Ephemera - Frieztiden 4-18 804 AT
Aleksandra’s term as MEAD Chairperson lasted only two years, but her presence would influence the society for many years to come. When we elected her to the position, the question before us wasn’t who would be the best administrator, or who would decide the next sites we should explore. That day, we volunteered to commit all our resources to support her bid to reclaim the Protectorship. And, when the votes were finally counted, it’s exactly what she told us she was going to do. For the indefinite future, our Exploration Society was out of the exploration business. We were now her first foot soldiers.
Foot soldiers, waiting idly by for orders.
Between Aleksandra’s study of the ‘sample’ and her scouring of Helmmshold’s royal library, she was rather hard to pin down during the fall and winter of 803-804 AT. Jayden and Starfyre found themselves immersed in the intrigues of the Duchy of Maartenz and their ‘effectively captive’ Grand Duke. The operation became a quagmire, but through a little luck and surprise, Maartenz became the first land to be freed from Westhold’s occupation. Jayden managed to avoid much scrutiny due to his position, but Starfyre’s freedom of command was severely limited in the aftermath. Helmmshold’s new archer irregulars became effectively defunct as a unit, most signing on with the new Grand Army of Northhold. Besides the opportunities for promotion, it served an honorable way to transfer away from a military leadership they had lost faith in.
The rest of us went about our daily business, continuing our studies and catching up on our journals, not knowing when we would actually need to make our move.
It wasn’t long before it became apparent that it would need to be soon.
In Westhold, events had taken an unusual turn. Protector Partaegas had ‘miraculously’ acquired strange arcane powers, claimed to originate from the direct intercession of Cifae herself. High Cleric Palesci’s concurrent untimely death was explained to be intimately tied to this blessing. Foul play was not initially something people suspected in most political circles, as the two men had been considered very close allies, working closely to consolidate their power in the aftermath of Protector Cale’s fatal ouster. Palesci’s death however had cleared the way for Partaegas’s other favorite to unilaterally grab the reigns of the loyalist Holy Orders.
With Dame Sheffield now titled “High Cleric of the Airle”, the Protector began to flex his political and theocratic muscle in earnest. Sheffield’s first act would be to use an old Holy Order mandate to recall nearly every academy mage back to their home academies, the vast majority of these academies being located in Westhold. It was an unprecedented move, a desperate order that would only be expected to be invoked in response to a new Incursion.
For those not completely blinded by faith, it was easy to see Partaegas’s ulterior motive; to deny Westhold’s perceived enemies and rivals access to arcane resources. Unsurprisingly, many mages saw through the façade and declined to make the trip to Westhold. But among the mages and ministers in Westhold already, who would have had the audacity to question the Will of the Most Wise?
Finally, in the spring of 804, Aleksandra announced she had discovered what she had been searching for. Travist Cale had outlined many provisions in the Treaty of Founding, in order to ensure that the Protectorship of Westhold would remain in legal and capable hands, specifically the Cale family. What was not commonly known was that intimate sub treaties had been personally concluded between Travist himself and every political entity on the Airle at the time. Drawn up in near secrecy, these documents served as the unseen, true foundation of the Protectorship itself.
It quickly became clear why Aleksandra had been so obsessed with validating their existence and location. If she could acquire the Protectors copies of these documents, she could theoretically line up nearly every nation of the Airle behind her cause. Her investigation had concluded that they were hidden at a place known as the Lavangeaux Estate, the summer home of the Protectors, and the royal Ves’tian family before them.
The estate’s location was uncomfortably close to Redoubt, and if they even had an inkling that we were personally was coming, things could potentially get very ugly, and none of us really wanted to experience anything like Sarna and Starfyre had on their stay in the dungeons. MEAD was also still short both a mechanic and a healer, essential if we faced subterfuge and aggressive threats alike.
And like before, what we lacked, the Fates decided to scribe into MEAD’s story. Within two weeks, Huginn had returned to us from the grave, after an arduous journey worthy of its own epic retelling. At Ulas Grant’s funeral, Jayden accidentally stumbled across a means of getting us in and out of Lavangeaux fast and undetected. Not only was this mode of transportation immediately available, but it had also been constructed by our old friend Hermann Axel!
This left us missing only our mechanic, as we didn’t suspect Dak would return to us any time soon. Bodwinn, Huginn, and Malastian scoured the undersides of each town between Helmmshold to Oramsburg, a search that would end a miserable failure. And right at the moment they gave up looking, Jayden found a candidate literally waiting at Fort Azure for someone to find him. Like before, the coincidences were lining up in a way that could not be easily ignored…
Huginn’s story has been recorded by his own in great detail, so retelling any of it here would be rather redundant and probably not do it proper justice. Aleksandra left it to us if we should allow him back into the fold (though he never actually left it), or to send him away. Joy and necessity overcame suspicion in everyone’s case, except of course Agoth. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even trust the face he sees in a mirror.
Skyreaver, on the other hand, came to us as a complete mystery, even with how much he liked to talk about himself. Many times, those who do speak so liberally desire to hide the reality of their situation under a blanket of words. But one should not disregard the possibility that someone might just simply love to talk about themselves.
When Jayden discovered our replacement mechanic, he was a resident of Fort Azure’s ‘Cell Zero’. One could call him a victim of political indecision, if one forgot why he was in the cell in the first place. Burning down a four hundred year old mansion owned by a Northhold royal was probably not his smartest move, even if his motivations were as accidental or altruistic as he had claimed. Let’s just say it’s probably a good thing he wasn’t relying on Vei to intercede on his behalf.
Still, he seemed to have the skill required, and he had been cooperative enough throughout the entire process. Jayden was willing to vouch for him before the Stadtholder simply on the content of Skyreaver’s story and the gut feeling of Miles Standish. There are some subjects in which I would not completely rely on Jayden’s opinion. His judge of character, however, is one thing I do not question. Without his leaps of faith, MEAD would never have come into existence.
And concerning Skyreaver, there were more leaps of faith to be had, simply because we didn’t have the luxury of time. Within days, he had learned enough about MEAD’s plans and Hermann Axel’s secret projects to ruin our plans before we had even set out. We considered it prudent to keep him in the dark to our actual objective, and also in Huginn’s case, who ‘Mia Song’ actually was.
If ‘Huginn’ was Huginn, such a revelation he would probably simply shrug off, the politics of the Airle not really something he ever overly concerned himself with. Skyreaver though was still an unknown variable. Knowledge of Aleksandra Renata Cale’s existence and location could net him quite a bit of coin, so removing that temptation seemed prudent. We weren’t yet familiar with Skyreaver’s rather stringent code of ethics…
After assembling in Oramsburg, Axel wasted no time getting us ready to travel in his ‘contraption’, a ship that could not only travel under the water, but could also remain invisible riding on its surface. The only hitch; there was no room for passengers. As we were replacing over half of his planned crew, we would have to become every bit as proficient at operating the ship as they were. He left us with the five most capable crew members in his estimation: ‘Captain’ Leena Potts, Donn Gervikas, Lenabana Pikes, Artis Moorez, and Ulas Temmanson. This supposedly seasoned and capable crew looked to be nothing of the sort. But such is another reason we shouldn’t always rely on simple appearances.
The training regimen Hermann subjected us to turned out to be quite a humbling experience, pointing out our many weaknesses and in a few cases our hidden strengths. Most of us took our punches in stride, barely meeting the minimum of Axel’s stringent and unflinching expectations. Skyreaver seemed most eager to impress, and that eagerness led to some foolish mistakes. Still, it was better that he learned to be more careful while we were still safely on the shore.
For those who knew Agoth, it was obvious to see doing just the opposite and holding back. Perhaps his training had instilled in him the habit of never showing anyone exactly what he was actually capable of. And to be fair, he hadn’t gotten to know Hermann quite as well as the rest of us did. He did seem to develop a greater level of respect for the man before we actually departed, but by that point, it was too late to alter anything. Our roles had been defined and set in Hermann’s mind, and there was no time or urgency to significantly change them.
The start of our trip was quite an absurd experience, fourteen people being tossed around inside a glorified hollow log. Once we got things straight at the boat pointed in the right direction, the plan was really quite simple. We would sail by night, and drift invisibly by day, letting the mighty Janz carry us to where we needed to go. There was no way to sail back, and if we had to abort the mission, our only recourse would be to beach the craft and travel back on foot. Once we were past the Westhold border, each moment would leave us more and more vulnerable if something went wrong. This had to go right the first time, or not at all.
After successfully navigating through the wreckage of the “Massacre on the Janz”, the next major obstacle lay just beyond the Westhold border. The newly installed Chain at Arbetta was to be the biggest challenge we faced on the journey. Installed under Partaegas’s orders, it served as physical deterrent and powerful symbol of its embargo of Northhold. This would be the first practical field test of Axel’s concept. If all went well, thousands of tons of magically forged brass would be made useless as we drifted unseen beneath it.
As we approached the chain, Lenabana immediately noticed that there seemed to be many more Westhold ships than intelligence had suggested, were apparently arrayed across the Janz as if to intercept something. There were some heated accusations, possibly driven by our lack of familiarity and a week of living so closely together. When Ulas implied that Skyreaver had sold us out, things almost got out of hand, but Leena managed to effectively quash the discussion using reason of all things. We may have been invisible, but we weren’t inaudible. If we passed close to an enemy ship, they might have detected our presence.
Finally back to our stations, we submerged the craft and hoped for the best. Apparently, we did not sink deep enough, and the sound of the heavy chain could be heard dragging across our hull. Luckily, the damage that was caused was superficial. One ship did react to the noise, and had begun to move in the direction of the disturbance, but we were already long past that point, continuing unseen south of Arbetta. Jayden was gripped for a moment in a panic, considering aborting the mission, and returning to Northhold on foot to warn them about the ships. But Leena Potts again saved the day, convincing the Duke he might be overreacting.
The tension that had been building at the start of our trip dissolved away into the cycle of labor required to keep us afloat and undiscovered. The days consisted of huddling inside our hot, stuffy barrel as we slipped quietly by the occasional cargo ship sailing northeast. Night provided the opportunity to breathe in the relatively fresh air in the cool darkness. Long stretches of forest cast their treetop black silhouettes against the starry night sky. Except for the occasional campfire, large portions of this part of the Janz showed little signs of habitation.
That was until we were to arrive at Osin’s Bend. Leena and the rest of the crew considered the city to be our last big test before we were effectively home free. A major transportation hub, the curve in the river that bordered it could have been a navigational nightmare full of anchored merchant ships, fishing vessels, and ferries. Despite all odds, we made it through relatively unscathed, the only tense point being when we passed within a few arm’s length of a passing ferry. If we had actually crashed, it would have given the bards quite a sequel for “Smiley the Orc”.
Either through fatigue or monotony, we started to become a bit careless. Starfyre fell overboard in a rainstorm, the luckily the only such occurrence during our whole trip. It was also quite fortunate that he was probably our best swimmer. Our legs began became more unsteady, and falls became more and more common. They seemed innocent enough, but little did we know that the hull of our ship was more fragile and of precise construction than outward appearances would have suggested.
Our first warning was when a few loose boards began to creak when tread upon, the number multiplying each day that passed. After much consternation and debate, the crew reluctantly decided to use their magical abilities to mend the damage. We’ll never know if this hastened or delayed the onset of actual leaks. It’s a point Axel pondered for quite some time, and not entirely from an analytical standpoint.
Our only other close call before reaching the estate was a night time encounter with a flotilla of recreational fishing yachts. It resulted in some panicked and literally blind steering by Donn to get us through that mess, but we managed to without any physical harm to the ship. We did not go unseen however. A man with a lantern found our passing boat quite peculiar, and seemed curious to know about its nature. Bodwinn tried to convince the man he was imagining things, but it was a rather weak argument for so normally persuasive. Luckily, we were past him and back into the darkness before the awkward conversation could drag on for very long.
The naval shipyard north of Redoubt would be sign that we were getting close, and our last potential trouble spot. We weren’t so sure if we should be relieved or concerned at how vacant it was, our muddled minds imagining legions of Westhold troops landing in Resolute and Oramsburg at this very moments. At least we were too far away to reconsider at this point, and stuck to the mission at hand.
When we were close, Aleksandra was lifted topside for a look to confirm that we had indeed arrived. Debarking was a rather crude affair, finding a shallow enough place to moor our ship, then filling its ballast to pin it to the riverbed and keep it from drifting off. After a short swim and wade to the riverbank, we experienced the wonderful feeling of walking on solid ground. We quickly dried ourselves off and stumbled out way into the woods and our destination. The less time the ship would have to remain exposed on the shore the better, as its discovery would severely complicate our escape plans.
Ten minutes later we emerged on to a grand, but obviously not maintained, gravel road which led to the estate. Aleksandra led us to the garden gate; basically a ‘backdoor’ which she thought would lessen our odds of being observed. Climbing the garden fence was out of the question, noting that the spear points topping the fence were more than aesthetic in nature. The lock itself though was mundane enough, posing little challenge for Skyreaver and his picks.
The garden itself was quite a spectacle even in its abandoned state. Aleksandra, still speaking as ‘Mia’, explained the symbolism in the design of the garden, as well as the names behind the statues of Cale’s past that looked over it. Her precise recollections probably put herself dangerously close to blowing her cover, including hinting she might be responsible for a certain unflattering alteration drawn under one statue’s nose.
Though it seemed peaceful enough, a few of us had this uneasy feeling that something was not quite right. Agoth’s keen sense of smell confirmed our fears, and tried to inform us discretely that we were being watched. Unfortunately, our observers were keen enough to spot even this small pause, taking no chance that they might have been detected. Without warning, a salvo of arrows was flying through the air right towards our location.
Luckily, most missed their mark, and we assessed our foes for the best way to counterattack. Jayden identified himself and demanded they halt their attack. Only one that opposed us seemed to care, a ranger that was probably acting as their leader. “Capture that one alive,” the ranger yelled boastingly to his compatriots, “kill the rest.”
At first, I didn’t see the wisdom of Jayden’s action. You would think it would be a poor idea for one of Westhold’s most wanted criminals to identify himself to those most looking to wish him harm. However, it achieved the intended side effect. We now knew who their leader was.
I’ll remember this as the first time the party ever seemed overconfident in the face of an enemy. Really, a few of us even laughed and even pitied them. It is commonly understood that it is normally unwise to underestimate your opponent. But after being cooped up on that ship for so long, a boost of confidence is exactly what we needed. And I couldn’t deny the truth. Our enemy, in their pride, had bitten off much more than they could chew.
Huginn wasted no time using his magics to immediately paralyze the enemy leader, and any coordination they might have relied on. Starfyre gave them a lesson on what a real archer after having their turn, the rest of our party closing the gaps to remove their most effective weapons.
Jayden cleaved through his foes like a lumberjack, his sword leaving an icy red mist of flash-frozen blood in the air. Gloriana picked away at the archers on the fringe, who were not prepared for the overwhelming power and tactics of an angry battle trained mage. The few who were smart enough to try and escape found themselves hunted down by Bodwinn and Malastian. Their still frozen leader could only watch as his men were being massacred, up until Agoth approached to deliver to him a merciless coup-de-grace. He was apparently in no mood to take prisoners.
Only one of our enemies had survived the slaughter. After we regained our senses, Huginn healed his wounds and bought him back to consciousness. He seemed eager to talk, revealing without much coercion that Protector Michael Partaegas himself had ordered the estate be put under continual guard.
However, this order had been given months ago, and not in response to some sudden, urgent threat. Perhaps he had suspected that someone would come snooping around for something valuable at the estate, but the odds are he still had no idea we were actually coming.
What we didn’t realize was that their unit had orders to send back a runner before actually engaging us in combat. If they didn’t know we were coming before, Partaegas’s forces would know very shortly.
Jayden tried to convince the survivor that Partaegas was a usurper and the real threat to the safety of the Airle, and he actually seemed to be making headway. Right up until the point, that is, when we knocked him back out again. We left him tied to a leg of Lennox Cale’s statue. The choice of also binding him to the corpses of his dead and dismembered comrades is somewhat confusing in retrospect.
Luckily, the engagement did prompt us to skip the rest of the tour and enter the estate. Members of the party had been calling Aleksandra by her actual name, and it was about this time she decided it might be better to give up the façade, and find out where Huginn and Skyreaver would stand on the issue. Huginn was unsurprisingly blasé about the revelation. Skyreaver on the other hand, covered his ears, immediately interrupting her and loudly replying, “I don’t want to know.” I suspect her revelation had gone much easier than she suspected.
Aleksandra remembered being warned by her father about allowing ‘unannounced guests’ into the foyer, prompting Skyreaver to search for a possible trap. Though magical in nature, he was able to discover the precise stones in the floor which he surmised might trigger one. We walked around the suspect stones, never having to test his theory.
Unfortunately, the traps inside the estate itself were not so easy to spot, seamlessly integrated into the estates design. Bodwinn encountered one was instantly frozen in a stasis field. Unlike some traps of its type, the field did not even allow breathing or expression, the calm on his face not reflecting the panic racing through his mind. It’s possible the trap would deactivate when its occupant became unconscious, but it was too risky to take that chance.
The group frantically brainstormed methods to free Bodwinn, but all ran the risk of someone else becoming trapped in the process. Without warning, Malastian suddenly decided to take action on his own. After backing a few steps, charged Bodwinn, body checking him out of the field. Though Malastian was now stuck, threat of anyone dying of asphyxiation had at least passed.
Bodwinn had thought of many methods of effecting escape in the few moments he was trapped. With some clever tying and coordination, we were able get a rope Malastian, and then pull him free from the trap. The only method Skyreaver could come up with to disable the trap would involve pulverizing the stone floor below it, an act with unknown consequences. He decided to simply mark its location so we could avoid it when we passed this way again.
Aleksandra had spent some of her time on the Janz creating a crude but accurate sketch of the estate. The vault we were looking for could have been anywhere, as we had no actual clues as to where it would be. The basic layout of the first floor suggested there might be secret rooms, but this was no guarantee that the treaties would be in there. We decided to use history as our guide and chose the ballroom first, the place she deduced the treaties had been signed in the first place.
Skyreaver peeked into the room quickly then ducked back out, luckily unseen by a figure who was staring out a window. After an awkward, hushed discussion, it was revealed by Aleksandra that the figure was probably only a statue. Sure enough, Skyreaver had mistaken a bronze tribute to Travist Cale to have been an actual person. With its lifelike size and features, it seemed to have been an easy mistake to have made.
On the far wall was positioned a display for a map of Harmon’s Stand, protected under a pane of glass, though it was actually much more than it appeared to be. When Agoth touched its surface, ink markings appeared and moved across the map’s surface. Touching various locations, one could see the key events of the Battle of Harmon’s Stand, the one where Travist Cale’s intervention stopped the Incursion at the Janz.
Recognizing the house that MEAD had purchased years ago, Agoth placed his finger on the house, was surprised to discover this was the only part of the map that seemed not to respond to touch. He theorized this anomaly could actually be the key to unlocking the vault. He had Aleksandra touch the ‘dead spot’, thinking that a member of the Cale might be required to activate it.
Sure enough, a single line of words appeared next to Aleksandra’s finger:
“May the gods protect what we cannot.”
They were words that Aleksandra immediately recognized, revealing that they were the first half of the Cale family motto. She paused a few moments, hesitant to recite the second half in front of Agoth, but with his reassurance, she completed the verse.
“May we protect what the gods cannot,” she replied nervously.
A faint clicking noise seemed to indicate her words had indeed unlocked something within the wooden structure the map sat upon. The party stepped back and allowed Skyreaver to go to work. He looked over the whole area before starting, and immediately noticed a trap in the ceiling above. Its crude nature implied that this was not one of the house traps, but rather that it might have been installed quite recently.
Even with a careful search, he wound up triggering it by accident. His reflexes were up to the task, and he lunged out of the way just in time, avoiding firebombs which fell from a hidden compartment above. Luckily, no one else was harmed, and the fire was extinguished quite rapidly, the hard wood floor quite resistant to becoming fuel. Looking back, my thoughts are that the actual target of the firebombs was not those opening the chamber, but to rather quickly destroy the paper contents that were assumed hidden within it.
Whoever installed the traps in the first place would have been quite disappointed to learn that the hidden vault was empty.
After a few anxious moments, we came to realize something about the situation just didn’t add up. The small vault was remarkably clean and clear of any debris or dust. Agoth claimed he could even smell the vapors from the original varnish used to lacquer the vaults innards itself. We began to wonder if this vault had ever been used to contain anything at all.
Also, Skyreaver claimed to have distinctly felt something shift underfoot as soon at the panel was opened. It was a detail that had been lost in the short drama we had just experienced, but when asked to remember, a few of us also remembered hearing a thudding outside. Turning our heads in the direction the noise had come from, we noticed that ‘Travist Cale’ was already looking in the same direction.
And that’s when it clicked. Each statue that we had passed in the garden had one outstretched arm. Perhaps it wasn’t simply an aesthetic choice by the sculptor; rather they had been intentionally positioned to be pointing at something. Well, except for Travist, his gaze apparently focused on the garden’s reflection pool. We rushed through the garden again, noting that each right hand was facing in that same direction. It was a clue that seemed overly obvious, but only if you knew what you were looking for.
Gathering at the reflection pool, we found ourselves standing in front of Lennox’s statue once again, as well as with our bound victims. We searched around the pool for any abnormalities. But like the house, if there were any unlocking mechanisms for a secret chamber, they were integrated seamlessly into the architecture. The only thing of note was an unusual discoloration of the marble near the edge of the pool that one had to be looking at just the right angle to see. They were positioned directly across from the statue of Lennox Cale, and seemed to be the shape and size of an average pair of feet.
Assuming any unlocking mechanism would have to be activated by Aleksandra, we had her line up her feet and stand on the blotches.
There was a small sense of satisfaction when the pool began to drain almost immediately. But that wasn’t the only thing that would be triggered by her presence. We would soon learn that the pool also possessed a permanent guardian.
Lennox Cale’s statue stood up with the sounds of grinding stone. I would later be told for a golem, it was an incredible example of its kind, possessing nearly life-like flexibility and mannerisms limited only by its unavoidable bulk. It looked around at first, getting its bearings, then focused its gaze across the pool at the one that had awakened it. Initially, it appeared to recognize Aleksandra and stood still for a moment, perhaps awaiting a command. Then, inexplicably, its demeanor changed, and walked slowly across the pool towards her, groans and movements becoming more aggressive. Aleksandra tried to reason with it, even apologizing for the mustache she had drawn on her years prior, but Lennox would hear none of it.
Though its blows were powerful, it didn’t seem pay much attention to anyone that wasn’t between it and Aleksandra, who soon realized this and began to make a slow retreat. Its offensive capacity was not limited to physical attacks however, unleashing waves of magic missiles, and directed heat beams which singed armor and burnt flesh. Just being in its presence exposed us to an aura of confusion almost compelled Gloriana to attack Jayden from what I was told.
Any attempts to turn it to stone were resisted by active magical wards, apparently designed to foil just such unorthodox magical attacks. Still, the golem prove incapable of activating these wards and magically attacking us at the same time, so Gloriana kept up what pressure she could.
When we discovered what appeared to be a hole at the base of its ‘spine’, we hoped we had found a weak point. The first to attempt to take advantage of it was Starfyre, who shot an arrow into it, to no obvious effect. Skyreaver thought it might be a keyhole, one that might allow us to shut this golem right off. He would soon confirm his suspicions, but picking such an unusual and complicated lock would be near impossible if the golem kept moving.
Huginn quickly thought of a possible solution; if he could ‘remove’ the golem’s target from the battlefield, perhaps it would cease attacking. He cast a spell which made Aleksandra effectively invisible to those of aggressive intent, and immediately the golem paused, obviously confused. It remained completely oblivious to our continued assault, and more importantly, allowed Skyreaver a few precious moments to ply his trade, if haphazardly. He managed to turn a tumbler inside of the mechanism which stripped the golem of its magical abilities.
It did not take long for the party to dispatch the golem after that, but not before it landed one final blow that sent Huginn sliding on his back across the marble. Aleksandra’s rashness was to blame for it, and it’s a lesson she took to heart for years to come.
Otherwise, the party came out no worse than any other typical scrap we had been involved with. The captive and the dead that had been tied to the golem’s leg however did not fare so well. Later, Partaegas would use the ghastly imagery to paint the picture that “Jayden Helmm and his band of mercenaries” were merciless, bloodthirsty heretics and murderers. It didn’t really matter that much, as the nature of the conflict would soon evolve past the quaint tactics of slander and attacks on character.
While we had fought, the water from the pool had drained completely. A section of the stone had also slid away, revealing the entrance to a chamber hidden underneath it. After checking for any traps or other dangers, we lowered Skyreaver, Agoth, and Aleksandra into its darkened interior. Once they entered, the room became illuminated by a faint magical light of unknown origin, making it easy enough to see once one’s eyes adjusted. The sides of the room were adorned with three rows of non-descript shelving. They then approached the far wall and the rooms most notable feature; numerous wooden scroll holders, each adorned with the crest of one of the various nations of the Airle. We were obviously in the right place, but unfortunately, we faced the same problem as before. Where were all the scrolls?
As we all pondered if someone had beaten us here, Starfyre noticed the pool was beginning to fill up with water again, and for better or for worse the secret door was not closing. Within a minute, water would begin to pour in, and put an abrupt end to our mission. The three inside began to search frantically for any sign or clues in the faint hope that the scrolls might still be hidden inside the chamber.
After the combat with the camouflaged rangers, Agoth had cast a spell which allowed him to see invisible objects, in order to keep us from being ambushed like that again. However, when you can see anything, it’s near impossible to tell what is actually invisible to everyone else and what is not. Aleksandra began to sweep her arms across the apparently empty shelves in an act of frustration, though they only seemed empty. Agoth noticed a box on one of the shelves, and tried to warn her before she came into contact with it, but it came too late. The box flew off the shelf and hit the floor, releasing scores scrolls that scattered across the stone floor.
Skyreaver and Agoth desperately attempted to retrieve them as quickly as possible before the rising water could spill in and damage them. In a most impressive feat, they managed to retrieve the fifty odd scrolls and deposit them into Huginn’s bag of holding in mere seconds, giving them plenty of time to escape the chamber before water began to enter it in earnest.
After making sure Aleksandra had the genuine articles, the party made a hasty exit back out the gate we had entered the garden through. We had only made a few steps on to the gravel road when we found ourselves already flanked by a company of archers and footmen. We had fallen prey to an ambush.
They held their fire as they waited for their commander to address the party. The blonde haired woman that emerged from the nearby forest was dressed in ornate studded armor, emblazoned with symbols of the Holy Orders. She appeared quite young, her beauty stunning but deceptive, the way she held herself made no attempt to disguise her extreme confidence, and a gaze which seemed to pierce into the minds of whoever she looked at. We had heard of someone matching this description, and shock on Starfyre’s face confirmed our fears. This Elf was none other than the nameless Inquisitor, the’ tormenting daemon’ from Starfyre’s private Hel below Redoubt.
Starfyre tried to raise his bow, but was dismayed to find no matter how hard he tried, he could not aim it at her. She looked at the party with a smile a cruel hunter might have when observing their cornered prey. Her eyes surveyed us all, and then came to rest on Aleksandra, where the smile was replaced with a look of puzzlement then realization. She looked up at Starfyre, and muttered something in Telis to him. She then turned towards the army pulling three small round objects from a belt pouch. What was odd was that she seemed to be hiding what she held from her own troops…
“Go,” she said softly at first, then yelled again as we stood there dumbfounded. She threw the spheres at her own confused troops, creating a sudden and enormous cloud of smoke, then drew her sword and disappeared in to. The sound of arrows being loosed probably in wild fashion convinced us we should take the opportunity Starfyre’s nemesis had afforded us, and worry about debating the reasons why later.
We made a dash for the woods, hoping that perhaps our route back to the ship was clear, but the forces arrayed against us had prepared well. Throughout the woods in all directions we could hear the calls of soldiers, an indication of a slowly closing net. The woods were too thin to hide us well enough for anyone to pass us, and if she knew we were here, we were only seeing a fraction of the forces arrayed against us.
Bodwinn put his hand on Gloriana’s shoulder and looked in her eyes. “We have to try it,” he said with a hint of reluctance. Gloriana paused in thought for a few long moments, and then nodded solemnly in response. The rest of the party looked on confused, a few hoping that perhaps our accomplished mage had a card or two up her sleeve for just such a situation. I still wonder if it was a good idea to let her play it, even knowing the end result.
“A teleport spell, in theory, allows a mage to travel from one point to another on the Serene without actually traversing the distance between them.” At least that how I overheard Gloriana explaining it once. The difficulty of the trip is based on the distance one wants to travel. Short hops can be used as parlor tricks or quick escapes, though even they carry their own risks.
Attempts over a few hundred feet are not guaranteed to be successful, and by successful, I mean a lifeless corpse doesn’t always return from the trip to bury. This difficulty implies that an actual distance is traveled, though on what alternate ‘path’ this trip takes place no one definitively knows, but one can take a guess. Its part of why the spell is also considered borderline heretical.
If some in the party had known ahead of time these important details, they may have been hesitant to let Gloriana try and teleport the two miles back to the ship. And there was one other thing; the mage casting the spell has to have as perfect a mental image as possible of where exactly on the Serene they wanted to wind up at. In our haste, Gloriana had forgotten to make such preparations before we had started towards the estate. No matter how much faith we had in her, to make such an attempt blindly would basically be to commit suicide.
That’s when Malastian did something quite odd. He abandoned disguising his nature to Skyreaver, elongating the fingers on his right hand, sharp claws emerging from each tip. With one movement, he drove his fingers deep into shoulder of the unexpecting Gloriana. At first, we thought her lack of reaction may have stemmed from the shock of the moment. Later we would learn the real reason; the pain of the moment was lost among the torrent of visual and sensory information that assaulted her mind in that mere instant.
Our entire trip, from Oramsburg to that moment, lay before her like a huge tapestry she could enter and walk through, unbound by the rules of time. Luckily, her academy training allowed her to focus, finding the right moment and vivid image she would use for our destination. Without even a hint of acknowledgement of the wound she had suffered, she told us to huddle close, and then cast the spell.
I cannot tell you where we were, what happened when we travelled, or how long our ‘trip’ actually took. But we did have this sense that for a time, we were somewhere else. The only thing we knew for certain was that we really didn’t want to go back, ever. Most greeted the Serene on our return with the contents of our stomachs. Jayden was so shaken by the experience we had to carry him back to the ship. When we appeared on the shore in front of five trained mages, they knew exactly what Gloriana had done. Leena began scolding Gloriana, informing her of the obvious truth of how “reckless” she had been. But, it’s hard to argue with the results, and Leena quickly realized that this was not the time to debate mage ethics.
We wasted little time getting everyone back on the ship, pulling Jayden up and dropping him inside. After everyone was on board, we quickly cleared the ballast, floating the ship and rolling it back to its invisible state. And it was just in the nick of time. We passed three warships further down the river, perhaps positioned to block our escape by water. Luckily the nature of our ship was still a mystery to the enemy, and we slipped by them unseen and undetected.
I could recount to you the trip back to Port Endurance, but those events are written in other documents, in the words of those who experienced the events. There is no way I could properly do it justice. In many ways, it was more notable of a journey than our comparatively short foray to the Lavangeaux Estate.
It is enough to say that our trip back to Northhold did not go quite as we had planned. The performance of Axel’s ship at sea was poorer than we expected, further hindered by the damage we had caused to it travelling on the Janz and compounded by the continued poor weather. Instead of sailing with the crew all the way back to Port Endurance, we decided to put to shore early and set out on foot, while Axel’s crew continued on in an attempt to gather data and save the ship.
I was torn we watched them sail away. Part of me wishes they had simply burned the ship to ash, and came along with us. It was obviously the safest choice. But I also know of many sailors consider their ship as a member of their family, and won’t give up on her if as long as she still floats.
Our trip would take us through the coastal cites of the Jaspen Free Coast, and then by ship to Abelie and across the Regens Sea. By the time we reached Easthold, we were ten days behind schedule, but our contact was still there waiting for us. As for Captain Potts and her crew, if ever a date comes that they arrive in Port Endurance, I will be happy to calculate the dates and scold them on their tardiness. Until then, I can only hope they are still out there, steering their ship back home.
The relief that followed our return to Helmmshold was short lived. Much had happened in the month we were gone. We learned that Dakarev had been killed, and that Jayden’s father had become gravely ill. Both events were apparently linked to a Holtz Executor named Slate, someone Jayden had had a run in with before. Aleksandra was obviously shaken by the revelation, and from what I have heard, may have considered abandoning her cause simply to track Slate down.
In the end though, she resolved herself to proceed with the plan and seek the protection of the Stadtholder, which meant it was time to relinquish her charter membership, and position as MEAD Chairperson. After a short and emotional speech, she named Starfyre as Chairperson, and left us to hash out the rest amongst ourselves. She had claimed that she chose ‘Woody’ as a joke, in order to prompt us to make a quick vote to replace him. Later we would discover her choice may not have been as random as she would have had us believe.
Agoth would travel with her and remain by her side through the following months. Aleksandra insisted that Agoth be in charge of her protection detail, with the ultimate power to decide who could become part of it. I really couldn’t think of a better choice actually, which is probably why we didn’t see even notice the other complications that might spring from it.
Her last suggestion as chairperson was to suggest we allow Skyreaver a charter membership in MEAD. We still sorely needed a full-time mechanic, and although his martial skills were more than lacking, he had still proven himself quite the asset in the field. Enough had happened on the trip to prove to us that he might be a good fit, so there was unsurprisingly very little objection to her request. He accepted a month later, signing his membership charter coincidentally at the meeting called to choose Starfyre’s successor. Skyreaver had willingly painted a larger target on his head than he already had, but it was still probably his safest choice. The Zellens weren’t quite done with him just yet.
This time, it would be Huginn who would win our vote and take MEAD’s Chair, definitively settling the lingering question of if we fully trusted him or not. He made no attempt to disguise his obsession with saving the Grand Duke, searching out a specialist on the disease the Grand Duke was suffering from, and to obtain the obscure research equipment he thought would be required to sure his lingering illness. It was quite noble, and the Grand Duke had earned such loyalty separate from the fact that we were friends with his son.
Unfortunately Huginn, for all his efforts, had very little clue as to what he was actually going up against…
If one believes scripture, all storms originate from the heart of Malestrom’s rage. I have come to believe that the true parable of Malestrom has been mostly lost, and the rest redefined as simple dogma for those of unquestioning piety. Each of us create ‘storms’ which can consume those around us, originating from compulsions one would not expect: love, compassion, mercy.
What if we had turned a blind eye, and let the guards capture the girl we had stumbled across on that street corner in Redoubt? Which path that lay before us then would have saved the most lives? Which friends would be left for us to create new memories with, and which ones would be regulated to them forever? Why does the just course often need be so destructive? Or is the devastation required to bring forth proper justice?
To those who think to ask these questions, insight is gained, as well as a deeper understanding of, and perhaps even empathy for, Malestrom’s unenviable condition. It would still serve as little comfort to those consumed by the storm, or to those from whose hearts the storm was loosed.
By the voice of Vei, recorded by the hand of Berugi, I attest this to be my true and faithful account of the events I have witnessed.