Their missions complete, the group split their separate ways. Belor and Inori saw Dara pass through the Emperor’s Hall on his way back out to the gardens, so they knew he’d successfully made his way back into the gala proper. Nell finally came back downstairs, completely unaware of the events that had occurred with Lady Trant. With the rest of the evening open before them, the team really had no reason to continue to be a team.
Belor knew his specialties: he knew things. He was a very learned man, and knew that pursuing his own agendas was best done in the Archives. Already having a fair in with the Duke Centimus, he saw no reason to leave and try his luck elsewhere.
Inori and Dara both felt somewhat defeated. Inori wasn’t able to assist Lady Lotheed as she’d hoped, and Dara wouldn’t have completed his own task if not for Belor. Neither had any large personal stake in an event such as this, nor an interest in politics. What they did have was a desire to drink. Both of them headed back out towards the gardens that separated the two halves of the Senate hall, where the light appetizers and assorted fanciful alcohols were being served.
Nell, now freed from his obligations, headed back out into the gardens as well. Marquess Starborne was still hanging around outside, and as they’d gotten along fairly well before, Nell saw no reason not to make a friend. The two shared an interest in comedy, and a lack of interest in assorted political affairs.
Eventually, their conversation turned to the day’s events. “So, Sir Stalwart, entertained as I am, have you had a moment to meet the Exalted?” Starborne queried. “I feel like you two would get along quite well.”
“I actually have not,” Nell replied. “I believe I did see him in passing, over on the Senate floor. I did see him, but I was unfortunately busy up until now.”
“Understandably, everyone’s here busy. Well, if you have the time, we should go talk to him.” Excited by her own idea, and with Nell’s agreement, the marquess led them both back into the main hub of the building.
Kalbio of Breezy Creek was his name. The Grand Day of Exaltation is, after all, about the Exalted. This year’s commoner was selected from the tiny hamlet of Breezy Creek, barely more than a few ramshackle cabins alongside a riverbed further inland. Even young, Kalbio showed incredible raw talent as a weaver, and his parents sacrificed nearly everything to pay for him to learn the trade properly and become an artisan. He was a savant, and in recent years has woven tapestries and heraldries for dozens of nobles and senators in the capital. For his skill, he was selected to be Exalted and given the title of Lord.
Kalbio was very out of his element at the gala, and had spent most of the evening cornered by various senators and other aristocrats who wished to use him as a political footstool. As the event was about him at its heart, everyone wanted to use him to make the gala about themselves. Kalbio had no problem with the attention, he was very much overwhelmed but also very much entertained by the attention he was getting. He spared no opportunity to tell more of the upper class about his “purdy good weavin'”.
Nell and Starborne joined the crown gathered in the center of the floor around Kalbio, and eventually introduced themselves into the conversation surrounding him. As the weaver greeted Nell and introduced himself, he was confused by Nell’s lack of required formality and titles. Kalbio had a rough time remembering not only all the new names, but titles and formalities, and meeting someone willing to interact with him as a person was a very welcome relief. Further than that, Nell seemed to take genuine interest in her conversation. At some level, Kalbio could tell that many of the senators and others gathered around were simply using him for their own gain. Nell was different.
“You’re gon’ be my big city friend, Nell!” Kalbio exclaimed, clapping him on the shoulder.
Meanwhile, still out in the gardens, Inori and Dara noticed a commotion. Two servants, wearing badges of the Stavian line, rolled a huge red carpet out across the garden’s northern pathway, stretching between the two halves of the Senate hall. Nearly at their heels was a phalanx of a dozen fully armed and armored soldiers, and following them was a pack of hulking Ulfen guardsmen. The Ulfen Guard had long served Taldor’s Emperors and Grand Princes as defenders of the crown, and today was no different. Cloaked and protected amongst their ranks was none other than Grand Prince Stavian the IV.
Aristocrats from all wings of the Senate Hall clustered around and crowded the gardens to catch a glimpse of the Grand Prince as he passed. It was quite an impressive parade, nearly 40 soldiers and Ulfen Guard in all, joined by the Commander-In-Chief Maxillar Pythareus. They made their way across the red carpet towards the Senate floor with some haste, briefly waving and acknowledging the crowd before continuing on. As the procession passed, another pair of servants rolled the carpet back up behind them, hauling the ever increasing load. The group moved into the meeting rooms just inside the main building. Lines of soldiers then roped the area up and attended new posts, closing the adjoining hall for the Grand Prince to prepare.
It was then that the supper was brought out. Servants poured forth into the gardens carrying tray after tray of fine meats and cheeses, converting the several scattered tables around the area into a few long serving bars. Amused by his new friend, Nell led Kalbio out toward the feast.
Dara and Inori were already there, still taking what time they could to properly enjoy the party. The party took the time to briefly reconvene and relax with some food. Many of the other guests did the same; as the crowd gathered to watch Prince Stavian pass became the buffet line, the group found yet more opportunities to make friends and rub elbows with noblemen. Kalbio was briefly distracted by a jester who arrived, who Nell had briefly met earlier. A small halfling with a painted face, she called herself “Wyssilka the Fantabulous”. She led a troupe of acrobats and magicians who’d bee hired for the evening to provide entertainment for the various Senator’s children upstairs in the Gallery (and to entertain more than a few of the nobles themselves), but even here on her break she was entertaining and in character. She performed a few tricks for Kalbio and the crowd, excited at the opportunity to bring her craft to the Exalted himself. Wyssilka then retreated back to a further corner of the gardens and began to entertain the guests with a story. It was far from an epic tale, filled with nonsensical twists and slapstick, and Wyssilka constantly prodded the audience for interaction. She was skilled at her craft, and whether they’d admit it or not, nearly everyone present was amused by her shenanigans.
Around an hour after the meal was served, the Senators began to gather in their places proper within the main hall. Everyone aside from their aides were ushered outside or into the gallery looking down from above as the Senate convened, and the vote loomed at hand. Though the Exaltation Gala was, on the surface, about Kalbio and the Grand Day of Exaltation, this vote on primogeniture was the main draw of the evening. One way or another, history would be written here tonight.
The party took their places in the ringed gallery, looking down onto the senate floor below as the presiding judge took the stand. The Senate was opened as it usually was, with minor spending bills and drafted bills of little consequence. As the introductions were completed, however, the uneasy calm on the senate floor began to collapse. Voices rose from murmurs and whispers to agitated conversation, and aides darted all about the floor below. This continued for a few minutes as everyone prepared themselves for the main event.
Finally, the judge spoke again, his voice amplified by magic and thundering over the crowded floor.
“We will now begin voting on addendum number twenty-two thousand and eighty-seven: the repeal of the ancient law of primogeniture, the issuance of inheritance and aristocratic title solely through male heirs.”
The speaker then began to call on individual senators one at a time, asking for their support or opposition of the appeal. Early declarations were split very evenly between the options, with a large number of senators abstaining entirely. Only halfway through the two hundred senators did the vote began to shift. More and more senators lent their vote to the repeal, and the momentum began to grow. Less senators abstained. Emboldened by their peers, the motion gained more and more traction.
By the end of the tabulations, the repeal had passed, with nearly 60 percent of the vote. The judge took a few minutes to compose himself before continuing, clearly shocked.
“And so, the final tally for addendum twenty-two thousand eighty-seven, the repeal of primogeniture, with thirty-six abstentions, the final tally stands at one hundred and seven for, seventy-nine against. The addendum passes. Among other business tonight, the senate recognizes Princess Eutropia Stavian I as the new heir to the Primogen Crown, and the first heir the empire has seen in twenty years.”
The entire Senate Hall erupted. A cacophony of raucous applause and enraged boos shattered the tense silence, as both sides made themselves heard. Piercing through the noise into their minds, the party once again heard the voice of Lady Lotheed.
“Interesting. As I’d hoped, but interesting,” Martella began. “If you would all please come around to the other side of the gallery and meet with me once more.”
They found Martella where they’d met with her last, in a small section near the back of the gallery roped off from the public. Once again, she greeted them and offered tea and coffee, and let the group settle before she began. All the while, she had a fairly uncharacteristic visible smile on her face.
“I see you’re very happy with your results,” Inori noticed.
Martella nodded. “I must admit, this has all gone much better than I’d expected. I do have to say, I’m pleased. You’ve all done well, and let it be known that even though you are not the faces on the floor, casting the votes yourselves, each of you had your part in history here today.”
She turned her gaze to Nell. “Nell, I saw that you took a moment to meet our dear Exalted himself.” She reached into her purse seated beside her, and pulled out a simple letter. It was plain save for a wax seal, carved by hand with a plain heart. “I think he’d appreciate you delivering this to him more than anyone else. He has few proper friends in the capital, and this is a message from his parents. They couldn’t afford to be here, unfortunately.”
Nell nodded and took the letter, sliding it into his shirt pocket behind his breastplate. Martella thanked them again, taking the time to remind them of their many successes so far, before inviting them to head down below for the night’s closing ceremonies. The Grand Prince was to give his annual speech, and all were welcome to gather on the senate floor for the final sendoff.
It took nearly half an hour to get the crowd situated. Ulfen Guard paired with servants passed through the hundreds of attendees, sorting them by their prestige. Princess Eutropia herself, Commander-In-Chief Pythareus, and other major titles were stationed around the central podium itself, while those of less renown were further back nearer the walls. Being simple guests at the gala, the party found themselves at the far eastern wall across the whole floor from the podium, but admittedly high up enough to have a decent view of things. Dozens of Ulfen Guard flanked the podium both above and below, and quintets of guards were moved to post by each entrance to the Senate.
Once everyone was finally situated, Grand Prince Stavian emerged on the stage, flanked by yet more Ulfen Guard. Trailing behind them all, and now clearly stricken with a fair amount of stage fright, was Kalbio. The group walked halfway down the stage toward the extended podium, stopping in clear view of all present.
“Quite the assembly we have today,” Prince Stavian began, as the hall fell utterly silent. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen the senate building packed so full; especially not for any of my previous speeches. Even my lovely daughter, now a woman, sits among the players of Oppara’s greatest game. Of course, none of you are here for me. No, today is about something else entirely. Today is about elevation. It is no secret that today is about exalting others to a new status in life.”
At this, he turned toward Kalbio, gesturing to him with an outstretched hand. Frozen with fear, Kalbio stood still until the Ulfen behind him physically pushed him toward the Grand Prince.
Prince Stavian put the hand on Kalbio’s shoulder, and drew him closer. He looked down at the Exalted with a smile before continuing. “I’m sure many of you have had the opportunity to meet Kalbio here. He is a man of the people, elevated at the urging of all the ladies, lords, senators, and aides present in this chamber. I think we should all give him a rousing applause, to commemorate this momentous change in his life.”
The room erupted into cheers as Stavian paused his proclamation. The Grand Prince smiled widely as he took in the adulation of the crowd. Kalbio, still nearly rigid, gingerly raised one hand in a half-wave, stunned by the uproar. As the applause began to slow, Stavian stepped forwards nearly to the edge of the podium, pulling Kalbio with him.
Stavian began again, calmly, and without taking his eyes off the crowd.
“I understand your parents sacrificed everything to help you reach this day, my boy. Saving up for your apprenticeship and the tools you needed to achieve greatness. And today you are a grateful son, no doubt making them proud. I too understand what it is to sacrifice; I have given so much for the people of this nation: a brother, a son, a lifetime of service. Even my own daughter’s loyalty.” He paused, licking his lips and pulling the awkward Kalbio closer to his side. “But unlike you, Lord Kalbio, these Taldans—my children, truly—are not grateful. They scheme and plot, dream of hanging their dutiful father and placing a woman—a woman, sir!—on the Lion Throne! And they have seen fit this very day to induct you into their conspiratorial ranks. And that is why here, now, you, Lord Kalbio, will be the first among them to die.”
And with that, the Emperor of Taldor plunged a jeweled dagger between the ribs of the astonished peasant in his clutches.
Kalbio’s blood showered the front rows. Princess Eutropia drew her rapier immediately, staring defiantly up at her father. The room remained silent as Kalbio gasped, then fell face first onto the floor. Then, madness erupted throughout the room.
A deafening peal of screams rent the air, as suddenly, the party noticed dozens of black-clad men had made their way into the room. They had scattered themselves throughout the audience, and now cast aside their cloaks to reveal full armor and longswords strapped at their backs. Each drew their weapons nearly in unison, and began cutting down the attending masses at random.
After a moment’s confusion, the trained Ulfen Guard moved to close ranks around the Grand Prince and the podium, each making arcing slashed with their greataxes. They hewed down any who approached, panicked Senator or black-clad assassin alike. They barked orders and began to move back towards the back of the stage, shuffling Stavian away from the madness and leaving Kalbio’s dead body alone on the podium.
Within seconds, the room had become a killing field.
The party, together along the back wall, only had a few moments to react. One of the assassins stood in front of them, maybe ten feet away, hacking at the aides and aristocrats before them. Inori immediately used her magic to disappear from sight, as Dara simply tried to make his way along the back wall away from the chaos. Nell stepped forward, yanking his sword from its ceremonial binding and raising his shield towards the assassin.
As the killer made his way toward the wall, he noticed Nell, one of the few in the room presenting him any threat. With a grin, he raised his sword high, as if to strike. Nell lifted his shield to follow, but in a flash the man had diverted his blade around to his side, striking at Nell’s exposed flank.
Right as the blade connected, each of the group saw a blue flash. Belor, Dara, Inori and Nell were united in their confusion, and then immediately presented with darkness. Silence fell upon their ears, and they each seemed to stand alone in emptiness.
Confused, Inori cast a spell and touched her chest, leaving behind a glowing handprint. The party appeared to have teleported somehow, and were now standing in a dark, long-abandoned room. Beds, well made but coated in a thick layer of dust, lined one wall, while two doors led out in other directions. Two sets of lockers filled a far corner, making an angled countertop. Most oddly of all, a brass and green glass panel laid inset into a wall near one of the doors, with Nell’s confused hand on it. He had stumbled onto it in the dark.
“What the hell is going on?” Inori exclaimed.
Check out the Discord server for a text write-up of #TheStorySoFar (that’s the channel) to get a real quick catch-up to the current episode! Or, look into #WarForTheCrown for fully detailed text versions of the adventures! Also, just come hang out!