62nd of Zephyr, 1075 AE

The midmorning sun shone across the land, highlighting the remains of an abandoned town just beyond the dark recesses of the Bahdok Caverns. Apparently empty for years, the only remnants of recent habitation were ashes from a small cooking fire, undoubtedly left by an enterprising Corsair on their way through the hidden catacombs.

Grateful to be breathing overworld air, the party rested, healing themselves and getting their bearings for the trek ahead. They had been tasked with meeting and swaying the opinions of Prince Ahmtur the Mighty, Prince Bokka the Magnificent, and Prince Mehtu the Wise—Vabbi’s three most prominent merchant princes. If they could be convinced to unite their forces and rally the country against Varesh and her massing army, Elona would stand a chance of surviving the threat she posed.

Emerging out of the canyons within which the abandoned, nameless town had been built, they came across a local fisher, drying her catch in the afternoon sun. “Wonderful!” she exclaimed upon seeing the Sunspears. “You came just like she said you would!”

With questioning glances amongst themselves, the party asked what the woman meant, who went on to explain that several days prior a priestess of Lyssa had asked—commanded—her to camp out at that spot, waiting for “honored guests” to emerge from the ruins. When they did so, she was to point them toward the priestess’ camp further down the canyon.

None of the group liked the idea of traveling closer to the mighty Fortress of Jahai than strictly necessary, but they also wanted to discover who this priestess was, and why she had been expecting visitors—they also privately expressed doubts that they were even the visitors she expected; if she were in league with the Kournans, perhaps she waited for the slain General Bayel.

Purchasing several of the woman’s dried fish by way of thanks, and heading on their way, the party came across a small tributary of the Elon River, with hoarse, croaking warcries and sounds of battle echoing through the trees. Approaching cautiously, they found a group of vicious heket—toad-like humanoids that were known to sack settlements and pillage caravans along the river—pounding ineffectually against a dark purple energy shield, within which a priestess knelt, praying and maintaining the concentration necessary for the spell to hold.

Dispatching the monsters, many of whom dove into the clear waters and swam away in search of easier prey, the group cautiously helped the priestess to her feet. She bowed deeply and let the Sunspears know that she was grateful for the help, and honored that they had arrived just as foretold. Her name was Kehanni and it seemed that a mysterious stranger had told her to wait at this very spot, and to meditate on the harmony of Elona as a whole, and that strangers would arrive in her time of need.

As she meditated, the twinned goddess Lyssa showed her the horrors of Varesh Ossa’s blasphemy, and the terrible toll her hunger for dominion was taking on Kourna. She knew Vabbi would be next, and pledged to help the Sunspears in any way she could. She offered them sanctuary for the evening, but bade them meet with the stranger at the “Chantry of Secrets” to learn more, directing them to clefts in the cliffs across the Elon. “He’s waiting for you.”

The priestess left in the early morning, promising that they would meet again, in the lands to the North, but that they should seek out the stranger who had brought such light to her eyes.

Crossing the Elon via a bridge farther downstream, the Sunspears kept a wary eye toward the south, mindful of the troops Varesh was massing at the Fortress of Jahai just a few uncomfortable miles away. Arriving on the river’s northern bank, the water clearer and seemingly purer than any which flowed through Kourna, they made their way to the hidden mountain pass Kehanni had indcated. Soon they were face-to-face with guards clad in red robes and burgandy armour, holding fierce polearms at the ready, unwilling to allow any through the large oaken doors behind them. It seemed only the party’s white Sunspear armour stayed their hand.

All tension left the air when the doors opened and a bald man, also wearing dark reds, emerged from within. “Lightbringers,” he said by way of address, “you have arrived. I welcome you to the Chantry of Secrets.” Neither offering an introduction nor asking for one, he bade them follow him inside.

Cautiously looking to one another, the group accepted his offer and entered the hidden mountain complex. In the middle of the large canyon which formed the Chantry, statues to all five gods of Elona stood, blazing with sure signs of divine favor. Tancred, for all his religious studies, could only name one or two places in the world dedicated to all five deities, and never any time in history where each had simultaneously given their blessing. Without a word he marched forward, kneeling in supplication before the flaming statue of Balthazar, the god of war. With a dagger he made a small cut to the side of his hand and sprinkled his own blood into the fires.

Akeela similarly paid homage to the god of nature, Melandru, placing small springs of thyme and sage amongst the rich and verdant foliage of the tree grown or carved into her sacred image.

Issa noted more than two dozen men and women engaged in all sorts of domestic activities—cooking, weapons training, goods trading—far more people than the secretive, out-of-the-way location might suggest. Doorways led off from the main “courtyard”, including one near the back at which two stony-faced guards were posted.

“Why are the statues in different styles?” Lulit asked their guide, noting that while those honoring Dwayna and Lyssa were carved in a familiar style, with prayers in the common tongue etched around their base, those to Balathazar and Melandru were blockier, and that to Grenth was more angular, all in styles foreign to the Elonian continent, and with inscriptions equally indecipherable.

“Our order has operations across the world,” he offered, without any sign of deception or holding back. “In addition to those from Elona, we received two from Tyria,” he gestured to Balthazar and Melandru, “and one from Cantha,” he added, referring to Grenth.

The party had heard of Cantha before, having met more than one Canthan trader during their time in Istan, and knew it to be an empire far across the seas with a strict social hierarchy lead by a single monarch, the Emperor. Tyria, on the other hand, was unknown to all of them.

“Shall we sit down?” their guide suggested, leading them to a closed door behind which was a comfortably cool meeting room, with an ewer of water and glasses already upon the table. Akeela’s eyes lingered on the many people in the camp before closing the door—in addition to Elonians there were indeed some Canthans among the group, and even a small handful with the same light skin and light eyes that she had; it was a rare thing for her to find others which looked like her.

“I am called the Seeker of Whispers,” their guide finally introduced himself once all were seated around the heavy wooden table. “Our Master has directed us to aid you, as you have proven yourselves to be true and trustworthy allies whose aim is the good of all Elona. We hope in time you will find us to be the same.”

Issa raised a finger. “You called us ‘Lightbringers,’” he said without any indication of his thoughts; he was a fan of secrets and surprises, but far more enjoyed being on the other side of the table—holding all the cards—than kept in the dark.

“A title bestowed on those who serve as a beacon of hope to others, illuminating the ways of righteousness in times of darkness and despair. Our Master,” he said the word like a title, less so a name, “and other agents have told us much of your exploits and efforts to drive Varesh Ossa’s demon demon hordes—and the corruption they spread—back into the cold depths from whence they came. It is a title of honor and respect among our Order, and one that can open doors, even among those who do not know your faces.”

Remembering the group’s brief conversation with a similarly-garbed man in the Sunspear Sanctuary who urged them to deal with the cruel labor camp master, Tancred offered his own insight. “Your group helps all of Elona, trying to do what’s right, do I understand correctly?”

“You do,” the Seeker nodded.

Tancred harumphed, not quite stifling his eye roll. “You’ve done a bang-up job in Korouna.”

“In Vabbi, too” echoed Lulit and Issa, almost simultaneously.

The Seeker spread his hands in apology. “We are not an army, and while we are well-informed, there are events which do indeed blindside us. We had not expected General Kahyet’s influence to have taken so deep a root within the Kournan leadership, and had not foreseen the depths of Varesh’s hunger for power and control. These are indeed failings, and we admit them. Our task now is to do what is possible to contain and defeat their influence, to harass their flanks, as it were, to distract the main force.”

“While we do all the hard work,” Tancred frowned.

“Do not make light of your accomplishments; you defeated Kahyet and her corsair allies, survived the storming of Gandara, saved scores of your fellow brethren, rallied much of Kourna against their Warmarshal, and are now working to unite all of Vabbi against her as well. We hear you even slew her rabid dog Bayel and his demon lieutenant, each of whom would have caused untold pain destruction if left unchecked. Yes, the journey has been difficult, and will continue to be so, but your efforts are making a true difference.”

Tancred’s frown deepend, though he could not frame a response.

“You now seek to rally the Princes of Vabbi,” the Seeker continued, matter-of-factly. “They are a tempetuous and self-serving group, but I have no doubt you will prevail. Varesh will approach them under the pretense of security and investigation—particularly since you have been involved in the deaths of two of her generals—but you will show them that her promises are as hollow as her faith.”

Lulit spoke up. “How would you suggest we do that? The princes are spread across all of the country, cooped up in their golden palaces.” Issa sneered at the mention of the princes’ opulence.

“The annual Festival of Lyss is behind held at the Gardens of Seborhin in one week’s time. The princes would never miss an opportunity to be seen at the most important religious event of the season. Each should be making their way there even as we speak.”

“And do we just walk up and say ‘hi?’ It can’t be that easy,” she posed.

“Likely not. They will have their full contigent of guards and hangers-on; even your status as Sunspears will not grant you direct access to the princes themselves; their exclusivity is part of their allure, they think.”

“They know what would happen if they let the rest of Vabbi in too close,” Issa snorted.

Undeterred by the sinister edge in his voice, the Seeker continued. “While the princes themselves are unlikely to be approachable directly, their families likely will be. Ingratiate yourself to them and undoubtedly you will find access to the princes.”

“Let’s go to the party!” Akeela smiled broadly, clapping her hands together in excited emphasis.

The Seeker raised a cautious hand. “The Festival is a very exclusive event, and attendence is permitted by invitation only. The first task will be to find and acquire an invitation so you aren’t turned away at the door.”

Tancred shaked his head, hating how many roadblocks they had encountered on their journey to save the world.

“Luckily,” the Seeker smiled, “we know of an old priest who will not be attending this year’s festival. An old mentor of Kehanni, whom you met at the river, he had a terrible accident, I understand. Fell down some stairs and is in no shape to travel.”

Issa searched the man’s face, then smiled when he glimpsed the faintest hint of satisfaction there. “Such a shame,” he offered, clearly having picked up on something the rest of his party missed.

“Kehanni will know where he is recuperating,” the Seeker continued, not addressing Issa’s unvoiced suspicions. “Her travels take her to the small village of Jahinur, where I believe she will await your presence.”

He smiled warmly, gesturing to the door. “Please, take advantage of what the Chantry has to offer. Goods from around the world, a private room to rest and collect yourselves if necessary, food and drink.”

Rising, Tancred gestured to the door. “I think we should be on our way, I don’t want to be late to the festival.”

Refilling their supplies, and picking up several useful magical items in the process, the party bade farewell to the Chantry of Secrets, stepping back through the heavy doors and into the hidden mountain passes without.

With wind and sand whipping through the canyons, making travel uncomfortable if not difficult, Akeela called the group to a stop. “Hawk says there may be trouble ahead,” she whispered to the huddled group, her flying feathered friend’s sharp eyes picking out large creatures on and amid the rocks ahead. “Enormous vultures and aggressive pack animals. We should be on our toes.”

As they rounded the next turn, they immediately felt the gaze of two vultures, taller than a human even while perched. Drawing on the powers of Melandru Akeela bade them grant the Sunspears passage, her voice echoing with cruel squaks and screeches amid the twisting winds. Cocking their beaked heads as if considering the druid’s words, a new sound startled them enough to send them skyward with beats of their unbelievably long wings.

Akeela’s communion with the birds had drawn the attention of a chimera—its three mismatched heads snapping and gnashing at the air—its disjointed screams announcing its presence even before its muscular form bounded into view. Behind it were several sharp-tusked aurochs, massive beasts that were prone to stampeding.

Dodging to the side, Lulit sprang into action, her arrows finding piercing the monsters’ tough hides a daunting task. Akeela and Issa worked their magics, trying to immobilize, stun, or otherwise derail the charging behemoths. Tancred, a grin on his face and a bright spark in his eyes, waded into battle with the chimera, swinging his mighty warhammer, bolstered by the god of war himself. Raked by claws, bitten by beaks, and burned from powerful pyroclastic breath, he weathered them all, giving his team time to whittle down the attackers.

When the beasts all lay still, he turned his bloody smile toward his companions. “A good fight.” Issa shook his head, Lulit attempted to recover any usable arrows, and Akeela tended to his many wounds, as the vultures returned, this time to pick apart the fresh bodies felled by the Sunspears’ attacks.

As they continued their long walk toward the small village of Jahinur, in hopes of finding Kehanni Nutu, priestess of Lyss, they were luckily able to avoid or evade other groups of dangerous wildlife, aided by Lulit’s skill at navigating the terrain and Akeela’s hawk providing regular scouting reports—when it wasn’t distracted by small prey moving to escape the blistering daylight.

As the sun began to dip toward the mountains which dominated the West, the group came across a small commotion as they neared a primary crossing of the grand Elon River. An overturned merchant’s cart, with some items showing evidence of having been dragged toward the river, at first obscured what soon showed itself to be the scene of a massacre. Three merchants had been stabbed and slashed to death, with half a dozen heket warriors suffering outrageous bludgeoning wounds nearby.

Three humans stood nearby, shocked by the carnage which lay before them on the river’s shore. Tancred looked to Issa to take the lead, but was waved off. “I only deal with the living,” the glib negotiator shrugged.

It was apparent that the Vabbian merchants had come from Kourna—through the Foretress of Jahai to the south—and were ambushed as they prepared to cross the bridge with their goods. Lulit noted that heket weren’t known for attacking well-traveled locations, preferring more secluded locations where there would be little chance of their victims’ cries drawing attention. The question however remained of what happened to the heket, their bodies smashed almost beyond recognition.

Of the three who had come upon the grizzly scene moments before the Sunspears, two were native Kournans on their way back to their families. Tancred pulled them aside and, as somberly as possible, gave them a full rundown of what had been happening in Kourna over the months they had been away. “Send for your families to join you here; do not gather them yourselves,” he urged. “Do not return to Kourna, so long as Varesh suffers from her madness.” The pair looked uneasy but were ultimately swayed by his impassioned tone.

“The river is alive,” Akeela whispered to herself, kneeling on its bank slightly apart from the bodies. “It saw what was happening and it put an end to it.”

“Akeela get away from the water,” Lulit cautioned sharply, noticing how close the often absentminded druid had gotten. “Do not anger the spirits.” She remembered the many stories of those who had wandered too close to the powerful river and been “taken,” never to be seen again. All native Vabbians gave the Elon a respectful berth, born both of deference and fear of what lurked within its clear waters.

Akeela smiled to herself. “Thank you,” she whispered, giving a deep bow before turning and walking back to the group. Lulit took a deep breath and resigned herself to keep an eye on her companion—her best intentions could put each of them in jeopardy one day.

The third bystander appeared to be a native of Vabbi, but had said little about his reasons for being at the scene, other than he came running when he heard the other two crying out in shock and horror. He had been eyeing the Sunspears—who were wearing their brilliant white armour in plain view once firmly within the bounds of Vabbi—with suspicion since their arrival, enough that Issa eventually called him on it as the two merchants made their way across the bridge. “What’s your deal, fella?” he asked bluntly, intentionally putting the young man on the defensive.

Eventually, after convincing him that they were indeed true Sunspears and not Kournan agents sent in disguise, they learned that he himself had been initiated into the Order not one month before the failed siege of Gandara. The two senior Sunspears who were training he and two others had given them a rough crash course on the history, purpose, and aims of the organization, but could not take the recruits with them on the assault; it was too dangerous. After two weeks of hurried instruction they were told to wait for their instructors’ return.

After a month without word, other than rumors that the Sunspears had been massacred while trying to usurp the Kournan Warmarshal, his two fellow initiates struck out to find their fortunes elsewhere, leaving him to his own devices. With no education, no experience, no prospects, and no more food, eventually he left the small training grounds as well. For the past two weeks he had traveled through southern Vabbi, trying to help others and living off the generosity of strangers.

Seeing the sun finally dip below the mountain rim, plunging the world into darkness that would soon bring a sharply plunging chill, Issa suggested they all enjoy a pleasant evening of comaraderie away from the elements. Moving away from the main roadway, the bridge, and the many bodies laying on the rocky riverbank, he spent several minutes tracing a magical ritual which, when completed, brought forth a magical shell of energy, within which was ample room for everyone to rest, protected from the freezing air outside.

Late into the evening Tancred explained what really happened to the Sunspears at Gandara, and the many struggles—and successes—they’d experienced since. Lulit and Akeela talked about the corruptive influence of Varesh’s demons on the physical world and all creatures therein contained, and Issa mentioned the many ways they as a small team had benefitted the Kournan people and what their plan was for Vabbi—to find the Princes and force them to listen to the truth behind Kourna’s offers of military aid.

The young man was astounded; to him, living, breathing Sunspear heroes had taken him in for the evening, and were confiding the reality of their larger-than-life adventures with him. His name was Li’iol Alem, and while he hadn’t received any of the training that would help a Sunspear succeed, it was obvious that he was possessed of the heart and conviction to help all the peoples of Elona. Almost without consultation the party agreed to take him under their wing, at least until either they could get him squared away or their mission became too dangerous for such a fresh face.

Traveling beside the Elon through winding canyons and sand-swept valleys, seeing further signs of heket violence and managing to avoid further altercations with local wildlife, the party arrived at the fertile lands outside the village of Jahinur. Enriched by the river’s annual floods, the Vehtendi Valley was Vabbi’s largest agricultural region, where workers tended the many and varied crops which would find their way to dinner tables across the country, from small wilderness communities to the rich banquet halls of the merchant princes. They saw armed guards patrolling the waterways and hillside passes; both Issa and Lulit remarked that they hadn’t ever seen that kind of security before. Akeela suggested that Varesh’s dark influence, seen in the Kournan wilds, was likely spreading Northward as well.

Since entering Vabbi, Issa’s normally scimitar-sharp tongue had been oddly quiet, particularly when meeting other travelers on the road. He seemed almost withdrawn, introspective. Though his companions noticed the uncharacteristic change, they opted to say nothing, figuring to draw attention would open old wounds. Issa had never spoken in detail about his upbringing in Vabbi and though with each step they traveled deeper into his native land, it was obvious he wasn’t coming “home”—if anything, far from it.

Arriving at the small trading village, the group made no effort to hide their identities; the Order was still respected in Vabbi and their status as protectors of the common good might curry them some favor with the locals. From several local tour guides and caravan handlers they learned that indeed wildlife had become steadily more aggressive since the new year and that extra protection was well-advised for anyone traveling off the main roads. A contingent of perhaps a dozen Kournan soldiers had been seen traveling Northward several days prior, toward the Kodash Bazaar. The Sunspears found Kehanni leading a small prayer circle at the Eastern edge of the village.

After the informal services concluded, the group introduced Li’iol and revealed some of what they had learned from the Seeker of Whispers—leaving out that there was strong suspicion to suggest their agents were responsible for her mentor’s recent tumble down the stairs. Agreeing that Jeshek’s invitation may be their best bet at getting into the Festival of Lyss, they collected themselves and began the overland trek across the valley, to the mountainous eastern side of the Elon where the aging priest had a small estate.

65th of Zephyr, 1075 AE

Climbing the steep steps leading to Jeshek’s home, Tancred idly mused that a fall down the smooth stone would have indeed hurt, before Lulit’s elbow quieted him, out of respect for the priestess in their company. An attendant in the small garden recognized Kehanni and greeted her warmly, before inviting all inside.

Jeshek rose from his lounging chair stiffly, his right leg bound in a tight splint-like apparatus designed to keep the leg muscles from contorting his broken femur and causing more harm. Giving his former acolyte a warm, fatherly embrace, he introduced himself to her companions. Though he was officially retired from work at the larger temples of Lyssa in the region, he still regularly traveled around the area and gave assistance, counsel, and prayers where he could. “In my current condition however,” he lamented, “I worry that the locals have felt ignored.”

Kehanni, not having yet broached the topic of his invitation to the Festival of Lyss, eagerly volunteered their services in helping tend to the farmers’ needs. A frenzied pounding on the door interrupted the conversation of just how the Sunspears could be of assistance. A young man, skin slick with sweat and breath heaving, fell into the servant’s arms as she opened the door at Jeshek’s direction. “My mother’s farms—” he panted through cracked lips. “The plants have come alive and are destroying everything!”

“That’s Eddel Nataye’s son,” Jeshek explained as he recognized the youth. “His mother tends a small farm some miles south of here.” He turned to the Sunspears, his eyes pleading. Tancred was already strapping his shield to his arm before the man could ask.

The sun was low against the mountains as the party made their way to the farm, tucked within a fertile valley. Trees lined the main path toward the main house, with neatly-organized fields beside. Though the evening breeze had picked up, many of the plants moving in the night air were stalking through the foliage of their own accord, including a dark mass hovering over the wheat fields, crackling with an electrical aura.

As they crept forward, the air around them grew thick, so much so that Issa and Akeela began gagging and choking. As Tancred summoned the power of Balthazar to purge the area of toxins, a squat and prickly bush detached itself from a nearby tree and tried to whip Issa with thorny branches as the distant electric mass seemed to charge up for a powerful discharge. The fight was on.

In the lengthening shadows of the expansive farmhouse, the Sunspears hacked, shot, and spellcasted their way to victory against the prominent and most aggressive plants. Leaving Li’iol to watch the farm owner and her daughter while they scoured the rest of the grounds for intruders, Lulit and Issa remarked that they had never seen or heard of animated plants moving in such numbers, or converging on one particular location before. The group collectively frowned, not enjoying being without a clear answer to the monsters’ origins, and checked in on the terrorized family, reporting that their son had indeed arrived safely at the old priest’s home, and was being tended to with the best of care.

Not wishing to impose on the terrified farmers, the party camped for the night outside the house, ensuring peace was kept throughout. In the morning they said their goodbyes and went about their way, though Tancred noticed Issa was in a particularly foul mood.

“Something on your mind?” the cleric asked of the bard, the latter a native of Vabbi who didn’t like talking about his background.

“Did you see the size of that house, and the riches inside?” Issa snorted derisively. “I bet they barely pay their farmhands enough to keep fed. Everyone spits on the little guy, and the least fortunate are taught to find people they can feel superior too, and the cycle continues.”

The practical Tancred nodded, not quite knowing what to say.

Issa continued. “After Varesh, this—” he gestured back toward the farmhouse, but spoke in reference to something far greater, “is next.”

“That’s just two things; sounds pretty doable,” Tancred tried to make a light joke to elevate the mood.

Issa walked on in stony silence.

Several hours later, just before they planned to stop for a midday meal, the Sunspears heard voices exclaiming from the cliffs ahead—angry voices. Advancing slowly, with hands on their weapons, they came around the corner to find several locals shouting up and shaking their fists at others located perhaps twenty, thirty feet up the cliff in a small mining encampment carved into the rocks.

“This isn’t your mountain!” the lightly-armed agitant bellowed. “Take your tools and get out of here.”

“My family’s been mining this rock for generations” came the reply, called down by a rough-faced man with a recent bruise on his forehead. “You tell your boss that these scare tactics won’t work on us.”

Both sides seemed to notice the approaching Sunspears, dressed in their iconic white armour—save for Li’iol who was helping guide Dejen through the pass—at the same time, and turned their pleadings to the keepers of order, in an auditory avalanche. Tancred drew on a small mote of Balthazar’s power and bellowed in a voice that shook the very mountain itself. “All of you come down here so we can speak properly.”

Several minutes later the miners, four in number, stood on the path staring down the five ruffians, with the Sunspears between them. “Do we really have time for this?” Issa snipped, his eyes toward the sun making its way inexorably toward the west.

Lulit had an idea. “Li’iol, you’re a child of Vabbi and a Sunspear. Our mission is to keep the peace and foster harmony. Take the leader of each group and work out an arrangement. We’ll keep the rest from escalating the situation.”

Surprised at the assignment but eager to assist, the junior Sunspear took to his task and all but dragged the most vocal members of each side to a small set of rocks they could use as seats, and began diving into the history of their conflict. While Tancred looked intimidatingly at the groups and Lulit very visibly tested the sharpness of her arrows with a thumb, Akeela began hunting around for herbs and mushrooms that had never seen before, growing up as she had in Istan.

It took nearly fifteen minutes, but eventually Li’iol seemed to work out at least some measure of resolution. As the two group leaders stood and began to walk back to their respective followers, the armed rabble rouser—Issa referred to him as “Shouty”—spat at the feet of the other, a parting shot of defiance. Before Tancred could intercede however, Li’iol had slammed the man up against the mountain, one arm against the man’s throat, his other hand keeping him from drawing a blade. Whatever he whispered next cowed the man, who stopped resisting.

Letting him go and gesturing like a dissapointed schoolteacher, Li’iol shooed him and his supporters away from the small mountain path. He looked back to the miner, who nodded in appreciation, before he returned to the group.

“It turns out that—” he began to explain what had transpired when Issa interrupted him.

“It’s done and we can move on, right? They won’t be stabbing each other in the dark? Good? Good. Let’s go.” Though they looked amongst themselves, the rest of his party didn’t say anything about the stern outburst.

Arriving hours later at the stone stairs leading up to Priest Jeshek’s home, covered in dust from the long travel, they were greeted by Kehanni, who asked them about the condition of the farmers and whether they had been saved.

“All is well,” Lulit answered succinctly. “It’s safe for the boy to return home.”

Kehanni smiled broadly and welcomed them all inside. She, and the Priest’s attendants, had been caring for the boy over the evening, easing his exhaustion and dehydration suffered from his perilous flight from the homestead.

They found Jeshek in his lounging chair, wincing as he tried to stand to greet the Sunspears before giving up and leaning back into its soft embrace. “You have my thanks,” he said, bowing his head in appreciation. “I have not been able to tend to the needs of the people of this valley and it pains me to think that they were in danger.”

“These noble Sunspears have proven themselves time and time again to be allies of the people,” Kehanni replied on their behalf, as she offered to pour him some water to ward off the afternoon heat. “Even now they attend a most solemn and sacred purpose, one which requires the aid and support of the Three Princes themselves.”

“A truly important undertaking, and a difficult one at that,” the old priest nodded.

“Is it true that the Princes will be attending the Festival of Lyss?” she asked, almost innocently.

“They wouldn’t miss it!” he answered without needing to think about it. “Not only is it the most important religious gathering of the season, it’s also an opportunity to solidify their control over some of the lesser merchant houses.”

Akeela noticed Lulit bristling at his response, suddenly deeply uncomfortable, but waving off her companion’s concerned looks.

“Ah!” the old priest snapped his fingers. “I have just the thing to repay your kindness to the people of this region.” He directed one of his servants to retrieve a scroll, bordered in gold and with a deep violet ribbon peeking out. “I’m in no condition to attend myself, but if you’re looking to speak with the Princes, I can think of no better way than to use my invitation to gain admission.” He held out the official looking document to his former protégé.

“Thank you eternally for this, Jeshek,” she smiled warmly, bending down to embrace him as a child might their parent. “Sunspears,” she turned to her travel-weary companions, “I believe it is time to prepare for the Festival.”

As they once again descended into the mountain valleys outside the elder priest’s home, Tancred raised an eyebrow toward Kehanni. “That was sneaky of you, getting the invitation without asking for it. Do you feel bad deceiving your master like that?”

She shrugged with indifference, though the smile that played on her lips suggested she enjoyed that her cunning had been noticed. “My goddesses find satisfaction in each others’ work; Illya in tactful privacy and Lyss in the skillful execution of one’s art.”

She patted the scroll tucked securely into her belt. “Besides, I think Jeshek would have thought less of me as his disciple had I simply asked for it without some measure of cunning. He taught me better than that.”

Akeela’s brow furrowed. “Vabbians are a weird people.” Issa, catching her gaze, sighed heavily and shook his head with disdain, not wishing to add to the discussion.