Pathfinder Kingmaker

...and justice for all...
Operation SANCTUARY

Anton stalked down the alley toward the three cornered perps.

“I am the law!” he bellowed as he swung his massive sword swiftly before him, flinging gore and a spray of blood across a nearby wall, evidence of the justice he’d meted out on the others in the gang.

“Your sentence has been decided! Now give me a chance to see you die with some small shred of honor…fight me!” he continued, a mad look in his eyes.

One of the men, a portly brigand known for his cruelty in running several notorious brothels, dropped forward to his knees and began blubbering.

“Mercy! Mercy dread king! I have broken your laws and…and done bad things! Mercy and I will serve you loyally!” be wailed, fighting to hold himself up with one had as he shook in fear.

The other two looked at each other, sharing what they both knew were their last moments alive, and rushed the king, roaring as they moved in on their lone opponent. The fight was quick and final. Anton feinted toward one and used the momentum of the other to slam him mightily against a stone wall, knocking him senseless for a moment. While the other tried to reorient himself, he was beheaded by a wide flat sweep of the king’s greatsword. His body continued for a few more steps, not yet realizing what had happened. Before the head could hit the ground the king wheeled, using his momentum to carry himself completely around. His sword tip scraped along the wall, throwing forth sparks and chips of stone a split-second before connecting with the other brigand’s mid-section, continuing through and beyond it.

The man let out a ragged howl as he looked down to see his entrails spill forth. Involuntarily he tried to gather them up in his hands, all the while howling as he collapsed, slipping in the growing puddle of his own filth and gore.

Ignoring the death throes of the man he’d gutted, the king moved on the still-blubbering pimp, now prostrate at the end of the alley, his legs and arms splayed outward, his face in a puddle of muck.

As the man behind him expired, the sounds of battle receded. Above the whimpering of the man before him Anton could barely hear shouting and the occasional clang of metal on metal from nearby streets. The other kings and Sir Akiros’ MaxTac team were finishing their work, it seemed. Anton studied the man briefly, considering him, what he’d done, and what he represented. In this brief moment Anton reflected on his work and his role as king and symbol of the realm. Had he done right by his people? Were his priorities aligned with his stated goals and values? Had he been a good king? The very existence of these slums was a black mark on his record, he accepted. Glancing at the alley around him, he recognized the mount for a sign no longer there, for a shop opened when this place had been a street, years ago, when Misthaven was young, and such problems were distant.

No, he’d not been the best leader he could be. He’d reveled some in being a king, and enjoyed its trappings…and let this happen. The greatest of kings never ruled without problems, nor challenges. And the greatest of kings owned up to their mistakes. Allowing this rot to take hold in his beloved home was, he accepted, his fault. He would not tolerate in himself such a mistake again.

The pimp’s volume increased, snapping King Anton back to the present. He looked down at the pathetic excuse for a man and pondered his fate…and his own.

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Bright Night
...kicking over slimy rocks...

Operation Bright Night took about 5 weeks to fully implement, due to some logistical problems and production challenges. In the end, several streets in the working class neighborhoods around the old harbor area – the real slums – were lit at night as the air warmed, heralding the coming of summer. Shorter nights, now lit, resulted in a steep drop in crime and a corresponding boost to the businesses of that area, also a result of a festival encouraged by the kings and put on by local business owners.

A fortnight after all the lights were up, crime had dropped by over 60% on those streets, and a number of wanted petty and more serious criminals had been caught – unaccustomed as they were to being seen, their routine was thoroughly upset, and many were therefore apprehended.

Of several notable brigands captured, Brango O’Rourke and his accomplice, Shandyrayn – two notorious thieves – provided Sir Akiros with actionable intelligence about some of the worst elements at work along the old waterfront. Drug smuggling & sales, and prostitution were rampant in that area, and the two men were more than willing to drop dime (or, in this case, Anton) on those they knew to be involved in those trades.

Within a few weeks Akiros was confident that the worst blocks were essentially isolated, and that traffic in and out of them could be adequately monitored.

“My lords,” he announced as he brought his briefing on the progress of Bright Night to a close, "I believe it is time to launch Operation Sanctuary.

“We have enough reserves on hand to handle routine patrols and enforcement in the rest of the city, enabling us to detail the best for this work – at least for the first few nights. After that we can continue the push with our MaxTac teams, of which I now have three. One will be on duty, one will be on emergency reserve, and the last will rest unless needed.

“And with the addition of you,” he nodded in general to the four kings surrounding the table map in the tight quarters of the anti-scrying room, “we can cut this cancer out of our good city!”

The kings cheered a mighty roar of ‘huzzah!’ and clanked their great kingly tankards of ale together, and then broke into a bawdy song of war, adventure, and comely damsels in distress before gorging themselves on hearty stew served in sourdough bread bowls.

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Deep undercover
really deep

Zion brings the kings together in the meeting room with the table to show the others the letter he received from the Queen. When they have all taken their seats, he begins by tossing the parchment on the table within easy reach of Pik who he knows would be the most curious.

“My Fellow Kings, and friends. The queen has left us. She has undertaken what we have already discussed she should not do alone, which is find, and confront this ‘Caretaker’. In her arrogance, She believes she is the only one qualified to deal with it. Yet one more reason why she never should have been elevated to the status we share. She claims she is doing it for the people but it is NOT up to her to decide what is best for them. Our people come to us because of how we govern our people.

“She is unhinged. I believe we need to craft a defense if she is to return.”

Pik reaches out and takes the letter, reading it aloud.

Dread Zion,

I have chosen to share my decision with you first, that you would then pass it along to the rest of the kings. Perhaps by entrusting you with this information you will be able to discern my true intent and loyalty.

I am greatly concerned with this Caretaker, and its place in the realm. I wish to learn more about it. To find it and speak with it, whatever it is. I believe that I, with my deep history in and knowledge of the lands and world and people am uniquely positioned to take on this mission. I will find the Caretaker and determine the Caretaker’s real intentions, so that we can act on them.

It is a sad thing indeed that you have so arranged yourself against me these years, never trusting nor accepting my person or position. If only you could know my heart in full you would know that you have nothing to fear from me; and, in fact, everything to gain from me. From me. But that is all in the past now, and only our work today and tomorrow will determine what the future may bring. Perhaps a piece of my heart still holds out hope, but that is for another day, and maybe another world entirely.

I do not know when you will hear from me again; and if my mission fails, if you ever will again. Believe me when I say that I am looking out for the realm and its people, and will keep these ever-forward in my heart and mind as I delve into the Caretaker’s secrets.

Yours, forever and affectionately,

Tessara

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A Month of Work
do not mistake activity for progress

Meta
This is a summary of plans put into action over the weeks following the attempt on Pik’s life and Tessara being called on the carpet by the other kings.

Light is being brought to the neighborhoods that skirt the slums near the old waterfront (that is, the first set of docks built). Progress is slow, due to the unique nature of the work, the fact that it requires coordination between disparate groups not used to work with one another, and the matter of red tape related to existing zoning ordnances, some of which needed to be changed. The bureaucracy of Misthaven isn’t that big – and that’s part of the problem, as there aren’t enough pencil-pushers, accountants, survey crews, and other public works folks to get the job(s) done in a timely manner. That said, the first posts are up and the process is being ironed out. The entire project should be done in about two months.

A few groups of Mistborn Rangers have been quietly brought into town to help support the local constabulary as Sir Akiros shifts manpower and resources to prepare for the big push into the slums, which he says he’ll be able to conduct in about a month.

Pik and Boldrick “The Boulder” Ballbearing spent about a week working on the assassin, trying to get him to see the light, change his evil ways, and overall embrace niceness. The guy, however, turned out to be a jerk, refusing offers, not taking the men seriously, and being abrasive and rude at every turn. He demonstrated a noteworthy tolerance for beatings and other forms of coercion, including sleep depravation, high and low temperatures, and bad food. Basically, the guy’s a tough, stubborn jerk who really doesn’t care what happens to him, having long since resigned himself to being executed for attempted regicide. Do with him as you will.

As for gathering intel on the criminal underworld of Misthaven and the kingdom at large, you’ve turned first to digging through existing records and sources in order to see if anything’s been missed. The lack of a Spymaster has really hampered your ability to conduct this sort of internal intelligence-gathering, and it’s entirely possible that different cities’ constabularies have information that could help…but you’ve no idea if they do since no one is running the show. Essentially, law enforcement in the kingdom above the local level is a disjointed hodge-podge, much like an incomplete symphony with no conductor or sheet music. Expanding spy operations within the city or kingdom will depend on what local law enforcement can muster, meaning that such operations are going to be as uneven as are your different cities’ constabularies.

What are the kings up to during all of this?

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Putting plans into action
the short and the long-term

Over a period of days initial contracts were signed with local mages, carpenters, and blacksmiths. A reasonable number of light posts could be completed within a fortnight and installed. Akiros decided that the project would be kept secret and that the posts would be deployed all at once, on the same day, hopefully bringing light to those poorer neighborhoods on the corona of the slums on the same evening.

Akiros also wanted to be ready for a big move into those slums on that very night. He turned to Tessara, still the Lead Ranger of the realm, and arranged to have some ranger patrols diverted to Misthaven to provide additional manpower, and prepared to call up some of his own constabulary reserves to back-fill patrol positions elsewhere in the city. He wanted his top officers on the job for what he had dubbed “the push.”

There needed to be a balance between broadcasting an air of ‘business as usual’ and preparing behind the scenes for the push. In particular, Akiros needed information about gang leaders, safehouses, storage facilities – he needed to know where to hit on that night.

Tessara promised the support of the rangers, and agreed to dig around as much as she could to find more information about the Caretaker and through him/her/it possibly find the other information Akiros needed.

And the kings…what would they do during this time? What would be done with the assassin? Zion wants to deputize him; Reg wants to beat him; and Anton wants to give him to Pik on a platter. You only have one assassin, and therefore you must choose.

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Akiros' Report to the Upper Council
in the small hours

Akiros’ briefing took about 30 minutes, in keeping with his concise, focused manner of speaking. There were few questions during, as he had anticipated many of those he might might be asked for clarification, and on related side issues, too. Open questions & discussion carried on for more than an hour after he finished his formal presentation.

An observer would carry away the following key points:

  1. The area around the old docks – the ones built early in Misthaven’s history and now a sideshow to the active waterfront – were slums, and riddled through with crime. Akiros believed that the number of vacant buildings and confused, twisting streets and alleys provided a great deal of concealment for criminal activity. There was circumstantial as well as actual evidence that some gangs called this area home, and that a variety of illegal goods and services could be purchased or arranged for in this relatively small corner of the city.
  2. The construction camps around the waterfront, still very much under (re)construction after having been blown up during the war, had been consistent sources of petty crime: prostitution, drugs, gambling, and the occasional fight that got out of hand. If there were gangs running those sorts of activities in the city, it was certain that they’d have contacts in those areas. Saul was known to operate in that area, according to Akiros’ intelligence.
  3. The drug trade is a problem in Misthaven – there’s no mistaking or hiding from it. What started out a few years ago as the typical sale of various mushrooms and weeds and roots and other esoteric items from the Narlmarches has transitioned away from less harmful substances to highly addictive narcotics. Akiros has shut down a few brothels that were fronts for such sales, and has been trying for some time to penetrate the groups that are responsible for the worst of it. Unfortunately, he’s been unable to do so, and has lost a few potential informants over the last several months, and with them trails of clues. His hunch is that there is a very sophisticated, organized operation at the core of it, and they know how to stay hidden.
  4. Two months ago a small temple to Gyronna was discovered, and the small coven of worshipers broken up. Followers of the ‘Angry Hag’ are never a good sign, and, like other vermin often come in far larger numbers than is obvious. He’s been trying to see if there are others since, but has not uncovered anything definite to date.

In a nutshell, Akiros’ constables are reliable, capable, and good at typical local law enforcement. He does not have the manpower – especially since the mandatory domestic spending cuts kicked in during the war – to carry on complex investigations. He has a few solid trackers and would-be detectives, but beyond that he’s pretty limited in what he can do. He’s advocated for more funding for more officers, more surveillance, and better, ongoing training; however, since crime in Misthaven hasn’t been a problem to date he’s not had much luck. It’s clear that he understands why the Upper Council didn’t fund his every request, and yet he’s still disappointed that it’s taken such seemingly dire circumstances to bring light to the fallout.

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The Queen Speaks

“The Caretaker is…not the evil you think it is,” Tessara said in a near-whisper, in response to Pik’s question.

“He, or she – I’m not sure – has been in this region for some time, predating this realm,” she continued, “and always a force for balance, I think.”

The kings and others present listened intently as she spoke.

“These woods, and these steppes…these lands…are ancient, and have seen many rulers, wars, and peoples come and go, and yet there has always been nature, and through its normal course, balance.

“The Caretaker, I believe is a force of or a being aligned with the natural world, unfettered by civilization and artificial laws, rules, and structures. I don’t think the Caretaker is at war with what has been built here, and what the realm represents; however, I do think the Caretaker seeks to act as a balance against what the Mistmarches seeks to impose on these lands.

“This may bring the Caretaker into some forms of conflict with the realm, and sometimes to its aide – or, rather, to the aide of the people. I believe that we have put too much emphasis on the Caretaker as both an individual and as an opponent, when we should be looking at these criminal activities and gangs as the real source of destructive power. And whether the Caretaker is a man, woman, or something else matters not…the Caretaker is a force of the natural world, seeking to promote and maintain balance.”

Tessara droned on in a low voice, almost dead-pan, as the others watched and listened.

“As for the Caretaker’s actual identity in the conventional sense, I…do not know it.”

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What's with the queen?
Nuts, lying, or something else?

The kings prepared for a fight, and conducted their questioning of the queen, relying on wit, facts, and magic to try to ensure that they were getting the whole truth.

Tessara was certain that this ‘Caretaker,’ while potentially causing some problems, was not the real source of the realm’s troubles. In fact, this shadowy figure may well have even predated the kingdom itself, as she provided examples and proof of benevolent acts by this individual at points in the recent past. Apparently he/she even acted as something of a counter-balance to the depredations of the Stag Lord, years ago. The queen, while accepting that the Caretaker was certainly a force for chaos, at least compared against the law of the realm, he/she/it was not, she asserted, evil or inherently dangerous.

Something was behind these problems, including the assassination attempt, that was greater than the Caretaker and decidedly evil, destructive, and scheming.

Of these things she was sure.

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"This is what I know..."
the queen presents her case

Tessara continued on for the better part of an hour as the kings listened, interrupting periodically to ask questions, seek clarification, and unravel the complex tapestry of conspiracy that the queen’s story described.

If she was to be believed, Misthaven was shot through with drug-dealing gangs, thieves’ guilds that conspired to divide the city into manageable segments, and a criminal underground with at least as much policing power as the actual authorities. Behind them all lurked the shadowy, all-knowing Caretaker, a mysterious figure whose origins were unknown, motives unclear, and power seemingly undeniable.

The queen had discovered evidence of these extensive criminal operations during her travels across the realm, where she first found indications of well-organized smuggling into the kingdom and between its cities. Misthaven was the hub, for sure, although there were similar structures and goings-on in the other cities and towns. She’d spent the last few months in an admittedly obsessive hunt for clues to help her get to the bottom of things.

She begged forgiveness for not informing the other monarchs, citing what she believed was a need for secrecy, due to the many unknowns and at least some reliable evidence that there was also corruption in the goverment – not to mention her initial lack of hard proof.

She now had Saul, however, whom she stated was the leader of the most powerful thieves’ guild in Misthaven, and arguably the plenipotentiary for the Caretaker here in Misthaven. It was he, she asserted, who’d helped provided the assassin with information about Pik – this she had determined in her own interrogation of the young crook.

Tessara was emphatic about two things: the kingdom was in dire peril from within; and she would stand alongside her fellow soveriegns in rooting out the sources of this “rot,” a word she used repeatedly.

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Secret Combinations
...and invisible hands.

Time had been lost and with it opportunity. The hollowed room inside the great oak stood empty of motion. Shards of moon light split the darkness as dusty milky waves bent towards the light source, small crevices in-between the branching veins of the mighty oak. The shafts reflected upon the silver dais made for meditation. They bounced against an immaculate desk holding strange scripts in dead tongues. Resting in the corner, a large beast laid, its heartbeat filling the chamber with a steady dull thump. The oak room seemed a calm from the secret combinations outside, save the slender shape beginning to take effect on an inside wall. Split between hiss and crackle of wood breaking through stone, the shape slowly manifested. First a leg then arms outstretched swimming through the air. The wooden being became flesh and gasped into life once more. The large feline awoke to the sound and loyally arose to greet the woman. She acknowledges the furry creature with a soft rub underneath the chin and hug. It was good to be home. But she was too preoccupied with events at hand.

She felt lost and defeated in her attempt for revenge. Her time spent in the forest proved fruitless. It is as if she had disappeared from existence. But as she searched she found only more secrets. She heard the stories. The object of her revenge only became crueler after time, after her fleeing. What can only be said as some magic taking hold to her, some insidious deterioration of the soul from the inside? Now fey beasts and strangers began feeding from the depths of the Narlmarches. What sort of machination was set in motion here. The Norn, protector of all that was once good, that had once banished her, tried to kill her, was no more than a shadow to time. And in her place, vengeance that will never be quelled and a hole in the world where there should not be one.

Still rubbing the felines belly she became aware of her meditations and awoke. Taking quick survey of the room, she instantly spotted the letter from the Mistborn rangers. Typical was their correspondence spent this way, transporting in through the bare patch of earth that was available to leave messages on whereabouts and the sort. It was peculiar today. It was written in druidic. She quietly open the note. An unexpected gasp, regret, and fear filled her with its words. These were the mechanizations coming too close to home. She knew who she had to see. The note dropped from her hand and quickly grabbed her companion as they vanished into oaken wall through a splash of magic and bending wood.

+++++++++++

Standing at a distance, he could see the festering wounds Misthaven beginning to take shape. Two shadows, too afraid of the light, silently locked up the warehouse door and took flight into the shrouded fog banks of the ports. He waited sometime after they had left. Deftly he moved across the street and through the broken window into the warehouse. Damp and dark, he could see the mold as much as smell it across the wooden trusses. Dropping down to the floor, he strode quietly across the large room to the staircase down. Below and between the creak of the steps he could hear the sniffling of some poor creature through a door. Knowing who it was, he held no compassion as he advanced in blurred speed, hushing the only light in the room, to strike the young man.

A loud and broken cry ensued as the young man was snapped back into his nightmare. “Trust is a fragile thing, once broken you are never the same. I am never the same!” exclaimed the Caretaker at the restrained Saul of Mistmarch. A wet sniffle, a silent plea escaped the beaten man. “We are all weak Saul but we do not give in to that weakness with the empty promises of those who would destroy us,” his large paws upon the captive’s chest, pressing down with immense pressure. Saul could not breath, his lungs burned under the pressure for air, if he could just speak. “I know you understand what has happened. I know you will know one day what risk you have placed upon those you once claimed to love. I know you think you can escape this but the secrets are already breaking. They will know you were the source. I have made plans already and there will be a new master.” Releasing the pressure, the Caretaker turned to go. Struggling for words, “Wait… no… do not leave… me!” Saul laid his last desperate cry for forgiveness. Half turning the Caretaker simply said, “We shall kill no one.” And as fast as he was at Saul’s throat, the large creature was gone leaving the human to his thoughts of pain, shame, and hopelessness.

As he was held in straps, too weak to escape or pick at the locks, Saul felt the dreams he had at ambition slip into the shards of tears upon his wounds. There truly was no one to help as his withdrawal took him deeper into delirium. He could feel the soft touch of a dog, once like when he was young, approach his hand and face to comfort and lick the dried blood away. The last smile of youth flashed across his face before the darkness in his soul. Suddenly the dog was startled and fled. Or so he thought, as a large tiger, snarling approached him in the bleakness of the warehouse. “The nightmare had come to stay,” he thought to himself. As his mouth stood agape is silent scream and his body twisted. His last thoughts coursing through his body, the vision of a woman came to stand before him and hold him. Once like his mother did before she died. Once like an angel spirit had watched over him all this time.

+++++++++++

Entering into the great hall with the half dead Saul upon Lupo’s back, Tessara stepped forward to the Kings with a newfound purpose to bring things out of the dark and into the light.

“I know how they found Pik. I led them there. I told the Caretaker to keep him safe and we both failed in trusting this urchin of a master thief.” Tessara pointed to the limp body upon the tiger’s back. “We should forgive him for being weak to his addictions.” “I believed we could keep the city safe from these things but no.”

Striking her staff on the hard stone floor, commanding the attention of the kings, “I know we have been reactive to these threats every time. We have been dancing with kingdom trivialities too long. Now we are told to attack each other with no thought to truly why. It is not Pitax but we are dancing again to someone else’s game. Dancing to who’s music? We are being played for fools!”_

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