Act I: First Steps on the Right Path

Started by Jace
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Jace

The gates of Falmourn Fortress looked the same as Chesparin remembered, albeit in much less a state of disrepair. Seventy-five years had returned an aura of majesty to the head of Leinster, despite the latter still recovering from the semi-recent smiting of Duach. A pair of burly guards, spears in hand and domed caps upon their skulls, blocked standard entryway into the fort proper, which was not at all what he had expected.

"Perhaps I have arrived at a moment of concern," Chesparin mused, apparently to no one.

"I highly doubt it chu," Melfindi, his faery familiar, chided him. "I shan't remind you that a simple jaunt into the past dost not return'eth arms to their sides instead of on their hilts."

Chesparin raised an eyebrow, craning his neck up slightly. "Why are you talking like that?" he asked with due curiosity.

Mel gave him a blank stare. "I'm tryin' to fit in with all these other shmucks," she stated. "Is it working chu?"

"No, you sound downright silly," the man said, with a barely-concealed smirk. "Don't try to be someone else, I didn't bring you here to be someone other than yourself."

"Bein' myself causes fights, though," she reminded. "You said so yourself."

"You can be yourself without being mean," Chesparin said.

"Ho there!" one of the guards suddenly exclaimed, having drawn notice to the man and his faery bickering back and forth. "What are you goin' on about, then? Don't be dallying around the gate, you're liable to be mistaken for spies!"

Chesparin blinked, standing up straight at the sudden call to attention. "Oh, my sincere apologies!" he offered, drawing closer to diminish any insinuation of wrongdoing. "I'm actually here on business, you see, t'was but a mere moment of sidetracking. Tell me, good sirs, is your lord available for an audience?"

"He's not," the other guard huffed, "and if you haven't been living under a boulder for the last 3 months, you'd well-know why, besides. There's rumors abound of espionage from outlying cities, and the fort is on alert for suspicious characters." The guard lowered his spear, but not yet threateningly. "Suspicious characters such as yourself. What do they call you, anyway, lad?"

"Don't get yourself thrown in jail!" Melfindi hissed into his ear from her perch on his shoulder. "I don't like jail chu!"

"My name is not important," Chesparin announced, withdrawing a folded parchment from somewhere under his jerkin, "but the contents of this address certainly are. If I may not bear witness to his lordship directly, would it be such a task to ask for this letter's direct and hastened delivery, instead?" He held the note out patiently, waiting for it to be accepted.

The guards exchanged quizzical looks between one another before one of them reached out to accept the missive, but stopped suddenly, hand outstretched as he noticed something. "Hang on there, now," he said, squinting. "Is that a faery on your shoulder, or am I daft?"

"It is," Chesparin calmly responded. "You're not daft, I assure you."

"Why is there a faery on your shoulder?" the guard interrogated. "Faeries don't like humans. Or giants. And especially not orcs. Even most of the elves have a hard time being cordial with them."

Chesparin shrugged. "This one does," he admitted.

"Most of the time, anyway," Melfindi added.

The guard looked between them, with more than an ounce of mistrust. "Somethin' about this whole things smells right fishy to me," he said, but took the note anyway. "If you're here to be playing tricks on us, you'll find yourself nice and cozy in the dungeon, you will." He gestured to the other guard. "Don't let him out of your sight until I return. I don't like the looks of him, or his fluffy pink friend."

"Did he…?" Mel started to gripe, but was quickly silenced. The aforementioned guard strode away into the fortress, disappearing beyond the portcullis.

"I can understand your distrust, just so we're clear on the matter," Chesparin said openly, to the remaining guard. "A fine sight I must be, boldly strolling up to the head state of Leinster and demanding an audience with its lord, with only a sheet of paper and a faery to go on. I don't decry your concern or judgments one stone."

"Then you'll also know that the fae typically aren't a welcome sight here, either," the guard gruffed. "We don't have time for silly games and cantrips."

"Rest assured," Chesparin offered, "there will be no games. Or cantrips. Only business."

"Huh," came the reply. "Well, we'll be seeing about that. Just hold your feet for the time being."

Within a handful of minutes, the original guard returned without the note, and boasting a somewhat baffled expression. He exchanged a few unheard words with his comrade, before addressing Chesparin himself. "The lord awaits you in the main hall," he said, still holding much confusion in his tone.

"Ah, my thanks, good guards," Chesparin thanked them. "I appreciate your hospitality, and I shall put in a good word for your efforts with the lord, as well." The guards moved aside as he spoke, allowing him entry across the drawbridge and into the looming stone keep.

"They're lucky I'm only one-hundredth of their size chu," Melfindi fumed once they were out of earshot. "I'd have knocked him flat on his metal bum for that sort of remark! 'Fluffy'? Of all the nerve!"

"And now you see that we aren't all so different," Chesparin admonished. "You're not the only one who can't keep her tongue in check when it is ill-advised."

"Guh, humph," she huffed. "What was in that letter, anyway chu?"

"Nothing extraordinarily special, just a series of preparatory setups that would guarantee us an audience," Chesparin said.

"Like…?" Melfindi pushed.

"Like the entire layout of the fort from the inside, a record of the reigning lord's birthday, as well as his son's, who I would remind you was the last lord in our present time, and also the true names and manners of death of the last three lords before him, as well as the last words the late lady spoke to him before she succumbed to illness and passed away."

Mel blinked, taking it all in for a moment. "Most of that seems pretty… dark? Would you have really considered that necessary chu?"

"'Tis better to be overprepared than under," Chesparin pointed out. "Simply put, I wasn't born seventy-five years ago, so without significant research and inside knowledge from an existing lord, which I did and possessed in the then-current time, there is no way an ordinary person could know the things I have just explained to the reigning lord. In either case, he'll either brand me a sorcerous heretic and have us burned at the stake in Leinster Square, or be curious enough to hear what else I have to say. I'm banking on the latter."

"I feel like your optimism is often misguided…" Melfindi said warily.

Chesparin grinned in spite of himself. "We're about to find out."

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Jace

A double row of armored males outlined the crimson carpet that led into the main audience chamber of Fort Falmourn, Chesparin and his faery accomplice striding between them. The steward that led them was a wizened old sage of a man, graceful in posture despite his venerable age; to the foot of the throne he led them, and promptly took a knee, his company following suit - all except Melfindi, anyway.

To whom they bent the knee was quite the regal sort, if only modestly so; his coat bore the twin dragons of West and East Leinster, and the graying hair upon his scalp was bound in a tight ponytail to fall behind. Steely blue eyes regarded the gathering before him, coupled with a look that couldn't be discerned between confusion and curiosity. After but a moment, he raised his hand, speaking with a strong, commanding voice. "To your feet, then," he requested. "My thanks for your prompt retrieval of our guest, Bernard. You are dismissed."

"By your leave," the steward replied, and retreated back into the previous room.

"Now then," the lord began, rising to his feet before his majestic seat. "Quite a conundrum you've appealed to me with, given the contents of your missive. I am Nathaniel II of Leinster, lord of the House of Leinster. What did you say your name was, yet again?"

"Chesparin, your Grace," the named said, having risen. He gestured to his shoulder, where the tiny fae yet waited, tiny hands folded over her tiny chest. "And this is Melfindi. You have our thanks for seeing us on significantly short notice."

The lord leaned forward slightly, blinking once. "I say, so there are two of you, in fact," he said, straightening. "An uncommon sight, this is, as much as an uncommon premise. You are either charlatans seeking some amount of prestige within my court for such a sophisticated tale, or heralds the likes of which The Kingdom has never seen before. Understand, then, my dilemma, young Chesparin."

"Without a doubt, my lord," he responded quickly. Chesparin paused, as if giving Melfindi a chance to speak her piece, whatever it may've been, but not a word was spoken thereby. "If it is required, I have saved one final piece of evidence that will promote my tidings as being honest and true."

"Have you? I would see it, then," Nathaniel declared. "As much as you may provide."

Digging within a satchel at his side, Chesparin removed an old but somewhat-shiny object and held it aloft, offering it to the nobleman before him. "It is my sincere hope that this yields enough proof in my story, for it is all that remains," he said, then added, "in more ways than one."

The object was taken, and turned around in hands that had only just begun to wrinkle, the slow advancement of age betraying the lord's flesh. It was a coronet, old and dented, but still retained a small degree of its luster. A few pearl insets were missing, lost to the ages of time that had befallen it. Wordlessly, the lord reached above, removing the coronet that set about his own skull, and held the two side by side. The unmistakable dual-dragon insignia was apparent on both - one gleamed with hope, and the other faded in shadow.

"Where…" the elder man started, in disbelief, "where did you obtain this?"

"It was your son's," Chesparin said, unflinchingly. "I served him, and the seat of Leinster's nobility, for approximately eleven years prior to the events described in the letter that was sent ahead of me. In truth, it was his will that allowed for my arrival here and now. Time travel is not exactly a common thing, if I may be so bold as to say so."

"I see," came the response, somewhat hushed. "Tell me, then. What actual news do you bring from the, ah… future?"

"Nothing pleasant," Chesparin admitted. "It is a world under the gods' control, and they do as they see fit, forcing their followers to dance like marionettes at their beck and call. Duach leads the threat, bolstered by Finvarra and his unrivaled weaponry. It is a world at the brink of collapse, with no way back."

"What of the other Houses?" Nathaniel asked. "Surely the others would not sit idly by and allow such disasters to usurp the Kingdom."

"Their absence is explicitly related to the gods' rise in power," Chesparin explained. "Infighting grew rampant over the years. People turned on each other, and distrust grew higher than loyalty. Assassins and wars brought down the remaining Houses of the Kingdom; only Leinster survived, and even then, only because the House went into hiding, to escape the same fate. The world had changed; it no longer belonged to the nobility. The people demanded the Kingdom for their own desires, and through it, the gods proceeded to provide their influence without hindrance. People took sides, but not on behalf of the nobility anymore. The forces of Duach and Enid now battled for the sake of favor, not honor. Many bodies were laid to rest, and countless lives were needlessly lost."

"I am more troubled by your words only by the fact that espionage is a very real concern, right now," the lord of Leinster remarked. "If what you speak is the truth, how is it to say that the wheels of fate are not yet already turning and in full motion?"

"The Houses remain, and thus it becomes enough incentive for me to use my knowledge of the future to save it from the gods," Chesparin said adamantly. "I am but one man, truly, but I believe there are others who will follow me. I requested this audience so that I might gain your permission and favor to be able to visit the other Houses and alert them to the yet-unseen proceedings. Having been a vassal of the House of Leinster only did me as much good toward the House itself; I would not have found the same fortune in Asgard, or Murias, or Usk."

"You use the term 'fortune' without having actually received my blessing," Nathaniel said, still a bit wary. "A bit contemptible, given the situation before us."

"I meant no liberties by it, your grace," Chesparin corrected himself. "I wish only for information about the current state of the Kingdom, such that I may begin my search for answers with something other than an empty canvas."

"As you say. Unfortunately for us, finding allies abroad may not be the most feasible course," the lord stated. "The non-humans of the Kingdom are, by and large, not distinctly trustworthy of one another, given the varying amounts of discrimination they face on a regular basis."

"Then it is a simple matter of uniting them," Chesparin said.

The nobleman laughed, a great guffaw that echoed through the chamber. "Simple, is it?" he asked. "I admire your optimism, but such naive thoughts are prone to easy misjudgment."

Chesparin felt his cheeks burn with mild embarrassment. He could feel Melfindi's accompanying smirk from a scant few inches away, to boot. "The matter is simple, yes," he explained himself, "but the ways and means, obviously far less so. Without that unity, however, they will fall, one by one, whether to infighting or outfighting, and the course will remain unchanged. The lack of agreeability will be the Kingdom's downfall if we don't make a point to abolish such misgivings, my lord."

"What is it you suggest, then?" Nathaniel asked, still retaining some mild amusement.

"A common enemy, for starters," he responded. "Above the threat of espionage, what plagues the Kingdom most?"

"Beyond our walls, most things pose a threat, in some form or another," the lord pointed out, with a sweeping gesture. "Though I suspect they are not yet to levels advised by your irrevocable future, minions of Duach roam the countryside in varying amounts, harassing caravans and merchants between here and Kurz. If you seek a starting point, perhaps assisting in that connection may do well to offer you some credit between the domains."

"When you speak of minions, you refer to the undead?" Chesparin asked.

"Indeed. The imps, as well, are occasionally malicious in every other encounter," the lord replied. "Perhaps thinning their numbers would be a good place to begin your search for knowledge."

"Undoubtedly," Chesparin said, encouraged. "I will do just that, then. My thanks, truly, for all your assistance."

Lord Nathaniel II of Leinster reclined, sitting down against upon his great chain. "Keep your wits about you, traveler," he admonished, raising an eyebrow. "Though perhaps less so, the world is still a dangerous place."

Chesparin smiled faintly. "I will be careful," he agreed.

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