A Brotherhood Reborn

Algasi at last

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Algasi at last. The heroes make port in Old-Town and are quickly reminded of the expenses associated with the big city. After paying entrance fees, the heroes are escorted to the adventurer’s guild to apply for adventuring permits, rather than willingly give up their arms. After one really bad job and one really good lie, the heroes are granted free access to Old-Town, though crossing the river will still cost them more money as non-citizens. The party witnesses the mass execution of 35 rebel soldiers in the town square, and hurry along to Victor’s estate, where Milo helps grant them entrance.

Victor is overwhelmed to see the rumors are true, and a Martel still lives. He promises to help the group any way he can, though he must put the needs of his citizens first. He promises to look into information about Zakathra’s missing general and also recruits a real estate agent to help Flint, Sam, and Grog find the perfect place to open their BB&B (Brewery, Bed, and Breakfast). Victor also gives everyone proper papers, so they can traverse the city under his patronage—as his guests.

Olivia hopes to find out who the mysterious letter was from, and went to the meeting place specified on the note. It turns out it was an ambush all along. Rylof tears open a pocket dimension and sets about trying to recapture the party. Just in the nick of time, Vex arrives and rescues the party with her powerful magic.

After being unconscious for several days, the gang awakens in Victor’s estate. They arrange lodgings for their friends and Flint takes out a loan in order to afford his dream tavern. The party hands out fliers for Aquilarius’ Amazing Antiques and Artifices. Illivan gets himself into trouble by littering, using magic, and littering some more. After breaking several laws, Illivan becomes wanted on a local level, adding to the heat. Now with the town guard—and THREE Judges—on the lookout, the party needs to be careful, lest their new alliances fall through.

Later, at the Festival of Life, Illivan and Zakathra’s relationship took a sharp turn for the better. Olivia, Kaine, and Rex enjoyed their “triple-date”, which ended in Rex getting his highly sought-after kiss, and Flint enjoyed the festival happily alone. The party wrote their deepest desires on scraps of paper, set them inside paper lanterns and let them catch fire, offering up their greatest hopes to Ultima.

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The Smashing Pumpkin's Menu
Executive Chef Sam

BREAKFAST

Venison Sausage with Potato Biscuits and Fried Potato Hash

Three Pancakes Served with Butter and your choice of Strawberry, Blueberry, or Plum Jam

Potato Biscuits with Pepper and Cream Gravy

Dried Apples & Plums with Mixed Nuts Candied in Honey

PASTRIES

Honey-Glazed Jam Twists
Strawberry, Blueberry, & Plum Jam Flavors

Honey Glazed Hazelnut Tarts
Chopped Hazelnuts Candied in Honey

Blueberry Scones

Plum & Cider Scones

Strawberry & Cream Scones

Honey-oat Bread with Hazelnuts
Served by the Loaf or as Toast with Butter & Strawberry, Blueberry, or Plum Jam

SOUP

Shrimp Chowder
Shrimp, Celery, Potatoes, & Hot-Pepper Flakes in a Cream Sauce

Tomato Soup
Tomato Purée with Roasted Garlic and Cream

Chicken & Dumplings
Dumplings, Shredded Chicken, Onions, and Carrots in Barley Broth

LUNCH & DINNER

Chicken Pastry
Chicken with Mushrooms and a Turnip & Parsley Purée

Venison Pastry
Venison with Potatoes and a Brown, Ale Gravy

Mushroom Pastry
Mushrooms with Leeks and Aged Cheddar

Pyro Shrimp Roll
Grilled Shrimp Tossed in Hotsauce with Carrot Slaw in a Spicy, Hot-Pepper Roll

Grilled Cheese
Melted, Aged Cheddar with Shredded Chicken Between Slices of Cheddar-Chive Bread

Fried Cod
Ale-Battered Cod that is Fried and Served with a Baked Potato

Chicken & Vegetables
Roasted Chicken in a Leak & Rosemary Gravy Served with Turnips and Carrots

Venison Steak
Salt & Hot-Pepper Flake Crusted Venison that is Grilled and Served with Mashed Potatoes & Brown, Ale Gravy

DESSERTS

Baked Apples
Stuffed with Candied Hazelnuts or Blueberries & Honey

Apple & Plum Pie

Strawberry & Rhubarb Pie

Strawberry Surprise

DRINKS

Grog’s Smashing Ale

Pumpkin Beer

Adventurer’s Demise
A mixed drink with a surprise at the end

Apple Cider

Hot Tea

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Port Regal

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An unexpected stop. On the way to Algasi our party encountered a large dreadnought class ship with a city on it. Nami quickly explained this was Port Regal, a large mobile city primarily used by outlaws and pirates. They stopped in for two days and managed to sell some hot items as well as pick up a few. They also ran into a strange but rather charming magician by the name of Milo the Magnificent. They also solved a murder case for the locals as bounty hunting is illegal in Port Regal. They caught a Kenku by the name of Edge who claimed to be the world’s greatest assassin. LOL. right. They collected the reward and now they’re on their way to Algasi.

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Against all odds

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Against all odds. The gang made their way to a volcano. they found the things they were tracking were kobolds. after several hours making their way through the volcano the discovered many things such as weird fire creatures that had tablets with vague writing on them. they later found out it was part of a logic puzzle. they also fought a fire elemental in the center of the temple. However none of that compared to the final trial they were to endure. They found all of the prisoners tied to stalagmites, all of the kobolds were gathered in this room chanting the same thing over and over again NEANDRIX. The party fought Neandrix which turned out to be a red dragon. the battle was long and grueling, hope seemed lost as party members started dropping, but at the last moment Illivan with the blessing of Andromalek struck the killing blow bringing the beast down. They also found out the Dragon was guarding the arc fire stone. What will they do next?

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One Red Thread...
Olivia's Journal

1st Day of Aestra – 1282

The one month anniversary of my family’s passing came and went without notice. It was most likely for the best…I spent the evening by myself, lost in introspection and overwhelmed by grief. My claims of sea-sickness weren’t entirely false. The alone time was simply a benefit.

The nightmares have increased in frequency and intensity. Before I would have them once or twice a week. They would bring with them a distant, ethereal pain, more akin to yearning than grief; now, however, they come every night. They are much more vivid, as though I am reliving the moment of my brother’s murder over and over. But they don’t all concern the past. Many of them read like visions a future I pray never comes to pass.

When I awake from these dreams, I do so covered in a cold sweat. I wake unable to breath, gasping and sobbing until I become physically ill. Even the clothes I bought in Azmin fit too loosely on my frame. By my estimations, I have already lost nearly twenty pounds. I fear I am wasting away, driven by my sickness and nonexistent appetite.

If things continue to get worse, I will be forced to disclose my condition. When that happens, I will most likely go to Kaine. My trust in him is absolute. I cannot imagine telling anyone else aboard this ship. What would they think of me? Olivia Martel—Duchess of Ravinia—brought to her knees by a few bad dreams. I can only imagine the scorn. They see me as weak; I cannot let anything—affliction of the body or otherwise—worsen my already abysmal image. I cannot lose the minuscule amount of respect I am afforded.

I wish Faínor were here. He would know what to say…he was always an inspiring leader. Just being in the same room as him made your heart swell with courage and pride. Everything from his stature to his manner of speaking commanded respect. He should be the one here today…not me.

Nonetheless, it is me. I am the sole inheritor of House Martel and the lands of Ravinia. It seems so much like a cruel joke. I was never meant to rule. Faínor was the Heir, Corrin was the General. Sylvana was the Ambassador. Me? I was the embarrassment. The trouble-maker. I would do anything to take it all back, to study harder or train more. I would give anything to hug my brothers one last time…

As I write this, I feel a resolve unlike any other, pushing back against my overflowing self-doubt. It tells me to make my family proud. It whispers that I must train harder and watch my words with great care, knowing the dangerous game I am soon to embark on. If I have any hope of reclaiming my titles, I must garner respect like Faínor once did. I must command armies with the enthusiasm and confidence of Corrin. And I must learn to speak with all the easy elegance of Sylvana. Without their lessons, there is no hope for me.

How can I inspire thousands to our cause when I cannot even gain the respect of my friends?

They do not understand the weight I bear. They do not understand the depths of my pain. They cannot. I am a noble of Arcadia—that does not just mean I live in a manor and plan balls all day. I have responsibilities to the common people far beyond what any ordinary citizen could understand.

I remember my grand-father’s execution, though I was just a child when it happened. In public, Father called him a foolhardy idealist; behind closed doors, he told me that he died to spare the people of Ravinia from the King’s wrath. Archades had an army amassed at the border. Had my grand-father not relented and given himself up, Ravinia would have gone to war and countless innocents would have died.

That is what it means to be a noble. It means making sacrifices so others do not have to. It means putting the needs of your people beyond your own. It means taking the fall to spare others punishment. It is a weight every noble must bear and it is one they must do alone. Like my father and his father before him, I, too, will bear that weight. It is why I took the Arch Stone. It is my sworn duty to the people of Ravinia to keep them safe and if anything should go wrong—if the Stone should be lost—it should be my price to pay. That is not their responsibility.

In Azmin, I was overwhelmed by grief. I let it consume me. I did not consider the impact of my words and actions and—shamefully—I did not act the part of a Noblewoman. Now, that part of me is gone, drowned forever in sorrow and despair. The second we landed in Mara, I realized I had to change. My melancholy was replaced with a white-hot rage, threatening to boil over. How frustrating—to be home and not be strong enough to right any of the wrongs here. I failed the people of Mara. I cannot fail again. I will do whatever it takes to become more powerful.

As I write this, the crew is celebrating our victory over the magnificent dragon of the volcano. I see no cause for celebration. Dragons are child’s play compared to what we are to face in the coming months. If we have any hope of accomplishing our goals, we must become stronger. I must become stronger.

No one else will die due to my weakness.

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I Need to Get These Thoughts on Paper So They Stop Buzzing Around in My Brain
Flint

Lucina left in the middle of the night when we were back in Mara. She left without a word… I can’t say I blame her, those twins have had me wrapped around their finger ever since they’ve exploded into my life. I’m in over my head with their powers over me, and I hurt her because of it… She is better off not getting mixed up in our lives, we seem to always be either on the precipice of chaos or we’re drowning in it. Not that I’m shocked by that fact, and it makes life so much more vivid so I’m thankful. For the longest time I was just seeing life in such muted and bleak tones, and it used to be so easy to feel numb. Now I feel like everything is so vibrant, that the light makes my eyes ache. I just take that as proof that I can feel again.

More has happened in my life here in Arcadia than it ever has in Frostfall, even though Frostfall is where my life has pivoted until things came crashing down around my ears. Now my life seems to have oriented itself around the moment I met Olivia, Illivan and Kaine in that cell, and then hours later Zakathera… One could also argue it was when we all met Andromalek. One moment my greatest concern was of settling down and starting a family, and then a year and two months later I’m a wanted man in two countries, and I’m off sailing on a ship with pirates and slaying dragons in volcanoes! Andromalek is a God full of surprises. Pledging my life to him was an impulsive decision, but quite honestly I think He has done so much more good and bad for me than I probably even realize. He stole away my excuses to just let myself rot away from the inside, and now He is thrusting me into situations I couldn’t have even dreamed I was capable of surviving through until after I have done so.

One month I have nothing to live for, and then the next my life is busting at the seams with possibilities, with danger, with hope, with riches, with intrigue… And with power. As these events blast their way through my life I seem to keep learning more and more about my magical abilities, too. My skill was low and I wasn’t as sensitive to it, but now I feel this dormant power inside myself that I’m just now starting to be able to tap into. Feeling my abilities surge through my veins as I unleash a powerful spell is more addictive than adrenaline! I keep playing with new arcane concepts when I can, and I keep running into so many possibilities I didn’t even bother dwelling on before. I can’t help but feel mad at myself for not exploring these skills. At the time I was more focused on getting along with the people of the towns I visited, but now I just look at all those years and see all that time I wasted. I can’t help but feel excited and motivated by my life, despite everything. The pain of losing Her can never go away, but it seems like I’ve become strong enough to start living, just in time for my life to start coming alive.

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On the run

On the run again. The gang managed to re-enter the factory only to encounter no one. after some searching around they find Dr. Shinra working in his office. He puts everyone in a trance and a battle ensues. Ollie challenged the Dr. to a duel. She lost. after forcing the Dr. to retreat Leo flooded the factory. Long story short the group gained renown in Mara. Which didn’t last long Damian informed the group an old friend had fixed his airship and would be here any moment. so the group departed. the stumbles onto an island with a volcano short on supplies and currently on the run they set up camp on the beach. Nami sent out a scouting party which never returned. being the heroes our party is they set off after the scouting party and tracked something to the entrance of the volcano. What will happen next.

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Zakathra's Journal

Post 1
I can hardly believe how far we have come; yet, we still have so far to go. Our group has been inundated with new faces recently—it has been overwhelming. First, Lorien. She is the same fiery young woman I remember so long ago. Difficult as ever, but reliable. Her sharp tongue is a blessing and a curse. If she were less capable, I might be worried about her.

Sam and Grog spend their time discussing their bed and breakfast, arguing over every miniscule detail—décor, food, ale. They are always thinking and planning. Their ale sounds interesting. I’m sure they will find success in Algassi; If there is any city in the world where a human and a half-orc can open a tap house and find commercial success, it is this one. The Smashing Pumpkin is destined for greatness.

Nami and her crew remain hard at work, as usual. She plays the part of Captain well. She keeps her guard up—a wise precaution when you keep pirates as company. Tobias and Lamar have been running a small shop on the ship. Occasionally they will drink a little too much of Havok’s brew and begin to recite poetry! They are quite talented, even if their poems can be a little…crass, at times. Speaking of Havok, he spends most of his free time doting on his cannon. I hear his small explosive device found relative success at the factory in Mara—Olivia came back more than a little singed after being caught in the blast. Poor girl.

Rex didn’t seem to be phased by his mishap with the bounty hunter. He’s still the same lecherous little halfling we’ve all come to know and grudgingly accommodate. He still follows Olivia around like a sick puppy, but he’s had quite a bit of fun bothering Tit and Tat as of late. He doesn’t seem to mind his things being stolen, so long as he gets a little attention. Will he ever learn?

Icarus has been crucial in navigating the ship thus far. If he were more confident, he would be a very talented storm cleric. Instead, he lets his self-doubt cloud his mind. He’s still so young. I feel horrible to drag him into the middle of such a bloody conflict. I can only hope he grows more confident with age and with practice.

Sovalis is—well, he is Sovalis. He questions everything. I am interested to see how long he decides to stay with the rebellion. It is rare for a Firbolg to travel so far away from his grove…

Lucina left late in the night before we set sail for Algassi. She didn’t speak with anyone before she left, but I know she has been unsatisfied for a while. I do hope she finds what she is looking for.

Then there is Tit and Tat. They are…interesting, to say the least. I can’t say I approve of their lifestyle choices, but it is not my place to judge. They will be leaving once we reach the city, I’m sure. I can’t imagine they would find much satisfaction in being a rebel. Insurgency doesn’t pay the bills.

The Outlanders are gone, too, on another quest. It is good that they are spreading our reach, but Kaine was sad to see them go, regardless.

Kaine. Where do I even begin? He has lost so much. He sacrificed so much of his life to this cause. Usually, he is so cheerful and optimistic. Since Azmin, he has been quiet, reserved. He drowns himself in alcohol every night to the point he can barely stand… Returning to his home must have brought back so many painful memories. I wish I could help him.

Then there is Flint, Olivia, and Illivan. These three are, without a doubt, the future leaders of this rebellion. They have so much potential, so much resolve. To an outsider, they may look like criminals or mercenaries, but they are so much more than that—they are heroes. They fought back the goblin army at Azmin. They destroyed the factory poisoning the people of Mara and their food supply. I believe in them…it has been a long time since I’ve believed in much of anything…I’ve been looking for our former general, but I haven’t a clue where he might be hiding. I’m all but useless without my focus, and I find myself struggling to understand my place in this rebellion.

Flint, too, struggled to find his place. He is always second guessing himself. I believe he still carries the guilt of this past. I have only heard bits and pieces of the story, but he thinks himself weak for falling under Tit and Tat’s spell and so easily handing over the Arch Stone to them. I wish there was some way to reassure him—let him know he is not weak. I wish I had a way to show him every misstep I took when I was first beginning my journey and show him that it is okay to make mistakes. He is brave, acutely intelligent in a way no one else in this rebellion is. We will be much worse without him in our ranks, that is for sure. I very much so hope he and Olivia can learn to communicate more effectively…

Speaking of Olivia…she is argumentative, distrustful, and stubborn—much like I was at her age. She has lost so much in the past few months; I’m sure the memories sting like salt in the wound. She is hardly more than a child, trying so desperately to cling to whatever parts of her past she can. She is so young and so inexperienced, it can be easy to forget that she is one of the most politically powerful people in Arcadia and deserving of respect. I must remember to reach out and give her some guidance…I was once just as awkward and clumsy. Still…she is driven in a way that is frightening at times; she is covered in scars she refuses to acknowledge and trains every day until her knuckles bleed. She is not just the child of a Duke. I cannot help but fear she is not committed to the cause. I fear her desire for power—for revenge—will lead her down dark roads better not taken…

Lastly there is Illivan. Illivan has absolutely no filter. It can be charming—at the right moment. He has grown cold towards me in the recent weeks. He used to be so flirtatious…it made me feel normal. It was a splendid feeling. It had been a long time since I felt so happy…I wonder why he stopped. It is hard for me to admit, but it does hurt. He keeps his secrets well, never letting more than a few sentences slip at a time. I can’t blame him. It must be so hard, knowing your child is out there, kidnapped, but not knowing where he is or what you must do to find him. I cannot say I envy him.

My time has come and gone. It is time for new leaders to step up and take their place in the rebellion. I have no doubt that these three can bring an end to this terrible war and liberate the people of Arcadia.

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The Chronicles of Azmin

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[ REDACTED BY THE ARCADIAN INTELLIGENCE DIVISION ]

ARCADIAN INTELLIGENCE DIVISION
JUDGE-MAGISTER DAMIEN
PERSONAL LOG

[ ENTRY No. 38 ]

The past few weeks have been…eventful, to say the least. Rylof has been trampling about in a futile attempt to locate his lost prisoners. I’ve yet to discover why, exactly, they mean so much to him—or is it a case of broken pride? Is the only reason he’s chasing these rat-catchers across the desert because they escaped his “inescapable” prison? Regardless of his reasons, I am the one following in his wake and cleaning up his messes. I will not miss this post when all is said and done.

[ ENTRY No. 42 ]

I think I speak for everyone when I say the goblin attack came as a surprise. No one expected them to be building an army of that magnitude. How long had they been building up their numbers? I am sure the town would have perished if not for the kindness of Rylof’s rat-catchers; they fought valiantly, for criminals and mercenaries. I’m in shock they would so readily hand over the Arch Stone. Perhaps they are starting to trust me…? As strange as it sounds, they are growing on me.

[ ENTRY No. 49 ]

The prisoner’s managed to run the blockade and destroy the entire outpost. I would be more impressed if I weren’t the one working overtime to cover up their fireworks display. The people of Azmin are already uncomfortable with the increased Archadian presence in their city. I can’t imagine they are going to enjoy what is to come.

On the positive side, I am being relocated to Mara—to forests and greenery. I am not being briefed until I arrive in the city (not usually a good sign) but it can’t possibly be worse than cleaning up after Rylof.

[ ENTRY No. 54 ]

Mara has been a disaster since Day Zero. My briefing—if it could be called that—was so hopelessly vague and uninformative, they may as well not have told me anything at all. The only knowledge I was afforded was that there was a factory upriver and that it was approved by Decro himself. I am under the almost constant watch of the Shadow Guard, which is just as bad as Rylof, honestly. They are disrespectful and prone to violence—not unlike their obnoxious excuse of a leader. I almost miss the desert. Almost.

[ ENTRY No. 58 ]

Something feels very…wrong, here. I’m not sure how to describe it. Decro is intentionally withholding information from me…is this a test? Am I unworthy of trust? Either way, I must be careful. I fear I am treading on thin ice.

[ ENTRY No. 60 ]

The prisoners arrived in Mara just in time to witness the Shadow Guard in action. One of the prisoners had a surprising reaction to their presence (note: I must look into that more. Very interesting). I asked them to investigate the factory on my behalf. I have acted recklessly thus far and endangered myself unnecessarily. I must try harder to keep my association with the prisoners more secret in the future. I refuse to end up like the two Judges before me—one labeled “traitor” and the other personally executed by Decro himself. This job has proven more dangerous from the inside than out…

[ ENTRY No. 62 ]

The factory was destroyed and the people rejoiced. The prisoners were received as heroes to the citizens of the town. They have started calling themselves the Keepers of Truth. How ironic.

They didn’t hesitate to hand over the information they retrieved from the factory. I read over the information quickly, scarcely believing what I saw. Even worse, the documents contained Decro’s signature. He knew what would happen to the people of Mara and he knows the implications. I do not want to believe he is capable of such terrible schemes, but maybe I have misjudged him. I am bringing the information to Vossler’s attention at my first chance. If there is anyone in this order I can trust, it is him.

I wanted to stay and talk with the prisoners some more; unfortunately Rylof was already en route to the city and they had to leave post haste. They are starting to grow on me.

I am to leave Mara first thing in the morning; Decro has called a meeting of the Judges in Algassi.

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Sixteen
a short story

Today marked Olivia Rowan Martel’s 16th birthday. This day, unassuming to any outside the spectacle of the aristocracy, held such great bearing on the young noblewoman’s future that her entire family had gathered to pray for her success. Today was her first appearance at the Court of Arcadia. It was a lot like presenting a prized show-horse to bidders. They would want a test of endurance, a show of dignity, a display of noble grace. A good show-horse, like a good wife, would be yielding but strong-willed. Obedient but intelligent. Beautiful but modest.

House Martel was open-minded by noble standards, but open-mindedness would only get you so far. Inquisitiveness was a positive trait to have, but taken too far, it became very unbecoming for a young noblewoman; and like every noble family, the Martel’s hoped to extend their reach by marrying their last-born to a Ducal prince. Sylvana, the oldest daughter, was already betrothed to the Heir-Apparent of House LaVaille. To have Olivia wed to another Duke would give them subtle influence over three Ducal families. It was uncharacteristically ambitious for House Martel, though not altogether surprising considering the rumors. House Martel was often outwardly rebellious, disregarding King Gabranth’s orders. For 3,000 years, they had escaped his wrath relatively unscathed. Now, rumors stirred of a plot against the ancient noble family. The more powerful allies the Martel’s could collect, the harder it would be for such dark plots to come to fruition.

Olivia was far away as her mother, Lady Celandine, brushed her long blonde hair and spoke of the many rules and customs of the Arcadian High Court. Her half-sister, Sylvana, lounged in a chaise not far from where Olivia sat. Her blonde hair was impeccably curled with part of it pulled into a beautiful flower-like bun. She was beautiful beyond comparison. Unlike Olivia, Sylvana was a full-blooded Elf, a pure-blood. This had netted her an advantage in finding a worthy suitor. No noble worth their salt wants a muddled bloodline. Or so Olivia had been told.

“Olivia are you listening at all?” Lady Celandine asked, gently tugging on her daughter’s hair. She was human, and nearing her fifth decade. She was older than Sylvana by only two years, though her age showed on her hands and on her face in a way it never would on the Elven princess.

“Yes, Mother.” Olivia responded. She glanced into the mirror, taking in her every feature. Her ears were smaller than Sylvana’s, yet still more pointed than her mother’s. Her eyes were large and doll-like, colored deeply purple with golden flakes catching the light at just the right angle. As a child, Olivia had been frail and bony; her face was no longer gaunt and her body no longer sharp and angular. Although she was only 13, she was proud of her progression. Maybe, even with muddled blood, she could find a good suitor…

“Have you thought about any potential suitors?” Her mother’s voice cut through her reverie, the question demanding an answer. Celandine began braiding her hair, pulling tightly to ensure every strand was neatly in place.

“Not in particular,” Olivia responded with a sigh. “I try not to dwell on such troubling things.” She heard Sylvana giggle from the chaise-lounge.

“Don’t be so overdramatic,” her mother chided. Immediately she launched into her next point, revealing her true reason for asking such a useless question. “Have you thought about the young von Mohrentz boy? What was his name? Valen? Vorrick?”

“Viktor,” Olivia corrected with a small yelp as her mother pulled the braid tight.

“Yes, Viktor. That was it.” Her deft hands quickly laced the long locks of hair together. “You two have always been close. And he is the Heir-Apparent to the Duchy of Rozenheim. Wouldn’t that make you happy, dear?” she spoke of his title as if Olivia wasn’t already aware of his status.

“Viktor is a wild horse, Mother.” Olivia began, remembering her dark-haired friendly fondly. “He is too spirited to tie himself down to one woman.”

“He’s only 18, Olivia,” Celandine reminded, “all boys are like that at his age. He will mature as he ages. Remember, men age like wine—“

“Women like milk. Yes, I remember mother.” Olivia crossed her arms over her chest. “Viktor is…well, he’s different. He has this…ambition the other noblemen don’t have. Not for power but for something else entirely. Besides, he’s off adventuring.”

“It’s wanderlust, my child. He will be back,” Celandine finished the braid and secured it in place with a vivid purple ribbon.

“That’s not the only kind of lust he has,” Sylvana added in a sing-song voice.

“Sylvana Astera Martel. That is most unladylike of you to say.” Celandine chided.

“It’s true. Lady Andrea told me about all his exploits. He’s quite well-known among the noble ladies—and among most of the common ones, too.” She held her hand in front of her mouth as she laughed. Celandine scowled and gave her step-daughter a disapproving look.

Laughing, Olivia placed a gentle hand over her mothers. “It’s ok, Mother. I know how Viktor is. As you said, we spent a lot of time together, the two of us.” She smiled at the memory. Viktor was five years older than her, but he had never made her feel like a child. He was always supportive, kind, good-natured.

“He didn’t deflower you, did he?” Celandine blurted out, flustered. All the color drained from her face.

“Oh by the Gods, no!” Olivia replied, eyes widening. Sylvana couldn’t contain her laughter. “Viktor and I are friends, Mother! Friends and nothing more! What Sylvana says is true, though. His reputation precedes him.”

Celandine breathed a sigh of relief and turned her attention back to Olivia’s hair. She twisted the braid up into a tight updo, the picture of elegance and grace. She took a moment to soak in her work. She saw Olivia sitting with clenched fists; in the mirror, her eyes held uncertainty, and her face was tense and anxious.

“You will find someone, dear. You are very beautiful.” She turned her daughter’s face towards her own. “But you are far too spirited. You are too old to be running around, learning to fight with iron. That is not a noblewoman’s place.”

Olivia twisted her head away and stared into the mirror. Her makeup was artfully applied, accentuating her large eyes and pouty lips. She was beautiful. “I don’t think being spirited is a bad thing…” she mumbled, more to herself than to her mother. Celandine ignored the comment.

“I think she’s ready, Sylvana. What do you think?”

Sylvana looked up from her spot on the chaise-lounge and gave her younger sister a once-over. “Stand up, Olivia.” She commanded. The half-elf stood and adjusted her under-clothes. She tugged at the tightly laced corset and fidgeted at the lightly decorated petticoat covering the vastly uncomfortably crinoline underneath. Sylvana stood and approached Olivia, circling her with the eyes of a hawk. “The corset it too loose mother.”

Celandine nodded in agreeance. “Stand up straight, dear.”

Olivia grimaced as her mother pulled the laces of her corset tighter around her waist, though it was over quickly and she found the snugness of the corset a small comfort.

Several more layers of dress came on with the dutiful help of mother and sister. The final layer, a silken gown of deep violet and gold, fit perfectly. It had been made especially for this occasion. The dress sat partially off the shoulders and dipped into a dramatic ‘v’ shape, exposing her slender neck and defined collar bones. Her mother slipped on an elegant necklace of pearls while her sister presented her with her gloves. White silk. She stepped into her shoes. They were black and featured a small heel. It did little to make the diminutive teenager seem taller, but she couldn’t deny the surge of confidence she felt from being fully done-up. Even among the nobles of the High Court, this level of dress was a rarity. It was exhilarating.

“Are you ready?” Celandine asked, checking once more to ensue not a hair was out of place.

“Yes, Mother.” Olivia responded. She was bursting with nervous energy. Would she meet her prince charming on this evening? Would she meet a prince to sweep her off her feet? She hoped, in the back of her mind, that she would see her friends here tonight.

Sylvana took her spot next to Olivia, lacing arms with her. Sylvana was tall and thin, and the slim silhouette of her green and silver dress did everything to accentuate her natural Elven frame. “Remember, sister,” Sylvana whispered as they walked towards their grand entrance. “There are a thousand beautiful noble girls out there. It will take more than a pretty face to win over a powerful man.”

Olivia swallowed hard, recognizing her sisters’ words as true. The marriage between Sylvana Martel and Lysander LaVaille would be perhaps the most important political alliance their House had ever secured. Olivia could only hope her mixed-blood wouldn’t scare many potential suitors away.

As they approached the doors of the grand ballroom, Olivia’s chest tightened in anticipation and fear.

“Are you ready, sister?” Sylvana asked with a smile.

For the first time, Olivia let her anxiety rule her. “No.” she said, but the door was already open and they were already walking inside.

Olivia soon found her fears over suitors were unfounded. She was drowning in men, coming up to idly chat and test her temperament. Some reached for her in a way that made her want to recoil in disgust; but she couldn’t. She giggled politely and quietly and politely excused herself. After those encounters, she always searched the crowded ballroom for a familiar face. Finding none, she resigned herself to fidgeting with the purple and gold folding fan she held in her delicately gloved hand.

Other men were gentlemen. They bowed and kissed her hand, smiled and made polite conversation. Some of them were even handsome. One of these men, a tan-skinned wood elf, introduced himself as the Prince of Kar-Branth, Kaladin Stormshield, from the far-away continent of Dalmasca. He was stunning, with green eyes that sparkled with a youthful intensity. He was far more charming than the Barons and lesser nobles come to talk about themselves or of nothing of true importance.

The several minutes they spent talking felt like much longer; the world around them seemed to grind to a halt as they spoke. He cut a royal figure, tall and leanly muscled, with the kind of stature and sway only someone of great importance dared display. Yet he didn’t seem cocky or arrogant in the slightly. When he spoke, his voice deep and clear as a Soldan bell, his words held sincerity.

“I’m not so much of fan of these kind of…traditions…from this land,” he admitted, his perfect smile fading into a bit of a scowl. He gestured to the Court. “In Kar-Branth, extravagant displays of wealth such as these are viewed as distasteful.

Olivia suddenly felt very self-conscious in her expensive silk gown. He seemed to have realized his mistake almost instantly.

“I am sorry, Milady. I did not mean to speak so bluntly on the subject. Different cultures is all.” He smiled down at her, though it was weaker than before. “Perhaps we can spend some more time together. I would love to learn more about this kingdom. Clearly, I need the education.”

Olivia felt her anxiety melt away at his joke. “Yes, of course. I would like that. And I, myself, would love to learn more about Kar-Branth.” His smile swelled and he grasped both her hands in his, firmly but gently.

“Fantastic. Lady Olivia, I will be in the city for a few more weeks and I will be sure to call on you before I leave.” Prince Kaladin bowed deep and low. “For now, I must take my leave. But be assured, I will be thinking of your beauty until our next meeting.” He dipped into the crowd, granting one last thoughtful smile over his shoulder.

Olivia swooned and pulled her hands close to her chest.

“I will be thinking of your beauty until our next meeting.” A sing-song voice mocked from behind her. She turned around quickly, her face flushed with red. Who had been listening? Olivia’s embarrassment quickly turned to excitement.

“Viktor!” she exclaimed, must louder than was proper for a lady. It took every ounce of effort not to throw her arms around his neck and embrace him. He took notice.
“Your grace, Olivia Rowan of House Martel, Princess of Rivara, Baroness of Elysium, ordained to rule by the grace of his most holy Baldir. You are looking ravishing this evening.” He took a step closer. “How long has it been since you’ve graced me with your smile?”

“Two years, seven months, and three span. Approximately.” Olivia said casually. She tried to hide her grin but failed miserably. “But who is counting?”

Viktor laughed a deep, hearty laugh. His fine silks strained against his lean, muscular chest. It wasn’t until Olivia took a moment to take in her best friend’s appearance that she noticed how much older he was. Three years of adventuring had made him strong and dexterous and it had aged him. He was still young for an elf—a child by most counts—yet he seemed much more mature than many men twice his age. His eyes had seen death. His sword had known blood. Physically, he was still as radiant and youthful as the next 22-year-old boy; mentally, his adventures had taken their toll.

“I apologize for my state, Lady Olivia, the only formal clothes I have were from before…” He tugged at the too-short sleeve. “As you can see, I’ve done a significant amount of growing since then.”

She placed a hand on his arm in a show of comfort. “You look like the dashing rogue everyone always says you are. You have grown, though I wouldn’t say that was a bad thing. You have a rugged handsomeness about you. The ladies of the Court are going to love it.”

“You have grown, too.” He said, stepping backwards to fully take her in. “You are a noblewoman of House Martel now and you look the part phenomenally. You are most assuredly the most beautiful woman here.”

Olivia blushed a deep shade of crimson. “There is no need to tease me, Viktor.” She said, catching a glimpse of a mischievous sparkle in his bright, golden eyes.
“Milady,” he put a hand to his chest and acted offended, “I would not dare to tease you. I am simply in awe your beauty. If I were struck down now, by the will of the Gods, I would die happy, knowing I had the chance to gaze into your lovely amethyst eyes.”

“Viktor,” Olivia warned, her face hot with embarrassment.

“Is this what Sylphademus meant when he wrote of a maiden fairer and more lovely than even the angels of Heaven? Or when he compared his lover’s radiance to the first light of morning?” he made a grand gesture with his hands. “All this, and yet, your charm and allure put to shame even the brightest of evening stars.”

Olivia covered her face with her hands. Viktor always had a flair for the dramatic. Always. Being on the road had made his theatrics more flamboyant than ever.
Viktor motioned to the instrument case strapped on his back. “Shall I get my lute?” he asked with a childish grin. Olivia playfully slapped his arm and laughed, her face still flushed deep red.

“Now, now you two.” A male voice, deep and clear, cut through their laughter. Both nobles instantly froze, all the color draining from their faces. “Viktor von Mohrentz. Playwright. Musician. Adventurer.” Before them stood Lysander Lavellan. His neat blonde hair was kept relatively short and tidy. He towered over most of the other men in the room at 6’2” tall; adding to his imposing nature was his physique—sturdier and more muscular than was normal for a pureblood. He was in ceremonial plate armor, colored silver and adorned with intricately carved fleur-de-lis. He wore a cloak of deep, luscious green, attached at the throat with a pin of silver signifying his status. Sylvana clung to his arm looking nervous in her matching gown.

Viktor quickly bowed, lower than was probably necessary. “Your grace,” he said, not daring to look up. “Lady Sylvana. I apologize for our outburst, we were simply—“

“Stand up straight, von Mohrentz.” Lysander commanded. Viktor cleared his throat and dutifully followed his orders. “I am not here to police your etiquette, as lacking as it may be. I have a message for Lady Olivia, from my impudent little brother. Normally I wouldn’t care, but he made me promise.”

Olivia felt her blood run cold as he turned his gaze on her.

“Of course, your grace.” She curtseyed, trying not to make direct eye contact.

“He asked me to give you his most sincere apologies for leaving without first saying goodbye. He was called away on business.” The coldness in his voice made Olivia shiver. “He wishes you the best of luck in your pursuit of a worthy suitor.”

“Thank you, your grace.” Olivia bowed her head. “I greatly appreciate the effort, all the same.”

He gave her a disdainful look. “Come Sylvana.” He began to walk away. Sylvana gave her sister a single sorrowful look and quickly hurried alongside her betrothed.

Viktor waited until the two were well out of earshot before he began speaking, his bard tongue spitting out his true feelings as soon as he was sure it was safe. “He gives me the creeps,” he said, crossing his arms. Olivia nodded in agreeance.

The two found a sitting room where they could converse away from the crowded ballroom. They dared not speak of Lysander, keeping the conversation as light as possible. Viktor regaled his friend with stories of his adventure. He told her the bawdy tale of being trapped in the Fae with the Elurian, a beast of legendary seductive powers known for kidnapping men lost in the Faerie Realm.

“How did you escape?” Olivia asked, eyes wide at the story.

“I tricked her,” he replied, pride evident in his voice. “She had gifted me with—with power, of sorts. And under the full moon, I performed a song which entranced her long enough for me to escape. I spent five years in the Fae, trying to find a way out. When I returned to this realm, I found only three days had passed.”

“No way!” Olivia covered her mouth. “That can’t be true. You didn’t get kidnapped by the Elurian. That couldn’t have happened!”

“But it did!” Viktor laughed. “Every word—completely true. Now, I can use music to make magic, a gift from the most seductive goddess in all the Fae. One day, I might even show you.”

There was an awkward silence between the two of them. Viktor looked deep into Olivia’s eyes, knowing the question she wanted to ask. And in his eyes, Olivia already knew the answer.

“You are leaving again, aren’t you.” It wasn’t a question. Olivia clenched her jaw and looked down. She felt her eyes stinging as tears began to form.

“Unfortunately yes. I have…things to attend to. Important things.” He grimaced. “Olivia, I am going to tell you a secret. It is very important that you keep this between us.”

She met his gaze. It was an intense stare. His eyes weren’t the gentle eyes of a noble who had never known hardship. They were the hard eyes of an adventurer.

“I am renouncing my title.” He said in a firm, serious tone.

Olivia gasped. “What? You can’t!” she hissed through clenched teeth. “You are the heir and—“

“I know what I am Olivia, and I can assure you, in my heart of hearts, I am an adventurer, not a Duke.” He gave a heavy sigh. “I have found a reason for my existence, far beyond the gilded cage we call the High Court. People respect me and not for my name or my title or my wealth, but because I have proven myself worthy of respect with my actions.”

He continued, “People see me as Viktor, Giant-Slayer. Viktor, Dragon’s Bane. Viktor, Conqueror of the Fae. I would rather die than see myself become a stuffy old man, locked in his castle, oblivious to the needs of the common people.” He huffed, crossing his arms over his chest in a display of childlike indignance. “For the first time in a long time…I’m happy.”

Olivia thought for a moment, organizing her thoughts and thinking hard about what she wanted to say next. “If you are happy, I am happy.” She said, putting her hand gently overtop of his. “But you know…so far you are the only man in this room I’d actually want to marry.”

Viktor’s cheeks flushed dark red. “Oh—I, well…Lady Olivia, are you sure, I mean—“ she laughed as he stumbled over his words. “What about Prince Charming?”

“The devil you know…”

The rest of the evening was spent dancing, talking, and meeting with suitors and old friends. She felt like a piece of meat hung before rabid dogs and by the end of the night, she was tired of the idle chatter. The training room was a much less treacherous battlefield and she found herself aching for more lessons. She still nursed the deep wounds her teacher had given her not two days before. Knowing he had been called away unexpectantly did little to resolve the disappoint Olivia felt in her chest.

Viktor was not the only noble son she was willing to wed.

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