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Another Group of Supposed Heroes

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“Absolutely not,” J’mon Sa Ord said. “You shine so brightly, my Heart. Every foul thing in the Shadowfell will be drawn to you. You cannot go.”

“And yet, I must,” Gilmore said, hugging them a little tighter. 

“Well. Who is to go with you?” 

“Both J’arett and Hunin have demanded they go,” Gilmore said, idly wondering how the Soul would react. 

“The boy?” they asked. “Surely not the boy. You cannot take him.” 

“I’m afraid he was quite insistent.” 

“What sort of parent allows their vulnerable child to battle an archlich on their first foray beyond the safety of their home?” 

Gilmore sighed. “Trust me. I don’t need a guilt trip from you of all people. I’ll find a failsafe to protect him, should things go sour. And J’arett?” 

The emperor drew back, nodding. “I have a few artifacts in mind that will aid him. Of course he should go with you. He’s practically your bodyguard as it is.”

Gilmore wondered a bit if J’mon wasn’t hoping something terrible would happen to Jarett. “Are you saying you don’t mind?” 

The brass dragon shrugged. “Would he listen to me if I told him no?”  

“Definitely not.”

“Then why waste my breath?” 

Gilmore paused, tilting his head slightly. “Well...what if I asked you to?”

“And how am I to accomplish this? Throw him into the Scarlet Prison again? Chain him to the bed?” A strange furniture choice for someone who purportedly hated Jarett…

Gilmore slid his palm down their wiry chest. “I worry I won’t be at my best with both of them there. Keeping them safe will be a distraction, but. Perhaps I’ll need them in ways I don’t fully understand yet.” 

The Soul cupped his face. “I fear for you. If you think they will be a hindrance, we will find a way to keep them back.” 

Gilmore shook his head. “For now, let’s worry about the rest of the party. I’d like to bring at least one jinnborn. Several clerics to deal with the undead and the necrotic magics. And paladins, of course–at least two. Someone must hold the line for the casters… I don’t think we’ll need any other arcane users besides myself. But we’ll need a druid.” Any druid would be a help to them, but Gilmore thought there would likely be some that were more help than others, especially if moving earth became necessary.  

“What about a warlock?” J’mon asked. “No one will be expecting that.” 

Gilmore frowned. “I’m not certain a warlock would be such a reliable ally in the Shadowfell, much less in dealing with necromancers…”

“That all depends on their warlock patron.” 

“I suppose…”

“You know I regulate warlocks within the city very closely. Not one is allowed to stay in Ank’Harel without my permission.”

“Yes...of course not.” But Gilmore was still considering.

“The archlich and his forces will be expecting holy power to be used offensively against them. They won’t be expecting a warlock.” 

“That’s very true.”

“In conflicts like this, a moment of surprise is everything,” J’mon said.

“You’re right, of course. Well, then. We’ll take a warlock with us. I presume you have one in mind.”

The emperor nodded. “In fact, I do. Have you any particular people in mind for the other roles?”

“The clerics...we have to take one from Pelor’s temple and one from Ioun’s...other than that, I just want to be sure there’s no uncertainty where alignment is concerned.”

“And the paladins?” 

“At least one of the Dawnfather’s. We should send to the temples in the city and see who else answers the call. I don’t feel good about drafting anyone,” Gilmore said. “This is likely going to cost them their lives. They should come willingly.” 

The emperor was quiet, looking thoughtful. 

Gilmore called for the scribes and had missives sent to each temple in the city. Then he sent a messenger to the sab siraat, laying out the mission and asking to bargain for their services. The jinnborn enclave owed no particular loyalty to the emperor, and had to be negotiated with as equals. 

 

*

 

Gilmore still had all of his spells, and he had slept for most of the day yesterday. Still, he was vaguely considering catching a quick nap while he waited for the messages to come back from the temples, when he received a Sending from Whitestone. 

Master Gilmore, please help!
Cassie is scared, and she’s been so sick!
She wanted me to tell you that the Briarwoods are back.
Do you know what that means?

It was Sherri. The poor dear had no clue what a Briarwood was. Sometimes ignorance was best.

He couldn’t say he was surprised at this news. Gilmore had warned her, after all, just a few days ago that Sylas might be lurking somewhere in the Shadowfell. But what did this news mean for Cassandra? Likely she would need a good deal of mental healing. And protection. 

Gilmore had a feeling he knew what this news meant for him. And for the battle ahead. He Sent back to Sherri:

Yes, I do. 
Is she alright? I presume you’re taking care of her. 

No, she’s not at all alright! I could punch her brother for dropping this news on her. He doesn’t understand what she went through.

Sherri’s protectiveness had never ceased to be charming. Cassandra was lucky to have her. 

No, I doubt he does. Gilmore sighed. If this news had come through Percival, and recently, that meant Vox Machina had likely run into the Briarwoods at the ziggurat in Marquet. Which...as bad luck would have it, Gilmore had missed seeing in his scrying this morning. 

I’m sorry, my dear. But thank you for telling me. Perhaps get her out of town. Her time with the Briarwoods was all in Whitestone. Everything there will risk bringing back her traumatic memories. If you take her to Emon…

Yes. Doing that now. Fuck this city. And Vox Machina.

Well. Gilmore wasn’t going to comment on that. Is there anything you need from me?

Yes. If you see those Briarwoods anytime soon, kill them. For good, this time. 

I shall endeavour to do my best, my dear. 

I miss you. Be safe.

Gilmore missed her, too. Funny, because he hadn’t thought of Sherri in weeks. But she had been his only family for so long…

You keep her safe. And yourself, as well.  

Knowing the Briarwoods were on the chess board now did change things a bit. Gilmore would have to prepare his party to fight not just an archlich and armies of the undead, but also a lesser lich and her vampire husband (or perhaps vampire husband’s ghost? Gilmore still wasn’t certain what precisely Lord Briarwood was now). 

Then something occurred to him. If the downfall of Vance last time had been his vampire lover...Gilmore doubted Lord Briarwood could be turned against his master similarly, however...did the archlich have a thing for vampires? Is that why he’d adopted the Briarwoods? Or was that putting the egg before the chicken?

While he had time, Gilmore went to the imperial treasure rooms to search for enchanted armor and weapons for his party. There were better items in his own hoard, but he wasn’t certain he should be wasting high level spells to Teleport there. And the royal magicians didn’t know where Gilmore’s lair was; nor did he wish them to. 

He found the Soul in one of the treasure room alcoves, apparently doing the same thing Gilmore had gone there to do. “Great minds think alike?” he said. 

“I regretfully confess I have become somewhat attached to the aasimar,” J’mon said without turning around. “I would like to find sufficient artifacts to ensure the elder one’s survival.” 

“That was almost sweet,” Gilmore told them. “What have you found so far?” 

“A cuirass that can be worn with one of my inventions I will deploy for the occasion.” The emperor pointed to a mithril breastplate they had set aside. “Arm guards that release radiant damage when struck. And a singing sword.”  

Gilmore looked them over. “Not a bad start. There’s also a vestige was thinking of...” 

They spent the better part of the morning going through the treasure room and eventually dipping into each of their personal hoards for artifacts that would do. J’mon kindly reminded Gilmore that he didn’t have to teleport himself to his lair. It was possible to have one of the royal magicians open a Gate based around an object and then just bring that object back so that they wouldn’t be able to get there again. Which Gilmore did. 

That was how Gilmore found the Uskh of Life-Sparing he had wanted for Hunin. The moment his health was reduced by 50% or more, the vestige would teleport him home instantly. Between that and the armor and weapons they’d found for him, Hunin should be covered. He just needed to ask Jarett which weapon he felt was best suited to Hunin before he gifted one to the boy. Gilmore still preferred that the aasimar stay here and be safe, but he doubted he was going to get his wish. 

For Jarett, J’mon hadn’t seemed to want to contribute as much. That was fine (though it was petty and horrible of them), because Gilmore had plenty of wondrous artifacts in his own hoard for Jarett.  

He rummaged up a suit of Plate Armor of Necrotic Resistance. Though Gilmore wasn’t certain if Jarett would want to wear it--half plate was the most he’d ever seen Jarett in, and fighting for one’s life was not the time to change fighting styles so drastically. As a backup, Gilmore had a set of light armor he’d made out of his own scales centuries ago with another lover in mind. Unfortunately, that one had been even better at getting himself killed than Vax’ildan, and had succeeded before Gilmore could ever even give him his gift. He wasn’t certain how Jarett would take the offering, but it was very symbolic of how invested Gilmore was in Jarett’s protection. 

Strangely enough, Gilmore also found Boots of Haste, which he happily put aside for Jarett. He knew very well just how many scrapes those had gotten Vax out of. He briefly considered giving Jarett a blunderbuss, but without the training, it was likely to do him more harm than good. Yes, he did have such things in his hoard. Percival prided himself on having invented firearms, but the truth was, portable fire lances had been in use in Southern Issylra for centuries, and were not unknown to the well-traveled.  

Gilmore pondered what enchanted weapon might suit Jarett better. He was very good dual-wielding talwaar. But Jarett’s preferred weapon was a crossbow. Which one should it be? Gilmore searched the hoard for magic items of both varieties. He found a celestial longbow which did devastating damage and never missed, and a Split Wind Sabre greatsword that would deal extra damage to undead, but he wasn’t certain how well Jarett would be able to wield it.

When Gilmore and J’mon had finished selecting all of their enchanted gifts with which to gird their loved ones, it was time for the mid-day meal, and the emperor insisted they stop and eat. Gilmore didn’t fully realize how single-minded he’d been until he walked out on the terrace and saw his little children for the first time in two days. It didn’t help that they all ran to him as if they hadn’t seen him in a year.