… I just tell you or some scribe mum?
Because this will do more, it’ll record your voice. Hopefully alleviate some of the concern our fellow Magnimarians have been expressing. You’ve heard what people have been saying I presume?
What have you heard? And what do you think?
Not to be telling you your business, but it’s not my place to say mum, is it mum? You know your letters, chronicling and all, and don’t get me wrong, I get by well enough, letters that is, but I don’t want to tell you something that you write down that I shouldn’t be talking about that Justice Derexhi might not take kindly.
That’s alright sentinel … may I call you Petru? … Randred is a dear neighbour, and he as well as the rest of the Justice Council will want to hear your story … I just want you to put it in context for Varisians who may not have been in Magnimar over the past week. So … what have you heard?
Well mum, I heard that they say he’s … it’s Xin, I mean THE Xin.
You’ve heard of him?
Like I said, mum, I get by with my letters, so I read he was one of them, you know, the Runelords, their leader or something. I even heard some of those horsers, pardon mum, Shoanti, say that he was the worst of the lot, and you know what they say about the Runelords, mum.
Do you think he’s Xin?
I can’t rightly say mum, I mean I’m not sure what it, he, is. I’ve worked beside some of those tick tock golems, and he sure looks like one of ‘em, but none of ‘em were like him … they always seemed to look past you, I mean they were paying attention, but they were all business, you know mum? But it … it … looked into me …
Petru, would you like some wine? My husband always has one bottle open, I could have a glass fetched for you.
Thank you no mum, the boss is pretty strict about the drinking on duty.
You’re not on duty now.
All the same mum.
So let’s do some background. Born in Sandpoint?
Yes mum, moved here with my folks when I was a kid, Dad looking for work and all.
And you joined Justice Randred Derexhi’s service … ?
‘Bout five years ago mum.
What’s it like living in Keystone?
Nice there mum. Not as nice as the Summit, mind, but folk are decent there.
How bad was the damage there?
As they say, while Nethys heals with one hand … the quakes broke some plates, brought down the spire over the Savored Sting … Dad said he got hit by a brick but I think he just fell out of bed. Glad I was able to move my folks out of Dockway, sentinel work pays better than hauling barrels.
Tell me where you were when the quakes hit.
Begging your pardon, mum, but I was here.
Yes I know you were here, I’m asking you for the record.
… oh yeah mum. Uh, well, we, my crew and me that is, got our orders from Justice Derexhi himself. Everyone was running ragged, all hands on deck you know, for that festival on the Irespan.
The Ritual of Reforging.
That’s the one mum. Like I said, right from Justice Derexhi. Told me to take up a post here.
Yes mum, sorry mum. Well I had to put down some grumbles, boys wanted to be in the thick of it as the festival, you know, see all those important people and all, but I told ‘em to shut it, this was a quiet gig, just keep a keen eye out for cats, I mean thieves mum. So we get there, setup, start doing the rounds, when Vic says ‘dang’ and pointed that a way. Pillar of light, like out of the stories, shootin’ up through the clouds … it must have been quite the sight there mum.
That keyed us all up, but that was it mum, and I heard the grumbles again, that the big event of our lifetime and here we were, no disrespect mum, we take our business seriously, but you know, right mum? Then there’s this hum, like in temple, but coming from everywhere. I shout for my boys to be on guard, then the ground jumps, dropping us all down. Then I can hear screaming, but we’ve got a job to do. We check the grounds, Tawni takes notes and I sign off, then we get back to our rounds, extra careful you know mum, till you and the mister get back. When our shift was up, Calin showed up with HIS crew, saying we should get some shut eye and be back for the same tomorrow … I didn’t hear about the water until I heard someone wail about it in Lowcleft, so I rushed home to check on the folks.
I’m glad to hear that they were okay Petru. Now let’s skip ahead to last night. … are you sure about that wine?
… yes mum, I mean no mum, I mean no wine for me mum.
Okay, let’s take it step by step then. When did you first think something was up?
Well mum, Justice Derexhi had us on evening rotation, you know, to keep us sharp. It must’ve been an hour into the shift and I was over there, by the railing mum, so I could keep an eye on my boys as much as I could. And I was looking around, as I said, we’ve got a job to do, and I sees this light, like a lighthouse, you know mum? Nears about the sunset, which is where I was looking, because, I mean folk who mean ya harm come that way sometimes. But it couldn’t be the Wyrm, way too high and the flashing was, well … weird.
Weird in what way?
The Wyrm, it’s slow and steady, and white, but this was … well, sometimes it was like the sun was reflecting off a spinning copper, and sometimes like that green flash folks down in the docks talk about, but going back and forth between the two. So I figured it was some caster playing with some illusions or something, I mean I’ve seen these tricks before. Was steady though, staying in the same spot in the sky, and was up there for a good few minutes until I figure it was getting bigger, closer I mean mum. That’s when I shout out for my boys, because we’re not really equipped for that kind of flying thing, all due respect mum, and so I send Tawni off for backup. Then I can kinda make it out, looks like a pillar or tube or something, with the flashing coming from either end while the middle near about blended in with the sky. Can’t say how fast it was going, but when it came down it ruined your nice greenhouse there mum, nothing we could do, sorry mum.
It’s alright sentinel, we hadn’t hired you expecting anything like that.
Well mum, it’s still our job, so I get my boys to jump it when it makes a move on your house. But when it puts its claws through that solid door there, I think we’re not up for this. It’s like one of those smiths showing how sharp their knives are, cutting clean through paper, but that was, what, four fingers thick wood mum? Not much sound, like no tearing, just a swish like a switch before it hits, and the door’s in pieces.
Then I can see it, big thing, bent over to get through the door, and like I said, it was like one of those tick tock golems at the top and bottom, but there’s this glass bit in the centre with a skeleton in it. The bottom had these three stubby legs, and the top had like four arms or something, and both parts shifted every few seconds, like that trick where a dealer flips over all the cards in a row, or a snake shedding its skin, going from this shiny copper to this weird green plating. Vic’s closest and I tells him to back off but it’s Vic. Then it straightens up and we’re all still gawking and then it talks and I understand this voice over it, a spell I’ve heard before, and it says ‘Your Zeal is commendable, but now is the time for Humility. Listen to your betters.’ Vic scoffs at this, of course, and he and Sorin …
… go on.
Well Sorin’s new, you know mum? So he’s not got mail yet, just heavy padding, so I was right worried about him. But I guess he and Vic figure they would go for the glass, that’s what Justice Derexhi says, go for weak spots, and then lunge in. I hear this chunk chunk sound and I didn’t see any crossbow or anything like that, but it shoots out these darts or bolts or something and next thing I know, Sorin’s flying past me. Must have missed Vic I figured, but he just slumps down where he was, blood pouring everywhere, but no holes in his mail mum, and there’s these bolts in the wall behind him.
I think we all saw red then and rushed in, not thinking, and I can see under the shifting plates all these gears, but they’re that creepy flat black, skymetal I figure. Then it’s got me, my neck hurts like hell cause it’s got a claw around my face, holding me by my jaw, like I was a horse or something and it was turning me this way and that. ‘I will Temper my Zeal by showing you Generosity, sellsword; you will be my witness.’ And then it spins me around and crushes my back up against it’s chest, pinning my arms as tight as iron bars mum. My head’s rightly ringin’ but I can see my poor boys, all loose and lying about. Dead or soon to be, I reckoned, would’ve been sick but for thinkin’ about Mum and Dad and who’d take care of ‘em, so I bit my tongue and hung there as it tore your front door, locked, bolted, easy as can be.
And, well mum, beggin’ your pardon, you know the rest.
Indeed, but as I said, this isn’t just a matter of what happened, but of giving the people of Magnimar an unbiased point of view … something I think you can well provide.
… oh sorry, right mum. So it tears through your house like a bad wind mum, and here I’m flinching when shards and slivers are going everywhere, but then I figure, whatever was protecting it from us, was protecting me from all that. And then it tossed the door into your dining room like it was driftwood, but you all were right prepared, I’d say, standing your ground around the room. Then I feel myself lifting up, figure it was standing up tall, and it starts talking again, just like before with those two voices. ‘For the sake of Kindness, for the sake of Temperance, for the sake of Love, I Humbly ask for the return of my property, taken after my death as a wake of vultures picks over a still warm corpse.’
‘We do not recognize your claim, creature. Begone before we banish you.’ … that was Banker Imikar I think.
‘Ah, a priest of the Scales and Streets, no doubt a puppet of Kaladurnae, loyal only to the coin he drops in your pockets. Your Greed will not be sated today.’
Next it was Founder Zimantiu … ‘He does not stand alone monster! Leave now.’
‘Why would a servant of the vagabond’s god have any interest in the affairs of the rightful ruler of this land? Be Humble and follow your own advice.’
That’s when Miss Azmeren levelled that glowing sword of hers right at me, well I guess at the tick tock behind me, ‘Rightful ruler?! Varisia has no ruler, we are a free people.’
‘Varisia? What an interesting term.’ I saw it tapping one of its talons against the arms holding me tight. ‘In rebellion you choose to take your role for your name. Curious choice but you were always a curious people, resistant to every boon I would offer.’
‘Enough.’ You, mum, uh Ms. Heidmarch, said. ‘If we were to give you this artefact, would you leave us in peace?’
‘Peace is all I have ever wished between your and my people, even if my dearest followers, your masters, treacherous vermin as they are, would see otherwise.’
‘Then in the sake of peace, take it.’ … and that’s when you brought out that star shaped thing …
Is that what you call it? Well it sure was impressive mum. I’ve never worked metals, but I hear it’s hard to work with more than just one at a time, and I figured it was at least half a dozen, all different colours, glowing and shining and everything. It floated on the table for a second then with a snap it flew into it’s claw.
‘Xanderghul would be Proud indeed. Which one of you poured your sin into this?’ And then with one claw it crumpled it up like it was tin, maybe more like stained glass, little bits of fine metal flaking onto the floor as its talons just tore through it. Caught my heart in my throat, seeing such a pretty thing break. ‘Now my Temperance is at an end. Give me my property before I …’ And that’s when someone cast some blast of fire, roaring in my ears.
I have to say mum, it was bad that you were the first one to fall. You must have hit it a dozen times with that staff of yours, but I never heard wood on metal, just this dull whump and you’d dance back again … until it caught you. All I could do was watch mum, that gash in your chest bleeding between where blood had frozen and skin had charred.
And this, Petru, is why I asked you to tell the tale … I may have been there but I wasn’t quite … myself.
Yes mum, and I’m sorry there wasn’t anything I could do, I was trapped, see, and …
Let’s not concern ourselves with that, please go on.
Okay mum. So there it was, that, uh, Sihedron, just like the broken one, but so much, well, more mum. Sharper, brighter, everything. Flitting back and forth between all those great folk, floating above their heads like some angel’s halo, I swear, and they seemed to really hit it, the tick tock that is, when it, the star thing, was over them, I could feel it stagger back from blows or spells. I felt like we could do it, and I started praying to Gorum that he’d give us this battle.
It wasn’t slow though, I mean it’d killed my boys so I’d seen it up close and personal and all. Its claws cut through anything it touched without slowing down, like we were all just mist or fog to it. When I saw Miss Ameren come in close, I saw she was trying to get one of its arms, to free me mum, but some bloody tentacle wrapped around her, and then it … it fried her, lightning I think. Then it gave off this green light, but it didn’t look right and the folks in the room wilted, lines creasing on their faces like they’d were old or sick. But that’s when Banker Imikar got the star and called out to Abadar, flooding the room with light, and I could see everyone flush … and I felt the arms around me loosening.
I fell to the floor, can’t say I was brave and tried to hit it, but I didn’t have nothing to hit it with anyway. But I grabbed you and Miss Ameren, well your bodies if you don’t mind mum, dragging you back. Then I … felt more than saw that light again. Founder Zimantiu this time, the star above her head, driving it back through a wall into the hall. Back and forth it went, Banker to Founder to Banker, it was a sight mum, each one pulsing with this warm, loving light, the machine slipping off its legs, its arms held in front.
I was watching, amazed mum, in the power of the gods over this thing, when the star seemed to shift again but just, well, stopped mum. It shook in the air like a kite, I mean when the wind wants to blow it one way and you’re pulling the other. Then the air cracked. Not like lightning mum, more like ice on the bay, but, but this was the air mum, air’s not supposed to break open like that! I couldn’t see any rip or tear but I knew one was there mum, and it just wasn’t right. Felt like I would fall into it and never stop falling but I wasn’t moving. Terrified me mum.
Then I saw the star … it was coming apart. Smoothly, quietly even, despite this crack in the air. That’s when I figured it mum, it wasn’t the air that was broken, but you know, the magic that’s all around us. Don’t know how folk use it, but you can feel it, right? And this thing, had done it. The pieces of the star kept glowing and floating, and I saw Banker Imikar holding that holy key of Abadar … but his light this time was weak, dimmer than the shards that hung halfway between him and Founder Zimantiu.
Just like when it had snatched the fake star, these shards flew through the air whip fast back to that tick tock. And I heard that chunk chunk chunk again and all those great folk were thrown back just like poor Sorin, some with holes right through ‘em.
‘Sellsword, only you shall witness my rebirth.’
I tried to get up then mum, throw myself at it, anything, but I just couldn’t. Something pressed against me like a plate, holding me down. I wasn’t scared, honest! One of its hands pointed at me, while the others were a blur; it looked like it was taking itself apart while it was putting itself back together, but in the middle of it all, the skeleton in the crystal started … moving. It reminded me of what I’ve heard of trolls, like a butcher in reverse, flesh building up and all. And the shards were swirling around, flooding the room with every colour.
Don’t know how long this went on, everything was happening so fast but felt so slow. Against that invisible plate I pressed, but couldn’t do anything. That’s when I saw the shards being held with care, like when a goldsmith is finishing up a setting. Each shard seemed to have a notch it easily slid into … and the skeleton’s muscle was now wrapped in flesh which was quickly covered by a green robe. A pair of freshly grown eyes seemed to hold me in contempt.
‘Now’ its lips moving with one of the pair of words ‘I shall reclaim Thassilon! Go, sellsword, and tell my students of my return. Tel them that they can flee to the most distant corners of the Outer Sphere into The Maelstrom and beyond, but that I will render their souls unto dust. Tell them that Xin has returned.’
I felt the pressure of the plate go away, but blinked and rubbed my eyes as I saw snow drifting in from your shattered front hall. Surely more magic I guessed, but not like any I’ve ever seen mum, I mean it wasn’t cold, I didn’t feel a breeze or nothing. Then there was more and more of it, the hall filling like a blizzard, swirling until I could just make out a sound, a voice, ‘… master …’
As creepy as it was, inside that crystal, at least it now had flesh it looking like a man, and he looked mildly annoyed. ‘In my moment of triumph you come to bother me? With what, minor reports, petty requests?
‘… history …’ the snow seemed to whisper and the cloud advanced, while he seemed to brush it away with a wave of one of the tick tock’s arms. But the cloud seemed, if you don’t mind me saying mum, insistent, pressing forward and around him. And I swore I saw one flake land on one of those shards and melt into it.
Those eyes, they shot open mum, and he started to scream. Around him those metal arms flailed and again it tottered about on its short legs, but the flakes kept coming, melting into it. The screams were wild, painful to hear, but gratifying as I remembered the bodies he had surrounded himself with. I mean he deserved it, right mum? Killing my boys, you and yours too.
That’s when I saw it, mum, Miss Ameren’s sword, glowing under some of the mess, beggin’ your pardon mum. Part of me just wanted to stop that scream, damn did it hurt, another part wanted to just do something, you know? Something useful after all of that. And that scream just kept going until I couldn’t hear it no more, my ears ringing.
So I got up right on top of him, it, and got that blade point first against the crystal, inches from his face mum, and it all felt wrong like ice but hot. And you bet I pushed, jammed it right in until I saw it start to crack, felt good you know, then I saw his face.
He wasn’t screaming no more mum. Just looking at me, all calm but sad too, you know? And that’s when I got this creep down my back and I realize he wants this, wants me to break it, kill ‘im. And I can’t do that mum, can’t give ‘im what he wants, cause that’s what both Justice Derexhi and Dad always say, never give them that deserve it what they want, no good ever comes from it. So it’s my turn to scream.
And that’s when I slump down, it’s all been too much and I can’t take it. I mean I’m no adventurer, I mean I know my job and I’m serious about it, but this ain’t that. Not ashamed to say I cried mum, don’t know who I was crying for or what about, but it felt like the right thing, you know, good after all that. Couldn’t tell who was patting my shoulder, saying something soothing, couldn’t say with my ears ringing and all, and my head was all messed up until I figure it out.
No one but me and it there.
There it was, sitting up after a fashion, lifting its claw away when it sees my glare. And he looked the same, all calm and sad, like he understood mum, but he couldn’t, I mean he’d done all this, it wasn’t fair. Figured, damn Dad and all, give it what he wants, grabbed that sword again.
‘Justice’ he said. I slipped, my legs didn’t feel right. ‘I could do it myself, but what justice would there be in that?’ He spread its arms wide, leaning itself forward like it was kneeling. ‘Please end this.’ And he sounds just like my preacher, strong and calm and sure. ‘I could threaten you, give you more of a reason if you don’t feel like you have enough,’ he looked past me at the room, ‘already.’ That sword started to feel too heavy mum, but I knew it wasn’t magic or anything, something wrong with me. ‘No, you’re not injured, it isn’t shock you’re feeling, but Love, better than my own. Humility at the end, Xin, after millennia of Wrath.’
And like I said mum, felt like it was looking into me.
‘I’m sorry I called you a sellsword before. My name is … I suppose was … well I’m not sure any more.’
“But you called yourself Xin”
‘Xin the rebel of Azlant? Or Xin the First King? Or Xin the Lord of the Runelords? Perhaps.’ Inside that crystal he shook his head then tapped the crack I’d made with one of those talons, ‘All of his dreams were flawed, starting with pure intent but falling so far from grace. He birthed the Runelords and their excesses. And they killed him for it. Xin’s legacy is one of pain and death. And he should stay dead, lest he retread the same path; the world does not deserve to be tormented again by another batch of sinners on such a grand scale.’
“But what about that army of giants? The ones that come down from the high plains, I heard they said they were heralds of some Protector of Thassilon.”
For a second his eye flashed open mum, like he was really listening to me, then they half closed again. ‘Another pretender no doubt. The motes you saw, patient, loyal servants all, told me of the fall of Thassalion, the fall of the Runelords, with no sign of their regular pilgrimages to my capitol since. A thousand years of darkness; they could not have survived.’
I finally found my feet again mum, looking down on him inside that thing. “But you did.”
‘Surely not. Surely … not.’ One of its arms reached out, and he whispered something, and this silver ball grew between us. Now like I said mum, I’ve seen some pretty good illusions before, but this one was different somehow, I mean on the silver ball. Like I was looking at one of those picture books but someone was flipping the pages real fast, but all stretched out, bent at the edges. And when I looked at him again, he just looked even sadder than before. I’ve seen some lost men before mum, I mean Magnimar’s great and all, but a lot of my boys haven’t had it that easy, we get through it together, you know, but under that fine robe of his, he looked just the same, crushed.
“Sure you feel bad, but look at what you did!” That hurt him, I think mum, but like my Dad says, sometimes you’ve got to poke the bear. I mean I couldn’t finish him, I guess I don’t have the guts for it, but Justice Derexhi put me in charge for a reason, said I had a good head on my shoulders. Never really got what he saw, but my poor boys always seemed to like me around, felt like we could get through anything.
It stood up, lifting him up with it. I couldn’t tell if it was looking around, but he was. Reminded me of a shop keep crying over the ruins of her store. ‘This. This I can fix.’ He looked at me. ‘If you think that’s the right thing to do.’ That puzzled me right quick mum. ‘Long I lead others, ruled alone, taking my own council. Perhaps I Envied the legends of my people, sought the Slothful path by not taking the time to listen, Proud in my own abilities.’
Didn’t know what he was talking about mum, but if he could fix it, I just nodded my head. He gave me a weak smile, like those drunkards the morning after when the sober up. Then I felt the air filling up, I mean it felt like the air again mum but I was wise to it, there was magic about, and a lot of it.
There I was held to its chest, Miss Ameren being lifted limp off the ground with that red tentacle, and then her eyes snapping open again. A talon sweeping across your chest mum, sealing up that gash. And the door flew into its claw as it put it back in place. Backing out the front door, it put me down and the blood mum, the blood from my boys sucked back into their bodies and they all got up. It slipped back into your greenhouse and shot out of the roof. I mean the whole thing, it played backwards like someone was reading a story the wrong way, I ain’t seen nothing like it.
Then it lands all gentle like in front of me boys, a pair of its hands up and out, the other down as it bowed before us. That’s when you and your folk come out, all talking over one another, but I could hear it whisper in my ear ‘Please tell, my first councillor, what is your name?’
That was the first hand expression of events at Heidmarch Manor by guardsman Petru Marenko on Moonday the twenty fourth day of Rova, Absalom Reckoning four thousand, seven hundred and thirteen, six days after the reconstruction of the artefact known as the Sihedron atop the Irespan in Magnimar.
The construct, who I believe contains the remains of First King Xin of Thassalion, wove great spells in the following hours, repairing the physical damage the quakes and waves did, although it did apologize, through guardsman Petru, that it couldn’t return the dead to life. Despite requests by both Lord-Mayor Sabriyya Kalmeralm and the Council of Ushers, the construct refused to speak or be parted from the guardsman’s side, who claimed under verified truth spells, that it called him his First Councillor. This has led some of the Council to try to ply the guardsman for favours, but I have yet to see him bend.
Over the next week, strange and powerful constructs of similar design marched out of the sea, bearing goods lost in the wake of the floods, treasures from the depths, some even towing vessels that had been thought lost in the cataclysm, their sails broken but the souls on board still clinging to life. When not otherwise directed, they set about repairs and improvements to buildings across the city, above and beyond the spells woven by the Xin construct. Some left the city, only to return with slab upon slab of stone that they took to the Irespan and beyond, starting its reconstruction.
Despite the recent calamities that Varisia has faced, the loss of Sandpoint, the destruction of towns along Skull River, the fall of Corvosa to devils, and the return of the Sverenagati serpentfolk and their conquests, this Pathfinder remains cautiously optimistic about this Xin construct. Time will, as always, tell.
Venture-Captain Sheila Heidmarch