Tuesday, September 6, 2011

INTERLUDE: Republican Meeting


Novembar 28, 754 YE

Faric Selor stepped out of the swirling snow and biting wind in the city streets and into the Hunter’s Club, quickly closing the door behind him. He was instantly warmed by the fire in the hearth and the warm ambiance as he scanned the common room -- it was suddenly very easy to forget about the fierce winter storm that had come to Elan like an ice god’s curse.

He spotted Okoral’s olive skin and thick crew cut near the fireplace. The man sat staring vacantly into the dancing flames, with an untouched bowl of beef stew before him.

Faric slipped across the room, nodding a greeting to another Republican who sat in the back corner, Bravosi Henim. Faric sat across Okoral but said nothing. He waited awkwardly for a minute before Okoral shifted his gaze from the fire and acknowledged him.

“Thank you for coming,” Okoral said. The man normally looked much younger than he really was, but at the moment he seemed very worn by stress and exhaustion.

“What is it, Okoral?” asked Faric anxiously. “When I did not hear from you last week, I feared--”

“All the pieces are place. Raknian wishes to launch Phase One immediately.”

Faric’s eyes narrowed as he considered this information.

“What is the problem? You are not ready?” asked Okoral.

Faric shook his head. “I am ready, but why so soon? I thought we were going to wait until Januar because of the--”

“The Elanian people are suffering, Faric,” Okoral said solemnly. “Food stores are at their lowest levels in forty winters. Shortages are worse than I have ever seen, and I’ve lived here since I was a boy. Tairon’s wars are suffocating the people, and Elan must get out from under its yoke. Let the Empire plunder its own people for its wars, and let Elan be free once more.”

Faric knew the situation was bleak. Every day seemed to bring worse news. Secessionary wars in Yudora, rebellions in Gargaston and Walsta, combined with the the Silmarians successful occupation of Vigoor’s northern Guardia province, had put great hardship on the people of Elan. Food prices had tripled in the past 12 months, and combined with increased taxes to fund the wars, many people were under serious financial strain. It was also widely known that imperial wizards in Tairon were using fabricate magic to simply replicate gold coins, causing inflation which disproportionately affected the poor. Faric’s own mother had been unable to pay her rent and would have been thrown out on the street had he not intervened with some of his own money.

“Yes, Elan must be free,” Faric agreed. “I am ready.”

Okoral produced a sealed envelop from a pocket in his vest and pushed it across the table. Faric opened it and read it quickly. When he finished, he was more than a little surprised.

“Ashby Gerard... Talus Riverrun... Boren Darshal... These are members of the City Council!” he exclaimed.

“Quiet, you fool,” hissed Okoral. “This might be a Republican establishment, but we cannot be sure the Commissar does not have spies here.”

Faric looked around, thankful that no one suspicious seemed to have overheard. He said, “My men and I will take care of this, I promise. When the mission is complete, will we proceed with Phase Two?”

“No, Phase Two will proceed simultaneously. You will not be handling that. Raknian has forged some new relationships, and our new allies will take care of that.”

“New allies?” Faric had a lot of confidence in Raknian’s leadership, but was concerned about some of the new friends he’d made for the sake of Elan’s liberation. “What does Rebel Four think of all these new allegiances?”

“Rebel Four supports Raknian’s plans wholeheartedly,” Okoral said. “Sometimes you must work with the lesser of two evils to achieve the greater good.”

Okoral must have seen the concern in Faric’s expression. He said, “Itlstein was slow to act. He had staked his entire plan upon one obscure prophecy, which foretold an event that never materialized. Raknian is much more proactive and will not sit idle while our city is exploited for the sake of those bastards in Tairon.”

Okoral’s devotion to Raknian knew no limit, of course. He would never doubt his boss. He had worked for Raknian for nearly 20 years. Faric too had a lot of respect for Raknian, but he sometimes wished Helmut was still alive, to lead the Republicans with his more rational temper. Helmut would not have outsourced a vital mission such as Phase Two. Then again, Helmut probably would have never planned and executed a scheme like the three-phase scheme Raknian had concocted.

“That’s it, then?” Faric said.

“That’s it,” Okoral replied. “Contact me on Decembar 2 when the job is done.”

As Faric stood to leave, Okoral said, “This will be the winter of revolution -- our puppet-tyrants will meet justice, and Elan will be free! The dawn of spring will see the birth of a new government. And you will be regarded as a hero of the people.”

As Faric left the Hunter’s Club, his doubts were drowned out by Okoral’s words. “Hero of the people.” Faric liked the sound of that.

INTERLUDE: Just Business

Part I

Inside the seemingly empty, polished stone hallways of Castle Shard a figure quickly padded his way past several large oak doors, his features obscured almost completely by the cloak that clung tightly to his slight frame. He cut a path straight towards the end of the hall, where the ample light of Castle Shard's braziers seemed to be repelled and unwelcome. A door was there, left open only by the slightest of margins, suggesting carelessness - not invitation. The cloaked elf made his way to the side of the door and without breaking stride, flung it open to it's maximum, a loud crack resounded as it struck the thick rock behind it. Unconcerned, the visitor strode boldly into the room beyond the doorway, his stance betraying his impatience as he halted and stood unmoving in the middle of the room.

"I heard you were looking for me." The man spat, aiming his words somewhere towards the rear corner of the room.

A lithe shadow was there, sprawled almost horizontally in an over-stuffed, silken chair. A glass of ruby liquid seemed to dangle from its hand, and the figure seemed unfazed by the abrupt entrance of the elf. It lazily responded, "Ah Vatex! Come, I've poured you a glass of the finest wine to ever be stolen from Ul-Drakkan. Please, I've been told it's a bad thing to only drink alone."

"I've got…Things happening, Shilukar. Out with it already."

"What sort of 'things' would those be, my dear and heroic friend?" Shilukar asked, his stance almost feline. His curiosity seemed somewhat insincere, since Shilukar always seemed to know more than he let on. He enjoyed acting ignorant of the recent events of the Rosegate Company, playing with the lunar elf, fearing no repercussion.

"Speak. Now." Vatex barked as he pulled free the hood of his cloak.

Seeing that there was little room for fun in this exchange Shilukar sighed dramatically, lolled his head over the back of his chair and stared at the ceiling."Fine, be that way. I've got a job for you.

"As I believe I mentioned when you brought that drow crossbow bolt to me, I was once affiliated with House Vrama. It was several lifetimes ago and I assure you that the details are both mundane and inconsequential, so I will forego the hows and whys of my involvement with that house. You also know that I have been covertly involved with the Temple of Calethon, supplementing the security of the special chaositech device in their vault. The request I have of you involves both of these in the form of one Haskur Arame of House Vrama.

“Through my role as 'benefactor' at the Temple of Calethon,” the dark elf continued, “I am privy to some of the administrative happenings there. Last week, a dark elf by the name of Haskur covertly applied for the sanctuary and protection of the Temple of Calethon, claiming that he flees from his evil kin and wishes to know the feeling of the sun on his face.” Shilukar laughed creepily. “Hilarious, don't you think? Evoking the sun and the feeling of warmth in a plea for protection from the church of an elven sun god - How could they ever refuse?

“Doraedian Mythlord, being the confused and goodly type who believes that evil can be overcome, gave his approval and soon after the application was accepted by none other than the high priestess herself, Darnesha Dreamwatcher. It's entirely possible that Darnesha is as foolish as Doreadian - or perhaps she's simply given into the pressure from the elves of the Emerald Hill district. They are a gang of pampered children, having never known the lash of Gorgoth-lol’s whip, nor the fear of 'the elves that come in the night'. Their attempt at inclusion and redemption has put that special piece of chaositech at risk and I will do what is necessary to protect it from House Vrama's greedy, idiotic hands."

Vatex held up a palm to Shilukar, halting the first flares of anger he had ever seen in the dark elf. "You'll have to give me some of these 'mundane' details about Haskur Arame. His arrival is too convenient and your request is too suspect for me to go in blind. Start with how you know him."

"I became acquainted with Haskur at the Academy of Arcane Arts in Ul-Drakkan; we shared a forbidden lust and fascination for those rare chaositech artifacts that would trickle in from surface raids. We were colleagues in many experiments on these objects and I'd like to think there was some mutual respect, that we recognized each other's passion for the chaotic. We continued our study through the decades at the Academy and into our roles at House Vrama. I believe that he facilitated my enlistment to the house to keep an eye on me from his superior position as house mage - Time after time stealing away my beloved tech from the raiding loot before I could even set eyes on it. Gods below, how I hate that man. I'd murder him a thousand times if I could.

“Apologies, my dear Vatex. It seems I've forgotten the taste of these memories and my thoughts of Haskur are clouded by the misery of having one of the few joys in this world taken from me again and again. Rest assured, I enjoy the thought of letting you loose upon this man but my primary concern is to deny him the vault - luckily for me, I will get both this night. Do you have any questions?"

The figure in the middle of the room, having stood intent and still for the duration of the dark elf's speech, suddenly swept towards the table in front of Shilukar and picked the untouched wine glass.

"A house mage of house Vrama huh? You know I don't really 'do' elves, right?" Vatex pondered, downing the glass in a fluid motion.

"Ugh, your manners are horrible, you've been around these humans for far too long," Shilukar responded, seeming unconcerned with Vatex’s question.

A long pause followed, Vatex all but halting the conversation until Shilukar recognized that an answer was still forthcoming. A moment more and Vatex uncharacteristically broke the silence.

"The church has wards, sentries, alarms and divine protection. You need an assassin-thief, not me."

"The defences have been muddled. Having paid for almost all of their more powerful of deterrents , it wasn't hard for a certain 'Shaelukar Darkfingers' to arrange a clear path for you." The shadow in the chair practically giggled, pleased by its own wit.

"Doraedian Mythlord keeps his own. If you've got pointy ears and die on Emerald Hill, chances are you come to his attention. Even if you are a drow. I don't think either of us need that."

"If my identity is exposed, I'm as ruined as you are,” Shilukar reminded. “At least you have the option to slip out of the city if need be - I'm still not trusted completely by Castle Shard and my goings and comings are almost always courtly business. I'll have no chance for escape. Let's just ensure Doraedian does not find that it was us."

A smirk slowly grew on both elven faces.

"So you'll do it then? I realize you command a higher market price than you did previously, so I'm prepared to release a good majority of my liquid funds for this task, perhaps 20 thousand?" Shilukar leaned forward, fingers steepled in front of his face.

"I do not want your money, Shilukar. I will name my price after the deed is done and no sooner, I assure you it will be reasonable and within your means. I've got two dark elves on either side of this job and you - of all people - can understand my need for... Flexibility." Vatex calmly returned, eyeing something on the table. Everyone knew that if he accepted a job, it was completed in almost obsessive fashion.

"That is unacceptable. Every drow child is taught stories of those foolish enough to make pacts without knowing the costs. Faustian deals are not my style, you see. To use your phrase, I do not 'do' them." A crease appear along the dark elf's angular cheek as he spoke.

"You want it done because you can't afford not to. Perhaps I ensure that Haskur gets his chance to access the vault unmolested, what will you do then? Perhaps he makes me an offer instead?" Vatex stood, his silver eyes communicating a viciousness that few had seen more than once, "You brought me here and now you quibble over what it may cost. That is what is unacceptable."

For a moment Shilukar’s charcoal face twisted as if to express rage, but he quickly regained his composure. Shilukar stood up and narrowed his eyes on the urban ranger. “Damn you. Just get it done - To hell with the consequences. I cannot have Haskur anywhere near that vault. Let me know what his screams sound like."

The moon elf returned his empty glass to the table, staring quizzically at the bottle it had been poured from. He picked up the crystal vessel, presumably for closer inspection.

"That wine is the finest in the underdark, dozens of gnolls lost their lives protecting it during my journey to the surface and I suspect it would be wasted --"

"Consider it a down payment. I'll find you when it's complete." Vatex interrupted, moving towards the wide open entrance.

"Maybe you've got a bit of dark elf in you after all. Enjoy your hunt." Shilukar looked wistfully at the bottle in moon elf's hand, watching it slowly leave the room in the possession of someone who would probably never appreciate it. "And close the door on your way out, you oaf."

Vatex returned the cloak to his head and paced down Castle Shard's empty hallways. He was off to Emerald Hill, locked into a job he wasn't sure he wanted anything to do with. Compromising on a contract was out of the question and so, with practiced ease, he began to run through scenarios and possibilities. Dark elves meant deceit, priests meant idealist zealots, and wizards usually meant lots of pain.

"You better appreciate this, you idiot." Vatex spoke to no one in particular as he ran down streets and avenue, towards the Temple of Calethon.

Part II

Vatex clung to the corners and shadows as he skulked through the echoing chambers of the temple's basement. His way was clear, Shilukar had deactivated the doorways and floors where there had presumably been wards or traps. Vatex knew his target Huskur Arame of House Vrama sat somewhere within this building; purposeful and singular, the urban ranger was honing in. He squatted, concealed and flat against the corner of a main hallway and imagined a floor plan for the basement - One wing eliminated upon his entry and two more in the last 15 minutes, leaving just one large branching hallway, north of the entry staircase. Vatex heard shuffling, too soft to be boots but not not the distinct scraping of the open-toed sandals the attendant priests were prone to wearing. Flexing his back and chest, the moon elf held his position and tensely waited for the sound to drift closer.

A form loomed into the main chamber from one of the branching hallways, its femininity muted by yellow khaki robes, a silver half-plate and a thick belt that cradled an iridescent mace. The woman was an elf, her delicate features accented by a mane of yellow and orange hair that ended below her waist. She gracefully strode her route, scanning left to right every time she passed a doorway. Vatex recognized the priestess as Darnesha Dreamwatcher, who had been in attendance when he had come to the temple for the Star Ceremony back in early Augustar, hoping for answers to the visions he saw whenever he passed a mirror. At that thought, a bolt of anger worked its way through his core and into his finger, his hand dug painfully into the rough-hewn stones of the wall and it was all he could do not to grind his teeth.

"Damn them and their lack of answers!" He thought to himself, "Presumptuous asses, behaving as though they've answers beyond themselves. I came to them, fearing that I've become mad and they present me with riddles. The whole of them are cultists in everything but name. To hell with them."

Vatex released the tension in his body and like a whisper, drifted into the center of the room, pulling back his cloak and boldly facing the priestess' outline. Noting the unusual absence of her paladin protector, Calorean Whitesong, Vatex left his blades sheathed, content that he would be prepared for any action the priestess took. Secretly he hoped she chose to fight; to ring an alarm, bring the dozen or so sleeping gentry into his slashing blades.

The elf sat on his surprise and subsequent disappointment when Darnesha noticed him and, instead of taking a defensive stance, lazily angled herself towards him. As she crossed into the radius of light from the roof-mounted lantern above him, she spoke in the sing-song tone familiar to elves but rarely used in front of humans.

"What bring one of Elan's greatest heroes to my humble temple? Do you need healing? Or perhaps you are still troubled by those waking dreams?" Darnesha's opening salvo put the moon elf off-balance; twice her behaviour had been too relaxed, too confident.

"I knew Calethon was a fan of simplicity but if this temple has resorted to having the priestesses patrol the ground, I am troubled only by the gold that is not yet in my pocket," Vatex returned. The conversation was not in his control and he strained to keep from reacting to her dream comment; he did not wish to threaten her. Not yet.

"Who better to protect a treasure than those whose meals it pays for?" Darnesha shrugged. She was inching closer now, but not so close as to disadvantage herself against the lightning quick blades she had heard whispers of.

"I've been informed your temple is sheltering a dark elf by the name of Haskur. I've come to put an end to him before he can sew any chaos in the city,” Vatex stated as plainly as he could. It was one way to of interpreting what he was doing, but the misdirection made him too careful with his words, too tense with concentration and control.

Darnesha's unease at the mention of the drow was obvious but it did not keep her from catching the ranger's obtuseness. The priestess peered behind Vatex, mockingly lifting her hand to her forehead and miming a confused look.

“Haskur is our concern, not yours, not the city’s. He is sincere in his desire to renounce his evil past, and he is secure on temple property. If the Brotherhood of Redemption can convert ogre-magi, beholders, nagas, and trolls by brainwashing them, why can we children of Calethon not respect a humanoid’s autonomy and sponsor their willing conversion to goodness?”

“Elan’s laws mandate that dark elves be killed on sight,” Vatex retorted, leveraging his cover story.

"You work for the city guard now, then? Where then, are your companions? Are they constables as well?" She continued her irony, "They must share in this glory -- the lynching and murder of a man whose heritage is dark, but who now seeks the light of the Sunking. Step into the light, Rosegate Company and allow me to gaze upon your righteous forms!"

Vatex's grey eyes flashed to silver and his body seemed to vibrate the air around him with force, his hair drifted up and out around his shoulders as if buoyed some isolated breeze. He whispered menacingly to her, his words angry and over-enunciated, "Rosegate built itself on the corpses of fools like you, Darnesha. We have smote Arch-demons, murdered small towns worth of cultists, brought destruction to fiendish dragons, halted prophecies and walked the beneath Jabel Shammar itself. Do not invoke our name. I am the one before you and understand that I will fucking end you before a prayer escapes your lips."

The priestess shakily took a step back. She was unaccustomed to such pointed threats and for the first time since joining the order of Calethon, began to fear she truly may die. Gathering her courage and reassuringly running her fingers along the powerful mace at her side, Darnesha tried to regain her ground. "You come to commit murder - to do evil. This is my realm and you have made an error so vast that history itself will know of your foolishness. You face a high priestess of Calethon and will find his divine wrath to be unrivaled by your petty list of conquests."

The ranger composed himself, ignoring the challenge as best he could. He had not wanted it to go this far. He tried to remind himself that she did not need to die here. "Evil is to cause suffering of the innocent, with foreknowledge of the suffering it will cause. This is business that just happens to involve a dark elf, which I know you know is not innocent in action nor in nature. Allow me to handle my business here, for in this matter I am only an instrument."

Unmoved, Darnesha pushed her advantage. “I will not surrender someone who seeks the protection of Calethon -"

"Your unease is written plainly on you," Vatex cut in tersely, " I know that despite your role and your beliefs, you cannot help but distrust Haskur. You cannot help your belief that nature cannot be overcome and that his nature - drow nature - is to kill and deceive. I ask you again to step aside, to allow things to occur as they should. Do not sacrifice yourself for anything but what your god asks of you, Doraedian be damned for asking you otherwise."

The armoured woman seemed to deflate with those word. She had not expected her feelings about dark elves to be that evident. She was struggling to keep her resolve and the effort completely alien to her. "I believe...” she spoke slowly, as if to emphasize her conviction. “...that redemption is possible and --”

"Not for this one," Vatex cooly announced. "Besides, it's not exactly my choice. I would murder every dark elf in the city if that is what it would take to accomplish my goal."

"And what is that goal, Vatex? Riches? Noteriety? What has gotten you involved in the craven murder of a man who has not harmed you?"

The moon elf did not respond. He knew his task was necessary and because of that, it was good.

"May I pass, Darnesha?"

Time hung there in the basement of the temple of Calenthon. Slowly, Darnesha eyes wandered off to her left and a nod was returned. The ranger turned and padded off into the hallway, menacingly unsheathing his swords as he went. The woman stood there, alone and quiet; perhaps praying, perhaps regretting.


Vatex found his quarry at the end of a tucked-away hallway, sitting crossed legged on a worn mattress. Haskur Arame, his breathing steady and deep, placidly half-opened his eyes at the presence. He wore the plain brown robes of the temple's monkhood, his hair had been cropped short and he lacked the traditional accents and jewelry that dark elves were known for wearing.

"Can I help you…Moon elf, isn't it? I saw some of your kind a hundred or so years past. Kindly folk and charming... In a strange way." The mage blinked through an array of memories as he spoke.

The ranger boldy approached and sat beside the dark elf. He leaned over and quiety spoke."You remember them from the end of your blade no doubt. Tell me Haskur… Of House Vrama… of Ul-Drakkan... Of the Underdark, do you remember one of your kind named Shilukar?"

Unpreturbed and through hooded eyes, Haskur stared straight ahead and sighed, almost longingly. "I remember him. Power hungry, manipulative, cunning - An exemplar of dark elf virtues. I also recall hearing of his battle with a house matron and his subsequent escape to the surface. He has sent you here then? To placate his ego no doubt."

"I ask because I hear you share his preoccupation with Chaositech. It must be some kind of 'dark elf' thing, this lust for chaos. A compulsion so strong that it could lead someone to say, I don't know, travel to a distant land and pretend they're someone else just to get close to it," Vatex posited, shifting to face the still cross-legged mage.

Haskur seemed uncomfortable, his breathing became a bit more erratic and he began to sweat, "We -shared- the love of chaositech, but it has cost me dearly. As has rejecting my people, my house and my ways. I was as much a slave to the forces of chaos as I was to my Matron Mother, never questioning if the cost of the things I did were worth what it gained me." He sighed again, heavier this time. "It was necessary and so…it was right."

The dark elf stared deep into Vatex, his ebon eyes hard and wide with emotion, "I am tired of killing, of being told to kill, of being singular in a purpose that I'm not sure was ever my own. For the glory of myself, of my house, of Ul-Drakkan and of Gorgoth-lol; I've done my duty with no contentment or pride, I simply moved to the next task." Huskur's eyes softened then, as he turned to face the wall. "An empty life, you know?"

The grey-eyed elf stood, pulling back his cloak to show the swords on his belt as he walked to the side of the bed. "I know you are a drow. I know that you know there is a significant chaositech device here, in this very temple. I know that people do not change suddenly, and rarely do they change completely."

"Do you know what that life has really cost me? Look then. Look and know the cost of chaos." Haskur unfolded his legs and in the room's faint light Vatex saw the mangled wreck of feet, saw pustules and knobby growths and skin withered with necrotic taint. "I have given enough. I am done."

The ranger continued his lap around the bed, halting somewhere in the darkness behind the deformed mage. Huskur made no motions, his breathing returned to the deep rhythm of meditation.

"Don't you ever question it, moon elf? Why you do this and if it's worth it?"

The blades spun out of their sheaths. Like great arrows, they sunk into the mage's back, one went deep into his lung and through the heart while the other haltered inches below the surface of the neck, shearing the spinal cord in two.The standing figured leaned and hissed into his target's ear a single word - "No."

Jerking the swords free, Vatex instinctively moved to sever the ear from the corpse. Catching himself, he thought it best to instead pose the scene as a dark elf hit - People would not be surprised that a turncoat had been repaid by his brothers and that meant fewer questions would be asked. The elf moved instead to the small wooden box that presumably served as the mage's footlocker. Finding no lock nor trap, he snapped open the lid and slid out a piwafwi, a cloak of the underdark with a bejewelled clasp. Underneath the garment sat a small sack, ostensibly for gold and several large gems. The moon elf turned to leave, the urge to simply grab the treasures gnawed at him so fiercely that he turned back twice before he finally exited the room.


Exhausted, Vatex leaned against the wall outside Haskur's room. Dark elves were bred to guile the mind, to make their opposition question themselves, to plant doubts and to attack the driving force behind their enemy's actions. He told himself this but he could not shake his anxiety; He feared that he may have just been tricked into killing an innocent man. He stood there in silence and in darkness, motionless for a long, long time. "The job is not over," he reminded himself. "Move. Go. Finish it."

The ranger briskly rounded the corner to the exit staircase, resisting the urge to move too quickly, when he met the gaze of Darnesha Dreamwatcher who stood poised upon the bottom stair. He slowed a step or two, loosing the liquidity of his pace as he slid his cloak to hide the hilt of his blades.

"I know you do not honour Calethon," the priestess started, her form now wrapped in a thick, pearlescent coat. "But you must have a belief in something. A higher cause, noble or profane. Troubles and times such as these can't be eased or made sense of by a single mortal's facilities."

The moon elf continued towards the woman, looking not at her but straight ahead. "The Grim One watches, he may even be listening; I am not sure. What I do know, is that he does not judge."

"Perhaps judgement is ours alone. If so, how will others look upon you - Upon me?" Vatex could see Darnesha was wracked by her choice and role in the night's events but he had no words for her. A choice had to be lived with.

He made his way past her, launching up the steps two at a time and before pausing. Pivoting, he hesitantly walked back to her, sliding an object free from his pack which he placed in her hand. "Here. If your conscience cannot bear your actions, take this to Doraedin and let judgement be on those who are truly responsible." He paused, his eyes downcast. "Goodnight, Darnesha."

As the man silently marched up the stair, Darnesha turned the object over in her hands. As she pondered it's meaning, she was tempted to down what was left in the half-empty crystalline wine bottle.

Part III

Shilukar lounged on an over-sized, tasseled pillow that occupied the middle of his light-less chamber. He made a point of keeping the room as dark as possible, it provided no end of entertainment to watch the humans struggle blindly as the groped about for a a place to sit when they came to visit. The dark elf smiled as he thought on this; perhaps fear of the dark was instinctual in these surfacers and if so, that made him something of a nightmare to them. Shilukar enjoyed this thought and rolled it around in his head, stifling a giggle as he poured another glass from his second reserve of wine.

Taking a long drink of the warm ruby liquid, his ear twitched as someone closed a door somewhere which Shilukar guessed to be about fifty feet down the hall - Perhaps a midnight triste among a few of Castle Shard’s guests? Perhaps Lady Themoine receiving a visitor, he hoped. The wizard prepared a spell for spying and mentally sent for a mephit he had bound when he was still a house mage in the underdark. He would be rather amused to find Themoine in the throws of passion; He also longed to add her to his list of potential blackmail targets, for she had a bountiful inheritance in her name. Castle Shard’s guests tended to be interesting and rich.

The dark elf rubbed his hands together and began to sub-vocalize an incantation when a hand touched his shoulder - it was only the concentration of casting that saved Shilukar from yelping in surprise like a child the moment he sensed someone else in the room. He swung around to see that damned moon elf, his form barely discernible inside the dark cloak that hung around him. Shilukar flared with embarrassment and rage, he had not detected the ranger nor had he been prepared for any kind of intrusion and right now- He could not afford to appear weak. Instantly, the wizard reminded himself that Vatex's appearance was a good thing and that fortunately, the elf had not caught him in a more… compromised position.

Shilukar opened his mouth but the moon elf already had an answer to the unasked question. From under his cloak the ranger produced proof of termination, a piwafwi folded neatly with a clasp on the top, if Vatex had the eyes for such things, the bejewelled clasp would have identified the garment as the property of house Vrama.

"No ears this time, eh surfacer? You're learning." Shilukar buzzed with excitement as he spoke, "Tell me, did he beg you? He bartered at least, I know the great Haskur would at least try to make you an offer, some kind of cunning gambit of riches tomorrow for a life today?"

The ranger grimaced, dropping the bundled cloak unceremoniously at Shilukar's feet. "He did not beg, he did not scream, he did not barter. He didn't even try to protect himself."

Shilukar raised an eyebrow quizzically, and Vatex said, “The man was genuine." The urban ranger he loomed over the drow, a bestial mask covered his face and exposing his canines as he spoke, "I may have murdered an innocent with no good to show for it!"

"I pity you sometimes, Vatex. You cannot seem to keep yourself from believing dark elves! You all but demand I pour some lie into your ear, to give you some absolution - and from what? The contract you accepted. The killing of a drow who was somewhere he didn't belong. The job is justified by default. Simply being a dark elf in this city is a capital offense!" Shilukar was unaccustomed to smiling this much, his cheeks felt numb and he struggled to wipe the grin from his face.

With humbling speed the ranger sprang, reappearing a foot behind the still prone dark elf, his blades tensioned to strike deep into the wizard's body. Shilukar innocently held up his hands, still failing to contain his amusement. "Alright. Justifiable for me, at least."

Relaxing and snapping his blades back into their scabbards, the moon elf stalked back around the pillow and squatted, his face an uncomfortable inch from Shilukar's. The ranger's eyes were terrifying, unwavering and absolutely predatory as they bore into the wizard.

"I was not born to this life. I had to learn it despite my family's plans for me. The first things I learned is that power trumps cooperation - People will do what they must to stay alive and to go lengths they may not otherwise if the prize is something as trivial as gold. I also learned that you need a plan. Would you like to hear my plan, dark elf?"

Nonchalantly, Shilukar went over the possibilities,"I doubt you will kill me. Even if you could, you still do not have your thus far unnamed payment. Likewise, I doubt you will turn me in, it would reveal that you executed a man for money. You have very little to hurt me with, very little I cannot handle. You are unaccustomed to the world of intrigue and currently, I'm a much bigger fish in that pond than you are. Remember Vatex, assassins do not get trials - but they do get public executions. The Rosegate Company could never save you from the mob. I know you remember Helmut Itlstein's execution - The peasants just wanted a show and the Republicans impotently sat by and watched it."

Vatex, unblinking, kept his intensity."Here is my plan, Shilukar. Doraedian Mythlord may, depending on a certain priestess' conscience, receive a very special crystal wine bottle. Being adept as he is, there's no telling what kind of information he could glean from that sort of possession. It's shared proximity with your for what, a hundred years or more?"

The bottom fell out of Shilukar's confidence, pouring scenes of horror all over his mind. And still, the ranger continued, augmenting the scenes he already imagined and dragging new terror into the light.

"Shaelukar Darkfingers would be exposed within the church. I'm sure someone at House Vrama or whoever you pissed all over in Ul-Drakkan would hear of the whole affair and would love their chance and vengeance, to gain favor by ridding someone of the lose end you've become. Emerald Hill would bay for blood, their modern sensibilities cast aside in the name of 'justice."

Vatex came just a little bit closer, enveloping more and more of Shilukar's view point, "Someone might even hire me to find you. Where on this continent, above or below, do you think you could run from me?"

Easing, the elf slowly withdrew from the sitting drow. "As for murder for pay; No one could openly call for the death of one of the 'Heroes of Elan' without casting suspicion on themselves. What's more, everyone would see that situation in simple terms: I was the weapon - but you are the one who wielded it.

"Regarding payment; I haven't even named my price. I have no gold to show for what I've done and could easily walk away right now. We both know where I would go first and neither you nor any of your resources could stop me. Then it would be all over for you. I know you would panic, start running without even so much as a day's head start. If I did not find you, you would probably meet your end in some backwater at the hands of a gang of townsfolk, the kind that lack lack Elan's cosmopolitan sympathies for 'evil' races. "

Flustered, the wizard snapped back at Vatex, "You fool! You only reveal how little you know of me. I've escaped Ul-Drakkan! Elan - hell, this whole damned landmass, is nothing to me."

The moon elf talked gently now, easing the prone man back onto his previous train of thought."You are doomed on my say so, Shilukar. Accept it so we can move forward."

With that the wizard dropped over the edge of his own rage. He stood, electricity sparking out of every cell on his body. Fire clung to his fingers, fields of blue energy shimmered in an orbit around him as he drew to his hand a slender chaositech contraption from some some hidden pocket. Shilukar pointed it, his intent unmistakable. Then, at the peak of his tantrum, he instead threw his wine glass at the ranger. The red liquid splashed harmlessly down the front of Vatex's cloak.

Then Shilukar laughed, laughed so long and hard after a moment his eyelashes shimmered with tears. Vatex was somewhat taken aback by the tricky drow’s emotional fluctuations, but he maintained his tense demeanor.

"You are quite a character,” Shilukar said simply as his laughter receded. “Name your price, and begone. Quickly, before my mood darkens further and I put this wand to use!" Shilukar wore a crooked smirk, but Vatex could not tell whether the chaositechnician was joking or not.

He didn’t care. Vatex shrugged and wiped away from of the spill from his cloak.

"Well?” Shilukar’s patience was becoming strained. “Tell me what has cost me the death of my enemy?" The wizard huffed, relenting to what now seemed untenable. He knew he had to position himself better, to move the ranger to where he could regain the upper hand. Mostly, he needed Vatex to take something in return for his actions.

The question was simple yet Vatex was silent, persisting in cleaning the remnants of wine from his cloak. Shilukar began impatiently tapping the gleaming rod-like chaositech device on his knuckles, galled by what he saw as adolescent posturing. "An answer sometime today would be just wonderful, elf. That is, if it does not pain his majesty."

The lunar elf could not help himself and burst into laughter as he turned to leave the room. "You're going to help me find something, Shilukar."

"Riches? Lost relics? Your imaginary mirror woman?"

Pausing at the door from to collect himself, he glanced over his shoulder at the row just in time to catch the wizard dramatically rolling his eyes.

"Early.You're going to help me find Early.”

Friday, September 2, 2011

APPENDIX C: Vegard's Letter / Fragments of Jakter's Journal

Dear Nephew,

I apologize for leaving so abruptly, and not giving more explanation as to the responsibility you must now bear. I must confess I was desperate to be away from Cryssaegrym and simply return home.

You see, the sword is a heavy burden to bear, for if the wielder does not appease its appetite for power, it brings profound sadness to the possessor.

Jakter satisfied the sword. I suppose I did too, at first. But then I journeyed to Zot at your father’s instruction, to investigate the the operations of an evil cult. On the way, I was captured by a wicked vampire and held in his pantry for a year. The vampire drained my lifeforce, and I endured great misery and pain. When I finally managed to escape, my soul was so withered that Cryssaegrym no longer found my power acceptable. I was overcome by profound sorrow, emanated from the sword into my dreams and eventually my every waking moment. It sought a more powerful user -- so I sought you.

Jakter gave me the sword before he went to a place he called “the keep on the borderlands.” I am afraid I do not know where that is, but I can confirm that Jakter likely met his end there. I arranged for a priest to commune with his god Navashstrom, and it was confirmed that Jakter was no longer alive. Jakter anticipated this -- that is why he gave me the sword before he went there.

Your father sincerely believed Cryssaegrym’s quest was the most important thing in the world. Personally, I regard Kyuss as just another dime-a-dozen “supreme ancient evil” that adventurers all over seek and destroy to bolster their reputations of glory and heroism, and the obsessive quest of the sword -- once fully imparted to the possessor like it was with Jakter -- will consume your life.

Early, think long and hard on whether you wish to tackle Cryssaegrym’s quest. If so, then I have included Jakter’s journal in the box with this letter. The journal contains contains fragments of information that may help you pick up where he left off. If you choose otherwise, then you must find someone else to take up the sword or your soul will suffer the most profound sorrow.

-- Your Uncle, Vegard


The fragments of Jakter’s journal contain various facts, but there are numerous gaps in the journal, especially near the end. This makes it impossible to piece together the entire narrative.

“Diamond Lake”
A mining town in southern Walsta. The journal does not say what first led Jakter to this place, but it was here that he heard stories of a place called “the Whispering Cairn,” and he went to explore it.

“The Tomb of the Wind Duke”
Hidden within the Whispering Cairn was a place Jakter dubbed the “Tomb of the Wind Duke.” It was inside this dungeon that he found Cryssaegrym. He also found the ghost of a teenager, slain long ago by one of the dungeon’s traps. The ghost asked him to return his bones to his family’s small cemetary.

“The Worm”
The ghost’s family’s cemetery had been desecrated, and when Jakter investigated, he uncovered a small group of necromancers, robbing graves and conducting vile experiments on the deceased.

After defeating the necromancers, Jakter explores their tower. He finds a jar containing a single green worm preserved in a strange fluid.

“Allustan the Sage”
Allustan is the Sage of Diamond Lake. He was very interested in the worm Jakter found and studies it carefully.
Allustan’s research over time provided a lot of information on the ancient lore surrounding the mysterious “Age of Worms”, a prophesied time when a horrid being called “Kyuss” would be triumphant over all.
The journal mentions that Allustan later learned something very important from his research, but it is implied that Jakter never found out what it was before he went to “the keep on the borderlands.”

“The Black Triad”
Jakter investigates the necromancers’ activities around Diamond Lake. When he learns of worm-infested undead within the Diamond Lake mines, he investigates and finds the hidden underground temple of a dark cult called the “Black Triad.” From here, Jakter wages a long battle against this cult. This cult was actually trying to create a new god entirely out of the essence of three dead evil gods. Was this new god to be Kyuss, then? Jakter wondered.

In the end the cult’s operations beneath the mines were defeated, but Jakter learns three interesting new pieces of information -- the necromancers had stolen the worm from the cultists, there were more Black Triad operations in Walsta and Zeltennia, and the green worms were apparently supplied to the cult by someone called “Tolstoff”.

“The Herald”
Shortly after Cryssaegrym was recovered, Jakter found himself stalked and frequently attacked by a powerful monster he calls the “Herald of Kyuss”. Jakter says it was able to change its shape, and it was far too powerful to defeat. He escaped death at its hands no less than three times.

“The Tolstoffs”
Jakter speaks of Karyna and Edwin Tolstoff. He believed that Edwin was a wizard of great power. Their connection to the Age of Worms is not entirely clear, but they seem to be involved with providing the green worms to the Black Triad cult at Diamond Lake.

Jakter said he had completed two legacy rituals for the sword to unlock its powers, but the third one required a journey to the Silver Wolf’s Temple and he was unable to learn its location. Jakter writes often of how Cryssaegrym dreads the coming of Kyuss and wants to be ready to destroy him, and how important the quest is to him and the world.

“The Keep on the Borderlands”
Near the end of the journal, there are a few references to “the keep on the borderlands,” supposedly the last place Jakter went. He believed going there to be a likely suicide mission and he brought Cryssaegrym to Vegard for safekeeping just in case. He also told Vegard to investigate Black Triad operations (which, ultimately, he was unable to do).