Sep 26, 2021 9:24 AM
leareth is captured by Cheliax
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Something is wrong in Iftel. 

Leareth has very little idea what is wrong in Iftel. He dislikes this state of affairs, but it's been hard to work around the sheer, inconvenient fact that he approximately cannot get spies in or out of the insular, literally-divine-protected kingdom. 

The first hint of something wrong is when the trade caravans stop leaving from the Ifteli border. Some merchants in Haven, and in various cities of Rethwellan and Hardorn, are quite annoyed about it. At that point it's a minor curiosity, but it is odd, and Leareth passes along some secure messages. 

Then all the caravans originating from Iftel - and the mercenaries guarding them - are recalled. They disappear behind the wall and don't re-emerge. 

And, most recently, the Valdemaran Council discussed whether to answer a request for aid. Food and supplies, mostly; Iftel is apparently claiming some kind of disaster. They're asking for volunteer Healers. They don't want Heralds but they never let Heralds in. 

 

Something is wrong. Leareth doesn't know what, but at this point he's starting to be genuinely alarmed. 

He takes the risk of redeploying spies closer to the Ifteli border. There's still some traffic crossing it. Not many people leaving, but not none. He has Thoughtsensers. Most Healers shield but he can maybe learn something

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The reports he gets are even more concerning. There's - fighting? The descriptions are baffling - people are disoriented, the bystanders who his Thoughtsensers could intercept don't tend to know much at all, but also what they did see doesn't match a civil war. Except he can't see what else it could be. He knows there was no invading army; he would have heard reports of it, and then the barrier would have stopped them anyway. 

 

 

He needs to know more and he needs to know it urgently and he doesn't have time to wait on his slow communication loop. He needs skill applied that he doesn't trust to any of his people, even Nayoki. 

Which is why, three weeks after the first minor reports began trickling in, Leareth travels in person to the wilderness north of Valdemar, west of the Ifteli border, and lurks in Thoughtsensing range, with a dozen of his best mages as a guard. 

He hears almost immediately when a desperate platoon of Ifteli soldiers unexpectedly spill across the barrier, fleeing an unseen attacker which apparently can't cross. At least not yet. 

It's a risk, he knows it's a risk, but he has a shielded cache and safehouse underground, within a few miles of their exit point. He can Gate directly there, without his terminus being detected, and then he's not just in Thoughtsensing range, he can cast on them too. 

He eavesdrops on the soldiers thoughts. 

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They're fleeing an attack! Another one! From the bizarre portal to what they think might be another plane, which appeared out of nowhere in the northern mountains just over a month ago! And shortly later started sprouting invading forces! 

These are low-level soldiers, they don't know that much of the strategic picture, but they saw what they saw. That's more than enough to know it's bad. 

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The very powerful arcane magic that has permitted her to go five days without sleep might be having side effects. Or maybe it's the other plane. She's not sure how she'd tell because one of the side effects is that the world feels very bright and very immediate, and things that are less bright or less immediate are making it harder to focus on. 

They're in pursuit of a group of soldiers going through the forcefield into the rest of this planet. If this planet flung up a forcefield against them this fast that'd be terrifying and impressive but she heard they didn't, she heard it's been there for months - that's the kind of not-bright not-immediate thought she can't follow right now. 

They're in pursuit. They have aerial support, flying devils and some pseudodragons out of Korvosa, which is good because the other people have aerial support too, gryphons, vicious and well-armored and smart. Mostly not spellcasters, though, and while the enemy outclasses the pseudodragons they don't seem to have any real dragons of their own at all - that's not bright and immediate enough, her mind keeps bouncing off it.

They're in pursuit on swift construct-horses whose feet are misty, picking off stragglers with fireballs and arrows, creating stragglers with dive-bombing attacks from the pseudodragons, but they're not going to get all of them by the time they make it to the forcefield, and they have no idea what is waiting on the other side. 

"Pull back," she says reluctantly, "- and let's get some cover, I don't like this storm - and if any of those are alive I want to talk to them about what the barrier does." What it does to Chelish soldiers is burn them alive, they did check. 

 

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...That is terrifying.

Leareth is no less confused - he's about ten times as confused - and this is perhaps the most scared he's been in the last millennium. 

:Spread out, concealed, learn more: he tells six of his mages in private Mindspeech. To the others, :- guard a perimeter: And then he ducks back behind the cover of his own shielded room. And thinks. 

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On the other side of the barrier, Carissa's people can in fact find an Ifteli soldier who's still alive, and even semiconscious, though he was seriously injured by the pseudodragon aerial attack. 

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Injured is fixable, though she's not going to burn a spell slot on it unless he's unable to talk. She does burn a spell slot on Tongues. The other wizard assigned with this unit in the regrouping for the war has fourth circle but apparently never bothered to pick up a translation spell - maybe in the Hellmarch it's a sign of loyalty, to be practically unable to read books from anywhere else, whereas at the Worldwound it'd just be stupid. 

 

Tongues. 

"Tell me about the barrier."

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The man looks at her, eyes darting back and forth. He clearly understands but does not seem particularly inclined to answer. 

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The Ifteli soldiers are regrouping. Apparently whatever was in pursuit couldn't follow them across the barrier. 

Leareth reads some minds. 

...It seems like in fact the bizarre, terrifying attackers who might be literally from another plane - though they look human - can't cross the barrier? One of the soldiers seems to think it sets them on fire. This is perhaps the first time Leareth has ever had the thought 'good for Vkandis.' 

He still needs to be cautious, of course, but some discreet, directionally shielded Mindspeech is passed around. He wants his mages to capture one of the Ifteli soldiers, ideally while they're still dispersed and confused, before they can reassemble their unit and count who made it across. 

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Carissa is not trained in interrogation but you can mostly get around that deficiency with mindreading, and people in a lot of pain don't make their saves. She steps on his fingers and casts Detect Thoughts and repeats the question.

 

"Sevar," the other wizard says. 

         "I have a spell up. Is it urgent?"

"Yes. I can Dimension Door with my familiar. I tried it. She made it across."

          "- what? They have a force field but you can just dimdoor it? - what's on the other side -"

"Empathetic link's out."

         "If you're going to send people across send - Valverde and Carvajal," she says. They're not idiots but she wouldn't be devastated to lose them. And back to her guy. "The barrier."

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He's not thinking very clearly and he also expects they might have Thoughtsensers so he's trying not to think, but he can't help his mind going to the obvious. 

The barrier protects their country. It has for almost two millennia, ever since their distant answers prayed to Vykaendis and were granted a boon. In exchange for certain other preparations. Which were apparently necessary for a mysterious extraplanar invasion through a sudden portal? He's really confused about it. The barrier can only be crossed with the approval of their Sunlord. That's always been true but normally it just blocks people. Setting them on fire is new. ...He thinks. Actually he's not sure about that, it's not like anyone was ever stupid enough to press the matter before. 

...

If anyone does Dimension Door across the barrier, they'll find a northern boreal forest almost identical to the one on their side, though substantially less on fire, and a scattered line of soldiers, some of them injured, calling out to each other and trying to regroup.

(Leareth's people are creeping in to flank one of them, but they're shielded against mage-sight and Thoughtsensing by multiple talismans and physically concealed by all the trees and underbrush.) 

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"'s a direct miracle by their god, several thousand years old," she says. Certainly this is known to their commanders already - so is the thing about the fact you can teleport across the barrier, no doubt - but it's new information for them. 

To the guy. "Tell me about Vykaendis. Good? Evil? Lawful?"

 

"I'm not sending anyone across yet," the other wizard says. "Just get some eyes on the place, see where the fleeing soldiers go -"

She nods impatiently. He outranks her but she's pretty sure being interrupted during interrogations is bad for the atmosphere and your odds of getting anything.

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Those are baffling questions and he has no idea what that even means! Vykaendis Sunlord is their god and protects Iftel from harm and obviously that's good but who wouldn't say that about their country's god?

'Lawful' is even less sensical to parse. Vykaendis doesn't decree their laws - the priesthood has a few legal functions but the courts are mainly run through the secular administration with its elected officials - Vykaendis doesn't follow mortal laws because that concept makes no sense... 

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Huh. So not Good, she doesn't think Good people would think that of their god, that the most important thing is that He's theirs, and...probably not Lawful, it's not impossible from that but Lawful gods don't generally leave the making of law to some other authority and it seems impossible that someone would serve a lawful god and not know that was an important thing about the god they served...

"Did Vkaendis open the planar rift?" They have conflicting accounts of that, it might well be something Cheliax did.

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This random soldier doesn't have the slightest idea whether He did. He's not sure whether it's something Vykaendis could do, let alone why He would try it - it doesn't seem to have brought them anything good - 

He's mostly thinking loudly at this point that he's going to DIE and he's so scared that they're going to make it hurt. 

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- oh, that's another good question. "What's your afterlife situation?"

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His thoughts flash to some of the basic doctrine - Vykaendis protects the souls of His people after death, and rewards those who served Him well - but it's all very vague and hazy and tangled with half a dozen other mythologies, some of which are clearly in the 'stories for parents to frighten their children' genre - and he's even more baffled why attacking enemy soldiers CARE - 

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It's one of the most important things about a god, what they do with their dead. Though she's not immediately sure what to make of it. In Golarion the only gods that get all of their followers rather than just worthy ones are the evil gods. But if you define His people more narrowly - clerics - then it could be any - and anyway these people don't go to the afterlives she knows and their entire system might be different - the only real takeaway is that Vkaendis didn't particularly care for them to know, beyond some vague platitudes. 

She respects Asmodeus's approach more.

Not the time, though. "The country on the other side of the barrier, what country is that?"

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He's not actually sure, they've been moving around a lot and he's not amazing with his geography - it's got to be either Valdemar, or the patchwork of sparsely-populated northern forest and landholdings not claimed by any state. He's inclined to think they're far enough north to be outside Valdemar? But maybe it's just that sleeping outside is miserably cold. He's very tired of it. He's very tired of all of this. 

- he's wondering who got out, he knows some of them did - the plan was to head south to Valdemar, he hasn't heard any updates on Valdemar's official position on aid but the situation is getting pretty bad. 

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Ah huh. "I don't suppose you want to renounce your god and pledge yourself to the service of Asmodeus." She wouldn't in his position, but it seems more decent, to ask.

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What - he doesn't think it even works like that - also Asmodeus' followers are invading his country which doesn't exactly endear him to the idea and it's probably literally treason but mostly he's just never even thought of that as a thing you could do and is mildly horrified. 

Though maybe he should play along, if he keeps distracting them here then they're not trying to track his friends on the other side of the barrier, who are after all the ones who have any chance of getting out... He's too tired to think of questions to ask about Asmodeus, though. 

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Huh. - not the time. "First Arcane, do you have your eyes on the other side yet?"

       "Yep. Trying to cross it with an arcane eye doesn't work but casting it from my familiar does. Forest. They're fleeing south."

She nods. "To - Valdemar. The neighboring country. Which they're hoping will side with them." 

       Sigh. "I guess we intercept, then. I have two more dimdoors. Let's take -  Sevar, Valverde, Carvajal, Lavilla - invisible. Valverde, Carvajal, I additionally want you under a nondetection, stay in the air and stay away from the rest of us. If we can interrupt them in getting to Valdemar, great, if not, let's proceed on to Valdemar."

He looks expectantly at Carissa. Why. Those orders don't oblige her to do anything except wait for the dimdoor - oh, she should kill the prisoner herself, or at least order it herself, and not behave like some kind of child who gets squeamish whenever a war isn't fought at Fireball distance. She would've just ordered it but now that he's found the situation notable enough to stare at her over she feels obliged to do it herself. She scrambles for her knife. 

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The prisoner considers struggling, decides this is stupid, and closes his eyes. 

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...There was magic. Magic that Leareth doesn't recognize at all. First something that felt - not like a Gate, exactly, but not entirely dissimilar from one either - and now something else - 

 

He has no idea what it is. It does mean that the invaders' magic can cross the barrier, even if they can't - and if that was an alien kind of Gate then maybe someone did cross and he just can't find them - but Leareth hates feeling this ignorant of his enemies' capabilities. 

He stays in the underground shielded room, but sends a mage-Thoughtsenser to creep up as close as he can while staying unseen and get a better look. 

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A few hundred miles to the southwest, the Web-alarm sends Herald-Mage Savil Ashkevron sprinting to the Web-focus room. 

:- Van, did you feel that - alarm in the north - Iftel border, something new -: 

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Carissa is barely paying the man she is killing any attention because she's busy trying to think through their next steps across the barrier and insofar as she is contemplating executing this man she is mostly thinking about looking like a competent professional her soldiers can respect while she does so. 

 

She slits his throat. There's a lot of blood. She sets the dagger down rather than figure out how to clean it. 

"We don't have orders to engage Valdemar's troops," she reminds her people tightly. "The First Arcane can take their mages alive -" - well, up to twice, with Lesser Geas - "point them out to him." 

The First Arcane is concentrating on his arcane eye, but he nods, and extends his hand for them to teleport with him. 

She takes it.

They cross the border.

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