[ - Author's Note - ]

Well, we're going along smoothly aren't we? So far so good.

Before we get going I think I need to address something that a few guest reviews on FFDotNet have mentioned about the voxlux (And because they're guests I can't PM them, like I try to do with everyone who leaves a review. It's also possible it's just one person posting the same complaint over and over, I guess); the voxlux does indeed have safeguards. James has mentioned that he put them in. Channer isn't able to copy them despite his own Enchanting abilities. The man in the dark outright assumed there would be fail safes built into them. While I'm trying to avoid James being overpowered he won't be nerfed in such a manner. Trust me, he has some tricks up his sleeve. While there are some fair criticisms given to this story this is not one of them.

Anyway, enough of that. Let's focus on this chapter now, starting... With a history lesson. If you recall during the court case there was a mention of the 'Dominious Conflict of 998 AF? Well, now you can learn about it! And aside from that...

Well...

I won't spoil that here.

Let's begin.

[ - Act II - Interlude: A Pox on You All - ]

The following is an excerpt from chapter seven of The Eostia Historia, as written by Dominic James Pencraft. While requests for reports on the history and doings of the Empire are still useful I thought this section would provide M'Lord with a picture of Dominious' history with Eostia. I do hope you will find it enlightening.

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The Dominious Conflict of 998 AF is the first, large scale conflict that Eostia had with them. While they had previously skirmished with Eostia's forces to test the her defenses they had been much more cautious with the Alliance then with their other conquests and rivals. This was mostly due to the natural defenses provided by the Great Atlas River and the Long Drip River; crossing either with a large army would not be easy and would catch the attention of patrols. As such they sat across the rivers rattling their sabers as they waited for a chance to lay claim to the lands across the water in Feoh; rich with ores and farmlands that they were gluttonous for. While I have ever tried to retell history from as neutral a posture as possible I cannot help but feel that Dominious has ever done it's upmost to make life worse for everyone. After all, they named their nation after the word Domination.

At this point in their history they had conquered half of Roxford, a sizable portion of northern Camafran and fully conquered Albeti and Torquel. While many argue about when exactly the Age of Turmoil began the Dominious conquests of this era caused much of it. The empire reached it's peak in this era in terms of the size of land, economic wealth and military power. Hindsight being what it was the cracks in the foundations of the empire were showing for sometime already; a dissatisfied peasant class that was overtaxed and abused by the upper class nobility aiming to either gain the favor of their leader, Empress Zelda von Kaltekrone the First, or to move into a position to overthrow her and take her place. Talk of revolt and revolution among the common folk was growing and the armies of the Empire were often tasked with policing them as opposed to worrying of conquests or outside threats.

It was Zelda the First's coveting of the lands of Eostia and Feoh in particular that made her launch the attacks that would be also be called the Scorching War; also known as the Salting War, also known as the Razing War. All of these names, as you will come to understand, makes sense but the seeds of this conflict was sown some seven years before and started to harvest the year prior. Which means to explain the Scorching War I must first explain what many (Including myself) consider the true start of the Age of Turmoil; the Great Plague of Pox; also known as the Red Pox, also known as Dotted Sickness, and known in Eostia as the Nobleman's Reaper.

There is a reason for that last name that we will get back to.

The Pox began someplace in the west; presumably at the coast of Hyguard and it started to spread from there. At first it was quite lethal but wasn't spreading quickly at least for the first three odd years, pausing near the thinned section of the peninsula. After that it was spreading like a wildfire and burning through it's fuel; that fuel being human lives. Depending on the nation only a quarter to a tenth of the people would be left alive by the time it passed. By year four the plague started to rush across the continent like a relentless wave. Now to fully explain how the Pox would effect the Scorching War we must stop and see how both nations reacted to it's coming. Both had ample warning it was coming and prepared for it in vastly different manners.

With Dominious they engaged in their usual defense against any on coming threat; Scorched Earth tactics and doctrine. Specifically they scorched the villages and towns at the edges of their territory to create a buffer between them and those who would attempt to come to their lands. Anyone entering would be killed on sight. This would ensure that the Pox would be delayed entering their lands. To the credit of Empress Zelda that wasn't the extent of what she did. She ordered, on the advice of her best doctors, to ensure people were eating more citrus, washing hands in clean water before eating and ensuring food was cooked or washed before consumption.

She went on an empire wide campaign to bolster the health of her people and ensure that they would be as ready for the Pox as they could be. They further did the best they could to delay the Pox's arrival to grant themselves more time to brace for the impact that would finally come. That wasn't to say everything was going well within the empire; it was Dominious after all. While these mandates were beneficial they were being delivered in a very heavy handed manner. Peasants were being beaten, having fingers removed or even burned at the stake if they didn't obey. If they were lucky they would be killed first before the burning.

Further more some of the nobility in the empire were ignorant or underestimated the devastation that the Pox could deliver. In addition rumors of affairs the Empress was involved in flew about in this time and when she became pregnant who the father was turned into a major source of scandal that ended with the deaths of several members of the nobility who overstepped their bounds. It was year six of the Pox when it finally hit Dominious, two months before she gave birth and at first the problems in the empire was exasperated by the Pox.

A series of uprisings and brutal reprisals resulted following the Pox's arrival. In addition the sick were killed, often by having their homes burned to the ground with the residents still in it. If the measures implemented before the Pox's arrival were harsh the measures used when it arrived were worse. The City of Seratse, a small but growing center of commerce, was burned to the ground and to it's foundations. Keep in mind many of the countries at this time lost the majority of their populations to the Pox. Again, seven to nine out of ten would die to this plague; the thoughts of the rulers of Dominious was that no matter how harsh the punishment, how drastic the means, how heavy handed the response they felt that anything, anything, was justified if it reduced the impact the pox would bring to them.

So what happened in the end? When the Pox finally washed past them their population was merely cut in half. I do not know if the Pox or brutal measures killed more people but to their defense they came out of it better then most. Hindsight being what it is I think the added citrus and washing mandates were the primary reasons for the survival of so many. Some may claim the heavy handed measures helped and others would say it was pure, unfiltered luck. The truth is hard to pick out here. That said with it's neighbors weakened severally and the Empire of Dominious weathering it relatively well they started gearing up for a new wave of conquests and, as mentioned before, turned their eyes and attentions to the Eostian lands of Feoh. Eostian scouts reported that shipbuilding was made a priority at this point and time within the Empire's east.

Which brings us to Eostia's half of this lesson.

The doctors of the Seven Shields Alliance, much like the Empire's, promoted washing and citrus as well but the real hero would be a trained doctor and priest (Independent of the Anima Lux and Una Vertia Churches if you must know) by the name of Reed Maxima who had traveled westward to help with the plague. However at the time he was not managing to do much more then offer comfort and last rites until he noticed something.

As the plague moved about he often stayed at farms and noticed that, seemingly without fail, that those who handled the cows, sick cows even, seemed to be immune to the plague. Asking about the sick cows he learned that the cows would get sick once in their lives from a pox of their own, but not die from it. Curious he had an idea and took the puss of the sick cows and asked to experiment on prisoners by pressing the puss into their skin via small cuts. Gaining permission (From the local governments, not the prisoners in question) he injected them (And himself, to be fair) with the puss and while they felt ill for a brief time none of them fell ill or died to the Pox.

Moving eastward he repeated the experiment on prisoners and people he would pay. As the Pox washed over those communities he found those who took the injections of puss would feel ill for a time afterwards but be immune to the plague as it arrived.

Returning to Eostia he rushed to petition High King Rictor Rodimus, sharing what he learned and that with this knowledge they could save the people of Eostia, calling it vaccination. Although the High King was doubtful of the method Maxima wished to employ he was nonetheless desperate enough to try it to avoid the deaths other nations had succumbed to. As such he sent doctors out to every city, town and village they could reach with orders to inject everyone with this 'vaccine'. Rather then simply give the people an order as the High King he decided to use carrot rather then stick; the people would be paid two copper to be injected.

That caused much of the peasantry to line up for the treatment in droves; after all for a person at the bottom of the social ladder two copper was two copper and an extra meal and a half. In addition many merchants and travelers lined up as well, more aware then most of the risks the Pox brought with it and willing to try something outlandish to ward it off. The ones who didn't use this new 'vaccine' were mostly the nobility; those who didn't need the two copper and those who could more openly doubt Maxima's methods and in some cases openly mocked the idea that it would work.

In the end as the Pox washed over the land mere months after it hit Dominious and after it passed on from Eostian lands only one in twenty died. Yes, one in twenty. And most of that one was those who did not take the vaccine either by unavailability of the vaccine or those who refused to take it; namely the nobility. Some of the nobility did take the vaccine such as House Noxdecus, House Arcturus and House Xill. Then you have House Bludhorn who didn't take the vaccine but by luck or some other means avoided the Pox.

Many houses that did not take it found themselves gutted or even removed. House Victous fell in this era and barley survived, but never fully recovered allowing House Blitzhaus to replace them around five hundred years later. House Zale vanished in full allowing House Galeraven to rise in it's place who would swiftly abolish slavery in their new region. House Veradale was split in half in this era and it's known that Serra Veradale who was, at the time, twelfth in line and unprepared for rule was thrust into the ruling seat of Elrus. The most notable would be the fall of House Lidenhaus of the Grand Duchy of Ur. The crown would be passed to a prodigal, if green, knight named Sirus Fiorire.

Over the course of the next couple of months you would find a lot of shuffling among the nobility. Knights rose to minor lords, minor lords now found themselves ruling as local lords, talented soldiers rose up and were knighted. There was a lot of shuffling of leadership as the Seven Shields Alliance and their territories did their best to retain stability within their borders. However it was also in this time that the Arblade Empire found it's fortunes falling apart.

Eostia's longest rival, Arblade had been falling even before the Age of Turmoil began as a series of uprisings and civil wars had weakened their realm greatly. It seemed that, for a moment, stability would return but their isolationism did not, in the end, save them from what was coming. Unprepared for the Pox it would ravage the Empire like a swarm of locust upon a grain field.

Arblade's emperor then did what was then the unthinkable; he reached out to Eostia and it's High King for help. So desperate was their situation that they reached out to their worst enemy, a foe with no reason to assist them, a foe that stood opposite of everything their ideals and ways stood for. So horrible was the Pox on them that they reached out to a nation that had every reason to stand aside and watch them burn to the plague.

To Rodimus' credit he didn't dismiss their plight outright. He knew he had three options laid before him; to assist and through kindness try and reform their oldest foe, to send their armies northwards and conquer them to end the rivalry once and for all or to just do nothing and allow Arblade to just burn itself to the ground; or at least allow the Aberrant to finish the job. Historians like myself can argue the morality of the situation until we were all blue in the face about what High King Rodimus should have or could have done, if he should have done the right thing or the practical thing. What all of us can agree on is, in the end, the choice was taken from him.

Patrols, scouts and spies were reporting in; Dominious was building a navy for the purpose of troop transport across the Great Atlas River into Feoh. The military of Dominious would be upon them soon and Rodimus, regardless of what he wanted to do or should have done now had to ignore the events in Arblade to protect his people. In the end and in that moment of time Arblade was not a threat to Eostia. Dominious was.

Calling upon the Eostian army and the armies of it's states he marched his forces westwards under the command of General Arron Valus Levantine; a man known to have a deep hatred for the Empire of Dominious. He planned to march the bulk of the forces to the borders of Ironside and Cauldona and prepared to counter Dominious and await their move; he was under orders to not start a war, just end one if it came. Under his command was roughly fifty thousand Eostian regulars with another twenty thousand held in reserve.

On the Dominious end of things with Empress Zelda recovering after giving birth she eagerly marched her armies to the east to traverse the Great Atlas River and they were bolstered by various conscripts. They were set under the command of General Vladimir Urdane. His orders were to conquer, as swiftly as possible, the Kingdom of Feoh and dig in and hold the territory against any and all reprisal. Under his command was a force of thirty thousand regulars and another twenty thousand conscripts. Keep in mind, had the Pox not washed over Dominious those numbers may have been doubled or tripled at least. They had thought the numbers would conquer Feoh with ease as they thought the Pox would have softened their foes up.

As I'm sure some of you are wondering the answer is yes; Dominious had it's own spies and scouts reporting to Empress Zelda, First of her Name, on the current state of Eostia. Spies replied that the Seven Shields Alliance had come out the other side of the Pox with little damage; at least little damage to the bulk of the lower and middle classes. Scouts would make contact and report on the on coming Eostian army, although mistakenly with ten thousand more troops then was coming. Military analysts predicted (Accurately) that there would be a reserve of between eighteen and twenty four thousand men.

By all reports available to the Empress, her advisors and her generals Eostia was not only well prepared for the oncoming assault but also weathered the pox far better then they did, had more men prepared to fight (Again, all regulars as opposed to a regular/conscript mix) and knew that the attack was coming. For the most part her advisors were sane and wise enough to advise against the attack predicting that it would end badly for them. Her generals advised that she direct her armies to Roxford and Camafran and that they should fully conquer those realms and ensure that they would be unable to rise up against them in the future.

Fatefully Zelda, First of her Name, ignored their advice. For her Eostia was the biggest prize of them all and the allure of wealth that Feoh would bring into her empire once conquered was too tempting for her to pass up; in addition she would be in a position to press into Ur in the future. She ordered the attack over the advice of all around her; even personally executing one of her best advisors who told her outright that their attack would fail. Despite all common sense she pressed on for the attack. As far as what records available to us say she was sure that the reports she had were false, that Eostia was employing some trickery to look untouched despite the deadly pox.

To General Urdane's credit he knew that landing at a major port city could end badly and he'd need to outmaneuver the Eostia forces if he wanted any hope of winning. Sadly, not only had Levantine predicted this he had made sure to keep an eye on the opposing fleet. Eostia, traditionally, had never been a major naval power; something that was their greatest weakness at times. While having a sizable merchant fleet their military fleet had never been comparable; they never had the need to project their power outwards in such a manner, just enough to protect their ports and the Great Atlas River. Fleet to fleet Eostia couldn't match Dominious and both sides knew it. So Levantine didn't attempt to match them.

Instead once the enemy transport fleet was on route he had ten merchantmen ships loaded to the brim with hay, gunpowder and oil, set alight and sailed on a direct course for the Dominious fleet. Urdane and his captains were caught flatfooted by the unconventional act and several of his ships were damaged with three ships being sunk in the strike by the suiciding vessels; although of the hands lost the overwhelming bulk was conscripts as opposed to their better trained regulars. How many died in this attack isn't known to us, but it cut into the Dominious numbers harshly. He then moved to land at the southern end of Cauldona north of a small town called Hasana. Levantine would march out and meet him three hours after landfall just as Urdane had organized his forces.

Thus came the Battle of Hasana.

Urdane had little time to prepare; his supplies were largely still on the ships and thus he couldn't stray far from them. As such he aligned his forces just off the beach and prepared defensive formations. His hope was that the beach's sands would hinder any attempts to flank behind his forces and he chose a spot where if Levantine wanted to flank him he had to risk being bogged down in the sand.

Levantine, for his part, began by attacking with archers and light ballista from a small hill forcing Urdane to attack, lest his men be picked apart by missiles. The battle would rage for sometime with the Eostians gaining the upper hand. In addition Levantine had ordered his reserves to march on Urdane's flanks once they moved away from the beach. The Dominious General quickly realized he was about to be overwhelmed and directed his mages to disrupt his foe's movements with earth spells as he organized a retreat back to the ships where he sailed back to the other side of the river.

Two days later Levantine was sailing after him, commandeering a wealth of merchant ships to make the trip. Urdane knew of his coming but lacked the forces to engage; he had lost more men at Hasana then Levantine and now knew the full size of the opposing force first hand. He arranged five thousand of his men to hold off the Eostians for as long as possible at a small fort and retreated inwards using the old favorite tactic of Dominious; Scorched Earth. All food and materials that could be taken were taken as they retreated and everything else was burned. I should further note that this was during the harvest season and as such most of the local peasantry would die of starvation from having their food stores taken or destroyed.

Once Levantine had dealt with Urdane's rearguard he started to march to chase after him. However as hateful as the man was of Dominious he quickly realized that he would be unable to sustain his army off the food of the land if he gave chase and would need his supply wagons to keep pace if he did. Therefore he did not give chase. No, he did something else.

First he ran his forces up and down eastern Dominious and raided as much food as he could to bolster his supplies before razing fields (On top of what Urdane had already razed) and then directing his mages to rapidly boil sea water to transport the salt to the most productive fields and farms then seeded the soil with it. Villages were burned off the map, bridges ruined and destroyed and fortifications torn down. The most notable thing done, however, was the damming the Savior River which cut through a short canyon. Using his mages to destroy the cliffs of the canyon to dam up the river half way down the result sent the river water down into the lowland valleys where the bulk of eastern Dominious' fertile farmland lay, as well as denying drinking water to settlements further down river.

Levantine took his time to destroy and ruin as much of the land as he could. The most notable thing was the destruction of Grandia City, Archon City, Eastport City and Victor City; all settlements along the Great Atlas River and all ports of varying degrees of importance. All razed to the foundations with much time spent on ruining the docks and even directing earth magic to be used to make rebuilding the docks all the harder. Rumors went about (Unconfirmed ones, for the record) that he planned to go so far to poison the water supplies until it was pointed out they also relied on the Great Atlas River. I do not think he ever suggested that, given what I know of his character.

It's worth noting that claims of rape of the Dominious populace by Eostian forces depends on which side of the river you are on. Eostia has no records or mentions of such; although records of a few war brides coming to Eostia was noted. If these women were unwilling there's no evidence of it, although we must admit it is a possibility. On the Dominious side they claimed the Eostians had raped, enslaved and kidnapped their women like barbarians. While I note this is not impossible the Dominious army is well known for raping and enslaving women wherever it goes; even it's own, native population. It's more likely the women, having suffered in Dominious for their lives until then, saw an escape across the river to a newer, better life. Accepting a husband was likely seen as just the payment for passage. Eostia taking slaves isn't off the table it should be noted, we do have slave states of course, but even so they tend to have records of such and there were no slave states in Feoh at that time.

I'm sure the question will crop up and the answer is yes; female Eostian soldiers laid claim to war husbands as well. This was rarer, but not unheard of.

Urdane, of course, had learned about what was going on when his patrols failed to report any signs of Levantine giving chase. Once he realized what was being done he turned his army about but didn't march; instead he requested reinforcements from the Empress. He knew that Levantine would retreat before the winter came and that if he didn't act now the damage done would take years if not generations to undo. Those reinforcements failed to materialize; Torquel had risen up in an attempt to break free and reclaim it's independence and as such much of the remaining available forces were marched over to deal with it. It would later turn out that Syrigal, worried that Dominious would attempt to add them to their lists of conquests, had armed and equipped the rebels and threw enough gold at them to hire enough mercenaries to bolster and train their forces.

Urdane was left to just sit and watch as he lacked the forces to challenge Levantine in open combat. In the end once Levantine had finally left back to Eostia the eastern provinces of Dominious was ravaged horribly. Refugees flooded away, some westward most southward. I think many hoped to take the chance and escape to Camafran or Roxford; it is impossible to say. What I do know for certain is that the population left en masse and a bare fraction was left when Levantine and his army returned to Eostia and stationed themselves on the other side of the river to see what the response would be. There would be none; at least directed towards them.

So, what was the aftermath of the Scorching War? To answer that I would best be served by dividing it into sections.

For Arblade being left alone was a disaster. The population, as excepted, was decimated to a tenth of it's pre-Pox levels. Aberrant tribes would further decimate their numbers as their emperor attempted to lead from the front, only to succumb to the very Pox his people suffered from. Arblade's stance of isolationism means exact details are hard to come by, but we know a bit in this period because many people were fleeing to the south to escape, and some did.

This would have spelled the end for Arblade then and there, but it survived because of unexpected guests who had arrived from the northeast of the Unknown Reaches who would, unexpectedly, lend assistance and defense in exchange for the right to settle and demands for local wives and husbands. For a moment it seemed as if Arblade would be saved, reforged into a new form along side Dark Elves, of all peoples.

Centuries later, also from the northeast, Olga Discordia would arrive. Arblade would fade into history and on it's ashes would rise Garan.

For Eostia the next few years would have it's nobility shuffled about as the purge the Pox caused had gutted the nobility, hence the nickname of the Nobleman's Reaper. Most of Eotsia would enjoy a boon period as their production had not suffered that much under the Pox as other nations. While most of the nations would be forced to endure poverty, war and strife Eostia would be mostly peaceful in this time and sold it's goods to nations at it's borders and across the Great Sererus Lake, enjoying something of a golden age.

At least for the next three hundred years until Garan would first march to their borders.

Dominious suffered from it's loss greatly. The trade routes of their nation along the river's east side were mostly gone and trade with it's most notable partner, Zenith, was damaged greatly. The empress blamed Urdane for this failure however only for her general to bark back to his liege. He pointed out that they had the reports that Eostia was not weakened by the Pox and they were much more war ready then she initially thought. He openly declared the empress to be incompetent and unworthy of rule; openly declaring his intent to overthrow her.

Naturally Empress Zelda ordered for his death but his forces remained loyal and with uprisings still ongoing in Torquel his depleted forces, estimated to be some twenty five thousand strong at this point, was more then enough to challenge her and this army was ready to fight and frustrated with it's empress. In addition most of her court turned their coats, deciding the general would make for a more competent leader. This civil war would be relatively short, some five months long.

Roxford and Camafran, in this era, would form an alliance and launch an assault while the empire had it's proverbial back turned and retook their lost territory. Torquel would fail in it's attempt to rebel, at least for this era; two more uprisings would occur until they finally overthrew the Empire's rule in 1985 AF. Other uprisings rose up, but none with the power or numbers to dislodge their overlords.

Finally one of Zelda's royal knights turned his coat, seeing the empress as a fool and kidnapped her son from the crib and delivered him to Urdane. General Vladimir Urdane then retreated into Fortress Indomitable and demanded her surrender in exchange for her son's life. In response Zelda refused and marched on the Fortress and laid siege to it. From the front she led the eight day siege, wasting manpower to take the walls as Urdane had hoped. He expected to need to bleed her forces dry before she would submit.

Ironically that would not come. Empress Zelda von Kaltekrone the First did not die on the battlefield but in her own camp. As the fighting ended for the evening she spent time berating her generals before storming out of the command tent and would trip over a dropped bowl. She would crack her head on a stone that was part of a fire pit and died then and there in an undignified manner.

The remaining generals would offer a conditional surrender which, after some discussion, was accepted. Urdane had not killed Zelda's son rather Albert von Kaltekrone was kept alive with a wet nurse caring for him. Urdane then took the title of Emperor and declared his daughter would be wed to the son of Zelda to unite the bloodlines upon coming of age, a choice that most of his political opponents either accepted or tolerated. Ironically while Syrigal had armed Torquel to prevent it's conquest once Urdane learned of how the uprisings were possible he would conquer the kingdom and fly the empire's banner over it.

Ironically this would bring them into conflict with a growing Quesrial Empire, making the two powers clash on and off for the next four hundred odd years.

As for the eastern territories of Dominious it would take almost seven generations for them to mostly recover from the damage done by their own force's scorched earth tactics and General Arron Levantine's campaign of destruction. The Savior River was finally undammed after another generation, finally allowing the water to flow where it was meant to and feeding settlements that could be repopulated. A large campaign to drain the lowlands would take another generation by digging a long ditch into the Longside River; a task that was made all the harder by the lack of manpower devoted to it. It wasn't until 1309 AF until the lowlands were fully drained and able to be farmed once more.

By then the Eostia/Garan conflict had begun and while Dominious once more wished to turn it's eyes to Feoh they decided, instead, to launch an invasion of Garan by sea from the north. They would then understand the problems caused by the Black Citadel's Dread Field and after losing half the invasion force decided to wash their hands of it; if nothing else they would never need to worry about an attack from Eostia; not while Garan was tying them up.

As Sererus fully recovered from the Pox Dominious would find it's power checked at first by Quesrial, but then by Camafran, Roxford and other kingdoms forming a defensive pact to fight against Dominious as a unit. Dominious would turn some of it's conquests to the northwest across the sea to conquer the Iron Islands and Terracaul, although the distance across the sea has made holding these territories difficult.

Despite the best attempts to do so no formal treaty was ever signed between Eostia and Dominious as the empire sees itself as the rightful owner of of Eostia's lands by a Divine Mandate they claim to have. Despite the Empire's power, however, cracks had kept showing up time and time again. While the Empire would try to repair them through force of arms either the cracks would reappear or new cracks would break out. I do not think it is a question of if the Empire will break apart; just a manner of when and how. Well, in reality it already happened.

In 1332 AF the Empire fractured into four pieces, each claiming to be the leader of the empire. It would be Uther von Helga who would, famously, emerge the winner in 1389 AF, famously publicly raping his three female foes after capturing them and claiming them all as concubines as an added insult. He would go onto launch a new campaign of conquest by attacking the Quesrial Empire and claiming over half of it's lands. The rest he wouldn't need to fight for as the Quesrians collapsed afterwards.

As of this writing the Empire seems set to fracture once more; Hilda von Harmon's age is catching up to her and while her son Larion is set to inherit her throne others in the court are known to covet the throne and might launch an attack to claim it. The empire could fracture once more and if the fracture lasts long enough then it's possible for it to finally fall.

Only time will tell what will happen.

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Unknown Location, Late Afternoon
Near the Collective Borders of the County of Ferra, Barony of Tyn and the Dominion of Geofu
Ruins Hidden in the Galdius Forest

Beardsley kept watch on the woods around him, double checking that his long rifle was still ready in the holster by his saddle. It was a very expensive, well crafted weapon and each cartridge based bullet was costly as well but it was an excellent weapon of choice. It made the elderly, portly man much deadlier then he appeared at first glance. While he would rather rely on his armed bodyguard, five mounted knights in this case loyal to his House, being able to defend oneself was also important. It was common practice for an Eostian noble to be a master of some weapon or school of spellcraft. 'As able as an Eostian Noble' was a complement in terms of combat ability.

Really the number of Eostian nobles who couldn't use a weapon was small and most of them married into the position. In his younger years he favored a crossbow but found rifles and other firearms to be easier to use. He never considered himself a warrior but was no stranger to fighting; much to his own frustration. He would rather deal with balancing the books then shooting bandits really and in his older days he was less and less able in a fight year by year.

Really, anyone could shoot a bandit. You could train a monkey to shoot a bandit. Could they manage a kingdom's budget? He'd love to see it!

He doubted it would ever happen, though.

The forest was old and worn. Trees planted hundreds of years before by nature's means and few younger ones. The path they traveled was hidden from most people; it would look more like a path carved by the feet of deer and wolves rather then of men and horses. The trees thinned more and more as they approached their destination coming into view in a large glade, shadowed in the trees majesty yet still visible in the light that slipped through; the remains of a lookout town from the days of the Unitum Imperium. The tower had collapsed to one side, stone bricks scatted to the west of it's foundations. The gate was missing in full as age, people or something else had shoved the structure over. Gathered around were other assorted knights, warriors and combatants acting as bodyguards for others.

He dismounted and let one of his men take the horse. The guards would, of course, mind their own business and make camp as he moved to the tower's remains. Each was subjected to a spell; he didn't know the full details of it but it would enforce them to secrecy in regards to what little they knew. Once at the remains he entered and moved to the steps down to the cellar. It was empty, as it usually was. He moved to the back of the room and set his hand on a specific brick. "Until the crown finds a worthy head we will ready the throne." He spoke as he heard stones shift, his head turning to look as a part of the floor lowered down, forming a series or steps as he moved to walk further down. After he was past them they would rise back up as he kept going downwards on a wide, spiraling path lit with small spell orbs. Two stories down he would walk ahead a mere seven feet to find a door awaiting him. Rather then grab the handle on the door he set a hand on the brick to the handle's right, the door swinging inwards as he finally stepped in.

"Ah, Beardsley. You've arrived." He heard as the named man chuckled softly.

"I hope I didn't keep you waiting, Canton." Beardsley let off with a grin. "Ah, and I see you're here as well, Becker."

The first man was Canton Rongera; a five foot nine man in scale mail armor who left his sword and shield at the door. He was a cousin of the current Baron of Delconna, knight of the realm and one of the notable members of the little society they had. He bore blonde hair in a ponytail and gray eyes, a small tuft of hair on his chin all that he claimed for facial hair.

Beside him was Becker Caelum, nephew to the Duke of Sanka. At six foot one he bore leather armor and kept his mace and shield by the door as well. He had a bald head but red beard that covered his chin and cheeks fully along with a bushy mustache. There were more men and women here from across Eostia hailing from the families of local lords and minor lords alike. Some were of merchant clans or other upper class members of society, others knights and leaders of the military. Beardsley noted that the Porker Brothers made it; guests of their order rather then members. One notable absence, however, was Arnold Von Blitzhaus; instead his son Victor was present in his stead for his first meeting there.

The chamber they were in was large; the size of a throne room, easily. In addition there were rooms for storage, sleeping and dining if needed. Tables and chairs were set out, like one round table Canton and Becker sat at. Additionally in the center was a large, 'U' shaped table around the outside and ends they would sit for their meetings. Records were kept handy on shelves as spell orbs kept the room well lit. He would walk a bit closer and look up to the banner hanging by the wall near the back of the room.

The banner was rectangular on the top with the bottom coming down to a sharp point that would double it's overall height outlined with gold and with black as the background. At the upper corners was a set of three chevrons colored with deep gold outlined with a more normal gold color. At the bottom was an eye with a gold outline, deeper gold for what would be the whites of the eye, dark red for the eye color and a black center. And at the center, dominating most of the banner was a large crown; deep gold with a normal gold outline with two points on either side pointing outwards with another tiny point between the two and one, much larger point with a small base that widened out half way up before curving it to a point. Five, diamond shaped, dark red rubies were set to a line along the base of the crown and the inner three points all bore a two toned, triple edged lightning bolt with a normal gold color on the right sides and a yellow color on the left.

It was the proud, if rarely shown, banner of the Cloaked Crowns.

Rather then join someone at a side table he took his place at the large, U-shaped one to prepare for their meeting. The Crowns would gather once a year at least and one every half a year when able; however this meeting was called earlier then normal due to various going ons. Beardsley was, of course, in on why it was called early but not everyone was due to various circumstances. Soon the last members has arrived and noting it one man stood up from his table; Able Redguard of a minor noble family in Bria would move to the head of the table, the very center of the 'U' where he would stand and lifted a small, half foot long hammer and tapped the bell on his right.

Hearing the sound everyone collected what they needed and moved towards their seats at the main table as Beardsley looked to Able. He wore fine, short, black robes with a phoenix stitched into the fabric with golden thread and bore a long, gray beard pulled into a braid that fell half way down his chest matching the braided hair of his head that reached down past his shoulder blades behind him. "To your seats, one and all. To your seats." Able called out as he looked out to the members. All in all the Chairman of the Crown took a headcount of all present; thirty nine present members plus two guests. He gave a soft sigh before speaking once more as they all stood at the table with the Porker Brothers moving to the two ends of the U as they looked about wondering why no one was sitting down yet. "Members, we shall begin the meeting with the pledge." All of the Crowns moved to clap their hands before them before moving their hands into fists shoulder width apart and level with their chins, palms facing them before speaking as one.

"We are the watchers of the Crown. Until comes the worthy heir upon which it can rest we will ready the throne. From shadows we undermine the weak usurpers and built the next empire. Gloria Imperatori!" Finally they sat down with the Porker Brothers following suit. Picking up a set of glasses from a pouch at his side Able donned them and spoke.

"Unless there are objections, I will begin this meeting for the Cloaked Crowns." Hearing no one speak up for a long moment Able would speak once more. "Very well, this meeting will now commence. I apologize for calling upon you all so early, my fellow Crowns, but we've a few... developments to go over and we will need our collective efforts to bring them to benefit our will and aims. Among which is the man using the alias of 'Varro Batzorig'. Beardsley, you are aware of the man's true identity, correct?"

"Correct." Beardsley replied with a nod. "However he does not wish to let his true name be known, not yet. There is a level of caution required by him, and I have been sworn into confidence in this matter.."

"Understandable. We all know of the risks in this line of operations." Able let off, adjusting his glasses. "So long as you are aware of his true name and face we'll accept that. If you would outline the plan he has presented you with to us." Beardsley nodded once and slipped the scrolls from his pouch of scrolls and began to read from them, speaking to the gathered crowd.

The information was a bit surprising to the men as Beardsley laid out as among other things names of various agents 'Varro' had in place and awaiting his command. Some weren't that well known but those they knew were surprising. One name in particular gave them major pause and caused them to mummer among themselves as they questioned what they could do with such a high ranking person in the ranks of Eostia under their direction. Next followed the combat plans.

Included in the report was the expected disposition of Varro's forces, what forces he expected to raise when the time came and a request for what forces the Crowns could add to the mix. In addition included was a, to them, good plan to get through Garan and to the Black Citadel. Indeed, one of the most annoying things about Garan to the Crowns was it made it nearly impossible to overthrow Celestine using conventional means; any significant losses would not be available to them when the next war in the north came. Celestine's false rule was more acceptable then a possible drow conquest. As such any regime change in Eostia needed to involve a conquest and neutralization of Garan first; any instability in the Alliance would be an invite for destruction.

Naturally afterwards was the plan for the conquest of Eostia in full. What surprised them was how detailed the information of each of the Seven Fortresses was; they knew them in detail, of course, as they had centuries to collect that information but that Varro did as well was a surprise. They were aware of the flaws in them, of course, but taking advantage of them was another matter. The report gave a plan for each fortress in turn; the plan being to take Feoh and Geofu first to isolate Ur from any assistance and lay assault to it before Thorn, Ansur and Rad were taken one at a time as Ken was laid under increasing siege. Once the other six fortresses were defeated Ken could be besieged at will and the so called White Citadel would be the new seat of power for the coming Empire.

Following that report was a list of possible issues and possible hiccups. Dominious' civil war removed one of them but Balanar was a potential issue and one request being made of the Crowns was contacts that could keep the Kingdom of the Red Bear out of the conflict. The Crowns agreed and the young Blitzhaus suggested that an ally of his house, one Sir John Mandeville, could be of use in that endeavor. Wereagell and Nyaru were another set of issues; the pair of allied nations likely couldn't conquer the new empire, even as it recovered from the efforts, but they could take sizable chunks out of Thorn in their east. A suggestion to arrange issues with their other neighbors was floated; a possible stirring of conflict between Nyaru and the Rycall Republic was one floated idea; indeed such a conflict could keep the Republic from moving to assist the Alliance as an added bonus.

Camafran was a large question mark for them; they didn't expect Camafran to attack to claim territory, but they could interfere with the conquest and try and protect Eostia. The Long Drip River would hinder them from that, thankfully, but what they would do would likely depend on their leader. The one good thing was their current king was aging and could even die in time for the conquest meaning a possible period of instability they could take advantage of. The nations across the Great Sererian Lake would not likely intervene directly, and if all went to plan they wouldn't be able to do anything in time but a possible invasion from the south of the lake wasn't impossible and would need to be accounted for.

Even as he read it all Beardsley wanted to sigh. Keeping track of what the other nations around Eostia might do was an annoyance. That wasn't keeping in mind they every fighting soldier needed food, water, clothing and other supplies. Blacksmiths needed to be employed to repair armor and weapons and when needed forge new weapons and equipment as needed. Various non-combatants to manage food, supplies, administration, cooking, repairing clothing and requisitions. Constant supply trains to ensure the army would not run out of what it needed to function. Money to pay the men and to purchase supplies. For the kind of forces involved groups of pleasure women (Willing or not) to give the men something to blow their stress on as the numbers of local women would be limited. Siege engineers complete with the needed tools of construction and building supplies or the tools and means to harvest them on site, people to manage all of the above logistics...

War was more of a complex business then 'find the enemy, bop his head, take his women', for better or worse.

Once done questions were asked and suggestions offered, some of which were directed to the Porker Brothers as they would be a major force in arranging the supplies and their transport. Soon they were satisfied that information was given completely and they passed a motion to vote on it in the next meeting once they were able to investigate more. Finally it was Victor Von Blitzhaus who spoke up.

"What I don't understand is, descended of the Brazen legacy or not, would we follow a mercenary as a liege?" Able sighed before looking to the young man and answering his question with a calm, even tone.

"Remember young man, Verlangen himself was just a mercenary once before founding his empire and when Dynatós Patéras created the Imperium he was nothing more then a scholar of no real note before bringing people under his sway. This Varro isn't the worst choice to lead us..." The chairman adjusted his glasses before carrying on. "In addition there's our current state... As a new member you cannot have noticed this but the truth of the matter is the Cloaked Crowns are... in a state of decline."

"...Decline?"

"I'll explain, Chairman." Beardsley said as he looked over to the Blitzhaus who looked back to him, confused. "When our order was formed some two thousand years ago we spent a lot of time building our base and preparing our take over of the land from the shadows, out of sight of the Alliance's rulers. We did little else for almost seven hundred years before we began the active undermining of the Crown of the High Kings and Queens of Eostia. From our shadows we were able to position ourselves over the course of generations. Our golden period came when we turned Dominious back in the Scorching War, their following civil war and Arblade began to fall apart to sickness; with less outside threats to worry about and the Pox having gutted other rivals we could knuckle down and assert ourselves more fully within Eostia. For almost two hundred years after that victory we worked everything into a perfect position; High King Alexander Rodimus was left heir-less after a series of 'accidents' we arranged. While he started to learn of us it was almost too late, we had our man right behind him in the line of succession and two other prepared in back up... We were within mere inches of claiming the High Throne and beginning the real transformation of Eostia into an Empire... And then he named Celestine Lucross as his heir and it all turned on us from there."

Beardsley sighed and pinched his nose for a moment. "That damned woman managed to identify some of our agents and began her own shadow war on us. Really, if it wasn't for Garan's war we might have been bled out and destroyed by her own agents. Since then it's been a subtle war in the shadows between us and her Black Watch operitives... And we've been maimed in it more then a couple of times sadly. When I joined this order thirty years ago sixty nine of us gathered here. We've been cut nearly in half since then."

"It's not just Celestine or her Black Watch." Another member, Johnathan Kincaid of a Classa merchant clan. "The Una Veritas' Umbra Vigilia has noted our presence and seems to object. Violently so."

"Wait, the Church is another foe of ours?" Victor let off in surprise.

"Indeed..." Johnathan said with a nod. He stroked his wide, brown bread, matching his messy hair as he sighed. "It's not fully clear what the Archbishop, or rather, line of Archbishops, wants but we think they have aims on Eostia as well. Our agents aren't close enough to the Archbishop or the Twelve Cardinals to get a clear picture. Our best guesses either they see us a threat to Eostia and-or their power and want us our of the way or they plan to create a Theocracy and plans to install their own government, in which case our aims run counter to one another."

"Regardless..." Beardsley injected as he spoke once more. "Celestine and the Church both have been waging war on us. We've been knocked down over the last thousand years, time and time again. And we've risen in turn, time and time again. However while we've recovered each time we've never risen to our old strength. The Crowns have weakened. And we are still weakening. And we will vanish if we don't take a new tact."

"In short..." Able said with a sigh. "Varro is the horse we must gamble on. As things sit we have two options; slowly die as we do the same thing over and over again and struggle to come up with a new path or gamble it all and support someone attempting a different approach. And make no mistake, this is a gamble. If it works Eostia falls to our control and we crown Varro as the rightful heir to Gottes Verlangen and we as the new, noble elite to build a good, proper empire. If our effort fails... ... There may not be a Brazen Crown left for any heir..."

There was a long moment of silence as everyone mulled over it as they bowed their heads slightly. One of the few woman present would speak up after a moment.

"And this... new device. The Noxdecus one." She began as she picked up a scroll and opened it, reading over it. "Instant long range communication, hmm? What do we know of this... voxlux?"

"Ah." Victor let off, now able to contribute in a more meaningful manner as he grabbed and opened his own scroll. "Based on what we've learned of James Noxdecus, the damned little bastard, is off to install additional devices to allow the... voxluxs... Voxluxi? Anyway, he's aiming to expand their range. Like having someone echo it further for you. My brother has made several attempts to devise how it works... However he's not yet made any headway. He's taken one with him to investigate further as he travels, but all he's learned are the devices seem to be exact magical copies of one another as if stamped somehow, he doesn't know how it was done, and it's protections are... significant."

"I've had two of my finest enchanters work on it as well." Count Arron DeSagesse answered as he looked over his own scroll. He stroked his mustache with a free hand, a long, pointed and curved set of blonde locks matching his short, cropped hair wearing cyan blue robes with yellow and red highlights. Outside of these meetings and to the general public he was the highest ranking member of the Crowns, tied only by Arnold Von Blitzhaus. "While I cannot speak to the talent's of Victor's brother, my seasoned, veteran spell weavers... Have had absolutely no luck in copying the spell."

"Wait, seriously?" Johnathan let off, looking at him wide-eyed. "But... Don't you have a former member of the Scorned Circle at your call?"

"No longer, but both of my men were trained by him." Arron answered with a sigh. "But they're not sure what they're dealing with. They thought they had the spell elements separated but they cannot copy the effects, even in a limited capacity. Every time they think they have it they don't. In one case all they got was a garbled voice saying something that no one could make out... To say his protections are significant may be an understatement, they maybe new and never seen before."

"Can't the effects be replicated, somehow?" Another member said as Arron sighed and shook his head.

"We've set people to remake it from scratch, but we've no idea on how it works at all yet. Given enough time and effort we can do it, but without more manpower it will take significant time."

"Father asked Channer about some form of disruption spell, but he's still hasn't come up with anything; at least anything useful." Victor added. "At best he thinks he can come up with something to block it from being used as a spying device, but that's it."

"So..." Able said as he sighed. "To summarize... We've been unable to copy it, unable to understand it's operations and unable to block it. Wonderful."

"Should we avoid using it?" Someone else asked as Able shook his head.

"No. If someone like our good Count, as an example, denies the chance to use such a useful tool then it will look odd to those outside of our society." The Chairman said firmly. "In fact, those of us in a position to get one should. We must not speak of Crown business or operations over it right now until we can find a way to take control of it. I would not even speak of such in the same room as one of these devices, in fact. However given the device is made and understood by only one man who is unlikely to join us in our take over or even understand our cause he is like to be hostile... And likely we will require his death before we can assume full dominion over it. In the meantime we must let him do his work. If nothing else it will be useful against Garan."

"We will learn of this devices secrets." Arron said firmly with a huff. "It's a matter of time. One year, one decade, in the end we will absorb it's knowledge as our own."

"The only major issue is that this system of communications will be used against us in the meantime." Another member said with a sigh.

"Sadly, that is true... We must be more vigilant." Able said as he spoke firmly, banging his fist softly to the table to emphasize his point. "Any Crown business must not be spoken of in earshot of them. Perhaps rather then focus on copying the device we must devise a way to counter or block it? Arron, direct your men to do as such. We must also investigate the devices that increases it's range; perhaps it's secrets will grant us further headway." He said for the moment. "All agreed?" He said as he looked around. Seeing nods and hearing agreement to his motion he looked to his notes once more. "This brings us to the next item on our agenda... The Dominious Civil War, how goes it?"

For the next three hours information would be shared, discussed and decisions made. Nearly all would stay the night and speak more the next day until late in the morning before most began to filter away and return to their homes to resume their agendas.

[-]

Skycrown City, Capital of the High Kingdom of Ken
Lux Clama Cathedral
Underground Mausoleum of the Three

Spell orbs crafted into the shapes of Crusises stood on the wall on small brackets along the length of the side to provide light walls leaving the passage to the Mausoleum free of them, leaving a passage and it's doors as well as well as shelves with glass doors holding various, small trinkets and items who's worth was based on who used them rather then what they were or what they were made of.

At the back wall was a series of statues depicting four, similar looking women, standing upon a single pedestal on the marble floor. The largest one in the rear was a depiction of the Goddess Larentia in her robes and holding her crescent moon capped staff skywards in one hand. The three statues before it looked like her save their dress and what they held. The center held a staff of her own but one depicting a sun on it's end, holding it straight upwards with the butt on the floor, wearing skimpier robes and holding a book in her off hand. The second mimicked her pose but wore a full breast plate and loincloth while holding a spear with it's end to the floor straight up and a sword in her off hand. The third wore notable boots and a cloak over a short dress, a short staff with a curved top in her main hand and a small hatchet in her off hand.

These three statues depicted the Goddess' three reincarnations; the Sage, the Knight and the Wanderer. And this place, for many of them, was their final resting place.

While always reborn as an elf there had been enough time since they first appeared to give humanity aid to bury a handful of them; as long lived as high elves could be and doubly so as each was a fragment of the Goddess of Light the reality was none had died of old age. The Sage and the Knight were longtime defenders of humanity, dwarves, halflings and others and met their ends as guardians with the Sage in the rear as a healer and spellcaster and the Knight as a front line warrior. Meanwhile the Wanderer was always off doing her own thing and exploring, but tales spoke of the bravery and willingness to fight for the downtrodden of all those who came before her path and travels.

The Church made it a point to collect the fallen bodies of each of them all and while they haven't been able to reclaim every single one of them they did everything in their power to offer them a proper, final rest. Ornate caskets lining the walls each held a body or if one wasn't available then an item they had used or worn was set in their place. Very few outside of the Archbishops and the Twelve knew about this place, hidden away from prying eyes to avoid the risk of despoiling this most sacred of resting places.

Alone and before the four statues of the goddess and her three fragments while facing them, was Archbishop Lucilius the Sixth, down on both knees with his hands clasped before him, head lowered and eyes closed as he prayed to the Goddess of his religion, professing his faith and desire to spread her word, reunite the churches and bring glory to her name. He had been there for most of an hour before he was finally joined by another, steps echoing down the stairs to reach down to the floor, hidden deep under the Lux Clama. Whoever he was, and likely a he by the heavy footsteps, had stopped behind the leader of the Una Vertias Church and said nothing until Lucilius made a sign; thumbs level with and pointing to his shoulders before bringing them down to the middle of his chest palm to palm before lifting them up before his face and curling them into first, one pressing to the other. Only then did the man speak to the Archbishop. "Father, the good men of the Vigilia snuffed out another agent of the Crowns, sniffing about over in Caul."

"Good to hear, my boy. Good to hear." Lucilius said softly as he took hold of his staff, which he had laid before him during his prayers, and set the end to the floor and used it to help push himself up to his feet with a huff as he stood. "It's bad enough we've to deal with the bloody Proditores and bringing about our holy vision with Celestine in the way... We don't need leftovers of the damned Brazen making it worse for us." He said before turning to look at the man; Harrison Hamilton. "What of the Noxdecus boy? What have we learned?"

"Report is on yer desk, ready for tea and snacks for your nightly read." The man said, adjusting his glasses for a moment. "And we got a couple o' those voxluxs to our enchanters. They've made no headway on'em yet, though."

"These things take time and patience." Lucilius sighed as he stroked his long beard. "If the young Noxdecus is talented as an Enchanter as we've been led to believe then his defenses will be solid. If he is of a level of the truly exceptional then it will take real effort and talent to crack his work. Nevertheless, we should acquire some for the use of the Church forces; while much of our efforts must stay hidden in the shadows those who can freely bare the light must be allowed all the tools we can offer. They need not bare what we bare."

"Father..." Harrison let off in surprise. "You sound as if you think we've sinned with-"

"Make no mistake, Harrison..." Lucilius cut him off firmly, banging the butt of his staff to the marble floor, the sound echoing. "What we do to establish the coming Theocracy involves many, many sins on our parts and much blood of good people is on our hands." His bodyguard's face turned to a fully neutral one as he kept speaking. "On this holy path innocents have suffered and died and more yet shall. On this holy path we have lied, murdered, deceived and stolen. On this holy path we've conducted, arranged and enabled many, many sins and we will answer for them in time when we see Her in the heavens. Most of us, in fact, maybe cast down to the hells by her will... But once it is done and we see her light shine above the Theocracy... The sinning may stop. We will bear the sins and have them buried with us... So those who follow us need never sin again."

"...Aye... Aye, I think I understand what you mean..." The other man sigh with a deep sigh. "To make a world without men like me..."

"Us, my friend... Men like us... But that is not here or there..." He said with a sigh before walking towards the stairs. "Have we learned if the Noxdecus is Dragonborne yet?"

"Nay, not yet. Matter of time, o'course." His servant replied, turning to follow him.

"I see. We must be wary... If what Archbishop Albertson said is true... If his prophecy bears the weight of truth... Any Dragonborne is a threat to our order and our future..."

[-]

Unknown Location
Barony of Longroad
Hidden Cave System Near the Pulha Border

"Bloody hells..." Lolek let off. Standing at four foot seven, the halfling male sighed as he watched two of his men carry Anaya Ailelibre back into their hidden base on a stretcher. News of the failure in Anvil reached them before the group even could get half way to Rad and to see the woman with one eye bandaged while limp and lifeless looking as she was hauled in was depressing. Only the soft rise and fall of her chest assured him she was not, in fact, lifeless. One man followed the group in and moved to Lolek.

The halfling bore tanned skin covered in a network of scars focused on his back and toned limbs. His hair was pulled back into a messy, dirty blonde ponytail that hung to his waist, matching the color of his short, dog like tail. His left arm was covered in steel plate with a large pauldron, his right forearm and shoulder covered in lighter armor with both hands covered in black, leather gloves. Over his groin was a black, leather codpiece with a line of brass studs going up in two lines, off set of the center. A matching belt connected to a lather strap that moved up the front of his body to the middle of his chest before ending in a brass ring before splitting off into two straps over the shoulders, meeting in another ring at his back before a last strap connected back to the belt. The strap at the back connected to back holster for a sword that held a six inch wide blade with a rounded, fan like edge. Black, leather boots reached up to his knees and was covered with metal plates with extensions over the knees. Lastly on his back was a round, slightly battered, steel shield.

The man walking up to him, by contrast, was five foot nine in height and wore the robes of an Una Vertias priest; white, knee length robes with red trim outlined with a gold color, black pants tucked into brown boots and with white gloves on each hand. In one hand was a dark stained, oak staff, capped with a brass hawk's head with a spell stone held in it's beak and on his face sat a set of silver, round rimmed glasses. At his left hip, hanging off his belt in a pouch was a spell book. Lolek looked to the man and sighed. "How bad is she, Celous?"

Celous Voixdouce sighed and adjusted his glasses for a moment. "It... Could have been worse. Much worse. I can do nothing for her eye, but her spine is mend-able and I've been working on it since we recovered her. I dare say with a few more days of care she'll be good as new... At least, as far as her back is concerned. I fear she's still a bit traumatized from what was done to her."

"As many would be..." Lolek said, sighing and turning to walk over to the base proper. The cave's entrance was a bit hidden behind large boulders and when they had first entered it upon discovering the place had found someone had built buildings within; barracks and other military structures based on what they could tell. Although in disrepair they were able to patch them back into serviceable order. They had no idea who build them; it wasn't old enough to be from the time of the Brazen Empire so perhaps an oddly industrial group of bandits or a local militia? Whoever had built it they were long gone before Lolek and his people arrived. "We can look after her until she's ready to return to action."

"If she's-"

"Anaya is a strong women; it's a matter of time not if." Lolek said firmly... mostly to himself as he cut off the priest. "Needless to say, returning to Anvil for now is a bad idea. We can refocus to Alcanth; we're scouting out various slave camps there..."

"Have you ever considered taking time off, my friend?" The priest asked as the halfling leader stopped to look up at a banner hanging from the side of the building he used as a war room. The banner was as tall as it was wide with a flat top and a rounded bottom. It was dark blue with a red outline. In the center was the image of a hawk done in a tribal-like style with long, swooped lines as wings and tail feathers and a sharp beak facing the left. The emblem of the Freebirds, the Liberators of Slaves.

"...So long as people suffer what I have suffered... I cannot." Lolek said, taking in a deep breath as he lifted up a hand, clutching it into a fist. "Until I break every slave collar in Eostia I cannot rest..."

[-]

Argon City, Capital of the Barony of Mungale
Argon City Graveyard

"What a waste..." The man let off as he stood over the grave, snorting. He wore a fine, wine colored long coat over a set of leather gambeson armor, dyed a deep black with a gold coin set to the left chest with a gap in the print, showcasing a stylized 'M' with handles sticking out the tops, holding scales. At his left hip was a rapier with a golden D-Guard made of braided strands of metal with a red gem at the pommel. Sheathed behind it was a parrying dagger and further back a sheathe of throwing daggers. Standing at six foot one the man bore platinum, blonde hair tied back into a mid-back length braid with two bangs framing his handsome, sneering face.

Among the rows of graves he found one he heard rumored within them as he and his six person bodyguard looked over it. He looked to one, in fact a trained battle maid, and motioned to his groin. She bowed and moved to him, kneeling and quickly undoing his codpiece as he read the words on the grave.

Here Lies
Wesland Unchained
'Freedom is the Right of All'

"Fools actually paid to bury a slave... In an actual graveyard! Really, would have been better to just feed him to worms and crows." The rich looking man huffed as his cock was freed, the maid moving to his side and adjusting his cock; not stroking him or pleasuring him but rather aiming it as he took a deep breath... And unleashed a torrent of urine onto the grave before him, the stream coming with a long, drawn out sigh. "Ahhh, honestly... These abolitionist types... I'll never understand them. Strange beings, really."

"Of course, Master." The battle maid said as she waited for him to finish before pulling out a small cloth. Once sure his urination was done she moved to clean the end of his penis. "Not all of us can understand our place." The man smirked softly as the woman moved to suck his cock into her mouth, bobbing down as it grew in her lips. Although lacking a collar she was, indeed, a slave; sold into service at the age of two and raised by Balanar's House Kettenschmiede. They trained the most loyal and devoted slaves one could have and she was traded to his House and him in particular as part of a deal. As he groaned at the oral sex he turned to one of his men.

"Well, what do we know?"

"The plans you laid out seemed to bear fruit, Sir." He said with a grin. "It's all ready for the return of the young lord Noxdecus. And given what reports we've gotten he's due to return in a matter of days."

"Ahhh, excellent. And the... surprise...?"

"Just waiting for the right time, Sir. Once you give the word, we'll use it."

"Very good..." The man chuckled as he pulled the woman's head down his cock to the base. She didn't resist or even gag. "And now... Now we wait... And then we will return to my father his rightful property..."

"As you say, Master Mandeville."

[ - Author's Note - ]

Dun-Dun-Duuuuuuun!

Yup, upon getting home James has a brand new problem to deal with! Isn't that life?

On top of that we got to peek into the Cloaked Crowns, briefly, as well as peeked in on the Archbishop. And another little group of note.

As for next time...

Noxdecus vs. Mandeville, Round II. Electric Boogaloo.

Also, current poll; Best Shield Banners of Feoh, is still up Go vote! strawpoll (dot com) /polls/7MZ0zvBoBno

~~Eostian Scribe