[RP Episode] Something Stirs


#1

Chapter 1: The Imperial Raven’s Feathers

Part One: Reflections

Ara was sitting comfortably in his chair behind his desk, in his room high up in Zha’til. It was late evening, and no one but him and the night guard were still awake. In his room, it was nice and warm, the flames could be heard calmly burning in the fireplace, the cracking of firewood, and a pleasant smell of hot cocoa which he had prepared himself, a luxury in these parts. Before him on the desk sat his mug, along with a lot of papers.

Documents, plans, and reports of all sorts were scattered all over his desk, many of them outdated, ‘‘What a mess…’’ he thought, but was not bothered to sort any of it, he was not in the mood. He was deep in his thoughts, reflecting on past events, wondering if things could have been done a better way. He was beginning to doubt his actions, as its protector, he sure did get the imperium in a dangerous situation, and it was mainly him who pushed for such actions. Decisions were always made in parallel to his agenda, as he did always have the Archon’s ear. At least she is one to trust him, but now he wonders if that trust was well put.

Ara feels uneasy, but he is unwilling to admit to guilt, as he believes that is what the opposition wants. He sighs, picks up his mug and takes a cautious sip from it before setting it down on the same place, he glances over one of the reports on his desk, it was the death count of the enslavement of humanity within Kleriel, and the revolts that followed. He frowned, thinking ‘‘I didn’t want this…’’, then grabbed the report, crushing it with both his hands, and threw it in to the fire. Watching it burn he remembered the anger he felt at the time, that fury, many times he thought of doing the unthinkable, but he could not, that’s wasn’t him, and he refused to become it. He did not want to cause even more death, it would not solve anything, even if at the time he felt as if he could crush all his foes, but for what? There would be no gain, just lives lost blowing off steam, pointless.

Kleriel doesn’t conquer, it settles, it grows by itself with its growing population, it does not take land from others to expand, it simply spreads. Conquering a town or city would be useless to the imperium, Ara realizes this, as the conquered people could never truly be incorporated in to the Keelish system, nor converted. But if they were to be exported, forced to leave, then the city is empty, and re-settling lots of people of their own there would mean taking them out of their own place in the system in their communes, making life more difficult there for others.

A smile then appeared on his face, though he did remember one branch of humanity that may work well with the Keelish system. He remembered the brotherhood of the yellow cloak, that band of freelancers, refugees, and mercenaries turned legion, and grew in to a state. They had a similar system to their own, those who he had been allied to for so long, now may be forced to turn their backs on them by their neighbors and brothers in allegiance. He thought of his old friend Garias, whom he had not seen in a long time now, and most probably wont for a longer time still. As cynical as Ara is towards humanity, he feels he did make at least one true friend in it.

He returns to his papers, beginning to sort them neatly, archiving the old, burning the shameful, and reviewing the current. Updates on current fortification projects, colonial growth reports, contact with the Mireesh, and active trade deals with the Sapphire League, those from Mon-Taizon. Ara had never done business with them in person, he had not visited their lands either, he interacted with them as the representative of the imperium mainly through envoys and messengers, uninterested in this one small human nation, but in time they proved useful. Maybe he shall decide to journey there for a visit?

As he finished cleaning his desk, he finished his mug of cocoa, enjoying every sip and wiping the desk with a napkin. He then left to his bed, took off most of his clothing and lied down underneath his fluffy winter sheets. One last thought went through his mind before he shut his eyes, ‘‘I wonder if the imperial raven’s wings had been recovered yet.’’ That prized elytra from Ebongrasp that he had sent for to be retrieved from hiding abroad…


#2

Part Two: The Retrieval

A few days prior, the heads of state were in agreement that the dust from, what the Keelish now dub the collapse of Ironglade, has settled, and decided it was high time to retrieve the items and resources they have confiscated from Ebongrasp after Kleriel seceded. Though the material gain of Kleriel would be that much greater if it did not loose the large majority of the confiscated loot to Vas’Volsung when they showed their true colors, they had stashed parts of the bounty in other foreign lands still.

Wanting to avoid suspicion of sending their own people abroad on retrieval missions and escorting transports, the imperium contracted human mercenaries, many of which they hired out of the state of Mon-Taizon, to seek out and recover what Kleriel has hidden away all that time ago. Finding and hiring mercenaries in human lands is easy, but Kleriel did not want to contract just anyone with such a delicate task, they hired the very best they could find, and they were patient when searching for the right candidates. Once found, enlisting their service was no real trouble, having lesser material value in Kleriel, the Keelish paid them off in a bag of gold nuggets each, which would be easy to carry. With such a task however, they did not pay them the full amount upfront, should anything go wrong, they only gave them half of the offered sum, so that the men have something to look forward to after the completion of their mission.

They gathered in the dead of night in Mon-Taizon, the sky was clear and the stars shone brightly, the night was calm with a slight breeze. Another group of mercenaries and a pair of hooded Keelish met in a more quiet part of town, in an ally way away from curious ears, where the deal was made, they were to travel to a far off human nation, one built and governed by its dominant guild. The guild master was not to be informed of the retrieval, he was let to believe that the item of interest was his to keep, less news slip out. Kleriel was already taking a risk with hiring mercenaries as is, but they themselves wouldn’t exactly blend in with the crowd, there is no other way. The mission is simple, slip in to the town as another mercenary band, find the guild master’s personal storehouse, locate the imperial raven’s wings, and slip back out.

And so they went their separate way, the Keelish did not linger in Mon-Taizon for long before departing for Kleriel, but as any mercenary band, the hired hands cashed in their gold for real currency and got hammered in the local inn the same night. Drunk and proud, they boasted about their newly obtained riches, and that there was more to come yet, attempting to seduce a fair maiden in the inn with how his adventures take him in to far off lands, one of them accidentally slipped up and made it known that they were hired by the Keelish, but surely no one will care…

The next morning they awoke with a mighty hangover, remembering little of the evening, but they had to be on their way to make good time to their destination. They geared up, paid their fee for staying at the inn, and took a step outside. The rain was pouring and the winds were blowing, there was one thought going through all of their minds, ‘‘■■■■…’’, and it did well with sobering them up nice and quick. So began their great adventure.

With no roads or defined travel routes between the two nations, the band was forced to go through untamed and sometimes treacherous terrains, braving the wet and the cold, as well as the humid and hot. Eventually they reached their destination, it was a well fortified city standing in a beautiful meadow of pink cherry blossoms, the guild here has done well for itself, and with the main profession people employ here being mercenary work, our band of would be adventurers entered without a problem. The weather was sunny with barely any clouds, no wind, and it was some time in the afternoon when the men decided to occupy one of the larger tables in the local tavern. They ordered some of the local ales, turns out people here like strong beer, just as they do. Sat comfortably with their mugs in hand they began to plot, how to nick that elytra from under the guild master’s nose…

Not being particularly smart, or gifted in thieving, sneakery, or willing to use their own gold to bribe the guardsmen, the best idea they could come up with is ‘‘trash the place’’. And so it was, the plan was made to cause chaos around town to draw the night watch’s attention, while a pair sneak in to the guild master’s hall and get that elly. The same night they caused a streak of mishaps around town, a bar fight at the tavern was easy to start, as people here are very proud and thick headed it seems, another fight at the docks after attempting to frame a trader there of fraud, and they managed to get a kid blamed for attempted arson in the residential area. With the majority of the night watch being occupied with what seemed like just a bunch of idiots being too smart for their own good, two of the hired men broke in to the guild master’s hall. To their luck, the man was out of town with most of his personal guard, leaving his hall with a complementary night watch. The would be thieves entered the building… through the front door, quickly and quietly knocking out the front guard, attempting to hide him in a dark corner, and sneaking inside. Once in, it was not hard to locate the store room, and after a short while of rummaging through the crates, they found the elytra.

Now, they needed to get back out again, but the front guard of the hall was found by another two who happened to pass by. But the mercs counted on this eventuality and had a plan B ready, one of them was to sit outside of town with a pair of gun powder barrels on one of the hills overlooking the settlement. Should he see anyone catching on, he was to light the barrels to blow, drawing pretty much anyone’s attention to the outside, creating a window of opportunity for their guys to flee.

When the barrels blew everyone turned their gaze, those who did not have their hands full rushed to the outer wall to see what was going on, the first thought to be ‘‘we are under attack’’, but it was only one explosion, and it was too dark to see anything, so a detachment was to be sent to investigate. Meanwhile, the mercenaries who had now re-acquired the elytra for Kleriel quickly departed the town, meeting up in the woods away from all the commotion. With a smile on all of their faces, clear weather, and a job well done, they embarked on their return journey to Mon-Taizon.


#3

Part Three: Ambush

Little did our merc band know that along the whole way to their mission’s destination they were being tailed by an infamous bandit group calling themselves the ‘‘Crimson Raiders’’. This lawless band of heavily armed men and women were remnants of what was once the Altor empire. With the collapse of their homeland and the bad reputation they had thanks to their former ruler, they were always treated as outcasts everywhere they went, forcing many to turn towards a life of crime. The fair maiden one of the mercenaries tried to seduce back in Mon-Taizon was actually a top ranking lieutenant of the bandit group, and realized that if they were being contracted by the Keelish, it had to be something of importance, and possibly of greater value.

When the merc band was on their journey back home, the bandits prepared an ambush in a biome of ice and snow, their home territory. The weather was freezing cold, the wind was howling through the mountains, and it was snowing heavily. Visibility was terrible, and moving through the thick snow was slow, and the bandits took advantage of this to dig themselves in and waited in cover. Not knowing which exact route the merc would take, the bandits split up in to groups to lay an ambush in each pass. When the mercenaries finaly arrived at one of the locations, they were almost stunned as armed raiders sprung up from the snow around them and began to cut them down, there was no real fight, the freezing and tired mercenaries never stood a chance, and the bandits got their prize. The raiders looted them of everything they had, including the Imperial Raven’s Feathers, and left them in the snow, returning to their base in the mountains.

While the bandits were on their way to fetch the other ambush teams to return to base and celebrate, an actual trade caravan with armed escorts came through, noticing the pile of men laying in the red tainted snow surrounding them. Investigating the bodies, they quickly realized these were cut down not too long ago, and found that one of them was still alive even. This one merc they took with themselves, attempted to patch him up best they could, and continued on their journey through this freezing wasteland. When the merc awoke the next day, he was surrounded by unknown faces, unknown where, without his comrades, gear, or gold he had earned, he had nothing else to loose. When asked about what happened, he freely told them everything, and that’s how it became known what Kleriel was up to behind the scenes.

Kleriel caught wind of this, and knew this news would eventually spread to its rivals, the Keelish could not allow for such humiliation and made it known that whomever can retrieve at least the Imperial Raven’s Feathers elytra for Kleriel will be duly compensated, and that everything else they find along the way is theirs to keep.


#4

Part Four: Extraction

Silent as the night, several Ebongraspian assassins swing into the city of Mon Taizon, daggers drawn. Cautiously, the robed figures intrude into a small inn, not bothering to knock even at such a late hour. Not desiring struggle with local peacekeeping forces, and not wishing to aggravate the sapphire league, the masked men vow there be no death tonight. Swiftly spreading out in the humble estate, they come across the master of the house, slumbering peacefully on his woollen cot. With a flick of the wrist, flakey grey powder is strewn into the eyes of the man, awakening him to darkness. Screaming and flailing about, the man asks of answers to his questions, but receives only questioning. Having obtained the information required, the robed figures leave the man to solitude in agony, his shrill screams piercing the clear, crisp night.

Meeting outside the city gates, the seven assassins fall to their knees at the sight of the Lord Of Ash, Emperor Of Infinite. To his left stands Lord Pyron of the western colonies, and to his right, Lord Camian of the North. Humbled by such awe striking presence, the men collect themselves and release the obtained information. Grinning under a sleek ashsteel mask, the emperor motions the royal guard to follow him, a generous company of twenty men. They begin their trek of the surroundings, proceeding with utmost caution and silence. Encountering no resistance from border patrols, the company makes their way to the western icy highlands of Mon Taizon, assembling with a larger group of lightly armoured scouts, the Lord Gruffly commands them to different corners of the hills, awaiting swift response.

Only two days later, a strong raven of purest breed enters the tent of high command, tied to it’s leg a message of soggy parchment. Distasteful of such sloppy conduct, the Emperor carefully opens the letter, singeing it ever-so-slightly with his smouldering aura. Pleased at the message, he motions his trusty commanders and company to follow, as they dismantle the camp, and head off into the stormy white.

A few hours of trek pass, and the group arrives upon a small peak, with view over a massive lake of ice. The dull shimmer of dying torches shines through the heavy snowfall. Silently, the company proceeds across the precarious frozen lake, beckoning others forward for safe passage. Swiftly, the mountain is bested, and a startled group of lowly bandits is surprised whilst warming in the modest heat of their ramshackle cottage. Before making swift work of the pitiful lot, the emperor of ash pulls the lieutenant’s teeth personally, leaving the crippled man in agony. Shaken, he reveals the location of the Emperor’s prized possession, before bleeding out of his severed legs. The company proceeds to the other end of the lake, and uncovers a small grotto hidden pathetically with crisp wooden boards. Upon order of the Lord, the two commanders and company of soldiers storm the hideout and dismantle it’s inhabitants, retrieving the elytra and collecting some of the slain mercenary cloaks.

Outside the city gates of Mon Taizon, a hooded Keelish waits for his delivery. Three disguised Ebongraspian soldiers hand the man a large leather bag. Not wishing to insult the pretend mercenaries, the Keelish accepts the bag and delivers the satchel of golden coins. Along the path home, the soldier notices a strange odour emitting from the wing bag, and looking inside, stares into the lifeless eyes of a limp sea-bass.


#5

Part Five: The Realization

The hooded Keelish was just about to board a ship from Lav’osh to the capital, to finaly deliver the famed Imperial Raven’s Feathers when the discovery was made. When the customs officer asked the envoy of his business, he made it known that he was delivering an elytra of great value for the crown, but with the bag emitting a strange odour he checked it of its contents. There was no prized elytra the Keelish had claimed he was delivering, but… fish. They looked at eachother in confusion, mostly the delivery man, who was horrified that he had been swindeled so, but he pressed on.

He did not make for the capital, but instead went to Zha’til, back to Ara, he who had sent him on this task. Coming up to the high fortress, it was early morning, the skies were relatively clear, but this high it was always windy. Ara was just finishing his breakfast in the main hall when the delivery was made, the envoy was reluctant to reveal the contents of the bag to the lord protector straight forward, and Ara noticed his caution, his lack of enthusiasm for a completed mission. He insisted that he come forth with it, he knew something went wrong, and there it was, in the bag it layed, a limp sea-bass… how insulting. Ara realized what this meant, there were only one kind who compared the Keelish to fish, it meant that their mercenaries failed, and that Ironglade got their hands on the Imperial Raven’s Feathers once again.

Ara had the fish discarded, and slowly sat down on his chair with a mighty frown on his face, he had lost his apetite. He left for his personal quarters and sat at his desk, opened a drawer to bring up a sheet of paper and took his quil to begin writing his report, he was not looking forward to its delivery. The Archon wont be pleased…


#6

Chapter 2: Duskwind

Part one: Dark Times

Ara’s report arrives at the Archon’s hall around mid day, the weather was fine in the capital city, sunny and calm, the city was busy with construction projects to grow this central location of the imperium, and there was lots of activity in its streets. Zeer was just discussing city expansion options with her steward when the messenger entered the room, it was wide with tall ceilings, decorated with many carpets, banners, and luxurious curtains, all in symbolic Kleriel colors. The messenger was making his way up to the Archon when her personal body guard stepped in his way, a heavily armed woman in lighter steel armor, and demanded an explanation to the intrusion, ‘‘The Archon is not receiving visitors at this time.’’ she said to him in a grim voice, but the messenger insisted he was bringing news of importance from Ara, at which point she let him pass.

Zeer saw her bodyguard let a person pass her in the background, knowing this must be something of greater importance, she concluded the discussion she was having with her steward and assured him, that they would continue later on. The messenger came before the Archon and bowed in her presence, signaling him to approach, the messenger humbly approached her and handed her an envelope containing the report. She takes the report, opens it, and reads it carefully. While the messenger watched, he noticed her mood slowly worsen with every word, in his report, Ara notifies her of the loss of the imperial raven’s feathers, and as he most feared, it was reclaimed by Ebongrasp before they could retrieve it themselves, he also explains the growing boldness of Ironglade, as it was said that the leadership of Ironglade personally lead the recovery of the prized elytra, and with this first victory against the imperium in our ‘‘unofficial cold war’’, they might grow bolder yet.

She then sends for a fresh piece of parchment and a quill to begin writing her reply, upon completion of which she handed it to the same messenger and sent him back with haste. The messenger, tired of travel, rests at the local inn for a while before departing for Zha’til once more. He arrives at Ara’s castle in the evening of the same day, riding horseback he dismounted and proceeded in to the inner keep. There he found Ara sitting in his personal quarters, facing the fireplace and staring in to the calmly burning flames, thinking, as usual. When the door to his room opened, Ara slightly turned his head to see who it might be in the corner of his eye, and recognized his messenger immediately. Knowing what he would bring him, he extended his hand in preparation of the reply which he had just received. Taking the reply, Ara thanks his trusty messenger and sends him off for a well earned rest, once he left, Ara opens the reply and reads.

''Honored Ara,

I am appalled at the outcome of the situation just as you are, but do not be so quick to assume the worst. The imperial raven’s feathers were the emperor’s personal wings, and it is only natural he would oversee the recovery of one of his most prized possessions personally, accompanied by close friends, of course. But as always, your worries are valid. This may be the first blow Ironglade has made against Kleriel, if we can call it that, we are not at war, but the recovery of the wings by our rivals before us could be seen as a sign of weakness. Me must correct that somehow, if we cannot show power, then instead we should show the world our influence. Perhaps pay the Mireesh a visit?

I remain,

Archon Zeer’Raan vas Kleriel’’


#7

Part two: The Mireesh

Ara sat still for a moment, holding the piece of parchment in hand, he thought about the Mireesh.

The Mireesh is what the Keelish have named them, but they have been called many names by anyone with a little imagination. They live in clans in the more isolated parts of the world, they preffer to live in seclusion in swampy marshes, dense forests, and the more desolate areas of the world, where other people would not think to settle in. They preffer wetter climates, and are experts at blending their buildings in with their surroundings to hide themselves. That is why there is so little known about them, few know what or where they are, and their isolationist and avoiding attitude has been the cause of many bad rumors and legends about them.

The ignorant call them lizard people, the wiser call them dragon people, the more poetic call them dragonian, and in legend, they are the children of dragons that once roamed freely through the skies of Allura.

The Keelish have had contact with them for a while, and due to their own isolationist nature, have kept this fact a strict secret, while they studied them, attempted to communicate with them, and eventually began trading with them. The Keelish only traded with the Mireesh to improve relations, and possibly gain their trust to make them open up to them to learn more about them, not to gain resources from them, as they are considered to still be an early bronze age society.

Until recently, the Mireesh and Keelish existed side by side with minor contact, but the rise and spread of the Ironglade confederation to their east, who expand through conquest and obtain resources by raiding their neigbours, as well as the marauding bandit groups roaming the country side after the collapse of the Altori empire to the west, has put them in a dungerous position. The Mireesh are in no position to defend themselves against such superior foes on their own, and the clans are finaly of mind to accept foreighn aid. Meanwhile, Kleriel is in dire need of manpower, allies, and would do well for itself if it extended the imperium’s influence in to Mireesh territory as well.

The conditions are perfect for both peoples to benefit from eachother, now only the deal need be struck. Ara stores the Archon’s letter in a drawer he had under lock, and begins with preperations to journey north.


#8

Part three: The Concordat

Geared up and prepared for travel, Ara made sure he left his post in pristine condition and left his keep to the care of his steward. Now, accompanied with his personal guard and an advisor, they mounted their horses and rode north, towards the region of Duskwind. They began their journey in early morning when the heat of the sun was not yet bad, but as the day went by and they continued to ride north along the eastern edges of the desert, the sun caught up to them, and so did the heat. They rode for a good whole day before reaching the sea, just a bit away from Haesrom, where they caught a ferry over to port Lav’osh.

It was evening and the sun was setting low, the few large clouds on the horizon were colored in a warm orange, and there was a pleasant breeze in the warmth of the day. Ara and his companions were given a warm welcome by the authorities there upon their arrival, and were offered to stay at the local highborn family’s home as guests of honor. Accepting of the offer, they left their horses to the care of the harbormaster, and left for some rest for the night. Not heading to bed immediately, Ara decided to stare out the window for a while and observe the port. Being here for the first time, he was curious to see how business went about in a port centered on foreign trade, or as well as he could from his window that is. Laid back in a padded chair he stared out a window on the second floor of the house, and in a long while, he had seen humans again, mostly coming and going from the inn and the harbormaster’s office, and probably customs too he was guessing. He saw that even with such cultural and societal differences, theirs and his people went along pretty well, and wondered how this place would begin to look when Mireesh traders would enter the picture. With that thought he sat there for a while further, until the sun had fully set, and then departed for his bed and fell asleep.

The next day he was woken up by his advisor, telling him they were being invited down for breakfast. Being somewhat introverted, Ara felt uneasy, as he was used to lone meals and little conversation, and that which he did have was business. He was planning to stay for the night and then go to the inn for breakfast, but the highborn insisted they stayed. Coming down stairs to the dining area, the thanked them for their hospitality but declined their offer of breakfast and explained the urgency of their mission, and how they must depart immediately. Nodding in understanding, the highborn gave them some food for the journey anyway, and with that they departed Lav’osh. Such nice people, which Ara lied to to get away from, there was no real hurry, he just couldn’t bare to sit down and have a meal with them, it felt wrong. In their eyes they probably saw him as a hero, as a great contributor to the imperium, its safety and well being, but he left like anything but. Ara was never satisfied with his work, but felt he was the one hat had to do it, somebody else could have had done it worse. But this mission he was on now, he actually felt like something good might be done in a hard while.

Riding horseback again, in rather pleasant weather, he and his companions continued their journey north, this time on a well paved path that was only recently made to connect the port with the other settlements in the region, but as they reached Duskwind, the smooth nicely paved path gave way to mud, rough rocky terrain, and swamplands. Their pace slowed considerably while they navigated the bog and the mountains to reach inner Duskwind, where a Kleriel garrison was established. The garrison was perched on the side of a hill overlooking one of the narrow valleys going through the mountains, it was cloudy up here, and windy too. Ara was to meet a legion commander there along with a Mireesh representative to begin discussing the agreement. They met inside a large fine tent in the middle of the garrison, where the deal was swiftly made. The Mireesh were tired of being weak targets, the clans were divided for long enough, and now they are finally coming together, putting their old rivalries aside and standing up against outside aggressors. Though this was only slightly better, as their forces were still divided, their forms of communications slow and unreliable, and their terrain hard to traverse, they needed help, and they sought out Keelish help.

The terms of the agreement were simple, Kleriel is to secure Duskwind’s borders, drive out any present raiders, and hopefully establish faster and safer ways of travel, and in return, the Mireesh would count themselves as a client race of Kleriel, and a part of the Imperium. Ara knew the Mireesh wanted fast solutions, but he realized that their problems were likely to remain long term, even the imperium can do so much so fast in this unforgiving terrain. Naïve as the Mireesh were, Ara agreed to the terms, and the compact was formed. He believed the Mireesh were better off with the imperium anyway, even if they don’t manage to establish an efficient defense or route network in Duskwind in the foreseeable future, they would undoubtedly benefit from Kleriel’s technological superiority. Not an ideal agreement, at least not for the Mireesh, he was confident that they would work around any upcoming issues with relative ease.


#9

Part four: A rocky start

In a minor but respectable plaza in Kleriel’s capital city sat, or perhaps lounged, the Archon’s Building Commission. It was a fine and warm sunny day and the commission thought to gather outside and discuss ongoing projects. A senior clerk at the commission was Zha’Savaj.

It has been a few months since the shy, middle aged Keelish was given the most lucrative of all contracts, building roads between the settlements of the Nishta region, and eventually connecting them to the trade route planned by Mon-Taizon. For this, he had become the darling of the managers and the clerks, spending his days recounting his adventures, more or less faithfully, of course skipping the part where he himself had done barely anything at all. Nishta was wide and flat, consisting of mainly grasslands, had fine weather, and was guarded to the point where bandits would not dare to set their foot in due to the trade route.

Zha’Savaj was neither particularly ambitious nor hard working, so he did not mind that the commission had not given him anything to actually do. Whenever he would happen by the head of the commission, Lord Van’Sumuc would always say ‘‘You’re a credit to the commission, keep up the good work!’’, to which Zha only ever replied with ‘‘Thank you, I will!’’.

There was however, the future to consider. He was not a youngster, though he was receiving many appraisals for someone not doing any actual work and being given many a lucrative grants, he thought it would be nice if Van would elevate him from his position, to maybe become his partner, and could eventually retire as a Lord himself one day. But, Zha was no good for asking for things like that, he was burdened terribly by the fact that… he didn’t actually DO anything to deserve what he was wanting.

One day, Zha had just about made up his mind to say something to Lord Van, when his lordship unexpectedly pushed things along. “You’re a credit to the commission,” he went, yet again, “Do you have a moment free on your schedule?”, he asked, to which Zha only replied with an eager nod and followed him to his most enviable hectare of office space. ‘‘I don’t know if you knew this, but we have been having a terrible time of it before you came along, we had many impressive projects planned, but they were either scrapped, or are not getting enough attention from the Conclave to put more resources in to, what with all the stress about Ebongrasp and Volsung.’’, Van explained, ''Then we received the task of building roads over the newly integrated region of Duskwind to the north, with rocky, muddy, mountainous and swampy terrain, where it seems the more resources, manpower, and effort we put in, the worse the roads get. Not to mention the dirty working conditions, terrible weather, and the constant threat of bandits. But now we had the very clean, very smooth Nishta roads contract. he praised Zha once more, ‘‘I think its time you were rewarded.’’. Zha grinned a grin of great modesty and slight shame, but he was not prepared for what was to come next.

‘‘I want you to take over the Duskwind road system project.’’

Zha shook as if awaking from a pleasant dream to hideous reality, “My Lord, I- I couldn’t- I…” “Nonsense,” chirped Lord Van. “Don’t worry about the previous project lead, he will be happy to retire on the grants I give him, particularly as soul-wrenchingly difficult as this Duskwind business has been. Just your sort of a challenge, my dear Zha. I have complete faith in you that you’ll handle this one just as well as the last!”. Zha couldn’t utter a sound, though his mouth feebly formed the word “No” as Lord Van brought out the box of documentation on Duskwind. “You’re a fast reader,” Lord Van guessed. “You can read it all en route to Duskwind. Good luck!.” he concluded and politely shoved him out the door.