The Villains set out over Lake Tarik towards Aldencross to begin their true mission. During the journey, Odinkirk turns to Vaelus and demands to be released from his contract. Vaelus agrees but attempts to kill him minutes later. In the ensuing fight, Shivani is killed in a single blow!
The Party go to shore carrying the bodies of Odinkirk and Shivani, disguised as commoners on Rythern’s recommendation and meet Captain Ryan Varning and his Watch-wall Rangers on patrol. Thanks to Rythern’s bluff skills, Varning aids the party and eventually takes them to Aldencross. There, the Villains begin to scout and discover several opportunities which can be exploited.
As the morning sun rose over the eastern sea, the festivities burned low as the apparently sleepless Hoard began to arm themselves and donned their new armour, each tabbard, each breastplate every scabbard emblazoned with a flaming battle-axe. As the Villains stood on the Frosthammer with Sakkorot, the sight of a hundred thousand bugbears was an awe-inspiring sight.
Sakkorot called Shivani to speak with him in private in the stern as the two spoke in hushed tones beyond the hearing of the others, Odinkirk shook his head at the sight of the dawn-bathed Hoard
‘To think’ said he in a grim voice ‘when we got here they were a wretched rabble of savages, now look at them, they’re an army(!)’
‘…Now they’re an armed wretched rabble’ Rythern grinned. Odinkirk looked at the sorcerer but did not return the smile. Mistrust was understandably entrenched in the captains heart.
‘Lets just get on with this.’
’You’re a very prudent man, I like that’ Vaelus offered the captain. Once again, Odinkirk merely looked at the half-elf and said nothing as he walked away to be with his own thoughts. He eyed the growing crowd of bugbears that had begun to assemble upon the shore, wearily. He saw in the goblinoids eyes the glint of avarice, of greed. He felt their gaze rake his beloved ship and knew they lusted after it. He silently cursed to himself for staying longer than they needed to. He wanted to be away in open water again, beyond the gaze of savages who would claim his ship for their own barbarous lusts. However, he glanced at Sakkorot who continued to mutter and growl in gobinese to Shivani and allowed himself a shudder. Despite his hatred for these savage creatures, he would never risk offending Sakkorot. He, Odinkirk, was a survivor, a winner, and if you decide to play the game, you have to decide to win it. He would not raise any objection with the bugbear chieftain. Such a thing was tantamount to suicide.
With the Frosthammer no longer burdened with its previous tonnage, the ship glided across Lake Tarik with new-found grace. A dense mist shrouded the waters, concealing their approach and Odinkirk allowed himself the small pleasure of ordering the Villains in the ships operation. He never allowed himself to be too brisk with them, whether it was because of Moruga’s inconvenient size or Rythern’s relatively feeble physique. But a worm had began to gnaw in the back of his mind, a wiggling, painful doubt that would not go away or leave him rest-bit. It chewed at him for over an hour until he could stand it no more. He summoned the courage from the bowels of his gut and the well of his experience and took Vaelus aside.
‘Listen’ he said, his face like that of granite ‘My crew meant nothing to you, to any of you. I mean nothing to you. If it weren’t for the fact you needed me to pilot this ship, I would be butchered as my crew was. I have no value in your eyes. I want out of this agreement. Once we have reached the shore, I want you to disembark and then for us to go our separate ways.’
‘Who do you think you are dealing with?’ Vaelus asked frostily ‘we are not a club in which you can drop membership when you desire’
‘Once ashore, you have no further use for me and I do not want to end up like my men.’
The two men stared at each other in silence for a few moments, before Vaelus spoke.
‘Very well. You are a man of action, decisive, pragmatic —I respect that. Once ashore, you will never see us again, you can leave in peace and you will not “end up like your men”.’
‘You swear this?’
‘Of this, I swear. You will leave this place alive.’
Odinkirk scoured the half-elf’s face suspiciously and held out his hand, demanding final proof of the party’s intent. Vaelus took the hand and shook it firmly, sealing the agreement in honour. A great weight lifted from the captain’s shoulders at this covenant and he walked away with a new air of gratitude and confidence.
As the Frosthammer almost silently glided ever nearer the shore, its course elegantly split the mist in twain and the silver veil began to lift revealing in the distance, just managing to clear the tops of pine many miles away, one of the towers of the Watch-wall came into view, it’s dominance and authority over the countryside unquestionable from its height. The shore was awash with loose pebbles and stones which drank from the lapping waters of the Tarik and beyond that, pine trees released a heady and welcoming perfume, their eves sheltering a trodden path through the ferns towards the Wall.
As Odinkirk directed the other Villains to prepare to slow the ship and lay anchor, Vaelus sat alone in the stern, sharpening his bastard sword. The whetstone called out over the sound of the ebbs and flows of the lapping water, harmonising with the chat and bustle of the work. Therefore, no one noticed when the stone ceased its work. No one noticed as the huntsman stood and began walking towards Odinkirk, who had his back to the half-elf as he directed Grakas in the procedure to reef the mainsail. No one noticed the familiar look in Vaelus’ eye that told of his wish that a specific target now offended his sight and his desire to see it bleed. No one noticed (at least at first) as Vaelus pulled back his sword and with a great cry of power, swung it hard at his target. The edge bit deeply into the human’s side, the scream of pain pulling everyone from their duties as they watched Odinkirk stagger forwards and dip to one knee. He turned as he looked up at his assailant. He held his wound in a vain attempt to stem the blood-flow while his other hand began to reach for his great-axe which lay by the side, not far away.
‘You… you betrayed me!’ Odinkirk gasped, appalled at what had just transpired ‘We shook on it!’
Vaelus grinned sardonically as he stood proudly and defiantly before the man, his dripping four foot blade confident in his grasp as it lay by his side.
‘You didn’t see it coming –that’s what makes it so funny.’
As Vaelus began to draw back his sword, Shivani reacted as lightning and charged towards Odinkirk in an attempt to push him aside from the next sword blow. But seeing the sudden burst of movement from the woman who single-handedly sold out his crew, Odinkirk did not read her charge as anything other than to “Finish the job”. His grip found the haft of his great-axe and as Shivani came rushing in, the captain rose, pulled the weight of the weapon to his command and in one fluid swing, cleaved Shivani cleanly in two. From armpit to hip, the blade split her with terrifying clarity and as her blood and entrails cascaded across the deck, the Villains seemed paralysed in shock for a few seconds. Then the anger emerged. The Villains had destroyed dozens of guards, innocents, creatures and constructs with no emotion and no real passion, but now, seeing Shivani’s body so violated, so insulted, so irretrievable, sent a boiling fury beyond the memory of Talingarde through the Villains in a synchronous geyser of hatred. They attacked as one, without mercy, passionate in their unified desire for revenge. Moruga punched, Grakas rent, Rythern launched a gout of acid and Vaelus slashed. His wounds severe, surrounded on all sides, Odinkirk roared a cry of ferocious storms and colossal walls of water as he swung his axe again, the blow once again so powerful it almost tore Grakas’ arm from his body. The tiefling’s blood poured from the almost mortal wound so fiercely everyone could see he was close to death. He howled as his left arm, attached only by torn pieces of muscle and defiant cartilage, swung limply to his side but then the barbarian found how far his fury would take him. As his dripping horns curved out of his skull, Grakas seized Odinkirk by the neck with his right arm, the long claw-like fingers burying deep into his throat, tempting faint, pained gurgles from the man. Odinkirk feebly flailed his arms trying to vainly strike the demon-spawn and he watched in mortal fear when Grakas’ jaw suddenly and spontaneously elongated with a great, bone-cracking crunch. The infernal, rage induced maw jutted out and brimmed with piranha-like razor-teeth and Grakas allowed the former-captain just enough time to see his demise before Grakas pulled his face into the jaws of death. He gnashed and shredded Odinkirk’s face ferociously like a great dog gnawing at a meaty bone until the dying screams ceased. The body was discarded, dropped to the deck like the lifeless, worthless meat that it had been reduced to. As the Villains tuned to the body of Shivani, Rythern was on a single knee and quietly prayed for the bard’s soul. But if one could hear the sorcerer’s thoughts, amongst the pleas of deliverance for the dead and worship to Asmodeus in times of tribulation was a prayer of gratitude, thanks to an answered prayer for justice and retribution –answered in less than 24 hours.
As the bodies were looted and Rythern cleaned the bloody deck with a cantrip, the group discussed what they should do now. It was Rythern who invented the winning argument.
‘What if we were to walk into Aldencross, disguised as commoners carrying the bodies with us?’ he suggested as he tended to Grakas’ arm with his arcane ministrations ‘We can claim that we had booked passage with Odinkirk who turned out to be a pirate who tried to kidnap us and ransom us to our families. By carrying the bodies with us, we look as if we were trying to seek help for “my aunt”’ he motioned to Shivani ‘and as good, decent, Mitra-fearing people, we sought a proper burial for our enemy as well. We then have technical claim to the Frosthammer which we could probably sell in town.’
’That’s actually quite brilliant’ Vaelus admitted in a rare gesture of credit. ‘We could probably make some stretchers from branches an such in the forest and lash it all together with the extra rope from the ship.’
And so, that is how a silver haired elf (Vaelus) two human fisherman (Grakas and Moruga) and a half-elf Mitran clergyman (Rythern) came to carry two make-shift stretchers with the cleaned bodies of a man and woman (Rythern being careful to eradicate the runic F brand from Shivani’s arm with his knife before they set off) as well as their own gear and everything that had been salvaged from the ship.
It was almost one hour of marching until the party were disturbed at all. Hoofs beat a deep, continuous and ominous rhythm from elsewhere in the forest and an armed contingent of armoured horseman strode round the bend in front of them. Their leader, a tall and strapping knight in full armour and wearing a tabbard sporting the colours of Talingarde and the crest of Mitra. By his side was a longsword and amongst the twenty men behind him, they were similarly armed and armoured.
‘Who goes there!’ the captain ordered as he pulled his steed to a halt, signalling to his men to do the same.
‘Oh, praise be to Mitra! Glory to the Shining One! We have been saved!’ Rythern stepped forward, ensuring the silver holy symbol acquired from Sir Balin in Thorn’s dungeon was visible as it hung from his neck. With passion and conviction, the sorcerer described their fictitious plight, lies dripping from his lips like honey. There was a brief moment when the Villains individual stomachs knotted in anxiety at the hope the dhampir could spin a convincing enough story, for if it was seen to be flawed and their true identities discovered, there was no hope of defeating such foes in their current, battle-worn state. But apparently, Rythern’s lies managed to web the hearts of the soldiers admirably. Apparently believing every word he was fed, Captain Ryan Varning ordered his rangers to bury the bodies decently and to secure and anchor the Frosthammer. When all was said and done to Varning’s satisfaction, he offered to escort the party to Aldencross. Not wanting to appear ungrateful, Rythern agreed on behalf of the party and thus, each Villain sat behind a soldier as they rode towards the town that supplied the Watch-wall. As they rode, the Villains subtly plied these “Guards of the Watch-wall” for local information and they listened intently for all that was divulged, storing tit-bits away for potential exploitation.
The town of Aldencross was a quaint little town, a thriving place of trade with the nearby garrison providing the mostly human population with a satisfying sense of security. There was no fear of evil here, any show of force would be easily repelled. As the Villains said their goodbyes and once again offered their heart-filled thanks to Captain Varning and his rangers as they turned back and resumed their patrol, the sly and cunning minds of the Forsaken began the foundations of their plan to undermine the defences of the Watch-wall.
There was only a single tavern in Aldencross, the Lord’s Dalliance, a converted brothel and run by the portly Balin Barhold, a human who was usually all to happy to accept new customers into his establishment. The Villains quickly secured accommodation (two twin rooms) and for the remainder of the evening, the party sat in the pub downstairs and listened to troubles and stories patrons would offer. It is in this way that the Villains discovered the following details which they believed they could exploit:
- Within one of the nearby towers of the Watch-wall, the Rookery acted as a communication relay to the surrounding countryside, the trained ravens loyal to their duty and very dependable.
- Dwarves, led by Barnabas Isenbok, were preforming basic maintenance on the Wall. In addition, thanks to the (ultimately successful) challenge of a drinking contest issued to the Dwarf leader by Rythern, Barnabas appears fairly easy to goad and manipulate if one pulls his pride into question, especially if alcohol is involved.
- According to an advertising poster on the wall of the pub, a travelling group of entertainers, led by the noted Thespian Marcus Marlow, is due to put on a show for the soldiers of Balentyne in the next few days. The event is open to the public.
- The Balentyne Estate is close by.
- Captain Zack Ederly is having an affair with Captain Frans Mott’s wife, Katlyn. Thanks to the apparently friendly shoulder of Vaelus, Katlyn appears all too happy to confide in him as she attempts to unload subtle feelings of guilt.
- During the night, while investigating the sound of footsteps in the pub downstairs, Vaelus discovers that Beneath the Lord’s Dalliance is a secret passage in the basement that leads to a vast storehouse apparently run and maintained by the owner, Barhold. The provisions therein could ensure safe passage through a siege for a substantial amount of time. A trap door is situated in the ceiling, implying that the local garrison has access to this storeroom as well. The tavern therefore acts as an escape route should the need arise for one.
In Vaelus and Grakas’ room, the Villains discussed their opinions of their next move, as well as the strange appearance of a woman in the pub who bore a striking resemblance to Shivani…