The party had arrived in Hardby just a few short hours prior, and after successfully selling their excess equipment, the group had found themselves walking through Blanket Street Market. It was dusk and the once bustling street was no longer a riot of sights, smells, and sounds; shop keepers and merchants had closed up for the night. As our heroes made their way along the length of the street, they took a turn into one of the residential streets where they were to meet their contact, Joran Havelos.
Unlike the previous street, the buildings here were stone-built structures, towering two and three stories above the cobbled streets. As the group continued on their path, a sudden shattering of glass was heard seconds before a man’s body crashed to the ground: a bloody wound gaped in his throat, eyes glazed with the stare of death. Above him, a grey cloaked woman clambered out of the shattered window-frame and up on to the roof of the house, a bloodied dagger in her teeth. Four men, clad in leather armor, with equally bloodied short swords, had quickly trailed her.
Half the party dashed up the stairs, while the others scaled the side of the building. Inside the apartment they saw books, papers, and parchments scattered about like leaves. What was once a fine rosewood writing desk now lay in splinters along with the bodies of three men. Of these three, one of them was dressed in fine clothing: his face showed signs of severe beating and torture.
Meanwhile, Elyssia and Llelf scaled the side of the building, giving chase to the mysterious woman, and the four men chasing her. The others climbed out the broken window, and joined them on the rooftops of Hardby. The heroes made quick work of the four assassins, and as the last of the foes is dispatched, a sudden silence fell over the rooftops, broken by only the sound of a sickening thud as the last assassin hit the ground. As the grey robed woman wiped her bloodied dagger, the heroes noticed that she was wearing a broach in the shape of a bulging purse. Steadying herself on the roof ridge, she gave you a shallow bow and introduced herself as Elyra Dellhaster. Attempts at conversation were quickly interrupted by the sounds of a horn and booted feet on the street below as the Watch appeared around the corner.
A squad of a dozen men armed with short swords and crossbows, clad in studded leather armor overlaid with black tabards emblazoned with the sable and gold arms of Hardby; the Watch aimed their crossbows at the heroes, detaining anyone in the street for questioning. Elyra was among those detained with the group. “I am Watch Sergeant Basral Marevan, what is your involvement in these killings?” The short man with a ruddy complexion and curly sandy blond hair barks. “Now! I want to know what happened, who was involved, who was with who, and why.”
At a loss for words, the party was hard-pressed to recount how they exactly found themselves in such an “interesting” situation. With the prospect of spending the night inside of a jail cell becoming the likely outcome, a well dressed woman with striking blue eyes arrived. Clearly a person of some authority, as the Watch sergeant bowed to her, the woman took him aside and they spoke in hushed tones for several minutes. When they finished, she walked straight towards the party, but only addressed Elyra.
“You are Elyra of Irongate” she asked
“I am”, said Eleyra
“And these are?” the woman asked flicking a glance your way
“Kindly people who came to the aid of a woman who had need of it.” Elyra replied.
The blue-eyed woman nods. “Thank you sergeant,” she said as she turned to Marevan. “I will handle this now. I would be grateful if you would kindly make arrangements for the dead.”
Turning her gaze back to Elyra, “If you are Elyra of Irongate, then you now have some business with me. I am Jelal Havelos, Joram Havelos, the man who was murdered in the room above, is – was – my uncle. However he told me something of your plans and I think I may be able to help you. Are you still fixed on the course you wrote to him of.”
“Yes I am.” Elyra replies.
“Good – But in that case we shall need some help, for the journey is long and the country wild.”
It was at this moment that Atticus realized that Elyra must have been tasked with the same mission the party was. But before he could speak of their shared goals, Jelal turned her blue eyes upon the group and spoke with great authority, “Perhaps some kindly people will come to your aid once more? I’m sure they’d find it more agreeable than a long stay in the prison at the Despotrix’s pleasure, it is your choice gentle people, accompany us as escort, or be imprisoned for affray, manslaughter, and unlawfully unsheathing your weapons in the streets of Hardby?”
The party readily agreed, and began the long trek to Rary the following morning.
At first, the trek was easy; well maintained and paved roads with wave-rounded cobbles taken from the nearby shore made for smooth progress to the fishing village of Orz. The cobbles ran out about 3 miles east of Orz, leaving only a hard packed, rutted, dirt track winding over hills, and cut by many gentle valleys and fast streams that tumbled down to meet the sea. The villages of Megas Landing and Fishtown followed in quick succession, each appearing more rustic and isolated than the last. The trail than took a sharp turn inland, climbing up the broken slopes that mark the western rampart of the dreaded Abbor-Alz. After three hours of hard trekking, a glimpse of a tall tower – square-built in an Oeridian style – standing proudly on a hilltop was seen. A banner with a griffon rampant set on a field of sable and gold flew from the top of the keep. Jelal snorted at the sight, and had quickly turned off onto a side trail that angled sharply south and east toward a rocky gully, away from the keep. “It’s a shortcut” Jelal muttered over her shoulder, not waiting to see if the others followed her.
As the caravan rode deeper through the pass, a sudden rockslide cut through the middle of the group cutting the heroes off from the rest of the guards. Before they were able to react, another rockslide blocked their way forward; and standing atop the sides of the winding canyon were several large ogres who hurled javelins at the heroes. By working together, the party made short work and dug out a path for the caravan to pass through.
The new trail lead back up into a finger of the Abbor-Alz, rocky, dusty, and desolate, and after several more days of hard travel, the landscape began to change. The vegetation becames more sparse and desiccated: strange fleshy plants bristling with sharp spines appear more and more frequently. Here and there, small stands of ancient and gnarled pine trees cling to the rocky slopes – the remains of what may have been in ancient times a luxurious forest. On the last day in the pass, patches of white on the granite slopes of the hills came into sight. “Desert snow” Jelal said with a wry smile. "The Bright is so named because of its white sands. Some of it is carried into the hills by sandstorms. We are not far from Ul Bakak now."
Not an hour later, the caravan arrived on the edge of a high mesa. Below the trail switchbacks down a steep rock-strewn slope towards the desert floor. A vast expanse of glittering white sand that stretched toward the horizon comes into view as the party crossed the last few broken and barren hills of the Abbor-Alz. “Behold the Glittering Plains of the Bright Desert my friends,” said Jelal with glee. “I think we should head for Ul Bakak now. We should be there by this evening.”
Jelal, looking around at everyone, in a more somber tone continues. “I must warn you now. The peoples of Ul Bakak have their own way, and their own law. Do not draw steel here for any reason…” she pauses for effect, “None. Do not lay a hand on anyone in anger at all. These people are sworn to neutrality in all conflicts. Any man, civilized or not, whether they be Rary himself or the Lord Mayor of Greyhawk, may walk the streets, such as they are, without fear of being molested. If you lay hand or steel, or even draw steel on any man, woman, or child, they will all rise up and slay you where you are. If you escape, they will hunt you until you are dead. I say this in all seriousness, please know these words are true. They consider this all to be Holy Ground.”
As Pelor (the sun) sank toward the jagged hills of the Abbor-Alz, the caravan crested the saddle between two hills: below the village of Ul Bakak, lay nestled in a small valley, green and lush compared to the arid desert beyond. Consisting of nothing more than dusty tents and flat-roofed mud-bricked dwellings, they’re clustered near the banks of a stream that tumbles down from one of the hills. A large triangular open space on the northeastern bank of this stream, with a tall desert pine standing at the center, marked the marketplace. Beyond there was only barren desert.
As Jelal spurred forward, she shouts "Kumhaik is the chief of this village, any others we’ll find out about when we get there."
As the party prepared to make camp in the empty marketplace, an older gentleman, of about fifty winters, skin burnt from decades in the sun, and wearing battered leather armor (but no weapons) approached the campsite.
“I am Kumhaik, chief of this village. Violence is forbidden on the holy ground of Obad-Hai; if you do defile this place, the only thing that will wash away your sin is life blood. As-salāmu ʿalaykum."
Jelal gave her word that the party would be on its best behavior. And with that, she took her leave and ventured deeper into the village to meet her contacts. Llelf took it upon himself to follow her stealthily and spied on her meeting with Flan warriors carrying the standard of a mailed fist seizing a crescent moon surmounted by three stars. Seeing their discussion complete, Llef returned to the party to inform them, however Jelal arrived as well, escorted by a band of Flan warriors. With unnatural speed, the tribesmen surrounded the group in a wide circle, their hands rested on the hilts of their blades. Jelal introduced them as “warriors of the Tukim, loyal servants of the Emperor of the Blight Lands” and the contacts she was to meet. From this point forward, they were to lead the party onward.
The night passed uneventfully. In the morning, the party followed the Tukim through the “town” to the south side where a large semi-permanent site of several tents resides. There Jelal introduced the party to the Tukim war leader Terkhun: a wizened looking Tukim in his forties with sun bronzed skin heavily lined and leathery. His long grey hair held in place by a brass circlet adorned with polished red and black gems. Long flowing brown robes cover his armor with intricate depictions of humans slaying centaurs beneath their lances. “As-salāmu ʿalaykum, Peace be upon you,” Terkhun proudly states, lowering his head ever so slightly.
“Wa-alaykum as-salāmu,” Jelal responds.
Terkhun proceeds to explain, “We Tukim are peoples of a great nation, great warriors for Ardrih: we destroy all his enemies, mostly Hueleneaer (horse people), and white skins like you. We will honor this peace so long as you do the same.”
The party nods in understanding. Jelal soon after began to discus her plans for the journey. Terkhun’s responses however seemed to be addressed toward Atticus, causing Jelal some obvious discomfort, but to her credit, hides it well. With the best course now chosen, Terkhun assigns his best tracker, Tahgal, to join the group. As the group departs, Terkhun takes Atticus aside and boldly asks, “Which females belong to who?”
The path now chosen, the group sets out immediately. The Valley of Ul Bakak quickly vanished behind it’s huddle of hills as the trail bent south and then almost due east. A vast plain of glassy white sand and rough gravel stretched away for as far as the eye could see; the sky above, a cloudless blue dome and after a time it almost seems as if all the colors of the world had vanished, leaving only blue and white behind. Tahgal, your guide, says something sullenly as he slowly wrapped a thin black scarf around his face and head, covering his eyes. Jelal translates “He says that his people call this place Aileen Brionnoch, The Glittering Plain.”
As Pelor climbed higher and higher, and the peaks of the Abbor-Alz disappeared under the western horizon, the gravel plain gave way to a sea of steep sided star-shaped dunes that rose in glittering white waves two hundred feet in height in some places. Several members of the party have their pace slow, as they wind their way between and over the dunes, plowing through the clinging sand; the endlessly shifting sands quickly swallow up your tracks. With the heat and dry air proving too much for them, fatigue set upon them. Fortunately the party had worn dark glasses, had they not the white sands would have inflicted the Bright Blindness upon them all.
After many hours of arduous trekking, seeing only the white of the dunes, the blue of the sky and the merciless golden fire of Pelor, the sight of living green things came as a sudden surprise. Cresting a particularly high dune, before you all rested a scimitar-shaped green basin surrounded by a sea of stark white sand. Palm trees and tall, wind-bent desert pines towered over a lush riot of grasses, scrub bushes and strange plants with thick fleshy, spike-shaped leaves. The sound of horns echoed across the dunes from a stone fort nestling in the heart of the oasis. Tahgal raised his horn in response, as a band of Tukim warriors galloped towards the party. Everyone is escorted down into the oasis where the fort lay.
The heart of the fort is a small squat blockhouse, surrounded by the horses and tents of the Tukim. The interior of the blockhouse was smokey and ill lit. You all stood in a semi-circle of robed warriors, sitting on ornate leather saddles. They all regarded the group with a mix of hostility and haughty disdain. A man in his thirties, with deep dark tanned skin, bright green eyes, a handlebar mustache, and long fine black hair worn in a braid to the middle of his back took it upon himself to break the awkward silence, “I am Hai’dur Shenazir Zhadhal, commander of this fort, welcome. You are the ones who begged audience with The Rider and he in his infinite wisdom acquiesced.” With a wave of his hand, triangular straw filled cushions are brought in, “Please, be seated.” While twisting his handlebar mustache with his fingers, he offers, “Please, have some dates, some fruit, and a pipe with us.” As Jelal speaks on behalf of the party, Atticus notices that unlike the other Tukim, Hai’dur Shenazir Zhadhal actually responds directly to Jelal. The conversatation however came to a halt with one question, “Are all of you lovely desert roses married? I can not for the life of me see how you are not!” asked Hai’dur Shenazir Zhadhal.
Both Jelal, and Elyra were caught off-guard by this question, as were Darva and Elyssia.
“Think nothing of it, as it is not an empty compliment, tis the truth indeed. The Rider will be most pleased to be in the presence of such beauties as you.” he continues, “I have been commander of this outpost for two years now, guarding the trade route between the Brass Hill and Ul Bakak, in that time you lovely ladies are the first breath of fresh air in that span. If there is any way I can make your stay here more pleasurable, I will do what I can.”
About this time, Jelal shrieked, and slapped one of the Paynims across the face. The dangerous silence that followed was punctuated by the Paynim she slapped, as he drew back his fist to strike her.
“Hold!” shouts Hai’dur Shenazir Zhadhal. An obviously displeased Faresh, the Paynim man Jelal struck, interrupted, demanding an immediate honor duel for being struck. Darva, not being one to let a challenge go unmet, volunteers herself.
“Faresh’s honor has been slurred and needs redressed, he can not duel you, a woman, because that would dishonor him even more.” responds Hai’dur Shenazir Zhadhal.
Grumpy then chimed in offering himself.
The rules of the combat were simple: no armor, no weapons, and no magic. This first to submit is the loser. After a close battle, Faresh went down in a heap. The other Paynims carry off their comrade, staring at Grumpy as they slink off.
Hai’dur Shenazir Zhadhal calmly tells the party, “You may leave our presence and return to your camp, The Rider has ordered you to attend him as soon as possible, you will be leaving early in the morning.” and promptly walked out of the blockhouse with the rest of the Paynims
Come morning, the group set out once more onto the shining sand-sea. Pressing on east and south from Tulwar, finding that the high star-shaped sand hills gave way to smaller crescent dunes that undulate off toward the horizon. By the middle of the afternoon, the first glimpses of Shembai is seen: a mirage floating upside down on the horizon in a shimmering cloud of heat haze. By late afternoon, they arrive at the oasis. Tahgal looked nervously at the southern horizon, above which a dark bruise of dust had begun to rise. Flowering plants and waxy leafed shrubs were abound here, filling the desert air with their fragrance. Tahgal picked some bitter tasting yellow desert melons, which he called “taelsmeara,” all the while he kept is eyes focused on the southern horizon.
“There is a bad sandstorm coming from the south.” chimed Jelal. “In these big storms, the sand can peel the flesh from your bones if you are unlucky enough to be caught in them!”
As the party made camp to wait out the storm, Tahgal scolded the party, “We must leave now, I can not stay at Shembai in the night! It is forbidden!” Grabbing his pony, he rode south, into the heart of the storm exclaiming, “Better to ride out the storm out there than in Shembai! Leave now!”
Not eager to see what horrors lurked in the ruined tower, the party rode off with him.
Through divine luck, or blind stupidity, the group was able to find shelter from the storm. Emerging from the sand-filled cave, the party discovered that they were not alone in seeking refuge from the sandstorm.
Emerging from the sand, the party was ambushed by a mated pair of Desert Trolls.
After a brief battle, the group had now found themselves slightly richer from all the spoils the trolls had tucked away in their cave.
After several hours of Pelor’s heat beating mercilessly down upon the group, they are confronted with the sight of a range of rocky, dun-colored hills serenely floating upside down on the horizon. Another mirage, but one that brought hope for it meant that they drew near to the Brass Hills. The next thing they saw was not a mirage; a banner bearing the fist, crescent and stars of the Empire of the Bright Lands rose from behind a bone-white dune, followed rapidly by a troop of cavalry. The riders were human, all clad in fine mail and flowing silks: stallions all exquisite examples of horseflesh. These were Rary’s Paynim riders.
The troop, numbering over fifty, quickly surrounded the group. One rider approached, and bowed in his saddle.
“Honored envoys, the Emperor of the Bright Lands sends you joyous salutations and bids you attend his encampment.” The rider spoke in perfect common, “Please peace-tie your weapons, any spell casters among you, from this point forward, do not try to cast any spell, for you will be dead before you finish it. You are here under a truce of parley and will be treated with the utmost respect, but, any sign of treachery will bring you swift, but sure death. If you need a fresh horse, one will be provided for you to the encampment. Do you agree to these terms?”
Readily agreeing to these terms, the group pressed on through the dune-lands of the Bright. The new Stallions showed no sign of faltering in the oppressive heat of the 131° desert. As time passed, the dunes fell away into a massive salt-pan that stretched like a table top to the southern horizon, where the tops of the Brass Hills now reared like a row of worn-down, yellow teeth against the cerulean blue of the sky.
As the group drew closer, two large and sumptuous tented-pavilions dominated the camp – one flying the stars and crescent of the Bright Lands, the other the device of a Black Unicorn. Large numbers of Paynims, Tukhim, and other Flan nomads and norkers were camped here – a significant part of the army of the Bright Lands. The party rode to the center of the camp led by Paynims, a large parade ground had been cleared between the two great pavilions. Outside the tent flying the black unicorn, a large number of grim faced warriors guarded the entrance way, all bearing the crest of the black unicorn, and wearing heavy plate armor with no seeming discomfort. At once, and as one, they drew their scimitars with a resounding ring of steel; held their blades aloft and formed a glittering circle of swords. A heavily armed and armored Paynim emerged from the tent and approached the heroes.
“Who among you comes under the flag of parley in the name of the Covenant of the Iron League?”
Elyra stepped forward, “I am she.” she responds.
“Then Envoy of the Covenant of the Iron League, know this: Should any harm come to my master within, your flag of parley is void and your life and the lives of those that travel with you are forfeit. I shall leave your bones to bleach for eternity upon this plain. Is this understood?” as he looked over the party.
The Paynim stepped aside, and with Elyra at the head, the group marched toward the tent made of fabulously embroidered Bakluni silks, that shimmered and shone in the desert sun. The interior of the pavilion was as sumptuously appointed as the palace of a Bakluni potentate. It’s centerpiece was a marble fountain, from which clear water cascaded into a pool containing exotic fish of many hues. Painstakingly tended and pruned bay trees rose gracefully here and there. Songbirds (some flesh and blood, some made of hammered silver and gold) fluttered and chirped all around. Tapestries adorned the walls of the pavilion and the floor was covered in mosaics of unnumbered colored tiles forming beautifully abstract Bakluni patterns.
Of all of those wonders, it is the sumptuous throne opposite that monopolized everyone’s attention, or rather the robed Bakluni man that sat upon it.
“Perhaps you were expecting someone else?” said the (young and obviously not Rary) man with a smirk. " Eliazir Razeem Azam’ut of the Muddled Tongue, Envoy of the Arcane Court of His Percipient Magnificence, the Archmage Rary, Emperor and Monarch of the Bright Lands at your service." he added with a deep bow and flourish.
With but a slight gesture, he summoned up several soft couches for everyone to recline on, as well as some refreshing white wine along with trays of Bakluni sweetmeats and sweets dusted in powdered sugar carried by unseen servants. “Please, sit, take your ease! Now, what business have you here?”
“What business does Rary have with Onnwal and Jian Destron?” Elyra chimes back.
A very long and politically complex discussion then took place. Mostly bringing up past favors granted to Jian Destron by Rary. The end result of this conversation revealed that Rary took no part in the taking of the Szek of Onnwal’s child. When asked why Rary even desired the child in the first place, Rary’s apprentice asked, “Do you know that it sometimes rains in the desert? This land can go years, decades, without a drop of rain. But occasionally there will be a cloudburst. And then the desert blooms! Seeds that have lain dormant for longer than some men live burst forth and grow. Within a day the dunes are robed in flowers – fragrant and as beautiful as a bride on her wedding day. And within a day they wilt and die and return to the dust from which they came. But not before they have produced new seed that will sit for the lives of men waiting for the next rain to fall. A drought is coming, a drought of hope that will make a desert of Onnwal. Against it all the might of Jian Destron and his realm will avail. Veryanna is the seed from which Onnwal’s greatness will bloom forth when the rains come again. She is precious and, like the seed of a desert flower, must be preserved. Such are my master’s wishes. She will come to no harm here – my own word and my master’s, I give you.”
“Where is Veryanna now?” asked Atticus.
“She has passed into fire and darkness, beyond the ken of my master, though she yet lives. I greatly fear for her. For such a reason did my master wish to remove her from harm’s way. Her peril is the result of the pride and folly of her father in ignoring the wise council of the Emperor of the Bright Lands.” the apprentice responded as one would to an insect.
“Is your master in league with the Scarlet Brotherhood?” asked Darva impatiently.
“My master is in league with no one. He keeps his own council, seeking neither allies or favor. Like the wind upon the desert, he goes where he will, unbound by the will of men. “The Brothers of the Scarlet Sign are… misguided. They dwell in the past, amid the ashes of lost glories. They have nothing to offer my master who looks rather to the future, to what will be.” Eliazir, the apprentice replied proudly.
“Does Rary seek the Scorpion Crown?” asked Elyra bluntly.
As if caught off guard, “My master seeks after many secrets. He is a seeker of wisdom, hidden and otherwise. This is a land of secrets, hidden under the sands of long centuries. If this crown of which you speak is one, then why should he not seek it?”
“And to what end?!?” responded Elyra.
“A curse has long lain on this land – a curse drawn down by foolish men who sought knowledge without understanding. For you see, that is the worst evil, knowledge without understanding, power without wisdom, arrogance that thinks it is insight. This is the vice my master hates most. This Scorpion Crown is a symbol of that. It must be kept from the hands of foolish men who would repeat the mistakes of the past.” Eliazir said calmly.
“I demad you tell me Rary’s intentions are!” shouted an obviously angered Elyra.
“Ha!” laughed Eliazir, " The whole world now trembles at my master’s name. Kings and princes and priests all fearfully whisper the same question – ‘What will The Traitor do? Where will he strike next?’ I have heard these questions wherever I have gone – from Greyhawk City to Rel Mord to Niole Dra. Let me tell you there is no cause for fear. Though he is named Traitor, the crowned heads of the Flanaess have less to fear from Rary of the Bright Lands than they do from others who come in fairer guises and give crooked council. Perhaps they will realize this before it is too late. Until that time comes, my master will work to strengthen himself against those whose madness he opposes and would, because of his opposition, destroy him. He will busy himself with the affairs of his lands."
Jelal said in a hissed tone, “Traitor!…”
“The ways of the world are curious, are they not?” the apprentice interrupted, " My master and I are branded traitors by one who has done more than his share of betrayal. Of whom do I speak? Why the Archmage Bigby of course! Bigby of Scant – ah now there is an ironic tale, but then Bigby’s master has a taste for irony. Has it never occurred to you why Scant fell so easily to the Scarlet Sign, when it had one of the mighty Circle of Eight watching over it – dwelling there no less? What is a fleet of warships to a man who can manipulate the raw fabric of the Multiverse? What must Bigby have thought when he stood atop his tower and betrayed his beloved Scant into slavery?" asked Eliazir, and as he spoke, an image took shape in the air about you. The walls of the tent disappeared and before you stood a city-port perched atop two steep hills, surrounded on three sides by the sea. To your right, the sun was rising, red and round over a range of low hills. Your vantage point was the top of a tower standing on a headland opposite a city-port. Below you see, a fleet of warships carefully threading its way through a reef-fanged channel. The bloody dawn light illuminated the red sails of the vessels; scarlet pennants marked with a twisted black cross identified these ships. As you watched all this, a grey robed figure stood beside you, his features were that of an older Oeridian man with light brown hair and beard, and dark eyes – though his complexion is pallid, his face gaunt and hollow cheeked. He looked on impassively at the scene unfolding before him, hands folded in the sleeves of his robes. From behind you, out of sight, came a voice, deep and sonorous:
“We have all had to make our sacrifices. It is time, old friend.”
A tear fell from the cheek of the grey robed man, and before it struck the ground, he is gone.
The vision now faded, the group all stands once more in extravagant tent. A bitter smile played upon the lips of the Traitor’s apprentice.
“And what of the treachery on the day of signing?” asked Jelal, “You do not call slaying two of the Circle that day treason?”
“Ha!” laughed Eliazir, “It was no accident that Tenser and Otiluke died that day. Not even one so puissant as my master slays two archmagi on a whim. Tenser learned something in the last days of the Wars, something that cost him his life and the life of the only other person he told. With my own hands I destroyed Tenser’s clones, which should have condemned him to eternal death. Yet he has returned, but without the secret that cost him his life, nor anything but a vague memory of it. Though he did not know it until later, my master was played like a puppet. There were greater forces at play that day than you know of, forces that come in friendly guises but follow their own ruthless and insane agendas. Alas though, it is the victors who write the histories, though they are no less traitors themselves.”
Before anyone could ask who, Elyra shouted, “Traitor’s Lies!”
A hand-crossbow loaded with an enruned bolt, crackling with arcane energy, materialized in Elyra’s hand. With a glazed look in her eyes, she aimed the weapon at the mage and gently pulled the trigger.
Time seemed to slow down at that moment, the bolt hurled itself towards the heart of Eliazir, the Traitor’s apprentice. Darva flawlessly made way towards the mage to deflect the arrow, ready to swat down the projectile, however Grumpy had other plans. Bravely the dwarf hurled his body at the bolt, hoping his finely crafted mail would prevent the bolt from doing any serious harm. To everyone’s dismay, the bolt penetrated his defense, dropping him where he stood. Amidst this chaos, Elyra reloaded her crossbow, as small earthen elementals rose from the ground to attack the remaining party members.
Elyra nimbly dodged every blow from the now furious Darva, as the other members did what they could to fight off the earth elementals. As the last elemental fell, an astounding eight bolts of pure magical energy flew from behind the throne, striking Elyra dead.
“Look you there.” pointed Eliazir, “An eight-pointed star branded onto her right shoulder just up under the edge of her sleeve, it is just visible from this vantage point. I can not in good conscious hold you responsible since you did intervene on my behalf, though you almost failed. No one here was controlling her, I believe the brand is the sign of the culprits, it is the Mark of Madness.”
Eliazir decends from the throne and proceeded to walk over to the body of Grumpy. Pulling the bolt from Grumpy’s chest and examining it. Feeling the end of the bolt, he rubbed his fingers together and smelled it. “It is coated in Carrena, a deadly poison from the south. It is favored by the Scarlet Sign. The bolt is Dwur-crafted blue steel from Irongate, and is dweomered by a VERY powerful mage indeed. The aura is very strong. As for this gem, if I’m not mistaken, is meant to trap a person’s soul. However, since it is now cracked, the dwarf’s life has now been permanently forfeit.”
As the party chokes back tears, Eliazir plainly states, “I would like to show you my great appreciation, please accept these gifts as a token of my eternal gratitude.” Holding up his hand, a little gold and silver mechanical songbird lands on him. “This songbird was gifted to me by the Emperor Rary himself, please accept them in remembrance of this day, and know that you will be marked ‘friend’ by me henceforth.”
Looking once more at Elyra’s body, “She broke a parley truce, her bones shall bleach in the desert.” Glancing at Grumpy’s body, “He, however will be buried in a place of honor.”
The party immediately protested Eliazir’s plans, but was suddenly transported into the desert just outside of Hardby. Eliazir’s voice echoing in their heads, “Before you depart, however – know you this: Rary, Emperor of the Bright Lands, makes this solemn promise to the crown heads of the Flanaess – the Bright Desert will bloom once more. When the white becomes green, let this be a sign that the Great War for the fate of the Flanaess is close at hand. So sayeth His Percipient Magnificence, the Archmage Rary, Monarch and Emperor of the Bright Lands.”
“I will be going back to Hardby, I am Diditrix you know,” Jelal said with a smile. “If you come back with me, I will reward you all and you will always be welcome in Hardby. The Apprentice said he could aid us in the return, I’m not sure what he meant by that.”
Gathering the spoils granted by Eliazir, the party marched onward to Hardby.