DMDM's Way of the Wicked, Part II: The Dark Tower

Game Master Douglas Muir 406

Villains! You've committed acts of great and terrible evil. But now comes your greatest challenge yet. You must find and take control of the Dark Tower, and unleash horror upon the Kingdom of Talingarde.


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Part 1: The Cabinet of Doctor Moon

The Cabinet of Doctor Moon is a knot of twisted wrongspace. It is a spherical place of uncertain size; perspective does not seem to work properly here, and also the space itself seems to expand or contract sometimes. Large or small, Doctor Moon is almost always there. Sometimes he swings and climbs around the walls like a huge, obese ape. Sometimes he floats dreamily, drifting in midair. It has been suggested that this is the origin of his name. When he floats with legs folded and hands clasped across his vast belly, from a distance he does look a bit like a great pale moon, if the moon were flabby and hairy and covered with oozing sores. But in truth nobody knows why the Doctor is called what he's called.

The surfaces of the cabinet are knotted and organic. Sometimes they throb and pulse. Things grow out of them. There are oddly shaped lenses dotted here and there, set rather randomly around the sphere. Perhaps they are windows? It's quite hard to say. Some are blank and empty. Others appear to look out on different landscapes, different worlds.

There are things in there with Doctor Moon. Some are alive. There are several many-limbed things that scamper about frantically, endlessly. There are some winged creatures that hunch along one floorwall, hissing and moaning softly to themselves. And there's a thing floating near the center: a huge ovoid made of some sort of translucent gelatinous substance. Occasionally a ripple passes over its surface. It's impossible to say if it's a living thing, a decoration, a piece of furniture, or something else entirely.

Right now Doctor Moon is finishing a period of meditation. He's been floating in the center, near the ovoid gel-thing, eyes closed as if in sleep or deep thought. On one immense hand he is wearing something like a glove. Upon closer examination, it's the flayed skin of a goblin, placed on his hand like a puppet. He glances at it, peels it off, hands it to a limb that protrudes from a nearby wallfoor. The limb folds it neatly and puts it away. (The face of the goblin skin twists and grimaces as he does this, and seems to be mouthing silent words.) Perhaps it will be useful again one day. Then he snaps his fingers. "Visitor! We have a visitor!"

In the Cabinet of Doctor Moon, things crawl and scamper about the dripping, reeking surfaces, making ready. The visitor is approaching, she is near, she is knocking at the door. (There is no door. Nonetheless, there is a knocking.) The Doctor smiles. The visit has been expected for some time now. He knows what it is about. But perhaps there will be a surprise!

Doctor Moon loves surprises.


Aldencross, The Morning After

Nothing moves in Aldencross.

A few buildings are still burning fitfully, but last night's rain was drenching; it put most of the fires out. Much of the town is still standing. Aldencross had many stone buildings, and even some of the wooden ones are still partially intact.

Nothing moves, though. In the cold light of morning, not even a fly buzzes around the drying pools of blood in the streets. (The flies will come, to be sure. But later, when the sun is higher and things have warmed up a little.) The invading army departed at dawn precisely, bugbear officers cracking whips, hungry goblins snatching last handfuls of food to swallow on the run.

A few more powerful monsters were there as well: several trolls, a hill giant. The giant threw a boulder through the front door of the Lord's Dalliance. The common room, inside, is a welter of broken glass and shattered furniture. A single corpse lies spreadeagled on the floor. It is partly burned, and mutilated. Some of the mutilation happened after death: the goblins did not have time for a proper feast, so they removed the tastiest and most interesting bits -- eyes, tongue, liver -- set some fires and scampered on. One fire is still burning strongly, in the back room. Soon it will burn through the floor above, collapsing it. The wet thatch of the roof will burn smokily, but it will burn. By midmorning nothing will be left of the Lord's Dalliance but its stone foundation and ashes.

One goblin remains behind. He tried to tip over the rack of beer kegs, and succeeded in pulling it down on himself. Now he lies crushed beneath it. From one shattered keg, a slow trickle of beer flows across the wooden floor. It puddles around the corpse on the floor and is just beginning to flow towards the door.

No horses whinny from the stables; they're all dead, or taken. (Goblins hate and fear horses, but General Sakkarot knows how useful the animals can be.) No dogs bark -- goblins hate them too, and there was no order protecting them. Here and there in the town, the goblins mounted severed dog heads on stakes, in playful imitation of their larger cousins the bugbears.

In the distance, a crow calls, and then another. Clever and curious, the black birds have some notion what the tower of smoke over Aldencross might mean. Soon they will come to visit. They will find much to interest them.

But for now, nothing moves in Aldencross.


Part 2: He Likes To Watch

"So what?" Spite-Captain Ghemessa's voice is a harsh, sibilant whisper. "What is the point of this?"

"Considering the board, reviewing the state of play. The effects of an opponent's last move." Doctor Moon floats in space. He is very slowly rotating around his vertical axis, so that Spite-Captain Ghemessa must either shift position every few seconds, or resign herself to talking to the back of his head sometimes. "And after all, isn't it pretty? One could not ask for a lovelier morning."

"It is a triviality!" The Spite-Captain leans forward and seems to jab a finger in the direction of the Doctor's huge belly. It's hard to say for sure, because it's impossible to see the Spite-Captain clearly. She is a shadowy blur, a smudge of darkness. Only her pale eyes can be seen. Those, and an occasional glimpse of teeth. "A few mortals slain! A few hovels burnt! What is this to us?"

The Doctor smiles benignly, and waves a hand at the scene before them. "Oh, my dear Captain. Do you not know that there can be just as much joy and beauty in a single child pulling the wings off an insect as in the death agonies of a hundred kingdoms aflame?"

"Metaphysical nonsense!"

Dr. Moon sighs, mountainously, and shakes his head. "Very well, then. Do you not know, then, that the two may be connected? The child who, at this very moment, has finished pulling the insect's wings off, and is now asking herself whether to pull of some legs as well, and if so how many, and how slowly... that child, that joyful child, may be the cause and first mover that eventually sets those hundred kingdoms aflame. For there is a beginning to every end." The Doctor's slow rotation has him facing, for the moment, away from the center of his twisted space and towards the various lenses on the floorwalls. He nods in their direction. "Dear Captain. I know that you Shichiriron are very... focused. But can you not look out upon these worlds, these glorious worlds, and see how all things connect? At least a little?" His voice is almost plaintive.

The Spite-Captain makes a motion: sharp, dismissive. "The Queens are interested in results, Seer. You know what they want."

"Of course I do, little Fleshless. They want us to tell them the right move. But you can't make sense of that without first overlooking the board and the players." Doctor Moon cocks his head thoughtfully to one side for a moment. (A bit of an accomplishment, given that he almost entirely lacks a neck.) "Patience is a very small part of their nature, and even less of yours. Still... take a moment. Watch with me."

"Watch what?" There is a snarl in the shadow-creature's voice.

Doctor Moon does not hear it, or chooses to ignore it. His slow rotation has brought him to face the gelatinous ovoid. He raises one massive hand, and gestures at it. Images begin to form, as if rising out of its murky depths. "Watch white, little one. Watch white, on defense..."


The Garden of Forking Paths covers approximately twenty acres of elaborately and precisely landscaped ground in central Matharyn, just outside the palace of King Markadian V "The Just", King of Talingarde.

The Garden was the creation of the King's predecessor Markadian II, who was known as Markadian the Learned. Markadian the Learned had his faults and flaws; most notably, he paid perhaps too much attention to books and art and culture, and not enough to (for instance) making sure his mad brother was not plotting to kill him. That said, he left something wonderful behind. In the Garden there are flower beds, and hedges, and lovely fruiting trees. There are dozens of statues and carvings; there are stairs winding up and down hillsides and descending into the earth. Water is everywhere, in ponds and streams and small perfect waterfalls, pooled in stone basins or suddenly bubbling forth from the earth.

And of course there are the forking paths.

* * *

The morning after the news arrives from the north, King Markadian goes for a walk in the Garden. People say he does this when he wants to be alone, and think. (The King has a reputation as a slow thinker but a deep one.) This is not exactly true. The truth is, the King likes the Garden for its own sake. He does not have a reputation as a man who appreciates beauty. The King is a patron of soldiers and hospitals, churches and monasteries, not artists or sculptors or landscape architects. But the Garden is a work of genius, and it soothes the King's spirit. He feels the need for a little soothing right now.

Also, he has not come here to be alone.

The King walks slowly along a stone path, his brow furrowed in thought. To one side is a field of small, intensely white flowers, all in bloom. On the other, a set of pillars support several disc-shaped calendar stones, taken as tribute from the savages of the western forests. Sometimes, the King will linger for a few moments to admire the faded carvings on the stones, crude but fascinating, and the way they have been carefully arranged to catch the morning sun. Today, however, he walks on.

The King turns left. The path descends abruptly into a narrow place where moss grows on steep banks. A curved stone bench is there. A tall man, seated upon it, looks up from his book. He puts the book aside, comes off the bench, kneels. "Your Majesty."

"Rise, Lord Hooke." The King does not smile -- he is not a man who smiles much at the best of times -- but his eyes are pleased. Lord Hooke has entered the Garden by a way most secret. Besides the King himself, only three people in the world know of it. They are people that the King either loves most dearly, trusts absolutely, or both.

Lord Hooke rises. He is a tall man, taller than the King (and the King is not short), and lean. He is somewhere on the later side of middle age, his temples gone grey, his brown hair fading to salt-and-pepper. His face is angular; his nose is long and sharp. Beneath a high, narrow forehead, his eyes are bright and alert. His left arm is in a sling.

The King nods towards it. "Your injury? Have you not seen a cleric? I was told the blade was poisoned."

"It was." Lord Hooke removes his arm from the sling, carefully, and holds it up for examination. It is oddly twisted, and the hand is clenched motionless into a claw. "The poison was alchemical in origin. A nerve toxin. Very advanced. It requires rather powerful healing magic. Not the sort of thing you get from the local priest. Rather than arouse questions, I'm quietly having some potions brewed up. It'll be another day or so." He shrugs, and slips his hand back in the sling. "If need be, I could swear an Inquisitor to secrecy... but why take chances, for my own convenience? I can buckle my boots one-handed for another day."

The King nods, and then turns and walks on without a word. Lord Hooke falls in, beside the King and half a step behind.

Talingarde is a kingdom won by the sword and ruled in the name of holy Mitra. The kingdom's rulers are not noted for their erudition or their cunning. Strength of arm and holiness of spirit are the bulwarks of Talingarde, not spellcraft or scholarship. The sad end of Markadian the Learned is still taught to children as an object lesson against spending too much time reading or thinking. Talingarde's has many leaders who are valiant, and many more who are deeply pious. But men and women of brilliant intellect are rare among the Talirean aristocracy. A brilliant intellect dedicated to the kingdom's service is rarer still. Therefore, there is real concern in the King's voice when he speaks again. "Lord Hooke, they say you nearly died."

"Well, sire. As the sages say, 'nearly' only counts with horseshoes and fireball spells." One corner of Lord Hooke's lean mouth crooks up in a half smile. "And I came out of the encounter considerably better than my would-be assassin, in the end. Or his hidden paymaster."

"Hm." A more demonstrative man, or a man who was not King, might say something like Thank the Bright God you are well, my friend. The kingdom could ill afford to lose you, and neither could I. But Markadian is not a demonstrative man, and he is most certainly King. So he simply says "Hm," again.

The path forks. To the left it rises; to the right it descends again. The King turns right. The narrow place turns into a dark cleft, then into a tunnel whose walls are lined with curious carvings. Very likely another branch of the path passes above the tunnel; but then again, perhaps not. It is difficult to know. At the mouth of the tunnel the path goes up a short flight of stairs to another fork, marked by a squat jade statue that smiles enigmatically. (The statue was taken from a dragon's hoard, long ago. It has a long and startling history. But now it is in the Garden.)

Lord Hooke and the King walk on. The path descends again, this time down a broad flight of stairs. At the bottom of the stairs is an arch carved with hieroglyphs; beyond that is a triangular chamber ten meters wide. Other paths exit through arches to the left and right. Dust motes dance in a beam of sunlight that descends from a vertical shaft in the center of the high ceiling. Below, in the precise center of the room, a single pale fish swims in slow circles in a marble basin. In the shadowy corners of the room loom three massive statues of winged animals: lion, serpent, bull. The King turns right. Lord Hooke follows. The path ascends.

"Well then," says the King at last, "tell me then. What of your investigation?"

They stop for a moment. Ahead of them, the path curves gracefully up the side of a small hill covered with flowering shrubs. Birdsong fills the air as the walkers emerge into a small clearing that looks out upon the northern face of the Royal Palace. Beyond it in the distance glimmer the waters of the great lake.

"Sire," says Lord Hooke softly, "we are under attack."

"You mean in the North?"

"No, Sire. Not only in the North."

The two men lean together. Their voices fall very low.

The design of the Garden is simple in concept, bewilderingly complex in practice. There is one entrance and one exit. Between them is a path. The path forks; every fork presents exactly two choices. No fork is visible from another fork, though. Thus a wanderer in the garden is always in one of three states: approaching a fork, leaving a fork, or on a path with no forks to be seen.

Lord Hooke is holding something for the King's examination. It is a small brooch or buckle, the metal cunningly fashioned into two letters: VI.

"I don't suppose his name was Victor, or some such," the King murmurs.

"No, Sire. I think it more likely that where there is a VI, there are also a I through a V. At least a V..."

The two men walk a little further, slowly, still speaking in low voices. There are no dead ends and no crossroads. Only choices: left or right, left or straight, straight or right. The paths curve and wind and sometimes dive under or over each other; part of the garden is actually underground, tunnels and chambers.

"...recovered this. An invoice. I thought nothing of it at first, but then I looked again. It's been years since I've seen that handwriting, but..."

"Pilkington?" The King frowns, then his eyes widen. "Pilkington! I remember! But didn't he...?"

"There was a note, sire, but no body. I remember thinking it odd at the time."

The King's brow furrows in thought. "Klapaucius Q. Pilkington, and... demons?"

"I would agree that no man would seem less likely to ally himself with the forces of chaos." Lord Hooke shrugs. "We need more information."

"Hm." The King looks up at the sky, blue and cloudless. "And was that all you learned from your assassin and his not-quite-well-enough hidden paymaster? All that there is to learn?"

Lord Hooke makes a small bow. "Sire, the investigation continues. Be assured we shall use all lawful means."

"Hm." A silence falls. Lord Hooke has said "all lawful means". He has not said "only all lawful means". As both the King and Lord Hooke know, there are means that are not lawful at all. There are, for instance, certain dark magics that can compel the dead to speak. Of course, such things are most firmly unlawful in pious Talingarde. The silence lingers for a little while.

An accident has brought them near the center of the Garden. At the next fork stands a curious monument: a throne taller than a tall man, made of a single stone carved into the shape of an enormous flower. The arms and back and seat of the throne are petals. It once supported the rulers of an ancient empire. The King's great-grandfather had it laboriously dragged over several hundred miles to the grounds of his new palace. The Garden was later built outwards around it.

The unobtrusive but meticulous gardeners keep the Petal Throne free of dust and bird droppings, but rain and sun and time are slowly working on it. The curious glyphs around the base, still barely visible when the King was a boy, have all but disappeared. So too has the small carving of a wildly yapping little dog right at ground level. The King remembers that he used to wonder what that carving was about: religious? The signature of the artist? An obscure joke? Now it's just a vaguely dog-shaped hunk of rock. And one day the whole throne will just be a stone with a somewhat chairlike shape.

"Well, then," says the King. "Well then."

The King turns and walks away. Lord Hooke follows him, intent, a little stopped, half a pace behind.

Behind them, the perfect light of late afternoon slants downwards through the leaves, falling across the lawns and the flowerbeds, casting long and curious shadows from the statues and pillars and carved stones. Birds sing and water flows, but nobody walks there. The Garden of Forking Paths lies empty as night creeps softly in upon the great city of the Matharyn, capital of Talingarde.


There is a commotion in the Seekers' Hall.

This is most unusual. The Seekers are disciplined, contemplative. Their Hall lies deep in the Vale of Valtaerna, a place of joyful peace. The meditative quiet is sometimes broken by soft chanting, by the sounds of vigorous exercise and the thud of blows in practice combat, by the singing of hymns of praise. But there is almost never commotion.

In a chamber deep within the Hall, a tall man in a blue robe sits cross-legged in front of a reflecting pool. The chamber is spartan, unfurnished. The man is young, broad-shouldered, muscular. His face is long; his nose has an aristocratic arch. His hair is either ash blond or prematurely white. His eyes are a very pale blue. He wears simple robes of blue and white, knee-length, leaving his arms bare. Around one muscular bicep is wrapped a single black ribbon.

He has been meditating... but the commotion is coming closer. With a single graceful moment, he unfolds himself from the lotus position, stands, faces the door. His position is at once relaxed and ready, eyes alert, weight shifted a little forward on the balls of his feet.

The door to the chamber crashes open. A knot of struggling men and women tumbles into the room, grappling and punching and kicking. They all wear blue robes. One of them turns to the white-haired man. "Brother Richard! Guard yourself! We are under a magical -- unh!" Someone punches him in the stomach and he falls.

A young woman enters the room, lifting her skirt aside as she steps carefully around the struggling mass of blue-robes. In this place of ascetic simplicity, she is as vivid as a shout. She wears a long red skirt, a green embroidered vest over a white blouse, and boots of soft red leather. Her hair, light brown and curly, is held in place by a red scarf. Her skin is a light brown, her eyes a bright greenish-blue. Her fingers are ringed, her nails are lacquered, and there is a small complex tattoo on the back of one hand.

The white-haired man's eyes widen. "...Janna?

"Richard! Oh, Richard!" The young woman rushes across the room, throws her arms around him. "Oh, brother, brother, friend of my heart! I came as soon as I heard!" She touches the black ribbon on his arm. "I am so sorry!"

The white-haired man raises one hand and returns the embrace, a little awkwardly. "Janna... dear Janna... have you done something to these good brothers and sisters?"

"Oh? Oh!" Janna turns, seems to notice the struggling blue-robes for the first time. "They tried to stop me! They said you were receiving no visitors!" She turns back to Richard. "Of course that wouldn't mean me!"

Sir Richard blinks. "Well... in truth, I was not receiving. The Seekerhood has granted my a period of solitude for mourning and meditation. I would have made an exception for you, but you were on the mainland. I never thought..."

Another blue-robe emerges from the struggling knot by the door, where men and women are still vigorously wrestling and punching. "Brother Richard! She is an evil sorceress! She came on the back of a dragon! She has stolen the minds and wills of urkk!" Another blue-robe seizes him in a chokehold, and he falls back into the scrum.

"Janna?

"Oh yes, of course." Janna waves a ringed hand. The mass of struggling men and women suddenly collapses. Blue-robes groan, clutch their heads, look around in astonishment. Janna turns back to Richard. "A copper dragon owed me a favor. I would have teleported but this place is... Oh, Richard, never mind that! Are you all right?"

"Janna, I am... well enough. Just a moment." Richard steps over to the group by the door, murmurs a few words. In a few moments, the blue-robes are going out the door, though with many confused and resentful backward looks. Richard closes the door and returns. He puts his hands on Janna's shoulders. "Dear friend, dear sister... I should have known. But you did not have to come. I mourn Father, as is right and proper. But he died honorably, sword in hand, as he would have wanted. And shall we doubt that he dwells with holy Mitra now? I mourn, dear Janna, but my spirit is not in pain."

"Oh, Richard." Janna puts her hands around his arms, looks deep into his eyes. "I know how strong you are. And I would not have interrupted your mourning. But... there is something else."

"Something else?"

Janna hesitates. Then, "When I heard the news, I... Richard, I cast the cards."

Richard blinks in astonishment. Then he frowns. "Janna. You know that -- "

"Yes yes I know Richard. But I promised not to use them casually. And, Richard, listen please. I cast the cards, and..." her voice lowers, almost to a whisper, "Richard... dear brother... my mother is involved in this." She looks away and down, folds her arms across her chest. "The very first card I put down was... it doesn't matter. But her, unmistakeably her. I had to close the reading before it was finished, or she would have seen me seeing her."

Richard has gone very still. His acquaintance with Janna's mother was brief, but left a lasting impression. Although they are alone in the room, he too lowers his voice. "You say, involved in this. Do you know how?"

"No. No details. Just that she is... near, her hand in it somehow." Janna closes her eyes for a moment. A single tear rolls down one cheek. "I... she... Oh, Richard, I told you she would never forgive you!"

"You think she is involved in this because of me?" Richard shakes his head. "My father's death was one of hundreds, Janna. The Wall is broken, and monsters flood into the North. It would seem a rather... indiscriminate...? sort of revenge."

"You don't know her." But Janna's voice is uncertain now.

"Well, no." And glad of that. Richard's mind flies back, for the thousandth time, to that night. The blazing ruins of the caravan around them. The screams of the wounded and the mad. His comrades all shattered in body or mind. Janna lay senseless, helpless on the ground between them, barely alive, as they battled over her unconscious body. Her blazing, terrible eyes. Her red lips, shaping the words of some shocking curse, some spell of madness and horror. He had raised his sword... Richard has not had many regrets yet in his life. But he deeply regrets his failure to kill that monster when he had the chance.

"Richard," Janna is blinking back tears, "if it is my mother... what do we do now?"

Richard is not brilliant, or even particularly bright. But he is nobody's fool either, and he has had years to think about this. "Well, Janna. Dear sister. We always knew she would come back some day. And now that she has, well, here is my thought..."

A few yards above their heads, on the roof of the Seeker's Hall, a copper dragon grins and stretches like a cat. Men and women in blue robes gesticulate, argue in soft voices, rub bruises and sore heads. The sun shines brightly on the Vale of Valtaerna, and children laugh and play on the green grass.


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The refugee column winds west and south beneath iron-grey skies.
There are perhaps three hundred people. Some have carts, some are on foot. Progress is slow. The rain has churned the road to mud. A cold wind blows from the north. Many of the refugees are not clothed for this weather. Others are wounded, traumatized. Soon, if they don’t find shelter, people will begin to die.

Miles to the north, a column of smoke is barely visible in the distance, a black column gradually merging with the grey of the clouds. To be on the road, cold and wet and muddy, without proper food or water, is terrible; but what is behind is far worse. Somewhere near the back of the column a child is crying, endlessly.

The refugees have no leader, but a priest of Mitra has been trying to organize things a little, distribute food, find clothes and blankets for the weakest and frailest. He trudges up and down the column, drenched and cold, mud up to his waist. He has only a few minor healing magics, and they have long since been used. He is very, very tired.

And then a voice speaks from the empty air. ”Father, I am told the Bright Lord counsels against despair. Behind these clouds, the sun still shines.”

The priest looks around in amazement. ”Who -- ? Ah!”

Nimpy Cleadhoe coalesces from thin air. He is hovering a couple of feet above the ground, so that his face is level with the cleric’s. In other times, the priest would be shocked and a little appalled at this display of magic – strange, perhaps diabolical! – but now he just feels a vague wonder.

”I scouted ahead, sir, as we discussed. Two miles up, there is a crossroads. Half a mile to the left is the manor house of Sir Monteith. He rode away to the war this morning, but I spoke with his lady and his seneschal are making ready. They can accommodate forty people.” The halfling nods at the column. ”Pick the sickest, worst injured, and most frail. Send them there. The others will have to continue on towards Elf Way. If they persevere, and the rain does not worsen, you can be in West Wapentak by nightfall. They should be able to take you all in, there. I will go ahead and tell them to make ready.”

A faint spark of hope flickers to life in the priest’s soul. A long day’s trudge in the rain… but food and shelter at the end of it. And the sick and injured taken care of, that terrible responsibility lifted. ”Halfling… thank you. Surely Mitra must have sent you to our aid!”

”What less could I do? We must all help each other, Father. Especially in these times.” Nimpy is not an adherent of the Mitran faith. But he is a deeply moral person, and since his escape from Captain Odenkirk his natural optimism and ebullience have slowly been returning. ”There are still hard times ahead. But if we hold together, we will bring each other through.” Nimpy rises a little higher into the air. ”And now, good Father, I must go.”

”Will we see you again, my son?”

”Who knows, Father? But not soon. I have a… duty, to attend to.” The halfling begins to fade from view again. (There would no real reason for this. The refugees are not paying attention, and they are crossing open countryside. There seems to be no one else around. But Nimpy has become very punctilious about using invisibility when coming or going. Nimpy has become very punctilious about a number of things, lately.) ”May your bright god bless and keep you, Father. Farewell.”

”Bless you, my son! Bless you!” But the halfling is gone.

Nimpy Cleadhoe, who has been an explorer and a singer, an adventurer and a teller of tales and a tormented captive of evil, flies west, unseen on the cold morning wind. He will stop briefly at the town and tell them to prepare. This band of refugees is just the first; many more will be coming. War has come to the North, and it will not be ended soon.

He will stop at the town… and then he will continue, south and west and south again. Nimpy knows much, has seen much. He was there at Balentyne, too late to help but not too late to watch. He knows that this invasion is no random eruption, but part of a long-conceived plan. And he knows much of that plan, now, and much of those who are carrying it out. Nimpy's eyes narrow against the cold wind. He had tried to convince them. Did he try hard enough? If he had been just a bit more determined, a bit more eloquent, could he have convinced Lord Havelyn and the others? Is this horror, to some extent, his fault? He shakes his head. There is no point in recriminations. But next time... To the south, in the capital, there are people who will be able to make use of his knowledge. This time, he will make sure they listen.

Nimply Cleadhoe flies onward to the west. And as he does so, far in the east behind him, the clouds part for a moment. The rising sun sends a long ray of golden light across the miles. It makes a path for him, bright and shining.


Part 3: A Word That Does Not Translate

”This is pointless!” There is no mistaking the snarl in Spite-Captain Ghemessa’s voice now. ”I warn you, Seer, the Queens will not stand idly by while you neglect your duties!”

”I have duties? I wasn’t aware.” Doctor Moon’s voice is mild, his expression bland and benign. ”And would you say the Queens stand, exactly? Don't they, I don’t know, slither or something?”

”You… you dare to mock them, Seer?”

”Sometimes!” Doctor Moon folds his hands over his immense belly, and seems to lean back. (A neat trick, given that he is floating in space.) "Dear Captain, you must allow me my occasional -- " The Doctor speaks a word in the tongue of his kind. It has no precise translation in any mortal language. It means "random amusement", but with strong connotations of malice and delight in disturbing or harming others. It is a word that Doctor Moon enjoys very much, and uses often.

"But," the Doctor continues dreamily, while the Spite-Captain hisses and sputters with outrage, "if the Queens insist, I can tell them this much. There are more players in the game than they yet guess. There's an entire team that's hardly been heard from yet." The Doctor waves one hand at the gel-bubble, and once again images begin to rise and coalesce...


She plays the harp, beautifully.

From the waist up she is an elven woman, achingly beautiful. The rest of her is a great serpent, shimmering scales in rainbow colors. Two great golden wings sprout from her back. Her acolytes sit in a circle before her, rapt, listening. They are in a clearing near the top of a hill. To one side, a stream trickles into a pool. Somehow, the sound of the water merges seamlessly with the music.

Behind them, mile upon mile, stretches the endless green of the forest. In the distance, thunder growls. And that too is part of the music.

* * * * *

He laughs among the crashing clouds.

They thunder, and he roars back in delight. His beard is grey and his eyes are bright. Eagles wheel and scream around him, then turn and flee the oncoming storm. But he only laughs again. Rain falls, hard and driven by the roaring wind, then hail. It patters off him like thrown gravel. He ignores it. He holds up one hand, as a falconer might lift his arm to his bird.

And the thunder roars, and the thunderbolt strikes him. Blue-white light crashes around him. He closes one hand and seizes the lightning. It writhes and buzzes and roars in his grip. He seizes it with his other hand as well, pulls, heaves. The storm howls but he has it in his grasp now. Slowly, laughing with delight, he begins to walk backwards, pulling the captured storm with him.

* * * * *

She walks beneath the earth, in fire.

Lava pours out of deep tubes and conduits into a vast, flaming pool. Somewhere high above, on the slopes of the volcano, the ground shudders just a little. She does not notice, or care. She is covered in fire, a garment of living flame, red and blue. She puts one foot into the lava and splashes a little, as it testing its temperature. She makes a little grimace: perhaps it is too hot, or too cool.

She leaps, as if jumping over the river of flame. But at the top of her arc she continues to rise. She ascends, illuminating the darkness around her, in a slow spiral, until she has reached the great arch of the cavern roof. There she stops for a little time, standing on the air, arms outstretched around a great curve of stone as if embracing the roots of the mountain. She seems to be listening for something. Little flames detach themselves from her garment and crawl slowly to and fro across her body.

After some minutes she relaxes her grip. Whatever she was listening for (if that is what she was doing), she seems satisfied. She descends back through the hot air and smoke of the cavern, trailing flames. She lands by the edge of the lava. Again she puts her foot into it. This time, it is better: just right. She disrobes, hangs her garment of flames over an outcropping of obsidian. She steps into the lava, knee deep, hip deep. She sits, lies back, spreads her arms. She breathes out a long breath, and her breath is a flame.


Part 4: The Importance of Hand Lotion

"This is pointless!" Spite-Captain Ghemessa may be little more than a shadow with teeth -- but those teeth are bared now, and sharp. "Cease your maundering, you insolent fool! The Two Queens demand your attendance!"

Doctor Moon sighs, shakes his head. Then he turns and swims away through the air, oddly graceful despite his vast bulk. As he moves, he calls over one shoulder. "Dear Captain, you haven't even had a chance to look around!" He opens something like a flap or a lid in the wallfloor, reaches inside, rummages. There are bangings and clatterings. Then he pulls out a large jar made of what looks like greenish glass. "Ah-ha!"

(Behind him images seem to come and go at random in the translucent gel-thing. It glows blue and white for a moment, and there: Inquisitor Matthias is packing for a trip. It won't take long; the Inquisitor's needs are simple. The odd scar on his face is prominent. His expression is serene, almost happy. These are bad times for Talingarde, but Matthias is a man who has dedicated his life to rooting out evil. The work awaits.)

The Spite-Captain comes slinking up behind the Doctor. "Enough delays!"

"Almost done, Dear Captain! Just one more... yes, there we are!" The Doctor holds up a small vial. "For the hands!" In demonstration, he pours the liquid over his massive, meaty hands, rubs them vigorously together. The liquid is translucent and faintly luminous. When he is done, his hands glow faintly too.

"What is the point of this, fool?"

"Oh, dear Captain! It's a soothing balm, very good against chafing and chapping! And it has such a pleasant smell, don't you agree?" The Doctor smiles broadly. "And also, it lets me touch things that are untouchable. Like, for instance, yourself." Doctor Moon lunges forward and seizes the Spite-Captain in both huge hands. There is a brief struggle, and then the Doctor is holding a shrieking, wriggling mass of darkness in both hands. A little clumsily, he juggles the green glass jar and begins stuffing the shadowy mass into it. "You must excuse the cramped quarters -- this was the biggest I could find -- we don't really get much call for these -- oh, dear Captain, whatever have you been eating? -- well then, just a moment." Doctor Moon pulls out a single limb from the frantically squirming darkness that is now three-quarters crammed into the jar. He holds it up to his mouth, bites, chews. "Mm, rather stringy and gritty and, oh dear, so bitter. Still, I think that does the job. In you go!" Doctor Moon shoves the last bit of shadow-stuff into the jar, attaches the lid.

(The gel-thing has turned red. Inside, Cardinal Thorn sits in his study in Horn House. There is a fire in the fireplace, but nobody else is present. The Cardinal is staring intently at something held in one hand. It is a locket. Very slowly and with infinite delicacy and care, he begins to open it.)

Doctor Moon puts a label on the jar and, humming to himself, writes on it. Then he hands the labelled jar to one of the winged things. "For the Right-Hand Queen, dear fellow. No dawdling, now!" The winged creature takes the jar in one of its malformed limbs, utters a low croak, and flaps heavily across the space towards one of the window-lenses. It seems to dwindle very rapidly; in a few moments it is tiny, in a few more it has disappeared from view.

(The gel thing flickers, more rapidly, changing colors. A band of adventurers, all in green, march through a forest, arguing and laughing. The Mountain that Sails bellows hatefully across a frozen ocean. Zargo bends over a corpse, muttering irritably to himself, and raises a blade to cut. In a dark place beneath the earth, a woman summons light, then casts a spell to create food and water. She is trapped, but she survives. Pilgrims march along the road that leads to the Vale of Valtaerna, singing a hymn, their faces alive with anticipation and joy. A silver dragon flies over the Northern Wall, looking down at the burning and wreckage below in the trail of Sakkarot's horde, its expression hardening from curiosity to horror to wrath. Half a mile below, Raisa is trying to make dead Enver turn a cartwheel.)

Doctor Moon smiles. The Queens will be enraged, but then "enraged" is their natural state. They sent him a message; he sent one back; things will go on. He turns back to his work. So much to do! So many things to watch!

It's all so endlessly interesting.


Male Vampire(former Dhampir) Bard(Negotiator) 13/Anti-Paladin/2 - [HP 209/231; AC43,FF36,T22; CMD32; DR/10 magic+silver; F+28,R+29,W+26; Per+31; Init +12]

The Judge awakes the morning after the ransacking of Balentyne. What an enjoyable evening it had been. While the goblins and bugbears had slaughtered the majority of the population, Morsum and Tohram had found those who were hiding, especially the small and the weak. The type overlooked by the horde. But, oh, what the horde missed. To them, human flesh is human flesh, fat, thin, old, young. The northern barbarian humanoids did not seem to care. But, to a connoisseur of fine dining as the Judge had grown accustomed to in his years in Farholde, there was a great difference. The young and the innocent. Yes, their blood was so much more pleasurable. And, the wealthy. Ah, yes, the wealthy. The flavor of a well fed person is so much better than that of a drunk or one who lives off the scraps of society. Admittedly, it is usually easier to make the town drunk disappear than the mayor's daughter. But, when the chance arises, the enjoyment is so much greater.

So it had been the night before. After several bugbears had ransacked the home of a well off merchant, Tohram and Morsum had followed them inside. The room with destroyed toys and ripped dolls clearly showed that this family had children. And, from the lack of blood stains in the room, the Judge was hopeful that they were still hidden somewhere in the house. After about 20 minutes of quiet listening, Morsum's sharp ears picked up a soft cough followed by someone quietly shushing. It did not take long for Morsum to find the concealed trap door.

The look of fear on the face of the young mother and her two young children was to die for . . . as they would. It took nearly an hour, but the screams almost never stopped. First the children and then the mother, it had been a pleasurable meal such as the Judge had not enjoyed in many years.
----
Now, the Judge looked up at the sky as the party approached Farholde. Fortunately, it was overcast this day, as it was frequently in the bitterly cold and damp northern port city. It seemed that the Judge had more and more difficulty looking at the sun. But, who would want to be under the painful bright sun when there were so many hours of wonderful darkness when the good for nothing Mitrans were not out and about.

The Judge then thought back: Could it have only been a year ago that he was taken from his home in chains? It seemed like an eternity. But, so much had happened. The Cardinal had help him grow into his true destiny. It would take time, but soon, yes, very soon, he would unlock his true vampiric nature.

Suddenly, he realized that they were approaching the town. The Judge looked over at Morsum walking next to him, but two steps behind. Morsum had also changed. Now out of his broad shoulders sprung two huge black bat wings and a mouth full of blood red fangs which protrude several inches from his nightmarish head atop his strangely distended neck. The Judge knew that there was no way to hide his servant in the city.

My servant. We return to the city I called home for those many years. I cannot have you with me here, or our mission will be in jeopardy. But, soon you shall once more feast on the flesh of the weak as we have the stragglers and unguarded on the road these past days.

Morsum simply nods in response: As you will my Master.

Then, like dragon inhaling, Morsum suddenly becomes more insubstantial and it is as though he is suddenly sucked into the Judge ending up as nothing more than the Judge's shadow. However, if one looks closely enough, a flicker of red, perhaps eyes, perhaps fangs, can be seen every so often.

-----

Then the Judge turns to the others.
It is time to start the next stage. This town was my home for many years, but none here will show me any love. However, I shall revel in any pain we can inflict upon those who sent me to Branderscar.


Male Human Oracle (FC) 15 Init: +8 Perc: +0 AC:24/14/20 F:+13 R:+14 W:+15 HP:124/124 Freedom of movement, Resist Cold/30, Air Walk 30'

Dren swayed on the back of the horse. They were leaving too quickly in his opinion. The town was ravaged...but still standing. He cared little about what was left standing. The others wanted to build something from the ashes, to re-build a great empire of evil...what does evil compare to the vastness of the nothing, the darkness that would one day overwhelm them all.

Enough of that he chided himself, the real reason he was irritated was he didn't get to have any fun. He had also decided that riding a horse shouldn't be a torture he should be subjected too on a regular basis.

A half-crazed Goblin was chattering and screaming next to him, making his irritation level rise further. Without thinking a few unintelligible words uttered from his lips and a rift opened, to a place of vast darkness next to the Goblin. From the dark rift a tentacle reached out and grabbed the Goblin, increasing his screams. Interesting he thought. It held the Goblin fast for a little while until Dren was not longer near the stupid creature. He looked back and it released the screaming Goblin and pulled back into the rift as it closed. Drens grin stretched from ear to ear.

Something had changed in him last night...the darkness was always there...but he could feel something else manifesting itself. He was getting stronger...and his ties to the darkness were also growing in strength.

His mind was ablaze with the possibilities. The entities in the darkness, wanted to come, wanted to cross over into this world. It's not like they were communicating to him as humans understand it but he could feel their desire. They wanted to feed on the living, the thinking and absorb them. He knew he could tap into their essence. The closer he forged the bond the more powerful he could become. He must not move too quickly though or they would drive him mad. He began to finally understand the name of one of the beings of the vast darkness, he could almost picture its unworldly biology…HAVERO…despite his lack of fear, his body still shuddered.

----

So this was your home judge? Try not to let revenge endanger our mission. Of course if perhaps one person were to disappear...


Male Vampire(former Dhampir) Bard(Negotiator) 13/Anti-Paladin/2 - [HP 209/231; AC43,FF36,T22; CMD32; DR/10 magic+silver; F+28,R+29,W+26; Per+31; Init +12]

The Judge looks over at Dren:
I have no need for revenge. The punishment I was given was far less than I deserved.

He pauses for a moment looking once more at the city slowly approaching and taking a deep breath of the sea air.

Why would one need revenge? Soon, I shall be able to bend their weak minds to my will. Then . . . ah yes, then, I shall revel in making these puppets of a mockery government do what their desires want, but what their twisted morals will not allow.

The Judge then again looks toward the city:
So many tasty morsels just waiting to serve. It shall be a pleasure to rule and feed on this place.


Vitals:
LD14, Cav 1 INIT:+4, AC:34 (39)/FF:33/T:16, HP:283/216, F:+24 R:+14 W:+17, P: 10
Skills:
Bluff+8,Climb+12,Dip+8,Disg+8,Han An+9,Intim+30,Kn(Nobil)+18,Kn(relig)+8,Perc+10,Ride+10,Spellc+4,Surv+6,Stea lth+8

Sir Edmin Al'Roth rides a large grey war horse at the head of the column as it marches out of Balentyne. His banner, a blood red horse running on a field of inky blackness, snaps in the wind.

The knight looks back over his shoulder at the host as it leaves the ruins behind. Smoke still bellows from the keep, the goblins had gotten carried away at the last, but it mattered not. It would be rebuilt someday, not soon but one day, it will be needed again.

The Champion of the Dark Prince turns and glances at the rider next to him. The large bugbear was smart and talented. The bugbear could give the majority of generals Edmin had served with a run for their money. It was a true shame that he was a bugbear and as such he would not be able to live after his task was complete. He was to dangerous, like a viscous guard dog only let out at night, when dawn came he would be put away no longer needed.

Edmin smiles as he turns and faces forward again. His homeland stretches out before him. A homeland that he will see burnt to the ground so that a new kingdom could grow from the ashes. Much will change after. Edmin smiles as he thinks of a new knighthood where blood does not matter, only honor. Were the measure of a man is in deeds, not the name of his father. The knight smiles. The fire has begun and he was the flame that started it. Now it must be fed and coaxed into a wildfire that consumes all as it moves.


Male Human Oracle (FC) 15 Init: +8 Perc: +0 AC:24/14/20 F:+13 R:+14 W:+15 HP:124/124 Freedom of movement, Resist Cold/30, Air Walk 30'

On the road...one evening around our fire, Edmin, we should also discuss the other knot as well. They will likely work with us at first but could also be working against us in another manner.
How do you think we should deal with them? Do we have any information on who makes up this knot and what they are like?


The Eighth Knot:

You met them back at the Cardinal's. At that time, they seemed to consist of Elise Zadaria (Zimu's cousin), twin brothers Trik (cleric of Asmodeus) and Trak (ranger?), and Dostan Alfson (half elf with a big sword and a temper).

You'll be meeting up with them in Farholde.


Mission Recap:

"You will not be without assistance. First, the Eighth Knot will remain behind in Farholde while you investigate the site. They will backstop and support your efforts, and also ensure that anyone who tries to follow you and interfere with your work meets an unhappy end. With the Eighth watching your back, you'll be able to step forward with confidence.

"Second, there is another who may be able to aid you. Once a thriving cult of Asmodeus existed in Farholde. It was led by a half-elvish noble – the Baron Arkov Vandermir. He is treacherous and decadent, but wealthy and well-connected. Tiadora will accompany you to Farholde, and introduce you before she departs.

"I know not what aid the Baron can provide, but his family is old and long has dwelt in Farholde. Never trust him but know this – he’s afraid of me. And with good reason. If he does try anything remind him that you are in Farholde on my behalf. That should keep him in line.

"With this assistance, you should have little difficulty succeeding. Your mission is straightforward enough! Find the lair of the Sons. Find the seal and shatter it. Call Vetra-Kali back to our world. Bargain, trick, or bind him to your will and force service from the monster. And then bring his gift to me."

You'll be meeting the Baron shortly.


Vitals:
LD14, Cav 1 INIT:+4, AC:34 (39)/FF:33/T:16, HP:283/216, F:+24 R:+14 W:+17, P: 10
Skills:
Bluff+8,Climb+12,Dip+8,Disg+8,Han An+9,Intim+30,Kn(Nobil)+18,Kn(relig)+8,Perc+10,Ride+10,Spellc+4,Surv+6,Stea lth+8

On the road...one evening around our fire.

Edmin shrugs as he pokes at the fire with a stick. "Hope for the best but plan for the worst. They are a knot as we are, and as such to destroy them with out cause will anger The Cardinal and lessen the chances of mission success. That being said, we must be prepaired for them to sabatoge us and even do us harm through others.

We must remember "The Fourth Loyalty is to themselves: for Asmodeus is the Lord of Ambition. All who serve him should strive to become great and powerful in his service, as long as doing so does not clash with their First, Second or Third loyalties. By their weakness, ye shall know the unworthy."

From what we have learned the Eighth Knot has been successful in missions of intrigue and can be assumed to have the Dark Prince's favor. We must plan for them to use their skills against us in that manner.

That being said we must be remain on watch maintain our readiness to respond against them as needed. To do so we must become skilled at intrigue also."


Male Human Oracle (FC) 15 Init: +8 Perc: +0 AC:24/14/20 F:+13 R:+14 W:+15 HP:124/124 Freedom of movement, Resist Cold/30, Air Walk 30'

Intrigue, my master spoke of it but I have no skill in it, I would prefer to cut their hearts out and feed them to the darkness...but I assume it will require other methods, if they betray us of course. Also Cimu seems to have a dangerous relationship with her cousin. I get the feeling there will be some type of betrayal, even if it isn't directly from her.
Are females in general more devious, or just the ones we have met so far?

he poses to the group including Cy...

lol


First comes the overland trek with Sakkarot and his horde.

Actually, "horde" may no longer be the word. Sakkarot has done an impressive job of organizing this disparate gang of monsters. They are still wild and only partially disciplined, but they are not a rabble. They are becoming something like an army.

You march several days to the west. There is another watch-tower there. They have only half a day's notice of the monsters' arrival, and are not prepared for an attack from the south. The battle is bloody but brisk. When it is done, a second pass has been opened to the North. More monsters pour through, to swell the ranks of Sakkarot's force.

The next day, you depart. A barge is waiting to take you south along the coast to Farholde. Tiadora will accompany you.


M DEAD!! KILLED BY EVIL EVIL DMDM!! Rogue1/Barb (Feral)1 temp hp 14/17 and 9 con (HP 24/25+4 when Raging; AC21/17/15(-2 Raging) ; CMD 16 (18 Rage) Fort +4(6); Ref +8; Will +1( 3); Init +6; Perception +5/6 for Traps; Darkvision

Goblin like females for midnight snack Shadowshanks, but they make his tumble rumbly sometimes...


The barge, while not luxurious, is infinitely more comfortable than the Frosthamar. There are four two-bunk cabins, plus a large captain's cabin (which Tiadora occupies, of course). The food, while basic, is decent stuff -- far better than the wormy biscuits, ancient smoked meat, and green water that sustained you on your journey north. There is a crew of three. Their speech is vague and their eyes are haunted; they are quite thoroughly under Tiadora's control.

You see Tiadora only occasionally -- she seems to spend most of her time inside her cabin -- but when you do, she is exactly the same as ever. The trip takes over a week.

The weather is cool and rainy but not unpleasant, and it gradually grows warmer as you head south. (Spring has come to the North now.) The trip is placid enough -- for you. It is not, however, completely without incident.


Tiadora is not idle. Though the barge is adequately provisioned and never docks, every night or two it anchors within sight of a village or keep. Tiadora can step across half a mile of water with a moment's thought. As night falls, she does so. Soon, you hear screams from the shore. After a little while, flames rise. Tiadora reappears a few hours later, not smiling exactly -- she rarely smiles -- but with an air of satisfaction about her.


Male Human Oracle (FC) 15 Init: +8 Perc: +0 AC:24/14/20 F:+13 R:+14 W:+15 HP:124/124 Freedom of movement, Resist Cold/30, Air Walk 30'

Dren watches her comings and goings from the darkness on the ship with some interest.

With each passing week the darkness seems to become more and more one with Dren. He can finally control it, summon it to come even in the light. Sometimes he summons it, just so he can relish in it. The voices are more clear in the darkness.

After several villages have been tormented he steps out from the utter darkness when she appears back on the ship, What is it you hope to attain from what you do? Is this a need that drives you, flitting fancy...I am curious about why people do what they do.


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M Tiefling Magus/Rogue;
Statistics:
HP 169/169; AC:37/21/29; Saves: +22/+23/+20; Init +10; Per +28(See Invisibility), CMD 42
Misc:
Effects: Resist Cold 30, Fly 30', Telepathic Bond

The ransacking of Balentyne has no thrill in it for Jax. Where the Judge stalks the ruins for victims; Jax wanders as his conscience, what remains of it, gnaws at him. He watches as a pair of goblins chase down an old man and raise cleavers to cut him apart. Does his hand raise to stop them? An imperceptible twitch as he briefly considers stopping one act of violence amidst many. The tiefling turns, tail twitching as he stalks away down another alley.

He finds himself before the burning home of a family. The ravaged form of a stuffed bear lays on the stoop. Stuffing dripping out of it like the gory entrails he's seen so far. He approaches, scooping it up and holding it in one clawed hand. His sword whispers nonsense until his other hand strokes the hilt, quieting it.

A nearby cellar opens and a lone goblin hauls out a crying child. Its cleaver raises to slice and chop but pauses, trembling in mid air. The goblin looks down to find the tip of a black-steel blade protruding from his chest. The child, a girl, looks up with wide eyes at the demonic visage standing above the slain goblin. A monster killing another monster.

"Get back in the cellar. Do not come out for three days. When you do, flee. Find the first ship you can and flee from this Talingarde." Jax turns on his heel. Can a conscience be salved by a single life? Perhaps.
-------------------------------------------------------
THE JOURNEY
-------------------------------------------------------

The tiefling is silent for much of the ride. He spends his time counting coins or carefully handling the heavy, gorgeous book found in the Captain's rooms. Or trying vainly to understand the difficult language of the ancient text found beneath the Magister's bed. It will take weeks, but he will decipher its secrets.
Jax starts the long process of deciphering that text.

He seems morose and moody, often taking out Xenfal's hat (not the hat of disguise that Dren has) and placing it on his head before putting it away again.


Quote:
After several villages have been tormented he steps out from the utter darkness when she appears back on the ship, What is it you hope to attain from what you do? Is this a need that drives you, flitting fancy...I am curious about why people do what they do.

Tiadora's recent exertions have left her in (for her) an unusually expansive mood.

"I walk among the rabble, dearest, wearing a form of authority and respect -- a senior Inquisitor of Mitra, or an Alerion Knight. I announce that this community has been infiltrated by the diabolical followers of the fiend-god Asmodeus, and that I will root them out.

"At first, most are eager to help. But then I turn my attentions to the helpless, the innocent, pillars of the community who obviously cannot be guilty. I bring them screaming torture and fire, and when they do not confess, I affirm this as evidence of their guilt. Eventually... oh, very eventually, because the rabble are slow to doubt their masters... but eventually, someone questions, someone protests.

"And then..." As noted, Tiadora rarely smiles. But she smiles now. She nods towards the flames, still burning along the shore. "To protest the work of one of Mitra's chosen is to defy the will of the King and the God himself. Surely the entire community must be infected with the taint of Hell! There is only one thing to be done."

She leans one arm on the railing, looks contemplative. "I leave most alive, of course. Injured and terrified, but alive. It's careful work." And, indeed, she has the look of someone who has spent a few hours at some slightly difficult but not uninteresting task, and who has attended to it with diligence and care.


Jax Naismith wrote:


"Get back in the cellar. Do not come out for three days. When you do, flee. Find the first ship you can and flee from this Talingarde." Jax turns on his heel. Can a conscience be salved by a single life? Perhaps.

The sword suddenly speaks, clearly and coherently, for the first time. Why did you do that? Its voice hums and thrums, rises and falls oddly, as if each word were spoken by a different person.


Jax Naismith wrote:


The tiefling is silent for much of the ride. He spends his time counting coins or carefully handling the heavy, gorgeous book found in the Captain's rooms. Or trying vainly to understand the difficult language of the ancient text found beneath the Magister's bed. It will take weeks, but he will decipher its secrets.
Jax starts the long process of deciphering that text.

That will involve a lot of take-20s. What's your Linguistics again?


Edmin Al'Roth wrote:


We must remember "The Fourth Loyalty is to themselves: for Asmodeus is the Lord of Ambition. All who serve him should strive to become great and powerful in his service, as long as doing so does not clash with their First, Second or Third loyalties. By their weakness, ye shall know the unworthy."

Well spoken. -- You and the Eighth will have different missions; Tiadora will be giving you mission briefings shortly.


Dren of the Dark Tapestry wrote:
He began to finally understand the name of one of the beings of the vast darkness, he could almost picture its unworldly biology…HAVERO...

Ah heh heh heh.


M Tiefling Magus/Rogue;
Statistics:
HP 169/169; AC:37/21/29; Saves: +22/+23/+20; Init +10; Per +28(See Invisibility), CMD 42
Misc:
Effects: Resist Cold 30, Fly 30', Telepathic Bond
Douglas Muir 406 wrote:


The sword suddenly speaks, clearly and coherently, for the first time. Why did you do that? Its voice hums and thrums, rises and falls oddly, as if each word were spoken by a different person.

Linguistics of +12 and you mentioned it would take a long time..so best get started early :)

"I don't know. Perhaps because I simply felt like it. Or perhaps because that particular goblin smelled more foul than normal. There cannot be victory without bloodshed, but there's no reason to shed the blood of everything, is there?"


Shedding blood is my purpose, the sword murmurs. Everything dies eventually. Why draw things out?


Male Human Oracle (FC) 15 Init: +8 Perc: +0 AC:24/14/20 F:+13 R:+14 W:+15 HP:124/124 Freedom of movement, Resist Cold/30, Air Walk 30'
Douglas Muir 406 wrote:
Quote:
After several villages have been tormented he steps out from the utter darkness when she appears back on the ship, What is it you hope to attain from what you do? Is this a need that drives you, flitting fancy...I am curious about why people do what they do.

Tiadora's recent exertions have left her in (for her) an unusually expansive mood.

"I walk among the rabble, dearest, wearing a form of authority and respect -- a senior Inquisitor of Mitra, or an Alerion Knight. I announce that this community has been infiltrated by the diabolical followers of the fiend-god Asmodeus, and that I will root them out.

"At first, most are eager to help. But then I turn my attentions to the helpless, the innocent, pillars of the community who obviously cannot be guilty. I bring them screaming torture and fire, and when they do not confess, I affirm this as evidence of their guilt. Eventually... oh, very eventually, because the rabble are slow to doubt their masters... but eventually, someone questions, someone protests.

"And then..." As noted, Tiadora rarely smiles. But she smiles now. She nods towards the flames, still burning along the shore. "To protest the work of one of Mitra's chosen is to defy the will of the King and the God himself. Surely the entire community must be infected with the taint of Hell! There is only one thing to be done."

She leans one arm on the railing, looks contemplative. "I leave most alive, of course. Injured and terrified, but alive. It's careful work." And, indeed, she has the look of someone who has spent a few hours at some slightly difficult but not uninteresting task, and who has attended to it with diligence and care.

Fear...that is one emotion I have begun to understand. Hate, resentment, I don't understand them but do understand their usefulness. What you do now will pay many dividends in the future.

I see the purpose in your actions now, thank you.
If you ever need some...assistance in your endeavour it would be my pleasure to help you.

Dren activates the hat and appears as the holy father of Mitra whom they ambushed, Dren has already forgotten his name. A cruel smiles stretches across his face. Your candor is appreciated. Dren changes form again and drifts off into the darkness...


After ten days' travel, the barge docks at Farholde. Tiadora has already contacted Baron Vandermir and arranged for you to have dinner
with him tomorrow night. "Best to find something presentable to wear," she sneers.

This gives you some time to investigate Farholde (if you like). The Judge and Sir Edmin both know the town, so you can serve as guides.

I have a short gazetteer of Farholde, which I can send as a doc to whoever wants to post it. Contact me by e-mail at 'vormuir' in the domain men call yahoo dot com.


Before dinner with the Baron, you will have a brief meeting with Tiadora and the Eighth Knot.

The Eighth, it turns out, have been in Farholde for a few days already. The four of them are seated around one side of the table. They look well groomed and well dressed. The three males are wearing Talirean colors, blue and white. Trik greets you with a broad smile -- "Hello again!" His brother Trak gives you a solemn nod. From Dostan the half-elf, you get a glare of smoldering dislike.

Elise Zadaria is wearing red. (She looks fantastic.) She idly strokes the feathers of her white bird, which is perched on the arm of her chair. "Yes, I see you survived your little expedition. Well, mostly." She leans back in her chair, a glass of wine in her hand. Her eyes sparkle with amusement and malice. "We'll be fascinated to hear all about your trip... the accommodations, the company, the food..."

"Silence." Tiadora stands at the head of the table. She delivers a cold stare to Elise, and then another to Zimu. "The Cardinal is aware of your petty rivalry. It does not interest him. If you allow it to interfere with your mission in any way, you will be subject to Correction. Do you understand?"

"Of course, Lady Tiadora." Elise casts her eyes meekly downward. But is there the hint of a mocking smirk at one corner of her mouth?

DC 12 Sense Motive:

Yes. Yes, there is.

DC 17 Sense Motive:

They're tanned, they're rested, they're ready. Whatever the Eighth Knot may have been through, at the moment they are exuding good health and quiet confidence.

DC 16 Perception:

You notice they have several new items of equipment. Elise is wearing a little circlet or headband. (It looks fabulous.) Dostan has a new sword, with a very fancy-looking scabbard.


Tiadora continues. "The Seventh Knot departed Farholde almost a month ago, heading into the Caer Bryr. Their next to last message stated that they believed they had found the location, variously known as the Dark Tower, the Horn of Abaddon, the Catademnon, or Night Hill. It was supposed to be about a day's ride somewhat south of west, just north of a small river. Their last message stated that they were departing overland for the Tower.

"No further communications were received from the Seventh Knot. As best we can determine, they are all dead.

"Ninth Knot, you will retrace the steps of the Seventh -- obviously, with greater care. You will locate the Dark Tower, break the seal that closed the portal to Abaddon, summon the daemon prince Vetra-Kali to this plane, and acquire the Tears of Achlys.

"Whatever killed the Seventh may be waiting for you. You will evade, defeat or destroy it. There may be other obstacles and difficulties. You will overcome them.

"The Cardinal has had a number of divinations cast regarding this expedition." Tiadora's lovely features take on an expression of contempt. "Our... soothsayer claims, that divination around the Tower is extraordinarily difficult. Remarkably, the Cardinal has accepted this excuse." You can see in Tiadora's eyes what is unspoken: I would have had the dirty little animal slowly flayed alive for her failure. Some day... "However, one thing became clear: breaking the seal will require time. Certainly days, possibly longer. Therefore," she turns to the other side of the table, "Eighth Knot, you will backstop the Ninth. As far as we know, the seal has been forgotten by the descendants of the Victor. But it is possible that tampering with it may activate some long-forgotten alarm. Your duty is to stay here in Farholde and watch the Ninth's back. You will prevent anyone from traveling to the Tower and interfering with their work."

Elise Zadaria raises one finger. "So, we will not be directly involved in the assault on the Tower or the breaking of the seal? Our duties are to remain concealed here in Farholde, to watch and to support?"

"Precisely." Tiadora turns back to you. "Should you of the Ninth fail as well, the Eighth will be activated to take your place. Understand that death is the only excuse for failure."


"Are there any questions?"

Across the table, Trik's handsome face is twisted into a rueful grin. Trak looks a bit mournful, as usual. Dostan's face is a frown of concentration. Elise Zadaria's expression has gone very blank.

DC 20 Sense Motive:

She is not happy at all at being consigned to backup. Really pissed, actually.


Male Human Oracle (FC) 15 Init: +8 Perc: +0 AC:24/14/20 F:+13 R:+14 W:+15 HP:124/124 Freedom of movement, Resist Cold/30, Air Walk 30'

sense motive 1d20 + 7 ⇒ (5) + 7 = 12

perception 1d20 + 0 ⇒ (16) + 0 = 16

sense motive 1d20 + 7 ⇒ (9) + 7 = 16

I have a few questions. First, what is the scope of the 8th's support to our mission? What if we need spells, like healing for example, or scrolls from them, is that within their scope to supply?
Second, what about intelligence gathering or missions at our direction to support our mission to the tower?


Buying stuff for you, certainly not. Scouring the town to locate stuff for you, or taking your money to get a potion cooked or a scroll written while you're stuck in the Tower doing whatever, maybe.

Quote:
Second, what about intelligence gathering or missions at our direction to support our mission to the tower?

Elise's lip curls slightly. " 'At your direction'? I think not." She turns to Tiadora. "We two Knots are peers and equals, correct? Neither of us has been placed in a position of authority over the other."

"Correct." Tiadora nods curtly. "It is expected that you will cooperate. If you do not, I will send the Sisters, or come myself. And then you will beg for the release that only merciful death can bring." This last is delivered in a perfectly matter-of-fact tone.


M Tiefling Magus/Rogue;
Statistics:
HP 169/169; AC:37/21/29; Saves: +22/+23/+20; Init +10; Per +28(See Invisibility), CMD 42
Misc:
Effects: Resist Cold 30, Fly 30', Telepathic Bond

The Sword & The Un-Redeemed

Quote:

Shedding blood is my purpose, the sword murmurs. Everything dies eventually. Why draw things out?

Jax pauses in the street and glances down, clawed fingers tapping the sword's hilt. "Your purpose is more than to kill, little blade. A weapon's purpose is that of its wielder. We exist to destroy Talingarde and shed the blood of those who get in our way. I desire wealth and comfort, and the simple joy of whirling you in combat. That does not mean I relish shedding blood for its own sake. Murder should have purpose, it should have meaning."

The tiefling walks down the alley, kicking the stuffed b ear from the doorstep and peering within the burnt home; now no more than a shell. "To kill when there is nothing to be gained is the way of maniacs like Dren or the obsessed like the Judge. You will not find yourself flaying screaming victims or impaling children." With the last word, Jax's tone drips with scorn.
---------------------------------
Tea-time with the Eight
Perception 1d20 + 8 ⇒ (2) + 8 = 10
Sense motive: 1d20 + 6 ⇒ (6) + 6 = 12
Sense motive: 1d20 + 6 ⇒ (12) + 6 = 18

Jax sits silently until Tiadora finishes, eyeing the two brothers. "And what kind of support can we expect from them at our back, Tiadora? There is some sort of enmity between Elise and our dear Cimu. Can we trust them not to sabotage us and actually provide aid?"


Jax Naismith wrote:

"Your purpose is more than to kill, little blade. A weapon's purpose is that of its wielder. We exist to destroy Talingarde and shed the blood of those who get in our way. I desire wealth and comfort, and the simple joy of whirling you in combat. That does not mean I relish shedding blood for its own sake. Murder should have purpose, it should have meaning."

The sword is silent for a time. Then it speaks again. You say my purpose is that of my wielder -- that is to say, yours. Yet I am not certain that you know your own purpose. It is silent again for a time, then says I know my name. It may change later, but I know what it is now.

Call me... Brink.


Male Vampire(former Dhampir) Bard(Negotiator) 13/Anti-Paladin/2 - [HP 209/231; AC43,FF36,T22; CMD32; DR/10 magic+silver; F+28,R+29,W+26; Per+31; Init +12]

Sense Motive: 1d20 + 10 ⇒ (12) + 10 = 22
Perception: 1d20 + 8 ⇒ (15) + 8 = 23
Sense Motive: 1d20 + 10 ⇒ (11) + 10 = 21

As the party arrives in Farholde, the Judge looks out without expression.
So many years, so many pleasures, so much pain. It is sad I cannot return to the court and show those weak minded fool the err in their ways. Someday, yes, someday I shall once more impose my will on those who call this place home. It shall be most enjoyable, at least for me.

When the Judge arrives, he tries to recall some of the more, or perhaps less, reputable places in the city where the party can gain access to magical wares.
-----
During tea time, the Judge ignores the offer of wine and tea. Although he must still sustain himself on normal food, it provides him little or no pleasure any longer. There are far more enjoyable "foodstuffs" to be had.

The Judge looks at Jax and Dren when they pose their questions:
We can expect no aid from them other than that commanded by the Cardinal. The little cousin over there in the bloody dress is royally pissed that it is the mighty Ninth and not her Eighth that will take the Tower.

In fact, from the looks of them, other than purchasing some new equipment. The Judge turns and stares at Elise. That is a new in your hair isn't it? After knowing your cousin for these months, I would have expected something with more class from someone in your family.

The Judge pauses and picks up the cup of tea, gives it a look of disdain and puts it back down again.
It appears that this group has not lifted a sword in quite some time. From their appearance, they must have spent several months in the south relaxing in the sun while we were performing the real heavy lifting in breaking the Wall.

The Judge turns and looks back to Cy:
It will be wonderful in the history books that the Ninth and the Fourth will be front and center as those who destroyed the impenetrable wall. The Eighth on the other hand, will probably be a footnote about the social conventions of the day.

With that, the Judge sits back in his chair wondering whether it will be Tiadora or Elise who explodes first.


Oh, man. Living dangerously, Judge. Let's see how Tiadora takes this...

1d20 ⇒ 5


Male Vampire(former Dhampir) Bard(Negotiator) 13/Anti-Paladin/2 - [HP 209/231; AC43,FF36,T22; CMD32; DR/10 magic+silver; F+28,R+29,W+26; Per+31; Init +12]

Hey, it is 100% true. Really it is designed to get Elise to explode. I don't think I did anything "wrong", just phrased things in a way designed to elicit an improper response.


Male Human Oracle (FC) 15 Init: +8 Perc: +0 AC:24/14/20 F:+13 R:+14 W:+15 HP:124/124 Freedom of movement, Resist Cold/30, Air Walk 30'

Subtle...lol...although the statement that we did all of the heavy lifting is probably not 100% true. We have no idea what they really did behind the front lines.
The rest seems to hit it on the head though...lol.


Judge Tohram Quasangi wrote:


It appears that this group has not lifted a sword in quite some time. From their appearance, they must have spent several months in the south relaxing in the sun while we were HURK

Tiadora can move very quickly when she wants to. She is suddenly standing next to the Judge and grasping him by the throat.

"I said that you were to cooperate. It seems you took this as an invitation to test the boundaries of acceptable insolence. In that sense, you are to be congratulated." She lifts one red-nailed hand...

Wait, didn't we play pretty much EXACTLY this same scene a while back? [checks] Why yes... yes, we did.


M DEAD!! KILLED BY EVIL EVIL DMDM!! Rogue1/Barb (Feral)1 temp hp 14/17 and 9 con (HP 24/25+4 when Raging; AC21/17/15(-2 Raging) ; CMD 16 (18 Rage) Fort +4(6); Ref +8; Will +1( 3); Init +6; Perception +5/6 for Traps; Darkvision

that link takes us to your message board page DMDM not the link you were thinking of...i only say it because i wanna see lol

Bloodlick coming to play soon!


I don't generally offer mulligans, but Judge are you *quite* sure that openly insulting the other team in front of the management representative was what you wanted to do here? Especially given that (1) your lives may depend on the other team, and (2) the management representative is a violently authoritarian sadist with a hair-trigger temper?


Edited. It was at your farewell ceremony, when Smoove first showed himself: http://paizo.com/campaigns/DougMsWayOfTheWicked/gameplay&page=103#5142


Male Vampire(former Dhampir) Bard(Negotiator) 13/Anti-Paladin/2 - [HP 209/231; AC43,FF36,T22; CMD32; DR/10 magic+silver; F+28,R+29,W+26; Per+31; Init +12]

Ok, we can edit that one. I had forgotten that the Judge had pulled the same stunt several months earlier. He would have remembered that, even if I, as the player had totally forgotten (too many campaigns I guess.)

Without the Cardinal here, he would have probably toned things down a little.

I cannot delete it, because it is just more than an hour.

--------
The Judge will take everything in with an uncaring facial expression.

Soon, soon these sniveling Eighth and their insane protector will be like puppets.

Would try to get more together, but should probably try to get some RL work done today.


Elise looks across the table at you, her expression neutral. "Watch the Ninth Knot's back. I think we can do that."

Tiadora nods curtly. "Very well. One last matter.

"The Ninth lost a member, and needs a new recruit. Fortunately, one is available. I brought him with me." A gnome steps out from behind her. "This creature is not, in fact, a gnome. He wears an illusion-casting collar, as you do. He is a member of the vermin-race known as kobolds. He studied alchemy with Doctor Zargo." Once again, Tiadora's expression speaks volumes.

"So far, the creature has been a loyal servant of the Cardinal, and he has signed the same Compact as you. Many mortals who choose the path of alchemy eventually go insane. If this becomes an issue, you have permission to kill him. Otherwise, treat him as a full member of your Knot, with the same value as the rest of you." Not a very high value she does not quite say out loud.

"If there is nothing further... meet me tonight before the guard post outside Calliver Green."

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