5 Sydenstar (Whelsen/Tuesday) 845 PD
Tāmarai, Stubby, Rinn and Fisch are face to face with the Empress. There’s blood on her face, her crown is missing, robes torn, and there’s a wild look in her eyes. With her are three castle guards (one of them a captain), and a displacer beast. They managed to cut off the flow of elemental power from the leylines to the 4 pillars in the room that were feeding the crystal on the center one, but the Empress is still far from powerless.
Given that, Rinn still has a question and answer owed to him, and he uses it now. Reaching up to touch the medallion that Oren gave him, he focuses on his question, asking it silently. “If you want her gone, is there anything you can do to help us?”
He gets an answer. Though the sky was cloudless, there is a sharp and loud crack of thunder- sharp and loud enough that even the Empress looks up at the high windows for a moment before looking back at them.
Stubby looks up as well, smiles, and then steps forwards. “Nice to finally meet you, I am Lady Victoria Viqul Elaina Vessar De Rolo of Whitestone,” and makes a formal curtsy.
The Empress smiles. “Then let me do the same. Lady Vex’ahlia Sylda von Musel Klossowski de Rolo III, pleasure to finally meet you.”
Stubby shakes her head. “The names we carry don’t change who we are. You were Vex, but you are now a traitor, but you will die that way. But I do feel remorse for what happened to you, though it is not my fault. But as a courtesy, I request your surrender.” (Dirty 20 on Intimidation with help!)
The Empress looks nervous for a moment, but then Stubby hears the faintest edge of a whisper of another voice, ‘don’t back down’. It’s not directed to her, but she recognizes it from the dream she had of her mother and Vecna a couple of weeks ago. The Empress takes a deep breath, and stands up straight. “Denied, but for the sake of family, I offer to the four of you, put down your weapons and surrender, my fight is only with Stubby.”
Wait a moment, four? From another doorway Vanya steps in, facing the Empress as well.
Tāmarai shakes her head. “If you have a problem with one of my house, then you have a problem with me. Stubby is a member of my house.”
Stubby grins. “We’re sort of a package deal.”
Rinn and Fisch don’t say anything, but they’re not moving away either.
The Empress just grins, and holds up a hand towards Vanya, and seems to pull a sickly, green brown light from the other woman, who then collapses. She absorbs the light, and some of her bruises start fading. “I’m simply leveling the playing field.” Though this use of magic around all the other magic triggers something, and suddenly the displacer beast is a displacer goose, still roughly the same size and with tentacles, but… a goose. It steps away from the guards, and one of them pulls back in fear.
“Enough of this. Guards, arrest these intruders!” The guards, who don’t look mind controlled, step forwards. Stubby eyes them, giving the Captain a look of contempt. “You follow the Whispered One?” In reply, the Guard Captain smirks, raising one hand up to cover an eye. On the back of the hand is a tattoo of the symbol of Vecna! Stubby has a reply of her own, and takes a regular dagger and throws it at him- and gets it right into the back of his hand!
Rinn, Tam, guard 1, Fisch, Stubby, captain, Lydia, goose, scared guard
Tāmarai does call over some information to Rinn quickly- she was able to identify the displacer beast before, hopefully the displacer goose is the same. And if so, if Rinn can keep Witch Bolt on it, they can keep track of it while it is ‘displacing’. So Rinn, ‘Light it up!’
Rinn steps over, and casts Witch Bolt, hitting the displacer goose with plans to keep the electrical arc going. The goose does disappear and reappears over by Tāmarai, Stubby and Fisch- but the electricity still crackles around it. Tāmarai ignores it for the moment, sending a wave of Faerie Fire over by the Empress and guards. She and the captain manage to shrug it off, but the two regular guards are now marked and highly visible, and easier to hit. Tāmarai also gives Rinn a ‘good job!’, inspiring him! One of the guards pulls out a crossbow to shoot the gnome, but thankfully misses. (Tāmarai gives him a bright smile in return!) Fisch already had his glaive out. “That’s a bad goose!” as he goes over to attack it. It dodges his swings with the glaive, but Fisch still gets in one good swipe with his claws. Stubby goes over to get between the Empress and Vanya. (The displacer goose takes a swing at her and does hit, but Aegea’s shielding takes care of it.) Stubby does try to spot whatever sort of focus that the Empress is using for her casting, but can’t see anything obvious. She does have Aegea re-boost the shielding to herself, Rinn, and also Vanya (Tāmarai is out of range now), and sees that some of that shielding goes to the Empress. She’s linked herself and Vanya somehow! Stubby shouts out this information as she takes a swing at the Empress with the Raven Feather Dagger. The Empress casts Shield, but Stubby still gets through it. (How the Empress did the Shield spell seems odd…) Her eyes widen, but then she looks at the knife and smiles- and pulls more of that sickly green energy from Vanya. The guard Captain, stepping up to defend his Empress, pulls out his sword and gives it a shake. It lights up in flames, and he charges at Stubby! He swings at her, and Stubby uses the new device in her gauntlet, it unfolds into a shield (Shield), blocking the blow- and the next one as well. The Empress looks at the dagger wound on her person, licking some of the blood from her own hands. “You are so much trouble, auntie,” and casts Hold Person on Stubby- and it works. The Empress then takes a step back- and fades from sight, reappearing further back in the room. (Misty Step.) The displacer goose keeps going after the Bear, hitting Fisch, while that one last guard keeps his distance and uses his crossbow to shoot at Tāmarai- but misses, thankfully.
Rinn was going to keep Witch Bolt on the displacer goose, but seeing Stubby frozen changes his plans. He drops that spell, and goes over to try to use Lightning Lure on the guard captain to pull him away from Stubby- but it doesn’t work! And the dagger tossed at the Empress to hopefully break her concentration on the Hold Person spell misses! Tāmarai moves in closer to try to examine the magic that the Empress is using on Vanya, getting attacked by the displacer goose as she moves away, but the remnants of shielding from Aegea manage to catch most of it. Tāmarai can’t figure out the spell the Empress is using, but works on getting closer to Counterspell whatever it could be. Fisch keeps working on keeping that displacer goose busy- not getting any hits in, but certainly keeping it occupied. Stubby manages to break free of the Hold Person! And while catching her balance/breath, does manage to direct Aegea to keep the shielding up on allies within range. Good thing as well, as the Captain attacks her again, but the shielding catches most of it. The Empress keeps her own hand in, casting Fire Bolt on Stubby, Tāmarai, and Rinn. Rinn casts Shield quick, leading the Empress to look at him and shake her head. “I knew you were a bad choice.” Rinn makes no comment, but flips her off. She does draw from Vanya again (who keeps looking worse and worse). Rinn has no clue on this type of magic, but Stubby has seen something similar once before. (Emror used something like it.) Tāmarai does see it as the same sort of draining that was used on Raelle in the pillar of fire in Old Vasselheim. Seems like the Empress was indeed building a smaller backup here to the large set up she had before. The displacer goose decides to take things up a notch, and delivers a loud HONK, and everyone has to make a Con save- and everyone (good and bad alike) does. Poor displacer goose. Disappointed, it charges Fisch, but even misses that attack, alas. And that one cowering guard takes a couple of shots at Stubby with his crossbow, missing one, but hits with the other!
Rinn moves into a better position, and casts Thunderwave. Unfortunately it doesn’t shove the Empress and Guard Captain back, but it does do some damage. Tāmarai winds up and casts Dispel Magic on whatever effect the Empress is using on Vanya- and it breaks the spell! The sickly green thread between the Empress and Vanya SNAPS. The Empress stumbles back and glares at Tāmarai with anger and recognition. That one guard by Tāmarai tries to take care of her for his Empress, and does manage a good strike with the flaming sword. Fisch, who is getting tired of this dratted goose, grapples it in a bear hug, and then slams it to the ground! But this goose is made of tough stuff, and just looks annoyed. Stubby finally gets her bearings, smiles up at Rinn, then immediately checks on Vanya. The other woman doesn’t look so good, so Stubby does what’s needed, reaching for abilities she didn’t know she had, and casts Cure Wounds. Not using any of her Artificer gadgetry, as she did on Rinn once before, but soft, dusty black mists chases out the sickly green taint left behind from the Empress. This is cleric ability, given by the goddess Stubby has been helping, and who seems to now be helping back. The Raven Queen. Stubby, (and Rinn, who is close enough), hears an amused male voice, quietly chuckling, then says “Do good, little niece, do good.” A faint wind ruffles Stubby and Rinn’s hair. Aegea rolls up and boosts up shielding, while Stubby gets up and skirts around the Guard Captain, who tries to attack Rinn- who just dodges out of the way as the swing goes wide. The Empress is not happy that her connection is broken, and that Vanya is looking better. She attempts to cast Polymorph on Stubby, to change her into gods-only-know, but Tāmarai is still watching out for her ward and Counterspells it! The Empress steps back again, fades away, and reappears further back. She yells at the goose to ‘Deal with that Bear’, and the displacer goose goes after Fisch again, biting him. That one poor guard, cowering back, takes another shot at Stubby, but misses.
Rinn draws one dagger across a bracelet, and goes after the guard captain with Booming Blade, hitting him- and then a second stab with a second dagger. Both strike well, and the Captain is not looking well. Tāmarai sends a spell after the Empress (as well as the other guard near her), Magnify Gravity. The Empress manages to resist some of the effects, but that poor guard is looking rough. Tāmarai also moves in closer to the Empress, and the other guard near her takes his attack, getting a strike in. Fisch continues to keep the Displacer Goose busy, not doing too much to it, but at least it cannot go after his friends! Stubby goes after the Guard Captain, a ghostly hand helping to guide the dagger in perfectly. As the guard captain collapses, she murmurs “I hope in your next life you don’t hear the whispers.” Stubby then looks at the Empress, holding up the bloody knife. “You’re next.” The Empress doesn’t argue, she just casts a spell, causing inky black tentacles to erupt from a large area of the floor, catching Stubby, Tāmarai, Aegea, and Rinn! (Tāmarai did try to counter this spell as well, but her attempt was outmatched, this time.) The Empress smirks, and Misty Steps further back. However, Vanya is now on her feet and in the game! “I came for you, bitch,” casting Fireball on Vanya and one of the guards! The displacer goose lets out a triumphant ‘HONK’, causing a wave of fear and psychic damage to sweep through, affecting both Rinn and Tāmarai. It also goes after Fisch as well, who has taken some hits but is still holding up. And our last poor guard shoots over at the new threat, Vanya- and manages to hit her, but not too badly.
Rinn manages to escape from the tentacles, and thinking to try to disrupt the Empress’ spell, moves over to cast Thunder Wave on her (and the cowardly guard). The Empress manages to resist some of it, and keep her concentration, but does knock the other guard back and prone. Tāmarai is really not doing well, and while still caught in the tentacles pulls out and downs a healing potion. She tries to get free, but cannot, and the writhing, grappling tentacles hurt her even more. But the gnome does manage to toss a spell over at the Empress, and this time the Magnify Gravity hits! But the Empress keeps her concentration to keep the magical tentacles in place. The other guard, farther away from this, decides he wants nothing to do with the tentacles, and steps over to join the Displacer Goose in attacking Fisch. Fisch pauses a moment, taking a deep breath, (Second Wind), then renews his attack on the guard and Displacer Goose. Stubby manages to break free from the tentacles, grabbing Aegea as well, and sets the robit to shielding Tāmarai. Then, back after the Empress, stabbing with the Raven Feather dagger. The attack hits, and the injury and pain is enough that the Empress loses the spell and the tentacles disappear! She is looking a little rough (finally!), and stumbles back, putting a hand on one of the fallen pillars for support. But she is not out of tricks yet. Looking at Rinn, the Empress comments “This is how you do it,” and blasts out with Chain Lightning, aimed towards Stubby and Tāmarai (and Aegea)! The two manage to get out of the way of some of the blast (though Aegea does not, and is blasted to pieces), but it is still not enough. Stubby isn’t looking good, and Tāmarai? Tāmarai falls. Vanya manages to dash over, and works on getting a healing potion into the gnome, then casts Hold Person on the Empress- and it works! The displacer goose uses the assisting guard to its advantage, body slamming into Fisch, who still stubbornly keeps going. That one remaining guard manages to get back to his feet and tries shooting at Vanya, but the poor guy is not having a good day (it’s about to get worse), and misses.
And Rinn, seeing Tāmarai fall… Just lets go. With a curt ‘You’re dead” in Primordial, he steps over, then starts drifting up in the air as he raises one hand. Trails and sparks of electricity start being pulled from the surroundings, (including the crystal on the central pillar!), into Rinn’s hand. His eyes blaze and he tosses his other hand at the Empress- casting LIGHTNING BOLT. (There is an echo of Oren’s voice in his head. Your strength comes from your friends.) It hits Lydia full on, (and the one cowardly guard as well, who gets out of the way of the full blast but even that isn’t enough to save him and he goes down permanently.) The Empress is knocked down, and there is a whispered sigh, “You were not the one,” and a sucking sound- and now she looks more like the half-elf she is, and the family resemblance is even more pronounced. The clothes she was wearing change into a suit of armor that Stubby has seen before in paintings, her mother’s first set of armor. There’s also a tattoo on her cheek, the mark of Vecna branded on her. The Empress is gasping for breath. “You destroyed my life, this won’t be my last-” and coughs out blood. (The one surviving guard decides he’s had enough and tries to run out, but Fisch grabs him. The displacer goose decides the same, but it simply vanishes.)
The End of the Empress
Tāmarai walks over and does a quick healing spell on Stubby, then looks carefully at the half-elf and asks if she wants to do this. Stubby walks over to Lydia, who looks up to Stubby. “This wasn’t my fault. All Vex wanted was you, and no one else.”
Stubby shakes her head. “You are her family, she would have gone after you as well. Vecna doesn’t love, he uses. You chose this, but you can choose something else now.”
Her words have little effect as Lydia spits blood in Stubby’s face. Vanya comes over and puts a hand on Stubby’s shoulder. “She’s beyond understanding, anything but this. I followed her here, but I couldn’t stop her.”
Stubby takes a deep breath, and starts a prayer for the dead, one dedicated to the Raven Queen. A low note accompanies it, filling the air. (Toll the Dead.) She places the Raven’s Feather dagger against Lydia’s chest. Echoing the prayer, Stubby can hear her mother’s voice- an older and rougher figure of Vex appears, standing next to her. Then another voice joins in, and a shadowy figure of a male half-elf dressed in black with black wings appears as well.. All three voices in sync, speaking that prayer for the dead.
Lydia’s eyes go wide, her sanity slipping away. “Why have you forsaken me?” She gasps out with her last breath, and dies.
The shadowy, future version of Vex changes, becoming younger and less haggard looking. She looks at Stubby, one ghostly hand reaching over to caress her cheek. “You saved me, darling. There are not enough words or lifetimes to express this. You are worthy, you are wanted. Never forget that. And remember to tell me when you see me next that you love me, because I always have and always will.” She kisses Stubby on the forehead, then fades away with a last “I love you.”
This leaves Vax. “Well, well, well.” As he reaches over to ruffle Stubby’s hair. She manages to give him a smile. “I did it.” “You did.”
“I may not see you again, little one. I am out of favors with my Mistress. Interfering with life is not what she does, but correcting those who avoid death is. She is very pleased with you. But no god nor man is more pleased than I. You will change the world, all of you. There will be work to finish, but now it can begin.” He lifts his wings and wraps them around himself, transforming into a raven and flies away- then vanishes.
They are all stunned for a moment, catching their breath. Fisch breaks the silence with a comment of “That was weird. Alright, what do I do with him?” And motions to the last remaining guard who he caught as the man was trying to run away. Panicked, the guard shakes his head. “I didn’t know it was Vecna! I thought you were lying about that! I should have become a teacher like my mom wanted…”
Tāmarai asks his name, and once the guard gives it- “I now know your name. If you do not leave now and go and do good with your life. I will know.” A bit of magic to draw his name in the air, and have it glow and fade away causes the guard to pee his pants. Fisch drops him. “Go in peace and tell the people that the bitch is dead.”
While they are handling that last guard, Stubby does a quick ceremony on Lydia’s body, so no one can do any spells on it to bring her back.
Vanya heads over to Rinn, and kneels down in front of him. “I want to give you my apology. I doubt I will be forgiven. I know you hate what I did, but it was the best thing I could think to do.”
Rinn just shakes his head, still unsettled from the fight so this is not helping, only pissing him off even more. “Get up. I do want answers, but later when things are… settled, or something.”
Vanya does stand up, and looks over to where Stubby is doing the ceremony. “I didn’t know Stubby was holy.” “We are full of surprises.”
Vanya makes a face. “She had plans. Such as a magical prison that would have kept Stubby alive, forcing her to watch everything she did.” She shakes her head, then walks over to Stubby and Lydia’s body, pulling a piece of amber out from a pocket. Once the ceremony is done, Vanya uses it to cast Vault of Amber on the body, and gives the chunk of stone (now containing Lydia) to Vanya. Stubby takes it, then decides what she needs at the moment- and heads over to grab Tāmarai into a hug. Fisch joins in, dragging Rinn over as well.
From Where and When She Came
More cleaning up! There were the two flaming swords the guards were using. Rinn grabs them and drops them into the bag of holding. When the gem on top of the pillar gets investigated, they find out that it is just glass. Stubby gathers up the pieces of Aegea, saying that she can rebuild the robit. Once they’re done with this chamber, Vanya takes them to the hidden offices of the Empress. The whole layout has changed from what they remember from a couple of weeks ago. Vanya mentions that the whole castle was like a puzzle, and Lydia rearranged it often. Same as the tunnels under the city. Through a receiving room and into a small office, though Vanya then takes them through a secret door in the back. This room is larger, and is central headquarters for Crazy. There’s drawings pinned up all over, with notes, and things even written on the wall. There is a bed in one corner, and the whole place smells musty needing a good airing out. Though there is a large portrait also hanging up there- an image of Vex with the Hand and Eye of Vecna, wearing Cabal’s Ruin and holding Fenthriss. Behind her is Vecna himself, arms outstretched as if protecting her. The painted image of Vex is standing on top of a pile of skulls- mostly dragons and dragonborn, but there are humanoid ones as well, a couple of smaller ones (gnomes) and a larger one (goliath).
Stubby says nothing, just casts Firebolt and sets the painting aflame. As it burns, it starts fading away.
Vanya says this is where any information and secrets would be, as Lydia often told ‘Ryo’ that she would kill him if he looked in here.
There are scrolls, books, and journals. The first one has a date 100 years in the future, and starts out with a history of Whitestone. Stubby’s oldest sister Vesper took over leadership and family responsibilities. (But even as they start reading these books, they are fading. Stubby tries casting Immovable Object on the ink, but that doesn’t work. Tāmarai just starts reading as quick as she can.) The basic information is this: In the future, Vex waited for Stubby to call her back after that one and only stone call eighty years in the future after Stubby said they were going to go fight Emror. But she never did. Vex was wracked with guilt for having ‘given up’ on finding Stubby, and it took her ten more years to go completely crazy. Percy was already dead, so she took Cabal’s Ruin and Fenthras and went on a rampage. One scroll they see before it fades calls her the Slayer of Dragons. She killed every dragon and dragonborn on Tal Dorei, Wildemont, Issylra, and then the Shattered Isles. The remaining members of Vox Machina managed to fight and defeat Vex, and sentenced her to liv out her days by the ziggurat where no magic could touch her.
Knowing that she couldn’t finish her job in her lifetime, Vex told her story to a granddaughter who helped her escape and together they restored Vecna to power. This time only Keyleth was left to fight her, and the final battle was intense. Cities and even countries leveled as these two fought to the bitter end, but finally only Keyleth survived. The rest of the De Rolos spent decades restoring the family name, but eventually they had to abandon Whitestone. But there were some who still sided with Vex’s view on things, believed that she was right, and continued to worship Vecna. From that branch of the family came Vex the forth, Lydia, the Empress, a many times descendant. She listened to the Whispered One, and the ‘truth’ of the first Vex, and believed that Stubby needed to feel the pain that this branch of the family had.
The last book they managed to look through before the writing disappeared, they found out how Lydia used the ziggurat, a crest, and generations of knowledge and magic to go back in time to Wildemont 825. She spent ten years studying at the Soltryce Academy under Trent Ikithon. She searched to find the items and allies she needed and went to Vasselheim knowing exactly when it would be destroyed. Lydia worked with Arkan the Cruel, Ryo Yelmoria, and Victor Von Vasselheim (who had felt betrayed by the current leadership and could be exploited). Lydia did know that Victor had betrayed her, but until just today did not know that Vanya had killed Ryo and took his place.
That is the last bit of information they can get before most everything goes blank. But at least now they do have a large number of high quality blank books, journals and scrolls. Tāmarai will just have to rely on her keen memory to write down what she can remember later.
Looking around, they do find a few other things. Magic things. A Cloak of Many Fashions. Chime of Opening. A mysterious vial of purple dust. (Reincarnation Dust.) And a different book that does NOT fade away. (Tome of Understanding.) Lydia’s crazy scribbles on the wall also remain, conspiracies and rumors, often blaming Stubby for things that in no logical way could be caused by her.
Things seemed to have gotten worse for Lydia when Stubby finally arrived a couple of weeks ago. Vanya is surprised she managed to keep herself together when she met them that day.
Vanya starts explaining some of Lydia’s connections to Wildemont and the Soltryce Academy. She mentions Trent Ikithon again, and Rinn shudders, having heard of the man and what he had done- horror stories still go around in the cities in the Empire even to this day. But Trent was no longer in charge there, and the current leaders of the Soltryce Academy promised not to help Lydia, even if they wouldn’t help work against her.
The Dust Settles
Aside from hearing about the Soltryce Academy, Rinn’s uneasiness has another source which soon becomes apparent. The castle itself seems to have been dependent on Lydia’s magic. Now that that is gone, it’s rapidly becoming unstable. They should leave- and now. They start heading out, yelling at anyone they spot that they need to leave, now. One of the people they come across is the Minister of Finances, trying to haul a crate of records along with him. Fisch grabs it, and they all get out of the castle and to the surrounding courtyard to watch it slowly crumble- but that crumbling speeds up even as they watch.
Around the castle are various war machines, broken and on fire. People hurt. They spot Ivan holding one of his (adult) children while his wife is dragging a cleric over. A cleric who happens to be a bear, Fisch’s sister! And while the young Vonn looks dead, the Bear places a paw on them and brings them back from the brink. Fisch runs over to joyfully greet his sister, speaking in Primordial. (Her name is ‘She who walks through the thorns and is scratched by none’- Thorny.)
While watching the castle fall, Tāmarai cast Sending to message Vex. “Your daughter lives. We are all alive. We will find my ambassador at the Raven Queen’s Temple. We won. More tomorrow.” There is a quick reply back to Tāmarai. “Thank the gods. We’ve tried but we can’t get there. Keyleth thinks it may be years before the magic fades enough. Seek Pyrah, they’ll help.”
Stubby removes a little device from her gauntlet, and it unfolds into something like a sextant with feet- a little cannon robit with a force ballista, which she directs to shoot at the falling remains of the castle. While watching this (and laughing), she receives a Sending message from Keyleth- short and to the point. “Please tell me that the Briarwood threat is over.” Stubby can tell there are a lot of layers in Keyleth’s tone. She sounds scared. So she is quick to reply and reassure- “Yes, she’s gone. But knowing what brought her here may not be permanent yet. Love you.”
Vanya is standing next to Rinn, watching Stubby and Victor, both of them watching the castle fall and laughing (or cackling, in Victor’s case) with glee. “Don’t worry, the mania will pass.”
From below the castle the earth starts rumbling, and then a lightning bolt from the sky in purple, blue and black strikes the last remaining section, which crashes inwards. There’s a sigh from the crowd, and people start to disperse. Fisch’s sister says she’s going to go back to The Green to help deal with the rest of the wounded. Stubby steps over to give her a hug, causing a bit of surprise to the Bear. (“Is this normal?” “Yes.”)
Parts of the city are still on fire, with people working to put them out. There’s plenty of damage all over as well. It may not be as bad as Old Vasselheim, but this damage was all caused by mortal hands and abilities, not the gods. Somehow that makes it worse, by the sheer, calculated evil of it all.
They want and need to talk to the Xhorhasian Ambassador. Vanya says that she’s over in the Raven Queen temple, so they start heading in that direction, passing through the Embassy row. The Tal Dorei Embassy is relatively in one piece, with a few rooms damaged. The Xhorhasian Embassy is totally gone, however.
As they head along the way, they notice more and more people noticing them- pointing and whispering. Word of them defeating the Empress is quickly spreading. “It’s them! They saved us and Vasselheim!” (Rinn pulls his hood up.)
One door at the Raven Queen temple has been knocked off of its hinges, but a gnome and goliath are already working on fixing it. Inside, the benches have already been shifted aside making room for cots for people to rest and recover. Up by the altar is Gleeson, with one arm bandaged and more wrapped around his head. He is in a discussion with Ambassador Lanna Krynn and Saphy. Most of it is hushed, except for Saphy’s part, excitement coloring her voice (and raising her volume). An acolyte that Stubby recognises runs up, saying that the others have been waiting for them and escorts the group over.
Saphy is perched on a stool, waving her hands around as she talks. Lana holds up a hand to stop her, and looks over at Tāmarai. The bard gives the ambassador a bow. The other woman’s eyebrows raise, and she bows back. (With subtle details in both bows.) “Did you find the item?” “Yes.”
Stubby also mentions that they found the Ambassador’s wife as well, and hands over the recording she made, triggering it to play. An image of Raelle appears, and an echo of her voice plays: “I love you. I will find you in our next life.” There are tears all around, and Rinn offers the Ambassador a handkerchief.
Saphy is studying Tāmarai’s face, and chuckles quietly. “I didn’t see that coming. You’re taller.” Tāmarai replies, “I did feel slightly further from the ground.”
Back to the matters at hand. Saphy has good news and bad news. Which do they want first? The bad. “Magic is still healing. Higher level spells are still going to be wonky, so teleportation and transporting through trees won’t work for long distances. There’s no quick way back to Whitestone for them.
But the good news is that what they did was right. Or maybe even too right. Fixing the timelines the way they did messed up dunamancy. Certain spells are now not working, but perhaps it’s for the best.
But with the pillar of spell fire out, people are now talking about returning back home to (Old) Vasselheim. How bad are things up there? Rinn pulls out the map of the city he edited and added to while up there, so they could see. They also ask about the Awakened Bears, and the Mooses, Wolves, and Foxes. Dolphins as well, apparently. The awakening magic worked on about one in four.
Ambassador Krynn asks if she can keep Stubby’s recording. Stubby isn’t sure how long the effect will last, but Lana reassures her it is the thought that counts. With an acolyte taking notes, Tāmarai recounts what they found out about the sources of magic feeding the pillar of spell fire, how they found out to put it out with Victor’s help, and then finding Raelle there as well. Saphy makes note for it to be known- Raelle is the hero that kept the Empress from fully achieving all of the power she wanted. (Kept from accessing the power of the Luxon beacon.)
Need To Know
That’s all the public information. Saphy suggests the group go downstairs for more privacy. A trapdoor behind the altar leads to a set of stairs. Fisch carries her down the steps to a large chamber- and waiting for them there is Osysa! The sphinx looks a lot better than when they saw her last. The rats from Vasselheim are with her as well, and there is a rodent cheer at seeing the four heroes before they scurry off. Osysa makes a gesture, casting a spell to ward against scrying. Saphy gets down to business. “So what did you do with the body?”
Stubby pulls out the piece of amber containing Lydia’s remains. Saphy approves, then tells Osysa to tell them the bad news. “You must return her from where she came from, the Solstryce Academy. Archmage Bec will help you. It is her strength you need, she is the Archmage of Civil Influence. But what you have done, Lady Victoria, extends the necessity. In short, you need not rush.”
“I’ve seen you’ve come into your own, Master Shrike. And Kaze Tāmarai. And you, He Who Catches Seven Fish. Will you stay with them?”
“If they’ll have me?” Fisch replies. “If more animals can talk, maybe we need to start being people too.”
Osysa nods, pleased with his answer, and looks back to Rinn. “Your path, Master Shrike, still has a journey to be all that you will be. But you walk it now. Don’t hide. They will find you either way, so might as well go with your hands blazing.”
“And you, Lady Victoria. Your way home begins at Pyrah. I would recommend that be your next step. And I would actually recommend you go by foot. Every town, every fort, everyone, between here and Pyrah will wish to celebrate you, the revolutionaries.”
Lana speaks up, looking at Tāmarai then the rest of them. “May I ask a favor of you four? Do you know what it is that Kaze Tāmarai has? Have you looked into it?” Rinn gives Stubby a sideways glance that the Ambassador picks up on, but she continues. “Would you trade me and take this one back home instead?” She pulls another Luxon out from her own Bag of Holding. (They look the same, there are many of these Luxon Beacons in existence.) “It is a jealous thing to ask, but my wife is connected to the one you have.” On hearing this, Tāmarai trades with Lana. “Since you are going to Wildemont, and with the peace accords… they are not at war, at least at the moment. Give that one to my cousin, if you will. As much as I would love to return home, my duty here comes before that, save for this one selfish request.”
Tāmarai assures Lana that she will do so.
Saphy, Lana, and Gleeson all give Vanya a look, and Saphy states that she has some explaining to do. Vanya sighs, and says that if anyone has any right to it, it’s Rinn. But she’ll answer anything, they can even go ahead and spell her. Lana steps up and casts Zone of Truth on the (former?) Volstrucker.
(Though before they get started, Glesson calls up the stairs for some coffee and food, which soon arrives.)
So what did Lydia leave behind in Rexxentrum that they will have to deal with?
“Well, to start, she arrived at the Solstryce Academy a few years before I attended. She left a year after I arrived, but Lyvia Thorne (an alias she used) was a prized pupil of Trent- may he rot in the cell he remains in. He wanted her to replace his star pupil who had gone mad. She took everything she learned from him-” here Vanya breaks off and looks at Lana. “My lady, how much freedom do I have to speak of these things?”
“I choose to trust you, speak.”
A nod, and Vanya continues. “Trent had stolen items, reliquaries, from Xhorhas. Stolen items that you have looked in and seen. He prized them open, ripped them asunder and used them to teach dunamancy, things that aren’t taught outside the Dynasty itself. He twisted the teachings around and used them to torture people. He is why the term ‘volstrucker’ is said in fear. And Lyvia, Lydia, was to be his newest protege. But she tricked him, she took the knowledge, armed herself, and trained herself in the magic she tried to kill you with. Then she placed herself here and began working to create her own brand of volstruckers. She planned to begin with you, Stubby. You who had traveled through time, touched by the magic she wanted to control.”
“And Rinn.” Vanya looks at him. “Had she known what talents you had, you would have been a bargaining chip. She would have sold you to the volstruckers and sent you back. When I was learning what they could do, your name came up as a possibility. But I saw something else.
“Volstruckers rule with pain and fear. If you could be spared that, freed from that, nurtured, you could be more. The fact that you seem touched by the Storm Lord doesn’t hurt. It is not a religion we speak of in Rexxentrum. I thought that here, where it was spoken of, you might find your way. But when the other two arrived, which Lydia said they would, she told me to send the Take. I thought I would ruin her plans, so I sent you.
“Hopefully any notes that Lydia left behind at the Solstryce Academy have been erased. But the mark she left behind, archmage Bec would know. She knows secrets I was never privy to. I saw the terror Lydia instilled for one year, I can only imagine what others who saw her for longer might have suffered. I can’t imagine that Vasselheim was her only plan. Rexxentrum is not familiar with the Whispered One, why should they be? But if I was a god of evil, I would certainly begin my work where evil reigns, and that would be with the volstruckers, or at least what they had been. They are changing.
“And before you ask, Rinn- They knew I left and permitted me to do so. My ties and loyalty are to my mentor, and not with the Academy.”
Stubby speaks up. “What is a volstrucker?”
“Sometimes they are called scourgers. Magical assassins of the Empire. I didn’t know that when I joined Solstryce Academy. Mages, spies, arcane assassins and enforcers. Childhood boogy men.
“Now, they are still elite, and still do secret work for the empire. My master told me that when he studied under Trent the final step to become a volstrucker was to kill their own parents. When I found that out, I left. I wanted to learn magic, but I love my mother. And killing innocents has no appeal to me. My master said I would find my journey and my future in a different route. He asked me to look up Lydia Briarwood, who was still Lyvia Thorne at the time, in Vasselheim. I showed up about five days before she orchestrated the rebellion and One Day Ware. And I saw with my own eyes that she was a volstrucker, the type to be terrified of.”
“And she was wanting to make more volstruckers?”
“Her plan was threefold. Torture Stubby and break her, and make her into someone to lead Lydia’s new volstruckers. Then poison everyone in Whitestone, maybe all of Tal Dorei, to make them into easy pickings.”
How Rinn Got Here
Rinn is obviously unsettled by all of this. Osysta clears her throat and looks to Lana. “The spell doesn’t need you to remain?” Lana shakes her head, and there is a great deal of unspoken communication flying about. Finally Saphy rolls her eyes. “Fine,” she says, and starts up the stairs, followed by Gleeson. Lana stays a moment, giving them a bow. “We are currently all staying in the Temple of the Luxon. Including Otel.” The Ambassador looks at Vanya, and makes her swear that she means no harm, then leaves as well. Osysa settles back, and somehow, even for as large as the sphinx is, manages to fade into the background.
Rinn is pacing and thinking, so Tāmarai asks a question first. “You have mentioned who your allegiance is to, your master. Name him.” “Caleb Widogast. One of the greatest students Trent had, though the horrors they put him through broke him. Though the ashes of his life he became who I consider the greatest wizard Exandria has ever seen. If I could be half the man that he was and is, then I would consider my life well spent. But to separate myself, I am a volstrucker. There is no way around it. I was trained, I was raised, I was taught. And my skills are that of a volstrucker.”
Rinn shrugs, looking at Tāmarai and Stubby. “When it comes down to it, I am a thief.” Then he looks at Vanya. “You said I was a ‘possible’.”
“One of the jobs of the volstruckers, since not all of them are as magically gifted as others, is to infiltrate and monitor the goings on of the less savory aspects of the kingdom. They look for children, the worse off the better. Who would be more easily swayed by the promise of family, regular meals, a warm bed. Especially those with skills. Your… employer was not unknown to the volstruckers, to the archmage herself. We know what to look for, we’re taught to look for the signs in people. You were seen as one with potential. A young man, angry, alone, untapped power. Basically a recipe for the perfect murder machine.”
Rinn goes pale.
“And when they saw a killer, others of us saw kindness. There isn’t one right road, you get that. Allowing others to create your path and following the book is as dangerous as allowing insanity to rule your life. You certainly could have been a mighty volstrucker. But you just helped to save an entire continent, Rinn. I think giving you the freedom to be yourself was the right choice, even though I meddled in your life without asking permission. That is a sin I will carry. I will never know the right or wrong of what I did. I can only hope that one day, when we are both very old, perhaps you may not hate me for it. But I can’t ask that of you. All your life, you’ve been pulled, pushed and forced to do things, and I did that to you as well. I am sorry.”
Rinn slowly shakes his head. “One day, in the future, we will see.”
“Then that is more than I can hope.”
Rinn asks about Anslem, if that was part of Vanya’s plans as well. No, the rival assassin wasn’t, he just hated Rinn. She had thought about killing him, but decided to not be a volstrucker in this case (and did not know what Anslem would eventually do.) She had said her farewells, and was heading to Vasselheim, but she had been thinking of what her master had said: Look for those the Volstruckers would take, and give them back to the world instead. After she had been in Vasselheim, helped her grandfather deal with Ryo, and was already working to stop the Empress, she knew she had to return back to Rexxentrum to officially resign. Victor had some plans about dealing with the Empress and the pillar of spell fire, and she thought Rinn might be key in those.
“A wizard learns from books. A bard from music, a cleric from the gods. How did you learn? No one taught you, it was all on you. It’s in you, your strength from inside. My master saw it in me, I see it in you. I’ll introduce you to others that can help teach you, but I see you as I see my master, someone who carries with them the innate power to do these things. He is a hero that will never be in a history book or song, and that is the way he wants it. He stopped a god if the tales are true. He saved two nations by simply returning that which was stolen. And then he would never tell me the rest.
“You are an unpolished diamond, Rinn. You are strong, you are powerful, and you are rare. May I ask a question?”
(Tāmarai reminds Rinn to step out of the Zone of Truth centered on Vanya.)
“Did you meet the Storm Lord?”
“No, just someone who spoke for him.”
“That still counts, and that is why. The rest of us will never meet an avatar or arm of the gods. But you three have. Do you have any idea?
“I call her ‘Lydia’ because I did hear her real name. But I know that the original Lady Vex is a kind and fierce warrior, a just leader, and – pardon me- incredibly awesome. Lydia miscalculated the strength of the two of you.” (Gesturing to Stubby and Tāmarai.) “I had hoped only that Rinn’s gifts, his innate kindness and strength would take you where you needed to be. Apparently I calculated better than she did.”
Stubby mentions how Rinn kept her from being assassinated. Vanya assures them that Lydia didn’t hire the assassins. “We know, they hated her.”
Vanya asks who the assassin was, and falls over laughing when finding out it was Abe. Rinn is still taking it much more seriously. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have used my magic, and these two wouldn’t have found out.”
“You using your magic changed things. I had to tell the Empress it was Stubby’s toys, not you.”
Rinn shakes his head. “So how did you arrange for me to be on the right boat leaving Nicodranas? It was the first one leaving, I asked around.” Vanya grins, and starts listing off all the people Rinn talked to, ending with “I miss my (Disguise Illusion) ring.” Rinn rolls his eyes and flips her off.
“And that boat only decided to risk the trip because I promised to protect it, with the implication that I was still a volstrucker.”
(Fisch asks what Rexxentrum is, Rinn explains a bit about the city.)
Vanya stands up, stretching. “They will throw you a party here, once the dust settles. The Vonns will pull out their fireworks.”
Stubby asks her what she’s going to do now. “Sleep for a week and apologize to my family for thinking I was dead. My mom will probably ground me. I was hoping to start teaching magic, but I imagine I’ll be hauled into politics. I do have a lot of information, so I guess whatever the city needs from me. It will be nice to not have to be an assassin. Lydia never caught on that I didn’t kill anyone, though I still ‘eliminated’ the problems she asked of Ryo. I mostly just shipped them to other cities. I did try to kill Lydia a couple of times, but never succeeded.
One final question from Rinn- What if he hadn’t joined the Take when he got to New Vasselheim?
“Well, you probably would have gone to the thieves guild, and I would have blackmailed you. And if you had agreed to that spying bit in the contract, I would have had more information and have been better prepared, though the Empress wouldn’t have learned any of it.”
Rinn can’t think of anything else, but Tāmarai has one last question for Vanya before they all head back to whatever homes are still standing and crash. “When you look at us, what is one word that springs to mind?”
“In the head?”