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Ardaic cut a fresh crowquill and began the day’s labors, sorting the papers before him by priority before beginning to attack them with his pen. Requisitions first, settlement of local disputes after, no matter how many of the latter there were. His sole currently active Peacemaker had returned from Souff Kural yesterday, and the news she had borne was grim. The Gastonian people clearly didn’t realize how close war was, or they wouldn’t still be arguing over such petty nonsense as zoning exemptions for the remodeling of the Civil Theatre.

Or perhaps they would, he reflected. Perhaps when confronted with existential threats that made them feel powerless, the people focused on smaller matters until their feelings of power were restored. Ardaic was a creature of duty and structure, but he recognized that Gastonia…great, grand, glorious Gastonia…was far too vast to be served by his mind alone. The nation had a need for thoughts beyond his own structured thinking…and at times, for people who embodied such thoughts.

One such person was now sitting in front of his desk. She hadn’t been there when he had sat down, and he couldn’t have been working more than ten minutes. But she affected great impatience with him now, as if slipping into his office undetected had been no effort and she’d merely been waiting for him to notice. Ardaic could not tell from her manner if that was true, or if she was merely acting even more skilled than she was. Though she was useful, Ardaic found her a puzzle: stridently honest one moment, performative and disingenuous the next. Such unreadability was probably an asset in her former profession, he reflected, though had she wished, she could have found more honest work as a street performer.

“Don’t keep a girl waitin’, boss. Ain’t very gentlemanly of ya.”


Bandit shrugged cutely, ignoring the twinge this produced in her shoulders, at the points where the axes had gone in. She hoped that would fade with time. “Y’are still my boss, yeah? I know these’re the kind of rough times that make a guy question whether this Peacemaker thing was a good idea, but seems t’me that if Harky’s comin’, y’gonna need all hands on deck.”

“More hands than before, I think. I’ve already made preparations to house the Peacemakers in one of my properties. In time, we may need to expand to a full regiment of adventurers…or perhaps a proper guild. Your comrades may have fallen, but their example shall live on.”

“I don’t wanna give up on ’em yet. They took me in when no one else would. An’ I didn’t find any bodies, an’ if they were all dead, I’d’ve expected th’ trolls t’be playing tetherball with their sev’red heads. But…but…”

She paused in a way Ardaic recognized. Survivor’s guilt was common enough in the military, and he had counseled other soldiers in need of closure. At the moment, she was not so puzzling to him after all. “The term you’re seeking, Keynes, is missing in action. Their fates may indeed be uncertain. By definition, adventurers often triumph over seemingly long odds. But our course of action is certain. We must bring in new bl–new muscle, whether to carry on in your friends’ stead or to help them expand operations should they return.”

Bandit’s posture straightened at that, but her eyes darted as she considered the task. “I’unno if we’re gonna find another Syr’Nj or Gravedust. Gastonia’s got a lotta different types, but the country isn’t ‘zactly drownin’ in fighters who could double as ambassadors…”

“Sadly, the concept of ‘peacemaking’ may need to evolve away from diplomacy during wartime. Some ‘people skills’ are welcome, but your principal priority in recruiting should be fighters, magickal and otherwise.”

“Hol’ up. My principal priority in recruitin’? Ain’t you, like, the recruiting office?”

“I recruit soldiers. Adventurers tend not to seek out the institutions I represent. They trust their own.”

“I… S-Sir, I’m a thief. An’ a gnome, which most humans think is ‘weird’ even if they don’ say so. I’m not a person people trust.”

“Then they are fools. Find others who are wise. You are no longer a mere thief, Keynes, you are now a Peacemaker, an officially recognized part of the Gastonian government. What you now offer is more than regular pay and housing. You offer a path to legitimacy for nonconformists with clear ability. And as you are one such nonconformist, I believe you quite capable of ‘doubling as an ambassador’ to others.”

Bandit’s blink rate went up, and it almost seemed like she might start crying. But she just smiled a little smile and said, “I won’t let you down, sir.”

Ardaic nodded and went back to work.

Bandit would never forget the details of what was said at this meeting.

Ardaic would, almost immediately.