Days later, the vagabond adventurers gathered on the road to Sut’kagan. Four of the alien band congregated at the edge of Lothal. Quietly, Quarrell nodded to Toska, offered Nicto an uncertain smile, and narrowed his eyes at the gray dwarf who wore Ja’s gauntlet. Navus respectfully explained that in obedience to his departed master, he would accompany the Varissian refugees.
None questioned the absence of Sam. The mysterious elf maiden had an uncanny way of showing up in odd places unexpectedly. But then, how could they know the torment of Sam’s soul? The internal agony of one compelled to commit unvarnished murder? Had her feet carried her to the assembly, the Sam who would have stood with her familiars was not the Sam they knew. The Sam of Falcon’s Hollow had writhed with each step toward Ensi Suen’s rendezvous, had fought to run and hide while Nicto beguiled the woman, and at last perished when Sam’s soul stealing sword ended a life in exchange for coin. A soulless Sam had shuffled alongside the sorcerer in flight from the scene of sealed fate.
And what of Nicto? A morally sensitive individual might well wonder how the dashing spellcaster’s soul stood in the light of his recent introduction to assassination, but if you ponder this at all, then you spend more time contemplating such things than Nicto. His golden hair gleamed in Serenrae’s glory. Shapely girls giggled and blushed at the mere sight of him, and his coin bag hung heavily against his hip. It seemed like a nice day for a potentially profitable adventure; how could the events of yesterday cast a shadow upon a Ganymede in the making?
Thus it was that a quartet of infidels set out to join a supremely pious devotee of the sun goddess in order to retrieve her most sacred relic. Appropriately, the day was bright and hot. A steady stream of carts, litters, and members of every cast mingled on the dusty track. And yet, upon rounding a corner, Quarrell, Nicto, Toska, and Navus Kanus found the road entirely empty save for a lone figure squatting amidst the stones off to one side. He was startled by their sudden appearance and quickly stood, covering his spotted, wizened shanks with a shabby robe. Hastily tying his sash, the haggard Ensi Sargon began to yammer and rage at the uneasy spectators until foam flecked his lips and his frail frame trembled with hatred. “Foreign swine! Offal eating whore spawn! You have ruined me with your demonic trickery! Now, you will know my pain!” At the word “Pain”, bad things started to happen.
Toska’s Druids Vestments erupted in a mass of black tentacles, slithering about her, binding her, crushing her. Worse still, her Ring of Freedom of Movement cast a silence spell over her. Quarrell’s belt of might burst into a net that engulfed him while his Animated Shield began to strobe with blinding flashes. Nicto’s substantial Spellcraft skills revealed that his Winged boots were somehow concealing the attacker, his Ring of Protection was turning him into a tree, and his Amulet of Natural Armor was producing deafening claps of thunder.
Navus Canis alone was unaffected by Ensi Sargon’s treachery. Sagely, the Duergar cast Hold Person on the vengeful wizard. In the blink of an eye, Sargon’s plan fell apart. Though his lips were frozen, the venerable conjurer cursed the insightful sorcerer as Nicto stripped away the offending accessories. Sargon watched in impotent outrange as the soldier tore free of the net and destroyed his traitor shield. The bitter spellcaster’s eyes could not shed the tears of despair appropriate for the moment that Toska escaped engulfing tentacles and lent her force to his destruction. A teleportation spell lay frozen on his immobile tongue until death’s darkness shielded him from further repercussions.
Among the Stained Clouds
At the base of the Pale Mountain range, the charred remains of a village sent dwindling spires of smoke up into the sky. Rasmus Rask led a column of sure footed ponies into what used to be Kelmarane. He pointed out once familiar buildings and explained that the fast flowing Pale River descended from the mountains to provide weary caravans with welcome water. While Rask spoke, Toska spied a Gnoll. With the efficiency of hardened veterans, the adventurers set upon the eight Gnolls who lingered at the scene of the Carion King’s crime. The Gnolls who stood and fought fell in mere moments before Quarrell’s whistling glaive, Nicto’s beams of eldritch wrath, and Navus’ unholy Dwarven condemnation. Those who fled took refuge in the network of tunnels beneath the blackened bones of the village. Among the adventurers, wiser heads prevailed and pursuit ended at the tunnel’s opening.
They made camp some miles to the East of ruined Kelmaraine. Watches were set and faithfully served throughout the hours of darkness. When at last Serenrae resumed her throne, Toska took to the sky as well. Her eagle eyes surveyed the Pale River’s route as the gleaming ribbon wound upwards and eastward through channels carved in mountain stone. The canyons along various tributaries provided the Gnoll host of the Carion King with great cities of networked caves. From a comfortable altitude, the Druid witnessed the daily duties of dogmen in their thousands. Narrow and steep was the way that followed the river’s true course, but if the relic hunters wished to avoid close combat with the entire Gnoll horde, it was the only choice.