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Friday, August 22, 2008

Episode One: The Way of Life and Death

In this episode, our heroes meet in Fairhaven with little more than hints to guide them to a meeting with the Wayfinder Foundation. Through various means subtle and otherwise, their resourcefulness pays off, and they meet one Arnis ir'Dayne in the Whisper Tavern, located beneath a curio shop in the Comfort Ward of Fairhaven.

Meeting with Arnis, who is in fact a cousin of the famours Boromar ir'Dayne, founder of the Wayfinder Foundation, our heroes learn that they are to be tested before they are accepted as members of the Foundation. In a break from their usual methods, the Wayfinders will be putting our heroes to the test as a group.

From this point on, they are told, assume that everything is a test.

Their first mission is to travel to northern Karrnath and locate a hermit living on a remote section of the rocky coastline. Years ago, during the Last War, he stole a scroll called the Way of Life and Death, purportedly a sacred relic of the Aerenal Elves, from the special collections of Morgrave University. Our heroes are to retrive this artifact, and any copies they might find, and return it to the Wayfinders as soon as possible.

When our heroes finally board their airship, they have in tow one corpse with falsified documents and one unconscious chair of languages at the University of Wynarn. They chair of languages makes his daring escape, and our heroes, undaunted (well, semi-daunted and nauseous in one case) make their way north.

As they close on their quarry, they find that they are not alone - a ship flying the colors of Morgrave University is nearby, tacking along the same coastline our heroes were scanning themselves.

They design a warm welcome for their Morgrave rivals and land the airship. Making their way over a rocky bluff and toward a copse of trees from which they have seen flashes of light coming, they are ambushed by forest warriors! The warriors are quickly dispatched by knife, wand, and thrown arrow. Following their trail deeper into the copse of trees, our heroes come upon a mysterious, dark figure who is only then secreting the scroll they seek on his person. They learn only that his name is Rune before he takes to the sky in the form of a large carrion-bird! Their nets and knifes are no avail, and he seemingly escapes with the very artifact our heroes were seeking.

A we cough brings their attention back to what is clearly the hermit's dwelling. He is lying in the ruin of his own furniture, surrounded by smoldering papers and, inexplicably, dead animals, as well as blackened corpses of the same fighters our heroes faced. He reaches out, and with his last breath, coughs out a final message.

Based on his hint, our heroes find another scroll, the original, secreted away in a hollow compartment of the hermit's bedside table. And just in time, because the angry Morgrave contingent is coming over the rocky bluff, hot on their trail and full of bad intentions!

They collapse the hermit's stone home behind them, serving as a pyre and final tomb for the strange old man, and carrying handfuls of papers salvaged from the ruins of his home, they return quickly to their airship and depart, making their way back to Fairhaven, and hopefully, answers...

The Prince

"I've been watching you for a while now, you know."

Princess Anezka sits bolt upright in bed, clutching her blanket to her chest. Perched in her room, at the foot of her bed, is a man. Her first thought is He's going to kill me. Her second thought is I can't look away.

He raises a hand, says gently "There's no reason to be frightened. I don't mean you any harm. I didn't know of a better way to introduce myself. I'm not really...part of your household, so to speak. They don't know I'm here."

"Who - who are you?"

He smiles, and she can see his teeth glimmer in the moonlight. He is tall, she can see, even hunched over, and graceful, even elegant. "You can call me Rune. Because for now, I am your secret."

He's dressed like an aristocrat beneath the dark cloak that obscures his silhouette. She whispers a spell to let her see more clearly in the dark, and he comes into stark relief.

She sees he is unarmed, but is undeniably dangerous.

He shifts, then steps backward off the bed and stands up. He tosses part of his cloak over his right shoulder and bows slightly, his eyes never leaving her face, her body never even considering moving from where it is. His eyes are like a starless night sky.

"I hope we can speak again soon. We will, if you wish it. If not, then you will not see me again. I believe there is a lot we can offer each other. You are a woman of beauty, intelligence and guile. You've shown yourself to be very strong, already mistress of this great keep, already...learning a great deal. I am quite accomplished in my own right. I am of means, of skills you will find useful, of knowledge you need."

"You aren't meant for this place. Not at all. This great keep will someday become a prison to one such as you. No, I know you. I have watched you. You have grander designs than this."

"As it turns out, so do I."

They talk. The guards, slumped in deep sleep outside her door, do not hear. But in another part of the keep, an old woman who is more than merely a woman gazes into a dim image in a mirror and smiles a slow, cold smile.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Crone

Skaina is old, but she is most certainly not a woman. Do not let your eyes fool you.

You cannot trust your senses.

Long, long ago, when the winds over the stones of Lhazaar were wild, there was a storm-tossed island, on which lived dour, fierce people with cold blue eyes. At the heart of this island was a cave deep in the side of a hill, and in this deep cave lived the Crone.

(It was said that at the back of that cave, hidden behind an ancient stone, was a door, and that the door led all the way down to Khyber. If such things are to be believed.)

The people and the Crone lived together, shared that small storm-tossed isle, and yet they only met once a year. That was the time of Sacrifice, when the winter storms brewed on dark horizons. In exchange for the Sacrifice, the Crone would sing down the winds. She would protect them, even from the ravages of time. She granted them an unnaturally long life, and was their secret which they jealously guarded.

The price was merely a single child. And so the weakest was chosen by the elders, and brought to the Crone, left for her, and never spoken of again.

Before the first cold-eyed people came in their long boats, the Crone was there, and it was believed that she would be there long after. But it was not meant to be.

Many years ago, following a great war between Dragons and Elves, there came a lone woman to that isle. She was fleeing great powers, and yet she hid within herself the greatest power; that which all life must answer to; none other than Death. She came to the isle weakened, grieving, broken, her body stitched together by dread energies drawn from a thousand graves.

She and the Crone met. They spoke. And it is said that, slowly, with creaking limbs, the Crone did what she had never done.

She bowed.

A sacrifice, of sorts, to be sure.

And when that dread woman called upon the Crone once more, after long years had passed, she came, and answered, and traveled to a certain keep in Lhazaar which was once her home, to inquire of a certain family whether they were in need of a nurse for their newborn daughter...

The livid purple birth-mark bothered her not at all. She only smiled, and cooed, and waited for the girl to grow up at last.

Anezka's Journal 2

It has been a year, and I have learned that blood washes out of almost anything.

I did not want to take my husband's place so soon, but it seems that fate has intervened. Skaina says that it is fate, anyway, that it is me becoming who I am meant to be.

I've gone too far now. Too far to turn back.

And the birthmark is growing. I know that Skaina notices it when I bathe, and I have to try to hide as best as I can, even in summer. It is more than just unsightly...but Skaina won't tell me. "Not until you're ready" she tells me.

But I am ready now.

I've taken to running Kronan's household - its more than I'd expected. Endless decisions that no one else will make. I thought I would feel more...powerful. More in control. But instead I just answer to more people. My training has slowed, and Kronan is...much less useful in his new state. And I don't yet have the knowledge to modify him. Skaina says that too will come, in time.

I grow tired of waiting. Of being waited upon.


I am going to have to take matters into my own hands. Skaina is holding things back from me. She is not teaching me all she knows. But she is all I have here in this accursed place.

Well, almost. There's always Kronan, much more amenable as he is now than he was.

Its interesting to see how no one asks questions here. No one asks why the Lord has taken ill so swiftly, why he seems so unlike how he was only days before. Now, I think they are used to it. He is part of this keep, but he is more like decoration or furniture than its Lord.

Such a lack of loyalty.

Yesterday I found what I am calling the Vault. I need to go to this place's small library tomorrow morning and see if I can find more about it. It is locked with some sort of puzzle-lock, but I cannot solve it, and dare not show it to Skaina - not yet! - and of course damned Kronan is hardly in a state to tell me the solution.

I know enough to recognize the markings, though. They are symbols used by the Blood of Vol - not the feeble local cults but the true Blood.

I must know what's in that Vault.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Lord

Two years ago.

Princess Anezka, now Lady Anezka, carefully slips out of her bedroom, past the guard who gives her a knowing look. She does not sleep in the same room as her husband unless he...comes to her at night. She does her duty and nothing more. This distance from him most nights is good for a variety of reasons - tonight, it gives her freedom to do what she needs to do.

The final step.

She meets up with Skaina, still here despite no longer having a determined roll. They incline their heads together briefly in the darkness, lit only by a shuttered lantern held between them and casting ghost-story shadows on their faces. What they say cannot be heard, but they continue down a hall, through a door, deeper into the keep, and finally, to a dark stair leading down.

They descend.

In a dank stone room beneath the keep a man is huddled, shivering. He is chained to the floor, and his fingernails are bloody shreds from trying to claw his way free somehow. He has pulled on the chains until his wrists are red and purple and raw. He has prayed, but has heard nothing but his own harsh breathing for hours, perhaps days.

Then there is light. He cringes and tries to become smaller, to sink into cold corner, to somehow slip away unseen, but he is the only living thing in the room.

She enters, the Lady Anezka, with her witch-hag from the Lhazaar Principalities, and two other young women the man recognizes from the keep - Danneke and Joli. Danneke is plump and pretty and dark, and is a foster from another noble family - essentially a hostage, kept and taught and protected, but not allowed to go so that there is always a reason to keep the two houses from clashing. Joli has the harsh pale face of the Lord, her uncle once removed or somesuch. She is tall and does not miss opportunities for petty cruelty.

As they enter, they stop speaking.

There is no one else alive down here.

He is gagged to stop his shouting, but he forgets to shout until the gag is already in. He is lifted up on to a table that is brought in, and his arms and legs are tied together under the table so that he cannot move. The strain on his shoulders is painful, but he almost forgets it, watching them work. Then they stand aroud him, with the Lady Anezka at the head of the table - at his head. He can strain and see the witch-hag at his feet. She looks to Anezka.

"Are you prepared?"

Anezka nods, and pulls a glimmering black blade from under the cloak thrown around her shoulders. She shrugs the hood back and looks down at the man bound before her. She is about to speak -

When the Lord Kronan strides through the door, a man-at-arms at his side.


Everyone freezes - the Lord does not shout, but his face is livid and his breathing heavy.

Everyone, that is, but Skaina, who shouts a harsh syllable and reaches out, touching Kronan on the chest, just above the crest of his house embroidered onto his doublet.

He gasps, and then his breath hitches in his throat. The stench of death fills the room and the color floods from his face, leaving it bone-white, even his straining lips.

The man-at-arms shouts and his sword rings free, but Anezka raises a hand silently and something dark and cold passes between them. He shudders and slumps, suddenly exhausted and feeble. She draws a quick breath through her teeth and flinches before she regains control of herself.

And then Joli is there, ramming a kitchen-knife into his chest. It catches on his chainmail, and he struggles to push her away, but enfeebled as he is she writhes free and strikes again, this time slashing his throat. A spray of blood paints the wall and he slumps to the floor, gurgling up at her.

The Lord Kronan is still struggling in vain to move, to speak, even to exhale. Skaina laughs.

Anezka looks to her teacher, the witch-hag, trembling slightly, gripping her left forearm as if it suddenly pained her. "What are we going to do now? He wasn't supposed to know - "

"This changes nothing," Skaina growls. "Have you lost your resolve? No? Good. Then we continue. You are ready."

"But - but what about Kronan?"

Skaina turns to the Lord, straining, his pale eyes rolling in their sockets. Joli watches. She's wiped the knife off on the man-at-arms' tabard, and hasn't noticed the spattering of blood on her face and chest and right hand. Danneke looks slightly ill, but makes no move to leave.

"Kronan...we will deal with together, and quickly, before he is missed. I doubt anyone heard him down here or will interfere. Doubtless they assume he is...disciplining you. But once you have made the final sacrifice to the Vol, once you have given yourself over to her, I will show you what comes next. You have enough power, enough knowledge...Kronan will serve you, my lady."


Sunday, July 13, 2008


In Spirit of the Century, Stunts are the way you take your skills beyond the rules. A stunt is a small cheat, a way to push a rule that extra bit. Each stunt is rooted in a single skill, but some of then enable to use your skills when you normally wouldn't. Stunts take the place of Feats in that other game, and if you want to adapt a Feat for SotC just talk to your friendly local GM.
The SotC book gives a huge heaping load of stunts as examples, and here a few of them to give you an idea of what they are and what they do. More powerful stunts have simpler stunts you need to take first.

The most basic stunts that we'll use in this Eberron game enable spellcasting. The Google Document discusses that in more detail, and its open to house rules as we go through the game. Basically, each school of Arcane magic is a stunt rooted in the Spellcraft skill. Normally, Spellcraft just lets you do small tricks, the equivalent of Cantrips, and identify spells that someone else is casting or ones you find written down. The same is true for Divine magic stunts, which are rooted in the Religion skill - as I said, more in the Google Doc.

Here are some stunts from the SotC book - borrow one or leaf through one if you're curious to see more. These are just examples to get you thinking...(I'm also picking useful ones for an Eberron game)

Research [Academics]: This stunt means that when using Academics to research something, when you fail the roll you still get the information, but you take a lot longer to get it. The GM doesn't have to tell you the difficulty or how badly you failed, but if you put in the time, you'll still get the info.

Languages [Academics]: With this stunt, you can speak and understand a number of languages equal to your Academics score. You don't have to declare these before-hand, but can decide in-game that you understand a given language when you encounter it for the first time.

Walking Library [Academics]: With this stunt the character is always considered to have a Library handy of a quality equal to his Academics score, due to raw memorization of real Libraries.

Photographic Memory [Academics]: (Requires Walking Library) You remember everything you've seen or read. If the answer is some detail that has come up, then you'll remember with only a moment's thought.

On Top of It [Alertness]: In a given combat, you can spend a Fate Point to go first in an exchange, regardless of your actual initiative.

Danger Sense [Alertness]: Whenever ambushed, you can take a full defensive action with a +2 bonus regardless of whether you are surprised.

Contortionist [Athletics]: You can bend your body to fit into shapes a normal human body could not - into suitcases, cubby holes, through tiny crevices and so on.

One Arrow Left [Bow]: During a combat, reloading isn't an issue, and is assumed to be going on all the time as part of the exchanges. Nonetheless, there is a certain magic in the last arrow in the quiver. At any time, you can declare that a particular arrow is your last arrow. When you use it, you get a +3 to your attack roll.

Rain of Arrows [Bow]: When using your ranged attacks to perform a block, you can ignore up to a -2 penalty for the complexity of the block, even over a significant area.

Tripwire Sensibilities [Burglary]: You can use your Burglary skill rather than Alertness or Investigation to detect and avoid traps.

Hatpin Maestro [Burglary]: You can improvise anything to bypass a lock, and never take a penalty for not having the proper materials, and when you have the right tools, you can bypass a lock one time increment faster than usual.

Contact [Contacting]: Whenever you take this stunt, you define a Contact. This Contact is a companion as described on page 77, with three advances. You can also allocate an Aspect to this companion if you choose.

Close Contacts [Contacting]: (Requires at least a Contact) You have three more advances to spend among your companions however you wish, creating truly above-average companions for your character.

Clever Disguise [Deceit]: Normally you cannot create a disguise that will stand up to intense scrutiny, but with this stunt you can. You use your full Deceit skill to defend your disguise against Alertness or Empathy.

Last Leg [Endurance]: You are able to spend a Fate Point to defer a consequence to the next exchange in a combat.

Feel the Burn [Endurance]: You are able to take one extra moderate, physical consequence.

Brawler [Fists]: Your defense rolls are at +1 when using your Fists, and if you are fighting with two or more minions you also deal +1 damage on the stress track.

Dirty Fighter [Fists]: (Requires Brawler) When you tag an Aspect on an opponent in combat, you get an additional +1 to your roll.

Martial Arts [Fists]: You can spend a full action to study your opponent's fighting techniques. Your opponent has to defend against this action, which is essentially an attack. If successful, you can place an Aspect on your opponent.

Unbound [Might]: When restrained, you get a +2 to your rolls to escape your bonds.

Best Foot Forward [Rapport]: When making a roll to make a good first impression on an NPC, you cannot possibly make them think less of you no matter how bad the roll goes.

Smooth Recovery [Resolve]: This stunt enables you to take an additional moderate, social consequence.

Inner Strength [Resolve]: Whenever someone is trying to get into your head, and you take a full defensive action, you get a +3 instead of a +2.

Still Standing [Resolve]: (Requires Inner Strength) YOur character can take an additional moderate consequence of any type.

...anyway, this is a selection.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Anezka's Journal 1

My excitement at moving to a land where the Blood of Vol was openly revered has faded quickly. This is nothing like what Skaina has taught me, and I see my contempt mirrored in her eyes. These are a simple, frightened people who believe that one can defeat Death, if only one lights enough candles on holidays.

They do not know the glories of Vol Herself, Queen of Dragons and of Elves and of Death, the exile, the banished one whom nations still fear.

The do not know her power. I will have to show them.

For the meantime, my days are taken up in this cold accursed land by pretending to be the simpering lady for "Milord". Our wedding was a cold, flaccid affair. Our wedding night was...regrettable. He commented on my birthmark, at which point any hope of romance ceased (and there was precious little). I will never love this man. In fact I loathe him already.

I spend most of my time with my dear Skaina. She is a treasure. Without her, I would be lost. She still has much to teach me, and with the appearance, at least, of worship of Vol in this land, my instruction can go much more quickly. To them, I am simply an eager convert to their national religion.

I have noticed that Kronan does not keep any Undead soldiers or guards. I will have to ask him why.

Friday, June 27, 2008

What Are Aspects?

Aspects are the heart of the Spirit of the Century system. They're simple to 'get' but hard to master.

On the one hand, they're just short words of phrases that describe your character that you use during play. On the other hand, they're 50 important descriptors that we'll all have to be keeping track of for your 5 characters combined.

Apsects will help you add to rolls when you need it. They will also get you into trouble, earning you Fate Points during the game, which you then use to activate your Aspects to empower you yet again. They're the fuel that runs the whole system, basically.

An Aspect could be part of your character's personality, or a relationship she has, or an item she is carrying with her, or a physical attribute, or a flaw, or an oath, a catchphrase, and so on. It can basically be anything, but there are still definitely some Aspects that are better than others. The way you know whether your Aspect is good or not is by keeping in mind how it will function in the game.

How Aspects function

The basic way that Aspects function in the game is through Invoking them. When a player Invokes an Aspect, the player spends a Fate Point and either gets to re-roll all of her dice on a single roll, or she gets to leave her dice as they lay but add +2 to the result. The GM needs to OK an Invoke, but most uses of an Aspect should be fine.

It is also possible to Invoke for effect. Instead of getting the re-roll or the bonus to your roll, you can Invoke for effect to basically add a fact to the game. You might Invoke membership in a secret organization to say that the organization has a chapter house in the city you're in, or you might Invoke an Aspect like "First on the Scene" in order to say that you arrive...first on the scene. Again, the GM needs to Ok these, but again, this is a lenient kind of game.

Using Aspects which are not your own is called Tagging. You can Tag an Aspect on a person, place or thing by spending a Fate Point. This basically functions the same as Invoking your own Aspects - but, if you guess an Aspect wrongly, you lose the Fate Point. (As long as your guess is close, no problem, but it has to be close). In SotC, anything can have an Aspect. A scene, a set-piece, a room, an NPC, an organization and so on. Listen to descriptions of these things for clues as to what Aspects they might have.

During the game, it is possible to inflict Aspects on other people or on scenes, and these Aspects can then be Tagged. If you are the one who caused an Aspect, you are entitled to Tag it once free of charge. This Tag must come immediately after the Aspect takes effect, however, or at the very minimum during the same scene.

It is also possible to pass off this right to a free Tag of an Aspect added to a scene or character, meaning player-characters can set each other up in combat for things like finishing moves or dramatic actions that would normally be impossible.

After the one free Tag, you can still Tag the Aspect, but you have to pay the usual Fate Point. (Well, as long as the Aspect is still there to Tag - more on this later)

Just like Invoking an Aspect for effect, you can Tag an Aspect for effect. This will normally cost the Fate Point, but if it is an Aspect you put on something, then you're probably entitled to Tag it for effect once for free.

GMs can use your Aspects as well, but don't worry, it benefits you. The basic thing that the GM can do is to Compel an Aspect. Basically, the GM offers you a Fate Point when an Aspect might get you in trouble in an interesting way. If you take the FP, then your Aspect is Compelled, and you must do what was agreed upon, or act in the way agreed upon. If you refuse the FP, then you have to spend a Fate Point of your own to resist the power of the Compel.

The Compel system isn't there to take your Fate Points away. Its there to encourage roleplaying of Aspects in a way that makes the game more fun, and also to provide you with a source of Fate Points. If you never accept a Compel, you'll be out of Fate Points really soon.

You can also Negotiate a Compel. What this means is that the player can mention an Aspect that might apply to the GM and see if they can get a Compel out of the GM. This is to help the GM, who (in my case anyway) can't keep track of 50 PC Aspects plus all of the NPC and scene Aspects.

"Accidental" Compels might happen - when you RP your Aspect to your detriment or to make the game more interesting but it isn't part of a technical Compel. In that case, the GM should note it and give you a Fate Point after the fact.

The GM can also always choose to Escalate a Compel. Basically, the GM holds out a second Fate Point and says "are you suuuure?" with a sly grin.

Conflicting Aspects can both be Compelled! Often this is a zero-sum situation, where you spend a FP and then get one to resist and act out an Aspect respectively. If you can come up with a way to play both conflicting Aspects well, then go for it! You get two Fate Points and bragging rights.

Tracking Aspects

Last note - on the SotC wiki, they recommend that players keep track of which Aspects are getting Invoked and Tagged and Compelled and which aren't, just as a way to see what the most effective Aspects you have are. If I'm consistently missing an Aspect you want to come up more, play it up and remind me.

Huh. I can't turn off italics. I've gotta stop doing these posts 1/2 on a Mac...

What is Pulp?

There's a great discussion of pulp to be found in the Spirit of the Century book. I definitely recommend that. Here's what I'm thinking:

The term "pulp" comes from the cheap 'pulp' grade paper that stories of this kind were printed on. They weren't considered worthy of quality paper, especially in wartime when paper was more rationed than it is now by a long shot. Pulp stories were not high literature about introspective characters whining to each other about the state of the world. No! Pulp heroes punch people like that in the face because they get in the way of saving the world from cackling, finger-steepling villains.

Pulp is a genre of action, heroes, villains, and if we're honest, stereotypes. There's a lot about square-jawed (white) heroes rescuing damsels from apes living in darkest Africa, or Martians, or whatever. The action is over-the-top. Being punched in the face isn't a big deal - only villainous mooks get knocked out by a punch. The best example of pulp that we're all familiar with is the Indiana Jones series.

In Eberron, you get a lot of the action, heroes, and villains without the troublesome stereotypes of the time period of pulp - around the two great World Wars to be exact, and a little after. You also get magic and goblins and creepy aberrations sleeping beneath the ground and undead and beholders and flying ships. So, really, Eberron wins.

Pulp heroes are larger than life. They are tougher, smarter, stronger and more resourceful than most people. They are courageous to the point of recklessness, and the story carries them forward anyway. Pulp heroes have to be larger than life - pulp villains are really villainous. They are powerful, sleek, ruthless, often insane, and are usually bent on nothing less than world domination.

Pulp is also about mysteries of a particular kind. These are not nuanced, complex, interwoven mysteries - these are Mysteries! They might be mysteries of the ancient world, or mysteries or lost Atlantis, or mysteries of Mars and its strange inhabitants, but they are mysteries that are more exciting than mysterious. They titillate without making you think all that hard. Why are Nazis after the Ark of the Covenant? Because Nazis were occult-obsessed and scary and the Ark of the Covenant is evocative and cool. Therefore, it made a good pulp Mystery.

Pulp heroes "fail forward". When Indiana Jones fails a roll, he doesn't fall to his death, his situation just gets more complicated. So you might get beaten up or socially out-classed, but the story doesn't stop there. Ideally, it shouldn't stop ever. This kind of game encourages risk-taking. You may very well be killed by someone who is bent on killing you if you don't figure out how to stop them, but you probably won't be killed by failing an Athletics roll in the rigging of an airship. That's because one way of dying is cool and dramatic, and the other blows.

But don't over-do it. Its easy to shout everything in a pulp game as if IT! ALL! HAD! EXCLAMAtION! POINTS! but that'll get old for all of us. Sometimes, yeah, its "Science!" and not "science", but the system will make things pulp-y without having to push it. Indiana Jones is interesting not because he is square-jawed and impossible to knock out with a punch, but in spite of those things. Indestructible heroes are harder to make interesting. Its harder to create an actual character in pulp who isn't one-dimensional and gimmicky - but its more fun if you do.

The Princess

It is three years ago.

The Last War has only recently ended, but as she steps onto one of her father's ships to sail to Karrnath, seemingly a world away, Princess Anezka isn't thinking about war. She is thinking about her soon-to-be-husband - some grim Karrnathi nobleman named Kronan, known only for his age, his military power, and his inability to find a suitable woman in his own damn country.

The offer of marriage arrived during the Last War, and Anezka had hoped that her father, Prince Rahn of Traglorn and Tempest Isles, had entirely forgotten about the offer.

Clearly, he had not.

Anezka is young enough, and more importantly, unpredictable enough, to still travel with her Nurse, an older woman of great faith and wisdom named Skaina. She is a common woman with an uncommon secret, which she has passed on to Anezka alone among Rahn's many children sired with many wives.

Tucked beneath a false board in one of the ornate trunks carrying her clothing, even now being loaded onto the Dread Spray, her father's fastest ship, is a dagger of mage-hardened onyx. Its pommel is a gaping, fanged mouth. Blood-thirst is its most recent name, thought it has borne many in the past. It is the symbol of the secret, handed down from Skaina to Anezka, many nights ago, when she was initiated...

Into the Blood of Vol.

Now the Dread Spray will carry her away to her intended husband, a man she has never met, but whose image, sent with a polite letter, left her quite cold. This Kronan is a powerful man, but one lacking ambition. Anezka is a Princess of Lhazaar, daughter of Princes and Kings before them, daughter of pirates and brigands and explorers.

She has enough ambition for both of them. Marriage or no marriage, she would make her father notice, make the world notice. She is not a prize to be handed off, a political favor, an offering.

If anyone is going to choose who the offering is, it will be Anezka. Blood will flow, and death will have dominion.