:: Dungeons & Dragons - The Threshold Party - Homeward Bound, Return to Karameikos ::

Return to Karameikos

Lana spoke the words of her spell and vanished from Sundsvall to reappear a moment later in Specularum. She marvelled at the distance she had travelled, for the sun which had been clear of the horizon back in Alphatia to the east was now only beginning to rise in Karameikos. As her destination she had chosen the former site of the Flying Ferret Inn on Westron Alley, which around a year before had been firebombed by Bargle the Infamous. The site sat empty, none of Lana or her companions having the heart to consider rebuilding. Putting the painful memories aside, Lana marched in the direction of the Duke's stronghold, making her way through the hustle and bustle of the awakening city. The guards allowed her entry without questions and she ascended to the Duke's throneroom.

To her surprise and despite the early hour she found that the Duke was already in audience. Three black-clad individuals stood before Stefan Karameikos' throne - one of the figures was familiar, while the others were not.

The Black Eagle and the Master’s Envoys

"And so dear cousin ve haf no choice but to ally vith ze Master at vonce," the Black Eagle Baron gestured to the individuals who flanked him, their bodies swathed from head to toe in odd, shapeless garments with only narrow slits for eyes. "Any further delay vill..."

Stefan held up his hand to the Baron and said, "Ah Lady Budanter, excellent timing! What news do you have for me?" The Black Eagle spluttered to a stop and glared at Lana with the worst attempt at hiding rage and contempt since villainy began.

"Your Grace." Lana bowed before the Duke. "I bring good news, excellent news in fact. But forgive me..." she laughed and put a hand to her forehead. "Perhaps it's an aftereffect of the Teleport spell I cast minutes ago, but I could have sworn I heard nonsense about an alliance with the Master?! Whyever would you consider such advice? Least of all -" her expression soured as she surveyed the Black Eagle Baron with visible displeasure "- coming from one who is known to openly covet your throne?"

The Baron's lip curled. "It appears zat Lady Budanter's vits are indeed addled - perhaps she does not have as much mastery over her magic as she vould like to believe." Turning to the Duke he continued. "Cousin - you know you have always had my loyal support. I have suffered with good grace ze foul lies and rumours spread by my enemies these many years - all the vile struggling to control ze wretched, ungrateful Traladarans of Halag. NOW," - his voice sounded to be rising in pitch – "ven I have come here to help safeguard ze nation vonce more I am accused of TREASON. I demand zat zis vitch is cast in ze dungeon..."

"Come now." Lana looked at the Black Eagle with a tired expression. "Aren't you tired of the whole 'throw her in the dungeon' routine? Baron I do believe you're becoming predictable."

The Black Eagle was outraged, but was prevented by his cousin from responding.

"Ludwig, calm yourself and try to remember that you don't make demands in my court. Lady Budanter, as I am pleased to see you safely returned and wish to hear your news, I'm going to pretend you didn't just make a very serious accusation against my cousin that would require that you immediately present strong evidence to back your claim."

Lana rolled her eyes. "Your Grace, I have no firm proof of your cousin's wrongdoings." The Black Eagle leered however Lana paid him no heed. "I would have hoped that my word as a lady of the court and a supporter of your throne might render my claims credible. In any event," her expression darkened, "now is not the time for such discussions."

"Agreed. These gentlemen," the Duke gestured to the robed individuals, "are envoys of the Master of Hule."

The two figures bowed to Lana.

"They seek to persuade me that the Master is not a threat to Karameikos - that rather I should form an alliance with the Desert nomad forces currently occupying Western Darokin."

"Indeed. That would be mossst wissse," said one of the pair in a rasping whisper that somehow echoed in an unsettling fashion around the hall.

Lana did not return the bow. "I didn't anticipate your choice of company Ludwig but I suppose in these uncertain times we should all form new friendships where appropriate."

She gave the Duke a meaningful nod, before turning to the Master's representatives.

"I mean you fellows no disrespect, but how could it be considered in Karameikos' best interests to ally with your Master?"

The figure who hadn't yet spoken rasped, "Darokin isss weak, sssoft land. No ussse to you in time of war. The Alphatiansss are coming. Under the rule of Masssster, Darokin can be ssstrong. Can ssssupport you against the Wizardsss Empire. Massster resspectss sstrong rulersss like your Duke - a man who rulesss by strength of hisss sword not by bribesss to fat merchantsss."

"Well," Lana responded, having mulled over what the faceless individual said, "the Alphatians' arrival does seem inevitable however I for one am confident," she looked at the Duke, "that the wizards will view Karameikos as an independent nation and that we will be able to defend ourselves in whatever conflict reaches our borders."

The Duke appeared to acknowledge this.

"In theory," Lana went on, "what would your Master's plans be assuming he were to take control of Darokin?” She addressed the emissaries but looked to Stefan questioningly. As was ever the case, whatever Stefan Karameikos was thinking it was impossible to tell from his impassive expression.

The first robed figure replied, "Massster intendsss no agresssion towardsss other nationss. When Darokin fallss, hisss empire will be complete. Thyatisss may need ssupport - yesss? Perhapss Emperor Thincol will be glad to have Massster assss ally. Perhapsss Glantri alsso. Wizard Princesss have shown wissdom. Darokin begss like dog but Glantri's army stayss away. We hope all will ssee Massster assss friend. Karameikosss, Ylaruam, Ssshires, Ierendi - all nations. Humansss, Elvesss, Dwarvess - all peoplesss. Masster can be friend to all."

The Baron was nodding. "Yes. I alvays said Darokin vas a land of vomen. Vith ze strength of ze Master added to Thyatis and Glantri, Alphatia can be defeated."

The Duke raised a hand. "Enough. I have heard you out cousin. Now I want to hear Lady Budanter’s report. I have been waiting weeks for this."

A brief silence followed. Then to Ludwig and his companions the Duke said, "Thank you for coming. You may go. I will let you know my decision this evening. Guards!"

The doors opened. The Black Eagle hesitated, then smiled and said in a tone that dripped with oil, "of course dear cousin." The manner in which he turned and strode from the room, jaw clenched, belied his even tone. The Master's envoys bowed to the Duke and to Lana before following the Baron. As they passed, Lana was able to smell their strange acrid scent - a mix of exotic spices and an alchemist's laboratory.

The doors shut and Lana and the Duke were left alone.

"Welcome back Lady Budanter. Now, what was all that about with Ludwig?"

Lana surveyed her liege. "You know, the morning we met Eriadna," she said, her tone distant and anecdotal, "right in Sundsvall we had breakfast with a fellow who led us to believe he was one of Thincol's closest advisors, and who monitors the Senate. All that way from home, he told us about the Black Eagle's latest scheme to seize your throne. If that individual is to be believed, Hattian senators have been lobbying Thincol to allow your cousin to replace you as Archduke, and for Bargle the Infamous - his court wizard at Fort Doom, as I personally can attest - to replace Teldon as head of our Magicians' Guild." She shuddered visibly.

"I know he’s your cousin," she went on, "but he's out and out evil! My companions and I journeyed into the Black Eagle Barony and were taken prison by Bargle and were brought before your cousin in shackles, then thrown into his dungeon. He maintains it for the sick pleasure of watching poor wretches fight their way past gruesome creatures, and in the unlikely event they escape he sends werewolves after them! Plus he's in league with the Iron Ring, he sells his subjects into slavery to be shipped off to Thyatis, the list goes on and on! Ask me, ask Sascia, ask the poor hin of the Shires..." She trailed off, both sounding and looking exasperated.

The Duke listened to her. When she began to trail off he cleared his throat.

"This is hardly the first time I have heard dark tales where Ludwig is concerned - and there is never any evidence to support them. He is theatrical. He has an erratic temper. He dresses in black all the time and calls his stronghold Fort Doom. These things are evident. They are not crimes. When he conquered Halag I received many reports of atrocities he supposedly perpetrated against the population - just as I received reports of the Kelvin Massacre allegedly carried out by the first Baron Kelvin; tales of the cruel misdeeds of Vorloi and Penhaligon; stories of Sherlane Halaran drowning a thousand Traladarans in Lake Windrush. Do you understand? You were not yet born Lady Budanter when I was forging my Grand Duchy. They were hard years. The Marilinev uprising was not the only rebellion and sometimes force of arms was needed to keep control. The old Traladaran families openly resisted me - they exaggerated, they spread half-truths and lies. I do not consider Mistress Sascia of Luln a reliable witness - nor any advisor of Thincol's - and what was this advisor doing in the Alphatian capital anyway? Bargle," Lana scowled upon hearing the name, "is an indentured servant because he was captured within the Black Eagle Barony, tried and sentenced by Ludwig. It is unusual but well within my cousin's rights as Baron to do this. I remember now Ludwig complaining about you and your companions 'spying' in Fort Doom two years ago. I told him there had been some misunderstanding and he should resolve the matter with you. He never did, did he? So you don't like each other. So be it ... but until I have real evidence that Ludwig has done anything beyond his powers as ruler of Fort Doom he will be respected as a lawful BARON of Karameikos and private quarrels will be kept out of my court. Let that be an end to it. I am much more interested in your report on Alphatia Lady Budanter. You seem to have indicated already that there has been success. Tell me your tale briefly now. Save the full report for when my ministers are gathered."

Lana nodded to signal her acquiescence. "Very well, your Grace. I have here," she presented the Thyatian language version of the scroll, "the treaty which has been concluded between our nations. Our journey was long and perilous, we were opposed on land and sea yet we reached Sundsvall and agreed terms with the Empress. In essence, Eriadna acknowledges your independence and neutrality in the War, and will not enter Karameikan soil if the War moves to our continent. At an early stage of the negotiations she wished you to take hostile action against the Thyatians, however we explained that this was unacceptable. Instead," Lana paused to take a breath, "she wishes us to combat the Master, whom she considers our mutual adversary and a dangerous one. Assuming you are prepared to take this action, Eriadna will send specialist wizards to improve our land and sea defences."

Stefan nodded, taking this in. He read through the Thyatian language version of the treaty, nodded and said, "Good. Very good. You and Masters Teldon and Perdissium have done everything I wished and more. You will all be rewarded of course."

Lana's demeanour, if pleased, became crestfallen. "Another matter I must inform you of your Grace, is that the magical staff I bore which belonged to Lucinius the First of Thyatis is now in Eriadna's possession. In an error of judgment, I revealed the nature of the staff to an Alphatian authority who saw fit to report to Eriadna, whereupon she took it from me. She has vowed not to publicise the acquisition for some time - chiefly, this is to allow you time to safeguard your position against Thincol's reaction when he learns of the treaty."

The Duke seemed unconcerned. "I had no idea you carried this staff you are worried about and don't see that it really matters much - except to you - but then I'm not a wizard. I shall have the Ministers summoned so you may make your report in full. The opinion of Lucius Hyraskos in particular will be very important in determining what action should be taken against the Master. We have many troops and supplies ready in the port of Athenos but the Master's armies have spread southwards from Darokin's capital city and if I am to have them ordered into battle it will have to be very soon."

The Duke paused briefly. "Do you need to rest or eat before we continue?"

"I am weary," Lana responded, "and I would gladly take to bed for a week but that can wait. I too am keen to hear your Ministers' views and I would not wish to delay your decision being made. If the Master's forces are active, our friends in Darokin will wish us to act promptly."

"Very well." The Duke called for an aide, whom he instructed to summon several of his Ministers before settling back into his throne.

"So," Lana asked conversationally, "how fares the younger Hyraskos? Is he in Athenos with the troops?"

"Devon Hyraskos has recently returned to Specularum," the Duke replied. "His skills will be put to use in defending our waters from any pirates that might suddenly appear in the next few weeks."

"And Adriana?" Lana smiled mischievously. "I hope she is keeping well also?"

"My daughter is well. Her mother is still hoping to marry her off to Baron Kelvin but I think both she and the Baron are going to be disappointed."

Lana smirked but said nothing.

Report to the Ministers

The Ministers did not take long to arrive. Those appearing were Lord Zogrev Yarol, Minster of State, and Lucius Hyraskos, Minister of War and Admiral of the Karameikan navy. Alexius Korrigan, the Duke's seneschal, had been summoned but could not be located within the compound. The Duke had heard the essential detail of Lana's report but sat listening as she gave a detailed run-through for the Ministers' benefit. The Duke's expression remained as inscrutable as always, though he would nod at intervals to signal his approval, especially when Lana referred to the wizards overcoming some hazard or obstacle.

"You mentioned..." Lord Yarol's tone wavered slightly, "that you died?"

"Yes." Lana flushed with embarrassment. "Not my proudest moment but I was lucky to avail of assistance and return to life. It's left me drained, I must say. Can't wait to get proper bedrest."

The Duke and his Ministers exchanged looks of alarm. While in Alphatia death could be considered no more of an inconvenience than perhaps a common cold, for a Karameikan to return from the dead let alone regain their vitality was practically unheard of. Unless, of course, the person had managed to contract the all-too-Karameikan affliction of vampirism...

Evidently keen to change the topic, Lord Yarol cleared his throat before continuing. "The magical creature at the docks. Who might have sent it, and for what purpose? Might it have learned anything of your mission?"

Lana shook her head. "We detected the creature at the earliest opportunity, and we took care not to reveal any sensitive information. Teldon despatched the creature after the first night. We observed it and found it to be gathering information only, with no apparent hostility toward us. As for who could have summoned it besides Teldon... of the few wizards in Karameikos I would say only Bargle and Dona Marianita are capable of harnessing such an enchantment.” Lana thought for a moment. "There's that fellow in Kelvin as well, though I don't know what level of power he commands or where his loyalties lie and Teldon didn't know either."

Yarol noted this. "It seems we have good reason to call Lady Marianita for questioning. Wouldn’t you agree?"

The Duke nodded. "Lady Budanter, continue."

Lana went on to describe the party's sea journey to the Minrothad Guilds, then to Helskir and the Alphatian kingdom of Haven beyond.

"Condric Arcan," Hyraskos murmured, "you suggest he may feel hard done by?"

She nodded dourly. "None of us foresaw the opposition we would face when crossing the Sea of Dawn. The captain in particular was exposed to life-draining attacks by the undead. I propose further reparation should be made if our State deems future relations with Minrothad worth preserving."

Lord Yarol considered this. "I will ask the Minister of Trade to suggest what, if anything, we might send to the Minrothad Guilds or to the Captain personally."

"What of this Stefanius fellow you encountered at Sundsvall?" asked Hyraskos.

Theories and hypotheses came to Lana's mind though she decided not to voice them all. "A mysterious character, my Lords. He claimed to have Emperor Thincol's ear though to a lesser extent than other advisers. His name struck me as peculiar, I thought it a curious parallel to our own Duke's name."

"Indeed," muttered Stefan, sounding unsettled. "Who do we have in Thyatis at present? Get our people to look into this."

"As you wish," Lord Yarol said firmly.

"Curious also," Hyraskos commented, "that he expressed sympathy for the plight of the Traladaran people."

Lana nodded. "He seemed preoccupied by humanitarian concerns as much as by the interests of any nation. And he seemed to wish Karameikos well for its future. He made clear that he could have stopped our treaty, yet he let us proceed as we intended."

"So the terms of the treaty," Stefan asked, reviewing the parchment before him while rubbing his bearded chin. "What have we committed to, and what may we expect in return?"

"Firstly," Lana answered, "I should say that Eriadna had her own solution in mind, whereby Karameikos would have been declared an Alphatian protectorate and you, your Grace, would have been made the ruler of an Alphatian kingdom." The Duke's face darkened on hearing this. "However," Lana went on, "we informed the Empress that we were not empowered to accede to such a request on your behalf."

"Quite right," the Duke muttered.

"Therefore," Lana continued, "we are to be viewed as an autonomous nation, and the defences around Mirror Bay will be reinforced by magical means. Our eastern land border will also be strengthened. Alphatian wizards will travel to Specularum within the next few weeks, they will be specialists in the field of conjuring and shaping volumes of solid stone out of thin air -"

Hearing this, the Ministers exchanged looks of disbelief. "If that is indeed possible," Hyraskos said with bemusement underlying his tone, "it would be sensible to fortify Rugalov Keep and the nearby village against incursions from the east."

"Agreed," said Yarol, "though can we trust foreign wizards with sensitive matters such as national defence?"

"A fair point." Hyraskos stroked his chin. "We will monitor these wizards' actions, and make sure they do only what we ask them and not have them dictate our choices to us."

"What if the Thyatians should attack by sea?" the Duke asked. "I feel we should establish a defensive presence along the coast. Can Devon assist us?"

Hyraskos nodded. "My son and his crew have returned from Athenos and would be best placed to co-ordinate the matter."

"Good." The Duke returned his attention to Lana. "What other support did the Alphatians offer? What of magic? I had wished to increase our magical propensity, I made that expressly clear to Teldon."

"I believe Teldon is continuing that discussion," Lana said. "Eriadna assured us that once the War is over she will send us whatever resources she can spare. The cost however is that we must engage the Master. Eriadna made clear that she is focusing her attention on the Thyatians and, whilst she accepts the threats posed by the Master, the Glantrians and the Heldanners, she cannot engage each and every one of her foes directly."

"The Heldanners?" Yarol echoed. "What threat could they pose?"

"I do not know, your Lordship. However the Empress made clear that based on reports gathered by her comprehensive information network, the Heldannic Knights pose as great a threat as the combined powers of Glantri and Thyatis."

The Duke's eyebrows rose and the Ministers spluttered on hearing this. "How can that be?" the Duke demanded. "What do we know of these Heldanners?"

"They are former knights of Hattias," Hyraskos replied. "Conquerors of new regions in Vanya's name. I would have thought their actions confined to barbaric territories such as the Northern Reaches."

"I believe that was Eriadna's assumption also," Lana said, "though their influence seems to have spread farther than she thought possible. Her foremost adviser – Admiral Haldemar – said he had firsthand experience of the threat they pose, and of the resources they now control."

"We should make enquiries about this," the Duke muttered. "The last thing we need is another conqueror on our doorstep."

Yarol nodded, taking note. "Your Grace, we have reviewed the number of able-bodied persons remaining within the Estates of Marilenev and Vorloi and we believe there is scope to form a further militia division, possibly two."

The Duke nodded his approval. "Do so, they can reinforce Specularum’s defences if we need them to."

"Very well." Hyraskos too began making a written note of instructions.

The Duke gruffly cleared his throat. As he did, his face bore the expression of one who had mulled over a decision for a long time, and was mindful of the consequences his choice would bring. "Gentlemen, it seems the time to make our proclamation is imminent yet work remains to be done. I have decided that our troops will engage the Master. My feeling is that we owe this moral responsibility to our neighbour Darokin. Also," his gaze passed to Lana, "it seems Eriadna expects this action from us if our treaty is to be honoured by both sides."

Lana nodded fervently indicate her approval of this course of action. Mistress Estella Whitehall was summoned to be told of the Duke's decision. The grey-haired Darokinian ambassador entered the chamber and on hearing the news expressed her gratitude with startling sincerity for one who was known to hold her emotions in careful restraint.

Having planned for all eventualities, the Duke and his Ministers had already seen fit to station troops in the port town of Athenos, all the way across Blight Swamp and the Shires but still a good two hundred miles south of Darokin City. A ship would be despatched to deliver the Duke’s orders to the Karameikan generals who commanded the divisions at Athenos. Hearing this, Lana volunteered to deliver the orders. She had been to Athenos twice before and felt sufficiently familiar with the location to attempt a Teleport; otherwise, the orders carried by ship could take over a week to reach the generals. Lana was keen to see how Darokin had changed since she last passed through, two months earlier. To guard against the risk of either messenger being waylaid, the Duke's orders were prepared in duplicate with one copy being passed to the ship’s captain and Lana being handed the other copy.

Her mission accepted, Lana bowed before the Duke and his Ministers and exited the throneroom. Her lip curled upon viewing the Black Eagle Baron who was seated right outside the audience chamber, still flanked by the Master’s envoys. The emissaries' faces remained hidden from view, bound by black fabric within the cowls of their garb. The Baron appeared unsettled; it occurred to Lana that he might have been listening at the door throughout her discussion with the Ministers. As she passed by, the Baron returned Lana's look of disgust with his own sneer.

"Ludwig."

"Lady Budanter." The man's acknowledgement dripped with venom.

Shortly afterwards, Lana stepped into the streets of Specularum, unable not to contrast the squalor of her surroundings with the spotless splendour that had been commonplace in Sundsvall. Her nose wrinkled as it detected the stench of an open sewer running the length of the cobbled street she was in. It was no bad thing, she mused, that she had built her home in the countryside; having grown up in smaller settlements such as Glaston and Threshold, and experienced the sophistication of other cities such as Glantri City and Sundsvall, she now viewed life in Specularum as less than appealing.

She soon found herself before the squat stone tower with a wooden structure (resembling a barn) tagged on its side. She recalled being aboard the flying yacht and asking Galatia about a similar structure at University of Sundsvall, to be told that the building served as the groundskeepers' accommodation. Wasting no time, Lana entered the Magicians' Guild and made her way to an upper room where she found Halia Antonic studying an old manuscript. Halia appeared delighted to see her friend and the two embraced before sitting down to converse and catch up. Little, it seemed, had changed in Karameikos though Halia confided in Lana that she suspected the Duke to be considering elevating Verge to baronial status. Lana was pleased at this news; it would be a fair tribute to the Antonics who had known little rest from the gnoll tribes of the region for several years.

Lana recounted her journey across the Sea of Dawn and through the western kingdoms of Alphatia, before attempting to describe the ruination of Aasla and the wonders of Sundsvall. She then handed across Teldon's letter. Halia took the parchment, cracked apart its seal and read the contents which were not long. She then set the letter on the desk and regarded Lana with wide eyes.

"Is something the matter?" Lana asked, though she had a strong suspicion of what the letter contained.

" 'I entrust the Guild to your care,' " Halia said slowly, reading from the letter. " 'Also you will be required to co-ordinate the actions of specialist Alphatian wizards who will travel from Sundsvall to improve Karameikos' defences. The freelance status of those individuals is to be made clear on any Guild records.' "

Lana's mouth went slightly dry. "Is there any mention of how long this appointment is to continue?"

Halia shook her head. "None, though it would appear he intends to return at some point."

Lana placed her hand on Halia's shoulder and smiled. "Well. Let me be the first to congratulate you Halia. You deserve this recognition, and I pledge you my support should you need it through the times to come. I have no doubt however that the Guild will prosper under your direction."

Halia accepted the compliment. "Thank you. It would be improper of me to decline the honour which Teldon has shown kindness in bestowing upon me. But such matters can wait for now. Do tell me more about Sundsvall..."

Stopping by Glaston

Later that afternoon, Lana teleported from the Wizards' Guild to her home village of Glaston. A handful of villagers were startled when she materialised in the village square, but overcame their fright and grouped around to welcome her home. While exchanging pleasantries she noticed that the windows of her father's house – one of the larger dwellings in town due to her father's success as a sea-trader – appeared to be unfastened with the shutters wide apart. That all-too-rare event had come to pass - Terlon Budanter was at home.

Arriving at the dwelling, Terlon Budanter ushered his daughter inside as if she were a business associate with dealings to discuss. He returned to marking up a ledger while Lana settled herself in the lounge. She noted with relief that the hand with which her father wrote bore all five fingers. The sadistic wizard Karlag, a former Master of the Iron Ring, had cruelly severed one of Terlon's fingers as a means to antagonise Lana however the finger had been acquired and, as it now appeared, a kindly cleric had intervened to reattach the missing digit.

Amid his balance sheets, her father remarked that Lana's construction project was nearing completion. Delighted at this news and not wishing to spare a moment, Lana unfurled her flying carpet and bid her father jump on board. The pair flew out of the village along the path which led the mile or so to the site she had cleared to house her tower.

Arriving there, she looked around in wonderment, noting that the main building was fully built, as was the surrounding stone wall with its gatehouses and filled moat. The workers had finished the wall first to provide protection against any monsters which might have wandered out of the Dymrak. Thankfully there had been no such incursions, and the mercenaries whom Lana had paid to patrol and keep the woodland clear reported no difficulties either.

There had been little or no goblin activity either; it seemed Queen Greckly, the leader of the Kreeper tribe, was keeping true to her word not to harm Glaston or its inhabitants.

The tower's ancillary buildings – its barn, henhouse, stables and bathhouse – were still being finished but would require no more than one week to complete. Indeed, the dwarven engineers considered that their supervision on the project was no longer needed and were preparing to leave. Lana thanked them for their efforts and apologised that she could not have been present throughout more of the construction process. The dwarves exchanged relieved glances all the same. It seemed they were happy to have been left alone to get on with their work. They recalled seeing Hadrian use his magic to dig out the tower's foundations, Lana using hers to summon an earth elemental to move blocks of stone around the site and so on – these were not ascribed dwarven building techniques.

Lana lodged that night with her father, telling him about her trip to Alphatia. Terlon informed his daughter that he did not know Condric Arcan personally, but knew of him as a capable trader and had no doubt that he would quickly recapture whatever confidence the undead attacks had taken from him. Lana also took some time to scribe spells from the scrolls she had purchased at Mazumalia's store. Once this was done, she scried on Hadrian and observed him sitting quietly with his back against a rock, in outdoor surroundings. She thought she discerned soldiers milling about in the background of wherever he was. The Isle of Dawn, resisting the Alphatian advance no doubt. At least he was alive and well, or at least his appearance seemed to indicate that much.

Return to Sundsvall

After breakfast the next morning she prepared to teleport herself to Sundsvall. She attempted to scry on Teldon beforehand but his image in her crystal ball refused to take shape – presumably he was within the Imperial Palace. She cast a Fly spell upon herself before teleporting, aiming to appear on the roof of the Blue Ruby Inn which after the Palace was her most familiar location following her short stay in the capital. She materialised on the Inn's roof, pleased to have arrived safely, then began to slide down the slanted surface. A moment later her Fly effect kicked in and stopped her from falling. She unfurled the flying carpet and took off in the direction of the Palace. Arriving there, the guards allowed her to pass and she politely asked for Teldon to be informed that she had returned. He was in a meeting with Master Terari and other eminent Alphatian wizards. Teldon was able to meet with her during a break and suggested that the two should dine together that night. Karnus was researching some matter in one of the Imperial Libraries and had asked not to be disturbed until his enquiries were complete.

Feeling mildly mischievous at ignoring Karnus' request, Lana cast the Airy Messenger spell which she had purchased from Mazumalia’s store. She marvelled that a spell of the First Level could be potent enough to summon a lifeforce from one of the Elemental Planes; truly, the residents of Old Alphatia had done much to master the ways of Air.

A breeze hovered impatiently at her lips, compelling her to speak. Feeling an odd sort of instinct overcome her, she put a hand to her mouth and whispered to the waiting being:-

"Karnus it's Lana here through that summoning I bought from Mazumalia. Stefan is pleased about the treaty. I'm in Sundsvall but need to leave tonight. Why don't we meet up -"

Although she had intended to say more, the elemental departed and sped away from her. She realised her message had exceeded the permitted length. Oh well, she thought. Enough had been said to convey her meaning. Karnus would be able to scry for her and seek her out, assuming he was free. Or that he was inclined to see any more of his companion. After all, they had just spent several weeks confined together aboard the flying carpet. Perhaps the books of lore held greater appeal.

Lana lost no time heading for Mazumalia's store. Only two days had passed since her previous visit, therefore the dealer's stock remained largely unchanged – save for a new scroll bearing three castings of Read Magic and a potion of Hill Giant Control. To Lana's delight Mazumalia informed her that she had moved Epicurean Enchantments to a secure location at the back of her premises, and was not openly advertising it for sale. Expressing her appreciation, Lana exchanged a mix of gems and coins for a scroll containing Charm Monster in addition to the scroll of Read Magic, then took her leave.

She spent the remainder of the afternoon at the Museum of Fashion, which Galatia had recommended, observing how Alphatian design had evolved over the centuries, though it seemed many trends seemed to pay homage to the past, often following a cyclical path.

Early that evening she dined with Teldon at the suite of rooms which Eriadna had made available for his use. The surroundings were luxurious to say the least. Teldon revealed that he planned to spend at least an entire year within Sundsvall, mainly to liaise with the authorities, then would spend a further year touring the Alphatian kingdoms for his own personal benefit. He seemed to have rediscovered the adventuring bug of his youth. He also professed his view that he had done enough for the Duke and for others through the past thirty years, and was now going to do something for his own personal fulfilment. Lana fully appreciated this, though she recalled her master’s warnings about Teldon many years ago – no doubt the seemingly dottery old wizard had benefited just as much from those he had helped over the years. His magic would be enough to keep him safe, even in a country as powerful as Alphatia.

Once dinner was over, Teldon settled himself at a writing desk and bid Lana bring forth her spellbook. She watched, entranced, as Teldon enscribed the spell he had offered her in thanks for Karnus and she having escorted him to Sundsvall. Lana's first ever spell of the Sixth Level would be – Anti-Magic Shell. It would be a reminder of their trip across the Sea of Dawn, and of the loss of the Staff of Lucinius.

Onward to Athenos

As the sun was about to finish setting, Lana stepped out into the immaculate streets of Sundsvall, gave a short prayer to the Immortals and invoked the second Teleport spell she had memorised that morning. A heartbeat later she appeared in Athenos on the roof of the Inn where she and her adventuring companions had lodged previously. Given the distance from her point of departure, where there had been twilight and the many colours of dusk, the sky overhead was utterly dark.

The streets teamed with an unmistakeable military presence – evidently the Karameikan militia had been here for some time. Large numbers of men sat clustered along the sides of the street, evidently bored. Many of them appeared not to be trained soldiers but farmers and the like – training sessions appeared to have been taking place to familiarise the men with weapons they had not wielded before.

Lana flew on her carpet over the soldiers' heads to the town square. The Duke’s insignia could be seen on a banner flapping limply on a standard by the side of the town hall. Two soldiers stepped forward and crossed their poleaxes to bar her entry, but relaxed their stance on hearing that Lana bore orders from Stefan Karameikos himself. Lana's appearance had attracted a great deal of interest, and a throng had followed her carpet through the streets. Men swapped excited glances as Lana was ushered inside the building to meet the four Karameikan generals. The guards resumed their positions to keep the crowd at bay. Finally, it seemed, the Duke's troops were going to see some action.


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