While Eryno had never gone so far as to replace his limbs with cybernetics, his body was replete with scars and pieces of the Androffan technology poking through. Not that he hadn’t had the opportunity; there had been the option of replacing both of his arms, shoulders, and much of his spine with the Arms of the Iron God, a terrifying amalgam of cybernetic weapons and enhancements, but the idea of having something grafted into his skin that had been a sacred relic of Unity repulsed him. “It ain’t worth it. If it were stronger, gave me something that I can’t already do, maybe. But no way I’m getting my arms lopped off for that.”
“But you did have your heart replaced,” Bliks cajoled, as they added the artefact to the rest of their loot. “Cracked your ribcage right open, ripped it right out, stuffed a mechanical one in. What’s a pair of arms compared to your heart? Some would say you lost the seat of your soul!”
“Yeah, well that’s different. This Androffan stuff sure is useful, better sometimes than your magic, no insult intended, and that didn’t have It’s fingers all over it. And I’ve died and come back since I got that organ upgrade, so, yeah.” They had been still aboard the wreck of the Divinity, searching out and eliminating Unity’s allies and followers one by one. It had been a tense time, knowing that Unity was up to something, but not being entirely sure what its plan was.
But now it was over a year later and Eryno had stripped to the waist so he could don his powered armour. They had recovered it from the Divinity and had proven critical in their final battle against Unity’s last refuge in its Overlord Robot and further showed neither a connection to the evil aspiring godling nor any other lingering side effects. After that fateful day, Eryno had taken it off, asking Bliks to store it until he needed it again, not calling on it until today.
Even those who knew that it existed considered that he didn’t need it; his body was a marvel. Throughout his limbs were wires that heightened his reflexes, shining through as a network of silver and green lines just under his skin but diving deep into his muscles. Under his chest lay few original organs, some replaced to increase his combat usefulness, some after near fatal encounters. While he didn’t share the Kellid tendency to retain scars, these scars wouldn’t have been considered worth of retention anyway; only battle scars were prized, these would be considered self inflected and without honour. Unlike Bliks, he retained his original eyes, but his ears were no longer the slightly pointed variety that would belie his half-elven heritage, but now plain silver arcs. Little could be said near Numeria’s Spymaster without his hearing, but as he was a master of infiltration, few knew to guard their tongues.
On top of those augmentations, his relentless exercise routine combined with regular forays into the Numerian wilds kept him sharp and lean. None of the fat that often came with leadership clung to his frame and in that Bliks was envious. Her work as Magister and Chancellor meant many long sedentary hours and with her supernatural flight, she had to make a conscious effort to exercise. Even though they had a mixture of fear and respect for her, the native Kellid tribes would certainly despise her if she began to show weakness like so many of the Technic League before their elimination. Long had been their disgust at the city dwellers for not testing themselves against the dangers endemic to Numeria.
Now they were deep under the Place of Fallen Stars, in a stronghold built to house the dangerous and useful items they had found in Silver Mount that Bliks had decided the Numerian Institute of Technology was not yet ready to study. Lined with lead and skymetal, she had done the excavation and construction herself so that no workers could pass on its location or description. Wards, both arcane and divine were mixed with technological fields to obscure and block access to it from anyone not authorized by Bliks herself. With it taking at least a few minutes for Eryno to not only get into the suit, but to run through a series of basic checks, Bliks reached out to her companions via their shared radio link.
‘Are you certain we shouldn’t bring at least a handful of guards Hex? I’m sure Lord Hulrun would understand a visiting monarch having a few personal retainers.’
‘We’ve been through this. We’re arriving without notice, coming heavily armed’, the android pointed to Eryno strapping on the leg units, ‘and our relationship with Mendev is still uncertain.’ Hex walked over to a large shrouded object and lifted its canvas covering. ‘The power transmitter? I wasn’t aware you had moved it here from Torch.’
Eryno stopped clipping one of the thigh plates to look over at the Black Sovereign, ‘Cut her some slack Hex, it’s not like we’ve been in town much.’ Hex caught Eryno’s gaze and nodded. Bliks hadn’t even been paying attention and yet could almost hear their physical movements over the link.
‘And why cover everything? I thought this place was impregnable.’ Hex mused again, this time directing his thoughts towards Bliks. Even though it was an open channel, there were tags added to each transmission, unconsciously indicating who should most pay attention to any message.
Bliks sighed, audibly and over the link. ‘That’s to deal with Yarahkuts.’ Sensing their curiosity and impending questions she continued ‘They’re a kind of Inevitable, constructs from Axis. The Axiomites send them out to get rid of things they think are beyond the ability for their owners to control.’ Glancing around the room, she noted nothing in their shared ownership that she didn’t know how to control. How it worked, how to repair, how to recreate, those were different questions. ‘Neither the Technic League nor the Kellid tribes seemed to see much interference from them, considering all the accidents and proliferation of Androffan technology, but I felt we shouldn’t be careless.’
She pointed down the length of the chamber to a stationary giant, ‘That’s also why I have Ex Ah You Three Un Three stationed here. I think you’d find a Yarahkut a challenge Hex, they make ranged weapons malfunction, but Eryno or Three Un three wouldn’t have too much trouble.’ She didn’t add that she had enchanted XAU-3-UN-3’s fists with anarchic energies. That had been a bit of a feat, trying to meld arcane powers that naturally wanted to disassemble everything they came in contact with to a machine whose nature was one of strict orders and programming.
‘Oh yes, why the canvas.’ While Bliks knew that Eryno had likely stopped listening to their conversation, Hex would want an answer to his question. It had been a subtle change in him since becoming Black Sovereign, but his persistence paid off with his less than forthright advisors. ‘They can break things down just by looking at them. Not disintegration, from what I’ve researched, but thorough dismantling.’ Bliks whimsically looked under a nearby cloth to check the status of the covered Vortex Gun and then concluded, ‘Frankly, I wish I could get one on our payroll, if nothing else but to take apart items we have to spare so we could see all of their components, without having to risk breaking them.’
Even though Eryno had yet to secure the powered armour’s chest plate, it held itself in place, waiting for his attention, small thrusters buffeting the air around him as he fussed with the back plate. ‘I presume you haven’t changed your mind about the Heilige Cohort, Hex?’ There wasn’t a lot of doubt in her mind, but sometimes she couldn’t predict her android companion’s state of mind, even with the link.
‘It’s only reasonable. And it secures the Blades of Aaramor’s loyalty. What is your concern?’ Hex fired back quickly over the link.
Bliks paused to consider and then replied, ‘I thought your reluctance to bring guards might be part of a broader consideration. If Mendev would react poorly to a few guards, surely a few hundred soldiers marching on their border might be seen in a similar light.’ She didn’t add that hundreds of soldiers from all across Avistan if not Golarion marched into Mendev every day, crusaders heading to the front to fight demons in the so called Mendevian Crusades. Historically Numeria had profited from these travelling crusaders but rarely contributed to them, aside from the Blades of Aaramor on the Worldwound’s border and permitting the Knights of Urion to establish a foothold to guard that leg of the West Sellen.
‘They will welcome our help, if what you fear is true.’ Hex said eventually. ‘They will need all the help they can get.’
Eryno had gotten both arms up and running now and only needed to attach the helmet to complete the seal and fully enclose him. ‘I couldn’t tell,’ he said over the link, ‘did you end up doing those enchantments I asked for? You know, to offset its, well, thumpiness?’ Bliks glared at the half-elf, his abuse of Teldane surely intentional as soon as she saw his typical lopsided grin.
Knowing how much he enjoyed getting a rise out of her, Bliks just sighed and replied, ‘Yes, and some extras you didn’t ask for but I thought might keep you from visiting Pharasma again.’ Of their trio, only Hex had never been temporarily dead and by far Eryno had had the worst of it. ‘Try it out, and hear for yourself.’
Snapping the helmet in place, Eryno looked like a miniature version of the Juggernaut Robot XAU-3-UN-3, a similarity that hadn’t dawned on Bliks until she could just now see both of them at the same time. The powered armour took a step and came down with barely a tap on the metal floor, despite it weighing several hundred pounds. ‘Aw neat!’ Eryno cried over the link. He then took it on a quick run down the length of the chamber and the lack of accompanying foot falls did seem unnaturally out of place, but such was the nature of magic, breaking the bonds of the expected.
“All is in order, Chancellor Volgeling.” Up till that moment, the Director Robot had been stationary, not even addressing them when they had arrived. TAU-3-UN-25 had been brought down here specifically to maintain a catalogue on the various articles Bliks had secured, but with so few and infrequent visitors, it had little opportunity to integrate its interpersonal subroutines. The Androffans must have preferred their robots to act like machines, even speak like them, and so Bliks’ additional programming didn’t always take root as well as she would have liked.
Hex walked over to the thing, looking slightly up at it even though it had not lifted itself off the ground. “Director Robot, report.”
“TAU-3-UN-25. Androffan archive. Last inventory, five min … two seconds ago. Number of iterations on disassembly procedure, thirty eight.”
Hex gave Bliks a curious look, sending ‘What does it mean disassembly procedure?’ His tone over the link became stern, if that was even possible for the android, ‘You’re not letting it experiment on these artifacts are you?’
‘This is my first hearing of it. It has specific orders not to interact with any of the items stored here, only to observe any work I do here and keep a catalogue.’ Bliks replied almost apologetically. She then added, ‘And sometimes acting as an interface with the Juggernaut, you know how difficult talking to one of those things can be.’ Out loud she continued, addressing the robot “Explain disassembly procedure.”
“Standard procedure is to first detach housing A6 by disengaging locks N1 through N3 inclusive. Once power port has been exposed …” the machine began, the description sounding to Bliks like it was reading one of the many manuals she had recovered on Androffan robots.
Bliks interrupted it, “Stop. What do you mean ‘iterations on disassembly procedure’?”
“Access to archived equipment banned. Access to external environment blocked. Programming demands refinement, research, discovery. RNU-1 available. Variations of disassembly procedure for RNU-1 possible. Repeated disassembly provides insight, refinement to standard procedure. Goal, optimize disassembly procedure.”
‘I think,’ Eryno chimed in, ‘It’s talking about this.’ He was still down the length of the chamber, but now gesturing to some open work station. Bliks looked at Hex who shrugged and together they walked the short distance to where the powered armour clad ranger stood.
Had the Observer Robot been a living creature, it surely would have been a grotesque sight, but being a machine, seeing it half dismantled was far less disturbing. That it was still somewhat functional, three of its legs sporadically flailing at the air, its sensor module dimmed but still moving in its housing, gave it a sense of the macabre. ‘Got bored, I guess.’ Eryno said over the link. Director Robots were quite intelligent and aware, but Bliks had never imagined it would have a need to work, even if there was no apparent work that needed to be done.
She rubbed her forehead, ‘I thought it just shut down between visits, to conserve power, I hadn’t imagined this.’
‘Is it a problem?’ Hex asked.
‘Straight to the point’ Bliks thought. Over the link she replied, ‘No, Sovereign, I don’t think it’s a problem, at least not in this case. But had we left it down here with a living creature, I can imagine it might consider learning how best to heal them by repeatedly harming them and then putting them back together. I suspect it’d justify it by saying it did no lasting physical harm and was expanding the range of knowledge on how to treat injury.’
‘Ugh.’ Eryno sounded like he was dramatically retching over the link, and then suddenly added ‘Hey, we’ve got these things all over the place, are we going to see one of them go crazy and start chopping people up?’
‘I don’t think so.’ Bliks replied hopefully, ‘This is an isolated case of a literally isolated robot. All of our other Director Robots are engaged in daily challenges or tasks, and I believe their need for refinement, as it said, is satisfied. But,’ she added, now addressing Hex, ‘I will pass this concern onto the Numerian Institute of Technology and the Church of Brigh, so they can better monitor our robot compatriots. And I’ll bring down unprocessed materials for this unit to work on. I’d hate to see if it decided that the Juggernaut needed to be better understood by a similar disassembly procedure.’
‘The big guy would probably just crush ‘im.’ Eryno joked, ‘I mean, it’s all I’ve ever see ‘em do.’
‘You’re probably right too.’ Bliks sent back. ‘Juggernauts are pretty single minded.’ With that, she gestured towards the exit alcove and she and her compatriots started to make their way out of the underground warehouse. While she didn’t say anything, she did steer them away from not only the more dangerous items they had stored there, but also ones that she hadn’t told them she had stored there.
There was the Temporal Accelerator, a kind of vertical belt that attached to the back of one’s neck, that’d artificially slow down time for its user but put such a strain on both mind and body Bliks was certain it shorted one’s lifespan. A canister filled with precious Horacalcum in its raw state, subtly twisting the fabric of time around it. The dangerous ooze like creature made entirely of self replicating nanites the locals had dubbed Grey Goo. High end Lock Coders, to keep prismatic access cards from falling into the hands of those who might get into places they couldn’t handle. A pair of intact Clonepods. The multipurpose Autodoc, that while she was confident it shouldn’t cause harm, that it had the potential to essentially melt any patient put inside of it gave her pause. Drawers filled with various cybernetics, waiting for the Numerian Institute of Technology to first master their lesser varieties. And then the armoury of Nuclear, Gravity, Atom, and Death guns, all carefully packed and locked away, even in this highly secured vault. She had told them both about all of those things, even though Hex did object to keeping a ‘live’ subject in the form of the ooze, he consented when she convinced him that without study, they’d be impossible to contain in the future.
Then there were the things she hadn’t yet revealed to them, like the massive Extinction Wave Device. Seeing as the Divinity seemed to have been an exploration vessel, why they would need such a powerful weapon was beyond her reckoning to date. That the Androffans had even called it a ‘clean bomb’ made her wonder if they were merely comparing it to conventional bombs that destroyed everything or that it cleaned its blast radius of all life. The Rebirthing Chamber suggested all sorts of abuse by vain rulers to extend their reign indefinitely or the similarly dangerous Psychic Imprinter that didn’t kill its victim but merely wrote over every thought and memory they had, essentially making them into the person whose mind it had stored.
Finally there were the wrecks; every piece she could find of Hellion, the projector system that had created Deacon Hope, and Unity’s Overlord Robot. That Hellion had been a mere Arachnid Robot, the meekest of the entire line that the Androffans had made, but had yet somehow attained some spark of godhood, was enough for to pique Bliks’ curiosity. In Deacon Hope she sought to understand how divine energies interfaced with that holographic system to actually make a self aware being. But most concerning of all was the last, a towering unique construct, imbued with abilities far beyond any other robot suggested more of Unity’s technical brilliance than that of the Androffans. Being able to compare the two methods of construction she hoped would be enlightening, so long as she could assure herself that Unity itself would not be reborn in her tinkering.
Clear of the chamber, they stepped into the small exit alcove magically cut out of the rock such that it looked like a set of giant hands had formed it out of clay, then transmuted it back to solid stone. Pressing her hand against a spiral glyph on the wall, the matching birthmark on her chest glowed just enough for the others to see, and then Eryno started to comically scream over their link. At least in his mind it was comedic; Hex didn’t seem to react and Bliks just winced. ‘This is her plan you know! It’s not a teleportation platform; it’s going to disintegrate us!’ Bliks couldn’t tell if he saw her withering glance but once the spell’s power reached its zenith, he quieted down and they all reappeared in one of the deepest chambers below the Bronze Cathedral, site of the former Technic League Headquarters.
Eryno strode out the double doors leading from this now bare room, the powered armour lengthening his stride, while Hex followed a few paces behind. Remaining behind to secure the platform, Bliks considered how many Numerians had been tortured in this room at the hands of the Kytons that had been allowed to take up residence here. Gone were the blades, mounted body parts, even harvested skin. She had even called in a priest of Pharasma to confirm that there were no lingering souls. Now it was just an empty chamber, still lit with technology taken from some Androffan ruin, but nondescript, as Bliks had wanted it.
‘Do you want us to hold the elevator for you?’ Hex asked over the link. She had lingered longer than she had wanted, her memories of this place seemingly raw.
‘Yes, I wouldn’t want us to arrive separately for the blessings.’ Bliks replied. To herself she thought, ‘Perhaps in digging up that one memory, Longdreamer … or Desna? … had given others greater contrast. I’ll have to research that.’ She felt she had a lot yet to research, with that ritual circle still undisturbed in her chambers, all the devices in the vault. ‘And yet now I’m out of time.’
No acolytes of Brigh came down to this floor as there was little here of use, so it was of no surprise that she didn’t encounter any as she caught up with Hex and Eryno. In time they would expand their operations to perhaps use these chambers for storage, but there were no labs, no forges, nothing for the faithful to create with. A few might wish to study the seemingly self sustaining underground jungle that had sprung up under the reactor that Eryno had seemingly blown up when they destroyed the Technic League, but that would likely interest followers of Erastil, Gozreh, or even the Green Faith, not those of invention.
As the elevator ascended, they passed through the underground botanical garden which, unlike the underground jungle, was an area of activity and research. While no one was currently present, acolytes would occasionally call on local druids to aid their creation of new strains of plants or in testing new techniques for grafting one plant to another. After objections surrounding the cultivation of truly alien plants, like those developed by Paeytr Mercanin in the Scar of the Spider, Bliks had erected a unidirectional transparent wall cutting off the east third of the room, so that the plants could still share in the central lighting but not directly bother the sensibilities of guests.
The lift was swift, though, so they soon found themselves in a small underground hanger that was used to store and service their small squadron of Myrmidon robots. A pair of acolytes was busying themselves with replacing munitions as the trio continued to ascend, while three of the nominally flying robots awaited orders, crouched on their barely functional tripod of legs.
Their final stop was a room in a flurry of activity, as it was at nearly every hour of the day. Here the Technic League had setup a fully functional production laboratory for the study of Androffan technology, and the Church of Brigh continued to use it for that purpose. Plates were carefully cut away or removed with specialized tools as robots were examined, repaired, or reprogrammed. The few that did get loose did little harm, as a universal rule of disarmament before reactivation prevented the same sort of troubles that routinely plagued the League. After Eryno had gained access to the mainframe on the Divinity, collecting and repurposing wayward robots had become almost trivial, but Bliks tried to personally oversee any operation involving the more dangerous ones that still prowled Numeria. From time to time this would put her in conflict with Xol-Nomag and the rest of her Ghost Wolf tribe, as they sought to exterminate any uncooperative robot, but upcoming events Bliks hoped would quell even that tendency.
Immediately upon entering the vestibule of the church from the workshop, they were set upon by a small army of retainers. Calls for the Black Sovereign’s attention to this or that petty issue, as well as a stream of flattery mixed in the air until Eryno scattered them before his skymetal bulk and the adventurers were able to exit into the mid-day sun. Still the servants and hangers on clustered in behind the Black Sovereign to the point that Bliks floated above their heads so as to not be constantly jostled.
“This is what you have to look forward to Xol.” Hex said, raising his voice above the din. The chieftess of the Ghost Wolf tribe dipped her head slightly, turning her palms upwards in recognition of the Black Sovereign’s rank. With the institution of Andoran’s Common Rule, the change to the traditional supplication to the Black Sovereign had been sometimes forcefully enforced, but with Xol-Nomag it had taken little convincing to reduce it to a mere nod.
The stern and powerfully built woman had resisted Hex’s claim to the throne, saying that “We will never be ruled by an abomination from the life-ending ruins! One who would strike down a true warrior from afar with a foreigner’s weapon of fire and thunder does not deserve our allegiance!” or so Bliks had been told. Facing her in single combat, Hex had deftly avoided her spiked quarter staff for a few moments before breaking the weapon in half with a series of well placed, point blank shots from his revolver. When the barbarian lunged at him with a knife, he let her pass and shot her in the leg, this time using a different but blindly swapped out pistol. No blood came from the wound as there was no wound, only a bruise and numbness, like she had been struck soundly with the palm of an assailant’s hand. Her tribe had no fear or hatred of magic, so its use in this duel was not dishonourable, but it still brought the woman’s blood to boil and she rushed at the android again. This time he carefully backpedalled as quickly as she could charge, firing non-lethal round after non-lethal round, her armour having little protection against such a fusillade.
In the end, she collapsed, preparing for a fatal blow, brought low not by wounds but by fatigue. Hex merely stood silent as the rest of the Ghost Wolves were silent, waiting for her to regain her feet. Whispers began to circulate through the gathered tribeswomen and men, that their ferocious chieftess was about to die at the hands of this artificial creature, some even suggesting they abandon the rites of the duel to overwhelm this self proclaimed Black Sovereign. Then the tattoo like circuitry covering Hex’s skin began to glow and he swapped out a third firearm, this time turning it on the crowd. Moments later those who had begun to push into the ring felt a soft tap on their chests, as small packets of dye broke open and coloured their armour where a bullet could have landed.
He then asked for her aid. Her aid in quelling the dangerous Sunder Horns who preyed upon her tribe’s eastern border and the Blood Gars who choked the trade along their western border. Her aid in removing the robots that hunted her people’s land as much as they hunted the rest of Numeria. Her aid in taking the fight to the demons to the north, who had been long ignored by other Black Sovereigns. And her aid in rebuilding Numeria into a nation to be respected for its unique power and heritage, not mocked for its drug addled leadership or the scheming, secrets obsessed cabal.
And so she gave her aid.
“There are some who would enjoy such praise, Sovereign. I suspect that to a point, I will enjoy it too.” Xol nodded to the now silent retainers who would soon be nipping at her heels. Part of their agreement was that Xol would be Numeria’s regent, to rule in Hex’s place were he to be unable to do so for some extended period of time. And while Bliks had suggested that their trip to Kenabres would be a short one, Hex had felt that it was an opportunity to show that he was willing to peacefully relinquish power, as well as giving the Ghost Wolves a better sense of the challenge of balancing the demands of the Tribal and People’s councils, a Numerian adoption of Common Rule. “But there is only so much talk that these might have in them before I begin to demand thought or better, action.” Her smile drove the retainers back a few steps.
Bliks selection of Cythrul, an alien witchwyrd from the southern Numerian city of Hajoth Hakados, as her replacement as Magister, was unsurprising. The foremost expert in Numeria and perhaps all of Avistan on skymetals, the merchant had happily accepted the offer, with no objection from either the Numerian Institute of Technology or the Church of Brigh, so well was she respected. She was not, however, present at this ceremony, having questioned Bliks as to whether it was necessary for her to attend as part of her duties. As it was not, Cythrul was instead busying herself, familiarizing herself with the staff she would have to administer while Bliks was away. So too was there a notable absence of Numerian Institute of Technology members at this blessing, but Bliks hoped that would help create a sense of different areas of importance, and that not all Numerian institutions must be present for all state affairs.
When asked who his replacement would be, Eryno blithely remarked “What kind of Spymaster would I be if I told you who would be the next Spymaster?”
The scaffold had not yet been taken down in the parade square between the palace and the cathedral, but the ground had been raked and new stones added so that it had returned to an ordered field without the marks of foot traffic. Waiting for them, in addition to a handful of members from both councils, were the heads of the seven major faiths in Starfall, each prepared to bless the adventurers before their journey abroad. Eryno had wondered why this was necessary, ‘I mean, if Bliks is right and we’re just there and back, what’s the point? It’s not like we’re actually joining the crusade … right?’
‘Forms must be obeyed.’ Hex had succinctly retorted. Even if they were to leave for a day, this was an official visit by the Black Sovereign to a foreign nation, the first since he took the position. It may have been a quickly arranged and likely unannounced visit, but an official visit nonetheless. In the two previous days Bliks had tried to contact anyone she knew in power in Mendev, but had received no response, and in some cases, a distinct sense that the message hadn’t even been received.
Of the seven, three of them barely stood apart, the priests and priestesses of Iomedae, Desna, and Abadar, all in long white robes, differing only in trim, gold for both Iomedae and Abadar with black for Desna, and that the Iomedaean wore a rather tall peaked gold and white cap. The rest could not have been more different. The least unusual was the priestess of Nethys, wearing a black and white shawl over common clothes and sporting a polished skullcap. Next was the priestess of Erastil who, if you had removed the fur cloak with their symbol of a bow and arrow burned into it, looked all the part of a woodsman. The priest of Brigh was only recognizable because of who they stood with, casually garbed as a tinkerer. But it was to the priest of Gorum that drew the most attention, as they wore a suit of darkly oiled spiked full plate.
The priestess of Iomedae stepped forward first, once the trio had taken their places in view of all attending. From each of Eryno’s sword, Hex’s revolver, and Bliks’ hand she hung a weighty gold symbol of a sword surrounded by a sun, and directed the adventurers to pray for guidance from Aroden’s Inheritor. That Bliks did not have a weapon seemed to give the priestess pause, but this observance wasn’t intended for wizards, but for the likes of crusaders who could only strike their enemies down with steel. Next, while he spoke aloud the common formulas from Brigh’s Logic of Design, the apparent tinkerer let each of them finish a part of a wind up toy; Bliks attached a gear, Eryno closed and secured the shell, and Hex wound and let it free to fly lazily about the crowd. Taking the three away from the pebble covered field, the priestess of Erastil gave each of them a seed, which they planted in recently turned earth, patting the soil back in place and marking it with a line and half arc. She even paused to check that each of them had gotten soil under their nails, much to Bliks’ amusement as Eryno had to remove his gauntlet to redo the planting. The priest of Desna asked everyone present to look skyward but close their eyes, as he sung a dirge around them, naming the prominent stars in the sky. When the priest of Abadar produced a handful of gems, coins, and keys, Eryno joked over the link ‘Can I keep those?’ that they were each directed to place alternatively on a set of scales so they would balance. Presenting them with a blank parchment, the priestess of Nethys, makeup touching only half her face, asked them to write a word or two why someone should study magic. Finally, the stern voice from the closed helm of the Gorumite ordered them to kneel, place their weapon of choice on their shoulder, then recite their most recent victories; while they knelt he rhythmically beat a steel shield with an iron mace.
So engrossed Bliks had been in thinking of the things that might need to be done if her worst concerns about Mendev played out, she hadn’t paid close attention to the attending crowd, but as they dispersed, a figure remained. An almost operatically formal black on the back but red inside cloak tied carefully at the neck had no other markings, while they wore a pair of leather workmen’s pants and a breastplate of horizontal strips of leather protecting a broad, powerful chest. The old man’s silver hair was cropped short, a simple military cut, and the creases in his face were deep.
Bliks embraced her father with a joy that those in the remaining crowd who cared to see was uncommon for the Androffan Witch of Numeria. “A god of civilization, another of tinkering, yet another war, and yet without Torag, they would have nothing.” Mahir said at last. The wizard laughed in response, stifling it only when he drew a miniature anvil from a pouch on his belt. “Come child, sit with me, and strike the anvil, like you did years ago.”
And so they sat in the middle of the field of pebbles, silent save for when each struck the small anvil with a hammer. Bliks could remember her father starting each day with this ritual, but with a working anvil, always calling her over if he caught her spying on him. There were days where she couldn’t stand the sound of him working it, telling him she wished he’d stay at his desk and draft designs for others to craft to which he would reply “How would I know what can be if I do not try my own hand at it? Why should the smiths respect me if I do not understand their work?”
“The Father of Creation would be pleased. Pleased of what you have crafted yourself into. Pleased of what you have crafted, even if you do so in the name of another, you do him honour.” Mahir al-Volgeling gripped his daughter’s shoulders tightly, staring into her artificial eyes. “Now give me your blade.”
“Come on Dad, you know I enchanted this blade myself, it won’t dull.”
Feigning shock, the old man held a hand to his chest, “Perhaps an aboleth came in the night and stole away its magic! Did you think of that?”
“Really, an aboleth?” Bliks looked around. “And where, pray tell, would this creature of the uncharted deep, master of the dark recesses of the ocean, live, in this dry, mostly barren, irradiated plain? There isn’t a body of water big enough to put one of those things in for leagues.”
“Ah, that’s what they want you to think! That they need the sea, that’s when they’ll get you!”
Bliks laughed, burying her head in her chest, “I’m a little old for those old Outsea tales meant to keep water breather children in line.”
Suddenly serious he continued, “Weren’t you the one who told me those Azlanti weren’t careful enough, underestimated the aboleths, bringing the Earthfall?”
“Yes, but …”
“But nothing. If you’re going back … there … I want your wits about you.” Ever since she had come back to Kenabres, he refused to name the place. “It’s no place to let your guard down. A little caution, a little fear, will keep you sharp. Like that blade you haven’t yet given me.”
Knowing she couldn’t leave without him at least inspecting it, pulled back her cloak so she could unclasp her dagger. Like all citizens of Starfall, she had it peace bound, wrapped in cloth bands, sealed in place with wax impressed with the seal of Numeria. Presenting it hilt first, her father nonetheless ran it across his whetstone, its edge not changing despite a few passes. Returning it, she in turn bound the dagger once more, fixing the break in the wax with a quick cantrip.
“Now.” He said, a brush of emotion catching in his throat, “If you have to go into that hell … do your mother proud.”
“I will. I hope its nothing, but I’ve got to know.”
“I know. And take care of that Black Sovereign of yours. I think he’s the best chance this place has had in decades.”
This time it was Bliks’ turn to feign shock, “What about Eryno?”
“That lad can take care of himself, particularly with that fancy suit of armour he has.”
“Thanks.” She said after a pause. “Thanks for coming. To the ceremony that is. Well, to Starfall, and … um …”
“I know you’ve got a million things to do, so I’m going to let you go do them.” He gave her a salute, still crisp, his hands unwavering.
“Just a few, actually.” She kissed him on the cheek then stepped away. Reaching back to when she memorized her spells that morning, she called to the front one of her signatures. With a studied grace, a bolt of lightning with accompanying crack of thunder burst from her fingertip, lancing high into the sky above Starfall. Then she joined her waiting companions, put a hand on each of their shoulders, thought of the crusader city on the West Sellen, and they all vanished.