Codex VIII-Chapter 2

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Cyriest was a bustling town. Situated on the shores of Lake Bellissimo, there was a fairly substantial docks with many ships coming and going. The Mountains of Fire were visible to the east and the south, dwarven territory, and most of the ships they could see were of dwarven make, squat ships with little ornamentation built for functionality, not aesthetics.

There didn’t seem to be much in the way of skyship drop zones, so they landed gently in the water and sailed into the docks, berthing after a short wait.

Khaska and the others disembarked, Orensland carrying the armor in his bag of holding. Speaking to the dockmaster and the city watch garnered them the location of the Moretti household. The city itself was much smaller than Hammerdine or Laishtek, though still sizeable. The streets were cobblestone, and the various houses were decorated with ornate carvings. Statues were quite frequent, and the archways and columns of the various buildings were decorated with motifs of different figures (invariably human). Major intersections were dominated by fountains, ornate arrangements of animals or humans again from which poured water. It was only mid-March by now, so the cold still lingered in the air, even this close to the equator, but the many balconies held places for pots and things. Orensland noticed them, easily seeing that they were probably for flowers and other plant decorations when the season was correct. The city was impressive, and the elf could only imagine what it was like during the spring or summer months. Aestus was flabbergasted. Having grown up in Darkcrest, where there was little such architecture outside (vampire houses were notoriously gaudy on the inside), he was astounded at the beauty of even the simplest building.

Orensland and Khaska both noticed how, the further into the city they got, away from the docks, the less non-humans there were, and the more noticeable they were. They got plenty of askance looks. Sanjin was a little amused, occasionally staring down some of the humans trying surreptitiously to watch them .

“I’m not entirely sure they’re used to seeing non-humans so deep into their city,” the shadowdancer whispered.

Khaska nodded. “It seems that way. We had best be on our best behavior?”

“You have a different way of behaving?” the rogue good-naturedly ribbed.

Eventually they were able to find their way to the seat of the barony itself. The building was even more ostentatious than the ones they had seen on their way in, carvings and statues all across even the security wall that surrounded the estate. The gate itself was gold, shining and clean, with two human cherubs adorning its tops. Khaska and Aestus were both reminded of Farah, with her cherub familiar. Two guards with largely ornamental armor and garish pikes stood to either side of the gates. One held his hand up.

“Halt! What’s your business?”

Eryx (DM)
Think of the Tlerian empire as a medieval renaissance culture, as far as aesthetics. This city is quite pretty.

What will you say to the guards here? What’s the plan to introduce ourselves?

Orensland would be willing to approach and say the following:

"Good sir, we'd like to meet with the head of the Moretti family. We believe we have come across a family heirloom of theirs, a suit of armor. We found it in a sarcophagus, inscribed with the inscription 'Here lies Knight Vitoria Moretti, of the Order of the Silver Dragons, Baronessa of Cyriest,' one who was alive a hundred or so years ago. Here is the helmet of the armor, which will hopefully lend some credit to what I have said." At which point, provided the guards do not act hostile, Orensland will reach into his pack and draw out the helmet. "There is some backstory to how we came across this armor, and we were hoping to learn more of this knight. Is there one here to whom this armor rightfully belongs, and to whom we can speak concerning this Vitoria?"

I've been asked to roll a Persuasion check. 7 (4 + 3). Oh dear…

Eryx (DM)
In this situation, I would allow one other person to help with the persuasion, per the rules (PHB p. 175, "Working Together"), but only one.

Do we get any bonuses for producing evidence that we have the armor?

Khaska would be willing to help if they seem unfriendly to Orensland (16 = 11 + 5). "We know we are a strange party, assembled from across our moon. To be sure, we seek no payment for the return of the armor. We have worked closely with the Knights of the Silver Dragons, and it is enough to honor the memory and the descendants of those of their order who have perished."

(I suppose we can also try to plan in here; we'll have had weeks to decide what to say!)

Aestus, flabbergasted as he is, is also very eager to make some dwarven friends. He will try to comport himself in the same respectful manner as his friends. Indeed, he feels as though they are the honor guard, escorting the remains of a fallen hero. But once the party is left to their own aims, he would like to first inquire about the cherubs. He would like to learn what he can about them and their significance (who are they? what do they do? why are they revered in statue form? how does one gain their favor? how does one become bound to them? etc). Next, depending on the time of day, and the party's urgency to move to the next goal… if he has time, Aestus will go to the town center, market, or tavern, wherever seems a bustling place, and mingle, simply sitting down with people and awkwardly starting up conversations with them.

Under the circumstances Sanjin will fade into the back to the group and try to look as little like a battle-mage as possible. (Also I acepted the Wiged boots from the previous chapter)

Orensland stepped forward, his hands clearly displayed to these guards.

“Good sir, we'd like to meet with the head of the Moretti family. We believe we have come across a family heirloom of theirs, a suit of armor.” The two guards looked at each other, skeptically. Orensland continued. “We found it in a sarcophagus, inscribed with the inscription ‘Here lies Knight Vitoria Moretti, of the Order of the Silver Dragons, Baronessa of Cyriest,’ one who was alive a hundred or so years ago. Here is the helmet of the armor, which will hopefully lend some credit to what I have said.” He went to reach into his haversack, watching carefully for their reaction. The one who had spoken nodded. He reached in and drew out the helmet. “There is some backstory to how we came across this armor, and we were hoping to learn more of this knight. Is there one here to whom this armor rightfully belongs, and to whom we can speak concerning this Vitoria?”

“Knight?” one of them scoffed. “A Vitoria that was a knight?” They both chuckled.

Khaska spoke up. “We know we are a strange party, assembled from across our moon. To be sure, we seek no payment for the return of the armor. We have worked closely with the Knights of the Silver Dragons, and it is enough to honor the memory and the descendants of those of their order who have perished.”

“Look,” the guard said, “if you don’t have any official business with any members of the house, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

Aestus frowned. Such rudeness to guests returning a family heirloom. Sanjin stayed back, trying his best to not look like a war mage who was about to start a ruckus. Orensland seemed baffled as well at their reception. Khaska was more politic, of course.

“I would be willing to cast Zone of Truth on myself that you could verify the matter.”

Both guards shifted their stances, bringing their pikes down slightly. “No spellcasting,” the other guard said, “and I think you’d better leave unless you have real business.”

Khaska straightened. “Thank you for your time. The Moretti family is blessed to have such diligent guards in their employ. Come my friends,” he said to the others.

The guards watched them until they rounded a corner and were out of sight.

“Well, that didn’t go well at all!” Orensland blurted out. “What do we do now?”

Eryx (DM)
What do you do now, indeed? Your persuasion rolls where not high enough to convince the guards. They turned you away in no uncertain terms. I IMed a bit with Thev for the last bit about the Zone of Truth spell, but, alas, it did not help.

We can pick up on the other things you all wanted to do in town after the situation with Baronessa Moretti's armor has been resolved.

Got any red leaf and combustible goods on hand?

Hmph. Well. Orensland’s gut impulse is to find a better resting place for the armor and set fire to the manor behind us. Before doing anything rash, however, he would suggest we do some investigating in the town, perhaps even see if someone can point us to a book that contains local history (it may indicate the baroness’s backstory). Based on what we know from there… well, they’d better hope they are cast in a good light. It’s possible the family is nice and the guards were simply turds.

I’ll do rolls later (can’t access my sheet at the moment) but Orensland would request Khaska’s hat of disguise and not tell them of his potentially destructive intentions. Khaska could just as well do the investigating, but Orensland will be additionally, subtly trying to suss out if this wealthy family is one of his traditional Robin Hood- type targets. He’d borrow the hat because it looks like people are skeptical of outsiders, perhaps especially non-human outsiders. A piece of information he’d try to determine is why having a knight in the family would be a surprise.

Eryx (DM)
Investigation Checks for anybody wanting to help Orensland figure out things about the current Moretti family and their family history.

Investigation: 21 (10 + 11)

Investigation: 16 = 14 + 2

Khaska would also approve of investigating the family. Perhaps Vitoria was the "prodigal daughter" of the family somehow, and her fate even before her death and vampirization was unknown to her family; perhaps they're also wealthy, perhaps the guards were told to turn anyone away, or perhaps they're even just prejudiced against nonhumans. With that last bit in mind, Khaska would undertake his investigations wearing his Hat of Disguise to appear as a human scholar visiting from a foreign land. Based on what he discovers, perhaps we might return the armor to the Knights — honestly, it occurs to Khaska that it might be good to contact Sir Reitman about Moretti, to see what records they might have in Hammerdine (and to update him on the party's movement).

I'm guessing Khaska would notice Orensland's annoyance and surmise that he might have ulterior motives in asking to borrow the Hat; he'd try to convince Orensland that attacking a noble family, in a nation that's larger and more organized than Darkcrest, simply because they happen to be jerks wouldn't be worth it.

Sanjin doesn’t have any spells that would be useful. Not unless we want to start (or end) a fight.

Investigation: 9 = 8 + 1

Aestus would be both annoyed and very curious why their good deed was being met with such disapproval. This curiosity would lead him to want to know more about this family and its current state: who leads it, what is their status among the townsfolk, how renowned are they, do people view them favorably or not? Aestus has the immediate impression that this Vitoria Moretti is an apple that fell a ways away from the tree and left her family to go do good. He greatly respects this and will seek to get to know her better as he would a friend, though through gossip and conversation with others rather than talking with the individual directly.

“What do we do now?” Then the rogue went quiet. Then a queer smile spread across his face. “Hey Khaska, can I borrow your Hat of Disguise?”

“Orensland,” Khaska said, reading into the shadowdancer’s expression, “attacking a noble family, in a nation that's larger and more organized than Darkcrest, simply because they happen to be jerks wouldn't be worth it. There are other avenues to explore first. For example, we might do some research into their family history.”

“Perhaps they are just prejudiced against non-humans,” Sanjin said.

“Why?” Aestus blurted out. “You are as noble folk as I’ve ever even heard of!”

“But do they know that?” Khaska asked. “We have just shown up on their doorstep with quite a story. The guards have no way of verifying our tale. I think some local research might be of value in further our objective of returning the armor and of discovering the history of Baronessa Moretti. Come, let us find the local chapter of Knights.”

Khaska decided to use his hat of disguise to look like a human, his cover story that he was a human scholar visiting from Tidewater City. (He knew of the tensions between Hammerdine and the Tlerian empire, so avoided using them as his fake background.) It worked well enough, and he was able to access some records in their local library as well as speak to a few of the Knights.

Orensland took a different approach, pointedly not inviting Khaska and Aestus. He dragged Sanjin down to the docks to find some elven traders and taking them to dinner. “Been a while since I’ve been with some of my own kind, and I miss it,” was his cover story. Eventually he stumbled upon a Captain Rania, a fair elf, with dark hair and leather armor. Her clothing was functional, but she wore several bracelets and necklaces and large hoop earrings. It seemed gaudy for an elf, but after watching her interact with humans for a bit, Orensland realized she was putting on a show. In this gaudy town, she played her part as a trader who even looked a bit like a stereotypical pirate queen, she did it well. She laughed and flirted to their faces, but once the humans’ backs were turned she was all business. She had come to trade spices from the main elven lands and alchemical components from Metchtee. The latter was what got her some wayward glances, but Orensland could tell she could handle herself should something go south.

Sanjin was somewhat hoping that it would, but he was disappointed.

After a few glasses of wine, the captain loosened up and began to speak more freely. Being so long-lived, and with some anti-human prejudice to boot, Orensland had hoped he might glean some more ancient history on the Moretti family. Dig up some dirt, so to speak.

His instincts were correct.

“Some of the Tlerians are more enlightened than others with regard to gender,” the captain was saying as she drank her wine, “but the Moretti family is not among them. They are traditionalists and thin that a woman should do poetry and song and art and whatnot, but not run a family business, or be involved in politics. Certainly not become a Knight.”

“Were they always so?” Orensland asked.

The Captain shook her head. “I wasn’t around for it, but a few human generations back there was one head of the Moretti family who was a woman, but it didn’t go well. She went galavanting off on some damn fool crusade and never returned. It was chaos in the family until her nephew had her declared legally dead and seized control of the family. Since then, the women have always known their place.”

“The current Baron Moretti feels this way?” Sanjin inquired. “His guards didn’t seem to friendly to us.”

“Xenophobic imbeciles, the lot of them,” she said. “Humans are better than everybody else, and men better than women. The old baron wanted to move the family back to the capitol after his wife died, but then he died and the new baron, young buck, has stayed here running the business with keen instincts for business. The family is prospering better than ever before.”

“How old is the new baron?”

“He’s in his 20s. Newly married. They have one kid, a girl, and the wife is pregnant again I hear. The baron has pretty much pushed his little sister out of the picture. We don’t see much of her anymore.”

“What is she like?” Sanjin was curious to know.

Captain Rania shrugged. “She’s had the finest instructors and teachers money could buy, but most of them were human. I heard at one point she fancied herself a scholar, but I doubt that’s going to go anywhere. Her brother will probably try to marry her off soon to get her out of his hair. She’s almost of age. Will turn sixteen this year, I believe. I’m sure there will be a big party and she’ll be sent off to make babies with some old widower until he croaks and she has to turn the family fortune over to her oldest son.” The elf woman tore off a chunk of bread and dipped it in her soup. “Not much of a life, if you ask me.”

Khaska contacted Rider Reitman with a Sending spell, detailing their current mission and location. He received a reply very quickly. “Give my note to Cyriest chapter head. All courtesy is to be extended you. How long will you be there?”

Khaska responded. “Probably several days, after which we have some business in Sethrayin. We're working our way southward bit by bit.”

Reitman replied again. “Please contact the Chapter head in Sethrayin. I'll alert him. Need a full debriefing on your findings in the Marshes! He'll expect you.”

And Khaska’s reply was brief. “Excellent, many thanks! Will keep you updated.”

And the dragonrider’s final response, “Please do. I look forward to reading your report, troubling as it is. Much evil abounds in this world. Good to have allies like you.”

With that, he took most of the rest of that first day and some of the second perusing local records and, with Rider Reitman’s missive, the archives of the local chapter of Knights. He noticed that all of the Knight leadership was human here, though there were a few non-humans in their enlisted ranks. Invariably the non-humans were more helpful when he was unfailingly polite to them, but this then earned him a bit of the scorn of the human officers. It was disconcerting.

He discovered Baronessa Vitoria Moretti’s entry in their personnel ledger. She had joined the order in 52DT.847, a hundred and fifty years previously, and her name was listed a few years later as a captain of a squad. There were no other records. A few inquiries about the nomenclature turned up the fact that, as a captain, she would have a group of Knights assigned to her, and they were typically more independent-minded than being mere local Knights under the leadership of the chapter head. Most of the time they would be founded by a chapter head and then sent off elsewhere, sometimes with specific tasks in mind, other times more free-lance and moving around at the behest of their commanding officer. Such assignments were virtually non-existent today in the preparations for the Dark Times, as free-lancing groups were not conducive to the more militaristic and regimented structure of the order the past few decades under Grandmaster Earthshaper.

Putting their notes together that evening, they had a pretty good idea of the outline of Baronessa Moretti’s life. She had joined the order against convention and culture, left with her squad, vanished (and presumably was turned into a vampire, if she truly was Lady Drakh, or at least killed in Darkcrest, the fate of the rest of her squad unknown), causing her family to become even more rigid in their adherence to the sexism of the Tlerian culture, a rigidity that continued down to the current baron, and that seemed to be part of the culture of the chapter of the Knights currently in Cyriest.

It was Aestus who spoke up the most about this. “It sounds like she left her family to do good, the apple falling far from the tree. I can respect that, wanting to make a better life than sitting around making sculptures or whatever. Perhaps they don’t deserve the honor of burying her armor.”

“She is an ancestor of their family and was from this city, though,” Khaska said, placing a hand on Aestus’ arm. The warrior calmed a bit at the touch, though his jaw was still visibly clenched. “Whether with the Knights here or her family, there would be no better resting place for her, I would think.”

Sanjin shrugged. “Maybe Vitoria wouldn’t see it that way if she deliberately left her family and the city, but she’s not around to ask.”

“Well, we still have a decision to make,” Orensland said. “Now that we know more about the local situation and the history, what do we want to do now?”

Eryx (DM)
Now you know more about the tale of Baronessa Vitoria Moretti. What do you all want to do now?

*sigh* fine. Orensland will not do anything terrible to the family. Not now, at least. They certainly have a black mark in his book, and after the dark times if he/they are still alive he may consider swinging back and upending society here as we know it. Perhaps by humiliating the men in some fashion for their mistreatment of… well, everybody. Until then, we have (admittedly) more important things to do.

I vote that we hold on to the armor until we find somebody worthy of wearing it. Burying it would be all fine and good, but perhaps with only second-rate options before us providing a worthy knight with legacy armor would be the best option. I suppose we should have looked at this earlier, but what with the Maramos clan's stolen wealth in our pockets and sentimentality it didn't really come up… but how valuable is the armor? Does it have magical qualities we should be aware of? What kind of roll would I need to do to figure that out? Having Sanjin cast a spell or two may be in order as well.

Otherwise, perhaps we should simply move on to Sethrayin.

Sanjin agrees with Orensland that leaving her belongings here would be a poor tribute to her. It very well be that giving her armor to someone who could honor her spirit would be better. Sanjin could do an Arcana check, but considering it came from a paladin Khaska would likely be a better resorce.

  • Arcana: 27

Khaska agrees that returning the armor to her family seems like an unworthy tribute to her memory (about which, I now realize, we have very little information). Indeed, until we can learn more about her history, it would seem odd to leave the armor in Cyriest. The inhabitants of the city seem unlikely to respect her unless they know exactly what she did.

With that in mind, perhaps the best place for the armor at the moment might be the library of Tebbins Ferrick in Laishtek, a more open society where someone would be more likely to uncover her story.

Speaking of the library: well Khaska would be happy to leave Cyriest and the Moretti plan to their devices at present, he is concerned for the daughter who wishes to become a scholar. If possible, he would like to arrange for a time to meet her, or even perhaps to arrange for her escape from a family that disdains their own notable ancestor. Khaska, perhaps, could present himself as a traveling scholar (disguised as a human, of course) working to tutor the children of nobility in the cultures of Gallidus and Thanor. Perhaps, even, he could get a contact in Laishtek to write to the family, proposing marriage — but intending nothing of the sort, instead hoping to bring her to Laishtek as an apprentice scholar.

…Honestly, if she's amenable and he could get a line of sight of the new baron, Khaska could, unobserved, cast Geas on him to induce him to let his sister follow her personal objectives. (*waves hand* "You want to let your sister lead her own life…")

Khaska can also cast Detect Magic to see if the armor is magical, but I'm not sure what else he could do in that respect.

Eryx (DM)
You've had plenty of time to realize that the armor and the sword are of an exceptionally high quality, but they are not magic.

Your investigation checks would be sufficient to have drummed up a contact through whom you could propose tutoring Pavetta Moretti, the 15 year old sister of the current baron, who by all accounts is a bright student and an engaged learner. Would you like to write up a formal letter of introduction, Thev, or just say "I write a letter of formal introduction"? The letter would be to Ida Fazio, Ms. Moretti's governess.

Not trusting my ability to write in as high an aristocratic style as would appeal and as Khaska could, I will instead offer some bullets that would be included in such a letter:

  • Khaska would introduce himself as Eusebius Horn, a traveling (human) scholar and tutor with specialized knowledge in the cultures of Gallidus and Thanor.
  • He especially seeks out young students possessed by curiosity about the world.
  • In addition to first-hand knowledge from his travels around the world, he also knows scholars from a variety of cities.
  • He has heard of the high quality of education the Moretti family provides to its scions, including (with a feigned tone of admiring surprise) daughters, and wishes to contribute his part to such an illustrious family.
  • Some lines about payment, not too little so as to be dismissed as cheap or unreliable and not too much so as to be dismissed as a moneygrubbing charlatan.
  • The name of the inn in which he will stay (while posing as a human) as a return address.

In all of the above, he would seek input from the other party members (which, I suppose, could be improved in the writeup).

Aestus is in agreement with all. Currently, we are the ones giving the most honor to Vittoria and her memory, so let the armor stay with us, for now, until we find somebody deserving of such a splendid gift or we find some sort of museum or hall of remembrance for fallen Knights to which we can donate it.

Orensland completely supports Khaska’s plan. Having already been seen by the family guard and not having much in the way of disguising magics, Orensland would probably have another drink with the captain and try to glean more about the present state of his home continent. Plus it’s just been a while since he’s socialized among elves, so why not?

Although several in the group seemed ready to abandon the Moretti family to their backward ways, Khaska was still concerned with this Pavetta Moretti, the fifteen-year old aspiring scholar. After thinking about it, he decided upon a ruse. With the help of Orensland, he composed a letter to be delivered to Ida Fazio, her governess. He posed as Eusebius Horn, a traveling human scholar from Tidewater City who had specialized knowledge of the cultures of Gallidus and of Thanor, suggesting that he could tutor the young Ms. Moretti, as he particularly sought out young students possessed by curiosity about the world at large. He had heard of the high quality of education the Moretti family provided to its members, and wished to contribute his part to the education of such an illustrious family.

He and Orensland had drummed up a contact that could deliver the letter, and all he had to do was wait until a reply arrived at the inn where he was staying posed as Mr. Horn.

He was surprised when he received a reply from Ms. Fazio the very next day, inviting him to merenda that afternoon. He replied immediately, and prepared for his interview.

The guards at the front of the estate were much friendlier when he produced the letter from the governess (and, he suspected, because he looked human due to his Hat of Disguise). He was quickly ushered into the main mansion on the grounds, which were extensive. As he was taken around to a side entrance they passed an outdoor cooking area busy with servants surrounding an brick oven, a swimming pool (such extravagance, for one who had grown up in the Wastes!), and he saw a large garden area in the back of the estate that was well manicured and beautiful, despite there being little green or flowers this time of year.

He was ushered into a room that was covered floor to ceiling in books. It was not nearly as large as the library in the Maramos Coven’s basement, but he was pleasantly surprised to see such a decent collection of books. Ms. Fazio was a middle-aged woman, hair slightly graying, in a very conservative navy dress. She invited him to sit down and had some cheese and crackers for them to dine on while they discussed the possibility of his employment. She had many questions, but was particularly interested in his travels to Thanor.

“We don’t get many scholars who have journeyed to the Death Side!” she exclaimed at one point.

“That’s understandable. Much of the Death Side is lawless and forbidding, without the vast repositories of learning we have here. I do wish to return and conduct more careful study there, as my visits have not yet satisfied my curiosity; but the work studying the places, peoples, and cultures of the Death Side will take many scholars many lifetimes to even begin!”

He spoke of Twilight, the Steelhammer Lifts, Hub, the centaur tribes, and mentioned that he had been journeying to Darkcrest but had been discouraged upon hearing of some kind of revolution there.

As he talked, he was trying to read Ms. Fazio. He could tell that she was eager to have him come for at least few days to tutor Pavetta. He got the impression that she was trying to cram as much education in the young girl’s mind before her forthcoming debut when she turned 16 this summer. There was a slight air of melancholy about that.

“Pardon the observation,” he said, “but you seem downcast about the future of a bright student. Might I inquire what there is to be discouraged about?”

She looked at him, face implacable. When she spoke, he could tell she was choosing her words carefully. “You are an astute observer, Mr. Horn. When she comes of age in a few months, I will no longer be her governess, and it will be a pity to no longer be associated with such a bright young lady.”

“I admit that I’m unfamiliar with many Tlerian customs. Might I ask what coming of age will entail for Miss Moretti?”

“At her debut her brother, the Baron, will allow suitors to begin courting her. He will select a suitable match, and she will be married once one is found. Once a lady is suitably married, she would no longer need a governess.”

Khaska nodded. “And you, who know her perhaps best; what does Miss Moretti desire for her future?”

She smiled at him. “Perhaps you should ask her yourself when you meet her to tell her of your experiences on the Death Side. I’m sure she will be interested in the tales of your travels there.”

Khaska returned the smile. “It will be my pleasure. When shall I come to meet Miss Moretti?” They worked out payment, very generous, he thought, and he was to begin the next morning after breakfast. “I look forward to it greatly. It has been a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Fazio. I shall see you tomorrow.”

Pavetta was a slight young girl with long fingers and very light blonde hair done up in a conservative bun, much like Ms. Fazio, though with a few wisps of hair out of place in front, unlike Ms. Fazio. Despire her demure body language, her eyes sparkled and her mouth turned up into a big smile when “Mr. Horn” was introduced to her.

“Ms. Fazio has informed me you are to tutor me on your recent experiences on the death side. I am excited to learn about them! How long have you spent there?"

Khaska found her a delightful student, intelligent and insightful. He had already decided on how best to portray his wanderings on the Death Side, but as he went there were some discrepancies in the timelines. He worried about this a bit, especially once Pavetta noticed one of the errors and asked him about them. Khaska was able to smooth things over, but after conversing for most of the rest of the morning, she was sharp enough that Khaska was able to discern that she knew he was holding something back. Oddly enough, that made her all the more intrigued with this new scholar. There wasn’t much he could do about the situation, since Ms. Fazio was always nearby. He could tell it would be improper for such a lady to be left alone with a man, so chaperoned tutoring it was. But he did think it worth exploring a bit why Pavetta was all the more intrigued with him precisely because he was somehow deceiving her.

There was a pause in the conversation, and then he gave her a smile.

“We've spoken a good amount about the Death Side, and I am happy to continue sharing what I've learned there. I'm curious, though, what you know about your own continent. Could you share with me what you've learned, in brief, about the cultures and peoples of Gallidus, especially beyond Tleros?”

She was a bit surprised, but then launched in a relatively detailed discussion of all of the human lands, covering such subjects as the "cold war" between Hammerdine and Tleros, Tidewater City and Bailey's point as human-plurality, but non-human run cities. Khsaka was impressed by the depth of her knowledge for one so young. She had a good pulse on the political situations, even though at the moment those politics were subsumed in the preparations for the Dark Times.

She was content to talk for a few minutes before she finished, and the raised an eyebrow at him. “But you are here to teach me. Why are you asking me questions about the lands I already know so well?” she inquired.

“I have to know, in part, what you know, so that I can learn where I might help.”

They had been consulting a globe that was in the library while he detailed his journeys on the Death Side, and he pointed to an area of Gallidus, broadly indicating the area around Laishtek and the Niktean Wastes. “What do you know about these lands, between Hammerdine and Tidewater City?”

“The Maha’i people largely live here.” Once again, she was able to hit on some of the major cultural and political differences between the Jevereshk Maha’i and the Laishtek Maha’i who existed under Hammerdinian charter. Her education on this subject was not as complete as her education on the human lands. Khaska wondered if this was because of her culture and its general xenophobia, but he was still impressed by her knowledge.

“But what do the Maha'i have to do with the death side? Are there Maha'i in the deadlands?”

Khaska had not been expecting this question. Pavetta was curious, and the conversation was becoming a bit of a cat and a mouse situation as she probed him for his true purpose and he tried to suss out her general feelings as they went. He had wanted to introduce a discussion of the cultural differences in how they treated women, but he easily transitioned into the new topic.

“Actually, yes, there are.” He explained about the slave trade, a bit about Tawru's revolt and the renaming of Clefthaven to Laishtek. “In fact, I met several on the Death Side. One was a village leader; another had been a slave. She taught me not to underestimate others' knowledge, and that helping others follow the path they desire in life is its own reward. She's presently in Laishtek, the last I heard working at a shrine to Tawru. I feel that she would be a person you would love to meet.”

Pavetta seemed most interested in Farah. “And she was a slave? That would be an interesting person to meet. I get to meet so few non-humans. Mostly elves who tutored me in music.” At the non-human quip, she glared at Khaska. He was pretty sure she suspected that he was not human. Again, it intrigued her, but also made her wary.

It was just then that a servant came in to announce lunch. Pavetta and Ms. Fazio excused “Mr. Horn” and he was to come back tomorrow.

And so it went. Khaska fell into a bit of a rhythm with Pavetta. They discussed the history books he had pilfered from the Maramos Coven’s library, Khaska letting her read them and the returning to quiz her about them. Ms. Fazio was impressed with his collection, and read a few of them herself, even joining in the conversation once. But mostly it was just Khaska and Pavetta, with supervision from either a servant or, more frequently, the governess.

Khaska continued to teach her about the Death Side and cultures she was unaware of, doing his best to slip in bits about different gender relations for each that he knows about, seeing what she does with those. As he did so, he tried to gauge her feelings about her upcoming debut, and see what she might prefer in life. He noted her keen mind and sharp wit, and wondered if a life of scholarship and travel might be something she would be interested in.

She always made comments about the gender studies issues he brought up that indicated she wished she live in a culture with more equality and freedom. She was ambivalent about her upcoming debut, excited to be an adult, less excited about some of what that meant. The life of a scholar didn’t seem to appeal to her much. She had a good life here, her every need supplied, and she was cognizant that there were many who were far less blessed than she. At one point they were looking at a book together, one of the larger tomes from the Moretti family library that was of use in their current discussion, and when she reached over to turn the page she deliberately reached her hand a bit too far to brush up against his hand.

He was absolutely certain that she felt his too-large fingers and hairy hand through the human glamour. She knew that he was not human.

And all she did was smirk at him, then turn back to the task at hand and their conversation.

Well, the dance was up. He occasionally had her write an essay on the things they had discussed, and when he returned one the next day he had a note written in the margins. “I will contact you tonight in your mind, if that is okay. We can have a more private conversation that way.” As she read it over, she saw his note, read it, looked at him, and then nodded.

Orensland wasn’t exactly bored while Khaska was spending this time with the young Pavetta. He and Sanjin were able to make friends in the elven quarter down by the docks—not so much a designated area for their race as an area where a lot of elves lived. There was an elven bathhouse that Orensland enjoyed visiting—when he had been in elven lands before he had never had the money nor the inclination to “waste time” (his father’s words) on such useless cares. So he enjoyed it. But then he realized that he was spending an extraordinary amount of money just to be very very clean, and stopped attending. He made sure to give some extra gold to some homeless people he found and tipped extra well for a week. He was able to learn more of the situation back home. Despite pledging enormous resources to the Knights and their worldwide defense, the elves had kept a substantial portion of their armies back. This irked the Knights, but the elves would not yield. A civilization that had lasted longer than several Dark Times would need its own protecting.

Sanjin continued studying the stolen spellbooks, vastly increasing the number of spells he had mastered. He wrote to his brother at the University of Dreqorun, and was able to find ways to occupy his time.

Aestus at first did not feel very much at home in this extravagant city. He was intrigued by all of the architecture, and especially by the cherubim used in it. With a bit of help from Sanjin, and Khaska, one day he was not tutoring Pavetta, Aestus was able to visit an art museum, a large building with several wings dedicated to artwork pulled from the Moretti family collection and some pieces from other noble houses, and a large interior garden filled with statues from great artists of the past. It was an impressive building, and he was able to ask a few questions of one of the docents about the religious significance of cherubim—his thoughts turning to Farah and her cherubim familiar. It turned out there was no religious significance, at least not much. Cherbuim were generally depicted as human, so Tlerian artists used them more than, say, elven artists. But they were always associated with good deities and angels and beings from the various heavens. That thought assuaged him.

At one point he was in the garden looking at a cherub statue, part of a series of fountains near the exit, when he backed up and stumbled into a young couple visiting the museum. He practically knocked the young lady over.

“You louse!” the man shouted as he helped the young lady up.

“I’m sorry,” Aestus said. “I didn’t see you.”

The young man, dressed in a garish coat with a multicolored pair of pants, loos, puffy sleeves and a hat that skewed off to one side (Aestus had noted a lot of these), looked Aestus over. Aestus was not wearing his full armor, but he certainly did not have as good of clothing as either this young man nor his paramour. The disdain on the young couple’s face was obvious.

“Big, dumb oaf,” the young man continued. He drew off one of his gloves and went to slap it across Aestus’ face.

The trained gladiator easily stepped back and the young man was put off balance by his attempt to still reach Aestus.

“Won’t even accept a proper challenge?” the young man asked, mockingly.

Aestus stepped forward, and the young man involuntarily stepped back. “I run from no challenge.” He glanced around. A few people were watching. He thought of Master Khaska and what he might say. How he might want Aestus to act.

Well, Master Khaska wasn’t here. Aestus was going to show this young upstart a lesson, but, then he thought, perhaps a proper lesson. According to this culture.

“But I am a stranger here, and do not know your ways. What is the nature of this challenge.”

“A duel, to first blood!” the young man said. His partner looked from the scrawny young man whose arm she was hanging on to Aestus, towering over him and with arms like tree trunks, visible even through the tunic he was wearing. She obviously thought this a foolish course of action, but said nothing.

“I accept, but I do not have a rapier,” Aestus said. “Just this.” He did keep his hammer on his person, just in case. (He had noticed that most of the men had rapiers on all the time.) “It’s not so good for drawing blood, just smashing.”

“Figures a brute like you would not have a proper weapon,” the kid smirked. “Does any gentlemen here wish to lend their weapon that I might teach him a lesson?”

There were several volunteers, actually, and Aestus could tell they were excited for the duel. A small crowd was gathering, and they left the garden to return to the street proper, where they attracted even more attention.

One gentlemen offered Aestus his rapier, a slightly thinker than normal version with a jewel-encrusted hilt and a blade that was nearly gleaming. The piece was clearly for show. Looking at his opponent’s weapon, it was much the same. This wasn’t a death match.

He stepped into the impromptu circle, thinking back to the fight with Dragonrider Lystria, who had given him a run for his money before defeating him, and then Olwenna, who had handily defeated him. Those were both people trained in combat for years, one a master of a powerful dragon. This youth … was not at all on par with them.

Best to teach him some manners.

“Your honor demands it,” he heard the young man say to the young woman, who was clearly thinking this would be a disaster. The young man stepped forward, held his sword up in a salute and then crouched down into a position that indicated he wanted to look cool and fancy, but was actually one that put him off balance and left him open to attacks.

Aestus sighed.

He let the boy try. And try. And try. For a good ten or twenty seconds the young man whacked at Aestus as if at a log, swinging wildly and leaving himself open for attacks that Aestus never followed through on. But the young man had no combat experience, and after a few moments was too tired to continue at the same pace. At this pause in the fight, Aestus exploded at him.

The rapier was an unusual weapon for Aestus to wield. He had trained for years to dual-wield heavy weapons and having such a light weapon, and only in one hand, meant that he could move both fast and with extreme power.

This portion of the fight lasted about three seconds before Aestus bound the young man’s weapon and sent it skittering off. The young man glanced over at it, then back at Aestus, then back at it … and then Aestus slashed at his leg with a lightning-quick strike, drawing first blood. The boy cried out, and Aestus approached him. The youth shied away as the larger human reached out, and then used the boy’s tunic to clean the borrowed blade.

Aestus flipped the blade around in his hand and offered it back to the gentlemen who had lent it to him. “Thank you, sir,” he said.

The man was looking at him with respect. “I’m glad it wasn’t me on the other end of it.”

Aestus smiled at the compliment, then returned to the boy, who was wailing. As Aestus approached, he knew the boy was just putting on a show. The cut he had delivered was shallow and painful, and would bleed a fair amount, but was largely superficial. He would heal fully in a month or so. More, if his family could hire a cleric or adept to use magic on him.

“There are few that have faced the Fellblade in combat and lived to tell the tale,” Aestus said, helping the lad up. “Tell your grandchildren of this day. But until then, learn to control your pride before your sword. And if you’d like another lesson, I’m sure you can find me.”

He nodded to the young lady. “My apologies for stumbling over you again.” And then Aestus winked at her. She seemed surprised, and perhaps a little intrigued, but then he turned and left.

This was a better afternoon than he had had in weeks!

Over conversations that evening, through Sending spells, and in whispers and notes during their tutoring session over the next day or so, Khaska was able to speak more privately with Pavetta. She asked his name and he said that for now she should just call him “a friend of Tawru.” He was interested in giving her a life of scholarship instead of a mere marriage to a noble, much like a relative of her, Vitoria.

This Vitoria intrigued Pavetta, and she wanted to know more about her, because she didn’t see any way for her brother to let her go anywhere. She knew that her marriage would probably come with some nice business arrangement or alliance, and he would not want to give that up. She did hope that her husband would let her continue her studies. Many husbands allowed their wives to do such things. At the very least, she hoped to maybe get a husband who would mostly ignore her and let her pursue her own interests. She could live with that.

But that all belied the point. What was “Mr. Horn” doing here? Clearly he was not just some random tutor.

“I work to free the captive, and I want to see you grow beyond your upbringing, as I know I have. You can contribute much to our world.”

“I have a good life,” she said. “I’m not held captive or anything like that,” she was saying as Ms. Fazio had stepped out for a moment to speak with a servant. “But tell me more of Vitoria. Did she leave for a life of scholarship?”

Khaska spoke of Vitoria’s life, at least what he knew of it. Her ultimate fate was still uncertain, but he could comfortably say that she died in Darkcrest. Ms. Fazio came back in, and despite Khaska’s attempts to get the conversation back onto a tutoring track, Pavetta would have none of that. Ms. Fazio quickly picked up that something new was going on, and asked what they were speaking of.

Khaska explained that one of the things he heard rumors of on the Death Side was a woman Knight named Vitoria Moretti of Cyriest. When he finally arrived in Cyriest, he both heard about Pavetta's intelligence and researched what he could based on the rumors he'd heard, and shared with Pavetta the bit of family history.

“So you came here both to tutor and to continue your own research? You could have just asked,” said Ms. Fazio.

“Believe me that I came to this house to tutor. Now that you mention it, however, Miss Pavetta could conduct such research herself, if she so desires, and I would be happy to help advise her on the craft of research and writing.”

“I desire!” Pavetta’s words echoed through the library.

Ms. Fazio sighed expasperatedly. “There are the family archives in the basement. As well as the histories here in this room.” She pointed over to a particular bookcase with a series of similarly-bound red leather volumes.

Khaska thanked her for her guidance, and gestured for Pavetta to proceed to the books indicated.

It was easy to pinpoint and find some entries on Vitoria. They were obviously written by her, diary entries and the like, speaking about her desire to not just be a merchant or make sure that the port runs well, though she did think that’s important, but for her life to mean something more than just helping Cyriest prosper. She spoke of learning how to duel. No mention of joining the Knights or anything like that.

Still slightly in tutoring mode, Khaska asked Pavetta to infer what was different about Cyriest in that time. “There are few women leaders of houses,” she said. “It seems she didn’t get much pushback from the other nobles, at least from these entries. They seem personal enough that I think she would have said something if they had looked down on her and the Moretti house because it was led by a woman.”

“And what are your thoughts about all this?”

“I’m not sure what to feel yet. Still processing.”

“I know that very well,” Khaska said.

She looked at him sideways. “What do you mean by that?”

“History holds many meaningful surprises.”

At that, Pavetta rolled her eyes, for all the world a teenage girl exasperated by another adult. “Fine. Be all mysterious.”

At that, Ms. Favio even snickered a bit, and Khaska gave a sympathetic chuckle.

“Well, how about we go look at the family archives?” Pavetta asked.

Ms. Fazio had no interest in delving into the family archives, which were mostly just stuffed into a few spare rooms in the basement of the mansion, but out of proper decorum sat in a chair near the entrance, reading a book by candlelight. The layer of dust atop everything indicated how little the rooms had been used. There wasn’t much in the way of books or journals or written documents, but they did, after some digging, find a series of paintings of various leaders of the Moretti family.

And there, towards the back of the stack of paintings, covered in dust, was a painting of Vitoria Moretti. She stood tall and regal, dressed in the armor of a Knight of the Silver Dragons, a perfect match for the armor that Khaska, at that very moment, had in his haversack. Her hand lay atop a longsword, also a match, and the point was down on the ground, almost like it was a walking stick. Her face was young, very pretty (as Khaska understood human standards), but what struck him was the thunderbolt that this was, indeed, a slightly younger, scarless, non-burned, full head of golden hair Lady Drakh.

His breath caught in his throat. He was at a loss of what to say, now that his suspicions were confirmed. Such a tragic end to a noble figure. The figure in this painting was full of hope, with the world and her life in front of her. It was the very definition of tragedy that she would afterwards be tortured, turned into a vampire, rule a vampire house with fear and blood for nearly a century before destroying a good chunk of Darkcrest in the orgy of violence as her death throes.

He was so occupied with his thoughts that he almost missed that Pavetta was having her own moment with the painting. As he came back to where he was he noticed that she was just. Staring. Straight. At. It.

The epiphany he had been trying to get her to realize about her situation and about gender equality … she was having it. Right now. Staring at this great great great aunt dressed in armor and proudly being a member of the Knights of the Silver Dragons. She wasn’t even breathing, holding her breath as if not sure how to proceed beyond this moment.

Her reaction shook Khaska from his reverie. He asked, measuredly and in a whisper, conveying calmness and openness. “Miss Pavetta, what are you thinking?”

She took a breath, and then straightened. More than ever before (and as a noble lady, she had a really good posture). “If she found the courage to be more than was expected of her, perhaps I can as well. And we know nothing more about her story? Just that she went to Darkcrest and then died?”

Khaska sighed. “Having seen this painting, I can now say I know more, but there are still gaps in my knowledge.

“What I can add is, sadly, unfortunate. I do not know how she came to Darkcrest, but I do know that at some point by unknown means and for unknown reasons, she became a vampire. She perished in the recent uprising we have spoken of. She is finally at peace.

“But that does not negate her valor or good works. Those should shine today as brilliantly as her armor does. There is much yet to learn of her deeds, and honor long overdue.”

“Wait, she has been alive until just recently?” Pavetta asked.

“Vampires … persist for many years. But their wills are twisted, and they cease being who they once were. In a way, they die twice.”

“You know more about what happened in Darkcrest than you let on when you first came here. Have you been there?”

“Yes. It is a very long story, one I cannot tell here. Suffice it to say that I was there in an effort to prevent thousands from being pressed into slavery.”

She turned her head down a bit, and looked at him. This was a deliberate attempt to keep eye contact while rolling her eyes at him. “This vampire ancestor of mine recently died. You were there, and you just happen to show up here to tutor me? I’m not stupid. What are you really doing here?” Then, a whisper. “In disguise, no less, Mr. Maha’i.”

Khaska offered a wry smile at that. “I found quickly that the people of this city do not take kindly to my people. I should only lift my disguise momentarily, but I can show you my true face, if you so desire. And I can tell you why I came here.”

She poked her head around the corner to check on her governess, who was still sitting and reading. She nodded to Khaska.

The Maha’i cleric removed his hat, the magic glamour vanishing. He gave her a slight bow, and then replaced it. The glamour returned.

She smiled at him and bowed back. “Help me get the painting out to the front,” she said. “I’ll have some servants take it to my room. Then let’s go back to the library. You have a story to tell.”

Khaska raised an eyebrow. “In front of your governess?”

“I want the story. She works for me. Well, my brother, but he won’t care.”

“There are some parts I cannot share, or they might put you and I, as well as my friends, in some danger. But I will tell what I can, and share with you something that I believe is rightfully yours.”

“Your friends that you’ve never mentioned before. Do tell!” Pavetta was suddenly becoming a lot more assertive. And a quote a bit more sarcastic.

“First, the thing that is yours.” He reached into his haversack and pulled out Vitoria’s helmet. “We have the rest of the armor, too. We came to Cyriest to return it to her family. You seen to be the rightful recipient of it.”

She was absolutely thunderstruck, slowly reaching out to take the helmet, which she held almost reverently. “Wow.” She turned it over, looking at it, and comparing it to the painting. “You came all this way, and spent all this time under this ruse, just to return the armor of somebody but you don’t even know?”

“That is correct. It was a way to honor her proper memory. But not only that. You are brilliant and eager. We could arrange introductions for you in many places: at a chapter of the Knights, in Laishtek, in the Wastes, on the Death Side … Almost anywhere you would wish to go, adventure, or study. What say you?”

She pursed her lips. “I have several months to think on it and will make no decisions today. But come. Tell me your story.” She tucked the helmet under her arm, and marched out of the storage space they were in.

Her governess was startled to see her carrying a full helmet, but Pavetta just rolled over her. “Have some servants come retrieve the painting of Baronessa Vitoria Moretti and take it to my quarters. Let’s retire to the library. Mr. Horn will tell us of his adventures in Darkcrest. The full story, this time.”

Khaska had spoken in generalities about his knowledge of Darkcrest, just that he had been in the area and not fully investigated the city due to rumors of an uprising. Now that his story had been shown to be somewhat obviously false, he gave the more full detail, explaining first about the Peaceful Children, discovering that vampires were involved, joining the caravan to the Death Side, accompanying it to Darkcrest (he did leave out leaving out the capture by the Whitecloaks, the battle alongside the centaurs, and certainly everything about Captain Bronzebeard), investigating the city, and being present when Lady Drakh attacked and began to ransack the city after her coup against the Maramos coven.

“I saw Lady Drakh perish in a column of flame. We investigated the Drakh mansion before leaving the city, and discovered the armor in a tomb marked with Vitoria's name.”

“So she kept the armor from her old life around?” asked Ms. Fazio.

“For over a hundred years? Why?” Pavetta replied. Both women were enraptured by these discoveries and the tie to the Moretti family history.

“Unfortunately, I cannot say,” Khaska replied.

“So you snuck into this vampire house, found this armor. Why would you dare sneak into such a place?” Pavetta was still not quite buying all of the story.

“We had allied with some of the Bringers of Light operating in secret in the city. With several vampire houses wiping each other out, there was a chance to strike at them. Vampires are difficult to kill. We consecrated Lady Drakh’s resting place, assuring her final death. It was there, in her vampire quarters, that we found Baronessa Morretti’s armor. To be honest, I wasn’t sure that Lady Drakh was Baronessa Moretti until I saw the painting downstairs. I suspected as much, but seeing that painting of the young Vitoria made it clear she and Lady Drakh were one and the same.”

“And consecrating her resting place … that’s what killed her? I thought you saw her die in a column of fire?” Pavetta was still not quite buying all of the story.

“A death of a sort. Vampires can regenerate even after being ‘killed.’ Destroying their resting place is one way of making sure they are permanently destroyed. I assure you, Lady Drakh is gone, and Vitoria’s soul has gone on to its rest.”

Pavetta nodded. “Tell me who your friends are. Are they here in the city?”

Khaska hesitated. “They are. My friends include an elf wizard, who has similarly journeyed on the Death Side for many years, an elf circus performer with many talents,” Khaska was being circumspect about Orensland’s particular talents, “and a human gladiator we met in Darkcrest.”

“You will all come to dinner tonight,” Pavetta said.

“My lady,” Ms. Fazio said. “Is that wise? Should we not consult with your brother?”

“I can’t invite friends over for dinner?” Pavetta stared at her governess, who arched an eyebrow, then smiled, then left to go speak to one of the servants. She returned shortly.

“I don’t suspect that your brother will be too happy about it, but I’ve made the arrangements.”

Pavetta turned to Khaska. “And now, Mr. Horn, would you care to show Ms. Fazio why that nomme de guerre is hilariously appropriate, just so there are no more surprises for her, this evening.”

“You wish me to come as such for dinner this evening?” he was a little surprised.

“You have come bearing the armor of a member of the Moretti family, and will be our guests for one evening. It’s not unheard of for us to dine with non-humans on rare occasions. This will be one of them.”

Khaska shrugged. “Very well.” Then he removed his hat. The glamour once again vanished. He turned to Ms. Fazio, giving a slight bow, though keeping his horns pointed away from her.

“Ms. Fazio, my apologies for all of my deceptions. My name is Khaska Nzaidullek Mawkhavi TereshkvenI recognized I would not be welcome in my native form, and wished very much to meet Miss Moretti and see if we could earn enough trust to bestow her great aunt’s armor to her. We were initially turned away by guards at your front gate, and I thought the ruse the best way to return Baronessa Moretti’s armor, to honor her, and to end her story in this, most appropriate place, her home.”

Ms. Fazio’s face was mostly blank, and a little hard to read. She was being politic. “I am under strict orders that her tutors are mostly to be human,” Ms. Fazio said. “Though I will be hard pressed to explain this, I am glad of it.” She turned to Pavetta. “You have helped her find her strength in this past hour in more ways that I have succeeded at in years of teaching. I am grateful.” Only then did Khaska catch a small hint of a smile, a turning up of the corners of her mouth.

“What will your excuse be?” Khaska said.

She thought for a moment. But it was Pavetta who spoke up.

“Perhaps it would be best if ‘Mr. Horn’ moved on and you encountered Mr. Khaska who had written you a letter of introduction and explanation. Although our letters are carefully screened, yours are not, correct?”

“They are not,” Ms. Fazio said.

Pavetta turned to Khaska. “It’s a pleasure to meet you in person after receiving your letter and arranging the return of the armor. I know that my brother will appreciate you approaching me, instead of taking time from his busy schedule.”

Khaska smiled. Pavetta was very good at this. “I look forward to dining with you this evening.” He replaced the hat. “I had best go tell my friends. I’m not even sure Aestus has clothing appropriate for such a venue.”

“They take dinner at 6 pm,” Ms. Fazio said. “The baron frowns on those ill-mannered enough to be late for a formal meal.”

Eryx (DM)
My sincere apologies for how long this post took to get up. I was working feverishly on my dissertation to get a full draft together for my readers, with the approval of my dissertation advisor, and it was just kind of crunch time.

However, now that I await their input more fully, I have plenty of free time to twiddle my thumbs and write up long D&D posts.

A lot of this was done over IM with Thevarou, asking for deception and insight rolls at the appropriate places.

Guess who’s coming to dinner? You all.

How will you present yourself? What kinds of things do you wish to discuss with Pavetta, Ms. Fazio, and the Baron and his wife (who is currently expecting)? They do have a 2 year old daughter, but she does not dine with the family.

And then I assume it’s on to Sethrayin, per your previous posts? We don’t need to play out the entire dinner conversation, but I do want to have a sense of how it would go. You’ll find Baron Giuliano Moretti polite enough, but he does have a bit of a snobbish air about him. He wife, Renata, is quite demure, but a good hostess, asking good questions and making you all feel welcome. She excuses herself early feeling tired because of her pregnancy.

Pavetta has completely flipped the script and is now a little biting and sarcastic, especially towards Khaska, but in a good-natured, ribbing kind of way. She feels a little let off her leash now that she has her great-aunt ancestor to look up to. There will be some tense family dynamics because of this newfound assertiveness on her part. Give me some general reactions and maybe some dialogue lines and I'll write it up and then we can move forward to Sethrayin.

Well done, Khaska!

He would never admit it, but Orensland is beginning to learn that his impulsive actions against perceived arrogance are not always the best way forward. So he will refrain from his next immediate impulse, which is to sneak a dead animal into the bed chambers of the baron. Hilarious as he would find that, he is immensely happy with what Khaska has done, and will help in whatever way he can to help young Pavetta. What happened to Vitoria Moretti was a genuine tragedy, but now we have the opportunity to help someone in need. So he won't risk that.

In preparation, Orensland would hide away/prepare a few sleight-of-hand magic tricks to pull out as mild entertainment— things like pulling a rose out of thin air. He definitely won't shadowdance in front of them unless in an emergency, but figures he could pull out a few delights.

Sleight of Hand: 33 (20 + 13)

Heavens, that's an impressive enough roll he could mightily improve their perception of non-humans! The last time Orensland did something like that a shadowndancing troupe invited him to learn their secrets. :) At the very least, he may smooth over some of the tense family dynamics from Pavetta's newfound assertiveness.

Sanjin is not one for small talk -if the conversation doesn’t turn to an area he is interested in he is happy to let others do the talking. Sanjin is quite interested to learn what he can about Vitoria (particularly her personality).

Haha, I love Aestus's interlude! That's great!!

Khaska wasn't anticipating this kind of response, but he'll take it! Hopefully we can leave a good impression on the Moretti family. As he breaks the news to the party and Orensland expresses his newfound appreciation for less… obviously disruptive approaches, Khaska would offer a bit of a sly grin and the (unknowingly botched) aphorism, "I have heard it said that you can catch more flies with honey than with wine."

He'd also see if we couldn't get Aestus an outfit at least a step up from gladiatorial garb, if possible. It might not be possible, given his size and the issue of tailoring. In that case, he'll at least encourage Aestus to be sure to clean up… and to call him Khaska, not "Master Tawru."

He'd also brief everyone on what he's told Pavetta and why he things that keeping some things under wraps would be advisable (we don't know where they'll repeat details, we don't know if folks are looking for us, etc.).

(On that note, Khaska's learned that his three names plus title confuse non-Maha'i folks, so he'll shift to introduce himself as "Khaska of the Mawkhavi, servant of Teresh [whom you call Pelor].")

When it comes to the dinner, Khaska will be courteous, subtly trying to bolster Pavetta's position (and validating her interests) while engaging with the Baron and Baroness about their lives, to learn about them (to see what might influence them), distract from too many probing questions, and, in some part, to flatter them through attention. If they let him, he'll share information about his homeland and Laishtek, seeing if he might overcome their (likely) prejudice with a bit of fascination. His goal is to build confidence in himself and in Pavetta.

As for how he would answer questions: he'd share the truncated version of the party's story that he shared with Pavetta.

Of course, there are four party members in the dinner, and Khaska would gladly surrender the floor to others who wish to engage — including, enthusiastically, to Orensland's magnificent display of his tricks!

I loved Aestus' part, too! I was giggling and clapping my hands the entire time I was reading that. It was a blast for me to read! It was so Aestus! Thank you.

I also really love how well written and played out Khaska's interaction and tutoring of Pavetta went. Talk about character development! It really made me like Pavetta a whole lot! And, as a player, I'm really hoping we get to run into her again! With that, I feel a connection to her that I kinda want Aestus to adopt. So hopefully Khaska's explanation was just as detailed! ;)

The best thing Aestus owns (in terms of outfit) is his armor. Would that be too dressy? lol. He can polish it up so it SHINES! If we are able to buy him an outfit, Aestus will very humbly (even embarrassedly) accept such a generous gift from his friends. To Aestus, such clothing is simply ostentatious and superfluous, clothing is only meant to be functional; though, he will understand how his standard appearance would be considered vulgar in the presence of nobles of such finery (the Ararics were the same). However, nobody has ever provided him with anything so fine. Of course, his weapons and armor were fine gifts, but they came from obscenely rich gamblers hoping to increase their riches by giving Aestus advantages. So they weren't really gifts, just gamblers shoring their bets with trinkets.

Aestus will very much enjoy the bold spirit of young Pavetta. Especially as it is directed at "Master Tawru" — Yes, Aestus will concede to calling him Khaska… for now. Such a young soul being so familiar with a hero who commands tremendous respect will be VERY amusing to him. He may even try to follow up one or two of her comments to him with his own good-natured ribbing, just to see what he can get away with.

And, @Orensland, be careful with your magic tricks! You might blow Aestus' child-like mind and get him worshiping YOU, too!

So, in regards to conversation… Aestus has been to these kinds of dinners before while enslaved by the Ararics, though he was either placed as a bodyguard or a piece of eye candy; either way, he was meant to keep his mouth shut. So while he might play a little off of what Pavetta says, he will largely remain quiet unless addressed. If asked, he will openly talk about his time in the arena in Darkcrest and how he became the best — by being taught by his adoptive father, Spikes; he would speak very proudly of his adoptive family and how strong, driven, and independent his sister, Farah, has become; he would talk about his childhood in slavery and how he got his name, but he would say he was adopted by a Maha'i family and leave it at that. Nobody needs to know that he's an escaped slave. He may focus some of the conversation on slavery and what a pervasive problem it is on the Darkside and pointedly state that there are many, many souls that need help, hoping to inspire these rich folks to use their means to offer that help. He would then transition to talk about those who have helped free slaves and what heroes they are, like Tawru (and yes, he would inadvertently glance at Khaska while talking about him).

If the topic of Vitoria being Lady Drakh comes up, Aestus will offer his opinion that Lady Drakh was only so powerful because Vitoria must have had great strength within her when she was turned. Lady Drakh was terrifying and caused a great deal of carnage, but he will try to turn it into a compliment to the family.

Khaska rushed off to find his friends, recruiting Sanjin to find Orensland in the elven quarter and looking for Aestus himself. The Fellblade had been bored of late, taken to wandering the town, but Khaska was able to find him. There was the matter of his clothing, but with a quick stop to a tailor’s shop (whose eyes bugged out when Khaska presented him with enough coin to cause him to close up shop for the day to focus just on Aestus), they were able to find Aestus a suitable outfit, although the arms were a bit too tight given the man’s musculature. Aestus thought he looked good, although he didn’t much like dressing up like a peacock. “When in the company of peacocks, best to look like them,” Khaska had said.

Aestus looked at himself in the mirror after taking a bath and even shaving, his longer hair tied in a ponytail. His tunic had the puffy arms that seemed to be all of the style (and even with that puff didn’t have enough room for his arms), but the vest fit well enough. He had to admit, aside from a scar across his face, he looked like he might even belong at a dinner the Ararics might have hosted as more than a bodyguard or eye candy. He wasn’t sure if he liked that thought or was dismayed by it. Perhaps a bit of both.

Khaska was wearing a simple Maha’i tunic, content to not be flashy or showy, and wore his medallion of Teresh openly in front, having given it a polish. Sanjin was in the robes of the University of Drequorun, a more formal attire than he had ever worn before. They didn’t get much use in the deadlands, but he did keep it around for occasions such as this. Orensland wore a smart frock coat, a suggestion from Captain Rania. Khaska was actually impressed. The shadowdancer cleaned up well, and seemed to be on good behavior. Khaska still watched him closely.

They arrived at about quarter to six, and were promptly ushered into the estate. One of the guards at the front was one of the ones who had turned them away, Khaska noted. The guard did not recognize them. They were ushered into a side room by the head butler, an older balding man who moved with purpose, though probably more slowly than he did in his youth.

It was there they met Pavetta, who entered with her sister-in-law, Renata, who was very pregnant. Pavetta introduced “Mr. Khaska and his associates,” explaining the cover story again to Renata for everybody’s benefit. Renata was a gracious host, making them all feel welcome. Orensland gave a deep bow when she approached him, and when he straightened, he was holding a bouquet of roses. “For the lady of the house,” he said, with his trademark goofy smile.

Khaska’s eyes bugged out. He had no idea how the shadowdancer managed to sneak an entire bouquet into the house without him noticing. Aestus was also impressed. Sanjin just raised an eyebrow.

“Well, aren’t you so kind,” she said, summoning a servant girl and asking the roses be put in the center of the dining table. At that, she sat down to continue their conversation. After a few minutes, the baron himself joined, Baron Giuliano Moretti. He came over to give his wife a kiss and then Pavetta introduced all of them, repeating again the cover story that they had wished to return the armor of their ancestor and had approached them through the governess.

“So that’s why you had that painting moved to your room,” Giuliano said.

“You heard about that?” Pavetta asked.

“There’s nothing in my house that I do not hear of,” he said.

“Then I shall have to double my efforts,” Pavetta replied before turning back to Khaska.

The butler announced that dinner was served, and they all went to the dining hall. The food was delicious, though the conversation was a bit stilted at first. Lady Moretti, however, was a gracious host and always jumped in to ask a question of one of the party when there was a lag in the discussion. Eventually, however, the baroness excused herself to go lie down, and, following the baron’s lead, everybody stood up as she left the table.

Pavetta took over the role of hostess, but that changed the dynamic. She played the role of flighty and excitable girl a bit too well, Khaska noted. This was not the slightly more serious girl he had tutored over the past few weeks. But the baron seemed to be eating it up.

“But I’m sure Mister Aestus could tell us more about Darkcrest,” she was saying. “He lived there for so long, and as a gladiator, no less. It must have been terrible.”

“The former masters of the city were monsters,” he said, “but I did find friendships there that I will always treasure. These good souls helped me to leave, and so I feel I owe them a debt.”

“I’m sure that’s just thrilling to Mister Khaska,” Pavetta said. “I’m sure he wants a human bodyguard for all the rest of his life.”

Khaska cleared his throat. “I would like to think of Aestus Fellblade as more of a partner than a servant. Certainly his prowess in combat makes him more my equal in many ways.”

“Fellblade,” Giuliano piped up. “You didn’t get into a duel last week near our family’s art museum, did you?”

“I did, sir,” Aestus said.

“Good,” Giuliano said. “I’ve always thought that boy needed a proper lesson in manners.”

“Ah, you know him?”

“His family are known to us. His father is one of my advisors, but the son is, I’m sorry to say, not as intelligent.”

“Perhaps he will endeavor to not start fights with random former vampire gladiators in the future,” Pavetta snickered. The baron furrowed his brow at her. Khaska could tell he wasn’t sure if she was being sarcastic or serious. He was quite sure Pavetta wanted it that way, her face not betraying a hint of sarcasm despite the obviously sarcastic comment.

“But the vampires there are all gone now,” the Baron said. “We’ve heard rumors of infighting amongst the nobility of Darkcrest, rumors that make more sense with your story now. And it was our ancestor that led the charge?”

Khaska wiped his mouth with his napkin before responding. “It appears that Lady Drakh took advantage of the situation, but it does not seem that she created it.”

“I think she was waiting for the right moment,” Orensland said. “She was very canny. And vampires can afford to play the long game.”

“A true testament to your family’s strength, I would think,” Aestus said. “I didn’t know her very well at all, since she never participated in watching gladiator matches, but if she had the strength to plan a city-wide coup against all vampires because of her own seething hatred for them because of what had been taken from her … that shows great strength of will and character, to fight so long and so hard to accomplish a noble objective even through disnoble motivations and ends.”

“Baronessa Vitoria Moretti,” Pavetta said, raising her glass of wine. Everybody raised theirs, and repeated “Baronessa Vitoria Moretti!”

“May she rest in peace now,” Khaska said.

The rest of the dinner went well. At one point, Orensland presented the baron with a gift, pulling a bunch of coins seemingly out of thin air. He had spent some time looking through their cash on hand to pick out a few of the more rare Tlerian platinum coins from their stores in the ship, giving them to the baron as his own memento of their visit. His criminal background had helped him identify which coins were from Tleros, and which ones were the oldest. Some of the coins were very old indeed, and Orensland thought they might serve better as pieces in the museum. The baron looked like he was about to hesitate, and the Orensland passed his hand over the tablecloth where they had been sitting. “Or I could just take them back and use them as coin,” the shadowdancer said. The coins were simply not there anymore. The baron was taken aback, and physically reached out to grabbed Orensland’s hand. The shadowdancer happily let him inspect it, but the coins were gone. Until they appeared in Pavetta’s empty metal winecup with nary a clink.

“I accept your gift,” the baron said, laughing, “although I hope they do not vanish with the coming dawn!”

Orensland laughed. “They are yours, my lord. I’m only messing with you.”

“Such disrespect for a baron,” came Pavetta’s response, once again delivered completely deadpan. “I’m sure nobody has ever played with you in such a manner right to your face.” Khaska caught the subtext—that perhaps people played with the baron behind his back, but a small smile is all the cleric let give away his understanding. Pavetta noticed his smile and then winked at him when the baron turned back to inspect the coins.

After dessert, the baron stood to thank them for their time and their service to the family, “Although,” he said, turning to Pavetta, “my sister’s newfound confidence is a change in the situation here.”

“My dear brother,” she said, sweetly, “you’re always telling me to be the best I can for the Moretti family.”

“Yes,” he said, unsure that he agreed this was best. “But we will be giving the Baronessa’s armor a fitting resting place in the family mausoleum. Your service to us is greatly appreciated.”

“Should you come this way again,” Pavetta finished his thought, “do please drop by. I would love to hear of your further adventures. Where are you off to next?”

Khaska stepped into the gap in the conversation here. “We are happy to have helped the baronessa find rest,” he said. “As to our next steps, we planned on visiting Sethrayin. The Cathedral of Thakillestra the Gold beckons us for a pilgrimage before we continue on to …” actually, he wasn’t sure where they would head yet, “our other tasks.”

“Well, Markus be with you in those,” Pavetta said.

“Yes, please go with Markus’ blessing,” Giuliano said.

“Tell your wife that we missed her company,” Aestus said, “but we understand her absence.” His thoughts turned to Olwenna and her possible pregnancy. “The women who bear children are held in high esteem in many warrior cultures I know of, going to the other side to retrieve a soul for life in the mortal realms.”

“What an intriguing way of thinking,” Pavetta said.

“Perhaps you could explore it further in your studies,” Khaska said. “I hope you keep them up.” She reached up to give him a kiss on the cheek. The Maha’i was completely flabbergasted but did not, Orensland note, flinch away. Khaska had come a long way from their first meeting.

“Pavetta!” The baron snapped. This was, apparently, a breach of decorum.

“My apologies, brother,” she said, looking down and turning away. “Their gifts have meant so much to me, I knew not how else to repay them.”

He sighed. “Your gifts have meant a great deal to us. And thank you for the company this evening.”

As they left, Orensland seemed pleased with the evening’s events. “That went a lot better than I thought it would.”

“Oh,” Sanjin asked. “How did you think it was going to go?”

“Well, I was thinking of leaving a dead animal in the baron’s bedchamber, but then I thought Khaska might frown on that.”

Khaska sighed, wanting to say something sarcastic as Miss Pavetta, who was clearly mastering that art. But that was her personality, not his. “You are correct. Besides, I have heard it said that you can catch more flies with honey than with wine.”

“Now can we get back to our inn,” Aestus said. “I feel like I’m going to pop out of this vest!”

“Not your style?” Sanjin asked.

“I don’t hate it, but no, it’s not my style,” Aestus said.

They rested the evening and then left in the morning, setting sail for Sethrayin, their work here accomplished, and the armor of Baronessa Moretti returned to its rightful place.

Eryx (DM)
That will end this chapter.

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