Julian While his giants work to clear the streets of Brindinford one winter’s eve, Julian calls on his liege.
DM The guards salute smartly as he is shown in to the manor.
DM The baron greets him, his hair grayer than Julian remembers. Lady Eriana is with him, holding his elbow tightly.
Julian “My lord and lady. I hope I find you as well as may be in the circumstances.”
DM “A harsh winter, Lord Julian,” the baron observes. “Yet you still manage to outdo yourself in aiding Brindinford.”
DM “I take it the giants are laid low?”
Julian “This is the town and yours the hand that made me a knight. I could not soon forget it.” Julian replies. “Ruk of the hill giants is dead and his folk dead with him or scattered to the winds, as you knew before. Grugnur of the hrimjot now is slain as well.”
Julian “But Masnurre of the fire giants, by reputation the greatest of the three, still waits.”
DM “What of Nosnra of the hill giants? Was he found with Grugnur?” Eriana asks Julian.
Julian “The subchief? He fled the Steading and the hill giants’ destruction. We had some word of him but have not seen him since.”
DM “He has cause to hate you, Lord Julian, as you have done his people harm more than once. I hope you are careful,” Eriana cautions.
Julian “Thank you, my lady, I shall try to be. I will question Estia about him, so that I learn any traps he may have laid.”
Julian “But I think he can do little to us, and we little to him, until this weather breaks.”
DM “Fire giants are a terrible foe,” the baron remarks, his voice sounding raspy in his throat. “Will you take a fighting force with you again, as you did against Ruk?”
Julian “I think it would be best to have help.” Julian agrees. “I would have liked it with the hrimjot, but that it was hard enough keeping even a handful of us together in the blizzards there.”
DM “It seems you have brought them back with you.”
Julian Julian nods. “Estia, who was their queen, and others who it seemed good to spare.”
Julian “This war and winter both have worn down our folk and caused much damage. I would see it made good.”
DM Erianalaughs. “I meant the blizzards.”
Julian “Ah,” Julian smiles. “I w… would have rather not. I had hoped to do many other things this winter besides fight the snow.”
DM The baron gestures that Julian should sit, and does so himself, not in his great chair, but upon a softer couch. Lady Eriana takes her seat near Julian.
DM “Speak of these things, Lord Julian, for all know you are a man of idea and action.”
Julian Julian takes his chair after Eriana. “Well, for one…”
Julian He describes the plans that had been on his mind – extending their sway over Albrin, to settle the longstanding competition over the town in their favor. Talks with Alsoor to mollify them and Blasingdell and others to draw them into their plans, to lay the foundations for a Northern league of towns – “for we were slow to react to the giants, and that is from disunity and separate plans.”
Julian Thoughts of projects and fortifications. Marriages to help extend their diplomatic reach. And others.
Julian And if some of these designs bore fruit, they might merit a higher title for Julian’s liege?
DM “And what title would befit me in your eyes, Lord Julian? Count? Marquis?”
Julian “I know myself to be a potent knight, my lord, such as only a few now in the North could equal. In times of old, the great knights of the land served not a count or a marquis but a king.”
DM “King. It has been some time since one bore that title, longer still since it had any truth to back it. King. I will tell you, Lord Julian, that I do not in fact, feel like a king. No matter how mighty my knight may be.”
Julian “How do you feel, my lord?”
Julian Julian asks although he has not missed the baron’s tentative movements or Eriana at his arm.
DM “Mortal. And waning. My bones ache in this cold, and I do not think it just the temperature.”
Julian Julian looks at the Baron more keenly.
DM The baron’s age and chill are all too natural, but something lies beyond this, hastening the inevitable into the looming and soon.
Julian “God willing spring will ease you and brighten your spirits, sire.” Julian glances at Eriana while the Baron isn’t looking, a concerned look that all but asks her to talk privately later.
DM “What I wouldn’t give for some Teblor mead right about now,” he rasps.
Julian Julian commiserates, and promises that while it may not be Teblor mead, next time he calls he’ll gift some of the good spirits the party has recovered.
DM Eriana, for her part, looks as concerned as Julian, a look that all but invites him to a private meeting as soon as they can be alone to do so.
Julian Once the discussion winds down, and Julian has heard whether his liege would protest any of his ideas, he rises and wishes the Baron and his sister a good evening. “I have been reading nights and my lord Shael commended your library to me.” he asks Eriana. “By your leave may I spend the evening there?”
DM “Of course, Lord Julian. It would be my pleasure to have you there.”
Julian Julian takes his leave and makes his way there to await her joining him.
DM She does not make him wait long, putting the baron to his bed where he can rest more comfortably.
DM “My lord Julian,” she enters the library, a friendly smile on her lips, but worry in her eyes. “What can we do?”
Julian “My lady. My heart misgives me, he seems a decade older than last year.”
DM “It is the sword.”
Julian “His family blade?”
DM “Indeed. It has been too long since it was taken, and the price is being paid.”
Julian “I did not know that its losing could take such a price from you.”
DM “I do not know what bargain our father or forefathers made, but it must be that it has been parted from our family too long.” (Julian senses this is incorrect, and that the blade’s reworking is undoing the baron’s health) “I do not know if the curse will take me after him. Or you, if you are truly to be his heir.” (Julian does not know this either.)
Julian “I have got word of it lately, I think. But not good word that will see it easily restored.”
DM “He is not so old that he should be passing now. You cannot recover the blade? I had thought you capable of anything.”
Julian “Not easily, and I will not find it in Masnurre’s halls. But let me tell you what I’ve learned, and do you then counsel me. And…”
Julian Julian closes his eyes for a moment and with a prayer for God’s blessed sight, anoints his eyes with saffron.
DM Lady Eriana does not reveal herself to be a vampire, or fiend, to his holy sight. Instead, she appears radiant, glowing with an inner light not visible to the mortal eye. Indeed, even the lady appears unaware of this light, though it is almost blinding to him.
DM However, around her, beyond the veil, sakhils lurk, dark tendrils trying to ensnare her.
Julian Julian locks eyes not with Eriana but with something beyond the veil. He speaks slowly and clearly. “I wish that the divine word of creation, hallowed of Heaven and hateful to unclean spirits, drive you back to your grim redoubts far from here.”
DM Half of the sahkil are banished by the sound of Julian’s voice.
DM The others lock onto the paladin and unleash a torrent of nightmare.
DM Screaming in a million voices, their cries assault the very minds of their two victims. Julian withstands the attack stoically, but Eriana’s eyes roll back in her head and she falls to the ground.
Julian Julian catches her up as she falls and works the spell to whisk them away from the sudden attack.
DM They hiss in fury as he fades, slinking back across the veil.
Julian The knight appears on Serra’s holy ground with his liege lady in his arms. His next words are words of healing.
DM She comes to, confused and blank eyed, even as a blade is laid across Julian’s shoulder at neck level. “What are you doing with our Lady…oh, Lord Julian!”
DM Tolea has grown up since they saw her last, and is a full-fledged knight of Serra as is her mentor.
Julian “Yes, help me tend her first of all.”
DM Tolea helps the lady to a more comfortable position on the floor, the shrine is devoid of cushy furniture.
Julian Julian assesses her with Tolea’s help.
DM The sahkils have harmed the lady’s mind, Julian is feeling slow of wit himself. Even should she be restored, this assault will linger.
Julian “Tolea, can you do any more for her? There were fiends about us across the veil, and when God’s sight revealed them to me they struck at us both, not in body, but…” Julian explains.
DM “I will get Alein, she can care for her better than I.”
DM “Leave her with us, Lord Julian, we will keep her safe.”
Julian “Thanks, Tolea. I’m going to take counsel with the Sun’s Champion, at least until I can contact my lords. Don’t let her off sacred ground. Full half of them I could not drive away.”
Julian After several discussions between themselves, Julian and Shella jointly invite Lilac to visit the Great Hall on a winter’s day when they both will be there to welcome her.
Julian Though the paladin prepares the Great Hall, now decked with trophies of the hrimjot, and the folk of the household to receive their guest, the visit’s chief purpose is not public but private, and the intended main event is not this reception but hours set aside privately for the three of them.
Julian It is not only a chance for the paladin and Aine’s daughter to meet one another in the flesh instead of hear about each other through intermediaries, but also a chance for Lilac to court Shella’s blessing — for Julian has already told his wife that politics aside, he will not bring the princess, or anyone else, into their marriage without it.
DM Lilac arrives astride a brown unicorn, twelve handmaidens in tow. They do not appear to suffer overmuch at the bitter cold, and indeed what clothing they wear appears more for fashion than any protection from the cold. She smiles confidently to the people of Dragonfyre as she approaches. Her manner of speech is forthright, and she plainly and simply tells the gathering “I am glad to meet you all, and I hope you will be glad too.” Something of a stir is caused when she removes the bark covered leather cloak from her shoulders, and it is revealed that her back is hollow, like a tree. Some children whisper that they caught a glimpse of a wolf tail beneath her skirts.
DM She looks quite surprised at meeting Shella and Julian, but quickly recovers her composure. “My lord Julian and lady Shella, I and mine accept your offer of hospitality and fellowship, in the spirit in which it was made. Whatever the outcome of our meeting, I hope we can be friends for many seasons to come.”
Julian “I hope so also. I am in your folk’s debt for your graciousness when I was guest and you were hosts. And all my people know,” Julian pauses to make sure the reminder is, in fact, remembered, “that your generosity brought great help to our town when we sorely needed it.” The household cavalry, swift to respond on Aine’s fine steeds, has been instrumental in preventing Dragonfire’s rustic hinterland from being ravaged as badly as the outlying lands past the walls of other lords’ towns.
Julian He welcomes Lilac and her party into the Great Hall where hearty food and good drink await. Julian seats Lilac’s attendants with the most courteous of his household knights and the Silver Swords, while he seats Lilac and Shella next to him at the high table, with Aethalward and Lady Midday across.
Julian The chivalrous men of Dragonfire make it a merry gathering, and Julian is keen to see that the whole household reflects his own warm feelings, but the chief purpose of the visit comes later, when the knights and housecarls trade songs and stories around the fire and the three slip out to walk the grounds together and talk privately.
DM “Your hospitality is generous to the extreme, Lord Julian. I can see why my mother liked you.”
Julian “Thank you. Our hospitality has rarely been matched with such a gracious guest.” Julian finds seats for them, a stone bench near the clear bubbling spring in the courtyard around which the Great House was begun seven years ago. He takes a breath of the crisp winter air, with a slight tinge of woodsmoke and an even fainter cedar fragrance; the gentler winters of Dragonfire are the only ones the phoinike cedars will stand this far north, but the ones planted here are still immature and shorter even than Julian.
Julian He lets it out with a grin, brings his eyes back down to the garden and the two women, and falls to talking.
DM Lilac is chiefly interested in being busy, it becomes clear. She has a lot of ideas, some good, some bad, but mostly she wants the chance to try things out and see for herself. She wanted a husband from the lords (and was willing to make so many strange concessions) because she hoped that as their wife, she would be able to act on her ideas, and bring some of them into life. Basically, she wanted out from under her sisters’ and mother’s watchful gaze, and away from a life of being told what will happen in advance of getting to see. She finds Shella incredibly attractive, Julian impressively accomplished, and the entire town of Dragonfire Dyrr to be a place she would love to call home. She is sensitive about her tail, and it seems very likely that anyone who was clumsy enough to mention it would receive a thrashing at her not so gentle hands. She prefers raw food, whether meat or vegetable, likes to drink mead and can distill a potent liquor out of fallen snow, and an ale from tree bark and butter. She loves running, and riding, and climbing, and the cooling air of autumn is her personal favorite. She’s largely disinterested in religion, but very keen on politics.
Julian Julian makes time amidst getting to know one another to ask why Lilac first seemed surprised to see them.
DM “Your stature was explained, multiple times, to be diminutive. I did not think that you would be so close to my own height.”
Julian Julian laughs. “That rogue Devis has had some fun with me during his work, then. It’s good we’re better matched in that as well as other ways.”
DM “Oh, Devis actually skirted the issue. I was referring to this,” she pulls out a parchment of ‘tiny Julian’. It’s a passing likeness of the lord. ‘DGL’ is stamped on the bottom. “But in my land, short is…” she bends and waves her hand around her ankles.
Julian “Well, it’s lucky that I’m tall enough to take your hand,” There has been a good deal of unspoken communication between husband and wife amongst the talking, and Julian glances at Shella again and sees her smile, “because we mean to accept it. This seems a good match and promising, and I hope to have happiness together for us and our folk.”
Julian “Lilac, will you be betrothed in our hall before you turn back home, that you may return and wed us in the early spring?”
DM “I shall. I had hoped only to gain a husband but I see I shall be gladdened by a wife as well.”
Julian “Then we shall see it done.” Julian rises and offers Lilac one hand and Shella the other, turning their steps back to the Great House where handmaidens and knights while away the evening.
Julian The next day the betrothal is made before their households in the same courtyard they spoke in, and proclaimed in the town.
Kryss The blizzard rages on the night prior to the equinox, and Kryss finds himself arriving to Ossington late. He and his horse are covered in 2 inches of blankets and furs, and what appears to be another 4 inches of ice and snow.
Shael Shael tidies up. When he notices Kryss he asks abruptly, with a suspicious glare, “When is it?”
Kryss The pile seems to shrug, “It is now.”
Shael Shael leans forward, his suspicions barely assuaged, and then stands upright. “C’min, then. I think Sharwyn is inside.” he stops sweeping outside the door of his tower (there is precious little to be sweeping, he cleared the snow hours ago) and opens the newly minted door to turn his suspicious glare inside.
Kryss Kryss dismounts his weary horse and unloads it before leading it to the stables and putting her away. Once done with this chore he joins his friend in the tower.
Kryss “I had thought to bring the horse inside with me, but I thought the lady might find it rude.”
Shael “I don’t speak for her.” Shael replies with a slick grin, “I’m smarter than that, at least.”
Kryss “We’re all much smarter than the day we left Lat Nam. What news from your handlers there?”
Shael He shakes his head, “Nothing, not for more than a year — though, to be fair, I’ve been busy, too.” he points towards the rug and iron shelf beside the door, “Kick your feet.”
Kryss Kryss follows instructions.
Shael “Did we have our strategy meeting in Dragonfyre? Or, did that change?”
Kryss “I don’t recall a meeting these past 6 months.”
Shael He smiles vaguely, “Yes, of course not — well, it’s all fixed, I suppose. For now at least. Um, remind me – did we finish talking about finding your Self? Enough so, at least, that you had time to think about it?”
Kryss Kryss smiles warmly. “I am what I am, Shael.”
Shael “Yes, but you’re dealing with multiverses now — are you me?” he shrugs and shakes his head, “Who knows. How was your winter? Besides, I suppose, cold?” he seems chagrined to admit that.
Kryss “But how are you, Shael?” Kryss says earnestly, leaning forward and placing a hand on Shael’s shoulder.
Kryss “It’s been a long winter, for you more than anyone. Have you spent the entire time in this tower?”
Shael “No, no, of course not.” He purses his lips and shakes his head, “Probably not; it’s difficult to be certain.” he looks around the tower, it’s been tidied since the time dragon’s visit though the library still seems a bit sparse.
DM Those in Drylake know well he has not spent all his time in Ossington, and are better for it.
Kryss “Have you heard from,” Kryss gestures to the shelves, “her?”
Shael He shakes his head, “That seems unlikely. Still, left quite a mess behind.” he sighs at length.
Kryss “I think she liked you. What news of the guardians of the world tree?”
Shael “I am very likable.” he agrees, “But, I don’t think she did— not right away, at least. The World Tree Guardians, ah – yes…” he rummages around on a nearby table and passes some papers across it to Kryss.
Kryss Kryss flips through the papers. “Is this another reading assignment?”
Shael “Not an assignment.” he grins, “Just my findings for your perusal — once the fae roads thaw, we’ll be able to pass messages along to them.”
Kryss “Great. I’ll look over them later. Did you intend to send me to an inn? It’s getting late.”
Shael He tilts his head to observe Kryss curiously, “This is Ossington; no reason for the three of us to need an Inn. If you don’t want to sleep at your house, you can stay in the second guestroom here.” he offers invitingly.
Kryss “I wasn’t sure you kept a home for me here. If you don’t mind letting me stay here tonight I’ll move back to my place in the morning.”
Shael “I mean, of course.” he seems almost flabbergasted before remembering the issue he’s been worrying about. “Doesn’t matter how long you were gone, there’s always a place for you with me… doesn’t matter to me if you need it or not, I’m still saving you a spot.” he grins.
Kryss “You seem like you have something on your mind, Shael.”
Shael He laughs aloud suddenly, “Almost always.” he agrees.
Kryss “What is it now?”
Shael “Like, right this second?” he asks, pursing his lips. “Well, I didn’t think it was real.” his head is twisted back and to the side in his contemplation. “I knew it was, of course, but it’s different actually seeing it, right?”
Kryss “What are you talking about?”
Shael He narrows his gaze at Kryss suspiciously again, “Me. It’s just a thing, a weird thing — I wouldn’t let it bother you. You wouldn’t believe me, anyways.”
Kryss “I can turn into a dragon and I’ve danced creation into existence with a bunch of guys that had mouths where their heads should be.”
Kryss “Try me.”
Shael He shakes his head, “I’d already met them, all of them, when I was very little. It was shortly before I… went to Lat Nam. I was laying there, already mostly asleep, my thoughts wandering… and I just started thinking about the possibility of it all, you know?”
Kryss “Met who?”
Shael “Me.” he replies, looking challengingly at Kryss. “All of me; all the infinite possible varieties of me.”
Kryss “I’m sure that you were a gifted youth.”
Shael “Or, maybe not… it was probably just a hallucination, stress..” he shrugs, waves the thought away.
Shael “..don’t worry about it, you don’t have to believe me. It’s not a big deal.”
Kryss “It’s a big enough deal to you. Why are you concerned about this vision?”
Shael “Because that is the world we are entering, Kryss, and I’m not sure we’re ready for it. You want to travel the world tree, Julian is wishing more than a teenage genie, and I’ve called Winter to our land a century earlier than it needed to be here.” he shakes his head, “We are walking towards a world where we can only guess at what the consequences of our actions will be; we can only guess, because we will be the first in all possible worlds to take those actions.”
Shael “There is no account or documentation to refer to and prepare for the consequences, whether weal or woe; we will need to be the ones documenting it for our antecedents.”
Kryss “So be it. I cannot think of anyone better to do the job.”
Shael “Hmph. Well, I suppose that’s the spirit — I’ll be better after the ritual is over. The night before, when the veils are thin, there’s always an effect on me… and, after closing the paradox…” he cracks his knuckles and shakes his head, “…well, no need to tempt that black horse.”
DM The Hard Winter
DM Throughout the land, winter’s harsh grasp steals over men’s hearts, dragging them down to an early grave. Beyond the reach of the winter ritual, nearly one in twenty living souls breathes their last in the chill months. Within its icy reign: three in twenty.
In Ossington, and wish warmed Dragonfyre, the numbers are closer to one in a hundred. So too, in Blasingdell, where the dragonfires burn bright, and their brawny savior Lord Kryss strides through the snows to deliver even the most mundane goods to those huddled against the wind in their homes. Drylake, and all of the Gulvanian valley, finds the aid Lord Shael renders unto them similarly helpful. Lord Julian splits his efforts between Brindinford and Albrin, having brought his men from Ossington to winter in the smaller fief. With his mighty power, both that demonstrated before man, and that done in secret prayers to Tal, the city and fief suffer no more losses than those towns beyond the ritual’s power.
Shael The winter days are fleeting; each day is shorter than the last until finally the equinox is upon them. All the varied peoples of Ossington are not acting as though the last days of winter are just as harsh as the first — they are preparing for a festival (or festivities at least). Garlands of winter-lace are hung from boughs, sculptures of ice and snow line the pathways freshly cleaned from last evening’s snowfall.
Shael Before dawn breaks on the day, the congregated citizens of Ossington usher visitors to their places so that as the sun approaches its zenith Shael crests the altar at the center of the stones to stand before the six pairs of betrothed surrounded by their retinues and then again by the common folk of the village.
Kryss Kryss strolls the streets quietly, dressed in modest worker’s clothes, yet recognizable by Shatterspike’s place on his back like a badge of office. He takes in all the goings on with a kind demeanor yet always ready to break up any rabble that may start.
DM The first groom, Eron the Relentless, arrived just days prior, with the full score allowed in his retinue. Minotaurs, bugbears and hobgoblins, armed to the teeth, flanking their king, who favors Kryss with an easy grin whenever the lord is watching.
DM The four captains of Pitdown Conclave are less confrontational, they all appear excited to meet their brides. Clearly Devis has sold them solid on the concept of marriage to a faerie princess.
Shael The other clergy of the local circle join Shael on the dais as he begins to thank the Winter Court for their service and dedication and call on the Summer Court to begin the long journey towards the shortest day of the year. “The Hunt is Calling on us to take the long roads, the winter was and will be our harsh reminder —” adherents gather the tributes to the North Wind to the rushes on either side of the dais and set them afire, “— the North Wind was a humble guest and we give our gifts to help him on his journey home as we call the Hunt to join us.”
Shael “At our hearth, you will always have your fill of mead to make merry!” He smiles before continuing, “The Prince and Princesses of the Court kept beauty in our mind and honor in our heart — as we travel the winding path of time to the blessed warmth of summer, we ask that the Lord of the River and Lady of the Lake represent us in giving thanks to the Winter Court and welcome to Summer.”
Shael The strict ritual adherence to a precise script loosens as Shael departs the winter obeisance and approaches the summer gratitudes. He hops lithely from the platform to approach the betrothed, “And bare witness, Lord and Ladies of Renewal, upon these notable nuptials.” he bows his head to each pair, from eldest to youngest, sparing a comradely smile for Boaz.
DM The excited couples smile and bow in return.
Shael “Along with forbearance for our esteemed company – Mabok! The Mighty! Whose thews have hewn more than a few —” he waves an arm towards Boaz, acknowledging the Power his guest worships. “— perhaps an opportunity to find common cause, but with no doubt a match will be wrestled before the sun sleeps.”
Shael He becomes somewhat more serious as he addresses the betrotheds directly, “Each of you has been called upon to begin your life anew; each a part of a new whole with the one by your side.” he motions that they should each face their betrothed.
DM The faerie princesses turn to face the mortals they have chosen to wed.
Shael “You may take this time to share with your other half any words you have prepared.” he says compassionately, “As our friends and peers—” he raises his voice to address the crowd, “—share their confessions, wishes, and thoughts of renewal amongst themselves!”
DM “I Garnet, take you, Eron, as my husband. You shall be mine, evermore, and I shall be yours. We shall live forever.”
DM “You’re way hotter than I imagined. The Goblin King will be good to you.”
DM “I Titian…” the younger daughters each pledge themselves to their husbands, some of who have better wordsmithing skills than Eron the Relentless.
Shael As each of the couples exchange their vows, the din of the crowd is a mild roar while they signify their promises for the new year — a few bravely exit the crowd to approach Shael to share their wishes with him and the other officiants leading from atop the dais. Once each of the nuptiants are quiet, Shael approaches them to share his own benedictions and well wishes in turn.
Shael The crowd is still murmuring loudly amongst themselves so it the details remain indistinct, but Shael shakes hands with each of the Pitdown Enclave — when he approaches Lord Boaz and Chartreuse, he holds out his arms to give the Lord a big bear hug. In the embrace, he reminds the Lord of his commitment to him and gives his sincere blessings.
Shael Standing back, he turns his attention to Chartreuse and asks solemnly, “Once you are wed; will you be my Sister as Boaz has chosen to be my Brother?” he smiles comfortingly and amends, “You don’t have to, but I would be thrilled.”
DM Charteuse smiles at Shael. “It would be my honor.”
Shael He holds out his arms to embrace her and gifts her his well wishes and advise for dealing with his brother as they hug it out. She may sense that he is taking a moment to put his emotions back in check before moving along, too.
Shael And so he continues moving on down the line, from youngest (Indigiana), to eldest – until he stands before Garnet. He considers the woman at length, “As the eldest, do you hold your sisters dear in your heart and bless these unions as the head of your family amongst us?”
DM “I do, for my sisters are precious to me.”
DM “All of the faegrooms and brides may share my blessing.”
Shael From the depths of his robes, Shael produces a gem-like stone; the Jet Mox. “Then I would charge you to appoint their Protector, and so tie Our Family to The Land. I would ask the Lord Ulorian to guide the Protectors steps along the Flowing Path, Lady Berchta to bless his actions in service to his Land and Family, and Lord Cernunnos to give a blind eye to the signs of his passage. Do you accept this charge?”
DM Garnet blinks, surprised at this turn of events, but nods. “I accept.”
Shael “Than accept ward of this blessing on behalf of the family.” he bows deeply as her proffers the gem, still swathed in dark velvet.
Shael “The Jet Knight has a history of mixed blessings and curses; I think that you and your sisters are most appropriate to shepherd their future.” Shael invokes – and by ‘their’ he refers, without gender identification, to the future Jet Knight of course.
DM She takes it, the dark energy flowing forth from the gem as she touches it. Eron’s eyes grow wide, and greed all but falls from his open mouth.
Shael “The Mox are the last defense of the world against the Leviathans…” he intones, perhaps to no one in particular, but it seems like he was about to withdraw before Eron’s blind greed became visible. “…when they wake, The Mox will be their first target. If your Chosen needs training to prepare for the great danger of that duty, I will provide it.” he bows his head and then withdraws – trusting Garnet to manage her new spouse.
Shael As he withdraws, the crowd begins to quieten, and the aging diviner ascends the dias once more. “By my Power and Authority, thy Fate is Joined. Begin anew your life, and bring life to the world.” his staff cracks down to emphasize his words just as the sun hits high-noon and those gathered are free to begin their celebrations.
DM The crowd suddenly begins cheering even louder. For Dani the Daft removes “his” helmet and beard, and before their eyes becomes a comely maiden.
DM Indigiana merely kisses her new wife deeply, bringing forth more cheers, hoots and hollers.
DM People begin to slip off, some discreetly, some not so, to perform their own honors to spring.
Shael Shael smiles, as the majority of the crowd, appreciating the trick. “Now let’s celebrate!” Shael hollars at the top of his lungs, and he even does spend some time among the celebrants who linger to enjoy more than one spring cider.
Julian Though Julian is no druid, the spring solstice is a welcome day this year even in the halls of men, and miles away, in a private room in their wing of the Great House, he and Shella likewise slip off to celebrate spring together.
Shael Those who are not adherents or participants in the ritual are gradually and kindly led away until all those who remain continue the ritual begun as the sun reached its azimuth on the spring solstice. The ragged march to the river begins and all except those who will escort the newlyweds to Dragonfyre join the dance.
Shael As they walk, from south to north, the land begins to thaw — they take to the frozen riverbed with songs and laughing punctuated by the perfect acoustics of the ice impacted by their tapping shoes. Behind the hundredmen, ice sloughs off and the river thaws to find its path to the sea – one half the group travels towards the Lake to bring their blessing and the other to Dragonfyre. Each
Shael path ends at the edge of the forest, but by then the exhausted adherents have completed the Spring Ritual and their blessing is invoked.
Julian A week later, the newlyweds are reunited at Dragonfire for the grand reception, and the seventh and final wedding – that of Julian and Shella to Lilac.
Julian Many others have been invited as well, and dancing, games, and contests are to mark the occasion.
DM The Thaw
DM Ossington’s ritual clears the snow from the forest roads, melts the ice logging the rivers, and brings a time of spring and bloom into the region. The rest of the region, beyond the reach of the unenhanced ritual, sees the deathly cold lift, but finds the snows do not magically melt, and must be cleared or waited out. This occurs, slowly, over the next few weeks.
DM Within range of Ossington, the snows have been undone immediately with the ritual. As the participants dance their way up the frozen river, they leave behind them fading snows, reduced from feet to inches in an hour’s span. The invocation of the River King seems to gladden that ancient being, and the snowmelt is swallowed up whole by the river, and sent southward, eventually to the sea.
DM Trees begin to bloom, pollen fills the air, and the sounds of animals emerging from their long winter’s den echo throughout the Tanglewood.
DM Wish warmed Dragonfire Dyrr finds, as the winter ritual falls, that the power of their lords’ wish extends once more throughout the entire fief. The snows here likewise melt away, albeit at a slower pace than those in Ossington.
Julian As the snow melts away from the roads and broad fields and even begins to lessen in the shadowed woods, the newlyweds are reunited at Dragonfire for the grand reception, and the seventh and final wedding – that of Julian and Shella to Lilac. Guests and followers are encouraged, now, and notables from surrounding towns are also invited to attend the dancing, games, contests and displays that are to mark the celebration.
Julian And of course feasting – not sumptuously luxurious in these times of war and a hard winter just past, but hearty fare, bread and cheese, fresh-caught fish baked and fried to Dodinas’s delight, roasted meat off the bone, and free-flowing wine and golden summer ale.
Kryss Kryss does not over indulge, but he politely samples the food and makes polite conversation, all the while scanning the crowd for any threats or security issues.
DM The most likely threat comes from the loud and aggressive company of Eron…his minotaurs and hulking goblinoids are physically imposing and not shy about giving a shove or two to those who get too close to their king.
DM No one has drawn weapons yet however, as the peace of the Lords is not something to idly violate.
Kryss Kryss takes the time to assess each member of their party while he sees to his duties as a host.
Kryss He also seeks out Thos among the crowd, hopeful that his partner was able to attend.
DM The Hucrele merchant is at a table surrounded by family members from Pitdown Conclave and Heredon. He waves cheerfully to Kryss.
Kryss Kryss approaches and claps his partner on the back. “Good to see you, Old Friend. Is there a place at your table for me?”
DM “Always! This is the guy I told you about, cousins, he’s absolutely bonkers. Do we have trade routes with the giants yet, Lord Kryss?”
Kryss “Soon, I think. I’ll give you the contact and info for a lair that might be profitable and we hope to meet with another clan soon. How soon will we have wagons back on the road now that the weather has broken?”
DM “Two three weeks? We have sleighs out now that it isn’t cold enough to freeze men to death. Wagons in a month or so, once the roads are clear. Most places are under snow still, how the hell you guys got your roads clear so quickly is beyond me.”
Kryss Kryss shrugs, “Julian is the most pious man I know. His faith brings many blessings. Speaking of which…” Kryss flips a card onto the table. It spins and slides across to stop in front of Thos. “Are these profitable?” he asks nicely.
DM “Immensely. You have proved me wrong once again, Lord Kryss. I had thought it would be pouring gold into the river. There is even a secondary market for the entire set. I tip my hat to you, my lord. You are a genius.”
Kryss “I don’t recall a discussion about this.”
DM “Surely you jest, Lord Kryss? Trading portraits of you and the others? You ordered it right around when you left for the hill giants a year or so ago. “
Kryss “Is it possible we could have a moment alone?” Kryss asks Thos’ companions.
DM They nod, and Thos gets up to go with Kryss.
Kryss “So, in all honesty, I never authorized this,” Kryss says as he leads Thos over to stand near Shael, whom he hope’s might be suppressing eavesdropping. “We have an impostor in our midst. We’ll have to review all our business discussions and product decisions and initiate an investigation.”
Kryss “That being said, I need an entire set of cards and I want you to immediately cease production of this run. Update all the artwork and use a more sturdy type of paper. Maybe bond several pieces together. In the bottom corner put in some kind of stats ranking the cards by power. I’d like to see proofs of a set of 100 in 6 months.”
Kryss “Some of the cards should be soldiers or archers. We’ll print a bunch of those. And only a few of Shael, Julian, and I. Those we’ll scatter in. And of course there must only be 1 Thos Hucrele.”
DM “You’re telling me that someone managed to infiltrate our company and use our watchwords? My lord, when you came, you spoke and carried yourself as you always do. And you were very specific to make Julian tiny. As you frequently remark on his height, I thought nothing of it. He’s one of the most popular we have. Not the most, but up there.”
Kryss “Which one is the best?”
DM “You won’t believe it. I made one based off that kobold you spoke of, the one slain outside Oakhurst? Meepo. He was just a filler card, but people seem to love him. I don’t understand it.”
Kryss “That would figure. Next run we’ll give him an awesome special ability and print a bunch of them. What other brilliant ideas did I have?”
DM “Toys. Little dolls based on your adventures.”
Kryss “Do you have any of these things with you?”
DM “We sent prototypes of all of these to your house, are you saying none of them arrived? This is seriously the first time you heard of them?”
Kryss “I’ve been in Blasingdell…”
DM “Not for a year you haven’t.”
DM “Look, impostor or not, there’s no way they interfered with a personal shipment to your place here. You’ve got to have the stuff somewhere.”
Kryss “Let’s go find Tom Bing.”
Kryss Kryss leads the merchant through the crowd, seeking the diminutive butler.
DM The butler is watching Emily dance with the other young girls, in honor of the brides. He is nearly invisible as he stands out of the way, unobtrusive yet watchful. Based on his stance, Kryss almost gets the feeling that the butler noted him searching well before he spotted the butler…and that Tom likely shifted his position to allow that.”
Kryss “Mister Bing? Have I received any packages from Mister Hucrele in the past year?”
DM “If you are referring to your daughter’s dolls, yes Sir. They arrived a month or so after the Rukhaus business.”
Kryss “Ah so Emily intercepted the package.” Kryss waits patiently for Emily to finish her dance before he approaches her.
DM His daughter finishes the dance, blows kisses to all around and then prances merrily over to her father, planting a more solid kiss on his cheek from atop the nearby table.
Kryss “You’ve become an excellent dancer, Daughter,” he says, allowing her to remain on the table. “Do you enjoy it?”
DM “It’s fun when there are more people to dance with like today. It’s not as much fun when you have to dance by yourself.”
Kryss “Emily? Did we receive any packages from Mister Hucrele? Dolls and playing cards?”
DM A frown crosses her face. “Why?”
Kryss “I’d just like to see then. Mister Hucrele wanted my opinion on some new products. Do you like them?”
DM “They are mine, and yes I do.”
Kryss “Do you think we should make more of them?”
DM “For me or for others?”
Kryss “For others. You apparently have a set already.”
DM “It would help part them from their gold.”
Kryss “Excellent. And why do we wish to part the masses from their gold?”
DM “To add to my hoard.”
Kryss "You’re a smart girl " Kryss pats her on the head and hands her a gold coin. “Run and play.”
Kryss He turns to Thos, “That’s one mystery solved. Now how can we determine who my genius impostor is?”
DM Thos looks at him. “Well, I think you already have suspect number one.”
Kryss “Emily? How could she fool you?”
DM “Before today, my lord, I would not have imagined that my first line prototypes would be in the hands of a ruthless business woman wearing the guise of a little girl. But perhaps you are correct, and it is another masquerading as you, designing popular toys for children.”
DM “And having them sent directly to your daughter.”
Kryss “All this under the supervision of a dedicated butler. It will be interesting to see how she continues to develop. Let’s set aside a trust for her to invest and see how she does.”
Kryss “Speaking of investments, I’d like you to talk to Lord Julian about leading a caravan to Senet.”
DM “As in he leads it, or I? I don’t care for those Senetians. Too religious and of the wrong stripe.”
DM “My second cousin and her husband do business near there. I might put in a word to them.”
Kryss “I’ve been there and they seem to have some coin. You don’t think there is profit in the Free Cities?”
DM “Senet is not the Free Towns. And if I were the Free Towns, I’d be very careful about the crazy religious neighbor upstairs if you know what I mean.”
DM “Not that they’ve got much room to maneuver. Religious fanatics to the north, to the south, and a forest more haunted than yours to their east.”
Kryss “Yes, well. Reach out to your contacts and try to make some arrangements with Lord Julian. And make sure that my figurine is both handsome and comes with a Shatterspike.”
DM “Ah, when you ordered them last, Sir, you were insistent that you wield a mighty spear.”
Kryss “Is there a fee to refit them with a Shatterspike?”
DM “The ones that are already out there will just become more valuable. It shouldn’t be too hard to make future ones with an axe instead.”
Kryss “Great. Anything else that warrants discussion?”
DM “You tell me. I’d not thought past second helpings of food before you showed up with tales of conspiracy and journeys to far off lands.”
Kryss “I’m sorry to interrupt your festivities. Its rare we can speak face to face these days. I of course went straight to business.”
DM “No apologies necessary, Lord Kryss. You’re an absolute lunatic when it comes to this sort of thing. A real nose for it.”
Kryss “Have you made a tidy profit from our dealings over the years?”
DM “Nothing tidy about it, Lord Kryss. It’s a great big fat fucking mess of one.”
Kryss “That’s what we’re looking for. Is Fapas similarly wealthy?”
DM “Fapas? He does alright for himself, but he’s not filthy rich, no.”
DM “We’re talking about the Blasingdell guy, right?”
Kryss “Thos, Fapas is my mentor that taught me how to bend metal. I thought our agreement included a sizable income for him in thanks. Has that not been happening?”
DM “Sir, I handle all the Brindinford business. Juliet is in charge of Blasingdell. As far as I know, she’s not cheating him, but seriously, it’s half way across the world. I’m literally never there.”
Kryss “I guess I thought him a more prominent member than that. Perhaps he prefers it this way.”
DM “Sir if you didn’t mention him every now and then while forgetting how far apart we are, I’d never have heard of him. He wasn’t even a big player in Blasingdell before you showed up. Our main competitor was Tolm.”
Kryss “That’s why I chose him.”
DM “Well, if you’re worried about him, why didn’t you check in on him while you were in Blasingdell this winter? You did say you’d been up there, right?”
Kryss I was in the area, and I stopped by from time to time, but he never seemed to be home. His wife or someone would always say that he had just stepped out or that I’d barely missed him."
Kryss “The shop seemed well appointed and the employees were more than capable of course.”
Kryss Kryss takes another look at the ruffians out of the corner of his eye.
DM The hobgoblins are singing a song about faerie asses making the world go round. The bugbears are consuming a massive amount of meat. And the minotaurs are staring impassively outward, looking around for threats. Eron is fingering the Jet Mox with a look of greed. The other ruffians, the four rowdy captains of the Pitdown Conclave, are drinking far too much, at least for the amount they’re eating. They’ll regret it in the morning. Probably. Dani and Indigiana are engaged in some sort of ribald dance atop a table, to the rest of the men’s delight. Now that it is the reception, their escort has joined them, twenty swarthy men and women, clearly bandits or former such. A few Vharlangi among them. They sing, dance and clap all the louder.
DM “…Lad, I don’t know where you been, but I see you won first prize!”
Shael “Ring-ding diddle Liddell aye-de-ooh! Ring-ding diddly aye-oh! Och, lad I don’t know where ya been, but I see ya won first priiize!” Shael’s voice is not as prominent as the others, but he can be seen singing along with them.
DM Lord Boaz is trying to explain why the peasants must serve the lords of the land to Chartreuse, who does not seem to understand human politics in the slightest.
Kryss Kryss makes his way to stand near Prince Rugar. “Great party,” he says blandly.
DM Neither Prince Rugar nor King Rugad make an appearance at the wedding, despite the invitation. So too the human lords Sir Miles Berrick and Regdar of Storgard, no doubt too preoccupied with giant defenses to commit a lengthy trip in the cold for a wedding. Baron Euphemes sends Lady Eriana in his stead, feeling too weak to journey out for a party. Master Stonehammer likewise sends her nephew Horken rather than make the trip herself. And the adventurers Tordek and Jozen, self proclaimed slayers of Nattskalla, have also failed to make an appearance, along with the elven wizard Mialee.
DM Which leaves somewhere between three and four hundred guests at the wedding in addition to those in Dragonfyre who are allowed to attend. Quite the affair.
Julian Julian spends much of the first day greeting guests and companions past or present. The duties of a host, not to mention a groom, keep him from spending too much time in private conversations.
DM The wedding is going wonderfully, everyone is having a fantastic time, especially Eron, who seems to consume a giant’s worth of alcohol. Kryss hears one of the hobgoblins talking about Eron being assassinated, obviously a mistranslation with the human language, but it isn’t clear in the story how he survived the attack.
The four captains of Pitdown Conclave are very festive, dancing with their brides, with their friends’ brides, with random girls from Dragonfyre and guests at the party. They seem focused entirely on having a good time.
Lord Boaz is trying to explain the difference between a landgraf and a margrave to one of the Hucreles when a shadow passes over the sky.
A hunched old woman in a ragged shawl makes her way into Dragonfyre, and silence reigns in her wake.
“Oh ho, why so quiet, dearies? Sure you were celebrating, but no time to invite me, was there? No thought for if Old Grandmother wanted to come to see her little joys married off to the highest bidder?”
DM “First insults and now a lack of apology? I suppose it is true what they say. All men can stand adversity, but the true test of their character is given once they have power. That is two now, my dears. Shall we make it three?”
Kryss Kryss steps out of the crowd. “This is an open celebration for all friends and family of Dragonfyre. If you would count yourself among that lot then please be welcome.”
Kryss “I do apologize on behalf of the planners for failing to get your invitation to you. We’ve had some problematic weather of late.”
DM “You would place blame on the weather, would you? That’s a spot of irony for sure, I would think.”
Kryss Kryss smiles warmly and gives the lady a knowing wink. “I think the storms caught us off guard more than some of us car to admit. Please, Grandmother, come sit by me on my side of the table. We can watch the dancing and enjoy some good food.”
Julian Julian, noting the scene as the conversation around him grows quiet, glances at his bride for her reaction – this guest seems to come from their side of the woods.
DM Lilac whispers to Julian. “My lord, that is Baba Yanca, the most powerful witch in all the world. If she was not given an invitation, she will visit grave misfortune upon us. Nor will she be distracted by your large lord’s misdirection. She said that it was two…we will need to provide her with two proper gifts to avoid offense. And someone should claim responsibility for the oversight. I would do so, but I have never met with her before. Has one among you met her that she would even be due an invitation?”
DM Meanwhile, the old woman hobbles amiably over to Kryss with a dangerous glint in her eye. It seems like the individual who angered a time dragon and chromatic queen will have the opportunity to go for a hat trick.
Julian “Never, but we crossed path with her riders three times before, denying them once and aiding them twice.”
Julian “That must be the cause.”
Julian privately considers having words with Treesinger, their informant in previous interactions with Baba Yanca’s folk, for not alerting them to this obligation during planning, but then again he reminds himself that he did not prompt the elf to do so. He rises from his seat.
Julian “Grandmother, please accept our belated invitation, and know that weather aside, any fault in this is mine, since this gathering today has been planned and carried out under my hand.”
DM The glint goes out of Granny’s eye, although if she is smiling, it is well concealed beneath the mass of wrinkled shadows within her hooded visage.
“Well, if it is your fault, I trust you will set things right. I will accept this man’s invitation for some good food. Continue making merry, don’t stop on my account.”
The party does as she says, a little bit slowly at first, but as her mood subsides, so does her overwhelming presence. Soon they are back in high spirits, while Grandmother shares Kryss’s company.
Kryss Kryss escorts her like a polite grandson, serving her food, refilling her drinks, and making polite conversation while Shael and Julian decide what to do about their unexpected guests.
Kryss Eventually Kryss leads her over to meet Emily. “Grandmother, this is my daughter Emily. Emily, please meet Our Grandmother.”
DM Emily looks Grandmother in the eye curiously. “Hello, Baba. How fare the Riders Three?”
Baba Yanca arches an eyebrow. “They travel to and fro throughout the earth, riding up and down within it.”
Kryss Kryss also arches an eyebrow. “Have you already met?”
Shael Shael glances over to the trio occasionally as he provides Julian the information he needs to make a decision; including his willingness to participate.
DM “Father, don’t be silly. Baba is my faerie godmother.”
Kryss “Of course she is, dear,” Kryss says, unsurprised. “She has alot to teach you.”
DM “Is that right, Baba? Are you going to teach me things?”
The old woman sniffs. “I am not certain yet. It depends on whether you can be taught.”
“That’s fair. I come from rather stubborn stock.”
Kryss “I’ll not hear ill talk of your mother,” Kryss warns.
Shael In the distance, Shael smiles at the exchange.
DM “She wouldn’t think it ill, Father. She’s so stubborn she’s going to ask me two more times to come see you in the Sea of Halak’Yam before I finally do. Although I suppose she never does, since if she had, we’d be a family again.”
“Who is the large woman?” Baba asks Kryss, indicating the frost giants on the outskirts of town.
Kryss “A guest from a frost giant settlement to the north of here, grandmother,” Kryss says after giving his daughter a strange look.
DM “Well, I suppose that’s one reason to throw a frozen winter celebration. They don’t look like guests though, why aren’t they enjoying the party? And the woman, she has a haughty air about her.”
Kryss “She was the jarlinde of the settlement that marched on Dragonfyre. I’m not certain why we brought her back with us. You’ll have to ask Julian.”
DM “Perhaps later, Dearie. Tell me why you do not get to know these people.”
Kryss “Which people? The giantess?”
DM “The giantess. That man over there, with the woman of sunny disposition. The orc man who is with no woman, wearing the colors of your land. Those females who wear the Angel’s symbol even in their wedding finery. I do not know many who would leave a hoard so slovenly and untended.”
Kryss Kryss is initially offended but quickly recovers, “You’re right of course, Grandmother. I should really spend more time here polishing and tidying. Perhaps one day soon after a few other details are handled.”
DM “Some of your pieces are so well tended, it seems almost purposeful that the others are left to tarnish.” She glances at Thos Hucrele, Emily, Shael…
Kryss “One day, when I can see in the 5th dimension, I’ll be able to really enjoy their beauty.”
Julian A few benches away, Julian and his bride seem to have decided on a course of action together with Shael.
DM “All of the fifth dimension you ever need to see is right here around you, Young…Lad.” She shakes her head. “There’s really no point more pertinent than the one you’re in.”
Kryss “I agree, and Emily, we should both try to remember what Grandmother is telling us.”
DM “For years to come, Father.”
Kryss “Would you be interested in hosting her for a time, Grandmother?”
DM “Hard to raise with her mother gone?”
Kryss “Tom Bing has been seeing to her needs. I have to deal with giants and dragons. That’s no life for a child with her potential.”
DM “Yes, she labors under a very unique curse, it is true. You think some fresh air and responsibility would be good for her?”
Kryss “And a strong female role model.”
DM “Perhaps it will be just what she needs. I could find some work for her to do, I suppose.”
Kryss “Is that something you might be interested in, Emily? Maybe a few months in the summers?”
DM A look passes between Emily and Baba Yanca, that Kryss has no insight upon. “Perhaps after the harvest, Father. I do not want to lie indolent on vacation while the people of Dragonfyre labor in the fields.”
Kryss “You’re a good girl,” Kryss says. “I imagine the two of you are capable of making whatever arrangements are necessary?”
DM “Not yet, Father, I will need you to advocate for me this time.”
Kryss “Then I will trust that you will let me know when the time is right?”
DM “When the stars are right then.”
Julian Julian makes time to meet with several notable people on the sidelines of the several days of games and festivities that follow the wedding feast.
Julian Baron Althon is the first of these, and Julian lets him know the topic will be Albrin.
Julian When the time comes, Julian observes to the Baron that Albrin has retained its independence and, until recently, its status as a haven of outlaws and bandits largely by playing Brindinford and Alsoor against one another, to its benefit and both larger cities’ cost.
Julian "We, " he continues, meaning Brindinford and Dragonfire, “have the opportunity to turn things to our favor now, for a time at least if not for good. As it stands now, if there were a serious raid they would go the way of Oakhurst, and I think nobody except for us can spare them a real garrison. That will come with the chance to reform the town’s government in our favor.”
Julian “Should we do this, we will take it, and appoint a governor who answers to Brindinford, and empower him to spend coin, invest in the city, and do many good things that the powerless leaders who replaced the bandit chiefs do not do.”
Julian He pauses to gauge the Baron before continuing.
DM “I assume there is more to your proposal? Albrin was settled by stout folk from Alsoor, long before even my grandfather was a boy. And while it may be that they had become a bit of an unruly sort, I hardly see that as a good reason to simply abandon the claim Alsoor has on their history…or their taxes. Speaking of Ossington, it seems nothing but trouble has come forth out of there since you three stirred up whatever was lurking in those depths outside the town. Alsoor guardsmen keep the roads free from walking horrors unleashed, but you won’t see us simply laying claim to Ossington to pay for our efforts.”
Julian Julian nods mildly. “Yes, and those settlers met and married sturdy Brindinfolk, and the sweat of their brows cleared the land for two farms in three, as it’s told in Brindin town. But those farms won’t bring in harvests and those taxes won’t be paid without more soldiers to protect from the raids, which is why I propose to send them.”
Julian “Truth be told I think many would take to the woods and turn bandit again sooner than pay them this year, even without the giants. Albrin had it better than some, but it was a hungry winter.”
Julian “So it were better both to send soldiers and forgive the year’s taxes.”
Julian “Anyway,” Julian shrugs away the issue of taxes, “there is more to my proposal. In the cavalry, when two comrades have been keeping property in common and have to divide it, one makes the division and the other chooses. Why don’t we settle the matter of the governor in a like way? Brindinford will name, Alsoor will confirm – or veto, in which case we choose again.”
Julian “So we can each be assured it won’t be a hostile pick.”
DM “You would welcome our input into the selection of Albrin’s governor?” This seems to take Baron Althon aback, he was prepared to argue about letting Brindinford take what he considered Alsoor’s, but this is different. Less hostile takeover and more…sharing? “I…confess, I’m at a bit of a loss. This seems agreeable to me. Would rents and revenues be similarly arranged? Stallas Mon may have had our troops concentrated more upon guarding the eastern approach, but it stands to reason that we could lighten the burden by dividing the work.”
Julian “I think we can find something equitable.” Julian responds to the question about revenues.
DM Baron Althon nods, overly mollified. He is more than happy to commit Alsoor forces to helping the area and welcomes Julian’s ideas on the region. Treating him as a partner has changed his entire demeanor to one of cooperation.
Julian After some further discussion of details with the Baron, Julian bids him farewell. Another meeting awaits, with Alhandra and Eriana.
DM Alhandra is watching the festivities, eating some of the hearty Dragonfyre fare. She has come a long way in the years since she was Klysandral’s uncertain squire. She explains to Jacques and Grendar Kuln that while Dragonfyre has certainly taken point on the giant front (as befits its heroic lords), that the giants are attacking on multiple fronts, and the further north and east one goes, the worse it gets. Wandering knights, rangers and town militias alike are being pressed into a war that does not show signs of abating…at least, until the human forces break beneath the strain.
Lady Eriana is dancing to a lively tune, first with a handsome (and smitten) Dragonfyre lad, then with some little children, and now again with one of the newly married Pitdown captains. She is all smiles and energy, filling in double for her lord brother’s absence.
Julian The meeting is to held in one of the private rooms of the Great House during an afternoon lull in the festivities, and with Eriana’s permission Julian brings Alhandra into the discussion of their family sword – “since she is closer to the matter than we have realized.”
At the meeting, he alerts Alhandra to what he has learned of the nature of the Blade of Fiery Might and Imperagon’s efforts at reforging it, and ties it to the thread of the Baron’s heirloom blade.
“I think that what we’ve seen lately comes of Imperagon’s efforts to reforge the Blade of Fiery Might using pieces recovered throughout the years, combined with the dark art of soulforging.” he concludes.
Julian He pauses here for questions, and for Alhandra to add any developments in her investigation of Imperagon.
DM “My lord, what does soulforging entail?” Lady Eriana asks. “And how do we protect those that do battle with these forces against such powers?”Alhandra listens to the response to Eriana’s question before continuing. “We lack armies. Imperagon is opposed in the Otherworld by angelic hosts, but his forces here are largely unchallenged. Even the giants are but the tip of the spear when it comes to his armies. Much more is arrayed out, for battle on Mageddon.”
DM “We are not certain of what he intends to burn or sever with the Sultan’s blade, but it can burn the godhood out of the divine. It is possible that the soulless babes born are due to this dread forge.”
Kryss “I think it’s clear what we need to do. I need to go get captured by Imperagon.”
DM “…how does that help anyone? Assuming it was even possible?” Alhandra asks with a sigh.
Kryss "I’m a smith. If I was inside his organization I could work to incite a timely rebellion. If you stage a few teams to assault when I give a signal, that will give us the initiative.:
DM “So the part where they are ‘kidnapping’ the smiths by ripping their hearts out with large metallic beasts, and eating their souls…that’s part of the plan?” Alhandra pinches the bridge of her nose.
Kryss “I’m already covered in metal. Perhaps I can slip past that part of the process?”
DM They look concernedly at him. Kryss hasn’t been covered in metal since he returned from the Far Beyond. Has he forgotten that Tiamat restored his form? Certainly not a question they are asking themselves, having no knowledge of the Dragon Queen. More likely they are deeply concerned for his mind.
Julian Julian explains soulforging as best he can, although Shael may be able to say more.
Julian “Among other objections to a plan that starts with you having yourself slain and soul-eaten, I think any action against Imperagon will have too much need of your axe, Kryss. I would prefer that you keep yourself alive.”
Julian “How great are his forces here and how great need be the army that we currently lack?” he asks Alhandra.
Kryss “Julian, I saw Imperagon’s army while I was in the Otherworld. If his army here is even a tiny fraction of that, we won’t be able to fight it. We have to find a way to hit him with a strike force.”
Kryss “Not only that, but after we slay him here, were going to have to slay him there.”
Kryss “I mean, even a prolonged siege would be useless as he likely has access to the Otherworld established within his base of operations,” Kryss speculates. “He can resupply longer than we could wait him out.”
Shael Shael provides an in depth explanation of soul forging.
DM Everyone looks aghast during the soulforging explanation. Eriana is horrified. “This is being used upon my family’s ancestral blade?”Alhandra nods in agreement with Kryss. “It might be that a strike is better suited, but we lack a solid location. Until then, if we do not oppose the warlord, he will overrun this land and that across the sea entirely.”
Julian “I am certain of it, and I greatly suspect that it is this, and not merely the weapon’s absence, that has lately sapped our lord.”
To Alhandra he nods. “We have leads, but not yet a path. Therefore my question.”
Julian “There is a further thing. A strike force against Imperagon will be at least the third time in a row that we repeat the same tactic, and it may be the fourth if we cannot locate his fort before Masnurre’s.”
Julian “We should not expect anything like surprise.”
Julian “Not unless we can prepare some element that is completely new.”
Kryss “I don’t imagine we have any spies about?”
Julian “We do have spies about.” Julian reminds Kryss.
Kryss “What if I challenged him to a formal duel?”
DM This suggestion gets a blank look from the women. “I don’t understand. What would that gain? Why would he accept?” Lady Eriana tries to grasp what Kryss is suggesting. Alhandra is less charitable. “That’s foolish. He’s a warlord. Why would he accept a challenge from you, assuming you could deliver it? He has nothing to gain from it and much to lose.”
Kryss “Well I’m just thinking of ideas. It usually takes me 15 or 20 tries before Julian and Shael tell me what the plan will be. Have we considered tunneling in?”
DM Alhandra scowls while Eriana smiles patiently. “Tunneling into where, my lord Kryss?”
Kryss “I don’t know. Maybe he has a lair. I just…” Kryss shakes his head, “I’m distracted. I just know that Imperagon has to be stopped.”
DM “Well, on that, I think you’re correct, Lord Kryss,” Alhandra nods. “From what we can gather, Imperagon’s fortress is somewhere in the otherrealm of battle, upon the Plain of Spears. Yet he moves around constantly, within his fiefs and territories, to keep that avenue of attack closed. Nor have the gods provided us with reliable information regarding him. We’re very much on our own.”
Kryss “Julian, you need to take extra care when dealing with Imperagon. In the Otherworld he had seduced you and as one of his generals you were a formidable foe.”
DM “Lord Julian, I had not realized you had been to Otherworld.”
Julian “I haven’t.”
Kryss “Its a long story. Suffice to say, he’s going to target Julian. At least, that’s what I would do.”
DM “Almost no one has been to Otherworld until they die,” Alhandra states to Lady Eriana. “The veil between life and death prevents one from passing through. Sir Klysandral was sent there once by dark gnomish magic, and he said the experience was shattering.”
Julian Alhandra provides the information she has gained on Imperagon’s forces:
DM Each giant warlord leads around a hundred fire giants plus auxiliaries (verbeeg, ogres, azer, salamanders, hell hounds, steam hogs, pyrohydras, etc) Most of them also have some slave expendable forces, humans, goblinoids, orcs, etc.
Imperagon, other than his giant forces, also has the following known followers: countless azer, also known as fire dwarves. Thousands of goblins, hobgoblins and undermen. Hundreds of duergar, ogres, orcs, bugbears, beastmen and kobolds. Scores of gnomes and devils, and dozens of járnulf and járnmaðr. He has also recently contracted the maharajputi warriors from the far east, and genies have been seen fighting alongside the men. In this region, Imperagon has been content to allow the giant raids to form the bulk of the assaults, which has freed his other forces to press campaigns elsewhere.
Alhandra does not know what sort of army would be sufficient to deal with the threat. Certainly all the forces of Onella would be insufficient.
Julian “Fire genies?” Julian asks.
DM “And others. Slaves, most likely.”
Julian “It’s said it was the genies of the air who broke the blade long ago. I wonder if we can make contact.”
Julian “Can you ask Mialee about it?” Julian asks Alhandra.
Julian “I hope she might be able to help.”
DM “I can see. You wish to contact the genies of the winds? Or have them contact us?”
Julian Julian nods. “It is worth a try. Maybe they will be willing to take up their old fight against the blade.”
DM “If they believe us. The genies’ willing aid does not often come cheaply if the stories are to be believed.”
Julian Julian nods. “I don’t want to leave stones unturned when it comes to possible allies, since his armies are so great, but if they will not hear us or if if they demand a price and we cannot pay it, then we will have tried.”
Kryss “If he has genies, then wouldn’t he have already paid their price?”
DM Alhandra nods slowly, not sure where Kryss is going with this logic. “Yes. Or enslaved them to his will.”
Kryss “I’m just wondering how one would break the loyalty of a genie if it’s sworn to a master.”
DM “Oh, I had thought that Mialee would be trying to reach free spirits of the air, not those enslaved to Imperagon.”
Julian “Use your own best judgment, Mialee and you, on who to contact and in what manner.”
Julian “Meanwhile, as to the mortal side of this war…” Julian frowns.
Julian He glances at Lady Eriana. “For our lord’s sake, and all our sakes as well, I would like to promise we will soon strike at Imperagon and his forgeworks directly, but I do not know if I could keep that promise. The work is not being done in this world, and we have very little information about where it is.”
Julian “And we have not had much luck learning. I would like nothing better than to pen up and bypass Masnurre and deal with Imperagon first, but my heart misgives me that if Imperagon’s secrets can be found, they can only be found with Masnurre.”
Julian “My lady, would you investigate whether you have family histories or private records in your archives that might shed light on the nature of your family’s history with the Blade? It may be there is nothing to find or that anything we do learn will not be any actual help, but as with the genies, it seems best to leave no stone unturned.”
Julian “And until my lords and I can come to grips with Masnurre and Imperagon, we will think whether there is anything we can do to interfere from afar. I have a few ideas. Next time we meet, if any, God willing, have worked, I will tell you.”
Julian Unless anyone has more to add, Julian brings the meeting to a close.
DM A month or so later, they reconvene to update the lords on the progress of the war and their information.
Julian Julian meets with them along with his fellow lords.
Kryss “I’ll start. I haven’t accomplished much in the last month. The giant library’s are… difficult to navigate,” Kryss says.
Kryss “One thing I found was a reference to a might fiery axe that was shattered against a shield belonging to a knight that was unnamed. It said the pieces were flung to the ends of creation.”
Kryss “I also found a passage in a religious text showing a direct path to the World Tree as well as a mountain of ‘boundless treasure’ so that is probably a bad lead.”
Kryss “And finally, here is a painting of 3 companions fighting a dragon of extreme proportions. As you can see there is a massive twisted tree in the background. Also, the party consists of an angel, a much smaller dragon, and a what appears to be a halfling. If you’ll look closely you’ll see that the smaller dragon has a shifting color pattern and is extremely handsome.”
Kryss “It might be worth mentioning that this painting was being used to confirm payment on the delivery of a giant-sized letter that I found in between a desk and a wall.”
Julian Julian looks closely at the painting, as invited.
DM Lady Eriana looks at the painting for an appropriately polite amount of time, but barring Kryss speaking more regarding it, she continues with her own findings.
“I cannot say if this tale is myth or fact, but the blade apparently was a prize won by Lord Brindin the Bold, the son of the man for whom the river, its ford, and eventually our city was named. Nine hundred years ago, he set out to the south to do battle with the marauders of the Fallaji Empire. During that time, he became allied with a race of, for all intents and purposes, tiger-men, called Efravans. The alliance fought against the Fallaji mage Johan. Johan was said to possess demon blood from his father Thak, and wielded mighty magicks that were not seen in the world again until the time of the Artifice War. One of Johan’s generals, possibly the being called Urdrago, wielded the blade against the forces of good. Lord Brindin the Bold and an Efravan chief named Goldar struck down this general, and (it’s not entirely clear here how, was Goldar slain in the battle, or did he give it to his human ally?) somehow Lord Brindin ended up with the blade, which he passed on to his descendants, and eventually it became the symbol of Brindinford’s ruling family.”
DM Alhandra goes next. "Mialee has contacted the spirits of the air. The djinn refuse to aid you, Lord Julian, because they claim you have used their magic without giving them due honor and respect. I know this to be ridiculous, as you are no mage and the pinnacle of respect, but that is what she said, and that they seek to try you on those charges. However, she also beseeched the sylphidae, and secured an audience, should you desire, with the Anemoi, the High Council of Wind."
DM Fiona follows the paladin. “Good news from the Gulvanian front, my lords. The Autumnal Equinox will mark the local vote on whether to change reference of the region to Julvania or Krylvania. Sengrad will be henceforth known as Shelgrad in honor of Lady Dragonfyre. There was talk of providing Lord Shael with the abandoned wizard’s tower for his studies. Or students, as I believe he is taking an apprentice? And the old dragon manor is being restored…I hope to make it the seat of power now that the Spire is mostly quiet. Also, to that end, I have a group whose clan master wishes to take up residence and assume primary guardianship of the Spire. I have put off an answer on the matter as your Lordship has expressed other thoughts on the castle and I would not gainsay you. Also, they are a bit…unique, and I would have you meet with them before I formed an alliance that you would prefer otherwise. Other than that, we would like to increase our stock of silver and gilded weapons due to the increased aggressions between the wolf tribes, but we are doing well, with no human casualties at this point.”
Kryss “I like Julvania. Stop by the manor before you leave and I will equip you from the armory. We will also set a few artisans to silver working. Can you provide any caravan security or are you still short on soldiers?”
DM Lady Fiona dips her head. "You are always generous, my lord. I have four rangers accompanying me, as well as Wulf. We should be safe upon the road. And we are not unable to pay for your help. We have several casks of Martikov wine, a half dozen crates of Blinsky toys, and twenty five pounds of Sengir gold coin to be melted down and restruck. Plus an assortment of clothing, jewelry and two packs of fur, mostly wolf, but some beaver, rabbit and lynx."
Kryss Kryss nods in thanks.
DM Vadania is the fourth to speak. "I fear I do not bring much in the way of meaningful intelligence. Princess Moonshadow of the Fire Nymphs, the betrothed of Prince Rugar, set out with a company of her best rangers, hoping to secure something of value from Masnurre or his forces, but she has gone missing. I fear her fate is the dungeons."
Kryss “We will be in Mansurre’s throne.”
Kryss “I only hope its soon enough to entreat for her release.”
Kryss Kryss rolls his head on his neck, “Not that Rugar is my favorite person, but I still feel like our accounts aren’t even. I did murder him after all.”
DM Lilac raises an eyebrow, but leaves that land mine alone. “I note my lords have yet to assign an ambassador unto the shadow fae’s courts, despite us having no less than two of their number with us.” Vadania protests, but Lilac cuts her off. “You are here, you advise us, and even if Mother Terra is your true liege, can you truly say that you do not represent the interests of the fae here? I suggest my lords name a human to travel to the courts of Prince Rugar and remain with them, representing our viewpoint. It is both prudent and courteous.”
Kryss Kryss looks around the table as he considers an appropriate ambassador. “I have someone in mind, but there would need to be special considerations. Can you speak for Prince Rugar in that sort of negotiation?”
DM Lilac looks to see who Kryss is addressing with the question. Surely no one here can speak for the Prince.
Kryss “Certainly none here could speak on his behalf,” he answers himself after an awkward pause. “Perhaps I should visit him with my proposal personally.”
Kryss “Perhaps you should…” he mumbles as an afterthought
DM Lilac is still unsure of who precisely the notoriously mercurial Lord Kryss is speaking to, it could be himself, or her, or even his absent child. However, she does not let this deter her, and seeks to clarify. “I should not, as one of the fae myself. A human, mortal man or woman, ought to represent us, as a primarily human,” here she smiles at Kryss, “fief. It sends the right sort of message to them.”
Kryss “How long would it take to get a message to Prince Rugar, and how long would it take me to arrive by horse?” he asks.
DM “I would suppose that depends on where you were meeting him? If you sent a message, I don’t think it would take longer than a week at the most. Vadania?” The elven druid agrees with Julian’s wife, and adds, “I could make sure he received a message in two days.”
Lilac smiles. “Might I ask what is in your mind, my lord Kryss? Why would you need to meet with the prince before assigning an ambassador to his court?”
Kryss “I’m considering asking Tom Bing to serve in that capacity with Emily as his ward, but I would want to discuss that with Prince Rugar himself as I would want to arrange for her education. So 2 days to notify him of my visit, 2 days to get an answer, and a week of riding. Do we have time for that?”
DM “You probably do, but isn’t Emily to spend time with Baba Yanca?"
Kryss “Baba Yanca made it clear that Emily and she would arrange for that at their own pace. Since I only have a limited amount of time before she reaches majority, and I want to ensure she experiences as many cultures as possible while I have the chance,” Kryss explains. “Also I think Master Bing to be the best option for the job and he is the only one I trust with Em while we are hunting Ashardalon.”
DM “Ah. A haffun ambassador. I admit I had not considered them to represent the fief.”
Kryss “He will represent our interests better than any other I can think of. Does anyone have another suggestion?”
DM The others gathered defer to the Lords on this matter, as choosing an ambassador to the shadow fae is a ruler’s prerogative. Even Lilac, whose idea this was, does not offer anyone to gainsay the dragon lord.
Kryss “Do you think his race will be an issue?” Kryss asks sincerely. “Perhaps one of Julian’s knights would be a better choice. I just…” Kryss pauses and shakes his head slightly before continuing. “I want to send him a message that I value both our alliance and him personally. I think Emily could learn alot from the Shadow Fae, but I feel like that’s something i should discuss with him.”
Julian “It is a pity that they did not seek our counsel before visiting Masnurre, or else we might have warned the Princess about the treatment given to other envoys.” Julian observes. “And with a permanent ambassador, that might not happen so easily. It is a good suggestion, we should take it.”
Julian “If you intend to send Tom Bing off to that post, though, Kryss, I think you should talk to him and not to the Moonlit Prince. Find out whether it is a posting he would like. He may, or he may think that having joined our household, he would rather stay with it. But either way, don’t ask the fey court to help pick our ambassador for us. That’s my view.”
Julian “Has the Prince or his father reacted?” he asks of Vadania.
DM “King Rugad is tending to his business elsewhere. As he tends to do, for great lengths of time. He may know or not of the capture,” Vadania explains. “The prince has yet to act, not wishing to endanger Moonshadow. Not anger the fire nymphs through rash action that sees her slain.”
Shael “I would suggest that Emily is the ambassador, with Master Bing as her regent adviser.” Shael says. He smiles dimly and apologetically for any fright he causes with his sudden appearance. “She is, at present, our only heir. It is fitting for her position and the significance of our alliance.”
DM “She’s also a five year old,” Grendar expresses concernedly.
Shael Shael’s gaze sweeps the room to gauge the reactions of others before replying to Grendar, “The arrangement is no different than what Kryss has already proposed – the difference is on the honor we bestow upon their court with our delegation and the emphasis on Emily’s fostering.” He pauses and then mentions, “There is no difference in the action; but in the message there is a great deal to be gained by declaring her the ambassador and Tom Bing her regent adviser.”
Shael “When Julian’s children are interactive, I’d encourage a similar delegation to Storgard and other lands — even rotating them so, as Kryss said, each of the children engages with our neighbors in turn.”
DM “It just seems so young to send them off,” Grendar remarks, but he receives little support around the table for it. Surprisingly, it is Alhandra who provides that little. "I was a squire at eight years of age, but five does seem a bit young. My father remarked once that eight years allows a child to be raised properly, before they are to take those lessons elsewhere."
DM The elven women do not seem to make much of a minor difference like three years, one way or another. Eriana openly agrees with Shael. "The political gain is not to be set aside lightly. And it would neatly provide both a human ambassador like Lady Lilac suggested, while allowing the keen mind of Tom Bing to guide policy."
Julian “Thank you all for your counsel. What can you tell me about this group you spoke about, Lady Fiona? Or if it were best that I went and met them myself, I will.”
DM “They are…well, they’re gargoyles. I know you were reluctant to allow the wolves to remain, so I do not know if you prefer to keep monsters such as them out and away from our affairs. And I would not push your patience with the wolves on the gargoyles’ behalf.”
Julian Julian considers what he knows about gargoyles.
DM Gargoyles have been said to be monstrous demons who assume the form of stone statues to slay the unwary. Other tales name them protectors of mankind, as angels turned to stone to watch eternally over holy sites. In both tales, vile and valorous, the gargoyles are watchers, guardians and defenders of their chosen sites.
Julian “Some tales praise the gargoyles as valiant defenders, others condemn them as vile assassins. As you suggested, I’ll meet with them and then make my own judgment of which to believe.”
Julian “We will also accept the audience with the Anemoi once we can arrange for it. Thank you, Lady Alhandra. How desperate is the situation in Storgard and the north? Can you hold your own in the mountains through the fall?”
DM “The fall of Ruk Reborn has bought Storgard some reprieve, although fire giant raids harry them relentlessly. Lord Regdar is no stranger to giant fighting, but cannot hold out forever. Two key elements are likely to determine their ultimate outcome. The first is if the mountain giants join the giant alliance, Storgard will likely be the first but not last to fall. There is not much to do about that other than hope. The second, is Thane Arnak of the stone giants. His aid tipped towards Storgard would ascertain their survival, his aid tipped against would bring about their swift end. So far he has abstained from the giant alliance, but we are concerned that is temporary.”
Julian “We should send him an embassy as well. I wonder if it might move him more to hear Estia’s testimony than whatever men might say. She can give vivid witness to Masnurre’s perfidy.”
DM “If you can trust her to side with humans against their own kind, that would make for a powerful argument.”
Julian “I do not think she has any warmth anymore for the fire king. I’ll speak to her about it.”
DM “She doesn’t have any warmth. That’s clever, Lord Julian.”
Julian Julian half smiles in acknowledgment. “Well. A meeting with the Anemoi and the gargoyles, embassies to Prince Rugar and Thane Arnak, and my lords and I will follow up on what you’ve told us, Lady Eriana. Arms for Lady Fiona. And until we can talk to the Thane, we will at least make things a little better for you in the mountains, Lady Alhandra. You will go back with soldiers.”
Julian “Let’s ride down to the drill-fields tomorrow and talk about what reinforcements would help you best.”
DM The paladin knight nods in thanks to Lord Julian. "I shall meet you at sunrise."
Julian That night, Julian asks Lilac whether she is willing to oversee political reforms in Albrin along the lines agreed upon with the Baron of Alsoor. He also begins assembling a Dragonfire garrison force for that town.
The next morning, after talking with Alhandra, he also starts to organize a smaller, picked force to place at her disposal.
DM Lilac is willing and eager to take the reins in Albrin.