The Isle of Deroge-The Grand Wager...

Week 29: Bad decisions

Week 29

“Looks like it’s more than just those dark hounds we killed yesterday.” Val pointed off into the distance noting a large bonfire. “Wait here while I go check it out.” He glanced back just at the edge of the party’s lantern light. “As usual, come running if you hear me screaming.”

As he approached the bonfire, Val caught the sight of a twisted beast man on watch. Val called on the power of his ring to render himself invisible. He laid low to the ground as the goat-faced guard paused, sniffing the air right by his position. Val moved on, inspecting the camp. It was a patrol of beast men. He counted five, but imagined there might be another one or two watching the other side of the camp.

He relayed what he saw to the others through the power of his ring. He glanced at the tripod keeping the large cook pot suspended over the fire. ‘Just give me a moment. I’ll create a diversion.’ Val sent through the ring.

‘No, get away from there.’ Iezecele returned. He had already summoned his Will to release him from the earth’s binding, allowing him to fly. As he sped to the camp, he used his Will to wrap the night around himself. His invisibility rendered his approach unnoticed. When Val had cleared the area, he summoned his Will over the campfire. An explosion of fire detonated, tearing away the cloak of night Iezecele had draped around himself. The fire burned through three of the beast men, killing them.

The guards who were patrolling the outskirts of the camp drew their black bows and shot at Iezecele. Two of the arrows struck him as he flew out of their range. Iezecele gritted his teeth and and summoned his Will of fire to strike at the camp. Once more, a ball of flame exploded in the night. Another of the beast men fell, flesh seared from his bones. Three remained and fired again. The arrows came close even at a distance. The beast men’s keen animal senses still pinpointed Iezecele’s location. He decided to withdraw back to his companions.

After awaiting the remaining beast men to pursue Iezecele, the party cautiously approached the campsite. They found it abandoned. By torchlight, Lucinde found some tracks of the retreating beast men. “Looks like they knew they weren’t up for the fight.”

The next morning, the party continued the journey to Mistral. They noted tracks every so often moving in a wide arc. “It looks like they’re making a blockade around the city.” Lucinde commented.

Hours later, the party climbed up a newly dislocated slab of rock and looked out at the city of Mistral. The city’s flag still flew above the Hall of the Council of Six. Carts travelled freely along the streets. Things seemed normal. “Remember, don’t trust anyone,” Iezecele warned.

“Anyone?” Lucinde questioned. “Didn’t you say your family lived here?”

Iezecele grimaced, “Especially don’t trust them.”

Upon closer inspection, Gaspar noted wagons leaving the northern gates, heading in the direction of the new mountains. Val pointed out guards patrolling the streets. Most wore the colors of Mistral, but he noted a few squads dressed in the dark armor of Marmo. “Looks like it’s more than a blockade. This place might be occupied.”

The group waited until the dead of night to approach the city. Iezecele used his Will to make himself invisible and then used it again to fly above the wall. Using the power of his ring, Iezecele let the rest of the party know when the coast was clear to climb over the wall. Under his direction, the party made it’s way to the city’s warehouse district. Val’s lockpicking skills easily gained them entrance.

Early the following morning the party slipped out before the warehouse workers started their day. The streets appeared normal as the city began to wake. People began to fill the streets. Though there were Marmo soldiers patrolling the streets and the citizens of Mistral gave them a wide berth, the people of Mistral didn’t seem particularly fearful of them. Val noted that Mistral’s guards and it’s citizens were still armed. A town crier began to call out about, reminding all citizens that they needed to appear in the city square to provide their final vote.

Val made his way into the Sapphire Inn and began chatting up the locals about the vote. It seems that Marmo was attempting a peaceful conquering of the city. The citizens were being called to give their final answer on whether to accept Marmo rule. Some citizens told Val that they were happy to accept Marmo, seeing the strength of its soldiers. Others were wary of their strange new northern neighbors. “We should check out this Final Answer tonight.” Val suggested.

As evening came over the city square, the party found themselves in the crowded city square. Either through sense of duty or fear, it seemed like every citizen of Mistral was packed into the area. Val glanced at the edges of the square, Marmo soldiers were gathering there.

“Look,” Lucinde, tallest of the group, noticed first. “It’s starting.” She saw six chairs placed on a raised platform. A group of men who were huddled together in conversation took sat in the seats. Iezecele, through the power of the ring, informed the party that the men were the Council of Six. None of them saw him grimace at the sight of his father among them. The leaders of Cendrillion. Six others approached the front of the platform. Three were dressed in plain, but well made clothes, two were clad in the same black armor and cloaks. The last was a plain faced man with long greying hair, dressed in a fine suit of full plate armor. A black cloak was draped over his shoulders.

The man in the armor stood at the edge of the platform and raised his voice to the crowd. “People of Mistral, thank you, each and every one of you, thank you for coming tonight. I hope that you have come here with conviction in your heart. It is a night of momentous decision. It is our greatest wish that you hope to join the Empire.” He folded his hands, “Though we understand if you choose not to.”

Lucinde couldn’t quite place it, but she swore that she had heard the speaker’s voice before.

The man unfolded his hands and gently waved his hand to the hall behind him. “Inside, you will place your vote. Your decision will be writ in a grand ledger. Should you choose to join the Empire, you will be asked to take an Oath and swear allegiance. Should you choose the opposite, you will be asked to gather your belongings and leave these lands with all haste. You will be granted safe leave to the Cosette border.” He bowed to the crowd, “It is our deepest hope that you swear to stand with us.” He motioned to the Council of Six. “Now, as they should, your leaders with guide you into your future. Let us begin.”

The Council of Six walked into the hall. The citizens of Mistral began to file in behind them. After awhile, people began to filter out of the Hall. Val saw the ring of Marmo soldiers tightening at the edges of the square, ensuring that all the citizens present would place their vote. ‘Unless we want to start a fight, it looks like were going to have to place our vote.’ He notified the group through his ring.

As they funneled onto the platform, the party took a glance at the six from Marmo. Iezecele noticed that the black armor was the same armor that the eyeless creatures wore. Val saw the glint of precious metal around the necks of the three men. Each wore the same wolf’s head necklace that they had seen on the Marmo Willworkers in Senna. One wore a necklace of gold. The other two had ones of silver. Wondered if it was a form of ranking among them.

Lucinde focused on the man who was speaking. She noticed that he wore a ring very similar to her own, only adorned with a pearl. Now close, she overheard him speaking and could finally place the voice. It belonged to the eyeless she had encountered outside of Tepest. It was Mastema’s voice. ‘Can Willworkers make magic disguises?’ She sent to Iezecele.

‘I can disguise anyone, put now’s not the best place to cast spells.’ He returned.

‘I think the speaker is Mastema. I also think that he’s wearing the ring of a Chosen.’

Iezecele glanced over and saw the pearl ring. ‘Probably the ring of the one that went missing.’

Gaspar took a step back when he looked at Mastema. ‘If I didn’t know any better, that is Tristan Durant.’

‘Well, he must have chosen to go to the other side,’ Iezecele noted wryly.

Gaspar shook his head, ‘No, he was a Chosen of Verite’. He’s one of the best men I’ve ever met.’

Mastema felt the eyes on him and glanced over. Recognizing Lucinde, he approached her. “We never did get to have that conversation.”

To late, she realized the danger they were all in. She steeled her nerves. “With or without my companions?”

Mastema looked up and down the line of citizens, but didn’t recognize anyone. “If you wish, you can call them. I would love to be introduced.”

Lucinde sent a warning to the others. ’Don’t risk yourselves.’ She took a deep breath and placed her faith in Verite’s protection. “Let’s go have a conversation.”

Mastema and the two black armored men, who Lucinde could only assume were both eyeless, went into the hall and went off to a private room. He sat in a fine chair, the two eyeless stood behind him. He motioned to the chair across the table. “Please, have a seat?”

“I prefer to stand.”

Mastema raised his hands. “If that is your wish. Perhaps a refreshment?”

Lucinde shook her head.

Mastema began. “Well, what brings you to Mistral?”

“Why not go first?”

“Ancestors of Marmo live in these lands. We came to give them a proper chance to swear to their rightful rulers.”

“We came looking for information.”

Mastema rested back in his chair, “What do you want to know?”

Lucinde noticed him absently spinning his ring. “How the people of Cendrillion are doing. What you invaders are doing.”

“We can debate the term ‘invaders’ later. You heard what I said outside. We are giving the people of Cendrillion a chance to reclaim their birthright and join the Empire.”

Thinking of Gaspar’s claim about Mastema, Lucinde leaned forward. “What is your name?”

Mastema paused and blinked once, “Mastema.” He leaned forward, closer to Lucinde, “And yours is Lucinde Solide.”

“How long have you been working for Marmo?”

“A few years now.”

“So you’re not from Marmo? You’re from here?”

“I was not born here.”

Lucinde nodded to Mastema’s hand, “You seem fond of that ring.”

Mastema noticed he had been spinning and stopped. “It is quite similar to yours.” He sat back in his chair. “As you can see, the people are not being ill treated. What did you expect?”

Lucinde was about to answer when one of the men with the wolf necklace returned to the room and cast spells on Mastema and the other two. She could only guess that it was magic to disguise the eyeless.

“I came to see if those that survived Marmo’s return are being treated well.”

“Before the Empire returned, these people were sad and lost. We will give them new purpose.”

“A war with Cosette?”

“While my Master has no love for the Oathbreakers of Cosette. We have not set one foot inside its borders.”

“Not even spies or assassins?”

“No”

Lucinde smirked, “Really, attempts have been made on my life.”

“I wasn’t aware of that. It certainly wasn’t me.”

“Have you met Tristan Durante?”

“Tristan is no more.”

“It is Verite’s Will that the Isle belong to the People.”

“My Master says Mesonge claims the opposite.” Mastema shook his head, “It seems that you have a poor opinion of Marmo.”

“Marmo uses a power that twists men into beasts and unleash unnatural hounds and monsters.”

“My Master would say it is a gift from his god. Would you choose not to use a gift from your god?”

“And you serve this master?”

Mastema tilted his head slightly, “Mostly.” Lucinde noticed the Willworker who had cast the spell on the eyeless start at Mastema’s remark. “You’ve granted me the favor of your company. What would you wish me to grant you?”

Lucinde paused and thought of the crowd of families that were squeezed into the square outside. “I want you to honor your oath and allow the people who leave to do so in safety.”

“It will be done.” The Willworker pursed his lips and began to lean forward, but Mastema halted him with a raised hand. “If I can make a request, conversing with you has been most enjoyable. I would ask that I can speak with your companions.”

“I can ask. They are their own people.”

Lucinde continued to think about Gaspar’s statement. Was Mastema really Tristan Durante? “Do you have any plans for June first?”

“Are you asking permission to court me?” Mastema smiled.

“No.” Lucinde responded flatly.

“Birthdays can be a joyous occasion.” The Willworker whispered something in Mastema’s ear. He frowned, “I’m afraid my duty calls. Thank you again for your time. My companions will show you out.”

Lucinde tasted the outside air like she was surfacing from a deep swim. After relaying the conversation with Mastema to the party, ‘We need to get out of here. I think I soiled myself.’

‘I think we need to stay.’ Gaspar responded. ‘He sounds just like Tristan. I swear it is him.’

Val and Iezecele responded at the same time, ‘Was.’

‘No, he mentioned how birthdays are important.’

Lucinde heard the emphasis Gaspar placed on the word birthdays. ’They’re called Neverborn, right?’

‘Right. How can a birthday be important to something that is never born? I think there’s something there. Maybe Tristan is still there. I like the man very much.’ With all Marmo soldiers and Willworkers, he surrendered to the thought there was nothing they could do right now. He sighed, ‘Do you think they’ll keep their word?"

‘They have to.’ Val claimed. ‘Otherwise they’d be Oathbreakers like the rest of us.’

Iezecele tapped Val’s arm and motioned to the platform. As the last of the citizens filed out of the hall, the Council of Six left. Iezecele followed them through the familiar streets of his youth until they eventually stopped at his father’s house. The six stopped in front of the gate. Iezecele worked his Will into the stone, picking up the slightest vibrations when they spoke.

Iezecele’s father spoke, “I really wish you were all coming with me. Mistral and Cendrillion have been independent for so long.” He looked in the direction of the city square, “I don’t want to live under their thumb.”

One of the others spoke, “No matter where you go now, Cosette, Kantora, you’ll be under somebody’s thumb.”

“Less than here, I think,” Iezecele’s father responded. He shook his head, “I don’t trust them.”

“Our people are staying,” another of the six spoke. “If they’re staying, I’m staying with them. Marmo says they’ll help us rebuild. Maybe we can become something greater.”

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Week 28: From South to North

Week 28

“I don’t think he’s in any real danger.” Iezecele told his companions while they were waiting for Val to finish his meeting with the Queen. “Maybe she’ll have one of the Rose Guards shoot him and then have Victor heal him.”

“Maybe she’ll just kick him in the balls.” Lucinde smiled.

“He could use a good kick to the balls,” Gaspar quietly said to himself and took a quick sip of his drink, hiding his embarrassment.

Their musing was interrupted by a soft knock at the door. Victor Wrenly, the Queen’s Willworker advisor, quickly followed the knock. “Ah, good, I was hoping to have a short conversation, young Master Grimm.” He took the seat Iezecele motioned to. “The ambassadors from Marmo came with a great deal of flowery speech. And now you say that they will leave Kantora with atrocities?”

Iezecele nodded, “It’s the oldest trick in the book, divide and conquer. Already the Devonans and Eshih keep to their own borders. If there’s anything even worth salvaging of Cendrillion, I’m sure Marmo’s already done it. That just leaves Cosette and Kantora. I’m sure the enemy would call it a victory if they could drive a wedge between the remaining Human nations.”

Master Wrenly stroked his pointed beard, the few grey hairs belying his age and power as a Willworker. “Yes, yes, and what of their Willworkers? The five that were here tonight were quite strong in the Will. Have you encountered many of their Willworkers?”

Iezecele had always assumed that the beastmen and the eyeless creatures were created through the Will, but he could not remember ever seeing a Marmo Willworker, not at Karg nor anywhere else. “No, this is the first we heard of them. I had always assumed that the humans that we encountered were just lackeys of enemy.” From the men under Kermis, to the assassin outside of Har’Thelen, the Humans they had encountered had always been grunts, terrified of their monstrous masters, what they called Watchers. “I can’t say that I’m relieved to hear that Human hands are moving Marmo’s pieces.”

“I’ve discounted the Church’s prophecy ever since the late Queen’s mother first informed me.” He shook his head, “To think that it’s truth.”

Iezecele nodded, “I wish that the Church and it’s chappins were the bunch of doddering idiots that I always took them for.”

“Well,” Victor thought like a Kantoran, “a foreign land crashing into the Isle will certainly swing the pendulum of power in their direction.”

Lucinde frowned. There was the enemy at their door and this Kantoran could only think of what power they could be losing to an ally. “What does Kantora get with siding with the Marmo?”

“We would receive a military alliance that boasts an equal strength to Cosette.”

The statement puzzled Lucinde, “Okay, but what would you need with a military alliance? There hasn’t been any fighting between Cosette and Kantora for generations.”

“It is no secret that the power of the Kantoran nobility has been waning for some time. An alliance with a strong land that has the will to exercise their strength could give power back to the Queen instead of the Guilds.”

“Not to mention,” Iezecele added, “that the seat of arcane power rests in Kantora. If they could sign a treaty of non-aggression, it would take a great deal of power out of our side.”

“It could be worse,” Victor mused, “Long have Willworkers lived under yoke of the rules placed upon us after the Breaking. Instead of mere non-aggression, Marmo may ask us to join them. Their Willworkers live under no such laws.”

“Maybe Kantora and the other nations should offer something to the Willworkers before Marmo.” Lucinde thought it was the obvious thing to do. Though the idea of it bothered Lucinde. After all, Marmo had chosen not to fetter their Willworkers.

“That would be something to see, Mistress Solide,” Victor briefly allowed his mind to wander. “And what do you wonder would happen if the Queen was to turn them down?”

Iezecele glanced at the portrait of Queen Allegra’s mother that dominated the room, “If that were the case, I think that you should plan to do your best to keep an eye on her Majesty.”

Victor picked up on Iezecele’s subtle accusation that Marmo may have already assassinated one Kantoran regent. He shook his head, “I didn’t get the impression that the Princess and the Prince were eager for war. They seemed genuinely interested in protection from Cosette.”

“Cosette is a land of defenders.” Lucinde confidently stated. “We don’t begin fights, but we’re prepared to end them.” She tightened her fist. “You should think about what aggressions Marmo is planning that they should fear Cosette.”

“They said nothing of the sort. Instead, the ambassadors spoke of securing their land and aid against the Oathbreakers of Cosette.” Victor rose from his seat, “I thank you for your candor. Is there any other hospitality I may provide while your companion is delayed?”

“Nothing for me.” Iezecele shook his head, the knowledge of Marmo’s Willworkers was at the forefront of his thoughts. “In fact, I must leave return with haste to the Arcanum Primus. Master Proddich needs to know about this development.”

“I’ll join you,” Gaspar quickly followed Iezecele. Channing Odo would need to hear of this as well.
“Is there a Library here?” Lucinde asked. She had always heard that Kantora was the least affected by the Breaking. Surely, they would have the best information about the parts of ancient Cendrillion that was now called Marmo. “I’m wondering what records Kantora has of Marmo that pre-dates the Breaking.”

Victor nodded, “Yes, we do have some documents. If I can help you find something in particular?”

“Maps, especially battle maps if you have them. Places Marmo might want to fortify.”

Val spoke with the Queen, slowly reconnecting with his friend Allegra. Gaspar and Iezecele each shared the newly revealed threat of Marmo Willworkers to their respective leaders. Lucinde delved into the brittle and dusty documents dating back to ancient times. She found little more than the names of Cendrillion’s greatest cities. Documents brought back from the war against Cendrillion were scarce.

<time>

The party approached the Solide compound on foot. Master Prodditch had provided a means of arcane travel. They were in the Arcanum Primus, then there was a brief sensation of drowning in quicksand, and suddenly they were in the Chapter House in Bergamoth. While the Willworker was able to teleport the four of them, he was unable to send their cart and horses. Lucinde had suggested that they could get some from her family.

For the first time in her life, the gates were closed during the day. She pulled on the bell string. On either side of the gate, archers appeared along the parapet. Through the door a voice said, “What business do you bring?”

“Tomas, it’s me, Lucinde.” She looked up to the archers, “Tannin, Bethany, put those things away.” The two archers released the tension on their bowstrings and cautiously waved at their returned cousin. The gate opened slightly, Lucinde narrowed her eyes, “Where’s my father?”

After entering, Lucinde could see that her home was on edge. The gate was closed quickly and a heavy bolt locked it tight. As they crossed the grounds, she saw less of carpenters, wainwrights and coopers plying their trade. Instead, the guardsmen corps was training a larger number. Lucinde saw people who swore that they never wanted to be guards swinging quarterstaffs under Hildegarde’s direction.

She left the others in the great hall and entered her father’s office. There were less orders on his desk and more maps. It looked like he was considering and dismissing different trade routes. He looked up, “So, are you back? Are you done?” He said a bit curtly.

Lucinde slightly shook her head, “No father, we’re headed for Mistral and hoped you could provide us with a wagon and some horses.”

He pursed his lips, “Isn’t there anyone else that can do this?”

“Others could, but my companions and I, we’re the better choice.”

“Even Cosette is chosing not to send anyone into Cendrillion.” He spread his thick hand over the maps, “And we’re following suit. I don’t want any family in that land.” Lucinde’s father furrowed his brow, “Is this contract with the Church ever going to end?” Lucinde held her ground. She knew this was a long time coming and allowed her father to speak his mind. “Being prepared for danger is one thing. The Solide family does what we do in order to avoid danger. And here you are, my own daughter, rushing headlong into it. I don’t know why you’re doing this.”

Lucinde put her hand over her father’s. She spoke quietly, but confidently. “You know that something is terribly wrong. You wouldn’t be doing all of this otherwise. You are doing what you can. I’m doing the same. I’ve been called by Verite’ to do more.”

Her father shook his head. He had seen the same look in Lucinde’s mother’s eyes when she had made a decision. It would be easier to move an ancient oak’s roots than change her mind. “Damn be Verite’,” he said in a low voice that betrayed his surrender.

“It’s Verite that will see us through this.” She kissed her father’s forehead.

The party left Bergamoth and entered into the broken land of Cendrillion.

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Week 27,5: A Conversation between Cousins

Week 27.5

Val sat across from the Queen. Except for her Willworker advisor, Victor Wrenly, they were alone in the room. The Willworker used his arcane power to heat a porcelain teapot before taking a seat off to the side. Far enough not to distract the two from conversing, but close enough to listen and close enough to turn Val to ash should the Queen require it.

He took the time to really look at Allegra, now that they were mostly alone. She had changed since that last they were together. It was to be expected, after all, it had been over ten years. What captured his attention the most was her eyes. In their youth, her eyes had always been questing, looking for something new or looking at something old at a new angle. The eyes before him were more like a chess master’s, weighing each potential loss, calculating moves ahead of her opponent. They were serious eyes. He wondered how much of the change was his fault.

Val took up the teapot and poured them each a cup. “Before we really get into it, I wanted to offer my deepest apologies.” As the Queen motioned to wave away any concern for her injury, Val shook his head. “No, not for your injury, I’m sorry for leaving, for not being there for you all these years.”

He could feel the Queen searching his eyes for deception. In was unlikely that her banished cousin be the first to attempt to curry her favor with honeyed words. She would only see sincerity there. “Your apology is accepted, Cousin.” She drew her teacup close and cooled it with her breath, “Now to the business at hand. Why would the Church send Val D’Couer, a mere bard, to the Court of Kantora? Surely Channing Odo has more experience in dealing with the Court. Does Channing Kearnan know who you really are and playing that to his advantage?”

Val smiled, happy to be dealing with a true Kantoran. The Queen’s first consideration was that Val could be a card played to tug on her heartstrings, used to sway her opinions. He partly wanted to engage in banter, dancing and swirling around the truth. Years ago they had promised only truth would pass between them. He decided to take a page from Lucinde’s book and speak plainly. “How much do you recall of the people mentioned in the Prophecy?”

She took a sip from her teacup. Val could see her mind searching across all she could recall from the Church’s missives that she must have received when she gained the throne. Her eyes widened a bit and she placed her teacup down, “Master Wrenly, I would invite you grant me some privacy with my newly reunited cousin.” The Willworker betrayed only the briefest amount of surprise before lowering himself in an elegant bow and silently exiting the room.

After Master Wrenly closed the door, the Queen uttered the quote Val had struggled with for the last several years, “one shall be a black sheep noble, but only as the song of justice, will his true nobility be shown.”

Val drew a small flask from his vest and added the liquor to his tea. “Got it in one.” He took a swig from the flask before returning it to his vest. “See, ’legra, you always were the clever one.”
The Queen arched her eyebrow at Val’s over friendly term and urged him to continue with a slight gesture. “I’m one of Verite’s Chosen. Fortunate or unfortunate, it’s the Truth.” He leaned forward in his seat. “Marmo are villians, my Queen. I have no idea what they told you, but they are true villians.”

“I know.” The Queen spoke plainly, “They may have come to me with sweet words and feigning the victim, but they underestimated Kantoran blood. The only thing I could not discern was who was worse, the Prince or the Princess.”

“Your Majesty,” Val smirked, “all Kantorans know that the female is deadlier than the male.”

For a moment, Val saw the Queen smile like she did when she was younger. “The Princess has the worse temper. The Prince, he,” the slightest shiver went through the Queen, “he’s cold. I’ve never sat across from a man like him.”

“Since you and your companions have been so forthcoming, I feel it is only appropriate to return in kind.” The Queen elaborated the details of the Prince and Princess of Marmo’s visit. She spoke of how they claimed to seek only a peaceful repatriation with the Isle. They claimed to understand the concerns their return had raised and only wanted to confirm, nobility to nobility, that they had the deepest respect for the sovereignty of the nations of the Isle. The Princess claimed to be most worried about the strong forces of Cosette that were already strengthening their forces. They wanted an ally in Kantora to help protect the people of Marmo and stay Cosette’s aggressive inclinations.

“One of my highest concerns is the Willworkers.” The Queen noted as she finished talking about the Marmo delegation.

“I know that I’ve only had the briefest conversations with Prodditch, but I don’t think that he’ll shy from a fight.” Val remembered Alister Prodditch’s face when Iezecele reported that magic was effective in striking down Marmo’s monstrous forces. “He knows that he’s got a dog in this fight.”

“It’s not that.” The Queen tapped her nails on her chair, “I’m concerned that they may choose not to fight Marmo at all.” She elaborated, “From how they spoke, Willworkers rule their society. I’m sure there is many a Willworker who would revel in being free of the shackles that our ancestors placed on them after the Breaking.”

“I’m sure some will.” Val agreed. “Still, one would hope that most wouldn’t side with people that fought with abominations like the eyeless and the beast men .”

“The Prince and Princess certainly never mentioned them.”

Val smiled, “Well, it’s not the first thing I would bring up when I was courting a lady.” Val smirked, “Delicate sensibilities and all.”

“Nor did they mention, what did Master Grimm call it? Black-blooded? He said you encountered them years ago, long before Marmo collided with Cendrillion. This substance that can turn beasts and men towards such mindless violence. Is it another of Marmo’s weapons? Or do you think it is something else?”

Val raised his hands in ignorance. “Honestly, I have no idea. I remember speaking with Iezecele about that very thing. He told me that it was very difficult to work magic over distances. If I was writing a song about it, I think I would say it was the hands of gods brushing against the loom of fate. Or, perhaps, the black blood is the reverberations of a string the gods plucked.” He shrugged again, “But that would just be grasping at wisps of ideas. I have no idea what it really is.”

The Queen narrowed her eyes, “Speaking of hazarding guesses, with all this arcane power, why do you think they came to Kantora?”

“I’d guess that they’re afraid of Cosette.”

“Those two don’t strike me as the fearful type. Do you think they’re afraid, or that they want an overwhelming victory?”

“Oh, they want a fight,” Val assured the Queen. “Given with what they’ve done to Karg, I’m guessing that they just need time to prepare for thier big offensive. In fact, I think that everything is going according to plan for them.”

“Plan?”

“Sure, they’ve been working to this fight ever since the Breaking. For the last thousand years they’ve been developing and revising their plan to stick it to the Oathbreakers who took away what was rightfully theirs. From what I’ve gleaned from their fanatics and from what you’ve told me about their rulers, I’d lay a large wager that the entirety of Marmo’s history was pointed to this fight. They’ve festered in their hate and that hate twisted them and their magics.”

“So they have an iron clad, thousand year plan, walking atrocities, and twisted magics, possibly backed by the Dark god. What would you say we have?”

“The Channing would say that we have the Chosen and the Treasure and the prophecy to guide us.”

“So you’re saying we have a you and a few others?”

Val knew exactly where the Queen was coming from. Not for the first time, he thought that the scales were unbalanced in Mensonge’s team’s side. “Well, I do have some nifty equipment.” Val explained how he had come across his ring, sword and armor. He told the Queen how they had each grown in power as he continued along this path.

“And this Treasure, it’s some item of power?”

Val shook his head, “No, he’s not.”

“Then, he’s a warrior on par with the legendary king?”

Val shook his head again, “He’s younger than me, has no use of his legs, but he’s a smooth talker.”
He did his best putting Tobias in a good light for the Queen, sharing the story how he went so far to try and negotiate with an eyeless.

The Queen put her hand to head, when she spoke it was like their decades apart never happened, “This is all so crazy, Valerie.”

Val put his hands up in agreement, “That’s what I’ve been saying, ’legra. None of my companions seem to agree.”

Allegra laughed. It was brief, but Val had the impression that she hadn’t laughed like that in some time. “Your companions, they are Chosen too?”

Val nodded, “It’s not my place to say they are.” He sighed, “What I can tell you is that Lucinde, the tall Solide that came with us, she prayed to Verite’ and he answered her.” Val remembered the power that had flooded him when Lucinde prayed for them to be hidden from the powers of Marmo.

“And what about you, what prayers has Verite’ answered for you?”

“I can’t.” He looked at Allegra, “You know why. I’d be too much like him.”

Allegra did know. The reason she and Val had become fast friends was due to him and his family moving to the Rose Castle. She did not know all the details, but she did know that Val’s father had squandered the family fortune of one bad deal after another. She remembered Val telling her how his father had prayed and prayed that his next venture, his next gamble would be the one that would bring their fortune and honor back. Val had suffered humiliation because of his father’s destitution. She found herself reaching across the table to take Val’s hands in her own. “I know. But,” she hesitated, knowing how much Val had been hurt, “you’re not him. Lucinde Solide’s faith was rewarded. You said you felt that reward too.” She paused again, not really wanting to push forward, but remembering the promise that only truth would pass between them. “Are you sure it’s not your anger at your father and your pride that’s keeping you from what you could be with Verite’s help?”

Val paused, ran his hand through his hair, “I can’t say that pride isn’t a part of it, but on my best days I manage to believe I’m not praying for the best of reasons.”

“What reason?” Allegra asked quietly.

“Channing Kearnan says that there’s a balance that’s maintained between Verite’ and Mensonge. When one makes a move, they other can make one too. I often think of Lucinde’s prayer. If Verite’ answered that prayer, what prayer was Mensonge able to answer?”

Allegra was shaken by the thought. Then a bit of anger crept in, “Can’t the Creator just slap them both?”

“Right?” Val laughed. He laughed hard and unreservedly for the first time since he had been swept up in Verite’s prophecy. When he was finally able to catch his breath, “And speaking of family…”

Allegra waved her hand, “Oh, I’ll issue a proclamation restoring you.”

Val waved her off. As much as the banishment had hurt him, he also knew that Allegra’s mother had freed him as well. “No, not that, I was thinking of your mother. Do you think there’s any chance that Marmo had her killed?”

Allegra dabbed her eyes, “She was fine one day and then she was suddenly gone. Victor had delved her, of course, but he couldn’t come to any conclusive answer.”

“So, it’s possible?”

“Possible that an invading force would assassinate a willful Queen in order to have a weak, untested youth on the throne when they arrived? Yes, I would say it’s possible, likely even. But I can not be sure.” She took a sip of her tea and frowned, it had grown cold. “What would my Chosen cousin advise me?”

“I have ideas,” he shook his head, “Not ideas, they’re just concepts right now, inklings of ideas with no real concrete form.” He sighed, “Remeber how I said that Marmo’s been working on this plan for a thousand years? Well, I see them just going down a list, checking one point after another. I’d love to make them bleed a little, bloody their nose, get them to question their perfect plan. If we could get Marmo to reconsider their plan and think that maybe, just maybe, their perfect plan isn’t perfect, then we just might just get enough time catch our breath. If we can buy enough time, we can try to build an alliance on the Isle to fight them.”

“Even though you think Marmo is afraid of them, you don’t think that Cosette can beat them?”

“I think one on one, Marmo can beat every nation on the Isle. But, I also think that if Cosette takes the field and challenges Marmo, the enemy will be so blinded by their grudge that they’ll leave themselves open. Kantora, Carwithian and Har’Thelen can knife Marmo enough that Cosette can be the hero and defeat them.”

“So, how do we ‘bloody their nose?’”

Val threw up his hands, “I have no idea. That was our mistake too, ‘legra. We didn’t have enough information all those years ago.” He noticed Allegra absently rub where she had been shot that fateful night. “We’ve got to find a chink in their armor. There’s got to be people on their side that don’t like living with monsters. Maybe we can turn some of them?” He shrugged, “But I have no real idea.”

“And this alliance?”

“I am concerned that King Ganelon might just write off Karg as a loss and lock down his kingdom, thinking that this is a Human fight.”

Allegra shook her head, “No, I’ve sat with Ganelon. He’s an honorable king. He won’t let such an affront to his people stand.” She tapped her nails on the chair, “I would find it more likely that Artegal Cearnach would seek to stay out of this fight.”

Val nodded, from what he knew of the Eshih, they had always considered themselves apart from the rest of the Isle. “Well, I was hoping we could start the alliance with you. I’d like for you to talk to the Treasure first. If you can go to him, or if he can come here, and just talk to him. If you can talk to him without him knowing you’re the Queen of Kantora, I think that would even be better.”

There was a light knock at the door, Master Wrenly entered, “Your Majesty, it’s become quite late. I’ve been asked to inform you that you have an early engagement tomorrow.”

The Queen assented and Master Wrenly slipped out again. Allegra turned back to her cousin, “It’s good to have you back, Valerie.”

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Week 27: A Royal Visit

Week 27

‘Okay, here we go,’ Val mentally sent to Iezecele. An aging woman with greying rose gold hair wearing well taliored livery accented with a lavender colored sigil of the Kantoran noble seat was taking short, but quick strides to the party. ‘This is Jessalyn Forth, Castellan to the Rose Palace. If I recall, she’s fond of ballroom dancing and cultivating her vegetable garden.’

Jessalyn took the two letters of introduction Iezecele had given the gate secretary when they had arrived at the castle. Her eyebrows rose seeing one seal from the Church and the other bore seal of the Arcanum Primus, an unprecedented pairing delivered by equally unusual bearers. Their leader,a scarred face man bore the vestment of an Earth Willworker. His three attendants did not bear the Arcanum’s livery. A tall woman wore a cloak with the Solide crest. The man standing just behind her was dressed in an out of date courtly fashion. The last man had common, but well made, clothes. She could detect a divine charm on a necklace that was just poking out from his shirt. An odd group to say the least If not for the letters they bore, she would have likely had the guard expell them from the grounds. “This is highly unusual, Master Willworker, what is the purpose of your visit to the Rose Palace?”

Iezecele spared a puzzled glance to Val, wondering how vegetables and dances applied to the matter at hand. They were here to gain an audience with the queen of Kantora, tell her about the threat of Marmo, and hopefully keep their rogue in one piece. “Forgive the hour and abruptness of my visit. As you can see,” Iezecele gestured to the letters, “both the Arcanum Primus and the Church felt a certain immediacy necessary. I come to share information about the tragedy in Cendrillion and its repurcussions.”

“Your audience has been granted.” Jessalyn handed the letters back to the secretary with instructions to give them to the Chancellor. She bowed slightly, “I beg your forgiveness, but you will have to wait a bit. Her Majesty is currently hosting visiting dignitaries.”

After they were shown to a room where they could await their audience with the queen, Iezecele noted an oddity he had noticed with the Castellan. “Did you see her face when she mentioned the other dignitaries? She was definitely unsettled.”

“Let’s take a look then,” Val called on the power of his ring. Arcane magics surrounded him, rendering him invisible.

Lucinde opened the door wide enough for the rogue to pass by. “Excuse me,” she spoke to the guard, drawing him to her side and allowing Val to pass through the gap, “I know that you gave us some refreshments. These Kantoran wines are a bit too sweet. Is there any chance you have a decent Bergamoth stout available?”

Val moved silently, old muscle memories guiding his steps, to the Throne room. As he approached, the wide doors swung open and the Rose Guard cautiously filled the hall. As far as Val could tell, it wasn’t a few Guardsmen, it was all of them. A small contingent of Rose Guard was always expected to escort visiting dignitaries. Usually it was a mere formality of a honor guard. These men were nervous, forming a defensive ring around their guests. As he dodged and lightly stepped through the Guardsmen, Val noticed hands gripping pommels, eyes focused, lips pursed in anticipation of action. Inside the ring were two dignitaries, supported by four personal guards. Val sent what he was seeing to the rest of the party, ‘Marmo is here.’

Inside the room, Iezecele held up his hand, stalling Lucinde and Gaspar from charging out the door. ‘Val,’ he sent through the power of the ring, ‘get back here.’ The last thing they needed was to start a pointless fight. The vision that Val sent him showed a pair of dignitaries, but it was their guards that drew his attention. The two men in front and the two women in the rear bore black robes with red stitchings, a golden wolf’s head hung about their necks. Each had a distinct pattern, fire and mountains for the men, storms and waves for the women. Beyond that, their stance and ageless looks marked them all as Willworkers. Likely, those four had enough Will to slaughter all the soldiers in the hallway.

Val noticed the Marmo Willworkers as well, but ignored Iezecele and moved closer to the two dignitaries. The woman was dressed in all ivory. Like the Marmo Willworkers, she bore a golden wolf’s head about her neck. The hood of her fur-lined cloak hid her eyes, but delicate features belied an almost inhuman, if icy, beauty. The man was a shadowed reflection of the woman, leaving Val wondering if they might be siblings. He wore black armor reminiscent of the armor worn by the eyeless. The only difference is that it bore a highly ornate wolf’s head on the chest. His face was dominated by a tattoo that started at one ear, passed across the bridge of the man’s nose, and ended at the other ear. The tattoo was a series of words written in the ancient language. Val couldn’t make out the words as he leaned in to the woman. “It is time to leave.”

The woman laughed. It was a light laugh, almost musical, but there was something off. In Celendine, Val had met a collector by the name of Gabriel the Bonesaw. Bonesaw had delighted in doling out pain to those who hadn’t paid their debts. For some reason, the woman’s laugh reminded Val of his laugh. She placed a gentle hand on the tattooed man, “Dear Louvel, you worry too much.” She passed a dismissive glance over the anxious Rose Guard, “We’re perfectly safe.”

The man narrowed his eyes and steeled his voice, “It is past time.”

Val noticed a flash of annoyance before the woman smiled again. “Whatever you say.” She laid her hand on the man in black armor, Louvel, and made a sweeping gesture with her hand. A whirlwind began to swirl around them. Val could hear the physical tension of the Rose Guard highten as armor shifted and grips tightened. The man and woman rose into the air and then disappeared. Once they were gone, the four Marmo Willworkers began their own spells. A sphere of flame encompassed the Flame Willworker and then collapsed. The Earth Willworker slowly descended into the stoneworked floor. The Water Willworker transmuted into a clear liquid before dispersing and falling as droplets to the ground. The Air Willworker summoned a whirlwind just as the ivory dressed woman and disappeared in the same manner.

As Val slipped his way back to his companions, there again was an audible reaction from the Rose Guard. It was like they all let out a collective breath they didn’t know they were holding. The guard at their door was still so distracted at the spectacle he had just witnessed that he didn’t notice the rogue slipping back into the room. Dropping his invisiblity, “Well, they’re a prideful lot, huh?”

Iezecele nodded, “I’d prefer stupid.”

“And what was that tattoo on the guy,” Gaspar added, I couldn’t really read it from your sending, but I felt that it had a prayer’s cadence."

“Wolves are in the Prophecy, right? What’s it say again?” Lucinde asked, remembering the wolf head ornaments she had seen through Val’s shared vision.

“The Wolf will do bad things,” Val offered. “Really bad things.”

Gaspar quickly recited a number of passages from the Prophecy. He sighed as he saw Val shrugged his shoulders as if saying ’Isn’t that what I just said.’ “But, yeah, Val’s right. The Wolf is prophesied to do some really bad things.”

Val smiled, “We’ll the good thing is that nothing we have to say can be as horrible as that.”

Jessalyn opened the door, “Her Majesty would like to speak with you now.” The party was led down the hallway. Ten guards accompanied them. As the Throne Room doors opened, there were many more Rose Guards.

Lucinde found herself wishing for her armor and flail. ‘Is this normal?’ She asked Val through the power of the ring.

The Guard was still reeling from the Marmo delegation. They were clearly still on edge, ‘No, this is not normal.’ The last time he had been in this room, he had been banished from court. His cousin and once compatriot, Allegra Stratos, now sat on the throne. Dark, long curls framed her face. A rich lavender dress spilled about her. If not for her eyes, she was the embodiment of a living doll. Her eyes, though, keenly watched the party enter. Val did his best to avoid her gaze, moving in step with the taller Lucinde. He noticed below the dias the throne sat upon, there was an ornated table. A single chair, similar to the Rose Throne in style was placed on one end. The other side of the table had a pair of chairs. Apparently, Allegra had chosen to speak with the two Marmo dignitaries on an equal footing.

The court herald stamped his staff twice, “Introducing Master Willworker Iezecele Grimm of the Arcanum Primus and his companions: Miss Solide, Mister D’Coeur, and Mister Le Tressor”

As they approached, the Queen leaned rested back in her Throne, “The Court of Kantora receives you graciously, Master Willworker. The missives you provided say you bear a message that affects all of Deroge. What do you have to tell us?”

Before Iezecele could say anything, Val muttered, “Nothing you haven’t heard already?” He thought he was shielded by the tall Lucinde. He had forgotten how well sound carried in the throne room.

“Mister D’Coeur, was it?” The Queen asked. “Once more, the Court wishes to hear you clearly.”

Not for the first time, Val cursed his mouth moving before his brain. He looked to his companions. Iezecele waved him on, gesturing that this was the whole reason they had come to Kantora, for Val to talk to his family. Val bent his head, hoping that the Queen would see it as a sign of respect rather than attempt to hide his face, “Apologies, your Majesty, I merely said that we have nothing to tell you that your previous guests did not already say.”

“And just what do you think that it is they said?”

“I imagine they requested the surrender of Kantora.”

The Queen’s eyes widened and her grip tightened on the throne. “Who do you imagine my guests were?”

Lucinde stepped to Val’s side, “I’m sure they said they’re from the North.” The Queen’s gaze turned to Lucinde, the warrior stammered, realizing she had just spoken casually to a queen, and added, “Your Majesty.” She had never been in the presence of royalty before. Sure, she had traveled with Val for years, but he didn’t count.

“They claimed to be from the ‘New Country to the North.’”

“A land called Marmo.” Lucinde offered. “Your Majesty,” she added.

Iezecele was exasperated, this conversation was moving to slow. The threat of Marmo was too imminent. “Forgive me, your Majesty, I thought that the Primus and the Channing would have been more straightforward with their missives.”

“Channing Kearnan and Primus Prodditch both say that you are their trusted officials and that you bear true word of a great threat to all of Deroge. I can only assume that you mean to say that my previous guests are emisaries from this threat. Please share.”

Iezecele began to relate in as succinct a manner possible the forces of Marmo. He told of the human scouts they had encountered, the fall of Karg, and the monstrous creatures Marmo used to do it. He didn’t paint a vicious picture like Val would have. Still, his report was horrifying in its description of the terrible engine of war that was coming to the Isle.

“So, this attack on Karg, if a strike on such a remote city is true, and I assure we will confirm with Har’Thelen, you believe it to be a precursor to total war on the Isle. Why would Marmo want that?” The Queen questioned.

Iezecele folded his hands and thought for a moment. “They want the Isle because in their hearts, they believe it’s theirs already. We’re just a bunch of Oathbreakers squatting on their lands.”

She tapped her lacquered nails on the arm of her throne, “They did mention the term ‘Oathbreakers.’ Why, then, do you suppose, they would offer us a peace treaty?”

Val laughed, “If you’re going to rob a person of everything, it’s easier to walk in than have to break in.”

The Queen’s eyes narrowed, focusing on Val. “What was your name again?”

“Val D’Coeur, your Majesty, just a simple bard swept up in all this.”

“You are no simple bard. I name you Valerian Stratos.” At the name, a number of guards, Val guessed they were the veteran Rose Guards who remembered that terrible night so many years before, drew their blades.

Val shook his head, accepting what was to come. “Got it in one.” He smiled as he raised his head, looking directly at the Queen for the first time. “You were always too clever for me, Allegra.” The Queen raised a questioning eyebrow. She had not been on the throne for long, but it had been some time since anyone had directly addressed her by her given name.

Iezecele, Lucinde, and Gaspar all shouted, ‘Your Majesty,’ at Val through their rings.

“Oh, right,” Val murmured, “You were always too clever, your Majesty.”

The Queen held up her hand, staying the Rose Guard. She ordered two more chairs to be brought to the table at the base of the dias and invited the party to join her at the table. “Princess Amorette and Prince Louvel brought to us a peace treaty on behalf of their father, King Raoul the Fourteenth. They claimed to fear the threat of an aggressive Cosette and were seeking an ally on the Isle. They made no mention of the creatures Master Iezecele describes, nor the invasion of another sovereign nation’s city.”

“Invasion is not the right word, your Majesty,” Lucinde commented.

“And what would the right one be, Miss Solide?”

“Remember how we were always told that the Devonan people were unbreakable.” Val remembered what he had seen of Karg. The life drained from all the Devonan faces, cringing under the beast men’s whips. “Karg found that wasn’t true.”

“It’s a slave labor camp, your Majesty,” Iezecele added. “Marmo has turned the forges of Karg to their own use, pumping out weapons and armor for their army.”

The Queen looked at the odd group, “And how did you manage to become entangled in all of this?”

“Wrong place, wrong time,” Iezecele commented.

“Right place, right time,” Gaspar and Lucinde said in almost unison.

“Chosen by the Church to spread the word,” Val noted.

“Chosen by the Church,” the Queen repeated. “So, you joined the Church?”

Val burst out laughing, slapping his palm on the table a few times. He wiped his tearing eyes, “Oh, sorry Gaspar.” He looked to the Queen, “I’m sorry, no, I never joined the Church.”

“Then, how did you come to gain Channing Kearnan’s confidence?”

Gaspar began to share how the party had been hired to seek out the remnants of Verite’s Prophecy, avoiding, as Iezecele had asked him, any mention of them being the Chosen.

The Queen was shocked when she heard the account of the Marmo agents they encountered in her own nation. Val narrated their encounter with Pellon in the caves of Kermis as well as his attack later. “That’s the level of dedication of the enemy, Alle…your Majesty.” Val commented. “They are fanatics driven to see Marmo’s claims on the Isle to fruition.”

The Queen tapped her nails on the table, “They certainly do have a different way of ruling that we do. In Marmo, it is the Willworkers who rule. In fact, the Princess seemed to suggest that Willworkers were a being higher than Humans, Eshih, and Devonans.”

Iezecele thought there was a certain truth to that opinion, but chose not to share that thought.

Lucinde pounded her fist into the table, “But that’s just not true. King Arnaud was a Willworker. He never thought himself above the people. Just remember how he served the farmer’s wife!” Lucinde remembered the tale of how King Arnaud worked a farm, milking cows, mucking stalls, all because of a promise he had made to a farmer and his wife. It was one of her favorite tales of the legendary king. “He was a true Willworker, of the people not above them.”

“And their Willworkers are strong.” The Queen glanced over to a man bearing sigil of Fire Willworker, his clothes a bright blue instead of the traditional red. “Our advisor, Master Wrenly, sensed their power.”

Victor Wrenly, Iezecele remembered, the master of the blue flame. Accounts noted that his precise skill with Fire allowed him create flames of the most intense heat. He had been the previous Queen’s advisor as well. Victor stepped up, “Yes, your Majesty, and the Princess was more powerful than the other four Willworkers combined. I didn’t sense the Will active in the Prince, though all that he carried was enhanced by the Will, especially his sword. It may have been artifact.” He stroked his pointed beard in thought, “That curious tattoo he had also bore some sort of enchantment. Some sort of Prayer, I would hazard, though not to Verite’.”

The Queen stopped tapping her nails on the table, “So Marmo came to us.” She began holding up her fingers, “We have no real army to stand against them. They would help us rule instead of the coin ruling. We are the nation that has the strongest ties with Willworkers. We are positioned adventageously against the nation that threatens them most. And We are young to Our throne.” She looked at her hand for a moment before clenching it into a fist. “We thank the Arcanum, and the Church, and you four, for your timely visit.” She gestured to Jessalyn, “Please make them confortable, they have given us much to consider.” The party stood to leave. “Cousin Valerian. If you would join me in my sitting room,” the Queen ordered.

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Week 26: From Hamilton to Senna

Week 26

Deidre had been happy beyond words when the party had safely returned her husband and son. They slipped away into Garrn’s shop to give the family some time to themselves.

Lucinde replayed the encounter in her head. Val and Iezecele had killed the eyeless. She and Gaspar had killed four twisted beast men, the two that had been lured away by Val’s distraction and the two that had remained in their camp. Two others had died. She, herself, had examined the corpses. Their clothes were charred from Iezecele’s arcane fire, but they were superficial at best. She shook her head, “There was nothing that should have taken down the two with the bows.”

“I swear they fell when Val killed that eyeless,” Gaspar pointed his dagger at the fallen creature, “as if their lives were tied to its.”

“Just after the eyeless fell, I opened my senses to the Will,” Iezecele remembered seeing powers unravel and disappear, “Any power the eyeless had was fading like the dying embers from a campfire. I could fathom parts of the transmutation threads, but it was like looking at the back of a tapestry. I could see the frayed ends, but not the weave.”

“Hopefully the Druids found something useful?” Gaspar hoped. The party had realized that they had shown King Ganelon the beast men, but had only described the eyeless. They brought back the creature’s corpse as further evidence against the threat of Marmo.

Iezecele shook his head, “They had no idea either.” He smirked, “They were able to tell it was evil.” As if people who prayed to rocks could fathom more than a trained worker of the Will. “I did tell them about its abilities.”

Val examined the contents of the pouches he had recovered from the twisted beast men. Amongst the small treasures the creature had collected, a shiny rock, some broken teeth, jerky from an unknown beast, he had found silver coins. He tossed a coin to Iezecele, “At least we have a name for our enemy’s big bad.” Examining the silver coin, on one side was a wolf’s head, the other had a face stamped on it along with something written in ancient. “It says Raoul the Fourteenth,” Val offered.

Gaspar took note of the reverse side, muttering, “the Wolf will lead his packs to destroy their former territory,” before handing it to Lucinde.

Lucinde took the coin, “So the eyeless may be in charge of the twisted, but their not in charge of Marmo.” She wondered what kind of dark mind had conjured up their monstrous enemies.

Val nodded, “Seems like.” He glanced to the door to the Ironfoot home, “So how much do we tell them?” As they had journeyed back to Hamilton, Val found himself keeping an eye on Tobias. The young man was only a few years younger than himself, yet he had riddne with his arm covering his eyes, desperately tring to hide his emotions. Val could tell Tobias was struggling to deal with what he had just seen. He had tried offering a few paltry words of consolation. Val felt those words were just as empty now as he did when he had said them. Tobias would have precious little time to come to terms with the enemy that was facing them.

As if on cue, Garrn entered the room, fists full of mugs of Devonan ale to give the four. “I don’t know what brought you all here, but I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done for me and my family.”

“About that,” Gaspar was the first to speak. He pulled a letter from his pack and handed it to Garrn. “The Channing wanted us to deliver this to you.”

Garrn broke the Channing’s seal and quickly read the letter, “He’s inviting my family to stay at the Basilica? I’m honored, but I don’t understand.”

Iezecele clicked his tongue, he had hoped the Channing would have explained more in his letter. “We believe that the enemy is targeting Tobias. After what just happened, I’m sure you’ll agree.”

“But, that thing was just asking me about passages from Karg into Har’Thelen. It didn’t seem to be after my boy at all.”

Val put on a calm smile, “All parents think their children are special, right. Channing Kearnan agrees with you that your boy is special,” he smiled wider, “with a capital ‘S’”.

“But, I’m supposed to uproot my family just on this letter?” Garrn was clearly unsettled by the powerful attentions settling on Tobias.

Val felt sick at his stomach as he gripped Garrn’s shoulder reassuringly, “Channing Kearnan only wants the best for your family. You just need to ask yourself if you trust in the Channing.” Val wanted to tell Garrn and his family to run and hide, to keep their quiet life as long as possible. Instead, he put on a convincing facade for Garrn, not betraying the regret he was feeling at drawing this family into the same whirlwind he had been caught in. Val thought of all the lies he had told in his life for selfish reasons. It was only now, when he was doing things for the best of reasons, that he felt shame.

Garrn looked at Val and made up his mind, “We can be ready to travel in three days.”

[time passes]

“If you don’t mind, young man, I need to speak with your parents for a bit.” As a pair of Holy Aleron’s led Tobias to his new quarters, Channing Kearnan let the Ironfoots and the party to his private sitting room.

Garrn cleared his throat, “I’m sorry to be so forward with you, Channing, but I would like to know why my family and I have left our good Devonan home and travelled hundreds of miles on nothing more than your word.” He looked to the rest of the party, “These good folk have kept a mighty tight lip on the subject.”

“We are facing dark times, Garrn. You, yourself, have seen the weapons the enemy wields. To aid us in our hour of need, Verite’ has provided a Prophecy to guide us through this most difficult challenge.” The Channing held up a hand to stop Garrn from asking questions. “The Prophecy speaks of a Treasure that is needed if we are to win against this greatest foe. I believe that Tobias is this Treasure.”

Deidre gripped Garrn’s hand tightly, “And what is this Treasure supposed to do?” She had been terrified when her husband and son had been in danger, but now she trembled at the thought of her son heading into that danger again.

“The Prophecy tells us that the Treasure shall unite the lands against our greatest enemy.”

Garrn looked to the party, “These people are strong, surely one of them could be this Treasure?” He was hoping that the Channing had made a mistake.

“We’re the Chosen of Verite,” Lucinde spoke first. “We are here to protect the Treasure, your boy Tobias, and keep him safe.”

Val smirked, “See we’re also special with a capital ‘S,’ just not as big as Tobias’s. I’m sure the idea of us protecting your boy is just as scary as facing that eyeless creature.”

Garrn shook his head, “Actually, I find it reassuring. I’ve seen what you and your friends can do.”

Val looked to Deidre, “It’s my hope that Tobias will only have to deal with people. He won’t have to fight, people can be…” Val paused, not wanting to say manipulated.

“…shown the right path.” Iezecele quickly filled in.

“You say people,” Deidre spoke carefully, “but you really mean kings and queens, people with power.”

Val looked to Channing Kearnan and then back to Deidre, “I remember when we first met. When I spoke of the Channing, you responded so warmly, like we were talking about a mutual friend. Let me tell you, many view Channing Kearnan as a powerful man.” Val again put on a confident smile, hiding his own confusion on how Tobias would be able to unite the lands of Deroge. “Let me tell you kings and queens are just people as well. And you know better than we do, how good your boy is with people.”

Garrn turned to Deidre, “Do you think Tobias can do this?”

Deidre let out a long sigh, “I’m not sure. He’s still so shy.”

[a short time passes]

“They’ll need some time to settle in,” Channing Kearnan noted after the Ironfoots left. “I’m afraid I won’t be able to offer you four the same respite.” He walked over to a map of the Isle, recently ammended to include Marmo’s return. “We’re not receiving any official word from Mistral. I was hoping to send you four to provide a first hand account.”

Val looked at the map, focusing on the opposite end of the Isle. “After reuniting Tobias and Garrn with Deidre, I was hoping to visit with my own family. So, if it’s all the same to you, we’ll go to Mistral via Senna.”

Channing Kearnan nodded, “Yes, that sounds like it would be good for all of us.”

Knowing Val’s status with his family, Iezecele chuckled, “Well it might not be good for all of us. Some of us might not come back.”

The Channing pursed his lips, “No. That will not happen again. You all will be back and then we’ll have a conversation with Tobias.”

“What will not happen?” Lucinde questioned the Channing’s choice of words.

“Fallen Chosen.” Channing Kearnan rubbed his hands, feeling like he had let his duty slip through them. “Once there were three sets, each with four Chosen. It just seemed to be the pattern Verite’ had revealed them to the Church. You four were the last to be known. The first four have been lost. We were able to recover three of their bodies to give their families the least of comfort. One good man was lost to us completely.”

“And the other four?” Lucinde asked.

“Ah, they’re as alive and well as a Chosen can be.” The weight of the memories of the lost Chosen rested on the Channing’s shoulders. “If you can give me a moment and then I’ll see you off.”

Val paused as the party was leaving, at thought striking him. “Does the Church get involved in settling disputes?”

The Channing dabbed a cloth at his eyes, “Some petitioners come to us. We also sometimes called for advice by the courts of Cosette. Why?”

Val nodded, “See if you can get Tobias to observe. He’s going to have to learn to swim in the deep end of the pool. The sooner we get him out of the shallow end, the better.”

[time passes]

“So how are we going to do this without you getting thrown in prison or beheaded?” Lucinde asked Val as they arrived in Senna, the capital of Kantora.

Iezecele had been thinking, “We should go to the Arcanum Primus first. If we can secure a second letter of introduction, I’m sure there’s not a royal house on the Isle that would disregard an audience request from both the Church and the Willworkers. Val could get in as part of my entourage.”

Lucinde looked to Val, who shrugged, “Sounds better than my idea. I was just thinking of breaking in to her bed chambers.”

The party travelled to the Arcanum Primus, the seat of power for all Willworkers. After a short wait, the party was escorted to the office of Alister Prodditch. The old man stroked his beard, quickly assessing the party. With two glances, he dismissed his four Willworker bodyguards. “Grimm, your name has come across my desk several times in the last few years. And now you stand before me.”

“Have you heard from Master Jarrell in Sorrell, or the twins from Beaufort?”

Alister’s lip curled at the mention of the two young upstart Willworkers, Tannin and Tyler Richardson. “Heard what in particular?”

“Of the state of things in Cendrillion?”

“I’ve received writings about some recent troubles.”

Val interposed, “Would you like a first hand account?”

The party began sharing their story with Master Prodditch, carefully avoiding any mention of their roles defined by Verite’s Prophecy.

At the end, Master Prodditch leaned back in his chair, “So, our magics can still harm them.”

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Week 25: Treasure Hunt
A good night's ambush

Week 25

“I’m just saying that it would likely work,” Val offered.

Gaspar shook his head at the rogue’s continued blasphemy. Lucinde voiced the acolyte’s thoughts, “We are not going to invent false prophecy just to try and get the nations react to Marmo faster. Just forget about it.”

Iezecele threw a glance to the wagon’s bed, “With the return of Marmo, I don’t doubt that the Church’s authority on the matter will continue to rise. I’ll also agree that we may possibly be able to manufacture something that looks like prophecy. And, with all that we’ve recovered so far, I sure Channing Kearnan would likely swallow the lie whole.”

“At least initially,” he turned his eyes back to the road. “The Church has scholars that have been working with their prophecy for generations. The slightest misstep in our wording would be detected. The lords of the nations have their own scholars. If they were to figure out the lie as well, any trust in the Church would be shattered.”

Val could see where the Willworker’s argument was leading, “Yes, yes, while you don’t particularly know if it’s a good idea that the Church’s star is on the rise, you know that it’s about the only thread tying the nations together.” He laid back in the wagon and let the idea pass like the clouds drifting in the sky.

[time passes]

Gaspar looked down the pew at Lucinde. After Verite had contacted her, the warrior was more intent on stopping to pray at any church they had time to visit. He wanted to ask her how she was able to contact the Lord of Truth.

“What’s that you’ve drawn?” Lucinde quietly pointed a scrawl that was traced in the dust at the edge of the pew.

Gaspar had no idea what she was talking about. His mind had been drifting, wondering why the deity had reached out to her after his years of devotion. He looked at the scrawl, then noticed his finger was crusted with the same dust. “I,” he stumbled, recalling his unspoken doubt in his god, “I think it’s an ancient word, but I don’t know what it means.” He silently confessed his apology to Verite and thanked the deity for reaching out through him.

Lucinde looked at the word. “I’m sure Val would know, but it’s just in the dust. A wrong breath could erase it. If only he were,” she paused and looked at her ring. They had been able to share thoughts through its magic, maybe they could share an image? She stared intently at the word and focused her will on sending the image to Val.

Several blocks away Val gripped his head in pain. It felt like someone was pounding on his head. Just as he was about to cry out, the pain stopped and a single clear image formed in his mind. It was a simple word in the ancient language written in the dust of some forgotten corner of a building.

‘Did you get it?’ Lucinde’s voice ripped through his raw mind, sending another painful tremor through his skull.

‘You did this?’ He sent back with an exclamation. ‘That felt like a dozen hangovers all at once.’

Lucinde apologetically sent back to Val. ‘Sorry, I didn’t know it would do that. Do you know what it means?’

Val thought back to the image. ’It’s the old word for Valley.’

[time passes]

Gaspar looked back on the road into Hamilton. “You guys still think it was a good idea to avoid the valley between Oreville and Hamilton?”

Lucinde answered the acolyte, “You saw all of those footprints in the rocks near there. The ‘Valley’ you wrote in the dust was clearly a warning from Verite. He knew that we would investigate and go looking for those Watchers that the assassin talked about. Verite was warning us to stay on mission.”

Doubt about that crept into Val’s mind as he pushed open the door to Ironfoot Guide Service. The door had been marked closed and there was no smell of baking as he entered. “Deidre! Are you here?”

Right away he could tell Mrs. Ironfoot had been crying recently, “Oh, Mr. D’Coeur, I’m sorry but my husband isn’t in right now.” She looked on the verge of breaking into tears. “He’s been gone with Tobias for some time.”

Val looked at the others. ‘I don’t think that Valley was a warning to stay away.’

Lucinde moved through the stacks of maps. “Mrs. Ironfoot? I’d like to buy this map of the nearby valley.”

’I’ll get the horses out of the stable.’ Gaspar left immediately.

Val put on his best reassuring smile. “Sorry to have bothered you, Mrs. Ironfoot. I’m sure your husband and Tobias will be back soon.” He patted her hand, “And I’m sure they’ll want some of your wonderful pie.”

[time passes]

Traveling along the valley floor, Iezecele found a large patch of dried blood as the sun began to set. “It looks like a horse or two was killed here. There’s a lot of footprints, so I can’t tell what happened to the riders.”

Val cocked his head, “I think I hear some voices further along. Let me go check it out.”

Iezecele put his hand on Val’s shoulder. “Let me.” He struck a match and looked into the flame. He summoned his Will and pulled the light into his eyes, allowing him to see in the dark of night. He then pushed his Will against the light surrounding him, bending it around his body to render himself invisible. Finally, he altered the pull of the earth on his flesh. He pushed against the ground and began to fly. ’I’ll let you know if anything’s ahead.’

As he investigated, Iezecele found Garrn and Tobias. They had been taken by the enemy. Master Ironfoot was beaten and bleeding. Tobias was bruised, but not terribly injured. He counted six of the twisted and one of the eyeless creatures. The twisted were gathered around their cookpot, chewing loudly on a roughly butchered horse. The eyeless creature stood in conversation with its prisoners.

“You don’t have to this,” Iezecele heard Tobias plead with the eyeless creature. “Master Ironfoot can’t tell you any more. Your,” he looked to the twisted, “your friends hurt him too much.”

The eyeless creature leaned in an inhuman angle to inspect the dwarf. Garrn tried to pull away, but only managed to shift his head a bit. “I know that he knows the way. He will tell me what I want to know.” It spoke in its soulless, hollow voice.

As Tobias continued to negotiate with the creature, Iezecele shared the situation with the others through the power of his ring. ‘This looks bad. There’s a lot of them.’

Val began sneaking to a position opposite the enemy’s camp. ’I’ll set up a distraction. Get ready to move.’ He quickly pulled out an acid flask and a vial of alchemist fire and began crafting a makeshift trap. ’There’ll be a big flash.’

‘I think I can help with that.’ He took a rock and pressed it to his lips, channeling a portion of his Will as he whispered into it. He placed the stone a short distance from the enemy’s campsite.

When Iezecele returned, Tobias was still talking with the creature, “If you need to, do what you must, but look at us. We’re too tired and too injured. We probably won’t even survive the night. You should just leave us here to die.” To Iezecele’s astonishment, the Eyeless actually seemed to be considering the statement.

Just at the edge of the campsite, Val’s trap went off. The alchemist fire lit the night like someone had started a campfire nearby. At the same time, Iezecele released his hold on the stone. A dwarven voice vibrated forth, “Hey, neverborn, come out and play!”

The eyeless creature stepped away from its prisoners, looking to the light and then to the voice. He ordered the twisted to investigate. Two of the creatures left for the light another two moved to investigate the newcomer. If hollow could sound angry, then the eyeless spoke in a hollow, angry voice, “What, dwarf scum, you dare challenge me? I will dance with you anytime.”

Iezecele placed an invisible hand over Garrn’s mouth and whispered. “Be ready and hold on to Tobias.” He channeled his Will first into Garrn and Tobias, healing some of their wounds. Then he focused his Will into the dwarf, loosening the hold of the earth on him. Garrn would be able to levitate away from the bottom of the valley and escape the enemy’s camp.

The Will-powered dwarf voice continued, “I am the warrior, Ivar Forkbeard! I’m waiting!” The eyeless creature took the bait and stalked off towards the voice.

Away from the camp, Lucinde and Gaspar ambushed the two twisted creatures that came to investigate the fire that Val had created. Surprised, the creatures panicked and the warriors made short work of them.

The eyeless picked up the stone, “Playing games in the dark? You are cowards just like the slaves of Karg!”

Iezecele’s invisibility fell as he summoned his arcane fire and sent it forth. It exploded on the eyeless and the twisted that were gathered by it. “Now Garrn, hold onto Tobias and go up!”

The eyeless creature turned back to the camp as the explosion burned itself out. “Kill those two! Kill them both!” Two of the twisted dropped their swords and drew bows off their backs.

Iezecele unleashed another ball of fire as the twisted took aim at Garrn and Tobias. One arrow shattered off the valley wall by Tobias’ head. The other struck Garrn in the shoulder.

The eyeless stalked back to Iezecele, “So you are what passes for a Willworker?” There was almost humor in the hollow voice as it drew it’s dark blade. Focused on Iezecele, the eyeless didn’t see Val as his invisibility fell. The rogue struck with his spear, lancing it’s side.

Gaspar and Lucinde intercepted the two twisted who had remained by the camp. Lucinde blocked the goat-faced twisted’s wicked sword with her shield and slammed her flail into the monster. The impact his so hard that creature fell, neck snapping as it awkwardly hit the edge of the cookpot.

Gaspar used the tip of his blade, flinging some of the cookpot’s burning ashes into a wolf-faced twisted. It howled as its hairs caught fire. The acolyte lunged with his dagger, killing the monster with a well aimed strike.

Focusing on Val, the eyeless creature failed to see Iezecele approach. The Willworker used his staff to channel the lightning stored inside. The shocking power caused the creature’s muscles to spasm, leaving him open for Val’s attack. The rogue let go of his spear and swiftly drew his pair of short swords. Both blades cut into the eyeless creature’s side, killing it. As it died, the two remaining twisted archers fell to the ground, twitching and braying in pain before quickly dying.

Val put a congratulatory hand on Iezecele’s shoulder. “That is what I call a good night’s work.”

View
Week 24:A Heavenly Request
Dear Verite, it’s me, Lucinde

Week 24

Val waived off the Channing’s question. His thoughts weren’t fully formed and surely the High Priest would disapprove.

The Channing looked back to the others, “You know, of course, that you are Verite’s Chosen. It doesn’t need to be me that prays to him. You each have it in you to reach out to Him.” He considered each of the Chosen, “You only need to pray to Him with the wholeness of your heart.”

Iezecele slapped his hands together in prayer and bowed his head, “Dear Lord, please smite our enemies. Wipe them off of the map.”

Channing Kearnan shook his head, “No, no, Master Willworker. Verite seeks to bring balance to the world.” He held out his right hand, “Were He to smite our enemies,” he then held out his left hand, “then Mensonge would be able to do the same to his enemies.”

Val smirked, “Level the playing field, huh?” He mimiced Iezecele, bowing his head, “O’ Verite, seeing how the bad guys have monsters and beasts, could we have something on our side? Like sexy angels and giant cuddly kittens?”

Lucinde kicked Val under the table, “Knock it off, Val. That’s disrespectful.” She had always prayed to Verite growing up. She had asked for simple things, like for her father to be successful in business or for a sibling to get healthy. If the Channing thought her voice could reach Verite, then she would give it her best effort. She looked at the Channing, “I’ll do it. I’ll pray.”

The Channing nodded. “Then I will leave it to you.” He looked to Iezecele and Val, “In the coming days, you would do well to consider her belief.”

They left the Channing. In the courtyard, Lucinde glanced at the basilica, “I’m going to spend some time here. Where can I catch up with you?”

Gaspar pointed to a building on the far side of the courtyard. “I’ve been wanting to catch up with a friend for awhile. I still have a room here. I’ll be staying here for now.”

“There’s a lot that I need to prepare for our next outing.” Iezecele noted, “I’ll be going to the Chapter House for most of our time here, but get me a room where ever we’re staying. The guest rooms are usually uncomfortable.”

“I heard the Monarch has some decent beds and a lively common room.” Val decided, “I’ll be sure to reserve some rooms for you both.”

Lucinde watched the others go off in their own way. She turned to the basilica with a bit of hesitation. In the Channing’s presence, it was easy to say that she would pray to Verite, but she was unsure how to actually go about it. She wondered if she needed to start with the usual set of prayers. Did she need to go to a chapin and have her sins purified before petitioning Verite? It was the first time she was nervous walking into a church.

Lucinde made the usual blessing as she took a pew. Glancing around, she looked at the other petitioners. An old woman was on her knees, eyes set on a distant heaven. Another man sat with his head in his hands, his body shuddering in tears. Off to the side a mother was doing her best to pray while keeping her two sons from fighting.

She knelt and clasped her hands in prayer and started. “O Verite,” she paused. Saying it like that made her think of Val and Iezecele for some reason. Lucinde sat back. She thought of Channing Kearnan. When he spoke about his connection to Verite, it was like he was talking about a childhood friend that had spent a lifetime with. Lucinde didn’t think that she could manage that.

She ran a hand through her hair, wondering how to approach talking to Verite. If she tried being pious, she felt like Val being sacrilegious. And being conversational like the Channing felt like being too assuming. Maybe if she approached Verite like she was talking to her father, but more holy or something. She took a deep breath, composing herself, “Verite, we need your assistance.” She sat back, thinking about all the times they were ambushed in the middle of the night. “Could you find a way to hide us from our enemies so that we can fulfill our destiny to save the world.” Thinking of her friends and family and of all the people she had seen hurt in the earthquake when Marmo crashed into the Isle. She didn’t want them to be hurt. She closed her eyes and reached out with all of her heart, “Please.”

An overwhelming presence came upon Lucinde. Suddenly, she felt an indescribable feeling of lightness or freedom. It was if she had been bound all this time and was suddenly released. On the other side of the basilica’s grounds, Gaspar paused in his conversation. He was reminded of the first time he had met the Channing. One Shield away, Iezecele looked around wondering if a new student had left a toxic chemical uncorked. In the Monarch, Val’s dart missed the board, looking to the mug in his hand, he exclaimed, “Bring me some more of this!”

Back at the basilica, Lucinde knelt exhaling her held breath, “Thank you, Verite, for answering my prayer.”

As she knelt, she felt as if a warm hand had been placed on her shoulder. As calming as the hand was, she kept from turning her head, a little fearful of what she might see. A voice resonated inside of her. A voice, quiet as a breeze but also as strong as a crashing wave, spoke to her, ‘I am always watching over you.’ The sensation of the hand on her shoulder moved to the back of her head. A memory of her father patting her head after she had done well returned to her. The voice spoke again, ‘Thank you for believing in me.’

Suddenly she felt a surge of power emanating from the back of her head. What could only be Verite’s power flooded into her, opening her mind, granting her skills and power beyond her experience. Only as the power left her, did Lucinde realize that she had been standing on the tips of her toes. The other petitioners were staring at her. Lucinde bowed her head and excused herself from the basilica.

As she rushed outside, Iezecele reached out to the group, ‘Did you just feel that?’

Lucinde sent her assent. Gaspar chimed in, ‘Was that from you praying?’ Lucinde again assented. Gaspar’s surprise came through his ring, ’That’s amazing.’

‘Crap,’ Iezecele’s sarcasm returned, ‘I guess I’m going to have to go to Church now.’

To Lucinde, it looked like the others had all experienced the same power. Even though he was being silent, she guessed that Val had experienced the same thing. She wondered how much had they experienced. She sent through the ring, ‘Did you guys hear a voice too?’

‘Hearing voices is usually a bad thing, Lucinde,’ Iezecele poured on the sarcasm. Lucinde could practically see the Willworker’s scar pulled in a smirk.

‘Thank you for speaking to Him for us,’ An opposite emotion came through Gaspar’s ring. He sounded disappointed.

Back at the Monarch, Val laughed off the awkward position he had been in. The rest of patrons in the common room stared at him before turning back to what they were doing. He heard the others talking about what had just happened. He had felt the power too, but didn’t know how to respond. It wasn’t as if he didn’t believe in Verite. He also believed that he needed to be part of defeating the enemy. Praying for guidance and support just felt wrong to him. Having that blind faith reminded Val of his father and the failures that kind of faith brought him. He sighed and ordered another drink.

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Week 23: Shadows and Treasures
I do not speak with my enemies

Week 23

On watch, Lucinde was reviewing a map Captain Abernette provided. The captains of the Delmare ships had cobbled together a working map of the coast of Marmo, giving them an idea of how big the new landmass was. “On your way back from Tepest?” Lucinde spun around, surprised by the sudden voice. Just at the edge of the firelight stood one of the creatures that Val had taken to calling Eyeless. It casually strolled up to the campfire and sat down across from her.

Lucinde practically jumped from her seat, clutching her flail tightly. She hadn’t heard the creature approach. The cross between its casual tone and its horrifying face truly terrified her. “What are you doing here, foul beast?” She hoped the eyeless monster didn’t here the tremble in her voice.

If it noticed her fear, it didn’t acknowledge it. “Mastema is my name. It is proper to begin a conversation with introductions, is it not?”

Lucinde sent an alarm through her magic ring to her companions. ‘Get up! Get up! One of those eyeless things is here!’ She practically screamed through the ring. She tried to calm her voice. “Lucinde,” she said flatly. “You and your kind have no business here.”

“My Master would disagree,” it spoke in its hollowed voice. “He says that you are the Oathbreakers.”

Through her ring, the others reached out to her. Val asked, ’What’s the lay of the land?’ Lucinde did her best to explain where she and the creature were positioned.

‘Should we charge out?’ Gaspar asked.

‘I don’t want to face this thing alone!’

Not knowing if the eyeless creature had allies, Iezecele summoned his Will and bent the light around himself, rendering his body invisible. At the same time, Val used the power of his ring to make himself equally invisible and slipped out the back of his tent, looking to circle around the eyeless monster. Gaspar took deep breaths. Remembering how terrifying these creatures were, he tried to steady his nerves. He grasped his sword and dagger and rushed out of his tent.

The creature leveled its sightless gaze at Gaspar before turning back to Lucinde. “Not even willing to have a civil conversation?” It stood, but kept its hand away from the sword at its side. “I am very disappointed in you.” The eyeless monster stepped back disappearing into the shadows cast by the fire.

Iezecele summoned his Will and transmuted a nearby rock to magnesium and ignited it. The light it cast off illuminated the area like the light of the noon day, eliminating shadows. “It’s gone now. It must have a way to travel through shadows.” He looked at the ground where the eyeless had stood. Its footprints were just in the campsite. It reminded him of when Lucinde saw someone in the alleyways of Oreville. When they had checked, all traces had vanished at that time as well.

“Why didn’t it attack?” Wide awake, he paced the campsite. “What do you think it wanted?”

Lucinde exhaled a breath she didn’t know she was keeping in. “It said that it wanted a conversation.”

“Why not talk with it?” Gaspar asked.

Lucinde made an X with her arms. “No way.” She shook her head, repeating, “No way.” She pointed at Val, “If he wanted a conversation, that thing should have waited for his watch.”

[time passes]

Returning to the Basilica, they were quickly escorted inside. When the Channing joined them, the old man looked even older. It was one thing to search for the Prophecy. Seeing it fulfilled was even more stressful. Val poured a brandy and handed it to the Channing, who accepted it with a slight smile. “So was Captain Abernette helpful?”

Iezecele nodded, “We probably found out what the Treasure it. Or, I should say who the Treasure is.”

Caught in mid sip, the Channing coughed, “What?” His exhaustion seemed to evaporate in the light of this new hope. “Tell me.”

Val shared the story of finding the log book on their trip on the Sea Queen. “Our best guess is that the Treasure is that Tobias guy we met in Hamilton.”

The Channing requested information about the Ironfoot family from his secretary. In a few moments the secretary returned with a few papers. The Channing scanned the pages, then looked at the notes Iezecele had taken from the doomed Longstrider’s log book. “Tobias Duncannon, it does match the letters you have. He’s the Treasure?”

“It fits your prophecy, right?” Iezecele tried to recall the exact words, “Something like from all and for all? Tobias is half-Eshih raised by Devonans.”

The Channing nodded, “Yes, it does make sense. His father was human and his mother was Eshih. After they were killed in an avalanche, the Ironfoot family took him in.” Channing Kearnan handed the notes back to his secretary. “So, you’ll be heading to Hamilton, then?”

Val had thought about it since the eyeless had visited them. “Maybe you should send another group to snatch him up?”

Channing Kearnan winced a bit when the rogue described like a kidnapping. “The Prophecy says that the Treasure needs to be protected by the Chosen. Why would you want someone else to do it?”

Val described the meeting between Lucinde and the eyeless on the road between Tepest and Keening. “They seem to be able to find us without any effort. I think it might be a better move the Treasure here,” he glanced at the armored Alerons ringing the room, “to a safer location before we get involved.”

The Channing paused in thought. “What do you think would be better: You being able to find them, or them not being able to find you?”

“It’s not like we have a choice,” Iezecele stated, “but I’d rather be able to hide from the monsters. At least I wouldn’t have to worry about getting a full night’s sleep.”

“I wouldn’t say that we are without options.” The Channing noted, “Verite believes in balance. I can ask him to intervene on your behalf.”

“If he hides us, I’ll go to Church.” Iezecele promised.

Channing Kearnan smiled and extended his hand, “Is that a promise?”

Iezecele spit in his palm and shook Channing Kearnan’s hand. The high priest turned to Val, “If you don’t want to go to Hamilton? What were you thinking of doing?”

Val swirled the brandy in it’s glass. Looking over the rim, he smirked at the Channing, “I was thinking of travelling to Senna. I think my family may profit from all this.”

The Channing was confused. “Profit?”

View
Week 22: With the Sea Queen
A treasure found?

Week 22

“What is the purpose of your visit to the sovereign lands of Carwithian?” An Eshih guard questioned the group on the border.

Val laughed from his resting place in the back of the wagon, “We quest to find the Treasure to save the world!”

The guard shifted in his saddle, looking in the direction of the wagon, “What was that?”

Lucinde held up her hand, “Never mind him. He’s just our fool of a minstrel. We’re traveling to engage a Delmare ship in Tepest by way of Keening.” She fished out the papers Channing Kearnan had given each of them. “You’ll find everything sorted there.”

“Any trouble along your way?” He asked while scanning the papers.

Another giggle from Val, “Nothing much, just Darkhounds the size of horses hunting us in the night, burning their feet into stone.”

Lucinde threw an annoyed glance back to the wagon. ‘Will you quiet him?’ She sent to Iezecele through her ring. Not for the first time she wondered whether a certain kind of madness had taken rest in Val’s heart. That, or she needed to stop them from bringing any alcohol on their trips. “Some wild dogs attacked our camp one night, nothing more. You know how his kind like to embellish.”

The guard nodded. Rolling up the paper, he handed it back to Lucinde. “Everything looks in order.” He guided his horse, opening the road for the group. “Welcome to Carwithian. Remember it is forbidden by Eshih law to stray from the road. Stay to the path and your journey shall be light.”

“What is that sound, someone singing?” Val asked. There was light music in the air, a mournful something if Val could guess.

The group turned the bend in the road. The treeline opened up revealing an Eshih city. “It’s Keening.” Lucinde stated. She had visited Keening a number of times in the past with her father. She could tell from Val’s swiviling neck, that it was the first time he had ridden into the city. He was intently gazing the curving streets and smooth arches of the Eshih city. She explained to Val, “My father told me that the Eshih built this city in trying to understand the human heart. The wind makes that sound as it blows through.”

Val drank in the oddity of the city. It was if someone had taken the design of a human city, but didn’t know how to make a right angle. He looked to the rooftops and saw the metal spires swaying in the wind, making their sad sound. “Is this what they think of us then?”

“Maybe, generations ago when this place was built,” Lucinde answered. “Come on, the Street Song Inn is nearby.” They were warmly greeted at the entrance. Lucinde, Gaspar and Iezecele opted to rest in their rooms. Val chose to stay in the common room. As she climbed the stairs, Lucinde could see that the rogue already had a drink in his hand and was flashing his smile at the Eshih maid who was playing the flute. Somehow she doubted that he was staying behind to, as he said, ‘gather information.’

When Lucinde and Iezecele returned from purchasing supplies, they found Val finally awake in the common room. “So, find out anything interesting,” Iezecele asked.

“Mirielle has the cutest birthmark on,” the rogue started.

Lucinde dropped her bags heavily on the table, “The word about town, not your immoral musical adventures.”

Val nudged Iezecele, “She is very skilled playing the flute.” He winked at Lucinde, “There’s not a great deal of meat on the menu. Did you see?” He glanced over to the menu board.

“So?” Lucinde shrugged.

“The inn prides itself on the freshest game meat. I was talking with the cook and he mentioned that the local hunters weren’t having much luck. Instead of game, they’ve only been finding dead animals, slaughtered, and left to rot.” He took a bite of his breakfast, “They think that something may have gone rabid. I’m thinking that it might be either something with the blackness in it, or maybe more of our giant hound friends.”

“Well, we’re not that far from Cendrillion. It’s no surprise that the creatures are here.” Iezecele noted.

Val nodded, “Some of the soldiers were drinking pretty heavily too. They’re all on edge, pulling double shifts. The borders are closed and the patrols around the inroads are being increased. One of the guards said that he’s always feeling like a storm is about to break.”

“That’s good,” Lucinde ordered a drink, “at least they’ll be more prepared then Cendrillion.”

Val shook his head, “I’m not so sure. The guards were talking how the quake and the troubles since and how they must be the fault of the Ahebbens and their Willworkers.”

“So, they’re looking to go it alone, huh?” Iezecele scoffed.

“Yes, but they’re just as curious as Cosette. A merchant from Tepest mentioned that he saw a number of military ships were sailing northeast.” Val glanced at his companions, “Gaspar?”

They all sensed his presence to the west through the power of their rings. “He said he wanted to discuss some things with the local Druids.”

Val could see that Iezecele was curious about the Druids. Their powers were so strangely different than that of the Willworkers. He smiled, “He’s probably sharing all of our deepest secrets and giving them strands of our hair to work their weird spells.” By the time Gaspar returned, Val had weaved a tale of the warrior’s betrayal. The rogue stood up, pointing an accusatory finger at Gaspar, “There he is, the vile scoundrel himself come to hand us over to those villains!”

Before he had joined up with Val and the others, Gaspar would have wilted under the gaze of all the people in the common room. They stared at him, intent on seeing the scene play out. “Ah, so you’ve discovered my plot?” He calmly strode to the group, “Well, earlier than I expected, but I’ve prepared for all possibilities. You’ll not escape your doom.” Gaspar eyed the group seriously, before Val clapped and broke into laughter.

Realizing the jest, the crowd went about their business. Gaspar took his seat, “The Druids have been attempting to scry the lands of Marmo, but they’ve been unsuccessful. They say that there’s something resisting their powers.”

“If it had been that easy, then Channing Kearnan wouldn’t have had to send us to look for ourselves.” Lucinde reasoned. Nothing on their journey was ever going to be won lightly. It was the path of the hero.

The magic of Willworkers and Druids couldn’t spy on their enemy, Val wondered. “It sounds like they must have some powerful Willworkers on their side, if they’re blocking us.”

“Or Druids,” Iezecele added. He worried about Val’s comment.

“They’ve got monsters. It makes sense that they’ve got magic.” Nope, nothing would be easy on the path of heroes.

[time passes]

“For the last time, will you both shut up!” Iezecele yelled in frustration. Val and Gaspar had been bickering for days. Ever since they were out of sight of Keening, the rogue had talked about leaving the road for the woods. In turn, Gaspar argued the respect of the law. They had been going back and forth for days, more sniping at each other, rather than any reasoned thought.

“I’m just saying,” Val continued, “what if we were really nowhere near a rest stop and I had to go, like really bad? The Eshih are going to punish me for that?”

Under Iezecele’s warning glance, Gaspar retorted, “If it was your home, you’d not want someone mucking it up with their filth.”

Val was going to continue, not just to push against the warrior’s sensibilities, but to continue to nettle the Willworker’s nerves. He was silenced by Lucinde’s raised fist, gesturing them to stop. “Sush, I hear something.”

‘Did you just sush me?’ Val sent through the ring. He heard it too, heavy branches snapping as something huge charged the road.

A giant bear of dire size crashed out of the thick woods. “Wow, during the day,” Gaspar laughed as the beast raged.

The monstrous bear likes to throw his weight around, Iezecele thought “Let’s see how he handles some real weight.” He gathered his Will. He felt the bones inside the bear with his arcane power. Unleashing his Will, he transformed the bones to the heaviest of metals. Burdened by the weight, the bear’s movements slowed.

Even though they had argued for days, Val and Gaspar fell into equal movement. They both moved to flank the beast, easily dodging its restrained attacks. Lucinde jumped from her saddle, landing a forceful blow on the bear.

Gaspar slashed at the giant bear with his sword and dagger, their magical blade cutting through it’s thick hide. On the other side, Val thrust his spear at the bear’s legs, slicing where it was vulnerable. Lucinde ducked under her shield, pushing with all of her might to throw of the bear’s heavy paw and mighty claw. She countered with her own attack, striking the bear’s outstreched arm with her flail.

“Give me some room!” Iezecele called out. He focused his Will. First, he called forth a storm in his palm, as he often had in the past. Instead of channeling it through his strike, he split his Will and summoned forth a second storm on the opposite side of the bear. The two storms’ power sought out each other, as they were bound by the same Will.

Feeling the hairs on their arms stand on end, the others backed away from the giant beast. Suddenly, with a crack of thunder, the two storms connected as a bolt of lightning arced between them, killing the bear with its blast.

Gaspar approached the bear, its hide still smoking from Iezecele’s attack. He gingerly prodded the beast’s maw with his sword. “There’s no blackness.”

“Think this is the reason for the lack of fresh meat?” Lucinde asked. “Something like that could kill as much game as it liked. Probably scare off the rest, too.”

Val wiped off the blood from his spear point. “Just a random giant beast. Not some creature from Marmo, nor some cursed monster.” He smiled, " Really kind of refreshing, don’t you think?"

[time passes]

After a couple of weeks, deep, verdant forests opened in front of the group. The land began to gently slope towards the coast. The thick green of the ancient woods gave way to the salty breeze of the sea. Where the land met the vast sea, lay Tepest. It was clearly not a city designed by humans. The buildings were shaped much like windswept dunes. The docks looked like waves rising out of the ocean. It was little trouble finding the Sea Queen. The Delmare ship was docked in the last slip. Val stood at the bottom of the gangplank, “Permission to come aboard!” He hailed the ship.

A woman, flanked by two tough looking sailors, came down to meet them. It wasn’t the first time Val
had encountered a Delmare, but he still marveled at the amount of jewelry they wore. It seemed like the more important you were, the more you wore. By the amount the woman wore, she was pretty important. “What business do you have with the Sea Queen?” The strands of gold that ran from her nose to her ear jingled as she spoke.

Iezecele handed the woman the papers Channing Kearnan had given them. She read them, turning them over in her ringed fingers. “You may board, but you’ll have to disarm yourselves before greet the Captain.”

“Of course,” Val unbuckled his sword belt and handing it over to one of the sailors. Lucinde wondered how many daggers the rogue had secreted about his person. She guessed he was pleasantly giving in to the Delmare demands to throw off suspicion of just that. The rest of the group followed Val’s lead, disarming themselves.

They were led to a large cabin at the rear of the ship. A woman and a man sat at the table. Judging by the amount of jewelry, the woman must be Captain Abernette. The woman that permitted them aboard sat next to the captain and whispered into her ear while handing her the papers from Channing Kearnan. Captain Abernette read the papers carefully. She placed them down carefully, stood, and dug a key out of the many strands of gold she wore about her neck. Unlocking a cabinet, she searched through a number of scrolls. Finding one, the captain sat back down and compared it with the one she had been handed. Satisfied, she looked to the group, “Please be seated. The Channing has aided me in the past and the Delmare always pay their dues.”

“As the waves roll out, surely they must roll in.” The other woman, presumably the captain’s sister, spoke as if the phrase carried almost a religious tone. Indeed, as she spoke, the man touched his forehead, lips and heart in quick succession.

The captain nodded, “What does the Channing want?”

The others looked to Val, “Channing Kearnan has heard of attacks on the Delmare ships. He would like to know if these rumors are true, and, if so, what the nature of those attacks are.” Val knew that the Delmare were a secretive lot. After all the Delmare ships he had seen in Celedine, the Sea Queen was the first one he had stepped on. Even in the inns and markets, they tended to travel in groups. In the back of his head there was always a chance that these folk may already be on Marmo’s side. He felt it was a safe question to ask.

The woman who had granted them passage onto the ship threw a warning glance to the captain. The captain thought for a moment before giving her answer. “That is a Delmare concern. You may tell the Channing that I am thankful for his concern.”

Val noted two answers to the question he had asked. If it was their concern, then it was true. If it was a Delmare concern then the attacks were on their people. ‘No, not necessarily on their people,’ Val checked his thoughts, ‘it could also be within their ranks.’ Either way, Val decided, the attacks were happening and the Delmare were victims. If the Channing trusted them to ask this captain, then he thought he could push the issue.

“Were there monsters in these attacks? Twisted creatures born of nightmares? Have your people’s ships encountered a landmass to the northeast? Are the attacks coming more from that direction?”

The captain looked Val in the eyes, taking measure of the Channing’s emissaries. “You are remarkably well informed,” she finally said after some thought.

Val smiled, “My friends and I have the wounds to prove it.”

Even the captain’s sister leaned forward at this, “You’ve seen them too?”

Absently, the captain ran her fingers over the Channing’s signature. “We’ve never mentioned them to any of the land-folk. We didn’t want people to think us mad.”

“Madness,” Val leaned closer, “My dear captain, madness is the appropriate response in seeing what we face.”

The captain looked to her sister, who nodded in return. “The true danger lies not from their ships, but in the ones they’ve captured. Their ships are much like the ones your folk make, passable, but not worthy of sailing the Great Sea. All I have heard from my fellow captains say that these new people make every effort to capture, not sink, our ships. It’s as if they want to take the Great Sea from us.”

That, Iezecele thought, plus the added benefit of more raw materials for their armies. He didn’t want to share that bit with the captain. “What can you tell us about their forces? Do they attack your ships with the Will?”

“They have sorcery that allows them to throw fire and lightning, magics to pull a mist to hide their passing.” The captain’s sister answered. “Though we can not tell if it is the power of the Willworkers or more akin the Druid’s abilities.”

“How far south have you seen their ships, or ships they’ve captured?” Val asked. It was difficult to mask his worry for mere curiosity.

This time the man spoke, “The Osprey.” With a sad tone, he explained, “A ship my brother once crewed was seen as south as Saville.”

“Probably Karg on the eastern shores,” Lucinde added. “They must have come by sea to have taken the city without being seen.”

“Karg?” The captain’s eyes widened, “Karg has been conquered? Are you sure?”

Lucinde nodded, “Seen it with our own eyes.”

The man laughed wryly, “Bet King Ganelon was none too happy about that”

Iezecele leveled his gaze at the man, “No, he wasn’t happy.”

The captain narrowed her gaze at the people in front of her. Who were they? At first, she thought them merely hired hands for the Church. But not only have they faced the monsters of her enemy, but they were talking as if being in the presence of one of the Isle’s great leaders as if it was unimportant. She looked down to the scroll she had pulled from the cabinet. She had received it when she had earned her first captaincy. It warned of ancient dangers returning. “Is all this part of the Church’s Prophecy?”

Val shrugged, “Whether it’s part of a prophecy or not is for you to decide. Either way, the threat is real.”

“I’ll take you as far as I can,” the captain decided. “But if we see one of their ships, we will not fight them. I’ll not risk my sailors.” She turned to her sister. “We leave as soon as possible.”

Val perked up at that. He had heard stories of sailing the open seas on a Delmare ship. “Do you need any help? It’s not my first time on a ship.”

Lucinde was puzzled. Val was always the last to offer to help. He avoided labor like a venomous snake. No, strike that, he’d surely play with a viper than do work.

“You are guests on this ship,” the man replied, “you’re not expected to sail.”

Val pressed. “I could help with the sails. In the rigging, and the like.” Val added and Lucinde understood. The rogue wanted to play in the ropes way above the deck.

“You were already told no. You are not Delmare and your help is not needed.” The captain ended Val’s hopes.

The group stood as the man offered to show them to their quarters. Val paused at the door and looked back to the captain. “You know, that’s how we’re going to lose this war. Everyone staying to themselves.”

[time passes]

After several days of sailing, the group walked onto the deck and found a thick fog surrounding the ship. “Where are we?” Lucinde asked.

The captain’s sister pointed east, as if she could still see the Isle. “Landfall would put us along the border between Carwithian and Cendrillion.”

“Mistress,” a sailor with a tattoo of two eagles fighting on his chest padded up to the captain’s sister, “wreckage off the starboard bow.”

Torches were lit at the bow of the ship, burning off some of the thick fog. After some time, the group and the crew could see the remains of a ship floating along side the Sea Queen. “It wasn’t a Delmare ship.” She spit over the side, “Bastards rammed her with one of ours.”

All Iezecele could tell was that there was rope and wood floating. Enough of it he could guess that it was once a ship, but he could see how the captain could tell by the wreckage. “How can you tell?”

“There,” the captain pointed, “and there.” They were just pieces of wood to the Willworker. “That’s part of the cathead, see how it’s crushed? And that, that’s part of the hull. It’s shows the freeboard. Much too high for one of our ships.” She noticed the confused look on the group’s faces. Landfolk. “The cathead is where the anchor is tied. That kind of damage comes from being hit with a great deal of force. Only a Delmare ship could move with such swiftness.” She slammed her fist into her palm for emphasis. “The freeboard shows you how low that ship sat in the Great Sea. It’s much to high for a Delmare ship. This was a landfolk ship.” She touched her forehead, lips and heart, “At least the captain didn’t give her up.”

The captain’s sister approached, “It was the Longstrider. We’ve recovered the captain’s trunk.” She led them to a well made trunk that the sailors had hauled on deck. It was clearly water-proofed and was latched with a heavy padlock.

The Iezecele looked to Val, who held up his hands, “It’s a Delmare trunk. I say it’s their concern.” Iezecele could tell by the rogue’s petty tone that he was still upset that he couldn’t go gallivanting in the ship’s rigging. Val could be so childish at times.

After the crew of the Sea Queen broke the lock, the captain’s man sorted through the contents. He passed over obvious bags of coins and oil wrapped silverware, but gently pulled a book from the chest. He flipped through it. “I knew this man. Tannin Falk, out of Tepest. He was a good sailor.” He looked to the captain, “No family.” The captain nodded. The crew put all of the contents back into the trunk. The sailors quietly drilled holes into the chest before returning it to the sea.

“May he rest beneath the depths.” The captain’s sister said reverently. As one, the crew touched their foreheads, lips and hearts. Lucinde was amazed that Val hadn’t argued about keeping the gold. She could almost hear him say that it was pointless to throw away good gold. She looked to see if he was feeling ill. Instead of being repulsed, Val seemed to be watching the scene with intense curiousity. She had often thought that Val was joking when he said that seeing new things was his real treasure. Maybe that wasn’t the case.

Back in her chambers, the captain was reading through the final entries of the ill-fated Longstrider. Something caught Iezecele’s eye. “Captain, may I?” He took the log when it was handed to him. “And some parchment and ink?” When it was delivered to him, the Willworker intently went through the pages of the log, stopping to write a word here and there. When he finished, he held up the paper and blew on it, drying the ink.

He laid the paper on the table so the others could read. It read, ‘the Treasure shall unite the Lands against the greatest foe.’ Beneath the sentence there was a jumble of letters: i, o, T, s, a, a, n, n, o, D, c, u, n.

Val looked at the letters, “You don’t have anyone named Tobias on board do you?”

The captain shook her head.

“We’ve already met one Tobias?”

Gaspar spoke, lost, “he’s the Treasure?” He couldn’t imagine what Verite’ was doing. How could a crippled boy be the key to the Isle’s victory? “That makes no sense.”

The Willworker’s scar pulled into his wry smile, “No stranger than Verite’s Chosen.”

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Week 21: A Father-Daughter talk
We've got this

Week 21

“Have you decided your how you’ll journey to the coast?” Channing Kearnan asked as the group was saddling their horses.

Gaspar nodded, “At your advice, Father, we decided to avoid Cheney. We’ll head to Bergamoth first. Then we’ll enter Carwithian and head to Tepest by way of Keening.”

The Channing nodded, “Then if you’ll indulge me for a moment.” He took a breath, remembering the Lucinde’s plea for a cleared path, and spoke. “Verite, your Chosen are setting out again.” The Channing’s tone was less one of prayer and more one of conversation with a close friend. “They need your help. I’m asking. Please give them guidance about the Treasure.” He took another breath and raised his hands out. “May Verite’s light shine upon you and the Creator shelter you in the palm of His hand.”

Weeks later they rode into Bergamoth. “I’m going to stop at my place. I’ve got to tell my family about all of this.” Lucinde pointed her horse in the direction of her family’s compound. She knew it wasn’t going to be an easy conversation in the best of circumstances. “I’ll catch up with you later at the The Last Soldier.” She needed to tell her family in her own words, without Iezecele’s doubt, Val’s side comments, or Gaspar’s zealotry.

She found her father amidst stacks of paperwork. People were practically streaming in and out of his office. As soon as he saw his daughter, he stood up and hugged her, putting aside all of his work.
“Sit down, dad. I’ve got a lot to tell you.” Lucinde began to share everything with her father, from the skeleton in the caves outside of Trillian to the new lands of Marmo.

As his daughter finished her story, her father leaned back in his chair, “Well, that certainly explains some things.” He looked at his daughter with worry, “Lucinde, you have to stop your contract with the Church. It’s time to come home.”

Lucinde shook her head. She knew that couldn’t happen. “I can’t father. I don’t want to walk away from this. I think this is what I’m meant to do.”

“So you believe in this Prophecy from the Church?”

Lucinde nodded, “There’s something to it.” She saw the concern in her father’s eyes. “Listen dad, you’ve trained me. You’ve trained me well. One way or another I was chosen for this job and Solide’s always see their jobs through to the end.”

Her father held up his hand, “I trust in you, Lucinde. I do.” He remembered the men she had brought with her on her last visit. “I’m just not sure about your co-workers. I know that they take oaths, but you know I’ve always found Willworkers to be just unnatural. And that other one, he looks like a scoundrel.”

‘Well, he’s not wrong,’ thought Lucinde. “Iezecele can do a lot of strange things, but he’s saved my life more than once. And Val, he is a something of a scoundrel. He’s also good in a fight.”

“Right, if I remember correctly, he’s a snaky backstabber.” It was dishonorable, associating with someone like that.

Again, her father wasn’t wrong, Val had stabbed a number of people in the back. “He finds opportunities to win, father. If you had seen the things that we’re facing, you would want as many of those opportunities as well.” She sighed, “You’re going to have to trust me that I’ve got this. I’ll write you as often as I can.”

Lucinde caught up with the others in the common room of the Last Soldier. Val pushed her a beer. “So, what have you guys been up to?” Lucinde asked.

Val filled her in on the local chatter. The border guards of Carwithian and Cendrillion were being reinforced. Any and all Rangers that could be called to duty were being deployed. The king of Cosette was allowing refugees from Cendrillion trickle into the country. The refugees were being taken to the capital to register with the government. “Oh, and apparently the Eshih in Keening are really particular about their lawn. It seems like it’s against the law for foreigners to leave the road.”

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