16 Aurorsmoon 459
“The food is poisoned… and the Book is missing!”
All activity in the king’s banquet hall ceased utterly as the pronouncement rang through the halls. Steppengard rose slowly to his feet, his face darkening as silverware was hastily lowered throughout the chamber. A quiet sob emerged from somewhere amongst the nobles, and a low murmur started to spread. All eyes were on the main entrance, where the guards were parting reluctantly to allow their harbinger to pass. Jasmine worked her way into the room, her eyes taking in everything at a glance. Joshua was only seconds behind, and she was intent on distracting anyone from noticing his weakened condition. There had been apparitions in the cemetery. Joshua had drawn them to him to spare his companions their deadly touch, while Jasmine and Elessar dealt with zombies in the tunnel. The encounter had left the priest even weaker than before.
The king was here, of course, as was the duke and his champion. At Elessar’s side, Dani looked around in confusion. Between the two, Charmalina’s eyes were shining, her bloodlust already beginning to rise in anticipation of the fight to come. There were no Ragesians, of course. They’d already been dealt with. Jasmine’s hand wandered to her belt, where the newest bear-skull mask in her collection was secured. The Ragesian ambassador’s notes had been his damnation. A magical poison had been sewn into the victuals presented at the banquet, a potion intended to incite madness in its victims. And the Book of Eight Lands, the nobles’ magical ward against just such treachery, had been stolen somehow.
Jasmine felt as much as heard Joshua’s arrival. As she finally located the king’s adviser, the woman whom Jasmine firmly believed was at the center of this little tragedy, her fingers touched the hilts of her swords. She stepped aside as her towering companion strode purposefully into the room, the ring of Sharakas clearing his sheath descending like a death knell on the assembled gentry. Joshua faced the king, raising his sword before him. There was no sign of a limp as he walked into the room. Jasmine’s heart was full. She wished she could see his face, but she refused to let Nina Glibglammer slide from her view for even an instant.
“What kind of king,” Joshua intoned, “would sacrifice the land and people he is sworn to protect…” The words descended on the room like hammers upon the tables, and Jasmine felt the familiar rush that preceded combat. She wondered that she had come to cherish these moments, when her senses sharpened and her heart started to pound. The blood was rushing in her ears. Jasmine didn’t even try to pay heed to remainder of Joshua’s speech. Her attention was elsewhere…
Nina was smiling…
With a wordless roar, King Steppengard leapt to his feet, flinging the head table over in the process. Screams erupted throughout the chamber as nobles great and small abandoned their doomed repast. Joshua was only halfway across the chamber when the king produced a wicked-looking flail from beneath his seat and threw himself upon the duke. Elessar virtually exploded into action, moving quickly to intercept, only to be balked by the king’s loyal bodyguard, a giant of man with a very big sword. The paladin smiled an apology at the man and raised Anyariel to meet his attack.
Nina was on the move. The banquet hall was in chaos, as nobles tried to reach the exits and guards attempted to discern their obligations. The gnome seemed unimpeded, however. She moved through rather than around the obstacles, steadily approaching the doors. Jasmine moved to intercede, but it was not to be. As the diminutive woman drew near, she shimmered and changed, erupting into a nest of giant serpents. Jasmine blinked. Arlyn appeared at her side, taking in the monstrosity with typical aplomb.
“Well, that’s different.”
Jasmine nodded as the arrows began to fly.
* * *
On the Sixteenth Day of Auror’s Moon in the Royal City of Bresk, King Steppengard of Dassen was beheaded by Joshua Stormborn in the heat of battle. The Council of Eight pledged unanimous support for the impromptu execution, which was a response to the monarch’s attempt to poison them all in the depths of the madness which had consumed him in the wake of his family’s tragic assassination. Nina Glibglammer, revealed to be some sort of vile shapechanging monstrosity, disappeared under the assault of Joshua’s companions, but not before infecting many of the assembled nobles with a deadly murderous insanity.
Michael Gallo has reluctantly accepted the crown of Dassen in the wake of the king’s death, as proposed by their saviors from Seaquen and ratified by his peers.
Long live the king!