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/tg/ - Traditional Games

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The cart rolls and bumps along the road from the city to the shrine. If Alan minds that he’s done it so many times, he hasn’t said as much. In the back, Jerome fidgets as he asks his questions about the imminent meeting with your new demonic brother. “I mean, don’t you want your parents here too?” he asks nervously.

“Oh, yeah, soon,” you tell him, “but this is for us. This is a private sort of thing, you know?” You scoot over beside him and drape an arm across his shoulder. “Just us.”

“And Alan,” Jerome says pointedly.

“I’m a flower on the wall,” Alan says airily. “Seriously, man, quit worrying, you know? You’ll be fine. I’ll just go for a walk while you talk with Kerin.”

“I appreciate you coming out here with us, by the way,” you call up to him.

“That’s what I’m here for.”

>Talk about anything with Jerome or Alan or Asa or some combination thereof (what)
>Just ride in silence
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Somehow I missed the OP.

Setting: Cender
Season: Early winter
Year: Post-creation 3975, post-Collapse 3008
City: Clen
Crime rate: Unsustainable

For old threads, look here! http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/archive.html?tags=Dead%20Gods%20Quest
NOTE THAT QUEST 22 WAS NOT ARCHIVED, IT CAN BE DOWNLOADED HERE: http://www.mediafire.com/download/7g6zn4rhzwnaw5e/22.zip
For updates, check twitter! @Someone_else___

Elsa's Character Sheet! http://pastebin.com/ezsJzAWG

Resident artist: Eversor_
This is Tarsh, the world of Dead Gods. On Tarsh, the Pantheon is stretched to the breaking point by the deaths of all but three of its dozens of members, with the remaining members largely serving advisory roles when they appear to mortals at all.

In this quest, you assume the life of Elsa Ledren, a young Sergeant in the Skirmishers of the Auxiliaries, the support forces of the Royal Army of Cender. You were on a long-term assignment’s first leg when you were attacked and killed in the forest. Your divine Pantheon member, Asa, brought you back to life with a mission: track down and kill the people responsible for trafficking the ancient magic weapon that killed you and your men. You discovered a large conspiracy to traffic and use these ancient weapons, and have been stealthily – or not – killing them off. In previous threads, you knocked off twelve of the conspirators, and now there’s only their leader left alive.

In the origins of the world, there were fourteen gods, and each created a race in their image. Yours, the elves, were created by Mai’te, who then created two demigods, a man and a woman, to liaise with the people, and also created the Heralds. These were normal mortals endowed with some of the powers of the demigods, and able to telepathically communicate with Mai'te, her children, the demons, and each other.
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A cataclysmic war, referred to hereafter as the Collapse, erupted about one thousand years into creation, and all but three demigods, all but two races, and all the gods died off. The tattered remnants of the world held together through the power of the three surviving demigods, including yours; the female demigod of the elves, named Asa. Three huge alchemic weather machines keep the world habitable, while the demigods have dispensed with the use of Heralds in favor of Avatars: physical projections of themselves that can walk and talk like people.

The afterlife was dismantled in the wake of the Collapse, and now, all souls are simply ‘inverted’ in the seas of Chaos outside reality after death, and absorbed by their corresponding demigod.

You were assigned by your King to track down a gang of bandits that had sided with the secessionists in the southlands, but were ambushed and nearly murdered by the conspiracy and their ancient weapon, the Orb of the Feathered Demon. Because the weapon can kill demigods, the Pantheon survivors made you a Herald in secret, and have charged you with killing the ten conspirators who survived the battle in the woods.

Previously, you rescued Kerin, an elf demon, and restored him to power. Now, you’re planning the final attack on the conspiracy leader, Don Kotrick. You brought King Maas to see Kerin, and now you’re hiring mercenaries for the final attack. They’re also going to go see Kotrick’s family.
All mechanics are based on a 1d100+modifier roll.
>Talk about anything with Jerome or Alan or Asa or some combination thereof (what)
Jerome: Go over our experiences with Kerin with him again, asking Alan for input if it seems necessary to divine a concept of what we're trying to say.
Alan: Ask what he's wanting to do after this whole thing is over.
“So, what happens is pretty straightforward,” you explain. “You just walk up to him and greet him, maybe he’ll chat with you for a bit, you’ll hand him the offering, he’ll ask you to pray.”

Your husband shifts in his seat. “How does that work?” Jerome asks.

“You just think about your most urgent desire, and he’ll giver you an answer,” you tell him. “It’s instantaneous.”

He lets out a long sigh. It turns to mist in the cold and unpleasant winter air. “Okay.”

You ride along for a while longer. The countryside rolls by as you travel south. You swap reins with Alan after a while, just to even the work. As he sits back down beside you, you glance over at him. He looks a bit distant, but not unhappy. “So… after we kill Kotrick, what will you do?” you ask him.

He snorts. “Haret didn’t leave me much choice. I serve you until the day I die, no exceptions. That’s what the old Shieldbearers did, it’s what I do.”

You feel an odd sensation in your stomach at his nonchalant tone. “Really?”

He half-smiles. “Don’t get me wrong. It’s a good gig. I’ll just secure whatever household you choose, shoo off the overzealous, protect Kerin, whatever needs doing. I’m not unhappy.” He blows out a puff of breath. “Just thinking about losing the security deposit on my apartment, how I’m going to get paid… all that.”

>”I’ve already asked the King to pay you at least until this is over.”
>”I’m going to be doing a lot of traveling and consulting after this is over, so I could pay you with the fees I collect.”
>”We could collect alms from the pilgrims.”
>”Kerin can materialize gold, right?”
>”I’ve already asked the King to pay you at least until this is over.”

he certainly hasn't been shooing off the overzealous outside our house
You haven't asked him to. They also can't get through the wards, and they're fewer in number after last thread.
“The King will pay you until this is all over,” you promise. “Me too. And then, after that, we can find some way to pay for our lifestyles. I’ll ask Asa how they used to do it.”

“Okay. I’m not really worried. I’m a spendthrift; you saw my new apartment,” he chuckles.

As the final hour rolls by and darkness creeps in, you turn the wagon off the main road and onto the little side passage. The mist vanishes as you walk the animals through it, and Jerome shivers from the weird sensation that hangs around the trees. “Wow. What is this place? This isn’t the shrine, is it?”

“Nope, that’s ahead,” you tell him. “You’re sensing Mai’te’s presence on the air around us.”

“It feels strange,” he says after a moment. “Not bad, though. It sort of feels like we’re being watched.”

“We’re not, yet,” you remark.

At the intersction, you have two choices.

>See Kerin first
>See the temple first
>See Kerin first
would be kinda rude otherwise
You turn the wagon right and head up to the shrine. As you draw near, you see Kerin standing behind the fountain, running his fingers along the surface of the water, drawing it up intp little shapws, then letting it fall back in. He looks up as he hears you and grins. “Ah, sister, welcome,” he says cheerfully. “And you must be Jerome Ledren,” he adds. “A pleasure.” He spreads his arms and bows as you and Alan walk into the marble structure. “Welcome to my home.”

Jerome’s tense face relaxes as soon as he enters the field of divine power. “Oh wow,” he says under his breath. “This…” He looks around as Kerin walks closer. “Uh, hello, sir,” he finally says. He starts to bow when Kerin reaches out a hand to shake. After a moment, he takes it. “I, uh, yes. I’m Jerome.”

Kerin nods politely and steps back. “Indeed. I understand that this entire ordeal has been somewhat inconvenient for you, sir, and I would be quite happy to offer you a blessing if you feel you’d benefit.” He clasps his hands at his waist and looks over at you. “Sister, do you have any idea when the King and Asa will agree to open this place to pilgrims again?”

>”Not a second before I have the key to that temple secured.”
>”The King doesn’t get a say.”
>”Once Gherta’s confirmed that the rebels don’t have ancient superweapons.”
>”No clue, really.”
>”Shouldn't be long after Gherta’s confirmed that the rebels don’t have ancient superweapons.”
>”Not a second before I have the key to that temple secured.”
>”The King doesn’t get a say.”
>”Once Gherta’s confirmed that the rebels don’t have ancient superweapons.”

All three. Because they're all important enough in their own ways.
You grimace at the myuriad problems you have to overcome first. “Well, the rebels in the south may have traded some magical superweapons, though I doubt it at this point. We can’t risk them having another prison shard.”

Even safely ensconced in his omnipotent power, Kerin shudders. “Of course.”

“And the fact that Kotrick has a key that will let him get into nearly any Temple Mai’te ever built is problematic, too,” you continue.

“Of course.”

“But finally… the King doesn’t have a real say,” you conclude unhappily. It feels odd to dismiss your ostensible liege, but it’s true: he’s not a factor here. “It’s Asa’s call.”

“Er, Kerin?” Jerome asks carefully, producing a small packet of pens. “I really didn’t kow what to provide as a proper offering, but Elsa said something practical…”

“Will work fine,” Kerin says with a smile. “Traditionally, I accept practical things and allow them to be traded with other pilgrims to see if they help solve the other pilgrim’s problems. Money, tools, maps, household goods, that sort of thing. This will do. Simply place it in the little copper urn over there,” he says, pointing at one of the twelve pots around the four pillars.

Jerome does so, stopping at the fountain on the way back. “Wow… this is beautiful,” he says, watching the burbling water. “It’s so clear, too. Even clearer than the river.”

“You like it? Mai’te gave it to me,” Kerin says. “Go on.”

Jerome reaches out to touch the water, and he blinks at the feeling. “It’s so warm.”

“It’s divinely heated,” Kerin says. He walks over beside the other man and catches his attention. “So, brother. If you’d like, we can begin. Simply ponder your most urgent question, and I’ll hear it.”

Jerome coughs nervously and starts to tilt his head, but Kerin nods at once. “Ah, yes, of course,” he says. “A matter of perspective.” He rests a hand on Jerome’s shoulder. “Here.”

Jerome makes a little ‘oh’ sound. “Obviously,” he sighs. “Okay. Thank you, sir.”

“My pleasure.” Kerin steps back and grins. “Not so intimidating, hmm?”

“I was worried over nothing,” Jerome says bashfully. Kerin chuckles.

“Nonsense. This sort of thing isn’t nearly as common as it should be.” He looks over at where Alan is idly stirring his spearpoint in the waters of the lake. “Oh, Alan, I was wondering, by the way, if you could see to this,” he says, producing a small scrap of cloth from his pouch.

Alan walks over and stares. “What is it?”

“I’m afraid Dietra left it here quite without meaning to, when she was here the other day,” Kerin tells him. “Would you be so kind as to return it to her?”

“Oh, sure thing,” Alan says, pocketing the little piece of fabric. You see a Guild tassel on it for the Artisan’s Guild on it – it must have been part of her work uniform.

Kerin looks over at you next. “So, sister… I understand you have a grave battle ahead of you soon,” he says.

“I do.”

He shakes his head. “None could mistake me for a warrior, but I must ask. Do you intend to even try to negotiate?”

>”If I think it will mean the hostages being saved, you bet.”
>”If he even sees me coming, he could level the place, so no.”
>”I’ll not answer that until I see what the men on the ground have already done.”
>”Why should I? Did he negotiate with me on the Highway?”
>”I might have, if he hadn’t hired thugs to beat my husband to death.”
I'd love to be able to say yes, but no.
>”If he even sees me coming, he could level the place, so no.”
>”Why should I? Did he negotiate with me on the Highway?”
>”I might have, if he hadn’t hired thugs to beat my husband to death.”
Things are kinda personal.
You feel fire in your belly at the mere thought of it. “Well, I’m sure it’d be nice, but he hired thugs to beat Jerome to death, he murdered me once and had his associate do it again, he trafficked in weapons that could end the world because he wanted to threaten his rivals, he betrayed his country, and even if that weren’t enough, he’s also got fifteen hostages in there and will kill them if he sees me coming,” you say bitterly. “So no. He dies the second I can get the hostages out.”

Kerin makes a pained expression. Jerome looks away. Alan nods grimly. “I see,” Kerin says sadly. He rests a hand on your shoulder and meets your eyes with his golden sight, furrowing his brow in worry. ~Please calm yourself, though,~ he says in your mind. ~I hate seeing my kin so wrathful in my home.~

You tap the Gem. {Right. I just get so angry that he’s managed to escape me over and over.}

“In any event, sister, do stay as long as you wish,” Kerin remarks. “I know you’ve had the tour twice now, so if you like, I’d be happy to show Jerome around the Temple while you plan your campaign with Alan and Asa. I can leave the shrine safely for an hour or so.”

>”Nah, I’ll tag along.”
>”Nah, I’ll tag along.”
"I need to take every chance I get to not have to think about this mission."
>>”Nah, I’ll tag along.”
“I’ll tag along, actually,” you tell him. “I need every chance I get to enjoy my time before I have to go march through the snow for two weeks.”

You follow the others around Sacred Home, just enjoying the reprieve. Jerome makes the expected sounds of awe at the pools, the moss carpet, the meditation sauna, and the Heaven gates. What stops him up, though, is the bridge. On your way back, he stands still on the bridge, looking up ionto the wintry sky under the brim of his hat, blinking snowflakes out of his eyes. “Elsa?” he asks quietly.

You walk up beside him. “Yeah?”

He reaches over and grasps your hand. You expect him to say something, but he just keeps looking up into the snowclouds overhead. You join him in looking up, wondering what he sees.

“This place is amazing,” he finally says quietly.

“Yeah, it is.”

“And it’s ours?”

You shake your head. “The temple and the outbuildings. The shrine is Kerin’s.”

“Yeah.” He slowly looks down at the still water below, just starting to frost. “I changed my mind.”

“About what?”

“If we do decide to have kids, I can’t think of a better place to do it,” he says quietly. “But… is it wrong that I love living in the city so much, too? The markets, the theaters, the races, the parades, the sights…”

>”We don’t have to choose. It’s only a three-hour ride.”
>”If I decide to become a consultant and mediator after this, we can afford homes in both.”
>”Will you want to live in the city, though?”
>”Yeah. That’s why we can stay in the city and only come out here when the kids are young enough.”
>”We don’t have to choose. It’s only a three-hour ride.”
>”If I decide to become a consultant and mediator after this, we can afford homes in both.”
>”We don’t have to choose. It’s only a three-hour ride.”
You shake your head. “No, it’s not wrong. We can put off choosing, too. It’s a three-hour ride, that’s all.” You look over at where Kerin and Alan are chatting. “And Kerin suggested that I act like a paid consultant and advisor after all this is over. For divine advice, I could charge enough that we have two homes.”

“Now you’re talking,” he says approvingly. He grins and starts back to the shrine. “All right. Let’s go home.”

By the time you cross the little bridge, grab your things, and get back into the shrine to say goodbye, it’s pitch-black outside, and the storm has kicked up a lot. Kerin flicks his wrist, and the air insude the shrine is sudeenly suffused with warmth. “My friends, it won’t be safe on the roads,” he remarks. “You’re welcome to stay here or in the temple tonight. I promise, it’s not an imposition; the old pilgrims used to do it all the time.”

You glance out at the distant, snowy trees. “So Asa secured this place, right?”

“She did, with a barrier that turns back anybody she hasn’t cleared,” Kerin confirms.

>Stay the night in the temple
>Stay the night in the shrine
>Ruck it on the roads in the wagon
>Stay the night in the temple
Let's get a taste of our home away from home.
>>Stay the night in the temple
“Then, if nobody objects, I think we should stay in the temple,” you tell the others.

“Asa had all the furniture bundled and put in storage, actually,” Kerin remarks. “Here.” He waves his hand, and a large bundle of torches appears in his hands. He taps the ends and ignites them, handing them to you all, two apiece. “If you could go get the horses,” he says to Jerome. “I’ll accompany you.”

The two of them walk off into the darkness as you and Alan walk over to the temple. It’s a matter of minutes to unpack some of the meditation couches in the open chamber and drag them over into the audience chamber, where a small fireplace springs to life at the touch of a torch.

“A divine fireplace?” Alan remarks incredulously. “Really? Seems superfluous.”

You gaze into the past as some half-remembered Heraldic memories return. “Mother wanted this place to be where her children could go to be completely free of worry,” you say quietly.

“Whereas Garm wanted his children to be as hard and sharp as the edge of an ice-fall,” Alan says drily. “Good thing we’re in Sacred Home and not the Holy Cascades.”

“That’s the human emergence point?” you ask as you fluff ancient pillows.

“Yep. The place I mentioned in Oslin-Otch.” He drops down on a fluffy meditation couch and kicks off his boots to sit them down by the fire. “Comfy.”

Jerome walks in, setting his torches in sconces in the walls, filling the little room with light. The red beams scatter off of some beautiful crystals set into the walls. “Ooh, that’s nice,” you say, mesmerized by the display. “What are those?”

Kerin walks in behind your husband and follows your eyes. “Ah, that’s a sculpture of the Flocks of Heaven perching over the souls of the departed.”

“It’s gorgeous,” you tell him. “Who put it here?”

“One of the priests did, actually. He was a sculptor before he entered the clergy.” Kerin watches as you all settle down. “All right, then. I’ll prepare something for you all to eat in the morning, to send you back to Clen.”

“Thanks, brother, I appreciate it,” you tell him.

“My pleasure.” Kerin bows out.

>Is there anything you want to discuss now that it’s just you mortals?
>If not, roll 1d100 for the Dream Table
Rolled 82 (1d100)

Can't think of anything, sorry.
Are prayers like wishes? Will they dissolve if you ask about them? If not, maybe ask Jerome what he prayed for?
Blessings from demons are insights, bursts of divine knowledge. They don't go away.
“So… you don’t have to tell me, of course,” you say to Jerome as Alan rolls over to sleep. “But… what did you pray for?”

He sighs. “Can I not answer that? It’s not a secret, it just makes me feel dumb to say it out loud. It almost seems petty compared to all this.”

“Sure.” You lean over across the mattress and give him a long, slow kiss. “Good night, handsome,” you murmur against his lips.

He hugs you close, then relaxes and closes his eyes. “Good night.”

Metal grinds on dirt. Wood rumbles over stone. The Crusading Army of the elves is marching to war.

You are Tael’mat, Herald of the elves, and Mai’te’s son. You could ride in the carriages in the middle of the formation, but you lead from the front. You feel the pride, piety, and determination of fifty thousand troops behind you, and that’s pretty damn good.

The sun beats down on your helm, but the magic woven into the metal keeps you comfortable. The soldiers to your flanks whistle and raise their hands, and the column speeds up a bit – there’s a storm coming in from the south, and you’re headed right for it. It wouldn’t do to be caught out on the roads.

As you march, a strange gleam of stone catches your eye off the roadside. You feel an odd weight on your heart as you see a shrine – a divine shrine, a human one – out in the roads, far away. You signal for the column to move on without you and move off over the grass, walking to the shrine.

It’s not a shirt journey, it takes nearly twenty minutes. When you arrive, the female demon inside is glaring at you. Not a good sign.

You pause outside the shrine and genuflect at the barrier. “Your Holiness,” you say, bowing low.

“Crusader,” she says frostily. “What do you want?”

“A moment of your time, nothing more,” you say.

She glares at you even harder. Her skin is the color of the depths of the ocean, black with highlights of greyish-white on her muscled stomach, like a soul trapped inside a body made of night, and her fire-red hair is cropped very close to her skin. Her bare flesh and glittering eyes of solid lapis lazuli contrast so sharply that it’s almost entrancing. Your own people’s demons are as as pale as cleaned cotton, with eyes made of gold, and it’s more pleasing to the eye in your opinion, but you can understand the human preferences – she’s intimidating to look at, to say the least.

“Then out with it, Crusader,” she snaps.

You take a deep breath. “I do not seek your forgiveness or blessing, your Holiness, merely a small piece of information.”

“That being?”

“Is it true that Garm has endorsed our campaign?” you ask.

She practically spits the word. “Yes.”

“Yet you do not?”

“Obviously!” she says, throwing her hands to the sky. “But far be it from me to think that perhaps violence doesn’t solve anything!”

=My son, are you talking with a human demoness?= Mai’te suddenly asks.

%I am, but only for a moment,% you tell her.

=Don’t bother. Viare is highly tempermental. Just return to the troops.=

You pause. “I go, then. Farewell.”

“Try not to die,” the demoness says darkly.

[Temporary end of thread]
I'll be back tomorrow morning.
The sun dawn, dazzling you all with its glittering reflection off of the snow. As soon as you’re all up, you hike over the bridge to Kerin, who already has a spread prepared. After a quick breakfast, which he materializes for you all, you get ready to head out again.

>Any last things to do here, or is it time to go home and prepare for the final battle?
>Ask about Viare
You sip the hot cider that Kerin thoughtfully made for you, wondering about your dreams. “Brother, do you have any idea why I’m having these ancestral flashbacks?” you ask.

He looks thoughtfully into the water of the fountain as Jerome wolfs down some bacon. “Hmm… I can only speculate, I’m afraid,” he says slowly. “Were I to do so, I would say that in all likelihood, a Herald who had made frequent use of all Heralds’ ability to pass memories and facts on to other Heralds of the same race was… killed or destroyed somehow nearby. You know how all Heralds gain knowledge automatically through their Gems as they age, yes?”

“Yes.” It’s happened thirty or so times already, for you, in fact. “Does dying somehow push those memories on?”

“No, but becoming one with Mother – or Asa, now, I guess,” he says glumly, “would have that effect. I suspect that a Herald who lived in this area received a huge amount of memories from other Heralds, then… hmm. I don’t see how they would have jumped from them to you, though…”

“I had a dream last night about a Herald,” you tell him. “He met with a human demonness named Viare.”

He brightens. “Ah, yes. I knew her only by reputation. Feisty, but incredibly smart.”

“She disapproved of Garm’s policy of non-intervention during the elf Crusades,” you remember.

“All the human demons did,” Kerin says. “Well, most. But Garm was Garm, as stubborn and immovable as a glacier and twice as cold. The demons, by design, were more forgiving and understanding. They had to be. Garm realized quickly that mere mortals could never match a God for toughness,” he says drily. “I’m so glad we never had to side against Mai’te that way.”

“What were Viare and the other human demons like? Did they do something different?” Alan asks.

“Oh, very much so,” Kerin says. “They tended to be more… directed than we did.” Kerin takes in the group with a sweep of his hands. “You all give me your prayers, I give you answers in return. Simple, general, noninvasive. Human demons – and Crawler and Goblin ones, now that I think about it – were more intimate, literally placing entirely new thoughts in people’s heads. They were more willing to actually solve a conundrum than guide the person to find the solution on their own.”

“Dunno if that’s better or not,” Alan says after a moment’s thought.

Kerin shakes his head. “I’m overly simplifying. Their priests were the exact opposite, too; the human priesthood tended to be little more than a mechanism for collecting alms, but they also played the part of patron to the greatest young human minds, sending them off to universities and what not. Where elf ones were guides, protectors, benefactors, that sort of thing. Every race’s Pantheon members and demons, clergy and Crusaders balanced the concepts of solving problems with guiding the people towards their own improvement in a different way.” He jerks a thumb at his green-clad chest. “We took the middle road, providing knowledge and comfort to all and overwhelming military power to very, very few. Only four or five Kings – and the Emperor, before then, obviously – ever had the strength of a full Crusade behind him. Elves united behind a single cause far faster than most. Viare was simply the most outspoken dissenter on many issues.”

>Anything else?
>Ask how often people are allowed to return for more blessings
>Hit the road
>Anything else?
Are Herald gems recyclable? Did Asa make us a brand new one or reuse one from an old Herald, maybe the hypothetical one Kerin was talking about?

>Hit the road
You think back to whem Asa was talking about how the Gems were made. She had implied that she or Mai’te could make new ones in the Temple, but the Temple obviously didn’t exist when Guide received his Gem, since he had had that the moment he had stepped onto Tarsh. “If God Gems existed before those pools in the Temple let you make more,” you ask slowly, “is it possible to re-use them?”

Kerin nods. “It’s possible, though there wasn’t much point to it. The creation of a Herald became a very important event near the end of the time before the Collapse. Mai’te could make more if she needed them, and there was no real benefit to re-using them.”

“But did it happen anyway?” you press.

“The only time that ever happened that I can remember is when a Herald was made in a family that had already had one in it,” Kerin recalls. “Are you suspecting that Asa gave you one that had been used?”

“It would make sense,” you say with a shrug.

Kerin tilts his head to the side. ~Sister, Elsa is asking if the God Gem you gave her was previously used. Is that what’s causing the visions she’s having?~

[Intriguing,] Asa muses. [It’s possible. I kept a small stash in the Islands, just for old times’ sake, but I have no idea which were new and which was previously used. If they were put there by pilgrims honoring fallen Heralds… then you may be on to something.] Her voice changes tone as she realizes the flaw in that argument. [But that doesn’t explain why the visions almost entirely halt when Elsa travels more than a day or so from the city.]

{Is it possible that the Gem belonged to a Herald that lived in Clen?}

[…I have no idea,] Asa admits. [There are some things about the Gems that I don’t know. Mother never thought she’d need to tell me how they were made.]

~Worth pondering,~ Kerin decides. “In any event, sister, and you two as well,” he adds, looking at the two men. “You are all free to return any time.”

“And ask for another blessing? Isn’t that a bit… greedy?” Jerome asks.

“I appreciate it, but I would think that you’d understand that you should only ask me to help you solve important, momentous problems,” Kerin chuckles. “Trust me, you’ll be the first to know if I don’t want to help you, or I think you’ve become dependent.”

“Then… thanks for having us, sir,” Jerome says, bowing his head. “It was an honor.”

“Certainly, brother,” Kerin says. He waves his hands and the detritus of breakfast vanishes. “Travel safely.”

You go retrieve the horses from the outbuilding where they had stayed the night, and hitch them up again. As soon as you do, you take off for the city. You turn the night’s events over in your mind on the quiet trip back, huddling beneath a blanket with Jerome while Alan drives the first leg. The temperature is dropping still, now well below freezing, and you shiver at the thought of traveling for two whole weeks in this bitter cold.

>Go drop off Jerome and get that new shield
>Go get the money to pay Alan and the Enchanter first
>Open contact with another useful Guild (Mages? Thieves? Escorts?)
>Go drop off Jerome and get that new shield
Is it possible that only being near where this hypothetical herald died triggers the memories?
Otherwise I guess we can see if anywhere in the city sets off our herald senses in our free time.

herald senses when?
Herald senses, I like that.

You sort of already have those, if you count the vision powers.

Taking a break for lunch and chores, I'll be back soon.
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You swap off the reins with Alan every half an hour or so until you reach the welcome sight of the city gates. Inside, you roll through the roads to drop Jerome off at home, where he sets about making a fire and sorting mail. To your delight, the crowds outside are finally gone. When he closes the door, you take off again, headed for the Brotherhood Chapter house.

The wind lets up a bit as you ride through the taller buildings, until the solid façade of the building appears in the snow. You hop out and walk inside, noting how the number of people looks much larger than it was the last few times you were here. Maybe the Brothers are coming back from the south.

Downstairs, though, the errand seems superfluous. You can see that Della and the smith are already working on your shield. Della spots you coming and waves you back. “Not yet, madam, come back tomorrow afternoon,” you hear him say over the clanging of the smith’s hammers.

>Go to the King and let him know of your progress
>Go talk to one of your other allies (Ekrine? Culler? Arisa?)
>Go open contact with one of the other Guilds
>Go open contact with one of the other Guilds
Mages are OP. See if they have any with combat magic that are interested in saving the world.
“Understood, thanks,” you yell over the clamor.

Upstairs, Alan is chatting with a few Sisters, and when he sees you, he waves you right over. “Elsa! We lucked out,” he says. One of the Sisters turns to face you and immediately smiles.

“Ah, your Eminence,” Sister Cassandra says warmly. “Good to see you again.”

“Sister!” you reply, shaking her hand. “I’m delighted you saw Paladin Dervich’s notice. Asa specifically named you when I asked for Brotherhood members I should hire.”

Cassandra’s composure melts into surprise and delight. “Oh? That’s… quite flattering,” she says. “Did she say why?”

“Just that you would be a good fit for the job,” you say smoothly. Asa actually didn’t say why.

“Well, I’m happy to serve, for a fee, of course,” Cassandra tells you. “An infiltration mission?”

“Yes. A mine,” you tell her.

She nods. “I can do that.” Her professional mask is back on now. “Are there any other members of the group you want onboard?”

“Sister Ainsley Gannet was the other name Asa dropped,” you tell her.

“She’s here. She and her partner are both here,” Cassandra confirms.

You clap your hands together and look over the lobby at your notice. “Excellent. If she’s up for it, I’d like her to participate as well, and her partner if she’s present as well.”

Cassandra nods again and shifts her bow on her back. She goes armed everywhere, it seems. “Grand. I’ll tell them. How do we get paid?”

>”I’ll pay cash on completion.”
>”Just estimate how long two weeks of marching and a day or two of spying and fighting would cost and I’ll go get the money now.”
>”I’ll pay cash on completion.”
“Cash on completion,” you tell her. “I’ll pay in person when we’re done.”

“Understood,” she says. “Anything you want me to bring?”

“It’s a long march, in the snow,” you tell her. “A good horse and plenty of supplies. Something that’ll keep your toes warm.”

“Enchanted boots,” she says with a shrug. Then she taps her breastplate and smirks. The scale armor is glittering in the light – she’s had an enchantment layered on since you saw her last. “That last job payed for a new plate weave. I’ll be fine in the cold.”

“Great. Thanks for doing this,” you say earnestly. “I need people I can trust.”

She smiles and taps her brow. “I’ll be here when you need me. When do we go?”

“It’s at the Silver Linings mine, and I’ll be there in nine days,” you tell her.

“Very well. I’ll see you there.”

Outside, you climb up into the wagon and sit beside Alan as it starts off behind its pull-horses. “So where to now?” he asks.

“The Mages’ Guild,” you tell him. You pull the hood down over your ears to ward off the chill. “Getting nasty again.”

“Yeah,” he grouses. “Hope the trip is nicer.”

The Mages’ Guildhall is a huge, towering structure, easily the second highest in the city after the castle, but not in its sprawl. The structure juts up in a single massive spire, decorated on every side with minute flags and tinted windows. The modest courtyard outside has laundry lines strung haphazardly, all empty now. The researchers rarely leave sometimes, you know.

You left this a bit late, really. It would be unrealistic to expect the Mages to be of much help this late. Still, the place is always full of hopeful young mages looking to be tested, Academy graduates looking for work, and researchers looking to test some new goodies. You’re confident you’ll find some help.

You walk in the front door, marveling at the construction. The entire doorframe is enchanted, inside and out, with a bewildering variety of glittering magical beads embedded in the rock, which is itself enchanted to resist erosion. The beads bleed magic into the stone and the air. It’s expensive, but it also shows an astonishing level of co-ordination on the part of the artisan who built it. The time it would take to build that many enchanted components and get them to play nice in such proximity is shocking.

“Wonder what that’s for,” Alan mutters.

“Make the building damage-proof,” you reply at the same volume. “They do a lot of research here.”

The receptionist looks up from her plate of crackers and bowl of lentil soup to smile at you as you walk up. “Can I help you, your Eminence?” she says, her voice noticeably rising in pitch as she spots your brand.

“We were hoping to find some members of your Guild who may be able to assist us resolve a hostage crisis,” you tell her calmly. “I know it’s a Saturday and all, but still, I’m hoping.”

Her face falls. “Oh dear, a hostage crisis? Let me pass that up to the Branch Manager,” she says hastily, rising from her meal.

She scurries off into the back as you lean casually against the counter. Alan looks at you curiously. “So what do you expect to find here?”

>”Veterans. People who can fight.”
>”Healers. Somebody needs to keep the hostages alive while we fight.”
>”Battlefield controllers. Communication and co-ordination specialists.”
>”Recon specialists. People who can walk the shadows of a mine and scout it out, since most of its employees are trapped inside.”
>”Interrogators. I may as well try to take some criminals alive.”
>”Mage-counterers. People who can neutralize Kotrick’s mages while the rest of us secure the tunnels.”
>”Toxin chemists. Somebody who would know where best to use the sleeping gas the Alchemists are making for us.”
>”Mage-counterers. People who can neutralize Kotrick’s mages while the rest of us secure the tunnels.”
>”Veterans. People who can fight.”
>”Healers. Somebody needs to keep the hostages alive while we fight.”
>”Battlefield controllers. Communication and co-ordination specialists.”
>”Recon specialists. People who can walk the shadows of a mine and scout it out, since most of its employees are trapped inside.”
>”Interrogators. I may as well try to take some criminals alive.”
>”Mage-counterers. People who can neutralize Kotrick’s mages while the rest of us secure the tunnels.”
>”Toxin chemists. Somebody who would know where best to use the sleeping gas the Alchemists are making for us.”

All of these sound good. If we could get at least one person with one or more of these specialties in our group, that'd be great. The veteran would make a good commander/coordinator, hopefully, with our non-magical personnel doing whatever actual fighting needs to be done.
You shrug and roll your shoulders to get out the cramps of riding on a wagon for three hours. “Kotrick has a mage or two in his employ, and he may have magic weapons. We need mage-counters, people who can fight back against offensive magic. Specialists.”

He nods. “I see. That’s rare magic, though, outside the War College.”

“We won’t need many,” you predict. “Kotrick himself has no magic and no Gift.”

The two of you wait a while, then the receptionist walks back in, flushed and unhappy. “Your Eminence, I’m very sorry, but the Branch Manager is away on business,” she apologizes. “The Deputy Manager is here, though, and she says she’s happy to help.”

“That’s fine,” you say. She leads you back and up three floors. You note with surprise that the steps of the tower are enchanted with Feather spells – there’s very little impact sensation as you climb up them. It’s disorienting at first, but when you’re up three floors and not even out of breath, it feels pretty obvious why they did it.

The Deputy Manager awaits you in her office on the fourth floor. She’s quite young for her role, you think to yourself, but she looks competent enough. She’s dressed in vaguely military clothing, as well, only not the robes you’d expect from a mage. The human woman has a thick tunic with passants on each shoulder, and a glittering Guild pin on both.

“Your Eminence,” she says at once, in a sharp, clear voice, “an honor. I am told you require my Guild’s assistance in the resolution of a hostage crisis?”

“I’m afraid I do,” you reply, and to your interest, you feel some of Asa’s power enter your voice as you speak. That usually only happens when you will it to, or when you’re addressing a crowd. “A criminal, one of those I named in my speech several days ago, has captured the Silver Linings mine and taken over a dozen innocents prisoner.”

She blinks. “Oh? How awful. Why has he done this?”

>”I… have no idea.”
>”Maybe he thought he’d get farther.”
>”I can only speculate (what?)”
>”I can only speculate he's trying to buy himself as much time as he can.”
“To be frank, we’re not sure,” you admit. “All I can think is that he’s buying time for something.”

She nods. “Or perhaps he thinks a mine is a difficult place from which to be dislodged? Ah, but I shouldn’t guess.” She plants her hands on the table and levers herself up. “My name is Deputy Manager Ayla Esdottir, and I’m running the show here until Sir Gunfret returns from his journey,” she says, extending her hand. “I would be happy to lend you advice or aid if you need it, with the understanding that my Guild is a paid consultancy.”

“Of course. Thank you,” you reply, shaking her hand. “My Paladin, Alan Dervich,” you add, gesturing to the side. “I know that this is unconventional, but I wish to hire some of your Guild’s members to support me in my campaign.”

Esdottir’s face falls. “I see.” She sits back down, slowly. “I’m afraid we’re not mercenaries, your Eminence. What exactly do you want?”

“Whatever can be provided on such short notice, with a promise of cash payment in full for any useful service provided thereof,” you promise. “Warriors, healers, communication specialists, any form of magic that may be helpful in a hostage crisis.”

She sighs. “Well… the Guild of Mages isn’t like the Brotherhood or the Escort’s Guild,” she says carefully. She’s clearly trying to be accommodating of your inexperience in dealing with the Mages. “Most of those mages who wish to take up a combat path in their life do so outside Guild auspices, through the Royal War College or the Brotherhood, the Mercenaries’ Guild or the private guard of the various lesser nobles.” Esdottir lifts a piece of paper and glances it over, then tucks it into her desk. “My schedule says that Sir Gunfret will return in four weeks. I assume I don’t have that kind of time?”

“We leave for the mine Monday,” you tell her. “I’m not expecting an entire magical army, of course, and as I said, I intend to pay well for any assistance I receive. Even a few mages can tip the scale of such a delicate situation in our favor.”

She looks out the armored window into the city. “Of course. I will send out mailers to the Guild members in the city, asking for volunteers. I can promise absolutely nothing, madam, nothing at all. I can’t compel a single member of the group to help you.” She turns back to you and plays a tiny spark of green light across her finger. “I, myself, am a talented healer, and a veteran of the War College, but I simply can’t leave this place. I’m here on a Saturday in the middle of a blizzard because the Guild needs somebody of my clearance here at all times, and most of Sir Gunfret’s advisors left with him.”

>”Every little bit helps.”
>”Then do you have any contacts with other Guilds who may be more able to help?”
>”Where is Manager Gunflet, anyway?”
>”Every little bit helps.”
>”Then do you have any contacts with other Guilds who may be more able to help?”
>”Where is Manager Gunflet, anyway?”
“Every little bit helps,” you assure her. “I appreciate your willingness to help us.”

“Of course.” She leans back in her seat, apparently more willing to let her guard down now. “So if I may, why do you not approach the King for this support?”

You hesitate before answering. “Asa doesn’t want to over-rely on the King,” you decide to say.

“Mm. Fair enough.”

Alan speaks up. “Are there any contacts you may hold with other Guilds that would be able to help?”

Esdottir peers over at him. “Yes, with the Alchemists’ Guild, the Mercenaries’ Guild, and the Brotherhood.”

“All of which we’ve already contacted,” you say ruefully.

“My, but you are ranging far afield of the Royal house,” Esdottir says, all casual now. It’s a bit odd for her to presume that, but she may be fishing for information. That’s probably fair, given how what you’re asking of her.

“Like I said, we don’t want to rely on the King in wartime,” you say placidly.


“Where is Manager Gunfret, at the present time?” you ask.

“A conference with the regional Guildmaster,” Esdottir says. “Specifically, the annual meeting of local Guildhalls. He will return in a month.”

“I see. Thank you.”

She leans forward again. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

>”Alan, do you want any gear enchanted before we set off?”
>”No, thank you.”
>”Alan, do you want any gear enchanted before we set off?”
“Maybe,” you say after a moment. “Alan, is there any gear you want enchanted before we go?”

He leans forward. “Madam Deputy, if I wanted my boots enchanted, where would I go for that, if I wanted it done by Monday morning?”

She considers. “The lab at the Academy. Four blocks south, one east. Ask for Instructor Hayes. He’ll do it.”

“I can cover that with the… you know?” Alan asks, looking back to you. He’s referencing the King’s stash, you’re sure.


“All right. Thanks, Madam Deputy,” he says. The two of you rise to your feet and shake hands with Esdottir.

“I really appreciate this help, ma’am,” you tell her. “We need every advantage we can gain.”

The young woman nods. “I understand,” she says. “Best of luck.”

>And with that, you are officially done with all queued tasks before the final battle. If there’s anything else you would like to do between now and Monday, list it here.

>Some ideas:

>Meet up with your parents
>Send Alan off with that item of Zimmer’s
>Go see Ekrine and make sure the local garrison has been notified of your arrival

>If you want to do none of those things, or you have another idea, just say so, and I’ll queue them up here.
Definitely the first and last.
Reminder on the item of Zimmer's?
Dietra Zimmer, the elf woman who helped Arisa nurse Kerin back to health, left a Guild-branded kerchief or some other small item of clothing in Kerin's shrine. Kerin asked Alan to drop it off with her.
Oh yeah, I didn't think we needed to tell him to do that. Sure, that too.
Yeah, he'd do it on his own eventually, but as long as you're out and about, performing tasks, he's supposed to stick by your side. If I list a task for him outside your own, it's you deliberately releasing him for a time (and all the risk that entails). You took the time to kill Forest before driving Kotrick out, though, so it's about as safe as it'll get in the city proper.
Outside, you pause Alan as he hops up into the wagon. “Hey, didn’t Kerin give you something?” you ask.

He slaps his hand against his pocket. “Yeah, that’s right.”

“Alright. Go take care of that and knock off for the day,” you tell him. “I’ll just finish up with the Governor and drop in on my parents.”

“Cool. I’m gonna run an errand tonight, too,” he says. “I’ll see you… actually, will you need me tomorrow? Or do we have the day to ourselves?”

>”All I’m going to do is arrange payment for people, so you’re good if you have stuff to do.”
>”Actually, meet me at the parade ground so we can (do what?)”

>”We have the day off. Enjoy it however you want."
Come to think of it, all yo have left is arranging payments. ”We have the day off. Enjoy it however you want,” you tell him with a shrug.

The metal on his shoulder armor clanks as he pumps a fist in triumph. “Hell yeah! I’m gonna hold you to that,” he promises.

You stifle a laugh at his enthusiasm. Sometimes he seems older than he is, then he’s suddenly twenty two again. “Yeah, I hear you.” You wave him away as he takes off on the wagon, and you walk on foot towards the little townhouse where your parents live.

The building’s been fully repaired, you’re pleased to note. The shop downstairs is closed for the weekend, but your key lets you into the stairs just fine.

Upstairs, your parents are sitting by the fire having a late lunch when you knock. “Hello? Folks?” you say into the room.

Belle nearly leaps up. “Elsa! Sweetheart, hi!” she says, burying you in a hug. “I’m so glad you came by!”

“Hey, Elsa,” Coby says, waiting for your mother to move before getting in a hug of his own. “How are you doing?”

“Mmmm, I’m good,” you tell them both. “I’m just fine.”

“Yeah, you look great,” Belle says, with that unique blend of worry and pride that only parents can project. “Does your face hurt?”

You stare at her. “My what now?”

“The… tattoo, brand thing on your face,” she says, gingerly touching your cheek.

“No, that doesn’t hurt,” you promise. “So, how have you been? I haven’t stopped by since we left the castle.”

Coby guides you over to a seat by the fire. “We’re great, don’t you worry,” he says confidently. “We’ve had a few people come poking around, looking to interview us for some news thing or another, but we just call the Guard on them, and they stopped coming by.”

“Good call,” you chuckle. “Yeah, there was a crowd of them outside my house, but the blizzard drove them off.”

“Can’t say I’m surprised,” your father says, returning to his food. “You want some turkey? It’s leftovers, but there’s tons.”

“Nah, I’m fine,” you tell him, “I ate a late breakfast.”

The three of you sit around the fire and just talk for a while, the Ledren family reunited once more. You chat and chat, talking about the war, about the weather, about all the crazy things that have happened.

>Do you also talk about Kerin?

They don’t know about Kerin. You told your husband, it would be strange not to tell your parents. Then, you also haven’t told your parents that you accidentally killed three civilians, either.

“So… I should tell you both, though I want you to keep it quiet,” you say as they finish eating. “I attacked a conspiracy member a few days ago. He had some prisoners, and I managed to save the ones who could be saved.”

Your parents exchange a look. “Well… I’m glad you’re okay,” Coby says. “What happened?”

You start explaining as much as you can, about Saren and the King, about Ardraebel, and finally, about Kerin. When you’re finished, Belle looks pale, and Coby’s jaw is hanging down. “A demon,” he finally says.

“A real demon. A friendly elf demon,” you affirm. “It’s true.”

“I don’t believe it,” Belle says faintly. “It’s… it’s too good to be true! And he’s here, in Cender?”

“Yeah.” You recall taking him to Arisa and shake your head. What a scary night. “We took him to the Circle and had their leader help him, then took him back to his shrine, a few hours south. We were unbelievably lucky. If he had been a demon from a shrine in, say, the southeastern part of the continent, it could have been a year before he got home.”

“And we can go meet him?” Coby demands. “I mean, we can go see for ourselves?”

>”If you want to.”
>”Not until I get back from beating the last conspirator, but then yes.”
>”If Asa says it’s safe.”
if asa says it's safe
>>”If Asa says it’s safe.”

To be clear, I would be happy to write yet another pilgrimage to the site, with all the dialogue people usually have when meeting Kerin, but do you, the players, actually want me to write that for a third time?

I will if you want me to, but if you don't, I'll accommodate that too, no problem.
I'm neutral on it really, though I'd lean more towards it if there's anything insightful in the exchange.
Sure. Enough time has passed that Kerin would be willing to help you with a blessing regarding a specific part of the coming raid, too, if you'd like to get some divine guidance on the subject.
“If Asa says it’s safe, I’m happy to take you,” you tell them. “There’s usually a small offering, something practical.”

Belle puts her hand over her mouth and stares into the fire. “You mean he’ll… actually give us a blessing?” she asks, her voice tinny and quavering. “Oh my goodness…”

“He’d be happy to. He’s actually happy most of the time, really,” you chuckle. “Kerin’s a nice guy.”

Your father looks nearly as faint as his wife. “You’ve had a chance to talk with him?”

“I went with Jerome last night, just because I knew he’d prefer to speak with Kerin in private,” you tell them. “Once I kill the last guy, it’ll be open for all who want to visit. There’s also a large temple on-site, which Asa tells me will be ours after this is all over.”

Coby pipes up again. “Who’s the ‘us’ in ‘ours?’”

“Mine and Jerome’s,” you say. “Asa says, and I agree, that I shouldn’t be too dependant on the King from here on out.”

“You mean maintaining it will be your responsibility?” Belle asks, looking a bit nervous. “All by yourself?”

“I mean we’ll live there, Jerome and me and Alan,” you explain. “But Jerome would rather live in the city, so I think we’ll probably just travel back and forth.”

Belle is tearing up. “I’m so proud of you, Elsa,” she says, wiping her eyes. “You’re being so responsible…”

You flush and look down at the floor. “Mom, come on.”

“I mean it. You’re… ohh, I’m so worked up now,” she mumbles, daubing her eyes. “Look at us, a family of textile workers, and our daughter is a Herald and rescued a demon…”

You sigh and try not to look too pleased at her praise. Coby leans back in his seat and massages the bridge of his nose. “So… does this mean that there’s only one guy left?” he asks. “I mean, we saw you at the infirmary at the castle, and you said there were only two left then, so…”

“Yeah. One left. The bossman. He’s holed up in a mine to the south with a bunch of hostages,” you say grimly. “Silver Linings Mine.”

“MacGrudder Family Extraction, Silver Linings Mine? The one that that old welcher Calver runs?” your father says, sudden anger darkening his tone.

You recoil at his reaction to the name. “Yes! Do you know it?”

“I’ve been there, I worked in that village for four years as a security guard before I met your mother!” he grouses. “Son of a bitch Calver stopped paying his ante to the local card game when he heard a bunch of us were shipping out.”

>”Do you know anything useful about the town, Hafdal, or the Baron who owns it, Mavos?”
>”Why did you leave?”
>”How big is the mine?”
>”Is it near the main Highway? I don’t want him escaping in traffic.”
>”Why did you leave?”
>”Do you know anything useful about the town, Hafdal, or the Baron who owns it, Mavos?”
>>”Why did you leave?”
>”Do you know anything useful about the town, Hafdal, or the Baron who owns it, Mavos?”
“So you used to live in Hafdal?”

Your father doesn’t talk about his young life much, since his own parents had been, in his words, inadequate, but you know he had some adventures. “Five years, I lived there,” Coby says, a note of disgust in his voice. “Bigger town of contrasts I never saw.”

“It’s a large town?”

He snorts. “Fine, Missy Divine Language Skills, ‘A Town of Bigger Contrasts I Never Did Witness.’”

“Har har,” you say drily. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that parts of that town were worse than anything I’ve lived in before or since. Filthy roads, corrupt Guards, disgusting pollution from the mines,” he lists, “but on the other hand, the cheapest cost of living, the nicest people, and the fairest weather I’ve enjoyed.” He shakes his night-black head, scattering silver hair over his shoulders. “Strange place. Underpopulated, badly so. They could barely run the mine. But, on the other hand, land was cheap as chips and the booze was local. Weird place.”

“Do you know anything useful about the local Baron, Mavos?” you ask.

He shrugs. “His father was still running the town when I moved. He died of a stroke about six years back. I barely even remember Mavos, he was a kid when I saw him at a parade… maybe thirty years ago? I don’t recall. Seems to be more on the level than his old man, though that doesn’t mean jack shit,” he grunts. “A spinning top on fire is more on the level than Baron Caulsky.”

“Interesting.” You didn’t really ask much of Mavos when you saw him. Maybe he’ll be there once Ekrine sends the rest of those men who were misdirected north. “And why did you leave?”

“I got a better offer here in Clen, being the evening shift security captain for the textile mill,” he says, reaching over to squeeze Belle’s hand with a little grin. “The rest is history.”

“We met on the job,” Belle says wistfully.

“That’s cute.” You think all this new information over. “Okay… so the mine itself is well-mapped, the problem is those hostages. Gotta get them out. My contacts in the Guilds will help.”

“When do you leave?” Belle asks. “Do you have time to stay?”

“Hell, no reason I can’t just take you to see Kerin tomorrow morning,” you say with a shrug. “We can spend the day there and I’ll leave Monday morning, right on schedule.”

“Really?” Belle breathes. “We can go see him tomorrow?”

“Sure. He’d love that, I bet. Hang on.” You press the Gem. {Brother, would you mind terribly if I brought my parents over tomorrow?}

~Of course not! Will they ask for a blessing?~

{One each.}

~No problem at all.~

[So when I said ‘absolute secrecy,’ my words were ambiguous?] Asa puts in drily.

{I shouldn’t bring them?}

[Immediate family is fine. Honestly, I don’t care. Now that you have a plan and timetable to finish the job, this is a minor issue. The King has sworn his own family to secrecy, so has Arisa, and your parents maintained the secret of your own survival and ascension with admirable restraint. The King and I have agreed to make Kerin’s survival public in three weeks; that’s more than enough time for him to prepare some site security.]

~You know, in the old days, we used to have some specially trained guards who would protect us,~ Kerin muses. ~I sort of wish I knew what happened to the ones who were supposed to be watching me when that Dommen jerk attacked me.~

[…That is actually a very, very good question, little brother,] Asa says, her voice suddenly pensive. [An exceptional question, in fact. I’ll page through my memories and see if I turn anything up. In the meantime, Elsa, the King will send some of the Guards he was going to muster up to Army status to fight Zafford down to protect the road. I suspect the local pious will do a perfect job of protecting Kerin themselves, if the ones outside your house are any indication,] she quips, her tone cheerful again.

That entire exchange lasted a fraction of an instant. You look back up at your parents. “Kerin and Asa say they’d be happy to have you. I gave my bodyguard, Alan, the day off tomorrow, so we can ride down there. Do either of you know how to ride a horse?”

Your father sniffs. “Can’t be a security captain if you can’t ride.”

“I never learned,” your mother admits.

“We’ll take the cart, then,” you say. “I seized a wagon from the weapons dealer, Saren.”

“What should we wear?” your mother asks anxiously.

“Oh, something warm,” you tell her. “It’s a three-hour ride.”

>Anything else to discuss tonight (what)?
>If not, please vote >Proceed home
>Proceed home
>>Proceed home
You linger a while longer, just catching up, but whenb the clock strikes three, you decide to duck out. “Well, I need to run,” you say dolefully, rising to your feet. “Thanks for having me over.”

Your mother rises too for another hug. “Hey, we’re always happy to have you,” Belle says. “We’ll see you tomorrow morning.”

On the road once more, you jog over to the castle, already switching your thought process over to work. Ekrine had better be in.

Inside the gargantuan building, you walk up to the Gubernatorial offices, pausing only to salute the elite Guards outside. He’s in, alright. You come to a halt before the Governor’s desk. “Governor Ekrine, sir?”

He looks up. “Ah, perfect,” he says. “Here, Herald, I have news. The troops we sent north have arrived. I’m re-dispatching them in one hour to head south. They’ll arrive in one week.”

“They’re already on their way to Hafdal?” you ask in relief. That means that over two hundred Guards will already be deployed on-site when you arrive.

“They are,” Ekrine confirms. A bit of the tension in his lined face is gone, now. He must be relieved you’re on the home stretch of this death race. “One company, plus a healer mage and a scout team.”

You grin in satisfaction. “Excellent,” you say firmly. “Then I’m off, Monday morning.”

He pauses. “I understand you’re eschewing the Shadows this time?”

“I am.”

“May I ask why the King’s personal forces will not be in attendance?”

>”A one-day trip to a woods manor is one thing. We can’t lose our King for two weeks in the middle of a war.”
>”Shadows to free some hostages? That’s ridiculous overkill.”
>”Asa says I should be less dependent on the Royal aid.”
>”I don’t want issues of chain of command.”
>”The Guards are more likely to know the area.”
>>”A one-day trip to a woods manor is one thing. We can’t lose our King for two weeks in the middle of a war.”

Most believable reason to them.
>”A one-day trip to a woods manor is one thing. We can’t lose our King for two weeks in the middle of a war.”
“Governor, as useful as the Shadows are, we can’t afford to lose the King for two whole weeks in the middle of the civil war,” you admit. “We should be able to solve this without the King holding our hands.”

Ekrine chuckles. “If anything, I’m relieved that he’s been able to focus on the war at all,” he says. “Then you depart for Hafdal Monday? The Guards will be ready.”

“It’s much appreciated.” You snap off a salute. “Thank you for everything, Governor. I’ll see you on the other side.”

The Governor rises to his feet, rounds the table, and grabs your hand. “Please be safe out there, Herald Ledren,” he says quietly. “Avenge my grandson.”

It’s been so chaotic that you almost forgot about Lieutenant Ekrine. “I will,” you say solemnly. “Farewell, Governor.”

The tunnel to your house is as empty as ever, and to your relief, the windstorm four days ago and the snow this morning didn’t damage it at all, even after years of disuse. The Utility mages did a good job designing it, you think to yourself idly.

Up in your house, you change out of your clothes into a bathrobe and slippers, and snuggle down in front of the fire. Jerome sits down beside you and flips open his book. “Good meetings?” he asks idly.

“Yep.” You rest your head on his shoulder and relax. “We’re as ready as we’re gonna be. My parents say hello, by the way.”

“Oh, you met them?”

“Yeah. Gonna take them to the shrine tomorrow.”

“You are?” he asks curiously. “Why didn’t you bring them today? Never mind,” he says, holding up his hand. “Dumb question.”

“Not a dumb thing to ask.”

“I felt dumb,” he mutters. “Can’t believe I wasted my chance for a blessing on something so simple.”

“You said you didn’t want to talk about it,” you remember. “So… don’t.”

“Nah, I was just embarrassed to say it in front of Dervich,” he grumbles. “I asked what I should do with my armory job if you become a traveling consultant like you said you might. You’re going off on some grand adventure with Dervich and Master Sun to destroy a flying city before I have to worry about that. Plus we haven’t even settled on a place to live.”

“You know you can get as many blessings as you want, right?” you ask. “You just have to space them out, and make sure he knows how important each one is.”

He blinks. “Really? I didn’t waste it?”

“Nope. Just believe that it’s important, and don’t come too often, and he’ll grant more than one.”

“Oh, awesome,” he says in relief. “All right, then.”

He drapes an arm across your shoulder and you happily snuggle close. “Alright, I put some stew on,” he says softly. “Let’s just unspool.”

“Let’s,” you murmur, and you catnap on his muscular flank while he reads to himself.

That night, you don’t dream at all, to your mixed delight and disappointment. The nightmares are so bad, but the glimpses of ancient life are so interesting.

You cleaned your Heraldic gear and cloak in the depths of the night while everybody else slept. When it’s dried by the fire, you snug it on and place the armored duster on under your cloak, which is heavy but will keep you quite safe when combined with your tiara.

You kept the horses in the alley behind your house under blankets you didn’t mind washing, and once they’re hitched up, you get ready to roll off to your parents’ house. As you do, Jerome appears at the door, leaning on the doorframe. “Is there anything I should get for this trip of yours?” he asks. “Anything you’ll want on the road?”

>”Just warm thoughts.”
>”Some soup mix I can mix with melted snow.”
>”Maybe just some candy to make the rations palatable.”
>>”Some soup mix I can mix with melted snow.”

That'd be the best for such a trip
>”Maybe just some candy to make the rations palatable.”
“You know what you really want more than anything else on a march in the snow? Hot food. Some soup mix I can mix with the snow I melt with cooking fires would be great, or candy to make the rations palatable,” you tell him. “Thanks so much, that’s really thoughtful of you!”

He waves it off. “It’s no problem. Be safe out there.”

You roll out to the townhouse block where your parents live, and you don’t have to wait long. The two of them hustle out, all bundled up for the cold. The blizzard has stopped, at least, and the cold winds aren’t strong. The sun is blocked behind the clouds, at least, so the glare isn’t bad at all.

“We’re ready to go!” your mother says as soon as Coby helps her in. He just springs up into the wagon’s back and moves up to sit beside you, brushing snow off of the seat.

“Thanks for the ride, Elsa,” he says through a snow mask. “Three hours, you say?”

“Three hours.” You snap the reins, and you all start moving.

Once you’re out of the city, it falls quiet. You can see some animals in the fields, some few Guards on the roads, other merchant convoys, and some traffic in the distance, but you have the road to yourselves.

>Is there anything you want to discuss?

>The friendly fire incident with Soutri
>Your conundrum about your living conditions
>Your imminent trip with Sun
>The civil war’s possible end
>Your conundrum about your living conditions
>>Your conundrum about your living conditions
Your parents have lived where they are for a long time, but maybe they can lend some wisdom to your own habitation problem. “Mom, Dad, the temple we’re going to see. It has a rectory where the priests who ran the place lived,” you tell them. “Asa says I can move in there after we’re done, like I said before. Thing is, Jerome prefers the city, and I sort of want to live where you guys and Darril live, too. What do you think?”

Coby gets there first. “Depends on whether or not you plan to have kids, I’d think,” he says with a bit of forced casualness.

You roll your eyes under your tiara and hood. “Yes, Dad, married couples usually produce those.”

“Just checking,” he says playfully. He’s developed a sense of humor when you weren’t looking, it seems. “I’d prefer the city then, myself, but… how big is this temple?”

“The main rectory alond could easily house a family of eight or nine people,” you tell him. “The outbuildings could house another ten.”

“Wow. Then if I were you, I’d want to live in the city for the schools, but travel to the temple for holidays and suchlike,” your father chips in.

Belle speaks up from the back. “I’d want to live in the temple all the time, I’d think, with all that space to expand. And all that privacy, too.”

You turn those words over in your mind. “Hmm. Something to think about. Thank you.” You press the Gem. {Brother, my parents and I will arrive in two hours.}

~Great. Take your time. I’m amusing myself by watching the ice expand on the lake,~ he says cheerfully.

[Small things amuse small minds, I suppose,] Asa says cheekily.

~Ha ha ha, very funny,~ Kerin grouses. ~It’s the first ice I’ve seen in three thousand years, so pardon me for finding it captivating.~

[Now I feel like a jackass.]

~Yeah, that killed the mood pretty well, didn’t it? Somebody make a joke.~

[Okay. Four Brothers, five Explorers, a one-legged bandit, and a very small horse walk into a bar. The bartender looks up and says ‘what is this, a joke?’]

~There’s no hell any longer, right? Because whoever came up with that belongs there.~

[Aw, you missed me.]

~Elsa, drive the horses faster.~

“Yeah, he’s waiting for us,” you say, hiding a grin.

Asa confirmed for worst jokes in all of dead gods.
The copse of trees appears soon enough, and you walk the horses in. The rattling wheels seem quieter as you roll through the mist on the ground. You hear your mother shift a little in the back at the unnerving sight, but it all boils away at once to reveal the fork in the path. Your parents both gasp at the sight, but by now inured to it, you and the horses don’t even flinch. You turn the wagon towards the distant shrine, and your parents pile out when you bring it to a halt.

“All right, guys, let’s go meet Kerin, the Demon of Discretion,” you say cheerfully. “Just relax. He’s a nice person.”

“Okay,” your mother says nervously. Your father just squares his shoulder and takes a deep breath.

As you approach, the tableau resolves. Kerin is sitting on the ground of the shrine, staring at the water, leaning back casually against one of the pillars. As you approach, he climbs up, dusting off his knees. “Ah, Elsa, you came back,” he says happily. “Third time in as many days, yes?”

“You know, I just can’t stay away,” you reply. “These are my parents, Belle and Coby. Folks, this is my new brother, Kerin.”

The alabaster-colored demon beckons them in. “Do enter, my friends,” he says. “You’re most welcome in my home.”

Coby walks right in, and as soon as he does, you watch with a mote of well-hidden amusement as his tough façade dissolves. The wave of divine energy that washes over him instantly saps the steel from his spine. “Wow,” he whispers.

“It’s like that for everybody on their first visit,” he says ruefully. Coby extends his hand out for his wife, and she hesitantly takes it, letting him usher her in.

Her eyes widen behind her scarf. “Oh my goodness,” she says reverently. “That’s an odd sensation.”

The demon stands back and lets them adjust. “So, my friends. What can I do for you two?”

Coby steps up and looks around. “What is this place?” he asks.

“This is the Shrine of Discretion, and the Sacred Home temple,” he explains. “Simply offer me a prayer, and I can help you resolve a conflict in your life, either by bringing forth a relevant memory, or by giving you a blessing of demonic knowledge.”

“Sacred Home?” Belle breathes. “It’s the place where we were created?”

“The place where we stepped forth from heaven,” you tell her. “Trust me, you’ll get to see it.”

“So… oh, right!” Belle says, pawing through her pockets. “The offering…”

Coby produces a little twine bundle. “I hope this is what Elsa meant by ‘practical,’” he says. “A watch repair kit.”

“Ah, yes, that’s just fine,” Kerin says. “Simply place it in the urn over there,” he adds, pointing at one of the empty pots. Belle turns back to him, shame-faced.

“I’m so sorry, your Holiness,” she says mournfully. “I left my offering at home.”

Kerin waves it off. “Just bring it next time.”

“Really?” she says, embarrassed. “It’s not a problem?”

“It’s not,” he assures her. “Just focus.”

She steps up to him and bows her head. Kerin nods. “Ah, of course,” he says, gently resting his hand on her shoulder. “Think back to before,” he says quietly, and your mother shakes her head.

“Yes, I see,” she whispers. “Thank you, your Holiness.”

Your father returns from his trip to the urn and takes his own turn, bowing low. Kerin nods with a rueful look on his face. “That’s a difficult question,” he says respectfully. “I can see why you want my help.” He meets Coby’s eyes as he stands back up. “My answer is trust,” Kerin says, and your father looks off into the distance, then over at you.

“Thank you,” Coby murmurs.

>Take the tour with them
>Just let them rest in the shrine and go explore some place by yourself
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Five full posts, that has to be a quest record.
>Take the tour with them

nah, some dream sequences have gone at least that long.
That's true, the one with Umbara was seven at least. Good catch!
You stand back and watch as they go through the motions, and when they’re done, Kerin steps up to the fountain. “And that’s all it takes, my friends,” he says lightly. “You’re welcome to stay as long as you wish, or you could tour the Temple with Elsa, I’m sure.”

“I would like to see more, actually,” Coby says. “Could I trouble you to show me the sights?” he asks you.

“Sure. Mom, do you want to come too?”

She nods. “Yes, I’d quite like that. Do you need to be anywhere today?”

“Only to drop off some payments for people assisting me tomorrow,” you say. “I can get that done quickly.”

“Then let’s,” she says. She pauses to bow again to Kerin. “Thank you so much, your Holiness.”

He smiles. “My pleasure, madam. Return whenever you’d like.”

The three of you start across the bridge, and your parents both draw in a breath at the sight of the large, pristine marble structure. “So that’s Sacred Home,” your mother says reverently. “What a vision…”

“It’s lovely, all right,” you agree. “It’s home, maybe.”

Your father slows his pace to take in the whole spectacle visible from the apex of the bridge – the grove, the Temple proper, the outbuildings, the meditation sauna, and all the grounds. “Incredible.”

As you enter the temple, both of them stare in wonder at the pools, especially when you explain that they can be used to make more Gems. “I can’t, of course,” you admit, “but Asa and Kerin could. The ones Kerin can make are nearly as powerful as the real deal, the ones Mai’te made.”

“It’s beautiful,” Belle says, tracing ripples across the surface with her finger. “It’s so warm!”

“It’s all divinely heated,” you tell her.

The rectory, which you haven’t actually been in before, is much less interesting, being nothing more than a series of empty rooms and a lavatory or two. The sauna earns you a few approving remarks, though, especially the statue of Mai’te in the middle.

As you walk towards the grove of trees, you recall that they won’t actually see anything, but decide that it’s still worth showing. The strands are still there, glowing silver in the air, and even though they can walk right through the dead portals without any effect, both of your parents seem to feel that something is different.

“What is this?” Coby asks, looking around.

“The spot where the Heaven-born emerged,” you tell them. They both gape, overwhelmed.

“This is the exact point where we came to be…” Belle manages, whispering. “It’s all too much…”

Coby reaches down and touches the moss. “I can see why Asa wanted this preserved,” he says under his breath. “People would do a lot for control of this place.”

>”I can ask if you could be allowed through the barrier without me, if you want to come back.”
>”Asa said this place will open for the public in three weeks.”
>”Change your mind about me living in the city?”
>”Asa said this place will open for the public in three weeks.”
“Asa did tell me that the place will be open to the public in three weeks,” you tell them. “You can come back whenever you like.”

Both of them have fallen silent. Neither of them are particularly pious, but this is still momentous. You just step back and let them take it all in. The little strands of perfection wave around as they disturb them, then slowly reform, undisturbed for your parents’ passage.

Outside the grove, you slowly lead them back over the bridge. Kerin is waiting there with an Avatar, just talking. You recognize it as one of Haret, actually, not Asa. As you come closer, it speaks up. “Ah, Herald,” Haret says, tilting its head to you. “And Mister and Missus Ledren. Welcome.”

“Lord Haret,” Coby says for them both, bowing. “An honor, sir. On a day full of them,” he adds.

Haret grins. “Quite, quite.” He gestures to the side, and you step out of hearing range of your parents, curious.


He meets your eyes and speaks softly. “Before you go chasing after Kotrick, and then Skyborn, I was wondering if you would indulge me in an answer, Herald. I would like to know what arrangements you have made for my son to accompany you on these missions.”

>”I haven’t. We’ll see who makes it through the attack on Kotrick.”
>”I thought he comes with me regardless.”
>”He can stay here while Sun and I destroy the flying city.”
>”I haven't made any arrangements. I thought he comes with me regardless.”
That doesn’t quite make sense. “I haven't made any arrangements. I thought he comes with me regardless.”

Haret starts to say something, pauses, then shakes his head with a rueful grin. “Yes, of course. That’s the wise answer.”

“Were you expecting something else?”

“Well, I’m not sure, to be honest,” Haret admits. “My son’s heart is strong and he trusts you, but I fear that that trust hides a reticence. Have you noticed no faltering of his attention?”

“He’s been as helpful as I could ask him to be,” you say, maybe a bit defensively.

“That is not what I asked,” he says patiently.

“Well, he’s nervous about how he’s going to be paid, and where he’s going to live, since Jerome and I haven’t decided yet for sure,” you admit, “but that’s hardly any fault of his.”

“Very well.” Haret inclines his head and steps back, hands clasped. “Forgive my inquiry. I can’t simply ask him like Asa can you.”

You can’t help but frown. “If you want to know his emotions, why not just appear to him?”

“Because I also can’t track him at all times unless he wants me to,” Haret says. “Where is he, anyway?”

“Running an errand on his day off.”

“He gets those?” Haret asks. “Hmph. It’s your decision. Stay safe.” The Avatar disappears.

You shake your head. “Bloody humans and their discipline,” you mutter.

[Temporary End of Thread]

Please keep it up for tomorrow!
I'm back and writing.
You smile in comfort as you walk back into the diffuse energy of the Shrine. Kerin and your father are talking as your mother stares into the fountain. You press the Gem as you enter. {Sister, my parents and I are done at the Shrine.}

[Alright. Do you have anything you want to ask of Kerin before you go?]

{No, not really, but I was wondering, brother, if it would be alright if I asked for another blessing before I left.}

~Mmm, it’s a bit early since the last one, only two days,~ he says. ~No offense.~


~I can just weigh in if you have a question, though.~

{Well, there’s no way to ask this without being awkward, but… I don’t know if my parents know about that collateral damage incident,} you admit.

~Ah… Asa told me about that. Tragic business. That would have been most worthy as a blessing. As it stands, your brother Kerin says you should tell them directly, but make sure they understand that you know it’s a serious thing to carry around. You’ve undertaken your Quest of Absolution?~

[She did. Admirably quickly, as well.]

~Then as far as I’m concerned, you’re forgiven,~ Kerin says.

>Is it worth sharing that with your parents?
tell them after we take down Kotrick

and it looks like 4chin is back up finally
Yes it is. Later. {I don’t want to distract them. I’ll tell them after Kotrick is in the ground.}

[Fair enough.]

~Certainly.~ Kerin looks over at the others. “Don’t let me keep you, my friends,” he says. “I’m sure you both have somewhere else to be.”

Belle straightens up from the fountain. “I suppose we shouldn’t take up too much of your time, your Holiness. Thank you so much, for your hospitality as well as your gifts,” she says reverently.

Kerin smiles warmly. “Of course, Belle. Do return whenever you’d like. And you as well, Coby,” he says, shaking your father’s hand.

“Your Holiness,” Coby says, bowing over Kerin’s pale hand.

The two of them start off for the wagon, but Kerin halts you. “Sister,” he says quietly. “I know you’re about to head into battle.”

“I am,” you confirm. “The last one, Mai’te willing.”

“That would be nice.” Kerin clasps your hands between his and meets your gaze. “Be safe, little sister,” he says quietly, his noble voice echoing with concern. You feel his hand tremble, and something appears between your own palms. You start, looking down, and see a little brass coin appear there. You raise it to eye level, baffled, but it seems to tremble in your hand.

“Brother, what is this?” you ask.

The pale demon steps back. “It’s too soon for another blessing, but I would be remiss if I didn’t at least try to help,” Kerin admits. “This is a Token of Passage. They were items that the priests gave to pilgrims who would be traveling through warzones in the old days. It ostensibly allowed them safe passage. When people started stealing them, the priests began using divine power to mark them individually. That one controls the movement of blood in injured parts of the body, to cut off bleeding and the like. I doubt you’ll need it, but a hostage might.”

“Oh, good thinking,” you say gratefully. “Thanks, Kerin.”

He raises a hand as you step out of his home. “Farewell, Elsa,” he says gravely. “See me when all this is done.”

>Anything you want to do here or on the road before you go get the money for the Brothers?
>If not, vote >proceed
I vote to
I do I do.
The three of you bundle up and ride home, just as the dusky light of afternoon starts to peer out from behind the clouds. You shield your eyes with the hem of your hood and urge the horses as fast as you safely can.

“Thanks so much for bringing us, Elsa,” Belle says. She moves to sit beside you and Coby, bundling you all up in a blanket. “I’ll never forget it.”

“Yes, that was amazing,” Coby agrees. “And it’s opening for the public in… three weeks, he said?”


Coby looks out over the woods and plains. “I have to admit, I didn’t understand something that happened.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, I know the proper title for demons is ‘Your Holiness,’ but it felt like it didn’t fit him, somehow,” he says.

>”He predates the clergy.”
>”He’s a casual kind of guy.”
>”You didn’t mention it to him?”
>”I think he’s just so happy to meet peope that he’s not projecting his true authority.”
>”I think he’s just so happy to meet peope that he’s not projecting his true authority. He was trapped in a crystal for quite a while.”
>”He predates the clergy.”
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Responses are so prompt today, even while the admins fuck the code! I'm delighted!
You can’t help but agree. “You know, he technically predates the clergy,” you remark. “That, and he was trapped in a crystal prison for so very long,” you add mournfully. “I think he’s just overjoyed to be meeting new people.”

“He seems kind, for a demon of descretion,” Belle remarks, but Coby shakes his head.

“I think that’s the point. Discretion is more than deciding on one path over another. It’s about deciding when and how to apply which tenets of law and rulership and to what extent. Like a Guard letting a beggar go because he has to feed his children, or a judge deciding on a harsh and visible punishment for a corrupt co-worker to restore trust in the courts.” Coby looks back at the now-distant copse of trees. “I think he’s good for the role specifically he understands that discretion has to be guided by something, or it’s not worth having. He chose understanding and acceptance.”

Belle considers that for a moment as you bounce down the rocky street. “That’s a good point,” she says after a while. “I hadn’t thought of it like that.”

“I can’t tell you two how pleased I am to hear you discuss it, though,” you chuckle.

Inside the city at last, you drop your parents off at their house and regretfully turn down dinner. You have to go pay people.

>You need to pay the Brothers for the shield. Is there anything else you want to get for this final mission? Some clothes, or traveling gear? Any special foods you didn’t ask of Jerome? A parting word or item for Arisa, and instructions to be carried out in your absence?
>Take your time, I have chores to do.
I can't think of anything, other than saying bye to Arisa and telling the Circle they can relax on their info-gathering if they haven't already. Make sure we take a gas mask with us.

and it's down again
So… what’s left? You ponder that as you walk the horses back to your house. You need the shield… the Mercenaries are paid for by the King, as are the Sisters. The Alchemists are going to bill the King… what else is there?

Arisa, you realize. She deserves a farewell too.

You leave the cart and all but one horse at the house, then ride to Arisa’s manor. She has candles and glowlights in every single window, perhaps to be festive, which is reassuring.

She answers the front door in a very modest and becoming robe instead of the semi-religious garb she usually wears. “Ah, Elsa, hello again,” she says cheerfully. “Do come in.”

“Afraid I can’t stay long,” you admit as you walk in and brush snow off your cloak. “I’m off to fight the last conspirator tomorrow morning.”

She regards you with worry in her eyes. “I see. Do be careful,” she says gravely. “Is there anything I can do?”

You shake your head. “Just be careful yourself,” you tell her. “And… thank you. Your assistance has been quite valuable.”

“Truth be told, I’ve done little,” she says modestly. “But I assure you that you’re most welcome.”

“Please also tell the Circle members you originally let into yoru confidence to back off their information-gathering campaign,” you ask her. “With any luck, we’ll be done in a week.”

“So soon? Goodness, it feels like we barely met,” Arisa says, shaking her head. “Very well.”

“Have you had many new members seek you out since I went public?” you ask.

“Dozens. Fewer than I expected. I think much of the city is waiting to see what you do next, more than anything else,” she says. “Not to put undue pressure on you…”

You half-grin. “I understand. I’m sort of used to it.”

You lean in for a quick farewell hug. “Thanks, Arisa. I’ll see you soon.”

She returns it. “See you soon, Elsa.”

One quick trip to the castle later, you’re standing in the King’s study again, watching him root through the drawers of his desk. “Here it is,” he says, producing the money you need to pay for the new shield. “Your man Dervich stopped by to get money for some new armor as well,” he remarks. “I admit, I’m surprised at how little you spent overall.”

“That may change, soon, Sire,” you admit as you accept the bills. “The Alchemists’ Guild, the Mages’ Guild, and the Brotherhood have all pledged some assistance to me, as have the Mercenaries’ Guild.”

“All with deferred payment?” Maas asks drily. At least he’s back to normal. Whatever mental scarring he received in the fight with Saren seems not to be holding him down. “Naturally.”

“I had little choice,” you say defensively.

“I know. I wouldn’t have gone out of town for two weeks, so you couldn’t have used Shadows,” he says evenly. “As it stands, this is the final member of your conspiracy, yes? Then off with Sun?”

“I won’t even bother asking how you knew that,” you say in reply.

He shows the ghost of a knowing smile. “Quite. Seven months, eh? A long journey.”

“And in the interim, Kerin’s shrine will open to the public once more,” you remark, just to change the subject.

“Quite. I expect mass pilgrimages,” Maas says ruefully. “At least there will be room for all those people in the city with fifty thousand warriors still in the south.”

“And the opportunity to entire them to patronize the city’smany shops will help cover the costs of site security until I can train up some guards of my own,” you observe.

“Naturally,” he repeats. “I suppose you’ll be going Monday morning?”

“Before dawn, yes. I’m traveling alone with Dervich, unless a few of the Sisters or Mages want to tag along.”

“You have a mount?”

“I have some horses I confiscated from Saren,” you remind him.

>Anything else to tell him?

>Or just go home?
“Then I should go get my new shield and go home, I think, Sire,” you say, feeling an odd sense of finality. King Maas has been a stalwart ally through thick and thin, and even if you’ve come to understand that he did it for the sake of his own rule and nation instead of Asa’s desire, that doesn’t change how helpful he’s been. “I want to thank you, Sire, for all of your aid,” you tell him. “I couldn’t have accomplished this without you.”

He rounds the table to stand before you. “And I should thank you in turn, Elsa Ledren, for all you’ve managed to accomplish,” he says, your regal Liege once more. “Despite our disagreements, you’ve managed to pull off a true act of defense against this nation’s greatest threat, and humble the rebels in the process. You’ve restored one of Cender’s lost demons, and helped to avenge the loss of one of my own Battalions.” He extends a hand to shake, and you take it. “Thank you, and good luck, your Eminence,” he says quietly. “No matter how your adventure with Sun ends, know that I have deeply valued you in turn.”

The dark has fallen by the time you’re out and on your way to the Brotherhood Chapter House. The structure itself is even busier than before, with dozens of Brothers and Sisters lounging around the place, fixing gear, singing songs and drinking, feasting, performing entertainment magic in the yard out back, and generally enjoying their pay from the Governor. You walk right in, smiling at the revelry. In this time of struggle, it’s oddly reassuring to see the Brotherhood taking the time to simply make merry.

Down below, you see Della hard at work, fixing some weapon or another at his enchanter’s table. “Ho, Herald, welcome back,” he says, beckoning you over. “Here, have a look-see.” He hefts the orange, glittering shield with both hands. “Strap this on your arm, there.”

You extend one arm and let him affix the metal. It’s shockingly light for its size, and as you lift it, you see why: it’s actually concave on the inside, save the part where your arm is attached and a spur of padding between where your arm would be and the metal proper. You feel a buzzing sensation as you strap it on. “What’s that feeling?” you ask.

“The shield reservoir linking up with the one on your tiara,” the Brother explains. “I’d say it could take about… two hundred thirty percent the damage it could before.”

>”Bloody impressive.”
>”What happens if I drop the shield in battle? Does the tiara bubble fail?”
>just pay him and go
>”Bloody impressive.”
>”Bloody impressive.”
>”What happens if I drop the shield in battle? Does the tiara bubble fail?”
“Now that’s bloody impressive!” You stare at the piece of armor with newfound respect. “What about the bubble, though? If I drop the shield, does the bubble pop?”

“No, but it will reduce in power by a great deal,” Della says. “It will recharge eventually, but not for several minutes.”

“Remarkable.” You test its balance in your hands, and grin to yourself when you see the icon of Mai’te embossed on the outer side, as well as a vine pattern around the rim. “Nice touch on the decorations, sir.”

“All Smith Calvin’s work,” he admits. “I’ll pass it along, though.”

You clip the shield on tight and pass over the money, as promised. “Paid in full, cash of course, and well-deserved,” you tell him. “Will this synchronize with a different shield bubble if I wear that one instead?”

“Yes, though its native power will always stay the same,” he explains. “So if you attach it to a magic shield twice as powerful as the one on your tiara, the cumulative effect will be three hundred thirty, not four hundred sixty.”

“Still quite welcome,” you mutter. “All right…”

You fumble to get it secured over your uniform – you have your duster armor, but no greaves on. When it’s secured, you shake his hand with your free one. “Nicely done, sir. With any luck, this will bring me victory.”

“One hopes,” he says. “Farewell, Herald.”

Upstairs, you look around for Culler, or any of the three women you’ve hired. You find Gannet and her partner Donali training upstairs. The small gymnasium of the Chapter House is packed with Brothers and Sisters, training hard or getting back into shape after a stay in the infirmary. Gannet is doing some elaborate stretches in the corner, but her partner, whom you’ve never met, taps her on the shoulder when you walk in. Both women pause to greet you.

“Elsa, hello,” Gannet says warmly. “This is my partner, Sheya Donali. We apprenticed together at the Academy.”

“A pleasure,” you say politely, shaking the new woman’s hand. She’s a few inches taller than Gannet, and where Gannet is human, bubbly, and pale, Donali is an elf, calm, and as black-skinned as a new-born dark elf. They couldn’t be a sharper contrast.

“Your Eminence,” she says quietly, bowing over your hand. “I understand Lady Asa specifically requested Gannet and myself for this?”

“She did,” you confirm. “I’m sorry, but I don’t know how to address you. Some Sisters and Brothers go by their last name, some their first…”

“Donali works fine, there’s an older Sheya who got First Name Privileges,” the elf woman says. “You’re loaded for bear,” she observes, taking in the dagger, shield, and tiara.

“Can’t be too careful,” you say with a shrug. “You ready to roll tomorrow morning?”

“Correct. We’re leaving as soon as we get up,” she says. Her deep, quiet voice is hard to hear over the clamor of adventurers working out.

“Me, too. Maybe we’ll see each other on the road,” you observe. “On that note, I should be going. I’ll see you in Hafdal.”

“We’ll see you!” Gannet chirps, and goes back to training.

Donali waits until her partner is out of earshot. “May I ask… why did Asa choose us?” she asks, fixing you with an oddly piercing gaze.

>”Asa wanted peope I’ve worked with before.”
>”Discretion. I know I can work well with Gannet.”
>”You’re both healers, and there’s hostages in that mine.”
>Use Asa's Speech
might as well

god damnit moot
>”Asa wanted peope I’ve worked with before.”
>”Discretion. I know I can work well with Gannet.”
>”You’re both healers, and there’s hostages in that mine.”

All of them. And,
She’s testing you out, and you don’t need that on the eve of battle. You let some of Asa’s power enter your voice as you reply. “Because, Donali, the lives of those hostages hang in the balance of the labor we perform to reach them,” you say, your reply ringing with Asa’s power. Her eyes go wide. “A healer like yourself is more than capable of protecting them while I go hunt the mastermind.”

“… Was that Asa’s voice?” Donali asks quietly.


She bows her head. “That’s… all I needed,” she says, still sounding a bit tremulous. “Thank you. I’ll be ready.”

Outside once more, you mount up and head for home. The snowy roads don’t slow down your horse very much, and you arrive back at your house in no time. You could put the horses in a stable, which would be more comfortable for them at least, you muse. You should do that before you go tomorrow.

Inside, you shuck your gear and uniform in your bedroom. Jerome calls from the fireside. “Evening, Elsa. Just in time, the turkey’s done.”

“Cool.” You change into evening wear and troop downstairs.

Jerome is setting two places. “How did your trip with your parents go?” he asks.

“Well. They seemed to really enjoy it,” you tell him. “How were things here?”

“The soup mix and candy are in the kitchen,” he tells you. “And things were quiet. The rabble outside are finally gone.”

You’re not really sure they’re rabble, per se, but it’s still a relief. “Good, good.” You stretch and yawn, working the kinks of six hours riding out of your shoulders. “Thanks for doing all this, Jerome, I appreciate it.”

“It’s no trouble,” he says proudly. “And go see what else there is for dinner.”

File: Hugz-original.png (14 KB, 600x450)
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You peak an eyebrow, curious. You walk into the kitchen – “Ooh! Jerome, you shouldn’t have!” you say with delight. A little peanut cake sits next to the turkey, with a card on the platter. You pick it up and read it.


You’ll be on the road for your birthday. Let’s celebrate it tonight, instead.


“Aww, handsome, this is so sweet!” you exclaim, turning to face him – “Oh wow!”

He’s standing there with a little box. “Happy twenty-fifth,” he says cheerfully. “I considered asking you to just not open it until Thursday, but, you know, this way I get feedback right away,” he jokes.

You peck him on the cheek and snatch the box. “Aww, thank you!” You pull it open and beam. “Ooh, nice!” Inside are two little charm bracelet bangles, made of sealed copper, with the symbols of Ghalad and Asa on them. “Aww, for my armor?” you ask.

“Yes, or just to attach to jewelry,” he says.

You leap into a hug. “Thanks, Jerome, this is great,” you murmur against his shoulder.

He grins modestly and gives your back a squeeze. “My pleasure.”

After turkey and cake alike disappear, the two of you retreat to the fireside, where he stirs the embers of the day’s fire and adds some more wood. You snuggle up next to him on the love seat with your head on his shoulder as he sits down next to you, book in hands. “So yeah, a good day,” you say contentedly. “Thanks, Jerome.”

He drapes one arm over your shoulder and pulls you in close. “Happy birthday, sweetheart,” he says quietly. You pick up a book of your own and settle down under a blanket, just relaxing. On the eve of a hard journey, and a battle to come, it’s nice to be able to just unspool and find happiness, you reflect.

>Do you have any final words to say before the end mission begins?

>If not, vote >go to bed
Jerome a best

>go to bed
File: Sleep2.gif (25 KB, 504x792)
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After the clock strikes nine, the two of you, by silent, mutual agreement, leave to get ready for bed. You set your clothes out for the next few days and clean them as best you can, hanging them by the fire to dry overnight. You set all of your armor pieces out as well, though of course you’ll only bring one suit. You lay out your weapons, your traveling gear, your food, your ammunition, your boots and the paper you’ll stuff them with if it gets bad on the road, everything.

Upstairs, you slip into bed, where your husband is waiting. He holds up the sheets for you as you snuggle closer, and without prompt, slides one arm under your side and one around your back, pholding you close. You shut your eyes and bury your face in his muscular flank, just loving him silently.

“You get your sleep now,” he whispers. “Asa said she’ll drop in to see me all the time. So did Darril. I’ll go see your parents. Don’t worry about me.”

“You’re a good man,” you murmur. You run one hand along his flank and look up into his eyes from inches away. You want to say something else, but all you can come up with is something simple. “You’re the best,” you whisper. “Thanks for taking such good care of me through all this.” You look back down at the sheets in the dark of the room. “Thank you for standing by me. For helping me. For putting up with all this madness.”

“Thanks for letting me,” he murmurs. “It’s been crazy, but… I still love you to pieces.”

You rest your head on his shoulder and smile. “Yeah. I love you too.”

He kisses your forehead and settles his head on the pillow. “Good night, Elsa. I’ll see you when it’s all over.”

thanks for running!

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