31/5/5; 09:00: There are three of them; three mages from a school of magic known as the House of Granite, a school that has just negotiated its place in the Unified Order. Two are male humans, who like all natives of Kadash, the “City of Aqueducts”, have deeply lined and bronzed skin, dark eyes, and shaved heads. The third is a curiously androgynous female, clearly of elemental descent. Her hair is short, spiked, and the colour of overcast skies, a constant mist seeming to hang around its soft points. Her face is angular, her skin so pale as to be almost translucent. But it is her eyes that command the most attention; wide almond shaped orbs of incredible pale-grey, with pupils the colour of lightning. Her name is Tssel, and she is happy to tell the group that she is a genasai; an air-born creature with the blood both of mortal humans, and aeolian spirits within her. Her companions are Ahvul Dozzare and Haj Jhen, and they all know of where the group can find a Blue Dracani.
They sit in Ormid's official offices in Lorehaven, the early summer sunlight glinting off the polished furniture and airborne dust motes, the party united in their eagerness to be off on another epic adventure together. Speaking haltingly at first, and taking it in turn to talk, the Kadashites explain that, Located on the Central Meridian Isles in what used to be Zaepheri'Criz (the Desert of Blades – now a region of table mountains and winding, desolate canyons, scoured continually by the sun and howling, abrasive winds) Kadash survived the upheavals of the Age of Loss, and flourished as a principle trade city in that inhospitable region. Wealthy and prosperous, it's fortunes have taken a serious turn for the worst over the last year however, due to a serious loss of trade inflicted by “The Blue Lord”; an ancient dracani that has taken up residence in the ruins of the once splendid city of Tammatuli.
Supported by a clan of Nahokir'Gigorim (Sand Giants), as well as by worshippers within Kadash and the desert, the Blue Lord demands a “tax” from anyone trying to use the (normally) safest routes through the canyons, either northwards towards the city of Braax, or south-westwards towards the oasis city of Tulan'Dezir. This has seen a cease of almost all trading between those cities (which are invaluable links to the wider world), and a massive drop in supplies within Kadash, as well as profit for its merchants.
There are a few alternative routes, but these lead through lands haunted by savage gnarrak tribes or the nameless “mantis people”. Still worse horrors along these routes are the spectres of those who lived in the ancient cities lost when the Age of Loss began; Scarridian ghosts, Tammatulian wraiths and other immaterial undead, who's threat is so severe that even the gnarrak fear them. However, despite all this, a brave few have managed to get through on these routes, and so, Kadash endures – just.
Efforts by the five great and ten lesser houses (the merchant rulers of the city) to root out those citizens working for the Blue Lord have had minimal results, and to make matters worse, a former high ranking ambassador for House Kythus (one of the five great houses), has become the principle spokesman for the Blue Lord; arriving with the “Watchers” (giants) to deliver the Lord's terms to the city. This man – Sariq Ahmed – has only survived the hate of the cities people thanks to the promise from the Blue Lord that should he be harmed, a thousand people of Kadash will be killed for each drop of blood he loses.
Having been oppressed by a dracani in the ancient past (legends hold that a yellow dracani once ruled it with an iron claw, until it was defeated by wandering heroes), the people of Kadash would pay handsomely anyone able to end the Blue Lord's threat, and indeed, until recently, more than a few have tried. However, most of these turned up burned and mangled in the cities central plaza, dropped from the skies by the Blue Lord himself, and so enthusiasm for the mission has understandably waned.
So, if the group could accomplish what no others have, they would not only gain the materials they needed (and the monster's legendary hoard), but would win the gratitude of an ancient and wealthy city.
The party listen intently to the three mages, and ask a number of questions about the Great Houses, the disposition of the people, and the nature of the Blue Lord and his allies. They quickly work out that this dracani is an ancient beast, at least (if the size descriptions are accurate) 700 years old. Ormid surmises that despite the group's victories over dracani in the past, that this monster may provide a much stiffer challenge, and that destroying it may prove one of the most difficult tasks they have undertaken. He also voices concerns that such a monster will be well prepared to deal with would be aggressors, and that given the clandestine support for its predations in the city, it will be almost impossible to keep their arrival secret.
For a moment the Kadashites are afraid that the group will refuse to help. However, they then see the hungry, eager glint in the vyrleen's eyes, the coiled readiness in the warforged's posture, and the scholarly interest on the old artificer's face, and know that they have succeeded, and persuaded the “City Killers” to aid their home.
“So, how are we going to do this?” Wonders the Veteran out loud.
“We are going to need some help from one of you.” Says Ormid to the three, “Someone familiar with the region, the language, the people and the local, err, fauna”.
Tssel nods, and states she would be honoured to help – the two men wearing their relief at not being chosen openly on their faces.
“Do you think it possible that any of the houses are colluding with the monster, perhaps to gain some kind of dispensation from the attacks?”
An uneasy look passes between the mages. “We fear it may be so.” Admits Ahvul. “It seems no coincidence that one once allied to House Kythus should be favoured so highly by the Blue Lord, although Kythus denies any links to the monster.”
A moment of silence passes, and outside, a cloud moves in front of the sun, a sudden darkness gathering in the study.
“We need to draw the traitors out first.” Mumbles the Veteran, “so the monster is blinded.”
“But by doing that, we warn it of our approach.” Counters Llewellyn. “Although.”
He gives a grin that almost takes in his pointed ears, “We could use that to our advantage.”
Everyone looks at the vyrleen as if he has grown a second head, but he continues, undaunted. “Look, fifteen houses in total yes?”
The Kadashites nod.
“Right, and how many inns do you have?”
They look at each other, and then shrug.
“More than fifteen I'll wager, with your city being built on trade?”
“Right. Here's how we find out if one of the houses is a traitor. We send word of our coming to the general populace, and really big up our achievements, you know, really make out that we are,..”
“City killers?” Asks Tssel with a smile, the idea that the group will need to “big up” their incredible achievements clearly amusing to her.
“Exactly!” Shouts the rogue (completely missing her point). “We generate a fervour of hope, and make sure that everyone knows that we are coming, and when.”
Ormid shakes his head, but the Veteran begins to understand the direction of the vyrleen's thoughts. “You're suggesting we set up a filter of sorts no?”
Llewellyn jumps up and down in his seat, and nods manically, clicking his fingers and pointing at the warforged. “Yes! Yes, that's exactly what I propose. Before we arrive, we ensure that each house is leaked information about where we will be staying. However, we tell each house that we are staying at a different establishment.”
Ormid gets it, his head snapping up, his eyes bright. “So, when the inevitable attack comes in our sleep, we know who sent the assassins?”
“Absolutely!” Laughs Llewellyn.
“But how will you monitor so many rooms?” Asks Tssel.
Ormid waves a dismissive hand. “I can activate devices in each room which will alert me through the aether when they are breached.”
“Also,” Interrupts Llewellyn, “I have some..err...students, at my adventuring school who would be able to hide near to each place and report back who visits.”
“And then, with the enemies of Kadash identified, we could neutralise them, sending a clear message to the dracani's other allies, blinding him to the cities plans, and of course, shitting him, as the dundorin say, 'right up'. “ Finishes the warforged.
Another moment of pleased silence fills the room. Outside a heavy rain begins to fall, tapping at the glass of the window, the wind booming suddenly with the fury of a typical early summer squall.
1/6/51 – 10/6/51 – Word is sent to Kadash that a band of epic heroes, responsible for the destruction of an alien invasion, the deaths of several great wyrms, and the binding of a potent, evil god, are coming to liberate their city from the predations of the Blue Lord. The people are at first reluctant to allow themselves to believe that these northerners will be any more likely to succeed than any of their local heroes. However, Llewellyn's “adventurers” are sent into the city, to subtly manipulate public opinion, and by the time the group are due to arrive, a frenzy of support and expectation has descended over the city.
Unknown to the population, the group have actually visited Kadash a number of times, staying within the massive, granite edifice of the House of Granite's fortress-tower. There they have met with Khulan Shoadai, the leader of the school – a muscular man who bears a crackling staff, wreathed in stormlight, and who has grafted rune-carved plates of durium to his flesh, adding a layer of both physical and metaphysical protection to himself.
There they have discussed the dangers of Tammatuli's ruins (the spectres that haunt them at night, and wandering dead that hunt it by day are a major threat, though the dracani remains the principle danger), and how they might best approach the city (a former oasis sanctuary two days from Kadash, three days from Tammatuli, bears a functional rune-circle, though the site is home to a clan of corrupted gnarrak known locally as the Shad'Hourri, or Taint Drinkers. These monsters are supposedly far beyond the norm for their kind, having drunk from the tainted waters of the oasis, which became polluted during the collapse of Zaepheri'Criz), and the group are advised that even they may struggle to contend with them.
The Veteran laughs at this, and firmly states that come hell or high water, they are going to the oasis.
During these days Ormid spends a lot of time in the libraries at Lorehaven, learning all he can about Blue Dracani, and the ancient city of Tammatuli. He learns that it was apparently a principle rival and also supporter of Kadash, maintaining a healthy state of competition that pushed both cities to excel. He also learns that it had a well developed military force, had several schools of mages, and was a self appointed defender against the evils spilling from the sunken ruins of another nearby city, Scarridar (this has been largely unearthed during the deserts' collapse, and to this day is a dangerous, daemon-haunted place).
11/5/51 – 16:30 – 18:30: Finally the day where the group officially arrive in the city comes. A huge greeting ceremony is arranged for the late afternoon, after the fiercest heat has died down (the group have taken some time to adapt to the dry, almost forge-like heat of the region, and have really struggled on their few, clandestine visits to the city beyond the Houses' massive, insulating walls). It will be held in the cities central plaza, beneath the statue of the “Yellow Tyrant”; the dracani that once held the city back in the ancient Second Age.
Huge crowds turn out to welcome the group, the air reverberating with their calls and cheers. Escorted by a cadre of Granite House mages, and overseen by agents of another of the cities schools (also allied now to the Unified Order), the Brotherhood of Shadows, the party are carried triumphantly through the choking heat, towards the central plaza.
It takes them an hour to arrive there, and the crowds that greet them are incredible; the sound they make almost a physical thing. As they near the statue, beneath which has been raised a platform from which the group will address the crowds, the artificer realises with a jolt, the “Yellow Tyrant” must have been turned to stone, and that this “statue” is its petrified form – a possible danger should someone else realise this and decide to release it from its stony sleep.
Slowly, the group are borne towards the platforms, each thankful as they climb up onto it for the shade provided by the great head of the dracani “statue”, and the two ancient palm trees that flank them. Also flanking the stage are two large stone statues of two of the ancient heroes that supposedly slew the Tyrant; one named Derran Oth'Cellinthar and the other, “Stick” (a curiously mantid-like creature, that wears scant armour over its chitinous exoskeleton, and seems to be wielding some unusual shuriken like blades – an entity Ormid has seen referred to by a number of names, but which he knows as a Thri-Kreen or Skythid). Also on stage are Ferrous, and Tssel.
For a while the group simply stand there, almost overwhelmed by the sea of people cheering for them. In the distance to the east, beyond the statue, they can see a number of colossal, ornate structures rising above the sea of flat-roofed, white-washed buildings that form most of the cities architecture. These they know are the private residences of the fifteen merchant houses; the grandest being those of the five. And filling the roads between that district and the plaza, indistinct through the heat haze, is a slow moving procession of guards, banners and ornate palanquins - the majordomos of the fifteen houses en-route to meet the group and to give them their personal blessing. It is a spectacular sight, and even the Veteran feels something swell within his chest at the attention.
Then, they sense a strange tension in the air, and a whispering voice in their minds from one of the Brotherhood warns them that an attack is under way. Ormid quickly asks what is going on, and the nameless voice replies “We have engaged animator daemons in the shadow of the physical, and stopped other troops teleporting to your location. We shall deal with them here, but we sense that you may have problems of your own to contend with.”
And they do.
Over the cheering, the group suddenly become aware of screams of fear and pain coming from the ranks closest to the the platform. Sharp, painful bursts of harsh, snarling light crackle and flair amongst the press of bodies, and with horror, the party realise that twelve men and women, each clad in scaled armour, and bearing a copper-hued scimitar, wreathed in lightning, are hacking and stabbing their way towards them.
“Get back!” Screams Llewellyn at the crowd.
“Bastards!” Screams Tssel, the air around her suddenly growing dark and cold as she calls upon her magics.
Men, women and children die in the crowd; slashed and burned by the surging fanatics – Dracadians – as the Granite House mages call them, and the rest begin to panic, boiling away from the killers, leaving the dead and dying on the baking floor. Outraged, the group leap down from the platform to meet them, a desire to punish burning like hateful fire in their hearts.
The battle is almost pathetic in its shortness, the dracadians falling in mere seconds to the groups' attacks. Ormid summons a writhing area of bladed cables, which dismember those warriors within it, whilst Llewellyn unleashes flame from his boots, burning screaming fanatics to the floor. The Veteran unleashes a volley of corrosive arrows from Dracusvir, the imbued bow roaring with power as the black arrows are let loose, whilst Tssel impresses all with a display of deadly elemental magic; the sky darkening and disgorging a deadly rain of knife-like hail, which simply cuts the warriors caught within it (and one of the palms) to a sickening pulp. Ferrous puts his fangs to good use, biting the head from one warrior who comes too close.
“Keep one alive!” Screams Ormid above the horrible din of the screaming crowds, and their own unleashed might.
A low, rolling moan fills the air as the crowd stand, shell-shocked, staring at the utter carnage unleashed around the stage. A few rush to help those wounded in the attacks, whilst other simply weep over the fallen. In the distance, the blare of horns and the thumping of drums heralds the near arrival of the Majordomos.
The first to enter the plaza from the east are heavily armed and armoured guards allied to House Na'Desha, greatest of all the houses, their obsidian weapons and burnished breastplates glinting in the afternoon sun. They quickly form a cordon and begin to move civilians away, whilst word is sent to the rest of the procession to await further orders. At the same time, elements of Kadash' independent defence league arrive, lead by a young man bearing the rank of Captain named Khedan. He immediately demands a full report on what has just happened, and upon seeing that the group have captured one of the dracadian's orders he be taken to the Tower of Justice a few streets away. This leads to a small argument with the party (though Tssel who translates), but they soon back down, realising that there is a procedure to be followed, and that they are not helping by getting in its way.
“You will come with me to the Tower too.” Orders Khedan darkly, “There you can interrogate this piece of filth as you see fit.”
Just as the group are about to leave with Khedan (the crowd regarding them with a mix of awe, fear and horror now), they are stopped by an emaciated looking man dressed in incredibly rich robes of purest silk. Jewels glitter from the cloth, and he wears metallic make up on his gaunt, sunken features, which only serves to give him a horrible, death-mask like appearance. He is surrounded by five cloaked and masked guards, dressed in layers of black robes, their features hidden behind black kufeya, all of whom stand protectively around him, greenish blades of coppery metal held outwards.
“Wait!” He calls in tradespeak, rendered almost incomprehensible by his heavy accent, “I want to thank you!”
The group stare, uncomprehending, until they notice that Khedan and every other native is down on one knee, heads bowed towards the newcomer. Seeing their lack of comprehension, the man bows, and introduces himself.
“Great Lords, my apologies. I am Omar Khem'Zaul, Majordomo of House Zaul, second amongst the five. It is my city you fight to protect from these scum, and so, you have my personal, and my houses great thanks for your endeavours.”
The group smile and mumble something they hope sounds heroic, before Omar is moved away, and they can begin their journey to the Tower.