The Path of Kings

Everybody lives
Just this once

“_…and with a fell blow Baroness Hegelinde of the Stonemark behaeded the Lady with the Green Hair, effectively ending the invasion of Golarion from the Fellnight Realm. The heroes quickly returned to the Prime Material Plane after having vanquished the mighty would-be Goddess and her lieutenants. Upon seeing the grisly trophy which the heroes had claimed, the Army of Darkness routed and the world would see another sunlit day. The brave men and women that ventured into the Fellnight to bring this about were Hegelinde, Baroness of the Stonemark; Dashira, her bodyguard; Sarjen, a master of the arcane; Arcadius, a great captain of the Winter Court; Fingon, Olin, Sharat, and Olfir, his best swords; and the author of these pages.
The last of those who ventured into that realm was perhaps the bravest of them all, for he knew best the dangers that lurked there, Perlivash, Guardian of the Woods and Emissary of the Seelie Court.

And so, just two years after setting out from Restov to colonise the Stolen Lands, ends the first chapter of the establishment of the Stonemark. The following years would be spent combating the Evil necromancer, Vordakai and consolidating the reign of King Quentin Rogarvia. _"

“But that,” though Emrys as he put down his quill, sanded the page and closed the book with a big thud, “is a tale for another occasion.”

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Last flight of the raven
A Necromancer's Gambit

Arran “the Mouse” rode in front of his two companions. After exchanging their heavy armor for some lighter gear, they had left The Crook for Varnhold. The skies already began to darken by the onset of dusk when the gates of the fortified mountain village closed behind them. It was night when they finally arrived at the outskirts of Varnhold. Silently they dismounted their steeds and sneaked towards the small village. Approaching the first houses, it immediately became clear that Varnhold had been attacked. Windows, doors and in some places even walls and roofs were broken, torn down, or still smoldering from ravishing fires.

They inspected a series of households, workshops, and farms, and discovered that their occupants had either fled, probably to Kiravoy’s Rest in the north, or had been viciously slain. The scene in one house, where a whole family, husband, wife and an indiscernible number of children were slaughtered, their members nonchalantly strewn over the floor, walls, and table, was too much for Mouse. The little soldier stumbled outside. For a moment he was violently sick. Then he heard a faint, whimpering noise coming from the ruins of a building that had been an inn.

Carefully, Mouse entered the premises, drawing his short sword. Although he didn’t look much of a fighter, he was a trained soldier of the Swordlords and could stand his own in any battle. His lack of strength was compensated by his quickness of movement and wit. Still, he wasn’t too fond of a potential encounter with one of the creatures that had ransacked the town.

“Anybody there?” Arran whispered.

Silence.

“It’s alright, we’re men from Restov, sent by the Swordlords – humans,” he added.

Then, slowly, a porthole in the floor opened. Two pairs of eyes stared at him, reflecting the light of the moon that fell through the broken window shutters of the inn. A woman and her child.

“I’m Arran,” Mouse said softly. “It’s alright, they’re gone now.”

Cautiously, the woman climbed up the stairs, carrying her child on her arm. There was something strange with the kid, but Mouse couldn’t put his finger on it. Instead his gaze was drawn to the woman, a fair copper-haired – or was it black? difficult to see in the darkness of the room – maiden. She sank on the floor and began to weep.

“By Erastil, it’s over,” she sobbed.

Arran reached over to her, clumsily patting her hair. “There, there. You’re safe. What is your name?”

“Hekazta,” she stammered. The young woman suddenly rose, her eyes flashing wildly from left to right. “Two dozen! There were two dozen of those… monsters. Huge like the town chapel. One-eyed and reeking of death and decay. They were armed with rocks and enormous weapons. Breaking and slashing and killing everything in their way…” She sank on the ground, clenching the child close to her. “And at the back of this nightmarish raiding party there was one of them, his single eye shining with an evil red light, shouting commands in a harsh, alien tongue.” The woman shivered.

Mouse was unable to suppress a cold shiver down his spine himself. “This wasn’t the work of centaurs, then?” – he uttered. The maiden shook her head and gestured with her free hand at the destroyed inn. “This isn’t the work of barbaric humanoids, but of demons from the Abyss itself.”

Arran told Hekazta to wait while he called the others. She recounted the story to them and told them the monsters suddenly halted their rampage, after which they left for the east. The Swordlord horsemen discussed their course of action and decided that one of them would head back to The Crook and tell the others what had befallen Varnhold, while the remaining two followed the trail of the demonic horde to the east. Fate – or rather the drawing of straws – chose Mouse as the messenger. The little man offered to accompany the maiden to The Crook, but she said she wanted to go to her house first, collect what was left of her belongings, and then leave for Kiravoy’s Rest, where she hoped the rest of her family was. Although Arran pleaded with her to go with him, Hekazta was adamant in her decision, and soon the three Swordlord riders took off, Mouse in the direction of The Crook, and the two others towards the east.

Hekazta waited until they were out of sight, then she kicked the child to the floor. “All too easy,” she grinned to the youngling, which was slowly transforming into a little ugly spriggan. Hekazta herself shapechanged back into her primal horned and goat-legged appearance. “Let’s return to…” she stopped in mid-sentence, staring at a one-eyed raven sitting on the roof of a house across the inn. For a second, Azkathe’s wild and corruptive fey spirit touched the cold and calculating malevolence of Vordakai’s gaze, peering through his familiar. Whereas the evil nature of Nyrissa’s underlings lied in their taking pleasure in death and decay as the harbingers of new life, Vordakai’s character was totally alien to any sentient creature.

The raven mockingly crowed at her, then it spread its wings and flew away, in the direction of The Crook. It took Azkathe a few heart beats to regain her composure. “Oh no you won’t,” she muttered. She shapechanged into an eagle and flew quickly after her prey. Vordakai’s raven frantically tried to outmaneuver her, but her superior shape made it an easy target. The fey creature grabbed the familiar with her talons. “I’m bringing you to The Crook myself, you filthy spy.”

At that point, Vordakai, miles away from both of them, coldly decided to sacrifice one of his pawns. Weighing the loss of his loyal familiar against the possible death of an enemy, he cast a ravishing spell through his familiar, damaging both the raven and Azkathe. The eagle screeched and fell down, still clutching the blasted raven in her talons. Azkathe crushed on the ground, transforming into her primal shape, unconscious, or worse…

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Dear diary

Day 1

I believe the phrase rimes with “clucking bell”. One hears rumbling and noise, and of course there were the reports of the plants and animals, but if the tracks are to be believed, this is, quite literally, gigantic. Time to go see for myself.

Day 3

I’m screwed. One hears the legends about these regions and prepares for the worst, but this is quite distinctly beyond what could be described as “the worst”. Twenty-four undead cyclopes, plus one lich Necromancer of the same size. So actually, to be just a tad more precise, I should probably say the continent is screwed. What’s worse: they seem to be heading north, to these human warlords’ territories. Things haven’t been all that quiet around here since those improvising bands of adventurers started meddling around in the area to begin with, turns out that half-whit excuse for a ranger of theirs stirred up some forces way beyond his worst nightmares. Damned amateur.
Well, small chance things’ll be getting back to peaceful around these parts with a centuries-old evil freak of nature and his hubbies calling the shots. Looks like I’ll be heading north and offering my services to this baroness, which is the nearest thing to an authority figure around those parts right now. But first: time to run some errands down south.

Day 16

Were these cyclopes waiting for something? You start looking for their tracks north and south, turns out they’re still hiding in their mountains and only just getting a move on. Trying to get their timing right, maybe some part of a bigger plan? Also: turns out things could have been hundreds of Cyclopes worse. I may want to look into that later. For now, let’s follow this circus, see where they’re headed.

Day 20

To this Maegar Varn’s capital, that’s where they’re headed. And they’re not alone: rumours have it that out west, the entire damned Stonemark is on its way there as well, and not for tea and cookies. Well, this freakshow I’ve been tracking for the last couple of days is going to have to follow the roads north anyway. If I cut northwest through the mountains here, chances are I can gain a day or so on them and give those northerners a bit of a heads-up. And maybe a chance to run.

Day 26

Looks like everyone likes taking their sweet time getting to where they want to be around this place. Which, in the case of this, let’s call them versatile, Stonemark lot, seems to be “toward wherever this Necromancer is headed”. Brave. Apparently, they’ve managed to get the horse people on their side, which I suppose shows some kind of competence. Also, they’ve forged some temporary alliance with these Fey creatures I kept running into out west a couple of years ago, which I suppose shows an equal helping of foolishness. Better stay out of sight for the time being and find out a bit more about their game plan.

Day 30

Well, you can’t stay out of the limelight forever, can you? I’ve crossed the river and thrown the dice: Stonemark it is, for the time being. Also, I might just have stumbled upon the possible plan of these Cyclopes, the one that I was suspecting a whiff of a couple of days ago: this Varn fellow. There’s something more than suspicious about him: guy reappears out of nowhere after months (which he very likely spent in the hospitable claws of a power-hungry undead sorcerer, I might add) with a one-eyed raven on his shoulder, and not one of these Swordlord types seems to get even the least bit suspicious: what in seven hells is that about?! He reeks of undead, I can almost smell it.
Thing is: these Stonemark fellows actually have the right hunch, but Varn was getting pretty close to having his fellow lordlings convinced of some kind of botched-up complot theory against him. Meanwhile, out east some far, ahum, greater danger is getting, well, dangerously close. And so a Half-Elf sees himself forced to step in. Let’s hope these scouts the Swordlords sent out manage to get a good look at the giant shadow lurking over them. In the meantime, if only we were able to find out what this Varn fellow is and what he’s about, that would probably help “our” (I’ll need to get reacquainted with that word) cause a considerable deal as well. They’re all huddling up again tomorrow, I’ll sleep on it a bit, see if I can come up with a plan by that time.

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The Return of the King

The Bristling Boar was alive with a busy bustle.

Some locals were concerned about how the war in the south would affect their crops, whilst others shared their knowledge about the peace that was sure to come with the crowning of the new Surtova Queen.

Tradesmen from everywhere plied their trade, selling and purchasing, but above all listening to the rumours of this burgeoning fiefdom. Their wealth would grow as stability rose in the Barony of the Stonemark, but it would likewise diminish if the realm fell to chaos and civil war. The recent execution of some dissidents in Rivercamp by Ivan ivanovich and his men had already caused the more jittery of the traders to move their business to the relative safety of Olegton, but even here whispers of revolution weren’t unheard of.

The night went on, argument flowing into argument, politics turning to agriculture turning to the weather and then to politics again, when suddenly the mummers performing on the stage of the inn went quiet and scurried of the stage.

In strode the Baroness Hegelinde, Lady Stonemark, resplendent in her armour as it reflected the light of the room’s many candles, the shadowy flames of the central fireplace turning her countenance grave and regal. Her shadow followed her, the huge half-orc known as Neega Black, whose mere presence rendered Hegelinde’s armour obsolete.

Three other men completed the party. The old druid, Emrys Cadarn, clad in white robes, walked next to a man in the prime of his life. Even next to the druid he seemed tall , towering over all, his long black hair pulled back into a tight braid, his eyes as grey and as deep as the treacherous sea. Last came the small wizard, Sarjen, a man of the Nomen Province, a pensive look on his face as he scanned the crowd.

The tall warrior bestrode the stage, followed by Emrys while the three others took place before the dais.
The druid raised his voice and it boomed through the inn.

“Hearken ye all and take heed, before you stands Quentin of the blood of kings!”

The old man raised his hands and held out two magnificent jewels, spheres of the deepest orange. He walked three times around Quentin Rogarvia, reciting the incantations of purification and kingship, waving the eyes of Erastil ceremoniously about to drive away demons and foul spells, and then stopped and faced the now kneeling man.

“Upon your shoulders I place the burden of kingship and in the light of Erastil your house will bathe.as long as righteousness and honour prevail in your line.”

Emrys pulled forth from his sleeves a fine silver circlet, embellished with what shone like the finest mother-of-pearl and placed it on the head of the king.

“Arise now, Quentin, first of the name, King of Brevoy, Prince of Isschia, Lord Rogarvia and Protector of the Realm. May your reign be blessed.”

Half the crowd stared on slacked-jawed, while the other half burst out in wild cheers and applause.

Hegelinde knelt and pledged the loyalty of the Stonemark to the Rogarvian throne and before she had gotten up, word of the return of the king sped towards Brevoy as spies and traders ran from the coming storm.

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War is brewing
Between hammer and anvil

Chancellor Yigor Surtova started when his elegant niece stormed into his offices, one manicured hand waiving a letter while the other clenched into a pale-white fist along her side.

“Have you read this, Yigor?! How dare they?!” Natala Surtova’s bright green eyes flashed dangerously, and her curly red hair danced like small flames around her shoulders.

The chancellor sighed and raised himself, bowing slightly to his niece.

“Your Majesty… Lady Sarrona Lebeda’s reaction is all but a surprise. They are grasping at straws and will use any excuse not to formalize your kingship – even such a faint rumor as the appearance of a legit Rogarvia heir.”

“I am not Your Majesty yet, Yigor, and it seems I won’t be for some time to come! House Orlovsky has also sent word that they have to consider this Quentin’s claim to the throne before they acknowledge me as their Queen. And House Garess and Medvyed won’t recognize my sovereignty as long as these Houses are keeping their counsel. And all of this due to that meddling Dwarven wilderness wench! What does she want anyway?”

Yigor nodded. “Yes, Your… Highness, that seems to me the most important question at the moment. I would suggest a cautious course of action, perhaps granting her the title of Countess in exchange for…”

No, Yigor. These Stonemark upstarts have to be taught that they do not cross the interests of House Surtova. We will crush them as the little dung flies they are.”

The Chancellor raised his eyebrows. “Your Highness, I don’t know if it is wise…”

“Do not contradict me, Yigor, I am in a foul mood and I don’t have any patience for weakness at this point.”

“Of course, your Highness, but may I advice a… violent solution by proxy?”

Natala Surtova calmed somewhat and sank into one of the ebony chairs in Yigor’s office. “Speak, Chancellor.”

“I have heard that there is some bad blood between the Stonemark and their former ally, Maegar Varn of the Swordlord Nomen Province. Some internal matter regarding centaurs raiding Nomen towns, who, allegedly, have been supported by the Stonemark. The Swordlords of Restov are neutral in the conflict as Maegar’s niece, Elanna Varn, apparently has sided with the Stonemark. In any case, it would be interesting to support this Maegar against Baroness Hegelinde. We could drop all charges against Elanna Varn for the murder on Noleski and clear the Restov Swordlords name – in exchange they send troops to assist Maegar in handling the centaurs… as well as the Stonemark. Once the centaurs have been defeated, Varn could fabricate some proof of the Stonemark’s involvement and deploy the Swordlord troops, invading the Barony from the East. He could coordinate with your loyal ally, Baron Drelev in the West. Drelev, for his part, could fabricate some frontier dispute and march on the Stonemark from the West. Both armies would crush Hegelinde in the middle, conveniently killing any Rogarvia heir they find standing in their way. Then the demise of Quentin would be merely… collateral damage of this conflict, rather than caused by our interference. As a compelling reward we grant Drelev the Stonemark and the title of Count, while the autonomy of Restov and the Nomen Province is extended… under Your sovereignty, of course.”

Princess Surtova nodded slowly. “We are pleased with your plan, Chancellor. Make it happen, and be careful that none of the Great Houses gets wind of any of this.”

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The Maiden, The Dwarf and the Wardrobe
Not a CS Lewis story

A letter to the Baroness:

_

“My dear Lady of the Stonemark

I wish that the circumstances for this writing were less dire.

I have escorted Elana Varn from Olegton so that I could have her hold council with Drogar Dragoneye.
I have relayed to them the story of our encounter with the dread Necromancer and pressed the importance of the need to ally the human and demihuman population of the Province with the Centaur Kwa’s.
In their wisdom, they agreed, but when all formalities had been met, a rather unpleasant surprise reared its head.

Maegar Varn.

Maegar Varn has returned to Varn Hold, claiming that the Stonemark and the Centaurs are in an insidious alliance to divide the Nomen Province amongst themselves.
While I was able to convince the Dragoneye and Lady Varn of the contrary, I was unable to sway Varn’s Master at Arms, Howitt Gurney. Gurney commands a lot of respect from the Varnholdians and because of his support, Maegar Varn was able to retake his seat of power.

The Dragoneye has returned to the Crook taking his heavy infantry with him. Maegar Varn only holds a regiment of his lighter troops to defend his capital, but, needless to say, Drogar will not attack Varn before he shows clear signs of the Necromancer’s influence, nor will he tolerate a military incursion from our side.

I ride now to meet with the Kwa’s, they must be told of our misfortunes in the South and of Maegar Varn’s reappearance. I will have to do my utmost to convince them to not immediately go to war against the Necromancer and his followers. The cost in lives would be too great. They will need to be convinced to hold back their attack until we can marshal more forces to our side and launch a strong and coordinated offensive.

It is my belief that Varn has been put under a mind-altering spell of terrible power and while I have not the mean to break this enchantment, I am convinced that the curse upon our old friend will be broken once the Necromancer has met his doom.

Written in the light of Erastil’s Wisdom

E.

PS: I have made free to have our friend sent to Waterfort with a suitable escort."_

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The Kyonin Connection
Elves on the march(es)

Kaerishiel Neirenar briefly nodded at the Viridian guards at the palace entrance. He passed through the towering silver and crystal double doors and went up a short, broad flight of marble stairs that led into a vast hall. Light filtered in from above through wide crystal windows to focus on a dais perhaps a hundred yards distant. Several richly garbed elves, speaking quietly among themselves, stood in a gathering near the dais – Kaerishiel recognized four leading members of the powerful Winter Council: Arlindil, Malindil, Perelir, and, of course, Hialin. On the dais was placed a single throne of living vines and delicate wooden branches. And seated upon that throne was a regal, beautiful elf woman with an intense gaze and almost challenging expression. Upon her brow was a crown of delicrate vines and violets.

Telandia Edasseril, Sovereign of the Elven Race, Queen of Kyonin, and bearer of the Viridian Crown, smiled fleetingly at Kaerishiel’s entrance. The elven warrior bowed deeply at the Queen and the members of the Winter Court, who acknowledged his arrival by the briefest of nods.

“Your Majesty” – Hialin seemed to continue a debate – “the messages we have received from our brothers and sisters at Crying Leaf cannot be any clearer. The dark ones are growing in power, and they have taken over the western remnants of the old Margreve. There appears to be some unholy alliance between the cursed ones and the twisted feykin of the forest. We should act now, send an army, eradicate the dark menace, and deal for once and for all with our Shame before it infests the surface world.” As he spoke the ancient elven language he wove a theme of defiance and authority in his words. “This, Your Majesty, is the opinion of the Winter Council.”

Telandia smiled coldly at Hialin. “Your opinion is noted, Hialin. As always, the Winter Council stands ready to aid the Crown with its vast knowledge and wisdom. We appreciate your organization’s historical dedication to the survival of the elven people and its role to upheld civilization in the absence of legitimate rule.” The Queen’s elegant voice emphasized these two last words, which seemed to contain a hint of challenge and anger. "But the Winter Council’s concern about the rise of the accursed ones should not cloud its political judgement. Were we to raise an army and send it through the River Kingdoms, what do you think would happen? The little bandit kingdoms between Kyonin and Mivon would think we were an invasion force, and bleed our forces before we even got to the outskirts of Western Margreve. Then there is the nation of Pitax, do you think that deluded madman Irovetti would grant us passage? And finally, let us not forget that Brevoy claims the area as well. The humans would not look kindly upon an elven invasion of their “stolen” lands." The elven Sovereign shook her head. “Your plan is madness. If we didn’t know better, we would almost think the Winter Court was looking for a reason to put Kyonin’s armies under its direct command.” Her last words articulated both doubt and certainty.

After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence, Perelir, priestess of Calistria and member of the Winter Court, spoke. “As always, our role is to serve, not to rule the elven people, Your Majesty. We understand your objections to our… suggestion, but, speaking from our long experience in these matters, we would not want to make the mistake of underestimating the consequences of a resurgence of the dark disease. We cannot tolerate its existence on the surface. So we have sworn a long time ago.” The priestess’s voice expressed necessity and urgency.

The elven Queen slightly raised her eyebrow. “Under the guidance of the Winter Court the elves have lived in isolation long enough. There are other ways to deal with our… problem. Since the last decades our nation has not only acquired its share of enemies, we have also gathered a group of allies. Apart from our cousins in Hymbria, we have built strong ties with the nation of Mivon, which borders the stolen lands to the north, and Pitax to the west. We could support their war effort against Pitax, and in exchange ask them to deal with the dark ones.”

Armistril of the Winter Council shook his head. "For all your insights in regional politics, Your Majesty, you do not appear to know the most recent facts. Mivon has barely escaped defeat in a battle against creatures from Eastern Margreve. The southern Swordlords are weakened and unable to withstand Pitax…”

Hialin interrupted Armistril. "There may be another way, which satisfies both the Winter Council’s desire for a swift and final solution, and the Queen’s political concerns. The fall of the elven empire thousands of years ago has left many ruins buried beneath the remains of Margreve. One of these sites, the old city of Celwynvian had an elven gate. If we are to locate the ruins and reactivate the gate, we would be able to send troops directly from our capital Iadara to the Stolen Lands, bypassing the Riverlands’ rogue nations.”

With her soft voice, Perelir added to Hialin’s words: “According to my research, Celwynvian is located in East Margreve, contemporarily known as the Narlmarches. Since a few months, this area falls under the dominion of a Dwarven Brevic warlord, Hegelinde Stonemark.”

Hialin completed Perelir’s thought. “We would send a small contingent of Shin’Rakorath to the Narlmarches, to find Celwynvian and negotiate the army’s passing with the warlord.”

Telandia glanced at Kaerishiel, who still stood silently before the council. “We presume that it is captain Neirenar who will lead the company?”

The elven ranger bowed deeply before his Queen, remaining silent. Telandia’s gaze returned to the members of the Winter Council. “Well, it seems you have had ample time to scheme and now there are few alternatives left to deal with the dark menace. We agree with your plan, but for a small modification: when the Lantern Bearers negotiate a safe passing for our army, neither a member of the Shin’Rakorath, nor of the Winter Council will lead the elven troops.”

Hialin frowned. “Who will command our army then, Your Majesty?”

Queen Telandia raised her head high and spoke authoritatively: “We will.”

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The Dying of the Light

The huge white stag skirted the edge of the bluff just as dawn broke in the East, the first rays of the Sun brightly colouring the grassy plains before them.
They had run all night and the stag’s pelt was matted with sweat and grime, its three passengers looking as ragged as the beast itself.
In the distance smoke could be seen rising from a small collection of tents.

The great beast knelt down and allowed its tired passengers to dismount before reverting to its human shape.
Emrys looked older and more bedraggled as he moved with a painful delicacy, the bones in his body still recovering from Vordekai’s terrible magic. He turned to the dwarf woman and spoke with a tired voice.

My Lady, you should go with Oswald and seek aid from the plains nomads. Lord Syagrius saw fit to ally with them and they are sure to provide you with safe passage back to Waterfort. Given the circumstances, I think it best that Master Sarjen accompany you there.

The druid took a few halting steps towards the edge of the cliff and leaned heavily on his staff.

We lost many good men and trusted friends , but I fear we have little time to mourn them now. The army of the Lady with the Green Hair is still at large in the West and now our Eastern flank is left open. We should turn to Brevoy for aid and fortify the border towns.

Emrys turned to look back at the mountains, their flanks still blanketed in a deep impenetrable darkness and he let out a sigh.

I’m going back to look for Neega. If you’ve received no word from me within the fortnight, you should seek counsel with Magistra Nadya. She’s not to be trusted, but I know of none other that could shed more light on the Enemy’s weaknesses.

The old druid’s body began to morph and twist as he grew into the stag form again and with a last flick of his ears he turned and sped off towards the mountains and the Valley of the Dead.

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The Wrath of a Cyclops Lich Scorned
Plan B

The Cyclops lich was displeased. He had underestimated the brazen audacity of his foes – especially the sacrifice of the halfling and the warrior-priest, which had enabled the rest of the group to flee. Furthermore, unexpectedly, Hegelinde’s willpower had withstood his potent enchantment. His plan to command the Stonemark through the dwarf proxy had fallen apart. Moreover, the Stonemark leaders now knew his true nature, his powers, and his secret abode, and it was only a matter of time until they would knock at the door of his tomb anew, perhaps with an army and mighty weapons designed to defeat him.

Vordakai strode through his tomb until he arrived at the room he had started to call, mockingly, the Hall of Feasts. Despite his undead character, the cyclops had kept his cruel sense of humor. The bronze door opened onto a short dais looking out over a large chamber. Thick pillars ascended to a twenty-foot-high ceiling, while a wide stone staircase climbed to a darkened gallery above. The purpose of the chamber was apparent from the great stone table running across its center. Dozens of seats had been set about this massive affair and propped upon them was a feast of horror. Each chair held the corpse of a human locked in its death throes, its mouth agape in anguish, the top of its cranium brutally removed, and the brains within excised.

The lich grinned. He had dined well with his Varnholdian guests. At the head of the table Maegar Varn was seated. The governor’s memories had served Vordakai well, allowing him to get a grip on Brevic politics and the general lay of the Stolen Lands. With the cyclops’ failure to recruite the Baroness of the Stonemark, Varn would have to serve another purpose. With ease Vordakai plucked Maegar’s corpse from its chair. He would need a powerful spell to infuse the body with life, a spell that allowed the corpse to regain its mental powers while keeping its human form. The governor would return to Varnhold, reclaim his dominion, and rebuilt its strength. He was the rightful ruler of the Nomen Province, after all, the lich chuckled. Meanwhile, Vordakai would raise his own army and crush the irritating horsemen. It was, after all, no coincidence that the hundreds of cyclopes who were entombed in the Valley of the Dead were buried with a black onyx gem clutched in their fist…

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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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