Chapter I part one
Strange seemingly random gouges in the walls lead sightless eyes through this dark realm…. The lightless walls exude a creeping dankness. The musk of ages weighted heavy here oppressive and hateful. Razor maws sat poised in the twisting gloom, hungrily awaiting the slightest sound. Generations of lurking horrors birthed and weaned on endless night. If there were but a spark, it would be a nova in this place. But there is no spark and so no human eyes could witness the small hunched figure hurrying at his work.
The door was well concealed; the section of wall housing it was like all the others even if eyes could see. The lock was an old Bainsmith’s, a build-in mechanical nightmare seldom encountered and almost sure to be trapped. Rahg had seen this before, well felt it in this case. He had the luck of running into one a few jobs back, though it didn’t feel very lucky then. The trigger was well constructed and showed little sign of yielding to his skills, the best Rahg could hope for was bypassing it. This would be simple enough but years of paranoia had served him well so why stop now? He produced a special pick, thin and strong, with a thick rubber and leather wrapped handle. As he begins to probe a tiny explosion of crackling, hissing light streams up the pick, melting the handle. Rahg worked franticly as his pick bubbled, the magic-trap’s light flooding his eyes making his work all the harder. Click. The door swings inward and darkness swallows him once more. His smoldering pick tinkles to the floor. "Orc toes,” thinks Rahg chiding himself but his fingers were blistering and he had no choice. Carefully, stealthily, Rahg enters the door.
Hurdy was very angry and not in the normal crush-someone’s-ribs angry. It was a deep dissatisfaction with his work, and giving that he was punching someone in the head right now this was very odd. It was not that his boss thought he was dumb, he actually enjoyed that. It was not the currently low pay; Hurdy was never in it for money. It was the damn niceness. He was lucky his “benefactor” let him go this one alone. Right now instead of pummeling, he would be forced to listen to lecture after lecture. Then only if that failed (thank the Eyes it usually did) could he have some fun. This routine had made their journey through the wilderness a very fun one indeed. His boss could not communicate with most of the bandits they encountered, Hurdy could but he never bothered to mention this. Usually a bunch of ugly jerks would leap out yelling for them to throw down their gold. Since no one (but Hurdy) knew what the other side was saying, this always led to violence. But here in the human lands Hurdy was rightly pissed off. He had spent the last few days looking tough while listening to utterly boring talks about such and such. Needless to say he was giving his victims the full fury of his boredom. Lost in thought Hurdy barely notices the head came clean off the man he is pummeling. How long had he been beating that one? Looking around Hurdy realizes none of them are moving, or even twitching for that matter.
“Oofs” says Hurdy.
was confused, something he would never admit to anyone much less himself. It had all made sense, the parts he remembered at any rate. It had all started with being sick to death of his brother Vez
and his damn acceptance into the Vilsalral
order of cavaliers. Just how this gave Zalavad the idea of leaving the Great Forest
to run across the continent and join an adventuring group is still foggy at best. He met the shabby band in Ardinia
, while traveling to the capital. For a time the thrill of adventure was everything to Zalavad, his advice was well respected, and his magical support adored. The band’s name, The Order of The Burning Tree
, had always bothered him so when given the chance he quit. Why this was suddenly enough to make him seek employment elsewhere was likewise unclear. When the group was taking some time off in Beld
and eventually stumbled onto Anzo’s Place
he knew the time was right. Having spent some time at dice during his academy days Zalavad fit right in. When Mr. Sarduchi
offered him a job he just agreed without really thinking; now he wishes he hadn’t. He spends most of his time instructing his minions in their cleaning and repair duties. The only reason he stays is that Anzo
keeps him well supplied with fresh bodies, and the prospect of becoming one is very real.
Gazing out from his fake treetop, nothing more than a scavenged crow’s nest from an old ship, over the undulating Pontoon City he plans. The Chains
will see some heavy use today so specimens will be abundant. Spray dews his pale platinum hair and the symphony of metal begins. From this vantage and with his elven eyes he watches the dance of the already gore stained combatants whirls within the chain maw of the pit. Swinging, leaping, diving they heave and bound, like frantic monkeys fighting over fruit. The current game is the Cup and possessing it, while simultaneously moving and dodging. Zalavad found this impressive for humans. Even with mortal eyes, he could tell the veterans from the green meat. They knew never to trust a segment and tended to wear very heavy leather gloves incase they grab a handful of fishhooks. The vets are in it for fun and prestige; the meat typically does not have a choice. Zalavad, or Zad as Anzo calls him, found it all very natural, surprisingly so for humans. Once Anzo’s boys were done making the meat squeal, Zad got to try his hand. Zad considers his work far more sophisticated, after all by the time he gets a turn the meat can no longer feel pain.
was still angry but he usually was. After what seemed like forever his lecture was over and he was told to go think about what he did. He down right refused and so was hard at work training. Hurdy was dedicated for a mad man (actually mad halfman). During downtime, he did nothing but train his body and with his clubs. Hurdy loved his clubs, the first he called Hangnail and was made of steel, the second was KaThumpa and was carved from stone. Though he had been forced to train with other weapons during his service, Hangnail
had always been like extra arms or as someone more articulate might say an extension of his body. Van Nostrum had chosen a very out of the way inn to house Hurdy. Although Hurdy did not know it, the truth was Van Nostrum rented every room in the three-story building and paid the innkeeper to keep others out. This was really out of necessity because, dedicated as he is, Hurdy has the attention span of a housefly. When not distracted he starts training, he does this reflexively like breathing. When distracted he starts gambling, drinking, and hurting people. Since the first two always led to the latter he is better off without distractions. His room was ample, the largest the inn had. Even so, Hurdy kicked down two of the walls to join it with the adjacent rooms. Hurdy then proceeded to savage the slop boy after leaping out his third story window onto the lad. Hurdy claimed he was a spy and through vigorous interrogation forced him to admit it. He later decided the staff was robbing him and proceeded to (very un)stealthily follow the scullery maid, two bar wenches, the cook, the new cook, a random beggar and the merchant who sells the inn keeper his wine. Hurdy spent six hours lurking in the stable recently to “Cach tha littlfukkr bludyhannad“, presumably referring to one of the grooms. In the end, all he managed to do was injure the horses and scare the innkeeper so bad he had to be rushed to the temple for care. All of this has helped keep Hurdy from getting into real trouble but each day he gets a little more restless.
One secret, and two concealed, doors later Rahg
finds himself in more fair surroundings. Gone were the rough stone tunnels of endless night, with their silent savage inhabitance. First utter darkness gave way to gloomy semi-light, rough stone and oxidized iron turning to hardwood and redbrick. The utter silence of the depths, broken only by distant droplets of condensation cascading to the cold stone, finally driven away by soft steps and muffled voices. Now the true danger was all about him. Below the catacombs of the old lords of Vilnada
were filled with dread to be sure. But it was an old dread, long lingering and weary with the weight of ages. Light steps and fast thinking had served him well, allowing him to move about like the more intangible denizens of that underworld. He had many tricks to foil detection by sound or smell, and he never let anything get close enough to touch let alone taste him. But his blistered fingers reminded Rahg that it was the lingering magic of the old lords he should fear most. Now here in the light more mundane dangers lurked. The De Silva
compound would be well patrolled and protected. The deterrents will be of lesser ingenuity but far better maintained. “Best tread lightly on this one, no need to rush.” He thought. But vigilant guards and faithful hounds are the De Silva deterrents of choice. “I’ve just the sleeves for that.” He thought as he checked the tiny vials of Catstink and Blindingpowder concealed in each sleeve. A quick snap of the wrist would drop three of the vials into his hand, or failing that, onto the floor.
Rahg spent the next few hours lurking, he watched and he waited. Slowly he made his way from room to room, shadowing the louder groups of servants that permeated the compound. The place was run like a military encampment with guards at key access points. He silently cursed his own need for speed. Spending several hours watching the guard routine and then slipping out with the evening meal would be best. “But tonight has to be THE night, Maggot always said “big risks for big rewards”. "Rahg did his best to eavesdrop but most of what he heard was gossip. Finally he found his target, or so he hoped. It was a single brassbound door, which always had at least three guards, which no servant went anywhere near let alone through. In fact, not one person had used the door while Rahg observed. The last major tip off was the lack of keys. Not one of the guards had a visible key that could possibly fit the door. So either they could not be trusted with keys or whatever was behind that door was accessed too infrequently for them to have the keys at the ready. Rahg smiled, if he was right the next dog team would be through in two minutes, after that he had about five minutes to run the gauntlet. Liberal amounts of caltrops placed at access points should slow any reinforcements. The plan after that was simple, throw a Flashstone followed by Blindingpowder while tumbling to avoid any possible retaliation. After that Rahg would take out the lanterns then move in. He considered poisoning them with darts but the onset would take time, something he did not have. He could hear the patrol coming. “ShowTime.”
“Today may yet be entertaining,” thought Zad as he watched the newcomers dock. Travelers were common at Anzo’s; they were its life’s bloods in fact. Down one fork of the mighty river lay Vilnada, down the other lay the Beldish Heartlands and the Capital New Veliamo. These were not the usually wayfarers, four of the vessels flew family crests. They entered by Sarduchi’s private dock, the Ricardo, Paduchi, Valentino and Martinelli families plus two strangers on the fifth boat. He knew if Sarduchi was letting the Paduchi attend then it must be big. The two families have very bad blood. Once the Paduchi were part of the Sarduchi, back when they had power. It was said the Sarduchi had worked as a secret police force for the kings of old, with them fell the family. Times change but blood stays bad. The two strangers were the most intriguing; one utterly nondescript robed from head to toe in brown. Zad knew anyone who took that much time looking nondescript was anything but, he wondered who or what had just come calling. The other stranger was eight feet tall and broader then any man could be, with a face that had all the effect of a punch in the nose. This monstrous being was clad in dark heavy chain mail, possibly dwarven steel. A large pair of clubs hung from his back and though his helm had a face guard, he seemed to enjoy the reaction of others. Zad turns away; strolling through the false jungle of ropes knotting the air above most of the Flotsam City. Much of the rigging housed cranes, pulleys and other useful devices, the rest of the clutter sprung up thanks to the nature of the inhabitance. All were use to spending days in a ship’s rigging and so made their homes accordingly. About a third was trapped to make a private passage for Anzo’s use. Zad followed the small walkway, carefully concealed among the tangle, from his residence to Anzo’s private houseboat. He enters a secret door to emerge at his master’s side. Zad absentmindedly exterminates and then animates a number of pests who foolishly stray too near.
was unsure if he should be angry or not. His moods were in full swing now and there was no telling second to second how he would feel. First, they had spent days-wasting time on some dumb boat. He stomped rats, kicked crewmen overboard when no one was looking and peed in the grog. He got bored benching the anchor and was seriously thinking of killing the captain just because. This routine of agonizing boredom when on for an eternity. This all changed on what turned out to be the second day of the trip. Some bandit morons attacked and he got to crush heads. They boarded expecting easy pickings what they found was Hurdy and bloody death splattered on Hangnail
. The best part was, while he and the captain were fighting them off together he managed to batter the mast down crushing the sickly goat with the bandits. He trod their heads through the deck while the old cod gasped for breath like the fish he resembled. He said he was sorry but laughed for days inside, thinking about the fishman drowning on the deck. After that the boat’s progress was greatly impeded (no mast after all) until a crewmember named Alphonzo
helped first mate Creeg
take charge. This turned into more boredom as he was forbidden from helping, in spite of his massive knowledge of large wooden things. He had to content himself with kicking down cabin doors and questioning whoever happened to be behind them. This was great fun until he kicked down the door to his boss’s sleeping quarters, after that he sulked on deck throwing bits of heavy chain at birds or, when he thought no one was looking, the crew.
When they landed Hurdy
really liked the look of the place; crazy forts on rafts littered the watershed. Where the great waterway split a city on stilts and floats blossomed, many beings rushed about and the best part was many of them were not ever people! Half-breeds and humanoids were everywhere as well as the little halfmen from the east. He was ready to hit the taverns when the sweet sound of bloody combat filled Hurdy with great hope and joy, but this sound came from the opposite direction their host lead them. At last, they entered the hold of an immense ship to find a lavish parlor. Fine silks, firs, and no small amount of bejeweled skulls (some human) hang from the walls. Skin after skin covers the floor, while mini swaying hammocks hold plants and magically luminous crystals. Rich pillows litter the floor in a semi circle centered on a raised hooka.
“Yep” thinks Hurdy,
“ This is really gonna piss me off!”,
as his boss motions him to stand guard.
Rahg considered the three guards who stood diligently before his target. All wore standard full suites of chain mail; polished to a shine only true anal retentives could achieve. They had chain coifs but no face protection. They all carried a long sword and buckler with a light crossbow on a shoulder strap. They all wore the silver and red wyvern of the De Silva Family on their chest. They were dedicated and never engaged in those lovable guard pastimes like sleeping, gambling or going to relieve themselves. Time was of the essence so Rahg made his move.
Rahg leaps into a tucking roll as he throws a Flashstone, catching the guards by surprise. They reel from the pulse of pure white light, weapons at the ready. In surprise the rightmost guard manages to fling a desperate hand over his eyes just as Rahg roll up and, with a flick of the wrist discharges three vials of Blindingpowder directly into his face. As the guards claw at their eyes and cry a warning the lights go out. Confused and staggering they don’t ever know what hits them, they do know where it hits them and that is by far the worst part.
Rahg’s blade cut deep into the right guard’s groin, twisting the blade as it withdraws, causing him to drop and writhe in shrieking pain. Rahg gentle cradles his head and slits his throat. The dying-guard’s companions’ yells for aid overpowering the slight rustling sound, followed by a tortured gurgling as he slipped away. Two blades whiz harmlessly in the dark, well harmless to Rahg at least.
The middle guards finds himself crumpling to the floor as his left knee is brutally pierced from behind. The final guard has just enough wits left to swing desperately only to recoil as his thrusts are met only with farther cries of pain from his fellow guard. He swings wildly, trying to work the spots from his eyes. His horror mounts as he makes the correlation between his fellow guard’s sudden silence and the increasing slickness of the bricks beneath him.
A heavy yet supple weight slams into his right knee, sending him crashing to the floor. He feels knees dig into his back as an unseen hand yanks his head up. The last sound he hears is the dagger ripping his throat open.
Rahg works fast, searching for keys before deciding to pick the lock. The lock itself is utterly superior, however he is in rare form, tripping the lock and oh so carefully avoiding the needle, but not the alarm. It took far too long to locate his prize with in the treasure room. Many tantalizing chests of Beldish-Crowns were positioned to mislead and divert his attention. He found his prize hidden under a brick in the corner and it was everything he had hoped for. The fact that he stole some of the gold too was just a matter of habit.
Pack literally bursting Rahg ducks and weaves his way toward the docks. His life’s warmth runs down his leg courtesy of several De Silva crossbow bolt. He had been forced to jump the wall of the noble district and cut through many middle class neighborhoods to throw off pursuit. Not that it had work; they had good dogs and ever better Hitmen. When he reached the docks, he franticly stashed he pack in the nearest cargo hold. Like the rat he resembles Rahg slips in behind it.
Zad did his best to loom sinisterly but even with his lifeless attendants he found himself outclassed. The horrid hulk lurking behind Anzo’s robed guest managed to somehow loom over the entire meeting. Zad was very short by human standards, just five feet tall and very slender. He pale platinum hair and purple eyes clearly announced his gray elven heritage. His robe is a deep black with silver runes visible only in shadow. He carries little save his many pouches. He stood to his master’s right on the raised side of the conference room where he observed the meetings participants. His master Anzo Sarduchi puffs the hooka with long slow pulls. The pungent fumes he exhales are rich with the spices of Ichia but they can not hide the undeniable musky sent of Graycreeper. His cloths are festive in green and orange, making him look like a large confused flower. His neat black hair and deadly gray eyes say otherwise. Anzo led a deadly yet restrained family, making his the perfect place for these meetings. Across from him at the head of the guests was Roberto Martinelli. A large bombastic man Martinelli dressed in fine firs and drank strong ale. His brown beard was always as stained as his cloths. He was a merchant first and foremost but his merchandise of choice was munitions. It was suspected that his family even sells to the beasts of Rapidash. Julian Valentino set to his right, shimmering like a peacock. He was the youngest lord and it showed. He was rashly assured of his superiority to the other lords. He based this on some sense of civility and breeding. This was utterly absurd as he was little more then a gem peddling minstrel. Philipo Ricardo sat to his right stuffing his face with pealed quail eyes. The sound of them popping was not nearly as vile as Ricardo’s chortles of delight. To Martinelli’s left sat Vincent Paduchi a crafty and quite man who dressed like a clerk. Zad knew Anzo would love to slit him up and down but at this meeting Paduchi spoke for both his family and the Da Vinci. His family was made up of professional sycophants who made their living being useful to those in power. To his far left was the robed stranger who never said a word through most of the meeting. The talks centered around everyday matters like trade disputes, possible embargoes on foreign goods and then finally as Anzo wrapped up. “Before we depart there is one final thing” Said Anzo. “Lady Van Nostrum if you please?” the hooded figure stands and walks to the center of the room, slowly pulling back it’s hood. The countenance beneath is one of soft porcelain with a small round face like that of a doll. Her dark hair is tied back and her eyes are blue, clear and steady. When she moves there is the soft rustle of metal. When she speaks her voice is beautiful yet hard. “ I am Dame Olga Van Nostrum of Janid. I have come to barter for your noninterference. I wish to map the Tatch swamp and while doing so search for ancient temple sites holy to both our peoples.” Martinelli interrupted by clearing his throat. “ This sounds like a matter of state, why approach us rather then the prince?” “ It was my understanding,” she replied, “ that we could speak frankly. Rather then of things we all know to be untrue.” “I…” Anzo tactfully cut off Martinelli’s response. “What you seek is a small thing, or so it would seem.” “What do you really seek Dame Van Nostrum?” Her reply startled even Zad.
The hold was nearly empty, nothing but food, water, and munitions. Rahg spent most of his time nursing his wounds and planning. The crew was terribly lax and almost never bothered him. Even so he hid himself and his stash as best he could. Rahg had succeeded both beyond and below his wildest fantasies. If he could get to New Athens or Janid he could make a fortune, otherwise…
The second day out they get raided. They were nothing but clowns with no finesse who would be better off with a hoe in their hands. Ever so the ship sustained a lot of damage and even lost its mast. This was a river going vessel so it was not a big loss but how it happened was beyond him. After the fighting was over Rahg managed to mingle in with the crew calling himself Alphonzo. He did his best to be as useful as possible all the while listening for clues of their destination. After playing second hand to some one-eyed river-rat named Creeg for a few days Rahg learns their destination. The fact that Rahg does not die on the spot proves how little fear he has. The fact that he shows none of it proves what a natural born liar he is.
Hurdy was bored and so was training, the fact that people were near by never crossed his mind. This of course led to his ejection from the private meeting between his mistress and Sarduchi. It was just as well from his point of view, after all, they were only talking so who cares? He spent what seemed like days lurking on the big boat’s deck. Finally they depart but then end up waiting at the boat for some midget in a sack named Zack or something. The little guy was part of the deal apparently and Hurdy really didn’t care, he had more important things to do. He was very suspicious of that new first mate Alphonzo, assuming he must he a mage in disguise with a name that long. Something about the way he just showed up one day, he must have used some spell. After they set sail Hurdy found he had a lot of free time and this meant training. His mistress and the midget spent a lot of time talking and so following Alphonzo became his main pastime. He watched him work, he watched him eat, he watched him sleep and he watched him crap. This too was boring, as Alphonzo never did anything worth spying on. Then Hurdy realized what was going on. Alphonzo knew he was watching him and was pretending to be innocent! The little sneak was going to get it big time but his boss had already forbidden him to hurt the crew so what was left? Hurdy was smarter then Alphonzo and he knew Alphonzo knew, but did Alphonzo know he knew Alphonzo knew? This became a little too much for Hurdy and hurt his head, so he went to lay down in the hold…
Sygmand detested the reeking morass for its’ odor almost as much as for the delays it was causing. The swarming insect plagues, litter concealed bogs, the cursed rain and the wretched inhabitance all slowed his progress. But by blood and honor he had earned this right and he relished the prestige in would bring. Maybe enough to catch the eye of Lady Blaze, that more then any other reward lurked shrouded in his very soul. He could show the upstart outlanders what a true man of Wartooth could do. He soldiers were a problem however, and he considered them the foul spawn of ignorance and ignobility. Oh they bent to his will readily enough but they lacked character. Most were actually mercenaries from the dregs of his homeland but he drilled them and equipped them well. He had hoped they would suffice; after all he was on a quest not an invasion. His men were there to cut trees and ford marshes; he (and his personal retinue) would deal with any threats they hopefully encountered. They were on land now and that improved things considerably. No more listening to some self-important peasant, he put that damn captain on a pike as soon as they hit shore. Moreover, he considered all that silly ship to ship trash beneath him, if you could not charge it toe to toe it was not worth fighting. His horse Bainston had disagreed with the shipboard climate and this angered him even more. But here in his command pavilion he felt right at home, if only he had remembered to bring some decent brandy. After several hours of planning he made up his mind, he would hang someone to boost moral.
Zad was in shock; he had spent the last few days on a dank boat advising this knight of Janid about a swamp he had never been to. His knowledge of the swamp was all but nonexistent, he knew about swamps but not this one. The one thing he knew was why Sarduchi had sent him, but he did not like it. Zad wondered why Sarduchi trusted him this much? Or was it trust at all? No Sarduchi had him shackled even if he wore no binds. His spirit sagged as he silently cried out for an answer. After all his master understood the ways of the blade and venom, not the arcane.
Ok for once Rahg was really confused. First he found out the ship was bound for Vilnada again. As such Rahg had no choice but to try to get off at Vilford. To make matters worse someone, or something, was lurking in the hold. It made a noise that was a cross between a bull and a cat, long and low. He considered gathering the crew to investigate but the sound seemed to be coming from the direction of his stash. Paranoia overcoming Rahg’s normal discretion he crept in to see for himself. What he found was a sleeping behemoth clad in metal, just how it could sleep in all that was beyond him. He surveyed the scene and noted with relief that his hiding place was undisturbed. The sleeping monster turned out to be the brutish bodyguard of the lady in charge. He decided best to watch and wait. After several hours it woke up and scanned its’ surroundings intently. Rahg thought for sure it saw him but then it just got up and wondered off, so he followed.
Olga Van Nostrum sat in her cabin and thought. Her cabin was small and reserved, surprisingly so for the leader of the expedition but Olga preferred nay relished it thus. Her dark hair was a tenebrous free hanging darkness that hung in perfect contrast with her serene continence, a mask that hardly betrayed the emotion of her thoughts. Months of planning and preparation hinged on the next few days. One major hurtle was passed, the families of Beld would not overtly interfere. Olga was far too much the realist to believe no seemingly friendly blade sought her doom. Surely several of the crewmembers were planted spies or assassins. The necromancer Zalavad was assuredly one such informant, whether he was more remained to be seen. The elf was well read to be sure but he overestimated himself. Much of his “briefing” consisted of information her own research refuted. His magical aid might be useful yet and besides she always had Hurdy to watch her back. Hurdy, merely thinking of him made her both very annoyed and happy. He was after all just a, very very very, large stupid dog. His massive six-inch canine’s and three-inch incisors added to this image, as well as slurring his already thickly accented speech horribly. Olga truly believed Hurdy meant well most of the time, and seemed genuinely dedicated. She had noticed a disturbing tendency however. The longer they journeyed together the more often Hurdy attacked people claiming
“ Theya wsgunna jumchu!” At first, this seemed like violent behavior crudely masked but after awhile she began to understand. Hurdy had little to no grip on reality and made up plots and plans against himself. After traveling together for so long, he must be extending his paranoia to include attacks on her. This crazed tendency had saved her life more then once but it had also ended many innocent lives needlessly. She would need to do something about this soon but what she did not know. It seemed she had so much to worry about these days. Even high-ranking members of her order denounced her quest. They were afraid, of the truth, of change but mainly of Wartooth. Long ago Beld was one great nation that encompassed all of Janid, Beld, four of the Nunk ul urgli Islands and the lush pastures that are now the Tatch swamp. However, terrible wars ravaged the land in those long ago days and a foul Bloodcurse fell upon the kingdom. The Lonely Tower burst from the earth, spewing forth a tide of deathly fetid corruption. Its’ flood of poison washed over the land twisting all it touched. The most fertile lands in the kingdom were lost and untold masses starved. The king fell to a hideous wasting disease that left him a quivering blob. Many nobles backed the young crown prince but the right to rule was with the Queen. The ensuing War of Succession that followed was short and bloody as neither side could afford a prolonged conflict. In the end, the prince retained most of what remained with only the northern fiefs staying loyal to the queen. Yet, through all of this there was Wartooth, who had remained neutral during the war. Baron Otto Von Wartooth commanded the armies of Beld during the days of the king, and would serve no other. When the question of succession came to his ears, he proclaimed that “Those most vile mouths that whisper and bellow these words of heresy overlook that most clear of answers. No head save that of the rightful King of Beld may wear our most noble crown. These covetous usurpers seek to mislead as they blather of right to rule when the king yet lives!” In spite of his apparent madness over the years many of the knights who stood by the prince defected to Wartooth, realizing their error in trusting the nobles. Wartooth became a powerful yet tiny realm, and so it would remain until the baron’s son came to power. After the war the religion of Beld was forever shattered. Those in Janid, named for the first queen, worship each matriarch as the divine incarnate. In Beld the religion is all but gone, as only peasants believe in such things there. Olga saw her quest as the last hope for her peoples, as a chance for unity and for salvation.
sat in the crow’s nest slowly returning from his twilight trance. Due to his personal preference, and his master’s active nightlife, Zad rested during daylight hours. His distaste for the diurnal life allowed his sight to be sole witness of the following, as the lookout on guard was not nearly so alert. First, the great oaf who served the knight came staggering out of the hold. Then from seemingly nowhere appeared crewman Alphonzo, who despite his silent appearance now made quite a lot of noise just walking. He wondered around performing random tasks until the oaf took notice, ran over, yelled something unintelligible, and stomped off. After that, Alphonzo surreptitiously slipped into the hold. Zad produced his traveling spellbook and started to memorize spells.
Rahg was bent over in silent laughter by the time he reached his bunk.
“Iknw uknow Iknw uknew Iknw!” The beast had loudly hissed before lumbering off. He tried his best to rest but it was just too funny. Rahg finally drifted off to sleep, content that not only was it too dumb to know anything but that no one would believe it anyway.
The next morning Rahg woke and began lazily handed out orders. The crew were generally lazy to a surpassingly thorough degree yet most knew they way around the ship like they had been born in the bilge, something Rahg considered entirely possible. They knew what needed to be done; they just waited for him to scream obscenities at them to do it. After yelling his head off for a few hours Rahg was told Creeg wanted to see him in the captain’s cabin, so after checking his stash, he went to report for duty. As Rahg was about to open the door he got the feeling he should just grab his loot, jump in the water and swim for it. At this point two very different outcomes are possible. One where Rahg runs and ends up gutted by Noaro assassins on route to New Athens. Something unspeakable eats Zad alive. Sygmand kills a lot of people, and you really don’t want to know what Hurdy does. Luckily for everyone, Rahg goes into the cabin instead.
Van Nostrum, Creeg, Zalavad, and the brute are waiting for Rahg. Before anyone can speak Hurdy thunders,
“Gothu nwbuggr!” “Please do as I requested and remain silent.” Commands Van Nostrum. Rahg tries his best to look innocent, “ now look I don’t know what you guys think is going on but this guy has been following me everywhere. He disrupts my work and honestly just kinda scares me. I didn’t sign on for nothing like this.” “You are correct,” intones the robed mage, “ as you did not in fact sign on this crew at all.” Rahg nearly ran for it right there but replied. “ I’m not on the roster because me and the old captain use to run a few illicit items covertly. We were just making some money on the side.” “Really?” Zad asked, “ and what was our departed captain’s first name?” Rahg had nothing. “We want to know who you work for?” “Looook” Rahg began, flashing his best smile. “I’m not what you think, I just needed a ride and your ship was convenient that’s all. I was trying to get to Greenford but ended up stuck here.” Zad looked to Olga for a decision. “We travel to Vilford and from there the swamp. I believe you are indeed looking for a ride, but I doubt it is by choice.” Spoke Olga in a stern steady voice. “Once in the swamps we will spend many months mapping and exploring. Surly somewhere in the far reaches of the Tach you might find a route to your destination?” “Why would you offer me that?” Rahg asked full of shocked suspicion. “I do not give it freely. You must swear by your Honor and your Gods to aid our quest.” Rahg weighted her words and the possibilities they opened. “I gotta know your quest if I am to aid it.” He said. “We seek the high temple of Beld in the ancient capital of our land. It is recorded in the oldest tomes of Janid that therein is a record of the royal line through the ages, back to the founding of the kingdom itself.” Her reply fascinated Rahg, plus he knew all about the wonderful correlation between temples and gems. “ I swear by my Honor and Draper I shall aid your quest.”
At sunrise, they arrived at Vilford where they unloaded the ship and reloaded it onto four wagons. The fifth wagon contained what looked like parts for rafts or canoes. The sixth was by far the best looking to Rahg; it was the cook wagon. After restashing his loot, he decided to look around. Olga was organizing and trying to placate the whiny mage, who wanted his own wagon. While they sorted that out, he inspected the troops. Apparently Olga send word and gold ahead to organize men and supplies. They looked like your standard monkey-boys-for-hire and about fifty milled around. Most had scale mail and medium shields but a few scout types wore leather and carried bucklers. They had various armaments but most were weapons that doubled as tools. Machetes for hacking through the thick vegetation, Awl pikes to help navigate the waterways etc. Rahg spent the next few hours winning their money in games of chance. He only stopped once the hulking Hurdy decided to play, which made the game unprofitable. By this time things finally got moving and they set out.
In the end they had nine wagons, the original six plus one for Zad, one extra cargo wagon, and Hurdy’s wagon. Hurdy bought his own wagon and four yaks to pull it. Most of it was filled with food for him and the yaks but his main interest was having it be taller then Zad’s. Zad had build a little shaded perch on top of his wagon, Hurdy build a fortification. His had mini parapets and a huge heavy crossbow with ammo. The workmanship of the defenses was laughable but the mass of the crossbow was not. Hurdy build his fort about a foot higher then Zad’s, something Hurdy found very funny for reasons beyond the rest of the company.
Their next stop was New Ragio and from there began the journey to Mournguard keep. The keep was build as a last attempt by the prince to reassert power. After his horrendous budgeting failure, the keep became a joke. Undermanned and incomplete this massive testament to myopia heralded the end of the throne in Beld. After that the four great families, Da Vinci, De Silva, Noara, and Daroko declared their own kin to the king of old. The prince became a puppet and the land divided. They only thing keeping the land together was the constant threat of invasion by Janid, Rabidash or Wartooth. Rahg had heard talk lately, fearful talk of war. The swamp may indeed be the best place to hide out.
Sygmand enjoyed the natives immensely; they obeyed his every word, or the words they understood at least. After showing the simple creatures how utterly superior to them he was they were loyal as dogs. He marshaled most of them and drove them on to the old keep his men scouted on route to the altar. Finding the altar was a stroke of luck that clearly indicated Fate favored him. After fortifying the position and furnishing an acceptable dwelling for himself, it would be time to begin his search.
Hurdy thought of his days back in the Freestates, fighting with twin sister Murga. Oh the games they played, like Orc tossing for accuracy, goblin stampede or piss on the sleeping Hill Giant. Getting blitzed on stolen Thunderrum and laughing Old Bones’ sermons away. Good times they were, that is until the day she hacked his left leg off at the knee. After that everything just turned gray, nothing mattered and there was no hope for change. He would have ended his misery for sure were it not for the pity of another. Goon Vargle was his name; he was a half-breed like Hurdy, part human and part ogre. Goon was warchief of the Gnomestompa clan. He saw much promise in Hurdy and decided to motivate him ogre style, i.e. beat and taunt him horribly. Hurdy tried to hide at first, blending into dung heaps and refuse piles. Running would not work and he could not fight the massive Goon. Finally after weeks of such treatment Hurdy snapped. He set an ambush for Goon, leaping down from a ledge onto his foe. He attacked with all his might, never letting up even as he was clearly outclassed. After beating Hurdy senseless he dragged him to Old Bones’ cave. Vargle fitted him with a pegleg, by day forcing him to train his body and by night his mind. He learned many things, tactics, history, religion, combat procedures and how to use his new leg. Hurdy learned to speak Melkin, Waste cant, Beldish, and Lowargian. The most important and amazing thing he learned was respect; Goon had become his mentor and idol. Yet it was clear his teacher held the ancient mystic Old-Bones in the same awe Hurdy did Goon. Why was still a mystery to Hurdy as the old albino minotaur was hardly inspirational. If he was not ranting to a shrub, he was lurking in some cave screaming at rocks. He was utterly mad but still Goon regarded his words and deeds with humble awe. When Hurdy dared question this, he never received acknowledgment much less a reply. One day Goon handed him a set of fine Heavy chainmail and told him to head south. Goon had done the same thing when he was young and had the best time of his life in some human war.
Hurdy looked down at his missing leg as he thought this. Now his leg was Melkin made constructed from a strange blend of metal and leather. Olga had it made for him after he saved her life in the Bloodlands. At the time, he was just a conscript in the Janid army, having let his guard down while visiting. He laughed aloud at that thought; never go for every Gutbuster in town in one night. After besting all of his instructors, he was sent to some school for brats. They were tough brats he had to give them that. Training with such and such the third made him excel; he had to show them up after all. Kicking and stomping his way to the top of his light infantry division, he put all his frustration into being the best. He got lucky and fought in three minor wars, though he did not know which ones. First came random bandit killing, patrolling for hours just to slay a few humans. He hardly called that a war but most everyone else did. One day they surrounded and slaughtered about fifty bandits, after that someone declared the war a victory. Hurdy always had trouble working that one out, after all there were tens of thousands of bandits in the Bloodlands so who cared about fifty sleeping ones? The Kobolds that came next were just boring, hit and run owlbear dung whittling away at the weak. Necessity helped Hurdy improved his camouflage technique but he still moved about as quiet as a drunken Bewildabeast. The last war was against an orcish tribe that actually fought well. They came in hacking and didn’t let up till Hurdy had his fill. Thanks to the human in charge, they ended up pinned down and bottled in. After that, his human captain lost her nerve completely so Hurdy gutted her before routing the enemy. No one who lived saw him do it so he was honorably discharged and spent the next few months drinking until Olga gave him a job.
While he thought he was lifting thousand pound logs and throwing them on a pile or failing that in its’ general direction. He was not doing this as part of fording process but rather in spite of it. Most of his efforts to help cost lives and so he was told to stack logs on the other side of camp. Mournguard sagging arches lay behind them and the Bleakwood forest, gateway to the Tach swamp, was before them. He heard what sounded like chain mail rattling above him. Hurdy looked up just in time to see a twelve foot copper colored lizard flicking a tongue almost as long as him. It clung to the trunk of a massive dead tree about ten feet off the ground. This meant it was only about three feet from Hurdy’s head however. They froze that way for a second or two just starring. When the thing suddenly shot its tongue at Hurdy, he was almost expecting it.
The great metallic lizard’s tongue narrowly misses his head, snatching up a nearby stick before retreating into the beast’s maw. Hurdy readies his clubs just as the monstrosity leaps at him. It clamps its jaws down hard on this left shoulder, bruising him badly through his mail. Hurdy tucks to the left and turns at his hips to flop the beast off him. Hangnail stampedes into the creature, turning its rear left leg into a pulped mess. It wails savagely before flinging itself wildly at him. Hurdy brings KaThumpa around in a vertical arc, pile-driving its head into the damp shrub brush. The dazed beast only has the time to hiss pitifully before Hangnail mulches its skull. The entire battle lasted eighteen seconds.
After splitting the beasts belly open only to find a handful of gold, he decided to search for its lair. Some time later Hurdy found it in the tangled roots of a half-submerged tree and after much searching was really pissed off! No magic stuff at all, just random coins and rotting cloths. Hurdy managed to find a hundred and ninety two Royalcrowns from various mints. He guessed this would have to do and, having forgotten what he was doing when the beast first attacked him, wondered back to camp.