Ok, you asked for it! Here's our entire campaign journal record of Scions of Punjar. As DM, I offer XP to the players if they send me write-ups or short interludes to help flesh out their PC. As such, this is written by several people, each with differing writing styles and abilities. Most were written by me, but the vignettes and such were written by others. Some have nothing to do with the story, but I'll include them anyway...
EVEN MORE MASSIVE SPOILERS THAN BEFORE!!!
Scions of Punjar
Devin, a halfling thief (wields two magical daggers named The Sisters)
Titan, a goliath fighter
Marek, a human cleric of Kord (wields an enchanted scythe named Harvester that has been imposing its will on Marek)
Kayleth, an eladrin ranger
Kevika, a shifter invoker
The young man that Titan knocked out had a name and a title: Elam Dev’Shir, scion and heir to house Dev’Shir. His agents, along with several of the Dragonne, appear the next morning at the Inn, asking for Titan. He was informed that young Elam suffered greatly and the family was seeking legal action. Titan suspected that this legal action involved a hangman’s noose or the like. Marek, ever diplomatic, leaped to his defense and pleaded for leniency. The Dragonne seem bored, as though they had grown weary of the foppish nature of the nobles of Punjar, and Marek used this to his advantage to broker a deal. He urged that rather than punish Titan for his drunken rampage, they should allow him to make retribution and serve the Dev’Shir family for a time, in whatever capacity they deemed best. Titan scoffed at the idea of becoming a slave again, preferring death over servitude, but Marek calmed him, with gentle assurances. The lead representative of the Dev’Shir family, a slender and soft-skinned human named Benedin, held up his hand to demand silence and urged the Dragonne to wait outside so they could discuss family matters. The guards were more than happy to oblige and Benedin ordered Marek and Titan to sit, while he remained standing.
“What I am about to say is said in confidence and I expect that you’ll show discretion with this information. Elam is the heir to the Dev’Shir estate, but he is not an only child. He is the youngest of three. His two sisters, Dugesia and Lakaisha, perished in a terrible fire at the family stables. They espoused the virtues of nobility while Elam is precocious and prone to acts not befitting his status in the community. He has been known to frequent taverns and public houses that cater to commonfolk, wholly inappropriate…” Benedin glanced around the Inn, a look of disgust on his face, before continuing, “A few nights ago, he was caught up in some games of chance at such a place and ran out of traveling coins. He went across the street to a pawnbroker to take out a small personal loan and that is when he discovered this!”
Benedin held up an ornate amulet, inlaid with gold and silver and bejeweled heavily. “Elam found this for sale at the pawnbrokers. It is a Dev’Shir family heirloom. He purchased it and quickly returned home. His parents were, shall we say, less than pleased at this turn of events. This particular amulet was buried with his great aunt in the family mausoleum. The Dev’Shir family is outraged and desires someone to look into the matter. If you complete this task, the debt to the family would be considered paid in full. Here is a map to the mausoleum, along with the key that will open the vault. It is located in the City of the Dead, just west of here. Likewise, here are directions to the pawnbrokers where the amulet was found, not far from here in the Souk. You will report back to the Dev’Shir estate in the High Quarter ward when your task is complete.”
Benedin turned on his heels and left the commonroom, grateful to be on his way back to cleaner, more civilized places.
Marek knelt on the hard wooden floor of his room. His mind had been troubled by the events that transpired in the temple of Grimmlor; due not only to the gruesome sight of the slaughter, but also because of the quest given him by Grimmlor himself, spoken through the severed head of the butchered high-priest. Marek pondered greatly the implications of that quest; Marek had been commanded by the old god of death to find the desecrators of the temple and send them to Grimmlor where they would meet endless torment. The troubling aspect was that Marek worshipped Kord, and he wasn’t sure where Kord fit into all of this. It was a problem beyond Marek’s wisdom, so he decided to ask Kord this night. Alone in his room, Marek knelt and began to pray.
Marek tried to quiet his thoughts, but the image of the gruesome head came into Marek’s mind. He pushed the image away and tried to picture Kord’s mighty form: a strong warrior, leaping into battle. Marek could clearly see his god’s shining armor… then the image morphed into the stone form of Grimmlor, that awful scythe clutched in bony hands. Marek scowled and focused harder, he dug deep into his soul for the inner peace required to commune with his god. The image of Grimmlor became Kord again; a glorious warrior, stern and mighty. Marek focused on that image and called to Kord, pleading for communion. The image of Kord turned to face Marek. The god looked upon his cleric with shining eyes; eyes the color of a stormy sea, powerful and turbulent. Marek called again to his god for communion. In a blink of an eye, Kord stood before Marek and spoke.
“My son, I see that your soul is troubled and I know the question in your heart. I will tell you what you need to know, but the knowledge I give you will not bring you peace. You have ever fought for my honor and you are growing in power. You are still young and inexperienced, but I see in you the potential to become one of my greatest champions. That is why I allowed this quest to occur. Yes, young cleric, I did indeed permit Grimmlor to enlist you in his quest for revenge. Should you find the courage within yourself to complete his quest you will be one step closer to realizing your full potential: a level of skill and experience that your young mind cannot even fathom. You will grow to become mighty: a king! But there are many inner demons you must first slay, and I see that on this new quest you will meet a few of those demons. If you have the courage to do what needs to be done you will succeed… but know this young cleric, should you fail, Grimmlor will not be pleased, and he always extracts an awful punishment on those who fail him.”
Kord raised his gauntleted hands and gestured at Marek’s body. Kord spoke: “To help you succeed, I have a gift for you to aid you in your quest. This armor will help protect you in battle.”
New armor, black chainmail lined with red runes and adorned with the symbol of Kord now adorned the young cleric. Magical energy danced like lightning along the runes.
“Fight well young cleric and know this: in your quest you might meet someone from your past. Do what needs to be done when the time comes. Don’t fail your quest!”
The image of Kord faded from view as the last few words were spoken. Marek had barely started to ponder the meaning of that last message when another image came into view. The form of Grimmlor himself! The skull face looked to Marek and spoke through unmoving teeth.
“Young cleric of Kord, find the desecrators and send them to me. Kord speaks very highly of you and assures me that you are the one to fulfill my quest.” The skeletal face smiled slightly and continued. “I also have a gift for you, for I am generous with those who serve me.”
Grimmlor raised his hand and a scythe appeared in his grasp. Marek looked closer and saw that it was Harvester! Grimmlor had Harvester is his bony grasp! Grimmlor traced a skeletal finger along the blade and announced, “It is done!” Grimmlor released his grasp on Harvester and the scythe disappeared.
Grimmlor approached Marek and snapped his bony fingers. The new armor Kord had given Marek vanished, leaving his chest bare. Grimmlor’s skeletal hand raised up, pointing at Marek’s heart. A sharp pain erupted on Marek’s skin and the smell of burning flesh filled Marek’s thoughts.
“One more gift do I give unto you, young cleric. As a reminder of my quest to you, I hereby mark you with this symbol. It will disappear only when your quest has been completed. Do not fail me!”
The pain ceased suddenly, and when Marek opened his eyes, he was back in his room, lying on the hard wooden floor. He felt his chest and jerked his hand away as his touch brings pain to the flesh over his heart. Marek rose and moved to the mirror in his room. Burned into the skin over his heart was a wicked-looking tattoo of two crossed scythes: one is clearly Harvester and the other looks like the scythe held by the statue in the temple of Grimmlor. Marek looked around and saw the new armor on the floor near the wall. Also leaning against the wall is Harvester! Marek rushed to his beloved weapon and inspected it carefully. All seemed normal until Marek noticed that the keen edge of the blade was now black. Marek shuddered at the thought of Harvester carrying the touch of Grimmlor.
As the sunlight started to creep over the horizon, Titan climbed out of bed. He dressed quickly and left the inn before even the innkeeper had begun his morning chores. Titan knew he would need enhancements if he was going to become the hero he wanted and was expected to be. Earlier in the week, he had seen a little artificers shop a few streets over that he believed could be exactly what he needed. As he looked at the sun and gauged what time it was, he hoped the shop would even be open this early. As he rounded the corner, the shop came into view. The lantern outside the door was still lit. "Excellent,” thought Titan,"they're open". The door moaned loudly as Titan stepped through it. Not wanting to look too eager, Titan started browsing the many items hanging on the wall close to the door.
"What you in the market for my good man?" inquired the man behind the counter. Titan recognized the voice of someone he had known a few years ago but he couldn't quite place it. Turning around, he looked toward the counter but saw no one. A little puzzled, Titan started searching the store but again, found again no one. "Down here!" said the voice. Titan looked down in front of him to see a very small humanoid no bigger than a child.
"Artemis!" thundered Titan, finally putting the voice with the face. It was his friend, Artemis the gnome. Titan picked up the small gnome and nearly crushed the life out of him with the bear hug he gave him. After the initial shock of seeing one another had gone, Titan asked how long Artemis had been in Punjar.
"Since the night I escaped the pit arena," answered Artemis. "With your help, that is." Artemis then recounted all that had happen since that night. He had traveled to Punjar, figuring it was a place that no one would come looking for him. After a few months, he figured he was in the clear; so he took up residence with the original owner of the shop. Appling the trade he had used while in the pits, the two had made a good name for themselves by magically enhancing items for the people of Punjar. If you know Punjar then you know busines was good. Titan chuckled, he knew the truth in that statement and he had only been in Punjar for maybe a month. The two friends talked for a few more minutes.
Titan then remembered why he had come. He explained to Artemis that he needed some items and enhancements to better equip himself for his adventures ahead. As Titan unhooked his intimidating axe from the holster on his back, Artemis recalled the artistry and power with which Titan wielded the amazing weapon back in the pits. He also remembered the bloodrage that filled Titan while he was in battle. That gave Artemis an idea!
“Bring your weapon into the back room!” he instructed Titan. As Titan laid his axe onto a table, Artemis asked for his arm. He then swiftly sliced a large gash into Titan's arm and collected the blood into a large vial. As Titan brought his arm close to inspect the wound, the gnome tossed him a very small corked tube with a strange green liquid inside. Artemis instructed Titan to pour the contents onto the wound. Before he had covered the full length of the cut, it had already begun to heal. After a few moments the flesh had fully healed, but it did leave a nasty scar in its place. Artemis explained as he combined a few other components to the vial of Titans blood that he was going to infuse the bloodrage Titan felt in battle with his axe. With a very steady hand, Artemis dipped a small brush into the mixture and drew a series of runes onto the body of the axe. When he finished, the weapon began to glow an ominous black color. A dark shroud then covered the length of the weapon. As the shroud fell away, Titan’s axe had changed. The handle and body of the blade had become black and the edge of the blade was now a blood red along with the runes that Artemis had painted on just moments before. Titan slowly picked up his new weapon, inspecting it, and staring at it in wonder. It was even more beautiful than the day he had first seen it!
Artemis explained to Titan the power the weapon now possessed. When he was injured and the weapon could taste his blood, its power increased allowing him to deal more damage to his foes. With Titan still gawking at his axe, Artemis led him back into the store front and over to a pair of arm bands.
"I know the power and strength you possess," explained Artemis, "but these will give you that little bit extra". They then walked over to a pair of boots.
"These look a bit small," said Titan.
"Of course they are, they are for a halfling." said Artemis, shaking his head. "Just give me a moment." Artemis pulled out his rod and did some magical mumbo jumbo. Soon a silver whisp snaked out of the small pair of boots and floated over to Titan's. It then embedded itself into his boots. The moment the magic entered his boots, Titan felt a little more sure on his feet with a little more balance.
“These boots will give you sure footing no matter where you are. I have seen how clumsy you can be." joked Artemis, and the two friends laughed. It was then that Titan realized the time and that his companions would be waiting for him. Titan hurried to the door, thanking his friend for all he had done and promising to return as soon as he could to talk more.
Cuttlefish Way was lined with shops hawking everything from spitted meat to spices and perfumes from distant lands. A flaking yellow sign indicated the doorway to Oskar’s Pawnshop, where the Dev’Shir amulet was recently found. Hoping to discover some clues to aid them in their quest, the party opted to see if the proprietor could furnish them with a name or at least a lead. Devin noticed a large bell hanging near the door, but unlike most bells, this was placed such that it would not ring when the door was opened. Thinking nothing of it, he opened the door and motioned for Marek to enter, indicating for Titan to wait until the rest of the party was inside. No sense frightening the poor man!
The cluttered shop was lit by sputtering lanterns affixed to the low ceiling. Most of the floor space was filled with a mess of used items, presumably for sale. Tables stacked with battered weapons, worn cookware and tarnished candleholders snaked around the shop, leading to a small counter with a large and official-looking scale. A smaller table held rope, sacks and other items. A large glass case, nearly four feet tall, took up most of the eastern wall. Inside the case was an impressive assortment of uncut gems and cheap jewelry. Small statuettes and bottles of wine and spirits lined a tall shelf near the ceiling.
Standing by the glass case, casually rubbing a soiled cloth over a silver goblet, was a middle-aged man with greasy, black hair arranged in a poor attempt to conceal and expansive balding head. His pants were stained black with grime and his shirt ill-fitting and faded with a short, worn leather apron clinging to his round waist. He greeted the party with a scowl, watching carefully as the group snaked towards him in a single file.
“Are ye sellin’ or buyin’?” he grunted, not bothering to make eye contact.
“Buying, perhaps. I desire to buy some fine jewelry for my lady. Money is no object!” bluffed Marek. Oskar casually pointed to the glass case, indicating that the baubles inside would surely please his woman. “No, my good sir. I desire the finest you have! Perhaps something in gold and cut gems, something to make her the envy of our social group!”
The banter continued for several seconds and Oskar was growing leery of the demands. Finally, Titan pulled out a sketch of the Dev’Shir heirloom and Oskar recoiled slightly.
“I’ve seen this piece before. I sold it to a fancy young lord a few days ago. He was very agitated when he found it here. He came in to take out a small loan for a few more hours at the gambling tables and ended up paying me dearly for it.” Oskar paused, squinting at Marek, “I suggest you tell me why you’re here before I summon the city watch to escort you out of my shop!”
“We have been enlisted by the family of the young man who purchased this to find out how it ended up here in your establishment. It was supposed to have been safely interred in a family crypt. Can you tell us how you came to possess it?”
Oskar rubbed his stubbled chin warily, feeling quite uneasy. “T’was one of my regulars, he sold it to me. We have a policy not to ask questions, just to buy and sell. I’m afraid I can’t be of any help to you.”
Devin recognized the dance that Oskar was about to enter, and with a sigh, urged Marek to start the bidding. “Very well, my good man, we know your time is valuable. Perhaps some gold might encourage you to give us a name?” proposed Marek, plopping a small coin pouch on the table. Oskar’s eyes lit up and he smiled.
“I’m afraid this person, being one of my regular customers, means a little more to me than just a few odd coins. But you’re getting warmer!” grinned Oskar.
After a back-and-forth exchange, the price was right and Oskar, in exchange for dozens of gold coins and a strand of fine pearls, muttered a name: Latimer. Of course, his whereabouts would cost extra, and the party was willing to oblige.
“About a week ago, Latimer pawned the amulet. I don’t know where it came from, and frankly, I don’t much care. Latimer is easy enough to spot in a crowd. He’s tall with stringy black hair and a coarse beard. He has a wide face and boar tusks. Some sort of half-breed, he is. He wears gaudy jewelry and has a scar running the length of his face, from his left brow to his chin. He’s always hard up for coin. His demons are drink and dice and they often get the better of him. You’ll find him at his usual haunt in the Devil’s Thumb ward. You can’t miss the tavern, it’s well-known for fine drink and finer wenches. The Famished Froghemoth, that’s where you’ll find ‘im.”
A popular retreat for rogues, manual laborers and their ilk and the occasional disguised noble, the Famished Froghemoth was run by a grizzled barkeep named Pinus and staffed with three cooks and four buxom serving wenches. The food was purported to be decent, but most people frequent the ‘Frog not to eat, but to gamble and drink. Kevika spotted the tavern sign from a distance. The image of a fatted, frog-like beast with eyestalks and tentacles gorging itself on flagons of ale was unmistakable. She pointed it out to the rest of the party, her left hand resting on a coil of rope lashed to her belt. Before leaving Oskar’s shop, Kevika purchased this fine length of silk rope for a mere 25 gold coins. She recognized that this was no ordinary rope, but an enchanted rope of climbing, worth thousands! Oskar had thought to have gotten the best of the party by charging them for information, but it was Kevika that brokered the best deal.
The common room of the Inn was bustling with activity. In front of the entrance, several square tables were attended to by curvaceous wenches, scooting in between patrons while balancing trays of steaming skillets and frothy mugs. Devin was enchanted by their rhythmic movements and Titan grinned, thinking the Halfling had been beguiled by their beauty. Then he noticed that Devin’s eyes were transfixed on the foaming mugs. Titan laughed and offered to buy the first round.
Marek and Kayleth noticed the booths to the right of the main room, hosting games of skill and luck. One table was surrounded by cheering onlookers throwing small colored dice. Another hosted a quiet, intense game of Punjar Poker, the favored card game in the city. Another table erupted in a cheer as a lithe feminine form bounced a silver coin off the table and into a shotglass, prompting the onlookers to drink to her health. Lastly, Marek took interest in a game of chess being waged by two scholarly gentlemen in robes. To the left of the table was a stack of platinum coins. A fortune would be won or lost this evening!
Kevika took notice of a wide staircase that provided access to the upper floor of the tavern and the sleeping quarters. Beyond the staircase was a polished bar, wrapping around like a horseshoe. A trio of barkeeps moved effortlessly from keg to patron, dropping coins in a slotted barrel. Behind them, the kitchen door swung constantly as staff brought out plates of food and returned with empty dishes.
It was still early afternoon and there was no sign of Latimer. The party decided to make themselves comfortable and await his arrival. The dice table held sway over most of the party as Devin, Titan, Kayleth and Kevika played the game known as Inside Twenties for several hours. Devin ran out of coin quickly, but his nimble fingers found their way into Titan’s coin purse and he was able to play for some time on borrowed coin. Titan, thoroughly enjoying himself, was unaware of the intrusion.
Finally, after the main supper rush, Latimer entered the ‘Frog.
Devin and Titan pretended not to notice Latimer as he sauntered up to the bar and ordered three mugs of ale. He consumed them, one after the other, like a starving dog might attack a carcass. With a wet belch, Latimer set the last mug on the counter and called the barkeep over, placing more coins in his palm. Devin approached nonchalantly and struck up a polite conversation.
“Say, friend, you are a man after my own heart! D’you mind if I drink with you?” Latimer turned his head, his greasy black hair falling away from his cheeks to reveal a pig-like nose and nasty scar that ran the length of his ugly face. He contemplated the youthful halfling and blinked a few times, not sure if he was already drunk.
“If you buy the first round, you’re welcome to sit with me. If your company proves worthwhile, I’ll buy the next round!” joked Latimer, with a slight hiccup. The two sat and drank for several minutes, before Devin’s attention turned to the gaming tables. He sensed that Latimer was quickly becoming inebriated and it was time to bring Titan into the mix.
“Lo, that great hulk over there thinks he can best the house game. He’s a friend of mine and while he has great strength, his agility is questionable. He things he is dexterous enough to win the pot. ‘Tis surely rigged. Come, let us watch him reveal his impetuous nature!”
Latimer quickly dismounted the barstool and staggered towards the gaming table, Devin trailing behind him. Titan greeted the halfling and he, in turn, introduced Latimer.
“Here, let me ssshow you how to play thisss game!” slurred Latimer as he pushed Titan aside. Latimer suddenly became very still, or so he thought. His body swayed side to side and Titan stifled a laugh as he tried, and failed, several times. The object of the game was to bounce a coin into an ever smaller container, and in his drunken state, Latimer was lucky to come close. After several failed attempts, Devin asked him to step aside and with an agile grace, managed to bounce a gold coin into a shotglass, prompting the crowd to cheer. Devin beamed as the pot was handed to him, and he clutched the pouch close to his chest, figuring on over a hundred coins. He laughed and asked Latimer if he could use a drink, to which the man quickly agreed.
Sitting around a large, worn wooden table, the trio began to drink and make merry. Latimer suddenly became very lucid and stared at Titan. “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” he insinuated, pointing at Titan’s chest. He looked back at Devin and continued, “And you. I wonder why I didn’t place it before. You are the heroes of Smoke, part of the group that brought down the Beggar King! Why, how could I miss it! You are famous, the pair of ye! And to think, you are drinking with me, when you could be in the company of princes and warlords. All hear and heed,” he shouted, turning to the common room crowd, “we have in our midst this night, the heroes of Smoke! The rumors and tales are true! The giant and the wee man, those that purged the ward of the shadow dragon!!!”
Devin and Titan became very uneasy, hoping not to draw attention to themselves. Devin in particular was fearful that they had run afoul in their plans. It would prove challenging now to extract information from Latimer without drawing any undue attention. He raised a hand, acknowledging the crowd that now stared in amazement at his table and motioned for Titan to reseat Latimer.
“Please, we have had a long day and had hoped to unwind without a tavern thronging us for tales. Um, speaking of which…we were thinking of retiring to our chambers upstairs to open a bottle of Pinus’ finest. Would you care to join us?” Devin crossed his fingers under the table, hoping that Latimer would take the bait.
“Yeah, sssure…uh, my bladder needs me for a moment, and then I’ll gladly join you. His Fireamber is a sure cure for what ails you!” smiled Latimer. He arose and headed for the front door, unbuttoning his trousers before he was outside.
“We mustn’t let him get away!” hissed Devin, as he and Titan quickly followed Latimer out into the darkened streets.
Once outside, the pair was shocked to see Latimer up against a nearby wall. Two heavily muscled thugs were punching him in the stomach repeatedly and Latimer crumpled to the ground, vomiting. Standing near him was a tall tiefling who pointed a hand at Devin and Titan.
“This is none of your business. Go back into the tavern and go about your drinking. Our quarrel is with this scum here, not you.” The tiefling made a strange gesture with his hands that Devin immediately recognized as the sign of The Slayers, the most ruthless and notorious band of assassins in all of Punjar. He had been warned by the Guild not to cross them, as it would mean certain death. Their preferred methods involved all manner of poison and toxin, but they had no qualms with putting someone to the sword.
“Titan, we should do as he says, Latimer is not worth the consequences!” pleaded Devin, but the goliath would not have it. He had dishonored himself and the Dev’Shir family. He owed them a debt that he intended to pay. As a slave, Titan had owned nothing but his honor, and in his eyes that made him a wealthy man. He had no choice but to complete his service for the Dev’Shir family and Latimer was the key to it all. He possessed valuable information and Titan would not and could not let him perish without divulging that information to him.
“We desire to speak with this man and cannot permit you to continue. If you will not release him, we have no choice but to wrest him from you!” snarled Titan, hoping to intimidate the tiefling.
Traenor had heard similar boasts of bravery before. He stepped back and unleashed a spell of ruin at the goliath. Titan felt like his head was caught in a vice and his eyes blurred with pain. The crown of madness sapped Titan’s strength and resolve, causing him to falter momentarily. Traenor took that opportunity to draw a black-bladed short sword and Devin gasped, knowing full well that the blade was imbued with a poisonous edge.
Titan and Traenor were locked in savage combat, the executioner’s axe drawing blood with a stinging strike. Traenor countered with a quick thrust, driving the blade into Titan’s exposed thigh. The poison burned as it entered the goliath’s flesh and he brought an elbow into Traenor’s face, smashing him across the jaw. Blood and cracked teeth gushed out of the assassin’s face as he smiled, assaulting Titan’s mind with a psychic blast. Titan lost sight of Traenor. He knew the tiefling was before him, but his mind was blinded to his presence.
Devin rolled to his left, plucking one of the sisters from its sheath. He came up on one knee and flung the enchanted blade with all his might. It sparkled in the starlight and struck Traenor in the shoulder, narrowly missing his neck. A stream of blood arced into the street as the blade bit deep and Devin brought his other blade to bear. He could see that Latimer was close to death, and this assault would be futile if the mark succumbed before he could be reclaimed. He adjusted his aim and flicked the dagger at one of the thugs. It embedded itself up to the hilt in his ribcage and he grunted, spitting out blood and bits of lung. He reached back, and withdrew the dagger, hurling it to the cobbles. Devin quickly drew his sling from his belt with his right hand while his left produced a small leaded ball. Within seconds, the sling whined overhead and the ball rocketed towards the thug.
Kevika, Kayleth and Marek rushed out of the Inn a few moments later, joining the battle. The heroes pressed the attack against Traenor and his men and the tiefling fell, cursing Titan as he clamped his hands to his bloody chest, in the throes of the dying. The two thugs left their quarry moments earlier, firing a volley of poison-tipped crossbow bolts at the party. Sensing that the battle was lost , they fled. A split second after they released Latimer to attack the party, Latimer was overcome by a rush of adrenaline. Like a hare that has been granted a reprieve by a hunting dog, Latimer bolted. He scampered down alleyways, pursued by Devin and Kayleth. Devin tried to bring him down with a well-placed shot to his leg, but missed. Kevika headed Latimer off, anticipating that he would double back to the Froghemoth. She hurled him to the street and he lay trembling, drenched in sweat, blood, vomit and urine.
The interrogation was brief and Latimer held nothing back. He had tried to join the Slayers with the pretense of getting rich in a hurry and then skipping town. The Slayers detected his ploy and deemed him unfit. They also desired him dead. He subsequently allied himself with a cadre of bandits known as the Crimson Hand. They were in the employ of a witch to exhume bodies from the City of the Dead. The pay is excellent and the work easy, and so the band had been able to lay low for a while and Latimer had been able to avoid the Slayers. Latimer had only seen the witch once or twice. She was tall, thin and garbed in black robes. He did not know her name, and the band only referred to her as ‘the witch’. She usually communicated with the Crimson Hand by means of an intelligent raven, and only ever with the leader of the band, a man named Haledon. But the bandits feared her and frequently whispered that she commanded powerful magics. They had taken countless corpses and whatever valuables were found with the bodies was distributed amongst the bandits. When pressed about the Crimson Hand, Latimer revealed that they lair in an old abandoned iron mine outside of town. The entrance is at the east end of a valley floor, between two massive oak trees.
Latimer pleaded for mercy and leniency, bemoaning the fact that he had pawned the bauble in town when he had been expressly told to only sell the reclaimed items in distant markets. Marek and Titan conferred for a moment and concluded that Latimer’s fate was not theirs to decide. They marched him to the Dev’Shir estate, arriving after midnight. Benedin was summoned by the night watch and he arrived, hastily dressed in a silk robe with unkempt hair. He was repulsed by Latimer and the tale of tomb desecration. He urged the party to investigate the mausoleum and to make certain that the responsible parties were dealt with severely. He also washed his hands of Latimer, leaving his fate to the party. He deemed him an unwitting pawn and held no ill-will to him, but to the witch that employed him. The party subsequently released Latimer, who fled into the night. Devin knew that he could not hide for long from the Slayers. He also knew that the party might have started their own small war with the band of assassins. He shuddered, knowing that the Thieves Guild would frown heavily upon his involvement. He lamented this newfound predicament and was deep in thought as the party made their way to the City of the Dead ward and Dev’Shir mausoleum.
The City of the Dead was eerily still. Reserved as a resting place for the nobility of Punjar, the ward was slowly being swallowed by the encroaching salt marsh. Encircled by a massive stone wall over 20 feet high, the ward is dotted with manmade hillocks. Each mound houses a crypt and mausoleum, crafted by artisans in ages past. The ward is patrolled by guards during the day, and serenaded by crickets at night. The Dev’Shir tomb is nearly forty feet wide, extending thirty feet into the hillock and fashioned from polished marble blocks. A wide set of stairs, carved from pure marble slabs, ascend to a columned façade and a massive pair of stone doors that block the entrance.
Kevika noticed an elaborate script carved into the façade above the doorway. Squinting to read the flowing script, she called out the inscription. “Beyond these doors rest the members of the Dev’Shir family. Although the sands of time ran out for them, may Valdreth watch over their peaceful slumber.” As soon as she spoke the last word, the script flared with a magical light and a blast of mystical energy was unleashed on the Invoker. Her head was wracked with pain and a wave of nausea washed over her. Marek rushed to her aid, shaking his head in bewilderment.
“Why would someone place a glyph of warding here?! It makes no sense!” he cried, attending to Kevika.
Devin inspected the lock and deeming it safe, inserted the key. The doors groaned in protest as Titan pushed them open. A gust of icy air was expelled from the mausoleum and Devin rubbed his arms to dispel the sudden prickly goosebumps that arose on his skin. Titan took hold of a lantern and held it high, illuminating the room. It stretched over seventy feet in length with thirty foot ceilings. The floor tiles were smooth and gray, polished to a glistening shine. Directly in front of Titan was a massive stone basin, nearly fifteen feet wide set on a low stone wall. A large statue of an aging, sage-like scholar occupied the center of the basin. He held a book under one arm and a sundial was held in his outstretched right palm. A thin stream of water trickled from the palm and down into the shallow reaches of the basin. Beyond the fountain was a plain stone altar. On the left and right walls was a large stone door, across from the altar. Directly ahead, on the north wall, was a vast mural of a many-branched tree, a large stone door visible in the trunk.
Marek, Kevika and Kayleth conferred and deduced that the statue was an image of Valdreth, patron god of the Dev’Shir family. Kayleth also rightfully assumed that the altar was normally covered with a silk runner and would display the recently deceased as family gathered in this spacious room. The party spread out to examine the room for clues and Devin was the first to call out. He pointed out several red scuff marks on the stone tiles near the altar and opposing doors. He rubbed a small finger over the mark, examining it closely. He smelled it and rubbed it on his palm, correctly identifying it was dirt.
“This is dirt is not from the graveyard. It appears to be iron-rich by its color and I’d wager Titan’s coinpurse that it came from the iron mine where Latimer said the bandits were holed up.” He wiped his palms on his leather trousers and continued his inspection of the room. Before long, everyone had gathered near the huge mural.
The sealed stone door in the wall was partially concealed by a massive tree trunk carved and painted onto the wall. Branches spread out from the trunk covering most of the forty foot wide wall. Bricks with the names of family members past and present were placed into the wall along the branches. It took but a moment to locate the names of Lord Abir, Lady Noura and their son, Elam. Devin easily noticed that two bricks to the left of Elam did not readily match the rest. They were unlabeled, as were countless others in the mural, but the color was off. Kevika and Marek recalled that the Dev’Shir family had two daughters that perished in a tragic stable fire, and surmised that the bricks bearing their names had been replaced.
“Surely they would have placed their names here in the wall to honor their memory. All of their ancestors are listed here. Why would their names be missing? I suspect that this family is steeped in secrets!” muttered Marek, trying to determine why the sisters were not listed on the wall.
“Come, let us finish this investigation and rid ourselves of this place! I would feel much more comfortable discussing it around a warm fire and cold ale!” urged Devin.
Marek felt that the western door should be investigated first and with a whispered prayer to Kord, asking forgiveness for disturbing the resting place of the Dev’Shir family, he opened the door. Inside was a burial chamber lined with stone sarcophagi. Each lid had been removed and a few of them were smashed open, blatantly defiled. A thin layer of dust clung to every surface, including the animated corpses standing at attention in the center of the room. Aligned in two silent rows, the skeletal and putrid bodies stood unmoving, some bearing ancestral weapons that had been placed in the coffins. The corpse nearest Marek opened its mouth to speak. Several beetles tumbled out of its mouth, scrambling over the desiccated flesh clinging to the mandible. A sounded issued forth from the corpse, little more than bones held together by tattered cloth and sinews, and it chilled the very soul.
“What…is…the…pass…phrase.” It queried and Marek said the first thing that came to mind: Dev’Shir. With nary a sound, the skeleton raised a bony hand and the corpses all surged forward to attack! The party took up a defensive position and Titan bravely waded into the fray, drawing the enemy to him. But the living dead could sense the righteous will of the cleric, paladin and invoker and desired, above all, to extinguish that will. The chamber flashed with magical light as spells were unleashed and the sound of steel on steel echoed throughout the hall. Shouts of command and cries of pain were deafening inside the stone room and one by one, the undead fell. When the last of them had been granted a return to death, the party rested, bandaging their wounds and wondering what had befallen the Dev’Shir family to cause their ancestors to rise as the living dead. Devin wondered aloud if the family was cursed, and in turn, the party for meddling in their affairs!
The eastern door was a similar scene and again Marek gave the incorrect passphrase, this time mentioning the witch. The undead horde attacked again, with claw and blade, and the party responded with force. The air was thick with disturbed dust, pulverized bone and reek of decay. Blood flowed from the living and the dead were hewn down like wheat before the harvesters’ blade. Once again, the party prevailed, but the assault was slowly taking its toll. With one door remaining, the party prepared for the worst and entered the northern chamber.
The ten foot wide chamber stretched deep into the hillock and was remarkably undisturbed, compared to the previous two rooms. Rather than sarcophagi, this room was lined with smaller stone doors, each with the name of the deceased chiseled onto a brick inlaid in its surface by a master craftsman. One door, about halfway down the right wall, was broken asunder and rubble lay scattered about the floor.
Marek approached carefully, noting that the dusty coating on the floor had been disturbed by a single personage leaving small, delicate boot prints, and peered inside the doorway. A small stone table filled nearly the entire space, little more than a deep closet. In the far corner of the niche was a crumpled form, blackened and charred. It was the body of a young woman, discarded like a forgotten doll. As Marek entered the niche for a closer look at the body, Kevika and Kayleth began to inspect the rubble. They discovered the remains of the engraved brick and attempted to reassemble it. As they toiled, noting with frustration that a portion of the engraved name had crumbled away, a stone flew out of the rubble pile and nearly struck Marek! He ducked instinctively and glanced around to see where it had come from. Suddenly, a ghostly apparition materialized inside the niche. It was a beautiful young woman, dressed all in white satin and lace, her face veiled. Her clothing appeared to be on fire, the flames licking at her translucent limbs. She reached out her arms to the cleric, in a mournful gesture and he was touched both by her beauty and sadness. In an instant, the flames leaped all around her and her veil was removed, revealing a singed and disfigured face, scarred by fire and locked in eternal anguish. She cursed the cleric for disturbing her rest and began to assail him with a full-blown mental assault. She clutched at Marek, trying to touch him and he recoiled, suddenly aware of the danger he was in. With no time to spare, Kevika and Kayleth completed their task and the paladin read the name aloud.
“Dugesia Dev’Shir!” she cried and the apparition stopped suddenly and softened at hearing her name again. The flames were extinguished and her countenance was returned to its natural state, a state of beauty and innocence.
“Yes, yes…that was my name. Dugesia! What are you doing in my tomb? Are you friends of the witch?” she inquires, eyeing Titan and Devin with suspicion.
The party convinced her that they were friends of her family, sent to find those who had defiled her resting place. She reported hearing voices in the tomb, those of bandits and thieves and one that was very familiar to her, but she could not recall to whom it belonged. She saw the witch for an instant as her tomb was breached and then she was veiled in darkness. What happened next, she did not know, but felt Valdreth’s embrace as if shielding her from the desecration of her remains. She finished her tale and looked down at her crumpled body in sorrow, and sobbed softly, pained by the sight of her mortal frame.
The party was overcome with compassion and they asked how they could release her spirit that it might know peace and rest. She asked the party to replace her body on the table and to reseal her chamber. She recalled being entombed with some of her favorite books, secreted under the table in a concealed vault. Titan removed the vault and showed her all the items, bringing back joyful memories. Several trinkets and dolls were removed from the vault and she smiled as if seeing old friends again. She paused as he lifted a particular book and she identified it as a book of rituals. She and her sister were both gifted with magical talents and they enjoyed practicing cantrips and brewing love potions, hoping to find a worthy suitor. She allowed Kevika to take the book and learn the ritual which could make a sundered object whole again. As Kevika studied, she motioned to Devin and told him that a stonemason’s kit should be found back at the central altar. She implored the party to fashion another name-stone for her and place it back in the family tree. Dugesia reminisced about her life and her sister as the ritual was prepared and the brick engraved. Marek asked about how her sister had died and much to his surprise, Dugesia explained that she was alone in the stables when the fire was set. As the flames roared around her, she could hear her sister calling to her, but could not find her. She had not seen her sister since that fateful moment, and was filled with sorrow at the thought of the two of them perishing in the flames.
While Kevika was chanting the words to her ritual to leave Dugesia in peace, Kayleth wandered around. She went to a wall, leaned against it, and fell through! As she got up, she looked around the room. The vast room had a horrid stench, but was completely empty. Kayleth took a step forward, looked back, and when she turned back around, she saw a spirit. The spirit was as beautiful as an angel with a perfect face. Kayleth stood still, shocked from the radiant light gleaming off of it. The spirit stayed in position, smiling at Kayleth. Unsure what to say, Kayleth stuttered, "W-who a-are y-you?" The angel replied, " I am a messenger of Melora. I was sent here to deliver a message, young paladin. I watched you as you and your companions wandered around this unfamiliar place. Your companions seemed to be more outgoing, and you stood back looking hesitant. Why?" As the angel spoke those last words with her beautiful singing voice, Kayleth was struck hard with an emotion that was very hard to describe. It was a mixture of guilt and sorrow. Kayleth had a sudden sharp pain in her whole body. Falling at the feet of the spirit, she was able to spit out, " I really don't know... I just feel like when I try to help.... I get in everyone's way..." The spirit watched as Kayleth seemed to struggle from the pain. After a while, the spirit said, "Kayleth... Being shy isn't a bad thing, it's even good to be humble like you every once in a while. Though you are the shyest, you are the most pure hearted. You stand above the rest in your own way. You may not be leader, but you have the ability to stand up during the right situations. Believe in yourself." Not knowing how to react, Kayleth responded, "Thank you wise spirit. I will always remember thee in my mind and soul." The spirit smiled thankfully, and said, "Before you go, I have some gifts from Melora. The first is a Cloak of Distortion, the next is a magical Duelist's Bow, and the final is some Armor of Cleansing. These will help you further on your journey. Good luck..."
The angelic figure gave them to Kayleth, and dissolved away. Kayleth took the items with a smile on her face. She exited the large room to find the party waiting for her. "Where were you? We were getting worried." Marek said. Kayleth explained the story to the party. Every once in a while, one of the companions would look at her in awe, unsure if the words she said were true. When Kayleth finished the story, Devin said, "We should go now, before another spirit pops out of nowhere!" The party laughed as friends while waiting for the cleric and invoker to complete their tasks.
Before sealing up the vault, Marek placed her remains back on the table and blessed them with peace and a profound rest. Kevika performed the ritual, restoring the stone door piece by piece in a shimmer of magic. As the enchantment fades, Dugesia’s voice was heard one last time, offering thanks as she entered Valdreth’s rest.
“Am I the only one that thinks Dugesia’s sister is behind all this? I suspect she didn’t die in the fire as we were told. In fact, I’d bet my left boot that she is the one that set the fire!” whispered Titan as the group made their way back from the City of the Dead.
“This smells bad, to be sure! But what of the sister? Did she flee, leaving her family to think she had perished? Surely they would have found her body was missing and searched for her. Why would she have done this to her own kin? And if she is indeed the witch, why does she defile the remains of her own family! Alas, there are many stray paths to this theory and we are squarely set in the middle of it! I despise the noble families for just such a reason! Subterfuge and underhanded dealings are the domain of thieves, but we know honor and virtue as well. And in the least, we do not pretend to hide behind a pretense of civility and noble birth. Titan, why did you ever get me into this mess?!” laments Devin, distraught at the predicament and danger the goliath has provided him.
Titan scowled at his own failings and began to reach out a hand to assure the halfling, but then decided that perhaps discretion was best. He walked behind the halfling in silence. Devin sensed his uneasiness and turned to face him, pointing a finger squarely at his face.
“The next time we get ourselves into a mess, it had better be my fault!” smiled Devin. Titan smirked and rubbed the halfling’s curly hair with his great hands, their friendship mended.
That night when the crew got home from the mausoleum, the warriors were tired and worn out. Kevika decided to go straight to her room. She was so tired she just laid down with her armor still on. But once she was down, she couldn’t sleep and she finally decided to go to the Raven Queen’s temple to worship.
She walked into the temple and knelt down at a well-worn kneeling bench. She started to pray when one of the priestesses came up to her and told her that she was expecting her. The priestess was a hunched up old woman. She told her that she had a vision from the Raven Queen of some of the dangers that Kevika would be facing in the near future. The priestess told her that the Raven Queen needed Kevika to pass a test. Kevika was confused, but agreed to follow the priestess down a long stair case. When they reached the bottom, the priestess pulled out a bushel of dungeon keys and opened one of the doors. Kevika waked in the room, scrunching her nose at the layer of dust on the ground and the old musty smell in the air. No one had been in this room for ages, she thought to herself. She noticed a mirror at the other end of the room and as she walked up to the mirror, she noticed something strange. It was her reflection she was seeing, but she was different; she looked wiser and stronger. As she looked at the mirror the figure on the other side motioned her to come closer. So Kevika moved in and as she did, the figures hand came out of the mirror and held it open. Kevika took a reactionary glance behind her and, not seeing the priestess, decided to grab the figures’ hand.
Kevika was thrown into a whirlwind, finally landing face first on the ground in the middle of a large palace throne room. As Kevika picked herself up, she noticed her friends battling an evil warlock. Titan was taking a beating, Marek and Kayleth were passed out and Devin was being shot across the room by a powerful spell. Kevika picked up her rod and mace and started running to defend her friends. She started firing spells at the warlock and soon the room was lit up with arcane fire. Kevika soon realized that the warlock was just too powerful and that she was not strong enough to best him. In desperation, she noticed the warlock was standing next to the window of the palace. In an instant, she made the decision to sacrifice herself. She bull-rushed the warlock over the edge and she plummeted to what was going to be her death.
As Kevika hit the ground, she was surprised not to be dead. She stood up and noticed she was back in the dungeon room with the mirror. She turned around and saw the same figure that she had seen before, but this time it was a wiser and stronger Kevika. She touched the mirror and it was solid. To her surprise the ruin stones on her armor began to shine. She felt stronger and revitalized. But most important, she knew that even though she had a rocky relationship with her warrior friends she would do anything for them, even make the ultimate sacrifice.
The heroes left the inn before sunrise with a quiet and anxious breakfast. Their destination was an abandoned iron mine. They hoped to find the Crimson Hand still holed up there, unless Latimer had tipped them off. Their only link to the witch was the leader of the band, Haledon. He had dealings with the witch and might know how to find her. By first light, the party was outside the city gates, following a rutted road southeast towards Blood Canyon. The canyon was situated a few hours by foot from the great city and was named both for the rust-colored sediment in the area, which during heavy rainstorms created a crimson leaching that ran in rivulets down the canyon walls like blood from a great wound, and the blood spilled when the ore veins were first unearthed, leading to constant battles over claim rights. The vein was quickly mined and the claims abandoned. For decades, the mines were left to be inhabited by creatures of all sorts, including gangs of brigands and hermits. Latimer had given them discreet directions to the specific mine used by the Crimson Hand, and Kayleth was on the lookout for two massive oak trees on the eastern end of the valley. It was there that they would find the bandit lair.
A few miles from the canyon, the sharp-eyed Kayleth noticed a flock of blackbirds crowded over something on the side of the road near a great elm tree. As the party approached, the flock spread out, calling multiple alarms of approaching danger. Crows, ravens and black jays flapped their wings, bounding over a gulley on the side of the road where they squawk and ruffle their feathers in defiance. Inside the gully is a lifeless, bloodied form dressed in blood-soiled leather armor. The body is Latimer, the half-orc bandit.
Kayleth began to scout the local area for tracks or footprints while Marek approached the body to inspect it, hoping to determine what sort of weapon had ended Latimer’s sorry life. He was able to frighten away the scavenging flock for long enough to examine the body. Latimer’s face was frozen in fear, his eye sockets pecked clean. One hand clutched at his chest while the other was extended as if to ward off danger. Other than the pecking of birds, there was no sign of injury or wound that would have proven fatal. Marek correctly deduced that he had died of fright. Kayleth returned moments later, finding no trace of passage by animal or man.
Marek grimaced and spoke. "There's nothing more we can do for our poor friend here. He was doomed the moment he ever tried to join with that evil band of assassins." Marek rose up from his haunches and continued, "Let us continue on. There's no time for a proper burial and we're too close to the caves to risk a pyre."
With that, the party continued towards the Blood Canyon and the lair of the Crimson Hand.
To be continued...
Author: Soloquest series of adventures by Kenzer & Co.
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