Fruit of the Fallen

Ashes of a Fallen Kingdom

Remembrance and Desecration

Part 10 of The Adventures of The Split Falchion

The Split Falchion is rushed from the room they are currently in, and they begin the walk to the main House Sivis stronghold in Trolanport, to the House’s teleportation complex. House Orien controls the majority of such services on Khorvairre, though each House, as well as each Kingdom, typically has a network of varying size.

House Sivis’ network is concentrated more in the Southern region. Though not directly affiliated with Zilargo, House Sivis, like House Lyrandar, locate more resources and manpower there due to their gnomish nature. For this reason, House Sivis maintains private teleportation circles linking to all major towns and cities in Zilargo, as well as the capitals of other kingdoms, and major stops of the lightning rail system. Their interests in the mail system also influences the decision to place circles in the latter towns and cities.

Starilasker, Vargard’s intended destination, sits on the connection between the Brelish line, the Zilargo line, and the once-Cyre line, which also connects to Thrane. Such a town well merits the Sivis teleportation circle, though it is for another reason that that is the location chosen by Vargard.

“Var, you need to temper your anger,” Lesani chides him, as they walk back down and into the Zilargo streets.
“He was right there, Les. Right there! We could have ended this today.”
“Gotta admit I’m with Var on this one,” Jorduna cuts in.
“Hush, Jor,” Lesani chastises, and then quickly speaks over a possible retort, “You are our leader. You cannot afford to have your senses clouded by rage.”
“I’ll be fine, Les. Leave me to brood, I already know what we’re doing next. We’re going to track Redmont to his home.”
Jorduna shoots Lesani an angry glare, but addresses Vargard, “What was in that file anyways? You got this look in your eyes when you read it. Why are we going to some rail town?”
“Redmont is Cyrian, not Aundairian. His accent is fake. His armor, probably bought after the Mourning. I have no idea why he wants to disguise his origin, but the information suggests he is part of a group devoted to recovering the Cyre homeland.”
“Wait,” Marwyn asks, confused, “Doesn’t that make him a good guy?”
“That’s relative. Even if his motives are redeemable, he’s thrown in with Blue Cloak. That makes him our enemy,” Vargard responds, the group now moving through the crowded marketplace. Conversation halts for a moment as they move through the throngs, led by Eldon, who tries not to listen to what they are saying. They reach another building, small on the surface, though bearing the marks of House Sivis. A short time later, after descending several stairs and several guard posts, they reach the underground complex that House Sivis houses its teleportation circles. Each bear a set of symbols, which allow for other circles to link directly to them. These symbols, however, have been obscured, in order to prevent outsiders from accessing the portals.

“Wait here, a diviner is coming to activate it now,” Eldon says, ushering them into the center of one of the circles. A few moments later, a hurried, robed gnome bearing the mark of scribing walks into the room.
“Right, Starilaskur was it?” They nod, and she prepares for the ritual, “So sorry. I had to run all the way from… well, that’s a secret. Sorry. I’ll do the ritual now.” The gnome places her ritual book on the floor, and begins laying out reagents and chanting. It takes a few minutes, but the teleportation circle begins to glow. The glowing intensifies, and suddenly a bright flash envelops the party. It fades, and only empty space remains.

The party reappears under the House Sivis mailpost in Starilaskur. As a smaller town, House Sivis only has one formal holding, where it manages ingoing and outgoing packages, as well as housing the one teleportation circle it maintains in the city. Marwyn and the rest are escorted out of the area immediately by waiting guard, and they exit the mailpost. Lesani begins to ask something, but Vargard hushes her, and searches for an inn. 16 minutes later, they are huddled together in one of the rooms, their conversation magically protected.

“So what’s the play, Var? Why’d we rush out of Trolanport?” Jorduna asks, still somewhat overwhelmed by the fast tempo of the day.
“Because, I know where Redmont is going, and I intend to beat him there,” he replies, and hands out the file given to him by Eldon to the rest of the party. Marwyn scans the pages, and picks up on several things. First, Redmont’s real name, Toranel Oserot. They also confirm Vargard’s words of Redmont (Marwyn cannot think of him by another name) leading a Cyrian revival front. Several accounts by laypeople around the Western edge of what was the Cyrian border place him with groups of Cyrian survivors. Second, they suggest that he was once a ranking official within the Cyrian military, somewhere in the middle of the chain. There’s complicated reasoning and logic behind this observation, but Marwyn reads to fast to absorb any of it, only taking in the important points. The last item of note is Redmont’s likely base of operations, an area in the Eastern region of Breland.

“Redmont, or Toranel by his real name, teleported away, I don’t know where,” Vargard explains as the rest read, “The only certain thing is that he didn’t come here, or else that gnome wouldn’t have let us go here. But I know where he’s going,” he unfolds a map, and focuses on the same region indicated by the intelligence. He taps on an area, slightly north of Seawall Mountains, “The largest concentration of Cyrian survivors are here, settling in land provided by the Breland government. They’re taking to calling it New Cyre. Coincidentally, Redmont seems to spend most of his time there.”
“Var, tracking Redmont to New Cyre is unadvisable,” Lesani speaks up, also examining the map, “Surely, even if we were to present our grievances, whatever form of government would favor Redmont over outsiders.”
Vargard looks at her with slight surprise, “That’s you’re objection?” he asks softly, “I would have thought…”
“I can handle myself, Var. I am worried more for our chances of success,” she answers.
“Hell, we don’t even really know if he’s going back to ‘New Cyre’ anytime soon. He could be going back to Passage for all we know,” Jorduna says. Cletus nods, agreeing with her sentiment.
“Then at the very least we can question the locals. Dig for more leads. I’m getting tired of telling you that this is our only course of action, Jor,” he says, annoyed.
“This time is different, Var,” Lesani says, “Cletus and I also have our doubts, though I can’t speak for Marwyn.”
“I’d like to remind you as to who is the leader of this little gang,” Vargard shoots back, angry at the slight mutiny. He pauses, sizing up everyone else in the room, “What do you say, Marwyn?” he asks.
“Var.. I…” Marwyn stalls, looking around helplessly, not liking being placed at the center of the conflict. When everyone continues staring at him, he eventually says, “I don’t know. I want to get Redmont as much as anyone.”
“That’s ok, Marwyn,” Vargard responds, “Because it’s simple. I say we’re going to New Cyre, we’re going to New Cyre. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, but someone has to make the call.” He folds the map up, and readies prepares to leave, looking at the others expectantly. There’s a slight hesitation, but the rest follow him. “We’ll ride to New Cyre. The rail cuts close, but there’s no stop close enough, and they won’t exactly let us bring horses on with us. We’ll think of a story on the way, two days should be plenty of time,” he pauses at the door, and turns, voice slightly regretful, “I am sorry, for pulling rank. But this is still the best course of action.”
Lesani is the first to answer, calmly replying, “I hope you are correct, Var.”

It is of no surprise that those most devastated by The Mourning are the survivors of Cyre itself. Few survived the mists that enveloped the nation. Most of those who escaped the events were out of the country when they first appeared, for any number of reasons. Rare few inside of the kingdom managed to escape, most who did so were already moving towards the border in the first place. Rarer still are those who did survive without losing any of their family or friends. Among the dead was the regent of the Cyrian throne, Queen Dannel, most of her staff, as well as countless regiments of the Cyrian army.

New Cyre contains the last hope of the nation, Prince Oargev ir’Wynarn, final heir to the Cyre throne. Cyrian refugees can be found in almost all kingdoms, though few in number, as most rally around their monarch. The town, barely managing the population to warrant that title, is built around a small fort, where Oargev holds his court. Though diminished, the Cyrian throne still holds some power, and few outside of the kingdoms would be wise to attempt to storm the keep. The outer town consists mostly of tents, and the beginnings of permanent structures. Life is harsh for these folk, no rivers stand nearby, and it will not be for another few harvests before they can grow enough food to sustain themselves. Water must be drawn from wells dug throughout the area, and food must be drawn from the continued grace of the Breland government. This only adds to the air of sullen desperation and depression.

It is this mood that greets The Split Falchion when they reach the canvass town. Sideways looks from the denizens appraise them, wondering if they’re simple thieves, troublemakers, or perhaps petitioners of Prince Oargev. Their weapons and armor preclude any possibility of them being other refugees, though the Aundair fashion is slightly more welcome than others. Aundair was Cyre’s ally for most of the war, and while they did not grant land for a Cyrian settlement, they host the second largest population of refugees.

They pass a beggar on their way to one of the few completed wooden buildings, the only inn in town. Each traveler passes him some coin and food, even Jorduna, though her amount is the smallest. It is impossible to look upon him with anything other than pity.
“You have to wonder who he was,” Marwyn says, keeping his voice low as they leave him behind, “What he was, before…”
“It doesn’t matter,” Jorduna says, voice completely absent of any sarcasm or annoyance. The aura of hopelessness affects even her, “All that matters is what they are now. Longing for the past won’t help these people any more than driving stakes through themselves.”
“It gives them hope, Jor,” Lesani replies softly.
“Yes, I can definitely see that,” she shoots back, a little of her normal self rising above the melancholy. Everyone quiets down as they pass another group of refugees, who are returning from the inn, meager amounts of food in hand.

“Sorry, we’re well past full,” the bartender says, when The Split Falchion manages to worm their way through the crowded bar to them. Attendants in guard uniform stand by the back, guarding the food stores and dealing out rations, accepting coin in return.
“We aren’t looking for rooms. We’re looking for a man,” Vargard responds, placing a small bag on the counter. The clink from its draws several eyes, though none make a motion for it.
The bartender bristles, and angrily replies, “Do you think you can just bribe me and I’ll tell you anything? Give up my fellow man? Do you believe me to be that desperate?” His anger draws further attention, the din of several conversations occurring at once lessening slightly.
“No, friend,” Vargard responds, “I intend to pay for the meals of the next few dozen or so who can’t afford it themselves, and talk amiably with the owner of the establishment.”
“Typical Aundair,” the bartender responds bitterly, “Only offering real help well after it’s too late, and expecting gratitude in return.” He does, however, accept the gold, and grudgingly asks, “Who are you looking for?”
“This man,” Vargard responds, and hands him the crude drawing of Redmont’s likeness that Lesani had drawn during their travels.
“That’s Toranel,” the bartender says, in awe, “What business do you have with him?”
“As you said, Aundair only offers real help after it’s too late,” Vargard responds, agreeing with his words, not mocking them, “We know he’s after returning the Cyre homeland to the survivors of the war.”
“Aye,” the bartender responds, malice dropping out of his voice, “A good man. Not many of us have hope that he’ll be successful, but all are grateful that he’s trying. Unfortunately, he is not welcome in New Cyre. Though Prince Oargev would be remiss to deny him sanctuary here, Breland has demanded his capture for supposed crimes of banditry.” He spits, then curses. “The only crime he’s guilty of his serving his country. But we have no choice, angering Breland mean’s we’re all out on our arses again. You… understand that I can’t help you find him?”
“Yes, that I do,” Vargard responds graciously, nodding, “Though I thank you for your time.” He turns without further word, to the surprise of his fellows. They follow him, Vargard remaining impassive to their questions. Vargard stables their horses in the central keep, a somewhat pricey measure, though Vargard pays for it himself. He then leads them back out of the town, not uttering a words until the tents are some distance away.

“Ok, it should be safe to talk now,” he says.
“What the hell was that, Var?” Jorduna asks, annoyed at his prolonged silence.
“That barkeep must have been in the military. Don’t tell me you didn’t notice?” Vargard responds, slightly teasing her.
“Notice what?!” she responds.
“His sign,” Marwyn answers, to Jorduna’s surprise, “Same one we use when we need to talk somewhere secure.”
“He flashed it to me quickly when he leaned over to spit. The ones we use are derived from standard Aundair military practices, he must have guessed that I’d know them. I barely caught it myself,” he pauses, scanning the horizon, “This is why wondering who people were matters, Jor. That man is a bartender, but he was in the Cyre military. Somewhere around a Lieutenant, like me. He’s someone who hears all the rumors, and knows all the shady characters.”
“So what?” she asks, not comprehending.
“He wants to tell us how to get in contact with Redmont,” he pauses again, thinking, “Though I suggest we name him by Toranel for now. Knowledge of his moniker could give us up.”
“That is a good idea,” Lesani replies, “I assume we will wait here, for a contact?”
“That’s my understanding,” Vargard responds, “Keep in sight of the town so they can easily find us. Maybe build a big fire just for good measure. I have confidence that someone will find us eventually.”

They do just that, making camp and setting a moderately sized fire. Their plan, however, is somewhat undercut by the other fires that spring up outside of the town. Open fire is too dangerous to light in the town itself, with the majority of abodes made of highly flammable canvas. Still, their diligence is rewarded when a lone figure in black cloak sits around their fire, enjoying the warmth. They eventually speak.

“Someone wants to see Toranel?” The voice indicates that the figure is a she.
The party, having risen to attention at his arrival, looks at Vargard. He responds, “Yes.”
“Follow me,” the voice responds simply, and starts walking south. The party hurriedly gathers their things while Cletus quenches the fire. They walk for about an hour, approaching the mountains. The cloaked figure remains silent throughout.

They eventually reach a small cave, a fire burning just outside. Several figures are huddled close to it, the night being unseasonably cold. One of them stands, and addresses the cloaked figure that brought them there, “Who the hell is this?” he asks, stature and tone suggesting he is the leader of the band. Vargard shakes his head slightly, realizing that the voice wasn’t Redmont/Toranel’s.
“That barkeep sent them. Said they were looking for Toranel.” She responds.
“Are they… let me see their faces,” he says, interested. All but Cletus stand forward, the dwarf remaining behind, something about the situation bothering him. The leader sees this, and commands, “You too, in the back.”
“Do it,” Vargard says, and Cletus obeys, grumbling. The Cyrian peers into their faces, going down the line. Lesani and Marwyn shifting uncomfortably under the gaze, the others standing firm.

Marwyn is last, and before he can react, the Cyrian pulls the back of his shirt down, exposing the mark. “It’s them!” the Cyrian yells. The mood grows deadly as everyone save Marwyn draws weapons, Marwyn being thrown towards the rest of his group to cover the Cyrian’s withdrawal.
“We just want to talk to Toranel,” Vargard says slowly, as the Cyrian backs up to rejoin his countrymen by the fire. Marwyn regains his footing as he does so, and notes that their numbers are even.
“Right, I’d imagine you’d like a nice long talk and then a short cut to the throat,” he responds, “We were warned about you, marked ones! Consorting with the same demons that destroyed our country! And you wanted to ‘talk’ with the only man strong enough to challenge your masters.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Marwyn responds, incredulous, “He’s the one who attacked us!”
“Sure, and our brothers and sisters are just sleeping below the mist, only waiting for true love’s kiss to wake them,” the Cyrian leader responds, sarcastically, “Toranel is one of the last good men on the gods blasted earth. Aundair, Breland, Karnnath, Thrane, they did nothing!” he shouts, “Nothing! While we died, while our country was torn asunder, they refused to send any help at all! And to the East…. they slaughtered those who fled. My wife…” he stops for a moment in grief. The brief break in resolve causes the others, all clearly of Cyre, to glance at each other, questioning whether to begin combat then and there.
The other side sees this, and they glance in turn to their leader. Vargard assess the situation, and calls it at about an even fight. He attempts to defuse the situation, “These marks were given to us by the mage your Toranel was working with. They are curses, not emblems of fealty,”
“A likely story,” the Cyrian says, plainly. There is no malice or fight in his words, just calmed resignation, “There is only one way this ends. Even if you are right, I will never betray Toranel. To do so would betray Cyre. We fight to the death, Aundair.” Even Marwyn can tell by his face that there is no chance at resolving this peacefully.
Vargard nods his head understandingly, readying a strike for the first to close. The two sides face off, 5 to 5, the fire casting a shadow across what will be the center of the melee. Marwyn looks closely at them, trying to guess at their abilities. Two wield bows, though melee weapons also hang from their hips. Another holds a violin, and Marwyn nods grimly to the fellow bard. She returns the gesture. The Cyrian leader is lightly armored, though he wields a bastard sword. There appears to be a shimmer in the air around him as well, though it is somewhat unlike magic Marwyn has faced before. The last is the one who brought The Split Falchion to the hideout, and she wields a staff, hinting at magical prowess.

Vargard starts the battle by moving forward slightly, ahead of his companions, and preparing to defend himself above all else. He then adds, solemnly, “For what it’s worth… we won’t.” Jorduna moves to the side, and hesitantly flings a dagger towards the mage, connecting somewhere within her robes. Cletus moves back slightly, still able to fire his bow without placing himself in immediate danger. He does so, following Jorduna’s lead by aiming at the mage, but misses, arrowing going wide and ricocheting off of the cliff wall some yards back.

The leader raises his sword, running past the flung dagger and flying arrow, charging at Vargard with the battle cry, “My life for Cyre!” He swings his bastard sword towards Vargard, managing to break his defenses and give him a wound to the face, drawing blood on his cheek. Vargard feels a greater hit than the injury warrants, however, the strike dealing damage to both flesh and mind. The shimmering around the leader also grows, taking on a violet color, and extending outwards to the immediate area. It has no apparent effect, however. One of the archers rears back, mirroring Cletus’ actions, and fires a shot at Vargard. This time it misses, however, deflected off of Vargard’s shield

Lesani raises her wand, casting something invisible, not the usual blast of dark energy. The sorcerer seems to make an attempt to fight off a mental attack, but she is unsuccessful. Astral fire begins pouring out of her face, and she screams, mind reeling from the attack. It abides shortly afterwards, though Marwyn can tell that the repeated damage is throwing her off.

The other archer, glancing at his caster with a worried look, draws two short swords and charges Vargard. One of his strokes hits, a glancing blow on Vargard’s arm, and the sword seems to act as a lightning rod for the shimmering energy in the air near him. It flows into the wound briefly, dealing additional pain directly to Vargard’s mind. Marwyn can see his stance beginning to falter, and he quickly heals him with a quick verse. He then draws his bow, turning his attention to the mage, remembering Vargard’s standing battle orders. He prepares his deadliest magic, despite the situation not allowing some of the possible effects. He carefully aims away from the chest, trying to incapacitate but not kill.

The arrow strikes the caster in the shoulder. The past few shots had caused her to react, but this one simply drops her, heavily bleeding but unconscious. This worries the Cyrian leader more than the screams, and his attention is briefly drawn to her. Surprise registers on his face when he sees she is still alive, though bleeding out. The enemy bard realizes this as well, and first focuses on healing the mage. The damage she sustained was too much for this attempt to revive her, though it does take her out of immediate danger of death. The bard then turns to Marwyn, and lashes out magically, wielding a wand. Marwyn takes a shot of pure force to the gut, winding him. Another force pushes him close to the melee, inside of the shimmering zone and next to the Cyrian leader.

Placed far into the melee, Marwyn is unable to defend himself, still reeling from the blow. The leader takes this opportunity to strike out at him, dealing critical damage to Marwyn’s torso. Unaccustomed to the stress of grievous battle wounds, he passes out, bleeding into the ground.

Marwyn awakes to a bottle being forced into his mouth. The slightly bitter taste of a healing potion fills his mouth.
“Wha..?” Marwyn tries to ask.
“Battle’s over,” Cletus says, pulling the bottle out of Marwyn’s mouth.
“Thanks…” Marwyn mumbles, still lying down. He gives himself a quick healing surge, wounds still aching from the hits he took.
“Look whose back,” Jorduna says, “We won, no thanks to you.”
“Do not blame Marwyn,” Marwyn hears Lesani say, somewhere behind where he lays in the grass, “It could just have easily been you to be tossed into the melee, Jor.”
“Yeah, well, I guess I got to hand it to you for not dying to one sword stroke,” Jorduna says sarcastically, pulling Marwyn roughly back onto his feet, “Prisoners should be waking up soon.” She nods her head towards the five Cyrians, all bound and gagged near the remains of their fire. By the moon, Marwyn estimates that he has been unconscious for about 10 minutes, maybe less.

“Marwyn, good to see your up,” Vargard says, walking back from the prisoners after finishing tying their binds, “It got a little touch and go. Sorry we couldn’t get you back up any sooner, Les went down bleeding at one point and we had to prioritize her.”
“I’m just glad I survived that,” Marwyn responds, slightly flinching when he remembers the sword cutting into him.
“Well, you got your first scar today, that’s for sure,” Vargard jests.
“First of many, I’m sure, seeing as how you leaned into the blow trying to dodge it,” Jorduna says, scathingly, “Same as all you sole ranged types, you skip learning how to defend yourself up close. Hell, you still need to learn how to defend yourself at all, it’s disgraceful.”
“Jor..” Vargard starts to reprimand her.
“Var, she is right, no matter how abrasive the critique was,” Lesani cuts in, “Marwyn, she is right. You have focused too much on firing a bow, too little on dodging blows. We will need to handle this weakness after stopping the Cyrian from escaping.”
“Right, after we….” Vargard looks suddenly at the prisoners, and sees the leader awake, and wrestling with his bonds, struggling harder now that his attempt had been noticed. “Not so fast,” Vargard says, walking back over and holding a sword to the Cyrian’s throat.

“Do it,” the Cyrian says, resigned, and ceases struggling.
“No,” Vargard responds, and sheathes his sword again, “We are not as bloodthirsty as you apparently are.”
“What?!” the Cyrian stiffens, “How dare you…”
“As I recall,” Vargard cuts in, “We came here peacefully, after which you attacked us without provocation and pledged no quarter.”
The Cyrian starts to protest, but then stops himself, thinking through is next action carefully, “We struck against a known enemy of our people. Your delay of our execution proves nothing.”
“Wait,” Lesani speaks, from behind Vargard, “Your voice is… familiar. Who are you?”
“Need to know what to write over my grave?” The Cyrian spits at her, though he is too weak for it to land anywhere close, “Darius Ivison. A proud Cyrian.”
“Once stationed in Eston.” Lesani says, confident in her assertion.
“Ye.. yes.” Darius says, surprised. “How did you know?”
“I travelled in Cyre in the year before its downfall. You were a guard in the marketplace, one I frequently passed during the week I had spent there.”
“You… that proves nothing,” Darius says, resolve faltering slightly.
“Darius,” the Cyrian bard croaks out, coming back to consciousness, “Give it a rest. We all suspected that Toranel’s gone over the edge. That we breathe is that last evidence we need.”
“Silence Mevalyn,” Darius orders.
“It seems your men don’t share your conviction.” Vargard replies, replacing Darius’ gag, “Go ahead..uh.. Mevalyn. What was wrong with Toranel?”
The bard, Mevalyn, looks at Darius helplessly, then complies, “2 years ago, about a few weeks after…” she trails off, then continues, “Toranel approached me. Wanted to get a team together to help other refugees like us. Petition foreign kingdoms for aid. Provide mercenary services in exchange for food. Raise funds to rebuild the nation. We were doing good for Cyre.”
“Were?” Vargard asks, picking up on the inflection.
She sighs, “I’m sorry Darius, but you’re wrong about him,” then turns back to Vargard, “At the start of the year we were doing well. Got Breland to officially put New Cyre on the map and assure a steady supply chain. Helped patrol their borders to assure peace was being kept. Escorted diplomats and merchants tied to kingdom overland.”
“What went wrong?” Vargard asked, while Darius starts to struggle against his binds again. Jorduna places a dagger in his back, which stops this.
“Toranel had been away, on a trip to Aundair to visit the camps there. He was a good man. Now though…” she pauses, looking away, “He changed. His first orders when he got back was to raid a caravan travelling from Thrane to Zilargo. Most refused, and were “excused” from the group. Our numbers were reduced to a tenth of their former value.”
“Why did he do it? For that matter, why did you stay?” Vargard questions.
“I owed Darius my life. We all do,” she says, looking to each of her companions, “Before Cyre fell Eston sent out a diplomatic mission to Aundair to ask for assistance. We were losing, after all,” pain is visible in her face again, at the mention of the Mourning, “It was a covert mission, we had to cut through enemy territory. Darius chose all of us to accompany him, which is why we weren’t in Eston when…” another pained pause, “So when he said to follow Toranel, I didn’t have a choice. We were instantly declared outlaws by Breland once word got to Wroat. All ties to our group cut, and New Cyre only survived unscathed by Prince Oargev’s public denouncement of our actions.” The bard stops, looking expectantly at Vargard.

“Interesting,” he says, and then thinks, “What of your allies? Are they as committed as Darius?”
“No,” she responds, “We were all wondering… but we thought we were doing what was best for Cyre!” she cries in defense.
“Do you know where Toranel is now? Please, help us undo his betrayal of your people,” Vargard petitions, softly.
“I… I still believe Toranel’s loyalty lies with Cyre,” she hesitates, then adds, “However, I no longer believe that his actions will benefit my people. If I knew where he was, I would tell you. Unfortunately, Darius is the only one who has the ability to contact him.”
Vargard, and Jorduna, moving out from behind Darius and standing in front of Mevalyn, stare into her face. “It’s the truth,” Jorduna says eventually, and Vargard nods his head.
“Cut them loose, but leave Darius. I assume your colleagues will follow you peacefully?”
“Yes,” the bard responds gratefully, rubbing at her wrists after her binds are removed, “We all had our doubts, but Darius kept us believing. But where will we go now?” she asks, hopelessness edging into her voice, “We’re wanted criminals.”
“Correction,” the Cyrian mage, her gag being removed, says, “Toranel is a wanted criminal. Breland never knew who stayed and who left. I’d imagine Darius is up there too, but we’re just grunts. You have my gratitude, by the way,” she addresses Marwyn, “For not aiming for the head. I wish I could say I would have done the same.”
“No problem,” Marwyn says, a little unsure of himself.
“How about this, then,” Vargard says, “I’ll have two of my men escort you back to Cyre, just in case any Brelish forces looking for you noticed the battle. I highly doubt anyone would seriously believe Marwyn here is part of a gang of Cyrian bandits,” he nods to Marwyn, who takes what he thinks is a compliment.
“What of Darius?” the Cyrian bard asks.
“Do you want Toranel stopped?” Vargard responds. Mevalyn hesitantly nods, to which he adds, “Then ask no further. Any debt you feel you owe him has more than been paid, let me assure you.” Cletus and Jorduna finish unbinding the other two Cyrians, the two bowman, who neither protest nor attempt to escape.
“I assume I will be going with Marwyn, Var?” Lesani whispers in Vargard’s ear.
“Yes, unfortunately,” he whispers back, “If this Darius is a fanatic, there’s no talking him down, and only a chance of breaking him. It will get violent.” Lesani nods in understanding. She and Marwyn lead the the four Cyrians back towards the New Cyre, fires still lit around the tent city, though it is well into the night. When they are a distance away, Cletus starts a small fire in the embers of the previous one.

“I’m sorry about that push,” Mevalyn says to Marwyn, as they walk away from the cave.
“Honestly I don’t remember much about it,” Marwyn responds, thinking, “That swordstroke is pretty much all I remember. What did you do, anyways?”
“I can see by your equipment that you have studied under a different master,” she says, poking at his bow, “I am not entirely familiar with the Aundair bardic traditions. Where did you train?”
“I…. never actually trained anywhere.” Marwyn admits, hesitantly.
“Self-taught?”
“No, Lesani has been helping me,” he nods to Lesani, who is talking with the other three Cyrians a little distance ahead. Mevalyn, however, being a young elven bard, had taken interest in her Split Falchion counterpart.
“I saw her fight before that hobgoblin knocked me out,” she says, rubbing the back of her head slightly, “You’re being taught by a warlock?”
“Not… exactly. She helps me learn rituals. I received a tome from the University of Wynarn that has helped me develop my combat skills.”
“Would you mind?” she asks, holding out a hand.
“No, not at all,” Marwyn responds, stopping to pull it out of his pack. He hands it to Mevalyn, who studies it for some time while walking.

“Yes, I can see the merit of these techniques,” she says, “though unfortunately it’s too late for myself to study them. I am curious as to the book’s former owner, however.”
“Why?” Marwyns asks, not sure where the question was going.
“There is an inscription by one Rathmandi, to ‘Veilgilard’,” she turns to the page, “’To my good friend Veilgilard. May these techniques help guard you on your long journey, even in the most dire moments.” Sounds like a good story, I was wondering if you knew anything of it."
“Some of it,” Marwyn responds, “Rathmandi was apparently the one to develop these spells. Or, at least, he cataloged them. The history is a bit confused, but apparently this Veilgilard was a friend of the writer.”
“Know what happened to him? Or what this ‘journey’ was?”
“No, unfortunately. All Les knew was what Ner, the gnome who gave this to me, told her, which was that Veilgilard had lost the tome in a wager soon afterwards.”
“I am surprised Ner gave you this,” Mevalyn says, genuinely, “It seems rather valuable.”
Marwyn simply shrugs in response, not knowing how to explain himself.

Mevalyn pauses, sizing Marwyn up both physically, and arcanically. “You appear to still be a novice, though I believe you should be able to expand your power now. I could teach you something from my talents, in gratitude for your master sparing our lives.”
“Var would’ve done it anyway,” Marwyn says, grateful at the offer, “He’s a good man.”
“Had I not just felt the same way about Darius, I’d trust your opinion,” she replies, reserved. She then continues, “It is a simple skill to learn, and fairly satisfying. After all that I’ve been through, I’m sure teaching it would be cathartic as well.”
“What is it?” Marwyn asks, curious now.
“Vicious mockery. You embed a magical impulse in a string of curses to throw an enemy off his game. It worked particularly well against your hobgoblin friend, if I remember correctly. She should watch her temper,” she smiles, and Marwyn laughs.
“If you did that to Jor, I’m surprised she let you live,” Marwyn says, only half-jokingly.
“Yes, well, I ended up regretting it. Are you interested?”
“Sure, though in my experience people don’t like it when you practice magic in public,” he smiles, the mood having completely changed from the battle before, “Especially if it entails a string of curses.”
“True. We should stop to rest soon anyways, I’ll go tell our companions,” she replies, running up to catch Lesani and the other three Cyrians.

Meanwhile
“You can save yourself a lot of pain and misery by just telling us where Toranel is,” Vargard says evenly, to the still bound but ungagged Darius.
“Do your worst,” he spits back.
“Good news bad news,” Jorduna says into his ear, leaning down next to him, “The good news is that he won’t. The bad news is that I will.”
“Torture? Where is your moral superiority now?! I suppose you’ll kill me after I tell you too!” Darius fires back.
“I won’t discuss ethics with a glorified bandit,” Vargard says menacingly, but then adds, “Though I won’t kill you. I’ll turn you over to Breland, and they’ll probably kill you. Or, if you’re cooperative, to New Cyre. At the very least they’ll demand a fair trial.” Darius stares at him in response, refusing to answer. “Right,” Vargard says, and hands Cletus a small stone, “Tell us if anyone hears the screams. Otherwise, just keep a look out.”
“Right, boss,” Cletus responds gruffly. He heads off from the fire, allowing his eyes to adjust to the dark. He then scans the distance, looking for signs of movement while his two companions work.

“This is going to be really simple,” Vargard says, crouching in front of Darius and peering into his face, “My friend is going to work on you. It’s going to be painful. In fact, it’ll keep being painful for a while after we stop. Keep that in mind.”
“I’ll gladly bear any pain you wish to inflict on me, Aundairian dog,” Darius vows. He then lunges forward suddenly, attempting to catch Vargard in the head. Vargard was ready for this, however, and dodges out of the way. Darius lands in the earth, sprawling. He then screams in pain when a heated dagger is brought to the back of his neck.
“That’ll be there for a day or two,” Jorduna says, withdrawing the dagger, a heavy cloth wrapped around the hilt to protect her hands from the heat. She roughly grabs him, and then sits him up against a small boulder. “See, this is what I’m good at,” Jorduna explains, examining the dagger in her hand, “You get off on being a self-righteous murder, I get off of making people hurt. It’s my thing.”
“I..I’ll never talk,” Darius says through clenched teeth.
“That’s the thing,” Jorduna says, “I am good at this. I know, for example, that dwarves typically hold up better than most to heat-based torture. Don’t know why. But humans, for example, humans like you? Most fold after an hour of this,” she holds the dagger to his bare chest for a few seconds. Though it had cooled slightly, it was still hot enough to burn skin, and Darius screams again as it is applied. “Though I might need to resort to round 2,” she adds, more to herslef.
“Round…. 2?” the Cyrian asks, stunned by the pain.
“Oh yes. That’s when the real fun begins,” Jorduna says, a smile on her face.

20 minutes later
Vargard slaps Darius awake, after he had passed out in pain. They had gone unchallenged thus far, no others seem to be in the area. “Ready to talk yet?” he asks.
“Never,” Darius mumbles, struggling to gather the breath to speak.
“Round two?” Jorduna asks, looking at Vargard. He nods, and Jorduna withdraws a small box from her pack. She pulls out several needles, and a vial. She begins dipping the needles in the vial, in plain sight of Darius. “You may wonder what this is,” Jorduna says, conversationally, “This oil is derived from a popular Aundair spice. I forget what it’s called, but it can give food a hell of a spicy kick. This is just its concentrated form. Haven’t had to use it in years.” Darius eyes the needles with a mix of curiosity and dread. “Burns are one way to get a man to talk,” she continues, “But for the really stubborn ones, you have to get under their skin.” She emphasizes the last words by sliding a thin needle into Darius’ right arm. His lungs, already compromised by his earlier screaming, only allow him to moan slightly, the burning sensation spreading throughout his muscle.
Vargard shifts slightly, uncomfortable at the scene. He doesn’t, however, intervene. “Those won’t come out until you’re ready to talk. Any indication, a nod, anything, and this’ll stop.” Darius clenches under the renewed pain, but doesn’t respond. Jorduna continues placing the needles, giving much thought on where to put them. The burning begins to spread from the needle marks, forcing the muscles to relax in addition to causing pain.
“You can probably feel it spreading,” Jorduna says, placing another needle into Darius’ chest, “Your arms are about to go limp. Next, your legs, you’ll be sprawled all over the ground. Then, it’ll spread to your lungs. You’ll barely be able to breathe.”
Vargard eyes Jorduna, not liking the enjoyment he sees there. “It’ll stop as soon as you cooperate,” he says, keeping his tone level, unyielding, “Just tell me where Toranel is.”
“Please,” Darius pleads, feeling the muscles in his chest already weakening.

Two miles away
“What’s it like?” Marwyn asks Mevalyn, around a small campfire the group had built.
“What is? Finding out your boss might be evil?” Mevalyn asks, confused.
“No, I mean being an actual bard. A professional one,” Marwyn clarifies.
“Ah,” she says, “I am not exactly the model bard either. Not that good a player?” she asks, guessing his meaning. Marwyn nods, and Mevalyn continues, “Ah, that’s ok. Most adventuring bards are terrible performers. The wage of focusing more on magic, I suppose.”
“I have to say you are skilled in that regard,” Lesani says, “I overheard you offering Marwyn a lesson in bardic magic, by the way,”
“Oh,” Mevalyn replies, nervously, “Is that a problem?”
“No, I am glad that he has the chance to gain more bardic talent,” Lesani answers, “As am I glad that you have apparently forgiven us for our skirmish,”
One of the bowman speaks up at this, “Forgiven, maybe, but if it’s all the same my brother and I don’t entirely trust you.” The other archer nods in agreement, “If it’s all the same to you we’ll be heading out.”
“You sure, Sayge? Oirli?” Mevayln asks.
“We’re sure,” the other archer, Oirli, replies, “It’s been a real experience Meva, but we’re done. To be honest, we’d split long ago if we didn’t owe Darius our lives.”
“And, as much as we enjoy your company, we’re going to make a break for the Northern border,” Sayge continues for Oirli, “I, for one, don’t entirely trust Breland to forgive us our sins. You and Casitrus can come too, if you’re willing,” he nods at the Cyrian mage.
“I’m sorry boys, but I guess this will have to be goodbye,” Mevalyn says, standing up and hugging each brother in farewell, “I’ve yet to decide where I’ll go, but for now I’ve a promise to fulfill.”
“Take care, Meva,” Sayge responds, somewhat affectionately, “I’ll try and look you up if we’re ever in the area again. What of you, Casitrus?”
“Eh, I don’t know Sayge,” Casitrus responds, “Group’s shot to hell anyways, I’ll see if Prince Oargev needs another talent in his court. Might do some actual service to my country for a change. Fair travels Sayge, Oirli,” he reaches to shake their hands, and the archers then depart, heading off into the distance.

“Things really are changing,” Mevalyn says, watching the archers depart.
“How long did you know them?” Marwyn asks.
“I met Sayge 10 years ago. Oirli moved to Eston years later. They’re good people.”
“Could get boisterous with enough drink, though,” Casitrus adds, “Especially Oirli.”
“Ah, yes. We’ve paid for many a barstool on his behalf,” Mevalyn reminisces. The conversation stalls somewhat, a mix of nostalgia and fatigue in the air.
“We should turn in for the night,” Lesani says, finally.
“I shall ward the area from possible intruders. We will be alerted to any who approach too close,” Casitrus adds, pulling out a ritual book, “One of the few good things to come out of my time with Darius.”
“It certainly beats setting a watch,” Marwyn says, relieved that he escaped the possibility of staying awake for a few more hours. Casitrus prepares the spell, as the rest ready for bed. A few minutes later, Casitrus joins them on the ground. The fire had been extinguished, but to the arcanically-trained eye, a faint blue aura surrounds the sleeping figures.

They wake in the morning, unmolested by the protective spell. Marwyn and Mevalyn split off to being the lesson.
“Will you stay with us until our companions arrive, Casitrus?” Lesani asks.
“No, unfortunately,” Casitrus replies, “Though I mean no offence. I just get the feeling that if I stop moving long enough the weight of what just happened will catch up with me. I’d rather petition Oargev to accept a criminal in his court than to stew in the regret of my actions.”
“I do not fully understand, though I bid you farewell all the same,” Lesani says. After gathering her things and thanking Lesani, the mage departs in the general direction of New Cyre, reaching the tent city without trouble. The two archers are nowhere to be seen, and Lesani guesses that they spent the entire night trekking the countryside.

It is past noon, the two bards taking a rest from their successful training, when Cletus reaches the camp. “They’re not far behind,” he reports, and sits down, pulling out a flagon of something strong. Vargard and Jorduna walk in, the former carrying the bound Cyrian over his shoulders. Darius groans slightly when he’s set down, the movement causing his clothes to rub against his burns.
“What did you do to him?” Mevalyn asks.
“Hey, why the hell is she still here?” Jorduna asks.
“Calm down, Jor. She is helping Marwyn with his studies, in repayment of our mercy.” Lesani replies, in a diplomatic tone. Jorduna, not really wanting to start anything, doesn’t challenge the statement.
“What we had to. Will this be a problem, Mevalyn?” Vargard asks, sitting down to rest after his walk.
“No. You were right….. Vargard, I believe,” Mevalyn responds, thinking a bit to remember the fighter’s name, “I don’t owe him anything anymore, which includes my concern. Just my natural curiosity getting me into trouble again.”
“Understandable,” Vargard says, then asks, “I assume the rest left already?”
“Yes, they went their separate ways,” Mevalyn answers, “Sad, but I always knew the group would fracture like that at some point.”
“What’ll you do after we’re done?” Marwyn asks, voice slightly scratchy from the yelling he had been doing as a part of the instruction.
“After you master the trick, which I assume will take another few minutes,” Mevalyn responds, “I don’t know. I don’t enjoy the thought of living in New Cyre. Too depressing. I was wondering if I might travel with you for a while.”
“No chance,” Jorduna says, “We’re a mercenary band, not traveling minstrels.”
“My call, Jor,” Vargard cuts in, in an authoritative tone, “I don’t see why you couldn’t, though don’t take it the wrong way if I don’t trust you with what I’ve learned from Darius. If you wouldn’t mind, I’ll have to ask you to step away for a while.”
“I understand,” Mevalyn responds, deferentially, “Thank you for your kindness. Give me a shout when you’re done.” She picks up her things and walks away, bowing a simple melody on her violin as she does so.

“Great, just what we needed, another musical instrument to give me migraines,” Jorduna complains, giving the departing bard a scathing look.
“Let us focus on the important matter at hand, Jor,” Lesani says, “What did you find out?”
“Ah, yes,” Vargard says, glancing at Darius, “As it turns out, I was wrong. Redmont didn’t go to New Cyre. In fact, he’s not even in Breland.”
“I thought we were too hasty, fleeing Trolanport,” Lesani says.
“I admit to some degree of haste,” Vargard responds, concedingly, “Though the good news is that we know where Redmont is now. It’s a certainty, as a matter of fact.”
“Where?” Marwyn asks, interested.
“The bastard’s in our home court,” Jorduna cuts in.
“Aundair?”
“Yes,” Vargard responds gruffly, a little annoyed at Jorduna stealing his thunder, “They’ve a hideout there. Seems when they pissed off Breland they moved their operations to the next most accommodating nation.” Vargard rolls out a small map of South Aundair. “Still underground, though. Hiding out in the Eldritch Groves. We’re going to drop off Darius with the Cyrian guard, and ride for Aundair.”
“Are we taking the Cyrian chick with us now?” Jorduna asks, “Should we send a message telling them we’re coming too?”
“Come on Jor,” Marwyn says, carefully, “We can trust her.”
“I trust her about as much as I trust you,” Jorduna shoots back, “But I know, that’s not my call,” she adds, preempting Vargard’s words.
“We’ll ask her to leave once we pass the border, before then though there’s no harm in her travelling with us,” Vargard responds, slightly pleased that he didn’t have to repeat himself, “We’ll ride there, already have the horses. Darius here said that Redmont’s last sending indicated they’re holing up for a while, so there’s no need to rush this time.”
“What’ll we do when we get there?” Marwyn asks.
“Take down Redmont,” Vargard answers simply. He rolls up the map, and continues, “We should get moving. Marwyn, go get Mevalyn. Tell her we’re heading for Aundair and that she can stay as far as the border.”
“Yes Var,” Marwyn says. The group reforms, Vargard hefting Darius again. They reach New Cyre in a few hours, and are initially challenged by guard when they see the captive. However, after confirming his identity, to their surprise, they allow them to pass all the way through to the keep. Darius is accepted by the guards at the gate, and they return the groups horses. Another horse is brought out to accommodate Mevayln in lieu of the reward for Darius’ capture. Though he had ordered half of the group to stay behind with her, it fortunately appears that Darius’ arrest warrant did not include any of his compatriots. Vargard, Lesani, and Jorduna lead the horses back to the rest of the group, and they exit New Cyre, riding North, back towards Aundair.

Continued in Part 11, A Walk in the Woods – Confusion and Illusion

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