© 2016-2017, Kevan Hashemi

The Neurothi Invasion

Quayam, Thristen, and Gristel Home
Mid-West Idonius
Western Outlands

Contents

Cast of Characters
Telegram from Guildencrassen
Dragut Reis
Talismans of Summoning
Return to Scartoni
Searching the Moors
The Grand Master
Notes

Cast of Characters

NameOccupationAge
Quayam SraeElf adventurer (al=31) and sorcerer, husband of GristelM 190
Romayne SraeHalf-elf adventurer (al=5), daughter of GristelF 22
Gristel VirageAdventurer (al=27), wife of QuayamF 53
Thristen AlomereAdventurer (al=31), friend of Quayam and GristelM 45
Travis AlomereAdventurer (al=10), son of ThristenM 30
Onorato PubliusThe boy in the photograph, a bridge sorcererM 15
Fabio PubliusFather of Onorato, a bridge sorcererM 15
Elivinsikil MordenixusPolicewoman of Guildencrassen (al=6), Knight of DiamantisF 26
Richard CrockfordEndan Ambassador to UrsiaM 53
ThrassusA Dragon≈5000
Flasheen UndersonBandit Chief in BorderlandsF 32
Table: Cast of Characters. Ages on 3rd February 2486.

Telegram from Guildencrassen

New session: Kirk, Chris, Kevan, Norfolk Road, 18-MAR-16. Game date 26th August 2486. Improve our mass combat system, arriving at the military system, in which we account for the fact that the number of soldiers engaged in a battle is limited by the space available for them to stand and fight. If we assume one meter per soldier, a 10-km front, bounded by two rivers, will accommodate only 10k soliders in line, so it is impossible for an army of 100k to outnumber an army of 20k in the fighting along the front, so long as the front holds. The new system defines the relative prowess of soldier type A with respect to soldier type B as the number of soldiers of type B that a soldier of type A can disable consecutively, one-on-one, before the soldier of type A is himself disabled. The military combat system encourages us to use the hand-to-hand combat system to determine relative prowess.

We roll some combats ourselves, for use in the up-coming Neurothi Crusade. Orc infantry with heaviest armor they can carry, ap=12, and longsword versus Neurothi with heaviest armor ap=8 and longsword, both 3rd level, relative strength 1.5 and orc takes 10 rounds to disable the first enemy. Orc with staff and studded leather versus Neurothi with longsword and studded leather, both 3rd level, is 1.5 and takes 9 rounds. (This one we expected to have lower relative prowess because the orc does not have a sword, but that's not how it turned out.) Orc with sword and ap=12 versus Neurothi with longsword and ap=8 by moonlight, both 3rd level, is 3.0 and 27 rounds. In starlight 16.0 and 18 rounds. Establish that the strength of a well-equipped company of soldiers is proportional to the sum of the adventurer levels of its members. This we did with two trials, one of two 3rd level against 1st and 5th, where relative strength of the two 3rds is around 1.1, and another with one 6th level against one 3rd level, where the relative strength of the 6th level is 2.1.

On the 25th August, Quayam and Gristel met Camden Beal. They stay the night in the Gumption Arms and the next day, fly back to the Virage Estate in Clavicle. Together with Thristen and Zak, they celebrate Kim's second birthday on the 27th. On 30th August, they depart for Pakesh on wyverns at 7 am, sharing the weight of armor and Zak and Kim between them. The sun is shining. They fly a few hundred meters up and avoid the cool air. They stop for lunch at the Gumption Arms and arrive in Pakesh at 8 pm. Quayam and Gristel settle in at their house, Thristen, Zak and Kim settle in at Thristen's apartment. For the next two weeks, they relax, dance, and socialize.

On the 16th September, 2486, the Trans-Outland Highway Authority receives a telegram care of Thristen Alomere from Elivinsikil Mordenixus in Guildencrassen. "All well in G. The Celts are preparing for war. They talk about going south to fight orcs and wizards. Thought just rumor, but now been months of talk. Think real. Could talk with you 9 am Pakesh Time, 18th Sept." Two days later they talk to Elivinsikil and learn that the Neurothi are planning a Crusade into the Western Outlands to liberate the Holy Lands and exterminate the orcs.

"What else is going on?" Thristen says, "How is the cheese and beer business?"

"Good, for now," Elivinsikil says. "The locals are buying cheese to take with them, and beer. But if they do go, we won't have anyone to sell to."

"How many of them are going?" Gristel says, frowning at the trumpet that allows the sound of Elivinsikil's voice to fill the living room of her Pakesh home. "Surely not everyone."

"They all say they are going."

"Do you have enough food stored for winter?" Quayam says.

"We think so," Elivinsikil says. "And we are building a shelter for Thrassus, on the ledge overlooking the town."

At the end of the conversation, Quayam, Thristen, and Gristel sit back in their padded chairs and think. This is a fine time of year to be in Pakesh. It's still hot, but not too hot. It's dry, and a warm breeze blows steadily all day, keeping the smell of the city refuse at bay.

"I think we had better go and find out what's happing in Neuroth," Quayam says. "This could be serious."

Gristel sighs. "I was afraid you would say that." She rubs the small of her back.

"I'm happy to come," Thristen says.

Gristel shakes her head. "No. You stay here and show Zak a good time. Hang out with Kim. Quayam and I will go."

And that what they agree to. On the 20th of September, Quayam and Gristel load their armor and weapons onto their wyverns and fly north at two thousand meters. They stop for lunch in Ankle, and at dusk, they land at the Cliff House, where they are greeted by Romayne and Travis. Here they unload their armor, so that it will be in a convenient place, but they won't be taking it with them on the flight to Guildencrassen. They want to fly faster. Sid is waiting for them at the Cliff House. He is glad to see them.

"You're coming with us," Quayam says, scratching the little demon under the chin. "Without your bag of gold. But on the way back, you'll have plenty of gold to sit on."

The next morning, the 21st of September, Quayam and Gristel put on their flying armor and load their kit on their wyverns. Sid climbs on to sit in front of Quayam. They bid farewell to their daughter and set off into a clear, still morning. They climb to 3000 m and fly northeast until they see the High Road of Taerin below, following the high ground between the watersheds of the Tarrish and Fen Rivers. The Tarrish River is called the Grototh River in Kent. In Grototh and Neuroth they call it the Tarrish River. Its course defines the border between Neuroth and South Grototh, and between South and North Grototh. The source of the Fen River is the Crystal Lake within the Encircling Mountains, on the plateaux called Gelden. The third major watershed in this region is that of the Chrome River, which is called the Goon River by the sailors on the Whispering Sea, after the goon-fish that swarm up the river in September.

Following the course of the High Road, they locate the turning to Erenor's hostel. They land nearby. Gristel stays with the wyverns and Quayam walks into the small town. In the market square are eight wagons, five slaves in pens, half a dozen sapiens guarding the slaves and other merchandise, and fifty hobgoblins trading among themselves and with the sapiens. In the hostel, sixteen sapiens are having soup for lunch. Quayam joins them. He sits next to Ronaldo Wivi, a slave trader native of Kent.

Quayam asks Ronaldo if he has heard anything about the Neurothi embarking upon a crusade. "Yes," Ronaldo says, "They are all talking about it." He lowers his voice. "They say they are coming south. All of them. And they are going to wipe out everything in their path. The hobgoblins." He waves a hand. "This place. The land-holders south of here. If they do come, it will be bad for business."

When Quayam returns to the wyverns, three hobgoblins are teasing the beasts by making faces and noises. Gristel is standing beside her wyvern and wondering if she should beat up the hobgoblins or not. They seem harmless, just mischievous. Sid is crouched on the back of Quayam's wyvern. Quayam summarizes his conversation with Ronaldo.

"Should we talk about it with Erenor?" Gristel says. "Maybe she knows more."

"On the way back, maybe. Let's see if we can talk to some Neurothi directly."

They fly north and land in Verconix's fortifications. They dismount. Two armed men approach with their helmets under their arms. "What's his wife's name?" Gristel says.

Quayam raises the perforated metal locket on his chest and speaks into it. "Thristen, what is Verconix's wife's name?"

Thristen's voice emanates from the locket. "Beatrix."

"Are you sure?" Gristel says. "Aren't you getting her mixed up with Hlatshwayo's partner Beatrix?"

"No," Thristen says, "They are both Beatrix."

"Got it," Quayam says. The armed men have arrived.

Verconix is away, but Beatrix receives them warmly. She serves them lemonade. Before they can converse, they wait a quarter of an hour for the young druid to arrive, the same one who has acted as translator for them in the past. "Yes," Beatrix says, "We will be going south with Lord Dragut in the spring. We will liberate the holy land in the Encircling Mountains. We will wipe out the hellspawn that invaded our world centuries ago. We have been waiting for this Holy War for many years." She smiles, sipping her drink. "I am grateful that I am alive to take part in it."

"You want to kill all the orcs?" Quayam says. The young man has some difficulty translating the word orc.

"Yes," Beatrix says.

There is a silence. Gristel examines her lemonade. "Where did you get lemons?"

"I do not know what world they come from, but they come through the conjunctions to the north of our country. If you follow the road past your town where the dragon lives, you will come to the places of the conjunctions. Verconix and I spent two years on other worlds, fighting wars as mercenaries for the Gods of Olympia." To Gristel, she looks at peace and full of benevolence. "We used to come home through the conjunctions. Those were good times. It's where we fell in love." She finishes her lemonade. "And now we have the Crusade to look forward to."

"You won't come home from that," Quayam says. The druid translates.

"We don't mean to come back," Beatrix says. She smiles.

That night, Quayam and Gristel lie in an ancient four-poster bed made of carved oak. The cloth cover above them catches debris and animal droppings falling from the wood rafters. They are in the Tower Bedroom, the highest room in the Manor House of Guildencrassen. The room is circular and has windows on all sides. The window shutters are open, but the windows themselves are closed. The small glass panes of the windows are held together by lead seams. Through the glass panes, the stars shining in the clear, cold, sky are stretched into lines, or sometimes appear double. A pile of coals glows in the fireplace. Sitting up in the bed, Gristel can feel the heat of the fireplace on her face. The mattress is too soft, and smells musty, but the sheets are clean.

"I like this place. It's creepy." She says.

"We could try the basement, if you want to get more creepy."

"This is more creepy than the basement, I think. Here, the heroine in the horror story can think that she's being treated like a princess, but then, in the middle of the night, the monster of the house creeps out of a hidden door and attacks. She screams, but because she's at the top of the tower, no-one hears her."

"Good luck to the monster that attacks you in the middle of the night," Quayam says.

Gristel contemplates for a while, and then delivers a cogent and well-paced monolog on the vulnerability of the mind, and the possibility that prescience could be taken away in a sufficiently-terrifying moment of shock, and perhaps that's how assassins do their work. She turns to see what Quayam will say. But he is already asleep. She smiles.

Dragut Reis

The 22nd September is overcast and damp. Quayam and Gristel climb to the rock ledge that overlooks the town, and admire the shelter the town's residents have been building for Thrassus. The frame of the shelter is complete, and most of the roof. It is thirty meters wide, twenty meters deep, and five meters high. It is constructed entirely out of wood, with no supports between the walls. The rear roof is cantilevered into the side of the hill, with logs rising up and bending to take the load of the roof. The walls are vertical beams, and the thirty-meter cross-beams of the roof are tree-trunks. Thrassus lies beneath the shelter, looking out over the town. Should he wish to take flight, he need only crawl out, spread his wings, and jump.

"This is a remarkable structure," Gristel says to Thrassus. Quayam is standing back and admiring the view, having asserted that he fully expects Thrassus to be "taciturn in the extreme".

"Building and mining are similar disciplines," Thrassus says. "They require that we estimate the weight of our materials, their strength, and the amount by which their natural shapes will be deformed by the task we expect them to perform. It is possible that this structure will collapse upon me if we have a heavy fall of snow. Some of our builders are of the opinion that such a collapse is inevitable. We shall see. If the roof does collapse, I plan to trade some of my gold for iron beams from Luxoden to support the roof."

Gristel stares at the roof. It is made of wood, but it must be heavy. She supposes Thrassus must be sturdy enough to survive a collapse. "We are glad to see these people prospering under your guardianship. Thank Thrassus, for what you have done for them."

"You are welcome," Thrassus says.

Later, Gristel is tending to the wyverns in the Manor Yard. Quayam is watching her out the window of the study. Sid the Demon is sitting on two wyvern-panniers full of gold that lie on the floor beneath the window. Fabio Publius is sitting nearby. Quayam has asserted that he and his colleagues are certain that Fabio can make molecular bridges. Fabio has admitted that he can. Quayam has summarized the conversation he and Thristen had with Richard Crockford about Fabio a few months ago.

"I know," Fabio says, "If I make a business out of my molecular bridge, I will be noticed, and kidnapped by an ambitious despot. Or by the Endans. Or maybe the Ursians, even. So I must keep my power secret." He shakes his head. "I worked all my life to learn to do what I do, and it proves to be useless at earning me a living. Surely there must be some way I can use my molecular bridge to make me some money? You have all that gold to carry back to Ursia. How much does it weigh?"

"Fifty-two kilograms."

"I could gate that to Pakesh for you in one second."

Quayam considers Fabio's proposal. Gristel joins them, and an hour later they agree to take with them two bridges to Fabio in Guildencrassen, and to allow Fabio to transport the gold through the bridges a few times a year. Along with the gold, Fabio will send Guildencrassen mozzarella and Stout Beer for Quayam and Gristel's table. They discuss bulk transport of these goods, but suspect that this might attract unwanted attention. Fabio's fee will be 5% of the value of the goods transported, which should be around $50k/yr in transport of gold alone. (We note that Babatunde the accountant receives $50k/yr out of the Town Money.)

Soon after dawn on the 23rd September, Quayam and Gristel load their kit onto their wyverns. The panniers of gold go on Quayam's wyvern, along with Sid the Demon. They bid farewell to Elivinsikil and take off into a clear, warm day with no wind to speak of. They fly east to the nearby village, and land outside the hall of Chief Alerix. They dismount and Alerix emerges from his Hall to greet them. A man of about sixty years, walking with a limp, is by his side. This man speaks Latin. "Greetings," he says, "I am Alerix's uncle. My name is Cornalis. I can act as translator for you."

Through Cornalis, they learn that Alerix plans to go on the Holy Crusade, the crusade will begin at the end of winter, and everyone is welcome to come, so long as they pledge obedience to Lord Dragut, leader of the Army of the Holy Crusade.

"I have been to Dragut's camp," Alerix said, "And pledged allegiance for myself and my men. We have been waiting for many years for this day to come. You must come with us! It would be a fine thing to fight with you against the spawn of hell."

Quayam and Gristel inform Alerix that they have no plans to go on any crusade, but they would like to meet Dragut. "The camp is on a southern bend of the Tarrish River," Cornalis says, "Two days ride by horse." He points to the wyverns. "A little over an hour on one of your wyverns."

"Where did you learn to speak Latin?" Gristel says.

"When I was a mercenary on Olympia."

"Are you going on the crusade?"

"No, I will remain here. I am lame. I am no good in battle. I will manage Alerix's estate until he returns. One of my duties will be to make sure your people in Guildencrassen are unmolested. We expect half our people to leave in the spring. Most of the children will remain, and one in five of our fighters Alerix will order to stay."

"It's a pleasure to meet you Cornalis," Quayam says, "We look forward to dealing with you."

Half an hour after they left Guildencrassen, they take off again and head south for the Tarrish River. They find Dragut's camp an hour later, on the north bank of the river.


Map: Dragut's Camp on the Tarrish River

A stockade surrounds Lord Dragut's tent. Within the stockade are three encampments of roughly a thousand soldiers each. Outside are ten more camps of one or two thousand men each, with hundreds of cavalry horses. There are sappers at work in their own compound, three wyverns in an enclosure, and two dozen griffs in their own enclosure. Across the river, reached by a bridge, is a cleared area where several thousand soldiers are practicing infantry maneuvers. Flying above the camp are two dozen griffs, practicing flying in close formation between one hundred and five hundred meters up. None of them see Quayam and Gristel's wyverns until they drop down from two thousand meters to five hundred meters. Quayam and Gristel steer their mounts in a circuit of the camp to announce their presence. Griffs fly to close with them, but the wyverns are too fast. At the end of their circuit, the wyverns land in the enclosure with the other wyverns and dismount.

Hundreds of soldiers approach the wyvern enclosure. Quayam and Gristel exit the gate and announce their desire to meet with Dragut, speaking in Latin. A young soldier answers that he will take them to the gates of the stockade. They follow him. Another soldier asks them their names, and they answer Quayam Srae and Gristel Virage. When they reach the gate, they are met by two soldiers to whom the crowd shows sufficient deference to stand back. One is a huge, muscular man in plate armor with a large-sword at his side. He gives his name as Arthfael. The other is Boedica, a lean, graceful woman in light banded armor with spear and shield.

"Welcome, Quayam and Gristel," Arthfael says, in Latin with barely any trace of a Neurothi accent. "What brings you to Dragut's War Camp?"

"We represent the Trans Outland Highway Authority," Quayam says, "We operate a road running from Varay to Morden across The Outlands. We wish to speak to Dragut about his Crusade."

"Very well," Arthfael says, "Come in." He leads them to a clearing at the center of the stockade, in front of a large tent. In front of the tent is an open space strewn with straw. It is hot and dry today, but in the recent past it has rained, and much of the ground in the camp is soft. Boedica invites them to sit beneath a parasol at a table and they accept. She serves them lemonade while Arthfael walks to the tent.

"Dragut is having his bath at the moment," Boedica says.

Arthfael returns and takes a seat. "Lord Dragut will see you when he is ready." The sun shines on Arthfael's eyes and he squints and shifts on his chair. His skin is pale, as is Boedica's. Gristel cannot be sure how old they are, which suggests to her that they are both taking longevity drugs.

"When you meet him," Boedica says, "He will want to spar with you before you speak. Just a few passes. One of his games is to try to tell your character and history from the way you fight. So don't talk to him until after he says the match is over. He does not want to hear your accent, because that gives a lot away."

Arthfael leans on the table. "If Dragut thinks that one of us can capture you and take you prisoner, he'll instruct us to do so. Only one of us. He will then ransom you for money from your loved ones." He smiles. "We are going to war. We need money. But if he thinks you will be able to evade capture, he will talk to you and let you go free."

"There enough of you here," Quayam says, "to make our escape difficult. We believed we would be permitted to go free when we entered."

"You can go free now," Boedica says. "And it would be only one of us who tries to take you prisoner. No other member of the army will be permitted to assist."

Quayam frowns. Gristel examines the faces of the onlookers ten meters away. Arthfael says, "I give you my word. This is Dragut's way. You can both go free now, or you can face the test. In any case, do you think you could escape from me?"

Gristel looks at him. "Yes. I'm not sure I could take you in a fight. But I could run away from you."

"Well then, you have nothing to worry about," Boedica says. Boedica's Latin is fluent also, but with a strong Neurothi accent.

"Did you learn Latin on Olympia?" Gristel says.

Boedica laughs. "Women cannot stay on Olympia. They don't want us to have any babies there. When we fight for the Gods, we go straight to the battle. When we come back, we gate to one of the Open Worlds with conjunctions to the north of here. I learned Latin later in life, on my own travels. But I have spent a few hours there." She points at Quayam. "Your people are common in that place. But one is so heavy there, I found it hard to breath."

Gristel sips her lemonade. "Can you tell us something about Dragut, and why you have chosen him as your leader?"

Over the next few minutes, Quayam and Gristel learn that the Dragut is eighty years old. He has been traveled all over Clarus and many other worlds, as a Neuroth Mercenary, as an adventurer, as a soldier in many wars for any number of causes. He has vanquished hundreds of indomitable monsters, stolen their treasure, and rescued dozens of damsels in distress. He has flown wyverns across uncharted oceans, he has flown with a company of hippogriffs in the Ursian Army. He has been a corsair, a pirate, and a galley slave. A prophesy delivered by the Arch-Druid long ago foretold him leading the greatest army of the age to glory and destruction, and that time has come. At any moment in the past twenty years he could have made himself king of Neuroth, but instead he has satisfied himself with making sure that nobody else becomes king, and that no cruel and unjust leader gains too much power over his countrymen. He might be away for two years, return, kill six chiefs, and leave again. He is regarded as the hero of the nation, and his fate is to lead the nation to glory.

A wiry old man in a loincloth, carrying a sword in one hand, pulls back the tent door and walks out into the sunlight. Quayam and Gristel catch a brief glimpse of a plump middle-aged woman and a slender young woman in the dim light inside. Dragut calls out in Neurothi. Arthfael and Boedica stand up and lead Quayam and Gristel to the far side of the fighting arena from the old man.

Arthfael introduces Quayam and Gristel. "I want you to fight me," Dragut says in Latin. "One at a time." Gristel draws her sword and steps forward. She is wearing her flying armor.

Dragut (named after Turgut Reis) is a fiftieth level fighter-thief on longevity drugs supplied by the Celtic Pantheon. He is himself ready to go out in one last bash. If he can make it last three years, so much the better, but he will stand by his men until his last breath or theirs. In each round of combat, his chance of dying of heart failure is 1% if he fights as fl=50, 0.3% as fl=40, and 0.1% as fl=30. He believes that you don't know someone until you fight them, so he is always willing to go a few rounds with anyone he first meets, always as fl=30, in which state he is barely exerting himself.

Gristel goes five rounds with Dragut. She holds her own against him, but he seems to be barely trying, as if he is watching her, but has no real concern about being hit. He has to dodge a few of her blows, but he is content to do so. He backs away. She lowers her sword.

Dragut points at her with his free hand. "Gristel Virage. You were trained in Varay. You have a child that you love. You have not learned to control your anger. You are honest. You are not burdened by compassion. Boedica would not be able to take you prisoner."

Gristel smiles. "You might be right, Lord Dragut."

Quayam steps forward and draws his sword. Dragut moves advances casually and fights in his lazy way for a few rounds, but Quayam is so quick, that Dragut must jump and dodge in a manner that he appears to resent. He steps back, grimaces, grips his sword, and comes at Quayam at full speed. He is as quick as Quayam, and his old wiry body is as strong. His skill surpasses anything that Quayam has experienced before, even that of Falmut Grossman, even that of his grandfather Mikado Srae, with whom Quayam sparred on Eldrich in 2481.

Dragut dominates Quayam for two rounds, then backs off, panting. "Quayam Srae. You are a student of Lichtenhauer's school of sword-fighting. You are the husband of that woman." He points to Gristel. "You have a child you love. You are honest. You are often angry, but never when you are fighting. Arthfael would not be able to take you prisoner."

Quayam sheaths his sword.

"Let's have some lemonade," Dragut says.

When they are seated, they exchange small-talk with Dragut, while Arthfael and Boedica stand two meters behind their Lord. When he has finished his lemonade, Dragut says. "What do you want to say to me?"

"We have come to try to persuade you of the folly of your crusade," Gristel says.

In this endeavor, they fail. Dragut knows that the orcs fight at night. He says he will still beat them, and if he's wrong, well he and his men will die in battle. "If we win, we win, and if we lose, we win," he says. He smiles, revealing perfectly straight teeth. He admits that there will be many children in the army. Gristel asks him to take pity on them, for they will be likely to die also. Dragut says that everyone dies. But not everyone has the opportunity to die in a Holy Crusade. Even a child should be permitted that glory.

"Just to make sure we understand you correctly," Quayam says, "You plan to wipe out the orcs, and then go on to wipe out the wizards of Ursia."

"That's the plan," Dragut says. "Will you join us?"

"No," Quayam says, "But thank you for your invitation. How many men do you expect to lead on this crusade?"

"A few hundreds of thousands is my guess," Dragut says.

"What are they going to eat?" Gristel says.

Dragut laughs. "This is a Holy Crusade. The Gods will provide."

Soon after, they bid a polite goodbye to Dragut, and then to Arthfael and Boedica. They mount their wyverns, which have been unmolested, and take off. It is 9:30 am by Gristel's watch. They decide to make for the Green Horn Tavern. On the way, they talk to Thristen through their walkie-talkie bridges, which is hard to do in the rushing air of a wyvern-ride, but with practice, they have figured out how. "I liked Arthfael and Boedica," Gristel says. "I think I even liked Dragut. Gristel out."

"He's a dangerous man," Quayam says. "Quayam out."

"I wish I could have been there," Thristen says. "Thristen out."

Talismans of Summoning

New Session: Kirk, Chris, and Kevan, Norfolk Road, 13-MAY-16. Game date 23th September 2486. The Law of Forward Passage for conjunctions stated that it is impossible to travel through conjunctions and arrive back at your starting point at a time earlier than you departed, even if you travel close to the speed of light. If we have two conjunctions connecting the same two planets, and their periods are not identical, there will come a day when they are both open at the same time. Light travels 3,000 km in 10 ms, and 3,000 km is the kind of distance we expect to have to travel to pass through the first conjunction to the second world, cross the second world to the second conjunction, pass through the second conjunction, and cross the first world to arrive back where we started. If the time shifts of the two conjunctions add up to a value greater than 10 ms, the Law of Forward Passage will be violated. As things stand now, each planet is visited by an average of one hundred conjunctions that are open 3% of the time. If we could travel at the speed of light, every planet in the Celest Sector would be connected to every other planet at all times. If the time shifts of conjunctions are greater than 10 ms, we violate the Law of Forward Passage. And yet, in the hand-written diaries of the game, and in the Captive and the Clowns, and in many places in the Essays and Rules, the conjunctions are declared to have time shifts of several days.

We agree unanimously that the Law of Forward Passage must take precedence over the existing history, because it is essential to the safety and neutrality of travel by conjunctions. Furthermore, the time shifts are confusing in the extreme, and are complicating our efforts to write a Kambiz Almanac of Conjunctions program. The time shifts preclude a universal calendar for the Celesti Sector, or even for each planet, without an arbitrary system of "Olympian Standard Conjunctions". If we abandon the time shifts, conjunctions will become more practical to manage in the game. Our objective is to bring into the game more consequences of conjunctions: trade, travelers, watchers flying overhead on griffs, weather phenomena caused by air passing through a conjunction, disturbance of the planet's magnetic field, and the ability to travel across the planet easily by use of two-links or three-links.

We re-write the discussion in the Captive and the Clowns between Richard and Thristen, and also a conversation between Romayne and Gristel about conjunction time shifts. We change the date of the Kenyan conjunction to the 24th June 2476.

23rd September 2486: Quayam and Gristel land at the Green Horn Tavern for lunch. Falmut is out hunting, so they don't get to talk to him about the up-coming Crusade. They press on to the Cliff House, arriving there in the evening. Thristen, Zak, and Kim are in Pakesh.

24th of September 2486: A sand storm passes south of Pakesh. The sky above is dark with dust at mid-day when Thristen enters the entrance hall of the large house on the outskirts of the city that serves as the headquarters of Opportunities Incorporated, and the living quarters of several of its staff. Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen have been using Op-Inc's services since their trip to Terminus. That adventure was set up by Op-Inc. Terminus had just been struck by an enormous meteor. They rescued Ramadan, a wealthy elf, and received payment from him. These days, TOHA hires Op-Inc to do research, and that's why Thristen is at the Op-Inc offices today. He closes the front door behind him and walks through a curtain.

He is greeted by Abba, the company secretary since its founding. "Good morning Mr. Alomere." Abba is standing behind his desk, but his head is no higher than Thristen's tummy. Abba is a midget, with an adult-sized head and a stocky body. "It's getting nasty out there."

Thristen is covered with dust. He brushes some off his clothes and wipes his face with the inside of his sleeve. In the conference room, Thristen sits at a large, spirit stone table with Mehdi Jafari, the president of the company (now 32), Haleh Amanpoor the Olympian Agent (now 75), and Malek Parviz the wizard (now 69). Another employee and shareholder of the company is Ali Littlewood, a creative accountant serving a thirty-day term in jail in Weiland for his role in a highly profitable but slightly illegal transfer of property from Clarus to a divine customer earlier this year. Ali was imprudent enough to stay at the Meadow Inn waiting to take the CS1 conjunction back across the continent rather than making straight for a boat or a camel. But these five people are the same group that started Op-Inc almost ten years ago. They have one other person on their payroll, although they are not a shareholder: the god Cesarian, who lives on the planet Glare, but performs illegal gating for Op-Inc when they need it.

"What can you tell me about Talismen of Summoning?" Thristen says.

Haleh answers his question. "A Talisman of Summoning is a divine artifact. The bearer of a Talisman of Summoning does not need to report her location to Olympia before summoning any creature or commodity. The One Percent of Lifetime Summoning Rule was introduced for Clarus in 1865 at the height of the Dark Ages. The purpose of the rule was to permit sapien armies to summon supplies while fighting the orcs. At the end of the Dark Ages, the rule was left in place, but the temple plots of the Outlands were transferred to the Princes of Hell, who were responsible for limiting the population of hellspawn within the plots. The Talismans of Summoning were distributed in 2000 AE at the time of the Reconciliation Treaty to various sapien rulers and generals.

"The sapien armies were keen to continue their war against the orcs until all orcs were exterminated. They argued that the Princes of Hell would betray the spirit of the Reconciliation Treaty and send their orcs on raids into the nations bordering the Outlands. The orcs would be able to raid with impunity because they could withdraw safely into the Outlands afterwards, where the Princes of Hell could forbid summoning be sapien armies. The Talismans of Summoning satisfied the sapiens because they would permit sapien armies to summon without permission of any temple plot holder."

"Are the talismans associated with any particular pantheon or summoning agency?" Malek says.

"No. They are not themselves summoning bridges. They contain a doublet connected to a special office on Olympia. The talisman office holds the other half of the doublet in the talisman. The bearer of the talisman must perform a ritual in full view of a separate summoning bridge belonging to any summoning agency. The ritual is for formality's sake, and lasts a few minutes. During the ritual, the talisman emits a sequence of colored lights generated by the talisman office, and viewed by them through another bridge from the agency to the office. Thus the talisman office confirms the identity and authenticity of the talisman so that the summoning agency can grant summoning without permission of the temple plot owner at the summoner's location."

"How many talismans are there?" Thristen says.

"There were six," Haleh say. She looks down at her notes. "They are all different in appearance. The Exshathallion Bowl is a flat-bottomed bowl of iron, with the doublet in the bottom. The use of the talismans is a matter of public record on Olympia. The Exshathallion Bowl was lost in the twenty-first century. It appeared again a few years ago, dug up by some adventurers in Caravel. It was stolen immediately and used by Lakh in an invasion of Caravel in 2483. It is now in the treasury of the Queen of Caravel.

"The Ring of Bartholomew was given to a hero of the same name. It is a large ring, which he wore on a chain around his neck. He died in what is now Neuroth, and the ring passed into the hands of the Druids of Neuroth. It has been used frequently since then in rituals, and most recently on 15th September this year."

"What do they summon when it is used?" Thristen says.

"That information is not public record," Haleh says. "Nor is the name of the person using the talisman. Only the use itself is recorded."

"How about the summoning agency used?" Malek says.

"That, too, is not recorded."

"What about the location?" Mehdi says.

"Also not recorded, nor even given by the summoner." Haleh sips her tea. The wind blows outside the shuttered windows. Light comes from several luminous stones above their heads. "The Locket of Arianna is in frequent use. I could not determine its location nor its bearer. The Sphere of Alyosha was taken from its sapien bearer when she was killed in the Outlands in the twenty-second century. It was used occasionally in the centuries that followed, but has not been used in six decades."

"That's interesting," Mehdi says. "There may be an opportunity there. These talismans are valuable, I assume?"

"Most definitely," Haleh says, "The bearers of the talismen take care not to reveal who they are, I think because they do not want it known that they carry such a treasure with them." Mehdi drums his fingers on the table, his eyes staring intently at nothing. Haleh continues. "The Seal of Lothbok was given to a calipanti champion. In the past few years it has been used occasionally."

"Ah," Malek says, "I am reminded of something Cyrus the Red said when we worked with him last year."

"What was that?" Thristen says.

"He said he could summon anywhere on Clarus at any time. This made it possible for him to capitalize on an opportunity we had formulated."

"He may have a talisman," Thristen says.

Mehdi laughs. "He might. Which one?"

"There is one more," Haleh says, "The Pearl of Immulissimus, also known as the Jewel of Hermione after the princess who used it in in the twenty-third century, was given to a the King of Endromis. It remains a royal heirloom. It existence is public knowledge, and it is well guarded. It is used a few times a year, we assume by agents of the crown on government business."

Haleh slides a hand-written piece of paper across the table. The writing is Latin. "Here is a summary for your colleagues. That's all I could discover in a week. Do you want me to keep looking?"

"Spend another ten hours on it," Thristen says, "Charge it to TOHA. But this is a lot. Thank you."

When Thristen leaves, the sand storm has passed by. Dust covers the street, but the sky is clear and bright. With an amulet of summoning, and sufficient funds, Dragut could feed his army all the way into the heart of the Outlands. Maybe even to Pakesh.

Haleh does learn more about the talismans in the week following. She is able to obtain the names of some of the talisman users. The Seal of Lothbok is in the hands of Cyrus the Red. The Locket of Arianna is in the hands of the Brotherhood of Light. The Druid Cantankatus of Neuroth has been using the Ring of Bartholomew.

26th September 2486: Thristen meets with Mohsin Kurd, secretary to Malek Fakheem, the Senator Assigned to Foreign Affairs. Mohsin assures Thristen that they are taking the impending crusade seriously, and have heard of it from several of their agents.

Gristel and Quayam leave Sid the demon and their gold from Guildencrassen at the Cliff House and proceed to Gutak City, where they talk to Bolus, Ursian Ambassador, and Gashley, Varayan Ambassador, and Rackhammer about Dragut and his crusade. Quayam and Rackhammer spread out a large map and discuss possible courses of the Holy Army.

27th September 2486: Zak, Kim, and Thristen have tea at the residence of Coldiron, the Gutak Ambassador to Ursia, and his wife Cloudmover. Kim plays with some of the ten orc staff and guards that live in the residence. Coldiron is learning Ursian, and is nearly fluent. He tries to hold the conversation in Ursian, but uses occasional latin words.

"The Brotherhood of Light in Kent have one of the talismans. They use it when they enter our territory in force for more than a few days. They were using it a great deal, raiding Mokul fifty years ago. Queen Blessedcloud was unable to stop them. Trackandslay seized the throne from her and pursued the Brotherhood as vigorously as he could. He scared them away, I believe, but he never captured the talisman.

"There is another one that was lost fifty or a hundred years ago. Rackhammer knows where it us, but has never told me. You'll have to ask him. I think he wanted to acquire it for himself. Certainly it would be a great thing for one of my people to have one: they could summon their precious longevity drugs wherever they wanted."

Thristen, Zak, and Kim go to supper the same day with Richard Crockford, Endan Ambassador to Ursia. Zak and Kim play with the youngest of Richard's Children. Thristen and Richard discuss the Crusade.

"Kent may enter that war," Richard says, "They have been fighting their Drug War for decades. Wiping out hellspawn would satisfy them. I expect the Brotherhood of Light and many others like them will join in as well. They'll have at least two of these magic things. For the army."

"Suppose we took those away from them," Thristen says, "There would be no way they could get to Pakesh without summoning, surely?"

They embark upon a discussion of the difficulty of supplying armies. Richard takes notes. After half an hour, Thristen asks him to read what he has so far. "Thirty-five solders each each 1 kg/day of flour. A cart horse eats 15 kg/day of oats. A horse and cart pulls a 500 kg load. With 150 kg of oats and 350 kg of flour, it can go 10 days and supply 35 soldiers. At the end, they eat the horse, which takes them another 3 days. That's 13 days total at 20 km/day their range is 260 km. IF they have 350k soldiers, they need 10k carts."

Thristen nods. "Or they can eat the horse sooner."

"In which case," Richard says, "They carry more flour, eat the horse, carry the rest of the flour, and they can go maybe seventeen days."

They pursue a more general solution to the supply and range problem, and arrive at the following.

ts = MH / (mSNS/NH+mH)

Where ts is the time for which the army is supplied in days, MH is the load pulled by one horse and cart in kilograms, mS is the mass of flour eaten per day per soldier in kilograms, NS is the number of soldiers in the army, NH is the number of horses, and mH is the mass of oats eaten per horse per day in kilograms. Using the values 500 kg for cart load, one horse per ten soldiers, 1 kg/day flour per soldier, and 15 kg/day oats per horse, the army has 20 days food plus 3 days eating the horse.

"In addition," Richard says, "each soldier can carry 20 kg of flour, which is another 20 days. And they might spend ten days foraging to obtain twenty days of food. Now they have 70 days marching and 10 days foraging. Their maximum range is 1400 km." He looks down at his notes.

"That's a long way," Thristen says. "Even without the talismans."

"Well," Richard says, "it's 1600 km to Pakesh from Neuroth. With any delays of twenty days for battle, they have no chance of reaching Pakesh without the talismans even if they could get water in the desert."

"Pakesh is probably safe," Thristen says.

"Not if they have the talismans," Richard says. "And they could settle into the Outlands for summer and winter, supply themselves, and move on. Or they could invade Varay."

29th September 2486 Quayam and Gristel depart from the Cliff House, taking Sid and the Guildencrassen gold with them. They stop in Clavicle to deposit the gold in the TOHA bank account. This same day, they arrange for transfer of $800k to Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen to reimburse them for $300k in bribes paid in Scartoni and $500k paid for the Deed of Guildencrassen. The deed is in a safe box at the Clavicle bank. TOHA's bank balance is now $1.98. They fly on to Talili Village to meet with Aries at noon. Headwinds are strong over the hills, and their wyverns must work hard. But they are on time for the meeting. Aries, however, is fifteen minutes late. The conversation with Aries does not go well. Aries offends Quayam in her discussion of divine machinations, in which she does not show sufficient regard for the value of human life. Quayam offends Aries by accusing her of being duplicitous. Aries declares the meeting over and Quayam and Gristel withdraw from the temple. Gristel goes back in to talk to Aries (who is now played by Kirk). Aries says she will wait until Quayam calms down. She does not say "No" to Quayam coming back in to apologize or make peace, but does not agree to it either. Gristel tries to get Aries to be friendly, but Aries is not friendly. They part cordially, but not happily.

"Well," Gristel says as they mount their wyverns, "Let's go home. I want to hear some music."

They fly to Pakesh, stable their wyverns at their house, check on the staff, have a nap and a bath, round up Thristen, Kim, and Zak, and go to Ghotba's Arn. A group called Sandstorm is playing. The place is crowded and you have to pay extra to sit near the band. But not that much extra.

Return to Scartoni

New session: Kirk, Chris, Kevan, Norfolk Road, 25-NOV-16. Game date 30th September 2486.

2nd October 2486: Rackhammer has arrived in Pakesh to stay with his parents, Coldiron and Cloudmover. Coldiron, we recall, is ambassador to Ursia from Gutak. This afternoon, Rackhammer arrives on foot at Quayam and Gristel's house, followed by ten admiring children. They discuss the impending Neurothi Invasion, and the role that Talisman's of Summoning might play in supplying the Horde. The next day, at Thristen's apartment with Zak and Kim present, the discussion continues. They conclude that Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen should put their prowess to use in an attempt to acquire any talisman the Neurothi Horde might conceivable capture or make use of in the invasion. The talisman in the hands of Dragut's druid they think to be beyond their skill to obtain, although they will attempt to steal if an opportunity affords itself.

Rackhammer reveals that the Sphere of Alyosha belonged to a cousin of his, once removed, who took it from a sapien warrior he killed in the twenty-second century. He used it occasionally in the Outlands. Sixty years ago he disappeared near Raven Mountain, he site of a large settlement of goblins, who mine the mountain for tin and gold. "I visited the mountain twenty years ago," Rackhammer reveals, "seeking to learn the fate of my cousin. I was able to obtain an audience with the goblin king, and about his neck I saw what I believe was The Sphere depending from a gold chain. I had seen it several times in the hands of my cousin. The chain and the setting of the sphere was of goblin manufacture. The sphere itself is roughly five centimeters in diameter, made of cloudy glass with a dark heart to it."

Raven Mountain is in the path of the invasion Dragut has described. Rackhammer has kept the secret of The Sphere's location for the past twenty years. He reveals it now after our heroes promise they will give it to him if they are able to capture it. There are two other talismans that concern them: the one in Caravel, the Bowl of Exshathallion, and the one with the Brotherhood of Light in Kent, the Amulet of Arianna.

6th October 2486: Quayam, Gristel, Thristen, Zak, and Kim mount three wyverns and fly from Pakesh to Gutak, stopping at Ankle for lunch. Rackhammer remains in Pakesh for another two days, then joins them in Gutak on the 8th October. In a discussion with Gashley, Bolus, and Rackhammer, our heroes resolve to try first to obtain the Amulet of Arianna, which, if they can get it, they will keep to themselves, and keep secret.

We discuss the definition of a Hacker's Inn. It is a place where an adventurer can rest in peace, with no fear of attack. That is to say: if you can get to a Hacker's Inn, you can rest up and get your dodging points back. Most Hacker's Inns are owned by groups of adventurers. The adventurer celebrities who visit the Inns attract a far larger number of other customers, but it is the adventurers themselves who enforce the rule of no conflict between adventurers, and no attacks upon adventurers within the compound of the Inn. This respect for the Hacker's Inn is the closest thing to a shared code of conduct that adventurers have. There is no formal procedure for punishing those that violate the sanctuary of a Hacker's Inn, but each violation will result in a plan for punishment, and that plan will be executed by adventurers capable of tackling the violator.

In order to make money, a Hacker Inn must accommodate the most wealthy and accomplished adventurers, not because they contribute a significant amount of revenue themselves, but because the chance of seeing such guests will attract many other rich customers. Hacker Inns always provide a compound of at least one hectare, which includes stables for wyverns, hippogriffs, and horses. The wyvern groom will have to be at least a fifth level adventurer in order to deal with bad-tempered wyverns, and there will be wyverns to look after only a fraction of the time, so the cost of the wyvern housing, if it is to pay for itself, will be around $1000/day. For griffs, $200/day, horses $50/day. A large guest room is $300/day and can be shared by four people.

On this date, the TOHA bank balance should be $1.97M according to our latest calculations. We plan to charge all of Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen's expenses to TOHA. Staying at Hacker's Inns with three wyverns, their cost per day is around $4200. If we add the classic adventurer monthly expenses for the three of them together, $1000/month per adventurer level, we get $90k/month = $1M/yr. We will add this to TOHA's operating expenses. From now on, QTG will be responsible for carrying cash, but expenses will be rolled into the $1M.

9th October 2486: Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen mount their wyverns and fly to Scartoni. It is a warm Autumn day, 20°C in Gutak, with scattered clouds. ARrive at Taerin's End in the mid-afternoon and stable their mounts. Cyrus the Red was there two days ago. "Is that a coincidence?" Gristel says, "Doesn't he have one of the Talismans? He could be selling it to Dragut."

"There's not much we can do about that," Thristen says, "But I doubt it's the case."

Talk to Haleh of Op-Inc in the afternoon. She has answers to a question. "Do the talismans work on other worlds? Strangely, yes they do. There are many Talismans in the Celesti Sector. Six were issued to Clarus. Dozens exist now. Some have time limits on their operation. But the Claran Six do not."

In the evening, they go to the Rose Garden, where they talk to Eldano before dinner. They have a list of questions to ask him, but he does not give them the opportunity, instead suggesting they go eat their dinner. Gristel claims that Thristen and Quayam answering Eldano's polite questions with extensive details about interplanetary politics shows a lack of fearful respect for Eldano, who is used to being the one in control of every conversation at his table. "You don't appreciate the effect that your complete absence of fear for Eldano, his men, or any enemy that he has ever faced, has upon him and people like him. They don't want to hear about the Global Milieu. Even if they did, they won't believe our perspective of the gods and hellspawn and dragons. Without meaning to, you are belittling everything they are proud of in themselves."

"I think I understand," Thristen says.

"That just makes Eldano small-minded," Quayam says.

"He is what he is," Gristel says. "I like him, actually. I'm happy to go back and talk to him after supper."

"Let me try again," Thristen says, and he does try again, with better results. Eldano agrees, for one thousand guineas, to get them a map of the Brotherhood of Light compound and its location, and any news about excursions into the Outlands.

10th October 2486: At eight in the morning, talk again to Haleh. "Exciting news: The Talisman of Alyosha was used yesterday!" (We rolled 1d30 with a 1/30 chance of the Brotherhood using it the day before, and rolled a one, which changed the trajectory of the adventure.) Although they have no confirmation of where it was used or what was summoned, they are confident that it is being used in the Outlands.

At nine in the morning talk to Elivinsikil in Guildencrassen. We note that Elivinsikil is no longer an employee of the Scartoni Police. Thristen delivered her resignation letter when he and his comrades returned to Scartoni with Honorato Publius. They ask her where the lodge of the Brotherhood of Light is to be found in Kent.

"It's just north of where the High Road enters the Borderlands, up on a hill. There's a walled compound with windows looking west over the Outlands. You can see the gold-leave spire of their chapel from fifty kilometers away on a clear day. Outside there are paddocks and stables."

Searching the Moors

10th October, 2486, 10 am: Surface temperature 6°C, westerly wind 20 kph, clouds at 2000 m. They resolve to fly at 1000 m so they can proceed three abreast, separated by 1000 m, one of them over the High Road and the other two flanking, and thus survey a strip of land 4 km wide with sufficient precision to see a horse with rider moving. The temperature at 1000 m is just below freezing. They are wearing their armor rather than their flying kit and they are cold.

At 11 am they have flown 100 km along the High Road. Twenty orc infantry are proceeding west along the road. Their shields have the mark of Dag: a white square. At 12 pm they arrive at Erenor's settlement. They are chilled to the bone.

They land 200 m from the market square, shown above. To protect their wyverns Quayam erects a gray wall of spirit matter 2.5 m high and 15 m in diameter with no opening, just some footholds for people to climb in and out. The three of them leave their wyverns in this enclosure and head to Erenor's Hall for something to eat. It is warm and crowded inside. Today's lunch is stew and cider and bread, and it is served for free to Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen, because they are Travelers. Tradesmen must pay $5 for lunch. Erenor summons Thristen to her chamber, where he spends some quality time with her, although he notes that Erenor does not generate as much body heat as Zak, and he is still cold from the morning's ride. Her room is cold because she has not thought to light a fire in the fireplace. She does, however, notice that he is cold, as he lies beside her snow-white body under a thin sheet.

"You are shivering," she says, in her voice that is almost, but not quite human. There is a rasp to the vowel sounds, and an echo that seems impossible in the confines of her throat. She gets up and brings blankets from a chest on the wall. She arranges them on Thristen and gets under the sheets again. "I used to be able to make more heat for my lovers, but that part of me is not working very well these days. I should see a doctor, I suppose."

"How old are you?" Thristen says. He knows she must be roughly three thousand years old, but he wonders how old she thinks she is.

"I don't know," she says. "I can't remember. I have lost all my things. I feel as if I have lived here forever, but I know that's not true." Thristen waits to see if she will say anything more. He is just dropping off to sleep under the blankets when she continues. "I sometimes recognize people who I knew a long time ago. One of my sisters visited me. That was ten years ago. I knew her right away, and she knew me. We remembered our life together, I don't know how long ago. We remembered a tower to tall that it pierced the clouds, and we lived there together in a room with a god named Apollo. None of us could leave the room. But I don't remember why. I remember we were happy."

"Are you happy here?"

"Yes. I think I am. Every day could bring someone different. I'm happy to see you. Sometimes I think it would be nice to have more excitement. Maybe dancing, and noise and parties. But I don't know where to find those things. There's no place around here like that."

Thristen returns to the dining hall half an hour later. Gristel and Quayam are warming themselves by the fire. They talk quietly. Erenor says that Jim the Slaver has a slave captured from a Brotherhood of Light raiding party. He is a handsom boy. She would like to buy him. A young woman sitting near Quayam at lunch says she saw party of knights from the Brotherhood of Light leave Kent several days ago, twelve mounted knights and six pack horses.

Thristen talks to Jim the Slaver and a brawny young man chained to a wall. The young man claims to be from the Brotherhood of Light. Outside, they find that the wyverns are circling above, having been harassed by hobgoblins. Call them down, mount up, and fly away at around 1:00 pm. They head west, flying in the same formation, with Thristen in the middle, flying 6 km north of the road. They are within 50 km of Kent when they turn back east again at 2:30 pm, flying farther north. They see a burnt house below at 3:00 pm. Thristen descends and finds the tracks of eleven mounted horses and four unmounted that are two days old. They are 75 km from Kent. Quayam and Gristel descend also, to study the tracks and to get out of the cold wind. The house was burned a few days ago also. It still smells of burned wood. There are no bodies in sight. Whoever lived there must have had time to flee from the knights.

"Was this their mission, to burn down houses?" Gristel says. "If so, that's pathetic. If not, why do it?"

"We don't know they did it," Quayam says.

"The trail leads off east," Thristen says, fifty meters away on the path. They mount up and follow the tracks from the air. They are easy enough to see for Thristen: eleven horses going cross-country. The Goblin Moors are for the ost part grass, heather, and scrub. They are windy and open and easy to travel across. On the far side of a small forest, there is the corps of a hobgoblin killed by a sword wound in the past day or two. The trail gets closer to Erenor's settlement, but thrity kilometers north of the settlement, at 5 pm, Thristen loses the trail. It is getting late, and they are cold, so they land outside the settlement in their gray enclosure and Quayam makes a shelter for themselves. Gristel summons food, giving her location as 30°E, 42°W, with the added detail that they are definitely in the Goblin Moors of the Western Outlands. Her summoning is granted.

"We don't appear to be in any need of a Talisman of Summoning out here," Gristel says. "Are we assuming the Brotherhood of Light does need a Talisman to summon."

"I think they do," Quayam says. "If I were Lucifer, I would refuse them."

"Nevertheless," Gristel says, setting out plates on the conjured wood platform Quayam has fasioned, "we are assuming they used the Talisman out here, rather than in their cozy lodge back in Kent."

"We are hoping," Thristen says.

They keep watch that night. In the dawn light, Quayam is on watch and he hears the pounding of hooves coming from the north.

The Grand Master

11th October, 2486, dawn: The sky is clear. It is 7°C on the ground, but a steady wind of 40 kph is blowing out of the west. Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen slept in their armor, and they now emerg from their shelter, climb over the enclosure wall and run to the market square. Eleven mounted knights charge from the north into the square and draw to a halt. They have with them a horse equipped for battle with no rider and five pack horses. Today is the day of the slave market. The warehouses around the market square are full of slavers and their stock.

The leader of the knights stares at Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen, who are forty meters away, but does not appear to recognise them. Some of his men dismount with axes and warn those inside the north warehouse that they must open the door or it will be cut down. Jim the slaver opens the door. Five knights enter. A few minutes later, they emerge with five slaves, now freed. Among them is their comrade, who now puts on a suit of armor they brought for him. He is dressed and on his horse in a couple of minutes.

The knights with the axes go to the western warehouse. They issue the same warning. The door opens. They enter and free seven sapien slaves. There is a scream from inside, as of someone in horror, and a grunt, as of someone in pain. A knight emerges wiping fresh blood from his sword onto a white cloth, laughing and grinning. There is sobbing from inside, and a moment later a hobgoblin woman rushes out of the warehouse and attacks the knight with the bloody sword, scratching at his armor and cursing at him. A second night stabs her from the side with his sword, killing her. He appears to be in a state of extacy as he looks pulls his sword from the woman's body and holds it up to the light of the rising sun.

The leader of the knights dismounts and strikes both of the killers upon their heads with his mailed fist, one after the other. "I ordered you: no killing! I will have you excommunicated for this. Get back on your horses."

Quayam steps forward into the square. "Those two stay," he says, pointing to the killers. "The rest of you are free to go."

The knights are mounting up. Their leader comes closer on his own horse, which is a magnificent beast, gray with white, and flaring nostrils, with leather armor on chest and neck. The knight himself is in a gorgeous set of plate armor with a large-sword at his waist. "Who are you?" the knight says.

"I am Quayam Srae. This is Thriston Allomere, my friend, and Gristel Virage, my wife. Who are you?"

"I am Marco Bilanius, Grand Master of the Brotherhood of Light," he stares at them for a few moments. "I know who you are. I know what you did. I know what you have vowed to do."

"As I said: those two stay, the rest of you can go."

Behind Marco, the other knights have mounted their horses, some with slaves behind them. The back horses are in use as mounts for the slaves also. Marco rides back to the head of his party and orders them to ride. "To the road!" he says, and they urge their horses ahead. The three adventurers draw their bows and shoot at Marco's horse. At one shot per second, they each get eight shots at −20 to hit, range increasing from 20 m to 60 m. That's −4 to −12 for range, +5 for horse size, −5 for cantering away. They shoot Marco's horse dead before he gets forty meters away. He jumps from the poor beast's back and bounds up behind one of his comrades.

Quayam is in the sky sixty seconds before Gristel and Thristen, who take a moment to stow their kit. Quayam lands and lays down a barrier of conjured rubber across the road between two rock outcrops, five kilometers from the High Road of Taerin, and in a depression where he is out of sight as he works. The rubber is invisible. Thristen and Gristel fire upon Marco's new horse and then Marco himself. Marco dismounts and the entire party stops. He throws a thunder-egg at Thristen's wyvern, and Thristen must veer to avoid the blast. The knights and slaves have no bows with which to fire back at the wyverns. The Brotherhood of Light believe in hand-to-hand combat, not killing from a distance.

The knights and slaves leave the road and make for a wood to the east. The three wyverns swoop in one after the other, shooting. The knights stop and hold up their shields. Quayam casts Targeting Surrounding Sponge and catches six of the knights within the transparent material. But they soon escape by the strength of their horses and their own arms. After another hundred meters, Captain Lance Stumps of the knights throws a thunder-egg and Quayam must swerve to avoid it. The knights and slaves enter the forest. There are sixteen horses left.

Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen land their wyverns and, send them up to circle, and charge into the forest after the knights. The knights form a shield wall. Thristen fires twice at the wall. Quayam casts another targeting spong. The knights flee west, farther into the wood. Quayam, Thristen, and Gristel leave the trees, call down their wyverns, and circle the trees.

People and horses begin to flee from the forest in singles or pairs, in different places, all heading either west or south. The three wyvern riders try to count how many of each have left, so they will know how many remain in the trees. They count nine mounted knights, one knight with a slave on one horse, three horses being let by a total of ten people running. There are thirteen horses and twenty-one people out of the trees, leaving three horses and three people in the trees.

Thristen and Gristel kill all nine horses with single knight riders, swooping down and shooting at no risk to themselves. The others hide in trees. They are all trying to get to the High Road, but they must wait for their chances to run. Meanwhile, two more knights ride out of the forest. One going west, the other east. Quayam pursues one then the other, shooting one dead and wounding the other fatally. So far as they can tell, this leaves one horse and one knight in the forest, but things have been so confusing, they are not certain. Gristel and Thristen enter the forest from opposite sides. They find a horse tethered in the forest. Thristen sees tracks from the horse to an eight-meter high rock wall. Someone climbs the wall. Thristen and Gristel walk around to the top of the wall and there they find a gating frame.

Quayam lands and searches the bodies of the two knights who fled last. These are the two killers. Their swords are still wet with blood. He takes a diary off one of them, an acolyte in the order who was longing to make his first kill. He dies as Quayam walks away with the little notebook and joins his comrades in the forest.

"That was Marco Bilanius who left by gate," Gristel says, "I did not see him among the knights fleeing the forest."

"If he took the amulet with him," Quayam says, "It would be destroyed. It contains a space bridge. So he must have left it here, or given it to one of the other knights."

"I doubt he would give it to one of them," Thristen says, "He must have hid it here."

But there is no sign of the Amulet of Arianna. They search the ground for hours. Eventually, Thristen climbs the rock face and finds a crevace that has been disturbed. He reaches his hand inside and grasps something metallic. It is the amulet. He descends and they stare at it, a triangle with a glassy gem set in the middle.

"That's worth ten million dollars," Gristel says.

"We can summon anywhere we like. Anywhere." Quayam says.

Back at Erenor's settlement, they inform the succubus that the two killers are dead. They tell Jim the Slaver his slaves are gone and now safe on the High Road. "But there is armor on the two murderers that needs to be stripped and sold," Thristen says. "Follow the tracks. And a horse as well, in the forest."

"Thanks," Jim says. "You don't like slavers, do you?"

"We don't like slavery," Thristen says. "I don't know if that means we don't like slavers."

"It's been a bad day for me," Jim says, "I have a family to feed. But you are a gentleman, and I'll think of you as one."

Thristen shakes his hand. At 11:00 am they set off for Scartoni and arrive four hours later for a richley-deserved late lunch in the common room. Thristen has the Amulet in his pocket. "I guess I had better figure out how to use it."

Notes

  1. New Moon: on 14th October.
  2. Required Equipment: Hot stones to keep you warm when flying in winter.
  3. Review: Latest additions to the Catalog of Planets.
  4. Compose: What is the town on the High Road of Taerin, where another road goes north to Anplery? That town is half-way between Kent and the Roden Mountains. The trip to the Roden Mountains is one thousand kilometers across mostly desert, with a few oasis towns on the way.
  5. Read: Notes on druids in Neurothi culture compendium here.
  6. Neuroth Invasion: An exodus of Neurothi soldiers commencing in the spring of 2487. The Neuroth population is 1.0 M. The next census is 2488. The previous one was 2474. The population of Clarus has grown to 110 million, with population blocks for only 100 million. The plot owners with excess population are looking to buy blocks. The Celtic Pantheon has arranged to sell five hundred of its one thousand population blocks for $10B Olympian dollars, or $20M each. In the past few centuries, one block has been worth around $10M. When managed conservatively, a Claran population block earns $100k/yr, or $100 per person. At a purchase price of $10M, the return on investment is 1% per year. Over-count fines wipe out 100 years of such profit in 10 years. But Clarus has been yielding good profits over the past few decades, so that many pantheons are making $200/person. The value of blocks has doubled. The Neuroth panthon is orchestrating an exodus of as many men, women, and children as can be persuaded to join in, to sweep across the outlands to their own destruction.
  7. Neurothi Crusaders: The Neurothi exodus is a Holy Crusade to cleanse the Sapien Homelands (the Outlands, where Mareo used to be) of hellspawn, re-claim the Holy Lands of the Encircling Mountains (Gelden) from the Demons of Hell, steal the vast piles of treasure they believe demons and hellspawn are hoarding, and set out into the desert to sack Pakesh and raze it to the ground so as to wipe out the scourge of sorcery. On the way to Pakesh, they may or may not rampage through Varay, which is a nation contaminated by the blood of hellspawn and needs to be shown how pure-blooded sapiens make war.
  8. Celtic Pantheon: So far as the Celtic Pantheon is concerned, their intention is for the crusaders keep going, having a great time, until they are all dead, while doing damage only to the holders of the Outland, Varayan, and Ursian temple plots, none of whom are buyers of the Neuroth population blocks. With effective persuasion, the Neurothi pantheon is betting on getting at least half their population to join the crusade, so that will be 500k people, including men, women and children.
  9. General Dragut: Dragut makes sure the Great Army has an air force of 10 wyverns and 100 griffs, delivered from Olympia and paid for by the Celtic Pantheon. But he knows that this mission is doomed, and that almost everyone embarking upon it will die. Dragut's generals are 10-20th level fighters, see Adventurer Level Distribution in Neuroth. Of the one hundred or so 20-40th level fighters native to Neuroth, only one in five will agree to embark upon this crusade, and they form his personal guard, which he uses to direct special operations and the air force. Their loyalty to the cause varies from passionate to mercenary, but they respect Dragut and trust that this adventure will at least be profitable. The median age of Neuroth is 13 and the average age is 21, see Population Distribution in Neuroth. Those 13 and under are 0-level fighters with no dodging points, those 14 and over are 1st level or higher. The distribution of ages in the army will be: 100k children, 400k soldiers. Perhaps 80% infantry, 10% cavalry, 10% archers.
  10. Allies of the Crusaders: The crusade will be joined by 100k male and female soldiers from Grototh, 50% cavalry, 50% infantry, whose pantheon is selling population blocks also. The crusade will be joined by many other smaller groups from the surrounding nations, for their own reasons, such as The Brotherhood of Light. The Crusade is being discussed and decided upon now, in Neuroth, Grototh, and Kent.
  11. Defense of Outlands: The invasion of the Outlands threatens to wipe out the orcs and overrun and destroy the Trans Outland Highway. The orcs must unite to have any chance of surviving. They may need Varay's help. If they are defeated, Varay may be overrun as well. Or the orc armies may flee the Crusaders. There are two un-marked nations on the Mid-Western Idonius map. One of these could be a place upon which the temple plot is for sale, and QTG could buy it through Aries, making a place large enough to hold most orc survivors. First, QTG would have to go make themselves rulers of the nation, whatever that nation may be, which will be a series of adventures. If the orcs leave the Outlands, the Reconciliation Treaty puts responsibility for the orc population outside the Outlands on the Princes of Hell, as well the population count of the crusaders, who may be in the Outlands at the time of the next census. Both such outcomes are obviously unfair, so the Reconciliation Treaty will be destabilized. It may be repealed. Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen would be right in the middle of it all. If we pre-suppose that pride prevents Garaz from taking orders from Rackhammer, there could be a pressing need to defeat Garaz in an early spring campaign, before the Crusaders arrive, or to stall the Crusaders until the orcs can be united. Thristen may find he has to go fight in the tournament in Ankh and become king of Ankh for the duration of the summer campaign of 2487, which will be a fight for survival against the Crusaders.
  12. Supplying War: One of Dragut's chief concerns is supplying his army. He believes there are sufficient resources in the Outlands to support his army if his army moves fast enough and forages on the way. He may be right. He doubts his druids will be able to summon food in the Outlands because the Princes of Hell own all the temple plots and will deny summoning to the Crusaders. But there exist, according to legend, six Talismen of Summoning that permit the holder to over-ride the temple plot owner's veto regardless of location, after reciting an incantation averring that the talisman's use is for the good of mankind. These talismen were granted to six Guardians of the Borderlands after the Reconciliation, and they are intended to permit sapiens to fight back against orc raiding if necessary. When a talisman is used, it is a matter of public record on Olympia. Dragut has one, and his Arch-Druid has used it recently. The Brotherhood of Light has one, and they use it often when working with the Kent Police on anti-slavery and anti-drug excursions. One is supposed to be in the treasury of the Queen of Caravel. Another is lost, but Rackhammer knows where it is. Another held and used by the Endan Government. Another is held by an wizard adventurer. Another is lost. The Celtic Pantheon is earning $10B from this sale, and is willing to provide up to $1B of summoned food for the Great Army. At $100/day/person that's 10M person-days worth of food, to be delivered as Dragut sees fit. For an army of 500k, that's 20 days of food.
  13. Adventure Idea: Where are the highest mountains on Clarus? Given that wyverns can't carry a person above 4,000 m or so, no matter how light, an adventure at 10,000 m would be interesting.
  14. Adventure Idea: go to Comitor where there is a ten-year conjunction that joins two locations only two hundred meters apart, and guard wizards while they set up a system of light beams to measure the time shift of the conjunction, and to see if a conjunction could be used, in theory, to send a beam of light back into the past.
  15. Space Ships: Space exploration is an ambition of Ursian wizards. They need better thrusters.
  16. Thristen Family: Discussed Darkeye and Grandad: Grandad is Travis's twin brother. Resolve that both are still alive. They disappeared at one point when Travis was young. Darkeye took Grandad to Domus, thinking Travis was dead after a particularly disastrous battle. Travis grew up and became one of the soldiers of the Dark Side, then escaped to Domus. Grandad is going to show up one day, and Darkeye too, looking for Thristen in his own time. Need to figure out details, but the idea is to bring both characters back into the game in such a way as to create tension over time travel and destiny, and to bring Thristen's affair with Zak to a crisis of sorts.
  17. Shabboth: Some daemons can make demons, but not particularly well. The result is shabboth in large numbers. These tend to have skulls made of 1-mm steel, and have command words in rattikit that are not recorded anywhere. They have no fear, don't last more than a few years of use, and are disposable servants for the nightmare daemons. We should introduce these into the game as the new "kill them and don't feel guilty" creature. They are machines with only primitive feelings.