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"Genau. Halte deine Augen weit offen, damit der Siebente dich nicht täuscht."

A woman in a gray cloak and hood leaned against the doorpost with her arms folded. "I identified the author of the letters," she continued, "and they are not from the Crown. I believe the Seventh wrote them. Follow their instructions for now, but do not trust them."

She pulled up a chair to sit across from them and pushed back the hood, letting her midnight hair fall over her shoulder. For the first time, Vali beheld the faces of the two knights, and a small gasp escaped her lips.

Princess Kaitra?

Her heart melted. This was none other than the innocent 4-year-old girl she'd met in the palace at Gran Norte that day 20 years ago, the only one of millions in whom there was no Shadow of the Tainted. And could she forget him? To see his masked persona was one thing, but beholding his true face brought back memories of One to whom his allegiance truly belonged - the One she wished never to offend.

The queen bowed her head to the table and clasped her hands. "Please, Princess Kaitra and Sir Nebel, forgive us our slight. We should have been honest with you from the start. In truth, your assistance was an unexpected boon for us, and we- no, I- should have treated you with respect. Please forgive me."
Vali clutched at her chest as he spoke. She should have chided him for his self-deprecation - always did when he was younger. But like the fool she was, it still moved her. Like a fool, she wanted nothing more than to reassure him that he was smart, capable, and good.

"You're not hopeless..." she whispered.

She listened to his speculation about the wrongness of the world. A shadow of dread filled her too - not because of the darkness threatening the world, but because her child was becoming aware of it.

Vali seated herself on a nearby bench. "No, you have the right of it. Oh dear have no idea."

She groaned and dragged her hands down her face, lingering a few moments as if rethinking all her life choices.

"Ask the King of Riftgard about the Emerald Key," she said at length. "That is all I should say on the matter. Darvus...come back, you hear me? You come back home with your sister. If you die, so help me, I will drag your sorry butt back from the afterlife so I can kick it to hell and back. Promise me, Darvus!"
Vali chuckled into her shoulder. "I think the jury is still out regarding my sanity. You're right though - a true king leads from the front."

It wasn't every day someone could read her like an open book. But it wasn't particularly surprising that her own son did so. He was spot on; she didn't want him to go, and the thought that the future king would so brazenly risk his life angered her at first. But then again, his sister's life was on the line. Why shouldn't her brother personally seek her rescue? Who else could be so reliably trusted with her life as one who loved her as family?

His speech back at the council should have moved her. She should have rejoiced that her reclusive son came out of his shell to do something heroic with his life. And she felt ashamed at having been angry that he would risk something to achieve it.

It was, in truth, only proper for kin to care for kin.

"I must apologize for earlier," she said at length. "You deserved my support, not my wrath, for your decision. Your sister needs you, and far be it from me to restrain that."

She spotted a mana gauge the size of a pocketwatch on a shelf. After tuning it a little, she handed it to him.

The details he observed were thus:

Judging from the regimental tattoos on his arms, the Ispari man was a soldier, though not a knight. Mid-thirties, tall like most of his kind, and vast scars indicating emergency healing of mortal wounds, he was a fairly average individual.

His breathing had grown harsh, but he was still alive, if barely.
@Rhiven Knight
The Imperial Library was one of the largest in the world, though you couldn't tell by looking at it. The place was a veritable maze of bookshelves and corridors, and you only ever saw a small fraction of the whole place at any given time. Allegedly, a remodel was ordered to make navigating the library simpler, but until then, the employees continued to find part-time work as tour guides.

Rose approached the front desk. Behind it sat a woman in conservative attire with an unflattering set of glasses. The name plate on the desk said George.

"Can I help you?" said the woman.

"Yes, I'd like to speak with the librarian, please."

The woman leaned forward and folded her hands. "What sorts of books are you looking for?"

Rose smirked. "Ones with pages in them, preferably. Do you know any?"

"In this library?"

"Good point. What about records of the Anciet Artifacts?"

The woman pushed up her glasses and whistled low. "I'd better find the librarian. Wait here."

Rose glanced back at Rhayven and grinned. "I used to come here often for medical research, and at the time, most of the research journals I found had pages missing from them. They weren't missing them when they got here, can fill in the blanks."

The woman came back with this vast, burly man in tow, whose arms were nearly as big as the assistant's whole body and whose towering height would even give ogres pause. He braced his hands on the desk, earning a serious warning shriek from the offended furniture, and rumbled:

"What do you want?"

Rose brushed a hair back as she fumbled through her notes. "We're looking for records about the Ancient Artifacts and their locations, like any ancient documents, transaction records....anything you have."

George dipped his head in thought. At length, he stood up and motioned for them to follow. "Come." He led them down the twisted corridors of bookshelves until he gestured to a certain section. He said, "This is just about everything around that war period. It's not much, but it's all we have. Enjoy."

With that, he stomped off to leave Rose and Rhayven to fend for themselves. Rose scanned the titles.

The Lost War: A Retrospective
Magic Corpses? The Horrifying Secret of Mana!
The Knight and the Fairy
War & Peace & A Thousand Years of Dirt
Records from Midhaven Please handle with care!
The Septra Papers

and a handful of others.

Rose pulled out The Lost War. "You start from that end, and I'll start from this end. Actually, since there's not very much here, and there's a table over behind us, why don't we just take everything?"

She pulled out the whole section, stacked it atop her existing pile of stuff, and balanced it in her arms. It started to tilt...

Queen Vali inclined her head. "I owe you that much. We shall commune later, then." She watched everyone leave the room.

Once the room was empty, she turned to King Alexander and clutched at her heart. "I feel wretched," she confided, "not only because our daughter is gone, but because we made those two knights feel mocked. What should we do?"

Alexander pulled out a chair and sank into it. "Talk to them, at the very least. They'll be valuable assets on this mission; I almost think we should have pretended we invited them.

"No. I believe honesty is more important, whatever the cost. Perhaps we could invite them for real?"

"After the fact? It would feel more like a pity invitation."

Vali ran a hand through her hair and sighed. "Maybe I could pay them a visit on the down-low and hear them out first. They'd be more inclined to believe our invitation if they first knew we understood why they felt hurt."

Alexander nodded. "Do it."

The queen went back to her room to change into her traveling clothes. She stopped by the armory to fetch a sword for defense, where she found Darvus picking out equipment for the journey. She leaned against the doorway to watch him.

I wish he wouldn't go, but...gosh, he's so responsible when he's not playing the delinquent.

Vali sighed and folded her arms, a subtle smirk forming on her lips. "I guess you're pretty dead set on going, eh?"

The nearest pub was "The Mangy Mug," but the cleanest was the Brewer's Guild Hall, or just "Brewer's" as it was more commonly known. The birchwood floors were waxed and mopped daily, and the wait staff kept the tables tolerably clean all day long. Considering the quantity of alchohol served at the establishment, a suprisingly high number of its patrons were sober. Perhaps it shouldn't be so surprising - this guild hall served as the de-facto hub for adventuring knights. Here, the imperial Mission Bulletin Board System (BBS) here got updated regularly.

Today was listed a routine batch of missions, such as:

At the bar, a drunk foreigner was retelling a tall tale to his unbelieving friends. "...zere was zis huge quake, ze earth split, and vast pillars of liquid fire shot from ze earth! It vas terrible! Ze whole city vas levelled. I saw a dragon! A dragon, I tell you! And, vould you believe, a goddess! She shone like the sun, and I could not look at her directly. Ve really should have listened zat day in court vhen Qu-"

The man choked.
"-the Qu-"
He choked again, mysteriously unable to get the word out. He pointed to a pretty platinum blonde cleaning a nearby table.
"-looked like her! With sil-"
With a sickening gag, he collapsed on the table.
@unicorgi@Pie Flavor
Guys, I have had to make a difficult decision: I will no longer be including you two in future rounds. In other words, you're being booted from the game due to inactivity. If you would like to continue your participation in the RP, please message me, and I'll reconsider my decision.

Thank you for your participation thus far, and I wish you best of luck in your future storytelling endeavors. :)
I just figured something out. Besides the teleport rings, the party shall acquire another means of rapid transportation: a vessel.

I recommend paying a visit to Midhaven. Quest arc: The Ghost of Midhaven
Doctor Rose Hawthorne

Birthdate: 11/29/3124
Hair Color: Red
Eye Color: Green
Skin Color: Fair
Species: Human
Possessions: Medical kit (spell gloves, various healing potions & creams, bandages, sticky tape, thermometer, safety pins, tweezers, scissors), herb pouch, elemental robe, casting staff, spell tome, Chester repeating crossbow
Relationships: Employee of the Crown, owed & repaid a life-debt to Queen Vali, ex-agent of [anonymous] on probation, crushing on Rhayven
Skills & Abilities: Spell healing, resurrection, botany, anatomy & physiology, stealth techniques, self-defense

Info: Born and raised in the village of Ulster in northern Drakengard, much of Rose's life growing up was spent helping people recover from orc raids. When a particularly massive raid wiped out her whole village, leaving her as the sole survivor, an anonymous agent recruited her and brought her north to the then-populated Kingdom of Ispar. In the years after, she traveled the rest of the world, learning healing techniques from the various races until she came to Drakengard to study at Durvain Academy. A chance encounter with the Queen led her to change employment to the Crown, where she serves to this day as a Royal Doctor.
Darvus muttered something under his breath before picking up a ring. Alexander couldn't make out what it was, and decided he didn't really want to - which was just as well, as the prince had something else to add: "Please keep the messaging channels ready and a steady supply of funds, father. We need not to be stalled at all costs and we will be moving a lot."

Alexander folded his arms and nodded. "We can provide you a Bag of Holding that will allow rapid transfer of messages and funds. You may pick one up from the armory."

The rings gave the prince an idea. "This will allow us to cover as many places as we are within two days," he mused. "Provided we forsake any kind of fighting, focus on the intel, and gather here at the second day. Although the best safety would be in numbers."

@Rhiven Knight
He let his son muse over the tactical possibilities of the rings and turned his attention to Rhayven. The knight said, "As you command, my king. Since we do not know yet where we should look, the rings are useful, but not in an immediate sense. If it pleases you my lord, I would ask for access to the royal library. Perhaps there are clues within that might point us at one or more of the artifacts."

The king raised an eyebrow before releasing a hearty chuckle. "Your requests always seem to be the most efficient for a given task. It's one of the things I like about you. Very well; access to the royal library is granted. You may come and go as you wish. I'll send word to the librarian."

Rose cleared her throat and piped up. "Your Majesty, I will accompany Sir DarkMourne. Shall I convey your wishes to the librarian on your behalf? She knows me, as I have visited the royal library before."

"Yes, please do."

Rose looked up at Rhayven and gave him a beaming grin and a thumbs-up.

Aarkenhan spoke up. "If I may, there is a question that bothers me," he began in his usual plodding voice, "My invitation was delivered by letter with instructions to meet in this specific place at this specific time. Did you write such a letter?"

Silence fell over the room.

All the nobles and generals found other places to look, and even Alexander himself couldn't help scratching his neck with embarrassment.

"We...did not actually request any foreigners to this meeting."

This got the queen's attention. Vali stared at Alexander for a moment before settling a questioning eye on Aark. She stretched out her hand. "May I see the letter?"

With the letter thus delivered, the queen stared at it for a good half a minute, and flipped it over a couple times to look at the seemingly blank space on the back. The corners of her mouth looked as if they wanted to pull into a smile, but strained to hold a straight face. Eventually, she turned back to Aarkenhan and asked, "May I keep this? I daresay I am as curious as to this invitation's origin as you are, perhaps more. If you have any attachment to the letter, I would like to at least keep it until tomorrow morning."
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