Campaign of the Month: March 2008
The Nemedian Chronicles
Reavers of Ophir
The Kingdom of Ophir was the most ancient of kingdoms existing in the Hyborian Age, dating back to the time of sorcerous Acheron itself. It was a place of mystery and power, dark forests, haunted mountains, black crypts steeped in gloom, where horrors and treasures laid rotting beneath the soil.
Yet it was also a place of life, ruled by kings and feuding nobles, peopled by sturdy peasants and cunning city-folk, ravaged by bandits, defended by mercenaries and armies alike. It was a country isolated by its own stubbornness, suspicious of the world beyond, and lacking real allies. It was friendly to Aquilonia and Corinthia, distrustful of Nemedia and Koth, disdainful of Argos.
Ophir’s troubles were growing. Childless King Valdric was dying, his physicians had found no cure. He had faith in their powers to restore him and refused to name an heir, fearful that any heir might be eager to hasten the king’s departure. His nobles were sure that no cure would be found and that the country would soon be left without king or heir. They maneuvered for the throne, amassed private armies, plotted. No noble had yet dared to kill another, but the mercenaries had ridden past burnt villages and fields, past plundered warehouses, past murdered captains laying in stained fields while vultures circled overhead. The king’s army hid while bandits raided freely, and the Ophireans became refugees within their own land, fleeing to the safety of the cities.
It was through this land the Crimson Wolves journeyed for there were reports of good work for any who could swing a sword or cut a purse. The only catch was to avoid having their own purse or throat cut, for that is what the parties’ fellow freebooters were paid to do.
The mercenary company recently crossed the Nemedian border and traveled toward the Ophirean capital of Ianthe where, according to rumor, rich employment awaited them. The roads were thick with refugees, their carts piled high with the few humble goods which escaped flame and bandit.
Meeting in the Sarellian Forest
The 50 hardy Nemedian Adventurers traveling with the party were trained in war’s ways, and were a company the party could confidently lead into battle. But the parties’ silver was fast disappearing and the troop’s contract was nearly over. It was quite clear to Tullweim den Morder, leader of the Crimson Wolves, these were men who fought for coin, not honor or glory. According to their guide, the party was in the Sarellian Forest, a half-day’s ride northeast of Ianthe. As Tullweim, Cuana, Dhak, and Xacksmith mused over their nearly empty purse, the company rounded a bend in the forest-darkened road. Ahead they saw the remnants of a caravan, most of the travelers laid dead beneath the dark trees. Twenty horsed bandits were amusing themselves by taunting the four survivors who were still trying to fight. Two of the survivors looked to be from Argos, judging from their apparel. One was a blond-haired woman who, as the company watched, skewered a bandit on the end of a sword, then leapt astride his vacant horse. The fourth appeared to be a madman from Khitai, a berserk warrior frothing at the mouth. The bandits kept their distance from him.
As the company rode into sight, both the bandits and their victims paused briefly to stare at the men-at-arms with their crimson cloaks and banner. The bandits’ leader, a red-haired woman astride a swift eastern bay shouted, “Stay out of this Northman!” The shorter of the besieged Argosseans cried. “All my goods are yours if you save us!”
The company was spurred into action as the blond-haired woman shouted at them, “Be ye men or metal-trussed baboons?” Then, with a great shout, she charged into the bandits before her, followed by the berserk Khitain, Ten of the bandits released a volley of stones from their slings at the company while the rest skirmished with the blond woman and the Khitain without success. In fact, the Khitain bore enough wounds to down any two normal men. The blond woman’s valor was also unsurpassed. The tallest Argossean was knocked unconscious by a blow to the head.
The bandits fell back into the forest after the Crimson Wolves engaged them and the bandits saw they were hopelessly out-numbered, taking what little treasure they had gathered. Their woman leader shouted back as she vanished into the trees. “By Derketo’s brass thighs, you’ll live to regret meddling with ”/characters/7290" class=“wiki-content-link”>the Red Hawk, northman! And so’ will you, yellow-haired bitch!"
The berserk Khitain turned and attacked Dhak despite his numerous wounds, thinking Dhak an enemy. The Khitain struck and missed Dhak with a furious blow that caused the Khitain’s sword to break. The berserk barbarian then grabbed among the spilled packs for the first thing which came to hand, a long, black metal urn with a neck slender enough to be grasped as a two-handed club. He then renewed his assault using the urn, the Khitain lifted the urn high over his head just as Dhak stabbed him in the gut causing him to drop the urn at Dhak’s feet.
The shorter, conscious Argossean thanked the mercenaries, apologizing for the madness of their Khitain friend. He introduced himself as Katos; his unconscious comrade was Darios. He offered the mercenaries all that remained of the goods in their caravan consisting of rare foods, wines, cloth, and ale. He even gave the adventurers the silver urn, a rare relic they bought from a Corinthian dealer in antiques.
Katos revived his comrade Darios, who expressed his gratitude as well, but he was disturbed when Katos told him he had given the mercenaries everything as a reward. They argued somewhat in their native tongue, with Darios eventually conceding and casted a sad glance at the wares. He then asked the sellswords to accompany them to Ianthe, saying, “There we have more treasure, coins more suitable to men such as yourselves. Also our lord, ”/characters/7321" class=“wiki-content-link”>Baron Timeon, is in need of such excellent warriors. I’m sure he could be persuaded to take you into his service."
The blond-haired woman was very upset by the death of the Khitain, but tried to hide the fact. She introduced herself as Lady Julia, an Ophirean noble, but without family or finance. She and the Khitain were traveling to Ianthe when she happened to join up with the caravan for mutual protection. She now thought she would have been safer without them. "True” said Katos kindly, “but we would have been dead without you. Thank you, noble lady, for your excellent aid. I am sorry your friend did not survive.” He then slipped a simple ring from his finger and gave it to her as the others watched. It was a huge ruby ring cut in the shape of a four-horned beast’s head similar to the one on his other hand.
The Gates of Ianthe
After some time, the company rode out of the forest. Several miles in front of them loomed a dark, gaunt, flat-topped hill. Dark clouds whisped over its severe slopes. Lady Julia gazed at it and said, “That is Tor Al’Kiir. Old wives say a god once made his abode there” Katos muttered, “Old wives oft speak idly.” The road to Ianthe circled the base of the hill, but soon the company crested over one of its flanks and saw the royal city of Ianthe spread out below their feet, the Red River flowing in the distance, sparkling red in the sun’s dying light.
Katos sighed in relief, then spoke to the party, “Welcome, strangers and friends, to our home. She is ancient, but her face is ever changing, A contradiction of the old and new.” He waved his hand over Ianthe. The city sprawled down to the river, its many gold domes and alabaster spires rising above red tile roofs and white walls obscured by a low cloud of thin smoke, surrounded by high granite walls, guarded by towers.
“The Old City wall still stands there in areas,” he pointed, “cutting across the city, offering a secondary, although crumbling, defense. There, near the river, is the Royal Palace, a fortress of might. It is written, ’He who holds the sacred scepter, inspires the palace; he who inspires the palace, controls Ianthe; and he who controls Ianthe, rules Ophir; amen. It is in that palace and the barracks nearby that the mighty Ophirean army now lurks, awaiting ”/characters/7622" class=“wiki-content-link”>General Iskandrian’s command. Beyond the city, there on the river’s south banks, lie the Tombs, a beauteous region of Stygian aspect which extends for miles."
“There are three gates, each bound in iron. ‘Travelers entering from the south must pass through the Tombs, cross the Bridge of Skulls where the heads of the executed (which are many, for the King’s Justices are severe) are displayed, then pass through the River Gate. Those coming from the northeast enter the Gate of Gold and are soon lost amid the markets and palaces. We approach from the north and enter through the gate of mighty Avanrakash, may his bones lie undisturbed.”
“She is full of life, yet stinks of death. The placid fools within take no notice of the chaos besieging them. The fat merchants, bearded scholars, ragged peddlers, stinking beggars, and accursed footpads, all go about business in the usual way, as if nothing had changed. Yet the ladies and slaves, lordlings and harlots, tread carefully Ianthe’s paved streets, studiously ignoring her sewers’ fetid breath and greater ills as well.”
“Fear breeds fear, and Ianthe reeks of it.”
“You too will smell the tension. You will see that the fools zealously mind their own business, ignoring murder or kidnappings which cross their paths, each afterward swearing to the City Guard that he saw nothing, heard nothing, knows nothing, forgoing that his own life will be forfeit next. At night, the streets are deserted except for the cautious tread of the Night Watch and the multitude of thieves.”
Darios hissed painfully, with a sudden glance at the setting sun, “Speaking of night, we’d best make haste. The gates are barred at dusk. And though a bribe has been known to gain entrance then, more like it will gain naught but a shaft in the heart or a night’s stay in the graces of the Royal Torturer.”
Katos nodded, then turned a severe gaze on the party. “Be advised, foreigners such as we are never trusted in Ianthe, but especially in these times, We could all be cut down tomorrow in the middle of Emerald Square, and none would concern himself over the affair. We must be each others’ watch-guards and surety.” Katos then spurred down the hill toward the black gate of Avanrakash.
As the armed company approached the gate, a cry rang out, and the gate closed. The gate-sergeant called down to the travelers from his elevated perch on the wall, “Hail and halt. For whom does your banner fly?” Tullweim announced they were mercenaries in search of work. The sergeant replied “I cannot allow your troops passage into the city, by order of General Iskandrian. The General has proclaimed a new law. Only troops with a noble patron are allowed within Ianthe’s walls. Violators of the law will be impaled. Groups of more than 10 men may only move about the city with special permission issued by the palace. But few gain an audience to receive said permission. Those lacking permission are arrested for conspiracy against the crown and are imprisoned. Also, only on-duty soldiers may wear metal armor in the city. No one else may do so. Violators will have their left cheek branded.”
Since the Crimson Wolves had no noble patron and none of the gate guards were going to risk impalement, Tullweim would have to leave his troops encamped outside Ianthe. Katos and Darios wished to spend the night in Ianthe, and knew an excellent inn, The Bull and Bear. They said they were certain Baron Timeon would hire the Crimson Wolves if the Argosseans recommend them. Pay was likely to be 2,500-3,000 sp a month for the entire troop. Tullweim put Enaro in charge of the company and left all the goods from the caravan with them to use as they wished.
The gate guards allowed up to 10 of the travelers through the gate after they had removed their metal armor, but then locked it for the night, Tullweim, Cuana, Dhak, Xacksmith, a Zamorian thief called Taras, and 2 Nemedian Adventurers accompanied Lady Julia, Katos and Darios as they discussed arrangements to meet at Baron Timeon’s palace the next day.
The Sign of the Bull & Bear
The adventurers shouldered their way through the dispersing crowds to the Bull and Bear. It was an old inn leaning slightly against the neighboring buildings, like an old man threatening to collapse should his crutch be removed.
The tavern was crowded, full of noise, sweat, and the odor of some type of food assaulted the patrons’ nostrils. Several off-duty soldiers were starting a game of dice. A fat man argued with the innkeeper about the proper way to make beef stew. From the smell of the swill, it seemed the keeper could benefit from a few lessons. A rabbit-faced man was sitting deep in the shadows, eying the room over his mug. A well-dressed girl wore thick make-up and stood coyly in a corner, looking very shy. Katos and Darios excused themselves to a dark corner booth. It was plain they wanted no company. A serving wench swept over and asked if Tullweim and company wanted a room or anything else.
Tullweim took a seat at a table with Lady Julia, Cuana went to the bar as did Dhak, and Xacksmith was most interested in the soldiers’ dice game. Tullweim noticed the bashful girl and called her over to his table. She looked frightened and refused. Tullweim coaxed a bit and she said, “My name is Torali. My father’s estates were heavily indebted and were seized by his creditors. I have only just arrived in Ianthe and saw the lights of the inn. But I have no coin, and I’m afraid I will be put out into the street.” She was very afraid of the Nordheimer barbarian and really just a child. Lady Julia took a special interest in her and protected her from Tullweim’s clumsy advances. Julia was quite touched and offered to hire Torali as her maid. Torali accepted.
Cuana struck up a conversation with the man at the bar. The man introduced himself as Fabio, and was quite gregarious and free-speaking. He used to work for Baron Timeon as a cook, but had recently lost his job because his viands were considered too plain for his master’s palate, so they should suit a soldier’s taste quite well. Cuana questioned the cook about the Baron and Fabio replied, “The Baron is looking for some good troops. His last ones rode off to seek their fortune with Tiberio. Timeon is willing to pay 35 sp a head a month, bonuses to the commanders, so I say the ones who left are fools. Tiberio will give them naught but glory and death.” At this point Dhak interrupted the conversation and probed further to which the cook answered, “The Baron may be fat but don’t let his looks fool you. He’s no slouch. He’s set up an alliance with Count Antimedes, the biggest of the nobles and the king’s favorite. I heard it straight from the Baron’s curvaceous consort, so I know it’s true. Timeon and Count Valentius are worst of enemies, I gather the Baron insulted Valentius’ good friend, the Countess Synelle. If you’re thinking about working for Timeon, stay out of Valentius’ way.” Cuana candidly offered the cook a job with the Crimson Wolves and cleared it with Tullweim. Fabio asked for wages of 40 sp a month.
Meanwhile, Xacksmith joined the off-duty soldiers dice game. Xacksmith used his skills at sleight-of-hand to have the dice fall exactly how he wanted them to. As the Hyrkanian began to scrape the coins out of the winnings helmet, a soldier grabbed his hand. Another picked up the dice, peered at them, and said “These aren’t the same dice we began with. The dog is cheating!” The table was flipped over and the coins flew. Five soldiers dove at Xacksmith. The Hyrkanian thief leapt over the bar, one of the drunken soldiers pursued while the others blundered behind. While Xacksmith fled to the back of the bar, Dhak, with his Stygian suspicion struck the Crimson Wolves new cook. Cuana, pulled the cook back while Dhak struck again, Cuana responded with a fierce punch of his own to Dhak’s chin.
Through the chaos, Tullweim noticed the serving wench was helping herself to his coin purse while attempting a show of affection. The giant Aesir grabbed the wench to retrieve his hard-earned money and she bargained not to be struck with rumors of what she knew of events in Ianthe, “Well, there’ve been assassinations of various courtiers and kidnappings of nobles’ wives or children to insure the noble’s cooperation. The City Guard has been powerless to stop them and Iskandrian refuses to do anything. Even more frightening is the way so many of the city’s prettiest young women have been vanishing. One by one for the past several months. Ones like Torali there. No one knows what happens to them. Some say they’ve been sold as slaves into Stygia; others say they’ve been traded to Lunar Chanters for some hideous rite. They say that some of the tombs have been found open and the bodies missing. The Guards laugh it off as pranks by the fops, but I’ve heard there’s necromancy abroad again. When the king dies, which’ll be any day now, Count Antimedes is favored for the throne. He’ll seize it sure as my hair is black. But there are rumors of necromancy in the palace itself. Some say the king plans to rise from the dead and that’s why he hasn’t picked an heir. I pray to Mitra that it is not true!”
After the chaos, Tullweim had his men stood up in an intimidating manner and moved towards the soldiers. The soldiers demanded their money be returned to them. Tullweim decided it better to appease the soldiers then cause trouble before they had a patron and agreed, much to Xacksmith’s chagrin. The Argosseans Katos and Darios were spied receiving a note of some sort from the bartender. They argued a bit and then stood up to leave. Darios politely refused the adventurers offered company, saying that he and Katos would return within the hour. As they left the front door the man in the shadows stood up as well. Cuana stood in his way and wished him a good night. The man stared back at Cuana and quickly turned away continuing toward the door.
A moment later, a scream was heard outside. Tullweim, Cuana, Dhak, Xacksmith and Lady Julia rushed outside to see Katos fighting with a dark figure, Darios lying at their feet, another dark figure stood over his form. The two assassins tried to flee, Lady Julia caught and killed the one who was bending over Darios, then searched him immediately, finding nothing. The other fled down the nearby alleys. Darios was dead.
Tullweim asked Katos about the attack but he was unable to provide any information. He was now eager for the adventurers to protect him. He offered 500 sp for their protection. Katos took them to a secret room in The Serpentine slums, and asked them to carry Darios there, avoiding any people, especially the Night Watch. Katos attached great importance to Darios’ body and would not abandon it. Dhak stayed behind and broke a nearby lantern to use the flames as a scrying source on the assassin. Unfortunately he did not have the power to sustain the scrying for long.
Katos led the party up an alley filled with muck, rats, and slime. He then twisted the remains of a once elegant street-lantern hanging from a wall. A hidden door swung back, revealing stairs which led down into the ground. Lighting a lantern that rested inside the door, he led the way down into a dim, clean chamber, filled with odd bottles, bowls, and paraphernalia.
Katos took his dead friend’s hand and pulled an iron ring from the middle finger, and placed it on his own. It was a hideous thing, obviously quite ancient. It bore three eyes and four horns and seemed to match the huge ruby ring Katos wore on his left hand. He also removed Darios’ cloak, ripped out the lining, and removed a crumbling parchment. He then turned to Tullweim and said, “Since we found these rings and this scroll in the tombs of Garian, we have been pursued. We thought them but rare antiquities, but a message I have received tonight casts a new light on them. I know little, but what I know, I will tell. In ages long past, the Avatar of Al’Kiir, god of lust, pain, and death, dwelt upon Earth. His priestesses trafficked in human sacrifice of the most horrible kind. The fairest maidens were married to the god; the best warriors fought madly for his amusement. The people cried for release.”
“Eventually someone responded. The white sorcerer Avanrakash, last of his kind, formed the Circle of the Right-Hand Path and entered into a pact with Mitra. Avanrakash and his followers were jointly given enough power to destroy Al’Kiir, and they marched against him.”
“A great battle raged. Mountains were formed, rivers moved, deserts made, seas consumed. All died except Avanrakash, and he was mortally wounded. With his staff of power he drove Al’Kiir from the body he used on this plain—his avatar—and sealed him from the world. Avanrakash then presented his staff to the king of Ophir and disappeared into the mountains, presumably to die. Though none know his true end.”
Xacksmith asked about the crumbling parchment and Katos read it to the group, “Lo, call to the great god, entreating him, and set before the Image the succedaneum, the bridge between worlds, as a beacon to glorify the way of the god to thee.”
Katos wished to spend the night where he knew he was safe. He expressed a desire to have the party remain, but did not press them. Katos paid 500 sp to the group and was still willing to introduce them to Baron Timeon the next day. The party returned to the Bull & Bear and retired for the night.
The Morning After
The mercenaries ate breakfast at the inn and Katos met them there to lead them to Baron Timeon’s palace. The party passed a wide boulevard near the Golden Circle, where money and stolen goods often changed hands, loud trumpets were heard braying out, followed by an expectant murmur of the crowd, The Street cleared to make way for a procession. A large group of Ophirean cavalry pranced by, followed by numerous courtiers dressed in gaudy finery. Behind them rode General Iskandrian, a proud veteran with a shock of white hair belying the strength still apparent in his bulging neck. This was the man who would determine the future of Ophir. Behind him, in a litter, rode King Valdric, a frail old man in obvious poor health. Across his lap laid a long gem-encrusted staff, the royal scepter of Ophir. Behind him rode another large unit of cavalry. They passed by.
Sandwiched between a temple to Mitra and a pottery shop, stood a small pretentious palace. Tastelessly brocaded columns ran across the front veranda. Wide marble steps decorated with poorly carved flowers led up to two huge bronze doors which bore the Timeon crest, two red wolves on a field of deep blue. The crest might have been impressive, except that the wolves were smiling rather than snarling. Katos mounted the steps, looking a little pale. "I wish Darios might have been here,” he whispered. "It will mean great grief he has been murdered. He was the Baron’s favorite”
Tullweim pounded on the door, and a small, pudgy chamberlain opened it and asked their business. The chamberlain, Vanemoth, was irritatingly condescending, even to Katos, and insisted that the Baron was too busy to be bothered with any military trifles that day. It appeared Katos had fallen out of favor. It was also obvious Vanemoth considered the mercenaries’ tattered clothing and foreign accents abominable and would rather not see them again. Lady Julia cursed him loudly. A threat from Tullweim and Cuana cowed the chamberlain and gained the party admittance.
The chamberlain disappeared up some ornate stairs. As they party waited, they looked about and noticed the palace’s garish decor. Flimsy furniture, pretty flowers, and second-rate tapestries abounded.
The mercenaries soon heard a shout from above and saw the chamberlain retreating down the hall backwards, bowing as he went. A balding man in a silk robe approached, his stomach bulging, his pasty little legs popping in and out from beneath his brocaded gown. He was obviously drunk, “What is all this noise? I’ve told you, Vanemoth, never to disturb me while I’m researching! What do those stinking barbars want?”
Lady Julia laughed at the Baron’s appearance, drawing a deep scowl. Katos introduced the mercenaries, and recommended that the Baron hire them, Baron Timeon offered 2,000 sp a month for the entire troop. This was not enough for the mercenaries and a combination of Dhak’s serpentine tongue and Timeon’s drunkeness led to an agreement of 3,000 sp a month. Baron Timeon insisted that the Crimson Wolves live in the palace and stable their horses there, but they were to maintain a separate kitchen. He wanted none of their cooking odors interfering with his own meals. The mercenaries were housed on the fourth floor. The Baron then drunkenly swaggered over to Tullweim and threw an arm around his shoulder. “My great ally,” he muttered confidentially, “Count Antimedes will be pleased that I have employed some more troops, particularly if he should decide to seize the throne. Not, of course, that he would ever dream of such a thing. The Count has no such desires. He is a noble man far above such petty politics. But be ready.”
The Baron thought momentarily, then instructed the adventurers they would be leaving on an expedition first thing the next morning. The baron would also accompany them. They were to meet 20 mules and their drivers at the Carellan Stables, and would leave at dawn. The Baron gave them a letter which allowed them to bring their troops to the palace, where they were to be lodged, and take up their guard duties. Katos remained to speak with the Baron privately while the mercenaries went back out into the city.
As the party moved about the wide boulevards flanked by domes and towers ornamented with metal, they saw a multitude of voluminous hooded robes gathered around an auction block. On the block stood many male and female slaves, clothed only in simple loincloths. Some were being sold for manual labor, others sold for their beauty and intimate talents. As the company passed by, they heard a scream from the block as a beautiful woman escaped the grasp of her slaver and ran toward the company, with 5 slavers on her heels. The slave girl begged Tullweim for release as she was dragged back to the block. Tullweim and Cuana approached the slave block and Tullweim offered to buy the woman from Urian the slaver, 70 sp exchanged hands. The woman was a pretty, young Ophirian named Accalia. The party continued towards the gate, picking up the cook Fabio on the way.
They showed the papers Baron Timeon provided to them to the gatekeepers and were allowed to don their armor and lead their troops to the Baron’s palace. Once there they set up a watch and prepared for the next day’s journey.
In the Wilderness
It was just past dawn, the air was chill. The adventurers’ horses’ breath showed like fog. The men had gathered outside the palace and were awaiting the Baron’s arrival. They waited longer than deemed necessary, but Baron Timeon finally approached, now agonizingly sober, looking quite a different man, and said, “I do not yet trust you. I do not intend to tell you where we are headed until we have left ”/wikis/ianthe" class=“wiki-page-link”> Ianthe, and, in addition, I require hostages." A window high in the palace opened, Torali and Accalia stepped up to it, an unknown figure stood behind the two girls with a drawn sword. Tullweim and Lady Julia were furious, but Timeon also insisted that Julia remain behind as a hostage or Accalia and Torali would be immediately thrown from the window. Lady Julia agreed and went inside the palace. Baron Timeon promised they would be well cared for. Tullweim said if any of the ladies were harmed there would be hell to pay. The Baron nodded and responded in cold earnest that all he need do is withdraw his patronage and they would immediately be subject to arrest and impalement for bringing an armed force into Ianthe without noble patronage. Affairs were settled and the company moved on, sans the 15 mercenaries left behind to guard Timeon’s palace.
They rode up to the largest stables in Ianthe, smelling them long before they came into sight. Twenty mules and their drivers were waiting, stamping to stay warm, wondering where they were headed. All they knew was that they were venturing beyond the safe confines of Ianthe out into the dangers of the open country. A few were praying for their safe return. They were brave men; not many others would dare to leave the city once safely inside. Baron Timeon waited while the mercenaries organized the caravan, then gave orders to leave Ianthe through the Gate of Gold and follow the road to Nemedia.
The company silently suffered Baron Timeon’s many complaints, especially about having to stomach Fabio’s cooking again, though when meal time came he always ate voraciously. On the seventh night out of a 19 day journey an alarm was raised by the evening watch. The company hastily donned armor and stood at the ready, tensely waiting as a large group of people moved through the dark towards them. When the people emerged the mercenaries saw 60 refugees, filthy and near starvation. Tullweim and Cuana did some night hunting and caught a deer and rabbit for the refugees. They also parted with supplies they could do without. Finally, Cuana, feeling a strong compassion for the suffering group of women, children, elderly and half-starved men, gave them 100 sp with which to buy food and clothing when they reached the nearest city, which happened to be in Count Valentius’ domain.
On the 19th day of travel the Crimson Wolves and the caravan they were protecting arrived at their destination. The party looked around at the dusty warriors and men, the sweating animals winding through the foothills up into the mountains. It had been a long journey. The sun glared down and they wiped their brow. They rode over a crest, and suddenly the mines laid before them. They were in a valley stinking with slag and debris. Ruined shacks served as barracks for the wretched prisoners sentenced to slave here for the rest of their short lives. A grim fortress of stone rose above them, and the entire valley was encircled by a wooden stockade, guaranteeing that none flee. Black holes of doom gaped in the mountainside, leading down into the earth’s bowels. Baron Timeon rode over and greeted the fortress commander. Cuana could not see precisely what followed, but it appeared that various papers and a small jingling bag exchanged hands. Timeon then motioned the company into the fortress, where the warehouse was.
Inside the warehouse were 40 casks to be loaded onto the mules. Cuana opened one and looked inside, finding some crude ore that Xacksmith recognized as raw gold ore. After the mules were loaded, Timeon was eager to head back for Ianthe. The company left without incident.
The first full day on the journey back to Ianthe the caravan was attacked by 50 light cavalry. The battle was fiercely fought, Dhak’s unit was pushed back early and withdrew before Dhak returned wielding the magic of the Elephant Heart to curse his foes while the Nemedian Adventurers struck with their great swords. Xacksmith’s unit was almost completely wiped out. Cuana and Tullweim worked in tandem against the horsemen. Though the line was broken, 3 mule-drivers killed, and 8 Nemedian Adventurers would never adventure again, the raiders were pushed back. Cuana had captured one of the horsemen and asked who they worked for. The man was rightly afraid and begged for his life, revealing that 6 nights prior a group of peasants had wandered into Valentius’ land with an uncommonly large amount of silver on them. They were robbed, questioned, and made slaves. Valentius then ordered the cavalry out to rob Timeon of his gold. Cuana swore vengeance and let the brigand go.
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 ”/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.
The Search for the Assassin
Tullweim, Xacksmith, Lady Julia and three members of the Crimson Wolves stood in the room with Katos’ lifeless body. Several of Baron Timeon’s servants arrived to clean up the mess in the room and remove the body of the dead Argossean merchant but Tullweim wouldn’t allow it. The Aesir demanded that nothing in the room be touched until Cuana and Dhak had a chance to survey the scene. Tullweim posted 2 mercenaries at the door and put the rest on high alert. They were to sleep in shifts and patrol the grounds for the rest of the night. Tullweim wanted to post 2 guards at the Baron’s door, but the Baron refused to allow the guards within 30 feet of his door. Though he too was concerned for his safety, Timeon desired privacy even more, insisting, quite importantly, that his friends in court would never allow him to be assassinated. After the Baron left, Tullweim ordered Taurus to keep watch over Timeon’s balcony.
Lady Julia was rather bored by the mystery and would rather stay at the palace than get involved. The Nemedian troops were quite fretful and Lady Julia’s beautiful hand-maiden Torali added to their fear by saying only a supernatural being could have penetrated into the heart of the palace. Tullweim’s slave Accalia then ran up to Katos’ room to find the barbarian. She stopped in shock at seeing Tullweim completely naked in the hallway, with Lady Julia in a bed sheet at his side. The barbarian clumsily attempted to smooth the situation over while walking with Accalia back to his room.
Once preparations were made and armor was donned, Tullweim decided to locate Cuana and Dhak. Cuana had left word that he would be at the Bull & Bear inn so the Aesir and Hyrkanian headed that way down Ianthe’s darkened streets. When they arrived at the inn, they found Cuana had purchased a large keg of ale for the troops. Tullweim pulled the group outside and explained their current predicament. Dhak was eager to have a look at the crime scene and Cuana and Tullweim carted the keg back to Baron Timeon’s palace. When they arrived they looked the scene over and all the clues found were made known to the Cimmerian and Stygian. It was decided they would need to question Baron Timeon and perhaps confront him with what they already suspected about his dealings with Al’Kiir.
The next day the party rose early and checked the grounds. Katos’ body had been removed and the room cleaned. Tullweim gave Accalia some silver to go to the market district and buy something for herself to atone for the night before. Dhak also went to the market district to inquire about the knife that had ended Katos’ days. The Stygian noticed Accalia and grabbed her arm. She yelped with a start and met the imposing Stygian’s gaze with a coy smile. He asked what she was doing and she explained herself. Dhak caressed the girl’s cheek and bid her be on her way.
Cuana, Tullweim, and Xacksmith then arrived to the market and saw the Stygian and the slave-girl. Tullweim greeted Accalia and she showed off her purchases, then the party continued their inquiry, but did not get any useful information other than that the kingdom of Koth had attacked a border fortress.
The group decided to return to Timeon’s palace after mid-day and saw Enaro moving nervously about the grounds. When Tullweim approached Enaro, the Nemedian explained that he had noticed their were 3 Crimson Wolves missing at the noon meal. Cuana asked around and found out that now that their contract was over and despite the fair pay, some of the men desired to go back to their lives in Nemedia, and away from the intrigue and murders in the Baron’s palace. Cuana said he could not blame them and informed Tullweim about the deserters. Tullweim and Cuana both addressed the troops to raise their morale. Dhak immediately moved out about the town asking the city watch if they had seen the soldiers and learned they had left the Avanrakash gate early in the morning. Dhak informed the city watch that he wished to put bounties on the deserters heads.
The party then walked to Baron Timeon’s room to confront him about Darios’ and Katos’ murders. They arrived and saw Vanemoth taking Timeon’s first meal of the day to the Baron’s room. The Baron had opened the door and Tullweim interrupted and said they must speak immediately. The Baron sighed and told his chamberlain to take the tray to the dining room and Vanemoth shot an annoyed look at the mercenaries. Once in the dining room, the party confronted the Baron with what they knew. The Baron once again brushed aside Tullweim’s insistence on guards at Timeon’s door. Cuana asked about the riders with the red hoods they had encountered on the road back to Ianthe, and Timeon claimed complete ignorance of any knowledge about them. Cuana then pressed the Baron for information and mentioned Al’Kiir. The Baron replied that the Cimmerian’s primitive intellect could not comprehend the wills of gods and denied any sort of malicious activity. He then turned to Tullweim, quite furious that the day was fast passing and no new information had been discovered about Katos’ murderer or the items which had been stolen. The party left to discover what they could in the city with the clues they had.
The party explored the slums of Ianthe looking for rumors and people who might be able to lead them to information. This district reeked of poverty and neglect, and the buildings were in great danger of collapse. Many were already collapsed. Here were the desperate and poor, the resentful debtors, and the cunning thieves. Here it would be easy for bandit bands to hide from justice, sending their webs out across the city. Xacksmith spotted a couple of people in well-worn clothing following them when a pungent odor assaulted the groups nostrils. 7 haggard men approached, holding cups out in front of them and they pled for alms. “Please, a quarter silver. A copper. Anything. I’ve not had a scrap to eat in days.” “Please, please, my family is starving, my boy, my youngest is at death’s door.” Tullweim and Cuana gave them some silver and inquired about the bandana and knife. One of the beggars responded, “Well. I tell ‘ee, there’s only three groups of brigands in Ianthe smart enough, brave enough, or fool enough to commit murder in a noble’s own palace. One is Galbro, but he’s a bit of a fop. The other is Urian the slaver. And the third is the ”/characters/7290" class=“wiki-content-link”>The Red Hawk, but she’s a woman so don’t really count no how, I’d put my money on Urian. He’s the only one with any real guts."
Cuana gave the beggar more silver and the group went on its way, keeping a wary eye out for the people following them. Once they caught sight of the pair the party went into an alleyway to try and lead those following into a trap. The pair of trailers apparently knew the alleys of the slums well as they attacked the group from connecting alleyways behind the party. The alley thieves attacked first, drawing blood from Dhak and Cuana. Dhak quickly tossed Lotus smoke in front of the attackers, but managed to catch the party with it as well, putting the alley-rats and Cuana out of commission for several seconds. Tullweim used this opportunity to hit both bandits with the flat of his blade and knocked them unconscious. Cuana asked Dhak to pour some of the strong ale he carried onto the alley-rats and the Cimmerian and Aesir carried the thugs as if they were drunk. They were stopped by the city watch, but their bluff worked and they were allowed to continue to the Baron’s palace.
Once at the palace, Dhak took one of the alley-rats up to his room while Tullweim took another to his. Tullweim called the mercenaries’ medic up to the room as well. When roused, the alley-rats spat at their captors and claimed they were following the party in order to rob them. Unconvinced, Dhak issued threats of mystical death and damnation to intimidate the thief to talk. Tullweim used more barbaric measures. Blood-curdling screams rang out on the floor which acted as barracks for the mercenaries, waking several mercenaries from their sleep as Tullweim cut off a finger for every question he asked. When he had finished, the thief’s entire hand was lopped off. At the end of the gruesome interrogation, both Dhak and Tullweim had learned the thieves had been hired to get a “crucible” from the party and they learned the name of the man who had them followed, Galbro. The thieves did not know where Galbro could be located, but revealed a drop-off point in the slums for messages.
Tullweim let the thief that Dhak had interrogated go, but not before Dhak drained him to fuel his magical power. Dhak stole essence from the one-handed thief as well, and took the thief out into the entrance hall of Baron Timeon’s palace. There he gathered 10 Crimson Wolves and put on a horrific display. Dhak held the Elephant’s Heart out and murmured powerful words of dark sorcery. The large ruby in his hand glowed malignantly and the simple thief that stood in front of him shrank down to half his size. Their was an audible gasp of shock and horror at this display and Dhak announced that this would be the fate of any that would oppose the Crimson Wolves. Dhak then took the thief back to the slums to leave at Galbro’s drop-off point.
The next day, the party learned 2 more mercenaries had deserted, whether out of fear or disgust was unknown. The party decided to gather information in the Old Town district of Ianthe. This district was one of the oldest in the city. Many of the buildings had stood for centuries. A few had collapsed. The remains of the old city wall still ran through the area. It was a poor area, but not poverty-stricken. Many beggars and common laborers surrounded the party, along with soldiers and stables. While attempting to get further leads on Galbro, the party learned that a fire had destroyed large parts of Gurian’s Heart.
The mercenaries continued on their way and were privy to some information. One disgruntled Ophirean let his feelings for foreigners be known, “It’s foreigners like you what’s making all this trouble, But you’ll get your own. Soon the ”/characters/7623" class=“wiki-content-link”>King’s dead and Iskandrian takes the throne, he’ll impale you mercenary swine, and scatter your ashes in the river." It was not long after when the adventurers noticed they were being followed by a gang of five alley-rats.
The party continued making their way through the old city streets when their path was barred by a funeral procession. A long line of mourners clogged the streets so no chariot, horse, or man could pass. Tullweim decided to try and cut through the dim alleys and that is when the alley-rats struck. The five rogues cut Dhak and Xacksmith deep. The Hyrkanian retreated behind Cuana and Tullweim. Dhak moved back and cursed one of the thugs. Cuana stepped up and killed two of the rogues with two vicious swings of his great sword. Tullweim’s blade cast a swath of death in front of him. Finally, only two rogues were left standing, and knowing when they were beat, decided to flee. Cuana gave chase, but his armor slowed him down and he did not know Ianthe’s streets and alleys as well as the thieves. The party was left with no one to question, and so set forth with their inquiries.
Several hours of wandering and questioning anyone who would talk to them gave little results. The sun was setting past the hills and the mercenaries went to one last hovel with a woman sweeping in front. When asked, the woman revealed, “I know something about Galbro. Used to be from Zingara, Always wears a big scarf tied around his left wrist for some strange reason, likes to collect antiques and weird stuff like that. Bit of a fop, but a good swordsman.”
It was little to go off of, but more information than they previously had.
More Details [Any details, bits of conversation, gear your character had as well as appearance is appreciated.]
Cuana's appearance At six-feet seven-inches & 280+ lbs, Cuana is tall and slightly lanky, with the appearance of a younger adult who has yet to fully flesh-out his frame. His hair is long, black, somewhat shaggy with slight streaks of premature white beginning to show. He has fair, slightly sunburned skin and gray eyes. Cuana wears a scale corselet and a great helm but rarely uses a shield. Depending on the circumstances he will either use his greatsword in combat or instead attack two-handed, a battle axe in his right hand and a poniard in his left.(SIB)