Rise and shine, it's a fresh new day! The sun is out and shining, having already dispersed the usual morning fog. Today is Jurideis, or Judge's day, the first day of the week. After yesterday's shenanigans, you decided to stay at the Oily Olive inn with Marcus graciously paying for your lodgings and food. You're well rested and fed now (For 8 hours).
You should probably go report your findings to Victus, who is still staying at this inn with Nio.
After her traditional morning fight with her brother Niphon, Anthe has found her plebeian breakfast to be quite subpar and unfit for a lady, opting to only eat half of it. Thalia stretches one of her hooves out and nabs the plate as Anthe pushes it away from her. "Yum!" One short eating frenzy later, the food is all gone.
Anthe appears to be displeased. "Who is this anyway?"
Mereghyl, too, gets breakfast. A large bowl of meat brought to him outside by two servants. Niphon joins him outside shortly after, wanting some distance between him and his older sister. "So what happened yesterday anyway?"
>>621304 Yep. Honor guards of the capital. "I did tell him things were not all right, but with how much happened last night it'd have been quite the stress to tell him! Rather, I told we'd meet again today."
>>621308 "I went to the Basilica, and met Thalia there! Oh she's from the church! There are just so many things me and her have to learn together, now!" Bump Thalia's shoulder in a -we gonna have fun- kinda way.
>>621297 "I'mh Suhpraish!" The mare exclaims to Anthe with her mouth still full, bits of food spilling out. "You werenh going ta eath theat, huh?"
Anthe looks disgusted and shuffles her chair a bit further away from the pegasus.
>>621308 With an audible gulp, she swallows her food. "Don't you remember me, silly? We met back in Peneia at that super fun party! I remember like it was just a few days ago. … I guess it kind of was in a way!"
>>621314 He grin widens further. "To-o-otally will!"
>>621325 "Oh yeah, you're going to find this funny! I totally thought I wasn't going to run into Flavia until several months from now, but I mixed up the Grogarian and Lavinian calenders so my calculations were really off!" She laughs. You're not sure what she means.
>>621326 "Of course she has, she's a real young talent. You know I care a lot about her and Livia. But who even gave her a mission? And when? She's still inexperienced as a priestess."
>>621333 >>621337 >>621338 Oh wow a mare starts sipping her tea and a minute later everyone is focused on such dreadful topics. "SO! The dance!" Yelp up, trying to distract everypony. "Were the dresses nice?"
>>621360 >>621359 Whoops, time to make introductions. "Ah, I'm so glad you came, Adrianos. You might remember my brother Markus, and my sister Anthe." Point at each. "And of course…" Sigh with a tiny smile. "Thalia."
>>621361 He lowers his voice. "Mereghyl, I don't think you quite understand how powerful a spirit is supposed to be. They're physical manifestations of certain notions or ideals. You'd need a lot of divine help taking one of those bastards down. How did you do it?"
>>621360 Your quarry from yesterday evening is here too. She waves at your cheerfully. "Helloooo!"
>>621371 "I had heard there was unrest in the east, but nothing specific. I assume it's internal, or otherwise there would be rioting – border encroachment is always greeted cheerfully by the warhawks in the capital. Flavia hinted at the need for discretion last night, and I can put two and two together. Where is the Lord Steward now?"
>>621392 >>621394 "If they hold Agria… they would logically mean to secure their claim by removing pretenders. But there is not necessarily any reason to imprison the old administration – there is even legitimacy to be had by keeping it. Have you tried a diplomatic appeal to the now-sitting Doux?"
>>621396 Chuckle good-naturedly: "The Empress hasn't been assassinated, has she? Job well done. However, let's save such levity for later, if you wouldn't mind. I need to know about the situation in Agria."
Indicate my conversation with Marcus with a hoof.
>>621398 "But why? It doesn't add up. What about the other administrators. Surely the Doux had a full council of administrators, and each of them families. Have they all been imprisoned or run out?"
>>621402 >>621403 "Right, right. I keep forgetting you've only just arrived. It's amazing to hear the matter is so fresh. I guess it would have to be, though… The Scholae obviously won't get involved, and I hardly have the ear of the Empress, but maybe there's another way I can help. I still think a diplomatic intercession may not be out of the question – I can write, not that my name carries much weight – but you'll need someone to organize your personal guard better if ponies are after you. Do you fight?"
>>621414 "If that's the case, you need to learn how to hold a weapon – battle tactics, planning, maneuvering, footwork. Not because you'll be on the front lines, but as a matter of self-defense. I've never met a recruit I couldn't teach."
>>621420 "Hm? Oh yeah it was! Back in Peneios when I attended this super fun party the doux was throwing! That was last year. Your brother actually messed with my plans to prank the doux and her suitor there, I felt so silly after that."
>>621422 "These are different times, we need to be more careful than ever with each other. We can't afford to have anypony get hurt."
>>621424 "I don't believe we can stay here for too long. Especially after recent events." Motion him closer. "We have stolen something from a Concord that might prove her involvement in this whole intrigue."
>>621427 "Then I hope that when the time comes when we face and adversary too strong for us, you'll have the sense to run." He stares over the nearby canal flowing through the city. "Fighting a spirit of chaos… just reckless…"
>>621428 "What about them?" She flutters her eyelashes at you.
>>621431 He's looking at the water, at the sun reflecting off of it. "I don't want any unnecessary crazy heroics from you. We need you with us."
>>621432 "Weeeeell… I dunno if Natura is really my style… but I actually liked pretending to be a priestess of Aer. I guess I can't help but admit I liked it more than serving Discord. He's a funny guy, don't get me wrong, but his pranks are just harsh at times! Not even pranks at all really!"
>>621436 Gasp, and with intensity! Cover my mouth post-haste, hiding the gaping jaw from Surprise's gaze, as my own eyes begin to water. Then, slowly, reach with a hoof towards Thalia… And pull her in a huge hug! "This is so amazing! You found joy in helping! You had a call!"
>>621448 >>621447 >>621447 "A Concord." Start walking towards the stairs. "Anthe will you join us?" Look to Adrianos again. "Adrianos, my sister said something weird about this Surprise or Thalia. What do you know about her?"
>>621496 "You're right, of course. I still don't like it though. I hope he's as capable as he thinks he is."
>>621499 She giggles. "I'm sorry, you're all just particularly important ponies you know. Though…" She stops smiling and frowns. "I dunno, I seem to have forgotten how to do a lot of stuff since yesterday…"
>>621502 It's the old mare again. "He left early this morning, I was only just awake myself. Of course, he only rented his room for a day."
>>621505 She shrugs. "He had that strange little bug creature with him, that's all."
>>621506 "Oh I'm sure we will! I mean there wouldn't be much point in us all being here if we weren't going to do something special, would there?"
>>621508 "I guess we'll see soon enough if that trust was well placed or not." He turns away from the water and back towards the street. "I'm going back inside, I should go work on my equipment. See you later, Mere."
>>621509 She's definitely speaking the truth here, there's no doubt about it.
>>621518 >>621519 Actually, get the others in here too. Anthe and Niphon and Adrianos. Then, lock the door.
Letting everyone sit, I will take place in the middle of the room, keeping Thalia to my side. Before opening my mouth, I will cast one last glance towards Marcus, as if to let our eyes lock and assure each other that what was about to happen is no joke. Finally, clear my throat.
"I have been chosen as champion of one of Mother's most powerful spirits."
>>621522 "It means my duties in this moment reach beyond simply my family. I have a mission, but I cannot share in it. Just know that it will be hard and long a toil." >>621523 Address Marcus specifically. "Brother, I want to help our family however I can before embarking on my journey, but do know that it is an unavoidable step in my future."
>>621526 Finally speak up. "So let me get this right. The mother tells you that you're her champion, then you become friends with a Discordian spirit, and now while we need each other the most, you want to leave all of us, including Livia, behind and you won't even tell us where you're going?"
>>621525 "Weeeeeell… Flavia isn't just any pony, she's a special case! So are you and…" She points at Marcus. "You!" Then at Adrianos. "And you too! But you're all special in your own way. Flavia is special in that one of Natura's most powerful dryads picked her to be her champion in this world. In return she's been given semi-immortality and other divine powers. Discord gave me that and more as well, but that was centuries ago. Aaand… I kind of lost my powers too. Flavia's actually more powerful than I am right now!"
>>621532 She giggles and puts her hoof around you. "That's way too elaborate to be a prank, Marcus! I can't bestow immortality on anypony! That was way above my paygrade even when I was serving Discord!"
>>621534 You don't think she's lying about any of that, as utterly insane as it may sound.
>>621537 "Brother, I know how you feel. This much would overwhelm me as well if it wasn't for the years I had to come to terms with it, b-" >>621538 Blush profusely in embarrassment and shock as he does that, my whole body comically jumping on attention!
>>621543 I let the hug naturally and chuckle a bit as I return to my previous spot. "I'm a little bit envious to be honest, you have such a clear purpose and way to serve her. Just try to remember that for now, you're still a Hippoi, doing everything alone would be reckless." >>621544 "But you.. better not cause trouble for Flavia. No pranking her." I say sternly.
>>621549 "Brother, she has repented. There is nothing to keep under control now." Smile gently. >>621548 "I won't. Even Eurydice told me to care for my family first and foremost. So let us all save our father."
>>621551 "I am no theologian, but I know what I saw in the park. You have talent and intuition. On that note, I should tell the rest of you, I am asking leave to join you. The Scholae can survive with one guard at large."
>>621572 You may very well be able to decipher this given time, but it would likely take you a few weeks to do. Like I said, this is no common code at all. Your best guess without any references at all is that this is a custom code made by and for the Concords.
>>621589 >>621591 >>621592 The harbor of Clopantinople is impossibly massive, stretching as far as the eye can see. This harbour is many times bigger than the one in Cantria and Peneios for sure. Hundreds of ships lay tied to the docks here, with many dozens more constantly leaving and arriving. No wonder the captain of the ship you came in with didn’t want to deal with this mess! You can see goods constantly being tugged off and loaded onto merchant ships, while navy dromons are under maintenance further down in the shipyards. Like the merchant district, this place attracts species from all over the world.
>>621590 She's polishing her horns in her quarters! You don't often see her do that, as she avoids doing it in company. "Back already, Adrianos? Our shift doesn't start for another four hours."
>>621594 >>621595 You follow the numbers down until you're at the dock you were looking for. You spot Victus and his tiny friend soon enough, they're both hunched over a map and speaking in that strange language again. Victus still looks very much weak, though he seems slightly less exhausted than yesterday.
>>621593 "It's about my family. Something urgent has come up. Soon – maybe even today – I need to leave with them. I'm hoping the Domestikos will let me go. It's not like half of the guard ever show up for their paid-for 'honors' of shifts anyway. I thought I'd tell you first, since you've been my shield-sister for a while."
>>621601 "The battle isn't for land – it's for family… and for an ideal. For love of justice. For glory. Those things we always dreamed about when we came here. What the Scholae were supposed to mean."
Nio floats over to Thalia and lands on her nose. Looks like he's interested in her just like he was in Flavia.
>>621602 "We all have our methods, it's the result that counts. A sentiment which is very common among us Concords."
>>621603 He takes the parchments and reads them over, frowning. "This isn't… hmmmm. This isn't imperial code. Not even the code we use in our order… damn." He rolls up the first piece of parchment and checks the second one. “Decoding this will take some time… it could take days or even weeks depending on how quickly I can figure it out. Once I have, I’ll be able to read these and find some more clues about this whole matter. Until then though… I have some news regarding lord Odyris Hippoi which you’ll find very important.”
>>621604 She gets up and puts her tools down, content with her horns for now. "I feel like you haven't come here to say goodbye, have you?"
>>621607 Thalia wrinkles her nose, but the breezy stays put and looks her over.
>>621607 “I pulled some strings and found out where they have imprisoned him. Agria is a bit of a disorganized mess at the moment, which does play in your favour. He’s currently being held in the island fortress of Anafi, just south of the Agrian coast. Among the other prisoners are Olivia Arravani, the youngest daughter of late doux Arravani, as well as some of the Arravani houseguards who pledged fealty to the lady’s side of the family.”
>>621608 "If you'd like, of course. I'm good with codes myself, but I guess if two people work on it there's a chance it'll be done earlier."
>>621609 She takes a long look around her, at her personal quarters and the city outside through the windows. "Well Adrianos, I can't imagine being able to survive even a single day here without a partner who cares about more than just the prettiness of his cloak. Please, get me the heck out of this place."
"Anafi is just a small island, there's not much to it save for the fortress built there to keep watch for corsair searaids. The only other thing of interest is the village that lies outside of the fortress walls. What's most interesting is the fact that there's not actually that much of a garrison there right now. It was completely emptied during the civil war and because the new doux is still restructuring his forces - giving priority to those protecting the borders with Grevyi - it's pretty understaffed for the time being. He's been trying his best to keep the prisoner presence there secret but… well, I still have some useful contacts who know a thing or two." He smirks.
>>621614 You can get started, sure. But it'll probably take longer than this conversation.
Victus is kind enough to give you some parchment and a quill to use, since you don't have one.
>>621613 "I've been itching for a proper cause to fight. I'd be honored to defend your honor, friend. There's far more glory in that than there is to beating up hobos in the park at night."
>>621615 "Good. Now let's see the unit leader. Regardless of our thoughts on the Scholae, our Domestikos still answers to the Tribune – that puts just one intermediary between him and the Empress. Give him his due respect, and hopefully we'll make it out with income intact."
>>621617 For that, you must go to the inner city where the offices are located. Something tells you might be spending quite some time there filling in all kinds of paperwork…
It's not far away, thankfully. Just twenty minutes later you arrive at the doors.
>>621618 He clears his throat. "Well… there's actually more to it. Unfortunately, not all news is as good. The fortress has a mage defending it. She's probably a bigger threat than the guards themselves, as she's set up some kind of magical defense around it. Not only that, but there are likely more magical hindrances inside… arcane locks and the likes."
>>621621 >>621623 "Yes, you'll need somepony who can disable the field protecting the fortress. As well as any arcane locks you encounter, so they can be picked and opened normally."
He clears his throat and looks a little uncomfortable. "There's… more bad news too. Your father Odyris will likely be executed sometime during the coming weeks along with the Arravani houseguards. Lady Arravani is seemingly going to be spared of going to the chopping block but… after being accused of conspiring against her father, her cousin ordered her to be blinded.” He grimaces. “… Permanently.”
>>621622 You enter the building and head to the section you need to be. You already know your way around here, having been well acquainted with Trotantine bureaucracy during your time in the capital.
The door to the office of your Domestikos is open, so you knock and step inside. The commander of your guard, an earth pony stallion in his twilight years, looks up as he hears you step inside. He sighs audibly, speaking in his signature old man voice. "Adrianos and Sonja… Your shift hasn't started yet and already I sense you found trouble."
"Commander, we'd like your leave for temporary suspension from active duty. This morning I received news that my family arrived in the East is in turmoil. I must answer my familial obligations and return to advise them."
>>621625 "The Mage Circle might have somepony who could help you, but the more experienced circle mages will more than likely charge you a lot of money for an expedition like this… three, maybe four thousand silvers. You could go for one with less experience, but then you risk getting somepony who is too weak to deal with the spells of the superior mage at the fortress. It's possible that you could strike a cheaper deal with an experienced mage though, it's always hard to say with circle mages."
Nio flutters away from Thalia and babbles about something. "Hm? Well, I guess that's also an option… There's a sorcerer who lives a few miles outside of the city who might be willing to aid you. He doesn't care much about money but… he's a little… uh… crazy. I've approached him a few times in the past for help and he always seems to pull through."
>>621626 >>621627 “I don’t know if they have maimed her already, but… I fear the worst. On the upside, provided her medical care is decent, she probably won't die soon.” No, he's not lying.
>>621628 He frowns. "A suspension? How long of a suspension are we speaking here, Hippoi?"
>>621630 You hear Thalia speak up from behind you. "That's offensive! Just because Anthe isn't here doesn't mean you should talk about her like that!"
"Decode these things. Keep digging for clues when I can. If I make some kind of a discovery worth sharing, I'll try to inform you. I doubt I'll be leaving Clopantinople any time soon, I'd really hate to travel in my condition."
>>621629 "I've received word that the Theme of Agria is in turmoil – a pretender upon the throne, and having imprisoned the administration to enforce the rule. It could take some time – but dealing with the issue immediately can prevent it from expanding out into the other themes and potentially dragging the imperial legions into a peacekeeping affair."
>>621635 He lets out a long sigh. "I suppose I could release you from your duty here in the capital. It's not common practice for our unit, but you two have shown to be some of the more active individuals here. Dawnsworn park may see some more hobos, but I suppose you've both proven yourself more useful than anypony else."
>>621633 "Just use my name and title, it'll get to where it needs to go. Of course, as long as you're traveling around it'll be harder for me to send couriers your way."
>>621634 "Don't be so silly, I'm really sane once you get to know me better. Everypony I've ever met said so!"
"Everypony, I'll be sending a letter to Mom this afternoon, if there's something you'd like to send to her or Livia, give it before I send it. But no details on where we're going, nothing that can look bad for us if the letteer were to fall in the wrong hooves."
>>621648 Anthe told you! You don't know why in her case. Niphon is tending to his sword, since he was practicing with it for a while yesterday.
>>621645 >>621649 Thalia nods. "Tell them lots of love and a big kiss and hug from Surprise!"
>>621647 You head down to the harbour of the city. As you know by now, it's a grand place with hundreds upon hundreds of ships moving in and out every day. You track down the correct dock and find them talking to one another. A sickly looking stallion and a breezie pony is just walking away from them.
>>621664 "Anafi. A fortress south of Agria. Now the bad news, in a few weeks he'll be executed. Along with a number of ponies loyal to the old Doux. The Doux herself is there as well. To be blinded soon."
>>621679 "I came out in front of my family. Told all of them what had happened to me, and who Thalia was." Take a long sigh. "It gave me peace of mind. And I have such bright hopes for Thalia, too! She has a calling! A path, a reason to help ponies. Making them smile. Once my duty to my family will be absolved, me, Livia and her will begin a pilgrimage across the empire, to bring Thalia's calling into the light of Nature and to begin working on that promise I made you long ago, Eurydice."
Look at her with the usual calm smile which dawns on my lips as we meet.
"But to do so, I plead from you help. Our father is being held and arcane magic will be in our path. What are your words of wisdom?"
>>621683 >>621684 The island is around 4 days of travel by ship away from here, though it could be more or less depending on the weather, your ship, the person steering it, the currents and other factors.
>>621685 She smiles, quite uncommon for her as she usually adopts a neutral expression. "I'm glad to hear it. I trust in your judgement over her."
She opens her eyes and stops playing, putting the lyre down onto the ground. "The arcane arts are not something I often come in contact with around here. If you do not have anypony with you who can dispatch it, you'll just need to find somepony who can. There are certainly warriors in your land who specialize in fighting mages, that much I know."
>>621691 Stand up with a big smile and a tearful face, which I try to hide by wiping it away with a hoof almost immediately. In a shaky, emotional voice, squeal out a last question. "I wish I knew of a proper way to express my gratitude."
>>621698 Shake my head. "This is just the last of a dozen things I owe you for. But I will find a way, amidst doing your will and studying the Mystery, I will find a way to make it up to you for all of this. Now I better go. My brother needs the informations before nightfall…"
>>621710 "Those cost a lot of money, Flavia, unless the Mother is willing to cough up some bits I don't know how we'll afford a skilled mage hunter. And if it's just for the traps or locks, a simple mage will do. Mage hunters specialize in fighting mages."
>>621722 >>621721 >>621720 "Very well then. I do know the mages congregate outside the city, but I am not familiar with any of them. As for the mage hunter – she lives in the outer city district, so we have a little bit to walk."
>>621753 After the hug. "Now, as my spymaster, you should know a thing or two about my ideas for the future. I do not intend to simply rebuild House Hippoi as it was before. No, it is time for our House to become the strongest in Agria."
>>621757 "Yes, we will build an army, we can build a reputation. But those are not enough for true power. You need blood. And Agria is my home, it belongs to me. And I will have it back, with intrest."
>>621759 "I'm talking about the Doux's blood. And when we go to the island it will be right in our grasp. The rightful Doux is there, alone and with little help. We take her with us. In time, we convince her to marry me and transfer the title to my family. Then we have a legitimate claim.
This is important, that's what keeps this whole system going. Have no claim and your siblings might start to wonder why they can't just take your place. That's the second part, while we build up our forces, we must make sure the current Doux can't sit comfortably in his role. We must attempt to drive a spear between the two cousins so they will be too busy fighting amongst each other to run the Thema properly. "
>>621761 "Mmmm, the details of how we'll drive the wedge I'll leave up to you, spymaster.
Give it then some time and the cousins infighting will disgust most of the other lords. Infighting is not good for the system. Then we come, with our claim and everypony, well most might not actively fight with us, but they sure as hell will not challenge us when we win."
Our first task, besides the rescue of course, will be to evaluate how we will best convince the Doux to transfer her title to our family. That's a big decision. We must do it in such a way that they do it willingly, at best make them think it's her idea. If she has family with her that might complicate this task. If at all possible it would be best to only save her and her guards.
And another problem might be…dad. He's a good pony. But also very loyal, I'm afraid the idea of taking over the title might be offensive to him. Another reason why we should convince her to do it willingly."
>>621769 Put a hoof on your shoulder. "I promise. Don't get me wrong, I want to do this whole thing as bloodlessly as we can. But our enemies have already shown they're prepared to kill and before this is over, this will get messy. So I need to know that we're committed to this."
>>621770 I sigh and give you a smile. "No turning back now eh'? I'm with you. Until we both should fall to your ambitions." Then I pat your hoof. "And if that happens I'll be by your side in Tartarus, making a throne out of Discordian skulls."
>>621779 This pony is not actually drunk, he doesn't even smell like enough booze to be drunk. He stops laughing and instead is grinning like a maniac. "Yea, he has.. another bed to be in. Anyway, what did you do with your evening?"
>>621782 Coil my tail around you and lower my head closer to yours. Fangs facing somewhere else, obviously. "She has asked for my assistance in what she told me was a religious mission of hers. She wanted me to fly her to the Basilica, where we confronted a spirit of Discord."
>>621786 "I would not know. The concept of beauty and such in ponies is something I still struggle to understand. I can easily tell them apart, but can not recognise the singular elements you, and other ponies, find desirable."
>>621788 "I was told that those paintings represented the ideal of beauty, not of 'cuteness'. She did not look like one from the paintings. Objectively, I can tell you that her mane and tail was… poofy."
>>621804 Give you a look that could shoot daggers. Or fire. "I have learned to trust deals with you with the utmost precautions on that day." Smile after a few moments though. "I suppose you had time to think about that while sitting on top of that tree, did you not?"
>>621805 I frown. "Hey, that wasn't funny. I missed out on snack time, and it was fresh chocolate chip cookies instead of orange slices too! That meant a lot to my colt-self. Besides, did you really think I'd have that many coins just from my allowance?"
>>621806 "I supposed you have relieved some other pony from them, and thought it would be best to hide it with me, where that amount would not have raised suspiscion. I was overcomplicating the matter, in hindsight."
>>621807 I snicker. "Yea, I remember having to make up a story about trying to rescue the duchess's cat from the tree and getting stuck so that neither of us would be in trouble. To this day I"m not sure if dad knew the truth or not.."
>>621811 "Hmm I dunno, she always got out soon enough, thou it did take her a while to notice sometimes.. all that time spent in front of the mirror." I yawn boop your nose a bit "Anyway, I'll see if I can deliver these goods and crash for the night, pretending to party and have fun while staying sober is tough work. Even a night pony like me can only be up so long."
The sorcerer you’re looking for lives several miles away from the city, a walk which would take you one to two hours if it weren’t for Mereghyl. With his help it takes you less than half of that.
You've arrived at the forest where the individual going by the name of 'Chester' should be living at. This is an oak forest, of which there are a few in the southern parts of Trotantium. Centuries ago, before the empire even existed, these kind of forests were often seen as holy places as dryads, breezies and other forest spirits were rumored to live in them. Much of Trotantium’s religion today has roots in forests such as these, as they have unusual plants and critters living in them which are hard to find elsewhere in the empire. These ecosystems are seen as a blessing of Mother Nature, enduring throughout the centuries during even the harshest droughts by her will. Given the southern climate in these parts, it’s hard for you to imagine anything but the Mother keeping these forests so lush.
Bordering this forest is a massive piece of farmland. The entire capital is in fact surrounded by acres upon acres of farms and plantations. The field you've landed next to seems to be growing wheat.
>>622177 You walk into the forest itself for about a minute until you remember he lives someplace on the edge of it!
>>622178 You remember the forest itself is not your destination, as the sorcerer lives on the edge of it, a wooden shack located in a small grove which doesn't take you too long too find by following the path running alongside the forest.
It doesn’t exactly have the looks of a rich pony’s house; this small shack is very simple, made up of wood and overgrown by vines here and there. There’s a pond of water next to the shack, with thin wisps of mysterious fog floating above it.
You hear the sound of purring coming from somewhere behind you, like that of a cat. You turn to look at the source of the sound and see a cat sitting in an oak tree nearby, purring audibly. That’s… certainly not a normal cat though. It’s a bit bigger than normal housecats ought to be and, more disturbingly, it has an impossibly wide toothy grin on its face.
“It looks as though you are looking for someone.”
It speaks! And with a distinct foreign accent too! You can roll a knowledge check to recognize what kind of accent it has.
>>622201 You would need to climb the tree he's sitting in!
>>622200 The cats begins to disappear, popping out of existence after just a few seconds of fading. Several seconds later, you hear its voice coming from behind you. "Chester. My name… is Chester." You turn to see the cat having reappeared behind you. It's sitting on the ground now. It really has an odd way of speaking.
>>622208 "Then you are in the right place, are you not? With Chester."
>>622209 He fades away again, reappearing a few seconds later floating in the air above you. "Here's a riddle… where lies the difference between intelligence and wisdom? I'll tell you: wherever you want it to be! A mage… studies while a sorcerer… knows."
>>622210 You get the feeling he's a little bit bonkers, but you don't think he's lying.
>>622215 >>622213 "Let's just suppose I would be looking for a mage who would like to go break into a fortress, disable a variety of magical locks and potentially get the better of an other mage, would I be looking in the right place?"
>>622219 >Does Chester follow a religion? No, he doesn't. He doesn't care much for subjecting himself to any of the higher beings. >Does he have any family? Definitely not. >Does he have an addictions? He loves catnip and especially loves scratching posts.
>>622220 He gasps and widens his eerie grin. "Victus? How is he?"
>>622221 He slowly spins around his own axis. "There are… critters in the sea which I am fond of in different ways. But… I am not fond of swimming in water. Have you ever heard of… sirens?"
>>622223 "Sirens are like seaponies, yet… completely unlike them in every way as well. Their songs are as beautiful, but only serve to enrage those who hear it. They are… in essence… serving Discord. Just like how the seaponies… serve Aqualia?"
>>622224 He doesn't appear to be worried, as his wide grin stays in place. "Sickness is preferable over death."
>>622225 "You're right! I don't need to swim… but you may have to to get my help." He floats around you slowly. "Sirens get their powers from a magical crystal… take that away and they can no longer… siren. It does not even require them to die, isn't that just pleasant?"
>>622227 "Not quite… but those crystals, I've never seen them with my own eyes. I could never, and will never, unless someone gets one for me."
>>622228 "See there's a misconception… The sirens serve Discord, but they are not… his. Not in the same way the seaponies are Aqualia's. The alliance between the sirens and Discord is just… that. An alliance of opportunity. The crystals are powersources, but they only serve to provide the power the sirens need to use their abilities. Those abilities are part of… them, not the crystal." He shakes his head. "I try not to get involved in politics, it tends to spoil my appetite for food."
>>622229 "I will gladly help a friend of Victus… but only if you can get your… hooves on a siren crystal afterwards."
>>622239 "One way or the other… does it matter?" He blinks his big eyes at you a few times. "I am filly nor colt."
>>622240 You begin your voyage back to the capital. It'll take you about an hour.
You'll still have a bit of time left by the time you get back, so now is the time to begin preparing for the end of this adventure and the beginning of the next. Anyone who still wishes to buy something, talk to someone or do something should tell me now.
>>622251 You ask around a little in the harbor, but everyone either asks too many questions or too much money for you to afford. You may need to find a smuggler willing to operate under the law for a decent price and with discretion.
>>622252 Two common meals or a different type of meal?
>>622272 Blink slowly and calmly. "He will aid us in a matter of great importance. Unless you, Anthe, have learned arcane magic of great mastery in the brief time while we have been gone, Chester, as he is called, will stay." Being called an 'it' for not being a pony certainly is not amusing, I should know.
>>622274 "Well I don't like him, his smile is too freaky. Cats aren't supposed to do that!"
>>622273 Ah Marcus, so detached from the pleb world.
>>622275 You fare much better. If you want to find a smuggler you figure you'll probably be best served staying near the river running through the city. Water access is useful to them and they probably use it to smuggle goods into the slums, then to the rest of the city.
>>622287 "Indeed, times have changed, Anthe. You will have to learn with what and how we live for now, and deal with what we have to do in order to save our House." Be much more stern than before. "We need Chester for our cause, so if you dispose of him, think of it as an act of you disposing of our father personally. I will not allow that."
>>622290 >>622291 It smells like fresh paint here… you notice the letters on the back of her ship are freshly painted on.
It's not a big ship, one person could steer it just fine. It has a single mast and a square-rigged single sail. Cogs are quite popular for trading purposes and come in many sizes, this one is a smaller model.
>>622296 >>622297 There's only one pony here and it's the mare, a unicorn. She's quite clearly a commoner and freezes for a moment as she hears you talk. She quickly turns to you, dropping the flag behind her.
>>622299 "Maybe not the Scholae so much as my preparation for it. My parents had the honors in mind for me for a long time – the Tribunes in command of the military hold rank equal to that of a doux. It would be the only way their ambitions could be realized, being relatively low-ranking in the House Hippoi. But the training wasn't as physical as you'd think – medicine, philosophy, tactics, administration – these are the sorts of things prized in the ranks."
Put my hoof on my chin. "But you've come a long way yourself. I came to the capital around your age, but at your age I couldn't claim to be hunting spirits or representing the Mother."
>>622304 "Empress Dawnsworn felt even the sovereign state was subordinate to the will of the Mother. In a way, if you accept that interpretation, everyone in the empire is a servant of the Mother. I get your meaning, though – someone with your own level of devotion."
>>622307 " 'Though believers may spring widely from the cup of faith, a far-flung puddle is shallow – and in the cup, narrow, but deep. ' … That's Marcus Plotinus, a solar philosopher if the source doesn't offend you. I think the casual acceptance of the Mother in the empire means that there are few true devotees to be found with a depth of faith that you possess."
"No, I don't think so. I am naturally familiar with the theology of the Mother as a matter of state and as a function of studying the philosophers of the Mother, but as Porphyry suggests my theology is more incidental – the philosophical accident – as opposed to the philosophical property. He might elevate your own belief further to definition – that is to say, you are defined by your relationship with the mother. A Flavia without the Mother is not Flavia, but an Adrianos could exist with or without the Mother and it would not affect his fundamental essence."
Stop myself. "Sorry, this is getting esoteric, isn't it? You probably weren't looking for something so metaphysical. What I mean to say might me more easily summarized with that classic pithy phrase – faith untested, faith untrusted."
>>622315 Give this kneave a quick 'seriously nigga?' look. "But as the Claptrosky brothers said, a pony is shaped by every drop of experience which washes upon his face. We are products of everything around us. Without perception of the Mother in those around you even Adrianos would not be Adrianos, for your interactions with those who do profess Her beliefs with more attention than you do have shaped your formation, your thoughts, and your every action up to this point."
>>622316 "I don't deny that, certainly; by nature of sheer supply, there is more philosophy to be read of Natural philosophers than any other sort here in the empire. What I am saying is that on a more fundamental level is that the characteristic of whether or not I hold the Mother as my patron does not define who I am. I hold no particular opposition to it, and pay religious credence for political convenience, but I feel no particular draw toward it over any other belief system. If anything, it is Equitas that compels me - a belief in benevolence toward other ponies, and an open mind to learning. The Mother is not opposed to this ideal per se, and so I see no conflict with giving her token worship."
>>622318 "Porphyry's disquisition on the nature of a pony always rang odd, in my mind. How can one single idea define a being as complex as the flesh and blood and soul standing and breathing here right now? The idea of the individual as abstractifiable into a single core value, stripped of all the things attached to it, denies the evolution each and every one of us goes through. Think of Adrianos, or Flavia, as they were five years ago. That was when I began my studies and when you, I assume, where in the midst of yours already, correct?" Take a moment to gauge for a negative or positive reaction, but keep on. "The idea of Mother was strong already in my mind. But that idea, that core alone, if taken and frozen away in time to be awoken in a dozen or even a hundred years, would not give fruit to the same Flavia you are seeing today. Equitas alone does not define Adrianos either, for there is so much in you that is everchanging, just as Nature is."
>>622323 "The opposite could easily be argued, though – that you were fated, put on a path to the Mother, because there is fundamentally something that resonates with her in your soul. Isn't fate more strongly compatible with your theology? If there is no fate, how does the Mother guide you toward the future? To affirm this line of reasoning seems to strip the Mother of all of her divine nature and leave her as just an extraordinary creation deity, with no particular other qualifications to lead. That is to say, if her predictions and guidance can be wrong or otherwise fail, then there might be times when it is wiser to listen to ponies than to the Mother. You could create a soft-fate hybrid theory, but draw our own line at where fate begins leaves a bad taste in my mouth – akin to judgment of divines in the same breath as declaring their omniscience."
>>622325 "Seeing the Mother as what you say, an extraordinary being which rules our whole lives through fate, is a misinterpretation of the holy books from a time before the Empire itself. It saddens me to see how often this is still brought forth as the main interpretation, because of how reductive it is. Nature is unique in its complexity, in the way Mother shapes each and every one of us through our own endless interactions with everything which is Her. You see, scholars used to call everything which was equine 'not' of Nature, not of Mother herself. But this reductive understanding of what the Mother means blinds us to the realization that I am part of Mother just as much as you are part of Mother, and the way our actions influence each other is that, too, part of the way Mother shapes our lives. Atop of that, you have to understand Mother's light is not a biased one. She does not deny us choice, despite rejoicing when we make the right one, for making us grow in a world entirely controlled by the strings of Fate would lead to an already known ending, to a rhetorical question whose answer is known already. Rather, we are left free to explore the Mystery in its fullness, and the greatest of understandings is in seeing the signs of this very growth on your own self, and realizing that every blade of grass and every cut of blade, that every thought of beauty and every feeling of dread are all parts of her." Sigh. "This is not the sermon we give to the folks at home, though. My instructors called it nearly heretical."
>>622329 "We're nearly there – so if we can suspend the conversation for another time? I do have something to say about that, but the streets are a bit more dense here, I don't want us to get separated or distracted."
>>622375 You roam around the inner city for a good two hours until you finally start recognizing the streets you're in again. That's already a lot of time lost that could have been spent doing useful things. From here though, you eventually find the house you were looking for.
Seeker’s house looks fairly inconspicuous, looking similar to the other plebeian housings next to it. It’s definitely no villa, but it looks like a nice enough place for a commoner to live in. There’s a small bronze bell hanging next to the wooden front door.
>>622377 You don’t have to wait long, the door opens up slowly, revealing the inhabitant of this house. Seeker is an earth pony mare in her late thirties with baggy eyes. She looks the four of you over, sizing you up.
“Two priestesses and two Scholarians of Palantine…
>>622384 She deadpans. “I’ve retired now, in case you hadn’t heard.”
The inside of her house is quite quaint, with lots of little mosaics covering the walls. She leads you into the triklinion, where several couches are set up with small tables next to them. She pours some tea in a few clay cups and sets them down on the tables. "Come on then, do sit."
>>622390 >>622389 Clear my throat, and try to explain this seriously! "You see, my father has been kidnapped and imprisoned after a coup in the province of Agria." Pause for a moment. "And those who did this plan on executing him very soon, along with the rightful heir to the Agrian province."
>>622391 She sips her tea. "I've heard of the crisis in Thema Agria. Seems pitiful to be squabbling over bits of land when there's a real enemy to be fought just across the border. Hordes of ghouls being orchestrated by Grevyian necromancers and the only thing our lords and ladies can think of is how to best go about getting a bigger crown." She shakes her head in disgust.
>>622399 >>622400 She gets up from the couch and walks over the the window. "Every day when we were home, he'd go out and fly over the city looking for any sort of magical trouble. Then he would return to land here, on this windowsill, to tell me. And in the legion, we'd be in the vanguard, weeding out the magical from the non-magical."
>>622401 "There are, but I haven't had any desire to continue hunting since." She stays quiet for a while, turning her head to look at you. "This mage of yours, do you know their name?"
>>622403 She turns back to look outside. "That is the worst part, I don't know. My best guess is that age got to him, he was getting very old. One day he was fine, the other…" Her shoulders sag as she trails off.
>>622404 Step forth, slowly reaching her and putting a gentle hoof over her shoulder from behind. "There is nothing quieter for the mind that the endless fields of grass above which Mother's blue sky reaches- That is where all the creatures will return to, once their days on this land are over. In a way, your Kratus is still soaring above this city, standing watch. For you."
>>622405 >>622406 >>622407 She rubs her temple with a hoof. "If… I were to help you free your father and you manage to put the 'rightful' heir back in the place she ought to be sitting, can I expect to see Agria turning its attention to the east and the threats that lie beyond the border? I don't expect a crusade like those Westerners do, but knowing that our borders are protected from the undead menace will at least make it seem like I didn't waste my life herding cats."
>>622408 Harden my gaze into one of determination. "Trust me, I will see to it personally. The undead scourge has no place in Mother's Domain. Those poor bodies need to go back to the earth, dust to dust like all things should, free to rejoin their souls in the next life. Even if this was not part of your requests, I would still see it through."
>>622424 "Yes, we don't want to be late. I'd like to discuss strategy with Marcus – hopefully he has more information about the island. I was thinking about searching a library for anything – historical information about past sieges, blueprints, direct ownership and previous ownership."
>>622425 Scowl at Sonja. "Don't say things like those, she cared for it! That bird was her friend!" Then, to Surprise, give an excited smile. "Got anything in mind?" >>622426 "And maybe he has the name of that mage."
>>622432 You're free to do whatever now. Marcus and Nolin have succeeded in the recruitment of a mage but according to Anthe they left again a little while back to find a ride to the island. Your witch hunter ally should be here in about an hour.
>>623034 "Alive cargo. Me, him and about 5 others, one of them a dragon. But that's not all, we need you to bring us to our destination, wait there perhaps a few days and then we'll be back while we get our friends and then leave immediately."
>>623037 "Anafi, Anafi, Anafi…" She turns to a wrinkled old map splayed out on a table. "Ahah, in Agria, oui? Zat is quite a way away. Almost 400 miles… but zat is doable. It would take us around four days from here depending on ze weather."
>>623068 "Oh! This is the slide whistle I use whenever something comical happens! It's special though, because… well it used to be mine! Nopony is able to surprise you as long as you hold it, that's how I got away so fast when you showed up!" This is a lesser magical item with a 'Always Ready' charm on it.
>>623069 This is the place, the commercial district has stalls everywhere and there's lots of room to maneuver. The Pegase river runs right through it, allowing ships to deliver their goods right here and have it immediately get sold.
>>623075 "Then maybe we should have the strongest one of us hold it, so he can react faster!" >>623073 Turn to Mereghyl. "This is for you!" And with a large, bright smile I present him the whistle. >>623081 "Maybe we should go look for him…"
>>623083 Bow myself over the map. "Yes, we've hired a smuggler to get us there. She'll also help us get off. Problem is we have little money to pay her. We might have to resort to raiding whatever money or valuables are in Anafi to cover our expenses."
>>623083 >>623079 >>623082 "Marcus, we were just discussing finances. I wanted to talk longevity – no plan survives contact with the enemy, and part of winning a drawn out battle is soldier retention. We're not getting anywhere if we get stopped by bruises. We need to get medical supplies, assuming you don't have them already. A doctor bag, balms, bandages, salves, leeches – possibly tonics and ointments as well. I trust you've been properly trained in at least basic first aid."
>>623090 He motions at Anafi at the map. "Anafi has a small port connected to the fortress, as well as some docks in the village. There are sure to be Agrian navy dromons there as a rapid response force to corsairs. We'll need to make sure they don't chase us down as we flee."
>>623096 "Because I have just spend most of my money getting ourselves a dependable ship. In fact, I'm quite sure we'll have to enlarge our budget with whatever valuables we can find in Anafi to pay for all the expenses involved in this operation."
>>623095 "That is a problem." Tap the map. "I don't like the idea, but perhaps we can sabotage the fleet when they're in the harbor?"
>>623096 A foreign sounding voice speaks up. "I have some magic that can prevent a wound from festering and… putrefying." You look around and see a strange cat with a wide grin sitting on the table where Marcus and Niphon are conversing.
>>623097 Then you must wait until you level. You can also pay reputation to gain languages for one adventure if your renown is sufficient.
>>623106 "Because it's hers!" >>623108 >>623107 Nod. "Yes, she said she'd find us at this inn as soon as her preparations were done. And payment will come later, in the form of commitment against the undeads to the east of Agria, something we both can agree on, I assume?"
>>623136 "Well, only my bag. But it's a really good bag with all the tool and supplies, even things to treat dragons with! We could go to the market and buy a few more items, if you are all so worried…"
Additional shared XP rewards on top of the ones given during the adventure: 2000 XP for finishing the adventure 200 XP for recruiting Seeker 200 XP for recruiting Chester 100 XP for finding a way to the island of Anafi 500 XP for putting up with Surprise and wiping the floor with her during the dramatic scene 300 XP for keeping your identity and looks entirely hidden from lady Cassicia 200 XP for keeping a low profile during your time in the capital 900 XP for getting everyone in and out alive
TOTAL XP: 4400
Additional shared Reputation rewards on top of the ones given during the adventure: 5 from the adventure’s Menace Individual Legend scores 7 from completed objectives
You're on a boat. You've been on a boat following the coast to the east for four days now. The boat isn't very big. It's a cog designed for trading, popularized in the west. The island of Anafi is within reach, you'll get there in just an hour. You're been fortunate not to have run into trouble on the way here. Corsair activity out here is on a sharp rise.
You've decided the village is probably your first best place to go to once you get there.
Arrival on the island will happen tomorrow during the next session.
>>623187 "Cousin, it feels like I haven't said two words to you since our little family has been reunited – even if by grim times. Our mutual cousins certainly seem to have grown up oddly, haven't they?"
"It's not my place to tarnish the names of others – though I am troubled by a lack of unity. Marcus seems distracted… though, to be fair, he has a lot on his mind. Niphon, though, called you a rat – I don't mean to peddle in gossip, but it was disrespectful, and I said so. We have enough enemies to be fighting amongst ourselves."
>>623187 You've been away from Agria for so long, you don't really remember much of this particular small island at all.
>>623189 >>623191 You don't know much either, but you're aware it serves as a forward base for rapid naval deployment against corsairs and other sea-based threats. You can expect dromons to be stationed there, which is not the best news considering this cog has nowhere near the speed of a dromon.
The village is a farming and fishing community supplying the fortress with food and whatnot. It's not very rich, but they are reasonably well off.
>>623202 "Well in any case, you have my trust at least. I've been looking at that island on the horizon… It's a naval base, I expect that we will see dromons there – and I had a thought. Marcus said that he had heard the fortress was understaffed, correct?"
>>623207 "I've been thinking about logistics. How many ponies on our side do you think are locked up in this fortress? If they wanted to arrest everyone in the administration – it has to be a lot, right?"
>>623211 "What I'm getting at is that if we go to the ships BEFORE we go to the prison – we sabotage some – impress, imprison, or impale the crew. We have no reason to worry about being chased. Then, when it's time to leave, we sail out of port on one of those Dromons. Did you know that I have training to command a sea vessel? I could make it work, even with laymen. If we could get a Dromon out and sell it, our funding problems would be over, permanently. We could fund a small army – get this revolution into full gear."
>>623215 "A dromon isn't a 'small' boat per se. I mean, relatively speaking. It's bigger than this boat, anyway. But when you think about it – isn't it reasonable? I mean, compared to liberating a Duke and a Lord Steward, liberating a ship is practically a footnote."
>>623225 "Actually, you pose a good point – there will probably be houseguards imprisoned, but they won't have weapons. We should remember to pick up weapons off of anyone we have to deal with – to arm our allies once they're free."
>>623243 "Or they will simply go after us with renewed vigor. Either way, if they find out it was us, and they probably will one way or another, we'll have a target on our backs. I wouldn't be surprised if they attempted an assassination…"
>>623249 "I have a cunning plan, monsieur. Staying near ze island for no apparent reason for days on end would surely rouse suspicion. Ve vill fake damage to ze ship and pretend to be fixing it for as long as you stay."
>>623251 He purrs. "Oh… I'm sure." He stops in front of you, floating in the air in a comfortable sitting position. "What about the other mage? Surely she will be dangerous."
>>623254 "Then we'll have to work with that. I've been thinking Mereghyl, once we've restored our house forces, we'll need somepony to lead them. Niphon seems an obvious choice, he has talent and drive, but I'm not sure if he's experienced enough. He'll need guidance from Adrianos and you."
>>623255 "That's a good idea. It allows you to stay in the harbor and in our reach."
>>623259 "I'm sure if something goes wrong, you'll know fast enough. We're taking measures to prevent the other ships in the harbor to follow us. But it would be best for us to agree to some kind of signal to show on the night we should get ready to leave."
>>623276 "Think of it as trying to save innocent ponies caught up in a power shift. All my uncle did was remain loyal." "But I more meant to ask, what is your fighting style like? I haven't had the chance to work a mage-hunter before."
>>623280 "Ah, then you're best suited for leading the attack on the mage, once we can find it." "I had the idea that once we are inside, I'd have Chester stay with me and unlock as many cells and doors as we can."
>>623289 No, an actual cat. Well, he's slightly larger than a housecat, but he looks like one. He also has an unnaturally wide grin on his face at all times, which is sort of odd. Apparently he's a sorcerer.
Marcus comes in too.
>>623290 Anthe looks like she's sitting in a seat reserved for someone in a very good mood. "I guess."
Thalia waves at you. "Hellooo!"
>>623290 "I guess cats aren't technically citizens and thus not under the same laws as us ponies."
>>623294 "Indeed, so he's not likely to be arrested." I sigh softly. "Enough about felines, Lets see if we can round up the others and make sure we're all on the page for when we land.. which is soon."