19:35 – 20:15 – The group accompany Captain Khedan as he and several other interrogators question the captured Dracadian. It takes time and pain-filled (for the Dracadian) efforts, but they eventually learn several pertinent facts. Firstly, the man's name is Ekarj, and he was formerly a member of House Kythus – a caravan guard, thought lost at the “Tainted Oasis” known locally as “Bitter Waters”. Secondly, He is utterly insane; fanatically devoted to the Blue Lord, showing, even in the face of death, no fear of the party or the guards, continuing to spit vile proclamations of loyalty to the Blue Lord, and prophesying the downfall of Kadash and all within its walls.
Eventually, Ormid decides he has heard enough, and in a moment of rage, punches the bound man as hard as he can with his artifice fist. There is not so much a head left as he pulls back the dripping mass of steel and stone, but a gristly indentation in the shape of his knuckles.
“House Kythus.” Murmurs Khedan, “The same house from which the traitor Sariq - may the desert Ifrit devour his soul – hailed from. I may have to organise a meeting with Nalziir in the near future...”
20:16 – 22:30 – With the interrogations over, the group set to work pretending to enter the various rooms around the city within various inns, the artificer enchanting each door with a sealing ritual, before they sneak out of each by alternate routes. Watching the rooms from afar are a number of chosen men from Llewellyn's “school” - each a dark blur in the deepening gloom of the rapidly cooling, desert night.
23:00 – The group return to the House of Granite.
12/5/51 – 15/5/51 : After several uneventful days of monitoring the rooms they have warded, the group realise that any potential enemies have taken measure of their ability during the plaza battle, and decided on less direct methods of attack. Frustrated, and eager to be doing something more than sitting around, they are equally suspicious and pleased when an envoy arrives with an invitation from Omar Khem'Zaul, asking them to meet him at his home, so he can help them liberate his city from the Blue Lord. There is some disagreement about this, as something about the emaciated, overly friendly majordomo has put several members of the group on edge. However, it decided that ultimately, he may prove a useful source of information, and, should he prove hostile, that the group are more than capable of managing anything he can throw at them.They let the the emissary know that they would like to accept Omar's invitation, and meet.
08:00 – 09:00 – The group arrive at the outer gates of House Zaul's impressive compound, its standard – a six-headed hydra – rendered in bright gold and burnished bronze on their front. Beyond the gate on a great hill, past sweeping terraced gardens filled with aqueducts and lily filled ponds, rises an ivory domed palace, which looms over five slender towers of gold and cream, a straight path of crushed white gravel leading from the gate to its flawless, marble front steps. Watching over the gates are six silent warriors, dressed from head to foot in black silk robes, their features hidden behind tightly bound keffiyeh. Each bears either a combination of embossed round-shields and spear, or carries a selection of bizarre, multi-bladed throwing weapons, that the group later discover are called kpinga.
There is no conversation with these silent sentinels, for as soon as they lay their dark eyes on the group, the great gates are opened to them. Once inside the walls of the compound the party are escorted by six of the gliding, unspeaking warriors along the path, and into the echoing coolness of the cavernous palace's halls where soon they find themselves standing within a huge pillared hall, illuminated by glinting strips of sunlight lancing through high windows, before a spectacular throne of silk and gold, upon which reclines Omar Khem'Zaul.
However, their attention is fixed upon the two massive, blue-scaled quadrupeds that flank the throne; clearly monsters of draconic blood, the air around their gleaming scales agitated by static discharges. Omar seems unconcerned by their faces, and leaps up to greet them, the party closely watched by the numerous black robed guards that lurk amongst the pillars in this room.
“My friends!” Beams Omar, his dark skin lost beneath a layer of fragrant, golden powders, “It is so good to see you. You honour me with your presence.”
“You said you wanted to help us.” Replies Ormid, his voice neutral, his eyes fixed on the hulking, horn-headed monsters by the throne, “You suggested you could help us remove the taint of the Blue Lord's power from Kadash.”
Omar smiles, “Indeed.”
He then clicks his fingers, and moments later, two more robed guards glide forwards, carrying an elaborate case of ebony, ivory and abalone, before placing it on the ground between Omar and the group. Still smiling, holding Ormid's gaze, he gestures towards the case, before opening it to reveal the pommel, grip and guard of a huge, highly ornamented sword. It is a thing of true beauty; its cross-guards carved to resemble the wings of the two serpentine dracani that coil around the grip, their toothy mouths clamped over the spherical pommel. Closer examination reveals that minute runes have been carved on the wings, and after a few moments of breathless examination, Ormid blows a low whistle, and whispers, “A true blade of dracani slaying. A blade of legend.” He seems close to tears.
Omar smiles, nodding. “It's name is lost, though likely carved upon its blade, and it dates back to the mythical Drake Wars in the Second Age.”
“This would be a fearsome weapon against the Blue Lord.” Ormid states, “Where is the blade.”
All eyes turn to the majordomo of House Zaul, and he appears suddenly uncomfortable. Rubbing his neck, he seems almost embarrassed as he speaks. “Alas, I fear that the blade is sequestered within the deep vaults of House Kythus, Third of the Five, and currently, under something of a cloud, for it was one of theirs – Sariq – who became the monster's spokesman, and it is they who still manage to turn a tidy profit in these dark times.”
“Oh?” Growls the Veteran, suddenly interested.
“Somehow, many of their cargoes go unmolested, and reach their destinations. Even more strangely, their monies return safely. It could, of course, be pure luck. Perhaps they know of hidden paths that allow safe travel, or perhaps their guards are better trained than any other house, but...”
He doesn't bother to finish the sentence.
Llewellyn, who has been largely looking around the chamber in which they speak, silently cataloguing the items of worth within it – purely as a mental exercise of course – suddenly feels boredom stirring within him. Irritated, he glares at Omar, and quite rudely snaps, “Get to the point! What do you want?”
Omar seems not to take offence, and with a smile and a slight nod continues. “I have had for some time, a sequence of runes which link to a teleport circle deep within the Kythus vaults. I know not why they would have such a thing in such a secure place, and would be pleased if you did not ask me how or why I came to possess them. However, I am sure that they possess the other half of the sword, and would ask you to consider using the sequence to infiltrate and open the vault, in search of it.”
Everyone looks less than happy, and Ormid gives a fairly loud “Fuck that!” Seeing that he is losing them, Omar produces something else – a scale the size of a dinner plate. Glossy black and ridged to a definite point on one side, it is clearly draconic in origin.
“Also obtained from a House Kythus source. The vault, I am lead to believe, holds whatever produced this scale. I may keep beasts of draconic heritage, but do so openly and have had them since long before the Blue Lord imposed his vile will on the city. It seems however that Nalziir chooses to hide his beast, whatever it may be, which to me and mine seems more than a little suspicious, especially when the other factors are taken into account.”
The group feel Omar's gaze boring into them, his features fixed almost into a rictus, his teeth yellow in the half-light reflecting of his makeup.
“How do we know you are telling the truth?” Asks Ormid, “I assume there must be rivalry between the houses. How do I know you don't simply seek to use us as a weapon against a rival? Maybe I should try using a detection ritual to check that this blade truly resides within their vaults before we go kicking in doors and raising hell?”
Omar seems not to take offence, and nods as he speaks. “You are wise master Ormid. However, I would remind you that Kythus is the third house, whereas my own is the second. We are not concerned about a house that falls behind us so greatly...”
“Though their success in these difficult times must put your position at risk?” Interrupts Llewellyn, his mind perfectly suited to navigating the treacherous avenues of such situations.
Omar finally allows some irritation to show, though his words remains honeyed when he begins again.
“As I said, Kythus is far from us in power, though if the current trends did continue, they would, eventually, have the power to seek elevation, which would, as you have correctly deduced, see our own house demoted to third. That however will not happen, for as soon as you slay the Blue Lord, life will return to normal, and we shall be turning a mighty proft once more.
“As for trying to detect the blade, I can only assume that House Kythus, like we ourselves, have taken steps to reinforce their vaults both physically and magically, making them opaque to spells of far-seeing. You may try of course, but I doubt highly that you would succeed.”
Ormid nods, unable to deny the logic. Then he hits on an idea. “Majordomo, could I ask you to seal the part of the sword you have in your vaults? If I can pick it up with a spell, then it may be possible to use the same ritual against the Kythus wards.”
“Of course! So be it.”
Omar makes a “go away” gesture at the case, and the two silent guards pick it up and take it away.
“Can I get you some refreshments whilst it is interred within our vaults?”
Roughly fifteen minutes pass, during which Omar chats about meaningless things. Then one of his guards drifts back, and nods its head once at him. With a smile, Omar tells Ormid that he may begin his ritual...
...With the exact results the majordomo predicted. “It's just not there.” States the artificer, a little annoyed, “I thought I might be able to push past any wardings, but no, it's gone.”
“You see? Unfortunately my request must rest entirely on whether or not you trust me and my motives.”
09:01 – 09:15 – The group do not make any promises, and leave shortly after Ormid's failed attempt to scry the sword piece. Back in the streets, and the heat is already suffocating to the northerners, the white stone of Omar's palace blinding in its glare.
“So?” Asks Tssel.
“I trust him about as far as I can throw a Thodzuna.” Quips Llewellyn. “He has far too many ulterior motives, and seems a little too comfortable around us and drake kin.”
the Veteran nods, but then seems to have a thought. “At the risk of sounding foolish, we should be careful not to let our decision get sidetracked by what could be irrelevant information.”
Everyone agrees. “Thing is,” starts Ormid, “I don't really want to get involved in something that could be a manipulation attempt intended to impact on the standing of House Kythus by one of their rivals.” He shrugs.
“Perhaps we should just go and ask Nalziir for his input. Or even convene all the majordomos of all the houses to thrash thing out openly.”
Everyone stands for a moment, sweating and thinking in the gathering heat.
“Why don't we just go and request an immediate audience with Nalziir? We can keep an eye out for his reaction when we mention the sword and the scale. If he denies having the sword, we can try to gauge whether he is lying or not, and take the appropriate action there and then?”
The vyrleen's plan is a good one, and the group agree to it.
House Kythus' compound is only a few minutes away from House Zaul's, it's jade and gold pyramid visible through the heat haze shimmering above Zaul's gardens, and the group soon find themselves outside of its main gate; a massive, reinforced thing of metal and stone, emblazoned with the houses' standard of a three-headed spear, watched over by two very impressive looking guards. Each stands almost 7' tall, and despite the ferocious heat, wears heavy enamelled plate of some ceramic like material. White in colour, each guard's face is hidden behind a vacantly noble mask, their gauntleted hands gripping the hafts of curious looking polearms – halberd like things, which also seem to incorporate, beneath the blade, a firearm. Each guard carries no other weapon, though powder horns and ammunition bags are clearly evident on their belts.
The group approach them, and at once the guards cross their firespears, barring entrance.
“My good fellows,” Begins Ormid with a bow, “I am Ormid Theffler, Dragonslayer, City Killer, Time Traveller and founder of the Unifying Order of Mages. These are my most illustrious and famed companions. We seek an audience at once with your master, the Majordomo Nalziir Kythus. Please step aside so we may meet with him.”
The guards do not move.
“Ahem. As I was saying, I am...”
(in Tradespeak) A deep voice, oddly accented and dark cuts the artificer off.
“We heard you hero, and without prior appointment you are not permitted to enter my Lord's estates or to meet with him.”
Ormid straightens suddenly, a little shocked.
Llewellyn gives a nasty grin. “Do you know who we are? Do you know what we just did? Do you really want to try and stop us getting in there?”
The Guard turns his masked head to look down at the vyrleen, his eyes hard behind its impassive façade. “I know who you are, and what you are alleged to have done. I feel your power clearly, and yet, have a duty to prevent any and all who seek entrance to these grounds without my master's consent. You do not have his consent, and so, are not permitted to cross the boundary here.”
“If,” begins the other guard, his voice also oddly accented, “You seek an audience, we can arrange for a emissary to meet with you to arrange this. But for today, you must back off, as we are not moving an inch.”
Swiftly, and fearlessly, the Veteran strides up to stand, chest to chest, eye to eye with the right hand guard, meeting his hard gaze with his own, unblinking one.
“Well neither am I.”
And then the inevitable happens...
Frustrated, and wanting only to see over the high wall that surrounds the compound, Llewellyn awakens one of his potent rings, and is born upwards of currents of magic. This is seen by the guards (including the two that stand behind the gate) as an attempt to scale the walls and gain entry, and without hesitation they attack.
At first both Ormid and Tssel do their best to reign both sides in, as a titanic struggle engulfs the streets in flame, smoke and blood. Llewellyn is shot three times before he can sink back down, and is almost killed, his boots taking him to the safety of a nearby roof top where he can gulp down some healing elixirs. It swiftly becomes apparent that these guards are far and beyond anything the party had thought them to be, and the reason becomes clear when a sweep of the Veteran's axe removes the mask from one of them.
“Ghur? Draxian half-breeds?”
The Ghur (Mul) gives a cold smile, his features handsome and scarred.
Ormid and Tssel quickly realise that any attempts to reconcile this encounter peacefully have passed, and turn their attention to trying to subdue the potent guardians.
“I don't get it.” Shouts Llewellyn in the language of the North Republic as he teleports in to smash his mace against the solid armour of one guard, before somersaulting away from the answering strike, “These guys are sodding tough.”
“Ugh, tell me something I...” the Veteran takes a blow that opens his chest wide open, heamolymph spurting in a sweating arc from the damaged vessels within, “Don't know.”
“So why doesn't Kythus just send them to kill the Blue Lord?”
“A good question.” replies Ormid his implement shining with arcane power.
It is not an easy fight at all, and it become quickly apparent that both sides are perfectly matched. The guards, like all Ghur, are innate masters of combat, and their inbred resistance to pain and ability to see past many feints and tricks makes them all but impossible to bloody. Their armour is also immaculately formed, and takes multiple strikes before it can be breached. Worse, they fight very well. Their curious weapons allow them deadly reach, and are used to lacerate armour, open up major blood vessels and to carve sucking wounds into any they strike. To make matters worse, on occasion, they loosely tamp blackpowder over the blade and attack as it burns, adding it fierce, explosive heat to their strikes. As if this wasn't enough, they are crack shots with the pistol like parts of their weapons, and their bullets wreak horrible damage on those they strike.
The group are forced to bring everything they have to the fore. Tssel summons a raging elemental of air, which lasts only a few seconds before it is ripped apart by a blazing firespear. Ormid quickly tires as he tries to mitigate the damage his allies are suffering, and to best his foes. He also spends a lot of time screaming out to his allies that they must only incapacitate, and not kill the guards. “We don't want to start a war after all.”
“Really?” Comes the Veteran's non too comforting reply.
After a solid minute of battle, several of the buildings on the street are damaged by the combat. Ferrous has activated a combat mode that sees him become huge; thick plates of reinforced armour bulking him up, his claws chiming with power, his mouth a nightmare of flames, lighting and shredding metallic fangs, whilst everyone else struggles to survive against the guard's deadly efforts.
However, one by one, the guards begin to falter, and just as a wave of more mundane guards begin to spill from the distant pyramid of the Kythus compound, so the last one is knocked senseless.
Oddly invigorated, despite their pain, the group turn to face the oncoming soldiers, the air shimmering with spent magic and heat.
“Um, are we really going to make war on this house based on pretty much nothing?” Asks Tssel out the corner of her mouth.
“Truth be told,” comes Ormid's reply, “at this exact moment, I have no idea what we're going to do.”
Around them, the street gleams under a haze of heat and smoke. The guards draw nearer...