|In darkened room
Party get together to discuss their next move. The horn sits in the middle of the table, alongside a single candle and smoke from Gregor’s pipe billows around those seated at the table. Although winter is breaking, and the door is firmly closed, the noise of the wind can still be heard, muffled and distant though is seems in their wooden sanctuary...
“My friends, both old and new, some of you know me for who I am, despite the deserved reputation of my kind. If only you knew how much the tales of our doings are under reported here... but maybe even that situation is another design of the Witch King and his Tulluch.
This land is not my home... and these people are not my people... but I have a small sense of belonging here...as if the very wildness of the land calls to my spirit. In this it seems my people may also have some blame in causing the troubles visited upon Kislev and so I shall endeavour to right some of the wrongs they have done here.
Our choice seems clear... Prince Provorny is making a mess of his rulership of Erengrad, and most especially he weakens the position of the Tsar and a united Kislev. This is a dire situation as it seems the winds from the north wax strong again and even the imprisoned Ungols have heard of a warrior gathering a great strength to himself in the wastes. Make no mistake gentlemen a storm is coming...and only a united Kislev will stand against it when it comes. Those of us who owe fealty to the empire must understand that if Kislev is not ready, then the Empire will burn. Your history shows that the threat from the north can only be contained if BOTH countries strive together. The Tsar and Karl Franz both know this... so does Boris Todbringer of Middenheim, this I believe is why we are here. It seems all of us here (Malamir slowly points to each person around the table in turn) have an interest in ensuring peaceful times... and it is in support of the Tsar and Emperor...not in support of a rebellious princeling, that this lies.
Pausing for a moment Malamir takes a sip of water from a wooden goblet before him.
So here it is then... we plan to overthrow Provorny and return control of Erengrad to the overall reign of the Tsar. Some in Erengrad also wish this to happen, some do not... but even those who do not I believe will turn fast if the winds of change blow in the right direction. There are a number of situations we seek to resolve.
1. The freedom of the Ungols from the mines.
2. The freedom of Werner’s lady from the keep in which she is being held.
3. The freedom of Erengrad from the rule of Provorny
4. Rally Erengrad and its people, and especially its nobles, to the Tsar so Kislev stands a chance in the coming storm
To this end I propose that we use the one overwhelming power we have to our advantage. I suggest we involve as many factions as possible in the attempt to stop the Wyrm who are sympathetic to the Tsar. It seems the suggestion of the Norse as is a good one as they have much to gain if Erengrad is again opened up for trade. After that I believe an increasing number of nobles could be contacted... perhaps even allowing the Norse to pursue this as they may know better who can be trusted. If we are successful then the political wind will force even the likes of Nefedov to reconsider his position and we may well be able to force his to release Werner’s lady from his ‘protection’ to save his own position. The situation with the Ungols may also be best be dealt with jointly between us and the Norse... as I don’t believe the Ilmen at the mine are in any position to make a real resistance to a military excursion without backup.
So this is it... we defeat the Wyrm... but in a way to make our position as strong as possible... even those strongest in support of Provorny will reconsider if the political flow is in another direction...and that includes the Clanmaster of Clan Llanlach. The only variables are the black riders...who you seem to think are fanatical in their support of Provorny... and Creanthea and her party. When people ask... “Why are we doing this? Why are you confronting the Wyrm?” We answer “For Kislev, the Tsar and the Emperor... show our bronze & silver stars & medals from Middenheim, and make as much of a show as possible....” Besides... it’s about time we had some fun...and public humiliation for our opponents who seem to like staying in the shadows seems like justice to me.
So what say you my friends... how shall we proceed?
Malamir falls silent, waiting for his companions to speak....
“Pravda tovarisch, you speak the truth” Vladimir grumbles, leaning back in his chair and placing a heavily booted foot upon the table. He narrowly eyes his companions and toking once more upon his pipe breaks into a sly grin. “You all know this will not be easy! I am not interested ruling a city-state nor, I would say, are any of you. So who would you have us put in Provornishka’s place elfling?”
“I am sick of this jumped up puppet of a child who calls himself a prince, Da. But it is not our fight unless we get to profit in some way, hmm?” Vladimir meets Malamir’s hollow gaze and quickly turns to face the others. Dropping his chair to the ground and leaning forward he thumps the table.
“I am sick of the depravities of the gutter and heroes or not I will not give up our trump card unless we get away from this place with some gold in our purses and some Vodka in our blood. I already have a thousand tales for my grandchildren and I for one intend to live to tell them! We should trade the horn, give it to those who will wield power with wisdom and then leave to do what we will! I have so much unfinished business with the Butcher and then, I will be gone…” Vladimir blows through his fingers.
“Werner I know you wish to free your dyedushka, Juergan your blood is so thin I can see that you wilt in the snows, don’t you want to feel the sun on your face again?! As for you Siegfried… As for you…errr” he trails off…
“Well don’t you ever get off your high horse!!?.... Ivan you have a mouth, tell these people, life as a muzhik is no life at all. We should all get away from this place and live the lives we deserve not die as heroes running a fools errand for those pometsia that call themselves Baron this and Duke that, forget them, let them die for the motherland for a change. We can buy what we want in exchange for the Horn. Maybe even redemption” he finishes leaning back into his chair smiling coldly at Siegfried.
Werner’s chair groans ominously as he shifted uncomfortably in it “You both speak the truth ... but everyone’s truth is different as are their desired outcomes from this situation. While it is true that I wish the return of Dagmar she was involved because of me as are many in this land. If she is not released by the Duke then the only force that we will be able to use is that of tooth and claw”
“I realise like most of our goals in this land we will be better placed to succeed, if we hunt like the pack being able to bring down larger prey then each alone could manage”. Werner leant in close to the table the candlelight made his eyes flicker with a strange orange fire. “Despite what you think Siegfried the Duke is guilty maybe he didn’t kidnap her but he holds her captive and one way or another he will pay. It was fortunate that the man that held Helena captive released her when he did or I would have torn him apart and none of you” Werner looked around the room “would have had the strength to prevent this. But know this there will be time when my blood thirst will only be held in check by the dove that is held captive”.
“But worry not young cub...” Werner flashed a grin at Ivan who was helping himself to the flask of Vodka whilst the others listened intently to Werner’s rasping voice. “I am not ready to take my place in the Eternal Pack yet, but my fate is interwoven with that of this land. As are the fates of each of us gathered in this room are linked. There are many people being held against their will in this land and we must free them. You are right gentlemen we must gather as many allies as we can but we must be in a position to guide the outcome. To put the wrong ruler in place will be as fatal as leaving the current one in his position and those around him including the temples in this town that support him”.
“Although some of us would like to profit form this...” Werner passes the flask of vodka to Vladimir “...myself you know what I wish and I know that she would like us to leave the city in the best position for all its people no matter their station in life. We must look in all places for any allies that maybe of use whether they know it or not I am sure we are not the only group trying to work towards similar goals” Werner leans back into his chair and looks into the candles flame as if trying to find his answers there.
Leaning back on his chair, the mysterious elf nearly tumbles backwards as he lazily balances on two legs (failed the ‘I’ roll...duh!)
Regaining his feline composure he speaks slowly and softly.
“It seems then, whether we do it ourselves, or sell the means to another, the way to change the system is through the defeat of the Wyrm.
So what then are our demands? The freedom of Dagmar is not negotiable, as is the freedom of the Ungol people from the mines. After that, i think perhaps either direct cash...or perhaps even better support in setting up the ‘Business’ Vladimir wishes... maybe a ship... and a letter of introduction and support to the burghers of Sith’Ronnaisc, that which you call Marienburg? Maybe even trading rights taken from one of the disgraced parties in this affair? I understand we already have contacts with the Brettonian Ambassador who, if we play things right, may well supply much needed grain for the mutual benefit of all.
For me I have a different agenda, and I know Siegfried and Werner have differing views as well. On my behalf I will help Werner to dispatch this duke if I find the lady has been mistreated, remember she is being held because he wants me… perhaps it is time he learnt not to cross the elves…” a fiery light in Malamir’s eyes that has not been seen before, not even by those who have known him longest... his voice however is as cold as the Ice rapidly disappearing from the lands around Erengrad.
“Speaking of the elves... I would wish no harm to come to Clan Llanlach, as the Clanmaster himself saved me from a fate worse than death while I was in the tower. The creature Creanthea tried to force on me I will not describe here... pray to the gods you worship you never live to see such things” The light in Malamir’s eyes is replaced by something as close to terror as anyone has even seen from him...though his face remains passive.
“I understand also there are some personal debts with the likes of Max... but I suspect the damage we do with publicising and collapsing their careful plans will be far worse for them than simply slaying them.
What do you think Ivan? ... Though you are young you also are in the same situation as us...what say you on these matters...?”
Juergen stood by the window, gazing out over the empty streets of the wealthiest part of Erengrad. When he pressed a hand against his eyes, he could feel a surge of exhaustion rise in him like a dark storm.
Behind him the murmur of conversation rose and fell as each of his companions spoke their minds. Even though his back was turned to his companions, his cunning eye was on each of them in the reflection of the window... He tried to force his thoughts back home, back to his daughter, his friends, the University. He was almost free, he had but to conclude his business with the Arabs and Boris, so close... so close.
Gazing over to the fireplace he spotted his old dark grey travelling cap, hung out to dry next to his ranger’s cloak and black leather armour. Rubbing his right arm, he had not noticed the bruise, where ever from? Ah the icy climb in the depths of that dark hole. Examining his bruise a little closer he spotted something that reminded him of time when strength, honour and friendship were all that mattered... The mark of the Imperial Legion. Perhaps his work here in this city was not done. He could imagine the look on Lara’s face when he told her the tale of how he had helped slay the great Wyrm of Kislev. Imagine her delight as he produced the necklace fashioned out of its gargantuan teeth. Perhaps Cedric was right, perhaps they were not so different after all... something about the danger. Walking over to the fireplace he turned his dark cap over, “I am with you my friends, you may count on my support in all things. I’ve invested too much time and effort in this god-forsaken land to simply pack up and leave now. First rule of business - Protect your investment”. He gave Vladimir a wicked grin “we shall unleash hell on our enemies”
Ivan, being naive and timid as he is, looks in awe at everyone. He looks around the room, at each of the faces of his newfound companions. Although he doesn’t know everyone that well, he begins to feel a huge sense of pride as he is asked to join in on these discussion about the direction his new found friends intend to take in the course of the next few days. He thinks back to the excitement he felt when adrenalin was rushing through his veins back in the ice cave. He recalls the joy when he discovered the horn that the party was looking, the sense of pride that a young mountain goat herder could be part of a quest for heroes, a quest to destroy a monster...
A monster... that thought lingers... the monster that destroyed Kirsch, the monster that wiped out his hometown. Home... his thoughts begin to linger on the one person in this world that he cares for... his mother... a glitter grows in the corner of his eye as a tear begins to trickle down his cheek.
“My friends, if I can be bold enough to call you that. I am but a young boy who by chance has joined you on your quest. I have no knowledge of those things that you talk about, all these things about ruling and families, I know not of. The only thing I know is that this monster, this thing called the Wyrm, has destroyed the village where I come from.’ Tears begin to flow from Ian’s eyes. ‘My desire, if it counts amongst our discussions, is to venture forth with the tools that we have to slay the monster, I want to know whether my mother is still alive.’ Ivan’s voice begins to rise in volume and a fiery determination lights his eyes. He feels adrenalin rushing through his veins again fuelling what he feels to be pride and courage. ‘I will happily give my life to ensuring no other like myself will suffer the fate of having their past destroyed.”
Ivan leans back on his chair picks up his mug of ale and takes a healthy drink, savouring the sweet and bitter taste rolling on his tongue. He feels proud to be among such men, he feels he is growing into a man his mother will be proud of... if only she were here to see...
“A fine sentiment Ivan but it our past and actions that makes us the people we are” Werner’s ruined voice sounding like a growl. “The point here is for us to also that peoples futures are not ruined by the Zmei or by the hand of man. The Zmei is partially a physical manifestation of the anger in this land and the thoughts of those that ravage her people.”
“Yes this land is diseased, just as this world it will take men of unbelievable talent and conviction to cure it, even they may not serve” Werner’s sad gaze looks into the crackling fire for a moment. “Death no longer frightens men so they invent even more savage tortures for those in this world, such as slavery and torture. Will we be the ones to restore this land to order? Or is it too late?”
“Then it seems our course of action should be as follows... We should seek allies in confronting the Wyrm and seek only those who seek to establish the kind of regime we wish. It seems in this the basic argument is for free trade and for an easing of the burden on the people of Erengrad. I suggest we find a way to send a message to Chancellor Bogdanov that this is what we intend, and that his agents here in Erengrad understand how to react if Provorny is ousted. I believe the Tsar’s intentions were always for Erengrad to be the trading centre for Kislev, unfortunately for him none have been able to deliver that wish. Perhaps a council should be installed, ruled perhaps by the nobles, but with seats for the temples, mercantile concerns and the guilds... this at least would give the people some voice in the city... especially if they have a major or some other such person to represent them.”
“I think though to show our own commitment to this course of action we will need to be involved directly in confronting the Wyrm. By doing this we can show our sincerity to those allies we chose...and share in the rewards when they come afterwards. It would be interesting to see if a member of the Kynraa can succeed where the guardians of the phoenix failed...” Malamir smiles... but there is no warmth in his smile...
“I leave it to you my friends... we must needs come up with a direct plan... as we have no other way of dictating plans if we do not. The time for stealth is nearly over and only by bold action can we accomplish our aims... be aware of our enemies, but let them chase our plans for a change instead of following theirs.”
As the long silence continued after Werner’s stern words... Malimir looked to his friends and again started to speak....
Gentlemen, perhaps it would be able to review the facts as we believe them to be. I will start from what I have considered, and perhaps my time ‘sheltering’ within the tower has aided me in a reflection that could bring some order to this Chaos...
I chose the word Chaos carefully here... for this is what we are facing. Though its name is less of a horror for me than it is for some of you, be in no doubt that this is what we face here.
Let us consider first the position of Kislev... It is the frontier between civilisation and oblivion, many attempts to overrun your lands have been stopped in its boundaries. Kislev must be strong if Chaos comes. Consider then the situation that Kislev is in...
The Tsar is in his capital, and it may seem strong with its mighty walls of stone, but its people are starving (some of you may remember the food riots we witnessed when we were last there..), and the majority of its garrison have been dispatched south to deal with unrest and raids from the south. Still more the city, as far as we know, may already be under siege from the mercenary armies sent from Erengrad. I say this my friends... Kislev is weak at this time.
Speaking of Erengrad, of what import is this place in which we sit? Well...it is the trade hub of Kislev, through here passes much of the supplies, particularly grain, that keep the country on its feet. But the riches of Erengrad are paying for mercenaries... and days of games at the arena... The leader of Erengrad, as I believe, is a puppet of others...the most visible of these being his Ilmen thugs. What is more Erengrad has not the walls of stone with which Kislev is blessed... with is soldiers gone, the influx of refugees from the villages fleeing the Wyrm, and trade at a near standstill... Erengrad is on its knees. Note also that Erengrad is the city in the most direct line from north to south between Kislev and the Empire...if an attack should come along the coast... Erengrad will fall quickly and Kislev can be surrounded and neutralised with ease... what then stands between the north and the Empire?
What of Kislev’s people you might ask... surely they would resist. Indeed they would, but without clear leadership how effective could this be? Would you trust Provorny to defend the city if chaos came... he would flee... and perhaps this would be a mercy as I believe his qualities in such situations lacking.
So as I believe it... Kislev is at one of its lowest ebbs for many years... and rumour now reaches us of a champion rallying the forces of the ruinous powers to his banner. Chaos is coming my friends... and Kislev is not prepared for its coming... woe to the empire if this situation does not change soon.
Malimir pauses for a moment... the shadows making him look haggard and weary...
So what then must be done if the rumours are true?
Firstly, politically, Provorny’s hold over Erengrad must be broken... it is already slipping with his inability to slay the Wyrm, but he throws Erengrads best soldiers against the beast and they die...further weakening the city’s defences. It may even be that he believes he is doing the right thing, but his decisions are guided from the shadows... to pave the way for war. I still believe that enough support is out there to break his power and install someone who will at least make concerted decisions in this time of need. And, at least for the time being, the best rallying call I can think of is the Tsar himself...
Secondly Kislev’s military must be made ready as much as possible. In my mind the first priority is the Ungol Horsemen, who have always acted as messengers, scouts and in harrying an invasion if it should come. This means not only freeing them from the mine, but supplying them with horses, arms and especially food. Physically they are weak and could not fulfil all roles immediately. Perhaps the Norse, by raiding from their ships, could harry any force near to the coast, and most assuredly can act as message bearers bringing news to Erengrad on any army’s approach.
A message should be sent to Kislev as soon as Provorny is removed. This should be addressed to chancellor Bogdanov if possible to appraise him of the situation here and to see if he can take the opportunity of employing some of the mercenaries outside his walls who are, we hope, about to lose their paymaster. If chaos comes, the availability of these troops may just be a miscalculation on the part of our plotters if they can be used to bolster the defences of the City itself. A warning must also be sent to the Empire, most especially to Talabheim and to Middenheim, who are best placed to organise a response.
There will be people who will bend all their efforts to stop these things that we should do, people whose work is based in the shadows and in subtlety. Kislev is at its best when it is open, and quite frankly, brutal.... We have already disrupted some of their plans, but in a swift sure strike we could deal a savage blow to their aims of preparing this city for its own destruction. If proof is found that Chaos is coming, then aid will come... but time is the key...for the Empire or Brettonia or anyone else to help will require proof speedily...and will require delays to the invasion force. We MUST bring this out into the open... in the open our enemies are restricted and the laws and order that they seek to circumvent can be used against them.
As for the Wyrm... I believe it is now serving two main purposes... firstly to destroy the cream of Erengrad’s soldiery and secondly to demoralise a superstitious people who have already fought the winter. I remember myself how it is done... (Malimir shudders and his eyes glaze as he remembers...)...it is not enough to defeat the armies of your enemy...he must be utterly humiliated...obliterate...scourged from the land such that he can never return... that is the way of chaos.... that is why Erengrad no longer is just a military target... it is a target because its people are here... and the Wrym has laid waste to what other strongholds they could flee too. Here it will come... here will the hammer fall... and here, not at Kislev, will the future of this country be determined.
We must act swiftly my friends... we must begin to make such preparations as we can, though our enemy is more ready than we... if may not be enough... but if you value your own lands then we must do something... and my belief is that the first task is in destroying the Wyrm with as many allies as can be found. A show of unity, a surge in national pride and identification of a strong leader... these things will hinder our enemies more than a few swings of a sword or arrows from a bow....
Malamir again falls silent... trouble by the conclusions that he has drawn...