On the Road of Kings
The Stygian traveled through an unknown forest. The air was stifling and the trees seemed to close in around him so tightly he could not see the night sky as he made his way through a tangled path. The short hairs at the base of his neck prickled as he felt something watched him from the dark past the trees. He quickened his pace, but the sound of something unseen breathed in the shadows and matched his step. The Stygian began to run, heedless of the thick undergrowth and tripped, falling hard to the ground. He looked up finding his way blocked by a barricade of piled skulls and bones. The slavering beast that hounded the Stygian leapt and wrestled him to the ground as teeth and claw tore through his flesh. The Stygian felt his life, nay his very soul was at stake and he struggled with an increased effort…to no avail. And then, when the very jaws of death were at his throat the sky brightened and the stars finally pierced the veil of oppressive night. One star shone brighter than the rest and the Stygian was bathed in a white light that banished the creature with a shriek. From that light floated a familiar figure. Yag-Kosha, in all his winged majesty, spoke into the Stygian’s head, “Dhakometri. This night Yag will be prominent in the heavens. Usher me forth with the stars’ light at the darkest hour. We must speak. This night. At the darkest hour. We must speak.” The white light grew brighter, blotting the figure of Yag-kosha from Dhak’s eyes and forced him to shut them in rapture. When he opened his eyes again he saw the sun overhead. His companions were already up and breaking camp as the Stygian lay tangled in his bedroll.
The spring sun had clearly shone Cuana’s, Dhak’s, Tullweim’s, and Xacksmith’s path to Tarantia along the Road of Kings. In the recent weeks of travel they had passed caravans of oxen-pulled wagons, merchants with full complements of armed guards protecting their goods, and fellow travelers moving to the capital city from outlying farms. The great plains of Aquilonia were sporadically broken up by wooded copses of trees and they had covered much ground the last few days of travel. The adventurers needed only travel a day and a half’s ride to the most regal city of the west. This morning their camp was all but broken and their horses were eager to stride. Tullweim tumbled Dhak out of his bedroll and urged him to get ready as the party was moving out. The Stygian grumbled under his breath but quickly gathered his belongings and saddled his horse.
Just as the adventurers started on the road they were hailed by a portly man with sandy blonde hair, a moustache, and wearing the robes of a Mitran priest. The man spurred his horse, an animal that looked as if it had been ridden hard in past days and was well beyond its prime, and galloped clumsily towards the party.
“Hail, my friends, <huff>, it’s good to see familiar faces abroad. <huff>”
Recognition dawned on Tullweim’s face as he remembered the Mitran priest as Daphnis, the very priest who informed the Aesir of the danger of Teotlamatl in Numalia and gave him the means to defeat the black fiend almost a year past. Daphnis greeted the two barbarians like comrades and inquired about their allies. His pleasantries stopped fast when he saw Dhak, however, and he asked who the Stygian was. Dhak cooly introduced himself and gazed into Daphnis eyes finding the priest wielded some sorcerous knowledge as well as a small amount of corruption. After introductions were made the Mitran priest asked if he could travel the rest of the journey to Tarantia in the adventurers’ company. The priest was eager to hear any tales of the adventurers recent exploits and was heartened when told of the defeat of Al’Kiir, though he warned that such evils never truly died. Daphnis informed the party that he too was doing his part in snuffing out the evils of the world. In fact, he was headed to Tarantia to discuss what the Mitran church planned to do about the troubling amount of demon trafficking occurring in these times. Daphnis was pleasant company, exchanged humorous tales on the road but kept a wary eye on Dhak and often spoke of ancient horrors being summoned by clueless nobles or darksome worshipping fools.
As night approached the party stopped at a large copse of trees by the side of the road. Daphnis, Dhak, and Xacksmith began setting up camp as Cuana and Tullweim went into the trees in search of water and game. After about an hour of searching Cuana returned to the camp empty handed but Tulleim had managed to kill an antelope. The Aesir dressed his catch and a fire was struck as the days light faded. Daphnis told the party he had little coin to pay for the food but did have a fine vintage of Nemedian wine which he had planned to save for the priests in the Mitraeum. With a chuckle he said the wine would be better used with friends beneath the stars then at a stuffy banquet table amid dry conversation. The jug was passed to Tullweim, then Xacksmith, then Cuana. The Cimmerian passed the jug to Dhak but the Stygian waved it away. Much laughter was had between the drink and bawdy tales the companions exchanged. When finally the fire had left the revelry, Dhak volunteered to take the first watch of the night.
About an hour after his companions laid their heads to the ground Dhak stole away from the camp. He did not travel far before finding a small clearing in the trees where the Stygian could observe the heavens. The Stygian stared intently through the Elephant’s Heart at the distant world of Yag. The light of the star filled the gem and soon Dhak felt himself to be in a different place. An empty void surrounded him with a low fog on the ground. Before the sorcerer floated Yag-Kosha among the dim light provided by his home planet. The yaggite raised his hand in a gesture of greeting and spoke.
“O man of the south, the time is right in this part of the world. The light of Yag will be shining down from the heavens for a short time. In this time you shall be able to use the powers of my Heart with greater ease.”
“Hrrrmm. Seeing the cast of Yag’s light I sense a force rising in the west. Furious is its power. Malice its intent. Many will suffer if this force gains prominence, though I see not the source… Ohhh.” Yag-Kosha seems to look through the void around Dhak and stated, “We are not alone.” The vision began to fade from the Stygian’s mind and he could hear the Yaggite’s voice trail into oblivion, “Something bars…” As Dhak felt the loss of the connection to the yaggite dissipate he heard another voice call loudly from behind.
“Awake my friends! Awake from your slumber! There is a snake in your camp! A serpent trafficking with devils who will bring doom down on all of our heads! By Mitra’s holy light awake my friends and witness this evil!”
Dhak turned with a hiss, grabbed his sword, and swore as he saw Daphnis yelling among the trees with his axe in hand. The Stygian could tell the Mitran priest had a counterspell prepared and engaged Daphnis in a war of souls. The priest’s will was strong, however, and Daphnis easily repelled the Stygian’s attempt. Meanwhile, Tullweim was the only to be roused by the priest’s cries of alarm. The Aesir grumbled as he grabbed his greatsword and stood up. He noticed Cuana and Xacksmith were still caught among the web of slumber and kicked both of his companions before rushing into the trees. Seeing the Aesir’s actions the Cimmerian and Hyrkanian were as quick on his heels as their drink addled minds would allow them. When they arrived they found Daphnis and Dhak squaring off. The priest again accused Dhak of devil-worship and the Stygian replied with an insult. Tullweim saw the Elephant’s Heart in Dhak’s hand and knew the red gem was used to communicate with Yag-Kosha. The Aesir attempted to explain that there was no harm in the ritual Dhak was performing but the shocked priest would not relent his insistence of witnessing Dhak perform foul magic. Still a bit drunk from the wine and upset at having been awoken, Xacksmith bull rushed the priest. Daphnis responded by hitting the drunken Hyrkanian in the head with the handle of his axe. Tullweim quickly broke up the fight, pulling Xacksmith off the Mitran priest. The disgusted Hyrkanian shook his head and turned to return to his bedroll. Daphnis did not relent on his accusations as Cuana and Tullweim shook their heads when the night erupted into violence.
Bursting from the trees came a small pack of howling, gray-skinned creatures. Their strides quickened as they broke into the clearing, murderous intent in their eyes and fanged mouths slavering. A ghoul attacked Cuana, Dhak, and Tullweim while Daphnis was flanked by a pair of the ravenous beasts. Back at the camp, Xacksmith had just reached his bedroll when a ghoul rushed at him and bloodied the Hyrkanian’s chest. Another ghoul clawed at Dhak’s horse. Daphnis deftly struck two blows at one of the creatures but his axe blade barely scratched the beast. Cuana and Tullweim had better success carving their Akbitanan greatswords into the ghouls’ hides. Dhak struck once with his arming sword before the ghoul wounded him with ragged claws and teeth. Tullweim was likewise hit and the creatures’ relentless jaws bit deep into both the Aesir and Stygian. The Cimmerian suffered only a raking claw and saw that two of his companions grappled in vain against their attackers. Unbeknown to the others, Xacksmith and Dhak’s horse was also caught between a ghoul’s maw. The clearing was a chaos of blades, blood, and ichor as teeth rent and steel slashed, creatures howled and men cursed.
Cuana savagely struck twice, killing one of the ghouls, and cleaved into another which had attacked Daphnis. Tullweim allowed his fury to rise, but despite his great strength could not shake the creature off. Daphnis again struck twice at a beast and again barely penetrated the ghoul’s thick hide. Dhak and Xacksmith remained helpless by the creatures, the Stygian remembering his dream with no small amount of irony. Dhak’s horse was slaughtered mercilessly and Xacksmith’s steed was quickly beset upon. Cuana struck again and felled another ghoul as Tullweim managed to remove tooth from flesh and break the hold the ghoul had upon him. The Aesir’s freedom was momentary as the ghoul again clawed and latched onto the barbarian. The Cimmerian knew that his companions were all in trouble but the sounds of horses being slaughtered caught his attention and he ran back to the camp to find Xacksmith laying still in a pool of his own blood and two of their horses dead, great chunks of flesh torn away from their sides. Daphnis still held his own against the beast he fought with but had taken several grievous wounds. Tullweim again broke free of the ghoul and focused all his rage into a powerful attack on his foe, slaying the beast. Cuana slashed at the ghoul which felled Xacksmith. Daphnis struck at the ghoul before him and his axe blade sunk deep. Tullweim then turned his attention to Dhak and separated his attacker’s head from its shoulders. The Aesir and Stygian left the Mitran priest alone to fend for himself as they rushed to attack the ghoul which was killing their horses.
With their focused effort on the last two ghouls the battle ended as quickly as it had begun. The whole campsite was splattered with bits of gray flesh, gore, and repulsive-smelling ichor. A deeply wounded Daphnis returned to the camp and admonished the adventurers as he saw to their Hyrkanian companion, claiming the ghouls attack as proof that only harm could come from the Stygian’s communion. As the others mended their own wounds they again defended Dhak. The sorceror himself was livid with rage and demanded the Mitran priest leave their camp or have his gut opened. Daphnis looked to Cuana and Tullweim and saw no objection to Dhak’s threat. The priest gathered his things, mounted his horse and left saying, “My friends, I fear you have been ensorcelled by this serpent. I will be party to it no longer. Mitra have mercy on your souls.” The adventurers roused Xacksmith and gathered their things silently. They broke camp and traveled 100 yards away, Tullweim allowing the Hyrkanian to ride his horse. They spent the next day resting as they could, finishing the meager rations and water they had left before setting on the road again.
The Flower of the West
At the center of a vast plain dotted with woods and divided into small estates, laid the capital city of Aquilonia, Tarantia. Above the hill the city sat upon the travelers saw the many blue and golden towers of the metropolis rising into the sky and the majesty of the city stole their breath. They passed rich agricultural land, many small villages, the corpses of traitors left to rot, and the bridge of Vilerus the First before reaching the cities’ massive gate in the early evening. There they were admitted through the gate. Tullweim inquired about an inn and a guard recommended one nearby called the Stag and Whistle. The party quickly found the Stag and Whistle, a simple and functional inn in the South Gate Ward of the city which would not cost much coin from their dwindling purse and would provide the creature comforts necessary after a long journey.
At the inn Cuana, Tullweim, and Xacksmith secured rooms, food, and ale. Dhak had a more difficult time. The innkeeper ignored the Stygian, never looking up from the tankard he washed. The Stygian narrowed his eyes and as the innkeeper set the glass down Dhak cast a simple spell of prestidigitation. The sorcerer then pointed out that the glass was still dirty. The annoyed innkeeper inspected the tankard and it looked as if he had not even touched it with his wash towel. The Stygian then leaned in threateningly close to the innkeeper and dropped several silver coins. He was given a meal, ale, and a room with no further problems.
After bellies were filled, thirst quenched, and accommodations arranged, the adventurers set out to purchase some equipment. Tullweim went to a blacksmith and purchased 2 daggers for Dhak as well as explained the specifics of a Nordheimer weapon he wished to be crafted. Once various goods were purchased the party planned to carouse the night away. They had little coin left and decided to relieve a merchant of his purse. Xacksmith looked around the darkened streets and spied a fat bald man wearing opulent silver jewelry leaving his shop with 2 bodyguards close by. Dhak and Xacksmith approached the merchant while Cuana and Tullweim approached the bodyguards. The barbarians were given a wary eye and ordered to stand back as the bodyguards reached for their weapons. Dhak engaged the merchant and inquired about the wares the merchant sold. Xacksmith used the opportunity to look as if he were casually walking down the street and with some sleight-of-hand the Hyrkanian relieved the merchant of his purse. Cuana and Tullweim backed away with false apologies that they were only interested in asking where they could find as fine weapons as the bodyguards held. The commotion behind caused the merchant to look around nervously and excuse himself. He invited the Stygian to examine his wares the next day and called his bodyguards to hurry.
Once the party regrouped Xacksmith informed his companions of the the fruit of their haul. They now had plenty of silver to spend on the Avenue of Roses and could afford the company of 2 women each and a bit more drink, if not much else. The group wandered the streets with brothels on all sides and their ears rang with the inviting calls of beautiful blonde Brythunians and eager dark-haired Zamorians known for being skilled in their trade. The adventurers reveled with the taste of ale on their lips and the touch of women at their sides for hours before running out of coin. As they could no longer pay for the pleasure the party was shown the door.
Blasphemy in Delvyn
Torches flared murkily on Tarantia’s streets as the party made their way through the benighted city. Midnight approached and a chill crept through the grimy cobbles, a world apart from the reputed glory and tiled plazas of the Citadel. Ahead of the adventurers, a man stumbled, caressing a nearby wall for support; at first glance, he seemed to be just another drunkard, staggering home after a long night in the taverns. As he fumbled closer, however, they noted that this was no average drunkard. The figure was clad in the black robes of a Mitran priest, and something about his clumsy gait suggested more than mere alcohol had induced it. The faltering priest managed a few more steps before falling to his knees on the filthy cobblestones, a feathered arrow shaft jutting from his back, his hand extended toward the party in a sign of desperation. They recognized the priest as Daphnis, the very man they had traveled with but a day past.
His lips moved as the adventurers approached, a trail of bloody spittle leaking from the corner of his mustached mouth. ‘Treason,’ he gasped in a reedy, failing voice. ‘Heresy … all lies … stop Brotherhood … midnight … cemetery … Delvyn…’ these last few words seemed to tax the last of the dying man’s strength, and his final breath rattled from his lungs. Cuana, Tullweim, and Xacksmith looked to one another, the Aesir obviously upset at the death of a former ally. The questions hung in the air as to who would kill a priest of Mitra and where exactly was the Delvyn cemetery. Dhak told his companions to be silent and they would have their answers. The Stygian knelt beside the body of the dead priest, voiced arcane words and gestured ominously with his hands. To his companions surprise Daphnis’ eyes bolted open and the priest gasped. He looked up at the Stygian’s face and screamed in horror as he realized what the sorcerer had done. Dhak smiled in return and assured the priest he would be returned to death’s embrace after he answered some questions. Daphnis cursed the Stygian and implored him to hurry to the Delvyn cemetery and stop the sacrifice. Dhak asked the corpse of the Mitran priest where they could find the cemetery and Daphnis told him to go to the northeast corner of the city as quickly as possible. The Stygian nodded in understanding and ended the fragile string or sorcery that kept the priest on this plane of existence.
Navigating Delvyn’s cramped alleyways, ramshackle buildings, mouldy tenements, tiny shops and stinking taverns was a difficult task for anyone not born to its narrow, winding streets and dead-end alleys, making the small ward seem much bigger than it was, particularly now as the adventurers hurried through the dark night towards Tarantia’s largest public cemetery. The Delvyn cemetery was a burial ground for the poor, a mostly untended and unkempt field littered with tiny markers, the majority of which had long since been weathered into anonymity. Corpses of those wealthy enough interred individually here, lacking access to family mausoleums, are buried standing up, to make the most use of the available room. Most of those buried here, however, are not even accorded the honour of a private grave, but were cast into deep mass graves, their bodies dusted with lye.
Xacksmith heard the voices of men restraining a woman deep in the cemetery. The party rushed as quick as the cramped tombstones allowed, and arrived at an opening of a particularly wealthy plot. In the light of an overturned lantern struggled a young woman held by two men wearing the robes of the cult of Asura. The woman was against a slab with a disinterred corpse atop it. Two more men identically dressed watched while a fifth man raised a dagger above the woman. With a rapid strike Xacksmrith fired twice before the dagger could fall, each arrow driving deep into a separate socket of the priests’ shaved skull. Cuana and Tullweim rushed forward letting out cries of fury as their greatswords fell upon the two closest men. Dhak’s words of charnel power caused the felled cultist to stir, his cheeks daubed with tears of blood. The woman screamed in terror as one of the men released her and ran as did the cultist who the Cimmerian engaged. Cuana took the opportunity provided by the stark fear in his opponent to split the man’s left shoulder from his body. The cultist Tullweim attacked lunged past the Aesir and attacked the Stygian. Xacksmith sunk 2 arrows into Dhak’s assailant while Cuana landed a powerful attack on the cultist who still held the terrified woman. Tullweim raced after the fleeing cultist and drove his greatsword straight through the screaming man’s gut. Dhak stepped back from his attacker and fired 3 shots into him with his Stygian bow. The woman’s screams in the gruesome scene echoed throughout the cemetery into the dark night.