Welcome back! We pick up in mid-round one, as Talgor-khan the sorcerer of Becharadur faces our surviving heroes Morath the Zamorian rogue (positioned behind Talgor-khan) Bardic the Cimmerian barbarian (in the entrance to the hidden treasury, about 10’ from Talgor-khan) and Celo the Aquilonian rogue (just inside right of the entrance). Their comrade the Bossonian Vorel lies dead around 15’ back, a fact of which they are unaware.
Talgor-khan was not alone! The gigantic boar, red-eyed and acid-drooling, squealed and charged Bardic! A tusk gored into Bardic’s mail, snapping the links despite their superior hardness.
Celo had rolled into the chamber to escape the sorcerer’s freezing blast, and he now noticed what Morath had: an oddity. [Celo makes a Spot check, rolls an 8, and correctly gambles that DC25 is good enough.] The treasury was stocked with the typical prizes of a successful warrior’s career. Weaponry, the odd piece of armor, hunting mementoes, billets of gold, teocallis of silver, an iron-bound chest – all normal. But high on a shelf rested a crystal globe, positioned between two small mirrors facing inward so that each reflected the other and the flask. In it, seemingly floating in the smoky substance that filled it, hung a homunculus.
Celo stepped further towards the globe and flung his dagger, even as the sorcerer, perhaps realizing Celo’s intent, struck at him. [AoO missed.] The blade flew up and struck the crystal sweetly: it shattered.
[OK in the canon, a crystal globe takes massive blows from Conan before shattering but the whole point of this set-up is that it’s a puzzle.]
A terrible scream: whether it issued from the homunculus, or Talgor-khan, or both, they were unsure.
Both mirrors shattered.
Talgor-khan dropped apart, all the wounds that he had previously sustained returning to him at once. The boar vanished with a stench of brimstone.
A curious cracking noise seemed to come from all directions at once.
[In the campaign, enchantments die with their creator. What did Talgor-khan have going?]
Moved by some morbid curiosity Bardic wiped the remains of custard from the now-visible remains and studied the corpse’s face.
“Looks pretty normal,” he grunted.
“It’s not like we were trying to bring down Morath’s mum,” Celo jested, running a vague eye around the room. “Chest or gold? Chest or gold?”
“If you’re going to tackle the chest better use my gloves,” Morath suggested. They were makeshift but would protect Celo from contact poison.
Working swiftly, Celo found a couple of traps best suited to a huge man with big-man fingers, disarmed them and opened the chest. Meanwhile, the other pair picked over the room’s contents and checked the corpse. Morath whistled as he found two fine black pearls. Soon, he added around a dozen pieces of jet to the haul. Bardic muttered over the lack of great-swords among the trophies. Then Celo exclaimed in disappointment.
“This is mostly copper!”
“For what? In case he ran out of tip-money? Dig under it!”
“Done that! There’s only a few dozen gold coins.”
“Pah! There’s got to be more to it than that,” Bardic snarled. “Let me shift the chest. And where’s Vorel?”
A shudder ran through the chamber.
“Hey, what was that?” Bardic asked, startled.
“We should keep moving,” Morath suggested uneasily.
“Right,” agreed Bardic, “I’ll fetch Vorel and maybe Tae. He may be dumb but his back is strong.”
But in the next few moments, Bardic was bending over Vorel’s corpse and swearing under his breath. The burly Bossonian had made his final journey.
Bardic’s thoughts were interrupted by a hail from Tae Costas. The Argossean brawler was standing in Kragen-Baal’s bedchamber, holding the steering-board and looking bewildered.
“Ahoy! There’s a man back out on the big room! Not sure what he wants, I don’t follow the local jibber-jabber! But he’s looking real pissed-off! And by the way, why’s the Sea Princess’s steer-board here?!?”
Tae’s strange account
Bardic passed the sad tidings on and the three comrades absent-mindedly made some tough decisions about weight. Each tucked a gold quarter-talent away, ditching unnecessary silver, and shared out the gold coins. [That means each is carrying roughly 20lb of gold] Celo tucked a couple of fine daggers into his belt.
“I’m not leaving Vorel,” Bardic announced. The citadel shook again, harder and longer.
“Fine, let’s get everything out and see what’s going on,” agreed Celo. “Morath my dear chap, allow me to carry that heavy gold while you help Bardic.”
“No Celo my dear chap, allow me to extract your kidneys while you faff about making stupid jokes,” Morath quipped lightly.
“I’ll help,” Tae offered, “…with carrying, I meanta say. But say, you should oughta go talk ta th’guy I was talking about.”
Tae had been sitting on the performers’ stage in the banquet hall, minding the small pile of loot and wishing the dancing girls were still there. By the time he had come to, and swigged some wine, they had vanished.
Servants had emerged from under the table and had begun discussing events. Some had headed off back into the galley, where a mop-and-bucket operation was proceeding. Others began clearing the table of the abandoned feast and tidying things generally.
Brawnier types, most wearing armor, had filtered into the hall, to begin tidying up the bodies. Catching sight of something that looked familiar, Tae had hollered a halt and had walked over to the big black man’s corpse. Sure enough, it had his bracers on. He reclaimed them and was about to return to his duty when in stormed an angry- and vaguely familiar-looking man, armored beneath his robes and bearing a scimitar. His face bore a recent whip-burn, narrowly missing an eye. He bellowed at Tae, gesturing and pointing the way he had come. And at that point Tae had scratched his head and come looking for someone to interpret the tirade. On reaching the chamber he had recognized the Sea Princess’s steering-board.
Settling a score
Vingis it was, and he was still fuming by the time the adventurers arrived in the hall. As he strode forward to expostulate, Bardic sent Tae to fetch a truckle bed frame to act as pall for Vorel’s body.
“That b***h just put down half my men – she and her bodyguard! And you didn’t mention her witchy-man!!! WHO FORGETS TO MENTION A WITCH?!?!”
“Oh, got some sort of shaman does she?” Bardic growled. “Well we didn’t know, friend Vingis, so curb your temper and let’s get out there.”
With Tae and Bardic as pall-bearers and Morath sullenly carrying the steering-board, Vingis shoving frightened servants and distracted soldiers out of the way and Celo sneaking along behind, they made their way out through the barbican. The inner fortress was a-skelter with soldiers and servants, dashing to and fro, some carrying loot or belongings and others simply trying to get out. Between the shaking and the congestion, some of the lights had gone out, leading to even more confusion.
By use of main force, they cleared the portcullis and gate area and exited into the outer fortress. The slight elevation of the gate above the compound presented them with a fair view, despite the darkness. To the left the caravanserai stood alone. Ahead and to their right, the main cluster of buildings presented an uneven silhouette against the dim moonlight. Behind that, the fortress wall was outlined by an orange glow, suggesting a large fire or fires. A small number of bale-fires on the wall behind them shed enough light for them to pick out clusters of dead and wounded Zuagirs, fallen in a rough semi-circle around the nearest building, which would be Setta’s slave-market. Two figures, one an armored man and one a lithe female form, stood near the building’s door at the center of the semi-circle. A body slumped in the door behind them: some sort of corsair shaman by his ornaments.
From out of the darkness stormed Maktash, as angry as Vingis.
“I’ll show that b***h she can’t have it all her own way! Keep her there! I’m going upstairs to my cousin and we’ll put a ballista bolt through her! We’ll see if her whip can stop that!”
Bardic and Tae set down Vorel’s body and Morath laid the steering-board beside it. The three reasonably-fit adventurers bent their heads together for a quick plan, then Bardic strode slowly towards the pair while Celo angled to his left and Morath slipped into the darkness to the right.
Bardic edged through the bodies. From twenty feet away, Setta’s whip snaked out and he retained his grip on his sword by a narrow margin! And again her whip snapped and Celo jumped back, having nearly lost his dagger. The armored warrior laughed and spoke in Poitain’s dialect:
“I thought you’d show up, Bardic! How do you like the taste of my mistress’s whip? She’ll have you begging before you die!”
The face and voice took Bardic back over eight years, to the road outside the charter town, where much against his wishes the others had allowed the survivor of the slaver-gang, who styled himself ‘Leto’, to walk free after promising to reform.
“Is that mister ‘forgotten’?” he asked, partly to make sure and partly because it sounded like this man really liked a monologue. The more time he gave the slinking murderers to either flank, the better.
“Jayse DuMont am I,” laughed the other.
“Didn’t you promise to make good?”
“I made good: I drifted south then worked my way up the ranks of the slavers,” Jayse boasted.
“Worked your way up to what? Her bitch?”
“Takes all sorts! My mistress of dark delights! A pleasure to serve her in any way! And I’m looking forward to Laella! A merry time we’ll have, with all sorts of…”
What more salacious revelations Jayse would have shared will never be known, for at that point Morath, risking the whip, stepped into range and threw the specially-poisoned throw-knife, prepared against Kragen-Baal. He dodged away from the whip and his blade found a gap in Jayse’s armor and sank deep! The man choked, lost control of his muscles and fell spasming to the ground.
The ground’s shaking was now continual. Seeing her options reduced, Setta retreated into her building. Celo, finding the side of the building, quietly piled his heavier gear there, and began climbing. He cursed under his breath as passing servants and guards looted the pile. Morath searched right for another way in.
Bardic chose to bargain. This was not as foolhardy as it might have been: he had a fair suspicion that Maktash would find his cousin dead and the ballista disabled.
Setta was suspicious at first, but as the shaking worsened agreed she had no option but to accept the offer of passage on a boat out, in exchange for information about the slaver routes. [Bardic checks the code for making false promises to evil enemies and is fine with this ploy.]
Resuming the pall-bearing duties, and retrieving the steering-board, the crew made their way out of the fortress. They noted some corsair bodies, but had no leisure to consider this. They emerged, and descended the incline off the citadel mound into Becharadur. A side-road bent right, leading around to the city’s south gate. This they took: they were afforded a fairly good glimpse of at least two galleys burning on the west end of the harbor. Most of the other refugees scrambled down into the city by the main road. But scattered fires had sprung up in the city too: no road was entirely safe.
Behind them, the entire east face of the mountain sheared off, collapsing through the citadel and crushing Maktash and his dreams of city rule, along with any foolish enough to stay with him.
Ahead of them lay more corsair bodies. As far as they could tell, they lay in neat groups of six or so, every fifty feet.
“We’re on Cala’s trail,” Bardic asserted convincingly, in Argossean.
“Who?” Setta asked.
“They mean, Shiloh, a princess of my country Argos,” Tae explained helpfully. “She came looking for her mother.”
“Never mind, just push on and remember our deal.”
Hoping Kismet was alive and safe; but needing to evacuate swiftly, they pushed along the road as fast as possible and around to the south gate. So far as they could tell, the fires were spreading, though not quickly. A larger pile of corsair bodies marked where someone had thought the gates made a good place to make a stand. It seemed the local womenfolk were unaware of the ill fate of their menfolk: they were huddled around doorways gawping at the gate and fires beyond.
As they paused, trying to pick a good path to carry the pall across the mound, a hail came from behind them, up the main city road. Bardic bellowed a reply:
“Kayan Haduk,” the twin-longsword wielder replied, the light from fires gleaming on his shaven scalp. “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten me, Bardic!”
“No, I remember you well! [No, he didn’t.] What are you doing here?”
“Seeking Cala Atenoel! Is she with you?”
With Kayan’s help Setta was kept close as they maneuvered Vorel over the bodies and worked their way across the straggle of harbor buildings leftward to the burning vessels. Kayan filled the gaps in sparingly. He had been living outside the city, waiting for Cala to finish her mission: had grown concerned as the tremors struck and had set off towards the burning ships as he knew enough about her intention to save a ship’s crew to make a guess at her destination.
The Sea Princess
Kayan’s summary was interrupted by a loud hail.
Mushy and Squarehead, waving furiously, ran up the shore from a cluster of men by a small merchantman, and pounded Tae Costas on the back.
“Ya still alive?!”
“Tae, you one lucky sumbitch! Where you get our steerboard, hey?”
“Mushy! Squarehead! Fellas! I’m sure glad ta see you! But say, is that the crew?”
“Yeah, pret’much alla them. The Ol’ Man be glad seeya too!”
“Aww, he canned me back in th’ jail! No way will he be glad ta see me!”
A sturdy old salt made his way painfully up the shore and kicked Tae in the butt.
“Ya dumb cluck! That was just ta save ya sorry ass! If I hadn’t said ya was washed up, ya think they woulda kept ya alive?! Now get ya sorry carcass aboard, ship the steer-board and break the spare sail out!”
“Aye aye skipper! Say, boys, this is great!!!”
Let it now be revealed that the entire Sea Princess and Tae Costas shtick was my tribute to the Steve Costigan boxing yarns of R E Howard, which I enjoyed immensely.
Touching as the reunion was – and relieved that the Old Man was in fact alive and had a good chance of returning to Argos and Negaces’ employ – the comrades were now anxious about Cala. Laying Vorel down where he could be loaded by the crew, they began searching along the shore towards the burnt galleys.
They found her lying mostly submerged, next to one of the jetties. It looked as though she had made a jump off a burning ship, then made for shore. Mail armor does not permit for much swimming.
Muttering an apology, Bardic picked her up and carried her back along the shore and aboard the Sea Princess. He laid her down in the bow and Celo called for lights. All was ship-shape by then: the Old Man called for the hawsers to be cast off and the Sea Princess was pushed away, then rowed slowly out into the bay. There was no land breeze to speak of. Indeed the fires seemed to be drawing a sea breeze, if anything.
As Celo made shift to revive Cala, Morath looked back at Becharadur. Fires now burned widely out of control. Dust still shrouded the citadel, but above, rising up out of the mountain, darkening the stars, rose a great shape. It stretched and climbed up and up, into the outer dark.
He noted that Setta too was gazing at this. He pointed up at the sky, stepping in close:
“Look! The god rises!”
And with the other hand, sapped Setta with the gold-coin-filled sap he’d prepared. Then he and Bardic trussed the slave-merchant up, while Celo continued working on Cala.
“She’s breathing!” Celo called. [Fine Healing check]
By the time the Old Man held in memory of Vorel, before the body was consigned to the sea, Cala had recovered her élan. And determination.
“Did you capture Setta?”
“Yes, she and her whip. And we’ve even filled our side of the bargain we made: she has got her passage from Becharadur!”
Cala then asked Morath if he still had a poisoned dagger. He handed her the blade he had prepared to deal with Talgor-khan. She took it back out to where Setta Black-whip sat.
Cala sliced Setta’s arm, before she – or any onlooker – could react.
“That’s deadly poison, O mistress of Derketo. Recognize the symptoms? Dryness of throat, paralysis? I have the antidote, but you tell me what I need to know first!”
Exactly what Setta muttered the others did not catch. It seemed to satisfy Cala. She in turn spoke a few words into the older woman’s ear, then rising, dragged her up by her hair, and tipped her over the side.
“And you guys wonder why I feel this way about her,” Morath sighed dreamily.
And new trails
Then the five adventurers needed to discuss the question of where they were bound for next.
“I regret not being able to get our gear back, but we needed to get out while we could,” Bardic stated.
“An expensive lock, amongst other things,” Celo agreed.
“I think we’ll slip back to retrieve our horses…” Cala smiled.
“Sorry about that,” Kayan repeated.
“You don’t have to keep apologizing! Your timing was right. There’s a good chance they are still there.”
“We’ll head in with you a piece,” Bardic decided. “We are bound for Mitra’s Fist and from what you told us, we can get there from the south.”
“Kayan can tell you about the trail,” Cala agreed. “And now let’s discuss that temple.”
“Yes, the temple in the desert you wre going to tell us about then got shy over.”
“I have an even better deal. But you might have to help me a little more.”
“What’s this new deal?”
“You are after some truly powerful demons. I can put you in the way of god-powered weapons… provided you’re not too fussy about which gods blessed them.”
“Well, not Derketo or Hanuman and not most of my country’s gods,” Morath averred.
“These weapons date from the fall of Atlantis. They passed into Acheronian hands, then Stygian. They are in Stygia now. Help me, and you’ll get your hands on them.”
Glancing around Morath saw no great reservations, and nodded.
“Good,” Cala approved. “I have things to do, you have things to do. Do you know Akbitana?”
“I know of it,” Morath replied. He knew from service with Prince Almuric that it lay due south of central Koth.
“Let’s meet up there in a year’s time, at the spring weapon-fair.”
“Agreed. Next year, Akbitana!”
The surviving three characters are now all L19.
Bardic +1bar=bar15 ftr4. His significant gain is Greater Rage (adds 6 to St and Cn rather than 4) and he splits his skills into Intimidate and Jump. HP+4=138 (non-raged).
Celo +1rog=rog14 rgr5. He ups informational skills including Appraise and Search. HP+1=69.
Morath +1rog=rog18 rgr1. He too takes Appraise and Search. HP+1=77.
The reputation of each has bounced back up off the low of end-Season-four.
They now all have more than adequate ability in Shemitish, though Celo has a balance of Pelishtic and Shemitish. This stands them in good stead as they bargain to trade loot for information about the special items and to hire on a few retainers for a march north to Mitra’s Fist.