On the Threshold of War

All That Glitters...is a Trapdoor.

When last we left our intrepid heroes… They had met two estranged travelers, a Half-Orc Oracle from the Broken Lands, preaching secrets of unknown portent and a Barbarian, from a tribe near to the Black Eagle Baronies. The journey through the Keep was fraught with many dangers but it did not deter our protagonists. The party cleared the entirety of the ground floor of the keep however something in the treasure room caught their eye. Alastair, after investigating a suspicious pile of gold, plummetted into a cavern below the Castle by means of a trap door. The Monk, Si’lex, poisoned with strength sapping spider venom during previous encounters, opted to remain above ground to rest and regain his strength…

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The Underbelly of Castle Caldwell

Deep in the bowels of Castle Caldwell, our adventurers are broken and battered. Alastair, Liam, and Si’lex begrudgingly welcomed Lonovan, a self-proclaimed and woefully unprepared ‘traveling merchant’ to the party, under the caveat that he would be escorted to safety in order to find his way back to Duke’s Road.

Descent into the Keep’s underbelly found yet more adventurers trapped by Castle Caldwell. A mysterious stranger, a towering, powerful visage of a man, Wargaath the Duke of Baal joined the adventurer as well as his weaker companion. Together the band of adventurers discovered an insidious undead infestation. Alastair, having held the line ’gainst three ghuls, clings to life as Wargaath, Liam and Lonovan maintain their tenuous position in the bowels of the dungeon.

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In Pursuit!

Having cleared Castle Caldwell of the undead menace, our newly expanded party returned to Threshold to find the gates barred under marshall law. Once entry was gained Alastair’s father, pressed with a new threat, charged the party with the rescue of Aliena, the daughter of Patriarch Jowett of the Church of Karameikos. Under unanimous agreement the party would embark on a journey to see her to safety. After settling up on the agreement with Clifton Caldwell, noting his suspicious body language and mannerisms, the party rested for the night plotting their course of action and sharing the booty from their most recent adventure.

The next day the party awoke at first light to finalize preparations for their journey. They reluctantly gained their eighth member, a cleric and brother of Aliena, Bendricks Jowett. The first day of travel ended at a ramshackle farmer’s hut, who had given them hospitality for the night under the condition that no one leave the barn. After a brief nighttime encounter with a lycanthrope, that was actually the farmers son, the group embarked on the second days travel.

Travel to Specularum by way of road was interrupted by a river crossing. The ferryman, seemingly beaten by marauders and threatened with the prospect of losing his daughter, refused to conduct passage. Growing impatient the party took matters into their own hands, hijacking the ferry and embarking across the river. On the far bank, a man in red and black robes flanked by two massive goblinoids stepped from hiding, slicing the throat of a young girl, undoubtedly the boatman’s daughter. Moments later he summoned forth a magical beast made entirely of water to accost the party.

In a moment of supreme self-sacrifice the Half Orc volunteered to be hurled towards the far bank to save the girl. While the plan was hastily pieced together, the Self Proclaimed Merchant, Lonovan taunted the menacing water beast and was struck low by a mighty blow, his heroic sacrifice secured the actions of his comrades. With the momentum of the massive blow catapulting the ferryboat, the strength two raging barbarians, and a healthy dose of luck, the Orc Half-breed flew like an arrow, landing just shy of the dying girl. Si’lek stepped into the breach where Lonovan had fallen, holding the line with his agile manuevers, giving the creature pause momentarily until his comrades could aid their fallen ally. Seeing his fallen companion, Alastair rallied to the defense the merchant, leading the charge while both barbarians followed on his flanks forming a defensive wall, preventing the beast from finishing it’s work with Lonovan. Bendriks, this being his first true combat test was terrified by the monster, bolstered by his heroic compatriots he crept into the fray laying healing hands upon Lonovan to stabilize and miraculously brought him back to consciousness. Heroic actions from all granted the adventurer’s the upper hand. The victory seemed to defy odds, clearly the Immortals had been on their side.

The party whisked the stabilized young girl towards the town of Verge just to the south in hot pursuit of Bargle, the Court Wizard and right hand agent of Baron von Hendricks. The Iron Ring was no longer a myth and no doubt at the center of it was the Black Eagle Barony.

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A Line Drawn in the Sand

Following the rescue of the young woman, the party faced with diverging paths, devised a plan. The main host of slavers was heading to the west while the town of Verge lay to the south. Alastair, being the most adept rider, took the boatman’s daughter and struck for Verge as fast as his horse could carry him. The rest of the party; Heltic, Warga’ath, Bendriks, Lonovan and Si’lex, kept track of the slavers with Liam’s ranger abilities.

Alastair crested the hill outside of Verge to find the town burning. Galloping through the broken gates, he pulled up shy of the town proper to find it’s leader directing the recovery efforts. Much to his chagrin he discovered the slavers had already attacked Verge. Alastair disclosed to Lady Halia Antonica, the town matron, that he felt the Iron Ring was to blame and they were being led by Bargle the Court Wizard of the Black Eagle Barony. The Matron mentioned something cryptic in passing, scribbled a note on a scrap of parchment, sealed it with wax and bade him carry it to Clan Vorloi in Specularum. Alastair implored her to send word of the attacks in the north to Specularum, to which she sent her fastest rider. After ensuring the boatman’s daughter was safe, Alastair lit out from Verge to rejoin his companions.

Meanwhile, the caravan of despicable slavers turned southward towards Specularum, their path keeping them well clear of the travelled road while paralleling the river. Rejoining the party Alastair, bringing word of the attack on Verge, helped devise a plan to warn the other towns along the way. Knowing the host of slaves would move much slower than they, the party rode hard towards Rifflian, a farming village south of Verge and just outside of the Kelvin Barony.

The adventurers rode into town, a scarce few hours ahead of the slavers and not more than two hours until dusk, gathering the town’s folk quickly to the square to inform them of the impending attack. This immediately drew the attention of the Town Leader. The once warrior, now aged and slightly soft fellow, eager to protect his people rallied to the defense. He reluctantly agreed, not without some convincing, to lead the townsfolk towards Kelvin and seek refuge across the River Shutturgal. Following the departure of the townsfolk, the party decided to make a decisive strike against the slaver’s scouts in order to send a message.

With nightfall, the party took up positions to lure the enemy towards the longhouse in the center of town. After a botched sneak attack on the first scout, a wave of ten goblin infantry rushed into town under a covering volley of arrows. Quickly, the team positioned near the entry of the longhouse dispatched their goblin fodder. Around back of the longhouse another drama unfolded as Lonovan faced down five goblins seemingly by himself. With archery support from Liam and flanking positions from the rest of the team, the enemies were dispatched.

In a macabre message, the party assembled the dead goblins inside the longhouse around the central table as if they had been drinking and being merry. A hastily scrawled note posted on the table…“YOU should have listened.” signed ‘The Good Guys’. A message for the ring leader.

Immediately the team galloped for the Ruins of Krakatos, making an all night ride and over 50 miles of distance. Surely their diversionary actions would slow the slavers at least a day possibly two. The ruins held a vicious enemy that was dispatched by Liam during scouting, leaving him broken and battered. Exhausted and road weary from nearly twenty-four hours of travel, the party rested at Krakatos before setting off towards Specularum a mere 10 miles distant.

Reaching Specularum, the party were greeted by massive walls and a sprawling city. On approach, the party of eight were hailed by the guard. Following a series of questions and finally Alastair’s presentation of the missive from Lady Halia, entry was gained and special passage granted. Having been told to seek out a man in the Merchant’s District named Fortenado located at the Faeriefire Inn, they set forth intimidated, yet enamored by the massive capital city. Reaching the Faeriefire Inn, Alastair and Lonovan went inside to seeking Fortenado.

Fortenado disclosed that he believed Clan Radu was in league with von Hendriks and the Baron was working to build an army with which he would try to take Specularum. Alastair and Lonovan negotiated a contact name from Fortenado, Alya, a Chiromancer in the Grand Market. Wasting little time, the party set off for the Chiromancer.

Once inside the Grand Market a young boy grabbed Alastair’s hand and very insistently, told him he needed his palm read. Obliging, Alastair and the party were lead into a tent where they were met by a beautiful gypsy woman dressed rather scantly. Alastair, Liam, Heltic and Si’lex were momentarily taken aback by her beauty. Her voice like honey, she spoke of information at a price, and requested the special coin with which the party had entered the city. Alastair, his honor in question, refused to pay the price instead offering his services as favor. She chuckled taking his hand and accomplishing an impromptu reading. Proclaiming his quest(s) honorable and his word good, she accepted his proposition. Informing them that unmarked ships transition to and from Sulescu moving goods in and out, Sulescu rarely sees ships these days. The party decided on gaining passage on a privateer’s ship in order to attack the slaving vessels and rescue the enslaved.

Alya promised to send word to her ‘people’ and would find a ship Captain as soon as possible. At that, the party departed for food and shelter in the Foreign District to wait out a night of little forward progress while the hopes of catching the slavers began to dwindle.

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A Clear Message

In the lull of the night Alastair was visited by a shadowed figure naming himself as Captain Dublin O’conna. Dublin professed his hatred for Bargle and named himself as an ally to any who oppose him and the Black Eagle Baron. He granted passage on one of his ships and told Alastair to meet him on the docks in twenty-four candlemarks. O’conna departed just as silently as he arrived, leaving Alastair with a restless sleep that night.

At daybreak the party rallied in the tavern where Alastair discussed the encounter with the night visitor and their newly procured transportation. The party passed the day ensuring their adventuring gear was fit for battle, obtaining fresh supplies and gaining stabling for their horses. Night fell and the time for the meeting came. The party migrated towards the docks where they were met by another caped shadowy figure, dressed in supple leather armor, well kept clothing and a cutlass at his side. He presented himself as First Mate of the Andralene and showed him to the dock where she was moored. Nearly all of the party was dumbstruck by the grandeur of the ship they saw in the moonlight. Loading the rest of the cargo the crew made ready for sailing.

Dawn broke as the Andrillene sailed down the River Volaga and into open waters. If the party was in awe of the ship before leaving port what unfolded in the light of dawn was simply amazing, the crew unfurling the sails and turning her into the wind. The Andralene made good time towards Sulescu covering the forty-eight nautical miles from Specularum in a mere day. Later in the evening the Captain of the boat invited the party to dinner in his officer’s mess. The man identified himself as Captain Vesubian Krondahar, wasted little time asking questions about the party’s mission and left nothing to imagination when he defined his limitations. Bendricks, overcome by emotion disclosed much more about his sister’s situation that Alastair would liked, and he ran from the mess distraught. Warga’ath and Heltic followed, comforting the young man. A seafood meal and a twelve year Alphatian scotch broke the doldrums of conversation as the party began to define their plan of action.

The party would split into two separate groups both acting as prospective slavers. The first party composed of Liam, Si’lex and Lonovan would scout out and confirm that the slavers were indeed holding Aliena and intended on selling her. The other party composed of Alastair, Kithus, Warga’ath and Heltic, would act as well-to-do slavers and take steps to bid on Aliena should she come up for purchase. If all else failed the party would break her out and return to the ship post haste and make good their escape. With the plan in place, the Captain and several of the party drank until the early hours of the morning. Kithus, the Half-Orc prophet, pulled Alastair aside and spoke to him of a vision he had seen concerning Aliena. This information troubled Alastair and kept him up most of the night.

The following morning, the party was up and ready to depart the Andralene. The Andralene had anchored outside the harbor of Sulescu at the recommendation of the captain in the event a rapid escape was needed. Waiting on the water below were two large row boats. The first party departed the ship making towards a cove out of sight from the harbor. A few hours later the second party departed directly for the harbor intent on mooring at the docks. Upon arrival Alastair and his team put on their best impressions of guards escorting their master, played by Kithus. At the local inn the second team put in and established themselves. Over the course of the next few hours more slavers arrived, many from various countries and nationalities that the party had not seen and many with deep pockets. Within the on rush of people Alastair spotted the second team, but did not openly acknowledge their presence. Lonovan and his party looped around the square mingling ineffectually with the other slavers, meeting few who wished to converse. Getting close to Alastair, Lonovan feigned a trip and in catching himself on Alastairs cloak, planted a note in one of it’s pockets. Alastair passed the note to Kithus, who told him of the contents. Aliena was drugged, half conscious, beaten and being held in a cage in the tent just outside of town.

With the auctions underway and bugbear guards posted all around the town square, the situation was growing dire. Unsure if the plan was going to work Alastair did his best to stay calm and steeled himself against his desire to rip the slavers and their buyers to pieces. Hours of waiting passed as slaves and buyers were gatheredm purchased and collected. Aliena was in one of the final lots. Even battered her beauty outshined the others in the lot. Alastair knew he would be in a bid war. Whence her turn came, bidding erupted immediately. Soon, bidding dwindled as the price reached 2500 Royals. Few remained save a fellow dressed in distinctly Thyatin garb. Higher the price rose, 3000, 4000, then 4500. Alastair conferred with Kithus who insisted on a bid of 6000 Royals. Gasps escaped from the other bidders. The man who had been bidding with Alastair glowered in his direction and departed in a huff after whispering in the ear of one of his guards. With the departure of the Thyatian, Lonovan faded into the crowd not to be seen until much later.

With such a large bid the Auctioneer required a promissory note to ensure the buyer was good on his word. Alastair visibly faultered, knowing full well the money that the party had was a far cry from 6000 Royals. To this, Kithus responded by tossing his backpack, full of treasure of which the party had not seen prior to this moment. An astounded, but relieved Alastair returned a glance and nodded to the auctioneer, who after seeing the treasure spill upon the ground, eagerly ended the bidding. Alastair claimed his writ of purchase and followed the Bugbear escort to the slave tent. Quickly they took Aliena inside as Alastair conferred with his compatriots on their next course of action.

A man sitting at a desk infront of the tent beckoned Alastair forward without looking up. Alastair moved forward with Warga’ath and Heltic on his flanks to present the writ. After recieving the parchment, the scrivener glanced up and a familiar face and his name registered in Alastair’s mind. Cliffton Caldwell… As Caldwell started to speak, a moment of righteous fury overcame Alastair as he drew his sword and swept a wide arc towards Cliffton’s neck. The blow landed as Caldwell tried to push away. It was not the killing blow, however, as Caldwell managed to loose a cry for help gripping his neck. Leaping to action Warga’ath kicked the table hard toppling Caldwell under it while catching the scrivener’s strong box of gold coins with which he threw far and wide. Bugbears leapt to action from behind Caldwell. In a great blow, Warga’ath clove one unfortunate Bugbear from helm to groin. The second was dispatched handily by Heltic’s caber. Kithus conjured a skeleton from the earth and it’s efforts contained the Bugbear that had flanked Caldwell on his left. Alastair, consumed by his anger, pursued Caldwell as he crawled away along the cobbles. He drive his sword through Caldwell’s back hearing a final frothing breath. Two more Bugbears emerged from the tent and in their hurry to join the fray met Alastair and his spathion’s hewing stroke. One fell heavily to the ground under Alastair’s opportunistic strike. Kithus again cast his spells upon the right most bugbear, shaking it with fear.

By this time Liam and Si’lex were under duress near the town square and Heltic came to their aid, felling a Bugbear threatening Si’lex with a mighty blow. Liam had taken several blows, but was standing his ground, stoicly. The twang of his bowstring heard across the square, each arrow finding it’s mark and taking a toll. At the tent, Kithus dispatched the final bugbear with his dark touch, felling it with a wailing moan. Alastair and Warga’ath darted into the tent to find Aliena. Inside there were more slaves than anticipated. Troubled by a crisis of conscience, Warga’ath and Heltic began setting them free as Alastair freed Aliena and scooped her into his arms. The quintet of heros herded the slaves towards the many rowboats still moored at the docks.

Once at the docks they met up with Lonovan. Somehow the town was aflame and the smoke billowed into the sky. All around them the party noticed almost a score more of bugbears emerging from the edge of town bearing down on them. Alastair handed Aliena off to Kithus and told him to row towards the Andralene, while loosing his shield and drawing his sword. Together Alastair and Liam stood waiting for the bugbears to close, Liam firing until his quiver was empty. As the last of the former slaves were loaded Liam and Alastair stepped into the one of the boats and were whisked towards the Andralene.

As the rowboats reached open water, to the west three black ships with black sails flying the flag of the Black Eagle Barony were closing the gap to the Andralene, who’s sails were unfurled, straining the ship against the anchor. Quickly the rowboats of former slaves were loaded onto the Andralene. Once upon the Andralene the deck was a flurry of activity as the catapults and ballistae were brought to bear upon the black flotilla. As the last of the refugees were loaded the Andralene weighed anchor, fleeing from the black flotilla. Slowly the Andralene got to speed, the black ships closing quickly. Ballista bolts and catapult stones fell all around the Andralene as the captain put her thru her paces. Rounding a coastal peninsula, another black ship, nearly 300 feet long and 50 feet high came into view, loosed a massive fireball that consumed one of the black ships, passed the Andralene slashing crosswise thru the remaining two ships. Captain Krondahar introduced the massive ship as ‘The Leviathan’. The party was completely dumbstruck by her size.

Following the battle the Leviathan pulled along side the Andralene, dwarfing her with it’s massive size. Captain O’conna invited the party over to The Leviathan for dinner. Aboard the Leviathan the group ate enjoyed a victory meal in the massive messhall. Captain O’conna got down to business quickly. He explained that there are many would be aggressors, jealous of Duke Stefan Karameikos’ gains in Traladara. Power players from the wealthy Daphnotarthius family in Thyatis, seek to pit Thyatis and Karameikos against one another. Their alliance with the Black Eagle Baron makes this even more threatening. O’conna divulged that the Daphnotarthius family may try to provoke Karameikos into a two front war with Thyatis and the Black Eagle Barony, by utilizing mercenaries flying Thyatian colors. When the Duke engages, shifting his forces towards the eastern borders, Baron von Hendricks would take advantage and sweep into the capital relatively unimpeded.

The Pirate King proposed that the party harass the Black Eagle Barony, keeping them occupied protecting the Duke’s western front, while he would try and harry the formidable Thyatian navy in support of the possible ground war to come. With his ships tying up the Thyatian flotillas in the east, O’conna’s southern fleets could operate with near impunity. Captain O’conna expressed his zeal for the legitimacy of Traladara.

Alastair presented a plan to the party regarding what happened in Sulescu; the disposition of the Caldwell Estate, the refugees, and their next plan of action. First order of business was to seek an audience with the Grand Duke. War was upon Karameikos, and the person that needed to know, was painfully unaware.

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Blind to Treachery
The Eye of Traladara

With the festivities aboard the Leviathan winding down the adventuring party returned to the Andralene and a fitful night of rest. In the morning the Andralene and its precious cargo would break from the flotilla and make for Specularum once more. Upon daybreak Alastair immediately rallied his compatriots to make final their plan regarding Sulescu and consolidate their newly acquired information. Their plan consisted of gaining an audience with the Duke in some form in order to inform him of; the Black Eagle Barony’s involvement with the Iron Ring, the threat to his eastern border by Daphnotarthius, the Radu clan’s affiliation and abetment of slavery within Karameikos, the situation in Sulescu and finally the disposition of the Caldwell Estate. Liam seemed to chafe at this last decision and much to his chagrin, Alastair insisted the castle be given to the Duke for disposal or usage. Few of the frontier towns have protection and this keep, being very close to Threshold could provide a strong garrison point for the Duke in the north. There was no telling how Caldwell earned his money to purchase Castle Antilles. Furthermore, by the Dukes Law, only landed lords and landed knights are allowed to maintain a keep, often granted by the Dukes hand.

During finalization of the plan Kithus, the Oracle pulled Alastair aside after receiving one of his ‘visions’. Ill portents had plagued the party since leaving Threshold and Alastair had done his best to keep them from troubling the minds of his compatriots. Si’lex made good on his dispute with Kithus about the pilfered treasure, making it readily apparent that the treasure would go to the refugees as recompense for their troubles. Kithus surrendered the treasure to Alastair who distributed it amongst the various people.

A headwind prevented the Andralene from making better time, but regardless the entry to the River Volaga was uneventful and soon Specularum was in view, however, something was amiss. Outside the River Fort were several Karameikan War Galleys. Krondahar translated the myriad of flag signals on their masts to the party as a message to prepare to be boarded. As the Andralene approached several smaller row boats bearing twenty men a piece move to meet her a good distance from the Fort. The rowboat crews set foot on deck and were ordered to begin a thorough search of the ship for anything out of the ordinary. Alastair recognized one of the Guard Sergeants as the guard he had met days earlier outside of the gates to Specularum, who in turn made the connection. The guard, Sergeyevich Vorloi, explained how all hell had broken loose in Specularum, word that Sulescu had been attacked and how the party’s mission must have been successful. Alastair inquired as to how he knew the party had been in Sulescu. With wide surprise the guard disbelieved the party had been to Sulescu and immediately asked if there was a place to speak in private.

Once in the Officer’s Mess, Sergey disclosed that two days ago, someone stole the “Eye of Traladara”, one of three ancient ‘Seer Stones’ dating back to before the Immortals Zirchev, Halav and Petra saved the Traladaran people. The Eye, a holy relic to the Church of Traladara, was missing and the Church of Karameikos was being blamed. Open conflict had erupted and martial law had to be imposed in Specularum to stymie the rioting. Realization flooded into Alastair as he murmured one phrase of Kithus’ prophecy that had already come to pass; ’…Traladara will be blind and lose its soul…". Confused glanced spitted Alastair for an explanation. Before anyone could ask the question, Alastair turned to Sergey, imploring him to find a way to get the party an audience with the Duke. Additionally, Alastair arranged for several tents to be set up outside the city walls, in which the refugees could stay temporarily. With the last of the agreements reached, Sergey excused himself and allowed the Andralene access to the docks for offloading.

After Sergey’s departure, Alastair explained the source of his murmured expression and the fact that he had been withholding several prophecies given him since leaving Threshold. Alastair recited the prophecy from Kithus aloud:

“Danger is coming, Traladara will be blind and lose its soul.
Death will visit THE Family and the King will be challenged.”

Understandably, Liam and several other party members were hurt by Alastair’s secretive action. They had placed their trust in Alastair, while his intentions were good trying to prevent prophecy from mudding the waters around their objective and despite numerous occasions of placing himself at great risk of personal harm, his lack of disclosure has caused the party to call his leadership ability into question. Even through their doubt a few of the party members reaffirmed their faith in Alastair, much to his own relief. Regrettably, the damage was done, however, this was the first instance in which the prophecies had been true. The party and their refugee host made for the tent camp outside of the walls of Specularum.

Once at the refugee camp, Alastair was pleased to see it nearly complete and the accommodations acceptable. Alastair petitioned one of the guards to send stable boys to return the party’s horses and wagon to the encampment. Hours later a guard entered the encampment seeking the party in his hand a writ declaring an audience with the Grand Duke. Alastair asked if any of the other party members wished to attend, to which everyone except Lonovan assented. The companions doffed their weapons and armor while dressing as courtly as possible. Through the gates they advanced, following close escort of the guard who had delivered the summons.

The Dukes Stronghold at Bricktop, while not a marvel of construction was certainly the largest Keep many of the party had beheld. Inside the walls they marched towards the council chambers. Grand double doors swung wide and they were greeted by the Court Herald requesting their names and titles. Alastair consulted his allies and hastily they agreed upon a temporary arrangement of name and gathering for the moment and The Court Herald announced the companions. Intently Alastair walked directly towards the Grand Duke, rousing the guards to momentarily doubt his actions. Once close enough, Alastair knelt and placed his right fist over his heart, greeting the Grand Duke in appropriate fashion. The rest of the party half-heartedly followed suit. Upon command the party rose and faced their biggest obstacle as of yet, a royal court filled with snakes and jackals ready to pounce upon the unsuspecting.

A courtly greeting from the Duke and a prompt to proceed left Alastair to divulge what information he had brought to the table. Alastair explained the suspected Iron Ring actions within Karameikos and their operations within the town of Sulescu. Immediately he was challenged by several Court Lords as to the validity of his story. To which Alastair retorted there were 50 refugees outside Specularum within an encampment that could attest to such activities. The Lords returned his evidence by asking how much Alastair had paid the refugees to corroborate these lies. Alastair paled with realization that the gold he had handed out upon the boat would be seen as bribery to their eyes. Thinking quickly he named one person he could trust to corroborate, Aliena Jowett, as well as her capture, torture and subsequent attempted sale. Murmurs spread like wildfire amongst the Lords.

When asked what had happened in Sulescu, Alastair responded with his story regarding the freeing of the slaves and their rescue from the slavers. A gaunt pale fellow at the right end of the table bristled at the accusations of slavers being allowed into his town. Lord Zemoris Sulescu vehemently stood his ground on the situation claiming the party had sacked and burned his town. Alastair laid the blame upon the bugbears of the Iron Ring. Lord Sulescu still stood his ground and the Grand Duke was demanded he stand down. The Duke proclaimed he would investigate the situation, and if he suspected any foul play he would punish Alastair and his companions most severely.

Alastair continued with his tale. He disclosed that the Radu Clan has been moving slaves within and around Specularum, the probability that his cousin Baron Von Hendriks, Bargle and the Black Eagle Barony were helping the Iron Ring and even worse that the Daphnotarthius family of Thyatis in league with the Black Eagle Baron while plotting a movement against Karameikos’ eastern border to draw the Grand Duke into a multi front war he could not win. To these speculations, the Grand Duke questioned very heavily Alastair’s story. Three factions that supported him during his ascension, now oppose him behind his back? He presented a three part situation; Either there is an insider in his Court, his intelligence network was inept or forces far more intelligent than he were at work. Carefully Alastair responded naming the possibility of all three being at fault. The Court Lords erupted, letting fly accusations of lies and accusatory statements.

During this momentary outburst Kithus dropped deeply into divinatory trance and began speaking in an unworldly voice that was not his own.

“Much sadness, much distrust, much doubt.
Protect the child, love will become hate.”

Grand Duke Karameikos bolted from his seat demanding to know what the Half Orc had said, disbelieving the words that came from his mouth. Immediately he demanded everyone to leave the chambers. The Court Lords were taken by surprise, but hesitantly stood, filtering from the room. The party alone with the Duke, were now privy to his inner sanctum. Distressed over the entire situation; the Grand Duchy beset by internal and external forces working against him, Specularum was split in a holy war, his remaining heir, Justin, seemingly under threat. Alastair proposed to let he and his companions get to the bottom of the Iron Ring and its alliance with the Black Eagle Barony. He stated he would make no move against Baron Von Hendriks, however, the Wizard Bargle would most definitely a target. This would allow the Grand Duke to investigate his cousin and see for himself the seeds that were sewn.

Alastair’s finished his audience by asking about the disposition of Clifton Caldwell’s estates. The Duke declared by Karameikan law the Duke was entitled to the lands, but by Traladaran law one is entitled to what one kills. The Duke initially granted Caldwell Keep to Alastair and his companions. Not to be rude Alastair, responded with a proposition and sound advice. The frontier lands are untamed, unsafe and relatively unprotected from invasion. Threshold is ripe for the taking. The nearest garrison is Castellan Keep, a day’s ride or more away to the north-east. A garrison of the Duke’s troops would serve a two-fold purpose. Firstly, it would provide protection and a redoubt for the citizens to retreat towards if necessary. Secondly, it would prove to the people in the north that the Grand Duke cares for their safety, reinforcing his standings among them. The Grand Duke pondered this carefully and conceded to Alastair’s advice. He agreed to garrison Caldwell Keep to protect Threshold.

Alastair and his companions were dismissed from the Dukes chambers and they retired to the refugee encampment under escort from the city guard. Arriving at the encampment the party was entreated to a performance by a very beautiful bard, her impromptu concert enrapturing the crowd of refugees. Alastair and Liam had heard tales of her music, a siren from the western border. When she completed her verse, she put away her instruments and quickly headed in the direction of the newly arrived party. She introduced herself as Yolanda of Luln and requested a private audience with the companions.

Once inside a reasonably secure tent she gushed. Yolanda had heard of the party’s accomplishments, the flight and opposition near Rifflian, the slave rescue in Sulescu and the stunning victory over the Black Eagle Baron’s flotilla. Coming in close she declared her loyalty and association with a small band of freedom fighters inside of Luln, who were dedicated to freeing the enslaved people from Fort Doom and the Black Eagle Barony. Yolanda and her associates had been waging a covert war against the Baron for years and Luln suffered greatly for it. She begged for the party’s agreement to aide her compatriots in the west. She also declared that somehow Baron Von Hendriks was behind the theft of the Eye of Traladara. She once again implored the help of the party to Luln. Satisfied with an answer of ‘several days’, she departed. Following the meeting, Lonovan, the self proclaimed merchant, sauntered into camp with critical information.

To this point it had been understood that the three most powerful merchant clans had been vying for power within the economy of Specularum and Karameikos. The Vorloi clan had directly supported the Karameikan ascendancy. The Radu clan staunchly opposed the Grand Duke and only thinly veiled their dislike for his laws and practices. The Torenescu clan was content with simply living off the rivalry and inter-clan differences. To complicate matters, the Torenescu clan was falling into ruin, due to an apparent affair it’s leader had conducted with a daughter of the Radu clan. His murder, suspected at the hands of his wife, has left the family in a power vacuum. Three clans, one opposed to the Duke, one with the Duke and one in ruin. The sway of power within the city could very quickly turn against the Duke if the Radu clan were to gain power. Their alliance and dealings with Baron Von Hendriks would turn Specularum into a bloodbath. Lonovan was quick to explain the Radu clan’s involvement with the turn of events within Specularum. Apparently there was a master thief within Specularum snooping around. Lonovan suspected this thief, named Flameflicker, had been hired by the Radu clan to steal the Eye of Traladara, which apparently was to be used in part payment to Thar, an Orcish warlord in the Broken Lands. The Radu clan, given the power vacuum within the Torenescu clan appeared to be the financial powerhouse of the Black Eagle Baron. With the Radu clan as the strongest merchant clan, the Vorloi would pose little threat without the Torenescu as a potential ally. Financially the Radu clan could cripple any war the Grand Duke attempted to enter. The scales had tipped. Alastair and Lonovan plotted a method to slow the Radu clan’s suspected plan.

They would use what information they had to try and pull the pressure of the Church of Traladara off of the Church of Karameikos and direct a unified front towards the Radu Clan. Implicating the Radu clan in the theft of the Eye of Traladara would put them under immense pressure from all sides. Furthermore, an indepth investigation by the city guard would give them even further reason to vacate Specularum or risk being found out. The next step would be to find a way to strengthen the Torenescu clan and bring them in line with the Vorloi clan, creating economic powerhouses that could redouble the pressure against the Radu clan. Their support of the Grand Duke would provide him financial support and power to wage a war that was undoubted to come. Alastair and Lonovan satisfied with their plot set their plan into motion.

Alastair stepped from the tent with even more on his mind. He gathered the 50 odd refugees around him and asked if there were any men at arms in the gathering. Surely there had to be a few. Many raised their hands, all told, 30 men volunteered without even knowing his intentions. He asked if they would be willing to travel north to protect the frontier near Threshold. Every one of them agreed, nearly unanimously. He retrieved Aliena and placed the men under her charge. Additionally, he sent a missive with Aliena to be delivered to his father and no one else. The document implored a great need and requested his father muster the Druzhinniki as well as a complement to his regular guard with the 30 men at arms to protect Threshold until the Duke could garrison Castle Antilles. The cohort left immediately after gaining provisions and gathering weapons and armor.

Addressing his companions, Alastair implored their next plan of action. With a resounding, ‘LULN’, he and his crew struck to the west post haste. Nearly a day’s travel into the journey they encountered a party of four ogre’s blocking the route to the west along the road. The manner of how the beasts were standing indicated they were waiting for something. The Half-Orc over heard them speaking in orcish and translated that they were indeed waiting for someone. It was at that moment the party was spotted and the ogres leapt to action.

The party dismounted and formed a battle line. Alastair remaining upon his charger strung the battle line to the north of the ogres and Helteg, dismounted, strung to the south with the unrehearsed intention of pincering the monstrous creatures. As the beasts lumbered down upon the fold, Liam’s arrows found home in the closest felling it momentarily. Upon the party, the beasts rent into the line. Warga’ath stood stoicly as blow after blow rained down upon his shield and armor. Lonovan fired his crossbow rather ineffectually but his show of force and support bolstered his allies. Alastair charged and charged again, leaving telling injuries upon the northern ogre to the fore of the formation. He did not, however, part ways without suffering a powerful swat from the massive beast. Kithus utilizing his dark magics left one ogre crawling along the ground, the opportunistic blows of Helteg’s caber taking its toll. Within that same instant Warga’ath was struck a massive blow leaving the great foreigner laboring for life, breaching the battle line. Alastair had wheeled his horse around aiming for the western ogre that had fallen behind after taking an arrow from Liam’s bow, handily dispatching his foe without drama. Glancing behind himself, he noticed the gap in the battle line, wheeling about once more and spurring Bartosz. He quickly returned to a flanking position piercing deeply into the flesh of the northern ogre again felling it effectively. The final ogre served little challenge given the combined might of Liam, Helteg and Kithus.

Following the skirmish the party dragged the corpses into a copse of trees just to the north of the road. Unfortunately they failed to notice just how easy it would be to identify the drag marks left behind by their 600 pound enemies. The party decided to set up camp for the night just a short distance away. The early morning preparations were interrupted by gutteral squealing from the road. Once again Kithus proved his worth by translating the filthy language as orcish. One of the orcs sat astride a horse and bellowed orders to it’s peons. Ten orcs immediately spread out in a search pattern attempting to find the ogres from the night before. This gave precious little time for the companions to set a hasty ambush. Alastair and Liam limbered up their bows lining up at the row of trees. Lonovan gained himself a better vantage point and readied his crossbow. The rest of the companions took up positions to mount a quick decisive strike.

Alastair made one quick last second assurance with his comrades, chose his target and nodded. His arrow thudded home in his target, signaling the start of the engagement with a squeal. Kithus hurled a javelin catching the closest orc in the chest. Bursting from within the underbrush, Helteg finished the skewered orc throwing it’s corpse to the ground with a ferocious yell as he delved into a rage. Liam’s greatbow sang it’s powerful note, it’s arrow seeking the orc upon the horse with lethal accuracy. Lonovan’s handcrossbow finished what Alastair’s longbow had started. At the pig like whistle of the orc captain, the rest of the orc war party joined the fray closing on the exposed Helteg, now 4 less in number. Alastair recognized the danger that Helteg was in and responded quickly by engaging, his first target fell to the ground separated from it’s right leg, squealing in pain. Kithus again loosed his dark magics upon one of the orcs, damning him, the spells effects visibly destroying the orc’s ability to fight. Helteg continued to stand his ground, however, the closeness of the combat was taking its toll and he had suffered several wounds.

Warga’ath feathered the orc captain’s horse, which in turn wheeled about falling dead upon its rider, trapping him. So too did Si’lex join the fray, his powerful limbs turning to pulp any that he set his fists and feet upon. Each orc had their turn to fall as the group worked together efficiently. Swords sliced through bone and sinew, arrow found chink in armor and the satisfying crush of blunt force trauma resounded through the thicket, leaving the orc war party cut to ribbons. The orc captain was left alive for questioning. He chose not to respond to Kithus’ questioning, however, something else would do the speaking for him. Within the saddlebag on the horse, was a missive, written in orcish and stamped with the signet of Baron Von Hendriks. It’s contents granting permission for any orcish war parties allied with Thar to operate within the boundaries of the Black Eagle Barony with impunity. This would aid their argument to the Grand Duke. Their journey to Luln thus far had proven to be fruitful. They immediately struck for Radlebb Keep.

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The Webs We Weave

After destroying the orcish war band, the party completed breaking camp to set off for Radlebb keep once more. The remainder of that day passed relatively uneventfully. In the distance Radlebb Keep loomed, a welcoming site for travellers along the treacherous highway. The party approached the Keep under the hastily assembled guise of an errant merchant. They were welcomed with reluctant hospitality. After stowing their gear and stabling their horses, the party made for the mess hall. A quick dinner of gruel and bread, simply a warm meal nothing more, and the party retired to bed, wherein Alastair found a parchment laying upon his pillow, tattered and burnt. Opening the parchment revealed it to be the missive he had sent to his father, the paper in tatters and smelling of ashes. After a quick discussion with Lonovan, Alastair presented the note to the party explaining it’s significance. Clearly, someone had either captured or killed Aliena and likely the thirty men she was taking north to Threshold. Kithus grasped the parchment and delved into the mysteries, declaring in an otherworldly voice, “Of those who held this paper, I see fire, burning, ashes and black clouds, a great fireball.” With black eyes and a smoking form Kithus collapsed, breathing heavily from exertion. It was evident, Aliena had run afoul of yet another enemy that was trying to interfere with their plans and her actions could not be counted on. This also meant that Threshold might be in danger. The fact that this very note made it to Radlebb Keep left the party uneasy. Alastair would have to alert his father with another method. He spent the early part of the night scribbling upon a scrap of parchment.

A restless nights sleep and a breakfast of hardtack and trail rations, saw the party on their way to Luln. Getting closer to Luln, the surrounding hillocks and forest receded, scrub and rolling hills taking their place. Perched atop a far hill sat Luln, a town fully ensconced in stone, bristling with weapons. Rather than build outward, Luln had built up, in an effort to protect its citizens. Towers and residences peeked out from above the sturdy walls as the party reached the gates around mid-morning. Immediately questioned by the city guard, the party declared their intent. Quickly they were whisked inside, whereupon they were escorted to the Stewards building, a strong, yet nondescript building in the center of the city.

From within came two women, one of whom was the rather beautiful Yolanda herself, walking to the left of another woman. The other was young, strong and lean of build, brown haired and dressed much like a commoner with none of the trappings of station. Compared to Yolanda, she was not altogether beautiful, but she was far more comely than a many women. Alastair quickly dismounted, road weary as he was he reached for the womans hand and bowed before her, kissing her hand out of respect. He introduced himself and the rest of the party as ‘The Companions’. She named herself Sascia, Mistress of Luln and invited them inside. Passing through several layers of magical defenses, they found her war room, replete with maps and books of strategy as well as weapons and armor. Strewn across the table were letters, no doubt messages from the reaches surrounding Luln.

Immediately they got down to business, discussing the developing situation. A revealing explanation of the events transpiring to the east gave Mistress Sascia a better grasp of the situation. She launched into her own explanation and revealed a scouting party had recently discovered that they Eye of Traladara was still in Karameikos heading towards Darokin and then on to Thar in the Broken Lands. Lonovan deduced that the alliance between Karameikos and Darokin would be tested. If the orcs marched overland to the south, they would occupy the Darokinians long enough to prevent them from supporting Karameikos’ north-western flank. Together the Companions and Sascia determined that the most likely route the delivery party would have taken, would double them back towards the Duke’s Road in the east of Karameikos, then on to Selenica in Darokin. If they wanted to make time, they wouldn’t tarry in the unexplored passes between Darokin and Karameikos. The Companions quickly established a plan that would allow them to travel hard over the rolling hills north of Radlebb Woods. They would ride for Verge, then investigate the threat to Threshold and finally on to the Duke’s Road. The Companions had come full circle. Feeling as if they were chasing ghosts, Alastair suggested they ride immediately and hard through the night and camp the next morning. With all in agreeance they accepted what little support Sascia could muster and left as abruptly as they had come.

In a flurry of hooves and dust, the Companions galloped across the rolling plains, spurred by an ever burning need to secure the Eye of Traladara. Through the night they galloped, sprinting and cantering, in such a manner as to preserve the horses. Dawn broke and an exhausted party camped in the early daylight, a quick rest to regain their stamina, only to set out once more about midday. Nearing Verge and the foothills of the Black Peak Mountains the party encountered a band of hill giants. Keeping a respectful distance and not slowing their pace, the Companions circumvented the giants and made straight to Verge. Within Verge they found Lady Antonica, amid the late day clamor of rebuilding her town. Declining her invitation of hospitality, the Companions explained their haste and requested new horses in order to ride for Threshold within the hour. Alastair inquired as to whether the 30 men he had dispatched north had been through Verge. Her response was not well recieved. She mentioned that Bendriks had passed through not more than a day ago with Lord Sulescu. Upon hearing the name, Alastair cursed, hissing his disapproval and it suddenly dawned on him. Sulescu was meddling… Somehow he had defeated Aliena, Bendriks and the 30 men he had sent north. Alarmed at what was in store for Threshold, Alastair rallied the party, apologized for not accepting Lady Antonica’s hospitality and quickly departed Verge.

Several hours later, the smoke trails of Threshold were in view and Alastair was in familiar territory once more. Reaching the city guard Alastair asked one of the men if they had seen Aliena, Bendriks or the 30 men he had sent, in some strange hope that his machinations had come to pass. Another negative answer, but the guard disclosed that Patriarch Jowett had died in his sleep last night. What was more, just yesterday, Bendriks had shown up with a clergyman of the Church of Karameikos. Exasperated, Alastair charged through the gates into Threshold and directly to his father’s chambers. Marching inside Alastair practically exploded with information. He explained the plot to overthrow the Duke, the Black Eagle Barony involvement, the theft of the Eye of Traladara. Tomasz visibly faltered at the mention of the Eye. He also proclaimed that the thought that Lord Zemoris Sulescu had been in Threshold with Bendriks. His father explained that Patriarch Jowett had died last night of natural causes. Alastair was immediately suspicious agreed to send the party to see the place where he died and investigate. Alastair continued the conversation with his father concerning the next to ascend into the Church of Karameikos’ Patriarch position, a hardline Thyatian with no love for the Traladarans. Next in line would be Aliena. Alastair’s gears began turning at this notion.

Inside the Church of Karameikos, the party found Patriarch Jowett’s quarters. Kithus immediately launched into a vision after touching the bed where Jowett died. The otherworldly voice returned speaking through Kithus’ mouth. “Lord Zemoris, over Jowett, sucking his soul out of his body, evil forces at work.” Kithus collapsed, this time black viscous fluid bleeding from black eyes, his body smoking. Glancing about the room, Lonovan noticed the lack of a holy symbol and a look back into the sanctuary showed all the flowers in the church wilted. A quick questioning of the altar boy revealed an addled memory of the events leading up to Jowett’s death, but a distinct memory of removing the holy symbol from Jowett’s quarters for cleaning. Putting the pieces together, it was evident that something evil came into the church, strengthened itself, attacked a defenseless Jowett, sucking his soul out and left. Stories abound of creatures that sustain themselves on the souls and blood of the dead, using powers to glamer and confound people…Vampires. The party rushed to Alastair, who upon hearing the news, grabbed Liam’s sword and bolted from the room, runnign to the crypts, where Jowett had been interred. Reaching the crypts, the Companions found Jowett’s tomb open and empty.

Panicked, Alastair ran back to his father’s quarters to have him alert the guards. The rest of the party, relying on their collective knowledge of myths and legends devised methods of defeating the vampire. The party returned to gird themselves for war. They set forth quickly to the last place they had been, garlic and holy water among their arsenal. Inside the church the party discovered a pile of dead rats near the door of the altar boy’s quarters. While getting ready to breach the door and engage this deadly creature, the door flung wide and inside the room stood the now animated body of Oliver Jowett, former Patriarch of the Church of Karameikos. His gaze fell upon Alastair, who heard a voice in his head, “Protect me,” it whispered. Alastair felt compelled to heed it’s directive and immediately lashed out at Lonovan, taking him by surprise dealing a telling blow with his shield.

The Companions leapt to action, spilling holy water over the doorway to prevent the creature from escaping. Helteg and Si’Lex engaged the beast in melee while Lonovan and Wargaath attempted to fend off Alastair’s relentless blows. Kithus, under some sort of witchery froze in place when confronted with the dark creature, unable to bring himself to act, he stood petrified. The combined force of the Companions repelled the creature deeper into the room as Helteg and Si’lex relentlessly pursue it. Another powerful blow landed on Lonovan as his ill fated attempt to trip Alastair when terribly wrong, leaving him to escape under the pews of the church, out of reach of the stinging blade. Alastair shrugged off an attempt by Wargaath to grapple him, but succumbed to Kithus’s weakening magics. Wargaath’s second attempt was not thwarted and Alastair found himself struggling against bonds formed of Wargaath’s sinewy arms. The fight was soon ended by a devastating blow from Si’lex, his monkly powers penetrating the tough resistances of the vampire turning Jowett’s form into a fine mist. The creatures sway over Alastair ceased and he was in turn released by Wargaath. Confused by what he had just done, he collapsed in a frenzy of apologetic emotion. Helteg and Si’lex sprinted to the coffin of the defeated vampire, following the misty form it had turned into. When the mist materialized as the sleeping form of Oliver Jowett, they decapitated him, ending his life…again.

With the Companions in Threshold once more, they rest the night in order to head for the Duke’s road in the morning. All signs point to Lord Sulescu carrying out the clandestine attack on Oliver Jowett. However he did it, it was quite evident to the party now that Sulescu was some sort of Vampire and likely able to change his form at will. His intentions are unknown at this point, however, his treachery this night has delayed the Companions from their ultimate goal. Onward The Companions would travel, to find the Eye of Traladara.

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A Future In Jeopardy

With Kithus incapacitated, the Companions opted to rest until the following morning, their wounds still fresh from the battle with the Vampire. By sunrise Kithus still had not recovered and before them lay the hard choice to continue on without him. Fresh horses and the sun in their face, the Companions one less, galloped towards Penhaligon and a rendezvous with the Eye of Traladara.

Hours of riding found the Companions nearing the banks of the River Shutturgal. An uneasyness washed over the group as they eyed the river crossing. Liam indicated the next good fording point was better than 10 miles south near High Forge and several hours off their path. No sooner did he make the gestures to make towards High Forge, than a volley of arrows was loosed from the far shore. Another warband of Orcs were covering the escape of the Eye of Traladara, no doubt to delay the Companions from gaining anymore ground.

Quickly battle lines were drawn as Alastair and Helteg split wide left and right. Wargaath and Si’lex formed the cortex of the main line and closed the gap. In a cometary collision, both Wargaath and Si’lex, charged into the front line of orcs, immediately felling one a piece. Liam’s bow strummed with the sweet song of death as his arrow found it’s mark. Lonovan, still recovering from the fighting the previous eve, launched caustic, scathing insults intent on demoralizing the Orcs while peppering them with his crossbow. Moments after the initial impact, Alastair galloped down the river bank and collided with the right flank of the Orcish warband, his lance peeling an unfortunate Orc from its armor. Helteg, split seconds later collided with the Orcish left flank, his caber finding home smashing another Orc to meet its maker. In mere moments the 12 strong Orcish warband was reduced by six.

Ineffectual blows from Orcish weapons rained down upon armor and shield. Companion attacks responded in great thew and soon the Orc warband was reduced to naught but an after thought. The Companions remained, with little more than scratches, their inexorable pursuit of the Eye of Traladara slowed for but a moment. Upon the trail, the Companions rode hard to Penhaligon in the hopes of making up time, fearing that the Eye had already left the Grand Duchy.

Penhaligon came into view as night was falling over the wold. Quickly the Companions found an establishment in which to rest. Liam indicated he intended to track the party of escorts over the pass and into Darokin. With tense words and a short embrace Alastair bade him safe journey and a quick return, understanding that Liam’s skills were far better used alone. Lonovan plied his trade gathering additional information from the town.

Both Lonovan and Helteg managed to retrieve information, which in collusion put together a whole story. Bargle and his Company were three days ahead of the Companions, which put them well across the pass. Even worse, a ghost from Helteg’s seems to have appeared. His brother Herleg, a Barbarian Tribal Chieftain, warrior of some renown, and traitor to his people, was in league with Bargle. A vengeful fire raged inside of Helteg so fierce the Companions struggled to calm him. Complicating matters was the coming winter. Ambyrmont was only beginning and the pass to Selenica was already under heavy snow. The night wore on as the Companions discussed battle plans and personal business and the party learned a great many things of one another, however, many secrets were still maintained. Before retiring for the evening, Alastair scrawled some notes upon his parchment, a similar parchment he had used on prior days. He went to bed clearly disturbed.

At first light the party set off to the pass over the Black Peak Mountains. Alastair kept his eyes alert for signs of Liam’s passing and instructed Lonovan, Helteg and Si’lex to do the same. Hours of travel through thinning woods and the Companions spied a strange marking. Alastair identified it as a Traladaran sigil that he and Liam had used for similar purpose as children. Rolled and concealed in a hollow knot of a tree was a hastily scrawled parchment indicating that Bargle and five others were heading into the pass. Initial information about distances was incorrect and the Companions were closer than they originally thought. This development gave hope and spurred them ahead with renewed vigor.

Hours later the Companions were several miles into the pass, merchants and travelers congesting the passage and causing delays. With Helteg and Si’lex ahead of the party as main scouts, Lonovan, Wargaath and Alastair kept a watch about for ambush. A Darokinan man passing south seemed to recognize Lonovan. He warned Lonovan that the information he had stolen would come back to haunt him and that he would alert the guards in Penhaligon to the theif’s presence within the Grand Duchy. He also said that no matter where Lonovan went in Darokin he would be a hunted man. The passing individual bade him a nonchalant goodbye and disappeared into the throng of southbound merchants. The engagement shook Lonovan, who immediately began taking measures to change his outward appearance.

No more than an hour later, Si’lex and Helteg returned with grave news. They had found another of Liam’s marks, no message, signs of a fight and drag marks. Alastair, now fully alarmed at the prospect of losing his friend and charge, spurred his mount ahead into the pass to investigate.

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A Secret and a Division. A Rise and a Fall.

Alastair led the way into the alcove where Si’lex and Helteg had found the mark Liam had been in the process of making before the scuffle. An in depth search found two deceased humans bearing sigils of the Black Eagle Barony. Growing increasingly worried, Alastair impressed upon the others the need to get Liam back. He felt it was necessary to disclose a secret he had been keeping his entire life. Given the response to a previous disclosure he had received from the Companions, he would no doubt suffer their wrath once more. It was his burden. Prior to starting his explanation, Alastair peered out of the alcove. His eyes fell upon a figure he knew all to well. Tomasz Rastav, his father, astride his charger waited outside. A terse exchange and an explanation as to why Liam was let out of Alastair’s sight followed. Alastair did not back down, feeling justified in his actions to allow Liam to track Bargle into the pass.

Outside the alcove, six additional riders clad in scale armor flying the standard of the Druzhinniki came into view, in their custody a hooded individual slouching in his saddle and another familiar figure, Kithus. The hooded figure pulled his cloak back, revealing himself as Liam, broken and battered but well in the realm of the living. Relief washed over the Companions as their friend was in good stead. With Liam in the alcove and the surroundings clear, Alastair launched into the explanation he had been dreading his entire life. Alastair explained that the Grand Duke had suffered an assassination attempt and he was in a coma. He pulled a parchment from under his armor and knelt trembling before Liam. Breaking the seal on the parchment Alastair recited the writ, signed and sealed by the Grand Duke of Karameikos declaring Liam his legitimate successor to the lands, rights and entitlements of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos.

Stunning silence blanketed the grotto. Liam, feeling betrayed glared at Alastair. Alastair explained his situation and begged forgiveness of his comrades, now thoroughly taken aback by the admission. Several voiced their acceptance and gave their sword to his defense while others were reluctant. Alastair explained his affiliation with the Druzhinniki, the Companion Guard, an order of knights fiercely loyal to the Line of Stefan Karameikos charged with protecting the family line. He continued explaining that Aliena was dead, killed at the hands of Lord Sulescu. He admitted that a portion of the power vacuum in the Church of Karameikos was his fault as he had coordinated a removal of Patriarch Olderby from the heirarchy. Olderby’s hardline attitudes against the Church of Traladara would have lead to even more blood shed. The Companion’s plan to stymie Clan Radu and their dealings with the Black Eagle Barony had been successful in some small measure. In the east of the Duchy, Thyatian Senator Daphnotarthius’s mercenary army had begun staging raids into Karameikos, in the attempt to incite open war between the two nations. The Thyatian navy had suffered great losses at the hands of Captain Dublin O’conna, his alliance had proven fruitful. With his soul laid bare before his Companions, Alastair steely eyed, once more asked forgiveness.

In various states of approval or disapproval the Companions agreed that their target was no more than eight or ten hours ahead of them. Tomasz, who’s original mission was to escort Liam back to Specularum, agreed to ride with the Companions to retrieve the Eye of Traladara. The party now thirteen, astride their mounts charged to the top of the pass.

At the crest of the pass, few members spotted the glowing bead in the fresh fallen snow. In an eruption of flame a fireball engulfed the Companions, unhorsing and singing several. Momentarily dazed, ears ringing in protest, the Companions stood face to face with Bargle, the Court Wizard of the Black Eagle Barony. A belly laugh issued from his mouth as he waved his hands measuredly, intoning another incantation with which to strike death down upon the party. Lonovan quickly snapped a shot from his hand crossbow, miraculously catching Bargle off guard and mercifully interrupting what would no doubt be the end of the Companions. Liam, relatively unscathed by the fireball loosed a hasty arrow which landed heavily. The surprise in Bargle’s eyes told the tale, he had underestimated the abilities of the companions. He motioned with his right hand while clutching the arrow in his chest with the left. A large human, no doubt Herleg, and four other soldiers trotted into view. Bargle turned back to see Alastair’s charger slip in the snow at a full gallop, by the grace of the immortals Alastair managed to get his lance back on target, driving it deep into Bargle’s gut. Bright blood splattered the snow as Bargle coughed for breath barely standing. Si’lex carried the attack and his snap kick from horseback shattered the wizard for good. Bargle’s body lay in the snow, his foul life force leaving its stain upon the stark white palette.

Helteg, now frothing in a rage, belted a roar telling all that no honorable kill would befall his brother. The Elder Rastav gauged his target and waded into the fray with Herleg, his Druzhinniki dispatching the other warriors with little effort. Wargaath freed his sword and shield, while Liam took aim into the melee. Herleg closed the gap to Tomasz, battle axe clanged off of shield as the deadly dance took them. Helteg reached his brother and using his caber to trip him, left Herleg exposed and on his back, defenseless. The Druzhinniki and the Companions surrounded Herleg as Alastair guided their tactics. Mercilessly, they pummeled Herleg until his body was as lifeless as Bargle’s. Victorious, Helteg decapitated his brother’s body and left his corpse to rot in the pass.

Alastair had wheeled to help the injured, what unfolded before him terrified him. Standing over the still form of Kithus was a shadowy figure. Yelling for assistance, Alastair galloped to Kithus’s aide. Liam, was first to respond, his powerful bow proving ineffectual. Si’lex was next to respond and his esoteric disciplines seemed to affect the creature. Alastair shielded Kithus from the creature as best he could and poured a magical potion into his throat. Helteg, hefting his family’s heirloom axe, freshly reclaimed from the now dead Herleg, joined the fray. Liam dropped his bow and closed the gap wielding his sword of Undead Slaying. The blow fell heavily upon the creature. Si’lex followed up with another powerful attack and the creature vaporized into nothingness, sent back to whatever gods it claimed.

Searching Bargle’s belongings Alastair recovered the coveted item the Companions had long been after. The Eye of Traladara glowed immaculately in his hands, revealing its gift for all to behold. Momentarily transfixed by the seer stone, Alastair had a vision. One of alliances and halflings, orcs and fields of death, triumph and Liam. He snapped from the long pause, looking around him while the party scrounged what they could from the bodies of their fallen enemies.

Helteg was content that his mission was complete and expressed the urge to depart to the Broken Lands to return the decapitated head of Herleg to honor his family. Lonovan likewise expressed a need to travel North back to Darokin. Many good reasons surfaced for parting company and an impasse was reached. In a flash of inspiration, Alastair proffered the Seer Stone to the party. Each had his vision in turn, each made their decision to stand with the party, but not without good reason and ample persuasion.

Together, the Companions rode out of the pass, flanked by the Druzhinniki. Hours of riding turned to days. From each hamlet, town, and city along the Duke’s Road poured handfuls of the Druzhinniki. The gathered number reached sixty men, loyal, determined and strong, ready to defend the heir apparent. Lances held high, pennons briskly waving in the wind. At their vanguard, The Companions and the Duke of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos.

The small army was hailed just outside the reaches of Specularum by a cleric from the Order of the Gryphon. He questioned the unit of men bearing the Duke’s standard. Alastair rode forward and proffered the writ with which he had crowned Liam. The color drained from the clergyman and he offered an escort into the city. Once within the gates, Alastair passed the Eye of Traladara to Liam whispering to him, “Unite your people, my lord.” With the Traladaran Heirloom in hand the party sixty strong charged through the broken streets of Specularum towards the Church of Traladara. Onlookers stopped and stared in awe as the Seer Stone traveled through the city.

At the steps to the Church of Traladara, Liam passed the Eye off to a waiting cleric. From these steps he declared that fighting between the churches would cease. Too many enemies attempt to crush Karameikos from the without for Karameikans to be fighting one another within. Any Karameikans found fighting each other, regardless of rank, house, priveledge or station, would be put to death. With that statement, he retired to the Keep and the campaign room.

In the campaign room, Liam called his Lords to order and issued his edicts. The Grand Duchy of Karameikos would no longer pay fealty to Thyatis. Henceforth, the Grand Duchy would be the Grand Kingdom of Karameikos. He called the inquisitor from Thyatis to the room. Moments later, after he had arrived, he passed a missive. The Senate of Thyatis would regulate Daphnotarthius and his war in the east or face open war with the Kingdom of Karameikos. He voiced that Karameikos would be open to peoples of all races and creeds, any that called Karameikos home were worthy of protection. Alastair pulled the new King aside momentarily, mentioning what he had seen in his vision about the Halflings. Within moments the Halfling Ambassador was summoned and his pledge of support for Karameikos secured. An army of Halflings were already assembling near the western border. Additionally, the Druzhinniki and the Order of the Gryphon were to muster and travel west supplementing the forces already in place at Radlebb Keep, while the rest of the Karameikan army were to reinforce the easter border. His final edicts placed many of the Companions into roles of the Court; Kithus the Court Oracle of Karameikos, Si’lex the Head Justice and Court Brewmaster, Wargaath the Court Ambassador of Baal, Lonovan the Master of Espionage, Helteg the Court Ambassador to the Broken Lands Barbarians and Alastair the Hand of the King.

Winter was coming and war was close at hand. The Eye of Traladara was back in Karameikan hands, its portents forecasting woe and weal in the near future. The newly established Kingdom of Karameikos stands, defended by few, yet menaced by the machinations of many. The faint glimmers of hope shine in the darkness. What would this winter bring for the Companions? What would this winter bring for the world?

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