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Conan – Saga of the Exiles

 
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Benedict



Joined: 22 Jan 2006
Posts: 256

PostPosted: Mon Aug 21, 2006 11:52 pm    Post subject: Conan – Saga of the Exiles Reply with quote

Saga of the Exiles – Flight to the Sea

In the chronicles of the kings of Ophir, no jewel shines as bright or as lustrous as that of King Xavier, who rid the land of the Settite scourge and brought the greatest peace and properity to the people of Ophir. Mitra's belssings be upon him and the adulation of the people be his.

But the crown did not come easy to Xavier. He had to seek fortune in foreign lands before returning to Ophir to claim the trhone that was rightfully his. His days of adventure are recounted in the Saga of the Exiles.


–– The Saga of the Exiles

*cue dramatic drum music from Mike's CD*

* * *

Prince Xavier rode from Ianthe and into exile marked for death by King Zarothura. He rode to safetly in the port city of Messantia, city of splendour, in the kingdom of Argos. With him rode his half-brother Arlos, Baron of Fascumi, the black sheep of the family, more at home on horseback than in the courts of Ianthe; Ultimus Primus, soldier of Aquilonia, Prince Xavier's loyal confidante and a paragon of a man; Dagog, a sullen outlander from Cimmeria, carrying with him a smoldering anger he was unable to articulate; Husam-al'Karim, plainsman of Shem and bowman without peer; and Nesh-ar'ebra, a shaman or sorcerer or mystic of Pelishtia, whose background was as mysterious as his cryptic utterings. They rode hard to Argos with Stygian horsemen fast at the heels.

* * *

It was Queen Olivia who revealed to the prince that the knives were out for him. She came to Xavier in his chambers with her handmaiden to give hime the news, while he and the handmaiden bashfully avoided each other's gaze so as not to reveal their previous acquaintance. The queen could not tell Xavier why the king's wrath was turned on him, only that he had to flee.

No doubt it was at the urging of the king's new advisor Tuten-Ahep. The Stygian had returned with the king after a visit to the southern kingdom. Shortly after his arrival, the capital experienced several unexplained disappearances. Just as troublesome, Tuten-Ahep oversaw the destruction of the temple of Mitra and the erection of a dark citadel in its place.

* * *

As the exiles rode east, they noticed that they were being shadowed by a crow. It was clearly following them, just out of bow range.

At the border, the exiles turned on their Stygian pursuers. While Xavier charged them down, the others peppered them with arrows. However, once the Stygians were dealt with, they could see that 20 more were riding hard towards them. There was nothing to do but ride on, out of the kingdom.

* * *

Arriving in Messantia, Xavier headed for the house of Cadmis, a merchant prince greatly favoured by the prince of Ophir. But arriving at the merchant's house, the adventurers were directed to a nearby inn by Cadmis, hiding his identity in a disguise. At the inn, Cadmis had a feast waiting. While they ate, Cadmis explained that they weren't safe in Messantia, and neither would he be if it was known that he was consorting with them. He also explained that the crow marked them as enemies of Set. Cadmis was willing to help them, but in return, Xavier would have to vow to sponsor Cadmis' god Asura when he became king. Further conversation became impossible however, as the snores of Dargog, who had fallen asleep in his meal, filled the inn.

In an effort to get rid of the crow, Cadmis called for a falcon and falconer. However, when the falcon was sent after the crow, it fled in terror.

Measuring up the situation, Cadmis suggested that the exiles should leave Messantia by sea.


Last edited by Benedict on Sat Aug 26, 2006 11:26 am; edited 2 times in total
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Max Abaddon



Joined: 25 Jan 2006
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 22, 2006 10:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

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Mikeythorn



Joined: 20 Jan 2006
Posts: 364
Location: Wellington

PostPosted: Tue Aug 22, 2006 11:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Brilliant Gary! Although I was amazed how quickly you managed to snap back into consciousness as soon as people noticed your snoring. Very Happy
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Benedict



Joined: 22 Jan 2006
Posts: 256

PostPosted: Fri Aug 25, 2006 2:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Saga of the Exiles – Flight on the Sea

Errrr a difficult student you are, Nesh-ar'eba. Heh! Think you are an eagle! Flying north to roost in the towers of the cold cities.

A disappointment you are, leaving your master and your home. Where will you find knowledge in your cities? How will you hear it over all the chattering?

Errh! But such power you have. My other pupils are jealous. Yes! Even without proper knowledge you will be a great sorcerer – the greatest of my students.

Fly Nesh-ar'eba. Fly my eagle. Let the winds carry you and let your eagle eyes guide you.


–– Hizli-olum, dismissing Nesh-ar'eba after an audience

* * *

With the crow flying over Xavier, the exiles would always be in danger from Settites. Getting rid of the crow was of paramount importance. Arlos came up with a plan to ambush the crow: Xavier would draw the crow away and when he returned, Arlos would be waiting in hiding.

So Xavier and Optimus took a walk through Messantia to buy some sweetmeats and honeyed wine. However, while they were walking through a bazaar, a Settite assassin went to stab Xavier with a stiletto. In a flash Optimus drew his war sword and cut the assassin down, leaving a crumpled corpse. Then quickly, before the town guard came, Optimus pocketed a Settite amulet from the assassin. There were enough witnesses to describe what had happened and the guards took no more interest in Xavier and Optimus, so they returned to the inn.

Meanwhile, Arlos had managed to get onto the roof, paying the innkeeper for the privilege after being caught falling off a drainage pipe. When the crow returned, he leapt from his hiding place and shot it down with an arrow.

The problem of the crow now solved, the party discussed their situation. Xavier suggested that the best course of action was to travel to Stygia to find out more about Tuten-Ahep and the Dark Citadel.

"Consider carefully," warned Nesh-ar'eba, who was receiving advice from some unseen source.

* * *

In the morning, Cadmis returned with friend, Kalamos, captain of the Pride of Messantia, an Argossian merchantman.

"I know of a witch in the Black Kingdoms who can help you get rid of the crow," explained Kalamos.

"There is no need," replied Xavier. "We have dealt with the crow ourselves. Instead we would like to be taken to Stygia."

Before he could explain further, the cries of a new crow could be hear.

"Hmm. In fact, we will take you up on your offer," said Xavier.

"I have a friend in Zabhela who can aid you," said Cadmis. "Look for the merchant Artalios."

* * *

So the exiles boarded the Pride of Messantia, which raised sail and set off towards the open sea, followed by the Settite crow.

However, the wind was bad, blowing only northwards. The only movements the ship was able to make were to the east. After days of battling the winds, the black sail of a Stygian galleon appeared on the horizon. Kalamos decided that they would have to take refuge in Tortage in the Barachan Isles.

Tortage was a rough, pirate town. The exiles amused themselves by starting fights and then watching them from a distance. The next day, Kalamos quickly re-crewed and set sail.

Again however, the winds blew only northwards. And again the Stygian galleon appeared. Kalamos rejected the party's enthusiasm for taking on the galleon and freeing its slaves. Instead he took the ship north, past Zingara and towards the Pictish lands.

The sailing master Gamelos offered a suggestion. "I know a place to dock," he said. "There is a hidden cove some short distance north. It is sacred land of the Otter Clan, a Pictish tribe."

He directed the ship to the cove, which was indeed hidden. Kalamos sent a landing party to the shore to gather food and replenish the water, so they could dump the pirate piss they had taken on at Tortage.

While the landing party was gathering water from a stream, one of the crew ran out of the forest in triumph, carrying the head of a Pict.

"Don't worry," said Gamelos. "The Otter clan won't attack us. This is their sacred land."

Dagog's eyes narrowed with suspicion. He didn't know much, but he knew that the dead Pict wore war paint and that the Picts would stop at nothing to avenge his death. Why was Gamelos lying?

"I am going to hunt for food," said Gamelos, and he headed into the forest.

Nesh-ar'eba turned to Dagog and Husam-al'Karim. "There are magic weapons in the forest. If we take them back with us we can use them. But Gamelos is trying take them." Again he received his knowledge from some unknown advisor.

The three of them slipped into the forest and followed Gamelos up the stream. Deep in the forest they saw him take a bag from some rocks. As he turned to go back, they ambushed him and killed him. Opening the bag, they found ten glowing oval stones.

As Nesh-ar'eba was admiring the stones, Dagog saw a tree open its eyes. It was a camouflaged Pict. The Pict stabbed Dagog, who returned the attack, killing the Pict. Then more Picts burst from the trees. The three adventurers fled down the stream, battling Picts as they ran.

Hearing the cries of the Picts the landing party prepared to leave. The three exiles burst from the forest and charged to the longboat, which pulled away from the shore under a hail of arrows, with Nesh-ar'eba clinging to the side, his legs trailing through the water and Xavier clutching his shoulders.

Back on ship, it was discovered that the unusual winds had dropped, allowing Kalamos to take the ship back to Tortage.

* * *

Nesh-ar'eba claimed that his master, living as a hermit in Pelishtia, could use the magic stones to get rid of the crow. So the party informed Kalamos that they now wanted to be taken to Shem and not the Black Kingdoms. Kalamos was livid and agreed only to drop them off at Asgalun and would not take them further.

From Asgalun the party travelled with a caravan to the north of Shem and then to the abode of Hizli-olum, Nesh-ar'eba's master.

Hizli-olum taught Nesh-ar'eba a new spell for seeing the future while the rest of the party waited. Nesh-ar'eba then wanted to introduce the rest of the party to Hizli-olum, but he would only see Dagog, impressed by his anger. Dagog told Hizli-olum that his anger was over the fate of his brother, who had been taken into the Dark Citadel. Hizli-olum exlained to Dagog that he should consider his brother dead and instead use his anger for revenge.

Nesh-ar'eba and Dagog returned to the party, who were camped nearby. Nesh-ar'eba was keen to use his new magic and offered to cast his spell on a party member. Xavier agreed and so Nesh-ar'eba cast the spell on him, chanting for three hours and covering Xavier with cryptic symbols. At the end of the chanting Xavier got a cryptic vision of a ship in the desert.
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Mikeythorn



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PostPosted: Fri Sep 01, 2006 3:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dargog and his brother ran through the snow, their footsteps in tandem. They had followed the wounded bear for three days now and could sense that it was near. Dargog dropped to one knee and sniffed at a drop of blood staining the pure white of the snow. Something roared. Lifting his head Dargog smiled. The bear was close now. Very close. His brother drew his sword and spoke. "To my side, we shall fight it together." Dargog's grin broadened. "As always my brother."

A stout Argossian merchantman nosed its way quietly into Zahbela’s harbour. Sweated oozed from the naked backs of her crew, the heat and humidity of Kush pressing down on them like a lead weight as they toiled to put another reef in the sails. Despite the difficulty of the work and the exhausting conditions, many a hand sought an opportunity to pause and lift a hungry eye towards the bars and brothels lining the shore.

A pilot guided the ship safely to berth and the captain ordered his crew to make her fast. The task was accomplished quickly and efficiently and once the captain was sure his precious cargo was secure he dismissed his men and set off for the upper city. As he crossed the gangplank he called out one last instruction, telling his men that accommodation had been arranged for them at the “Sailor’s Folly” and that he would return there within the hour with their pay.

Once the captain had disappeared into the teaming streets of Zahbela his crew quickly evaporated, seeking the pleasures so brazenly displayed upon the shore. Soon only six men were left standing upon the deck. One of these, Baron Arlus of Fescumy, watched the captain’s back for as long as it remained in sight. Baron Arlus had asked the captain to beg an introduction with Erethemes, the wife of the ship’s owner, and he was anxious that this introduction be granted. Zabhela had been settled long ago by the people of Stygia, and, although most traces of that lamentable people had been erased by the passing of time, Baron Arlus was anxious that worship of their evil god Set might linger. The cawing from a crow above called attention to Baron Arlus and his brother, Prince Xavier, attention that marked them to worshippers as enemies of Set.

Baron Arlus narrowed his eyes as he noticed a Stygian vessel moored nearby. Slaves were being unloaded from this ship and a short and swarthy Stygian slaver had set up stall upon the docks, calling out his terms to the sailors who leered at the terrified girls on display. In the other direction a lion was being lowered to the shore in a cage. It paced the cage angrily, contemplating its fate.

Baron Arlus and his companions left the ship by means of the gangplank and started to push their way through the crowds. Shortly after they passed the lion they heard a crash and a roar from behind them. Baron Arlus and his companions Nesh-ar’ebra and Ultimus leapt nimbly aside, but a fourth companion – Dargog of Cimmeria – found himself facing the wrath of a recently freed and very angry lion. Before he could even draw his blade, the lion was onto Dargog and its savage claws tore a chunk of flesh from his shoulder.

A blow from Ultimius’ blade drew the lion away from Dargog and the barbarian pulled himself along the deck to safety. Blood poured from his wound. Screams tore at the night as a young woman found herself trapped between the battle and the sea. The beast was fast and strong and for several long minutes the fight hung in the balance. Eventually though, human steel prevailed over animal might and cunning and the great beast was slain.

While Arlus and his companions made trophies from the body of the beast, the young woman rushed forward to offer her thanks. Nesh-ar’ebra was the first to turn and face her. At the sight of her flushed cheeks and the trembling of her scarcely concealed form, the apprentice sorcerer arched one dark eyebrow and a slight smile played across his lips. It was only after the girl had flushed an even darker shade of red in response to Nesh-ar’ebra’s frank and admiring gaze that the others even acknowledged her presence. Ultimius was instantly captivated by her dark beauty and he rushed forward to check that she was not wounded. By the time he had reached her side, the beautiful young woman had recovered her poise. Raising her chin and straightening her back she struck what she hoped appeared to be a haughty and regal pose. Thanking her rescuers in a formal tone she introduced herself as Tarenthis, daughter of Erethemes and Artelios. Baron Arlus bowed deeply and returned the compliment, introducing himself and his royal brother, as well as his less noble companions. Arlus then spoke of his desire to speak to Erethemes and Tarethis promised to make an introduction and then made an excuse to depart. Before she left Tarethis handed Dargog, the only one willing to accept it, a gift of gold coins. Then, with one fleeting but bold look over her shoulder in the direction of Nesh-ar’ebra and Ultimius, she vanished into the crowds.

The companions made their way to the “Sailor’s Folly” and passed the evening carousing with their crewmates. As the night floated by some of the crew began to become anxious for their pay. The captain had promised a swift return, but he was nowhere to be seen. A suspicious Nesh-ar’ebra decided to take a stroll down to the ship and his companions agreed to accompany him.

As the group drew up alongside the vessel Nesh-ar’ebra caught a glimpse of flame upon the deck. He turned his head quickly and saw a dark shadow flit from the ship and into a dark alley. As flames began to race across the deck Nesh-ar’bra dragged his friends into the alley and begun to hunt for the arsonist. Behind him he could hear yells from the tavern and a bell being rung.

The alley was full of empty barrels and cases. Ultimius kicked over a crate and saw the gleam of a blade a fraction before it lunged at him from the dark. Nimbly stepping aside he thrust his own weapon back into the darkness and grunted with satisfaction as he felt it drive deeply into something soft and yielding.

Four against one was always going to end one way and the arsonist did not survive long against the companions’ blades. An examination of the corpse revealed little. The man was not as dark as the people of Kush and his eyes had a distinctive violet tinge, but he carried nothing which might identify who had sent him to set the ship alight.

When the companions returned from the alley they saw that their ship was already well ablaze. The sailors had formed a bucket chain to douse the flames, but soon the task of this chain shifted to minimising the collateral damage as it could not stop the vessel burning to the waterline.

It was not until the first rosy fingers of dawn appeared in the eastern sky that the exhausted companions were able to return to the inn. Here they found a tall slave with ebony black skin waiting for them. He told them that the captain had sent for them and that he was to take them to the house of Artelios and Erithemes. The companions briefly considered the strange hour of this summons, but agreed to accompany the slave nonetheless and set off after him into the dark of the city.

Zahbela consisted of two parts, a small walled section upon a hill where the wealthy Chaga lived and the vast swathe of dwellings belonging to the servile Gallah which sat below. It was through the small alleys and stinking open sewers of the Gallah segment that the slave led the party until eventually they became disorientated and confused.

A whispered debate broke out and then Baron Arlus challenged the slave. “Tell us where you lead us”, he cried drawing his broadsword. Ultimius put a restraining hand on his friend’s arm and then froze as the slave turned and grinned, a savage looking knife gleaming in his hand. As the companions hesitated, the slave ran off into a dark and empty plaza.

Watching the retreating slave, the companions noticed that there was other movement in the plaza. A figure was slumped against a small statue, gesturing weakly. Drawing closer Dargog recognised the captain. He ran to his side and saw that the captain was sorely wounded. Gouges, such as those caused by the claws of a great beast, marked his skin and blood poured from a deep wound in his stomach. Dargog instantly surmised that the captain was on his last breaths and began to rifle his pockets for valuables. He had slipped a bloodied scroll into his belt when Baron Arlus shunted him aside and tried to aid the captain. Even as he bound the wounds and waved reviving salts under the captain’s nose, Baron Arlus knew that healing him was beyond his power. However, his attempts did serve to bring the captain around briefly and to allow him to warn the companions that someone was after him and the ship.

It was then that Ultimius’ sharp ears heard the footsteps of the returning slave, and it seemed he had bought company. Nesh-ar’ebra and Dargog elected to retreat while Baron Arlus and Ultimius decided that they could not leave the dying captain. As the approaching footsteps drew closer, Ultimius abandoned his friend and the captain and fled after the others. Swearing noisily under his breath Baron Arlus dragged the captain into a doorway and banged on the door and yelled for help. He received no answer so turned and drew his sword as eight savage figures ran into view. Two of these ran towards Baron Arlus, their almost naked bodies glistening in the weak dawn light and revealing sharp, jagged teeth in their malevolent smiles. The remaining six ran after the retreating Ultimius, Dargog and Nesh-ar’ebra. Their feet carrying them swiftly where the heavily armoured companions had lumbered.

Standing with his back to the door and his legs astride the captain’s body, Baron Arlus fended off blows from his two attackers and then launched into a rapid counter-attack. Meanwhile, two of his retreating colleagues turned to face those who pursued them. One of these brutes stood back and began to howl and chant while his allies closed in to attack. Dargog continued running into the night.

Baron Arlus, fighting for his life, heard something in the darkness respond to the savage cries. As he dodged beneath a blow he caught a glimpse of something huge, white and hairy charging in the direction of his companions.

Ultimius dealt quickly with his attackers, but the howling savage facing Nesh-ar’ebra proved more difficult to deal with. As thundering footsteps of an unspeakable monster drew closer, the three companions hacked and thrust at the man who seemed to be calling it. But even as chunks of his flesh were carved from his bones this figure kept up his chanting and howls. It was not until the creature – a great white ape, covered in matted and shaggy fur – appeared at the end of the alley that the barbarous sorcerer was cut down.

When the chanting stopped the ape glared at the two companions for a moment through red-rimmed eyes. The size and obvious ferocity of the beast chilled the blood in their veins and left them frozen to the spot. After the longest second of their lives the creature reared onto its back legs and unleashed a deafening roar. Then, with a suddenness that was startling it smashed in a door and disappeared inside a house. Screams of terror could be heard within and then the creature returned, biting absently on a human arm and carrying a terrified woman over one shoulder. Giving the two companions one last and dull look, the creature turned and bounded slowly away.

Ultimius and Nesh-ar’ebra were quickly reunited with Baron Arlus, but Dargog long vanished into the darkness. Separately the two little groups decided to make their way in the direction of the shore. The winding streets and dark alleys of the lower city made this difficult. Baron Arlus carried the body of the captain over one shoulder, staunchly refusing offers to help.

As the companions passed close to the walled hill that was the upper city they heard the sound of battle coming from inside. Cautiously, they made their way towards the wall reuniting with Dargog along the way.

Once they were reunited Nesh-ar’ebra and Dargog set off at a good pace towards the city while Ultimius and Baron Arlus showed more caution and lagged behind. Ultimius and Baron Arlus were not convinced that the group – tired and already carrying the marks of many blows – should involve themselves in another fight.

Nesh-ar’ebra and Dargog arrived in the upper city to find slaves and servants running screaming from a large walled compound which bore the name “Artelios” on a sign at the entrance. Nesh-ar’ebra grabbed a screaming slave woman by the arm and demanded to know what was happening. The woman wailed and cried, but through her cries Nesh-ar’ebra managed to establish that cultists of the God Jullah were attacking the villa inside the compound.

Letting the woman go, Nesh-ar’ebra and Dargog drew their weapons and moved inside the walls. Here they could see a great villa and through windows and doors of they could see more of the bare-handed brutes that had attacked them on the street. In places these figures could be seen battling with greatly outnumbered groups of guards.

Nesh-ar’ebra and Dargog slipped inside the house and began exploring. They moved through rooms lavishly decorated with silks and cushions. Tall ceilings were supported by broad columns. In a huge complex of baths and tiled floors they found two guardsmen trying to defend themselves from a group of cultists. Nesh-ar’ebra and Dargog made quick work of these cultists, but not before both guardsmen were overcome. Moving deeper into the complex they came across studies and a huge system of water cisterns, but eventually realised that they were moving away from the sounds of combat and not towards it.

Returning to the entrance they met Baron Arlus and Ultimius as those two snuck inside. Together as one unit again, the four companions slipped into a temple at the side of the villa. Here they found a dozen cultists and the great white ape. Over one shoulder the ape held the girl they had rescued on the docks – Tarethis. Another woman was knocked to the floor by a cultist before their eyes as a richly dressed man tried desperately to defend both her and himself. The bodies of a number of guards and cultists lay scattered about the room.

Without hesitation the companions charged into the fray. Within seconds seven of the cultists lay dead, struck down by blades which flashed with deadly speed and earnest. The great ape took little notice of the counter-attack and leapt from a window onto a balcony and then vanished into the night – still carrying Tarethis, her screams carrying long in the still morning air.

The remaining cultists were dealt with swiftly and with minimal fuss. As the sounds of battle faded the figure dressed in rich clothes moved quickly to thank the companions. Baron Arlus did not need an introduction to realise that this was Artelios, the Argossian merchant, and he moved confidently to greet him. Artelios asked the companions to help him secure the compound – words which left the young noble dumbfounded. “But your daughter sir, we must go after her.” Artelios replied that ensuring the safety of the compound and the rest of his household was the first priority. Baron Arlus noticed then that Artelios’ eyes were shielding some other fear.

As they helped secure the compound Baron Arlus revealed his connection with the captain and the ship to the merchant. He said that they had found the captain dead and a wave of panic suddenly crossed Artelios’ face. “Where is the captain’s body?” he cried. Baron Arlus led the merchant to where he had left the body and Artelios quickly began to search his pockets with panicked and unsteady hands. Rising empty-handed, the merchant narrowed his eyes at Baron Arlus accusingly and asked if he taken anything from the captain. Baron Arlus looked aghast and then Artelios spoke again, “a map – did you find a map?”, he whispered gripping Baron Arlus’ arm. Dargog overheard and pulled the bloodied scroll from his belt. Artelios snatched it from his hand and unrolled it. Relief flooded his features.

Artelios departed with the scroll in the direction of his guardhouse. Once he had gone, the companions returned to the temple and checked for survivors. They found a woman still breathing and Ultimius’ smelling salts quickly bought her round. Rising to her feet this woman cut an impressive figure. Tall and imposing with a noble bearing, she remained beautiful despite her approaching middle age. She thanked the companions for their assistance in regal terms and then asked them what had become of her daughter, Tarethis. Baron Arlus replied, “She was taken by the beast, we were planning to go after her”, he said. The woman, who could be no other than the witch Erethemes, looked around at the companions and said “You would have my gratitude if you did this - but hold. I do not believe my daughter is in any immediate danger and I would not have you enter the lair of Jullah unprepared. Rest this day and I will seek the information we will need to save her.”

Erethemes looked into the air above the companions. The crow set upon them by some magic still flew there, cawing and circling. The witch narrowed her eyes and smiled slightly. “You are no friends of Set I see”, she said and then muttered something under her breath and linked her thumbs together with her fingers spread. There was a flash of something moving quickly in the sky above and then a hawk smashed into the crow and sent it plummeting into the side of the villa.

Erethemes smiled and told the companions that the crow would trouble them no longer. They gratefully sent for their friends and then allowed Erethemes attendants to lead them to rest in cool and beautiful surroundings as she sought knowledge of her daughter’s fate…
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Angus



Joined: 23 Jul 2006
Posts: 28

PostPosted: Mon Sep 04, 2006 5:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Baron Arlus carried the body of the captain over one shoulder, staunchly refusing offers to help.


Only if you count "dump him" and "hurry up' as offers of help.
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Benedict



Joined: 22 Jan 2006
Posts: 256

PostPosted: Tue Sep 19, 2006 10:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Black Kingdoms Revisited

A firm grip with both hands. Then step and swing. Step and swing! Together! Mitra’s blood boy! Swat at a Pict while leaning back like that and he’ll have your guts spilled out on the ground in front of you. Step with your swing, then let the momentum carry your sword through. With each swing you should be able to take down two savages.

—— Maximus Primus, training his son Ultimus on war sword technique

Zabhela, Zabhela. Still, and always, a city of mezzotint. Her harbour an aquamarine and the savannah outside her walls greener than the serpents in the Zarkheba River. And always the yellow sun. Even at night the yellow stained the bricks of the city bronze, leaching out to stew the unfortunate residents.

Seeking respite from the evening heat, Prince Xavier lazed in the courtyard of Artelios’ villa, dropping grapes into his mouth and sipping on wine. Restless and troubled, his brother Arlos paced the courtyard, prowling, disappearing behind the plants of the garden, only to reappear as he retraced his steps.

‘Don’t be so uptight brother,’ drawled Xavier. ‘What troubles can you have now? The crow is gone. We have fine food and wine to enjoy and real beds to sleep in.’

Arlos cast Xavier a disgusted glance as he disappeared behind a palm. ‘Look at you! Feasting while our hosts worry about their daughter,’ he said as he re-emerged.

Xavier guffawed. ‘We’ve been living in privation for weeks,’ he said. Lifting his wine glass, he continued, ‘We finally get the chance to live like we’re supposed to and you want to rush off. Well brother, I’m coming with you, don’t get me wrong, but I am going to drink my fill while I have the chance.’

He threw back his goblet, then grimaced. ‘This Kushite wine is something dreadful though.’

***

While the Ophir brothers were arguing in the courtyard, Ultimus went to speak to Artelios in his study. Artelios was standing at a table with a map spread out in front of him. He barely looked up when Ultimus strode in.

‘You must be preparing to go and rescue your daughter,’ said Ultimus.

‘No. No good will come of that. I am planning a caravan to the Southern Desert. I am sure this map leads to great treasure,’ replied Artelios. ‘You will come with me I hope. I could use help to find the treasure.’

‘You’re chasing treasure at this time? What about your daughter?’

‘She is lost. It is clear to me that trying to rescue her would do no good.’

‘But…but this is your daughter you’re talking about.’

Artelios sighed. ‘You don’t understand. Look. My daughter has been taken by Jullah cultists. But look, my major-domo is a Jullah worshipper. My guards are Jullah worshippers. All my Gallah servants are Jullah worshippers. I cannot do anything against the cult.’

Ultimus was utterly perplexed. Shaking his head he turned at crossed the room to the door. There he saw Erethemes standing in the doorway with a sad look on her face.

***

Later that evening the exiles met for dinner. A table had been prepared for them laid with Kushite delicacies.

‘So, when are we going after the cultists,’ asked Arlos.

‘Artelios wants us to help him with a quest for treasure,’ replied Ultimus. ‘He won’t be searching for his daughter. It is very strange, but he doesn’t seem worried that his daughter has been kidnapped.’

‘That needn’t stop us,’ said Arlos. ‘Erethemes told me about an ex-cultist called Eshiba that we could talk to.’

‘When is Artelios leaving to search for treasure?’ asked Xavier.

‘In a week I believe,’ explained Ultimus.

‘That should give us enough time to save the virgins and then return, collect the gratitude and the go and search for the treasure,’ said Xavier, discarding the fish and reaching for the sherbet. ‘We’ll head off tomorrow to look for Eshiba.’

***

The next morning, well after the sun had risen, Xavier emerged from his chamber, bathed and dressed. His clothes were not of the quality he was accustomed to but he wore them with some style. He had matched the heavy beige linen trousers with a bold green tunic. A cream cravat was the only silk in his outfit – a deliberate decision to dress down.

He met with his companions at the gate of Artelios’ compound, briefly noted their impatience and took in their attire – absurd as always. Waiting with them was an attractive slave girl, named Zakela, who was there to help lead them through the city and to translate. Ultimus already had his arm draped around her.

Then together they moved off into the winding streets of Zabhela. The address they had been given for Eshiba was in the outer city, to the south west. Navigating the city was hard enough, even with Zakela’s help, and the walls of the inner city made things even more difficult.

Ultimus climbed onto the wall and called to his companions, ‘Come on chaps! Let’s just climb over.’

Somewhat alarmed seeing the foreigners playing up and rather discombobulated seeing someone try to storm the walls from the wrong side, the wall guards cautiously began to approach.

‘Get down!’ called Arlos. ‘Let’s just use the gate.

After some more wandering, they managed to find the shack where Eshiba was supposed to be living. However, though they called for him, it appeared he was not home for visitors.

‘Eshiba doesn’t live here anymore,’ croaked an old woman neighbour of the ex-cultist, translated by Zakela.

‘Where is he?’ asked Xavier.

The old woman looked away.

‘Well? Why where is he?’ insisted Xavier.

‘Eshiba is not popular among the Gallah,’ muttered the old woman. ‘I will tell you where he is for a silver.’

‘A silver? Sure. Tell us.’

‘He has fled to a place called Shemantza.’

‘That’s it? For a silver, that’s all you have to tell us?’

The old woman took the coin and turned away.

***

Everyone was very enthusiastic to get going. Not withstanding the late start, there was plenty of time to make it to Shemantza that day. So horses were procured from Artelios and the party rode south down the coast to the village of Shemantza.

When they arrived at the village, they were surprised to be greeted by a corpse strung up by its legs on a pole. The only sound in the village was the buzzing of the flies circling the corpse.

The party yelled and yahooed in the hope of rousing some life in the desolate village. Presently a man emerged from one of the shacks. He was rather old, but still looked burly.

‘Good day sir,’ said Xavier. ‘We are looking for Eshiba.’

‘Why are you looking for him?’ asked the man unhelpfully.

‘We understand he can tell us about the cult of Jullah. Are you Eshiba?’

‘Jullah? I am no friend of the cult of Jullah. They have taken my daughter and my grand-daughter.’

‘Well, perhaps you might be inclined to help us. We intend to attack the cult and free the virgins.’

‘Are both your daughter and grand-daughter virgins?’ asked Ultimus.

‘It’s possible,’ interjected Harim.

‘It just seems strange,’ said Ultimus to Harim. ‘I would have thought that the grand-daughter was the daughter of the daughter.’

‘I don’t think it would be possible,’ said Arlos. ‘How the daughter be a virgin if she had a daughter herself.’

‘That’s my point,’ said Ultimus. ‘I mean…’

‘Well who knows how families work here,’ said Harim, ‘but I suspect that he has more than one daughter.’

‘Friends, please,’ interrupted Xavier. He turned back to the villager. ‘Sir, are you able to help us.’

‘I was once a priest of the cult. I can show you where the temple is. Leave your horses here, they will be well cared for. We must walk to the temple.’

***

The walk to the temple took them over hilly savannah. As they walked, Exhiba gave more details about the cult and himself.

‘I was once a senior priest of the cult,’ he explained. ‘The head priest was taking the cult in the wrong direction. He has gone mad and he wants to summon Jullah.’

‘And presumably it is bad to summon Jullah,’ said Xavier.

‘Do you know who Jullah is?’ asked Eshiba.

‘No, I suppose I don’t,’ replied Xavier.

‘Jullah is the son of Jhebbal Sag. He is the gorilla god. It would be very dangerous to summon him’

‘So how will the head priest summon him?’

‘He must sacrifice a hundred virgins,’ Eshiba stated. ‘Listen, attacking the temple will be dangerous. There are twenty cultists. And the beast.’

‘The white ape we encountered?’ asked Arlos.

‘Yes, the beast is a white ape.’

‘Perhaps with some subtlety we could avoid having to fight them all,’ suggested Xavier. ‘If you were to convince a few of the cultists that the head priest is mad…or if you declared yourself head priest…’

‘No,’ replied Eshiba. ‘Force is our only recourse. I know a ritual that may protect you, if you will allow me to cast it.’

As the party was keen to make use of any magical help they could, they allowed Eshiba to cast his ritual. It took him some time as it required painting each of them in white war paint. Nesh-ar’ebra took the time to perform his own divination ritual.

Once these rituals were complete they continued on in their trek. They arrived at last at a cliff face.

‘We must climb down here,’ said Eshiba. ‘The back entrance to the temple is in the cliff face.

One by one they scaled the cliff, gingerly and uncertain. Without training, they found it very difficult. Nesh-ar’ebra had the worst time of it, losing his grip on the rocks and falling. Arlos desperately tried to grab him as he fell past, but was not able to. Luckily, Nesh-ar’ebra was able to grab hold of a large, jutting rock.

‘I say,’ he called to his companions. ‘Take a look at this!’

The rock he was swinging from was a tooth in giant mouth carved into the cliff face, part of a gigantic face.

‘This is the entrance,’ Eshiba said.

Lighting their torches the party entered through the mouth into a passage way. They followed that for some time before coming to a chamber with a giant pit. They looked over the edge and found it full of nubile women.

‘Through there is the main temple,’ said Eshiba, pointing to a door exiting the chamber.

They threw down a rope so that the women could free themselves, and then they turned to the door. They threw it open and ran into the temple to face the cultists. Here they found the beast standing by the door and the cultists at the far end of the massive chamber. The priests were beginning a ritual, chanting over the writhing body of a sacrifice.

The party charged in. Arlos and Dagog engaged the beast, while Nesh-ar’ebra and Husam readied their bows. Xavier and Ultimus ran across the chamber, meeting some of the cultists half way across. The first opponents were quickly dealt with and the fighters ran towards the priests to stop the ceremony. They could not kill all the priests fast enough however and their chanting opens a rent in time and space, from which tentacles reach out, grabbing the sacrifice and pulling her towards the portal. Shifting their attention to this new enemy, the fighters hack at the tentacles.

At that point Eshiba entered the temple and strode across the hall. He now somehow looked younger and stronger. He carried a steel skull. When we was close enough, he pitched it into the portal. The tentacles recoiled from the skull and shrank back through the hole as it started to close up.

***

With the evil cult defeated, the party rode back to Zabhela with the rescued virgins. Erethemes and Artelios were delighted that their daughter was saved and a feast was arranged to celebrate. Nesh-ar’ebra and Ultimus competed in wooing Tarethis.

During the feast Artelios approached Xavier and asked if he and his companions would be willing to help him search for the treasure. Xavier agreed enthusiastically and went to tell his companions.

Several days later they headed off east out of Zabhela in search of treasure.
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Benedict



Joined: 22 Jan 2006
Posts: 256

PostPosted: Tue Sep 19, 2006 10:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Saga of the Exiles – Flight Across the Sands

The battle was swift and deadly. The reavers attacked the caravan five days from Zabhela. Those who were not slain where shackled and taken as slaves.
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Mikeythorn



Joined: 20 Jan 2006
Posts: 364
Location: Wellington

PostPosted: Wed Sep 20, 2006 2:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

”Come princeling”, spake King Zarothura, “raise thy sword. Or do you fear to cross your sword with that of a true man?” There was a flash of silver and a clash of blades. A pause. The King stepped back and gave his sword hand a rueful look. Blood dripped from where his thumb had been trapped against his opponent’s pommel. Then he threw back his head and roared with laughter. “Ahhh, Prince Xavier. How quickly you grow. Soon you will take your rightful place at the head of my armies and how the world will quiver at the sight of two warriors such as us riding down upon them.”

A pitiful line of slaves marched across the desert. Many fell beneath the whip of the slave master, Orafa, and were left to die upon the parched sand. For days they travelled without pause, without food and with only enough water to keep the strongest of them alive.

At last, on the third day of travel, a halt was called and the slaves slumped to the ground in exhaustion. Few eyes were lifted to see what had caused the slave master to grant them such precious rest. Those that did raise their heads saw Orafa and another slave driver ride ahead to meet a man who seemed to be waiting for them on the dry and dusty plain.

As Orafa and the stranger talked, Xavier – once a prince of Ophir and now simply a battered piece of human flesh destined for the slave markets of Zamora or Stygia – saw movement behind a dune. Suddenly, the guard standing next to him collapsed to the ground with a spear through his chest. In the next moment the air was full of war-cries, screams and flying javelins. Hundreds of lightly dressed savages leapt from the dunes and charged at the startled guards and their captives. Thinking quickly, Prince Xavier’s comrade Nesh-ar’ebra stooped and grabbed keys from the fallen guard. He set himself and his comrades free and then began freeing other slaves. In horror he and his companions watched as the savages finished off the last of the guards and began butchering those slaves held in place by their manacles.

While Nesh-ar’ebra and his friends Baron Arlus, Ultimius, Dargog and Husam-al'Karim helped free what slaves they could, Prince Xavier tried to buy them time by mounting a stolen horse and charging into the savages. His attack allowed a few more slaves time to slip away, including the merchant Artelios and his guide Kophthetu who had accompanied the companions into this arid land. Artelios, Kophethu, Dargog, Baron Arlus and Ultimius managed to snatch up a few precious waterskins and weapons before they called to Prince Xavier and began to flee the slaughter together.

In the heat of the noonday sun the companions jogged across the dunes. It took some hours before the screams still rising from the site of the massacre faded into the distance. The party travelled east, towards lands that maps had marked as lush and fertile. Nesh-ar’ebra and Husam-al'Karim separated from the party at one point, covering their companions’ tracks and leaving a false trail some miles in the wrong direction to mislead any pursuers. So effective were they in covering the tracks, that it was only through Nesh-ar’ebra’s magicks that they were able to rejoin their companions.

After two days the companions were forced to slay the horse Prince Xavier had taken from their captors. By the third day water was running low. Then, at last, they left the desert. To their horror, however, the land on the other side was barren and drought-stricken. A poor village was spotted, its people thin and weak. However, at the sight of the strangers these villagers threw off their hunger and thirst. Cries of “die foreign filth” filled the sky as the travellers were set upon. Great slaughter did the companions make. Killing all who came against them and then seeking out those who tried to flee. Dargog in particular was in no mood for dispensing mercy.

Once the voices of the villagers had been silenced, the tired companions drew muddy water from the village well and took what blankets and weapons they could find. Then they left the village and its people to the jackals and hyenas.

The next day the companions came to another village. Sharp eyes spotted that the people in this wore different markings to those in the previous village. A cautious approach was made and a villager raised his arm in a peaceful gesture of welcome. The companions entered the village and were given water and what little food the villagers could spare. Rough communication was established with the villagers and the companions learnt that some of the people of this land, the Yaraba, blamed the drought on the presence of foreigners and sought to appease the “Orisha” by killing all that they could find. The people of this village, who were of the Adja, blamed their leaders and had demanded that royal blood be spilt to appease the Orisha.

Artelios the merchant told the travellers that their journey had bought them close to the ancient temple marked on his map. He promised that great treasure was to be found.

The companions moved on, relying on the memory of Artelios and Kophthetu to lead them towards the temple. They were beset by hyenas and came across a bloodied battlefield. They crossed arid lands and narrowly avoided a stampede of water buffalo near a mosquito infested water-hole.

Almost a week had passed since the attack upon the slave caravan, and still the companions travelled east – further from their homes and from civilisation.

On the seventh day of travel a lone figure was seen in the distance ahead. The travellers watched her stumble and fall. Ultimius rushed to her side and put a water-skin to parched lips. Eyelids fluttered and then opened to reveal young and beautiful eyes. Once she had recovered, the traveller revealed herself to be a princess of the Adja, Erisha by name. Erisha said that she travelled to the ancient temple of Olorun to sacrifice herself and appease the Orisha. Erisha claimed with pride that her youth, royal blood and purity would make her the finest of sacrifices.

With some surprise Prince Xavier and Erisha realised that they sought the same temple. Erisha, aware that she was not capable of making it to the temple alone, offered to lead the adventurers there in exchange for their assistance. Prince Xavier accepted her offer with royal grace.

That day the last of the water ran out.

It was with blessed relief that the travellers came to a river the next day. Although brown and sluggish, the water tasted like the finest of wine to the weary companions. With their water-skins refilled, they crossed the river and moved into the foothills of a mountain range. Erisha said that the path to the temple was not far.

Nesh-ar’ebra and Husam-al'Karim spotted marks upon the ground. Others had been past recently. Three men and a horse by the markings. And they were close. Nesh-ar’ebra conducted an augury and determined that one of the men was Orafa, the slave master and that he carried Artelios’ treasure map.

Weapons were drawn and the party increased their speed to intercept Orafa. Ground was eaten up quickly and in minutes the travellers came across the slave master and his companions. On seeing the former slaves, Orafa drew two great Ghanata knives and advanced with one of his companions alongside. The third of the travellers, a man dressed in Zamoran silks, drew a long, slim blade but remained at a distance.

Orafa and his sidekick met the companions with a crash of arms. Orafa’s powerful muscles dripped sweat as he carved about him with brutal strokes. Prince Xavier fell unconscious before him and Ultimius was pressed backwards before the power of the Tibu warrior. Then Dargog, lightly stepped to one side of the advancing Orafa and, with both hands, thrust his broadsword under the ribs and into the slave master’s vital organs. Ultimius dealt with his companion as he tried to flee.

The companions turned to the Zamoran who claimed to be nothing more than a merchant. As he was questioned Nesh-ar’ebra took the unconscious body of Orafa to one side and began to perform some kind of occult ceremony. His companions shivered at the voices and cries that filled the air just a few feet away from the site they had chosen for their camp. The sounds filled the night and few of the companions managed much sleep. When dawn came, the cries died away and Nesh-ar’ebra returned to camp with a sour grin upon his lips and the smell of burning metal upon his clothes.
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My favourite roleplaying memory - "Daisy at Colonus", two drunk cowboys and a pantomime cow in a 'reinterpretation' of Sophocles greatest play.
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Mikeythorn



Joined: 20 Jan 2006
Posts: 364
Location: Wellington

PostPosted: Wed Sep 20, 2006 3:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The fluted glass smashed against a wall covered in expensive silken tapestries. Fine wine splattered across golden thread. “Corrupt? You dare to call me corrupt? Is it ‘corrupt’ to exploit the weaknesses of your enemies? Is it ‘corrupt’ to do your best for your ungrateful children? You wretch. You graceless louse. You are no longer my son. You are no longer a prince. I cast you from this house. I give your titles to your brother Xavier. All except Fescumi. Take that swamp. Go there and rot, young Baron of Fescumi.”

The diary of Nesh-ar’ebra, the desert hawk

We have captured a Zamoran slaver. And I know his mind. He seeks the sceptre of Ophir in a buried city. Artelios’ map will lead us to it. The woman who travels with us will offer herself to her god there. A pity. Such waste. “God” is only a term used by those too weak-minded to realise that they make bargains with a demon. Or by those who seek to exploit their fellow man with lies of divinity. Others may disagree, but they are ignorant. They have not seen a true god. They have not spoken to a true god. They have not bound a true god to their will.

The woman led us to a cliff. We climbed. There are signs carved into the rock, pictographs of winged creatures. The woman says we may be punished by the guardians of this place and she chants to keep them at bay. But life or death, I care not.

It is dark and we have heard the sounds of creatures. Half jackal, half man and with long, unclean claws in place of hands. They are afraid of something. Fire or of the woman I think. But we have little wood and her voice is weak so they are soon amongst us. I hit several with my arrows and we drove them off, but the toll extracted has been heavy. Many of us have been badly wounded and Artelios has been killed. His head and body lie separately on the rocks. The blood from his neck stains the earth and the stones. It is a bad omen to sleep with death so close, so I throw his head down the mountain and hope that he may be made whole in the afterlife. Artelios abandoned his daughter to seek control of Ophir – and so I do not weep for him.

My companions are too scared to sleep. They sit and watch for the beasts return. But the creatures fear light, and the moonlight has scattered them. If this is the entire power of Erisha’s god then it is pitiful. A scorpion’s sting is just as deadly, and a scorpion is easily crushed.

We have moved from the mountain, taking our wounded and the Zamoran prisoner with us. Two armies we saw from the mountain top, but they disappeared from our view as we journeyed down the other side. Once we reached the valley floor we set up a camp and rested. Allowing nature and the mysterious Stygian Kophthetu to treat us. The man is skilled in healing, but I see him whispering in the ears of those he tends. He plots I think.

After two days we packed up our camp and headed along the valley. For six hours we walked. And then we came to the temple. A mighty pyramid. And there are men there. Stygian soldiers. The girl weeps in anger at their presence. “Slay them”, she urges, “they desecrate the sacred place.”

I smile at her. I sense there are powers at work here that we do not yet understand.
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My favourite roleplaying memory - "Daisy at Colonus", two drunk cowboys and a pantomime cow in a 'reinterpretation' of Sophocles greatest play.
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Mikeythorn



Joined: 20 Jan 2006
Posts: 364
Location: Wellington

PostPosted: Wed Sep 27, 2006 12:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Husam-al'Karim crouched forward in his saddle and raised a hand to protect his eyes from the blazing desert sun. From the brow of the ridge he could see the rich caravan moving slowly across the golden sands. The pennant of Prince Xavier of Ophir flew from the lances of the shining cavalrymen guarding the caravan. Husam-al’Karim did not recognise the pennant and did not yet know who Prince Xavier was, and his eyes were quickly drawn to the promise held in the wooden boxes swinging from the sides of the camel train. To his right he heard the command to charge. He paused briefly as his brothers and their horses hurtled down the side of the dune towards the startled soldiers. Then he raised his sword above his head, let out a whoop of delight and dug his spurs into the soft flesh of his horse’s flank.

The words of Ultimius Primus, scourge of the Picts

After we reached the valley within the mountains of Orun we travelled towards the temple. Once we were within eye-shot, we were surprised to see the temple blockaded by a Stygian army and slaves hard at work bringing dirt out of a side passage. The temple was a great pyramid and steps up the front of ascended perhaps 150 feet before they ended in an opening guarded by four Stygian soldiers. The soldiers were armed with bows and it was obvious that even a rapid charge would be suicidal.

As we watched the guards, Kopthetu led Baron Arlus aside and spoke to him at some length, telling him that the Stygians were led by a renegade general named Kephros. Kopthetu revealed that he was not a scholar, but was instead an assassin sent by the Great Pharaoh to kill Kephros. Baron Arlus agreed to a loose alliance with Kopthetu, but made no promises to him and then returned to us and told us of these revelations.

While “discussing” our options, the Zamoran prisoner escaped his bonds. We caught sight of him as he deftly climbed the side of the pyramid and crawled through a hole just above the main entrance.

We opted to follow the Zamoran under the cover of darkness. We did so with little disturbance and – more importantly – without raising the alarm.

It became obvious that the hole the Zamoran had crawled through was a shaft to allow light into a large chamber just beyond the main entrance. In this chamber a gilded throne sat upon a giant clawed hand carved from black stone. On the throne sat the renegade general. Guards surrounded him as he blissfully buried his nose in a smoking bowl of black lotus, taking deep inhalations of the powerful drug. Even from our perch we could smell the sweet and acrid stench.

Nesh-ar’ebra conjured the smoke from the bowl and sent it swirling about the room. Some of the guard were already heavy-eyed from the fumes and did not notice as the cloud drifted towards them. A couple of the guards slumped slowly to the ground as the general began to rant about his plans to crush the Pharaoh. Still the cloud moved and swirled until a full 12 of the guards fall into a drugged sleep. Only two were left standing on unsteady feet when the general finally took notice of events. He despatched the two guards to the door.

Prince Xavier and myself climbed back outside and then down the side of the pyramid to the entrance and attacked the four guards still standing outside. Xavier slipped slightly in climbing but recovered elegantly, lunging forward with his blade as he rose to his feet. I climbed more deftly and managed to slay one guard and mortally wound another before the others even noticed, but then I turned and found that Prince Xavier had been knocked unconscious by one of the other guards. Baron Arlus then leapt into the fray to defend his brother, rashly but heroically throwing himself from the ledge above and onto one guard who had begun to sound the alarm by blowing on a horn. Baron Arlus flattened the guard and the horn slipped away and disappeared down the stairs.

Meanwhile, inside, Nesh-ar’ebra concentrated the black lotus smoke on the general.

Outside I slew another guard and Baron Arlus badly wounded the last. This guard attempted to flee by jumping for the ledge, but the Baron cut him down before he could reach it.

The two guards who escaped the black lotus smoke inside the chamber then emerged from the entrance. I engaged them while Baron Arlus tended his brother.

Inside the chamber the general was aroused by the sound of combat drifting down the corridor and slowly lifted his head from the black lotus smoke controlled by Nesh-ar’ebra. Seeing this, Husam-al'Karim fired an arrow at the general. Nesh-ar’ebra then ceased concentrating on the smoke and focused his attention on aiming an arrow at the back of the general’s head. Although twin tattooed snakes winding up the back of the general’s neck provided a good target, the general managed to sneak through a secret passage suffering only grazes.

The two guards left at the top of the pyramid proved resilient and, with the general fleeing, Husam-al'Karim joined the small fray at the entrance. We finished the guards and then mercilessly slashed the throats of those rendered unconscious by the lotus smoke.

We spent a short time healing wounds and stripping the guards of weapons and armour to replace those we had lost. We did not delay long because we could see torches and activity lighting up in the Stygian camp. A short time later the pyramid was assaulted. Baron Arlus hurled a great brazier down the stairs and this sent soldiers leaping out of the way. Then we fled. Nesh-ar’ebra’s magic opened the secret door and, once we had passed through, sealed it again. Dargog carried the still unconscious Prince Xavier as we ran.

On the other side of the door we came to a sloping passage leading down and two small side passages. I determined that the general went down the slope and we could hear many footsteps coming from one of the side passages. We headed down the slope as quickly as we could.

In the darkness we came across a slave. He told us that the general and about ten guards were up ahead. Moving on we came to a roughly hewn tunnel which opened into a large chamber. In this chamber slaves dug away at what appeared to be a buried temple. The general urged the slaves to dig faster. Nesh-ar’ebra attempted to sneak forward, but alerted the general. He turned to face us, a mad grin on his face. “You are too late”, he cried gleefully, “he who will enslave you to me is already awakened.”
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My favourite roleplaying memory - "Daisy at Colonus", two drunk cowboys and a pantomime cow in a 'reinterpretation' of Sophocles greatest play.
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Mikeythorn



Joined: 20 Jan 2006
Posts: 364
Location: Wellington

PostPosted: Tue Oct 03, 2006 1:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The ground shook as a column of shining knights began their charge across the open field. At their head was a man in strange dress for a knight. His clothes were dull and non-descript and at his feet a panting dog strained to keep pace with the warhorses. King Xavier watched his brother with a grim smile and then turned his head to watch his army’s other flank. Here a unit of nomad archers with Husam-al'Karim at their head detached itself from the larger force to rain havoc from the skies and panic the enemy war elephants. In the centre of the line Lord Dargog held his wild northmen in check with a single snarl while Duke Ultimius’ well ordered pikemen waited silently for the order to advance. King Xavier’s smile grew a little less grim. So intent was he in reviewing the movements of his soldiers that he did not hear Nesh’ar-ebra ride up behind him. He started slightly as he heard the wizard’s voice. “Ah, my King”, murmured his advisor, leaning towards Xavier’s ear. The king noticed something gleaming in his hand, “how well your troops respond to your orders. And how close you are now to victory. But even the best plan may unravel with one simple act of betrayal…”

Prince Xavier shook his head and looked up. He could remember the blow so clearly. And yet now his wounds had healed. He could remember snatches of a dream and felt a deep longing. What was it that was missing? Who had healed him? Where was he?

With a loud crash the temple doors fell inwards. General Kephros looked back over his shoulder and laughed at the companions before urging his soldiers into the hole left where the doors had stood.

Prince Xavier looked around. He was in a cavern deep underground and surrounded by terrified slaves. The slaves nearest the entrance to the black temple moved anxiously away from its gaping door.

The prince gathered his thoughts and then stepped forward and spoke. He spoke few words, but they were powerful. He spoke of freedom and he spoke of vengeance. The slaves stopped and stared at him. Then one raised his pick-axe and, with a roar, bought it down hard upon his shackles. As the chains fell free there was a moment of near silence. Perhaps the slaves were waiting to see if the guards would return and punish this outrage? But no guards appeared. A low moan began to fill the chamber and then rose swiftly into a cry of release and anger. Pick-axes fell and chains rattled onto the cavern floor.

Prince Xavier, his voice carrying easily despite the din, ordered the slaves who had freed themselves to follow the general into the temple. Grabbing picks and stones the slaves roared their approval and charged through the black doorway. The sounds of battle quickly filled the air as sword locked with pick and steel met flesh.

Prince Xavier’s companions followed the slaves into the temple and were confronted with a grim scene. Already seven of the slaves had been cut down along with one of the soldiers. The general had prostrated himself before an altar and beyond the altar stood a black statue of a malevolent looking six armed god. Blood from the recently slain did not pool upon the floor, but instead flowed rapidly along a series of channels cut in a mazelike pattern leading towards the altar.

While his companions joined the slaves in their assault upon the general and his troops, Nesh-ar’ebra tried to stop the flow of blood to the altar. As more and more bodies fell upon the ground this became harder and harder and he eventually ordered the remaining slaves to help him. As the last channel was blocked the general leapt upon the altar and tried to spill his own blood upon its dark surface. Ultimius charged after him and shoved him from the altar before a single drop could spill. Then, like a dog, the prone general was slain by the blades of Ultimius, Husam-al'Karim and Baron Arlus.

As General Kephros breathed his last, the companions heard a clamour from outside the temple. They retreated and found more of the general’s soldiers arriving. Prince Xavier ordered the Stygians to throw down their weapons and – perhaps awed by the sight of Ultimius carrying their leader’s bloodied crown and sensing the vengeful mood of the recently freed slaves – they quickly complied.

Erishka pleaded with the party to rebury the temple, explaining that it belonged to an ancient god who could not be named - but Prince Xavier appeared to be a man possessed. He left the slaves to chain the Stygians and led his companions up the ramp leading towards the surface and then down a small passageway in the temple wall. The passage led into a room containing eight deep pits. Each pit bore the name of a god and Prince Xavier ordered his companions to lower him into the pit bearing the name of Oruna, the supreme god of the Adja people.

Once Prince Xavier reached the bottom of the pit, his companions did not wait long before abandoning him. Only his brother remained as the others set out to loot the temple and the Stygian camp.

Baron Arlus listened anxiously for sounds from below. He heard a grinding sound and then a shout from Xavier to hold onto the rope tightly. A period of silence followed and Baron Arlus yelled out to check that his brother was alright. He received a short and sharp response.

Outside, Dargog’s looting was suddenly interrupted as he noticed that beyond the edges of the Stygian camp campfires burned. Hundreds of campfires. He returned quickly to the temple, passing Nesh-ar’ebra and Ultimius on the way. Ultimius asked the wizard why he had left the temple. The wizard turned his head to him, but his eyes were focused in the distance and his headed nodded as though he listened to another voice.

Prince Xavier called for his brother to pull him from the pit. Abandoned by his companions, Baron Arlus was forced to recruit Kopthethu and Erishka to assist him. Great effort was required on their part and when the Prince’s fingers finally appeared over the top of the pit they slumped to the ground in exhaustion.

The prince’s arm followed his fingers over the lip of the pit. And then a shoulder appeared. A deep wound in the shoulder spilled blood upon the floor. Baron Arlus and his helpers leapt to their feet in concern. Then Prince Xavier hauled himself from the pit and then lifted his head to greet his brother. Majesty shone from his eyes even as blood dripped down the side of his face. Erishka gasped in awe as Kopthetu threw himself to the ground, prostrating himself before the Prince. Even Baron Arlus was taken aback by how changed, how regal, his brother now appeared.

Dargog, Ultimius, Husam-al'Karim and Nesh-ar’ebra returned to the chamber and took in the change to their leader in relative calm. Indeed, Nesh-ar’ebra seemed to be expecting it.

Prince Xavier told the companions that in the pit he had found a sacred sceptre. He said that it was in the hands of the Zamoran thief who had escaped them earlier, but that he had persuaded the thief to give it up in exchange for his freedom. All of the companions suspected that the prince was omitting something from this story, but there were more pressing demands for their time and they did not dwell upon this. Dargog told of the campfires he had seen and Prince Xavier took no time in returning to the chamber where he had left the slaves and the Stygian soldiers. Acting quickly and decisively he negotiated with both sides and bought them together under his banner – at least until the threat of the gathering army had been dealt with.

Then Prince Xavier and his companions climbed to the top of the temple. From the apex of the pyramid the dawn sun cast a warm glow over a terrifying scene. Outside the temple there was not one army, but two.

Erishka told the party that one of the armies belonged to her people and was led by her father, the King of the Adja. The other army belonged to the fierce Yaraba tribe. The temple was sacred to both.

Prince Xavier sent his brother to seek an audience with the King of the Adja. As Baron Arlus descended the stairs at the front of the pyramid he was met with fierce howls from the Yaraba, who thumped their spears upon the ground and rattled their shields in his direction. Baron Arlus turned from them to face the Adja. Warriors of the Adja closed their shields and presented a wall to him. Baron Arlus called out that Prince Xavier sought an audience with the King. The wall broke to reveal a young man dressed in lion skin. “I am Prince Ebar”, he said “and my father will not speak to filth such as you.” Baron Arlus noticed that the prince appeared agitated, and an attempt to parlay was simply met with contempt. The baron returned and reported what had happened to his brother. The prince signalled to his companions to follow him and descended the stairs himself.

At the base of the stairs the Adja shield wall parted once more to reveal Prince Ebar. His nervousness now appeared to be supplemented with fear. He again swore and tried to rebuff Prince Xavier and his companions, but seeing the prince’s regal bearing and honourable intentions the shield wall opened behind him to make a path to the king’s tent.

Prince Xavier advanced along the path of the shield wall and bowed deeply and respectful before the King. It did not take long before his honeyed words had won over the leader of the Adja. The king warned that the King of the Yaraba would not be so easy to win favour from, but bade Prince Xavier to ready his troops for departure and then return for further negotiations.

The prince formed the slaves and the Stygian soldiers into two orderly columns and prepared them as best he could for a hard march northwards. Then he and his companions returned to speak to both kings. As they moved through the Adja they heard a commotion and then a yell, “the King has been murdered, slay the foreign invaders”. The companions gathered together in a tight circle and drew their weapons. Around them milled hundreds of Adja warriors, uncertain how to react.

Princess Erishka appeared from the crowd and spoke quickly and quietly to the prince. “Get your men out of here” she said, “I will do what I can.” With a look of regret and a nod of farewell she then disappeared back into the throng. Adja warriors began to gather as the companions retreated slowly towards their men. A group of the warriors appeared poised to attack when Erishka’ voice rang out. “Leave the foreigners”, she cried, “the Yaraba threaten - form up around me.” The warriors appeared unsettled by her words and backed away from the companions uneasily.

The companions rejoined their small army of slaves and soldiers and Prince Xavier quickly gave the order to move out. The warriors of the Adja regathered and moved to block the army’s retreat, but the sight of warriors lining up for battle in the Yaraba camp saw them retreat.

Prince Xavier and his men moved quickly down the valley as the forces of the Yaraba and the Adja faced each other with menace. Once he felt that they were safe, the prince looked around at his small force with a smile. Faces shining with loyalty looked back at their majestic leader. “We are a long way from Ophir”, thought the prince to himself, “but people will flock to my army with each step”.
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My favourite roleplaying memory - "Daisy at Colonus", two drunk cowboys and a pantomime cow in a 'reinterpretation' of Sophocles greatest play.
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