Campaign of the Month: March 2008
The Nemedian Chronicles
Reavers of Ophir 3
Taking the Scepter
Cuana, Dhak, Tullweim, and Xacksmith managed to avoid the looters and few city watchmen who attempted desperately to maintain a semblance of order in the darkened streets of Ianthe. The mercenaries returned to their headquarters on the Street of Crowns, ate a quick meal of Fabio’s and went to the chimney where they removed their armor and covered themselves with soot and ash. Once their pale skins were sufficiently darkened, the sellswords moved about the cities’ labyrinthine alleyways towards the Royal Palace. Their movement was silent but for a single misstep by their Aesir leader, who knocked over a pile of refuse with a loud crash. Shortly thereafter, hushed voices and heavy footfalls were heard from the streets, headed towards the parties’ location. The watchmen shone a torch into the alley, barked out a challenge, but did not see anyone and deemed not to enter. They were putting their lives at risk just wandering the streets that night and did not wish to tempt fate further. One of the watchmen decided it had been a cat that made the noise and they backed out into the street to continue their patrol. After the watch were gone, the mercenaries stepped out of the shadows, sheathed their blades, and stole into the night towards the Palace.
Once the Palace walls were in sight the sellswords found the gates barred, the portcullis down. Amid the rising blood-red full moon they maneuvered to the rear face of the wall and Cuana quickly scaled the 40 feet to the top with Xacksmith’s silken rope over his shoulder. The Cimmerian crouched low, he could see the torch lights on the wall the guards carried in the distance, and in the nearest tower he heard two men make nervous conversation behind a closed door. The barbarian quickly uncoiled the silk rope, wrapped it hastily around a merlon, and threw it down to his companions below. Xacksmith grabbed the rope and climbed up, getting about halfway before the loose knot Cuana had tied came undone. The barbarian attempted to catch the rope before it fell but was not quick enough and the Hyrkanian plummeted 20 feet to the hard ground below. Xacksmith was agile enough to twist himself in mid-air and roll with the fall, and received little more than a few cuts and bruises. The Hyrkanian picked up the fallen rope, saw no cut on it, and looked up with an annoyed expression. Cuana could not quite make out his allies in the darkness but saw the rope Tullweim tossed back up and caught it. The Cimmerian wrapped the rope around a merlon but did not attempt to again tie it. Instead he held onto the rope and braced himself while his companions climbed up.
With everyone on the wall, the party looked for patrols below. None were seen and the Stygian speculated that perhaps bestial guardians hid in the shadows. The gates were well-guarded, and dim lights shone in the towers. The rest of the palace was black and appeared empty. The place smelt of fear, of men trapped and besieged within their own fortress, deserted by their commander. Iskandrian had taken nearly the entire garrison with him to crush the nobles. The sycophants which surrounded the king had vanished, fearful lest they be caught in the coming holocaust. The Throne Room’s gold dome glinted palely beneath the moon. Xacksmith saw a guard on the wall, near an opposite tower, who was about to turn to patrol the sellswords’ location and spurred the adventurers to action.
Dhak pushed a pouch into Cuana’s hands and instructed the Cimmerian to cast it into the nearby room, close the door, and take care not to breathe in the dust or risk succumbing to madness. The Stygian grabbed an arrow, slathered extract from the Upas tree he’d gathered months ago, and let it fly at the lone patrolmen. The arrow was stopped by the guards’ hauberk and he looked up to see Xacksmith let loose an arrow of his own and Tullweim charge the man-at-arms, ending his life with a thrust of the Aesir’s greatsword. At the same time the Cimmerian did as he was instructed and cast the grey lotus dust into the room with the 2 guards conversing. The guards coughed and gagged as the dust filled the room. A moment later, Cuana heard tittering laughter come from the room followed by a hate-filled roar and the sound of steel cleaving flesh over and over again. Meanwhile, the Aesir barbarian and Hyrkanian thief had dispatched the patrolmans’ partner inside the opposite tower as Dhak approached and urged the party to move down the stairs into the gardens below. Tullweim accompanied the Stygian while Xacksmith made his way to Cuana, just as the Cimmerian leapt over the side of the wall and climbed down. The Hyrkanian was about to descend as well when the nearby door opened and a wide-eyed, growling, blood-stained watchmen stood in the moonlight. The thief did not wish to cross swords with a man affected by lotus and jumped down to the gardens below, tumbled at the last second and added to the collection of bruises he’d acquired that night. The crazed guard stood on the edge of the wall with bloody sword raised and leapt down, howling like a beast the entire way. The weight of his armor caused the guard to hit the ground with a sickening thud, bones snapped and his life spilt out onto the cobblestone walkway.
Xacksmith joined up with Dhak and Tullweim but none saw any sign of Cuana. Separated from his allies the Cimmerian did not know they planned to meet up with him below and had moved further towards the golden dome of the Palace after he descended off the wall. As he moved through deep shadows next to an impressive keep, Cuana was startled by a metallic sound that broke the night’s stillness. The barbarian froze and looked about in anticipation of an attack. Not seeing anyone and with curiosity piqued, Cuana decided to round the corner. He explored a side of the keep he could see in the moonlight and found a barred window. Knowing he couldn’t breach the heavy iron bars he moved further along the keep to a shuttered window. He put his thews to use, ripped off one of the shutters and climbed into the keep. Inside, the Cimmerian found himself in a corridor with doors on either end and a single sconce with a lit torch, which he procured for his own use. Cuana tested one of the heavy doors and found it to be locked. The barbarian then went to the opposite door and easily opened it revealing an office of some sort. A single desk and several chairs furnished the scroll-lined room. The Cimmerian sifted through the papers on the desk and found a ledger with a list of names and dates. From other papers he gleaned that the office belonged to the Royal Torturer and the names in the ledger were people brought to the dungeons at the King’s pleasure. Only one name in the ledger was not crossed off, but the name ‘Agatho’ was unfamiliar to the barbarian. He searched for keys to the locked door when he heard heavy footfalls sound from an opposite door.
Meanwhile, Dhak, Tullweim, and Xacksmith approached the golden-domed Royal Palace where King Valdric was said to lay in state for 10 days. Unchallenged thus far as no alarm had yet been sounded and the majority of the remaining guards were on the walls or patrolled closer to the gate, the mercenaries scaled up 30 feet to a window in the Palace wall. Before them laid the splendor of the Ophirean throne room, one of the most opulent in the Hyborian realms. Tapestries hung from the walls to a height of 20 feet. Ornate scroll-work stretched up to the domed ceiling. The throne was of solid gold, carved with leopards and eagles. The beasts had ruby eyes and held emeralds in their talons and claws. On the throne laid the scepter, the Staff of Avanrakash, encrusted with rubies and emeralds. There were no guards to be seen, no sounds to be heard. King Valdric laid on a bier next to the throne. Tullweim and Xacksmith dropped to the tapestry 10 feet below and climbed down to the marble floor. Dhak had a bit more trouble as he lost his hold on the tapestry and slid down hard. Tullweim helped his Stygian ally up and they moved towards the scepter. Xacksmith was overcome by the wealth on the throne and attempted to pry precious stones loose as Dhak held out his hand, muttered ancient words which levitated the scepter to his hand. Unbeknown to the Stygian there were the thinnest of threads connecting the scepter to the throne which snapped upon the staff’s movement. This triggered a mechanical catch which opened up a door under the throne. 5 foot-long scorpions moved out of the darkness and scuttled menacingly towards the thieves.
Back in the keep, Cuana set the ledger and torch down on the desk and quickly moved to the side of the door just as it opened. A rotund man entered the room and gasped as his desk was quickly being alight with flames. Before he could act, the Cimmerian slashed the man across his back which staggered him to the floor. The Royal Torturer turned with a snarl on his face, uncoiled a whip at his side and expertly entangled Cuana’s legs with it. The smile on the fat man’s face quickly fell as he tried in vain to trip the barbarian. Cuana roared and swung his greatsword which split the torturer’s head like a ripe melon. The Cimmerian quickly searched the body and found a ring of keys, one of which he hoped would open the heavy door down the corridor. Then the barbarian tended to the fire which had quickly consumed the scrolls on the desk and had spread to those on the shelves. Cuana lifted the dead jailer and slammed him onto the desk which smothered most of the flame and filled the room with a foul shroud of smoke. The barbarian grabbed the barely lit torch, then stamped out the remaining scattered embers and moved out to the corridor. After several tries, he found the key which unlocked the door and entered the dark stairs down.
Beneath the golden dome of the Royal Palace, Dhak declared, “Black balls of Set!” and cast flame powder at the scorpions. The powder lit upon contact, the flames burned the scorpions and the fine rug underneath. Near death but enraged, the scorpions rushed towards the adventurers. Xacksmith, still in his reverie of the wealth in front of him barely noticed the vermin as one of the scorpions drove it’s stinger into his leg. Tullweim swung his sword and killed one of the creatures, but two more were upon him and one stung him as well. Dhak tried to keep his distance, but the many legs of the scorpion carried it within reach of the Stygian and he too suffered a poison-filled sting. Tullweim and Xacksmith’s fortitude was such that even though they felt the poison course through their veins they did not succumb to it. Dhak was not so lucky. His face lost it’s color as he felt some of his vigor leave him, though not enough to rob the Stygian of his life. The scorpions were not so fortunate as Tullweim and Xacksmith crushed those they faced. Dhak had another fate in mind for the creature which had struck him. He again muttered alien words and the animal writhed in agony, twitching painfully into unconsciousness. The Stygian then grabbed his cloak, carefully wrapped the creature in it, and secured it with a tight knot. With that threat dealt with the mercenaries were now free to deal with the next, the flames that had traveled across the rug and lit King Valdric’s corpse! Tullweim muttered that there would be hell to pay if those in power ever learned of the desecration they had caused while stamping out the fire with a torn tapestry. After the fire was put out and with scepter in hand Tullweim ordered Dhak and Xacksmith back out the window. There was a battle yet to be fought and they could not waste time. Dhak inquired about Cuana, to which Tullweim replied, “The Cimmerian’s either captured or already gone. Either way he can handle himself. Now move!”
The Cimmerian walked down the stairs and came to a dungeon. All manner of instruments of torture were spread throughout the catacombs. Some, the barbarian knew well, others he could only imagine the sort of pain meant to inflict. He then came to a row of cells. All were empty save one. In the occupied cell sat a man in tattered clothing. The man had a boyish face with fat lips and appeared to have seen at least 30 winters by Cuana’s reckoning. The barbarian called out to the man as he searched for a key that would open the cell. The man did not respond in the least. Cuana opened the cell door and entered, he grabbed the man and asked if he was Agatho. Still no acknowledgment but a blank stare. Cuana saw the man’s eyes were rolled up into his head, but appeared to have not suffered the hot poker or any other form of abuse. Knowing that time was being wasted in the cell and not wishing to linger any longer, the barbarian grabbed the wretch and slung him over his shoulder. He carried the prisoner out to the Palace Wall and climbed the stairs in the tower. The Cimmerian knew he would not be able to carry the man and climb down without aid, so he searched the two nearby towers for rope. He found a 10 foot length of rope in the alarm bells of both towers, the rest he improvised by tearing the tunics of the dead men-at-arms.
The Last Battle
Dhak, Tullweim, and Xacksmith returned to the Crimson Wolves headquarters and donned their armor. With the scepter in hand, the Aesir addressed the mercenaries and announced that they were to go to battle that night. The response was less than enthused as one of the Nemedian Adventurers declared the folly of following a barbarian with orders from a woman to meet a stronger force in the dead of night. Tullweim addressed the concerns, held the royal scepter aloft, and reminded the men of the silver their woman patron had paid as well as the glory they’d already found and that they were assured in the coming onslaught. The speech roused the men’s spirits and they mobilized for combat. Within a half hour they marched on the streets of Ianthe and traveled to the Gate of Avanrakash. As they arrived they met up with 50 cavalry that wore Countess Synelle’s colors and were ordered to join the company in battle. Together they rode out through the gate, Valentius’ men on the wall cheering them. They rode through the night, with scattered clouds above, and felt the spur of battle bite deep into their hearts. The old urge for combat rose. As they rode over a spur of the Tor, the fields beyond stretched into sight. Two armies waited for the clouds to clear the moon, unsure what the night’s fortunes would bring. The Crimson Wolves flashed by the outriders and saw Valentius’ and Clavanedes’ main body of troops. A thousand infantry, almost as many men-at-arms and cavalry stood ready for the order to ring doom throughout the valley.
After climbing down from the Palace Wall, Cuana made his way back to the house on the Street of Crowns. When he arrived he found the house completely empty. He set the prisoner down on a bed, donned his armor, mounted his horse and made his way to the Gate of Avanrakash. Once he arrived, Valentius’ men on the wall informed him of his companies’ earlier passage and they told him where on the field they could be found. The Cimmerians’ steed raced through the night, heedless of any dangers in his path. Cuana arrived at the crimson cloaked free company before the battle had yet been joined. He rode up to Tullweim as the Aesir received orders from one of Count Clavanedes messengers. The messenger told of a shortage of unit commanders as many had been assassinated in recent weeks and of Clavanades’ desire that Tullweim lead his troops in routing the enemy. The Crimson Wolves and Countess Synelle’s cavalry were on the right flank of Iskandrian’s army. Both sides faced each other across the field south of the Sarellian Forest. As soon as the light of the moon hit the field the battle was met.
Tullweim roared like a lion, held the royal scepter high over his head, which spurred the soldiers behind to charge. Iskandrian’s men were beset by cutthroats of renown in blazing, crimson cloaks. The Wolves’ banner inspired the soldiers around it and the two armies crashed upon each other like opposing waves in an ocean of blood and carnage. Iskandrian’s cavalry met the full force of the Crimson Wolves’ cavalry where men and horse alike fell by scores. Iskandrian’s archers harried the Crimson Wolves, opening up slight avenues for the royal cavalry to penetrate the line. Dhak distanced himself from the opposing cavalry and cast a great curse on them, causing horses to panic and swordsmen to miss. Cuana and Tullweim led their men straight into death’s maw without a care and hacked in twain all who stood against them. Xacksmith maneuvered to the edge of the forest trees for protection from the archers and then flanked the enemy, crushing them between an unrelenting swath of greatswords. The infantry of both sides then met, steel clanged on mail hauberk and bone. Death screams rang out through the night. The battle moved to it’s midpoint, with neither side having a decisive advantage, when chaos erupted.
Suddenly the ground shook beneath the combatants feet. The troops staggered drunkenly; horses stumbled and fell. Ghostly lights glowed high atop Tor Al’Kiir, and the moon shone blue. The fighting paused. Some of the troops on both sides were seized by terror, threw down their weapons, and ran away. The eerie sound of a supernatural horn-blast cleaved the silence. Slowly the battle began anew, but not with the same fervor of a moment before. Iskandrian’s men could not re-form their line with the great loss of men and courage which caused them to be bloodily routed from the field. Tullweim then took stock of the men left after the battle. Only 19 of the 50 men the company had come into Ianthe with remained and where triumph should have been on the survivors’ faces, there was only apprehension and fear. For atop the Tor flashed the witchlights, heralding menace and a great evil. The clouds gathered quickly together and a torrential rain began to pour down. Truly, the work that night was not yet finished.
To the Top
Tereus had been a noble’s military messenger through several border conflicts with Koth and had run missives between commanders of thousands, but never had he seen such conditions as that night. Count Clavanades’ messenger made his way through the fields of carnage and torrential rain. The ground still quivered from a tremor which seemed to radiate from Tor Al’Kiir. The effort to reach Tullweim, the barbarian commander of the Crimson Wolves, caused the Ophirian soldier to pant between words and raw fear masked his face at what he was told to ask. “Sir, <huff> Count Clavanades <huff> wants a report on the lights atop the Tor. <huff> Does the god of legend awake? <huff> Does doom approach?” The Aesir cast a grim look towards Tor Al’Kiir and told the messenger to tell the Count the Crimson Wolves would check it out. Tullweim then ordered Countess Synelle’s cavalry to escort the messenger and join Clavanades’ main column against General Iskandrian.
As the mercenary company made towards Tor Al’Kiir, Dhak heard a gurgling noise on the ground. Among the bodies of the dead he found one of the Ophirean soldiers pinned underneath his horse and drowning in a puddle of rain. The sorcerer grabbed the man’s hair and lifted his head out of the water. The fallen man-at-arms gasped for breath and panicked when lightning flashed and he saw the murderous intent in the Stygian’s eyes. Dhak spoke ancient words of dark aspect and pushed the soldiers’ neck into the edge of the his blade, which allowed him to harvest the man’s life for sorcerous power. The Stygian then dropped the man’s head back into the puddle which quickly grew darker as blood mixed with water.
As the Crimson Wolves approached Tor Al’Kiir, occasional ghostly lights were still seen at the top, but there were fewer of them among the crashes of lightning. The moon slipped behind racing black clouds, which plunged the company into oppressive gloom. The 23 mercenaries paused at the bottom of the Tor and knew no horses could ever make it up the steep slope. They dismounted knowing they must climb and searched for handholds among their sputtering torch light. Though the Tor was covered with ledges and bushes, the rain hindered the soldiers from making much progress. Only the Cimmerian Cuana had an easy go at it. He climbed up the 250 feet to the top and paused only to tie a 50 foot length of rope in intervals. Some close calls were had where a mercenary lost his grasp and dangled perilously for a moment but none of the Crimson Wolves fell. Finally, after much toil and effort the top of Tor Al’Kiir was reached.
The Crimson Wolves hid behind a lichen-encrusted block of stone, once the keystone in some monstrous arch. The rain came down in sheets but all else was still. Before the mercenaries laid ruins, roofless halls and decapitated columns mangled by black ivy. Among the columns were 20 black figures, manlike in form, six of which held torches around a fire that sputtered but somehow kept alight. Their hides shone metallically. Two curved horns shone from their heads, two more from their cheeks, which reminded the adventurers of Katos’ ring. Behind them gaped a dark set of stairs which led down into the earth. The sound of chanting reached up out of the dank hole, the hideous sounds of a language long dead drove obscenely into their minds. The horned figures whispered among themselves and took no heed of the Crimson Wolves.
The mercenaries planned to move about the perimeter and take the fight to their foes from 2 directions. They split into 2 groups and Dhak moved through an opening in a ruined wall. The Stygian felt the ground begin to give as he stepped and it was but for his quick reflexes that he did not stumble into a hidden pit 20 feet deep. The mercenaries moved out avoiding the concealed pits as they found them and were watched the entire time by the guards at the stairs. But the minions of Al’Kiir held their position until Dhak, Tullweim, and Xacksmith charged. Two of the Crimson Wolves as well as Cuana fell into a pit and almost died. About half of the horned minions moved forward to engage the mercenaries. Dhak cast a spell of torment on one of Al’Kiir’s minions which caused him to hit the ground wailing. Several of the Crimson Wolves attacked the helpless opponent and ended his screams. Other Wolves coordinated their attacks, sundered the minions’ shields and sent their opponents to hell with a swing of their greatswords. Cuana and one of the two mercenaries that had fallen into the pits climbed back up. The rain continued to pound the combatants as if angry, screams rent the air as men from both sides were slain or maimed, allies fell into pits, the evil sound of the impassioned worshipers chants from below all began to meld into one red roar as Cuana went into a fighting madness and slashed at anything with four horns on its head. Finally, the combat ended with the Crimson Wolves victorious. Or so they thought.
The stairs before them were hoary with age and led down into vaults long unknown and better forgotten. The chanting in the earth’s bowels had grown louder and more frantic. A faint demonic piping and rolling beat reached them, more through the soles of their feet than through their ears. There was an urgency in the vibrations, something primeval. The Crimson Wolves felt compelled to move toward the source of the dark music, drawn into blackness. Though Cuana, Dhak, Tullweim, and Xacksmith fought the urge, dark thoughts and a mad rage came over many of the mercenaries. They looked upon their sword brothers with a mask of hatred on their faces and raised their weapons.
The Depths of Tor Al’Kiir
Lightning crashed and with maddened screams twelve of the remaining 22 Crimson Wolves turned on their sword brothers in the rain. The enraged mercenaries’ lust for blood and battle could not be calmed but Tullweim knew the loss of troops at such a critical time could ill be afforded. The Aesir commander called out an order to those Wolves which had kept their sanity to strike with the flats of their blades and with a leaping charge Tullweim led the attack. Cuana let go of his own battle rage and quickly smashed the hilt of his greatsword onto the temple of a nearby berserker. Dhak again spoke words of power, but this time directed at an ensorcelled ally, and replaced screams of rage with wails of agony. Xacksmith was surrounded by the swords of former allies and deftly dodged their maddened attacks. Enaro, his feral eyes aglow, tripped several of the Wolves which allowed those that remained in control of their emotions to knock their crazed brethren out. After a few tense moments only those who controlled their senses remained standing.
The feverish pitch of dark chanting and frantic piping from below urged the mercenaries on. They knew they did not have the time to properly mend the many wounds they had suffered and quickly roused those Crimson Wolves who had been knocked unconscious. The sellswords then turned to the black opening in the ground. The stairs were rough, hewn out of the granite, lit by black iron cressets in the form of a four-horned demon head. Cuana and Tullweim were in the lead while the rest of the company trailed out into the rain. Four more guards, dressed identically to those encountered above, blocked the way. The fight was swift and brutal. Dhak mystically tormented one of the guards. Cuana quieted the anguished screams of one of the minions of Al’Kiir and cleaved into another. Tullweim brought another down with two strokes of his greatsword. The last did all he could to hold the entrance to no avail as the two barbarians mercilessly carved death into their foe.
The mercenaries moved through the granite tunnel which ended with a path to the left and a path to the right. The sellswords heard the chanting and piping come to them from the left and so decided to explore the right passage first. The passage led to a glistening cave full of dust and the debris of furnishings decayed for a millenia. It was apparent that there was once a purpose to the cave, but what that purpose was had long since been forgotten. There was another passage past this room which led to a cave which had been kept clean. Several wooden benches lined the walls. Clothing (some of it quite fine) was piled on the benches. There were several chests. Dhak and Xacksmith eagerly opened the chests but all except one were empty. The last chest held a complete suit of the demonic plate worn by the minions of Al’Kiir. The room was apparently their dressing room. The plate armor was too small for either of the barbarians and would hinder the Stygian’s and Hyrkanian’s movement so it was decided that Enaro should don it. At best he would be mistaken for one of the minions, at worst he would have better protection from enemy sword strokes.
The company moved towards the path they heard the chanting come from and came to another chamber with broken furniture. The path continued on past the room, but before the company exited, Xacksmith noticed something odd with one of the walls. He approached the wall and ran his hands along it. There was an almost imperceptible difference in the granite which suggested the wall could move. After a few moments of searching, the Hyrkanian discovered a catch and part of the wall opened, revealing a small, unlit passageway. Xacksmith moved to the end of the passageway and found a similar catch which opened the wall into another chamber. The sound of the piping was louder and while Xacksmith searched for another secret passage, Cuana and Dhak made sure nobody approached from the main passage. The Hyrkanian swore in frustration at not finding anything else and moved to the rest of the company. As they were about to trek into the hallway, Tullweim noticed a granite catch in a wall and announced it’s presence. Xacksmith pulled the catch and the wall opened as before. The company traveled through another small corridor which opened up into a larger passageway. From where the company stood they all knew they had arrived at the source of the chilling music.
Cuana, Dhak, Tullweim, and Xacksmith peeked their heads around the corner and observed the scene. At the far end of a great domed cavern, a large idol stood atop a low platform. Two tall wooden posts stood in the center of room, each toppped by a black demon head. Tied between them was the Countess Synelle. A guard captain stood near her. Two other guards played flutes, while 16 more pounded the floor with their scabbards. Lady Julia danced madly in front of the great shadowed idol, and sung voicelessly, re-enacting a ritual invented before time. Torali stood nearby Julia and awkwardly held worn pages which Julia referenced occasionally. Katos’ ancient silver urn stood at her feet, filled with flames. The idol was 10 feet high and shaped like a man, had four curving horns, three lidless eyes, and a broad lipless mouth with needle-like teeth. Thick arms ended in jagged claws. One hand held a wicked dagger, the other a metal whip. This statue was the source of almost painful hum piercing the sellswords’ heads. Behind the idol was a gaping pit filed with the red glow of distant flame.
Dhak and Xacksmith attempted to sneak past a group of Al’Kiir’s minions. Despite the soft footfalls and rythmic pounding of scabbards one of the guards heard the Hyrkanian. The guard turned and underneath his four-horned helm bellowed, “Intruders! Infidels!” Spurred on by the alarm, Cuana ordered several of the Crimson Wolves to follow him into the room. They were quickly met by 10 of the minions of Al’Kiir while the rest of the armored guards continued with the ceremony. Tullweim leapt into the fray with the rest of the Nemedian sellswords. Steel rang loudly in the cave and blood spurted amid death cries of cultist and mercenary.
Xacksmith moved behind an alcove. A single minion of Al’Kiir barred the Hyrkanian’s path. The two foes were poised to engage when a high-pitched painful sound reverberated from the idol, affecting Xacksmith, many of the Crimson Wolves, and some of Al’Kiir’s minions. The minion chuckled and advanced, his broadsword hacking mercilessly. It was all the Hyrkanian could do to defend himself from the onslaught of his gruesome assailant. Enaro entered the alcove and the cultist thought him a brother come to join in the battle. Feral eyes flashed beneath the horned helm when Enaro tripped the minion and struck as Dhak and a small group of Crimson Wolves closed in.
As mercenaries sundered shields, Cuana slashed and cleaved into the minions. Tullweim took the opportunity given by the ringing noise to push past the melee and rush to Countess Synelle. He was met by the cultists’ captain who taunted the Aesir, “You hulking fool. You thought too protect her, yet I brought her here. See if you can save your lady fair now!” The captain attacked with deadly skill but the Aesir’s armor prevented most of the force. Tullweim responded with brutal swings the cultist captain strained to parry. Dhak fired a poisoned arrow from his Stygian bow and struck a glancing blow to Julia. She managed to complete the last words of her ritual despite the poison weakening her.
The Avatar Awakes
All at once the ringing sound from the statue ceased. The idol began to move. A mad laugh echoed throughout the cavern chamber. Many of the warriors both Crimson Wolves and minions of Al’Kiir fell to the floor in abject terror. The avatar turned and seized Lady Julia. She screamed in panic and told the avatar that it was Synelle he wanted. The avatar then tossed Julia aside and seized the Countess, breaking her bonds. Tullweim moved past the guard captain, taking a swing from his foe as he rushed to Synelle’s aid. Dhak moved towards the distracted captain and attempted to throw a pouch of tomb dust but the minion’s leader had the reflexes of a cat. He knocked the pouch out of the still poisoned Stygian’s hand and smirked, “Pathetic fool. You think to catch me unaware?” The guard captain slashed at Dhak but the Stygian reacted with a word and gesture that turned the blade away from his throat. Enraged, the captain swung again and his blade bit deep into Dhak’s unarmored side.
Near the entrance of the chamber the cultists mercilessly executed the helpless Wolves as Cuana dealt death in kind and cleaved into another. Across the way Enaro, and the Nemedian sellswords with him rushed to aid Dhak. They were met by the group of minions who were closer to the avatar. Enaro tripped a minion, immediately hit with his mace and 2 Crimson Wolves swung their greatswords into their prone enemy. Tullweim dropped his sword, drew the royal scepter of Ophir, and allowed his fury to rise as he charged the avatar with a powerful leap. The demon roared as the scepter twice cracked Al’Kiir’s hide and caused a foul ichor to spurt. At the avatar’s agony Xacksmith, the prone Crimson Wolves and minions shook their terror off. The Hyrkanian saw the battle and rapidly fired twice from his bow at the guard captain. The first shot bounced harmlessly off the captain’s breastplate, the other struck a glancing blow to his leg. The idol’s three eyes filled with hate and the avatar struck twice with its large black dagger at Tullweim. It then bit into the Aesir and rent the armor off his shoulder. Torali screamed and raced towards the chamber entrance. Dhak stepped away from the guard captain and with a steely gaze he uttered words of power, pushing himself beyond his limits. The guard captain fell to his knees screaming as if his flesh were being flayed from his body. One of the Crimson Wolves saw this and stepped to the captain delivering a coup de grace which separated head from shoulders. The four-horned helm rolled to Dhak’s feet but the mangled visor no longer hid the face of Lord Taramenon.
Cuana moved back into the chamber entrance and ordered one of the last still-fighting Nemedian sellswords to his side. Xacksmith dropped his bow, ran to a foe and feinted with his arming sword. Enaro tripped another enemy and the 2 Crimson Wolves at his side struck twice again. The poisoned, weakened sorcerer Dhak fixed his eye upon the cultist priestess and engaged her in a war of souls. Unfortunately Julia’s will was stronger and the Stygian felt the loss of acumen he had caused to so many others to fuel his sorcerous power. Tullweim reeled from the avatar’s powerful attack but still in a fighting madness he delivered two more furious attacks which sent another roar of pain and rage to echo throughout the chamber.
Al’Kiir sluggishly grappled the Aesir, wrapping him in tree-trunk sized metal arms and bit down again into the barbarian’s shoulder. Three minions near the chamber entrance advanced in formation on Cuana and struck with all their hate. The Cimmerian managed to parry several of the blows and swung his greatsword in response, splitting a cultists’ head like a ripe melon. He slashed again into the next closest minion but the cultists armor absorbed most of the blow. The cultist priestess chuckled at Dhak and exerted her will, again draining wisdom from the Stygian. Barely standing, Dhak kept Lady Julia engaged in the war of souls long enough for a mercenary to flank the priestess and send his greatsword through her gut. The sorceress sputtered her surprise in her last moment of life as she stared in disbelief at the blade which jutted from her belly, coated crimson by her blood. Xacksmith followed through with his feint and finessed past a minion’s armor. The Hyrkanian’s blade found purchase in the soft flesh of his foes neck. Enaro continued his brutal exchange with cultists that felled sellsword while Dhak attempted to feint an opponent. It was all Tullweim could do to keep the vice-like arm of the avatar from crushing him. But the Aesir managed to free an arm and sent the staff of Avanrakash straight down the maw of the four-horned horror.
A final throe of agony shook the avatar of Al’Kiir. With a scream of rage it dropped Countess Synelle and Tullweim. The scream pierced everyone in the chambers thoughts and drove all else from their minds. Dark ichor flowed from the gaping wound in the avatar’s neck where the point of the staff stuck out. The avatar clawed the air once more in agony when it finally fell. The body of Al’Kiir slowly hardened out from the wound, until it was frozen in place, statue-like once again. A mental scream from the avatar went on and on, vibrating in the deepest recesses of everyone’s mind. Suddenly they realized the ground was shaking from the fury of that scream. The fiery pit glowed white-hot. Huge stones began to fall from the cavern roof above. The earth lurched under foot.
Cuana reached out for Torali as Tullweim took up the Countess, protected her from falling debris and raced out of the crumbling chamber. Dhak called for aid as the sorcerer could barely stand and Xacksmith rushed him out with Enaro on their heels. The earth opened up and swallowed those who were transfixed by Al’Kiir’s mental scream including one of the two surviving Crimson Wolves. The passageway outside the chamber crumbled as well and all were struck by rubble. As they reached the surface the ancient columns and walls toppled about and crushed the remaining Nemedian Adventurer. A huge explosion hurtled man-sized chunks of granite into the sky. Tor Al’Kiir crumbled beneath their feet as they reached the edge and attempted to climb down. When they reached the bottom of the slope, the entire hilltop exploded. The shockwave knocked all to the ground, and a huge flame leapt 500 feet into the night sky. Several rocks hit those still conscious on the head, and all were taken by the dark.
After some time, the 5 mercenaries woke, still exhausted from the night’s trials. A red dawn crept out of the eastern sky. No one had yet dared venture abroad from the city and the sellswords were alone except for the 2 women at their side. They glanced up at the smoldering remains of Tor Al’Kiir. The top third of the hill had been vaporized. Nothing was left of its ruins but the huge boulders which dotted the field where the heroes of Ophir laid. Dhak tended to the Hyrkanian and stole Xacksmith from death’s grasp. Cuana and Tullweim first made sure Synelle and Torali were ok then the Cimmerian bandaged the Aesir’s wounds. After fifteen minutes the party took a deep breath and made their way to Ianthe’s gate.
The Heroes of Ophir
Count Clavanedes had the leaders of the King’s army imprisoned including Iskandrian, the White Eagle of Ophir. Countess Synelle expressed her concern that Valentius had not been present at the battle and feared he had indeed been taken by Iskandrian. Cuana remembered the man he’d rescued from the King’s dungeon and presented the wretch to Synelle. She was stunned that this was indeed the noble next in line as the ruler of Ianthe and the throne of Ophir. Dhak inspected the man and noted there was no mark on Valentius to account for his condition. The Stygian looked beneath the Count’s collar and found some kind of necklace which had had mystically robbed the Count of his senses. When the Stygian removed it the Count’s eyes immediately focused on his surroundings and he demanded to know what was going on. Cuana related his tale of rescuing Valentius from the dungeons and the events of the past night. With a look of gratitude on his face the Count thanked Cuana for his rescue.
Later that same day Valentius was presented to the people of Ianthe as the successor to the crown. A great ceremony was held to much applause as Countess Synelle was offered the queenship and honors were bestowed upon the mercenaries who had risked their lives for the country. Cuana, Dhak, Enaro, Tullweim, and Xacksmith were all made knights of the realm. The Cimmerian was given an exquisite Akbitanan greatsword by the king. Tullweim was presented with a fierce great helm decorated in the visage of a wolf by Queen Synelle. All five mercenaries were given 1,000 silver coins and a gem-encrusted Akbitanan broadsword or arming sword and the finest wool cloaks dyed with the deepest crimson. The Ophireans, both noble and common, cheered, gifted, and feted the sellswords as heroes for weeks. The feasts were elaborate affairs, the wine and ale were endless, and the women exceptionally appreciative of the heroes’ accomplishments. Little was said of the plot to summon Al’Kiir as nobody who knew of the events wanted the dark past to color the countries new era.
HP Total for all PCs at the end of this adventure:
| Cuana 14 | Dhak 1 | Tullweim 0 | Xacksmith -5 |