Koltec

An Allegorical Tale

Isobel likely witnessed this story. Depending on how we interweave our backgrounds, other players may have been there too.

In a London pub.

Thurgrim is showing Isobel one of his prize possessions. A gas powered “minor’s lamp”. A device fitted into a headband that shines light wherever you are looking… great for fine mechanical work.

A man, apparently of means, at a nearby table takes notice of it and comes over. After some admiring words, his attitude turns hard and he says “See here *Dwarf*… I will have that”.

Thugrim responds, “Aye… m’lord. It is your right to have it, but I humbly ask ye do not take it as I can do mamy fine works… for fine gentlemen such as yerself… with this trinket.”

The young noble motions towards his table and several personal guards approach

Noble: I have no doubt you might entertain fighting my men, but I can assure you the London Constabulary can be here within minutes on my command… now see here

…and he extends his hand. Thurgrim grimly hands over the light.

Understandably Thurgrim excuses himself for the evening. But not before a brief conversation with the bar keep. For those that try they can hear Thurgrim inquire about the identity of the young noble… a Lord John Helms, then he leaves, returning a short while later. Shortly thereafter Lord Helms leaves and Thurgrim’s mood lightens… he even slips Isobel enough gold to buy a drink for everyone in the house, boisterously celebrating with the London crowd.

As the night seems to wind down, Lord Helms returns, but bloody and battered. He is followed by the London constables and points angrily at Thurgrim, there he is… ARREST HIM. “Aye m’lord”, responds the captain, “is this the fellow that attacked you and your guards?” “Yes…I mean no…I mean I did not see him… but he took the headband… it must have been him!”

Everyone on the bar attests Thurgrim was there the entire time, leaving the Captain no choice.. “M’lord”, the captain languidly intones, “we can take him in, but without any witnesses and without any evidence the magistrate will likely just remand him back to his master”

BEGONE!” Lord Helms annoyingly dismisses the guard and storms out.

Thurgrim follows out quickly. He grabs a wrapped parcel from a young boy seemingly passing by, but the boy makes no complaint and keeps walking. Thurgrim then quietly calls “Lord Helms” and motions to a dark corner.

“I have no business with you!” Lord Helms snaps.

“Aye, ye be right m’lord” Thurgrim replies as he unwraps the parcel… the miner’s light… and places it on his head. Lord Helms gapes. Thurgrim continues, “you see m’lord, I be thinking that whoever attacked you… it would have been a lot easier for them to just kill you… no ranting to the captain, no pointed accusations…. So…..”, he ponders, “I be guessing the fact that you still are living… maybe someone wants you to learn something”… and with that Thurgrim turns and walks away.

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Parleying with the Queen
Magister Spark gets what he wanted, but not in the way he wanted it

Isobel

“I’ll try” is all I say, stumbling over my words; contemplating the whorls and grooves of the oak floor beneath me and the cold bite of the iron shackles on my wrists.

A steady glow issues from Spark’s wand, warm and subtle like the taste of bourbon without the burn. A light to guide me, or what’ll put me down if I come back from this all Her? Probably both. Not that it matters, either way. They won’t take me back. Thurgrim won’t take me back. None of them will. Especially not Ashe.

_"I jus’ worry about ye lass. Yer not acting like yerself."

“If you’re going to drag us into your vendetta, I would know why.”

“Why….”

“Why.!!!! My baby!”

“Thurgrim, get her herbs! She can’t wake up. Duncan! Down boy!”

“Kill her. She’s a liability.”_

The glow is brighter now, and warm., like a tight embrace squeezing these memories from me.

_"I ain’t yours to look after Thurgrim. I ain’t a child! I’m tired of waiting!"

“You are a true and faithful servant Delilah, and your service will be rewarded when I rule once more.”

The feel of the metal stock in my shaking hands, cold and unyielding. It’s heavier than I thought, than She thought it’d be. I take aim.

“You will ensure that the supplies are quickly and subtly delivered worm. Or you will be sorry.”_

“Magis..ster. Please. No. More. I can’t.” His eyes burn blue with arcane fire. Too far gone to stop. We both are. What happens next is no more real to me than a story.

“And then the wicked witch howled and howled my child! Her fingers dug furrows in the boards, till blood ran thick and red from their tips and stained them forevermore!”

I clutch my blanket, nestling deep into Ma’s blouse, taking in the scent of earth, sweat, and rosemary. “But mama, mama. The witch ain’t really wicked is she?! What happens to her?”

“Oh don’t ye worry Isobel. She is, down to her very core. That sorta thing don’t happen to good folk, ya ken?” she smiles and pats my head, wipes away my tears.

“Sorcerers always come to bad ends. That’s just the way the story goes.”

I stand before a tower of stone and twisted ebony thorns, before a wide open door. I can’t go back. Not back to that night, not back to the fire. Somewhere, a part of me realizes that I’m screaming it, and I can hear the faerie saying, soft and low “You can’t fight it child. Please, allow Her to surface with no resistance. It is imperative! If you…”

I don’t hear the rest. I feel Her hands upon me; cold thin fingers with the strength of iron, that drag me screaming into the dark.


Isobel freezes, prostrate on the floor beneath the guttering blue light issuing from Magister Spark’s wand, blood quietly dripping from her outstretched fingers. “Child?” he says, an unpracticed uncertainty lending a quaver to his tone.

Isobel’s body rises slowly with a jangle of iron chains, eyes ablaze with green witchfire. The wand’s light is dark now, and the fire burns fitfully, spitefully, shrinking back from her presence. There’s a long, thin dagger-smile upon Isobel’s lips as she brings both hands to her face, fixed on the thin rivulets of blood staining her hands, tracing their way down the thorns inked onto her skin by the Queen’s magic.

Somewhere, a great mournful howl rises up like the peal of a dread horn forged in hell.

Now is the time to act. Magister Spark raises his hands, bringing forth that pale blue fire once more, and his voice rings with power and purpose as he begins the words of the ancient binding:

WITCH QUEEN
MOTHER OF MONSTERS
DELVERS BANE
I COMMAND AND ABJURE THEE BY IRON, BY WORD, BY WILL
THAT YOU SHALL NOT HARM THE ONE YOU HAVE TAKEN IN THRALL
UNTIL THE LAST MOUNTAIN IS AS DUST
UNTIL THE LAST STAR DIES IN THE NIGHT
AND THAT YOU SHALL RENDER TO ME…

A voice interrupts, seeming to come from nowhere and everywhere at once, cold and clear and haunting. “Spare me your two-penny incantations, hedge mage. I am no scurrying demon for you to command.” Isobel stands tall and straight, her face an impassive mask and her eyes smiling in the manner of an Asp that has cornered a wounded sparrow.

The light of his wand fades, and Spark quickly and smoothly slides it into his belt, unperturbed, inclining his head ever so slightly in the barest of nods. “I did not suppose so” he says shaking his head with a sigh.

A flick of his wand, and a wickedly curved iron knife, etched with silver runes, flies to his hand. It’s large for his tiny hand, but would be little more than a penknife for one of the bigger folk. The warm air of the cottage seems to warp and twist around it, shying away from the edge. Spark’s mouth presses itself into a thin line, his eyes are heavy, bearing down on the Queen and her vessel with the weight of an unspoken threat.

Chill laughter comes from Isobel’s throat, utterly lacking in any trace of humanity or the herbalists brogue. The witchfire burning in her eyes flickers by way of an eye roll, and she adopts Isobel’s crooked smirk, a gesture all the more disturbing for it’s familiarity. “It is to be straight to the torture then? Tis true that the Art has decayed greatly since last I walked this earth.” She takes a step forward, the chains anchoring her to the wall pulling taut behind her.

“You don’t have the gall to carve me out of her faerie” she spits “and you don’t have the talent to do so without ruining her.” “Even if you did, I hold the girl’s soul within my grasp. I will not hesitate to break her; and while you’re cleaning up the pieces I will find a more suitable vessel.”

“Or are you really so excited about the prospect of having to repeat this with Ashe as well?”

Spark’s knife hand drops, the assumed harshness gone from his face and form. “What do you want then, Witch?” The spirit within Isobel doesn’t catch the brief smile that flickers in his eyes. The key, Balwer had said, would be to get her talking. The rest would come easily.

Isobel pauses, and the glow in her eyes falters for an instant in surprise. “What do I want? I thought I twas the one summoned, and not yourself?” she murmurs, flashing a smile that seems full of needles and thorns by the fading light of the fire. “But if you wish me to speak, then I will. After so masterful a binding, I am surely yours to command.” She dips low in an elaborate parody of a curtsy, looking up at the hovering archmage with a look of mock submission.

“This land has forgotten it’s heritage, It’s history, it’s power. The masses toil under fat perfumed louts who hold their power because that is what their fat, perfumed forebears did for centuries before them. I mean to remind them of what true power is.” the iron chains creak as the Queen intones these last words, and silver runes flame up along their length, accompanied by the sizzle of pork hitting a hot skillet.

A feral growl rips itself from Isobel’s chest as smoke begins to rise from her wrists in response to the Queen’s growing power. A growl that hammers itself into words that echo with long-held purpose. “And this girl, for all her flaws and weaknesses is the key to it all.” she laughs, and for once there is some humor in it some hint of Isobel, however distant.

“Then you won’t break her.” Spark says, raising his wand as fire races across it’s rune-etched surface. “You can’t. Breaking in another puppet will take time, time you don’t have.”

The Queen freezes, stunned for a split second before regaining her composure “It tis naught to me, when or by whom I retake my empire. It will come to pass.”

She holds up her shackled wrists to Magister Spark, a gesture written with defiance, but not a threatening one. “I tire of these games. I would propose a bargain. You are no doubt well read enough to know that I cannot break my word once sworn?”

But you can twist it a thousand way’s from Sunday. thought Spark. Nearly there “I’m listening.”

“Allow me to teach the girl. You, with your civilized spells can do little for her besides read her bedtime stories and feed her soup. I know the powers that I was born to, and she should as well.”

“To be your pawn? I would rather die than see another taught your lies.” Spark jumbles his facial expressions into the approximation of a sneer

“Make her think you’re as arrogant and reckless as her. Don’t worry old friend, she won’t realize what a bad actor you are.” “I hope you’re right Roger, an innocent girl’s life and much more hangs in the balance.”.

“To be the harbinger of a new age.” she gazes directly into spark’s eyes, seeming to consider the tiny mage in a different light. “Tell her your bedtime stories if you will. Feed her, clothe her. Help her believe she has mastered me. I will be as gentle in teaching her. This I am willing to swear by my power.”

“A bad bargain is better than a crazed husk of a Chosen and a second chance for this spirit to make it’s mark.” “That’s why I like you Spark, you always have such a cheerful way of looking at things.”

Magister spark’s facade crumbles, and he looks down at the floorboards surrounding the circle containing the Queen. To the lines of blood shining dimly in the firelight. A single tear falls from his eyes to the ground with nary a sound.

“This goes against everything we stand for Magister! The chosen must make their own choices. If we deceive this girl into following the Queen’s direction, no matter the goal we are no better than she!”

“Farzan, you have been my apprentice for nearly a hundred years and have served me well. This decision pains me, make no mistake. But Isobel will have her share of choices to come in the tumultuous times ahead. All the Chosen must make a choice. But the prophecies do not mandate which choice they must make.”

“Gods help me. I so swear as Magister of the Collegia Arcana, by my power and life that I will not interfere with your tutelage so long as you swear not to harm Isobel in body or spirit during said tutelage, or any other sentient being of this world or the next.”

A knowing smirk crosses Isobel’s mouth, although the Queen’s eyes still burn cold “So I, Mother To Monsters, Queen of Witches, Ruler of The Empire That Was Broken, do swear upon my power, and upon my life.”

A dawning sense of significance falls upon the tiny cottage, covering everything in an instant like a freshly fallen layer of snow. The fire flares back up, and the balefire in Isobel’s eyes gutters out.

“Magister? Oh Gods! I ain’t dead! I ain’t dead!” Isobel (now Isobel in fact) attempts to hug Spark, but the chains will not allow it. Isobel, nursing her raw and bloody fingertips composes herself slowly and looks around the room with the air of a hunted animal. “Is she gone? Did ye take her out of me?”

The Magister sighs, and hovers close as he removes the shackles chaining Isobel with a flash of light and a gentle click. “Not exactly my dear. We have…much to talk about.”

Fin

What do you guys think? And of course, what sort of stuff would you like to see next?

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An Uncomfortable Awakening

Thorns

Thorns like worms, crawling through my hair. Under my skin, behind my eyes. Scritching and scratching like mice in my gran’s cupboard.

And always the dreams, hazy and deep. I’m in that great stone room, the floor’s covered with my blood. She’s standing there, clad in thorns and silver holding two staves. Her voice cuts like ice. She’s calling me, demanding that I choose between them when I do not know what I’m choosing. Just that it has a price.

My eyes lie on the floor, gouged and ruined. I have no eyes. WHY CAN I STILL SEE!!?!?!

I’m awake. My tongue’s fuzzy, my head stuffed with sleep and a warm starweed haze. Clutching the floor, trying to stop the room from spinning and drifting, from sinking back into those damned dreams. Back to Her. A rattle as I struggle to stand, and the cold pressure of shackles on my wrists.

It doesn’t look like a sorcerer’s sanctum. Not like any of the pictures in the stories my Ma used to read. No crystal balls or stuffed dragons, no cards or bubbling cauldrons. It’s small, the size of a fieldhand’s cottage, a few pieces of rough hewn furniture scattered here and there, the size of a child’s playthings. A smoky fire burns in the hearth, and something thick and savory cooks in a pot just above it. When was the last time I had somethin’ other than whiskey in my belly? The night before…maybe the day before that.

“It’s good to see you awake-I was concerned that there may have been side effects. You’re amongst friends, dear Isobel. The shackles are for your own protection. I must admit I did not know whether to expect you or…well the other one when you awoke.”

My vision wobbles, and there’s the chubby sprite we saw through Balwer’s spyhole. Magister Spark, floating in the warm air, tooth-pick wand in hand, a smile on his face.

“What are ye gettin’ on about? Where am I? What did I do!?” The words tumble out of me, sliding past a lingering hangover and stumbling through the drug-fulled haze that still coats my mind.

“That will be explained in time, I myself do not know all of the details, beyond those that your companions gave, and what I’ve read from the oldest tomes. The simple explanation is that your soul is playing host to a very old, and very dangerous spirit. A spirit that, because of forces beyond our control cannot be removed without causing you great harm.” A frown creases the old fae’s wrinkled features as he hovers closer, peering closely into my face like someone inspecting a dog that might be rabid.

“I do not think that’s necessary. With the proper precautions, I and your companions can teach you to deal with your…unique problem. To do that though, Isobel. I need your cooperation. I need your promise that you will do what I say when I say it, in the understanding that I am looking out for your safety and sanity.”

No one says somethin’ like that without an angle. Or without wantin’ something. But I’m not in a position to bargain. I take the faerie’s bait. “What will ya be wantin’ me to do then?”

Spark’s face is stony, a seeming paradox on his cherubic features. “First I need to know exactly what we’re dealing with here. To determine Her level of control, and what the…spirit inside you wants. To do that Isobel…”

“Yes?”

“I need you to surrender control, and let me speak to Her. To speak with the Witch Queen.”

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An Ill Omened Expedition

Thom Landry, Dig Leader for The Dorset Site in a letter to Pontius III Bearer of the Light of Truth

Your Worship,

My name is Thom Landry, a common-born scholar who has received the great honor of leading your appointed expedition to the Dorset site. It has been three long weeks and we have made little progress towards the alleged ruins at the heart of the Thornwoods. The way is treacherous, and filled with every cruel joke nature has ever played upon man. After losing three porters, two men at arms, the staff cunning man, and a small (but quite vicious) dog, the expedition made camp at Wynfor’s Rest at the edge of the Thornwoods to lick their wounds and wait for additional supplies and manpower from our Dwarven associates to the north.

While we waited for supplies, Sir Allen, looking for a rock to sit on uncovered what appeared to be the base of a statue (or perhaps a grave marker, further study is doubtless required), of a strange gray-green rock. The pedestal (or what remains of it) still holds it’s polish, and bears this inscription, which I am led to expect is contemporary with both the Night of Fire and the Dorset Affair:

At will she makes swift streams retire
To their banks whilst their banks admire
Seas toss and smooth
Clear clouds with clouds deform
With spells and charms she breaks the viper’s jaw
Cleaves solid rocks
Oaks from their seizures draw
Whole woods remove, the lofty mountains quake
Earth for to groan
And ghosts from graves awake.

(A note to everyone, before anyone calls me out on this. This is straight-up plagiarized from Ovid, from a boast that Circe makes about her sorcerous talents. I take no credit, except for any owed to me for finding what is in my opinion one of the most kick-ass descriptions of a spellcaster this side of Robert E. Howards People of the Black Circle.)

At first the discovery of such a rare find elicited great enthusiasm from my colleges and our servants and guardians. But over the past few days a pall has fallen upon our company. The men say they can hear her whispering in their ears as they fall asleep singing songs of blood and death in a tongue never written by mortal hands. They blame the inscription, the superstitious fools. Our remaining magus inspected it and found it to be no more magical than the fried nug I had for breakfast this morning. (Greasy, tough, and tasting vaguely of dirt. A less magical meal would be hard to conceive).

Despite this, there have been ongoing problems as a result. Most of our remaining men-arms have deserted, muttering under their breaths about not getting paid enough to brave ancient curses and soul-sucking witch queens. Sir Allen, the man who discovered the artifact, among them. Without collecting his pay. Unheard of for a mercenary-but not at all unexpected, given the dread that this site inspires in the simple-minded.

I have submitted requests (in triplicate) to Antonius for additional soldiers to ensure the viability of this expedition, but have as of yet received no reply. Which is the only reason that I would presume to disturb your worship’s studies. (A list follows, dictating a need for strong porters, plate armor, anti-venom, a well-trained pyrourge, dwarven mercenaries carefully screened for a lack of superstition, and a larger dog).

We must go on. Far greater knowledge lies within the depths of those unhallowed woods. The glory of the Gods, and the greatness of the Empire demands it and your servant will not be dissuaded.

Your Faithful Servant,

-Thom

P.S: If it would not be an imposition, would it be possible to arrange for supplies to come from a clan other than Grimtooth? They possess a great and noble pedigree to be sure (not every dwarf can claim descent from Thurgrim, He Who Forged The Crown of Empire), but their taste in food is not to my men’s liking. One can only have Fried Nug so many times before they begin to welcome death.

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Anyone want to borrow an Army?

Sent from Dalton of Move Yer Ass to The Spymaster

Hey boss, you want another Army? See the attached codes.

Subtlety and Tact were in town. Thanks for the warning by the way. And next time, warn us to supply even more explosives. These people are downright out of control, but on our side.

I won’t claim to know how (ask the Henbane bitch; she always seems to know what’s up, though she rarely bothers to tell anyone but her sisters), but S&T got their hands on the full set of code books, codes, plans, and contingency plans for each of the mercenary companies hired by Clan McKenzie.

Until they hear that McKenzie is dead (I assume that will happen soon – I don’t see any other way to cover this up) or the money runs out, you should be able to direct any of these companies to execute any of the plans you want. This includes both conquest and defense plans for most of the capitals & several important strategic sites. It also includes movement plans and a number of other maneuvers. You should be able to remotely command the troops to do as you please – that appears to have been the McKenzie plan.

That’s over 5000 mercenaries for you and the King to do with as you please. Enjoy!

And you say I never got you anything.

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To my sisters

Sent by Hensbane Norwich to all Hensbane

Subtlety and Tact are living up to all expectations. We should continue to send each other warning when they leave for one of our cities.

They accomplished Roger’s goals. They did it with the flair that earned them their name. And now they are going to try to re-stabilize the region. Possible, but this may be beyond their abilities: their usual approach is useless here.

First, a report of their success.

Arriving in Norwich 3 days ago, they immediately took up residence at the Rangers’ bar. They then approached the book keeper of House McKenzie. He is, as ever, a dupe. They got everything out of him that he had, but that wasn’t much. McKenzie gives him the mushroom treatment.

Then they turned up the dial. First they decided to contact Dace Connor. Not really sure why. Sure, he’s one of the Connor heirs, but they appeared unaware of this fact. They approached him because he was the Connor book keeper. What do they have with book keepers?

They quickly identified Dace’s not-so-secret lifelong dream to become a Ranger. They found him in their bar, and then Ashe was on him. As soon as the first broke out (we’ll come back to that in a moment), she caught his attention. She helped him recover all the horses in the Connor stables. Somehow she was “injured” (I suspect the quotes are appropriate) while extracting the last beast. Dace emerged from the stables just as it collapsed behind him, leading the last Stallion with one hand and with a beautiful, brave, and delicately smudged Ashe draped over the other shoulder. He made quite an impression on his people. And she made quite an impression on him. He had her treated by his private physician and walked her home himself.

So the fire. Apparently S&T wanted to break into McKenzie Compound, so they set up a distraction. This distraction included 4 targets, executed over a 30-minute period. First the McKenzie bar was destroyed. Utterly. In a completely inexplicable manner.

A giant fireball erupted upwards lighting the area – but this just served to attract attention to the main show. A tower of thorny vines erupted from the ground beneath the bar, rising hundreds of feet into the air. Suspended all over in the vines were chunks of the bar, its patrons, or others who happened to be nearby. All were ripped apart as it grew. And then the whole thing caught fire with an eldritch flame. It was a torch hundreds of feet high that burned in blues, whites, greens, and pieces of every other color. It took over 20 minutes to burn; when it was finished, all that remained was a scorched and foul-smelling stump of vine surrounded by parts of skeletons and pieces of stone.

A few minutes after it started, a fire broke out in Connor Compound. Just a normal fire, but clearly arson. This was the fire that Ashe used to meet young Dace. A few minutes after that, fire broke out in McKenzie Compound – as if the others weren’t enough distraction for S&T to sneak in.

And then Connor bar was treated to the same destruction as McKenzie had been. Unfortunately, many of Connor clan had gathered at the bar after the fire in their compound in order to regroup. Both of Dace’s parents were there, along with one of the other Connor leaders. So now young Dace is the newest Laird of clan Connor.

Meanwhile, the rest of S&T was not idle. They broke into Compound McKenzie, and into Morvin’s house. They apparently found his secret study – I have no idea how; they had only been in town for a day, so couldn’t possibly have cased the joint well enough to find such a hidey-hole. In any case, they came out with everything that the house’s various field agents had done about acquiring mercenaries and armaments abroad.

This was when they chose to call on me. Apparently they wanted some help dealing with the giant eldritch fires and vines that destroyed the city. Or at least with the political fallout sure to ensue. Their plan was not bad: two rival secret organizations. One to claim to have destroyed the structures and another to appear to be trying to stop the first. Obviously they had some information that they wanted to seed to the Rangers at a later date (probably the mercenary recruitments).

I helped them, establishing the clear presence of the groups with a variation of plan D-43.

End of day 2 in town. Yes, just 2 days & they’d already destroyed 3 buildings – two in a fashion that no one could explain. And stolen clan trade and control documents from the secret hole of one of the 3 sub-lairds of one of the top 5 clans in the city. They had enough information that I could have toppled the clan from there. But that was over a day ago; they’ve been more active since.

First, Thurgrim broke into Ranger HQ in broad daylight. I have no idea how. But he broke out by discovering / creating a secret passage from a nearby building. In one step, he just destroyed the security of one of the most secure buildings in the city. Until they find and seal that passage, any of us can come and go as we please.

Not to be outdone, Delilah did something. My agents still aren’t sure what. She walked over to a temple to Mystara. As she crossed the threshold, she twisted into a wave of smoke and disappeared. The priestess present heard the sounds of a forge for the next two hours, and felt a great presence. Then the sound stopped, she turned, and Delilah was leaving – with a clockwork rat that reacted to its surroundings as no clockwork could. Later, the priestess found a new holy text laying on her pillow. She has been unable to read it; apparently it is written entirely in runes and crafted of pure metal -f a kind we have never before seen. We have been unable to get a copy yet.

When Subtlety and Tact are in our town, set agents onto each of them. Use at least 2 agents each. And ask questions to anyone they talk with. Things happen around each of them.

And now it is the middle of the night. S&T just dropped by. Apparently they’d raided the private lobbies of 2 more of McKenzie’s Lairds. They did not do it subtly: they just took everything – every secret of the clan.

At this point, our prior plan to stabilize Norwich is destroyed. The clans will not continue with business as usual. But there is enough chaos that it will be simple to form a new plan.

I will start taking out clan McKenzie tomorrow. Expect a total destruction of their clan. Foreign business interests will be up for grabs; please settle them smoothly into good hands. And Ashe is going to try to rebuild Clan Connor under the Lairdship of Dace. He is a good lad, and strong. He will make a fine leader – if he can wrest control from his cousin. And if he can re-create the alliances that the bet has destroyed.

If this can be accomplished, Norwich will be controlled by 4 clans. It will be returned to stability, and imports and exports will return to original levels. But do expect the obvious problems to arise in Leeds and Canterbury.

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The Witch Queen's Shopping List

Antonius Longinus Serperatus, Research Assistant To Pontius III, bearer of the Light of Truth,

Sir,

Our survey team uncovered this torn fragment of parchment from a site just outside of Canterbury. We believe it to be a genuine letter written by one of the chosen. Restoration and analysis is still in progress, but here’s what we’ve been able to make out thus far:

(The parchment is brittle, yellowed, dirty, and covered with thin-web like cracks, all over it. Upon it’s surface, the barest impressions of spidery scribbles (some sort of list) are visible, like veins on an old man’s arm.)

Wynfor,

You know I wouldn’t ask this of you if it weren’t absolutely necessary. I know that these men and supplies are costly, more costly than I could ever imagine. I promise on my mother’s life that I will repay you if you find the way to acquire them, when we make our way to Dorset.

20 Strong Porters
10 Men At Arms to hold the line
At least 6 Jars of Witchfire
5 Fences with tight lips
500 ft of strong hempen rope
15 Metal Hooks


I believe, sir that this note represents the first portent of the grim events that occurred not much later in Dorset, during the end of the Sixth Age, prior to the day of the gods. I humbly request additional funds (two crowns should be sufficient) to fund excavations in the immediate area of the Canterbury site, and to send a team to Dorset to investigate the ruins there.

I am as always your humble servant,

-Antonius

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Subtlety and Tact
From small whispers do legends grow

Light of Truth, Porius XIII

Although he kept meticulous notes, even The Spymaster couldn’t record everything. At least not in June of 1876C. The only record we have is a margin note in the Crew Registry.

June 1, Canterbury: Subtlety and Tact, Agents. Recruited by Dragon’s Dreams. Ironic name, given the reports.

A name chosen in irony. But names have power.

History would have been entirely different if a different choice had been made. Had prophecy not several years and that name to work through, Subtlety and Tact would never have held the alliance together. Without the alliance, the Rebirth of Phoenix would never have come to pass. Who knows what fate the Sixth Age might have lived.

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Notes from Tarel's Journal (9/22 recap)

So. Drake.

I’ll give the man some credit. I’ve never had someone pay off a bet that resulted in the destruction of their house before. Then again, I don’t know that I’ve ever won a bet by destroying someone’s house. And it was his trap, anyway.

That, and he put his life on the line for his little ‘test’. Most of the rich I’ve dealt with would have let that be some underling, or ensured that the whole thing was a ruse. I have no doubts that the Tool could have escaped at any time, but he still did expose his own actual precious little self.

He’s still a tool. Drake the Tool. And I don’t particularly care for being set up, especially when it’s to determine if I’m a useful enough tool or not. The rich love these sorts of games, pitting their pawns against each other, to get a few more coins in their bank – and I’ll be thrice damned if this whole situation doesn’t boil down to some rich slob wanting a few more coins.

Still, what they’re doing will – as usual – end up with a lot of people like me being ground between the wheels of their plots. Playing along is probably a good thing, at least for now. Maybe I can save some of the people, maybe I can take down some of the bastards. But I’ll be better off as a player in the game, even if I’m a player that’s also a piece.

Purity recognized the symbol and nodded at me. Good. Hopefully she’ll think that I knew what the symbol was – without having to have seen the daggers or ask about it. Let her have a little doubt. It’s good for those bastards to have a few questions about us, instead of all of them being the other way around. I probably missed some kind of code phrase or something to go with the symbol, though. Still, some chance is better than none.

These people want to use me. Fine. I’ll play along. I’ll let them believe that I buy into their lies, that I’m somehow going to be part of the ‘inner circle’ and privy to secrets. I know better than that – I’ll be told what they want me to know, to get me to do what they want me to do. But that’s still more than I’d know otherwise. And with luck, they won’t know that I’m onto their games.

So they can use me. And I’ll use them right back.

Delilah’s a good girl. You can trust someone from the streets, at least as much as you can trust anyone. I have no doubt she’d stab me in the back for the right price, but that’s a sort of trust in and of itself, isn’t it? Knowing how someone will act, and when they’re likely to betray you is its own sort of trust, and a lot more useful and dependable than the bullshit ‘I believe what they say’ kind. I think we can work together well. She seems to have not learned some of the lessons of the street, or has she? She was eager enough to jury-rig that trap.

Isobel’s one conflicted woman. I’ve never met someone that is both so eager to cross lines and so repulsed by the idea. Pick one, damnit, and learn that you do what’s necessary to survive, and everything else is negotiable. The woman was ready to yell at me for just questioning the old man, but she was more than willing to feed him one of her potions – and given her constant drunkenness, I don’t know that I’d trust her proportions. Still, she’s smart. I can probably use some of her potions or whatever to help with my illusions. And I have little doubt that they’d be of use in the future, especially if I don’t care if the recipient gets a poorly mixed one or not.

Drake and Purity’s needling of her was totally unnecessary. They set up the situation, and then used it as an excuse to get under her skin? Self-serving bastards.

Isobel seems to have gotten the impression that I’m weak, with the way she apologized to me. Damned armor coat. I’m going to have to convince her otherwise. Can’t have her thinking I’m potential prey – I’m pretty sure she’s a predator, even if she doesn’t realize it herself.

I still feel bad about the old man. Why couldn’t the bastard have just answered my questions? Most people are smart enough to not struggle too much when someone jumps out of the shadows and puts a knife at their throat. I’ve got a bad feeling that Thurgrim had something done to him… he was pretty quick to jump to the ‘well, now we’ve got to kill him’ conclusion. The man may have been an idiot, but he didn’t need to die.

Thurgrim’s one mean sonofabitch, but he hides it well. But he seems like the kind of mean sonofabitch that still believes in loyalty, so I’ll do my damnedest to make sure he thinks that I’m loyal to him. Mean sonofabitches are great, so long as they’re on your side, and pointed at someone else. I think keeping him drunk until somebody needs to have a judicious amount of violence applied to them is probably the best way to deal with him.

Eirlys and Wynfor… well, rich people. I trust them exactly not at all. Eirlys may know something of the old tales, though, and that may be useful. There’s too many legends of magic for it to not be real, or at least to not have been real. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that rumors are always founded on truth, no matter how distorted, broken, or misunderstood. Ignore them at your own peril.


Player notes: Yes, I realize that Thurgrim is probably the wealthiest character in the group ;)

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A little eavesdropping
Thurgrim overhears Fisk, Drake, and Purity discussing recent events and new plans

The door closes behind the party. Fisk turns to Drake. “Are you having fun driving Isobel crazy? Don’t you think it might be a good thing to play nice? We are trying to recruit allies here, after all.”

“True. But we shouldn’t let them get too close. They aren’t Trusted yet. They will be betrayed many times in this business. Then they’ll need to continue working with their betrayers. We need to ensure they’re ready for that. If that requires me to be a jerk, then that’s what I’ll do.”

“And it doesn’t hurt that you enjoy it?”

“It doesn’t hurt that I enjoy it. Anyway, we have a lot to catch up on. The Canterbury situation. This group’s strengths, weaknesses, and training needs. And I notice the stars have left town. Did anyone pick up on the trail Brewster and Rodrik laid?”

“4. Three moons and a star. Oddly few curious recruits from this batch of suns. Lots of humans. From what I hear, they may be a more fertile recruiting ground for Arm of Glory. Shall we pass that along?”

“Might as well. Going to be tough to hit our recruiting numbers without many coming from these suns. Guess I see some travel in our future.”

Having been silent and watchful until now, Purity speaks up. “Have you received any further intelligence about the recruiting? Why do we need so many new Men? And why race relations in particular? I do not mind the increase in status but we have done well historically with just 3 crews. Why do we need 6 new crews just for relations?”

Fisk replies. “Nothing new from HQ. But Hensbane Wakefield did hear from her Manchester sister. Roger has been meeting with foreign dignitaries again. It’s keeping him in Manchester much longer than he’d anticipated. Apparently Balwer started this big recruiting drive 3 days into the discussions. And the major foci were us, Arm of Glory, Hensbane, and Lamp Lighters. No new Sheathed Swords or Bright Lights, which is odd if war really is immanent. I mean, even Move Yer Ass and Plowshares got one recruit mission apiece, but nothing for the swords and lights?”

Purity replies. “Something is up. It is not like Balwer to play things this close to the chest. How are we supposed to help each other if we do not know why we are doing these things?”

Drake smiles at her (a much more unguarded smile than you have seen them share before). “You and your infinite desire to help people.” She swats him. “Anyway, I’m sure they’ll tell us in time. As you said, Balwer doesn’t like to leave the Trusted out in the cold. First time I’ve seen him do it, in fact. Given the urgency of recruiting, I doubt we’ll get to ask him in person. Which, of course, means that we’ll be the last to know.”

She sighs. “It feels just like it did before we were Trusted. I guess we lived with it then. We can live with it now.”

“How has Canterbury fared while we were away?”

Fisk replies to her. “Plainly, it’s a mess. And my sister is not helping. Now she has allies among the Minerals. On the one hand, this means it is no longer a humans versus elves thing. On the other hand, that means that the Vegetable / Mineral rivalry has entered the picture. It’s getting very political very fast.”

Drake replies. “I’m surprised. I didn’t think she was political—either in ability or interest. She always struck me as the quiet one in your family.”

“From my quiet and pleasant sister to rabble-rouser in a matter of weeks. And with political savvy that smells of experience. I’m guessing she has a mentor. There’s someone else behind this. But why they care about that particular patch of forest is beyond me. I mean it’s pretty and all, especially along Moss Creek between the falls and the lake. And there are some ancient trees. But there has been reasonable harvesting of the vegetation in that area forever. Why the sudden call to stop it, and why to stop all activity? I hear they’re even asking for a hunting ban now. It’s almost as if they are trying to ensure no one has any reason to go out there.”

Drake rubs his chin thoughtfully. “Now there’s a thought. Think they’re hiding something? Think they’d let you in to see what it is?”

“Sounds like I’m leaving for Canterbury soon. Looks like Rodrik and Brewster are busy here for the moment. I’m guessing they could use your help. And you two need to keep an eye on our new friends. I guess Andrei and I go alone. I’m sure he’ll love to change back to being Alexis and spend some time with her husband. She might be able to get something out of her college contacts.”

“Sounds good. Speaking of our new friends, any observations or events we should know about? And did you really have to let them burn down our house? I liked that house.”

Purity smiles. “We made a lot of good memories in that safe room. But we have discussed this; we always knew it was a possibility. And we do still have the place on Chandler Row. Hate the neighborhood…”

“…but I love what you’ve done with the place.” Drake says, laughing. They smile at each other, grasp hands briefly, and return to the conversation.

Fisk looks away in pain at their happiness. He clears his throat. “Anyway, the basics are in my journal, as usual. Beyond that, it sounds like we’re about to see how they do with diplomacy. I assume you’ll set up the meeting, Drake? They’ve been pretty brutal to date. Sorry about Henry; his apprentices haven’t heard from him in weeks. I suspect they had him taken out. Somehow, I don’t think the same approach will work with Prince John Hannover. It’ll be interesting to see what they choose.”

Drake shakes his head and looks down. “Yeah, I loved that old man. I swear he remembered every fanciful story in any book that he’d ever sold. And boy could he spin a tale! He, more than anything else, got me through our Betrayal. Sorry dear; my love for you was too mixed up in things. But Henry. Henry was a sweet old man who was always willing to lend a mug of mulled cider and take you away from yourself with one of his crazy stories. Damn.”

Purity gives Fisk a hard look. She saw his earlier yearning and knows that sidetrack was intentional. “We will simply have to see whether they can learn subtlety and tact. They certainly have the viciousness, inquisitiveness, and acquisitiveness to make fine diplomats. Now we see if they can summon the gravitas and patience. I have hopes for the two elves. Not that that helps, since like all elves they will not be able to maintain the relationships they seek with those in the nobility.”

Now it is Fisk’s turn to glare at her. “Fine. Are we done here? I’m sure you lovebirds want to get back to Chandler’s Row after 6 whole days without. And I’ve got a trip to plan. I’ll let Andrei know.” He storms out.

“Wow dear, you got him to forcefully close a door. Not a slam, but quite loud for Fisk. Why do you see so much reason to needle him?” They stand and hug. “You know how much losing Cicely still pains him. Perhaps you should let him heal.”

They separate and walk to the door. “Like you are with Isobel? Fisk still needs to learn to protect himself better.” They close the door and Thurgrim comes out of hiding.

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