The party emerged from the depths of Kavorquian’s basement with not only the sword and tiara but also, a hoard of items and their several prisoners. There was a brief moment of confusion as when they did surface, they were surrounded by guards wearing the livery of Threshold and Penhaligon. The stairs had led to what could be described as a pantry but the door to it was open and the soldiers were all about. They were quickly recognized by a grim Kaerin who brightened considerably at recognizing the group. Some of the guards were carrying out a bloodied body wrapped in a sheet.
Another man was with Kaerin and introduced as Baron Sherlane Halaran, Patriarch of the Church of Karameikos. Sherlane appeared to be a kindly man but clearly Thyatian and clearly a man used to the rigors of the Church or military life or both. His gray hair was cropped close and he was clean shaven. His robes appeared simple but of the finest quality and his smile made all who looked upon it trust in his goodness immediately.
More remarkable than the appearance of the Bishop was that Kaerin had two arms! He also had a much more commanding presence with it. However, he paused in giving orders to make sure the adventurers were okay and that they had been successful. He could barely contain his grin when he found out they had been.
Kaerin and the Bishop had the group’s prisoners taken into custody but excused themselves as there are many things to take care of, least of all the missing butler and the dead man who was just carted off. The group was attended to by some of Kaerin’s staff and provided with baths, food, drink, healing and best of all, rest.
That night, the adventurers feasted with the Bishop and Kaerin. Both men pressed them for information and listened intently. Sherlane took the journal from Valmont and promised to study it then return it to Kaerin. During the dinner Sherlane says, “I think I should first explain the importance of this household. Kaerin is the son – adopted, to be sure – of Kavorquian the wizard. That old man was the brother of Lord Arturus Penhaligon, who died some four years ago. It is his daughter, Lady Arteris, who is the ruler of the Estates of Penhaligon and directly responsible to Duke Stefan Karameikos himself. I am, shall we say, an old family friend.”
Sipping on too sweet honey mead, the Bishop continued. “In my duties as Baron, I believe I have heard of you but we all feared you were dead. You must be the same group who found the merchants and put a stop to the Iron Ring in my town, Threshold. For that, I am grateful and you will always have a friend in Threshold. Upon your next visit, I am sure the Merchants Guild will show their gratitude. Chief among them will be Juster Dainworth. I believe that Juster to be an honorable man; young and ambitious to be sure but definitely honorable and a big fan of yours. He has been pressing for word of your fate since he was rescued. He had said all of you had escaped some hidden Iron Ring fortress but the last time he saw you, you had run off to fight Orcs who had burned part of the town of Stallanford. He will be thrilled that you are safe.”
“As you may know, Kavorquian was a sage of sorts and interested in many things. I believe the scoundrels you apprehended were employed by Nikolai, the butler, to steal any valuable collectibles in the basement but you beat them to what was there. I hope they are not connected to the Iron Ring. There appears to be no connection to them and none of them bear that nasty tattoo of theirs. We have identified them as Mordraina of Glantri (the apparent leader); Katzani of Darokin (a Priest no less!); Gurdroten the female Dwarf; Hargrin Coogan, a former gladiator who was good enough to purchase his freedom in Thyatis; and two Traladaran brothers: Radic Bulgevvi, a former Karameikan soldier turned sellsword and Goran Bulgevvi, a local Bard. Of course you slayed Goran but his brother was very vocal about that. The lot of them will be held until a trial can be had before Lady Arteris or her designee. I do not believe they will be going anywhere for a long time if ever.”
The Bishop expressed concern over the note which the group brought with them and the last page of Kavorquian’s diary. He was unsure of who this queen could be but thought it was not good news. He pledged to find out more and send word to the adventurers. “However,” he said, “this is a night for celebration: of your safe return and of the retrieval of those items. Kaerin, are you going to tell them why you needed them so much?”
Kaerin blushed then sipped some of his wine. “The sword was to impress. Luckily the good Bishop restored my arm so I could convince someone I can use it. I can of course. That someone was Baron Kelvin who visited town today with his daughter. The tiara was for her. A gift to prove my intentions to marry her. I am pleased to say that both she and her father accepted!”
There were cheers and congratulations and quite a few more drinks. The conversation turned away eventually from the recent adventures to politics within the Church of Karameikos and the Grand Duchy itself. Sherlane was clearly worried about the growing divide between the native Traladarans and the new Thyatians. He was convinced that they needed a unified national identity and that Grand Duke Stefan was the man to deliver it but he faced resistance from both sides. The Grand Duke was described as a great man but with a flaw of being unable to understand evil. That flaw worried the Bishop more than anything else for if the Duke could not spot evil well, it might be too late by the time that he did.
Eventually, the fire burned low and the cups were emptied. The group headed off to bed. The Bishop said his goodbyes that night for he was traveling back to Threshold very early the next morning.
Two days after the Bishop left, Valmont had found something intriguing in Mordraina’s spellbook and decided to talk to her. It wasn’t the spells but a note about Glantrian noble families and some minor secrets she seemed to know. Secrets which may one day prove useful. Lace and Leif joined the merchant in his trip downtown. The day was a pleasant one and they joked lightly about their chances for new adventure and additional wealth. As they approached the area of the town jail, they noticed a commotion. Smoke was coming from the building itself and a crowd stood around it. Valmont instantly dismissed most of the crowd as mere townspeople but there was a man standing apart from the group who was clearly a mage of some sort. He nodded out of professional courtesy and strode forward to examine the jail.
A large round and still smoldering hole remained where the doors had been. Peeking quickly inside, he could see the remains of two charred guards and the twisted metal of the now wide open cell door. There was no sign of Mordraina or her group.
“Did anyone see what happened?” Valmont asked the crowd.
One scrawny teenage boy stepped forward while the rest of the crowd looked wide-eyed at the mage. They quickly dispersed. All but the mage from the crowd.
“Alright son, tell us what happened.”
“Well, I saw it all. There was a massive swirling of wind and the dust became thick and dark like a small tornado. There was a crack of lightning and out stepped a man all in black. He strode to the steps of the jail and raised his hands, chanting in some weird language. There was an explosion and a massive fireball shot from his hands and smashed open the jail doors. He laughed, kind of like, ‘Mwa-ha-ha’. Like an evil guy out of a story. He then went in but never came out.”
“Interesting,” said Lace, moving closer to the boy. “Anything more you can tell us about him?”
The boy looked nervous. “Um . . . um. Yeah. He had long black hair and a mask that covered his face. His red robes were covered . . .”
“Red robes?” questioned Leif. “You said he had black robes.”
“I did? Yeah, that would have been cool but he had yellow robes with black trim.”
Valmont glared at him. “Listen, son. We don’t have time for games. Tell it to us straight so we can find these criminals before they destroy this town.”
The boy gulped. “Okay. I did see him. I just have a good imagination and it would have been cool if he had been all in black and came in a tornado. Actually, he strolled from the bar across the street and stood in front for a few minutes. He wore yellow robes. He had long, kind of straggly brown hair and had that Thyatian look: tall, skinny and uppity. Everything else is true about the fire ball and never coming out.
“Hey! Get out of there!” A town guardsman yelled at the group. He quickly strode up to the party while the boy ran away.
“We are troubleshooters,” said Leif. The guard raised an eyebrow.
After a brief discussion of authority, danger and the necessary payment of taxes on gained treasure, the guard let the group return to the manor house. Valmont was a little lighter of purse. The guard reminded them that a tax collector would be by in the next few days to settle their accounts but the paperwork would take some time to process. The mage, Gandor, joined the group. As they walked back, Valmont and Lace discussed the usual terms of adventuring contract. Gandor merely nodded.
When Valmont, Lace and Leif returned to the manor, they discovered a messenger had arrived from Aralic. It had been a member of Sergeant Dmitros’s patrol. Aralic’s message stated that their house appeared to be ready for moving in and he would greatly welcome their company back in Stallanford. Having little to keep them in Penhaligon, the group bought some supplies, bid farewell to Kaerin and made the journey back to Stallanford.
More than two weeks passed while the group awaited word from Bishop Sherlane. The revelry had calmed and they settled into a routine. Nelis and Cyllan sat with Aralic most mornings, discussing religious theory. Though they worshipped different Immortals in different churches, they found they had much in common. Valmont, Teagan and Leif continued to pour over the books they had taken from the outlaws and Kavorquian. But mostly, the group ate a lot of apples. Aralic was proud of the churches orchard and found many interesting ways to fix their bounty: apple pie, apple sauce, fried apples, apple cider, apple juice, apple stew; you name it and he had an apple recipe for it.
On the 27th of Flaurmont, a carriage pulled up beside the house. The driver slowly climbed down, clearly stiff from his ride. He opened the door and first helped down a young but stout woman. He offered a hand to the man behind her but was waved off with a smile. Juster Dainworth had arrived. He was a young man as well, much thinner than his wife. He held out his arm for her and as soon as she laid her hand upon it, they strode in step to the front door. The place was very nice by Stallanford standards. His rescuers had done well in the several weeks since he had last seen them. Then again, so had he and he hoped they could make each other much richer.
While Juster was an idealist, his recent exposure to the criminal element had changed him. He wanted the Duke to declare war on the Iron Ring and whoever dared support them. Talk from those who should be in the know seemed to think that he would soon. Of course, rumors also told of powerful backers of the Ring, perhaps even the Duke’s very cousin.
Juster knocked on the door loudly. He could hear the sounds of people inside. He did not know how many of his rescuers were here or even still alive but he had been told that at least Valmont, Cyllan and the two Elves were living in this house. He was surprised when someone entirely different opened the door. It was a Thyatian woman, extremely muscled and wearing a simple tunic. But the tunic was of a striking purple and belted to her waist was a large dagger which she appeared ready to use it at a moment’s notice.
“Hello. We are here to see Cyllan and Valmont. I believe they live here . . . unless I have the wrong address.” Juster fidgeted with his jacket.
Lace looked at him then at Seledina. They appeared to be safe enough. She yelled back into the house, “Valmont! Cyllan! There’s a merchant family here to see you!” Turning to the man and woman, she extended her hand. “I’m Lace. Come in please.”
When those that knew Juster appeared (Valmont, Cyllan, Teagan and Leif), there was a great roar of celebration. They quickly did introductions and Seledina produced a bottle of two bottles of Red Dragon Crush a fine wine from Selenica. After catching up, Juster got down to business. He wanted to establish a new business with the group as partners. For a 50% share (to be split anyway they chose), Juster wanted the group to help him buy and sell horses along his “fishhook” route. He stated that war was in the air and war meant armies which meant a need for horses. He was trying to get the homesteads in central and eastern Karameikos to sell their wild and trained horses to them and then they could resell them to nobles in Karameikos, Thyatis and Darokin. He already had some interest in Selenica and had met a Traladaran named Stephen of Sukiskyn. Stephen spoke on behalf of his brother Pyotr who was the leader at Sukiskyn. They already sold horses in Kelvin and Rifillian but would welcome a partnership to sell on a broader level. The only thing necessary was to convince Pyotr. Juster and Stephen agreed some heroic businessmen would be good to persuade Pyotr and arranged for them to meet at Sukiskyn soon. The party agreed to the opportunity and that they would meet Stephen within the week. Juster had assumed they would and had booked passage on a boat out of Kelvin to a spot near Sukiskyn.
Business done, it was late into the night before Juster and Seledina left the party’s house and returned to their inn. However, they did so secure in knowing that a bright future lay ahead of them and their friends.
The group was up early and ready by the time Juster arrived again. He bid them well and promised to meet them in a few weeks back in Threshold. With a flourish, the carriage left. Through the dust of its tracks, a rider came. From the clothes and the hard ride, they knew it was Sergeant Dmitros herself. She slowed her horse to a walk and easily slid down from it.
Her face was stoic. “I have a message for you. It arrived at Aralic’s just a few moments ago and I volunteered to bring it to you.” No one asked why she had been at Aralic’s so early in the morning.
The note was sealed with the seal of the Bishop Sherlane of Threshold. Valmont opened it and read it to the group. The Bishop had information on the queen and a proposed quest.
“Ugh!” sighed Lace. Cyllan looked at her and smiled. This was quite the dilemma. On the one hand, they had made a promise to Juster. It just so happened that that promise would also most likely make them rich but it would require that they meet the ferryman in three days. Of course, Kelvin was in the exact opposite direction from where the Bishop wanted them to go.
The mystic could see the wheels turning in Valmont’s mind, measuring the balance of profit and glory. She knew it would be a long discussion so she took a seat on the steps leading to their house. After more than an hour, Lace dictated a response to Valmont (which he edited heavily) and handed back to Misha:
Dear Bishop Halaran,
We will be gathering information and supplies as we make our way by a non-direct route to address the problem. We may travel under the guise of traders of some sort to better move undetected. Do not doubt this situation is of the utmost concern to us and we will be working to resolve it as soon as we are able.
With that decided, they left Stallanford and headed on foot to Kelvin.
The journey was uneventful and took just less than three days. Kelvin was the biggest city they had visited together and it was the second largest city in all of Karameikos. Unfortunately, there was only a day before they were to board their boat. The group spent a night in the outer encampment area not wanting to attract attention as per their note to Bishop Sherlane.
The next morning revealed a clear and beautiful day as the group clambered onboard Kalanos’ flat bottom boat. His polemen appeared to be a ragtag lot but Kalanos himself seemed to be a good enough man. He was Traladaran and spoke in clipped Thyatian phrases. However, he smiled at Teagan, Cyllan and Lace and nodded kindly to the others. He seemed relieved that they had no horses as there would not have been room onboard. One of the polemen helped the group secure their belongings and then joined his fellows as they set out on the river. Near Kelvin, all manner of river boats surrounded them but soon enough they were out in the open river and passing through the hills that surrounded the city.
After a few hours of travel, the hills gave way to forest. It closed in first from the south and the river became both narrower and faster. The polemen (there were eight of them) seemed to relax and pushed less, only seeking to guide the boat in the center of the river.
Suddenly, the boat came to a halt with a large thud. Everyone stumbled a bit and one of the polemen almost dropped his pole. Kalanos had been listening to Valmont’s discourse on the nature of profit and the prospects for such an open land. He genuinely seemed interested to Cyllan, who had decided to try to snooze a little during the relaxing journey. With the stopping of the boat, Kalanos excused himself and headed to the front of the boat. That’s when the arrows started falling.
One of the polemen, took one to the neck and stumbled back then fell over the railing, gore spilling into the river. One even dared clink off of Leif’s armor which while not painful, was annoying enough to cause him to sneer.
Shouts from either side of the river revealed the presence of several men. Some on the south were aligned just on the edge of the woods and were the clear source of the arrows. There were also several others who were pulling up a chain from the river, behind the boat, aiming to trap the group. Still others on the south shore were beginning to dive into the river.
“Go back! Go back! We have to reverse course,” shouted Leif.
Derrek peeked above the edge of the boat, “I knew this was a bad idea. Should have gone for the queen.” he whispered to himself. He drew his sword and waited for the swimmers to reach them. He would give them a nasty surprise if they got close. He would have gone for his crossbow but figured that his staying in the shadows and ramming a sword through an invader would be more useful.
“I need my drum,” shouted Kai’ Kul to no one in particular.
Cyllan and Gandor began slinging stones and bullets at the archers on the southern shore. They struck the same one first and he fell backwards then stayed still.
Meanwhile, Valmont and Teagan began casting spells. Valmont finished his with a slight yellow glow surrounding him. He felt more protected against the raining arrows. Teagan focused his spell on a group on the shore and they slumped over as if asleep.
Kai’ Kul found his drum and began to chant and drum near the center of the boat. His eyes rolled back in his head as the spirits guided his voice and his hands. To him, everything seemed to slow down but to those farther away everyone began to move in a blur. As he continued to drum, the effect spread. Soon, anyone within ten feet of him was moving at three times their normal speed. Nelis detected the change and took advantage of it. As did Lace, moving to the edge of the boat.
Unfortunately, so did an assassin who was hidden amongst Kalanos’ men. He pushed Kalanos down and triple speed ran to Valmont, thrusting a dagger into the Glantrian’s back. The merchant dropped the pole he had picked up from a fallen poleman. It quietly slipped into the river.
Teagan saw the attack and pivoted from shooting across the river to launching a fast double volley of arrows toward the assassin. The first struck him in the head and the second would have but as the man was flying backwards, it struck him in the heart. He crumpled to the deck.
As he did, the first wave of swimmers reached the boat. Lace and Nelis were on top of them. The fighter cleaved off both hands from one invader and he slipped back into the water.
“Someone give him a hand,” smirked Leif.
As another invader pulled himself into the boat, Nelis struck him with her mace, bashing him in the head, knocking him off and into the water. Drowning finished him off.
Gandor too was active with the invaders. He quickly cast a cantrip, Firefinger, to the face of one but the flame missed by an inch. He got in the boat and brandished his dagger. Gandor quickly recovered and stuck a dagger in his chest, wiping the smile from the invader’s face. The mage pulled out the bloody knife and rolled him overboard.
Kai’Kul’s drumming and chanting changed. He closed his eyes and visualized the shore and the person he thought might be the enemy leader. He imagined him swarmed by rats, hundreds of them, squeaking, biting and clawing. As he opened his eyes, he saw that it had worked. On shore, the leader and two of his archers were crawling with vermin. The leader was yelling a retreat and soon fled into the forest.
Seeing the seven swimmers still in the water, Leif cast a mirror image spell. Instantly, there were four Leif’s. However, the swimmers had turned around and were swimming for the shore. Somehow they had heard or sensed their leader’s call. Unfortunately for them, Teagan was not the forgiving type. She and several others in the group picked them off one by one and all died before reaching the shore.
Looking around, the party saw that two of the polemen were dead. Nelis applied some healing herbs to Valmont who appeared to be the only one from the party who was injured severely. Kalanos was huddled in the boat, shaking his head in disbelief. It took some doing but Cyllan got him up and moving. While the crew got the boat over the chain in the river and started upstream again, the party examined the body of the assassin. He was non-descript except for the tattoo of manacles on left forearm . . .