Finally, the Etrium arc comes to a close. Well, technically it came to a close last chapter, and right now we’re in transition. In retrospect, 21 could have been longer, and parts lopped off to extend 22 and 23.
Quest 23 – Dark Phase
From the top of the Verdant Watchtower, Roegen peers over his domain.
Mackenzie: Milord, our forces are gathered at the northern edge. It has a day since the last reported kill.
Roegen: Strays from the battlefield. How many Astorian?
Mackenzie: Only 17. The remaining 248 bodies recovered appeared to have no marks of affiliation.
Roegen: So they were Etriumites.
Mackenzie: You gave the order to kill everyone that strayed into the woods.
Roegen: Yes, and I stand by that order. I can’t take the chance that one of them was an Astorian scout in disguise.
Mackenzie: It is as you say… but the forest has been swept. Kruseid is not foolish enough to risk a campaign into our territory. We should attack now while they are still overextended.
Roegen: The Eye of Malice is burning even stronger than before. We will be attacked. And it will be soon.
* * *
Doop: So, how much longer are you keeping me and my army here?
Meuri: So, this motley crew is what passes for the Dark Lord’s army now?
Doop: . . .
Meuri: In the past, you used… greed, fear, and a dark, twisted pride to drive your soldiers. What did you promise the people of Etrium? Why were they so fragile? Nearly a thousand skilled adventurers, dead. And it’s your fault. These weren’t the lowlife bandits you gathered up to use as fodder. You should have won.
Doop: Are you saying you wanted me to kill your love?
Meuri: My love died 5 years ago.
Doop: I wish he were here to hear that.
Meuri: I don’t have an army. I have subjects that believe in themselves and this land and in me. No matter how skilled your ranks, they would fall before me and 200 young girls in cloth robes.
Doop: What are you trying to say?
Meuri: The real Balken would have won. Easily.
Doop: I did win. Etrium didn’t. If I were still there, Etrium would still be standing.
Meuri: Rhea and Verdant fell without Balken. He trusted his generals, and they did not fail him. Balken would not have allowed himself to be captured by me alone.
Doop: You’re stronger than you were 10 years ago.
Meuri: And so is that Harlian woman. But she wasn’t of any help, was she? Seven years ago, she knocked out Kruseid, Roegen, Raven, and Chelsea, picked up Balken’s body, and fled Aria.
Doop: They were already weakened from the battle.
Meuri: Hmph. Well, we have eternity together. You’ll slip up sooner or later.
* * *
Sarisa: We’re not going to rescue Balken?
Svennia: Queen Meuri is a complete monster. We don’t stand a chance against her. And that’s the only way Balken’s going to get out of that Ward.
Braddock: Heh. So what do we do now? Just let the cause die? Let Etrium’s fall be for nothing? Screw that!
Svennia: Well, there’s one way. And Kendrick’s got just the right tools for the job.
Kent: I do?
Braddock: Ha! I outclass him. He’s a Thief. I’m a full-fledged Assassin.
Svennia: And an assassin has no chance of beating her.
Kent: And a Thief does?
Svennia: No. But a pretty virgin might. We posh him up real nice, send him in, make with the puppy eyes…
Kent: Just what kind of person do you think I am?
Fabian: It’ll never work.
Kent: What makes you so sure?
Sarisa: Kendrick, what side of this are you even trying to argue?
Fabian: Meuri’s never going to give up her virginity. She’s too dedicated the the Sakarlands. It’s all she cares for now.
Svennia: Fine. Plan 2, then. No one said it had to be consensual.
Fabian: I hope Kendrick enjoys being castrated via barrier.
Svennia: Why not? It’s not like he puts it to use.
Kent: You’re smarter than th- Wait. You’re just trying to get me castrated, is that it?
Sarisa: This is no time for jokes.
Svennia: Fine. I guess we’ll need some backup if we’re going to get Balken out.
Svennia: I’ve never been apart from them for this long before, though.
Kent: Them? You’re talking about Brier and Arco, right?
Fabian: Hm? Who are they? If Svennia thinks they’ll be of help…
Kent: They’re a Bard and familiar.
Sarisa: . . .
Svennia: It’s not a joke.
Kent: Brier’s an enemy of Kruseid’s. Svennia won’t tell me what she knows, but Lunette seemed to think he’s Balken’s son. But whoever he is, he’s important.
???: Balken’s son? No chance.
The group turned to the young Monk that spoke up and took on battle stances.
Nutmeg: Hey, you greet everyone like this?
Sarisa: You’re Meuri’s right hand.
Nutmeg: More like her left hand. Only her successor’s got the right.
Braddock: And who would that be?
Nutmeg: No one. Didn’t you see her fight? Meuri’s her own right hand. Now, about Brier…
Svennia: You know him?
Nutmeg: He was a big help. If you’re friends with him, I might be willing to help you out.
Fabian: Even though we’re prisoners?
Nutmeg: Meuri has nothing against your group. She just wants to keep you close in case Balken proves harder to crack than she expects.
Svennia: So what do you know about Brier?
Nutmeg: Last I saw him, he was heading to a village near Lorath. That was months ago. Haven’t heard from him since. But I hooked him up with high level mage. I’m sure he’s safe.
Kent: What do you think? Should we trek to that village and see if we can find some trace of him?
Nutmeg: I wouldn’t advise going anywhere near Lorath. Duvall and Chelsea are in the middle of a border dispute.
Kent: Is that bad?
Nutmeg: Imagine being killed by the poison breath of Duvall’s undead dragon, being reanimated by Duvall himself as part of his undead army, then thrown into a battle where you will be torn apart by Chelsea’s wild beasts.
Sarisa: Being double killed isn’t my style, guys.
Nutmeg: Your best bet is to leave this matter up to me. Unlike you, I have the freedom to travel to Wynn and gather information there. Just try to make the best of the situation. Sakar isn’t so bad.
Fabian: We can take up some adventuring jobs, but since we can’t leave the Sakarlands borders, we’ll be limited in what we can accept.
Kent: At least Svennia can set up shop.
Svennia: I could… but it won’t be as profitable. This is the Sakarlands. No one wears armor here, and the weapons of choice tend to be maces and warhammers. Those weapons use up more material to craft and don’t need sharpening. And since there aren’t any mines nearby, I’ll have to buy the materials myself. I’d be lucky to break even setting up a smithing shop here.
Braddock: Well… I’ll be at the pub.
Fabian: And we won’t be seeing him for a week.
Svennia: Great… How did that guy become a General again?
Fabian: Braddock was a high-ranking Knight in Astoria. More skilled than anyone else in the kingdom. Won every duel. But never fought in a real war. When Balken’s army arrived, he was too afraid to lead anyone. He ran. He hid. And he did whatever it took to survive. That meant abandoning his armor and his sword and taking up the twin daggers. Weapons that conceal one’s intent. He tried stealing and killing for justice, targeting only Balken’s soldiers. But then he abandoned even that and turned his blades to struggling Astorians. He may drink a lot, but he’s a well-rounded Assassin with skill and experience.
Svennia: Huh. Sounds like someone I’d like to know.
Svennia: Well, there’s still time, right, Kent?
Svennia: That’s his real name.
Kent: What are you-?
Svennia: Why do you think we came up with that identity for you in the first place? If you’re wanted as “Kendrick” now too, what’s the point?
* * *
Roegen: Have my senses dulled? The Eye of Malice is burning even fiercer… but I see no motion, and I don’t hear the slamming of metal on earth… Nothing but the wind, and… a song? Bard magic! Whistling moss…
Roegen opened a pouch from his belt, pulled a pinch of moss from it, and stuffed the moss into his ears.
Roegen: It’s too quiet. It’s so quiet, I was finally able to detect that song.
Roegen descended his watchtower and rushed into the castle. The halls were silent; many guards were passed out on their posts. Roegen walked up to one and kicked him in the face.
Roegen: Impressive. That’s one deep sleep.
Roegen immediately reached into his satchel for an arrow and pulled on his bowstring.
Roegen: (Very impressive. This isn’t Kruseid’s style at all. Rieve Elan mercenaries don’t use Bards… a survivor from Etrium? It could be…) I see you.
Roegen released his arrow at a barely-visible blue shadow, which jumped away, narrowly avoiding the bolt.
Lunette: Bare your fangs, bare your claws! Let fury take hold, abandon your cause!
Lowell rushed forward and pounced at Roegen, who blocked Lowell’s fangs with his bow, then reached into his belt pouch.
Lunette: Lowell, he’s going for slumber grass! Kick it away!
Lowell scratched Roegen’s wrist away. Roegen immediately dropped to the floor and kicked Lowell away with both legs.
Lunette: Perfect! HIDDEN ARROW!
Lunette’s Twin Crescent Lute split open, revealing a secret mechanism that launched an arrow at Roegen. While it caught Roegen unawares, his reaction speed was nothing short of amazing. The arrow missed its mark, only leaving a scratch to his cheek.
Lunette: I missed? You weren’t even looking at me!
Roegen: Even with this moss in my ears, I know the sound of an arrow. And.. I know the feel of poison.
Roegen took some grass from his belt pouch and rubbed it into his cheek. He immediately set another arrow and fired it at Lowell’s hind leg, pinning him down.
Roegen: I know that lute can’t hold more than that single arrow. You’ve failed.
Lunette: No. You’ve failed. You thought history wouldn’t repeat itself. You thought you were friends? Look at what your friend did. Etrium gone. Astoria encroaching upon Verdant. And what have you done?
Roegen: Verdant will never fall.
Lunette: It already has.
Roegen: Enough. I don’t have to hear the words of a rebel.
Lunette: I’m no rebel. And why haven’t you fired an arrow in my throat yet?
Roegen: Because… because…
Lunette: Because you’re paralyzed.
Roegen: I… That was a shallow scratch. I applied antivenom immediately. This herb heals every poison there is…
Lunette: Except for one. The blood of Ranka the Venom Mistress.
Lunette: No, not me. I just bought it. Cost me years of savings, but it was worth it. Just so we could have this nice chat.
Roegen: Who are you?
Lunette: I dye my hair, you know. Behind this blue, my hair is the darkest black. Black as night. That idiot cousin of yours would say something cheesy like… he could go stargazing in my hair for hours.
Roegen: V… Viola… Se… lene?
Lunette: I go by Lunette now, but yes… that’s the name you know me by.
Roegen: I thought you died… with everyone… I went back for you…
Lunette: The Band of Nobles. You know, once word got out that you had formed your own little band, and you had that little victory in Rhea… they wanted to join. But I always knew it would end this way. Balken was a uniting force. Everyone in Rym had him as a common enemy. But what happens after that enemy disappears? What compelled you to believe such a peace would actually last?
Roegen: We were… supposed to change…
Lunette: The power of love? The power of friendship? Strong bonds indeed… but not that strong. Even if it worked, it would fall apart with the next generation. The sooner they learned that, the better. So… I killed them.
Roegen: Gh…! Vio…la…. Y-ou… G-Gav…
Lunette: Not like they didn’t deserve it. The House of Selene fell because of the betrayal of the House of Springer and the cowardice of the House of Keane. With this, there will be justice for Verdant.
Roegen: . . .
Lunette: You’ve lost all control over your muscles. Can’t even talk now, can you?
Roegen: . . .
Lunette: Thank you for applying that antidote. If you hadn’t done that, your death would have been faster.
Roegen: . . .
Lunette: You should be grateful. At least now you won’t have to suffer fighting against your “friend.”
Roegen: . . .
Lunette: Unlike you and your entire House, I have no fear of Astoria. They will be pushed back, they will be devastated, they will suffer, and they will come to regret the faith they put in their pride and power. What they did to Etrium, I will do to Astoria a thousand times over.
Roegen: . . .
Lunette: Have you died yet? I’ve heard by the end, Ranka’s blood had the effect of causing terrible, excruciating pain to its victims, who would be unable to even scream. I wonder… is it all over for you? Or is the worst yet to come?
Roegen: . . .
Lunette: I have a feeling you already had regrets. After all, you are a failure. But die knowing I will fix your mistakes. All of Rym will be united.
Roegen: . . .
Lunette: How boring. I do hope you’re still suffering. Mackenzie!
Mackenzie: Yes, Lady Selene?
Lunette: I trust the transition will be painless.
Mackenzie: Of course. I will let the news spread of the change in leadership.
Lunette: Make certain it doesn’t spread past Verdant. I want Kruseid to think Roegen is still alive.
Lunette: But that is for outside the castle. I want everyone within our borders to know the House of Selene has risen.
Mackenzie: I understand. The Trinity flags will be torn down and replaced by the Black Moon insignia of the House of Selene.
Lunette: Astoria will use Etrium as a base before they push into Verdant. Waiting to ambush them is suicide. We need to strike first and make sure they never establish a camp in Etrium. I trust you can organize these attacks while I’m traveling to Wynn.
Lunette: Have Lowell treated as soon as possible. I have an army to build.
In the next episode of Bardass! Brier’s party arrives in Croadin (the real one) after days of trekking through the snow. But when their loot fails to be enough to pay for a room at an inn, the three have to split up to take on separate quests. Little do they know that they’re competing for the same item. Brier, Coleen, or Avery… who will come out on top in Quest 24 – Movement?