Chapter I. Against the Drow
Legionnaires: CPT KinCade, CPT Gilgareth, LT Sett, LT Moe, SPC Terwyn, SGT-MAJ Garrant
The day after the insurrection’s conclusion, six legionnaires prepared to go through the looking glass in Thalargos’ sanctum to pursue his drow allies—KinCade, Gilgareth, Sett, Moe, Terwyn, and Garrant. Gelben and the newly arrived Marshal Greylin Lofalkin departed on a tour of the villages outside the city to conduct healing and show the Nuadan standard. Dornar was intent on unknown negotiations with several Huatepec and Itzapan notables, frequently including Prince Pacal who was in town, as well as an Iron Leaguer wizard named Fortunato de Viscaya. Huitley was still absent in her village far to the south, and Vogon stayed on duty guarding the betting funds chest.
Identical letters arrived for Lieutenants Dmitry and Moe from Archmage Liet. He invited the senior wizards in Aztaltica to a meeting on the 3rd day of Ches to discuss arcane phenomena in this new land as well as his own initiatives. He also invited the wizards to participate in the First Dweomerlists of Aztaltica, a ritualized arcane spell duel with elaborate rules and meant to be non-lethal. After speaking to the new Viceroy, Liet and Cordell agreed that a display of arcane might would be good to impress the natives as well as bolster the morale of the Southrons, and for Liet, solidify his reputation as Archmage. After all, the gold dragon mage was new in the role, having always been in Gondal’s shadow back in Bywater, and the expensive spectacle was in the great tradition of “bread and circuses” the Videssians so often used to curry public favor.
As the two legionnaire wizards pondered the idea of participating in these public spell duels in several days’ time, General Cordell arrived in the sanctum. He was overwhelmed with revulsion, looking at the implements of torture, but he soon regained his composure, and sat the six legionnaires in the attack party down to discuss tactics. They were to pursue the drow and kill them if possible, but retreat if they encountered insurmountable resistance. Cordell desired information about the drow strength and motives, but this was more than a simple scouting mission—they were to slay as many as possible as well.
Garrant was first through the gate, and appeared in the middle of a small encampment in a jungle clearing, facing four drow warriors, a caster (Firebringer Glannath) and a scout leader (Kaxat T’sarran). These “jungle drow” wore odd chitinous armor and fought with exotic long knives—more like short swords but oddly weighted. They were clearly a well drilled military unit, as they gained skirmishing combat benefits from their scout commander. Garrant swiftly slew the first warrior, as Sett came through next and the other legionnaires followed one-by-one. The drow caster read a scroll and created a wall of fire around the mirror gate—very effective as the legionnaires had to breach it to engage. Spells rained back and forth, as Sett bravely leapt forward to attack. KinCade circled around the other side to encircle the drow sorcerer, who uttered “My Life for the Scorpion” and burst a fireball at his feet, killing himself and catching several legionnaires. The drow scout leader, seeing his men decimated, fled into the jungle, no doubt to warn his comrades.
The legionnaires did not pursue immediately, but set about healing and looting. Terwyn tracked a faint trail through the jungle, while Gil used his wilderness scout abilities to clear a path and keep their pace up. Gil went forward alone to a fork in the road and approached a small hill with a hedge of spikes pointed outward. As he came around behind the redoubt, another band of drow screamed “attack!”—six warriors chased him, while the previous scout leader spring attacked from the jungle and jumped back into hiding. Also, two assassins—Drow “Poisoners”—leapt out at the back of the party and struck. In seconds Terwyn was poisoned and nearly dead, but after the advantage of surprise faded, the tide swung toward the legionnaires. Sett and a poisoner dueled for some time, but after the six warriors fell, the drow scout called on his two poisoners to retreat into the jungle. Again, the legionnaires did not follow into the dense undergrowth, where one could see no further than 10 feet.
The band pressed on down the path until they came to a rickety bridge, 50’ above a roaring river. Looking carefully beneath, KinCade saw that the bridge had been reinforced in several places, and you could jump from one safe point to another in an elaborate pattern. Using a rope, they sent Sett over to scout the path and pour sand on the safe areas. As the other legionnaires began to follow, Gil heard movement in the brush--presumably the scout and assassins ready to attack. Using a communication spell, Gil warned his allies across the bridge of a possible attack. The band cast another tranche of protective spells, but the attack never came—presumably the drow had overheard the warning and were content to stay in the jungle for now.
With new spells up and no apparent combat, the band decided to swiftly press forward, rounding one bend into a large pasture where several dinosaur-like creatures with saddles grazed—clearly used as some sort of mounts. Gil led the scouting effort again, but the legionnaires swiftly formed up as the animals charged and were swiftly slain. Meanwhile, Sett in the rearguard heard movement crossing the bridge, and was soon joined by KinCade. Both rogues soon found themselves glowing with Faerie Fire, but were not attacked, and they heard movement pass out of hearing ahead and up a hill toward a wooden palisade fort. The band didn’t even pause, as their defensive spells and Moe’s summoned Lantern Archon were soon to expire. So, in a rough, strung out line they charged up the hill path toward the fort, a steep drop into the river on the left and a 10’ high rocky bluff on the right.
Rather than go straight up the path, Gil ran forward, climbed the rocky bluff and headed into deep jungle, running right by one of the three surviving, hiding drow. Likewise, he drew archer fire and clerical and sorcerer spells from the fort, as once he climbed the bluff he was in full view. Captain Prindle barely escaped with his life, and he fled directly into the jungle to down a healing potion. Moe levitated up above the jungle canopy and summoned a Griffon to attack the fort, while the others scrambled up the buff as best they could—a risky move, yet they feared traps by the crafty drow on the exposed trail. Terwyn fell the first time, but managed to make it up the second attempt. Moe cast a Wall of Force to block spellfire from one of the fort’s three towers. The half elf followed this with a very effective Explosive Fireball on the fort ramparts, knocking several people back into the fort, delaying the spell attacks as they healed and remounted the ramparts.
Meanwhile, a great horn from within the fort summoned a pair of huge monstrous scorpions, one of which unerringly homed in on Gil, the other KinCade—both were attempting to hide in the dense undergrowth but the creatures’ tremorsense guided their aim. Both legionnaires were soon grappled with fiendish efficiency. Between Garrant’s prodigious blows and some well-placed arrows from Terwyn, the scorpion on KinCade soon fell, while Gil was constricted to unconsciousness.
As the situation looked grim, the Sergeant Major called upon his powers as a Legendary Martinet (the Legion’s drillmaster like Master Sergeant Pelfrey before him) and gave a rallying cry for the legionnaires to aid the fallen captain. Garrant charged the beast, as did Sett and Moe’s summoned griffon. During the commotion, the scout and poisoners resumed their cat and mouse attacks, but once the scorpions fell, they melted into the jungle yet again. Moe just managed to catch the drow scout with a web spell, but he heard the Kaxat rip free an instant later—this was one crafty and frustrating opponent.
The legionnaires briefly discussed whether they had the strength to capture the fort, and decided to press swiftly on. It had been a hasty, tactically messy attack which nearly resulted in multiple casualties, and yet it was working. With swift nods of assent all around, the band decided to trust in Nuada’s strength and Shinare’s luck to see the assault through.
They paused a moment to plan, then Moe dimension doored with Gil, Terwyn, and KinCade to the top of the fort tower. Garrant used his boots of flying to head straight for the top of the second tower, while Sett, wary of the scout commander still in the jungle, opened his Eversmoking Bottle and ran ahead, running with his hand along the palisade wall around the back. From their high vantage point, the legionnaires saw the two enemy casters crouching behind the parapet, and both sides prepared to engage. There was a half-drow, half-giant scorpion beast below them, a scorrow, apparently very similar to the driders back home, as these drow worshipped some scorpion demipower instead of the spider Lolth. The scorrow threw boomerangs at Moe’s mirror images as did most of the six guards.
The drow Firebringer, evidently a sorcerer from the number of spells he’d cast, threw a pair of fireballs into the band’s midst in the tower, and then later on the floor below. Gil was largely ineffective in melee, severely weakened from being poisoned earlier, so the band could not get past the one guard in front of the Firebringer out on the parapet. KinCade tried to tumble through him on the narrow wall walkway, but slipped, and fell right at the mighty scorrow’s feet.
On the other tower, the shaman cast a deadly Poison spell on Garrant, but he shrugged it off, and soon cleaved though the guard and struck a resounding blow that left the shaman cowering helplessly. But then, Terwyn’s archery slew the Firebringer, and Garrant finished off the shaman. However, below, Kincade was struck repeatedly by the dual long knife wielding Scorrow, and barely alive, fell to the ground feigning death. Garrant, seeing another captain who needed help, ignored the last guard in his tower and flew down at the scorpion beast.
Meanwhile, Sett was trotting blindly through the smoke when he plunged straight into quicksand, his momentum carrying him 10 feet in. Treading for his life, he dropped the Eversmoking Bottle into the mire, and tried to climb up the wall. However he slipped, and this time couldn’t keep his head above the muck. Luckily, he’d used KinCade’s message spell to tell the others his situation, but he was very much alone behind the fort in his life and death struggle.
Back inside, Moe levitated out of view on the other side of the fort for a moment, and drew fire from the surviving drow poisoner. The flying Garrant charged down and struck the Scorrow, but for the first time in the long running battle lost grip of his sword, which the creature promptly stood over. Garrant drew his vicious maca and struck another mighty blow, but then was laid low. At this point Kincade got up and ran up the stairs onto the ramparts, only to be struck unconscious by the last guard. Moe rejoined the fray with Orbs of Acid and a very effective Reciprocal Gyre, stunning the beast for a moment. Far on the next hill in the dinosaur pasture, the great obelisk started pulsating with a green light—no doubt the work of the drow scout captain signaling for aid.
So, with three legionnaires left standing and three drow in the fort (a poisoner, guard, and severely wounded Scorrow) and more likely on the way, the situation looked grim—Gil was so weakened his attacks could not be counted on, Moe was almost out of spells, and it was down to Terwyn, who used his Imbued Arrow of Solonar to smite the Scorrow—the blast slayed him as well as the poisoner. Only the last guard was alive, who tried to run off with KinCade’s magic dagger and flee, but was shot down.
Sett was sinking deeper and deeper into the mire at this point, as it became progressively harder to reach the surface—without help he was doomed. Moe flew down and cast a detect magic, fruitlessly searching with his hands until the aura locations showed up. He then dove down and managed to hoist Sett up. Inside the fort, Terwyn was using the last of his healing spells to bring KinCade and Garrant around. The Sergeant-Major ducked into a well appointed room which must have been the scout commander’s, Kaxat T’sarran, and grabbed a handful of ancient books for possible intelligence value. At this point, Sett heard movement in the jungle, and the band feared drow reinforcements were on the way. They briefly formed up in the fort courtyard, then flew over the jungle canopy toward the gates.
As the heavens opened with monsoon rains, pair of sailsnakes pursued them, flying snakes with wide hoods which awkwardly propelled them through the air. The legionnaires easily outpaced them, made it to the mirror, and activated it. The mirror went dull once they reached the other side, it’s powers exhausted. The band left Thalagos’ old sanctum, briefly cleaned themselves up, and went to see the general.
Terwyn leafed through the ancient drow books they’d recovered. One told a tale of the war between the dwarves of old and the drow, raged for centuries before the Cataclysm or Rockfyre as the desert dwarves call it. Another told of the aftermath, how a scant few drow survived and found several of what were once eight Great Forges, left behind by the First Spawning of the Slann. The drow learned to use the forges to create metal clad scorpions as well as Aztaltican crystal based magic items (which could be attached to different weapons), the most powerful of which is a crystal skull about which little was said. The drow appropriated a number of Great Forges and moved them to secret bases where they would not be found. The secret for creating these and other metal-clad creatures remained with a small enclave of drow deep in the interior, though few of the creatures were created anymore. It appeared most of the Great Forges were lost in battles, natural disasters, or monster attacks, as after the First Spawning the subsequent Slann lost the ability to build them.
About a hundred years ago, a group of drow was exploring near the river when they came upon a ruined ziggurat from the time of the Slann. While exploring it, they found that it covered a deep cavern that contained a working Great Forge. Eager to seize such a prize, they established a settlement at the ziggurat site that they named Caledaith, and they sent word to the few other enclaves of drow. Soon powerful artificers came to study the forge and the many Saurian glyphs of the city. Such Great Forges had elaborate networks for their protection, including armor-clad beasts and guard forts.
The legionnaires presumed from the description, that they had encountered one of the guard forts near Caledaith, but there was no indication where the city lay in Aztaltica. The general asked Garrant for an assessment of their training and fighting style—clearly these drow had developed very differently from Arik, with a lightly armored, two-weapon style using the exotic long knives, and fighting in a guerilla style heavy with scouts, rangers, and sorcerers. Cordell declared the mission a success, for they knew some more information about he dark elves, though their location, numbers, and motives remained a mystery.
Chapter II. Back in Tazumal
After returning from the drow mission, the legionnaires had a rare few days of leave—their first in the three years or so since they’d landed in Aztaltica. Captains Gilgareth and KinCade set out for a nice day in Tazumal, glad to put aside the mantle of command for a little while. They stopped at Gaston’s for a fine meal, and ran into the Endurance second mate, Gil’s old friend Ralfeo. They swapped stories, and he told them of a fearsome pirate ship, the Much Kill, sailed by a Captain Gnash and a crew of enchanted goblinoids. He guessed that there was some sort of demon in the hold that blocked scrying, and doubted the Southold Navy could deal with the massive black, armored carrack. “Lad, these’n ain’t like otha pirates. They do’an care nun’bout plunder. They jes’ essoon walk passa pile o’ coin to put a knife in yer gullet and laugh as yeh cry fer yer mamma. These’n cutthroats er the scourge o’ da seas, an if nah stop’d, thell be da doom of us all.”
The trio drank into the evening, and Gil even sprung for a superlative 250 noble bottle of Devereux Champagne, probably the best in all Aztaltica. They were a bit tipsy as they ambled out into the night, and started through he upscale Merchants Quarter on the way back to Fort Cordell. However, as the fog rolled into the city, they noticed an odd sight.
It was a beautiful, pale half-elven woman, garbed in an elegant Arik style, though not Southron, including a set of long, fine leather gloves with silver studs, ornate dress, and opal necklace and earrings. “That’s not how they should be used” she said, looking up at the second story window of a nearby house. As the legionnaires looked up, the phantom disappeared. In the window, the pair caught sight of movement in a dark room, and then nothing.
They noticed the door had been broken open, leading into an ornate new home, an oak timber frame construction with a second story jetty jutting out, close spaced, timbers, and real glass windows—clearly the house of a rich merchant. The two were leery of being accused of burglary, so KinCade yelled inside asking what was the matter, as Gil circled to the watch the back door. After waiting a bit, the two decided to investigate.
The interior had been rifled, with papers strewn about. Making their way to the back of the large house, they climbed to the second floor, and heard movement behind one of the heavy oaken doors. Rushing in, they saw a strikingly beautiful woman, with long blonde hair and wearing studded leather dress gloves. Other than that, she wore standard dress--baggy trousers and bodice, a gold coin on a string around her neck--no weapons, pack, adventuring gear and such.
She startled when accosted, and at first spun a story about being an indentured servant to the rich Taran merchant, Raymond LeClerk, sent here for a crime she didn’t commit. She was desperate to find her indenture papers, so she could destroy them and return to Southold to her beloved, sick husband. She was remarkably persuasive despite the improbability of the tale, but then KinCade spotted a rare ebonwood buckler leaning behind her, totally out of place from the rich garments and Taran furs in the closet. When confronted, she admitted “the game was up” and put her hands forward to be manacled. With a remarkable speed, she drew a poisoned dagger from her gloves and struck Gil, then made a quick feint at KinCade, throwing him off kilter. “Nothing personal gents, pity, you were kinda cute too, but I’m not going down and I can’t have you following me.”
KinCade struck with a magic missile from his spellstoring dagger and hamstrung her, but it didn’t stop the woman, who struck him with a second poisoned dagger and leapt into the windowsill, then climbed up with a burst of unnatural speed. She seemed about to slip and fall, but murmured “Shinare grant me luck,” and amazingly regained her balance.
Gil leapt into the windowsill in pursuit, but fell down into the street. KinCade ran downstairs to circle around the house, as he heard her pause momentarily on the rooftop (presumably to drink a healing potion) and then run along the roofline. Gil tried a second time to climb the building, but the overhanging jetty made it a difficult prospect, and he again slipped. KinCade could just make out her silhouette in the foggy night sky, and she smiled at him before making a prodigious 25 foot leap across the street to another roof. KinCade shouted the news to Gil, but the scout again climbed and fell—he put it down to the liquor they’d drunk earlier. In the foggy night, the burglar had clearly escaped. With that they headed back for Fort Cordell.
The next morning, General Cordell invited Captain Winkwillow for some Freeshires pipeweed and Taran brandy, and thanked the halfling for his role in freeing him. He further offered to purchase a Manual of the Spymaster for KinCade, a treasured tome whereby he could learn even greater ways of spying and stealth. Yet he attached a two-year Legion contract commitment to the offer, and KinCade politely turned the offer down. The general said he’d heard some rumors KinCade was not pleased with the Legion’s role in Aztaltica, and asked him to speak frankly. KinCade voiced his concerns that the Legion was not fighting the Cortal foe and questioned what harm they might be doing to the Aztalticans. Cordell replied,
“I share many of your concerns KinCade, but what can I say. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle—if not us, it will be someone else. The gold rush is on—in a year there will be several Arik colonies here, and even the Cortals are coming—surely it’s better we’re the ones in control. This way we can influence how well the natives are treated, and gradually improve their lot, as well as making the odd noble on the side, eh.”
The general said he’d hate to lose KinCade’s services, but he must take what course his conscience dictated. Pleased at the frank exchange, the halfling joined Gil in another day at leisure in Tazumal.
Gil had been wandering the city, and spotted the cat burglar they’d seen the night before outside the Temple of Shinare. She was talking to a gaudily dressed Southron warrior in a chain shirt and blue dragonscale shield, with a feathered hat and armed with a rapier. Overhearing part of the conversation, he found the man was Xaphias, the senior fantra (or “Paladin” of Freedom and Luck), in Aztaltica, recently returned from a jaunt to Limbo of all places. She soon spotted Gil trying to hide, and came up to talk. The woman introduced herself as Lamia, and apologized for striking him the night before, noting she’d only used paralysis poison in an attempt to stop him following her. She confessed her purpose—to rob a merchant who’d gravely insulted her, but noted she’d deny anything to the authorities.
“You’re not bad as rogues go, but not cat burglar material—need to learn some skill tricks like I pulled last night, Speedy Ascent for one burst up the walls, Walk the Walls to run on the walls for a short distance, looks very cool, Back Up on Your Feet to instantly hop up from prone, Extreme Leap for getting from one street to another, and even Clarity of Vision, where you have one shot to really concentrate and get a sense where invisible creatures are close by. I learned the skills tricks back in Tara where they all started, just now becoming popular in Southold, but not many Southrons know as much as I do.”
She asked if all would be forgiven if she taught Gil one of these advanced moves free of charge, and he agreed. She carried on to enquire about Gil’s religious beliefs (he professed to none) and offered that he seemed like one who might embrace the ways of Shinare. Xaphias agreed, saying that like Lamia, he might be a candidate for Fortune’s Favored, a loose arm of the church touched by Shinare and granted exceptional luck.
Xaphias also noted he was looking to gather some adventurers to go after the Much Kill goblinoid caravel terrorizing the seas around Tazumal. His plan was to use a magic carpet (on loan from one of his Huler friends) to seek out the vessel, then swoop down and capture it—“I mean they’re goblins and bugbears and such, how bad can they really be?”
Gil and KinCade met up for lunch at the Shady Dragon Inn, and ran into the demi-human thief band, the Righteous. Their leader Taron explained that they’d rolled Don Carlos’ Mirada House plantation on the day of the insurrection and came out with hundreds of thousands worth of loot. With these funds, they planned to form the preeminent thieves guild of Aztaltica, the Nightsong Guild. No longer would they be demi-human only—rather the shadow leadership would remain so, but they would employ all races, all professions, and open a gambling den, get into some export of Devilweed and such, try to corner the smuggling market, and do the odd burglary as well. They wouldn’t deal in extortion or murder though, as they didn’t want to challenge the authorities. With their new trainer Corsair in town, they planned to train two unique career paths for rogues, Nightsong Enforcers (more team and combat oriented) and Infiltrators (more scout/stealth oriented). Or, rogues could simply join as members in return for a 5% cut of all their earnings, in return for significant benefits and discounts.
That evening as they wandered back from another fine dinner at Gaston’s, they were walking by the cemetery, when they saw a great, bloated undead creature shamble forward, a bloodhulk fighter. A long fight ensued, as the creature could take prodigious damage, but the pair eventually felled it.
Later, ahead of the tournament, KinCade was approached by a certain Vandamar, of the Daggerspell Guardians. His was an elite order based in a monastery in the Galathiene, dedicated to the eradication of evil wherever it may arise. Their members had a unique signature, learning to channel spells through their dual daggers. Vandamar made a rare offer of membership to KinCade, as his exploits in two-dagger fighting style were well known, and he would be invaluable given his senior position in the Silver Legion. The Daggerspells sought to extend their presence in Aztaltica, which was too often lawless and had need of their vigilante-like guardians. If he accepted, he would have to train for a month at the order’s monastery in the elven lands.
Lieutenants Moe and Sett also had some free time, so the half elf and elf set out to explore the city. They soon ran into Brummet, the burly Thonian First Mate on the Endurance. He told them more stories about the pirate ship Much Kill. When they asked who might know something about it, he suggested that a sage might help, and the only one in town was Sulka. So, Moe decided to pay Sulka a visit, and found he had a rich tower in the Merchant’s quarter. He would charge 50 nobles per day for research, up to one week. Moe wanted to get authorization for Legion funds, so the pair left, and started heading back as the evening fog rolled in.
They heard native cries for help, and ran down the street until they could see the threat through the fog. There were perhaps a dozen zombies, a plague walker, and a great bloodhulk fighter, engaged with a small Watch patrol, its Southron leader dead and the six natives outmatched. Nonetheless, the two legionnaires waded into combat. Sett bravely ran forward and yelled “hold the line!, I’m in charge.” Moe turned invisible, flew, and started raining evocations upon the undead, such a rare sight in Aztaltica. The undead gradually wore down the natives, until one fled and one remained, Matzin, who bravely stayed and covered Sett’s flank as they pulled back to the side of the street between two houses to avoid being surrounded. Moe damaged the plaguewalker, which promptly exploded, throwing disease ridden pus throughout the area. Likewise, Moe continued to rain down spells, and at one point heard an order in Cortalish yelled from down the ally, in the fog--presumably the undead creator or controller. The battle eventually ended with the bloodhulk’s destruction, amid a shower of blood.
Sett and Matzin were soaked through, and cautiously carried on up the street to the open, bronze gate of the City of the Dead, Tazumal’s single, massive cemetery. Moe looked over the large stone wall within, and saw the cemetery was devoid of life—even the grass had shriveled up and there was no sign of small animals and such. The legionnaires stood guard while they sent the native to get reinforcements from the Temple of Nuada. Some time later, Matzin returned, saying the Nuadans would not believe his story, as a lowly Aztaltican and member of the new Watch, whose credentials few yet recognized. Moe flew this time, and berated the Nuadan guard, who swiftly let him through to see Sir Feldernak. The Nuadan second in command noted that from Moe’s description, it sounded like the overflowing cemetery had become a Boneyard. The presence of so much raw material for necromantic magic seemed to draw negative energy of its own accord, changing the gravesite into a nexus of necromantic power.
There had been minor attacks of skeletons and zombies thus far, and Gil and KinCade’s run-in with a single Bloodhulk fighter the night before, but this was a major escalation, undoubtedly the work of the Cortalish necromancer Klaus von Sturm. Sir Feldernak noted the church leadership were away on a goodwill tour of the villages, but agreed to dispatch Nuadan clerical support to the main gates (unfortunately, there were many such gates as the cemetery was huge and abutted the city’s entire east side), but he would not authorize an attack. He told of the many catacombs that stretched beneath the cemetery dating to the Golden Age of Itzapan over a millennium before, caves which could have all manner of traps and guardians.
Meanwhile, Sett made a report to the Watch headquarters and told of Matzin’s prowess and heroism. The Southron Watch officer was impressed, and said the young Itzapani would be promoted to sergeant on Sett’s recommendation. For his part, Matzin said he was greatly inspired, and from that day would embrace the god of the newcomers and become a Nuadan.
The next day, Moe and Sett travelled to the Shady Dragon Inn, purchasing some spells and potions from the ex-cabalist Malron. He remarked to Moe that he was no duelist, but was playing Liet’s “little game” to drum up more business and see what the other wizards had to say. Moe and Sett ran into Taron, Grotto, Ace, and Corsair, formerly of the Righteous, and they regaled them with their story of the formation for the Nightsong Guild. Moe bowed out early from the conversation, as he wasn’t interested in becoming the guild’s wizard. Sett also bowed out, apparently put off by the Guild’s general prohibition against killing marks.
The next day, walking through the Merchant Quarter, the pair ate at a small Iron Leaguer restaurant, so new it didn’t even have a sign. Among the many Iron Leaguers there was Rolando, competitor in the Dweomerlists. The suave arcanist recognized Moe and asked the legionnaires to join him for lunch. They compared some notes on competitors, and Rolando noted his skills weren’t suited to such duels and he wondered why Liet had invited him, but said he would have good fun regardless. They carried on to the Grand Plaza where Sett purchased some potions.
On the way back to Fort Cordell, Moe was approached by a lone Aztaltican, who boldly came up to him and said, “Invader dog, I am a Mazatzin the first of many Mage Hunters, prepare to die!” However, Moe was very swift, and without another word dimension doored away. The mage hunter was enraged, and turned on Sett, immediately saying, “I sense this one is an arcane caster as well, he will do.” A jaguar knight hiding in a doorway charged from behind, a second knight on a rooftop started raining arrows, and a Hishnashaper started casting from another rooftop.
Sett was swiftly battered down and tried retreating to a side alley. Moe cast fly and then put a Wall of Force up across the street, causing a hishna spell to sizzle and blocking the mage hunter’s charge. The insurgents ran to bypass the wall, giving Sett a few moments to heal. Meanwhile, rogue lookouts on both ends of the street started attacking, one using a poisoned arrow on the flying Moe, the other breaking into a run to help corner Sett—this was clearly an elaborate ambush by a party of six skilled insurgents. The legionnaires heard a voice “take him alive, we need his blood for the Magebane ritual at midnight.” The voice was in broken Aztaltican, but had the unmistakable sound of a Cortal.
With five insurgents nearly surrounding Sett, the situation looked grim, until he used darkness and his smoke bottle, and suddenly no one could find him. In fact, the spell appeared remarkably and unusually effective. After several attempts to locate him, as Moe rained down spells from long distance and the whistles of the Watch patrols grew closer, the Viperhand cultists called a withdrawal. They healed their downed Hishnashaper, split up, and ran. Moe flew after the Magehunter, but he ducked around a corner and was lost.
Later that day, Specialist Terwyn Kite was walking around the city when he stumbled on an archery contest, and was one of three entrants who wagered 100 nobles for a chance to win 300. After round at 150 feet and another at 250 feet, Terwyn easily won. Then the elven archer who arranged the competition, Chanticleer Winterwood, confessed he had an ulterior motive. He was seeking the best archers in Aztaltica for an opportunity to join the Order of the Bow. Initiates of this order see the bow as a meditative tool, to make the bow an extension of their being and its use a spiritual experience. By practicing the Way of the Bow, initiates search for truth, patience, and beauty through commitment, diligent practice, and spiritual devotion. The Order was loosely affiliated with the church of Solonar, the Beaststalker, and based in the Forest of Arden in Southold. Unlike many such orders, the members had little responsibilities, other than to go forth with their knowledge and use the Way of the Bow in the service of good as they see fit.
The night before the Dweomerlists, the legionnaire officers were visited by a giant eagle, which relayed a talking stone which showed a message from Arkane, the legionnaires’ old comrade. Arkane now dwelled in the jungles somewhere to the south and opposed Southron (and apparently Saurian) incursions into Aztaltica. The message told of Saurian force dispositions across Aztaltica, clearly evidence of an excellent spy network, although his easily distracted dog Ranger ate the force disposition map in the end. The Saurians had nearly cornered the Zlatan Exodus on the southern coast, and had launched another invasion into the nearby country of Axocpan. While unsure of Arkane’s motives, the legionnaires were grateful for the intelligence, as it was well known that General Cordell planned to march south against the Saurians in the coming months.
Chapter III. Dweomerlists
After much fanfare and preparation, the day for Archmage Liet’s Dweomerlists finally arrived. Betting was rife throughout the city, and as usual Sergeant-Major Garrant was handling the Legion book, at the General’s behest. It is well understood that 30% of any profits from the betting go to the Silver Legion morale fund to book the latest bards and such, 10% goes to General Cordell, 40% goes on security and administration provided by all the 1st SGTs and select senior NCOs from each unit, and 20% for Garrant’s own “administrative costs.” Bets were 100 noble minimum, 2,000 maximum total bets per person (Cordell didn’t want the new pay being squandered in one go—bad for morale) on bets either To Win or To Place in the top three. General Cordell opened the betting by placing 1,000 nobles on both LTs Dmitry and Moe to place, and nearly all legionnaire officers placed similar public bets on their comrades, though there were many secret bets for other competitors. After seeing the odds, Liet placed public bets by proxy for Ariel, Ferno, and Malron to place—this move was roundly criticized in the New Southold Times given his officiating role. The odds came out to the following.
Odds to win:
9 to 5 (35.7%) Toril Greymantle independent Southron master conjurer
5 to 2 (28.6%) Ariel of House Sashenstar, elven swashbuckler/Abjurant champion
7 to 2 (22.2%) LT Moe Firiendoril of the Silver Legion, half-elf/Southron evoker
4 to 1 (14.9%) Hazlik of the Church of Shinare, Southron wild mage
14 to 1 (6.7%) LT Dmitry Vladimirovich of the Silver Legion, Sylvanian Abjurer
16 to 1 (5.9%) Rolando de Estrada of the Mirada Merchant House, Iron Leaguer Warlock
22 to 1 (3.2%) Ferno, independent, Southron Warmage
40 to 1 (2.44%) Malron, independent, Videssian Illusionist
Odds to Place
2 to 13 (87%) Ariel, of House Sashenstar, elven swashbuckler/Abjurant champion
1 to 3 (75%) Toril Greymantle, independent Southron master conjurer
1 to 1 (50%) Hazlik of the Church of Shinare, Southron wild mage
1 to 1 (50%) LT Dmitry Vladimirovich of the Silver Legion, Sylvanian Abjurer
13 to 8 (38.1%) LT Moe Firiendoril of the Silver Legion, half-elf/Southron evoker
3 to 1 (25%) Rolando de Estrada of the Mirada Merchant House, Iron Leaguer Warlock
3 to 1 (25%) Ferno, independent, Southron Warmage
The legionnaire wizards Moe and Dmitry arrived promptly at Liet’s tower to meet the other powerful mages in Aztaltica and participate in the spell duels. The pair were escorted into a great room with a black table and twelve chairs. There were five of the other contestants—Malron the sellspell hunched over in his chair, the icy elven woman Ariel of House Sashenstar, rapier at her side, the Iron Leaguer Rolando de Estrada of House Mirada, sitting uncomfortably and out of place among the wizards, Hazlik of Shinare, dressed gaudily in many colors as a typical wild mage, and Toril Greymantle, the legionnaires’ recent master conjurer opponent. There were two additional mages with black cloaks and veiled faces, as well as Liet, and his guest, the frail and aged Thanios of the Arcane Order of Hyborea. This drew some surprise, as the Hyboreans ran their island magocracy and kept to themselves and their magical research. One seat was left empty.
Liet began by explaining his first explorations, how he found magical transportation and communication spells were blocked at long distances. He believed there was an arcane dampening field exuded from the ancient Saurian cities, of which legend said there were eight. Such spells began were somewhat disrupted at 200 miles distance, very garbled at 100 miles, and would essentially always fail at 50 miles or less, in sometimes spectacular and lethal ways. He noted the Hellstorm had similar properties and at similar distances.
Malron speculated that perhaps the Saurian cities could be triangulated, but alas the dampening field could not be measured, and only risky experimentation would reveal the effects. Ariel noted such a dampening field would be very useful for defense against teleportation, but Liet could not tell whether it was the very stones of the cities, or some magical devices inside which caused the disruption.
After some debate, Liet opened the floor to general comments on Aztaltica. Moe mentioned the run-ins with undead near the cemetery and told of the “Mage Hunter” Mazatzin. The former, Liet brushed aside as an undead infestation for the Nuadans to handle, but the latter greatly concerned him, as it was clear the natives were developing counters to the Southrons’ chief advantage, arcane magic. He advised all mages to take care lest they be ambushed and called for rooting out this new threat before it spread.
Liet went on to describe the small arcane shop he was setting up, but warned the prices would be high, as no one else could manufacture powerful magic items to order for thousands of miles. And then he came to his main purpose:
I believe we need to train as many spellcasters as possible to fight the Cortal foe, and also I might add, solidify our control here in Aztaltica, where such powers are rare. So I proposed simplifying the years of long study regime our mages undergo. By making the syllabus simpler, by focusing it, we could drop the entry requirements—they don’t have to be quite as smart, and as they are trained solely for war, they would be trained in a military fashion, to harden them, wear heavy weighted suits to simulate armor, so they will be able to wear it and still cast.
I see some of you shaking your heads. They will be specialists in a small subset of military evocation magick and they are no wizards in the traditional sense—but they will be fearsome on the battlefield. I envision a small unit, perhaps 30 such casters, throwing such a volume of spellfire as to turn back much larger conventional units. Gondal would not support such a “weakening of our Art” as he put it. So, I secretly conducted my own training of a first class of a dozen recruits at great personal expense back in Bywater—the result is before you, I call them Warmages.
At that a dozen Southrons entered the room, looking more like fighters, strapping muscles, disciplined looks, garbed in chain shirts and light shields and armed with spears, all masterwork quality from the look of it. He gestured to one in elaborate gold dragon embossed armor “This is Ferno, the first and best of my Warmages.” After a small demonstration, he had the rest travel to the Ball Court to put on a show for the crowd, while Ferno took his seat at the table and Liet continued.
I have spoken with Viceroy Cordell, and he agrees wholeheartedly, and so is backing my Academy of Warmagery, of which Ferno will be chief instructor and I will be Chancellor. Work has already begun on a large, walled complex a few miles outside town, on a bluff overlooking the savannah.
As if this was not enough, Liet went on to announce the founding of the Aztaltica Mages Guild, of which he would be Guildmaster. He invited all at the table to join, and described the many benefits such a guild could fulfill so far from fellow mages in Arik. However, this approach was weakened by his guest Thanios, who offered membership for one at the table in the Arcane Order of Hyborea. The Order was establishing an embassy in Tazumal (it was a sovereign country after all, though the magocracy cared little for diplomacy) and sought a new mage with knowledge of Aztaltica.
“You all have heard of Hyborea I’m sure—if you’ve ever used metamagic to manipulate a spell, or cast any number of rather clever spells such as Dispelling Screen or Reciprocal Gyre-- that was one of mine you know--then you are familiar with our research. Rumors abound, but let me say that we run a small island nation of order, where wizards—no sorcerers or warlocks mind you—can study the arcane arts, and we possess the greatest library since the Cataclysm swallowed the Great Library of Oceania.
Our charter is simple and twofold. We seek to advance magical knowledge through both ongoing research and archeological investigation of lost arcane disciplines. A good portion of research is on elucidating a “magical grammar” of the great power wielded in ages past, and this research has borne wondrous fruit: namely those metamagic feats we discussed. The second tenet is the support and welfare of the Order’s membership, initially through arcane schooling and later through companionship, resources, boarding, and access to the Spellpool.
Opportunities to be initiated into our order are rare, we have people on the lookout for younglings of arcane talent throughout Arik, and we usually test and take them at a young age. However, we will make an exception here, and allow a mature wizard membership. You would be one of our “itinerant researchers,” so lesser duties would apply, but full benefits.
One of the greatest benefits is the Spellpool, a magical reservoir of spell energy bound into a special matrix in a guarded vault of the Order’s headquarters. A mage of the Arcane Order can “call” spells from this common resource as needed, and surprisingly this power can breach even the Hellstorm, we know not why. The details are complicated, but suffice it to say that if you keep one of your spell slots open and empty, you and can then fill it with any common spell you like if you borrow from the Spellpool. Then of course you are in debt, and must pay the spell back within a matter of days, lest your privileges be suspended. If there are several of you interested, we may have to duel for the position, but these Dweomerlists will give you good practice I’m sure.
Liet was displeased by the appeal, but Thanios noted that membership in the Guild and Order were not mutually exclusive, and the Archmage soon teleported all to the Ball Court. Thousands were present for the first major tournament style event the Southrons had run in Aztaltica—some estimated over a million nobles were staked on the outcome by various betting pools. Cordell quieted the crowd:
“People of Aztaltica and Arik gathered here today, I have arranged with our resident Archmage Liet Shai Hulud to give you a demonstration tournament on the great arcane magicks our mages can wield. But first, I wish to make an award to several of my own unit, the Silver Legion. As you know, I was wrongfully imprisoned for months by the usurper, Baron Warwick, yet it was my own Special Missions Unit, who led the infiltration of the dungeons and broke me out. To all present, Colonel Gelben Fisk, Captain KinCade Winkwillow, Captain Gilgareth Prindle, Lieutenant Dmitry Vladimirovich, Lieutenant Sett, Lieutenant Moe Firiendoril, and Sergeant Vogon I offer my heartfelt thanks. As personal thanks, I will pay the King’s Fifth Tax on all Special Missions Unit personal funds brought out of Aztaltica from Legion coffers for your return trip to Southold, and you shall bear certificates to this effect.”
Finally, I would like to acknowledge two particularly valorous members. Captain Gilgareth Prindle came highly regarded, a career soldier and scout with the Royal Housecarles, I recall seeing his excellent soldiery in the breech at the siege of Dendera. On this latest rescue mission, he fell at the claws of a fierce summoned creature in the final battle with Warwick, right by my side, loyal and fierce to the last. (Toril Greymantle looked downcast at this point). In my capacity as Viceroy of New Southold—not as your general I might add—I award you Captain Prindle, Southold’s Royal Medal of Valor, may you wear it with pride.
I also salute Captain KinCade Winkwillow. In the confusion and chaos of that dark dungeon, KinCade was separated from the Special Missions Unit by a series of powerful enemy spells (Toril again looked intently at his feet) and managed to successfully work his way past enemy guards and leaders, disguise himself, and infiltrate the enemy ranks. Then, at the key moment in that final battle outside Port Nuada, he struck the Tempurian heretic Thalargos, finally laying him low—critical as I know several of us believed we might all be slain that day if the Inquisitor’s evil spells continued to rain down upon us. If that were not enough, KinCade then rode against Warwick, whom I’d weakened greatly in a back and forth melee, and struck the final blow just as Warwick’s cavalry reinforcements were arriving.
Battlefield victories are always a team effort, yet it is rare to see one individual play such an important role against two very powerful enemies, particularly a rogue in open combat. For this, in my capacity as Viceroy of New Southold, I award the Royal Medal of Gallantry.
With that, Marshal Greylin Lofalkin magically screened and tested the contestants, and Liet gave the Fireball signal to begin. The matches were a mix of high drama and boredom—Toril vs. Ferno saw the eldest mage start the match cocky and haughty, but the warmage fought well, and nearly won the day before being bested. The Iron Leaguer Rolando turned out to be a warlock, a rare arcanist who could innately call forth a handful of invocations (although he could do so without limit) and blasts of raw eldritch energy. They are believed to owe their powers to demonic heritage in the same way sorcerers allegedly owe their power to draconic heritage. Rolando repeatedly plunged the Dweomerlist ring into magical darkness to loud boos, yet managed to best Dmitry in a long fought duel.
Ariel vs. Malron was the quickest—first the elven woman tried to cheat by casting a defense spell when he was supposed to be bowing. Liet swiftly dispelled the offending spell and warned that he would dispel all her spells if done again. After a “yellow flag” delay, the duel was restarted, and the elf unveiled a Symbol of Fear on her shield and sent the hedge mage quickly running, much to the crowd’s disappointment.
Hazilk vs. Moe was also a surprise, as the legionnaire Dimension Doored 500’ up and rained a specialty selection of long distance spells down on Hazlik. The wild mage, who hadn’t taken such spells, danced and did other performances to amuse the crowd, as he had no options for attacking. It took longer than the prescribed 20 rounds for him to succumb, but Liet, eager to get some excitement for the bored crowd, extended the match until there was a clear victor. After the first round of duels, Liet was dissatisfied with the existing rules, especially allowing precast spells, so after achieving consensus with the participants, he enacted traditional Dweomerlist rules and banned contestants from precasting spells before the matches except for two allowed in the duel. He also banned healing and put a 120’ ceiling on the matches among other changes, and was heard saying he would not repeat his experiment of inviting warlocks to the tourney.
In the second round, Toril easily defeated the “one trick pony” Rolando, as the conjurer used a simple spell to see through the Warlock’s darkness. He set many summoned beasts upon the Iron Leaguer, which grappled him down despite a spirited defense. In Ariel vs. Moe, the legionnaire had charmed his comrade Dornar to rush the field and grapple Ariel, but Liet Power Word Stunned the intruding dwarf in an instant and had him removed from the Ball Court. Liet was initially annoyed at another attempt by Moe to subvert the rules, but appeared to be pleased with the crowd’s reaction to the ploy, and resumed the match without censure. Yet after the Yellow Flag delay, Ariel swiftly downed the legionnaire, charging forward and striking him repeatedly in a most unwizardly fashion.
Ferno played Malron, and fought another very close match, with the warmage blinded at one point. The crowd gasped, as the redoubtable warmage was proving very popular with the crowd—despite being the youngest and the clear underdog, his flashy, pure evocation tactics drew great cheers. Ferno pulled through and won with repeated damage spells. The warmage then faced Hazlik, but Ferno’s luck failed as he was hit with Stone to Flesh in the first round. The wild mage had to pay a large sum of money to ensure Ferno’s chances for successful change back to flesh were optimum, and he easily survived the transformation.
Moe versus Rolando was a hard-fought game of cat and mouse, as the Warlock hid behind his ubiquitous darkness power and tried Dispel after Dispel to remove the legionnaire’s mirror images, essential to clear the way for his sole eldritch blast attack ability. Just as he’d finally dispelled them and was ready to blast, the elf managed to drop a cloak on one darkness coin and his body on the other, blocking the darkness, and enabling a magic missile which took the Warlock down.
The most awaited duel with the greatest attendance was between the two undefeated mages as Toril dueled Ariel in the Quarterfinals. This was an epic contest as powerful spells rained back and forth. Toril dropped a darkness coin, but it didn’t slow Ariel, who must have had some sort of magical sight ability. One enterprising mage, Fortunato de Viscaya, cast a large illusion above the ring to duplicate what was his ebon eye vision saw was happening inside the darkness.
A successful Repulsion spell by Toril blunted Ariel’s devastating melee attack option, and Ariel used a wind fan to dispel Toril’s Cloudkill and blow him out of the ring. The master conjurer tumbled through the air, but amazingly managed to retain the summoning spell. This sparked great controversy and heated discussion as the Dweomerlist rules were unclear on whether a spell started legally within the ring could be completed outside the ring if a mage was inadvertently pushed out mid-casting. Liet called a Yellow Flag and seemed to change his mind several times as the crowd impatiently waited, before dispelling the elemental.
Yells of dismay erupted from the crowd, who were in awe of the great beast for a few seconds before it was sent back to its own plane--they didn’t seem to understand why the exciting duel had stopped and the wizards were squabbling. Toril gave the faintest glimmer of a smile, then said “I will not fight two wizards at once—I have violated no rule and was at my earliest opportunity ready to re-renter the ring as the rules provide, and as you decided not ten seconds ago. But I will not lose my most powerful spell to the rules you make up as you go along, Liet. I should have known you would not preside fairly, your bias for the elf you bet on is clear—you broke into my home and stole my possessions once before and can’t put aside your grudge. I will not participate in a crooked tournament!” And with a word he disappeared.
Liet was taken aback, momentarily silent—the crowd was incredulous, why was this most exciting and bet on of matches over in an instant with a whimper and not a bang? Cordell had stood up in his seat, a look of concern, imperceptibly shaking his head. Liet verbally stumbled “Umm, Ariel wins the match due to Toril’s forfeit. My authority in these games is unchallenged despite his slander!”
Then the penny dropped, Toril’s supporters realized they’ve just lost a lot of money--upwards of half a million nobles in total—the leading contestant had been ejected over some sort of technicality in their eyes. Shouts of “treachery!”, “bring Toril back!”, “bring the whirlwind back!” erupted, the jeers and whooping of the Ariel supporters only added fuel to the fire. People began rushing for the exits now, especially the Itzapani who’d taken their children, as the mood was turning nasty. A group of drunken troops, formerly Warwick’s baronials, cried “Liet you idiot, why didn’t you let ’em play? Toril would have wiped the floor with that elven fighter!”
The arrogant mage, unaccustomed to dealing with a crowd and used to obedience, shouted “Silence, I will not be questioned, my will here is law! It’s his fault, not mine. Toril should have let me dispel the elemental and got on with the match, I make the rules! It was the same when I fought him at his house years ago, he ran away. He deserved to lose, now you all see him for the coward he is, running rather than fighting, just like before!” As if watching some Minoan tragedy, but helpless to intervene, Cordell was emphatically shaking his head at this point, but couldn’t catch Liet’s eye.
The situation rapidly devolved, as fisticuffs erupted between rival supporters, punters demanded refunds for their bets, and one band with more drink in their heads than sense rushed forward claiming they’d “make” Liet continue the match. The mage teleported away in disgust, but the crush was inevitable now. Everyone was being pressed forward, as the gate exit tunnels were all near the bottom of the Ball Court, and soon people in the front began being crushed against Liet’s permanent Walls of Force used to protect the front rows from wayward spells.
It took a few moments before the remaining officials, the healers Marshal Greylin of Nuada and High Priestess Illiandra of Mishakal, realized the enormity of the situation. Garrant was near one end of the Ball Court with some NCOs from the Flaming Fist, and started intimidating crowd members into leaping off the sides of the raised seating, the fall preferable to likely death in the crush. Kincade managed to resist the push and work his way up and back, but Gil was twice swept down, into the very threshold of one of the exit tunnels, where people were packed like cordwood and starting to die. Some of the exit gates were apparently locked—as the stadium was filled far beyond its 5,000 capacity, and the guards had been watching the match or were otherwise away from their posts thinking the duels would not be over for some time.
KinCade soon broke free to the back of the seating area, and started yelling at people to turn away, saying the gates were locked. He then ran to back and yelled down below for help in opening the gates. Greylin and Illiandra used their spells to good effect, with Mass Cure Light Wounds and Dictum commands that people turn around. Gil began to suffocate and thought it a terribly mundane way to die, yet fought his way though. The scout saw a young girl trampled in the crowd—one of many that day—and managed to shield her, even though it meant he was trampled as well, before getting her to safety.
Meanwhile, KinCade, who’d sent his golden eagle familiar Kiya to Liet’s tower, leapt down and managed to pick the lock of the last gate. There was much heroism that day, as Cordell came out of the VIP tower to help (one of few who did), but there were so many in need at once. Liet finally appeared, and in an instant cast a Limited Wish which took down the permanent Walls of Force temporarily. The dead and unconscious teetered down and created such a pile that the living could easily hop down onto them and onto the field 15 feet below.
The rescue effort continued for hours, searching for the unconscious among the dead—some 100 died and 700 were injured in the end, in what the papers would call the “Dweomerlists Disaster.” Some people blamed Toril’s outburst, others the Watch for locking the gates and not being on station, but most blamed Liet as the organizer who’d just put up the Walls of Force, made the controversial call, and then lost his cool, inciting the crowd in the aftermath and teleported away in a huff.
That evening, KinCade, Gil, Terwyn, and Moe were summoned to the Viceroy’s office in Fort Cordell, and waited outside as they heard him dressing down Archmage Liet.
“I don’t care if you’re some big archmage who could turn me into a frog, it was a dumb move! I mean, that was the first elemental those people had ever seen. Did you see the awe, we had them, we had the spectacle, bigger than a Videssian gladiatorial contest, and on some technicality not even in your precious rules you dispelled it? What were you thinking? The crowd was on the edge of their seats, all the money the colony put into your security, advertising, everything, it was all working, and you’ve snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, you pompous, self-important ass!
I don’t know if I can save you--you know, I like the warmage initiative, but the people are hounding for a scapegoat for this thing—the New Southold Times is going to call it the Dweomerlists Disaster you know—I just heard from Sue D’Onym and there’s no way he’s pulling punches on this one, no way I can call in favors. You can’t be trusted--I’m putting LT Marcus Poncet of my Ballista Battery on temporary duty as your political officer to keep you in line in cases like this. I know you’re not officially part of the colonial administration, but I’m the damned Viceroy and we’re under martial law, and your mouth is a threat to our security, so you will listen to him.
Liet’s voice was tinged with resignation as he agreed Toril had outmaneuvered him, claiming he was trying to topple him and become top mage in Aztaltica again. He asked if there was any way the authorities could pin the disaster on Toril, and if he could hunt down and kill the conjurer once and for all. Cordell was tempted, but decided that would do more damage, as Toril was seen as the principled one now, who wouldn’t play in the “unfairly” judged tournament—he ordered no “mysterious attacks” to be befall the conjurer.
At this point, the legionnaires entered, to a crisis meeting of senior New Southold leaders: Viceroy Cordell, Assessor Slevak, Sergeant Major Garrant, Captain Romnor, Watch captain, eagle knight Pimotl, General Aramis Darkhelm, Nuadan Marshal Greylin Lofalkin, and a downcast looking Archmage Liet Shai Hulud. Pimotl gave a report saying no one person could be held to blame:
“Your coliseums in Arik are not designed as ours are—there are more entrances, and the walls of force put in the front to protect the spectators inadvertently prevented people from escaping onto the field. Also, the Ball Court was packed far beyond capacity, and so the gates were locked, and several of the gatekeepers were inside watching the match rather than at their posts, or were talking in a group some distance from the gates and did not realize the match was over until the screams erupted, so were slow to unlock the gates. Several wizards cast flashy attack spells into the air to get the crowd moving which also exacerbated the crush.
We can be more careful in future—not locking the gates for instance, not allowing the Court to be so greatly filled, even creating a couple overflow gates leading down into the team quarters, to be opened as a safety valve if needed. We can swiftly make these changes, so I do not believe it will happen again.
Pimotl offered his resignation over the gatekeepers’ failure, but Cordell refused to accept it. He then heard a report from Garrant about gambling, how the losses of over half a million nobles when Toril quit in protest sparked the unrest. Bookmakers around the city would take in record profits, as the top seed was out of all contention now. Cordell suggested perhaps they should cut their losses, admit the Dweomerlists had failed as a public relations effort, and cancel the tourney in mourning, perhaps even leaning on the bookmakers to issue refunds so the many Toril backers would not be so incensed. They speculated about Toril’s motives, and Liet claimed he must have had this planned, while Moe thought he had backing from some other power, perhaps even Baron Warwick’s old backers. Cordell noted that he made sure Warwick’s body was thoroughly destroyed and didn’t suspect problems from that quarter.
Gil asked what Toril was doing now, and Pimotl reported he was in the Shady Dragon being courted by various influential groups who seeked to hire him, such was his renewed popularity. The Mirada Merchant House was apparently looking to ditch Rolando in favor of a “real” wizard, and had made a bid for his services, as had the new Nightsong Guild. They discussed if bringing Toril back into the games might restore their legitimacy, avert the loss of all the funds gambled on him (or at least shift the blame from Liet’s call to Toril’s actions), and distract from the tragedy. Cordell noted a good result would be if Toril came back, and was defeated, and Liet chimed in that if he won, the Archmage’s reputation would be further damaged. Moe believed Toril would never agree to serve under Liet’s rules, and thought if he rejected an offer to come back it would make good public relations fodder.
General Darkhelm noted that Greymantle was politically slick, and had been a recent appointment to Warwick’s staff, but had the weakness of many powerful mages—gross arrogance, and could probably be buttered up. Ultimately, Cordell left it up to his diplomat, KinCade, giving him great latitude and up to 30,000 nobles if he could subtly get Toril to come back, and in so doing restore the games’ legitimacy and divert attention from the tragedy and its causes.
As KinCade rode through Tazumal, he noted the change in mood—everyone was talking about the Dweomerlists Disaster, and the mood seemed against Liet in particular as well as the colonial government. It had certainly harmed Itzapani-Southron relations, as many natives were among the dead. KinCade discussed the matter with Toril, who blamed Liet of course, and said he was saddened for the innocents who’d died after he left due to the Archmage’s “egomaniacal need to exercise power.” When KinCade subtly broached the idea of returning to the match, he mused why he should risk coming back now, when he was at the height of popularity and had multiple offers on the table—“unless you can make me a better offer?”
When it came to talking brass tacks, he said he had no interest in gold, rather missed his official position under Warwick, the power and perks of office. To that end he offered two options—Liet’s head on a platter (figuratively)--packing him back to Arik and pinning the disaster on him, then Toril would take over the new Aztaltica Mages Guild. Toril did note that he was the second most powerful mage in Aztaltica, and was about to reach the pinnacle of powers as a Master Specialist Conjurer. The second option was to replace Lady Ailea and become a Colonel in the Silver Legion, and he wanted his old quarters under Fort Cordell back. KinCade replied he would have to run these options by the Viceroy, but insisted that there would be no speeches or clashes with Liet, he would abide by Liet’s rulings in the Dweomerlists, and there would be no public discussion of any deal.
Cordell laughed at the boldness of the terms. He instantly ruled out the Silver Legion option, as though he respected Toril’s great power, he simply didn’t trust him—besides, he had the feel of a city mage, and simply couldn’t see Toril on campaign. As to jettisoning Liet, he’d been giving serious consideration to that option anyway as he might be too weighed down with controversy to salvage. Kincade thought the Archmage could be saved, and noted Toril seemed to pine for the official status and power he’d enjoyed under Warwick, so some other suitably grand sounding position, with the same pay as a Legion colonel, might do the trick.
And so, the offer was agreed just before midnight, and KinCade again rode into Tazumal. He offered the conjurer the position of Court Mage of New Southold, a colonial vice Legion position. Cordell didn’t quite trust him, but liked the idea of having a powerful mage stationed at Fort Cordell, ready to defend it in case of a Cortal seaborne assault, particularly when the Army of New Southold marched south against the Saurians in a few months. For his part, Toril was amused, noting it would annoy Liet to no end, but he agreed it was a fair deal, and a better offer than those he had on the table.
Toril promised a “nice show” for the crowds in the lists, as he’d been thinking of other planes from which to draw his summons this time—KinCade wisely left before the conjurer could go into detail about which parts of Archeron had the best specimins. Before he left though, Toril noted that they were all on the same side now and said he would be loyal to New Southold. But he mused that evokers lacked subtlety and were ill suited to politics, so when Liet eventually slipped up again, he’d be ready to capitalize on it.
The next day the the Dweomerlists were tense—it was rainy and windy (despite the magical weather forecasts) and crowd attendence was the lowest yet. Liet put on a brave face, though he and Toril studiously ignored each other throughout the proceedings. Liet spoke briefly about the tragedy the day before--Cordell stayed entirely out of that lest any blame be attached to him. He said matter of factly that Toril had forfitted his game against Ariel, but would resume play today against Moe, and the games continued.
Both Moe and Toril had losses now, so it was a sudden death match. The elf polymorphed into a powerful treant and put up a wall of force in front of Toril, but the conjurer soon cast Repulsion to prevent him closing and cast Globe of Invulnerability to stop spells coming through. The conjurer summoned a new beast, an Archaieri, beside him, and ordered the bird to fly after Moe. The beast replied “aark” and looked quizzically, as it was incapable of flight, much to Toril’s annoyance. Moe seemed to turn the tables when he cleverly dimension doored right next to Toril. Some of the conjurer’s mirror images were blown, but he placed an Evards Black Tentacles in the space where Moe stood, and the Archaieri was behind him, and then Toril dispelled the polymorph, making it deadly to remain in the area lest he be grappled. Moe dimension doored back, but was soon driven insane by an Archaieri breath and grappled by Toril’s growing menagerie of summoned beasts and so conceded. The conjurer said “it seems we’re allies now, you fought well.” Moe replied, “you’ll never be my ally, but it was a well fought match.”
Next were the two semifinal matches. Ariel versus Hazlik was over in a few moments—the elf cast one Feeblemind after another, each very narrowly failing. One seemed about to affect him, but the wild mage’s devotion to Shinare shook it off. For his part, Hazlik cast Dispel Magic to get rid of the Mirror Image, then the deadly Flesh to Stone suceeded.
Toril versus Ariel was one for the history books. The conjurer tried two powerful Repulsion spells, but they failed, and it looked like it would be an easy Ariel win as she and her familiar swung their blades, shattering Mirror Images. Then Toril conjured Evards Black Tentacles, and they stopped her cold. Another four times she tried and failed to break free, and by then, a horde of summoned creatures was ready to fight her—an eladrin celestial in whirlwind form blasting her, a celestial griffin, two lantern archons to shatter images with their rays and Aid the horde, and later even a celestial giant eagle. The elf was soon near death, having failed with two Dispel Magics and tried a last ditch Feeblemind, even though Toril had a full Mirror Image up. Despite having eight foes to choose from, Ariel somehow picked the right one and the Feeblemind worked.
The crowd gasped and Liet stifled his glee, as for a moment it appeared the match was over and his old rival had lost. However, the tourney rules stipulate the match continues until one side is unable to continue fighting, and Feeblemind does not take away the ability to distinguish friends from foes or the ability to attack, and Toril was poised to grapple. But it didn’t come to that, as the conjurer’s beasts saved him—an instant after the Feeblemind, his celestial giant eagle swooped down and downed Ariel.
The Finals were between Hazlik and Toril, and news of the exciting match the day before had spread through the city, so attendence was nearly at its peak again. This time the Watch did not lock the gates, but stayed at their posts and stopped admittence after 5,000 spectators had entered. The Dweomerlists Disaster was by no means forgotton, but people were focused again on the spectacle, not the controversial calls, Toril’s walkout, Liet’s actions, or the Watch—KinCade’s compromise seemed to have worked and Viceroy Cordell was pleased.
Toril opened with Cloudkill and Acid Fog, slowing the wild mage. While he struggled for perhaps 20 seconds to get out, Toril failed with a Repulsion and summoned an Eladrin, flying up with his cloak of the bat as well. Hazlik emegered and tried Dispel Magic to take down the images, so he could bring the devestating Flesh to Stone hammer down yet again, but it was not to be. Toril managed to summon another Archaierai and a Celestial Lion, and after some successful Hold Monsters and a failed Corporeal Instability, Hazlik succumbed. The Dweomerlists of 1514 were over. They’d been full of controversy, wizard politics, and high drama. Fortunes and careers had been made and lost—the people of New Southold certainly had their spectacle.
That evening, Lieutenant Moe requested to speak with General Cordell, and asked permission to speak freely. Still in a jovial mood, Cordell replied that in his experience as a soldier, when people ask that, they usually say something ridiculous afterwards, but said he valued Moe’s opinion, so he should proceed. Moe launched a tirade questioning Cordell’s judgement, saying the last they’d discussed, they were to make an offer to Toril trying to get him to turn it down, not accept it, alleging Toril had committed all sorts of crimes, asking what the Nuadans would say, and saying if Toril remained in his new post Moe would have to resign.
Cordell was taken aback, as were those in the room, who had never in their years of soldiering heard such gross insubordination from a legionnaire. The General got to his feet, yelling over the mage and eventually saying “Cease this insurbordination or you’ll be in chains!” (at which Garrant unquestioningly manueuvered behind the mage, manacles in hand). Moe finished his piece and relaxed back into his chair. Cordell, continuing with an uncharacterstic anger in his voice said the Legion was no democracy and advice was one thing, but he would not tolerate such insubordination. He would reluctantly accept Moe’s resignation if he offered it.
However, the general did address Moe’s points—Toril was pardoned for his actions in service to Baron Warwick as had alll his baronial troops, had never been in on Thalargos’ torture sessions, the church had no issue to make as this was a colonial matter and they had not objected to his prior service under Warwick. Moreover he was pleased to have the second most powerful mage on his payroll rather than some merchant house. Cordell made the point that all Southrons had to put the Insurrection behind them and face the common enemy—Toril was much more valuable fighting against the Cortals or Saurians than rotting in a prison cell. He agreed with Moe that he mistrusted Toril as Warwick’s old mage, but went by the dictum, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”
Gil suggested appointing a minder who might act as a spy on Toril’s actions—Cordell asked for suggestions. Moe offered Lady Araselle, but the Deputy Court Mage would have to be a wizard, so KinCade suggested Ferno, cleverly thinking this might also score points with Liet given the warmage’s close ties. Cordell agreed, noting that by bringing the warmage on his staff, he’d now have half of the Dweomerlists mages (the most powerful wizards in Aztaltica) on either his military or colonial staff—Toril (1st place), Moe (4th place), Ferno (5th place), and Dmitry (6th place).
The next day, Moe asked for another audience with the Viceroy, and despite his busy schedule, it was granted. Moe seemed more light than he'd been since the Night of Tears, or at least his bitterness appeared absent.
Cordell calmly said, “Lieutenant, I’ll say this once—we had a long discussion about your fate. I won’t tolerate the sort of insubordination you spouted the other day. If it was another officer, they’d be dishonorably discharged, but as you can see I want to hang to as many mages as I can for the coming struggle. Also, Garrant spoke highly of your performance at the drow fort, and you’re a new officer, so you have another chance. I don’t expect to mention this matter again and I expect you to carry yourself with the decorum befitting a legionnaire officer. Now, let me hear your proposal."
Moe said he'd given a great deal of thought about the Toril situation, and was convinced he was "neck deep in the plot against you and had likely not given up his dreams of a coup to usurp power once again." However, Moe admitted the possibility he could be wrong about Toril, and noted that appointing Ferno as his deputy to keep on an eye on the conjurer was a good first step, but further steps should be taken. Moe suggested Toril be subject to random inspections by a skilled wizard who could detect if he was researchjing forbidden magics or consorting with dark powers. Moe put himself forward himself as the wizard to conduct the inspections, noting this would also be a bitter pill for Toril to swallow.
Cordell agreed further investigation was warranted, but thought Moe's temper would get the better of him, so told him to keep clear of Greymantle, just as he'd instructed Liet. Instead, he would task Dmitry with befriending the conjurer, dropping by periodically to have a look at what he was doing. He was opposed to formal searches, as he had to give Toril the public benefit of the doubt that his switch was genuine, and he would respect the high office of Court Mage.
I have spoken at length with Greymantle and to his former comrade General Darkhelm, whose opinion I respect and who also served wityh Warwick. From what I understand, Toril signed on with the Baron in Balar just a few months before they embarked for Aztaltica—he was not part of the inner circle of Warwick, Thalargos, and Reinhart. Even Warwick’s own elite guard in the dungeon didn’t know of the drow, and no one but those three were ever allowed into Thalargos’ well-guarded sanctum, that shrine to the accursed Tempus. I remember it well…
Greymantle has already confessed to committing several criminal acts under Warwick’s direct order, and that matter was covered under the previous pardon (as is my right as Viceroy), just as I did for all Warwick’s men, many of whom were guilty of one transgression or another under orders. Perhaps a zealot of Tyr would lock the lot up, but I’m a Nuadan, and we’re a bit more practical about these things, especially when it was down to following orders. We need to heal the divisions of the Insurrection and we can’t afford to lose all that combat power behind bars anyway. What most people don’t realize is that this Tazumal we’ve set up is so fragile—once that Saurian army turns from the Exodus toward us, we may be fighting for our very existence, Ariker and Aztaltican alike.
Moe seemed to accept this, or at any rate did not object. He noted he and Dmitry were both vying for a single slot in the Arcane Order of Hyborea, and would be travelling to the island mageocracy for a spell duel to determine who would win admission. Cordell encouraged this, notiing it would be a great honor. He also added, I hesitate to mention this, but within the year I plan to appoint a replacement to Lady Ailea, though I’m sure you are aware there are multiple candidates for that position. I need someone I trust implicitly for that role, which is why I rejected Toril’s bid.”
At that point the Taran ambassador arrived for a meeting, so the discussion ended, on a far more amiable note than their previous meeting.
On the next morning, just before the Special Missions Unit was about to put to sea, General Cordell assembled the Legion leadership.
“My officers, specialists, and NCOs--I’ve long put off awarding the land grants I promised when we landed in Aztaltica, just as I’ve admittedly delayed awarding the 3 million nobles in cash we won from Itzapan on our arrival. Well, now that I’m firmly in charge as Viceroy, and we’re in a lull while we prepare to march against the Saurians, we’ll begin the process. Paymaster Hieronymous tells me we’ve had surprsingly low reenlistment rates since awarding the cash bonuses—I’ve seen it happen so many times, most will squander it all on wine, women, and song in a few monthes. I want reduce similar problems awarding these land grants may cause, so I want to tailor them to best promote retention of personnel. Since the Insurrection we have access to our Winterhaven-trained replacements again, but we need to hang on to the veterans who know Aztaltica well—we’ll need them for the march on Zlatan.
So, I will offer the promised land grants (a 100-acre plantation for all officers, specialists, and NCOs (though those with the better homes will be awarded by rank, some of the ones Warwick’s men were finishing are quite elaborate), and 10-acre farms for all enlisted soldiers.) But I’ll only award the deeds to the land when we’re in the field marching against Zlatan in late spring—when leaving the Legion is criminal desertion. I’ll put in locally hired overseers in the meantime, which will go with the properties. Of course, it’s not fair that the men who slogged through the jungle with us but want to get out don’t get a piece of that, so I’ll offer a cash out option at a reduced price. Some of you at this table might consider that option if you have no interest in the land and want the cash for buying goods back in Arik, but I’d recommend waiting—selling the plantations as going business concerns with even a few months’ track record should yield half again as much or more, and Assessor Slevak estimates they should grow in value perhaps 5-20% annually. I’m told the average absentee plantation owner with a good overseer and a reliable but rare product for export can make perhaps 220 nobles per month on average, though of course as in war, there are no guarentees in business. Another option, which I prefer more than parting with coin, is construction assistence—we have quite a force of workers who are just finishing work on Fort Cordell, especially those dwarves who were tunnelling underneath looking for our hidden gold.
We’ll lose some men to the lure of quick gold of course, but I owe them that, and the ones that stick with us we’ll offer preferential treatment from the tax authorities and such as further incentive. I’ve even decided to reward the senior non-Arikers who’ve aided the Legion, people like Dornar, Huitley, even Tezzozomac and Atahuelpa if we ever see them again—they can take the cash payment, or building assistence options, but by charter the land grants can only go to legionnaires. So to make this simple, all you officers, specialists, and NCOs in this room have the following options:
- Give up your land rights and take a lump sum payment of 16,000 nobles today.
- Accept construction assistance from the government of New Southold with a value of 22,000 nobles toward the building or buildings of your choice (I hear Daggrande already wants to open Tazumal’s first Dwarven pub), with a 1-6 month backlog on completion, anywhere easily accessible in New Southold.
- Get nothing now, but once the Legion is marching to engage the Saurians in late spring, legionnaire officers/NCOs/Specialists will get the functioning Plantation as discussed, which will be running with an overseer in their absence and any profits awaiting them on their return. Future owners can make decisions about their property now, however—crops have already been selected, but it’s not too late to change if you accept the penalties that entails, worker types can be selected, they can even interview and appoint their own overseers if so inclined, or start work on a home or extensions to the existing homes on the plots with their own funds. Owners can expect roughly 220 nobles per month in income as well as capital appreciation of 5-20% on a property with a base resale value of 26,000 nobles for most people in this room (see below).
- Wait until the deeds are awarded as above, then arrange to sell the properties (estimated value is 16,000 (half the capital plantation investment of 32,000 which includes the barns, equipment, workers, transportation/guild contracts, etc.), plus the value of the owner’s house,--10,000 for a “grand house” for an LT, SPC, SGT-MAJ, or MSGT for a total of 26,000 in most cases. For other ranks, average values will be 2,000 for an NCO “basic house” (18,000 total value), 15,000 for CPT (31,000 total value), 20,000 for COL (36,000 total value)).
Of course, eventually, when we have plenty of conquered land in Zlatan and things settle down, I can look again at awarding noble titles and considerably larger fiefs to my loyal officers, but relations with the Crown are tricky just now, so we’ll save the idea of making New Southold the seventh duchy for another time. And then there’s the matter of the Saurians themselves, who won’t let go of the place without a fight I’ll wager. But for now, enjoy the prospects of the extra cash or plantation; you legionnaires have certainly earned it.
Go to next section of the Log, TBA