Hell's Rebels

Mightier than the Sword

Story 1

“More wine?” the host’s words were warm and scented with the rich merlot that was once again being offered to her guest.

Without a word, the white-haired diva picked up her Taldan crafted wine glass and tilted it forwards as she cast her eyes across the bird filled private gardens. Herons, cranes and several imported flamingos lazily grazed by the lily-filled pond as a handsome young man carefully pruned a hedge. Letting her gaze linger for a moment, Shensen, brought her now full glass back to her painted lips to take another sip.

“Please do not woo my gardener away, I have need of his services this eve in preparation for the pre-opening gala.”

With mock hurt, the exotic half sea-elven opera singer brought her eyes back upon the Baroness, and placed her glass down. Baroness Victocora was the very model of Cheliaxian nobility; alabaster skin with midnight hair pulled back into an intricate woven bun. Her movements were slight and restrained though each action subtly enhanced her point. Dressed in the latest Egorian fashion, layered fabrics brought to sharp angles, the aging matriarch allowed the warmth of the autumnal afternoon mixed with the contents of the third bottle of expensive wine she had shared to allow a smile to cross her powdered face at her friend’s overreaction.

“The gala is still on? I thought maybe the strike crippling the scribes and clerks may have pushed our opening night back. I know our poor first-time playwright is trying to get her sign-writers back to work with glares alone.” Shensen chuckled to herself as she thought back to her daring escape from the Opera House, avoiding another reading by judicious use of her dinosaur friend, Guttugger. Titania had not expected the diva to spring from the second-floor balcony onto a passing wagon as her appointed door guard and dinosaur friend fought over a conveniently ordered braised steak.

Reaching down to a small Chuult wooden side table, the Baroness picked up a small silver case and placed it on the table between the two women. With a flick of the small latch, Baroness Victocora opened it reveal a darkwood writing instrument. Instead of the commonly seen goose feathered quill, a sleek pen with a silver metal nib lay in a velvet recess. With careful movement, the pen was retrieved and handed to reclining half-elf.

“Who knew that such a simple, elegant invention would cause such consternation across our fair city, even more than the news of an invading army in the south.” Reclining back herself, a glass of wine replacing the pen in her hand, the Baroness mused aloud as she watched for her friend’s reaction.

Shensen studied the finally crafted instrument before spinning it across her fingers with effortless grace.

“Indeed, poor Callery, I imagine he is in shock that his name has become a rallying cry between two factions espousing the greatness or evil of his invention. Can I dare to guess that you are a pro-Frickard supporter?” Shensen knew the answer even as she asked the question, but the now quite tipsy singer was hoping her regal host would let something else slip.

Inebriated herself, the noble owner and benefactor of the Kintargo Opera House weighted the question for a moment, the rich accent of her guest filling her senses.

“Of course” she slurred ever so slightly, the sound strange to her ears for drinking to excess was not something she would normally allow. The rumours of Shensen being a bad influence upon all around her seemingly true. “I can understand the plight of the clerks and scribes, they have spent years in the Alabaster Tower or other places of learning for their trade and a simple invention may bring legible, easy to use calligraphy to the masses. But, allowing every man and woman the opportunity to improve themselves and become literate would be a boon to culture and civilisation unmatched by any other leap in the last thousand years.”

When silence descended upon the afternoon tea, Shensen realised that she was not going to get what she wanted and with a flourished sigh, leant forward and placed the pen back into its case. Standing, the tall woman strolled to the edge of the balcony, a little wobbly on her feet and stretched. Soon she would have to return, her absenteeism by now most likely causing her new friend to be melting down as the very city seemed intent on stopping her first play.

“I will do what I can to try and soothe the opposing groups, for their actions are getting out of hand and sooner or later, our beleaguered mayor will have to unleash the Kintargo Dottari upon the rabble. Apparently some geese were killed in retaliation to an arson attack on an ink suppliers warehouse. It will not take long before some of the local rabble-rousers will take advantage and up the chaos to besmirch Mayor Jillia’s rule." The Baroness joined the singer at the balcony edge as she spoke, guiding herself with the handrail. “I will make sure Titania’s play will make its opening night. Though, that will pose another problem, how much ire and seditious undertones does this one have?”

“Just enough” came the light-hearted reply.

“I am serious, I support you and your need to push the boundaries but you must be careful for not just yourself but for all the theatre workers. I will organise more guard to be available.”

“No need, we have our friends with the mouthy fists and do you think the master dwarf will allow anyone to dare bring harm to his opera house?”

“His?” The Baronesses question came with an arched brow.

“Oh yes, you think it is yours, but trust me, that Opera House is like his child, he knows every brick and cornerstone.”

Another pause settled between the two friends as they took in the evening sky, deep reds streaking over the ocean that led to the distant dragon-ruled nation of Arcadia.

*"Are the* Order of Sacred Archivists expecting the Thrune Redactors to play a hand in the growing troubles regarding the Frickard Pen?" Shensen was bored of waiting for her longtime friend to reveal her secret allegiance to her, she had offered so many opportunities but the Baroness has always stayed tight-lipped.

Pavanna Victocora did not flinch as the half-elf revealed her knowledge of her work with the Sacred Archivists, she had assumed Shensen had known for some time, but making the half-elf wait for confirmation for months had been personally entertaining. She and her allies worked tirelessly in Kintargo to ensure that the Thrune Redactors could not erase all modern history of Cheliax, to rid themselves of truths they found uncomfortable. To the Archivists, history, knowledge and reason should be available to all, to lift humanity has a whole up, not for the powerful to dictate what would be remembered or how it would be remembered. Because of this, she was a full supporter of the new invention but knew it would bring inquisitors and Hellknights to her fair city if not handled properly.

“High Priest Corinstian Grivenner has already condemned the pen, spouting propaganda about how it will allow dissidents to poison the minds of the young and destabilize the cultured law and history of Cheliax." Pavanna spoke quietly as she cast her eyes over the city, almost expecting to see a cadre of Hellknights of the Rack marching into town, torches ready for book burnings at the ready. “Callery unfortunately has some powerful enemies lining up to see his life’s work destroyed. Apart from the House of Thrune and Church of Asmodeus, many from the Alabaster College have come out to decrying that such an invention will destroy institutions of learning, bringing Cheliax into a dark age of academia.”

Shensen turned back to the table as the Baroness spoke, the women’s stubbornness in ignoring her prompting question about her secret society driving her to find more alcohol. Scooping the wine up, the diva necked the bottle in a very unlady like fashion, draining the contents as Pavanna’s words came to a close. A little unsteady but feeling warm and a little hyperactive, the half-elf walked back and gracefully leapt onto the balcony, a slender arm reaching out to steady herself from a post. With sudden clarity as a cold wind blew across the estate, Shensen glared at the white towers of the Alabaster College that dominated the skyline along with the Temple of Asmodeus and Kintargo Citadel.

“I am surprised Iylvana Desdoros would take that stance, I assume it is all the old professors who like the comfortable offices and don’t like the idea that their job could be filled by the unwashed masses." Shensen’s voice was suddenly filled with frustration, a small flame suddenly flickering at the symbol to Sarenrae that was tattooed on her forehead, a sign that usually meant she was about to do something reckless.

A surprisingly strong hand suddenly gripped her arm and pulled her off the balcony and the surprised woman looked up to an admonishing look from the Baroness. Looking back down, she cocked her head at the small hand that was gripping her like steel before giving the noble woman a confused look.

“Books are heavy” was the only response to the bard’s unasked question before continuing “and Titania would have your ears if she saw you endangering yourself like that days before her premier. She already has enough concerns as it is.” Letting go, the Baroness sat down, the night was cooling and despite her easy canter despite her aging years, the cold was pushing through the wine she had drunk.

Suddenly serious, Shensen sat as well, a look of genuine concern on her face now.

“What if the strike does not break, we will never make all the re-writes, copies and flyers in time for opening. It will not only be Titania who will be crushed, but the whole company. And wages, everyone needs to eat.” Shensen’s concern choked her for a moment as she thought of the hundred or so that made up her theatre family. “Where is our Katarina the Fair and Ser Wyran of Iomedae to come and topple our inbred, blasphemous and tyrannical government?”

“Ease, Shensen, your voice tends to carry and those are not the words you want freely floating about. Not with your own semi-secret cult of Sarenrae sheltering under your music shop.” While in admonishment mode, the Baroness took some delight in Shensen’s surprise at the noble knowing of her own secrets. “Money will not be a problem, I will ensure everyone is paid whether the show goes on or not. And besides, your monthly “secret” donation has arrived and is in my office at the Opera House. One day, Zachrin Vhast will be able to admit he and his church are the secret generous benefactors of the theatre company, though I suppose they must tread carefully, their presence only just tolerated by the Thrune government as it is. But what Zachrin has agreed openly to me is that he and his acolytes will donate their time to do all the writing while the strike is on and create several art banners advertising the opening. Everything will be okay."

Pavanna’s words seemed to instantly ease the fired up bard, who allowed a smile to cross her face again. Shensen gave a wink to another handsome young servant as he set-up several warming braziers on the balcony causing the boy to blush and almost drop coals across the floor. With a twinkle in her eye, she reached down and retrieved another bottle of wine and uncorked it before filling both glasses again.

“Well, with all our concerns out of the away, it seems we finally have something new to talk about” Shensen lifted her glass in toast as she pulled her symbol of the Saranrae Dervishes of the Qadira free “let us talk of dark deeds and insurrection until dawn breaks overhead.” Shensen’s glass clinked against the Baronesses as both shared a smile and continue to make their way through the Victocora wine collection. “And stop staring across the ocean, I am sure young Rexus will be home from Arcadia soon enough, the boy now a well-travelled man.”

With that, the two friends talked, laughed and drank long into the night. Talk of a liberated Cheliax dominated the conversation, when devils can no longer walk openly and true culture can return. A time when an invention as simple as a metal-nibbed pen will be celebrated and not shouted down in fear.

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