Early, on the second day traveling back from the mines, Xacksmith scouted ahead of the caravan in the fog and saw a band of 10 riders who were trying to remain hidden traveling parallel to the caravan. Xacksmith reported his findings to Tullweim and company. Once the 10 riders realized they’d been spotted they withdrew into the forest. Later, at noon, the caravan stopped to rest and replenish. The 10 riders were again spotted. Dhak and Xacksmith stealthily moved towards the riders while Tullweim and Cuana got the caravan moving again. The Aesir and Cimmerian then trotted to the riders under the guise of parleying. The riders immediately fled and disappeared over a hillcrest.
Tullweim and Cuana chased after them, but lost sight of the riders. The two experienced trackers did see horse tracks leading down towards a small hut. An elderly woman was in front of the hut doing her washing in a brook. She seemed very old and a bit mad. The Aesir called out to the woman and noticed that she was blind, yet seemed to see them easily. Tullweim and Cuana coaxed some information out of the her, some of it quite startling. When asked about the riders, the old hag responded, "I saw no riders but sensed an unholy presence pass by this spot. The poor ground shook in her terror. Beware. Worry not yourselves with gold. The earth herself is in fear. The crucible which will forge him anew has been exhumed, lost from my care. For millenia I have watched it and now it is gone.” Dhak and Xacksmith caught up to Tullweim and Cuana in time to hear the old witch’s most shocking revelation, “With Al’Kiir’s return all hope will be gone. None can escape his will. He is impervious to puny weapons such as yours. Only the Staff of
Avanrakash can destroy him. He is not far away. His purpose is at hand. At nights now I hear his servants calling him. They lacked yet the crucible, but now that it is in their hands the last rite will be performed and the earth doomed.” Dhak’s Stygian mind was quite intrigued by the old woman’s tale, and wished to spend more time discussing matters with her, but the rest of the party was eager to give chase to the riders. Dhak requested any aid the old hag could give, and she gave him 4 doses of a healing salve she had concocted.
The party followed the horse tracks into a small woods. They found a bind of 10 horsemen clothed in red and faces hidden by hoods. Steel sparked and blood was shed as the outnumbered party fought their foes on horseback. The riders’ tactics of spiritedly charging the party with ride-by attacks took its toll on even the heavily armored Tullweim. Xacksmith shot arrow after arrow into a single rider, who fled, near to gasping his final breath. Dhak threw his last orb of Acheronian demon-fire at a rider who wore a bronze charm around his neck and was startled to see the rider was not shaken by it. Cuana was quickly pressed by 3 of the riders and responded by striking a mighty blow which felled one rider and immediately cleaved another. In the end, 2 of the riders were taken prisoner and their leader felled. The leader’s body was examined, the hood removed and the party discovered a familiar face underneath. It was Darios, the dead Argossean! The old wounds from several days past were easily discernible on his body. How he came to be alive again sent a shudder down all but the Stygian’s spine.
The 2 prisoners were separated. Dhak and Xacksmith tied one up against a low, ruined wall, while Cuana roused the other prisoner and pressed his sword to the riders’ throat. The prisoners refused to talk at first, but both Cuana and Dhak quickly broke their resolve with threats of dismemberment and curses beyond the grave. The prisoners started with a hollow threat, “Al’Kiir will destroy you for meddling in his affairs,” but quickly offered relevant information when pressed about their purpose, “We were not here to slay the Baron or steal his gold, but to assure that he did not try to raise Al’Kiir on his own.” When questioned about the dead Argossean merchant the prisoners whispered, “Darios was a necromancer in league with ”/campaigns/nemedian-chronicles/characters/7321" class=“wiki-content-link”>Timeon. He sought to raise Al’Kiir. He who raises the lost god will gain more than the throne of Ophir." The party left the prisoners in the woods, one still tied to a wall. Cuana lopped off Darios’ head at Dhak’s request and put it inside the hood that masked Darios’ identity. The party then returned to the caravan with 9 Hyborian warhorses and plans to turn some of their infantry into cavalry.
The rest of the days of journey were uneventful. Tullweim thought it best not to confront Baron Timeon with Darios’ resurrection and second death. On the 19th day of travel the Crimson Wolves reached Ianthe and found the Gate of Gold locked. The adventurers could not convince the gate sentries to open the way, even for Baron Timeon. The Baron was eager to enter the city and the caravan was moved to the Gate of Avenrakash, which was luckily open. The caravan then traveled through the crowded city streets to Baron Timeon’s palace.
Once there, the ore was unloaded into the cellars. Tullweim’s slave-girl Accalia, Torali, and Lady Julia greeted the adventurers. Lady Julia spoke disparagingly about Tullweim’s attachment to his slave while inquiring about their journey. Tullweim recounted the tale and Lady Julia made advances to the mighty Nordheimer, whispering in his ear to come to her bed-chambers that evening. The Baron thanked the adventurers for their service and disappeared into his rooms after shooing Cuana (who was attempting to follow the Baron) off. Katos greeted Baron Timeon and the Baron said, “Things went well enough. The fortress commander sold us a manuscript. It holds the ritual that will call him.” Katos quieted the Baron and closed the door to his room.
The adventurers split off to attend to personal matters. Xacksmith went into the city to purchase a steel cap and materials to use his bowyer talents and craft a more powerful Hyrkanian bow. Dhak sought information from the local temples concerning Al’Kiir, but received little useful information other than fearful rumors and old wives’ tales. Cuana and Dhak later went to the Bull & Bear tavern to sit on a proper chair and drink a frothy ale. Xacksmith returned to Baron Timeon’s at nightfall and Tullweim left his slave cold in his bed-chambers while he went to warm Lady Julia’s.
The Death of Katos
At midnight, a scream, coming from the direction of Baron Timeon’s room, rang out through the palace. Xacksmith stopped his work on his new bow and Tullweim ran out of Lady Julia’s room with nothing but his great sword. Lady Julia wrapped the sheets around her and followed the Aesir to Timeon’s room. Tullweim burst into the Baron’s room and found him quite frightened by the scream, though he tried to look brave in front of his lady companion. Lady Julia tried quite hard not to laugh. The Baron told them that the scream came from Katos’ room. Tullweim, Lady Julia, and Xacksmith rushed to the room and found it locked. Tullweim’s mighty thews easily kicked the door down. Katos laid dead in his bed, the murderer’s knife embedded in the mattress at his side. The room was a shambles. Every trunk had been hurriedly emptied. The linings of the draperies had been slashed open. A bare spot on the wall showed where something had been removed. Xacksmith and Tullweim rushed out to the balcony and found a red bandana of Zingaran make but saw nobody but the Crimson Wolves on-duty guards below. Xacksmith jumped to a nearby balcony, almost falling in the process, but caught himself on the balcony rail. Tullweim jumped to another balcony and they both climbed up to the roof. Xacksmith noticed a missing tile on the roof, but no tracks were found.
Tullweim and Xacksmith returned to Katos’ room and discovered that the merchant’s ruby ring was gone. A paler shape was outlined on a spot on the wall, similar to a man’s head surmounted by four horns. Many vials of noxious liquids and powders had been spilt and broken. Several black candles laid nearby. The knife in the mattress was removed and Tullweim recognized it as being from Kardava. The mattress where the knife had been embedded was cut open and an ancient manuscript was discovered within the flurry of feathers. Xacksmith pored over the manuscript and believed it to explain how to raise or destroy Al’Kiir. Lady Julia asked to look at it, but was unable to read it.
Baron Timeon was very upset by this incident and was close to firing the Crimson Wolves. The Baron gave Tullweim an ultimatum, find Katos’ killer within five days, or be removed from Timeon’s employ. Tullweim knew full well, if he were to lose the Baron’s contract, he would have to flee General Iskandrian’s army. A prospect he was not fond of since likely most if not all of the mercenaries under his command would be caught and executed.