Conan: Blades of Shadizar

Chapter I, Session I, Part I
Shadizar the Wicked - The Beginning

Shadizar

Shadizar_City_03_by_vtishimura.jpg

This city, the capital of the realm of Zamora, is the bastion of a culture alien to the Hyborian nations of the West. The streets of the city burst with life. Garish nobility followed by pandering sycophants, wealthy aristocrats carried on high-borne litters, exotic merchants haggling with thrifty buyers, hungry soldiers parading forth in black armour, greedy mercenaries looking for fortune and glory, all jostle with diseased paupers huddling in filthy alleys, odorous livestock herded for frenzied consumption and contaminated rats surrounded by a swarm of flies in the streets of this ancient city. Over the teeming streets hang odoriferous miasmas; sweet smells rising from countless ovens, malodorous incense burning in bizarre temples and the cloying stench of local industries. The unending surge of life brings an eternity of clamour blaring with it; clanging gongs and banging bells resounding from distinctive temples, laughing children and shouting parents playing in littered streets, bleating sheep and lowing cattle booming in fruitless outrage, foreign crowds and local throngs pushing through narrow alleys, shouting criers and screaming servants bellowing out unheeded announcements and lamenting mourners and begging cripples sharing their pitiful woes.

In Shadizar, it is cheaper to dispose of an incriminating corpse than to buy a horse to escape from the law. The sweltering city is a den of vice and sin. Shameful things done behind closed doors in other places are proudly done publicly and openly in Shadizar the Wicked. The most horrible acts of man can find a patron or a supplier in this unholy city. Murders are taken as a matter of course and given only the most perfunctory of investigations, if any at all. Theft is such a routine of life in Shadizar it does not warrant much mention in the discussions of the denizens, nor do the authorities care to do much about it. A man does not walk unarmed in the city, day or night, and a woman is advised to do the same.

Shadizar, with a population that averages 38,215 permanent inhabitants and averaging over 60,000 people on any given day, is a dangerous city. Predators hunt prey and, if they are not careful, become prey themselves by even more powerful predators. Scavengers lurk in the shadows, ready to strip the figurative carcasses of a predator’s hunt or the abandoned property of the prey. The drunken king cares only that none usurp his authority even as he allows sorcerers and priests to manipulate his every decision. Loud and boisterous, this is not the city for those in dire need of peace of quiet but for those who desire to carouse until unconsciousness, Shadizar is a veritable paradise.

The Desert
The maul of Shadizar is known as the Desert. It is not called that because it is sandy and hot, but because nothing worthwhile comes from there. The sharp smells of damp sewage, the reeking odours of unwashed masses, the gamey stench of animal pens and the overpowering tangs of food and alcohol all compete for attention as one walks down the winding mazes of the Desert’s alleys and streets. Death and disease are evident wherever one looks. Rotting beggars, stricken with venereal diseases and worse, sit beside murdered corpses, oblivious to their neighbours’ fate. Pigs, chickens, dogs and cats run underfoot, as do the ragged youth of the district. The air is thick with the fumes of cooking fires and chimneys. Noise is constant. Screaming, singing, carousing and laughing all vie against the omnipresent bell ringing from the prophets and temples as well as the noisy beat of the craftsmens’ hammers.

Just two among the many denizens of the Desert, Danyo and Darius made their way to Ninochka’s Bordello. This brothel is a ramshackle affair and has two floors plus an attic. On the ground floor is the main parlour where the whores are chosen. The kitchens and a few rooms are also located on the ground floor. Above are the sleeping rooms. Crumbling taverns sit on either side of the brothel, providing music through the thin walls of the seamy whorehouse. Across the street a food stall where slabs of roast pig and baked lizards mounted on long sticks are sold to those who are hungry, but want to spend most of their money on sex or alcohol. Within, sleek girls with round hips, soft breasts and willing dispositions allow any who walk into the building to play with them as desired, willing to explore any excess or taste. The prostitutes are young, but they all have a tired, world-weary look about them, doubtless gained from long nights spent as outlets for the debauches of foreign men.

Upon entering the brothel, the two found themselves in the parlour. Several girls in varying states of dress (or undress) lounge about, some talking to (and being toyed with by) potential customers. A beefy Kushite bouncer named Ubah watches the room like a gargoyle as the pair make their way to the bar. Along the bar, a collection of individuals converse in hushed tones over drinks. Some of these individuals appear to be thugs, others appear to be soldiers soldiers, and two are richly attired. The group is accompanied by one of the house’s girls. Brushing politely past the group, the pair lift the purses of the richly dressed men with an unnoticed and delicate touch. As Danyo and Darius reach the bar, they are greeted by the pretty Zamoran bartender who introduces herself as Tamara. Darius orders wine, telling Tamara he’d be happy with whatever vintage is the least watered down and willingly paying the slightly higher fee from the silvers in his newly acquired purse. Danyo decides to play the bumpkin. Pulling a single coin from the purse he had only just lifted, Danyo explains that this is all he has in the world. Tamara’s eyes light up at the sight, and it is only then that Danyo notices that the coin is gold!

While this exchange is going on, the pair hear bits and pieces of the conversation which the other group at the bar is trying so desperately to have without being overheard. There is talk about a ritual and a sacrifice and a secret temple before the louder one of the group is hushed by his compatriots. While what little they have heard arouses their suspicions, it also motivates them to avoid the group entirely. Darius and Danyo are small time thieves, and this sounds dangerously beyond them. They find little time to think about this before their coins garner attention. The gold coin which Danyo produced in the midst of his bumpkin routine easily attracts attention far beyond his plans. A pair of prostitutes from Khitai approach him, offering their attentions. Unsure himself whether it is real or simply part of his bumpkin act, Danyo sputters that that single coin was all that he had and that he cannot afford their company. Without looking up from his drink, Darius sighs, “You must excuse my cousin. He is a bit…simple.” With the help of Tamara, Danyo manages, after several minutes, to convince the girls that he is not the worthy they seek. Tamara quietly offers herself to Danyo, and the surprised cutpurse accepts. With a smile, Tamara leaves the bar for a few moments to find a girl to cover for her for a while, returning to collect Danyo and lead him upstairs.

conan16-2.jpg

Darius did his utmost to suppress a grin while watching the display. He had not managed to pass unnoticed himself. While his use of coin was far less obvious than Danyo’s, it did catch the attention of Harasym, one of the richly dressed individuals in the other group at the bar. Whispering into the ear of the raven-haired girl with the group, his eyes fall upon Darius. The small girl nods her head and sinuously approaches Darius. She is a small girl, standing only five feet, four inches in height. Her raven-coloured hair cascades over her shoulders and down to her waist, save for a topknot of hair she affects to keep her bangs out her eyes. Darius cannot help but observe that the raven-haired beauty has dark, almost black eyes, long limbs, small, pert breasts and a small waist. Introducing herself as Vilena, she slide up against the thief and asks if he would like to buy her a drink. While he can see that this is clearly a trap of some kind, Darius is still not certain of the purpose. Clearly the richly arrayed individual (who Darius just noticed is wearing brigandine and is armed with at least a short sword beneath his expensive cloak) is in charge of the group. This moustached and beardless figure was unusually tall. His light eyes, sickly foreign, showed the cold arrogance which foretold and easy brutality. This was not a man that Darius wished to cross. Darius almost regretted lifting the man’s purse only moments earlier. Almost. If he found himself facing this man, Darius knew that he would have to do everything he could to kill him, or else he would be killed himself. Smiling at Vilena, he signals for another drink and says, “What man could refuse such a beauty?” The smile this elicits from Vilena is surprisingly genuine. As they finish their drinks, Darius and Vilena move towards the stairs and proceed to the rooms above with unspoken agreement. Unable to resist the temption to practice his art, Darius deftly lifts the purse of a fat Corinthian who brushes past him in the opposite direction on the narrow stairwell.

View
Chapter I, Session I, Part II
Above stairs

From the Memoirs of Darius the God Slayer

aoca8838RK38286.jpg

I cannot tell you how I managed not to burst out laughing upon hearing the cries of passion coming from Tamara’s nearby room. I believe it may have had something to do with Vilena, the little wonder who had brought me to this room. I spared little time for thoughts of anything else as soon as the wisps of clothing dropped from her slender form to the floor. Perhaps I already knew that the night must end in blood. In truth, I cannot now say. Regardless of the reason, the passion which burned within me was overwhelming, and little Vilena was burned by it.

As we lay there, panting in the wake of the passionate coupling, I took a good look at my companion. Her raven hair was in a delightful state of disarray. He face was flushed and her delicious body was covered in a sheen of sweat. As I gazed into her dark eyes, she burst into tears! As you may well imagine, this was not the reaction I had expected. The girl gave me no time to question her, pouring forth her soul before I had a chance to speak. “I have placed you in danger!” she sobbed. “Harasym sent me to you…I’m sorry…I didn’t know…I couldn’t bear it if something happened to you!”

I silenced the poor girl momentarily with a kiss, and she returned a kiss with every bit of her being in it. Somewhat calmed, she explained to me that the man who had set the hairs on the back of neck on end was called Harasym and he was the leader of a gang that ran this street. His intent was to rob us and kidnap us, delivering us to a woman Vilena called Lady Nehira. Vilena sounded envious of this Lady Nehira’s beauty as she told me of the cult the lady led and the orgiastic rituals she had seen with her own eyes. We were needed, it seemed, as some sort of sacrifice. Though once a party to this plan, Vilena was now desperate to save me from it!

As I calmed the distraught girl I heard a floorboard creak in the hallway.

View
Chapter I, Session I, Part III
From brothel to dungeon

From the Memoirs of Darius the God Slayer

c14fbb07fc936cb4ad23d0bdaf5e0079-d4n4zuk.jpg

The floorboard creaked. It was nearly unnoticeable, but my trained ear heard it. I hushed Vilena with a finger to her lips. It creaked again. The look of fear in her eyes told me that she had heard it as well. Silently I slipped from the bed, retrieved one of my stilettos from my scattered belongings, and waited beside the door. The floor creaked again. From the sound of it, I guessed that there were probably about a half dozen people lurking in the hall. There were some whispers and then the door slowly opened.

Into the darkened room stepped a solitary figure. I could see his shadow stretching from the doorway as the light from the hallway fell upon Vilena’s supine form. She rose into a half-sitting position, allowing the sheet to slip from her body as she did. The figure moved forward, and I slid silently from behind the door slid my stiletto into the man’s neck before he had time to utter a single word. Noiselessly, I held him, dragging him away from the door and into a darkened corner of the room and easing him onto the floor. He wore a brigandine coat and seemed to be arrayed as a soldier of the royal army. This was, of course, a ruse. He was no more a soldier that I was. He was a rogue…part of Harasym’s gang. Creeping silently on bare feet, I returned to my position by the door.

As I heard the hinges of the door in the next chamber squeak slightly and the floorboards creak under the weight of several people edging towards that newly opened door, I noticed the shadow of one more figure waiting in the hallway outside Vilena’s room. “Get in here and give me a hand, this bastard is heavy!” I hissed sotto voce. The shadow loomed as the figure moved somewhat quietly into the room. There was a crash and a scream from Tamara’s room as I slid silently from behind the door and slid my stiletto into the back of the man’s neck with a fluid stroke. Silently easing him down beside his fellow. I was neither pleased nor overly proud. These clods made it all too easy.

I was to find out later the details of the fight that ensued in the chamber next door. Danyo had put up stubborn resistance, but he had been caught unawares and was naked and unarmed. Tamara, not a party to this scheme, had screamed and put up a spirited (if mostly ineffective) resistance to the gang. More than a few of them felt the sting of a lucky kick from her pretty feet. In the end, it was all for naught. Danyo was dragged away unconscious while Tamara cursed at the gang with surprising venom.

I kissed Vilena, thanking her for her aid, as I quickly dressed and recovered my equipment. Peeking out the door, I saw four armored men dragging Danyo away. While proficient with a blade in the dark, I was no warrior. I knew that I could not hope to take on these four and survive. And yet…I felt that I had to act. I felt a surprising obligation to Danyo. He was my partner… and yes…my friend. Having heard from Vilena that sacrifice awaited him, I could not simply abandon him to his fate. The decision came to me quite easily. From the equipment of the two fools I had killed, I arrayed myself as a soldier, just like the rest of the gang. I prayed that the gods grant that the other four be as witless as the two on Vilena’s floor, and fall for the hurried ruse I had decided upon. I thanked Vilena again, and asked that she give me as long as she could before she raised any alarm. Kissing her to seal the bargain, I put on the helmet and followed the four who had carried my friend away.

Passing from the Desert to the Craftsman district, I finally caught up with the group in the wealthy quarters of the city as they neared what appeared to be a noble mansion. “Where is the other?” one of them asked at my approach. “He’ll be along…. left the kid to bring him.” I growled. “I know he’s new, but…. aw hell… as long as he brings him.” came the reply which could only signal that my ruse had succeeded. I was glad it had worked, but at the same time I found myself a little disappointed at the simplicity of my foes. This was Shadizar, after all, and thief has his pride! We came to the tall wrought iron gates. The barrier was topped by grotesque gargoyles with over-sized genitals and widespread wings, tongues extended
from dog-like muzzles lifted arrogantly into the air. As we got closer, I saw that the iron of the gates themselves were cast into hundreds of nude men and women acrobatically standing on top of each other to form the bars and cross-bars of the gate. A bored looking Kushite slave-warrior was posted at the gate. This colossus simply waved us through, as if such visits were a regular occurrence. “How goes it, eunuch?” I inquired, most amiably. I only got a growl and a murderous glare in return. No sense of humour!

We proceeded into the mansion grounds and into what seemed to be rather ordinary cellars. As we continued on, cellars became dark and dank dungeon. The unconscious and naked Danyo was unceremoniously deposited onto the floor and secured in shackles. As the group departed, I slowly fell further behind. Backtracking, I made my way back to the dungeon, listening carefully for any other travelers while preparing to free my companion.

View
Chapter I, Session I, Part IV
The Cult of Kara Prama

From the Memoirs of Darius the God Slayer

cult.jpg

Before I could move to free Danyo, I heard the soft footfall of slippered feet approaching. Gliding noiselessly into an alcove, I waited to see who was approaching my manacled and unconscious companion. An aging figure clad in the exotic fashions of far Vendhya entered the chamber to inspect Danyo. His movements betrayed him. Whatever else he was, it was clear that this man had once been a practitioner of the larcenous arts, and a skilled one at that. I remembered that Vilena had mentioned Lady Nehira’s seneschal, Kilya of Rinjaruin. This figure matched Vilena’s description of the man perfectly. What she had not told me, though my eyes had discerned it, was the danger this man presented. I had to move swiftly. Like a shadow of death I glided noiselessly from the alcove. My art did not fail me. He never knew i was there. Kilya had not time to even feel the pain of the strike when my stiletto ended his life!

I stripped the exotic vestments from Kilya’s still warm body swiftly, lest his life’s blood spoil them. I had the beginnings of a plan forming and these clothes were a vital part of it. Picking the lock of the shackles, I released my friend and set to reviving him. While he was a bit beat up, the gods had seen fit to spare him any permanent damage. Removing the armor and clothing which I had taken from my assailants and put on over my own clothing back at Ninotchka’s, I offered them to my unfortunate friend. Slowly, he donned the clothing and armor while I related all that Vilena had told me as well as my journey to find him. Discussing the matter, we agreed that going forward was a better idea than trying to exit the way we had entered. With that in mind, I removed my own gear, placing it carefully in my kit bag, and donned Kilya’s. Taking a few moments, I did what I could to better disguise myself as Kilya and then took a torch from one of the wall sconces and we proceeded deeper into the tunnels.

The tunnels seemed endless. They were dank and musty, and I took great care to avoid stepping in any dampness as we proceeded. In part, I did this because I suspected that Kilya would have done likewise. I am forced to admit, I also did this in order to avoid any needless damage to the splendid and costly rainment which Kilya had “gifted” me with. The tunnels were, in part, used for storage. Danyo and I shared a look when we noticed that rice was being stored along the tunnel’s walls. I knew that we both thought that it was a terrible waste. In the damp of these tunnels, the rice would quickly be ruined. Ruined rice has no value.

scroll_-26_3.jpg

Soon, we came to an area which was no longer dank and musty. The passage became progressively more dry until it opened up into a chamber. The walls were lined with shelves containing books and scrolls. A library in the midst of this darkness! As I looked through the shelves and shelves of scrolls and tomes, I found that they were mostly the logs and secrets of the ancient temple which had existed here in secret. As I browsed, I came upon a scroll which detailed many of the religious secrets of this ancient sex cult of Kara Prama. As I read further, I found a prophecy which foretold that if Kara Prama could get a virgin tonight in this very temple, that the demoness will become more powerful than ever before and, through the girl, dominate the city of Shadizar! To fulfill this prophecy, the girl would have to be mated to a man whose description could easily match that of Danyo or myself. The result of this mating would be a witch of abominable sexual appetites. The scroll detailed the blood sacrifices required in the right as well the strengths and weaknesses of the demoness. After reading a dire prediction of mass sacrifices and a colossal death count, I returned the scroll to its case, placing it in my kitbag. Somewhat shaken, Danyo and I discussed the prophecy. He was adamant that not try to be heroes. I can honestly say that I did not disagree. Heroes did not survive in the streets of Shadizar, and we were survivors. The threat of mass sacrifices and countless deaths in our ancient city gave us both pause. I had a terrible feeling, one I think Danyo shared that some deed of heroism would be forced upon us in order to stave off the looming danger. In silence, we left this chamber and moved deeper into the tunnels.

As we continued our progress we began to hear distant chanting. We realized that we were walking straight into the hidden temple which Vilena had told me about. Signalling me to pause, Danyo began to remove the coat of brigandine. “It’s too loud.” he whispered. “Too loud and constricting….it will only slow me down.” I could not help but agree with the sentiment. Signalling my understanding with a slight nod, I waited for him. Laying the coat of brigandine against the tunnel’s wall, Danyo followed me through the tunnel and into a large candle-lit chamber. It seemed like every bored noble in Shadizar was a member of this cult.

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

george-cattermole-the-scribe.jpg

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

View
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

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

From the Memoirs of Darius the God Slayer

296785929_96a1b1b8c4_m.jpg

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!

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

From the Memoirs of Darius the God Slayer

1601roman-gladius-sword.JPG

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.

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

From the Memoirs of Darius the God Slayer

SXC-CoinPiles_849207_40440957.jpg

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!

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

From the Memoirs of Darius the God Slayer

article-0-020810DC00000578-604_468x365.jpg

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.

View

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.