Interlude: Beneath the Citadel of Light

Valmeer Ironhorn, Truthseeker of Gatrius made his way through the towering stacks of scrolls and leather-bound ledgers piled neatly atop the myriad shelves that populated the cool, dry sub-basement of the records room of the Citadel of Light. Above him lay the cathedral to his God an architectural marvel of glass, every surface a window that allowed the light of the sun, and thus the light of their Lord, to reach every corner of this holy place of worship.

Despite this, the Sons of Gatrius had chosen to keep their archives deep underground, no doubt to protect them from the bleaching, aging effects of sunlight. The irony of this situation was not lost upon Valmeer, who cradled the small shuttered lantern before him as he searched among the shelves for the section he was seeking. Strictly speaking he wasn’t forbidden from these annals of the Sons of Gatrius’ files, and there was no need to be sneaking about in the dead of night while the Brothers of his order slept above him, but perhaps it was best not to have anyone questioning why he was looking into the dossiers that he was.

Finally locating the volume he had been seeking, Valmeer placed the lantern on the ground and settled down upon the floor to page through the vellum sheets, until he came across the excerpt:

Phoebus Sodalis, born to merchants in the Free City of Daphni in 10,109 A.E.
Served as page to Truthseeker Ewan Gildran from 10,119 – 10,126 A.E.
Initiated into the Sons of Gatrius in 10,126 A.E., receiving the Brother designation
Participated in the Western Baroi Reunification Campaign from 10,126 – 10,133 A.E.
Assigned to patrol duty along the Necropolis borders from 10,133 – 10,139 A.E.
By Celestial decree, excommunicated for heresy and apostasy in 10,139 A.E., and stripped of his rank…

Valmeer raised his horned head in the dim light that pooled around him, his brows furrowed in concentration. Brother Sodalis had not met his end until 10,142 A.E., three years after he had been excommunicated and fallen from the grace of Gatrius. Yet Valmeer had seen that Sodalis had worn his Medallion of Gatrius until his last day. He had kept the faith, despite whatever may have happened to him. Perhaps it was not Sodalis who had abandoned his God…but Gatrius who had chosen to turn away from his follower. But why?

His gaze flickered back to the page, where a single line of text remained under the entry for Brother Sodalis.

…following the unauthorized release of three prisoners captured at the Necropolis border, including one who was a suspected practitioner of demonic magic and follower of the Demon Prince Baelkriez.

Valmeer snorted, bemused, but trying to keep quiet in the gloom of the archives. In retrospect it now seemed so obvious. All this time he and his companions had been trying to make sense of the various forces that they had come up against, as they experienced more excitement and adventure than many people faced in a lifetime. But the more they learned, the less it seemed like coincidence as the connections hidden beneath the surface made themselves know.

Gatrius, Jocund, Sylva, and now Baelkriez…all these deities had a role to play in this mystery of the Soulshard. A deity would hardly need a reason to be invested in such a powerful artefact, but why simply these few, and not all the entities of the Celestial and Demonic Plane? What connection did these deities have to the Soulshard that made them the prime players in this crisis?

Carefully placing the volume back on the shelf where he had found it, Valmeer began making his way out of the dusty archives. In the morning he would ask for leave from his superiors. He had lingered too long here in the light of his God. And with this new information it was clear that the forces his companions faced were powerful indeed. They would need all the help they could get. It was time for him to return home.

Heat of the Moment

Anya Collins sat on her new bed, cross-legged, staring out her window. It looked out on the tower, the tallest building in this new city (certainly the tallest Anya had ever seen!), and the kindly old man in robes who had given her a tour when she’d first arrived had proudly proclaimed that it was the tallest in Faran. Anya believed him.

He’d apologized that she couldn’t have a room in the tower itself, like the young mages who were training there, but explained that due to her condition she’d be unable to use their gates to travel instantaneously floor to floor, but be forced to use the stairs. Anya didn’t mind. She couldn’t imagine being that far from the ground.

Her twin, Ella, was living in the tower. The mages had managed to cure her, to remove that thing that had lived inside her for so many months. Finally, she was laughing, smiling, and eating once again. Ella was back to normal…almost. The long months had been hard on her, and she was quieter now, and got a distant look in her eyes at times. When the mages had tested her, they’d found she’d had a talent of her own; an infinity for fire magic. Some thought that her time being possessed by the fire elemental had changed her, while others argued that she must have always possessed this aptitude in order to have survived her ordeal. In any case, they agreed that with the proper training she might become one of the foremost Pyromancers of this age.

They’d offered to take her in, to teach her, to feed her, to clothe her, to house her. But most importantly, it meant she could stay close to Anya. And so they’d agreed.

Anya’s days were long and busy, but no longer and busier than when she would rise before the sun to milk the heifers. Some here thought her to be gifted and blessed by fate, while some described her as cursed, or an aberration. But they all valued her. Even the few others here like her. Obdurates.

Anya had tried that word upon her tongue. Obdurate. Something she had been since birth but had only recently learned of. It guaranteed her both employment, and a comfortable life for the rest of her days. She was getting more and more used to it as the days passed. And she had Colewyn Flint and his companions to thank for that.

Anya regretted the last words she’s had with Colewyn. In the heat of the moment she’d thought that he’d only been looking out for himself, that she’d simply been a tool a means for an end to him. But everything he’d done had only served to help Anya and her sister, to keep them safe, and to bring them to a better life. She hoped she’d be able to see him again, so she could thank him properly this time. Perhaps one day she’d even be able to repay the favour.

Interlude: Gooseberry

Glass shards explode outwards as the small wooden stool bursts through the window, followed immediately by the cloaked young man, who tucks into a roll as he plummets to the gooseberry bushes below.

He had encountered creatures of the mysterious ocean depths, seen the dead rise and walk the earth, stood face to face with a God upon the Celestial plane, and had suffered the attention of Demonic forces, but never before had he encountered something so…alien.

He springs up from the flattened shrubs; his knife leaping from sleeve to hand as he turns to face the shattered window, and for a moment he flashes back to the events brought him to this place.

The goblin drums his clawed fingers on the card-strewn tabletop impatiently as his bodyguards usher the last of the other players from the back room. He smiles a sharp-toothed grin at the young man standing before him, but is unable to disguise the confusion in his eyes.

Flint, my friend. I’d heard you were no longer chasing the dragon…which makes me wonder what brings you to my humble domicile this evening?”

The young man idly passes a silver coin from knuckle to knuckle, dexterously passing it back and forth until, with a flick of his wrist, it became a small packet of blue powder, dancing along the back of his hand. He pinches it between his thumb and forefinger and holds it where the goblin can see it.

”I’m looking for something.”

The goblin laughs gleefully, genuinely.

Zephyr? Your old pal Merwek can help you with that. How much are you looking for?”

“Sorry. I misspoke. I’m actually looking for someone.” The young man pauses, and looks into the goblin’s yellow eyes. “Marcus Adamo.”

The grin slips from the goblin’s face, and his expression hardens. But the young man has known the goblin for a long time, and can tell when he has something to hide. The grin that slides onto the adolescent’s face does not contain quite as many teeth, but it is just as wide.

He might not be able to threaten the information out of his old dealer, but he knows how to charm his way to success. Sometimes the best thing to do isn’t to fight or to flee, but to approach your problems with open arms.

The goblin wheezes, shuddering with laughter, doubling over in the throes of mirth, and slaps the young man on his back repeatedly. His speech is slurred, his eyes are unfocused and his breath reeks with the fumes of Bhelian Gløgg. The young man laughs along, but his words are articulate, his eyes are clear, and his tankard has not yet had to been refilled once over the past hour even though he had been raising it to his lips many a time.

The young man has been given a lot to think about. The goblin has been telling him about his dreams, dreams about the young man, dreams that make no sense, dreams about things that had yet to occur, dreams that bore an uncanny similarity to a vision he’d once had.

“I want you to have this.” The goblin fumbles for something in his pouch. “It might keep you safe if they come for you. It’s not much, but it might make the difference between life and death.” His clawed hand passes a small charm into Flint’s. “I never believed those things they were whispering about you. I knew you weren’t like that. I know you. And I know you can be trusted.”

“I’ll tell you what you want to know Flint. But you need to do a job for me in exchange. It’s nothing big. I need you to boost something for me. The guy used to be part of the Guild until he had a falling out, so I need someone who has experience with that. Someone like you.”

The young man considers this. His personal rule has always been to avoid the Mage Guild, in any shape or form, whenever possible. But he and his companions need this information. So he agrees.

“Good, good. I knew I could count on you Flint. Here’s the address. You’ll want to go tonight. He’s out of town now, but I don’t know how long that will last.”

The mage’s residence is a chaotic medley of thaumaturgical curiosities. Spell reagents spill unceremoniously from dishes and tins, alchemical fluids rest in vials and flasks organized in some incomprehensible system upon shelves, half written scrolls litter the floor, and various tomes lie open haphazardly upon tables with scraps of parchments scrawled with notes stuffed between the pages. Runes and diagrams inscribed in chalk decorate the walls and ceiling, and various small creatures and insects chirp and scurry in the cages and glass jars stored in every free space.

The young man was never the ideal student, but even so the philosophy of approaching magical study with both order and care has been drilled into his training. The tumultuous disorder of this room is nearly incomprehensible.

He begins his search, no easy task in the bedlam that surrounds him, looking for what he was sent to retrieve.

At last he finds what he seeks, and tucks the phial away safely. He turns to go, but catches sight of something on the tabletop across the room. It appears as if one of the scrolls has been completed, endowed with magical intent, and ready to use. Valuable.

He moves to cross the room, but hears a crunch from underfoot. Lifting his boot he recognizes the crushed shards of a Spell Stone, and senses the triggering of an unfamiliar spell.

Magical energy percolates out of the fabric of reality that surrounds the young man, coalescing into a form that defies the geometry of this plane of existence. Invisible, intangible, and yet the young man can feel its presence even behind shut eyelids. He hurls a stool through the window and dives through the shattered remnants moments later.

He is followed.

The young man slows his breathing, watching the ruined window frame. He tries to concentrate. That being…impossible to see, to hear, and yet…it’s almost like he’s in the presence of a spell that’s being cast, that moment where a subtle, immaterial, inexpressible vibration in the nature of reality signals the release of sorcerous energy…except that moment now seems to be never-ending.

He focuses, and hurls his blade. It flies true. And passes through the being without slowing, striking the wall behind it. The thing descends, moving down on the young man steadily, relentlessly. He seeks his Powerstone beneath his cloak, and reaches as deep as possible within it, draining it to fuel his incantation. His fingers move in cryptic patterns as he chants in an arcane tongue in order to release the gift buried deep within him.

The gooseberry bush is engulfed in flames, the conflagration willed into existence by the young man’s will. Without his Salamander’s Heart the intensity of the flames strikes him like a tidal wave of heat, the brightness of the fire blinding him. The gooseberry bushes are consumed within moments, unable to stand against the hungry blaze. But the young man can sense that the entity doesn’t slow, even though the inferno is centered upon it. It reaches out for him, its presence almost grazing the young man.

Out of options, the young man flees. He doesn’t run for home. He can’t be responsible for bringing this thing down upon his companions. He can’t be responsible for bringing it down upon anyone. He heads for the river.

He is followed.

Days pass. The young man plods along the country road, exhausted; his cloak still stained with gooseberries, his boots still smelling of river-water. He has begun to doubt what he knows, what he sensed, what he remembers. His Powerstone should be almost empty, having been recently drained, but it’s full to the brim with stored energy. Something he cannot see, cannot hear and yet somehow he can feel it. But can he be sure that it’s real? That the Spell Stone he had crushed actually summoned something, when perhaps it had only affected his mind?

He thinks on this as he stumbles along. He makes plans; then discards them. Until at last he comes to a decision.

Sometimes the best thing to do isn’t to fight or to flee, but to approach your problems with open arms.

The thing doesn’t understand charm. It doesn’t understand compassion. It doesn’t understand mercy. But it does want something. And so the young man makes a deal. And it agrees.

Birds of a Feather

Squall stood alone on the cliffside, looking over the valley below as the four strangers disappear in to the distance, now so far away that even her formidable eyesight was unable to pick them out against the snowy landscape.

Her thoughts dwell on the Tomai male who was no longer visible. She had been quick to condemn his conduct; living, traveling and working alongside humans…while not forbidden among her people, it was certainly taboo. And yet, if he had not done so, her tribe’s flock would have been decimated by the beasts, starvation all but certain over the coming winter, and bloodshed between her tribe and the people in the valley below inevitable. Her tribe’s philosophy of remaining separate from the outside world had served them well enough for many generations. But perhaps it was not the only way.

Squall stood thinking for a long time.

Heir, Apparently
The Duke Armand Fountaine and the Duchess Morgan Fountaine
The Dowager Duchess Ophelia Elantrum
are pleased to announce the marriage of their children:
Lady Amelia Fountaine
Lord Alexander Elantrum
The ceremony took place at the Temple of Bitani on December 23rd 10,162 A.E.
The Name of the Demon: Part Two

Ardos Lilt pushed his way through the front entrance to The Chanterelle Lounge, grimacing briefly as a discordant acoustical confusion made its way to his ears, the disharmony arising from a half dozen different instruments and their respective bards peppered throughout the common room. The crisp mid-morning autumn sunlight briefly fell across mostly empty seats and tables as the door swung shut behind him. Ardos jauntily doffed his cap and swept himself into an elaborate bow to the stocky, mutton-chopped barkeeper behind the counter. Baldric Llyndon rolled his eyes in return as the colourfully-clad minstrel settled upon a stool before him.

“Back from Hestial in one piece I see. Find what you were looking for Lilt?” Baldric asked, as he uncorked a bottle of Vener white.

Ardos shrugged casually, as he reached for the goblet being filled, “I discovered some new pieces in my travels, it’s true. A couple of shanties from the docks of Bheiburg, a canticle from an isolated monastery of Kerpani and a truly unique dwarven lullaby from the hills of Rhodren. None of which I had hoped to find, but all valuable additions to my repertoire nonetheless.”

Ardos flicked his calloused fingers to the various musicians scattered throughout the room. “What’s all this? The philharmonic is busy when at this hour they should still be abed.”

“Composing” Baldric grunted. “The only thing on anyone’s lips since last night is the tale of those blokes and that demon up in Millenforte. Everyone’s in a rush to create the first epic ballad of the event. The masses are eating this stuff up, a village forgotten by time, an evil wizard’s castle, vanquishing a demon, and doing it all underneath the Mage Guild’s nose. Get a catchy tune to go alongside it and they’ll be singing your song for months to come.”

“Oho!” A lanky youth half-rose out of his chair across the room in unbridled excitement. “I just realized Valmeer rhymes with Shear! Nobody else use that!”

Baldric pinched the bridge of his nose and let out a sigh at this outburst, which was why he missed the expression of shock that passed over Ardos Lilt’s face.

“By any chance,” Ardos enunciated delicately, “Did these blokes include a Pryga, a Tomai and a Minotaur all bearing the symbol of a wolf upon their garbs?”

“Aye.” Baldric nodded. “I see you’ve heard the tale already.” He ducked underneath the counter to grab a rag off the shelf, and by the time he had straightened up Ardos had unstrapped the lute upon his back. “Don’t tell me you’re going to start too?”

Ardos laughed brightly. “Not at all. I’ve been working on their song for months. The difference is, now there’s an audience for it.”

The Name of the Demon: Part One
In Memoriam


On the 29th November 10,162 A.E. the world of Faran, nay the entire Material Plane, suffered a great loss when the one who had been responsible for dealing the killing blow to such fiends as the murderous, death-worshiping Third Disciple of the Master; the vengeance-seeking, skin-wearing Selkie, a butcher from the ocean depths; and the malicious draconian crony known as Valkyrion, scion of Tyrakulin, was liquefied within the core of a relentless Magma Elemental in a subterranean cavern located to the south-west of the city of Millenforte.

Shear of the Kyeeia Tomai grieves deeply for the loss of his favourite axe, which is survived by its identical partner, bearing the distinct marking of a wolf’s head etched ornately into the metal.

In a cruel twist of fate, the pair of axes had been christened with names mere hours before, the surviving weapon bearing the name “Hurt” and our now-departed hero having been dubbed, ironically, as “Burn”.

A New Nest

His Majesty, Gideon of the Magnus Dynasty, King of Kardiam, Sovereign Lord of the Koleso Isles, Prime Marshal of the Twelve Realms, Heir Prince in Perpetuity of Orst, Archduke of Ursalt Province, and Warden of Alnaz, bit back yet another yawn as his First Minister, the Archmage Padrig Facere continued to list last season’s summary of tithes collections. The first fiscal session of the month was always the most tedious.

First Minister Facere concluded his list, and glanced expectantly at his king.

“Yes, yes, Padrig, that’s very good. You can tell Minister Wurzel to proceed, I have no further budgetary changes to make for this quarter.” King Magnus leaned forward in his chair, starting to raise himself up. “If there’s nothing else, for today…”

“Actually, your Majesty, there is one more issue.”

Gideon stifled his sigh as he settled back down.

“The event that occurred in The Kennels yesterday, I sent some specialists to investigate. As it turns out the incident was mystical in nature, not magical. It was the work of a nature Goddess, an elven one. The tree is her new temple in Alnaz.”

Gideon raised his eyebrows. “Elven? What did the Immori Ambassador have to say about that?”

“She appeared to be as in the dark about this issue as we were sire, and claims her government has no interest in this new temple.”

“A shame. We could have used an opportunity to help facilitate a better trade agreement with the Elven Empire. Still, we should make sure that the clergy of this new temple are not harassed. A simple action like that may go a long way in building better relations with the elves.”

Archmage Facere paused before responding. “Ah…actually your Majesty, there is no clergy. The temple appears to be occupied by a group of…mercenaries. From what we have been able to determine so far they don’t even appear to be associated with the elves.”

The king drummed his fingers on the arm rest of his chair, thinking. “Unusual. Have someone keep an eye on them. No direct intervention. The last thing we need is to unnecessarily rile up The Kennels district again.” The king rose, and strode towards the door. “Inform me if there are any significant developments.”

“As you command my King” Archmage Facere murmured, to the now empty room.

Old Habits Die Hard
The price we pay


Where The Heart Is

Ragnar Ironhorn massaged his temples and grimaced as he reviewed the scrolls set out in front of him. When his son Lief had brought him word that Ragnar’s younger brother Valmeer had been seen in the vicinity he’d known that trouble couldn’t be far behind. Still, what he had expected was a simple fight to the death, not this snarled mess that had fallen in his lap. The envoy from the Stormhide Clan had departed just this morning, finally yet begrudgingly convinced that the Ironhorn Clan had not sanctioned nor known of Valmeer’s intentions. They would still swear their bloodoath, but it would be against Valmeer alone, and not aginst the whole Ironhorn Clan.

Jotun Stormhide was still shrilly demanding reparations for the loss of his prized enslaved elf, but Ragnar would be damned if he’d pay the price that was being quoted. Refusing to pay meant that Jotun would most certainly enact an embargo against Ironhorn steel for this season, not just for Ragnar’s village but for the whole Clan. Hence the collection of messages before him, from his fellow Village Chieftains, and both his liege Sept and Clan Chieftain angrily implying that Ragnar get his house in order lest they take it upon themselves to enact order.

Mother dead less than a week, and to top it off he’d just received word that the Temple of Visry in Krava was sending a senior priest to investigate “suspicions of heresy”. What in the eight hells had Valmeer been doing? Trying to kill Ragnar with an ulcer? Not the traditional weapon a Minotaur chose for the Holmgang, but it seemed as if Valmeer had forgotten much of the old ways in his travels.

Still, Ragnar mused, as his gaze slid to his trident mounted upon the wall, Valmeer made it quite clear when he was speaking to my son that he intended to return to challenge me one day. Ragnar nodded grimly, sitting alone by the flickering fire in his longhouse. Let him come.


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