Diplomacy, by Charles Matthias

Story name: Diplomacy
Author: Charles Matthias

Date: The day before the Summer Solstice Festival, 706 CR
Location: Metamor Keep

Overview

A diplomat from the Chateau Marzac arrives. Fearing discovery from both him and Wessex, Charles decides to leave the Writer's Guild and join the Long Scouts.

Summary

Thomas summons Charles to discuss Phil's latest intelligence reports from the Giantdowns, particularly the movements of Nasoj's army and Calephas's return to Arabarb. Thomas asks if Charles has anything to report to him, and Charles tells him the rumors he heard about Shriekers in the Southlands. Thomas is disconcerted by these monsters, but before he can summon Wessex for the discussion, he is surprised to see a diplomatic envoy in the courtyard below. Thalberg arrives to tell him an ambassador has arrived and wishes an audience. Thomas begins preparations for a welcoming party, and tells Charles to dress himself at once.

In his green hose and doublet, Charles joins the banquet in the main hall, where Hough and Wessex and several lords are in attendance. Charles's blood is chilled when Thalberg announces the diplomat, Yonson, is from the Chateau Marzac. As a mage, Yonson is eager to be cursed and study the magic firsthand. A long series of introductions and speeches are made before the feast. As they eat, Thomas asks Yonson if he has heard of the whereabouts of a diplomat they sent earlier. Yonson informs the court that his men found a ruined Metamor carriage, and believe that he was attacked and killed. As the court mourns, Yonson says that he is here, on the Marquis's orders, to solidify the alliance that van Sciver had wanted.

Charles finally speaks up and asks about the stories he has heard that Chateau Marzac was haunted for thousands of years. Yonson replies that the Marquis has successfully exorcised it with the help of several priests. Hough objects, to which Yonson suggests he write to the Patriarch to back up his story. He tells Wessex that he is a Weatermonger, and is happy to consent to a magical scan.

When the banquet is over, Charles meets with Thomas to continue their conversation. He tells him that the Chateau Marzac is one of the few places where Shriekers originate, telling him the history of Chateau Marzac, and its connection to the Southlands. Because he is a member of a Southland mage clan (which is where his special powers come from), he knows Yonson will immediately identify him as an enemy upon touch, and therefore he must be kept secret from him. Thomas agrees, and also grimly agrees to kill his men if they ever see a Shrieker.

Wessex enters and announces that Yonson has been thoroughly investigated through magic and interrogation, and found clean. He also identified the symbol Wessex is investigating as belonging to the Sondeckis. Charles is shocked but denies knowing of them. As they exit, Wessex accuses Charles of lying to him three times now about Zagrosek, and threatens to tell the Duke that he believes they are working together. Charles confesses that though he would never stand against the Keep, Zagrosek was his closest friend for years. He leaves and wanders the Keep, meeting Laracin in the courtyard. Sensing his troubled mood, Laracin consoles him, that though he may not like any of his current choices, he must make the best choice, regardless of how hard it is.

With his decision made, Charles heads into town at the low end of the Keep, and arrives at Misha's workshop. He accepts the offer to become a Long Scout, knowing that he will have to step down as Headmaster of the Writer's Guild after the Summer Solstice festival.

The Chateau Marzac:

The Chateau Marzac is a ruined castle on the southern edge of the Pyralian Kingdoms on the Northern Continent. As little as 500 years ago, however, it was connected to the Southlands, where a number of legends about it have arisen.

According to legend, thousands of years ago, a powerful wizard at Marzac cast a great unrepeatable magic ritual, involving numerous human sacrifices and a unique planetary alignment. In the process of destroying him and his followers, a small rift to the Underworld was opened. Since then, the castle has been haunted, a portal to the Underworld still open within, and has been the source of untold nightmares.

The Chateau sat in ruins for millennia. About five hundred years ago (circa 200 CR), a local mage heard voices, left his order and reopened the rift. At least a hundred Shriekers and many more monsters escaped the rift and ravaged the Southlands; only by the unified efforts of the Southland clans were they able to destroy the evil. No one in the Southlands ever set foot in Marzac again.

The Marquis du Tournemire and his entourage have recently taken up residence. The new symbol of the Chateau Marzac is of a road through a field of flowers by the sea, in which grazes a single white unicorn.

Shriekers

Shriekers are monsters of legend, born only in the Underworld. Last year, a Shrieker was killed in the Southlands, meaning that a portal to the Underworld was open at that time, and is likely to still be open, and an unknown number of Shriekers could have gotten through.

Shriekers are said to be roughly humanoid-shaped, but with black skin, and no face except for a mouth. They do not think; they seek only to kill the living. Their touch is hot enough to burn flesh, and they are very strong. Cutting off their heads is the best way to guarantee their death, though it is difficult to get close enough. Their presence has a dimming effect on lights, including torches and magical lights. They only come out at night, preferring moonless nights.

It is not known how spells interact with them. Although a spell on dispelling demons might be possible, it would be a challenge to hold the Shrieker still long enough to complete a complex ritual.

Characters

Main characters:

  • Charles Matthias: A rat morph, and headmaster of the Writer's Guild. He wears a green hose and doublet from his time in Whales.

Supporting:

  • Thomas: The Duke of Metamor Keep. He is excited to receive a diplomatic envoy for the first time in years. He learns from Charles about Shriekers and the Chateau Marzac, and agrees to watch Yonson.
  • Wessex: A wizard specializing in foreign magic, and a child morph. He has been interested in Zagrosek for some time. Though he believes Matthias to be good at heart, he also learns that Matthias was a friend of Zagrosek.
  • Yonson: A mage, Weathermonger, and a diplomatic envoy from the Marquis du Tournemire of the Chateau Marzac. He wears a purple robe with a lightning bolt on each sleeve. He is young-looking, with blond wavy hair, a broad face and broad shoulders, and slightly yellow teeth.
    • He is accompanied by 4 guards and 2 bannermen. Each bears the symbol of the Chateau Marzac. They are willing to be cursed, but Yonson has not yet decided if he will order them out of range for their safety.
  • Laracin: A tamarack tree morph in the lower courtyard of the Keep. He is capable of very slight movements, and he speaks in a disembodied voice around his vicinity.

Minor characters:

  • Misha: Captain of the Long Scouts. He is happy to hear Charles accept his offer to become a Long Scout.
  • Thalberg: Thomas's chief steward. He announces Yonson's presence, and guides Yonson to his suites.
  • Hough: The Keep's Ecclesian priest, formerly of the Holy See in Ellcaran. He sits next to Charles at the banquet and notices his discomfort

Cameo:

  • Sindia: Thomas's personal scribe. She sits next to Charles at the banquet.
  • A visiting noble standing next to Wessex at the banquet. They seem familiar to Charles, but he does not remember their name.

Important mention:

  • Phil: The "Hare of White", part of a prophetic trio with Thomas and Charles. He is Protector of Lorland, and is currently busy handling an emergency in Lorland.
  • Nasoj: The enemy of Metamor Keep. Undaunted by his troops' defeat at Glen Avery, he is regrouping the Lutins in the mountains.
  • Kimberly: Charles's beloved. She works in the kitchens. The unexpected arrival of Yonson forces her to work longer that evening, so that Charles is unable to see her.
  • Calephas: The baron of Arabarb. He is guessed to be back in Arabarb, after the failed battle at Glen Avery.
  • Marquis du Tournemire: The new ruler of the Chateau Marzac, said to have enlisted several priests to cast an exorcism upon the Chateau and taken up residence. As a patron of the arts, he wishes to create an alliance between him and Metamor Keep.
    • He is said to be a modest painter.
  • Mark van Sciver: A Keep diplomat and child morph. He left for a diplomatic mission to the Chateau Marzac months ago. Yonson and his company found the remains of his caravan outside their borders. Mark is now presumed dead.
    • He was one of their best diplomats, always having control of a situation, and able to force large concessions from dignitaries.
  • Zagrosek: One of Charles's childhood friends, and Wessex's enemy. Charles's unwillingness to betray him drives him away from Wessex.
  • Garigan: Charles's Sondecki student. Charles will assign him to patrol duty during the times he is away.

Referenced:

  • Macaban: The prime minister of Lorland.
  • Saulius: A rat morph and a knight. Charles has been practicing as his squire for a week before the Festival.
  • Loriod: The former lord of Lorland.
  • Jerome: Charles's friend, who visited him a few days ago.
  • Tenomides: The King of Whales, who gave Charles a doublet and green hose months ago.
  • Posti: The recently deceased prime minister.
  • Copernicus: A lizard morph who enjoys pool. A rumor is going around that he will become the next prime minister.
  • Raven: The Lightbringer of the Keep. She is not in attendance, though Charles guesses she is busy for the Festival rituals.
  • The Patriarch: The leader of the Ecclesian faith. Yonson suggests writing to him for information the exorcism at the Chateau Marzac.
  • Madog: Misha's friend, an automaton fox. He is wandering the halls when Charles visits.
  • Caroline: Misha's girlfriend. She recently left before Charles visits.
  • George: The patrol master.
  • Tallis, Nahum: Two writers in the Writers' Guild, whom Charles admits are better writers than him, and one of whom Charles plans to replace him as Headmaster.

Locations

  • Lorland: The land in Metamor formerly owned by Loriod, now a protectorate under Phil.
  • Arabarb: A city in the northwestern Giantdowns, the residence of Baron Calephas.
  • Avery's Glen: A town in Metamor Valley that was recently threatened by Calephas's army.
  • Death Mountains: The location of Nasoj's fortress. The easiest route to his fortress is on his eastern side.
  • Ellcaran: A town in the Midlands that was Hough's former diocese.
  • The Pyralian Kingdoms: A place on the remote south of the Northern Continent.
  • The Southern Continent is where Charles and the Sondeckis originate.

Story Connections

Points of Interest

  • The Lutin troops are pulling back from the northern borders and amassing in the mountains. Phil and Misha's patrols have succeeded in bringing the Eastern clans into conflict with each other. The forces in the west are still strong; an assault from the east side of Nasoj's fortress would allow them to sweep south and block any escape.
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