King Maker: Stormvale

The Varnhold Vanishing: Session 1

Meric

Abrogail struggled desperately to escape her bonds, blood running down her face.

“For crimes against the crown of Cheliax and its people, I hereby sentence you to death, to be carried out immediately. May your infernal masters take great pleasure in tormenting your soul for all eternity.” Abrogail attempted to respond, but the lack of a tongue made speaking difficult. Meric raised a hand and gestured toward the pile of kindling at Abrogail’s feet.

Your grace…
Meric looked around, irritated, as though a fly were circling his head. This was the dream he had dreamed at least twice a week for the past two years, ever since the deaths of his parents and brother, but this voice was new. He chose to ignore it, and a fireball exploded at the base of Abrogail’s pyre. She screamed a bloody scream, and Meric smiled.

Your grace, please…
Meric stopped smiling, his hand going to the sword at his side. It’s time.
“Your grace!”

Meric opened his eyes. Less than six inches away, an icy blue pair of eyes stared into his own. He drew in a breath, the power drawing itself together inside him -

“Please don’t, your grace. Killing you is certainly not my intention.” Meric exhaled, only then noticing that there was a knife pressed against his throat. He let the magical energies go, forcing himself to relax. He was in his bedchambers, alone but for a blonde girl of no more than sixteen years straddling his chest, the aforementioned knife in her hand. Meric kept silent.

“This won’t do, your grace. It’s a wonder the Red Mantis haven’t gotten you.” She seemed to relax ever so slightly.

“I’m afraid you have me at a loss.” He smiled disarmingly…he hoped. She did not return the smile, though she did sit up.

“I apologize, your grace. I had to make my point.”

“And that point would be…?”

“That you need me, your grace. My protection. If there is any hope for Cheliax, you must be safeguarded.” She sheathed the knife. “My life, and my death, are yours to command.”

Meric raised himself to one elbow on the bed, his brow furrowing at this dangerous teenager. For once, he was speechless.

Bishop

There were too many entrances to Meric’s throne room for Bishop’s taste. She saw no fewer than twelve weaknesses a skilled assassin could exploit to reach the Duke before anyone could assist him. Changes would be needed, though the Captain of the guard was hesitant to take any of her advice despite Meric’s orders. No doubt he disliked a girl half his age telling him how to do his job. Meric held open court on most of the days he was present in Stag’s End. If he was to insist on spending so much time in such a vulnerable spot, precautions would need to be taken.

Since she had gained the Duke’s trust, her priority had been assessing potential threats from within the castle. After all, most monarchs are killed by their own domestics, not an external enemy. The staff was loyal if somewhat oblivious. The castle’s guards left much to be desired.

Meric was alive only because of the exceptional abilities of he and his closest allies. She wondered if they could be trusted long term, or if any of them would attempt to wrestle power away from her liege. She would need plans to deal with each of them should the worst occur.

Keston Garess entered the room leading a pair of men whom Bishop did not recognize. She noticed immediately the sigil of Cheliax on their armor. She moved closer to Meric and placed her hands on her daggers.

“Your Grace. Twenty seven men arrived this morning wearing armor that bears the sigil of Cheliax. They claim to have come to swear fealty to you. I am sure it was simply a ruse to attempt to get close enough to attack you, but I thought it best to bring the leaders before you so that you may question them yourself.”

Could that be true? Or a Red Mantis trick…? Bishop could not decide.
Meric furrowed, his brow and glanced at the two men.

“Thank you, Keston.” Meric raised his voice slightly. “What brings you to our fair city?”

“Your Grace.” The man dropped to one knee before Meric. He appeared to be in his late 30s. He looked quite formidable.

“I am Grachius Albus. I lead a mercenary company that operates out of Cheliax. Abrogail’s minions attempted to suppress the news of your letter, but it spread too quickly among the population. My men and I had to come see you to confirm it.”

Albus looked at Meric for a moment before smiling.

“I have seen a protrait of your grandfather, I swear you look exactly like him. Your claim is valid. My father served as a guard to house Thrune when Merric ruled. When your grandfather fled, my father managed to save a few items from the manor before the fires consumed it. He defied Abrogail’s new laws and kept copies of the true histories, not the manufactured ones that she and her devils have re-written and distributed to the population. He taught me the truth from these books.”

His expression turned to one of almost despair.

“Have you ever been to Cheliax your Grace?”

“I have not. My family has lived in exile since the coup. I plan to remedy that deficiency in the very near future, however.”

“It is worse than any outsider has imagined. The entire population lives in fear. Devils walk the streets freely. They act as Abrogail’s secret police, disguising themselves using foul magic. They infiltrate every organization and noble family. They sniff out those who are even the slightest bit disloyal and execute them in barbaric fashion as a lesson to others. Tieflings now make up 15% of the population. In some areas, it’s more like 20%. Soon there will be nothing left of your homeland worth saving Meric.”

“There are still patriots though. I brought 27 of my men, but that is not all of them. Word has been sent to the others. They are retrieving supplies and equipment that we had stashed for just such an occasion. We have no families back in Cheliax for Abrogail and her devils to use as leverage against us. We swear allegiance to you Meric Thorn. We will give our lives to see Cheliax redeemed.”

All of the man’s words about Chelix rang true to Bishop. She had lived through the same.

Meric sat back, a grin spreading across his face. “Bring this man a cup of wine. Captain, I do not hesitate to say that I believe your allegiance will be tested in short order; we have no shortage of threats here in Stag’s End.”

Bishop was not sure what to make of these mercenaries. Her lord was prudent, but the agents of Abrogail were masters of deceit. She trusted no one yet save herself and the rightful king of Cheliax. That was unlikely to change anytime soon.

Em

The fey despised the breach scars, but Em always found them somewhat comforting. This was surely because she was not fey. The island of stability they produced seemed somehow…right to her. She often sought them out when she wished to be alone, as the fey generally kept their distance from them.

She knew the breach scars were entrances to another plane of existence. A strange one, where the terrain was consistent, and time flowed at an even rate for all. The fey had many horror stories about the dreary and unimaginative beings that lived there. She was unsure how much of it was true, and how much of it had been made up to shame her about her heritage. Many of the denizens of the First World were quite cruel.

Today however, her peaceful respite of stability was interrupted by something most random. Four creatures emerged from the breach scar. They were mortals like her. She sat with her hand lazily dangling in the stream next to her. She saw no reason to fear them. They had a confused look about them.

They spoke in the common tongue, which Em had learned as an attempt to learn more about mortals. It was a strange and rigid language. She preferred the Sylvan used by the fey. It had a lyrical quality to it that she found lacking in all other languages she had encountered.

One of the women attempted to converse with Em in common. She pretended not to understand. It was bad form to enter another realm and expect the natives to accommodate you. Perhaps the woman was surprised to find a mortal in the First World, and assumed Em would speak common. The fact that she could was beside the point.

The other woman addressed her in Sylvan.

“Greetings. My name is Sivileana. My friends and I have come from the material plane in the hopes that we can convince a nymph to aid us in repairing the damage done to our lands by one of the unseelie court.” Sivileana spoke with a thick accent in her Sylvan, but Em could understand her.

“It seems unlikely that you could convince a nymph to risk her immortality by leaving the First World.”

“Never the less, we must try. Could you be so kind as to point us in the direction of one?”
Em smiled. They didn’t understand. Of course, this world must seem quite strange to them.
She could see the confused faces of Sivileana’s three companions, and decided it was rude to continue speaking in a language they could not understand.

“You do not navigate the First World by direction. You navigate it by will. If you wish to find a nymph, simply find one.”

The comely man with black hair responded first.

“Are you saying that by wishing it to be so, we can make it so?”

“No, I am saying that by making it so you can make it so. You traverse the First World by bending it to your will.”

“We are not experienced in such things. It may prove difficult for us. Would you be willing to help us…I’m sorry, I never asked for your name.” Sivileana had manners that Em was unaccustomed to. She approved.

“Emreal. I can take you to someone who can help. But the fey do not suffer the presence of mortals without taking at least some measure of amusement from them. You should exercise caution for the duration of your stay.”

Em led the group towards the Green Mother. She thought it unwise to take them directly to any of the nymphs who lived in the Mother’s domain, without first getting the elder’s consent.

As they traveled, she learned the names of the others, Meric, Dante and Asta. Several of them commented that she and Asta looked very much alike. She didn’t see the resemblance. They were both Half-Elf females, but she thought they looked no more similar than Meric and Dante.

Before long, Asta began to talk slower and slower. Her movements slowed to that of a fraction of the others. This was such a commonplace occurrence, that Em thought nothing of it. Asta’s companions panicked.

“What’s happening to her?” Dante shouted.

“Time is not a fixed concept here. It can fluctuate from person to person.”

“Will it return to normal for her?”

“From Asta’s perspective, we are all moving incredibly fast. Who’s to say which perspective, if
either, is normal?”

“It will be difficult for us to work together like this. What can we do to align our time streams?” Meric asked somewhat impatiently.

“Will it to be so.” Em wondered why they were having so much difficulty with this concept.

Sivileana focused on Asta for a moment and closed her eyes. Em could sense her exert her will on their surroundings. Asta began to speed up until she matched the others.

“That was a bizarre experience.” Asta stated.

Em hurried the group along to the court of the Green Mother. Fortunately, the many Nixies and Sprites kept their distance from the party. They likely didn’t know what to make of seeing Em acting as their escort. Em didn’t believe the mortals would be successful in their attempt to convince the elder to part with one of her nymph subjects, but the Green Mother was capricious. Her mood at the moment would be the deciding factor.

“Emreal my dear! So good to see you! And I see you have brought guests. Such an attractive group of mortals too.”

“They have come from the material plane with a request Green Mother. I thought it best to bring them before you.”

“Excellent! Come, tell me what it is you seek?”

Sivileana addressed the elder fey, And explained the situation. The Green Mother seemed
dismissive.

“No nymph will agree to such a request. I’m afraid you waste your time mortals.”
Em suddenly had a thought.

“Actually mother, I believe Nyrissia would be willing to make such a journey.”

“Perhaps you are right. But I couldn’t possibly part with Nyrissia! I could never grant such a request, even temporarily. Unless…” The Green Mother spent a moment sizing up Meric before smiling and gesturing in his direction. “A trade could be arranged. You take Nyrissia and leave that one behind for me for the duration of her stay on the material plane.”

Em knew Meric did not speak Sylvan and could not have understood the Green Mother. This did not prevent him from detecting the elder’s baser intent merely from the way she was looking at him. He returned her smile flirtaciously. Em wondered how his countenance would change if he understood that the Mother intended to keep him for a decade.

“We cannot spare him for that long Green Mother.” Siv responded diplomatically. “Is there perhaps another favor we can do for you?”

“There is one thing, though I am sure you will all be killed in attempting it.”

“We are willing to try Green Mother.” Sivileana’s determination impressed Em. She thought the two of them had very much in common.

“Very well, you have been warned. There is a particularly deadly Satyr hunter in my domain wreaking havoc. Kill him, and I will arrange for Nyrissia to join you on the material plane.” The Green Mother then gestured to Asta as she spoke to Em. “Oh and Emreal, it will be dangerous. Do go with them, sisters should look out for each other.”

“Huh?” Em found herself at a lack for eloquent words.

“That girl had the same mother and father as you did dear. That makes her your sister. Do try to keep up Emreal. It would be a shame for you to meet her only to have her killed on the same day.”

Em took another long look at Asta. She still could not see the resemblance.

Asta

Asta could definitely see the resemblance between herself and Em. The necklace Em wore futher confirmed what they had been told. It was the symbol of their mother’s elven family, and matched the one Asta had carried since she was a child. The Green Mother had refused to answer any further questions on the subject, and sent them off to kill the Horned Huntsman. The encounter had nearly cost Dante his life, but they were successful. Siv had renewed focus now that the Narlmarches were being repaired by the presence of the Nymph.

Asta was overjoyed when her new found sister decided to leave the First World and accompany them back to the material plane. She had spent much of their journey to Cheliax peppering the girl with questions. She didn’t see how it was possible for them to share the same father, as Em was only a few years younger than Asta, and their mother had abandoned their father a decade before the point when Em would have had to have been conceived. Em suggested that the flow of time in the First World could easily account for her having aged faster than expected.

This raised other difficult questions. How did Em end up in the land of the Fey in the first place? Where was their mother now? She needed to make answering these questions a priority…just not today.

A chill went down her spine as a pair of Hell Knights past her and Em on the street. She was unnerved every time she saw them. It didn’t help that she had to keep Skyyd unsummoned. She felt almost naked without him. They were only doing reconnaissance on the tower, and she reminded herself that there would be no fighting today. Yet every time one of the agents of Cheliax glanced in her direction, she couldn’t help but feel that they could see right through her.

Egorian was full of people, and yet simultaneously lifeless. The city itself was beautiful. But at all times, one could sense that the spirit of the citizens was completely broken. Numerous tieflings walked the streets. Asta had met tieflings before and knew they were no more likely disposed to evil than other mortals. But the sheer number of them present in a city controlled by devils, gave the impression that the devils were slowly breeding out the native population.

“What a dreadful place.” Em commented

“We haven’t nearly seen the worst of it. Hopefully we won’t have to.” The sooner they left this place the happier Asta would be.

“Will Stag’s End be like this one day?”

“We’d never let that happen.”

“Maybe you won’t be able to stop it. What if Meric’s heir is incompetent, or cruel? You already have an infernal benefactor.”

Asta shot Em a dirty look.

“This topic makes you uncomfortable. Very well, I will desist.“

They arrived at the University of Egorian. Bishop had explained that most of the building was open to the public, but that it would be best if they split up on their way there as to not attract attention. The party was quite large at this point. Meric’s new body guard Bishop was a constant companion. As was Ali, the girl whom Siv had taken under her wing. Adding to the total were Em and Amalie. They each brought new talents to the group, and Asta knew they would need all the help they could get on this mission. Yet part of her missed the days when it was just the four of them in the wilds, fighting their way through bandits.

They entered the building without incident and found the others gathered in the public library. Asta took a few moments to scan some of the available volumes. None of the traditional history books were present. In their place stood the government sanctioned versions, updated by the Chelish regime yearly. Despite its appearances, this was not a place of learning. Asta had a hard time masking her disgust.

“Follow me.” Asta nearly jumped as Bishop suddenly spoke from directly behind her. The girl had a way of sneaking up on everyone.

Bishop led the group through the hallways of the university. They were asked by a few people what they were doing, but each time Meric easily persuaded the questioner that their presence was innocent and expected. Eventually they reached the center of the structure. They were now directly underneath the tower.

“If we can find a point that is adjacent to the tower walls, I could possibly stone shape a hole for us.” Siv offered.

“That gets us in, but how do we get out?” Asta replied.

“One thing at a time.” Meric countered. “How do we get up there?”

Amalie spoke up. “The tower has to be recessed into the ceiling quite a bit. There should be open spaces in the ceiling above us where the masons laid the foundation for the tower. Get to one of those openings and we’ll be right beside the tower.”

Dante was surprised by this. “How do you know so much about architecture?”

“I read.” Amalie seemed embarrassed. “A lot…”

It took only a couple of minutes to find an access point to the space between the ceiling and the roof of the building. Once they located the tower wall, they began a barrage of magical inquiries. Numerous magical auras were detected. It seemed likely that the tower was dimensionally locked. Teleporting in or out would not be an option. Some of the other auras were likely alarm spells. Meric used clairvoyance and determined that there were two guards inside. Neither was a Hell Knight.

“I think we can do this, but what’s our escape plan?” Dante stated. Asta suddenly had an idea.

“Only the tower is dimensionally locked. If we buy a scroll of teleportation, I can probably teleport three of us out with the artifact as soon as we are outside of the tower.”

“What do you mean by probably?” Meric responded.

“What do you mean by three of us? I count eight.” Em added.

“There is a chance of failure. My arcane skill is insufficient to guarantee success. And my limit would be three people.” Asta stated disappointedly.

“That’s not a problem. I can cast a fortune hex on you. It won’t guarantee the spell will work, but it will increase the odds substantially. I’m more concerned about the five people that would be left behind.” If Em was nervous, you could not discern it from her voice. Asta was always so timid until recently. Em seemed confident in all situations. Despite being sisters, they were very different.

“I say we do it. If you can get Meric and the artifact out of Cheliax, it makes it easier for the other five of us to escape.” Asta was grateful for Siv’s vote of confidence.

“Agreed. We’ll be fine. Though we probably need some tricks up our sleeves ourselves in case things go badly.” Dante sounded confident as well. Asta supposed that all of the long odds the group had overcome over the past couple of years had left them certain they could overcome any obstacle. She hoped it wasn’t over confidence.

“So how do we fight our way through, and disable the wards without drawing any attention?” Asta was looking directly at Meric as she spoke. The Duke smiled before responding.

“I have a plan.”

Siv

Siv knew it was too late to turn back now. But she had serious doubts about the group’s plan. She fully expected to have to fight their way through the tower in order to find the artifact. If Meric pulled this off without violence, there would be no need to exaggerate this tale at next year’s Stag’s End day.

Meric nodded to the others, and the buffs began to fly. He altered himself to appear as a Hell Knight. Heroism, Moment of Greatness, Eagle’s splendor and a Fortune Hex were cast. He drank a potion of glibness, and put on a circlet of persuasion. Shield and Protection from Evil were added in case things didn’t go as planned.

Siv transformed into a mouse and hid in one of Meric’s pockets. She would be there in case the guards didn’t buy Meric’s ruse, and the situation escalated to combat before the others could enter the room. This was particularly amusing to her, because she had her armor enchanted with the hostelling ability, which allowed her to magically store Barry in her armor. This enabled her to bring him with her anywhere in Cheliax. She smiled thinking of the Hell Knights reactions to a Half-Elf leaping from the pocket of Meric, only to have a full grown bear jump from the armor of the Half-Elf.

She cast stone shape, and removed enough of the tower wall for Meric to pass through. He stepped forward into the chamber. Siv braced herself for the worst.

There were two Hell Knights inside. She cursed the group’s luck. They both reached for their weapons. Meric seemed unphased. He immediately went into character, and began breathing heavily, as if he had been running.

“I’m going to speak quickly. The fate of Cheliax may rest on your listening closely and following my instructions without question.

“The castle is under attack by Andoran Eagle Knights. The other side of that portal has been compromised. I’ve been sent to bring the artifact to safety – I had to use this entrance to the tower to prevent the Andorans from learning the location of the portal, as the other side has been shielded by illusion. I need one of you to go up and get the artifact along with anything else of value which should be prevented from falling into their hands. You must make sure that the alarm does not go off – that is the signal that I need reinforcements, and if the queen sends assistance to us needlessly it could cost her life.

“You must now set up a defensive position on this side of the portal – if they find the other entrance, be ready to defend this position with your lives. You must buy me as much time as possible to get this artifact away from here. In Asmodeus’ name.”

Though Siv knew every word was a lie, she found herself almost believing it.

The two Hell knights stood in disbelief for several moments before one turned to the other and spoke.

“You heard him! Get the artifact!” The second Hell Knight immediately ran towards the upper level of the tower.

I can’t believe this is going to work.

Several minutes past before the Hell knight returned, holding a locked chest.
“Where are we taking it?” The second Hell knight asked.

“I already explained that I need you to remain here to buy me time.”

Both Hell Knights were beginning to seem unsure. Meric walked over and grabbed the chest from the first Hell Knight, who made no effort to stop him. If Meric could just talk them into remaining, the group would be home free.

“What is the meaning of this?” Siv turned and could see an Erinyes Devil had entered the tower.

So much for a clean getaway.

Meric bolted for the hole in the tower and Asta wasted no time attempting the teleportation. Soon, Asta, Meric and Em vanished from sight. Siv stone shaped the hole in the tower closed, and transformed back into her natural form.

Each member of the group that remained cracked their snapleaf, and was made instantly invisible.
They ran through the university with tremendous urgency. Several people inside possessed the ability to see invisible creatures, and each gave a confused look as the group ran by. But none tried to stop them. Siv knew that woudn’t last. When they reached the exit, she told the others to split up and head for the safe house.

It was a half mile back to the house. It belonged to one of the men who had sworn fealty to Meric. Once they had regrouped, they could make for the nearest exit and get clear of the city. Siv arrived first, and waited impatiently as the others trickled in. Dante was the last to arrive. Siv had feared he had been unable to resist the urge to attack Infernal pursuers. Fortunately, he made it without incident.

“Thankfully they didn’t see any of our faces. We should be able to move to an exit without issue if we leave now.” Siv’s adrenaline was still pumping as she spoke.

“I don’t think that’s true Lady Siv.” Amalie stated nervously.

“What do you mean?”

“Those Hell Knights in the tower. I peaked at them with my familiar. They had the symbol of the Order of the Scourge. They can see through stone. Both of them likely saw us through the wall after Meric entered.”

“We should leave now then before they can spread our descriptions around.” Siv moved for the door, when suddenly Ali’s body flew backwards and hit the floor.

“Ali!” Siv ran to her side. Ali reached a hand up to Siv’s shoulder. The girl’s eyes glowed a brilliant white as she spoke.

“You can’t go…they’ll see.”

Ali

The power faded from Ali as quickly as it had arrived. She fought back tears that were welling up in response to her persistent inability to control her powers.

“I’m alright.”

Siv wildshaped into and earth elemental and dissappeard into the stone of the chimney. She returned a few moments later and reassumed her Half-elf form.

“Erinyes devils. I can see five of them in visual range of the house.”

Ali Could see Dante grab his hammer.

“Do they know we are here?” The paladin sounded as if he was eager to face them.

“No. I think they are just spreading out over the entire city in a search pattern. If we leave they will spot us.”

“We go underground then.” Bishop stated matter of factly. “There are sewer entrances a block from here. I can lead us out of the city through them.”

“How do we get into the sewers without being spotted?” Amalie sounded as nervous as Ali felt.

“We dig. I can memorize multiple stone shape spells tomorrow to dig us a hole directly to sewers.” Siv sounded as if she was in complete command of the situation.

“So we have to stay here all night? What if they start searching door to door?” Ali asked nervously.

“It’s a big city. They don’t have the resources in place to go door to door tonight. We can afford to wait until the morning if it allows us to remain hidden.”

“I hate hiding.” Dante moaned as he laid down his hammer and shield.

Ali wandered into a far room of the house to be alone, but Siv followed. The druid placed her hands on Ali’s shoulders.

“Are you really alright?”

“I’m fine. It just caught me off guard.”

“It caught us all off guard. What happened? How did you know it was dangerous to leave the house?”

“I don’t know. It’s as if a force took control of body for a few moments. Like it shoved me to the side and used my body to communicate with you.” Ali couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. “Who is doing this to me?”

Siv’s eyes had their usual steely resolve.

“We’re going to find out Ali. I promise you.”

Dante

Crawling through the sewers of Cheliax was not what he had in mind when they had formulated their plan to take the fight to the heart of the Evil Empire. His fortitude was substantial, but holding back from vomiting was difficult.

Bishop led the group for an hour before they could see daylight. She paused and turned to Dante and Siv.

“There is an Erinyes and a Hell Knight at the exit of the sewer.”

“Well they certainly are thorough aren’t they?” Siv replied.

“We can’t allow them to signal for help. We must kill them quickly.” There was something about Bishop that unsettled Dante. She was an unusual girl, and she always spoke of killing like it was task akin to going to the market.

“We take down the Erinyes first then. Follow my lead.” Dante moved as quickly as he could through the pipe towards his targets. As he cleared the confined space, he leapt at the Devil and smote it with all of his power. It shrieked in pain.

The Hell Knight sized Dante up and cursed him out loud.

“You reek of chaos. I will see the law upheld.” The Hell Knight reached back and his Blade began to glow a vibrant yellow. He brought it down on Dante’s shoulder with tremendous force. It was the first time the Paladin had ever been on the receiving end of a Smite. He didn’t enjoy the experience.

Barry jumped from the Hostel of Siv’s armor and attacked as the druid summoned a flaming sphere and began calling lighting down on the devil. Ali hit it with a searing light spell.
Bishop began striking the Hell Knight from behind. Amalie cast Haste on the group.

Dante checked the Hell Knight’s aura and detected to his surprise that he wasn’t evil. He retaliated against the Hell Knight, but found that as they exchanged blows, he could not match him while the knight could Smite him and he could not. Fortunately he could heal the majority of the wounds the Hell Knight could inflict, before it could strike the next blow.

The combined efforts of Barry, Bishop and Dante wore down the Hell Knight to the point where Dante could strike the killing blow. As he turned to face the devil, his armor began to glow and an Astral Deva appeared in front of him and charged the Erinyes Devil. It smote the fiend mightily before fading from existence. Dante launched furious series of attacks that finished off monster.

As he turned towards his companions, all of their eyes were upon him.

“Where did that angel come from?” Asked Amalie. “I didn’t know you could do that.”

Dante looked down at the Gold design in his armor.

“Neither did I.”

Amalie

The atmosphere in the Castle was downright jubilant after their success in Cheliax. Meric had held a small feast in celebration. Amalie hadn’t believed a small group of individuals could accomplish something so significant until she saw it with their own eyes. Optimists is not the word she would have used to describe the leaders of Stormvale before their mission to steal the artifact. Since then, no word fit better.

There were still loose ends of course. None of them had been able to identify the artifact, and none knew what to do with it. It appeared to be little more than four large pieces of stone, that radiated powerful magic. Meric had called a meeting with his three closest advisors and their cohorts to discuss precisely what to do about.

Before they could get underway, a devil teleported into the room. Amalie immediately recognized him as Rumjal. Kalatrina had known him well and as such, Amalie had encountered him frequently. She had hoped to be free of his kind when she left Kalatrina’s service.

“I have heard a rumor that a heist took place in Egorian recently. The tale goes that a man walked into the Tower of Nessus, and talked the Hell Knight guards into simply handing over an artifact of tremendous value. The queen is said to be enraged.”

Meric steepled his fingers and smirked.

“Well, I’m sure I wouldn’t know anything about that. Though the person that could get away with something so brazen sounds like a dangerous man. Certainly not someone to be trifled with.”

“Amazing what a man can accomplish when he has the right advisers.” The devil smiled deviously.

“I have sent word through Mantis channels that they have been ripped off by Abrogail. You should have no more trouble with the assassins. Be advised that she will no doubt employ all of the magic at her disposal to locate the artifact. If you don’t want a small army of Hell Knights outside your gates in a week, I’d advise hiding it somewhere beyond the range of any magical means of discernment.”

The devil continued.

“To your great disappointment I’m sure, I shall have to leave you all for a time. With the mantis threat neutralized, I have no doubt you will be fine on your own. Just remember that your cousin isn’t the most rational monarch. With her forces committed to Andoran, and the Red Mantis attacks that will soon begin against her inner circle, she would be well advised to ignore you for the moment. I doubt she will.”

Rumjal began to turn away from the party when Dante suddenly grabbed his hammer and lunged for the ex-Duke of Hell.

“To hell with you!” The Paladin shouted.

Amalie was terrified. Could Dante really be so stupid? She couldn’t leave him to face Rumjal alone. She cast Protection from Evil on him, while bracing to be annihilated at any second by the devil. At the very least it would protect him from being mentally dominated by Rumjal.

The devil responded by casting dispel magic on Dante, removing the Protection spell that Amalie had just cast. With incredible speed the devil then cast Dominate Monster on the paladin.

“Sit at the table please.” Dante complied with the order.

Amalie was not sure what to do. In a moment of panic, she recast Protection from Evil on Dante, knowing it would temporarily enable him to resist the compulsion.

Rumjal seemed amused by this, and again used a dispel on Dante. The devil stared back at Amalie, seemingly daring her to try that again.

Amalie’s frustration was mounting, and she didn’t want to escalate the situation. She threw her Quarterstaff at Dante and shouted at him for several moments for his rash and foolish actions before regaining her composure.

“On that note, I will take my leave.” Rumjal teleported away without further incident.

Amalie looked over at Meric, who sat in silence as all of the chaos was happening. At this point he stood while addressing Dante.

“The next time you attempt suicide, Dante, do us a favor and get it over with by jumping in the lake! I have no desire to be murdered in my own castle by a devil now that I’ve finally gotten these assassins off my back.” Both of his palms pressed against the table, as he clenched his jaw. Amalie could detect the faint smell of burning wood.

“You fear assassins and devils? Drowning is a much better fate than what I truly face. You do not have to face the wrath of Kord for your actions. Dying by a devil’s whim is kind to what can happen to my soul.”

“I did not ask for assistance in engaging Rumjal, I’m willing to sacrifice myself if it means keeping him from killing my friends. My decisions are for life, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them hindering, I break them. As well as answering directly to a god, I know that I alone am responsible for everything I do. "

“Consider carefully before you condemn me for my actions. Have I been wrong? The old man stabbing you in the back, the man killing a woman’s husband? The succubi worshipers? You yourself have sought my council. Are you but a man who only seeks council when it benefits your desires? Seeking myself for actions that are deemed moral, and devils for aught else? I am not your toy to be used only when you seek to justify executions, or do you plan to surround yourself with devils just as your sister has? Are you no different than her?”

“All that is necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing. I still consider you a good man Meric, and my friend. Please, do not change that.”

The muscles in Meric’s jawline twitched at the mention of Abrogail, and a wisp of smoke escaped from beneath his fingers.

“How dare you compare me to my cousin? Because of my actions, a blow has been struck against the most profane regime ever to stain the surface of Golarion. Even now the Red Mantis are moving to weaken her unholy grip on Cheliax. I am every day building a country where my people can live in safety and prosperity. Because of what you did today…a devil is amused at your pluck. I ask you: which of us has done more to make this world a better place?”

“I don’t condemn your desire to kill Rumjal. I condemn the reckless way you acted against him. You say your decisions are made for life, yet we are alive now in spite of your actions, not because of them. Rumjal could easily have summoned a pit fiend to slaughter us all without even dirtying his own hands. Do you understand me? You jeopardized our lives and all of Stormvale for the sake of an attack that had no chance of success! You think your god would have punished you for leaving him alone? Then let me send you into the Nine Hells; there are plenty of devils down there for you, and each second you delay in attacking them must only enrage him further.”

Meric angrily stalked to the door of the chamber, leaving partial handprints of burnt wood on the table. “Gods, Dante, you’re supposed to be a general. Would you sacrifice the lives of men at your command to prove a point to Kord as lightly?” Meric didn’t wait for a reply.

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