Dark Days in Sion - Act 3: Scene 3

Tellerian Hawke

Defender of Oerth
Vandrok's Advice to Rhast

Rhast said:
Rhast knows you can demand any information you want, but thanks to Kumbakarna's cardinal rule that family do not harm each other there are limits to how forcefully you can insist.

Vandrok can read the apprehension on the little creature's face, and he is sympathetic. Vandrok knows what it means to be an outcast. He would never hurt Rhast, but from his body posturing and social queues, it is evident that Rhast has no idea of Vandrok's non-malevolence toward him. ~That's something we'll need to remedy,~ Vandrok muses. ~Rhast is revoltingly ugly, incessantly annoying, and a cowardly thief, but he does not deserve mistreatment or abuse.~

Vandrok draws close to Rhast once more, "Little Cretin, you do annoy me, but fear not. There is no honor in harming one so small as you. I thank you for telling me the shaman's name. And I will keep my word to you, although I do not know when my next hunt will be. In that regard, you will have to be patient. In the meantime, here's some advice: try not to be so annoying, and stop stealing food so often. You don't have to stop either thing completely, just do them less often. Keep your head down, and your eyes open. People despise you because you are different. I know that feeling well. So don't give them any additional reasons to despise you even more. In fact, you should concentrate on finding reasons for them to overlook your indiscretions. Make yourself useful. It's hard to do, but believe me, it's worth it."

And with that, Vandrok wanders off to find Vahr; he intends to ask him about the ones who are walking the path of blood.
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In the Cellar of Jabbar's Trade Shop

Aust: Speaks to Elloral "Please cure me of this curse."

Aust looks at the rodent-creature, bound and blind, as he speaks to Avar "I don't care how it dies, as long as it does!" He says before he raises his voice further. "Do you hear me, vermin? I plan to make it my hobby bringing your people to a genocide so deep that your descendants will avoid Cabarda for the next 100 years!"

At that point, Billanverthorne strikes swiftly, severing the head of the rhat with one mighty swing of his greatsword.

Avar grins as Elloral gasps prompting Burrai to reach over to grab her arm comfortingly. Tonights events were truly upsetting and not getting any easier. He leans towards her and whispers.

Burrai: -Whispers- "Do it now. Pray the healing calms his nerves as well."

Elloral: Steps forward and lays her hands on Aust. "Great goddess Valkauna, cure this poor soul. Let your healing powers cleanse away the curse of Vermithrax!"

[sblock=Remove Curse]
Level: Brd 3, Clr 3, Pal 3, Sor/Wiz 4
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Touch
Target: Creature or item touched
Duration: Instantaneous
Saving Throw: Will negates (harmless)
Spell Resistance: Yes (harmless)
Remove curse instantaneously removes all curses on an object or a creature. Remove curse does not remove the curse from a cursed shield, weapon, or suit of armor, although the spell typically enables the creature afflicted with any such cursed item to remove and get rid of it. Certain special curses may not be countered by this spell or may be countered only by a caster of a certain level or higher.[/sblock]

[Aust: You feel a great sickness ease out of your body. You are cured!]

Aust: "Thank you." He says to Elloral before he continues. "We need those in the guild and their allies to be responsible for killing Jabbar and this Vul. Yes, I'd think that would be the end of Noro and his filth. The Vul wouldn't tolerate the guild any longer."

Burrai: Clears his throat. "If we let the Vulkyrie make war against the whole thieves guild it won't just be Noro and his goons who get killed. Before Ren ran off he was leading myself and Jabbar to a meeting with Rasul. Ersun here was sent by him in fact as a potential ally..." He says gesturing towards the underfolk. "Using the Vulkyrie to kill our enemies for us is not a bad idea, but they are highly indiscriminate killers..." He pauses, choosing his next words carefully. "...as surely as everyone here needs no reminding."

Avar: "Then what should we do with these corpses?"

Elloral: "I can question the dead. The minds of the departed retain an imprint of the knowledge they had while living. However, those memories also give it something of the same will it would have had in life to resist those questions. There is no guarantee they will answer me, but I can try." She states with a heavy swallow. "Which one should I question first and what should I ask? I can only manage four questions per corpse, and only three corpses until I must pray again for spells."

[Everyone: What do you do?]
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Aletia: All you can eat

A hard lump formed in Aletia's throat, and her ears rang as though a plague of cicadas had found a nearby place to roost, when Bill off-headed the oversized rodentia.

It was shocking, gruesome and rather unexpected! Burning hatred and desire for vengeance she completely understood, but witnessing it first hand? This was something you could never be fully prepared for. Would she one day take a life like this, in a snap of one's fingers? Before judging the man on his brutal actions, Aletia considered what she might have done, had this individual brought about Vallio's fate. Yes... she would have severed a head too, given half a chance.

Then there was another lingering thought to struggle with. The abductors. Had they physically harmed her? No. Had their actions warranted a death sentence? Arguable. It was permanently confirmed now, like carvings in an old stone wall, that guilt was decreed by association and allegiance. No wonder Bill had inquired as to her own. This level of connectedness, pack mentality, was something very foreign to the young elf.

How much more death was this city to bring before her youthful gaze? A pure soul had been thrust into a world of endless tragedy. But the moon would still shine, and she would suffer this dark immediate future as a means to an end.

There was discussion now of a magic that Aletia had no experience with. Speaking with the deceased. ~Incredible!~

Aletia gaze Ersun a quick glance, curious what he made of all this. The underfolk had been rather quiet...
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Tellerian Hawke

Defender of Oerth
Bill Has An Idea!

Elloral said:
"...Which one should I question first and what should I ask? I can only manage four questions per corpse, and only three corpses until I must pray again for spells."

Bill is using an old, oily rag to wipe the blood off of his blade, but the action is completely muscle memory, as he does not appear to even realize that he's doing it. His attention is completely focused on Elloral now, and he acts as if the beheading were of little or no consequence, showing no further signs of emotion about the event; it seems that his emotion had been spent in the act itself, and that he was now, once again, completely at peace. There is even the slightest hint of a smile (satisfaction for justice served?) on Bill's face.

Billanverthorne: "Perhaps one of your spells should be used on Jabbar? If Aust is worried about how to proceed, we could question the corpse about Jabbar's contingency plans, and perhaps get a sense of what his intentions were. Since he was our friend in life, I doubt he would even try to resist the spell. What say the rest of you?"

Bill looks around at the rest of the party, awaiting an answer.

Ersun feels tired, most of all things. There is no order and no guidance here, an ironic complaint from him, given his relationship with authorities, but maybe something of his militarist tribe did rub off on him. He leans onto their makeshift table and listens to Aust's introduction into their conversation, followed by Bill's sudden execution. It did not faze him, stranger things have happened recently, he merely sighed.

Aust's mention of no restraint seems to strike awfully true, about the group, himself included.

He shifts his stance a little and stretches his shoulders and arms, hoping to get some blood circulating.
"The rhat should know at least one or two base of operations, a list of that would be nice, starting with where did he come from... Only questions work, or would something like List all places and houses your organisation uses as base? too? The latter would be better, in the first case phrasing is more complicated... All known associates would help too, it could rat on its fellow rhats. A third would be what plans/orders did he know of for the following few days."

He shifts his stance a little again as he gives himself time to think.

"Jabbar, he already gave the leadership over to Burrai, but I barely knew him, or the shop or any of you for that matter, so I might not be the best judge on what could be asked of him."

"As for the Vul..." he makes a little gesture as if presenting an imaginary actor. "Maybe he has some dirt on a fellow Vul which can be used for blackmail."

He leans back onto the table and curiously awaits what input the others have.


Zaen Najafi

As thunder bellowed, Zaen tossed and turned inside his small cottage, disturbed not by the howling winds and rain that rattled his shutters but by the vision within his dreams. He watched his uncle Jabbar fall to his knees as a Vulkyrie Javelin impaled him through the shoulder. The pain of that strike sent a shudder of pain through Zaen as surely as if it was he who suffered it, assuring him this was another vision of the present, not the past.

The look of rage and hopelessness that came over Jabbar, staring up at that hated winged Vulkyrie hovering over him was heartbreaking. Zaen understood these were his uncles final moments, though he could not comprehend the fullness of the scene or the context of the situation at hand. What he saw were only flashes, glimpses of battle through a fog, or indeed in this case, a storm.

Zaen felt himself whispering the same prayer Jabbar did before the lightning strike fell the Vulkyrie in Ishvars name. The fall of the creatures smoking, ruined corpse unto the muddied streets was the last thing he witnessed before everything faded to black. An instant later his own eyes snapped open already welling with tears.

All his life Zaen had been visted by visions of events of past and present, but not like this. Zaen sat up in his cot, gasping for breath through sobs all at once overwhelmed with grief in a cold sweat. Zaen had a close relationship with his uncle. Even if Zaen had no desire to be a smuggler, they were like minded about that fact that rule by the Vul was something they both hated, but largely tolerated when there was worse to worry about.

Zaen remembered the story behind Jabbar's scar and how close he came to death by a Vulkyries javelin once before in the alleyways of Masaeus. That javelin allowed him to escape a greater evil than the Vulkyrie. This time, it gave that same evil a better chance to survive. Like two sides of the same coin, fate played cruel tricks.


Death-by-Vulkyrie was something every Najafi feared everyday of their lives. Ever since the hated Vul seized the Summaran throne through trickery and deceit the Najafi family swore to overthrow them by any means possible. Yet despite their best efforts, the Vul have long since established themselves as the dominant power, naming the land the Kingdom of Vulkh after their own king nearly a thousand years ago.

In the many centuries since that awful turn of history, influential clerics, smugglers, bandit-lords and wealthy merchants of the extended Najafi family have secretly plotted together towards their fall, eventually dying for it as the Vulkyrie (or their network of informants & spies, the Vulfear) track them down and root them out.

The Najafi name is old and proud, bespoke of chieftains of a bygone era when the people of Summara were nomads, trading and warring with each other as tribal clans. Najafi's see themselves foremost as leaders, raised with a leaders detachment and willingness to sacrifice the few for the sake of the many.

Zaen's education and upbringing were no different. He was raised by the finest tutors, scholars and sages the family had at their disposal. These learned men recognized his dreams early on as something more than a child's fanciful imagination. They whispered of it as 'Ishvars blessing' and the family elders coaxed him to join the priesthood as one of the gifted hoping his influence would help turn the faithful into another weapon they could use against the Vul.

Zaen's mindset as one of the faithful however was exactly that, one of many. He did not consider himself special, gift or no gift. He believed every one of the faithful deserved the respect and guidance of the priesthood, as it was written in the holy text of the Ishvaran.

Unfortunately this attitude was not shared by the rest of his family who believed the cause mattered more than whoever had to die for it. Zaen was pressured to lead his own revolts in the name of Ishvar as soon as he was old enough to wield a sword and a spear. Zaen staunchly refused, suggesting instead that volunteers should be recruited who had no family to worry about if they were captured or killed.

In truth Zaen was more than willing to put his life on the line for the sake of the people, but only in their defense. Yes the Vul were tyrants as much as monsters, undeserving of fairness or mercy, but acts of violence encouraging their animosity would not bring justice or peace to the people. Whenever a successful Najafi plot managed to kill a Vul, many more innocents usually suffered for it.

After years of arguments about his future Zaen agreed to a compromise with his family. For now he would serve as a contact and an informant, nothing more. He would take no active part in any of their plans. He wished to be left alone to choose his own battles and lead his own life, much the way Jabbar did... or had.


Zaen rose from his cot, pulling on his robes as the storm battered against his small cottage built on Cabardas central hill. Grief quickly shifted into concern as he considered what Jabbar's death might mean for the good townsfolk of Cabarda. What would the rest of the Vulkyrie do when they found one of their own in such a state? Death-by-lightning could be accidental, especially in a storm such as this... but Zaen knew how distrustful the Vulkyrie usually were about accidents.

Oftentimes the ambushes arranged by his family to lure Vulkyrie to their deaths were made to look like accidents, but rarely convincingly enough. The other Vulkyrie here would likely blame its death on some lawless spellcaster, or worse, a cleric! He'd seen that sort of rashness before. Vulkyrie were highly distrustful of spellcasters of any sort.

As a race the Vul had no deities of their own. They mocked and disrespected all religions, only tolerating them so long as they were spoken too and regarded as equals to the many gods their subjects worshiped. Zaen saw this sort of blaspheme many times in his travels. It was a bitter thing to tolerate, but easier than watching what the Vulkyrie would do if they felt disrespected.

Zaen wondered why Jabbar found himself on the street on a night like this? Like himself, Jabbar wasn't willing to dedicate his life to plots against the Vul. The good people of Vulkh had other enemies to contend with, enemies within who thrived on the culture of corruption and disparity the Vul prospered from. Enemies without who gathered strength while the Vul ruled oblivious in their arrogance.

Jabbar didn't get into much detail with Zaen about the evils that almost killed him in Masaeus. Zaen always figured he was trying to do him a favor by not letting him get involved, but he'd heard enough in his time away from the family to have an idea. There was another evil spreading through the land that was far more insidious and calculating than the Vul. An evil that Jabbar warned the family about on several occasions.

Zaen heard about those efforts to sway the Najafi family elders. As expected the answer was always the same. 'First we defeat the Vul, unite the people and restore the Kingdom of Summara. Together the people can defeat any enemy. Help us do that so we can help you.'

Zaen hated the Vul as much as anyone. In this moment in fact. as his hands balled into fists, he felt like he hated them most of all! He also felt like the elders were wrong about something very important. What they should have said was. 'First you unite the people. Together the people can defeat any enemy. Period.'

Thanks to Ishvar's vision Zaen was sure of one thing. Jabbar was thinking of him when he died, hoping he would carry on where he left off.
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Zaen Najafi

Zaen paces back and forth for a while, thinking about what he must do. Memories of his uncle keep popping up in his head, pleasant memories he wishes he could hold onto and keep. However, the ugly vision of his death keeps overtaking the pleasant memories. He finds as he is pacing and with the vision of the javelin piercing his uncle his fist are balled tighter than he can ever remember. ~You are letting the anger take over again Zaen.~ He thinks to himself, "TO HELL WITH THAT" he exclaims loudly. It was a light flash and the clap of thunder that brought him back. He sat down at the end of his bed and began to think. ~What should I do, there was a purpose for this vision?~

He immediately gets up, everything is suddenly clear. He begins to pack some of his things, gathers his supplies, and prepares to leave. He Knows that he must follow in his uncle's footsteps, and perhaps a little vengeance to the Vul could occur. He decides that he needs to get to Jabbar's shop, perhaps there he can find some answers. As he makes his way toward the door a disturbing thought crossed his mind. Perhaps this was the last time he would see this cottage, perhaps the last time he will step foot in this town. He then said to himself, "I just got here anyway, it is time to move on." Zaen prays "Ishvar, be my guide." He opens the door, covers his head with his hood, and steps out into the rain and thunder. As he begins to make his way to his uncle's shop he takes one last look at his cottage. He then turns and leaves, in the distance he can see the arena. He feels the excitement of another adventure over take his anger and grief, if ever so briefly.
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Aust Thale

Aust and the Rhat

~ Bloody hell ~

"I have three questions: Who is their leader? Where is the leader? When will his leader attack?"

He pulls a canvas sack from a stack of them folded in one of the basement boxes. Jabbar was such a neatnik...Aust missed him already.

"Put the bottom half of the headless rhat in the sack and tie it. We'll toss it down the nearest gutter and see what comes for it."

Aust knows he will need to tell Jabbar's family in short order, particularly Zaen. He's not looking forward to it, and it adds venom to his grief.

Aust gently pops off tops of several boxes, "We have some things at our disposal. Potions. Some weapons and armor. Wands, and the like. And this."
He removes an ornate bolt of cloth in a deep indigo hue with alabaster piping. He lays the cloth down on a table nearest the stairs. A hole opens where the table cloth is.

"We can carry something large with it; actually many somethings. But I'm thinking this might be the best way to transport the Vul's and perhaps Jabbar's bodies from here without drawing even more attention to us."

He digs through more items, "Anyone able to use anything? But don't get greedy; you can pay for it later. If indeed we revenge Jabbar and put an end to these sewer-dwellers, consider them a thank you."

He allows the others to look over the wares. "We need to leave Dera and the slaves out of this. Do not mention Jabbar nor anything else that has transpired. One of you put the Vul remains into canvas sacks. Wrap him up good, but leave it such that one of us can unroll him. Once he's packaged up, we'll put him in the Magic Bag here. And drop this in a really good spot. Burrai, respectfully, I realize the Vul appear indiscriminate, but they actually need people to subjugate. And where I plan to put this, it'll be pretty clear who the Vul should kill. It's either that, or you come up with a better idea ."

Aust's natural affability and temperament has given way to calculation.

"But know this, comrades..." Aust speaks the term with some salt, and looks at Bill and Avar, "...I aim to misbehave."
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Aletia: Appraisals

The young elven lass had retreated a few steps, hoping for the intensity of the decision-making whirlwind to pass her by. The room was filled with emotion still, chaotic almost, as Jabbar's chosen discussed plans and potential paths.

This was a wise time to remain quiet, she decided, not wishing to draw further attention to her part in the tragedy. As for choices and opinions, probably better to keep them to herself for now too. The present was an opportunity to observe, and learn of how these brave souls might operate with their leader fallen, form a plan, and hopefully execute it. So far, execution didn't seem to be a problem for them.

Aust's magic cloth, it was a miracle to behold! Aletia's jaw dropped at the demonstration. Now that was going to be extremely handy. It got her ears perked up as from a distance she ran her eyes across the variety of tools fresh on display. Was it too soon? She felt guilty at the thought of borrowing anything from these people, enjoying a personal gain from another's demise.

Patiently she would loiter and see what became of this meeting. Should a plan be formed and tools worthy for the purpose be identified, then she'd not refuse the loan of course.

None of this stopped her looking and appreciating though. She couldn't help herself, particularly if any of the items appeared of exceptional quality. Crafting of ornaments and shaping of gems was very much part of her blood, a past life where a jovial and charismatic mother would tirelessly collect, refine and market fine goods. It was a nice memory, but brought a shadow to her thoughts with all that had transpired in the years since. Those days were gone, but maybe the skills would still serve useful.

[Appraise check just in case = 19. She is viewing from a distance of course but is seeing if anything in particular catches her eye.]


In the Cellar of Jabbar's Trade Shop

"I have three questions: Who is their leader? Where is the leader? When will his leader attack?"

Elloral: Nods slowly, acknowledging Aust's questions before taking in a deep breath. This was clearly not something she wanted to do, but the call of duty was strong enough to motivate most any dwarf to do most anything. "Very Well." She says determinedly.

He pulls a canvas sack from a stack of them folded in one of the basement boxes. Jabbar was such a neatnik...Aust missed him already.

"Put the bottom half of the headless rhat in the sack and tie it. We'll toss it down the nearest gutter and see what comes for it."

Burrai: Frowns "Probably not a good idea. No one here knows how to navigate the sewers. REN was our only guide! Unless he returns it's too risky. A good soldier should pick his battles (and especially his battlefield) with better odds in his favor."

Aust gently pops off tops of several boxes, "We have some things at our disposal. Potions. Some weapons and armor. Wands, and the like. And this."

He removes an ornate bolt of cloth in a deep indigo hue with alabaster piping. He lays the cloth down on a table nearest the stairs. A hole opens where the table cloth is.

"We can carry something large with it; actually many somethings. But I'm thinking this might be the best way to transport the Vul's and perhaps Jabbar's bodies from here without drawing even more attention to us."

He digs through more items, "Anyone able to use anything? But don't get greedy; you can pay for it later. If indeed we revenge Jabbar and put an end to these sewer-dwellers, consider them a thank you."

He allows the others to look over the wares. "We need to leave Dera and the slaves out of this. Do not mention Jabbar nor anything else that has transpired. One of you put the Vul remains into canvas sacks. Wrap him up good, but leave it such that one of us can unroll him. Once he's packaged up, we'll put him in the Magic Bag here. And drop this in a really good spot."

"Burrai, respectfully, I realize the Vul appear indiscriminate, but they actually need people to subjugate. And where I plan to put this, it'll be pretty clear who the Vul should kill. It's either that, or you come up with a better idea."

"But know this, comrades..." Aust speaks the term with some salt, and looks at Bill and Avar, "...I aim to misbehave."

Burrai: Scratches his chin hrrrming in something like a growl. "If used RIGHT, the Vulkyrie corpse is a good lure to call upon the wrath of the other Vulkyrie; no doubt about that! ...So long as the Vulkyrie blame the right people I have no problem with using it that way."

Meanwhile, Elloral steps over the still wererat corpse of the stranger, (now reverted to human form) his chest split open by the thrust of Ersuns greatsword. She kneels down to one knee, clasping the magical beads of her long braids together in her hands as she prays. A few moments later, she opens her eyes and speaks to the corpse.

Elloral: "WHO is your leader?"

The rest of you in the cellar find yourselves starring at the corpse as the cellar goes eerily quiet. At first it seems the spell failed because the corpse remains perfectly still. Not even the eyes move to look at Elloral. Indeed nothing about its still form appears to respond to her question... until its slack jaw slowly mouths a name.

Stranger: "...Noorrrooo..." It hisses with a sucking, hollow breath (worsened by its massive chest wound) that sends shivers through most of you.

Elloral: Swallows. "WHERE is your leader?" She asks.

Stranger: "Roooming beeehiiind 'The Goooblinnns Gooobbbletttt'."

Elloral: "WHEN is your leader attacking?"

Stranger: "Onnn the Fuullll Mooonnnnn..." It gasps for the last time as the spell ends.

Elloral: Stands again quickly glad to step away from the thing. "Which one should I question next?" She asks, and looks to Billanverthorne specifically responding to his recent suggestion. "I don't want to question Jabbar. He was not our enemy. Out of respect only another family member can ask me to do so. Those are the rules of my faith."

[Everyone: What do you do?]

Note: MOST of the magical items available in the cellar are listed below. Jabbar labeled them all neatly but if you are not sure of their powers or how they work, you should either direct your questions to Aust (or perhaps Avar) IN CHARACTER, or make a suitable Knowledge: Arcana Check or perhaps cast Detect Magic.

[sblock= Jabbar's Magical Items]
Potion of Lesser Restoration
Potion of Delay Poison
Potion of Neutralize Poison
Oil of Darkness
Potion of Cure Light Wounds x6
Oil of Bless Weapon
Potion of Hide from Animals
Potion of Spider Climb
Potion of Resist Energy (30)

Ring of Protection +2
Ring of Feather Falling

Wand of Cure Moderate Wounds
Wand of Knock
Wand of Detect Secret Doors
Wand of Magic Missile (1st)

Hat of Disguise
Bracers of Archery (Lesser)
Cloak of Resistance +1
Elixer of Truth
Bag of holding Type IV
Bracers of Armor +3
Lantern of Revealing

Ring of Clumsiness
Cursed Sword, -2
Stone of Weight
Flask of Curses

Intelligent Item (Skull of a Kobold)[/sblock]
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High in the Great Drakeshvar Valley

Ra'd Alim Abd Al-Halid woke with a jolt in the back of a rickety refuse cart as it rolled and rattled over cracked and ancient pave stones. The foul scent of soiled garments, rotting food, and animal dung stung his senses almost as badly as the fresh bruises around his ribs and jaw. Every bump and shudder of creaky old wheels sent shivers of pain through him.

"Don't move lad, keep quiet. Best let the fools think you're dead!" A familiar wheezing voice counseled in traditional Caishian from the carts bench before urging whatever poor beast of burden was pulling to move faster. Ra'd Alim struggled to recognize the voice through a mental fog of heavy drink and dulling pain.

He lifted his head enough to catch glimpse of the Great Keep of the Sovereign passing away into the distance within the craggy peaks of the Drakeshvar Valley. As that looming fortress faded into a dim pre-dawn glow, flashes of last night came back to him. ~So at last it has come to this!~ He cursed inwardly, remembering an argument at the great feast a few hours ago.

Ra'd Alim imbibed a bit too much of a strong foreign drink and finally let his tongue loose about his feelings towards the attitude of the elder dragon shamans and the three dominated dragons who served as the winged guardians of the valley and its people. Given the insults he vaguely remembered cursing across the table at his superiors, it was actually something of a miracle he was still breathing at all.

However, Ra'd Alim was easily one of the toughest of the warrior shamans. He had suffered worse than these bruises before. His reputation as a fierce fighter was renowned throughout the valley. He could spar with the best of the other warriors as well as the best of the veteran soldiers of the Djonfang standing army. His nickname, 'Mauler' was well earned given his unusual favored weapon, a mighty Ogre Maul which was almost comically over-sized for someone five-foot-two.

Ra'd Alim groaned and weakly felt around the piles of rubbish, searching for his weapon.

"Keep still!" The elderly wheezing voice scolded. "I already retrieved your grossly cumbersome weapon along with some of your gear. Forget about the rest... You are banished!" The ragged old man added with a snicker from the bench.

~Banished?!~ Ra'd Alim scoffed inwardly. ~What nonsense!~ He was a native of this valley after all, born and raised by one of the local peasant tribes who carried mixed ancestry from Akhenaten, Maharathan and Caishian bloodlines stretching back nearly three thousand years. At age sixteen he was old enough to stand in the tribal militia and from there was quickly recruited into the Djonfang standing army. A rare honor for his rather poor tribe.

"Where are you taking me?" Ra'd Alim croaked, nearly passing out from the effort to speak.

"Away from here! For now that is all you need to know. Don't speak, your ribs are broken."

~As if I needed you to tell me that, I remember very well how this feels...~ Ra'd Alim mused to himself... recalling that fateful day four years ago when the great army of the Ogre King descended down into the valley, spreading doom and fire to every town and village. The standing army was outnumbered, encircled and overwhelmed until the three dominated dragons of the Elder Dragon Shamans were summoned to their aid.

Of course the Ogre King was expectant of this and quickly entered the fray on his own personal mount. A dominated collosal Land Dragon aptly named 'Dreadclaw' by the evil humanoids. Dreadclaw easily over-sized the smaller three commanded by the Djonfang. Their names were Odjor Canavar, Vagar Fatalescalas, and Nefestra Vandrago. Depsite their assistance in the fray, the outcome of the battle looked decidedly grim in favor of the Ogre King.

By a strange twist of fate, Ra'd Alim found himself standing near as Odjor Canavar was thrown to the ground in the clutch of Dreadclaws jaws an instant before Odjor's tail knocked the Ogre King off his saddle. The evil humanoid monarch went flying into the mud mere paces from where Ra'd Alim stood.

Moments later, Ra'd Alim found himself in a duel for his life with the Ogre King. The same mighty maul he now claimed as his own broke several of his ribs in the Ogre's grip. Ra'd Alim fought on desperately, thrusting his spear into the vile Ogre's throat, plunging his own cracked ribs through flesh in the effort soaking his tunic in blood before he collapsed.

As the Ogre King also fell, his spell on Dreadclaw also passed. The great wyrm's ensuing confusion allowed Odjor Canavar to slip free of his jaws, roll over and pin down the larger dragon long enough for the other two to swoop down in a frenzy of wings and claws. Together the three were able to slay the mighty Dreadclaw, but for Ra'd Alim it was already too late.

As he felt his life's breath ebbing through his massive chest would, Dreadclaws blood flowed over the ground over Ra'd Alim's dying and gasping body moments before a strange old hermit came to his aid seemingly out of nowhere. His healing touch brought Ra'd Alim back from the brink of death. When he awoke again he was being carried through the battlefield as a hero.

Hours later, he began to notice fantastic changes in his body and physique. Dreadclaws blood had somehow mixed with his own, grating him greater strength, toughness and other abilities typically possessed only by the Elder Dragon Shamans of the ruling elite. Ra'd Alim never asked for the honor of being a hero or the powers he now possessed. Part of him imagined the old hermit was responsible somehow, and yet he had no idea how to find him again.

Very soon after the battle, Ra'd Alim was accepted into the ranks of the warriors who served the ruling Dragon Shamans. As each warrior was also an aspiring shaman in training, they studied the mysteries of dragon lore and magic hoping to succeed their superiors someday.

Ra'd Alim was something of a black sheep in their order. Gifted certainly, but young, uneducated and very raw with his opinions. Ra'd Alim took to volunteer as often as possible to leave the halls and patrol the lands of the valley, seeking out the old hermit in the process.

After a few years had passed, Ra'd Alim eventually did find the mysterious stranger camped by a stream fishing for carp. The old hermit introduced himself as Guo Jiang, an agent of the Emperor of Caishia and a learned dragon shaman.

Ra'd Alim didn't know how to react to a foreigner who openly declared himself as a foreign agent? Spies and assassins were no trifling matter to the Djonfang. Execution and torture were expected punishments for those who were caught. Ra'd Alim decided to test how this old man would react when he threatened to arrest him.

The old man merely cackled. "You're welcome to try, though that's hardly appreciative given how I saved your life!"

"My loyalty is to the Sovereign!"

Guo Jiang snorted. "Your loyalty is misplaced! Zhi Yu was loyal to the emperor! He was the first Imperial Magistrate of this valley. Surely your historical texts haven't omitted that fact?"

Ra'd Alim frowned. He wasn't used to being lectured by anyone outside the walls of the Great Keep. "I am aware of it." He retorted. "However, during the dark times after the great calamity, Caishia sent no aid! Thus it was only reasonable to declare independence and look after ourselves."

Guo Jiang sighed "Those were hard times for the Empire as well. Our defeat in the wars against the Samurai on the islands of Katan, for instance, sapped much of our military reserves and resources. The reign of the first emperor were not altogether easy. He was a man of great vision hindered by great challenges. Some vassal territories suffered while the mainland struggled to reorganize and accept the new government."

Ra'd Alim could only shake his head. "What is the point of this debate? Why are you here?"

"I am here to sway your loyalty into service of the Empire, where it belongs for the sake of your people! Another great calamity will soon wreck havoc upon these lands."

Ra'd Alim looked doubtful. "And what calamity would that be?"

"Overwhelming darkness!" The old man hissed.

Ra'd Alim swallowed unconsciously. Guo Jiang certainly sounded sincere. He decided to humor him if only to learn more about his motives through his ravings. "And why would the Empire use its strength to help us now?"

"I do not question the will of the emperor... but I imagine it would be prudent to consider the strategic value of this valley. It's position over the surrounding lands is advantageous for many reasons, especially for the dragon-blooded."

"It sounds like you are hinting about some great war to come?"

"Indeed!" The old man nodded.

"A war with whom?"

The old man smirked. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you, and I know little other than conjecture, fears and rumors... but all the emperors wisest advisers agree, the darkness is coming!"

"Why would we have to submit to rule by the emperor? Could we not just stand together as allies?"

The old man chuckled. "If you wanted to fish this stream with me, we would be as allies... but there is little chance both our hooks would catch the same fish. When the big one bites, we must hold firm AS ONE to overpower it." He says brandishing his fists together with emphasis.

Ra'd Alim paused and changed tacts. "Why did you save my life on the battlefield three years ago?"

"I believed you had a brave heart worthy of the gifts of the dragon blood. Before your duel against the Ogre King, you proved yourself worthy in many skirmishes against bandits and Wyverns. It is my intention to teach you what I can, though time grows short."

"I have teachers..."

"They know nothing of real use to you. I waited this long to introduce myself so you could hopefully figure this out for yourself. They can't even explain how you grew to possess your abilities so quickly without training can they? Make no mistake, Caishia is the oldest and wisest culture on Sion in regards to dragon magic and lore. After all, our great divine deity, Zu, is the oldest and most powerful dragon that ever lived!"

From there the debate went on for hours. The old man managed to catch a few fish in the process and offered to shared a meal with Ra'd Alim. That was the first of several meetings over the following year. Ra'd Alim never yet surrendered loyalty to the Sovereign, but neither did he report the old man as a conspirator.

In the meantime Guo Jiang taught Ra'd Alim many things, the sense of which prompted many questions about the nature of Dragon Magic and the ethics of dominating the three dragons in their service.

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High in the Great Drakeshvar Valley; Part II

Ra'd Alim woke again as the cart rattled to a halt beside a small mountain lake near a copse of rugged pine trees, the largest of which was easily over thirty feet tall offering plenty of shade from the afternoon sun. Though groggy and still in quite a bit of pain, Ra'd Alim did recognize the place as one of the remote camp sites along his patrol routes. Hunters and trappers occasionally used this grove, but also bandits and smugglers.

They were some distance away from the main trade road now, headed north further out of the valley. Ra'd Alim must have been unconscious for several hours. He attempted to sit up, grimmacing, and collapsed once again. ~Strange, my powers of regeneration haven't helped?!~ He ponders through clenched teeth.

The old man turns around to regard Ra'd Alim with a knowing look. "I am sure you believe you should be feeling better by now? Unfortunately the elder shamans have cursed you, stripping your powers away! I imagine their expectation was without them you would soon die of your injuries." He chuckles. "...Killing you without actually slaying you on the spot." He says matter-of-factly before hoping off the bench to unhitch his mule.

"I know you can heal me!" Ra'd Alim demands angrily through gritted teeth.

"IF I removed the curse, yes of course I could heal you, but with proper care you won't die anyway so there is no need. We have a difficult journey ahead of us and I must conserve my magic now for use only as a last resort."

Ra'd Alim was very much annoyed with the feeling of weakness, confusion and vulnerability apart from his suffering. His anger gave him the resolve to finally lift his body up to lean against the sides of the cart, panting and sweating. Beneath the sheltering branches of the pines he old man seemed to have already prepared a campsite here with a pair of tents.

Around the lake a narrow trail was visible through the brush and reeds leading into the peaks of the Maharathan Mountains. From here there would be no more room for the cart. Ra'd Alim still had no idea what their final destination was, but he was sure there was no way he could walk, or even ride the mule in his present state. Something else to annoy him.

"How long are we going to camp here?"

"Just tonight." The old man stated tying the mule on a long lead to one of the carts wheels. "Other dragon shamans will be searching for us. By now they've already realized you've survived and slipped away."

Ra'd Alim felt a sinking feeling in his gut. "Why would they bother? As you say I am already banished and almost as good as dead."

"It's not YOU they'll be worried about..." He answers cryptically. "Dragons are connected to the territory and lair they claim. It is part of them as much as they are a part of it. This connection creates an aura of their presence, intimating something of their age and power. The longer they dwell in one place the greater their connection, and aura, becomes."

"Intruders into a dragons territory, be it men, wandering beasts, or especially other dragons, do not belong. Dragons find the presence of intruders discomforting, and after centuries of practiced concentration, they can ascertain a great deal about whatever dares to trespass before they ever lay eyes on it. The longer an interloper remains, the easier it is to figure out what it is and where they come from. Sort of like the way an animals scent lingers and grows the longer something stays put in one place."

"It's a way of sensing the world that men can only dream of! Yet dragon shamans can learn to do it as well, albeit to a much more limited extent."

Ra'd Alim understood. "You're saying the elders can sense you?!"

The old man nodded. "As an agent of the emperor I am practiced at concealing my aura as part of my training, but I have spent too much time keeping an eye on you and exploring your great valley ever since I saved your life."

"The elders have sensed my presence for a while now, but they could not pinpoint where I was or where I came from until I saved your life again snatching you away from the bowels of Great Keep of the Sovereign itself! In essence, I violated their lair and risked everything to save your neck! It was a very foolish thing to do. Much too bold, much too bold indeed." He snickers.

Ra'd Alim frowned. "And that's why you won't use your powers to heal me."

"Correct!" He snapped. "Our best chance to escape this valley requires that you suffer a while longer."

Ra'd Alim sighed. "Though I thank you for what you have done, the irony is I do not think we have much of a chance at escape unless you heal me. I am not the only dragon shaman familiar with these trails. I cannot yet walk, much less ride the mule... how do you expect we can move fast enough to evade them?"

"Leave that to me!" The old man cackles. "I have made arrangement to have you carried."

Ra'd Alim stared at the old man with great discomfort at that idea. "Carried?! By whom?!"

"You'll meet them soon enough, hush now and let me get supper going. We're both famished and I know there's good fish to catch in this lake!"
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Zaen Najafi

As you move away from your cottage, stormy winds cling and tug against your robes as drenching rain pummels the ground. The earth and stones beneath your feet are slick with mud as you step down the path into town. Though you've made your way a dozen times before on a clear night by moonlight, conditions now are perfect to break an ankle. Hanging lanterns on the other cottages and farmhouses offer little aid by illumination, swinging so wildly they cast wild shadows.

Just as you pause to consider going back for the lantern you keep by your door, fleeting movement at the corner of your eye catches your attention. Something small slinking around one of your neighbors nearby farmhouse.

[Zaen: Make a spot check. What do you do?]


Vandrok, Rhast

You make your way towards the large cave entrance where visitors approaching by way of the path of blood may seek audience with the Great Kumbakarna, the one you and the other children refer to as 'Father', or 'Master' by his servants. Even for someone of your bulk, the many cave-like passages and corridors of the fathers underground lair are adequately enlarged; dugout long ago to accommodate Kumbakarna's huge size.

As you walk your thoughts dwell on what Rhast said. ~"Did you know that the one-eyed half dwarf smuggler was touched by a shaman of Kalia?! Or that he smashed in the skull of Kumbakarna's pet demon with a hammer?!"~

In the few years you have spent here you have witnessed several party's of visitors face Kumbakarna's pet beasts. The Demon Rhast mentioned was his most recent capture. A fearsome foe, something not even you could defeat without difficulty. Whoever this party of strangers were, they were clearly competent warriors and survivors. Qualities you respected.

And yet, what of the Caishian dragon-shaman you met earlier? If he was indeed one of these who came by the path of blood, how was he permitted to leave before presenting his gifts to Kumbakarna? Such a thing was unheard of. Nothing and nobody escaped the rule of the great Kumbakarna! As an example you need only consider the pitiful blinded merchant, Euthrius, left alive now only as a living reminder of the dangers of disrespecting the master and the father.

With Rhast close at your heels, you make your way to lower passage entering the deeper end of the cave walled off from the gates by heavy iron bars. There as expected you spot Vahr, the elder shaman, accompanied by four other tribesman, all painted with the same ghostly-white markings over their faces mimicking bleached skulls.

The best armored of them wears a hide-breastplate reinforced with scapula and rib bones, an elaborately painted cayote-skull tied over one shoulder like an epaulet-of-sorts. This one was a warrior-beserker by the name of Hjurn. The other three wear plain hides. One carries a wooden shield, two more have hide-shields while the beserker has no shield at all, only bracers reinforced with large fangs.

As you step into the cave, Rhast lingers behind a few paces keeping to the shadows of the lower passage. He knows he's not welcomed in the presence of the tribesman, yet keenly watches everyone's every move and listens in with equally great attention.

The cave is brightly lit on your side of the bars by two cook fires, Hjurn hails your arrival with a quick raised warning of his hand as if to say 'Halt', immediately stepping towards you to make the point he has been ordered by Vahr to ensure no one interferes with his business.

Meanwhile the other young warriors keep their distance from you, watching you with wary side-long glances, nervously gripping their spears as they pass around a leather-handled clay jug with a wooden-stopper at the bottom. Occasionally someone hefts it up to their shoulder and plucks out the stopper filling their drinking-horns with the tribes favorite drink, fermented goats milk.

As Hjurn draws closer, his expression softens somewhat and breaks into a chummy-grin.

Hjurn: -Speaking Common- "Brother Vandrok! You missed the fight!" He states gesturing beyond the bars to the great red bulk of the slain demon, sprawled on its back, nothing remaining of its face but a bloody pulp dimly lit by the torches along the cave wall where some of your peers keep guard over the visitors upon a high walkway.

A short distance away from the demon, you notice another cook fire has been lit, around which sit three strangers, two of whom are much stouter in stature, probably dwarves, though its hard to make out greater details unless you approach closer to peer through the bars. The tallest of the strangers is dressed in some sort of robes and looks to be an older human. Perhaps a spell caster? Was he the one the dragon-shaman named Wrenwil with knowledge of the 'coming doom'?

Before you speak to Hjurn, you glance over his shoulder at Vahr, crouched beside one of the cook fires in a tattered sheepskin cloak clutching a crude obsidian knife, eyes closed in trance as a rasping chant utters from his lips in their strange secret language. Beside him, an equally old and wrinkled woman clutches a young lamb to her bosom.

You recognize the wrinkled woman to be one of the nineteen daughters of Shelahr, a powerful priestess of Kalia named Akehra. Though Hjurn seems to be acting friendly and indifferent to his duties at the moment, whatever ritual is presently being performed by Vahr and Akehra is a serious matter that should not be interrupted. You recall again what Rhast told you. ~"Did you know that the one-eyed half dwarf smuggler was touched by a shaman of Kalia?"~

Though you know precious little about Kalia and the secret rituals of the hill tribe, you have observed the shamans touching strangers before as part of a spell to determine the truthfulness of their character by drawing out hidden thoughts and memories. You know also that the lamb clutched by the priestess will soon be sacrificed as an offering to Kalia, a common practice in their cult, which depending on the intent of the ritual could have many powerful spiritual effects.

[Vandrok: What do you do?]

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Tellerian Hawke

Defender of Oerth
Vandrok the Relentless

Vandrok snorts with glee, “It seems that the demon was not so strong after all. I came here to speak to Vahr, but if he is busy, I can wait. In the meantime, I’d like to approach the fence, and get a closer look at these vagrants who were able to triumph over the demon. You can never tell, I might end up fighting them eventually. I want to size them up and catch their scent. I won’t go near Vahr’s campfire. What say you, brother?”
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In the lair of Kumbakarna

Wrenwil's homeland tobacco hadn't been enough. The old cleric's antics with Svexyn failed dismally as a lure or the means of a trade, so he'd stepped back to contemplate. Pentos had surely smiled on them this day, the quick end to a foul demonic beast, the escape from a following horde and all. They were hungry, yet it was time to be thankful for their lives. He whispered a quiet prayer, and in those short moments something clicked. Something in his wrinkled old head connected some dots. It was as though pieces of acquired knowledge finally spoke of greater potential...

Wrenwils grip tensed on his staff as Ordechai was caught in the clutches of the savage shaman, but he would not interfere unless harm had come to his friend. It was hard to tell what had happened actually, as they grappled and the ugly host tapped into what must be some supernatural force. They were trapped, and he wasn't going to be the one to usher in a hail of arrowheads.

Wrenwil moved behind Ordechai as he took some hasty steps back having finally pulling free of the shamans grasp, laying a friendly hand atop the half-dwarf's shoulder.

"Are you ok? Eat not that tainted turkey. Pentos may provide for us, just as was done with the demon. We need only ask."

Ordechai appears somewhat shaken by the touch of the elder shaman as he turns to move with you back to your cook fire, glaring angrily, perhaps even fearfully over his shoulder back through the iron bars. "Damn them! Savages!" He says, adding in a lower voice. "The spell only lasted a moment, but I sensed great power of ancient magics pouring through me, laying bare my most personal thoughts and memories. I don't think I'd have a secret left to hide if he'd held on for much longer!"

Alic HelmMaker was already back on his feet and a few steps towards the bars, battleaxe in hand, when Ordechai cried out in the grips of the shamans spell. He sat down again with some relief as he returned safely, evidently overhearing some of what he said to Wrenwil as well.

Alic: "You say they read your thoughts?!" He comments in a hushed voice with some disbelief. "Can savages like these really work magic that way?"

Before Ordechai can answer, Wrenwil casts a spell of his own to fill their empty stomachs.

Wrenwil said:
[Casting Create Food & Water. Feeds 3 hungry humans per level. Will attempt to create enough to be able to offer the savages a taste, in case they would like to sample Pentos' gifts.]

A rather sizable spread of food appears beside the cookfire, all typical Chivalan favorites that Wrenwil prefers. Normally a spell of this type creates very simple, basic fare, but somehow tonight the gods are generous!

A basket of three types of breads (seeded-rye, sourdough & biscuits) appears along with two half-wheels of cheese (hard and soft), a steaming cook pot of vegetable beef stew, a large plate of salt-and-peppered venison, a tray of smoked salmon, a trencher of sizzling bacon, and even a wide bowl stacked high with cinnamon apple tarts and another bowl of fresh butter.

Ordechai claps the priest on the back. "Pentos be blessed!" He states gratefully, immediately stabbing a thick cut of bacon with his dagger, crunching and chewing on it with a very satisfactory expression. Moments pass as Alic also greedily starts to eat, and than suddenly everyone realizes... Svexyn is gone?!

Argument and general panic begins to ensue before a folded bit of parchment is spotted in the sands where he was sitting. The message is plainly scrawled in common.

'Please give my apologies to the great Kumbakarna. The voice of Bet'Shava calls to me and I must go. We will meet again!'

What do you do?]
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The elderly priest was still chewing a fair chunk of delicious homeland bread, waving one hand about in an effort to extinguish the chaos, when he noticed the parchment. First he prodded it with the end of his staff, just to be sure it wasn't some kind of trick. Then with a little more courage, he gulped the last of his mouthful down, and stooped over to scoop up the oddity. This wasn’t a particularly fluid movement, his old bones creaking from days of travel taking their toll. Still, he was tougher than most his age.

Dryly he stated,
“friends, it seems Svexyn will not be present for dessert.”

He read the message to his companions and shared it with them, he was quite amazed in fact.

“Well, at least one of us has left bumcrack’s lair alive.”
He muttered, grinning, but the rest of his face would express deep concern. “Our numbers dwindle, and this… well it is a magic I’m not acquainted with.”

Wrenwil sat back down next to the glorious food.

“Perhaps not much we can do about it. This at least is beyond our control. We should eat our fill none the less, Pentos has been kind to us, and we would be wise not to waste these gifts.”

It had been good to see Ordechai back to his old self, if only for a moment. The shaman’s touch and what it might have done though, this was a worry that would scratch at Wrenwil’s mind for quite some time to come.

he spoke quietly, leaning towards the half-dwarf.

Ordechai: I don't think I'd have a secret left to hide if he'd held on for much longer!"

“... the question is, have they taken anything from you that was best they wouldn’t know?”

[Wrenwil will attempt to pray and rest if he gets an opportunity. He'll also try a knowledge (arcana) check about the parchment. Roll = 22.]

[sblock=Wrenwil Stats]
WRENWIL - a tough old boot on a terrible holiday

6, Init 2, HP 31/38, Speed 30
AC 15, Touch 13, Flat-footed 13, Fort 7, Ref 6, Will 11, Base Attack Bonus 4
Masterwork Staff +5 to hit (d6+3)
Spells: 4/4/3/2
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Zaen Najafi

Zaen stops, he thinks for a moment that perhaps he should make a run for it, but hesitates. He looks around for something to cast light on, to better illuminate his surrounding. He strains his eyes to see if he can see what it was that made the noise, as he looks he has his hand on his blade in case he needs to protect himself.

OOC: Spot check = 16+4 mod=20
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