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)