Conan: Blades of Shadizar

Chapter II, Session II, Part IV
Danyo's Tale

From the Memoirs of Darius the God Slayer

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As I have already mentioned, he wisely left Ninotchka’s when spiders started bursting out of people’s bodies. Having left the brothel, he found his path beset by the nasty beasts. A thief to the core, he did his best to evade the spiders. He climbed walls and moved by rooftops at times. At one point, while he was climbing, a spider appeared upon the roof his was climbing to. Danyo was in a precarious position. Looking down, he saw another spider below him. He was in no position to evade either of them and would either have to climb up on the roof to confront the spider there or jump down to deal with the spider below him. Danyo realized that climbing up onto the roof would leave him exposed to the spider’s attack in the time it took him to get himself fully onto the roof. While jumping down might similarly expose him to danger, it was possible that he could actually land on the spider below and thereby deal it some damage! Danyo quickly decided that the possibility of dealing damage to an enemy always outweighed a course of action which was sure to leave him helpless against an attack. Taking one last look down, Dano put his fate in the hands of all the gods save Zath and let go of the roof. He landed squarely on top of the spider in the garden below. Ichor coated his boots and the spider moved no more. Danyo did not have time to revel in his kill, the sound of scuttling warned of the approach of another spider. Spying a doorway, Danyo darted there swiftly. He shut the door just as another spider lunged for him! Using every ounce of strength he had to hold the door shut against the spider’s fury, he barred it and surveyed his refuge.

Danyo had found himself in a kitchen. It was eerily quiet, as if the entire house were deserted. He stopped as he noticed a pair of legs sticking out from behind a counter. There on the floor lay the body of a cook. The dead cook’s abdomen looked as if it had exploded outwards. Danyo realized that he was not safe in this building…there were probably more of the spiders inside as well! Quickly he ran through the house, ducking through doorways as he went in search of a door to the street. Coming out the door, Danyo made his way down the street and we were reunited. Of course I had hoped that he was safe, but Shadizar was far too large for a search for one man. Gladdened at this reunion, I shared my load with my old companion and led him through the streets to the Sign of the Hawk.

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Darius the Heretic
Or, a report detailing the knowledge of the infamous blasphemer

Martinus,

I blessed Zath when you wrote to me wanting information on Darius, Heretic of Zath. This presumptuous man thought himself unworthy of sating the hunger of the Pure Father! I trust that the Webs of Zath shall one day ensnare him and finally render him a mere husk of his former self.

Forgive me, my friend, I digress too much. I can confirm that Darius and his bastard colleague escaped after they looted the Temple of Almighty Zath in Shadizar. In the act of fleeing Zath’s Justice, they liberally dispersed golden coins sacred to the Spider God. Unfortunately for those who foolishly picked up the money, Zath saw into their wicked souls and dispensed His divine punishment by transforming them into His image.

The arachnid rampage served as a warning to the decadent populace of Zath’s righteous anger and the King rightly sided with out interpretation as His Majesty too sent soldiers to apprehend the foul perpetrators of this vile sacrilege. Despite all the secular and spiritual might brought down upon the pair; Darius and Danyo, like cockroaches scurried south unharmed!

We of Zath, of course, sent pursuers all the way to Zamboula and to the other places they sought refuge. I pray that you persuade the King of Nemedia extradite the perfidious rogue into our custody. He will, though the decades have overly seasoned him, shall be fitting food for Zath’s Avatar!

Ever your friend,
Zorbo of Zath

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Chapter II, Session II, Part III
The Sign of the Hawk

From the Memoirs of Darius the God Slayer

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As I wound through the streets of the Craftsman District and made my way to Ninotchka’s in the Desert, I began to suspect that something was not quite right. I won’t swear to what clued me in. It may have been the people running into the street screaming in terror, it may have been the giant spiders scurrying about, it may have been the people being devoured by said spiders, or it may have a combination of all three. I fear that we may never know. It is a question for the ages!

In any event, there were spiders. Man-sized spiders were scuttling about the streets and attacking the terrified folk of my city. I was surprised, I must admit that. I also realized that my careful plans would have to be altered immediately. I noticed a spider on a rooftop just before it attempted to jump down upon me. This, my friends, is what an arbalest is for. I fired my arbalest and the bolt sunk deep into fiendish spider, catching the beast in midair. Trailing ichor, the thing fell at my feet, dead. I did not have time to spare to reload my arbalest, a lengthy procedure in the best of times, so I drew my newly acquired arming sword and proceeded on my way. It took a force of will to keep moving towards Ninotchka’s. I had always disliked spiders, and I had only just discovered the reason why. Now that dislike and been fanned into hatred. Several times while traversing the streets, I found the need to battle those eight-legged monstrosities. To be fair, I could have run away or looked for an alternate path. Indeed, there were several who I could have passed without having to confront the beasts at all. I realize that I was not thinking like a survivor. I could excuse my actions as the simple choice between being predator or prey. The truth was that I enjoyed it. These creatures were manifestations of evil and needed to be put down. Remarkably, I reached Ninotchka’s unscathed. Several of the beasts I had struck from behind, unawares, as they inflicted their evil upon helpless folk of Shadizar. The others had never managed to land a hairy leg or fang. I was a whirlwind of death, deftly dodging their attacks while landing my own with ruthless efficiency.

Reaching the Ninotchka’s, I entered only to find a scene of horror. A large spider had immobilized Ninotchka in its web, and had now set to feeding. There was nothing I could do for her, so I moved swiftly to the stairs. Ascending with care, I managed to reach Vilena’s room. Entering, I found a fearful Vilena. Relieved by my presence, she fell into my arms. I held her in my arms and she slowly calmed. When she was ready, I set to work swiftly. I gave her a small bag to carry, while I loaded myself up to an absurd degree with loot. The fewer trips that were necessary, the happier I would be. As we were leaving the room, I noticed the ebon war club which I had taken from Liyongo. While heavy, and a bit unwieldy, I decided that its value would make the inconvenience well worth it. I had no idea how right I would prove to be! No sooner did we reach the bottom of the stairs, but we were confronted by the spider I had last seen devouring Ninotchka. Dropping my bag of loot, I readied by ebon war club and confronted the vile creature. The speed of my attack caught the creature off guard. The war club, made of a single piece of solid ebony, felt lighter in my hands that I had thought it ought to. With a mighty downstroke, there was a crunch as ichor flew and the light of life went out of eight menacing eyes. My blood was up with an exhilaration I had never before felt. Glancing about, I saw another of the beasts scuttling, somewhat uncertainly, towards us. I leapt at the spider, swinging the war club and shattering what I suppose was its head into an unrecognizable goo. Looking about, I saw several spiders withdrawing rapidly. Our way cleared, I once again lifted the heavy bag of loot and Vilena and I continued on our way.

I felt strangely disappointed at the withdrawal of the spiders. I had many times before, when the circumstances called for it, both in an unseen sneak attack and in plain combat when it could not be avoided. I looked upon it dispassionately. I was a professional and was interested only in the skill and efficiency of it. This was the first time in my life when that failed. I found myself fighting with passion, with rage, and with a joy for the combat which was previously unknown to me. While the chaos continued around us, we reached the Caravan District without confrontation, much to my disappointment. I had planned to use one particular caravanserai, but at this point I was willing to use either of the other two as both were on the way. Passing the first, I saw guests running from the place. Oddly enough, I decided that this boded no good and continued walking. As we neared the second, it was clear that spiders were moving in and out and all over the establishment. Since the burden I carried was rather heavy and Vilena’s terror was increasing by the minute, we headed for the final caravanserai. Much to our relief, the place seemed relatively arachnid-free. There were bodies of spiders, riddled with arrows, in the street outside of the Sign of the Hawk. As we approached, it became evident that this was due to the presence of a number of asshuri, no doubt fellow guests, who were defending the place against the creatures. After several knocks upon the gates, the landlord admitted us. I did not begrudge him his caution, but I was a paying customer and would have admittance.

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I settled the loot and Vilena in the room I had paid for earlier in the day. After inspecting the room and making certain it was secure, I instructed Vilena to bar the door after I had left and to admit none but me. With the asshuri manning the walls of the caravanserai, I was fairly confident of the safety of the place. The Sons of Shem were reputed warriors and archers. I had no doubt that they were more than sufficient to handle a few oversized spiders. With confidence in the safety of Vilena and my treasure, I left the caravanserai, hearing the doors barred behind me, and made my way back to Ninotchka’s in order to recover more loot.

Without any arachnid confrontations, I made it to Ninotchka’s. I moved carefully towards the stairs, passing several web-covered and desiccated corpses. Gripping my war club, I eased my way up the stairs. The hallway was silent and deserted. Carefully, I made my way to Vilena’s chamber. Closing the door behind myself, I swiftly checked the chamber and made certain that no uninvited eight-legged guests were present. After satisfying myself that the room was safe, I loaded myself with more loot, ready to begin the arduous journey back to the Sign of the Hawk. Leaving Ninotchka’s for the return journey, I saw Danyo moving furtively in my direction. I hailed him and he related to me a tale of his harrowing journey which I shall summarize for the ease of the reader.

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Chapter II, Session II, Part II
Acts of Survival

From the Memoirs of Darius the God Slayer

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I had wanted answers from the priest, but had not expected the answers I had received. I stepped casually away from his rapidly cooling body and continued on towards the inn. It was a small matter to get room with the view I required. Little did I know how far events would move beyond my plans. I decided to head back to Ninotchka’s to retrieve the stash of plunder which I was holding there. In my careful planning, I had envisioned moving the stash bit by bit so that it would not be noticed.

While I was gone, not all was well at Ninotchka’s. I will recount what I learned from the accounts of the few people at Ninotchka’s who are still numbered among the living. At this time, there was a disruption in the main room of the establishment. Danyo had been upstairs with Tamara, conscious but still recovering from his ordeal, when one of the customers, a soldier, collapsed, writhing in pain. The soldier’s thrashing ended abruptly and he went still. There was a shocked silence in the room. Vilena knelt down to check if the soldier still lived. He was entirely still, with neither breath nor pulse, and his body was cooling rapidly. Vilena stood slowly, finally answering everyone’s unspoken question with a shake of her head. The soldier was dead.

Moments later the body began to shake slightly. At first the people who were still in the room thought that they had imagined it. Then it began again. It seemed like something was inside of him…moving. Vilena screamed in terror. At this time, Danyo was upstairs with Tamara. Hearing the scream, they looked at each other. As you may already know, Danyo has extremely well developed survival instincts. Danyo was perfectly happy to stay where he was. To his mind, there was nothing at all unusual about a scream in a brothel in the worst part of Shadizar. Of course, if there actually was something unusual about it, that was even more reason for him not to get involved! Tamara’s glare told him otherwise. Dragging himself out of bed, Danyo took several minutes to dress, armor, and arm himself before leaving the room and heading downstairs. Tamara might have silently forced him to find out what was happening, but there was no way he was walking into doom entirely unprepared.

Walking down the hallway towards the stairs, he heard even more screams. He slowed his pace and edged down the stairs cautiously. What he saw when he reached the bottom of the stairs was enough to turn a Darfari white! The soldier’s belly, including the armor he wore, had split open and out of him was crawling a rapidly growing spider. The screaming patrons and girls were falling over furniture and each other in an attempt to flee. Danyo took stock of the situation and did what any other professional Zamoran thief would do in such a crisis: he fled. Sparing no second thought, Danyo ran. Leaping onto tables and over fallen chairs and people, he made a beeline to the door. Danyo was no fool, he was a survivor. In that moment he saw no reason to put his life in any more risk than his profession already placed him in.

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Chapter II, Session II, Part I
The Best Laid Plans

From the Memoirs of Darius the God Slayer

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I awoke inspired. Instead of a hangover, the night of revelry had started me planning an escape. Every moment in this city brought us closer to death. Enemies were everywhere and, while the known enemies existed in plenty, it was the unknown enemies who ought to be feared the most. Danyo had regained consciousness but was still in a sorry state. He was well tended by Ninotchka’s girls. He ought to feel right at home, as he was born in a place just like this. With any luck, he would be ready to travel soon. It seemed to me that with sufficient planning and preparation, I should be able to prevail over any adversary. If only I had known what adversaries I truly faced. The real danger, I was to find, law back in my past, unknown to me then even as it was unknown to me in that moment.

Packing plenty of coin to begin the preparations, I set out from Ninotchka’s. I left the Desert, and ranged far and wide throughout the rest of the city. Making my way to the Katara Bazaar, I could not escape the feeling that I was being followed. I every so often I thought I had caught a glimpse of my pursuer, only for them to disappear again as I moved through the city. I knew that I was not imagining this. I was being followed by a skilled operator. Entering the bazaar, I browsed through the many stalls. For some reason, the temple of Zath was present. Zath is a spider god and the god of purity. I will never understand how those two are supposed to work together. If I seem unsympathetic, it is only because I have reason to hate the temple of Zath, and I shall thwart their efforts until my last day. Naked temple virgins girls, draped only in black beads, danced while the priest led the rest in a strange song proclaiming Zath’s purity. I like naked temple virgins as much as the next man, but my blood ran cold.

The dancing, as you may suspect, had drawn quite a crowd. As it ended, the priest began preaching about the purity of Zath, and how only Zath could cleanse this nation of decadence and return it to greatness. He began to lose the attention of the crowd the moment the dance stopped and he began preaching. Just as the crowd began to drift away, The priest and virgins began tossing out gold coins to the crowd. This drew back the crowd and also many of the bazaar merchants. Everybody likes free gold! Well this day it seemed that everybody other than myself liked free gold. I took the opportunity to get the items I came in search of from abandoned stalls for free. There was something suspicious about any temple giving away that many coins, so I picked up what I needed and was on my way.

As I headed away from the bazaar, I again had that feeling that I was being followed. This time I caught sight of my pursuer! Trailing me was a woman dressed in the styles popular among the merchant classes of Shadizar, but she was no merchant’s daughter. She moved like a predator, and when she realized that I had spotter her, she drew an arming sword and came at me. Stepping back, I quickly drew my blades and parried her attacks. Who was she? Why was she attacking me? I wanted the answer to these questions. With that in mind, I fought to protect myself and to subdue my assailant. Time and time again, I dodged and parried her attacks while attempting to disarm her. Once I did manage to loose her arming sword from her grip, but faster than anyone i had yet seen, the blade was back in her hand and she was on the attack. With a furious whirlwind of attacks, she managed to hit me. There was an odd feeling to the wound. Poison! I wanted information…but not more than I wanted to live. Tiring of the game, I went on the offensive with a few quick strikes, I watched her cold eyes as the life bled out of her. As she fell, I only hoped I would prove resistant to the poison. It was some sort of spider venom, if I was not mistaken. I staggered a bit, but shook off the effects of this underhanded tactic. Inspecting the woman’s body, I took stock of her equipment. Among her effects was a poison coated dagger as well as a small purse containing a single gold coin with the image of a spider upon it. I would later be glad that I had worn gloved while searching, but at the time I was more intrigued by another discovery. My assailant’s body was covered in a web of tattoos. By this I mean that her body was covered with tattoos which took the shape of a spider’s web.

I did not know what to make of the appearance of the assassin. I suspected that she was somehow connected with the cult of Zath, though I was at a loss to understand what they would want with me. Shelving this concern for the moment, I continued with the preparations for our escape with even more urgency that I had begun them. Moving swiftly through the winding streets I made my way to the Caravan District in the south of the city with a reasonable belief that I had not been followed. I stopped at 3 different caravansaries and reserved rooms, paying for a tenday in advance at each. I deposited the baggage I was carrying at one of these places, a Shemite owned called the Hawk’s Rest. This was the only one of the three I intended to use personally. I suppose that, since a significant time has already passed, I may safely disclose my plan to you. It was my intention to go to the Turanian slave markets in the city with the purpose of finding and purchasing three pairs of slaves who approximated Danyo and myself in terms of height and build. They would be installed in three different inns, along with mounts and baggage. These groups would leave the city at the same time Danyo and I did. This would, I hoped, baffle any pursuers. As soon as the slaves were beyond the sight of the city, they were to consider themselves free. It would be an expense, but one we could well afford.

With this plan in mind, I headed to the Wealthy Quarter of the city. While the rest of the accommodations were in the Caravan District, the final inn would be among the wealthy. This was necessary, because it was meant to serve a double purpose. Knowing that the gang would eventually turn on me as others made power plays, I decided to eliminate the problem before it arose. The gang needed to be eradicated. I had a plan to take care of this. A key part of their operation was kidnapping. Very often they would do kidnappings to order, that is they would kidnap beautiful and noble maidens specifically or to a customers specifications for enormous prices. I would tell the gang that we had such a buyer who wanted a specific noble maiden. I would plan the kidnapping and place the gang members in position. They would be told to make their move when a lantern was placed in the window of the room I intended to get at an inn in this part of the city. I would, of course, inform the noble family of the intended plan and disclose the exact position of each and every one of the kidnappers. One of the slaves would send the signal from the window and it would all end with the destruction of the gang and the departure of four pairs of similarly sized men from the city! Convoluted? Perhaps. This was Shadizar, and plans within plans was the order of the day. Treachery was like mother’s milk to us. By the gods, I loved that town! I knew that I would be sad to leave.

As I walked through the Wealthy Quarter and approached the inn I had chosen, I noticed a patrol of the watch harassing what looked to be another of those priests of Zath. They beat him to the ground, and once he was there they proceeded to kick him. I could have applauded. I am no fan of the watch or their abuses, but such was my dislike for this spider god and his clergy. In falling, the priest had dropped a sack of gold coins similar in appearance to the one i had retrieved from the body of the assassin. When the watch patrol bored of beating the priest, they collected the sack of coins. Doubtless, they would call it evidence; evidence that would never make it to the patrol house.

Approaching the fallen priest, I lifted him to his feet, leaning him against a wall for support. “What is the meaning of the coins?” I asked him. He only ranted about Zath’s purity, nearly frothing at the mouth as he shouted that Zath would purify the world and excise the wickedness of Shadizar. “Why does your temple send assassins? What do you want with me?” I demanded. The sick Zathite actually cackled! “You belong to Zath, Darius!” he proclaimed. “You are his and will not escape again as you did when you were a child. You have no family to protect you…to die for you now. You will be put to the purpose Zath intended!”

My mind reeled. I saw in my mind’s eye the images which have haunted my sleep for almost all of my life. The traitor murdering our devoted servant. The masked killers swarming the house, slaying every servant or slave they encountered. My father taking up his sword to but time for my mother and I to flee, felling two of them before falling before their blades. Most of all, i remembered my mother telling me to be very quiet and still as she hid me in a chest, and how she was slaughtered as I held my breath and watched through the gap between the lid and the chest. I held onto that image as I slowly my short sword into him, sliding it across his belly and then upward, disemboweling him. “Zath has marked you!” he screamed. “You are his!” I leaned closer, whispering into his ear as his guts fell out of his body and onto the pavement. “Tell your god that I am not through with him…there will be a reckoning.” I smiled as I heard the breath leave his body, and I let his body drop to the ground. All of my life I had wondered who had been responsible for the slaughter of my family. Now I knew who had destroyed my life and cast me into these treacherous streets. I had a name for my pain: Zath.

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Chapter I, Session I, Part VII
King of the Desert

From the Memoirs of Darius the God Slayer

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The furious fighting was over. I checked the fallen form of Danyo. By the grace of the gods, he yet lived. The silence of the room was broken. Looking up from my friend, I turned to Ninotchka. “He lives! By the gods, lend me some help with him!” She nodded and gestured to several of her girls to assist him. They bandaged him as well as they could and we carried him up the stairs, installing him in Tamara’s room. Returning downstairs, I picked up an abandoned flagon of wine and drained it. Now that the fighting was over, I felt weary. With a weary sigh, I saw to the dead. They had many goods they no longer needed, and to the victors must go the spoils. Finishing that, I cleared the room of dead, dragging the bodies into the street. One saving grace of the Desert was that the dead were hardly noticed among the beggars and the filth.

Weariness had taken hold of me. I awoke sometime later upstairs in Vilena’s bed. I cannot rightly say that I remembered how I had gotten there, such was my weariness. I rose from the bed, careful not to disturb the sleeping form of Vilena. Pulling on a clean tunic, I went silently into the hallway. Before I had reached the stairs, I was met by Ninotchka. With worried eyes, she told me that Harasym’s gang had returned. She feared that they would find us, and another fight would ensue. I assured her that we would leave as soon as Danyo was able to travel. In my heart, though, I knew that we did not have that much time.

Returning to Vilena’s room, I donned my leather jerkin and armed myself. I would have to make the time we needed to survive. Danyo needed a few more days before he could be moved. I intended to buy that time. Friendship was becoming a liability. Properly equipped, I again left the room and moved downstairs. I proceeded slowly. I must admit, I had formed no plan at this time. Taking the time to listen carefully, I heard the chatter of the gang end with the arrival of another group. It sounded as if a group of soldiers had arrived. One voice sounded very familiar. I had heard that voice the night before, in the hidden temple of Kara Prama. It seemed that Captain Diodor had somehow survived the collapse! From the sound of things, the captain wanted to speak to the surviving gang members and they withdrew to one of the private rooms downstairs. The danger which Danyo and I faced had just doubled. I could still here the soldiers downstairs. None of them had seen me before, so I decided to take a fool’s risk and end the danger once and for all. I had no idea how I would handle the captain, his soldiers, and the gang. I headed down the stairs anyway. I began to suspect that I was beginning to do heroic acts with far too much regularity. Heroism is a very bad habit for a thief.

I walked downstairs, passing the soldiers as I went. They did nott notice me, so focused were they on drink and women. Moving quietly towards the private rooms in the back, I entered the room that held my foes, silently closing the door behind me. Diodor was speaking, making his own play for control of what remained of the gang. This would not do. My stiletto hit home, striking as swift and silent as a serpent. Diodor was cut off mid-sentence, blood frothing from his lips as I withdrew the blade and let his body fall to the floor. Hands flew to the hilts of blades. For a moment, I worried that I may have made the wrong move. There was nothing for it but to brazen it out. Bloodied blade in hand, I glared around the room. “I run the Street of the Whore’s Blood now. Does anyone have a problem with that?” I growled at the assembly. Silently, blades were slid back into their sheathes and hands removed from weapons. “No problems boss. We’ll take care of his men.” I nodded in response. Quietly, in ones and twos, the gang filed out of the room. Moments later a girl screamed, dying men made brief cries, and the detachment of the Royal Guard was dealt with. My gambit had worked. I only wondered how much time it had bought us.

No man has yet accused me of being a fool. I was certainly not fool enough to think that I could survive being a crime lord. What I needed was time for Danyo to heal and for us to make our escape. I had just bought us a day…perhaps two. The gang feared me now because they had feared Harasym and I had killed him. That fear would dissipate. With Harasym and Fadey gone, more than one of them would seek to realize their own ambitions, and I stood in their way. Even more dangerous, when competing gangs learned that Harasym was dead, they would make their move to destroy the gang. If Diodor knew, then surely it would not be long for word to spread further. I mulled this over while I looked in on Danyo and then sat alone downstairs with a beaker of wine. I had to buy us some more time, and this would call for another risky throw of the dice.

I called the gang together and grilled them about their (I suppose it is “our” now) enemies. The strongest of them seemed to be a gang of Darfari. These savage Darfari were led by a fearsome giant of a man called Liyongo. Under Liyongo’s rule, these Darfari had more than doubled their territory by savagely destroying their competition. It was rumoured that the Darfari had eaten the gangs they had defeated. “It is time,” I told the gang, “that we make our mark. When we crush the Darfari, no one will dare challenge us!” They were swayed by the forcefulness of it. I did not want to let this go to waste, so I announced that we would move on the Darfari that very night.

Liyongo ran his gang out of a gambling establishment in the Desert. The rumour was that the rich and decadent of the city came to this establishment to dine…Darfari style. And since we all know that the Darfari, who sharpen their teeth into fine points, are cannibals…we need not discuss the finer points of Darfari cuisine any further. We made our way through the darkened alleys and streets of the Desert, finally standing outside the Darfari gambling den. My men, and I had no illusions about their true loyalty, silently killed the door guards as we entered. The darkened room was large, with the gambling taking place beneath the watchful eyes of Liyongo from a dais. Liyongo rested his bulk on cushions, surrounding himself with naked slaves who fanned, fed, flattered and caressed this grotesque figure. A large ebon war club, carved with frighteningly grotesque figures, rested by Liyongo’s side. He looked up from his pleasures as we rushed into the room. “How dare you,” he began to roar in fury as he attempted to raise his enormous bulk from the dais. His statement was cut short as I calmly raised my arbalest and fired a bolt into him. With that signal, the slaughter commenced. My men fell upon every Darfari in the place. Gamblers ran for cover as steel was bared and blood began flying. I dropped my arbalest, drew my blades and ran towards the dais. Liyongo, though sorely wounded, was still very much alive. I intended to change that. With a great leap, I launched myself from a table onto the dais. The slaves scattered as my blades bit into Liyongo’s bulk. He bellowed in pain as he grabbed his fearsome war club. He swung it over his head in a downward motion. I sidestepped it easily as it shattered the floor of the dais and slashed wickedly at him with my blades. With another great roar, he swung the club in a great arc, and would surely have shattered me had it made contact. I dropped to one knee, letting the club pass over my head as I stabbed upward with both blades. Gutted, Liyongo fell backwards…dead.

Looking up, I saw that the slaughter of the other Darfari had finished. The men were flushed with victory. Searching the establishment, I found Liyongo’s store of ill-gotten gains. Apparently, he had found Shadizar very profitable. I would be a rich man if I could find a way to extract Danyo and myself out of this trap alive. Combined with the stash Harasym had been keeping, I now had access to wealth beyond anything I had dreamed since that fateful day when my family was slaughtered. The trick would be to get out with it alive. Is that not how it always seems to be?

I was disturbed from my reveries by one of the gang. “Boss…it looks like they had one of those fancy dinners scheduled for tonight. Lots of fancy folk ready to pay through the nose for it too.” I thought a moment, then held back a laugh. “Tell them Liyongo is on the menu tonight…and double the price.” With a smile and a nod he set off to do as I had bidden him. I had bought us a few more days.

As with anything in life, there was inevitably a problem. Later in the evening, following the destruction of the Darfari, that problem would rear its ugly head. Perhaps a better choice of words would have been “perfumed head.” As we celebrated at Ninotchka’s, an uninvited guest arrived. I could smell him before he even entered! “A perfumed errand boy,” I thought. I had heard that Harasym had been a deserter and was wanted for stealing from a noble in some city north of Shadizar. He had only remained free, it had been whispered, by paying the crown the staggering sum of one hundred thousand silver coins a year as a bribe. The perfumed errand boy entered Ninotchka’s holding a silk kerchief to his face as if everything except him smelled bad! Approaching our table, he dusted a chair off before settling himself, uninvited, with a self-satisfied and superior air. “I am from the King,” he began. I wonder if he thought we would fall to our knees and grovel for the privilege of hearing these words. If that was the case, he was to be sorely disappointed. “The King has heard of you and wishes to congratulate you for your accomplishments. He is sure that are aware of the arrangement that existed with your…predecessor…and that you will be grateful for the opportunity to continue the arrangement under the same terms.” Gods but he was pleased with himself!

“My understanding was that Harasym had a price on his head for theft from a noble as well as deserting from the army. I do not have these problems. I shall render thirty per cent unto your master.” My words seem to take some of the air out of the man. He choked and sputtered. Finally, with some resignation, he said, “That will be acceptable.” Smiling, I offered him a cup. “You are welcome to join us in celebration, there are women and wine in abundance. Oh…I’m sorry…you aren’t a eunuch, are you?” I could not resist the last part. He sputtered that his duties to the king would not permit him to join, and took himself off in haste. Thirty thousand silver coins! Gods! The amount was staggering! Of course, I had no intention of ever paying the sum. It was my intention that Danyo and I would be far from Shadizar with all of the coin we could lay hands on before the king ever thought about the payment. In time, we would be forgotten and would be able to return home to this, the most civilized city in the world!

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Chapter I, Session I, Part VI
To Live or Die by the Sword

From the Memoirs of Darius the God Slayer

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We were stopped short by a captain of the Royal Guard with blade in hand. Clearly, he was not here to arrest cultists, but was instead himself a devotee. Knowing that Danyo was still recovering from his kidnapping as well as Kara Prama’s domination, I sprang forward. This captain, who I was later to learn was called Diodor, was quick with a blade. He was far better than any soldier I had seen. My skills proved better. The combat was a whirl of blades. In the end he fell (not dead, as I was to find later, but unconscious) and I stood, unmarked by his blade. I found that I had, however, been marked by Kara Prama’s claws. I stopped briefly to strip him of his silvered breastplate and his fine shortsword, and off we went into the tunnels.

The shaking became worse as we ran through the seemingly endless passages. This underground complex would soon collapse, bringing Lady Nehira’s home down upon us. Of this, I was certain. Coming to the library chamber we paused. It would be a shame if all of this information were now lost. Pulling two sacks from my kitbag, I passed one to Danyo, and we quickly filled them with as many scrolls as we could in the short time we had before fleeing through the tunnels once more. The three of us had made it through the tunnels and out of the gates when, with a loud rumbling and a cloud of dust, the temple and tunnels collapsed and the earth swallowed Lady Nehira’s home.

We did not slow to comment on the change to the city’s skyline, instead running through the city’s streets to make our way back to the Desert. We paused before entering Ninotchka’s. I realized that I was still dressed as Kilya and decided to remedy that. Once I again looked myself, we entered Ninotchka’s with myself in the lead. Harasym, his lieutenant Fadey, and an assortment of the gang stood by the bar. Even as they turned to face us, the room fell silent. “You have a lot of nerve showing your face here,” Harasym growled. “By Ong’s leonine head…” I muttered. In an instant, blades were out. I had by blood up. I had just finished killing a being that was being worshipped as a goddess…I wasn’t going to be bullied by simple street thug. The combat was brutal. Danyo and I felled several of Harasym’s gang as we made our way to Harasym and Fadey. Blades and blood flew as the two of us dealt well deserved death. Soon, I was facing Harasym while Danyo took on Fadey.

Harasym was good, nowhere near as good as Captain Diodor, but good nonetheless. We circled each other trading blows for some time. His men held back, not interfering with their boss’ fight. Danyo was handling his own against the long haired and moustached Fadey. Fadey fought theatrically. Danyo may have lacked technique, but more than made up for this with ferocity Fadey’s dark eyes began to show fear as Danyo’s onslaught continued unabated. Fadey stood no chance at all against Danyo’s fury. Danyo screamed with fury as he gutted the hapless Fadey. Danyo was given no break. As Fadey fell, Dany found himself surrounded by members of the gang. The fighting continued to rage.

Harasym and I traded blows. I do not think that it had yet occurred to him that this could only end in his death, such was his arrogance. Batting away his blade, my short sword cut deeply into his flesh. I smiled savagely. The dance was about to end. In desperation he lunged at me. I dodged, deftly sidestepping his attack as I sliced into his throat with a backhand stroke of my sword. There was shock and surprise in his eyes as he fell, his head severed from his body. Turning, I saw Danyo fall, surrounded by enemies with Fadey and several others lying dead at his feet. Moving to his aid and praying to the gods that he yet lived, I engaged the scum who had felled him. I saw fear in their eyes as the understanding that Harasym was dead registered. Most of them had been wounded by Danyo before he fell. I made short work of them while the rest of the gang’s survivors began to flee. One fired an arbalest at me before he fled. This was a terrible mistake on his part. Turning to flee, he never reached the door. My blade ended his worldly worries.

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Chapter I, Session I, Part V
The Fall of Kara Prama

From the Memoirs of Darius the God Slayer

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As we quietly entered the shadowy chamber, I began to question the wisdom of our decision. I found myself wishing that there had been more time to properly study the scrolls we had found. Something about the wording of the ancient Zhemri text nagged at me. I had begun to suspect that there had been more to the wording than I had uncovered at first glance. Alas, there had been no such time available to us and now it was far too late. Padding softly behind the assembled devotees, we saw Lady Nehira preparing the virgin upon the altar. Danyo and I shared a glance and then continued forward, the cultists parting before us. Lady Nehira looked up from her preparations. Noticing us, she approached, the crown crating a path between us.

“Kilya…” she said, not seeing through my disguise. I am sure the darkness of the room had much to do with it. “I have you a gift, lady.” I responded, hoping that my voice would not destroy my disguise. I am uncertain whether I am actually that good, or whether she pays that little attention to her underlings, but she smiled in response and eyed Danyo. “And the other?” she asked, not sparing “Kilya” a glance. “On the way, lady. I thought it best to bring you this right away.” I responded. “Good,” she purred, approaching us and examining Danyo with a predatory eye. It was at this moment I realized that Danyo and I were the only individuals in this chamber who were actually clothed. I prayed silently to all the gods I could think of that this would not put my disguise into jeopardy.

Lady Nehira took Danyo by the hand and led him to the altar while I followed silently, my presence forgotten. Standing by the altar, Nehira’s hands went to Danyo’s tunic to remove it in preparation for the ritual. Wasting no time, I struck. My stiletto struck true, and Nehira fell to the floor. No one in the chamber had time to react before a disembodied voice echoed through the chamber. “Your sacrifice is accepted.” The voice was at once female and inhumanly sinister. What I knew must be Kara Prama appeared before us on the altar. The giant, winged, female form shrunk down to human size and she said, “This one’s usefulness had passed.” She smiled, the inhumanly green eyes below the small horns protruding from her forehead glittered with malevolent amusement. She turned her gaze to Danyo, and I saw his eyes go blank as he fell under her power.

I knew at this moment that we were in trouble. I had to think fast. My reading of the scroll had been far too cursory, and I admit to you that I had neither expected to face a being of this power nor held any certainty that such an engagement would result in anything other than pain and death for Danyo and myself. As Kara Prama began to undress the unresisting Danyo, her very touch inflaming desire in her sacrifice, I accepted the fact that I was entirely alone in this moment. The scroll, I remembered had revealed that Kara Prama was peculiarly susceptible to the blood of a virgin. With this in mind I moved towards the altar. I hoped that “Kilya” preparing the virgin would not be something entirely out of the ordinary. The razor sharp tip of my stiletto caused no pain or discomfort to the virgin on the altar as it ran across her flesh. It would leave no noticeable scar, but it did prove enough to anoint my stiletto. I drifted into the background and found my opening to strike.

Kara Prama, it seemed, shared Nehira’s arrogance. She had taken no more notice of me as she focused her attention upon poor Danyo. I plunged my stiletto into her before the opening had passed and gripped the shortsword I had hidden on my person. Kara Prama screamed in agony as the blade and the virgin’s blood it was anointed in did their work. She turned, her rage and surprise evident. I pressed the attack, now with two blades, ducking low as Kara Prama swung her claws.

Kara Prama’s death scream shook the chamber, sending her cultists into panic. Danyo, now free of Kara Prama’s domination, shook his head as if to clear his mind of her evil. Danyo caught the shortsword I tossed to him and pulled the girl off of the altar as I swiftly relieved Nehira of her adornments. She was dead and no longer had use for the. The chamber continued to shake. If I understood rightly, Kara Prama had been bound to this temple by our Zhemri ancestors. The ritual had been intended to release her. Now, with her death, the temple was collapsing. We moved to make our escape from this crumbling temple as cultists ran screaming. Heading towards the only exit we knew of, we found our access blocked by a captain of the Royal Guard!

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Danyo of Shadizar

Sire,

As to your inquiries regarding that of Danyo of Shadizar, I am at a loss. The struggle to ascertain more of his identity presents a task that I shall endeavor to overcome in the near future. Of course, My Liege already knows that this fellow traveled in the company of Darius the Supposed God Slayer. In addition, I have the utmost certainty that Danyo did participate in the events that brought about his and Darius’ expulsion from their Motherland.

Once again, I swear to report more once I have extracted more intelligence from the writings of Darius. On the other hand, I ask that Your Majesty send more scribes to aid in my enterprise. (The rogue, Darius apparently poisoned his manuscript and thus I am humbly requesting that My King send more assistants to further facilitate the task that Your Majesty has appointed to my unworthy hands.)

Your ever faithful servant,
Martinus of Numalia

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Nemedian Chronicles: Darius the God Slayer
Or an inquiry into the identity of a man wanted by the King...

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Your Majesty,

The meager accounts of Darius the God Slayer has so far proved taxing to your obedient servant. We have, with great effort, translated as much of the text from the annals contained in the diary of Darius. However, he appeared to transcribe his journal in an form of text that requires patience to decipher.

Needless to say, legends surrounding his successes seem hard to verify; given the obscurity and time that passed since his alleged deeds took place – over the course of some several score years. I promise to submit more as soon as my apprentices present me with legible copies taken from the original.

Of course, I shall do my utmost to uncover his relationship with the present King of Aquilonia. He may, according to my hypothesis, share a connection with the Barbarian Usurper through the Queen of Zamora. Alas, only time will tell if my theories prove sound….

Your Most Humble Servant,
Martinus of Numalia

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