War of Fire and Ice

Beset on All Sides
Travelling on the Elf Road, Day One

Gramercy: 750xp; Potions of Fire Resistance, 2 Black Vials of “Anti-Magic Smoke”, Ledger, 4 bottles of fine wine (worth 50gp in an inn at Gate Pass; priceless in good company).

The Brotherhood of the Aquiline Heart hurried down the cobbled Elf Road, dodging bits of debris and the occasional cloud of smoke and cinder sparks. Flame licked at their cloaks and ash choked their nostrils, settling into every fold and crevice until all looked like gray ghosts hurrying home before dawn. The Elf Road wound itself through hill and gully, every rise wind whipped, every depressing a basin of smoke.

A loud squawking like a great ugly bird broke through the heavy hum of flame and a loud crack sounded above! A huge flaming branch landed at the feet of Hours who quickly knocked an arrow. A squawking bird came hurtling out of the smoke above, wide eyed with terror it landed amidst the party and jumped to its feet. It was a bird-man! Long beaked and raven feathered, this fellow wore a singed cloak of wool and a short blade scabbarded at his waist.

“Name thy self!” cried Driemz Darkblade “Or suffer the indignities of heaven’s wrath!”

“Aawk!” said the bird man looking straight up. The clouds parted and two massive bats wreathed in flame hurtled downward! Each wing spanned nearly the height of a man! The Brotherhood hurled spell axe and arrow at these approaching monsters who twisted and turned and then came hurtling through their ranks, kicking up a cyclone of hot ash and searing all with their wings. The bird-man hustled through the group and ran a few steps down the road then broke off and dove into the burning underbrush.

“Wait!” shouted the dark elf. “Who are you? Where are you going? Stay and help us fight!”

“Can’t stay! I’m on a schedule! Got to hurry! Sorry lads! I owe you one!” And the overgrown magpie disappeared into the smoke and flame.

It took mere furious moments of violence to put the fire bats down to earth. There they lay, still burning weakly with the fire that would not die. Geth bent down to rip open a belly in some vain search for gold and a blast of flame singed his beard. Then suddenly the bats revived, sprang up and leapt into the air! The brothers beat them down again, but this time one flew off into smoke, while the other flopped weakly, its head shorn off and tossed into the brush.

“Things do not die in this wood,” said Ahleena of the Torrents. “Let us hurry on. We cannot have gotten far yet and it is past noon!”

Geth Corvine led the way, his every fiber tingling with danger. He knew he was being watched. He could feel their eyes upon him, never blinking, some laughing spirit watching his every move, shepherding him to his doom… He pulled up short at the edge of a chasm. To his right a cascade of water tumbled off cliffs into a sheer stone gorge that captured what must be the White River, no longer a headwaters, but still not in full flower. An old bridge, blackened and cracked by fire spanned the chasm in a delicate arch. Geth could see right away that this bridge was unlikely to be stable and he approached cautiously while his companions held back.

Indeed, the stones seemed weak in several places, and so Geth made to leap across to safer harbor and did so only to discover further decay, and to lean over the crumbled stone rail to see an old wagon wheel and cart dashed against the rocks below. Then he felt a stirring in the stone beneath his feet…

Bats! A horrid cloud of them, like a flurry of torches rising up on all sides, hungry for blood! This too was a delicate fight, swatting at the small creatures, and one large one, while trying not to fall through the holes in the bridge. Ahleena did fall, but survived with bruises.

Down in the gorge, the cleric examined the broken wagon and found the skeleton of a gnome or halfling lying in a pool of water. Nearby a broken chest held bottles of wine and Fire Retardent.

It was late afternoon when the party came upon a great fallen tree across the road where it pass between two hills. In the alcove revealed the displaced roots a small tunnel and cave were found. Swiftly, Geth, Hours and the gang crawled through to find a large cave, cool and damp, with a small pool fed by a spring. There were crude stick figure paintings on the wall depicting the exodus of a flock of birds from one tree, across mountains to another tree. There was also a sheaf of papers, remnants of an accountant’s ledger, detailing goods received (weapons, arrows, seeds), and “Elven Gold”.

A howl made all turn. Blackwolf stood at the entrance to the cave. He looked and saw a fearsome sight, a pack of flame shrouded wolves padded out of the smoke lead by one massive beast that seemed to consist more of flame than canine. The wolves howled and the fire beast dropped a large bone from its mouth which clattered on the cobbles. The wolves then sat on their haunches and stared at Blackwolf with great expectation.

The Indigo Kid pulled up short as he ducked under the fallen tree and saw Blackwolf kneeling before a pack of hell hounds, holding a large thigh bone. Was this some sort of barbarian ritual? Was Blackwolf a worshiper of Fenris the Wolf Who Ate the Moon? Were these hounds hungry? They certainly licked their lips enough. And their saliva was liquid fire. “Are you ok old stone man? What’s that bone about?”

“It has writing on it,” said the barbarian without turning.

“What does the writing say?”

“I don’t know. I can’t read.”

The barbarian tossed the bone over his shoulder and the bard caught it. Be bone was inscribed as if by a burning nail, but they were common letters:

“Leave the case. Cooperate, and we might find an arrangement that spares your lives. Carry this with you if you wish to bargain.”

“What?” said Geth when he heard this. “Not likely! The rags can’t stop us now!”

The hounds of hell slunk back into the fiery forest, but Blackwolf could not shake the memory of staring into those molten eyes like through the Gates of Tartarus…

After some discussion that spending a night in the cool cave of the bird merchants might be most restful, the heroes decided to press on, determined to make their way through the forest. An hour of travel passed, and though none could see, all knew there were eyes upon them. Soon they came to a clearing where a monument stood, a statue in the middle of a modest fountain surrounded by burning rosebushes. There was a flash and a devil appeared in a chrysanthemum of flowering flame, smoldering. This devil stood nine feet tall, red skinned, hairy, and broad bellied. A fearsome grin broke his twisted beard and he swung a massive glaive about his head. His voice was like the rumble dreams and darkness,

“Yes, yes, I see that you are brave, but smart negotiators always obey the letter of any contract. Unfortunately for you, I have already signed one. But I do appreciate your spirit.”

“Who are you? Who sent you?”

“I am called Kazyk the Perfidious. I am here at the lordly behest of the bear-skulled ones, like your friend there,” the devil pointed at Blackwolf and his battle trophy. “Just an old man who found my name in a library he shouldn’t have been in. His soul will burn for this, but I can wait. Now, if you have a contract as well then we are at an impasse and the matter must be decided by the strength of each contract’s agent. Precedence has no bearing. En guarde!”

With a crack and smoke, the devil disappeared and a smaller wretched looking thing appeared in his place. And Kazyk was suddenly amongst the them, striking Driemz with his serrated blade even as Geth ran to him and smote him with a mighty hammer. Wolves poured forth from all sides of the road and Blackwolf saw the Hellhound peaking around a tree. This would be a battle! Fire and explosions of ash! Axe, hammer, and arrow! star and spell! curse and prayer! Vicious, rending teeth!

And so it was, leaving the warriors panting and exhausted, cursing the name of Kazyk the Perfidious whose timely escape left only his laughter upon the wind. “This is not over mortals! For we have only begun our negotiation!”

The heroes hurried back to the cave and their spent a blessed few hours safe from heat and harm…

The Story of Blackwolf
As told around the witch's cauldron

Originally from the craggy peaks of the Onyx Highlands, BlackWolf was originally destined to ascend to be leader of his tribe. The tribe’s elder, Nenthau sent him alone to contact a neighboring tribe. While he was breifly away, BlackWolf’s cousin, Anther, killed Nenthau and ascended to his leadership role. Upon returning, BlackWolf was shunned from the tribe, forced to eat table scraps by himself outside of the camp. His mother died of an illness, triggering him to abandon the tribe that abandoned him. Since leaving, he was wandered far, lived rough and managed to scrape by on what he can find and earn. In battle, he fuels his rage with memories of his betrayal.

BlackWolf, after traveling with the Brotherhood of Aqualine Mercy for some time, has rejoiced in spilling other’s blood, as well as taking the hits himself. After their success fighting off the Inquisition, he has begun to realize how much the hide he wears does for him, and how much more it can do when he bothers to tie it on correctly. Beyond that, the discovery of the Ragesian executioner’s axe, a heavy but swift blade, seems like something out of a dream to him. In fact, it often appears in his revenge fantasies. Held high above his cousin’s neck, to be brought down boldly with swift vengeance for his usurpation and betrayal. This fantasy drives him, becomes so real that when he smells blood, it triggers him to become more vicious and more enthused about his brutality. He yearns to strike again, and again, almost needing the help of his companions to hold him back.

Between Scourge and Conflagration
"You will never survive the Fire Forest of Innenotdar, for it is a prison!"

Gramercy: 400xp, Bear Mask of Terror, Gauntlets of Blood, Execution Axe, Frostwolf Pelt

The battle was brutal but short, and the Brotherhood soon found themselves standing over the remnants of a failed Inquisition. Few questions had been answered, but the warriors were happy to have survived relatively unscathed. It had taken the timely intervention of the Indigo Kid to turn the tide with his sudden awakening into song and cutting remarks, heckling the orcish snipers into submission.

After the battle, the Indigo Kid wanted to continue with the Brotherhood into the Fire Forest of Innenotdar, but the other refugees did not for they somehow trusted the Dame Tristessa (who Hours suspected was a hag) to keep the, safe from further Ragesian attack. Hours begged Trehan Finner and Tristessa to use her cauldron to brew a new batch of healing droughts to replace those Blackwolf and others had guzzled to survive the fight. The alchemist was unsure at first that he could brew so quickly, but when Hours offered the mystic moon scimitar of La Renard as sacrifice, the hag stepped in and said she could strain her stew through the glittering remains of that blade to create something worth having.
And so the refugees of war spent to nervous days in the hut of the hag, casting their gaze at the mountain pass beyond, suspicious of every bird in the sky, and poring over maps of Innendotdar and the Barrier Peaks, estimating a 17 mile (“We could do it in a day!”) trek through the forest and another 50 miles or so to the field of the freeholds of Dassen. Ahleena of the Torrents had great faith in the Scrolls of Elemental Endurance entrusted to her by the Resistance, but Driemz Darkblade suspected they would only protect against the most extreme of natural climate, such as desert heat or winter cold, but would be of little regard in the face of pure flame. The crossing could not be so simple.

All felt the raging hunger of the Fire Forest, which smoked and burned steadily and un-changed as it had for 40 years, not spotted and sporadic like a natural fire, but thoroughly, for the fire had reached to every tree and bush, making the forest a giant maelstrom of flame, and through it whipped bitter convections of cinder and ash.

The heroes stood on the Elfroad bridge over the headwaters of the White River. Smoke and ash billowed, and the heat was like a wall. Ahleena had chanted the words to release the power of the first scroll. Tristessa’s last words echoing in their head,

“You will never survive that fire, for it is a prison! But if you do, say hello to any of my sisters if you see them. Tell them they cannot hide from the world forever!” Looking back through the smoke and haze, it seemed as if the hut of the hag lifted itself up on stilt like legs and walked away into the snows of the Barrier Peaks. Surely it must be a trick of the eyes.

As they stepped forward into the perimeter of fire, Geth Corvine grunted in shock and swayed upon his feet. He stared straight ahead and up into the canopy of fiery ponderossa pines fifty feet above. He mumbled, “I see your eyes, lizard! More eyes!” And the mighty hammer man sagged to his knees, dizzy and weak. It took some ministrations by anxious comrades to the soldier to recover, but even then the stoic refused to speak of his visions, though all knew that he slept restless and cried out at night.

Flickering arms of black and orange embraced the newly forged brotherhood, and though ritual protected their skin from burning, they could still feel the intense, withering heat blasting from the trees and smell the acrid smoke that enveloped them. The thick banks of smoke often reduced vision to no more than an arm’s length, but the fierce, dry wind often blows these clouds of smoke away. Powered by backdrafts and dramatic valley winds, the gusts snatched at loose pieces of clothing. During the lulls in the wind, as the massive lungs of the forest take breath, fingers of flame reached out from the smoldering undergrowth, pawing and caressing the hems of clothing and the ropes and backpacks, always threatening to grab hold and ignite an inescapable inferno. Ahead, the only thing that distinguished the Elfroad from the surrounding territory was its relative lack of undergrowth, exposing the blackened char-rock cobbles where the elves of Innenotdar once carried their families. Their eyes flowed tears, their nostrils burned, and their hands drew back instinctively, as if touching a boiling pot. Like diving into a dragon’s fiery maw, they had entered the Fire Forest of Innenotdar!

The forest thrummed like a vast, breathing furnace: Tall trees stretched upward into a roaring canopy inferno, and bursts of ash and cinders sweep through the forest beyond them like frenetic, incendiary cloud banks. Indigo saw what looked like a bird flying between branches, burning as fatally as everything else. Grass smolders, and brush crackled as veins of fire burst through the skin of leaves. Everything here should have turned to dust decades ago, but still it burned, refusing to die. Smoke and cinders set their eyes to tears, and though the fire did not sear their skin, it smothered them and stole their breath. The ground rose and fell and vanished beyond curtains of fire, and they couldn’t see more than twenty feet.

After a mere half hour of stumbling through a waking nightmare, the party came upon a pile of bones and charred rags in the middle of the road. Upon investigating the smoldering ruins of a man, Indigo gingerly tried to pull a superheated silver ring off the dessicated corpse’s finger.

And the corpse spoke! It raised its draw skull and opened its cracked and sunken eyes and pleaded, “Help me! Release me! I cannot die! I have abandoned my family! Take me home please!”

Was this alive or was this the spectral echo of a soul that could not fly away? Ahleena prayed on the matter and the creature recovered enough to call itself Durval the Magnificant, Adjunct Professor of Gabal’s School of Wizards who’s magic had failed and fell victim to the heat and fiery beasts. Durval could hardly speak coherently for the need to see if his family yet lived in Gate Pass. “I must go back! Take me back!”

But the Brotherhood had scant mercy for the pathetic academic: “We have not time to waste old man! You made your choice, and we cannot turn back, for we will not cross this wood twice!”

“Curses be upon you all!” cried the shambling semblance of a man. “I will make my way, and may the spirits of Innendotdar deny you oblivion as they have denied me!” With that, Durval the Magnificant lurched back down the Elfroad and was soon obscured by smoke.

The Brotherhood stared after for a moment, wondering at the hardening of their hearts in this hellish vortex, then turned to continue their journey.

And the forest came alive with squawks of birds and a high pitched keening that could only be heard by the sensitive ears of Driemz and Hours!

Out of the Fry Pan and Into the Cold
Flight Through the Snows of Winter

Gramercy: 800xp

In a great hurry, for the Inquisition was said to enter the city the following morning, the Brotherhood of Mercy went looking for their oathbound opponent at the Mannish Inn at suppertime. The son of Ragesia was true to his word and so Kathor Danava brought the last refugees of the Resistance to the southern exit of Gate Pass, a portal normally used to admit the few farmers and furriers who abide in the high valleys and ravines of the Barrier Peaks. The soldier told them that when he last used this gate to make his deliveries to the Black Horse Camp, the Gate Pass guards required a substantial bribe, so the the Brotherhood had better have their gold well counted.

It was light of the starry night were dimmed by the flare of torchlight concentrated around the guard house. The Brotherhood approached cowled and in the manner of captives. Would these guardsmen allow the traffic of their citizens at this time when the conquest of the city seemed imminent? For this was what the Brotherhood expected, and it left a bitter taste in the mouth, even as it seemed the most expedient course. Of course nothing would be as expected and so the valiant half-orc Watch Captain Dickle brought the Brotherhood of Mercy into his office and turned to them with proud tusks shining: “I will not be bought to betray my countrymen at this dark hour, friends, and so I commend ye to freedom from this black profiteer, official and well sanctioned as his documents may be. Go free! Fear not reprisal!”

Now the brothers groaned at the awkward necessity of disabusing this honest captain of his good deed. “Enough greenskin!” barked Driemz. “Your honor does you credit, but in fact we need to leave this place, and this man Danava has promised to use his documents to assist. We are on envoy of the resistance organized by the Order of the Aquiline Heart, and we must pass these walls tonight so that we may do great doings in the cause of defending this burg and destroying those Black Horse bandits besides!”

At this the others chimed in their assent and so Watch Captain Dickle was consternated and abashed. “Enough! He roared. “I see no profit in this except that I must take your gold and sign the Rag’s document so that I may chuck you over this wall. You may be cowardly fleeing this fight for all I know, but I will tell you that Gate Pass will not soon fall. We have food stuffs to last the winter and we will defend our home unto death while you sun yourself on the heathen shores of Shahalesti!”

And so the Brotherhood of Mercy was deposited at the foot of the wall as the moon sank behind the looming peaks. Snow fields glimmered darkly all around. It was decided to trudge through the night, cold be damned!

Kathor Danava took his leave with a salute: “Your courage and mercy do you honor! I hope not to find you as enemies again!”

Dawn found the Brotherhood nearing the edge of a wooded ravine. The snows seemed thicker in the more rugged terrain beyond the fields and goat pasture through which the travelers had passed by night. Hurrying to make the cover of trees before light, Hours the Seeker looked up and saw the glimmer of dawn on the steel pike of a watcher perched high above the ravine. “We have been seen!”

Frantically the companions burrowed deep in the pines, finding a dell and treefall where to make a defended camp. Watch was set and Geth Corvine, BlackWolf, Ahleena of the Torrents and Hours wearily fell to rest as the birds chirped their morning joys.

Hours took the late afternoon watch. He sat himself upon a hollow log and breathed deep the crisp air, feeling closer to his wild fey home than he had in many months. Here was a good place. Here the forest was breathing… and found himself face to face with an angry shrubbery, a Wood Woad, brandishing a gnarled club in his leafy fist, demanding to know who dared to invade his demesne? Hours recovered his wits quickly and made little effort to conceal his joy at encountering a kinsman as he protested his gentle innocence and asked if indeed there were others with sharp axes and fiery temper who might be more deserving of the forest’s wrath.

Indeed there was, and so the Wood Woad lead the companions on a hike by obscure paths that brought them to a place of advantage whereby they could see the entirety of the raven before them, and the ambush that had been set. There were a dozen horsemen with bows waiting to rain arrows upon them!

Looking back down the valley, the heroes could see the lights of their adopted city of Gate Pass, still shining in its cradle, awaiting the judgment of fate. Oh, they would not wait in vain!

“We’ll wait them out,” averred Geth. But this waiting proved difficult as a late afternoon picked up and brought with it sleeting ice which turned the rocks slick and cloaked the mountains in a gray mantle. They could hear the sounds of horsemen moving their steeds to shelter and they wished they were sheltered at well.

As the cold dark descended, the troupe moved out. The barbarian and fighter rushed in turn the small sniper redoubt they had spied, and the scout on the ledge. The Black Horse never had a chance against the blizzard born assassins. They attacked the tree-filled camp, flushing their quarry out of miserable tents to gallop amongst tight quarters and be struck down before they could bring their short hafted axes to bear. The Wood Woad lead the charge, enveloping his enemies in nature’s fury. Even the bandit leader, a wily red headed step child who called herself La Renard was no match for the Brotherhood of Mercy, though little mercy was spared that night.

In the aftermath, the tents were discovered to have well supplied campfires and a cliff cave was found to be jailing six hapless ritualists from Gate Pass, one of whom had perished in the cold. The others, three grey beards, the brewmeister and alchemist Trehan Finner (propietor of the Poison Apple Pub), and a young boy with indigo eyes. It seemed best to stay the night in a place with ample provisions and warm fires.

The second day of the flight from Gate Pass dawned bright and clear, a blue bird day with drifts of powdery snow that rose to the horses’ wither the small band of refugees labored up the valley towards the Barrier Pass, once held in trust by a dwarven stronghold but now said to be abandoned in these later years, broken by the beastial legions of Danzig long ago, and then shattered between elf and orc during the Ragesian Campaign of 1403. Bright sun and bitter cold, the day was a long and bone wearing trek, enough to cull the weaker travelers along the path. Ahleena of the Torrents could not forgive herself when two of the grey scholars slipped off the horse they shared and tumbled down an icy slope, never to move again.

“If only I had used one of my four Scrolls of Elemental Endurance, those men could have not been so frozen fisted and not have fallen when that horse missed its step!” cried the pious cleric. But Geth would not speak of pausing for the casting of rituals, for he feared that they had been followed from the city. Every bird in the sky was a suspect. Over the forested peaks, a black haze darkened the sun.

After finally passing a cheerless night in the shadow of the shattered gates of Slaughterguard (a frosted ruin eerily silent) the terrain eased somewhat as the band passed into a hanging alpine valley.

As they traveled along the open snowfields of the small vale, the travelers could not help but notice the smudge of smoke and orange glow on the horizon had increased so that now the skyline was as a perpetual dawn, and lo, the very winter seemed to retreat beneath their feet s the snow turned patchy and wild flowers sprang up beneath their feet!
Twas not a miracle of heaven however, for the ashes of hell likewise fell upon this aberrant scene, sticking to travel damp clothes and turning to dark gray paste. By the time the flaming wood was in sight the ground was covered in a thick layer of ash. A small stream gathered in the high peaks wound down the valley, and passed by a lonely farmhouse and barn before reluctantly turning to enter the perennial conflagration that was the Indomitable Fire Forest of Innenotdar!

Before them stood a young hairless man, still as stone and staring far beyond into the distance. He neither blinked nor twitched at the party’s approach and even though he appeared to be in a trance, he spoke with a clear voice, “The Scourge comes, and the skulls of the dragon pursue you. I saw it in a dream.” Then he shook his head as if coming to his senses, and noticed the brotherhood and their charges standing before him. “I’m sorry; I was daydreaming again. The forest does that to you. I think your arrival means the end is near. You know this.” The young man stared suddenly at Geth Corvine, who blanched behind his beard as he remembered his own dream of recent nights. Flaming dragon skulls seemed all too familiar.

“I remember you!” said Driemz Darkblade. “You are the lad we escorted out of the Ragesian north some months ago, the merchant’s nephew, Dorik the Mad. What are you doing in this devil haunted place?”

“I remember you lot as well,” said Dorik. “My Uncle Eadan sent me here for my safety, to be tenderly administered by the Dame Tristessa. Come, we will serve you tea and broth.”

The Dame Tristessa was a horridly ugly old woman, but she welcomed the weary travelers into her small stone cottage and plied them with strange teas and a stew strewn with frogs, mushrooms, and, it was discovered, horse-meat. “Yes yes, others preceded you. Minor workers of magic, fearful cowards I suspect, but they braved the fires of Innenotdar. Their horses would not enter however. They stayed with us… Please, rest for the night. Sleep upon your folly, hehehe…”

Geth spent a restless night burning with fever, and dreamed fever dreams where children and forest creature burned…

The morning dawned portentous and full of doom. A flock of ravens swooped over the farm hut at first light, waking all with their cackling. Out beyond the pasture walls of the goat yard, where the ash blanket gave way to wild flowers, a knot of riders could be seen as red silhouettes in the morning light. One hulking central figure sent a chill through those who peered out the kitchen window. The Inquisition had found them; the Scourge had arrived!

The riders churned up ash as their horses galloped across the field beyond the goat-wall. There was a massive soldier bearing the fireball standard upon his tabard and wielding long, barbed lance. An axe poked up behind the massive horned helm. The steed of this Ragesian champion was something to behold: a massive lizard-like thing, all clawfooted and scabrous hide.

There were two of riders wearing light Ragesian cavalry armor – crimson leather trimmed with bear fur for the winter – and each held a massive handcrank crossbow across their saddle.

Driemz heard a clatter, and a third archer appears on the roof of the barn.

Like bodyguards, the two rode flanking the final rider, the inquisitor, who kept a massive hyena-like dog on a straining leash.

He wore no armor except the bear skull mask that shielded his soul from sorcery, wielded no weapon except an articulated bronze claw on his right hand. Clattering charms covered his hirsute body, some primitive tribal medallions, others religious icons cast in iron, and many of more obscure eldritch nature. He was nearly as broad as he is tall, and his skin was the sickly brown color of rotting bark, and though the mask hid most of his face, by his size and by the short tusks jutting from his lower jaw, he was clearly of orcish blood. Within the empty sockets of the bear skull forest flames reflected dull red.

“I am Borus Bearbrother, come for the one called Dorik and whomever give him succor! He is needed for questioning, as are all who practice the occult arts.”

The Brotherhood of Mercy attempted to move forward to negotiate, but the Inquisitor would not allow an armed band to approach and ordered his guard dismounted and ready their shafts.

“You must do gather your knowledge and know your history. This place was a battlefield not long ago. Feel that history now!” And the Inquisitor flung across the field a handful of small bones, teeth, fingers, toes and shards, and where those bones landed, the earth became restless, and one long dead clambered forth.

The Brotherhood was exposed to crossfire outside of the house, and this Inquisitor thrilled the blood with fear. A shriek erupted from the farmhouse…

In Defense of Empire
At the bar with Kathor Danava

So sayeth Kathor Danava -

“The Ragesian Empire is worthy of loyalty. Drakus Coaltongue brought peace to the land after the collapse of the Winters Dark. A peace of superior force of arms to be sure, but a peace of tolerance and order. Many are the crimes and barbarities of the Orcish tribes, but they are nothing to the depravities of the Beastmen who enforced the savage law of Danzig. It is sad to see Coaltongue pass, because his way, inevitable and merciless, was fair. I do not think the same will be said of Leska. The Inquisition was the iron fist of Coaltongue within his borders, but now the fist has taken the place of the head, and I have no loyalty to that cause.”

Barbarian Honesty, or Civilized Subterfuge
Following (and followed) a trail of clues through Gate Pass
Mazed in sleep, the brotherhood shuffled out to the main hall of the Refuge of the Aquiline Heart to receive their morning meal and observed a confrontation and its result. A woman was singing a sad sad song, the dark portents of which were beginning to irk the ragged citizenry. Already, two youths began to mutter and make motions as if to case harm to the blind lute player who so depressed the populace with tune. And then there was BlackWolf. The massive mul grasped both youths by their scruff and tossed them out into the snow.

“I like your style, stone-man,” said Hours.

“I’d rather be free to swing my axe,” replied the barbarian. The Brotherhood was confident that they could find a good place for axe swinging. And so Blackwolf the Barbarian joined the Brotherhood of Mercy.

Rumours abound: It seemed that the Ragesians had sent a list of demands, under threat of sustained assault by the 2nd Army, chief of which was to allow entrance into the city a cadre of Inquisitors to hunt down and interrogate the mages of the city. It was also whispered that the Eldar of Shahalesti, those who paid homage to the Dragon Throne in Asgulan, had a secret escape route, something called the Singing Chasm. Perhaps they were already gone.
Buron Watchman spoke urgently- bq). “Why is it so important that the case goes to our brave allies at the Lyceum Arcaneum rather than the Shahalesti? Simply, because the Lyceum has risked much to declare itself an allie (though distant) of the Free City of Gate Pass, while the Dragon Throne has proved itself to be casual in the expense of “mortal lives” on many occasions. The Eladrin do as they see fit, and rarely does the suffering of Man bear upon those decisions. For Shalaadel, the Great Game trumps all. He dealt with the Exarchs of Danzig, he dealt with Drakus Coaltongue, and he will deal with Leska now, to preserve the Dragon Throne and the sanctity of Asgulan. We can put no faith in that!”

It was determined that the best thing to do was to confront Incantrix Shealis at Gabal’s school, to discover the guilt and retrieve the intelligence Hedghog had so valiantly rescued. Only then could they turn to their escape, a plan which began with an unlikely alliance with Kathor Danava, and was expected to traverse the known world.

The news you was worrisome. A small portion of the Ragesian force had made last night’s attack. They were driven back, but the invading army sent an emissary at dawn who demanded that a group of Inquisitors be allowed into the city, lest the next attack be more persuasive.

The streets were deepening with snow that fell in soft flurries from leaden skies. The Brotherhood was surprised at the destruction the daylight revealed, but also heartened that it did not seem so thorough as the nigh of terror had foretold. Along the streets, it appeared no building had been spared.

Most of the structures had surface damage, but only a few had been completely razed and smoke rose lazily from embers and smoldering debris. The odor of burnt wood and stone was cloying in the biting air.

Much of the roadside clutter seemed to be decorations for the Festival of Dreams, which was to be celebrated that day. A few brave souls wandered about, picking up loose junk and exchanging terse greetings with others they passed.

A crow cawed and flapped away.

A heavy snow fell as they made haste towards Gabal’s Wizard School. The streets were pale in the grey dawn light, the snowdrifts piled over the debris of the previous night’s onslaught. The crunch of boots in the snow was the only sound. Upon reaching the school’s gate, Hours understood why it was nicknamed the Castle. An iron fence surrounded the campus, which consisted of many small, round roof ed buildings and four fifty-foot square towers. A bridge crossed a small moat, where the crumpled corpse of a griffin floated as frozen testimony to the last night’s terrors and heroics. Even in the dim pre-dawn, the damage the Rags had done to the campus was apparent.

Hours kept seeing a rat out of the corner of his eye.

Geth Corvine did not hesitate. He strode to the waters’ edge and pulled a coil of rope from his shoulder. Quickly, the fighter reeled in the recently deceased aerial steed. “This one could yet still live. See how its only wound is the wyvern sting in it’s neck? Perhaps the cold has imprisoned its soul within its body long enough that we may preserve it.

“Perhaps the Castle has a vivisectionist,” said Driemz Darkblade

Geth and Blackwolf loaded the griffin onto an abandoned festival wagon and pushed it to the wrought iron gate of the wizards’ campus. “Let us in so that we may save the life of this brave griffin that so perished in valiant defense of this defiant city!”

Inside the gate, a blue robed man lounged, smoking a pipe. A fragrant cloud surrounded him and the heavy wet snowflakes did not seem to fall upon his shoulders.

Diogenes eyed Geth’s companions carefully as he approach, eyes bright in the glare of the rising sun. Indeed, young Corvine, yet again you bear gifts of interest to the discerning scholar. Enter then, and I will take you to Aderol the Vivisectionist. But please do not blame me if your erstwhile steed is returned to you as a pale undead mockery of life.”

“That would be fine,” said the fighter. “As long as I can ride him.”

The gate opened. Driemz saw a rat scuttle inside.

Some time later, over a second breakfast and tea, the Brotherhood decided to take this skeptical philosopher into their confidence, for he had already expressed his disdain for the colleague he dubbed a “harlot.”

Armed with some knew knowledge, but nervous confronting one who had recently received her Paragon Diploma, the Brotherhood knocked on the cottage door of Shealis the Incantrix. The door opened without a sound, and the lovely lady, dark of eye and hair, and ruby of lip and robe welcomed them to her study.

After a protracted negotiation, the Incantrix was convinced to repatriate the case in question to the representatives of the Gate Pass Resistance. She sent her fiery familiar to the Shahalesti Embassy, a gated community, to inform the royal spies of her decree.

On passing through a hidden door in a vine and snow covered stone wall, the Brotherhood came upon a scene of idyllic urban community. Here, the winter cold seemed mild, and the damage of war a mere mess to be cleaned up. Children threw snowballs and skated on rooftops, while fathers rearranged the wreckage Ragesian firebombs. Here and there a crow flew across the sky.

The meeting was to take place in a large warehouse used to store imports and exports bound between the Elven Nation and the Free City. Large crates and bales of cotton reached for the rafters. The Eldar, two soldiers and an archer of arcane significance, were extremely tense. They greeted the Brotherhood of Mercy grudgingly.

Then there was an inhuman roar from beyond the walls merchandise, and a stream of rats appeared, attacking everyone in their path.

“Treachery!” cried the Eldar. And the battle was joined.

A manticore cub came flying over the wall of crates, its bestial ape head agape with rage, its bat wings beating fiercely, its strangely knotted tail flexing and whipping about, and finally releasing a hail of bony darts at the heroes.

Geth leapt to battle with this mythic beast. Blackwolf the barbarian surged right past and discovered the eladrin archer searching an empty chest with a broken chain next to it. The archer whipped around at Blackwolf’s approach and fired a pair of arrows which caught aflame as they zipped through the air, burning the hair on the barbarian’s pelt.

Despite some grievous blows, the Brotherhood prevailed, and the soldiers of Shahalesti surrendered, though not before Blackwolf followed the archer to the very entrance of the Singing Chasm, there to discover the elf in a tug of war with a small demonic imp over a small box. The axe wielding warrior was not discriminating as the Rage of the Rage Drake overtook him. He hurtled into battle, splitting the elf in twain with a mighty blow, then swiftly charging the imp and dismembering that as well.

The box was recovered. Geth broke the hands of the surviving soldiers in retribution for their breach of diplomacy. Ahleena of the Torrents was not pleases. Then Geth loaded up a wagon with supplies for the refuge at the Temple of the Aquiline Heart. And Ahleena was confused. Returning to the Temple at dusk, the Brotherhood could not rest easily, for now was the time to escape the city before the Council allowed the Ragesian Inquisitors to enter.

Darkest Dreams Before Dawn
Cassandra's Lament

Before your shield falls.
In the night’s final hours, you drift into sleep,
And soar with the Eagle to where pains all cease.
Beneath that shining gate, where Ouroboros dwells
Gleaming shadows cry up, child, from the darkness of hell.
The doors of light break at the howl of hounds.
And from Kraken’s waves, mad tempests confound.

Our home now in ruins,
Our spirits all are thralled.
Be brave for one last dream, boy,
Now, as your shield falls.
You dream of fearful storms, of ghosts and of flood,
Of flames and of scourge, and bones, damnation, and blood.
A nightmare of ruins,
Our dreams forever thralled.

Wake quick from this dream, child,
Here, before we fall.
Like a child’s first breath, the army’s horn cries.
You awaken to war, and nightmares brought to life.
So lift up your arms, and hold fast, be brave.
You’ll fight and might die, but never will you be a slave.
Our home soon in ruins,
Our spirits might yet be thralled.
But fight against that dream,
Oh, stand fast at the walls.

Spies and What Flies in the Skies
And so the Legend of the Merciful Brotherhood was born. In a night of pain, a myth took hold that needed no bard to give it wings.
The city seemed to be bursting at its seams as the three surviving companions, Driemz Darkblade, Geth Corvine, and Hours Len Braidpath caught their breath in a sheltered cove and turned their attention to their captive, a stern and straight backed soldier who had seemed reluctant to do battle and now grudgingly eager to bargain for his life and freedom. Ahleena of the Torrents was desperately questioning the captive: “Who are you? How did you know we would be here? Who is your contact?”

Geth quickly searched the man’s saddlebags and found a sheaf of documents. Hours perused these documents and found two of particular interest, a letter of Diplomatic Privilege bestowed by the City Council, and a Letter from the Empire from one “Guthwulf”. Kathor Danava, it seems, was the son of the General Danava “The Bald” who was at that very moment leading the 2nd Ragesian Army to lay siege to Gate Pass. He alone of all the citizenry of Gate Pass was allowed to travel freely through its gates, and what did he use this privilege for? To abduct the wizardry and to prey upon the weak! Ahleena was shocked and dismayed.

When confronted with this, the soldier seemed contrite. Indeed, his loyalties were sorely conflicted. His honor felt besmirched by his association with the Black Horse Bounty Hunters, and yet he would not raise a sword against the agents of his Empire, nor the soldiers of his father.

Driemz and Hours whispered to each other. Perhaps this was the ticket out of the city? They could pose as prisoners of this fallen Ragesian prince, but could they trust him?

“Why did you leave the empire Kathor?” asked Driemz. “What ‘ignomious failure’ set you forth.”

“Oh dark elf, do you know how it is to feel an encroaching presence tighten about your skin? So it was with the Inquisition of Leska, for this current ‘scourge’ is only the latest chapter in her creeping path to power. I will keep my own council but, suffice to say that I no longer felt welcome in the tolerant regime of Coaltongue.”

Now Hours spoke: “Man, we will keep this evidence of your betrayal of the city, but we require a single boon before we release you. You must use your privilege to help us to flee this city. Can you be trusted?”

Kathor Danava looked hard into the eyes of Geth Corvine, and between them there was a spark of recognition, which the Ragesian seemed to understand more than the Astral native. Kathor nodded solemnly. “Meet me at the Mannish Inn tomorrow night, and I will lead you forth.”

And so Ahleena’s new recruits returned the soldier’s sword to him and went their separate ways. Now the cleric became urgent. “We must get to the Depository Tower and find the Hedgehog!”

This was easier said than done. The streets were chaotic with mobs of people running for safety, squadrons of soldiers marching to the walls, overturned carts, falling buildings, and more. Driemz and Geth shoved people out of their way and a path parted before them, a path which Ahleena eagerly followed.

Hours hung back, aghast at the suffering so easily brought to this strange city. Oh to be in the forest again! He became entangled in his own bleeding heart as the old the weak and the wounded called out to him, reaching for help and succor. Hours did not know what to do. “I have not the skill to heal you, nor the time to comfort, for I am pulled by fate to the tower yonder!” But Hours could not in good conscience turn his back, and so he made use of the horse of Kathor and carried what burden he could.

Ahead, the cleric, fighter, and sorcerer were brought up short by the site of a women on the third story of a burning building, climbing a balcony balustrade to escape the licking flames. Geth surged forward as the woman jumped. He caught her easily in his mighty thews.

The crowds grew thicker in the center of the city, hemmed in, confused, as a renewed assault of fire and flame exploded about them and billowing smoke parted to reveal desperate battle between griffon and drake. Suddenly a shriek cut the air and a halberdier stationed upon an high parapet leapt to the street below. Here there was none to catch him, and he landed with a sickening crunch. The crowd grew still, and then panic like a whispering wind across the prairie gathered and swelled until the crowd cried out as one and began to stampede. Geth and Hours to their shame were caught within the madness and drawn across the square before they were able to come to their senses, shaken and disturbed. Only Driemz held fast to his chattering teeth and leapt into a fountain to avoid the mob. Looking up, he saw a great winged shadow silhouetted behind the smoke; the wingspan must have reached across the square…

Finally, they encountered the Depository Gates. A stern dwarf let them in quickly and the presentation of a key, muttering about mobs and unwashed filth. Inside, the courtyard of the tower was calm and untouched by the madness of the night. Snow flakes drifted gently to the ground.

Entering the dimly lit library, circular room, lined with books shelves and sturdy iron lockers, a small figure appeared at the top to the curving staircase and coughed. Descending the steps a notably ugly little man came into view, wiping his bulbous nose on a sleeve. His beard bristled out on all sides.

“Ah there you are. Come Peppin, I need that password.” The little gnome waved and began walking back up the stairs.

“Peppin? Peppin isn’t with us.” said Driemz. “Isn’t he supposed to say the code?”

Ahleena nodded. “Good gnome, we have no password but I have a ring…”

“No no no, come up here with the password,” said the gnome.

Driemz whispered, “I don’t think this is really Hedgehog.”

“Perhaps a Doppleganger?” said Hours.

Now Geth was certain of ambush. “GET BACK DOWN HERE, BOY!!” Bellowed the hammerman.

At this, the little man turned and ran up the stairs. Driemz ran after him, followed by his companions. Arriving at the second floor, they could see a figure running up the next flight of stairs, a gnome no longer, now slender with graceful step and sure footing; a light shone upon his face from the level above, illuminating elven ears and the sharp rapier and dagger at his belt.

The battle was brief, for the arrows of Hours, and whirlwind magics of Driemz were sufficient to slow the elf until Geth could catch him and hurl him off the stair, though he suffered grievous blows from the elf’s poniard. A strange yellow solar creature like an angel of the sun burst forth from the upper room to fly about, lashing out to protect its master, but in the end could only look on as the elf Larion the Lithe was obliged to surrender to his attackers, and reveal the locker wherein he stuffed the real Hedgehog, who was thankfully unharmed, though truly sick with a winter flu.

“Go to her.” said this elf in his native tongue. The Solar Wisp disappeared in a burst of flame and smoke.

Larion, it seemed, was a spy for the Dragon King of Asgulan, Lord of the Shahaalesti Elves to the west. His compatriots had stolen the case containing the secrets of the Ragesian Empire that Hedgehog was bound by sundry curses never to speak aloud, but the elves were unable to open the case and so the gnome had bid them search for the password, which he now explained, there was none.

“Only the High Wizards of the Lyceum Arcana on the Dassan Penninsula can open that case.” said the gnome proudly. “Although Shalaadel the Dragonlord mayhap could find a way. We must not let the case fall into his hands! He will use it to bargain with the Rags and Gate Pass and all the Free Cities will suffer!”

Ahleena pressed the poor sickly gnome. “Did they say anything else?”

“Only that they must speak to Shealis before they brave the Shining Chasm.”

“Ah,” said Driemz, “Many a lad would like to speak with that Lady, for it is said she is quite alluring. I have heard of her, a visiting mage who teaches at Gabal’s School.”

Gabal was a known nationalist. The group was quite sure they could convince him to turn in a spy for the Shahalest, no matter his personal feelings. But first, they sorely needed rest, for this terrible night was no longer young. The spy, Larion the Lithe, was taken to the Depository Dungeons by zealous guardsmen. His cries of pain could be heard as the tower doors closed.

Wading back into the city streets was a calmer affair, for it seemed that people had found what shelter they could, and the last wave of Ragesian Wyvern Knights was withdrawing. But suddenly through the air came a screeching and clawing. Two foes, a griffon and wyvern were locked in battle, plummeting to the ground. At the last moment the griffon disengaged and swooped back into the sky with a triumphant screech as the scaled adversary crashed into a complex of baths and shrines directly in front of the heroes. After a moment, a woman’s scream rang out, and was cut short, followed by a choking laugh, the cry of a child and a long low hissssss. All this Hours Len Braidpath heard, or rather felt through the talking of the stones.

“I’m gonna kill me a wyvern,” said Geth.

And so they did, ambushing the drake and rider, toppling walls upon them and putting them to the ground, striking a first blow against the 2nd Army of the Ragesian Empire, though the child did not survive and Ahleena was grievously wounded. Flagus Mortus, the hulking orcish wyvern knight, died with a sneer upon his blood smeared face. “The Empire conquers all, as long as the sky shall burn. Don’t you know that?”

An arrow from the wilden’s fey bow silenced the brute.

Finally, Ahleena lead the weary warriors to safe harbor at the Temple of the Aquiline Heart, a known place of refuge for the resistance. The place was overwhelmed with the wounded and needy, but the head priest, Buron Watchman greeted them with honor and provided the four with private rooms and food, for he knew something of their exploits that night, and only asked that they brave the wizard tower as soon as they were able. The untouchable trio thanked Buron and asked him to direct them to a place of worship. The were so directed and found themselves, weary, battle-stained, wounded and sore, kneeling within what must have once been a shrine to Mithras, but all iconography had been removed.

The place was pregnant with non-denominational righteousness. One by one, the heroes placed their most valued possessions and the spoils of war upon the simply altar and swore themselves to the defense of Gate Pass, dedicating themselves to the Order of the Aquiline Heart, and awesome responsibility that blossomed in each heart in turn.

Blessings were bestowed.

Moved by this experience Geth wandered amongst the hospice patients and applied his medical knowledge, learned from the finest field medics of the Astral Sea, the Githzerai, and so eased the suffering of many. His companions joined him and allowed themselves to be directed by his ministrations. And so the Legend of the Merciful Brotherhood was born. In a night of pain and wreckage, a myth took hold that needed no bard to give it wings.

Gramercy: 600xp One magic item up to 4th level. Boots of Spider Climbing, Heroic Power Jewel, Potion of Fire Breath, Two Potions of Healing(10hp), Belt of Ironskin, jeweled rapier and poniard(100gp)

A long deep breath
Intro to today's session

A quick reminder of where we stand-

You were summoned to a meeting in an abandoned bar and were attacked by bounty hunters as the city was attacked by fire-bombing wyverns. You took the leader, Kathor, captive.

The cleric Ahleena of the Torrents has told you that a resistance member called Peppin was meant to meet the gnome called Hedgehog tonight to receive a case of secrets stolen from the Palace at Ragos.

But Peppin was murdered and now Ahleena looks to you to help her complete this mission. You must make your way through the burning streets to the Tower of Deposits in the next district. Once you have the ‘case’ you must escape out of Gate Pass and make your way to friendly territory.

Ahleena speaks as if trying to remember her lines:

“I will present the ring of Peppin to the Hedgehog. The Hedgehog will then ask me if I am engaged. I will say that I was engaged at the foot of Tyrant, at midsummer. He will then ask if I have a dowry. I will then say that I am resistant. And we will know each other.”

Winter Explodes Into Flame!!
A Scourge of Magic and the Siege of Gate Pass
Winter hit hard, like a warhammer to the helmet, as the old soldiers might have said, had they not been so busy preparing for war. The Emperor Drakus Coaltongue had been murdered in his sleep by arcane assailants unknown. Leska, the High Inquisitor of Ragesia had unleashed a Scouring of the land, demanding that all users of magic and mysterious arts turn themselves in to her bear helmed inquisitors for tender interrogations. Worse yet, the Ragesian 2nd, under the command of General Danava “The Bald” was marching on the Free City of Gate Pass. The town was on edge, and the council has requested that wizards comply with the Ragesian demands. People were disappearing.

For Hours Len Braidpath and his friends, Geth Corvine, and Driemz Darkblade, it was beginning to look like racing the storm to return to Gate Pass was not such a good idea. They were stuck. The clandestine gates they had been assuming would take them onward to parts unknown were shut, even aflame. Worse yet, their favorite bar had been closed down.

The great celebration of Yule was approaching, but nobody was in a party mood. Four mysterious characters met each other in a dark deserted square on a crisp cold night, when the gates sagged beneath their mantles of snow. It seemed that each had been contacted by an innocuous resistor, a messenger for a messenger, to meet at midnight at Poison Apple Pub. For these men of action, such a summons was eagerly accepted, if only to ease the weariness of waiting for war.

A parchment was nailed to the front door.

Geth scanned the area, tingling with the vaguely unsettling preternatural awareness that came over him whenever he wore the Coat of Eyes which he had torn from the bleeding corpse of a Ragesian orc, then shrugged and approached the alley door as instructed. His knock was answered by a tall blond woman who wore a heavy winter cloak over a chainmail shirt. She smiled tightly, and led the four visitors into the pub. The place was more tidy than they remembered it, but there was a keg and a set of large pewter steins on a table in the center of the chilly tap room. The windows and doors had been clumsily boarded up. A single oil lamp lit the room. There was a portrait of Ol’ Coaltongue on the wall behind the bar. A dart was stuck between the Emperor’s teeth.

Ahleena of the Torrents filled the mugs and offered a toast, “To another Yule, to Gate Pass, to freedom!”

“You are a member of the resistance?” spoke Driemz Darkblade, a sorcerer. “Yes? Then what do you wish of us?”

Ahleena of the Torrents grimaced, straightened in her chair and bitterly sighed, “I guess it’s time to get down to business. The city’s in trouble. The Ragesian army is marching on us, and will most likely be here tomorrow. Before then, we have a mission.”

“We need to get help for Gate Pass. I used to study at a college of esoterica to the south, a place called Lyceum. They’re good people there, scholars, and gentlemen. When word reached them of Ragesia’s ‘Scourge,’ they sent out messages calling for anyone fleeing Ragesia to come to them. They want to stand against the Ragesians, and the resistance needs their help. We just need to get a message back to them. Normally we would have sent something by magical courier, but something strange is happening with planar magic. The last courier who teleported into Gate Pass, well, he showed up burnt to a crisp, like he had flown through the 65th layer of Hell.”
“If we’re going to offer an alliance with Lyceum, and beg their help, we’re going to have to go overland. And that’s a problem, because the city’s walls are sealed. Ever since their emperor died, the Ragesians have been trying to show that they’re not weak, and they’re marching an army in our direction because the mountain pass we’re in is apparently ‘strategically valuable.’ Either way, a few idiots on the city council want to negotiate with the Ragesians, and rumor is they’re going to invite a group of Inquisitors into the city to look for ‘magic-users who are hostile to the empire.’ They’ve sealed the gates of the city so no one can escape, to make sure they look like they’re cooperating, and only military personnel can get in or out. “We’re going to have to get out of the city, and I’m open to suggestions on how. Once we’re out, I have a plan to get us safely to Lyceum.”

“But before we get ahead of ourselves, we have a mission tonight. “The short version is that we’ve got to meet a contact — a gnome called the Hedgehog — in about an hour at a guarded deposit tower about a half-mile from here. He’s carrying a case of vital military intelligence which he stole from the palace of Ragos when he posed as a menial servant in that wretched place, and the heads of the resistance think that it needs to reach Lyceum, for only they can decipher its contents and have the resources to make use of them.”
“We’ve got to get that case, get out of the city, and get far away from here before the idiot city council lets the Ragesian Inquisitors in. Once that happens, the odds of us escaping are —” Ahleena finished off her mug of beer in one long guzzle “— slim. I know I’d love to stay here and fight against the Ragesians, but I’m no soldier, and this mission might be more important.”

“Worst case, you get away from the Ragesians and we can part ways a few days down the road. Best case, you can come with me to Lyceum, and we come back with an army of our own to drive off the Ragesians. But we’ve got to act fast either way.”
“What say you, fellows? The Merchant spoke highly of your character, how is your mettle?”

It was an easy decision for Driemz Darkblade, Geth Corvine, Hours Len Braidpath, and Ares of Mithrass. They were each itching to get out of town ahead of the Inquisitors, and this seemed an open path to strike back at the Ragesian invaders. There was some discussion as to how they were going to get out of the city, but obviously a decision had been made.

Suddenly the world exploded.

As the bells of Yule ceased their toll, Geth Corvine heard the tell tale sounds of shifting feet in the rooms above. Suddenly alert, all drew weapons and took up positions around the room and in the stairwell.

Then the front door burst open in front of a massive battering ram, a clean log, wielded by a pack of mean looking ruffians with red armbands. “Drop your weapons and come quietly, wizards, and you will not be hurt!” said a thug.

“Not likely,” said Ahleena.

The battle was joined. Sorcerer and Seeker unleashed their wrath, slaying most of the attackers outright, while the fighter handily dispatched the two ruffians who ran down the stairs. It looked like an easy battle. Then the world exploded again, this time literally, as the building shook and fire began to rain through the ceiling above. Flaming debris crashed down all around, and the large wrought iron chandelier swung wildly.

The fight move outside, where the resistors discovered a horseman attended by a pack of hunting dogs who snapped eagerly at their reins. The dogs bound forward, but horseman seemed unhurried to attack. This cost him dearly when Geth came out of the side alley and accosted the cavalier, giving him a mighty buffet and pulling him from his saddle.

“Gramercy!” cried the dark horseman. “I surrender and commend you as worthy foes, my name is Kathor Danava, and I will say that I am not unhappy to see those Black Horse simpletons defeated, for my association with them has felt more dishonorable with the passing of each moment.” Kathor’s eyes flashed with a blue radiance, and Geth felt an answer stirring in his mind, some vague hint of recognition… he wanted to know more, so he accepted Kathor’s surrender.

All around the city burned. Folks screamed through the streets as dragon riders criss-crossed the metropolis, fighting aerial battles with the Gryphon Riders of Gate Pass, and dropping buring pitch onto the helpless citizens below…

War had come to Gate Pass. The group huddled together under a stone archway, catching their breath and wondering where to next. The Depository!


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