Heretics of Tarantia 2

Questions in the Dead of Night

In past nights Brocas had grudgingly served soldiers of the watch heavily discounted ale and cleaned the mud they tracked in with a curse under his breath. But never in all the years the aging innkeeper had owned the Stag & Whistle was Brocas happier to see the city watch walk into the common room. “They’re upstairs! The brigands who have wrecked four of my rooms and threatened me in my very inn!” The soldiers grunted at the fat old man to clear the way as they tromped up the stairs where Cuana and Tullweim blocked their path. The highest ranked watchman ordered the Cimmerian and Aesir to stand back. The bloodied slayers did so and gave their names freely when asked.

Meanwhile, Dhak and Xacksmith had stolen into Cuana’s room to deal with the unconscious assassin within. The Stygian searched the body and found a talisman on a leather thong around the rogue’s neck. Xacksmith tied his rope to the nearby window and then to the assassin’s legs. The pair lowered the man down to the alley below before they made their way to the ground silent as shadows. Xacksmith found rubble in the alley to hide the prisoner behind, quickly shackled manacles around the man’s legs and bound his arms with rope as Dhak kept a lookout for the watch who stood outside the front of the Stag & Whistle.

Inside the inn Cuana and Tullweim told their tale of the attempted assassinations. The lead watchman was dubious of Cuana’s version of the story that there were only 3 attackers, for the Cimmerian’s wounds betrayed that he’d been in combat. The watch noted the 3 bodies in the Aesir’s, Hyrkanian’s and Stygian’s rooms. The soldier who questioned Cuana threw open the door to the barbarian’s chamber. Inside stood Dhak and Xacksmith. They too were questioned but Dhak bluffed that his and the Hyrkanian’s presence in the room was due to fear of another attack. The glib tongued Stygian convinced the watchman that the absence of a fourth body was due to there being only 3 assailants.

One of the guards questioned an occupant in the room opposite of Cuana’s. The frightened man whispered of what he heard and saw. His voice lowered further when he mentioned the talisman spied around the assassin’s throat. The watch took on a grim manner as they believed they were dealing with another incident caused by the vile cult of Asura. They gathered the 3 corpses for the meat wagon and were about to depart when Brocas insisted the watch arrest the adventurers. But the watchmen felt the party had done Tarantia a service by killing foul cultists and told the innkeeper if he wanted to eject them from the premises he was free to do so himself. Brocas looked up at the bloodied men and shook his head. He then promised silver if the watch left some men to keep guard and make sure no more damage came to his property. The captain agreed and ordered 3 of his men to stay behind to keep the peace.

As the corpse cart left, Dhak and Xacksmith once again slid to the shadows below their rooms. When Xacksmith uncovered the rubble from the body underneath he discovered the assassin was awake and had undone the bonds around his arms. The Hyrkanian seized the man as Dhak held a ghanata knife to the rogues throat. The Stygian hissed out a demand of who had ordered the slaying and the assassin croaked out the name, ‘Taspius.’ Satisfied and not wishing to attract the guards attention, Dhak slit the man’s throat and left his corpse amidst the offal.

Out of Hiding

The sun had risen high enough to clear the eastern buildings of the city, spreading adequate light for Tullweim to see the general outline of the buildings outside his rooms’ window. As the Aesir prepared to leave his lodgings for another day attempting to unravel the city’s mysteries, there was a soft, almost hesitant knock on his door. Tullweim opened the entryway slowly and saw a cloaked man on the other side.

The man stepped into the room as the door opened, moving with the kind of swiftness most often seen in a thief eluding his pursuers, closing the door behind him just as swiftly. He was tall and thin, dressed in a long, dark coloured cloak bearing more than a few stains of travel. The cloak’s cowl was drawn far forward, concealing his face.

With the door behind him closed again, he turned to the Aesir, pulled back the cowl of the cloak revealing a pale oval of a face, with calm, delicately chiseled features. His hair was dark, with several streaks of grey running through it, and he was clean-shaven.

‘My thanks for receiving me under such odd conditions,’ he said, his voice carrying the accent of one native to Tarantia. ‘After your…recent excitement, I can certainly understand if you feel cautious or uneasy, but allow me to assure you I mean you no harm whatsoever. Indeed, I fear we face a common foe.’

‘I could not be certain of your role in what is now happening throughout the city. That is until last night, so you must forgive me for not approaching you earlier. Indeed, it was not until you yourselves came under assault by that band of assassins that I knew you were not actively working as part of some larger plot. Ah, but you must forgive me again. In my haste to explain to you my reasons for not presenting myself sooner, I have forgotten to tell you why I am here now. I am Gaulan, priest of Asura, and neither I nor any of my followers have had a hand in the crimes being ascribed to us.’

Tullweim nodded and whispered that he would like to get one of his companions to hear Gaulan’s tale as well. The Asuran priest agreed and the Aesir left his room quietly so as not to rouse the watchman who slept near the stairs. Tullweim gently rapped on Dhak’s door. When the Stygian opened it he was told that the Aesir needed help moving furniture in his room. Dhak was confused at the request but agreed. When they returned to Tullweim’s room the Aesir moved the bed frame he had propped against his window back to its proper place. The guard in the hallway was in such a deep slumber he did not wake from the sound of wood shoved across the floor. The Asuran furrowed his brow at the barbarian and quickly continued his story.

‘Sadly, oaths I have sworn prevent me from discussing much of our customs and rituals with those who do not follow our path. Indeed, were the circumstances any less dire, I would never have come to you, revealing myself as I have. It may be that these oaths of ours are unwise, that our very secrecy, and the ignorance it breeds, has allowed these terrible rumours now infesting the streets of Tarantia to gain currency. Wise or unwise, however, what is done is done, and it is too late now to reconsider. ‘These terrible crimes – the murder of the Mitran priest, the abhorrent acts in the cemetery, the vile attempt on your own lives – have come as an utter surprise to us. I have attempted, through some eldritch means, to find out more of what is happening, but someone or something has successfully managed to block all such attempts. Logic indicates it must be the same person who is behind these crimes, or at least someone closely allied with them.

‘I regret I cannot tell you who it is that has orchestrated these terrible deeds. I can only tell you again that it was not I, nor was it any worshipper of Asura who follows our creeds of justice and scholarship. If you have any questions for me, I shall answer them as fully as my oaths allow, and if you have any need of me, I shall serve you as well as I can so long as your endeavour is truly to uncover the architect of these terrible deeds.

Dhak inquired of Gaulan about the talisman and the parchment he had found on the supposed cultists at Delvyn cemetery. The Asuran priest looked at the talisman and said the sigil was indeed important in the Asuran religion but it made no sense around the neck of an assassin as the sigil meant ‘balance.’ Gaulan also noted the symbols on the parchment were Asuran as well but were divorced from all meaning. The Stygian then asked if Gaulan knew the name Taspius. The Asuran shook his head but said he would look into the name. He told Dhak to seach for a symbol, which Gaulan sketched in the dirt on the floor, in the alley of the Wren later in the afternoon. Once found, the Stygian should dig and would find any information Gaulan uncovered. Dhak then asked if the Asuran knew where to find any poultices which could aid in the parties’ recovery as several of their number were deeply wounded from the assassination attempt the previous night. Gaulan nodded and stated he could find such items and would bury them with whatever information he found on Taspius.

‘I have one boon to ask of you as well. Tell no one of me, or of our conversation this morning. I freely admit that, given the mood of the city, I fear for my safety, and that of all my followers, should my identity become known. I place my trust in your honour.’ Dhak and Tullweim nodded in agreement and the Asuran went to the window and deftly climbed to the alley below.

Dogma & Bigotry

Shortly after Gaulan left, Dhak and Tullweim roused their two companions and informed them of what had just occurred. Afterwards they went down to the common room and ordered breakfast. There they saw the watchman who had been posted at the front of the inn receive a missive. Once read the soldier called out to his companions and ordered them back to the guardhouse. After the watch left the party discussed their plans for the day. The Stygian stated his interest in going to the Mitraeum to inquire about Constanus and to have Xacksmith’s wounds looked at. Dhak speculated that the Mitran priests might have a skilled surgeon who could mend the Hyrkanian’s wounds better than the Aesir had. With a course of action decided upon the adventurers left the Stag & Whistle inn for the last time as the innkeeper made it pointedly clear they were no longer welcome.

Outside the inn a familiar carriage pulled up to the adventurers. The door to the carriage opened and Constanus beckoned the party over to speak with him. ‘I am quite relieved to see you all still hale and hearty,’ Constanus said, dropping his voice low enough to prevent it from being overheard. ‘Word reached me this morning of an attack against your good selves, but I was unable to discover whether you had all survived the attempt on your lives. I was led to believe that these assassins bore more sigils of the murderous cult of Asura? I trust you are now convinced of the culpability of these heathen foreigners in the spate of crimes gripping our city?’

Xacksmith responded with shouted accusations and insults at the Mitran priest, claiming the priest to be the culprit behind the attacks. Constanus was aghast at the Hyrkanian’s verbal assault and Tullweim held Xacksmith back as Dhak attempted to smooth the situation. The Stygian explained that the attempt on the Hyrkanian’s life had put him on edge and he was suffering from fever due to his wounds. Dhak then asked if the Mitraeum had any surgeons who could aid Xacksmith. Constanus nodded in the affirmative that there were those with skill in surgery and the Mitran priest could get them in with but a word. Dhak thanked Constanus for the information but denied the offer of a ride to the Mitreaum, stating the Hyrkanian’s fever and agitated state as the reason. The priest wished the Stygian luck, closed the door to his carriage and left as suddenly as he had appeared.

The party had traveled through the winding streets of Tarantia towards the Mitraeum for the better part of an hour. The sounds of rumor and gossip about the Asurans had escalated to outright threats against all foreign religions and their worshipers. Dhak spoke to Tullweim from horseback about his theories as to Constanus’ connection to the events of the past few nights when he was struck aside the head by a rotten egg. The Stygian immediately turned to see who accosted him and bore witness to a mob of commoners who all began throwing refuse at the foreign adventurers. As the putrid fruit and horse manure flew so did the insults. Tullweim wheeled upon a woman commoner and backhanded her which caused the enraged crowd to close around the party. Some of the men in the mob drew hatchets from their belts and feebly attempted to strike the Aesir and his companions. Cuana was still on edge about the past days events and had taken all the civilized insults he could. The Cimmerian pulled out his greatsword and swung it through the crowd smiting both men and women with wild abandon. Aware that the watch would be drawn to the screams and sounds of battle, Dhak threw flame powder at a nearby assailant and shouted for his comrades to flee.

The Hyrkanian and Stygian rode away while Tullweim growled at the shrinking crowd. Most of the commoners ran from the massacre as quickly as they could though some remained, wailing their sorrow beside the corpses of their loved ones. Dhak’s warning proved true as the watch arrived at the scene shortly after. Cuana fled while the Aesir was struck by a glancing blow but broke away from his assailant with pantherish mobility. An extensive chase throughout the streets resulted but after a few apple carts pushed over and near stampede the Aesir and Cimmerian were able to lose their pursuers amidst the throngs of Tarantia. Though they had also put considerable distance between one another. Cuana pilfered laundry from a clothesline and hunched over back into the streets while Tullweim remained out of sight moving from alley to alley.

Whispers in the Temple

Dhak and Xacksmith arrived at the Mitraeum while services were underway in the great chapel. The only priest which could be seen was speaking from behind his pulpit casting damnation and hellfire to those who would harm Mitra’s flock. The Stygian looked to a doorway to the side in search of anyone who could lead him to a surgeon for his Hyrkanian ally. The door opened in front of the Stygian as a gaunt man in the robes of a Mitran priest walked out and stopped in surprise to see the Stygian stand ahead of him. Before the priest could utter a word Dhak inquired about the surgeon. The baffled priest looked at Xacksmith and his obvious wounds then pointed to the opposite end of the building. Dhak thanked the priest who hurriedly walked away wiping sweat from his brow.

Xacksmith refused to go into surgery without Tullweim guarding against malfeasance. The Stygian argued that he would ensure the Hyrkanian’s safety when he noticed a lone priest, standing in a barely-open doorway, gesture to them to come to him. The priest took sidelong looks up and down the hallway as Dhak and Xacksmith approached and shut the door behind them when they entered. The priest introduced himself as Caudius and asked if they were the men who had seen Daphnis fall. When they nodded in the affirmative the priest said, ‘Please, good lords, I understand you do not know me, but I feel I must speak to you. First, though, I must know – did the most pious Daphnis say anything about a group called the Brotherhood before going to Mitra’s halls?’

The Stygian told Caudius of Daphnis’ cryptic last words. ‘Very well,’ the priest said, nodding. ‘Then there is something I fear I must tell you. I overheard two priests speaking this morning, though I could see only one of them. They appeared to be arguing, though in hushed tones, but at one point the priest I could not see let his anger best him, and his voice rose high enough that I could pick out his words. He told Barthias, the priest I could see, that, though it was regrettable, Daphnis could not be allowed to betray the Brotherhood. Barthias paused for a moment, and then nodded his assent before they quickly went their separate ways. I saw Barthias again perhaps an hour later, and his face still had a haunted look about it. I have never heard of this Brotherhood before, and I know nothing more of it, but if they are behind Daphnis’ murder, they must be brought to justice.’

Dhak was curious about the other priest but Caudius could not name him. The Stygian then asked if a meeting could be arranged with Barthias. The Mitran priest said he could arrange a meeting as soon as a half hour but though he sought justice Caudius was squeamish about any violence towards a fellow priest. The Stygian assured the cleric that he would not harm Barthias without provocation. Caudius thanked the Stygian then agreed to set up the meeting at a grain warehouse a few blocks from the Mitraeum. Dhak then asked about a surgeon to which Caudius led the pair to a chamber of healing. The priest vouched for the surgeon, claiming the man to be skilled and trustworthy. Xacksmith entered the chamber and began preparations as Dhak made his way out of the temple.

Deep in the shadows behind stacked barrels the Stygian waited impatiently for any approach. He was distrustful of Caudius and he had his blade in one hand and the Elephant’s Heart in the other. Caudius arrived at the warehouse next and called out for the Stygian. Dhak revealed himself and Caudius assured him that Barthias was on his way to meet them. Shortly thereafter another Mitran priest arrived and the Stygian smiled at the realization that this was the same priest he’d run into at the Mitraeum. Barthias angrily chided Caudius for calling him out to this warehouse, away from his duties, and demanded an explanation. Dhak stepped out of the shadows and informed Barthias he was the reason for the meeting. The Mitran priest wheeled upon Caudius and would have attacked the younger priest for luring him into a trap had Dhak not stepped in and held his arming sword to Barthias’ throat.

Barthias held his hands up in surrender and the Stygian threatened to open his neck if the priest did not answer his questions true. Dhak asked about the Brotherhood and Barthias told of his suspicions of a Lord Nadanidus. The priest spoke of reading the nobles soul and managed to see the corruption so carefully hidden within. He now believes that Nadanidus attempted to use the Brotherhood in some way he did not yet understand. Barthias shakingly told of his belief of something very unnatural going on in the catacombs beneath the noble’s manor in Tamar. The Stygian was about to strike the priest in anger at his obvious attempt at avoiding his question when Barthias rambled on about a discovery which gave some credence to his suspicion. Ten days past the priest had found a scale about twice the size of his thumbnail in the catacombs. The priest believed the scale to belong to some enormous snake.

The Stygian was surprised at Barthias tale, being all to familiar with the giant snakes let loose at night in black-walled Khemi. Dhak demanded evidence and Barthias produced the scale from his robes. There could be no doubt in the sorcerer’s mind that it indeed belonged to a creature from his homeland. Perplexed at this new turn, the Stygian asked when the Brotherhood was to next meet. Barthias became tight-lipped but gave in to Caudius’ pleadings for the priest to do the right thing and atone for Daphnis’ murder. Barthias’ face grew ashen at the younger priest’s words and he betrayed that the brotherhood were to meet that very night beneath Lord Nadanidus’ manor. The priest told of a secret entrance beneath Tarantia’s streets and how to find egress to the catacombs. Satisfied with the information and eager to take what he had learned to his companions Dhak lowered his weapon and was about to leave when Caudius called out for him to stop. The priest ran up and asked was nothing to be done about Barthias culpability in the slaying of Daphnis? The Stygian simply walked away stating his business was done with Barthias and if Caudius sought retribution he should be man enough to take it himself.

Publius’ Request

Dhak returned to the Mitraeum early in the afternoon and found Cuana and Tullweim standing watch outside the room Xacksmith was undergoing surgery in. The gagged screams from the Hyrkanian obviously unsettled the two barbarians but the Stygian acted as if all was well. Dhak whispered that he had received information he daren’t speak of around the many ears in the great church. Tullweim nodded and the party waited uncomfortably for several hours amidst the tortured wails of their companion. When the surgery was finally concluded Xacksmith stepped into the hallway looking fatigued but otherwise healthy. The surgeon was paid a hefty sum of silver and the adventurers left the Mitraeum.

They made their way through the city, avoiding main streets and arrived at the alley of the Wren late in the afternoon. Once they found the Asuran’s symbol Dhak related Barthias’ tale of Lord Nadanidus involvement with the Brotherhood and spoke of the large serpent the priest mentioned. The Stygian warned his companions to stay clear of any such creature and allow the sorcerer to handle it. Cuana finished digging up the letter and wrapped package beneath the sigil. Dhak opened the letter which read, ‘Taspius is a mercenary retainer in the service of Lord Nadanidus. He has served Nadanidus for three years, and is a veteran of several mercenary companies.’ The Cimmerian unwrapped the horse blanket and found 8 small clay jars inside with another note instructing the adventurers to coat their wounds with the paste inside. Cuana and Xacksmith immediately doffed their armor and did so.

With their wounds treated and a decision made to enter Lord Nadanidus’ manor in Tamar the party left the alley of the Wren. They did not travel far before they were hailed by a scout dressed in the colors of a King’s servant. The young man was out of breath but stammered out a claim that he and several other scouts had been scouring the city looking for the party. It seemed the chancellor Publius had demanded the adventurers be brought before him to report. Tullweim agreed and the party followed the scout to the Chancellery.

When they arrived the party was relieved of their weapons again and the pageboy Arn escorted them to Publius’ study. Publius looked far more tired than he did when the adventurers saw him last, as though he had not slept in days. The table in his study, so neat before, was now littered with sheets of parchment, gathered into loose piles. The fire in the hearth was long dead, and a smell of cold ashes gave an acrid tinge to the air in this room. Publius looked up as the party entered, his face a grey and impassive mask.

‘For all the trouble your actions have caused me this day I hope you have something to report,’ he said gravely. ‘I fear this situation is becoming more dire by the hour.’

Dhak related all he had learned earlier in the day regarding Lord Nadanidus, below whose manor the so-called ‘Brotherhood’ held their meetings, the sellsword Taspius, and of his suspicion of involvement on the part of the priest, Constanus. Publius indicated these were serious charges to bring against ones such as Nadanidus and Constanus and he could sense Dhak held something back. The Chancellor pressured Dhak to divulge all of his information of the large scale he had been shown by Barthias belonging to what the Stygian believed was a ‘Son of Set.’

‘This is disturbing news,’ Publius said as Dhak finished his tale. ‘Very well. I’ve a favour to ask of you, one for which you will be compensated, of course. You have brought me speculation about Lord Nadanidus, but not proof, and without that proof, I cannot move against him. He is a wealthy and exceedingly influential individual, and if I were to send the guard after him and later be proven wrong, the results would be unfortunate for all concerned. I would, therefore, like you to find the proof I need to justify such a move. If you agree, you will be operating without my official sanction. Should you find no evidence of an alliance to Set, I can likely get you out of Tarantia, but you can never return. If you do find it, however – I will pardon you of the violence in the streets and see you safely out of the city. Do you feel you are capable of such a challenge?’ The adventurers agreed and Publius offered the sum of 2,000 silver to be given when they returned with the evidence needed.

Beneath the City

A pungent odor assaulted the adventurers’ nostrils from the cesspits below, as Cuana and Tullweim lifted the grate in the street Dhak had led the party to. Dubious looks were exchanged as the Stygian steeled his nerves and climbed down with Xacksmith close behind. The Hyrkanian lit a candle which flared brightly amidst the noxious fumes and the adventurers did not travel far when they arrived at a foul cistern which reeked of the sewage from the nearby noble manors. If the information Dhak was given was correct, this dismal junction room held the entryway into Lord Nadanidus’ catacombs. The adventurers glanced around, but there was no door in evidence, only the room’s old stone walls, slick and green with lichen. The room itself was more or less square, though its low ceiling, supported by four square pillars of brick, caused the party to stoop. Including the entry they used, there were three tunnels leading out of the room, heading, they assumed, deeper into the sewers. A narrow, filth-slick walkway ran around the perimeter of the room, bridging the three exits with rotted wood catwalks. Aside from this walkway, none of the room’s floor was visible, concealed beneath a slow-moving tide of deep and noxious sludge. Stains on the walls marked the level to which the sludge had risen in the past, and the adventurers were grateful there had been little rain in Tarantia of late.

Dhak braved the catwalk and made his way to where Barthias had told the secret entrance would be found. Xacksmith followed with candle in hand but the fatigued Hyrkanian’s foot slipped off the walkway and he tumbled into the filth below. The cistern was not deep and the Hyrkanian was in no danger of being swept away, though he did lose his candle as well as most of the last meal he had eaten. Dhak lit a candle of his own as Xacksmith wiped the refuse from his eyes and climbed back onto the catwalk. Not wanting to follow the Hyrkanian into the muck, Cuana dug his fingers into the lichen patches along the brick wall and carefully moved across the walkway without incident. Tullweim then attempted to cross, but the Aesir’s weight caused the rotten wood to give and he too was swallowed by the sludge below. Tullweim stood cursing and flinging muck off his person while Dhak indicated to Xacksmith where the door to the catacombs should be and the Hyrkanian quickly found a hidden latch revealing a narrow, winding passage with lit sconces showing the way.

The passage ended at a door which appeared unlatched. The Stygian pressed his ear against the door and could hear the murmur of several men behind it. Dhak reached into his satchel and retrieved the dark robes of a Stygian priest he had acquired in Ianthe. Tullweim inquired what Dhak was up to and the Stygian replied that the robes of Mitran priests were similar in color. The Stygian’s plan was to pretend to be one of the corrupt Mitrans come to meet with the others. The Aesir nodded his approval as Dhak quickly dropped most of his equipment and donned his robes. The Stygian then opened the door and entered a room which was empty except for the 3 guards who stood there. The guards challenged the Stygian, who bluffed his intention of joining the meeting. The guards waved him past the southeastern door and closed it behind him. Shortly thereafter the door to the sewer entrance was opened again and the rest of the party charged their foes. Cuana and Tullweim slaughtered 2 of the surprised guards as the third attempted to flee through the southeastern door. The guard was in mid-cry as he flung the door open to be met by Dhak’s blade.

The Brotherhood of the Bull

The Stygian gathered his equipment from Tullweim, stole towards the door which the guards had stated the Brotherhood of the Bull met behind and pressed his ear against it. Dhak could hear furtive whispers demand someone investigate the cry that was heard. The Stygian stepped back just as the door opened, revealing a Mitran priest. Tullweim leapt at the priest and easily drove his Akbitanan greatsword through the unarmored Mitran. Constanus stood among the throng of priests who met in this larder and commanded the others to smite the infidel heretics. Many of the priests rushed the adventurers with daggers as several stood afar from the melee, weaving spells targeting the Aesir and Cimmerian. Cuana delivered a slash which would have killed a man upon the shoulder of a priest who used his sorcery in defense, defiantly declaring he would not die this hour.

Constanus hurled a glass orb at Cuana which exploded into fire when it hit the Cimmerian’s armor. Xacksmith skewered several of the Mitrans with arrows from his Hyrkanian bow. Dhak uttered dread words older than Acheron, causing one of the slain priests to rise. Several of the Mitrans panicked at the sight of one of their fallen comrades standing again as Cuana and Tullweim entered a crimson mist. The Cimmerian had suffered much by the machinations of this brotherhood and he could no longer hold his hatred in. Cuana smote the 5 priests surrounding him with a roar that shook the pillars holding up the smoke-blackened ceiling. The Stygian loosed 2 arrows with his Stygian bow and struck down another Mitran. One of the priests finished casting his spell and Tullweim became entranced by the Mitrans hypnotic stare. The priest then bade the Aesir lay his sword before him and sleep. 5 manor guards were drawn to the scene by the death cries of the priests. Dhak reached into a pouch from his belt and threw thunderclap powder with an ear-shattering crash which filled the hallway with smoke.

The Mitran priest Constanus could see the tide of battle was not in his favor as many of his brothers lay dead at his feet. Constanus cast sorcery which affected all who saw him. He suggested the fight was between the adventurers and Lord Nadanidus and he would leave to allow them to settle their dispute. Not even the Cimmerian’s hatred could keep Constanus’ words from subduing Cuana’s sword arm. Tullweim roused to see all stand aside as the Mitran exited the larder through the smoke-filled hallway. Once out of the way a manor guard drove his broadsword to the hilt through Dhak’s gut. One of the remaining priests hypnotized Cuana forcing him to fall to the ground in submission. Xacksmith skewered Cuana’s assailant with 2 arrows to the chest. Tullweim rushed to the door to allow Dhak to break away from his attacker and keep the guards from entering the larder.

Though the guards delivered fierce blows to the Aesir with the intent of forcing him back into the room, Tullweim stood as unmoving as one of the pillars in the room. Instead it was the guards who retreated from the Aesir’s greatsword as he delivered savage sword swings and near sundered a foe’s shield. After knocking the last Mitran unconscious, Cuana and Xacksmith flanked the Aesir and prepared to fill his place should he fall or withdraw. A guard commander shouted an order to clear the way as he moved forward to face Tullweim. The captain delivered a powerful strike to the Aesir, but his grin vanished as Dhak gazed at him through the Heart of the Elephant and hurled shrinking doom on the officer. The other guards gaped in horror as their captain shriveled to the size of a marionette, screaming in unmasked terror as he ran ‘tween their legs. The sound of more guards entering the hallway was heard as another voice commanded the guards to stand their ground and push the intruders back into the room. Tullweim grasped his blade and shouted a challenge to all who would meet their death before him.

The Grim Larder

Tullweim blocked the doorway with sweeping swings of his Akbitanan greatsword and roared out a challenge. The guards who attempted to press into the larder hesitated for but a moment when an order was shouted out as more guards entered the hallway past the adventurers’ line of sight. The guards doubled their efforts to force the barbarian back, striking powerful blows the Aesir could not easily parry. Cuana, Dhak, and Xacksmith did not have room to aid their Aesir companion and were trapped in the larder. The desperation of their plight lent strength to each blow Tullweim struck as Cuana and Xacksmith readied themselves should a guard break through. The Stygian bent over the unconscious Mitran priest and placed his hand to the man’s forehead. For a moment Dhak was exactly the predatory heretic the Mitran’s warned of as he drained the priest of his wits to fuel his sorcerous power. The Stygian then drove his Ghanata knife into the priests chest, spilling his lifeblood in ritual sacrifice. The commander’s voice was heard again ordering the wounded guards back. A man in a mail shirt with a finely crafted arming sword and the scars of many battles on his face squared off with the Aesir. The hardened mercenary announced himself as Taspius, Lord Nadanidus’ guard captain, before delivering two powerful strikes with his Akbitanan arming sword which sliced through the barbarian’s armor and bit deep into his flesh.

Tullweim was close to succumbing to his wounds and swung twice at Taspius before stepping back into the room. The mercenary rushed in after the Aesir and Cuana swung down with his greatsword. Taspius wheeled on the Cimmerian as Xacksmith slid like a shadow and plunged his arming sword through the mercenaries back. The Stygian smiled at the opportunity and with his power replenished from sacrificing the priest, Dhak wove a necromantic spell around Taspius’ corpse. The mercenary stood again, his lifeless eyes looking at the guards who had served under him, filling them with terror. Cuana also felt the cold breath of the grave whisper down the back of his neck and fearfully backed away. The rest of the guards fled to opposite ends of the hallway, half to the entry chamber and the other half past the door they had originally entered from. Dhak sent Taspius’ risen corpse towards the door the adventurers had not yet explored to bash it down.

Xacksmith moved across the hallway to a closed door. He found the door locked but quick use of his masterwork thieves’ tools remedied the problem. Behind the door was a cool room furnished with wooden racks along each wall, holding nearly 200 bottles of wine. The Hyrkanian quickly glanced over the bottles and discovered they were from a variety of countries, though many of the bottles were labeled in a number of unknown scripts. Near the back of the room the Hyrkanian discovered several bottles of black lotus wine and a single glass bottle with a golden liquid within. Xacksmith called Tullweim to him and the Aesir opened the bottle, smelling the sweet wine within. The Aesir had tasted the Golden Wine of Xuthal in the past and thanked Ymir for the luck in finding it now. Tullweim downed most of the liquid then called out to Cuana. The Cimmerian partook of the liquid at the Aesir’s urgings and immediately felt the pain of his wounds ebb. And not a moment too soon. The door which led further into the catacombs was thrown open and fresh guards poured forth.

Dhak withdrew from the hallway so Cuana and Tullweim could take his place. They hacked at their opponents and cut a swath of death yet more guards came. Dhak once again spoke words any sane man wouldn’t dare whisper and two of the slain guards stood up. The guards, Cuana and Xacksmith were all overcome with terror as the corpses shambled towards the guards who still lived. One of the guards lagged behind the others and was caught by the risen dead and torn limb from limb. The other guards retreated behind doors quickly closed and latched. The adventurers moved into the now open connecting hallway and looked about. They saw stairs which led up, two nearby doors which Nadanidus’ guards quaked behind and a continuation of the hallway. As he moved down the hallway, Xacksmith noticed a secret door and with some effort picked the lock.

Behind the cleverly concealed door laid the treasury of Lord Nadanidus. Coins, precious gems, art objects and other items of great value were scattered within the room. The adventurers were overcome by the sight of the wealth and quickly filled their pockets. Dhak discovered a large diamond the size of his fist. The Hyrkanian noticed another door in the northwest corner of the treasury as he filled his pouches. The door was unlocked and slightly open as if someone had passed through it in a great hurry. Behind the door was a rough-hewn corridor leading to a natural cave.

The Shrine of Set

The rough walls of the natural cave was covered with heavy black hangings which framed the dark alter in the centre of the room. Atop the altar were several golden vessels set with rubies and onyx and behind it a man in the finery of a noble stood intoning a prayer to the Stygian god. Before the altar was coiled a huge snake, the sight of which sent waves of panic in all but Cuana. The snake lunged at the Cimmerian while his allies ran in terror. The lesser son of Set’s huge fangs bit deep into Cuana, grabbing him so the creature could coil around the barbarian and squeeze the life out of him. Once the barbarian quit struggling and lay on the floor as a corpse the serpent chased after the others. It bit Tullweim and wrapped him within its coils. The Aesir gasped for aid and Dhak was able to momentarily conquer his fear long enough to use the Heart of the Elephant to cast shrinking doom on the creature. The son of Set shrank down to the size of a python but Tullweim was still unable to break free. The Stygian then touched the serpent with the diamond he had found in Lord Nadanidus’ treasury, which caused the creature and the Aesir to be sucked into the gem. It took all the Aesir’s strength to pull free from the creature as it was sucked into the gem. The snake hissed and struck at the diamond but was harmless inside the gem.

The adventurers moved back to the shrine and Dhak challenged Nadanidus’, showing the serpent trapped within the diamond. Enraged, the corrupt noble attacked the Stygian with an Akbitanan broadsword which Dhak was unable to dodge. Though he bled from the wound the Stygian moved back from Lord Nadanidus, locked the nobles eyes with his own and engaged him in a sorcerous war of souls. The corrupt noble could not break free but his will proved to be more powerful than the Stygian’s and he drained Dhak of some of his wits. Tullweim then moved to the noble who was unable to physically defend himself and uncerimoniously lopped his head off. The Aesir then spent the next 15 minutes in an attempt to stabilize Cuana. Meanwhile Dhak took stock of the room and shook his head at the ironic events fate had led him to. The Stygian grabbed Lord Nadanidus’ head and wrapped his robes around it. Cuana was roused when Tullweim poured some wine down the Cimmerian’s gullet. When he was able to stand the adventurers quickly fled from the cellar the way they had come. Nobody challenged their egress.

The Confession

Tullweim suggested the party hide the spoils from Nadanidus’ treasury before meeting with Publius. The adventurers ducked into a nearby alley and hid the wine bottles, gems, and coins under refuse that nobody but Tarantia’s most desperate would bother. Afterwards the adventurers headed for the Chancellory.

They were admitted immediately and Publius received them in his study with an exhausted look on his face. Dhak spoke of the events occurred and of Nadanidus’ part in Constanus’ mechanitions. Publius demanded proof and the Stygian presented Nadanidus’ head. Dhak cast sorcery that animated the disembodied head to speak. Publius shrank in horror at the sight but listened intently as the Stygian intimidated the bodiless head into confessing. Dhak then showed Publius the son of set trapped in the gem. The Chancellor nodded grimly and thanked the party for putting an end to Nadanidus’ plot. Publius intimated his desire for the events to remain quiet and gave the adventurers the promised 2,500 silver. Cuana asked the High Chancellor to give his share to the families of those he’d slaughtered in the street. Publius nodded in understanding and told the party they were to be escorted out the southern gate to avoid any trouble. As they moved through the streets, Tullweim looked back longingly at where the party had buried their spoils as 8 Black Dragons marched the adventurers out of the city and into the wild once again.

Epilogue

The adventurers did not travel far in the dark of night. The next morning Xacksmith awoke with agonizing abdominal pain and a sudden fever. He wouldn’t keep anything he ate down and convulsed as if he was in the frozen north in the midst of the winter. Dhak examined the Hyrkanian and determined his blood was poisoned, most likely caused by the unsteady hands of the Mitran surgeon. The party decided to stay where they were for the day, scant miles from the capital city. Morale was low due to Xacksmith’s condition and the lost spoils hidden in the muck-ridden alleys of Tarantia. The day passed with Dhak tending to Xacksmith while Cuana and Tullweim hunted for food.

Late in the evening as the party ate their catch, Dhak heard a sound from the nearby woods. The Stygian called out a challenge and a shadowy figure stepped forward. The figure threw back his hood and revealed himself as Gaulan the Asuran priest. Gaulan thanked the adventurers for their part in foiling Lord Nadanidus’ plot. He informed them that the assassination of the priest Daphnis and the subsequent crimes that had plagued the streets of Tarantia the past few days were laid firmly at the feet of the cult of Set. When asked about Constanus, Gaulan grimly replied that the involvement of the Mitran priests who made up the Brotherhood of the Bull was completely concealed. Constanus faced no charges, no trial in court but Gaulan had heard the corrupt priest would be remanded by the higher ups in the Mitraeum. What fate awaited him at the hands of his fellow Mitran priests was unknown, but was not likely to be pleasant. Gaulan then apologized for almost forgetting and dropped a sack in front of the party. Dhak opened the sack and found several of the bottles of Black Lotus wine as well as much of the silver and gems taken from Nadanidus’ treasury. Even Xacksmith’s spirits rose at the sight of the wealth the party had thought lost. Gaulan ate with the party and listened to the adventurers tales of the past night with much interest. He thanked the party again and took his leave in the midst of night pledging himself an ally and friend.

Heretics of Tarantia 2

The Nemedian Chronicles Flatscan