Lineaments of Coming Night

Part IV

There was always, in the back of Saroth’s mind, the urge to jump up into the air and launch himself skyward. Part of becoming a dragon was that he yearned to be aloft with the clouds and lonely mountaintops. That he was the Keep’s resident weather mage only increased the temptation with each passing moment. But, as always, he had promised to Electra that they would enjoy the festival day on the ground for at least one day. And so, Saroth had taken on his smallest form – that of a seven foot tall bronze skinned man with a draconic snout – and joined his age regressed mentor in strolling the packed streets of Metamor.

That muzzle cracked in a knowing grin. Were he his normal dragon size, all of these merchants who had flocked up from every end of the valley would be jumping away from him instead of towards him. But the smile was fleeting. Though the colours of cloth, sculptures, pottery, woodwork, precious gems and stones, and trinkets of every conceivable design and taste were scattered around him in a profusion of commerce, he did not yearn to see any of them.

Instead, his eyes returned like a lodestone towards the sky above. The clouds he saw were slowly beginning to gather. From their shifting form he could feel a subtle sadness and fear. And there was another emotion that he felt from their speech – a speech that was well beyond his understanding, he felt like a dog to his master, only able to comprehend the broadest of generalities most of the time. When he flew close to them, and most especially when he flew through them, he could almost see the things that they had seen in their long never-ending journeys.

Saroth stared up as the clouds continued to slide northward. They slowed as they passed the castle, as if gathering to watch some as yet unseen spectacle. Their underbellies, once white and garrulous had become puffy and subtly dark. What speech he could feel from them was quiet, distant. It was as if they were whispering to each other.

{Electra,} he thought to the sandal-clad girl who was squeezing ahead of him through the crowd. They were trying to go through the merchant’s square to reach the Killing Field. Sean, their gold eagle friend from Magdalain Island, had gone ahead after breakfast, expressing interest in the games and contests that were held there every summer. Electra had warned him sternly to stay away from the magic contests, for fear that he might cause something to blow up.

“Yes, Saroth?” Electra asked, her face bright. She caught his skyward glance and frowned. She was as old as she could be, which was roughly fourteen, and had the appearance of a girl ready to flower. But her face carried with it the stern, exasperated rebuke of a teacher tired of hearing the same question over and over. “Oh would you stop asking me if you can fly! Yes I know Cerulean says you are a young dragon and have exuberant dragonish needs! But we promised Sean we’d enjoy the festival together. And you promised me that too!”

He felt guilty, and looked back down at the ground. {Sorry, Electra. I know I promised. But don’t the sky and clouds look strange? It looked like it was going to be a bright day all day this morning.}

Electra surveyed her chastised companion for a moment, and looked up into his face from her own paltry four and a half feet. “Well, yes, they do look darker.” She grew more curious then, and was no longer giving him a stern look. “That is odd. What sort of feeling do you get from them?”

Saroth shrugged his shoulders. {I don’t know. It is like they are afraid, but curious too.}

“Afraid of what?”

{I don’t know. They’re up there, well a few so far, but they’re also being very quiet.}

Electra continued to gaze at the sky, her eyes passing from cloud to cloud. After a moment, she squinted and then looked back into her bronze-skinned companion’s eyes. “Well, there’s nothing we can do about it here. Let’s meet Sean as planned.”

Saroth grunted low in his throat, which was about the quietest sound he could make with his throat. A spell he’d cast while trying to study the curse as it changed him had cost him his voice. Now, even when in his ‘small’ humanoid form he could only speak in draconic roars and screeching. Thankfully, his telepathy spell was anchored to him permanently now, so he could still communicate with others, even if sometimes he ‘said’ more than he wanted to.

“Yes, I know you want to get a closer look right now,” Electra said, even as she turned back and continued to weave through the crowd. Most people moved out of the way for the hulking figure behind her, but many did not see the younger mage until they were nearly upon her. “But do you really think it would be wise to change here?” She gestured at the oppressive crowd around them. The market continued for another hundred ells ahead. The road was normally thirty feet wide but some merchants had set their stalls up in the middle of the road so there were now essentially two roads with people moving both ways. A change here would really be a very bad idea.

{All right,} Saroth admitted, lowering his eyes once more. {Let’s go meet Sean.}

Satisfied that he had seen her sense, Electra beckoned him forward with one hand. He followed after her through the crowd. He tried to distract himself by looking at the vast panoply that surrounded him. He saw a few familiar faces in the crowd and waved, ‘shouting’ a hello to them. But most were occupied in their own days affairs, and after a return wave, not much more was said.

Though he tried hard to look at all the gaudy trinkets that abounded in the marketplace, he could not stop thinking of the clouds.

His fretting did him little good though. It was going to take just as long as it was going to take to reach their friend Sean. Even so, he listened to the clouds, pondering what feelings he could glean from them. There was nothing obvious though. It was all cloaked from him. Perhaps if he were closer. Well, maybe Electra would let him change once they found Sean. Surely there would be somewhere nearby on the Killing Fields he could change safely. Sure, some of it had disappeared under the stands where the knights were jousting, and of course the archery contests, magic contests, and other tests of skill. But they couldn’t have taken over all of the field!

Noon was almost upon them, and the time had come for Thomas to once more attempt to beat some sense into the heads of the squabbling nobles he’d assembled. When the joust had ended, Thomas had made the presentation of the golden lance once more to Sir Saulius. He’d idly wondered if the rat knight would win next year’s contest too. He’d now beaten two knights who were at least twice his size, and done so rather convincingly.

But after the pomp had ended, he’d led Lady Alteranoth from the booth, promised her that he would see her again soon, and then excused himself to return to the task he’d been dreading all morning long.

The lords and mayors of most of the towns in the Northern Midlands had replied to his summons and come to Metamor. None of them had taken him up on his offer to let their knights compete in the tourney, at least none from outside the range of the curse. There were ten arrayed about his table. Ten faces that greeted his own with loyalty, admiration, uncertainty, and in some cases downright suspicion.

Five of them were cursed, and five were not. The table at which they held their discussions was circular. He found that managed to eliminate most of the bickering for places of honours. At either of his sides were Malisa and Andwyn. Thalberg was of course tending to the festivities, a duty he begrudgingly accepted. It was bad enough that his non-cursed vassals had to put up with a bat and a newt, but ask them to face an alligator and they might think that Metamor had become home to nothing but monsters.

Thomas had also arranged their seats so that the cursed and non-cursed were all sitting next to each other. He did not want this to turn into a battle between them based on whether they had seen a great change in their physical form seven years ago. Even so, there had been enough arguing already. It was time that he managed to say what he wanted to say.

Thomas strode into the room at last. He had a cape drawn around his neck and shoulders, and it billowed behind him as he walked. It was of soft ruffled velvet, and although it was quite comfortable, he felt ridiculous most of the time wearing it. But for these men, he had to maintain his ducal authority.

“You may all sit,” Thomas said after he took his place in the throne like chair before the table. He himself did not sit, but stood at the head of the table looking over their faces slowly. “Now, let me say that I am glad that you all have come,” Thomas smiled. After his bit of time with Lady Alteranoth watching the joust, he felt like he could tackle them. She had compared how both Sir Egland and Sir Saulius had been behaving all throughout the joust, and spoke eloquently about the merits of Intoran and Matthias as squires. Now it was his turn to fence.

“But,” Thomas added, holding up on thick finger. “The matters we have spoken of to date, while important in their own right, do not begin to address the real reasons I have invited you here to Metamor. Prime Minister, would you inform them of our discoveries?”

Malisa nodded and rose to her feet. Thomas lowered himself at last, and watched as all eyes turned on his adoptive daughter. He could have had Andwyn detail the report, but he expected they would listen to her and not think at how monstrous she was the whole time.

“In the last few months we have begun hearing disturbing news out of the Southern Midlands. It has now become clear to us that war has broken out between several noble houses. It began with a feud between the Dupré family of Mallow Horn, and the Guilford family of Masyor. But several other houses have taken sides in the conflict and sent soldiers to join in the fighting. So far the battles have remained south of the Southbourne River, but there are rumours that both Dupré and Guilford are seeking more allies.”

Lord Jaran Calephas of Giftum rolled his fingers outwards offhandedly. “This is nothing that we have not already heard. As long as they keep their fighting to the South, what is it to us?”

Thomas studied the man while he spoke. Jaran was Garadan Calephas’s younger brother. When Garadan had been caught collaborating with Nasoj nearly a decade ago, his younger brother assumed lordship of Giftum in his place. Garadan had escaped before he could be arrested, joined Nasoj’s forces, and then lead the attack that had conquered Arabarb for the wizard. And now the rumours suggested that the Baron had abandoned Nasoj and was doing his best to hold onto Arabarb despite a resistance movement against him.

Jaran was clever and had shown himself shrewd in his ten years ruling Giftum. He lacked Garadan’s foul tastes in both allies and flesh. But could he truly be trusted, Thomas wondered.

“We fear that the fighting may not stay to the South for much longer,” Malisa continued, nodding to Lord Calephas. “This fight has grown beyond the feud which spawned it. Not only are other noble houses joining, but so too are both the Ecclesia and the Lothanasi. All of the allies that Dupré has sought are Patildor, while all of the allies that the Guilford’s have sought are Lothanasi. All of the Midlands have held a tense balance between the faiths, with the Lothanasi in the majority in the Northern Midlands and the Outer Midlands. In the Southern Midlands, the Ecclesia has been steadily gaining strength. It is possible that some are using this feud as an excuse to begin a holy war.”

Most were silent for several long seconds then. It was Lord Robern Barnhardt who spoke up next. He was the one noble there who was a Follower. He also happened to be a newt, his green skin looking freshly dampened. His clothes suffered from a few water stains. “Do you think it will become such?”

“It is possible, though I hope it does not. Should it become a holy war, more nations will become involved. The Midlands could become a butchering field if things continue to fester. We need to remain neutral and offer no aid to either side in this fight.”

“And if they bring this fight to our land?” Lord Calephas asked, his eyes simmering slowly. “What will we do then?”

“We will fight together to repel any invaders who should come to the Northern Midlands for any reason,” announced Duke Thomas.

“It is my city Giftum that would be attacked first,” Calephas pressed. “Will you send me aid? And will you send me any soldiers now to prepare for a possible war?”

“We should not get ahead of ourselve,s” Malisa cautioned.

“And what of Sorin?” Mayor Wiclaf asked. Sorin had no noble line to rule it, but possessed a governing council, of which one member was selected every few years to serve as Mayor. Wiclaf had been a farmer in his younger days, and still had the grizzled sun-beaten look. “We were sacked by raiders last year, but we received no aid then.”

“We have discussed your situation, Mayor,” Thomas pointed out. “I have already sent a dispatch to Whales. They will send several more ships to patrol the Sea of Stars. I doubt that even Ellcaran’s ships could launch an attack on Sorin or Menth.” he cast a quick glance at Baron Gareth Linnell of Menth who was half-smiling at the exchange. “Not with so many ships of Whales guarding her ports.”

“But what of Giftum?” insisted Calephas. “We do not have the forces to repel the armies of Ellcaran.”

“Ellcaran has not yet joined in this fight,” Malisa said reassuringly. “And word has reached us informing us that Duke Verdane himself ordered Ellcaran to remain neutral. We can only hope that they will obey him. We have also heard word that Verdane has taken to the field to try and put down this war, but with no luck so far. We wish him all the luck he can get. But there is another aspect to this that we have only begun to learn of recently.”

She waited unto all eyes were on her again and all objections stilled. Malisa smiled slightly and then continued. “We believe that rogue elements within the Ecclesia are deliberately pursuing a holy war. Already, one town along the border of Sathmore and the Midlands has been sacked by Questioners and Yesbearn knights. You may have heard about what happened at Deep Springs.”

It was Baron Lewis Pedain of Komley who spoke next. “It is nothing new for the Patildor to make raids into Sathmore. Or for Sathmore to make raids into Pyralia for that matter.”

“You are correct, Baron Pedain,” Malisa said with a slow nod. “But when one starts to raid, the other will reciprocate. We cannot risk a conflict between the two churches at this time. Not when there is war already in the Midlands. If these raids succeed in sparking a larger conflict between the Midlands and Sathmore, then we will very soon be drawn into the war whether we like it or not.”

Jaran Calephas was tracing his index finger in a circle on the table. “So? What do you want us to do about it?”

Duke Thomas leaned forward in his seat. “We are to maintain a unified front. Any information you hear, and offers made to you, tell us immediately. Unrest is brewing across this continent. There are even rumours of intrusions by Pyralian forces into Sathmore, though we do not know if they are true or not. If war is to come, we need to be mobilized and prepared.”

“Our town is small and we still do not have enough men to protect the ports,” Mayor Wiclaf pointed out.

“And there was an entire regiment of my knights that stayed at Metamor despite my orders to return,” Lord Geoffrey Donel of Midtown pointed out with a crooked grin. He had said very little the last few days. Usually he made a point of referring to his knights that he’d sent to aid Metamor during the assault and how they had not come back to him. Midtown was just on the border of the curse, and some of the northern outlying farms that owed fealty to Lord Donel were actually cursed. But even so, the regiment of knights, once cursed, did not leave Metamor.

“Baron Christopher,” Thomas announced, turning to the badger who regarded the other nobles with dubious courtesy. “We need more iron from your mines. Can your people provide in this hour of need? And as a gesture of goodwill to our friends from the South, can you provide them a gift of refined ore?”

Baron Samuel Christopher had at one point in his life wanted to be an engineer, though being the first born son of a noble he was not given that choice. Like Lord Avery, his father had been killed in the Battle of Three Gates and he had inherited the Iron Mines. And he even worked in them some himself. Before the curses took him he’d been a bright youth who regarded his nobility as an annoying distraction. Where once there had been effervescence there was now a gruffness that seemed completely in keeping with his appearance of a large badger. But still he acted as if being a noble got in the way of what he really wanted to do.

“I only have so many men, your grace. Send me men with idle hands and strong backs and I will put them to work. Soldiers, cooks, it doesn’t matter. I can make them miners.” He said this last as if it were the most natural thing in the world to be.

“Not many will want to go to the mines.”

“Then send me the poor. I pay good wages to my miners. Send me the thieves as well, so I can afford to pay the rest.” He laughed at his own joke, but no one else did.

“You may have your pick of the dungeons,” Thomas replied with the wave of one hand. “But we need more iron for weapons. Now, as to the men you have sought, Lord Calephas.” Thomas felt uncomfortable with the thought of shipping men away from Metamor, and he knew both George and Misha would howl when they learned of it, but it seemed like it might be the only way to keep his vassals in line.

Still, he could not help but smile internally. At the very least they were talking about the problems he had hoped to discuss. Now, if only they could get to the part about the mithril, he’d be wholly satisfied.

“I’d like to offer this toast,” Sir Egland said, smiling at all that had gathered in the Deaf Mule to celebrate, and it was a large group. Not only were the knights Saulius, Egland and Maugnard there, but so too were Intoran and Charles, Misha and Caroline, James, several other knights, some of the Keep’s rats, and quite a few of the Long Scouts as well. “To the two time champion and protector of Metamor, Sir Erick Saulius and his squire Charles Matthias!” Sir Egland lifted his goblet high into the air, as did everyone else who had joined him around the tables.

To accommodate so many, they had pushed a few of the long rectangular tables that Donny kept in the rear of the Mule together. It had not taken them all that long to get there either after the jousting was done. Sir Egland had bandages wrapped around his side, though the light shirt he wore atop them hid them well enough. Both he and Sir Saulius had removed their armour, though Matthias was still dressed in his chain mail. A few of the Longs were wearing some armour too, but only light leather and nothing more.

“To Sir Erick Saulius and Charles Matthias!” the cry rose up. Charles blushed a bit, and smiled to the knight. Saulius savoured it, and smiled to them all, but most especially to Egland and Andre Maugnard.

“I hath no place of honour without thee. To Sir Egland and Sir Maugnard. And to all knights and squires seeking to be knights. They hath a place at this table, as do all our friends.” Saulius smiled broadly to the other rats who had come up to watch the joust out of loyalty to their fellow rodents. They looked nervous and small in comparison to the rest at the table, but both Saulius and Charles had insisted they come, and so they came.

The goblets and mazers were lifted again. This time Charles felt even more self-conscious. He caught a meaningful stare from Misha and he smiled back to the fox. Was he going to receive another one of those conversations again? He dearly hoped not.

A few others offered toasts, but Matthias barely heard them. He cheered when others did, and drank as he was supposed to. Their meals would be arriving soon. It was noon after all. It was time to eat!

Charles leaned back a bit in his seat and grinned as the toasting came to an end and everyone began talking amongst each other. Julian was sitting a few seats down from him and waved with one paw to catch his attention. Charles smiled to the white rat and invited him to speak.

“We have been talking,” Julian said, gesturing with his other paw at the group of rats who clustered at one end of the table. “And we’ve decided that we will go back with you when you return to the Glen. We want to see Kimberly again, and all your children.”

He could not help but beam. Now this was something he thirsted to talk about. “Oh you will love them! Five great bundles of joy. They’ve already begun to crawl around, did I mention that?”

“Oh yes,” Goldmark pointed out, grinning widely. He was in his rattaur form as he liked to be most of the time according to the others. “Only twenty times or so now I think.”

“And he’s mentioned how little Charles climbed out the window only ten times I think,” Elliot added.

“And don’t forget,” Hector pointed out, “that he’s only told us about the time he had to chase them all down when it was time to put them to bed at least five times. I don’t think we’ve heard that story enough yet.”

“You only told me that one twice!” Misha pointed out with an injured expression on his faces.

All the rest of the Longs mimicked him then. “Come on, Matt,” crowed Kershaw. The red panda long had an evil glint in his eye. “I love the part where you stub your paw on the table and spend five minutes hopping around bumping into things.”

Charles glowered, but in good humour. “I’m sure that’s just the beginning of my pleasure of fatherhood!”

“Oh, it is!” Meredith assured him, patting his big belly. “Just wait until you have another litter!”

All the rats laughed at that, as did everyone else. “Well, since it seems you all won’t be satisfied until I embarrass myself with another story, I shall tell you one!” Charles grinned as he saw that he had all of their attention now. “But remember! I know a good embarrassing tale or two about each of you, so you had best not mock me too much!”

“Oh surely I haven’t done anything like that,” Meredith said with a laugh.

Charles turned his eyes on the bear and narowed them thoughtfully. “Let me see. September 25th, 706 CR.”

Meredith opened his eyes wide and laughed, looking at the rest of the table. “Forget I said anything!”

There was another chorus of laughter at that. But it ended quickly when the food was brought to their tables. They each said their prayers quietly and then begun to dig in. It was only after a minute of feasting that Sir Saulius lifted his head and grinned mischievously. The rarity with which the knight rat smiled in the way made it all the more astonishing. His voice, had the edge of knife to it, but the wound did not go deep. “Now, Charles. Thou hast promised us a tale of thy children that wilt surely embarrass thee. Thou didst not think to deprive us of thy promised tale?”

“No,” Charles said after swallowing his potato. “No, I did not think that at all, oh Protector of the Realm!” He liked his muzzle one last time and then began to speak.

It had only taken a few moments for Prince Phil of Whales to sign the requisite notices that would clear the rest of his day’s schedule. They were most likely hastily penned apologies from his highness – or more accurately from his highness’s personal secretary the great ape Rupert. Phil’s signature was executed by an odd looking quill with a crosspiece that was gripped by the rabbit’s teeth. With a few twists of his head, a somewhat crude ‘P’ was drawn on each.

The Marquis waited patiently at that time, his eyes casting over the room speculatively. Apart from the rabbit and great ape, there was the elderly Lycias, a man about whom there was a swirl of gentle power. Commodore Pythoreas remained nearer to the back of the solar with Marquis du Tournemire’s two servants, both of whom bore a worried look. They were men who held back a deadly secret that they knew it was not their place to share, but one that worried them nevertheless. At least, that was how they looked.

Tournemire let his eyes cast out the Southern balcony as he waited for Phil to finish attending to the notices. The wine dark seas stretched away until they met with the sky. The sky was unsettled, and a haze was rising up off the waters. The horizon, instead of being a clear line, was an uncertain smear, blurring the edge of both water and air, as if the two had begun to mix. This was not altogether unlikely, as the Algra Hook lay somewhere to the South of Whales. There was no place in all the Earth that suffered from more exotic weather than that lightning blasted land.

“So,” Phil announced after Rupert took the quill back in one heavy paw, “you know about the censer. You have my attention, Marquis. What news do you bring of the censer? Has it been seen again?”

The Marquis returned his focus on both prince and priest. “I am glad to say that I have not seen it. Nor have I heard word that it has been seen again, though we cannot be sure that it has not resurfaced elsewhere. But I do know that you have seen it.”


“What is this censer?” Lycias asked, resting his chin on one palm.

“It is a device of evil, something that, from what I recall, moves between this world and the Underworld,” Phil replied. “You may recall hearing of the rebellion of Loriod.”

“Your affable otter fellow Barney? Was he not one of Loriod’s men?”

“Yes,” Phil nodded. “I sent him and his wife here after we defeated Loriod. But Rupert here found this very censer that du Tournemire described in Loriod’s castle. You know the anti-magic powder that we produce from the mines in the mountains? Rupert, tell him how much you had to use to neutralize the censer’s magic.”

The great ape held his hands a good foot apart from top to bottom, and then an ape’s finger length in either direction. “So much?” Lucias asked in surprise. Rupert nodded his head solemnly.

“Very well,” the Lothanas admitted, real concern filling his voice. “What happened to the censer after you found it?”

“We brought it to Metamor to study it. We had no idea what we’d found at the time. And I still don’t understand all of it, but I know it is wholly evil. It corrupted one of the mages examining it. He then did something which activated a portal, out of which another man, one dressed all in black came through. This man in black killed the mage, but then Wessex, our chief wizard of dark magics, returned and was able to seal off the room after the man and the censer disappeared. We never saw the censer again, though the man in black returned several times to bring harm to Metamor.”

“Tell me,” the Marquis said, his face curious. “Did you ever learn the name of this man in black?”

Phil stared sullenly at the Maquis. “Yes. He called himself Zagrosek.”

Camille let the breath that he’d held back blow out slowly through his mouth. “Then it is true. I fear that his coming to Metamor is my fault. For you see, he was once an ally of mine.”

“What?” Phil exclaimed, standing on his chair, his eyes filling with a long forgotten rage. “That man that killed Patriarch Akabaieth was your ally?”

“Nay,” du Tournemire objected. He held out one hand to stay the rabbit’s anger. “Nay, he no longer serves me. But he once did. I fear that my actions led to his corruption, which have now led to all the atrocities he has committed on behalf of the censer and its brethren. Please, let me explain what I know of it, for what I am going to ask of you, you will never understand it unless you know why I ask it.”

Phil nodded his head slowly, ears upraised. “Very well, Camille. Please tell us what you know.”

“You will forgive me but the beginning of this story is lost in time. You are aware of the cursed nature of the Chateau Marzac. I knew nothing of its origins until I gained ownership of it roughly ten years ago. And first I must tell you of that story.”

Marquis Camille du Tournemire paused to catch his breath. He leaned back into the cushion seat, feeling it support him warmly. The salt in the air made his nose twitch slightly. “My part in these terrible events began ten years ago as I said. Handil Sutt had always sought to expand his holdings in Western Pyralia, but none of us ever expected the onslaught that he unleashed. He amassed a large army and was able to conquer most of Western Pyralia in only a few short years. I had hoped that his squabbles with the other lords would weaken his forces and that we would be able to beat him back with our own armies. But after he seized Whitestone Tower, I knew that he would crush Tournemire.

“My family is descended from the Boreaux royal household, a household with some power in the Southlands. That power has been waning for some time, but they still have influence. I, and my father before me, maintained cordial ties with the Boreaux, and although they declined to send any of their own men to assist me, the did put in a request with the Sondeckis for aid.”

“The Sondeckis?” Phil asked in surprise.

“Yes, the Sondeckis. I knew a little of their existence and powers, though I had never met one before. There were ten who came to answer my plea for help. One of them was a man named Krenek Zagrosek. With their aid, we were able to defeat the Sutt armies, and drive them back to Sutthaivasse. In the treaty that followed the Sutt family’s surrender, I was given the swamps of Marzac, and the single building that existed upon them, the Chateau.

“I did not think much on it at first. I knew that the lands were cursed, and had no intention of venturing onto them myself. I did send some of my men to guard the watchtowers at the edge of the swamp, but no more. At least not for another five year”

He paused a moment to consider his next words. “For five years I owned that land, without ever having set foot on it or seen it from the deck of a ship. There was much work to be done after the Sutt’s devastation was put to an end. I spent most of my time those five years rebuilding bridges, roads, and some of the small towns that had been destroyed in the wake of Sutt’s armies. I am afraid that much of my personal treasury was depleted because of this. At the end of those five years, I looked south to the swamp, and saw potential there for me to recoup the losses I had sustained. I pondered at what spices might be found and what exotic cloth might be spun. So I resolved to find some way to lift the curse on that land.

“I began to study the history of that place. I sent for a mage from the Southlands to assist me. A Weathermonger, as they would be able to read what they saw in the sky and clouds that had passed over the swamp. I also sought the aid of the Ecclesia. They have remarkable abilities in cleansing places and people from possession by the forces of, now what do the Lothanasi call them, the Fallen? Is that not correct, Lycias?”

The Lothanas nodded his head. “Yes, that is so.”

“Thank you.” du Tournemire smiled once to the grey-haired man. “I thought the land infested with the Fallen. What lore I had learned of the place suggested that those who enter it are possessed. I assumed that they were possessed by the Fallen, and thus I could cleanse the land of them if the Ecclesia performed an exorcism. Cardinal Geshter himself arrived with a Bishop Jothay who was visiting from Eavey. Together, they agreed to perform the exorcism. Four years ago they did so. The Weathermonger who had come into my service, Yonson, had been studying the clouds for some time. He noted a remarkable difference between their composition and magical touch after the exorcism had been completed. I thought the land cleansed.

“I was wrong.”

He did not say anything for a moment, and so those in his audience shifted uneasily. Phil at last mastered the temerity to ask, “And what of the Cardinal and Bishop? What happened to them.”

“They returned unharmed from Marzac, and they told me that they had been successful as well. I never saw either of them again. But, judging on what has happened since, I believe that we must assume that both of them have been corrupted by the power of that place.”

“Have you,” Phil asked, his eyes narrowing, “ever been to this land?”

“No,” the Marquis replied, shuddering visibly. “Thankfully, I have never gone to see it myself. I had made plans to do so, but there were urgent local mattes I needed to attend to at the time. I entrusted several servants, including the Weathermonger, to begin my plans for harvesting the many wonders I felt sure lay in the swamps of Marzac. They went, and six months afterwards I never heard from them again.

“I feared that something happened to them while in the swamp, that it was more dangerous than I had suspected. I still thought the place exorcised from all evil spirits, and so thought it some beast unknown to man that had slain them. I sent for word from the watchtowers, but they too had been abandoned. They brought back evidence of torn clothes and rent garments, all stained in blood. Somebody had killed my men. It was then that I sought help from the Southlands once more.

“This time, a Sondeckis and a Runecaster answered my call. The Runecaster, a woman named Agathe, brought to me more histories of the Marzac, and of all events associated with it. It was then that I learned of the censer that you saw, Phil. Still, my hubris led me to believe that the taint was destroyed. I sent both Agathe and the Sondecki, one of the ten that came to my aid in the face of the Sutt expansion, Krenek Zagrosek in fact, down to the watchtowers to investigate and learn what they could.”

He sighed and shook his head. “I never heard from them again either.”

Nobody said anything for a few moments as the Marquis collected his thoughts once more. He took several long breaths as he leaned over, eyes staring at the floor with a haunted expression. “This time,” he said at last, pushing himself back up with his hands on his knees, “I did not send anyone near the border of the swamp. I began to consider the possibility that the exorcism had not worked after all. I made a few entreaties, carefully worded letters to Cardinal Geshter. His replies set me at ease at first, but there was a nagging thought that dwelt at the back of my mind. What if he had been taken by whatever force infests Marzac before the exorcism was performed?

“I considered this problem for a long time, and I kept my eyes open for any news that concerned Marzac and its history. When I heard nothing, I decided on a course of action. I needed to learn more. I had exhausted what resources I had available to me. The two greatest libraries on this continent are in Yesulam and Metamor. Yesulam was closed to me, because I could not trust either Cardinal Geshter or Bishop Jothay, either of whom would have made sure that my request went unheard. So I sent a request to open diplomatic negotiations with Metamor Keep.”

Phil nodded. “Yes, I remember that now. The oddness of the request perplexed us at the time. I recall we sent one of our best ambassadors to meet with you. Mark Sciver.”

“We found his body and that of his retinue six months ago. They had been brutally slain. Many of the soldiers had been cut in two as if by lightning. There was no blood, the flesh cauterized by whatever cut it. This was a tell-tale sign of the Underworld’s influence, and it was then that I knew that the land was definitely still cursed. I needed to learn all that I could, and so I myself journeyed to Metamor at that point.”

“Truly?” Phil asked in surprise. Lycias’s eyebrows had gone up at that. “Then you have already spoken to Duke Thomas about this?”

“No, I have not. I had meant to do so, but news I learned upon arriving made me cautious. I have sailed here straight from Metamor to bring you this news. While at Metamor I discovered several important things. One of those was that the censer you found in Lord Loriod’s possession last year was indeed the censer that I had read of, the one that had been forged beneath the Chateau Marzac many ages ago.

“If not for the presence of one other at Metamor, then I would have spoken to Duke Thomas of this already. But had I revealed myself and what I knew then, that one other would have struck at me, and the knowledge would have died with me. By coming here, to Metamor’s one ally, I am able to impart this knowledge before the agents of darkness can claim me as I know they seek to do. And as I said, there is something that I must ask, that only you can provide. But, before you ask, I will tell you who this one that I feared was.

“I told you that your ambassador did not reach my land alive. I sent several other entreaties to Duke Thomas before I realized why I had never received word of his coming. Every single message I sent was innocently given into the hands of the one I fear. He came to Metamor claiming to be an ambassador in my name. I can see that you know of whom I speak now, Phil. And yes, you are right. I speak of Yonson, the Weathermonger. Through him nearly every evil that has befallen Metamor in this past year has come about.”

Phil could only stand and stare at the Marquis in profound horror at his words. Outside, the seas continued to shift silently, as tireless as time itself.

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