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Vignettes about Evren:

Vignette I: Quirna of Tarves

Quirna took a slow breath to focus. This would have been more helpful if she wasn’t breathing in the rotting smell of the drainage ditch. She tried to rub her ear against her shoulder to shoo a mosquito away, not wanting to move her hands and lose any progress picking the lock on the grating. She closed her eyes and visualized the inside of the lock. One more pin…

Damn it all to Void! A horsefly landed on her right elbow and make her lose tension. She’d have to start all over. Her hands were shaking more with each attempt. If she didn’t get it soon, she’d have to give up and sneak home before anyone missed her. Then it would be another long day out on the water, pulling in nets full of sprat, before she’d get a chance to try again. And that was only if she succeeded in sneaking out again.

There! Finally, the lock turned. Now she could sneak beyond the upper city walls and put the whole Erlon Sea behind her for a while. She drew her dagger. The rune-inscribed blade gleamed with a fresh layer of poison toad-salve she’d made herself. There wasn’t likely to be anyone else in the sewers, but rumor had it the rats in here were getting nearly as big as the ones people claimed roamed the Witchwood.

She put the dagger back and pulled her ropes out of her pack. It was a steep decent from Upper Tarves on the coast of the inland sea to Lower Tarves at the bottom of the falls, where the river began. Once she was at the river docks, she was sure someone would hire her. It was always good to have a local Kalmak guide, and any decent sized riverboat could use another hand who knew some first aid and who could shoot a crossbow bolt into a Lothlan raider’s heart from thirty yards. She would be particularly valuable because she knew the rykta of the leaders of the local war bands. She could tell by their banners which were the companies that raided small ships and which had bigger fish to fry and would leave a small craft alone. With recent rumors that the Kestrel was terminally ill, the balance of power among the warlords had been shifting, and most other Kalmak had been too busy cowering behind the city walls to keep up with the lay of the land.

She just needed to make sure that none of the Tollscir’s tax agents at the port saw her. If they did, word would surely get back to the clan elders. She’d told her family she had a an apprenticeship lined up on a ship plying the Erlon-Knocklee route on the sea, mending nets and learning how to craft various tools. Once she got away, she could send a letter saying the ship had left earlier than expected. But if anyone saw her in the lower city heading downriver, there would be questions…

She took a nasty fall as a rock broke loose. The heavy rains of the past week had softened places that weren’t usually soft. She felt herself flip upside down, as one foot stuck in a crevice while the rest of her fell. After she recovered her senses and pulled herself back upright, she examined the foot. Dislocated big toe. There were worse things. She popped it back into place and continued gingerly down. After only a few more scrapes and one unfortunately smelly incident, she found herself at a drainage pipe leading out into the river at the edge of the lower city.

The river shone with bright sails in Ternacenti red, Romanza green, and all the colors of the smaller local traders. She picked out a likely looking river barge named the Emerald Dawn. With any luck, it would skip over the nightmare-infested city of Aethis and head straight on for Juldan. From there. it should be easy to find passage to the frozen shores of Frain. There she would find great-aunt Fiora, and the answers she was looking for.

Aunt Fiora’s partner was held in disgrace by the clans, exiled for dishonorable conduct during the War of the Byways. Nevermind that those actions had very possibly saved all the northern Kalmak from living under Lothlan rule. Fiora had chosen to go into exile, too, and taken on the disgrace herself. If Quirna’s family ever found out she’d gone to see them, she’d never be allowed home again. But there were answers Quirna needed to have. She brushed her hand over the pommel of the dagger. She’d have answers, one way or another.

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Vignette 2: Margene of Salendale

The stack of papers loomed over Margene, a seemingly endless barrage of approvals,
acceptances, and – hidden within the haystack – vital, critical, correspondence about the worst
elements of the world. She looked at it for a long moment and let out a deep sigh. Some days, it didn’t
seem worth getting up to deal with it, but she reminded herself that she had signed up for this. She had
fought and bled for this. This is what she wanted for her life.

Closing her eyes in momentary hope for focus, she reached for the top of the stack – only to be
interrupted by the sound of the door opening. “Warden Thiberoux?” asked her assistant, nervously,
knowing full-well how her mornings of late had been going. “A Guard Alasson is here to see you. She
says it’s important…”

For a moment, Margene considered making the young woman wait. After all, what sort of Guard
interrupts a Warden? Didn’t this Alasson know that Margene was the only light in the darkness of
Salendale? The sole force keeping the continent safe from the ravages of the Void? The veteran of thirty
years of service to the Velliar University with the scars of Voidic magic across her back to prove it? The
master of the Eastern Guardian Tower? The –

Margene stopped her self-important internal monologue. She had been a Guard once, herself,
and she, too, had witnessed important matters and been ignored. The memories still scarred her. Let a
Voidmancer grow in power, hide behind their “research,” refuse to give up the blood tithe, wait too
long… only darkness could come of it. “Let her in,” she agreed. Her assistant shuffled out of the room,
promising to return with coffee.

There was but a few moments left to prepare, but these were crucial moments for any Warden
who wished to retain her posting. Margene grabbed her crimson greatcoat from its spot on the nearby
hook, straightened out its lines, and buttoned it just right to look as severe as possible. She slid on her
gloves and clasped them behind her back. And finally, with a flurry, she turned toward the tower
window, looking out across the bustling city, just now waking from sleep, her hands clasped behind her
back.

Theatricality, her late mentor Provost Carawe had said, is at the heart of what we do. Without
fear, a rational calculation might encourage anyone to dip their toes into Voidmancy. But dips become
plunges. Embrace your role, your theatricality, your fear. They are your most powerful weapons.

The Guard entered the room. Like many of her rank, she was not clad in imposing crimson or
fine cuts of cloth, but armored for battle. A chain cuirass covered a simple brown country shirt, and a
steel helmet rested beneath a strong arm. Margene dramatically turned to face her, her expression
frozen in a suitably severe scowl.

“Warden Thiberoux,” the young woman stated, crossing an arm across her in a salute. “I have
ridden hard from the east, from the desert, and across the river, to bring you these tidings. Evil is
beginning to stir there.”

From the Weschkas Desert, thought Margene. Interesting. A group of Scholars had left for the
desert only a month ago, investigating rumors of strange magics. Margene had sent a pair of Defenders
with them, a hunch telling her it was Voidmancy. “Report,” she commanded.

“Lecturer Blavis is dead, Warden,” the Guard reported, her brow furrowing with an effort to
prevent an emotional release. They must have been close, thought Margene. “Defender Cariolus is
besieged and seeks reinforcements. In the desert, we found a group – a cult” – the correction seemed
very important to the young woman, “of necromancers. But unlike anything we’ve encountered before.
Unlike anything in the preparatory texts. They claimed…” the Guard swallowed hard. “They claimed to
have forces throughout Evren. They…” at this point, the dam broke and tears welled in the Guard’s
young eyes. “They claimed that with the sacrificed heartblood of Lecturer Blavis that they would call
them to action. Salendale… Salendale will fall, they said.”

Margene allowed herself a moment to stare at the Guard, attempting to keep her visage clear of
the tumult within her. And so it begins, she thought. The great test of the Warden of the East.
“Thank you,” she stated, succinctly. “Please provide a written report to my secretary and get
some rest in the barracks. And inform my assistant that I will need a gate to Totaira at once. The Provost
must hear of this.”

The Guard saluted once more and turned to leave. “And one more thing,” added Margene. “Tell
him I’m going to need even more coffee. Today will be a long day.”

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Vignette 3: Gerald of Dorenca-by-Kirkale

The last rays of sunset shone on his temple jewels as Gerald Verison returned from the privy. Inside his cabin, he began to light the candles, then looked over at his patient. With a sigh, knowing what he’d find, he put his hand on Freida’s forehead again. Still too hot. Even for a Sun Lyra. The same too hot she had been for the last three days. At least the screams had died down as her throat wore out. That would be easy enough to fix, eventually, same as the breaks in her wrists that she’d made struggling against her bindings. Even a Seed Druid could do that much, and Gerald was long past his Seedling days.

Eventually. Once the Void-cursed-whatever-it-was in that Spider cleared her system. Gerald just had to keep her alive until then.

A giant Spider should not have caused this much of a problem. Oh, they were nasty enough creatures, to be sure, but Dorenca was a town of 200, able to look out for itself against most of the creatures found in the hinterlands of Lazuria. When the Smith children came running into town yelling about a Spider coming through the fields, a squad of ten had formed under Freida’s lead in minutes. Gerald’s apprentice, Caralee Vereena, was one of them, included to deal with the poison. Nobody thought any more about it. Not until two of them came back as Eidolons, and stumbled back from Death’s Gate with some tale of the Spider fighting like a crazy thing, it’s jaws covered in a sticky brown substance none of them had seen before, and a bite that had killed them instantly, with no time to cure the poison.

Another squad of twenty was assembling when the remaining eight showed back up, bruised and battered, carrying the screaming Freida while Caralee poured purification and healing into her every few minutes. She’d tried to get the venom gland after the Spider was killed, hoping for some benefit for the town out of this disaster, but her gloves were only enough to keep her from dying, not keep her fully safe. When she fell over screaming and thrashing, the other seven had grabbed her and headed back. By the time they arrived, the corpse would have been long gone, no chance for Gerald to head out and try to figure out what it had been.

The first night was rough. Frieda’s piercing shrieks, alternating rage and pain and terror, did nothing to make treatment easier. Even when one of the Weavers silenced her for a time, the sight of her voiceless attempts at screaming made Gerald wince. But by morning, he had figured out an ameliioration, if not a cure. Purification every four hours kept her life force from draining quickly, and let his healing keep up with her loss.

It was clear by then that an actual cure was beyond even his substantial skill, though. He sent Caralee, three vials of Frieda’s blood, and a couple of volunteer bodyguards off to Kirkale for help. One vial for a sage to try and determine if it was poison, disease, a maladiction, a curse… anything to help figure out what in Void that Spider had done. One vial for an Alchemist or a Rune Mage to make something to fix it and bring back, if it needed more than Druid magic to resolve. One vial for Veriana, a Branch Druid of renown, if she thought she could do anything from Kirkale. And leaf, of course, to cover all those expenses. Dorenca provided a substantial sum to its Druid for emergencies, and this certainly counted.

And then late that afternoon, right after Gerald finished his third purification of the day, Frieda’s husband Vali came in with a summons to the Council of Elders. The fool wanted to just end treatment and let her die. “Her spirit is strong, and Golar can shard her! Stop torturing her for stubborn pride, Gerald, let the Gatekeeper fix her!” Gerald had to spend three hours at the Council explaining what he’d done, how he was holding to his Oath to keep the people of Dorenca alive as best he could. Fortunately, the Elders understand the value of an Oathbound Dwarf as their healer, even if Vali didn’t, and told him to stay out of it and let Gerald work. Vali didn’t like it, but he knew better than to go against the Council. The last two days, Gerald had been able to hold to the treatment without interruption, and even fix the arm one of the Smith kids broke falling from a tree.

Gerald looked at the hourglass that was counting down on his side table, and sighed. It was time for the next purification. If they made good time, Caralee and her party should have made Kirkale this afternoon, but it would be tomorrow at the earliest before they could get word back. Another three plus days if they actually had to bring a physical cure home, not just send a dream of what needed to be done. He reached down to buckle in his feet, and then over to tie down his left hand. As he opened his Heart to drain as much poison as he could out of Frieda, he began to scream.

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Randa of Kresa

Randa screamed out a curse as her toe caught against the edge of the table, sprawling her to the
floor and smashing her cheek against the hard wooden floor. “Why do you keep moving the chairs,
Petrun?” she cried out, rolling herself over to lie on her back.

The tavernkeep, thin as a rail and taller than anyone she’d ever met, barely looked up from what
he was doing. “The chairs aren’t moving, Randa,” he said, his voice a sing-song chant that suggested this
wasn’t the first – or the hundredth – time he’d said this. “They are right where they were when you
came in this morning, twelve pints of ale ago.”

Randa grimaced and slowly pulled herself to her feet. Maybe he had a point. Maybe she was
feeling a bit loose in the joints. “You’re a bad liar, Petrun,” she hissed at him. It made her feel a bit
better to be angry, so she just let it happen. “And your beer is piss water. An infant couldn’t get drunk
on this. I know you’ve got some of that strong stuff from Xiem in the back. Stop holding out on me!”
Petrun rolled his eyes and set a shot glass on the table, pouring from an unlabeled bottle. “You’ll
get the latest from Rensul. I’ll not waste my nice whiskey on you in your current state.” Randa scowled,
but took the shot anyway. It burned going down. She briefly feared it might burn again coming back up.
But, after a moment, the sensation passed. Not this time, she repeated to herself. Not this time. Keep it
together.

Things had been going so well only a week ago. Novice Randa Barone was about to become
Operaia Randa Barone. They were going to raise a glass to her across Kresa, to her masterful business
acumen, to her sailing prowess on the dangerous seas. It was Randa whose contacts in Galice had
alerted her to the massive sapphire find, long before anyone else knew. It was Randa who sailed around
the Horn of Horok, negotiated an incredible price for a chest full of sapphires, and beat back a fierce
storm north of Saragosa. It was Randa that –

“… got boarded by a bunch of Peleset who must have been hired by her enemies and got her sapphires stolen, yes. You’ve said so once or
twice,” said Petrun, rolling his eyes again.

Randa looked up, surprised. She hadn’t realized she’d been speaking her thoughts aloud. It
clearly was Petrun’s fault, for plying her with that cheap whiskey. “Just poor me another shot of this
garbage,” she spat. “And stay out of my thoughts. I’m trying to be alone with them!”

“You’re trying to drown your sorrows in a bottle, my friend,” the bartender offered. “But I’ll
pour you one more.”

The door to the tavern opened with a start, light streaming in from the noon sun outside. Randa
covered her eyes from the glare and turned away from the door, waiting for Petrun to finish pouring.
But he’d stopped. His eyes were fixed on the newcomer at the doorway.

The mirth of the bartender had left him, instantly. “But… but we’re paid up through next week,”
he stammered. “I counted the leaf myself. I know they were there. Surely, Huxton wouldn’t…”

“Shut up,” commanded a harsh voice from the doorway, a voice cut with the rasping tell of a
long-ago injury to the throat. “I’m not here for you. I’m here for her.” Randa turned to see the silhouette
pointing in her direction. “A young Felicitoro, down on her luck? Maybe looking for a way to turn it all
around? Huxton has some big plans for this city, plans she might be able to assist with.” The dark form
strode across the tavern, still a shadow against the bright light of the outside. Randa struggled to make
out his features.

The table shook as he sat down across from her. He reached into his pocket and pull out a Purify
Elixir, tossing it at her. It bounced off Randa’s brow. “Drink that and sober yourself up. I can’t have you
piss yourself before we’re done talking.”

She pulled back the seal with her teeth. Maybe this was the opportunity she needed. And
maybe it was the end of her. Only one way to find out.

She shot back the whiskey and immediately chased it with the elixir. “Ok, let’s talk.”

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Vignette 5: Rachel of Sahren

Rachel Glazier Davenstern, First Assistant to the Treasurer of Sahren, closed the ledger in front of her with a heavy thud. The crimson leather cover, embossed with the Treasury’s golden seal, sat in mocking silence as she put her hands to her aching forehead. Removing her glasses, she squeezed her eyes shut, blocking out the flickering lamplight she had been reading by.

The numbers played behind her eyelids anyway. There was no question that the stores of mana-laden gems had run dangerously low with the recent run on the market from the Tattershawl. She would have to recommend that the new storage caves along the northern cliffs be put in with muscle and sweat, no help from the Earth wizards. The Citrine needed to be saved for reinforcing the existing caves if there was a quake. Which meant pulling people from the dock repairs, which meant…

She shook her head, and heaved herself to her feet. Picking up the lamp, she began padding down the richly carpeted hall to her sleeping chambers. Time enough to deal with it tomorrow. At least gems could be stored and planned for, unlike most components. Having to rely on luck and happenstance, or expensive Scouting contracts, to secure the other sort when needed offended her number-crunching spirit. Thank the Pattern she was in Sahren, at least. The tales she sometimes heard from other davenstern about what they had to do to secure components in Othyran and Lazuria would make a Lothlan weep.

She opened the heavy oaken door to her room. She shook her head as she hung the lantern on its gold-plated hook. Another offense to frugality, when iron would have done just as well. But done before her time and not, she could only assume, a waste of mana-laden gold, just the regular stuff. She blew out the lantern, crawled under her scratchy woolen blankets, and fell asleep.

She dreamed of a storm at sea, lightning crashing. Caught in it, a boat, no a ship, tall masts and proud red phoenix for a figurehead. Sailors falling into the water in the rough seas, captured by tentacles that dragged them further down. As the waves broke the beam of the ship,

Rachel jolted awake, swearing. She was no Human, to be disturbed by Dreams at night regularly, but Captain Flinders of the Reborn Beauty was a Weaver, and she knew a True Dream when she felt one. A trade ship lost, with all hands. She started counting the costs immediately - the goods themselves, and the ship, of course; the cost of scouting vessels, to figure out what little atoll the Gates of Death might have left the crew at; then a rescue boat; consulting a Medium, to make sure no one had suffered the True Death; and maybe a Weaver here in town, to make sure the Beauty had still been on its expected course when it sunk? Yes, a Weaver was probably in order, you could never trust a Peleset not to sail off on some hunch about a “promising breeze”. With a groan, she rolled out of bed and opened her wardrobe, looking for her blue silken vest. She began putting up her hair, making sure her earpoints, one of her best features, were prominently displayed. Delivering bad news to Treasurer Forain always went better if you arrived in style. And today’s news was going to be bad.

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Vignette 6: Ezran of Zantia

“Balance,” Ezran muttered to themself. “You are a metal mage. You follow the Way of the Moon. You are a being of balance and harmony.”

They threw a dart of burning flame into the wall. “Damn it!”

They began to pace in a circle. They should cut themself some slack. Part of maintaining balance was acknowledging and respecting one’s fire, after all.

Ezran Greengold Davenstern was not going to let one group of fanatics destroy all the diplomatic efforts that had led to one of the most successful joint Agni Lana-Velliar partnerships of the past century. The number of new herbalist rituals created over just the past five years may have been as many as were created in the previous fifty. And they would benefit all of Evren. The crop yields that could be had were astounding, and the amount of land that could be left wild because of it was immense. There were staggering possibilities for mass-infusing consumables with treatments for all sorts of ailments, from headaches to arthritis. Yet these Cult of the Golden Acorn freaks and their Alligator Spirit decided that Tanar Valiki’s ship and all the expedition’s notes and components would be better off at the bottom of the River Naddoc.

Ezran smoothed their blue kaftan. It was the night of a new moon, and they could feel a tingle in their ears as the Dark Mantle of the sky told them, “Now. Act now. Find them. Eliminate them.”

No. Ezran would send agents, of course, to identify and track the cult members. But right now, the most urgent thing was diplomacy.

First they must write to the Mór Comhairle. Elder Salica and the rest of the druidic council had publicly decried the Cult before, of course. They needed to do it again, and this time they needed to actually commit to finding the cultists in their ranks.

Second, Ezran would have to appease the Velliar. To fully appease them would probably take the blood of a few cultists. But in the meantime, a gift would help. A gift that could help recover some of the components.

They sat and pulled out their compass and star chart and began to scribe in their notebook a diagram of the ritual circle needed to summon the water elemental Adagun.

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Vignette 7: Ciela of Irondell and Meerak of the Davenstern

Ciela was most of the way back to Irondell when she thought she heard yelling in the distance. It was hard to be sure through the wind, but still. Someone might be in trouble, she thought, sighing a little as she turned to trudge through unbroken snow. She should have been back already, but had lingered at the lake. She had a good string of fish for her trouble at least, although they weren’t terribly needed. It was more a mutual understanding with her family that they would pretend to need some fish and she would pretend that she would love to help prepare the clearing if it weren’t for this unforeseen piscine deficiency. Truthfully, Ciela hated heights and would rather do almost anything than help rig the treetops with lanterns and other decor.

Through the trees, she began to catch glimpses of something blue. A cloak. The yelling was audible now and Ciela began to step lightly, staying quiet in case there was something dangerous ahead.

Soon she had a clear enough view - it was a Davenstern messenger faced with a small pack of ill-tempered wolves. He was holding his cloak above his head and shouting, hoping the animals would reevaluate and turn away. So far, the stalemate was holding. Ciela edged closer, lining up her shot. Sleep! She yelled, aiming right into the lead wolf’s shoulder. The others started to run away before their large friend had finished collapsing into the snow. The messenger spun in her direction, still holding the cloak high above his head. Ciela waved, and walked over to introduce herself.


Meerak was shocked that someone else was in these woods with him, but grateful. He had been giving himself 50/50 odds against those wolves if they had decided to attack. And he didn’t enjoy killing animals - or letting the mail be delayed by a visit with Death. He had begun this delivery feeling quite confident, having remembered to dress for this extremely foreign weather. He had not considered the difficulty of navigating through woods full of featureless, cairn-burying snow. He never considered turning back - having finished messenger training barely a moon ago, he was determined not to let any of his early deliveries go awry. Meerak dreamed of being a great scholar someday, someone who would work with (or even join) the Council of Advisors and everyone knew that a successful stint as a messenger is one of the most reliable first steps on that path. An Advisor needs to know something about every part of the world, as his mentor was fond of repeating.

Fortunately, he must not have gotten too far off track since exiting the gate, because here was a resident of the exact Hurzicht village he was trying to deliver to. Her name was Ciela, and she kindly offered to let him accompany her on her way home. As the wind picked up, Ciela tied the long ends of her bright knit hat around her face, and Meerak tried to tuck his chin inside his coat. He much preferred this area in summertime, he decided. Fortunately, it only took an hour at most for the first houses to appear, and soon after that they reached the center of town. His travel companion noticed his confusion. “All this set-up is just for later today, for celebrating the longest night of the year,” she explained.

It was a glade, large enough for a hundred people at least. The only part of Irondell clear of trees, it was still shaded by a dome of branches growing from every side and meeting high overhead. Despite the lack of foliage, this living ceiling kept the area quite dry. Unlike on his previous visit, there was a circle of stones taking up about half the clearing and outside the stones there was a colorful ring of carpets all around, almost at the edges of the clearing. A half-dozen delighted children were running around and around the carpeted track in their warm coats and stocking feet while a woman tended several small fires near the center of the clearing. Families were starting to set up chairs and tables of food at the edges of the carpet ring, and hanging brightly colored decorations off of wires and ropes anchored between the many surrounding trees.

After all the mail had been distributed, the Hurzicht invited Meerak to have some food before leaving, to which he readily agreed. Wanting to demonstrate maximum diplomacy, he sampled every dish, but decided it would be acceptable to take a second helping of the whipped cream and cheese. As the sun grew lower on the horizon, more fire tenders began creating a great cloud of smoke. This concerned Meerak until he noticed that somehow it all stayed inside the inner stone ring, creating a thick curtain. People were entering and leaving the smokey area from time to time, dipping in and out of view, but almost everyone stayed behind the stone circle and Meerak thought it was probably best to do the same. Besides, it was time to leave unless he wanted to find out what travelling through snowy woods in the dark was like. Spotting Ciela’s bright red hat across the clearing, he made his way around to offer her again his thanks before fastening his mailbag across his shoulder, wrapping a scarf around his face and heading out of town, back to the gate. It was entirely possible he could still make one more delivery tonight.

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Vignette 8: Heibold in Celire

The fiery explosion erupted only inches away from Hiebold’s right side, and he instinctively
ducked to the left, falling into a forward roll that propelled him to the edge of the stairs leading toward
the docks. His eyes darted back for just a moment to track the movements of the two Davenstern wizards trailing him from the Gythiere Estate.

Two? Hiebold thought for just a second as the second fireball struck him directly in the back, the
shimmering blue light of his spellshield illuminating his outline for a moment as he immediately turned
to begin running down the stairs. Damn, damn, damn he cursed to himself as he began to take the stairs two and three at a time, determined to avoid falling, but equally determined to avoid the arcane death
from behind.

He recast a spellshield on himself and repeated to himself. Two spellshields, 300 feet to go, I’m
still alive. But those three hundred feet were going to be a long way, down steep and unsteady stairs,
and at the bottom, Hiebold could see two beefy Gythiere guards, waiting between him and his ship.
It had seen like such a simple job: sneak into the Estate, avoid notice, find the desk, copy the
letter. And it had all gone smoothly, until Hiebold had let greed get the better of him. He felt like no one
could really blame him: on the way out, just across the courtyard, he’d seen the crates, and their labels
were unmistakable. Everyone knew that wine from Celire was the best in Evren, but even among those
vintages, the Gythiere Red was special, and the Gythiere 804 was breathtaking. “Who would miss a
single bottle, slipped out of a single crate?” Hiebold had let himself believe.

And now he knew the answer: Gythiere Red was so precious, and the 804 vintage so rare,
because the Gythiere Davenstern took the security of their wine far more seriously than they took the
security of their master’s private correspondence. It figured.
Another explosion blew chips from the marble stairs to Hiebold’s right, and a second to his left.

So far, so good. He skipped down a few more stairs, drawing both of his short swords in preparation for
the fight to come. Maybe he was going to get out of this.

The wizards shifted tactics, and the marble stairs suddenly sprouted tight grasping vines,
reaching desperately for Hiebold’s legs. He jumped to the side, but not quickly enough, and the flash of
his outline pulsed again, pushing back the immediately-desiccating thorns. One spellshield, 200 feet,
Hiebold thought to himself.

At this distance, he could see the rest of the Harbinger’s crew on the decks, preparing to loose
the sails at his arrival. It was a tough thing, being a Peleset crew, and he didn’t blame them for not
coming out to protect him. They’d deny any association with him right up until the moment he hit that
deck, and only they would they drop the sails and flee the harbor like the kraken itself was on their tails.
Of course, at this distance, he could also see the armor on the two beefy thugs in his way. And
watch them draw weapon and shield to move toward him.

The stairs ended, and Hiebold immediately went into a fighting stance, parrying the first attack
and sliding a shortsword under shield and into mail. His foe stumbled backwards, grasping as blood
pooled against his blue tabard. The second moved in to attack, but Hiebold was too quick, his agile
movements too much for the blow to connect.

He was spinning now, trying to draw the melee opponents between him and the wizard’s
behind him, enough to get the ship at his back. He felt his weapons trying to leap from his hands, and he
cursed as another blue shimmer flashed. Out of spellshields, 50 feet to go, he whispered to himself.
He sliced low at the leg of one of the swordsmen, and he watched as his opponent fell to the
ground, crying out in agony as his useless leg failed him. He spun and parried an attack from the second,
then spun around to drive his offhand shortsword directly through the man’s chest.

The way was open, and Hiebold turned to sprint toward safety. He could see the ropes being
loosened from the sails and the faces of his comrades, looking at him with eager gazes. It was going to
be a good day. They were going to be paid well for this letter. Tonight, he thought, they will celebrate
with the Gythiere 804.

The explosion caught him in his left leg, and he stumbled to the ground as the heat and flames spread across the rest of his body. Hiebold struggled to keep his eyes open as unconsciousness consumed him, just long enough to see one of the wizards pulling shackles out from his pocket.

The crew of the shipped turned away to their duties, immediately pretending disinterest in the action on the pier. They knew very well what Celire did with thieves, and they had futures to protect.

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Vignette 9: Arturo

Arturo looked down at the blood on his hands, his daughter’s blood. She’d been gone too long with the Gatekeepers, far too long, and he feared the worst. He tried to tell himself that the raid had taken so many lives, that the Gatekeepers were probably incredibly busy, processing all the dead from the Lothlan attack, that maybe the Gatekeepers don’t pay a lot of attention to a small Daler village, far away from any of the main settlements… but none of it was a comfort. It had been too long.

It didn’t seem fair. She had just been in the way, running through the grasslands when the raid had come over the hillside. Not understanding, not able to run fast enough, and she had just been cut down. And now… Arturo didn’t want to admit it, didn’t want to say he was just waiting for the bell, but young Tiana had been so sick, he knew her spirit wasn’t as strong as it would have otherwise been. She was just eight years old. It wasn’t fair.

His face collapsed into sobbing as the low, painful tone sounded over the quiet valley. Elsewhere in the village, the other members of their small community were trying to put back their lives, trying to comfort the returned dead, trying to reassure themselves that another raid likely wouldn’t come until next year’s harvest, and that they should be happy to have escaped to live again another day, but Arturo just sat on the hillside, weeping.

When he returned, he was a changed man. Fire seemed to burn in his eyes, and the other villagers looked on him with a touch of fear.

“We cannot allow this to happen to us every year,” he stated, flatly, dried tears still upon his cheeks. “My daughter was the step too far. From now on, we protect ourselves.”

The small crowd that had gathered began to protest – we cannot defend ourselves, they cried, the Lothlan are too strong, too powerful; we are but simple farmers, and battle is not our way. But Arturo would hear nothing of it. “We are strong, if we fight together. We can learn to fight as they do. When they come back next year, we will destroy them.”

The others were too afraid to question – afraid of the Lothlan, afraid of the future, afraid of the fire in Arturo’s eyes – but they took to their training with diligence and the strength of centuries of Daler fortitude and hard work.

Now, a year later, Arturo looked down once more at the blood on his hands. Lothlan raider blood. They had taken none of the harvest this year, and they would never take it again. Arturo had long-since been the most forceful presence on the village’s council of elders, but now, none would question his wisdom or his determination. They were safe, at last.

But it wasn’t enough. Arturo knew it. They had been made safe for what – a year? Maybe not even that? When the Lothlan discovered that their raiding party had been killed, would they just let it go? Ignore the resistance of a bunch of poor farmers? He knew it would not be so.

He turned back toward the village center, knowing what he must do. It was time for his people to act, to unite, to fight. The only thing that mattered now was the good of the community, the health of the people, the peace of long lives and hard work. And it would take much work to get there, much violence. But his people would have peace.

But not until the world was remade. And it was time his small Daler community became a worldwide movement, a conquering army capable of bringing peace to the land. The small would overthrow the great, the farmer would throw down the merchant. For what had the great brought to the world but death and misery? No. Only those of the land could see the future. The future, Arturo knew, was Daler.

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