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  1. A group of various Mitgardian lords and leaders meets in Daydelon after hearing reports of Queen Ylspeth's new edict. Glorfindel quickly got down to business: "All of you represent different groups of Mitgardians. How do they all feel about these new regulations on taxes, public entertainment to be funded by the nobles, and grain from Avalonia?" There was a moment of silence as the council members considered their replies. Karsten and Glorfindel had already discussed the issue with each other before the council. And in the end it was Vagn, a wealthy merchant, who spoke up first. "Meddling with Mitgardian business, that's what this is! Never trust governments to get involved with trade, it always ends up costing you more than it gives. And ultimately this 'free grain' is just being paid with by our own taxes! Not to mention these taxes aren't just going to the crown, but into the pockets of those tree loving Avalonians!" Lady Alsnotr of the Strong Shield clan quickly responded: "Even if the grain is being paid for by our tax money, surely it's advantageous to receive grain before our tax payments are submitted? Many of our smaller clans and villages are struggling to maintain their food supplies, and we'll need good stocks prepared to make it through another tough winter." "You all act as if this sort of thing hasn't been done before," put in Brigor, an aged dwarf of Hradcanny. "Edicts on food, trade, and taxes were common place enough when we had a King in Cedrica; why should our Queen be any different? No, it's the inclusion of these public spectacles that makes me wary. What is Ylspeth trying to distract our people from? She's practically forcing nobles to put on these events with her tax requirements." "Surely she could just be looking to brighten the common folks lives?" Ovarr asked. As a well-known hunter and trapper, the young man was far from wealthy and passed through many small villages and towns during his expeditions. "Whatever our suspicions of her motives, we have no choice in the matter currently," stated Drottin Manaor, Mitgardia's Prime Minister and representative of parliament. "Though it may not be in our best interests, we are in no position to defy the Throne of Cedrica. Mitgardia badly needs some years of peace to regain strength." "I'm afraid Drottin is right, for now we will have to watch and wait to see how our new Queen handles Historica. Those of you with concerns are welcome to summarize your thoughts in letters which I can include in our next official correspondence with our representatives in Cedrica." Glorfindel sighed as he sat back in his chair. When Ylspeth had been inaugurated the country rejoiced, for it brought some much sought stability to the lands. And while many of the common people were excited by the promise of entertainment, the current sense of discontentment and suspicion among the nobles and wealthy was hardly encouraging.
  2. Henjin_Quilones

    Prelude: The Queen's Council

    The Queen's Council A prelude to Challenge II High Queen Ylspeth sits on the throne of her father in Cedrica, the unlikely victor in the war against the forces of Lord Raavage. The combined might of the battered guilds was enough to secure her rule, but now the young and inexperienced monarch must find a way to keep the guilds united in relative peace. She has assembled a council to help her in her duties, to advise in difficult matters, and to guide her through the complexities of politics. Each of the four guilds has two representatives on the council; they are second sons, old uncles, pensioned war heroes, and strong-willed daughters passed over in the inheritance in favor of younger sons, chosen by guild leadership to represent their interests and secure the future prosperity of each realm. Also on the council are a few ministers, of war, of finance, and of state, drawn from ancient political houses of Cedrica itself or else having arrived with Ylspeth when she came to seek the throne. Today, HIgh Queen Ylspeth and her council have convened to discuss the rumors of discontent that are circling throughout the lands... Ylspeth surveyed the room, meeting the eyes of the members of her council cordially. Some of them she enjoyed tremendously, and some, well, not so tremendously. They all meant well and were devoted to serving the realm. She took a deep breath, uneasy with the topic she knew they must discuss, ever since the reports began coming back that her people were not completely happy with their new ruler. Where to begin? "My lords and ladies," she began, "I called today's council session to discuss the negative reports that we have been hearing. Why are the people upset with the crown?" Amar was the first to speak up; she was a decorated soldier from Kaliphlin, the veteran of many battles in the civil wars despite her relative youth, and the third daughter of one of the more powerful lords from the High Council in the south; rather than marry her off to some man against her will, her father had petitioned to have her sent as a representative to Cedrica. Her advice was always action-based and typically fiery. "Your Majesty, if I may be so bold, perhaps it is because they are feeling oppressed by the Desert King's tyranny, who is no subject of yours, I might add, and military action to relieve them of his cruel rod would bestir them to think kindly of you." Khufu of Sultan's Gate, beside her and the other representative of Kaliphlin, glared at Amar; he was the Desert King's personal appointment to the council, and thus he was always quick to contradict anything said by his guildmate. "His Divine Majesty is not a tyrant, and does not rule under a cruel rod. Perhaps the people of Kaliphlin need to be liberated from the lies of the High Council's treasonous supporters, and an army should be sent to crush their last remaining strongholds!" "No one is sending an army anywhere!" interrupted Faluiel, an elf princess from the Enchanted Forest of Avalonia. "After the civil wars, the last thing the people want is another army being raised from their menfolk and sent off to die on some foreign plain. What they long for is something to mend the wounds done already and build the land up again. The elves have been doing as much work as they can to renew the deep magics, but these things will take time to come back to a semblance of the balance they had before Revolword and Raavage upended them." "My people need food, not magic," growled Thurl, an old dwarf from Mitgardia, the uncle of one of the kings of one of the mountain clans in the north. "The tundra came down farther than ever when the Algus attacked, and our fields have not thawed properly yet for growing; the reserves of many Mitgardian keeps are dangerously low, and there is little hope of filling them from this season's harvest." Faluiel nodded. "But restoring the deep magics' balance would push the tundra back and restore your croplands, and thus give you more food next year." "But the North is hungry now!" yelled Thurl. "I hear every day about families leaving their farms, gaunt with hunger, desperate for a crust of bread from their local jarl or thain." Eckbert, a grey and balding old general from Avalonia, cleared his throat. "If I may interrupt, my good Dwarf," he said, his old voice still strong and always polite, "the eastern plains of Avalonia have reported a bumper crop of grain this year, more than they have room to store, even. I know many of the lords there, such as my old messmate de Gothia of Sionnach, have been selling it to Varlyrio at a hefty profit, but surely with they would be willing to sell to their northern neighbors, for slightly less, even, due to reduced shipping costs; though the extra coin from the Varlyrian market has been much needed to repair the ruined cities and pay the pensions of soldiers and their widows." Cortucius Amancio, one of the Varlyrian councilors, agreed. "That grain has been cutting into the profits of our own farmers on Varlyrio. I know much of the discontent on my island guild is about how Her Majesty has opened up trade, threatening many of the leading families' lucrative monopolies. They would certainly be amenable to those goods being diverted elsewhere. And anything else from the mainland, too." Ylspeth nodded to each of her councilors' thoughts, mulling a way to try to meet each of their needs without upsetting the always precarious balance that was the Guilds of Historica. She could not seem to favor one over the others, lest the others be jealous and hurt. Surely there was a way to make everyone happy. While she was still pondering, N'ri, one of her closest advisors, second only to Kars, the commander of her bodyguard and Minister of Defense, stood up. N'ri was one of the warrior monks who had taken her in at their monastery on the far-western island, just a bit to the north of Mwamba, where she had taken refuge after the death of her father. He was wise in many ways, and his approach to matters was always fresh, not clouded with the self-seeking agendas that the rest of the councilors held. "My fellow councilors, this is a difficult moment, and perhaps it will be impossible to make everyone happy;" he paused and looked at the bickering Kaliphlinian representatives before going on, "but I think we can do something. Back in my home, long before I left for a new life at a monastery, the king used to throw public games, free to all comers, whenever discontent and unrest fell upon his people. He also made liberal use of handouts of food, particularly that lifeblood of civilization, bread. His philosophy, it seemed, was to fill the belly and soothe the soul with those two tools. My advice is that we use the funds of the crown to purchase the surplus grain from the Avalonians at a fair price -- perhaps not what they could get at open market, but we would not swindle them -- and then distribute that grain to the hungry in Mitgardia and Kaliphlin, especially our northern brethren. If we need more, perhaps the farmers of Varlyrio could supply a bit extra, too. At the same time, we should encourage, perhaps with a promise of lower taxes for those who agree, the wealthier nobles of the different realms to put on spectacles for the enjoyment of their peoples, in the name of our High Queen. Every lord knows what his people would enjoy most, and so he could provide that, encouraging the common citizens to be grateful for such beneficence from Cedrica." Ylspeth thought the advice sounded good, though she was concerned about the price and the state of the treasury. A murmur of displeasure swept the room, though, which surprised her. She walked around a bit trying to hear snippets of conversation as her councilors talked amongst themselves. Thurl was upset, grumbling about how the Mitgardians were being given charity, treated like the destitute, while the tights-wearers were only getting richer. Eckbert was certain that the Avalonian lords would in fact be swindled on the grain price, for bearded women, no less, in addition to balking at being expected to pay for lavish entertainments from their own pockets. Amar and Khufu were still arguing about the best way to fix Kaliphlin, though both were certain that their nobles would refuse any handouts from the tree-huggers at a minimum. Cortucius was silent, looking over the whole affair with smug superiority. Finally, Thurl pounded on the table and said, "This is a terrible plan!" N'ri held out a hand to pacify the old dwarf. "May your beard grow ever longer, my good Dwarf," he said in a conciliatory tone, "but I think it is important to think of matters beyond just the pride and pockets of the nobles. They are very few, but the common people are many; if there is no bread in the bellies of the peasants, how much longer with the lord sit on his throne? Will not the people revolt? Or whom will he rule if they all die of hunger, being good and obedient subjects? Yes, everyone will need to sacrifice a bit to make it work, but is it not worthwhile to secure the happiness and contentment of the people as a whole? This is about the poor child starving in the street, the veteran whose life is nothing but a hollow shell; what is a pile of gold in a locked room compared to those? Let's bring them bread and circuses, to improve their lives!" High Queen Ylspeth nodded in agreement with N'ri. She stood next to Thurl and said to the whole council, "This is what I decree: grain shall be purchased from the Avalonians to be distributed to the hungry in the north and south, as needed. My own treasury will handle that expense. Nobles of the different realms shall also, to the extent that they are able, contribute to the morale of the commoners by hosting some sort of grand entertainment. Those who do shall see a reduction of their tax burdens of ten per cent, and those who do not will see their tax burden rise by five per cent. Each guild shall provide a list of those lords and ladies who have put on a spectacle, enumerating the type and price, in order to qualify for the tax easement. Any further details will be worked out by the Treasury Minister and his aides. Am I understood?" "Yes, Your Majesty," came the words from each mouth, though not all of the faces showed agreement. Such is the life of a monarch, thought Ylspeth as she swept out of the room. _____________________________________ ...........................................................................
  3. It had been hours since Samarkand lost sight of the Black Spire forces tracking him. Night was descending on the swamp and Samarkand was desperately lost. The wound in his leg throbbed, blood still dripping from the badages. He had to stop. Those clumsy fools have about as much luck finding me as I do of getting out of this swamp alive, Samarkand thought to himself. Besides, there are worse things roaming about when night falls in Nocturnus. Samarkand stopped his horse in a small clearing a good ways off the path. He needed rest. He tried not to think about Hexana, her lifeless body no doubt desecrated by the Black Hand soldiers. Hexana had been one of Nocturnus' best spies. Her death would be a serious blow to the Resistance. More poignantly, she and Samarkand were lovers. Their love grew even when they found themselves on opposite sides of the Civil War - that is, before Samarkand followed Anfaulglir into rebellion. None of that mattered now. Suppressing his hatred and torment, Samarkand knew what he had to do: get the map to Shadowmere and the leaders of the Nocturnian Resistance. He did not know what the map pointed to, but he knew Anfauglir would. Whatever it was, it must be very important to Raavage - it seemed as if half the Black Spires's army was looking for him. Samarkand took a step and the pain from the arrow wound in his leg shot through him like a thunderbolt. I've got to get out of this swamp, he thought. But how? It was then that a faint glow caught Samarkand's eye. As his eyes adjusted to the falling light, Samarkand could see the shape of a small house in the darkness. The light must be from a fireplace, he thought. There are a few who call this swamp home. Surely they can point me towards the road to Shadowmere. Samarkand noticed a small path nearby that seemed to lead towards the house. He followed it until it reached the edge of a vast bog. The house appeared to be on a patch of land in the middle of the water. He found a small boat just off the path. This must be how they travel back and forth, he thought. Though Samarkand questioned its stability, the little boat stayed afloat as it ferried him across the bog. He slid the boat onto the bank and walked up the stone stairs leading to the door. Samarkand knocked on the door. A moment later the door opened, just enough for Samarkand to see a small woman peering at him. She was an Orc and looked very old. "A visitor? I hope you're not here for trouble. I'll have you know a powerful sorceress lives here and she does not take kindly to troublemakers!" Samarkand put his hands out to gesture his peaceful intentions. "I am just a weary traveller, wounded by a bandit and lost in these woods. I hoped you could point me towards the road to Shadowmere." The little old woman looked him up and down. She muttered something and opened the door to let Samarkand in. "Come in, come in. These lands are treacherous, it is wise of you to stop here." Samarkand entered the home. It was small and smelled dank but a fire in the chimney looked as inviting as any he had seen in Nocturnus. "I thank you greatly. The powerful sorceress who resides here, will she mind my presence?" The little old woman laughed. "Oh, I made that bit up to scare off troublemakers. It's all this old woman can do to defend herself." She pulled a chair up to the fireplace. "These are dangerous times and you cannot trust everyone you meet. But I can see in your face that you do not seek trouble. Come sit down and enjoy the fire. It is too dangerous to travel now, I will show you the way in the morning." Samarkand wanted to waste no time but he knew the old woman was right. He needed rest and to treat the wound left by the Black Spire arrow. The old woman disappeared into another room and left Samarkand by the fire. He took out the map and studied it. The strange markings were unrecognizable to him. What could this point to, he thought. Hexana, you died for something I cannot even understand... After a time the little old woman reappeared and shuffled to the kitchen, returning with a loaf of bread. "Here, you should eat something. You will need your strength for the journey ahead!" A strange comment, Samarkand thought. He cocked his head towards the old woman. "The road to Shadowmere, is it perilous?" The old woman's mouth twisted into a grin, showing her stained and cracked teeth. He looked down at the loaf and began to cut off a piece. "All roads from this place are, but yours will be particularly difficult. For you have something that does not belong to you, and it must be returned to its rightful master." Samarkand recoiled - maggots poured out of the loaf he had just cut. Though the fire still burned, a chill hit Samarkand and darkness began to consume the room. He looked up and the old woman had disappeared. A deep voice revealed the presence of another in the room. "You pathetic thief. You thought you could steal from ME! Do you even realize the power you wield with that map? You are a fool like all the others who oppose my will." A dense shadow rose before Samarkand, out of which appeared Lord Raavage himself. Samarkand reached for his sword but a force immediately lifted him and threw him across the room. "A mere mortal against the rightful ruler of Historica? Ha! The stupidity of your kind never ceases!" Raavage loomed over Samarkand, who tried but failed to stand up. "With the map in my hands, Nocturnus is mine for the taking. After that, all of Historica." Samarkand glared at Raavage. Still he could not move. "Raavage, you worm, you will fail. The resistance will banish you back to the hole you crawled out of!" "You must be more ignorant than I thought. Wretched mortal, you have no idea what this map leads to, do you?" Samarkand managed to lean himself against the wall. He knew Raavage would not let him leave the room alive. "Raavage, your cheap conjurer tricks are running low. The resistance grows stronger every day while your alliance crumbles to pieces." Raavage's face snarled with fury. He placed his right boot against Samarkand's chest. Samarkand grimaced as several of his ribs broke from the weight. "I should cut off your head right now for such insolent talk. But first I will tell you what this map leads to, so that the last thought which runs through your head is that of the destruction of your land and people. Even you have heard of the Helm of Elemental Magic. Victor Revolwood, a mere puppet in my service, nearly conquered Historica through use of the Helm. What you may not know is that the Helm was one of two vastly powerful artifacts crafted in ancient times. The Elemental Helm controlled the forces of water, earth, fire and air. The second, much more powerful helm controlled the forces of life and death. It is this artifact, the Necromancer's Helm, to which this map will lead me." Samarkand could not believe it. The Necromancer's Helm was a story told to frighten unruly children. Rumors said its wearer possessed the ability to resurrect and command the dead. Such black magic was not unknown in Nocturnus - Necromancers had the power to raise the dead, but only temporarily and in limited numbers. The Necromancer's Helm, it was said, could raise permanent legions of the undead. "Lies! The Necromancer's Helm is the substance of ancient stories, nothing more. Raavage, your thirst for power has rotted your mind." Raavage laughed. He was tiring of this episode. "The Helm is real and will soon be mine, thanks to you. With its power I will bring Historica to its knees. It's a shame you will not see what I am capable of once I'm in possession of the Helm. But you have already wasted too much of my time." Raavage withdrew a dagger from his belt and plunged it into Samarkand's chest. Raavage closed in, just inches from Samarkand's face. "Die knowing that all you treasure will be consumed by the Black Spire." Samarkand tried to speak but the words would not leave his mouth. Blood oozed from the dagger wound and his eyes began to fade. As darkness enveloped him, Samarkand managed to feel at peace for the first time in ages. His thoughts escaped from Raavage and turned to the one thing he had ever truly loved. The word slipped from his mouth when no others would - "Hexana." ---------------------------------------------------- For those who might need a refresher on Samarkand and how he acquired the map, see here! Extra pics of the hut, with fog!
  4. Previous Prelude chapters: Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Food Shortage Barqa is located far enough away from the epicenter of the large earthquake that struck Kaliphlin to have been spared the worst of the destruction. However, all along the usually fertile Arkbri valley crop failures have happened for mysterious reasons, leading to widespread food shortages and famine. This has caused food prices in all towns and cities dependent on that food to rise dramatically. Reports of riots have made their way to Barqa, where the emergency supplies in the city's granaries and it's strong city guard has been able to keep major riots from happen. The only resort for many of the citizens is however to wait in long lines outside one of the city’s granaries, where the city council has authorized the city guard to start handing out some of the supplies stored inside. A sizeable force of guards is deployed around the granary to keep the peace and make sure that everyone keeps in line. Unfortunately, some of this food ends up on the black market even though the punishments for such offenses in times of crisis are very harsh. As food gets more and more scarce throughout the land, Gideon and the other officials of Barqa are increasingly worried that a refugee crisis might be growing as the rumor spreads around Kaliphlin of the still filled stores of the city. The fear is that people will start to flock to Barqa from smaller places where the granaries, if any, are rapidly emptying... Citizens waiting patiently in line, or at least they know that they will get thrown out of the line by the stern guards if they try to step ahead... Is this guy happy because he knows that his family will have food for the coming days, or for the money he will get for the food his “family” has received for free?
  5. The Death of Flagg (Challenge IV Prelude, Chapter 9) Previous Prelude chapters: Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 The Death of Flagg “And then I ran, and the Drow assassin chased me, but I finally remembered an invisibility spell, which saved my life!” The Sorceress Nefrillia concluded. DSC_1617 by skaforhire, on Flickr Kyban Wh'Ali of Khar'dek, current Lord Protector in council almost looked sick to his stomach as he investigated the mess. Two dead mage professors at the University of Petraea on his watch, and the leader of Kaliphlin disappeared and assumed dead. Dugal pitied the man, Bain and other High Council members were going to have a field day with this when the High Council met tonight. DSC_1622 by skaforhire, on Flickr “Are you sure Dextrus did not make it through the portal safely?” Lady Kylee asked. Nefrilla replied with eerie confidence “ when the Drow attacked us, and killed Professor Parker, it sent a backlash through the ritual stone. Flagg had crossed the threshold of the gate and was completely dematerialized at the time. As the backlash came back to the gate there was a red glow, and then it spit out Flagg’s shield.” She sighed, “ I am sorry, he is just… gone. The magic must have ripped him into a million particles.” That was a disturbing thought… “and you say that he was trying to reach Kathyrin? I thought her dead?” Gideon asked. “Indeed, he had us switch the polarity of the artifact to try and travel to the underworld using the hole Dugal crawled out of last year.” Nefrilla answered. “Well, this is definitely his shield.” Bain said, placing Dextrus Flagg’s most recognizable possession back on the ground. Dugal looked around the large room in the University of Petraea's Sciences and Magic building, “How does a Drow assassin hide in a pristine white room?” The rest of the council looked just as confused. +=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+= An hour earlier… Dextrus Flagg seemed extremely giddy, and more excited than he had in months. Rolo Audek, Flagg’s bodyguard was not as happy as his friend and master. He and Barden Warwalker, a famed undead hunter, were about to accompany Flagg through some sort of gate to the netherworld. Kaliphlin scientists and mages just recently got the Simultaneous Transport and Retrieval gate to work between gates in Kaliphlin, now they wanted to go to new planes? However, Sorceress Nefrillia, Professor Parker, and Clemte E. Pilsin, adventurer mage extraordinaire, assured their guild leader that the gate was ready for interdimensional travel. DSC_1603 by skaforhire, on Flickr “So this will take us to the hole near Queencross that Dugal came out of? And then to the underworld?” Flagg asked again. “Something like that, but you are thinking of the Stargate too limitedly, it does not travel in a path, but in a straight line between planes of existence.” Said Parker, and he was immediately interrupted by Pilsin. “Yer mean STRgate. “And” cannot be in the acronym! It is a STR gate!” Pilsin chimed. He was pronouncing it like “stir gate” and it was clear that the two had gone through the semantics before. “That sounds terrible, it is stargate.” Parker said, the clearly more educated of the two. “STRRRRRGATE!” I build the ritual stone and was the first traveler through the gate, I get to name it.” He declared. “STRRRRGATE.” Flagg interjected. “I don’t care about the name, can you make it home in on Kathyrin?” “That is not how it works” Both Pilsin and Parker chimed in. Nefrilla was oddly quiet. Barden patted Flagg on the back, “That is why you have me, sir. I can find her, no matter where in the seven hells she is.” “There actually are not se…” Pilsin started, but Flagg cut him off. “Very well, let’s get this started.” The three mages gathered around the ritual stone and began to pour magic into the small ruby looking stone. DSC_1604 by skaforhire, on Flickr Soon, the gate began to glow and then a water like surface appeared within the circle. Dex2 by skaforhire, on Flickr Rolo took up his position at the front, climbed the ramp, held his breath, and crossed the threshold. It was cold and then the world went black. Dex4 by skaforhire, on Flickr +=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+= The first two travelers went through the Strgate. Pilson was overjoyed that other humans were finally getting to experience gate travel! Flagg was about to step in when Nefrilla said “Oh Flagg, you can’t take that shield!” Parker and Pilson both looked at their comrade with a quizzical glance, but she continued. “The silver plating will not pass into the next realm, it could kill you or send the gate somewhere else!” Pilson looked at Parker. That was not true, there was no metal that could not travel through the gate, at least that they knew of. However, before Pilson could find words, Flagg yelled “thanks!” ran down the ramp, put the shield down, and ran back up the ramp to dive through the strgate. dex0 by skaforhire, on Flickr As soon as he was through, Nefrilla immediately let go of her magical stream, and the portal winked out of existence. Pilson was unable to question her, for before he could speak a knife quickly flashed in Nefrilla’s hands. She stabbed Parker in the neck, and Pilson wet himself. He turned to run, and he heard her cackle with amusement. He may have got fifteen paces before he felt a cold object pierce his lower back. DSC_1612 by skaforhire, on Flickr He gulped. She turned the knife, and pulled up hard. He began to choke. So this is how his life ended, well it had been a good one, he had written books… lots of books… seen the rise and fall of many men and women who led historica… had even been the court jes… he closed his eyes. He knew he would not sleep forever, heck maybe he would even see Flagg on the other side. Dex5 by skaforhire, on Flickr