals looking down, and then the raptor starts to head in the direction he nudged.

Alistair remembers when this village was closed down back in his grandmother's reign. The spring ran dry, and it hasn't been used since. But in the midst of the old buildings, he sees that under a shed roof a stone altar has been built. He also sees an oddly shaped cloud that stays drifting directly above it, which the raptor seems to have no interest in entering, which he presumes is a concealed voller.

He also sees several figures moving around down there. No elf, but five of the translucent beings and a group of things that look like humanoid birds that walk on their rear legs and carry light weapons. A couple of them have leather, but otherwise the are unarmored.

One of them is presently bent over the altar on which you see young Thaddeus strapped down, and he is very slowly drawing a thin knife down in a long cut next to several others. Alistair notes that the iconography on the altar is that of the Blue Sun.

A priest approaches Dame Brionna and quietly murmurs that the Noldor lad calmed down in the chapel. His friends yelled at him not to come when they showed them to him, which was the only thing that let the Council persuade him to leave the matter to them. The Bishop plans to let him sleep in the chapel, which Dame Brionna approves, but asks that he be kept under supervision.

Alistair can see no signs of Gregory on the ground, however. The beating wings of the raptor momentarily part the cloud it is floating above, just enough, so that he can see the deck of a ship. It looks to be made of wood, implying that it is not an Eldar voller. However, there is another altar built on the foredeck, which has a couple of drow guards standing about looking somewhat uncomfortable, and a boy which he surmises is Gregory bound to the altar. He hasn't been cut, but there is an odd blue stone set right at his sternum. Then, of course, the mists of the cloud reclose over him.

"They're going to make him into one of the blue creatures presumably. Or rather, they're not but just because we're going to stop them."

Dame Brionna says, "Your Majesty. I am fully healed. Do I have your permission to go out there?"

"No, you do not."

"They're sacrificing children!"

"And that is why we're sending Lord Davion. You're not capable in the way that the leaders of this operation are, and you're too valuable to send as another simply super elite soldier."

"We do need to send a bunch of outstanding soldiers."

"Oh, we absolutely do. But, for example, those will be the Sixth Daughter's people, and those will be variety of paladins of Glordiadel that Lord Davion will select from among those he knows and trusts, and those will not be highly important imperial officials. And those will not be people whose primary duty is as a commander, not as a soldier."

The Sixth Daughter gently strokes one of Dame Brionna's armored arms. "Do not worry. I will get in a couple of blows for you."

"Please do."

"Heart blows or lung blows? Do you want them to suffer, or just stop?"

"I have no desire for them to suffer, but I do not wish them to be ever able to inflict any more evil upon the world."

"Then I will kill them cleanly with my sword."

Alistair says, "Let's get some information on those bird people and who they are, and what they can do before we send anybody against them. And also I want to clarify that the primary objectives are taking out the leadership of this and freeing the children. But if those can both be accomplished, then prisoners are also useful, for interrogation."

Lord Davion enters. "Your Majesty!"

"Yes, Lord Davion?"

"The honored Farsensor, Lord Silverleaves, said that this was the symbol the Twilight Elf who is working for the abominations sent?"

"Yes, it was the symbol with which the letter was signed."

"He should be dead. I thought he was dead. I thought... He's been dead for thousands of years. I remember my House killed him for betraying them. I do not know what else to tell you, but I thought you should know. I'll be more thorough killing him than my Father was."

"This is one of several occasions on which great Noldor lords specifically have thought definitively that they had killed servants of the Eldritch who then turned up alive. Princess Curinirim also thought she killed Quinliart's sister, then found that she had lived. I suspect there is something else we need to be looking for."

"Forgive my blindness, please your Majesty, what do you mean by something else?"

"We need to be looking for how they survived, and whether there was a deception."

"I attended this man's execution. I know we put him in the ground, and I know where we put it in the ground, in which niche in the Necropolis of the Screaming Skulls he was placed in dishonor! Upon my honor, I swear this!"

"Could it be something like a phylactery sort of process? Something like a lich?"

"It could be. I do not think my Lord Aufaugautharim considered the possibility that such a being could have a phylactery. I do not know much about such things, but one of the great alchemists might be able to reveal something more about it. Still, I think it unlikely."

"What about clones? Would it be possible for him to have been cloned after he died or would he have had to have been cloned while he was still alive? And then the clone would have had to have been restrained."

"Your Majesty. If they did that, then yes, of course. His death would have prevented a clone made after it, but not one while he still lived. But they would have had to have expected him to die."

"Or simply been willing to maintain creches of clones of many of their great servants."

"That is a possibility I do not wish to entertain. No matter how thorough I am, it means he could come back again."

"What of the Noldor traitor?"

"He is the traitor from among the Noldor."

"I had thought that that that one was was buried in a defined niche."

"I am forbidden to speak of this with any other race. But, Your Majesty, I've long not been in favor in the courts, so I will. I am hopeful to always to be in favor in this court. He was buried in the niches of the dishonored, beneath the Great Temple of the Spider in the City of the Screaming Skulls. Thousands of years ago I attended his funeral. I watched the crypt sealed.

"The two possibilities you raise are the only two, and, to be honest, I think a phylactery is extremely unlikely. I think it is more likely that you are correct, and there are clones. There's no other possible explanation. Resurrection would be impossible after those circumstances."

"Among humans, such a thing might be falsified. It might be an impostor. There are claimants to any number of thrones who claim that they are the child, actually deceased, of the former lord or what have you? Could not a Twilight Elf use another elf's sigil?"

"Use another's sigil, perhaps, but there are certain psionic signatures you might say that cannot be forged and that appear with the sigil. I know the signature of that Twilight Elf on that sigil, and this bore those same marks. It is him, of that I have no doubt."

"To our perspective, our enemies often seem deranged. Might that be a result of the clones, and likewise allow them to have clones more easily?"

"Yes. It wouldn't cause the mental disorder that any of us would experience with clones, but they would still need to restrain the clones, because otherwise otherwise they would seek him out, and one of them would die. Yes, yes, as long as they're restrained they can be kept well."

"My people are mortal, so among humans, the standard plan is that you would have the material for a clone collected and then not have the clone actually grown unless and until the original had already perished."

"That is the plan among your people, but your clones grow much faster than ours. It would not work for them, unless they were willing to lose the use of a minion for decades. But now consider Quinliart's sister-- her return was almost immediate. The clone was already grown."

"Possibly more than one. My lord, I hate to ask this, but what other notable deaths have there been who might have clones, and therefore come back?"

"Normally, when one of my people dies, their motive force--their spirit if you would-- passes to either the East or the West. Death is rare except by choice or by execution. Obviously, it is said that in his departure Lord Quinliart killed many of Moriquendarim's loyal servents. They were evidently not cloned. They stood against him when he was seen to be leaving the service of his house. However, there have not been more than a half dozen deaths within noble houses or their Twilight Elf servants in the past 1,000 years. Of course, the one I'm looking at is much older than that, and I cannot speak for those times, for I was young when I attended that funeral."

"It was the First Age, right?"

"Yes. I do not know if there were others. I know of only that one, that one."

"I don't mean to raise other problems or concerns, but we know that there was an impostor of me, that while not exactly a clone was more like me than a simple simulacrum or doppleganger, and we know that there have been other efforts to create other impostors, and some successful. I wonder with cases like the Prince of the House of Gwyr, who was ambushed and captured and then killed, whether they could have begun a clone before killing them, and then sought to corrupt it in a way that that breaking and turning the true one would not be feasible."

The look of horror that passes across his face is impressive, given his blood and his age. "If any would do such a thing, it would be them. That was recently enough for the clone to not yet be grown. But if they were doing such a thing-- he was so young, he was like the boy in the chapel now...",

"If they were to make a clone of one of the great elves, but who is say some couple of centuries old, one of the children. How long would a clone like that take to be ready?"

"Perhaps 20% of the span that they had enjoyed, so that at least we would still have decades."

"Yes, unless there were ones that had been kidnapped or killed a century ago."

Dame Brionna adds, "Such as when they began this plot. Any notable disappearances a century ago?"

"But now we're talking about great elves who disappeared century ago, anywhere in the world, or who were killed a century ago anywhere in the world."

"Disappearances, or sudden changes in personality or activity like reclusives."

"I must consult colleagues in Krashmere. I was not there, since many years ago. It is not impossible."

"We will need to inform Princess Curinirim about this, and we'll also need to inform the lords and ladies of the great Eldar holdings."

"You shall do that. I shall go kill him again." He taps the paper again.

"Please do. And then we'll find whatever clone creches they may have, and wipe out the remainder in one fell blow."

"If I were them, I would not have them anywhere near their islands, because that would make them too susceptible to be caught in a regular attack. They are certainly not in Krashmere."

"Would collections of great elf clones generate magical or psionic effects on the areas once they began to near completion?"

"Yes, and we must presume they have at least one clone of each of them. Almost surely a clone of Quinliart as well as the others."

"That means that we can then look for an effect that they might be having and try to find them that way."

They pause and think for a bit. "Lord Davion, do you know what these bird people might be? They are not aarakocra, I would recognize those."

"Yes, those would be Rappa. Small groups have them occasionally come through the Valley of the Unknown."

"Oh, yes, I've heard of them."

"They are some of the most vicious mercenaries that come through, but they're nowhere near as good fighters as the Chulik. They're not usually evil as such, unless they converted to follow a foul god. Are they simply warriors or are their priests among them?"

"There are priests among them."

"But that's one of the reasons they might convert. Their priests suddenly found themselves embarrassed when they reached here."

"Is that because their gods are not in this planar neighborhood?"

"Yeah, unlike the Chuliks who basically don't care whether there's a god or not, and have no priests, the Rappa actually care."

"No exceptional arcane or psionic power?"

"None that I know of."

"Then they are almost certainly intended as as part of the bait, not as soldiers. The thought is that the young Noldor lord would come in to try to rescue his friend, would see them, would attack, and would wipe them out without much difficulty, because even for a young great elf perhaps accompanied by some soldiers, they would be no match. And then, while he's doing that, the drow and the Twilight Elf attack from above."

"That would make sense. He is as powerful as any of his age but he is untrained and inexperienced in the ways of warcraft."

Alistair suddenly says, "I think I know in very broad brush strokes where the clone creche might be. If I were they, I would have set it up on the Southern Continents, completely undetectable to most humans, and an area where we know that they have a foothold."

The rest of the Council immediately reacts in surprise at the idea of the Southern Continents existing at all, and Alistair quickly explains once again, not that it will help.

"But yes, I was thinking that if they hid the clones there, that would be a way of concealing it very effectively, because even people who are aware of it seem to be unnaturally uninterested in it, which also means we need to send a sending to the ship that we sent down there with an investigation team to help deal with them to specify that they should be looking for this in particular or for weird psionic effects that might indicate the location of the creche."

[End Session 139]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 140 (March 9, 2022)

30 Tar
Passes uneventfully. Lord Davion, Lord Silverleaves, and the Sixth Daughter are completely silent, because of the capabilities of the Twilight Elf.

31 Tar
The Council receives a report about a child, the nibling of the Empress Caitlin, who is in captivity in the hands of Clan Moulder. [Attached.] They bring in Empress Caitlin, and begin discussing a rescue operation.

Kit has a contact on her fan on the Isle. It was initially dormant, but then woke up shakily. It has become much steadier. She reaches out to that contact, which she hasn’t had mental contact with before. This is, unlike most of the agents on the fan, male.

<<Ah, my lady. It is good to have the contact of your mind again.>>

<<Greetings. I think you were expecting my predecessor.>>

<<Yes, I should have realized that. You are my third. My first one was the one who immolated himself when the old lord died.>>

<<A tradition that we are trying to wipe out.>>

<<You should eradicate it entirely. Yours is not the only human kingdom with that affliction.>>

<<Brightstar, we have need of your services. Where are you located physically?>>

<<I am in the new capital city of Prince Annarrgeal Airui`taur.>>

<<I had hoped you might be. There is a human child nearby—a child of the royal house of the Southern Kingdoms—in the possession of the Moulder.>>

<<A survivor? That is fortunate indeed.>>

<<The child is close kin of the Queen of the South Kingdoms. The Queen of the South Kingdom is also Empress Caitlin of Canberry.>>

<<I did not even know that enough of the Southern Kingdoms had survived outside the Kingdom of the Isles to have an Empress.>>

<<She is married to the Emperor.>>

<<It's wonderful news. I am sorry to hear that her father must have passed. He was a good man.>>

<<That's what i've heard.>>

<<Her grandfather was also a good man, and her grandmother was insane, but that's perfectly acceptable. A lot of us are.>>

<<Well, she is so far a very good Empress, and a very good person.>>

<<Wonderful to hear, please convey my regards... well, no, don't convey my regards I suppose. But we are all pleased to know of this.>>

<<I'm sure she will be happy to know that the revived Kingdom of the Isles will hold her in high regard. But returning to the matter at hand. You understand why we need to act quickly. You understand why I'm calling on people who are already in place down there.>>

<<Absolutely. We need to mount a rescue, to get them out before any kind of harm could come to them. They have a number of compounds north of the holding of the Aragoni.>>

<<Can you find out which compound?>>

<<I can. My prince does not know of our connection. Historically, we have always been a small elven wood, and we looked to the royal house of the Kingdom of the Isles to watch over the humans and others of this land. We stayed in our woods, and they took care of human matters, and all was well. However, the Prince saw what happened when the royal house fell. The Aragoni started taking slaves from the survivors, and he said that we could not do nothing, so we saved as much territory as we had the troops to hold, took in as many refugees as we could find, and have sustained the Kingdom of the Isles as best we could. I will personally, however, reconnoiter the Moulder encampments. It will not take long if I do not have to come near the Aragoni. They would be able to end my work.>>

<<Alright. Keep yourself safe. I trust you. You have been at this job much longer than I have.>>

She hears a ringing laugh in her mind at that. <<I will travel by steed to our northern border, and from there, reconnoiter each site individually. It should be two to three days total.>>

They put together a rescue team to be ready when they know where: Many Hands, some tough operatives from Kit’s people, a priest militant recommended by Bishop Waters who can get down in the mud as necessary.

Around dinner time, a strident psionic message comes through to Dame Brionna from Lord Davion. <<Dame. We have the child.>>

<<Safe?>>

<<Yes. We have captives. We have other prisoners who are now safe. I regret to say that the principal escaped—a Contingency I believe. In my youth, I would have offered my throat to admit his escape from our effort, but we did achieve the main objective.>>

<<The thanks and commendation of the Empire. How did the principal escape?>>

<<He had chained Contingencies set up. Even though we had him psionically, and had sufficient force to defeat him, once we wounded him near death, Contingencies went off and he was moved—not by a teleport, perhaps gate, to the northwest. There was a barrier that dropped immediately that we could not pursue. We have the ship, we have the papers. The ship was a human vessel, but it has been modified with some disturbing modifications—the black box replaced with a Noldar one, and a vegetative intelligence formed in the ship. If it were complete, it could have made things more dangerous, and we do not know how many ships they may have done.>>

<<Do you have both of the children?>>

<<Yes, I intend to return with them. It will comfort the young one, and they are terrified as well. They miss their friends and their family, and they were nearly sacrificed as well. A number of other captives were there, that seem to have been taken opportunistically and held in a cell below deck. I'm going to return, however, with the boys that are close to the young lord, and my men will return the ship and the other rescued prisoners.

<<We have several captives. Rappa. They are not corrupt in the way that the Enemy is corrupt, or that the elven leader is. But they are not a good people. They came through the gate and then were immediately snapped up as mercenaries. Perhaps they are running short of loyal followers.>>
[cont'd]
 

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CPaladin

Explorer
[Session 140, cont'd]
He then aports to the receiving chamber.

When Lord Davion enters, though he will be fine, it was clearly a harder fight than he indicated.

“It is him. It cannot be him, but it is him.”

“Did he recognize you?” asks Kit.

“He cursed me by name. He must have recognized me. This stinks of corruption having reached levels in homeland that it should never have reached.”

“Do you think that there is corruption there today, not millenia ago?”

“Not among the nobles. But I reluctantly conclude that there likely is among the Mordhel, the meat-eaters. I will not go there. But if someone were to go to the Necropolis in the City of the Screaming Souls, I guarantee that you will find the bones are still there. And that person might also find a cult among the gravekeepers. If anyone is to go, it must be someone who could pass as a servant or slave.”

“What kinds of servants or slaves?”

“They have humans or uruks. The human servants have skills usually; someone with useful skills, weaving or embalming. There are certain words that they must know. I will write out a lexicon, and provide a letter of introduction to the High Clanlord—once he accepts them, none will gainsay them.”

Kit works with her father to identify a crew of 6 stoneworkers—discrete, observant, brave, and with few connections. They send them off to investigate.

The Blue Sun transparent people are all slain, and they eliminated their hearts with laen—one of the methods of destroying them. Only the leader escaped.

They delegate reviewing the captured papers to Kit’s secretary. The papers are in cyphers, and he begins working on breaking the codes.

Lord Silverleaves then joins them. “That was a blind gate. It was not psionically linked, it was distinctly triggered but not actively. You see, psionically he would have been cut off from aportation, and I did cut him off from communication, so I know that it was not indirectly run by his master. They were prepared for the possibility that we would outthink them. I think they also must have been aware that they might have lost the ship.” He offers to place a germ of light in the Canberry battle vollers, to strengthen them.

“Also, did you know that the translucent beings are in some sort of hive mind? I wasn’t either, but they clearly were. It was not psionic—I could not cut it off psionically. But there were conduits leading out, mostly to Hanal and likely to Rafe, but some to other places. I think that some of the Underdark races have similar hive minds, where the group’s mental capacity works together, and then the conduits lead to either overlords, or simply more powerful similar beings. There were also connections running north to Enclaves, south to Cese Mai or beyond—those were the most tenuous—and directly west. I don’t know what that might have led to.”

“If you can, finding out where the conduit that led west goes might be useful.”

“I memorized the mindmap while I was in it. I can follow it to its physical terminus.”

They ask about the Prince Annarrgeal Airui`taur. He is the prince of the Airy Glade, one of the six great houses of the Eldar, though he has followed his own path. He ruled a glade within the Kingdom of the Isle—they were nominally vassals of the Kingdom of the Isle. He mostly defers to his grey elf general. He is very powerful personally, such that Lord Silverleaves is not very concerned about an attack on him by the enemy as likely. He expects that Prince Annargeal would still acknowledge Empress Caitlyn as nominal liege.

He heads forth to investigate where the western conduit terminates.

They then head to talk to Gregory and Thaddeus. They don’t really have any information beyond what they have, though the runes were written by the elf and they have copied the runes out. The Minister of the Mind, after treating Lord Davion, comes to soothe and treat the mental wounds.

Kit also, with Gregory’s permission, tries to lift the memories from his mind to learn more. She finds that there was a figure in shadow on the poop deck, that nobody else noticed. It took no action, and disappeared at the beginning of the combat. Also, she sees that there were two gates that appeared when the twilight elf disappeared, right on top of each other. Either something else gated out at the same time, or something gated in, likely invisible.

They show the memory to Lord Davion. “I am surprised that any would have seen that. That was a sidhe.”

“Unseelie or Seelie?”

“A Seelie sidhe would have struck to save a child, even at cost of their life. It must have been an Unseelie sidhe. They do sometimes do work for the Paranswarmians. And then… the second gate is the work of the Guild of Assassins. They must have had an assassin there, likely intended to kill the boy to prevent his sacrifice—it’s unlikely that the Paranswarmians would have sent that. I did not see any sign of the assassin in the memory, but the gate has their mark. It could be forged, I suppose, though I don’t know why anyone would. So someone else must have hired an assassin to prevent the sacrifice. You will need to speak to the Paranswarmians and the Ecumenical Council about the Unseelie sidhe—someone connected to their more secretive investigations—and then try to investigate through the Guild of Assassins in Enclaves. I suppose I could try, but I think this job is more suitable for your skills than mine.”

Kit agrees and says that she will take the lead on that.

“Also, the boy you took these memories from—he should be tested for latent farsensing ability. It is most remarkable that he perceived these things at all.”

She nods. “We thought he might be, and that might be part of why the young lord became friends with him.”

“Indeed, without realizing it, he was likely drawn to a latent psion, and then his association would help his friend pass the threshold.”

They have Thaddeus and all of the other humans in the coterie tested for psionic ability. [I don’t have the records of the results of this.]

On a related note, they ask Lord Silverleaves to test Alistair’s children for psionic ability. Alistair’s family has some history of psionics, and even though it skipped Alistair himself, it might return, especially with the blessing of House Aufaulgautharim.

Sure enough, he reports that Prince Elric has evidence of “mild psionics.” Of course, that’s mild by Eldar standards, so he may well be quite capable in human terms.
[End session 140]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 141 (March 23, 2022)

30 Tar
(They ask Many Hands and his contingent to look for the powerful prophetic device on the Isle when they are down there--they learned about it some time ago, but never had a good opportunity to seek it. Of course, the Empress's nibling is much more important.)

The top priority in Canberry is figuring out (a) who sent an assassin from Enclaves and (b) who the Unseelie sidhe who was watching the situation was sent by. Kit takes point on both investigations.

Kit sends a message to her counterpart in the Archbaroness of Mandrath’s service via the magic box. Three hours later, they are able to speak directly.

“We have had an incident that we think you know something of, involving a common enemy.”

“The Forbidden.”

“Yes. Two children who have close ties to someone under our protection were kidnapped by the enemy. They were going to be sacrificed, but they were rescued. One of them saw a figure—an Unseelie sidhe.”

“Ah. They’re gifted.”

“Yes, we’re having that handled as well. Who would have sent that?”

“The Council. The First Mouth is very concerned about the Forbidden, and believes that Drucien is the apex of their incursion. The First Mouth has been sending various agents out, and so the Council hired the Unseelie sidhe lord you saw. His price is high, but the Council can afford it. He was awaiting instructions. We are aware of your intervention, and thankful for it. We could not get forces there to aid the sidhe that quickly, and as you may know, they're a little more brittle than the highborn elves, but we were going to ask him to try something."

"I'm glad he didn't have to, and it sounds like you directed him well to get the information and get away."

"On a related matter: a number of human vollers have been detached from the Navy of Hanal. We can't keep track of all of them all at the same time, but we have been following 3 of them. One of them is presently heading back to Hanal from the cursed isle that has arisen south of the continent. One heads to Zest’qua, for reasons that we do not know—we have informed the Hastur. And one hovers in the air, southeast of Enclaves in the Wastes.” The Wastes were destroyed by dragons, and are now largely abandoned land. “We have not engaged the ship headed back to Hanal. We have it under observation by our fae allies—they are expensive, but worth every penny. That one has a Concentrator aboard it—it’s designed to pull every scrap of energy from a soul and concentrate it, so it can be sent on for whatever purpose it is then used for.”

“That’s horrible.”

“We agree. Are you aware that Zorplona-Moriquendarim has now lost control over the City of the Dead on Enclaves? They only hold the top level, and this is being kept very secret. Nearly all of the dead of the City of Enclaves for a thousand years have been interred there.”

“What could do this and how can it be stopped?”

“They still hold the top level, and the Priests of Death are trying to hold it and have been recalled from throughout Drucien because they cannot call on their home for additional aid. They have also appealed to the Inquisition for alliance, though it almost broke the Mother of Death to do so, and 1000 Inquisition troops, 20 lyans of Paranswarm, and a handful of paladins of the Weeping Woman have been supplied. Many of the dead have been raised as undead, and we think it is likely that there is one of the moderately powerful servants of the Ruinous Lords there. They plan to clear them room by room. We expect them to be successful, but it will take some months, and it will take all of the resources of the Priests of Death. We are also attempting to convince them that they should invite the servants of Glordiadel to send paladins, but we are reluctant to reach out to the Glordiadelians directly without the Mother of Death's approval. We're all loyal to the Ecumenical Council, and yet...”

“If you need someone to pass that along to the Glordiadelians without you doing it directly…”

“I think that would be lovely, don't you?”

“We’ll take care of it.”

“The First Mouth believes that the battle will be accomplished on your continent.”

“It will. In about 20 years time. With a young paladin,” Kit says, slightly brittlely.

“Ah! You have heard prophecies as well. There are many prophecies about this, so we merely need to hold on against the Ruinous Powers for the next generation. And we are preparing here for the grand celebration of the advancement of the na-Duke of Ergmoth, when the Archbaroness will become regent as he becomes formally Grand Duke. …”

After this is reported, Alistair sends a message to the Archbishop of Canberry, informing him that among the documents they captured on the voller were notes indicating that the Forbidden have engineered an uprising of undead in the City of the Dead in Enclaves, and suggesting that Archbishop Humboldt offer the support of Glor’diadelian paladins and priests to the Priests of Dead, in the interest of Ecumenical Council solidarity. They hope that the misdirection will allow the Mother of Death to accept the offer of assistance—especially because paladins and priests of Glordiadel are, along with the Priests of Death themselves, the most capable force against the undead.

Kit reaches out to the assassins’ guild in Enclaves, using multiple levels of magical indirection to keep her identity obscured. (She also sends her squire, Abigail, to distract Dame Brionna (Abigail’s aunt), to make sure that Dame Brionna doesn’t have any awareness of this conversation.)

“Walker in Shadow, my friend, how may we help you?”

“Thank you for coming,” replies Kit. “I have a question about a recent commission that you took, I believe.” She gives the location. “The commission was not carried out, and it was for the best that it wasn’t. I know you don’t give out information on who hired you, but you understand this was an extraordinary circumstance.”

“Yes… It was felt that it was better to let the boy be dead than to leave him as he was. The one who hired us did not have the resources to effect a rescue themselves, but was able to hire an assassin to make sure he would not remain bound. The assassin accepted that he would not survive the operation, but viewed it as acceptable under the circumstances.”

“That was about how we assessed the situation. It is better that the boy lived.”

“No fault accrues to the agent we sent. His failure is a time for joy for us all.” There is not a scrap of joy in the voice of the speaker. Kit believes that he doesn’t really do joy. “As I said, it's much better for everyone that he did not have to actually perform the task that he was hired to do.”

“And, as I said, I understand your professional discretion, that you don't give away wholesale gives you your commissions. But this is higher than that.”

“I will say this much. I was hired by the spy mistress of one of your allies. She saw no method to rescue the boy, but was aware of his kidnapping. Well. Her agent, I think, was aware of his kidnapping. She came to us and said that he could not be permitted to be used. She felt that the fall of Lordship Davion’s nephew was not acceptable. They felt you will need Lord Davion in time.”

“Oh, we are all in agreement there.”

“Had the boy remained, we foresaw that the young Noldar would have gone for revenge, no matter what was done to contain him. If Lord Davion had been defeated, you would have lost a great ally, and the young one would have found a way to escape your protections. He's already growing in his power, and he would have sought vengeance and all that you have accomplished with him would have been undone. I do not know why what you've accomplished with him is considered essential, but I do not get to ask those questions when a commission is given. Unfortunately, our person was late. It was difficult to obtain entry to that ship.”

“Fortunately in this case, since we were coming."

“You and I are not the only ones who understood the importance of what happened in that place. Your allies have a clear understanding, but I cannot say which one. You can probably guess.”

They work through their allies, trying to figure out who the “ally’s spymistress” could be. Their working theory is Ecsilias. Queen-Empress Anastasia has a male head of intelligence. The Empire of the North would be unlikely to act in this way and would be more likely to contact the Imperial Council directly. It surely can’t be Singing Leaves, and while Princess Curinirim is vaguely plausible, she would be highly unlikely to have sent a non-elven assassin (and would have been more likely to try to rescue the child rather than to kill the child). Ecsilias, though, has a female spymistress, a minimal assassins’ guild of their own (so would be likely to hire from Enclaves), and is precisely the sort of mid-major power that could want to take actions because of pride while having limited capabilities.

Alistair is tempted to chew out their ambassador without explaining what he’s angry about, but they decide that would be too disruptive—especially if they’re wrong. Instead, they plan on contacting the Archbaron of Ecsilias directly, ostensibly to discuss the matters of the City of the Dead in Enclaves, and to give them the opportunity to volunteer their involvement and to discuss the principles of respecting Canberry’s primacy within its area.

They then call for Lord Silverleaves, who comes promptly. They first tell him of the enemy voller heading northwards, and ask him if he can gather intelligence on it, before they send vollers to capture (or failing that destroy) it. He brings up an image, apparently through the eyes of a bird. As it approaches, there is a flash of color, and the vision drops. “Automated defense. I should have anticipated that. Let’s see if we can just observe it directly and magnify it.” He brings up an image. “Clearly human, though gussied up a bit. It has runes carved into the gunwales.” Kit examines the runes through her lens, and sees that they are crude versions of Noldar or Eldar runes to deflect attacks from the ship and to prevent teleportation—indicative of someone with great skill, but not adequate time to make fully effective versions.

Dame Brionna identifies its weaponry as Masquen flame projectors—much more capable than ordinary ballistae. The crew is mostly human, though there is one illithid-like creature at the stern, though much paler and with longer tentacles. There are also turtle like creatures walking around the deck.

They also see the psionic concentrator—it’s like a large open metal circle, with a sacrificial altar (clearly used) in the middle of it. The concentrator appears to be damaged. Lord Silverleaves also senses a darkness from beneath the deck, and asks if he should observe it as well. They ask if he is concerned about his safety doing so, and the Eldar denies that, but in a way that fails to reassure them. They call for Lord Davion (“to observe in case there is anything of tactical information he might see,” but actually of course if psionic defense is necessary), and the Minister of the Mind (“in case there’s a minor need for redaction afterwards”), neither of which Lord Silverleaves objects to. Below deck, the ship has been modified from what it once was. He mutters, “they converted a merchantman.” There are two chambers, a larger chamber in the back, packed cheek to jowl with creatures. Some of the translucent ones, but mostly humanoid but not human creatures, none with weapons but some with bizarre claws and things.

The front chamber has two things—something that looks a little like a gibbering mouther, eyes and mouths, on tentacles, and a shadow elf, who looks directly at Lord Silverleaves. He pauses for a moment, then says “my lord, we are spied upon! Support me!” The creature reaches out a pseudopod and touches him, and eldritch energy of corruption pours through him, and he lashes out at Lord Silverleaves with impossible power for a shadow elf. Lord Davion immediately raises a mental defense and deflects the psionic attack entirely, but does not deflect the corruption damage. Lord Silverleaves takes 35 points of damage, and oozing sores appear all over his body.

Lord Davion explains, “That was Voragab. A minor prince, nowhere near the top of their powers, but he is the Lord of Consumption in their pantheon. It is only an avatar—he came fully through last time. If he were fully here this time, we might not have survived. I must apologize. I could deflect the psionic attack—that was meant to hold him there—but I had no ability to deal with the Eldritch corruption.” He turns to the Minister of the Mind. “Lord Silverleaves should be put in skin immediately—do you have the cask of skin with you?--otherwise he will continue to be harmed by the sores.” Lord Davion then glances at Alistair. “I apologize, your majesty—I’m used to giving commands in a battle situation, but I should have deferred to you.”

“No, by all means, get him in the skin as quickly as you can.”

“He should not move himself while he’s in the skin. He can be carried in a palanquin or the like.”

“I suppose that prince of theirs means our vollers cannot possibly engage that ship.”

“No, human vollers would be no match at all. You can warn your allies at the destination, but it would take a voller of my kinfolk to address the enemy.”

“Do your kinfolk have a voller that might be able to intercept this?”

“They are too far away, I think. Although… there is the Aufaulgautharim man-of-war patrolling in Hanal. We could draw him down. I could address him, because of my bloodline, and he is eager to do more than blast heretical altars from the air. I suppose you could ask our cousins to take over the patrol duties in Hanal while he attends to this?”

“Indeed. I can ask them to do so in my capacity as arbiter of the patrols over Hanal. I will also warn them that the Aufaulgautharim have diverted to engage a high priority target, but that if the target makes it past the Aufaulgautharim, they should prioritize attacking it, but only in massive force. I suppose that since there are no prisoners on board, simply destroying the voller altogether would be acceptable.”

“Yes, total destruction would be best, I think. I would not want any of our people to face Voragab’s avatar directly.”

Lord Silverleaves is put in skin, and will need 7 days to heal from his injuries.
[cont'd]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
[Session 141, cont'd]
They receive an invitation from the ambassador from Zorplona-Moriquendarim to a reception on the 6th of O-Tar for Lady Alinor Quellar. [See attached.]

Dame Brionna immediately opines, "I do not believe you should accept this invitation, my lord."

Alistair recognizes the name of Lady Alinor; he believes that she is the new Enclave proconsuls ambassador for exterior kingdoms, overseeing all of their embassies--functionally a foreign minister.

Dame Brionna continues, "It's fine if she wants to come into the palace and meet you in the grounds, but the Imperial Council and the Imperial couple both going to an embassy? I don't think we even knew they had an embassy."

"We did find out about that recently. The hosts are 'Drizlaunim Deafin Quellar-Magthere and Lady Marissa'--that's an odd styling."

They show the message to Lord Davion, who immediately says, "Oh, that'll be a human consort, a human counselor of the ambassador. He cannot style her higher than that. It would be his head."

"Understood."

"We must think of this as a trap," reiterates Dame Brionna.

"Of course we will attend. I believe, Lord Davion, that their honor would not permit them to under any circumstance treat this as a trap."

"Oh, absolutely not. Additionally, they're advised by the Princess Curinirim, and that's probably why you're receiving this invitation."

Dame Brionna tries a different tack, "What if the trap is simply the Lady Alinor Quellar happens to be extremely beautiful?"

"Then with with me and Kaitlyn there, I think we can manage," Kit interjects.

"And I will demonstrate admirable restraint."

"Wonderful," sniffs Dame Brionna.

"But no, we simply have to accept. There's no alternative."

"You could invite her to a banquet in the palace instead..."

"Of course, the Archducal Champion will be attending, and you can bring whatever honor guard you feel necessary, although if you go too far overboard, I will disparage your decisions."

"Is 1,000 soldiers overboard? And what about doubles for both of you."

"If you want. He will be able to tell through our disguises, and it may seem slightly foolish, but again, I have no difficulty making statements that I feel obliged to follow the advice of my security detail."

"The advice of your security detail, let us be absolutely clear here, is not to attend this because it is enormously risky."

"Understood, but I feel obligated to honor the advice of my security detail that is not reflective of abject cowardice."

"Are you accusing me of abject cowardice, my lord?"

"No, not at all. I am accusing you of advising to me that I behave in a cowardly manner."

"Your heirs are approximately one month old..."

"This decision has been made. Lord Davion, I believe that we would prefer to bring Kit as well if that would be acceptable, together with the Imperial Privy Council."

"Yes, of course."

"And I don't know how Moriquendarim social norms work exactly, but I know that they are somewhat different from, let us say, human standards. In light of Kit accompanying me, should the Empress also bring her companion?"

"Yes, that would be considered appropriate."

"May I ask you then a question," proceeds Dame Brionna. "If there is an assassination and you, Kaitlyn, Kit, me, Lord Davion, and Kaitlyn's companion all perish, who do you intend to be regent? Because we should set that out clearly before we all leave for this party."

"This is an excellent point. If one of the moons falls from the sky and hits the Embassy, then we'll all perish, so will they. Even they can't deflect a moon. I think that is the only way that we would be endangered. I would think that Field Marshal Brightspan would be a good regent."

"I thought you were being rhetorical," says Kit.

"No, entirely in earnest. I was going to recommend Field Marshal Brightspan myself."

"Of course, I think that as a formal matter the answer would be the Princess Cecilia, as a legitimate adult of age of close blood, however, with an understanding that that she will delegate all affairs of governance to Field Marshal Brightspan, who will act as a representative of her Regency Council, and thus she will not need to concern herself with matters that are beneath her dignity or tact."

Kit adds, "And then she will be able to be tactless to him about things that she needs to convey to him."

"Precisely."

"I suspect, then, that young Lord Brightspan should not attend as your page, for several reasons."

"Yes, it's unfortunate, but again I have full confidence that nothing will happen there, and that if it does that all of the people of Moriquendarim who are present will view their absolute top priority as making sure that they don't disgrace themselves by allowing harm to come to us."

"Honored Council members, if I may comment, please?" interjects Lord Davion. "The entire entourage of Lord Hinositu is very young. I cannot conceive of an older family of the standing of Lord Hinositu's father sending these children to run part of the family holding. However, it has been done. They will not plot against us, I feel confident, Dame Brionna. My only concern is that they are very weak. The Lord and his counselors have proven themselves adept at making alliances in Enclaves, which is new for that Enclave, and they are not members of the Argoni. There are five factions among the Moriquendarim. The faction they belong to is the faction of the caretakers. Forgive me, I fear that name sounds terribly arrogant, but I do know members of the faction. They believe that their duty is to care for the younger races and guide them in the ways they should go until they have all passed to the West, and the younger races will sadly be left on their own. I fear it will seem patronizing, but they are benign."

"I would much rather be patronized than assaulted."

"They would not assault you. But it is noteworthy, and I'm glad that you are taking me with your Majesty along with the counselors. And it is also noteworthy that their embassy was broken into two years ago, going on three. I've been reading the documents we recovered. It was broken into by the former seneschal of Lord Quinliart. The seneschal took some papers, stole the petty cash, and killed the ambassador. At that time, Lady Allinor replaced the ambassador, and had the seals reenacted. but the fact that he broke through them once... I'm glad that I will be with you."

"Could he have left anything behind that could be still active?"

"No, the embassy's been swept. In fact, I'm going to not recommend a terribly large security force, but only a very high quality one, because I think that if anything we want to do this probably showing the appropriate respect but as discreetly as possible."

"Lord Davion, you mentioned that it was unusual that people of such youth would be sent," asks Kit. "Why do you think they did that?"

"The Giver of Gifts is missing, my lady. I'm not a foolish Noldor--the Giver of Gifts is dead. There is no other possible explanation, and therefore they are fighting. The House of Moriquendarim worshiped him exclusively among the demigods and great saints of Morgrath. Their priests are no longer receiving spells."

"The Giver of Gifts is the same as the Prince of the Cities of Pain?"

"Yes. They were exclusive worshippers of his--their priests are not receiving spells, and their great council is in shambles, over which of the other avatars to defect to, with some priests saying he will return. He will not return."

"We did know that as of some weeks ago, he was still alive, but in the captivity of Arthranax, that Arthranax is attempting to absorb him, but not successfully yet. We informed the Prince of the House of Moriquendarim of this, and they departed with substantial forces of their house to mount a rescue effort."

"That will have put the council into even greater disarray."

"Do you think there is no chance that they will succeed?"

"They may. They may indeed. But in the meanwhile, Lord Hinusitu's father, who is the director of the western defense of Krashmere, a powerful man, manipulated the council. The lady who had been assigned after Lord Quinliart's treason was recalled because she was important to the debate. She was an Argoni, and then his father convinced the councillor to assign the boy and his friends as the new proconsul. Let me explain it to you in this way. You have 10 or 12 year old pages."

"Yes, indeed."

"Hinusitu is, roughly, the developmental equivalent of 12 year old."

"And so it would be a similar circumstance of severe threat to the Duke of Brightspan assigning young Lord Brightspan to take control of a holding on Zestqua."

"Exactly right. The only one of his council that I consider to be an adult by he standards of the Noldor is Lady Mortitor. [Not sure that name is right.] She changed his diapers when he was younger, and is now Chamberlain. Lady Marissa is a human-she might possibly be a drow, but more likely a human. He cannot elevate her, but might wish he could.

"The ambassador himself was previously assigned to [unclear] at one time, therefore, he has some experience. She reshuffled the assignments because Lady Mortitor had been in charge of the ambassadorial assignment. She has shuffled the ambassadors and apparently decidedly Canberry to be an extremely important place for a good ambassador."

"He is then also of the same cadet house as Lady Allinor Quellar?"

"He is one step down. He is a drow of Quellar-Magthere. Quellar is the name of the Shadow Elf House that he answers to."

"But that is indicative of of a loyalty line within their structure."

"Oh, yes, we are of all things the most organized structurally, and the Moriquendarim have more of them than we do of us, so, therefore they can be more organized. That's our fault, you know. Lady Allinor is comparable to an 18 year old--she is not of course human, but that would be the best equivalent."

"We can hardly criticize important positions of state being held by people of that age."

"No, that would be difficult, but it sounds like Lady Mortitor is the one who is actually organizing things and actually getting things done."

"Yes, and she keeps a very close eye on the chief of staff, who, after all, is younger than even the young proconsul. His father removed all of his friends with him, so that they would be as safe as possible, without realizing that the lady who had been assigned after Quinliart had not fully succeeded in cleaning the situation up. They are showing early signs of success. Thus far they're moving slowly; they respect the Mother of Death, but do not allow her to dominate their counsels, even though you know she should have more wisdom than they do. But I would not worry about any deliberate treachery on their part. They've eliminated slavery in the Enclave, and are about to offer a compact to other like-minded Enclaves to sign, freeing any slave that enters their territory. They are under much pressure to develop other economic streams, because all Homeland really care about is how much money each region brings in. But attacks by Quinliart's seneschal or one of his apprentices, I do see as possible. They're still mobile and still on this coast."

"We then do need to plan escape routes for myself and the Empress and of course Kit and the Empress's companion."

"I assume that Lord Davion would feel the need to cover our retreat under such a circumstance?" asks Kit.

"Of course."

"Also I find it unlikely that such people would be able to pose a serious threat to Lord Davion, but they could pose a threat to us while we retreat."

"That is exactly my take on this. Their Lord Quinliart himself, were he still mobile, might actually be a threat to me, given how many Eldritch powers he has gained."
[cont'd]
 

Attachments

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CPaladin

Explorer
[Session 141, cont'd]
"May I ask you a question that is not connected to this, but is connected to Lord Silverleaves's unfortunate injuries? Are there paragon-level Farsensors that might be willing to assist in efforts against the enemy, because we had been planning on asking Lord Silverleaves if he could try to trace where there might be a creche of clones of various of the enemy that will surely have stronger defenses than what we just encountered. That means that it would need to be not merely a grandmaster, and of course far beyond any human, or even illithid or the like, psion."

"There would need to be someone of paramount ability. Aufaulgautharim has such a person, but the House mourns now, of course, because of the High Clans Lady."

"Of course."

"Guldurim have such a thing, but I don't recommend speaking to them. You could ask the Princess if there is one within Curinirim. They keep their potency tight to their chest. I am sure that Lord Silverleaves is the most powerful within Singing Leaves."

"Farsensing is, as I understand it, a more typical school among the Eldar, where the Noldor have more Coercers for example."

"Yes, there almost certainly is a paragon within the Steading of the Elven Lords or the Elder Wood, but reaching them would be challenging. I could not assist you with that in any way. I would be incinerated by the defenses, of course."

"We've already had had challenges having effective communication with them, even with Lord Silverleaves as an intermediary."

"They're simply not terribly in touch with this reality anymore. To be fair, neither are some of my people. Traveling around, making friends, being a royal champion helps to keep me young and engaged. Indeed, I suppose some of the Eldron might well be paragon Farsensors. I suppose you could approach the uncommitted. It's easy to forget that the few that remain keep their power undivided. Likewise, the House of Hastur is essentially all uncommitted, and they, of course, would have paragons. The difficulty with them, of course, is you deal with some level of insanity with any of the older members. You can't fight pure chaos that long, and not lose something. So you depend on luck. I mean, you can't exactly say please give me your most sane paragon level Farsensor--that just doesn't sound good. But you know, perhaps you could say, could you lend us 2 or 3 paragon level Farsensors?"

"And then we pick the most sane of the ones they send."

"Or more, then we assemble a meta-concert and have the most sane perform the actual communications and investigations, while the others simply provide a ridiculous amount of power and capability. Another thing you could do, of course, is to wait for Lord Silverleaves to recover, and then back him with as many psions as you can find."

"Again, if we assume that they would have substantially more significant defenses there than were on that voller..."

"I think the most difficult thing will be locating it. I think your best method of locating it may be to send people to investigate who have a reason to be there, keep close track of their movements, and when they vanish, investigate the area where they have vanished because that will be where the creche is."

"It is very reasonable, albeit it's a tad more ruthless than I ever like to be."

"But you are dealing with a very unique situation, my lord. You are attempting to save the world for your children and grandchildren their extremely great-grandchildren, utterly great-grandchildren. You need to do whatever it takes. You must send people into the homeland to investigate. Your enemies will not be simply those of the Eldritch. Your enemy will include members of most of the great Houses if they realize that you're there."

"So you think the creche is in your homeland?"

"I have reviewed what we know. Every evidence I could find suggests that they must be buried in one of the three great necropoli, because who would look there. Are you aware of the size of those things? Remarkable. Layer upon layer of chambers and roofs, and perfectly cut out things with either nothing in them, or a crypt on rare occasions in them, or more commonly a collection of items that no one decided to keep in a more particular place. Hiding a cloning creche there would be simplicity. We already found out that there's at least one traitor there still. Yes, yes. Why would the enemy not put it in the safest location? Even better, from their perspective, their enemy will protect it. Can you imagine the House of Guldurim discovering intruders for whatever reason tolerating the intrusion? As long as the traitor is someone that the people in the necropolis know, they will never think to question him. Stoneworkers from a human nation would be best. They import them all the time. I can instruct them on what to look for if you wish."

"Yes, we were already arranging for a group of those to be recruited."

"I can also contact them regularly. My Farsensing is nothing to write home about, but if I know them before they leave, I can touch their minds once a day to pick up any information, and frankly, I may be a renegade by the standards of House Aufaulgautharim, but I am a member of House Aufaulgautharim-- no one will question why I'm touching the mind of a few bricklayers and masons."

"We can arrange that. I think we will also reach out to Princess Curinirim to find out if they have a paragon Farsensor, who would be willing to to scan for it. It may not work, but best to try both approaches."

"Absolutely, and her House, much as it rankles Lord Guldurim, ranks all the other Houses, except for Aufaulgautharim. The strict rule among my people is to never disturb anyone higher than you in the hierarchy. As I said, this is my advice, and I heartily concur that you need to speak to the Princess." Lord Davion pauses. "I feel like I have offered far more advice today than I should."

"We thank you. This is all far more in your bailiwick than in ours."

"And once it has been found deep in one of the necropoli, I suspect it will be us who determine how to eliminate it."

"Presumably then we could get the great Houses to take action."

"I think so, although some of the Houses are irrational when it comes to the necropoli-- you should be aware of this. That is a part of why the Eldritch may have chosen to hide their efforts there."

"We may also still poke around elsewhere, just to be on the safe side."

"It cannot hurt, it cannot hurt. But there are several things you may find in the mausoleum of the Noldor that may be helpful to fight the Eldritch."

"We may be able to find the bodies of some of the traitors."

"Indeed, and also I suspect that there are powers and dreadful corruptions that could be done with any of the bones that remain in the necropoli."

"I know that that's not typical for the Noldor."

"There might be exceptional cases. There have been on occasion, particularly during the blood war, the kinslaying. Some of those bones are still kept, and so then those might also be targeted for other reasons."

"To raise great undead or to channel power."

"Yes. Oh, yes, some of those in the kinslaying were beings of high honor, and if they fell on the Field of Blood, they were transferred as they should be to the next realm. But some of the other creatures that fell the Creator and his Brother both cast aside and their bones remained. Interestingly, though they are kept in the necropolis, they're already considered cursed."

"They've never been sanctified?" asks Dame Brionna.

"I had not considered that till the very moment you spoke of it, my lady. You are a paladin, a holy warrior of the Light. Are there limits to your ability to deal with the undead?"

"Oh, yes, there are both the innate limits of how much divine energy I can channel, which is limited by the extent of my training and my limitations in my physical form and so forth. And also, sometimes it is easier to channel the power of Glordiadel than others, for reasons that remain mysterious to me, as are the main ways of gods."

"Of course. Do you sense them? Can you tell where they are?"

"Yes, I can indeed sense them, but I have to concentrate on it, and I might be a little distracted."

"But also I'm sure we have some other effects that can enable others to to do so, as well," adds Alistair.

"I just mention it now that I am considering these possibilities, and the uncomfortable feeling of the possibility of a fifth column underneath our feet."

"How difficult would it be if they did manage to gain some of those skeletons?"

"We've already said that for the traitor, it is much easier to move dead than living because there's no psychic signature to seek for."

"An unpleasant and disquieting thought."

"Thank you, Your Majesty. It is rare that at this age I have unpleasant and disquieting thoughts."

"We have them all the time. I'm glad to know that if we live for a few more centuries, we'll have fewer of them."

Dame Brionna says, "I think the treasury of the archdiocese of Glordiadel might have what we're looking for--a banner that would drive the undead away from it. It's a little ostentatious but is there, any way, perhaps, to process that over the various sewer tunnels?"

"I'm sure we could. That would really be something of a parade--we could arrange for a parade and a procession of the banner as part of the next holy day celebration. Perhaps like various holy mystery plays where there are stations all across the city, and then the banner processes among them."

"And we could have the children of the city gathered in for those events, especially in the poorer parts of the city. The banner can create a heroes' feast effect as well, which would benefit the children greatly."

"Hmm. There is an order of nuns, the Society of the Helpers of the Poor, who are very interested in taking care of kids. Also the Order of Saint Dillygaff of the Fields--also an order of nuns. I guess we'll have to have a procession with nuns, one way or the other."

"That's fine," comments Kit. "Nuns will probably be less threatening to some kids."

"And we can have a bunch of paladins in the procession in shiny armor--that's just a thing you do in religious parades," adds Alistair.

"Frankly, I thought I'd ride my flying horse above the procession to keep an eye from the air."
[End session 141]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 142 (April 13, 2022)

31 Tar
They address a long delayed letter from Zorplona-Moriquendarim. [Included below--it was long delayed in part because the PCs who sent it are in a much earlier time than this group, separated by about six months of game time.]

---------------------------------------------------------------

Unto the His Imperial Majesty, Alastair, Emperor of the Restored South Kingdoms, Archduke of Canberry, Chosen of the Light, Sovereign of the Heights and Depths, and Lord of his other domains,

Greetings from friends in the enclave of Zaplona-Moriquendi'rim.

It has come to Our attention that You and Your Empire are involved in the great battle against the forces of the Eldritch. As We too are engaged in battling this most ancient of evils We have attached documentation detailing the strengths and vulnerabilities of the Eldritch creatures We have encountered and studied to date.

Further, We have received reports that You have acquired a quantity of orichalcum for this effort. We have at Our disposal a methodology for the powdering and storage of this material allowing more measured quantities to be affixed to weapons, such as arrowheads, and used in spells to cleanse the taint. This will allow a single ounce to be reduced to over 50,000 motes. This both minimizes, though does not eliminate, the plane rending effects of utilizing orichalcum against Eldritch energies as well as stretching the available supply. If it isYour wish, the enclave of Zaplona-Moriquendi'rim would gladly host a representative, most effectively a mage or psychokinetian, while We assist You in this matter.

We hope this information is of assistance to You and can form the basis of a fruitful relationship between Our enclave and Your empire.

Should You choose to send a representative, future updates and intelligence can be provided and received through them. We thank You for Your stalwart bravery and Your efforts against the Eldritch.

May Your reign be long and prosperous,

Sent this the 23rd day of the month of Tar-Ghast, Year of the Wyvern, first cycle of the fifth age,
Lord Proconsul Hinuusinta Moriquendi'rim of Zaplona-Moriquendi'rim
..................................................................................................​

They agree to share intelligence and gratefully wish to learn to use orichalcum better.

They summon Dame Constance, who comes with Dame Agatha, her chief assistant.

“According to the Libram Apothecarious, orichalcum can, when reacting with a material that causes explosions, rend a hole in reality, usually leaving a gaping hole to the Abyss, for no more than a few dozens of years.”

“Could the other outsiders use this to bring through more of their forces? The eldritch, perhaps?”

“No, only creatures from the Abyss.”

“Why the Abyss?” asks Kit.

“The upper layers of the Abyss—the ones ruled by the Council of Six—have been pushing hard to conquer our plane for many years. It has resulted in some contact between the planes, and of course the Shadowlands represents an area where they have succeeded. The punch through from an orichalcum explosion is nowhere near sufficient to create breach into planes that are presently controlled by the Unspeakable. They are strong enough to temporarily disrupt the fabric of reality in such a way that demons can pass through, as I said, for no more than a few dozen years.”

“That’s a few dozen years too many,” mutters Kit.

“I entirely agree. They're despicable creatures. They should be eradicated. All of my devils agree with this.”

“We’ve generated a variety of orichalcum explosions. Have demons passed through as a result of any of those?”

“No, I would have been able to detect it. The only such disturbance I detected on Drucien was far in the north. I surmise that the people who informed you about this must have used too much.”

“The Enclave of Zorplona-Moriquendarim has been fighting actively against the eldritch in their region.”

“So they got rid of the Unmentionable, and gained a few demonic foes. They're warning you against the same, I gather.”

“Indeed, which was particularly dismaying to us, because, as I said, we've been unaware of the risk.”

“Compared to the risk of the Unmentionable, it's very minor, really.”

“We cannot discontinue the use of orichalcum, but we may be able to be more careful with it.”

Dame Constance replies gravely, “I don't know of a method we could reduce the orichalcum to small enough particles to prevent any risk.”

“They said that psychokineticists could separate it into approximately 50,000th of an ounce, and that those would be small enough.”

“Oh, trust the elves to have figured out such things. Any of the elves, really,” she says as she looks towards Dame Agatha. Throughout the conversation, Dame Agatha has been taking all of the notes—unusual, because Dame Constance always took her own notes. The Council assumes that this is part of Dame Constance’s aging and succession planning, but does not ask-- “are you about to be dragged off to Hell for years and years?” seems a little blunt, even for Dame Constance. “Are they offering to assist you in this?”

“Yes, largely in offering training or assistance to our people. We will certainly take them up on that.”

“Very wise. I guess I hadn't really thought of the potentiality of the demons as being a major concern. I can see that it could be... yes, yes, you're correct, of course. I imagine this is why you're an emperor, and I'm just a diabolist. I assumed that since we could wipe out demons and we couldn't necessarily wipe out the other… Huh!”

“Again, nobody's arguing that that we should not use the orichalcum to defeat them. Just that we may want to be a little bit more it's circumspect about it.”

They send a representative to Zorplona-Moriquendarim to get assistance on orichalcum. The Minister of the Mind reports that they only have an adept psychokineticist to send, so they make do with that, but they also send a senior mage. They have a basic rundown on what Zorplona-Moriquendarim has discovered. The blooddriven are the most dangerous of the local servitors; they age over the course of 10 years, increasing in danger in time, before merging into the enemy after 10 years. They also have hive minds, but the hive minds are separate—they all have a connection to Lord Quinliart and through him to the Enemy, but they don’t talk directly to each other, which has slowed their ability to get reinforcements. They also confirm that two gray elves (from the Hidden Enclave) have been corrupted.

Kit also reports that there is a very artful new employee in Zorplona-Moriquendarim’s pleasure dome in Glittertowers, called the Marchioness, with a very select clientele. Kit sends the fanciest of Naughty Bits to investigate further and hear what can be heard. They send them by voller, and they will arrive on roughly the 30th of O-Tar. (27 hexes west, 154 hexes north; each step west is 21.65 miles, each step north is 25 miles, so 585 miles west and 3850 miles north, for a Pythagorean total of about 3900 miles. Human military vollers travel about 200 miles/day at ordinary speed, so it’s roughly a 20 day flight for military vollers. Trade vollers?)

Dame Brionna has a report from Clarence Strawberry. [Attached.] They are still getting refugees in the south, though not as frequently as previously. A group of “bandits” were pursuing a group of 200 refugees, and the Earl of Mountainmarch sent forces to defend them. He was able to defeat them, but at the cost of 40 ultra heavy foot, which suggests that the “bandits” were a much more capable force than normal bandits. The Earl of Mountainmarch is a direct vassal to the Duke of Grimcliff in Canberry, and he controls most of our aluminum and copper mines. He has a large number of dwarves and mines in his domain. They all speculate that there must be specific targets among the refugees—important refugees or people of mixed heritage.

They contact the Earl through a human farsensor.

“Oh, my lord Archduke,” the Earl says while getting down on one knee and bowing deeply. He's not young.

“Honored cousin, we wish to thank you for attending to the defense of the refugees recently. We had a few questions about the matter and we hoped you could enlighten us.”

“Of course, your Grace, in whatever way I can.”

“For bandits they inflicted far too heavy casualties.”

“These were no bandits. Your Grace, I've seen my share of bandits. You can't have mining communities and not have. They were disguised as bandits, but when you cut through raggedy clothing you come across high-quality armor. When you examine the bows, which have had attachments given them to make them look like peasant bows, they’re war bows from one end to the other. This is a troop of military personnel from somewhere. I have two alive. I refuse to resort to torture-- the Light of Glordiadel does not shine on such endeavor-- and they refuse to answer any question we put to them.”

“We of course approve of your refusal to engage in atrocities, and we would never suggest that you do otherwise. But we may have means that are more effective than simply questioning, without violating the principles of our Lord of Light.”

“Do you wish me to transfer them to your care? A unit of cavalry that came to the aid of my men but are actually service to the Duke himself are still here. We were fortunate. They saw the trail and decided to follow it from their patrol position.”

“Indeed, if you could send them via that means, do so.”

“I certainly will.”

“Once you cut away the disguises, did they have any rank, insignia or unit markings, or anything like that that might reveal where they were from?”

“Everything had been scuffed out or removed, your Grace. They're definitely not from any part of the Archduchy, and I do not know who is in the South anymore, so it is difficult for me to guess who it might be. I am sure they are not Cese Maian.”

“Are they of Southern stock?”

“Yes, clearly.”

“Were they all human?”

“All of the ones that we were able to defeat were human. My commander tells me that one of the ones that escaped... what did he call it?”

They hear a younger voice reply, “A tiefling, your grace.”

“One of the commanders was a tiefling, whatever that is.”

“We’re familiar with them.”

“Also distinctive enough that we can start asking around,” adds Dame Brionna.

“Yes, we need to get a mental image of that person,” comments Kit.

“You don't happen to have any of that one's blood, do you?”

“Bring me the commander. I know he's resting from his wounds, but I need to speak with him,” says the Earl.

“Tieflings, my lord earl, are part demons or part devilkind, descendants of demons or devils, without being truly fiendish themselves, nor even half demons or devils, but grandchildren and great grandchildren and the like.”

Dame Kit knows through her agents throughout the Duchy that the Earl of Mountainmarch is older, craggy, and known to be extremely orthodox in his faith. His reaction to this information reflects that.

After a moment, the Earl speaks to someone the Council can’t see. “His Grace the Archduke wishes to know if anyone drew the blood of the tiefling you said was in command.”

“Your grace, please tell his ultimate grace that he was cut, as it were, by one of my men, with their secondary weapon. Unfortunately, that soldier rests in light, and his wound, by some abominable magic, healed itself. He retreated, but only when his force was reduced below a level where any competent commander could have expected victory. And if it pleases you, ultimate grace, I am fairly certain that they were after a very specific group of twelve among the refugees. Before I went to the healers to see to my own wounds, I took the liberty to separate those twelve out quietly. I was going to write a report to your grace, and to the honored dame that advises the Archduke, with the approval of my lord Earl. But apparently I do not have to.”

“If the secondary weapon of the soldier who wounded him and then died can be recovered, ideally with the blood that was on it...”

“The weapon was buried with his body, as a standard battle honor.”

“Then, please have the blood gathered off that weapon by an alchemist or skilled mage with an interest in alchemy, who will understand what it means to try to keep that blood usable for arcane purposes. I think we will go hunting.”

The Earl faithfully repeats everything Alistair says, even if the mention of “arcane purposes” causes a slight twist to his lip.

“Now, tell us about these refugees—the twelve.”

“Your grace, I've lived in these mountains all of my life. Those refugees are clearly fae blooded, though not of the fae that we are used to here. Perhaps brownies.”

The Council quickly agrees to contact the Tor to protect them. “Some of our fae friends will be coming to provide them individual protection.”

The Earl is much happier passing that along than he was saving blood for spell.

The Earl’s commander says, “I’ll personally see to their protection until then.”

You're not personally going anywhere until you're healed up,” commands the Earl. “I'll send your adjunct, and I'll send some squads from the other regiment in case just in case.”

“I’m capable of duty, my lord.”

“I'm sure you are, and I'd like you to remain capable of duty, and you have gaping wounds all over, and a lot of them take time to heal because they don't take to the clerics for some reason.”

Alistair interjects, “Wait! What do you mean by that?”

“Our priests have always been able to take care of all of our healing needs. Your grace, I mean no disrespect to the church.”

“No, of course not.”

“For some reason, their touch is not healing the wounds of my men. Their care has always triumphed over the wounds of the enemy before.”

“All the wounds, or only some?”

“Only some, but particularly, for example, the ones that my commander suffered, and they were unable to save the brave soldier who fought the tiefling.”

<<Those might need to be isolated until we can get a team to them with a redactor,>> Kit comments over the mindlink within the Council.

After checking with the psion that the commander can’t hear him without the Earl repeating it, Alistair says, “You’ll need to watch the commander for any sign of unusual behavior. My captain of the Guard has a variety of groups of paladins of Glordiadel and priests and some adjuncts to them that we use to investigate certain matters that that are reflective of the touch of demons, or the like. We’ll send some out to look into this.”

“Your eminent grace, I am humbled by your willingness to send your own people to help me.”

“In the same way that you, as the Lord of Mountainmarch, had an obligation to defend those refugees that you so well rose to the occasion of, I have an obligation to my vassals and my people.”

“I am very pleased to hear that, my lord, and very thankful that you are our liege.”

“Does that surprise you? That ought to be what you would expect of your overliege?”

“I am an old man, your Grace. Things might have slipped a bit.”

“There was a difference between when you are in your youth, and my grandmother was in her prime, and when you were older and she was as well.”

“Forgive me, my lord, but yes.”

“She knew that as well as I did. And we can only be glad that she remained as hail and capable for as long as she did before her decline.”

“The blessings of the light upon her.”

“Indeed. Were there any among this group of soldiers who had strangely translucent flesh or a blue flame within them?

“No… but there were some that had... Commander, a tattoo?”

“I'm not sure it was a tattoo, my lord. It was a marking upon their flash, generally in the small of their back. A small blue sun marking.”

“That is a marking we have seen before, though usually on the sole of the foot.”

“These were distinctly on the small of the back.”

“I don't know what the significance of of the difference is, but that that helps us greatly in identifying who they were. Those are the followers of one of Lord Glordiadel’s cousins in the light, if you understand what I mean, in a heretical side cult.”

He nods grimly. “Of course, I should have suspected heresy.”

“I don't want to encourage you to be... let's just say we must always remember that we are Glordiadelian and not Paranswarmian.”

“Of course, my lord.”

“But if you hear of any reports of people following a blue star or a blue flame or a blue sun, those need to be passed up the line.”

“As you say, your grace, I certainly will do. So they are most typically found among the Sytryites?”

“Yes, but there are some who would get led into heresy from the Holy Church itself.”

“I will do my best to make certain that does not happen while I am alive, Your Grace, and I'm sure that my son will follow.”

“I'm certain that you will do admirably, and that he will as well.”

They ask for some more details about the refugees. They are all children, though mostly not young children, and none of their parents have been identified, though the rest of the refugees were attempting to protect them.

“The rest of the refugees were from a spice plantation at the very western edge of the Spice Lands-- they had been driven out. They were fleeing, and word apparently reached them that there was refuge up here. I fear that Cese Mai lacks the strength sustain its most outlying villages and plantations.”

“We are working to rebuild it; but, as you may know, this is the same heresy that their former archbishop fell into. You may be aware that he was removed by the Patriarch.”

“I was aware that he was removed. I had no idea why, though.”

“You see, this is why we need to walk an appropriate line in recognizing that the Church is a merciful, good faith and a faith that protects all of its people, and that does not view the harming of the innocent as an acceptable cost, while at the same time we need to find these these heretics, so they may be corrected if they have simply fallen into error and dealt with appropriately if they have knowingly engaged in evil.”

“Thank you, your Grace. I will meditate upon your words and pray with my confessor.”

“Thank you, cousin, for your worthy service in this regard. As I said, we will be sending some of the captain’s investigators, and some who have additional healing gifts beyond the norms of a typical priest, to assist in healing as well as to recover the blood and to defend the refugees.”

“Thank you, your Grace. I will see that chambers are prepared for them.”

“We know that there are these enemies active in your area. Make certain that you know of any among your people who have fae blood or elven blood, and that they are kept safe. You should be aware that this enemy may strike at them as well, and they must be kept safe.”

“You think they have more troops, then?”

“We know that their most capable escaped, and I would expect them to deploy more.”

They wrap up the conversation as the Earl asks his son to call up the informal militia and prepare the dwarves for possibly needing to fight.

The Imperial Council sends a message to Dame Constance and Dame Agatha that they expect to soon have a sample of blood of a tiefling who appears to be part of the enemy's operations.
[cont'd]
 

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CPaladin

Explorer
[Session 142, cont'd]
Alistair points out that, when they were in Lyneham, there was a young man with fertility problems at the same time as the cult of the Ram was becoming active, and that might have led to a bigger problem. Kit reaches out to the owner of the bawdy house in Lyneham (who was assigned by the Naughty Bits, of course) to find out about the person with the complicated parental history.

<<I wanted to check in about a child who should have been born recently.>> Kit gives her agent a description of the family and the danger signs.

<<The child is hale and healthy, with none of the danger signs. So not with the child at least.>>

<<What about the father?>>

<<The father's dead! He was really ripped apart by something north of the town wall when he was out cutting wood. Probably mauled by a bear. There have been other deaths of that sort, but not in years. The locals, though, are sure it was a bear.>>

<<How's the widow taking it?>>

<<She wasn't happy. I mean, she loved him. That was obvious. I don't really understand that part-- you know, you use ‘em for what you want and then you move on, I’ve always said. But I guess that was not her way, and she did love him, and she was very sad, but she was also afraid because he was the breadwinner.>>

<<Is she all right now?>>

<<Aye, your steward took her in as a seamstress. So now you have a seamstress.>>

<<Good, and that is exactly why I put him there as the steward, because he is the sort of person who would take care of things like that.>>

<<The priest did their thing and buried him. Very sad, really. There aren't often wild animal attacks. Apparently they've seen bear attacks before, but not for twenty years. I'm not wandering out of town, I'll tell you that right now, my lady.>>

<<Was it a full moon when he was killed?>>

<<Yes, it was. Why? Oh, you think it might have been a werebear?>>

<<So, the werefolk in town are good citizens. I want to maintain good relations with them. But if this was a lovers quarrel gone wrong with a werefolk...>>

<<Oh dear, that if that's all it was, then the matter is probably over. But I really hope that woman is all right.>>

<<It’s notable that werebears to an even greater degree then the other lycanthropes in that area are known for being both lawful and good.>>

<<Oh, so maybe the late husband was up to no good, and the wearbear was doing some kind of justice… I'll see what I can do to look into it. My lady, you know there's more trade through here now, also. So it might have been someone passing through. And unfortunately, the town is too small to really support more than the two knights.>>

<<Well, we're hoping to make the town grow a little bit more but I trust your discretion on making those inquiries. My main concern is for the woman's welfare.>>

<<I'll make certain.>>

<<I think the threat from the Order of the Ram is probably over, but we want to make absolutely sure.>>

<<I've seen no signs, but we will certainly keep an eye out.>>

<<I trust your discretion, and you know how to contact me if you need to. We’re also going to be setting up an Order of the Stag—their head will be a good person for you to know.>>

<<Very good. Thank you for keeping an eye on us, milady.>>

<<You're welcome. We'll be able to travel back to Lyneham soon, I hope.>>

<<Oh, the people would love to see you, milady, you're a legend here.>>

<<A legend!>>

<<Oh, yes! Well, you got to realize about the town, I've been told more times than I want to discuss, it was failing completely, and falling, I think, into a hole in the ground. Well, and then you came along, and it does seem to be growing over time. And the next thing they knew the town was on sound footing. The manor had been repaired. The inn had more custom. Now there's tourism--there really isn't my lady, it's merchants--but they see it as tourism.>>

<<I'm glad that I could help, and Lyneham is a good place. It just needed someone to pay attention to it.>>

<<And they're very happy to have you as their liege-lady, and they think they might be part of the Empire of Canberry but nobody can decide if they are.>>

<<They absolutely are, and the Empire will take good care of them as well. In a few months, when the heir to Lyneham is a little more able to travel and a little more interactive, we'll be bringing him for an official visit.>>

<<Oh, the steward will be delighted, I'm sure, everyone will be. Just please, my lady, let me know in advance.>>

<<And your establishment does well?>>

<<Oh, absolutely. Definitely the liveliest bawdy house I've ever seen, in part because the people don't have anything to do. Everyone comes to the bawdy house for the burlesque. They can learn how to include low humor in our burlesque-- high humor isn’t worth trying.>>

<<Right. Well, maybe you can branch out into other kinds of, you know, performance.>>

<<We have regular singing and dancing to give them entertainment. We have even added a poetry night. You don't want to know what they come up with as poetry, my lady, I want you to know I've had a little education, I know that a poem ought to rhyme.>>

<<Generally, yes.>>

<<Well, they don't.>>

<<I'm glad that they are enjoying themselves, and giving you some kind of artistic satisfaction.>>

<<And that school miss you sent is doing a bang-up job with the kids. Maybe she can give some lessons to the grown-ups about literature and poetry. I've been trying to figure out how to suggest that. I’ll see what I can do.>>

<<It’s winter, they need some indoor pursuits.>>

<<Yep. If that will be all, it's an honor to talk to you.>>

<<Thank you. I appreciate your service, and please let me know if you find out anything else. Otherwise we will be in touch at the time of regular reports.>>

“If it’s the main entertainment in town, that also means that we will almost certainly need to attend the burlesque when we visit,” comments Alistair with a bit of a smile.

“And then we're going right home,” responds Kit.

“Of course. I'm just saying that one needs to be seen at major functions of the town.”

“Also, it's her county,” adds Dame Brionna, a little severely.

“Of course it's her county.”

“And we’ll go to the burlesque, but then we're going right home after,” says Kit firmly.

-----
A Farsensor creates a connection to Ecsilias.

“Your Majesty."

“Your most excellency. We had a few matters that we wanted to discuss with you, and also it felt that it would be wise in general for our lands to maintain closer ties especially in light of the current needs with regard to Hanal and with providing security guarantees for Ecsilias while Ecsilias takes actions in Hanal that we could not ourselves do. We wanted to know whether you were aware of some difficulties in the City of the Dead in Enclaves.”

“No?”

“We found out about this through some papers that we captured from the enemy, that the Forbidden, the Eldritch, have stirred up an uprising within the City of the Dead against the Priests of Death and against Zorplona-Moriquendarim, who would otherwise be in control there. They are taking actions to reclaim the area, but they have as yet not fully done so. Once we had learned of the initial problem, we received confirmation from some of the leaders of your faith who, of course, maintain closer ties to the Priests of Death than we do. But it's quite a difficult problem, and there have been further issues, both there and elsewhere, with graveyards being defiled, and the undead being raised, and attacks against both the Priests of Death and against others who would try to maintain the peaceful repose of the corpses.”

“Very concerning.”

“It is, and especially because Enclaves is, as it were, in your backyard, we thought that it was particularly appropriate that we provide information about that to you, shall we say in a spirit of comity and in the spirit of recognition that matters that happen closer to you, even if they are beyond your formal boundaries, are of more significant interests to you than they are to us, and we should respect that in the same way that of course, we're sure that you would similarly respect issues that arise in areas near Canberry that might come to your attention.”

“We’re deeply appreciative of this, your Majesty. As a point of fact, there are millions of corpses in the City of the Dead. If they managed a mass raising of corpses and desecration, it could cause more than a little problem throughout the region.”

“That’s why we felt that it's important that we all support our allies in regaining control over that area and in purging the ongoing problems.”

“Thank you. I will speak to my spy mistress, and see if she can move some people around to gain more information. And I thank you for the lead very much.”

“No matter. It was the least we could do.”

“Things go well for you otherwise?”

“They do, they do," replies Alistair. "We continue to have some difficulties with these great enemies. Some of them attempted to entrap one of my vassals, to lead him into a situation where they could assassinate him or capture him for foul purposes. That was most dismaying, but we were able to to deal with that without that much difficulty.”

“We hear that they seem obsessed with you.”

“Yes, they are. We gather there are some prophecies.”

“Of course, you also have become a powerful figure in your church.”

“Indeed, that may drive them as well. Some of the powerful figures in your church have been major targets of theirs to unfortunate effect.”

“That is exactly right, your Majesty.”

They discuss the campaign in Hanal. Ecsilias has been able to capture the voller yards outside the capital, though not to make them operational against the usurpers’ sky navy.

“I do believe there's a way forward to victory, unless there's something going on that we don't see,” says the Archbaron.

“There are some plans in motion that that the Queen-Empress Anastasia has underway that I hope in the next few months will give us some additional hope of victory.”

“Spring will be the time for the next campaign to begin fully. I fear that it will be more than a generation before Hanal is what we have always thought of.”

“But perhaps the new Hanal will be a better Hanal, however much of it remains.”

“Indeed, I hope you're correct, your majesty. I also hope that they recover fairly quickly, because they are the balance to Masque. Both are expansionistic powers, though with Anastasia in charge Hanal may become more restive as Masque has with Flana in charge, and we might see a new balance. But if Flana were overthrown, without Hanal to balance Masque, much of the North would fall.”

“Do you hear murmurings of motion against her?”

“Not all of the orders are happy, and of course, there are continuing problems with the Brown Lands and Yar. She's been moving additional troops to hold the borders there. Now three full orders have been fully committed to suppressing anything from exiting—the Boar, the Spider, and one other. My agents within report to me that that there is evidence that the soldiers that are overly exposed to to the border sometimes can no longer bear children or bear mutants. When mutants are born, the law of Masque states that they must be put to death, which does not make for a non tense internal situation.”

“No. I thought that much of the social order of Masque was based on the fact that that mutants were so prevalent. All the stuff with the masks.”

“Yes; but to reach the age of majority, a child must not have an obvious mutation. If a masked couple have a child that’s known to the authorities to be a mutant, the child is put to death. This leads to some tension and concealment from the government, which you do not want. At any rate, historically, I'm told that the Order of the Spider alone sustained the border. They do not have children. They are an all-female order, and to join the order they have forsworn having offspring. The two orders that have been moved in to back them are male orders, many of them with families, with wives, with children. It’s a necessity—the creatures coming out of the Brown Lands and Yar can be quite a threat to the commons--but it is not encouraging the people to loyalty to Flana.

“And, of course, now the rumor has begun spreading, as I'm sure your own agents have told you, that the reason that this was not a problem before is because the King-Emperor somehow restrained the powers of the Brown Land and Yar, and that Flana murdered the King-Emperor to take the throne. Well, you see where that leads, your Majesty.”

“Indeed.”

“So I would not say there is a danger now. The Order of the Mantis is a bulwark, and they know she had nothing to do with murdering the King-Emperor. As it spreads, who can say? I do not see a problem soon. But twenty years from now, ten years from now, I cannot say for sure.”

“I appreciate your information. It is something that we all need to keep an eye on. There was one other matters that I wanted to to inquire about. We have had, as I mentioned, a small problem recently, with a trap that was laid for one of my vassals. They kidnapped a friend of his and sought to use that to lead him into a trap. When we were able to rescue his friend and end the danger, we found that there was evidence that suggested that someone had sent an assassin to try to eliminate the risk of the trap in a, shall we say, more aggressive way. We think that that the people who did that had the best of intentions. But it still offends us that someone would, not to put too fine a point on it, but to take out a contract on the life of one of our people and seek to deal with that directly rather than consulting us. Now, we don't know who it might have been, who was responsible for this. But we do believe that they hired an assassin in Enclaves, and since this took place in your sphere of influence, we thought that you might be in a better position to infer who might have been responsible.”

“Hiring an assassin in Enclaves… that's a very odd way to go about things.”

“We have fewer assassins than many empires, but it's a long way to travel.”

“Yes, it is, and I can ask my own agents to look into the matter, but it seems you believe they had good intention. I do not blame you for being angry. I will see if I can find anything. There are not that many nations that hire assassins and would have good intentions but there are some. Give me a week. I will talk to my spy mistress and have us poll our agents. This smacks of Lady Talon—it’s the type of thing she would do. I don't know why she would, although she is now seeking allies abroad. The Assassins Guild is notoriously tight lipped about its clients, but we may be able to ferret something out. It does seem like her style, though, and she has the gift of premonition. So I can imagine her taking a preemptive move if she saw something, particularly if she thought it might harm you. She views you with hope for the South.”

“Had the trap succeeded, it would have harmed us badly. However, had the assassin succeeded, it would have harmed us significantly, even as it would have prevented the worst problems.”

“Premonitions. I would never run my kingdom using it. Now, Lady Talon, she's a high secret order witch. It's what they do.”

“You know that they have faced demonic attacks that are aligned with the Eldritch.”

“Lovely. Yes, and she does have a tendency to handle things... I'll see if I can find out if you're correct. I have probably more agents there than you do. We have to. After all, we're right there.”

“Exactly. And though it is true that we have become closer to Lady Talon and her people then Canberry was, say, twenty years ago, we're still not truly allies.”

“I wonder if anyone is ever truly allied with the high secret order. That's the thing they always have their own agenda and their own mystical needs that they have to pursue that are separate from what might seems sensible to more grounded-in-the-mundane people. If she viewed you in a vision as being important to her future, she'd be all too likely to act on it.”

“At the same time, there are actions that you can take that would be appreciated, and there are other actions. I can't confront her about this without more information.”

“I'll see what I can do. It’s extraordinarily difficult to get information out of the Assassins’ Guild, but we might be able to gain information about a money transfer. Such a transfer would almost have to go through the Bank of Opposition, if they are for significant sums, and the fee for hiring an assassin to attempt to interfere in business that far south would be a significant sum. Bank records are, shall we say, not as secure.”

“We will be most grateful for anything you can turn up. One other minor matter. You know of the value of orichalcum in protecting against certain powers? As a result, I at all times, and both my closest advisors and my closest vassals, wear small amounts of orichalcum.”

“Isn't that explosive?”

“Well, yes, that's why I wear it in a pinky ring. I could stand to lose the digit if that were necessary to save my life. I mention this in part, because we have word that Zorplona-Moriquendarim has techniques that can produce very fine amounts of orichalcum that are still effective as protections and as weapons against the Eldritch, but without some of the hazards associated with a larger amount. I suspect that if you were to approach them they would be interested in selling to you? Now, of course you know as well as I do that any business with the elves who are not of the youngest varieties of elves carries a high cost.”

“Oh yes.”

“But it might be worth your while to approach them for some trade, and I know that they are eager to find new markets.”

“Yes, it's still so suspicious to my people that they appear to have abandoned slavery so abruptly.”

“It has to do with their internal factions.”

“Ah. Yes, I will send an ambassador to them.”

They wrap up with some pleasantries, and then attend to the needs of the psion who made the link and is now kneeling on the floor, surrounded by a pool of ice water.

“I should have thought of following the money, I really should have,” said Kit. “And the Broken Lands was another possibility we thought about—they might think they were our friends without really being our friends. Lady Talon’s spy mistress needs to learn they cannot do that in Canberry.”

“Let's wait.”

“I know, we need that confirmation. But then, that message should come via you or Empress’s Kaitlyn, if we can confirm this so that we are absolutely sure of it.”

“Yes, what I would ideally like to do is have the Body on the Mouth's behalf send a signal of strength at the same time as I or Kaitlyn diplomatically express our displeasure. To signal our power, and that while we appreciate their desire for friendship, we want to get across that there are certain lines with us.”

“And if you have a premonition that we are in danger, you tell us. You don't run an operation in our land.”

“Exactly. And in the same way that we were concerned that Ecsilias was being overly eager to show that it was a power, even though it is not truly a great power, it may be necessary to remind the Confederacy that, despite their personal power, they are not a great power.”

“I do like the ‘sending flowers to someone's secret girlfriend’ approach,” Kit says. “And if they ever want to actually be our allies, they need to never do that again. I’ll have my people set something up for when we have confirmation.”

3 O-Tar
They gather in a private chapel in the palace for Jamie’s Enlightening. Bishop Waters is performing the ceremony. Dame Brionna and Lord Silverleaves (whose bed has been brought in) will be the godparents. The ceremony is basically small, although there are still quite a few guests. Alistair is dressed in finery, but with no regalia, as he appears as “Sir Alistair of Lyneham.” Kit is in her regalia as Countess of Lyneham. Jamie’s siblings are there as well, of course, and Kaitlyn and her special friend were invited, but with a clear understanding that whether she feels comfortable attending is entirely up to her. They in fact feel entirely comfortable with the whole matter, and attend in Southern Kingdom court style.

The service goes smoothly and without any difficulties, and the socializing afterwards is straightforward.
[End Session 142]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 143 (April 28, 2022)

Time passes uneventfully.

6 O-Tar
Fairly early in the morning, one of Dame Brionna’s officers intercepts her, gives her a letter [attached], and says, “And what do we do now?”

She quickly reads the letter. “Where is the boy now?”

“Outside the palace. We didn’t want to bring him in without telling you about it first.”

“Send an investigation squad, and have Lord Brightspan meet with him and welcome him to the palace. If he reports anything amiss about the boy or his escort, tell me immediately.”

She hurries to meet Alistair and Kit.

“We have an unexpected visitor. The Kov of Snannurkaz has sent his nephew and heir-apparent to be fostered with us. Notably, there have already been two assassination attempts upon this child. I have sent a squad to investigate, simply because we need to make sure that this child has not, as part of these assassination attempts, been tainted in any way, and also young Lord Brightspan to view him, but also to befriend him.”

“Have you told him that he would be accepted as a fosterling? Or informed Anastasia?” asks Kit

“I have not. I thought I would tell Alistair first.”

“I appreciate it.”

“I also don't know whether or not this is his nephew, or whether that is a euphemism for a closer relationship. The phrasing is that he is the heir until His Grace has a child, which would suggest that he is, in fact, a nephew.”

Alistair comments, “A nephew would certainly make sense, although I don't know anything about whether the Kov has siblings, and whether they're still alive…”

“Presumably not if the child would be the heir,” Kit observes.

“And then, of course, there's also the question of what Princess Anastasia’s relationship with this child might be. We should find out some of that before we talk with her about this.”

“It should be noted that the salutation on the letter was both mistitling me as a grand dame, but also it was from ‘Pir Alredgoth, Grand Bashar of the Kov of Snannurkaz and in service to the Empress Anastasia.’”

“Makes sense. She has been styling yourself that way more recently. Bashar is their title for general, so a grand bashar is presumably something like a field marshal, but it might be a senior general below that rank. I suspect that our secretary in charge of genealogies we've consulted before will be able to tell us more about the relationships.”

They send for the secretary, and continue discussing the matter.

“I didn't want to formally bring him to you for fostering until we had sorted this all out.”

“Is he inside the palace?”

“Yes, I wanted to to run the diagnostic checks, but then, assuming he passes, get him inside as quickly as we can.”

“Should that be with the young princes, in our heavily guarded wing?”

“Not yet, not until we know he’s completely safe. I’ll send another page to question what the results of the scans were.”

That page quickly returns with young Lord Brightspan.

Lord Brightspan comments, “He's very pure.”

“In what way?”

“I'm not sure he would have survived in my grandfather's court. I'm sorry, Your Majesty, if I misspeak.”

“Is he naive, then?”

“Very. I believe he's been sheltered his entire life.”

“How old is he?”

“Nine, so he should at least have some sense of how things are. His father died, apparently in the defense of Snannurkaz early in the war.”

“Apparently, his uncle decided he was safer here. Is he the Kov’s brother’s son?”

“Yes, and the only member of the family left alive, apparently other than the Kov..”

“And I presume you sensed no corruption the assassination attempts may have left.”

“No, he's pure. I am not a hard man, Your Majesty, my ladies,” young Lord Brightspan says, somewhat incongruously as he is still a child. “Not yet. Perhaps one day, like my uncle. But he is innocent of the world. I think it must be a terrible world where I am telling you that I think that must be cured if he is to survive. I will go do penance later. I think his parents sheltered him more than was safe for a young man in his position. I'm calling him a young man, but he's a boy, a good boy. I'm sure he’s very loyal to Anastasia. He misses his mother a great deal.”

“Of course he would.”

Dame Brionna says, “In that case, I will send orders to have a brought in--still under heavier guard than is normal.”

“And keeping him well away from the rooms where the heirs are,” adds Kit.

With those orders given, the secretary of genealogies enters.

“Your Majesty, honored ladies, to stand in your presence again is definitely a great pleasure.”

“We wanted to know what you could tell us about the family of the Kov of Snannurkaz.”

“Small and shrinking. It's the bloodline, I think. And he has a great and chivalrous devotion to the Princess Anastasia, and therefore has refused eligible matches to this point. His brother, however, has a boy. I believe his brother is dead, although, Dame, your military people may know for sure whether his brother is dead. But I believe so, and that would make the boy the only heir of the line at this point.”

Kit says, “Has the line been failing for about 100 years? Just guessing…”

“Yes, about that. Frankly, may I speak freely? The great-grandfather married for love, always dangerous for a member of a ruling family. I could show you a hundred times in my genealogy. You take your loved one in other ways besides marriage, but he did not, and he married a sidhe noblesse.”

“Oh, and that's why the shrinking of the line.”

“Of course, I'm only a genealogist, but we've seen this sort of thing for other lines. I think his brother took after the fey line.”

“We should introduce him to the tree.”

“The Kov himself does not display very many of the traits, and he seems to be aging at the rate that a pure human does. His brother did not age at that rate and was still quite young in appearance when he was last seen. He is certainly in his thirties or close to it, and yet he could not display the characteristics that most human males do--you know, beard and such things, particularly in the North.”

“If he was that young physically, would he have been able to father a child?”

“Oh, yes, yes, the fae from some lineages are very, very fond of congress with the ladies. Fully capable of all that.”

“Are there relatives on the fae side?”

“Little is known of them. She came to him out of love. It is said, though I have no proof, that she perished in the moonlight after his death, that she simply shriveled away in sadness.”

“Do we at least know the Tor she came from?”

“Yes, I do have that much. I'm afraid I don't keep that at the tip of my tongue, but yes, it’s in the papers.”

“Get that to us?”

“Yes, Dame, gladly.”

“I assume Seelie?”

“Yes, certainly. The sidhe noblesse fell in love with him when he was young and handsome.”

“Given your expertise in geneology, what would your expectations be were the Empress Anastasia and the Kov of Snannurkaz to marry and have children? What would the nature of those children be?”

“Given her lineage… Hmm. For one thing there's a very high probability of some form of psionics which, is regarded as a grave threat in Hanal—they put psionic children to death. There would be a high probability of infant death or inability to conceive. And of course, if the baby, or through some miracle babies, were to grow to adulthood, they would have a high tendency towards magic. There is a chance of long life.”

“The fact that Snannurkaz does not have these features would not mean that the traits have fallen out?”

“Difficult to say. I haven't seen his nephew. Marriages of this type, particularly when the line is remarrying into other similar lines, are difficult to predict. Seeing his nephew would give me some guidance. But of course his nephew is trapped in Snannurkaz. I would assume if the boy favors his father, that means the lineage is strong. If the lineage is strong, and then it's combined with the royal lineage, it is likely that the children would show some characteristics of the fae.”

“Does she also have fae ancestry?”

“Oh, yes, that's well known. But this, your Majesty, is what makes their his romantic devotion to her so strange. Her lineage is not as recent as his. It is several more generations back. But it was Unseeliee. I'm so pleased that you're interested in these details, majesty, thank you for making me useful. There were some signs that their lineage might have been a fairly powerful one at some point, but the details were lost in the early wars of unification. They had certain powers that they utilized rather freely, unifying the early tribes into what we now call Hanal, and it was a member of the lineage that brought up the idea of the blood fete, which is now practiced in multiple Paranswarmian lands.”

“It does serve certain useful purposes, as well as being horrifying.” Alistair thinks about its use in ferreting out the Seen-Unseen.

“Yes, it gets rid of the worst of their criminals without them having to execute them. Well, I mean directly. King-Emperor Japhael of Tarsh, may he reign long enough to have healthy children, is known to have barred the blood fete in Tarsh after he took the throne. Now he's had to come up with an entire legal system for capital crimes, murdering torture, worship of demons, and other things that shouldn't be said in polite company, because prior to that, those people were simply offered at the fete. He had to invent a new court system, not bad for a 22 year old. Meaning no disrespect, your Majesty.”

“No matter. That said, this is something we should talk about with the Empress Anastasia. Just a few more questions.”

“Of course, your Majesty.”

“So if it is unlikely that Anastasia and Snannurkaz would have more than a very few children, then they might well not have any heirs for Snannurkaz. If, for example, they only had girls, they would have heirs for the Empire but not for the Kovate.”

“That's correct.”

“And if they had a boy, but not girls, the boy would not be eligible for the imperial throne.”

“Correct. They are very strict about that.”

“Are there any other potential heirs to the imperial line at this point? I gather most of the collateral lines get executed to prevent possible civil wars.”

“Yes, viciously, your majesty, viciously. With prejudice, I believe, is the words they use, and no, there are no collateral lines left. Thyastis was legendarily thorough in eliminating collateral lines. If there are any anywhere, they are so far from the Empire that they probably don't even remember that they were ever attached.”

“Is there any law or house law about what would happen in that circumstance?”

“Oh, no. I suppose in that circumstance every eligible female in the Empire who could raise an army, a couple of the Kovs, with senior female members of their family, would fight a new war to determine who the new empress would be."

“Lovely.”

“Somebody like Anastasia has probably thought that far ahead,” comments Kit.

“Yes, but it's it's complicated because Anastasia is about twenty, but the Kov is not a young man. Not old by any stretch, but he must be closer to forty. That means that if she does not bear an appropriate heir in an appropriate amount of time, she would need to consider taking actions.”

“Right.”

“What would that look like in Hanal?”

“Well, if it pleases your Majesty, I happen to know something about that. In the imperial line, the Empress herself is welcome to take as many consorts as she wishes, but only one husband. She can bear heirs with whatever consort she chooses. Historically, however, if they were female and a regular heir by the husband came along, they were executed. That makes it very difficult for most empresses to engage in having a husband and consorts. In fact, it may be why so many of the Hanalians have accepted this war as simply a normal thing.”

“Because it looks like a regular succession war.”

“Yes, because, after all, otherwise Anastasia would go to the headsman's block once her older sister had consolidated power.”

“I'm surprised that there aren't then known cadet houses who fled. For example, if there weren't the reasons why this war had to be fought, then presumably Anastasia would have considered choosing to settle here and I'm surprised that there have not been other instances of that in the past.”

“There have been a number who attempted it. None have survived. The Kingdom of the Haunted Mountains, Tarsh, and Tang have all temporarily hosted younger siblings and their immediate entourages. But without exception, Hanal has killed them. It is the only thing that has ever caused Hanal to commit a large body of troops in an unsupported attack, and frankly they only needed to invoke that threat with Tang, which is on this continent. They handed the heir back rather than face an invasion of the Iron Legions supported by vollers. Tarsh did not. It has always had a stubborn streak, you know, even though they're obviously influenced by Hanal in many ways, with the blood fete being the most obvious. But the assassin reached her anyway.

“Oh, and of course, in the case of Thyastis even the partners she occasionally took to her bed were put to death afterwards, and they were in no position to father heirs. But they could have potentially, she believed, or so it is said by her biographer that she believed, that they could make a claim for some girl who was not her daughter when the time came, so she simply had them killed.”

“Obviously everyone would know when she had offspring so it isn't like they could have even plausibly brought claims. I gather that's not strictly impossible, though, when dealing with devils.”

“There are ways of doing it, for example, according to that lovely but terrifying woman, who is the guest of the palace. For example, you could become pregnant through an infernal ritual, and then you could implant your baby in an erinyes, where it would grow naturally. You'd have to make a bargain, certainly, with a devil, and that child could then be brought to the Prime. And yes, such a thing could happen. I think it's rather extreme to have all your lovers killed, though. I will say, in her latter years, according to her biographer, there were few she could find who would agree to her bed, but…”

“That sounds like there was something else going on besides just being cautious. Anybody who got that close to her would have found out certain secrets that she couldn't let them live after learning.”

“That is possible, but that goes beyond genealogy, and I would only be guessing, Lady Katherine. I do not wish to speculate on something like this. I've already run my mouth on unmitigatedly in ways that, could be a very bad thing for me if I were in a different country.”

“We greatly appreciate it, though. The perspective is very useful.”

After the secretary leaves, Dame Brionna says, “Given this information, it is my advice that we may need to actively discourage the marriage between the Kov and Anastasia.”

“I think that that would be a mistake, but I think we need to have a frank conversation with Anastasia,” replies Alistair. “Anastasia is the most powerful person politically, and he is the most powerful person militarily. I think they need to get married. Oh, and also they're in love, but you know…”

“Yes, but both her and your children need to have a stable succession,” Kit says, “and I am sure Anastasia has thought of this. I don’t know if she knew that Snannurkaz has high Seelie blood.”

“I would be very surprised if she did not.”

“Yes, he's probably told her.”

“I think we should have a frank conversation with her, then find out what plans, if any, they have for the succession, if producing heirs in the default way doesn't work for them.”

“Even if it does work for them, they are likely to be psionically and magically powerful. Which in Hanal means having to overcome a lot. The question is whether adding tolerance for psionics is just going to be accepted as part of the change in Hanal.”

“There are things that would be problems for lesser families, that in an Imperial family could be turned to an advantage. Powers are not a threat to the Empire when they are wielded by the Empress.”

“As long as it can't be used as ammunition against the new royal family by their enemies. If there are enough people in Hanal who still have the old prejudice against psionics, then that could be turned into opposition.”

“We need, of course, to determine whether the lad is himself psionic. Not necessarily active, but latent, in which case we are indeed a good place for him to be raised.”

They discuss their training programs for pages, with Dame Brionna advocating defense and combat training starting at 3 with learning to throw toy blocks, but Alistair assisting that it not start until children formally become pages, at 7.

“Do we want to accept him into fosterage, and then speak to the Queen-Empress? Or do you think it's a little rude since he is her vassal.”

“Let's talk to her first. We probably technically could, but it's rude and she should know what's going on.”

“With any other member of the Hanalian royalty, I would want to take the action, so that he was already under our protection, before speaking to her. Even though I would trust Princess Anastasia to not take any actions, not everyone in her court might have similar ideas. Because, of course, he is absolutely potentially a threat to her and her children's successions, especially if he were to marry a highly ranked Paranswarmian.”

“If he marries out into any of the various countries that have desperately sent potential people to meet the grandson of the old Emperor of Tarsh, then that will mostly remove him from the scene.”

“Let's invite the Queen-Empress to to join us for a luncheon, and of course we should inform the Empress Kaitlyn that we will be inviting the Queen-Empress to a luncheon, and that she is more than welcome to join us.”

They arrange for the luncheon, and soon Queen-Empress Anastasia, a bashar who is one of her closest advisors, and Empress Kaitlyn join them for a pleasant luncheon. They note that the Queen-Empress does not bring her bishop with her.

“In addition to, of course, wanting to take advantage of the fact that your court remains in our fair city for the social benefits that offers, we wish to speak with you about a couple of matters that have arisen. The first is that the Kov of Snannurkaz has asked us to foster his nephew.”

“I’m surprised that Viviana would approve.”

“Viviana... his mother?”

“Viviana is a close friend, and my sister-in-law.”

“I’m so sorry,” says Dame Brionna. “I fear, your grace, that she died protecting her son, and as violently as any mother could wish.”

“Oh, my Gods, they're striking at children now. You are going to accept his foster, are you not?”

“We certainly intend to, but we we thought that it was appropriate to ask your consent before we did so.”

“Oh, yes, yes, no one better. I did not realize that they had started…” She glances to her bashar, who virtually abases himself, in the middle of lunch. “You knew.”

“Yes, Your Majesty, I did not think the time appropriate. I received word of this yesterday evening, by fast flyer.”

“You were concerned that it would shake my resolve. It will not. I will have the ritual of the opening of the night for Viviana, my friend as well as my sister-in-law. We appreciate your kindness in allowing us to practice our own faith within your lands at times like this, Your Majesty.”

“Of course. Is there anything that you would need from us to help you in this ritual?”

“I do not think I and the boy should be in the same location at the same time, even though he might wish to. I understand he's been very sheltered. This is not the best time for this to have happened.”

“Do you know the lad, then?”

“He's a good boy. Both his mother and father, I think, would have been happier if they lived in another country, but they took their duty seriously. They also shielded him. They thought of sending him away. But then the war started before they could find an appropriate placement.”

“We trust your judgment if you don't want to be in the same place with him. But it you know him better than anyone else here, what can we do that would give him comfort?”

“Talk to him honestly. None of us ever have.”

“We can do that.”

“My Kov is a dear man, and I love him greatly, but he always acceded to his brother's wishes with his nephew. Therefore his nephew has had no training. I believe they were more concerned that he was going to show up with the forbidden gift. That is why they wanted to send him abroad. They were looking in Tarsh primarily.”

“Would he then have been expected to join the SHH in Hanal had he had the forbidden gift?”

“He would have been put to death if it became public. He will be safe here. You've any training that he needs.”

“I have a delicate question that I need to ask about that. We probably could, though we would greatly appreciate not needing to, take steps to snip off the gift if it is present. Ideally, we would want to see it properly awakened and trained.”

“If he possesses it, that makes much more sense. I have long thought, you know… I was a bookish child, Your Majesty. I have long thought that Hanal was manipulated. Every other Paranswarmian nation preserves the gift, and has there own members of the Society. But all the members of the SHH in Hanal are from abroad.”

“It makes sense, because Hanal is uniquely dependent on devils. Diabolists are controlled by the SHH. So it is in the interest of both the devils who are making deals, and all the other Paranswarmian powers, for the diabolists to be not entirely loyal to the interests of Hanal.”

“I think I understand that, although that was a little confusing.”

“I think his majesty is suggesting that diabolists from Hanal would be able to be more loyal, while under the supervision of the psionic order of the Church, if the members of the SHH were from Hanal.”

“The SHH has some peculiar beliefs, if you will excuse me, even relative to the rest of your faith.”

“That is undoubtedly true. I have observed it in the court.”

“They essentially venerate Paranswarm as chief of the archdevils, as Prince of Hell, as opposed to as Lord of Darkness.”

“There are many divergent groups, and that is one of the more different. Most of the Church would view Him as being Lord of Darkness, etc., etc., and Prince of Hell, as opposed to the SHH. They invert the primacy of those titles."

"They are important to the Church through their arts.”

“And every faith has its mildly heterodox but not quite heretical sects.”

“The flame orders within your temple. Yes, they appear in every temple. Well, I cannot speak for the chaotic faiths. How would you?” The Queen-Empress thinks a little longer. “Oh, perhaps it is safe for me to visit him within the inner sanctum of your palace, Your Majesty. I simply cannot imagine that they could strike at both of us there.”

“That would be acceptable. I think, for the time being, that he will not be permitted to leave the palace.”

“I think that's probably wise. Your security people are remarkable, but the assassins from Hanal are as well.”

Alistair makes a gesture of thanks to Dame Brionna. They then engage in some light chit-chat, although making sure to find out more about the child’s interests and what might make him comfortable. After a little while, Alistair broaches the next subject.

“There's another matter that we felt that we needed to begin to discuss with you. As you know, the Empress and I have been blessed by so rapidly having two fine young children. We are entirely confident that we will have many more by the time that our family is complete. It is, of course, essential to the stability of Hanal that you have a capable adult daughter by the time, may it be decades hence, that you enter into the Darkness.”

“Yes, we can't see this again.”

“Precisely.”

“You are asking if I can bear.”

“No, that is not our primary concern. We know that your family has had some some issues, but I expect that as you have been healthier in other ways than some of your relatives, you would likely be healthier in that way as well. It is more that we do not know how fecund the Kov might be, and there are reasons to have doubts. That leads to the question.”

“I am young now. I can bear 25 more years, minimally, possibly more, with good health.”

“There are also magics and elven herbs that can help.”

“Yes, it is my intention, and if it becomes evident that we cannot bear together, there are ways under the law to have children by consorts and recognize them. He understands this. We have discussed it. Not since this all began, but we have discussed it. That raises the question. I consider the policy long followed by the Empire to be barbaric. I do not wish to have daughters and have to know that when I pass into the Darkness, that all but one of them will be put to death--not my daughters by the Kov, and not by any consort I might pick. Nor do I wish to follow my mother's example of slaughtering her consorts. I know this makes me opposed to tradition. Some traditions are worth changing.”

“There are traditions in our court after the death of an Archduke of Canberry that we have taken steps to break and to stamp out in the future. We'll see how successful that is. Well, I will not see how successful that is. But Canberry will see how successful that is, but we are doing the best that we can.”

“So you do not think it is unreasonable to change this by edict.”

“Certainly not. I think there are steps that you will be able to take when they are all approaching adulthood that that would increase the odds of success.”

“Starting by not telling them they have to kill all of the others.”

“But also then taking steps to position the ones who will not likely inherit in places where they are both protected, but also not empowered--in the church, or married off continent, for example.”

“Your Empire seems to be perfectly stable marrying excess members of the high families to those who are slightly less powerful than they are.”

“Indeed, though you need an adequately stable empire for that to work. We can be confident that my sister will not use her husband's duchy as a power base to rise against me. He would not stand for it, the other dukes would not rally to their banner. It would be foolishness even if she wanted to, and she doesn't, and of course she is loyal. But that might not be the case for a kov in Hanal, with an eligible daughter.”

“Yes, I can see that.”

“Margaret will be loyal. But, to be perfectly blunt, if matters had transpired as they might have been expected to, Snannurkaz might still have rallied to your banner, and generated the civil war anyway.”

“No question he would have. He’s devoted. He carries my kerchief at all times.”

“I'm glad that you have that you have thought through these matters, and we certainly hope that you will be as blessed as we have been.”

“I hope so as well. But yes, we do have other paths to ensure Hanal’s stability. Its people are suffering.”

“And that also means that although I understand why, with the military situation, it needs to be a little bit more stable, but the sooner that you can be wed, and pursuing such matters, the better for everyone.”

“Yes, we hold off marriage now only because of the war, and the fact that we believe one of the other kovs is wavering in his loyalty to the Crown, and the possibility of still being open to offering my hand may be the thing that pushes him over to our side. That would take her western flank. Otherwise, we would have already wed.”

“Understood. Is the other kov someone who, under other circumstances, if necessary, you would not be averse to as a lesser consort? Or would that be insulting to his dignity to suggest?"

“Not exactly. If it is necessary, I will take him. If he accepts a position as a lesser consort, it will not be out of loyalty to the truth, throne, or to the true Church. If he switches sides, it will be entirely according to what he believes serves his interest.”

“And then you would without doubt have a serpent within your household and conflict among potential children. He would demand--not unreasonably under the circumstances-- to have the opportunity to attempt to father children with you, and he would then surely seek to see them placed ahead of your husband's daughters.”

“We are aware of these difficulties.”

“Only if the war hinges on it would I recommend such a thing. It is extremely desirable that if you need, for whatever reasons, to have consorts besides your formal husband, that those consort be intensely loyal to the idea of the legitimate succession, and that they understand that that is in the interests of their own children as well.”

“I believe that the only one I could find with those qualifications within Hanal is the Kov of Bormark, if he survives. But I am not confident that he would say yes. He is happy in his marriage and his children, so that might reduced me to the vadates.”

“That might actually be easier in some ways. They couldn't raise a sufficient force to be a threat.”

She turns to the bashar. “This is ‘conversation over a light lunch’ in the Imperial Palace.”

Alistair continues, carefully not looking at Kit, “The other option that might be considered there is seeking among those who are not in the high nobility at all, and simply conferring upon them appropriate rank to give them appropriate status to hold in relationship to the family. Without a power base of their own, they would not pose a threat.”

The Bashar looks up with great interest. Kit notices his fingers flash and immediately recognizes it as a house code. She is startled when her lens, which automatically translates written material, also translates the signs.

<<There are certain bashars in the Imperial service might be susceptible to that offer and would be no threat.>>

The Queen-Empress makes a very slight gesture, which is just <<Later.>>

They continue discussing lighter matters, including the Queen-Empress’s belief that it might be ideal for the Kov’s nephew to ultimately settle in a non-Paranswarmian realm if he has the gift, because the members of the SHH are expected to sever all connection to their birth families.

After they depart, the Council discusses some of this, including the bashar’s clear interest in using this to peel away legions from the usurper. If their bashar defected, the legion would almost certainly follow because of the fierce obedience in the chain of command.

Kit sets some of her people to try to find out who Anastasia’s spymistress is, and will receive a report in two days. There are a handful of noble women with Anastasia that it could be. They know it's a woman, and that may actually be tradition in Hanal, though they aren’t sure. There are only a handful of women with her, because most of the people who came were with the military. Among the women, there are a couple of vadesses and a couple of stromesses. A vaddess is more more likely because Hanal is very rank conscious and a vaddess is more likely to be treated with the amount of respect necessary to be a successful spymistress.

Kit decides to have their communications watched, in part to determine what information they are filtering out before it reaches Anastasia (and before it reaches the Council) and to try to identify who to place some of her people close to. She has a substantial number of people in the servants in the embassy, but not many who are closely placed.
[cont'd]
 

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CPaladin

Explorer
[Session 143, cont'd]
Alistair meets with Lord Darben, the Kov’s nephew, personally. They know he loves horses, so they meet in the internal palace riding grounds, where he can ride a placid horse and Alistair can walk alongside.

As Alistair walks up to him, Lord Darben recognizes him and genuflects.

“First for the formal matter. We are pleased to accept you into fosterage to the House of Ashbury, and to the Imperial Court of the Empire of Southern Drucien, and are pleased to appoint you as one of the pages of the Emperor and Empress of Southern Drucien.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty. I bring you greeting from Pyr Aldritchgoth on behalf of my uncle.” He holds out a small leather bag, which Dame Brionna steps forward to take. It contains a fair sized ruby that's been incised with the seal of Snannurkaz. “Thank you for accepting this and me.”

“It is our great pleasure, and our great desire that your uncle will continue to do valiant work to bring peace and order to your homeland. I wanted to have a small chance to talk with you personally. You'll find that that pages to the Emperor do not actually spend that much time with the Emperor. You spend most of your time learning from the master of pages, and attending to your various lessons, and some being a runner around the palace. But I feel like I should know all my pages and of course, if there's anything ever anything of great importance, you can always come to me.”

“Thank you.”

“Also you should know that that young Lord Brightspan who you've already met is currently the personal page. And therefore, if there's anything that you think that I should know rapidly, and that you don't want to run through the master of pages, you can always tell him, and I see him daily.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty.”

“The master of pages will tell you a variety of rules and things that you'll need to to do. Of course, we expect you to listen to him and to follow your instructions. But at the same time we of course expect you to be a high spirited lad of high birth. Some rules it's worth taking your lumps for not following.

“I have a few additional rules for you personally, and those are not that kind of rule. They are serious matters, and other pages may say, ‘Oh, why don't we do this?’ And it will seem entirely reasonable. On those matters, you must not go along with them in their exploits. The most important of those is that until I countermand this, you may not leave the palace grounds under any circumstance. Do you know why I'm instructing you on that?”

“Because, Your Majesty, you think that the assassins may follow me here.”

“Indeed. There are powerful wards that protect the palace. There are Dame Brionna’s extremely capable guards, and there are various other means we have of keeping people safe within the palace. The City of Camberry is in general a very safe city. Much more so I think than Hanal City or Snannurkaz before the present troubles. But that's a safe city in general, that's not a safe city for you.

The sorts of assassins that the usurper might send would be well more than we could expect the city guard and the lady mayor's people to take care of.”

“They got by my uncle's men. My mother poisoned them.”

“Did she poison a weapon?”

“Yes. He stabbed her first. I saw it.”

“I'm sorry. You shouldn't have had to see that, but you also saw how brave your mother was.”

“Yes, I miss my mother.” He looks very sad sitting there on the horse. “But my uncle says that I am the hope of the future now.”

“You are, but you're not alone here.”

“My uncle trusts you. He said, if you are allies, he believes that we will win.”

“And we believe that as well. I will also say that, were misfortune to befall the war in Hanal, you would always have a safe place here. I expect that by the time you are a young man, you will be called to take up duties within your homeland, but in the meanwhile, we can guaranteed your safety here. A number of the other pages come from similar tragic family situations to the one that you have faced. You may find connections and shared friendship with them.”

“My uncle says that we must win the war because it is against vile powers that seek to overthrow the whole world.”

“We will give you an education about those foes, but not until you are older. Speaking of which, the pages are expected to attend chapel on a regular basis. Those who are not from Glordiadelian lands may remain silent and not participate in the rituals as they feel fit. Of course, those of them from Glordiadelian nations are expected to participate and learn those things. Ordinarily, we would make available the opportunity for Paranswarmian pages to travel outside the palace to where there are a small number of Paranswarmian churches within the capital city. In your case that will not be possible. but if you wish we will arrange for a priest to come to you to administer the basic rites of your faith. The high holy day celebrations of Paranswarm are not celebrated in Canberry and cannot be celebrated in Canberry."

“Do you have high holy days here?”

“We have many, and we celebrate all of the high holy days of Glordiadel. And indeed the other permitted religions--the other religions of the Economical Council, for example--most of them will celebrate their high holy days as well, although of course, the Empire takes little formal recognition of that. There are certain ceremonies that are required in Paranswarmian churches, on Paranswarm’s most holy days that involve acts that are forbidden within Canberry City. Even those are still practiced within the Paranswarmian domains of the Empire. For example, in Tang, they would perform those ceremonies. Hopefully in time, it might be possible for you to travel abroad to those within the Empire. That is impossible now.

“We do, however, have a sacred tree here within the palace grounds itself if you wish to connect with that other part of your inherited traditions. How much you visit it is up to you, but it can be very nice to talk to. I think you might feel better if you visited it. It is a young child.”

“You should know my cousin used to take me to visit their tree.”

“Is that a cousin from your great-grandmother's family?”

Dame Brionna helpfully says, “If you could give us their name, we might be able to contact them…”

Alistair cuts in, “She means, if you could give us a way in which we may refer to them.”

“Oh, yes, of course. That kind of cousin," realizes Dame Brionna. "Yes, sorry. If you give us a means of contacting them, then we might be able to reassure them of your safety, and find out about theirs. I'm sure they would wish to know.”

He pulls a chain up from under his shirt with a sigil on it that they immediately recognize as either fae or elven. “If you have anyone who has the accursed gift, if you just grip this tightly…”

“First, a bit of advice about living in Canberry-- We don’t call it the accursed gift. It's just a gift.”

“I've never heard it referred to as anything but ‘the accursed gift.’”

“Its proper name is psionics, or just the gift,” says Kit. “May I see that medallion? I have the gift as well.”

“Oh, do you? I don’t know if I have the acc… the gift, but I can use that, so I fear that I do.”

“We will also introduce you to some elves who can determine your gift more fully. Depending on what direction your talent lies, we will likely ask one of them to help you.”

“I won't be able to go home after that, will I? See, I know I have the gift, but nobody else knows. Well, my cousin knows, because he came to me. He left me that so I could talk to him and we could do things together, and I think some people thought I had magic or something, because they kept losing track of me,” and he sort of smiles a little bit for the first time since they've met him.

“But also, given your rank in Hanal, they might have thought that you had a personal devil that attended to you.”

“Yes. I don't like those.”

“Yes, but many of the kovs maintain such things.”

“Oh, yes, they do. My uncle doesn’t really have personal devils of his own, but he has people with him who can call them. He won't sell his soul, but he'll let other people sell theirs, and he'll use their devils.”

“There will be no need for soul selling here. There are a few people who do that sort of thing, but not very many. You won't have to deal with that if you don't want to.”

While the conversation continues, Kit is holding the talisman, which emanates energy to her. She opens up psionically, exactly the way she does when she uses her other communication tools, and instantly she is in contact with a somewhat immature, very startled mind.

<<I'm sorry, Darben is right here, and he's safe, and he gave me permission to use this.>>

Another more mature mind replaces the first one that she contacted.

<<Darben is right here. He's all right. I'm a human friend who is protecting him.>>

<<His uncle is human.>>

<<His uncle sent him to Canberry.>>

<<Ah, that's where he is.>>

<<You can talk to him if you want.>>

<<His great-grandfather was my brother-in-law. We do like to talk to him.>>

<<He gave me permission to use this. I didn't realize that it would put me in direct contact with you so quickly.>>

<<It put you in contact with my son, who is his friend. My son is young and panicked.>>

<<I don't blame him, and please apologize to him for me. I would be frightened, too, if an unfamiliar grown-up suddenly appeared to me in my mind.>>

<<I recognize your mind. You are an aide to the King, or the Emperor of Canberry.>>

<<Yes, that's right. Darben is safe with us at the Court of Canberry.>>

<<Good, good, no good could come of keeping him here. Give my regards for me to your Tor. They will know my Tor, on the Isle of Snannurkaz.>>

<<I will.>>

<<Now I must go and quiet my son.>>

<<Yes, please apologize. Before you go, have you heard why Darben was sent to us?>>

<<Presumably the human assassins became more effective.>>

<<They did. I'm sorry to say they killed his mother.>>

<<Is it proper to say I'm sure she died well?>>

<<She did, very bravely protecting her son. Which is why he has been sent here. Do you know of the threats and violence against people of your blood? Even in as isolated a place as it is, your Tor may end up being a target.>>

<<We have knights, and the Lord of Snannurkaz is not far from here. I think all will fall before we do, but I appreciate your warning. If these creatures come to our Tor, I can assure you that we will not go quietly. I will comfort my son. If I may have an image of the boy to take to him, it will calm him.>>

Kit immediately projects an image of the boy, safe healthy, and as happy as possible.

<<I will tell him he should not come to visit him. His visits were often to the great consternation of the tutors.>>

<<If you wish to visit, you can travel to the Tor, and then they have ways that he can come over land to the palace and visit. But it would have to be an open visit, not the way they are used to.>>

<<Yes, you must protect the child, and that is not possible if they are wandering around.>>

Kit hands the medallion back. “I'm afraid I startled your friend pretty badly, but his father's going to go take care of him. You can, of course, talk with him whenever you like.”

“But of course, you also must not discuss anything that you see in the palace.”

“No, I understand. Matters of state.”

“Yes. We'll help you learn which things you need to keep secret, and which things you can talk freely to your friends about.”

“Good. Thank you. Lord Alden is very kind. Did he seem to you that way?”

“Yes, he cares about you very much.”

“It would not surprise me if the local Tor wanted to send someone to watch and protect you, and if they did, we would certainly allow them to. I just want to let you know. I can't guarantee that they will. We are close allies.”

“That is good. Alden Tor is friends with my uncle. I think they're more than that to me. Well, they are kind of family to us both.”

“But he is a more distant relation and you're not.”

“You understand. And he is more religious than I am.”

“Believe it or not, my children are closer relations to our Tor than I am.”

“How old are your children?”

“Infants, really.” Alistair can see his momentary interest fade as soon as he hears that they are infants. “There are plenty of pages at or about your age, as well as some who are a few years older. They range roughly from your age until about fourteen, when they tend to leave service as pages and take on other responsibilities.”

“Squires.”

“Usually. Even that is dependent somewhat on their path. For example, a prospective wizard would at that point enter into a proper apprenticeship or tutorial, instead of becoming a squire to a knight like most. In some cases, they might become a squire in the most formal of senses, without actually learning the true trade of a knight.”

“I see that. You know what happened to the Hanalian chivalry?”

“Yes.”

“They were sent before it was clear what was happening. My uncle is loyal. And if he says Anastasia is Empress, she is.”

“Indeed, and she sends her good wishes. She is sorry that she couldn't be here to greet you herself, and she will be able to visit you within the palace sometimes, but, unfortunately, you will not be able to attend your monarch in her court in exile until matters are safer again. You will not be able to leave the palace, and together you are too risky of a target.”

“They won't stop just because I came here.”

“But you'll be safe in the palace, and again, some of the other pages here have also been the targets of attempts before they came here, and they've all been safe since coming here.”

“My uncle says you're very powerful. He said that now that you've all of the proxies that you could, your empire is more powerful than her now.”

“I think that that is indeed the case.”

“Well, thank you, and thank you for letting me ride the pretty horse.” He gives the horse a pat.

“When unified, Hanal will likely be once more the most powerful human empire north of the Barrier Mountains. Note that I use that qualifier, because it is wise for all great human leaders to understand that the great elven kingdoms and monarchies and suchlike operate in a different level of power than any human lands. Now, they they show little interest in human lands for the most part, and the major elven forest of the north is a close ally of Canberry. But occasionally humans will think that the great wealth of the elves and their lack of obvious martial prowess might mean opportunities, and then things go really poorly for them.”

“Singing Leaves berthed a man of war and two schooners near Snannurkaz. I've seen them fire those energy things. I wouldn't want to be on the other end.”

“Those schooners are probably each more than a match for the greatest human vollers. The man-of-war is simply beyond us. We cannot build ships of the line from the perspective of the elven peoples.”

“The Queen-Empress’s vollers stopped bombarding us after they were stationed there.”

They bring Darben along to visit Lord Silverleaves.

“We would like to introduce you to one of our new pages, Darben of Snannurkaz.”

“Hello.” Darben seems almost in awe of Lord Silverleaves, despite having almost never seen an elf before.

“The Kov’s heir-presumptive?”

“Yes, Lord Darben is going to be staying with us. And Lord Darben, this is Lord Silverleaves. He is one of the Eldar, which is like the high nobility of the elves.”

Darben genuflects, for he knows that when you meet high nobility, you genuflect.

“And we also often refer to Lord Silverleaves as Grandmaster Farsensor in recognition of his great skill in the psionic arts.”

“He's my teacher,” adds Kit.

“There are very few humans who can ever reach the level of mastery that Lord Silverleaves has achieved.”

<<You know the boy will be a farsensor,>> sends Lord Silverleaves privately to Kit.

<<I hoped so.>>

<<There’s also a level of power that is not often seen among humans. Does he have fae blood?>>

<<Yes, that's why they sent him, because his family's enemies are also aligned with people who are attacking the fae and the elves.>>

<<So they sent him here for safety.>>

<<You should also know that he has some awareness of his psionics. but in Hanal, they call it the accursed gift. So we're going to have to work on that. We're getting past it. He is in touch with his fae cousins, and they helped him understand it a little, but he's going to need a lot of help. I'm glad that its farsensing so that you can be the one to teach them.>>

<<It will be 2 or 3 years before—such short periods of time--before he reaches threshold. We should make certain that we have well distilled kerif at that time.>>

<<Sorry, what is kerif?>>

<<I’ll order some from my homeland. It's a flower that is useful for many things. One of them is to help children through threshold. Given his background and the combined bloodlines, threshold could kill him. It probably kills 2 out of 3 humans who have mixed ones, so we will make sure that we're very, very well prepared.>>

<<I had no idea…>> thinks Alistair.

<<Oh, yes, threshold sickness is a terrible thing.>>

<<I remember mine was pretty awful, but not like that.>>

<<Your people would have more psions, I believe, if they understood the use of kerif. Many humans die of threshold sickness. I believe that may be deliberate among his people. They've not been unfriendly to our admiral, who the Queen has stationed there to protect them. But their fear of psionics is unreasonable. If you've gotten the boy to say he may have the ‘accursed gift,’ he's well on his way to accepting it.>>

<<I think it's a really, really good thing that he's here.>>

<<Yes, we must get kerif.>>

<<We should have kerif here anyways, now that we know that it is a possibility.>>

<<Do you have adequate—forgive me how that sounds—alchemical facilities?>>

<<Yes. I mean, I don't know how to judge the quality of alchemical labs. But when you're up to it, I'm sure our palace alchemists would be happy to let you take a look to see if it has what you need.”

<<I could train them to do the distillation if the lab has adequate equipment. The flower is easy to grow, and we have the tree here now. Growing kerif flowers would be possible near the tree. I’m not much of an alchemist, but I'm competent on the creation of a few compounds.>>

<<You can teach them what they need to know.>>

While the mental conversation is going on, Alistair continues a light oral conversation for Darben’s benefit. “It is likely that in a few years we will ask Lord Silverleaves if he would be willing to take you on as a student.”

“A great elf might take me on for learning?”

“Yes, your arts will be of an appropriate school for him to work with you. You will meet a variety of elves while you are here. Eldar and high elves and wood elves, and some other varieties.”
[End Session 143]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 144 (May 10, 2022)

6 O-Tar (Evening)
They prepare to head to the party at the Zorplona-Moriquendarim embassy. Dame Brionna decides to set up in the sewers outside, to cover an escape route if necessary.

Alistair and the Empress are both dressed formally, in deliberately somewhat ostentatious clothes and wearing any appropriate Noldar items. Kit and the Baroness, for their parts, are dressed scandalously and fabulously. Lord Davion is in formal dress armor, with his guild colors, and the sigils of House Aufaulgautharim.

They are met by a short, slight Twilight Elf lady, with no guild signs, who is hosting the party: Lady Moritur. She is, functionally, the foreign minister for Zorplona-Moriquendarim.

There is a fabulous chocolate centerpiece, with chocolate fountains. One of the servants (all of whom are Drow in cadet house colors) explains that it was made by Lord Moriquendarim’s personal chocolatier, a master chocolatier hobbit. Kit expresses her unreserved admiration, while telling Dame Brionna and Alistair over the mindlink that they simply must find a master chocolatier of their own.

The Twilight Elf engages in smalltalk with the Emperor and Empress for precisely fifteen minutes, and then immediately launches into serious discussions. During the preliminaries, Lord Davion observes mentally that she appears to be entirely non-psionic--almost unheard of among Twilight Elves--and possibly obdurate, unable to be affected by psionics.

"My lord wished to reassure you that the House of Moriquendarim in Region 6 have eschewed the practice of slavery and have moved entirely to a non-slave-based economic model."

"We are most grateful to have learned that. We have been aware of that, and watched with a great deal of pleasure your progress. We are glad that this can facilitate a positive relationship between our peoples and our kingdoms."

"We have the greatest of hope for both a political and trade relationship with the Empire. But we also feel it obligatory to inform you that four of the five apprentices formerly serving Alvinus, who fell into shadow following, or perhaps preceding, his master Quinliart, have slipped the noose. We are not entirely certain where they are."

"We would appreciate if you would be willing to share a dossier on each of them."

"I've had those prepared. To whom should I have them delivered, Your Majesty?"

"To my chief of security, Dame Brionna, the captain of the Imperial Guard."

"Very well, Your Majesty, I will have them delivered to her at the palace on the morrow."

"That would be perfect unless you feel that they must be delivered into the hands of someone who is present currently. I suppose you could deliver them to the Imperial Champion."

She pauses slightly at that prospect, clearly not wishing to have any interaction with Lord Davion that she can avoid. "We do not think they are dangers here yet, but we are moderately certain that three of them have departed the City of Enclaves. The fourth is still there. He has made repeated strikes, and he is very good at evading the responses. But we believe three of the four have escaped. One of them we managed to kill, but they recovered the body and were able to resurrect it. The fifth we did kill, and it remains dead."

"Are you certain? We have discovered that the enemy is capable of bringing back members of its forces that are known to have been slain. We believe that they maintain clones of various of them in a state of readiness."

She stops in consternation. "Clones?"

Alistair holds up a hand. "We don't know for certain. But what we do know is that, for example, the sister of... shall we say the former head of your Enclave?--was without doubt slain by the Princess Curinirim, and yet she without doubt lives on in Hanal City."

"That is disturbing."

"Likewise, there is an ancient Twilight Elf who betrayed your people to the greatest enemies ages ago, for which he was put to death by the Aufaulgautharim, and his remains interred. And he, too, has been seen, and Lord Davion was able to vouch that it was precisely the same person with precisely the same signature, having fought him more than once."

She glances at Lord Davion, who gives a curt nod without deigning to meet her eye.

"I would respect his judgment. The one we think we slew is the one we have been calling the hand, my lord. We believe it is possible that there is a small cult among the Shadow Elves. We've not determined exactly how to investigate that since they are in the City of the Screaming Dead, and we are here. My Lord Proconsul's father is occupied with the great council that meets even now due to the disappearance of Anatar. Your words and your information are welcome, and with that, we cannot be sure that either of them are truly dead. More precisely, we are sure that the fourth came back. We have seen no sign of the fifth, but that may not mean anything."

"If they are clones, then we believe that it would take them something on the order of a century to grow a new clone to maturity. But of course, that presumes that they only have one clone at a time which we cannot verify."

"I will certainly pass this on to the Lord Seneschal to be given to the Lord Proconsul when I return, if I may."

"I have brought a letter with various forms of intelligence against these enemies that we have been able to gather. It does not speak to our intentions, for reasons of operational security, but it shares things of which we are aware. If you would see that it reaches the Lord Proconsul, and deliver with it this message:" Alistair shifts into Noldor language, and says an appropriate greeting of respect as between quasi-equals, but from far off places.

She bows deeply.

The rest of the evening is spent with excellent music and snacks, though nothing made with any form of meat, and the chocolate fountain. They only do one of the formal Noldor dances, which is just as well because the Noldor are the only ones who can dance those--Lord Davion stands alone on the floor. But it's kind of a required opening to any dancing, and once they've completed that the dancing will get much more modern and appropriate to humans.

At some appropriate point, Alistair asks his host if it would be appropriate for him to play and sing a brief piece.

That actually stuns some of the drow, though they hide it very well.

After they supply him with an appropriate lap harp, Alistair plays his song for Kit, because in a psionically aware society the musical effects will be impressive.

Many of the elves present are clearly impressed, though of course not Lady Moritur herself. Kit, however, notes finger signals in the battle speech of the House of Moriquendarim flash over with them, informing her of the psionics. Kit realizes that she has aides who fill the role of translating psionic information for her when necessary.

Eventually, the night winds down after an actually very pleasant evening--though notably less pleasant for Dame Brionna, who spends the whole time waiting in the sewers just in case. At least she feels like she's doing her duty, and her staff agree but think a shower upon returning would also be part of her duty. They're used to this sort of thing by now.

Lady Moritur closes the evening. "It is a great honor that you have done us by attending the fete, and I am pleased to have been able to make your acquaintances, Your Majesties. I hope you have enjoyed our poor attempt at hospitality. Thank you for the beautiful music that you played, and the light heartedness that you have brought to this gathering."

"Thank you for hosting us. It was quite diverting to be able to turn aside from matters of state, and to engage in an evening of enjoyment."

"It was indeed. I wish I had been able to stop worrying about the ancient enemy and actually enjoy an evening far from my station."

Lady Moritur also quietly conveys that the ambassador, who they met briefly during the evening and engaged in smalltalk with, replaced the one who was killed here because his wife was killed at the same time by a similar assassin. She moved him here because he didn't want to be where he had been anymore.

Kit makes a point of getting the name of the halfling chocolatier from a servant, so she can hire one of their friends for the court.

At the end of the evening, they return to the palace.
[cont'd]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
[Session 144, cont'd]

7 O-Tar
The next morning, they all gather, perhaps somewhat later than usual, in the council chambers. They each have missives with them.

"Who would like to go first?" asks Alistair.

"Mine is probably pretty low priority," replies Dame Brionna.

"Oh, I was about to say, mine is not terribly urgent," replies Kit.

"So now we're arguing over whose message is the least not urgent?" asks Alistair, to chuckles from the rest of the Council. "Well, we have all gotten a message from the Southlands, so that might be a worthwhile place to start. It's a message from the unified mission of the Sisters of the Silvery Veil and the Temple of Gunnora in the Southlands. [Attached]

"They continue seeing no signs of the Cult of the Ram. They have also laid out suggested borders for 5 to 7 great holdings, with 5 to 10 lesser holdings within each one, which would mean something like 5 to 7 dukes, or similar ranked nobles, of which there are 2 possible ones from the older regime, and a minimum of 25 lesser nobles with comital, baronial, and maybe sheriff titles, of which there are about 5 survivors plus some knights that can be elevated. So that could be as few as 5 to 7 high nobles and 25 lesser nobles, or as many as about 70 lesser nobles.

"New seed stock is needed for the following year. Food is holding out, and the Seachen delivered significant numbers of cattle and grain yet took no payment. The Seachen said that children should not be malnourished even if they were male. The cattle were probably intended for butchering, but there's so little livestock that they're really just desperately continuing to raise them to try to rebuild herds.

"Their position nearest the Skaven lands continues to see traffic of injured and even dying Skaven, showing up in small numbers, requesting healing. And of course they ministered to them, and spoken to them of deities other than theirs, and many of them seem receptive. What's more concerning is that young child ratlings have shown up in not a stream exactly, but a robust trickle, injured, malnourished, and alone, in twos or threes, or in a few cases small ones carrying even smaller ones. Thus far they've taken them in, established bedding space for them, delousing them, feeding them, teaching the Scriptures, and how to clean themselves. They are wondering if it's different with Skaven--whether they should be putting them down, because that's what their own people would do.

"So it's very obvious, I think, that we should endorse what they are doing and encourage them further," sums up Alistair, to uniform agreement.

Kit adds, "We should reach out to the Skaven scribe-turned-minor-vassal."

"Yes, because both we need to make sure that they're not turning out weak children, and also they may be suitable to help with this process and with keeping all this going smoothly. Let's have a human Farsensor set up a link with that Skaven wizard-lord."

* * *

<<Your Majesty, I see you before me as if you were here indeed!>>

<<We have people amongst us who have skills with the arts of the mind that can allow them to do that. Do your people have such things?>>

<<There are spells that are used by some of the greatest of the Scree. But no, nothing of the mind.>>

<<We wish to speak with you about some matters that were being reported to us by the Order of the Silvery Veil and the midwives of Gunnora. They report that there are a meaningful number, not a huge number, but a meaningful number, of young Skaven children coming to them, begging for support and succor, frequently badly malnourished and sometimes injured and in danger of death. We wanted to speak with you both to make clear our attitude about such things, and to investigate what you can tell us about how these things are faring, and what we should be aware of, and whether we would risk conflict with the Great Clans. As I'm sure you understand, we do not believe that it is acceptable to abandon children, or to leave them unfed, or to put them to death; and we know that that is contrary to the traditions of other clans. But we expect that any Skaven that are among our people will abide by the strictures of the Church and the Light and the teachings of the midwives of Gunnora.>>

<<We do not put down the weak, nor do the Scree put down the weak-- they find use for them. Some become mighty sorcerors, others become alchemists, some become experimenters. There are skills that do not require strong muscles or great teeth or sharp claws. Among Clan Moldur, Clan Esshen, many are born still-- many, many, many. They kill none that are born because so few are.>>

<<Do you know why they have such problems?>>

<<Too much warpstone too near the shes. Warpstone gives them great power, great power indeed, but also dangerous. No gift that comes from the Horned Rat is not with two edges, as opposed to the gifts from Glordiadel, which shine and provide a bright future for all. We see this. Among the plague monks, the weak die. They die, but not because they are put to death. But the warlord, the warlord clans, common, common common, any that are not strong, any that cannot do work, or become gutterrunners, or add to clan, broken, broken. Watch for the warlord clans. Less warpstone. Great Clans have much more warpstone. Scree, handle well. Moldor, Esshen poorly. Warlord, take warpstone when they can, Great Clans kill if can. If warlord clan gets warpstone, harms babies before they're born. Sometimes seed inside, careful, careful, careful, careful, not their doing, but inside.>>

<<We are familiar with taint, and we can sometimes remove it without harming its bearers.>>

<<These children, these little will not know the teachings at all of the Horned Rat. Not know warfare, not know pain, fleeing, will be loyal to you.>>

<<Would you wish them to become part of your clan? Or would it make more sense for them to stay with the other orphans in the Silvery Veil's care.>>

<<If you send them to clan, clan is stronger. Clan gains more members. Call on clan, more strength. Keep them with orphans, and they will just know themselves as people following Glordiadel-- no memories over here of what came before. Memories here, no matter what I do. Which you want up to you.>>

<<It sounds like it probably makes sense to send some in each direction, depending on the circumstances and their desires and propensities.>>

<<Older ones... Perhaps they keep young ones, they remember nothing. But older ones, come to clan. What think, Great One?>>

<<I think that makes sense, while trying to also respect their relations among themselves. If there are younger siblings or the like, I would not want to split them up.>>

<<Depends on batch. Birthing batch? Do not know right term.>>

<<Birthing group is probably a good term for that. There are other terms but they're mostly used for animals, and of course you're people.>>

<<Birthing group. Yes, they will learn well.>>

Kit interrupts. "You need to cut it off soon--the Farsensor can't take much more."

<<We thank you for your useful perspective, and, as I said, some of them will likely come to your clan, and in the days to come, I hope that you and your own family prosper."

<<In spring, we seed. We grow food.>>

<<Excellent. With that, we must leave you.>>

Kit has called for tea and blankets and all of the usual doing-Farsensing-too-long things.

"My apologies about that Farsensor, and thank you, Kit, for handling that."

"Thank you, my lady. Thank you, Your Majesty. Think nothing of it, Your Majesty."

"We have experience dealing with that and we're sorry we let it go that long. Thank you for your duty."

They also send a message back to the abbess, and the "very useful midwife" and give them instructions consistent with that conversation including making sure that they screen them for taint and that if they find ones with taint, that they then need to ideally have them sent to a place where there's redaction available to try to handle it. But if it's too far in progress that there's nothing else they can do, then they should seek out one of the militant orders, and have them gently take care of it.

"I'm not saying that's what we want--there are children involved-- but if a redactor of sufficient skill is not available, the best that we can do is to attend to their soul and then protect those around them."

They also work on finding nobles to fill those various positions, and on sending some of the younger adepts from the Ministry of the Mind to develop some experience handling the matters. They don't have many redactors, but they have some.

"The other thing I wanted to mention amongst ourselves is that I suspect that we want to at least among the nobles who have not previously had such titles in the South Kingdoms, that for the high nobles that we probably want to start them off as marquesses or the like, so that it doesn't create awkwardness with the ducal families that already exist and have for many years."

"Yes," responds Dame Brionna, "and of course, that leaves open the possibility of progressing them as they establish themselves, and prove their loyalty, and so forth."

"I think that will avoid, for example, offending the Duke of Brightspan."

"The flipside is that since his second son is likely to be one of those marquesses that cuts a little both ways."

"Yes, but the Duke of Brightspan will also recognize why we're doing it the way we're doing it. He may be unhappy, but he'll understand, and that will already be advancing his son from I believe we created him an earl previously. And let's face it, if there's anyone who will understand the idea of 'Hmm. We're accumulating more power, and that's good for the family in the long run, I should accept this with grace,' it's him."

[cont'd]
 

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CPaladin

Explorer
[Session 144, cont'd]
Dame Brionna goes next. "I received an unexpected message today about some more visitors." [Attached.]

"Who are we getting this time?"

"I'm not totally sure. The message is from Captain Maladrus Longhammer of the Expeditionary Force of the Isles, and he says he is traveling to the People of the Feet. He says that he intends to present himself to your court, and is bringing with me not only regiments of bear-riders, but also a mighty healer accompanying a tragically ill young princess, whose name he is not permitted to reveal until he stands within the court."

"I guess we're getting a fairy tale to deal with..." comments Kit.

"The Empire of the Isles is another term for the Empire of the North," comments Alistair. "That also at least somewhat explains the bear-riders. I think the name of the captain is dwarven. Can't say I've ever heard of this Expeditionary Force, however."

Kit summons her secretary. "Do you know anything about the Expeditionary Force of the Isles?"

"Ah, yes, honored one. They were an old, well-established, mercenary group, famed for never leaving a charge and never refusing a quest on behalf of their employers once they are hired. Oh, and they're known for their bear-riders."

"They're on their way here now."

"Whatever for?" asks her secretary.

"They have a quest--a tragically ill princess whose name they are not allowed to speak until they are in our presence."

"Ah, that does sound like them. We've never been able to get a toe in there."

"Are we right that they are dwarves?"

"Yes. This mission is the type of thing they've been taking on ever since their particularly small mountain kingdom fell apart. They became mercenaries. They're not quite all from the ancient kingdom--here or there they'll take along a young warrior seeking to make their fortune in the world."

"How long ago did their kingdom fall apart?"

"Perhaps 500 years? They were never a large tribe. They had at most maybe 5,000 dwarves at one time, and then eventually there was a disagreement between two brothers as to who should inherit the kingdom. One brother remained on the throne for 40 or 50 years, and then they were absolutely crushed by orks and trolls. The other brother had taken his people abroad, and his people remain the Expeditionary Force of the Isles, who were their first employers."

"Impressive that they remain a going organization 500 years later."

"We do know that there are some dwarven women that are attached to them that have homes in the Empire of the North. The group is slowly shrinking, but it maintains its honor, and occasionally it attracts a new dwarf."

"Only dwarves?" asks Kit.

"I think they would take anyone but let's be honest, elves were not going to join them."

"Right, I'm thinking about if it's possible for us to get a person in there. The Body doesn't have many dwarves around, but if they'll take humans, we've got plenty of those who can fight."

"Indeed. They have had humans before--they have to be able to ride a bear, though; we'll see what we can do. No one but dwarves are allowed to be artillerists."

"What sort of artillery do they have?

"A contingent of powerbows. Only dwarfs are allowed the secret of using them and building them. They're very strict about that. Everybody now knows how to build and use powerbows, but that wasn't always true, and they have their rules, and they're not going to change their rules just because they don't make sense anymore."

"More importantly for all that they say they have a powerful healer coming with them, the healer has not, in fact, been able to heal their tragically ill princess."

"I was thinking that it was likely that they had skilled mundane and clerical healers, but that they did not have redactors," mentions Alistair. "Presumably they are traveling here in part because they're hoping for healing aid, and I'm wondering if we should send someone to help them along their way."

"We're not putting bears on a voller," says Dame Brionna sternly.

"I'm not saying that necessarily. Putting the princess and the healer, at least, on a voller might not be a bad thing if the commander was willing. I assume they're coming by sea, at least much of the way."

"Why? Dwarves and bears on the sea doesn't sound too likely."

"But they're coming to the People of the Feet. That's midway up the coast, so they're likely either sailing there from the Empire of the North, or from one of the other continents--it would be the first landfall if you were trying to get to Canberry from Khamista or Zest'qua."

"Maybe we could use this information to scry on the leader?" suggests Kit. "Grandmaster Farsensor is still in skin, so he can't do it, but I might be able to, now that I'm no longer pregnant."

"Alright, but we'll watch you carefully and make you stop if you start icing up."

Kit focuses on the details she knows about the leader--she knows his name, his origins, something of his personality, and some of the people around him. [She then rolls a natural 20.]

She sees three ships cleaving through gray waters, because it's winter and they are further north. All three of the ships have three masts and look like they are triremes that have shipped their oars. As her view zooms in, she sees what passes for a tall dwarf--he's easily four foot two, and leaning on a huge hammer near the captain of the ship, who is human, on the aftcastle of the ship. On the body of the main deck, she can see a group of human paladins, all of them dressed identically in pure white over their armor, around a bier. She can see nothing on the bier--only just a gray void. The princess is obviously shielded from her.

Kit focuses in closer, looking to see if there are holy symbols on the paladins. She can see that each of them has an upward pointing white arrow against the background of their whitened armor. They look like they're in parade stance and have been for a long time. She tries to sense how far away they are, and estimates between 330 and 1670 miles. She also notes that the dwarves have sunbursts all over them--but then, they live in a Glordiadelian realm.

Kit suddenly recognizes that behind the bier, standing just in front of the wall of the aftcastle, there is a tall, rigidly erect man standing. His white beard is blowing, and he is also dressed entirely in white and leaning on a staff. It looks like he's been repeatedly bloody, but he stands very calmly, occasionally moving the prayer beads in his left hand. She wonders if he is the powerful healer, taking injuries onto himself. As she watches, she sees new wounds suddenly open on him out of nowhere, slamming him back into the wall behind him. He takes a deep breath and continues to pray the beads.

Kit breaks the link, just us the sweat on her brow is starting to freeze. She describes what she saw.

Alistair says, "That's between 10 and 50 days out."

"They said they'd be here in a month, Your Majesty," notes Dame Brionna.

"Between ten and thirty days then, I suppose. We'll of course send someone to meet them at the nearest port."

Dame Brionna notes, "It does occur to me that a tragically ill princess is precisely the sort of of thing I would concoct if I were trying to get inside the wards of the Palace of Canberry at this point. We have somewhat of a reputation, I suspect, for taking in people in need, and I'm glad we do."

"Yes, but your point is well taken. So even more argument for someone meeting them when they land. Let's see if we can think of who a Sytryite princess might be. That could be from either southern Khamista or northern Zest'qua, if they were making for the People of the Feet. More likely southern Khamista, I would think--there are only a handful of major Sytryan realms."

Kit asks her secretary, who replies, "There are only a handful, my lady. We don't have toes per se in any of them. But what do you need to know about them?"

"Who has a princess who's recently been ill and injured, with the injuries getting worse."

"I wonder if you're speaking of the cursed princess..."

"Oh, probably, probably, tell me more."

"I'm unaware of exactly which of the few Sytryan kingdoms it was from, but I believe that it was during the period of occupation of Ko-Re-Pek. The Temple of Sytry has been making trouble in recent years. They've invaded several countries by force, and that short of thing makes enemies. In one particular case, they set up a young princess to rule over Ko-Re-Pek when they captured it and the fiction that they'd created to justify capturing it was in some way less of a fiction."

"What was going on there?"

"They believed or said they believed that there was a great evil dwelling in Ko-Re-Pek. They tried and executed many of the former nobility of Ko-Re-Pek that they had captured for heresy. The princesses had nothing to do with that. She was quite young, little more than a child, and a figurehead. But it turned out that one of the people they captured was a powerful witch of some sort, and cursed their ruler, which, in my opinion, begging your pardon, my lady, should have settled on the patriarch, but it didn't. It went direct to the child--probably proximity. The other Sytryites pledged that they would never permit her to die from the curse, and that they would find a way to see her healed, but of course, orthodox Sytryan doctrine is not my speciality, might be more of Dame Brionna's, but I do know enough to tell you that they're not permitted to resurrect. So they can't simply allow her to die and then bring her back. None of their people can be trained redactors. It's forbidden."

"Why would they forbid redaction if they permit other guilds?"

"I believe only power that they trace to Sytry is permitted to heal."

"So they let this girl suffer for... how long?"

"Oh, by now it's been close to two years."

"The other thing is that they started off with a fiction in terms of seizing power there. Any true Sytryites, for lack of a better term, would uphold the truth above all."

"I have a sneaking suspicion. It is known that the the child was ultimately taken by a bishop who has been declared anathema by the temple."

"Anathematized by the current patriarch, or the prior one?" interjects Alistair.

"The prior. Their doctrine is clear. He is supposed to be preserving her from death with the natural healing power. For Sytry will not cure by taking the damage on himself; that is anathema in the Temple of Sytry. They never have enough talent, and their Knights of Truth die due to things like this, in my opinion, my lady. So if they're coming our way, it could just be that they finally know that there is a place where they can go for redaction, and the place that has the reputation for sorting out trouble in the Sytryan Temple, which they may be fleeing from."

"The bishop uses a particular form of prayer in which he accepts wounds from the faithful. Since he's not young, he can't take this for much longer. So that may be why they've contacted us now."

"I firmly believe that Glordiadel is the far more reasonable, decent, caring Church of the Light than Sytry, and this is one of the things that convinced me of it," says Kit's secretary. "But I fear that's all I know."

"Thank you. May his light shine gently upon you and warm you in the times of darkness."

"Thank you, my lady."

After he departs, they discuss the problem. They have three human redactors, none higher than master level, one of whom is the Minister of the Mind.

"We're not sending the Minister of the Mind," says Alistair. "But we actually do have one Grandmaster Redactor, but with traits that might upset the Sytryans. That is Lady Filovana Arumgil, formerly in service to Lady Amerie Aufaulgautharim. She is probably still in mourning--almost certainly, in fact--but she is loyal to us, and a grandmaster redactor, and a shadow elf. So we can send one of the human redactors to meet them, and at least relieve the poor bishop..."

"Maybe 'the poor bishop,'" says Dame Brionna. "I'm not saying that this may not all be genuine, but I am saying that there's lots of reasons to wonder whether or not these are the corrupted Sytryans."

"No, you're not wrong, and I'd be willing to bet there's at least one corrupt person in there, but there's good reason to think the corrupted ones are their enemies. The reason I asked about which patriarch is that the current patriarch is both non-corrupted and kinder than the previous one who cast out this bishop."

"But this bishop is the one who invaded a kingdom and executed large numbers of people."

"But where there was apparently actually something wrong. I'm not defending Sytryites' methods or willingness to inflict random harm, but they may have done this because they knew that there was a reason to."

"It's true, but we also have seen their pattern repeatedly elsewhere."

"It also worries me significantly, that this curse meant to land on the ruler landed on the child."

"But the high religious officials would be protected by Sytry, and it may be as simple as that," says Kit.

"But it might also be that she has a piece of the Blue Star in her."

"Certainly that's another reason to ultimately want Lady Filovana to attend to it, because, in addition to being a Grandmaster Redactor, she is also a Master Coercer."

"And if there is, that's a reason to be a little worried about risking one of our human master redactors."

"I would normally agree, Kit, but I think it would be too perilous to the situation to send a shadow elf without our being there to manage that interaction."

"I agree. Lady Filovana cannot be our first contact with them."

"Another potential approach," suggests Dame Brionna. "If we can open up a direct line of communication to Longhammer, then we can get some more information about what's going on that he might have seen, something suspicious, without understanding what it was. Maybe then we could get a better handle on whether there are any corrupted people? He has eyes on her where we don't. Also, what's preventing him from saying the name of the princess in question? That now reads as substantially more suspicious to me. We must protect her identity, that's perhaps one thing. But why would they not want us to know everything we could about her, so that we could help her most accurately?"

"It's strange that the that Kit's secretary referred to her as the cursed princess and not as the cursed Princess So-and-So."

They call for the secretary and ask. "Her name, my lady, is Priscilla of Arsdale. It's a minor kingdom on Khamista. I don't honestly think they should have given her the title."

With the name, Alistair is finally able to remember more about her. She's quite young, certainly no more than 12 or 13 at this point, and younger when she was put in as a figurehead. Her family is a small principality that is in direct service to the Holy See of Sytry, the Twin Cities of Parton. They use very grandiose titles. Her family has been loyal to Sytry and to Gunnora together since they entered this plane. They are for Sytryites successful, though by no stretch of the imagination would anyone can accuse them of being wealthy.

They do produce a lot of Knights of Truth from among the humans. The hobbits of Arsdale almost universally worship Gunnora.

They develop a plan: they will contact Longhammer and ask if it would be acceptable to teleport some people out to assist until they can arrive. If he agrees, they'll send a priest of Glordiadel, from one of Dame Brionna's investigative squads, with the rest of that squad. They'll also send an assistant, who is in fact a human master redactor, but not advertising that, who will try to stabilize her and keep her alive while the rest of the squad investigates and sees if they can find anything out.

They ask Bishop Waters to make the sending, after explaining the situation. He sends: <<I'm Bishop Waters, Chaplain to the Emperor; do you need healing assistance before you arrive? Can you give current location? Wish to ensure safe arrival.>>

After a moment, he receives back: <<Majesty, Bishop Percival failing. Help appreciated. Spirits pursue from Great Basin, Khamista. Three attacks. She worsens each. Six days northeast Feet People.>>

Bishop Waters sends again: <<Will teleport in healer. Describe spirits more? Any wards we need to know about or dangers healers would face?>>

<<Spirits for curse from Ko-Re-Pek. Seek her name. Sought help Streams End/Great Basin, shared name, spirits came 3 Knights fell. Hired us, fled there...>>

It seems like he was interrupted mid thought, so Bishop Waters sends simply, <<Say more?>>

<<coming you. Wounds open more each time. She dying. Bishop failing. Spirits consume. Bizarre. Must not find us again.>>

They explain the plan to the Minister of the Mind. He does not recognize a curse of the form where her name summons spirits, but suggests that that sounds like the Eldritch, and that redaction would be able to close her wounds more cleanly and draw out taint if it is there. They also explain that while the Sytryites on the ship may be opposed to redaction, they may be more devoted to their oath to keep her alive than to ordinary temple doctrine, which he agrees can happen with the current split in their faith in particular.

A guard rushes in. "Captain! The wards were tested by something a few minutes ago. They flared, and the guards at the front gate said they heard hideous screams immediately after they flared."

By the time he finishes speaking, Dame Brionna is already out of the room, rushing to her steed to get an aerial view of what's going on. She suspects that their having mentioned the princess's name summoned some of the spirits.

She can find no signs of the spirits still present--the wards were apparently very effective--but there are outlines of blackened soot in basically human shape, but larger than a human, at the front gates. She talks to one of her people in the towers near the front gate.

"Dame." The guard braces to attention.

"What were the attackers?"

"These two voids suddenly appeared and rushed the gate. That's all I can describe them as. They looked like big people, but they were just an outline, and they were empty."

"Anything glowing or blue in them?"

"There was a blue glow, yes, but that was all. There was no body. They rushed the gate and made this horrific noise and there was a flash, and they were gone, except I mean gone like they hadn't really been there. I was hoping somebody would come along that I could report to."

Dame Brionna sends one of her squads to investigate, and they find mild taint on the cobblestones. She has them pry up the cobblestones and move them away for purification, replacing them with clean ones. A psion also performs an object reading, and senses "Hunger, incredible, unending hunger, hatred, hatred in hunger, anger, seeking her, must destroy the wards enough to enter, must enter, then nothing. That's all that is revealed to me, Dame."

They discuss possibly repeating the princess's name to distract the spirits and draw them away from her, but they don't want to weaken the palace's wards by repeatedly testing them, and saying her name in a place that's not heavily warded might endanger her further. They also discuss whether they could free her of the curse by renaming her, but the only clear way to do that that they think would have magical effect would be for her to enter holy orders, and that would create problems of its own.

A knock on the council chamber door is quickly followed by Dame Agatha entering. "The Coven believes that something powerful, and from none of the normal hierarchies, hit our walls, and then perished as far as we can tell."

"We were just going to consult you and your mentor." They explain the situation, and ask about the idea of repeatedly saying her name to draw spirits away and weaken the curse.

She thinks that should work--the Eldritch spirits of consumption must attack to weaken her. And eventually, the curse would run out of energy. "Actually, it was incredibly clumsy that they attach themselves to her name. Somebody must have been in a hurry when they cast the curse."

"We believe that it was someone who was in the process of being killed for their awfulness."

They also discuss the idea of changing her name--it could be done with a formal religious ceremony, but it would have to be done in truth and for all purposes--if it were merely faked, it would not work. And if it required changing her house name or title, she might need to give up all claims to inheritance--they don't know what parts of her name the curse is linked to.

"Generally, there will be a physical point on her that the curse is attached to as well. A lock of white hair, a freckle, a scar. If you change that, it will generally cause the spirits to be lost and return to their own plane. I do not know these particular spirits, but that would be the first step."

"Would the specific mark detect as having the Eldritch about it?"

"If it is of their ilk, then yes."

"We're fairly sure it is Eldritch. So one of our team's first priorities will be finding and removing it. Would it be useful, after removing it, to move it elsewhere or simply destroy it?"

"Were it me--I admit I have a certain streak--I would move it elsewhere to some place that it harmed them to go. For example, some holy place to the Lord of Light that is sanctified but no longer in use, orto the Holy See of Paranswarm, where the tremendous numbers of pit fiends and other servant devils would surely be able to take care of these spirits, particularly if you placed it in the central tower of the Society of the Hands of Hell."

"We could ask them if they could do us a favor."

"I feel certain that the heads of the Society would not object to practice for them."

They make arrangements with the Society, and they quickly get a report back from the team they sent: they have found a large blue birthmark. They confirm with the Knights of Truth that they had never seen that before, though they are not primarily focused on observing her, but on protecting her from outside threats and on serving the True Patriarch. The schism within the Temple of Sytry is clearly becoming more severe, to which the Council both thinks better them than us and unfortunately, that will make problems that they will need to sort out.

The team cuts out the birthmark, and one of Dame Agatha's imps dashes across the deck, grabs it, and turns invisible as it flees too fast for any of the Knights of Truth to react, though they are amazed and confused by its presence--surely part of the curse. It transports it to the tower of the Society, to try to trace the origin of the curse and whether its originator still lives. The imp will also repeat her name over and over again, drawing the spirits in to the Holy See of Paranswarm and their destruction.

* * *
Kit finally provides a brief summary of her message discussing potential problems in the Utolian city-states as refugees stream south from Hanal. [Attached] Since the Utolian city-states are Glordiadelian, they reach out through the Church to provide aid and attempt to stabilize the situation.
[End Session 144]
 

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CPaladin

Explorer
Session 145 (July 6, 2022)

7 O-Tar (cont’d)
Dame Agatha approaches Kit. “All contracts come to an end. The end of my mistress’s contract draws near.”

“I’m so sorry. What can we do?”

“We have arranged for a propitious astrological condition for her passing. She will pass on the night of the coming festival. But I approach you for a more delicate reason. At the time of her passing, someone of status must transfer her rings to me. Otherwise, those bindings will be lost to us, and they have been useful to the Empire for some time.”

“Are you asking me to find someone, or to be that someone?”

“You are a ranking member of the Imperial Council. It will be unpleasant. You will receive the rings from her, and convey them to a magic circle where they can be claimed by me. I have my own rings, but her devils are of considerably greater power. That will not give them any opportunity to break free. And the pain of her passing will be considerable. They will be angry about the circumstances of her passing, astrologically, and they will seek to take it out on you. She did not start training a replacement until late in her life.

"I did not wish to approach you near the child. Our aura is not the best until they're a bit older than that."

"Yes, he does get a little cranky."

"And for good reason. I would get a little cranky with me, too."

"And I'm sorry if he has tossed out any thoughts at you. Having a powerful psion infant is a new experience for all of us."

"Yes. I do hope that the Emperor will continue to keep the covenant in his service. We have been useful, and I believe we will be again."

"You have. Your knowledge and your service are both invaluable to the entire Empire. I will have to tell the Emperor about this, and Dame Brionna.”

***
Kit informs Dame Brionna, who insists that she should not sign anything.

Alistair plans on standing vigil while Dame Constance passes, and to play a song of solace for her.

Dame Agatha says that she can prepare another magic circle, somewhat farther away, to enable this.

* * *
At 7 in the evening, a page slips in to inform Dame Brionna of a messenger.

“Who from?”

“I believe the Temple of Paranswarm. They are dressed entirely in black except for a white sash.”

Dame Brionna recognizes that as a sign of Paranswarmian mourning, and asks that he be shown in. The messenger is a high-ranking cleric in the hierarchy of Paranswarm, clearly exhausted at the end of a very long day but still attending to vital matters.

“I have come from the chambers of the Council to inform you as a great ally of the Ecumenical Council that the Archbaroness of Mandrath, Protector of the Faith and until recently acting Regent of the Archduchy of Ergmoth, has passed. I can only share the details with your liege.”

Dame Brionna immediately goes to inform Alistair and Kit. Dame Brionna is uncertain about the Archbaroness's exact status, so Alistair explains: "She succeeded the Grand Duchess Sharra as Protector of the Faith and acted as regent for Sharra's child. I don't know why she's no longer regent--the heir may have come of age, I don't know." Alistair then says to Dame Brionna, "Have him await me in one of the audience chambers. Inquire of the Empress whether she wishes to to join us."

He then changes into black silk appropriate mourning clothes by Canberran standards and then slashes the clothes with a knife as a sign of additional respect.

As he gets ready, Kit asks, "Should I be in my usual place, invisible offstage, or be there with like a black sash across my uniform?"

"Present and visible, I think. That seems best."

The Empress joins Alistair in an antechamber, also in hastily donned muorning garb that her lady-in-waiting has carefully slashed as well.

They enter, and the messenger does a grand incline. “Your Imperial Majesties, I bear grave tidings from Khamista and from the First Mouth. The Archbaroness of Mandrath has passed, during the ceremony that was investing her formally as Regent for the Archduchy of Ergmoth until the heir to Archduchy comes of age. That is not the worst news. There was an assault during the ceremony. The heir has been kidnapped, and her grandchild was slain during the ceremony. Investigations continue as to how they gained entrance to the royal chapel. She did not die during the assault, but it appears her heart gave out after she received word of her grandson's fate. The First Mouth has declared 13 days of mourning. The Archbaroness’s daughter—the mother of the slain grandchild—has taken the position of acting Archbaroness. It is not clear what will happen to the Archduchy of Ergmoth or to the protection of the Holy See within it. As a ranking member of the Ecumenical Council and Protector of the Light, the First Mouth wished that we inform you immediately and directly."

"We appreciate this, and we shed our tears with those of the Weeping Woman for the losses that you have endured."

"We believe the boy is still alive. However, we have not had any success at divining his location."

"If I may, have you applied substantial psionic resources to that?"

"Yes, the Society continues to work on the task as we speak."

"Are there at least Grand Master level Farsensors participating?"

"Yes. Only one, but there is one. They are able to trace the boy from the scene to the sea, which indicates a teleportation of some type after he left the palace. The time has not yet been since efficient for them to have reached the sea by horse or even by voller, at least unless the had an elven ship, and we do not believe that any of the elves are involved in this. They have not yet been able to trace where he went beyond the sea."

"I do not wish to overstep; but if it would be desirable for us, on behalf of the Ecumenical Council, to request the assistance of a Paragon Farsensor from either of the great elven houses, we would be willing to do so on behalf of the First Mouth."

"I feel empowered to accept any offers of help you can make. If he is lost and killed, or worse yet at his age, lost and corrupted... Ergmoth is the stabilizing influence in the entire central region of Khamista."

"We have of late encountered evidence that suggests that Ergmoth and Canberry have been deliberately stabilized by the Brothers. Has your Ultimate Lord been informed directly of this? Not simply in the way that ordinary prayers would, but by being addressed by an appropriate member of your hierarchy?"

"The First Mouth has done so."

"Because I believe that that there is a possibility that there would be a response on a theological level, rather than merely a clerical level."

"We can but hope. With your permission, Your Majesty, I wish to speak freely of something that is probably already evident to you given your experience in politics."

"Please."

"The First Mouth's declaration of the maximum possible period of mourning will keep everything quiet for 13 days-- now 12 and a half. He cannot renew it. When that expires, all hell will break loose. That means Ergmoth needs the young Grand Duke to make a formal appearance and show strength."

"Does the Grand Duke have any siblings?"

"Sharra followed the methods of her husband's people, and slew all but the oldest and strongest of the litter. They did not have to time to make younger siblings from other litters--that would have been permitted--but the old Grand Duke died before that could happen. He was old to take such a young bride."

"And then that means that there are also no younger siblings, or nephews or nieces, of her late husband."

"Correct."

"And I assume that he either had no prior children, or that they met with misfortunes ."

"He had never... he was... forgive me, I wonder if it is my place..."

"You have been given permission to speak freely."

"The Grand Duke was were and not controlled. Only Sharra ever managed to bring him to heel. Prior to that, his interests and his lusts did not include the having of children."

"Understood. I know that it is a lesser importance but nonetheless, with regards to the Archbarony of Mandrath, you said that there's a daughter who can succeed, at least for the time being. Does she have other children?"

"She does not. It may be necessary for someone appropriately placed to convince her husband--I tell you, as a member of the clergy, I do not like to speak of these things... He needs to step aside. We are told by our allies among the Gunnorans that he has become incapable over the years of their marriage."

"I will have a conversation with them," replies Alistair. "I promise you that I will tell him, in no uncertain terms, that his choices are to find an acceptable to the temple means to restore his fecundity, of which there may be some and I can propose some possibilities. Or he needs to agree to turn a blind eye to other means of ensuring that there is a proper heir, or he needs to accept that the Archbaroness will dismiss him. If none of these options are acceptable, than we will see to it that he dies."

Through the mind link, Kit says <<We will what now?>>

Alistair doesn't meet her glance, but continues staring at the priest. He glances over at the Empress, who is entirely placidly and assuredly listening to Alistair's declaration.

The priest seems to also understand, but to find this very difficult to consider.

"As I said, I will have this conversation with him personally, when presumably I will travel out for the late Archbaroness's funeral. Any resources that we can offer to secure the child are of course yours for the asking."

"You have already offered us better Farsensors than the Society has, although I ask that you never say to a senior member of the Society that I have said that."

"I must be clear. I can only ask. We have no Paragon Farsensors ourselves. But there are elves of, let's say, at least two senior extractions that we have sufficiently close relationships with that we could inquire."

"Thank you, Your Majesty. If it is acceptable, I would, in fact, seek to pursue this with both of them."

"Is there any history of ill blood between the gnomes of the Larmenon Hills and Ergmoth? Do not mind why I ask. Anything at all?"

"Ergmoth has never been very expansionistic once it's solidified its borders, so no."

"Then there may be another option as well, but we will take that under our own advisory."

"Thank you, Your Majesty. The Temple thanks you."

"I assume that no new Protector has been announced. Is there any plausible candidate?"

Historically, yes. Now... we do not wish to turn to either of the two principal Drucien domains that are part of the Temple, for obvious reason. Emperor Jaziel of Tarsh is so young, but we may have no choice. You're doing very well as Protector of the Light and you're more or less his age. But he's only 19, and he went out in sowed his oats with his best friend from his mid-teens until the death of his father."

"I'm familiar with such things," says Alistair with a smile, realizing the priest doesn't know his own history.

"Perhaps he's a better choice than stodgy clerical types might have been thinking."

"The difference between Tarsh and Canberry is that I can command the unquestioned loyalty of all my vassals, except one who I can command the reliable loyalty of. That is not the case for the Emperor, and he must be in a position to focus on his domestic concerns and not on the concerns of the Temple abroad."

"That leaves us in a position where it is difficult to imagine who we call. We will not call, cannot call the Empress of Masque. The insanity of Masque is well known. The One of the threes would serve willingly, but even the Ones have a tendency toward consensus that cripples them in crisis. The archbaroness's daughter does not wish to find herself even in the position she's already in. In fact, we know for a fact that she intended to bypass herself once her son reached majority. So it gets thin on the ground. We will have to find someone, but if we appoint someone from one of the lesser nations, they won't have the military strength to back themselves. That's the beauty of your declaration as Protector of the Light. You have tremendous strength you can bring to bear. Even the Archbaroness. It's as if someone were picking off our best people."

Dame Brionna interjects, "No, it it is not 'as if' that. That is exactly what is happening." She's pretty sure this priest is quite innocent--he managed to look shocked by that, and she thinks he meant what he said. <<Bless his poor dark little heart,>> she thinks over the mind link.

"Walk me through this," says Alistair. "The Paranswarmian powers on on Zest'qua are all at best second-rate powers."

"Correct. And some of them arguably third-rate, with Caldefor barely able to hold the land it has retaken from the Shadow."

"I believe that leaves only a few possibilities. The Queen-Empress Anastasia is possible, but the state in Hanal cuts in two directions. On the one hand, she is a capable leader and she's currently working hand-in-glove with the Temple to control Hanal, which is the greatest, or at least the most present, threat faced by the Temple of Paranswarm currently. On the other, to be blunt, she controls one hierkovate and perhaps two kovates currently, as I'm sure you are aware. Her court ruling over Hanal is in exile."

"Yes, and the fact that the entirety of her forces as well as the Inquisition troops are there fighting will be one of our greatest concerns when the thirteen days have elapsed. Ecsilias strikes us as too weak, but it is loyal."

"You may have to elevate him temporarily with the expectation of displacing him with Anastasia when she has gained control over enough of Hanal."

"If Ecsilias were elevated, there would have to be a narrative created about the Archbarony as a rising power."

"There is uncontrolled territory near and around Ecsilias, and I can assure you that there would not be concerns raised if Ecsilias were to expand into some of those territories, provided, of course, that they recognized the traditional neutrality and independence of Enclaves. The City of Enclaves, of course, would be beyond their grasp anyway. It is not nothing, but it is not a fully convincing narrative."

"Yes, even mooting about a story that might fool commons as Ecsilias as the rising Paranswarmian power on Drucien would have value. It would not pull the sophisticated, but it is the people we are concerned about, not the nobility."

"If Ecsilias is selected, I would suggest that sometime before that is publicly announced, the Archbaron should claim a loftier title, which then we can have a coordinated acknowledgement of by various other nearby realms that suggests that no one could possibly be the offended by this because it's simply recognizing the reality that Ecsilias has become a grand duchy or some such as it has expanded its borders. This will fool no one serious, and it's possible that this will cause difficulties with places like Korflock or the areas around the Inland Sea. But especially in Khamista, it might create the appearance that Ecsilias is a rising power. If we knew we needed this, we should have done this two years ago, but nothing can be done about that now."

"I will report this to the Council and to the First Mouth as your recommendation. We are a bit at sea; we have relied on the Grand Duchess's advice, and then the Archbaroness's for years. Suddenly being without them..."

"I could also imagine that you might install the Queen-Empress Anastasia, and that she would then appoint the Archbaron to some title like Viceroy of the Darkness--you understand what I mean-- authorized to act on on her behalf while she attends to matters in Hanal. I don't know which of those would display more strength."

"If she were appointed, it might give some pause to commons, and to all who are still bowing their necks to... the usurper who... is not her sister?"

"That would be an advantage, yes. You find that difficult to think here, because you're closer to the locus of the magical curse. You are used to thinking about that from Khamista. It's harder here."

"Much slips away."

"It does. Those effects are much stronger in Hanal itself, except near where the Lady Aufaulgautharim broke those permanently."

"That would perhaps be the better route. I will report it to the Council and the First Mouth as soon as I can."

"Is it your traditions that the funeral will be within the mourning period, or will it be after the mourning period?"

"The last day."

"Very well. And it will be in in Mandrath, I assume."

"Yes, her family have ruled Mandrath for a very long time. She will be buried with her forbears."

"We will attend. We will consult with Her Majesty the Empress as to whether both of us will attend, or whether as I think is more likely, she will remain here to exercise imperial authority while we are abroad."

"Thank you, Your Majesty."

"We will, of course, bring a substantial guard."

* * *
They reach out to Princess Curinirim. A human psion reaches out to make a connection, and then the connection is entirely taken over from the other end. An entire chamber appears around them. It seems to be made out of cut crystal with a pool in the middle, with music rising out of the pool. The Princess Curinirim is seated with a small group of other people, a couple of Twilight Elves and a couple of others. She turns to regard them, and the music fades.

"Your August Highness, I hope you will forgive the intrusion."

"Your Majesty, what can I assist you with?"

"As you may have heard, the heir of the Grand Duchess of Ergmoth has recently been kidnapped, and were he not returned promptly, it could create exceeding difficulties for the stability of Ergmoth, and through Ergmoth, all of Khamista. The Temple of Paranswarm has applied their best Farsensors, who are of the highest quality of human psionics, to attempt to locate him, and they have been able to trace him to the sea but not to identify his location or where he was teleported to, or what's happening to him. We thought that in the interest of acting in harmony with the Ecumenical Council, maintaining stability, and given that this is almost surely a stratagem of the great enemies, that we would see if the Temple of Morgroth and its people might be able to offer rather more capable Farsensing capabilities."

"You're kind to think of it. I am certain that we can assist in locating him--at least, if he's alive."

"Our suspicion is that he still lives, and that they wish to corrupt him; and thus we hope that if we can retrieve him quickly enough that we can ensure that nothing untoward happens that they will fail."

"You have an image of him?"

"We can, of course, obtain one The easiest way would be through the great tower of the Society of the Hands of Hell. We can arrange for them to contact, perhaps, your duty Farsensor?"

"Yes, I will not speak to them directly, but if they give him an image, he can pass it to me."

"And due to the nature of this crisis, we will, of course, also be reaching out to other members of the Ecumenical Council about which the less said, the better."

"Yes, I understand the necessity. Have them reach out to me with an image, and I will pursue this expeditiously."

"It would be greatly advantageous from a political perspective, if he could be recovered within the next 12 days. From a perspective of preserving him from corruption, I do not know whether we have even less time or we have substantially more."

"That depends in part upon how susceptible he is. The shorter, the better."

"Our thanks, Highness."

"Thank you, Your Majesty. I await the image."

"It will be with you shortly."
* * *
They then, of course, go to talk with Lord Silverleaves, the Grandmaster Farsensor. He's still in skin, recovering, so they go to him.

"Visitors! Welcome!"

"Good to see you, Grandmaster. How are you feeling?"

"Better than I was, worse than I hope to be."

"That's about right. It will not be long before this is simply another story of the excitement that happens when you spend time among the young people."

"There's a heaviness about you."

"There is. The heir of the Grand Duchess of Ergmoth has been kidnapped. This would greatly destabilize Khamista, and it's surely a stratagem of the great enemy."

"Indeed, I wonder... Perhaps Paranswarm is the weaker branch on the vine, and they're pursuing its destruction directly."

"Also they have shown an affinity for striking at deities that have some pale, weaker version of their evil about them, and in that regard Paranswarm would be a more likely subsequent target than, for example, Glordiadel."

"Reasonable, reasonable."

"The Grand Duchess's son is still a child, although I believe that he was approaching majority. He was kidnapped from Ergmoth. Apparently they managed to breach the Royal Chapel itself."

"Let's see. Oh, is there any way you can prop me up," he says to the young psion who's trickling energy into him.

"Under the circumstances, I do not think that it is wise that you attempt to investigate this yourself. We believe that they have applied Farsensors of the Grand Master level of capability, albeit merely human Grand Master. I do not mean to suggest that they are as skilled or perceptive as you are, but we wondered if it might be possible to ask if one of the Paragons in the Steading of the Elven Lords or some such place might be willing to assist."

"I can ask."

"I must inform you that there's already been a request made through the Ecumenical Council to another group that could supply a Paragon level Farsensor, and we understand that they have agreed. But I think we can all agree that it would be better, by far, for assistance to be rendered by your people."

"I will speak to the Speaker of the Starcouncil in the Steading of the Elvish Lords and see. The difficulty there is going to be that time does not pass the same within the peace of that wood as it does within Singing Leaves, and regrettably, there can be a certain failure to understand urgency. Let me speak to them, and if I become rather vague for only an hour, it could have been much worse." While the ice still forms around him, it forms about an inch from him.

"That is very nice," comments Kit.

"Oh, I'll teach you how to do that."

"It's probably very helpful."

He suddenly shakes his head, and all the ice crystals fall to the floor. "I've convinced him that it it's urgent. He's going to speak to the Paragon Farsensors. They have a circle of 5 of them over there, if any of them can be convinced to act quickly, it would be a marvelous thing. We will see. I am almost inclined to contact my cousins, but I know better. They are rather better at focusing on things than we are."

"I think that that they should be left to their tasks."

"I assure you, Your Majesty, I will get word to you as soon as I get word. I've learned something about the importance of time being here."

"Indeed, and we greatly appreciate it."

They then make some small talk and so forth, both to avoid being rude and because the Grandmaster is clearly very bored.
[cont'd]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
[Session 145, cont'd]
Kit fires up the matrix to speak to the elves of the Crystal Cities, to try to reach the Eldron.

The communication matrix is excited to reach out to the elves of the Crystal Cities. Immediately, an image of a beautiful elven woman pounding a glass shard on an anvil surrounded by blocks of ice appears, in sepia tones.

"Greetings, my lady. This is the matrix from the capital city in Canberry."

"Oh, yes, yes, welcome to the forge."

"Thank you. I'm not clear as to why the matrix connected us with you. Perhaps you were the only one who was available to speak."

"Probably. I've been doing this for quite a while, after all."

"I'm Countess Katherine of Lyneham, of the Canberry Imperial Council. Are you in a position to engage in political discussions on behalf of the Crystal Cities?"

"I'm the forge mistress. I rank with the Lords and Ladies of the Cities."

"If I may then present his imperial majesty." Kit promptly reels off a whole slew of titles.

"Welcome to the forge."

"Thank you, and thank you for taking the time to speak with us." Alistair proceeds to explain about the kidnapping of the heir to the Grand Duchy of Ergmoth. "We have reached out to both the great lords of the Noldor and the great lords of the Eldar, and they are both seeking to find where this heir has been carried off so that he may be rescued before the enemy can corrupt him."

"Both of them think this is important indeed."

"And both have decided in the spirit of the Ecumenical Council, to act in support of the Temple of Paranswarm on this."

"You can't locate him, can you?"

"No, we cannot. He has departed past the sea. They could trace him that far, but they could not trace him beyond."

"That means they gated."

"We had thought teleported."

"No. To have passed the sea, they must have used a gate, at least to an established gate point."

"That's very useful information to have, thank you. That also suggests that it might be either one of their eldritch isles or one of their establishments in the southern continent. Perhaps most likely one of the establishments in the south continents, because most humans are incapable of recalling that it even exists."

Kit begins spluttering in the background, shocked to hear of a southern continent.

"Humans find it difficult to remember its existence?" asks the forge mistress, mildly surprised.

"Yes. The Empress comes from a special bloodline that permits it to be remembered, and clearly by virtue of our marriage has extended that protection to me as well. But most humans cannot hold it in their minds for long at all."

"Oh, that could be very disturbing. So what you need is someone who is a Paragon level Farsensor and is not bound by the human... I don't know what to call it... impairment?"

"Precisely. And we thought that whereas both the Noldor paragons and the Eldar paragons are of great power, but each have in their own ways weaknesses from the lack of the complementary pattern and, of course, cannot work together, there might be some paragons who do not suffer such weaknesses at all."

"The Uncommitted. Yes, very logical to reach out to us. I will go now and speak to the head of our council. We have a Paragon Farsensor among us. Do you have an image of this child?"

"Our duty psion is getting one presently from the Paranswarmian Farsensors."

"Those poor folk. They must be going mad. You realize, if it's an enchantment strong enough to block almost all humans except you and the Empress, from knowing the South exists, it will deflect their Farsensing. They may be powerful enough to see the child, but they're not powerful enough to get through the enchantment."

"Even Eldar Grandmasters have found it more challenging than it ought to observe that area, although, of course, they are not barred from it in the way that a human would be."

"The work of a human god, then?"

"Berta. Or it was, and now one of the vile gods has taken over that that warding."

"I must say that while your goddesses are not all that, they are powerful enough to put up a strong spell indeed. Let me go and speak to my council. Just come with me." She gestures, and the image goes along.

She explains the situation, and limits created by the rivalry among the other elves, and one of the women says, "Give me the image and I'll go look for him." She takes the image. "Oh, yes, the southern continent. Strange--I do not remember that not as well as I should, but I will in a minute." [She rolled a check for her psionics, applying a +52 modifier to get a 68.] "Hmm. Yes, there's a gate. The gate is just shy of an army camp. Surely from that young sun god that some of your people follow."

"Yes, but not exactly. They are followers of the Blue Sun, and the Blue Sun has actually been consumed by one of the foul elder deities, which is now masquerading as the Blue Sun which has resulted in a certain faction of Sytry's forces falling into the most horrible corruption."

"Of course. These things happen. The boy is within. I'll give you the image... Ah, can you hold on to the image, Your Majesty? I fear that the Countess, who is better at managing mentally images in general, likely cannot."

"I am not skilled at such things, no."

"Are you carrying a gemstone ring, something that isn't already magical, either of you?"

Kit proffers a non-magical, gemstone earring.

"Thank you," says the Farsensor, somehow taking the earring through the mental connection. "Now, in a moment, Your Majesty, that earring is going to be extremely magical. I'm doing two things. In that area--the military camp and the fortress--there are about 15,000 of them. I'd be careful. Even I would be careful. I could probably kill them all if I had to, but I'd rather not, and you would find that more challenging. So I'm implanting that information in the earring. I'm also going to give you a gate on the earring that will allow you to send a small party directly there so you don't have to worry about them knowing where they are going or forgetting how to get there."

"If they arrive there, can they remember their home?"

"They can. They can remember it freely, although I believe that it may cause them to lose interest in returning home over time. That would be very clever and goddess-like. This will allow you to apport a a small party to a hidden area that is, as far as I can tell, out of the normal patrol pattern from the military camps and shy of the fortress. The fortress is warded. If I broke the wards, they would know I was there. You are correct--there's corruption everywhere there."

"I assume that this is not particularly near to the colonial city."

"No, I see that this is about a thousand miles west."

"Its quite a large continent."

"Yes, but it wraps around the pole so it's cold. Mind you, there are pine forests, but I wouldn't try growing all that much food there other than very basic root vegetables." The earring suddenly glows and floats back to Kit's hand. "There you go. You can discharge that gate twice. That should allow you to get a group there and get them back. You could probably send about 6 to 8."

"We will also need to make a plan to actually hammer that army at some point, but I think that will have to wait until after the rescue operation."

"Even I cannot make a gate big enough to move something through that can hammer that army."

"Understood, but the people going through can provide us very useful intelligence on the ground that we couldn't see remotely like this."

"Unfortunately, it appears to me that somebody did manage to gate them in probably a few thousand at a time. But that type of gate takes longer to make."

"There can't be that many people who have the capability to make that kind of gate."

"Very few. I don't recognize the signature, but I sense something about it... something corrupt beyond the Eldritch or just a general outrage. It did feel Eldritch, but maybe a little demonic as well."

"We know of a prior gate that was prepared in advance by, we believe, one of the corrupted mage-priests of Sytry. That mage-priest was slain but we have since learned that many of the great servants of the Eldritch prepare clones to replace themselves if they are slain, so we cannot be certain that is not him acting again."

"They've become clever since the first war. They were so arrogant. They never would have considered that the first time through, at least the ones we dealt with."

"When you say that it has a whiff of something demonic about it, do you mean that person who made it was part demon, or in the service to demons, or something else?"

"I think they compelled demons to help. That does not necessarily mean they were in service to them. You could bind the demons days before you cast the actual spells yourself, and if you bound them correctly, they would be forced to lend their energy to it. Unpleasant to think about. As minor as demons are, one should not be bargaining with them. If you are going to bargain with something, at least make it an angelic being or a daemon or something like that. I hope this has been helpful."

"Extraordinarily."

"Thank you for contacting us and thank you for coming through the forge mistress. We were all in council and were difficult to reach. She doesn't often attend council. She prefers making things."

"Given her enormous skills with that, it's very understandable."

She smiles at that. "Oh, well, thank you. Shall I make you something someday?"

"We would be most grateful."

"Someday must be soon, so that he won't die before I make it."

"Thank you. We're very grateful for your assistance."

The connection suddenly just closes, leaving them with the awareness of the matrix room again.

"Oh, it is stimulating to talk to her, wasn't it?" says the matrix.

Alistair says to the matrix, "We've been told that if the defense matrix were to be reawakened, we need to have a keeper."

"Oh, yes, you don't want a defense matrix without a keeper."

"Understood, and we were told that the conventional way of preparing a keeper is to raise a psion to have no personal connections."

"That's correct."

"I was wondering, would it be feasible to create a psionic sort of construct that was itself a psion that could serve as the keeper without having to raise a person to such a different type of existence."

"Sparing a person from that barren form of life? No. The very reason the position can be filled by the keeper is, in part, because of the keeper's natural emotions, feelings, and desires which the keeper pours out in service to the room."

"I was afraid that would be the answer."

"You don't need that with a communication matrix. I like talking to people. I don't mind if they talk to other people. I just like sharing information. Maybe if you found a young psionic child who had nothing to live for, you could raise them to be a keeper, because really-- it does love its keeper. It's just that it doesn't want them to love anyone else. Could you do that?"

"That is precisely the problem that we have. Its unclear that there's any way that would be acceptable to us for us to get a keeper if we did reactivate the defense matrix."

"There was a keeper about 3,000 years ago, who, after they became a keeper, was able to negotiate with her matrix well enough so that she was able to take I think you call them romantic partners. But it was very difficult. But that's the only case of that I've ever heard of."

"I know that, generally, keepers are trained from childhood."

"Almost from birth."

"Is it possible for it to be done as something in old age if someone renounces things? There are people among our people who choose, after they have lived a full life, to retire to a monastic or similar ascetic state, and that seems not dissimilar to what the life of the keeper is like. Would it be possible for someone who is ready to take a step like that, to renounce their former connections and be retrained to be a keeper?"

"It would, but they would have to be in good enough health to withstand the training. The merging is hard even for the young. However, yes, it could be done."

"That seems like something that someone could choose voluntarily and at an age that we would be able to accept their choice."

"The strength of their psionics is less important than the deftness of their touch."

"That's what I was going to ask next. What kind of psionic ability would they need and what other qualities besides the strength of will to make that choice?"

"That's a good question. Keepers can be of either sex, but they need a deft touch, the type of touch that I have observed your ladies have in needlework, the ability to manipulate the tiny strings of energy just enough. The keeper is not a creature of strength--the mechanics in a circle, they must have strength, otherwise the circle will kill them. But with the keeper and the watcher, the skill is much more important. With the watcher, connections do not matter. They can be--forgive my bluntness, I do not know what is considered impolite with your people quite yet, they can be coupling while they're doing their work as long as they are watching."

"It's usually considered inappropriate for a coupling to take place while at work, or while watching or being watched, but it's been known to happen with us occasionally," comments Alistair.

"Occasionally, but, I mean, when are we not at work?" adds Kit. "But good to know about the traits required. Would religiosity be a problem for a keeper?"

"No, the matrix does not care one way or another. Some matrices do. The matrices that are devoted to the Shadowline, for example, are quite religious. That is part of why, when one actually fell, it fell so hard."

"Having all but concluded that we would not be able to reactivate the defense matrix, even if we could deal with bypassing its defenses, and so forth, I now think that we might be able to make this work out."

The matrix glows a little brighter.

"When the matrix mourns the loss of the keeper, what happens then?"

"It is sad. It is difficult. It is depressed."

"But it doesn't lash out?"

"If the keeper is killed, it might. But if the keeper just reaches the end of their natural life and passes on, then it will recover."

"I imagine it sees a lot of keepers."

"Yes, and the connection becomes closer over time. So possibly with your scheme, it would not be as sad as it has been with a keeper that was with it from the beginning of their life to form the depth of that bond. It would be an effective addition to the palace defenses."

Alistair is abruptly interrupted. The duty psion reels back, and a large scene forms. Princess Curinirim and a young Noldor they have never seen before appear in a large chamber. "Your Majesty, I've been able to prevail upon my distant cousin to utilize his power on your behalf. Go ahead. Show proper respect."

They realize that this is a young Noldor, which is rare in and of itself, to say nothing about one of the 3 top houses. He performs the incredibly complex elven obeisance that they all seem to do when they meet Alistair.

"Your Dreadful Majesty, I have been able to discover the child. There's no way to apport to him but he is on found the fifth level of the great tower of this fortress, and he is strapped into a machine of torment. He is young, Your Dreadful Majesty. I estimate that were he of my race, he would be no more than 80. As a human, I think that makes him about 8.

"I attempted to grab him out of there with an apportation. I apparently have yet to learn that we may not be as near to omniscient as we would prefer to think we are."

"Do you know whether you triggered wards or were felt?"

"I was not felt. I did not trigger wards. However, I also failed. I was so horrified I did not even wish to speak to you."

"No, you did well to try."

"They are not psionic. I do not know how they blocked me."

"There is the direct action of a god."

His shoulders draw back just a little at that. "At least I can tell you where he is, and that at this point he's still healthy, and his mind is clear. He is deeply fearful and in great rage."

"That may hold him in good stead and give him the strength to hold out."

"I do not understand your people as well as I should like."

"This is of enormous help. Do you know you know anything of those that guard him, or torment him, or are in position there? We have heard that there are some 15,000 troops about the fortress in general, but we know very little about the tower in particular."

"Those who torment him present themselves as humans, but they are not. I cannot explain that better. It is unfortunate, but none of the senior Paragons saw fit to assist my great-aunt's request."

"When you say that they are not human, you do not mean that they are of the other strange varieties of humans that are sometimes found on that continent?"

"They are false things with a seeming of humans. I would have said they were doppelgangers, but they are not that either. There is something about their substance that I cannot exactly determine."

"They're likely the seen-unseen or some some such eldritch beasts."

"The actual humans follow their orders without question."

"There are humans in the tower?"

"There are. I would almost call them knights? Human quasi-knights in the tower. There are also some unusual creatures with the seemings of humanoid rams and a half-dozen assorted demons."

"Are you sure those are all the creatures? And that the human knights are not false humans?"

"I am sure. From the time that my great-aunt asked me, until I made my failed attempt, I observed them. The human quasi-knights are all in silver and white armor, and they stride about with great pride. But even I could destroy them in combat. I cannot know why they take so much pride in their martial abilities. I'm barely more than a child."

"Humans take pride in many things. Is there a way of sending him healing or strength without it being detected?" asks Kit, who has joined in through her mindlink with Alistair.

"I suppose I could. I had not thought of that."

"Will they be able to tell you're doing it?"

"Only if they knew to look. They would have to think they had been pierced."

"I would think it's worth the risk, Your Grace, but this is a decision for you."

"In part. This is something that I think we can not ask they do. If her August Highness and the Paragon view that as being worthwhile, we would view it as a great aid. But I do not feel that we can request that it be done."

"What you wish me to do, I will do. He is younger than any of my kin that I've ever met. I was the youngest for a very long time in our House. I do not wish to see him suffer without knowing there is someone with him."

"Your Highness. I suggest that a very capable Coercer be with him, so that if it is necessary, they can provide additional protection. Some of the enemy have been able to harm powerful, though not as powerful as the Paragon, Farsensors who have come into contact with them and have needed the protection of those who have skills more in that line."

"I will see that he is not left alone." She turns to someone who they can't see. "See that all the proper equipments are brought, including psionic batteries."

"We salute you for this and honor you. We have begun making plans for a less direct extraction. Unless you wish, we would prefer to keep the details as closely held as possible, because there are interesta in preventing any concerns about information spreading. But, of course, if you wish, we will provide you with any details."

"Anything that we can do to assist the rescue attempt. Given our situation here, and the continued attempted overthrow of the proconsul, I would prefer not to be given information that must be protected."

"It seems that these humans still make the pretense of following Sytry and the Blue Sun. Would you agree? I presume he is describing Knights of Truth."

"He has given me the image, but he is young. These are symbols of what they would be wearing-- they wear those, right?"

"Yes, and then it may make sense for us to see if we can send some knights of truth who follow the true Sytry, but who are unusually flexible, and would be able to act covertly. We'll have to reach out to the patriarch about that."

"I will give you regular updates on his condition here, Dreadful Majesty." He inclines again, and they see a Twilight Elf lead him quietly away.

The Princess Curinirim comments, "I'm please that he is willing, but I wish someone more senior had been willing to undertake this."

"I agree. We had not intended to ask that a child step up, but in the same way that the heir of Ergmoth has needed to take on roles that should have waited another decade or so, and indeed, in the way that it would be better still if I were still two decades from my ascension, we do not get to make that choice."

"That they would wish the destabilization that they've attempted proves that they know that the humans are ascendant here. However, he not only volunteered, he was quite taken with attempting to help the young human."

"If he were to see fit to serve as a patron for the young Grand Duke of Ergmoth, once we get him back, it could do much to stabilize Khamista."

"I will mention that to him. It might please my great nephew. He is the youngest of my House. He is a bit older than the boy."

"He is a great deal older than the boy, but yes, in equivalent years. But he is I would wager a young adult of your people in the way that I am of mine, not a child being asked to take on the role from adults."

"Yes, not a child, but a few years younger than you in equivalency. Indeed, just at that age where they are idealistic."

"I fear that I was rather more dissolute than idealistic when I was at that age."

"But oh, that is the nature of humans. No offense, Your Majesty."

"A full year ago, a rough year."

"I do not think that I have ever known a dissolute Noldor who was not Goldorim. But their dissolution is much more violent and inappropriate than yours."

"I thought some of the Moriquendarim went for that kind of thing."

"None of the ones with any status. They're Moriquendarim who are not worth thinking of as Noldor."

"Yes, of course."

"I will make certain that he's kept safe. How could I not?"

"Indeed, I didn't want to be as direct with him as I feel I can be with you. But Lord Silverleaves the Grandmaster was severely injured and only saved by the intervention of Lord Davion Aufaulgautharim, who, of course, is himself a Paragon coercer."

"That's why you wanted a Paragon of coercion with him."

"I do not know that they have a prince there, but they had a prince elsewhere, and that was what was necessary."

"I sensed the prince that they had brought through. In fact, I believe I assisted in destroying his ship."

"Indeed, exactly. Hopefully, they've not managed to summon another of those, but I would not want the young lord to face such a threat unsupported."

"No, he would not fare well. I will mind that he is kept well guarded. It was a pleasure to talk to you. all again, and I'm glad that we were able to afford you some assistance."

"We are most grateful for your assistance. I believe that we will primarily allow the Temple of Paranswarm to take the lead in the rescue effort, but we will seek to assist as best we may."

"I might be able to find some shadow elf who has interest. I cannot guarantee."

"They would be most welcome. They should be skilled in arts of stealth and disguise."

"Rogues. Yes, there are houses that might have such people. I believe the boy will communicate directly with you. He has your metal signature now, and he will want to report to you how the boy is doing."

"And he will presumably see the results of any rescue attempt that is made."

"He will." She is then gone.

They then loop the Paranswarmians back in, and provide them with the information they need. As with Kit, they can only remember that the earring will gate them near a fortress in some far off place that is is very powerfully protected, but all they really need to know is that the gate will get them there, even if they can't remember where it is.

Suddenly Kit has a breakthrough: "Wait, is this where the koalas are from? Lord Davion keeps on showing me the koalas. But... I still can't remember where he said they're from, just that it's some far off place."

"Have you seen the platypuses? They're also from there."

"Those aren't the result of some mage's weird experiments?"

"I know, you would totally think it. But they're apparently totally natural. Kind of makes me wonder if the story about owlbears being made by a mage are also false."
[End Session 145]
 

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