The Rise and Fall of Glamorfell

Better than a Jar

Dark and quiet. Most of the best of things. Yelenya lay on the tree branch, still as the leaves around her. The branch did not look big enough to support her, but she didn’t weigh quite as much as she looked. Below her Kaede was writing in her journal. Yelenya kept half an eye on the elf’s journal, reading as she scribbled, and another half an eye on Ilmadia. Due to the groups capabilities they traveled almost entirely by night, and rested during the day. It was vastly superior to the usual way of doing things. The inquisitor was a bit high strung, but she was maintaining focus. She was the reason they were out here, as long as she was capable of keeping her head screwed on straight then they’d keep going. If not… well, she’d burn that bridge, with the fair maiden bound to it, when she had to. One does not waste resources without gain, and the Inquisitor was a useful resource. For the moment.

Her shadow, now that she had obtained a new one, slithered up the tree and whispered in her ear. Like her she spoke an older dialect of Varesian. It was nice to speak the old language, if only with Irina. Svetlana and Yellie suffered, from Yelenya’s perspective, dialectic drift. Understandable, they had learned the language over a hundred years after Yelenya had. The shadow whispered words of hunting beasts and prey. Yelenya hoped Ilmadia found what she was looking for. She and her Shadow were so thirsty.

The Game is Afoot
A passage from Kaede's journal

At the behest of Master Yukimura, I’ve begun to record some of my observations in this journal. While I detest the self-centered act of writing about oneself, I must admit that contemporaneous accounts of events are an important part of the historical record, so I will reluctantly do my part here. There is, after all, little else to do while sleepless on the road. One can only meditate on the secrets of harmony and focus for so long.

So, I find myself accompanying Yelenya and Ilmadia on a hunt for answers. To give a short summary: we seek the location of a downed animal, where a seedy merchant recently found the implement of Ilmadia’s demise… her own dagger. It lies somewhere to the north, in the Sootscale’s territory. My hope is that we’ll find some lead or clue that will shed light on what precipitated Ilmadia’s fate.

I don’t relish traveling without the rest of our companions, but this small crew of ours does have its advantages. We can move swiftly, stealthily, and under cover of darkness. I require little sleep, Ilmadia does not tire, and with Yelenya leading the way we are mere ghosts upon the landscape. At the risk of putting too fine a point on it: while I miss Walorin’s courage, Sayd’s conversation, Baylin’s unshakable discipline, and Imro’s gentle counsel… I do not miss the the war whooping, the clanking, and the endless chatter. It is quite refreshing to have hours pass quietly with the exchange of nothing more than the occasional hand gesture.

In the long term, I am concerned about Ilmadia. While her unique background and skill set do position her as an asset to Glamerfell, her hedonistic tendencies make her a wild card. I hope to install within her some greater purpose than the pursuit of her own selfish pleasures. If I cannot, I fear that some day she will put herself in conflict with the kingdom.

Perhaps the key is Yelenya (who is no doubt reading this while I am otherwise distracted — hello, little shadow). The two of us are frequently at cross-purposes when it comes to tactics, but are usually aligned in our goals, which is what’s really important. I’ve found it useful to just put all of my cards on the table, and leave her to take care of things the way she sees fit, with the hope that she values my trust in her discretion. If I can’t re-direct Ilmadia, perhaps Yelenya can.

After all, Sayd has turned from petulant child into a fine ruler, and I’d like to think that the two of us had at least a little something to do with that. Time will tell if it was just a coincidence.

Ascendant Poetry

Imro squinted into the harsh mid-day glare. Wally’s panting, bestial form swarmed effortlessly over the lip and out of sight.

Imro loved the sun – as a symbol. Baking directly under its brazen heat, he loved it less. This early afternoon, the bright light played tricks, obscured details, turned all into featureless blobs of magenta. Already he found himself wistful (pardon the pun!) for the humid mists from which the slimy slurks had emerged. He placed his hands on the moist lower surface of the well-textured rock face. Times like these called for a centered mind. They called, he thought, for poetry!

I hear your feet in the grass, running up the shore of the wide, wild lake.

Wally’s rope was a good one. Well-made rope was a true blessing. Fitted in his palm – just so; rough, but not cuttingly so; he could really grip it with confidence, despite the sweat. Imro’s foot found a hold, at a height his dwarf legs could comfortably reach; he pressed his toes and squirmed his foot back and forth a bit, to make sure there was good friction there. This rock seemed stable enough. Of course it would be, or it wouldn’t have been a good foundation for the tower built above. But you can’t be too sure about these things.

Make peace with the land, give our fallen quiet rest.

A familiar battle whoop echoed down the side of the cliff. Paradoxically, this fact hardened (again, pardon the pun!) Imro’s resolve to take. his. time.

Aliya, bless her soul, uttered a modest, yet deliberate cough. More slurks would appear at any moment.

Bear up the weight of our souls, twist you though we shall.

After a slow, uncertain start, Imro had really found his clarity of focus. He maintained the rigorous pace.

Imro’s muscles tensed and bunched as he drew himself and his gear up inch by inch. He had to be quite mindful of the ends of his healing staff, which was still quite new, very long and unwieldy, and not at all as firmly attached to him as his backpack, bedroll, crossbow, and other gear.

He could clearly hear now Wally’s familiar grunts, and the sounds of weapon strikes – and scrabbling misses. Things could be going better up above! Imro reluctantly paused and looked down, then quickly back up. He was about half-way. Aliya’s lovely red horned face was pensive.

Be pure as spring breath down from the snow capped mountain.

Imro was starting to sweat profusely under the strain. Bless the gods for providing breezy silk shirts! At this time he decided his love for the sun was a very detached sort of love, the kind of desperate love one feels for a wife when she’s screaming, the baby is crying, and the creditor is at the door. He definitely wanted to get out from under it.

Above there was a whooshing, a clattering, much more prolific grunting, and some pebbles rained down on him a bit. Imro paid them no mind.

Hide your secret, to be whispered in dreams of stars.

Imro’s arms groped forward as he scrabbled over the edge of the cliff. Wally came and solicitously hoisted him up by his armpits, oblivious to the sweat and dirt. “Sorry dewd, I was a mite busy or i would’ve hauled ye up on here rope,” he explained, and promptly turned his attention toward Aliya, still waiting at the bottom. There was a heap nearby, topped by what looked like stone wings.

Imro took a moment to catch his breath.

Uncontained by my eyes, defy the wisdom of all who look up.

Food, for thought.
McDonalds quality...

Dislike was one of those fiddly words. It covered a lot of ground. Might not be enough though. Loathe… now that really says something. Yelenya spent the entire time in the company of Delgato… such an annoying name… grinding her teeth and debating whether or not ripping his throat out and drinking him dry would be socially acceptable. Actually, she had already decided to, but the walking pile of filth was securing the north-west of their territory. No matter what she thought, exposing Tatzelford to attacks wasn’t worth erasing this stain on existence. She wasn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, a good person, and had dabbled in a bit of torture from time to time, but there were rules. And this fellow had broken them. One of the rules was that you don’t experiment on sentient things. Another was that you put things out of their misery. And that was ignoring the dwarves reaction. There was a reason she had, routinely, been required to kill paladins and priests. Self-preservation takes the fore when scum decide that you aren’t “alive” enough for their bullshit standards. Same concept applies to different races. It wasn’t difficult to think that way, but it was amazing how many people weren’t willing to do so. Yelenya let out a quiet snarl and tried to drown out the thoughts of blood fountaining in the air. It was not easy. She could go back downstairs and feed on the troll. If she drank enough he wouldn’t be able to regenerate. The downside was that then Food would be alerted, and on the lookout for her abilities. She’d give him about a year. Then he dies. It would not be clean. It was good to remind people every once in a while that she was a monster. Polite, kind, forgiving, pleasant, and still ultimately, a monster. It was a shame that her traveling companions were incapable of figuring out when she was angry, or in Sayd’s case, uncaring. Still, they had their chances, and utterly failed at all of them. She missed Teret. The self-doubts were annoying, but the questioning was pleasant. Always good to question. Yelenya moved from the stairway and leaned against the wall next to where Annika sat uncomfortably on a couch. Yelenya sympathized with the poor girl. Her poor hair, hacked off and ignored. Yelenya toyed with it, trying to bring some order to the mess. It would be a shame not too. Happily it was time to go soon. Sayd had gotten some information from the troll, and everybody else was still breathing. Unfortunately.

The trip back to Tatzlford to pick up Savram went uneventfully. Drunk dwarves were even more annoying than sober dwarves. Either tested her patience.

Once they had picked up Savram they decided to head to Hollow. Joy. Another one of her favorite places. And she was, as her mother put it, in a bit of a mood.

Hollow looked like it almost always did. It wasn’t on fire, or wrecked, and nobody was screaming. So, almost like it always did. Yelenya idly wondered if they saved up their crap just for when the Black Cats showed up, or if it was always like that. She heard somebody walking through the woods nearby and told the group to stop while she investigated. The drunks complied, and the lazy did too. Would wonders never cease. Please. A female was walking, reasonably well, through the woods. Considering the time of day, night rather, that was pretty impressive. The knife less so. There was a reason Yelenya carried a sword.

“Who’s there?”
“Oh, are you one of the fey? Here to ravish me?”
“No, sweetie, I’m not a fey.”
“Are you going to ravish me anyway?”
“I can, although it’s a little early in the relationship to do so. Do you want me to?”
“No, that’s ok. We barely know each other.”
Pleasantly amused, Yelenya smiled. “If you don’t mind my asking, what are you doing walking out in the woods at night? I’m told this is a scary place in the dark.”

“I was out for a walk. My mother said i couldn’t, so when i heard people on the path, i decided to cut through the woods.”

“Ah. Well, do you want me to walk you home? It’s no trouble.”

“No, that’s ok. I don’t want to attract attention. And besides, you’re a little scary.”

As probable traps go, this one was outstanding. Glossy black hair, skin that looked soft from ten yards away, young enough to spend a decent amount of time with, adventurous, a little bit defiant, willful… every box was ticked. And Yelenya was, for the moment, more than happy to walk into it even knowing that.

“Mostly I’m just a big pussycat. Almost harmless. Well, I hope you enjoy your walk, and please keep an eye out, not everybody is as pleasant as I am.”

“Um, ok. You be careful too. I’m Nikola, it was nice to meet you.”

“I’m Yelenya, it was very nice to meet you, Nikola.”

Despite the lack of female company, Yelenya was smiling as she walked back to the group and then into Hollow.

Yep, she was in trouble. Which wasn’t a problem. At the moment.

changes in form and style
maybe canon.

Changes in form and style.

Yelenya was in a mood. In her case it had a lot to do with the lack of prospects. The occasional snuggle session with a barmaid was fine, if lacking in the physical. She hadn’t inquired towards the two new women in her life, but she doubted that there was a chance there. Annika would probably be amenable to a bit of romance, and Yelenya would make it a point to tell anyone courting her that, but there were a lot of issues there that Yelenya was pretty sure she wasn’t going to be able to help with. Humanity was not her strong suit. Ilmadia was a different set of problems. Yelenya had no particulat issues with intelligent undead, her father was one, but Urgathoa was a no-go. So was lack of physical intimacy. The similar lifespans was a plus, if there weren’t a restriction on elves in the city then that might be something to keep an eye on. Mostly what it amounted to was that Yelenya was lonely. She was almost two hundred years old, it might be time to start thinking about settling down with someone. And the pickings were slim. It was enough to put anybody in a mood, a sober Dhampir was not excluded. Yelenya however, had a few tricks up her sleeve. The things we do to keep ourselves entertained. Besides, education was always useful.

Sayd and Akilina walked the hall in their new castle, considering the short span of time that it was under construction it was pretty impressive. More could be added on when time and money allowed, but the building went far in cementing his rule. Jumped up clodhoppers didn’t have castles. There were, however, some drawbacks. Yelenya had, for the most part, left his home alone, now it seemed like she was amusing herself by breaking into any part of the castle she felt the urge to. He had awoken the other day to find a wooden plaque attached to the wall at the end of his bed that read: “Rule first, Deify later, or Legacy never.” in Varesian. That was not even close to the worst of it. Guards had been posted as a matter of course, an none of them had seen her at play. Last week she had somehow gotten a cow, alive, up one of the towers and out onto the battlements. She had also been terrorizing more or less everybody at the bars, the bathhouse, and the waterfront. In a week. Babysitting Yellie and the hag babies clearly wasn’t enough to soak up her free time. Sayd opened the door in front of him and held it for Akilina. He didn’t even have time to get it closed before something slammed into him and he crashed to the ground.
“That’s how you do that.”
Sayd realized that Yelenya had crashed into him. There was a dagger pressed flat against his chest. The woman herself was sitting next to him on the floor. For the first time in a while she was out without wearing her armor, or most of her weapons. He sat up and opened his mouth to yell at her when he caught sight of four little girls sitting calmly against the wall. They were watching, although the paper and sticks of charcoal indicated that they had been drawing before that. The sight brought him up short for a moment, which was when Yelenya rose to her feet, seemingly without any effort at all. She looked a little taller, and her muscles, the ones visible, looked more defined. Her eyes were a bit brighter, and surrounded by what appeared to be kohl, lips and nails on her hands and feet were a dark red. She’s using the hairpin to change the way she looks. Yelenya smiled down at him, and her fangs looked even longer than they originally did. Small changes, very small, but the effect was notable. Inky black shapes formed on her skin surrounding her eyes, evoking something animalistic, ferel, and yet very definitely female.
“Ok, class is over for now. Pack it up. If you’re good girls, we’ll go find some cookies.”
The children collected their things and lined up at the door. The whole thing, from ambush to clean-up had taken maybe a minute and a half, most of the time was spent untangling himself from his cloak. Sayd pushed himself to his feet and reviewed the spells that he had on hand, surely there was something that could be used on the accursed redhead. As Yelenya marched her troop of future miscreants out the door she looked back with a smile:
“I put a few bottles of wine in your room, and this place needs more kids.” She waved airly at Sayd while looking at Akilina. “So, get on that, would you?”
Flabbergasted, Sayd watched the devil walk out and close the door behind her. Husband and wife stared at each other for a few moments before he shrugged. She grabbed him by the shirt and started pulling him, with quite a bit of vigor, towards their rooms.
Svetlana was feeding the kids tonight. Yelenya wanted the changeling girls to have as normal a life as they could. She was working on the theory that if they were provided good role models, and occasionally she counted herself among them, then they might turn out ok. It would take a long time, decades perhaps, for her to know how her experiment would turn out. That was ok, she had time. Yelenya stood in the shadows by the big stone wall. Supposedly it was to keep people safe. Yelenya had killed many people hiding behind big stone walls. As darkness crept in her ears caught the sound of something moving beside her. Tolerance for others was one of her stronger suits. Jurin, however, was starting to irritate her. He opened his mouth to say something stupid again and she cut him off.
“You ever hear the story of the scorpion and the frog? Froggy swimming along, see scorpion by the riverbank. Scorpion asks for a ride across. Frog says: ‘how do I know you won’t sting me?’ Scorpion replies, ‘because then I’ll drown and die too.’ Halfway across the river the scorpion stings the frog. As they sink the frog asks ‘Why?’ the scorpion replies ’i’m a scorpion, it’s in my nature.’ All those people out there, they’re our frog. Make sure you don’t sting them.” And walked off. He’d be a good boy, if he tried. Only time would tell. Namdrin slid out of the shadows and the two walked in companionable silence, enjoying the dark.
“And you, Lady Scorpion? Will you sting the frog?”
Yelenya smiled, fangs catching the moonlight.
“No, but then again, I can swim.”

Grasp of Droskar
Kaede faces a dark path

As she slipped the black iron gauntlet on, her left hand first curled into a tight fist. The pain was excruciating, but it never showed on Kaede’s face; she held up her fist and turned it from side to side, observing as it slowly turned into stone.

“How remarkable”, she said.

From atop her shoulder, Yukimura scoffed: “This is what you get for toying with the implements of evil, girl. Perhaps that flightless, featherless friend of yours can call upon his sun-god to grant you respite from that hideous thing.”

Kaede grinned without turning to look at the bird. “Yes master, I am sure that Imro would gladly free me from this bondage, but I am not altogether convinced that I require it”. She casually flipped a stone from the ground into the air with her foot, and backhanded it with her left fist, smashing it instantly into a cloud of dust and debris. “Indeed, I must say that I feel stronger than ever”.

Yukimura shook his head almost imperceptibly, “I doubt that Irori would look favorably upon it. You wield the implement of Droskar. What cruel irony, for the champion of Goka to wear the mark of the dwarven god of slavery. What would the elders in the Wall of Heaven have to say about that?”

Kaede frowned, glancing at the tattoo on her left arm. “Iro-Shu is practical, master… but your point is well taken. I shall strive to use this curse for the purpose of freeing souls from the toil of bondage. Droskar will rue the day that one of his boons fell into my hands”.

“See that you do, girl, and take care that it is you who grasps the gauntlet, and not the other way around. I’ll not suffer you to become a mockery of yourself.

Kaede sighed, and nodded.

Calm Before the Storm

Sayd reclined languidly in his chair, face impassive, eyes a pale and heartless gray to match his mood. The Dominar, Vespus, was perched on the table in front of him, talking in hushed tones as Akalina listened with a disciple’s innocence, lending purity to her adorable features. The hour was late. His magick eyes drifted to the window, the silhouette of Olaf looming in the rain on the other side of the glass. A spectre of casual madness.

“I was once bequeathed a string of seventy seven pure white xatlabraks, each one more akin to Acanthurak the Unjustly Fair than the last,” Vespus was explaining. “Such grand gestures are clearly beyond the purview of your current servents—sadly. I’ve done some cursory investigations after prying into the treasurer’s office. The taxes you could levy and choose not to, such a curious strategy—”

“Oh yes,” Akalina cut in with an affectionate squeeze to Sayd’s thigh. “The Dominar has so many opinions about the role of the masses. He speaks of all the great houses of his homeworld, how the house of Kyr Thranoch would rate amongst them in influence and vanity. Vanity is an important concept on—” but she let out a surprised giggle as Sayd pulled her from her seat and into his lap, rocking her.

He swept her hair back from her neck, bouncing her momentarily before whispering closely in her ear with malicious nonchalance: “Has he regaled you with the tale of how he ended up corked in a bottle like an impotent fool, waiting for rescue that he might desperately ply his way in my esteem with tales of his own inflated magnificence…?”

She laughed, saying in hushed tones back to him, “How wicked you are, but he’s our friend.”

“I am the measure of my own greatness,” he whispered softly in her ear. She turned in his arms to wrap her own around his neck. The wine had soaked into them. Dominar Vespus leaned closer, discoursing upon the lack of finesse in human romance.

“And the Orlovsky, are they not also great…?” she teased, quirking her brow with a faint tremble as he slid his hands absently up her sides.

“Mm, perhaps…” he whispered very softly, in her ear, “…but you, you I just demanded after looking you over and they—” he kissed her throat, saying into it, “—they acquiesced to my wants, oh so readily… so obsequiously…”

She fixed her bedroom eyes on him under lowered lashes, a soft blush blooming on her cheeks, saying nothing.

He stood up, hefting her in his arms. “Come. Perhaps tall-blond-and-apocalyptic won’t notice if we slip out the back. Don’t forget your cake, Dominar.”

Woodrow slid into the room well after midnight. Lady Vellara stood by the window casement, peeking out at the stars. As he closed the door, he noticed Sayd sitting in the shadows, one leg characteristically thrown over the other. The pale fire of his eyes faintly visible in the gloom.

“My Lord, my Lady,” Woodrow said softly.

Lady Vellara turned and glanced at him, the ample moonlight accenting her beautiful elven features. Woodrow took a seat across from Sayd following the Prince’s dismissive hand gesture of an invitation to do so.

“How can I serve you, My Lor—” Woodrow began, before hacking a cough into his elbow. They were in the future royal apartments of the castle. All the workers were long since in bed in their own homes.

“I require an augury,” Sayd said softly. “I just lay with Princess Akalina. I wish to know if she is with child.”

Woodrow nodded immediately, understandingly. “Of course, Prince Ciel,” he said. “I know with your constant calls from the capital since the wedding the moons have not aligned.”

Sayd nodded along with a touch of impatient melancholy, if such an emotion is possible. “But they align tonight,” he said. Woodrow smiled his attentive lawyer’s smile, opening the dark grimoire in front of him.

“Your hand, my Lord,” he asked. Sayd gave it over; the priest separated the fingers, then turned the Prince’s hand palm up and began tracing an inverted pentagram on his palm with red ink, as full of the ecstasy of creation with that brush as one of Shelyn’s artists might be. As he spoke the ritual words, the ink trembled on the Prince’s hand and then evaporated into a vanishing mist. Woodrow looked up in the dark room and smiled weakly.

He said: “The seed of Kyr Thranoch will grow under the seed of Iadara. So say the servants of Hell, my Lord. Princess Akalina is with your child. They will grow in the light and shade of the mythal.”

Sayd leaned back, a finger rising to his lips, considering, saying nothing. Then he lit a candle with the tip of his finger. A map was spread on the table between him and Woodrow.

“Look, both of you,” he said softly, tracing the paper with his finger. “The Kingdom of Glamorfel, bounded to the east by the Sootscale Empire, to the west by the Narlmarch Forest.”

“I’m familiar with it,” Vellara laughed. She sat on the edge of Sayd’s armrest.

Sayd rolled his dimly lit eyes. “Are you?” he said. “I worry none of us are. This town has expanded a hundred-fold since we began. How often do you walk among the people, what do you know of them? None of us know anything.”

Woodrow arched a brow, remaining silent.

“The three of us,” Sayd said softly, “deal in statecraft and maneuvering. We understand the communities around us better than we understand our own. I spend my days receiving intelligence and diplomatic briefings from Drow and Yelenya, receiving briefings on phenomena and portents from Jubilost and Kaede. I have shockingly little understanding—or love—for those I purport to rule.”

Vellara waved a hand. “Things are moving so rapidly that I’m not sure anyone has a solid understanding, Ciel.”

Sayd sniffed. “I will not cede the power of my office any longer. I’ve held back in the interest of agreeableness but the situation we’re in is too fraught now. I wish to take a much more active role in council affairs.”

“It will be as you wish, my Lord,” Woodrow said. “Just tell me what statement you wish to draft.”

Sayd shook his head softly. “No statement,” he said. “I wish to revise our laws to make evident a greater authority. We are about to enter a war unlike anything any of us has ever seen. I will not do so without true command. This is what I wish you to draft—” he paused to let the Asmodean attorney prepare.

“I, Ciel, being hereditary monarch and lord of Glamorfel, do issue this edict: the council of Thanes described in our constitution will be superseded by a council of Archons. The previous Thanes were Lady Yelenya Novak, Lady Kaede Fatebreaker, Lord Walorin Silverkin and Lord Teret Feron. The council of Archons will be as follows:

“Lady Yelenya Novak, Archon of Shadows. Lady Kaede Fatebreaker, Archon of Knowledge. Lord Walorin Silverkin, Archon of Wolves. Lord Imro Bellringer, Archon of Dawn. Lord Baylin Ironheart, Archon of Stone.

“Each Archon will head a department of government and preside over a committee of the Black Council. These committees will present information and counsel to the Prince and Princess of the topics relevant to their assignment.”

He paused, saying to Woodrow, "Make a note of this, that this is how I want the assignments handed out. We’ll put Baylin in charge of the guard and the army and especially with the defense of Foundling’s Reach. Any lawbreakers, dissidents, strange characters, I want him investigating them. And getting our army ready to fight, with Akiros. Torag is the god of strategy.

“Wally… I want you to put Jubilost under him, they balance each others strengths and weaknesses. Their committee is going to be responsible for all the wilderness and all the settlements, farms, outlying areas, the woods. Anything going on outside the town.

“Drow, I want you to work under Yelenya, with Ilmadia as well, on my intelligence committee. You’ll provide the diplomatic information gathering side, Yelenya will provide domestic intelligence, spying, rumors.

“We’ll keep Kaede in charge of planning and developing the town and kingdom, she’s our best strategist. Oleg can provide the funds to make it all happen. I also want them in charge of research and funding for sages and luminaries.

“Then, for Imro, he has the most important job of all. Dealing with the people. Have him work with Edgrin. I want to know who all these people are, how they live, what they need, what they dream. He should be their ultimate resource for a listening ear and moral steering.

“We’ll give them each assignments to work on.”

Woodrow cleared his throat. “So this is just a reorganization—?” but Sayd waved his hand.

“It’s not merely a reorganization,” he said. “The edict will continue to outline that their role is one of advisement. That will allow me to source intelligence and information from the relevant council members and provide us a direction to move in without getting bogged down. Set it so there’s a review period at six months and again at a year. A majority vote of the Archons at those intervals can abrogate the edict and I’ll be forced to submit a new plan that they then approve for a new time period, to assuage concerns of accountability.”

Vellara pursed her lips. “So you’ll be giving everyone on the counsel their own area of expertise, but standing ready to judge on the merits to keep endless squabbles from breaking out.”

Sayd nodded. “That’s the role of a sovereign anyway. Everyone will have their specialty and my role will be to provide oversight, direction, organization and decision making.” He settled back in his chair.

“I also wish for Lady Vellara to be my seneschal in my absence. I know we’ve discussed that before but we can issue it in the edict. A very dark time is coming. Isn’t that right, Olaf?”

The massive barbarian shambled from the shadows behind Sayd’s chair, the glint of fervor in his pale eyes. “Indeed, my Prince. The stones you lay today will be dust tomorrow.”

Sayd laughed, gracefully rising and raking a hand through his dark blonde hair. “Then I shall rule over dust. Come, let’s leave this place before some candy-head kobold stumbles in here to get his fix.”

Spy Stories
or Mob Boss?

Cookies. It always came back to cookies. The hunt for them, striving, searching, occasionally failing, but cookies were the motivation. Yelenya wandered the streets, such as they were, of Foundlings Reach with dread purpose. Rose walked a little bit faster than what was comfortable considering the length of her legs. As they walked she nattered on. Observers would have ignored the two women, the chatty halfling and the quiet redhead. The more keen observer would note the halfling stuck to social topics. A really keen observer would note that the redhead was not only steering the conversation, but that the halfling woman was briefing her beneath the chatter. A really, really keen observer would note that the redhead was staring straight at them and probably run for their lives. Fortunately they were few and far between. The topics of conversation were mostly limited to the halflings and the dwarves with scarce mention of the new arrivals. Very specific scarce mention of the new arrivals. The Mivonese, more to the point followers of Droskar, were lately the main focus of Yelenya’s musings. Anybody who raised the undead, and mindless undead at that, had a permanent place on her list. It tended to be a short list, people kept falling off it like flies. How they interacted with others was a pretty good example of what they intended. Sixty skeletons was not a huge amount, but applied thoughtfully they could take the city and put a serious damper on future plans. Which did not suit. So far they were behaving themselves. So far. Yelenya wouldn’t count on it. Harris was up ahead. Evening coming on they wandered towards the barracks. He rarely stayed there, wandering to and fro. He delivered the mail to Oleg’s fort. From there it was brought to the main road. Which explained why she had the opportunity to either read or copy every letter that went out that way. It was good that Baylin’s wife had arrived. She approved of love and romance, most emphatically, but he was rather mushy in his letters. And she was rather… graphic. Nothing wrong with it, she just didn’t particularly like snooping. Harris and Yelenya strolled on, ghosts passing in the night, and he reported on things happening outside the city. Fey seemed to be on the move north, kobolds skirmishing with mites to the east. A few mites seen on giant bees. Yelenya considered the news. He was best left to his own devices, with no overall tasking. Her last stop of the night was to see Rug. There was business to conduct. She found it irritating that some people couldn’t leave well enough alone. The irony wasn’t lost on her. Recently there had been settlers, refugees perhaps, coming in from here and there. As per protocol they had been left alone as long as they behaved themselves. There had been a few tense moments, droskar and his twits were anything but neighborly, but she was willing to tolerate them. To a point. Religion, she mused, was occasionally good and often bad. Like laws, it almost seemed most religions were designed with the sole purpose of abusing others. At any rate, it was above her pay-grade. Not that she got paid much. Ever. Tonights work was of the dwarven persuasion. A Droskar follower. And, she suspected, Clotilde’s opening gambit. Yelenya had debated just sinking the fool to the bottom of the lake, but that would be rude. And the lake was still frozen. The problem was that he had broken the rules. And she believed the smuggler that had reportedly given him a copy. And explained it to him. One of the easiest rules to remember was: no drugs sold on credit. No cash, no sale. This twit had broken her rule, and as a consequence was causing disharmony in a town just struggling to get up and running. There wasn’t even a steady supply of cookies for goddess’ sake. Which is why Yelenya and Rug had broken into his office and sat waiting for him. Fortunately it didn’t take long, only an hour. The urge to sever his gonads had passed quickly. Ish. The look on his face when Rug latched the door behind him was amusing. The pallor that suffused his ruddy features as Yelenya dropped her “alive act” was even more so. Bluster, evade, b.s., the fool tried it all. In a calm, collected, controlled rasp Yelenya reminded him of the consequences of braking the rules. And collected the debt owed. He’d heal eventually.

Walking in the shadows, Yelenya hummed a tune she had learned from her mother a century ago. She felt a little full, almost like her belly was sloshing about. Dwarven red, just the thing on a cold winter’s night.

Healing Injustice

Imro inhaled deeply, savoring the vapors wafting up from his early morning tea. He had always relished the use of his senses – most notably the taste of fine food and drink, resulting in a large and healthy silhouette. But in the case of the tea, his enjoyment of it had become a numinous ritual, one which replaced his preferred one of basking in the light of the rising sun.

It was not Imro’s preference to alter his routine, especially while at home. Usually he would stand at the highest convenient point, relaxed, eyes closed. He would feel the first rays of the sun, like gentle fingers, or the brush strokes of a cosmic artist, who for whatever unfathomably whimsical reason chose to paint him on life’s canvas starting with his gnarled dwarf toes, ending at the top of his scarred head.

A wise cleric knew when to make concessions to circumstance. Glamorfell was in the icy grip of an unnaturally prolonged and fierce winter. Today, Imro would contemplate the tea, discern the lilac and the lemongrass, how they mixed to create a pleasant synthesis, and marvel at the sheer detail of life’s intricate balance. He would be grateful for the warmth he was shown by the universe, which held at bay the forces of cold and crunchy foot-freezing snow lurking outside.

Toward the end of his meditation, he heard a stirring in the next room. Imro calmly stretched out his hands, and felt the power flow between them … just a little bit! … it warmed his cup, and the second one he had prepared for Lyrehawk … and they steamed perfectly. Imro had once been scolded harshly by some ascete nun, who had informed him that the powers of the gods must never be wielded impulsively. But it seemed to Imro that at times Sarenrae placed an urge or desire in his heart, and at times she left matters up to him. Sarenrae had never appeared and said “Imro, your powers are never to be used for mere convenience. So if you or others are uncomfortable, don’t use your gifts – be uncomfortable!” Where was the sense in that?

Besides, Imro had travelled extensively; he had seen that sometimes a small use of power could have a huge effect, and at other times a use of great power might come to no effect. How could one know which to use, when even the gods themselves (at least in stories) were known to fail in the judgement of this? So Imro had decided long ago to not worry overmuch about it.

Wielding the powers of gods was enjoyable, as Lyrehawk had guessed after they had spent some nights together. Healing friends and smiting foes – both felt … different, but good. Truth to be told, Imro found it hard to refrain from either. If his friends found out what Imro experienced during a healing burst, well! They might all die of embarrassment, Imro included.

Imro was unpleasantly shaken from his reverie when a realization dawned that something was amiss. He looked up to see Lyrehawk peering out of the window over the garden area. She motioned to him to keep quiet. “I heard something,” she said in hushed tones.

Lyrehawk and Imro had often exchanged stories of numerous and varied dangers they had met in the surrounding lands. It was unlikely, though not impossible, that a malevolent person or force had come within the bounds of Foundling’s Reach. But not every danger was malevolent, some were just natural. This being still a frontier town, it was not uncommon for some wild creature to wander in. The house seemed secure enough, but it was best not to take chances.

Imro and Lyrehawk crouched and made their way out the side door. The air was silent, all sounds dampened by a blanket of snow that covered everything. In the garden area were columns of loose stones and wood that had been delivered where Imro planned to construct a shrine, whenever a thaw should occur. They sat still for a few moments, waiting, their breaths freezing and drifting in the air. Imro felt exposed in tunic, pants, and a warm robe, Lyrehawk in leathers, though not armored. They strained to see and hear anything in the stillness. Imro heard something – voices? Lyrehawk nodded – she heard them, too. Imro whispered a word, a silent flame appeared, flickering above his open palm. He could throw it if the need arose, and another would take its place. Both armed now, Lyrehawk started forward and Imro followed a step behind. A strange howling, moaning, sound now came from behind one of the columns. It’s quality was strange and unnatural to Imro’s ears.

Several things happened in the next confused moments, nearly all at once. Lyrehawk, hearing the moan, stopped moving forward and stood up from her crouch. Just then, a shape – large, formless and black – appeared with a kind of flopping motion at the top of the column, and emitted a piercing, throaty screech. Imro, unnerved, threw his flame at it. Lyrehawk stretched her arm out to signal Imro to hold back, too late. The black shape fluttered and Imro heard the sound of rocks tumbling and striking one another. There was a piercing, high scream, and a lower gruff yell. Imro heard a familiar voice yell, “I’m outta here!” Lyrehawk looked dismayed as she rushed to get to the other side of the column.

“Damn you, Tig Larson!” she called. Imro rushed forward. He saw footprints. There was Tig, making tracks. Imro yelled after him, “What mischief are you up to now, Tig, you little ingrate!” Tig’s form turned to look back, but he did not slow down. How did he manage to be dirt-streaked in this freezing cold, Imro mused. Tig’s form shrank into the distance.

Imro turned back to see a wide-eyed little halfling girl. She stood up and her face grimaced. She looked down and her forearm was bent at an odd angle, broken. She winced, cradled it in her other hand. Then her mouth opened wide and emitted an hysterical wail of pain. Tears streamed from her face and she looked from Lyrehawk to Imro in horror. She continued wailing and ran, in a different direction from Tig, toward a farmhouse on the other side of a neighboring field. Imro could see that the girl was retracing tracks from where the pair of halfling kids had come.

“Wait,” Imro called. “Daisy! That’s Daisy Fleetfoot, one of my neighbors, he said to Lyrehawk. “We’re not going to hurt you! Daisy” But if the girl could hear him, she made no sign. Imro watched helplessly as her little furry halfling feet pumped up and down steadily. The wailing grew fainter as she drew further away.

“Huh. It was the night chuff,” said Lyrehawk absently. Imro looked at her. “On the rocks,” she elaborated. “It could be the same bird I’ve seen at the barracks. I’m glad you missed it. Did you know that some of them can learn simple words and phrases? Um, you can put that away now,” she added pointedly, with a little irritation in her voice. Imro looked. He was holding his arm out absently, where the flame he had thrown had naturally reappeared. He sheepishly closed his palm, extinguishing it.

“Yes, Daisy. I told you once,” said the girl’s imperious aunt. She’s my brother’s girl. You’ll find her at Tu-An’s. My Jak hitched up his cart and took her to tend to SERIOUS physical injuries!. Do you know she’s terrified, from what you done to her? I suppose you want to help, and not finish the job,” she snorted. Imro and Lyrehawk stood outside the door of the farmhouse.

“Quite right, quite right,” said Imro, normally full of careless bluster, now deflated. He gave her a vague warning that she should take care whom Daisy associated with, but the woman was already shutting the door.

Imro stamped his feet and huffed out a few nervous, misty breaths. He rubbed at frost forming on his robes. Tu-An. She was beautiful, fervent, and a bit unhinged. He tried not to think about it.

“Better and better,” said Lyrehawk. “This ought to be fun. Maybe I shouldn’t have left the crossbow.”

Trudging on foot, it was well into the work day when the pair made it into town. Folk were staying indoors as much as possible, so the streets were quiet. They stopped several times to make inquiries, as Tu’An was not always in the same place. Eventually, they rounded a corner and there she was, in front of the hostel – it was a low and wide building, which some of the volunteers and more long-term residents had decorated with mosaics on the walls and floor.

In accordance with Tu-An’s style and the season, she wore a robe of heavy worsted yellow cloth, which draped all the way to the ground, and was intricately embroidered in white with an ornate design of holy symbols. Brown fur lining was visible at the cuffs and collar, above which was her red face, horns, and tightly bound, ever immaculately tended blonde hair. She saw the pair approaching, and without acknowledgment, turned and went inside.

“Nice,” said Lyrehawk.

Imro, though he was a relatively new resident in town and frequently travelled, had nevertheless been here many times at Tu’An’s invitation; but their relationship had recently and suddenly soured.

While Imro had thoughts that this visit was a bad idea, his desire to see Daisy and make amends was enough to overcome his unease. They had come all this way. And the whole thing was silly, Imro thought, because he had other friends here. Tu’An didn’t actually own the place, or at least he didn’t think she did.

“We can ask Torvic,” Imro said to Lyrehawk.

“Sounds good,” said Lyrehawk. “Anyway, I’m freezing.”

They were grateful for the warmth inside. The atrium was empty, so they went straight in.

Torvic met Lyrehawk with a warm smile and enthusiasm, then turned to Imro with a frown, and disappointment in his eyes.

“What have you done, Imro,” said Torvic.

“Torvic my friend, tell me what you have heard.”

“Daybreak,” said Torvic. “They say you killed him, or may as well have. Tell me this is not true.”

Imro did his best to explain: Daybreak was not who we thought. He was a man named Jesur, from Mendev, who had forgotten who he was. Jesur was a criminal, and quite possibly a very dangerous man. It would have been wrong to send Daybreak to Mendev, but to send Jesur, that was justice.

Torvic seemed confused. “Daybreak took care of me, and many others here. I am an old man. Who am I to understand these things. You should go, leave me be!”

Imro grabbed Torvic by the arms. “No, Torvic, old friend. Please understand! Daybreak suffered the same as you and I. He forgot because of what was done to him, like us!” Imro pointed toward his scar.

“Selfish,” said Torvic, weakly. “You are selfish, Imro.” He turned and shuffled into his room.

Imro’s eyes followed Torvic’s back. He stood silently in the hallway.

“This is great,” Lyrehawk said to Imro. She followed Torvic through the doorway. Stunned into silence, Imro waited. He stared at a mosaic of mirrored tiles.

“Chin up,” said Lyrehawk. Torvic says the girl came in a while ago. Tig and Daisy were both holed up in the farmhouse with her aunt. Who knows how these halfling families work things out, the whole family raises the kids and they swap them around all the time. Anyway, he dared her to go with him to our place to catch a glimpse of the great Imro, one of the heroes of the Glee Gutting, and not far from her house. When they got there, he tried to set a fire, and she tried to stop him. You know the rest.”

They found Daisy in a common area where a large group of people, mostly vagrants and itinerant beggars, were taking refuge from the cold. Some were socializing. Imro was well known here, and he was greeted by some. Although as with Torvic, Imro felt less than the expected enthusiasm.

Daisy’s bone was set, her arm in a splint. She had been fed and given healing herbs. She was resting on a mattress on the floor, playing a game of tiles and colored stones, chatting in animated fashion with her opponents. When she saw Lyrehawk and Imro, she cried. Imro got down on one knee and took up her hand and explained that he was overjoyed to see her well. Upon which many words were exchanged. Imro told her to visit him at his house whenever she liked, but not to sneak. By the end of the conversation, they hugged, and Imro and Daisy were both tearful.

Tu’An entered the area at some point during the conversation. Although she busied herself distributing clean blankets and collecting dirty ones, she listened, as did many others present, although she would not look toward Imro.

Imro stood. Under normal circumstances, he would walk through the crowd, offer comfort and at some point invite all present, or at least the worst-off ones, to receive an invigorating burst of positive energy. But he was hesitant. He turned to Tu-An.

She spoke before he could find any words. “Imro, do not speak, to me” she said. “I … have long admired you. Your closeness to She of the Guiding Light. Bearer of the Sword of Light. You have such … power, Imro. And so little …. Oh, just do what you can for these people!” She turned and ran through the door.

Imro sighed. Unaccountably, he wished Wally were here right now.

“I’m sorry,” he said to the gathering, he gestured with his arms at his sides, palms out. “You all knew Daybreak, and you all know I … I am responsible. It was the Council that decided, but I, I convinced them, it’s true. You don’t have Daybreak any more, and that’s because of me. I did what I thought was best to protect everyone here. And I would do it again. Because he was a danger, and because honestly, we were all fooled, even Daybreak himself. I can’t replace him, and I wouldn’t want to. Because Daybreak wasn’t actually Daybreak. He was someone … really not nice. But you lost him, someone you love, and I am so, so sorry.”

At this, some in the gathering drew close. Some embraced Imro, or patted him on the shoulder, or shook his hand. “Thank you,” he said to each one. “Thank you. Everyone, I offer healing, but truth be told, today it is I who am healed by you. Thank you,” he said.

At the end, Imro recited a prayer to all the gods, and asked for Sarenrae’s blessing. The burst flowed forth. He always imagined the invisible healing force to be red. He didn’t know how something could be invisible and red at the same time, but that’s how he felt it was. At the instant of release, he felt and heard a sharp intake of breath, and saw Tu-An’s eyes on him from the doorway. Her shoulders shook – with still-fresh grief or rage, Imro could not tell.

“Is it time to go yet,” said Lyrehawk. “This place is giving me the creeps.”

A barren field.
You done goofed.

Shocked would be the appropriate word, Yelenya decided. Meeting the Old Witch had gone swimmingly. Kaede might get a friend out of it. Rescuing the babies stolen from their mothers by the Hags was, in all ways, a win. Those two events weren’t what was making everybody else stand there with that “i can’t believe i’m such an idiot” look on their faces. The urge to tell them, Sayd in particular, that she had told them so was almost unbearably strong. Because the level of stupidity catching up to them was pretty close to unsurvivable at the moment. The sheer, almost unbelievable, stupidity of their choices was finally catching up. Of course, maybe she was just cranky. She hadn’t gotten laid once since before they set out from Restov so long ago. She hadn’t met the right person. There was a difference between getting laid and being raped. No means no when you’re sober, when you’re drunk, and when you’re passed out. Consequently she also hadn’t had anything but water and tea since that night. Not that anyone else cared at all. Killing that sack of shit Falchos was justified. Keeping him around at all was stupid, but she had let him live as long as he stayed in the woods. The truce was more important than what she wanted. She hadn’t killed him when those morons had invited him to town to screw up there. Again, the truce. She had tolerated his existence even after the fey attacked, because there might actually be a use for him later. Not anymore. Stupidity should not be rewarded. Not from anyone. And Yelenya was getting tired cleaning up messes.

“There’s a story, goes something like this:

A human prince, a dwarven cleric, a saytr, and a human woman walk into an inn. They ask for something to eat. The innkeeper tells them the lady with the baby in the corner got the last bowl. The group walk over and ask the lady for her food.

The prince says he’s the prince, so he should have the stew. The lady counters that she paid her taxes so he can piss off.

The cleric asks for the stew, promising that he’ll do great things when he’s done eating. She asks him where he was when it was time to harvest the crop, and her husband was sick. They lost half their crop because she was alone.

The human woman shrugs and says that the prince and the cleric can split the stew, she just wants to torture the baby for a while.

The fey, at this point, is busy raping the lady and doesn’t care why the rest of the people in the inn seem to be angry about it.”

“People asking for things they haven’t earned are dangerous enough, but worse than that is forgetting what exactly is following you around. In case you were wondering exhibit B is right over there.”

Sayd looked at her like a poleaxed cow. Yelenya turned and walked further into the woods. Stupidity had always been painful to her. Maybe that was where she had made a mistake all those years ago.


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