Aphonion Tales: The Archducal Council -- Unedited notes; later posts are edited transcripts (posts MWF, update 3/1/23)

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 132 (September 30, 2021)

30 Ke-Ras
Sir Clarence Strawberry comes to speak with Dame Brionna. “We have reason to believe that the Valley of the Dead has been prepared as a death trap and is succeeding at being a death trap for a large number of refugees. 100,000 were diverted away to the City of Enclaves to take up positions in their farmland. But the bulk of them are heading southward, and some are entering the Valley of the Dead, being killed and turned into undead, and then being sent back to gather more. As best as we can tell, this is unrelated to any of the problems in Hanal—we think this is an opportunistic master lich seeking to take advantage of this to gain more power. We do not see any way to stop this without endangering our other strategic interests.”

“What do we know of this master lich?”

“When he was alive, he was a noble in Debonai. He fled to the Valley of the Dead when they found out that he was a necromancer and then began to take over, having done so successfully.”

“When you say the bulk of the refugees, how many are you talking about?”

“About 250,000, Dame. They are mostly farmers. I mean, how much good can they be to him?”

“How much evil could they do, rather, beyond the evil of their deaths. Thank you for bringing this to me. Please bring me any further updates or reports that you have.”

* * *
Dame Brionna brings this to the rest of the Council.

They examine a map carefully, noting that the geography funnels any group that wanted to continue south towards the Valley of the Living Dead. Most actual trade goes through Gates, the westernmost of the three valleys that provide crossings through the Perimeter Mountains, but the refugees may not be aware of that, since it is far from their homeland. And even if they are, Gates charges significant tariffs for any passage—refugees may not be able to pay.

After some discussion, Alistair suggests that the field army in Lyneham head northeast to cut the refugees off from the Valley of the Living Dead and instead to resettle them in the area around Lyneham. Kit is a little agog at the idea of attempting to incorporate 250,000 people into her domain, but doesn’t object. Most of them are farmers, and there is plenty of land that could be farmed. If some of them can mine in the silver mines she’s establishing, so much the better.

They also decide to bring in the Ecumenical Council to deal with the undead—and possibly to send a group of perhaps six adventurers to take on the lich, assuming that doesn’t create too many political issues. Dame Brionna suggests that they find out who the lich was related to in life and more information about him. Alistair also notes that they’ll need to reach out to the Temple of Paranswarm to make it clear that they’re not trying to poach followers, as well as Princess Anastasia because those are nominally her people. Alistair also notes that they will need to speak to Princess Mirabelle of Gates, because increasing the Empire’s power just north of the Perimeter Mountains could be viewed as threatening.

[King of Debonai is Athelstan the Younger; his brother is Leoric]

* * *

Kit goes to speak to her Archivist about the lich’s background. “He was at one time, some time ago, Torbert of the House of Tertullian.”

“No wonder he turned to evil, with a name like that.”

The Archivist chuckles. “But that was many years ago. He turned 204 years ago.”

“Did he have any descendants?”

“Yes, he had a whole life before he turned. It was only in his old age that he took up necromancy. His House still stands, with his descendants, though they might not acknowledge their progenitor now. He also turned from his faith and became Morgrothian in his efforts to achieve status as a lich.”

House Tertullian is fairly heavily infiltrated at this point—the house’s reputation still has not recovered.

Kit plans on reaching out to her old agent in Debonai. Among other things, she wants to identify whether Torbert has any heirlooms or the like that could be used to scry on him.

* * *

Alistair goes to speak with the Princess Mirabelle. After some continuation of the trade negotiations in a large group with staffers, courtiers, and servants present, Alistair announces that he has some security matters to discuss with Princess Mirabelle that are only for her ears. Even as he begins saying that, all of the Canberran staff quickly begin filing out of the room, well aware of Alistair’s intentions. Mirabelle’s aides and attendants file out more slowly, and one in particular hesitates before leaving—likely assigned by her father as a chaperone of sorts. Now that Alistair has identified her, he uses the mindlink to put some of his staff on the duty of keeping her busy and away from Princess Mirabelle.

They flirt briefly—Princess Mirabelle has recovered from the trauma of the attack—and then proceed onwards with the assignation.

Afterwards, Alistair says, “There is an actual security thing that I needed to discuss with you.”

“Oh? I thought that was just to get people out of the room.”

“Well, it was mostly to get people out. But, much as much as I wish that our visits could be all about us, some of it does still need to touch on the affairs of state. There is, as you may know, a large group of refugees streaming south from Hanal.”

“Yes, dear, some of them have passed through Gates—mostly the more successful types. Some crafters have even been resettled within Gates.”

“Indeed, I suspect that many of them have been shy of heading to Gates because of the tariffs involved in passing through.”

“We have turned a significant number of them away for inability to pay.”

“I'm not certain where they're trying to go, but nonetheless.”

“Oh, they're terrified. They think that the wash from Hanal that they experienced the edge of is going to spread everywhere north of the mountains. And so, while they may not know where they want to go, they want to travel south of the Perimeter Mountains to where they think they’ll be safe.”

“We were thinking that it might make sense for us to gather them in an area north of the mountains where we have some troops already in place. One of my courtiers has a small holding north of the mountains and, for unrelated reasons, we moved some troops there to deal with some threats to the courier's domain. We think using that army to organize and resettle the refugees would allow us to manage that situation, which we think would be advantageous because currently many of them are heading into the Valley of the Living Dead, where they are promptly being murdered and turned into undead.”

“Yes, that is what he does.”

“You're familiar with Torbert, then, and his works.”

“Everyone nearby is familiar with Torbert and what he does.”

“The reason I mentioned this, though, is that that would involve attempting to resettle a very large population into an area that is loyal to the Empire, just north of the Perimeter Mountains, north and to the west of the Northern Gates. And there could be some who would view that as being provocative.”

“Yes, we might be worried that that would have the effect of encircling us.”

“Of course, that has nothing to do with the matter -- I just want to save the refugees’ lives and give them a new future. The only part of Gates that I'm interested in encircling is you.” Alistair gives Princess Mirabelle a squeeze as he says this. “But I did want to speak with you about that and both see how you thought Gates would react and see if we could perhaps include an agreement that this was understood as being acceptable as part of the trade negotiations.”

“I can assure you that as long as you don't encroach on his territory, certainly my father will have no concerns. There have been random tiny baronies and things up there for century, I think, and they've never bothered Gates. Gates has never bothered them. And our fortifications would be enough to protect us if they did move. North and South certainly would have no problem--you've been declared Protector of Light. East and West, though--you should send an ambassador.”

“We intend to speak with representatives of the Temple of Paranswarm. And I suspect that if we can assuage their concerns, they will be able to assist us with East and West.”

“I think you're correct there, and let us be honest, the High Queen is very powerful but she doesn't do anything above ground. So, if you can convince the Temple of Paranswarm, you'll have done everything you will need to do.”

“It will actually redound to Gates’s benefit to have a stable dominion up there. It will result in an increased amount of trade between Canberry and that area, and between that area and points further south And all of that trade, or at least the lion's share of it, will travel through Gates itself.”

“That will please the Council. Do you have any idea how many people Torbert may have converted?”

“No, we know that there were approximately 250,000 refugees traveling south. My understanding is the bulk of them have not yet reached that area, but I would assume that we would have to think in terms of tens of thousands.”

“With tens of thousands of undead… Torbert wants his old lands back. I’m not sure what a lich would do with them, but…”

“Debonai is in quite some disarray currently. If he made a push, that could be quite dangerous.”

“You might want to warn Debonai, my dear.”

“I think I shall. Thank you, darling, for bringing that to my attention.”

“And thank you for trusting me with actually important things -- my father rarely does.”

“But you are so intelligent and capable!” Alistair responds truthfully. “Is that simply because he can't see past the fact that you are a woman?”

“No, it's simply that he can't see past the fact that I'm his child.”

“Does he treat your brothers similarly then?”

“Yes, it's going to be a disaster when the inevitable happens, I'm afraid.”

“Are you likely to inherit or one of your brothers?”

“I'm most likely to inherit, but all the training I have for it, I've had to learn on my own. It's easy to get him to give me any tutor I want. But its as if in his mind I haven't grown any older than I was when I was in my early teens. Others have remarked on it with all of us. But what can you do? I do love him dearly. He's a good father. Not everyone can say that about their parents.”

“What if you were to establish a holding of your own? It would give you a chance to exercise actual rulership, while not having to deal with the matters directly of the city's governance?”

“But other than the farming villages the city doesn't own anything outside of its walls.”

“Yes, but there is an area that is beyond the formal holdings of the Archduchy that is near Gates. If you perhaps were to create a settlement in the gap between the small mountain chain south of the Perimeter Mountains and south of the Cities of the Gates. Trade travels over to the river and then down into the Archduchy of Canberry. If you were to set up a port on that river-the river is navigable, and there's an advantage to being able to switch into barges to travel down the river. The river doesn't go to Canberry City, but it still travels deep into the heartland of Canberry. And then south on indeed all the way to Haven. So that would be an advantageous place for you to build a city anyway, and it would then give you some functional experience of of rulership before you needed to claim your city.”

“Fascinating idea…”

“And of course, I can't help but think that you having your own domain on the very borders of the Archduchy would mean that a certain amount of continuing visits back and forth would be almost necessary.”

She smiles broadly at that.

“I would propose that we include that in the agreement on trade and on the agreement of addressing the security concerns, towards the north. In my capacity as Archduke, I will agree that that area is beyond the Archduchy of Canberry and that we would have no objection to a Princess of Gates establishing her own holding there. And then, in my capacity as the Emperor, that area is clearly unambiguously within the Empire of Southern Drucien. But of course, we will be happy to have a personal vassal relationship with a royal from a good Glordiadelian kingdom, without any claims, of course, on authority over Gates in our Imperial capacity. Then at that point, it almost ties your father's hands to agreeing while at the same time being substantially a major concession as part of the negotiations.”

“The Council of Gates would certainly go for it.”

“Now, they must understand that this would be your domain and the domain of your line, not in formal union with the House of the City of the South or of Gates as a whole. But once you inherit, you'll have the personal union. That will both give you some flexibility while also meaning that were you not to inherit, they would lose that and thus they have every reason to support your claim.”

“I know there were people who, when you came to the throne, said that you had not been properly prepared. I disagree. I think, my dear, that you were extremely well prepared in many ways.”

“And I am confident that you will make a grand and glorious queen when the time comes. Because, regardless of your father's limitations with regards to his children, I can see you for what you are.”

“Thank you.”

“I hope that you've been finding that lady-in-waiting that we provided for you helpful. It's quite awkward she's talented and able but her family is of such minor connection, and in the old Southern Kingdoms’ nobility, that there's no real place for her in our court.”

“I do find her helpful. She has a lot of knowledge.”

“I suspect that she would be a most helpful aide in your new dominion or perhaps in managing your household’s needs back in Gates. If, of course, you were willing to do her the great service of allowing her to continue to help you. As I said, it is unfortunate that although she is has clear talent prospects here are minimal. There's a limit to how much that we can do to promote people who don't have the right connections. You understand the balance with the nobles.”

“Particularly if I'm going to take on a new duty elsewhere, indeed, having an aide with her knowledge and her abilities is very useful. I will certainly keep her with your permission.”

“As I said, it would be it would be a kindness to her, and it would resolve a awkwardness in our court where we of course want to find her a good opportunity, and yet it would not make sense for us to spend too much of our own resources on that.”

“Yes. Yes, thank you. I believe we get along well and I appreciate her talents.”

[They also arranged for her to send a warning to her father that someone in his court may be a spy who tipped off the Noldar voller that she was coming.]

[cont'd]
 

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CPaladin

Explorer
[Session 132, cont'd]
Alistair invites the Princess Anastasia to an audience and to bring her bishop. They enter a small meeting room with Alistair and Kit and make appropriate greetings.

“Your majesty.”

“Your highness… speaking of which, it might at some point make sense for you to properly assume your title as Queen-Empress. I of course leave that to your judgment.”

“Perhaps…”

“We wanted to speak with you about a matter of refugees from your lands.”

“There are many.”

“Indeed, and they are streaming south towards the Perimeter Mountains. Unfortunately, many of them are then attempting to pass through the valley of the Living Dead and are instead becoming Living Dead themselves.”

“Oh dear.”

“We're very, very sorry,” continues Kit. “We don't know exactly how many, but we think tens of thousands and we want to do everything we can to prevent any more. We're trying to find alternate ways for them to get south and alternate safe places for your people to go.”

“I appreciate that, my lady. I have emissaries through my dear Kov of Snatterkaz, who have been trying to turn them for the shores but with little success.”

“Why haven't they been succeeding? Is it just too many or is something else that's preventing them?

“Many of them fear Masque almost as much as they do my sister.”

“I can understand that.”

“And if they go along the shore, they cannot avoid Masque. I have sent emissaries to the court in Masque and I've had assurances that they will not be molested. In fact, the-- well, if she’d’ve taken the prior title, she’d be the Goddess-Empress-- but the Empress there has sent legionnaires from some of her orders to try to convince people to turn aside for temporary refuge in the border of North Province and have even set up refugee camps that are, from priests that have been there, adequately staffed with food, water, priests. But most people will not turn aside, and I can't put enough force there to turn them aside.”

“We had a proposal. You remember Lady Katharine's Barony of Lyneham and our visit there. As a result of the need to deal with the foes in that area we moved a field army up to Lyneham and its surroundings. And so we thought that we might be able to send that army to divert the refugees from the Valley of the Living Dead and to then help them resettle in the areas near Lyneham, presumptively under Lady Katherine's dominion.”

“Most of the people are farmers.”

“Yes, that's what my land needs. If any of them are miners, that would be even better but the point is not to recruit people with certain occupations. The point is to give as many of your people as possible a safe place to resettle.”

“Now, of course we don't want to presume and we don't want to overstep our bounds with your ties to your people. And we understand entirely how there are ties both to one's land and to the people of that land. But it seems like that might be a path forward. If any of them wish to return to Hanal once you are restored to power, we'd be more than happy to see that happen.”

“I would support that resettlement. It is certainly better than throwing them into the mouth of the dead. But if they will not turn from my emissaries, it may be the only way to turn the mass is with a larger body of troops.”

“Our understanding is that many of them have a belief that that they are not safe in northern Drucien and would hope that an army of the Empire of Southern Drucien could convince them that even if they are north of the Mountains, they have reached the safety of the Empire of Southern Drucien by the time they've reached those lands.”

“I don't think it would convince all of them, but I think that might reassure some of them.”

“Then that is the tack we shall take.”

She glances at the bishop next to her who nods a miniscule.

“And venerable Bishop, as you well know, many of the people of the Barony of Lyneham are faithful to Paranswarm. And so of course, as we have remained entirely happy to have priests of Orderly Darkness ministering to the people who continue to follow the Lord of Darkness, that would remain true with these refugees. At the same time, of course, any of them that wished to --without aggressive prosyletization but of their own desire-- turn to the faith of the established church in those lands, we would not turn them away.”

“Of course,” replies the bishop, perhaps a little stiffly.

“Know that I am hopeful that a time can come in my empire when the red and the green can stand together,” adds Princess Anastasia.

“And nothing would make us happier. But of course, we view that entirely as a matter for your court and your house to control and we would not presume to make any statements about that beyond our happiness if you chose to go that way.”

“Then if they will be safe, and welcome, then yes, let us do what we can to divert them from the death lord there. Is he actually advanced to that state, do you know, Your Majesty?”

“We have heard him referred to as a master lich. I do not know beyond that. I must admit that I'm not well versed in the rankings of the undead.”

“If he has advanced to being a death lord, he's become broadly dangerous. They are no longer bound to a phylactery at that point.”

“Do they lose the protection of the phylactery or do they retain it somehow?”

“They can select a phylactery when they are already disembodied. My grandfather spent a great deal of time eradicating a death lord in our lands. In the end, it cost him his life and the life of many of his servants, but he eliminated him. If he remains only a master lich, he can more easily be dealt with.”

“If that's the case, we need to ensure that he is dealt with before he ascends any higher. That may also be part of his motivation here in addition to his political claims. There is magical power in human lives, and those who have reached a certain degree of depravity as, unfortunately, we know is going on back in the princess’s homeland, can take that power through murder.”

“Yes.”

The bishop nods more openly this time. He raises two fingers and a scribe that came with them and has been standing quietly in the back advances. “His Majesty the Emperor of the South and the Queen-Empress Anastasia would like to complete an agreement with your assistance.”

The scribe stands there as they negotiate a three-way treaty among the Empire of Southern Drucien, the Empire of Hanal, and the Barony of Lyneham, despite the lopsidedness of those respective titles. They also discuss perhaps having some of the refugees work in the new vollerworks that Princess Anastasia is helping Kit set up in Lyneham.

Kit speaks privately to Princess Anastasia while Alistair keeps the bishop busy working out the terms of the religious portions of the agreement.

“There are a lot of werefolk in my barony, and the people who settle there need to be okay with that.”

“I understand, and they will be—I will do whatever I can to make certain of that. It is wise that you did not mention that in front of the bishop, though.” Princess Anastasia smiles a little grimly at that.

“I just do not want it to become a point of conflict between the immigrants and the people already in Lyneham.”

* * *

Alistair and Dame Brionna talk to the Archbishop, with the Inquisition bishop in tow.

“You're familiar, of course, with Torbert of the Valley of the Living Dead?”

“Familiar, in the sense that I know he is a blight on the planet?”

“Exactly.”

“Yes, I am familiar with him in that particular way. I am uncertain of most of the specifics of his abilities, although I understand he raised a number of powerful underling frequently.”

They describe the basic problem with the refugees and the Valley.

Dame Brionna mutters, “Beyond me how they thought it was a good idea to go to someplace actually named ‘the Valley of the Living Dead.’”

“Many of the refugees are not sophisticated and they are after all thousands of miles from their homeland so they would not necessarily know that. They would simply know that they are searching for a pass, and they may have heard that there is one in that direction. And, indeed, my understanding is that there are some to travel through that valley without harm, though I don't know how they arrange that.

“But also, some of them have been being turned aside by Gates because of inability to pay the tariffs. Gates has admitted those who can pay of course and those who have talents that would make them useful, but the one thing that is uniformly truth Gates is that they are a lawful people who believe in enforcing their rules.”

“Yes. Universally. That is true.”

“We have a plan for how to resettle the refugees, that the Temple of Paranswarm and the Empire of Hanal are amenable to.”

The Archbishop nods. “This is then a meeting about what is to be done about this archlich.”

“Indeed. We are somewhat uncertain of what his exact status is—we’ve heard him described as a master lich, and speculation about whether he might be a death lord, but I don’t understand how those titles actually work.”

“Ah. I see. The lowest level of lich is simply a lich. Above that are archliches, who frequently command other liches. Above them are master liches. There are only two steps above that. Death master, which can only be attained by a follower of Morgroth.”

The inquisitor interjects, “Or possibly this new power. But as far as we know, only Morgroth.”

“And then of course there are the very few who attain the status of demilich—able to possess whatever mortal shell they wish if it isn’t adequately trained to resist it. At that point, they no longer have a body. They're incredibly rare, as far as I know there are none active now and the only choice for those who would hunt them if they were would be to try to find where the original bones were buried. I'm no expert in this, but according to my teachers, it is said that it is possible to summon the spirit of a demilich back to its bones. Most of them in the past had their bones scattered so that it was more difficult.”

“None of the death lords serve the Shadow?”

The inquisitor answers, “None that we have seen. The Borsh’troans have not mastered that aspect of undeath. They use major demons to control their undead armies."

“Yes, we’ve never encountered any that were not Morgrothian. To be fair, we have never encountered any in the history of the Church. But what the elven texts on the subject say is that when they become demiliches, it releases all connections to any god. They claim themselves to be gods, though they’re obviously not.”

“It would seem to be the next step in the progression, though,” says Alistair, much to the inquisitor’s startlement. “I presume that all of them would be from human or other non-elven mortals?”

“Yes. The first one to advance to being a demilich was a half-orc priest of Morgroth, much to everyone’s surprise. He was particularly capable, and it took some time to hunt him down.”

The inquisitor says, “My understanding is there has been at least one in the recent past. There was one eradicated in Hanal perhaps a century ago. Very odd. It's unclear where he came from or who he was. But suddenly he was there, and he caused considerable consternation in the royal court.”

“Interesting.”

“You know, all of our problems in Hanal started about 100 years ago.”

“Yes, we believe that’s when the Lord of the Ram and the like were corrupted by the eldritch and began to serve their even more corrupt scheme.”

“So perhaps we have answered whether those old ones can allow their followers to advance to death master, and even assist them in advancing further to demilich status.”

The Archbishop adds, “It would take a tremendous amount of death to power it. But then, there have always been tremendous numbers of deaths in Hanal.”

The Inquisitor grimly comments, “Well, they will all burn the same when we put them in the heretics’ fire.”

Alistair discusses their plan, and the need for clerical support to resist Torbert’s plan.

The Archbishop tells them that the new major undead have included multiple liches and at least three greater mummies—no vampires, though, perhaps because vampires tend to follow their own agendas instead of serving loyally in an army. The greater mummies can create more lesser mummies and mumia, at least as long as they have enough wealth, and there is plenty of wealth in the necropolis of the Valley. It was once a small human kingdom, dedicated to Morgroth, that revered its dead and built great necropolises and mausoleums in which many of the dead from all over the continent were entombed. One day, the dead arose and killed the priests. They were mostly disorganized for a long time, with some occasionally wandering out and being slain, until Torbert took over. That was viewed as a good thing at the time—stopped the outflow of random attacks.

They discuss how they can contain him, and conclude that asking the Temple of Morgroth to tell him to not strike against Debonai might be best. They discuss asking Princess Curinirim, who could almost certainly force him to obey—she is after all one of the ten or so most powerful Noldar. But the bishops suggest that they instead reach out to the Mother of Death, the human high priestess of Morgroth in Drucien. She would have more direct authority over Torbert, and be less likely to cause offense. Also, if she asks him to remain in the Valley and he refuses, that will be a clearer sign that he has been corrupted from Morgroth’s service.

The bishops agree to reach out to the Mother of Death as a request from the Ecumenical Council.

* * *
Kit reaches out to Lady Breena, her agent from Debonai, through the fan. Lady Breena reports that she is still outside Debonai, having not returned to her familial lands, in a city. Kit asks if Lady Breena has kept an eye on Debonai, and Lady Breena sends a report. [Attached]

There have been three assassination attempts on the royal compound; two were slain, the third got away and fled to a safehouse.

Kit thanks Lady Breena, and says they will take action to capture the last assassin. She also warns Lady Breena about Torbert and suggests that the assassins were likely sent by Torbert as part of a plan to retake Debonai.

Lady Breena concludes that she must head back in to Debonai, to reduce the delay in news reaching her. Most of the noble houses remain in their country estates, working on stabilizing things there. She doubts that any of them are involved in the assassination attempts. She also doesn’t think the commons do. So then the likely candidates are either merchant houses, which resent the taxes they’re being charged to try to pay for the military to restabilize Debonai. Next in likelihood would be the Sheepshearer’s Guild, because of a copper per shearing tax that has been imposed. Lady Breena asks to be supplied with potions of invisibility.

Two days pass uneventfully, so the game picks up again with Kit contacting Lady Breena on the 1st of Endyear, the 4-day intercalary period at the end of each year.
[End Session 132]
 

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CPaladin

Explorer
Session 133 (October 21, 2021)

1 End Year
Things are peaceful and straight-forward with the celebrations. There is some minor gift giving, feasting, etc.

Kit contacts Lady Breena in Debonai, after she has had a chance to travel into the capital.

“Are you alright? What is the situation there?”

“It is amazing. The commons will ignore what is going on around them for a good day. The city is back to itself, and there is widespread knowledge of the assassination attempts, but with a belief that the royal family was protected by divine power. There is a sense that a power wants the royal family dead—I think rumors started by the assassin who escaped. But this has not had the effect that he likely wanted, being taken as a sign of divine favor instead. The rumors are that it is the Unseen Guild, but it is not the Unseen Guild. The King is weak, he has been weak, he is known to be weak. I think another of the noble houses is making a play for the throne.”

“Who would be most likely to take power?”

“The Duke of Ruly would be the most likely, but he is old and it is not the sort of play I would expect from him. I know him somewhat. Perhaps one of his children or grandchildren? Also, the assassins were at least somewhat incompetent. I would expect better. If it was meant deliberately to be incompetent… it might be intended to roil the waters.”

“What about making someone look good for spoiling it?”

“The Captain of the Royal Guard. His appointment was viewed as a great honor for his family, House Tertullian, for they have been out of favor since they birthed a lich.”

“Ah. The family that the lich Torbert came from. And that lich has been much more active of late. So perhaps there is someone in that house who is not ashamed of their lichly ancestry.” Alistair reminds Kit that the King was cured by the elven princess. “How has the King’s health been lately?”

“He has seemed more robust of late. Sometimes people rally.” Lady Breena clearly is unaware of the cure. “And he has been pursuing a marriage with a scion of the ruling family of the Enclave of Glitterdomes, which is a very wealthy enclave of course. There is hope among the commons that this might produce a new heir, though…” Lady Breena clearly views this as implausible, but Kit is decidedly aware that this could change the line of succession and the like.

Lady Breena plans to reach out to contacts within the guard to find out more information, and to contact back in two days.

* * *
The Council reaches out to Humbert the Holy, the Bishop of Enclaves, and he agrees to encourage the ruling house of Glitterdomes to go forward with the marriage rapidly to help stabilize Debonai.

* * *
The next couple days pass uneventfully.

3 End Year
On the morning of the 3rd, news reaches the Council that Lady Deluria Brightspan has had her child, on what is considered an auspicious day. She is a sorceress, with some training on Khamista, and a tiny bit of wizard knowledge. She married a commoner in a love match: Sir Lawrence of Bianca, who subsequently converted from Paranswarm to the Light. The child was a son. (Sir Lawrence was formerly a lyon, but is now just a fighter, and struggling a little with the transition.)

Alistair decides to grant them a petty holding in the restored South Kingdoms, far from the Duchy of Brightspan but near her brother Sir Derrick’s more substantial holdings.

* * *
Lady Breena says that this appears to being used as an excuse to strengthen the guard on the palace. The captain is tightening security, bringing in priests, increasing the strength of the guard. His people have nothing but positive things to say about it.

Kit speculates that this might be based on secret information about the lich.

There have also been an increase in paladins within the guard, from a militant order. Also, he’s removed several mid-ranked officers with ties to various merchant houses—the merchant houses are benefitting from the turmoil by raising prices.

Also, the royal house has announced the engagement. The commons are overjoyed about this; most of the nobility thinks that this is a last gasp attempt to do his duty, but unlikely to succeed.
[cont'd]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
[Session 133, cont'd]
In early evening, a guard approaches Dame Brionna. “There is a visitor at the outer gates asking to speak to the Imperial Council. I think she’s alive… There is a human woman, dressed all in black, with a belt of skulls and a staff of bone with a skull atop it. I think she is the High Priestess of Death, but I didn’t dare ask. She has a mumia with her, I think, carrying her bag and conversing with her. And perhaps I should mention her horses. They seem to be skeletal and are breathing fire.”

The Council discusses this and immediately agrees that Kit must not enter her presence in her current condition (about a month from her due date). They also don’t want to invite her into the Palace. Alistair suggests that they meet in the Archbishop’s chancery—a building of the Church, but not a church or holy ground itself. The Archbishop is extremely willing to permit this, and asks if he can attend as well. Alistair immediately agrees, and suggests that they also invite the senior midwife of Gunnora and the Princess Anastasia’s bishop, since this is Ecumenical Council business.

Dame Brionna meets her at the gate. The priestess is extremely pale—so pale that she wonders if her unwillingness to enter without permission might indicate that she is not in fact alive.

“Honored Dame Brionna, I presume.”

“Honored Mistress of Death. Welcome to Canberry.”

“Thank you. And thank you for the information about Torbert. It was much appreciated.”

They continue on to the chancery, with the horses following at a short distance without bridles. The mumia carries several bags of scrolls.

“We are grateful that you responded so quickly.”

“I am responsible for the Temple of Death here, and my predecessor—whether through incompetence or corruption—did not do a good job of maintaining the temple. There was a temple in Cese Mai where no priest was assigned. The graveyards were being maintained by acolytes and deacons. We are a separate order from the Temple of Morgroth. We are dedicated to death itself, not to the Lord of Death. We care for the dead. Some of the dead choose to remain as undead, as did my husband.”

“Have you seen any evidence of tainting or disruption of supplies of embalming fluids?”

“Yes. Have you had these problems in the Temple of Glordiadel as well?”

“I haven’t asked specifically about embalming fluids, but other forms of preservatives and food.”

“We should share information about this. There were also tainted food in our Enclave that we discovered when we arrived with the Lord Proconsul. It allowed several older blooddriven to gain access to the dead in the area in the farmlands north of the City.”

They arrive at the chancery.

“I came as soon as I heard and I spoke to Torbert on my way here. He has sworn on his once phylactery to stop killing the refugees; he will not permit them to pass through, but he will not slay them. He will not swear to avoid attempting to retake his house—he views those who hold it now to be usurpers.”

She then begins discussing the problems with the Cult of the Ram and the actions that the Lord Proconsul has taken. Over 300 women had demonspawn with them.

They take special precautions against spying.

“No word must reach the outside about this. The City of the Dead in Enclaves has been overtaken by the Eldritch. We regained the first two layers of six by force. I personally led an assault on the third level, where we found a mid level servitor of the Eldritch called the One of Gates and Doors. We were repulsed. We have them contained, but we have not been able to displace them, and they have proved capable of breaking sacred ground. They also have taken over and corrupted at least one Glordiadelian cemetery. We believe that they have raised some 10,000 Eldritch undead.”

Alistair explains about why summonings in Enclaves are now more possible than they had been, because the Council had a great artifact removed.

She says that explains why a greater demon of the Ram had been summoned. The Lord Proconsul and the captain of his guard defeated the greater demon, but there were deaths involved. She asks for permission to speak to the Lord Proconsul about this, which we grant.

She recommends that the Temple of Glordiadel check their cemeteries in this area. She checked the cemeteries maintained by the Temple of Death, and they remain secured with the dead incapable of rising.

She also mentions that they freed Cabbageheights, driving the Eldritch out from the entire Enclave they had taken. In taking it back, their man-of-war was damaged by the Eldritch energy rods. They now only have a merchant voller able to be flown, but they are repairing their man-of-war.

She mentions that she is unsure whether the Lord Proconsul was sent at such a young age to keep him safely away from the hazards of politics in Krashmere or in the hopes that he will fail. Alistair assures her that Canberry and the Empire of Southern Drucien wish nothing but success for him, and hope that trade with them will be helpful, even though their trade is petty from the perspective of the Noldar.

She makes a gift of scrolls that have been tailored to detect the Eldritch. They may not find those who worship them but have not received their touch, but it will find those who have.

Dame Brionna asks about the deaths in the City of Hanal.

The Mistress of Death reports that there are three powers within the City of Hanal: “The Queen-Empress who is not the Queen-Empress, the Lord Quinliart’s sister and his Hand, and a great priest of the Ram. The Lord Quinliart has burrowed beneath the city and bound himself to the land. He can no longer move. His remaining followers are now three in number—they were four, but my Lord Proconsul, his Seneschal, and a very brave voller captain were able to slay one. When we cleaned out the Enclave of Cabbageheights, no aid came from the City of the Dead. When we cleaned out the blooddriven north of the city, no aid came. We think he has relinquished his direct control when he bound himself to the land. They aim to bring through one of the Princes. That was always the goal. That is why the presence of the One of Gates and Doors was particularly troubling. In the First Incursion, they brought a Prince through then. They must not bring a Prince through again.

“To our advantage, there is stress between She of the Bones, the One Beside, and the One Other. The One Other is willing to abandon the other two and establish himself as the God of Evil here. In order to bring through a prince, the effort in Hanal City is intended to kill everyone within the City outside the Palace to summon a great demon who is bound somewhere, and then to sacrifice the demon to raise the energy to break the barrier long enough to allow their prince to arrive. This is what we have been able to figure out. Even that will not let in She of the bones, or the One Beside. There is some hindrance that prevents them from entering in, even as they grow stronger. But if they can get a prince in here, it will be very difficult to displace them unless we can rouse the Eldar from their slumber and get them to be combined with their cousins, which seems about as likely as my taking up fine needle. Is that helpful?”

“Certainly, albeit disturbing.”

“I do genuinely wish to be helpful to the Ecumenical Council. I feel that emotions are not my best suit.”

“Do you know of the moves of the One Other and how he now presents himself?”

“We think he is presenting as the god Sytry based on what we've heard in the Ecumenical Council.”

“That is not quite correct. The One Other is synonymous with Arthranax, who you may be aware of.”

“Of course.”

“He also either is or has subsumed the Blue Star. He seeks to also take Sytry himself, but, as best as we can tell, Sytry remains separate, struggling to defend himself against the threat. There is extensive corruption within the Temple of Sytry, of course, although the very highest elements of it remain loyal to Sytry and not to Arthranax”

“That is good to know. I was unaware of the combination, but I should not have been. Arthranax always seemed to have more power than a god should as a new one with a small role and cult. Are there other things that we should do or know?”

“There are two other matters that I would have you and the Lord Proconsul aware of. One is that we know that the Prince of the Cities of Pain is a prisoner of Arthranax, and that he is in the process of seeking to consume the Prince. We have informed the leadership of House Moriquendarim, and they have endeavored to mount a rescue effort. That will either succeed or result in their destruction, as they said before they departed.”

“We were not aware.”

“Clearly, none of you should take direct action to assist in this, for if the Lord Moriquendarim and his companions cannot perform this rescue, then neither can the Lord Proconsul have any chance, let alone those of you of lesser backgrounds. But you should be aware, and you should be aware that if they fail, there will be enormous chaos within the leadership of the House, both because the absence of the Prince of the Cities of Pain would become permanent and because the greatest leaders of the House are the ones mounting the rescue.

“The other thing that you should know is that the Queen-Empress who is not the Queen-Empress is the Seductress, who was herself once a great Noldar, who then became a great devil, who then became a great demon princess, who is now the usurper of Hanal and trying to elevate herself to godhood, along with the forces of Arthranax and possibly the Ram.”

“Interesting. It seems to me that the One Other is already leaving the One of the Bones and the One Beside. I wonder if the Seductress and the One Other are considering merging to get past the barriers. I'm deeply appreciative of that information. It's an unfortunate truth that because the Temple of Death, and the Temple of Morgroth are separate, I cannot consult the Great Library of Morgroth. But we have gathered considerable scholarship of our own. Once I have had time to consult it and make a return visit, I may be able to find more information of interest about this.”

“As for ourselves, you would always be welcome to visit. Your Eminence, does the Church concur?”

“Yes, the Church concurs. The Ecumenical Council is all about collaboration and sharing of information, and we are delighted to see that the Mistress of Death is so willing to engage in such exchange and so open.”

“Let me ask one other question,” says Alistair. “When you first spoke of Torbert, you said his once phylactery. Does that mean that he has transcended the need for phylacteries?”

“Yes, but not for so long that he has ceased to be fond of it.”

“So he is, then, a Death Lord.”

“He honors and respects the Temple of Morgroth. He will keep this word and if he did not, his oath would destroy his phylactery, which would still cause him harm, even though it would no longer destroy him. So I do trust his word. He will not slay the refugees, and he will turn them away. He will not offer them succor, but he will not kill them.”

“That's better than before. We can attend to providing them succor.”

“I wish that I could have convinced him to cease his quest to regain his house. On the other hand, he seems to be caught in an endless planning. And apparently, when he approached people in his old house about supporting him, they rebuffed him. That, of course, means that he has agents in Debonai.”

Prompted by Kit over the mindlink, Alistair asks, “Do you know anything specific about his agents?”

“His connection is some merchant clan or other-- I don't know which one. Merchant’s commerce is not something that the Temple deals with, but I do know that he spoke of merchants and says his friends want to see him back to his rightful place. I told him merchants are interested in only one thing in my experience, and it clinks and is made of precious metal.”

“Do you know what they dealt in, if not the specific merchants?”

“Oh yes, thank you, in silk and spices, and after the troubles in the Spice Lands and the south... we've seen trade cut off in Enclaves, too, but apparently if you're a merchant, it's particularly upsetting. He mentioned that, and said he had offered them a pretty penny for their health. Had I known it would be an item of interest, I would have pursued it further.”

Her husband suddenly interjects, “You had better believe she would have.”

“I do know that he would he have paid with the ancient coins that he has that he tends to use. That hoard is enormous.”

Kit thinks, <<Oh, goodness, money changers will know which which house has acquired ancient hoard coins. We can probably find that out, and through that which house he has influence over.>>

<<Nice. Yes, let’s follow up on that.>>

“Any help that the Temple cannot supply, my Lord the Proconsul will, I am sure, be happy to offer.”

Dame Brionna speaks up. “I have one question. Obviously it will be extraordinarily difficult, but if one were able to kill the former Moriquendarim lord who is now bound to the land beneath Hanal, what would that do to what’s left?”

“While you would probably be able to get a more accurate answer from the Lord Proconsul, he has decreed that the land will slump when that happens, most likely because the tunnels will go with him. Just as you have taken over a compound that already existed there from very, very long ago, so, too, did the Empire of Hanal. But if I were a human, other than myself… no, no, even myself, I would not wish to live in the city. After that, we expect the Empire of Hanal may be forced to abandon it as a ruin.”

“Afterwards, they should.”

“A million lives,” she reflects. “I am the Mistress of Death for the continent of Drucien for the Temple of Death, but I will tell you something. I have never deliberately taken life unless it was attacking. My Lord the Proconsul did sacrifice 26 people who were bound to the Eldritch in a special ritual to bind a daemon who was capable of transporting people to and fro. That is how I got so close so quickly. I did not do that part myself. They were captured in the very act of worshipping the unclean.” Dame Brionna shifts back a little, while trying to hide her distaste and discomfort. “But innocents… to sacrifice a million people… unthinkable.”

Alistair cuts in. “While we understand that the religious practices of your faith and of Paranswarm are different from those of our own, in the interest of good relations within the Ecumenical Council, it is perhaps best if in the future, you simply refer to followers of the Eldritch as having been executed without discussing any benefits your faith may have derived from those executions.”

“Very well, thank you.”

“Within the Empire, we tolerate the established Paranswarmian countries performing sacrifices of condemned prisoners who have committed purely secular crimes, but we do not truly approve.”

“That is the sort of learning that we must receive to align with the Ecumenical Council.”

Dame Brionna asks, “If the City of Hanal will collapse, how wide an area will be affected?”

“Oh, from the city center, I would say, a five mile radius, not small but not huge. Basically coextensive with the energy dome or so.”

“You might also gently let the Lord Proconsul know that in addition to continuing to attend to my efforts in my capacity as arbiter to keep the Noldar and the Eldar vollers overhead from encountering each other, there are other elven vollers that will be an action that should not encounter either of the two.”

“Eldron vollers?” she asks in surprise.

“These are not true Eldron, but perhaps the equivalent of Twilight or Gray Elf crewed vollers, you understand.”

“Yes. Yes, I will. We appreciate what you're doing, although of course my Lord the Proconsul has no authority over the Aufaulgautharim that is presently operating in the skies over Hanal.”

“I know, but it is useful to be aware, and there might be circumstances where it might make sense for him to discreetly mention to the Aufaulgautharim that they might choose to be particularly attentive to my efforts to divide areas, because no good whatsoever could come from them having an encounter with either of the other groups of elves.”

“The Princess Curinirim can impress this upon them most effectively, and she is routinely in counsel with my Lord the Proconsul. I will let him know.”

“She is a wise and powerful leader.”

“She is. I hope that it will be long before she walks to the West.”

“Do the Noldor go to the West?”

“Some do. She will. Some unfortunately have lost themselves in insanity. The Lord of Goldorim, for example. He will not go to the West.”

“Where do they go?”

“Even I do not know.”

“I sometimes wonder if they go to the East, but I don't even know what that would be.”

“I have wondered the same thing.”

After a little more small talk, the Mother of Death gives them an appropriate salutation and prepares to leave. Her husband gives one as well, along with a wink.They have never seen a Mumia before, and never heard of one that winks, but this one can. “We will return to the gate and from there we will have our friend take us home.”

[For people who are interested, the Mother of Death is a PC in a different group playing in this world. However, her player wasn’t present, so the DM role-played her in the style of her player.]

Once they return to the Palace, Dame Brionna raises the question of whether there might be more tunnels beneath the Palace of Canberry beyond what they have already found.
[End Session 133]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 134 (October 28, 2021)

4 End Year
Kit has had a report from one of her people in Hanal. [Attached.] Her agent had been relatively close to the capital until recently, but was sent back to her lord and lady’s home territory. There is some sort of corruption in the imperial soldiers. A group of imperial soldiers attacked the castle. They were nearly slavering, and there was desperation in their eyes. She killed one, and he thanked her.

Her lord and lady were the Vad and Vadess of Vitrian, who were loyal to the usurper, so that suggests that they’re now turning on their own, not just prosecuting the civil war. The imperial soldiers have also slaughtered caravans and the like. On the other hand, the crystal vollers have been providing effective relief by dropping food.

Kit’s agent is now with the refugees, just south of the borders of Hanal. Kit asks her to stay with the refugees, planning on making her an agent within the resettled refugees near Lyneham once she gets there.

Alistair also receives a large gift from the Duke of Brightspan to raise a new field army of medium infantry, under imperial control and command but funded by Brightspan. [Message attached] The Council accepts gratefully and sets this in process.

Dame Brionna reports that there is a small stream of humanoids—orks and uruks, they believe—who are traveling north from lands where they have been displaced. They want to return to their ancestral homeland.

The Council sends a delegation, including the orkish page, to meet up with them. It will take them about 12 days to meet up with them. The Council will here back around the 14th of Tar.

The Council also decides to send the new field army, along with some of the existing field armies, to defend against attacks by Skaven warlord clans. They also plan some retributive attacks to show the strength of the Empire and deter further Skaven attacks. This will also season some of the greener units.

The rest of the final celebrations of End Year pass uneventfully.

------
14 Tar
Fourteen days later, the Council receives a sending from the delegation they sent to the humanoids on the western border of Canberry.

“Uruks, half uruks and orcs. Not Morgrath...Mider? Animism? Many years near Spice Lands - sold service to patriarch. Land decimated. Came from snowed peak region 250+.”

Each member of the Council interprets the last bit differently—number of people? Number of years away? Distance to the snowed peak region?

They send back a response.
“Clarify 250+—people? Are these families? What service to patriarch—mercenaries? Possibility of hiring them? Evaluate leader. Not evil? Willing to resettle?”

A terse reply comes through:
“Years ago. Yes, many. Hunters for meat and protectors for farmers from great spiders from below. Yes. Old, one eye. Crude savage no evil. Yes.”

The Council sends back instructions:
“Settle families in unpopulated area with hunting and farming. Hire warriors as auxiliaries for new field army, leaving some protectors.”

The Council also sends a priest of Glordiadel and a midwife of Gunnora to do some light touch proselytization, and makes plans to make sure some of the soldiers are inducted into the Order of the Stag to hedge against Order of the Ram infiltration.

They get a somewhat worrisome final message:
“Chief Zaragh War'da thanks. He sends messengers to other chiefs behind. Maybe 5000+ total left. Some ahead, go old chambers - Dark maybe gone. Probably not.”
[cont'd]
 

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CPaladin

Explorer
[Session 134, cont'd]
17 Tar

The voller with the dignitaries from the Empire of the North arrives. The Emperor of the North is here himself—a young man who is very impressed by Canberry City. He has brought gifts—a whale skin cloak, a gift for Kaitlyn, and three gifts for any other women of Alistair.

They make small talk until they’re in a secure area.

“We have located the place that the accursed have set up as a base on the ice. I have the location, and we have sent a group near them. We do not have much magic, however—some priests, but no powers of the mind at all.”

The Council calls in Lord Silverleaves, Grandmaster Farsensor.

The Emperor of the North puts on a brave front about having his mind read so that the image can be projected to all of them.

Lord Silverleaves is surprised they were able to find it, as the Singing Leaves voller could not find it from the air, but by scouting on foot with dogs, they were able to. He transmits this information to the Queen of Singing Leaves, and to the Archmage of Singing Leaves.

“You see that crack in the ice? That is where the device will be. It is being powered by sacrifices from back in Hanal. Almost everything they do is powered this way. It is no wonder that we were able to unite our forces with our cousins in the first war. We need to get through these ground troops and to this device, preferably before they know we are there. We will need people who can strike quickly on the heals of our warriors and the Empire of the North’s warriors.”

Kit asks, “What sort of numbers will you need?”

“There were scrapes on the ice where six vollers landed. That suggests that the total of them were about 600, but they dragged something very large, with runners—like our ice sleds. But we never saw more than 20 while we observed them.”

“So the rest of them are down under the ice.”

“Lord Silverleaves, do you think your forces and the Empire of the North’s forces will be sufficient, or will you need additional reserves?”

“We will send bladedancers, I think, perhaps 25 of them. They are extremely effective. With the Archmage, and redactors of course, and an energy lance. I think the device is not defensive, but rather designed to bring things through.”

Alistair mentions the One of Gates and Doors in Enclaves, and that they may be trying to summon one of the Princes.

“That’s likely the Devourer, who they sought to summon the last time. Very powerful, hard to destroy. The other possibilities would be Jenesha, the Torrent of Flames, but they would not try to summon her in the Arctic. The Eater of Skins is a horrible entity, but mindless. There is Ulesh, and we have already seen a minor avatar of his. I cannot imagine they would summon the whole being, because even those who we will not name have difficulty controlling him. Ulesh has a collection of items from previous planes. Powerful, yes, but not nearly as resilient as the Devourer. And the last of the Princes—the One without a Tail, which we know only from the documents brought from a fallen world by the halflings. He is called the Master of the Squeeking Horrors—we think he controls vermin. He is probably the least of them.”

* * *
They exchange ambassadors—the Emperor of the North leaves Arvid Orcutt, an old former warrior who should not fight anymore.

Alistair sends him back with a wizard as an ambassador (Barnabas) who could teleport them back, with instructions to look for potential wizard apprentices who can then study magic and return to provide magical support for the Empire of the North, because they currently have so little.
[End session 134]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 135 (November 29, 2021)

18 Tar: Emperor of the North departs; with his eager consent, the Council sets him up to bait the Noldar voller (relying on the ability to teleport him and his close associates to safety if an attack ensues), but with no apparent success

24 Tar: An ambassadorial party has arrived from the Broken Lands; the ambassador is a witch, of course, and Paranswarmian. She calls herself a countess, so she’s likely the head of one of the covens.

Dame Brionna arranges for a meeting outside the palace proper, at a room arranged by the Lady Mayor. She brings young Lord Brightspan.

The ambassador is middle-aged, drawn, and doesn’t look like she’s been on her feet properly lately. She is dressed all in black with a blindingly white piece of silk tied to her upper left arm.

“We have been facing increasing struggle in homeland. The covens… there have always been demon worshippers in the outer reaches, though we are primarily witches and diabolists. Apparently there are more of them than we thought, and they have gained a substantial new source of power. They fell on the substantial communities of Rottingtree and Treestump some two weeks ago. We displaced them, at considerable loss of life—including my husband, who was an officer. They have now departed and begun traveling towards your northern provinces and we have been unable to scry upon them. Lady Talen, our mistress, thinks there is something worse behind them than the usual Demogorgon followers and so forth. She thought it best to warn you.”

“What can you tell us about your attackers? Were they primarily of one gender?”

“Primarily men. Most of the demon worshippers are men, since they rarely join the covens and some resent the rule of our covens. But these were as well.”

“Did they attempt sexual assaults?”

“On the common women, yes. Most of the nobles are sufficiently powerful witches to protect ourselves.”


“And, I know this will seem strange, but were any of them transparent?”

“The leader was—we drove him off but did not kill him, though not for lack of trying.”

“We understand well. I would like to take you for a meeting with His Imperial Majesty. Her Imperial Majesty is unavailable, having been recently delivered of twins.”
[cont'd]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
[Session 135, cont'd]
After appropriate formalities, Alistair asks, “Did they take any prisoners with them, or seek to attack anyone of fae or other elder blood?”

“The two cities that they focused on--and I use cities in a way that you might not--are the two places within the Broken Lands with the most of the old blood. I do not know that it was a direct attack on them. But they did try to take captives--common women primarily. Whether the captives had old blood, and whether and where they were taken successfully, I can not say. We did not expect the attack, and there was considerable breaches of our defense initially, and there were simply too many people missing and or dead to sort out everything. Eventually, over time, Lady Talen may be able to determine but not quickly, and I was sent immediately when the council of covens realized the way they look to be headed.”

“Did you see any specific types of demons?”

“Several but primarily some odd creature that we do not have in our… I beg your pardon, my lord, I know you're the Protector of the Light…”

“I think I should call Dame Constance, our court diabolist, to be part of this conversation.”

After Dame Constance arrives, the ambassador continues.

“There were some form of I think they were called [Bq Yolanda—I think this is a transcription error, but I don’t know what it was supposed to be], but they're not in our list, not in our grimoires. They were goat-like…”

“Ram-like?”

“Perhaps. There were quite a number of them. They were not extraordinarily potent, as demons go, and our devils were able to rip them apart while chuckling, which I must admit, even for me was a bit unsettling. I almost think we were meant for a distraction. My husband had a great deal of strategic training and military background. I do not. But it seemed to me like an awful waste of summonings--they had no chance against the bound pit themes that guard the inner sanctum of each of the cities. And to throw them against those defenses, they had to have known that. If they could summon them, they can't be so stupid they didn't know they were insufficient. There were also a handful of others but only a handful of them. Nicodemons[?] were the most dangerous, of course, and a few lesser things, rutterkin and such, running about. It was the humans that did most of the damage. However, the focus of the demons was so limited to a target they could not possibly take, but it certainly distracted our warriors which allowed them to get to the commons at all.”

“And that doesn't discharge the defenses for future purposes, does it?”

“No, the pit fiends are permanently bound, and the one they did manage to disincarnate has already been replaced by Lady Talon, the high witch. She is concerned about the possibility of-- well, to be honest here, imperial majesty, of our being blamed for sending demons down on you. We do not deal with demons. Having order is an important thing.”

“We understand that. And while we do not entirely approve of the practices of our cousins in Darkness, we understand our mutual alliance against demons.”

Relief passes across her face as she hears this.

“You said that you cannot scry on them now?”

“Yes, they have become invisible, even to the pool.”

“I take it that that your scrying capabilities are substantial.”

“Yes, we've never lost track before of anything.”

“Would you be willing to share your mental images of their leader?”

“Yes, of course. I've been instructed to cooperate with you in any way that I can.”

“And do your scrying techniques include psionics?”

“Ours are only magical. We count strictly on the power of the Earth, Wind and the forces of Hell.”

Dame Constance almost chuckles when she hears that combination.

“I’m curious, what is the distinction between witches and wizards or the like?”

“We utilize an entirely different set of spells, the items that we produce with our craft are different, and we depend on pacts with devils, not compulsions.”

“So you've not promised your soul, then?”

“No, although a fair number of animals have died for every single one of the bound devils. But our souls go to Lord Paranswarm, for we are His worshipers.”

“Have you found ancient ruins or the like in the areas that were attacked? How long has that been settled by your people or by people before you?”

“Oh, we settled the areas. No one else wanted them to be honest. Being coven of witches is not necessarily the most accepted thing in some nations. So we fled to those lands. They are swampy, they are poor in resources, but they support our population well enough. You'd be amazed what you can find in the swamp if you know what to look for. We have been there about 1500 years. There were the remains of fae tors, where we built our main cities. Some are still there, but their great lords had diminished or had left and gone away. We've never been able to exactly figured that out. They were glad enough to have new neighbors that were strong enough to shield them from the exigencies of fate. They are bound to the land and were unable to leave to go to other places where there were nobles of their kind still.”

“Were any fae-blooded who were slain sacrificed?”

“I cannot say for sure, though I thought some corpses oddly slain. Do you know what branding is with animals?”

“Yes.”

“They had been branded before their throats were cut. I do not recognize the symbol, despite my expertise in magic.”

Dame Constance shakes a little in response to this. “Imperial Majesty. When the Grand Master gets here could he also get an image of these sigils, please.”

“Indeed, indeed.”

About that time the Grandmaster enters.

“Lord Silverleaves, the Countess... I'm sorry, what is your title?”

“Ravencall.”

“The Countess Ravencall, ambassador from the Broken Lands.”

“A pleasure to meet you, your Eminence, I'm not sure what the appropriate title is, my lady. It's a pleasure to meet you.” In the way that he often does, Lord Silverleaves attempts to be overly respectful of human titles that he does not in fact respect much at all.

“There has been a demonic assault on some of their cities, along with various demonic followers. They have repulsed it. But the leader, who was transparent in flesh, escaped despite their efforts to slay him, and they can no longer scry him despite their quite considerable scrying capabilities.

“Further, at least some of the dead were branded with a strange sigil or mark, and we fear that this may have been sacrificial in some sense, and then this may have been the purpose of the attack to gather such victims.”

“Do I have your leave to draw the vision out from you, my lady?”

“Yes, you have my leave”

“Grand Master, can you project the image out here so we can study them?”

“Of course, Dame. These people never give up. And apparently, many of the demons there were feillu, which the witches were not familiar with. They don’t really summon demons, do they? They are one of the cheaper demons to summon.”

The image stretches to form a transparent figure with blue fire in its chest, exactly like the ones they have seen before, except much bigger.

“I suspect that used to be, with a relatively high probability, originally a stone giant. I don’t know how they got one of those to worship them.”

“Some of the possessions have been involuntary, though.”

“That's true, that's true. They always were good at that. Oh, these marks you mean?” The image focuses in on a sigil.

Dame Constance says, “We need that sigil precisely copied. It's essential for a conduit and that may be useful. I've been working with sigils for a while.”

Kit’s secretary carefully makes a copy, then the Grand Master superimposes the image to make sure it has every single stroke.

"Excellent. This psionic thing does have its advantages. Thank you, Your Majesty. I will study this further but this is a conduit to the north, and somewhere to the west, some hundreds of miles."

"Somewhere north of them could be that effort on the ice."

"It could."

"What would happen if it was cut or broken?"

"If anything were being fed through it at the time, it would eliminate it. I hope that no one else is being sacrificed using it at the moment. But I am sure that's what they were after. I don't think they're coming here. Do you, Grand Master?"

"We know that he's been covered in a scrying shield. Let me see what I can find... coming from south and west of the Broken Lands and heading north and west."

"That's clearly not towards us. That is more or less directly towards Singing Leaves or Debonai. Singing Leaves could manage these without difficulty, I wager. So that leaves Debonai."

"The question is whether they have come in the direction they've come because they've set up a gate or a pad there. I do not believe they're coming to attack us. They have been utterly failures at doing that. I think they will go to another target for more fae. Singing Leaves would be a tougher nut to crack then you could possibly believe. I've lived there for several human lives. So I must think that they're going for another fae-blood group or group of half-elves, and I do not know where those would be."

"We need to talk to the tor lord and find maps of the tors."
[End Session 135]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 136 (January 5, 2022)

25 Tar
Following up on a long ago report (letter from Malacat to Kit): Alistair sends agents to try to hire Filegust and Thalmount, and to find out the status of the Demonist Shill the Unspeakable (in his estate, almost directly southeast of the Broken Lands), who they want to have killed. Alistair also provides that information to the Ambassador from the Broken Lands.

Kit reaches out through her fan to her agent in Debonai.

<<Ah. My lady.>>

<<Are you alright?>>

<<I am, I am. There’s about to be a hanging—the head of one of the merchant families. I’m not certain he wasn’t set up, though, by one of the rival families. It’s the sort of thing that happens when these things start.>>

<<I can’t stay long.>>

<<Yes, your image is glowing, my lady.>>

<<It’s never done that before...>> (Kit realizes with exasperation that this is her soon-to-be-born child trying to join the link.)

<<No, m’lady, at least not with me. But they’re building the gallows now. I don’t think the evidence was convincing, but they act out of fear. There are three houses—merchant houses, not noble—that want the trade that he has. The one house would never do this sort of thing, so I suspect it’s one of the other two. And if he hasn’t been framed, then he’s stupid.>>

<<Which of those merchant houses has more to gain by weakening the monarchy?>>

<<Bembick, in my opinion. Certain merchant houses have enough money to wish to become noble families, and that only happens when there are sufficient reasons for the monarch to sell the noble titles. Bembick has wanted to be part of the noble class for at least a century.>>

<<When you say a century, do you mean just for a long time, or almost exactly a century?>>

<<It was right around a hundred years ago that they started.>>

<<It’s them.>>

<<If you say so, my lady...>>

<<I do. Who in House Bembick is taking credit for bringing down this threat?>>

<<They didn’t directly—the evidence was brought by the Third Foot. But then, Tewk Bembick is an officer in the Third Foot...>>

<<It’s him, then.>>

<<Other than that, things continue to stabilize. There has been sporadic violence by the northeast border—raids of some sort. The King has sent five legions of foot, but it will take them some time to arrive, now that we are all but devoid of our chivalry.>>

<<Good. We’ll try to investigate with our vollers and provide some intelligence. Can you try to delay the execution? Hire a barrister or something, enter a plea?>>

<<Yes, I can do that. It will seem surprising that my house would be interested, but that will simply set people wondering.>>

She breaks the connection.

Alistair and Kit discuss this, and Alistair suggests that they ask the King of Debonai to render the merchant to Canberry for further interrogation, along with providing some scouting via voller.

The Council wonders whether Debonai is being targeted for some strategic reason—a relic, an important tor, something of the like. Debonai has a basilica, so that has a relic, although Dame Brionna doesn’t know what relic. She goes to talk to the Archivist to find out what that might be. The Archivist says that the basilica has a phial of sun, with trapped sunlight in it. In addition to its religious value, it can strike enormous numbers of undead to dust. Rumor has it that it is also efficacious against demons, but that has never been tested. The relic itself generates pure sunlight, but would be more powerful in the hands of a powerful priest. The Archbishop of Debonai is Ulbrecht Garin, who was appointed within the last year or so. He is an orderly priest, of the Order of the Archangel Zadkiel the Merciful (a healing order, rarely raised to the hierarchy).

Alistair asks Lord Silverleaves if they could have a voller scout around the borders of Debonai. Lord Silverleaves says that for scouting, it would be no problem at all. He also asks if there is a tor in Debonai, and there is a large tor, predominantly with lesser fae (few sidhe). And near the great tor, there would be a large number of part-fae. It is very close to the capital, and is heavily integrated into their capital. The King’s line has a considerable amount of fae blood, though they would not admit it. Lord Silverleaves steps aside to contact the Queen of Singing Leaves. That may also be part of the reason that the King and his brother are all that is left of the direct line.

After a few minutes, Lord Silverleaves reports that she has dispatched a war schooner, with a complement of flitters to address any demons encountered without the borders of Debonai. He also suggests that Alistair reach out to warn the Tor lord.

Alistair asks the fairy godmothers to connect him to the Tor lord, which they are very happy to do. Alistair warns him, and he says he’ll warn his cousin, and direct his hunt in that direction in case they need a handful of sidhe knights. Alistair also tells him to pass on to his cousin that if he were to call on Singing Leaves for aid, they would answer.

They then reach out to the King of Debonai, via a psion with the Ministry of the Mind.

<<I hope that you are well, your majesty,>> sends Alistair.

<<Indeed, better than I have been in years, your majesty.>>

<<And I understand that congratulations are in order for your impending nuptials?>>

<<Yes, thank you. I shouldn’t say this, but a major, major thing is that I’m fully looking forward to getting married, if you know what I mean, which I never would have expected.>>

<<I do know what you mean, and that is one of the great pleasures of being married.>>

<<What can I do for you?>>

<<A few small matters came up that we thought we should inform you of. First, there was a small demonic horde on the outskirts of the Broken Lands. We think they may be heading in your direction, so we wanted to give you some warning.>>

<<Thank you for that.>>

<<We’re arranging for some voller flyovers along your borders, and we should know more soon. We’ll pass that on as soon as we do.>>

<<Thank you.>>

<<The second is that we think the great tor near your capital may come under a major attack soon. We’ve passed on a warning to the fey, but we thought you should know as well.>>

<<Those people again, then?>>

<<I am afraid so. I think they may wish to target the tor and those of part fey blood in the area.>>

<<I’ll make a general proclamation that all of fey blood must come within the city walls—we’ll be able to protect them better that way. There are so many of them, though—the tor has always been almost a part of our capital.>>

<<Indeed, I fear that that is what the enemy would wish to engage in mass slaughter of if they have the opportunity.>>

<<I’ll make the proclamation immediately. They won’t all come within the city, but most of them will obey.>>

<<The last minor matter is that I understand that you have managed to capture one of the people who has been plotting against your safety.>>

<<Yes. Very odd, that—a merchant with no obvious reasons to wish me ill. Still, the evidence was convincing to my brother and the captain of the guard, and they want him put to death immediately. But Lady Delilah Trombley intervened with her barrister—she claims the merchant was involved with some theft from her house, and wants him kept alive for the investigation. My brother didn’t like it, but she does have the right.>>

<<We think these assassination attempts might be part of the enemy’s broader plot, and we’d like to investigate further. We know that you don’t have the same resources of magic and psionics as we do. We would of course return him for your justice when the investigation is done, but we wondered if you could render him to us in the meantime.>>

<<Of course. Anything to aid in the fight against our mutual enemy. Perhaps it can explain what was going on as well. Shall we teleport him to you?>>

<<Yes, if you send him to our receiving platforms in the palace, we can take him from there. Oh, and if you could send a copy of the reports of the investigation, it would help us know where to start with our interrogations.>>

<<Certainly, certainly. I must admit, the fact that the royal compound has been breached three times in the last few weeks has gotten my brother in an absolute tear. None of them got close to me—well, one of them got a little close, but not really—but he’s still very concerned.>>

<<I gather your captain of the guard has responded with vigor?>>

<<Yes, he’s a fine young man, capable and energetic. But by the God, if he puts any more guards around me, I won’t be able to go to the bathroom without one accompanying me.>>

<<If it’s any consolation, my experience is that no sooner is your royal bride with child than everyone starts being a little less anxious around you.>>

<<I certainly hope you’re right. I’ll have the prisoner brought up presently. I think my brother has him chained up to a wall—we don’t usually do that sort of thing, but attempted regicide demands a strong response.>>

<<I understand. We had to have a noble who was conspiring with our enemies and nefariously waging war in breach of our peace dismembered and the parts paraded. It’s not what I’d like to spend my time doing, but you know, you have to send a certain message and leave no doubt.>>

<<I don’t think I have to worry about the nobles, at least. If I died and my brother died, they’d tear each other to pieces to try to take our place, but none of them really want that.>>

<<And with the loss of so many of your chivalry, there must be new opportunities.>>

<<Yes, every younger child will be a landed knight in twenty years.>>

<<And that also means every younger child will have a reason to be particularly loyal to you and your line. Anyway, this has been a delightful conversation, cousin, even if I could wish that it were under better circumstances. I will make every effort to attend your wedding personally, but I can make no promises.>>

<<Of course, I completely understand how busy you are. You are, after all, an Imperial majesty.>>

After a few more pleasantries, they break the connection and send the psion to recover from the strain.
[cont'd]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
[Session 136, cont'd]
Kit then loops back to her agent, and suggests that she throw a tantrum about the fact that the merchant was sent abroad instead of turned over to her for her investigation.

The prisoner is teleported in, and Dame Brionna assigns him a cell and begins an “investigation.” The investigation team quickly concludes that he’s terrified but harmless. He keeps on saying that “he wouldn’t try to kill the King.”

Dame Brionna then visits him and asks him about the process of the accusation.

“Were you planning any contact with the King?”

“No, I’m a wheat merchant. They came to my counting room and arrested me, and they had papers, and they wanted me to sign a confession saying I was going to kill the King. I kept saying that I had no plans to harm the King. The only one who would listen was the captain of the guard, but the King’s brother overruled him, and I was to be executed. Then suddenly a noble lady I barely know accused me of theft, and I was to be turned over to her, and then I was told that I was conspiring with demons and to be sent to the Emperor of the South!”

“Do you know why the King’s brother overruled the captain of the guard?”

“I’ve never seen the documents accusing me! It’s not required by law when you’re accused of regicide.”

Dame Brionna reports back to the Council, and then opens the packet of documents. There is a note atop them:

I don’t know why, but thank you. I set up the first two attacks to fail. I used criminals, who were already going to die for other reasons, to convince everyone that security had to be tightened. The third attack, however, was from a different source. But these have to be falsified—I know where the first two attacks were coming from!

[sealed with a signet ring with many quarterings]​

The documents are clear testimony from various soldiers within the Third Foot—none of them signed by Tewk Bembick directly, but all from officers within his unit. They claim to have seen and heard the assassins speaking directly with the arrested merchant.

There’s also an attestation from a priest that he cast zone of truth on the officers who signed the affidavits—that’s troubling, because they either believed it or it suggests the priest is corrupt as well.

They send for the Archbishop.

“What can you tell us about the new archbishop in Debonai?”

“He is a brilliant healer, and a brilliant scholar, and, much like myself, there are things he would rather be doing. He will do his duties absolutely, but I guarantee that he will focus on his own studies, and he will rely on his administrators and aides for a great deal of the business of the archdiocese. I’ve learned better, now, but I don’t think he has yet. Very good man, though.”

“That means that his chancery will need to be vetted most carefully.”

“Indeed, as I wish I had done earlier with mine. I don’t know for certain why the patriarch chose him—I suspect that he thought Debonai needed healing, so he appointed a healer.”

“The Patriarch has a pastoral approach.”

“Indeed.”

“I cannot criticize that, and yet it also means that for all his personal virtue, the Church also needs to be well served by those who can carry out his will through the politics of the Church.”

“Yes, but again, he chooses more for spiritual features than for political capabilities, myself included.”

“Does the Order of Zadkiel have any who, while still devoted to its principles, might be more able at administration? They might be able to assist him.”

“There are various militant orders associated with it that could handle some administrative tasks. But for the most part… it runs several seminaries, most of the major hospitals, often in conjunction with hospitalers, but its members are not called for their devotion to administration. If you want orderly priests, as opposed to diocesan, who are skilled at administration, you might want the Order of Saint Gavorial or possibly the Society of the Most Precious Light of Life.”

“Do you have any, say, capable and ambitious young archdeacon who might be well suited to assist him?”

“I can manage a few who I think would be helpful, your majesty.”

“We wondered whether you might know anything about the priest who verified these affidavits.”

“I can tell you that he is nobly born, and a hospitaler—from a regional order, the Order of Archangel Paithothiel the Healer, also a healing order. It’s a small regional order, from Khamista, but he was assigned here. The crest does not indicate that he’s high nobility, but he is far from home. It looks to me like he was assigned as a regimental chaplain. He would report directly to the Archbishop, because he has no orderly supervisor here.”

They tell him about the concerns they have—that the zone of truth might have been false.

The Archbishop says that the spell was almost certainly cast from a scroll—a hospitaler assigned as a regimental chaplain would almost surely not be able to cast it natively. If the scroll were deliberately imperfect, a typical priest—especially a hospitaler—would likely not be able to tell the difference, but would trust that the spell had worked properly.

Scrolls are typically drafted in scriptoria-- Canberry gets mainly from Debonai and Cese Mai. They arrange to send people who can investigate this, with a young and upstanding Archdeacon (The Reverend Canon Raphael Samal Coppack) to assist the Archbishop of Debonai, an expert divine caster to learn about running a scriptorium (and to then check out the scriptorium of Debonai), and various new members of the “Halo”--the part of the Body devoted to intelligence about the Church.

The two orders with large order houses in Debonai are the Order of the Archangel Zadkiel the Merciful and the Order of the Hope of Noon. The reliquary of the basilica is maintained by the Order of the Hope of Noon. And the phial that was wielded by St. Thornwald the Incorruptible to strike down a host of undead, though their human commander, a necromancer, captured him, tortured him, and killed him. The phial was a gift from his elven companion, who was, the Archbishop adds, “certainly not his lover as some people heretically claim!” The name of the elf is lost to time.

The Council follows up with Lord Silverleaves, who tells them that Ailwi Tinu`galad and St. Thornwald’s son has chosen a path of elfdom and resides in the glades of the Steading. She has never forgiven herself. She could not reach him, and the necromancers should be glad that the knights reached them first. She was on a voller attempting to reach the necromancers, but the knights beat her by hours. Once she raised their son, she passed to the West.

The phial contained their shared and mixed essences as a couple. It can draw down the power of the sun, and it could call to their son.

“What could happen if it were sacrificed to the Eldritch?”

“I have no idea. I’ll consult the Master Scholar and the Chief Star Priestess in the Steading. And, you know of course, that the House of Tinu’galad is the royal house of the Overqueen. The young elf is her grandson, and Ailwi was her daughter, born in her youth in the First Age.”
[End Session 136]
 

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