Xen Knifears (the family name is more of a nickname than anything, as he refuses to give out his true name) is the majordomo of Lady Exor’s operations, a task which he fulfills with great competence. This allows the Lady to overlook some of the less savory aspects of his personality.

Preening and vain, Xen takes an intense interest in personal grooming, especially his hair, and has elven bloodwine shipped in especially to help with its sheen. He is also an elf-supremicist, constantly extolling the virtues of his race to any and all who will listen. He is also prejudiced against half-elves, viewing them as inferior mongrels.

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I had almost forgotten what it was like to hope
Seeing them dashed, time and again, breaks the habit
Even now, I hesitate when I feel that warmth rising
Is it better to have hoped desperately and lost
Or to have remained hopeless all along, cold

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It was only then that the Landfather interjected with a gentle laugh. The song, he said, was less than half complete and the notes were in the wrong order. While impressed, he further added that Dapi should not seek to end the world further.

Dapi, angered, asked the Landfather how he could be such a hypocrite. He and the Skymother had sung the song as a duet in the world-that-was, ending it and raising themselves to the levels of gods. How convenient, Dapi said, that they would not see anyone supplant them.

The Landfather replied, and his reply represents the majority of what we now know about the previous Singing and the events of the world-that-was that brought it about.

He had not sung the song, he said, until there was no other choice. The gods had died, the aged world was falling apart at the seams, and he knew full well that the burden of rule would mean permanent separation from and estrangement with the Skymother. Knowing that, would Dapi still sing the song, even if he knew it?

Dapi’s answer is not recorded.

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Each of the birds only knows two notes: one in common with the others and a secret note known only to it. Together, they form the song that will bring about the end of all worlds.

One might think that to find them would be an easy task. But ask yourself: how many birds litter each wood, each copse, each canyon? Which of them sings only a single note, and is it even the note that can end the world?

Even if one was able to find a bird and wring the note from its immortal beak, what then? None now living, and few even that are dead, know how many notes are in the song. None knows the order of their singing save the Landfather and the Skymother, whose love once raised the song in a duet over the world-that-was.

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I worry that the sign in my yard
Isn’t blue enough to matter
I worry that every night I sit
Doing work from home, sanitary
The battle, elsewhere, is losing
But then I ask myself
How blue something needs to be
In order to make the lawless
Follow their own rules

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“We’ve got another call that’s come in.”

“Let me guess, it’s Bill? Set his brush a little too on fire for his liking again? Well, the law requires that we take an engine over, but damned if I’m not taking the long way around.”

“No, it’s Sarah Gillian.”

“Her damn cat again?”

“Yeah.”

Dammit, she needs to start feeding the cat in that tree. Build it a cat house up there or something, since it spends so much more time up there than it does on the damn ground!”

“We still have to go.”

“You’re right. The law does require that we respond. However, as when I thought it was Bill again, I say we take the long way around.”

“Okay.”

“And put in a call to Vinny. See if he can set some fires or something. Someplace that won’t burn too fiercely, just enough to get us out of hauling that cat down again.”

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The daughter of a trader in Gravelines, Andromeda Fisher is a skilled wheeler and dealer but her great passion is and continues to be the freeing of the town from Lady Exor’s ‘corrupting’ influence. Believing that the people of the village need more say in their own affairs, and that the militia is little more than Exor’s puppet, she has long sought to rally the people to her cause.

A cause, in this case, which is a radical decentralized commune, with no militia, no money, no organized government, and no limitations on personal freedoms. She bases this project on the old Republic of Iskandria, which existed before the Verdant Empire took over the town.

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“This isn’t the kind of music I thought you’d like,” Jen said.

“You expecting country-western?” Alan said. “I can take it or leave it. Too many songs about guys who love their truck more than their wife.”

“Don’t you like your truck?”

“Not enough to write a song about it.”

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Gravelines was first grew up as a site where pilgrims visiting the nearby Grassblade tombs could stay, purchase votive offerings, and more. As the flow of pilgrims gradually dried up, it became instead an important way station on the road between Iskandria and the Inner Empire.

With the near-cessation of all trade along the Imperial Road, it has fallen on hard times and is now little more than a marketplace for the various smallholders and farmers from the surrounding countryside. The Grassblade garrison has long since been recalled to fight in the civil wars, replaced with a lightly armed militia that can barely afford to keep a handful of men-at-arms in the field.

As a measure of its onetime importance, there was an office of the Sickles in Gravelines, though it has been abandoned and neglected for some time. Lingering fear of the organization means that the building has generally been left alone, even when strange noises began echoing in it late at night…

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The largest landowner in the Gravelines area is known as Lady Exor, even though she does not actually possess any titles of nobility. Instead, she gained the title as a courtesy after creating a large estate from several smaller, failing, farms and it is her operation that largely allows Gravelines to keep itself fed.

Lady Exor prefers to pay lip service to the Verdant Empire and the current Emperor, while acting in what she sees as the best interests of the town. This includes organizing and bankrolling the small militia, attempting to escort people and goods safely along the Imperial Highway, and of course tending to her own profits.

The latter is particularly difficult of late, as she is facing calls from Andromeda Fisher for the confiscation and redistribution of the large Exor estate.

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