Monday, October 22, 2012

The Day of Mourning

        The final crest of the hill reveals the Cyran countryside several miles hence: Rolling fields of verdant green and gold, ancient land oblivious to the horrors of a century of warfare. Amazing how a land soaked in blood can hide its scars so well. So close to home, fragrant winds rustle the sparse stands of oak and yew dotting the landscape.

        It happens quickly. A brilliant flash; a soft sound like a discarded boot dropping on the wooden floor above; followed by a rush of wind from deep within Cyre. This is not the fragrant wind of antiquity: This smells of blood, death, tears, and silent screams. The sky darkens and turns a florid, deep shade of violet like the bruising surrounding an untended wound. High in the sky above what would be the middle of Cyre, clouds form rapidly, spreading outward as young spiders from the egg-sac, creeping across the sky.

        Sickly green lightning leaps from cloud to cloud, but instead of thunder all that is heard is a low, constant, ominous rumbling that inexorably grows louder… and louder… and louder…. Soon the rumbling becomes felt as the ground begins to shake violently. The lightning has grown in brutality, arcing to the ground, trees, the road, igniting incendiary and white-hot flames wherever it strikes.

        Over the horizon, a black mass tumbles forward, running, stumbling; leaping, crawling, falling over anything in its way: A horde of animals, people, carts, wagons; all flee from some great, unseen foe. Their screams and bleats and baying are eclipsed by the horrible rumbling. Lightning devastates many, but they do not slow; massive crevices open up and swallow entire families, but still they do not slow; until finally with all the violence and suddenness of a blade through riven flesh, a solid wall of dead gray mist dominates the horizon. Faster than man, faster than beast, it swallows indiscriminately: The men, the women, the children, the creatures, the trees, the rolling fields are gone in an instant, swallowed by the horrible mist.

        The rumbling ceases with the swiftness that it began, and for one horrific moment, all that can be heard is screaming.

        And then there is silence.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Narrative Historical Recounting of the Fall of Cyre

         History is always written by the victor. The question becomes, when there is no clear and decisive victory, who writes the history then? Sages have an answer: Everyone but the loser. And on 20 Olarune, 994 YK, Cyre lost more than a few battles, more than the war, more than some dots on a map. On that date four years ago, Cyre lost everything. Its land, i’s people, but most importantly, its spirit.
         Nearly a thousand years ago, a human named Galifar ir’Wynarn I conquered the last remnants of the goblinoid nations and united the continent of Khorvaire under one banner: His. The reign of Galifar is long considered a golden age of progress and prosperity, but again: History is written by those who have hanged heroes.
         During the first year of his reign, King Galifar appointed his five children, Auindair, Brey, Cyre, Karrn, and Thrane, governorship over large swaths of land, covering the entirety of Khorvaire. In 32 YK, those regions took the names of their rulers, and on King Galifar’s death in 53 YK, he was succeeded by King Cyre. King Galifar was 98 at the time of his death.
         Years passed, bloodlines mingled, politicians lied and the only things that remained constant were death and taxes. For eight hundred years, the Kingdom of Galifar lived in peace, exchanging sovereignty peaceably through that time. Until the death of King Jarot in 894 YK. At that time, Governor-Princess Mishann of Cyre was to take the throne, but Governor-Sovereigns Thalin of Thrane, Kaius I of Karrnath, and Wroann of Breland opposed her. Only Governor-Prince Wrogar of Auindair supported Mishann’s right to the throne, but this was not sufficient to stem the tide of war.
         This became the hundred-years long conflict known as the Last War, at the end of which there was no decisive victor: Only one clear loser. Cyre, geographically located at the center of the Five Nations, was pounded on all fronts by her neighbors as treaties and alliances were created, broken, and reformed dozens of times throughout the course of the long conflict. If not for the unofficial support of the dragonmarked House Cannith and their invention of the metal-and-magic warriors called the warforged, Cyre would have fallen a score of times, but as of 20 Olarune, 994 YK, Cyre was still holding, if only by the skin of her proverbial teeth.
         And then Mourning came. A maelstrom of magic, fire, and death rained from the heavens, extending to the very borders of Cyre, killing anything and everything in its path without discrimination or mercy. There are no words.
         Nobody outside of Cyran patriotism knows what happened. Every Cyran who survived knows exactly what happened. The trouble is, none of them agree. This brought the war machine to a screeching halt the way no political machinations or diplomatic means could ever hope to have done.
         Two years later, a treaty was signed… one that did not include the displaced Cyrans. The King of the Valenar elves moved that they be disinvited to the talks as they did not possess any sovereign land, and the movement was seconded by Queen Aurala ir’Wynarn of Auindair. Obviously this did not sit well with the existing Cyran population, but to make matters worse, lands that had once been former Cyran territory were granted to their current occupants: Valenar was granted to the elves, and Darguun was granted to the goblinoids. And warforged, arguably the children of Cyre, were granted sovereignty and amnesty in whichever country to which they were loyal. This was an affront that the Cyran people cannot bear.
         The Cyran refugees are a broken people, but still proud. Every Cyran knows precisely where they were and what they were doing when the first heard about the Mourning. “Tomorrow in Cyre” has become an expression of bittersweet hope for the Cyran people.
         But what is left? Very little. With their nation destroyed and their countrymen scattered, Cyrans tend to be uniquely aware of their treacherous position in what remains of the Five Nations. They have no status, save the gift of a ruin granted to them by Brelish King Boranel ir’Wynarn. They are a dour lot, full of piss and vinegar as the old-timers would say. Some have tried to blend in with whatever country they happened to be in at the time of Mourning, but none of the have ever forgotten their heritage. Blood is thicker than water, and while a country’s spirit can be crushed, its memory lives on in the hearts and minds of those who survive it.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Devil's Own

        Maxwell Drake twitched. Pain flooded his everything, from the scruff on his face to the deep down depths of his feet. He opened an eye, and then closed it again. It was bright, and that was bad.
        “So this is sober,” he muttered into the sand. “Don’t much care fer it.”
        The sounds of surf assailed his ears. The cries of the gulls, water pounding sand, and the angry percussionist in his chest pounding out a rhythm in his abused ears. He quickly took stock of the situation. He was lying face down in the sand on some unknown beach in the middle of what he assumed was nowhere. He was naked. He’d been there for some time, judging from the vaguely cooked feelings emanating from his back and backside. He knew his name, had a distant memory of how many fingers and toes he had, and the barest trace of how old he was. The rest of it, unimportant details such as how he came to be in this rather unusual predicament, were gone. They were just plain not there.
        He pushed himself to a sitting position, ignoring the screams of agony from his joints and skin, and only dared open his eyes once he was upright. Less than five feet from where he had been lying, a crate stamped “Devil’s Own Rum” lay, cracked open. Most of its contents appeared in tact, eight lovely bottles of beautiful bliss. He leaned forward, grabbed a bottle and smashed the neck against the crate and took a hearty swig.
        “Slap me sister and call her Jezabelle,” he said with a contented sigh. “At least I’m not lonely.”
        “Ya know it be bad luck ta drink by yer lonesome,” a gruff voice informed him. Drake didn’t turn. He knew that voice.
        “‘Tis worse luck ta drink with you,” Drake returned, and put the rum to his lips once again. As he drained the rest of the bottle, the other trudged around him and reached into the crate, removing a bottle and opening it in a similar fashion. Once Drake had drained the first, the man handed him the second, then hunkered down on the crate as Drake partook in the proffered beverage.
        The man was about as tall as Drake, but heavier set, with wide shoulders, a good-sized drinking belly, a bright red bulbous nose, thick reddish-gold beard and twinkling black eyes. He wore the vestments of a captain in good standing with the Guild of the Gentlemen of Good Fortune; a deep blue long coat with whalebone toggles and matching vest, white shirt and collar, canvas breeches matching his coat and vest, soft-soled leather boots, and, oddly enough, wire-rimmed spectacles. His hat was massive, feathered, and festooned with musket balls, he wore a cutlass on his left hip, and a bandolier of pistols over each shoulder. His left hand was missing and replaced by a wicked-looking three-pronged fork with bladed tines. His boots didn’t fit him quite right and shifted around as he walked, and the back side of his breeches had been cut to make room for the vestigial tail that hung down a foot or so behind him.
        Drake knew him as Jak Severstring, but he also knew that this was not his real name.
        “That’s one more ye owe me, Drake,” Jak rasped. Drake didn’t answer. He was halfway through the second bottle and he’d be damned if he was going to talk to Severstring sober. “I make that ta be four times I hauled ye out of the deep.”
        “Who’s counting?” Drake said weakly. Jak’s soulless black eyes twinkled.
        “The deal was fer three,” Jak growled, gesturing with the three-pronged fork that was his hand. “That means we need to renegotiate our deal.”
        “Ya didn’t have to pull me out,” Drake muttered into the bottle. Jak’s smile widened.
        “I suppose I didnae… I’ll just throw ye back then,” the big man’s right hand shot out and grabbed Drake by the throat. Drake sprayed rum all over the other sailor as Jak stood and began to drag him toward the ocean.
        “Gragglesplork!” Drake managed to squeak. Jak slowed, loosening his grip on Drake’s windpipe.
        “What’s that?”
        “I’ll renegotiate!” Drake translated passionately. Jak dropped him and walked back the crate, leaving Drake gasping. Eventually, Drake pulled himself to his feet, hefting the rum bottle (which he had clung to for dear life when Jak had grabbed him) and wet his whistle with the wine of the seas. Then, he resumed his sitting in supplication before the crate of rum.
        “So what do you want?” Drake said. “My soul?”
        Jak shook his head with a grin, the great feathers swaying in counterpoint to the great mangy beard. “Nay. I’ve already got that.”
        Drake took another swallow. “Oh right. What then?”
        “Yer gonna’ work for me, Drake,” Jak’s smile widened to a grin. Drake felt distinctly like he was looking into the maw of a particularly hungry shark with really bad breath.
        “Work for you?”
        “Aye,” Severstring said softly. “Yer a good cap’n, in spite of yer tendency ta sink, and people trust ya. Fer some reason they’re uncomfortable around me.”
        “I can’t imagine why,” Drake polished off the second bottle and accepted a third from Jak.
        “So here’s wot I’ll do fer ya,” Jak informed him as Drake took a swig. “I’ll clothe ya, feed ya, get ye off this God forsaken rock,” Severstring’s smile turned vicious at this, “and give ye one of me ships. In return, ye’ll get me souls.”
        “How many?” Drake asked. Severstring shrugged.
        “One thousand.”
        Drake shook his head. “One hundred at the most.”
        Severstring guffawed. “Fer savin’ yer skin and given ye me ship? Five hundred minimum.”
        Drake’s head was swimming from drink and from sun… just the way he liked it. He tried a different tactic. “Ye must need these souls pert-badly if’n yer commandeering me services… King Phillip’s Inquisition starting ta take its toll?”
        Jak’s face darkened. “Aye. Nobody can beat a conversion out of a sinner like the Spanish.”
        “So ye’ll be needin’ a lot of souls very quickly less’n ye lose this cosmic bet of yorn?”
        Jak’s eyes narrowed, trying to see what Drake was playing at.
        “I’ll make ye a deal. A wager, if you like.” Drake said smoothly, taking a dainty ship from the bottle. Jak’s eyes brightened. He’d never been able to pass up a bet.
        “The stakes?” he asked, scratching his beard with his forked hand.
        “Feed me, clothe me, give me yer ship,” Drake stated. “And if I can’t roust you one hundred souls inside of a month, I’ll stay on for five-hundred.”
        Jak shook his head. “Any one can convert one hundred souls in a month. For this ta be a fair bet for a man of yer talents, one hundred souls in a week, minimum.”
        “Three weeks,” Drake murmured.
        “Ten days,” Jak countered.
        “Tell you what… two weeks, one hundred and fifty souls, and I get to keep yer ship when I’m done,” Drake threw out.
        Jak’s eyes narrowed to mere slits. “Yer terms are acceptable, but if ye fail, ye’ll stay on fer a thousand, and I leave ya right were I found ya.”
        “We have an accord,” Drake said, offering his hand. Jak went to shake it but found instead he was holding the empty bottle of rum. Drake sprang to his feet. “Right!” he exclaimed. “Where’s me ship?”
        Jak stood, and gestured. To the east, the skies over the ocean darkened into a fast moving storm, and soon it was pouring rain. Out of the storm’s ferocious maw, a ship spewed forth, and Jak’s voice rang in Drake’s ears.
        “This be the Ragewind. Ya have two weeks. Fourteen days ta get me one hundred and fifty souls. Yer time starts now.”
        Drake glanced around for Jak Severstring, and was not surprised to find him gone. He was surprised and dismayed to find that the rapscallion had made off with the rum. He sighed.
        “So this is sober…”

Friday, October 5, 2012

Miyamoto Musashi

There is a tale that is told in the islands in the east where the sun rises. It is a tale based on truth, but it is as shrouded in myth and mystery as any creature that haunts our dreams. It is a tale about Miyamoto Musashi, the greatest swordsman who ever lived and died under the mortal sun.

The tale tells of Miyamoto’s duel with Sasaki Kojiro on the small island now called Ganryujima, centuries ago. Kojiro issued the challenge, to Miyamoto, offering time and place and eternal glory for the man who walked away. Kojiro, known as the Demon of the West for his fearsome prowess with the blade, would arrive early and await Miyamoto with his back to the setting sun.

It is said that Miyamoto was not impressed with Kojiro, though many of his friends and family warned him that overconfidence leads to arrogance which in turn leads to failure and in this case, inevitably death. But Miyamoto went anyway, unwashed and unkempt, wrapped in a towel and just drunk enough that he forgot his blade.

And when he arrived, he was already late, and the sun was low in the western sky. Mistaking his instructions, Miyamoto approached from the west, landing his boat behind Kojiro. Miyamoto climbed out of his boat and approached his opponent with the knowledge that his reputation alone would save him…

And promptly beat Kojiro to death with an oar.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

13 Olarune, 992 YK

13 Olarune, 992 YK

        The fire of defiance still burned in his eyes. He sat quietly, slouched like a young man defeated, the rags of his clothes draped over his body like a burial shroud. Everything in his form suggests defeat, except for his eyes. He resembles a young human man, brown hair tinged with sun-highlighted blond streaks, strong chin and slightly pointed nose that gave him a sharp, intelligent look. The unshaved makings of a beard only enhance the rakish nature of his appearance, and his limbs are strong and corded with the lean muscle of a man who exercises regularly. But he could be so much more.
        Oargev watched him as the light shone in the youth’s face. The youth knew someone was there, but he knew not who it was. Oargev’s finger traced the magic rune on the object at the table before him, which glowed slightly and spidery whispers tingled the vestige of his consciousness as the spell became active.
        “Let us start with your name,” Oargev said, deepening his voice to a low rumble. The man hardly reacted save to slide his gaze toward the owner of the voice. Oargev could not be seen, not with the light shining in the young man’s eyes, but even still he felt he was being studied.
        “I say we start with yours,” he murmured. His tone was light, flippant even. “Don’t bother to disguise your voice. I can tell you are doing it.” He blinked as he said those words, as if surprised he uttered them. Then his head dropped in realization. “You’ve cast zone of truth on me,” he murmured. Oargev was surprised. What little he knew of the youth had indicated that he was raised on the streets. Your average street urchin knew little of magic beyond the day-to-day workings of Sharn, let alone the name of the spell that would cause him to utter only the truth.
        “You are in no position to ask questions.” Oargev replied, giving up the pretense of disguise.
        “Why not?” the man replied. “The worst thing you can do is have me tortured until I die.” His resignation to that fate made Oargev’s blood run cold.
        “Let us just start with answering some questions,” Oargev said, keeping his tone even. Good as the youth was, Oargev was a master at keeping his emotions in check, and the young man was not the wiser. “And save the torture for later.”
        The young man sighed. “I don’t have a name.” Oargev blinked.
        “Everyone has a name,” he said. “What did your parents call you?”
The young man snorted. “I didn’t have any parents.” He leaned forward. “You really want to know all this?”
        “Desperately,” Oargev said, somewhat ironically. The young man’s entire demeanor shifted. The defiance which had only been in his eyes enveloped his entire body, but he spoke anyway. Not because Oargev had asked him to, but because he had decided he wanted to.
        “You asked for it, Ambassador,” he said. Oargev was disturbed but not surprised that the young man knew who he was. “So you’re going to get it.”
        And he began to tell his story.

        “I was born underneath Sharn. And I mean UNDERNEATH Sharn. Not to the Cogs, I wasn’t that unlucky, but deep. Deep enough that I didn’t see the sun until I was eight years old. I remember there was a sizeable pipe that opened up close the hole where I sometimes slept that went deeper still. I would hear things from below, sometimes. Noises. Terrible sounds, mechanical and deep but somehow alive. I dream about them sometimes. Like Sharn is a massive ticking clock and I still stuck here when time runs out. Anyhow…
        “I have no idea who my parents were, or even if they are still alive. It doesn’t much matter. I am not sure how I survived my infancy: My memory doesn’t extend that far back. I have vague memories of an old beggar woman who took care of me and taught me how to survive, but I must have been three or four at that point. She had a whole brood of us. Orphans and refugees without parents, taught us how to pick pockets, how to forage, how to keep warm when nights got cold and how to keep cool when days got hot. How to live. Never learned what happened to her. One day she was just… gone. I must have been about five at the time. Not the oldest, not the youngest, but definitely the smartest.
        “I ran my first confidence job not long after she died. Without the old woman’s tutilege, some of the younger children were starving. Had to do something. It was a modified Antique Violin job with just a hint of Bagman’s Gambit. It did not go well.”
        Oargev had no notion what the Antique Violin or the Bagman’s Gambit were, but he made no sound. He just listened.
        “I didn’t give up though. Couldn’t, not really. Just revised and tried again. And again. And by the time I was seven, we were living like kings. Or at least, we thought we were. I know better now. But either way, we were living big enough that we caught the attention of one of the goblin gangs down below. We worked a job in their territory and they didn’t like it much, so they cried foul. We declared war. Can you imagine? A horde of kids under ten preparing for war… playing at war, more like. We didn’t know what war was. I experienced my first massacre before I even knew what that word was.
        “They slaughtered us wholesale. Every last one, even the youngest Milo, who was three and, if I recall, wielding a broken broom handle.
        “I only survived because I discovered something about myself that I never knew… and became like the thing that was killing us.”
Oargev shifted in his seat. “You changed your shape for the first time?”
The youth nodded. “And became a goblin. I know that was the only thing that saved me. I had picked up the language while living down there, even Milo could hurl a few goblin insults. It served me well. I just claimed to be Grobber’s cousin, every goblin has a cousin named Grobber, just so you know. They took me back to their camp, and I lived with them for the better part of a year.”
        “With the goblins?” Oargev was incredulous.
        “You would be surprised how easy it was. Their lives weren’t so different than ours, really. Those who fall behind get left.”
        “No honor amongst thieves?” Oargev prompted. The youth just gave him a look that could wither orchids.
        “Anyhow, I lived with them for about ten months, just waiting for my moment. I knew I would know it when it happened and I did. I was foraging for food closer to the surface when I heard a beggar tell a thief that the Sharn Watch were delving deeper than they ever had before because their superiors were offering a gold piece for every left goblin ear. So I stopped looking for food and started looking for a certain mushroom that grows beneath Sharn. It will make a human violently ill, but it will pretty much outright kill a goblin.”
        “I thought goblins could stomach anything,” Oargev mused. The youth smiled mirthlessly.
        “That is mostly true. The old woman who raised me knew some things about poisons, and what she knew she imparted to me. Mostly so I wouldn’t accidentally eat them. She called the fungus dreckmal. It probably has another name, but I don’t know it. I found a whole field of dreckmal before too long and picked enough to feed the whole clan. Every night they cooked a kind of stew filled with the various things the young goblins foraged during the course of the day, while the elder goblins did big important things. Nobody questioned it when I put the mushrooms. It was no big thing for me to pretend to eat while they all ate their fill. By morning, they were all dead. Well, almost.”
        Oargev was staring, horrified. “How old were you?”
        “About eight.”
        “And you just… poisoned an entire clan of goblins… who you had been living with for ten months.”
        “What did you expect? They had killed the closest thing to a family I ever had. I killed them right back. It is the law of Down Below, Ambassador.”
        “You said they were almost all dead?” Oargev prompted him to continue. The youth shrugged.
        “The chief of the clan proved either smarter or more resilient than his clan members. When he realized I was behind it, he was a bit annoyed. We fought. I won.”
        “You were eight,” Oargev said. “How did you win?”
        “I changed my shape to resemble his daughter who lay dead no more than a few yards away,” the young man said flatly. “He couldn’t bring himself to hurt me, and when he turned his back and slit his throat.”
Oargev bit his lip but said nothing. The youth continued.
        “I spent the next few hours cutting off all of their ears.”
        “Just the left one.” Oargev stated, but the youth shook his head.
        “Both. I took their right ears and put it in one bag, and put the left ears in another bag, keeping one in my pocket. I hid the bags in different spots and headed for the surface.
        “It was the first time in my life I had seen the sun. I had heard about it, of course, but I had never seen it. It was much brighter than I had anticipated, but I was still lower than most sun reaches, so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I approached the first group of Sharn Watchmen I found, resembling a young human, styling my features to appear similar to their leader, but smaller. He treated me well, saying I reminded him of his daughter. I played my part and told them about the clan of dead goblins. I led them right to it, but when they discovered their ears were missing, they got mad. I produced the left ear and informed them I would tell them where the other ears were if they paid me half their worth in gold.”
        “I bet they didn’t like that,” Oargev mused softly.
        “They did not. They threatened, they cajoled, the leader even tried to spank me, but I stood firm. Before long, they were counting goblins and then gold. Forty-two goblins was twenty-one gold. I gave them the ear I had and told them where I hid the ears. Then, before they found the bag, I fled.”
        “Because you had told them where the right ears were, not the left ones,” Oargev guessed.
        “Exactly. I fled to where I had hidden the bag of left ears, minus one, and ran all the way back to where they would have brought the bag, had the found the correct one. I was awarded forty-one gold for my troubles and was gone long before they made it back to discover what I had done.”
        “Sixty-three gold in one job,” Oargev smiled in spite of the grotesqueness of the young man’s actions. “Not too shabby. What did you do with your spoils?”
        “Hoarded it,” he replied. “I still have most of it. I bought some new clothes, something that was less dungeon-y, and began working confidence jobs all the way up the political ladder.”
        “Yes, I have the list,” Oargev said, shuffling pieces of paper on the table in front of him. “It says here that you had more than a few run-ins with that particular Sharn Watch lieutenant in those intervening years…”
        “I didn’t like him,” the young man stated. “He tried to spank me.”
        “You managed to make a fool of him time and again, but somehow always letting him know that it was you. You eventually got him discharged from the Watch and publicly humiliated. But when I look through these files, I see a number of opportunities where you could have easily gotten him killed. And yet you refrained. Why?”
        “Because he didn’t try to kill me,” the youth said simply. “I just did what he did to me: Threatened, cajoled, and humiliated.”
        “I see,” Oargev murmured. “Let’s move on to how you came to be here today.”
        “You already know all that.”
        Oargev waved a hand. “Indulge me.” The youth shrugged.
        “We had heard about the war, even down below. Sometimes veterans would turn up down there. People who couldn’t or wouldn’t fit into ‘civilized’ society anymore, because they were scarred. Physically, mentally, both, neither… once, when I was still young, I met a man who had fled down below because the Brelish government thought he was a Cyran sympathizer. It seems his father’s father had been from Cyre and he still had living relatives there. He had brought his family down below to avoid arrest.”
        “What happened to him?” Oargev asked.
        “His wife and two daughters were eaten by ghouls while he was out searching for food. He came back and his mind snapped. I know he killed himself, but I didn’t see it. Some people say he hung himself, others say he cut out his own heart. My favorite version is that he tracked down the ghouls and died fighting for revenge.”
        “You like that one?”
        The youth grinned, showing teeth. “I love a good revenge story. So during one of my jobs, I learned that his family name had been cleared. Until that point, I had been playing the part of merchants and visiting dignitaries, never quite able to break into high society, so when I heard that his family name had been cleared, I saw my chance. I remembered what he looked like, so I became him. I emerged from the depths bittersweet and triumphant. I told the truth, most of it: That my wife and daughters had been eaten by ghouls and that I had avenged them. And I was in.”
        “The trouble was,” Oargev began, “that he really was a Cyran spy.”
        “That was an unforeseen circumstance, yes,” the young man said. “The King’s Citadel had only cleared his name to draw him out. As soon as I had established myself and proved that I was indeed him, the Dark Lanterns came and arrested me.”
        “And when Cyran nationalists staged a rescue, they found you instead of the man they hoped you were. Which is why you were brought here to me.” It was Oargev’s turn to smile.
        “They were not happy about that,” the young man said. His unflappability was disconcerting. “Though if one of them had not been a changeling himself, I might have convinced them as well.”
Oargev nodded. “Imi has proved invaluable over the years. He is actually the queen’s seneschal.”
        The young man shrugged again. “So he’d have you believe. My question is, now that you have me, what will you do with me?”
Oargev pondered this. “That is a good question. If I mistreat you and you escape, I can only have the same mistreatment visited upon me to look forward to. If I were to order you killed and you escaped, I could only see my own assassination in the future. This is how you operate, is it not?”
        The youth just stared at him.
        “How about if I offer you a job?” Oargev asked. The young man blinked, his stoic impacability cracking a fraction.
        “A job?”
        “You work for me, you do what I ask you to do, and I will pay you for doing what you do best. And handsomely.”
        The young man pondered this for a long time, his eyes on the table before Oargev. Then, he looked up, right into Oargev’s face even though Oargev was still reasonably certain that he could not be seen.
        “When do I start?”

19 Lharvion, 998 YK

        Abernathy stared hard at Oargev, his black eyes containing a mixture of amazement and revulsion. “No,” he said, shaking his head. As he did so, his shape subtly changed from that of Abernathy Govern, overweight, middle-aged advisor of Oargev ir’Wynarn, to a slender, gray-skinned, flat-featured, white haired changeling who had no name. “I cannot do that.”
        “You must,” Oargev said softly. “There is no other option.”
        “No,” the changeling shook his head more fiercely. Oargev marveled at him. He had not seen the changeling’s true form for several years. Gone was the arrogant young man he had questioned before wars end, here was a fully grown adult, with lines alongside his eyes and mouth. The last six years had taken their toll on his trusted confidante. The have taken their toll on us all, Oargev thought.
        “You know this is the only way. You said it yourself.”
        “Only because I did not think you fool enough to take me up on it!” the changeling growled. “You are the rightful heir, NOT that… woman.”
        “She is your queen,” Oargev said softly.
        “She is an imposter! A changeling! Queen Dannel ir'Wynarn died in the Mourningblast!”
        “I know this already, Abernathy,” Oargev’s tone was still even and calm. “But you lack sufficient proof to expose her to her followers… and in doing so, you would expose yourself for the imposter that you are.”
        “Which I would do a thousand times over if it would dissuade you from this course of action!”
        “You know better than that. If you reveal yourself like that, it would destroy any credibility the name Abernathy Govern might have had. How many bargains, deals, understandings and promises would fall apart as a direct result of that action?”
        The changeling was silent.
        “This is the only way. Our people are divided, perhaps fatally so. If we cannot unite them, the Cyran nation will cease to be. She is royal, I am not. The choice is clear, especially to you.”
        “But she is NOT royal,” the changeling protested in a whisper. “She was the queens seneschal…”
        “As you are mine. What would you do, if you were in her position?”
        The changeling was silent again, but his silence spoke volumes.
        “It is my belief after meeting her, that whoever she is, her intention is only the best for the people. And they need hope, Abernathy. Which is something I cannot give, no matter how hard I try. Your duty is to me, Abernathy, and I have given you your orders. Please carry them out.”
        “You understand what that will mean, correct?” the changeling asked. “It cannot just be you. It must be your wife as well. And your children. As long as your line continues, the loyal will cling to them. The only way to be sure is to cut the line.”
        Oargev swallowed. He had known what it meant, but hearing it spoken out loud was difficult. He tried to speak, but could not. Instead, he nodded.
        The changeling shifted his guise to appear as Abernathy Govern once again. And he left the room.

21 Lharvion, 998 YK
        The Korranburg Chronicle put out a special edition of their periodical. The headline was written in bold text and enchanted to be understood by elves, dwarves, humans, orcs, and halflings who could read, though it was written in the language of the gnomes in which the entire periodical was written.
        The related article goes on to explain that Oargev, his wife, and his family were discovered dead at their dinner table by the dignitary’s seneschal, a man named Abernathy Govern. Investigation reveals that the poison originated from the Mournland, and the assassination is believed to be a plot of the enigmatic and legendary Lord of Blades, in retaliation for Oargev’s many plans to repopulate the Mournland with the Cyran people.
        The recently returned Queen Dannel ir'Wynarn made a statement that though Oargev was her political rival, he was a dear friend of the family and he would be mourned by all the remaining peoples of Cyre. Oargev and his family were given a state funeral in Wroat, Breland and King Boranel, Oargev’s cousin, swore he would not rest until Oargev’s murderer were found and punished. Several Brelish military units have been moved to the border of Breland and the Mournland, but more of that will be reported in subsequent issues.
        As a footnote, really no more than an afterthought, it is noted that Queen Dannel offered Abernathy Govern a place in her court. An offer which Govern declined.