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5,346 posts. Alias of Isaac Duplechain (RPG Superstar 2011 Top 32).


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I'm tying up a few loose ends after re-reading the entire thing over the last few weeks. What a ride this was!

27 Pharast 4713 | Castle Sanctuary

Four days of unexpected waiting had made both the Pitaxians and Mivoni irritable. The Founders had voted to delay the peace summit, asking forgiveness for the delay caused by the sudden, untimely passing of one of their own. Both King Irovetti of Pitax and First Consul Raston Selline of Mivon both accused Newhaven of planned treachery. Irovetti, in particular, seemed enraged at the prospect of camping outside Sanctuary, opting instead to return to Pitax by magical means with instructions to notify him when they were ready to resume. Jemini had skillfully maintained the truce between them. Barrels of Bokken's ale, offered as gifts to both armies, purchased a few days of tenuous peace, but tensions were rising. Akiros Ismort and his Guardsmen had to break up numerous brawls and affrays between the two groups of soldiers, even though only twenty-five from each army were permitted through the gates at any given time. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt or killed, but clearly things were headed for blood unless they moved forward with the summit. With both Oleg and Kesten acting as hostages, the stakes of the delay were becoming untenable. Finally, with Akiros satisfied that there were no further leads to follow on the death of Jhod Kavken, late on the night of the 26th, the Founders voted to continue the delayed peace talks the following morning.

Early in the cold morning, the Founders stand at the ready within the main hall of Castle Sanctuary. Borodin's spies had confirmed that Irovetti had teleported back to Pitax's camp earlier that morning. Jemini Lebeda stands in the middle of the room, commanding it with her presence as Lady Marshal of the realm. She remains flanked on both sides with her allies and friends. Nikolai Rogarvia, last scion of his house, looms large - literally and, to the Brevic nobles watching, figuratively - over the proceedings. Baron Berrin Myrdal, ruler of Varnhold and General of Newhaven, stands to Jemini's right with a mostly-casual, easy stance that hides his hard-earned skill with his blade. Verik Jarrow, Banker of Sanctuary, stands to the side in his Abadarian regalia. By agreement of the Founders, the four of them will do most of the necessary talking on behalf of Newhaven to avoid having too many wrangling voices. The other Founders stand at the ready behind their leadership: Svetlana Leveton, voice for the citizens of the nation; Elsir Tel'ran, the elven Pathfinder and time magus; Borodin Loginov, their spymaster stolen from a time that may never come to be.

Some of the Founders are missing from the summit as well. Zander Whitestag, the Warden of the untamed wilderness claimed by Newhaven, left three days prior to lead his men on patrol for sudden invasions of enemy armies. Taisper Stosz appeared to be absent, but that was not unusual; he is likely Watching from the crowd, as he is wont to do. Akiros Ismort is too busy keeping the peace within the city to attend the peacekeeping effort, though he likely does not wish a potential confrontation with Mivoni Swordlords. Oleg Leveton and Kesten Garess are acting as hostages to ensure the safety of the diplomats. Tandlara continues to sleep, watching over them from the Dimension of Dreams.

Others are likewise absent: Evie Dumanov, appointed as representative of Varnhold, rode out from the city at the request of the Founders to search for possible trails of the vampire. As a master tracker, she holds promise as to the possibility of a lead to Jhod's killer. Sworn to secrecy as to the nature of his death, Evie promised to return as soon as she knew more. Arkady Zeitsev, an employee of Verik's who was in Nikolai's company, decided a few days prior that Sanctuary would not be a home for him and his son. He gathered supplies for a trading mission to Pitax - many purchased from Jubilost Narthropple, leader of the gnomish expedition of roving traders - and departed from the city with the blessing of his patrons.

Nevertheless, the nobility of Brevoy make up for the missing members of the Founders. Archbanker Vinodragov likely resents being sidelined to witness the peace, but he has not pressed the independence of Sanctuary's Bank since his arrival. The next generation of Brevic nobility monitors to he situation - Ellana Lebeda, Jemini's sister, Zander Orlovsky, Nadia Lodovka, and Toval Golka-Garess (the dwarven adopted son of Lord Garess) all stand in the gallery to watch the proceedings. Ivahn Medvyed arrived late. Only the Surtovas failed to send a representative, likely relying on one of the others or perhaps not wishing to spark a confrontation with Nikolai. Several of Sanctuary's prominent citizens watch as well, including Aleza Bellavieu, wealthy entrepreneur and holder of Verik's affections, and Doctor Atago, the administrator of the city's charitable hospital. Jabber, "ruler" of the kobolds (to the extent any such leadership exists), hops around trying to get a better view. Many more citizens of the city - including sufficient guards to do battle with a sneak attack or sudden melee - stand in the courtyard of the castle.

All eyes in the meeting hall are on the door of the castle. The Mivoni guards enter first. Consul Selline selected a dozen members of the Aldori Swordpact (at least the unrecognized offshoot of Mivon) to accompany him. Each of the men and women is clearly a talented swordfighter, with their dueling swords hanging to their sides. The dozen Aldori view the assembled group with wary suspicion, but otherwise say little. Raston Selline is slightly older than his peers, gray starting to pepper his hair, but holds himself with great confidence. While well-dressed and handsome in a bland way, Selline has a subtle plainness to him that would make it difficult to pick him out as the most dangerous swordsman in the room. "Thank you for hosting this summit, Lady Jemini," he says with a practiced air. "Mivon did not start this war, and will end it swiftly given the opportunity."

"Wrong, twice of two tries." Entering the room - ahead of his guards - is King Castrucci Irovetti of Pitax. He is unsubtle in every way. His red cloak - or perhaps it is an open robe - flows behind him dramatically. He wears a large suit of full plate that makes him - already a thick man who straddles the line between muscular and overweight - seem large and imposing. His long black hair is swept aside by a golden crown with a front that could be used as a short sword. He carries a large weapon that appears to be a strange combination of a glaive, ruler's rod, and crossbow. The most interesting thing about him, however, is the strange nature of his armor. It is covered in gears at every joint, hissing and whirring as he moves. One would barely notice the dozen guards - Pitaxian wardens in their bizarre full-body red robes, massive pauldrons, and face-covering helms - due to the imposing, distracting appearance of King Irovetti. "Pitax is defending itself against Mivon's aggressions, from Mivon's spies. Pitax stands at the precipice of victory. I seek a peaceful solution to our disagreement, but will end it with violence if need be."

I incorrectly put the year at 4712, not 4713, in the post above.

27 Pharast 4712

Akiros Ismort stands silently in his office, located in the barracks of Sanctuary's Home Guard. Carefully organized in front of him are the handwritten reports containing the interviews of each witness to Jhod Kavken's brutal murder. Even in a town swollen with visitors and refugees, blonde hair is a somewhat rare trait in this part of the world. With the investigation the first priority of the Guardsmen, they interviewed dozens of potential suspects over the course of the next several days, only to come with no leads. It was not until Akiros, in his careful review of the witness statements, noted that the initial witness who pointed them in Aleza Bellavieu's direction was a woman. The Guardsman, Petres Turbarrien, who took the statement could not recall much about her, and her name and address turned out to be a falsehood. Petres was detailed-oriented and precise in his reports, but this report had been uncharacteristically vague.

Elsir attempted to assist Petres in the same manner as he had helped Aleza shape the illusion of Hargulka a few years ago, through the combined use of illusion and telepathic magic. Strangely, even though Petres was known by his fellow Guardsmen for his ability to clearly recall and describe every woman he met with precise detail, the attempt failed utterly. When Elsir summoned the illusion from Petres's memory, the visage of the memory of the woman was hardly more than a blurry smear. They would not be able to use it to identify her, which unsettled Akiros. He holds the sour recollection of the madness that gripped the city when Malgorzata slew Corwin. With grim certainty, Akiros vows to keep the peace in the city.

Still, the evidence points to a logical conclusion: a vampire. With the undead cyclops wizard-king stirring somewhere south of the centaur's lands, it was almost certain to be an undead attacker. Close examination of the bite marks indicated a humanoid attacker, while the ability to blur the memory of the Guardsman narrowed the possibilities. The choice to attack at night with subterfuge indicated intelligence and a possible aversion to sunlight. After consultation with Lena of the Fates, High Sexton of Pharasma in Newhaven, the Founders ruled out other types of undead. Akiros and his Guardsmen carefully checked for reports of missing persons, but there was no indication that a nest of vampires was active in Sanctuary. If it were a vampire's attack, she must have fled the city having temporarily turned suspicions on Verik and Aleza.

However, the most unsettling aspect of the mystery is not the unsolved murder. Akiros scans over the troubling parchment of the final report even though he already read it a half-dozen times and wrote it himself. In terse language, his report documents that the day prior, Archbanker Vinodragov had performed the resurrection ritual after gaining consent of the other priests of Erastil in White Hart. Like Jemini's failed resurrection three years before, the spell was unable to draw Jhod's spirit back to his mangled body. However, Archbanker Vinodragov reported that it was a distinct difference. In the former, he had felt Jemini's spirit and sensed that she had declined the offer to return to life. In the current situation, he felt nothing. Vinodragov had reached behind the Veil, only to find that there was nothing there. Jhod's soul was not on its way to be judged by Pharasma, nor was lingering in Heaven or Nirvana. Having learned his lesson about public resurrection rituals, this knowledge was known only to the Founders. The Archbanker noted that he had heard tales of the same phenomenon in the Final Blades of Galt that seized the souls of its victims. Such information was secondhand at best because worship of Abadar is punishable by death in Galt. The magic that allowed Verik to read Jhod's spilled blood, like speak to dead, was a simulacrum of the decedent's memory, not a conduit to their soul.

The vampire attacker had stolen Jhod's soul.


I've come to the unfortunate decision that we don't have the ability to continue this game. As sad as I am that it has come to an end, I know that it had to happen sometime. We pushed it as far as we could, through a lot of difficult challenges. I will always remember the adventures that we shared. I want to thank each of you that is still with me, and those out there who took part in the game. I wish everyone the best of luck in continuing their adventures, roleplaying or otherwise. I hope that you've enjoyed yourself as much as I have.

So, the players that currently have expressing their interest in resuming the game are as follows:
- Verik Jarrow
- Evie Damyanov
- Jemini Lebeda
- Nikolai Rogarvia

Is that correct? Once I have the correct roster, I can move us onward to the next leg of the adventure.

Do we have sufficient promise from everyone? Arkady hasn't checked in, and Borodin is still gone. What sort of game will we have?

Fantastic. I am rested and ready to resume the game, if we have everyone's buy-in. We have a great game going and I'm not ready to throw in the towel - but I do want everyone to give me the sort of high-quality writing that we have written in the past.

Well put.

Having given it some thought, I have made a decision of sorts. We will go on hiatus until Monday, January 11th. If we are still interested in resuming the game at that point, we can work that out. If not, we can go our own ways. If this is the end, we've had quite the run. If it isn't, it will be a nice vacation to decide what we want to get out of the game. Does anyone have any objections?

We need a resolution of this issue before we move forward. If we don't have one, moving forward will just put us all in the same situation. I need to know if everyone is on board with keeping the story going. I have a bunch of stuff plotted out for the future, but it hinges on interacting with everyone (and everyone interacting with each other). Having placed many years of work into this game, I don't want it to end - but it can't simply be an exercise in singular storytelling or overly reliant on the few still responding. I've had to adapt time and time again thanks to players coming and going. So many storylines have been modified and dropped and added in order to accommodate the constant changes. I've seen plenty of hooks get ignored in favor of some of the players simply passively experiencing. When was the last time we had a truly interactive session, except for Verik and Evie? What I'm saying is that I need more, and this game deserves more.

Well, we are down a player. Borodin handed in his resignation from the game today. I don't particularly blame him. We've allowed too much of the game to fall to the wayside. I want to keep it going, obviously, but I am very worried that it will simply become Verik and Evie against the world, with the occasional two-sentence posts from everyone else.

More of a concern is that I have only received about 12 sentences since December 1st from players other than Tony and Kris, who have each written a small novel. Let's not put everything on them. Everyone write a novel!

I should be speeding up a bit more as I make it through my classes, and I'm hopefully getting to a spot with more downtime.

The five of them stand quietly in the darkness. The sounds of the city - of late night carousers and hard-working tradesmen up too early - wash over them in the alley. Per Borodin's request, they have removed the light from the alley. As their eyes grow more used to the gloom, they see it as Jhod likely did in his last moments. The stars twinkle above, but the alley itself is nearly pitch-black, especially in the dark corners. Whoever lured him to his death would have likely slipped out of the shadows with no warning, as Jhod had no torch on his person and was known for stubbornly refusing light magic on account of it taking away from nature. The investigators merely stand and reflect on what must have happened, with the exception of the kneeling priest.

Verik normally prays for his spells the first thing in the morning, taking the hour after dawn in quiet contemplation of Abadar's mysteries. The next hour is usually devoted to his constitutionals, or sometimes less if he has a particularly pressing day ahead. Either way, he has taken to the habit of leaving a few spells unprepared, in case of an emergency like this one. Most clerics and priests who petition the gods for divine spells pray for all of them at once, but Elsir showed Verik several years prior how to sequester part of his mind, so to speak. In the course of a normal day, Verik rarely casts more than a handful of spells, so the inefficiency does not interfere. It takes nearly an hour of silent supplication for him to open the part of his mind that he set aside. Finally, he stands and nods to Borodin to summon new lights, and begins his spell to determine who or what killed Jhod Kavken.

I will PM you the answers so that you can cast the spell.

Sanctuary | The Sphere and Rose

Jemini, Nikolai, and Borodin stand over the body of Jhod, trying to determine what killed him. Unlike many of the stories told by bards and theater troupes, there is no single overlooked clue that paints an accurate picture of what happened. Jhod did not provide a way for them to find the truth of his last moments. There is simply death and blood. With as many new arrivals in the city thanks to the summit, there is more noise of carousing and from the small gathered crowd than usual - but they are left to little noise here in the alleyway. The sound of clanking interrupts their investigation as Verik - clad in full armor - arrives to assist them. Akiros walks behind him in a far quieter fashion. "I have cleared away the cloud of suspicion that the true killer attempted to cast upon Verik. I believe his expertise and knowledge can be most useful for the investigation. As for me, I must go speak to another." He nods to Verik in some seeming secret between them. "Should you discover something that I have missed, let one of my lieutenants know so that I can be informed."

As Akiros makes his exit, the four Founders hear a familiar squeaking voice. Jabber slinks into the alcove, having slipped past the guards. "Bane-kerr Jarr-oh! It Jabber, your friend!" He rushes up to Verik, but avoids Jhod's body. The kobold seems to treat it with superstitious caution, barely looking but not turning his back. "So sad! Miss Eve-ee want to help. I get her? I get her. Then Jabber help too!" He looks to Verik for permission in total earnestness.

Heal DC 20:
Jhod's injury is not consistent with being savaged by a wild animal. It is not a large bite that caused his injury, but rather a series of small ones so powerful that they merely appear to have come from a larger animal. Judging by the size, it comes from something the same size as a normal human mouth.

Sanctuary | Bank of Abadar

Akiros seems relieved by Verik's explanations, especially as Vinodragov confirms the truth of his words. The warrior lets out a deep breath - one that neither he nor Verik seemed to know that he was holding. "Good. This is good. I knew that it was impossible, but my own feelings do not give me the right to ignore my duty and follow the evidence wherever it leads. Jhod was summoned by a messenger who claimed that you needed to speak with him immediately. I do not know if this was merely a ruse to get him to come, or if it was designed to cast suspicion over you. Either way, it was my duty to prove or disprove the possibility of your involvement. My men are looking for this messenger." He seems apologetic even in his strict adherence to his duty. "Now that you have been eliminated as a suspect, your services are needed. We must head to the scene of Jhod's murder. Archbanker, I trust that you will keep this incident within your discretion. Please return to your room and speak to no one of this murder. Verik, I shall escort you as soon as you dress fully. I suggest dressing for battle - just in case. I have been the target of villainous subterfuge myself, and preparation for a deadly confrontation was certainly important."

Sanctuary | The Scales

Evie manages to return from Taisper's cabin without him seeing her or the others. She was worried that Jabber or Barrister might give them away, but she is confident that they were not followed and that she did not leave a trail or any sign that they had followed him. The return to Sanctuary is swift and quiet, even though Jabber seems anxious to speak. Every time he makes a noise as if to begin a conversation and ask her what happened, she looks over and gives him a look that returns him to begrudging silence. They slip back through the walls, a little disappointed by how easily she manages to evade the guards. Her mind runs with questions of her own, trying to determine what it was that she just saw.

As they return to the Scales, the kobold camp seems abuzz with rumor. The little dragonlings circle Jabber as they walk into the camp. She picks up a few words of their odd mixture of Draconic and Common, but not enough to tell why they are so agitated. Jabber turns to her with a look of shock. "Jhod dead! He is High Priest of Air-a-still, now he dead! What this mean? Why someone kill Jhod?" The perplexed kobold leader seems very upset by the murder. "You go Spear and Rose, talk to hoomans, find why."

Sanctuary | Bank of Abadar

Akiros listens to Verik's story, outwardly impassive. Verik knows him well enough, though, that he can see a faint smile on the man's face when he confesses his love for Aleza - under Truthtelling, no less! Akiros has always been a romantic underneath the façade of a warrior, but it is his love of duty that remains his first concern. "Verik, a witness came forward and said that a woman was seen fleeing the area of the theater. She walked with a queer limp and a crutch. Do you know the whereabouts of Miss Bellavieu tonight? Do you believe her capable of harming anyone, Jhod Kavken included? Did you or Miss Bellavieu, to the best of your knowledge, have anything to do with Jhod's murder?" He has asked the most pertinent of questions, having made his way through the preliminary questions to set the context of his answer.

Inside a Dream

"My death, glorious? I was torn apart, Arkady. A river of flesh swallowed me. There was no great battle, no great villain struck down in my final moments. Just death." The warrior woman seems disgusted at herself. "The afterlife is torment for me. There is no Valhalla, not for one who shrieked in terror in her last moments. I might yet return, though, to properly live and die in battle. I know of a way. The Underworld will not release me, not without a sacrifice. You must make the sacrifice, so that we can be a family. I must hold my son and my husband again."

Sanctuary | The Sphere and Rose

Jemini, Nikolai, and Borodin head to the scene of the murder of Jhod Kavken, outside the Sphere and Rose theater. The theater is in the posh and fashionable part of the city. It may not be as cultured as New Stetven, but the Brevic area in the eastern shadow of the castle is considered the place to live. The more modest houses that are far more common tend to be closer to the water, which was settled first, and to the outskirts of the city, which was settled last. The wealth from the trade came to the city and changed parts of it away from a mere frontier town. The Crystal Sphere and Silver Rose Theatre is one of the symbols of wealth, founded by Shelynites with richer tastes than the rest of the city. Now, however, it has been tainted with the spilled blood of a Founder.

Dumanov leads them to the scene of the murder. The architecture of the theater creates a few narrow alcoves that act almost as alleyways. Several city guards have cordoned off one of the alcoves, standing guard over the scene. They nod to Dumanov, letting him pass along with the trio of Founders. Standing down at the end of the alleyway are two of the city guards - Grayson and Bennick. With another mere nod from Dumanov, they step aside to let them see the gruesome sight. It is too dark for light from the torches from the street to reach to the body, taking a moment for their eyes to adjust.

Jhod Kavken's body lays facing upward, staring blankly into the night sky. Blood has pooled behind his head, matting what little hair he had left, and has spread into the stones all around. There are no bloody footprints or other such clues that would easily point them in the right direction - other than the wound itself. The Patriarch's neck has been ripped open, gaping with ragged edges. The savage attack ripped through the muscle entirely, leaving his head at an unnatural angle barely tethered by only the spine. Dumanov speaks and breaks the silence as they stare at their friend. "It appears to be an animal of some type, but our canvass has revealed no sightings in the city of any wild animal of the size that could do this. At the smallest, only a mastiff or similar animal could cause such a terrible wound."

Sanctuary | Bank of Abadar

Akiros appears to be fairly satisfied by Verik's recollection of the way that the relationship between the priests became sour and poisoned - but he is not finished with his underlying line of questioning before he moves to the events of this night. "You speak of Aleza Bellavieu. What is your precise relationship with her, and hers with Jhod from your point of view?" He doesn't ask the question in an accusatory tone - he, of all people, cannot be critical of one in love - but he knows what he is asking. Their romance is not a secret to Akiros or anyone, especially after the winter spent in Varnhold, but they attempt to have at least some discretion in the city. He is the head of the most important economic institution in Newhaven and she is one of the most successful entrepreneurs of their fledgling nation. They have taken great pains to separate their personal and professional entanglements, but they both know that it could appear to be a conflict of interest. His ears burn as he considers the prospect of saying it all aloud, especially in front of Vinodragov.

Outside Sanctuary

Evie places her hand back on the wall, slipping her sight back through her gloves - but Taisper is gone. She moves her hand about to see different angles, but she can't see him. She didn't hear him get up and move from outside, but he is nowhere to be seen. The silence of the swamp suddenly seems overwhelming. She is miles from the city with no one but Jabber and Barrister to help her should she be confronted by a man who apparently keeps a collection of eyes. She slowly withdraws her hand, hoping that Taisper won't be standing next to her when she resumes her normal sight. Her heart races as her vision is restored, but Taisper is just gone.

Inside a Dream

Solvi smiles at her husband. It is a bittersweet sight, knowing that he will not see it again in his waking hours. "We could be together again before the afterlife. There is a way that I could return to you so that we can be a family again. Wouldn't you want that?" Arkady's wife steps forward and grabs his hand, putting it on her face. He knows that it is but a dream, but it feels so real - and cold. "I can still be saved," she whispers, if you're brave enough to save me."

Sanctuary, Castle Sanctuary | First Floor

Berrin's face clouds when Jemini mentions the possibility that a resurrection spell would not work. "Well, that's another reason to kill Vordekai. We all know Verik. He wouldn't kill Jhod, even if they did have a lengthy history of hating one another, and nearly came to blows more than once, and had a heated argument this very day..." He trails off before he makes more of a case that it might be possible that Verik did, in fact, murder Jhod. "I say we go prove his innocence and find the real killer."

"What of the summit?" asks Elsir. "Surely they would use the murder of a Founder and the suspicion falling upon another to cast the blame upon Newhaven for the failure of the peace process. Both sides are looking for the slightest excuse. We cannot rule out that it was one of them. Assassins have surely slipped into the city looking for work, despite the best efforts of Akiros and the City Guard."

Berrin growls a bit in disgust. "Ugh. Fine. I can handle the major players and give you all some cover. Elsir, perhaps you can go with me to keep a look out for some clues that might point us in the right direction. After all, my strategy of distraction is going to involve buying lots of ale for everyone." He looks around for support from the others for this plan.

I'm looking forward to it. I've been underwater with law school and work and selling my house, but it's clearing up a little bit. My main paper is due in a week, as is my closing.

Outside Sanctuary

Evie presses her hand against the exterior wall of the cabin. The gloves were a gift from Korak Kaag, the chieftain of the Rakshala centaurs, for saving his foal from a mountain lion. He had acquired them a number of years before in a duel with a human poacher that encroached on centaur lands, but found them useless because one could just push aside the canvas flap to see what is going on inside a centaur's hut. She finds herself putting it to good use back in the human land by spying on Taisper.

She has used the gloves before, but she continues to find it a bizarre sensation. One moment, she is staring at the wooden wall with her eyes - then a moment later, she can see through the walls, but through the vantage point of her hands. Taisper is not sitting down with bread and cheese. He sits at a spartan desk, staring at something intently. He mutters to himself. "So many enemies of God. So much to do. Why not act? It is blessed, it is expected. No. What would she think? What would Verik think?" He shifts in his chair, letting her see that he is handling a box of some sort - a box with a preserved eye displayed in it.

Sanctuary, Castle Sanctuary, First Floor

It doesn't take long for Elsir and Berrin to arrive, summoned to deal with the crisis. Berrin gives Nikolai an odd look as the big man shrugs into his chain shirt. He listens to the charge with incredulousness. "Verik wouldn't kill anybody. It's not in his nature. Akiros should take a dose of common sense and figure out who actually did this. My money is on Vordekai. Let's raise him from the dead and figure it out by asking him. We have the money. I move for an emergency expenditure to raise a Founder, pain in the ass or not."

Sanctuary, Castle Sanctuary, Second Floor

Arkady sleeps as he sits in the hallway, back against the wall. His dreams, as always, are plagued with memories that he wishes that he could forget. In his most hopeless moments, he has considered seeking out a wizard of sufficient power over the mind to actually remove them. Bitterly, he dreams. Solvi stands before him, beautiful as the first time he saw her. Beautiful as the last. "I waited for you. I thought you would come home." She reaches for him to embrace him. Even as Arkady knows that it is a mere dream, he cannot resist the chance to be with her shadow once more. "It's better now. You should join me. Zus, too. We can be a family again, forever."

Outside Sanctuary

Evie follows Taisper past the edge of the city. He slips out of the walls, heading north by northwest. He is wary and canny, taking pains to ensure that no one follows him - but he has never been tracked by someone like her. She nearly blends into the environment, staying low as they pass through the cleared forests and into the swamps. Jabber tries his best to be just as sneaky, doffing his cape as he leaves the Scales. He has the benefit of small size and a natural disposition towards hiding. With Barrister following silently, they track Taisper into the swamp for a full hour, until he arrives at a cabin in the woods. It is built into the side of a small hill, and appears to be little more than a shack. Taisper methodically fiddles with something near the door - a trap, she would suspect - before going in and closing the door behind him.

Sanctuary, Bank of Abadar

Akiros seems to acknowledge Verik's alibi, though the stoic warrior is as inscrutable as ever. He seems to be at ease, though Verik knows from experience that Akiros has the speed and skill to have steel in hand without even a moment's notice. Before Akiros can respond, Archbanker Vinodragov makes an offer. "There's no need to call a Clerk. I can cast a spell of Truthtelling. I trust that will be sufficient, and that I am sufficiently removed as to be trusted as a neutral third party?"

Akiros nods in acceptance of the offer. "That's fine. My men will interview your men, if you have no objection, while we conduct our investigation." He pauses for a moment, seeming almost apologetic. "I hope you understand why I am here. Your mutual animosity towards Jhod is very well-known, and I witnessed with my own eyes your argument last night. I hope that you are innocent, but my hopes and feelings are not proof. Once we have something conclusive as evidence, we can move forward." His guardsmen take Bertram into the next room, leaving Akiros alone with Verik and Vinodragov.

Vinodragov stands behind Verik and touches his shoulder. Verik can feel the holy energy of Abadar's will affecting him, reaching into his mind. For a brief shining moment, the truths of perfect order are laid out in his mind - then gone, leaving him with but a bare memory of perfection. His face shines for that moment with the appearance of an axiomite of Axis before returning to his own visage. Verik willingly consents to the spell, as he has many times before while practicing the spell with his Clerks. Vinodragov nods to Akiros, letting him know that the spell is active. "He is affected by Abadar's Truthtelling, and can not knowingly tell a lie for its duration. The spell does not compel the subject to speak, however, and the subject can evade questioning."

Akiros seems to understand. "State your name, please, and repeat the statement that you gave a moment ago." Verik complies, repeating his explanation of his whereabouts. He knows that a clever killer could simply omit any details and still fall within the boundaries of truth required by the spell, but he also knows that Akiros will require specific denials from him. As he finishes, Akiros launches into his questions. "Is it true or false that you and Jhod have hated one another for years now? What is the source of your feud?"

Sanctuary | Castle Sanctuary

Giergios Dumanov nods politely to Nikolai as he enters. For whatever reason, the scion of House Rogarvia has always felt that the captain of the city guard does not trust him, but he has never treated him with disrespect. "Jhod Kavken has been murdered. His body was found just north of the Sphere and Rose. His throat was torn out with a terrible injury, as if by a great beast. It happened less than an hour after the meeting of the Founders. The Prefect-Marshal is leading an investigation. It seems that the Patriarch was at the All-Faiths Cathedral when a runner came with word that Banker Jarrow wished to speak with him, urgently." He lets the implication hang into the air. "The Prefect-Marshal is following up on this lead as we speak." Borodin arrives just as he finishes, giving Dumanov the opportunity to repeat the basic framework of his initial report.

Dub dun dunnnnnnn

Sanctuary, Castle Sanctuary

Jemini is awake early, knowing that they have a difficult day of negotiations ahead of them. This will be preliminary, merely setting the terms of what to talk about, but getting this right will make the rest go more smoothly. She has a list of ideas and tactics written down - in code, of course - that she continues to refine. Berrin will be leading this stage of the talks, having had some success at finding common ground with the common soldiers, at least. He probably went drinking with soldiers from both sides afterwards, as well as his own - in hopes of forging more common ground, as he tells it. That's as likely as any to work, she reminds herself. She would prefer spending her morning with her sister in the Brevic estate, but she has too much work to do. She knows that their father has instructed Ellana to make another attempt to obtain a marriage proposal from Nikolai, which is the farthest thing from Ellana's desires. It has been weighing heavily on her sister, but Jemini cannot spend her focus on that; she knows what Nikolai's answer will be, regardless of the wishes of her father. She also knows that she, herself, will have to ward off Zander Orlovsky's attempts at romance, well-intentioned as they are. Newhaven is not a province of Brevoy, she reminds the others often in the Founder's Meetings, and it should not be entangled too heavily in Brevic affairs.

She hears a knock to the library and beckons the caller to come in. The captain of the guard and Akiros's second-in-command, Giergios Dumanov, strides in and stands at attention. He is accompanied by Gregary, the former Warden they rescued years ago from the clutch of the vile harpies - unknowingly awakening Vordekai as they did so. The young man has mostly recovered, but he petitioned to be released from the Wardens so that he could join the city guard, where routine would help aid his recovery. "Lady Marshal," begins Dumanov, "I have terrible news. I have sent men to awaken the others, but I felt that you should know. Jhod Kavken is dead. Murder."

As Nikolai and Borodin would be pretty identical to this one, assume that they are notified as well and come into Jemini's library immediately.

Sanctuary, The Scales

Evie sits in front of the fire, enjoying the tang of whatever the kobolds are having for dinner. Camps, tents, and wagons dot every open area in Sanctuary - all except the areas surrounding the Scales, where the kobolds live. Evie doesn't mind the kobolds at all, and nor does Barrister, and thus she is happy to have some spot where a half a hundred people aren't falling on her every minute of the day. It certainly helps that she seems to have their leader, the properly-named Jabber, wrapped around her little finger. He practically begged her to come with him, pleased as he was with her kind words.

"Yes, Jabber is friend of Jee-mee-nee and Banker Jarrrrow! Jabber is most useful! Jabber shown mercy, Jabber pays back! All kobolds feel same way! Most loyal! Trolls and talk-balloons lead kobolds bad, but no more! Jabber tell kobolds, new leaders, better leaders, no chance of eating kobolds!" The rest of the kobolds, listening to them, seem to hiss at that prospect. "Now we get treasure, as much as we find, and safe place. Sank-chu-rey, New-hay-ven are good places, very good! You be happy here." Evie grins at the open nature of the funny little kobold, still dressed in his finest clothing. Enjoyable conversation doesn't stop her keen sight from noticing something odd, however - a young man sneaking towards the northern wall, trying not to be noticed. He is good at hiding, but she is better at seeing. She recognizes him as one of the Founders from earlier, the cousin of the Banker of Abadar - Taisper, his name was. She wonders what he is doing out so late and so secretly.

Sanctuary, Castle Sanctuary

Arkady pads around the silent corridors of the castle, thankful for the protection of heavy walls. Since he arrived with his son - not his whole family, he thinks bitterly - a week ago, he has spent almost every night learning every point of egress, every blind corner, until he feels safe. Until he knows, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Zus is safe. He will always have the protection of Gytha and Kabula, who kept his son alive during the Vanishing, even after Solvi was taken... It pains him greatly to think of his family fighting for their lives, but he steels himself by ensuring that it will never happen again.

He finds himself back at the door to the small two-room suite reserved for him, Zus, Kabula, and Gytha. He unlocks it silently and pockets the key, closing the door behind him without a sound. The dark doesn't bother him. He can hear Kabula's heavy snore, easily giving him proper bearing in the darkened room. He silently makes his way to the other room, where his son slumbers. Moonlight streams into the room from an open window, along with cold air of early spring. He shuts the heavy wooden windows so as to ward off the cold. He stands silently for a moment, staring at the still form of his son.

He sits down next to him on the cold floor, wanting to simply be close. Zus has been withdrawn and moody, as any child who lost their mother would be, but Arkady doesn't know how to talk to him. Sitting on the floor, he can remember the hope and love of new fatherhood - but that seems a sad echo of what he feels now. He feels terror, anguish, and enduring pain, along with thankfulness that he still has his son. He puts his hand on the boy's chest, feeling him breathe in and out steadily, and simply closes his eyes to match his own breathing. His eyes snap open when he hears Zus whisper to him. "Papa, is that you?" He can barely say anything in his pain, so he whispers the barest of responses. "I saw her, papa. Mama came to me, told me that she misses me. Did you see her, too?"

23 Pharast 4713 | Sanctuary, Bank of Abadar

The sound of urgent knocking echoes through the walls of the Bank of Abadar. Verik Jarrow, already too tired from his ever-growing list of duties, can easily hear it from his chambers. He rouses himself and swings his feet to the floor, ready for anything. For some time now, he has taken to sleeping in his chain shirt in case of emergency, with his Twins within ready grasp. Scarcely have the echoes of the banging stopped when he is already in the hallway. He draws to his attention the roster of guards on-duty, as well as those present; Bertram and Ellard should be walking the grounds tonight, with four more of the Keysworn in their quarters. At the same time, Verik offers a quick prayer to ensure that the blessings of Abadar's divine spells are still in his power to cast. The knocking continues unabated and insistent.

Archbanker Vinodragov opens the door of his guest quarters. The man had griped about the lack of opulence upon his arrival two days prior, claiming that Verik should have the Bank be a demonstration of Abadar's blessings to all. The hostility between the two had dissipated long ago, but Vinodragov never hesitated when given the chance to tell Verik how he believed things should be run. Vinodragov had been disappointed to learn that the Veil and Mists Inn had been rented out to the last room in order to accommodate the Pitaxians, but Verik had gladly offered him his guest quarters as lodging - for the appropriate fee, as is their custom. The man blearily clears his throat, wearing no more protection than a rather ostentatious set of robes. "What is the racket? Surely you keep Banker's hours!"

Bertram Dakkone emerges from the corridor leading to the Chamber Wing, where the vault and Verik's private office sit. He has his crossbow drawn already. "Banker, sir, I insist that you allow me to learn the source of this clamor." He waits for Verik to give his permission, even as the banging continues. When Verik finally does, Bertram quickly moves to the front door of the Bank. The front door is a heavy wood, reinforced with magic and mundane fortification alike. When he expanded the Bank, Verik intended it to be as formidable as Castle Sanctuary, to be used as a sanctuary of last resort. Bertram throws the locks and pulls back the heavy door, straining under the weight.

Akiros Ismort stands on the other side, accompanied by a half-dozen men of the city guard. Two hold spears, but the rest wield blades - and thus were likely trained by Akiros himself. "Verik, our friendship means a great deal to me," he starts, "but I will not let that stand in the way of a proper investigation. Jhod Kavken was murdered hours ago. What were your whereabouts after the meeting?" Verik can tell, even in his shock, that Akiros is testing him to see what his response it.

Akiros - Sense Motive 1d20 + 12 ⇒ (15) + 12 = 27

Elsir pauses to consider the question. "I likely could develop something, though I doubt it would be as foolproof. One can scry on a person, which would be more simple to ward against for a lengthy period, or one can scry on a place, which would also be simple to ward against - but to ward against both would be a difficult prospect. Verik, will you think on the problem as well? As for the question at hand, I second the motion. Remember that we should not discuss this until we know that we are not being watched."

Disregard Nikolai's last sentence.

Berrin nods and raps the table. "Your lips to their ears, Nikolai, but I don't think it'll be quite that easy. We can make whatever demands of them to make peace, but simply ordering it won't work with this sort of man. Do you think it would work for you, if we were defending against one of them in our lands? Hopefully we can resolve this quickly, get them to stop fighting, but it'll take a slower approach." Berrin stops for a moment and shakes his head. "Did I just speak out in favor of being cautious and not using violence to solve a problem? Ugh."

Elsir offers a small smile at his friend's statement, then turns to Borodin's question. "Vordekai can scry upon any of us at essentially any time. It will take quite a deal of arcane legerdemain for me to arrive at a solution to that particular problem, and it may require my constant attention while the rest of you go in an expedition to recover the artifact. I will continue my research into figuring out where it may be and what form it might take. Until then, let us not speak of it for fear of the lich hearing us."

Akiros stands and adjusts his sword, looking over the assembled Founders. "I will ensure that there is no violence during this summit. I've been praying to Iomedae for guidance and judgment. I will leave it to you to convince them, as Nikolai said, that peace is in their best interest so that we can focus our attention on the true threats that loom over the region. I motion for this meeting to come to a close. Do I have a second?"

"It will require legerdemain and trickery on our parts," Elsir responds. "I can disrupt his sight to give us brief moments, and I imagine that there are times where his attentions are pulled elsewhere. It will not be a simple task. I have a few ideas, but they are too difficult to explain in the short time we have left."

Elsir holds up a lone finger. "Perhaps, then, I have a solution. One moment." The wizard reaches into a small leather bag hanging from his belt. He draws out a small shard of a mirror and a metal ball, laying the former on the table in front of him. He stops to mutter something under his breath, holding two fingers to his forehead. Without warning, he smashes the metal ball against the mirror and crushes it into a thousand pieces, then tosses the ball into the middle of the room. It turns and rolls under its own volition, defying the laws of the physical world, until it reaches Borodin. "His eye falls upon you, my friend. An unsurprising choice, considering how he probed your mind in his dreamworld." He reaches into the bag again and pulls out a small vial of glimmering dust. He pops it open and blows the dust over Borodin, causing him to shimmer for a moment.

"We haven't much time," Elsir says. He speaks with alacrity quite foreign to him. "Vordekai will re-establish the connection in mere moments. I have found a way to slay him, but we can only speak of it under this veil. Not one word of this shall be spoken outside this meeting, do you understand? Not a single word. If he learns that we know of it, he will seek it out and find it before we can. There is an artifact of sorts, thought lost with the dwarves of Tar Taargadth that imprisoned Vordekai so many years ago. I believe it to be in one of the so-called Sky Citadels that the dwarf empire built after its escape from the Darklands. I believe it to be in Iobaria to the east, far past the lands of the Nomen and in the Syrzemyan Highlands. What form this artifact takes and its precise effect, I do not know - but the dwarves used it to defeat him once before. We have a very brief moment before he will be able to resume his surveillance upon us, so make any questions quick."

Berrin's face clouds with anger, but the inadvertent nobleman quickly closes the door on his fury. "You're right. I do have a responsibility to my father-in-law and my wife. I would like nothing better than to trek into the mountains with my friends and allies like a sword for hire. But I have a responsibility to my nation. I want to return to my family. I had one day with my son before we learned of the Vanishing and I had to defend our borders. One day. As soon as I am able to do so without endangering the thousands of people who rely on our protection, I will lead an army to Vordekai's gates to kill him and avenge my wife's father and my friend." He hits his hand a few times against the table, letting some of his deep anger at the situation bleed out. "But if I can't do it personally, I trust all of you to carry out my vengeance for me."

Elsir clears his throat to offer his counsel. "Regarding Verik's statement, I concur with his reasoning. Many times, Willas has complained to me that my sense of timing is not well-calibrated towards human norms. A day to an elf is an hour to a human. I can only imagine how a truly immortal creature regards time. We know that Vordekai was awoken from his captivity nearly four years ago, yet there was no trace of his dark influence for a full year. It was more than two years later that he actually seized Varnhold, which was likely within his power the whole time." He stops and casts an illusion spell, creating a visual simulacrum of the lich as seen in their shared dreamscape. Vordekai's solitary eye glows a solid red. Jabber gasps in terror and leaps out of his chair, getting underneath it and out of Vordekai's 'sight'. "My research has led me to the belief that he holds an artifact of great evil thought lost; it was not lost, but rather in his possession while he slumbered, having replaced his eye in times immemorial. This artifact is known as the Eye of Abaddon, a channeling foci to the archdaemons known as the Four Horsemen. The Eye greatly enhances the power of a necromancer, and many men of great evil have spent their lifetime seeking it out. So long as he has the orb in his possession, seeking him out in his sanctum would be a clearly suicidal task. He also has the ability to scry upon us nearly at will; I have some ability to stymie his sight, but I cannot shield us entirely. If we were to seek out and assault his tower without proper preparation, we would surely fail and be absorbed into his army of the undead."

Hallit - This harsh, guttural tongue, spoken in rapid staccato is native to the the Kellid people originally from the north of Avistan and centers around survival and war.[6][7] Although many northern barbarian tribes use versions of Hallit that have no written form[8], at least one ancient one does exist.[9] It is spoken by a significant portion of the population in the following countries: Brevoy[10], Galt[11], Mendev[12], Nirmathas[13], Numeria[14], Razmiran[15], the River Kingdoms[16], and the Worldwound[17].

Sanctuary | Founder's Hall

Jhod clearly grows angry at Verik's words. Even with Evie's mediating calmness, the cleric of Erastil stands up with fury in his eyes. "We do what is necessary to aid our villages. We don't sit and plan out how to help in endless meetings - we actually help people! If I thought that it wouldn't be just useless blathering, maybe I'd send someone! Unless the meeting would be interrupted by your paid thugs to rob the hard-working, all under the guise of collecting more and more taxes, of course! We - free men and women - shouldn't have to register our faith and beg for your approval, Banker." Jhod's accusations have worked him into a fit of anger at Verik, with each sentence punctuated by a pointed finger. Years of acrimony have clearly poisoned the relationship between the two, perhaps beyond repair.

The door opens with a loud creak, breaking the tension before anyone can respond. A small figure shuffles in through the door, weighed down with a tiny set of clothing of fine quality, with a long blue cloak dragging behind. The leader of the kobolds bows to them. "Jabber ape-all-oh-jiyes for being late. Sorry Banker Jarrrrrrrow!" The small enclave of kobolds has grown in the last few years, aided by their remarkable fecundity. Some of the citizens have lodged complaints about their numbers, but Jabber's leadership seems to have kept them from stealing things or causing too much conflict. Still, if their population continues to rise in the safety of Sanctuary, the Council will have to come to some decision regarding their future. Jabber pulls out a chair and plops himself in it, loudly scooting it forward by jerking his whole body to move it forward.

The whole time, Jhod remains with his jaw fixed and fury in his eyes, not backing down from Verik. He barely pays any attention to Jabber, except to briefly roll his eyes in irritation. The rest of the council looks back at the two of them, waiting for a response. Akiros has never liked the conflict between the two of them, but he maintains his difficult-to-read countenance. Berrin doesn't seem to understand what, exactly, the argument is between them - but if push came to shove, he would back Verik with his vote, especially after their friendship has mended over the last few months in light of Varnhold. Zander, as ever, has nothing to say. Svetlana, much like Evie, simply wants them to understand the other and stop fighting. The ancient Elsir has always seemed above such petty arguments. Taisper, on the other hand, gives Verik a look that the Banker does not want to see; he worries that Taisper has deemed Jhod a threat to the faith of Abadar.

28 Calistril 4713:
"Every choice you or one of us has made has spawned choices by others, making ripples in the stream of time. As we do not have an exhaustive history of how your past came to be - and that is something that we should not have - it would be difficult, if not impossible, to pinpoint a precise cause. Perhaps your spies would have some insight as to what motivates Irovetti."

Elsir furrows his brow, a strange sight with his elven eyes. "Perhaps you are a remnant of that time. Did it cease to exist when we left it? If you had stayed, would your consciousness remain? These are questions that I don't truly have the answer to. If you had been unable to return with us, I would theorize that the entire future was a phantasmal illusion and nothing more, but your presence clearly negates the possibility. One thing that I am fairly certain of is that if that future still exists, you are not there. It is precisely that you cannot be in two places at once that gives me this certainty - but I readily admit that I do not know what would occur if something happened to your younger self. You and he are distinct beings, but I would wager that you are connected. I do not seek to wade into the theological question of whether you and he have separate souls, or the metaphysical question of which of you is the true Borodin. But I do believe that so long as there is a possible chain of events, however unlikely, that might lead causally from him to you, your place in this reality is not in danger. I would prefer not to have to put the theory to the test, however."

28 Calistril 4713:
Sanctuary | Harborage House
Elsir ends his long silence without much warning. "Time is..." He stops himself with furrowed eyebrows as he purses his lips and reconsiders his words. Another ten minutes pass in silence between him and Borodin, while Willas reads a book in the corner of the room. Finally, Elsir continues his thought. "Time is malleable. There is no one right or wrong when it comes to events that have occurred or will occur. Obviously, within a timeline, there is a single cause-and-effect line of causation for the state of the present - but every choice by every individual in every plane of existence can affect the future." He illustrates his point by pointing with his left hand at a point in the air, then moving his right in a straight line until he passes his left - at which point he makes an exploding motion with the other to demonstrate the exponential number of possible futures.

"You, my friend, are an extreme oddity in light of this general baseline rule. You are the result of a specific set of choices that have not yet been made - choices that may never be made. From your point of view, your life is a series of choices. Some were made by you, but the world, as you recall it, was created as a synthesis of the choices of everyone within it. Were these choices actually made? From your point of view, they were. From the point of view of an uninterested onlooker, they have not been. You are a contradiction made flesh, and perhaps the only remnant of that future." He sighs, looking over to Willas. "There is likely another present where our friend here is not busily preparing to wed his beloved. Does that make this one less real? No. But, as a general rule, we have little access to other worlds where different choices were made. So we look at this one and the choices that have been made thus far to affect this particular present."

The wizard stops to check for Borodin's understanding. "Is this making sense? We will discuss the issue of Pitax and Mivon in particular, but I want to ensure that you comprehend the basics. Before you answer, let me caution you this: I choose my words so carefully because I want to avoid creating a paradox - which mere knowledge and exploration of these topics can create. This is the reason why we have not discussed these matters in the past, despite my fascination with your situation. However, with the recent divergence from the expected - Pitax invading Mivon, that is - I believe that the risk of that particular paradox has diminished."

22 Pharast 4713 | Sanctuary | A Summit of Peace

Two days prior to the peace summit, Sanctuary swells with hundreds of visitors, along with a thousand soldiers from the two hostile nations camped outside its walls. Several of the noble houses of Brevoy have sent their own representatives to monitor the negotiations; Ellana Lebeda, Toval Golka-Garess, Zander Orlovsky, and Nadia Lodovka all arrived with their retinues to represent the interests of their houses. Archbanker Vinodragov arrived with similar intentions. The summit between Pitax and Mivon has attracted many tradesmen and merchants to cater to the nobles and the wealthy. Every inn and villa is completely full; many of the citizens of Sanctuary have taken to renting space in their own homes to those who were unable to secure a lodging.

The Founder's Hall has almost the full quorum of the Founders for the first time in several years, as the leadership of Newhaven discusses the challenges and opportunities before them. They have had to bring forth an additional table to accommodate the sheer number of representatives. Only Kesten and Oleg are missing from the meeting, along with the still-slumbering Tandlara. Twelve sit around the two tables, looking at the list of issues they still need to cover. Jemini Lebeda sits at the center of the main table in her high-backed wooden chair. The rest of the Founders claim seats of their own: Verik, Berrin, Elsir, Borodin, Akiros, and Nikolai sit at the main table, while Svetlana, Taisper, Jhod, and Zander sit at the smaller table along with two newcomers. Evie Damyanov sits for Varnhold at the request of Aylene Myrdal, while Arkady Zeitsev accompanies Nikolai. Moonlight streams through the windows to brighten the hall beyond the magical continual flames that line the walls.

Oleg Leveton, prior to leaving to act as Mivon's hostage, instituted a nominal entrance tax to the city in order to help alleviate their costs. Svetlana reads aloud from the ledger that he meticulously prepared before departing, filled in with the information gathered from the tax collectors. "Thus far, we have collected one gold piece from each passage of a non-citizen into the city - except for those of nobility, as they should pay far more over time. The vendors and tradesmen have paid out 820 crowns. They are also aware that we plan on a tax of one-twentieth of their sales upon their exit. Based on the number that have come in, Oleg predicts that we should be able to afford the costs of the summit and may even make a small profit. He wants me to warn you that keeping the armies active has strained the budget greatly. Many of their families have come to me with worries that they will remain in deployment long enough to delay the plowing and planting season."

Berrin cocks a grin and leans over to Verik. "The men have their own complaints about missing the plowing season, if you know what I mean." It seems that nobility has not stripped him of his crude humor. Even the late hour and the grim events in Varnhold the previous winter have done little to make him more serious.

Akiros Ismort clears his throat with a bit of a glare at Berrin from his cloudy eyes. "We have the difficult task of keeping the peace in the city. It is difficult enough at times, considering the number of people living in Sanctuary - but a thousand visitors is quite the challenge. I've had to hire additional guards on a temporary basis. The jail has been full almost every night. Bokken's latest creation has led to an even greater number of drunkards than usual."

Jhod interrupt him by rapping the table. "What do you expect? Thousands living cheek to cheek! If you can walk down the roadway and you are unable to name a single person that you see, you've divorced yourself from the community. What follows is crime and discord, as everyone works for themselves instead of the community." Taisper and Verik share a glance of annoyance at Jhod's continual insistence of the superiority of villages.

"As I was saying," continues Akiros, "in light of what occurred last year in Dragonswatch and Varnhold, I have my men under strict orders to immediately and proactively investigate disappearances and rumors of disappearances. With so many additional people in the city, it is hard to keep track of it. I will have Captain Dumanov coordinate with your tax collectors to keep a list of those who have exited the city. There are a few potential disappearances that we have been investigating, but I'll keep the council appraised of the situation. So far, we've been able to locate several thought missing, and I'm not prepared to declare that anyone has disappeared yet."

Zander quietly gives his report as well. "I've got Wardens in every direction. We shouldn't have a repeat of Nikolai's trial. We'll have warning if anything comes our way en masse."

It appears that Nikolai and Arkady should begin their own conversation soon, so perhaps we should bounce you straight to Verik.

Waiting to finish the conversations before the re-assemblage. Soon, I hope.

Varnhold | Varn Manor

Aylene returns Evie's smile, pleased with her acceptance of the difficult task ahead. "You don't have to do it for free. You'll keep a share whatever you find, be it gems, gold, weapons. My husband came to the Stolen Lands with nothing more than a battered sword and a charter to explore - and now he has a title, a hold, an heir. I'm asking you to put your life in danger, not for a mere favor." She sits down, letting the weight depart from her shoulders. "I'll set an appointment for tomorrow with Verik Jarrow. He's a cleric of Abadar, which I know won't bother you. He was one of the original Founders that explored the Stolen Lands and slew the Stag Lord, along with my husband and Zander here. Once they find a lead by which to locate the lich, you'll go with him and the others in my stead. I don't think you got a chance to meet the others at the wedding. Honorable, one and all."

We've hit the risk when we have multiple threads that need to come together; they move at different paces.

Can Anneca still move and reposition herself in case violence breaks back out? She doesn't really have the social skills to make much of an impact here.

Varnhold | Varn Manor

Aylene smiles with radiant joy despite her exhaustion and grief. "A boy. We named him Maegar, after my father - but the two never met." Her face falls for a few moments. "With him gone, responsibility for Varnhold has fallen to me and Berrin. It's nothing that I wanted - no child wants to lose a parent. All I want is to have my son, my husband, my father, my people all safe and happy. But I have this weight instead. I sent for you because I want your help to take some of this weight from me." She stops to wipe a tear away, letting a tiny bit of the emotions show.

It's a few long moments of quiet before she speaks again. "Berrin has to lead the army and I have to lead Varnhold, but I want to know that we have a representative - someone to stand for us, stand for my father, stand for everyone who died here. I trust Jemini and Verik and even Nikolai, the whole lot of them, but I want to know they have the help that I wish that I could give. I want someone to help them kill Vordekai, the lich that caused the Vanishing. His stronghold is in the mountains somewhere, deep in the centaur lands. No one is as well-suited as you are for helping them track Vordekai - and maybe even finding my father, if he's still alive. Will you help me?" She stares at Evie, desperate for some semblance of control over her situation.

Sanctuary | Founder's Hall

Kesten seems grimly pleased in Jemini's cautiousness. "You're right. It'll be best to assume that it's possible that they mean to betray us. We would outnumber them, but not by much - and that assumes that they'll be sticking to the agreement. I'll keep our ships on standby so that they can make an immediate withdrawal if necessary and return to Sanctuary. We'll have ample warning if they try to send any naval forces into the lake. Perhaps we should ensure that Nikolai and whatever force of mercenaries Verik managed to cobble together to bolster our forces." He returns to stroking his beard. "It will take a few weeks to get everything into position. You'll want as many of the Founders here as you can get. I'll send word to everyone so that they know to return to Sanctuary."

At one draft, I had Kesten raise the same worried point that it might be an elaborate plot between them to entrap our army between theirs. I omitted it, but I'm glad that it found its way in.

Varnhold | Varn Manor

Zander holds his tongue as he leads Evie and Erdija through Varnhold. Evie can tell that the place is different since the Vanishing. The people here are not the rough-edged settlers that she met while passing through the first time; they are hopeful but incredibly worried. From her experience traveling this corner of the world, she can see multiple cultures mixed together here in Varnhold. A handful of Pitaxians bicker with Mivoni refugees, the result of years of tension and current war. Brevic settlers mock their distant cousins from Mivon, reminding them of their ancestors fleeing Brevoy in cowardice. The Galtans seem happy to arrogantly remind everyone of their culture's superiority. Every so often, she spots a rough-and-tumble Varnholder that survived the Vanishing. She even sees the occasional kobold, though the humans seem to uniformly treat them with contempt. They are all citizens of Newhaven now, but they seem intent on bringing their homes with them far more than the early industrious settlers - most of whom are culturally homogenous. Erdija seems far more pleased to be amidst the commotion and tumult of argument and bickering. "Great art! Great beauty!" She points out a man passed out on the street, drunk on ale, and a handful of women of ill repute loitering outside a brothel. "I see why they are liking it here!"

It doesn't take them long to navigate the town and make it to the home of Aylene Myrdal. They had met a few times before, not long after her father founded the town. Evie came into Varnhold to occasionally trade and buy provisions that she could not forage for. She and the fiery noblewoman were fast friends during those trips - back when she was still Aylene Varn. The men of the city had chased her relentlessly, entranced by her beauty and vigor - but none had captured her heart. Evie was shocked to learn that Aylene had finally fallen in love, returning to the news one day and learning that the wedding was in a matter of days. She had rushed to Sanctuary, arriving midway through the celebration. It was a day of great joy, even though she only got to speak to her friend for a few moments amid the speeches and drinks. She enjoyed briefly meeting Aylene's husband and his friends, whose exploits she had heard. Barrister had happily played with Aylene's thylacine Reggie while she ended up speaking with Jhod Kavken, a wise cleric of Erastil. When the night ended, she slipped out of the city and returned to the wilds.

A few months later, on a return trip to Varnhold, Baron Varn had asked her to act as his liaison to the centaurs - and there she remained, almost as part of the tribe. She migrated with them over the months and years, learning their culture and listening to their boasting stories of fighting an army of trolls to help their human allies. All those nights under the dark night sky with stars as far as the eye could see... She had been paid by Varn, but it was an extremely rewarding experience in its own right.

Now, it is a very different Varnhold she walks into. Baron Varn is gone. Varnhold remains, but its people are gone almost entirely. Aylene's husband leads an army elsewhere. Aylene has had to assume the mantle of leadership. Evie and her strange band of comrades arrive at the manse where Baron Varn lived. The wood-and-stone building is half a castle, though it seems somewhat haphazardly built - as if the impetuous baron had started an addition, only to abandon it for a new idea soon after. A pair of guards - sworn to Abadar, apparently, if the keys on their belt are any indication - open the doors to let them in, apparently expecting them. Erdija has to hunch a bit to avoid hitting her head in certain spots as they follow Zander. He knocks on a wooden door that features some strange Mwangi mask, presumably belonging to Maegar Varn rather than his daughter. "Aylene, I've brought them."

They hear a shushing sound from behind the door before it opens. Aylene comes out, quietly closing it behind her. She looks exhausted and a few years older than last Evie saw her, but she is still every bit the fiery woman she recalls. "Quiet! The baby is asleep," she whispers to them. "Don't you have some boots to sneak around, or do I need to send you to Verik for a spell of silence?" She ushers them all to the front room before stopping to greet her old friend. "I'm glad that he was able to find you, Evie. I'm happy to see you," she says with a smile and a hug.

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