We returned to the party fighting skeletal champions deep in the bowels of the Crypt of Sorrows, the mausoleum within the Temple of Alion in Shivar, where Artas was still blinded but had escaped behind the cover of fellow party members. Ignomine, still enlarged thanks to Vyktor’s magic, blocked the hallway while the party (minus Drael, who was upstairs and currently unaware of the party’s peril) regrouped. Vyktor handed his mace to Polycarp as Ignomine smashed the skeleton that had blinded Artas. With the affliction removed, Polycarp able to join the fray, and the timely arrival of Drael, the party was able to clear up the rest of the combatants in short order.
Following the residue of evil energy left by the dagger led them down a hallway where the trail suddenly ended. Vyktor and Drael recognized the signs of a teleportation circle, but could not be certain where it led or whether it was safe to return. Ignomine volunteered to check, but the party pointed out that he was pretty much the worst choice because he was the only one that
- couldn’t detect magic (like the location of a circle of teleportation back)
- couldn’t identify magic even if he could detect it, and
- had a deadline that would seriously hurt him if he didn’t make it back to Fort Vigilance by the end of the day.
Polycarp went instead.
After a minute of tense waiting, Polycarp returned with blood on his arms and screaming loudly about the horrible things on the other side before jumping back through the portal. Ignomine followed quickly to save his compatriot, only to find it had all been a ruse. Vyktor, Drael, and Artas, who had not been duped by Polycarp’s antics, followed closely behind. An abashed and annoyed Ignomine picked up the trail of the dagger as the effects of the enlarge person spell and his bonded weapon dissipated and Drael summoned mounts to aid in their search.
Polycarp made frequent reminders of the foolishness of their search and the risk they were taking if Ignomine couldn’t get back in time, but they pushed on. As they followed the trail they saw bits of rotted and decayed flesh, as if it had simply putrefied and fallen by the wayside. A chance discovery of an eyeball revealed it was the same color as High Priest Thorn’s, a macabre hint as to his fate.
The party soon realized that they were in the forests south of Freeport and that the trail was heading straight to the cottage they had been at previously… the cottage over the complex where they had found the dagger. Pushing their time to the limit, they arrived at the cottage to find the trail terminating at the collapsed entrance to the underground complex and a splatter of gore and bone at its base. They surmised that this was all that remained of Thorn after he had dashed himself against the rocks trying to get back to the dagger’s place of origin. Drael deftly used Mage Hand to dig through the remains and extract the dangerous artifact dagger even as Polycarp railed against the stupidity of finding it and carrying it. With their task completed, the party made their way back home, back through the portal, and back to Shivar in short order.
The party decided to make an appearance at the office of the Magistrate of Shivar Lord Chandler Thorton to deal with his ultimatum, even though they were an hour late. Polycarp ducked away to remain (semi-) off his radar, as was his custom. The Magistrate’s lieutenant with the fuzzy eyebrows, Reks Christanti, commented on their tardiness, but sent them up all the same. The Magistrate made a similar observation, but the party deflected his comments by pointing out they had been busy slaying undead and protecting the city from them, which he accepted. Lord Thorton also commented on their presence at the ball hosted by the Merchant Guild’s leader, Quint Strain, and questioned how they were able to get tickets. They decided honesty was the best policy and admitted they were given by Ayda Magnus, and that she was a member of the Free Shivar movement. During their perfunctory visit the party made clear that they had no intention of disrupting the status quo, while the Magistrate made it clear that he wanted to know who led the Free Shivar movement and didn’t want the party creating problems that upset the delicate balance of the city, including taking revenge on certain butchers of the bay. Though the implication was that the party would be responsible for finding the Free Shivar leaders, no commitment was made and the group was free to leave and presumably free to remain in the city. They didn’t stick around to clarify the issue. On the way out, Reks revealed that General Wolf was staying at an inn called the Pig Snout, and that Shivar Guard patrols were stretched thin and might not be in the area should there be a “disturbance.” With that ominous implication the party left the keep.
At last the time had come for Ignomine’s judgment at Fort Vigilance, and with the warning that Quint Strain had given he wasn’t optimistic about his chances. Polycarp once again bailed to avoid being targeted for his ransom, as did Artas. The rest of the party made their way to the fort. The first sign things were not going to go their way was how they were greeted by four armed Kharlin guards when they reached the fort; the second was when another four appeared to escort Ignomine to Commander Emmit Blackwood, though some fast talking by Vyktor convinced the guards to allow the party to accompany them to his office; the third was when the Commander didn’t speak until Lieutenant Klaus Aimes arrived in his office in a clearly combative mood.
Lt. Aimes repeated his report that there was no evidence of Goblin activity south of Shivar, and Ignomine and his companions insisted that they had. Aimes immediately called out the half-orc for insulting his honor, even as Ignomine made several diplomatic gestures like supposing that they had been subjected to an illusion, or that Commander Blackwood should visit the site himself under the Paladin’s sworn protection from harm. Klaus even insulted his deity, before the Commander revealed he too was a follower of Abadar. Aimes’ temporary embarassment and Ignomine’s gestures of conciliation were not enough, however, and the Lieutenant insisted on having revenge for having his honor impugned. He invoked the rite of Juris Macto
According to the rules of the rite, the challenged has the right to determine the weapons while the challenger responds with the time and the place. Ignomine made an appeal to Lt. Aimes’ honor to allow him to recover, having already exhausted himself fighting in the Crypt, but to no avail. Ignomine chose any available weapons, while Klaus chose the Fort Vigilance training grounds in one hour.
The party scrambled to prepare. With Artas and Polycarp inaccessible, Vkytor focused on protective spells while Drael provided various magical items. Vyktor proved he was a true follower of the Goddess of Luck when he revealed he had not prepared any spells for just such an eventuality, giving him access to his liege’s full repertoire of magical abilities. He also sent his thrush familiar off to spy on the competition, giving them a crucial advantage when they saw Klaus was planning on using a flaming weapon dosed with poison, and that he would be an incredibly fast opponent.
In the end, Vyktor bestowed upon Ignomine the following boons:
- Darkness on his holy symbol, which would make him difficult to see and hit even in the bright daylight
- The Strength of the Bull, to improve his combat prowess
- The Endurance of the Bear, to aid his fortitude in battle
- The Splendor of the Eagle, which would improve his protection
- Enlarge Person, to gain him the advantage of reach and intimidation
- Magic Vestments, that would provide magical protection from attacks
- Protection from Chaos, on the off-chance Aimes was a servant of the chaotic
- Resistance to Fire, to deflect his enemy’s weapon energy
- Blur, to make the paladin harder to hit
Drael provided Ignomine with an incredibly valuable Necklace of Fireballs, with each of its three beads equal to a casting of the spell, a Tanglefoot Bag, a cloak of the hedge wizard that would guide his first attack, and offered his ability to turn Ignomine invisible.
Incredibly touched by their generosity and friendship, Ignomine said a quick prayer of thanks to Abadar for the support of his companions and his ability to call on their aid for strength, then faced his opponent.
The battle took place in a large cleared area on the training grounds a hundred feet square, with the duelists separated by sixty feet. If Aimes was intimidated by the massive size and glow of magic surrounding Ignomine, he didn’t show it. Ignomine registered his regrets at being forced to participate, to which Aimes responded with a curse and a spit. Commander Blackwood identified the combatants, confirmed there was no resolving the grievance, and commenced the fight.
Aimes proved faster than the massive half-orc, and closed the sixty feet of distance faster than could be believed if Ignomine hadn’t been forewarned by Vytor and his thrush. He unleashed a massive assault that broke through Ignomine’s defenses, and he could feel the cuts in his skin burn with poison. The protection of his hardy heritage and his god held firm, though, and he survived the onslaught. Aimes also managed to attack from some distance away, though the half-orc’s enlargement negated that benefit.
Ignomine responded with a massive counterattack, but despite the significant power behind his blows he was only barely able to defeat the protective aura surrounding the Kharlin officer. The addition of Artas’ Arelan Steel blade would have been incredibly handy at this juncture for it could cut through the strongest defenses, but unfortunately he was off with Polycarp doing who-knows-what. As a final measure, the half-orc pulled out his holy symbol that had been enchanted with Darkness, dimming the light around him and making it hard for the human to see.
Lt. Klaus continued to hammer at Ignomine, and though he was able to land more and more frequent blows, their power was diminished by the rejuvenation provided by his Lay on Hands. Conversely, Ignomine had a harder time hitting, but each one he landed on Aimes was devastating in power, even with the protection his artificially toughened skin provided.
Still, it was clear who was on the losing side of the exchange, and Ignomine began retreating hoping to waste some of the officer’s energy. Klaus was still too fast for it to be very effective, and in a particularly brutal attack managed to find a gap in Ignomine’s armor and plunge his sword deep into his side. Desperate, the half-orc backed as far away as he could and hurled the entire necklace of fireball beads at him.
Aimes clearly did not expect the attack, and had only a moment to register the item thrown at his feet before he erupted into a flash of fire and smoke. He emerged with half his armor and shield charred black and with every bit of exposed hair singed away. His momentary staggering gave Ignomine a chance to catch his breath and recuperate.
The tide of the battle had turned, and Ignomine was quick to press his advantage. He charged the Kharlin officer, choosing to take the brunt of his attacks rather than give his opponent quarter. Closing the distance, the lieutenant could no longer use his lunging attacks to dance away and get a momentary respite. The combination of the darkness and blurring made Ignomine incredibly difficult to hit, even with Aimes’ multiple thrusts and counters, and the flames on his blade could not penetrate the protective shield around the half-orc.
With no way to get far enough away to drink another potion, Aimes went for an all-out attack. The blow landed and proved devastating, but Ignomine managed to survive. Guided by Vyktor’s prayers to Calistria and Drael’s support, Ignomine used the blow to get in under Lt. Aimes’ guard and protection of his tower shield and smash down upon him with the force of a falling mountainside; Lieutenant Klaus Aimes, officer of the Kharlin guard, toppled like a felled tree.
The half-orc paused a moment to reflect on the life taken and to pray to Abadar in thanks for his support and the support of his friends (proof in his mind that working together was superior to individual wealth and riches), and in repentance for not being able to find another way. Commander Blackwood spoke with Aimes’ servant Godfrey to collect his effects, and invited the party up to his office. As they made their way up, Vyktor’s thrush delivered a much-appreciated respite to salve Ignomine’s wounds.
In his office, Blackwood shared a drink of his rare brandy and explained his inability to send troops to the goblin encampment, even with the recently-proven veracity of the party’s report. He told them that, should they choose, he would appreciate a more detailed report and more evidence that he could pass on to Kharlin in order to convince them to move troops from the west in order to defend Shivar. Then, there was one last matter to discuss…
Godfrey entered, carrying Lt. Aimes’ sword. He kneeled at Ignomine’s feet and proffered the sword to him. Commander Blackwood explained that, as the victor, Ignomine had gained all of Aimes’ possessions… including his slave, Godfrey. The half-orc was severely conflicted about this turn of events, but when asked Godfrey made it clear that he did not want to be freed and that he did not want to be sent away. However, it was clear that Polycarp and probably Artas would not be keen on his presence given their experience of slavery. A conundrum indeed.
With that, the party left the fort to meet up with Artas and Polycarp and plan their next move. Once there, they were surprised to learn that the Butcher of the Bay, General Avandth Wolf, had been assassinated.
The Butcher of the Bay
Meanwhile Artis and Polycarp made their way back to the Spiked Guantlet. On their way they attempted to inquire passers by as to some one who may help in the removal of the Stain upon Polycarps soul and learned of a sea captain who may know of a powerfull contact outside the city whom may have the capacity to aid them. Upon returning to the Spiked Guantlet they learned of the Duel to take place at Fort Vigilance, and not having time to make it back to the fort resided to remain at the pub and place wagers on the outcome. Polycarp wagered a modest sum of recently aquired gold that Ignomine would kill the Kharlin officer, the longest oddes offered. Artis wagered 50gp of his own gold that Ifnominy would win, but not necessarily kill his opponent.
Their bets placed, Polycarp noticed Adya nearby and went to speak with her. She looked rather excitable about the duel, not for its outcome or bets but for the wonderful distraction it was providing. She expressed a desire to go after General Wolf, the butcher of the bay, and Polycarp shared with her his knowledge of a lack of shivar guard support in the area of the Pig Snout, the up scale Inn the Butcher was staying at.
Polycarp, on a whim, suggested the two of them seize the opportunity and go now. With just a moments hesitation she agreed, and led Polycarp out rhe back. Polycarp for his part snuck away wi the out Artis noticing, not wanting to have to explain his intentions.
Outside Adya lead Polycarp up to the roof of the Spiked Gauntlet, scaling the side of the building with ease. Once up top Polycarp noticed a long rope tied off on the roof and going up at a slope to tall tower a couple blocks away. Adya quickly mounted the rope and began to scale the line with practiced ease. Polycarp followed her lead and made it up to the tower only shortly after she. With that Adya produced a leather strap, with which she slide down another rope leading to a shrubbery one the outskirts of a market square. They had traveled several blocks of busy, densely packed city in a fraction of the time.
The two then blended with the crowed and headed towards the Pig Snout. Reaching the outer wall of the estate, the two tumbled discreetly through the gate guards without notice with almost supernatural skill. Circling around to the back of the building away from prying eyes, the two scaled the side of the impressively large building all the way to the flat roof. Once their Ayda attempted to pick the lock of a roof access door with no success. Luckily Polycarp was able to manage the lock with ease, and the too entered the fancy lodging. Ducking into a service closet Adya and Polycarp disguised themselves as service workers and began to search the top floor for Wolf’s room. A hall with only a single door, posted at which was a Kharlin solder, gave away the Generals quarters. Adya used her feminen wiles to lure the guard away, and Polycarp was able to enter the unlocked door with ease. By seemingly inconceivable levels of luck the entry room was empty of the Wolfs additional guard, and Polycarp found the room to be devoid of activity. Evidence of a heavy meal and enjoyment of brandy was at hand, and the General was found sleeping deeply in his lavish four post bed.
Polycarp was easily able to dispatch the defenseless man by slitting his throat as he slept. Not long after Adya joined him, ransacking the room apparently looking for something but coming up empty. Hastily she mark the corpse with the symbol for the Free Shivar Movement, and the two left discreetly.
Polycarp returned to the SPiked Gauntlet without issue, claiming to Artis that he had been their the whole time when he inquired. By then word had come that Ignominy had been victories, slaying the Kharlin Officer in the duel. Polycarp took a large portion of his winnings, and gave it freely to a young child he saw on the street. Unbeknownst to him, this simple and profound gesture would have a life altering effect on the youths life, and he had wither intentionally or not had just made a profoundly positive effect on the world in which he lived. As such he received a blessing for suhc kindness and generosity in the form of a divine rose which drifted from the sky, following the cry of a dove,to rest in his hand. Consumed the rose freed Polycarp from the mark on his soul and extended to him the protection usually gained by worshiping a Good aligned deity.
The next day the party went to collect Aimes’ effects and to get a chance to Speak with Dead and found the Fort in a flurry of activity and closed to most outsiders. Luckily word seemed to have been made to allow them in, and the gates were opened. With the assassination of the General it appeared that Kharlin had sent the forces they needed, teleporting them in via a designated square and greatly augmenting the city’s strength in Shivar – it appeared that delicate balance had been thrown awry. The party went to the dungeons where the lieutenant’s body was kept, and Vyktor’s ritual revealed that Aimes knew his report was false and had done it at the behest of Quint Strain.
With that, the party had to decide what their next move would be and what the fallout of all this would be. Returning back to the city the Shivar Guard they met inquired as to what was going on at the Fort, obviously nervous about the closing of the Causeway. Not long after re-entering the city the group was approach by a familiar face, Edegener whom they had met on the road south of Shivar. Edegener had heard about the duel and insinuated know of some of the parties other feats as of late, and expressed interest in extending a job offer to the party. He gave little details save for that the job envloved retrieving some object from the area north of the Northern Fortifications, otherwise known as the Frozen Wastes, and would be quite dangerous. He told the party his employeer would be able to offer more details as to the nature of the job and possible compensation, and offered the group a magical gem. By Activating the gem outside of the city walls the party would be teleported to the location of Edegener’s employer. Ed assured the group that activating the gem a second time would return them to wherever it is they teleported from, and left the party to make their own decision, making his own way towards the gates of Fort Vigilance.