BNN: In the Shadow of Virtue - Good Neighbors

Today was the first Ter Mur/Britannia summit since the completion of the Stygian Abyss outposts and Queen Zhah was saddened that she already had bad news to share. She studied the soft, non-distinct face of her guest trying to decide how to proceed. Humans are very hard to read, she thought. Queen Dawn was sitting across from her and staring into the reflection pool, watching the fish swim. The beauty of this indoor palace garden was blurred in Zhah’s mind by her melancholy. It was at once a meticulously preserved artifact of the once-great Gargoyle Empire and a constant reminder of everything they had lost. My people have lost so much, have paid such a high price. I wonder if we will ever have good news again.

Seated comfortably in her low backed chair, her large wings naturally expanded to balance her as Zhah reached out and took the waxy leaf of a nearby plant between her long fingers and contemplated its beauty. Pushing past her melancholy, Zhah broke the silence. “I would like to congratulate you on the completion of your outpost in the Stygian Abyss. Honestly, I had thought your mage’s theory of virtue nodes was a dead end but your results prove otherwise.”

Dawn seemed annoyed and retorted, “I would like to congratulate you on yours as well, Queen Zhah. The people of Britannia have long known the power of the virtues. You might want to study them yourself some day.”

How had she insulted Dawn this time? Humans are very emotional, thought Zhah. They seem half wild animals. The Gargoyle people have real problem. Our world is on the precipice of total destruction and I don’t have time for petty rivalries with allies. Zhah raised her eyebrow but did not let Dawn’s aggravation annoy her.

Zhah handed Dawn a scroll. “This is a report from my Warden in the Stygian Abyss. We wanted to inform you that a host of hellhounds and some black dragons have begun appearing near the fissure."

Dawn took the scroll and laid it beside her. “Thank you for telling us, our Ranger has given a similar report,” she said defensively. “Apparently some adventurers have been seen taming the dragons and hellhounds found there. They call themselves the ‘Bane Chosen’ and the dragons ‘Bane Dragons.’ So far, my Rangers have not been able to determine the meaning behind these titles or what these ‘Bane’ adventurers might be.”

“I presume you know they are recruiting then? My guards drove all of their recruiters from Ter Mur.” Zhah thought a moment and then decided to risk a bit of candor, attempting to smooth Dawn’s ruffled feathers. “My people have lost a great deal to the void, Dawn. Some of them have lost everything and everyone they cared about. I fear that they may align themselves with these deep-pocketed strangers for the promise of riches and a better life without examining their motive.”

“Yes, well,” began Dawn. She paused and studied Zhah’s face a moment as though deciding something. She seemed to make a decision because she leaned forward and continued with a more confidential tone. “Their motives are definitely suspect. Apart from the obvious fact that they have ‘Bane’ in their title and seem to employ hellhounds, The Bane Chosen uniforms remind me of the old Chaos uniforms; a faction that once tried to take over Britannia. It could be that they are just washed-up Chaos soldiers trying to reorganize under a new banner, but that is only speculation at this point. I have people spying on them, of course. They have not been seen near any of my cities so far… they seem to be at war with the Ophidians in the Lost Lands.”

Zhah leaned in, “Who are the Ophidians?” she asked with genuine curiosity. Zhah found the human civilization complicated with various factions but as a sorceress and eternal student of all things, Zhah was energized by complicated things.

“I think the Ophidians are more of a ‘what’ than a ‘who.’ They are an evil race of snake people who always seem to be at war with someone. They attacked Britannia once when an artifact was stolen from them. They came in droves and we were only able to get rid of them by finding the thief and returning the artifact.”

“I’m going to throw a glaive in the dark here and ask if someone named Ricardo was the thief?” Dawn leaned back and rolled her eyes, “How do you know about Ricardo?”

“My dear Dawn, who doesn’t know about Ricardo and his research into Lord British’s Vault?”

Dawn sighed, “Yes, unfortunately it seems everyone in the world and beyond knows about it. We are now forced to try to open the vault before someone else does. One of our initial fears about the Bane Chosen was that they were going to come after it, but they don’t seem to be interested.”

“So, this man Ricardo, some of my reports say he is a thief but some say that he is your advisor. Would you be willing to explain that to me?” After she said this, Zhah realized that with Dawn’s temper such a statement might end the meeting, but her curiosity had outweighed her diplomacy. Somewhat surprisingly, Dawn wasn’t provoked, “Ricardo did indeed steal that artifact from the Ophidians. He served a good deal of time in prison but eventually received a pardon from me for his help in a desperate battle against the Shadowlords last year. After the war he remained one of my advisors until he went mad.”

Zhah was leaning forward at this point, her wings adjusting slightly, fascinated by the bizarre story, “Is madness common among humans?” she asked innocently.

Dawn seemed annoyed, again. “No, it is not common. That is why we ended up putting him in Yew prison; we don’t really have a better facility for those who go mad. He left the castle one morning saying that he was going to visit some old friends. A few weeks later he turned up on Fire Island completely out of his mind and covered in blood… not his own blood… and nothing else. To make a long story short, we are holding him in Yew prison because it was determined that he was a danger to himself and possibly others. I think something happened to him, possibly an enchantment, and we are hoping he can be cured.”

“So, what are you going to do about this new faction?” Dawn leaned back in her chair again and looked up at the high ceiling of the gargoyle palace. She took a deep breath and then looked at Zhah. “In the old days, I would be griping to my commanding officer that we should go up there and do something.”

“So, why don’t you?” queried Zhah.

“Well, I’d like to think I’m just wiser now.” Then she let out a brief laugh. “Though I think I was happier brandishing a sword than diplomacy. Do you ever wish you weren’t queen, Zhah?”

“No.” said Zhah, with more than a little astonishment on her face.

“Well… I have been advised that any official military action against these “Bane” adventurers would be “unpopular”. The last thing I want right now is to create yet another faction within Britannia… some kind of “Anti-interference with the affairs of the Lost Lands” faction. So… for now… we do nothing except keep them out of the borders of Britannia and remain neutral. Our bards have been making some advancement in their magic recently. Maybe I can keep my people from joining the wrong side by supporting the arts,” said Dawn with more than a little irony. “But my fear is that if this all goes awry, we may find ourselves fiddling while the Lost Lands burn.”

Zhah found human society confusing; Dawn seemed to have very little control over her people. However, Zhah was pleased that her candor had gained so much information from Dawn. Dawn had always been uncomfortably formal with her in the past. She seemed to have connected with her at some level and this could only strengthen the Gargoyle alliance with this important ally. Whatever else happened today, Zhah could consider the meeting a success.