_Stardate…
...Tuesday.

With the official wedding of King Vikenti and Queen Kiara approaching apace, it has been decided that a crowning ceremony should be held on the same day. The rulers of this kingdom have been without their signs of office for many years too long, since the previous crowns were stolen by an unknown thief (I have my suspicions who it really was though). Ordinary crowns will not do though. Only something of the most magnificent design and craftsmanship would be worthy of adorning the most powerful couple in the world's heads. With the good Jared Sandeye working the anvil we already have the nigh perfect skill required, so it has been agreed that a quest will be undertaken to acquire the materials and equipment needed to forge such marvelous headgear. At present we stand gathered in the dining hall, poised as acrobats or divers before the leap to begin our courageous-_


"Pen!"

Pentus's pen made a harsh scraping sound as he flinched at the loud shout, his head jerking up from the pages of his small, mostly blank book. He was sitting near the end of the table with a map set in front of him, and was supposed to be helping plan the quest but had gotten drawn into his writing, "Um, yes?" He asked with a sheepish, apologetic smile, absently fidgeting with his quill.

(OOC: Take it whichever way you want guys.)

"Pen!" Reverrek shouted. "Um, yes?" Pentus asked with a sheepish, apologetic smile, absently fidgeting with his quill. "Are you goin' to sit around writing in that flippin' journal all day, or are you goin' to get on with it?" Reverrek asked impatiently, tapping his fingers on the table irritably. He and several others had been called to help gather the materials needed to forge the crowns, a task that would be lead by none other than the good Prince himself. However, Pen seemed to be the one doing the most leading, having mapped out where the materials could be found and how they would go about getting them. Putting his hand on his head in an irritated manner, Reverrek made a motion with his other hand for Pen to continue.

Dusk stood at the back of the room, talking to his second in command. Dusk had been dragged into this quest by the queen. She had said something about proving his loyalty to the nation, getting some fresh air and exercise, and some other things. He knew that she was only sending him to get rid of him for a while. While he doubted it, he even expected that she hoped he would die on this mission. He certainly knew that several people were already preparing funereal celebrations for his return in a pine box. He wouldn’t worry about that now though; he had to get everything in order before he left.
The man he was talking with was large, muscular, and wore a full set of black plate armor. He was a sturdy, dependable man who was completely loyal to Dusk. His name was Riva.
“I want the men to do a run around the compound every two days, and make sure they go through the regular training each day.” Dusk instructed Riva, “Also, I want them to keep their equipment in good condition. I think that’s everything.”
“Yes, my lord” Riva replied, “Is there anything else?”
“No, that’s it. Here are your orders, written out for you.” Dusk handed the large man two scrolls. Riva took the first one, which was bound with a red ribbon. He reached for the second one, but stopped his hand halfway to the scroll. The second scroll was smaller, and was sealed with a blotch of black wax. It was rather unremarkable; the wax didn’t even have a seal on it. Riva narrowed his eyes and looked at his lord. Dusk gave a small, imperceptible nod. Riva nodded back, and then took the black sealed scroll. He tucked the two scrolls into a pouch at his belt, then bowed to his lord, and left the room. Dusk turned back to the table where his quest companions were sitting and set his hands on the table. “Pentus, where are we going, and when? Also, what are going for, the queen was quite vague in telling me.” He asked Pentus.

OOC: hope this is a good post; I can always revise if needed.

Lord Bentley Corax, Earl of Jondd, sat at the table across from their bard, to their leader the Prince's right – as was only fitting.  His elbows rested neatly on the table, hands clasped at a ninety-degree angle from his vertical arms.  His fingers were interlocked, though his thumbs traced little circles around each other in boredom, thought, and annoyance.

“If we are to believe the old tales,” Lord Bentley started to speak up to answer Dusk's question, “then it seems that our first best place of venture is to the east.  The mountains there are said to be filled with countless jewels which sparkle with the light of a thousand sunsets.” He snorted in contempt. “Likely rubbish meant to entice those with overladen purses, but not all tales are complete fabrications.”  The Peer gave the faintest of nods towards the bard, turning to look at Prince Narvis for some indication of approval or dismissal.

Of course, the Earl of Jondd would have liked nothing more than to forget about this fool's errand.  Already, they had a pair of crowns that had suited the royal line for generations. They were more than sufficient to sit atop this generation's brow, and would be suitable for many more to come. Yet, ever the dutiful member of the gentry, he bowed to those decisions that would not bring ruination upon their great land.  Further, someone with a little more experience had to make sure the royal heir did not go and get himself put on a goblin's pike or something similar.  Such was the burden of nobility…

Prince Narvis looked over at the Earl and nodded. "I myself believe in the old tales, but there is a reason that they are called old tales. Even if there was lots of gold and jewels I doubt that there would be any still, after the dwarfs came. I don't think it would be of any use to go there."

Narvis looked at his map that was in front of him, and pointed to where the dwarfs were working last time anyone had seen them." This is where we last saw the dwarfs, they have been going across the country mining all that they can, as far as we can tell they are still at the last place which is at the edge of the kingdom. They took one of our biggest mines we had there, no doubt they needed it for all the gold, ore and jewels that they had picked up along the way. That is where I would go, but no doubt someone else has heard of other places." Narvis sat back in his chair and waited for someone else to speak up

OOC: if I did anything wrong let me know

Reverreck the adventurer was the one who shouted first, pulling Pen from his writing, "Are you goin' to sit around writing in that flippin' journal all day, or are you goin' to get on with it?" the adventurer asked irately.
  "Yes, well," Pen began, but he got cut off again by the newest nobleman, one he didn't particularly trust, in the least. Lord Dusk.
  “Pentus, where are we going, and when? Also, what are going for, the queen was quite vague in telling me.” Dusk asked impatiently.
  "As I was about to say," But again, Pen was interrupted. He was beginning to feel a tad upset by this constant recurrence of events, but respectfully waited for Lord Corax and the Prince to have their say. He was glad of it too, because they had some good points to bring up. Once the Prince sat back in his chair, Pen cleared his throat loudly, trying to grab everyone's attention, "Is there no one else who would like to blabber on before I explain the map, or should I hold my tongue for a little longer?" Pen knew he shouldn't have said that, but he'd been awake for forty eight hours now, preparing for the quest, and his brain wasn't entirely active right now.

Down in the village, in a wooden cabin, a young peasant blacksmith awoke from a troubled sleep. His eyes opened slowly, the morning sunlight piercing his pupils. Jared Sandeye sat up in his straw bed and rubbed his eyes. Then he stood up, dressed, and got prepared for breakfast. His mind was unsettled, traumatized from last night’s vision. Another blasted nightmare, he thought. As Jared lit the fire to cook his breakfast, he thought over his nightmare. The memories flooded back of his traumatic past, and as he opened the cooking pot to insert eggs and sausages, he felt tears well up in his eyes, and soon enough, Jared had collapsed to the floor in an emotional breakdown.

Eventually, Jared recovered enough to be able to cook and eat his breakfast.  He checked his calendar and pocket watch while washing his dishes and cooking pot. He checked them again, again………and then again. Suddenly, a startling revelation hit him. Oh, damn! Jared quickly dressed himself as nice as he could and rushed out the door, running at top speed towards the castle, being sure to tell the guards the reason for his haste.

He burst into the castle dining hall, stopping to catch his breath and clutch a pain in his side. “Forgive me, my………lords. I…..I woke up late this morning, and……and forgot all about…..the-the meeting.” He bowed as low and as respectfully he could despite his short breath. “Forgive me, forgive me. I know I was recruited for this quest, and I should have known better. I am only a mere peasant, sirs.” Jared felt as if he would collapse from the loss of all his energy.

Dawn sat in his chair, toying with a lump of iron he had brought. He didn't know why he had joined in this quest. He tried to come up with an answer when the doors burst open.
“Forgive me, my………lords. I…..I woke up late this morning, and……and forgot all about…..the-the meeting.” It was Jared Sandeye, a talented blacksmith entrusted to forge the crowns.
“Forgive me, forgive me. I know I was recruited for this quest, and I should have known better. I am only a mere peasant, sirs.”
"It is alright, you weren't interrupting anything, this meeting is going nowhere, fast. Please, sit, recover your strength." Dawn said, motioning for Jared to sit in an empty chair. Dawn went back to his lump of iron. turning it into all kinds of shapes.
"Can we get this meeting going? I fear that if I sit here any longer, my legs will fall asleep."

Reverrek had been slightly startled by Jared's sudden entrance, and had begun to think that the blacksmith had completely forgotten about the meeting. Being a peasant himself, he was more exposed to all the hubbub of teenage girls, and Jared seemed to be their main focus as of recent. He was about to speak up when Dawn greeted the blacksmith. "It is alright, you weren't interrupting anything, this meeting is going nowhere, fast. Please, sit, recover your strength." Late as usual, Reverrek thought to himself,  beginning to get irritated that he always seemed late to conversations. When Dawn had finished, Reverrek spoke up. "Well, look who decided to show up, good old Mister Heartthrob! 'Oh Jared, you just look so cute in that outfit, I could just kiss you!" he said to Jared in a mocking tone, clearly annoyed by the young blacksmith's fame. His main gripe with Jared was that all the attention he was getting meant less business at his family's shop. Rolling his eyes, he turned back to Pen, "Now, if you would please get on with it, Pen." he said, stressing the sentence to make it convey his irritation.

Many miles away, in the empire of Zaridia, Emperor Kariska sat brooding on his jet black throne. His flaming red hair contrasted startlingly with his electric blue eyes. He tapped on his throne with a long, serrated fingernail and a figure stepped forward out of the shadows of the dimly lit throne-room. Kariska held out his claw-like hand and said imperiously, "Bring me my gear." The servant clapped a fist to the right side of his chest and scurried off. Kariska leaned back in his chair and narrowed his eyes at the floor. He knew about the quest about to be undertaken. He smiled cruelly. And he was going to stop it. His psychic abilities would be a strong aid, but it wouldn't be enough. The slave hurried back into the room, carrying a parcel. Kariska stretched his hand out and the parcel flew to it. He glanced at the slave. "Begone. And fetch me Quarvis." The slave trembled at the name but ran off again to obey. He might have feared Quarvis, but to disobey Kariska meant a long and horrible death. Kariska waited in his throne room for Quarvis, now dressed in full battle gear. A long, thin blade was strapped across his back, runes running the length of it and casting off a pale glow in the firelight. Kariska was dressed in jet black, accentuating his red hair. Quarvis was the captain of his top men. Ruthless and skilled killers all. Captain Quarvis strode into the room and saluted. "My lord, your will?" Kariska spoke directly into his mind. "Round up your men and await my presence at the eastern gate." Kariska smiled, baring sharp, filed teeth. "We're going hunting."

OOC: I figured some supernatural abilities were ok. I can change it if necessary. Tell me if I need to edit out his psychic abilities.

Pen jumped in his seat as Jared burst into the hall, huffing and puffing and begging forgiveness. He felt sorry for the blacksmith, and a bit envious as well. He lived all the way out in the city, which was no short walk from the palace, and he'd gotten some sleep. Pen nodded his agreement as Dawn excused him, but then frowned at Reverrek as the adventurer soundly mocked the poor peasant. Then the irritated man turned to Pen, "Now, if you would please get on with it, Pen."

The bard smiled smugly at him, "Certainly milord," Pen said sarcastically, bowing smoothly as he rose to his feet. With a spry leap he hopped first onto his chair and from there onto the table, slamming the butt of his staff down and producing a loud thunderclap as the jeweled top of the staff flashed like lightning to draw all eyes to him. It worked too, if the widened eyes and flinching were any indications, "Now then!" Pen shouted, using the staff to give himself a slight electrical jolt and wake him up, "Dawn is quite correct, this meeting is going nowhere at nigh the speed of light, so if anyone else has secret edicts to issue or petty squabbles to settle they can save it for later; agreed, yes it is." Pen glanced at Dusk and Rev, then knelt down and grabbed the map off the table. Walking forward until he was in the approximate center of all the questors, where he set the map down again.

Using his staff to point to different locations he began to explain the plan, "All right meat heads, and milord Narvis, you all know the basic reason we're here. The king and queen's crowns were stolen a few decades back and no one ever got around to replacing them. With the advent of their wedding, the time to rectify this wrong has come. We've got three objectives now. One, we need enchanted metal to forge the crowns, which we will acquire here!" Pen jabbed his staff at a blotch of dark green in the southwest corner of the map, "The old elvish ruins in the jungle to the southwest of the city. Okay, bad news and worse news time; the elves died out centuries ago, at least the ones living on this continent, so the ruins are completely abandoned and overgrown. This is bad news because what ancient records I've been able to dig up suggest the elves and the humans were allies. Were they still alive they'd probably be willing to simply trade for the metal. Instead, three of us will have to go and get it, if there's any left that is. Which brings me to the worse news. While the elves themselves are long dead, their magic is not. The books tell me that the plants that overgrew the ruins have also somehow absorbed the magic left behind, meaning that the foliage in the area is somewhat," Pen paused, trying to think of a nice way to put it, "ferocious. And I wouldn't count out the possibility of wolves and big cats infesting the ruins either. On the plus side, this should make it a little easier to find any deposits of enchanted metal. You can ignore any metal near plantlife, since the plants will have absorbed the enchantment," Pen made an annoying slurping sound, "Right out of it. Just look around in clearings or in building were there isn't any plantlife. Any questions so far?"

Dusk pulled a chair out from the table and sat down. He wasn’t looking too good. Age had started to catch up with him, he had wrinkles on his face and hands, and his joints had started aching. His cane was somewhat more practical than he would admit. He set his cane down in front of himself on the table and tented his fingers. “I believe I have a question. As I understand it, I am not going to these elven ruins. Who will be going to them? And where am I supposed to go, and with who?” he asked. “Not to mention that, as I understand it, enchanted elven metal isn’t the kind of thing you can just toss into any old forage and pound into shape. We would need some very powerful foraging equipment.  Where do you plan to get such equipment?”

Riva walked through a small cluster of houses near some farmland. This was one of the small serf towns that served Lord Dusk. As He walked down the dirt street he passed several serfs. They carried sacks of grain or wood for the fire. Despite the fact that they were serfs, they didn’t walk bowed over, or with a look of hopelessness in their eyes. Many of them walked tall, talking to each other happily and waving to Riva as he passed them. Dusk enforced law in his land, he let his serfs keep a percent of the crops they harvested, and he even paid them. All the rumors of him being cruel came from the way he dealt with criminals. Riva looked out toward the outskirts of the town where several wooden crosses stood. While they were unoccupied, you could clearly see the blood stains and rusted nails on them. He turned his head away from the crude yet effective crime deterrent. He walked past several more huts and then came to the last one in the village. This hut looked just like the others. It had a stone foundation, wooden walls, and a thatched roof. Riva walked up to the door and knocked on it with a gauntleted fist. After a few moments the door opened. A thin man stood in the door, wearing a leather apron and some work gloves. He looked at the big armored man and smiled.
“Lord Riva, welcome. Come inside.” The thin man said. He turned and entered his hut with Riva following him. The inside of the hut was filled with wooden projects like chairs, tables, coat racks, and other such things. The thin man was a carpenter. He cleared a few wood chips of a chair and offered it to Riva, taking his own seat across from it. “So, I doubt that this is a personal visit.” He said.
Riva nodded his head, “I have this for you from Lord Dusk.” He said, handing the black sealed letter to the thin man. He took the letter and broke the seal on it. He waved his hand at Riva, dismissing him. Riva stood and bowed to the carpenter, and left the house. Once he was gone and the door was closed, the carpenter unrolled the letter and started reading it.
“Dear Mr. Hunter.
I once again require your services. I and several others are going on a quest to acquire materials for the crowns of the king and queen. We will be going to several locations to get these materials. I know where I am going, so I need you to go to the other one for me. It is an elven ruin filled with dangerous plants. Luckily, you won’t have to face these plants directly. You will be following the group of men heading there. They will clear the way for you. You must stay out of sight, and don’t kill any of them, they need to get back here safely. Once at the ruins, you will be looking for a very specific scroll. It should be found in the hall of the late elf king. Get this scroll, you will know it on sight. I will give you double the standard pay for it.
Your lord,
Dusk.”

OOC: Hope this is ok. I can revise.

Prince Narvis looked back at the door as Jared came running in. “Forgive me, forgive me. I know I was recruited for this quest, and I should have known better. I am only a mere peasant, sirs.” "I know your only a pheasant, but you won't be when we are done with the quest, if we all come back that is, have a seat over here." Narvis showed an empty seat next himself. "As Dawn said we aren't going anywhere fast." Narvis glared at Reverrek, a little wisp of smoke drifted up from his hair. "He is a good blacksmith Reverrek, and worth more to us than you are." Narvis sat back again and frowned at Pentus when he jumped up on to the table. He was surprised but tried not to show it. He listened to Pen as he told them all about the elven ruins and the plants, Then Dusk spoken up.

“I believe I have a question. As I understand it, I am not going to these elven ruins. Who will be going to them? And where am I supposed to go, and with who?” he asked. “Not to mention that, as I understand it, enchanted elven metal isn’t the kind of thing you can just toss into any old forage and pound into shape. We would need some very powerful foraging equipment.  Where do you plan to get such equipment?” " I think I will be going to the elven ruins, but nothing is decided yet, as for a forge, I think the dwarfs would have something since they have been using that sort of metal far longer than we have

Jared nodded to Dawn as he took the open chair next to him. "Well, look who decided to show up, good old Mister Heartthrob! ‘Oh, Jared,  you just look so cute in that outfit, I could just kiss you!’ Jared almost lunged at Reverrek, but knew that in the presence of Prince Narvis, he could bring no harm to him without being thrown in prison. Jared and Rev shared a sort of “business rivalry” together: due to his fame, Jared received a lot of attention from the village teenage girls, who chased him around and around the place every chance they got. Haven’t they got better things to do than stalk me? Jared and Reverrek never really got along, but Jared knew that his fame meant that business at Rev’s family shop was failing. If only there was some way to turn it all around….

As the discussion turned to metals, Jared perked up, all exhaustion forgotten. Then he cleared his throat as best he could and stood up. “Excuse me, but I think that’s where I come in. I’m…..well, I think you all pretty much know who I am. No need for introductions. Um…..” he chose his next words carefully, and with as humble a tone as he could muster. “I…..can, um, er………work with the Elvish metals, if that hasn’t already been established. Um, I will also be happy to join on the expedition to the Elvish ruins, as it has always been a dream of mine to enter such a place. I have researched these particular metals, as well as Elvish ruins history at the university, so I will be glad to assist those whom I will be traveling with. Anything else I can do that has otherwise not been established?” Thinking that was all he could say, he finally sat down and said no more.

Emperor Kariska stalked down the line of Forlorn, the name of the killers lead by Quarvis. There was sixty of them in all. He stopped at the center of the line and said, "Men, you know why you are here. The Whitedeaths are soon to be on their way to the elvish ruins. As you have been informed we cannot allow that. Captain Quarvis will lead half of you to the ruins while I lead the other half." Kariska flicked his wild red hair out of his eyes. "You will all be given land and positions for serving in this expedition." One of the soldiers way down the line thought. "Expedition? More like personal vendetta. I heard about his secret love for the Queen, Kiara, and-" He whimpered as he found a sword-point directed at his chest. He looked up fearfully into Kariska's blazing electric eyes. They were glowing with the fury of his rage. Kariska spoke into his mind. "If you ever think of that again, I will kill you." The man nodded fearfully, and sighed in relief as the sword withdrew. Suddenly, Kariska's face was close to his. Kariska deliberately said, "Open your mouth, Forlorn." The man opened his mouth and whimpered again as Kariska's sharp nails gripped his tongue and dug into it. "You will lose your tongue so you don't lose our secret." Kariska yanked and stepped back, ignoring the man's agonized screams. The Forlorn were stunned by this display of savagery. He smiled thinly at their shocked thoughts. He studied the bloody piece of mouth tissue impaled on his claw, shrugged, and tossed the tongue away. "As I was saying, we will follow this group of questers and prevent them from entering the Elvish ruins. First, however, I need to take care of important business. Captain, take your men and get started on your journey. The rest of you, stay in your quarters till called upon." Kariska strode away to the sound of a chorus of, "Yes, m'lord!"

Kariska touched his full length mirror and gave a short command in a strange language. The mirror shimmered and melted. The liquid pooled around his body and he slumped forward, closing his eyes. When he opened them, he found himself in a room filled with an assortment of people. He recognized Prince Narvis and Dusk the Assassin but no one else. He touched the table and his hand went right through it. He did this to prove he was merely a projection, not a physical being. Kariska flashed Narvis a grin of sharp, filed teeth and deliberately fixed everyone of the people in the room with a piercing stare. He spoke, making his voice silky and persuasive. "I am the Emperor Kariska, of the Zaridia Empire. I am here to warn you now. Only death awaits you in the Elvish ruins. There are…beings there that are beyond your ken. There are certain...things...that I want from those ruins. Things I can only acquire without interference. You are interference. Give up now, before you lose your lives. Dusk, friend, do you wish to die? Narvis, you haven't yet begun to bloom, do you wish to wither before your time?" Kariska let his arms drop and bared his teeth. "Make no mistake. I will stop you at all costs."

Lord Bentley gave the bard a look of contempt and made a mental note to consider bringing up charges of lese majesty should he fall out of favour – or be sufficiently isolated to allow it.  Still, there was good bit of information to be had. He considered quietly the state of these ruins, where they were located on the map, and began to figure the logistics of moving a small group of people there.  “I am concerned,” he started to say, changing his pose slightly by bringing his fingertips to touch each other, “that three people may be insufficient., especially where danger and the Prince's life is to be considered.”  He paused briefly to formulate his words, but would have no further time to speak them.

A figure appeared in the room, seeming to have formed from quicksilver itself; an invited guest with clear malevolence.  Lord Bentley's response was of a trained and skilled fighter, quickly rising to his feet.  With a scrape of steel on leather, his hand-and-a-half sword was in his hand almost instantly. Further, the warrior expertly positioned himself between the visage and the prince, blade at the ready, should any sort of physical harm be directed that way.  That this figure then proved itself immaterial was of no consequence to his actions; he would fight for those that were truly good for his nation.  He met its gaze with one of cold, ruthless determination; the kind that had kept his family in the peerage for generations, and, as it spoke, he would give Dusk a glance.  This malevolence calling him a friend did not bode well in the Earl's eyes.

This time the Prince really did jump to his feet, and did not try to hide is surprise. "Kariska" he said.
Then Kariska spoke

"I am the Emperor Kariska, of the Zaridia Empire. I am here to warn you now. Only death awaits you in the Elvish ruins. There are…beings there that are beyond your ken. There are certain...things...that I want from those ruins. Things I can only acquire without interference. You are interference. Give up now, before you lose your lives. Dusk, friend, do you wish to die? Narvis, you haven't yet begun to bloom, do you wish to wither before your time? Make no mistake. I will stop you at all costs."

Narvis felt sick, he hadn't imagined meeting his parents mortal enemy. He had heard of him of course but ever seen him before, not the type Narvis would want to have to fight

"I don't wish to wither before my time, but wish's are vain and if I do wither then it will have been my time. But I have one question before you go, Why now? Why haven't you gotten what you wanted before we started this quest, or why not after we are gone?
but since it is now I shall be ready for you when I come, warning me was a big mistake Kariska and you will find that out the hard way." Narvis sat back down still feeling sick, but not as bad as when he first appeared. The Prince after thinking for a minute handed a scroll to Jared, and a note saying "meet me after the council is over" then Narvis sat back again and glared at Kariska until Pentus said something

Pentus nodded at lord Dusk's concerns, but simply waved them away, "The prince is quite correct, the dwarves have what we need, not that they'll give it up easily, but I'll get to that in a moment." The bard paused when he heard a timid interjection from the likewise timid blacksmith, Jared.

“Excuse me, but I think that’s where I come in. I’m… well, I think you all pretty much know who I am. No need for introductions. Um, I... can, um, er... work with the Elvish metals, if that hasn’t already been established. Um, I will also be happy to join on the expedition to the Elvish ruins, as it has always been a dream of mine to enter such a place. I have researched these particular metals, as well as Elvish ruins history at the university, so I will be glad to assist those whom I will be traveling with. Anything else I can do that has otherwise not been established?”

Pen was grinning by the time Jared was finished. He pointed his staff squarely at the blacksmith and exclaimed, "This is exactly why I knew you were a good choice lad. You've a passion for metal, and for knowledge too. I can see it in your eyes, in the way you move your hands, in the not unimpressive muscles in those thin arms of yours," Pen paused, examining the blacksmith's arms while standing on the table, looming over him, like he was considering a cut of meat at the butcher's, "Yes… I think you'll be very valuable before this is over."

“I am concerned-” Pentus turned to face a frowning lord Bentley, “-that three people may be insufficient, especially where danger and the Prince's life is to be considered.”

Pentus waved his hand and smiled as if it were a trivial matter, "Oh come now, it's just a two square mile maze of dilapidated structures, unstable magical artifacts, and killer flora, as well as fauna. It's not like we'll be fighting, say, the dark emperor of Zaridia while we're there." Pen laughed at the absurdity of his own suggestion. He glanced at the end of the table… and saw the dark emperor of Zaridia sitting there. For a moment he stood and stared, frozen in mid chuckle. Then he spun to frown at the rest of the gathered questors as the shade of the emperor rose to its feet. He jabbed a finger at the shade and shouted indignantly, "I did not do that! This is nothing like the last time. This time, I did not do that!"

The shade, however, seemed to have little interest in Pentus at the moment. Pentus found this slightly insulting as the emperor and the prince had a small but intense and forboding chat, even though he should have been grateful that the quite clearly evil emperor was ignoring him. After the Prince had given his reply to the shade's warning and threats, Pen could tell the effect the emperor's unexpected appearance was having on the others, not to mention himself. He was frightened spitless, but something the shade had said made it all the more important they get to the ruins as fast as possible. And so, in the name of speed, Pentus swallowed his fear and put on his best swagger.

Pretending this was all a performance, Pentus took a deep breath and hopped down from the table, onto the floor behind the shade. Pausing, he examined the apparition even more critically than he had earlier examined Jared. The shade was translucent, but still a strong image, suggesting a strong spell or artifact was being used, and no matter the strength, Pen knew that one of the laws of projected images was that they were simply that, images that made scary noises. The emperor couldn't touch them here, but neither could they touch him, so they would need to rely on speech to dispel him, or some form of counter-spell. For the moment, Pen's mind was blank concerning a counter-spell, so, despite his survival instinct screaming for him to stop, he walked right through the phantasm, feeling a chill go through him, about faced so he was nose to nose with the emperor, and boldly announced, "You're lying Kariska."

(OOC: I'd explain why Pen says Kariska is lying, but this post is already long enough. I'll let someone else have a turn before continuing.)

Kariska raised an eyebrow at Narvis. "I make no mistakes, princeling. I just thought I would give you fair warning. As to why I can't have gotten the…artifact before, is because I only discovered its existence recently and I prefer not to wait for the next...occurrence. If you prefer to endure...unpleasantness, then may the best man win. Me, of course. I will warn you though, there are a assortment of strange and wild magical beings among the ruins. I suggest you do not go sticking your noses where they don't belong. The things there are liable to bite your nose off." Kariska gave Pen his most blood-chilling smile. "Pentus...indeed, I cannot harm you physically." Kariska tapped a long nail to his temple. "But the laws of magic sometimes can be confusing concerning those of mental strength. Aye, I am a psychic. I had an enchantment wrought that allows me to use my abilities wherever I appear." Kariska sighed. "And don't bother with your tough man front. You just told yourself you were scared spitless. But I am intrigued by your accusation of a lie. I won't bother rummaging through your mind, so please, do explain yourself." Kariska gave a cruel smile, and "sat" on the edge of the table.

Pentus gulped and inhaled shakily as the shade sat on the table, grinning at him, “Well, you might be a horrific demon spawn Kariska, but at least you can be civil, I'll give you that.” Not feeling quite as confident as before now that the emperor was facing him directly, Pen cleared his throat nonetheless and began, “Well, as you said I suppose the ‘tough man’ act won’t work on you. Anybody with an IQ higher than the room temperature however knows that bravery is about overcoming one’s fears, not ignoring them,” Pen gulped again, and smiled involuntarily, “Unfortunately, I’m not brave. I’m just the most idiotic smart person you’re likely to meet.”

“Oh, right, the lie. Well Kariska, you see, I don’t think you want us to give up.” Pen leaned forward, showing Kariska the top of his head, “Go ahead, pick apart my thoughts and see if I mean it. I think you really; really want us to go to the ruins Kariska. A chance to destroy a fair chunk of the kingdom’s most elite, with almost every specialty but gardening represented, not to mention knock the next rightful heir to the throne right out of the equation? I should think you’d be here to encourage us and usher us to our impending demise. Doesn’t that sound nice Kari? Hmm?” Pen stood straight again, a quizzical look on his face, mixed in with the fear already present. Pen didn’t know quite where he was going with this, but it had gotten him thinking, even enough to get his mind off the terror he should have been feeling. “But, you’re not. You're trying to keep us away from the ruins, even warning us about how dangerous it is, albeit veiled and insubstantial warnings, but still…” Pen scratched his beard and furrowed his brow, “It can’t be because you’re worried about our health, and you’re too smart to make such a mistake as to simply monologue for the sake of it. What is it then?”

Pen continued to think, vaguely remembering that the emperor could read his thoughts, then his eyes widened and he shook his head, “No, that couldn’t be it.” He squinted at the shade consideringly, “You’re concerned Kariska.” He sounded surprised to have come up with such an idea, even as he said it, “Not about us, but that we just might stop you from acquiring whatever these things you want are. That’s… that’s actually kind of encouraging.”

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