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Map zone22

Mina's Past could shape the future...

Crimson Shadows is the 22nd questing area in the game and becomes available upon completing All Roads Lead on normal difficulty.

NM Achievement The Cusp of Forever

Note: Quests within Crimson Shadows require various pieces of the Red Prince set


Achievement

Title Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4 Level 5 Level 6 Level 7
The Cusp of Forever
(Complete Crimson Shadows on Nightmare difficulty.)
Acv zone22 1
1
25 AP
Acv zone22 2
5
50 AP
Acv zone22 3
10
100 AP
Acv zone22 4
25
250 AP
Acv zone22 5
50
500 AP
Acv zone22 6
100
1000 AP
Acv zone22 7
250
2000 AP

Loot

Name Att Def AV Per Ability Obtained
Statuette of the red prince brown Brown Statuette of the Red Prince Craft x2 Stat Points Crimson Shadows quests
Statuette of the red prince grey Grey Statuette of the Red Prince Craft x2 Stat Points Crimson Shadows quests
Statuette of the red prince green Green Statuette of the Red Prince Craft x2 Stat Points Crimson Shadows quests
Statuette of the red prince blue Blue Statuette of the Red Prince Craft x2 Stat Points Crimson Shadows quests
Statuette of the red prince purple Purple Statuette of the Red Prince Craft x2 Stat Points Crimson Shadows quests
Statuette of the red prince orange Orange Statuette of the Red Prince Craft x2 Stat Points Crimson Shadows quests


Difficulties

Quest Name Energy Experience Miniboss Drops
Z22 a1 q1 The Prince and the Horse 100 150 The Red Prince's Helm
The Red Prince's Gauntlets
Crimson Carnage
Gold3870-4730
Z22 a1 q2 Red Blossoms 100 150 The Red Prince's Sabatons
Crimson Carnage
Gold3870-4730
Z22 a1 q3 Red Rum 100 150 The Red Prince's Legplates
Crimson Carnage
Gold3870-4730
Z22 a1 q4 Crimson Terror 100 150 The Red Prince's Cuirass
Crimson Carnage
Gold3870-4730
Legion of darkness small Legions of Darkness 150 300 Gold9450-11550

Quest Name Energy Experience Miniboss Drops
Z22 a1 q1 The Prince and the Horse 120 180 The Red Prince's Helm
The Red Prince's Gauntlets
Crimson Carnage
Gold5616-6864
Z22 a1 q2 Red Blossoms 120 180 The Red Prince's Sabatons
Crimson Carnage
Gold5616-6864
Z22 a1 q3 Red Rum 120 180 The Red Prince's Legplates
Crimson Carnage
Gold5616-6864
Z22 a1 q4 Crimson Terror 120 180 The Red Prince's Cuirass
Crimson Carnage
Gold5616-6864
Legion of darkness small Legions of Darkness 170 340 Gold13770-16830


Quest Name Energy Experience Miniboss Drops
Z22 a1 q1 The Prince and the Horse 140 210 The Red Prince's Helm
The Red Prince's Gauntlets
Crimson Carnage
Gold7308-8932
Z22 a1 q2 Red Blossoms 140 210 The Red Prince's Sabatons
Crimson Carnage
Gold7308-8932
Z22 a1 q3 Red Rum 140 210 The Red Prince's Legplates
Crimson Carnage
Gold7308-8932
Z22 a1 q4 Crimson Terror 140 210 The Red Prince's Cuirass
Crimson Carnage
Gold7308-8932
Legion of darkness small Legions of Darkness 190 380 Gold17100-20900


Quest Name Energy Experience Miniboss Drops
Z22 a1 q1 The Prince and the Horse 160 240 The Red Prince's Helm
The Red Prince's Gauntlets
Crimson Carnage
Gold7776-9504
Z22 a1 q2 Red Blossoms 160 240 The Red Prince's Sabatons
Crimson Carnage
Gold7776-9504
Z22 a1 q3 Red Rum 160 240 The Red Prince's Legplates
Crimson Carnage
Gold7776-9504
Z22 a1 q4 Crimson Terror 160 240 The Red Prince's Cuirass
Crimson Carnage
Gold7776-9504
Legion of darkness small Legions of Darkness 210 420 Gold19845-24255

Quest Lore

Pre Lore

Lore
Decades after the Battle of Dracoshire...

The stars were the same, weren't they? Yes... Dozens of diamonds shining in the liquid night, amidst swirls of rich purple, deep blue, and inky swaths of black -- so bright and brilliant a goddess might have cut them from her vast celestial gem a moment ago, and scattered them to ornament the sky. But Mina von Richten knew better. They'd shone down on her for centuries, illuminating her as maid and monster while she traversed the land and they the dark cosmos above. Her birth, her life, her death. They'd seen it all. Including that evening, so very long ago, when the same dilemma had weighed in her mind like stone.

Same stars. Same dilemma. Identical constellations, seared into the heavens. A good omen or an ill one?

She watched them as she walked. Starlight settled on her pale face and scarlet tresses. Their presence was curious, twinkling in time with the memories they rekindled. She didn't know whether she found it comforting or perturbing. But they offered no solution to her quandary. That was a matter the vampiress would have to determine for herself.

Mina's footsteps were noiseless in the grass. Nor did any soft whispers of breath enter or escape her lips, to give substance to her presence. She could've been an invisible, intangible ghost, she mused, removed from this world. Perhaps she was. She and all her twice-born kind. Orphans of past eras, drifting through strange times and altered places. Was that the existence she wanted for...

A faint sigh and melange of scents -- sweat, oiled leather, polished steel, and, deeper but more insistent, tantalizing redness -- triggered keen senses, granting a reprieve from her thoughts. A guardsman walking the grounds. His spear point glimmered, a fallen star yearning to reunite with the heavenly host. So did the heater shield on his other arm. Its device brought a twitch to the Red Baroness' lips. Even after all this time, the incongruity still made her smile. A noble family represented by a majestic beast and a farmhand's tool.

She drifted close to the guard. So near she could've reached out and seized his neck, or driven a sword through his spine. Sometimes it amused her to flit among the mortals unnoticed. A stealthy, unstoppable predator, reveling in a sliver of omnipotence. But tonight a terrible bleakness tightened around her heart. It took several seconds to recognize its meaning, a single more to chide herself, and another to speak out before she could stop herself.

"How is %he%?" Mina said.

The man's gasp was almost a hiss. A small, swift sound. But enough to end her ostracism and prove the vampiress was of this world she walked. Flesh and blood, however cold and ancient -- no mere shade drifting across the shadowed landscape. Satisfaction bloomed inside her body. Mockery cackled in her head. Was she some brooding newblood, or a nosferatu snatched from a bad bard's melodramas? But recrimination couldn't surpass relief.

He darted away and whirled round. Leather creaking, armor clanking. His face was young and soft. The eyes that met hers weren't those of a hardened warrior, much less a killer. But his shield rose to meet an attack. His spear shifted into a low guard, ready to thrust below an enemy's defenses. The Kasans didn't let untrained fools wear the family crest.

The man squinted at her.

"Baroness?"

His voice was new. One of those accents which had sprung up like weeds over the past few generations, and made certain areas of the West Krunan countryside seem like foreign lands. The tone, however... She'd become accustomed to hearing her name or titles uttered in dread and awe long before this one's grandparents were born. A familiar, reassuring sound. The guard was less fearful and awestruck than most. But that too was comforting. Why should a mere Red Baroness impress a man who served in a far greater legend's household?

He stood to attention, the tip of his spear pointing skyward once more, and bowed his head.

"How is %he%?" the vampiress repeated.

His eyes began to drop, but she captured and held his gaze. He opened his mouth, closed it, and opened it again. His eyeballs quivered. Mina took pity and released him.

"Ah." She found the air for a sigh.

He nodded, eyes downcast.

"I can escort you to the keep, baroness..."

"I'll make my own way. Enjoy the night. And if you're a friend of the gods, pray."

"I will!" His nods became more fervent. "I'll pray for %him%."

"No. Pray for us all. Pray for West Kruna."

Mina felt his gaze linger on her back, soft like the starlight, until night cast its veil between them. Then she was a phantom once more. All proof of her presence gone. This time she was too lost in her thoughts to care, and instinct guided her between the other guardsmen and women unseen.

The castle rose up in front of her. A nocturnal gift. Turrets and crenellations shaped the sky, pointing to the heavens. She glanced up, but knew before she saw. High in the decorated darkness flew a shape that even vast distance couldn't rob of its power and magnificence, which would once have sent people screaming in terror across the length and breadth of the kingdom. Were his orange eyes sweeping the world below? Did they meet hers? Could the blue wyrm already understand her purpose? Had he anticipated it like he'd seen so many other things? And if so... The centuries would turn for him as they turned for her. If anyone might understand, perhaps it would be the dragon.

She lowered her gaze and fastened it on a window set high in the castle wall. Between arched stone and a heavy sill, a dim flicker of firelight played with the shadows.

There it was. Destination and destiny. She could be up there in mere moments, entering a bedchamber in the dead of night like her kind had done for millennia. And then... And then.

Mina von Richten's limbs possessed speed and strength a mere mortal couldn't begin to comprehend. They could fling her into motion, launch her through the air. Scale stone in the blink of an eye. Yet they remained still. Frozen. Just like on that other night...

She hissed. Had she come all this way just to hesitate like a weak-willed newblood? She...

She had to think. She needed more time...

You don't have more time, the voice in her head said. You saw the look in the boy's eyes. Soon. It will happen soon, and if hesitate you'll be too late. Again.

"No!" She blinked, startled by her own cry. Her next words were a whisper. "There's time... Still time..."

The vampiress turned away from the keep and set out over the plain, through a world obscured by clouds of memory and clashing waves of thought.

Lights. Voices. Music.

The scents of bodies, washed and unwashed, mingling with the juicy aroma of cooking meat, the sharp tang of cheap ale, and the spicy sweetness of mulled wine.

Mina looked around. She'd reached one of the roads that bordered the Kasan estate. It stretched before her, surface churned up by boots and wheels, then baked hard by the day's sun. A muddy river stilled by starlight. On the other side was a building made of old wood and older stone. Light and boisterous noise poured through the half-open door and shuttered windows. A dwarven woman stood doubled over near the entrance, shaming her Stonebound ancestors by vomiting ale into the dirt. Mina's nose wrinkled.

The dwarf wiped a sleeve across her mouth and looked up. She grinned at the vampiress.

"Com'n in?" She belched.

Mina glanced down. The puddle of vomit at the dwarf's feet was bright red.

"S'okay! S'okay! Ain't blood..."

"I know."

"Red beer! The Fork always 'as red beer t'nit!"

The dwarf belched again, wiped her mouth once more, and staggered back inside. She slammed the heavy door behind her, making the sign above rock back and forth on protesting hinges. The Red Baroness noticed its image for the first time. A pretty young woman in a green gown, painted with some skill, brandishing a trident. No, not a trident... The words below proclaimed the establishment's name: The Princess and the Pitchfork.

Mina was turning away when the strains of music snatched at her. Several instruments were playing. Lutes, harps, and even... Yes, bagpipes. The bane of many a newly turned vampire who hadn't yet become accustomed to their heightened hearing. None of them were in harmony, sharing the same tune. Instead they waged melodious warfare -- smashing together in riots of sound. And through the sonorous din she heard a name. One which would've caught her ear at any time, but now, on this night, cut her like a silver blade across her cheek.

She crossed the road, stepped over the scarlet vomit, and entered.

The taproom on the other side of the door was of the rustic sort she'd seen a thousand times over the decades. A place that welcomed travelers who had coin to spend for drinks, meals, or beds. But she'd seldom seen one so full, especially not at this late hour and so far from the busier roads. Dozens of people sat bathed in the light and warmth of fire and candle, sipping, glugging, or quaffing in accordance with their disdain for sobriety, or else filling themselves with warm broth and roasted game.

And there were the musicians, scattered around the room. Tweaking instruments. Rehearsing songs. Preparing for their performances. Mina frowned and went to the bar, where a half-elf serving maid with a round face and rounder eyes came over to serve her.

"A strange haunt for bards," Mina said. "Is there a festival tomorrow?"

The barmaid's gaze dropped to Mina's mouth. When she met her eyes again, she was trembling.

"You're... You're a vampire!"

"Then you don't want me to be thirsty, do you? Mulled wine please."

The barmaid gulped, nodded, and grabbed for a goblet. She managed a smile when she filled it and set it on the stained, scarred wood, even if her lips did quiver a little at the edges. Mina put a gold coin on the bar. The half-elf's eyes widened, till each became an aureate disc.

"Keep it. So about these bards..."

The elf plucked up the coin and closed her fingers around it, muffling its magic. She gave a small cough and blinked at Mina.

"Tonight's the anniversary of the Red Prince's death! They say he passed along this road on one of his campaigns, and rested on this very spot. So every year bards come and sing songs about him."

Edmund... Another omen. But did it...

"The first one's about to start!" the barmaid said.

Mina moved across the taproom, as unsteady as a woman with her tenth drink in her hand instead of her first, and sat at a small table. Music and musings whirled around her head.

Quest Lore

The Prince and the Horse

Z22 a1 q1
Lore
"His voice was a shrieking banshee,

His golden mane a streaming pyre;
He burned up the ground underneath
His hooves; they flashed and blazed like fire.

To seize him for stable and stud,
Almost a hundred men had tried;
Untamed by the bridle and whip,
He left them broken, stripped of pride.

'A stallion as fierce as a drake!'
Across the kingdom spread the word,
That reached from the taverns' taprooms
Till Cuthbert's royal ears had heard.

The horse was so splendid a prize,
All Kruna's heroes massed their might;
They boasted of mounting the steed,
And breaking him in Cuthbert's sight.

The king and his prince went to watch
Their finest warriors engage
This stallion as fierce as a drake,
But dozens fell before his rage.

The legions all grumbled and cursed,
As clerics saved them from the tomb:
'That bastard was spawned in the fires
Of hell, and never knew a womb!'

'Let's slaughter the monster with fire,
And scatter ashes o'er the field!
No man in this kingdom of ours
Can ever make that savage yield!'

So warriors urged in their wrath,
With grievous wounds to flesh and pride,
But Edmund was striding across
The plain from whence the heroes shied.

The prince was a boy of but twelve,
Yet brave beyond that tender year,
And raised on the stories of Lord
Tyranthius; he scorned their fear.

He stared in the eyes of the horse,
And Edmund whispered words of war,
He spoke of a time yet to come,
Of armor painted red with gore.

'You reign in so little a field?
One day I'll rule this land as king,
And armies with banners and steel
Will make all Tor'gyyl kiss my ring!'

The horse was the greatest of steeds,
But bowed his head before the heir,
For even the beasts of the steppes
Saw conquest's fire in Edmund's stare."

"No," Mina said beneath her breath, whilst drinkers applauded and the bard bowed so low that his puffy purple hat almost touched the floor. "That wasn't how he did it..."

The vampiress sighed and lifted her goblet. She thought about that day while the wine warmed her throat. A young girl, just the prince's playmate -- years before either of them would look at the other with lovers' eyes. Watching with bated breath as Edmund strode towards the horse.

That was no lie, at least. The fearlessness. But it wasn't born from reckless courage, from arrogance, or visions of future glory. It was a thinker's certainty. The sureness of a mind which had examined the world and wrested an answer from its grasp. Everyone else had been staring at the stallion -- his champing jaws; crashing hooves; the powerful muscles rippling beneath his fine coat. But Edmund had perceived the faint tremor in his shadow, and known the horse feared an umbral being that strove to emerge from its own dark realm.

Mina smiled when she thought of her prince, leading the animal into the shade of the trees. Submerging the equine shadow in that deeper lake. Thwarting the black creature's passage, and sending the shadowsteed back to roam its ebon plains once more. She'd never been so proud in her life.

Red Blossoms

Z22 a1 q2
Lore
The bard unbent from his bow, blew kisses in unaimed volleys, and sat back down. A barmaid brought him a drink. He nursed it and looked out at the taproom -- now part of the eager, anticipating audience. His eyes gleamed as they had when he was singing and playing. The other musicians were the same. They'd come to perform, but also to enjoy. To take part in this musical ritual with ear as well as voice.

For a few moments there was quiet. Just a low murmur of shared whispers, the sloshing of ale, wine, and whisky, and the taps or scrapes of vessels returned to wood. Was there some order here? A program which would call on each bard and invite them to make their offerings in turn? She didn't know. But it didn't matter. She ordered another glass of warm wine and drowned her thoughts in its deep purple pool.

Mina was still scrying with its rich darkness when the voices subsided. Footsteps, light but sure, creaked the floorboards. She looked up. Her eyebrow rose.

The woman who'd made her way into the middle of the taproom's cleared floor space was of exotic garb and countenance. Her complexion, eyes, and topknot spoke of Nine Rivers, far to the east. So did the white kimono and black hakama. Mina had known enough swordmasters during the war to recognize their training garb, though it seemed as incongruous in the tavern as a plate panoply in a bathhouse. The swordmistress carried no lute or lyre. Instead her right hand clutched the long handle of the sword that rested horizontal at her side.

"Wrong tavern, love!" a goblin said from the back of the room. "The massacre's in the next pub over!"

The swordmistress' lips twitched. She bowed, and her sword flashed from its scabbard -- a gleaming stream of burning steel, enflamed by the fire and candles.

"I was joking!" The goblin scrambled under his table. "Just joking!"

But the woman from Nine Rivers had no eyes for him. She assumed a fighting stance, gazing into space as though entranced. And when her foot stamped against the floorboards, when her keen blade sliced the fragrant air, they beat and carved out a pattern.

Five and seven, five and seven. Drummed and cut into the world. Repeated again and again by the swordmistress' kata, in patterns of attack and defense that wove steel and sound in that little sphere of empty space. Gasps soon gave way to clapping hands, tapping cups, and stomping boots. The vampiress' own goblet joined the rhythm, making the dark liquid shiver.

And when The Princess and the Pitchfork reverberated with her beat, the swordmistress added her voice.

"Edmund crossed the sea;
His ships groaned with men and steel,
Seeking out fresh worlds,
He'd come so far to conquer.
Many lands were his,
Yet his sword could never rest.
The scouts saw his boats,
That sliced through the waters' spray,
Sharp like heroes' blades.
The shoguns' faces grew grim;
Thunder-darkened brows
Looked out from their battlements,
And called all to fight.
Where the waves waged war on sand,
Many heroes clashed;
The courage of two proud worlds,
Shone on blades and blood.
Who could number the brave dead
Or count endless wounds,
Beneath the weeping heavens,
Spilled on crimson sand?
But as winter yields to spring,
Peace blooms forth from war.
The shoguns and the Red Lord
Pledged to meet and join.
Fine vows would be set in ink,
Noble union made,
Beneath cherry blossom trees.
But one lord spoke false:
His honor's blade dull with rust,
Sheathed in rotting words.
Edmund walked amidst blossoms,
Awaiting the lords,
Drinking in the sweet beauty,
Of our wondrous land.
The false lord crept through the trees,
With a dozen men;
Their swords sharp as serpent's fangs;
Murder in their eyes.
Red Prince Edmund walked alone,
Easy prey they thought,
Far from legions' panoplies,
And his archers' shafts.
The lord sneered and called to him,
Said that he would die,
Hoping to see him grovel,
Before steel cut flesh.
But the prince was without fear;
He reached for his sword,
And painted its bright blade red.
Soon the shoguns came;
They prayed to ancestral gods;
For they saw the sign,
The mandate of heaven's will,
Daubed upon the trees.
The blossoms were bright crimson,
Where they'd once been pink.
To this day those cherry trees
Still sing of your scarlet lord."

Red Rum

Z22 a1 q3
Lore
Song gave way to intermission, intermission to song. Drink and merriment flowed through both. Amidst heady wine, raucous music, and jovial chatter, Mina's trouble seemed a dim and distant thing. Was that why the night had brought her here? That, and nothing more? If so, it was a foolish indulgence. Perhaps she should-

"Undead!"

The Red Baroness turned, expecting to see a pointing finger, denouncing eyes. Possibly a garlic-festooned mob brandishing flaming torches and pitchforks. It wouldn't have been the first time that had happened. But whilst there was indeed a jabbing digit, it wasn't aimed in her direction. Instead the gnome directed it, along with his wide-eyed stare, at the entrance and the newcomer it framed.

"Oi!" someone else said. "You're letting the cold in! Close that bloody door!"

"Sorry..."

The visitor may have smiled as he kicked the door shut behind him. It was difficult to tell, since his face was fleshless -- nothing but yellowed bone and blackened teeth. Two dark chasms stared from his sockets, each illuminated by the faintest flicker of blue light.

"He's undead!" the gnome said. He looked around for support, but most of the drinkers were so far in their cups it would've taken a dragon or at least a sizable troll to perturb them.

"Aye!" the skeleton said.

He doffed a hat that looked like it might once have been the height of nautical fashion, before someone cast it on the waves and let all the ocean's denizens nibble at it. His rent jerkin, torn breeches, and battered boots were of the same former style and present condition. Enough bones showed through his garb to make a dog drool.

"Died many a year ago, I did. But I'm here because you're payin' tribute to me old mate Edmund!"

"You knew the Red Prince?"

"Sailed with him in me youth, back when he was huntin' pirates and there was skin on these old bones! That's how I went to me watery grave!"

The gnome gawped at him. So did some of the other bards and patrons. Mina rolled her eyes. The Red Prince had once hunted pirates off the coast, true enough. But this skeleton's accent didn't hail from the days of her youth, much less the cut of those torn, brine-sodden clothes. Unless she was very much mistaken, the sea had been his grave -- though no more than a decade or two ago.

She shrugged and drank more wine. The undead often played such games. She'd once met a ghost who pretended he'd fought alongside Arete, and tried to maintain the charade even when she pointed out that his spectral from was dressed in armor that hadn't been invented until a millennium or so later. Gods, nowadays the mortals were getting in on it too. The number of times she'd heard a beggar claim he'd served in the dragon-rider's army...

"I came here to sing!" the skeleton said.

"Then you're in luck," the barmaid said. "Our next bard's over there..."

She gestured with her thumb. The dwarf Mina had encountered outside the tavern was slumped over a table, cheek resting in a plate that contained an unappetizing blend of rabbit and vomit.

"So if you're singing," she continued, "go right ahead."

The skeleton grinned (possibly), and strutted into the middle of the room. He coughed, clearing his nonexistent throat, then plunged bony fingers into a gap in his jerkin. Fabric gave way with a soft, mournful tear. He tapped the exposed bones a few times. When he was satisfied, he rapped out a clacking melody and sang.

"As I was a-walkin' and scratchin' me ass,
Singin', 'Come on, give me some rum!'
I went by the butcher's and who should I pass?
Oh come on, you bastards, give me some rum!

'Twas Prince Edmund himself, with bottle in hand,
Singin', 'Come on, I've got some rum!'
Gatherin' up the finest sods from the land:
'Hey, come on, you bastards, I've got some rum!'

He said there were pirates out rulin' the swell,
Singin', 'Come on, give us your rum!'
And he was to find them and send them to hell!
Kill all the bastards and pillage their rum!

I grabbed up his bottle and took a long drink,
Singin', 'Screw you, I'll have your rum!'
I was gluggin' away till there was a clink...
He'd tricked me, when he gave me some rum!

The prince said to me I'd accepted his gold,
Singin', 'Screw you, I'll have your rum!'
I was conscripted and shoved down in the hold,
Shoutin', 'You bastards! You've taken me rum!'

They sailed out to sea, while I swore off me head,
Singin', 'Come on, give us some rum!'
I cried meself to sleep with rats for me bed,
Weepin', 'Damn your black hearts, give me some rum!'

Then pirates attacked so they brought us on deck,
Singin', 'Fight hard, then you'll have rum!'
They gave me a cutlass and patted me neck,
Singin', 'Kill pirates, and steal all their rum!'

The prince fought with one hand, drank with the other,
Singin', 'Come on, give me more rum!
First I will kill you, then I'll shag your mother!
Yeah, we'll shag, then we'll go drink up your rum!'

I charged into the fray, to prove I was brave,
Singin', 'Oh, gods, let me drunk rum!'
Stabbed in the heart, mine was a watery grave!
So that's what I got for drinkin' that rum!"

Mina couldn't help it. The image of Edmund -- clever, thoughtful, wise Edmund -- staggering around a naval battle, drinking rum and talking about fornicating with his enemies' mothers, was just too much. She burst out laughing.

"Aye," the skeleton said, "laugh at me misfortune, lass. 'Tis a sailor's life..."

Crimson Terror

Z22 a1 q4
Lore
A loud murmur buzzed through The Princess and the Pitchfork. It rustled, growled, and hissed like an animal. A beast waking from its slumber. But if the tall, burly woman noticed the reaction she'd invoked when she strode across the taproom, she gave no sign. Her broad face was impassive as she took her place where the other bards had stood before. She planted her feet in a wide, powerful stance -- a warrior laying claim, prepared to repel any and all usurpers. Her fingers rested on the strings of her lyre.

Mina's eyes narrowed. She recognized the embroidery on the woman's tunic, and the large hexagonal clasp that held the cape at her neck. So did the other players and patrons.

"Go back to East Kruna!" someone said.

Other voices grumbled their assent. Mina's fingertips tightened around her goblet, pressing faint indents into the metal. As %name% had once learned, the Red Prince's name and memory still evoked bitter feelings across the sea, unsoftened by the centuries.

Drinkers shuffled in their seats. Chair legs scraped against floorboards. Mina wondered if she should leave before the lynching began, or else try to prevent it. But the half-elven barmaid moved first. She slipped in front of the bard, arms outstretched. She looked absurd, trying to shield the larger, stronger woman. Like a little child protecting a berserker.

"Settle down!" she said.

Her eyes flashed. The vampiress stared. Was this really the same timid creature who'd been intimidated by the mere presence of a vampire? Mina had seen angels of Karuss with less righteous fury written on their faces.

"You know the rules!" the half-elf continued. "All bards are welcome tonight. And all songs, if they're about the prince. So shut up and have another drink!"

For an instant there was utter silence. A room frozen in time, captured between the seconds. Then someone laughed. A few cheers broke out. The barmaid smiled, and went to fetch more beverages. And when the room was calm, when anger settled into begrudging anticipation, the woman from East Kruna played.

"Our mothers' cries awakened us,
And chased away our final dream,
The orders came and said it's thus:
'Resist the prince with every scream.
Your husbands, wives, and all your kin,
He killed by dozen, score, and gross,
So make him pay for every sin,
Till Edmund's sickened from war's dose.
Our soldiers perished brave and true,
Surrendered just to death alone,
Now your defense is left to you:
Good peasants fight with thew and bone!'

With pitchforks, hunters' bows, and rust,
The young and ancient marched by night;
The choicest crop had bit the dust,
And naught but chaff was left to fight.
Marauding armies swept the lands,
As workmen plodded forth to rinse
The spears and swords in killers' hands,
And dye the banners like the prince.
From hilltops where the breezes chilled,
We children watched our parents die;
The fallow fields and furrows filled
With bones, as fires adorned the sky."

Echoing ghosts of the bard's voice and tune hung in the taproom like smoke. She stood in their midst for some moments, smothering applause or jeers with a gaze that seemed to meet every eye. Then she turned on her heel and went out into the night.

It was several seconds before any voices dared fill the solid silence. Mina shook her head, but couldn't dislodge the East Krunan song from her mind. Even the greatest heroes were demons in the eyes of their foes, weren't they? Remembered for deeds that hostile histories would chronicle as atrocities. And the longer such men and women trod the world, the more deeds they added to their tallies, the more animosity they'd breed. Was this the lesson she was supposed to learn? A chiding voice that said her dream was folly?

Yes. Perhaps it was.

Mina von Richten stood up and went to the door.

Boss: Legions of Darkness

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