Kragen-Baal’s trusted lieutenant, an imposing figure in full plate and bearing a great mace, eased back a little from where the invaders had paused to catch their breath. [Fort checks vs Fatigue for all but Bardic, all good.] Bardic, Celo and Morath stood amidst a tumble of bodies where the final line of Hyborian guards had fallen. Vorel was a little behind them. Tae Costas, the Argossean seafarer they had freed, was further back in the barrack room, leaning on an upturned truckle bed as he dug deep down into his reserves of fortitude.
The stench was indescribable. And blood was everywhere: not since the killing-floor of the Damsons’ ante-chamber, where the blood of the brotherhood had nowhere to drain, had they waded through so much in one place.
Celo decided to open the dance. Judging where best to place a thrown blade, he snapped a volley off and though most glanced off Branger’s plate armor, two got through. Encouraged by this, Morath followed suit, though he had to step forward through the widening tide of blood to get the range.
“I hear the rattle of armor to either side. Don’t get further forward,” Bardic warned the Zamorian. [Listen checks: Bardic scored 29, Celo 27, Vorel 25. Because of the noise of the wounded, no-one could hear what might be going on back beyond the Kushite barracks.]
Vorel pulled back, wading through groaning, scrabbling wounded to get to Tae. Earlier, he had given Morath back his knives, and not long ago he had discarded his captured Shemitish bow. Tossing aside the half-empty quiver, he gestured to the truckle bed.
“Let’s ram that clown.”
Tae did not immediately perceive the plan but as Vorel picked the cot up, he grinned and grabbed the other side.
“I get it! Me an’ Mushy used a door like this in a street-fight!”
Glancing back, Vorel realized that Branger had rushed Morath, shattering the rogue’s fine short-sword and powering through in an effort to do the same to his ribs. But Morath was unharmed, it seemed [Improved sunder, but Branger rolls a 1 on his follow-through.]
As the hulking plate-armored Branger charged, more guards swept around the corners of the intersection he had been standing at. Bardic was unsurprised, and his Ophirean two-hander sword scythed them down before they could mob Morath or support their captain.
Vorel and Tae charged over the corpses, clumsily ramming the end of the bed frame into Branger, who was surprisingly unable to respond in time [Vorel stunts Improved Bull-rush]. He did not fall – they had not had perfect momentum and he was immensely strong – but he was staggered. In a blur of motion Morath drew his reserve sword and rammed it in up and under Branger’s fauld. [Opportunist] The massive figure shuddered and folded slowly!
The banquet hall
“I heard horses coming from behind us!” Vorel yelled. [Based on his earlier good roll. Because of Kushite and Hyborian bodies piled up in the connecting tunnel between the two barracks, the horsemen could not even get to walking pace at that point.]
“Let’s drive through straight ahead – that looks like the galley!” Bardic responded. Sweeping aside a few more Hyborians and ducking as Shemitish arrows zipped by from both sides he raced across the intersection and into the opposite tunnel, and through an open arch into a long, high-vaulted galley area. The others followed as quickly as they could, Vorel sweeping up a steel-faced shield as he ran.
[Bardic’s decision probably set the whole battle for victory. One run, and they seized an area the captains could not easily outflank them in.]
[On the other hand it also shows up in my flow-chart of how the adventure works as ‘wrong way: CR25-26’]
The galley was warmly lit by ovens and flambeaux. Servants shrank away. Bardic formed a snap impression that cooking facilities were mostly to the left, scullery and perhaps privies to the right. A clear passage led between these wings to large decorated doors, standing open. He wheeled left. Glared at men trying to hide behind a large pot.
“Tip that oil into the passage or it’ll be the worse for you!” [Playing a destiny point for a pot with oil in it.]
The terrified men obeyed [Bardic rerolls Intimidate] and as the five invaders ran through the doors and pulled them closed behind them, any rapid pursuit was prevented. But a storm of arrows rattled on the doors as they slammed them shut.
Vorel and Tae were last through. Glancing to one side, Vorel saw a heavy bar ready to be dropped over brackets on the door. Before the pursuers could get to the handles to pull them open again, he and the brawny Argossean had wrestled the bar into place.
“They won’t be shifting that in a hurry!” Vorel exclaimed with satisfaction, then: “Do you want a shield? Could mean the difference between life and death!”
“Nay, both me hands are me weapons. I wouldn’t know what to do with a shield.”
Shrugging, Vorel fitted the buckler onto his left arm and drew his fine silver-chased Ophirean broadsword. But it seemed that there were no enemies to fight here.
This was obviously Kragen-Baal’s hosting-hall, where he had been entertaining the captains. It was high-vaulted in the style of a major temple, and disproportionately long compared to its width.
The comrades had entered midway along its length. Some fifteen feet away, a great banquet-table with many heavy carven chairs ran much of the length. The remains of an interrupted feast lay on the board. Servants could be seen hiding under the table. Left, two great braziers glowed: large enough to do anything up to roasting a recalcitrant servant. Right, a low dais headed the room below an immense tapestry of a sternly noble-looking bearded ruler, giving justice over a stylized city and army. Two of the Shemitish spot-lamps were rigged up high to either side of that, to highlight it. On the dais itself crouched a few scared slave-girls, costumed for dancing. Bardic made his way to the table, Celo close by him and Morath not far behind.
Morath glanced over at the girls, glanced away, glanced back. [Morath and Celo make spot rolls of 24.] Something was a little off. Hackles prickling, he rasped a warning.
All of which is handy but not, Celo thought. He plucked a plate from the board and hurled it like a discus. As it hurtled towards the tapestry it curved off distinctly and spun away.
At much the same time, Vorel, who was still at the doors, heard two things: first, a voice from beyond the door, demanding that they come out and fight man to man; but second, the sound of a door being quietly opened from just beyond the braziers! He signaled Tae and they headed that way.
Bardic focused on the area that Celo’s ‘discus’ had bent off, and noticed something. Dust was shimmering in a wide circle: now moving off the dais and around the far side of the table. He’d seen the same effect while bargaining with the Setite priest Iapet back in Zamboula.
“Talgor-khan! He’s there!”
The five invaders hurled themselves out of death’s immediate grasp as first a beam of red-hot light and then a white line of ice played across them and the table and floor. [I gave Reflex saves to avoid damage, rather than having Talgor-khan roll touch attacks to hit multiple times. Most characters have Evasion but these were tough saves. 5d6 each rod attack. Tae is on single digit hp.] The source of the rays could not be seen, but they came from man-height up on the dais.
Celo’s heart sank, realizing they had trapped themselves in a room with the powerful sorcerer. He froze in indecision.
Then Morath thief-vaulted onto the table, rolled over it and tumbled behind where the sorcerer ought to be! As Morath screamed in pain [Fort check DC19 for entering the circle] and sliced ineffectually through the air, Bardic raced to join him! A jump, a leap across, and he was there! But he too failed to connect. [And no problem with the Fort check – he needs a 2 or better and rolls a 4!]
Inspired by Morath’s bravery, Celo acted! He rolled under the table, grabbed a tureen full of soup that some fearful servant had set down, and hurled it up at Morath! [And made his fort check with Saving Grace – two fp. He also pays a destiny point to help me adjudicate that flung liquid is not a ‘missile’.]
The soup spread widely over the area, drenching Bardic and Morath but more importantly, outlining the shape of a man in robes! The form seemed to blur in and out of their vision, and they realized that the invisibility problem wasn’t the only thing working against them! [About the only thing he doesn’t have is Stoneskin.]
Alarmed by being sandwiched by violent people with swords, Talgor-khan moved away back towards the dais end of the table. Immediately both Morath and Bardic sliced him with their blades. But though the keen steel bit deep, the sorcerer sounded little more than annoyed. Morath and Bardic hunted after him.
Meanwhile Vorel stalked towards the other end of the table, Tae trailing him to his left. A door, not easily spotted in the wall decoration, swung open and through stepped a huge warrior! In terms of breadth of shoulder and sweep of beard he reminded Vorel of the late unlamented Nemedian hero Vivo. His angry glare was also reminiscent of Vivo. The flopping Kushite corpse draped on one plate-armored shoulder was not reminiscent of Vivo but was something Vivo might have appreciated. Seemingly without effort he supported the entire dead-weight of the Kushite, a giant and armored form itself, up on arms’ length, and hurled the corpse some ten feet towards Vorel and Tae.
“Your treachery has failed!”
Stepping further into the room, Kragen-Baal – for the likeness to the tapestry was enough of a clue – drew a heavy, silver-chased battleaxe from his belt, and poised ready for combat.
Gulping, Vorel raised his shield and went at him in fighter’s crouch. Kragen-Baal shifted smoothly forward and the axe crashed through the shield, shattering it, then again into Vorel, rending his mail byrnie, breaking a few ribs and ramming him back against the table. [Vorel drops to single-digit hp. He used a fp to interpose the shield.] Before he could follow up, the city despot was deluged by hot coals from the brazier that Tae had lifted and up-ended over him. Some sifted down between gorget and beard…
Realizing that he had nothing left, Vorel hesitated. Tae was left pushing the brazier onto Kragen-Baal on his own: his palms were scorching and smoking. [Tae drops to negative hp over three rounds of wrestling a hot brazier, but has the NPC-only Diehard feat. He keeps going.] It was enough to distract the immense warlord. Celo pounced from where he had been sidling up, beyond the remaining brazier! He raised both short-swords high, jumped and impaled them down through Kragen-Baal’s neck! As the huge man twisted with pain, one sword snapped at the hilt, but the other remained sticking out. It seemed impossible that he could stay standing, but an amulet on his gorget flared and he remained in the fight.
With a roar as much agony as anger, Kragen-Baal swept Tae and brazier aside, the Argossean flung aside by one casual bat of the axe to lie as though dead. [I rule privately this is non-lethal damage as the axe has to hit the brazier first – Tae now needs a recovery roll to get back up!] But the further distraction had allowed Celo another opportunity: he leapt again. As Kragen-Baal shoved at him, Celo used that momentum to pivot over the man’s enormous arm and kick the short-sword down again, into the man’s heart! The sword snapped, but the amulet flared out and dulled, and Kragen-Baal dropped to his knees, then fell face-down with a dull clang. [Celo used Mighty Blow fate points three times, dealing 149 damage total.]
At the other end of the table, Morath and Bardic were sticking to their task. With Talgor-khan outlined, their swings and stabs were now finding a mark as often as not. [My Blur dice had reversed its luck!] And the sorcerer was unable to pull any fancy moves. As another huge sweep from Bardic’s sword cut deeply through his rib-cage, the sorcerer squalled:
“Look! Will you just stop hitting me!!”
“No we won’t,” replied Morath, and made to do it again. The sorcerer blinked out with a soft inrush of air.
Even before the comrades at either end of the table could congratulate or update one another, or register what the repeated pounding on the main doors meant, the door from whence came Kragen-Baal was filled by a powerful figure, flaming scimitar in hand. In his other he bore a steel Stygian-made shield, and breastplate and chainmail armored his frame. This was Rasnakh, captain of the Shemite watch. Behind him crowded Asshuri, men of the sorcerer’s elite guard, armed with scimitar and heavy bronze shield, or Shemitish bow. He glared at Vorel, flipped down his vizor, and gestured his men forward!
[Vorel plays a destiny point for help to turn up. However, just as on the Steeps in Season 4, the group has isolated itself away from any possible help. So a different destiny occurs.]
Vorel backed slowly away, flicking heavy plates off the table at the man. Who seemed annoyed. [But it did at least slow him up for a round.] Lifting his shield higher, Rasnakh advanced: then Bardic charged! The worst of his blow glanced off Rasnakh’s shield, but a side-swipe put an Asshuri down. [Leaping charge. Pretty risky since it lowers defense but I was rolling low in reply.] The Cimmerian ducked under the scorching sweep of the blazing scimitar, then he swung his sword in a mighty arc upwards – then downward – and dropped Rasnakh. The scimitar’s flame went out abruptly. Bardic stormed back on the Asshuri, sundering shields and pulverizing bow-staves. [He dropped six in the two rounds, impressive as all had +2 protection charms.] The remaining men retreated as best they could down a left-bend in the tunnel they were in, though something seemed to be blocking them.
Tae crawled to his feet and staggered across to the table, his hand seeking the wine. [Coming out of Die-hard, he is effectively on zero hp.] Ignoring him, Morath ran to Kragen-Baal, knelt, and drove his dagger into the man’s brain.
The doors to the hosting-hall burst open, split asunder by several broad-axes. Vorel, who had retreated right along the opposite side of the table to be level with the doors, peered through the wreckage. Spotting faces he knew from his sojourn at their stables, Vorel waved cheerily:
“Look! It’s the Zuagirs! What took you so long, boys?”
He was sheltered by the table and chairs but even so two arrows of the dozen that showered him found their mark. He staggered back and fell, twitching. [Reflex save, missed by 2. Vorel is on -5hp.]
In through the broken timbers rode Vingis, or Vistakh as he was known here, captain of the Zuagir raiders. He bore a matchless Shemite bow. In stormed the Zuagirs, bow and axe ready! In snuck Maktash, brains behind the Zuagirs and ambitious to the last degree. [Ah, now the DM’s ‘help’ becomes apparent.]
Bardic, realizing what was going on in the hall behind him, cooled his temper and strode back out of the tunnel. He pointed his sword dramatically at Kragen-Baal:
“We slew your boss! Back down or you are next!”
The Zuagirs seemed impressed. [Pretty good Intimidate with circumstance bonus added.] Noticing Maktash among the footmen, Morath took a different note:
“The rule of the fortress and city lies open. There is no need for us to kill you.”
[Morath’s check is on Reputation rather than Diplomacy or Intimidate.]
The negotiations that took place over the next half-hour were convoluted. Most of the time, our heroes had to work out that Maktash was offering a win-lose proposition, and reject it. Maktash’s main goals were to remove Talgor-khan, who, he believed, would have his soul bound up somewhere safe so that he could not be killed; and to remove the adventurers in front of him, to allow him to get on with being power behind the throne.
Celo, having pulled the arrows out of Vorel and made sure he was on the road to recovery [two good Healing checks] acted as chief spokesman. Bardic and Morath leaned closely over the table, watching their opposition. [Vorel does make his recovery roll, pays a recovery fate point and moves to zero hp. He and Tae drink the necessary flagon of wine to move to 1 hp. Neither play a role in negotiations.]
At one point, Morath had to signal that he had seen Maktash spike the drinks. No more drinking! But since it was exactly what they expected, no-one lost their temper. Morath was content to lull the Zuagirs into a false sense of security, in case he needed to strike. [No actual check, he just makes sure I know he has Bluff in operation. Good thinking.]
But such was not needed. Eventually, the comrades agreed that they would tackle Talgor-khan once Laella told them where he would have vanished to; and for their part Maktash and Vingis agreed to walk over to Laella’s with them in case of treachery, and to supervise the capture of Setta Black-whip. No-one was committed to sorting out anything in the city, though apparently there was widespread chaos involving the corsairs.
Kragen-Baal’s widow had six hefty bearers-cum-bodyguards. All were happy to leave and allow Bardic and Celo through to interview Laella. Morath kept careful watch on the inner citadel courtyard, in case Maktash organized fresh treachery.
The vast encouched woman did not seem devastated by her loss. Her eyes roved over them constantly, perhaps looking for ways to bend them to her advantage. But she settled for living. She did know where Talgor-khan’s magic circle was, where he must have reappeared after vanishing. It was in Kragen-Baal’s private treasury, off the dead ruler’s private chamber in the inner citadel.
Choosing not to blurt out to anyone that they had let Laella live – they had tacitly agreed to kill her – the three returned to where Vorel and Tae were resting with the small amount of loot taken from Kragen-Baal and Rasnakh and the Asshuri. They explained.
“Elesa, remember, had actually been trying to find the treasure-room,” Bardic reminded them [after paying a Destiny point to remember]. “Kragen-Baal’s chamber lies beyond the tapestry in the hosting-hall and the treasury is off that.”
The chamber was luxurious. Trophies of Kragen-Baal’s earlier years here, when he still loved the hunt, were prominent. There were a couple more curious ones too: for example, the steering-board of a merchant ship, ivory-hafted, with some writing scratched on it and a nicely-scrimshawed picture of some well-endowed woman with a western-style tiara on her head. A large armor-stand stood empty, and on the huge, strong bed a fine suit of mail lay, thrown down as though stripped off hastily.
“I guess he wears this when he doesn’t need the good stuff,” Bardic grunted, shouldering the mail. “Hey, go find a servant to hold a light – we’ll need both hands to search this place.”
Celo made as though to leave off searching a large and very expensive mirror, then saw Vorel walking obligingly away to do it.
“This will have to be a slow, steady search – there’s nothing here that looks like a trip or latch.”
And so it was. Foot by foot of pounding eventually located a pressure-plate and a door swung silently open. Beyond, an unlit tunnel led to a solid-looking dead end. The floor was decorated with large tiles and the door with a mosaic. The torch’s light showed the floor tiles were colored patchwork. Celo groaned.
“This has ‘trap’ written all over it. And we are taking time, time, time.”
“I have an idea. You keep going. I’m going to get something that will put that sorcerer on the wrong foot,” Vorel decided. He walked through to the galley and bullied the servants into giving him a cauldron full of dessert custard. [Paying a destiny point to find this unlikely treat.]
Much setting-off of trap blades later, and after finding the right combination to open the far door, Celo pressed the final mosaic tile and sprang aside.
At first glance Vorel could see a magic circle. And a large boar-like beast! Hoping that he was not in the “death zone” Vorel heaved the custard! The cold, slippery mess gunged over the invisible Talgor-khan, who squawked with annoyance! [We already know that liquids don’t count as missiles so there is no need to revisit this.] Heedless of custard stains on his black armor, Morath rolled past the boar’s tusks, past Talgor-khan and stabbed the sorcerer. Vorel skedaddled back! But not fast enough! A ray of fire punched at Morath, who dropped under it, and scorched a charred hole in one of Kragen-Baal’s caskets; a ray of deathly cold split the tiles near Celo’s rolling back; [both make their Reflex checks] then a ray of searing lightning caught Bardic and flashed through and past him to Vorel.
The Bossonian’s body arched horribly: sparks arced off his chain shirt and steel cap: and he fell dead.