Fruit of the Fallen

Travel to Trolanport

Informants and Intrique

Part 9 of The Adventures of The Split Falchion

Vargard opens the folder, and retrieves several pieces of parchment that were stored within. He looks them over, passing each read page to Cletus, who passes it to Lesani, and so forth. Finally, they reach Marwyn. Vargard keeps the last page, however, one bearing a seal.

From what Marwyn can tell, the information Evalyn provided suggests that Redmont purchased a contract for the shipping of an unnamed magical artifact from Vathirond to Passage, complete with transit guard. He also brow beated the manager of the Vathirond branch into contacting Evalyn, who was then persuaded to bribe Merrick to leave the warehouse guarded but empty.
“Unfortunately,” the note ends, “I never met the man myself. However, I did have a contact in Zilargo create a file on this Redmont character, just in case tracking him down later was necessary. This contact’s name is Eldon Rakthani d’Sivis. I believed his connects with House Sivis (and the Trust, though he doesn’t openly admit it), would serve aptly for this task. Apparently, my intuition was correct. I had just received word of the completion of his task when you so gracefully arrived on my doorstep. I have sent word to him, so as to expect you. Included with this message are travel vouchers, which should take you from Wroat to Trolanport, the location of my contact, in one week’s time. I assume you should have handled our dear Maxis well before then. Safe travels Vargard.”

“One damned lead to another, when the hell are we finally going to catch up with these guys?” Jorduna curses, after finishing and handing the last page to Marwyn, who quickly scans it, “Are you buying this, Var?”
“I feel as if we’ve had this conversation before. I’ll remind you of how it went last time. Unless you have a better idea, Jor, I suggest we take the free trip to Zilargo. Now, we should turn in for the night, I’ll go downstairs and rent our rooms, after one point of business,” Vargard says, placing the travel voucher back in the leather folder, then placing it in his bag.
“What else do we have to do?” Jorduna says.
“Formerly induct Marwyn to The Split Falchion of course,” he says, then hesitantly adds, “And tell him the truth.” Jorduna nods, remembering, and doesn’t reply. Marwyn is surprised, both at Vargard’s last words, and Jorduna’s acceptance of them. Cletus remains impassive, while Lesani appears satisfied, content that Vargard kept his word.

“The truth?” Marwyn speaks, breaking the few seconds of silence following the statement.
“We’ll get to that. First things first, however,” Vargard replies, somewhat grimly, then returns to his normal tone, “Marwyn, in light of your successful contributions to our band, showing competence both in and out of combat, I officially promote you to full member of The Split Falchion, as an equal to everyone who serves under my command,” he says, then adds, “I suppose you’ll want us to call you Mar now?”
“No, Varg… Var,” he responds, gleeful at the announcement, “Marwyn is fine. Thank you, I.. this means a lot.” Jorduna grimaces at the overtly cheery atmosphere, but manages to keep it to herself, guessing what the response would be. Cletus passes around a flagon containing something with alcohol, and everyone takes a drink. Vargard and Lesani smile in approval, mirroring the joy on Marwyn’s face. Then, Vargard’s face darkens.
“We can celebrate downstairs now, if you would like Marwyn. However, there is a confession I must make. I would not want to darken the mood, though I will not keep this from you any longer than you wish.”

Marwyn’s face falls, remembering the dark implication that Vargard’s former words had carried. He takes a deep breath, and then answers, “No, Var, I need to be able to take the truth. No matter… no matter what it is.”
“That is courageous of you, Marwyn,” Lesani responds. Jorduna leaves, her presence obviously not required. Cletus follows, though he pats Marwyn on the back as he departs.
“You’ll want to sit down for this,” Vargard tells him, and Marwyn complies. He then nervously begins, “Have you ever seen a… symbol on either of our backs?”
“No?” Marwyn responds, wondering where the question was going. Vargard sighs, and bares his left shoulder. “What is it?” he says hesitantly, edging away slightly from Vargard.
“When… when we fought Blue Cloak, back in the warehouse,” he begins, “He hit us with something that knocked us out. When we woke us, these things were on our backs. All, of our backs,” he repeats, and Marwyn feels at his back, taking the meaning of his words.
“What are they?” he asks, one part curious, one part scared.
“We do not know,” Lesani answers this time, “Our travel to Fairhaven was, in part, to attempt to solve this mystery. We were unsuccessful. Our limited knowledge suggests they are curses of some kind, however their only affect is inducing pain whenever our group is separated by a distance of at least 10 miles.”
“We also never got a job to track down Blue Cloak,” Vargard continues, “To be honest, Marwyn, I wasn’t sure how you would take the news. I lied because, on the off chance you couldn’t handle it and ran off, we’d have to track you down,” he thinks for a moment, “Perhaps that is the very reason for these marks. Keep us occupied,” and then shakes his head, returning to the matter at hand, “I wanted to see how you reacted to combat, first, as well as to dark magic.”
“That is why Lesan… Les asked me those questions,” Marwyn responds, in understanding. “It’s… it’s ok. I…” Marwyn reaches for the right words, mind still reeling from the sudden revelations. He composes himself, and continues, “I’ll be fine. I’ll need a few drinks to get my mind off this, but I’ll be fine. What’s the plan, Var?” he asks.
“Right now,” Vargard says, “I am going downstairs and buying you the most expensive drink in the bar in celebration. After that, we’re going to track down Redmont, force him to lead us to Blue Cloak, and have these marks removed. That’s a promise, Marwyn. As I have told the rest of them, I got us in this situation, and I’m going to fix it.”
“I believe you, Var,” Marwyn responds, “And I’ll take you up on that drink,” he ends, rallying his normal spirit. Vargard chuckles in response, glad for Marwyn’s good spirits, and all three head down to the near empty bar. Soon, laughter and the twang of a single lute spill out from the space, and Marwyn forgets, if for a moment, the new specter hanging over his life.

The next day, the group prepares for travel to Wroat. They do not ride out at dusk, as, even with the time required to travel to Wroat, they will still have a few days before their transport to Trolanport: an airship of the House Lyrandar. Marwyn stops by the shooting range one last time, though Rodin is still nowhere to be found. He finds himself more disappointed than he would have thought, though he is unsure as to why. He returns to the small market, refreshing his supply of arrows. He checks his purse, and is satisfied by the amount still there. Thinking back on it, Marwyn wonders if the large reward given to him, as well as the rest of The Split Falchion, was not also meant to buy their silence. He wonders, grimacing, what would happen to him if he were to ever break it. With that dark thought, he remembers the talks of last night, and he has to grab his arm to stop it from checking his back again. It’s hard to believe I’ve had the mark for all this time, he thinks, and never noticed it.

His thoughts distract him until he reaches the inn, where the rest of his party await. “Took long enough. I was wondering if we’d have to leave you,” Jorduna says annoyed, though carefully avoiding the need to address Marwyn by name.
“Everyone ready to depart?” Vargard asks, ignoring the comment. There is a round of ayes, and everyone mounts, leaving for Wroat. The day’s travel is uneventful, the rider’s rested from their night in the inn. However, as they make camp, Vargard stands to attention, and appears to listen carefully for a few moments. He then says, as if to the air, “Understood. My thanks. Tracking Redmont through Zilargo. Please forward new information. Good health upon you, Gilmont. Dismiss Sending.”
“Professor Gilmont, I presume?” Lesani asks him.
“Yes, his Sending,” Vargard says, then realizes he had kept the clipped form of speaking necessary for a Sending, and continues normally, “He had a new development on the mark. From what he managed, he barely got it through the word limit, mind you, a student recognized some isolated glyphs forming the mark,” he pauses, “a Cyrian student. One of the refugees from the Mourning.”
“Cyre magic?” Lesani asks in shock, a reaction stronger than anyone save Vargard had expected.
Marwyn moves to ask if she is ok, but Vargard speaks over him, covering her, “The glyphs are from the Cyrian version of the ritual Ancestral Whispers. The last thing he managed to say was that all the glyphs from the ritual weren’t present, as if only part of that ritual was necessary for the mark. As to what this means… neither he nor I have any idea,” he sighs, as Lesani regains her composure.
“Ignoring whatever the hell that was with Les,” Jorduna says, “Doesn’t this mean Blue Robe is some Cyrian nut?”
“Maybe,” Vargard muses, “Or maybe the Cyrian form was required, over all others. It’s ambiguous, but it’s something. I say we stick to the clear goal of finding Redmont,” he says decisively.
“I’ll agree to that,” Marwyn says enthusiastically, then adds, worried, “Sure you’re ok, Les?”
“Yes, I am fine Marwyn,” she responds, fully recovered from her outburst, “I took the loss of Cyre somewhat more personally than others. I care not to speak on the topic. Please, do not question further.”
“Of course, Les,” Marwyn says consolingly, “Sorry I asked.” An awkward moment follows his words. Everyone realizes that it has grown dark, and the matter is dropped wholly, as they prepare for rest.

The next day’s ride starts peaceful, the party taking it’s time, with no need to rush. Though Marwyn still thought of his mark with a feeling of foreboding dread, the pleasant journey through the Brelish countryside helps take his mind off of it. As well as the jug of wine he picked up from the inn before he left.

The serenity is broken, however, when Cletus sees a cloud of dust due West, from the Skyraker Forest. Everyone stops, and rallies together.
“Riders?” Vargard asks Cletus, looking out.
“No,” he replies grimly, “Wolves.”
Marwyn doesn’t believe him for a second, believing it to be a rare joke from the dwarf. However, Vargard takes him seriously, and orders their dismount. He, as well as the rest of the party, tie up their horses, and then move to protect them from the oncoming wolves. As they close, Marwyn can see them clearly. Direwolves, by the size of them.

Wolves, as well as other predators, had been an occasional threat to them while they had ridden throughout the Khorvairre countryside, though they had typically been dispersed by a well-placed arrow from Cletus. Direwolves, however, don’t scare as easily. Especially in numbers. In order to drive them away, this will have to get bloody, Marwyn thinks. He moves back, as Vargard and Cletus form the front line to break the wolves’ charge.

Soon, they are nearly upon The Split Falchion, 6 in number. The direwolves appear starved, the game populations of the wild having been in decline during the war. Only now, after the new peace, have they began to improve. The first two reach them, each biting at Vargard or Cletus. Vargard takes a scratch, though Cletus’ opponent gets a good bite on his torso, teeth coming away red. The two warriors retaliate with their prepared strikes, giving each opponent fair trade for their wounds. The other four wolves descend upon them, however, and working together they gain advantage over Vargard and Cletus, tearing into them, almost working as one unit rather than six separate entities. Vargard stands, surviving the worst of the assault, though Cletus is heavily injured, unable to escape, as three other wolves tear into him.
“Cletus needs to get out of here!” Vargard yells, eyeing his friend with concern, and cleaves into one of the wolves, which yelps in pain as he gives it a long cut along its foreleg. He then begins cutting at enemies at random, dealing damage to each wolf within his reach.

Jorduna, already moving to flank one of the wolves at Vargard’s side, is unable to assist Cletus. She does, however, manage to plant a dagger close to her target’s spine, inflicting heavy damage on the direwolf. Lesani looks at Cletus, and then addresses Marwyn, slightly panicked, “Try distracting them. Infuse your music with magic, the same way as you fire the bow. These simpleminded beasts may be momentarily stunned.” She then turns her attention to the wolves surrounding Cletus, and seeming disappears into the air. A haze fills the air around Cletus, not harming him, although the direwolves back away slightly, frightened. Bursts of raw magic go off in the area, damaging and stunning the four wolves, immobilizing most. One manages to dodge the worst of it, and remains unharmed and unhampered.

Marwyn looks at his lute, picks at it, and remembers the pure joy and sense of communion he felt two nights before, and concentrates on it. He strums a few chords, trying to use his lute to project his feelings. He looks up, and realizes the wolves had momentarily stopped fighting, looking at him in what he guesses is confusion. Cletus takes the opportunity, and runs backwards, escaping unscathed. The direwolves shake themselves, returning the battle, and attempt to chase Cletus, but find themselves restricted by Lesani’s magic. Marwyn quickly turns his music to Cletus, bringing him back from the brink of unconsciousness. It is at this time that Lesani reappears next to Marwyn, and looks at the situation with approval.

Had he been more experienced with the maneuver he had performed, Marwyn might have had the opportunity to quickly pull out his bow and fire before the wolves regained their combat stance. However, the one direwolf not attacking Vargard that is free to move charges the group in the back, breaking from its pack. Cletus, however, takes out his bow. Breath returning to him, he resumes his string of battle curses, and fires an arrow straight at the charging wolf. Its momentum adds to the already devastating arrow’s impact, and the arrow pierces the skull. The direwolf falls over, dead.

The rest of the wolves gather around Vargard, save the one too far away to reach him. Two land moderate blows, a scratch to the leg and a bite to the arm. Another misses, taking a swipe at Vargard’s neck. The final direwolf, however, lands a critical blow, biting down hard on Vargard’s arm. He grunts with the pain, shaking off the wolf from his shield arm. Blood seeps out from the armor underneath. He recovers, injured but still functioning. He pauses his battery of slices long enough to give the most injured direwolf a thrust to its body, puncturing skin and breaking bone. It whimpers, and stops attacking, retreating. The other three, as well as their immobilized brother, however, show no signs of stopping. Jorduna gives her limping target one last swipe with her dagger for good measure, and then moves on, stabbing away at another direwolf. Lesani and Marwyn both attack the same direwolf from range, though both attacks go awry, the clustered melee impairing their aim.

Cletus’ arrow, however, finds its target. The direwolf doesn’t disengage, but it’s clear that the pack as a whole is losing its conviction, attacking with less and less ferocity, Vargard’s constant attacks keeping them on edge. The trapped direwolf suddenly breaks free of the magical haze surrounding it, which then dissipates. It charges Vargard, giving him yet another scratch from its teeth. Two others do the same, while that last grunts in pain as its fangs chip slightly, biting Vargard’s armor in the wrong way. Vargard stops his flurry, wounds preventing him from such a movement, and switches to the same overhead swing he attempted on the Thranish cleric three days hence. This time, he is successful, and nearly splits the bloodied direwolf in two, severing its spine.

Jorduna, dodging the spray of blood which this directs at her, nods in approval at Vargard, and attacks the one that lead the direwolf formation, which had stood taller and stronger than the rest. Now, it is as nervous as any of its number. The dagger goes askew, however, a quick lurch to the side causing it to hit the group. Jorduna hurriedly retreats her arm, leaving the dagger in the dirt, not wanting to present an ideal target.

Lesani fires a bolt of dark energy at the same target, but again missing, cursing slightly to herself. Marwyn, however, manages to strike, firing a streaking bolt of red that burns the direwolf and strikes near center. Cletus also manages to hit, though his is but a grazing blow.

The direwolves, three remaining in the attack group, start to lose their resolve. Two strike quickly at Vargard, only one connecting, and then just as quickly step back slightly, focusing somewhat on defense. The pack leader, however, continues the vicious attack, mind driven to rage by its burns. It deals Vargard a devastating blow, forcing him into unconsciousness. This victory seems to invigorate the dire wolves, renewing their interest in the fight, save for the fourth direwolf, still circling some distance away from the melee.

Marwyn hurriedly steps forward, close enough to heal Vargard out of immediate danger of death. He then redraws his bow, firing a powerful shot that catches the pack leader. Jorduna, watching the arrow, comes to a split second realization, and she readies a strike, new dagger already in hand. The arrow strikes the pack leader similar to the bandit leader from their return to Passage. It is momentarily stunned, dropping its defense. Jorduna catches it in the neck with her dagger. The dagger glows blue as it does so, giving the direwolf conflicting pains of freezing and burning.

Confused and in tremendous pain, the pack leader’s resolve breaks, as does the rest of pack. The wolves retreat, the party firing a couple of shots at them to speed their retreat. Vargard stands gingerly, still injured from the battle despite the healing. Marwyn turns around to check on their horses, and is glad to see that they are still there. Frightened, but with binds still holding. The group rests as the remaining direwolves depart into the horizon, retreating back to the forest. Cletus piles the two corpses together and sets them on fire a fair distance away, then returns to the rest of the party, who are recuperating from the battle.

Marwyn looks at the smoldering remains in the distance, and then remembers something. “Anyone ever heard of Special Agent Direwolf?” he asks.
“Whazzat?” Jorduna asks distracted, as she roasts the direwolf leg she had freed from the bodies over a small fire.
“He was the focus of several stories told in my village by our bard. Not me, one of the hunters who was good with a lute,” he clarifies.
“What kind of stories?” Vargard asks, resting and apply bandages to the scratches the remained after he was healed. The major injuries had all been dealt with.
“He was the best agent of the entire Royal Eyes, in the stories at least. Traveled across the continent to stop the plots of Aundair’s enemies or find long-lost magical artifacts. That sort of thing. I wasn’t sure if it was a common tale or not.”
“No, I’ve never heard of it,” Vargard responds, “Sounds like war propaganda. I’d imagine Thrane, Karrnath, and Breland were often portrayed in unfavorable light.”
“Yes,” Marwyn replies, a little despondently, “Those stories, and the travelling soldiers who sometimes stayed the night, they were all I heard of the war. Besides all the major developments that everyone heard about.”
“You were isolated, then. Count yourself fortunate, Marwyn, others were not as lucky,” Lesani says as she enters the conversation.
“I know,” he says, humbled, then continues, “That’s not why I’m mentioning that. Those stories were what made me want to be a bard and leave Wrendale. That, and the lute training the bard gave me, under my father’s nose.”
“That’s right,” Vargard says, “I remember you mentioning fleeing your father when I first hired you. I never asked how he took your departure.”
“Honestly, I don’t know,” Marwyn answers, grim at the mention of his father, “I snuck out in the middle of the night. I’m just glad I never needed to find out. He’s probably still furious with me. All he wanted was a son to continue the family business. Who knows, maybe he still has time to raise another?” he asks, to no one in particular. The conversation stalls, then dies, and everyone continues resting.

Eventually, Cletus gives Vargard a thumb’s up, indicating he was ready to ride again. “We’ve lost a little bit of light with that attack, but fortunately the horses didn’t bolt. Should still have at least a day on that airship. Let’s ride for a few more hours, then sleep off the battle. Good work today gentlefolk,” he ends, and moves towards his horse.

“I have a question, Les,” Marwyn says, later that day, as they make camp.
“What is it Marwyn?” she asks, while securing her horse.
“How did you know that thing would work, with the wolves?”
“Your song, you mean? Your ability to stun them?” she asks, trying to clarify the question.
“Yes,” Marwyn responds simply.
“Ah. I must admit it was partially guesswork on my part. As I have mentioned, though it was some time ago, your power is more readily malleable than mine. However, part of it comes from your understanding of ancient lore and stories, just like your Special Agent Direwolf,” she explains, “It took practice to master your archery, as this was not as aligned with your source of power as is what you accomplished today. Similarly, it took me years of study to harness to power of nature into mastering rituals.”
“I don’t.. exactly understand,” Marwyn responds.
“One of the common tropes of bardic lore is the belief that music calms the savage beast,” she says, finishing the knots which tie her mount’s reigns to the stake, driven into the ground. “I had faith that you would be able to, at least briefly, accomplish this. With further study, you may be able to extend its effects to other enemies,” she stands, dusting herself off, “I will not always be here to train you. You would be wise to remember this,”
“Thanks, Les. I think I understand now, though I really wouldn’t want to try and figure this out on my own,” he says, in gratitude.
“No doubt,” she responds, “Though that is not a concern for the immediate future. On that topic, we should take the day in Wroat to resume your study of rituals. I am confident you are ready to complete your first real one.”
“Thanks,” Marwyn says, accepting the compliment. They look at each other for a few seconds, waiting to see if the other has anything else to say. When nothing happens, they depart from each other, and prepare to rest.

“Blasted wolves” Vargard complains, rubbing his healing scratches, while preparing for the day’s ride.
“You sure you don’t want me to try healing them again, Var?” Marwyn asks, somewhat worried.
“No, I doubt it’d do much at this point,” Vargard responds, waving him away, “You took care of the serious wounds well enough, Marwyn. I’ll manage.” He mounts up, everyone else already ready to depart. They ride the rest of the day, making it to Galethspyre by the end, matching their goal. Their stay in the town is uneventful, a restful night in the tavern, a refreshment of supplies, and departure at dawn. The next day is spent crossing the Dagger. As night falls, they stop briefly to consult a map. Seeing that they are only a few hours away from Wroat, they decide to push forward. They eventually reach the city, just before midnight, entering through one of the smaller gates. The larger ones had been closed at dusk. They stumble to the nearest inn, weary, and pay for thankfully vacant rooms.

The next day greets Marwyn with a clay hand. Lesani, having risen from her trance earlier than the rest of the party, had procured the hand from a nearby reagent stall, and woke Marwyn as the sun rose, presenting it to him. Cletus, who normally stays in the same room as Marwyn, had left before the sun had risen to get an early breakfast.
“The Unseen Servant ritual is an excellent start for your study in rituals,” she starts, “I would use it normally, if not for the costs involved. Bards, however, have often been known to master lesser rituals to the point of being able to cast them without need for anything other than a focus,” Lesani says, then corrects herself, “At least, to an extent.”
“What’s it do?” Marwyn asks, retrieving his ritual book, already inscribed with the ritual, “I mean, I remember some of what it does from writing down the damned thing for half a day. Creates an invisible force that can move stuff.”
“Correct, at least partially,” she says, “Though not a true, sentient force, it is roughly humanoid. It can lift a substantial, though not limitless amount, as well as perform basic tasks such as opening doors for you.”
“I can see why it’s so useful,” Marwyn muses, already imagining ways to exploit it, “How do I start?”
“Just as the training ritual. It will take approximately twice as long. I have purchased the focus, as well as the components for one ritual. I imagine you will not be bothered by my expectation of you providing the components from now on,” she says, handing him a small bag containing the rest of the supplies needed for the ritual.
“No, not at all,” Marwyn assures her, and spreads the components out. He glances at Lesani.
“Begin when you are ready,” Lesani instructs, catching the look. “If you are successful, as I assume you will be, then the ritual will last the rest of the day. It would be unwise to waste more components, so your studies will be completed for the day,” she pauses, then adds, “And, as I would prefer you to harness the ability to complete rituals without component cost, I would suggest you focus on that over other rituals. You may, of course, pursue another ritual if that is your wish.”
“No, it makes sense, Les,” Marwyn agrees, then lays out his ritual book. He then lays out a small tarp, so as to lay out the ritual circle on it, rather than the floor of the inn. Placing the components and focus as per the instructions in the ritual book, he begins chanting the lines from another page, focusing. The circle glows, and the hand levitates as the ritual progresses. Finally, there is a flash, as the ritual completes. The hand floats back to the ground, and rests softly on the now blank tarp. “It worked!” Marwyn cries in success. He thinks for a moment, and then cries out, “Lift that book,” pointing to his ritual book. Nothing happens, and Marwyn stands, confused.
“The servant only responds to he who holds the focus,” Lesani explains, handing him the clay hand. Marwyn, embarrassed, thanks her, and then repeats his command. The book rises into the air by an unseen force, and then holds at chest height. He cheers, and Lesani smiles sympathetically. “Well done,” she says, in congratulations, “Though unfortunately you expended the components. I would not worry too much, you will likely need more practice. Enjoy the rest of the day, but try to not abuse the servant. Remember, there are real members of House Medani that inhabit the city,” she says, remembering the costume Marwyn had donned back in the Graywall Mountains.
“Don’t worry, Les,” he says, chastised, “I don’t intend to get locked up and have you leave the city without m….. oh,” his face falls, remembering the mark. Lesani stands awkwardly, unsure how to proceed. “It’s ok, Les. I just remembered, yeah,” he tries to assure her.
“In that case I shall depart. Good day, Marwyn,” she says in parting, and Marwyn echoes the sentiment. She leaves, as Marwyn has the servant raise and lower several objects.

“Sounds like he was successful,” Vargard says, as Lesani joins him in the bar below the inn.
“Yes, his studies are progressing,” Lesani responds. Jorduna detaches herself from the bar where she was sitting, and sits at their table.
“Did Marwyn really just cast a ritual?” she asks, a little bemused.
“Yes, Jor, and I’m glad to see you finally using his name,” Vargard responds.
“Hey, I may rib him, but when you give an order I follow it with only minimal grumbling,” Jorduna responds, defensively. She takes a drink from what she brought from the bar, and then asks Lesani, “Why’re you going through the loops with him anyways?”
“Some of us enjoy activities other than stabbing and thievery, Jor,” Lesani says, in good humor, “The enjoyment of studying magic can be found in both learning and teaching.”
“Well, be careful. Spend too much time with Marwyn, alone in an inn, and there’ll be rumors,” Jorduna returns, with a hint of spite.
“Settle down, ladies,” Vargard says, then continues, business-like, “So what do you make of this Eldon character?” Vargard asks, to the room in general.
“I would be cautious,” Lesani speaks, “If not of him, then the Trust. You will have to be extra careful not to upset the gnomes, Jor,” she chastises. Jorduna grumbles, but doesn’t refute her.
“Agreed,” Vargard responds, “I don’t like going in blind, but he is of House Sivis. I’d hope that would at least impart some level of trustworthiness.” He stops speaking momentarily as he sees Marwyn strut downstairs, followed by his haversack, floating in the middle of the air. Other patrons of the bar eye it too. “I’d be careful, Marwyn.” He yells, “Just because you’ve got a servant doesn’t mean it’ll prevent thieves from stealing your gear.”
Marwyn stops, thinking on that, and then retrieves his supplies. “Thanks!” he yells, and then exits the room, heading out into the city.

“You shouldn’t have warned him,” Jorduna says, “Having his stuff stolen because he was careless will teach him loads more than any ritual.”
“Ignoring the fact that the lesson would not be possible without the ritual in the first place,” Lesani argues, “I highly doubt it would benefit us to have one of our number be robbed blind, right before we leave for an unknown situation.”
“Ah, I guess so,” Jorduna responds, conceding the point, “I’ve got to admit he’s getting better with that bow,” she pauses, then adds, “That stupid grin he gets still pisses me off, though.”
“Jor,” Vargard quips, “If I had a gold piece for everything that pisses you off, I could make my armor out of pure gold.”
“Neh,” she grunts, not able to challenge the statement. She changes the subject, “Any idea where Cletus is?”
“Probably at a range. We’re too close to the King’s Forest, so I told him not to go hunting. No sense in angering Breland. So, he’s got some frustration to work off,” he answers, and then stands, “I’m going to go find our airship and assure our place on it. No point in running around tomorrow trying to figure it out. Les, Jor, please don’t tear each other’s heads off,” he jokes, returning his flagon to the bar. Jorduna and Lesani stare at him blankly, and he leaves slightly abashed.

Marwyn returns to the inn near nightfall, now well-versed in ill thought out commands one can give an unseen servant. Among those include nearly choking on a bushel of grapes forced into his mouth, and foot bruises from a scrubbing that was a little too vigorous. He had also attempted to use the servant to hand him arrows as he fired, but discovered that it caused a break in rhythm, causing him to fire more slowly than without it. Overall, his opinion on the servant is disappointment, though that was more through high expectations than performance issues. Every command he issued was followed exactly how he phrased them.

He’s several hours early for typical dinner hours, but has no further business in town, and is hesitant to attempt any more commands with his servant. He orders a drink and a meal from the bartender, then tries a line at another half-elf at the bar, only getting an indifferent laugh in return. He decides to cut his losses for the day, and focuses on eating. The rest of the night is uneventful, Marwyn setting down to rest before any of his friends return to the inn.

Marwyn and Cletus are woken a few hours before dawn by a knock on their door. “Airship’s leaving in an hour and we’re going to be on it in 15 minutes,” Vargard gruffly says from the other side. Marwyn hurriedly gets packed, and is ready to leave the inn just as fast as everyone else.

The city of Wroat was obviously not built with airships in mind. No formal city sky docks have been constructed, though plans are in motion to build them, barring logistics and the ever looming threat of another war. Temporary moorings for such ships are available from any obliging tall building, however, and some have gone so far as to build permanent ramps and moorings, mostly at the behest of House Lyrandar. It is on one such dock that The Split Falchion board The Verasitan, an official airship of House Lyrandar, bound for Trolanport. The airship quickly departs, Marwyn returning to sleep once on board.

A few hours later he rouses himself, and walks to the top deck. Admittedly, airships are slightly slower than lightning rails, the force of the one elemental bound on board outmatched by the half dozen which accompany a normal railcar. However, airships are still a vastly superior means of travel, both for their omnidirectionality, and the view. Having slept through most of his time on The Asarclane, Marwyn takes the opportunity now to drink in the experience. He looks off the right bannister, watching the King’s Forest whiz by. He eventually tears himself away from the view, and goes to the other side of the airship, looking for the Howling Peaks, an indicator of the Brelish/Zilargo border. They are still somewhat in the distance, though closing fairly quickly.

“Have you attempted a ritual today, Marwyn?” Lesani asks, joining him.
Marwyn curses to himself. Lesani looks at him, astonished, and he apologizes, “No, it’s not… I forgot to buy components in Wroat.”
Lesani’s face clears in understanding, “Ah. You should have plenty of opportunity to do so in Trolanport. Perhaps you should try it with just the focus this time. The worst that can happen is the loss of 10 minutes.” She cocks her head to the side, feigning thought, and then jests, “Well, I suppose you could rend the very fabric of our plane asunder, though that is not likely. More talented mages have tried.”
Marwyn smiles, “I’ll do that, Les. One can only stare at the beauty of Breland for so long before longing for Aundair once again.”
“Ah, I feel the same way for the Reaches,” Lesani says wistfully, staring out to the still visible King’s Forest, “Though some argue that they are one and the same.”
“Ah, politics,” Marwyn curses.
“Yes, politics,” Lesani returns, mimicking his tone.
Marwyn turns to go below deck, saying as he goes, “I’ll work on that ritual, now. I’ll let you know if there’s any progress.”
“Please do,” Lesani responds, still staring out to the forests.

Marwyn’s attempts to cast the ritual without components ends poorly, though not disastrously. Once, he managed to get the focus to levitate slightly, an indication of progress, though it fizzled like the rest of the rituals. After an hour and a half of drawing ritual circles and chanting, Marwyn gives up, not wanting to worry the other denizens of The Verasitan. He returns to the top deck, and sees the full complement of The Split Falchion milling around. Lesani sees him exit the lower decks, and asks him, “Were you successful?”
“No,” Marwyn says, “I thought I had it at one point, but then lost the magic. It’s a hell of a job concentrating on the ritual without the proper components.”
“Well, magic requires patience sometimes. You likely won’t be able to develop this ability in a day. I suggest you rest now, prepare for our arrival in Trolanport.” Lesani answers consolingly.
“On that note,” Vargard interrupts, “The Captain informed me that we just passed into Zilargo. Trolanport is three hours away, less if winds are favorable. We’ll rest after that,” he says, judging the sun’s angle and estimating the day’s remaining length, “and see the informant in the morning.” Vargard moves back below deck to reach his supplies, and consume a traveler’s dinner.

Marwyn mills about on the top deck, trying to stay out of the way of the occasional sailor moving across. They pass a moderately-sized town on the way, though it goes by too fast for Marwyn to make detailed observation. Eventually, Marwyn sees a break in the Shimmering Forest, and Trolanport, capital of Zilargo, looms ahead.

With the advent of magical airships, Trolanport has undergone a transformation upwards. House Lyrandar holds a major presence in the city, overseeing the construction of their airships. Other airships, owned by foreign governments or otherwise freelance, are also constructed here. The secrets of containing an elemental, and the building of the ship around it, are jealously kept and guarded by the Zilargo government, as well as the Trust.

The Trust is, to put it bluntly, the Zilargo secret police. A shadowy arm that effectively maintains order and discipline within its reach. Justice is often issued swiftly, and without notice until after it is far too late. Thieves often find their own possessions stolen in return, in exact amounts comparative to their crime. Murderers, few and far between, die of ‘mysterious circumstances’, often in a manner similar to their victims. Relatively minor offenses may be overlooked, but never forgotten.

This is not on Marwyn’s mind, however, as he stares out at the towering city ahead. Massive sky docks house dozens of airships at a time, and construction yards constantly churn out even more. Demand has risen, as the relative safety of new peace has made the skies even more lucrative. Below these towers is a thriving city, a marketplace and workshop in one. Fairhaven may outmatch the rest in terms of magical research, but none can beat Trolanport’s craftsmanship. Fairhaven imagines and develops great feats of magic, but Trolanport can mass produce them.

The ship lets its passengers off at the lower levels of the city, before ascending to the higher levels for depositing its cargo. Marwyn is overwhelmed momentarily by the mass of gnomes in the immediate area, tossing lines, hoisting crates, or else walking around. He shakes it off, however, and catches up to the rest of his group, already on the gangplank. They walk for some bit, descending to ground level, and then check in at an inn. Marwyn can neither recognize nor pronounce the name, the inn named in gnomish. Marwyn checks his purse again, roughly estimating his collection. About half of what he was paid in Fairhaven remains. Considering he hadn’t purchased any new equipment, he wondered how the rest of the party was faring. He dismissed the thought, guessing that they probably got a bigger share in the first place.

Marwyn’s room feels smaller than normal, even though it was one built for travelers his size. Somewhat rested from the ride on the airship, it takes Marwyn a few minutes to fall asleep. Half-conscious, he lets his thoughts drift. The mark, always at the back of his mind, surfaces first, and dread fills him for a few seconds. He pushes away the thoughts, trying to meditate in an attempt to sleep, going over the lines of his ritual over and over again. He makes a mental note to pick up supplies on the way to House Sivis, right before passing out.

The morning is like most, waking up in an inn. Vargard raps on his door, waking him. He gathers his supplies, trying to ignore Cletus while doing so, and then he departs for the bar. This is a break in the routine, as Marwyn examines the offerings for breakfast, the fare slightly different than what he is used to. It is satisfying, however, in a strange way, and it is while he consumes his meal that Marwyn remembers his thoughts from last night.
“Var, can I step out for a few before we leave for House Sivis?” Marwyn asks Vargard, who sits across from him at the table.
“Not for too long, what for?” he answers with a question.
“I need spell components. Shouldn’t be too hard to find.” Vargard grunts in approval, biting down on his breakfast.

Marwyn returns his cutlery to the bar, finished, and exits the inn. As a major trading hub, there are signs written in both gnomish and common, easy to read and easy to follow. Marwyn soon finds a stall selling what he requires, and though it is slightly more expensive than normal price, he buys enough to cover three rituals. He briefly considers asking Vargard to allow him to try and cast the ritual with partial components, but then realizes that House Sivis might take affront to a magical intruder in their halls. He returns to the inn, barely 10 minutes after he left.

In that time, the rest had finished eating, and readied for depature. “Keep you long?” he asks, somewhat cheery from the market atmosphere.
“No, you made good time,” Vargard responds, “House Sivis has a nearby mailpost, that is where we are meeting our informant,” he addresses the group in general, keeping his voice low so as to not enable eavesdroppers, “Try not to steal anything, Jor,” he adds, half kidding, half serious.
“These gnomes are so godsdamn cheery I’d worry more about my accidentally cutting one of their throats,” she replies, intensely. It’s pretty clear that Jorduna does not enjoy Trolanport, but she keeps herself composed for the most part, on mission. Vargard eyes her critically for a second, judging just how much of the statement was sarcasm, then turns away, satisfied. No words left for each other, they depart.

House Sivis is famed both for many things, from confidential communication to impartial legal services. The former is relevant today, as the group approach what is referred to as a mailpost, or message center, or a host of other names. The building is essentially a hub for messages, run by House Sivis. Such houses span the continent, ferrying missives both mundane and magical. Trolanport, built as vertical as it is horizontal, allows for executive offices as well as other House Sivis buildings to be placed above the message center. Vargard addresses one of the desk clerks after waiting for a few moments in a queue. Seconds later, they are ushered to a set of stairs, which takes them away from the rush of the mailpost and into the finery of the halls of House Sivis. They enter a long hallway, and are told to wait by the attendant at the start of it. Marwyn enjoys the tranquil atmosphere, while waiting for Eldon.

The scenery is brought to a sudden, and shocking end, however, when Redmont steps out of a doorway, far ahead in the hallway.
“REDMONT!!” Vargard screams, drawing his weapon and charging. Redmont draws his blade, grim faced, and prepares to receive him. The rest of the party stand stunned at the sudden appearance of the man, as well as Vargard’s abrupt rage. Vargard is slopped about halfway down the hallway, obviously affected by magic, though he struggles against it.
“Hold your blades!” a high pitched voice screams from behind Redmont, who reluctantly sheathes his. A well-dressed gnome walks out from behind him, interposing himself between Redmont and the struggling Vargard, “You are guests of House Sivis. I command you to lay down your arms or revoke our hospitality,” he commands Vargard. Vargard stops, assesses the situation, and then sheathes his blade. The gnome turns to two others who now flank him, originating from the same room as him, “Take him away. If you struggle, Redmont, any protection you are still deemed is forfeit as well. I warned you this would happen.” Redmont obliges, but remains stone-faced, staring at Vargard before turning away.

Marwyn suddenly recalls the description of Eldon Rakthani d’Sivis, and sees the tip of what appears to be a dragonmark, snaking out from the lead gnome’s right sleeve. That must be Eldon, he thinks. The gnome speaks again, as Redmont is led through another chamber, “This is… not how this was supposed to go. He was supposed to be gone yesterday. I assure you this matter will be answered, but please, dispense with the hostility.”
“Why. The. Hell. Is. Redmont. Here!?” Vargard utters, menacingly, not moving.
“As I said, it will be answered, but please, follow me,” the gnome answers, diplomatically. The rest catch up with Vargard, and Marwyn can sense what seems to be a wall of force right in front of Vargard. It drops, as Vargard grunts in acceptance of the gnome’s terms. The wall of force dissipates, and the gnome opens another door, this one several doors ahead of the one he came out of.

The room they are led into holds a long wooden table, with several refreshments spread out. The calm the room was obviously supposed to provide is ruined, however, by the intense atmosphere. The gnome seats himself at the head, and waits for the rest to seat themselves. Everyone stares at him, waiting.

He coughs, and begins speaking, “My… apologies for that. My name is Eldon Rakthani d’Sivis, your contact. And yes, that man is he who goes by the title ‘Redmont’. And yes, he is, or was, under the same protection of hospitality you are.”
“Why?” Vargard asks simply.
Eldon sighs, trying to think of an adequate answer, “It is no secret that House Sivis values confidentiality and impartiality in its services,” he smiles, slightly, enjoying the irony of the statement. His face frowns again, returning to the situation, “Evalyn Guilihart hired us, me, in particular, to compose a file containing all we knew of the ‘Redmont’ character. At first, I was confused as to why she chose me, of all gnomes, House Sivis, of all intelligence organizations. However, a contract was a contract, no matter how strange,” he pauses, pouring and drinking something from a jug on the table, “Please, help yourself. At the very least, some drink ought to lighten the mood.”

Vargard merely stares at the gnome, though the rest help themselves to several of the refreshments. “Right then,” Eldon continues, “We were by and large, successful. It’s here, in this file,” he says, withdrawing a sheaf of parchment from his robes, and placing it on the table. “Redmont was here, trying to annul the contract. Arrived a week ago. I, of course, refused. I didn’t even know how he knew I was researching him. Whatever the case, my superiors told me to host him for a period of time while they ‘appraised the situation’,” he pauses again, taking a drink, “Until yesterday night, when they declined Redmont’s offer. He refused to leave, however, and we were forced to restrain him after an unfortunate incident involving our guards. He was being transported to our teleportation circles to be sent elsewhere when you bumped into each other. Had you arrived on time, we could have avoided this entirely," he sighs again, then adds, "I assure you that the deed has already been done, Redmont is no longer in Trolanport.”
“If he breached your hospitality, why’d you offer him teleportation services? Why not lock him up!?” Marwyn asks first, incredulous.
“Again, my superiors overrode me. They wanted him far away from here as soon as possible. I can only assume the Trust was involved in the decision as well, although there are never certainties when it comes to them. What does matter, is that I am providing you with everything I have on Redmont, as well as one use of our teleportation circles whenever you wish, free of charge, to appease the misunderstanding earlier. The only stipulation is that you may not go to the same place as Redmont, of course. Whatever conflict you have with that person, we cannot facilitate it.”
“Let’s see it, then,” Vargard seethes, still furious for being forced to allow Redmont to slip through his fingers.
“Of course,” Eldon says hurriedly, sliding the file across the table. Vargard flips through it, eyes rising in surprise several times. He eventually sets it down, and glares at the gnome.
“I assume the use of your circles is an offer that may be taken now?” he asks.
“Yes, yes of course,” the gnome responds, slightly surprised at his haste, “Where will you be going?”
“Starilaskur,” Vargard responds.

Continued in Part 10, Ashes of a Fallen Kingdom – Remembrance and Desecration

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