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Across the Azure Sea

The east wind blew strong, and Lord Darvander Haxx took hold of his hat to keep it from flying into the sea. He was standing in the forecastle of The Eye of the Deep, looking alertly to the west. Captain Valetta had told him some time previously that they had seen seagulls. Where there were seagulls, there was land, and right on time. Thirty-one long days had passed since the caravel had sailed from Naerie City. By now, they'd passed several islands, but the mainland was yet to be seen.

Darvander couldn't wait to see their journey ended. He longed for steady land beneath his boots, and larger rooms than his cabin, which was starting to feel positively claustrophobic. Also, the tedium was killing him. The ship's crew and officers were soldiers and common born, pragmatic men with little time for book learning or even polite conversation. There wasn't even so much as a wise-beyond-his-years cabin boy aboard. Circumstances had forced him to leave Lady Theodora back in Naerie, and so, he could do little beyond pacing the deck and burying himself in books in his cramped cabin.

There had been a spot of excitement a few days after departure from Naerie, when sahuagin had attacked. The seasoned sailors and Ahlissan marines had beat them back in short order, suffering no injury that the ship's resident cleric of Procan couldn't cure. Darvander had offered the services of Alberos, the Zilchan accompanying his diplomatic mission, but had been brushed off, rather more brusquely than he felt was necessary.

A few days after that, they'd spotted scarlet sails in the distance, but the Brotherhood ship had not shown an interest in chasing the swift Ahlissan vessel.

Darvander had a modest staff with him his diplomatic aide Carandin, a few handpicked marines for protection, Alberos, a wizard of the Sage Keep named Gurdiev, and the assorted gaggle of servants that usually trailed the heir apparent of the Principality of Naerie.

Darvander heard Captain Valetta approach long before she arrived next to him. Her stride had a sharp cadence of its own that stood out from the shuffling of the sailors' bare feet and the measured steps of the marines.

"Good morning, Captain," he said, still watching where the sea met sky.
"Good morning, Lord Darvander," she replied. "And believe me, it truly is a good morning. We'll have the coastline peeking over that horizon before noon."
"I should hope so. No offence to your ship, but I prefer a ground that stays put and doesn't tilt this way and that with the wind." "Of course you do, Lord Darvander. Worry not, your wish will be granted soon."
"I do not worry, Captain."
"Of course you do, Lord Darvander," Valetta answered, with a smile. "You are the representative of not only your cousin but also the entire Principality in the court of a powerful nation and one that, by all accounts, does not think too highly of Ahlissans." "Thank you for reminding me," Darvander smiled wryly. "But no, I speak the truth. I have no worries of this mission. Their hatred for the Scarlet Brotherhood should outweigh their distaste for our politics. The question is not my success, only its eventual price. We also have sufficient security to keep the Red Brothers from foiling the talks."
"Hopefully. Their spies do get everywhere, though."
"So do mine. I had to arrange for five men with known Brotherhood ties to disappear in Poelitz and Minetha to draw their attention away from my sudden absence."
"Smart. I've never had much trouble with them aboard my ship. They seem to be too much occupied with wrecking their barges up and down the coast to bother with her."
"Yes, they seem to have incurred the displeasure of Procan. Their grip on the Azure is slipping."
"Wet things are often slippery, Lord Darvander. The admirals of the Grand Fleet should keep that in mind," she said, turning to face the deck. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to coordinate our approach and I am sure you have things to do as well."

Darvander opened his mouth to reply something when the shout rang from the crow's nest:
"Land ahoy!"

"We'll be docking in Gradsul very soon, Lord Darvander. There's a Keoish king awaiting you, and it doesn't do to try the patience of royalty," Captain Valetta said, and left Darvander alone at the railing, staring at the slowly growing dark mass that broke up the horizon as it grew nearer.

* * *

As it turned out, they'd not dock at Gradsul. As they neared the coast, they were intercepted by a sleek, fast cutter flying the full heraldry of Keoland. The vessel stopped a distance away, and they could see a robed man, a sea wizard by the looks of him, gesturing on the deck and then point a finger at the Eye of the Deep. Darvander started at first, fearful that the wizard was casting some killing magic at them, but then he heard a whisper in his ears, spelling out in a clear and precise voice:

"I bring you the greetings of Duke Luschan Sellark. This is the Keoish Navy cutter Griffon. I have orders to escort you safely to port at Sanduchar, where you are expected. Please follow us there. Welcome to Keoland, Ambassador Darvander and Eye of the Deep."

While the true nature of the spell failed to confirm his worst fears, it left him far from reassured. Captain Valetta stomped next to him, after shouting orders to her crew to tail the Keoish cutter.
"You got it, too, sir?" she asked.
"Yes, I did," he said, looking at the ship, now turning away from them. "It makes you wonder if they don't just want to meet us or they want to flaunt the magic at their disposal.
"It's making the men nervous. Sailors have an aversion to arcanists at the best of times, and sailing unknown waters isn't helping."
"Well, I'll have to see if I can get us a bit more hearty sendoff."

They followed the ship down the coast for the rest of the day, until the port of Sanduchar was spotted. The walls shielding the harbour from the sea were high and smooth and thick, and Darvander could see the work of wizards in their seamless surfaces. As they sailed past the wall, he could see the other side was reinforced with mundane masonry. At the dock, he could see the welcoming committee. A number of guards in colourful livery stood at attention around a number of finely dressed aristocrats and officials. In the front centre of the group stood a man wearing black and red - either the Duke himself or an official representative. Darvander had seen a likeness of the man, but could not identify him at this distance.

They docked on the side of a pier, and the gangplank was lowered. A detachment of sailors and Nasranite marines filed off the ship to secure the mooring ropes and the pier, followed by Darvander and his retinue. It felt good to have solid ground under his feet again, and Darvander marched forth to present his credentials with confidence.

"I bring you greetings, lords and ladies, from the Principality of Naerie. I am Lord Darvander Haxx, appointed ambassador to the Kingdom of Keoland by Prince Barzhaan Haxx, with the power invested in him by His Transcendent Imperial Majesty, Overking Xavener I of the United Kingdom of Ahlissa."

Letters from the north

Sir, here are recent news I have collected through my agents concerning events in the northern Flanaess.

Northern Nyr Dyv
In Goodmonth of CY 595, city of Admundfort on Nyr Dyv, occupied by forces of the Old One, was taken by coalition of Shield Lands and Dyvers troops and returned to the Restored Holy Realm of the Faithful of the Shield Lands and Lady Katrina, Knight Commander. However, I believe it is prudent to mention that I overheard many of the Dyvers soldiers who participated calling it North Dyvers. For Dyvers this was payback for the dock fire, instigated by the Old One, which killed hundreds of people several years ago.

For the Shield Lands it was reclaiming property which had been taken by Iuz.

I managed to talk in depth to one of the wounded fighters who was evacuated out after the first day. Most of the assault force and much of the financial backing came from Dyvers who attacked to the west and south and the shield lands forces attacked from the east.

The going was slow at first with many groups having great difficulty in fighting their way past the beaches. Then there was a landing of enemy reinforcements behind the Shield Lands troops. However, by the next day most of the fighting was limited to skirmishes and ambushes in the streets of Admunfort with most of the Old Ones troops held up in the central citadel.

Two days of fighting followed, leaving the streets of the former capital of the Shield Lands littered with dead bodies from all three armies. By noon of the third day, the Rhennee slavers (I have no further information about them, this probably has more relevance to people of Dyvers) had been defeated, the notorious Demon Council destroyed, and the Lesser Boneheart Vayne surrounded by the Allied Forces. The master of wands, the once-Greater Boneheart Vayne...surrendered. Not only that, but he begged asylum in a currently undisclosed location.

A debilitating and almost imposable to cure plague known as the "Black Breath" has broken out has broken out in the Shield lands and spread to Dyvers, no doubt this is something created by Boneheart. It may not be long before it reaches Ahlissa. I already know of at least one Naerie citizen who has contracted it. While I doubt this virus would enter to our Kingdom through the harbors of Naerie City, Poelitz or Gornor's Cove, I urge caution in this matter.

Nyrond

News has just reached me that Rel Mord has fallen to the forces of king Lynward who beheaded his brother. It is yet unknown how calm this 'return to normality' will be. According to my information, there is still no word of what happened to our diplomatic mission in Rel Mord when 'emperor' seized control of the capital.

I remain as ever, Your loyal servant,

Irinija Darmen