In the morning, everyone but Thala (who said she had to study) headed for breakfast in the common room…
…where they found Divinter Red Hands, dressed in his Pale Quarter Defense Force uniform. He was sitting at a table with three others: Marta Blunter, Ebbin Rag, and Valen Tangles, all from the Thieves’ Guild.
Divinter, in his typically jovial fashion greeted the party as though he was surprised to see them. He asked how they’d been. What they’d been up to. Y’know…small talk. The kind of small talk that made it very clear that neither the Theives’ Guild nor the Mules were likely to welcome the party back to M’ziir. He expressed his smarmy and sarcastic sympathy for the demise of The Shade, and reassured them that Danae seemed to be thriving in her new role as Lieutenant to Captain Chur’Aal.
He did seem impressed, for lack of a better term, when Pony one-upped his condescending attitude by telling him that they had been hired to deliver a message to Lady An’Ikar in response to his asking what they were doing in the City proper.
In the end though, the thin veneer of jocularity faded, and Divinter made it clear nobody from the Shade was welcome in M’ziir. He suggested that they leave town, and said, flatly, that if they were seen in town again, they’d better have Glass’s good hand with them as a token of their improved attitudes.
As he and his buddies casually got up to leave, Red Hands dropped casually that Ezra had been captured. Just in case they felt like risking their own lives might be worth it.
When they left, the thieves dispersed casually into the streets, while Divinter snapped his fingers to a small squad of Mules, who fell in behind him. The party sat down for a sullen breakfast, disrupted by Thala, who came downstairs wondering loudly what everyone’s problem was.
Ink abruptly excused ze’self…coming back a few moments later, showing them ze’s accounting book, in which was written a message in supernal, ze thought in Ezra’s hand:
“Caught me. Hurt but okay. Danae safe. Talk to her.”
The party contemplated this as they left the Mason’s Rest, headed out of town to L’ekar.
With their magical mounts, the party reached the trading post of L’ekar within just a few hours, avoiding the main road, and the bandits there. With a small effort, Ink was able to make the mounts appear…pretty much like normal horses, allowing them to ride very near the city without raising too many eyebrows.
The village of L’ekar, truly not much more than a trade outpost most of the time, had been transformed into a swollen, bustling, raucous camp, full of traders from Azeth, D’kath, and Okorion who had been turned away at the gates of M’ziir. With so many merchants, came huge numbers of merchant guards, and Shepherds. Many of the Merchant guards were little more than mercenaries, many of whom seemed to be obtaining employment bolstering the mustered forces of Lady of Sheraz’Aal, who everyone knew had been gathering her troops and levies and holding them in L’ekar. Apparently, the word that there was work in L’ekar for sellswords had spread, which had, in turn, drawn even more mercenaries.
It was, in other words, bloody chaos in the streets. Fights erupted all over, and even the Shepherds were having a difficult time maintaining the sanctity of commerce. With all the bustle, hubub and noise, even White Kaijo passed with minimal apparent comment. The party decided to take advantage of their anonymity, and split up to cover more ground.
Sardis and Akra used their rare anonymous downtime to grab a drink at a nearby, very crowded tavern called the Lark’ and Bone. Thala got excited about shopping for ritual components, while Kaijo, Ink, and Pony explored the impromptu market, gathering information and learning what there was to learn.
Overall, the impressions and chatter…the scuttlebutt, if you will…had mostly to do with the influx of mercenaries and merchants. It was clear to everyone that Lady Sharaz’Aal had, as rumored, not only withheld her troops from the defense of M’ziir, but was levying troops from the surrounding farms, which, when added to the mercenaries, made for a sizable force.
The same rumors they’d heard in M’ziir were rampant in L’ekar. Many seemed to believe that Sheraz’Aal was planning to throw in with the Blood King.
But Kaijo, trained as a battle commander in the south, intuited differently. He saw a massing of soldiers and peasants, armed and waiting, but without a clear purpose. They were neither preparing L’ekar’s modest keep for defense, nor preparing to march anywhere. By any military reckoning, Lady Sheraz’Aal could only be said to be…amassing…
From the snippets he picked up, he realized that the Lady of L’ekar likely had no idea what she would do. Rumors called her fearful for her son, Captain of the Mules in the Pale Quarter. Kaijo reasoned that the Lady was gathering a force in the hopes of acting opportunistically in aid of Chur’Aal Az’Guzuur. It also seemed fairly clear that she simply did not have a good sense of what was happening inside M’ziir.
The numerous Shepherds in town was also peculiar. As a rule, Shepherds only enforced official, sanctioned trade, and the impromptu bazaar of L’ekar was clearly not Shepherd sanctioned. Nonetheless, Shepherds could be seen moderating and managing interactions throughout the tents, carts, and shanty’s where they could. It seemed that King Thuz’Ur’s closing M’ziir to trade had elicited some backlash.
Meanwhile…Thala was being hunted.
Sardis saw them first. A group of four hacholu passing through the dust and heat outside the Lark and Bone. He stood, abruptly, leaving a confused Akra seated with the remnants of his ale, while he followed the hunters, who he recognized as Groroch Blackfist and several others who had left the Graubergh tribe in pursuit of a powerful weapon that they believed would help their people drive the Aechellans out of the Grey Peak mountains.
Thala noticed them too. Not with her eyes, with with a tense, skin-crawling sense of…wrongness…that she associated with the dark orcs she was born to. Looking, panicked, around herself, she caught a glimpse of a great, angry looking hacholu, rank with the corruption of the Nemesis, pushing towards her through the crowd. With a muttered word and a flashed gesture, she disappeared, invisible, away from the orcs, hoping to find her friends.
Sardis, following the hunters, saw this…and at the same time realized that the Blackfist, Groroch of the Graubergh hacholu, had fallen into darkness. Realizing this, and realizing that Groroch’s followers seemed unaware (or in denial) of his condition, Sardis decided to act.
He called out to the Blackfist, something between a greeting and a challenge. Almost immediately, Groroch’s followers, who had fanned out through the camp looking for Thala, began converging back towards their leader, who stood perhaps 50 feet from Sardis.
Meanwhile, the crowd around the two big orcs began thinning quickly. It seemed that no-one wanted to be caught between the two.
Groroch almost seemed glad to see Sardis at first, but grew immediately suspicious when Sardis glared balefully at him, bow in-hand, arrow knocked. Groroch asked Sardis about a scroll, and someone named Krothach. He asked Sardis about an orc wizard that that they’d been following. Sardis refused to speak to Groroch of Thala, or the scroll, and more or less told the big, fell orc to go to hell. Eventually, the two warriors were shouting at each other, and Groroch challenged Sardis to fight.
Sardis loosed an arrow at Groroch, adding insult to injury…or…well…adding insult to near-miss by choosing to put the Blackfist down like a beast instead of fighting him hand-to-hand with respect.
Groroch’s hunters were about to join the fray, but Kaijo and the rest of the party, who had been wading through the crowd towards the fight, stood between them, firmly, but non-lethally holding the hacholus’ attention while Sardis and Groroch came to blows.
Which…Ink pretty much ruined by restraining Groroch with magic while the party put him down as Sardis had originally intended. None of the other orcs was killed during the fight (though a couple were pretty badly injured), and they stopped fighting, somewhat sheepishly, with an air of guilty relief.
The aftermath of the battle was chaotic. Sardis and the rest of the hacholu were reluctant to touch the corrupted body of Grorogh, believing it cursed. Akra, not caring, picked it up and hurried towards the outskirts of town as the crowed re-formed and the Shepherds started closing in.
Once outside of town, the party gathered to burn the body, while Sardis spoke to the four hunters who’d been with the Blackfist. Thala summoned a sphere of flame, and held it atop Groroch’s limp form. As it burned, Ink spoke words of repose and true death, which included some strange pictographs appearing amidst the rank smoke and cinders, culminating in a strange image of a beetle, after which the air around the corpse eased. It still reeked like the Nine Hells, but the sense of tension lessened.
A pair of Shepherds approached them part way through, and observed, at one point suggesting that they stop the burning because of the smell, but otherwise simply gathering information about what had happened. They seemed satisfied that the fight and death had not had to do with trade, and so only stood by to watch the body disposed of.
Sardis informed Groroch’s followers that after the Black Fists had left to follow Krothach, the Graubergh tribe had been set upon by slavers. He shamed them with the knowledge that the loss of the spears to Groroch’s mad quest had doomed the tribe. For the most part, the half-orcs (or…whatever) seemed distraught and cowed by the news. One of them admitted to Sardis that they had slain Krothach, in a cave to the Northwest, and that they had…learned from him that the sacred scroll had been given to an Orcish Wizard from M’ziir. He cast oblique looks towards Thala as he said this.
But the hunters departed without further incident, headed back to the Grey Peaks to discover what was left of their tribe.
NEWS AND RUMORS
- The Blood King wears a glowing ruby diadem on his brow which enslaves the will of those who look upon it.
- The Blood King of Azeth is actually a changeling posing as the heir to House Azil. The true heir escaped and is behind Aechell’s aggression.
- The Blood King of Azeth is freeing the slaves in the cities he conquers, and is ending the tyrannies of the Elder Bloodlines.
- The Blood King of Azeth has taken D’kath, and Okorian.
- The Blood King’s army marches on M’ziir and will arrive within the week.
- The armies of M’ziir are not likely to be able to withstand more than a day or two of assault by the armies of the Blood King. Thankfully, the armies of Queen Ren’Raatha Az’Ebbezuur should be coming from Darakor any day now.
- The armies of Darakor are never coming. Queen Ren’Raatha has allied with the Blood King already.
- King Thuz’Ur has gone utterly mad, seeing gnomes everywhere, and blaming them for M’ziir’s questionable readiness for war.
- The work being done to block The Gap is not finished.
- King Thuz’Ur has increased the bounty on gnomes to 500 gold pieces
- King Thuz’Ur is executing his family, friends and advisers on a daily basis.
- King Thuz’Ur executed his cousin, Shepherd Aran’Ik, for treason a few days ago, and plans to execute Aran’Ik’s sister, An’Ikar Az’Guzuur.
- The Ikar family has fled M’ziir.
- Edur Bennigan, king of New Cormorell, has been executed by Aechelleth, who, through some unknown magic, projected the king’s death into the sky for all in the Blessed Lands to see
- The hills and mines all along the Gandoran range are overrun with goblinoids and giants.
- The late Queen Amra’Ur’s stillborn child was a bezoar.
- The late Queen Amra’Ur’s family, the Ebbezuurs, are pretty unhappy about her being executed.
- King Thuz’Ur has shut M’ziir to all trade from Azeth, D’kath, and Okorian. The Shepherds’ Guild is not pleased
- The Pale Quarter is being converted to a defensive bulwark, with an earthen rampart running north to south along it’s eastern edge.
- Conscriptions in the Pale Quarter have enlisted nearly every healthy adult into service as defenders of the city. The consripts are called “Mules”
- The King’s distant cousin, Chur’Aal Az’Guzuur, was given command of the Mules.
- Sheraz’Aal Az’Zoran, lady of L’ekar and mother to Chur’Aal Az’Guzuur is withholding her troops from the defense of M’ziir so that she can join with the Blood King when he arrives in return for her son being made King (or at least Regent) of M’ziir.
- Sheraz’Aal has eyes everywhere in L’ekar, in the tradition of the Zoran’s of Shek’zur.
- Lady Sheraz’Aal has summoned aid from her family in Shek’zur to aid in the battle for (or against) the Blood King.
- Lady Sheraz’Aal still hates Okori’s (people from Okorian) 21 years after her husband’s death in a skirmish over territory.
- Palers who did not enlist in the Mules and who aren’t otherwise possessed of useful skills are being made slaves.
- The Shade has been driven into hiding by the militarization of the Pale Quarter
- Members of the Shade are being executed on sight.
- The Ix’iil are actually running the Mules
- Danae, former leader of the Shade, has joined the Mules and is now hunting down her former associates as a lieutenant of Captain Chur’Aal.
- The Mules Headquarters is set up on what was once the Stalls of the Pale Quarter. Danae’s tents are set up directly over the secret passage to the Grey Manse.
- There has been a huge uptick in goblinoid raids in the Westcrook and Northcrook, outside M’ziir. The Blood King is implicated.
- The Shepherds are planning a coup, having decided that all the nobility of Mokiir is corrupt (in a bad way).
- The Shepherds have increased recruiting.
- A small band of half-orc warriors has been asking around after an orcish Wizard.
- King Thuz’Ur’s Court Astrologer, Martesse, has prophesied disaster for M’ziir, and all of Mokiir, should Isra’Asiel take the throne.
- The Blood King has slain the Court Astrologers in Azeth, D’kath, and Okorian.
- Members of the former street gang The Shade are now working for Lady An’Ikar Az’Guzuur