Calling the group that he would soon be meeting with an “envoy” was a bit like calling Zy’an a decent jumper, thought Frank. For sure, these were some of the hardiest warriors he had ever seen. As a veteran warrior himself, he knew the look. Of course, one could never be certain until they were in battle alongside another, but he was willing to bet his mace that these were some of the toughest Celns ever produced.
For the next few hours, he would meet with several of them and assist in his lordly duties. These, to his horror, seemed to include being a liason to Nana, the kindly old matron who had tried to turn his downtime into a series of logic puzzles. Thrak of course had given up attempting to be human enough to keep to her demands. Iricah seemed to still be trying. Zy’an, he thought, was the only one who seemed she let be. Maybe it was detailed habits. Maybe he frightened her.
Whichever the case, Frank himself was always in trouble. His armor was too loud, his mace hit the furniture. His shield was not a serving tray for Thrak to eat of blast you all! Less than a day back from their voyage to the monastery, and Frank’s day was consumed by screams about, among other things, spiders.
“Spiders!” yelled the old woman, waving her couatl feathered duster. “Spiders of all sorts and varying shapes and colors have invaded this once proud manor!” She lowered a pair of eyelids at Thrak, “We never used to have this problem in the Landing, you know.”
“Nana,” sighed Iricah, “Spiders are everywhere on these isles. I myself have noticed quite the abnormal amount of the eight legged fiends on several scattered jungle environments. Clearly, this is part of the fauna of these…”
“See here missy!” She interrupted, and placed the duster just below Iricah’s chin. The bard stared her in the eye, trying not to sneeze. “This is where your fancy magic, and maps and bags don’t help you a’tall! These spiders are a different variety. We never once had a spider problem. Now we do!”
Frank had left that morning, before he could catch Iricah’s rebuttal. Once, Iricah had commented about how easy a magic missile would have been. A finger point, a loop deloop and a little enery missile right up her backside. She’d never know what hit her. But Frank knew it was all jest. Leavin the manor, he heard something about a shovel and the floor.
“She’s as relentless as a mind flayer,” he said to himself. Grinning, he made his way to the war council meeting. He had a few stops to make along the way.
He decided to first to stop by Slimmy’s Bucket. A pint or two and he’d hear all the rumors and more. Slimmy came by himself and shared a “King’s Bathwater” with him. “Slimmy, a finer growler, I’ve never had!”
“Aye, Frank,” said Slimmy, downing his glass, “It’s me finest for sure. This one here I opened only yesterday. I kegged it the same month the Cheillini’s put out the fires.”
“Well, I’ll drink to our clean health then!” said Frank, and downed his glass too. He tried not to grin. Slimmy was a bartender and they were hard to fool. Even when you had a disquise as good as he once did.
“A lot has changed though, you know m’Lord,” said Frank. “We’ve got the shivers now.”
Slimmy of course was talking about the earthquakes, which had plagued the isles since anyone knew. Recently though they had gotten worse and worse. An earthquake induced tsunami had nearly destroyed the entire port of Black Hollow only some weeks ago. Since then, there had been many more which had caused all manner of damage to the towns.
“And the black rock mines are only at three quarter production. Spider and his gang can only keep the mines from another eruption for so long. Men are telling me it’s getting hotter and hotter in there, m’Lord.”
“Aye, Slimmy,” said Frank. “Aye. I’ll have Master Thrak check into it.”
“Your vassals would ‘preciate that m’Lord,” said Slimmy with a wry smile. “Even pirates like a bit of safety.”
Frank grinned back, “That they do, Slimmy, that they do.”
Frank made a few other errands that morning. His favorite was probably the discussion he had with a man named Q and a half-orc named Bolvist. This had not been an accidental stop, in fact Q, as he was apparently only known as, had sent for him. When Frank arrived at the abandoned inn turned workshop, it was a sight to behold. He knew the envoy had just arrived and yet here he was in what looked like a workshop that had been tinkered in for decades. He could only guess at what the man wanted him for.
“Welcome Frank,” said Q. Frank found this odd since it was his town.
“Welcome to you, masters,” replied Frank. He was watching the darker figure next to Q. He had met Bolvist before, but hadn’t spoken much to him. The figure pulled back his cloak, revealing a fanged face that only a mother could love. If she had been blind. He didn’t look too comfortable in the light, even under a roof.
“Greetings, Member of Light,” growled Bolvist through his fangs. “Thank you for coming.”
“Not a problem at all,” answered Frank. “To what do I have the honor gentlemen?”
Q chuckled a bit. Bolvist made a noise. Frank thought it might have been a chuckle in the orcish fashion.
“We need your help,” Q replied.
Frank waited. He had already asked. “Would you like me to carry any more healing potion bottles for you, Bolvist?”
Bolvist pulled up his lips, his fangs gleaming in the light. Frank thought it might have been a smile. “Sorry about that. You have no idea what those two are like.”
Frank was about to say he actually did know, but Q continued, “We’ve investigated the ship that attacked our envoy as we rounded the peninsula into Three Harbors. I’ve ascertained there was no reason for it to be there. And no reason for it to attack us. It’s troubling us.”
Frank wondered what these two were all about. He had already been briefed on this matter yesterday. “Again, what can I do for you?” He said.
“Can you think of any reason for it to be there?”
“No, unless it is to spy on us.”
“But this ship was not spying. It attacked us.”
“Aye,” said Frank. “The Sassers do not need to attack in this fashion. They work best in a larger number.” He thought of the enemy forces he had encountered, and how difficult they were to attack in a group.
“Our thoughts precisely,” said Q. He glanced over at Bolvist. “We also need to know your waist and shoulder measurements.”
“My what?” Frank stammered.
Q pulled out what looked like a sheet of metal rolled into a cylinder. “It’s for a little project I’m working on….”
Later that day, Frank sat at the council that Genoran had arranged. Around him, the toughest of those he had seen at the docks. Bolvist, and his companions Taryn and Mesilla were there. Taryn’s sword hung at his side, the blade as dark as night. Mesilla, the one known as the Witch of the Wilds, stood, her robes stained green along the fringe at the bottom. There was Governor Canton, dripping in fine linens, and Portia, the halfling, who seemed unable to stay still. Genoran himself along with Q and a few other advisors were seated in front of a large table where lay a map and many models. This seemed to be a makeup of the isles. Other smaller objects seemed to indicate locations of ships, or troops. There were two colors, one green, and one red. There seemed to be far more red than green in certain areas.
Iricah had already arrived. Frank noticed she was standing as far away from the prince as she could. He didn’t figure that was accident. Thrak had already knocked over a chair with his stub of a tail. Zy’an stood silently in the back, waiting.
Aside of the prince stood several members of the Order of the Flame. Iricah was staring phantom magic missiles at one of them, the figure with the brightest armor under his tunic. The man seemed unhealthy, pale, and the armor looked as though he were placed in it, instead of it placed on him.
Genoran’s aid called the meeting to order. Genoran looked at Bolvist. Standing in the shadows, the rogue stepped forward and spoke in his gravelly tone. “The Sassers had no reason to be here. It was an inferior force. Why would they even attempt it?
As if they had only just thought of it, or they were the only ones in the room, the prince answered him. “There is a reason I can think of.” He looked around at the others.
The pale man in the large armor suit spoke next. Frank knew his name was Re-alis. “My Lord, Bishop Belloran wishes me to parlay on his behalf, for as you know things back home require a more enlightened presence from the Flame.” The voice felt as wrong as the armor he was in, thought Frank. It was too silky, too smooth. This man could only be the product of Cillandrial nobility he knew. His attention went around the room, as others made the slightest of grimaces at the man’s words. None though, were worse than Iricah’s. “The Sassers are soulless. They have no master, except that which we give them through our fear! As with the phenomenon in the Eastern Realm, the darkened spirits that linger in the hearts and minds of men from the days in which those Three Traitors betrayed us. They wish to eradicate us. The enlightened must not bend to this thinking as the Kasillians once did. It is time for us to put our trust in the mighty flame, to stay within the light! My Lord, The Keeper, wishes you to hear these words well Prince Genoran.”
Mesilla spat on the floor, “Your words are words, Realis. This is war.”
Taryn, the ranger swept his hand at the druid. “Quiet witch!” He then made a fist and pointed a finger through it at Realis. He looked unimpressed with the cleric’s profound words. “Listen you. Stick to your flame. I’ll stick to my sword. We didn’t come out here to stay within the Light. We came to end this threat before the real one comes! Genoran, what is the latest intel say?”
Genoran kept his diplomatic face, even as Realis feigned being insulted, “We are soon to be outnumbered, and overpowered. We can sit tight and watch their forces attack and overpower each of our colonies, including Three Harbors, fully withdrawing from the isles. Should that come to pass, how long will it take for an armada to pass the same seas we have and invade Cellinor proper?” He looked around at those assembled. “With all due respect to Lord Re-alis, my father has foreseen this threat coming for some time. We cannot prepare for the Darkening to come with this threat. This has been the plan for some time.”
Re-alis tsked. “This is nonsense! Sacrilege! The Darkening is a fairy tale, meant to frighten. The Kasillians destroyed themselves through their own evil ways. The three betrayed us! Now, you ask us to throw ourselves into unknown lands. For the sake of what Genoran?”
Canton’s ears pulled backwards, and Frank saw his hand move towards the hilt of his sword, but then drop. “Careful Realis. This is our Prince you are referring to.”
Genoran waved Canton’s aid away. “The sake of all, Lord Re-alis. We are here for the sake of all.”
“Fairy tales!” quipped on the advisors. He too looked a bit too noble for a pirate isle.
A small voice piped up from below the table. Portia hopped up on a chair and looked around, “The Sassers are a superior foe. But they do have a weakness!”
Canton laughed, ” What weakness theif? Their ships are far superior! You know, you were there when…”
Mesilla interrupted the governor, “The world’s power comes not just from the ground, the trees, the light, the wind. It comes from us, Governor. Whatever powers the Sassers takes it’s power from them as well. Should we destroy the Host, we destroy the Sassers.
“Blasphemy! That is Godspeak!” said Realis.
“It is true. I know. I was once brought to the Host. And now, I am no longer,” said the man known as Radagar.
A loud growl came from the orc, Bolvist. “What is your plan, Prince?”
“We will invade the circle.”
“Invade the circle!!!!!” shouted Realis.
Genoran ignored the man, “I have planned a three prong attack. First, the primary force led by Lord Taryn will attack the circle’s forces directly.” He moved around the table illustrating his plan. Clearly, Genoran had thought of this for some time. “We have loaded Celn ships with technology we believe the Sassers will have a difficult time with. Right Taryn?
Taryn smirked, “I can’non doubt that.”
“Second, I will lead a secondary force here.” He pointed to three models of three ships off of a small isle. It was not an isle Frank was familiar with. No one else seemed to be familiar with it either.
“And third, two separate smaller forces will invade these compounds, releasing prisoners, and giving us a wave of forces just when we need it. Once inside the circle, our Lords will find the host and destroy it.” He turned towards Taryn, and Mesilla. Taryn nodded. Mesilla drew a line over her neck and pretended she was dying.
“Our scouts believe two main slave compounds exist. The Sassers have made an unprecedented sweep of the isles. The sea elves, the Ata’un, the lizardfolk all report the same. This one here, is unreachable with our present mission. But this, here at Ferroun’s Landing. We could attempt a diversion, free the slaves. Renew alliances. With the help of these folk, we can overpower the Host.”
Q asked, “What is the purpose of the secondary force?”
Genoran paused. “That is on a need to know basis.”
The council went silent. Some seemed already to know enough of this plan not to ask questions. Others were clearly just informed. Genoran answered a few basic questions.
Realis wasn’t pleased at all. He turned to leave, but spoke dramatically before he went. “They wish for us to rely on ancient riddles. As commander of the Order of Iron, I will not release my troops from Silvershore for this.”
Frank watched the others shuffled out. Commanders and captains made plans and coordinated their departure, which was set for dawn the next day. Frank looked around the table at the models. How tiny this all looked. And yet, he knew the results of the next few days could change the world, one way or another. Was Realis right? He didn’t think so. He didn’t think Tiresias would think so.
Alone with his thoughts. He suddenly realized that only the prince was still there with him.
“Tiresias was my mentor as well.”
Frank was startled, instantly. Tiresias was an enemy of the state of Cellinor. How could he know this?
“When you left Cillandar, I had a chance meeting with the old man. He appeared in many forms, to many people. I bear a message from your mentor. His last.”
Frank did not know what to say. He stood there before the prince. Genoran made sure he was ready. And spoke the words carefully.
“Find the man we once saw. He is needed now.”
Frank could not answer. He considered denying any knowledge of what Genoran spoke about, but he couldn’t. Something told him, the prince was telling him the truth. He let the words sink in.
“Tell me of your allegiance to the Flame?” Asked the Prince. The two stood there for sometime. Frank, did not know how to answer the question.
Genoran seemed to know Frank would not answer anyway.
“There are politics at home. Bishop Belloran, the Keeper of the Flame, has made inroads into the War Council. The weather has changed. Food is becoming scarce. My father’s realm is a multi-faceted civilization. Many things need to be placated and considered. Wars appear on the horizon on all sides. And the daylight grows weaker. Rumors have come to me, that there is something wrong. I need your help. I need to know what is wrong with the Order. I need someone I can trust. You helped my father when you didn’t need to. I believe that person is you, Frank. The power of the Flame courses through me, as it courses through you. Together, my brother, we can restore the light.”