The decision to move
“Gan,” Keth said to his assistant scholar, “take you Father Cornelius upon your back, and you Olly and Dooce, clear the barricade then help Gan, one to either side. I will go before you. Our enemies are many, but our faith is strong! We will make for the stone house on the far side of our enemies. My old friends are here after lo these many weeks!”
The three men so named set to their tasks, hope flooding their limbs with energy. The old priest roused himself briefly from his senile doze, and seemed to want to tell Keth something, but the big Kothian was too busy. With a last glance around to make sure he had left no supplies for his enemies, he moved out of the gap and left, down into the night.
[I intended to ask Keth what if anything he was removing from the shrine but that seemed really unfair since it was undescribed. Instead, a destiny point will be required later if he needs something that must have been stored there. As indeed he does.]
The thing on the roof
Voices were shouting, all across one another:
“Any more enemies? And have a look for stairs!”
“Get the camels in for Mitra’s sake!”
“Bin’s down! And I can’t see Two-heads!”
Celo hurried to the stable-yard gates, and found Haphentos, no camelteer, struggling to coax the two camels through. He lent his help and the two beasts, snapping and kicking, were forced in. [Celo is the true jack-of-all trades. Pretty fair Handle Animal check, plus that “hidden in the camels” background from the Zamboula arc.] Camels and horses. In a small compound. Immediately the seven horses already there began kicking and shying. Morath dodged a vicious kick by the thickness of his trews and craned back to stare up at the roof. A great winged thing, batlike perhaps: red eyed, cruelly laughing!
“Demon! On the roof!”
By that time, Bardic was threading betwixt the horses in their stalls to join Morath. He’d expected something more to fight, or at least stairs, or an evil lair. Rage still boiled through his blood. He ran, grabbed the door lintel and swung up one-handed, sword raised: then a winged shape slashed by him. Each sliced at one another: a red line ran up one of Bardic’s cheeks but his great blade had cut deep into the other’s pinion! He had a glimpse of feral feminine features writhing in a snarl of pain, then she was past and he was atop the roof.
The camels and horses went mad with fear as the demoness dropped among them and hissed. Retainers scrambled for cover! Morath realized that Bardic’s crouching position on the roof was distracting the demoness. [Morath delayed ready for such an event: he, Bardic and the demoness are on the same initiative.] He rammed his silver short-sword between her bat-wings and with a horrid cry she fell. Her shape writhed and changed into something far uglier as it dissolved back to the netherworld, and Morath was sorry the limited light from the open doorway had allowed him this glimpse.
Close the gate!
A few tiny lights burned in some of the shacks, just enough to pick shack from night. Celo was out in the dark, literally groping about for signs of life. His sleeve had been yanked by Wulber:
“Two-heads and Bin are down! They’re still out there among the enemy!”
He was the only one with any healing ability, so here he was, picking his way from groan to groan, trying to figure out if the wounded man was one of his two. So far, no luck. Then from beyond the straggle of shacks the bodies were heaped around he heard a hyena’s titter. A cold sweat broke out on his brow. He had only one hand fit to fight with, and could hardly see a thing. Time to get back, he thought, and drove his tired legs back to the gates. Which, luckily, were open.
Ahead of him, two exhausted men, severely wounded, were already being helped past the camels and horses and into the solid stone building. [Bardic plays a Destiny for the men to stagger in under their own steam. They are exhausted and on zero hp.] The gates slammed shut behind him.
A willing volunteer!
For a moment, the action seemed to be over. Wulber and Dax, happy that Bin and Two-heads would get some attention, headed off to make sure the wine was where they last saw it, on the camels. Dlagbo finished doing whatever he was doing in the further part of the gendarmerie building, and came through to help Celo with the two seriously wounded men. Bardic leaned on his mighty sword, spent for now. Morath stood at the gate, breathing hard. Then the wiry Zamorian raised his head and stared over at his Cimmerian comrade:
“Do you hear fighting?”
“I do,” Bardic panted. “We need someone to scout.”
“I can scout, Chief,” Dlagbo offered, his eyes shining with loyalty, his hands tucking away a last few oddments looted from the fallen in the gendarmerie.
“On your own with no silver weapons?” Bardic retorted. “Morath? Think you can go with him?”
“If he makes a wrong move I’ll gut him,” Morath agreed. Dlagbo shuddered and licked his lips nervously. But it was too late to back out. Bardic moved ponderously to the gates and made a stirrup out of his hands. One by one they were boosted up and over the gates. But they were not free to scout out.
Hyenas on two legs
Man-size shapes with the head and shoulders of hyenas were picked out against the winking shack lights. As they stalked towards Morath and Dlagbo, they stopped to snuffle and tear at the dead and dying. Screams and gurgles grew closer.
“Oh good, more for my blades!” Morath gloated, stepping boldly out into the dark. “Come on, dog-breath! Let me kill you!”
Five huge-shouldered, massive-jawed beings loomed around him. Each clutched at least one weapon. They laughed.
Luckily for Morath, the hyena laughter was heard by others. Back in the stableyard, Bardic squeezed clear of the horses and loomed above Wulber and Dax, who were busy swapping a rapidly-emptying wine-skin back and forth:
“The fight’s not over! Get to the gates! Open them, and slam them shut when I yell out, by Crom!”
[Bardic pays a fate point to Recover and shakes off his post-rage fatigue.]
Despite the dark, Morath could orientate himself by virtue of the gates at his back. He ducked under a spear, rolled past a flashing steel claw, and slammed his silver blade up through the soft thigh of one of the creatures. It howled with pain and he dodged back to Dlagbo’s side.
The gates swung open:
Hyena-men lunged at Wulber and Dax, who were saved from injury by sheltering behind the sturdy gate-frames:
Bardic raced through:
Dlagbo fled back through to the safety of the gendarmerie.
With a massive bellow Bardic leaped at the hyena-men. The gates promptly slammed shut behind him.
Bardic’s slashing great-sword sliced deeply into one hyena-man’s bicep and carried on through to the next, chopping right through its leg. Allowing his momentum to carry him smoothly forward Bardic planted his left leg wide and back-cut the next creature’s chest, through the thick banded muscle and the ribs.
The hyena-lord appears
As Bardic and Morath ducked and dodged and took a heavy cut or two from the primitive weapons of the hyena-men, Morath became aware that something very large was looming over the shacks. Clambering over them, huge jaws slavering, came the mighty Hyena Lord.
Bardic could hear the frightened chatter behind the gates.
“Dlagbo! Get your scrawny hide out here! There’s fighting to be done by Crom!”
The gates swung open. Wulber and Dax stood there, aghast. Wulber braced himself and ran forward, drawing his hatchet.
Bardic had not waited for the hyena-lord to choose its moment. Bellowing a war-cry, he launched himself over the two thrashing dying hyena-men and at the shack the thing was clambering over. A run, a hop, and he arced high into the air, jumped a second hop off the crumbling roof, and sliced his blade vertically forward across the great creature’s throat.
Wulber flung his hatchet as Morath reeled back to safety. The hatchet missed, but Wulber swung back to Dax and seized that worthy’s hatchet.
Dlagbo pressed a flask into Morath’s hand:
“A potion! It may aid you!”
With a shrug, Morath unstoppered it and drank down the heavy-tasting liquid. Immediately, he felt better.
Out in the dark, the hyena-lord stepped down off the shacks, snarling, a drizzle of blood dripping through its thick ruff and onto the ground. It lunged at Bardic and seized his shoulder in its jaws: with a mighty heave [2 fp for Saving Grace] Bardic wrenched himself free. Even Kothic steel links could not stand up to the creature’s pulverizing jaws and they gave way with a crisp snapping sound.
With an oath, Bardic turned to the attack, but something about the giant creature’s night-wrapped form caused his blade to miss [Blind-fight does not help against its supernatural Blur ability and I rolled success three times].
Morath raced towards the silhouette, and like Bardic before him, made a mighty leap off the nearest shack. [Makes over 30 on Jump thanks to Tumble synergy.] His target was the creature’s hump: spearing his short-sword down between skull and spine. With a terrible howl the creature collapsed, thrashing, melting back into whatever hell it came from.
Morath sneered and kicked at the dissolving mess, then cursed as the hellish ichor promptly ate through his boot. He swiftly drew a knife and cut the remains away before it ate his foot as well.
A loyal scout departs
Eyes shining with loyalty, Dlagbo met Bardic as they pushed back through to safety.
“Chief! Let me scout now! I can find whoever is making that noise!”
Bardic was too tired to argue this time, and bade the gates shut after the Ghanata. Reminding Wulber and Dax they were on watch, he walked wearily through to check on Two-heads and Bin. Haphentos was nodding next to Celo, who was dressing his own bitten arm.
“All’s well, but I was going to say, earlier – I think Dlagbo has stolen a fair amount of loot from these bodies.”
Morath grumped in and began matching boot sizes.
“If I see him again, I’ll kill him,” he commented matter-of-factly. He was too tired to indulge in any more florid threats.
“He won’t last the night,” Bardic retorted indifferently.
Keth was judging his path by the stand of thornbush ahead and the dark tower on the slope above and left. The three men behind him were dropping about one yard downslope for two along, which should be aiming them towards the gendarmerie building. Gan was making heavy work of carrying Cornelius, down the tricky, rock-strewn slope. Keth heard the sound of fighting fade, and his heart sank. Then rose! The fighting had resumed! Surely it meant good news, not bad!
Already the jackals that held the tower had emerged from concealment – Keth had a vision of a honeycomb of small burrows in the hill – and were nipping at the heels of his fellows. He dropped back. Swung his quarterstaff. It didn’t completely deter the jackals but it did screen Gan. He glimpsed a jackal-man, upslope. They avoided combat, content to captain their jackal minions. Well, not this time, not if he could help it, by Mitra!
Keth rushed the jackal-man, refusing to be bamboozled by its eerie yellow eyes [an easy Will save for Keth] and tripped it, then dealt it a swingeing blow. But the creature was tough and refused to fall unconscious.
He retreated back towards Gan Olly and Dooce. The good news was, all the jackals were now trying to trip him!
[There are four jackals, three helping one tripping. Keth has to spend his last fate point to avoid being brought down.]
Then a voice hailed him, in Cimmerian:
“Keth! Over here!”
The trouble was, that was from over on his right, and the gendarmerie would be straight ahead. Why would Bardic be calling from near the enemy’s tavern?
He raised his voice in a mighty bellow:
“Bardic! Celo! Morath! My friends! Are you there? This is Keth Alkaran!”
There was a surprised pause, then an answering hail:
“Keth! We are here where the horses are stabled! Come ahead!”
Encouraged by Keth, Gan put on a burst of speed, then stumbled and fell. Cornelius struck the ground hard, and his hip broke on impact.
Tenderly they carried the ancient around and through into the yard. He was dying, and they had no spells. He extended his hand to Keth:
“I’ve got to give you this! A ring… guard…”
Then he was dead, his long duty done.
“Who was he?” Celo asked curiously, resting from his healing duties.
“Just an old, done man, who did his duty faithfully to Mitra. And Mitra will reward his soul.”
Let’s introduce a new cast of NPCs and officially welcome Vorel’s replacement character, Keth, who up until now has been a well-known NPC.
Keth Alkaran Sch3/Cle3/Ftr6
St19 Dx13 Cn16 In13 Wi14 Ch16. SV F12 R7 W8+3(civ). BAB+9. Init+5. HP94. MV25’.
Defenses: 10+1Dx+10Amr(Brigandine+Mail hauberk+Cap)+Dodge=21/22, or up to 26/27.
Attacks: Quarterstaff, typically to either trip enemies within 10’ (ImprTrip) or break weapons (Sunder). Power attack allows more beat-down damage. His attacks default as non-lethal.
Feats: Leadership, SpringAttck, WpnFocusQtrStaff WpnSpecQtrStaff, Sunder, ImprTrip, PwrAttck, Proficiency with QtrStaff, Expertise.
Knowledge is power 2, Scribe, ImprInit, Endurance, SkillFocusCraft-Herbalism, Brew Potion.
Significant skills: Craft-Herbalism; Knowledge-Nature; Knowledge-Religion; and Survival.
Background: Keth was called to serve his deity and joined a monastic order, the Burel Brothers. He found surety and peace in the scriptorium, copying the sacred texts, but his unearthly beauty distracted the other monks. His order pushed him to work with the temple knights, hoping he would fulfill his calling by defending the faithful. There he met many who enjoyed the quality of training, but few whose souls reverberated at the deity’s voice. Turning to the life of a mendicant, Keth heard with sorrow of the destruction of his monastery. He focused on fighting evil with the strong right arm of good. In the last two years Keth has re-founded his order’s monastery in the mountains between Argos and Koth; and has undertaken what is so far a disastrous quest to prevent Venari from opening a Gate under Mitra’s Fist.
For the quest, Keth recruited a number of fine men from among his followers and willing allies. All but three are dead. By some weird stroke of fate the survivors are all ex-Damsons.
Healing Brother Gandar “Gan” Hewson Sch5/Cle3
ST10 Dx10 Cn14 In13 Ws16 Ch12, SV F6 R5 W10. BAB+4, Defense 15 Attack QtrStaff+5.
Spells (L0) Guidance, Cure; (L1) Bless, Sanctuary, Command; (L2) Aid, CureMod.
Power Points: 5
Gan is a very atypical Gunderman, being of scholarly bent and much more interested in the lore of past ages than how best to ram a pike through a Cimmerian. He shares a large bump of curiosity with his half-brother Hod Hewson. Hod gave him a gentle push in Keth’s direction after the fall of the Damsons left him masterless, and under Keth’s direction Gan atoned for his wrongdoings. He rejoined Keth for his quest.
Fighting Brothers Deuterius (“Dooce”) and Olaveus (“Olly”). Dooce is a typical Aquilonian and Olly is a typical Nemedian, but otherwise they are interchangeable as Sch3/Cle1/Ftr4.
St16 Dx10 Cn14 In10 Ws12 Ch8, SV F8 R3 W6. BAB+5, Defense 16 Attack QtrStaff+9.
Spells (L0) Guidance; (L1) CureLight.
Power Points: 3
Dooce and Olly were both casualties in the skirmish at Newtral. Dumped in the village ditch and left for dead, they both recovered slowly and begged their way back to the Damson fortress. Through one chance or another, neither were present at the fall of the fortress, two years later. They agreed that Mitra had spoken and set out to atone for their wrong path. They achieved that under Keth’s direction and rejoined him for his quest.
A spot of loot
The jackals had retreated once the hyena-lord had fallen and the night was quiet. Keth looked at the ring. A lion-head design. He slipped it on. Nothing happened.
Morath, the injured retainers, and Keth’s allies were sleeping, up on the forms in the common room or on comfortable bunks in the back. Celo, who had recovered from his earlier exhaustion, set out to search the armory. More of a store-room than an armory. Racks and shelves: carpet, silk, top-quality saddles, armor and weapons, tools and rope. A big smear of blood on the floor, leading to a looted body lying atop a trapdoor. No silver-chased short swords, which was a disappointment. [No destiny point played so not much of a surprise there.] But a very fine short sword, possibly master-crafted. He belted it on. In the larger of the side chambers he found Bardic, wearing very fine new boots, and testing a great-sword, with a jewelled pommel.
“Don’t you already have one of those?”
“It’s a really nice blade. Kothic, I think.”
“I thought Morath was the one needing new boots?”
“They didn’t fit him. Real shame. These are really good boots.”
Celo located a floor panel with a cash-box concealed below it. He spent some time on it, and one-handed, managed to avoid a nasty poison-pin trap. [Celo fails to play a destiny point while I delay telling him the contents.] It contained cash and a couple of small gems.
He returned to the common room to report and count the cash. In time to hear Keth warning the assembled team that the enemy included a necromancer capable of raising the dead. Then Keth spent a few minutes explaining his sad missing – apparently he had lost most of his men – and turned the floor over to Gan.
Gan had a good deal to say about the dark tower. His scholarly researches had turned up a fair amount of forgotten lore. The others listened, or not. Most just watched Celo stacking coins.
The coins were distributed, the talk finished. Bardic sniffed. The air was heavy with the stench of death.
“This chain shirt has served me well for years, but this torn shoulder isn’t going to fix itself. Let’s strip the corpses, drag them out, then I’ll try a couple on.”
The nasty work done at length – everyone was still very tired [exhaustion is over as all affected have had an hour’s rest, but require a full 8 hours rest before fatigue is replaced by recovery] – and Bardic squeezed into a blood-stained chain shirt belonging to the sturdiest-built corpse.
“It’ll do. You know? This just might be Kothic work. You should think about chainmail too Morath.”
“Oh yes, and what’ll that do to my stealth skills?”
“From being noiseless you become almost noiseless.”
“All right, you have a point.”
After examining sizes and quality, Morath too slipped on a chain shirt. He was surprised to find that it weighed little more than the reinforced hide he was used to. Shrugging, he fitted his usual plethora of knives back, and re-donned his sword belt.
Then from the stable-yard came a warning cry!
The dead rise!
The call came from Haphentos, who had played no part in any of the supernatural fighting. His half-Stygian heritage made him even more cowed than a common meadow Shemite when it came to things like hyenas that walked as men. And again, other than screaming, he played no part in this either.
From the shacks the dead rose and picked up their fallen weapons and stumbled at the gates. Some were dragging their guts, others had limbs missing. A fell light glowed in their eyes. They clustered at the gates and began hammering at them.
Then from behind the gates Keth and Gan rose as though by magic. Holding a symbol of Mitra between them they called forth Mitra’s curses on the undead! And the pact that tied the spirits of the dead to their bodies was severed: an untidy pile of corpses was left heaped up outside the gates.
“That worked well!” Keth cried joyfully. “Mitra shows his strength!”
“A good thing I brought this Mitran design from the shrine,” Gan commented a shade dryly.
“Lower us, my friends, it appears that our enemies have no second blow ready,” Keth announced.
“But,” he continued once safely on the ground, “someone should gather the pieces of jet from the mouths of the corpses. Otherwise, a new summoning may occur.”
Wulber shakily looted the corpses and returned quickly, and the gates were shut once more.
“Fine, fine! Hand me the jet,” Keth asked.
“Heh heh, right, good joke,” Wulber replied, stowing the jet away. It would make a good bonus.
According to Gan and Keth, the key mission was to close a gate that lay deep below, between a buried tower of Mitra and a buried tower of Set. The shrine definitely contained one way down, though whether that would go near the gate, they could not say. And as their hosts had explained, this gendarmerie had a trapdoor down, though whether that was merely to a storm cellar, had yet to be determined. They were certain that at least two other points also led down: the tavern, and the villa, both ancient stone-built dwellings where the enemy had his above-ground strength. No doubt the dark tower above also concealed a tunnel down, but as there did not seem to be any entrance into the tower, that was moot for all but the jackals.
After hearing these thoughts, Bardic declared a full day of rest, with Keth and Gan to work on healing. Regardless of which option was chosen, they would need to be as fit as possible.
“We’ll explore once we are fitter. Everyone who’s not on watch, get rest.
“As for you men who’ve marched with us from Shem,” he continued, glancing around the weary five, “We are bound to help Keth here in his quest. You are not. But if you watch our backs up here, we’ll make sure you are paid. On the other hand if you do throw in with the quest, you stand to gain even shares of loot.”
[The audience is checked en masse for positive and negative reaction and gets a positive 1, negative 20. This is matched against Bardic’s leadership and a circumstance bonus of not wanting to be chewed up by hyenas. Those horses out in the stable-yard are looking pretty good. But they want to live to get to Koth! They mutter agreement to stand watch.]
Keth turned to his own three survivors. Again mourning the death of Cornelius he noted that with these strong allies they now could push on to their goal. He sounded a little obsessed about it: after all the quest had occupied the best part of a year now.
A new voice
The watches were set and the night grew quiet. The best healing is afforded by sleep and Keth and Gan themselves were more than wanting sleep.
The dawn broke from the east. Keth was already awake, readying for observances.
Then he heard:
Now then, laddie! Time to be about our business, by Mitra!