Pathfinder 1E JollyDoc's Way Of The Wicked

JollyDoc

Explorer
11 Rova, 4716 - 20 Rova, 4716 - Biding Time

Day 2

"I see what's going on here," Tardaesha said.
She sat at the bar in the Lord's Dalliance, her chin propped in one hand, smiling slyly at Bellam Barhold.
"How do you mean, Miss?" the innkeeper asked hesitantly.
"The soldiers," Tardaesha replied. "Your serving girls."
Barhold paled slightly.
"You have an awful lot of men from the Tower asking your ladies out on 'lunch' dates. Strangely enough, all of these 'dates' seem to take place upstairs...where there's no food."
Barhold cleared his throat.
"Well, Miss, 'tis not exactly a secret, but the Lord Commander frowns on such things. Still, even a man such as him knows his boys have needs, and better to have those needs met privately here than in the back alleys of the town proper. Quite a scandal that would be."
"Quite," Tardaesha kept smiling. "Don't get me wrong. I don't disapprove. I just want in on the action."
Barhold's complexion flushed bright red this time.
"How's that?" he stammered.
"You heard me," Tardaesha said. "Ultimately, once our consortium establishes trade routes here, we will be bringing in a tidy income, but in the mean time, a girl's got to eat. Allow me to ply my wares along with your ladies, and you can have half my take. Interested?"
Barhold looked her up and down for a long moment, then nodded.
"The boys are always interested in fresh me...ah, 'wares,'" he said. "You keep it discrete, mind you, and only on the grounds of the inn. I won't be inviting trouble from his Lordship."
"It's a deal," Tardaesha grinned, and held out her hand to shake on it.

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Katarina walked around the side of the inn to an outside pantry door. She glanced around to see if anyone was nearby, though truthfully, even if they had been it would be unlikely they would have given her a second glance. After all, delivery boys were a common sight around the Lord's Dalliance, and the circlet upon her brow allowed her a convincing disguise. Certain that the coast was clear, she slipped her picks from her sleeve and deftly opened the lock on the door, then darted quickly inside. The pantry was unoccupied, and she put her ear to the door that led into the wine closet. All quiet. Kat entered the small room and then through the door to the cellar. She had no trouble finding the spot on the wall that Barhold had touched the night before, and when she pressed it, the wall hinged open. Glancing around one last time, she slipped through and pulled the door shut behind her.

Beyond the door was a winding tunnel. Kat followed for some distance, perhaps even a mile or more, she could not tell. Eventually, it ended in a sizable vault that looked to be filled with several thousand days' worth of iron rations alongside barrels of potable water and other durable provisions. There was a ladder leading up to a trap door in the ceiling. Kat climbed it and pressed her ear against the wood. From the other side she could hear the clanging sound of metal on metal, and the voices of several men. She climbed back down and sat cross-legged on the floor, pondering. It seemed the rumor was true. She must be directly under the Tower. She decided to bide her time there for awhile.

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Earlier that morning, Lemmy had met the dwarves in the common room. They greeted him jovially, and introduced themselves again: Nalond, Brotil, Dwinuun, Grunni, Drukon, Hargrim, Farni, Munzad, Ketzad, Grigrim, and of course their leader Barnabus. Lemmy made them an even dozen. They set off towards the Tower, but as they left the taproom, Lemmy could hear Dakota, seated at the bar, whistling a familiar tune, one that started with the nonsense lyrics 'Hi Ho, Hi Ho.' Lemmy vowed to smother her in her sleep when he had a chance.

The dwarves entered the Tower through a small gate on the Aldencross side that was barred by a portcullis and a reinforced door. Beyond that was a large courtyard that was mostly utilitarian. The grass was short and the paths cobbled. A plain fountain burbled quietly to one side and several tonsured young men, dressed in the white robes of Iomedean acolytes, were busy cleaning it. A large keep sat in the middle of the courtyard, with two soldiers standing post outside its doors. Lemmy made a mental note of all that he witnessed. Barnabus Eisenbauch led them up a flight of stairs from the yard to the battlements, and then onto a bridge that spanned one-hundred feet from the walls to the gatehouse which faced the northern wilds.
"The Bridge of Death they call this," Eisenbauch said to Lemmy. "It overlooks another bridge down below. If an army were to get past the gatehouse, this would be the second line of defense. Archers could fire volleys and drop stones down onto the invaders. Got its name over a hundred years ago when a tribe of ogres attacked Balentyne and managed to break the portcullis. The commander of the Tower at the time left the drawbridge down and the ogres rushed out onto the bridge. That's when the archers let loose, and within a minute not a single ogre survived!"
"Fascinatin' bit'o engineerin', that," Lemmy grinned.

The bridge led to the second level of the gatehouse, where a single door was propped open. Inside was an open room that spanned the entire level. Archer slits lined the walls, and two great cauldrons filled with heated sand stood poised above murder holes. Two stout winches were placed along one wall.
"Drawbridge, and portcullis," Eisenbauch indicated each.
'Fool,' Lemmy thought to himself. 'Just keep talkin'."
Four soldiers were on duty in the room, and it was obvious that the outer door was kept open due to the chamber's stifling heat. A pair of ladders led to trapdoors in the ceiling, and there were also two trapdoors in the floor. Four of the dwarves peeled off at this point and began fussing with the winches as well as the cauldron trolleys. Eisenbauch and the others, motioning for Lemmy to follow, climbed one of the ladders to the rooftop.

The open-air, crenellated roof of the gatehouse was dominated by siege engines and munitions of war. The banner of Talingarde fluttered from a flagpole mounted in the center of the west battlements. Two fearsome ballistae pointed out across the rocky approach to the gatehouse. They were loaded with great barbed missiles that conveyed the message 'death to any who approach unbidden.' Beside each ballista was a rack full of ammunition for them, at least fifty shots apiece. Two stone-droppers overlooked the portcullis of the gatehouse, which would allow rocks from great troughs to be hurled down upon the heads of approaching invaders. The troughs were loaded down with old masonry from various building projects. Four soldiers stood guard around the roof, overseen by a craggy-faced captain who glared sternly at the dwarves as they emerged, especially the newcomer.
"That's Captain Barhold," Eisenbauch muttered to Lemmy. " 'Iron Sam,' his men call him. Tough old bastard that one. Eyes in the back of his head."
"Barhold?" Lemmy asked. "Like the innkeeper?"
"His brother," Eisenbauch explained. "No love lost there, though. Anyway, this'll be your post for as long as your working for me. These crenellations have seen their better days. Gonna take years to get'em back in shape."
"Aye, aye," Lemmy nodded. "Be good to get some stone back under me hands."
Everything was going as planned, he thought.

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Roger also went to work at Balentyne Tower that morning. He had used his circlet to make himself appear as a nondescript, rather dull-witted human, and had joined the procession of day laborers making their way up to the fortress. They entered the Tower through a set of large, solidly-built double doors at the base of the crag upon which the structure stood. The doors were open and two soldiers stood watch there, though they seemed less than enthusiastic about their duty. They only stopped those carrying large bundles, searching for weapons or contraband, then waving them through along with the rest. The doors gave onto a large passage that seemed to serve as a main thoroughfare for the lower level. Various denizens of the Tower came and went through the busy artery. Another half-dozen guards waited inside, and they herded the workers through various doors. Roger was assigned to work in the kitchens, hauling dry goods from the pantry and storeroom. Over the course of the day, he took note of a wooden stair-ladder that led to a trapdoor from the main kitchen, and by listening in on various conversations, learned that it led to the great hall of the keep itself.

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Tardaesha spent most of the day in the outhouse behind the inn. She was not sick. In fact she'd never felt better, though if anyone had chanced to see her, they would have thought she'd gone mad. She had pried the seat off of the jakes, revealing the foul-smelling, fly-infested latrine below. Then, she stripped naked and leaped down into the pit. Once inside she set about smearing her entire body, head to toe with excrement, even going so far as to actually ingest some of the filth. She had no fear of making herself ill. She had grown in her power and devotion to Asmodeus, and knew that she was no longer susceptible to the ravages of disease. That did not mean she couldn't spread such pestilence to others, however...a veritable bringer of plague...

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Katarina had lost track of time down in the darkness of the vault, but when she finally heard the noises above her die away, she assumed it must be late afternoon or even dusk. Cautiously, quietly, she climbed the ladder and listened for several minutes at the trapdoor before lifting it open just a fraction. The large, circular room she saw appeared to be a combination armory and smithy. Weapons, shields and breastplates, all bearing the marks of the Talirean military, lined the walls, and a large forge stood in the center. It was empty of soldiers, though, and that was more important. Kat climbed out of the door and closed it behind her.

A single door led from the room, but a staircase spiraled up one wall. She went first to the door, listened, then pulled it open. An empty hallway lay beyond, with several closed doors on either side. She closed the door back, and began climbing the stairs. As she neared the top, she heard voices and paused, sinking into the shadows. The room above was tall and open, with six large banners hanging on the walls. Another set of stairs continued to climb, while one door stood closed on the far side. Two soldiers stood in idle conversation in the middle of the room. Kat eavesdropped for several minutes, but their talk was banal and trivial. She drifted back downstairs to the armory. She'd seen enough for now. The secret tunnel did exist, and led into the heart of Balentyne. She needed to get back to her comrades and inform them of all she'd gleaned.

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That evening, cleaned up and dressed to kill, Tardaesha found plying her trade laughably easy. She had targeted a particular soldier: a homely, obese, acne-ridden youth by the name of Porkins. He had been sitting glumly in a corner while his mates downed drinks and groped wenches. He'd looked shocked when Tardaesha sat down with him and asked him to buy her an ale. Tripping over his own words (and feet), he'd hurried to comply before this vision of loveliness vanished before his eyes. By the time he'd ordered a second and third round, Tardaesha knew she could have asked him to steal from his own mother if that's what it took to get her into bed. She led him upstairs, emptied his purse for him, and proceeded to give him a night he would never forget in the short amount of time remaining to him.

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Day 3

The town was abuzz the next morning due to the arrival of Ye Merrie Men, a troupe of actors led by the famed thespian William Marcus Marlowe, the so-called Bard of Barrington. They would be performing "The Fall of Ameberlyn," a rousing tale of how love and greed brought down a great city state, in the Great Hall of Balentyne that very night. It promised to be well-attended, and Barnabus Eisenbauch invited Lemmy to go with the rest of the engineers. The old dwarf said that every soldier that wasn't on duty, all of the captains, the servants, the priests, the Lord Commander, and even the reclusive magister would be present.
'How about that?' Lemmy thought.

When he informed the others of this turn of events, Kelvin was thoughtful.
"The matter of the rookery has been weighing on my mind," he said. "Whatever our plan, if the Tower manages to get a message out, then that means reinforcements, which would not bode well for the Fire-Axe, nor us. I believe that should be our first priority, and tonight might just be the perfect opportunity."
"What do you have in mind," Tardaesha asked.
"Timeon told you that the raven-master was a recluse," Kelvin replied, "so it may be that he will not go to the play. It doesn't really matter one way or the other. Kat and I will have our best chance of sneaking in through the tunnel tonight while everyone is occupied. If this Mad Martin is unfortunate enough to be in the rookery, then he will meet the same fate as his pets. The only uncertainty is where exactly the room is located."
"While I was workin' up on the gatehouse roof," Lemmy offered," I saw lots of black birds flyin' in and out of the top of the south tower."
"Good man!" Kelvin clapped him on the shoulder. "I knew there was a reason we let you live!"
Lemmy scowled.
"So it's settled," Kelvin continued. "Lemmy and Roger will attend the performance tonight and be our backup should things not go as planned. Kat and I will be in and out with no one the wiser if all goes well. By tomorrow morning, Balentyne Tower will be officially incommunicado."

_______________________________________________________________________

By nightfall, the common room of the Lord's Dalliance was empty. Anyone who was able had gone to the performance. After all, it wasn't every day that such a notable troupe came to town. Kat had no trouble getting back down into the cellar to the hidden tunnel. Kelvin, not so stealthy as his little sister, opted to travel under a spell of invisibility instead. With Katarina leading the way, they covered the mile-long distance relative quickly and emerged into the storage vault. Kat made sure the armory was unoccupied, and then they climbed the ladder and headed for the stairs leading up into the south tower. Halfway up, Kat paused and uncorked a small flask that Tardaesha had given her. Quaffing it, she faded from view. The invisible siblings entered the flag room above the armory, where two different soldiers were grousing about missing the evening's festivities. Kelvin wanted to assure them that they wouldn't be bored for long, but held his tongue and moved as quietly as he could to the second set of stairs.

"Are you still with me?" Kat whispered over her shoulder.
"Right here," Kelvin answered. "What do you make of this?"
The third floor of the tower had arrow slits adorning its entire outer wall. Wooden racks contained dozens of quivers of arrows. It was lit by two sconces, and another set of stairs continued on the far side.
"An archer's strongpoint," Kat said. "This give me an idea for later."
They continued to the top floor of the tower where the stairs ended in a small guardroom that was currently unoccupied. A heavy iron door with a stout lock stood in the far wall. Kat leaned against it for several moments.
"Birds," she whispered. "Lots of them. And there's someone in there talking as well. Only one person I think."
She fished out her picks and set to work on the lock. So familiar was she with her tools that she had no need to see them, invisible as they were, like the rest of her gear. She could work simply by touch and sound alone. In less than a minute she had the lock open.
"Ready?" she asked Kelvin.
"As I'm going to be," her brother replied.

Kat pulled the door open swiftly. The large room beyond was dim, foul-smelling, and full of bird droppings. Hundreds of black-winged ravens roosted in the rafters and in cubbies built into the walls, and standing in the midst of them was a wild-haired old codger dressed in a padded coat. Several ravens perched on his arms and shoulders, and he crooned softly to them like a mother singing to her babes. He started to turn when he heard the door open, but Kat sprang across the room in the space of a heartbeat. She plunged her dagger into his back and he gasped as she became visible, her eyes hard and cold. The ravens began cawing and flapping their wings in agitation. Slowly, Mad Martin's eyelids drooped until they closed, and he sagged to the floor, snoring.
"Well worth the price," Kat smiled as she wiped her blade clean.
"The dark elves do know their poisons," Kelvin agreed. "That was good thinking on your part to have Tiadora procure you some. Father would have been proud."
Kat's smile broadened as she leaned down and cleanly slit the raven-master's throat.

When the deed was done, Kat took several flasks of oil from her pack and began pouring it around the room while Kelvin started systematically snapping the necks of every bird he could get his hands on. While he finished that grisly work, Kat slipped back downstairs to the archer's nest and coated every quiver with more oil. When she was done, she took a torch from one of the sconces and tossed it upon the racks. Flames erupted instantly, and she quickly darted back upstairs.
"Done!" she called.
Kelvin nodded, wringing the necks of the last few ravens.
"Go to the window," he told her. "I'll be right there."
Kat obeyed, sitting on the sill while her brother began casting a spell. He conjured a sphere of fire the size of a melon and rolled it into the center of the room. The oil ignited with a loud 'whoomph,' and suffocating heat and smoke began filling the chamber. Kelvin ran to Kat, another spell on his lips. He disappeared from sight again.
"Jump!" Kat heard him shout, and she did not hesitate.
She leaped from the window, fifty feet above the ground, on a side of the tower facing the wooded slopes rather than the courtyard. A moment later, she heard Kelvin's voice casting again, and her descent suddenly slowed dramatically as she floated towards the ground gentle as a feather. As soon as her feet touched the earth, she dove for the shadowed shelter of the tree line, hearing Kelvin huffing along behind her. The siblings vanished into the gloom as smoke and flames began pouring from the upper levels of the tower.

___________________________________________________________________

Lemmy was seated in the keep's Great Hall with the dwarven contingent, actually enjoying the performance, much to his surprise, when the signal horns began to sound. Instantly, all of the soldiers and staff were on their feet, their captains and the Lord Commander barking orders. Eisenbauch and the rest of the dwarves rose to follow them, and Lemmy went with them, a knowing smile concealed within his thick beard.

When the doors of the Great Hall opened, the orange glow of firelight spilled in from outside, and men began shouting and running. Lemmy reached the courtyard and saw that the top of the south tower was engulfed in flames.
"It's the rookery!" Eisenbauch exclaimed. "C'mon boys! We got us a fire to put out!"
Lemmy accompanied his colleagues and even joined in the bucket brigade, all the while knowing it was a futile effort, and more pleased by that knowledge.

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Day 4

The fire was all that anyone could talk about in town the next day. A terrible tragedy! It was rumored that it had started in the archer's nest, perhaps by an unsecured torch falling from its sconce. From there it had likely spread upwards to the rookery, killing poor Master Martin and all his birds. There would be an official investigation, and the soldiers who had been on duty in the flag room would likely be held responsible for dereliction. In any event, no members of the garrison were given leave from the Tower that day, and many of the townsfolk volunteered to go to Balentyne to assist with cleanup.

Ye Merrie Men packed up and left Aldencross that morning, as it was made abundantly clear by the Lord Commander that there would be no encore performance. Some even whispered that Lord Havelyn blamed the acting troupe for distracting his men from their work.

That evening, a memorial service was held for Martin Rayard in the choir hall of the Tower. Father Donnagin presided, and though no one had every really much cared for the eccentric raven master, the pews were full, as everyone realized what the loss of him and his birds meant for the Watch Tower.

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Day 5

Things began to get back to normal both in town and at the Tower, and it was on that day that Tardaesha first made the acquaintance of Captain Zacharias ("Call me Zack!") Eddarly. A handsome and rakish gallant, he was the only officer to ever frequent the Lord's Dalliance, and he had the reputation of being somewhat of a lady's man. His wardrobe befitted one more of noble bearing than a career soldier. He sat at his favorite table and drank, flirting with the bar maids, and generally being the life of the party. Tardaesha wasted no time in gaining his attention.

Still, despite her best overtures, it quickly became clear to Tardaesha that Eddarly was not interested in what she had to offer. Instead, all he wanted to do was moon about some woman named Kaitlyn.
"The poor girl," Eddarly said, shaking his head. "Her husband is a career military man. Cares only for his position, giving no thought for the lonely, neglected woman waiting for him at home."
"Umm hmm," Tardaesha nodded, stifling a yawn. "Why doesn't she just find another man?"
"Oh, a divorce would be too much of a scandal!" Eddarly exclaimed. "Her family would disown her."
"I didn't say anything about a divorce," Tardaesha winked.
A flush suffused the captain's face, and that is when she knew.
"Sooo," she asked, "do you know her husband?"
"We work together," Eddarly said, but added, "though I can't mention his name. That would be gossiping."
"Of course," Tardaesha smiled.

After Captain Eddarly departed, it did not take Tardaesha long to find out from some of the other soldiers that Kaitlyn just so happened to be the name of Captain Franz Mott's wife. Mott had a reputation among the men of being gruff, and dour...all business. It wasn't long after that for rumors to begin circulating among the guards, thanks to a few less-than-subtle hints dropped by Tardaesha, that Captain Eddarly might be offering something more than a shoulder to cry on to Captain Mott's lady. Somehow, these rumors spread to the dwarves as well, and to the day laborers who came and went from Tower. By that evening, the whispers had moved faster than the fire two nights past.

As the day drew to an end, and evening came on, the taproom of the Lord's Dalliance was not as filled as usual. Word was that several of the soldiers had fallen ill. There was even talk that Father Donnigan feared it might be cholera...

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Day 6

"The winches for the portcullis are in the same room as the sand cauldrons fer the murder'in holes," Lemmy said as the Knot gathered in their rooms for their morning plan-of-action conference. "Four guards on duty all the time."
Tardaesha nodded. "Yes, they are usually all from Timeon's company. He informed me that tonight he is supposed to be on duty, along with another acquaintance of mine, Private Porkins, who, I'm afraid, has been indisposed by sickness. So I think tonight would be a prime opportunity for us to engage in a bit of sabotage."

Later that evening, Kelvin placed spells of invisibility on Roger and Tardaesha, then Kat snuck them down to the cellar of the inn and into the secret tunnel. Timeon was waiting for them in the vault at the far end. He gave brief, but complete descriptions to Kat and Roger of the other two soldiers who were supposed to be on duty with him and Porkins that night. The pair of them used their circlets to make their appearances match those he described as closely as possible, while Tardaesha disguised herself as Porkins. The four of them climbed the ladder to the armory, and then walked up the stairs to the flag room. The two soldiers there nodded to them, but continued their conversation as the others passed through to the courtyard. They walked to the stairs leading to the battlements, and then crossed the Bridge of Death to the gatehouse.

"What are you lot doing here so early?" one of the on-duty soldiers asked when Timeon knocked on the door.
"Thought we'd do you lads a favor and let you off early," Timeon smiled. "But you'll owe us one down the road."
The guard peered at the others.
"Say, Porkins," he said, narrowing his eyes, "you're not looking so hot. Thought you was sick. And Tarley, can't say you're looking much better."
"We've both been down with the runs," Tardaesha put on a morose expression. "We're feeling a might better, but Father says might still be catching, so if I was you lot, I'd bugger off while you can afore you get the shites yourselves!"
The guard's face paled slightly, and he called to his companions.
"Come on, boys. Let's not look gift horses in the mouth."

Once they were gone, Katarina went to work quickly. She spent several minutes working on the winches, then moved to the cauldrons. Once she'd finished, she stood and brushed off her hands.
"There," she said. "That should do it. The portcullis can still be raised normally, but once it's up, it will jam in place. As for the cauldrons, I rigged their trolleys so they can't be tipped. No one will be the wiser until they try to use them."
"Well done," Tardaesha nodded. "Timeon, do you remember the plan?"
The squire nodded as well. "Yes. When the real relief crew comes, I'll just tell them I got here ahead of time and told the others to take an early night. Shouldn't be a problem."
"Good boy!" Tardaesha gave him a lingering kiss, leaving him flushed and a bit sweaty.
"We'll be off then," she said. "Until next time."
They retraced their steps, informing the soldiers in the flag room that Porkins had taken ill again, and they were returning him to the barracks.

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Day 7

It was cholera. No doubt about it. Father Donnagin had confirmed twenty cases already. They would be unfit for duty for at least three days, and would remain in quarantine for another week after that. One fifth of the garrison. Tardaesha was disappointed it wasn't more.

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Day 8

As the members of the 9th Knot sat for breakfast, a young squire came bursting into the common room from outside.
"They're fighting!" he shouted, and then charged back out again.
The patrons all looked at one another in confusion, then as one they jumped from their seats and headed outside.

More folk were streaming out of their homes, and several soldiers ran with them. They were all headed for a small field, where a sizable crowd had already gathered.
"Well, well," Dakota smiled as she pushed through the throng. "Looks like someone's been telling tales out of class."
Tardaesha and the others moved up beside her to see what she was talking about. Two men faced off in the center of the field. The younger one held a longsword in one hand, while the older man gripped a great-sword with both of his. It was Captain Eddarly and Captain Mott. Dueling. Nearby, a young woman wailed, pleading with them both to stop. Tardaesha could only assume it was Kaitlyn. She put one hand over her mouth to hide her grin. The two soldiers clashed, Mott clearly the stronger, rushing in headlong and bashing with his heavier blade. Eddarly was nimble, however, and managed to side-step the deadly blows. At first he seemed content with merely fending off or staying out of reach of Mott, hoping to tire the older man out, but it became quickly apparent that Mott was not going to let up. Eddarly was forced to go on the offensive. He fought more like a fencer, thrusting and parrying, compared to Mott's battering ram approach. Finally, as Mott raised his sword above his head, Eddarly darted forward and thrust his sword through the other captain's chest. Mott's eyes went wide, and Kaitlyn screamed. Blood frothed from his mouth and he fell heavily to the ground. The crowd went silent.

Within minutes, another dozen soldiers had arrived, accompanied by none other than the Lord Commander himself. He surveyed the scene somberly.
"Captain Eddarly," he intoned, "you are hereby under arrest, charged with dueling to the death. As you well know, this is a capital offense. Seize him!"
The guards rushed to comply, and despite Eddarly's protests of self-defense, hauled him away in chains. Others picked up Mott's body and carried it back to the Tower. Kaitlyn was left kneeling on the ground, her tears mixing with the blood of her murdered husband.
 

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JollyDoc

Explorer
20 Rova, 4716- 22 Rova, 4716: Going Out Of Business

Day 11

"So let's recap, shall we?" Kelvin asked.
The Dannisters, Lemmy and Roger were once more gathered in Tardaesha's and Dakota's room, comparing notes.
"Lines of communication, vis-a-vis the ravens, between Balentyne and other garrisons have been cut," Kelvin ticked off points on his fingers. "The bulk of the Tower's bow ammunition has been destroyed. The portcullis and the sand cauldrons in the gate house have been disabled. Twenty soldiers have been removed from service, thanks to Tardaesha."
The anti-paladin curtsied.
"And lastly," Kelvin concluded, "two of the four captains have been taken out of the equation. All in all, I'd say that's not bad for a week's work, and none of the commanders in Balentyne the wiser."
"So what's next?" Roger asked.
"We still have four days until the bugbears will be in position," Kelvin replied
"Yes, but the Fire-Axe said he could hold there for up to another two weeks," Dorian said.
"True," Kelvin nodded, "but I would prefer to strike while the iron is hot, and I believe we can accomplish our goals sooner rather than later. The cholera outbreak has given me an idea. Perhaps we can use it to further our advantage even more. 'Aesha, I'll need your help with this, though not in the capacity you're probably thinking."

__________________________________________________________________

A hour later, Tardaesha arrived at the Tower, though no one would have recognized her. She had used her circlet to disguise herself as a Talirean soldier, thought not from Balentyne itself. When she reached the pontine gate of the fortress, two guards came out to meet her.
"Greetings," one of them said, eyeing her curiously. "Where are you coming from?"
"Eastwatch-By-The-Sea," she replied, naming the Watch Tower furthest to the east along the Wall. "I bring a message from Lord Commander Sembryl for Lord Commander Havelyn."
The guard nodded and asked her to wait for a moment. He entered the fortress and then returned a short time later with Captain Barhold.
"What's this all about?" the grim-faced captain asked, scowling.
"I'm to deliver a message to the Lord Commander," Tardaeshs said. "It's urgent."
"Give it to me," Barhold said, holding out his hand.
Tardaesha complied, then stood silently. Barhold unfolded the note and read it, then read it again.
"Come with me," he said curtly, folding it back up and tucking it into his belt.

Tardaesha followed him through the gate and into the courtyard. He walked straight for the keep at its center, ignoring the salutes of the two guards who stood outside the doors. Inside was one, large open room...the Great Hall, which was currently empty, with chairs and tables pushed against the walls. It also held the Commander's Seat, which was equally unoccupied. Barhold strode across the room to a set of stairs on the far wall. Up these, 'Aesha found herself in a room whose walls were carved with hundreds of names. Two more guards stood duty there, and she noted that there was a large stone plug to one side of the stairs which could be pushed into place to block access from below. Barhold crossed the room to a door on the opposite side, which gave onto a short hall and another flight of stairs. Climbing these led to yet another guardroom with another pair of soldiers, and a final set of stairs. The last flight ended on a landing. Two ornate doors stood directly across from the stairs, and a smaller, single doors was to the south. A trapdoor and ladder appeared to lead to the roof. Two soldiers snapped to attention at the double doors when they saw Barhold.
"As you were," he muttered, and then knocked on one of the doors.
"Come," a deep voice called from the other side.
Barhold pushed the door slightly open, then turned to Tardaesha and told her to wait for a moment.

Several minutes later, the doors opened again and Barhold beckoned Tardaesha inside. She found herself in a large, austere and conservatively appointed chamber. There was little more than a heavy wooden table and a few chairs. Pushed into one corner was a large, stout chest of oak banded with iron. Behind the desk sat an imposing man. Of middle age, his very presence spoke of gravitas and dignity. His polished breastplate bore the emblem of his House, Havelyn, as well as the insignia of the Knights of Alerion. He spoke without preamble.
"It says here that there has been a cholera outbreak at Eastwatch," he began. "We have had the same here. It says your commander tried to send us a raven, but as you no doubt saw when you entered, we had unfortunate accident befall our rookery. Commander Sembryl states that a quarter of his garrison is out, and his scouts have seen movement among the bugbear tribes to the north. Is all of this true?"
"Every word of it, my Lord," 'Aesha lied. "Hard times have befallen our keep."
"Yes, ours as well," Havelyn said. "Yet never let it be said that Thomas Havelyn ignored calls for aid from his brethren."
He pulled a sheet of parchment, quill and ink from the desk, and set about writing. After several moments, he blotted the page, folded it, sealed it and handed it to Tardaesha.
"My reply," he said. "Take it with you when you return to Eastwatch tomorrow, accompanied by a ten man squad of my men, along with two of our acolytes. I'm afraid it's the best we can do at this time."

_________________________________________________________________

Barhold escorted Tardaesh out of the keep, and then down into the undercroft of the Tower to the barracks. A good portion of the beds were filled with pale-faced, weak looking men, tended to by white-robed, masked acolytes. The healthy soldiers were all on the opposite side of the room. 'Aesha found an empty bunk and stored her gear, nodding politely to the curious onlookers.
"You'll leave at first light," Barhold said. "Make sure you're at the pontine gate on time. They won't wait for you."
He left without waiting for a reply.

'Aesha spent the evening gossiping amiably with the other soldiers, filling them in about her 'mission.' At one point she saw Timeon enter the barracks. Of course he did not recognize her in her current guise. She took out paper and quill and scribbled a brief note. Then, as she walked across the room towards the jakes, she surreptitiously dropped it on the squire's bunk. Timeon blinked, a look of confusion on his face as he stared at the back of the retreating soldier. He picked up the note and unfolded it.
'Timmy, my love, 4 days hence, Balentyne will not be so welcoming. By midnight of that evening, you should be in the tunnel. You know the one. We will find you. Destroy this message. T.'
Timeon began quietly tearing the paper to shreds, and then stuffed the pieces into his mouth and swallowed.

________________________________________________________________________

Katarina had taken to staking out the secret door in the cellar of the Lord's Dalliance nightly, hoping to find out what, exactly, the innkeeper was up to. That night, she got lucky. Bellam Barhold crept down the stairs sometime after midnight, a clinking crate in his hands. He opened the concealed portal and disappeared inside. Kat waited several minutes, then quietly followed.

This time, the innkeeper traveled the entire length of the passage to the vault at the far end. There, he set his burden down, and then picked up another crate that was hidden behind some barrels. Hefting it, he started back down the tunnel. Kat hid among the dry goods until he was gone, then tip-toed over to the box he'd left behind. Inside were a dozen bottles of wine. She uncorked one, sniffed it, then tasted it. She made a face. It was cheap, watered-down fare, one-step removed from vinegar. Curious, she hurried back down the passage, as quickly as she could while still remaining silent. She reached the inn's cellar just as Barhold was concealing the other crate beneath a tarp in a corner. He then trotted back upstairs. Kat went to the second crate and looked inside. Another dozen bottles of wine, save that these bore labels with flowing, lovely script. Elvish, she thought. She opened one and tasted, then closed her eyes in delight as what felt like liquid gold flowed down her throat.
'Fool,' she thought to herself. 'All this subterfuge just to steal wine, albeit exquisite wine. It will quite literally cost him the keys to the kingdom.'

_________________________________________________________________

Day 12

At sunrise the following morning, thirteen horsemen set out from Tower Balentyne. Tardaesha rode near the front, leading the ten soldiers and two acolytes. From a nearby alley, Katarina watched them go. This wasn't part of the plan. She hurried back to the inn to inform her cohorts about this unexpected development.
"Damn!" Kelvin cursed. "That's less than we'd hoped for, and now 'Aesha's with them!"
"Then we're going after her," Dakota said matter-of-factly, her tone suggesting this was not open for debate.
"Yes, I suppose we are," Kelvin sighed. "We'll rent some horses and follow from a safe distance. We know where they're headed, so there's no danger of losing them. When the make camp tonight, we'll assess the situation.

_______________________________________________________________________

Kelvin's plan actually worked. Not expecting any trouble on the 'civilized' side of the Wall, and least of all from the direction they'd just come, the soldiers never spotted their tail. As the sun went down, they made camp in a clearing just off the road. Tardaesha was unperturbed. She knew her siblings would not let her down, and when she spied Kat creeping around in the trees just beyond the firelight, she smiled. A moment later, all Hells broke loose.

From literally thin air, thick, heavy strands of webbing suddenly appeared, criss-crossing the campsite. Men started shouting in alarm as they found themselves entangled in the sticky goo. Tardaesha was unfortunately in the middle of the morass, but she was nimble enough to avoid touching the strands, as she recognized Kelvin's handiwork and knew exactly what would happen if she did. Moving carefully, she made her way to the edge of the webs...just as the whole mass began to blaze with flames as it was set alight from the campfire!

Full-blown panic now gripped the camp as the trapped soldiers began burning. Their brethren who had been lucky enough to be outside of the web spread tried desperately to hack them free. Then, a whistling hiss came out of the darkness, and one of the entangled men shrieked as an arrow pierced his chest. His cries were cut off a moment later when a dagger abruptly sprouted from his throat. Tardaesha grinned widely, and almost laughed out loud when she saw both of the acolytes collapse, succumbing to the smoke and fire. Then a dazzling flash of light burst amidst the men, followed by a glittering cloud of dust that settled over them. Four of the soldiers began clawing at their eyes, blinded by the radiance.
"This way!" 'Aesha shouted to them. "Follow the sound of my voice! I'll help you!"
Desperate for any salvation, they began making their way towards her.

One of the soldiers who was free of the webs and not blind, suddenly looked towards the road as he heard the sound of running footsteps. There he saw a burly man with small tusks protruding past his lower lip rushing towards him, a great-sword lifted over his head. The soldier drew his own blade and rushed out to meet this new threat, but before he'd closed half the distance, his attacker abruptly paused and spoke in a deep, hypnotic voice.
"Kill your allies," Roger commanded.
The soldier blinked in confusion for a moment, then turned and headed back towards the camp.

"Take my hand!" Tardaesha shouted as one of the blind soldiers neared her. "I'm a healer!"
The man reached out for her, and as his fingers touched hers, 'Aesha smiled wickedly and channeled the power of Asmodeus into the unfortunate fool. His body jerked and twitched as the dark energy pulsed through him, and he fell back into the flames.
"Nicely done!" Katarina said from where she'd appeared at her sister's side.
Kat slashed a dagger across the throat of another blind soldier who had gotten too close, putting him out of his misery.
"I'm just getting started!" Tardaesha laughed.

The soldier following Roger's murderous command ran towards one of his trapped comrades and swung his sword wildly. The attack barely missed.
"What are you doing?" his target shouted. "Have you gone mad!?"
The first soldier shook his head, and then looked around.
"I...I don't...where am I?" he asked as the spell's effects dissipated.
"Are you responsible for this!?" the entangled guard screamed. "Traitor! Traitor!!"

Two more soldiers had spotted Roger and were moving towards him. The big half-orc held his blade at the ready, and when one of them tried to flank behind him, Roger took the man off at the knees. The second one screamed as another arrow from the darkness impaled his shoulder. The distraction quickly cost him his life when Roger thrust his blade through his belly.

Another blind soldier fell, jerking and shriveled, taken in by Tardaesha's bluff. Katarina cut the throat of the last one who'd come to 'Aesha's call. Then streaks of light came flashing out of the night, striking two more soldiers, including the one Roger had turned traitor, killing them both in an instant. That left only one soldier still standing.
"Surrender!" Roger shouted at him.
"Yes, they'll let us live!" Tardaesha pleaded with the man, throwing down her own weapon.
The soldier glanced around in desperation, then tossed aside his sword.
"Wise move," Roger nodded. "Now, why don't you tell us where the magister's and the high priest's quarters are located in Balentyne Tower?"
"W...what...?"
"You understood me perfectly," Roger sneered, holding the point of his sword to the man's throat. "Say 'what' again! I dare you!"
"W...," the man began, but then gulped. "Th...the magister's chambers are in the keep, just below the Lord Commanders! Father Donnagin sleeps in a cell near the acolytes not far from the barracks! I swear!"
"Excellent," Roger nodded. "You have our gratitude."
And with that, he swept the man's head from his shoulders.

________________________________________________________________

Tardaesha carved the symbol of Asmodeus into the foreheads of both of the acolytes before dumping them unceremoniously in the woods atop the pile of soldiers.
"Crows have to eat too," she said, dusting off her hands.

While the others busied themselves with that unsavory task, Kelvin took the tabards they'd stripped from the soldiers. All were torn, bloodied and singed, but with a couple of handy prestidigitation and mending cantrips, he had them looking good as new. They might come in handy later.

Their work done, the 9th knot remounted their horses and headed back for Aldencross. There was still much preparation to do, and increasingly little time to accomplish it.

______________________________________________________________

Day 13

"The entire inn??" Bellam Barhold asked.
"Yes," Tardaesha nodded. "We are expecting several important investors over the next few days. It is important that we make a good impression. The future of our little consortium depends on it. We will, of course, compensate you well for your trouble."
Barhold thought it over for a few moments.
"Well...," he began, "I can't rightly put the dwarves out. They're on assignment for the Tower, and are more or less permanent residents."
"Of course not," 'Aesha agreed. "I think there will still be plenty of room for our guests. So we are agreed then?"
Barhold grinned and stuck out one meaty hand.
"Gold up front," he said.

______________________________________________________________

'The plan isn't going to work,' Kelvin thought to himself.
He sat alone in his room jotting down notes and doodling diagrams.
'At least not in its current incarnation.'
Though they had several successes in their column so far, the young mage, who had always had a knack for tactics (it had been a vital part of his slaving operation), knew that as long as the Tower leadership was still alive, the bugbears would ultimately fail in their assault. Disabling the siege engines and getting rid of the dwarves, who could repair the sabotage, would go a long way towards ensuring victory, but if the Lord Commander could still rally the troops, Donnagin could still heal them, and the magister could still provide magical support, it wouldn't matter. Kelvin underlined the names of the three commanders with his quill.
'Yes, we are going to have to advance the timeline...starting tonight...,'

___________________________________________________________________

Barnabus Eisenbauch and his engineers where having a grand time of it. After a typical day at work at the Tower, he and his crew would return to the Lord's Dalliance to eat, drink an unprecedented amount of ale, chat about the day's endeavors, and play their incomprehensible dwarven card games. Tonight was no different, except for the fact that Tardaesha was buying the rounds. The common room was empty save for the dwarves and the members of the Knot, thanks to Barhold having evicted all of the other tenants, and the two crews were having quite the celebration. Only Lemmy didn't join in the festivities, sitting sullenly in a corner despite the jibes and dares from the other dwarves. The drinking carried on well into the wee hours...well after Barhold and his wife had retired for the night.

Finally, as most of them were close to passing out anyway, the dwarves said their goodnights and trooped noisily up to their rooms. The Nessians followed, retiring to their own rooms. Time passed. The inn was quiet save for the incessant snoring echoing from behind the door where the dwarves slept. Then, a slight creak. A door opened along the darkened hall, shortly followed by another. Several shadowy forms crept out into the hall, but now they made no further sound. Their every movement was cloaked in a magical curtain of silence. They gathered outside the dwarves' door, and a slender form bent and fiddled with the lock. The door opened. The individuals slipped inside...all save one. A short, stocky figure stood in the hall, arms crossed and head bowed. Lemmy watched his companions go to the beds of the sleeping dwarves. He knew this had to be done. Their mission depended on it. What he didn't know was why it bothered him. God's knew he was not the sentimental sort. It was just that the camaraderie he'd found among his kinsmen the last few days had brought back old memories...and opened old wounds. He didn't object to what necessity dictated, but he declined to participate. In a matter of moments, it was done. His companions exited the room, cleaning their weapons on their cloaks.

When the process was repeated a few minutes later in the innkeeper's room, Lemmy had no such compunctions. He joined the others, even reveled in the silent slaughter. Getting lost in his art always helped him to work through his issues.

____________________________________________________________________

The following morning there was new sign on the door of the Lord's Dalliance:

CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE! GUESTS AND PROPRIETORS CHOLERIC! DO NOT ENTER!
 



JollyDoc

Explorer
The Fall of the House of Havelyn

22 Rova, 4716 - The Fall of the House of Havelyn

Day 14

Lemmy slipped out of the inn early the next morning, accompanied by Katarina, who had disguised herself as the dwarf engineer Nalond. The pair of them reported for duty to the battlements, informing Captain Barhold about the illness that had befallen his brother, sister-in-law and patrons.
"Hmph," the captain snorted. "'Twas only a matter of time before his unclean habits caught up to him."

Roger left the inn as well, once more in his guise as a day laborer. Kelvin wanted to make sure that the Knot had a presence in the Tower to ascertain the response to the news of the incapacitated engineers. As it turned out, that response came to him.

__________________________________________________________________

"Bellam! Are you in there?" a voice called from outside the inn's front door. "It's Father Donnagin."
"Are you serious?" Tardaesha whispered to her siblings. "We can't be this lucky!"
"Asmodeus is smiling upon us," Dorian replied.
'Aesha touched the circlet on her brow and her form quickly morphed into that of Bellam Barhold.
"Coming Father!" she replied. "Just a moment."
Kelvin, Dorian and Dakota hurried back upstairs.

Tardaesha opened the door and saw the round-faced, jovial priest standing there, a young acolyte at his side.
"Ah, Bellam!" Donnagin smiled. "You don't look any worse for wear! Have you met Brother Celebus?"
"Can't say that I have," 'Aesha replied. "I won't shake your hand, though. Don't want to be catching."
The acolyte smiled weakly.
"Glad you're here, just the same," 'Aesha continued, turning back to Donnagin. "Those dwarves have made a wreck of my outhouse, to be sure, but it's my missus that I'm most worried about. She can't even get out of bed."
"The poor dear," Donnagin tsked. "I'll have a look at her, but then I must see to the dwarves. The Lord Commander is very concerned about their absence. He doesn't want any further delays on the repairs to the battlements."

Tardaesha led the two clerics upstairs to Barhold's quarters. Kelvin had done a masterful job of cleansing the blood and gore from the bedding and floor, and the bodies had been hidden in the secret tunnel in the cellar. Dakota lay in the bed, cloaked in the form of Mrs. Barhold. She moaned and tossed back and forth. Kelvin stood in one corner, once more in his elven form, but looking a bit peaked and haggard.
"Who's this then?" Donnagin asked, noticing the strange elf.
"Ah, this is Master Elarius," 'Aesha said by way of introduction. "He and his family are guests here. They have also been afflicted with the runs, but he has been good enough to help me out where he can."
Kelvin smiled politely. Father Donnagin returned the smile and then went to the bedside.
"Matilda dear," he said in a calming voice, "how are you feeling?"
Behind him, Tardaesha drew her sword. Brother Celebus looked at her in confusion, having just seen the unarmed Bellam Barhold pull a sword from literally nowhere.
"Have you ever seen it's like?" 'Aesha asked the acolyte.
Before the young man could answer, she whirled and swung the sword with both hands.
"By the power of Asmodeus, I smite thee!" she cried as she struck Father Donnagin a vicious blow behind his knees.
The priest grunted as he fell forward...right onto Dakota's waiting dagger.
"Heretics!" Donnagin cried out in pain. "Devil worshippers! Run Celebus! Get help!"
The acolyte turned to flee, only to find Kelvin blocking the door.
"I'm afraid you won't be going anywhere except to meet your bitch of a goddess," the mage smirked, and then he conjured a volley of mystic bolts.
Two struck Celebus in the chest, and he fell unconscious to the floor. Another pair hit Donnagin. The old cleric struggled upright and away from Dakota, then reached around to grab his shield which had been strapped across his back. He began chanting a prayer.
"Shut your blasphemous mouth!" Kelvin commanded, and he fired another salvo into Donnagin.
This time he fell, and he did not rise again.

Dakota threw off her blankets and jumped to her feet. She ran to the fallen holy men and bent to examine them both.
"Still alive!" she crowed. "We need to keep them that way."
"I can stop their bleeding," Kelvin replied, pulling his wand from his belt.
As he worked, Dakota uttered a brief prayer, and then used one finger to trace the outline of Asmodeus's inverted pentagram upon the brow of Brother Celebus. A moment later, a flaming brand appeared there.
"Let's get them downstairs," Tardaesha said. "I have use for them later."
"And I'm going to have a bit of fun with them now," Dakota giggled as she began unwrapping her tools.

___________________________________________________________

Katarina and Lemmy remained at the Tower for the remainder of the day, and during that time Kat managed to quietly disable three of the four siege engines on the roof of the gatehouse with no one the wiser. As evening came on, they left the gatehouse and then Lemmy joined Roger with the line of workers leaving for the day. Kat stayed behind, claiming she had a few more things to see to since she was having to do the work of ten dwarves that day.

When Lemmy and Roger reached the inn, the others filled them in on the day's events.
"Huh," Lemmy grunted. "Dumb luck that."
"Or divine providence," Tardaesha grinned. "I prefer to believe the latter. In any case, don't you boys get too comfortable. Freshen up and gather what you need. We're going back to the Tower. All debts are paid tonight!"

_______________________________________________________

The six of them traveled through the secret tunnel an hour later. Tardaesha had changed her appearance to match Father Donnagin's, and Dakota was disguised as Brother Celebus. Roger wore the visage of one of the acolytes they'd slain on the road to East Watch, while Kelvin walked along invisibly behind them. Lemmy looked himself, as usual.

They emerged from the vault into the armory, which was deserted by that time, and then went up the stairs to the flag room. The two guards on duty stared at them, puzzled, when they stepped into the chamber.
"Good evening, gentlemen," Tardaesha greeted them in Father Donnagin's voice. I believe that the cholera outbreak we've been experiencing is due to contaminated water. Master Killmister here is going to be inspecting the cistern for leaks. I advise you in the mean time to boil all water before drinking it. Spread the word."
The soldiers nodded and saluted. "Aye Father!"

The group strode through the courtyard and up to the gates of the keep, where another pair of guards snapped to attention.
"The magister has taken ill," Tardaesha said. "My acolytes and I are going to attend him. Make sure no one else enters until further notice. We may need to quarantine the building."
The guards nodded and opened the huge double doors for them. When they climbed the stairs from the Great Hall to the second floor guardroom, Katarina was already there in her dwarf guise, arguing with the guards.
"I told ya already," she huffed, waving her hands, "the priest told me to meet'im here! Somethin' about the water supply!"
"Just so," Tardaesha interrupted. "Our dwarf friends are going to be inspecting the pipes for leaks. The cholera may be in our water. The magister has now taken ill, and I must see to him. I need you two to join the guards outside the keep and make sure no one is admitted. We are under quarantine."
The soldiers nodded, saluted and then hustled downstairs. When Tardaesha heard the main doors boom shut below, she turned to her companions.
"Good work so far," she winked. "Lemmy, Roger, slide that stair cap into place."
The half-orc and the dwarf grunted and heaved the heavy stone into the stair well, sealing off the only means of ingress from below. Behind them, Kelvin slowly faded into view. Just then Dakota, who had moved to the inner door, suddenly held up a hand and pressed her finger to her lips.
"Someone's coming," she whispered.

Kelvin began casting a spell at Dakota's warning, and a moment later the entire room was blanketed in silence. Just then the door opened and a single soldier stepped through. He looked around the room in confusion, first at the group congregated there, and then at the fact that he couldn't hear anything. His confusion ended a moment later when Lemmy and Dakota hit him simultaneously with an arrow through the throat and a blast of rocks to the chest. Roger stepped over the dead man and into the hallway beyond. The silence followed him since Kelvin had centered the spell upon him. The others trailed behind.

Roger and Tardaesha emerged onto the third floor landing first and found the other guard standing there expectantly, staring down the stairs. His brow furrowed as the area went quiet. Tardaesha, still disguised as Donnagin, beckoned the man towards her. The guard nodded and stepped forward. As he did, Lemmy came up the stairs and sent a blast towards him. The soldier dodged aside at the last moment, then opened his mouth to shout, only to realize again that he could not hear. Tardaesha rushed past and behind the guard, pointing in mock panic back towards Lemmy. The soldier drew his sword and pushed the 'Father' safely behind him. Tardaesha rewarded his loyalty by driving her own sword through his spine.

________________________________________________________________

Kelvin's silence spell wore off a short time later, and he knew he would have to recast it if their plan was going to have a chance. He also knew that he ran the risk of his casting being overheard this time, but it was a gamble he would have to make. He spoke the words again, and silence once more cloaked the area, the effect moving as Roger moved. The burly anti-paladin slammed his shoulder into one of the two doors that led from the landing, bursting it open. He found himself in a well-furnished bed chamber with a single large window overlooking the courtyard. Standing in the middle of the room was a middle-aged man dressed in fine robes adorned with a flame motif...Tacitus of Morimun, the Magister of Balentyne himself.
The wizard's eyes went wide as sound vanished from his chambers and all that thatimplied. Then Kat darted into the room behind Roger and flicked a dagger at the mage. It struck Tacitus behind his left knee as he was turning to run, hampering his movement.

Back out on the landing, as Kelvin finished his spell and was discarding the scroll upon which it had been inscribed, a soldier came hustling down the stairs from the floor above. What he saw was Father Donnagin and two of his acolytes.
"What's going on down here, Father?" the guard asked in confusion. "We heard chanting, and I sent my partner to alert the Lord Commander."
"Well done!" Tardaesha replied. "There's been an attack!"
The soldier looked alarmed, but before he could react, two things happened: Kelvin quickly cast another spell and vanished from sight, while simultaneously Dakota spoke a prayer which froze the guard in place, rooted to the floor.
"I do love a gullible fool," Tardaesha smiled as she hurried past the paralyzed man and into the magister's room.
Behind her, Lemmy cracked his knuckles as he grinned evilly at the soldier.
"Yeah, me too!" he chuckled.
Tardaesha didn't hear the geokinetic blast go off, as she'd already entered the silence zone, but she felt the vibration beneath her feet.

As Tardaesha entered his room, Tacitus stared in bewilderment. He saw the face of his friend, Father Donnagin, but he could not reconcile that fact with the more immediate one that Donnagin was with people who were trying to kill him. He raised his hands pleadingly towards the priest, only to have Tardaesha slash him viciously with the sword she suddenly brandished. Tacitus fell back and tried to flee towards his laboratory, but before he'd gone two steps, Roger cut him down.

_______________________________________________________________

Tardaesha peered into the room that Tacitus had been making for. It was a poorly lit and crowded chamber full of tables laden with strange equipment and apparatuses. On a slab in the center of the room rested a large form seemingly made of ice. Kelvin stepped up beside his sister.
"An ice golem," he said, identifying the creature. "It's good you stopped the magister from reaching this room. If he'd been able to activate it, we would have had a problem on our hands."
Tardaesha nodded thoughtfully.
"That gives me and idea," she smiled.

________________________________________________________________

Lemmy, Katarina and Kelvin led the way up to the top floor of the keep. They reached the landing just as a soldier posted there climbed to the top of one of the ladders leading to the roof battlements. The man lifted the door and called up to the guards above.
"Oy! We've got some trouble down here! You lot need to get down here on the double!"
It was at that point that Tardaesha arrived.
"Good work soldier!" she cried out in Donnagin's voice. The second silence spell had also come an end. "The Magister's ice beast has gotten loose!!"

The first soldier clambered back down the ladder, closely followed by three others from the roof. No sooner had they all gathered around Tardaesha than Kelvin, still invisible, cast a blinding glitterdust spell. The flash of light caused three of the guards to cry out in pain and surprise as their hands went to their eyes. Kat leaped up and stabbed the fourth soldier through the throat with her dagger, sending him gurgling to the floor.
"The dwarves!" 'Aesha cried. "They've betrayed us!!"
As she moved away from the melee, Lemmy proved her accusation by blasting another of the soldiers, crushing his skull with flying debris, and then Roger gutted a third one, leaving only one of the men still standing, blind and panicked.

"Lay down your arms," a booming voice called out from behind the combatants, lest you further endanger your lives and your very souls with this villainy!"
The members of the 9th Knot turned as one, and saw a man outfitted in gleaming plate armor standing in the door of the Lord's study. He held a shield in one hand, emblazoned with the symbol of Iomedae, and a well-crafted longsword in the other. It was none other than Lord Commander Havelyn himself.
"Why don't ye lay down on this!?" Lemmy sneered, lifting his finger in an obscene gesture.
Havelyn's face reddened, and he raised his shield and advanced forward...until Kelvin placed a grease spell beneath his feet, at which point they slipped out from under him and he landed flat on his back...hard. His face growing an even a darker shade of red, he climbed clumsily to his feet, but as he struggled to do so, Roger rushed in. He swung for the Lord Commander's neck, but at the last moment, Havelyn raised his shield and the blow glanced off it, striking him instead on his upper arm.
"Blackguard!!" Havelyn roared, somehow sensing the aura of evil that surrounded the anti-paladin.
He raised his sword high, and as he did so it crackled with golden energy.
"By Iomedae's might I smite at thee!!" he cried
His blade came around in a mighty arc, and though Roger got his shield up, the blow drove it aside and cleaved through his breastplate and deep into his flesh. Grunting in pain, the half-orc gave ground.

"That's it, Lord Commander!" Tardaesha called. "Just hang on for another moment! I'll come to your aid!"
Havelyn looked up and saw Father Donnagin moving towards him. His brow furrowed and his eyes narrowed.
"Hold!" he commanded. "Donnagin of St. Macarius is like a brother to me, and you, Sir, are not him! Come no closer lest I strike thee down!"
"Not if I gut you first!" Kat snarled from behind the paladin as she drove her dagger through a gap in his armor and deep into his armpit.
Havelyn snarled, whirled, and hit Kat so hard that she slammed into a nearby wall and bounced off, stunned. He turned back towards Roger and raised his sword to finish him off, but then Lemmy was there. The dwarf sent a concussive blast of rocks and earth into the Lord Commander, driving him several steps away from Roger. Before he could recover, Kelvin bombarded him with a magic missile salvo. That gave Tardaesha an opening. Sheathing her sword, she reached out and touched Havelyn with her bare hand. Dark energy wreathed her palm and Havelyn grimaced in agony as corruption filled him. Then, one final blast from Lemmy knocked him from his feet. He did not rise again.

_______________________________________________________________

As Katarina finished off the last of the blinded soldiers, Roger bent down to examine Havelyn, insuring he was dead. He absently placed one hand on the paladin's burnished breast plate, and as he did so the armor transformed before his eyes. No longer shining plate mail, it had become black and baroque, adorned with the infernal iconography of Lord Asmodeus. Roger felt a tingle in his head and knew that his Master was indeed pleased. Events had been set into motion, and there was no going back. Either Balentyne would fall that night, or the Nessian Knot would perish.
 

JollyDoc

Explorer
22 Rova, 4716 - 6 Lamashan, 4716 - Beyond The Wall

The door to the great hall abruptly opened, and the four guardsman stationed outside them turned in unison. It had been some time since Father Donnagin had ordered them out of the keep and they were starting to become restless. Standing in the doors was not the priest, however, but Corporal Sam Rogers, one of Captain Barhold's men.
"Boys," Rogers nodded, "The Lord Commander wants the lot of you up in his conference room on the double."
"What's going on now?" Private Wilson asked. "I thought the place was under quarantine. Aren't we gonna get sick?"
Rogers shrugged. "Who do I look like? Father Donnagin? I'm just following orders, gents, and I suggest you do the same."

Though they continued to grumble, the four men fell in line behind Corporal Rogers and followed him up the stairs to the fourth floor of the keep. The fact that they did not see any other guards along the way did not immediately concern them. The others had likely been commandeered by Father Donnagin to help with the Magister. Rogers threw open the doors to the conference room, which appeared to be unoccupied.
"Have a seat," he gestured towards the table. "The Lord Commander's at his prayers. He'll be out in a minute."
The soldiers looked at one another. Whatever this was, it must be serious if they were being invited to sit down. They each drew out a chair at the long oak table and made themselves comfortable. From behind the door leading to the Lord Commander's private chamber they could hear the sounds of chanting. They smiled at each other knowingly. The commander was a pious man.

The door to Havelyn's private quarters suddenly opened, and a strange, dark-haired woman stood there. The soldiers stared, perplexed. What was a young, attractive woman doing in the Lord Commander's room? That was when they noticed something even stranger: the conference room had suddenly become silent as a tomb. They couldn't even hear themselves breathing. There was more movement from behind the woman as several figures stepped through the door after her. One of them was a dwarf. The guards recognized him as one of the engineers. He held out one hand towards them, and as he did so chunks of rock and dirt came flying out of it. The debris struck Private Wilson full in the face and he was hurled backwards out of his chair. He hit the wall behind him and slumped to the floor, blood gushing from his crushed skull. One of the other soldiers started to rise, but a robed young man emerged from behind the dwarf and pointed a finger at him. Bolts of streaking blue light came from the man's finger. The guard saw several bright flashes, felt a brief moment of pain, and then knew no more. By this time the remaining two guards were on their feet, but were still much too slow. Before they could draw their weapons, a large, burly man wearing baroque plate armor charged towards them, sword in one hand and shield in the other. He slashed viciously and disemboweled one of the men. The last one fell with a pair of arrows sticking out his throat. The last thing he saw was the smiling face of Dakota as she lowered her bow.

_________________________________________________________

Lord Commander Havelyn strode purposefully across the Bridge of Death towards the gatehouse, flanked by a soldier on one side and a dwarf engineer on the other. Or rather, Tardaesha made that walk accompanied by Lemmy and Katarina. The soldiers on duty in the winch room were taken aback when they saw the retinue, fumbling hurriedly to snap to attention.
"Raise the portcullis," 'Aesha commanded in Havelyn's voice.
"S...Sir?" one of the guards asked, perplexed.
"You heard me, soldier," 'Aesha replied. "Surprise inspection. I want to make sure the most important piece in this tower's security is being properly maintained. Is there some reason that I should be concerned about that?"
"N...no Sir!" the guard stammered.
"Excellent," 'Aesha nodded. "Then snap to it. I'll have Master Killmister of the engineers go over it with a fine-toothed comb.

The four guards hurried to the twin winches and cranked them as fast as they could go, slowly raising the heavy portcullis below. Once it was locked in position they backed away so that Lemmy could inspect it. Kat stood behind him, occasionally pointing out this or that, to which Lemmy nodded and muttered. What the guards did not see were the slim tools in Kat's hands, which she put to use jamming the winch mechanism so that the portcullis could not be lowered again. At that moment, however, one of the trapdoors in the ceiling above banged open, and Captain Barhold climbed rapidly down the ladder.
"What is the meaning of this!?" he demanded. "Who ordered that gate opened!?"
"I did," Tardaesha said, stepping into view.
Barhold turned and stared at her.
"Who are you supposed to be?" he sneered
"I don't think I like your tone, Captain," 'Aesha said coldly. "You would do well to remember the chain of command."
"Oh, I'm quite aware of who my commander is," Barhold snarled, "and you're not him! Guards! Seize this imposter!"
Tardaesha thought quickly, then turned to the guards as well.
"He's a spy!" she shouted, drawing her greatsword and pointing at Barhold.
The guards hesitated, looking back and forth between the two officers. Their confusion ended a moment later when Lemmy blasted one of them off his feet.
"Take them alive!" Barhold commanded as he stepped forward with his own blade raised, and brought it down solidly upon Tardaesha's, snapping her steel in half.

______________________________________________________________

"This is not good," Roger said.
He was standing on the parapet rooftop of the main keep, looking towards the gatehouse where he could hear the distant clangs of steel on steel. He moved quickly to the trapdoor and slid down the ladder.
"We've got trouble," he said to Kelvin, who was seated at the Lord Commander's desk. "Something's gone wrong at the gatehouse."
Kelvin rose to his feet and started for the stairs.
"Stay here," he told Roger, Dakota and Dorian. "If you don't hear word from me in the next ten minutes, seal the lower staircase back. And take this,"
He handed Roger the signal flare the Fire-Axe had given them.
"You know what to do with it."

_________________________________________________________________

Katarina spun around behind one of the guards and jammed a dagger through the base of his skull. Tardaesha held one hand out placatingly towards Barhold, but when her flesh touched his, she released the corruption.
"You see!" she shouted to the remaining guards as the captain snarled in pain. "Iomedae's touch undoes this imposter! He and his minions seek to shatter our defenses!"
Lemmy blasted Barhold from behind, and the captain whirled on him, striking him a crushing blow across the chest with the flat of his blade. The two guards, now thoroughly confused, raised their signal horns to their lips and sounded the alarm.

_________________________________________________________________

"That's it then," Roger said, once more on the keep's roof, where he heard the horns plainly. "It's now or never."
He placed the flare on the flagstones and pulled the fuse. A moment later a crimson ball shot high into the night sky, illuminating the landscape for miles in all directions.

______________________________________________________________

Tardaesha grabbed Captain Barhold by the throat and channeled her unholy power through him again, leaving him unsteady on his feet. Katarina darted in behind him and slashed across the back of his thigh with her knife. The leg crumpled and he dropped heavily to one knee. Gleefully, Lemmy leaped towards the captain, both hands outstretched, prepared to blast him full in the face, but Barhold got his blade between them and thwacked the dwarf across the temple with its broadside. Lemmy staggered back and Barhold climbed shakily to his feet to follow. This time when he swung his sword, it was the edge that sliced the geomancer from shoulder to shoulder. Lemmy fell like a sack of bricks.

The other trapdoor in the roof was thrown open from above, and four more soldiers scrambled down the ladders. Her eyes burning, Tardaesha allowed dark energy to flow from her. Arcs of black fire flared around the room, striking all of the combatants, including Katarina and the unconscious Lemmy. Katarina did not fault her sister. Collateral damage was unavoidable sometimes. Instead, she took advantage of the chaos to launch herself at Barhold and drive her blade to the hilt into his gut. Grunting, he exhaled heavily and fell forward face-first into the cauldron of scalding sand.

The door between the gatehouse and the Bridge of Death suddenly burst open as two more guards, drawn by the sounds of battle, barged in. Tardaesha immediately turned towards them.
"Captain Barhold is inciting a mutiny!" she cried. "Defend us so that we may alert the keep!"
The soldiers looked uncertain, and then one of them pointed at Tardaesha accusingly.
"That's not the Lord Commander!" he shouted. "Imposter!"
Tardaesha turned to the other one.
"He's with the traitors!" she shouted.
The second soldier looked between his comrade and his commander for a moment, then his eyes grew hard.
"Fall back, Lord Commander!" he yelled. "I'll guard your retreat!"
'Aesha didn't hesitate. She ducked behind the guard, through the door and out onto the bridge. Katarina somersaulted through the intervening soldiers to join her. Once they were both clear, the soldier defending them slammed the door shut behind them.

"I do so appreciate loyalty," Tardaesha smiled as she and Katarina fled back across the bridge.
"What about Lemmy?" Kat asked.
"He's safer back there than with us," 'Aesha replied. "These simpletons have too much honor to kill a helpless foe."
As they neared the other end of the bridge, two soldiers came running into view from the battlements.
"There's been a mutiny!" Tardaesha repeated her tale. "Hold the bridge! We're going to fetch the magister!"
The soldiers nodded and turned towards the gatehouse just its door burst open. As more soldiers began pouring out of it, a fiery explosion engulfed them.
"It's the magister!" Tardaesha shouted. "He's come to our aid! Hurry! The traitors have raised the portcullis! You must lower it!"
The two soldiers nodded again and sprinted across the bridge. As the smoke and flames from Kelvin's well-timed fireball cleared, it was obvious that most of those caught in it were dead.
"Wait for it," Tardaesha smiled at her sister as the other two guards reached the gatehouse.
Another explosion, and this time, no one was left standing.

____________________________________________________________________

Tardaesha began rallying soldiers as they came hurrying up out of the lower levels, responding to the alarms and explosions.
"Get to the gatehouse!" she commanded. "Search for survivors and get that portcullis down!"
They hurried to do the bidding of the Lord Commander. Two returned a few minutes later, bearing Lemmy between them.
"It's one of the engineers, Sir!" one soldier said. "He's badly injured, but he'll live. The portcullis is jammed up tight. We can't lower it."
"Damn it all!" 'Aesha cursed. "All of the other engineers are back in town with cholera. Help me get this one to the keep. We need to have Father Donnagin tend to him and get him back on his feet. Then maybe he can fix the cursed thing."

The soldiers followed Tardaesha and Kat back to the keep and carried Lemmy upstairs. That was when 'Aesha ordered Roger and the others to kill them. Once that was done, Roger and. Dakota moved the heavy stone cap back into place over the stairwell to the great hall. Then it became a waiting game.

Sakkarot Fire-Axe had said that it would take approximately one hour to bring his men to the keep after the signal flare was launched, and he was correct in his timing. In their thousands, the bugbears and their allies streamed over the landscape. They were not completely without siege equipment: groups of shaggy murderers wielded great tree trunks as battering rams, though they didn't really need them as the portcullis stood raised to admit them into Balentyne. The remaining soldiers did put up some resistance, though with none of their leaders present to provide order and tactics, the outcome was never in doubt. The bugbear losses could have been much worse. Sakkarot himself emerged unscathed from the battle and much heartened by his success, though it still took most of the following day to get the whole body of his horde moved up and through the Watchtower gates. The citizenry of Aldencross fled in terror, spreading word of the invasion led by a monster who wielded an axe of flame. The war had begun and Talingarde had lost its first battle.

____________________________________________________________

During the course of the fighting, the members of the Nessian Knot avoided the worst of it and made their way back down into the secret tunnel that led to the Lord's Dalliance. There they found Timeon waiting for them, watching over the naked, beaten and barely conscious personage of Father Donnagin. The next few hours were consumed with the ritual Tardaesha and Roger performed, which ultimately involved the gruesome sacrifice of the Iomedaen priest. As his life's blood pooled beneath the inverted crucifix upon which he'd been hung, it began to smolder and then boil as some...thing...emerged from it. An ever-gnashing maw, filled with row after row of mismatched teeth, dominated the frightful creature's orb-like body, yet it was tiny, no bigger than a mouse. Tardaesha held out her hand palm up, and the horrid little abomination flew to it. She smiled down at it and nuzzled it affectionately.
"He says his name is Knick-Knack," she said, smiling as she turned to show off the cacodaemon, her new companion, to the others.

____________________________________________________________________

"Look what I found," Katrina said holding out a well-worn leather-bound book towards Kelvin.
" 'Found?' " her brother asked suspiciously.
Kat just shrugged. "I was investigating the Lord Commander's quarters. Didn't want to miss anything important. The place was like a shrine, with a painting of a very lovely young woman surrounded by candles. Poor sap. Anyway, this was tucked away behind the it."
Kelvin flipped through the pages and snorted.
"An Iomedaen bible," he said disdainfully. "So? I'm sure every sun-worshiper in this place has one like it."
"Not like this one," Kat explained, taking the book and turning to the back.
Tucked away inside was a detailed chart of Lord Havelyn's family tree, but there was one entry that had been carefully blotted out. Still barely discernible was the name 'Samuel Havelyn, Cardinal of Iomedae.'
"Cardinal?" Kelvin raised an eyebrow. "Surely you don't believe..."
"I'm not jumping to any conclusions," Kat raised her hands. "It just seems a bit coincidental that Thorn sent us to take out this particular fortress, where a man of an age to be his brother was stationed as commander."
"We'll keep it," Kelvin said thoughtfully, tucking the book into his satchel. "It may be a useful bargaining chip at some point."

______________________________________________________________________

Tardaesha broke the clay seal that Thorn had given them to use upon completion of their mission. Within moments Tiadora appeared among them. Wordlessly, she gestured for them to follow her. She led them back to the basement of the Lord's Dalliance, and then out onto the streets of Aldencross. The town was in flames, and savage humanoids danced with glee in the lurid light cast by the fires. None of them dared approach Tiadora nor her charges, however. She led them through the darkness until they once again reached the shores of Lake Tarik, where a ship lay at anchor. On the dock sat a large coffer, and Tiadora lifted it easily and handed it to Roger. He opened it, revealing ten platinum ingots and a folded note. Kelvin drew out the latter and read it aloud.
"Our Lord smiles upon your success. Here is a token of my esteem. Use it to rest, recover and strengthen yourselves. Other commands will come when the Knot is needed. You work has just begun-A."

From the promontory where they stood, the members of the Knot could see the great bugbear horde camped south of the Watch Wall. Balentyne yet burned behind them.
"I have seen no evidence of an army gathering to meet the horde," Tiadora remarked. "It seems Zadaria has also succeeded at her mission, and has assassinated the commanders. Truly, a great achievement. Making matters worse for poor Talingarde, small bands of creatures unaligned with Sakkarot approached the breach, eager to take advantage of the chaos. How could these beasts know already about this break in the Watch Wall? Someone must have told them. Probably best to leave. This region is about to become very dangerous. Still, this will not be enough. Balentyne may be broken but Talingarde is yet strong. Soon word will reach the south. The Heartland and the great cities of the Cambrian Bay will marshal their armies. They will meet Sakkarot on the field and it will be far too close to a fair fight. We must do something about that. Come, my lords, your ship awaits. Try not to burn this one."

Lords. She had called them lords. And lords they were. Lords of death and destruction. Lords of evil. They remembered Branderscar. They remembered being held down and branded like animals. How far they had come and how long yet the journey before them. Tiadora was right. This was only their first steps along the way of the wicked.
 

JollyDoc

Explorer
Knick-Knack
 

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Mr Haldol

First Post
Every great villain needs a Nick Nack.
e49df537-6a1a-4ed5-8e83-f0c4502637c2.jpg


Sadly, I'll miss the next month of gaming and the adventure will be without our favorite "Tard"
 

JollyDoc

Explorer
24 Rova, 4716- 11 Lamashan, 4716 - Farholde

The members of the Nessian Knot boarded the ramshackle river barge Halstyn's Folly behind Tiadora. The captain and three crewmen bowed and scraped before her as she strode imperiously across the deck. The accommodations were crude with only one cabin, which Tiadora had already commandeered. It appeared as if everyone else would be sleeping on the deck, which had a roof but no walls. The nights were going to be chilly. Tiadora wasted no time. As soon as everyone was aboard, she commanded the captain to cast off.

"Where are we going?" Tardaesha asked as the boat got moving.
"We are bound for Farholde," Tiadora replied cooly, "the northernmost colony of Talingarde."
"Why there?" 'Aesha pressed.
"To bring Talingarde to its knees," Tiadora said. "The master will reveal more when he is ready."
"Are you coming with us?" 'Aesha asked, daring to touch one finger to the older woman's arm.
"I am tasked to escort you to Farholde," she said flatly, "and to introduce you to old friends of the master. Once that is done, I have other errands. Why? Will you miss me, dearest?"
"Actually, I will," Tardaesha smiled.
Tiadora just looked at her for a moment, her lips twitching slightly. Then she turned and went into her cabin.

___________________________________________________________

The barge moved slowly along the great scar that almost cut the isle of Talingarde in twain, bound for Farholde, which lay some three-hundred miles to the west. The sluggish vessel made barely twenty-four miles a day, which meant its journey would take a dozen days. Each night, the captain anchored within sight of a village or keep, though no one ever went ashore. Each morning, as the barge resumed its voyage, Tiadora would stand on the deck and watch the receding settlements as the distant sounds of wailing and mourning reached the ears of the ship's passengers. No one dared to question her about this.

On the twelfth night of the trip, Tiadora stepped out of her cabin.
"The master is here and commands you to attend him," she said grimly, then turned and went back inside.
Puzzled, the group looked at one another and then hurriedly followed. Waiting for them was none other than Cardinal Adrastus Thorn himself. He was clad in black and burgundy robes with black gloves, and openly displayed a silver pentagram of Asmodeus. He greeted the Knot and then quickly turned to business.
"You have served me faithfully, my ninth knot," he began, "and I have rewarded you both in treasure and vengeance. Thanks to your efforts, the Fire-Axe has been unleashed. Even now he writes his name in blood across the Borderlands.
Three battles have been fought and three victories won. The villages of Ambryl and Tarrington Fields lay sacked. The fortress of Lorringsgate is in ruins. Each of you did your part in seeing these triumphs come to fruition. Do not think I have forgotten that. But our work is not yet done. Talingarde has not yet acquiesced to our unholy master nor tasted the full measure of our vengeance. So I have another mission for you. Tomorrow this barge will dock in Farholde, the northernmost town in all the realm. Farholde is a backwater of no real significance. Its lord has already left the place, hoping for glory in the war. But it does border the Caer Bryr, the largest unmapped forest on the entire island.
Hidden within the Caer Bryr is the Horn of Abaddon, an ancient temple once occupied by a particularly loathsome death cult called The Sons of the Pale Horseman. Almost eighty years ago the first Darian King, Markadian I, called the Victorious, overthrew the Horn and destroyed the Sons. No great loss, honestly. But what the Victor found within the temple is why we are here. He defeated a daemon prince called Vetra-Kali Eats-The-Eyes. So terrified of this monstrosity was the king, that he had the priests of Iomedae craft a great silver seal to forever forbid the daemon from returning to our plane of existence. The seal remains to this day.
I have learned the truth about this daemon prince. I have learned what the Victor feared. Vetra-Kali is an arch-deacon in service to the lord of pestilence. This immortal monster could create a plague so virulent that it would bring Talingarde to its knees.
When the Victor attacked, the daemon prince was close to unleashing his masterpiece upon the world, a pestilence known as the Tears of Achlys. I am uncertain of the specifics of this plague, but if anything could strike terror in the heart of the Victor, then I want it. The Tears of Achlys will be our poisoned dagger into the heart of Talingarde.
I already have agents in the great cities of this kingdom. With this pestilence, they could deliver blight and death to the very center of the realm. Caught between the twin storms of the Fire-Axe and Vetra-Kali's gift, we shall bring ruin to Talingarde. This gift you shall bring me.
It will not be easy. I have already lost one band of followers on this errand. I sent the fourth knot to find the Horn of Abaddon. They succeeded in that at least, revealing to me that it was concealed within a great spire of stone less than a day's ride from Farholde. But then they vanished. I have heard no more from the elven ranger Aiden Kael since. He knew the Caer Bryr well, so no normal hazard would have defeated him. Perhaps the Horn of Abaddon is guarded. I cannot say. But it matters not! The Tears of Achlys must be mine!"
Thorn pounded the table with his fist for emphasis.
"I am undeterred by this setback," he continued, regaining his composure. "Where one knot failed, two will succeed. I will also send my seventh knot, the Knot Hibernal, led by Elise Zadaria. I task you with finding the Horn and calling forth Vetra-Kali. Elise and her knot will aid you. Elise proved herself a capable assassin in our last venture. The seventh knot will remain in Farholde and see that anyone who tries to find the Horn and interfere with your work meets an unhappy end. Thus, you will have time to do what must be done.
There is another who may be able to aid you. Once a thriving cult of Asmodeus existed in Farholde. It was led by a half-elvish noble, the Baron Arkov Vandermir. He is treacherous and decadent, but wealthy and well-connected. Tiadora will introduce you before she departs. I know not what aid the Baron can provide, but his family is old and long has dwelt in Farholde. Never trust him but know this...he's afraid of me and with good reason. If he does try anything remind him that you are in Farholde on my behalf. That should keep him in line.
Find the Horn. Find the seal and shatter it. Call Vetra-Kali back to our world. Bind him to your will and force service from the monster. And then bring his gift to me. Can you do this, my knot? Have I found servants with might and will enough to see this task done?"

Roger cleared his throat.
"Could Aiden Kael still be alive?" he asked. "Should we rescue him?"
"Kael is nothing!" Thorn snapped. "If he is alive, then he has either abandoned his mission or failed at it miserably. Either crime is sufficient to warrant his destruction."
"You mentioned the White Ravens running interference for us should others come looking," Kelvin piped up. "Why would there be others looking if this place has been abandoned for eighty years?"
"There is a rumor that floats around Farholde," Thorn said, "that a lost temple called the Horn of Abaddon contains a great treasure. This draws treasure seekers to try and find the temple. So far they have failed to find it. I know this because of Kael's last report."
Lemmy snorted.
"Damned adventurers! Greedy low-lifes. Can't trust none of'em!"
Ignoring the dwarf, Kelvin pushed ahead.
"Pardon my misgivings, my Lord, but do we really want to unleash a plague daemon?"
Thorn waved one hand dismissively.
"Vetra-Kali is a tool. Nothing more, nothing less. Perhaps if you are clever, once you have his gift you can figure out a way to send him back.'
"Should we just kill him?" Kelvin asked.
"Vetra-Kali is a powerful daemon prince," Thorn scoffed. "He would be a difficult adversary. But perhaps, if you could find a weakness, you could defeat him. Regardless, I care not. Slaying Vetra-Kali is of no import. Retrieving the pestilence is all that matters. Now, if there's nothing else...,"
He rose to his feet, and then withdrew from his robes a clay tablet marked with the symbol of Asmodeus.
"If you recover the Tears or need to report anything to me," he said, "break this seal. I will send Tiadora to wherever you break it within an hour or two. Now go with the blessings of the Prince of Hell and see this mission done!"

_______________________________________________________________

Almost every structure in the city of Farholde was built on one of nine hills surrounding and overlooking Lake Scardynn, which gave onto the open waters of the western sea. Eight of theses hills lay on the southern shore of the lake, while on the northern shore stood the fortress of Hamarhall, the westernmost of the great defensive towers of the Watch Wall. The Folly put in at one of the docks of Corgan's Landing, Farholde's warehouse district, and the members of the Nessian Knot disembarked, followed by Tiadora.
"I have already contacted Baron Vandermir," she said. "I have arranged for all of you to have dinner with him tomorrow night. Meet me here promptly at sunset, and you had best find something presentable to wear."
Then she turned on her heel and vanished into the crowd.

"Well I guess that leaves us to our own devices for the evening," Tardaesha said, clapping her hands together and smiling at her comrades. "I, for one, plan on seeing what I can find out about this Baron before we stumble blindly into his lair tomorrow night."
"And I think I'm going to do some digging of my own," Kat said. "Thorn said that Aiden Kael was here just a couple of weeks ago. Someone must have seen him. I'll see what I can find."
Kelvin nodded. "Just be careful. Both of you. We don't want to attract undue attention. The rest of us will see about securing lodgings for the night. We'll rendezvous later."

___________________________________________________________________

It didn't take Tardaesha long to turn up a few rumors about the Baron. Some thought him an odd sort of recluse who rarely left his manor, while others stated that, without a doubt, he was the most generous man in Farholde, and that it was because of him that the town had an orphanage. It was his lands and estates to the south that provided most of the dry goods for Farholde, so even among those who were suspicious of the Baron, they all respected him.

Katarina was equally productive in her investigation. While making subtle inquiries about a man matching Aiden Kael's description, she heard about an elf that had been staying at the Wandering Friar Inn who had disappeared about three weeks back. It was said that he went into the Caer Bryr and was never seen again. Finding the inn proved easy enough. It was in the Newchurch district of town, so named because the Hall of the Sun Victorious, the church of Iomedae, dominated its center.
"I'm looking for a friend of mine," Kat told the innkeeper. "An elf by the name of Aiden Kael. I was told he was staying here."
"Yep, he was alright," the innkeep spat, "but he up and vanished about three weeks ago and never settled his bill! He was paid up through last week, but now the rent's a week past due. I was just about to declare the room abandoned and have all his stuff cleaned out."
"Wait," Kat said, not believing her luck, "are you saying his belongings are still here?"
"Yep," the man nodded, "and if you take care of his tab, they're yours to do with as you please."
Kat paid the 25 gold coins readily and got the key to the room. Inside, to her further disbelief, a map lay out on a table weighed down by a dagger. Clearly marked at a spot perhaps twenty miles south of town was a mountain labeled "The Horn." Kat quickly rolled up the map, did a fast toss of the rest of the room (turning up a purse with 130 coins...more than enough to compensate her for her expenditure), then hurried out to find her friends.

________________________________________________________________


Tiadora was bedecked brilliantly, all in white, looking like a traveling noble on the way to her wedding. She stood on the docks and looked skeptically at the assortment of attire being modeled by the members of the Nessian Knot. It ranged from affluent finery worn by Tardaesha and Dakota, to essentially a stained shirt Lemmy wore loosely over his armor. Tiadora just shook her head and motioned for them to follow her.
She escorted them through the bustling city until they reached an obviously prosperous part of town called Calliver's Green, located on a gently sloping hill. It was a gated community, and Tiadora approached the guard confidently.
"Baron Vandermir is expecting us," she said.
Of course, my lady. This way," he replied nervously after consulting a list.
There were only six manors in the neighborhood, and the guard led the group to what was arguably the most impressive and opulent of them. The front door was secured by two more guards wearing armor and livery. They stepped forward as the retinue approached. Kelvin noted the heraldry they wore. It was a variation on that of House Barca, the royal elvish line deposed by the current Darian regime. It also marked them as servants of the Baron of Westell and Mir, farming towns south of Farholde.
"No stranger may go before the Baron armed," one of the men said, eyeing the assortment of weapons sported by the visitors.
Tiadora turned to the others and raised one eyebrow, obviously impatient. Sighing, everyone began divesting themselves of their armaments. Only Kat, who had no less than a dozen daggers secreted upon her person, opted to hold a couple of the more well-concealed ones in reserve. The guards did not bother to search her.
A butler took charge of the Baron's guests at the door, and they were attended to by a small squad of servants who offered them brandy and hors d'oeuvres, which were a selection of tasty little beef skewers and crunchy, spicy crayfish puffs. Finally, the dinner bell was sounded and they were escorted into the main dining room.

Baron Arkov Vandermir stood at the head of the table. He was a handsome half-elf dressed in burgundy and white, and he appeared quite young, even boyish, though he was easily over a century old. Only his eyes betrayed a calculating, wicked soul.
"Welcome," he said, raising his glass to his guests.
When all were seated, dinner was served amidst polite formalities. Once the servants were dismissed, however, the Baron abruptly became all business.
"You come to me as beggars," he began without preamble, "the last remnants of a forbidden faith. You will promise me much, of that I have no doubt. But all that I am likely to earn from helping you is the inquisitor's pyre. Tell me, why should I help the likes of you?"
"Because there is an inferno coming," Kelvin leaned forward and spoke calmly but earnestly, "and you need to choose which side of it you're going to be on."
Vandermir sat back in his chair and remained silent for a moment.
"You know of our work in Aldencross," Kelvin said. "We were very...effective, yet none knew we were even there."
"The same cannot be said for the sequence of events that landed you in Branderscar," the Baron smirked.
"That was before we made the acquaintance of Cardinal Thorn," Kelvin replied. "You are familiar with him, aren't you?"
Vandermir's face paled a shade.
"I see that you are," Kelvin smiled. "Know this: all that we do, we do at his behest. Rest assured that if we fail in our assignment, we will burn well before you do. Our reputation, not to mention our necks, are at stake here as well. We will keep things contained."
The Baron folded his hands and sighed.
"I suppose you are correct," he said at length. "I lived through the Asmodean purges of Markadian IV, the so-called 'Zealous,' and saw many of my fellow stripped of title and fortune and burned at the stake. I have lived my entire life in the shadow of House Darius, and my hatred for them is a mile wide. Here then is what I can do for you: I can provide you with accommodations and a safe house. My manor has a secret tunnel that runs to a small hovel at the base of the hill. You may come and go at will without anyone observing your movements. Second, I can grant you almost total legal immunity in Farholde, as long as you're not caught red-handed doing some heinous deed. My word that you were with me will excuse any suspicion of your involvement in any crimes. Have a care, however. An excess of blatant law-breaking will eventually attract the attention of the inquisitors. Third, I have many contacts among the...less reputable merchants who operate in and around the city. I can grant you access to poisons and more sinister magics. I can also help you fence any suspicious items you recover from your journeys. There is a section of town known as Drownington. It lays below sea level between the hills, and it is as close to a lawless neighborhood as you will find in Farholde. Have a care when you journey there, but it is a good place to recruit rogues and ruffians. In fact, I have established an orphanage there which is actually a front for just that sort of thing. Lastly, I am also an accomplished enchanter. If you happen to need someone...persuaded, I will be glad to lend my assistance."

"Well then," Tiadora said, rising abruptly to her feet, "that's settled. Shall we take our leave?"
The others stood, as did Baron Vandermir.
"There is...one other thing," Tardaesha said.
Tiadora looked irritated, while Vandermir looked wary.
"We have an...associate," 'Aesha said. "His name is Timeon, and he is very dear to me. I was wondering if you might find some gainful employment for him."
Vandermir nodded slightly, suspicion still on his face.
"I'll see what I can do."

______________________________________________________________

Tiadora took her leave immediately after leaving the manor, telling the companions that the 7th Knot would be arriving the next day. The members of the ninth made their way back to their inn for the night. Once Tardaesha was alone with Dakota, she opened her cloak and clucked her tongue. There was a rustle from an inside pocket, and then Knick-Knack sprang out and onto the bed, slavering and slobbering.
"Hello my love," Tardaesha cooed at the little fiend. "Mommy is sorry she left you cooped all night, but we're home now and Mommy needs you to do something for her."
The cacodaemon bobbed up and down excitedly. Tardaesha stared deeply into its eyes for several long moments, and gradually its gaze grew distant and glazed.
"Tell me," Tardaesha whispered, communing through the creature with the lower planes, "is the map we found to the Horn correct?"
Knick-Knack nodded once.
"Will the 7th Knot betray us?" 'Aesha asked the second of the six queries she was allowed.
Knick-Knack shrugged his whole body, indicating that the possibility was uncertain.
Tardaesha frowned.
"Will Cardinal Thorn betray us?" she asked.
Knick-Knack shrugged again.
She tried a different approach.
"Is Aiden Kael still alive?"
Knick-Knack shook his head vigorously.
"Did he die in the Horn?"
He nodded enthusiastically.
"Will Vetra-Kali be hostile towards us should we free him?" Tardaesha asked with her final question.
To this, Knick-Knack nodded once, slowly and emphatically.

__________________________________________________

The following day found the Nessians gathered on the docks once more as another small barge tied off at the pier. Elise Zadaria, Dostan Alfson, and Trik and Trak Rackburn disembarked shortly after.
"May I die a thousand times before I see another filthy boat!" Elise groused as she came down the gangway. "Curse Tiadora and her tedious side-trips."
"Tiadora?" Kelvin asked. "You were traveling with Tiadora?"
"Of course," Elise snapped. "For the past two weeks, stopping every night at some peasant-filled hamlet or another."
"Really?" Kelvin nodded thoughtfully. "Interesting."
"Hardly," the leader of the White Ravens sniffed. "The only thing I'm interested in is a hot bath, a warm meal and a soft bed."
"We have arranged rooms for you," Kelvin smiled. "We can discuss our agendas after you're more comfortable."

Some time later, the two Knots sat around a large table in a private dining room of The Auld Briarhall inn, located in the Auld'Irey district of Farholde, the most densely populated and therefore the easiest to remain inconspicuous. Kelvin briefed the White Ravens on what they had discovered thus far, namely a map to the Horn, and the fact that Aiden Kale was indeed dead.
"More's the pity," Elise smirked. "So when will you depart?"
"Tomorrow," Kelvin replied. "What of yourselves? What is your role here, as you understand it?"
"It is my intention in the next few months," Elise said, "to have spies set up in every inn, tavern and anywhere else adventurers and explorers might congregate. When you do find the Horn of Abaddon, contact me. For those groups I can't personally dispatch, I'll send a messenger with any information I can gather. It is my job to keep your distractions to a minimum during your endeavors."
Kelvin smiled and raised his glass to her.
"To allies and mutually beneficial partnerships," he said.
The members of both Knots raised their cups as well, but Kelvin was not sure that what he saw in Elise Zadaria's eyes reflected the sentiment.

__________________________________________________________

The northern Caer Bryr was a temperate rainforest richly blessed with rain fall and broadleaf trees. The trees were tall and broad, with the thick-trunked baobab, unusual in such a wet clime, a common sight and growing to enormous size. Some trees were hundreds of feet tall with trunks easily twenty feet across. To walk into the deep Briar was to enter the domain of giants. Every flat surface was covered with brilliant green moss and lichens in every hue. Mushrooms of a million sorts proliferated and crowded every fallen log. Small animal life was dense, with squirrels, voles, mice and white-faced ghost monkeys all represented. Birds dwelt there in endless variety, and dazzling panoramas of plumage were everywhere on display. It was a bountiful place, rich and thriving with nature's splendor. Yet perhaps the single most famous feature of the northern Briar were the great stone spires. They proliferated everywhere in the jungle, rising hundreds of feet above the forest floor, their foliage covers providing homes to countless wildlife.

The Nessian Knot made its way through this forest, following the trail depicted on Aiden Kael's map. By Kat's best estimate, they should reach the Horn in less than a day. They had already been on the hunt for several hours, and though haunting in its beauty, the Briar had provided nothing in the way of overt danger, other than the very real possibility of getting lost.
"We should be getting close," Kat said, peering at the map as the sun drifted towards the western horizon.
"That's good," Roger said in a low voice, "because we're being watched."
The others immediately looked around, causing the big half-orc to roll his eyes.
"Subtle," he said.
"I see it!" Dorian said. "Over there!"
Kat and Tardaesha looked where he pointed, and at first just saw more trees...until one of them moved.
"It's a treant!" Dorian hissed. "Self-righteous piece of walking lumber!"
"Easy," Tardaesha said softly. "That fact might work in our favor. We are just innocent travelers. There should be no reason for hostility."

The huge, tree-like creature lumbered towards them, then called out in a booming voice.
"Hullo little ones! I am Jurak, called the Eldest. What are you doing here wandering alone in the wilds?"
"We are explorers," Tardaesha replied with her most winning smile. "We did not realize that we might be trespassing."
"Not trespassing," Jurak said, "but you have happened upon the Horn of Abaddon, a cursed place once of great corruption. It is my sacred charge to see that evil never again takes root here."
"The Horn of Abaddon??" Kat exclaimed. "That is what we have come looking for! We had heard it was a place of great wickedness, and a friend of ours set out in search of it some time ago. We have not heard back from him and grew concerned."
Jurak mused, humming tunelessly to himself for a moment.
"This friend," he asked at length. "Was he elven?"
"Yes!" Kat nodded. "His name was Aiden Kael. Have you seen him?"
Jurak nodded slowly.
"Alas, yes," he rumbled. "He too I warned away. Though the Horn is empty, the lower caverns have been overrun by boggards. Foul, vile creatures, curse them! Your friend would not listen. He went in, but he never came out."
Kat's face fell.
"We must go after him!" she cried. "Please, will you help us?"
Jurak hummed a bit longer.
"I will accompany you, young ones," he finally said. "The caverns are too low for me to enter, but I will await you outside and ensure that no enemies approach from that direction."
Kat threw her arms around the talking tree in an exuberant hug.

_________________________________________________________

The Horn of Abaddon appeared no different than any of the dozens of other spires the Knot had seen on their trek through the Briar, but Jurak assured them that it was the place they sought. He pointed towards a broad, open cave at the base of the spire.
"There is where you will find the boggard filth," he rumbled.
Higher up the mountain could be seen four smaller cave openings, one about fifty feet up, another at one-hundred feet, a third at approximately one-hundred fifty feet, and a last one hight atop the peak, some four-hundred above the forest floor.

Cautiously, the seven companions approached the lower opening, which was filled with many stalactites, stalagmites and columns of wet, living stone, giving it the appearance of fangs contained by a large, loathsome grin. The floor of the cave entrance was covered by countless small pools of standing, fetid water and ubiquitous slicks of mud that made the footing uncertain. A large tunnel led deeper into the mountain from the back of the cave, as did a pair of smaller ones to the right of the entrance. For no particular reason, Tardaesha chose one of those to begin their exploration. It traveled a short distance before opening into a small, wet cave that contained a clear pool on one side, the wall above it literally sweating moisture. Two more tunnels led from the chamber, and Tardaesha chose to continue traveling east. This passage soon dead-ended in a dripping cavern that also contained a pool, though it was murky and populated with blind, white fish. With no way forward, the group back-tracked and chose the northern tunnel from the previous chamber. This led them to a four-way intersection, and Tardaesha turned left. At a T-shaped intersection, she turned right, seeing that the left-had passage led back to the main entrance. The new tunnel opened into a wide cavern with many stalagmites and shadowy corners, though a path remained clear down its center. Tardaesha was just about to start across the room, when she caught a brief flicker of movement out of the corner of her eye.

Roger saw the movement as well, just as a creature came leaping out of the darkness. As it jumped high into the air, it looked like nothing so much as a bipedal frog. It clutched a massive greatsword in its hands, and emitted a head-pounding croak. From around the edges of the cavern, this croak was echoed by several more, sending a chill down Lemmy's spine. The creature landed in front of Roger and brought the sword down in a powerful slash that knocked the anti-paladin backwards, opening a large rent in his breastplate. Four more of the creatures, smaller and armed with spears, then came leaping out of the darkness. As they gathered, Kelvin tossed a bead of fire into their midst. It exploded a moment later, leaving all four as smoking piles of burned flesh and bone. The larger boggard managed to leap aside, avoiding the worst of the blast, but ended up landing too close to Tardaesha. She swung her own blade and heard the satisfying crack of bone as it came down on the creature's thigh. Spitting and hissing, it continued to hop about madly. Dorian sent a bolt of flames into its back, while Kelvin loosed a magic missile volley that struck unerringly. Lemmy bombarded it with a barrage of stones and debris, and Kat drove her dagger towards its belly, hoping to disembowel it, but only managing a grazing blow as the boggard twisted away at the last second. It landed behind Roger and pummeled him a second time, sending him reeling into a nearby wall. As it turned to follow and finish him off, however, Kat thrust with her dagger again, driving it into the base of the creature's skull. It fell heavily to the floor and flopped there for a moment like a hooked fish.

_________________________________________________________________

"How do I look?" Tardaesha asked.
"Ridiculous," Dorian snorted.
"I don't know," Dakota said, eyeing her sister. "I think you look kind of cute...for a frog dude!"
The others burst out laughing, and 'Aesha joined them. She felt rather ridiculous, truth be told, having used her iron circlet to effect the visage of the largest of the boggards. She hoped fervently that he had been some sort of leader or champion, otherwise her plan might be the death of them.
"Well, let's just hope the other frog people find me handsome and leaderly," she sniffed, and then turned on her heel and headed for the tunnel on the far side of the chamber.

The short passage led to another intersection, and from the left-hand branch the companions could hear loud croaking. Tardaesha turned that direction and strode purposefully into a truly enormous cavern. Seven crude mud and thatch huts were spaced around the periphery of the cave. Nine boggards stood grouped in the center of the huts staring balefully at the intruders.
'Knick-Knack,' Tardaesha spoke telepathically with her invisible little minion, 'tell them that I have made new friends who have come to warn us of danger. Tell them that these new friends don't speak our language, so this is how they must communicate.'
The cacodaemon relayed the message and the eyes of the boggards grew wide at the voice in their heads. One of them stepped forward. He was adorned with numerous bone and stick fetishes and carried a similarly ornamented staff. He spoke in the croaking tongue of his kind.
'Tell him to speak to you in his head so that our friends can understand,' 'Aesha told Knick-Knack.
"You no understand," the shaman spoke in broken Common, "because you not Kumanda Slays-Nine-Men. Where he?"
Tardaesha sighed. Why could nothing ever be easy?
"We killed him," she replied aloud. "We had hoped to avoid similar violence with the rest of you."
"I see this in dreams," the boggard croaked. "Slayers of Kumanda come to Horn and restore greatness. Then Great Father rise again!"
He turned to his people and croaked at them for a moment. As one they fell to their knees and prostrated themselves.
"This could work," Tardaesha smiled to the others.

___________________________________________________________

The boggard shaman's name was Zikomo Hears-the-Father, and it became quickly apparent that he was insane. At Tardaesha's behest, he led the Knot on a tour of the lower caverns, at times lucid, but at other times he would begin to rave about about the Father's return. He spoke of a time of trials before greatness was restored, and confessed that some of his tribe would perish, but only the weak and unfit. Kumanda, the former chief, was among these, in Zikomo's opinion. The first stop on his tour was Kumanda's hut where he bade his new masters to take anything they pleased, including the chief's two wives. The companions politely declined (though Lemmy did eye them for a long moment before Roger elbowed him in the ribs), instead offering them both to Zikomo, which seemed to please the old seer.

Most of the caves were empty, but in one there was a natural, self-replenishing pool of acid, while another contained a pool in which swam pale-blue fish with delicate thread-like spines on their forefins. Kat was delighted when she saw them, identifying them as death-angel cave tetras whose spines contained a powerful paralytic poison. Zikomo's private cave was dominated by a large and impressive mud and stick hut which contained a shrine in the form of a crude stone block encrusted with old blood. Above the block, drawn in vibrant luminescent paint, was a headache-inducing spiral symbol, surrounded by countless scribbles written in strange iconography. Kelvin recognized the symbol immediately. It was that of Dagon, a demonic deity. He kept this information to himself for the moment. The shaman was a useful ally in the short term, but his chances for long-term survival had just dropped considerably.

In the last of a long line of seemingly empty, wet caves, notable only for a distinctive blue slime mold that covered one wall, Zikomo paused and cocked his head as if listening.
"The Father tell me something important here. Something to help Horn, but I not find it in months of looking."
"Mind if I give it a try?" Kat asked, not waiting for a reply.
She began canvassing the perimeter of the cave with her sharp eyes, taking note of even the smallest details and imperfections. Suddenly she paused at one wall and knelt down, peering at a spot near the floor.
"Did you find something?" Kelvin asked.
Kat shrugged. "Maybe. There's a small crack here. Might be nothing, and I'm not sure how we could go about looking on the other side. It's much to small."
"Not for Knick-Knack," Tardaesha said.
The little monster bobbed out of her pocket at the sound of its name.
'See what's in there,' 'Aesha said telepathically.
Knick-Knack nodded once and then darted through the hole. A moment later Tardaesha heard his excited thoughts in her head.
'There's something here, Mistress!' he shouted. 'A skeleton holding a big book! Oh, and a shiny rock!'
'Bring me the book and the rock,' Tardaesha commanded.
A moment later the cacodaemon emerged from the hole, and large, leather-bound book clutched in his teeth. He dropped this at the feet of his mistress, and then spat out what looked to be large, flawless emerald. Zikomo's eyes grew wide.

Kelvin picked up the book and began paging through it.
" 'The Dirges of Apollyon,' " he intoned. "It appears to be a detailed history of the Sons of the Pale Horseman. Not a lot of useful information here....wait...," his voice trailed off.
On the last page of the book was text written in a different hand.
" 'Behold our shame,' " Kelvin began to read aloud, " 'that we, the Sons of the Pale Horseman, failed in our darkest hour to defend our prince, the undying and ever malevolent Vetra-Kali-Eats-the-Eyes. But I have seen it! I have seen the road to repentenance! 666 prayers. Three per day will break the hated Seal. With each prayer, bathe the Seal in unholy water and intone the dirge.
At the stroke of midnight each day, call forth the Supplication to Darkness. Pray to the darkness so that we shall be forgiven. Upon the first midnight make the first sacrifice...one of our own blood...so that Vetra-Kali will know we are repentant.
At the first light of each dawn call forth the Cursing of the Light. Answer the spread of the shining lady's light with our unyielding defiance. Upon the 111th Curse make the second sacrifice...a true believer of Iomedae...so that the cursed goddess of the invaders will know that we fear her not and that her power to hold our master at bay is ending.
At dusk as darkness returns each day cry forth the Call Across the Void. Recite the name of Vetra-Kali so that he may hear us and return. With the final Call offer the third sacrifice...one of the Victor's own blood. By the same blood that caged him so shall our master be freed.
Let ye with wisdom understand. Once the final prayer is uttered upon the 222nd dusk, Vetra-Kali will begin his long traverse across the great wheel. At the stroke of midnight on that day he will emerge into his Sanctum and the Seal shall shatter.
Blessed day! Be ready, my brothers. His eyes have been stolen from him. Return them and the Prince will honor ye with one task for each.
For the Eye of Vigilance ask only for his mercy upon we mortals and plead that he do ye and yours no harm. For his wroth will be great.
For the Eye of Hatred ask for his greatest gift...the Tears of Achlys so that once more every corner of the world may know his mercy.
For the Eye of Withering ask what ye will, for in his gratitude he must answer your charge.
And then behold, the Prince restored. All shall know his blessings of pestilence and despair.
-R. Kappelbrenner.' "

Everyone was silent for a long moment after Kelvin had completed his reading. Finally it was Lemmy who broke the spell.
"Well, looks like we're gonna be here for awhile. Might as well head on upstairs and check out our new digs for the next six months or so."
Kelvin nodded and then bent to retrieve the emerald.
"The eyes of Vetra-Kali," he murmured. "Could this be one of them?"

___________________________________________________________

"What did you find, little ones?" Jurak asked as the Nessians emerged from the lower caverns.
"This," Roger said, tossing the head of the boggard chieftain as his feet.
"Hmmm," Jurak murmured approvingly. "What of the other vermin?"
"Most of them fled," Kelvin replied. "We think they went higher into the Horn, but we couldn't find their escape route. We need to rest and recover for the night, and then we are going back in tomorrow."
"The upper levels are sure to hold more perils," the treant warned. "Remember the fate of your friend."
"We will be cautious," Kelvin smiled.

As the group began to set up camp, Tardaesha moved to the edge of the clearing. She opened her cloak and Knick-Knack peeked out.
'I need you to return to Farholde, my love,' 'Aesha said, stroking the little horror. 'Find Elise Zadaria. Tell her that we have found the Horn, and discovered the ritual for breaking the Seal. Tell her to begin looking for sacrifices. We need to find a possible descendent of one of the Sons of the Pale Horseman, a devotee of Iomedae, and a blood relative of the Victor himself. No easy task, granted, but not insurmountable. Now fly and return to me by dawn'
Knick-Knack licked her face with his drooling tongue and then zipped away into the gathering dusk.
 


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