A Game of Thrunes

True Lies

Gaian walked briskly down streets and alleyways, keeping up a steady stream of chatter as he went; amusing anecdotes, historical facts, and concocted versions of both of the above. Anything, really, to fill the silence that would otherwise reside between he and his companion. They were halfway to Belor’s, and Ereniel had spoken not a word to him after agreeing to accompany him only to avoid arguing in front of the children. Gaian had known that his increasingly frequent absences from home overnight would have been taken rather poorly, but knew also that elves were far more patient than humans given their longer lives, and thus his wife would have more tolerance. This was one of those occasions, he was quickly realising, where knowing something did not necessarily make it true.

Suddenly Ereniel stopped to look at something, and Gain stopped beside her, following her gaze to the notice stuck in the shadowy corner of two walls.

“What does it say?” he asked curiously. “My eyes couldn’t see clearly in this gloom at the best of times, and those times were at least ten years ago!”

Was that a slight hint of scorn as she glanced back over her shoulder at him? Surely not. He was more interested in studying her demeanour than listening to her words as she read from the note. Truth be told he could read the notice quite clearly, having delightfully discovered recently that his goddess had blessed him with excellent vision in dim, or even completely dark, conditions. Not that he needed to read it regardless; after all, he was the one who had written it, along with several similar spread about the city. Neither fact, of course, was something that he wished for his wife to be party to, so he feigned attention as she read aloud:

“There’s a sketch of a masked person, and it says ‘Reward offered for the capture of, or evidence of the death of, the criminal knows as Nightswarm. This criminal has been complicit in interfering in the lawful excruciation of the Poison Pen, conspicuous in the assassination of Nox, and cocksure in his assertion that he was ridding Kintargo of the Temple Hill Slasher when murdering one of its citizens. Likely a member of the Rebel organisation calling itself Children of the Ash.’

“That doesn’t seem right.” Ereniel said with a small frown. “There’s no way they’d put up something like that. It has to be some kind of joke.”

“Joke?” Gaian replied, almost laughing out loud at the fact that his posters had not only aided in promoting the notion of Nightswarm, but also in prompting his wife to speak to him. It seemed luck was truly with him today. “I’ve heard mention of this Nightswarm during my tours around the city, and he is attributed with all those deeds and more. I think he’s probably real.” He whispered gleefully.

“I’m not questioning whether he’s real,” the elf replied “It’s just that this reads more like propaganda for him than a true wanted poster. And appears to authenticate a rebellion.”

“Only if one was sympathetic to rebelling against House Thrune!” Gain hissed in false alarm, taking the opportunity to move closer and place his hand on Ereniel’s arm. “Best to keep such thoughts to yourself. Such words could be interpreted poorly in present times.”

They continued on to Belor’s, Gaian choosing to remain quiet now lest Ereniel remember the frostiness she seemed to have relaxed in the wake of their conversation.
Arriving at the beer hall, Gaian led his wife to a table, giving a small wave to the man behind the bar as he entered and sat down.

“Who’s that?” Ereniel asked curiously.

“Bodeen. New owner.” Gaian replied simply.

“What happened to Titus?” she asked, her tone implying that she didn’t like the look of this newcomer.

Gaian paused, having forgotten momentarily that he had not brought his family here for some time.

“Nobody knows for sure.” He said softly. “But, well, you remember Rufus?”

Ereniel nodded. “I saw Winifred yesterday. Poor thing, stuck now raising that child alone. Still says the Temple Hill Slasher killed her husband.” She turned thoughtful, perhaps contemplating again the wanted poster.

Gaian nodded.

“It was Titus who stoked Rufus’ pursuit of the Slasher to start with. Believed the Slasher killed his wife, wanted revenge. Anyway, no body’s been found, but Titus disappeared the same time as Rufus. So one can assume.” Gaian shrugged.

Presently Mercia walked over with a bottle of wine and asked to take their orders.

“I’ll have the seafood stew.” Ereniel interrupted coldly as Gaian warmly greeted the woman.

“We don’t have that any more miss.” The waitress replied apologetically. “It’s all Tapo’s now.”

“What on earth is ‘tapas’?” Ereniel asked “And why would Sen stop doing his speciality?”

“Sen disapp…left.” Mercia said. “It’s Tapo now.”

“That the Slasher too?” Ereniel muttered, and Gaian almost choked on his wine at how very close to the truth that was.

“Huh?” the waitress asked.

“Don’t be facetious.” Gaian said with a forced smile. “I’m pretty sure Sen left to further his craft. Get a more personal experience as to what seafood is all about.”

The last sentence Gaian said in a voice that seemed somehow wrong. He tried to both clamp his mouth shut and gulp his wine at the same time, with predictable results.

“I’ll just get you some of everything.” Mercia said as she sauntered away from the table, throwing a strange glance back over her shoulder at Gaian as she went. Gaian watched her closely, wondering not for the first time if she suspected more than she let on.

“So, it’s her is it?” Ereniel asked coldly.

“What?” Gaian replied.

“Come on, you’re very cosy. The over the shoulder glance. You can barely take your eyes off her as she walks away. I admit I had my suspicions with all those nights you were delayed here past curfew. And there’s the new look; first that fancy cloak, and now that silly silver headband! But really,” she said angrily “Trying to take me out for some kind of reconciliation dinner to the place where she is? Are you trying to mock me?”

Gaian would have been tempted to laugh, had it not been for the narrowed eyes and stern mouth. Yes, women often were beautiful when they were angry. Beautiful in the way that a viper rears up majestically right before it puts its fangs through your heart. Thus he remained earnest in his demeanour.

“Ah, my dear, is that why you’re concerned? I assure you, you have nothing to worry about on that front. It would take a Countess to draw my attention from you, even for a night!” he smiled as she seemed to relax slightly. “You are correct though, in that I brought you here as a conciliatory gesture. I have been away too much lately, but things will hopefully soon change.

“As I’ve said, quite honestly I must maintain, my night-time activities have largely involved hunting down vermin in the city, due to the impact of recent changes on my usual business. But of late we have run into some good fortune, for there are a good many things buried under this city, and we are recently profiting more from our work.”

“We?” she asked, still far from placated. “Who is ‘we’. And don’t dissemble.”

“Business partners, who I do not wish to implicate at this time. It is far too dangerous to travel the sewers alone at night. While the Dottari do little to maintain curfew down there, there are all sorts of other undesirables.” Seeing she wanted more, he threw in “Pavo was formerly a part of this group. And Rufus.”

Throwing in the names of former companions she had liked, and who had met questionable ends, did the trick of turning anger to concern.

“And Titus?”

Gaian nodded solemnly. “But have no fear, their pursuit of the Slasher was nothing to do with me. Besides, it seems the murderer has met his end now, according to that poster.”

“I’m still worried. Think of the impact on the children if something happened to you. You said yourself the sewers are dangerous.”

Gaian was very aware of the impact of losing one’s parents, not that Ereniel knew that story.
“Well, put your worry aside. As I said, we’ve recently stumbled onto some good fortune, and have now invested in a business in Old Kintargo. All being well, things will improve and be back to normal soon. And,” he added “I’ve also managed to put aside some funds to send Raiia to Lady Docur’s in Velligre!”

“What’s wrong with Songbird Hall? She seems to be settling in there okay.” Ereniel replied.

“Sure, but remember the reason we initially sent her to Vaelus was because her head was already full enough of romanticism without Shelyn’s influence. And,” he said, lowering his voice “I’d rather not have her there in the current climate. Cheliax has never been too keen on Shelyn, and the way things have been lately…” he trailed off with a shrug.

Ereniel nodded. “I suppose. I wouldn’t think they’d be at risk. But then, I heard about what happened with the Knights of the Torrent.”

“Exactly. And won’t it be nice to have her learn more about her elven heritage?”

“I guess it will.”

The food came and the meal passed pleasantly, before the two left to ensure they returned home before curfew. Gaian smiled smugly at his own cleverness. He had essentially answered honestly to his wife’s questions without her realising the true meaning of his words, there to be seen yet beyond notice, like truths stacked against the wall. So pleased was he, that he only felt mildly annoyed when he saw Dottari taking down his wanted posters during the walk home.

“Gaian?” Ereniel asked just before they reached home. “To be honest, I really like the headband. It seems to give you a certain presence. In fact, perhaps I’d not have come around as easily without it.” She teased.

Gaian just smiled.

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Rexus' Revelation

Rexus couldn’t sleep. Something had been bothering him, but he couldn’t place his finger on it. He sipped at his mint tea – if you are going to face the government, may as well go all the way – and tried to clear his mind as Brother Vaelus had tried to teach him.

Breathe in, hold, breathe out, he thought, concentrating on the simple action. The smell of mint wafted through his small room. Outside, a night owl hooted.

He absently picked up his quill and starting doodling. The pattern of whirls gradually turned into letters, then words – a name.

TRAILBLAZER HUNI

Rexus stared at it for several moments, not thinking about it. Breathe in, hold, breathe out. He began scribbling again, the letters rearranged to make others words.

BIZARRE TUNA HILLL

Breathe in, hold, breathe out.

He began scribbling again, rearranging the letters once more.

Rexus gasped and leapt out of his seat. He reached for the door handle and ran down the hall.

Upon the page was written another name…

BARZILLAI THRUNE

- – -

Lentius massaged his temples. “So what does this mean?”

Vaelus tried to steady his hand as he sipped his tea, while Rexus continued to pace up and down, speaking nervously. “It means… it means we’re facing someone perhaps more powerful than we could ever imagine. Trailblazer Huni – Barzillai Thrune – visited the Secret Order of Archivists and read the Book of the Damned – years before he was assigned to Kintargo!”

“I don’t believe in coincidences,” Vaelus said firmly.

Rexus nodded. “Which means Barzillai’s assignment was planned long before the Glorious Reclamation’s rebellion.”

Vaelus nodded. “Martial law was just an excuse to send him.”

“So what was the real reason?” Lentius asked.

His question hung in the air.

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Revelations
Session 14

It was a week of revelations.

The Children rescued Marquel Aulorian, with Bug almost falling to the devil-dog Gorefangs.

Back at Aroldo’s house, they are surprised to find that Marquel is none other than the Poison Pen. Aroldo does not take the news well and asks the man to leave.

Nightswarm and Bug, however, see the advantage in ‘resurrecting’ the Poison Pen and urge him to continue writing, and in fact to spread propaganda for the rebellion.

Next the Children are contacted by Hetamon Haace, who reveals he is the leader of the Rose of Kintargo, a secret cult following Milani, goddess of uprisings. After pledging his assistance he asks for the Children’s aid: one of his members was murdered by the Slasher, and he asks they track him down.

They do, and discover the murderer was using a powerful dagger, Balgorrah, with its own intelligence, which urged him to kill. The murderer and the dagger are also involved somehow with a cult of Father Skinsaw, the murderous followers of Norgober. They are seeking out the ruins below the Lucky Bones.

Lictor Octavio reveals the Lucky Bones was shut down by his Order many years ago, after its inhabitants, thieves and murderers by the name of the Grey Spiders, were destroyed. Ever since, the Lucky Bones has been sealed – lost to history, and still filled with the loot of the Gray Spiders.

Full notes:

Marquel wants to leave the property immediately, he’s very concerned, he believes Gorefangs is spying on him, and it’s been seen conversing with a devil.

Bug does his best to signal to the others of the situation, but the best they can understand is that there is some kind of trouble.

Getting him out is difficult, considering Marquel’s withered arm, he and Bug go one floor down to a guest bedroom, and Bug tries to lower him down using bedsheets

Marquel falls trying to leave his home but he doesn’t have time to nurse his injuries, Bug ushers him towards the fence. Gorefangs spots them and begins approaching.

Combat begins as the noble runs for safety. Marquel continues to run, Cato fires his bow at Gorefangs, Aroldo casts a flaming sphere, Bug goes hand to hand.

Guards appear, but only watch for now, they don’t seem to be approaching.

Bug gets munched. Cato lands the killing blow, taking one head off completely with a wild slash.

With guards alerted, the Children end up hiding in the ruins of the Victocora estate. After this they end up getting to Aroldo’s estate.

There, Marquel admits to being the Poison Pen.

Aroldo, his suspicions confirmed, resists the urge to physically beat the coward, and leaves the room in disgust. Advises he must leave the next day.

The group question him further: Why was the dog watching him, if they don’t know he’s the Poison Pen. Marquel is sure it is due to suspicions that he is the PP. Gaian suggests that he could write propaganda pieces. The group will re-home him after Aroldo’s lack of welcome.

The group the next day leave him with Rexus. They head to Olmer, the dwarfish blacksmith. The workshop is open to the sky- human, and there are many assistants. Olmer explains that he is tasked with making weapons for the war. Olmer will help as best he can, feels he owes a debt to the Order of the Torrent. Can make magic weapons and the like.

Later that day, Rufus’ two friends approach Gaian at Belor’s. A tiefling has come forward with information and needs questioning. Hetamon of the Devil’s Threads is the one with the info, Gaian volunteers to go question him.

The next day they visit the Threads. There they meet Evalyn, Keldor’s girlfriend. She asks Gaian about Keldor, the group claim he went out into the night, breaking curfew. Never to be seen again…

Hetamon admits to being the Rose of Kintargo. Bug asks how he knows they’re the Children, Hetamon advised he found it easy to piece together all the bits of the puzzle. He is leader of the followers of Milani. H warns the government is closing in on the Children. Only a matter of time before they get them.

Changing the subject, he also knows the Slasher’s latest victim. The last victim was a member of his congregation. Has corpse here… Takes us out back to it. Many stab wounds, as if frienzied. Corpse not mutilated otherwise.

The description of the Slasher is that he has dark greasy hair, moustache and a glowing red kukri. Dark leather apron with many pockets, like an artisan would wear.

Hetamon casts Speak With Dead. The first question asked was ’can you supply a better description?’. Answer- was a Varisian man, smelt like rancid cheese. Walked with a limp. Rancid cheese is used to described slurk grease, used in the making of clockwork. Also confirmed there was a glowing red Kukri.

The group head down to Old Kintargo Art space where clockwork would be worked upon. They are shown around the place, don’t see anyone matching the description. Questioning others, they are alerted to someone who lives nearby, hadn’t been in for a while. Got the address. Name is Wex.

Group go the tenement where suspect lies. It is dilapidated. Old woman at the front. Bug goes up and asks if Wex is home. She advised that he isn’t home. He is in room 303. Group goes up to room 303. Bug gets us inside. There are flowers in here and some books.

Aroldo detects magic, as well as looking at the subjects of the books, Identified magic coming from other room (There are two doors). Most books on clockwork, some medical and alchemy. ‘Magic room’ is bathroom. Spell leads to one corner.

While investigating the bathroom, Cato is in the main room and notes a few drops of dried blood on the window sill, and scattered around the room. Drops of blood lead to bathroom. Aroldo has found secret door.

Bug checks other room, is a bedroom. Not much in here.

Secret room carved out of pillar. Carpets and cushions, with books around place. Kukri, is on the stand. Faint necromancy magic. Aroldo checks books- more off topic- alchemy and medical matters. Grisly, nature of blood, destination of souls, etc. Also notes of historical times of Temple Hill Slasher. There is a note suggesting the original Slasher was acted on by outside force. Balgorrah is the name above a drawing of the dagger.

Different handwriting on one note. Notify us when you gain access to the Lucky Bones.

On back- Father Skinsaw has given me the dagger to carry on the Slasher’s work.

Wex appears and stabs Cato in the kidney. A fight breaks out and the group manager to subdue him.

The first time it’s a trap, and he stabs Nightswarm in the chest as he goes to tie him up. The group actually subdue him for real the second time. They take him back to Hetamon, who organises a public execution where he announces that the Children of the Ash were responsible for the capture of this villain.

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Speaking of the Past, Present and Future

“Where are we going?” Alaria asks of Aroldo, breathing fast as she strives to keep up with the wizard.

Aroldo looks over to his friend and only then notices how fast his stride has gotten, a result of his nerves. He can’t also help but notice Alaria’s shockingly red hair and terribly applied make up. Her teeth were stained brown from the tobacco she was chewing, and the public were oft to look away in disgust every time she spits brown.

“There’s a couple of people I’d like you to meet,” grins Aroldo as Alaria glances around, soaking up the outside in one of her few recent excursions from Aroldo’s manor since her excruciation.

“Alright then,” Alaria responds, unable to disguise the curiosity she’s feeling. “Do we have much further to go?”

Aroldo doesn’t answer, he just gestures slightly with one hand as he suddenly heads down an alleyway. The alleyway smells of piss and rotting garbage, and the view isn’t much better.

The wizard finally pauses at a battered wooden door. He glances back at Alaria, who is wearing a puzzled look. He shoots her a reassuring grin and knocks on the door three times, pauses, then knocks twice more.

A woman’s voice can be heard for a moment, then a few seconds later there is the sound of a bar being lifted and tumblers in a lock turning. The door opens and the pair is confronted by a stern faced crone, the smells of a kitchen wafting past her.

“Good day,” announces Aroldo, bowing ever so slightly. "I have heard your kitchen was home to the best Kintargan Pudding in the whole city!

At this pronouncement, the woman nods slightly, before looking over at Alaria. Her eyes narrow, as if she doesn’t like what she sees. Suddenly a moment of realisation passes across her face. The crone glances at Aroldo who simply nods.

The old woman steps back, opening the door further, gesturing the pair in. As they enter Alaria’s eyes widen at the sight of a man sitting quietly in the corner.

He rises as they enter, and only Aroldo’s hand on Alaria’s back stop her from taking a step back. He’s about 7 foot tall and bulky, an intimidating mixture of fat and muscle. On seeing Aroldo he grins revealing a mouth of perfect teeth. “The mint man!” he exclaims in the voice of a child as he engulfs the wizard in a hug.

Aroldo extract himself from the hug and puts a finger to his lips. The giant claps his hands over his mouth. Aroldo reaches into his haversack and extracts a handful of green candies shaped like leaves. He hands them to the man who puts one quickly into his mouth, the smell of mint mingling with the other scents wafting around the kitchen. From seemingly out of nowhere the old woman appears and smacks the large man with a wooden spoon.

“What did I tell you, Marco?” she asks firmly, holding her other hand out.

“No sweets before dinner,” he mutters, handing his grandmother the lollies. Pocketing them, the woman moves over to another door, waving Alaria and Aroldo over. As they walk over, Alaria is almost certain she saw Aroldo sneak the giant another lolly with a wink.

Alaria is a little surprised to find herself in a small enclosed courtyard. She jumps slightly as the door is slammed shut behind them.

“Which door now?” she asks of her friend, gesturing at the three other doors leading out if the courtyard.

The wizard simply grins, and goes over to a pile of rubbish in the corner. Kicking some away, Aroldo reveals a trapdoor. He opens it, and gestures for Alaria to go down into the cellar.

With some trepidation, the Little Black Swan heads down, only to find herself in a warm, brightly lit room, rather than the dark cellar she was expecting.

There are several rows of stacked benches along one wall, disassembled truths against another. Along a third wall, several large barrels of ale rest, with several crates of bottles – wine and spirits.

Three men sit on stools near the drinks as if on guard. They rise at Alaria’s entrance. Aroldo moves between the men and the bard, grinning.

“Little Black Swan, I’d like you to meet some friends of mine!” Aroldo announces, waving slightly at the men. “They’re the other part of the Organising Committee of the Free Kintargo Society.”

Alaria smiles broadly at the three, and looks around again, as if re-evaluating the room.

The shortest of the three men steps forward, his ragged clothes reminiscent of a jesters. He begins juggling two balls with one hand as he elaborately bows. “I’m Gruckalus, noble ebony swan. I have the privilege of being your announcer, warm-up man, and all round second pair of hands.”

“A pleasure to meet you,” murmurs Alaria, who then claps as Gruckalus reveals 3 more balls and adds them to his juggling.

“And this here is your guide and bodyguard, Marius. Keep him close, and he’ll keep you safe. He can be salty sometimes, but it’s not a surprise, considering where some friends found him!”

The tall, sinuous man raises an eyebrow slightly at the introduction, but nods respectfully at Alaria. “Wherever you want to go, I’ll get you there. And no one is going to lay a hand on you without losing it.” As if to punctuate his statement he produces a dagger and throws it at the opposite wall, where it strikes a candle, snuffing it out.

“I don’t doubt it,” breathes Alaria, before saying more loudly. “If you can do that consistently, we could probably make you one of the performers!”

One corner of Marius’ mouth twitches upwards as the third man steps forward. "You can call me The Barman. Capital T, capital B.”

“No name?” asks the bard.

“Not yet,” replies the heavyset man, as he rubs his bald head." I find the venues, get the drinks, get word out. And sniff out Dottari spies and informers."

“A pleasure,” says Alaria, slightly put off by the lack of a name. “So, are we here to get things started?”

Looking around, she sees all four men nodding. They rustle up two more stools for the new arrivals…

  • * *

“Well, that went well!” Exclaims Alaria once back at the manor. “I can’t wait to get started!”

All Aroldo can do is smile slightly, sadly thinking Alaria may be underestimating the difficulty of their venture. Then he remembers the excruciation, and realises Alaria knows what’s at risk.

“I can’t wait to see you perform again,” Aroldo tells her as he uncorks a bottle of wine. “To our new venture,” he announces raising his glass.

Alaria takes a sip, “Can I ask a favour?”

“Of course,” replies the wizard. “What is it?”

“One moment,” she responds and leaves the room. A minute later she returns, putting something on the table in front of the man, before returning to her seat.

“Where did you find these?” Aroldo asks her as he picks up the deck of worn Harrow cards.

“Oh, just around,” Alaria responds, unwilling to admit rummaging through the house after giving in to her curiousity.

Aroldo flicks through some of the cards, then begins shuffling absentmindedly." I haven’t performed a reading in… well, since Livia died. She bought me this deck when we were courting. She believed in the Harrow, and she thought me being a wizard would add heft to a reading."
“I know. She used to tell me about them sometimes. She used to put great faith in them. Both pause for a moment in reflection on the woman who in a small way that has put them on this path.

“I was hoping you would do a reading for me. On how successful I will be in this Free Kintargo Society.”

Aroldo looks the bard in the eyes for a few moments, licks his lips before nodding. He stops shuffling and picks through the deck, removing all the Key cards.

“Choose one of these,” Aroldo waves at the Key cards, “It will have a message for you.”

Alaria reaches over and chooses one from them the wizard has spread before her. The bard reaches out and slides one away from the rest, before flipping it over.

“The Peacock,” muses Aroldo, “A card representing great beauty, but a reminder that beauty of that nature is fleeting. It normally indicates a change of belief or held ideals. It can also signify times of social development or change.”

Alaria blinks several times, as if she was expecting little and had received more than she expected. She clears her throat several times before managing to find her voice." Wow, Ok. Um… yeah I think I already know that message."

The wizard is gathering the key cards up and shuffling them into the rest of the deck. “We don’t have to continue if you don’t want to,” Aroldo mentions.

“No, go on,” replies Alaria, cutting the deck when the wizard offers it.

He deals out 9 cards, three rows of three. “The first column indicates the past. The top positive, the midde unclear and the bottom negative."

Flipping the cards the wizard reveals the Idiot, The Empty throne and The Locksmith. Alaria looks at the cards, taking them in before looking to Aroldo for interpretation.

“The Idiot, misaligned. Likely to indicate someone has been hiding their true talents. When the time is right, their strengths will be revealed, but until then… " the wizard trails off and shrug.

“The Empty Throne. Seeing past the obvious to the deeper thing. Situated there, it could mean you’ve realised what you thought was right is wrong, but you’ve yet to see the ultimate truth. Often, someone who is now passed was trying to show this to you, but you didn’t see at the time.”

Alaria scratches at her nose a moment. “Yeah, like realising Kintargo has problems. I see that now.”

Aroldo makes no comment, pointing to The Locksmith. “The Locksmith provides the tools to unlock your destiny. He won’t tell you what to do, or help. Just provide access.”

Neither of the two say anything, but both think of Alaria’s excruciation, a negative event that has put them on a new path-is it their destiny to free Kintargo? Or to die trying?

Aroldo coughs slightly, and moves to the column indicating the present. “The first card here is The Cyclone. A destructive, indiscriminant force that cannot be stopped,” At this, the bards shoulders sink. "But positioned here, well, it indicates the possibility of renewal. That sometimes you have to destroy the old to create the new”

Alaria looks a little buoyed by Aroldo’s interpretation.

“Next is the Hidden Truth. Well this card is hidden to me,” he announces as he gets no feelings from it regarding the Free Kintargo society. Still, he thinks to himself, could this card be for me? Why did I think of the Kintargo Contract immediately?

“And presently opposing you is The Bear. Brute, raw strength. Those who stand against you will use their fist, not their head. But all is not lost. The Bear cannot be controlled. If the blow goes astray, there may be opportunities to strike back.

Alaria nods slowly as she ponders what has been revealed so far." Alright then. So what does the future hold?"

The wizard reveals the last three cards. On seeing them Alaria goes pale.

“Yes, The Liar. Sounds bad. But, in this position, perhaps not so bad. Here, it indicates friendship or love, but the beginnings of such disguised, or coming from an unlikely place.”

“I’ll be sure to keep on my toes.”

“Good idea, regardless of a Harrow reading,” smiles Aroldo." Next, The Tangled Briar! Aroldo pauses and considers the card. “Something from long ago is going to have an unexpected impact on someone close to you.”

“Impact, what do you mean?”

“Hard to say, but… it’s not likely to be positive, being the Tangled Briar,” Aroldo doesn’t give the bard much time to digest this and moves on to the last card.

“The Betrayal,” the wizard licks his lips I wondering if there’s any kind of positive or even ambiguousness he could use in an interpretation. But there is not. Not in this location.

“Before the end, someone will turn against you.”

Alaria says nothing, just reaches for the wine bottle with a shaking hand to refill her glass.

Finally she speaks. “Well, I did want the reading…”

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The Varied Thoughts of Gaian Vespinus 8
Waiting for Bug

Damnit, I’ve had enough of this waiting around! Something’s obviously gone wrong. Just give me control and I’ll go and sort it out!

Out of the question. Marquel requested a meeting with me, not you. You’ll have to wait this one out.

Yeah, yeah. The same bullshit “diplomacy” excuse as you gave me for freezing me out at the Shrine of St Senex.

And yet you didn’t bitch and moan about it then.

I didn’t have much interest in wading about in some wannabe goddess’ salty piss.

Really? I found the challenge of her shrine quite invigorating.

Challenge? I’m surprised you haven’t turned my body to rust!

You do realise the human body doesn’t rust, no matter how much salt water you put it in, don’t you?

Don’t talk to me like a child, it was a fucking analogy. Besides, it wasn’t the water I was talking about but the inactivity.

What do you mean inactivity? Ah, you mean the fact that I didn’t run around swinging your sword at things. You know, there are other ways of taking useful action. Maybe that’s a lesson you could learn.

Useful? You spent half the time in that shrine up a wall! And don’t paint me as some barbarian who can do nothing but shed blood; who played the decoy at Alaria’s rescue?

You did. But it was under my instruction, and ended with you shedding blood and using it to paint your name on a wall. Forgive me if I doubt your subtlety.

I’d rather be painting the wall than clinging to it.

Now who’s being patronising? Our companions were doing a fine job of the fighting, on this occasion all were best served by me supporting. Healing, helping with riddles, opening those valves. Have you tried swinging that sword while up to your neck in water?

Wouldn’t have hurt to try. And it was shallow enough you could have had a go at that water elemental.

And Bug would have drowned.

Which would have saved us this fucking waiting we’re doing now!

I like how you brought the conversation back to the start again. That was clever.

Thanks, I do my best. How much time did that argument kill?

Not enough. I’m starting to grow impatient.

Little Firefly doesn’t have the best record when it comes to being stealthy at critical times, does he? You sure you don’t want me to go?

Give him a few more minutes.

In that case, do you have a topic in mind?

If it’s in my mind, it’s in yours.

Alaria again? Getting a bit old, but okay. I still think we should kill her.

Out of the question! The poor girl…..

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The Shrine of Saint Senex
Session 13

The Children pass the trials of the Shrine of Saint Senex, and locate Lictor Octavio, head of the Order of the Torrent. The Lictor takes some convincing, admitting he would like to defy Barzillai Thrune but balks at the thought of opposing the lawful government. The Children eventually convince him and he enlist his help toward the cause.

Back in Kintargo, they sneak into Aulorian Manor for a clandestine meeting with the young lord Marquel – only to discover a slight complication…

Full notes:

The group descended into the lower level of the Shrine of Saint Senex. It is damp, with puddles of water. A corridor is to the east but is blocked by a gate. A statue gives us a riddle. The group’s solution is to breathe on the statue and the gate clicks open.

Down the corridor, stairs descend even deeper. The stairs end in a brightly lit open room. The walls are a pleasant aquamarine colour but they display a mosaic of merfolk attacking a 3 masted ship. We can see sailors struggling with their watery attackers. There is another staircase going down.

Moving down the stairs again, they find the next room is dark filled with water. Two old lifeboats, one on each side are the beginnings of a bridge, with plants being lashed together to complete it. The bridge appears suspect and rickety.

Bug notices skeletons walking under the water… the group perform a count, there is at least four of these.

Bug makes it across, but Aroldo who is following him next falls in, with him being joined by Gaian. The intrusion on their territory causes the skeletons to attack. A battle ensues, which proves difficult due to the watery environment. Bug runs back out onto the plank bridge to assist, a skeleton reaches out from the water in an attempt to drag him down. Aroldo fires his wand several times, sending magical missiles flying. Gaian is moved to channel positive energy in an attempt to heal the wounded group and injure the Drowned Dead.

Eventually the group wins and head to the next door. Which is a corridor with a set of stairs going down. Aroldo at least, is beginning to notice a pattern. The next room is full of swirling mist. There is a strange lock mechanism on the next door exiting the room. The group have a feeling that they’re not done here.

Aroldo detects magic, but finds none. The mist takes shape to show a drowning sailor. The group feels like they are drowning, Gaian and Cato resist, but Bug and Aroldo fall victim to the enchantment. Cato reaches out to save the mist figure and he disappears and everyone can suddenly breathe again. He then thanks the PCs and relates another riddle on how to proceed.

Gaian recognises the drowning man as one from the mermaid v sailors fresco in an earlier room.
They return to the room with the fresco, and locate the drowning man that was formed from the mist. There is indeed a small trident shaped key embedded in the wall that the group remove. Additionally, disables a lock found halfway up the wall, located in the open mouth of another sailor.

Heading further even further down into the complex the group find another room full of salt water. Again the group have a feeling that they are being watched. They throw several coins in, but see nothing. Bug and Gaian try to climb around on the walls to avoid going into the water, but Bug fails and falls in. There is some kind of movement in the water, as if something is heading towards Bug, but nothing can be seen.

Aroldo realises something as the shape heads towards Bug, and begins thinking of Water Elementals. It is indeed a creature of this type, and it wraps Bug up and holds him down, seemingly intent on drowning the Halfling. Combat begins as everyone rushes to save Bug, Aroldo has an inspiration and casts a spell to make Bug much bigger – human sized in fact. With the additional height, Bug is able to get his head above the surface and take a breath.

Cato with a huge blow smashes the water elemental, destroying it.

There is a large chest underwater in the corner of the room, Gain tries to open the chest and reveals 3 small vials. Using his magic, Aroldo determines these are most likely potions of water breathing.
Heading even further down, they find yet another room. Here, the walls are unadorned, but a mosaic on the floor depicts a maelstrom. Above, a beautiful woman is reaching out as is to save something, but her face is impassive.

Gaian tries to climb up the wall and manages to reach the ceiling. He sees nothing, out of the ordinary, the group now being wise to a mosaic or mural hiding something. Aroldo suspects that this is some kind of elevator. Wondering if it would help, the group being singing a sea shanty, however their rousing chorus does nothing but perhaps raise some spirits slightly. Once the group decide to step upon the elevator, it begins its decent. As it does, it passes another door, with a ladder leading to it from below. The walls are now decorated, with one consistent theme: Drowning. Near what turns out to be the bottom, they spot 4 large valves.

The elevator continues down, past the valves and stops, with no obvious exits. Water starts pouring down the shaft, held away from the party for now by an invisible shield… one that is slowly retracting. The elevator and shaft fillswith water.

Sharing the potions of waterbreathing amongst themselves, the party has Bug climb on Cato’s back – he will attempt to climb the ladder, while Aroldo and Gaian attempt to turn the valves, a difficult task made worse by being under water. Aroldo finds the valves beyond his own strength, so he kicks over to Gaian and helps him. Eventually all 4 are turned and the water drains away. All climb the ladder and pass through the next door.

The next door leads to a chamber with a bunch of body sized bundles, the wrapping made of sails. It seems some of the drowned reside here. In a corner is a small camp, with Lictor Octavio standing there expectantly.

Aroldo steps forward to introduce the group, ensuring to tell the Lictor that they have done their best to save as many of his order as they could. The Lictor takes some convincing, admitting he would like to defy Barzillai but balks at the thought of opposing the lawful government. The Children eventually convince him and he accepts their help and agrees to work together. Before they part, his gives them a metal scale, advising them to take it to Olmer the Smith. He’s a dwarf – makes the best stuff.

The group returns to Kintargo, and then goes shopping.

They stay out late, and end up breaking the curfew. They are near to Aroldo’s manor, so they head there. Guards spot the group; Gaian, Bug & Aroldo hide, Cato shows that despite his age, and apparent experience, he’s absolutely terrible at bribing guards. They go to arrest him, and the group pounces from ambush, and save Cato, taking care not to kill the guards. They make it back to the manor and pass the evening.

On the next day; Gaian’s tour is interrupted by a young Halfling girl who approaches him, she is from Marquel, the noble with the withered arm. He wants to meet Gaian and his friends, and asks them to visit his home that evening/night.

They sneak to the estate after curfew, find that the gate is locked. Bug sneaks over the gate, sees a very large dog prowling the yard. A dog with three heads! Has no skin or fur, raw, it has no covering on its exposed flesh. Also notable is the fact it has three heads!

Aroldo casts invisibility on Bug, who scampers across the lawn, but fails to climb up the wall to the bedroom. He has to go into a lower storey window. He sneaks through the house to arrive at Marquet’s room.

He introduces himself, explaining how the cerberi is stopping the others attending. Marquel says he has been locked in his room, as his father is afraid his writing will attract the Lord-Mayor’s attention. He adds that the ‘dog’ was a gift from the Lord-Mayor – he suspects it is spying on the family. Bug asks if they can meet elsewhere. Marquel agrees, grabs a satchel, and announces he is ready to leave immediately!

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Crime Scene

The tension around Veritas Plaza was palpable. People craned their necks and murmured excitedly. Vannases Trex made her way through the crowd, a dottari sergeant ahead shoving aside any citizen who didn’t clear the way quick enough. Vannases found her breath coming a little short, and realised with a start the anxiety from the morning news had at some stage grown into excitement. She kept a cool demeanour in front of her guards, however, always professional.

“Duxotas!” her lieutenant, Saulus, greeted her with a chest salute as she cleared the crowd. The man was tall and handsome, dark of hair and eye, with a typical Taldan nose. Vannases vaguely noted his black chainmail armour was scuffed in places – she firmly believed a disciplined guard force started with well-maintained equipment, and noted to berate the man later.

“Where’s the body?” she asked him, but the answer was not required.

Behind Saulus, Nox’s face leered down from atop a spear. Her own glaive, actually, Vannases noted. She stared up at the face for a few long moments. She had not spared any love for Nox. The bodyguard’s willingness to carry out any task for the Lord-Mayor no matter how demeaning always reminded Vannases of the obedience displayed by a mongrel thrown some scraps, and warranted nothing but disgust from the duxotas. Plus, she was ugly, a trait Vannases particularly abhorred.

“Move the citizens back,” Vannases suddenly ordered, and the dottari moved in unison, pushing the onlookers back several feet. “And somebody take her down.” The duxotas passed her black helm to her sergeant. “I assume her body is nearby?” The sergeant nodded and gestured down the alley, where several tieflings worked hard at scrubbing congealed blood from the cobblestones.

Beyond them, a cadre of Hellknights watched on, unreadable behind their full-faced helms. Vannases gave them a slight nod then turned to Acrinius, the priest of Asmodeus assigned to her staff. She recoiled slightly as the scarlet-robed man was almost brushed up against her. Acrinius had the irritating habit of following and standing too close behind her, which Vannases had not been averse to pointing out to him. The shaven-head man took half a step back, an apologetic smile on his face. Like a lizard, Vannases thought, not for the first time.

“Prepare a speak with dead spell,” she ordered.

“My apologies, duxotas, but that won’t be possible,” Acrinius replied, shuffling forward. Vannases strode toward Nox – or her head – disguising her reaction to stepping away from the man. Not a lizard, a python. Trying to hypnotise with his ingratiating smile and unblinking eyes. “Remind me to ask Grivvener for another cleric,” she said quietly to Saulus.

Acrinius followed behind her, explaining his refusal. “You see, duxotas, Nox’s soul has already passed on to Hell. Such were the terms of her pact. As such, she is beyond my mortal powers.”

Useless, Vannases cursed silently. At a flash of orange silk she turned to notice Zella had arrived at the plaza at some stage. “Hail Zella,” she greeted, ignoring Acrinius.

The young Varisian wizard returned the greeting as she absently flicked a harrow card around her fingers. The card was one of her own designs, infernal in theme – Zella had put a modern spin on the traditional Varisian artwork. But Vannases believed she placed too much faith in the power of the harrow deck.

The duxotas had faith in more material evidence. “What do we know, Saulus?” she asked.

The lieutenant approached and reported the results of the investigation so far. “Two witnesses have provided descriptions of the assassins.”

“Two?” Vanasses turned, dark eyes burning. “The attack occurred in broad daylight!” Cowardly peasants, she thought. Rebels and traitors within their midst and they are too scared to come forth. Either that or they are hiding the criminals. “Descriptions!” she barked.

Saulus reeled off the information. “Six attackers, all masked. One in some sort of bee or butterfly design. The others simple scarves. One called upon Cayden Cailean–”

“Heresey!” Acrinius cried.

“–and another had arcane powers. This man defies description, the witnesses say a portly man whose face changed as he fled. A swordsman, another attacked with small throwing stars. And finally a flying Halfling.”

Vanasses raised an eyebrow.

Saulus cleared his throat. “He allegedly dived from the sky to strike the killing blow, screaming ‘For Titus!’”

“Titus… Ring any bells?”

As if on cue the bells of the Temple of Asmodeus pealed out across the city. Acrinius bowed his head as he mouthed a prayer to Asmodeus.

Vanasses found the murmur of the crowd cloying, and started walking down the street where the attack occurred. “How do those descriptions match with Nox’s report on her attackers in the Fantasmagorium?”

Saulus scratched his chin. “Yes, there was a hallfing. And an overweight wizard, could be the facechanger. Two Chelaxian swordsmen, and a blue tiefling.”

Vanasses glanced at the tieflings busy scrubbing the cobblestones clean and tried not to let her lip curl in disgust. They can’t be trusted, any of them. One moment loyal citizens looking for praise the next turning on you, like stray dogs.

“Zella, how do these descriptions match those you saw rescuing the Poison Pen?”

“The same. A halfling, a portly wizard, two swordsmen, a face changer – though it was not the wizard.”

Vanasses resisted the urge to smile. Up until now her days in Kintargo has been spent breaking up merchant pickets and arresting youthful malcontents. Now she had a real target. Assassins, rebels, heretics… She thought of the three dottari killed along with Nox. Murderers.

“Saulus, start disseminating those descriptions. I’ll need to brief the Lord-Mayor.”

“You’ll need this,” Zella said, flicking her card to Vanasses.

The duxotas snatched it from the air. “What is this?”

Zella brought her silken scarf up over her head to shade herself from the sun. “There was no bee or butterfly.”

Vanasses turned the card over. On the face was a yellow and black design of a beautiful, scantily clad woman, enticing if not for the swarm of angry wasps around her.

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"For Titus!"
Session 12

Sir Rogatus recovered from his battle, and asked told the Children of the plight of his Order. His fellow knights were scattered across the country and might be unaware of their outlaw status. He left to warn them after asking the Children to rescue the Lictor and others held in the Holding House.

The Children used forged transfer papers to rescue three armigers from the Holding House. A fourth was left to her grisly fate, tortured by a kyton (a fiend from the Plane of Shadow).

Meanwhile, the Black Mantis has tracked Nox and discovered a pattern to her movements. The Children ambushed her, quickly overcoming her and her guards. Bug screamed “For Titus!” as he leapt from the rooftop, plunging his sword into Nox and delivering the killing blow. Cato hacked off her head and impaled it on her own glaive, which was then left in the middle of Veritas Plaza the following morning.

The rescued armigers of the Torrent told the Children their Lictor, Octavio, was likely in the Shrine of St Senex. The shrine was just south of the city, in the Argo swamps, and was warded against magical observation. On the way to the shrine, across the bog, Cato thought he was followed, seeing torchlight behind him.

Inside the shrine were two seers, dedicated to maintaining the shrine and serving the saint. Although suspicious of the Children, they admitted Octavio Sabinus was below, and provided this cryptic message: “He has cast his breath upon the Stone many times, long a friend to our shrine. We honor those who honor the watery dead.” But they said if the Children wanted to see him, they had to meet the challenges below, to prove to Saint Senex they are worthy to speak to a friend of the shrine.

The Children descended a rusty ladder into a mist-filled chamber…

Note – Bug actually yelled “For Rufus!” but I later asked if he meant Titus; Bug was ambivalent but said probably :)

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Bug Gets Some Info

Bug spends a moment running his eye over some symbols on the parchment. And I thought living on the streets was tough. Brother Vaelus had approached Bug after his shift a few weeks back and suggested learning to read these scribbles. He stated it would be a useful skill to learn now that Bug was no longer an urchin but one of the rebellion leaders. Bug was still getting used to how the symbols worked but saw the benefit in learning. He quickly realised how valuable reading was to the rich where a letter could be worth more than gold. That should satisfy the Brother, sometimes he’s worse than eating through some rotten garbage. I wonder if he would be teaching me if he knew what I planned to use it for…

Satisfied, Bug lent back from his humble desk and surveyed his small dwellings located opposite Belor’s stables. Although some in the rebellion laughed at his choice of accommodation with words such as being pathetic, cheap and meagre, it felt like a palace to Bug. They had never experienced what the streets of Kintargo offered as living arrangements.

As his eyes drifted out the window he noticed the signal, I guess it is time to meet and see what they’ve found. Although the formation of his gang was an accident it had proven itself useful in keeping an eye out and an ear open for the happenings in the city. He had tried to recruit for the homeless and non-descript to blend in and get to places normal folk don’t get to. Unfortunately they had still developed a reputation that was beginning to rival the Red Jills. I guess I sometimes went a little too far, but that’s what you get for learning how to survive on the streets. Sometimes you gotta do things those with homes and families would or could never do. Bug thinks as he remembers those few regrettable people he murdered; including his friend and chef, Sen.

Bug gathers his scribbles to give to the Brother later and puts on his street clothes before heading off to the usual meeting spot. He takes his customary precautions in getting around unnoticed, but he is not too worried, he has always been hard to follow when he wants.

The meeting spot was a non-descript alley with a view of the Opera house and park. He liked seeing and observing where the authority had their seat of power, and got a little bit of a thrill conducting his business right under their nose.

Bug places himself on a barrel just of the alley entrance and begins to clean his nails with his knife.

“How are you Jerry?”

“Not bad Bug”, an old homeless man sitting on the other side of the barrel says. Jerry was Bugs first recruit, he came across him by the docks in front of the Thrashing Badger. He was a former sailor that had lost it all to a smuggling captain and had proven himself very useful and capable in managing the others. He was now Bug’s second in the Black Mantis.

“Good, what have you heard on the streets? Was this latest proclamation just a way to get Rogatus?” Bug begins.

“Nope, some of the boys went to the Torrent Base and saw some Knights being taken away to the Holding House. Seems like the Order have really pissed the Thrune fucker off.”

OK, Rogatus is genuine then. We can trust him to a point…

Bug continues, “I don’t want any unnecessary issues hiding him. Has there been any whispers on the four hellknights killed on the street and his association?”

“Nothing serious, pure guess work. A few words about a giant with a glowing sword cutting then like butter, but no one believes that. The Dotarri have no idea and the Rack are being pretty closed lip. I suppose it doesn’t look good having four of their member killed so easily out in the open.” Jerry states.

“No it doesn’t, keep an eye out for any of them in our area, if you see them in a group heading towards me, signal.” Bug carries on “Did you get me that list of locations?”

“Yep” Jerry replies handing him the list. Bug planned to give the list to Aroldo as a goodwill gesture to help with the wizard’s proposal. In the process Bug hoped to improve the relationship between the two. Bug knew the wizard didn’t like some of his actions and Bug didn’t want to have a wizard as an enemy.

“What about the Red Jills? Was the message clear to them?”

Jerry shudders remembering the bags Bug told him to place in front of their headquarters. “Yeah, they got the meaning, they’re staying away from us, and we made sure the streets knew what happens when you attack Black Mantis. The Red Jills will stay away from us for a while. That’s a bloody way of getting peace Bug.”

“It’s not peace Jerry, but needed to be done to survive and get a moment of calm. Keep an eye on them for now” Bug replies.

“And that final matter, the Hell Bitch Nox, what did you find?”….

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Speaking Easily

Aroldo lay still, enjoying that moment of peace one has just often waking. He can feel the sun streaming in through the windows and hitting his face. In the distance he can hear birdsong mixed with the sounds of the city.

But the short moment of peace cannot last long, for there is much to do. Rising from his large, comfortable bed, he heads to the water basin on his dresser and washes the sleep from his eyes. Throwing on an old, yet comfortable robe, he opens the door to his bedroom and heads down a dusty corridor and stairs and heads straight to his greenhouse.

Here, the air is thicker, the moisture and botanical smell of growing plants and herbs a cherished scent. Aroldo consults a note near the door, a list of requests for a variety of things, the wizard was well known for supplying excellent quality spell components, and understood the needs of wizards, being one himself. His reputation has him supplying a significant number of his colleagues at the Alabaster Academy.

After some quick watering and pruning, Aroldo heads towards the kitchen, intent on brewing some strong tea in an attempt to suppress his yawning. Opening the door, he is assailed by a strong minty aroma. Alaria is already awake and sitting at the kitchen table, nursing a mug of mint tea. The bard seemingly sat in a shadow, dressed all in black, with her new short, black hair.

“Good morning, "Aroldo tries to be as cheerful as he can, “I might go something stronger myself.” he announces as he vaguely gestures at Alaria’s mug. He merely gets a short grunt in reply.

Suppressing a wince, he places the kettle on the stove. As he goes about preparing the teapot he announces “I’m glad you’re here, I’ve been meaning to speak to you about something, actually.”

Alaria looks up from the spot on the table he had been staring at, and cocks an eyebrow at the big man. “Time for me to move out?” she says flatly.
Aroldo looks slightly shocked." No, no, not at all! It’s been nice to have someone else in the house, frankly!" He scratches at his stubble as he tries to think of how to best to talk to the despondent bard.

“The house has been quiet, without Livia or Aelia,” begins Alaria before stopping herself saying any more.

Aroldo feels fresh pain in his heart as the bard mentions his dead wife and child, but decides to ignore the comment believing Alaria is just lashing out in her own pain.

“And to continue to be frank, I’m a little worried about you,” he sighs. “You’re angry, I understand that. You’ve been tried and convicted of a crime you’re innocent of. You’ve lost friends and patrons. Your whole life stolen from you in moments…” The wizard pauses as Alaria looks away, her features battling over whether to show rage or despair.

“It’s left me with nothing!” Alaria hisses when she’s finally able to look back at the concerned wizard. “They will pay!”

“Yes. Yes they will,” announces the wizard with firm determination. “But you can’t do it alone. If you want to make a dramatic, but futile gesture, I can’t stop you – but there are other ways."

Alaria seems to be unconvinced by Aroldo’s statement, and eyes him carefully, not hiding her doubt. "You say that, but how come you haven’t told me anything since you and the others saved me from these hounds! Alaria’s eyes reflect the horror she experienced, not knowing that she had others who would risk their lives to save her.

Aroldo reaches over and takes one of her hands, ignoring the bard flinch at the contact. “I knew nothing when I went to the Courthouse that day, nothing but I had to get you out of there somehow.”

Alaria smiles sadly but she squeezes Aroldo’s hand, “If it wasn’t for the others, I don’t know how you would have done it. We might have both ended up dead.” the way the bard pronounces this gives Aroldo a sense of dread, and he has to suppress a shiver.
“It’s a…” Aroldo pauses for a moment and hides his lips.“…dangerous game. Even if you think you’re ready for everything.”

“Something has happened, hasn’t it? Don’t bother denying it, I can tell when you’re lying. What is it?” the bard asks.

“I’ve been meaning to tell you. Well, a few things. I’ve have received news of Pavo. He made it. He got out of the city, the Dottari didn’t get him. I’ve spoken to someone who shared a few drinks with him,” announces the wizard, a delaying tactic while he finds the right way to tell her about Rufus, Titus and Keldor.

“Thank the gods!” breathes Alaria and for the first time that morning the smile reaches her eyes. It fades away however, when she realises that isn’t the only thing Aroldo could be telling her. “What else? Please, tell me.”

Aroldo rubs his face with his free hand, the grief, shame and fear as fresh in his mind as the excruciation is in Alaria’s. “Most of the others that helped saved you are dead,” he finally announces flatly.

Alaria stares at Aroldo for a few moments, fresh tears welling in her eyes. “Why is this happening?” she asks forlornly. “Only a year ago things were better. Happier.”

“The House of Thrune!” exclaims Aroldo. “That’s why! We’ve been lucky before. Ignored because we’re at the arse end of their empire. But now they need all their resources, they’re showing us how they treat everyone. Damn those dirty devil fuckers!” the wizard exclaims, the heat of his emotions coming out in his voice.

Alaria gets up to see to the boiling kettle. “They’re already damned, Aroldo. We just have to send them to Hell to meet all their friends” Having filled the teapot, she brings it over to the table to brew.

This time it’s Aroldo’s turn to smile sadly. “Easier said than done. Trust me on this.”
Alaria pours her host a mug of tea and a fresh, less minty one for herself. “Well, all I know is we have to do something, I can’t just sit here anymore!”

“I know. I also know direct action is dangerous, and now is not the time. But we do need to take action, and I have an idea,” announces Aroldo.

Alaria sips her tea and leans forward, even more intent on the wizards words. “Well, I know you’re keeping a lot from me, but I am eager to hear what you are willing to tell me.”

By pure instinct, Aroldo lowers his voice and leans forward, matching Alaria’s posture. “Our new Lord-Mayor is over-reaching himself and upsetting many, many people. But they don’t necessarily know anyone else who feels the same way. They’re afraid to speak out. Afraid to find others who feel the same way. What they need is a place they can gather freely. Where they can speak easy and hear others in return. A place to be inspired and reassured.”

Alaria nods in agreement," Yes, many fear their neighbours- a single report to the Dottari and you can disappear, never to be seen again. Go on."

“Well, we just have to find a few places where it’s safe for people to gather, bar’s, coffee shops, forgotten basements. Places where people can express their feelings, tell their stories, a place…”

“Where people don’t feel quite so alone.” Alania finishes.

Aroldo smiles, "Exactly. A place where they can hear rebellious songs and stories of better times. When we were truly free.”

“Oh? And who’s going to sing them these songs? Did you have someone in mind?” Alaria asks, the hint of a sparkle in her eyes that has long been missing.

“I would be happy if a Little Black Swan would make the odd appearance. I know she has a wonderful voice that’s gone unappreciated far too long,” says Aroldo. “You may have to be a bit more discreet in your comings and goings though. I may know the odd spell that can help with that, and a few friends too.”

The wizard wants to keep his friend safe, and has been thinking of assigning a couple of the street performers and one of the freedom fighters as an escort and bodyguard. The thought occurs to him that he should perhaps ask Bug or Gaian about that, but realises that when it comes to Alaria’s safety, he doesn’t care what either of the two psychopaths think.

“Little Black Swan,” murmurs Alaria as she touches her hair. “Alright, I’m in. What next?”

“Probably the hard part,” admits the wizard. “The people I’m initially thinking of are students and faculty at the Academy, many who don’t dabble in the infernal arts hate their power and influence on the institution. And I’m thinking you may know a few artists and musicians who may be interested. We find a few places they can all gather, and spread the word.”

The bard smirks a touch, “As easy as that?”

“Perhaps not,” Aroldo lets out a low chuckle. “But we have to start somewhere.”

Alaria smiles, “And so the Free Kintargo Society was formed one morning over a pot of tea.”

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