A Brotherhood Reborn

Session 1
Daring Escape

24 Eostra 1282.

Deep in the Darkspire Mountains, our heroes lay helpless and captured in the Crucible, a maximum security Arcadian prison. As they are escorted into their cells, they witness a man, Kaine, being beaten senseless by guards. He is thrown into their shared cell and left bleeding on the cold stone floor. Kaine manifests a keyring, grinning through the crimson streaking his face. An opportunity for escape.

As Kaine frees the party from their restraints, they begin to discuss their options. No one knows how to get out of the prison, but Kaine has an idea. Another prisoner, kept in the Pit. Reluctantly, the party agrees.

The party attempts, in vain, to sneak quietly through the prison. A number of ungraceful falls later, the whole prison knows they are missing. The clock is ticking and our heroes must race against time to rescue this mystery figure.

Olivia and Ilivan discover and utilize a ventilation shaft to navigate the lower levels unseen, while Kaine and Flint maneuver the ground floor beneath them. Olivia and Ilivan witness the brutal torture of a miqote woman. The situation goes from bad to worse when news that a Judge has arrived reaches the Warden.

As the guards and Warden vacate the torture chamber, the party rescues the miqote woman. Her name is Zakathera Windfury and she was once the leader of the Archon Brotherhood, the failed rebellion from so many years ago. With this information, the party realizes just how much is at stake, and how deep in it they now are.

They encounter guards on their ascent. Olivia—who has never seen battle—can’t seem to land a hit, while Ilivan and Flint roll through the guards with frightening efficiency. Kaine attempts to rip the silence collar from around Zakathra’s throat.

Once Flint and Ilivan dispatch the guards, they continue on. Once they reach the exit, the party begins unlocking prisoners, starting a prison-riot and causing just enough chaos for them to slip past the dreaded Judge Rylof, the legendary Butcher of Arcadia. They aren’t home free, yet. The party boards a gondola in an attempt to flee the prison, but Judge Rylof has other plans. Charging up his Hell-fire Orb, Rylof attacks the party with cold-blooded intent. Zakathra, using what little strength she has, forms a wall of ice to shield the party from the brunt of the blast. The Hell-fire Orb causes a massive explosion, knocking Zakathra out and sending the gondola flying down the mountain.

A few hours later, the party awakens, injured and bleeding within an inch of life. They are cold and hungry and tired beyond belief. Kaine sets up a camp and keeps watch over a quickly fading Zakathra. Ilivan takes to the city in an attempt to find food, shelter, and a physician. He is unable to find anything other than a bunch of dumbos selling “medicinal” herbs. He spends almost all their combined money and comes back with some herb, some cooking supplies, a 10-foot pole, and other items of varying usefulness.

Luckily, the herb really is of the medicinal variety and Kaine is able to stabilize Zakathra. She recognizes both Flint and Olivia, though the two have very different reactions to the Miqote noblewoman. Olivia refuses to eat the rations that have been procured and instead goes hungry.

26 Eostra 1282.

After some argument, the party decides to head towards the city of Ronin, despite the heavy Arcadian influence. It is a day and a half walk and they arrive just in time to see a huge Arcadian airship docking nearby. Ilivan recognizes the airship as a Frigate-class Airship, and guesses that a Judge must be aboard. The party spends the rest of their money in Ronin and Olivia procures some much-needed food. The party buys some ingredients so the resident princess doesn’t starve to death. Olivia steals a bolt of fabric and manages to make a put together a makeshift outfit. Despite their attempt to bargain, the party isn’t very successful in their attempt to buy new armor or weapons.

That evening, the party discovers a thief in the midst, who they intimidate into giving them information. The thief escorts the party (and Zakathra) to the local Desert Crowes hideout, where they convince Shawn, the leader, to give them a job. The job? Infiltrate the Arcadian airship and steal the valuable supplies before they can be delivered. And yes, Judge Rylof is aboard and he is pissed.

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Session 2
The Heist

26 Eostra 1282 -

After some tense negotiation, the party is able to secure a more beneficial arrangement with the Crowes. They recruit a Halfling thief by the name of Rex, who provides the party with maps and insider information. With desperation setting in, the party decides to steal the treasure from Calamorne’s castle, right out from underneath Judge Rylof’s nose. This plan is risky, but the payoff is enormous and it won’t hurt their reputation any, either. The only problem? They have to wait until after the loot has been moved from the airship to the Manor.

To pass the time, Olivia, Illivan, and Rex attend the Dragon Festival, worshiping the black dragon who created (and lives in) the Drakemoor Swamp, just south of Ronin. After some investigating, the trio discovers that no one who has entered the swamp has ever returned. This causes the party to have some second thoughts about their next steps. Illivan flirts with a merchant so that Rex can pilfer some goods from his stand and their plan goes off without a hitch.

Meanwhile, Flint attempts to hunt in the swamp but without a bow, his attempts are futile. He tries to get more information out of Zakathra but the beautiful noble is still playing her cards close to her chest. Flint has more success with Kaine, learning about his band of merry mercenaries, as well as his involvement in the failed rebellion. Flint quizzes Kaine on his involvement with Zakathra but is unable to find out anything substantial.

Once Ollie, Illie, and Rex return from the festival, they share what they learned with the rest of the party, and the group unanimously decides to change course for the Shabir desert.

On first watch, Illivan and Zakathra have an almost romantic fireside chat as the two get to know each other and Illie reveals more about his past. He confines in Zakathra that his son was stolen from him, the mother of his child most likely slain.

On second watch, Olivia and Rex discuss the pros and cons to being a noble. She speaks more of her good friend Viktor, who renounced nobility for a life of adventure. She argues very persuasively that you don’t need to be rich to be an adventurer, and tells Rex he is welcomed to join them, should he chose.

On third watch, Flint and Kaine talk about Kaine’s involvement with the previous rebellion, as well as his ideas for where the party should go next. He informs Flint of a woman the party may be interested in recruiting, someone in high-command of the Desert Crowes.

27 Eostra 1282 -

The party sneaks into Calamorne’s castle and is able to handily sneak past most of his guards. They secure several treasures as they creep through the manor. Kaine, Flint, and Illivan are able to grab a guard and knock him unconscious. Illivan dons his armor and is able to blend in and cause a distraction so that Rex and Ollie can find and disarm a secret passageway into the treasure vault. This goes poorly. After Rex is uncertain he has the skills to disarm the trap, Olivia takes his thieves’ tools and tries for herself. The trap detonates in her face, knocking her unconscious. Once inside the vault, Kaine tends to her injuries and brings her back to consciousness. Flint uses his magical prowess to disarm an arcane trap surrounding the chest and the party is able to backtrack to the 2nd story landing. Judge Rylof descends the stairway, noticing the something is amiss. The party has to act fast, or they risk being discovered and likely outright killed.

Olivia and Rex are able to sneak ahead of the rest of the party and secure an exit. They secure the last of their rope and throw it out the second story window. The party descends, but Olivia slips and falls 20 feet, only to land on top of Kaine and knock herself unconscious (again). The party hides in some bushes as Judge Rylof peers out the window, seething.

Kaine once again wakes Olivia, but they have no way out of the castle grounds. They bribe Rex into making a distraction so they can escape to the Crowe’s headquarters, unseen and undetected.

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The Gang Goes Balls Deep

29 Eostra 1282

The party spends two uneventful days trekking back through the swamp. They safely make the journey and arrive in Zaren fully intact. The party secures some more supplies, including additional waterskins and some more turnips for turnip stew. Ollie secures a few rooms at a local inn where the party can sleep and bathe. Olivia bitches about the water and gets herself and the party on the wrong side of the innkeeper.

The next morning, the party prepares to traverse the Shabir Desert…

30 Eostra 1282

The group begins their journey into the hot and oppressive desert. Ollie spends the entire trip complaining about the heat and the sand. As the first day of their journey ends, the party stumbles upon an inn, standing alone amid the endless expanse of sand. They enter the inn and the innkeeper graciously offers them six rooms; in exchange, he asks only that the party helps around the store in the morning.

Zakathra, Kaine, and Rex retire early while the others try to get more information out of the innkeeper. Ollie gets ready for an evening bath when she discovers a strange symbol carved into the wall of her room. Feeling suspicious, she goes downstairs and attempts to get Illivan’s attention by suggestively flirting with him. Illie accompanies her upstairs, where he is also unable to identify the symbol. Ollie again goes downstairs, this time suggestively asking Flint to join her and Illie upstairs. Once upstairs, Flint can’t identify the symbol, either. They agree to go fetch the GOOD paladin, Kaine, from his room, but once they enter his room, he is nowhere to be seen.

Rex and Zakathra are also missing. The party marches downstairs to confront the innkeeper, but he, too, has vanished. The party concludes that they must have been snatched in their sleep and reluctantly decides to try and go to sleep.

1 Brightleaf 1282

They awaken in the same inn as they fell asleep in and nervously go downstairs. There, they find the Innkeeper, this time clad in a half green, half purple suit. The Innkeeper gives them an ultimatum: play along, or they will never see their friends again—also their friends will probably die.

The party agrees to the Innkeep’s terms and follow him into a small room with a grandfather clock. The door closes behind them and the man explains the rules to the games.

The first game is a Room of Mirrors without any mirrors. Instead, there are signs with directions on them. The only rule: don’t use pen or paper. After some trial and error, the party discovers they must do the opposite, or mirror, what the sign says. If the sign says “go left”, they must go right. The rooms seem to magically shift and change before the party’s very eyes, and it becomes more and more apparent that they aren’t in the material realm anymore.

Olivia uses the ink Flint recovered in the heist and uses it to keep track of their progress on her forearm. After cheating their way through the room, they are congratulated on their ingenuity by the Innkeeper and he compliments the party’s style. He then whisks them away to their next challenge: a game of cards.

In this game of poker, the players bet with hit points. Olivia and Flint are unsure of how the game works, so Illivan takes the lead and wins the first hand. The Innkeeper is delighted when the hands are revealed and there are 5 kings in play. Olivia begins to have an idea with who they may be dealing with, but is unable to quietly share her revelation.

The final challenge is a large, open arena. In the stands are thousands and thousands of copies of the Innkeeper, who also acted as MC and referee. He reveals his true name as Andromalek, God of Chaos. He explains that in the adjacent arena, Rex, Zakathra, and Kaine are also battling for their freedom. A loud draconic shriek pierces the air and Andromalek giddily introduces his pet dragon, Snickers. Snickers is, unfortunately, locked in a life-or-death battle at the moment and is unavailable for a meet-and-greet.

At that moment, the party’s first adversary enters the arena in the form of a bored looking orc named Frankie. Frankie is the arena custodian and is not very interested in fighting. Flint is able to disarm Frankie and together, Flint and Illie dissuade him from fighting. Frankie realizes he doesn’t get paid enough and leaves.

With that momentary victory, another adversary enters the arena. This one is a large, brutish, and incredibly stupid (even by Ogre standards) Ogre, named Charles. He lumbers forwards, swinging a great-club. He knocks Illie aside and attempts to throw a javelin at Flint. Meanwhile, Olivia sulks behind pillars, waiting for a moment to strike. Illie wonders aloud whether he should play it safe or go balls deep.

Illivan charges at Charles, attacking his with his longsword, going HAM. Charles pulls back his great club and swings, hitting him and knocking him unconscious. Olivia throws a healer’s hit towards Flint, hoping he can revive their now unconscious party-member. Flint tries—and fails—to heal Illivan and just as the Ogre raises his club to strike, Ollie sneaks up from behind and skewers the beast straight through his butt.

Andromalek reappears and congratulates the party. Two bugbear nurses move Illivan onto a stretcher and begin to carry him out of the arena. As he stirs into consciousness, Ollie is quick to remind him who vanquished the Ogre.

She leans in and whispers, “you just got saved by a half-elf. Bitch!”

Once the party has healed and rested, they are presented with their reward: they will each get to ask a question of Andromalek.

Illivan goes first, and asks if he can have a cheeseburger. Andromalek obliges and out of the chaotic neutral-ness of his heart allows Illie to ask a second question. This time, he asks, “do you know where my son is?” to which Andromalek responds, “yes, I do.”

Flint is the second to ask his question. He asks, “where is James?” and Andromalek ponders for a moment and turns the question over in his mouth before answering. “The infamous James…he is currently imprisoned in Rafnir.”

Ollie is the last to ask her question. Of Andromalek, she asks, “what must I do to get strong enough to avenge my family?” Andromalek smirks and thinks for a moment. “Hm.” He begins, a dark smile on his lips, “I suspect it will begin with the reunion of an old childhood friend.”

The group agrees that this sounds ominous and not at all like a good thing. Then, they unanimously decide to pledge the Brotherhood to Andromalek (without the consent of Kaine or Zakathra). They are given an amulet with Andromalek’s sigil on it, which, when the code-word is spoken, will transport them back to this very inn, provided they are underneath the open sky. And, as the party had recently found (a) God, they decided the code-word was “For Andromalek!”.

Their newly chosen God teleports them to the gates of Jazira, and Illivan instantly yells the codeword and transports them back to the Inn. Again, Andromalek returns them to Jazira.

The first thing the party does in the city is buy, specifically things colored green and purple, in honor of their patron God. The second step is to find lodging for the night. Flint does some odd jobs around town while Olivia and Zakathra try to find a suitable inn.

Ollie starts at an above-average inn and attempts to lower the price by poorly playing her lute (she is a violinist, not a lute-ist!) That backfires horribly and, out of pride, Olivia refuses to take the innkeeper’s offer. She then goes to the noble inn, where her and Zakathra see some too-familiar-for-comfort faces. Eventually, the go to the common in, where Illivan has been waiting the whole time. Olivia is able to convince the innkeeper to give them a discount (which Illivan refuses to take, opting to rent his own room separate from the group).

Zakathra and Illie each get their own rooms. Flint and Rex bunk together, leaving Olivia and Kaine to awkwardly discuss sleeping arrangements.

Now that the party is safe in Jazira, what will happen next? Will our heroes stick around, or will the make for Azmin at once? Find out next time!

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The Duke of Ravinia is Dead! His Family Murdered!

20 Eostra 1282 – AMARANTHE

Last evening Castle Martel was attacked in a vicious assault. Rebel soldiers stormed the castle, massacring everything in their paths. Witnesses report violence breaking out in the city soon after the Chambord army left the region. Zadimus Saxton, advisor to the late Duke Olivier, reportedly saw smoke rising in the night sky and organized a volunteer force to investigate. When they arrived, the castle was ablaze and littered with remains. Lord Saxton was able to drive back the attackers, though he was too late to save the Ducal family.

Imperial Investigators say the evidence corroborates Lord Saxton’s version of the events. Until a more suitable replacement may be found, Lord Saxton will be acting as Duke Regent of Ravinia, a role he says he takes on with a heavy heart.

Lord Saxton invites everyone to pay their respects to the late Martel family in Amaranthe in one week’s time, where their remains will be blessed and given proper burial.

A reward of 10,000 gold pieces will be awarded on the successful capture of the rebel forces responsible for the grizzly murder—alive. A reward of 100 gold pieces per head of anyone with rebel affiliation is also being offered. Those with information should report to their local Lord.

— Salamer Olstara

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The Gang Can't Get Along

The party spends their morning enjoying their free breakfast. There is still a lot of tension among the group, and Flint and Olivia continue to misunderstand one another. Halfway through their delicious, warm meal, a man enters the Inn and all eyes turn on him. He waves away the attention and pulls up a chair at the party’s table. He is clad in regal black armor, complete with a Judge’s Insignia. Zakathra is understandably tense. He introduces himself as Damien, and offers the party a deal, a quid-pro-quo. He explains that there is an ancient ruins hidden in the desert and within it, there is an artifact that is of great interest to him: a gemstone, amber in color, supposedly locked away under the sands for hundreds of years. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have an army at his disposal. He does have the key, however, and knowledge that there is a sea of endless treasure within the tombs. He’s willing to hand over the key in exchange for nothing, except the gemstone.

The party feels like they don’t have much of a choice and accept the Judge’s offer, though hesitantly. He hands over a bejeweled scarab and tells the party that he will be in Azmin in 6 days’ time. “Don’t be late!” he says with a handsome smirk.

There is yet another breakdown in communication and Olivia storms off. Illivan follows her, but all she does is go shopping, a boring experience. She secures a cute outfit and some makeup and the two return to the Inn. Ollie gets changed and does her makeup. Even after taking the time to cool off, tempers still flare as the party begins discussing their options. Flint chides Olivia for her crash bargaining methods, saying that she is damaging the whole party’s reputation. They go back and forth, not noticing when Kaine and Illivan sneak out of the tavern.

After a couple minutes, they notice their two compatriots are gone and put their differences aside to go find them.

Meanwhile, Kaine and Illie are on a mission to find transport to the ruins. They first stop by a bar to have a few drinks, The barkeep directs them to the Rent-a-Camel down the street. Thousands and thousands of ethereal butterflies begin fluttering around Illivan due to an unfortunate critical fail.

Ollie and Flint see the butterflies from across the bazaar and realize it must be their missing friends. As they regroup, they spot a foxy young lady arguing with the Rent-a-Camel staff. The party approaches and explain their predicament. Everyone agrees to work together to get to the ruins, even if the newcomer, Lucina, doesn’t quite trust the party.

The caravan arrives at the halfway point to Azmin and the party makes camp for the night. Their rest is uneventful and in the morning, they follow Lucina the rest of the way to the ruins. Once there, they encounter an old man, famished and malnourished, suffering from heat stroke. The party offers him water and rations and argues over whether or not to take him inside the ruins.

Once inside, Lucina cuts a tripwire and the hunt for the amber stone is on. The first locked door the party discovers features a small door with a strange locking mechanism: two interlocking crescent shaped seals need to be placed in a depression in the door.

The party continues down another hallway. They encounter a strange mirror that seems to have a magical aura. Touching it doesn’t do anything except leave finger prints and nothing else seems off about the mirror. They leave it for the time being. The first door they encounter here features a larger version of the strange circular key mechanism. Lucina determines that this must be the grand vault.

At the end of the hallway, they encounter another closed door. Illivan says “fuck it” and runs through the door, triggering a trap and become wounded by a cone of fire. In the room the party fights some spooky scary skeletons, which Illivan and Kaine easily dispatch with their divine smites. With the undead re-dead, the party discovered a hidden room containing the first piece of the crescent key. They continued down the hallway, coming to a room with magical beams of light emitting from moveable stone pillars. On the walls were magical sigils. Using their powers of deduction, the group concluded that each sigil must have a beam of light touching it before the door would unlock, and also that touching the magical beams would probably be very bad for their health.

After some careful deliberation, the party came up with an idea and executed it less than perfectly but still exit the room in one piece. They make their way down a long hallway with only one door on the right-hand side. Behind the door is a large room filled with sand. In the middle is a pedestal, with the other piece of the key right in the middle! The party debates whether they have something heavy to replace the key with, Indiana-Jones style, but eventually decide to come back once they finish exploring.

The continue on and find another mirror, but this one seems to be looking into the hallway where the other mirror was! Sweet, they think, this could come in handy. They turn left and continue onwards into another large room. They dispatch more skeletons and try to collect enough bones to equal the weight of the metal key. No luck. The discover a chest, which Olivia handily unlocks. Inside are some minor magic items and a skull-club. Illie takes the club, but still choses to use his rusty short sword anyways.

They keep going through the ancient ruins and come to another long hallway. Part of the way down the hallway, they notice an ornate blue and silver chest floating in mid-air. It doesn’t take long before they realize that it isn’t floating on its own—its in a gelatinous cube! Illie runs into melee, rolls a critical hit, and triggers Andromalek’s wild magic. A huge, glorious fireball envelopes both him and the cube. The party dispatches the cube with all the finesse and grace of rat-catchers and claims the ornate chest for themselves. Olivia comes close to unlocking it, but can’t quite get the last tumbler to click into place. Flint tries to grab her tools out of her hands while Illivan grabs for the chest. Flint yells for Lucina to come and try. Lucina looks at the lock and nods. “Yup. That’s a lock alright.” Illivan smashes the lock with his skull club trying to get it open, damaging the lock.

Frustrated, Olivia loudly announces that she will only be speaking to Kaine for the remainder of the adventure. Kaine is very upset by this announcement but tries his best to comfort her. They realize they now have to get the other key fragment to advance and begin discussing what to do. Olivia whispers to Kaine that they should try to stand outside the room and lasso the artifact with their rope. Kaine relays the message to the party, who dismisses it. Kaine suggests trying the rope around himself while he grabs the artifact. Flint and Illie agree to this idea.

As soon as Kaine grabs the key, water begins to pour from holes in the ceiling, turning the sand into quicksand. The party begins trying to pull Kaine out, but they are all very weak and he is sinking fast. Skeletal hands begin reaching out of the sand and grabbing hold of their hunky compatriot. Flint uses his mold earth so Kaine can more easily maneuver out of the quicksand, while both paladins use their divinity to turn some of the undead away. Olivia attempts to beat the last remaining skeleton with her 10ft pole but misses. Flint and Illivan attempt to take the pole out of her hand. Finally, Lucina grabs the pole and thwacks the skeleton hand hard enough that it releases its grip. Kaine is successfully pulled to safety, the key safe in his hands.

The party drags their chest and the key to the secret room at the entrance to the dungeon and take a short rest. After regaining some health, the party goes to the door with the small lock and places the crescents in their proper places. The door slides down and reveals a room with sand and a large sarcophagus.

The party kind of shrugs and pushes the sarcophagus open. The door slides shut behind them and a mummified figure rises from its supposedly eternal slumber. What ensues is a dangerous battle. Illivan contracts mummy-rot and Flint goes down. As Flint is failing his death saves, Olivia dashes forward and stabilizes him. Kaine tries to heal everyone as best he can, but his healing pool has run out.

Eventually, though, the party dispatches the mummy. It was a hard-fought victory and the party got both the key to the grand vault and the key to the ornate chest. Opening the chest, they discovered lots of loot, including a Ring of Mending.

The party uses a Scroll of Remove Curse to cure Illivan and happily continue onwards to the grand vault. Once inside, they encounter the old man, still thin and bony but no longer dazed. He poses a question to the party, a riddle of sorts. “If you don’t swallow me, I will consume you.” Olivia thinks for a moment and answers, “pride.”

The old man nods his head and slowly begins to transform. He sprouts wings and turns into a huge ancient gold dragon. He breathes fire on a sigil and two massive doors slide open to reveal the arcstone and tons upon tons of gold and gems. He commends the party on passing the test and introduces himself as Balthir, the guardian of the stone. He tells the party to guard the stone with their lives.

The party take the amber stone and spend their long rest wondering exactly how they are going to keep the stone away from Judge Damien…

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Azmin post
trip to Azmin

The gang goes to therapy. After passing the trials in the ruins our group makes the 3 day trip to Azmin. They make it with little complication, other than some giant scorpions attacking them. Once there Damian makes short work of finding them, but decides they can hang onto the arcstone for now. Rylof is in the city and Damian has other problems to worry about. All of the inns are booked up since Rylof put a blockade on the city. Luckily Kaine Used to live here the party shows up to a condemned house in the slums, all that remains of Kaine’s house is broken furniture and painful memories left here long ago. The party makes it their base of operation for the time being. The party does some odd jobs around town, some more successful than others, then meet up for group therapy. Flint talks to Kat about a seceret she’s been keeping from the party, while everyone else takes some down time in a tavern. After spending three days in Azmin the party still hasn’t managed to get the crow’s attention. What will they do next?
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The Gang Goes to Therapy

The Gang Goes to Therapy

The three-day journey from the ruined temple was marred with violent scorpion attacks. The party was able to kill the scorpions and harvest some of their meat and venom. Upon arrival in Azmin, the group promptly split, with Rex and Flint searching the area for any signs of the Crowes. Unfortunately, even with Rex, they were unsuccessful. Zakathra and Olivia tried to secure lodging at a few of the local inns, but learned every inn was completely booked. A Judge was in town and there was a blockade surrounding the city. No one was getting in or out by sea. Meanwhile, Kaine and Illivan sat at the bar, drinking alcohol, despite it being noontime.

Olivia gives the two drunkards the bad news. Kaine looks apprehensive for a moment, then timidly offers a suggestion. “I know a place we can go.” He says he used to live in Azmin and his house is still standing. Sort of.

In walks a suave armored man, hair slicked back and arrogant smirk plastered on his ridiculously good-looking face. Several well-armed men follow in behind him. Damien approaches the party and casually leans on the bar. His tone is faux-friendly as he goes through pleasantries with the party. “How were the ruins? Did you get any cool treasure? Oh, yeah, and about the stone we talked about…” The party tries to lie to him, which Judge Damien just finds so quaint. He claps and shakes his head. “Nice try. I love you guys; you all are so funny. But in all seriousness. We had a deal.”

He stops and cocks his head. “Be very quiet for—oh, I don’t know. 10 minutes?” he says as he quietly casts a spell of invisibility over the party. At that moment, Judge Rylof in full regalia storms into the bar, heavily armored footsteps clamoring against the sandstone floor. The two get into a verbal altercation, Rylof taking issue with Damien’s lackadaisical attitude towards the escaped prisoners. A few words are exchanged and Rylof reminds Damien who oversees this operation before leaving in a huff.

Still under the effects of the invisibility spell, the party watches as Damien exposes a spy among his men. “These prisoners are very useful to us, don’t you agree Randal?” he asks, his hand finding the hilt of his blade. Randal nods, and mutters an affirmative. Judge Damien sighs. “It’s a shame, Randal. I really did like you. But you should know better than to try to lie to me.” In a single elegant stroke, so quick it is almost invisible to the naked eye, Damien decapitates the spy and returns his blade to its scabbard. He turns to address the horrified onlookers.

“We had a run in with bandits here, isn’t that right?” he smiles as his pale blue eyes survey the crowd, “and no one saw any prisoners here.” a few people in the crowd nod, terrified. Damien throws a heavy coin purse on the bar and turns his attention back to the party.

“You’ve managed to work Rylof into quite a tizzy. I’m very impressed, I have to say. So, you know what? Keep the stone. You’ve earned it. Good luck with the blockade, and I’ll be in touch.”

Illivan and Kaine take full advantage of the free drinks while Zakathra and Olivia decide to peruse the market.

Not long afterwards, Rex and Flint discuss their prospects with the Crowes and make note of some suspicious spots. Flint has his eye out on some nice wrapping paper so they can wrap a cigar box and give it to Kaine. Flint feels a tap on his shoulder and turns around face-to-face with the fully armored Judge Damien. They exchange pleasantries, then Damien asks him if he has talked to Zakathra lately. “The Windfury’s are famous for their ice magic. But have you actually seen Zakathra do any magic? Since your daring prison break, that is?”

“Once. She chucked an ice spear at Rex.”

Damien nods his head. “Have you ever wondered why? I mean, she’s by far the most powerful person travelling with you. So why doesn’t she help more?”

Flint gets a little flustered under Damien’s intense gaze. “I try not to judge her too much, you never know what’s going on with a person and—“

“I’ll let you know why. A Windfury’s magic comes from their blood, right? So where do you think Zakathra draws her power from? And why do you think her attempts at magic have left her so weak?”

Flint starts connecting the pieces in his head. “Her magic…is killing her…”

“That’s right. Of course, there is a way to circumvent it. A special magic focus—a Windfury exclusive. There is only one in the world. It’s supposed to go to the heir, but her brother certainly doesn’t have it. And she doesn’t have it. I wonder where in the world it could be…now, history was never my strongest subject…but something tells me that whoever finds that focus is going to be in for a fantastic 2-for-1 special.”

“Anything else you want to say?” Flint asks, puffing himself up. Damien purses his lips and shrugs.

“Just thought you should know when that your ‘allies’ are keeping secrets from you, is all.” He turns to walk away, but Flint calls out. As he turns, he tosses Judge Damien a cigar from the box. Damien puts it between his finger and starts to leave. “I don’t smoke—but thanks!”

In a different part of the city…

Olivia buys a new dress and talks to Zakathra about the weight on her shoulders. She looks to the Princess for advice on her newly found responsibilities as the sole heir to the Duchy. They discuss Olivia’s plans for reclaiming her title, then run into Rex and Flint. As they are talking about going back to the bar to meet up with the others, Zakathra reveals that she knows where Kaine’s house is, and that she’s been there before. This stirs up a little jealousy in Ollie but she lets it go. Flint falls in line with Zakathra, and whispers that he needs to talk to her about something.

The four of them arrive at the same time as Kaine and Illivan. Kaine’s house is a small, one-story sandstone building, 2-bed, 1-bath, a kitchen and a small living area. On the front door is a notice, saying that the building has been condemned. Kaine enters first and the heroes follow single file behind him. The house has been absolutely ransacked. Furniture is overturned, papers and books thrown haphazardly about, picture frames lay shattered on the ground. Flint very quietly begins picking things up and righting the furniture. Kaine picks up a picture and looks at it in silence for a very long moment. Saying nothing, he sets the picture down and walks into his bedroom. Everyone starts cleaning. The party use the Ring of Mending to fix some of the curtains.

Olivia starts picking up the pictures and looking at them. Kaine, in his thirties, with a young, pretty woman, smiling and laughing.

A few moments later, Kaine returns with his old armor and weapons and a handmade blue scarf. He gives the party a weak smile. Olivia thanks him for letting them stay at his house. Flint presents Kaine with the cigar box and pipe and he is very touched at the gift. He thanks everyone and him and Illivan go outside to smoke and talk.

“You know, I don’t trust a lot of those people, but you trust me so I trust you.” Illivan says. The two talk a little bit about their pasts, with Illivan revealing more details about his missing son.

Zakathra and Olivia stay in the main bedroom while Flint and Lucina share the guest room. Flint says he’s going to sleep on the floor because he doesn’t want to break the bed. Lucina snuggles up on the floor next to him.

Rex sleeps in the living room with Kaine and Illivan, though they spend most of their time drinking and talking.

When everyone wakes up in the morning, Kaine has made them a full breakfast, complete with coffee. During their breakfast, Kaine announcing that he has signed everyone up for group therapy at the community center. Everyone kind of groans, except Rex, who is excited, and Illivan, who is very upset. Since the group therapy isn’t until later in the afternoon, the party decides to try and make some money but they can’t agree on what to do. Ollie and Flint don’t want to miss therapy, so they argue for something less time consuming—killing rats, for instance—whereas Illivan specifically does want to skip therapy, so he argues in favor of hunting down and exterminating the goblins that have been attacking the town. The party decides to split up, with Olivia and Flint taking up a job killing rats in a basement and Illivan investigating the goblins.

The job with the rats goes very well, with Olivia picking out a little albino one as a pet. They exterminate the pests and get a discount on all bread from that bakery. They hurry on their way—happy—to group therapy.

Meanwhile Illivan is getting himself into trouble. After speaking to some guards, he finds a group of seven or so goblins with a hobgoblin at their head. He tries to follow them, but fails his stealth check and they goblins notice him. Resigned to retreating, Illivan begins to run. The goblins give chase and several arrows later, Illivan is brought to unconsciousness. Just when everything seems hopeless, he is magically teleported to Andromalek’s realm. Andromalek gives Illie a cheeseburger and sends him back to the mortal realm.

Illie appears in a washed-out, grey building, easily recognizable as the community center of Azmin. He’s in group therapy. He has Kaine pull some of the arrows out of his back and a cleric from another party helps heal some of the damage on his body. Olivia and Flint come in and have a seat and get ready to talk about their feelings.

Therapy goes about as well as expected, with absolutely nothing being resolved. The party meets Sam and Grog, a human and a half-orc adventuring duo, who really just want to settle down and open their own bed and breakfast. The party helps them work through their issues and they both agree to leave the adventuring life. For Flint and Olivia, therapy only seems to open old wounds after a day of successful teamwork. Kaine is distraught, Rex finally tells Flint his name isn’t Dex, and Illivan finds the entire ordeal hilarious.

With group therapy completed, most of the party decides to head to the bar. Olivia plays the fiddle while Kaine, Illivan, and Rex got very, very intoxicated. Meanwhile, Zakathra and Flint went back to the house, where Flint finally brought up what Judge Damien had told him. Zakathra solemnly confirms that what Damien said was the truth and tells Flint that without her focus, she is basically useless. She tells Flint that their former general has her focus, so once they find him, she won’t need as much protection.

Everyone retires for the evening. In the morning, Zakathra goes over some plans and Olivia asks Rex to do some pick-pocketing for her. The group decides to investigate a missing person they saw on the bounty board. The head over to the woman’s house.

She introduces herself as Henrietta and says her husband, Henry, hasn’t been home in three days. She gives the party the name of the bar where he was last seen.

The party go to the tavern and talk to the bartender, who gives him the name of three of Henry’s good friends, and relays a sad story of Henry trying to have a good time while his shrill wife shrieks for him to come home outside.

At this part, the party thinks Henry probably ran away from his wife, but decide to keep looking into the matter. They go talk to the first friend, who tells the party about some of Henry’s gambling debt. They say he was in deep, going to the local “Herbalist” every weekend to gamble. The second friend is completely useless.

They go to the “Herbalist” and it is the cousin of the pot dealer—I mean alchemist—from Zaren. He says they are expanding and offers the party a wide variety of medicinal green. Illivan buys some. For bargaining purposes, of course. The “Herbalist” says he and Henry were cool, man, and that it was just a friendly game.

After a few more questions, the party is satisfied with his answers and go to meet with Henry’s last friend, a “noblewoman” named Brandy. They find her house easily in the merchant’s district. Olivia knocks on the door and is able to lie her way into the building. They go upstairs and find Henry and Brandy smoking herb and drinking. Shocker of the century. Brandy is extremely rude and ticks Olivia off. Henry attempts to bribe the party into not telling his wife. Olivia isn’t having it but Illivan and Flint are thinking about it. Olivia fails her deception roll and Flint has to do the rest of the talking. They agree not to tell and collect the 60gp from Henry. Later that evening, they send Lucina to Henrietta with the truth and collect the other 30gp.

As the party is getting ready to retire, they realize Rex is missing!

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The Gang has Girl Problems

The Gang has Girl Problems

Once the gang notices their Halfling buddy has disappeared, they set out on a late-night search. Despite looking for an hour and talking to the guards, they are unable to find any sign of Rex. Olivia gives Kaine a gift she picked up for him in the market and he, surprisingly, has a present for her, too. A journal, so she can take out her anger on the book and not the local barkeeps. Illivan is out of commission, which leaves Olivia and Flint to save the day. Flint goes to the tavern Rex had been frequenting to speak to the bartender while Olivia went to the market to search for any signs.

Flint finds out that Rex left around 7pm last night, with a lady he had never seen before. Flint is excited by the prospect that Rex was finally able to get some.

Meanwhile, Olivia spots a Halfling carting around a large stack of fancy boxes; he’s trailing a well-dressed busty woman. Olivia is initially convinced it can’t be Rex, but a quick investigation reveals it to be their Halfling compatriot. Rather than do the rational thing and go get Flint, Olivia decides to follow them and find out where they are staying. She discovers a nice house in the merchant district, not far from the town square. Ollie tries to climb into a 2nd story window, but fails terribly. She’s spotted by a noisy old man, who won’t stop threatening to call the guard until she gives him a gold piece to be quiet.

At this point, Olivia decides to try another approach. She buys some cheap flowers from a local florist and knocks on the front door.

To her surprise, Rex answers.

“Rex!” Olivia exclaims, “what happened to you, why didn’t you come home last night?”

Rex looks around, clearly dazed. “I…I don’t know…”

Olivia bites her lip. “Rex, come on. We have to go.”

“I…can’t.”

“What? Why not?” Olivia starts tugging on his sleeve.

“I don’t know, I just…can’t.”

A voice calls from the other room. “Rex, sweety. The dishes need done.”

Rex snaps to attention and turns around, leaving the door wide open. “Coming dear.” He says, as he walks into the kitchen. Olivia takes a peak around, but can’t find anything suspicious. Realizing he must be under a spell, Olivia decides she needs to find Flint and let him know what has befallen their friend.

It doesn’t take long to find Flint at the docks. Olivia, flowers still in hand, starts trying to explain what happened.

“I found Rex!” she said between breaths, her hands on her knees. “He’s with a lady, but I don’t think he wants to be.”

They discussed the possibilities for a few moments. Flint asked if maybe Rex was just attracted to a beautiful woman. Olivia relayed how dazed and confused Rex had been when he spoke to her, and how he dropped everything the second he heard her voice. Flint agreed it sounded like a spell of some sort, but the two were unsure how to break Rex out of it.

Olivia suggested that they act like salesmen of some sort to try to gain access to the house. Flint felt like they should wait until evening but Ollie wanted Rex to get them into the poker tournament that night. After a few moments of debate, they decided to act like flower salesmen.

On the way back to the busty lady’s house, the crossed paths with a Miqote-only brothel, called the Cat House. Flint was starstruck, but Ollie pulled him onwards, saying they’d have time for girls later.

They approached the house and knocked on the door. This time, a pretty woman opened the door. She was indeed busty, but probably on the wrong side of 30. Regardless, Flint and Olivia gave her their spheal and were able to subtly push themselves into her house. They kept talk fast-talking trying to stall for time. Flint asked to use the restroom and Olivia ran to the kitchen trying to get Rex. She tried pulling him out of the front-door but he struggled to the point where Ollie couldn’t carry him. She begged and pleaded, and Rex really did want to leave, he just couldn’t. As the woman started walking down the hallway, Olivia had to let Rex rush back in the kitchen just to avoid being caught. Eventually she asked Flint to go get her some flowers from the flower stall, and gave him 8gp to fetch them for her. Flint didn’t think anything of it, and took off with the money.

In order to get to the market again, Flint had to pass by the Cat House. This time, he didn’t have any outside support. He had this gold that he had pretty much gotten for free, right? An hour or so wouldn’t kill anyone. Right? So Flint slid into the Cat House and was tickled and tantalized by two beautiful black-fur Miqote beauties.

Meanwhile, Olivia sits at the woman’s house, hands neatly folded in her lap, making small talk as best she can. Flint has been gone for several hours and things are very clearly not going according to plan. She still hasn’t been able to figure out what has Rex so twisted. Ollie looks into the kitchen and notices three “WANTED” posters hanging on the wall. This is when she realizes that they are so fucked. She excuses herself to the restroom to try to figure things out. There’s no window in the bathroom, so she checks the next room. She’s almost entirely out of the window when she stops. Ollie can’t just leave Rex behind. He’s an annoying little pervert, but he’s their annoying little pervert. She resolves not to leave without Rex.

She comes out of the room and starts making a little scene trying to play off her hour-long bathroom contemplation. As she steps into the living room, she sees the woman, along with a familiar black-armored figure.

“Oh, I think it just hit me again, haha. Round two.” She grasps her stomach and runs back into the bathroom, locking it behind her. Judge Rylof cannot be here. No, no, no. And where in the world is Flint? It’s been four hours!

At the Cat House…

Flint is almost out of money, so he starts to leave the Brothel. He is almost out the door when he stops to consider what he’s doing. Twins, he thinks. Black fur. With those thoughts, he turns around and goes back into the Cat House.

Back to Olivia…

There is a knock on the bathroom door. She opens it to Rex. She pulls him in the bathroom and starts trying to talk him out of his trance. Without his jacket, Ollie can see a glowing ruby necklace around his neck. She pulls it off and smashes it hard on the ground. Rex snaps out of the charm and Olivia starts unloading everything that happened on him. “Rylof is here, Flint disappeared four hours ago…”

“Shit. Rylof is here? What are we gonna do?” Rex asked.

“Ok, ok, I have a plan. Hear me out, ok?” Rex nodded, “Ok. So the plan is…are you ready for this? The plan is…we get captured. On purpose.”

Rex looks confused. “How does that help?”

“Ok, so you and me, we can get out of any locks they put on us. They are either going to take us to the Azmin jail, which we can break out of easy. Or they will take us to the airship and we get shipped straight to Arcadia. That one is less fun,” Olivia continued, “but we have a lot of chances to escape.”

“We still got that amulet, right Olivia?” the realization dawned on him as he said it.

“Yes! That’s it Rex! You are a genius!” she gives him a gentle kiss on the cheek. “Alright, let’s go get captured.”

They come out of the bathroom and walk down the hall, back to the living area. Rylof is sitting on the couch, his large frame combined with the full plate armor making the delicate tea cup pinched between his gauntlets look comically undersized. Olivia decides to stall for time by being as obnoxious as she possibly can be.

“What do you look like under that helm, Rylof?” she asks, “are you hot? Wait, Damien is the hot one, right? Is he the hot one? I can never remember my Arcadian history. I mean, your lips are pretty kissable, gotta admit so I don’t know, maybe you ARE the hot one…” She continued to babble. Rylof sips some tea and passes a large sack of money to the woman.

“Good work as always.” He says in his trademarked deep, manly growl. He turns to face Olivia. “Shut up. You will answer my questions. Understood?”

Ollie ignores him and continues to babble.

Rylof slams his hand and the tea cup down on the table. “ENOUGH.” He yells. “Bring me the Halfling.” A few soldiers begin to move towards the two rebels.

“No, wait.” Olivia stammers, “what do you want to know?” she places herself in front of the soldiers and Rex.

“First, what are you doing for Damien? Second, where are your friends?”

“We aren’t doing anything for Damien,” she says, “he just said, ‘oh good job pissing off Rylof, I love that’ and left. Second, we all went our separate ways. Me and Flint stayed together, but the other people said they had some business to do or whatever.”

Rylof seems to consider her answers for a moment before motioning for his soldiers. “Kill the Halfling.”

Olivia puts her arms out. “Leave him out of this, he’s not involved with us. He has no idea what we are involved in. Please.” Rex takes a few steps back.

“One more chance. What are you doing for Damien and where are your friends?”

“I already answered your questions! I told you! We aren’t working with Damien. It’s just me and Flint, and I don’t know where he is, he left hours ago!”

A cocky smile graces Rylof’s smooth, luscious lips. “Oh, I know exactly where your marble friend is. Maybe he will be more cooperative.” He signs for his men to manacle Rex and Olivia.

He leads them out of the house, the two friends walking side by side. They reach the Cat House, where two gorgeous black-fur Miqote escort a very satisfied Flint outside.

“Ladies. Tit. Tat.” He says. Vines sprout from the ground and entangle Flint, who doesn’t try to fight it at all.

“So worth it.” He says with a contented smile. “so, so worth it.”

Rylof tries to interrogate Flint, but Olivia keeps talking and talker. He signals for one of the soldiers to shut her up. The soldier takes a dagger and stabs her in the shoulder. It doesn’t faze her for a minute. She keeps talking, so the soldier drags the blade down.

“Meh. Not the worst stabbing I’ve lived through.” Olivia thinks aloud. Flint looks over at her.

“Hey Ollie. Are you ready to get out of here?” he asks. Olivia considers it.

“Yeah. Are we really going to talk about this right in front of Rylof?” she asks.

“Oh yeah. On the count of three. One. Two. Three. FOR ANDROMALEK!” Flint yells, disappearing into thin air.

Olivia grasps Rex’s hand in hers and yells the same, and the two disappear into the Realm of Chaos.

Andromalek is in the middle of a tea party when the three arrive. He seems surprised to see them. He recharges the party’s amulets and gives them magical items which are less magical and, well, more cursed. Flint becomes more in-tune with his lustful side and Olivia adds another traumatizing event to her night terrors. Andromalek in his infinitely sadistic sense of humor, teleports the three ratcatchers right next to Judge Damien, relaxing at a café with a margarita, just in time to see the smoke begin rising from the Cat House.

Arcadia’s best journalist is understandably upset with the group, declaring that they’ll be working Saturday just to cover up for his hot-headed compatriot. He reveals that he knows where the party is staying and that he’ll be in touch soon…

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Azmin post 2
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Illie gets sick. The party was very worried about Rex not coming home last night. Where is he? After doing some digging, Flint and Olivia manage to find him doing chores for some woman, and he’s acting a little weird. Flint and Ollie come to the conclusion that he must be under some spell. Or he got laid. But probably the spell. Flint and Ollie pose as flower salesmen to gain admittance to the woman’s house. The woman gives Flint money to go into town and buy more. Flint has different plans for that 8 gold and instead goes to the Cat House, a brothel of exclusively Miqote women. He meets some lovely twins with black fur. Needless to say, we don’t hear from him for a few hours. Meanwhile Olivia is still trying to get Rex out, wondering where the hell Flint is. After skillfully stalling for a couple of hours, it dawns of Ollie that this woman is stalling, too. She notices some wanted posters of the party in her kitchen. She quickly excuses herself to the bathroom. When she returns, she finds Rylof waiting in the woman’s living room. She’s a bounty hunter, surprise of the century. Rylof attempts to get information out of Olivia with no success. He restrains Ollie and Rex and brings them to the Cat House, where Flint is still under the spell of Tit and Tat. Those two are working for Rylof, too. Who would’ve guessed? After some threats from Rylof, Flint and Ollie use their amulets to teleport to Andromalek’s Inn. The two failures get cursed and when they are teleported back to Azmin, they end up right next to Judge Damien, sipping a mai thai, just in time to see smoke rising from the Cat House. Damien is very upset with them and say’s he will be checking in soon. The party heads back to Kaine’s house with Rex and informs the rest of the Brotherhood what, exactly, happened.

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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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