Dreadlords Ganfarred Keep

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Caeso Diemut

Force Solves All
Character Biography
The missive reached the party of Initiates as they were returning to the Academy from a different mission in the area. The courier approached the group of them on the road, flanked by a small detachment of Guardsmen heavy cavalry no less. Whatever business he carried with him, it was serious to warrant such an escort.

"Are you lot Initiates from the Academy?" the courier asked tersely.

Caeso, at the head of the party, glanced back at his fellows and then to the courier.

"Yes, we are—"

"Identify yourself."

Caeso was taken aback by the courier's tone as much as he was made indignant by it. Yet he answered all the same, "Initiate Caeso Diemut."

The courier glanced to one of the heavy cavalrymen, and the cavalryman nodded. The courier rode up to Caeso and handed him the missive. "Orders, from Major Gottfried of the Army of the East—you all were the closest Dreadlords in this region, so you'll be responding first. Word has already been sent to your Proctors at the Academy concerning this reassignment."

And, as the courier was turning his horse around, he said almost as an afterthought, "The Major wished you 'good luck.'"

With that, the courier and his escort departed at a blinding gallop, heading wherever else this apparently pressing and dire business demanded of them. Caeso watched them go, a touch baffled and a touch apprehensive about it all.

He turned to face his fellow Initiates. Peeled open the missive. And then he read it aloud for all to hear:


Close to your vicinity lies Ganfarred Keep. The unit of Homeguard stationed there has suddenly stopped correspondence, and locals in the area reported black smoke in the Keep's area. You are to investigate the Keep and ascertain what has happened. If peril is still present, use your discretion to handle the situation: reinforcements are on the way.

—Major Gottfried, Homeguard."
Just his luck to be sent on a mission before even giving a report to the last mission they were on. Leander didn’t groan or look annoyed, letting Caeso handle it. Leander had his hands on his hips, looking at the cavalry men and feeling a sort of pity of them.

They must be hot under all that armor. And they were practically sharing body heat with a big, sweaty horse. Thank Kress he was blessed with magic. How Arnoux spent years in the guard before the men around him realized he was a raving lunatic made sense to Leander now: he probably couldn’t handle being expendable.

Unfortunately, after Felix, they were all expendable, weren’t they?

The thoughts were gone as soon as Caeso read the missive aloud. A pale brow raised up in curiosity. Had there been an attack on Ganfarred Keep? It certainly sounded as much if they were even going to be sending reinforcements.

Well, look like today was about to get a whole lot more interesting. The last mission had been a dud anyways, he hadn’t even gotten to show off how awesome he was.
"Oh thank, FUCK!" Mieri let out with a hoot as she tipped her head back in a holler.

The single worst thing about any mission was the day you got back to the Academy. Debriefings, writing reports, summarizing and explaining every detail of what you had done over the last whatever amount of days was utter and pure agony.

She would have gladly chased after a dozen chickens instead of doing any of that nonsense.

"Uhh...I mean..." Her eyes flickered around to her fellow Initiates. "Oh! NooooOOooo!"

Mieri's lips twerked between a frown and a smile as she looked at her fellow Initiates.
Mounted atop her small destrier pony, Fennec rode in her typical brooding silence. Their latest group mission had proven to be another ill mark against the Proctors. Sending this group of Initiates for such a paltry target was doing nothing more than infuriating her. Especially since they knew she detested working with others.

Caeso wasn't so bad, but Mieri never fucking shut her mouth and she was so loud.

As if the grimace on her painted face wasn't already ghastly enough, this new missive and mission had soured what semblance of her lifting mood she'd managed on their route back to the Academy. Fennec had been looking forward to taking her mission report and complaints directly to Proctor Harkenov. She'd even agreed to write Mieri's mission report for her if the girl could zip her howling screamer for the last two hours of their journey.

But no.

Fennec turned her non-plussed expression to Caseo who out of the current group might be the only one to recognize and understand her growing displeasure.
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Lumen saw it and understood it. A quick sympathetic glance to Fennec. A small shrug of her shoulders. At least Leander wasn't strutting like a freshly pruned rooster. With a firm nudge, Lumen urged her horse forward to peer at the orders over Caeso's shoulder.

"To Ganfarred Keep then?"

With a quick glance down the road, she'd point her horse in that direction. A glance over her shoulder at the others. A small frown. Tensions were already building with a few of them. She'd been looking forward to escaping the role of mediator for a few hours. She just hoped they all didn't implode.

Tawny-eyes found Caeso's as she quickly whispered a phrase they'd been using on the last few missions together. "Are you with me?"
Mieri with the unwarranted profanity, as usual, but other than that it was a round of silence or contemplation from Leander and Fennec. Rightfully so. Caeso didn't particularly like being retasked from a mission in this manner; the campaign in the Hammerhead Isthmus with Mieri being the one notable exception. This could turn out to be nothing, an overreaction. Or, it might be a case of the right hand not talking to the left, and they would all discover upon entering Ganfarred Keep that other Initiates or even full Dreadlords had already solved the matter, having been sent there earlier than the lot of them.

If this situation turned out to be disappointing in one of these ways, Caeso reckoned that his would be an expression much like Fennec's at present. But with that heavy cavalry having accompanied the courier? All that pomp and circumstance? Perhaps this would be more like Hammerhead.

Lumen looked over the missive once more. Spoke aloud, and spoke quietly. To what she said quietly, Caeso gave a firm nod; and given some of the adversarial differences among their company, he was glad that she was along for this.

And then he spoke aloud in response to her first question, "Such is our duty."

He turned his horse around and started down the road. On the way to their previous lackluster mission they had passed the fork which led toward Ganfarred Keep. It was close by, the Keep reachable within the hour, and it was by good fortune that the courier had managed to find them in so ideal a position (likely, it wasn't good fortune at all but prudence, and there were other couriers with identical missives riding down nearby roads looking for them in case they had chosen those instead).

But on the topic of fortune: "With any luck," Caeso said, with a particular glance to Mieri as he alluded to the Isthmus, "this will actually prove to be worthwhile. I loathe having my time wasted by ineptitude."

Everyone probably had at least one story about some pointless mission or retasking.

Leander Urahil Mieri Fennec Lumen
Black smoke. Wretched smoke. Smoke that choked and seared. Coughing, hacking, stifling smoke. And a heat that burned. Sweltering. Consuming. All-engulfing inferno.

Memories. Memories locked away. Not like hoarded coins, but like boarded windows in a haunted home. Ghosts within.

It's not real. It's not.

Threnn wrenched his gaze from the horizon. Looked down at his hand. Even clad in a steel gauntlet, he could see it shake, tremble in fear. He rested it on the worn bull-leather pommel of his black saddle. Beneath him, he felt his dun sidestep, sensing the rider's unease.

Because it had been real. Once.

He looked around him, blue eyes wide and plastered a stupid grin upon his face. Pretended. Pretended to be strong. Pretended to not care.

They could not know. If he told them... it would just be another weakness to exploit.

The young dreadlord lifted his hand to his neck, tugged at his sky blue scarf against the heat of the day, and let out a forced chuckled.

"Worthwhile, Diemut? Charging headfirst into a pike wall worthwhile or just interesting worthwhile?"
Threnody,” Leander said, “shut the fuck up.” What was the difference between worthwhile or “interesting worthwhile?” At that point, Leander would have rather listened to Mieri shout her thoughts excitedly to the wind. Sooner or later her voice would get hoarse, wouldn’t it? Threnody on the other hand… something about his voice especially was annoying.

Maybe it was because he sounded so incredibly weak. And mixed with that stupid smile….

Leander was more than happy to have his horse ride towards the front, along with some of the others. He hadn’t missed Lumen going up to Caeso, maybe already trying to make an alliance in case things got hairy? Everyone knew that Caeso was formidable, far more formidable than Lumen and Threnody. Should Leander get a partner for himself? If the group broke away, wouldn’t he want to be with someone capable?

Lumen was out of the question. So was Threnody.

So, the mute or the loudmouth. Neither were obedient, at least not to Leander. But one would be easy to get to stay by his side than the other. And in Mieri’s defense, her magic was impressive. Not as impressive as his, but around the level of Natasha’s magic.

Of course it would be useless if he had to use his own legendary magic.

Mieri, beside me.” He ordered as if she were a dog, even jerking his horse a bit to one side so she knew where she could come up on. “I have something important to tell you… about…” Ugh, what was the loudmouth into again? Eating? Drinking? Fucking? All three? He couldn’t remember, or maybe he hadn’t bothered to find out, “that punch you threw the other day. You know the one.

Leander himself didn’t know. He just hoped it worked to get Mieri to his side. Take that, Lumen.
"Burning Keep implies something pretty big." The little Pugilist pointed out as Caeso looked at her, wriggling quite happily in her saddle. "This close to the Academy too?"

Had to be something good.

As the little group started to get going, Leander called over to her.

Mieri tilted her head towards Leander, very much like a dog, as she was beckoned to his side. Confusion flickered over her features, the redhead not quite understanding why the Urahil was trying to lure her away from the others.

"Which one do you mean, Leander?" She said jovially, her own mount moving closer though probably not quite as conspiratorially as the Urahil would have wanted.

"You mean that one with the guy in the tavern?" That had been a fun little competition, an ogre of a man had challenged her to a game of knuckles. A game the man had learned to regret. "Or that thing with the gate?"

She continued, loudly. Her fingers now sticking out as she counted on them. "OR. Shit, you don't mean that one with the giant bug, right? Because that wasn't my fault. I had no idea it would shoot that ink!"
Saturated with remarkable disgust at the very notion of sympathy from Lumen, Fennec's leering eyes followed her progress as she moved to join Caeso at the front of their little band. Waiting as one after the other followed suit, Fennec sat stiffly upon her destrier until she was the last and silently took up the rear to put as much distance between her ears and Mieri's insipid blathering as she could.

Threnody's bulk buffered the noise enough that it only arrived to her as an droning buzz.

Finally, he was good for something.
A single hand lifted and pinched the bridge of her nose.

Hopefully Maz would be running a meditation session when she got back from this. Her younger, twin brothers bickered less than this group and they were half Leander's age. Lumen had always stood out with the empathy she felt for her classmates pre-revolution. And even now with Fennec's 80-year-old trapped in a younger body brooding self didn't change it.

Not even Leander.

Or Mieri.

Or Thren.

Eyes trained to the horizon as they rode. "I hope the people are okay and we're not too late."

For whatever it was.
Leander launched into a retort against Threnody before Caeso could respond, and it gave him a moment to consider the Academy's strategy. Sometimes, it seemed, when lackluster missions like the one they were all previously engaged in were given such a host of Initiates to accomplish it, perhaps the intent of the Proctors was for the challenge not to be the mission itself but one's fellow Initiates. These were the sorts of missions where, often enough in the old way, a party of six might come back as a party of five. With this in mind, perhaps he ought to keep an eye on Fennec: her tolerance only extended so far.

"'Suitable for our talents' worthwhile," Caeso said in answer to Threnody after Leander sidebarred with Mieri.

Yet for all Caeso's reasonable doubts given some of the inefficiencies of the past, Lumen's words had a sobering effect.

To her he said levelly, "We shall see."

* * * * *


The black smoke reported by the locals may have dissipated to a thin haze in the intervening time, but the stinging sulfuric smell of a great fire's aftermath was still heavily in the air around Ganfarred Keep.

The Keep once housed two companies of Homeguard, some two hundred fighting men and women. Now there was silence within its walls and silence without, only the distant songs of birds from the trees and the tiny sounds of the surrounding forest played by the whims of the wind.

Awaiting inside the Keep's walls for them all: those two hundred Guardsmen, all dead, lying where they had been slain. Some were cut down, but many were blackened and burned; some had been blown apart, the pieces of them scattered across the Keep's courtyard and elsewhere; some were incinerated with only their ruined armor and weapons remaining. Huge black scorch marks darkened stone and ground. The citadel was a haphazard ruin, the once mighty structure reduced to piles of rubble here, errant standing walls there; partially caved-in rooms, interiors visible from the destruction, left the citadel reminiscent of the look of a corpse with bones showing through meager flesh. All of the Keep's ancillary buildings had much the same appearance.

Caeso dismounted from his horse as they all drew close. He held out his hands and his swords drew themselves from his back-scabbards, hilts flying into his awaiting palms.

He walked cautiously toward the front gates.

"The gates are collapsed outward, not inward," Caeso said to the group, his brow furrowed. "Peculiar. The attack started from within."

What he could not know was that their approach had been noticed.

Leander Urahil Threnody Lumen Fennec Mieri
Don’t forget Aelita was part of this Initiate party! Though, she mostly kept to herself on the leg from when they received Gottfried’s missive to reaching the Ganfarred Keep. Horse riding was a chore after so long...

As the party approached, Aelita saw the black smoke from the keep stretching into the sky. As they got even closer, Aelita witnessed the full scale of the destruction that had been inflicted upon Ganfarred Keep.

Still on her horse, Aelita listened to Caeso’s initial assessment of the damage. She tilted her head and posed the question, “Could have been Gilram’s infiltrators?
Gods didn’t exist. They couldn’t have. Because if they did exist, maybe one of them could have given Mieri the insight in how to read a room.

Yeah, well, that bug one…” Leander said, hardly looking at the red head. Well, if he needed a partner, at least it wouldn’t be strange to have Mieri follow him around. As long as she didn’t go through too much detail about that bug-juice, they could work together just fine.

Maybe he could handle listening to her blathering for the entire ride to Ganfarred Keep?

He couldn’t handle it, but somehow, he preserved. Never say a Urahil wasn’t relentless. Leander was able to stay true to his namesake.

Following Caeso’s lead, he also got off his horse, removing his claymore from the sturdy beast and strapping it so he could pull it out when the time arose. The large, extremely-heavy sword felt good , it’s extra weight a comfort rather than a hindrance.

Gilram attacking Ganfarred Keep?” Leander rephrased Aelita’s question— ugh, stupid blonde girl. “If a Archon did so, it’s because something important was here. But, how could anything of importance be here? It’s a Keep, not a forgotten noble’s mansion.” Leander had heard of Zaire’s and Corvus’ struggle against a agent of Gilram.

Who exactly it had been, Leander couldn’t say. Couldn’t have been anyone stronger than him, after all, Zaire was only good at making the strong, well, stronger, and Corvus was nothing without Cassi. And look at that, Cassi was gone….

We could investigate but the perpetrator could still be here, depending on whatever their motive was.

Mieri Fennec Threnody Aelita Caeso Diemut
As they'd made their way towards Ganfarred Keep, Mieri and Leander had talked mostly about the bug that she had squished, or maybe Mieri talked at Leander? It was hard to tell, though those with an objective point of view would note the other Initiate never said a single word.

Despite her chattering ways, even Mieri drew silent as the acrid smell of smoke began to fill the air.

Her eyes followed the lead of the others, noting the fallen structure and the scorch marks upon the fallen walls. Fingers wrapped into the gloves she kept tucked into her belt, tightening them before she followed her peers into the Keep itself.

Nose crinkled at the smell of burnt flesh, her gaze flickered over the bodies. "Lumen."

Mieri said with a frown, calling to the Paladin.

"Can you feel anyone still alive?" Whether it was Gilram or not, their first priority should be finding anyone still alive. She doubted that whatever had...done this would have let anyone live, but it was worth looking.

Slowly the pugilist walked over towards one of the fallen walls, peering into the destroyed room beyond.
Fingers curled tight around the reins 'til they bled white. His horse stamped beneath him, unsettled by the smell of carnage. Threnn felt his stomach roil, threatening to make him retch. Bile crept into his throat. He coughed, pretending it was because of the lingering smoke and stench of smoldering corpses.

Which it was. Mostly.

Blue eyes normally filled with mirth did not dance merry, his gaze leaning toward the melancholic as he studied the devastated castle.

To him it looked like a dragon attack, but he didn't voice his opinion. That seldom went well with the others. How would a castle house a dragon? A captive, maybe?

Threnn dismounted and drew his longsword. He moved past the blown out gates and into the courtyard of the keep, into the killing field.
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Having dismounted a distance from the keep, Fennec tied her reins up to the breastcollar and set Ghoul off to join the small herd in a meadow to graze. Out here they'd be safe from whatever remnant danger lingered in the keep. Shadowing the steps of the others, she moved in silently behind them with her gaze casting about the immediate surroundings.

Mieri's question may have been aimed at Lumen, but it was not Lumen that responded. Fennec pressed forward through the group, three myste tendrils having sprouted from her back and curled outwards around her. They all looked toward the right like serpents tracking a target, upwards along the rubble and crumbling walls. It was there that her own enhanced senses picked up on a single remaining lifeform, though it was not readily visible from where they stood.

She pointed there and then signed for the others, [One survivor.]

Then, without bothering to look back, Fennec took off at a brisk walk toward the wall where several more of her tendrils formed, and with a feat of agility she began to scale the wall - leaving space for her ascent between herself and where she sensed the person.
Lumen frowned and her heart sank. They'd been far too late. Her magic swept forward invisibly. What once had been a burning inferno was now cold. All of it cold except....

Gaze shot straight toward the spot Fennec looked to before she pointed and signed.

"She's right," a quiet confirmation to Mieri. "That's the only other sign of heat I'm getting, besides us." Was it a survivor? A witness? One who had done this?

Tawny-eyes didn't even spare Leander a glance. Of course they would investigate. If not for the sober carnage before them she would've rolled her eyes. She knelt down next to a fallen female soldier. Armor charred. Hair was a bright red. She looked older than the initiates but still young. And her eyes were wide open but dull and vacant. Reaching her hand forward, she closed them gently.

"They should be given a proper burial."
"Of all the people I thought they'd send..."

He sat on the edge of what could have once been a third floor barracks hall. One leg dangled freely over that edge, the other arched and with his foot flat on the scorched floor. The tip of his sword was nestled into that same floor, his raised arm holding it still by the crossguard. He stared down at the ground far below with his one good eye, though could see Fennec's approach in his peripheral vision.

"...I didn't think it'd be any of you."

Zael Castomir.

Disappeared for months after declaring himself for the military. Never reported to his unit of Homeguard.

Wanted for desertion, should he ever appear in Vel Anir again.

Speculation was bandied about, the name of Gilram still easily resting upon the tongue. Certainly some of their fellow Initiates had been unfortunate enough to have run-ins with the mad Archon's ilk and underlings, but given the wealth of missions it totaled out to be a very unlikely occurrence. Much like Threnody, it did more readily cross Caeso's mind that this could be a dragon attack, or an attack from some other kind of monster (or monsters) which could have gotten past the walls.

But speculation was just that: speculation. What they had before them, plain for the eyes to see, was the only truth available thus far.

Fennec and Lumen confirmed one source of life.

"Be on guard," Caeso said as Fennec deftly went off. He thought it most likely to be a scavenger, come to pluck whatever was still valuable from the dead. If the fires were still raging, then he would have been more concerned. Still, until they cleared and secured the area, such warning as he gave was warranted for all—himself included.

Caeso made to follow Mieri (toward the open ruin of the bottom floor armory in the citadel, so it appeared from his vantage), but stopped as Lumen crouched down beside one of the many dead. He watched her; what care she showed would be abhorred in the old way, yet this abhorring was senseless. They were Dreadlords, weapons, but were they not to be used on behalf of their fellow Anirians, for the protection and benefit thereof? They owed undying loyalty to Vel Anir, but what was Vel Anir without the people who inhabited it?

"They will," Caeso said to her. Then jerked his head back toward the front gate. "There will be intervening time before the arrival of Major Gottfried's reinforcements."

Lumen Mieri Aelita Threnody Leander Urahil
Aelita did not see Fennec signing that a survivor was found, yet she heard Lumen confirm it. She looked up to see Fennec running further into the keep. Her eyes also caught Mieri and Caeso moving in another direction.

Still on a horse, Aelita spoke out loud enough for Caeso, Lumen, and Threnoby to hear, “I’ll do a quick lap. See if there’s anything else of concern on the outside or the horizon. Sound the horn if I need to rush back.

After saying that, Aelita rode off to circle the keep. She looked for anything of interest – anything in the ruined walls or any signs of burning villages beyond the keep.
Ugh. And there was Mieri not following his plan! Why did everyone always gravitate towards Lumen? Even Caeso—

Wait, where was Fennec?

Who cared? Leander walked past Lumen and Caeso, not even bothering to eavesdrop on their conversation. If he was a petulant child, perhaps he’d stomp all around the ruined keep. Instead he kept quiet, walking around and poking at things with his sword.

What another useless, boring mission.

When could he actually receive something worthy of his time? Something that would make way for a awesome chapter in his future autobiography as Leander the Legend Among Legends? He paused. The title needed some work still.

Leander almost thought he heard a voice, a voice that wasn’t part of the group, but shrugged it off.
One survivor? That meant the whole garrison was gone.

A keep like this wasn’t huge, but that still meant dozens of people. Not to mention cooks, cleaners, all the other servants that would have made their way home here. Slaughtered and burned out in what appeared to be seconds. Mieri frowned for a moment, looking at her fellows as they spread out.

After a moment she pulled a breath into her lungs. ”Hello?!”

Shouting would probably be seen as stupid by the others, but itwasn’t like they were trying to be stealthy. With the amount of Initiates they had brought and all the talking they’d done, anyone trying to hide would just keep hiding. Anyone too buried in rubble might not yet have heard them.

”If you’re alive try to shout!” Mieri said as he stepped out. ”We’re Initiates from the Academy! Here to help!”

Her eyes began to flicker to the rubble around her, searching for any sign of someone still alive.
Of all the people I thought theyd send...

He sat on the edge of what could have once been a third floor barracks hall. One leg dangled freely over that edge, the other arched and with his foot flat on the scorched floor. The tip of his sword was nestled into that same floor, his raised arm holding it still by the crossguard. He stared down at the ground far below with his one good eye, though could see Fennecs approach in his peripheral vision.

...I didnt think itd be any of you.

Zael Castomir.

Disappeared for months after declaring himself for the military. Never reported to his unit of Homeguard.

Wanted for desertion, should he ever appear in Vel Anir again.

The others might still be thinking dragon, but Fennec was pretty sure she had found the culprit of the devastation here. She'd only worked with Zael once before, but heard plenty of rumors and stories about the academy beyond that. Between him and Elias Sirl, the pair of them could have melted the academy to the ground.

Nimbly finding her footing upon the crumbling floor of his level, Fennec approached with an unblinking stare and half a dozen myste tendrils furling forward around her, on high alert. She could hear the others talking below (there went Mieri with her big fucking mouth again) and thought to reach for her bell but decided against it. Instead she lifted both hands to sign to Zael once he looked at her.

[You did this] which could have been construed as a question or a statement of observational fact.

Zael turned his head to regard Fennec more fully. No smiles, no grins, none of that mirth which decorated his expressions during the Last Day before the latest Graduation were to be seen.

"I did it for you," he said.

He gave a small tilt of his head toward the voices of the other Initiates down below.

"For them. For everyone."

With his free hand he gave a little sweeping gesture of his hand, indicating from afar all the bodies of the Guardsmen strewn across the Keep's ground.

"They want to control us. I said no."