The Ardent Order

To hear the Ardent Order’s motto “Preservation of self through others”, one could incorrectly assume that they were about a selfish goal of letting others do the work.  That is, in the field of combat one might expect them to do as little as possible and expect others to make sacrifices for their survival.  In Saj-graf if one made such claims then he may quite easily be laughed at as an ignorant full or mistaken for such thought if they appeared to be a foreigner.

The actions of this order are quite the opposite, as they strive to do what is right and uphold the law.  The motto is based on the belief that your memory will live on if you do great things for others.  As a testament to the fallen, attached to their hall is the Tower of Din.  In here rest the archives of all those that have fallen and the deeds done for the safety of Saj-graf.  Those of the greatest honor have their names etched into the stones of the fifth tier.  The entirety of the tower is open to the public of the town to pay their respects for those that have served them.  It is also what has inspired many to try and join the ranks of the Ardent Order, a tough task in itself.

Captain Katranna stands at the top of the Tower of Din watching a meteor shower.  Smiling at the marvel, she comments to her squire Zahar, “Do you know that Crevan says the shower is a good sign?  He speaks of prosperity to follow for ten years for each night the shower continues.”

“Really, Katranna?  You follow that mystic?  I thought you were far more logical than that.”

“Zahar, you are young and have not seen much this world has to offer.  Though not common here you may think that enchanters are charlatans out to best people.  Yet in the Iseb Empire, there is an entire guild for them and they craft marvels.  Did you ever wonder how the city of Saj-graf keeps out the creatures that require garrisons to protect the farms and mines?”

“I assumed it was through trial and error creatures just avoided us.”

“For many that is true, yet there are armies of Ogres to the south that would love to try and pillage this city.  There are sprites which would love to infest this town taking control of all living things and using them as puppets.  Then there are the Clouderven.”

“Clouderven and sprites?  They are tales we tell to scare our children.  When was the last time you saw any of those things, Captain?”

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Sand Flow

The Sand Flow desert is west of Saj-graf. Its name comes from the avalanches of sand that fall from the dunes on the northern edge of the desert.  There are geysers that erupt, shooting mist and sand high into the air at the base of these dunes causing the formation of other dunes.  When enough sand accumulates it flows down the side of the dune further into the desert.  It is at the outskirts of this second set of dunes where the first altar to Latl was constructed in the east.  It is currently tended to by two knights of Edostera, Sigurd and Razvan, and now serves as a location for the devout to be alone and commute with Latl.  They have privilege of a small well and a stone building all to themselves.  The altar itself sits exposed to the elements and is let too slowly be reclaimed by the sands of time.

At one point the altar was ornate with lightning patterns etched into the anvil shaped stone.  The deep azure of the bolts has faded and bleached in the sun, while the horn of the anvil has dulled with time.  There are markings in the stone floor it rests on where poles once held a tent or canopy over the altar.  Yet it is not neglected as the two nights ensure the altar remains uncovered by the sand that surely would have swallowed it in its long life.  There are clear signs the altar is still respected with absence of any markings from wild animals or remnants of sacrifice.   When a priest visits there are ceremonies held and all materials for such matter are stored with the altar’s keepers.

Sigurd is senior and has served now with his second partner and is awaiting the arrival of his replacement. It has been nine years since his appointment and he is missing the interaction of the world.  Any day now a group from Iseb shall arrive with new orders for him.  Sigurd was originally sent here for his failure in the field alongside his fellow fighters. Since then he has come to terms with his past and now hopes for the chance to prove himself.

Razvan is the younger of the pair, he sought out the assignment to this post on his own, fascinated with history of Latl.  In the three years of his posting he has read all the books and records in their small abode.  He is currently logging all the visitors to the place and records as much of their story as they are willing to share.   He has recently started tracking the activity of the geysers in hopes that he may find a pattern to their chaos.

It would be four days after their valiant attempts to defend the shrine their bodies would be found.  Knight Commander Kala and her men would arrive too late to save the altar and its guardians.  She would note in the records that each had taken down five assailants before falling; missing that it was Sigurd that had taken down nine of the men in a failed attempt to save Razvan.  Kala would lose much sleep that night apologizing to Latl for not seeing his choice in Razvan as his first in a new line of priests.  In the morning two new guards would be assigned to the altar and the band would clean the bodies from the place.  No one else would know the shame they had suffered here.  Kala would ride off to Saj-graf  with her normal retinue in hunt of her next lead for the spiritual guide of Latl.

Lyph

In the merchant district of Saj-graf is the shop of Lyph.  The shop is tucked away through a series of lesser known streets, referred to as the Courier’s Path, as they are the only ones that ever could ever navigate them thoroughly.  It is nothing assuming or shady and has a nice window box of flowers on the window to the left of the entrance.  The green glass windows help dim the light on the inside slightly and if you had time to take care and notice they are much thicker at the bottom than the top.

Lyph sells that which is hard to come by, a future one can be proud of.  Her shelves are bare as she is always out of stock and yet she still has something for you if you come to visit.   She can see through your past the threads of life you have woven to this point.  Lyph will look through her glasses at the far end of her nose and see the next steps you could take and guide you to the right one.

For the right price she can help you work it all into a legacy all will admire and for a higher price she can sweep up the troubles you have left in your wake.  If one saw her for her grey hair and frail body they may think her a mystic wise with age.  The light flowing deep purple and blue robes all part of the image she portrays.

If you entered her shop on a given morning, you may think she is sitting at home as she sits at a table playing solitaire drinking her tea.  But the morning is when she sees her clientele and takes note of their request.  No one ever wants there future perfect and Lyph would never dream of forcing something unwanted on her clients.  It is often trouble with debt or competition for a job or another vying for a lover’s affections.  Lyph could give the simple advice that each of these things are unimportant to the future.  Lyph however understands the suffering of people and the desire for a quick fix.  With a few well-placed words and some coins to ease remaining concerns she fixes the problems others come with.  Her smile never fades from her lips and her cup of tea that never runs dry.

Her shop closes around noon, she says it is for her nap if ever asked, and that is when her work really begins.  If one could visit moments later, they would see a younger woman, gone the ravages of aging.  Her brown hair nicely kept and short, gone are robes hiding a slender, well defined figure.  Lyph is gone and a person the world knows as Maeve appears.

Maeve carries out the work that Lyph does not do.  For example if a client complains of a rival competing for the affection of their love, then it is just as easy to make the rival disappear.  If perhaps you have lost an item, she is the one that makes sure it is retrieved.  Maeve works the shadows in the day and hunts by the moon to make sure all is set right.  She has her own network of debts to collect in the form of favors.  She is not bound by a small shop or the gates blocking off a quarter of the city.

Often caught sight of and frequently mistaken for what she is not, Maeve knows the story she is weaving.  Her future is one she will be proud of when the time comes for retirement when Lyph passes away.  Then Saj-graf will be a memory and Maeve will have her solitude free to relax where ever the wind takes her. For now she works to undo her own messy yarn and weave a tale more to her liking.

Potions and Foxes

There are stories of foxens,
They trick humans sometimes
Though not always on purpose
Potions are potent brews and Toxins
They are tricky too ofttimes
Though not always so pompous

So if a fox offers quaffs
Of odd smelling wafts
Chose not to imbibe
Without giving gibe
In the face of this quagmire
Lest you face the Ire
Of an Inari spitfire

Beast of Saj-graf

If you looked outside the caves south of Saj-graf, one might dismiss the myriad of bones strewn about as remnants of coyotes or wolves.  Assuming the time of year was summer; the bones may be missed, obscured by the tall grass.  In which case the signs of where on the cave tops could be written off as miners and prospectors pillaging the old tunnels in hopes of finding a mineral or ore vein missed by the previous worker.

If one were to approach in winter they would be forgiven for missing the things buried in the snow and wear of the land obscured by patches of icicles forming in front of the cave openings.  And if on that day a windy storm front pushed through you may be even forgiven for assuming the slight howls were the winds whistling through the arroyos nearby.

To approach in spring, there would be no mistaking that something lived in the caves south of Saj-graf as that is when the clouderdven are most active.  They would be hunting the migratory deer, goats, and hogs, as they make the trek back to the mountain from the plains.  If one sees the clouderven, it is too late as they will know your presence from your smell long before you see them.

Artists in Saj-graf depict the clouderven as six legged serpents with a ferret’s head and the size of a house.  The general depiction relies on existing work, and they may also reference some folk saga depending on the artist’s family history.  Natives to Saj-graf tend to think the scales are brown, while those that have roots outside Saj-graf, depict the scales as grey.  They have claws on their front feet for digging and fighting.  Clouderven have a silver mane running down their spine, terminating on the base of their bob-tail, and it is always depicted as shiny and clean.

Though it has been well over four hundred years since one was last seen, anyone claiming to have seen one would surely be thought a liar.   As mentioned above, they would know you there and have killed you without a thought, enjoying the light snack.

Chapter 11

At breakfast Eston confirmed that they would be visiting the Lariants in the afternoon and then dining with them at their request.  They were very eager to meet the son of Flynn.  Eston’s meeting with Oren would have to be the day after the Lariants.  Eston had not heard back from the Tethinger Order, but did not see a reason for them to decline the invitation for a meeting.  Oren reassured Eston repeatedly that he was fine with the arrangements that had been made. He went on to confirm that he was satisfied with Eston’s attempts to setup an audience with the Order, and did not hold him accountable for the lack of response.

The night before, Eston’s books were brought up for Oren to review and like everything else he had seen an orderly business was being ran.  There were neither signs that the crew in Avo was skimming profits nor concerns in contraband being smuggled in along with the Velgrey’s shipments. During breakfast, Oren complimented Eston on his work and said he would spend tomorrow shadowing him to better understand the workings firsthand.  Eston was thrilled with the praise and was eager to show off his skill.

Martell offered to show him around Avo in the morning, it being her home town.  Oren accepted the invitation, noting that Eston seemed slightly disappointed he would not have the privilege of showing him around.   Martell started off with a walk through the main town of Avo. The city was smaller than Aleto, but the density was still there at the center.  To Oren, the architecture of the buildings felt as if it were from a different time.  She confirmed his suspicion, stating that some dated back to the Kingdom of Drémore.  Specifically, the buildings including the Tethinger Order’s and what was now the town hall.  Both were of solid stone, and looked like they may have been carved out of the stone as opposed to being built from the material.  It was not until one got close that one could tell that there were breaks in the stone.  Even then it was hard to tell which cracks were a sign of age versus breaks in the construction.  At one point the town hall was a monastery for a religion long dead.  The lowest of the floors, long since sealed off, lead to catacombs where remains of the dead priests still lay, mummified.  It was then a fortress for those preceding the establishment of Avo. Those bits were best seen on the interior walls as they had since been fortified to hold the ceiling and additional floors atop.

The outer ring of new buildings arose from merchants after the resources in the Drémore Vales and mountains west.  With winter coming, many of the miners would be returning to barracks that were currently empty. There was only building of note that was not like the others.  It was a stone, one room building.  The stones were covered in moss and three oak trees grew over the building. Inside it consisted of an altar in the middle with rows of candles along the walls.  “This is the temple of Avo.  It has been here longer than the city and older than the town hall as well,” Martel explained. “There is a priestess, the job passed down at the choosing of her predecessor.  The name of the one worshiped here is that of your choosing. As part of the journey into the Tethinger knighthood, you would spend several days here with the priestess to meditate on if it is where you should be.”

“How long did you spend here?”  Oren asked.

“I spent a week, the priestess’s job is to make sure you stay nourished and otherwise are not disturbed.  The current priestess is my sister, but she is not the one that watched over me.  I was hoping she would be here, but I think we just need to wait a little longer.”

They did not have to wait too long until a woman looking like Martell, only slightly taller and less muscular, entered.  “Martell is that you?” her sister asked with surprise.

“Yes, I am here for a few days.  Let me introduce you to Oren, up and coming son and heir to the Velgrey house.” Martell spoke, fighting back a smile. “And Oren, this is Rowenn, the One Hundred Twenty-Eighth Priestess of Avo.  Though you may refer to her as Lady Rowenn.”

“A pleasure to meet you Oren.” Rowenn bowed to Oren, “Martell, did you know the Tethinger Order has removed you from their records?  They say you left the order for good.”

“Yes I do, let us consider it a difference of opinion on how the world works.  Did they remove anyone else from the Falcon class from the records as well?”

“No, there was a series of demotions that happened when your name was removed, but no one else was removed.”

“Cowards,” Martell scoffed. “They agreed with me upon my departure, but no one else had the courage to follow through.  I expected at least three others to have left when I did.  Rowenn I will stop by later and give you the details.”

“No need, I know what has changed there, but it is probably more than you know.  The most recent candidates are no longer required to spend time here before proceeding into the order.”

“They are now recruiting those with less noble skills,” Rowenn continued.  “The last one that they sent here for discernment tried taking what few objects I leave here.  It was only a candle holder that I caught him trying to take, but the lack of respect for my goddess and her temple was something I could not stay quiet about.”

The three of them spent time catching up on events. According to Rowenn, the changes at the Tethinger Order seem to include other incidents of failure to teach respect for the order’s traditions.  The town was starting to question the Tethinger Order.  Not outright questioning, but if you knew where to listen or lingered in the right taverns you would hear things.  They are not promoting them to knights but referring to them as agents.  The agents are then sent off in service to numerous lords of the kingdom, but beyond that she had no information on what they did.

Before leaving the temple, Rowenn closed her eyes and walked over to Oren and handed him a ring.  Her eyes still closed and she spoke, “Shadows are drawn to you, but something hides you from them.  Spirits can be your ally if you have a focus.  Use this ring to work with them, it causes pain and submission.  Balance should guide you.”  A moment passed before Rowenn opened her eyes, “I do not have any memory of what was said, but the goddess has spoken her piece.  Whatever she has said, trust her wisdom.”

“Thank you Rowenn,” Martell spoke then bowed.

“Thank you both.” Oren followed and bowed.

Outside, Martell spoke to Oren’s confusion on what happened, “She cannot choose when or what the goddess says.  It is up to you if you think it is her or not.”

The Wee Man

The wee man was asleep till light first broke
With eyes flickering open he awoke
He Stood up tall and prepared to scale
The wall that limited where he sail
With all his might he soon did rise
Over the top with both his thighs
Followed by a fall that made him cry
Rushing to his aid she did fly
In hopes to soothe and calm
He hushed her words with open palm
With a giggle he let loose
A dare to return the flightless goose
To a crib which could not hold
The wee man, oh so bold.

Crevan

Crevan sits upon the wall of Saj-graf looking out at the sky each night.  He rises with the moon at twilight as many are calling it an end to a long day.  Crevan walks the sixty stairs to the top of the wall and starts the slow saunter around the city much like his teacher, Master Volka, had.  He watches the constellations walk upon the heavens playing out their yearly stories in his mind.  This night he watches the lovers’ stars prominent as the wyvern’s wings start to appear.  It will be another month till the wyvern appears in full, bursting from its egg.

This night Crevan starts to hums a hymn he recalls from his youth, when he attended the church of Arubless.  It is a rather upbeat melody, which he has forgotten all the words to except “compassion and time pay in turn”.  He wonders if anyone else knows that this is the night of the Jackal’s Folly.  A night most thieves, back when Saj-graf had no walls, would spend on the right side of the law if they were the least bit superstitious.  Volka had been full of many stories and this was his favorite.

The jackal had been scavenging all day and was wont for a meal.  The lovers had a feast for a picnic and plenty of food to spare.  He tried to fool the lovers out of their scraps, but in the end he got nothing.  Later he learned that had he politely asked for something the two would have been willing to share.  The jackal’s dishonesty had left the two with disdain for the jackal.  Later versions of the story added in the lovers thinking twice of their actions and still giving the Jackal something.  Crevan had never cared for that version as the Jackal did not learn anything.  Volka pointed out the story was to teach so it depended on the lesson one wanted to give.  The two had agreed that their opinions were different and left it at that.

Looking up, his eyes catch a streak across the night sky, then another and another.  The meteor shower stems from the eye one of the two lovers, but a cloud obscures which one from Crevan.  He holds his breath in wait for the cloud to move.   Others in the city now are looking to the sky enjoying the light show, not aware of the potential meaning.    It had been on his deathbed that Volka had revealed the following bit of knowledge, if it is from the male then it is a cry of joy and if it is from a female then it is of sorrow.  Either way he will know the fortune of the kingdom for the next ten years.  If it is joy, then all will continue as it shall be.  Sorrow will mean a devastating war and destruction to Saj-graf.

Strength

The strength lurks in her
Hiding beneath the timid show.
She Knows its there and cry’s
It doesn’t come on demand.

The power stirs when fed
But she keeps it on a short leash.
Doubt and fear triumph
Holding back an assured victory

He nurtures her,
Prying off the ruble
Stoking the fire that yearns for life.

He can see past the deception
The brilliance that will one day be free.
He will be proud when the world recognises her,
what she hides in a calm, peaceful manner.

Till then he waits,
he supports,
he loves.

Young Aeroth

Saj-graf is a city one can sit for hours and listen to and learn nothing.  Yet on any given day the amount of information running through the streets is amazing.  There are people there of every social strata working on the behest of others for their own benefit.  If you sat at a tavern and struck up conversation with the most random of people you could learn anything from the current political climate to whether this year’s festival would top last years.  If you were fortunate enough to cross paths with a foreigner you might learn that they have more in common with you than the man seated on your right.  Some argue that it is to the benefit of the bar keeper or the serving girl to continue working there. They could trade the latest word to pass through their doors for the right price and make more in a minute than a year’s wages.

It was such hope of young Aeroth that one of these days while seated with his father and his father’s friends that he would hear a story or a hint that would take him on an adventure to far off lands.  It was the same dream many kids have when they are still grasping the size of the world they live in.   It was a grand, improbable dream of something changing the course of their life, and setting up a never ending excitement that is renewed with each dawn.

As a kid he knew very little of the hardships that such a thing would entail.  Aeroth was free of the constraints of life at this moment, his parents providing for his every need.  Aeroth did not know most of the stories came back home from people that put their life at risk to venture out.  He did not know the fear of a soldier sent by his lord to do combat in far off places.  He was unaware of the fears a merchant had every time he and his wagon left the safety of a town.  Aeroth did not even comprehend the risk a trapper put himself at working in the near forests.

It was much to his delight the day that Ertle and Kadin sat at a table behind his father and discussed the woes of their life.  Aeroth listened to Kadin tell the story of a family that had arrived in town, in need of work and shelter.  It was a sad story, yet Kadin’s soothing calm voice kept him hanging on every word.  Erlte’s response was in a tone opposite of Kadin, highly energetic almost as if he had a secret he was burning to tell but twice as happy to let you know he had it and was never going to tell it to you.  Aeroth did not understand the reason for Kadin’s stories.  He did not understand  Ertle’s response either.  And yet somehow the two seemed friendly when they departed, with Kadin handing a bag to Ertle and Ertle handing a sheet of paper to Kadin.