The Path of Kings

What Comes in Darkness...
The Varnhold Vanishing

Governor Maegar Varn slowly awoke from his dark, dreamless slumber. He opened his eyes, and saw nothing but darkness. Cautiously he felt at the floor and the wall against which he was lying. Cold, damp stones. The air was stale and heavy, with a vaguely putrid scent in the background. Varn tried to stand up, but his legs were weak, and he fell down at the hard floor with a muttered curse. A few other frightened voices whispered nearby.

“Caspar, Willas?” Varn mumbled.

Caspar Morgarion, cleric of Erastil and Maegar’s old friend answered with a faint voice. “A-are you alright, Maegar? You’ve been unconscious for some time”

The Governor shook his head to get rid of the feeling of disorientation. “What in demons’ names happened?”

A scared voice cracked nearby, it was Willas Gunderson, Varnhold’s march warden. “It was me, Lord, I have awoken It, may the gods have mercy over us all!”

Impatiently Varn reached out to this left and grabbed the shivering arm of Willas. “What are you talking about, man, speak some sense!”

“They’ve already taken Cephal Lorentus… And now they are coming for us, for us all!” The ranger cackled almost madly, his voice echoing through the stone chamber.

Before Maegar could inquire into the nature of their captors, a sound in the distance distracted him. A slow thud of giant feet was making its way towards them.

Morgarion hissed an invocation and a few lights danced in the chamber, lightening up the three miserable men. Surrounding them were the bodies of some thirty other colonists. Varn paled: “Dead…?” The cleric shook his head. “Merely asleep.”

The Governor took a moment to look around, and noticed that he and everyone else were dressed in their nightgowns, and had no weapons or other equipment at hand. The room filled him with both fear and disgust. Engaged masonry columns formed shallow alcoves around a central pillar. Manacles hung from the walls near ancient bloodstains.

“It seems that we’ve been surprised during the night, but by whom? Where are we, and what is this foul place” he asked, but to no one in particular.

Caspar Morgarion shrugged and struggled to get on his feet. Varn followed his lead, supporting himself against the central column. Meanwhile, Gunderson crawled away from the light, into a corner in the back of the chamber.

“We have to get out and find help for our people,” the cleric whispered. Varn nodded weakly. Caspar pushed against the ancient old door of their prison and, surprisingly, it opened with a metallic click. As the sound of approaching steps seemed almost upon them, Maegar began to regain his strength and willpower. “We will rush out and surprise our captors. Use your last spell to daze or blind them so we can outrun them,” he whispered to his friend. It wasn’t much of a plan, but Varn felt that a presence of absolute Evil was stirring nearby, and some primeval instinct urged him to run as hard and as fast he could, away from this dreaded place.

The cleric and the governor charged into the corridor, their assault heralded by a flash of white light and a desperate battle cry. Their steps and voices came to a standstill, however, when they faced their captors. Towering before them, unmoved by their feeble magic and cries, they were horrible creatures from a child’s nightmare. The cleric fell onto his knees: “Dear God…” Varn remained silent, and realized that his doom had come.

Out of the Fire and into the Ice Maze
Azkathe Unseelie Trouserless

So that happened AFTER Milon got blinded and Neega got affected by the sickness?

Emrys sharpened his quill with a pen knife as he studied the man in front of him. He was a young member of the Baroness’s crossbowmen and a keen observer, that was why the druid had chosen to interview him.

So, let me recapitulate. Nadrim Quimm’s carnival turned out to be nothing more than a vile illusion meant to kill and maim as much as possible and when Quimm’s dance cum ritual culminated, the evil fey magic took over and the hells were unleashed.

The younger man, Corwen, stared blanky at Emrys and shrugged hesitantly.

I…I guess so…

The old druid frowned, his bushy eyebrow knitting together and he let out an indignant harrumph.

Yes, well, never you mind the finer details, I’ll work something more tangible of it. And then Baroness Stonemark and her companions wandered the fair ground, trying to save as many civilians as they could from the Unseelie that were causing them harm. Everyone got gravely injured in the process and THEN they decided to venture into the ice maze?

Yes, Lord High Diplomat, just as I told y…

A dark look from Emrys silenced the boy and the druid dipped his quill into the ink well and continued writing.

Then they ventured through the ice maze and fought the ice critters…surely there must be a better name for those, are you sure you can’t describe them any better?

No, sir, the Baroness’s party had severely mauled the creatures and it looked like they were me…melting too and then there was the Minotaur…

First of all, I’m knight nor soldier, lad, so can drop the sir right there and secondly, I know about the Minotaur, you told me, several times. I may look older than your grandfather, but it doesn’t mean I’m a doting, trouserless lunatic.
Emrys inspected his robes briefly and smiled.
Well, apart from the trouserless then…

And then Azkathe appeared and almost single-handedly destroyed the Barony. If it hadn’t been for the timely intervention of your unit, sergeant Corwin, and the brilliant leadership of Lord Leveton, that is.

The crossbowman stood at ease in the uneasiest way imaginable and tried a smile, not sure if he’d just been complimented or insulted.

Yes, Lord Cadarn, that is correct. When we appeared there was no sign of this Azkathe, but Lady Hegelinde was barely out of the maze when the ill news came about Lord Varn’s disappearance.

Emrys looked at the young sergeant with sad eyes and nodded slowly.

Ill news indeed, sergeant, ill news indeed…But that is a tale for a different time, it appears I am out of ink again.

The druid took a handful of sand and sprinkled them over the ink, waiting a few moments before blowing them off and closing the book.

Kesten's Dream
The Seed of Decay

Kesten Garess leaned back in the uncomfortable wooden chair and stared at the other members of the Regency Council, gathered around the oval table. General Oleg Leveton, agitated, was talking to Ivan Ivanovich, his hand hovering back and forth above a hastily drawn map. The scouts had reported military movements of the giants’ army to the south of the Murque River, but the trollish troops appeared to concentrate their efforts on battling the werewolves of the Narlmarches, for now. Good. Let those monsters kill off each other, good riddance.

Kesten glanced at Elana Varn, who was involved in a quiet conversation with Latricia Evanore, the new high priestess of the Barony. Still no news from the Baroness and her company about the disappearance of her uncle. Kesten could understand that Hegelinde wanted to assist Varn and return the favor of the Varnlings’ aid during the battle of Rivercamp, but her priority remained the Stonemark. They should focus their efforts on building the new settlements of Applehill and Kamelot, rebuilding Rivercamp, and secure and stabilize the lands around their new capital of Waterfort. Without the presence of the Baroness to unite them, Kesten had the feeling that each Domain Lord was just dealing with his or her own problems, on a daily basis, without a perspective of the bigger picture.

The attention of the Lord of the Riverlands was slipping away and he stared outside the window, where it was pouring in the streets of Waterfort. It was getting colder… Suddenly the dream came back to him. When he awoke this morning, he had forgotten all about it, but now he remembered. He was a boy of only 11 years old, standing in the orchard of the Garess castle. The trees were adorned with beautiful autumn colors of deep red and brownish green. There was a sweet, slightly overpowering scent of overripe flowers and fruits. He looked at the center of the orchard, where a tall apple tree overshadowed the whole garden. Its apples were as big as pumpkins and they slowly moved in the breeze. Then, suddenly, the sun withdrew behind the horizon and the orchard was submerged in twilight. The breeze became a strong wind and the apples swung violently at the branches of the tree. And then, they slowly began to wither. Red, rotting juice dripped from their decaying shapes, covering the ground, where grasses turned brown and roses lost their petals.

“Everything has its time,” whispered a voice behind him. Young Kesten turned around and saw a girl of his own age, with long, curly green hair, that covered her body as a snake. “The world has to die, and its death is the seed for new life. It is the fate of all things living. And autumn, the beginning of the end, is beautiful.” She smiled as she slowly disappeared from sight, hidden by a wonderful rain of thousands of colorful leaves. But the leaves began to cover the Garess boy, choking him. Gasping for breath, Kesten awoke in his bed.

The Lord of the Riverlands tried to shake the ominous and somber feeling that had haunted him since this morning. “Everything has its time”, the girl’s voice echoed in his thoughts. Kesten shivered and tried to concentrate himself on the conversations at the oval table.

Taming the Frontier

Let nobody tell you otherwise: there is no such thing as a friendly giant. Oh sure, sure, that massive dimwit had not bothered eating Oswald alive. He’d even let him go away unmolested, after having devoured an entire pig instead and flushing it down with half a barrel of ale. The bard understood all the tactical wisdom of his master in his attempt to acquire the services of the lone creature. If they really had to fight an army of its kind in the near future, it’s better having one of them on our side. Yet Syagrius had seemed not factoring in a tiny detail… IT’S A BLOODY GIANT! Sarenrae have mercy on us all if there’s a bad winter coming and we won’t be able to appease it from our own stocks.

The bard and his nomad companion dug their heels into their horses. Soon they’d reach the Crook. At least they’d have other – better – tidings than the non-aggression pack sealed with the hill giant. When the settlers of Kamelot had established their first houses, it only took less than a week before they started drawing attention from outside. Welcome attention. They had come a few at a time. Oswald would have been able to take them on one at a time, if it had come to violence. But his relief was considerable when he first noticed the blessed symbol of their patron. Most of them were former soldiers of Mivon. Some of them the very same ones Syagrius had snatched away from the jaws of death after the battle with the giants. A few others had been drawn by stories spreading like forest fire. Could it be true? The famous Orodreth, first diplomat of Mivon, slain AND brought back to the land of the living?

Oswald was there when it happened. The holy light hospitaler of Sarenrae would have made a far less daunting impression if the bard had allowed him to collapse in the mud after performing ‘said miracle. It is a bizarre sight seeing your best friend fading out like a candle. Any one who was not blind as a bat could tell Syagrius was not from this world. In a certain way that made him fit right in with the other people inhabiting these frontier lands. Oswald and him had grown up together. Truth be told, Syagrius was not just his best friend. Like many of these pilgrim warriors drawn to Kamelot, he owed his life to him. It started out as a child’s prank. Whilst the aasimar was taking a swim in the lake and Oswald had ran off with his clothes. Climbing in the nearest tree, it amused him to no end hearing his otherwise pious friend uttering the vilest curses. Until the branch snapped. He could have broken his neck. Instead, Syagrius saved him by merely touching his head. The same day they packed their bags and made way for Mivon. Only the sword lords would have the power to protect and train this wonder further.

The bard had instructed twenty of the warrior pilgrims to guard Kamelot and scout the horizons. At that point, he was not sure whether to report back to Syagrius or not. The Silverstep Nomads made the decision for him. They had come in peace, yet bringing a message of war. An allied tribe of theirs had fallen under the onslaught of the giants army. Should Oswald’s “chieftain” – an amusing title he found hard to align with Syagrius (nevermind Hegelinde!) – respect their independence, they’d be delighted trading with the Kamelands and join forces with no less than 150 of their finest horsemen. Oswald had exchanged oaths with them, but in order to seal the alliance Syagrius had to come back. Remnants of a monster army on the loose, unexplored territory harboring allies or enemies, warriors seeking to pledge their service, …

The Kamelands anxiously anticipated the return of their lord.

It was time Oswald brought him back.

Whispers from the Past
The One-Eyed Menace

“I bring news, oh Great One.” The cyclops prostrated himself before the throne draped in shadows. Only a single, red-glowing light pierced through the darkness.

“It is as You have foreseen, Great One. The Thrallkeepers are no more. These monks of Thassilon looked upon the stars, found the Havero, and tried to bind the creature. It turned against them and consumed them. Now it lies dormant in the Thrallkeeper Monastery.”

A deep voice boomed from within the shadows: “From henceforth the place shall be known as the Acropolis of the Thrallkeepers, and it will function as a warning to the Runelords that the stars are the dominion of Casmaron alone. Even if Thassilon knows now of Earthfall, the Empire is too late to prepare for survival. Only our civilization will emerge victorious from the ashes of the fallen star! The starcastles with the chosen ones are ready to depart.”

The cyclops who lied on the ground shuddered. “But the Observatory is not yet finished, Great One. The magic of the Oculus is unstable…”

“Do you doubt my machinations, Morrodrac?” The voice sneered at the shivering giant below.

“O-of course n-not, Great One.”

“Good. Let the starcastles depart, I will attune the Oculus in time before Earthfall, so that we will be able to call our brethren back from the timeless dimension after the cataclysm. Is the Vault ready?”

“Yes, Great One. Everything is prepared for the Long Wait.”

The voice in the shadows sounded pleased. “You have done well, Morrodrac, and I have picked you as one of the elected to join me in the Long Wait. My own transformation is almost complete. We will sleep for a century and awake when mighty Thassilon and Azlant have perished, and then… we will rule this planet forever!”

A Knightly Correspondence

“To my brother-in-arms,
Sir Orodreth Heru-Luin
Knight of Calistria,
First diplomat of Mivon
Victor of the battle of the Rivercamp

It is my sincere hope this letter will find you well and in good health. While the rigors of crossing the realms of life and death would wear down the mightiest of heroes, I do not have a single doubt that in due time you will once again rise to your former strength and beyond. Please forgive my lack of courtesy for not taking the time to address you properly, as one in your standing deserves and ought to be. Time is a currency we currently lack. My devout servant shall inform you further of the tidings summarized in this letter.

At present we have left the Crook with utmost haste and are making way for the Kamelands. Maegar Varn and his bannermen have vanished. Literally. I assisted Lady Stonemark and her company in the recapture of Varnhold. A troop of spriggans, serving as vanguard of the Fey Demoness’ army, had occupied the keep. After dispatching them to the realms of death, we discovered they were not responsible for the abduction of Varn and his people. Lady Stonemark is bent on retrieving her ally. Aided solely by her most faithful bannermen she is now exploring the Centaur lands for answers and allies. While I appreciate my liege’s tactical acumen, I feel there are other strategic matters that need to be addressed too. Matters affecting both Mivon and the Stonemark.

My scouts have reported that remnants of the monstrous horde have collided with the werewolves of the western marches in the Stonemark. While several members of our small council rejoice in their mutual slaughter, I have misgivings about its potential outcome. What if one party emerges victoriously and incorporates the other? This we cannot and will not allow. I have instructed my men to observe and obstruct where necessary. While respecting the boarders established between Mivon and the Stonemark, they may find themselves in the twilight zone of both lands. The Kamelands have already found new allies ready to assist us should war spill over our border. Though I am happy to grant my warriors their share of glory, I have to consider the safety of all citizens of our lands. It is in this matter I seek your aid.

Sarenrae rarely redistributes life liberally. Your duty, your honour, and your valour were restored for the greater good of the people of our realms. No man doubts it was your timely intervention that turned the tide during the battle of the Rivercamp. We will need the aid of Mivon – and your heroics – once more in the near future.

In the faith of our gods,

Sword Lord of the Kamelands"

- Well that was a cartload of pompous wank. Are you sure you don’t want to add another half dozen of his titles?
- Please mind your words, dear Oswald. The man was barely snatched from an untimely grave. Grant him some respite.
- Alright, alright… By the way, do I have to dot every second or every third sentence? Elven grammar always gives me a headache…
- That will not be necessary. Should there be nothing else to feel good about, I am sure my comrade will appreciate the superiority of his native tongue when employed falteringly by lowly outlanders.
- So lowly you opted for only that title?
- Modesty in might, Oswald. Modesty in might. Should the urgency of our appeal – and the debt Orodreth owes us – be insufficient, Mivon will understand they have a new but familiar neighbour. Now let us pray to the Everlight for endurance in the toils ahead of us.

The Return of Knightly Correspondence

Orodreth shoved aside the plate with the half-eaten bird. Despite the plumpness of the pigeon, he had little appetite.

The elf stood up and strode to the entrance of his tent, lifting up the flap to let the gentle breeze clear the greasy smell of his meal. A smile passed over his lips as he surveyed his surroundings. He was glad to see the fortifications rapidly evolving.

Orodreth turned on his heels and sat down at his field desk. He read the letter again and shook his head, pondering the deeper meaning of it, as the sound of hammer and axe resounded throughout the encampment.

So the mercenary lord rules a fiefdom now…

His fingers subconsciously moved to the deep scars on his chest, he could clearly feel the scar tissue crossbow wound that had slain him.
He took an empty piece of parchment and dipped his quill in the ink fount.

To the Lord of the Kamelands
Sir Syagrius Sunsword
Wielder of Solar Justice
Knight Hospitaller of Sarenrae
Giver of Life
and Liberator of Varn Hold

I hope my letter finds you in the same good health yours has found mine. Let me first express my gratitude for restoring my mortal shell to the service of these realms we both serve.
I would also express my gratitude for the detailed update of your exploits and the course of events in the Stonemark.
Allow me to congratulate you on your new title and lands.
It is of great value to my peace of mind to know our northern frontiers are guarded by your men.

I share your concerns about the werewolves. I do not think they will hold long against the onslaught of the giants, and the demoness has proven in the past to be able to convince the most ardent of enemies to array themselves behind her banners.
I hope that your lady baroness has the Wolf Lord firmly secured. I am convinced that when his former hordes come howling at her gates, he will turn against her. Do not trust him, despite his blood. Or maybe because of his blood.

Along with this letter I will send three of my best riders, they will answer to you alone and when the need arises they will be able to find me.

I am confident that we will draw swords together soon and put an end to this bloody war. I can not deny looking forward to the event.

May Sarenrae and Calistia instill us with their righteous vengeance.

Orodreth Heru-Luin
Lord Governor of the South Marches

Orodreth sprinkled sand over the letter, waited a moment and blew it off. He admired the elegant curves of the divine script he had used, hoping agents of the Enemy would be too terrified of it to read the letter.

He dripped blue wax on the rolled-up parchment and imprinted it with the seal of the wasp.

Orodreth got up and stepped outside his tent and saluted the two elves and human waiting there.

You are to ride to Kamelot and deliver this missive to Lord Syagrius personally, report directly to him and follow his orders insofar as they do not compromise Mivon or our mission here. You can tell him about our reinforcement of the northern border, do not reveal our numbers or our positions. I will send word to the capital to escort his man to our borders, he will be behind you shortly.

He handed the scroll to the riders and saluted them once more.

Good luck, may Calistria guide your hand.

Last goodbyes

He did not like the look of it.

The dwarven captain had ensured him this was the best Varnhold had to offer. The best cell that is. Quentin did not seem to mind. Aspar was surprised his lord had been willing to put up with this so meekly. Was there some lingering remorse plaguing the last scion of House Rogarvia? He had no desire in second guessing him. It had been an ugly sight, seeing him transform in that foul beast and gorging on fallen soldiers of Mivon. The half-elf inquisitor had nearly slain their paladin comrade in Quentin’s defense, when the former had turned against him for that abomination. Fleeing from that skirmish had left the most bitter taste in his mouth, but his duty was to Rogarvia first and foremost. Only after meeting up with Hegelinde’s company at the Crook did he find out about Orodreth’s ultimate fate. The half-elf gave thanks to Andoletta for that miracle. Should Calistria’s knight have fallen due to his accomplicity, the burden of shame and regret would have haunted Aspar until his last days. He peered into Quentin’s soul for a few seconds. No change – the taint of evil was still there. Aspar had hoped that Maegar Varn could have assisted them in removing this dire affliction. Instead the tables were turned after. Now the inquisitor had to set out with Hegelinde’s company to retrieve Varn himself. All in due time, he guessed. He had waited a decade for this opportunity. A few more days – even weeks – would not make a difference.

- “One day you will sit on the Ruby throne, my liege.”
- “And one day you will be lord commander of my Ruby guard, Caspanar Igorsky”
- “May Andoletta watch over you.”

After embracing, they said goodbye. Caspanar was about to ascend the stairway, when a figure emerged from the shadows. He knew he’d been there all along, but did not wish to give away that knowledge. After feigning surprise, he uttered a gruff salute. He neither had the time nor the patience to exchange pleasantries.

- “Let’s cut straight to the chase: You are to watch over Quentin at all times. Should a fool moon occur and his chains be broken, assist the sentinels in restraining him. He will not maintain his form indefinitely. In the event he does escape, you will pursue him and bring him back alive I cannot make it clear enough that should he not be returned – or no longer be among the living – our contract is null and void.”

He tossed a purse in the rogue’s direction.

- “Don’t be mistaken by the amount of coins in there. Platinum is hard enough to find, as you probably know better than me. You will receive a hundred gold’s worth for this job. Should he break out and you bring him back alive, you will receive another hundred on top of that. Double if you can restrain him in these premises without him taking people’s lives.”

Cynir Cador smiled and started counting coins.

Now it was Caspanar’s turn to vanish in the shadows.

Who watches the watchman?

There was darkness. An infinite darkness that stretched on for an eternity and then some more.

Although he couldn’t see, he felt he was spinning around, moving at a great speed.

Emrys tried to reconstruct his memories, tried to grasp how he’d gotten here. He knew that the why and where would reveal themselves eventually, that was of no importance for now.

He remembered wandering through the abandoned temple of Desna, built in a structure older than the worship of that god herself. He remembered how Baroness Stonemark got embraced by the Star Stone and how the sign of Desna had become imprinted upon her hand. When they’d tried to leave the ruin, they…he…he couldn’t remember anything…just pain…and then the darkness…

Presently, a faint smell tickled his nostrils, not unlike the scent of smouldering pine cones, and he felt the cold darkness receding, reluctantly letting go before the oncoming heat. The scent became stronger as the heat increased in intensity. He felt flames lick at his face. He felt the cold disappear from his toes, just as if he’d gone out hunting on a snowy winter’s day and had come home to warm his feet by the hearth.

Emrys allowed a smile to come to his lips as relief washed over his heart. He was in the warm embrace of his Lord Erastil now and he took great comfort in it.

Then the darkness turned to grey and shapes became visible, densely clustered, long and with spidery limbs reaching for the sky.
No, not spiders, trees!
He was in a forest, a dark wood with bare trees with scorched boughs.
Why have you brought me here?
Emrys called out to the appearing trees, but no answer came.
And then the view fully materialised.

The decaying forest made way for a clearing and in the centre of it, not 50 feet from where he was, he recognised the jagged rock that served as an altar to Nyri…to Her. He knew that altar too well.

He caught movement out of the corner of his eye and froze, becoming one with his surroundings.

A young man stepped into the clearing, dark hair moist with sweat clung to his face and he wore a robe that had been black once, but was now mottled with use and drained of colour. Over his shoulders he bore a live deer, bound up by its legs and carried it towards the altar.

Emrys gasped as he realised when he was. This, this was the day, the day he ran from this terrible place and from this horrible servitude! But why? Why had Erastil brought him here?

The youth deposited the deer on the altar and the beast started yammering mournfully, a guttural sound that cut through bone. Emrys watched as the young man drew a dagger from his belt, an ugly thing, made of hammered star iron, and started dancing around the altar, reciting the incantation of sacrifice to the Lady.

He looked around the clearing, looked for the sign. It would happen any minute now..

A nagging doubt started to grow in the old druid as nothing did happen and the young was nearing the end of his ritual. The deer bleated woefully and Emrys swore the creature looked him straight in the eyes.
Then he knew.
He started moving forward as the change came over him. His limbs grew longer and hair started sprouting from his body as his clothes melted into his new form. With a holy light radiating from its antlers the huge silver stag then stepped into the clearing and let out a mighty bellow, silencing the doe and stopping the young man in his chant.

You! She told me you would come to stop me! You have only come here to die!”, the young man raised his dagger and as he made to charge the great stag, let out a yelp and dropped the burning dagger from his hand.

“Silence!”, Emrys exclaimed in the form favoured by his Lord, “You are not some witless worm to be dangled about by this harlot! You are Emrys, son of Aelle of Silverhall! You are freed now from her sorcery, just as you will free that innocent creature!”

The stag stepped forward, its majestic form towering over his younger self that was helplessly clutching his burnt hand.
“Free that sacrifice and free yourself.”, he spoke in a more soothing voice, but no less commanding . The human cringed and started crawling backward towards the altar. Compunction forcing him to his feet, his hands moving to untie the creature without his conscious effort.

Tears flowed freely from the young druid’s eyes as the deer bleated one last time and bolted off through the trees.

What have you done? What did you make me do?

What needed to be done. Now the time has come for you to run too. Do not stop running, not until your feet can’t carry you any further. Look then into your heart, and know that you have run into a new life in service and love of the Lord Erastil and that he will guide you and watch over you for the remainder of your days.

The stag watched on as the young man turned on his heels and started running away. He knew he’d run for a long time and he knew that maybe he was running still.

The forest faded again and a different smell made itself know, horses and the open plains. As the sound of hoof beats grew louder, Emrys felt the spinning sensation return and he awoke with a loud yell.

A Dream of Domination
Prepare or perish

Vordakai sat on his large stone throne, a grotesque statue, still and silent, its single red eye staring beyond the darkness of the room. His foes had assembled at the gates of his ancient abode. Through the eyes of Horagnamon, his loyal familiar, and the visions granted by the Lesser Oculus, he had followed their journey from the moment they had entered Varnhold Pass. Apart from the one who perished by the maws of the Worm, there were left six heroes: the Queen, the Shaman, the Mage, the Lightbringer, the Destroyer and the Shadow. The Cyclopean warlord and sage had tracked their accomplishments, continuously balancing their potential value against the danger they presented to his plans. The knowledge he had sucked from some of the Varnholdian minds had offered him glimpses of the current state of the world, of Brevic politics, and of the lay of the Stolen Land. As such, he planned to recruit the Queen as the face of his imperialist design. His eldritch domination of her mind would be strengthened by her own expansionist desires. Eventually, after a few years of patiently and secretively building his forces, an army of the living and the undead would engulf Brevoy – a divided nation that was ripe to pluck anyway – laying the foundations of a new Casmar Empire.

As usual, Vordakai’s mind dwelled on the Great Observatory. From the bits and pieces he had scrapped from the brains of the Varnholdians and the information Horagnamon had gathered, he had concluded that some unknown force had taken over the Observatory. That force had been able to use the powers of the Greater Oculus – to some extent. The wizard’s cautious nature had prevented him from probing deeper into the Observatory’s current state of affairs, let alone risk a teleport to the place. First he had to consolidate his position in the Stolen Lands. No one should know of his existence until he crushed the Ruby Throne under his Cyclopean weight – which brought him back to the party that stood uninvited at his door.

Vordakai admired the boldness, tenacity and creativity of his foes. These were qualities he sought in living minions. However, they also showed a tendency to be ill-prepared and to act with ill-considered haste. A dangerous flaw that the wizard would exhaust to its fullest. The group was not prepared to face an opponent such as himself. At no time they would present a danger, as his spells could utterly destroy them, and his undead qualities would protect him from most of the damage they would inflict. But even if they realized this, they would not simply surrender. The Shaman and Lightbringer were driven by principles that would necessitate the warlord to dispense with them swiftly. The Destroyer and the Shadow could be swayed more easily if their lives were at stake. The Mage… perhaps he could be turned by a promise of ancient lore and power… yet he also displayed a stubborn loyalty to the Varnlings. Remained the Queen. She would probably give in if she realized that she would lose her life and that obedience was the only way she could keep her realm. In the beginning she would fake her loyalty, of course, but in time she would become entangled in his dominion. And if she refused… he had other means to convince her.


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