A Misplaced Letter
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The following letter was found tucked into the inside cover of a copy of A Brief History of Military Conflict in Qarawz.



Kharmar Dzhon—

Let me preface this with a simple admission of guilt; I am sorry. Not for my actions taken, but for failing to foresee how they would come to affect you, affect the Darzhin Society as a whole. You will no doubt be under significant scrutiny once the extent of the incident in Marser comes to light. I hope you find this letter before that occurs, and if not, that you manage to keep it hidden from the Praetors no doubt shadowing you.

As I write this, it becomes increasingly apparent to me the scale of your influence on me. You took me under your wing when I exited the Imperial Institute and you vouched for me when I was considered to lead the expedition into Marser. I find myself now wondering where my life would be if I hadn't taken the job.

Marser is a hostile land. It is somehow drier and more arid than the rest of the Empire and its population consists of illiterate pa'ask farmers. Settlements are few and far in between, and those that are more than a campfire and tents do not trust outsiders. The people are deeply conservative and religious, and have no significant hallmarks of culture. By all accounts, Marser is utterly worthless as a prospective client state of the Empire.

Except for the Darfur.

The Empire spends fortunes upon fortunes seeking out magically inclined children and shipping them off to the Temple to turn them into living weapons. Even in the best years, no more than 50 students have graduated the Temple in the same class.

In Marser, the Darfur — their word for warlock-equivalent — grow like fruit from the trees, if they had any. Ripe for the plucking. What takes a Temple Warlock intense months to master, the infants can do with no more effort than sucking their mother's breast. They are, by far, the most valuable resource in Qarawx. I was informed to "take the necessary actions" to ensure that the Palace would have control over them.

No doubt the Palace or the Grand Marshall will denounce and condemn the events but they know as well as I who ordered them. I'm afraid the Darzhin Society — and you — will have to sever any connection with your former golden boy. For what it's worth, living in the Fort with you all were the best months of my life.

Marser's largest city, if you could even call it that, was in flames for days after the massacre of the Darfur's parents. We watched from an overlooking dune as the people ragefully mourned the loss of an entire generation. We set out for the rendezvous in the night, hoping to avoid another bloody confrontation with the townspeople. We were told the caravan would take the children off our hands and deliver them to the Capital. We didn't expect to be cut down in the darkness by our own allies. I remember my lieutenant's screaming being silenced by an arrow through his skull before his corpse fell on me.

I laid in a pool of blood, some my own, mostly others, for hours, dead silent. The body on top of me had shielded me from view in the desert night. I waited until long after I had heard the last pa'ask's hooves fade away to crawl out from beneath the cadaver of my friend and drag myself through the graveyard.

I can only imagine they did it to tie up what they considered a loose end. That's all any of us are to them, really. Pawns to be shuffled and sacrificed as the need arises.

I escaped, obviously. And I wasn't the only one. The Praetors — I assume the Praetors were the ones who ambushed us — got sloppy in their overconfidence. A fair few men escaped, and no doubt the news of what the Field Marshall not only authorized but encouraged us to do will soon break.

I'm safely tucked away in a drinking hole far from the borders of the Empire. I've found an unlikely ally in fairskin. He names himself Yves, and claims he has access to a Library of knowledge to assist me on my newfound goal. If you can make the journey I implore you to follow the map on the reverse of this letter — the Dharzhin Society has considerable influence and your assistance in this will be priceless. I'm tired of being a pawn for bigger players, Kharmar. Surely you must be too.

Yours,
Astul Magh-Malil.

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