The dry air of Katapesh seared the throats of the unwary, those unused to it's unforgiving nature. Even within the city walls, within site of the sea itself, the air is dry and often choked with dust. Yet Katapesh is, as always, full of life and commerce. The streets of Dawngate bustle with merchants and buyers, and even in this better to do area of the city the cries of hawkers can be heard.
Soon, however, you reach the home of Zhen Halfblood. The large house, surrounded by a well watered garden, is designed for shade and relief, cunning built to trap the breeze from the ocean while covering plenty of protection from the sun. It is also, quite obviously, designed to withstand a small siege - the walls, while plastered and painted with fine images, are thick and tall, and the few entrances have sturdy gates and small groups of guards.
A servant is assigned to escort you in, as you are trusted enough to not need a guard. You soon at a small courtyard inside the house proper. The space if filled with wooden benches, a luxury in the tree starved desert-state, and a small fountain pours cool water into a basin. At one end a table has been set up bearing a selection of foods - fresh sliced fruits, cold meats, cheeses and breads. Spiced wine sits chilling in a bowl oof crushed ice, another small luxury.
At the other end, guarding a door, is a heavily built Orc, Grimrod Guthook, an ancient travelling campanion of Zhen's. Legend tells of Grimrod cutting down most creatures with the huge, long handled axe he holds firmly in one paw, including werewolves, liches, linnorms and one especially unlucky Scum Cleric, who Grimrod went back to find again.
He does not especially look happy.
The servant that escorted you bids you to refresh yourself and rest, as Master Zhen is readied to receive guests.
Talk amongst yourselves for a moment, boys and girls. Once you've all confirmed your presence we shall commence.
|Azri, the Lich of Khalharum|
Azri quietly strode into the chamber, wearing - as she often did - a cloak to help hide her nature from nervous mortals who might react... poorly... to her presence. All right, she was an undead monster who wouldn't stay dead, and she could heal herself quite nicely, and she was studying magic... but it wasn't like she was evil. Yeesh. All she really wanted to do was learn, and Zhen's brutal beatdown had made it quite clear to her that there were lines she shouldn't cross. Fortunately, she was the type who saw that as a challenge - so her goal was to learn things without sacrificing morality or becoming a true monster. Ah, well.
"Greetings, Sir Guthook." she said, curtsying politely.
My, my. The old Halfblood certainly keeps a nice home.
Not long after Azri, a second guest makes her appearance: A Tien woman in her mid-twenties, dressed in an ornate traditional dress. She walks with the utmost confidence, with a sly smile. In addition to her travel pack, which the servant tasked with escorting her has been saddled with, she holds a small silk-wrapped box of some sort, embroidered with a stylized fox. A gift to thank Zhen for his gracious hosting, perhaps.
Disguise: 1d20 + 19 ⇒ (14) + 19 = 33
Anyone with a perception check of 33 and up can tell that Mihara is, in fact, a Kitsune, and not the human Tien woman she purports to be.
She is quick to make her way to the table and help herself to a light but varied plate, with a certain preference for the meat, as well as a glass of wine.
She chooses to observe the arrivals quietly rather than mingle immediately. Surely, the old warrior wouldn't begrudge her that.
Grimrod turned his eye on the Lich. The scowl lessened, although it certainly didn't vanish altogether. "Wotcha, girl. Still not a sir. Least you didn't say 'good day' like some of these cretins, mind. 'Yay, Zhen's dying, what a good day'. Idiots. Saying it don't make it so, it just makes me annoyed."
The old Orc looked her over. "He'll be glad you came and are looking as well as can be expected, given your...what did he call it? Condition? Stupid thing to say, too, but he likes to be polite. I likes to rip things in half. I says as I see it. At least you've still got all your bits, mind. Doing better than I am." He pointed to the empty eye socket with a grunt.
"He'll call in a few minutes, I expect. Doesn't wanna see you lot in his bed. Like there's been any excitement there for a while! Have some booze, and remember not to piss on any of the plants. The steward is still annoyed at me for the last time I did that."
Led into the room is a petite young woman with white hair and mismatched eyes. She is wearing a long midnight-blue cloak covered in moons and stars. At her feet is a black cat with a nub of a tail. She walks up to the orc, coming to a halt in front of him. Standing as tall as her 4'9" height allows, she claps her fist to her chest in a formal gesture.
"Grimrod," she says curtly. Her frame relaxes and she steps close to the orc. She reaches up to his neck, and pulls his head down to her level, and kisses him affectionately on the cheek before stepping back.
Shortly after, a beautiful woman with slightly tanned skin enters the courtyard. Contrary to some of the other guests, she didn't take pains to hide her nature: a pair of long horns sprouts from her forehead, and behind her back two wings are folded to resemble a cape, even if no one would mistake them for fabric. Her clothes, too, aren't those that someone that wants to conceal his identity would be comfortable to wear: or that anyone would be comfortable to wear, at least in public. Wearing what could be loosely described as a dancer's dress made of multiple layers of expensive, golden fabric, the woman sports a number of pieces of jewerly.
But what maybe draws even more attention than her heritage or clothes is expression: biting her lip, she's clearly trying to hold back the tears that that shortly before reddened ger eyes.
As soon as she enters the courtyard, Selena walks immediately toward Grimhook. "Is grampa Zhen in pain?" she asks with worried eyes to the orc.
|Nigrum Ensis Halfblood|
Nigrum was a giant among in his homeland, an imposingly tall man in these lands, and merely a tall man in Katapesh. Yet while many wore their forms heavy like golems, he wore his with no small amount of grace. Every bit of muscle both strong and flexible, a rarity in most lands to say the least. All wrapped in fine tien silk and hooded from the desert lands sun. He looked somewhat the part of an assassin or mysterious stranger save for his oversized sword across his back. Making it clear his profession was not one of secrecy. He walks up to Grimrod and pulls back his hood.
"Greetings, I wish our meeting was under better conditions. Still have not taken up the sword I see. It's a shame, you would be most worthy."
His short slicked back hair exposed is a deep reddish orange almost akin to copper. His skin is shown to be tanned by the Katapesh sun and save for his eyes he appears completely human. The twin golden orbs resemble a dragon's rather then anything else.
Mihara, seeing a familliar face approach Grimrod, stops leaning on the column she'd chosen as support, and goes to meet the two warriors.
"Salutations to you both. One I have heard much about, but never met," Mihara bows to Grimrod, "and one I have met before but not heard from since," she bows to Nigrum. "A shame indeed that such a meeting would be owed to darker circumstances."
|Azri, the Lich of Khalharum|
Azri, for her part, kept a bit quiet after greeting the old orc - and anyone else here she knew. People occasionally thought she was callous on issues like this, but the truth was that she didn't understand death very well and had a hard time seeing it from the point of view others had. She could well experience it herself one day, but until it was destroyed, even the total annihilation of her body was, at best, a temporary setback. Still, she'd certainly miss the ability to talk with the people she'd come to know...
|Nigrum Ensis Halfblood|
Nigrum turns to Mihara for a moment before remembering her and bowing in turn.
"Ah yes that little matter of smugglers. They should have known their bounties were not subject to preference upon delivery. Pardon the lack of contact, there is no shortage of work in Katapesh concerning bounties."
Walking in as quiet as a shadow, Aibek nods to the servant before scanning the room. Dressed in light material from the headwrap down to the fine attire that left Aibek well covered, the only things Aibek wore that didn't look designed for the climate was a dark grey flecked brown vest and neck guard with matching small, dark emblems. Aibek wore them over the fine airy clothing in a manner that clearly meant that they above all were meant to be seen.
Aibek eyes Grimrod for a moment, the mental calculation likely obvious to anyone wanting, before walking up to the large orc.
From Mother... and the Vakana clan. She is very sorry she is unable to make it. She wants you to have this., holding a well marked parcel. The large visible symbol of a very strong alcoholic brew that Aibek had been told that Zhen and Grimrod had enjoyed in their last travels to Vakana lands before Aibek was born was clear to see, and Aibek could only hope the orc would remember it.
Grimrod blinks his good eye in surprise at Ayreth's kisses before snorting. "Dunno why you keep doing that. I'm not going to start tasting better, and it's not like you're old enough for me. I likes 'em with a bit of age and experience these days."
The scarred old Orc turned his head to Selena. "Nah. This one don't work like that. He just feels tired and old. I keeps telling him, he IS tired and old, but he won't listen to me about that. But he ain't how he was before, girl. Brace yourself for that."
Looking Nigrum up and down, the Orc smiles slightly. "Aye, you'll do. You two did some smugglers for, did you? Well, I'm Grimrod Guthook, so called 'cos I rip the guts from people with a hook. A hot one. Word about that sort of things gets about, sometimes. And no, no sissy swords for me." The bulky Orc banged the oversized axe on the ground with a smirk. The weapon was almost as tall as he was, with a huge, heavy half-moon blade and a sharp point where the pommel should be.
The big Orc eyed the package and smiled. "Kosali sent booze, huh? Well, she needs something to do when she's not being a dragon I guess. She ever tell you about the tie when she turned me into a dog and flew around with me so I could get off a ship? Bloody water. 'Course, that was before we went to beat up the Scum. Fun day."
A servant walked out and murmured something in the Orc's ear. He nodded and pointed to the door. "He's ready for you now."
Turning, Grimrod opened the door and walked inside. The room inside was well furnished, with colourful wall hangings and a polished wood floor. The observant among you can hear the faint trickle of water somewhere beneath your feet.
At the other end of the chamber is a large wooden chair and next to it a massive set of armour. Almost nine feet tall and shining in the room's relatively dim light, the suit is covered in patterns of worked bronze with a symbol of a rising sun above a sword. The armour holds a huge greatsword, almost seven feet long, in it's hands, a series of carved runes glowing dimly on the blade.
Next to his armour, Zhen himself seems almost small and insignificant. Wearing loose trousers and an open robe, this is not the man you remember. Even sitting he has seems stooped and bowed, his dark green skin now dim and dusty, the huge muscles he built in life gone. Only the intricte purple tattoos covering half his body seem vibrant...and his eyes. The eyes are as you remember, alive and amused.
"Well," he said with a slow smile, "You all seem well at least."
Ayreth stops a few steps into the room. For a moment, she is still, but then chokes back a sob. Suddenly, there is a flurry of robes flying as she launches herself at the old warrior. She leaps into his lap, sitting sideways, and wraps her tiny arms around his neck. She buries her head in his chest and she says in a muffled voice, "I know us orcs are supposed to be stoic or grumpy or whatever, but I missed you." She lifts her head up as if listening to someone, though she doesn't appear as if she is going to ever let go. "Thark says hi and he missed you too. It was a bit more formal than that, you know how he is."
Suddenly remembering that she isn't the only guest, she looks around at everyone else, but only grips Zhen tighter, as if daring someone to try to pull her off.
|Azri, the Lich of Khalharum|
Azri smiled slightly at her teacher's words, then inclined her head. "So it would seem." she agreed. "I could never turn down a call from you, Zhun. You'd probably come back just to pound another lesson into me." She didn't seem to find this even vaguely unlikely - but then, when magic could do so many things, why would anybody find it so odd? Especially for one as great as Zhen - even now, he had a force of presence she couldn't quite put into words.
"It's good to see you again, old man." Mihara smiles with familliarity, figuring Zhen wouldn't want to be pitied.
Then, remembering her father's constant admonishments, she straightens up and addressed the elderly warrior more formally. "My late father would have been honored that you took the time to write to us so far across the ocean; I am equally honored that a warrior of your experience would remember this little troublemaker enough to request my presence."
"I brought a gift along. I thought it might bring back some memories," she adds, offering the silk-wrapped box she had been carrying up to this point. "I promise these haven't any tricks to them." She adds with a sly smirk.
Upon unwrapping the package at a more opportune time, Zhen, or whomever ends up doing so, finds it filled with traditional fish dumplings, the very same kind that had sparked a rivalry between a middle-aged Zhen and the kitsune kit known as Mihara.
|Nigrum Ensis Halfblood|
It was a shame that Zhen had weakened so, he deserved better. Still he would not insult him with pity, hell he was old when he beat him. He had a hard time thinking of him being even stronger in youth. He wondered if this was the fate of the strongest, old age. He let out a breath to dispel his musings. He gives a bow, then points to Grimrod as he speaks.
"Greetings Zhen, Grimrod here was just telling me how swords are for sissies. If you have spare time do cut him in half with that brilliant stroke of yours to enlighten him."
He ended with a sly smile.
Aibek gave Grimrod a quarter grin having heard the story before, nodding and glad the large orc liked the present. Kosali loved being her many forms, the dragons the most formidable, and enjoyed telling stories where she had shown others a taste of the 'wonders of transformation' as she called it very much. Aibek felt some of the tension seep out at Grimrod's approval before moving away as quietly as arriving.
As the group began to enter, Aibek pulled a second parcel from the large backpack. Walking into the large room behind the others, Aibek felt grateful for the dim lighting and braced for disappointment. About what, Aibek wasn't sure. Even in an obviously diminished state, Zhen looked bigger than life to Aibek, but few stand up to their own legends - or unknown stories ones told by mother of her children to the half-orc she had exchange letters and parcels with for longer than the young Aibek had been alive. The sorrow was palatable in the room, yet Aibek felt mied confusion that far more could go wrong than could be perceived at the moment, a familiar ever more common feeling behind those deep set eyes.
Automaticly rolling footsteps, one in front of the other, Aibek followed the rest further into the room staying quiet at the edge of the group, gripping the package tightly, dark eyes sliding over the shadows as much as the other people in the room. Pausing when the group did, Aibek listened intently to others, mind whirling to keep up with everything, saying not a word, trying to make not a sound.
Selena is taken aback for a second when he sees Zhen. They didn't met in person for years, and the person before her made a stark contrast with the man he remembered. They kept in contact with letters, but her grandfather never said her anything about his health...
Snapping out of her thoughts, Selena notices that someone else already jumped on Zhen's lap. Not without a bit of jealousy, she too darts off to her Grandfather, her earrings and bracelets tinkling while she runs.
"Grampa!" Selena shouts, as she throws her arms around Zhen's neck. She tries to say something, but the half-fiend isn't able to make any sound. Instead, she hold tight on Zhen, throwing an icy glare at the white haired girl sat on his lap.
Zhen chuckled deeply, the sound reverberating through his still massive chest. "If this is what it takes to get such greetings, I would have done this long ago, but it never seemed the right time." The huge Half-Orc rearranged the two smaller woman and greeted each in turn.
"It is good to see you, Ayreth, and Thark too. I'm not sure how stoic I have been, but one must maintain one's reputation in Katapesh. Signs of weakness invite attacks, and they never seem to realize why no one attacks me anymore until Grimrod hits them with that axe of his."
He nodded to Azri. "Maybe, but I can't imagine needing to. You have learned what I have to teach well, and life's other lessons have tempere your curiosity with a touch of caution." He chuckled again. "Only a touch, I fear, but it should be enough."
Glancing at the box Yao held up, Zhen's nostrils flared for a moment. "Fish dumplings? Hah. Hopefully this time I won't have to be quite so quick of wit to earn my supper. I shall enjoy those later."
Glancing over at the huge sword, Zhen shrugged. "Grimrod has never been known for his being subtle. He's always prefer weapons that leave his foes in pieces. Not that my weapon of choice is much more subtle. I wielded that thing one handed, once, but it still flattened most creature through pure mass. Still, he's felt my blade often enough to know it's not much fun."
Zhen wrapped an arm around Selena and smiled. "Selena. You are looking beautiful today. Keeping out of trouble, I hope? Well, any trouble you cannot handle yourself, at least?"
Next he glanced over at Aibek. "Greetings. I don't recall...no, you are not Nurasyl are you? I recognize the symbols as Vakana clan...you are Arman, no? Kosali's younger son? You are...not who I was expecting. Your brother and sisters are alright, no? I would not have called upon your family if I didn't see a need for your unique skills, but if they are not well..."
|Azri, the Lich of Khalharum|
It didn't show on her face, but Azri was honestly pleased by Zhen's words, and she curtsied slightly in acknowledgment... not even trying to push through the other girls. She was curious, not crazy. "I couldn't have asked for a better teacher." she said, tone obviously warm and welcoming.
Ayreth allows herself to be repositioned. She doesn't seem to mind sharing as long as no one tries to dislodge her.
"Thanks for watching out for him, Grimmie."
|Nigrum Ensis Halfblood|
Now slightly cheered up, Selena smiles at the Orc "Yes! Clients learned to behave when I'm around. Well, it wasn't like they didn't before, but now they seem terrified, sometimes." she chuckles. "And if they get too touchy, we just give them a warning. If they keep at it, first a slap on the hand, and then I make sure they can't use that hand for some time by breaking it." she adds a short laugh. "We obviously patch them up soon after with a Lesser Restoration. With an extra fee, of course. Gotta keep business running." the half-succubus grins impishly.
After her grandfather talks to Aibek, Selena furrows her brow "Need their unique skill?... Grampa, did you call us here for a specific reason?"
Mihara chuckles at Zhen's reaction to her gift, amused by his quip. "Not that I could have hoped to compete back then."
"As far as swords go," Mihara adds as the subject comes up, "I have always favored the more graceful ones... in numbers." As an explanation, her hands disappear into her sleeves and reappear holding a pair of fine Tien short swords, with just a hint of a curve to them, in elegant scabbards, before hiding them back.
The young Aibek's nose twitched in nervousness, eyes scanning the room until Zhen's voice pulled Aibek's attention into focus, causing the witchwolf to feel almost rooted to the ground at Halfblood's attention. Jaw set at the mention of names, mouth feeling heavy and dry as words seemed to try to escape falling out. Aibek tugged at the vest that made the young witchwolf's clan and familial identity clear to any who knew. Father described such traditional attire as a symbol of identity, a declaration of pride, a test in unfamilar surroundings where the emblem appears as decoration, and a warning in familiar ones where it shouts the rules loud and clear. Such is the way of werewolves in such times.
Thinking of Nurasyl, mother, the others, and their unique skills, Aibek wanted to say the right thing. Aibek bowed to Zhen and after a slow moment composing thoughts that felt like an eternity to Aibek, the words came out:
"My family and clan are well and we are honoured by your call. Mother is well in most of her forms as she can be, though I doubt she would be in the form and speed she would wish to come here, and Father is well but always disliked those speeds. My siblings are fine, Nurasyl's only misfortune is in not being close enough to home to summon to get here in time due to his current tasks. I have come instead..."
Aibek paused, mulling over Zhen Halfblood's words. The half-orc had said your unique skills, right? Aibek tried to replay the words, wondering if that had meant those of the clan, the family, Nurasyl, or... Aibek knew not what knowledge of their skills Halfblood other than those of Kosali who he had travelled and written with and the obvious ones of a werewolf clan.
Aibek stood up to full height and yet still felt small. I do not have all of Nurasyl's unique skills Aibek openly stated, hoping that those were not the ones most needed though could noty figure why one would most need those nor that Kosali had overstated any in her writings of her children but I have those of my own and those of my family. I hope this unexpectedness is not a disappointment . Aibek continued openly, holding back fear and bracing for the worst.
Nervously pulling the parcel box lid off, Aibek moved forward and presented it to Zhen Halfblood. Those of the Vakana, the Aibek family...Mother and I would like you to have this. It should have been sent sooner but it can only be given in person.
The box held a ceremonially folded cloth, a mix of hues of brown and grey edged in black, the folding leaving a large intricate symbol made in shining silver embroidery clearly visible. A symbol of connection and friendship with Mother's own flourish that she had added to the family symbols many moons ago. A finer honour Aibek could not think of for a friend of the Aibek family, but it was still up to Zhen Halfblood to accept.
Peeking out from underneath the cloth was a bottle. While the bottle was in the same style as the one Aibek had given to Grimrod, the label on the lid had Kosali's soft though shaky handwriting, a finer drink said to blend perfectly pleasure with revitalization, a recipe handed down the line, Mother had said many a time though that might be an oid witch tale. She had also said Zhen had quite enjoyed this blend but that too was many moon ago before this young Aibek was around to know. Glued to the spot as the centre of attention surrounded by near strangers and legends, the worst place in the universe that Aibek would want to be, holding as calmly as possible even as the longing for shadows pulled...
|Nigrum Ensis Halfblood|
Nigrum reaches for his own but does not let even a sliver of the bare blade expose itself.
"I am a little more blatant about my favored choice in swords. But it is not the sword itself that holds grace, rather the wielder. No disrespect but a graceless sword is no sword at all in my eyes."
He lowers his hand to the wakizashi held in the sash around his waist. A demonic Ja Noi Oni face on it's pommel.
"While not foolish enough to think myself the strongest, proven wrong as I have been at times. I do not draw Tsui for just anyone. Outside of full battle I normally start with this little one in personal combat. If they prove worthy then they face Tsui, nether blade is ever returned to their scabbard until they have tasted blood once drawn. Call it a custom of my people, we do not insult our blades nor do we draw them at whim."
He smiles at Mihara.
"Not that I fault others for not sharing my ways."
"Now, now," Zhen said with a smile. "Let us have no blood letting. At least, not where I can see. I'm queezy in my old age and don't need to see. And grace is where one finds it, I find. Watching a 30 foot tall Earth Elemental glide through the stones is...enlightening. The grace of giants is something to behold."
He glanced over at Aibek. "I am glad there is nothing wrong. I hope you will be able to help me. If you would listen to my request and decide for yourself whether you can help, I would be glad." He reached out and accepted the bottle and cloth. "It appears I will eat and drink well this night. Thank you. And is that your mother's own hand in the needlework? Please pass my regards on to your mother, since I likely cannot."
"I am glad buisness is going well, Selena." He smiled slightly. "At least you haven't eaten any poor customers, unlike one of your cousins..."
Sitting up slightly, Zhen sighed. "And yes, sadly, this is not simply me saying goodbye. And yes, I am dying. That is why I need all your help. You all have unique skills, talents and powers that make you an exception, even among mercernaries and heros. I would like you all to use those abilities on my behalf. You see, I have been poisoned."
The huge Fighter snorted. "Not the first time, but this is an insidious poison. It's name is Time's Thief. It does exactly what it says - it is stealing away the remaining years of my life. Once I die, I cannot come back via magic thanks it's effects. I will die of old age. It is a powerful poison, but a slow one. I still have some time yet.
"I do not know who," Zhen added, "But I think I know why. A few months ago, the Pactmasters gave me a title, as payment for sevices I provided. They wished to make me Master of Khalharum, a fallen city on Stonespire Island, and bring it back to greatness. It's position makes it an ideal site for a trading post and resupply centre, and there are legends that it was once a place of great power. I accepted, and soon after discovered the poison in my system."
Zhen smiled. "The city has broken all those in a thousand years to try and claim - now including me. But my thought is you six, relatively unknown but with unique skills, can do it. The enemy will be unwilling to use such expensive and difficult to use means as Time's Thief against you while it seems more regular methods should work.
"Thus, I make my request to you all - take Khalharum, City of Seven Towers. Make it great. Find out why I was killed for it. And survive. Such will be my revenge on those who believe I can be so easily ended. You will need diplomacy, wisdom, stealth and skill. You will also need raw force. You six cover these things. Will you accept, knowing the dangers and the task?"
As she listens to the tale of Zhen's poisoning, Mihara's mood turns to sorrow, then anger, but as the old fighter bequeaths upon them the quest, and rights, to Kalharum, these were replaced by gleeful daring.
"Oh my! An adventure... and a domain? Looks like I'll have to write home and tell them I'll be gone a little longer."
The possibilities quickly begin storming through her mind.
Matriarch of a land? Me? Jointly, yes, but still should the city grow enough, we are sure to own our own domains... Is this truly something I could hope to accomplish? Why do I doubt myself? I am the eldest daughter of the Yao clan, daughter of the Seven-Tailed Yao Saroku, and descendant of the Nine-Tailed Yao Hakeru. Oh my! It is said that the eldest daughter of a clan is the one blessed to bring it to branch off and expand. Perhaps this is how I will earn my other tails. Yes. This must be my destiny!
Ancestors, watch over me, for I shall be the one to bring the Yao Clan a domain within the western continent. Under your guidance, I shall see this quest to its end.
"I accept." Mihara bows solemnly. "And I thank you for the great honor you bestow upon me by trusting in my ability to succeed in this undertaking."
"Still, I must ask," Mihara inquires. "This poison, you mention, the Time's Thief, is there no antidote? Is there not something we can do to help you recover from this affliction?"
|Nigrum Ensis Halfblood|
Nigrum's mood darkens as he listens, those near by can feel the wrath coming off the man. It takes a large amount of self control for him to remain rooted rather then storming off to tear the underbelly of the city apart in search of the scum. His body tensed and ready for battle has no outlet and so he simply breaths, letting his focus return. With it a slight haze of clarity.
"Zhen I know little of poison or politics, I consider both to be equally unnecessary things in the world. So I will do what you ask and one better, I will personally deliver the souls of those cowards to the torments they deserve in the afterlife. If they had any sense of honor they would have sent someone worthy of taking your head. Anything less is insulting, the use of poison and old age to kill you only proves how unredeemable they are. To be cheated a warriors death, truly disgusting."
He shakes his head looking downward.
Aibek nodded as Zhen Halfblood spoke of Mother, then backed up as the half-orc began speaking to Selena, feeling relief once behind the group in the dimmer light. Breathing deeply for what felt like the first time in eons, Aibek rubbed as the edges of the vest while glancing around the room.
Aibek's attention was pulled back as Zhen began the tale of poisoning which sounded more like one of the legends than anything else and mixed emotions flooded through and automatically pulled hands away and into view. Standing silently for a time, Aibek listened as another exuberantly answered the half-orc's request - and asked the question that Aibek felt was likely on everyone's lips. Aibek rubbed a nervous hand over a worried face, mind racing on thoughts that maybe Mother or even Nurasyl would have been better suited here - Aibek saw no hope in the shadows for such a powerful thing. The only quality Zhen seemed to seek that Aibek knew was a 'unique skill' the witchwolf had was stealth and that felt so very limiting at the moment. Aibek listened as another spoke but more questions rolled to mind - about the antidotes and healing, the Pactmasters and why they would give such a tainted gift, Khalharum's history, Aibek glanced down and waited for answers, hoping some would come and that others had these questions as well...
"There is an antidote," Zhen replied with a nod, "But not for me. By the time I found out what was killing me, and how to cure it, I was too progressed to do much. Not,"[b] he added with a wry smile, [b]"That it wasn't tried anyway. The answer is to stop aging, even for a short while, and there are a few ways to do that. But most of them require resources of training I don't have, alas."
He glanced over at Nigrum. "You might be surprised at what you can do in for a city, Nigrum. There are many roles in the running of a great one, and there will be a place for you. I am sure of it."
He also glanced at Aibek and nodded slightly, to reassure his friend's child and acknowledge that she was paying attention.
Selena listens silently to her grandfather. In normal circumstances, being given an island would have Selena bouncing with joy around the room. But if the reason for it was that someone was attempting to kill Zhen, then the situation was not a reason for happiness, but of revenge. Selena slowly let Zhen go, starting to search trough the fabrics of which her sleeves are made. Retrieving a needle, she buries it deep in her index, blood now dripping from her finger. "May the Savored Sting be my testimony, I hereby swear revenge against those that wronged you, grandfather." she says solemnly, her tone completely different than before "May these drops be insignificant in the ocean of blood of my enemies, and that their action against you be repaid tenfold. With my blood and my words, I seal their fate.".
"Yes, I will do as you ask, Grandfather." the Half-succubus adds, a few moments after finishing the oath.
|Azri, the Lich of Khalharum|
Azri smiled slightly. "I almost hope they try using it on me." she said softly. Time was less important to her than it was to many other... and, unfortunately, there probably wasn't a way to transfer his condition to her, where it was unlikely to be able to do any harm. She exhaled softly, but when she opened her eyes again, she was looking right into Zhen's. "I'll watch over this city for as long as it needs me." the lich swore quietly. Ten years, a hundred, a thousand... why not do something for him with the time she had? He'd taught her so many valuable lessons, after all, and this city sounded like it would be a great place to study. And a little bit of revenge, well... that would be fun, too.
She wasn't a saint - when those she cared about were hurt, she wanted to put a stop to it and get revenge for them. She wouldn't do anything Zhen would hate, of course... but that was one of the few limits she had.
"When do you recommend we depart for Khalharum?" Mihara asks? "I'm sure the six of us will have plenty of time to get to know eachother on the way."
Ayreth slowly climbs down from Zhen's lap. Standing as tall as she can, she claps a tiny fist to her chest in a gesture of salute. "As you wish, on my honor," she says gravely.
Selena glances at the other 5 people she's supposed to work with.
Let's see... There's the usurper that thinks to be an orc (those hair reminds me of the dog I had when I was little), the woman that draw blades without a reason (I have to admit she has good tastes in clothing, though), the tall ginger (he's not that bad, I admit), and the two women that are afraid to show themselves: one keeps slinking back to the shadows and the other has been wearing that cloak for all this time.
"I suggest that we depart as soon as possible: we have lots of work to do." the half-succubus says after finishing her musings.
"Departing soon is wise," Zhen said in agreement, "And I am preparing a ship with supplies and trade goods you will likely need. But first, you will have a small job to do."
He cleared his throat. "Khalharum is an unusual city. Despite it's current state it was a place of great magic, once. The key to taking control of the city is that self-same magic. There are two parts to it, that I know - a Mark of Authority and a Symbol of Authority. I cannot help with the second, but the first I think I know."
The big Half-Orc smiled. "The Mark was given to the worthy of Khalharum by one of several large, bejewelled device. When the city fell most were sacked and taken. At least one was given in tithe to the Temple of the Dawn's Glory here, in the wilderness of Katapesh. I asked for and was granted the right to use the device by it's abbot. Unfortunately, something has happened there. I suspect the same enemy that poisoned me has done something. My agents have confirmed the device is still on the temple grounds, however.
"As I'm sure you have already guessed, I would like you to investigate the Temple, locate the device and use it at the least. Bringing it back would be better. If you can securing the temple for the Priests of Sarenrae will also be helpful, as will dealing with whatever has happened. The Priests of Sarenrae have agreed to all you to keep any items from the temple itself if you can re-take it - they ask only that you leave the items in the vault, bar the device you need, for them."
Zhen smiled. "No simple task, but one I think you can handle as a group. Is there any information or items you might need?"
Standing firm in the dim light, Aibek's dark eyes darted from speaker to speaker. Looking around the room of other assorted strangers that Zhen Halfblood had trusted to come together for this, even if this Aibek wasn't the one that Zhen had called, the first step out of the unknown seemed to the witchwolf to be in showing a few of ones own colours as a few of the others had done. Devoting ones own unique skills, and showing a few, seemed the logical next step to Aibek.
Aibek glanced down, the fingers of one hand already changing into points as the witchwolf breathed through the transition from small hand into witchwolf claw. Aibek held both hands up away from the chest to be in clear view "I can only offer the strength of my bloodlines... Aibek's still human looking hand curled into a grip as the shadows around it appeared to solidify into a dagger "and my own skills, not the skills any of my other kin or clan. Aibek's hands dropped down, the dagger fading away back into the shadow it came from at the first movement and the claw hand began to change back as Aibek continued to speak openly
"I accept this charge, the dangers...the many unknowns for your revenge, to continue your work that they sought to end...for you, and this task at the temple. But...I must admit my ignorance of Khalharum among other things and I do not know what knowledge or tools I lack that would give us the best chance of success for our and your sake and the sake of those of the temple" . Aibek paused, searching the faces around the room, pushing down the fears and confusion that lack of Nurasyl's skills and the general knowledge others seem to posses would make this Aibek unsuitable for the task or cause it to fail through ignorance or not being the right Aibek with the right skills when it mattered......
|Nigrum Ensis Halfblood|
Nigrum pulled his hood back on, throwing his eyes into sharp contrast. The golden draconic orbs instantly making him look fearsome. He adjusted the position of the sword over his shoulder.
"Tsui is all I need, unless you have someone to enchant it."
His smile is mocking without seriousness. He turns to go then stops.
"Anyone know where this temple is? Alerdene has been here before so I didn't have trouble getting to Zhen's place. But if she has not been there before I doubt she can find it."
"A temple, you say? That sounds fascinating. I don't think I've ever visited one myself. I look forward to the experience, and to dealing with whatever interlopers dared to impose themselves."
She attempts to recall any mentions of such a temple she might have heard in her short stop in the port or on the ship to Katapesh.
Knowledge(Local): 1d20 + 9 ⇒ (8) + 9 = 17
Hm... perhaps this is what those two merchants were talking about...
Zhen shrugged. "I will provide a map and some horses or other mounts to get you there. I also have someone at the temple, trying to learn more before you go in. Hopefully they will have some information for you when you arrive. Sadly, enchanting a weapon would take more time than I'd like. I can probably lend you a weapon, if you wish?" Zhen didn't look like he expected the Cisor to accept, knowing his preference for the weapon.
Ayreh cocks her head to the side, her eyes unfocused. After a moment, she nods and says to no one in particular, "Well, obviously, we're going.... of course." Another moment, and exasperatedly, "Yes, yes, I'll be careful."
Turning to Zhen, her attention becomes focused again. Gruffly, she says, "We go, find Mark." The black cat winds itself through her feet.
|Nigrum Ensis Halfblood|
Nigrum shakes his head.
"No thanks, I don't want one of Grimrod's old axes he used to chop up some freakish monster and then groom himself with."
He glances at the orc.
"As far as mounts go, I would not want to make Alerdene jealous."
He lets loose a piecing whistle. A few moments later a stark white hippogriff is seen circling over head.
"If there is nothing else I better meet her before she starts trying to force her way in."
He says with a chuckle.
|Azri, the Lich of Khalharum|
Azri, too, looked a bit amused at Nigrum's words - but carefully listened to Zhen's words. "I'm ready to leave any time." she said mildly. Food and fatigue wouldn't be much of an issue for her, and she wanted to be able to report success to Zhen as soon as possible. For now, at least, she was planning to hang back slightly - trailing along behind the others, and hexing anything that got in their way - as she looked to see what they were really made of. Her hopes were high - Zhen wouldn't entrust things to a bunch of incompetents, after all! The only question lingering in her mind was just how many of her hopes would be met... what could she rely on them for, and how could they work together to fulfill the old hero's dreams?
"Then I shall bid you farewell, for now." Zhen smiled. "With a touch of luck I will be able to see you away on your journey when you return. Good luck, and my blessings with you all."
You depart from Zhen's home escorted by Grimrod, taken to the stables for mounts and gifted a finely done map of the nation of Katapesh. The Temple is a couple of days west of the city, mostly along the main roads and thus making travel easier. Your final sight of the Halfblood Home is Grimrod standing by the gate, watching you ride away.
The travel to the Temple of Dawn's Glory is relatively simple. Patrols guard merchants from bandit attacks, and you do not look like a merchant's train full of ripe, easy plunder and slaves anyway. On the evening of the third day you arrive.
Even with the sun going down the limestone bowl the temple sits in reflects a brilliant amount of light. You can only imagine what it is like in the daytime, with a full sun.
The Temple complex seems to be a series of linked courtyards with buildings between, and a heavy outer wall. To the north a simple structure stands next to small lake, a few houses dotted around it to enjoy it's water supply.
At the rim of the bowl a tall man stands, dressed in the traditional robes of the country and light armour. A heavy golden symbol of Sarenrae hangs from his neck He nods in greeting as you approach. "You come with regards of the Halfblood, yes? How fares he?"
I would like to bring up something during the three days of travel, if that's alright.
A little ways after the group departs, Mihara appears pensive, looking to her new companions in turn, one after another. She spends a lot of time deliberating a certain question in her mind. Eventually, over breakfast on the second day, she comes to a decision and speaks up.
"It looks to me like the six of us will be working together for the foreseeable future. Going into such an undertaking with little idea of who my companions are seems to me like a foolish errand, and I am confident most of you will agree." She begins to explain.
"I am willing to drop the proverbial mask if those of you who also have things to hide do so as well. I promise to guard your secret if you promise to guard mine, but I would feel safer knowing ahead of time if one of my companions is likely to attract some matter of unusual trouble."
Rolling ahead in case I forget later.
Knowledge(Engineering), untrained: 1d20 + 4 ⇒ (14) + 4 = 18
|Nigrum Ensis Halfblood|
Untrained knowledge maxes out at DC 10 regardless of roll unless your using a library.
Nigrum tosses a bit of meat over his shoulder for Alerdene before speaking. Which she promptly snatches out of the air with her beak.
"Don't have any secrets that are going to bring trouble. I am what you see, a swordsman and bounty hunter. No one really goes after bounty hunters if their not on the job and any swordsman that want to challenge me won't have any issues with you folk."
Trail: Mihara's Query
Ayreth ponders the question for a bit, chewing on her full lower lip. Normally, I'd say, "My secrets are my own," and leave it at that. But Grandpa Zhen requested that we work together. For him, I can try to be open. Aloud, she whispers, "Any thoughts?" She waits for another moment as Nigrum answers Mihara, but seemingly receives no response. "Of course not," she huffs quietly.
Finally, she addresses the question asked of the group. "I am Ayreth. I do not believe that my... talents wil endanger the group. I can occasionally contact the Other Side and draw some power from there. It's nothing, really."
Temple of Sarenrae:
Ayreth steadies herself and Emmitt as the horse comes to a halt. She looks over the man in the robes with a slightly suspicious look. Be careful of those who dedicate themselves to a single perspective. Sound advice, Thark.
When he asks about Zhen, her look softens. "As well as can be expected when there is little hope for improvement. He sends us in his stead. I am called Ayreth."
|Azri, the Lich of Khalharum|
Azri simply smiled at Mihara's question. "We're affiliated with Zhen. Of course we'll attract trouble sooner or later." she said as she relaxed. "From his murderers if no one else. I myself am undead, so I suppose some of the holy men will react poorly if they find out. Do try to avoid giving it away - I'm working on ways to cover it up a bit better, and I think I'm making good progress."
"Azri." she said, introducing herself and nodding politely. "It sounded like you'd prefer for this to be resolved sooner instead of later - would you be so good as to show us the way?" she inquired of the holy man.
Selena listens groggyly as Mihara speaks. Waking up early wasn't something the half-succubus liked to do: neither was going to sleep without doing anything fun (she brought some bottles of spiced wine from Absalom, but drinking them alone would have been depressing), or traveling long distances, something that the party will have easily guessed by her numerous "Are we there yet?" during the trip.
Selena springs up when Azri mentions to be an undead "Oooh, really? Let me see, let me see!" she says excitedly as she tries to peek under the Lich's hood. "You know, I always heard that undead are all evil to the bone abominations, but you look like a nice person! I mean, I'm the one to talk..." she says with a grin before continuing. "...I'm an half-succubus! I guess you all know what a succubus usually does, yes? But don't worry! My customers never complained, and I accidentallt killed someone only once. Bastard got it coming, though." she adds with bravado, with a tinge of nervousness in the last part.