Lady Saphielle: “Hey look: this is all one big misunderstanding. You’ve made a mistake, that’s all. Let me go now, and we can all forget this ever happened. I promise, I won’t call the constables and we can all just go on with our lives. You have my word.” Po: “Shut up, I’m sleeping.”
The dilemma the party found itself in was thus:
They knew from Laurabec’s own ghost that Talindra had lured her out to be killed, and that Vordberd had commissioned the hit.
They knew that this woman was Talindra – she fit the description, she fit the profile, and everything about her screamed high-end spy.
But the fact was they couldn’t get her to talk. She beat the Zone, she ignored their threats, and she resolutely maintained that she was Lady Saphielle. And they had no real proof that any of what they knew was true. Circumstantial evidence, sure, but nothing definitive, nothing incontrovertible.
They needed proof. Wraith and Titus decided to go back to Talindra’s manor and see what they could find out, starting with questioning her servant girl, Omylia. They crept past the erstwhile guards (largely still sleeping) and re-entered the manor. Titus charmed the girl with a tale of a secret birthday party, and this gambit earned them one salient piece of information: that some people have, in the girl’s presence, referred to Lady Saphielle as “Telleria” or something similar.
Omylia safe back asleep, Titus and Wraith pondered another bit of information that she’d let slip: that while she was allowed to enter lady Saphielle’s office on occasion, under no circumstances was she to enter her mistress’ bedchamber. That room, among all of them in the manor, was strictly off limits. This, of course, piqued Wraith’s criminal sensibilities, and after collecting what papers were scattered about the desk in the office, the pair turned their attentions to the proscribed boudoir. Standard fare, for the most part: clothing, cosmetics, a magical hairbrush and hand-mirror. But Titus was able to discern magical energies from beneath the bed, and soon enough they were able to extract, from a hidden place in the floor, a fine chest and a curious box, which they took unopened back to their own manor.
Back at home, the chest reluctantly disgorged it’s secrets, neatly arranged in a manor that befitted an organized, orderly mind:
500 gp of Sargavan mint, with Queen Abrogail of Cheliax’s portrait on each, into ten leather satchels of 50 gp each;
a finely crafted box of small gems of various denominations, no one worth over 50 gp and most of them in the 10 gp to 20 gp range. Total value: approximately 1200 gp.
An invory scrollcase made from some marine mammal and decorated with a native type of scrimshaw (approx value: 50 gp) containing two letters of transit;
the first, in Cheliaxian and Common, allowed safe passage for the bearer throughout Sargava. It was signed by Inquisitor Rullus of the Sargavan Scourge, and dated about 12 months previously (before the attack on Gate Pass)
the second, in Mwangi Polyglot and Common, allowed safe passage through “the realms and territories of the Osibu Mwangi.” It was signed by Iltevarn Osibu-la, with no other title given. It was dated about 18 months previously.
Another leather bag, like the eariler ones but larger, contained two platinum ingots. Both were stamped with the sigil of Eleder and the Horns of Asmodeus, a Chelaxian symbol. Each was worth approximately 800 gp.
Last there was a set of four bottles, two of each kind, one set a pale pinkish color while the other a light green. The pale pink liquid were potions of extra healing, with a tincture added against poison. The other were potions of Haste.
The curious box was both unlocked and easy to open, but it’s contents surprised the party: an exquisite hand crossbow, on the Drowish model but obviously not of their manufacture, with silver and mithril insets and made of fine, highly polished woods. It was a brilliantly malevolent object, and accompanying it were several other items, lodged in specially made insets: a set of eight bolts, made specifically for the weapon and comprised entirely of polished steel. The blades on the points were razor sharp. Next, a pair of glass phials, containing an oily gray liquid. It took some time but Vondrum was able to identify the liquid as “Tears of Death,” a virulent contact poison that not only does CON damage but is a strong paralytic as well. There was enough in the phials to douse each small bolt in the poison.
Dawn was approaching and they had not resumed the interrogation of Lady Sapphielle/Talindra Karismus. The conversation was in earnest: what to do? The ultimate goal for everyone, it was agreed, was revenge for Laurabec’s murder. Vortberd was guilty – Laurabec’s shade herself had declared it to them – but to prove it was still beyond their reach. Killing Vortberd was a problem:
They could try to assail him in his manor, but at least 50 guards, and perhaps many more, watched over him and built up his defenses.
Even if they could get in and kill him, without proof of Vortberd’s perfidy and guilt of the assassination not only of Laurabec but of Xavious Foebane and likely many other detractors, they’d be seen as assassins themselves. That reputation might further besmirch Simeon and the Lyceum, as it is widely know that the party went to capture Sidoneth at Simeons request.
They could simply kill Talindra (whom, they all agreed, was at the very least a highly capable spy) and leave her body in a conspicuous place, perhaps with some evidence pointing toward Vortberd, in hopes of at least slowing the growing popularity of the dwarf.
They could kill both and stage the scene so that it appeared as if Talindra and Vortberd had killed each other; the circumstances required to pull this off, though, were remote.
In the end, they decided to deliver Talindra to Simeon for safekeeping. The schoolmaster had already proven capable of keeping a powerful hydromancer like Sidoneth under lock and and key, and as they suspected that Talindra was likely to escape if left alone in the manor, under Simeon’s care she’d be secure.
So that is what they did. Rendered unconscious by a blow to the head, Talindra was packed into a rented cart, covered with a tarp, and bustled off to the Lyceum. Once inside the gates, Talindra was surreptitiously Reduced and then put into a Handy Haversack, the better to be packed into the tower in secret. Their cautions were warranted: there were numerous guards at the Lyceum, wearing the school livery, and supplemented with mages commandeered from their studies. The Lyceum was on alert, albeit a casual sort of alert, and the party was ushered upstairs to Simeon’s offices without any delay.
Inside, they found an interesting sight: Simeon, of course, was there and welcomed them in. He was sitting at a table with two other men: the first they recognized as the dwarven captain Steckhart, who had taken up Xavious’ role as senior military advisor to Simeon and, beyond that, leader of the dwarven forces at Seaquen. Dour and unsmiling, he was a decade younger than Xavious and was the sort of dwarf that wore plate and hammer to dinner. He was wearing them now.
Next to Steckhart was a man that the party did not recognize, although he comported himself with a familiarity that seemed to indicate that he was an old acquaintance, at the very least, to Simeon if not to Steckhart. Corpulent, but with an open face that smiled often and invited the same in return. He took one last slurp of wine before groaning to his feet. “This is Balan Baston,” Simeon said. “He is the man I wanted you to meet.”
Before Simeon could go further the party drew him aside, even as Katarina (who was also there, behind Simeon’s bar and smirking) fixed this Balan as new goblet of wine. In the hall they explained, in terse whispers, the situation with Talindra and their hope that Simeon would take her under his jurisdiction, at least until they could scare up real evidence against Vordbert or a confession out of Talindra. Simeon was sympathetic, and agreed to lodge the spy at the Lyceum. “Your timing is good, since Balan wishes desperately to speak with you. He is aware of your activities since the fighting broke out, and he was mightily impressed to learn that it was you that put the shackles onto Sidoneth. I will hold this spy for you – if she is aligned with Vordbert, then you were right to keep her under wraps. He cannot learn that I have her.” Simeon quickly detailed two men and a mage to take the still unconscious Talindra into the Lyceum’s dungeons.
The party accompanied Simeon back into his office to once again, to meet the newcomer Balan. The man had stayed on his feet, and approached the party, shaking each member’s hand in turn. After introductions, Balan sat again, alongside Steckhart and Simeon. Katarina stayed behind the bar, sipping from a tall goblet, her eyes hooded and without inflection.
Balan sipped at his wine and cast a wan smile towards the seated party. “I suppose you are wondering what this is all about,” he said, “… and I can’t say I blame you. Have you heard the recent news out of Sargava? They’re dispatching an army to come take care of us. As soon as the mountain passes thaw on the border between Sargava and Bandu, we’ll have twenty thousand Sargavan soldiers – the entiretyy of V Corps, their largest army – headed our way.”
“Regardless, with the damage to the town, even if the entire refugee population mustered, Seaquen can’t hope to defend itself against V Corps,” continued Balan. “Normally it would be a simple enough matter of requesting help from King Steppengard, since unofficially Seaquen is an ally of Bandu. But the Sargavans have gone and made a non-aggression pact with the King.”
Balan frowned. “We just got word this morning. An envoy from Sargava promised that Bandu will not be attacked if V Corps is allowed to march through unmolested. Depending on how the weather goes, it looks like we may have a month or two before our resistance is cut short. That’s where I, and hopefully we, come in. Simeon here has asked me to journey to Bresk and use my humble persuasive skills to convince the King to change his mind. We’ve already sent ahead a courier requesting an audience for us, so hopefully they’ll be expecting us. Now, we’re not particularly keen on officially allying with Bandu especially after the attack on Lord Shaaladel, but if we pledge our support to King Steppengard in this war, and play to his ego about how he is letting the Sargavans bully him, I think we have a shot.”
Simeon then interrupted. “Try not to give away the town, Balan. Remember, we want to ‘offer our assistance at the king’s pleasure,’ not ‘pledge loyalty.’ We’re not joining his country, and we’re sure as hell not going to pay him taxes. We —”
Balan shook his head. “I’ll try, but let’s not get too full of ourselves. We’re not a sovereign nation here. I’ll say and do whatever is necessary to make sure that all the people here are safe from the Scourge. If Steppengard won’t listen, maybe one of the other nobles will.” Simeon seemed dubious, but mollified.
“Anyway,” Balan continued, “as you can probably see, I am neither a great warrior nor an experienced traveler. Sargava already has an envoy in Bresk, so we should expect some trouble. Simeon vouches for you fully. We need your help. I shudder to think what would happen to Lyceum if the Scourge reaches us.”
Tacitly, if silently, agreeing, the discussion then turned to practicalities. The military situation in eastern Sargava was grinding to a halt, and it was here that Steckhart piped up. He stood and gestured the party over to a table of charts and maps, with markings and painted blocks scattered here and there.
Northwest: Sargavan III Corps (Inquisitor Rullus) against Lord Shaaladel’s Cavalry.
III Corps attempted to advance northeast to the roots of the Dzimmi River, but were confronted by Shaaladel’s cavalry and, where Rullus reached the river, Shaaladel’s rivermen. So far, Shaaladel’s forces are holding the valley and keeping Rullus bottled up. Rullus still holds the northwest entry to Gate Pass, and so has been sharing intelligence and receiving asssitance from II Corps at the southeast side of Gate Pass, under Inquisitor Salvius. II Corps is small, so those reinforcements are limited, but Steckhart’s expectation is that ultimately Rullus will get sufficiently reinforced from the south and will push back the elvish forces.
Gate Pass South: Sargavan II Corps (Inquisitor Salvius)
II Corps has been tasked with holding the southern entry to Gate Pass and so far has done that admirably. They are also policing what small emergent guerillas are cropping up in the city, stamping out little bands of rebels with impunity and viciousness. They provide what they can to III Corps to the north, but their resources are both limited and spoken for.
Southeast/Mwangi Border: Sargavan I Corps (Inquisitor Ecle and General Grantilius) against the Celestial Horde of Walkena the Undying (Most Holy Kandoro and War-Chief Omodu) and The Glorious Agha-la Osib (Nsingisi Umukuru)
I Corps was tasked by Eleder to pacify the southlands, most specifically to capture the trading city of Kalabuto and cross the River of Lost Tears. Kalabuto fell quickly but the forces of the god-king Walkena mounted a trenchant defense. The Sargavans formed a long wedge, the forward point of which was forced to a halt shy of the confluence of the river and the Lake of Vanished Armies. On the east side of the river, the Glorious Agha-la Osib joined with the Celestial Horde and stopped the left Sargavan flank cold. This fight, like the one to the north, has ground to a standstill.
Vale of Lost Tears/Bandu Hills: Sargavan V Corps (Inquisitor Crona and Field Marshal Laecus) against The Glorious Agha-la Osib (Nsingisi Mokumbi) and the snow and ice of the Alydi Gap (Vatun, God of Winter)
With stalemates to the north in the elvish plains and south at the Screaming Jungle, it is upon V Corps that the infernal lordships at Eleder place their hopes. But they are confronted by two implacable forces: coming in from the northeast, the eminently capable armies of the Glorious Agha-la Osib, led by the savvy and experienced General Mokumbi; and in the northwest, the deathly cold and impassable terrain of the Alydi Pass. V Corps is now encamped at the base of the Pass, awaiting King Steppengard’s blessing to cut through into the plains behind Lord Shaaladel, and the expiration of the winter to allow them to capitalize on the King’s leave. In the meantime, V Corps and the Glorious Agha-la Osib test each others mettle, with neither gaining any real advantage.
After Steckhart had apprised the party of the military situation in Sargava and nearer lands – and the nature of the danger that faced Seaquen once the winter snows in the Bandu had melted, Balan gestured them back to their seats, and apprised them of the Council of Nine, the nobility of the Bandu.
The ruler of the Bandu Hills, Steppengard is an old, experienced warrior who has a reputation for preferring negotiation to combat. Steppengard would likely have been willing to listen to Seaquen’s offer, were it not that the death of his family has left him grieving and slightly unhinged.
Gallo was named Duke by Steppengard as a reward for his land’s service in protecting Bandu from invasion. Across the Nasham River which defines the northern border of Gallo’s lands is a mountain pass called the Alydi Gap, the only easy passage between the Vale of Lost Tears and Bandu. It has fallen to Gallo’s family throughout the centuries to hold back invaders. Gallo does not want to let the Sargavans through his land, and so will be the most receptive ally for Seaquen.
Timor is a wizard of modest power. Her lands are protected from invasion by the Glaskeel Cliffs, a strange icy landform half a mile high that separates her territory’s plateau from the lowlands of Gallo’s lands. Other routes into her lands are circuitous and easily defended. However, Timor is very frightened of the Sargavan Scourge, and so she may be willing to ally with Seaquen if provided the right incentive.
Dashgoban was one of the three nobles who had to sacrifice part of his family’s lands to create Steppengard’s holding (the other two were Lady Dene and Lord Iz). He has hinted that he thinks of Steppengard as a weak man, but he has said repeatedly that he has no interest in ruling the whole kingdom.
Megadon is one of the richest nobles, controlling both coastline and access to the Nasham River. He does not believe Sargava is a threat to him.
The lands of Iz are rocky and inhospitable, home to strong warriors. However, Iz is loyal to the Council of Nine, and will obey his king.
The poorest of the noble lords, Rego has also suffered a great number of refugees passing through his lands. He is actively hostile to Seaquen, and has said openly that he would like to see it pacified.
The Lady Dene expects to profit greatly from traffic passing through her lands to and from Seaquen, but she is nervous because she has only a weak army of her own.
Lady Namin has ties to the Elves of the Plains, whose nation her lands border. She has heard rumors that agents of Lyceum attempted to kill the princess of the plains elves and destroyed part of the elvish fleet, so she is hostile to Seaquen. When the king’s wife was killed, Lady Namin was already in the capital city, and there are those that believe she is maneuvering to become the new queen.