The Matter of the North

A Day in the Undeath of Leyton, Steward of Leyland
All the damn letters that cross my desk in a day

Dawn, 7:05 am
Dear Ms. Halima Almasi,

I am pleased to inform you that you and your young sister Safa have been awarded full scholarships to the Queen’s University at Rhudeil. You may continue your current studies into divine and necromantic arcane theory, and Miss Safa has been enrolled into the highly selective School for Diplomatic Theatre Arts.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Cordially yours,
Leyton, Steward of Leyland

7:32 am
To Mr. Leyton, Steward,

Please help! The owls at the Palace Owlry is doing some kind of worker’s strike. They won’t send our messages! They’ve turned against us! Mr. Vetch (he’s me boss, Head Owl Keeper), he’s out today because his grandmother died again, and I just don’t know what to do!

Ow ow ow the owls is pecking at me!

Help me please,
Kyrett Dringer
Assistant Owl Keeper

7:36 am
Miss Kyrett,

Did you try feeding them? They may be divine creatures, but they’re still creatures, not automatons. The Palace provides the Owlry with a food budget, and I kindly suggest you use it.

-Leyton

P.S. Isn’t this the third time Mr. Vetch has been absent to attend his grandmother’s funeral?

7:43 AM
Mr. Leyton,

Old Mr. Vetch never said nothing about a owl food budget! But come to think of it, he did buy hisself some swank new clothes and I weren’t sure where he got the money from and he smacked me round the head when I asked him. And I been feeding the owls outta me own pocket change this whole time! The crooked old codger!

And no, this ain’t the third grandmother Mr. Vetch done buried. It’s the fifth.

Lots of respect,
Kyrett

7:47 am
Dear Miss Kyrett,

Congratulations, you’ve just been promoted to Head Owl Keeper. If you wish, you may reserve the pleasure of informing Mr. Vetch in person that his services are no longer needed and that Palace Affairs will be investigating him for embezzlement of royal funds.

A stock of fresh food for the owls is on its way up now from the kitchens. I have the greatest faith in your ability to perform the duties of your office with greater efficiency and integrity than your predecessor.

Best wishes,
Leyton

8:30 am
To the Queen’s Steward,

I am most grateful for your generous scholarship offer, but I must admit confusion on several points. First, how was I entered into this scholarship? Being a foreign student, I do not believe that I am eligible for financial aid, and I certainly filled out no such application for Safa.

Second, if you’ll pardon my asking, what the hell is the School for Diplomatic Theatre Arts?

Pleased but puzzled,
Halima Almasi

P.S. Your name sounds familiar. Have we met somewhere?

8:41 am
Steward Leyton,

Please help us! It’s a disaster! There’s a riot in progress at the Rhudeil Community Theatre! We tried to stage a kiddie morning matinee production of Fifty Shades of Pewter: The Musical, but we’ve been overrun with hordes of furious fans. We only tried to make a few age-appropriate alterations to the plot – how could we have predicted this ravenous dedication to Canon? Haven’t these hooligans ever heard of Artistic Liberties??

Anyway, the production company, along with five full kindergarten classes, are holed up in the Green Room at the Theatre. The teachers have managed to fend off the mob so far with some clever impromptu weapons constructed from stage props, sandbags, and high-pressure carbonated fizzy, but we can’t hold out much longer.

I’m sending you this message via Taradon owl. I hope, I pray it reaches you in time! Help us, Leyton – you’re our only hope!!

Sincerely desperate,
Gwennithicus Morganstern
Director of the Rhudeil Community Theatre Troupe

8:50 am
Mr. Morganstern,

Sigh. Palace guards are en route to contain the situation.

In the future, please refer to the Leylish government’s official safety regulations regarding productions of FSOP, or at least hire some decent private security for your theater company. This situation could have been easily avoided if you possessed the tiniest morsel of common sense.

-Leyton

P.S. Out of personal curiosity, how did you manage to construct a child-friendly version of FSOP? Take away the smut, and there’s nothing left over.

9:06 am
Personal memorandum (desk of Leyton, Steward of Leyland):

Investigate possibility of recruiting kindergarten teachers to Leylish armed forces. According to witnesses, they displayed admirable ingenuity and martial prowess while protecting their students at today’s FSOP riot, and I suspect they would be valuable military assets.

-Leyton

9:45 am
Dear Ms. Almasi,

What a pleasure to hear from you! Indeed, I had the very great enjoyment of meeting you briefly at the Fifty Shades of Bachelorhood event, where you accompanied young Safa for her “contestantship.” At that time, I was struck by your evident talents and potential, and I – upon conferral with Queen Melantha, naturally – determined to lend you aid in accomplishing your scholastic goals. Indeed, encountering the two of you was a bright spot in an otherwise painful evening (though I would not say so were I not confident, from your expressions throughout the whole, that you agree with my opinion). In fact, may I say that although the Fifty Shades of Bachelorhood had many deplorable moments, my greatest regret must be that I did not get the chance to see your face?

In any case, I must confess that you and your sister have captured my attention, and the Leylish Crown is always eager to cultivate the development of unique and exceptional individuals. To address your second question, the School for Diplomatic Theatre Arts is a relatively young division of the Queen’s University. Pupils are schooled in a variety of performance arts, acrobatic, arcane, and martial skills, with an overarching theme of using these skills to advance Leylish diplomatic interests. You may think of it as an interdisciplinary combination of the dramatic arts and international studies, if you wish. The training is, of course, tailored to the individual student, and you may rest assured that Safa would be educated to the highest standards.

You are under no obligation to accept the offered scholarships, I assure you. However, my sources indicate that, due to certain quirks of your respective natures, you and your sister might not be safe returning to your homeland, and therefore I sincerely hope that Leyland may become a new and even dearer home for the two of you.

Most sincerely,
Leyton

10:12 am
Steward – Urgent Message

Please visit Queen’s Library immediately. I am most cruelly tempted to maul and devour a patron, and I require your diplomatic skills to restrain me.

-Phedian, Assistant Librarian

11:50 am
My most honored Queen,

I must regretfully inform you of damage to a copy of three items from the Queen’s Library. As it transpires, a guest, Ms. Tiffanee Tippendorf, managed to smuggle her four pet pigs (named Pompom, Peridot, Pifflesnoot, and Pinksy-Winksy, which should give you sufficient insight into the individual’s character and intellect) into the Special Collections. She then set the pigs on several novels that had apparently attracted her wrath, and all five of them proceeded to bite and chew on library copies of His Captive Cultist and Gertrud Schnitzlschtein: Buxom Buccaneer. Our intrepid Assistant Librarian managed to prevent further damage by fending off the beasts with a copy of Abs of Fury: A Pewter Fanfiction (previously gifted to the library by the very same Ms. Tippendorf). I must commend Phedian for her presence of mind and eye for detail, as I doubt anyone will regret the loss of that particular piece of drivel.

Ms. Tippendorf is currently in custody and has been referred to you for appropriate punishment, as per your standing orders re: damage to library materials. Phedian advocates the incorporation of Ms. Tippendorf’s ah – accomplices – into an impromptu bacon dinner, although I suspect that this would ignite the ire of the Leylish Vegan Military Front. Personally, I recommend induction into the VSF, as Ms. Tippendorf’s literary skills are of potential use as a mechanism of psychological warfare.

May I suggest, however, that we move all romance novels from Special Collections into the general stacks? We could create a separate subdivision for romance novels, erotica, fanfiction, and the like … the Very Special Collections, perhaps?

Your loyal servant,
Leyton

12:15 pm
Leyton,

Do whatever you wish with the despicable vandal and her pigs, but for Ochublau’s sake, keep them away from my precious books!

-Mel

P.S. I saw that fanfiction of hers. I don’t know which is the more heinous crime against the written word – her destruction of my beloved books, or her creation of that hideous bucket of drivel. Ban it immediately, before that dreadful bard decides to make a musical out of it.

12:18 pm
My Queen,

Thy will shall be done.

Ever steadfast,
Leyton

12:55 pm
To Mr. Leyton,

“Dramatic arts and international studies”? Don’t mistake me for a fool, Mr. Leyton. You speak of spies! Your “School for Diplomatic Theatre Arts” is a training program for spies!

Do you think that anything could tempt me to release Safa into your serpent’s grasp? She is my sister, not some plaything for the Leylish state! Besides, she is just an ordinary little girl – bright and precocious, yes, but surely of no interest to one such as yourself. While I am proud of my arcane studies (pedestrian, to be sure, but a subject I find worthy of academic investigation), I must refuse any scholarship that would indenture my sister and me to you or to the government of Leyland (and from what I understand, the two are effectively the same).

With all gentle sincerity,
Halima

P.S. Go kiss a manticore!

1:10 pm
To Queen’s Steward re: surveillance subjects Halima Almasi and Safa Almasi:

Known agents of the Talbasarean province of Ismaida, currently residing in Rhudeil, have continued to monitor subjects HA and SA, and have recently purchased equipment and provisions for a long journey southward. Suspect that they intend to apprehend HA and SA, likely against their will.

Officials of Ismaida Province have also delivered a warrant for the extradition of HA and SA for crimes of manslaughter and unauthorized arcana.

-Leylish Intelligence Services Agent 008

1:21 pm
Leyton to Agent 008 -

Continue monitoring the Almasi sisters and potentially interested parties. Inform me immediately of any move by interested parties to harm, coerce, or otherwise interfere with the Almasi sisters.

Destroy the extradition warrant. For all intents and purposes, we never received it.

-Leyton, Steward to Queen Melantha

1:35 pm
My dear Halima,

You must simply call me Leyton. Mr. Leyton strikes me as quite ridiculous, as Leyton is not my surname but my given name, and I find “Queen’s Steward” to be such a limiting title. You see, I am far more than a mere steward.

On a similar note, pray do not sell yourself short as an academician. Investigations into the nature of life after bodily death, and the post-mortal attachment of the living soul to a lifeless body is a worthy subject indeed, as you and I are both well aware. As for Safa, let us be frank with one another; she is a most exceptional child, and it would be an insult to her talent, and both our intelligence, to attempt to deny it. As you observed, I have an active espionage program here at the palace, and I would not have offered you the scholarship without doing my due diligence first. Your background made for some fascinating reading. Parents dead from a mysterious fire? Two daughters, thought to have perished in the blaze, who somehow survived? Those same two daughters run out of town for dabbling into the unholy arcana? And your own very interesting studies here at the university? Halima, your story is anything but ordinary.

Yes, you have correctly divined the nature of the School for Diplomatic Theatre Arts. And yes, the program does include certain field excursions travel abroad experiences, and on-the-job training opportunities for advanced students. However, Safa would not be called upon to participate in these activities for many years yet, and any participation would be purely voluntary on her part. From my brief conversation with her at the Fifty Shades, I surmise that she is an energetic girl, more adventurous in spirit than you or I. Keeping her locked up in secret will not keep her safe, and with her particular talents, might even prove a greater danger. I’m offering an outlet for her abilities, as well as training to help her hone and control her powers. Think about it.

To assist you, should you choose to accept my offer, I’m sending you a small gift. Consider it a token of my goodwill.

Charmed,
Leyton

P.S. I tried kissing a manticore once. The experience of her tender embraces taught me to be more circumspect around fearsome ladies such as yourself.

2:00 pm
Dear Leyton (if you insist),

Your gift of flowers was much appreciated; they are lovely indeed, and my sister is quite delighted with the strange blooms that pinch open and closed like a dragon’s maw. They are novelties to us, as they do not grow in our homeland. Your accompanying “gift” of four brawny guards to “assist us in our domestic relocation” was less appreciated, however, as I have no intention of moving Safa or myself from our present abode.

I know that in this land it is considered discourteous to refuse a gift, but I hope you will absolve me of any rudeness in returning the guards to you directly. The blond one is somewhat damaged, I fear, but considering that he attempted to lay hands on my bookshelf after I expressly told him not to, I think you really cannot blame me for his condition. The redhead, too, sustained a dent or two. He has a most dreadful temper, but as I suspect he carried that defect before I met him, I shall not blame myself for his broken foot, and leave it entirely to you to fix. It was most unwise of him to attempt to kick down my door, for I warned him that it is a most solid, well-built structure.

Cordially and most certainly not yours,
Halima

P.S. Perhaps this may sound arrogant, but I would compare myself rather favorably to a manticore. So if a manticore could beat the living daylights out of you, I could flip you flat on your back and beat the unholy deathlights out of you any day of the week. With my hands tied behind my back.

2:07 pm
General Sigrun dar Senka to the Queen’s Steward:

Leyton,

Tell me, why does my sister’s boy Hans have a concussion this morning? He says you sent him out on a routine job to escort some miss and her kid sister to the palace, but when he tried to pack up their things like he was told, the two lasses set on him like “screaming devil-wenches from the fiery deeps of the sea” (his words, not mine.)

Who did you send him to fetch, the furies out of Hell?

-Sigrun

2:20 pm
Dear General Sigrun,

My sincerest condolences to your nephew. Hans was indeed sent on a straightforward mission to accompany two ladies to the palace grounds and assist with moving their possessions if required. Unfortunately, when the ladies declined the invitation, he took the initiative and attempted to forcibly remove them and their property. One can hardly blame the ladies for defending themselves, although I admit they may have been a trifle … exuberant … in their resistance.

I might add that Hans demonstrated remarkably poor judgment in choosing these particular ladies to accost. Next time, he might meet with better success attempting to bully a nest of hornets.

Your affectionate colleague,
Leyton

2:44 pm
Sigrun to the Queen’s Steward:

Typical of the lad. Poor boy took after his father’s side of the family, in looks and wits alike. Go easy on him from here on out, all right? He don’t have much brains to spare, and I hate to see him losing what little he’s got.

-Sigrun

3:13 pm
My dearest Halima,

Did poor Hans truly deserve such rough treatment? Surely you did not need to be quite so thorough in incapacitating my hapless soldiers. I do apologize, however, for their attempting to remove you and your sister by force. I thought I had clearly expressed to them that your move to Palace grounds was entirely voluntary. If they misunderstood my orders, then I must be to blame for dispatching such dimwitted assistants to you and your sister.

Nonetheless, I reiterate my recommendation that you relocate to Palace grounds, for the safety of yourself and your sister.

Still charmed,
Leyton

P.S. You’re welcome to put me flat on my back at your earliest convenience. If your hands happen to be tied behind your back … all the more interesting.

4:25 pm
Leyton,

Oh, you only wish you knew the things I can do with my hands tied behind my back.

Moving to Palace grounds, however, is not one of them. I suspect you know a fair amount about Safa’s and my history. She has … abilities that are not often considered acceptable by society. Honestly – I may as well say it straight out, as you’ve hinted heavily enough that know this already: Safa is a necromancer. She has strong arcane abilities in general, but the raising of the dead is her greatest natural talent. It comes to her as easily as breathing. And yes, I do have … personal experience with this talent of hers.

I am aware that individuals from our home province are after us. They have been following us ever since we left, no doubt hoping to use Safa to augment their own military might. Much as you wish to do, no?

Perhaps you mean well, and perhaps you do not, but as long as I can still keep Safa safe on my own, I will not sign over our freedom in exchange for your so-called protection.

Still not yours,
Halima

5:37 pm
Update to Queen’s Steward re: subjects HA and SA:

Agents of Ismaida currently en route to residence of HA and SA, suspect that forced abduction is imminent. Currently running interference to slow progress of Ismaidan agents, but cannot prevent abduction without reveal of our surveillance presence to foreign agents and HA/SA. Request instruction.

-Leylish Intelligence Services 008

P.S. Owe 4 denarii to Farmer Harger, fruit merchant in the Bauernfrühstück Market as part of aforementioned interference. Will bill to expense account.

5:48 pm
Intelligence Services 008 -

Protection of HA/SA is your top priority.

I give you permission to reveal yourself to foreign agents and the Almasi sisters, as I trust you will deal with the former, and I am attempting to recruit the latter to intelligence services anyway.

Once Ismaidan agents are dispatched, relocate HA/SA to palace grounds, peacefully if practicable. Note that HA/SA are highly intelligent, powerful, and potentially dangerous.

-Leyton, Steward to the Queen

5:56 pm
Urgent report to Queen’s Steward:

Ismaidan agents attempting to abduct HA/SA currently, HA/SA resisting with violence and powerful sorcery. Request urgent assistance.

-008

5:57 pm
008,

On my way.

—Leyton

6:15 pm
Milord Steward,

The kitchens are in an uproar! We are in need of your urgent assistance! Her Highness Queen Melantha has requested apple pie for dinner, but we do not know whether she prefers red, green, or yellow apples. Please advise!

With greatest trepidation,
Cook Maggs

6:35 pm
To Leyton, Steward of Leyland:

I await your directions on the latest delivery of Fizzy to the castle grounds, as agreed in the taxation settlement. I must admit, however, that I am confused by your direction that I smuggle the shipment in through an underground passageway, rather than simply wheeling it up to the normal delivery door next to the library. Why so much secrecy? And why do I need to deliver them in crates labeled, “Fifty Shades of Pewter Fanfiction”?

Sincerely,
Faltoon’s Fabulous Fizzy Supply and Distribution Co.

7:02 pm
Oh Mister Leyton,

Please come immediately! Only you can save my Flufflysnuffles, I’m absolutely certain! She’s climbed up onto the roof again, the poor dear, and I simply can’t get her down! I’ve heard how clever and ingenious you are, Mister Leyton, and I don’t know who else to turn to.

Forever to be deeply in your debt,
Gargus Fistpuncher, Beater of Büffle Street

7:27 pm
Steward,

Do you know where I left my glasses? (Not a riddle – I just can’t find them.)

-Phedian

P.S. Speaking of riddles, though, here is my latest (that Abs of Fury inspired me). Traditional rules apply to guessing the answer:

Pass through my threshold and stopper your tongue;
I cannot deny that I’m littered with dung -
But search me with diligence, pay all your dues,
And you may find within me a diamond or two.

What am I?

8:05 pm
After-action report re: Halima and Safa Almasi:

NOTE: This document is for the private records of Steward Leyton only.

What an incredible woman. My heart doesn’t even beat, and yet I almost could feel my nonexistent pulse pounding when I saw her fight the Ismaidans. Manticore, indeed – she is unstoppable in defense of her sister.

I arrived just as the Ismaidans – two men and three women, all armed and moving like trained fighters – caught up to Halima, Safa, and my Agent 008 in a small blind alleyway off Büffle Street. Halima, wearing the thin scarf that, as always, obscured all but her eyes, looked frightened, but Safa was screaming fiercely at the attackers, employing an extensive and resourcefully-phrased vocabulary I’m rather surprised her sister allowed her to learn at such a tender age. I’m ever more confident that Safa would indeed thrive in the Diplomatic Theatre Arts program; she has the steel spine for it.

She has the raw power for it, as well. The Isamaidans targeted my 008 first, presumably (and mistakenly) believing him to be the greatest threat of the group. One of the women aimed a loaded crossbow at 008 as he tried to shield Safa and Halima, but before the Ismaidan could fire, she found herself facing the unfavorable end of an oncoming fireball. Little Safa can conjure an inferno the size of a pony from thin air; it would take the average grown battlemage weeks of training to form what she creates on naught but instinct! Oh, what the child could accomplish, given proper training! – but if I carry on in this manner, it may sound as if I did nothing but stand and gape at the battle as it commenced.

One of the Ismaidan agents – I’ll call her Agent A for Already Dead – was thus taken out of commission within the first few seconds. Naturally, this display put the fear of Buckleban into the other four, and they quickly took cover behind the trash littering the entrance to the alley – which was lucky for me and rather less lucky for Agents B and C. They did not notice me lurking in the shadows next to them until I had separated Agent B’s soul (and aorta) from his body, and sheathed my other knife in what I believe was Agent C’s left kidney. It is mystifying to me how my undead state seems to grant me an unnatural degree of stealth. One would think that a walking corpse would draw the eye, but instead, most of the living seem rather to avert their eyes from mine. Perhaps it is some instinct of avoidance or self-preservation; perhaps it is simply that I lack the small, giveaway sounds and movements imbued by a beating heart and living lungs? Whatever the reason, it had been Halima’s unflinching gaze at the FSOP event that had initially captured my attention, and that same stare of wide-eyed intensity was trained on me now, as she moved to shield her young sister from their attackers.

The two uninjured Ismaidans rushed into the alleyway while I grappled with Agent Compromised Left Kidney, who was surprisingly agile despite my knife sticking out of her side. Agent D engaged my 008 and maneuvered him away from Halima and Safa, whereupon Agent E – the largest of the Ismaidans – went for the sisters. I shouted for them to get away from Agent E-For-Enormous, but preoccupied as I was by Agent Kidney and her knives (tainted with poisons, which were mostly wasted on me), I could not assist the sisters. Safa hurled another fireball at Agent Enormous, but the man threw up some form of mage-shield, and the flames spun off toward Agent D and my 008. They both screamed. The worst of the fire hit Agent D, who likely died almost instantly, but 008 also crumpled to the ground, clutching at his right shoulder. Both out of commission for the remainder of the fight.

Halima shoved Safa behind her and backed up until she hit the pile of lumber and rubble at the far end of the blind alley. As I continued to clash knives with Agent Kidney – damn, she had stamina – Agent Enormous advanced on the sisters, the mage-shield held steady with one hand and a wicked-looking cosh held in the other. Safa clenched her small fists and didn’t try to throw another fireball, but continued to hurl profanities at Agent E, while Halima looked frantically around for a weapon.

Agent Kidney took advantage of my distraction to slice a long gouge in my thigh. I lunged for her and returned the blow with equal fervor, and rather more successful drawing of blood. By the time I snatched another look at the sisters, Halima was brandishing a nail-studded lath of wood at her attacker. I could tell from the furious look in her eyes that she was snarling behind her veil. I had to get to her side, and quickly.

I redoubled my efforts against Agent Kidney, who was finally starting to flag. Her movements were as quick as ever, but I could see the haze of blood loss descend over her eyes as her attacks grew less calculated and more haphazard. I allowed her to back me into a cluster of garbage, then feinted as if to escape past her. She lunged forward, and I pushed a teetering pile of stained, ragged canvas over her. She stumbled, tangled in the fabric, and I pinned her to the ground. Cornered, she lashed out at my face, and sent my enchanted mask clattering to the cobblestones. She screamed in true fear then, when she saw what lay behind the mask, and plunged her knife into my calf, but for naught; I quickly dispatched her. It was not neatly done, but I did not have the leisure to ensure that she live for questioning.

I gathered up the mask and placed it back over my face, then ran, limping, for Halima and Safa. The child was huddled under a pile of wood, watching with wide-eyed fear while her sister blocked and parried Agent Enormous’ cudgel with her lath of wood. From her sharp gasps and the blood on her dress, I guessed that more than one of the man’s blows had already landed, but still she fought.

“Hey!” I shouted, panting (my leg did hurt rather considerably), “Why don’t you leave her be? Your friends have all gone home, and the lady clearly isn’t interested in your advances.”

The brute turned toward me, eyes narrowed. I heard Halima mutter something about hypocritical revenant flirts who can’t take a hint, and I flashed her a grin before turning back to Agent Enormous. I wanted his attention on me.

We stared at each other a moment, each evaluating the other. Agent Enormous looked at me with disdain; clearly, with my scarecrow frame, ink-stained gloves, and a knife protruding from my calf, I didn’t measure up to his standards. He had large, bulging muscles that would take effort to maintain, even as a professional fighter, and his clothing seemed rather designed to display that cultivated bulk. A vain man, then, and one for whom masculinity and strength were paramount. This, then, was how I would destroy him.

“Do you normally fight women and children, or is today a special challenge for you?” I said, waving my knife back and forth in a taunt. Enormous’ eyes darkened, but he kept his mage-shield aimed toward the sisters, even as he scowled at me.

“Why don’t you try your luck with me?” I continued, keeping the man’s eyes on mine, but watching the sisters out of the corner of my eye. “Maybe a half-dead man with a knife sticking out of his leg is more your style of victim? I promise to go easy on you.” While I spoke, Halima began to edge to the side, out of the man’s range of vision. Safa was softly chanting while huddled in her pile of rubble, watching the scene with eyes like saucers.

I smiled lazily, and tried to keep my leg from trembling beneath me. “Do you even talk? Or did your boss cut off your tongue along with your-”

At that moment, several things happened at once. Agent Enormous gave an enraged roar and charged toward me. A large ginger cat suddenly dropped into the alleyway with a loud yowl and tripped Agent Enormous before he ran two paces. Halima swung her nail-studded lath and struck the man on the back of his neck. And Safa – tiny, terrifying little Safa – stopped her chanting, raised her arms, and sent a stream of darkness slithering along the cobblestones at the man. The ribbons of darkness slipped under the mage-shield, wrapped around his boots, and pulled him, with a look of stunned confusion on his face, into a black, aberrant void that appeared out of nowhere at his feet.

With a soft pop, the void – and the man it contained – dissipated into nothingness.

I stared at the cobblestones where Agent Enormous had just vanished. Halima looked equally shocked. In the end, it was Safa who spoke first.

“Hi, Mister Leyton. Thanks for saving me and Halima.” She crawled shyly out from under the pile of rubble. “I’ve been practicing summoning Interdimensional Voids. Did it help?”

I snuck a look at Halima’s expression, which was slowly morphing from shock to exasperation. I smiled like a fool, and knelt down to help the dusty child to her feet.

“Yes, Safa, you were a most tremendous help.” Then, all of a sudden, a wave of dizziness and pain washed over me, and I believe I lost consciousness there and then.
-
I awoke somewhat later in the VSF healer’s barracks, clean and feeling much more sound of mind. After reassuring myself that my 008 would be well taken care of (he had suffered severe burns to the shoulder and arms, but fortunately our healers are skilled, and he should regain full use of the arm with minimal scarring), I conferred with Palace Security regarding the events that had occurred while I was unconscious. According to Lt. Grina Argusen, one of Sigrud’s better recruits, she and several other soldiers arrived on the scene several minutes later to find Halima and Safa attempting to stabilize the wounds incurred by 008 and myself. The guards were immediately dispatched to transport 008 and me to the VSF healer. Lt. Argusen, knowing of my standing orders regarding the Almasi sisters, offered to escort them to safety on the Palace grounds, and to everyone’s surprise, Halima accepted. They are currently being attended to by the Queen’s own healer, for Halima sustained several rib fractures and rather severe bruising from that brute of an Ismaidan and his cudgel.

I visited the healer’s wing, of course, but Halima shouted through the locked door that she had no desire to speak to me, and requested in rather forceful terms that I leave her sister and her alone while they recover from the shock of the day’s events. I could hardly argue with such a request, especially considering that I judged the Queen’s healer rather likely to comply with Halima’s words over my own, so I thought it best to give Halima some time to consider the matter. I admit that I myself could use some space for reflection; speaking with Halima is … complicated, even at the best of times. She is not intimidated by who – or what – I am, and if I’m to be honest with myself, that is one of the qualities that draws me to her.

I’ll not keep secrets from my own personal records. When I first met the sisters, I viewed young Safa as a potential Leylish asset – a sweet, bold child who would benefit from a relationship with the Leyish government, to be sure, but an asset nonetheless. Since then, however, I have come to see that her sister is even more valuable, and in a wholly different way. I suspected from the start that Halima is a revenant as I am, but it is not this that draws my interest. Halima could be my true ally. She is intelligent and determined. She has evaded the hands of her foes for two years to protect her sister, and studies the darkest of arcane arts purely to better understand young Safa. Halima is sharp-tonged and kind, fierce and courageous, and – yes, I shall be honest – I would be unhappy to see her go.

Therefore, it only remains to convince her to stay.

-Leyton

9:35 pm
To Cook Maggs, Madame Faltoon, Gargus Fistpuncher, and Phedian (in that order):

1. Apples from Farmer Harger at the Bauernfrühstück Market.
2. Queen Melantha’s sobriety.
3. Your cat is lucky she wasn’t pulled into an interdimensional void this evening. Keep the cat indoors.
4. Your glasses are on the second shelf from the left in the Special collections, and the answer to your riddle is the FSOP Fanfiction Section of the Queen’s Library.

Always your servant,
Leyton

8:39 pm
Halima,

I mentioned before that I regret not seeing your face at the Fifty Shades.

Partly this is because I’m sure that anyone with such expressive eyes must possess an equally captivating face behind that scarf of yours; but partly this is from a hunch – now a certainty – that your face and skin would be a ghoulish mirror of my own. Surely you have heard the rumors about the shadow behind the throne, the creature who never sleeps, the man who is never seen without a hood or a mask enchanted to resemble a living face? Were I to meet you again and reach out to your hand, would I feel skin as cold and waxy as my own?

And do you not think that others would notice this as easily as I have, Halima? And do you think your sister – your only living kin – would be spared from the wildfire of rage and fear you would ignite? Surely the attack this afternoon has disabused you of that notion. I am truly sorry for the difficulties you have encountered heretofore, but my first priority is (and has been for some time) the safety of you and your young sister. On the Palace grounds I can offer the two of you protection and a future. I can give Safa the finest education she could hope for, and an outlet for the remarkable powers she possesses. I say again, I will never force her to use them in any way to which she does not freely agree. For what it’s worth, you have my word.

Let me know of your decision soon. You are not prisoners, and should you wish to leave, you have only to ask the guard outside your door.

With my greatest respect,
Leyton

9:20 pm
Dear Halima,

A guest suite in the palace has been prepared for you and Safa to stay tonight, as I’m sure you are weary from today’s ordeal. A guard shall escort you to the rooms, if you wish.

Say the word, and these rooms are yours to stay.

Respectfully yours,
Leyton

10:05 pm
Dear Ms. Halima Almasi,

I hope the guest suite is to your liking. Should you find yourself in need of any item of comfort or necessity, you have only to ask.

Respectfully,
Leyton

10:45 pm
Dear Miss Safa Almasi,

I apologize that my soldier was unkind towards you and your sister earlier today, and I’m so sorry that the two of you were attacked this evening, but I am very glad to see you again! Do you remember when we met at the Fifty Shades of Pewter event? I was very impressed by both of you when I met you then.

I imagine that all the goings-on between your sister and myself might be confusing, and I thought it would be polite to address you directly. As your sister may have told you, the Leylish government would like to support you both in school here – your sister in her current studies, and you in a special program for future spies and diplomats. However, there are people from other places who also want you to work for them, and these are the people who attacked you today and tried to kidnap you and your sister. These people would force you to work for them, but I promise that I would never make you do any job you didn’t want to do.

It might be best for you to talk this over with Halima. I imagine she’s very upset right now, as she has been avoiding my letters to her, and I’m sure she could use your support. If you have any more questions, feel free to write a note and give it to the guard outside your door, addressed to Steward Leyton. The guard will make sure it gets to me.

Sincerely,
Leyton

11:27 pm
Dear Mister Steward Leyton,

You are rite that Halima is mad at you rite now. She says you are a coniving son of a horses buttuks and a interfereing bloody loonatic whos too clevir for his own good and damm those peercing eyes hes a smooth arogant bastird besides, but dont tell her I sed that to you becus I think those are bad words and I wasint suposed to hear them. I’m suposed to be sleeping rite now but I’m not. I dont think your bloody or mad, your acktualy very clean even thow you stabbed peple a lot today, and your always very nice to me and Halima wen we see you. I like the flowirs you sent they are very pretty.

Thank you also for the muney for scool for me and Halima. She likes studeying even if she wont say it and shes rilly smart. I want to go to scool too, and I want to travil to lots of places when I grow up like Halima. Halima says it is not safe to go places becaus of bad people chasing us but I think it wuld be fun, and if you came too we wuld defeniteley be rilly safe. Also if you show me how to stabb with a nife and throw fires like today I wuld keep us rilly safe too, but I wuld also want you to come with us becus I like you and Halima wuld be sad if you went away even if she wont say it.

This room is rilly pretty with lots of flowirs but the gard who stands gard outside is boreing and wont talk to me and also there are no books heer. I’m tired but I don’t want to sleep eether. I want you to come visit us plese becaus I didnt talk to you erlier becaus you wer busy stabbing peple.

Sinceerly,
Safa

11:31 pm
Leyton,

First, stay away from my sister. Any communications go through me, and me only.

Second – I am willing to meet with you. Tonight, I suppose, while Safa is (now) safely abed. Since neither you nor I require sleep, we might as well talk at a time when we’re least likely to be interrupted.

Third – thank you. I suppose. Much as I dislike your interference, I concede that Safa was in danger tonight, and it’s thanks to you that she’s safe again. If you can continue to protect her, and provide her with proper training for her abilities, then I will consider your scholarship offer. Maybe.

Fourth. Don’t be stupid. Manticores never run away from troubles. We fight.

-Halima

11:40 pm
My dear Lady Manticore,

Shall we meet in an hour, then? We have much to discuss, and our negotiations may well take until morning light.

The Eastern balconies offer a lovely sight to behold when the sun rises over the mountaintops. It is my habit to watch each dawn alone, but this morning, it would be a pleasure to share the view with you, if you so desire.

Yours,
Leyton

11:52 pm
Dear Steward Leyton,

Please forgive me for taking so long to respond to your last! I was putting the finishing touches on my next stage play, and when Creativity calls, I must answer! Ha ha!

Enclosed is a copy of the manuscript of the Rhudeil Community Theatre Company’s kiddie-friendly matinee production of Fifty Shades. I do hope you enjoy!

Forever in your debt,
Gwennithicus Morganstern
Director of the Rhudeil Community Theatre Company

Midnight
To Palace Security:

Please take this stage play manuscript outside and have it incinerated. If I read any more of it, I shall lose my dinner, my mind, or both.

-Leyton

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Special Order No. 111
Currently in the possession of the TIA

Note: This document reached us through one of our nymph agents in northern Cyttania. It appears to detail invasion plans into the Prince of Cardon’s domains. It is to be circulated to the appropriate elements of the Leylish and Tanbeisian governments. The Cyttanian soldier carrying the document has been neutralized and is not minded to complain.

Special Order No. 111
Headquarters, Army of Himania
5th of May, 19th Year of Cyngild

1. The burghers of Cardon have been thoroughly influenced by our ambassador at the King of South Leyland’s court, and matters have been arranged so that the city will be taken without a significant struggle. General Brictnoth will proceed across the Ley on the northern road and secure the city with all dispatch. It will be his headquarters.

2. Thane Morcar will take the eastern road from Aberberg to secure Oberpen Castle. General Pecthelm’s command will proceed along the same road as far as Tintagan, and link with the local Prince’s troops.

3. The city of Aberdaph is to be taken and systematically destroyed by the aforementioned. The population is especially criminal and it is the King’s express wish that they be rounded up and escorted to the border with Leyland. They will be Leyland’s problem and not ours.

4. The principal cities being secured, contingents will proceed to the border crossings and secure the South Leylish side against any incursion from the north.

5. Citizens of the northern allied countries that may happen to be in South Leyland are to be treated with the greatest courtesy and not molested in any way. We do not want to risk diverting their attention while it is so handily occupied already. In the last war, they used giant spiders from beyond the Moon to vapourize the city of Thridingstoke. We don’t want that kind of trouble.

By command of the Earl of Penstowe

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A Letter to Minerva on the Situation in Teorn

My dearest Empress, Minerva, Queen of Kordil etc.,

I am writing to keep you on top of recent events, should I not find the time to tell you in person as they are still transpiring.

As I’m sure you are already aware, Teorn has declared war (Which we have been expecting for some time), and have sent an expeditionary force through the Lichmire in an attempt on the capital. Naturally, I am not concerned that there is any real chance of this invasion succeeding, but nonetheless I have dispatched the First AIrborne to deal with them. There have not been many trespassers into the Gertrudeswald as of late, and we must keep our spider friends happy and well fed. Certainly better to feed them than whatever horrors still lurk in that swamp- I’d rather not have to deal with an undead Teornian horde re-emerging from the marsh in a year or two.

Meanwhile I went and fetched Queen Melantha and Princess Mila so that we could execute the plans you and I had discussed earlier re:Teorn, and traveled to Ganau to speak with Elfgyva and her husband the Earl. As horrible as they both are, they would likely happily jump ship and join us in dismantling Teorn since it would be in their best interests to do so.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, things did not go as planned. When do they ever, am I right? Before you get too upset, allow me to explain. I think things actually may have turned out for the best! The Earl of Ganau and Elfgyva, who I had thought to be irremovable cockroaches of nobility, have been removed from the picture, and Mila has gained control of the earldom of Ganau. But I get ahead of myself.

We whooshed on over to the city and immediately began sowing dissent, practicing for what we will likely do to every other city in this patchwork kingdom. Mila convinced Ochublau to start up a blizzard to slow the advance of the Teornian armies- naturally it got out of his control and now the entirety of Teorn is, in the words of MIla, a “winter wonderland”. The peasantry seem less pleased. I don’t mind, but then again I don’t exactly have to walk through the stuff to get places. During the blizzard I flew over the city as a great white owl to enhance the ominous atmosphere. Mel and Mila began spreading rumours that these were signs of divine displeasure of the actions of the Teornian king and nobility, but that the people would be rescued by saviours from the East- that would be recognized by the signs of a fiddle that is not a fiddle, a being that is both plant and animal, and a procession of bizarre creatures (referring of course, to Mel’s lovely Fiddleumpet, the… ugh… cactuselephonky… and of course, my glorious Menagerie on parade)

We went over to the keep, and Elfgyva happened to be looking out the window at the snow and spotted us. We waved hello, but she didn’t seem to recognize us (whether she was just joking around, or is truly that clueless, is not entirely clear.) We convinced her it would be a funny joke to take a small hammer and bang on the helmets of guards and soldiers (to demoralize the Teornian troops). We then snuck into the castle (well I actually barged right in, amazing how in these lesser kingdoms people won’t even question you if you have the right attitude).

We went about searching for any evidence of war plans- I wasn’t expecting to find any, as I wouldn’t have suspected that the Earl and Elfgyva would be party to them, surely the King of Teorn wouldn’t trust them with their ties to Tanbeis, but nonetheless Mel and Mila found a room with a full-out war table! I was sidetracked for a time as I wandered into the throne room where I was spotted by the Earl- but I managed to get away by backing into a particularly brilliantly coloured tapestry and convincing the Earl that he “saw nothing…”, Mel and Mila, both invisible, began speaking to the Earl, convincing him he was hearing voices, and sowing paranoia in his mind about Elfgyva. Eventually he was driven to flee to his rooms and cover his head to stop the voices. This was only the beginning of his descent into madness.

The war plans themselves were a multi-pronged attack into all of our allies’ kingdoms- including an attack on Galena at her hunting retreat, demonstrating a alarming amount of intel on her. (We need to step up our counterespionage game, at least as concerns Galena and Tanbeis. All of Teorn’s other intel was hilariously incorrect- which didn’t stop us from adding even more inaccuracies ourselves) We plan on messing around with the road signs in Teorn to reroute the various invasions so that they go in circles, go off the path (due to the blizzard), or accidentally invade other parts of Teorn, or perhaps even invade Cytannia and provoke an incident there.

Some guards noticed us poking around, but I managed to convince them that I was the “Vice-Earl”, claiming the Earl had already left for the front, and that all able guards and soldiers in the city should do the same. They seemed clueless as to the actual war plans, so I sent them into the war room, where they were knocked out by a falling chandelier Mila had been messing with earlier.

We ran across Elfgyva again, who had been enjoying hitting the poor guards with a hammer as Mila had suggested earlier. Mila convinced her this time to stand still in a pose for a while. Mila changed her appearance to that of Elfgyva’s, and we went to confront the Earl. Mila still had on Mel’s translation glasses (for reading the Teornian intel), and was holding an (upside-down) copy of one of Mel’s books on interdimensional travel, and convinced the Earl that Elfgyva was not the foolish annoying princess she actually is, but in fact a devious deep-cover agent of Teorn. And why shouldn’t she, given how competent her siblings Galena and Galen (in certain areas) are?

This was the final nail in the coffin of the Earl’s sanity, as his mind couldn’t comprehend this new Elfgyva- he began laughing uncontrollably and babbling nonsense. He fled down a secret stair into the dungeon, where we found a number of prisoners we set free (as they all were petty “political” criminals of the nobility who did not agree with the Earl, or were the victims of one of Elfgyva’s “jokes”. They were all skeptical about the “new” Elfgyva, but were eventually mostly convinced.

We put on a trial for the Earl for his ‘crimes’, with a jury of us and the teornian nobles he had imprisoned. Not wanting to seem biased, we allowed the Earl to ask for a neutral party to defend him, and thus I summoned Silmund. As usual, Silmund was not pleased with this interruption to his mole-y life, and quickly made a plea bargain wherein the Earl would serve in his mines.

With the Earl gone, we found that the Earldom of Ganau should pass to Elfgyva- or rather, Mila-disguised-as-Elfgyva. A great coronation was held, in which we manifested all of the signs we had discussed earlier. We had the real Elfgyva drink one of the hag’s potions to become a halfling, in order to prevent confusion later.

We whooshed over to Galena, to check on her and alert her of the incoming strike force, and to ask her what we should do with her sister. Galena is luckily aware of the invasion, and in fact nearly caught us up in some devious traps she was setting! She seemed to want nothing to do with her sister, and let us drop her off in with our other least favorite nobility, Eilenach.

Mila/Elfgyva is already instiuting a policy of “fun” in Ganau, and we are going to loan her use of Loom to make some fantastical theme-parks to promote the values of “Fun” (and earn some much-needed monies for her new state). Oh right I should mention, we have not been utilizing Loom to his full potential, as we discovered he can add features beyond mere architecture when we were asking him to design a venue for the Pewter Bachelor event: such as the location always being romantically moonlit and emanating enchanting music.

Anyways back to the matter at hand, it’s all under control! Things may have not gone according to plan, but they have worked out nonetheless- we have gotten rid of two annoying nobles we thought we couldn’t, and have siezed control of one of the Earldoms of Teorn without bloodshed. Sure things are a bit disorderly- we need to go fetch back those soldiers that are now technically under Mila’s command, and may need to relieve some peasants from the blizzard, but these are manageable. And we now have a proven way to sow chaos, which we are going on to do to the rest of Teorn. (Though given Mila, I’m sure we won’t stick precicely to the plan, but will still cause plenty of confusion).

See you when this is all over,

with love,

Your Husband + Royal Consort
Boffin Barrow, Emperor of the Moon, King of Taradonia, etc. etc. etc.

P.S. please check on the children, knowing them they’ve sensed something is up and are already up to mischief.

I’m so proud of them.

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The Fifty Shades of Bachelorhood
A Competition is Announced!

Hear ye, hear ye! By the collaborative efforts of the Leylish Theatre and Cinema Union and the International Order of Anarchist Peasants, a new and fantastical competition is hereby announced:

Pewter, 36-year-old bachelor, Mighty Warrior, Master Craftsman, Apprentice Mage, Champion of the Meiringbury Tournament, soon-to-be Liberator of Teorn, and inspiration for the cultural phenomenon that is Fifty Shades of Pewter, believes that romance is in the air! At long, long last, he has found the strength to mend the pieces of his tragically shattered heart and search for love anew. Yes, Pewter – the Pewter – is seeking out the next love of his life, and you – yes, you – could be the chosen partner of his fate!

A grand Bachelor’s Ball shall be held on Saturday next, following the successful invasion of Teorn (we estimate the festivities to begin at approximately 8:30pm). All contestants shall have the chance to meet and mingle with Pewter at the Bachelor’s Ball; refreshments and entertainment will also be provided, courtesy of the cast and production team of Fifty Shades of Pewter: The Musical! and the Board of Leyland Tourism. At the grand finale of the evening, Pewter will present the rose-red Hammer of Passion to one lucky contestant, thus signaling the start of their new and blissful life together.

Will you be the one to win Pewter’s hammer – and his heart? Find out next Saturday by submitting your application letters to Leyton, Steward of Leyland, at the Queen’s University in Rhuddeil!

Disclaimer: By the specific and emphatic request of Pewter himself, we remind contestants that Fifty Shades of Pewter is a work of fiction or, at best, heavily embellished history. If you cannot distinguish between fact and fiction, please do not apply to attend the Bachelor’s Ball. Altering your appearance to resemble that of the late Prince Nicon or attempting to speak in a stupid fake Northmarcher accent is also highly unlikely to further your suit. Furthermore, if you are foolish enough to request that Pewter sing you the theme from Fifty Shades, we are not responsible for any ensuing bodily harm. You have been warned.

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Confusion to Thine Enemies!: Violence and Magic in an Alternate Dimension
Or Pewter's Bachelor Party

by Melantha Danaris Firleon (Doctor of History, and Doctor of Magical Theory, Queen’s University, Leyland)

Rough Draft. Please circulate and comment. Final copy will be sent to the publishers next week. Also, please see memo attached to the end of the draft.
The concept of alternate realities and planes has been hotly debated in scholastic and gramarye circles for decades. Based on his work with chronoscopes, Helmer von Bosch (35; 39; 46) has argued that alternate realities do, in fact, exist; that they are separate from alternate planes, but that one can only travel across planes. Individuals could never experience multiple realities, because to do so would duplicate the individual, causing them to exist simultaneously in the same place, and leading to the ultimate destruction of one or both alternate individuals. Conversely, Sabert Achthwaite (36; 42) contends that alternate realities do not exist, that we instead experience only alternate planes of existence. For Achthwaite, there is only one thread of reality. No power, natural or unnatural, has the ability to alter the nature of reality.
This paper argues that this is simply not the case. The most kind thing Achthwaite can be called is “hack” and an “arm-chair scholar.” My own research, conducted this past month (see note 1), conclusively proves that alternate realities do indeed exist; what is more, individuals navigate between these realities, often without their conscious knowledge of the fact. Travel between planes can be facilitated by a number of arcane and mundane tools, suggesting that the boundaries between planes are significantly less porous than previously thought, and that steps need to be taken to regulate inter-planar travel. Finally, alternate planes of reality appear to induce dramatic, temporary, changes in behavior in individuals.
This last week I had the opportunity to travel between planes with a group of adventurers in an attempt to free what appeared to be a spirit in great distress, trapped on a separate plane. Attempts were made to reach this alternate plane using a chronoscope, and various controlled methods of inducing natural sleep. Several times we failed to reach the plane we were attempting to access, and instead appeared in an alternate plane. Yet the members of my team could all communicate with each other across these individual planes. This strongly suggests that planes vary in strength and size, some existing in closer proximity to others, thus allowing for the transparency of the barriers and the ease of communication.
Most significantly, however, my team made contact with a unique inter-planar species, known as aboleth. Huan Daoyun’s bestiary (-117), perhaps the most comprehensive inter-planar bestiary ever published, notes only that aboleths have immensely strong psychic powers, and that they have a hive mind, allowing them to communicate with ease and share each other’s experiences. We can now expand on Daoyun’s characterization. These aboleths did manifest strong psychic powers; they also displayed a great deal of arrogance, a strong violent tendency towards non-aboleths, and an interest in domination and control. They also demonstrated an immense dislike for fiddle music. Further study revealed that this plane was not their natural habitat. These aboleths had been sent to this alternate plane by a powerful warrior to prevent them from invading our home plane.
This naturally demanded further investigation. Despite some initial difficulties with the native wildlife—a particularly aggressive type of chicken—Mila Ghaverr, the team’s lead scout, managed to locate a magic hammer than led my team to the warrior responsible for containing the aboleths, a half-orc named Pewter, whom Mila wakened with a judicious use of magical force.
Many of you are familiar with the hit musical, Fifty Shades of Pewter, and its story: the intense, BDSM relationship between Prince Nicon and his half-orc lover, the mighty warrior Pewter. Today, we accept that Berezi’s account of this tempestuous affair is, by and large, fairly accurate, with minor literary license. The Pewter in the tower (we later learned it was called the Tower of Metaphors) was the same Pewter from the stories—the same Pewter whom I had worked with on numerous occasions prior. Yet in that moment I did not recognize him. I assumed he was simply a great fan of the production, and had gone to great lengths to recreate his hero (for similar cases, see Rav Zeira, 46; Monime, 39; Iversen 48). This, we later discovered, was an alternate reality—a reality in which my friend did not exist. Instead, he had been replaced or removed from our memories. This, he explained, was a side effect of the spell he had cast to remove the aboleths from our plane of existence. The Crone of the Waste made a similar suggestion recently (Waste, private correspondence), suggesting that Crones are immune to this kind of influence. Determining the root of this ability, and whether or not it can be duplicated should become an immediate priority in science and gramarye departments, for reasons that should be obvious to all.
I will come to how we proved Pewter’s statements regarding memory and alternate realities in a moment. However, a few additional points about the aboleths, this new plane, and this alternate reality need to be made. Previously, I argued that alternate realities can induce dramatic, and temporary, changes in behavior. I witnessed one such instance. Having realized that Pewter had awakened, and was attempting to return home, the aboleths gathered in force and marched on the tower. Aboleths are highly intelligent creatures, yet they also seem to have a more cultured, romantic streak (in the literary sense of the word). The group of aboleths that approached the tower rode war horses, wore plate armor, and carried lances—a scene worthy of a Walter Scott novel (see note 2) They subsequently demanded that we send down a champion to battle with them. The prize: the winner could leave the plane. For the loser: they must remain together, within a five mile radius of each other, until the winner granted them permission to move.
The battle was hosted by the gracious Lady Dimension, who provided us with refreshments (interestingly, the food and related material culture were identical to our own, including Fizzy from the Leylish Royal Brewery, and cups made from Taradonia ironstone, and Teornian brownware—see Danaris, (forthcoming) for a complete study of the resulting sherds). The contest pitted three champions from either side against each other. Given the number of aboleths present, however, we were allowed to call for assistance. Mila Ghavarr’s faithful hound, Shianseri, as well as the God Ochublau appeared (the ability of gods to manifest in multiple planes has long been remarked upon, but this is the first time someone has documented a god appearing in multiple realities. This again challenges Achthwaite’s mono-reality model). Boffin Barrow, King of Teradonia, summoned his triceratops, as well as his wife and children, while I asked for Sir Desguicado. Despite his advancing age, Sir Desi is widely known for his abilities on the tournament field, having competed at the June Tournament on numerous occasions. Rumors that his place was usurped by a time-traveling gnome and half-elf are entirely unfounded. When he learned of the situation, Sir Desi again proved his ability and noble temperament, so common among that breed of knight, by proclaiming that if someone had to die, he would be glad to be the one to fall.
While we were all conscious of the great importance death in combat held in Euland cultural tradition, and wanted to do all in our power to honor that tradition, when we were informed that as the challenged we could choose the nature of the contests, we regretfully rejected Sir Desi’s offer. Instead, King Boffin, Mila Ghavarr, and I elected to stand as contestants. Again, the aboleths manifested immense magical prowess—they shifted into forms deliberately chosen to intimidate us. A quirk of the Antebellum Reading Group surfaced at this point—the forms chosen were intimidating, but simultaneously limited the aboleth’s abilities. They had also never been introduced to fizzy, which I generously offered them before the contest began as a gesture of inter-cultural goodwill. Mila and I even arranged for a concert to showcase our musical traditions—aboleths, apparently, do not have gods who use the weather as the tympani section.
The contest was short-lived. Contrary to the opinion of many military scholars, who argue for technological superiority as the key determinate in such contests, in this case it was simple intelligence. King Boffin faced the first aboleth, who chose to manifest in the form of Eilenach (?). This choice demonstrates not only a relaxed attitude towards gender, and transitioning between genders, but also the same arrogance displayed earlier. Ultimately, King Boffin dispatched the aboleth.
The second contest was left to myself and Mila. We decided to hold a contest of confusifisation—this, as I’m sure you know, is a fairly common contest held in academic circles to determine tenure, but is not, apparently, practiced among the aboleth, despite their intelligence). The aboleths we faced took the form of the gnome god Bucklebann, and the newly reformed interior decorator and failed Bachelorette contender, Osric. Despite some clever tricks with smoke and black tentacles, as well as a moment of temporary insanity induced by stress and verbal abuse, Mila and I successfully removed our two opponents. For reasons that have not been fully explained, the aboleth who manifested as Bucklebann was in much better shape than the aboleth who manifested as Osric. Perhaps it is easier among aboleths to hog-tie, shave, unman, and stab annoying, arrogant, sword-stealing madmen than it is to attack a “god.” (Interestingly, the fact that the abolith showed no qualms about manifesting as a divine being suggests a lack of any religious structure or deities similar to our own, as well as a disdain for the belief in higher powers, despite the obvious evidence that gods do, in fact, exist).
One of the central tenets of the anthropological code of conduct is to do no harm to the group you study. However, anthropologists are often faced with ethically complicated situations where respecting the values and lives of a study group violates your own values and your own life. This was such a moment. After much deliberation and soul-searching, we ultimately made the decision to ensure the aboleths could no longer return to our plane. This Section Has Been Redacted By Leylish and Teradonia Intelligence Services.
When we arrived back on our home plane, our memories of Pewter returned, suggesting we crossed into another, more familiar reality (or perhaps a new reality that we remembered as an old reality). I hope to study this phenomena further, once the upcoming conference in Teorn is complete.
This experience demonstrates conclusively that multiple planes and realities do exist, that with the right equipment and training it can be easy to travel from one to the other, and to remain aware of that transition whilst doing so. It also demonstrates some of the inherent dangers, including personality changes and association with potentially dangerous species. However, this should not dissuade trained professionals from venturing where no man (or woman!) has gone before in search of the next frontier—so long as that man (or woman!) is culturally sensitive and packs a lot of fizzy.

Note 1: This work was made possible by a generous grant from the Duchy of Dyfwethilton, the King of Taradonia, the Leylish Theatre and Cinema Union, and generous fundraising conducted by the cast and writers of the Fifty Shades of Pewter Musical.
Note 2: We found no evidence of any literature on this particular plane that displayed this kind of imagery, nor on any of the other planes where we encountered aboleths. One can only assume then that they came into contact with this romantic, pseudo-Medieval culture while on this plane, most likely while in contact with the Antebellum Reading Group (a known terrorist organization, which, over the last 150 years, has been responsible for several dramatic failed attempts to force the ladies of the continent to adopt hoop skirts, corsets, and dressed made out of curtains, to legislate against nose-tweaking, and to enslave multiple nations and ethnic groups). This raises disturbing questions about the abilities of our continent’s intelligence networks, as well as the intelligence of the ARG. Given the extent of diffusion of ARG culture into the aboleth’s, the group has clearly been associated with the aboleths for some time. Yet they have not manifested an iota of increased intelligence as a result of this relationship.

Internal Department Memo: Two events of note, both of which are mandatory.

Invasion of Teorn, 8 o’clock, Saturday. Refreshments and alcoholic beverages will be provided. Please bring your own bananas to present to the Teorn armed forces.

Pewter’s Bachelor Competition. TBA following the successful destruction of Teorn. Lodgings and food provided. BYOB and umbrella. Copies of Fifty Shades of Pewter, Fifty Shades of Pewter: The Musical, and related merchandise will be available for purchase. Faculty and student discounts apply.

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We Meet a Pewter Fanboy!
Extract from Mila's Diary

I was throwing snowballs from the roof as usual when Boffin whooshed out of thin air and told me about this odd dream involving fog and floating lights. Sounds like an interesting dream! I tried to re-create it using Prestidigitation, but I think in order to get a really good idea of what we’re facing, I’ll have to take a nap myself. But first, I suggested we talk to Mel, because I’m sure she’ll leap at the chance to take a nap. Ever since becoming the mother of twins, Prince Rhys Leyton McGillicuddy Firleon and Princess Alais Milah Cleopatricia Firleon, poor Mel has had even less leisure time and even greater responsibilities. By the way, I really like those names! They are so noble – distinctive, yet classic.

Boffin and I arrived with a whoosh in the Rhuddeil University Library, where Mel was studying her books. It was dreadfully quiet and dull in the library, so we livened up the place with a fun sing-along from Baldawin the Bard’s new “Fifty Shades of Pewter: The Musical!” Before we could start the Dark Reprise, though, Mel hurriedly asked us to explain what on Earth we thought we were doing in her beautiful, tranquil haven of knowledge. So we told her about Boffin’s dream.

Mel of course was happy to join us on our quest to take a nap and save the mysterious ball of light, but we figured that it would be easiest to slip into the weird dream world if we went to sleep in an environment similar to that realm. So we did! We took a field trip to an ancient mysterious geodesic dome filled with broken mechanical dolls, and my Mage Hands helpfully pushed us on a rail-cart to the weirdest, creepiest, most odd-shaped room in the building. In order to simulate the eerie mist of the dream-realm, we set things on fire and released swamp gas, which was very effective. I also drank a bottle of fizzy, in order to facilitate an altered state of consciousness, and then we went to sleep!

We awoke in a strange, fog-and-dancing-light-filled area, just as Boffin described. I tried poking the lights, but that didn’t do anything. One dancing ball of light seemed to be trying to talk to me, but I don’t speak the language of Tinkly Chime, so I did the only logical thing – I wished Mel’s translator glasses into existence! I asked the ball of light to spell out its story, which it did – and with the help of the glasses, I could understand everything it said. Curiously, Mel and Boffin could understand it too. I didn’t know they spoke Tinkly Chime! Someday I’ll have to ask them to teach me – or maybe I could pay a visit to the Dwarf King and drink some of his faucets. Mmm, those were so tasty, although maybe before I do that, I should ask Galen to invent some spinal reinforcement mechanisms for me. I have a very dense head (Mel always says so).

Reading the dancing ball of light’s story convinced me that it was tragically yet creatively insane. It seemed to believe that it was a real-life Pewter from Fifty Shades, even though the character is a half-orc and not a dancing ball of light, and it got really angry when I started talking about Baldawin the Bard’s new musical. Must be one of those purist fanboys, angry because the musical changes some of the characterization and plot elements from the original novel (personally, I thought the musical added a solid thematic depth lacking in the novel. But don’t tell Berezi I said that). Still, the ball of light was taking this Pewter thing really seriously – not that that’s actually particularly unusual, mind. Anyone who’s ever been to a PewterCon knows that Berezi’s fiction can drive people crazy!

Anyway, we also got attacked by the dancing balls of light, but I put on a concert of Fifty Shades music, which the evil balls seemed to really like, and we managed to wake up and escape the fog-world. Unfortunately, the fanboy ball faded away into a sad wisp of nothingness after a few seconds, so naturally, we needed to go back in.

Only this time, we had a stroke of genius. Think about it – what magical object makes every adventure more fun and exciting? What exceptional tool makes every endeavor more chaotic and befuddling?

You guessed it! It’s chronoscope time!!

We set up the chronoscope in the middle of the burning, swamp-gas-filled funhouse automaton mirror geodesic dome, and I drank another bottle of fizzy. Honestly, only Ochublau and Shiansary could have made this more fun! We all fell asleep and, in our dreams, walked through the dream-chronoscope into the fog-world. Oddly, there was a little less fog this time. Boffin and Mel had brought along some stuff, and I had Mel’s glasses and a grounding wire, because the balls of light seemed to be vaguely electrical last time we were here. Side note: I know what electricity is, because I watched Galen make some amazing inventions, and also Ochublau showed me how to make lightning! Ochublau also taught me that grounding wires are important, otherwise people can get electrocuted. When I introduced the concept of grounding wires to Galen, he was very appreciative, and also his hair has looked significantly tidier since then.

We talked to the fanboy ball of light again, using a chalkboard and some chalk, and the fanboy ball wrote out a very elaborate, darker-and-edgier sort of fanfiction he wrote about Pewter. He even worked Berezi, Boffin, Mel, and me into the plotline, which I thought was very imaginative, in a meta sort of way. He also claimed that he wrote Fifty Shades, and Berezi plagiarized it from him, which I – hmm – I bet that means he wrote the original The Half-Orc Temptress! Oh, wow – what an honor to meet him! I should ask him to sign my first edition copy!

Anyway, after that there was a lot of running around and waking up and multiple confusing layers of sleep-chronoscope-wakefulness-multiverse-realities, which was quite entertaining. I plugged the fanboy ball into an automaton back in Reality, but this didn’t help the fanboy, and the automaton was boring and racist, so I unplugged it again. While Boffin was off having adventures in Wonderland or somewhere, Mel and I tried to help the fanboy ball escape while fighting off attacks from the evil tinkly balls of light.

It turns out that if I re-enter the chronoscope from Reality, Mel and the tinkly balls are kind of dim and ghostly. I decided to wear this attractive and chic handmade metal hat, which I fashioned after Boffin’s extremely stylish pointy one, in order to protect me against the tinkly balls, and it worked! None of them took over my mind! I remain completely sane!

I also took another automaton into the Chronoscope to try to help the fanboy escape his interdimensional plane, but, unfortunately, he wasn’t able to leave. I did learn, however, that (a) evil tinkly balls of light can possess automatons in the Chronoscope Dream World, and (b) whoever built the geodesic dome was super racist against gnomes and I don’t like them. Both useful pieces of information.

Oh, and something exciting happened!! My lessons with Galen are finally paying off – I was able to construct an unpredictable zappy weapon out of old scraps! I used it to zap evil balls of light, which worked very well and was quite satisfying, especially since the evil balls of light were trying to kill and possess Mel and me. Anyway, they weren’t nice. We tried to help out the little fanboy ball, but no matter what we tried, it seems that he’s trapped in his interdimensional prison for now.

I think we tried to go back to the Dream Chronoscope World a third time, but I don’t remember the details. I think I drank a lot of fizzy and punched myself in the face, but ultimately failed to lose consciousness. I guess that means I need to work on my Mage Hand uppercut.

Clearly, our plan wasn’t working, so we visited a new person, called the Hag of the Geese! He likes geese, and also booby traps. I like geese, too, and I got distracted and caught in a booby trap, but fortunately I eventually escaped, thanks to the power of the mighty Cactuselephonkey. We talked with the Hag of the Geese for a while, and he also played along with the fanboy ball’s narrative about being a real-life version of Pewter. I thought this was a bit odd at first, but then the obvious explanation presented itself to me: I’m witnessing the act of full-time, creative, immersive storytelling in action! These individuals must be some very dedicated fans indeed, if they have devoted their lives to playing out this amazing live-action improvisational fanfiction roleplay! And to have the courage to break away from Pewter’s traditional characterization of the dark, tortured lover, and reimagine him as a true, self-sacrificing hero of justice! Indeed, it is quite awe-inspiring. What a grand commitment to art and literature! What devotion to the transformative power of fiction and the imagination!

Hey, do you think Mel and the others would be interested in doing something similar? I mean, everyone loves the Inspector Thunderbolt: Time-Traveling Matchmaker series, but I’ve always wondered what those books would be like with a Cactuselephonkey as the heroine. Or do you think Ochublau would help me reenact His Captive Cultist? Hmm…

Uh, back to the story – where was I – right! Mel and Boffin and the Hag of the Geese talked about alternate reality stuff and whatever for a while, and we eventually decided to travel to this interplanar dimensional chicken farm, except the chickens breathed fire! They also turned into dragons and fire demons, but of course we defeated them. I helped by holding a chicken with Mage Hand and also turning invisible. Mel played music at the chickens. Boffin stabbed a lot of chickens.

Unfortunately, we won’t get to eat any of the chickens, because they exploded. Which is too bad, because I’m hungry.

The End!

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The Secret of Bone Hill: Chapter 25
The Defeat of Osric

Kresh felt a glow inside him, and he was suddenly Kresh-sized (but still made of Jade).

Suddenly, Lies appeared. He was the same size relative to Kresh as he had been before, which meant that, in terms of an absolute size, he was now larger than he had been. “How did you get out?” Kresh asked, and Lies demonstrated that one could open the top of the bag. Kresh wanted to introduce Lies to the rest of us, but Lies said that he couldn’t stay. Lies had a task for Kresh – go see a guy (Osric) and do what he says (steal magic sword).

We saw Kresh pop out of the bag, bigger, so we knew that something must have happened to Mireal. Kresh looked back into the bag and saw Lies waving up at him. Andraste looked in, but Lies was gone; she believed that Kresh also had an imaginary friend and she accused him of having stolen her imaginary friend. Kresh insisted that he had his own friend.

A redheaded 12 year old dressed in orientalish blue robes came up. He said that his name was Boffin (he was named for king Boffin, he was a mermaid from Kordil who wanted to learn about the surface world). He took us to see the queen.

The queen wanted us to deliver a message about Osric: he is a dangerous enemy of the state, making trouble for the queen of Leyland, Mel should put more protections around her sword. Osric would probably be trying to deceive everyone by wearing a false mustache or changing one letter of his name. Andraste revealed that Osric wanted her to steal the sword and give it to him; she planed to keep it after stealing it. Kresh said that his friend said we should find Osric; when he described Lies, Andraste recognized him but said nothing. Suddenly, Kresh saw Lies appear with a scroll (we only saw the scroll); Andraste stole the scroll, it was the same quest Osric had given her.

On our way to the museum, we met a genie named Loom who was working a loom upon which there were architectural blueprints. As he weaved, each building went up. He had more than two hands.

We went to the museum and Althaea researched Leyland. We found obscure references to Truth and Lies, but nothing that added to what we already knew. Kresh read his Tiamat book, which was mostly the same as the Bahamut one, but with nihilistic word-replacements. Loom told us that Osric planned to sneak into the Ocholympiad under the name Rick Ozz; Loom would make a trapdoor to drop Osric when he got on stage.

We went to the train station. There was a poster advertising Hengig where drinking from a spring turns you into a cow; we planned to take Moo there later. Dyfwethil and Leyland were also advertised.

When we arrived in Leyland, it was a public visit day, so we could go into the castle. It was a dreary place with suits of armor and bookshelves. There were impressive rooms, but this was not the main residence of the Queen. The queen arrived and we gave our warnings. The sword started to talk when we mentioned it. The queen told us that she would go crazy if it went missing, so we shouldn’t steal it. Also, it would not be able to kill the Aboleths. A strange man named Gerald Dog appeared, so named because he appended the word “dog” to every sentence he spoke. The Queen’s library did not have the plant book the Hag asked us to find, but she recommended we check with Lady Catherine. Then another strange man, Dezzy, arrived; the queen threatened him with prison time if he killed any more Leylanders. Kresh and Dezzy had a dual, then Andraste and Dezzy. Then Mel hired Dezzy to kill Osric. (Later, she offered to pay us for killing him as well). We convinced Kresh not to trust Lies by saying that Lies was one of the scales of Tiamat.

Suddenly Mila appeared in Cactuselephunky form. We went to a bar, because Kresh hoped that the crowds would stare at Mila instead of him. But they knew Mila and still stared at him. The crowd wanted to have a drinking contest, so Althaea and Wren teamed up to stuff Kresh in the rock bag; Andraste tried to pour the Fizzy into the back, where Kresh had his mouth open.

We heard screaming outside and found a group of ruffians harassing a female dragonborn. Her name was Kordillia. She was raised by humans in the east and had come here to find a book on etiquette (which she was studying); she was also writing a romance novel called To the Dragon Born. Kresh asked if she wanted to make a baby dragonborn, and Mel gave him 50 Shades of Pewter. Mel got Kresh unrolled in the university to learn more stuff (and she claimed that he would be able to make baby dragonborn after graduation).

All of the caravan people (who had come west with Kordillia) dispersed except for Wu, who was surprised that important people would take an charge of this situation themselves. She said that important people didn’t care about local affairs in her country.

We made a plan to trap Osric. Mel sent an owl with a ransom demand for his mustache, which she had formerly stolen. We sent an owl message reading, “mission accomplished. Come to Leyland to retrieve spoils. – Andraste.” Kresh sent an owl message that only bore his name (the one thing he can write).

We went to dinner at the castle. For desert we had drank from kegs of knowledge from the Dwarven king. Kresh drank a blue, sparkly potion that gave him knowledge of stars; this freaked him out so he went into the bag. Andraste drank a potion on the religion of Ochublau; it looked like it was made of clouds. Ochublau appeared and gave Andraste the ability to make snow. We received owls from Osric. Mila sent a reply: “5 minutes or your mustache is pink forever. Price: all chandeliers.” A short time later, 20 owls appeared carrying Osric and 20 more bearing the chandeliers (which were grotesque – antlers with embalmed parts stuck on them).

Mila dropped a giant snowball on Osric, and the floor broke. Andraste made a snow ramp and slid down to check on him. She threw a fireball at him as he jumped out the window. Mila mage handed him and Andraste snowboarded after him.

Lies appeared next to Kresh in the bag and told him to save Osric. Mila could hear in the bag using magic, so she asked what 4+4 was. Lies said 9, but Kresh believed him. Mel gave Kresh a “4+4=8” knowledge drink, so he now knew that Lies was a liar and a bad friend.

There was more fighting of Osric, who eventually got a madness- amnesia. Mila and Mel made up a new story for him to believe about who he was. Andraste added that ball-bearings are currency. Althaea added that he was a puppeteer who did shows for orphans. We sent him to Cardon.

Andraste was initiated into the Very Special Forces of Leyland. We were given an apartment in the castle where we could live while Kresh was at the University.

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The Secret of Bone Hill: Chapter 24
Stealing and Fighting and Kidnapping and Quests

During the night watch:

During his third of the night, Ayonar found and read a book on how to perform the sacrifice to the aboleths. The friends of Mireal were sleeping in the room with us, so Ayonar took one down to the room by the portal. Kresh was supposed to be on watch as well, since he no longer needed sleep, but he wasn’t paying attention. The altar stone began to glow red as he performed the sacrifice, but he messed up the sacrifice and the glow disappeared.

Once per hour, those who were on watch and paying attention (i.e. Althaea and Andraste) heard an owl hoot once per hour. Althaea recognized its call as that of a Great Horned Owl, but she could not go investigate it because she was on watch.

During Andraste’s watch, she also heard the owl. She determined that its regular hooting was because the owl was also on watch. Although she was supposed to be on watch, Andraste wandered away to spy on the owl’s companions – a group of motley looking halflings and gnomes wearing camouflage, painted faces, and hats designed to look like shrubs. Probably, they had been sent by Boffin to spy on us. They ran away when Andraste approached.

In the Morning:

We heard the sound of a gong and, as we looked down on the courtyard, we saw a delegation of three monks coming to speak with us. We nominated Wren as our leader (since Ayonar had his bow out, Kresh was crazy, and Alice was mean – all three of them wanted to be the leader). The delegation told us that there was now a body downstairs; Althaea assumed Ayonar had sacrificed someone, since he had advocated sacrificing people the night before. The delegation realized that Kresh had become the new sacred Jade Stone (because Kresh kept talking), so Andraste forcibly removed him from the location. Alice and Ayonar were willing to sell Kresh to them, but Wren and Althaea squashed that idea.

The delegation then asked if we would be willing to search for the dragonborn of the prophecy. They said they would sacrifice him to the aboleths if we brought him to them. While Wren argued with Ayonar and Alice about the merits of this idea, Althaea questioned the delegation about the prophecy. It stated that a tall, male, bronze dragonborn would come from an eastern monastery run by “pasty non dragonborns” (the delegation claimed the couldn’t tell us apart); this dragonborn would be empty headed and ruin everything. Althaea asked them to explain more about the prophesied destruction of the universe, and they gave a simplistic explanation of what we already knew regarding the balance of the jade stones. Ayonar took half of the promised payment (100 lbs of gold) in advance.

The delegation also asked us to scout other aboleth portals for them, so that they could set up sacrificial altars in those locations as well.

Meanwhile, Andraste saw a gnome in a shrub hat peering into the room where she was keeping Kresh. When she looked out, there was a precarious stack of them holding up the one she had seen. They claimed to be pilgrims, but finally admitted that they had been following us since Barrow. They also reported that Boffin was working on a plan to kill aboleths. Kresh only saw Andraste talking to the air,

so he made fun of her and her imaginary friend; one of the gnomes created a magical bouncy light and had it pretend to be Syl. “I’m watching you,” said ‘Syl.’ Kresh apologized for making fun of Andraste.

We retrieved Andraste and Kresh, then went to get the jade that Wren and Althaea had hidden outside the monastery. Althaea used her stone shaping magic to reshape Kresh’s jade form into that of a dragonborn; however, there was less mass to the stone than there was to Kresh originally, so he ended up slightly smaller than he had been before the transformation potion.

We started back the way we had come intending to deliver the jade to the Crone. Suddenly, we were swarmed by a group of gnomes and halflings. They told us to grab their hands and they would transport us by magic anywhere we wanted to go (they had magical cloaks like Boffin’s). After Andraste explained who they were, we agreed and were transported to the glade by the Rock Crone’s house.

The Rock Crone thought we had brought her two jade stones, but Wren forcefully explained that we were keeping Kresh. In return for the jade, the Crone gave her a Bag Of Holding for rocks. Wren tried to get Kresh into it, but he refused. The Crone told him it was a hat and decreed that everyone in her monastery was required to wear hats (Kresh had mistaken the rock garden and Silmund statue for a monastery during their last visit); Kresh put the bag on his head and was magically sucked up into it.

Kresh suddenly found himself in a place that smelled like burlap. There were some rocks in the room as well as bits of gravel on the floor. It was dark, but he felt along the edges of the room (which felt like a burlap sack). He could not feel the motion of the bag, and cried out, “the druid has shrunk me again!” But we couldn’t hear him. He could hear us as we discussed what to do next, though.

Suddenly, Kresh realized that there was another figure in the room with him. It was dressed like Truth, except that the words on its robes were always changing and it was wearing a fur hat. This was Lies, but Kresh did not know that. Lies generally agreed with everything Kresh said and offered advice like, “regular people don’t need to be skilled at things.” Kresh liked Lies and named him Best Friend (since Lies would not reveal his name). Lies/BestFriend said that he would help Kresh to make the world great again, “with your perfection and my studied lack of perfection, we can do anything!” Lies said he had to go do other work for now, but he would meet Kresh in Barrow.

The gnomes and halflings transported us to Barrow, and we ended up near a fleet of airships. Andraste tried to sneak away to fly them, so Ayonar shot her with an entangling arrow. There was a parade of Crones in progress each with banners for their areas; it was called a Crone Moot. Althaea looked for the China Hag she and Nell had met under the earth, but Crone Moots were regional, so no one from that far away was there.

Alice saw a man furtively creep onto the aeronautical fields and – having grown up on the streets of Barrow – recognized him as Gaylin, the king of a neighboring kingdom with which Boffin was friends. Gaylin considered himself to be an inventor, but his inventions never worked and Boffin had forbidden him to fly airships in Taradonia.

Suddenly, Galayna, the warrior-princess sister of Gaylin appeared, along with a troop of soldiers. She told Gaylin she was going to lock him in his quarters at the palace for messing with the airships (he had been ‘fixing’ things). Andraste objected, naming herself the Defender of Idiots. She wanted to fight Galayna, but we convinced her that a sparring match would be a better option. Galayna promised not to kill her, knowing that she was a far better swordswoman than Andraste.

During the battle, the rest of us took care of our own matters. Althaea realized that we were not far from the house of the metah hat people whose basement of statues we had wanted to show Nell (since she was our historical expert). However, when she arrived at the house, she found that it had been demolished and was now an empty lot with a sign promising future building. The basement was still intact, but when she made her way down, the statues were gone.

Alice and Wren searched for diamonds to steal, and then restocked supplies. In the last store they visited, Alice saw Ghâsh, who was here recruiting people for his newest business venture – a new village in the Northern wastes. At this point, Althaea arrived and, seeing that the site he had chosen was near the Kordillian city of Junian, warned him of possible danger; but he said that there were museum workers at the Kordillian site and that he had already carefully surveyed the site for danger.

Meanwhile, Andraste tried to run away from the battle, so Galayna’s warriors formed a circle around them. Andraste said that she wasn’t running away – she was trying to find some cover so that she could hide.

When it was dark, Wren tried to break into a building to steal and set off the magical alarms. She ran from the police and hid inside a building full of cider (which she had no interest in stealing). She went to the museum to steal things, but set off an alarm there as well; the portcullis fell and the suits of armor came to life. They put her in a cage hanging from the ceiling. That was when Wren remembered that she could turn invisible, so when Professor Sharptooth came out, he thought the suits of armor had malfunctioned.

Meanwhile, Althaea had summoned Peebo to check in, since we were once again near Spider Hole. He reported that there had been no spirits moving through the dirt near the portal in the first barrow we had found. The moles had been watching, as they had promised.

Meanwhile, Andraste had finished her dual and gone to an apothecary and then a bar. Unfortunately, the wine she was drinking was spiked, so she passed out. Alice arrived and assumed that Andraste was fine, so she rented a room and left Andraste there. While Alice was gone, Andraste was spirited away.

When she went up to bed, Alice found that Andraste was missing. Someone had entered through the door (which Alice had apparently failed to lock) and left out the window. She talked to people in the bar, and finally someone reported that he had seen a tall blond guy with a large mustache go upstairs. (When Althaea later heard the description, she recognized it as Osric). Alice tried to get Ayonar to help, but he shot her with a sleep dart.

Meanwhile, Wren had finally managed to get herself out of the cage and make her way to the natural history part of the museum, where there were many rocks. She was examining some diamond jewelry in a case when she heard the click of nails on the floor. Sir Professor Sharp Tooth could smell her, but she didn’t answer when he called so he merely cleaned the case with the diamond and then left. Wren decided not to press her luck and came to find the rest of us.

Meanwhile, Andraste woke up in a basement, tied to a pole. She could see the ground outside the tiny windows at the top of the walls, so she teleported outside and hid in a dustbin. There were lights on in the top story of the house and a figure was pacing back and forth in front of the window. Andraste tried to shoot him, but missed, and then fell out of her hiding spot. Osric accused her of spying for cultists, so she shot him again. Osric tore the bolt from his arm and insulted her, then ducked down below the window.

A butler came out to tell Andraste, “Master Osric will see you now.” But Andraste refused to enter the house, so she and Osric resumed their shouted conversation in which Osric revealed that he wanted to consult Andraste on cultist matters. He also claimed to be from an important family whose blood was being diluted by marrying outside the family. He wanted to marry a woman (Melantha, who is engaged to Heregard and expecting a child with him) who owned a sword (Andrenil, the Blade Which Returns the Dead to Sleep) which could only be used by members of 5 houses, but she refused. Osric tried to bribe Andraste to steal the sword. Osric said that a man had been helping him; the man stepped to the window and it was Lies; Andraste reconsidered and went upstairs.

Conversing with Lies, Andraste learned that what he wants to do depends on who he is talking to. Currently, he wanted to destroy cultists, who are bad because they do not believe what we believe. Another current goal was to build a wall to keep dragons out. He claimed that his name was “Truth” and that Truth’s name is not really “Truth.” Also, “truth is whatever you want it to be.” Andraste asked (in 5 subsequent questions) if he had met an elf druid, an elf ranger, a tricksy gnome, a human cleric, or a piece of jade shaped like a dragonborn sitting in a bag; thus she learned that Lies had spoken to Kresh.

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The Secret of Bone Hill: Chapter 23
Aboleths and Revelations

Teaser: The Arch-Mage having retreated, the adventurers will have to combat hordes of well-trained warrior monks. Will Andraste fall completely into the depths of insanity? Will Alice have to resurrect someone? Will it be Ayonar’s fault? Will Wren and Althaea manage to extract a piece of jade? Will Kresh eat it? Find out next time!

Summary:
Andraste was running down the staircase carved into the side of the bottomless pit. It soon became fully dark.

Kresh was psychologically damaged after the revelations of the Arch Mage. Olf and company arrived, and one of the men tried to comfort “Mireal.” Kresh shoved him away angrily, accidentally knocking him into the bottomless pit.

Andraste saw a screaming man fall past her into darkness.

The other friends of Mireal were upset and ran down the stairs.
Kresh demanded to know how he could be the son of the High Arch Mage of Tiamat. Suddenly, he heard a voice call his name; it was a red glowing Bahamut hovering in the air. Bahamut hinted that the High Arch Mage didn’t really serve Tiamat and reassured Kresh that hereditary doesn’t determine everything. He told Kresh that it was unnecessary to steal the Jade stone for him, and said that science rather than brute strength should be used to move it.
Kresh summarized his vision for the rest of the adventurers, but he had misunderstood all of it and now believed Bahamut had chosen him because he was the best dragonborn.

Suddenly, a pillar of blue flame carried the friend of Mireal up out of the depths. Andraste saw the pillar and assumed that if she jumped into the pit, it would carry her. It didn’t. She teleported back to the staircase in order to stop plummeting.

Althaea and Wren implemented their Jade Stone breaking plan. Althaea threw a fire ball at the jade stone, then shot water at it. The jade cracked. We heard magical bells and green mist began to seep out of the crack in the stone. Althaea used her stone shaping spell to give the Jade handles, and we hid the Jade outside of the monastery. We then returned, unwilling to leave our friends behind.

Kresh and Alice came down to where Althaea and Wren had been. It was completely quiet, only a ringing gong. No monks were around. Kresh recognized that the gong signal meant there was a threat in the monastery. Looking up, Kresh saw monks in every window, waiting to strike.
Kresh swaggered out and summoned the monks to battle.

Andraste saw Truth walking up the stairs toward her. Truth implied that she could read Andraste’s mind, and then said that there was a bloodstained altar at the bottom of the pit. She said that the aboleths were also there. Truth teleported her to the bottom. There was indeed a bloody altar clearly used for human sacrifice. There was also a tunnel that sloped slightly downward toward the aboleth realm.

Wren and Althaea heard Kresh cry, “Let our fists decide” and ran to join their friends. There was a battle. Ayonar suddenly appeared and turned the battlefield into a briar patch. Kresh inhaled too much of the green mist and turned into a jade statue which then sucked in all the green mist. He had become the 7th Jade Stone necessary for the world to remain in balance; he could still walk around and talk, but was made of jade. The jade stone that Althaea and Wren had broken was no longer magical.

After the battle, we talked to a Novice hiding behind a pillar. He told us that nothing like this had happened before (the Jade Stone was sacred, so no one tried to break it). He explained the prophecy (which probably referred to Kresh): a special dragonborn with the blood of the gods in him will come and take what is rightfully his and destroy the balance. (This probably also means that Kresh is the son of Tiamat). He told us that the High Arch Mage was hundreds of miles away. He told us that if one side had 5-6 of the Jade Stones, there would be earthquakes and the stars would fall from the sky; if one side had all 7, the world would be destroyed. One side “having the stone” meant putting it in a consecrated spot; if the stone wasn’t in a consecrated spot (b/c it was Kresh who was mobile) he didn’t know what would happen. Currently, both Bahamut and Tiamat had 3, and Kresh was the 7th. The novice explained the “well of souls” – the bottomless pit – was a place where sacrifices were made 2x per year to appease the aboleths who would otherwise come out and kill all the monks. Ayonar killed the novice when we were done, to the objection of everyone else.

We went down into the pit to deal with the aboleths.

Meanwhile, Andraste had already reached the bottom and summoned an aboleth to battle. The aboleth made her a mind-controlled slave. Then we arrived. Tovshayah summoned Tengri to take Andraste to his realm (which would break the mind control), but Tengri didn’t help. Ayonar grabbed Andraste and drug her through the portal into the aboleth’s realm, which broke the mind control. While in the madness inducing realm, Ayonar got an indefinite madness where the more serious a situation was the funnier he found it. Andraste went temporarily deaf (psychosomatic). Alice and Ayonar returned.
We battled the aboleth and it eventually left. Ayonar tried to sacrifice one of the friends of Mireal to appease the aboleths, but Alice fought him. Kresh argued that he was the most perfect person and thus the ideal sacrificial victim. Andraste learned from Tengri that if we killed one aboleth, their collective memory would allow them to remember and hunt us down – thus we have to kill them all. Althaea used her stone shaping ability to brick up the portal to the aboleth realm, at least temporarily trapping them in their own realm. Kresh wrote a message to Andraste, but it only said, “KreshKreshKreshKresh” (since that was the only word he could write); Alice healed her deafness.
We went to sleep upstairs in the monastery. Kresh was on watch (since he no longer needs food or drink or sleep) while the elves also took watches (since they only need 4 hours of meditation/sleep).

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The Secret of Bone Hill: Chapter 22
Traveling and Fighting (and Revelations)

One of the rats informed Althaea that Andraste had vanished.

Meanwhile. Kresh was testing his endurance by laying on the “cursed bed” and trying not to fall asleep. Andraste was still in the alternate dimension. Tovshayah and Althaea were waiting in the sewer according to the plan. Alice heard about a wealthy person marrying off his daughter at a big party, so she had come to the town. Ayonar was around, doing unspecified things and following the rest of us around secretly without helping us in our battles. Wren was stealing things in Kresh’s rooms.

Meanwhile. Alice went into a Pagoda where a western man pretending to be an easterner asked her for a donation. Alice said, “I accept donations.” The man told her there was a person in town in need of spiritual advice, a worshiper of Vaina, so Alice went to help (for a fee). The man’s butler, Jove, opened the door, and then showed her into meet Bruster. Alice insulted him in the name of her goddess. Bruster was praying for a friend who was in a tough love situation; his love (probably the woman Kresh was disguised as) was being forced to marry someone else, so the friend was going to rescue her tonight. Alice promised to help in return for money; she memorized the combination to his safe.

Meanwhile. Andraste was in a tidal pool, misty wasteland. It was humid and smelled like sinus. Out of the nearest pool, a tentacle emerged – it was an Aboleth like those she had seen in her vision. The Aboleth spoke into her mind, claiming its kind had existed before the gods, before all things. The Aboleth knew about the impending doom in this place, Tikili, their realm. It admitted that there was a path from their realm back into our world, situated beneath a mountain. The Aboleth gave Andraste a message to take to her god: we [i.e. the Aboleths] will soon take back everything, leaving nothing for the gods.

Meanwhile. Wren and Kresh heard a knock on the door. A maid brought in pink sweets and a case full of tiaras. When Kresh said that he no longer wanted to be “flamboyantly wealthy” but would prefer to be “just one of the people,” the maid brought a doctor. Wren stole one of the tiaras. The doctor came in and told Kresh that he was Olf, friend of Bruster, come to rescue her. Kresh became upset that no one had told him about the change in plans. The “doctor” took “Mireal” away to be treated, and people in cloaks greeted them outside the gate. Olf revealed they had hired a ship to take them all away. Kresh asked if the rest of us (the adventurers) knew about this plan, but Olf didn’t understand what he meant. Kresh decided to send Callumat to the sewer to inform us of the new plan (we were to meet at Dock 12, a ship called the Archimedes), but realized that it might not be a good time “to whip out a dragon.”

Meanwhile. Jove warned Alice that Bruster’s friends didn’t know what they were doing, and asked her to help keep them safe.

Meanwhile. Andraste prayed to Tengri to warn him about the Aboleths. She saw Truth walking among the tidal pools. They talked, but Truth wasn’t helpful. Andraste saw a vision in the waters – Aboleths set themselves up on a primordial earth; the races settled where the Aboleths were, but without knowing about them; things started out alright, but turned sad over time. The realm in which Andraste was located causes madness which worsens the longer one remains there; Andraste was struck with amnesia and remembered nothing about her life (or us). Truth sent her back to the palace.

Meanwhile. Another rat reported to Althaea, informing her that Andraste had reappeared. Kresh’s message arrived, so Althaea left for the docks.

Meanwhile. A page saw Andraste appear, so Andraste claimed to be a magician. The page took her to see the Burgomaster about a show. Andraste used her monkey-magic and set tapestries on fire during the show, so the Burgomaster hired her to beat up smugglers at Dock 12.

Meanwhile. Everyone arrived at the docks. Andraste, not knowing us, thought we were the smugglers. She attacked the tallest, most impressive looking guy, who turned out to be Olf. When she decided to attack Kresh, Olf jumped in front of “Mireal.” Wren, still invisible, convinced Andraste that she was Syl; she planned to mess with Andraste, but Althaea convinced her to save that for when we weren’t in a battle. Instead, Wren convinced Andraste not to fight us. There was a battle between us, Olf and company, and the smugglers on the ship.

During the battle she had started, Andraste summoned a magical steed and galloped away. She summoned Truth and asked to be sent back to the realm of the Aboleths to prevent the end of the world. Truth sent her to the foot of the mountains.

After the battle, we made a new plan. None of us knew how to sail the ship, so we decided to use our pass to Molbar (with Kresh turned invisible by Wren), the port closest to the mountain.

There were no trustworthy ships at the dock, but we found one with sailors who didn’t ask too many questions, called the Juno. The museum elves Elfwine and Arieda were on the ship, but we considered them suspicious so we didn’t talk to them.

While on the ship, Kresh talked to Olf and learned that he and Mireal had known each other since they were children. Kresh tried to convince Olf that he wasn’t Mireal, but Olf didn’t believe him. “I feel like I’m having an out of body experience, and we should go find the body I’m out of.”

2 days later we arrived at Molbar, where we got Kresh new clothes. He put on his dragonborn mask (as a disguise) and a hat.

After 4 days of walking, we arrived at the mountain and found Andraste (who had been meditating on her Paladin oath). Andraste still did not trust us, although her amnesia was now gone, so Althaea convinced Kresh to tell her about his vision of Aboleths. We concluded that we all had the same goals.

Andraste tried to summon Truth, but the monkey god appeared. Andraste asked for more monkey powers, which the monkey god agreed to grant in exchange for a dead Aboleth. Althaea reminded everyone that they had promised one of the three monkeys rescued from the Farang circus now riding on Tovshayah that we would convince the monkey god to turn him back into a dwarf. The monkey god agreed, and increased the payment to 3 dead Aboleths.

We met a group of Dragonborn heading down the mountain. They were pilgrims, but couldn’t get into the monastery because of a prophecy about a dangerous dragonborn (probably Kresh). Kresh revealed that he had been found floating in a basked on a river by his monastery.

The monastery, when we reached it, was scary and dragon themed, just as Andraste had seen in her visions. We were let into the courtyard and overheard two monks talking about a festival in two days during which the Great Jade Stone would be covered in garlands. Kresh had a crisis of faith – why were the Tiamat worshipers praying and doing normal religious things, rather than cackling and being evil?

We found the statue with the Jade stone (which a crone had asked us to steal). It was carved with draconic words and appeared to have power within it. It sat on a source of power associated with the gods of the dragonborn. The Jade piece was 10 feet tall and 5 feet wide, too big to carry away, so Wren began working out how to break it into pieces. Jade consists of a microcrystalline interlocking fibrous matrix without the cleavage points common in most stones. As such, Jade fractures along random paths, leaving a jagged surface. In addition, Jade is a 6.0-7.0 on the Mos Hardness scale, so it wouldn’t be easy for the party to break. Wren eventually concluded that we could break the Jade using thermal expansion; a stick of wood would be placed in a crack in the jade, lit on fire and then cooled with water; thermal expansion would cause it to crack.

While Wren was working this out, Andraste summoned Bahamut and Tiamat. They informed her that the Jade pieces were currently in balance, and advised killing Aboleths on sight. Tiamat also gave Andraste a message for Kresh: “the basket was nice – I made it.” Kresh was distraught when he heard, so we again stressed the need for balance.

An officious looking monk came down and told Kresh that the Arch Mage wished to see him. He was summoned to a dual with the Arch Mage. Eventually Alice and Andraste joined the battle. During a lull in the battle, the Arch Mage commented that he hadn’t seen Kresh since he was a baby; he had placed Kresh in the basket because Kresh’s father did not want children, knowing that his powers would descend to his kids. Kresh’s father was the High Arch Mage, living in the main Tiamat monastery to the east. He did not know who Kresh’s mother was, and some of the adventuring party theorized that it might be Tiamat herself. These revelations drove Kresh mad.

Kresh said he was lying and asked about the Aboleth realm. The Arch Mage revealed that a stairway descended along the chasm in the center of the room which led to their realm. The Arch Mage teleported away before Kresh could destroy him.

Andraste summoned a god, but only Arwin appeared. Andraste started down the stairway into the Aboleth’s realm, and Arwin followed.

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