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Post  Admin on Sat Jan 01, 2011 10:38 pm

Aidan is accompanied by:

Ten diggers, funded by the embassy
Five explorer/specialists,provided by the Korranberg University (Tara and Kathos - x2wizards, Demetrius and Pelar - x2 clerics, Vathazar - x1 sorceror)
Five mercenaries provided by The Machination (Zenot, Cathan, Regus, Maras and Keegan)
Five crew members from the Zephyr Breeze (Typhan, Dymos, Kharan, Evard and Amas)
Master Brevax (represents The Thirteen)
Jillian, the Kalashtar he has befriended

With a grunt, the two ogres leave Aidan and his companions to their own devices. “Wait here if you return,” Blood Bringer tells them. Master Brevax gestures he expedition passes through the gap beneath the rusted iron portcullis into the dark tunnel beyond and with a combination of light spells and magical items (swords, rods and crystals).

They find themselves navigating a sprawling labyrinth of natural and humanoid carved rock tunnels. An occasional opening widens into caverns and there are many of these, either completely empty or in some cases where rubbish has gathered, having fallen from openings high above.

The environment beneath Gideon is warm and humid. There is a constant gentle airflow (some parts are still) and the rock itself “breathes” because it seems very porous in many places.

The expedition explores for three hours, marking the path with stenciled symbols on the walls until a clear path downward is located. Following a larger tunnel, which slopes downward, the lead mercenary calls back to Master Brevax. “I see stone steps that lead to a large cavern beyond,” he announces.

“We press forward,” Master Brevax informs everyone. He moves towards the steps cautiously and the group follows him, with the mercenaries fanning out ahead of his position.

Aidan considers that the other group has passed here before. He thinks that they should follow a branch that the other group has not followed if they have that opportunity.

The stairway is well preserved and is in good repair. It leads to an old stone plaza with many ruined buildings around it. The mercenaries appear on edge and cast suspicious glances at the surrounding ruins.

“There is no movement here, but there are many skeletons and broken weapons scattered around,” Zenot tells everyone.

“Fascinating. This appears to be the site of a vast battle, perhaps thousands of years ago,” one of the specialists remarks.

“The remains are not all humanoid either,” says another. “Some look human … no wait, they are elven.”

“That is not unusual,” Master Brevax replies. “This is a location that dates back to the Age of Monsters. We know that the Dhakaani Empire was at its height of power but came under a perceived threat from the Valenar elves of that time ...”

Ahlissa's crew members cast curious glances at one another when Master Brevax says this. They also look at Aidan and he senses pride and triumph as they witness a sign of their distant past.

Jillian turns to Aidan and remarks “So your ancestors were no strangers to battle, even then. Were you expecting to find evidence of your bloodline's ancestral history down here?”

Aidan asks her quietly “What makes you think this is of my bloodline? It is my race, certainly, but probably not my bloodline.”

“Are not all Valenar considered to be blood brothers? That is all I was meaning. This is a sign of your past heritage. Does it make you feel proud or … am I sensing a hint of sadness?”

Aidan tells her it gives him sadness. “It is a pity we cannot put names to these people and know where they were from, or why they were here. Did any survive? We will never know.”

Jillian nods in understanding and touches Aidan lightly on the shoulder. He blushes. “It is never easy to witness the death of others related to your own. I have the aftermath of my own people, slaughtered by the Inspired. Vengance is one road I might travel, whereas solituide is another. I am with you in your thoughts and offer you my sympathy.”

“This is interesting,” one of the mercenaries says as he points to the ground. “We are not the first people to have recently passed through here. See? These tracks are recent, perhaps only two days old. A large group, perhaps numbering twenty, wearing hard-soled boots have been here. They moved with purpose and did not loiter. They passed between those buildings at the far end of this plaza.”

“Mhorvaeus' people?” Master Brevax asks.

“Perhaps, but we cannot be certain of that. I recommend we stay alert from this point forward,” Zenot warns.

Master Brevax turns to one of the specialists, a cleric. “What can you see?”

The cleric of the Silver Flame grasps his holy symbol and chants closing his eyes and reaching out … “I see a large force of men, heavily armed and armoured, led by a wealthy aristocratic looking man. I see the mark of the Emerald Claw upon them. They search for what we seek and will try to stop us,” he tells everyone.

“It is as I feared,” Master Brevax says. “Everyone be ready for trouble. Aidan, stay close. Agents of the Emerald Claw are proficient warriors. Very strong and fanatical. Someone very determined has sent them.”

“If such is the case, then perhaps we shouldn;t be following them … but seek another road. Now … is it two days that have passed, or a week?”

Zenot, the mercenary leader, informs “it has only been two days since they passed this location.”

Aidan knows the Queen said the group entered underground a week ago. He is curious as to why their tracks are only two days old. “Perhaps they were lost, or searching elsewhere before they dioscovered this place.” Zenot replies.

Aidan says “It took us 3-4 hours to get here. Why do you think it took the others five days to get here. If, as the cleric suggests, they moved with purpose then they should have come straight here. Now given what the cleric and the scout have said then perhaps we are looking at two groups. And the second is pursuing the first. Is there any way of finding older tracks behind us?”

Master Brevax looks at Aidan and thinks of that possibility. “We will pause here and rest. The mercenaries will back track and investigate that and search for any older tracks. If they find something then we will determine what the best course of action be thereafter.”

So a camp is struck within the ground floor of a ruined building. A rather large one. Nothing remains of furniture, only stone walls and floors and a fireplace. It is one of the more strategic locations that is selected, one with clear visibility across the plaza and Ahlissa's crew will stand watch.

The mercenaries split, on Aidan's suggestion, and two head back to search while three go forward to see what lies ahead. Zenot was very clear that he only identified one set of tracks, so that is what the forward scouts will follow.

After two hours the mercenaries that went back come back to report they found no other tracks and only faint signs of the tracks that were identified amongst the ruins. “It is as though they employed a means of concealing their path, so as not to be discovered. However, we did find some additional caeverns that we bypassed earlier and there are signs of some digging activity. Nothing obvious appears to have been removed from any of those caverns, but it is clear they were trying to get something out the ground.”

After four hours the lead scouts return and they inform everyone that beyond the ruins of the city is a wide stone bridge and a large cavern that shows signs of old rocksfall from the ceiling beyond that. The cavern leads to more tunnels, which we have explored and those tunnels lead to another large cavern where there are sounds of digging, loud voices and bright light. We believe the other group, whose tracks we have followed, are stationed there and from the excited voices that we overheard they have definitely found something. We did draw too close to investigate because they have guards posted and we did not want our presence known.”

Master Brevax listens to this news and regards it with a furrowed brow and great concern. “Tell me, did these guards or anyone else that you observed wear any heraldry or obvious markings?”

“Yes,” Zenot replies. “They are servants of the Emerald Claw.”

Master Brevax looks at Aidan “I had hoped it would not come to this, but there we have it. I know we have come prepared and I'm sure we can overcome this group, possibly with some loss of life on our side. But we could try to negotiate first, to see if there is common ground between ourselves and their patron. What do you think?”

“I don't think we can reason with people like these, who have their own single-minded purpose. They are definitely not seeking the object for the common good.”

“I agree,” Master Brevax says. “We have come too far to turn back empty handed. I believe we are well armed and supported with magic. The odds are stacked in the enemy's favour, but with a little luck I think our disciplined force will prevail. “ He turns to Zenot and asks “What news do you have of their leader? Did you see who that was?”

Zenot shrugs and simply offers “We saw a fleeting glimpse of tall man. He was dressed in fines robes and looked very pale. He was watching some of the servants dig near the edge of the cavern. That is all we know.”

Aidan suggests the man might be Lord Khannay.

Master Brevax looks shocked at that and says “Do you realise what you are saying? Lord Khannay is dead. He was murdered by mercenaries from Zanarkand. There were rumours he was killed because he was a vampire … he could only be here if they did not succeed. Or perhaps if someone had embellished the truth … I don't believe it is him.”

“The reason why I say this is that Lord Khannay was tall, wore stately robes, is a vampire and could have easily escaped the mercenaries with his powers. Also he seems very interested in gaining knowledge. Rather unusual, as I think most of his kind would be concerned about surviving and keeping themselves very distant from the living around them.”

“Are we equipped to deal with vampires?” Master Brevax turns to the clerics.

“We have holy water and can produce daylight via magical means,” Demetrius informs him.

Vathazar, Talar and Kathos confirm “We can produce magical fire should that be necessary.”

“It will be necessary, because you will have to create confusion within the camp,” Aidan says. “The only way we will get the upper hand is by using magical fire and ranged weapons. How many guards were there?”

Zenot says “There were four soldiers on active watch over the main tunnel. Others were resting or standing at the perimeter at the sides. We counted twenty and they have a workforce of twenty digging slaves. We believe they also have some magical support, possibly two sorcerers and a cleric of the Dark Six. Their capability and skills are unknown.”

… strategy is formed …

“There is only one point of entry to that cavern,” Zenot informs. “We must incapacitate or get past the four soldiers on watch before we can engage against the others. They also have partial cover available to them, amongst the rocks. But your basic strategy is sound.”

The mercenaries and Ahlissa's crew members will focus on dealing with the soldiers and the specialists will target the spellcasters. Jillian and the diggers are not expected to fight. Aidan is free to do as he pleases, and he elects to help the spellcasters.

Master Brevax confirms “Then we have a plan. It will take us two hours to get there. We will rest and prepare ourselves fully before we go there. We need to remain on watch as we do so, should any of that group send scouts back this way for any reason.”

Zenot says “That is covered.”

Three hours of rest pass and everyine is ready.

The tension mounts as the expedition follows the tracks through the ruins. The wizards and sorceror employ magic to conceal everyone with invisibility as much as is possible .

The ruins themselves show some sign of destruction from ancient siege engines (perhaps trebuchets) and a broken battering ram is discovered near one of the crumbled stone gates.

Very soon they reach an underground river and a massive stone bridge, 30' wide, remains in place across it. Beyond the bridge the cavern extends further into darkness.

After twenty minutes the two scouts return and inform the group that the cavern contains many large rocks that appear to have fallen from the cavern ceiling but there is no evidence that any have fallen recently. The cavern leads to more natural rock tunnels and the tracks go there. “We see no evidence of any ambush waiting for us,” Maras remarks. “That is reassuring, for this would certainly be an excellent place.”

“Then our enemy, if indeed they intend to confront us, is focused on the objective rather than any possible pursuit,” Master Brevax acknowledges. “Perhaps they believe their force of numbers will retain the prize if a group such as ours were to try and take it.”

The group finishes resting and moves on into the tunnels. After another two hours they see the glow of pale magical light in another wide cavern ahead. There are sounds of digging and picks on rock. There is also the smell of meat and spiced vegetables cooking.

The mercenaries successfully eliminate the four soldiers who stand guard with arrows from composite long bows. The attack is swift and deadly, by surprise. The guards fall.

Aidan suggests using flying spells and invisibilty to engage their targets. The tunnel is 15' while cavern is 50' average with areas that extend up to 70' to 100' in height. The clerics, wizards and sorceror all agree and preparations are made.

The demise of the four guards on watch has not yet been noted. The digging and excited sounds around it continue without distraction.

The mercenaries, Ahlissa's crew, Aidan and the specialists engage with a surprise round before the opposing force can react.

The mercenaries and Ahlissa's crew split into two groups and assault the Emerald Claw soldiers.

Aidan leads the specialist in the aerial attack on the sorcerors and dark cleric. There are some tents and a makeshift shrine to the Dark Six. The spellcasters are gathered near that and the fine robed man is nearby, apparently reading a book.

A fireball detonates near the altar, its blast wave knocks the spellcasters and the fine robed man off their feet (or chairs if they were sitting) and overwhelms their position with a raging inferno of fire and scalding heat. Aidan directs the second wizard to repeat that and it happens.

The clerics chant and both produce daylight spells which fill the cavern with brilliant light that dazes and dazzles everyone with the change from the gloomy shadows and flickering light.

The sorcerer gestures, chants and produces a shimmering translucent sphere of energy that suddenly encapsulates and traps the fine robed robed man.

Aidan activates Xanthar's rod for the first time. He feels a surge of power rush through the device and through his arms, while the rod itself erupts with a stream of silver blue lightning that strikes the dark cleric and then splits and surges out through both of the evil sorcerors … it continues by splitting again, richoeting of the nearby rocks and reconnecting with four of the nearby soldiers of the Emerald Claw. It is a massive chain lightning effect.

The result of the attacks is an unmoving dark cleric who is face down on the cavern floor beside a destroyed dark altar, one sorcerer who is dead and another who is barely alive … essentially incapacitated and barely breathing. Of the soldiers, only six remain standing and able to respond to the surprise attack. The twenty slaves have ceased digging and have scrambled for cover amongst the rocks, fearing for their lives. The fine robed man is trapped in a sphere of energy, casting a hateful look at the intruders and cursing loudly.

Aidan flies down and kills the incapacitated sorcerer, by severing his head with his sword. The sorcerer retains control of the sphere while the cleric and wizards hover and prepare defensive spells.

The mercenaries and Ahlissa's crew enter press their melee attack and overwhelm the remaining soldiers, killing them.

Aidan checks the unmoving cleric and discovers he dead, with his face melted away when he turned over. Unsure of his true nature (possibly undead) Aidan beheads him as a safeguard. It is brutal but a safeguard to prevent him rising again.

“Do you know who you are interfering with? This is an outrage and you will pay for this with your lives!” The fine robed man is cursing and swearing. “Release me at once, I am here on official business, working under the auspices of a very influence benefactor. Someone you would not wish to gain the attention of.” He splutters.

Everyone has gathered. Master Brevax accounts for his people “Any casulaties?”

Zenot reports that no opne has been injured.

Brevax sighs with relief and then turns his attention towards the trapped man.

“Then name yourself good Sir, and state your allegiance and your business beneath Gideon.”

The man curses and then says “I am Baron Von-Claagen, of the Karrnath Nation and you will release me at once. I am on a sponsored expedition and until you interfered by attacking us without provocation we had nearly completed our business. What manner of dog are you, to think you have the right to attack and steal our findings?”

Master Brevax looks at Aidan and says “What do you think we do with him? He hasn't quite claimed diplomatic immunity, but he seems to have a position of power in a neighbouring state. Or least he claims so by indicating his title.”

Aidan looks back at Brevax and says “Truly, I do not care what his status is. He is evil and should be destroyed.”

Brevax nods and then turns to the trapped man. “We have reason to believe that your exploration is in fact, illegal and that you are in league with dark forces. The evidence is clear. You had a cleric of the Dark Six in your company and we have reason to suspect you as a vampire. Prove otherwise and you may yet live to see a cell in the Military Quarter of this fine city that you stain with your presence.”

The pale man is angered by this and says “Tread carefully, old man, for my allies are very powerful and you would well to heed this as a final warning. I am not a vampire ...”

Aidan studies the man's appearance and can see unmistakable traits as though the man were a vampire. He is pale, he has sunken features … he looks slightly lifeless, there is no life in his eyes, which are dark. But he does not have clawed hands and his teeth are normal, despite his rage.

“... I am a member of a noble house of Karrnath. If something happens to me then war will be the result. The mighty legions of Karrnath will once again rise and take the battlefield and Gideon City would cease to be what it is. Are you willing to risk the freedom of so many people by inviting such a declaration of war? Avoid it. Let me go.”

“No,” Aidan tells him and approaches.

Brevax looks horrified and says “What are you doing? We may have a diplomatic incident on our hands?”

“Who knows he is down here? A rock might have fallen on him … who would know? Who would truly care? Diplomatic inidicent … yeah right. As for your features, Baron, although you might look human I have seen your features before … so yes, I believe you are a vampire. With the fact you are in the company of people we would rather see dead than walking the streets of Gideon and since you were treating your diggers like slaves … I don't see why we should be wasting time talking time to you, for in that pit is something we have come to claim and we have more rright to do so than you.”

The man splutering and cursing with rage, barely able to contain himself. Brevax looks to his clerics and they cast detection spells … “he is evil but is not undead” they say.

“Aidan … he cannot be a vampire, the gods themselves have not revealed that.”

“Then he is something else. An aberration perhaps. I have seen enough, Master Brevax, to know that he is not human. We must either continue this chat or destroy him. I say destroy him.”

“Then it saddens me that we undertake such a course of action,” Brevax says. “Yet it is reasonable. You sir, Baron as you may claim to be, offer us no proof nor convincing evidence. Only threats. Threats of war and threats against our own lives. Had you been reasonable and willing to listen, then perhaps we may have let you go. But it is too late for that. You are evil and I know for a fact that you have no business being here. You have no official petition or documents signed by The Thirteen. I am their able representative and beneath Gideon there is no true law that applies, save that imposed by the thirteen;s representatives. I hereby sanction your executiuon upon suspcion that you are a declared enemy of this state. Once the sphere that traps you is diminished, you will put to death by magical fire. Have you anything further to say that might stay our hands?”

The Baron simply regards everyone coldly and he says “Then so be it.” Then he turns specifically to Aidan and speaks in a voice that sounds like a thousand whispers carried by the wind … Aidan recognises the unmistakable language of the undead … and Baron Von-Claagen tells him “There is one who will claim you and your time is short. He already knows you.” Then he turns back to Master Brevax … “do your worst, old man, enjoy the prize you have taken from me. May it be your undoing.”

Then he stands there and awaits his fate …

The sorcerer drops the sphere and the wizards anihlate him with magical fire. He screams and is incinerated easily, leaving nothing but ash where he stood. The clerics cast further detection spells and confirm that Baron Von-Claagen is dead. He has not escaped.

“I hope this was worth the effort ...” and he gestures to the side of the cavern where the dig was in progress. The diggers has resumed where the other slaves had fled.

The agreement was to take the item to the Elven Embassy. It is there that the item will be secured and studied.

Aidan takes Jillian to the side and mention the language that the Baron spoke. “There is one who will claim you and your time is short. He already knows you.” Aidan realises that the language that the Baron spoke to him was identical in tone and dialect to that which he overhead Mhorvaeus speak when Ahlissa undertook her supply mission to Karrnath on a recent occasion. He knows that speaking the language of the dead is not common. It is very sinister.

Jillian is curious and asks “Who knows you that would claim you?”

“There could only be one person that I know of at the moment for I overheard him speaking the same language. It was at a trade negotaition in attended with Ahlissa. That person's name was Mhorvaeus.”

It occurs to Aidan that when he raised concerns with Ahlissa at Mhorvaeus' residence, they had surmised that he might be in league with the Servants of Vol, a dangerous fanatical group that seek to follow the original vampire and her siblings. Their ultimate goal is to see Vol ressurected.

Aidan makes mention of this to Jillian and identifies that Lord Khannay, my original benefactor when I worked in Zanarkand's library, was also suspected of being one too. Now we can add the Baron.

“Then … these soldiers of the Emerald Claw … where do they fit in to this picture? Are these evil groups in league with one another? Are they both seeking the item you have now claimed?”

Aidan shrugs and says “I somehow sense that this item goes back to a time when the Leshay left but not without seeding a family of sorts – a dynasty – and I may be somehow connected with it. I just don;t know. But that item is a key to opening important knowledge.”

“Perhaps Dark Knowledge?” Jillian adds. “It would perhaps be wise to study it carefully, in case it unleashes something that was not expected.”

Aidan agrees completely. “Some of the languages on there are dark, but equally there are some that are not. Perhaps all of the languages, dialects, etc had a common ancestor. Perhaps related to the dragons.”

“And, perhaps, there may even be the language of my kind. But that would be surprising, given that we originate from another dimension.”

“It would depend on its origin and the races that existed when it was created. The other thing is we have never encountered a dragonshard of this size or this kind. So perhaps this one came from the sky rather than from the ground.”

“And yet here we are, deep beneath the ground. But I can see that this once was the ground. It is just that the ages have buried this place with conflict and the continent's natural change.”

“... and subsequently, other cities have been built on top.”

“Then guard your discovery and study it well. I do hope it reveals everything you hope to seek.”

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