The Fellowship of Phoenix Flame
Part VII: Sweet Taste of Excess
The Imperial Ball is held each year to divert attention from the war and worries of everyday life. Axelrod and his guild have been invited. Their tales will be told and much rejoicing will follow. Is all as well as it seems? Read the last chapter in this saga to find out.
The day of the Imperial Ball was upon the Fellowship. Axelrod smiled to himself as he dressed in his blood-red steel silk finery, custom tailored by a master of the craft. He had known this day was coming. It had occurred to him that perhaps he should pick a date for the Imperial Ball. Given his options, however, he decided he would be better off going stag. He’d isolated the closest women in his life with poorly chosen words, or poorly timed words at the least. Perhaps by not going with a date, he’d find one there. As much as would have preferred to have Darla to be at his side again, he knew an Imperial noble could do wonders for his career and potentially let him retire someday with a nest egg. Kayna he wasn’t sure of, but she sure was easy on the eyes. Axelrod shook his head. He’d just go have fun and mingle. His guild members knew they were to be on their best behavior. He was ready and he looked fabulous. After a few last minute adjustments to his outfit and appearance, he was headed to a travel gate that would take him to the Imperial capital of Tazoon. The whole city would be lit up when darkness fell and he didn’t want to miss a second.
Kayna and Darla had helped each other pick out dresses for the affair. They both picked slinky flowing gowns of dyed steelsilk. Kayna’s was silver and glittered in the moonlight, while Darla had chosen a gold gown that looked better indoors. Both dresses complimented their figures and had jewelry to match. They arrived not much before Axelrod, with the mindset to take him by surprise. Not much later, Ygnar arrived dressed in Aughundell Work clothes, but decked out in gold jewelry from head to toe, sporting a fresh braid in his beard. He kissed each lady's hand and smiled knowingly as he headed towards a local refreshment stand. Leave it to a dwarf to find the ale first.
Terius, the tailor who had designed the attire the guild wore, showed up with a stunning Saris maiden on his arm. He was dressed in customary standard Kion casual-dress wear, as was she. The ladies smiled at him and waved him by. Terius nodded and blushed as he entered the main dome where the dance floor was. Following him was a group of all the guild dragons. They, however, did not arrive on the arrival pad. Instead they flew in formation to the event and took roosts nearby as they finished last minute preening. Xarfax, Merdyl, and Serratus looked glorious with freshly polished scales. Serratus preened ner newly earned Adult scales even more, and seemingly twice as long as the other dragons as she perched proudly above the crowd. At last she chose the Lunus Faction with the hopes of one day besting Xarfax in battle.
The guild's cadre of gnomes, Flintstahl at the fore, showed up wearing celestial robes of various colors and what appeared to be gallons of mustache wax. Kayna felt bad for the single female amongst them. She’d be spending all evening being asked to dance. How her feet would hurt come morning! They all wandered off to mingle and Flintstahl himself went to pester the caterers.
Wulfegard and many of the guild hunters were ill suited to be there, and they looked uncomfortable in fine clothing. Wulfegard wore his battle armor but thankfully only carried an ornamental axe. Without a look at the women waiting at the arrival pad he strode off after Ygnar, wanting to get his celebration started early. The satyrs gave a few long looks at Kayna and Darla but were called to the refreshment stands by Wulfegard. Not long after, Nyra arrived with a horde of suitors chasing her. She looked absolutely lovely, having traded her cargo gear for a gown of gossamer. Dryads look delicate and lovely regardless of gender or what they wear, though it bears mention more than just the dryads had noticed her this eve. Despite her put upon look, she clearly enjoyed the attention she was getting.
Finally Axelrod arrived looking as stunning as the ladies with his shirt hugging his rippling muscles. A six and a half foot tall man in Saris styled finery cut a striking figure indeed. His hair was pulled back into a pony tail and his facial hair was freshly trimmed. A tasteful amount of jewelry completed the outfit. Kayna and Darla both had to work to keep a cool demeanor. Axelrod made no such attempts at refinement. After giving each of them a once over, he grinned.
"Ladies..." He nodded to both. "Waiting for me? Of course you are. It just isn’t a party without me." Axelrod asserted with his standard polish and charisma.
"Actually we were," Kayna affirmed.
"We’ve got some things to talk about," Darla explained. Each lady took an arm as they walked into the ballroom. "You’ve been avoiding us."
"One might think, you were unsettled. Regretful perhaps?" Kayna chided.
"Does it bother you Kayna and I are getting along now? Maybe trading stories?" asked Darla, only half joking.
"You two aren’t mad at me?" asked Axelrod incredulously.
"No," they said together, "Amused".
"Just thinking I need to make a decision about who gets to stand at my side?" Axelrod asked again.
"In the guild or…?" questioned Kayna.
"The guild of course," Axelrod quickly covered and explained. The ladies exchanged knowing looks and nodded.
"Mmm hmmm", they remarked.
"Let’s just enjoy the evening, see where it takes us and we can talk about who gets to stand at your side later." Darla suggested.
"I think he’s sweat enough for now, can’t let him ruin that outfit after all." Kayna snickered.
Inside the festivities were in full swing and dusk brought the city to life. Nobles and imperial officers milled about. Jatell sat at the head table with all the other important nobles and officers, and of course, committee magistrates. Guild mates mingled and rubbed shoulders with some of the most influential people alive. Music of various cultures played throughout the city, though inside the dome on the dance floor the music was better suited to noble dances and a more subdued environment. Fountains sprayed water high into the air and helped cool off the city as night fell upon it.
After procuring a few drinks for himself and his "dates", Axelrod and the ladies made the rounds, mingling with nobility and committee managers. The guild enjoyed fine foods and wines and the occasional other liquor. Much dancing occurred in various pairings throughout the guild and merriment ensued. One pairing of note caused quite a stir among the comrades. Nyra had put Wulfegard on the spot when she asked him to dance. It seemed despite his girth the man was light enough on his feet to not make a complete fool of himself, despite his overly red face having been asked to dance by a partner of such short stature. Axelrod had the pleasure of dancing with various court noble ladies allowing his obvious charm, chiseled jaw, and ruggedly handsome face to win them over. All in all; the Gifted were allowed to escape the violent and sometimes dull trapping of everyday life, even if just for one evening.
All at once the dome went quiet. From the back a murmur began as High Councilor Faldrin Ohrman emerged with a goblet of wine in hand. It was time for the Imperial toast. "Good evening fellow citizens of the Empire! Once again the Empire holds a grand ball. Once again we stand defiant in the face of the Withered Aegis! Another year passes and new heroes rise. Tonight we honor the most prestigious guild in the Empire. This guild aided the Imperial Relief Effort most graciously. If the guild master of the Fellowship of Phoenix Flame would please step forward and the rest of the guild fall in behind you?" The High Councilor waved his hand and party goers made a large space for the guild to stand before the head table. The guild, of course, followed Axelrod to the fore of the room.
"Tonight you are my honored guests. Without the Gifted the undead hordes would be at our doors, killing our citizens and claiming more soldiers from the ranks of our dead. The city is yours this eve. Enjoy the fine food and drink and all else we have to offer. Make merry tonight for we are at war and tomorrow we all resume our roles in this effort for survival. I would ask a favor of you Axelrod Jagen Pendrall. Say a few words to honor your guild, those gathered here, and your fellow Gifted. You have the floor." With that High Councilor sat but kept his glass raised, dictating that the toast was not yet over.
"I am honored High Councilor. I hope my humble words will please those gathered here today. I will not lie. What we of the Fellowship did was nothing more than what any other guild of Gifted could do given the proper incentive or perseverance. Our star simply happened to shine a little brighter. This war we fight is not for glory, or perhaps I should say, it should not be for glory. This war is more an imperative than anything else. We and the Withered Aegis cannot exist in the same space for very long. One will be proven dominant. The other will simply cease to be. It is nothing extraordinary to fight this war, there is nothing glorious about it. People lose loved ones and homes daily to the ravages of war. Children are orphaned and land is left fallow or blighted."
"Just as it is imperative that we defeat the Withered Aegis, it is equally as imperative that we care for all those harmed by the war. That is what the relief effort is all about. Therefore, it is also my duty...nay, everyone’s duty to do their part." Axelrod turned a he spoke to address the room and then back to the head table. He bowed respectfully as he finished.
Terius interjected as only a drunken Saris can, "Hey! Tell ‘em abou' how you shtuck your boot up Daknor’s-" Terius was silenced by a hand on his shoulder from his date and a hush. Axelrod smiled, clearly embarrassed when those at the head table, including Jatell, scoffed. High Councilor Faldrin Ohrman carefully hid a grin and coughed before speaking.
"You defeated Daknor the Berserk in single combat?"
"No, my guild helped, perhaps they did more than I. I simply helped demoralize him with witty barbed insults as he fled." Axelrod explained only half in humor, trying to be modest.
"Heroes such as you are rare indeed. If you would all raise your glasses in salute to heroism, generosity, and the Empire. May Istara smile upon us all!" With that he tilted his glass back, to be joined by everyone else. Soon after, music started again and the high Councilor made rounds shaking hands of all the important people. The party resumed as normal and soon Ohrman finished his rounds and left. As he exited, a grizzled war veteran walked in and began talking to various Gifted. He too, it seemed, was making the rounds. The nobles didn’t seem to care for him. He didn’t dress for the occasion and lacked the polish of an Imperial Officer. Most of the guild thought this man was someone they could get along with.
The party resumed full swing and the guild, despite being out of their element, truly enjoyed the evening. Most drank heavily and spent time either chasing or fending off the opposite sex. Even the dragons enjoyed themselves, spending most of the evening in khutit form. Axelrod gave up on dancing with nobles after finding that they had little use for a man of low birth and spent his evening drinking with his boys and dancing the night away with Darla and Kayna. Even with his hopes of a political career dashed, he still enjoyed this fine occasion.
Later, the guild sat around a fountain enjoying more drinks and the cool night air. Terius asked that his date, Deenah, be considered for membership. Membership was granted unanimously after they all saw that her skill with a needle was so great. Many nobles and important military types, including Lord Commander Jatell, commended Axelrod on his success. Linis, too, made his way through the revelers to congratulate the young adventurers and their guild. Even Wulfegard was in fine spirits, singing Trandalarian ballads while drinking himself stupid with his band of berserkers and Ygnar. It was quite a sight to behold.
Axelrod in his drunken state, had a loose tongue and began apologizing for his behavior lately. He confessed feelings for both Kayna and Darla, all the while continuing to guzzle his ale. Before the conversation got too in depth, or the ladies began a cat fight, a man approached.
"Sergeant Carmichael Kincaid," the grizzled veteran from before said with a bow. "The Empire is sending aid to Delgarath at the behest of the Iron Guard there. It seems the dwarves are insulted, thinking the Empire is forcing them to submit to the Imperial Army's standard and conduct. Such is not the case. There have been dangerous beasts sighted near Delgarath and some military advisors have reason to believe the Withered Aegis are nearby. The Iron Guard mirrors their concerns. Our military doesn’t understand the significance of that mining town yet. I do, the dwarves do, and I think a guild like yours might. That town could be a staging ground to fight back. The mines may hold untold abandoned resources. The area itself surely holds danger. We’ll need a few strong guilds like yours to help out. There is something lying deep below the surface there. It is dreadful and it is powerful. Despite the large egos of our short dwarven friends, I have been chosen to help lead a militia in Delgarath. I will aid those honorable warriors however I can. I hope to see you all there. The Empire needs you to do your duty yet Axelrod. A hero's work is never done. For the Empire!"
With that, Sergeant Kincaid left the guild to contemplate his words. What they did next, however, is best left to another story.