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Warhammer: Shadows of Empire - Old Friends and New


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The Official Residence of the Kreiglitz-Untern family was arguably the largest building Wolfgang had ever seen. Maybe they had bigger buildings in Aldorf were bigger. Perhaps the Temple of the Ar-Ulric in Middenheim was bigger too. The building reeked of power and was designed to make him feel small.

When Wolfgang arrived, the servants in fine livery took the animals and led them to the side of the vast complex. A chamberlain ushered him indoors, tried to seperated wolf from his dour looking Knights and failing that, signed and showed him into the parlor.

Inside the parlor, ten noble families had already gathered. All the men were standing while the women sat. All were resplendant in their finery. Wolfgang was in no way overdressed. One man with some gray streaking into his black mane smiled, clapped twice and then slammed his right fist down over his heart - the warrior's salute.

Wolfgang recognized him from the first sermon, but couldn't name him. Teh man didn't seem to mind.

"Count Heinrich von Mannstadt," he said, introducing himself. He took him by the elbow and guided him toward a short, whip thin, pinced face woman, cold looking as winter itself. She rose and bowed when Wolf approached,

"Lord Fang. Your words this morning were ... moving," she said in a chilled dispassionate voice. Wolfgang got the impression that this was about as excited as she got.

Other introductions were made. More noble 'vons' came and went past him. As he was making his rounds, a Priest in rather plain brownd and green robes with the antlered heraldry of Taal showed up. He met Wolfgang happily.

"Lord Fang ... excuse me, I don't know your name, greetings to the Eye of the Forest. I am Uther Renfeld, High Priest of Taal in the city."

He seemed bored.

It was an interesting night.

Heln Ironwight dreaded this. As dressed up as she was, this was still an awkward assembly at best. In the parliment, she at least had her other guildheads to balance out the force of nobles. Now she had no such guaruntees.

Felix, the Chamberlain was there to greet her. She smiled at him and he showed a bare smile back.

"Miss Heln," he began. Heln was releaved that he rememberd her prefered form of address. She was no one's Lady.

"This way please."

He took her through the entry way and to the palor. That meant she wasn't late this time ... damn. The curtains parted and there were most of the usual suspects. Most were political cronies of the Countess, but the High Priest of Taal in the City (though not the real head of the Church) was here as was a stranger - three strangers actually. She recongized the gear of Ulricans, but the man of the moment was a tall, powerfully built Northlander. More importantly was his Two-Handed Warhammer. It was forged in an unknown style and in an unkown metal. The runes upon it were ancient and powerful. What kind of Champion could weild such a weapon.

Mikhail came with Baron von Krutzenheim and his daughter (Ingrid). The Baron's wife had passed away and her sister had been a Jade Wizard, felled by bandits long ago. The Baron, Norbert, shared his concern with the invitation. Normally he did not traffic with the Countess' crowd, but she was the lady of the city. What could any of them do?

When their carriage came to a stop, the Chamberlain came up to meet them. Another carriage was just pulling away and the Chamberlain looked winded.

"Baron, our grace, and Magister, welcome to the von Kreiglitz-Untern family estate. This way please."

He brought them inside and across a huge polished marble floor. Stairs went up on either side to the next level, but they passed beneath them to a curtained off room, the Parlor.

Inside, Mikhail first noticed Wolfgang standing in the midst of some activity. He was flanked by too armed, menacing men. An attractive, well-built woman stood next to Mikhail, having just entered the room herself. The Baron, daughter in hand, looked around as if trying to fins a rowboat in a school of sharks. They didn't seem to recognize anyone intimately.

{Heln, Mikhail, Wolfgang have at}

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Mikhail found himself wondering if he could get away with saying nothing but his own name. He quickly dismissed the though as rediculous; he was simply not that fortunate of late. Being a master wizard did have its advantages however and he was at least comfortable in wizardly robes rather than the uncomfortable formal finery that the nobels wore. He located a servant and procured a pair of wine glasses, the first was emptied and returned before the servant could walk away and the second was on it was though at a more acceptable pace.

Mikhail decided to forego joiing Wolfgang immediately. He didn't precisely want to distance himself from the other man but he neither wanted to establish any strong connection either. Politics; every person you knew wanted something from you and often from somebody you knew as well. To Mikhail's reckoning keeping his allegiences obscured would serve only to benefit him until he could get his feet more solidly under him in the city.

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Heln smoothed down the front of her vest, its red stitching standing out sharply against the black cloth. Her pants were black, and her shirt red. She stood out among the other woman like a courser stood out amongst lady's ponies. Her blond hair was held back from her face in black and red ribbons and her boots were coal black. The sheathed sword she carried loosely in her off hand was wrapped in it red bag, marked with her Guild's shield.

She had just gotten here and was bored - well, had been bored. The man with the warhammer became her instant focus, and without the 'decency' to wait for a 'proper' introduction, she crossed the room to him. "Good evenin'," she said politely, inclining her head appropriately to the man wielding the Warhammer. "I'm Guildmaster Heln Ironwright, and I couldn't help but notice your weapon. May I please inquire to its story?"

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The lady in red and black was hard to miss as she made her single-minded way through the gathering to him. As the only other person in the room to be bearing arms the knights made restless noises as she approached but Wolfgang immediately waved them off. This was no place to casue an incident, and she was not carrying the sword as though to draw it anytime soon. Her interest in him quickly became apparent with her introduction and he smiled as he replied, "Lord Fang Wolfgang of the Church of Ulric at your service Guildmistress. This is Stoutheart, one of the Twelve Hammers of the Chosen of Ulric, a relic of my god. It's story is largely lost in time, and although I know the circumstance of my discovering it I suspect that would have little interest to you."

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Ingrid and Norbert von Krutzenheim acted as a shield for Mikhail. Through them and their introductions, the aristocrats made it past, but always they deflected unusual questions, or requests. Most asked simple questions such as, "How long have you been in the city", and "how do you like it here?"

One doughty old matron did manage to slip a strange question in.

"Is it true you dance your mystical rights naked like those of the Old Faith?"

If nothing else, the old bird knew her Ancient History.

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Ugh, a nobleman, Heln sighed, keeping those thoughts firmly secured in her head. "Actually, Lord Fang," she said sincerely, "I would like to know the story. This is a wondrous weapon, and I would love to know all you know about it."

She smiled winsomely, hating herself just a little for playing their games. But learning about this weapon would be worth a bit of false politesse and a touch of guile.

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"Why don't you just call me Wolfgang, I've only been the Lord Fang of the Temple here for a day and it still doesn't feel right to hear it. When I arrived yesterday I had no idea that I would outrank the only Priest of Ulric left behind from the war. Anyway you wanted to know how I gained Stoutheart, it was at the Battle of Lauren Hill Ridge. I was only an Initiate then but I managed to drive the Beastmen from the dying War Priest who had previously bore it. He declared that Ulric wanted me to bear it and so I have ever since. It was also when I knew that Ulric had accepted me as one of his Priests as he granted me the power to give his Blessings. As to the legends of it's making by or for Ulric I'm afraid I haven't read them recently although I did look them up soon after I gained the relic. In the interest of getting it correct perhaps you should come by the Temple and check the records there for the history of the Twelve Hammers."

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"I will do so, though your story was interesting, too," Heln said, nodding. "And if we are dispensing with titles, I insist you call me Heln. I'm no n- one to be hampered by titles for the sake of making my name sound pretty." Her speech patterns had relaxed a bit as she grew more comfortable, and there was a hint of lower-class accent there now that she wasn't trying to cover it. "So what brings you here? Are you going to resume your travels in time?"

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Wolfgang grins at the relaxing Guildmistress, "Aye, well thankee for that kindness 'n' honour to a poor country lad [in his original Hochland accent]. The titles of the church only denote my current duties within it, and the consideration that our associates here bestow because of them I deem to be simply the honour due to Ulric."

He snags a drink from a passing servent, grimacing slightly at the wine he now holds, before shrugging and half draining it in one go. "As to what brings me here. I'd have to say the war to some degree. The resident High Priest almost emptied the Temple here in his eagerness to join the fighting which led to Middenheim ordering me here to help out. Only when I arrived I find that I outrank the only Priest left behind and so become the new Lord Fang. Hopefully when I get a message of the true situation here back to Middenheim they will send a more appropriate Priest out here to take over. Eventually I hope to get back to the frontlines, but while I'm here I hope to convince these boys [indicating the loitering knights] that battles take place in more areas than the battlefield."

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"Oh, they do," Heln told the two knights earnestly. "Some of my worst fights have been verbal ones, while filling my duties as Guildmaster." She smiled, tilting her head to one side as her blue eyes returned to Wolfgang. "Frontlines? Where have you have you seen action, then? I've known a few lads who went to the front lines."

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Wolfganglooks grim, "It would be difficult to tell you where exactly, frequently it is just the next clearing or stream crossing from where the last fight was. Names of battles is largely a matter for historians rather than the people fighting them at the time. In addition, apart from some of my training time in Middenheim, I've been engaged against Chaos since the Grand-Duke of Middenland decided to kick the Beastmen out of his forests seven years ago. The most recent place I've fought was at Untergard, it's possible that some units from here could have been in the first battle there, but I think it was mainly units from Hochland, Middenheim and a small contingent from the Altdorf area. Oh, and some Dwarves, Grombar would never forgive me if I forgot them."

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Countess Elise Kreiglitz-Untern walked into the room. She did't glide, saunter, or roll, she arrived. She wasn't that graceful of a person, but she had an air of authority about her that came from long hours of work, yet she remained someone easily under-estimated.

To call her plain would have been the truest categorization. She wasn't ugly, and she definitely was not beautiful. She was ... average to many degrees. Perhaps she could have afforded to lose a few pounds, but she wasnt' corpulent. She just was.

For Mikhail and Wolfgang, this may have been a let down. She had been described to them as fierce and determined, but they saw little of this here. What were they to make of this bland, average woman.

Heln knew better. She had witnessed the past few months were the Countess has solidified her presence in the city and had taken concrete steps to becoming the next Count-Elector. She had made the divisive parliment into her lapdog (baring a few outside defensive voices), and was doing things to bring the military forces in the city under tighter control - her control. Heln had seen those who had opposed her pushed aside, poisoned, or worse (it was rumored). When she handed her the gift, Heln planned to count her fingers to make sure all were returned.

Still, in her favor, the Countess' rule had been fair and just to the common man. Her enemies were mainly in the noble ranks. There was general support for her progressive policies in her own Guild's ranks.

Countess Elise Kreiglitz-Untern met the various nobles closest to her, but her eyes scanned the room until she noticed Wolfgang and Mikhail. She approached Wolfgang like a fox terrier after a fox, but she ran into Heln's presence first.

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Heln started to reply to Wolfgang when the Countess arrived. A slight twitch to the corner of her mouth was the only reaction the smith gave as watched the powerful woman approach. She was never that eager to see Heln, so it had to be Wolfgang. But Heln was first, and it allowed her to finish her required task tonight.

"Countess, good evenin' to you," Heln said softly, keeping her voice soft and giving her a bow. Sometimes, she spoke a bit loudly for the nobility; in interest of keeping them calm, she tended to drop her voice.

"A gift for you," she added as she rose from the bow. She offered the wrapped blade to the Countess. It was customary to have a gift, so no one was surprised by one pants-wearing woman offering a blade to another woman who really was wearing the pants, politically.

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"You and the Guild are so generous to both myself and to the city as a whole. Your dedication to our cause is both noted and noteworthy."

In a tone barely above that of a hushed whispered, the Countess added,

"Your desire to lower the import duties on ores is something I see helping this city expand. Bring forth this measure next parliment and I see it passing."

With that 'muttering' the Countess moved on to Wolfgang, artfully handing the blade to a servant, who kept it in both hands so everyone could see it (and in such a way that revealed that he had never handled a weapon in anger before).

"Lord Fang, thank you for you appearence her this evening. I am pleased you could attend on such short notices. Would you care to escort me to dinner now. We have much to discuss."

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Wolfgang gives the Countess a polite smile as he holds his arm out for her, "It would be my honour to escort you Countess. I must say I congratulate you on your contacts in the Taalbastion Guard, you seem to have known of my promotion before I did."

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Heln smiled ruefully as the Countess swept in and took away the most interesting target in the room. Such was the way of the nobles; they took the best of everything available. Sighing, Heln resigned herself to another boring dinner, before remembering there had been another stranger. Turning, she found him and walked across the room. "Good evenin' to you," she said softly, gauging if he'd be willing to stem her boredom.

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The laughs heartily at the 'compliment'.

"I would be a poor ruler if I did not keep my fingers on the pulse of the city. We have been eagerly awaiting the return of Ulirc's presence into the city. Too long the church has remained rudderless in this time of turmoil. We hope you are here with some sense of vision that will give guidance to others. Myself, for instance, am much concerned with the martial state of the city and its environs. Your coucil would be appreciated."

They started into the dinning area and the aroma of plentiful cooked dishes. A boar and some pheasents crowned the dinner table. All kinds river food was available as well.

Mikhail was led in by Ingrid von Krutzenheim who gifted him with a shy smile. The baron followed behind them. He took a seat with Ingrid to one side and the High Priest of Taal to the other. Mikhail quickly learned that the priest was very knowledge with the Jade Wind himself and considered the absent Master Wizard Conrad to be a friend. They quickly began to zone out from the nobles and exchanged stories about he woodlands and their adventure in them. It seems the priest had 'traveled to Kislev' in his youth.

Heln found herself just three people away from the Countess and was drawn into her conversations. Here the talk was about the business of the city and how various factions engaged in the political dance. The Countess was not at all bashful pointing out tha the Smithing Guild had not committed fully to her program of city improvements (and backing her play for the top spot in the realm).

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Mikhail found himself having a passable time despite himself. He and the priest of Taal had started to trade stories, jibes, and memories of youth. The dinner table was long and piled high with food, all the better to impress the Countesses guests he felt sure. Still that did not prevent Mikhail from helping himself. He was a guest and it was customary for a guest to make themselves comfortable. He looked down the table at Wolfgang and offered a slight smile and raised his mug.

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"Well Countess, I would happily give you my council on the state of the military here once I have had time to ascertain the current situation. However, you should know that I was not sent here to take charge of the Temple deliberately. I do not believe that the Temple in Middenheim knew of the situation here when they sent me."

Wolfgang spent the rest of the meal, trying to separate the COuntess' conversation from her obvious ambition to get at the facts of the situation.

Seeing Mikhail able to relax and enjoy himself Wolfgang gave a wry grin and small salute back with his own mug while the Countess was looking at the person seated on the other side of her.

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It was like listening to the old Battlemasters of Ulric talking around the campfire. Of course, this was wine instead of ale and you ate sliced pork instead of eating a lamb haunch, but the currents were the same. The give and take of words and the changes in body language ... there were enough symetry to make the understanding of tonight's function to make sense.

The Countess needed religious support to advance her cause. The placing of Taal beneath Ulric had significance. She wanted - no, needed - the support of one of the major faithes and Taal wasnt' willing to fit the bill. To back her and win was to earn glory. To fail was to invite censor from the powers of Ulric beyond the city. The Countess needed his army, as small as it was.

Though the City's Leader would love a decision now, she doesn't expect one. This is an opening gambit, the beginning of a courship, though it needed to be reciprocated at some point in time.

It also opened up Wolfgang to a position were he could drag another along with him. Mikhail could rise with him, if he wanted to and if the Countess could be brought around to understanding how valuable a College of Magic could be.

As the table turned around the Countess, Wolfgang could also sense who wasn't in her camp. The nobles around Mikhail didn't seem to be, and the woman he had been talking to was another. Heln Ironwight was an independent entity and was deftly countering the efforts to draw her into some level of commitment to the Countess. In that way, she was an unlikely ally and one Wolf might draw in for some degree of aid in understanding what existed on the other side.

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Wolfgang kept his own counsel, but was dismayed to see how much she might be willing to manuever to get access to his knights. There is so few of them that they would not constitute a great contribution to any force, except as a morale booster. And yet there loss to the Temple here would be incalculable.

The question then became more one of what the Countess' objective for the force she was trying to put together would be. Perhaps a limited objective could be achieved without catastrophic loss. Mikhail might help, but the Jade Tower was almost as stretched as the Temple of Ulric. Hmm could it be deliberate? Could someone, if not the Countess herself, want to get all Ulric and/or Mage influence out of the city.

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Dinner has wound down a bit and now they were in the gardens, servants following with wine glasses on trays for a 'refresher'. Two men found themselves slowly being more and more out of the hub-bub of activity. Even Mikhail was temporarily without his ever present Ingrid, while Wolfgang still hadn't retrieved his knightly entrouge. They rounded a corner corner of the hedge at a T-intesection. As they pondered this situation, a soft cough could be heard coming up from the unseen pathway.

It was the Countess.

"I take it you are the heroes of Untergard. That was interesting work, if the rumors are to be believed. To create a wall of trees in less than a day, that is magic rarely witnesses in this day and age" she shakes her head.

"To inspire a town of less than hundred to fight a force of two hundred ravenous Beastment takes a true talent of command."

"As for me, I must openly court you and your power, Lord Fang ... or may I call you Wolfgang of Hochland? Everyone expects it of me, and I admit there are advantages of having a whole church in my corner (she's making a pit fighter reference), but I see something else in you. I see ability that goes beyond status. Some people strive for power, while others inherit it. Blessed is the person who EARNS it."

Turning to Mikhail,

"I ignore you because as I ignore you others will see less value in your service and while vy for your attention less. I don't think you want the attention, do you?"

"No, not unless I have misjudged you, and I rarely do that. Yet from my studies, you are powerful and well-traveled. You aviod the ciites, yet protect people."

"How would you both like to do some of this for me. I need people of individual power and status to do things I can not do officially. I can paint with a broad stroke, but I am aware of the details. People need help. People under my protection that I don't have the ability to protect because there are appearences I must sustain."

"As an example, we have starving masses of Hochlander refugees outside of the city. I can't bring them into the city, were there is food and shelter, because there are forces in the city that won't allow it. At best they would be forced into the Tallows or the Ratholds to eek out an existance."

"Nor can I protect them outside the city. The Army is not mine to command. The city watch can not be sent outside the city, and I don't have the political power to control the militia once they are called up. I need an army, but there are not troops to be had."

"What I am trying to do is resettle some of the refugees along the south bank of the Talabec were there had been some despoiling by raiders. My problem is moving them out of the camps to these villages. I can not protect them from said raiders, outlaws, and worse."

"If you think I have dubious intentions, why don't the two of you take a friendly ride down to Taalgad and see for yourself. I would be happy to take your suggestions, but I think you will agree this situation requires individuals of subtantial ability to do what an army might not be capable of doing."

"In ten days, I will host another function you are very invited to. Try and attend and we can meet back here afterwards to discuss what you have found and what you two suggest."

She looks at them expectantly.

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Wolfgang ponders briefly before replying, "I will gladly see what the situation is over there, concerning the refugees, the army and the outlaws. However, I also have learned of three other problems which you should be aware of in general terms at least. A sharp eyed companion of ours spotted a number of smugglers being allowed entry to the city through the normal paths, suggesting corruption on the part of at least some of the bureaucracy at the gate. Worse, was the several people he saw coming into the city who were obviously ill, being grey of pallor and with a wet sounding cough. Lastly one of the Barons of the city has been employing people to attack an Elf community nearby, including killing the children. This atrocity, and monumental stupidity, will be stopped. I would advise against anyone trying to shelter the guilty party in any way."

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There was also a girl in the room, dagger in hand (one of Diarmuir’s) and in his clothes, synched up for her lighter frame. She looked familiar. In fact, she looked like the ones on the wanted posters all over town. This was a predicament.

After studying her and her responses, Wolfgang knew a few things. She knew about the plague, but was hiding it well. She didn’t seem to know about the elf murders but it wasn’t something that surprised her, or caused her too much concern. Her concerns seemed to be City First.

"What provision do you think can be made to cope with or limit this disease if it does spread within the city?” Wolfgang asks.

"I am seeing what this disease is. So far the people I've consulted with tell me it does not act like a normal disease. It comes and goes. It will take one hut, but leave all those around it untouched. There have been no cases reported in the city,” she responds.

"I've put the Sisters of Shaylla on it and they have a few acolytes in Taalagad checking on it."

"Well my associate saw several people with it entering the city yesterday, so I suggest you talk to the Sisters again soon."

"I'm planning on it. Smugglers and forgers are making an untaxed fortune getting people into the city one way or another. We try to stamp down on it, but they always seem to find a way to sneak around our watchfulness. As for the corruption, the Taalbaston guards are not under my control. Any accusations by my person against them will have to be handled delicately," the Countess says.

Wolfgang responds, "Huh, I can see the position it would put you in. However, I'm willing to be blunt about it if you tell me who to see, and if they might be benefiting from it? So on another matter, can you tell me why there is a load of army forces on the other side of the river?"

"The Count Elector of Hochland’s army was destroyed or scattered, so the Emperor is sending everything he can spare to help him rebuild and to re-open the Forest Road to trade. If you want someone to yell at, that would be General Hackland of the Taalagad Militia, or General Shultz of the Army."

Wolfgang replies with a broad grin, "Well as the ranking Priest of the War god, I wouldn't be doing my duty if I didn’t call on them and visit the various forces nearby, now would I?" more seriously he continues, "What can you tell about them and what their position on key issues might be?"

"Schultz fought over the river a month back and was grievously injured by a Chaos creature and his wounds have not fully healed yet. Hackland is the head of the militia, thus better at politics than fighting. His militia isn't to be trusted in real fighting. Schultz is at his home in the manor district, while Hackland has an estate west of town, but I think he keeps his office in the government building near the gates."

"I heard something about the Elector had only taken a small portion of the army with. Is that true and do you have any idea why he might have done so?"

"These were operations closer to our border and because many raiding band broke off one of the Chaos armies and began raiding across the river then fleeing when we pursued. The portion of the army the Elector led off is slow to come back, concerned as they are by the Count Elector's absence,” the Countess continues.

"That makes more sense a large force would have no chance of catching a raiding force. And I assume we won't actually get the real story of his absence until they do return and can be debriefed," Wolfgang responds.

"I am afraid we may never know. I've written to the Count-Elector of Ostland, as well as the Duke of Middenland and the Emperor. No one has seen him, but they are investigating."

"What's the story on the High Priest and Knights of the White Wolf?"

"He rode off on his own. He meant to get to Wolfenburg, but I don't think he made it. He wasn’t an overly bright individual. My personal belief is that he was killed or captured and his party slain. Such a waste."

"So he got a large party of knights etc wiped out as well?” Wolfgang sounded speculatively. “Or did they get chewed up in the general fighting over time? It's just that no wounded seem to have made their way back to the Temple."

"They left Hergig and never came back. In theory they could have gone north toward the Midden Mountains ... but, I wouldn't hold out much hope. Hochland's army was nearly annihilated and they knew the ground they were fighting on."

"Hmmm, sounds like the leader of the Knights was of a similar nature to the High Priest."

"Peace breeds a different kind of man than one who lives with life and death violence on a daily basis. He was good at his job - here - but I doubt he was prepared for something as overwhelming as the Storm of Chaos. The smarter man would have retreated and bought time for his followers to be joined by others. He wasn't the man for this crisis," she continues.

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Mikhail, despite a heavy toll of ale and wine, hid his frown. "Countess, I am no hero, any who says otherwise is merely looking to humanize the simple feeling of hope that was restored to that town." He paused, trying to consider how best to proceed, "If the people of this region need food my order may be able to help." Mikhail sighed, he hated this and was looking for a way to avoid tying himself to this woman. It was too soon and he knew too little of the political climate to know what he was getting himself, and by extension the tower, into.

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Wolfgang nods at Mikhail's comment, "I will look into the situation over the river and see what course is appropriate for the Church to take, I have no guarantee's that it will be what you would have wanted Countess, but I will do my best to aid the people and the war effort as I see right for my Church and it's tenets."

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The Countess nods her head to the Master of the Jade Tower.

"Heroes are selfless individuals, usually of independent means and lacking responsibilities elsewhere. I was hoping to appeal to the benefit of the common good, but ... oh well."

"Please continue to examine your resources and to think of the city and it's citizens for things you might be able to do. If you wish to go beyond the Taalbaston, discreetly let me know and I will provide you with the transit papers post haste. A plague the does not act like a plague is most troubling to my mind, and hopefully yours."

"Shall we rejoin the others, each back by our own paths? Though most of these people are friends here, word passes from loose lips to discontented ears. You may yet wish to make your beds elsewhere."

With a final nod, the Countess turns about and walks back down the green carpeted hedgeway. In the distance, Mikhail can hear Ingrid quietly calling his name. Likewise, the clanking of mail can be heard to be drawing closer to the from Wolfgang's route.

They have but a few moments to exchange words in private.

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Mikhail turned to Wolfgang, "I at least will make myself available. I do not yet know the capabilities of my students. As I grew those trees at Untergard, so too I can grow crops that would take months in but minutes. We will feed these people. I do wish that we can do so without allowing any of the nobels to take the credit however, I fear we do not yet know the lay of the land, so to speak."

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Wolfgang nods in thought, "Very trues, hence my desire to get what information I could from the Countess, perhaps I can do the same with other Nobles and the Generals and so parse out something approaching the truth of the matter. As to the needy, we will do what we can. I will speak to both the refugees and the villagers to try to convince each to accept the other. If it is not too far from the city then I may be able to assign some knights to their protection, as well as donating some of the Temples stores to help."

He runs a hand though his beard, "The outlaws need dealing with as well in some way. About 7 years ago the Grand Duke pardoned some outlaws in return for adding them to his army as skirmishers. Perhaps we could see about doing the same here, or recuiting them to look after the villages rather than preying on them. Otherwise I'll have to look into wiping them out, they are too much of a drain on scarce resources."

He cocks his head, listening to the approach of their relatives 'keepers' for the evening, "How should we arrange to met and/or arrange things, or should we just happen to both be taking a tour of the villages or whatever at the same time?"

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"Send an runner to the tower and I will come. It would seem that the tale of our actions at UNtergard have traveled faster than we did. I fear there is little point in hiding our common history. So long as we both work towards a great good and avoid entanglements with the nobility I do not take issue with tying the tower to your church."

Mikhail nods to himself. "I will arrage to visit the local farms. We should have little difficulty in persuading the farmers from making an extra harvest or two."

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Wolfgang grins, "And perhaps they would welcome the refugess to aid in getting the harvests in and stored properly. I think we had better find our keepers for now."

With that he turns back and walks back down the path until he encounters the knights assignd to him for the evening, "Come along boys I think we all deserve another mug of ale before we consider going."

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{Continued in The Jade Tower (Mikhail) and Lord of Winter (Wolfgang)}

Heln Ironwright tried not to soak her brain in alcohol to drowned out the conversations about Toll booths, peasants, and what kind of gold gilding to use on your carriage. She was saved, somewhat, by the Countess coming out.

She turned the conversation more to the crucial industries of the Guildrow and how "important" it was to invest in the varous foundries and craftshops. To The Countess, the future of the moneyed classes was in industry, not the land. It was a sentiment that Heln had to agree with. Investment made it so that junior smiths could create their own shops. The more masters, the stronger the guild, the stronger the guild, the more politcal clout they could bring to bear to control unfair taxes being leveled.

It wasn't that Heln craved the power for herself, no. She wanted to better protect those beneath her, those that had voted her into office - even if she wanted to clout them some times.

The rented carriage delived Heln back and she had to unlock the back of her store. While she was at it, she was gratified to see two watchmen stop by. They recognized her and moved along, but they were at least being attentive.

*******************

Business was picking up with the spring season. There was talk of moving some militia out into Taalagad, and that meant the officers needed their new swords - something that was more reliable than their fancier show-swords. Heln was able to split the new business between herself, her closest competitor, and Yavandir. At least her time was such that she was able to go out to eat for lunch, as opposed to grabbing a quick bit to eat, which had been the norm during the height of the Storm of Chaos.

***************************

On the third day, a messanger came to the forge and handed a message to her prime assistant. He came over and read it to her. Parliment was being called into an emergancy session. Sadly, Heln handed over the latest work to Micah. She know what was coming.

Sure enough, three guild apprentices came to say they were gather at the Goldsmith's Guildhall for a meeting of the voting guidl leaders. Sadly yet grimly, Heln responeded. She cleaned herself, gathered up her hammer, and headed over.

Inside the small hall, seventeen others (sixteen men and one woman) had gathered. Only the Boatman's guild was absent, but since he was three hours away in Taalagad, that was no surprise.

The Goldsmith called this the meeting to order, but it soon became clear that no one had yet found out the problem was ... until the Head of the Litigant's guild arrived. He clearly layed out what had happened. Annalise von Kritzer had been kidnapped. He brother, a close confidant of The Countess von Kreiglitz-Untern. He had come to The Countess with a plan. The city would employ a new branch of the Dogfaces, ten Verenan Investigators. This would be paid for by a series of taxes on the City of the Gods, including the sale of reliquaries.

This brought about some mumblings, most of approval. 'Why shouldn't the Churches pay something,' they reasoned. The Churches couldn't be taxed directly by Ancient Law, but this was the closest the city had done since the attempt to since the tax on Pilgrims several centuries back.

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Heln stood and waited to be recognized. The Countess's eyes narrowed at the tall blond, waiting to see which way the formidable woman would lean. "A special ten-man to find one lost noble is overkill," Heln said bluntly. "You tax the church, knowing you can't lean on us for this. Yet I'd rather save that church-tax for something the city really needs. With all due respect, Countess, as much as we love our nobles, I fail to see the need for this."

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One of The Countess' cronies rose up to the challenge in the see of murmured oppostions and assents. She remembered his name was Gerhard von-something or other.

"Herr Guildmistress, this Bill looks toward the future of the city. This advancement in the city's abilities will make sure that future criminals are found, truly convicted, and punished."

"Is the Blacksmith's guild against such progress? Is it against asking the faithful who can afford so much to not put a little toward the city that shelters their Churches? I say no!"

He gets some assenting yells and 'Here here's, but many eyes fall back to Heln.

It is clear to Heln that The Countess has not rounded up the support to make this a rubber stamped measure. Many nobles are counted amongst the faithul, as are the merchants and the guildsmen. The Countess herself waits before making her final opinion known on the matter, so as not to look bad if the measure is going to fail.

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"Those of you who ask if the Smiths are against progress, particularly against criminals, are obviously not paying attention," Heln answered, a flush rising on her face. "Clearly, you don't remember that we build the shackles that you put on the criminals, we make the bars on the cells you lock them in. Our guild works with the Watch to provide the tools they need for the job.

"And don't we have a Watch? Have they not done their job? Are we discounting all the other services they have provided in the face of one missing girl?" Heln looked around the room but she didn't allow them time to protest the efficiently of the Watch. Instead, she turned to the Countess and said, "Perhaps if there is another reason we need a special watch, it could be shared with us. A good reason might sway us where this weak excuse won't."

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A few more voices were heard, with a small number willing to speak out as well. It fell to the High Priestess of the Temple of Verena, Freida of the Watchful Eye, to answer Heln. Still The Countess kept her own council.

"Heln Ironwight, these new investigators are trained differently than our fine Watchmen. The Watch locates criminals usually in the commission of their crimes, and occassionally resorts to violence to discover the were abouts of possible suspects. These knew Investigators are trained in finding clues at the sight of a crime and using clues and evidence to hunt down and catch not the 'usual suspects' but the actual criminals."

"We hope this will be seen as a more progressive approach to enforcing our laws. Also, a more humane way of applying justice."

"As to why this is something for the city to handle; It matters who these people report to and who provides their employment. While we would not mind them working for the Temple of Verena, the perception would be that they are working for the temple first. That would be counter productive to our pursuit of justice. Better to allow them to become fully vested in serving the city first so no one can doubt their integrity."

That Freida manages to say that last bit with a straight face is a testiment to her political skill. That she is willing to go without a portion of her church staff speaks volumes to The Countess' motivations.

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Wolfgang listens closely to who is talking and who is not, carefully trying to balance who is on what side of the argument, but unwilling to commit his church to either side at this point of the debate.

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Mikhail stood and waited to be recognized. "Mikhail Alexsandr Petrovich, Magsister of the Jade Wind. While I think we can all agree that the pursuit of justice and the reduction of crime are goals that we can all stand behind the issue here is not a simple question of whether or not we agree that these new policing men are needed but the means by which it is proposed that they be paid. You seek to levy a tax upon the churches and schools of magic, something that has not been done in two hundred years. Two hundred years that this city has not seen fit to tax the institutions of learning and the churches that safeguard our very souls."

Mikhail pauses and looks out at the assembled parliament, "I ask, why do you seek to levy a tax against the churches, who preach against the vices of the wicked, and the school which teaches men to rise above their baser instincts?"

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"Here! Here!" more than a few voices declare. The balance is shifting against the measure and now more and more nobles are taking a stand. The sides solidify and the few in the middle will decide things.

A Baron von Arnulf stands up in rebuttal. Not known as a Countess supporter, he is a man with much wealth and power.

"Students at the University pay taxes. While the taxes are not direct - and who would want to tax a man seeking higher learning - they pays a Scriber's tax, and a Binder's Tax, and even the Lamp Lighter's tax for their institutions use of a fire hazard on their grounds."

"This measure adds a new weapon to the arsenal our Dogfaces have combat the growing tide of crime. Must we address this measure again when one of our sons or daughters goes missing, and yet again after that? The tax is not egredious. If it means my church will extend the reach of their tithe, so be it. We must have justice and justice at a price worth paying."

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Mikhail stand again, "Then taxes those businesses whose clientele contribute to the crime in our fair city. Tax the brothels and the gambling halls! You seek to tax the wrong people. The patrons of our fair churches and schools are not the criminals and yet they are the ones to pay. Nay, I say you charge those purveyors of vice and sin!"

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