Toward The Edge Of The World

Ending of an Era
...and framing the next...

Just before dawn, the Maelstrom eye undergoes a fairly dramatic change. According to relayed reports, the eye’s malaise passed in a burst of colors, those representing the Czar-candidates. Interestingly, most of the city takes on a festive air. The formal announcement of the Czar’s passing comes late in the morning.

Sarina finds Milo and makes arrangements for his visit to check out the now-passed Czar’s son (Leonid). Leonid’s room has a wide variety of books organized in neat collections. Milo runs through a long battery of diagnostics. He is struck by many similarities in Leonid’s responses to a category of people that Travis (Champion of Sarinrae) ran across, and begins to suspect that Leonid is an emerging Druid. Leonid’s “condition” gets worse whenever he leaves Russian, and improves when he is home. One of his past major episodes corresponded exactly to a major battle where Russian troops were massacred.

Milo shares all of this with us and starts looking for a Druid. Kell offers to find one, and disappears on her errand. Only a few hours later, Kell returns with a shabby-looking guy in tow. After a short discussion, Milo gets the new guy into Leonid’s presence. Not much conversation, but the guy gives Leonid his necklance and promptly leaves (by splitting into a bunch of birds). Asked whether he can do the same thing, Leonid tries, is successful, and promptly gets sick over the balcony.

The Montenegran Ambassador to Russia visits our temporary house. He is concerned that our continued presence will cause problems, and encourages to leave promptly, preferably before dawn. I ask Gregor to help us out, to which he agrees.

Garrick also visits Leonid, and leaves him with a keepsake ring.

Gregor transfers us back to Montenegro. Not having to immediately go save the world or kill an evil cultist, we scatter individually to our various endeavors. Mine involves avoiding lace and writing many letters (dictating actually).

By January 31st, we hear news about the new Czar, one Adorov Alexei. Two of the candidates apparently perished (Mikail and Neovar), another grievously injured (Esmir, lost an eye). Cazamar survived, but did not become Czar.

In February, we visit Switzerland for the big Swiss demo. One of the things they demonstrate shows off the crystal pyramids we ran across some time ago. They apparently power a rapid transportation “train” that floats above and runs from pyramid to pyramid. Another “lightning line” invention allows them to send messages over long distances using a pulsing audible code. The Gnomes want to connect the European Capitals with their Lightning Rail, and are amenable to routing that includes other big cities.

The Russians push to retake lost territory. Over time, they manage to reintegrate most of it, and cede some to the goblins that remain peaceful.

I manage the gain the support of enough Poles to become King, for a standard six year term.

Endless Retreat manages to float along the Vistula, staying out of any country influence, even becoming a modest trade hub.

Spain remains quiet, not engaged, for a number of years. Then we hear of a civil war, which for elves means they are disagreeing. A few years later (about five years from the borders being closed), bloodshed breaks out. The Spanish Queen asks for assistance from their allies, including Montenegro (who pulled in Poland and Romania). In the aftermath, the allies learn of a secret court, the Winter Court, which are discovered to be the puppets of the Undying Court (undead elves). This holy war continues for another five years before the remaining Undying disappear, using magic, to unknown destinations.

Prussia and the Germanies become a unified empire. They did not participate in the Spanish situation. Prussia continues to refine the warjacks. When France is the first other nation to independently create some as well, tension rise briefly until most nations are able to produce them to some degree.

The Guild of Nations finally becomes a reality as the Spanish civil war starts winding down. Near the last minute, Spain joined, which brought in a few last stragglers.

Lanterns re-enter the public awareness, mostly through good acts. With some work, the Lanterns become an arm of the Guild, which serves to unite the Lantern factions back to a common goal.

Mery and Sebastian’s (re-)wedding is an immense event drawing the illuminati of the continent. Thousands of guests, so many that two weeks of pre-events are needed to host them and keep them entertained.

Montenegro extends citizenship to the warforged, “the 100”. Most join the military, pretty much forever. A few leave for other journeys. Elvis has become a noted bard, journeying the continent. The priestly eventually finds his deity. The two mage apprentices do eventually graduate and become warmages.

Expeditious Retreat ends up as a hub for the Guild, after serving as the site of Cate’s and my royal wedding, performed by Milo. We almost had to chop off a few heads to get our respective courts to agree to a location.

The New World is found to be infested with Lycanthropes. The European churches send a variety of expeditions to clear them out. Eventually enough people end up in the New World for them to unify as a new country, distinct from Europe.

A sub-breed of lycanthropes, the Shifters, end up triggering a civil war in the New World over their status in civilization. After that war, the Shifters are assured of inherent rights. Eventually, the new country applies for and joins the Guild of Nations.

The Dwarves set up a colony in the Blasted Waste to mine synergy. That area becomes was is pretty much a free and autonomous zone. Outsiders can visit, just not really stay for long, and the ghouls and live there and not leave. A Magika revolution kicks off once the supply of synergy is well established. All sorts of new magical apparatus start appearing across the continents.

Atypical Russian Knights
You look terrible, Milo!

Russian court turns out to be pretty much what we had heard. We have a variety of innocuous conversations, being novelties at the court.

Mery is sought by the Czarina. They seem to hit it off immediately, with lots of smiles. At one point, I almost thought they were flirting with one another. Mery apparently was able to maneuver the conversation to get the Czarina interested in talking to Milo — as the chosen successor to Travis.

Milo has an involved and detail-laden history-focused conversation with Milo. This results in the Czarina becoming willing to have Milo check on her son’s health.

I notice some Dwarves in the court, part of the embassy to Russia. They’re mostly focused on business, reopening mines and similar acts.

Tomas catches sight of an amulet around Rasputin’s neck, and identifies it as matching the description of one reputed to cloak the wearer’s mind.

Rasputin doesn’t really circulate, so Kell and I head over and introduce ourselves. I thank him for allowing us to visit. Asked about his travels, Rasputin tells me he has traveled extensively, to the ends of Russian, deepest Africa, and the Far East.

Milo and Henrich are called in to see the Czar, in the company of Rasputin and the Czarina. They’re escorted through a confusing array of doors, hallways, stairs, and turns. Milo pokes and prods the Czar for a while, trying to figure out what he is discerning. The Czar is close to a spiritual death, yet hanging on. Milo sneakily casts a Restoration spell, which produces some kind of black cloud that emerges from the Czar’s coughing, then sort of settles and clumps on nearby surfaces. Milo narrowly escapes getting coated with the stuff. While Milo observes the after-effects, Henrich notices Rasputin moving up a bit and mumbling in Russian, possibly casting a spell. Milo’s coat, having been sacrificed to Milo’s escaping the black stuff, proceeds to animate and attempt to strangle him — a quick burst of good energy is not enough to knock it out. Then Rasputin’s spell takes effect and a significant volume of Milo’s blood attempts to escape and ends up on the floor. A tussle beings, with Rasputin using a variety of blood magics, Milo’s coat grappling Milo, the Czarina covering the Czar, and the Czar dying (or so Milo suspects from a hasty glance).

With the departure of the Czarina and Rasputin, the energy at Court seems to pick up, with people becoming pleasantly animated. Mery finds a group of Russian mages and learns more about their approach to magic and the various weapons the Russians have been fielding.

During Milo’s tussle with Rasputin, Kell hears (through numerous walls) the Czarina scream in terror. Kell gathers us up, and in company with a number of Czar-contenders, we head to find the Czarina. Kell somehow guides us to the Czar’s suite, where we pass two guards that just watch me walk past them (and are later dispelled by one of the candidates) and into the suite, where we join the fray.

Rasputin uses more blood magic, including summoning some kind of blood beast. Henrich
summons a virtual menagerie of allies. Thanks to some great spellcasting by Milo, Henrich and even Mery, Rasputin ends up dying and bursting into flames.

After the flames are put out, the Czar tells us that Rasputin had been feeding him a nightly concoction. While the drink seemed to help him for a bit, he could feel himself dying. We end up back in Court, with the Czar presiding. After a touching moment where both the Czarina and their son embrace the Czar and enjoy his return to some level of health. He announces to the court that he will be dead by sunrise. Then he proceeds to Knight his rescuers (us!).

After the ceremony, the Czar-candidates take us out on a lengthy bar crawl.

More Russian Politics
What is a blood cult?

We meet Ezmyre Valenci (the alleged coward) over tea at his home. Nice place. Rather overdone for me. A lot of young female servants. His color seems to be yellow, showing up in his attire much like the other czar-candidates. We’re led to an outside patio, which is actually quite comfortable and Spring-like, despite the foot of snow ringing the patio.

Ezmyre tells us we can expect an announcement by Rasputin regarding the Czar’s health, and the Czarina will ask for prayers for the Czar’s speedy recovery. Some court business, possibly dismissing ministers or awarding knighthoods and such. The Czarina likes to mingle. Rasputin likly will leave quickly, and could be enticed to stay with an interesting discussion of theology. A duel will likely break out. In his words, rather monotonous and predictable.

He tells us that the Czarina and Rasputin are quite close (though not inappropriately). Ezmyre finds him rather dull, with limited interests — mostly interested in theology. The Czarina knows most of the Court, his fairly well read (with a limited depth of understanding of some of the nuances), and appreciates art and good wardrobe. She carries a pair of very ornate knives at all times.

Ezmyre’s judgement of other people from Court is whether they appreciate art, are well read, and can hold an interesting conversation on topics other than themselves.

Ezmyre confirms Rasputin’s wave of changes, and mentions rumors that Rasputin may have had some unsavory elements of the court “dealt with.” Rasputin is the gatekeeper controlling access to the Czar. Only the Czarina, Rasputin, and one servant are permitted access to the Czar.

Ezmyre has no clear purpose or acknowledged desire to become Czar. As Czar, he’d do whatever was easiest, and surround himself with people dedicated to Russia. They would be responsible for dealing with everyone else.

Asked about the Guild of Nations, he is somewhat favorable, mostly since that would require less effort as Czar. He doesn’t have an idea of who a good Russian representative to negotiate the Guild would be.

Regarding the Czar’s son, Ezmyre reports the son is different, polite, and fairly well read for a boy of his age, with a deep appreciate for art. And curious.

Next on our list is Cazamar Nacht, and we meet him for an early evening dinner and theatrical performance. When we get there, we discover the performance is only for Cazamar — we are the only audience members. His color is blue. He is a very social person.

We are served dinner as the performance runs. While in Russian, I manage to follow most of it and enjoy. Cazamar seems to be a big fan of the story and the lead actress.

Cazamar notes that Court has become a bit predictable recently, though he still enjoys it as an entertainment source. Ezmyre describes the other Czar candidates similarly as Alexei did. Cazamar’s bias seems to be to himslef — improving his knowledge. Mikail is described as a labyrinthine mind. Neovar is a man of capability and functional necessity. Alexei is described as the epitome of a Russian (strong drinker, open mind, carouser, master of magic). We get some warnings of potential ministerial firings pending that may be unveiled at Court the next day.

The Czarina is described as a character, with impeccable taste. Cazamar describes her as someone that always needs eyes on her. The only thing he thinks she loves more is her son.

Asked about Rasputin, Cazamar tells us he has nothing against the little (non-magical) people. Cazamar believes Rasputin is a charlatan (of some kind), and while he might take offense at being labeled, Rasputin wouldn’t deny it. Cazamar isn’t sure exactly how Rasputin was able to become so influential. Part of the history is the Czarina invited him to an audience with her after hearing about his theologically-related discussions. He made a prediction about the Czarina’s son that came true, so she consulted him increasingly thereafter. Further influence at court and with the Czar was a matter of simple procedure. Rasputin has an unnatural aura that calms most people. This is not arcane, though possibly divine. Possibly Far Eastern, though many people have been unable to explicitly determine any such source.

Asked why he wanted to be Czar, Cazamar views it as a natural next achievement for himself. His first act as Czar would be to execute Rasputin, raise him, and execute him again. He’d like to expand the education system. Especially in light of the Swiss and Prussian advancements in artificing, Russia needs more in its ranks. Maybe even some way to have the non-magical population have some say in the government, even if only at the provincial level.

Cazamar belives that Rasputin has some means to mask his alignment — currently detected as aligning with law and good. At Milo’s prodding, Cazamar theorizes that Rasputin might be linked with some ancient darkness, and probably not infernal.

Cazamar has heard a little about the proposed Guild of Nations. He isn’t yet sure of his position on the idea, though he is intrigued. Had the Summer Offensive not been successful, Rasputin likely would have had Russia fully withdrawn from international politics, and seems to have the support of the Czarina. Cazamar is interested in the goblin problem, and seems somewhat in favor of them becoming a nation in some way.

Our carriage ride home takes us past the central park which hosts the Maelstrom Eye. Kind of an egg-shaped glass-like thing with ever-changing swirling colors in the eye. The eye itself appears greyish, and the colors we’ve observed on the candidates are the only ones showing in the swirl. I take a picture with Mery’s lithoplate artifact that Namfoodle built.

At Court the next day, the first major event is the Czarina thanking Court for their well wishes to the Czar’s health. Rasputin is there — a very very tall man in a black robe with a rope tie. Milo uses a special scroll given to him by his church to assess Rasputin’s alignment (showing as Lawful and Good) and his worshipped deity’s holy symbol. At first, Milo doesn’t recognize the symbol, then memories of long-ago lessons and reading kick in. The symbol is of the Blood of Bol, a blood cult (13th-14th century) that had been nearly wiped out by all of the good-allied (and some neutral) churches. The cult gained their powers from blood taken from others, and predominantly supporters of chaos and evil.

The Czar’s son is at court, and as soon as possible, make a beeline for Garrick. He had not seen a real elf before, and he even speaks some elven. Later he does the same thing with Kell. Milo and Kell spot a servant lady watching him closely, who turns out to be Sarina.

The Politics of Russia
Invading Russia During Winter

January 14th, off to Russia, thanks to the timely assistance of Alexei. We arrive in a basement of a Russian magic college dorm. As we walk out and through the campus, the local students all take a knee and greet Alexei as a (the?) Grandmaster. Alexei has made arrangements for lodging, a large house near the campus. We have an appointment with the Czar the day after next. Only Milo and one other will be permitted. We are also warned that the Lantern rings have been sealed off by large volumes of stone.

At our temporary house, we are met by a butler and given keys to numbered room. We are quickly left to roam or wait, to our desires. Our trunks have already been delivered and we have instructions on appropriate attire (more lace, unfortunately). After lunch, Gregor Sakoravich, one of the Russian battlemages we know, arrives to coordinate our escape plan. In effect, we have to make our own way to park near the palace, and set off a flare. Gregor will watch for that, find us in the park, and use his magic to transport us to Cairo.

According to Gregor, the Czar, in his youth, was energetic and interested in helping the non-magical population of Russia. Gregor believes that the Czar’s prior efforts significantly aided in keeping Russia intact during the war. He is considered fair, bad at dice, and listens to his wife Karina too much.

Karina believes in the abilities of non-Harrow readers ability to read cards, even non-Harrow cards, to guide the future. She is exceedingly conniving and very politically aware. She appears utterly loyal to the Czar, though manages a revolving cadre of lovers. The Czar’s son is anemic, and Karina does not permit clerics of most religions to attend to him, for fear that they will taint him. She believes that her son embodies the Spirit of Russia, and that a cleric might affect that. About the only healer permitted is one from more of a druidic persuasion.

The Czar’s son is a hemophiliac. He has survived, luckily, a large number of near-fatal events. He has not yet expressed as one with magical ability. However, a number of people attribute some miracles to him. The Czar himself is a wizard (only).

Gregor knows very little about Rasputin himself. Any visits with the Czar or family are carefully monitored in person by Rasputin. Rasputin comes from a farming background is married with three children, travels extensively, and visits his family home regularly. He is well studied from across Europe and the Mediterranean areas. He is not magical, yet performs miracles that no cleric of Gregor’s knowledge can identify.

The Czar fell ill a little over a year ago. Slowly, all of his senior advisors were dismissed and Rasputin moved from mostly supporting Karina (for several years), to taking over more for the Czar.

We discuss plans for a while. The primary plan is for Milo plus one to visit the Czar and learn what we can about his condition. Milo will also seek to learn if Rasputin worships a particular deity, something he can do in court near Rasputin. A secondary plan is to look into the Czar’s son and see if there is something we can do to help him. This in turn could help build our influence with Karina.

I send notes off to all of the future-Czar candidates with greetings and mention that we are in town. This results in a variety of invitations to various gatherings the next day. We use this to plan attendance at at least one event with each of the future-Czar contenders (Neovar, Mikail, Esmir, Cazamar, Alexei).

The first of our social events is a symposium on arcanum, focusing on Abjuration, and spoken in Latin. I don’t understand any of it. By the time the champagne and light food are made available, I’m ready for pretty much anything else. The conversation, the portions I understand are made up a lot of snark and outright verbal fisticuffs.

Neovar Kalishnovyk is at the symposium — the guy previously described by Alexei as a murderer who will burn Russia to the ground. His color, red, is prominent in his attire. People seem to be polite to his face, and hasten to trash him elsewhere. He seems to revel in that. We chat with him fairly pleasantly for a while, and he is very precise in greeting us properly.

Neovar tells us a bit about the Russian Court. He expects Karina to be in attendance, likely as well as Rasputin. Rasputin has routinely attended Court for about nine months. Likely a number of ministers loyal to Rasputin will be keeping a close eye on us. We should expect to attract attention from many fronts, and we’ll likely be directly engaged in conversation by both Karina and Rasputin. I ask him why he thinks the Czarship should continue, to which he asks me why I want to be Polish King. I make up an answer about seeing threats and wanting to be prepared for them, which leads to his view that Poland would make a good Russian duchy. He doesn’t have a position yet on the Guild of Nations.

Milo visits the Temple of Sarinrae in Moscow to introduce himself and get some background. The High Priest indicates that major healing miracles have been attempted on the Czar previously, with no lasting effect. No such attempts are known for the Czar’s son. One of other local priests had previously examined the Czar’s son is able to provide Milo with a more informative medical background — including a number of near-death experiences.

Mikail Baronovich meets us at a jewelry exhibit. Fine teas and coffees and more light fare. Lots of pretty and flashy jewelry. Mikail’s color is green, also reflected in his attire. He describes Russian Court as opulence beyond compare, with magic on prominent display. We are unlikely to be the primary target of practical jokes which can be common. He also cautions that we’ll be lucky to make it out of there alive, that is with our souls. He views the Czar’s reforms for the non-magical population, to have significantly improved their lot in life through education and opportunity. Mikail himself comes from a peasant family, so appreciates the reforms impact. Rasputin has dismissed many ministers who have crossed him in some way, and the resulting gaps, are causing an impact in the government’s ability to act. Faith in the Maelstrom Eye, the promise of change and opportunity, is almost all that remains to prevent a possible revolution. Mikail describes the Czar’s son as small for his age, frail, and yet with something unique to him. The kid is bright and reasonably well educated, having lots of time to read. He apparently learned Italian (a language Karina does not know). As Czar, Mikail would like to get rid of the Aristocracy and replace it with a government of (non-magical) people. He thinks the Polish approach is interesting, yet limited, in that it does not permit everyone to vote. He wants to find ways for Russia to make money. He also aspires to only be Czar for a short time, perhaps only a decade, so he can not have to work. He doesn’t really expect to be Czar, but does want to find the Sunken City, just so he can obtain some trinket from it to have and appreciate.

Mikail directs Milo to a lady named Sarina, who can get him into the room with the Czar’s son. Milo’s cause is helped since he both speaks Italian and has been there — things of keen interest to the boy. The boy learned Italian despite none of his family knowing a bit of it.

A Party of Surprises
Are housewarming gifts prone to explode?

Over the next week or so, I attend a number of social and other events, getting introduced to a dizzying number of people around the city. My Mother takes the estate staff in hand and makes a big difference in helping things get set up. Tomas helps her with a few things. My Father makes inroads with the local village pub and fishing holes.

In the local district, I collect a number of friendly Knights, all veterans of the war, and all relatively poor. We bond over some arms practice and a great deal of bashing of shields. I take advantage of some of the time to sharpen my longsword skills.

Mery gets a paper crane message from Alexei letting her know he’ll be in town for one of my soirees.

My party is on the 12th. The preparation process tries my patience multiple times, and that is before my valet corrals me to get dressed. A full two hours before anyone will be arriving! The guest list has grown to include a fairly wide cross-section of Warsaw society.

Colonel (ret.) Inar Kragaren is one of my invitees, and announced on his arrival with his wife.

Captain Lynn Nix of Swiss Sky Galleon Arcana is also announced — well-known to Milo. Milo quickly delivers her favorite drink, to the dismay of the growing crowd of young and single men.

Mery also start receiving a fair amount of attention. Mery takes on a drink matchmaking role — matching each converser with a drink. I find out later that Mery strings a number of them along.

Tomas and Milo notice that Sebastian is circulating in the crowd of attendees.

Then I hear words that freeze my blood… Announcing The Queen of Montenegro". Gulp. Feeling a cool breeze on my unarmored neck, I make my way over to greet.

Heinrich watches the proceedings from the gallery. Later Captain Sebastian Petrov joins him to watch for Mery. Mery, having ducked through the crowd upon hearing of the Queen’s arrival, heads to the gallery for safety and finds Sebastian. She quickly enlists his assistance to deal with the Queen, and promises to follow his lead.

I escort the Queen around my party. We help each other with introductions — I have new contacts at the local level, she knows most of the highest ranking ones.

Alexi and a number of varied Russians, namely all of the possible candidates for Czar (all six of them).

At some point, the Queen inquires if I might be able to provide her and her party with accommodations. I allow that such a task should be possible, and hand off the task through my new butler. Later I learn just how big an effort the house staff put forward to make this possible.

I meet Colonel (ret.) Inar Kragaren and his wife. I get the impression the wife comes from a noble heritage. In our initial chat, he confesses to being confused why I’d be considering running for King, and we agree to a longer conversation over brandy.

A late arrival announcement comes after dinner, with Duke Valentine Krevenchev. The Russians all look over and start quietly taking preparatory positions, scattered about the area. I head over to receive Valentine. He congratulates us on our accomplishments. He leaves me a housewarming gift, a mid-size box that he pulls from his obviously-magical sleeve. He promptly turns and vanishes into a shadow.

After Valentine leaves, I turn and immediately acquire a very stiff drink. Fortified, I find the Queen, now in Garrick and Polarion’s company. I inform the Queen about my latest guest. We ponder the gift as Mery, Milo, and Tomas arrive and start investigating it. Mery calls over Alexei. We end up determining there is something magical in the box, not obviously evil, and otherwise undetermined. I decide to hold off on opening the gift immediately.

Eventually the party winds down and very small cadre of us adjourn to the sitting room. Alexei and the other Russians guide us through a bunch of preparations to mitigate the possible negative effects of opening the box. The Russian mages enclose Mery, Milo, and I in a bunch of force walls, with Mery and Milo prepared to provide up close and personal assistance if needed. In the box is some kind of strange scepter, without any obvious identifying markings. Milo surmises that the scepter is probably old and Russian. After waiting a short time to make sure we don’t die an explosive death in our force wall cage, the force walls are dismissed. None of the Russians immediately recognize the scepter.

The Queen’s suite is in the same wing, with a balcony that ends about six feet away from mine. We end up out there and chat for a bit. She mentions having met Duke Zaranova and hearing his desire to represent Poland to the upcoming Guild-formation negotiations. She is meeting the King in a couple of days, who seems favorable to this approach. She is also planning to attend a Gnomish demonstration in Zurich, for which Captain Lynn is providing transportation.

I get up a bit early and go gather some flowers for Cate, then arrange to escort her to breakfast. We have a nice quiet breakfast. Afterwards Cate and Mery have a quiet conversation — no blood drawn.

Lynn mentions she is authorized to invite us to a demonstration of Gnomish technology, in Zurich on February 15th.

I check in with Chambers, and learn that Valentine was on one of the invitation lists. I also check with the house staff to both thank them and ensure they have enough support and equipment to host similar events.

What is this plan you speak of?
Do you not understand the meaning of secret?!

I take a few days to run errands. Visiting my parents and sister results in the discovery that my social secretary is exceedingly efficient, and they are packing for a trip to Warsaw to help me set up my new estate. Gulp.

Later I head to Paris via the rings. I place a few orders with the jeweler that made our Lantern rings, pick up a few odds and ends (snacks), and a case of good wine for Porter.

We group back up after a few days and head out to Warsaw, overland, arriving December 30. On the way, Milo and I chat a fair amount about what needs to happen in Poland. He has a friend that has some good contacts in the merchant sector. Her name is Lynn.

The city seems to have partly recovered post-war. Refugee camps are still around, though more organized and smaller. We’re met by a messenger who escorts us to what is apparently my new estate, a modest horse ride outside of the city and just past a small village. A bit run-down, though nice, and with a staff. A large staff. I lose track quickly of their names, and focus on their faces. The estate had been in the hands of a family made heirless by the war, and who decided to go elsewhere. Apparently there are farms, including tenant farmers, and I will have an agent to help handle all that.

(Andres) Chambers [social secretary] gives me a tour, and we chat about the estate and setting things up. We agree on how to restore the house and get the estate fitted out. He suggests a Polish valet, which is a good idea. I give him names of some people that I want to encouter and have time to chat with. The list includes the Captain Rogar Kajorzich of the Winged Hussars and the reference that Zaranova gave me about my likely opposition, one Colonel (ret.) Inar Kragaren.

Chambers and Tomas help me interview the prospective valets. We quickly work through a few candidates before one stands out. Andres Grazo is clearly an experienced soldier, and also passes muster with both Tomas and Chambers. I hire him on the spot, pretending not to notice that Chambers had a few more names on the list. I get Chambers to get Grazo settled, and I wander off.

Kell and Mery are tasked to find the better caterers and chefs. The current estate chef is a halfling, which gives us instant credibility.

On January 3rd, my family arrives in town. My mother at least, is somewhat taken aback at the sprawl of the estate. Milo sends her in the direction of Mery to get caught up on the “plan”.

When Mery gets back, my Mother promptly engages her in conversation. Congratulating Mery on her wedding leads to Mery trying to avoid the topic. This switches to “the plan”, to which Mery tells her about my seeking to become the next King of Poland. My mother is quite surprised, then angry enough at me to smack me like I was 10 again.

Over group and family dinner, things proceed casually until about the meat course, when my mother reraises “the plan” question. I tell her about this woman I like, and how “the plan” logically unfolded from there. My Mother is slighly comforted, though is quick to confirm that I did not steal my newfound wealth.

Late dinner and desert is sidetracked with the unfolding drama of Mery’s secret wedding. Mery is steadfast in not wanting to tell Cate about her secret wedding, and is upset that the topic has even been broached.

Milo scouts out the area religious scene. The village has a multi-purpose temple, and a relatively (small) new one to Goram. He also checks in with the Sarinrae church in Warsaw, which doesn’t need anything special at the moment.

Heinrich assesses the Prussian presence in Warsaw. The current presence is related to deconstruction some of the now-unnecessary temporary military structures. Some are making plans, others are socializing with the locals. After watching and interacting with several, he does notice that members of one particular unit are acting somewhat strangely.

A few days later, when I return to the estate, Grazo tells me that my undergarments have all suddenly burst in flame. A few days later, my shield goes missing, which really upsets me. I use the Wayfinder to find it buried in the back yard.

Secret Marriages
Secret Deals for Aspiring Kings

The next day, Milo visits Gerald to consult about Rasputin. This becomes a bit of a moral guidance conversation. They agree there are a lot of “ifs” to consider. Ultimately, Gerald decides to consult with others and get back to Milo.

Mery visits Sebastian and informs him they should get married immediately. After a moment of stunned amazement, then some quick negotiations about arrangements and secrecy, Sebastian agrees. Mery heads off to finish the arrangements.

I visit Porter. He has two topics for me. First, nothing in Montenegro military regulations prohibit an officer from having rank in another court. However, the officer would have to go on a leave of absence from the military. On a potential return to military service, the Warmark would have to appoint three officers to verify that officer is still prepared to properly serve again in the military. Second is that Milo has arranged for the Letters of Privilege from various churches in exchange for returning some artifacts of significance to their church.

I tell Porter about the plan to go through Poland on the way to Russia. He immediately offers some advice and assistance, and starts helping make the arrangements. He’ll help me get my social secretary prepared, including heading ahead to Poland. Porter also suggests that I engage a valet to help in matters of attire, perhaps one of military background.

Mery visits Porter to gain his assistance in scheduling the wedding. After another stunned moment, he asks the pertinent questions and begins work. Mery ensures that he will keep this discrete, and Porter starts considering arranging being out of the country. He tells Mery that he is a poor liar, and as long as a direct question from someone like the Queen is avoided, the topic need not be raised.

That afternoon, I head to Sebastian’s office. Vyse tells me he had to attend to some matters at a nearby magistrate’s office. I head over, and notice Porter, then Mery and Sebastian. Wondering who’s event they were attending, I wander in, only to realize that Mery and Sebastian are the ones getting married! In astonishment, I call Milo on our magic rods and tell him that one of his future services will no longer be needed. Then I call Tomas to ask what an appropriate emergency and very last minute wedding present. He suggests offering one later. As I get the stink eye from the magistrate, I abruptly stop the call.

December 18, 1912, Mery and Sebastian get secretly married by a magistrate. The ceremony lasts just long enough that Milo has time to track me down and catch the very tail end. In the aftermath of the ceremony, I learn that the wedding was supposed to be a secret, Cate will likely be immensely upset that she was involved (and take it out on Milo and I), and that Milo found me by asking Garrick where I was (Garrick once again following me around). After congratulations, Sebastian and Mery make an impromptu plan to meet at his lakehouse for a few days. Sebastian promises to invite his friend to town, likely to arrive in a few days.

After the wedding, I chase down Tomas to get advice on a valet. While there, I clarify that my wedding present needs to be appropriate for a secret wedding for un-specified celebrants. He gives me a few ideas.

In the interests of trying to avoid a potential beheading, I send Cate a quick note: “Thinking of you. Wish you were here today. Will tell you about it later. Much later.” Written on the appropriate stationary, with the appropriate token of esteem. My version of a hail mary.

Gerald gets back to Milo after a few days. In effect, Milo gets permission to investigate and take action, even fatal action. However, if caught and tried, his action would be fully disavowed by the Church. The Church has come up dry in trying to determine if anyone knows of Rasputin, or his church affiliation if any. Gerald gives Milo a special parchment that when used with a [Know Alignment] spell will show a picture of the holy symbol of deity being worshipped.

Sebastian’s friend, Duke Luke Zaranova (and his wife), arrives in town and we have dinner on the 20th. He has rented a nice house and hosts the dinner. Zaranova is in the Polish military uniform, with Royal Hussar emblem, one of the Eagles. His wife Cait is pale and has a very strong Irish accent. Charming, really. Sebastian and Mery are already there. Zaranova reviews the Polish government structure, with the three branches of Legislative, Judicial, and Executive (the King). The King is elected by the nobility, including Knights (including all of us). Ultimately, some number of votes will need to be outright bought. Many nobles are coin-poor.

Zaranova wants to be part of the delegation to craft the Guild of Nations. And then, when I leave the Polish Kingship, Zaranova wants to become King. If all this goes through, likely the Guild of Nations will become reality. This in turn will help ensure that Poland remains a sovereign nation — the Guild currently appears to be the only long-term guarantee for this to happen. Other paths likely result in war, such as with Prussia or Russia. Russia has land and a lot of troops. Prussia has a lot of innovation and a strong military. I challenge him a bit to understand his motivations. He appears to feel very strongly in the Guild and has a rather exhaustive set of ideas and concepts to use. Being successful with the Guild would give Zaranova the experience and credentials to run favorably for Polish King.

King Leopold would normally leave office next Summer, at the end of his term. Elections would follow, with a new term starting January of 1914.

Zaranova has identified at least one other serious candidate for the election. Possibly, if both Zaranova and I offered him a deal, he might not be serious about running. And old soldier. I plan to meet him while in Poland, just to get to know him, not to make any offers as yet.

The Zaranovas ask about my preparations to set up in Poland, and I end up receiving Lady Zaranova’s and Mery’s promise of assistance. Mery’s will apparently be delegated to her Mother’s.

Mery visits her Mother to gain her help in setting up my house in Poland. She demurs, citing too many things to get done in Montenegro. Her Mother provides some name of good designers to consider.

Favors for Other Countries
Building a Guild of Nations

Porter also reports that the recovered treasure also includes a variety of religious and historical artifacts. He has worked with Milo and Tomas to ensure the right processes are followed to return them to an appropriate home. Some will likely be sold, after some specialized appraisals.

The Queen’s dinner is a formal event, full dress attire, and solely our group. I get a briefing from my new social secretary and appropriate behavior, attire, and presenting of a hostess gift (after the main event and before leaving).

The Queen seems fairly relaxed in a decent mood. We share tales of our journey, and she shares updates about the local social scene. After dinner, in the sitting room, she raises the topic of the religious artifacts — she suggests we negotiate a favor from the churches as a benefit of returning the artifacts. Specifically to owe me (personally) a favor to be used in the future. Perhaps in Poland.

She also shares her recent efforts negotiating with various entities, including the various Guilds. She has learned that the Guilds have significant power, ability to influence, across countries. She started thinking what a Guild of Nations might be and could do. She has started negotiating with various groups and is planning a Summit to begin serious discussions on what such a Guild might do.

The Swiss and Italians seem favorable. The Russians are likely to be easy. The Romanians are fully supportive. The Prussians might see this as a means to have a United German Empire. France and Britain want territory, probably in the newly-accessible continents. France seems a bit too eager to actively participate. The Spanish (Elves) want to be left alone. The Swiss have a number of new inventions, including some new conveyance they want to deploy to link all the major cities of Europe and need funding. The Italians are willing to fund the Swiss, if permission is provided. Poland is interested in ensuring such a Guild protects the integrity of the Polish lands. The Dwarves want details before committing.

We discuss the Guild idea for a bit, exploring what it might do or how it might function effectively. Different representatives have been starting work on what might become a draft Charter. Establishing a core of cooperation that does not disadvantage anyone will be key. I mention that the warforged might serve well as an protection capability. Cate mentions that she asked Spain for permission to grant the warforged Montengran citizenship in light of their services, and received permission to do so. Apparently the Spanish Queen was spiting some other Spanish faction.

Alexei has asked Cate to ask us to help him out in a particular, non-specific, element of Russian politics.

I ask Cate about appointing a magistrate to handle the “fraud case” — the one referred to the Crown by the Provost Marshall. A very wide-ranging case with intense political implications. Whomever is appointed needs to be capable and neutral — needs to be of rank, and not military. This limits the options. While we’re talking, Cate has a small brainstorm that maybe she needs to break the rules, and create some standing body that is overseen by nobility, and includes military personnel, to handle things like this. She decides to consult her solicitor (Porter) for further development of the concept.

Before we are conveyed out of the palace, I manage to remember to present my gift of hand-written journal and pictures of our journey.

December 16 is the next day, mostly spent getting things coordinated. Milo arranges with four Churches for Letters of Privilege in exchange for return of the artifacts. We arrange a meetup with Alexei for Monday the 17th.

Alexei hosts us at a new-to-us place run by halflings, who he tells us make the best Russian food. We have a pleasant dinner and talk about less important things before getting down to business. Alexei reveals the Czar probably is being life-sustained by dark magic by the Czar’s personal physician, a man named Rasputin. There is a possibility this could affect the Maelstrom Eye, which would in turn cause major problems for Russia. In extremis, another Blasted Wastes magical Everwar scenario. Rasputin has unprecedented sway over the Czar and family, and very few are permitted to even gain an audience with the Czar. Alexei and other top Russians have convinced the Czarina, because of our support in the war and Poland, be granted an audience. Alexei is hoping Milo can determine whether Rasputin is using dark magic, and if so, potentially kill him. Alexei assures us that almost all of the five candidates for Czar will almost certainly pardon us once they become Czar. One of them almost certainly does not. Alexei is sure that we can avoid capture. The Russian historians have verified that the Maelstrom Eye is not behaving consistent with any previously documented behavior.

Ecsaping with the Loots
What does this number even mean?

The next day, we head back to Junktown, intending to collect the wagons and treasure, and head out of the wastes. I remember to pick up my shield, which apparently is now much stronger and durable [+2 shield]. With the usual waste-like issues, scorpions and things. Karishka kept us company for most of the trek, and has to separate from us at what turns to be about half-day away from the border crossing — probably explains why casual tourists have never seen the ghouls. We cross the border on the 30th of November. Same guards as our inbound leg, giving us the hairy eyeball that we made it out.

Getting back to Podnarko takes a bit longer just from load, with arrival on December 10th. We head directly to a facility that Porter arranged to secure the wagons. Mery heads off to find Sebastian and joins him for a nice dinner outing. The rest of us camp out in the warehouse. I send a short note off to the Queen informing her that we are back and successful.

Well after dinner, a group of Russians magically appear in the warehouse with us. Apparently Sebastian sent them a message that we were having a party here with booze. Alexei and six others. Later, a group of Sebastian’s friends arrive to join in the festivities. Over the night, a few more sets of friends show up and join in. Other curious, and some suspicious, folks wander through and they are promptly plied with alcohol, gambling, and sent on their semi-conscious way. Mery and Sebastian arrive late, with Mery claiming she needs to help us stand watch.

I pull Alexei slightly aside and learn that Tomas’ research was of great assistance. Alexi still would appreciate our assistance, though in a slightly different manner than he first presumed. We’ll talk of this later when we’re a tad less impaired.

The next day, after our party guests have all left, Porter arrives for the discussion I requested the night before. I set Porter to the task of assessing and divvying up the haul. With only the slightest hint of sarcasm, Porter takes the on the task, with no little bit of help.

Milo sends off notes to Lynn and others, and visits Cate. He learns she has a lot on her regal plate. She does mention that a group dinner is needed soon to share information.

Mery visits Namfoodle to share her findings about Synergy. She elects not to tell him much more about the reasons for our visit. Mery later talks to the warforged seeking Faith. He has mostly finished with the available Churches in the region, and will probably head East to continue his research. Mery ends up confiding in him that she wants to find a way to use her upcoming new wealth, and was thinking of trying to chase down the Overlord and bring him to justice. In the conversation, he observes that she expressed an interest in helping those who have experienced an injustice.

Heinrich checks in on the warforged, specifically the one learning music. He is on the way to becoming a storyteller. Later he checks on the two at the wizard academy, where they are doing well academically. Socially, they are adapting, and not dissimilar to foreign exchange students.

I check in at Military HQ. Our Warforged Expeditionary Force is now covering two roles, one on border control, and the other on safe escort/guard duties. Raskin’s reports from the “Unamed Goblin Nation” are a bit strange — almost like he is enjoying his role. Our adjutant is back from leave and doing better.

I swing by Captain Justinian’s office and chat with him for a bit. He confirms that there was definitely some suspicious activity with the logistics. Duke Synarco’s son has been helpful. Due to information that our group has previously provided him, a number of officers and soldiers have been encouraged to leave the service.

Justinian also mentions an French investigation he is supporting involving the ammunition production explosion. The French have identified a main suspect, that matches the description of a certain former aide to the King of Prussian. That King has put out a reward for the return of the aide to his presence. Justinian gives me a written description of the main suspect, with a drawing a lantern ring.

Then I chase down Sebastian to coordinate my next briefing. He hints that I should be prepared for some dress uniform events and a nice gift. He tells me a large number of negotiations are in progress, and that the Queen is gambling “big.” I ask him if he knows who might be leading the non-military investigations in wartime logistics waste fraud and abuse. He advises that one ha not been named, and since Duke Synarco and a number of lesser Dukes are on the suspect list, the Crown will likely have to name a special investigator. The Queen might choose to keep this quiet, as is traditional, or if she is sufficiently incensed might direct some very public beheadings.

By the end of the day, Milo has relayed an invitation from the Queen for a formal private dinner on the evening of the 13th. The day of the dinner, Porter provides us with an initial assessment, where the number for our individual shares seems large and not quite comprehensible to me.

Visiting Junktown, Minus the A-bomb
There are *three* dragons?

With his usual good sense of timing, Garrick rejoins us as we leave the temple towards the nearby settlement. Karishka leads us, over the next four days, across the wastes to what she claims is a “nearby” settlement called Junktown. We arrive on the 16th.

Junktown has a lot of what turn out to be vendor booths, like a big market. The ghouls are trading what at first seems like junk, and on closer inspection are things like scorpion poison glands, Synergy, skulls and other similar things. All barter.

In the middle of Junktown is a sizable cave entrance with lots of traffic in and out. Karishka tells us the farms are in the cave. As we get further in, Karishka starts asking other ghouls where the learned scholars were, and we eventually reach a group of six or seven gray-haired ghouls.

Over the next several hours, we’re peppered with questions about the outside world and events over the past number of decades. They had heard about the Everwar. They speak of a traveler that visits from time to time, one they call the Wise One, who wanders the wastes. Last visit about a year ago. Tales of this wise one date back to the Cataclysm. He is always helpful, though vague on whether the wastes will ever end. He helped them learn how to shape Synergy. Using Synergy, they can make things like Karishka’s light rod, and weapons. They describe Synergy as a form of concentrated magic, and believe that the items they make should still work outside of the wastes.

When I show the elders our lantern symbol, they show us two others that we haven’t seen before — probably predating the ones we’ve learned. They mention a temple or fortress about three days from here with a mosaic with a lantern symbol worked into it. When I ponder whether we might find a ring there, Milo and Heinric start twitching. The innate magic in the wastes would probably be highly dangerous to using the rings — IF the rings survived the cataclysm. Heinric suspects we might be able to use them as an arrival point, though won’t guarantee that to be danger-free. One of the ghouls, Aeron, provides us with sketches of the mosaics at the site. He also is a Synergy crafter.

Some of how the ghouls now view the creation of the wastes is similar to the Dwarven beliefs of how they emerged from the underground.

Mery discovers, through her sorcerous ways, observes the ghouls greeting the dawn. She learns that their “magic glow” dims just as the sun crests the horizon. On consultation with Heinric, he suspect they are absorbing more magic.

I leave Aero with my shield for a few days as an experiment to see if he can make it more durable or stronger.

Our trip to the Lantern “fortress” only takes a bit more than a day, thanks to Karishka and Garrick’s help. Upon arrival, Milo tells us that this was a Temple to Gorem, somewhat similar to other’s we’ve seen with ring. The area surrounding the temple shows signs if major damage, and the temple is scarred but standing. Making our way into the catacombs and find the mosaic, and signs that the ring is still there, under rubble and debris. With some work, we’re able to clear out the ring and verify it is still there. In spite of finding the ring, we are unable to find any name for the place, and can’t associate it with anything we have on the map. Milo thinks he might be able to consult a Gorem library to figure out the name of this place.

Garrick gives us a warning before a new ghoul arrives to meet us as we’re finishing our investigation of the rings. When this ghoul speaks, we each hear him in our native language. He introduces himself as Siberys, whom the ghouls call the Wise One. Somehow I manage to remember his name from our conversation with Khyber, which he acknowledges. He mentions he has a fondness for the wastes.

Mery asks Siberys about the the one who started the Everwar, and gets confirmation that he is a Lich. Siberys won’t tell Mery where he is, because the three of them have a bet on what we’ll do when we find him.

I try an extract the name of the third dragon, and Siberys dodges the question. Apparently the third dragon might think he is the one above.

Siberys gives me an object — the favor marker that we had delivered to Khyber. We can now call upon the dragons for a favor. Apparently our work to fulfill the draconic promise and open the new lands has made humans interesting once again. Siberys is very interesting in seeing what happens, while Khyber is interested in all of the details and interactions.

Asked if there is a way for the ghouls to safely leave the wastes, Siberys tells us it will take a while (in our terms). We (humans) might be close to enough knowledge of magic to figure out a way.

Asked what would happen if we used the ring from here, Siberys mentions that it would be the most interesting trips of our lives. He does give us the name of the place.


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