You've entered this realm in search of the Capitol, a thriving metropolis filled with craftspeople of every variety, with bountiful riches and an exceptionally wise ruler. It’s said that the Monarch rules upon the wings of justice and knows the heart of the people more intimately than their own mothers.
A fine summer day brings the sweet smell of blooms on the breeze, while the occasional faint sound of laughter guides your steps along the broad, stone paved road. Yet, when you enter the city there is only stillness and quiet. Movement catches your eye now and again, in flashes of orange and black, as butterflies make their meandering way from bush, to bloom, and upward to thatched roofs. You're certain that you hear people talking and laughing all around you, or even the sound of hoofbeats on the road. Whenever you look for the source, there are only butterflies.
Here and there, as you look out of the corner of your eye, the scene shifts, revealing the place as it should be, with children playing and people bustling about their day full of purpose. Two realities seem to be vying for the same space, confusing your senses as you flip between them. You continue on anyway with the castle in sight.
The gates rise up before you, and now great clusters of butterflies give the illusion of thatch taken to flame, only to fly apart, regrouping along the road. The sounds get louder, too, so that when these clusters gather you clearly hear music or conversation, and when they burst apart the banging of a smith's hammer accompanies them.
The gatehouse of the outer wall sits open, an invitation for strangers and kin alike. Two massive doors built from single sheets of slate are elaborately carved with a legend. You look them over, trying to absorb every detail of their tale. At the base, two phoenixes burn with the final flame of their lives, heating a powerful forge with a crucible inside. Molten metal pours out into a form which is then pounded and worked into a fine sword. Rites are performed over the blade until a dusky tide of grey moths with eyespots that resemble hearts spills from the weapon. Images of different rulers holding court follow, each with a halo of moths about them. The final scene shows a many armed sovereign holding the wrists of citizens from every walk of life, all encircled in furry, heart-spotted wings.
Inside the gates, the air is filled with clouds of butterflies, black veins forming a unique stained-glass mosaic in each pair of orange wings that nonetheless seem so similar. You’ve never seen so many of these delicate insects together before. They move like fire, bursting out of windows or along the parapets of the donjon. The flashes of people come so frequently and vividly that sometimes you jump to avoid a collision that never happens.
Finally, you enter the great hall, where the Emperor sits on a faded throne, shoulders slumped under his mantle of office. His face seems to be in both light and shadow, and his focus seems to move between you and the movement of gray eye-spotted wings all around him. As you approach, a sword laying across his lap, its quillon emblazoned with two heart-shaped spots, begins to glow. When he speaks, it’s with obvious effort, and not always to you.
“Who are you? Have you come to take Pennon de Justise from my cursed lands? They will not speak to me anymore! They have forsaken me and taken the people with them!” the flapping of wings distracts you for a moment.
He turns away from you and the fear turns to joy, “My vavasours, you are here! Where is the seneschale? We must provide a feast for our guests! Wait … don’t go…” His eyes fill with sorrow again as they search fruitlessly and rest upon you once more. Motes of color flitter across your vision.
The ruler you see now seems stronger. He stands beside the throne and speaks with remorseful pity, as the sounds of a now-bustling court vie for your attention from behind, and the previously dusty windows sparkle with light through colored glass. “He failed at his test of rulership, reaching too far, and now he's broken. He brought doom to the Capitol.” His distaste makes you look closer, and reality changes again.
The madman once again sits with unrelenting sad eyes, seeking among rusty, spotted wings, “I miss them! My family, my people, where are you? I’m sorry, please come back… help me”. Then he sees you as if for the first time, “Ahah! I remember! I need to give up that which I held too tightly. You must take it! I give it up freely!” He lifts the still faintly glowing sword in front of him and thrusts it toward you. The markings on its crosspiece seem to meet your gaze and stare back at you.
In a flash he fades and the Monarch stands before you again, “Don’t be fooled by his offer!” He raises his hands in a cautioning gesture, “The sword is tainted and has caused all this madness you see around you. It will possess you, too, and then you will lose yourself just as he has. The sword must be destroyed or we will never be free.”
Again you see the Emperor, still holding the sword aloft, though the sadness is coming over him again, “I once knew the hearts of my people as my own, and I could hear the memories of my ancestors in my mind. Once .. I was loved.”
A voice both human and not human, both one and many, speaks so softly it is as if it came from a great distance away. As you listen, you realize it came from within your own mind, “In madness there lives humility, what is broken may be mended with the right guide.” As the voices fade, you hear a gentle flutter.
A: Take the sword, even knowing it may be a cursed burden?
B: Destroy the sword, in hopes of freeing the cursed people?
C: Ignore his plight, and loot the many riches of this now undefended castle?
D: Leave, before whatever fate has befallen this place takes hold of you?
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[Capitol Investigation Mission Log: The Initiative decided to shatter Pennon de Justise, a seemingly cursed sword, by a majority of 15 votes. 5 voted to bear the burden of the sword themselves in spite of the potential risks, and 3 each voted to plunder the undefended riches of the Capitol or to simply walk away from an inexplicable situation.]
You’re certain that the course of action which will benefit the cursed citizens the most is to destroy the blade. You recall that the mural depicting the sword’s creation portrayed two phoenixes, which gives you an idea.
A short hop to Initiative base and back, and you stand in front of the throne once more, equipped with a fusion torch from Phoenix Core Foundries, one of the technological supporters of your organization.
“Do you still wish to be relieved of your burden?” you ask the Emperor, who nods weakly and extends the sword to you.
“Put it on the floor,” you say, unwilling to risk what might happen should you come into contact with the blade, and the sad ruler weakly complies with a toss. It makes a hollow, sonorous ring as it clatters and slides across the floor to rest near your feet.
You turn the beam with the power of a miniature sun onto the quillon, and are surprised at its resilience. The sword seems to be able to absorb an inconceivable amount of heat! You remind yourself that its forging used TWO phoenixes and you have but one, technologically marvelous as it may be. Pennon glows hotter and hotter, eventually reaching a blazing orange, when you hear a tiny “plink!” as it spiderwebs through with lines of black. They begin to sizzle and smoke, and the cursed sword finally bursts, spraying shards and fragments of…
Two whirlwinds of flutter swirl around the throne room, one dusky grey and brown and the other bright tangerine and black. The moths fly toward and past you, and the butterflies forward toward the throne. You blink, and shake your head, when suddenly you hear a bold voice speak from behind you.
“Ahha! Free at last from this tedious entrapment!” You turn to face the source of the voice and see the sad man who sat on the throne just moments before. He is clearly now in full possession of his faculties, and seems physically much more imposing than before. He regards you up and down, eyes coming to linger on the fusion cutter with a sense of interest and desire.
Again, you whirl around as a different voice, bright in tone yet with a hint of weakness, from behind you near the throne. “No! You.. you should have been destroyed along with the blade!” The speaker is the Monarch from your visions. He is clothed richly, as before, but his frame seems slighter, even if his face appears more kindly. “The cursed Pennon is no more, so you have no right to be here!”
You step to the side and regard the two rulers, who face each other in surreal juxtaposition.
“Fool!” bellows the Emperor, “That blasted sword was simply the pinion that bound us together. You and your contemptible weakness. Your ‘exceptions’ in the name of kindness that are nothing more than indulgences of your own whimsy. You pardon the bread thief because he is hungry, but what of the baker? You have no regard for the rule of law, which must be enforced consistently with an iron will.”
“No,” says the Monarch, “It is you who is weak. Tempted by material gain, tortured by the bottomless pit of greed that lives within you. No amount of land, no amount of subjects, no amount of power can satisfy your brutal hunger. And your so-called rule of law, if not tempered with kindness and mercy, is nothing but tyranny, which shall never find purchase in the Capitol.”
The Emperor snorts. “Spoken like a ruler who shall soon find himself a part of the Empire’s law whether he likes it or not. You doom your own people when you refuse your own strength.” He turns his attention to you, and speaks. “Strange traveler, what means is this by which you broke the cursed blade? Surely you can see that such a power should be harnessed to impose my peace and order upon this land. Share it with me, your knowledge that lets you wield a phoenix in one hand, and...”
“You cannot!” cries the Monarch.
“And I will not,” you say. “My people learned to harness such power by working together as one, to make all our lives better, never by imposing our will upon others.”
“Another idealist, then,” says the menacing figure, “disappointing. As for this… Capitol,” he says disdainfully, “while I have no sovereign rights here now, soon it will be the Capitol of nothing and nowhere; I shall make it my Colony and all its tributes will flow to me in my Metropole.”
He turns with a whoosh of his cloak and disappears in a storm of grey, spotted wings, shrouded by darkness and moonlight.
You turn and face the kindly Monarch once more, whose smile remains, but is tinged with a hint of sadness. “Thank you, friend. I fear that the destruction of the sword may have been an error, but while I knew there was a chance that the Emperor would be unleashed, my love for my people offered me no other option. Come, and walk with me, and see the Capitol as it was before the seeds of his paranoia crept into my mind.”
The bustling city is full of laughter and smiles as you walk with the Monarch. Butterflies flit alongside human inhabitants as he often stops to interact with the citizens. Their smiles and manners show that they clearly love and admire him as their ruler. He makes it known that you have done a great service to the Capitol, and that the Initiative and its agents are welcome allies within his pane of the realm. As you prepare to take your leave, the great slate doors close behind the Monarch as he enters his castle and you see that the carving has changed:
One ruler, smiling and wreathed with butterflies, holds the hands of his people, one foot placed atop a broken sword. At the door’s base, radiating light, sits a single phoenix.
[SHK-E Analysis: You demonstrated great HEART in your decision to do the best for the most individuals. Your method of destroying the sword gave away a minute amount of KNOWLEDGE of Phoenix Core technology to a potential antagonist. You used an appropriate amount of ENERGY to accomplish your decision, its cost was moderate. Other agents of the Para Initiative learn from and emulate the strategies of this successful mission.
SAFETY: Very Poor
HEART: Very Good
Para Initative Inventory:Oystersand's Illustrated Arcana]
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