Part 73: Empress Prazac, First of her NameFor a moment, no one said a word in the hall. Sitting on her throne, the Empress of the Empire looked down on the band of Exiles. She was not angry. Nor was she cruel. Not nervous our skeptical. She was alert and not hostile.
Have you dined? Prazac asked, offering hospitality in her court.
Art bit back her first response. Her team and Exile behind her needed her to be the best she could be for this encounter. And that meant not making her usual stress-relieving comments at the woman who could restart the war against Exile with less than a breath.
We have, your Highness, she thanked her instead with a slight bow. Though if you are offering, water would suffice.
The Empress made no indication that she had heard, but a moment later, Vladimir, the doorman entered with one of the servants in tow. They had mugs and drinks for all. Soon, the Exiles and the Empress were served.
Sass leaned over to speak to Bronwyn. I thought there was going to be a fight, not drinks, the massive Slithzerikai whispered.
Bronwyn shook her head in the negative. No. This is too important for a fight. She downed her clear drink in a single long motion. Besides, there is probably a small army behind every door. Even we couldn't win against those odds.
Art and Prazac sipped their own drinks, both refusing to back down in the face of the other.
Why did you summon us? Art finally broke the stalemate between them with the most important question at the moment.
For many reasons, the Empress replied. Though if you were to reduce it to its most simple, then I am here because there is a mess that must be dealt with. Her voice is calm, measured and utterly confident.
Funny, I didn't take you for the janitorial type. Art spoke the words before she could stop herself, instantly regretting it.
But if the Empress took offence, she did not show it. In a way, yes. I have, since my ascension to the throne, been repairing the damage caused by my father's poor policies, and the actions of my ... guardian.
Garzahd. It was Ni'aurrl who spoke his name.
Everyone in the room affiliated with the Empire flinched. Even now, years after his death, the name of the vile wizard still struck deep. Yes, Prazac confirmed. His attack on Exile was poorly planned, and foolishly executed. He created more problems than he solved.
I know, Art pointed out with a harsh edge. I fixed them.
You slew him, the young Empress corrected the older woman. The problems you fixed then were not ours. She sighed, reclining in her throne as she gazed at the water in her glass. So many problems. And Valorim is but one.
We know who is causing this, Art offered.
Should we tell them? Delilah questioned. They can't help.
The Vahnatai, Prazac supplied. Another problem of our creation. The issue was forced when the war expanded beyond our ability to control.
You were never in control, Art shot back.
No, I was not.
So what do you want? Because if you're just here to commiserate over the repeated blunders of the Empire, I have better things to do.
For a minute, the Empress said nothing. She just looked at Art. I wonder, she finally said, what would it be like to have someone as blunt as you in my court. She sipped her drink to empty it, then held the glass aside for it to be refilled. I am surrounded by two types of people. Three, really. The first are the sycophants, those who would agree with me regardless of all other considerations in hope of gaining my favour. Then there are those who would oppose me in covert manners while playing at being the former. They seek to take more than what they have, from their peers or from me.
She glanced at the two Dervishes who flanked her, guards of last resort. Then there are those who are not loyal to anyone, but the Empire itself. Them, I find I can trust most as they do not care for me at all.
Sounds hard, Sass said.
Prazac nodded. It is. Such are the limitations of power. It is said that when one has no power, one has all the choices in the world. But as one gains more power, your choices diminish until at last, when one has all the power in the world, they find that they no longer have any choices at all.
Art crossed her arms, keeping her hands away from the swords at her waist. An answer, please?
I wish to commission you all for tasks completed and uncompleted. Prazac turned her attention back to Art. It would be unseemly if the problems of Valorim were to be completed by Exiles of all people.
It is. The Empress responded as directly as Art made her own comment.
Good. Because wasting my time isn't the best thing to be doing, Art frowned at the Empress, expressing her displeasure without words.
First, then, an offer in good faith. The Alien Beasts. We have uncovered the source of their creation. Prazac stood up, though she was already higher than everyone else on her throne. They are not creatures of this world.
You're not saying anything we don't already know, Art bluffed.
Prazac called it. They are the same creations as those in Avadon.
Any bluster Art had fell away. The Black Fortress. It wasn't a question. It was a statement filled with dread.
Yes, Prazac confirmed. Our sages have determined that the creation of these creatures is functionally similar to the incident in that ancient and ruined fortress.
Ni'aurrl raised one furred hand. Nephilim and Exile here. Can someone fill me in here? What is Avadon, and what makes this all relevant?
Art and Prazac shared a look, then Art was the one who spoke. Avadon was an old fortress. It used to be important, but not any more. It had fallen into ruin. Then, about 30 years ago, a mad wizard moved in and conducted stupid experiments.
He attempted to scry himself, Prazac said with a shake of her head. A lesson taught to everyone ever not to do.
The Empire sent in a company of soldiers with magical support to suppress the creations caused by the break in reality. Things went bad and in the end, only six out of five hundred made it out alive, mission successful.
Things clicked in Bronwyn's head. You.
Art nodded. I was an apprentice priest at the time, assigned to field duties. The things we fought down there were ... wrong. I didn't make the connection with the beasts. These ones are too ... material.
Prazac spoke, And you are the only living survivor, Art. The rest have died from the energies they faced. The events that promoted you to Dervish for your service to the Empire are being repeated in Footracer Province.
She gestured, and Vladimir produced a scroll, which he handed to her. Prazac opened it up and did not bother to read it. First, in recognition for your efforts in combating the Plagues of Valorim, this document, she tapped the scroll in hand, proves that one-hundred and twenty six days ago, a team of six Dervishes were inserted into southern Valorim near Krizsan. They were given orders to deal with the Plagues. You.
Bronwyn's jaw fell open. What?
Prazac gave a hint of a self-satisfied smile. Yes. Quite elegant, don't you think? It is not unknown for individuals to be promoted straight into the ranks of the Dervishes for their actions. Art only glared, but the Empress pressed on. And because the Dervishes are extensions of my authority, I can take the credit for providing the scalpel to remove these tumours, rather than risking my armies in battles the enemies we faced were meant to counter.
You can't be serious, Delilah objected. We're Exiles!
Not anymore, Prazac stated. For services rendered, the crimes for which the four humans were convicted of have been pardoned and redacted from all records.
Sass looked at the Nephil, and Ni'aurrl looked at the Slithzerikai. What about us?
It is the opinion of the Empress and her court, that forces spent suppressing and containing certain unfriendly species would be better served elsewhere. With this, the Nephilim and the Slithzerikai would be given the status of 'Friendly Species', and you two would be promoted for services made to the Empire.
Which means? Ni'aurrl questioned.
It means that it would be illegal to discriminate against them, Bronwyn supplied. Though they would still be second-class citizens in the Empire, they would still be citizens.
Which means I can tax them, Prazac smiled. More money for the Empire is always a good thing.
Sounds like you're getting the best of this deal, Art said bitterly. You're getting a whole continent, and you're handing out crumbs to those who are dying for it.
That is not true, Prazac said. The position of Dervish has its own benefits, but I am not above making further boons in your regard. I have covered the desires of Dervish Ni'aurrl and Dervish Sasserithrasix, though they know it not. For Dervish Matthias, death in the line of duty assures that his family is presented with his pension, and all fallen Dervishes are remembered in accordance with their deeds. They will be restored to their place, and his fellows your fellows will see to it.
Art flicked her eyes at the two who flanked the Empress. What she saw did not end her worry, but did belay it.
Blue 'Bloodwyn' Bronwyn, your situation is not unknown to us. Your crimes are absolved, and you will find that when this quest is resolved, your skills will be needed and called upon by your fellow Dervishes. Delilah, I can offer you little but the recognition that your actions in the future with regards to the ring on your finger will be sanctioned by the Empire and accounted for when a full reckoning of Valorim is tallied.
Art's not listed, Sass pointed out the obvious.
No, for her, I can offer her no gold, no wealth. What I can give her is something far more personal. The Empress took a moment to sip from her cup again. Art, I can give you your daughter back.
For a moment, there was no response from anyone in the room.
You can't do that.
It was confusing for a moment, but then it was placed as Art whispering.
I can, and I will. Your daughter will recognize you.
No. She can't.
What makes you say that? Prazac switched from commanding to questioning. It would be done.
Because she wouldn't remember me, Art said softly, staring down at the immaculate floor of the throne room. She wouldn't know me any more. She's grown up, become her own person in the years since I was Exiled. I would be a stranger forced into her life, no end to the troubles I would cause. I love her, but I don't know if I could see her, even if she was standing right in front of me.
You don't ... want her? Prazac asked, finding her intentions taken apart by someone who refused a boon on the grounds of it being wrong in some way. But ones family is important.
I killed your father. Or did you forget that?
You did. You also slew Garzahd, who used me as little more than a puppet so he could rule from behind me, Prazac confirmed. And I do not miss my father. He was cruel and capricious at the best of times. That my Dervish slew the two men between me and the throne, it could be taken by those who see the world in such terms, as a sign of the same cunning they think they have.
Prazac turned her back. I never had mother, you know? Even in the secret records, her name was removed. And sometimes, I wonder what crime she could have committed to have her memory damned like that. But you? With you, I can fix that.
Art shook her head. No. I'll take nothing of the sort. What you offer is impossible.
At least take the title back! Bronwyn hissed. It is too important!
You seem eager for such a thing, Prazac turned her attention to Bronwyn. Why?
Setting down her pack, Bronwyn rummaged through it before finding the book she stole from the commander's office in Gale. She handed it to the Empress. Because as a Dervish, this would be punished.
Prazac took the book, and flipped through it. Her face grew darker with each passing page. I have to thank you for this, Dervish Blue. Such cowardice must be dealt with. And I have the tools to deal with it. The smile she gave was cruel, the promise of righteous vengeance. General Baziron will be rewarded, I will see to that.
But be that as it may, Prazac gestured and Vladimir switched scrolls in her hand, This message is for Micah and Karmas of Exile. She handed it to Art who looked at the Imperial Seal on it with some confusion. There are additional things that must be sorted out, so I am charging you, my Dervishes, with delivering this message, and returning with their response. It must be done before I can allow you access to Footracer Province to finish what you have started.
Art put the scroll away carefully. It will be done, Empress.
That wasn't what I was expecting.
What were you expecting?
Let's just get back to Fort Emergence.
* * *
This wall is still imposing. I wonder why they didn't try this during the Exile Invasion?
It would have taken too long.
We need to stop these things, more than any other.
* * *
Alright, let's go talk to Anaximander. He'll know where Karmas is.
I really don't think we just spent two days in the office.
That's it? What was in the document?
The item description for the document is a spoiler for the plot. But if you want to know, here it is, in spoiler tags:
I can't tell you. Not yet. But it may just mean the end of Exile if we go about things the wrong way, or the right way.
But before then, there is something else I need from you. Go find Captain Johnson. Talk to him about the things that you know. Come back when you've dealt with that. There's no need to think that we are being hasty with our response to the Empress.
What are you thinking?
That we need more time.
What do you want? He spat to one side.
Right! You're the one we're supposed to talk about the bunker too!
He looks startled. Who told you that?
He looks furious. Damn her! All right. The bunker is in new Cotra. To enter it, walk up to the centre of the east side, and say 'Galros'. Now, get away from me.
Why would he be angry if Anaximander told us to talk to him?
* * *
You know, I remember looking at this building a long time ago.
And that's that. I wonder why Anaximander wanted us to come here.
Well, it's not for the treasure.
You meet a tottering old Slith. His once-green scales darkening around the edges with age. It wears many amulets and teeth around its neck. Ssss. Greetingsss. Welcome to the Bunker. I am Pathass.
He speaks in a shaky, sibilant voice. At the asking of Exile, I have come to the Bunker. I help with their research.
What is the Bunker?
Thissss was built here with the help of the New Cotranssss asss a sssort of magical crississss handling center. We wait here for some need for research and then we ressspond. The people here have been a great assistance.
The people of New Cotra? Why are you here, and not at Fort Emergence?
Protection. For ussss and them. They bring us food at night, and they keep thisss place ssecret. And they give us company sometimes. Thissss can be a lonely place to wait.
Ah. What are you here to research?
He sighs. I am a priesst of my people normally. But I am also one of their strongest mages. Only my pupil, Kai-Lyss can be said to be my greater. I know much about metal working too. That is why they asssked for me. I miss my temple. Of course, it is an opportunity too.
Down in our city of Gnass. In the Great Cave, in Exile. It iss a beautiful city. I misss it.
What sort of opportunities do you get up here?
I meet great magesss and mindss of Exile. Like Erika. I met her not long ago.
We've met Erika too!
Yess. She isss the greatessst mage of Exile. She livessss up here now, to the northeasst. But she can never again go to the surface.
Why is that?
They cursed her when they banished her, so much they feared her power. If ever again she sees the ssun, it will slay her inssstantly. That is why she hates the Empire so much.
Thank you for your time.
Yeah, let's not blab how to kill Erika Redmark, even if that is true. Which it isn't.
Ah, hello there.
Yes, we've been expecting you. This tiny woman would look like someone's friendly old grandmother were it not for the aura of power emanating from her, and for the Vahnatai chair she sits perfectly comfortably in. I am called Enla. Welcome to the bunker.
We heard from Pathas about the nature of the bunker. Is there anything you would like to add?
Not really. Once, I studied dragons. Now I do research here.
She looks sad. We studied Motrax, oldest of the mighty serpents living in Exile. Then he died. And the other dragons disappeared.
I REMEMBER YOU!
What are you talking about?
You're the one who was interrogating him about the Vahnatai after they brought the barriers down! Even after he said he didn't know anything!
How would you know... tha... t. Oh. you.
Then let us speak no further on that subject. As for the other dragons, they are a great mystery. Sulfras, Khoth and Athron were the other dragons in the underworld. However, they disappeared after the Empire War. We have few guesses of where they went.
And what are those guesses?
Maybe down further into the caves. Or more likely the surface, although that would be an invitation for the Empire to attack them. The Empire despises any power it can't control, and they would despise the Empire back.
So, change of subject. What do you research here?
Well, I study Vahnatai magic.
What about the Vahnatai?
It is amazing what they can do with a simple crystal. For example, they can make actual life in crystalline form.
Like the Soul crystals?
We can do nothing near what they can do. But we have a few ideas. Nothing I want to talk about now, of course.
Art, and her companions. You see an ancient and withered mage, hunched back in a large, carved chair. He was meditating while staring into a small brazier. Now he looks up as if he was expecting you. For the benefit of the others, I am Ostoth. Welcome to the Bunker.
Hello again. Nice Bunker you have here.
Yes, I should explain what we are doing here. We are doing research. We are trying to craft tools to use against the enemies of Exile.
What is it that you are researching?
He looks uncomfortable.. When we found out about the monsters on the surface, we realized we may need to craft a weapon to help you fight them.
It is the Vahnatai. Rentar-Ihrno leads them.
You now need to leave town, and come back Four Days later. I spent the time outside of town casting Mana to restore my food, and camping away the turns, occasionally moving to scare off roving bands of monsters that run away from me.
Ostoth looks very grim. We have made a magical device for you, but at great cost. Both Pathass and Enla put too much of their energy into it. Pathass is dead. Enla has left to try to recover. Their sacrifice, however, was not in vain. We have crafted a tool for you to use. Would you like a description?
You have my sympathies. Describe this weapon, please.
The Vahnatai create intelligent beings in crystal forms. We've done the same. We've made a slightly sentient crystal which may be able to interfere with their crystals. We aren't sure if it will work, but it might. Look for this device in the chest in the next room. We hope you can justify the horrible price we have paid for it.
Pathass will have a huge statue. That is all that is needed.
They really are gone.
What do we have here?
What is it?
I don't know.
* * *
Just all the other spawns in the area that couldn't get to me across the river.
* * *
So, now we go back to Prazac?
No. We actually have some metal to deliver to a blacksmith.
WHAT? Are you serious?
Hey, here's the metal you wanted.
You show him the piece of metal you found. That would be perfect! You pay him the 1000 gold. He takes the metal. Now go away! he yells. Come back much later! I will get to work. He grins in anticipation, and turns to his anvil.
Three days later...
There is no further metal. There are only three pieces in the game, and each has a purpose. The first is associated with the Inn of Blades quest that introduces you to the existence of the Thieves Guild. The second is used by the Dragons to make the Beastslayer. The last is done by this man to make this:
To be tossed at the next vendor for the cash.
* * *
You know, I'm not shocked that we still have to use the back door.
Is there anything else to say?
No. I have considered your position, and I have come to realize that you have spent more time than I on it. Your logic is acceptable. But know this, Dervish Art, you will be rewarded, one way or another. It is not the way of the Empire to turn away from those who have given us aid.
And you. May we meet again under better circumstances, that I can give you what you want, and you to receive it.
For both of our benefits, that can never happen.
* * *
One last province. Ruins await us. And the whole world if we fail.
How very poetic.
That's a lot.
Welcome to Footracer Province End of the road.
* * *
In Blackcrag Fortress, Empress Prazac met with her generals. Send a message to Dervish Kalidan and his army. He is to move to Tevrono and relieve General Baziron. Inform the General that the Third Army is to be placed under his command. He is tasked with securing the province from further Golem attacks, then he is to turn his attentions to Gale. She tapped the book her Dervish gave to her in her hand. He is to then treat Gale as a rebellious city. One chance for their leadership to surrender for their impudence in attempting to stifle the works of my Dervishes. One chance to come before me in judgment. If they fail, they will wish we still sent people into Exile.
One of her Generals saluted with a grim smile. It will be as you command, Empress.
Vladimir, please make sure the paperwork is in order. Those who aided our Dervishes in their mission are to be rewarded, even if they are not ones who expect it. Reports of this mage north of Krizsan with a primitive portal network interests me, and his research should be granted my benevolent attention.
It will be as you command, Empress.
Good. Another message is to be sent to Lorelei. Inform them that we accept the existence of an Exile embassy in their city, and they are to prepare to become the regional capital now that Tinraya can no longer serve.
It will be as you command, Empress.
* * *
People of Exile, the voice of Prince-General Karmas was magically transmitted throughout the caverns, reaching every city and town that it could. For many long years, we have been a people lost. Lost from our homes on the surface, and from our families. We have been shattered as individuals in the face of something more horrifying than we could comprehend.
But we are still people. We have kept our vital essences in the face of odds that would seem insurmountable. Our king, Micah, led the first battles against the forces that would have stopped us from carving out a home of our own. And he was successful.
No. It was WE who were successful. No man is a nation unto themselves, and we strove together to make what we have today. And we cannot forget that. We are a people.
Many of you have heard the rumours. Of Upper Exile, and the Surface. I speak to you now to confirm some of that. Yes, we have contacted the Surface. The Empire is in turmoil, as the loss of the tyrants Hawthorne and Garzahd has left the Empress Prazac in a precarious position. She must act against those inside the Empire who would tear down the faint protections it offers their citizens, and can ill afford another enemy.
We would be that enemy, in worse days.
You all remember the dark days of the invasion. The sack of Cotra, the battles in the tunnels. The breaking of the Seige of Spire and the Abyss. Our new allies from further below. But we as a people, we were the ones who persevered. We survived. And more importantly, we won.
It is because we won that I can say these words today.
Exile is a state of being. We called this place that because that is what we were. Exiles from our homes. But as the years passed, we changed. We founded towns and cities, raised crops and families. We made for ourselves our own lands.
When the Empire came to take that from us, they failed.
Empress Prazac of the Empire, has recognized this. She does not desire us or the Vahnatai as enemies. There is nothing to be gained from it. And while the Surface is in turmoil as our victory still resounds, it is our brave explorers on the surface who are making contacts with the people most harmed by the follies of the Empire's last two rulers.
The continent of Valorim has been beset by monsters, foul creations of madness and vengeance. And we have been rendering aid where the Empire could not.
And the Empire cannot turn away from that. Not when they could not help their own people.
Thus, secret negotiations happened between Empress Prazac and King Micah. Through intermediaries, we have an official end to hostilities between the Empire and us. We will not prosecute further military retaliation against the Empire for their attack upon our homes and families. We will aid them against these threats that could grow to harm us as well.
And in exchange, the Empire formally recognizes our independence. We are a nation unto ourselves. There will be more discussions in the future, but for the first time since the founding of the Empire, they have lost ground. They have tried to treat us as a rebellious province and failed. They will yield a province on their borders to us, a place on the surface to call our own if we can make it ours.
But Exile cannot accept these terms.
Exile is a state of being. And no one can be home in Exile. It is defiance of the word. But we still exist. And we must accept. There can be no more Exile.
Near the capital of the Empire is a volcano, which was believed to be the entrance to the underworld. It is called Avernus. We are that underworld. And while that place does not connect to our caverns, the name rings true. We are that underworld.
Exile is no more. We cannot live our lives knowing that the very name we have given to our homes is a cruel thing. We must take a name for ourselves. To finish what we started.
Exile is no more.
We are Avernum. And we will return to the sun.
* * *
Naturally, the conversation with Prazac is different in the actual game. Let me show you:
Look / Name / Job:
Update 67 Empress Prazac and Avernum
See you next time, when we start in on Footracer Province, and I keep an eye on the date. Something still needs to happen, and I hoped it would have triggered by now.