Fruit of the Fallen

The Great University of Fairhaven

Trials and Trails

Part 5 of The Adventures of The Split Falchion

One Week Later
The city of Fairhaven is one of the greatest achievements of man’s intellect, and a testament to the power of the Aundair kingdom. The city walls and interior sections are not only laid out defensively, but intelligently, efficient usage of space mixed with architectural ascetics planned and designs by the best minds of all of Khorvairre. Though lacking in the beautiful view of Lake Galifar, the Aundair River runs south of the city walls, the reflection of marble crenellations in the river serving as nature’s jealous imitation.

The city is inhabited by a population 6 times that of Passage. Among that number includes the best craftsmen, tradesmen, merchants, and airship captains across the entire continent. Even that pales in comparison to the true value of Fairhaven, its large population of scholars, innovators, experimenters, those who dabble in arts both mundane and magical. Great universities, the greatest of which being the famed University of Wynarn, fill the city, attracting intellectuals from across the continent.

Overlooking all of this lies Fairhold, the great citadel, beautiful not for its mastery of the themes of the city below, but for the creation of an entirely new level of architectural genius. Here lies Queen Aurala’s seat of power, the famed dragonhawk knights of the Knights Arcane, embassies of all other nations, and the nation’s system of courts. It is here that The Split Falchion sits, viewing the trial of one Neldon of Aundair, accused, among other crimes, of high treason…

The magistrate stands on his high, wooden platform, overlooking the vaulted courtroom, filled with onlookers of various walks of life. Rumor has been running rampant throughout the Aundair court that a border skirmish had nearly been avoided with Thrane, the architect of which has been brought to face justice in this very courtroom. Of course, there are those who silently applaud the young rogue’s actions, either for his dashing looks, or because they secretly wish for a war with Thrane. The Split Falchion sits four rows from the front, dressed in finer garb than most of them have ever seen, nonetheless worn. One, Marwyn, sits in rapt attention, staring at every detail, absorbing each moment, enjoying his proximity to the royals and other people of note.

The magistrate rises, and royal guard decked in Knights Arcane armor and bearing ceremonial weaponry of the same style gesture for the audience to do the same. “Let the Sovereign Host watch over these proceedings, and the authority of Queen Aurala bind those here to the paragon of justice: truth. This trial is held in the eyes of our law and our people, to determine if, among other listed charges, this man before me, Neldon of Aundair,” the magistrate lowers a hand, pointing at the bandit captain, Neldon, sitting on one of the front benches, “is guilty of conspiring to start war between our fair nation and Thrane,” Silence remains after the judge mentions Thrane, although a certain energy falls over the crowd, a charged air created by speculation and intrigue.

“If found guilty,” the magistrate continues, “the punishment for this crime is death. As I understand, the accused has chosen to remain silent?”
A guard nudges Neldon in the back, and, forced, he speaks evenly, “Yes, your Grace.”
“As the accused has no words in his defense, Aundair is prepared to call upon its first witness. Malakath ir’Vanier.”
Malakath moves to a small stand below the magistrate, who seats himself. A great shuffling echoes through the chamber as the rest of the court seats itself. The magistrate asks her to recount the happenings of the previous week. Malakath speaks of Silas, little of the Thranish knights, and none of The Split Falchion. As she tells it, Neldon extorted both sides at the same time without notifying the other, bringing the two sides close together at a point close to the border. Though the Thranish forces outnumbered them 2:1, the Aundairians routed them, capturing the refugee and Neldon in their retreat. She concludes with the retelling of her travel back to the capital, prisoners in tow.

“Your service to our nation is truly exceptional, Malakath. I excuse you from these proceedings with high praise,” The magistrate speaks, standing again. Malakath is led out the side, “The next witness, the final witness, is Jeremey of Thrane,” the gnome from the bandit group is led to the stand, in chains.
“Thrane? I thought that gnome was of Aundair,” Marwyn whispers to Lesani, sitting next to him. She looks at him sharply and nudges him on the knee, her hand forming the sign meaning ‘shut up and hide.’
“As per the Treaty of Thronehold, you, Jeremey of Thrane, may choose to stand mute in the face of this court. Do you so wish?”
The gnome raises his head, no visible marks of a beating, though Marwyn can clearly see distress in his eyes. In the same rapsy voice as before, he speaks, “No, your Grace. I will speak the truth as I have witness it.” His shoulders fall slightly as he says this, hunching over.
“I commend your willingness to look back to the past, your obvious regret, and your intent to remedy the situation you have wrought,” The magistrate brings a piece of parchment before his eyes, “Is it true that you, Jeremey of Thrane, plotted to bring about a confrontation between Thranish and Aundairian forces near the Aundair/Thrane border, by holding a free man, against his will, and that you did so in collaboration with the man who stands before you, Neldon of Aundair?”
“Yes, your grace,” Jeremey says, simply.
“Is it also true, that upon fruition of this plan, you betrayed your compatriots and surrendered yourself to Aundairian forces of your own free will, allowing your compatriots to be taken into Aundairian custory?”
Again, “Yes, your grace.”
“Tell us, tell the people of Aundair, who was it that started this conspiracy? Who approached whom with these plans?”
His voice breaking slightly, Jeremey testifies, “It was Neldon of Aundair, your grace.”
“The court thanks you for your honesty and integrity Jeremey of Thrane. Your sentencing will be held at a later time. I excuse you from these proceedings.”

The magistrate stands, and addresses the audience, “I request these chambers be cleared for a time no less than an hour, as a verdict is decided, in full communion with the Sovereign Host and consultation with the sages of our laws.” The crowds are dispersed, effectively given the sheer size, and The Split Falchion is allowed stay in one of the private enclosures lining the public space outside.

“Les, think we could get away with a little silence?” Vargard asks, as they enter.
“No need Var. These rooms are all equipped with such a spell already, modified to increase duration. It appears the nobles of these halls do not favor eavesdroppers. How fortunate for us.”
“Good. Marwyn, I want you to take note of what you just saw, for it was one of the greatest displays of theatre you will ever witness,” Vargard says, almost spitefully, as he leans back into the cushioned alcove.
“I thought as much when they introduced the gnome as a citizen of Thrane,” Marwyn says, also leaning back, “I wasn’t sure, but his accent, bearing, all said Aundair. I don’t understand.”
“Its politics, Kid,” Jorduna says almost genially, “This is how they shape the narrative. You really think that if the pure truth was always told, this nation, hell, this continent, would look like it did? If they went in there and told the truth, we’d be at war with Thrane again in a week. And stuff like this? Probably happens every other day.”
“Surely the Sovereign Host, or maybe even the Silver Flame, any lawful deity, would intervene in this farce eventually,” Marwyn says, confused, “Did they not evoke them before the trial?”
“You’re adorable,” Jorduna says, in a mockingly sweet tone.
“Marwyn, if they told the public that Aundair not only captured a Thranish citizen who left their country without permission, even as a refugee, and did so using Aundairian soldiers disguised as Thranish soldiers, there’d be uproar on both sides. Other places too, probably. Balance of power rests on multiple plinths, that sort of thing,” Vargard explains, “I can’t speak for the gods, but for us men, bending the truth saves lives. This way, we get a narrative of Aundair victory for the war hawks, but an Aundair villain with a redemptive Thranish character for the moderates and Thrane itself. Remember what Malakath said a week ago? How Thrane could not publically object to what we had done? This is the same game being played out on a larger scale.”
“’Effin politics,” Cletus murmurs.
“Right,” agrees Vargard, “And the best thing you can do is smile, take the payment they give us, and keep your head low enough so as to not bump into the noble’s feet on your way out,” Marwyn’s face falls, almost to the level of disgust, “Look, Marwyn, I realize this is all very disheartening, but realize that it keeps the continent from literally falling apart. If justice is twisted here so that thousands don’t die in war, and we get paid in the process, I’m a happy man,” A pause, and then Vargard smiles, “Here, I’ve got something to take your mind off it. I took this out of your share, of course, you don’t know what to look for or how to haggle.”
“What is it?” Marwyn asked, still disappointed, but interested.
Vargard pulls out what looks like a pole wrapped in cheap linen, tapering at the ends. It takes Marwyn a minute to realize that it is the stave of a bow. “Hey, Vargard, how come you never get me anything?” asks Jorduna.
Vargard turns to Jorduna with a nasty look in his eyes, “Because, Jor, last time I got something for you, real nice magical dagger by the way, limited time only the seller told me, and took it out of your share, you tried to return it to me blade first,” Jorduna starts to protest, then sits back down, remembering. Vargard turns back to Marwyn, “I told you you need to get ready for combat. I presume you know the basics of a bow?”
“Yes,” Marwyn replies enthusiastically, “My mother tried to get me formal training, but father wouldn’t have it. Didn’t have the gold, he said,”
“Good!” he exclaims, tossing the package to Marwyn, which clinks slightly when he catches it, “I talked one of the squires into giving you an intro. She should be getting here any moment to take you to the range, if you want to, of course. Your cut of last job’s in there too.”
“Of course, thank you Vargard,” Marwyn said, grateful. “I’ll wait outside for her.”
“Good,” Vargard said, “You know the inn we’ll be at. I’m going to the University of Wynarn to talk with some of the professors. You might want to tag along, just a suggestion.”
“Sure, sure. It’ll be a good change from… here,” Marwyn lets the sentence fall, and heads outside. Muffled footsteps a few minutes later indicates his departure.

“Finally, I thought e’d never leave,” Cletus croaks out. “How much time we got left of that hour Var?”
“30 minutes about? I wasn’t expecting the lesson in politics. Should be enough time.”
“So, we talking the mark or the wager first?” Jorduna shoots off, business-mode all of a sudden.
“Wager, of course. I’m putting 4:1 odds on conviction. That’s one for acquittal for the pedants in the room. Jor,” Vargard adds, with spite, indicating a past slight.
“It’s not my fault you didn’t specify the last time. If you don’t want to run these bets Var,” Jarduna trails off.
“No, it’s fine. So what’re your wagers?”
“Though I still do not see the point of gambling my recently earned wages now, by this time it has become a tradition I enjoy,” says Lesani, a guilty look flashing across her face. “I put 5gp on conviction. An easy choice.”
“I’m guessing acquittal, and putting 20 on the hunch. There’s still something that stinks.”
“Aye,” Cletus interjects, “How that scrawny lad knew about the turncoat in the first place. Even where to pick him up, at the exact time ‘e did. I’ll say… conviction, but no death penalty. ‘e wouldn’t be the villain if he broke, and if ‘e didn’t break, they’ll still need to get it out of ‘im. Or ‘is friends, I saw no mention of the orc or mage. Either they struck deals, or our fair government is reservin’ the more invasive inter’gation on them. 24 on that.”
“Cletus, I’m impressed. That’s the most you’ve spoken at one time since you were cursing out that band of trolls we met on the way to Mossmantle. I’ll give you 6:1 on that, it’s a stretch in my opinion, but reasonable.” Silence falls over the room.

“So, the mark.” Jorduna states awkwardly, breaking the silence, “Haven’t had much a chance to talk about it since someone doesn’t want the kid to know, him being glued to our hip most of the time.”
“It’s for his own good, Jor. I got him caught up in all this, my fault he’s cursed, same as us. But hey, we’re in Fairhaven, if anywhere’s got an answer it’s here.”
“Unfortunately, as I have been thinking over the past week, there is no assurance of a method of removal here, or even of a veritable lead to follow,” Lesani adds, “though I understand and reciprocate the need for hope.”
“What have we even got on the mark so far, Var? What’re you going to the university with?” Jorduna asks.
“Let’s see, initially we all got sick, Marwyn more than us. Cletus couldn’t hold his drink for a week,” his face turns hard, “We all got burned when you, Jor, decided to skip town on us and made it all the way to Ghalt. An act of betrayal I haven’t forgotten quite yet. Besides that, the design, and the caster, not much,” his tone returns to normal, as Jorduna tries to shrink herself into the cushions at the mention of her actions, shame registering on her face, “Lesani examined hers, and Marwyn’s in depth while he was out, nothing besides faint, residual auras. I’m hoping the researchers there will be more insightful.”
“Var, I do not blame Jorduna for her actions,” Lesani says, in a diplomatic tone, “She was scared, we all were. I was amazed you kept it together yourself and did not attempt to flee, that is what inspired me to stay. She has since apologized, I propose we let the matter drop.”
“You are, of course, right, Les. I apologize Jor, I shouldn’t have brought it up so maliciously,” he lifts the curtain to the side, checking the crowds, “I believe the trial is about to resume, for better or worse. We best get back.”

Marwyn struggles to string the bow, the tension significantly stronger than he remembered from the bows of his youth. The Knights Arcane squire leans on a short stone wall near the target range, rubbing at the dragonhawk insignia emblazoned on her breastplate. Eventually, he manages to loop the other end of the bowstring, standing up fully in relief. “Heavier than I expected,” he says, winded.
“From what they tell me,” the Knights Arcane squire says conversationally, “Not that it’s any of my business, you grew up in a village not too far from here,” she pauses, thinking, “Wrendale, was it?”
“Yes, I’m surprised you know the name. Most of the people who live there don’t. It’s only a name for the cartographers, we just called it home.” He looks downrange at the targets, mostly straw, wrapped in rough leather, with a bullseye painted on the front. The range is empty, save the two of them, most of the guard occupied by the trial, as well as their normal daily responsibilities.
“Go ahead,” she nods, following his gaze, “Just be careful with your release. You’ll probably skin your wrists a few times, that’s what the armguard’s for, but it’s better than trying to learn to duel with swords in a day. Take this as an educational experience, don’t expect to hit the target your first time,” she instructs, slowly, as she herself takes a bow, “Don’t worry about drawing from a quiver just yet, take your time and nock the bow, just like this,” she moves to an adjacent stall, still clearly visible by Marwyn, who is watching her intently, “pull it back in a smooth action, and don’t grab at the string,” she stretches the bow with perfect form, “In the beginning, you’ll need to focus on aiming, but after some time it’ll become instinct,” she suddenly releases the bow, Marwyn jumping back slightly in surprise. The arrow strikes near center on a far target, “Sorry, another rule, don’t hold your bow at full draw too long or you’ll tire out your arms. I’ve been running around Fairhold all day,” she adds apologetically, her voice straining slightly towards the end.
“No, no it’s ok,” Marwyn says, “I’m very grateful for the instruction,” he pauses, and tries what he thinks is a suggestive voice, “I could, I don’t know, maybe buy you a drink? After this?”
“Let’s just focus on the bows here. No offense, but you’re a little below my station to be chatting me up,” no malice in her voice, as if she’s stating facts, “Now let’s see you take a shot,” Marwyn turns, slightly abashed, and picks up an arrow from the pile standing head-down in the barrel beside him. He nocks it carefully, the squire correcting his grip on the bowstring as he does so, draws back after some amount of effort, pauses, shifting his feet slightly, and looses the string.

The audience has assembled back in the court, a gentle murmur surrounding the hall, as those in attendance whisper to those beside them. Neldon ia there, where he was the hour before, flanked by two guards. Eventually the call for silence rings out from all sides, as the Aundair fanfare plays, provided by bards perched above in hidden alcoves. The magistrate walks out of an upper door, and presides over the trial once more.
“A verdict has been reached, in the trial of Neldon of Aundair. For the crimes of high treason, kidnapping, extortion, and all others incurred by the accused,” the magistrate intones, pausing slightly, “this court finds him, guilty. The sentence of death, as warranted by his crimes, will be carried out in one week’s time, affording the accused opportunity to make peace with his deity, and set his worldly affairs in order. This court is adjourned.” The magistrate turns to leave, as Neldon is led to the right, towards the prison. Guards from all sides begin ushering the now standing audience out of the chamber, the noise now deafening as everyone tries to speak at once.

Marwyn moves forward to collect his arrows again, cursing himself for every missed shot, as it caused him to run all the way down range, and dig the arrows out of the ground. He returns, the squire waiting patiently. “Not the best shot I’ve seen,” she says, eventually, having observed him for three volleys, “Though that would be a hard mark to beat indeed. I wouldn’t recommend you for our order, but with practice, I could see how you could be half-way competent,”
“Thank you, I think,” Marwyn says, arms already stressed from the archery.
“Let’s keep this up. Don’t worry about the far targets,” she instructs. Marwyn complies, firing off 10 arrows each time before moving to retrieve them. The squire, ever patient, watches him with a careful eye. Eventually, after one such volley, she speaks again, taking great care with her words, “Have you ever heard of the Church of Erathis?”
“What?” Marwyn replies, dropping the arrows back into the barrel, “Is that the religion of the week here?”
She laughs, somewhat harder than warranted, and says, “Oh, no, though I’d be careful saying that kind of thing in mixed public. Just because a religion fades every time another crops up in this city doesn’t mean people don’t take it seriously at the time,” she chides, watching Marwyn put another 10 arrows down range, “So you haven’t heard of it, then?” she asks, as he returns.
“Heard of what?” he quickly asks, unsure, then his face clears, “Oh, no, I haven’t. I’ve never been one for religion honestly. I don’t deny gods exist, mind you, I’ve just…. never found one I’ve really believed in.” he says, almost sheepishly, and moves to fire another volley.
“It’s a small sect down in Breland. I had family there at one time, I was just curious,” she says, almost disappointed, as Marwyn fires the last arrow, “How about you?” she asks, Marwyn, as he walks back.
“Not that I know of,” he says, slightly winded now at the exertion, but the pain was good. He had hit a target square in the center that time, “my father’s family was in Wrendale for 7 generations, maybe more. My mother, she was the elf, travelled a lot, but settled down after she had me,” he thinks for a bit, reminiscing, “She was the daughter of a soldier who was lost in the war, shortly after her birth. Her mother died when she was 10, living in the Eldeen Reaches. Others took care of her over there, and she never really got the chance to learn her lineage. Maybe I do have some family in Breland, who knows?” he finishes, as he nocks another arrow.
The squire looks away, letting unnatural disgust show as her face turns from Marwyn’s sight. An unintelligible word slips out, spoken like a curse, and then she turns back, face returned to normal. She remains silent for the remainder of the lesson, only speaking to correct posture or form. Eventually, the sun reaches a certain angle, and she speaks again, “I’m afraid I have other duties to attend to now. These stations will be full again soon, so I must ask you to leave,” she tells Marwyn curtly, any trace of friendliness gone. Marwyn notices this, but feels it best not to ask, “If you need additional practice I suggest searching among the lower city, there is virtually no difference between the ranges, ours just look better,” she continues, “I imagine, with the trial over, I will be needed again to attend to the knights and train. It was a pleasure,” she says, no emotion in her voice, turning to leave. Marwyn, unstringing his bow, shouts a thank you to the disappearing figure, the squire not seeming to register it.

Marwyn arrives at The Split Falchion’s lodgings in the city. It’s almost nightfall, the walk from Fairhold to the lower city consuming the latter part of his day. Not that he minded, the view from the top of the city was breathtaking, airships lining the skies over the Aundair plains, small hamlets and villages breaking up the solid green and yellow colors that painted the background. “Someday,” he told himself, “I’ll come back, and use this in the best damn saga this nation has ever heard,” The feeling was ruined, somewhat when he returned to the lower city, clean air replaced by the smog breathed by tens of thousands, spotless marble replaced by dirty cobblestone. He reaches The Crowned Leper both figuratively, and literally, brought down to earth. Vargard sits contently at the bar, the only familiar face Marwyn sees. He takes a spot next to Vargard, the fighter bracing himself, then relaxing as he sees who it is.

“Marwyn, back from Fairhold. How’d you do?” He asks jovially.
“It’s a start,” he replies, reserved, “I missed 8 shots for everyone I hit, and I must have done something wrong, because my trainer stopped talking halfway through.”
“Strange,” Vargard says, then takes a long drink of his beer.
“What?” Marwyn finally asks.
“Nothing, it’s just I expected something more…” he searches for a word, then gives up, “I don’t know, she asked to tutor you. Saw me with the stave while I was buying it, asked who it was for. One thing led to another. I thought she knew about the last job and was trying to get your measure,” he tosses his hand in resignation, shouting, “Who am I to try and understand the mind of a woman?” his voice slurs towards the end. A couple of other men by the bar raise their drinks, then taking long draughts. He must have been here for a while, Marwyn thinks.
“What was the verdict?” Marwyn asks, avoiding the topic.
“Conviction, to the tune of 34gp,” he says, satisfied, Marwyn somewhat confused, “I’d rest up, Marwyn. We’ve only got one more day here.”
“One more day?” Marwyn asks, surprised.
“Yes, I wanted to stay for the trial, see how it played out,” he replies, adding “Purely out of interest. It’s not every day you get to see the royal court of Aundair in action, and we were given special invitation, under the table of course. Now, all I have left to do is visit the University of Wrynan. Need to talk to one of the instructors, it’s just background for a possible case. Jor has already refreshed her supply of daggers, Cletus is always happiest away from large populations, and Les, well,” he stretches the sentence out, then admits, “Les likes it here. But she knows you take the pleasures of life in short bursts, stretch it out too long and you end up like me, rambling in a bar,”
“I guess that’s why you didn’t give me my pay until the night before we left? To keep me out of trouble?” Marwyn asks.
“Yes, and no,” he answers, hesitantly, “That’s the other reason we waited, they didn’t pay us until the verdict was delivered. Politics.”
Marwyn looks into the bag he was tossed earlier, lying forgotten on his waist after the exhaustion of the archery training, “Politics,” he curses, and motions to order a drink. An expensive drink, “Where are the others, by the way?” he asks between sips of an extraordinary wine, better than any he had ever dreamed of.
“’m right here boy,” a low voice grunts, seemingly in Marwyn’s ear. He jumps, realizing that the cloaked figure sitting on the adjacent stool, feet not reaching the floor, was Cletus.
“I was wondering when you’d figure that out,” laughs Vargard, “Ah, it was taking all it had in me not to laugh when he stood up behind you on the stool, and peered over your head at me,” Marwyn joins in the laughter, the wine starting to hit him. Eventually they stop, resuming their drinking, Cletus still hunched over his, “Jor stormed off after the verdict, don’t ask why, none of my business,” he said, evasively, “And Les went off to visit more of the universities. Always hungry for more knowledge on her days off, our Les. What of you, Marwyn? Any business left in the city?”
“I’d like to go tomorrow with you Vargard, if you’ll still let me, but that’s about it. I can always get more practice with the bow elsewhere, I’ve visited the markets, and several of the universities with Lesani. I even went, based on what I’ve heard several other bards trying to rhyme it with on the way here, to ‘The Trial of the Century’.”
“A good vacation by all measures, then. Will you be ready for the next job?” he asks, eyeing Marwyn critically.
“Before, it was about getting rich and famous. It still is,” Marwyn replies, courage fortified by his drink, “But I also learned that all that doesn’t matter if the person you are underneath is still the washed up bard sleeping in gutters. I could take this money now, and live pretty well the next few weeks, but after that I’d either be skulking back to Wrendale or begging for copper by one of the gates. Considering the opposite happened when I joined your crew, Vargard, I’d be a fool to pass up the best thing that ever happened to me,” he finishes, toasting, “To The Split Falchion!”
“Cheers,” Vargard reciprocates, “but honestly a yes would have also done. You’d best get some rest, Marwyn, we might be moving out tomorrow if all goes well.”
“Sure, Vargard,” Marwyn replies, realizing his exhaustion at his words, “I’ll do that,” he then stumbles upstairs, and out of sight.

A few moments pass, and Cletus, as sober as he was ten tankards ago, looks at Vargard, “Poor kid, he doesn’t know how wrong he is,”
Vargard’s countenance turns dark, despite his drink, and he takes another swig before answering, “I’ll fix this, Cletus. It doesn’t matter how long it’ll take, I’ll fix this. Trust me.”
Cletus turns away, staring deep into his drink, “I ‘ave, Var. I always have. But keeping secrets from the kid’ll only end in trouble. You said ‘urself he needed to grow up.”
Vargard mulls this, “True,” he finally admits, “You surprise me sometimes, friend. It’s not all just tactics and trees in that head of yours,” he pauses, taking a drink.
“And you’re still not goin ta’ tell ’im?” Cletus asks, eventually.
“No, not after I swore everyone to secrecy,” he grimaces, “Gods, not after I swore Jor to secrecy. He’ll have to earn the truth now, if only to keep order. Let’s focus on the matter at hand. University, answers, and the next job.”
“You’ve got one? More enigmatic contacts?” Cletus asks.
“No, not yet,” Vargard replies, “You can’t expect jobs to fall out of the sky every day. I’ll keep my ears open like I always do. Just gotta trust in the fact that there’s always someone who needs extra muscle.”
“Aye,” Cletus simply replies.

Morning comes again to Fairhaven, and with it the clatter of windows thrown open, shouts of peddlers clocking in, and, briefly, the creaking of the main gates opening at sunrise. Marwyn, woken by the noise of the busy street outside, enters the common room, “Hey, Lesani,” he says, greeting the warlock, who sat at one of the smaller tables near the door. Other travelers and residents of the inn glance briefly at him as he enters, most hungover and bothered by the noise.

“Marwyn, it is good to see you,” she returns, “I hope you have enjoyed Fairhaven as much as I have,”
Marwyn excitedly begins, “Yes, I’ve never been anywhere this big! I don’t know how you limited yourself to just the universities,”
“Our travels rarely bring us to this bastion of knowledge, and the rare occasions I am within these walls are mostly spent speaking to good friends and colleagues within the city. The trial yesterday was an unwelcome interruption, I assure you, though I apologize if it appears that I was distant as of late. I have not forgotten my promise to assist you in learning rituals.”
“It’s ok Lesani, I haven’t been focusing too much on the practice ritual you taught me either. Plus, you did take me along to the University of Galahad,” he reminds her.
“Ah yes, I had forgotten,” she tilts her head slightly, “Three… no, four days ago. Time blends itself together when your days are little but a whirlwind of faces and pleasantries. I forget, what did Professor Vorgun say of the ritual scroll we recovered from the bandit?”
“He said it probably came from Fairhaven,” Marwyn recalls, “And basically told us what we already knew, what it did and how long it should take to cast. Gave you a list of places that probably could have sold it, which you gave to Vargard later that day,”
“Yes, that is correct. You are going to the University of Wynarn with Vargard today?” she asks, changing the topic.
“Waiting for him here. I’ll probably wander around a bit once I’m there. Honestly, Lesani, that professor was kind of boring, and after yesterday I’d probably fall asleep.”
“That would be unwise, it is a university Marwyn. They do not take kindly to wanderers interrupting instruction or research, especially around the more sensitive areas of magic. If I may make a suggestion, look up one Ner Omidan of Zilargo. I met him years ago, before my travels with Vargard. A good, if peculiar gnome. He is familiar with the introductory magics involved in a bard’s training that I am not. Tell him ‘the gusts of The Asarclane blow over Wroat’, and he will know that you are my friend.”
“Thanks Lesani,” Marwyn responds, then retrieves his haversack, pulling something out, “I almost forgot, I did finish inscribing the first ritual from your book to mine. It took me a bit longer than you said it would, but it was worth it. I could actually,” he pauses to think, finding the right words, “_feel_ the magic when I finished. I’ve never felt it so acutely before.”
“Ah, yes, the feel of your first rituals. It has been a long time since I felt it,” she reminisces, a genuine smile filling her face, “Believe it or not, Marwyn, but it took longer for me, relatively, to learn to cast rituals.”
“Really?” Marwyn asks, amazed.
“Yes. I am a warlock, my power comes from the spirits of the Eldeen Reaches itself. Wild and untamed in its base state, years of study were required of me in order to channel it into the patient art of casting a ritual. Your power is of inner strength, harnessing magic is far easier for you than it is for me. Ponder, if you will, on the fact that your latent powers manifested without any formal training. Even with minimal effort, you should be able to expand your talent past simple healing.”
“You’re too kind, Lesani. Honestly, I don’t see why you work with people like Jorduna. Vargard, yes, he’s tough but fair, but that sociopath?” he asks, incredulous.
“Jorduna,” she sighs, “Jor is not as malicious as she makes herself to be. She is hostile towards you, Marwyn, because she sees you as an intruder,” she leans close to Marwyn, whispering, “I should not tell you this, but perhaps it is best that you understand her as well as I. Jorduna was once a respected member of the Kech Volaar, one of the goblin factions,” she adds, seeing confusion in Marwyn’s face, “An incident occurred, before the formation of Darguun, and as a result she was cast out. I will not explain further, the exact details are Jor’s, and Jor’s alone to tell. Suffice to say, she was exiled into a world at war with itself, with no friends to speak of. Had she been less skilled, she would likely have perished at the hand of an overzealous soldier, or imprisoned for the crime of being a hobgoblin. As it was, she found Vargard, and even then she had to work to be accepted by him,” she stops for a moment, breathing deeply, “Jor despises you because you effortlessly joined the last group of people who care about her, flying in the face of the effort she exerted to even survive. Of course,” she adds wryly, “She is also an abrasive and foul-tempered person normally, so do not excuse her actions. Just understand that her disgust is not of your doing.”
Marwyn, listening intently to Lesani, lets his eyes drop, thinking. After a moment of silence, he looks up and replies, “I… think I understand. Thanks, Lesani, for talking with me. I’ll be sure to look up your friend at the university, but for now I need to get something to eat.”
“Of course,” Lesani says, dismissing him.

Marwyn walks to the bar, staffed during the morning rush with a harried human in addition to the regular dwarf who runs the business during off hours, and orders breakfast. He finishes, the time now an hour past dawn, and continues waiting. Eventually, about 15 minutes later by Marwyn’s estimation, does Vargard walk down the stairs, already dressed for the day.
“Marwyn, good to see you’re ready to get started. Lesani, you look nice today,” he adds, seeing the elf by the door.
“Aren’t you going to eat, Vargard?” Marwyn asks.
“Old adventuring trick, switch to trail rations the day before you set out. Helps your digestion adjust ahead of time. I suggest you try it next time, it could help with the….. you get the picture,” he trails off, “We best get moving. The guards at the university are expecting us, and it’s bad form to be late to an appointment at the University of Wynarn.”
“I told him to visit Ner, Var. Should keep him from getting jumpy, as I would imagine sitting in a stuffy office all day would do,” Lesani interjects.
“Yes, Ner, good idea Les. Even meeting the man is an education. I’m sure you’ll find him a wealth of knowledge, and like any wealth, he guards it well,”
“Another reason for my gratitude to the both of you,” Marwyn says, deferentially, and he rises from his seat, joining Vargard as he heads to the door.

The walk to the university takes Marwyn and Vargard close to the city center, near where the grand steps towards Fairhold begin. The University of Wynarn is a city in its own right, home to almost a thousand students, staff, and professors, with all necessary resources readily available within the gated complex. If it were not a jewel in the crown of Fairhaven, it would almost definitely draw the ire and jealousy of the grand city. Designed by the same architects that built the rest of the city, but constantly renovated to meet the ever changing demands of the magical research that Aundair is famous for; the University of Wynarn is a constantly changing testament to the progress of the Five Nations, despite the Last War. This throws great contrast to its fairer sibling, Fairhold itself, which testifies the unchanging might of the Aundair kingdom, a fact not left unnoticed by the bards of the kingdom.

One of the most recent changes was to its admissions policies. Before the Treaty of Thronehold and the conclusion of the war, admissions was tightly regulated, and only the best and brightest of Aundair were allowed within the noble halls. However, as the war claimed the lives of many across the nation, and as peace calmed tensions across the continent, more and more outsiders were accepted among the ranks of the university. The University of Wynarn now accepts any who can prove their worth from across the continent, a small semblance of what it was under the united kingdoms. A defensive perimeter guards the 6 main buildings of the university, the government of Aundair keeping a careful watch over the secrets stored within. Two guards are posted at the gate that Marwyn and Vargard approach, the university now in sight.

“’Alt!” one of them, the superior, yells. She motions them forward after observing them, and Vargard pulls out several pieces of parchment: permission to enter the university, granted by the court of Queen Aurala, “Enter!” she yells, voice unchanged from before, after taking a quick look at the pages. Once through, the crowded conditions of the city open up, a large courtyard filled with water features and various plants lying before the campus. Students of various races and origins walk, run, and on occasion, float, between the buildings, others sitting in the open, taking in the clear day. A small, wooden stage is built close to the center of the courtyard, a low wall surrounding it, various glyphs burned into the stone. Two people stand on the dais, a professor and a student, the glyphs glowing around them. A brief flash of energy emanates from the professor’s hands, which rush towards the student. The beams warp slightly around her, skewing off to the side, and dissipating when they make contact with the area immediately above the wall behind her.

“Look at that,” Vargard says, pointing out the pair on the stage, “a taste of what they do here. My own armor bears an enchantment that originated here long ago, perhaps tested on that very stage,” he taps his breastplate with his fist, “of course, the real stuff never sees the light of day.”
“Your armor’s enchanted, Vargard?”
“Of course, Marwyn,” Vargard says, a little surprised, “You could afford a pretty nice piece yourself, now. Something to match that enchanted cloak, perhaps,” he stresses the word enchanted, and then adds, to Marwyn’s embarrassment, “Can’t you tell?”
“It’s a little hard, I have to admit. I’m just not experienced enough,” he replies, reserved.
“Well that’s why you’re here. To that point, Ner’s office is in that building, second floor,” he indicates one of the six buildings, the tallest one, “You should be able to take it from there. I should go, don’t want to be late for my appointment. Any of the guards give you trouble on the way out, just tell them to send for me.”
“Yes Vargard. I hope you find what you are looking for,” Marwyn says, good spirit back in his voice. Vargard takes off for one of the lesser buildings, as Marwyn sits in the courtyard for a moment, enjoying the display on the central stage.

“Excuse me,” a somewhat robotic voice, unnaturally amplified, politely interjects behind him, and Marwyn looks up in surprise to see a Warforged. It’s exterior, still plated in the armor it would have served with during the Last War, is now also decked in the finery of a student of the university. Marwyn hurriedly stands to his feet, surprised.
“Are you… I am sorry, do you need something?” he says, trying to keep his curiosity in check.
“Yes,” the student replies simply, then adds “I must take measurements of the plants you were blocking. It will take but a moment. Thank you for moving.” The Warforged pulls out a measuring stick from one of his inner compartments, taking measurements of the height of the flowers in the plot of land next to where Marwyn was sitting, “I can sense your curiosity, feel free to ask me questions. It will not distract me from my work,” It adds, while gently lifting a daisy, measuring its stalk.
“I’m sorry, uh….” Marwyn pauses, unsure what to call the student.
“My name during the war was Watcher, for my abnormally good attention to both detail and surroundings. After our freedom, I took the name Klezard, in honor of one of my fallen comrades,” it pauses its work momentarily, not directly looking at Marwyn but observing him all the same, “Do not feel the need to apologize. He died a good death, as was his wish.”
“You’re a student of the university?” Marwyn building enough courage to ask, as Klezard continues its work.
“Yes. The administrators were hesitant, at first, to admit my kind, but they soon saw the benefits of our nature. In regards to myself, I excel at gathering physical data from experimentation, and have had numerous ideas concerning the improvement of reconnaissance equipment. Otherwise, I likely would have not gained entry to this university,” Klezard pauses again, peering closely at a flower, and then moving on, “how unfortunate, there appears to be no difference in growth,” it says, more to itself than to Marwyn. Klezard then resumes the conversation, “If you do not mind my question, what brings you to this university, traveler?”
“Marwyn,” Marwyn states, “Marwyn Verdani. I am part of,” he looks around, a little hesitantly, then continues, feeling glib while talking to the warforged, “a mercenary group. We came here after a pretty good job. I’d tell you more, but I’m pretty sure I’d get in trouble with my boss,” he says, a little smug.
“Understood, Marwyn, I too was given information classified as secret during the war,” Klezard says, dipping a finger into the soil for a second, then retracting it, “I hope your stay in the city has been restful so far,” it states, a little too politely. Klezard then remains silent, working. Marwyn then comes to a realization.
“My apologies, I realize I never fully answered your question,” Marwyn says abashed, uncertain, but suspicious that Klezard was smirking underneath its unmoving face, “I am a bard of, well, let’s be honest, rather poor magical talent. My friend, Lesani Windhailer, suggested I visit a Ner Omidan of Zilargo.”
Klezard’s motions do not change, but for some reason Marwyn detects a hint of surprise. “I appreciate your honesty. I am familiar with Ner, and would advise caution in dealing with him. Though I do not partake in such speculation, there is rumor amongst the other students that he is formerly of the Trust. Some go as far as to claim he never truly left their service. Most are of the opinion that he bartered his way here through secrets. Such currency may be expected of you,” Klezard adds, grimly, as he measures the diameter of a sunflower.
“I’ll just have to hope he’s in good spirits today, then,” Marwyn replies. Klezard stops its examination of the field, reaching the far side, and stands, pocketing the ruler.
“Unfortunately, I have other duties to attend to now. It has been a pleasure conversing with you. If I am available again in the future, I would enjoy exchanging further details of our lives. It should be relatively easy for you to find me, as the number of my kind assigned…” Klezard pauses, an almost pained look spreading across its as of yet unmoving face. It recovers, then resumes, “my apologies, I meant to say, enrolled, at the university is, at present times, a low percentage of the total student population. I wish you good fortune with Mr. Omidan, Marwyn of Aundair,” the warforged says, in parting.
“I wish you well with your studies, friend Klezard. I look forward to our next meeting,” Marwyn waves farewell as the Warforged moves across the courtyard, towards one of the towers.

Vargard rounds another corner of the building, passing the small room wherein a half-elf doles out regular amounts of coffee to waiting students, accepting a small amount of copper and silver coins in return. He climbs one last stair, and finally reaches his destination, a door marked ‘Professor Gilmont’ and below, ‘Curses, Pacts, and Ancient Magic’. He knocks on the door, then waits patiently.

“Come in,” an elderly voice answers, after a brief pause. Vargard opens the door, and sitting behind a large-sized desk is a dragonborn, wearing robes befitting a senior professor of the university. The professor checks a small timepiece on his desk, and greets Vargard, “Vargard Garodin, if I am not mistaken. Your timing, as always, impeccable,” he motions to the seat opposite to him, “Please, rest. I am sure you are weary from your time spent sitting on that arse of yours over at The Crowned Leper,” the words laced only with friendliness, and a little mischievousness.
“Gilmont,” Vargard returns, in similar tones, “As the expert of sitting on one’s arse for prolonged periods of time, you are, of course, correct.”
“Ah, you have me there,” the professor responds, then asks, curiously, “Do what do I owe the visit?”
“Unfortunately, I come asking a favor,” Vargard says, his voice grim.
“Oh? And what would that be?” Professor Gilmont asks, both interested, and hesitant at Vargard’s tone.
“This,” Vargard simply says, turning and bearing his left shoulder.
“By Siberys,” Professor Gilmont proclaims, moving around his desk and inspecting the mark blazoned in Vargard’s flesh, “What have you gotten yourself into, old friend?”
“This is courtesy of one enigmatic bastard. Fully cloaked, didn’t get a good look at him during the fight. Hit us, my crew and me, with some sort of spell. Knocked us down, and by the time we were up, he was gone, these marks his only trace,” Vargard explains.
“This is,” he hesitates, then continues, “wrought by powerful magic. Please, describe everything you know of them, leave nothing out,” the professor asks, moving back to the other side of his desk, and extracting a small, bound book and pen. Vargard rattles off the symptoms of the crew experienced initially, mentioning Marwyn’s prolonged unconsciousness, Cletus’ temporary inability to hold alcohol, and the communal pain felt when Jorduna fled Passage without them.
“Interesting,” the professor says, after Vargard finished, “How long are you staying in the city?” he asks.
“Unfortunately, I am leaving tomorrow if not today. I was not permitted access to this university until after the recent trial.”
“Ah yes, I have heard of that from some of my students,” Gilmont says, “I assumed you were involved somehow when I heard you were in town. I really must speak to the administration about relaxing visitor policies, if we are inviting students from Darguun, of all places, then surely my friends should be allowed some leeway,” he finishes writing in his book, and looks up at Vargard morbidly, “I do not have much to give you at this time, Vargard. Nothing immediately comes to mind, save for legends of a lost spell, somewhat similar to this. It was called the Mark of Justice, a punishment inflicted on moderate offenders of an ancient kingdom’s law. Little is known, but it would strike those marked with crippling sickness if they violated the terms of the mark. This, however, is different.”
“How so?” Vargard asks.
“Well, for one, the Mark of Justice is lost magic. It’s more likely we’re dealing with a newly developed spell, or perhaps a surviving variant. Understand, my knowledge of that spell is taken from whispers of a time when Yggdrasil was still whole, gleamed themselves from accounts of travelers to our plane of centuries past. That I, the foremost authority on the subject, have any idea it ever existed, is a miracle unto itself.”
Vargard thinks for a minute, scratching at the exposed mark, and then asks, “Do you have any idea as to how these could be removed?”
“I could try standard curse-breaking magic, but I would hesitate to do so on a friend. These marks are obviously linked, and trying anything at all could negatively impact everyone affected. I am sorry my friend, but for now, I must give you no answer, although I give you my word that I will consult with my colleagues, and give you notice of any developments. It would help immensely, of course, to capture the mage responsible for this. He or she could be the key to undoing the magic.”
“Indeed,” Vargard says, “With our last… engagement, we won’t have to do another job for some time. Finding that mage is at the forefront of my mind, I assure you,” Vargard answers.
“Well, that is really all I have to say on the matter at this time, Vargard. However, I have no other pressing engagements this day, research can be a slow process at times, so if you would like to turn this back to friendly conversation?” Gilmont asks, hopefully.
“Yes, I would like that,” Vargard responds, securing his shirt and redonning his plate, “I should probably stay a while in any case, else Marwyn get himself in trouble.”
Gilmont sits up, “Yes, you mentioned him earlier, the new addition. Tell me about him, I’m curious as to what about him caught your eye in the first place.”
“Well, I was in Passage getting ready for the job…” Vargard begins.

“Standard Wilmaster crossbow, mark 1, reinforced with steel struts to increase firing power,” a somewhat high-pitched voice rambles to itself, in a quick voice, “Increased penetration allowing it to pierce standard low-end plate worn by city guard. The only question, are you prepared?” the voice intones, leveling the crossbow at the Fairhaven guard.

Marwyn turns the last corner, still reciting the instructions given to him when he entered the main tower, “Three lefts after the stairs, straight ahead until the wall painted red, a right, two more lefts…. And third door on the right,” Marwyn finishes, reaching the office of Ner Omidan of Zilargo. The door is slightly ajar, and Marwyn, curious, peers through. He then throws open the door, seeing a well-dressed gnome pointing a crossbow at what appears to be a city guard, who stands there, passively, “Stop!” he cries, and the gnome fires the crossbow in surprise, while turning to Marwyn. The bolt flies towards the guard, who remains unmoving. The bolt impacts the breastplate, shattering on impact, a faint glyph appearing in front of the impact point before dissipating.
“You idiot! What are you doing, intruding when I am at work?” the gnome asks, then thinks for a moment, “wait wait wait, I missed the impact, what happened?” the gnome questions inquisitively, anger gone momentarily.
“It… uh.. well…” Marwyn garbles, confused, and then turns to the now obvious mannequin, “It shattered.”
“Yes!” the gnome explains, “I finally did it! Just for posterity,” the gnome says, loading the crossbow again, and then firing at the mannequin. This time, the bolt pierces the armor all the way through, landing with a thunk into the wooden base of the mannequin, “Cheap, one-use armor enchantments, affordable to even the lowest ranks of the guard. The university will make a mint,” he turns back, relishing the moment, “What, what was your name again?” he asks, distractedly.
“Ma..Marwyn, sir,” Marwyn responds, still confused.
“Well, Marwyn, normally I would ask the university to ‘escort you out’ after such an intrusion, but you have me in a good feeling today. Do you need something?” he asks, taking his gloves off, and reaching up to shake Marwyn’s hand, “Ner Omidan of Zilargo.”
“I was told you could help me with, uh, bardic training. My friend told me to tell you, ‘the gusts of The Asarclane blow over Wroat.’”
Ner throws his head back, laughing, “Ah, The Asarclane. Ms. Windhailer sent you, did she? She visited me a few days ago, gave me some interesting ideas for my project here,” he glances back at the mannequin, then resumes, “A fine ship she was.”
“Lesani?” Marwyn asks, confused again.
“No, boy, no. The Asarclane. One of the first airships ever produced, and I on the team that built it. Ever been on an airship?” he asks, gleam in his eye.
“I’ve never had that fortune, no,” Marwyn answers.
“Well, it’s a treat, I’ll tell you that. Nothing like seeing the ground beneath your feet run as fast as any river. And in the good old days, when these things were still fresh out of the Zilargo, you could go anywhere and be treated a lord for captaining such a vessel. Lesani was there when we gave The Asarclane to Breland as part of our treaty with them, during the Last War. Incognito, of course. Couldn’t have an obvious denizen of Aundair at such a meeting, but Lesani was a good friend who never bothered much with the war in the first place. No, for her all that mattered was magic. Surprised she hooked up with that Vargard character. I suppose you’re with him too?”
“Yes, he’s the one who brought me here,”
“Reeaaallly, Vargard’s here, on campus? I’ll have to get the details on that later,” he says, absentmindedly, “You said you wanted something?”
“Yes, Lesani said you could help me with introductory bard magic,” Marwyn says.
“Just out of curiosity, are you any good with that bow I see you carrying?” Ner asks, pointing to the stave jutting out of Marwyn’s pack.
“I’m… working on it,” Marwyn says, reserved.
“Uh huh,” Ner replies, skeptical, “Well, I do have a few somethings that can get you started. Unfortunately, it requires use of a bow much like the one you carry. Fortunately, as I am led to believe, these abilities are far easier for one such as yourself to perform than regularly firing a bow. Something to do with how the magic is cast on the arrow.”
“That’s perfect, thanks!” Marwyn exclaims, looking at the gnome expectantly.
“There’s the rub, kid. I don’t do things for free, and pleasant company aside, you haven’t exactly given me anything of worth,” Ner says, reluctant but serious, “Anything you could think of offering in return?”
Marwyn remembers the conversation from the courtyard, realizing the warforged was right. He thinks hard for a moment, trying to grab at any other form of payment than the obvious, and then relents, “Is this room, I mean, if I say something here, can other people hear about it?”
Ner looks at him with slight surprise, and answers, “No, not if I don’t want them to.” He walks over to his door, closing it, and activating a rune on the other side, “I take it you’ve heard of the rumors, then. While I cannot speak on that subject, I will say a good story has been known to satisfy me. Do you have a good story?” he asks, sitting at his desk, which is a mess from scattered papers filled with different drawings, variations on what seems to be a single rune. He invites Marwyn to sit on the opposite side.
“I, may know the true story behind the recent trial,” Marwyn says in a whisper, and Ner’s eyes light up.

After some time, Ner opens his office door, and holds it open for Marwyn, “That was certainly… interesting. Well, if you ever have need of more assistance in your studies, bard, I suggest you see me again.”
Marwyn, still not sure if what he had done was wise, but satisfied with the new magic he had acquired, thanks him, and walks out the door. He clutches a dusty tome in his hands, it bound with green leather, and an enigmatic rune embossed in what appears to be silver on the front.

“Wait,” Ner says, at the last moment, Marwyn turning at his shout, “I can’t hold it, it’s just too obvious.”
“What is?” Marwyn returning.
“Oh, come, back in my office,” he ushers Marwyn back in, hurriedly closing the door and reactivating the rune, “I can’t in good conscious let you leave without returning something of actual value, anyway. That was an interesting story, deserving of one in return.” He paces, “and Lesani is a good friend,” trying to convince himself of something, “Fine. Merrick.” He finally says.
“Merrick? That guy in Passage?” Marwyn returns.
“I can’t tell you everything, that would compromise too much. I’ll leave you with two questions, run them by Vargard as your own, he’ll be grateful, trust me,” Ner instructs, breathlessly, “One, why was Merrick on that roof, dressed as he was? Two, why was the warehouse empty of guard, when the perimeter was heavily guarded?”
Marwyn’s eyes open a little, thinking on that, “That’s…. but, that’s a good point…”
“Now, I believe our business is concluded. I suggest you take care of that book, it is very old. Oh, and please give Lesani my thanks for directing you to me. See you later, Marwyn,” Ner says, excusing Marwyn.

Marwyn leaves the university without trouble, the sun indicating that it is about midday, but close to afternoon. He searches the city for a while, and then finds an open archery range, ready to practice the techniques inscribed within the book Ner had given him, after he had told his story. Eventually, his arms tire, and he pays the owner of the range for his time, confident that, with time, he could get the hang of it. He returns to The Crowned Leper to see the entire crew assembled at one of the tables, the rest of the bar full to the brim with dinner crowd. They appear to be arguing.

“Var, this is stupid. If we didn’t find any answers here, why the hell would Morgrave University be a better bet?” Marwyn hears Jorduna yell, over the crowd.
“Because at this point we have nothing to go on, no jobs at the moment, and this inn tab eating into my purse,” Vargard shoots back, “Trying somewhere else at the very least gives us a change of pace, and I’d enjoy riding the rails for a while. You can afford it, Jor.”
“I’m just saying we should try somewhere close to home before we go halfway across the godsdamn continent. The rails are too stuffy for taste, anyway,” she ends, more to herself.
“I believe Marwyn has something to say,” Lesani breaks into the conversation, indicating Marwyn approaching amidst the crowd.
“Ah, thank you Les,” Vargard says, distracted, “How’d you like the university, Marwyn?”
“It was… interesting,” Marwyn says, thinking, and then asks, “Vargard, there’s something I don’t understand about the guy in Passage.”
Worried, Vargard blusters, “Which ‘guy’, Marwyn? The mage in the blue robe?”
“No, Captain Merrick, he stopped us at the gate when we were leaving.”
“Oh,” Vargard sighs, relieved, “What don’t you understand?”
“He’s the captain of the guard, right? He could have been sitting in… well, wherever the guard’s headquarters are, comfortable, and yet he was on the roof of some warehouse, cold, wet, and wearing the same armor his troops were wearing?”
“That’s… that’s a good point, Marwyn. I’m surprised I didn’t think of that, or you, for that matter,” he glances at Cletus, genuine shock on his face, “We were so focused on the two in the warehouse….. I never thought to question why……..” He thinks for a moment. Jor looks at him with the most surprise, as if Marwyn had planted a dagger in her without her noticing. She remained speechless, however, no quip coming to her. Cletus just broods with his drink, face unchanging, while Lesani looks at Marwyn with what might be considered suspicion, “Ner?” she whispers in his ear, and he gives her a slight nod.
“I believe Marwyn has given us our next destination, Jor.” He takes a long drink, finishing the remainder of his mug, and addresses the rest of them, “Gentlefolk, we are returning to Passage.”

Continued in Part 6, Questions of Merit – Corruption and Redemption


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