Short Story: Planewalker Council pt2 - The Citadel Dinner

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Short Story: Planewalker Council pt2 - The Citadel Dinner

Post by Sarin on Fri Oct 30, 2015 11:51 am

Seated in the private the dining chamber, the Lords of the Citadel and their trusted entourage were well into a lavish spectacle of what gastronomic resources could be commandeered in the heart of Occipitus. Overseen by the ever busy Cheriel, tender medallions from the rothé-like herd animals that roamed the plane were served up with roasted, colourful and tangy bulb vegetables native to Sammarash. Whole, boiled mist-turtles from the deltas of the jungles of Chult arrived, their carapaced forms floating in gravy in steaming copper pots. Salty, smoke-cured flatfish from Damara, probably caught in the springtime in the Icelace River, were presented on heavy slices of dark bread and butter. The atmosphere of the dinner was good-natured, and the effects of the Glowfire vintage was noticeable. At least, Galean and Calmert were dueling on who had the rudest tavern tales from Faerûn, while Darion and Rahnefereth alternated in spluttering with mirth or shock at the escalating tales. Calmert was currently mid-way into a tale about a magical octopus enslaved to a mistress of a pleasure house who used it as cheap labour for certain services to unsuspecting clients. The usually gruff assassin was very much enjoying telling the story and Darion could only shake his head in shock disbelief as the sordid scenarios unfolded.

Careful not to disrupt the flow, the old bard noted that his companions had finished eating and decided that it was probably time to commence the dessert. With a slight signal to the attentively waiting Cheriel, Darion gave the go-ahead for the tea and sweets to be served. As the used crockery and tableware was swiftly removed by Cheriel and his staff, Darion reflected on the evening and was impressed with what the majordomo had managed to come up with for the dinner. It was not so much just a feast made to look fit for a king, but it was also meant to make a statement about the reach of the Citadel. The Planewalkers had come far, and a gathering like this was a good opportunity to put the influence and contacts of the group on display.

As Calmert gleefully came to the conclusion of his tale, the highlight of which involved a Tethyrian noble investing in a large fish tank for his bedroom after visiting the fabled pleasure house, Galean sensed that the dinner was coming to a close and conceded defeat. However, in a display of disdainful mock seriousness, he wowed to Calmert "I will return in force with stories to burst the seams of your ridiculous tunic." They all grinned at the display and Darion couldn't help but clap his hands in appreciation. "Well done, you both shame me with your skills in tale-telling," the bookkeeper laughed. "Who would have thought that a feast organised by an old bard would end up with him listening to tales, rather than telling them!" he added. Seeing out of the corner of his eye that Cheriel was waiting at the door to the chamber, he continued briskly "And now, I think Cheriel has something special in store for the dessert!" In perfect synchronization, the tiefling butler entered the room pushing a trolley loaded with an eye-catching finale, a masterful display of fruit and candied flowers, some of them rumoured to have been picked in Arvandor, Darion knew. Certainly, at the top of the circular, tiered display, a handful of shining and nearly luminescent blue and red bell-shaped flowers stood out. If there wasn't some magic clinging to those petals, he would be surprised. Rahnefereth was definitely interested, his golden elven eyes slightly widened in curiosity. He could see that Galean and Calmert were impressed too, and silently took delight in having provided a memorable evening. However, one thing still hung heavily in his thoughts.

The Planewalker Lords picked from the colourful dessert and got their servings of hot tea infusion from the attentive Cheriel, and Darion waited for the right time to present itself as they chatted among themselves. With the amount of food served, the atmosphere turned from ribald to the inevitable post-dinner lazyness. Calmert and Rahnefereth engaged in a discussion about the benefits of magical assassination spells versus magical assassin's weapons, and Darion decided to continue the conversation with Galean that had been left hanging somewhat during council.

"I sense that you probably have more questions than you asked earlier?" Darion ventured in a soft voice, leaning closer to the gnome.
    Galean looked briefly at the two others, still very much lost in their never ending blade-versus-spell arguments and answered "Trickster's toes, Darion, I just wonder how much power this band has here, now? I know that it is sometimes necessary to engage with mercenaries, but why this kind and why so many of them?" He looked questioningly at the half-elf. "How exactly do you propose that we keep things under control?"
    Darion smiled and said, "As always, you do not disappoint me, my friend. You were ever the vigilant of us, and it does you great credit. There is, in fact, one thing about what I proposed earlier that I probably need to ask you about." He shifted slightly and leaned closer again to the Harper. "You all understand, I think, that in order to take care of the many tasks related to running a town and a citadel, defending it and acquiring both new recruits and information, we would always have had to resort to the hiring of mercenaries? At least until such time that we would have amassed enough soldiers and agents ourselves?"
    Galean replied quickly, "Yes, of course, that is not what I am questioning. In my eyes, what is here now seems excessive, and I do not like the look of the Silken Hand."
    Darion looked away in thought for a few moments and then met Galean's eyes again. "There is something that I would have to tell you, my friend. You see, we are maybe not as secure here in Occipitus as you might think." The old bard looked earnestly at the Harper.
    In puzzlement, Galean retorted softly "Not secure? How so? Ever since we lifted the influence of Adimarchus from the plane and removed him from the equation, the road was paved for us to establish operations here. It was an unrivaled opportunity for a group such as ours - you said so yourself." He looked at Darion with genuine confusion.
    "I know, and for a time it did look like everything ended with us confronting and disposing of Adimarchus in Skullrot, which of course also meant that Calmert was  not lost to us," Darion said quietly, looking down. He continued with sigh, "However, you know that I am the one that spends the most time here, and apart from overseeing the growth of the settlement, I have done a lot of research into the recent history of the place. It has become apparent to me that Adimarchus was part of a group of individuals who would still want to lay claim to Occipitus," Darion looked worriedly back at Galean, "Just because they are not here now, doesn't mean that they are not planning to overthrow us. I have found that some of Adimarchus' associates know portals to here and that they have influence with the other inhabitants outside of Canton and the Citadel. Although there is no direct danger right now, I fear what can happen over time if their influence is unchecked. Imagine that they were able to ally with some of the powerful denizens here, such as the black dragons. Imagine that they would march an army of demons in to overthrow us," he finished with a slight shiver.

Galean let it all sink in for a few moments. He glanced over at the two others, still deep in discussion. Then he asked in a very low voice "Really? You think that all of this can be taken away again that easily?"
    "Maybe not easily," Darion conceded hurriedly, "but the point is, we cannot sit easily. And at the moment, we need the Silken Hand, if our unseen enemies move faster than anticipated, whether we like it or not."
    Galean still looked troubled, "I take your point, but how will our Hand of the Citadel be able to both defend us against the Silken Hand being too powerful, and these unseen enemies? They are mere lambs in a hall of wolves!"
    Darion seemed to get re-energized by the question and answered confidently, "Ah, but this is exactly what we need. As it is now, we are stretched, and we in the Planewalker Five will not be able to stem this tide by ourselves. However, we need more people like us. That is why we will call our initiates to trial. We must find enough candidates that will be able to handle what we have handled. So our Hand must be forged in the same crucible that we sprang from. They must be thrown in at the deep end and come out alive. More importantly, they must earn the respect of the Silken Hand, so they can bring that influence to bear. And finally, if they are able to survive what tasks are given to them, they will earn our respect and trust as well. At this point, they can lead our forces in our stead as we would do, and thereby multiply our defence of this plane, our home." His eyes twinkled slightly as he finished, the way Galean had seen Darion deal with troubles many times on their adventures.
    "Heh, old friend, it seems like you have thought a lot about this. And your optimism is ever present," he gave a small smile, "But I wonder why or how the Silken Hand would let itself be controlled or defeated? Are you not being naive?"
    "Well," Darion leaned in and smiled fiercely, "They are actually outcasts from Calimshan, who seek revenge on those who usurped their leader there," his voice dropped to a whisper, "I think that if we ensure that we are always in a strong position, and ensure that the ones who don't want to stay under our leadership have a way to get back to Calimshan and to achieve their retribution, we may just have the best of both worlds. It will take time, but it is better than a leadership contest in the open. And as I said, we need them for the moment."
    "A lot of subterfuge and investment in unblooded younglings, eh?" Galean looked thoughtful. "Well, we already agreed that we needed our Hand of the Citadel. I hope you will tell me more of these plans so I can help in any way possible. I think I have some contacts near Calimshan, I will look into it." Galean's eyes narrowed. "There is one more thing - enough about the potential enemy within. What of these individuals conspiring against us?"
    With one of his trademark flourishes, born of a life telling stories in markets and courts, Darion winked at Galean while he produced a small, finely engraved scroll tube. "This," he said, while furtively turning the tube so Galean could get a better look, "It contains the names and possible locations of the individuals that I have identified so far. I call it The List."
    "The List, eh?" Galean looked at the small tube with a mix of curiosity and anxiety. He was sure that he knew what the answer would be to his next question, but he voiced it nonetheless. "What happens with the names on the list?"
    Darion said matter-of-factly, "They are removed," and then added with a little more fervour, "When there are no more names on the list, our dominion here is safe. Is that not what we want?"
    "Aye, Darion, we have fought for this place, and we would not be the same without it. However, it sounds to me like we are not going to be the ones scratching off the names on the list. I can see that it would be a good way to ensure that our initiates are tested thoroughly. However, I don't like sending others to do the dirty work that I should have seen to myself." The gnome's face softened and he quietly asked, "What if our Hand does not make it before the list is empty?"
    With a graceful and quicksilver move that came from his time as entertainer, or maybe assassin, Darion plucked a candied redberry from the dessert display and leaned back to look at Galean. His short reply was "Then we find another." The half-elf bit down on the redberry and kept looking at Galean as he chewed. Then he smiled.

***

Sarin
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