Hell's Rebels

Contingencies
The Best Laid Plans

In the distance, the last tolls of Asmodeus’ Bells peeled off over the harbour, signalling the midnight hour. Yulobilus Harbour was unusually quiet, barely a soul on the docks or walkways, a general sense of needing to stay home suddenly taking the populace of Kintargo, the flight of their Mayor shaking them. A dozen Dottari marched through, their heavy footfalls echoing off the stone buildings as their lanterns danced over the edges of darkness that spilled forth from the multitude of alleyways they passed. Even the ever reliable and brave guard felt no reason to peer too deeply into the shadows this night, their want for finishing the patrol high on their priorities. Once gone, a slip of a shadow moved from one of the alleyways, clear almond eyes sweeping the street before taking a few graceful strides and disappearing down another alley and through a concealed doorway in an old, fieldstone wall. Emerging into a tiny, hidden alcove dug into the back of a building, a gloved hand depressed a stone and stole into the small opening that appeared.

“You wish for us to fold, to flee rumours and shadows from the south?” Rickett’s voice was raised in anger as the halfling pointed an accusing finger at the Baroness seated opposite him.

In the warm, small sub-basement of The Thrashing Badger tavern, four figures gathered around an old oak table, glasses of spiced wine warming their gullets as they poured over missives and maps.

“I am not asking you to abandon your organisation Rickett, for I know your heart is as stubborn as mine, it is tied to this city through good and bad. But that responsibility should not fall on all that you have strived to free from Cheliax slavery. Give them the choice, I have supplied what I can to help facilitate an escape, but it is your words they will listen to.” Baroness Victocora leant back in the high-backed, padded chair as she turned her gaze to the others in attendance, looking for support.

Silence filled the room as Rickett stared down into his drink, frustration obvious on his strong face. Usually Zachrin, the High Priest of Shelyn, could smooth any dissent between the various faction leaders but even he wisely decided to let the halfling mull in peace. Opposite the priest, a well cloaked figure sat, arms crossed and hood pulled forwards finally nodded in the Baroness’ direction. The symbol of Milani was clear on the figure’s robes but in all the times the group had met, he or she, had never revealed their face, the fear of inquisition and spies leading the figure to hide their identity from all, including the other members of the Rose of Kintargo.

“Very well, I will send word to the various tillers and freemen to prepare for a voyage. The gift was generous as always mi ’Lady and I meant no disrespect, I just hate the thought that we may be jumping at shadows” Rickett’s voice was muffled as spoke into his glass, his mind working out the logistics of smuggling out dozens of his kin within a night or two.

“The shadows are real and they bare real teeth” Shensen’s velvet like voice filled the room as she appeared in the hidden entrance. Strolling in and taking a seat and wine bottle, the half-elf took one long draw before she acknowledged the looks in her direction, more specifically, at her matted appearance.

With a shrug and a smirk, Shensen brushed some gunk off her leathers and used a wine soiled napkin to clean the blood and soot from her scimitar before looking back at the expectant group. Glancing back down to her weapon and up again, Shensen just shrugged again before giving them all a wink “some Chelish Citizen’s members are going home with a limp”.

“We assumed” the Baroness said flatly, only slight concern in her voice for she knew how deadly the half-elf could be “but what of news from South, we have not the time or inclination for your theatrics, your show finished hours ago”.

“It was wonderful as usual Shensen, you and the new playwright make a wonderful combination”. The Shelynite priest interjected, his praise genuine from just arriving from the theatre.

“Do not encourage her Zachrin, her body is already too slim to carry a head that big.” The Baroness was getting frustrated, something she knew Shensen enjoyed but the others were not helping.

“A new Lord-Mayor has been chosen, one of Abrogail’s distant relatives. Rumour is, he is a high-ranking member of the Church and a whoreson to boot.” Shensen’s voice grew serious at this point as she leant in, almost fearing that the inquisitor’s of Asmodeus could breach even this sanctum. “My intelligence says he requested this position, one that no ranking member of House Thrune has wanted for decades. He was promoted to Paracount so he could rule all of Ravounel as well as Kintargo. They say Queen Abbie signed it off quickly, for it is said she finds him distasteful and creepy and wants him out of the Heartlands while the war rages.”

The news hung in the air, the five individuals weighing the words carefully. Queen Abbie was quite the tyrant and was rumoured to be quite sadistic behind closed doors. For her to find someone distasteful was quite the worry.

“How long do we have?” Rickett’s voice breaking the silence, his dagger carving the Thrune crest into the table before wedging the tip into it.

“He is marching with a full complement of personal Dottari as well a score of Hellknights, of which order, I am unsure. Based on the crossing and the war going on, I imagine we have about a week before he darkens our doorstep.”

“It appears we are in for dark times my friends” the muffled voice surprising the group as leader of the Rose of Kintargo stood “we must prepare to batten down the hatches and wheather the storm out, it is not a time for risks. The Rose will assist both the Sarenites and the Bellflowers to get the vulnerable out but I suggest we give ourselves three days to do so. We will want the four to bury our leads and put on our prettiest smiles for the new Lord-Mayor, for we will be most successful in our future endeavors when we appear peaceful and compliant.”

Already both Rickett and Shensen were on their feet, pride and passion plastered fiercely upon their faces as they had no intention of giving the new Thrunie an easy ride but both Zachrin and the Baroness raised their hands and beckoned them to sit, both acting as the usual voice of reason.

“The Rose is right, we must make sure our houses are in order and be prepared to lie low for a while, we have family and friends to protect. Recklessness now will give the new Lord-Mayor reason to immediately install horrific laws and harsh judgement.” As the Baroness spoke, the High Priest of Shelyn nodded his approval. “The Archivists will get to work finding everything we can on this new Lord-Mayor and will disperse some more wealth to assist the smuggling out of any of our people who need it. In three days, we go quiet, no more meetings, no more missions in the shadows until two full moons pass, we must gauge our enemy in the light before we strike in the dark. Are we agreed?”

Four pairs of eyes stared at the now standing Baroness, her fine features set in determination, the shadows of the room highlighting her striking countenance. Each were the heads of their own organisations, none beholden to another, but even the rebellious Rickett and Shensen could not find and argument to the Archivist’s words and found they counted on her wisdom more than they would like to admit. As one, all nodded and took a goblet and toasted their agreement. In one week’s time, they would be the public face of good, honest citizens.

3 Night’s Later

It was too soon, the new Mayor was arriving this night, his agents already sweeping the city with the assistance of the Dottari and the Church of Asmodeus. They had been undone, treachery somewhere in the ranks. Rickett and Shensen raced through the rank sewers, the stench and surroundings ignored as they zig-zagged through the tunnels, the sounds of hell-hounds on their heels. The ship for Varisia had left the previous dawn, the freed Halflings hopefully safe from the scourge currently hitting the city. But others were not so lucky, various members of the Bellflower Network as well the Archivists and Rose were also heading out the city this night, to find allies further afield and return when the time was right. But inquisitors had been waiting for them, many of their people captured or killed in the initial ambush. Shensen and Rickett had cut a path out for the Baroness and others but they were now dispersed across the city, their safety unknown.

Rounding another corner, Rickett’s crossbow flicked up with practiced reflex and a bolt flew free taking a hell hound in the neck. The two Dottari looked up on to spy a spinning figure coming down at them, a blade trailing flame as it struck both down in one fluid motion. Taking stock of their location, the two friends eyed a sewer grate.

“I am heading to the Thrashing Badger, to rally what allies we have left” Rickett spoke as he reloaded his crossbow. “If we are comprimised, we cannot use the usual meeting place, I suggest we retreat to the Opera House, surely there is space to hide there?”

Shensen nodded her agreement, before heading further along, her music store and allies now her priority.

Minutes later, Shensen climbed into to the upstairs window of her house and shop, all was dark and quiet. But the moment her foot touched the floor, she knew all was not right. Bright light flared in her expansive room, her four-poster bed collapsed and her wardrobes and vanity units destroyed and turned-over. Eight Dottari, ones she had not seen before stood with crossbows and swords ready as another figure entered. Clad in full chain-mailed and swathed in the heraldry of Asmodeus, a severe looking woman levelled a wicked-looking glaive at the half-elf.

“Shensen of Sarenrae, you have been declared a traitor to the crown and I, Nox, champion of Asmodeus and personal body-guard to Lord-Mayor Barzillai Thrune, have been given the authority to claim your head."

Shensen cocked her head, the woman’s words raspy and full of malice, but seemed to be almost echoing from her mouth, like they were just mimicked from elsewhere. Behind, even the stone-faced Dottari seemed to edge away from her, a palpable fear of the commanding woman. The fact there seemed to be small coils of smoke rising from the woman’s eyes certainly explained a few things.

“I have commanded my men to stay down, for I wish to have the honour of silencing your seditious voice.” There was no bravado in Nox’s voice, just flat statement of fact and assurance of her prowess, for she was first among the warriors brought into Kintargo, a highly demanded bodyguard in the courts of Cheliax. “And” now a cold smile curled on the woman’s scarred face “they are tired from butchering the acolytes of yours we found in the shrine beneath the sho.”

Nox’s sentence never finished, for in a split second, Shensen had cleared the space between them, a song of vengeance springing forth from her darkened face as she freed her blade, flames roaring down the metal. The dervish’s foot landed atop the threatening glaive, forcing it into the floor and throwing the surprised champion of Asmodeus off balance. Then her head trembled and the sickening sound of tearing flesh filled the room as Nox’s head tore backwards, now only hanging by tendrils of flesh. The Dottari took several seconds to register what happened, seconds too late as the vengeful bard was among them, stepping in and out of their reach in a deadly dance of death, metal flashing and a song filling their ears as their own voices called out in pain in terror. As quickly as it began, the dance of the dervish was over and the blood covered diva was alone on her room, a massacre at her feet.

“Impressive, I am truly in awe at your prowess, you are no mere dilettante” Nox’s voice shook Shensen as the bard turned around to see the woman standing, holding her head in place as the skin reached out to itself and began sealing the vicious wound. “Let me see how long your exuberant energy lasts”. With that, Nox raised her glaive again and attacked.

The two battled back and forth for minutes, the quickly enraging Asmodean not landing a single hit upon the dancing and leaping Sarenite whose sword found home over and over again, tearing limbs loose and scarring the flesh of the ever regenerating devil spawn. More Dottari poured into room but as she ducked under a wide swing of the glaive, Shensen drew upon her powers of song and words crept into each man’s ears, suggesting they leave and assist those fighting the fires that seemed to cropping up in the city. To a man, each one turned on their heel and headed out into the city.

“Enough!” Nox pulled back, her armour shredded and mutliple red scars criss-crossign her body, wounds so terrible even her regernation was not helping. She was frustrated, for while the half-elf was covered in a sheen of sweat and blood, she was not looking as tired as she should, the woman dancing and fighting in a tempo to minimise her effort. “Who trained you whore, no Bard’s College teaches fighting like that?”

Shensen was not going to allow Nox to waste her time and advanced as she spoke “Being a Diva is just this current part of my life” an ear flew from Nox’s face “for I have many chapters leading up to this moment” several fingers severed in a spinning strike “and I have faced dangers and horrors across Golarion both above and below ground in my adventuring days that even a devil-cursed being like you could not dream of.” Chain split as Shensen spun low and reversed her grip and swept her blade up, tearing Nox’s left leg free at the thigh sending the woman to the ground in agony. “And, not that is your business, but my life did not begin as a half-elf, but one as a drow!” Shensen’s voice was now in quiet, wavering fury “and we do not learn how to fight, for that implies effort and a chance of losing, we learn how to kill!” With that, Shensen swept her sword across the fear struck woman, a scream caught in her throat as she was dissected in four lightning quick flourishes. “I will not let harm befall any more of my friends and Barzillai Thrune will never occupy Kintargo, for I will take his life this night”.

Shensen’s senses picked up more movement and looking up, trying to clear her mind from her clouding thoughts of vengeance, she laid her eyes upon the applauding figure of Corinstian Grivenner.

“Well done child, that was an impressive feat, but your story is over, a tragedy in the making I would say” the words dark with venom and spite.

Unlike the others, he was ready for her springing vengeance. While trained in the church to fight, skilled and deadly himself, he knew he was no match for the ex-adventurer. But he was wiser and brought a back-up plan. Shensen heard the fluttering of wings and the call of what sounded like a cockerel before she reached the smirking priest and managed to slow her dance and flip back into the room as suddenly she was surrounded by flying creatures, the bard blinded and confused as feathers, tails and beaks seemed dance around her. In all but a moment of confusion, the fight was over.

Corinstian ordered his men into the room, several returning from their strange compulsion to assist the people of the city. “Take the valuables as well Nox’s body.” As the priest looked over at the remains of the bard, he pointed them out as well “And take her body, it will make a fine present to our new Lord-Mayor, for he will be assured by the passing of the Diva of Kintargo. No rebel leader will left after this night to oppose our glorious Lord’s ascent.”

And hour later, great pillars of fire roared from the heavens, engulfing the shop and home of Shensen, the hidden shrine to Sarenrae defiled and destroyed. The blaze lit up the night sky in unison with two others, home of Baroness Victocora and the meeting place of the many dissidents of the city.

Thrune and Asmodeus had come to Kintargo and now, their rule will be unnapposed.

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The Night of Ashes
The Rise of Thrune

Hear Ye, Hear Ye

On the evening of Waelday, 6th of Pharast, Mayor Jillia Bainilus has fled the City of Kintargo and abandoned her duties. It is reported that she has boarded a ship to Arcadia, the threat of the Glorious Reclamation driving her to flee with city funds.

In the wake of her desertion, High Priest Corinstian Grivenner has stepped up to steer the Silver City until a new ruler can be placed. The High Priest wishes all to know that there will be no changes at this time, and a full investigation will be launched into Jillia’s criminal act. We are also to put no weight into the fear of threat from the Glorious Reclamation, even as I speak, our Queen Abrogail Thrune II is overseeing the destruction of the blasphemous traitors that dare march within our borders. The House of Thrune will continue its ever-vigilant protection of her people.

All Glory to Queen Abrogail Thrune


The Night of Ashes

In the early hours of Sunday, 10th of Pharast, fires have torn through the city of Kintargo. Fires are not an uncommon occurance and some may say it appears just poor luck or coincidence that three have lit up the night sky in one night. But do not be fooled, for evidence points to sabotage from various pro- Glorious Reclamation supporters within the city protesting at the arrival of its new ruler, but more on that in a moment.

Current reports have listed the destruction of House Victocora in The Greens , The Silver Star music shop in Jarvis End and the Thrashing Badger in Yulobilis Harbor. The intensity of the fires were so hot, it is suspected that there are no survivors in any of the three locations.

This is an unfortunate display from our fair city in welcoming its new ruler, a great man who has ridden both day and night to calm the fear and uncertainty that rocks Kintargo. In the early hours, Paracount Barzillai Thrune , of noble blood to the Thrune name and Grand Inquisitor of the Church of Asmodeus , has entered Kintargo with his personal army, one that will protect the city and its denizens from the terrorists of the Glorious Reclamation.

So, join me in 5th hour after dawn in Aria Park to welcome our new protector and saviour, for he will address us from the balcony of the Kintargo Opera House.

All Glory to Queen Abrogail Thrune

Corinstian Grivenner

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Prelude
The Tragedy of Family

Two nights out from the glorious re-opening of the Kintargo Opera House and a murder most foul has rocked the Silver City. Everyone is a suspect, the threat and innovation that one, shy inventor could bring to Cheliax is enough to make even the most rational of men plot the death of an innocent.

The Frickard Pen, a huge step forward in penmanship and quality, has shaken the foundation of the educated and privileged. If the metal nibbed instrument was to make it into wide circulation, even the most common of men could become literate and spread their ideas. A dangerous idea to the ever vigilant Church of Asmodeus or to the academic institutions like the Alabaster Academy or the various scribe and clerks organisations. And what of the pro-Frickard supporters, the merchant’s, ink makers, paper mills and those who believe in the freedom of knowledge? The pen was in danger of being banned, but to make a martyr of its creator could cause a groundswell of sympathy and support, and to accuse the other side of oppression.

And yet, in this tumultuous time of innovation and oppression, of complex arguments for and against freedom of speech, it was the most common of motives, the most base of human hubris that took the life of one man: greed.

Callery Frickard, by all accounts, a generous and kind man, who lived a quiet life alone in his large house, his fear of small spaces keeping him from finding somewhere more comfortable was slain by one who shared his blood all in the name of greed.

Donald Coldwater, a distant cousin who had served in the Cheliax military in their oppressive campaigns in the northern lands of Varisia had returned to Kintargo a broken man. Without wealth and a deteriorating mental state from both of his actions and what he had seen in the army, he harboured a grudge against those he felt were unworthy of their privilege. Discovering a yet still living family member, he reached out and was rewarded with only kindness and coin. The slur so deep, the callousness of such charity a slap to his pride, Donald seethed with his crazed hatred, fueled by poisonous words in the night. Eventually, the venom reached his mind and Frickard’s fate was sealed. All he had to do now was wait until the shock and chaos stilled and he could claim his rightful prize. Already he had planned his wealth, divided his winnings in unabashed greed. It was his downfall.

While the tale of Callery and Donald is tragic, it served to draw light upon another element of darkness creeping through the streets of Kintargo. The troupe of the Kintargo Opera House has drawn the ire of the Church of Asmodeus, the threat that arts had of spreading sedition and dangerous thoughts was of the utmost concern. The High Priest himself inserted himself into the politics of the murder to try and stifle the growing support for the theatre and shut down its opening night through esoteric by-laws. The more the intrepid leaders of the troupe pushed, the more resistance they found brewing in the shadow of the church. But with the aid of friends and their own tenaciousness, the arts won out, and Kintargo was exposed to the majesty and thought-proking play: Lamentations of the Ice Queen.

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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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