Tales of Arestia

Homecoming
From the Journal of Sylvius Modesto

Harken‘s attempt to hunt down and finish off Senator Aegon was stalled when we saw him in the company of Magistrate Calpurnia, who was escorting him back to Ilyria in behalf of the Lord Protector. Rather than risk harming an innocent, not to mention drawing the Lord Protector’s ire, we elected to return to Illyria ourselves, and perhaps wee what the Lord Protector wanted with him. Harken and Brother Garret apparently had business in one of the elven vllages that was more pressing, however.

When we returned home, Mother told me that a young upstart in the senate, Senator Oren Augustus, leading progressives in the Senate, along with bipartisan support from conservatives affronted by Senator Petarkis arrest, to strip the church of its power to arrest people for heresy. Now if we could only do the same for half-elves, we’d have a good start on a autonomous republic.

Of course, not everyone is thrilled with this. Garret, in particular, seems offended by his church’s reduction in power. Predictably, he also donated Aegon‘s confiscated estates to the church to make up for the lost income Petarkis had been providing. I’m pretty sure the public response to that is only going to cement Oren Augustus’ victory for his Senate vote. That really seemed to piss off Miri as well, inasmuch as her opinion even has any bearing on his life choices.

In any case, Gandren was approached by a charming (and provocatively dressed) woman of otherworldly descent, named Dior Carrion, who had some kind of academic proposal she needed his help with, at which point Garret behaved wit embarrassing discourtesy. I mean, I can see how her appearance might give someone pause, but she showed up at the temple of Artemisia during broad daylight and didn’t burst into flame, and since he wasn’t smiting her I can assume she’s not actually demonic. Which can only mean that he was just being an ass about her appearance. Not to mention the fact that the temple itself is now under armed guard, which is a bit odd for a public temple. They’ve become awfully militant, the Artemisians, and not at all welcoming of the laity. If they keep it up, I suspect a lot of Ilyrians are going to be wandering into the church Lunor instead.

I wonder, would the Church of Artemisia be foolish enough to be planning a coup to overthrow the Assembly? They have to know that both the Lunorians and Siderealites would oppose them, not to mention the militias and the guard and watch. Something to keep an eye on in the future, in any case.

In other news, Gandren now has a map of the entrances to the catacombs beneath the city, and Sister Erin plans to utilize it and us in a sting operation to capture any remaining Atropos-cultists. We’ll see how that goes soon.

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The Drama, the Tension, the Breasts!
An encoded message from Syilvius Modesto to Senator Mira Modesto

(written using the same book code as my previous missives)

Mother,

The hunting expedition did not go as planned. Garret was was not present to find the truth, and so that duty fell to the Harken and Gendren. By the time they were satisfied that he had done it, they had given him an arrow wound to the leg. Would have been a nightmare to explain at Senate, especially after we tried to have him arrested.

Aegon is also mad as a bag of cats. He seemed convinced that Garret’s mother was his willing companion, and seemed desperate to have Garret as his half-elven heir. Gandren seemed especially put off by him.

Handily (or not, honestly), half-elves are apparently born with massive legal authority, and the will to abuse it. He arrested Aegon on behalf of the elves and dragged him off to an elven court to stand trial for a 20-year-old rape charge on no evidence other than the testimony of a mind-reader. It’s not as if I feel sorry for the bastard — if Gendren says he did it, then chances are he did, but this can’t be how justice is meant to be served.

Ultimately that does not matter, because whether or not it should have gone down this way, it did go down that way. And I have also learned that elves apparently get bored with their sex every few hundred years and then change it over night, which Gandren opted to do tonight. That’s not really important to Aegon’s fate, but it is useful information to keep under your hat.

For what it’s worth, the elven system of justice is every bit as addled as our own. As I said in my previous letter, I accompanied this expedition to Elderan under the pretext of looking after Arestia’s interests, but when the political complications of a senator’s arrest (and extradition, sans any illusion of process,) wer raised, the magistrate’s only reply was to “tell the humans that the only reason they get to live here is because we deigned to let their ancestors onto our ships.” In other words, we apparently live at elven sufferance and should be glad for our subservience.

Even the pretext of looking out for our interests was obviated, however, since the whole investigation, the discovery of evidence, the deliberation, and the trial, were all closed to any observation. The elves claimed to have found the truth through a system of questioning and divination, but the only part of the proceedings that anyone could see was the announcement of the verdict and sentencing. Hell, even Garret wasn’t permitted to observe, and he brought the man in.

Long story short, Aegon was stripped of his title and all property, wealth, and holdings, all of which was given to Garret (his illegitimate son) save for a small stipend for the ex-Senator’s family. And again, I don’t care about the old bastard’s fate so much as the fact that the elves of Vanyr can apparently summarily strip a Senator of his position and reassign his properties to their own people at a whim. Whatever treaties we have with them, they’re kind of garbage.

In any case, I’m pretty sure that Harken Burrow was unhappy with the sentence and plans on carrying out some kind of rough justice of his own, unless Tucker finds him and stops him first. That same magistrate gave us each a token that’s some sort of one-time exemption from the law as a “thank you” for delivering Aegon, and I think Harken intends to use his now. I prefer to hold on to mine in case of an emergency.

In any case, the elves are taking full responsibility for Aegon’s removal now, so you’re likely to be spared any fallout. And honestly, even if someone were to somehow implicate you in Aegon’s downfall, there are worse reputations to have than having the Vanyr on your side.

The journey home begins soon, and soon after that I will be home.

Your loving son,
Sylvius Modesto

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She Stole His Heart
From the Journal of Sylvius Modesto

I need a bath. Preferably several.

There’s no rest for the wicked, it seems, as no sooner did we survive Tommen’s funeral (handily Tommen has three legitimate children, so I’m a few unfortunate circumstances away from any political relevance there) than mother warned me about going about in the blue lantern district, where four men had been butchered, among them my childhood friend and adulthood drinking buddy, Elio.

In addition to Elio (who was a magistrate), the other victims were the lumberjack cum mercenary Goren Oakenbane, the philosoper Phenorious, and Senator Tiberuius Catallus. There was no commonality to the victims save their location, and the fact that they could all be called attractive. They’d all disappeared in the district and all of their bodies had been found there, and they’d all had their hearts cut out and (according to the physicker’s records I requested from the watch) some had other organs removed as well.

I was already kind of seeing red when I heard the news so of course I immediately set about carousing in the district in an attempt to lure out the killer. Gandren Allandriel had pledged his support to me in future endeavors, so I contacted him. along with the crusading Brother Garret, who brought his cousin (brother? uncle?) Harken Burrow, and I invited Calina Kazanthi as well.

Our inquiries led us to an establishment known as The Silver Caress, where the proprietress and clientele were behaving very oddly. Eventually I spoke to the last courtesan to see Elio alive, a woman named Violet. The interview went swimmingly until the part where she admitted to murdering Elio to eat his heart because, (according to her “teacher,” “the heart’s flesh fills you with life”) and implying that she wanted my own as well. So I pummeled her unconscious and had a chat with the madam again.

Violet had mentioned a mentor of sorts named Saijo, and Gandren determined that he’d exerted some sort of demonic mystical influence over several of the prostitutes here. So we opted to stake the place out until he showed up. But according to Gandren, chances were the culprit was a shapeshifting tempter known as an incubus. Important to get these terms right.

So we were forced to rely on Garret‘s mystical senses and the demon’s ignorance of our involvement to identify him and track him down. This is, of course, where things began to go wrong.

Garret wanted to strike as soon as he showed his face, which would have been disastrous; not only was there a whole crowd the demon could disappear into, but also there was the fact that he could mentally influence any one of them to use as a human shield and extremely compliant hostage. We agreed (more or less) to wait until he was alone, but to assure that there’d be no interference, Harken decided to try and make himself the monster’s companion for the evening, but had to get into a slap-fight with a (probably infernally charmed) prostitute to do so, which nearly blew our cover.

The madam surreptitiously cleared the rooms near the demon’s and Harken’s, while Calina, Gandren, Garret, and myself slipped into the adjacent rooms to prepare. But Calina, for whatever reason, decided to bring along the boy-toy she and Harken had paid to split for the evening, a disturbingly boyish yet lascivious fellow named Flynn along for these preparations, as some sort of field trip. Thankfully, he stayed scares when the fighting began.

The battle was intense but brief. Between my sword (handily augmented by Gandren’s wizadry), Harken’s bow, Gandreb’s magic, Garret’s holy power, and Calina’s close-combat expertise, the demon didn’t stand much of a chance, although I did very briefly feel the profane thing worming its way into my feelings. I wonder how much wine it’ll take to wash that feeling away. I shudder now, thinking of it. We then collected the names of Saijo’s other “regulars” at the house of pleasure and made a full report to the watch.

It does seem odd to me that so many people directly connected to myself and my family keep dying. Why Tommen? Why Elio? This can’t be so common; if Senators always died this frequently mother would not have lived long enough to give birth to Amnestria, let alone raise her. Hells, if citizens died this frequently all the time, to cultists and demons as well as to disease and accident, the city would be a necropolis. Something is going on. Am I cursed? Is mother? Out whole family? Maybe Gandren could tell me.

In any case, the demon is banished back to whatever hell it came from, the four prostitutes who did the deed have been named and delivered to the watch, as have our statements. And now I’m going out in search of a hot bath and a rough-handed stable boy who’ll scour away the feeling of this thing’s mark upon me with a more honest kind of depravity.

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Musings on Divine Law
From the Journal of Sylvius Modesto

A Retrospective:

This whole debacle has raised some complications that I feel the need to put into writing to keep them straight in my head. To wit, the recent complications regarding the conflicts between the various churches regarding the Secret Hearth and the worship of Fallen Stars, and assassination in general. Specifically, I think it’s important to note who is and isn’t being charged for what.

I can’t help but wonder how it all would have turned out if we’d let the watch arrest them for attempted murder, instead of having the church arrest them for witchcraft.

Katosha Aristian is being charged by the watch with hiring assassins to murder her husband. Selena Petarkis and her father are not at present being held for attempted assassinations; the Senator has been charged with heresy, a crime for which Selena has been absolved by Lunor. I’m not sure if there is any principle of double-jeopardy here, but ultimately they were arrested on the spot by a representative of the church rather than wait for the Watch to conduct an investigation.

I mention all of this because honestly I find the good father’s outrage over the matter to be disingenuous. Had Selena contracted a godless lout such as, say, myself, to do murder for her, the church would have had no standing to intervene; the law they invoked was holy, not civil, and the crime was consorting with the servants of Atropos, not attempted murder.

You can fume all you like about justice being circumvented — I certainly intend to — Senator Petarkis is going to be excused of his sins in order to become a puppet of the church, while Selena Petarkis runs away with her lover, more or less consequence-free, but under he circumstances it’s hard to see their light sentencing and escape (respectively) as the moment at which it all went wrong. And though I have some sympathy for Selena based on what I suspect of her home life, her escape and her father’s deal-making have placed the truth of that matter beyond knowing, which makes me uncomfortable saying the little harpy’s escape was truly for the best.

The Artemisians exerted their rights within the holy writs to circumvent civil justice and achieve the outcome they wanted, over the authority of another. Then Lunor’s did the exact same thing, in a form that was, as far as I can tell, equally (im)permissible. Heavens know what goes in between all of these churches that I haven’t seen.

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Into the Hearth of Darkness
From the Journal of Sylvius Modesto

In hopes of forestalling further casualties, and frankly because if I hadn’t sent a warning and anyone else had mentioned it to the paladin, I’d probably be on te wrong end of a holy smite, I sent a message warning Brother Roscoe Goodbarrel that Claudio had plans for the Petarkis family. I learned the following morning that he rescued her anyway (good for them!), with the help of the priests of Lunor, one of whom disguised herself as Selena and occupied her cell to cover the escape, after they absolved her for the sin of consorting with Fallen Stars.

It was at this point that I learned that suspicion of Illyria’s rather broad “law” enforcement-powers were not wholly unfounded, as the good father revealed he’d kept the poor priestess locked up to “think about what she did” without proffering any actual charges or any intent of of an inquest or tribunal. But by the time I got there, he just wanted rid of her, and I ingratiated myself to her as her escort back to the temple.

After that little moment of excitement, I briefly shared some wine with Garret and his friend (brother? cousin?) Harken Burrow, at least until we were interrupted by Tucker, who insisted that his sister Calina was going to leave town if she didn’t get an apology from Garret.

That went about as well as expected (a whole lot of yelling), and at one point I had to walk Tucker out of the room so that he wouldn’t challenge Garret to an honor duel. Cooler heads prevailed, and Garret found a way to make a peace offering that Calina could bring herself to accept. During this time, Gandren also had a vision of Petarkis being attacked by a skilled assassin in his prison cell in three days’ time.

With that handled, we just had to deal with the question of Tommen Aristian’s widow, a matter made only more urgent by Gandren’s vision. We crashed her mansion during the funeral preparations, at which point one of the servants had something of a spell, and Calina had to make a big deal over how much portraits of young Tommen looked an awful lot like me. Now, don’t get me wrong, I liked the man; he was good to me, and there were worse possibilities for the contributor of the seed that sprouted me, but I always knew it was a possibility — as did he, I am sure — and the confirmation doesn’t change the affection and respect I felt for him.

We walked into her room in the midst of another hysterical screaming fit about whores and bastards, even to the point of calling Gandren Allandriel a “gigolo” when I’m fairly certain he outranks her. But then he put that spell on her and weaseled his way into her confidence, eventually learning how the Secret Hearth can be contacted: You leave a signet ring on the edge of the fountain in the center of the Hanging Gardens District on the night of the New Moon. With his testimony as a witness to her confession, the watch took her into custody.

While this was going on I also contacted the priesthood of Lunor to warn them that the contract against Claudio Rosseti was still active, only to learn that the Lunarians (Lunorians? Lunatics?) were keeping the lovers under guard and planning an ambush for their would-be assassins. I took this information to Roscoe.

Gandren’s second sight warned him that our actions had changed Petarkis’ fate. The assassin was striking immediately. With time of the essence, we rushed to the holding cell and apprehended the assassin, who was a young woman dressed as a priest of Artimestia.

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Songs of Betrayal
The Journal of Sylvius Modesto

So, we had a bit of an evening. For starters, after some sound and fury, we were joined in our investigations by m friend Elura, who was investigating this whole mess on behalf of poor Tommen’s mistress.

After some searching, we discovered an ancient but recentl-renovated subterranean temple. Now, having already deduced from the assassin’s tools and from the needle/calling-card left behind at the scene that an assassin-cult of Atropos was responsible for the killing, and listening at the door long enough to hear that “the first had fallen, and soon the second and third would follow,” I was certain we’d learned enough to proceed with apprehending them and taking them to the watch.

I encountered some resistance on this point. Apparently, we “had no idea what was on the other side of that door” (three pairs of footsteps), and it had “no way of knowing they were cultists of Atropos” (we had no reason to suspect any other Fallen Star cults were even active within the city, and followers of conventional religions wouldn’t need to hide in catacombs). So I suggested that we “knock,” which is also the point at which my companions either believe I am an absolute buffoon, or else they are just painfully literal-minded, if not both.

In any case, after much hue and cry, we finally kicked in the door, whereupon the inhabitants of the ominous subterranean temple defied all expectation by actually being members of a murder-cult devoted to the goddess of assassins. We defeated and apprehended the rogues, and then searched the temple while Brother Garret de-desecrated (resecrated?) the altar to Atropos.

More interestingly, Elura found three contracts for assassinations, and three not-terribly anonymous clients:

  • Tommen (client: jilted wife)
  • Senator Petarkis (client: imprisoned daughter)
  • Claudio RossetiClaudio Rosetti (client: scorned father of lover)
    This was when Garret and Calina chimed in to note that Senator Petarkis’ daughter was imprisoned by her father after she attempted to elope with Claudio Rosetti, staging her own abduction in order to blackmail a “dowry” out of him. Garret had been commissioned to rescue her, and despite the change in the circumstances of his mission (i.e. she hadn’t been kidnapped) he opted to drag her home nonetheless.

Here again, our opinions diverged. Elura, for example, wanted to seduce a judge into viewing the evidence we’d collected directly rather than taking it to the watch and allowing him to be legitimately exonerated. Some of us, myself included, felt that the job of warning these people that they’d been targeted for assassination and bodyguarding them was likewise a job for the watch, and not concerned citizens. And some of us, myself included, did not believe that the assassins would keep their real contracts and clients, even as ineptly rendered “anonymous” as they were, in a drawer and protected by no kind of code, nor cipher, nor even a decent trap, like contact poison in the ink or something.

That particular debate came to a head when the watch refused to immediately arrest the three clients on the strength of these contracts. Which is fair, it’s hardly damning evidence (I probably could have written those contracts myself if I’d wanted} and it’s not like they’d had time to question the prisoners we’d delivered.

So, after some debate, Gandren’s squire, whom if I may say is a tad aggravating, suggested that Garret arrest them on grounds of heresy. It’s bad enough that we’ve got to manage an overzealous literalist with divine might and no sense of discretion, without people feeding him bad ideas. Nevertheless, that’s what was done.

(And can I say, seeing someone arrested on a charge of heresy, even for consorting with a cult of a Fallen Star, leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Consorting with evil forces, I could see as a crime, but a charge of heterodoxy covers all manner of sins. What’s to keep the Church of Aetemisia from declaring the worship of Persephone heretical? Or Calypso? They’re hardly the gleaming paragons of virtue that Artemisians seem to favor).

We showed up at Casa Petarkis and of course Garret took the lead. I mean, he kind if had to, since none of the rest of us were invested with the authority of the church, but it kind of set the tone, and that tone was Selena’s burning hatred of Garret. In the end, Gandren had to place her under some kind of enchantment, lest we be forced to drag her kicking and screaming through the streets.

And this of course is where the real drams began. Father whatshisname had not been warned of our plans nor proffered any evidence prior to Garret’s arrest. Something of a family drama ensued. It turns out that Petarkis had been a major political supporter and financial backer of the church, and the Father was worried about reprisals from Petarkis’ political allies, cutting off the church’s funding and limiting its power. That might seem like a cold calculation, but that funding does bankroll the church’s charitable activities, so that’s food being taken indirectly from the mouths of the needy. Never try to explain that to a holy knight, though.

So I didn’t.

My greater concern is for Selena Petarkis. Her violent, blasphemous ranting has Gandren concerned that she is possessed, but I suspect a more mundane explanation: she hates Garret and hates the church because she feel that both have failed and betrayed, of not outright persecuted, her. In my experience, girls who run off with young men that their fathers disapprove of, are as much “running from” as “running to.” And so whatever prompted her to elope would lie with her home life (and the father who locked her up after having her dragged back to him) as much as (or more than) with her beau.

Given her father’s obvious willingness to resort to the same tactics to destroy the man who stole his daughter from him, that makes Selena’s act less that of a demon-ridden host and more that of a girl who, once all legitimate options had failed her, resorted to an illegitimate one. I’m not sure if that exculpates her any more than being possessed, but I am also not sure it exculpates her any less. But certainly if he father were violent or otherwise abusive, we might look with greater sympathy on the attempt on her life.

In an case, she’s in the church’s care now, and all I can do is speak my opinions before judgment is passed.

More pressing in the moment was question of her lover. While Garret and Father Ican’trememberhisname and Calina all had their personal melodramas, Gandren, his retinue, Elura, and I all went out to drink. While we were out, we decided to hit all the establishments that rogue Claudio was known to frequent, and when I found him I invited myself to his card game and warned him that there was a contract on his life.

Of course, by then Elura was quite drunk and had already composed a ballad of recent events, airing the Petarkis’ dirty laundry all over town. She was drunkenly playing it by then, so I let him know that the two things were related, and he put enough together to also deduce that Selena and her father were in temple custody, after which he stated he had “one more thing to do before he left town.” Which either means he’s going to rescue her, murder the her father, or both. Or possibly kill her or both of them.

My money’s on the rescue attempt, though, and from what I’ve seen so far I kind of hope that he succeeds. Sadly, I doubt that’s likely, since I am not the only one of our merry band of misfits who was privy to that conversation.

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Secrets and Shadows
Sylvius' Journal

From Sylvius Modesto’s Journal:

Today didn’t begin well. I woke up… it doesn’t matter where I woke up, nor with whom. I’m sure the Dainty Dwarf could spare those two serving-boys for the night; business was deader than Utos’ bedsheets, if you know what I mean. What matters is that at some point last night I apparently switched from wine to spirits and then to what I can only assume was some distillation of hemlock, based on how close to death I felt this morning. In any case, I woke up only to find a courier from mother inviting me to brunch on the estate.

Six cups of coffee and a concoction of raw egg later, I was at the estate and she met me at the door and hugged me. That’s when I knew it was going to be bad; normally mother invites me to brunches in the Blue Lantern District, and normally if she were going to call me home, she’d have a whole production planned.

She told me that one of her closest friends, Senator Tommen, had been murdered and that she needed me to see how the city guard was handling it. Well, knowing that she entrusted this to me and not to anyone more proper firmed my resolve to do this right. Also, I liked Tommen.

My head was still pounding when I arrived at the guardhouse, and there I found out that they were holding this young minotaur as a material witness to the murder, as it had been he they discovered with the body. Through friendly conversation (on an unrelated note, minotaurs are impressively huge; even underage, the boy’s taller than I am!), I learned that he’d been meeting with Tommen over a “personal matter” that wasn’t so much personal as politically sensitive, and found him dead at a private location, whereupon the boy scooped up his body and ran to find a healer.

While accompanying the young minotaur, I had the pleasure of meeting with his sister, some ally of Tommen’s family named Gandren Allandriel, and some paladin of Artemisa. Oddly, as cagey as Calina came off, it’s the paladin I don’t really trust; he seemed far too eager to have the church take custody of the witness, the investigation, and, well, everything;

In any case, while they were all busy politicking at one another, I charmed the clerk into sending a report of the investigation thus far to mother. Then we argued over where to have lunch, but were interrupted by some kind of angry mob intent on blaming the boy for Tommen’s death on rather flimsy evidence. We talked (and shouted) them down, then ended up acquiescing to the paladin and going to his temple instead, where Calina, without much hesitation, gave her brother into the care of the high priestl.

Once all the bickering was settled and some trust was earned, Calina revealed that she’s part of some kind of radical militant pacifist movement within the minotaur empire, and that Tommen’s assassination might have to do with his involvement. After some additional cajoling, she led us to the (already compromised) safe house where Tommen was killed, and we investigated. After some false starts, we found evidence of assassin’s tools and the calling card of some kind of assassin-cult of Atropos.

We tracked the murderer to a secret passage in a side alley behind an apartment complex (note to self: where did the hidden catch and stairs come from? They had to have been there when the apartments were built; even if you could excavate under the building without anyone noticing, how would you install the door mechanism so seamlessly without a team of craftsmen, tradesmen, and engineers? Was it always a bolthole for assassins, or did they just find it and put it to good use? Either way, is the city just riddled with secret doors and hidden rooms? Can I have one?). In any case, the secret passage was a stairway leading into an underground tunnel.

There, we were assaulted by living shadows. We fought them off, but it was unpleasant. The paladin and the elven wizard certainly earned their keep this night. But more on that later. I rest now…

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The Lost Daughter
The heroes meet, families are reunited, and Love is thwarted

Coming soon

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Tales of Arestia
A chronicle of our Hero's adventures

And so begings our Tale…

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