Yeeted & Yoinked
Chapter 2: A Different World
Session 22: The Titan’s Toll
Location: Old Vasselheim, Othanzia, Issylra
Date: 3 Sydenstar 845 PD (calendar of Exandria: https://criticalrole.fandom.com/wiki/Calendar_of_Exandria)
Rinn – half-elf sorcerer/rogue
Stubby – half-elf artificer
Tāmerai – gnome bard
Fisch – bear fighter
Absent Party Members:
Bob the Therapist – changeling warlock with a couch for a familiar
Tunk – bugbear monk
2 Sydenstar, 845 PD — Post-session 21, later that day, AGAIN
Lunch has been figured out, and while Fisch was reserving opinion on cooked fish, the other three happily enjoyed cooked salmon along with some of their rations. (Though Tāmarai also fixed up some of it raw for herself, saying the other two were missing out. Fisch whole-heartedly agreed.)
Rinn has finished updating his notebook, and while things seem somewhat better in his mind after talking to Stubby that morning, it’s still a lot to process! But he is at least not so apprehensive about trying to sort it out in his head, so he’s doing something to keep his hands busy while he thinks. There’s an old shed a distance away from the house, not near any paths and a good, wide open area around it. That works for safety reasons. A bit of chalk marks an ‘X’ on one blank, windowless side — not a ‘usual’ target to aim at, but it works for Rinn, who’s throwing daggers at it. One, two, three, four, walk over, collect, walk a different angle and random distance away, turn and throw again. Once the rough center of one ‘X’ is chipped enough that it doesn’t hold the daggers any more, another one is drawn.
Stubby, too, has been otherwise engaged with some sort of crafting, this time seeming to involve small strips of metals. But once Rinn starts to draw another new target with chalk she looks up. “What did the shed do to hurt you, anyway?”
Rinn blinks, and looks over to Stubby. “…. nichts? Nothing. I just figured with this place —” he motions to the plants and gardens of the Abundant Terrace, “It may be better not to use a tree for a target.” Rinn may not be the most observant of formalities (and respect) with the various gods, but Melora has done nothing to him, at least. Stabbing an innocent tree a few dozen times wouldn’t be polite.
“Hmm well now that you’ve murdered a barn… You should have a more challenging target!” Stubby stands up excitedly and grabs her backpack to look through it.
Rinn just raises an eyebrow at Stubby, pulling out the last dagger from the wall of the shed.
Stubby pulls out a small spool of wire hooked to a metal plate, then whistles. After a moment Sentri comes swooping down. “So, two ideas. One, I hide some targets and you have to hit them – not trees. Or, Sentri can fly around the target!” She gets an even wider grin. “Or if you feel confident I’ll hold the target.”
“I could.” Rinn motions at Stubby with one of the daggers. “But I’m not stupid. No matter how good you are, things happen. Same with your bird.” He nods at Sentri. “I wouldn’t want to hit her, even by accident, and wreck her. I know you could fix her, easily-” A shrug. “But why make you have to do so? So… ” Rinn glances at the metal plates, then at the trees. “Those aren’t so hard they would damage the knives?”
“Yeah, fair. I’m surprised Tam didn’t teleport here to yell at me for suggesting it! And I’m not sure, I don’t throw a lot of knives.” She walks over and shows him some various pieces of metal that are strung up like small wind chimes. “I guess it might also be rather loud?”
“Not too loud, and I’m not that worried around here, but…” He eyes the metal, and taps it with a finger and shakes his head. “Probably wouldn’t break the knives, but would ruin the edge.”
“Well, that’s no good. Hmmm…. Oh!” She sets the metal bits down and reaches in a pocket. Then with a flourish pulls out a deck of cards, fanning them out.
“… set up the cards as targets?”
“Well I was thinking play cards since these were a gift but I could make other targets.”
“Oh.” A bit sheepishly. He glances at the wall of the shed, (and the splintered area of one target), then back to Stubby and nods, putting away the knife.
Stubby does a bit of a flashy shuffle and smiles. “Have you played Gambit of Ord? Up to bet a few copper?”
“No, I don’t think I’ve heard of it.” Rinn shakes his head. “If it’s from Tal Dorei, it just may not have made it’s way over to Wildemont yet. Or at least to Zadash in the Marrow Valley.”
“It’s simple enough! You want the highest value hand at the end of the round. You get 3 pulls, with a chance to raise a fold in between… There’s also generally a buy-in.”
He rolls his eyes a bit at that, but then nods, and motions over to a bench set up in the gardens. A quick check of his pockets and he pulls out a handful of copper coins. “Mostly just keeping score, ja?”
“Yep! No sense in robbing the newbie! Just a copper each round.” She walks over to the bench and sits giving the cards one last shuffle and then placing them in front of herself. “Would you like to cut the deck?”
Rinn sets the handful of coins down on the bit of bench between them, (a mix of coins from Othanzia, with a few from the Dwendalian Empire, and there’s even an odd square copper in there from who-knows-where), and reaches over to cut the deck, then sets a copper down in the space between them.
She matches the copper and first deals him a card, then herself.
Rinn takes the card, holding it carefully in his hand, checking it, then looks back up to Stubby. “Do we bet on this part, or—?”
Stubby grabs her card and glances at it then nods to him. “You get to raise the bet since I’m dealing. Then it would go to me to match or raise.”
Another slow nod, and Rinn puts a couple of coins in.
Stubby smiles and puts two more copper in, matching. “Now we draw our next card and it repeats.” (D6!)
He raises an eyebrow, watching her for a moment, then pulls another card. Rinn glances at it, ponders for a moment, then puts down a single copper piece.
Stubby stares at her two cards for a moment then Rinn’s copper and places 2 copper next to her previous 3.
A slow nod, and he matches her raise.
Stubby smiles at him and deals the next and final card. “This is the last card! Then you see if it’s worth one last bet or if we reveal them!”
Rinn glances over his card, looks over at Stubby for a moment, then back. “Do you have to match the bet to see the other person’s hand? Or if you don’t, they just win the pot and you have no idea if what they had beat yours or not?”
“If you don’t match you lose, but can see the hand. That’s how I’ve learned from my siblings anyways. Right now we’re even at five copper.” (edited)
A shrug, and he places in two coins. “Seems similar to juckerspiel then, at least a bit.” Rinn smiles faintly. “At least with the betting.”
“You’ll have to teach me!” Stubby smiles, matching the two copper then raising her eyebrows at him. After a dramatic pause she flips her cards. Total: fifteen.
“I do know plenty of card games…” He eyes her cards, then makes a face and turns over his. Total: nine.
Stubby tries hard to not look too happy at winning but seems excited none the less. “It’s just your 1st round! You’ll get it. And you can keep your money. That was a good practice round.”
“It’s a game.” Rinn shakes his head, picking up the deck of cards and giving it a few shuffles. “I’ll pick this up soon enough, so I’m not worried.” (Sleight of Hand 18 to grab some cards.) (edited)
She raises her eyebrows in mock surprise when he grabs the deck to deal. (2 on perception!) “I’m sure you will!” She sets down a copper.
A faint grin, and he sets it down, motioning for her to take a card as he puts in his own ante, then draws his own card. Rinn eyes it, then with a shrug settles against the back of the bench. (23 sleight of hand, totally cheating.) (edited)
Stubby picks up her card and glances at it and thinks for a moment before adding 2 copper and giving him a wide (oblivious) smile.
Just that faint grin back, glancing back at his card, and then matching the two copper and adding in another.
Stubby hesitates for a moment and matches the third coin. “Is your card that good?”
Rinn raises an eyebrow at Stubby. “Wouldn’t telling you be sort of against how you’re supposed to play the game?”
She smiles and rolls her eyes at him. “Just deal the second card.”
A snort of laughter, and he deals her a card and takes one for himself.
Stubby picks up the card and stares at it expectancy, then glances to him. Then places 3 more copper grinning.
Just a bemused look at her, which fades slightly, then his cards. Rinn tilts his head, then matches the bet, (8cp, now 14), and deals them each the next card, taking a moment to rearrange his own cards in his hand.
Stubby squints at her own card and adds it to her hand glancing at him.. adding 2 more copper.
Rinn just watches her, and puts in 4 coins, not breaking eye contact.
Stubby stares back, meeting his gaze, and adds the 2 copper to match his bet.
With a nod and a nonchalant shrug, Rinn sets his cards out. 4, 4, 4: 12 total.
Stubby lets out a groan of disappointment, revealing her cards: 4,6,1 for 11 total. “Uuuuuugh so close!” She flops back dramatically.
A quiet chuckle, and he moves the small pile of coins (22cp) closer to him, leaving behind one copper for ante. “I’m guessing we take turns dealing, then?” Motioning to the cards.
She sits back up and grabs another small handful of copper. “Yep!” She exchanges a copper ante for the deck witch she shuffles and places for him to cut.
A quick cut, and Rinn sits back, arms crossed.
Stubby takes the cards back and deals the first. “So you played a lot of card games?”
He takes his card, looks at it, then looks up at Stubby, hand tapping against his leg as he thinks. (15 sleight of hand, again). “Some. You know cant- do you know how it’s used when you’re someplace new, looking for connections, a job, or information?”
Stubby thinks then shakes her head. “How? With cards?” (edited)
He motions ‘so-so’ with a hand, before putting in 2 copper. “You’d find a place…” Rinn bites his lip, thinking for a moment. “Like a suitable tavern in the Rat Docks.” He gives Stubby a look, saying she better be treating all of this as just theoretical knowledge. “And see if there was a card game going on inside.”
Her eyes light up at the, of course, theoretical knowledge being bestowed. But she also slides 4 copper forward and nods. (Raised bet by 2). (edited)
An eyebrow raise, Rinn slides two more coins over, and waits for another card. “You’d see about joining- carefully, of course. And try to find out if the dealer, the dealer is a member of the varied trades. If so, you join in the game. With probably a higher ante then anyone else, unless the dealer indicates to them that the next round with you will be private, and in that case they take themselves off for another drink or whatever. “You still pay more than usual, for the ante.”
Stubby nods again, curious at the custom as she deals the next cards. “And the dealer is a recruiter or individual who keeps an eye out for such people?” She smiles wryly. “While of course making their own money running the table.”
Rinn glances at his next card, and puts in 3 copper. “Making their own money, passing some along, depends who their working for and what sort of arrangement there is.” He smiles a bit wryly. “There are myriads of ways of setting that up. “So you ante in, and the dealer starts up a game. Which you will lose, of course, while betting normally or even higher. And you and the dealer talk while the game goes on, about the cards, past games, good games, stories of bad games, however.” Rinn shrugs. “All of which may not even reflect the actual game you are playing. It’s all cant, with you finding out what information you need, and paying for it.”
Stubby matches the 3 copper, seeming much more focused on the story than the cards. 3rd cards are delt. “So you can buy information with a card game but what if you have a really good hand?”
He takes his third card, looks at it, then spreads his hands out in an expressive shrug. (27 Sleight of Hand!) “You still lose. The point of it is not the card game. It is like what you’re actually saying in cant- it is a cover for what is really being said or going on. Even if you have a hand of nothing but Oak Royals, you lose and your bets are payment for the information you’ve gotten. Contacts, a job, a safe house, whatever.”
“I still think it would be a good show to win with your hand.” She chuckles and flips her cards seeming happy with her hand: 7,3,1. 11 total.
“Only if you want to insult the dealer, and through them any thieves guild in the area.” He shakes his head, and lays his cards out: 5, 6, 4, for 14 total. Then looks up at Stubby with a grin. He’s pretty good at this game he’s just barely learning.
Stubby seems flabbergasted at his hand and his grin. She narrows her eyes in suspicion, leaning forward to look at him in the eyes, holding the stare. Then her eyes light up and she laughs happily. “Dang you’re lucky! I thought I had a good start!” She taps the 7 and giggles.
Rinn is taken a back for a moment at her stare- and then starts laughing quietly, trying to muffle it. “I’ve always been good at learning card games. Beginner’s luck.” (Deception 18 to keep it going) He pulls over the smaller pile of coins – neither one thought to bet on the third card, but he’s not going to mention it.
“But you’re not a beginner. Not really.”
A shrug as he picks up the cards and begins shuffling.”For this game, at least. I can teach you some others— I have no idea how common they are outside of the Marrow Valley, at least?”
In a joking mutter, “I obviously need some beginners luck.” But Stubby’s happy to see Rinn so animated so the fake frown doesn’t last.
Rinn deals out a card for each of them, sets the deck down and looks over his one card. A slight raised eyebrow and a shrug. “I had been learning the dealer’s rules, for doing that? To be a contact. But then- well.” A wry look. “Things happened.”
Stubby takes her card and glares at it, betting 2 copper. “It seems like that could be a much more interesting job than many trades.”
“That depends.” A shrug and he matches her bet, then deals out another card for each of them. Rinn glances at his, then motions with his hand. “It was if you were either really good at cards, or something happened to you to keep you from other work. A retirement, of a sorts.”
Stubby picks up her second card, again looking at it (past it) and thinking, before placing 3 copper on the bench. “Being a dealer sounds kind of fun…. Almost.”
“Or you could be bored, sitting around all day just playing cards if no one comes in.” He shakes his head, matching her 3 coins and adding another. “And that is if there are people just wanting to play regular games. Otherwise it is a lot of games of Road Circuit and Hierarchy.”
“I mean playing cards all day hardly seems like a burden.” She glances at his raise and matches it, sighing. “I feel like you could get really good at card tricks. Make card houses. … Kinda fun.”
“Card houses?” Rinn blinks. “You would already have to be good at card tricks. But card houses…” He shakes his head, dealing them out each other card.
“Yeah, and like see how high you could make them before they fall!” She scoops up the final card, glancing at it briefly and dropping 4 copper in the pot and grinning at Rinn.
Rinn glances at his final card, eyes how much Stubby put into the pot, and puts in 8 coins.
Her eyes widen and so does her smile as Stubby matches the bet. She flips her cards: 7,6,4. Totaling 17.
Rinn rolls his eyes in amusement, and flips over his cards: 4, 5, 4, 13 total. “Not bad.”
Stubby scoops up the coins gleefully, then collects the cards, shuffling. “Yes! It was probably the best hand I’ve ever had! And! I did it without cheating!” In coordination with her accusation she springs up and shuffles all the cards AT Rinn in a big spray.
He’s not denying it. Instead, Rinn is leaning back, laughing, one hand up in what should be a futile effort to block the spray of cards from hitting him. A strong bit of wind blows them off to one side, but he’s still laughing.
Stubby has a huge smile in her face but is trying to sound stern. At best it’s exasperated. “How many cards were you palming?!”
“Just enough.” He manages, still laughing. “Hölle, I know Ord’s Gambit. I played it as a child. We’d use pebbles from the creek as tokens to bet with.”
“Ahh a step up from scamming children of their pretty pebbles.” She starts giggling. “Gods I though I was seeing things! And your story!” She tries to mimic his accent. “You have to be very good a card tricks.” And exaggerated eye roll. “Subtle.”
That sets Rinn off again, leaning against the back of the bench. “I was wondering if you’d ever catch it, or notice, or any of it.” He shakes his head, reaching over to pickup a card, and goes to make it disappear- only to drop it. Which right now just strikes him as hilarious.
Stubby starts cracking up at the awkwardly dropped card and between laughing- “Eventually!
He shakes his head, working on catching his breath back, and slips off the bench to start picking up the cards. “Don’t ever play cards with people you don’t know. And specially not for money!”
Stubby also moves to gather the cards. “Or just play with money I’m ok losing! It’s just as bad playing with people you know!” She shoots him a fake glare and flicks a card at him.
Rinn just grins at Stubby. “I wasn’t planning on keeping the money.” He reaches out as if to maybe try to grab the card, flicking his fingers at it- And it blows back at Stubby. He blinks.
She is impressed and slightly outraged that he repelled her missile but she catches it as it’s launched back. Then smiles triumphantly.
Rinn’s up on his feet in one quick movement, looking down at his hands for a moment, then at the card Stubby’s hand, fingers tapping against the side of his leg for a moment as he thinks. Then he reaches up, fingers of both hands touching the bracelets on his wrists for a moment before motioning out in a twirl and spin- And a small gust of air begins twirling about the scattered cards, gathering them up into a little whirlwind.
Stubby looks confused for a moment then grins as the cards are swept up.
Rinn just watches it for a moment, hands slowly dropping to his sides, then looks at Stubby with a slow smile. “I- I figured that. Oren did it, but I-” He looks back to the card-whirl wind, and makes a sharp motion with his hand, and the little breeze stops, cards dropping down, but at least gathered into a (very) rough pile.
Stubby claps with glee. “That’s amazing Rinn!”
Beaming, he steps over and picks up Stubby, spinning her around for a quick moment before setting her back. “And it is not- not blowing something up, or hurting someone, it is just-” He motions outwards with his hands, laughing quietly, then brightens. “Tāmarai. I should show her as well!”
Stubby laughs in happiness and surprise at his exuberance. “It’s wonderful. She’ll love it!” She takes his hand and starts pulling him towards the house. “C’mon!”
But there’s no need. Tāmarai has been there the whole time, and once the serious game makes way for actual play, she applauds Rinn’s new manoeuver. “That’s wonderful! You learned it just by watching Oren? How clever of you!”
That certainly halts Rinn and Stubby in their tracks, as Rinn stops and spins around- grinning as he spots Tāmarai. “Schmetterling!” He steps over and kneels down in front of her, so somewhat closer to eye-to-eye (though Rinn is still taller), and spreads his hands out. “Ja, see?” Fingertips to bracelets on wrists, then twirling his hands out, and a soft breeze whirls around them- nothing like the chaotic whirlwind he used this morning in an attempt to keep Oren away from him- and Rinn looks up, and directs it to boost the following Sentriup higher a few feet, to the mechanical bird’s surprise.
Tāmarai’s enthusiasm is not dampened by the Gust no longer being a surprise. “Well done! You do it, and then you can replicate it. That is real success, not a fluke. I’m very proud of you, Rinn.” She is, too. Her eyes practically glow, the same way they did when Stubby shows her her gadgets for the first time. Her kids. And one of them has given her a nickname. She’s in.
“It’s fantastic!” Stubby moves up to them after looking up to Sentri who flies off for a moment and returns with claws full of dry leaves. Stubby points up as they are released. “There Rinn!”
Later he’ll reflect how he’s not had anyone be proud of him over things like this, and what it now means- but right now, he just beams, one hand resting carefully on Tāmarai’s shoulder. At Stubby’s call he looks over, and rolls his eyes a bit, though still amused, and the drift of leaves gets whirled over around Stubby. She did ask for it.
Tāmarai’s head tilts to one side, resting her hair-monument against Rinn’s hip for a moment. Then she holds out both hands. “Come. I’ve cleaned up from lunch. Fisch is having a nap. This is a good time for lessons.” That would’ve sounded like a threat, or at least a cessation of fun and resumption of mental labors, except that by now she’s had enough of them to know what they really are: doing an activity, and learning how to say the words related to it. Making the beds and doing laundry gave her fabric, cloth, white, linen, wool, cotton, silk, mend, sock, and so on. “Perhaps, Rinn, you would care to deal cards again, this time for three?”
Stubby is dancing through the leaves as they fall, giggling with Sentri swooping through.
Rinn laughs quietly, and with a nod stands up. “I can deal cards, if you want.” He steps over to the bench to start picking up Stubby’s deck.
“Be prepared to lose your copper and pebbles! He fooled me!” She starts gathering up the leaves in a heap.
And together they trade fifteen or twenty coppers back and forth for an hour, and they learn the Xhorhasian terms for each of the cards, suits, dealer, tokens, ante, and so on.
Even later that same day…
Victor has now just scampered back into his basement carrying both his purple crystal, that was in the remains of his dragon, as well as the pouch carrying the Flynn stone. After being carefully warned not to touch it multiple times he remains possibly more cautious than any of us have seen. But in the wake of his departure and the flickering darkness of the massive sending stone, the trio is gathered.
Stubby waves a happily oblivious goodbye to her father. “I love you too, Dad!”
As the communication stone stills and goes dark, Tāmarai waits politely to make sure a smile is the last thing Lord Percy sees. Then she quickly bends down to pick up her notebook and start writing rapidly, murmuring the words aloud so that the others will know what she’s doing. “One… Stubby and Viktor will create the magically charged liquid from their two gems. Two… Rinn will use his gloves to absorb excess energy, to be stored for later use, while Tāmarai uses her people’s spell to momentarily dampen and ‘squash’ the power flow. This should put out the spire. Three… Go inside. Theoretically, find the Beacon and bring it out again. Four… Go back to the Birth Heart. Fire one of Viktor’s fireworks about every hour until Vanya sees it and opens a tree into the Birth Heart. This should give enough time for the group to get back to the Birth Heart and step through into their own garden, and join the rebellion (unless warned off by fireworks from the city). The firework colors…” she goes on, this time silent, figuring the others will know she’s doing something important and not ask for her attention till she’s done. When she is, she looks up and smiles. “There. Now, if anything happens to cause us to forget this, we will be able to be reminded. And if we die, at least others will know how we tried. Hopefully they will,” and she holds up that three-fingered salute as shorthand for the rest of the sentence.
Stubby raises her eyebrows at that last remark. “We’ll succeed. Don’t worry.”
Rinn would like to share Stubby’s optimism, but its a good thing that Tāmarai is writing things down, since he hasn’t been paying attention to much during a lot of the planning. It’s not quite the same shell-shocked look as when he took off from Clocks and Cogs, but it’s close, coming up each time Vanya and her plans — whatever they are — are mentioned.
Once finished writing, Tāmarai puts her notebook away and, after a glance towards Viktor, who’s packing up some useful things for his trip into the city, turns her attention back to her friends. To Rinn, specifically. “You are disturbed from what we have learned,” she says, and it’s not really a guess.
Rinn blinks, looking at Tāmarai a bit wide-eyed, then he shakes his head suddenly. “Do you think so?” He mutters, frowning. “I do not know-” He motions towards where Victor headed off to, presumably the cabin, “any of this! How-” At a loss for words, Rinn just drops his hands down, muttering- well, swearing- under his breath.
Stubby walks otwords him. “Today has been wild. We’ve seen and heard so much! But we have a path to safety and to answers. Not only about the Empress and Old Vassielheim, but also for you.”
“Answers? There were no answers in that, only more questions about my own life.” Rinn scowls, and looks ready to take after Viktor and start digging for those answers.
Stubby steps into his line of sight -drat!- and in the way of the house. “Yes! More questions from answers! We know who brought you! And that they are likely one of our biggest allies! You can meet her and ask her questions. Thats like the best we could hope for!”
Ignoring the head shake, as it is clearly a clumsy form of concealment, Tāmarai gives Rinn a placating smile. “No? Ah, good. Perhaps I am projecting my own feelings.” She knows she is not. “Even so, if you would like to speak about anything in particular, I think you know that either of us, or both of us, would listen with kind ears. Perhaps over some bread and cheese?” she suggests, gesturing towards the Bag of Holding.
“A volstrucker.” He nearly spits the word. “Neither of you know those. And she was- ” Rinn motions with his hands before dropping them again, trying to sort things out. “Looking for me, finding me, for what? And doing what? Manipulating things to get me over here- and again, for what?”
Tāmarai leans towards Stubby to ask what a Volstrucker is, but it’s not a Tal’Dorei thing anymore than it’s a Xhorhas thing. “Is this a word for something I should not say?”
She leans towards Tam and says “It’s seems like it’s a profession?”
Tāmarai considers it, and then asks Rinn, “What manner of profession is a volstrucker? And why do you speak of them with such– What is the word? ‘Hate’ is very strong, but…”
“Vehemence. Good, yes. Why such vehemence?”
He looks back at them, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, closing his eyes for a few moments. “Outside of the cities, they are boogeyman, things you would frighten children with. And that is all they are, because why would they go to any small towns and places in the middle of nowhere? But inside the cities, you hear of them more, and learn they are not just stories.”
Rinn frowns, crossing his arms tightly. “They are wizards, magic users, all that sort. But spies, agents for the kingdom. They are dangerous, best to always be avoided- it was not said, but if you were targeting someone and learned a volstrucker was focused on them? You cut the job, dropped it. Nothing more to be said. Even just regular people were afraid of them.”
Tāmarai takes this as seriously as Rinn says it. “Goodness. That sounds terrifying, if you have done anything that could be misconstrued as acting against your nation. And one of these Volstrückern is focused on you.” She uses the correct ending to form the plural in Zemnian, so either she’s been taking note when Rinn speaks, or she’s had a tiny snippet of knowledge of the language before. “We will have to be even more careful. But Viktor seemed to suggest that she left that training without completing it. If that is true, then perhaps we can rely on her to assist our resistance. If it is not… Well, we have few other choices but to rely on her anyway.”
“Soooo she left being a magical spy in Rexentrum to take you to Isslyra to then become a spy here?” Her head tilts to the side in puzzlement. “That’s weird. I wonder what she knows.”
“But why bring me here? Why arrange it? What else has she arranged?” Rinn gestures angrily. “The ship I picked out because it was the first one leaving? Or even me leaving Zadash- what, did she hire Anslem to try to kill me, and it wasn’t just because he wanted to be rid of me however he could? And who knows even further back on things? And then here- what has she done to my life here? Everything I’ve done, or thought I’ve done, is it all just false, a lie?”
“It is possible that this Vanya is exactly what her grandfather thinks she is. Someone who works on the side of the Creator Gods, or at least on the side of their creations. Someone who learned the skills of a spy purely so that she could save lives and protect this remnant of Vasselheim’s citizens and denizens. It is possible,” Tāmarai repeats as she idly picks up some object to clean it as something to do with her hands, “but is it likely? That, I do not know.”
After a pause, Stubby speaks confidently. “I’m going trust her. And Victor. Guidance, even if it’s unseen isn’t always malicious. And she led you to us! That’s good!”
Tāmarai’s expression clears somewhat. “That is true. It does not withstand scrutiny, the idea that she would pluck a stranger out of his environment and bring him here on purpose to do evil. Evil is lazy, seeking to acquire what it wishes while doing as little as possible to earn it, and arranging transport on a ship for someone in case he should happen to get on it seems like too much for evil to bother with. Only good makes the hard choices and then works to see the results are as good as possible.”
“Maybe she knows you’re gifted and that you were brought here because she trusts you to make the right decisions?” Stubby suggests. “That your abilities could save people.”
“Then why didn’t she ever say anything to me! She had time, plenty of time.” Rinn pulls out the drawing he ‘borrowed’ from Victor, motioning to it. “We were on board that ship for long enough, and nothing.” With a frown, he crumbles up the paper, tossing it aside. “You talk and plan with friends and allies. You manipulate and manuever tools. How am I to trust anything that happened since I arrived here, that it isn’t some set up by her and them to get me to do what they want? Me working at the Take, meeting the both of you- ” He gestures at the two of them. “How am I know that wasn’t just to get me to start using my magics, to care, so they can then use me for whatever it is they have planned?”
“Perhaps she could not speak to you without negating the disguise of her own real motives. Be logical, Rinn,” Tāmarai chides, albeit gently. “No one could have possibly known that we would be caught in a magical accident. No one could have predicted that when we escaped, we would end up here, now. No one could have predicted that you would have been the one sent to collect us, though they could certainly have sent for you after we had been introduced. And Vanya… Ryo… Vanya, she would not have been the one to give the orders for you to be the one to accompany us. We were simply a happenstance. Things have happened because the stance happened, that is all.” The language is slightly mangled, but at least it’s discernible what she means. Probably. “We were not expected. But if it truly upsets you and you do not feel we can move forward with any plan at all, you could ask the Stormlord your question about Vanya.”
“Also” Stubby interjects, “telling anyone would have jeopardized the safety of thousands of people. Even her family doesn’t know she’s here. You can’t plan and talk about everything always. Sometimes you have to trust. But I agree with Tam. If you really do think you can’t trust where you stand, you should ask.” Them more hesitantly. “Also, I guess we could have been expected since we’re from the past? But it doesn’t really change what we have to do.”
Seeing Rinn’s continuing distress, Tāmarai pitches her voice to a soothing, slightly lower range and quiets further. Not quite small, frightened animal, please trust me, but not far off, either. “It would be very natural to mistrust everything and everyone, seeing something like that and learning that one has been watched. But mistrust all the time makes one very tired and stressed. One must pick someone to trust, and hope one is making the right choice, because trusting no one is just as dangerous as trusting everyone.”
“Trusting just usually leads you to getting hurt.” Quietly. “I- this-” Rinn motions with his hands, then drops them to his sides as his voice catches. “I don’t know. I am tired of feeling like I am getting tossed around, but it doesn’t seem to end.”
Stubby speaks a bit hesitantly. “But Rinn, you haven’t trusted in the past and things were very hard. People you trust can be your anchors. Like us!” She gives him a small smile as she looks up at him, knowing she’s out of her depth but can only try to help as all this is figured out.
“Ask your question,” Tāmarai encourages once again, “if you decide that you would rather have the Stormlord’s reassurances than ours. But I remind you that you have spent nearly three weeks in our company, not his. And you have seen our faces as we sleep.” This is a guess, but it’s a reasonable one: the doors slide quietly, and Rinn was contracted to look after them, and he isn’t a trusting man, so surely he’s had a look at some point, right? “It is easy to put on a face while awake, but while we sleep, the truth is known. What did you see in us then?”
He’s quiet for a long moment, just looking down. “People who trusted too easily, because they could. I worry for you, you both, and-” Rinn bites his lip. “I envy that, so much.”
“We worry for you to! we can learn from each other. And… The envy is fair. You’ve had a hard life where you’ve had to be guarded.”
“It is rational. You have been given many good reasons why you should be wary.” Tāmarai can’t really take offense at Rinn acting on the years of experience he’s had before he ever met them. “But no. What you saw was not trust. It was exhaustion. We could do nothing but hope, so we did. It proved to be a safe choice, but we did not know that when we went to sleep, that first night in New Vasselheim, and we did not know it the first time you stayed in the house with us. We simply had no other viable options. And we are in that place again — but this time we have you with us, and we have more experience of you and feel more secure in the choice to trust you, now.”
“I still can’t believe that you would trust me, and here-” He shakes his head, closing his eyes.
“What is our other choice?” asks Tāmarai, not expecting any real answer.
Stubby mutters. “My experiment… It worked. That’s why. And that you’ve helped us, over and over.”
The best answer he can give Tāmarai is a shrug, because Rinn has no idea what other choice or option there even could be. Stubby gets eyed for a moment, before he finally sighs and just sits down, elbows on knees, head in hands.
“You have proven your trustworthiness to us,” Tāmarai goes on. “You have had opportunities to betray us, and you did not take those opportunities. You have acted as a friend, and so that is what you are. “Now, about Vanya Vonn. You have not had opportunity to test her trustworthiness. However, we do know that she has contacted Viktor. She knows that he is likely still alive; and she has not sent anyone to capture or kill him, so I feel it is likely she is still working on the side of the Creator Gods. But if this is not enough to settle your unease, you have a way of having that question answered.”
Stubby just plops down next to him in the grass. “There also might be a way to test her. An experiment?”
Rinn looks up to give Tāmarai a humorless smile. “I trust the both of you more than I would trust any answer from someone else, god or no. I’ve known the two of you for longer.” He glances at Stubby, raising an eyebrow.
She smiles at his words but seems to be thinking hard. You could practically see the cogs working.
He just shakes his head, and looks off at Victor’s cabin, then at the pillar of fire rising up into the sky.
“If you trust us to a point,” starts Tāmarai with the slow tone of speculation, “and especially if you trust Stubby, would you be willing to let that be enough, if Stubby finds reason to trust Vanya? And then deal with her manipulation of you afterward?”
“Unless either one of you have met Vanya- and not as Ryo- then how can you say anything about her for sure? None of us ever heard that name until today.”
“We have not, of course. When we do, I will likely form an assessment, as will you, as will Stubby. But!” One tiny purple finger holds up in the air, marking this as an important point. “There is both evidence for and against her. Even if it’s secondhand, it’s still data. Even if we don’t like the evidence- No! Especially if we don’t like the evidence, we have to consider it.
Rinn raises an eyebrow at Stubby. “Like what, exactly?”
Stubby thinks for a minute before sitting up and counting off each thing she says. “Vonya is related to Victor who my family trusts and I was named after. The Vons have helped us and actively sheltered us from the Empress. According to Victor she has faked her own death as well as his and given up her life to spy on and stall the empress. Evidence to support this is that the Empress hasn’t succeeded in poisoning people with gunpowder or the blue sick.
The Empress has also not been able to kill me, my family or Victor. She killed Ryo when he was revealed to be a traitor. She also gave Victor that magical ring along with updates on the city. She is a powerful mage who could have also taken power or abused it and has not…. I think she may have also been the one to organize our placement in the embassy.
I’m also going to say that bringing you counts as a positive and a negative as we wouldn’t have met you without it, but it was massively unfair. More information is needed. I think we all acknowledge our personal biases against her. According to Rinn, being or having been a volt striker is a bad thing.
She also manipulated Rinn and has continued to keep her identity secret despite our obvious opposition. She also has tried to hire at least one spy to track us. Although this may just be her keeping to the persona? We need more insight there as well. Perhaps it was her own experiment to test your allegiance?
She has manipulated, and by default lied to everyone in her deceptions, irregardless of their motives. She pauses for a moment and takes a breath, seeming to settle to digest her thoughts.
At least now he’s listening, rather than panicking, though Rinn is frowning as Stubby goes over those points. (But he lets her, only muttering ‘volstrucker’ to correct her pronunciation.) His fingers are tapping on his legs as he thinks, then he shakes his head. “Just because someone is related to someone else does not mean they are they same. A good family does not mean a person is good, or vice versa. And we do not know if the Empress has tried to kill you- from all we have heard, she wants you alive to see you suffer, so…” Rinn shrugs.
“Though-” He rolls his eyes. “She has been in power here for… five years? And has not managed to hurt Whitestone, Tal Dorei, or your family. But who knows if that has been Vanya working against her plans, or just that they have not worked?” Rinn’s fingers keep tapping against his legs, and finally he sighs. “And yes, Ryo did put you into the Embassy. And gave all that gold to be used for all of you, to get what you need, and as far as I know no one else arriving in New Vasselheim got that sort of treatment. I certainly didn’t.” He mutters the last part, then looks at Stubby, puzzled. “Wait, what spy did Vanya try to hire?”
Stubby looks up at him cocking her head to the side. “You.”
“-Oh. Ja.” Rinn blinks, and then nods. “… I wonder what she would have thought or done if I had agreed and signed that part.”
“Well I would have known.” She smirks slightly, still proud of her spying.
Rinn sighs and rubs the bridge of his nose, muttering. “Du und deine verdammten Experimente.”
She tries to parrot back what he says, making it a question. (Not well).
Tāmarai mouths the phrase in Zemnian, a mnemonic for asking for exact translations later, just in case there are nuances. For now, she does remember each of the words “you” “and” “your,” and experiment and damned are fairly clear. “The experiments are effective,” she reminds herself and Rinn, “though inconvenient at times, and risky. I am hesitant to say it, but I think testing Vanya Vonn is a good way to move forward. Not the only way, of course. We could simply rely on what her grandfather knows of her, and our prior few experiences of her as Mr. Yelmoira. Either way, though, we must make a plan and then act upon it. Fluttering about like drunken moths on a Sun Day will only result in… What did he call it… Analysis paralysis?” A phrase she’s heard Lord Percy utter in passing.
“Oh yeah, my dad says that.”
Rinn shakes his head. “And that is?”
“I think the idea is that one must think and plan, but one must not only think and plan. At some point, one must pull up one’s stockings and enact the plan.”
“Ah. Not over-thinking something so that you freeze and do not act.” A quick nod.
“Just so,” Tāmarai confirms. “So. We must curtail our musings, finalize a plan, and carry it out. No more dithering! What must we do?” She starts ticking off on her fingers. “Stubby and Viktor will create the liquid compound to extinguish the magical power source beneath the Platinum Sanctuary. “Then you and I, Rinn, will complete the liquid with your lightning and my gra– the skill of my homeland. “I will enter the Sanctuary and search for the artifact of my people — and I hope that you will all come with me, as Madame Osysa assures me I cannot accomplish the task alone. “Finally, we will return to the Birth Heart and light Viktor’s flares until Local Viktorya opens the tree to bring us back to the embassy. That is, assuming she can do that. We ought perhaps to also organize a symbol whereby she can inform us if she is unable to do so, but if she can’t, I am not sure what else could be done, since it will take days to get back there the usual way.”
Stubby looks thoughtful.* “I thought Victor was taking the flares to let us know how things were going and we have-” She turns and points to the massive pillar of flame.“that as our signal to be picked up. Though I do agree others could be helpful.”
“It is nearly enough,” agrees Tāmarai, “but if Local Viktorya has a signal that she can send us if things are toes-up,” a phrase she heard in passing, back in Whitestone, “we won’t sit here waiting for the tree to open. We will simply go back, and not waste more time waiting. However, that is a small detail and can be handled easily. Let us concentrate on matters that are not so easily accomplished.” She takes a breath, because this is a momentous, er, moment. “How will we defeat this… this shadow from another time? How will we end her rule?”
“Even aside from what ever magic and power that gives her-” Rinn motions to the pillar of flames- “She still has plenty. She is the Empress, with plenty of people under her command. Even just the regular people of the city seen to like her. That all us what we need to deal with as well, but it may be easy.” He smiles humorlessly. “Everyone there lost people when Old Vasselheim blew up. Everyone. So what if they now knew that she knew it was going to happen, to the day, maybe the hour- and she did nothing? No-” He shakes his head. “She did not do nothing. She used it for the revolt, and let people die for her goals. How many hundreds of people? If they all knew this-” Rinn jerks his head in the direction of New Vasselheim. “She would lose that. The regular people, and maybe even the guards and soldiers.”
“Assuming she has their good opinion,” responds Tāmarai. “So far, while we have heard from her that she was elected by the people, we have not yet heard from anyone who is willing to claim that they voted for her. I think she is not as beloved as she would like us to believe. She wants us to feel powerless to resist her. I do not. And I will not.”
“Well, the Take does not care for her. Neither dies the Thieves Guild, as we have seen.” Wryly. “Then there are the Vons, and it sounded as if they knew others. The Xhorhasian ambassador, from what she has said, I think would help. Then from what some of the people from the various temples, from your discussions with them. “That is more than enough to areas spread information about her, if we need.” He gives Tāmarai a faint, (maybe slightly smug), reassuring smile. “We are not powerless.”
“Vanya probably also has her own information and influence,” Stubby reminds them both.
Rinn snorts a bit at that.
“Very likely. It is interesting to think about whether she is still on the side of the resistance, but it is not useful. We have no choice but to hope and believe that she will be with us when the time comes. I do not care for the possibility that we are wrong to believe this,” says Tāmarai with a little wistfulness; it surely would be nice to feel absolutely certain. “However, we need to believe that we can rely on her when the time comes. I think that we know. Not soon enough to change our plans, but soon enough to see the blow coming, if it comes. And maybe soon enough to duck.”
Stubby he rolls her eyes at Rinn’s snort. “No I agree we can’t base our plans off her help. But I think that there is a strong possibility we’ll have allies within the city. They might be enough to fight her allies, giving us the chance to go to her directly. With the fire out, her magic won’t be as limited. Conversely it might also weaken her, since she’s been drawing from it…” She pauses and then smiles widely. “We could always march in and just say that I’m in charge now. I mean I am older… Auntie Victoria.” She giggles.
Rinn just raises an eyebrow and looks at Stubby for a long moment. “… You wouldn’t have time to design and build things. No time for your experiments when you’re trying to run a city, much less an empire.” He points out dryly, then bites his lip as he thinks.
“We do not want people to know how she is connected to you, right?” Another careful look to Stubby. “Mostly- well, what is most important, is we do not want your mother and the rest of your family to know what happens, or did almost happen, or whatever-” He waves a hand vaguely “-in the future, with what happened with you missing. So that connection with the Empress and you, we don’t really want that information to get out. I know that we here wouldn’t tell any of this to your family, but if the information was known to others who would-” Rinn shakes his head and sighs quietly.
“So yes, she is from the future, she has a vendetta against you and your family and the whole group, and all of what she’s done are plans to hurt them and anyone connected to them, which included Vasselheim, and includes others- but not that she is a decendant, and from a time where…. where certain things happened.” He looks between Stubby and Tāmarai. “Yes?”
Stubby thinks and nods slowly. I think they know she’s related though? Just not the rest of the situation. Also I’d make a wonderful figurehead for a new government!” She gives them a stoic/dramatic look. ” Though, I doubt succession works backwards…”
Rinn just gives Stubby a pained look. “On that part I think you are right, Fräulein Victoria.” He rolls his eyes slightly. “And they had been talking about setting up a council, before. The Vons mentioned it, I think? That might be better, overall.”
“This is a good thing to consider, and I am glad you thought of it, as I did not. A vacuum of power is a terrible thing, as only those who seek power will rush to fill it.” Tāmarai ponders the situation, worrying at the chain of the tiny Beacon charm she wears around her neck. “Lady Victoria would rule well, I believe, but this throne is not for you. There is no people that would not prefer their own government, even a bad one, over a government by another people, even a good one. A Vasselheimer should rule Vasselheim.”
Stubby sighs dramatically. ” I suppose…. And it would take time away from my work. Which I really should get back to! So much to do before tomorrow…..”
“So, we do what we can, and trust that others do their part.” Rinn shrugs, and sighs, looking in the direction of New Vasselheim. “For however it goes.”
“They will, we’ve chosen good people that helped the city before we ever dreamed of being here.”