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Our Heroes:

Tira Wolfsdaughter
Hank Woodman
Haiku Oddsdottir
Gustav Mahler
Persia

Part ONE

   

Founding of Tallon Year 298
Regnum Ningan 20

PART 2


The Players:

Tira Wolfsdaughter

A young adept raised by gators and wolves.

Hank Woodman

An animate, made from a man who died over 85 years ago.

Haiku Oddsdottir

Barbarian of Yzlon, banished from her homeland and seeking a place in Merikia.

Persia

Native feline of Tallon. A talented thief and accomplished gymnast.

Gustav Mahler

Simple and good natured giant, riven from birth.

Slain in the Wilds.

Gilead

Wealthy and adventurous Tallonite. Son of a famous explorer.

Karkul

The Columbia asks and is granted permission to enter Karkul Harbor. Warily, Crockett steers the paddlewheeeler through the narrow causeway between the seawall and Karkul Rock. Their progress is marked by three defensive towers on the heights as well as a uniformed band of otter soldiers at the waterline. Karkul it seems is serious about defense of its harbor.

As they dock, the River Master has the canine quartermaster Keno give the passengers a few words of advice concerning Karkul. Although no one specifically mentions Mahler, Keno notes that the riven are absolutely not tolerated in Karkul. Also, although there are more beasts in Karkul than in Tallon, they exist nearly entirely as a servant class. Finally, he warns them that women are likewise second class citizens in Karkul. The sight of a woman warrior would be considered provocative towards violence.

Nevertheless, after these words of caution, the crew and passengers are given leave to go ashore for awhile. Mahler refuses to leave the ship, and indeed decides to stay below decks and out of sight. Karkul is the place where he was attacked years ago, the night that Purists burned the circus sideshow where he grew up. He has a mortal fear of the place and no desire to visit it. Haiku and Tira also decide that it would be best to stay aboard.

Hank goes on a quest looking for wood for arrow shafts. Although there are stores on the Columbia, the wood is far too good to use for fletching. After a few false starts, he discovers a man at the Harbor Master's office who can help him. The city official is very suspicious and asks many questions about why he wants the wood and where he is from. He overcharges Hank for the wood criminally, but Hank pays anyway, being flush with cash from Haiku's share of the sword sale.

While at the Harbor Master's office, Hank encounters Preston, the squirrel Bosun of the Columbia, and Tip the otter who accompanied them during their adventure in Nemo's Court. They say that Crockett has allowed them some shore leave and ask if Hank is so inclined. The manikin politely declines.

In the meantime, Persia has been napping in the crow's nest and idly watching the waterfront, making notes of the area should she ever need to ply her thieving skills here. She is startled to see a familiar figure pass beneath a street lamp of lumina. The barbarian warrior she encountered in Tallon is now in Karkul! Kamlak of the Shattered Isles has indeed left the Jewel of Merrikia and traveled to Karkul, the City of Stone.

She quietly leaves the ship in pursuit. She finds trailing him difficult due to the nature of Karkul's architecture. Every street and building seems to be carved from the natural bedrock. There aren't many clues to follow. Nevertheless, she tracks him to an area where three small waterfront inns overlook the harbor. Each one is lit and raucous, despite the lateness of the hour.

After several tries during which she is mistaken for a job applicant, she discovers that Preston has been captured by some ruffians who have tied him to a door and are betting to see who can throw a knife closest to the tiny squirrel without hitting him. Horrified by the cruelty, yet realizing that she cannot fight five or six armed men, she runs back to the ship at top speed. She does not see or hear Hank, coming back from the harbor Master's, nor does she hear the police whistle directed at her as she races through down he waterfront. When she relates the story to Ships Helm Maia, she is overheard by Gustav. The giant loses all fear upon hearing that his friend is in danger and bursts from the hold. He is about to storm the city before Tira grabs his arm and asks what is going on. Mahler hurriedly explains while Haiku also comes on deck. Mahler runs after the retreating Persia and Tira follows him. Haiku is determined not to let Tira out of her sight.

As they follow Persia's trail, they encounter the guards who had ordered the feline to stop. The guards also order the giant to stop, but he bowls past them, receiving a minor cut in the prcoess. Tira attempt to explain to the guards, but they seem more intent on escorting her back to her ship than saving her squirrel friend, so she breaks away from them in exasperation.

Persia encounters Hank on the way back to the tavern. She fills him in on the situation and as they approach they see a body hurled from the front door. Persia peeks in through the same window as before and sees Kamlak locked in combat with the ruffians who were menacing Preston. As she watches he thunders, “That is what happens to those who menace a friend of Kamlak of the Shattered Isles!” This perplexes Persia, who was not aware of any connection between the two.

While Kamlak continues to fight, Persia sneaks in to free poor Preston. She shushes him when he calls out her name. Utilizing some fast talk, she distracts one of the ruffians while she dives through the window, carrying the squirrel. Tira and Haiku arrive now, just in time to see Kamlak drop another rascal. Mahler barrels past them, imapcting the wall in his haste. Tira, seeing the guards approaching and quickly grasping the situation yells to Kamlak that the police are on the way.

Kamlak replies, “Kamlak of the Shattered Isle waits for no man, not even the city guard!” Then he dives through the same window as Persia. Mahler searches for Preston, and hears a weak voice coming from behind the door to which the squirrel was tied. Tira and Haiku run around the side of the building just before the guards show up at the front door. The only person in the room still standing is Mahler, whom they order to drop his club and place his hands over his head. Mahler slowly obeys but tells them about the voice from behind the door. The guards investigate and discover Tip, bound hand and foot. Apparently the ruffians were planning on using Tip for entertainment after Preston wore out. The guards consider arresting Mahler on general principles but realize that Mahler didn't have time or the proper weapons to commit the carnage in the room. They decide that rather than attempt to subdue and arrest the giant, investigate the crime and chase down a lot of suspects, it would be far easier to just tell them to get back to their ship.

Meanwhile out in the alley, which has gotten rather crowded, Tira also thinks that they should get back to the ship. She thanks Kamlak for his help but tells him that the guards will doubtless be looking for him. Flexing his mighty thews, the barbarian nimbly mounts to the roof and takes off. Persia decides to follow. Leaving the alley, they encounter Mahler and the guards, who follow the party at a discreet distance to make sure they embark in a timely manner.

Persia has decided to shadow the mighty swordsman, but is swiftly detected. Kamlak recognizes her from the tavern in Tallon. “Ho, Miss Kitty,” he exclaims, “Are you so infatuated with Kamlak of the Shattered Isles that you have followed me all the way from Tallon?”

Persia swallows a guffaw and decides to play to his vanity. She claims that she wishes to learn from him, to be his apprentice. He is naturally suspicious but plays along. He takes her across the waterfront to a much nicer establishment than the one they have just left and tells her to announce him. She does so, with some mortification. For a moment she is afraid he has tricked her and she will have made a fool of herself, but he enters soon afterward and arranges the finest room for himself. His new apprentice can sleep in the stables. Persia readily agrees.

Later that night she sneaks from the stables and through his third story window. She pads her way across the room to where he lies sleeping. She believes that his belt pouch, which he still wears, may contain the ruby belonging to Gamina's father. She has to crawl into his bed to reach it and as she places her hand upon it, Kamlak immediately whips a knife from under his pillow and brandishes it at her. She is flustered and goes through a series of ill-conceived lies about noises that scared her, and an attraction for his broadly muscled chest, but Kamlak will not play along this time. He accuses her of thievery and draws his sword. Persia leaps from the window, trusting in her feline reflexes to take her lightly to the roof of the stable. Unfortunately, the roof gives way and she lands in a large pile of manure.

The last thing she hears as she flees the area is the hearty laughter of Kamlak of the Shattered Isles.

After taking the time to clean herself thoroughly, she returns to the Columbia, where she very sheepishly reports to Crockett. All bed down for the night.

The next morning cargo is loaded and the paddlewheeler leaves Karkul. “Good Riddance,” is the reaction of many.

Hank spends the day making arrowheads, Tira practices using her spirit sight while Persia is very close-mouthed about her doings of the night before. All she will say is that she believes that Kamlak has already pawned the jewel, since the sword and armor he bore were of exquisite quality.

While Tira is practicing, she notices a large mass moving towards them underwater. She has detected a Kraken and alerts the crew. All hands report to battle stations and a pitched battle is fought with some tentacled horror of the deep. Its many limbs exude a stinging chemical, so they fight with great care to avoid the ichor that spurts from the wounds. Nyra is grabbed, but Mahler's great strength pulls the tentacle open and returns her to the deck. Not so lucky is crewman Thomas, who is pulled to a watery grave. Having snagged its dinner and most likely repelled by the armed resistance of the crew, the Kraken retreats.

The Columbia continues on in a much more somber mood until some time after sun down the ship churns into the port of Orodon. (12/8/01)

Into the Wilds or Last Stand at Abitibi

The Columbia enters the port city of Orodon. It is a strange affair all built on docks and piers in an otherwise brackish swamp. The whole city seems constructed of wood and lit by oil lamps that reflect in the greenish water. They meet with no opposition. In fact, the locals seem excited to have visitors from as far away as Tallon. While the River Master seeks to open trading negotiations, Tira is approached by a local adept. The adept refers to her as “Cousin”. She soon discovers that all adepts in Orodon are referred to as “Family” and “Brother” or “Sister”. Adepts from other cities are all “Cousin”. Since the Columbia is obviously an important ship, containing a Master and a Novice, the crew is invited to feast at the Archon's Table. Most accept the invitation with a few notable exceptions. Gustav has made friends with a bear, a huge descendant of polar bear stock named Hn. Hn invites the giant to a local tavern for a rowdy evening. Persia declines all invitations, still smarting from her embarrassing escapades in Karkul.

At the Archon's dinner, Tira learns several more things about the Orodonians. They eat gator meat, and although it is not from Beast gators, they do not appear to mind overmuch if it were. Beasts are definitely second-class citizens, if that here. They are closer to a servant class. Hank gets into a long discussion with the local city planner about techniques of wood preservation. The River Master inquires about James Bay, their next destination and they are told by Orodon's general that it is a deeply weed-choked shoreline. She further states that there are tales there of people who walk on water.

Gustav is having a good time on his own. He has decided to try and invite as many kinds of beasts as possible to the pub. Preston the Squirrel and Tip the Otter accompany him, but Persia still remains on the paddle wheeler. At one point when all are feeling merry, Hn challenges Gustav to a wrestling contest. The giant lets the bear win.

Back at the Archon's palace, Tira has expressed a curiousity about Orodon's Standing Stones. She is informed that they are called “the Sunken Ones”. The Archon, a jovial man named Mandar, agrees to an after dinner jaunt to visit them. They stand in a pool of water surrounded by a wooden deck. He shows them how ingenious piers can be extended to allow access. Tira manages to touch them while they all are talking and gets a similar sensation to those she felt from Tallon's Dancers of Dawn. The feelings are not nearly as overwhelming, but she has only a few minutes to investigate.

On the way back to the Columbia, they meet up with Gustav's party. The latter crew quickly sobers up in the presence of the River Master. It is on the journey to the boat that something occurs to Tira. She had been bothered by the expressions on some of the faces of the people she had seen. While watching a beast Rat assist a Squirrel lamplighter she notices the vacuous look on the rat's face. It seems that the Orodon's have solved the problem of what to do with criminals and prisoners of war. The masters of the city reduce their psyches to a placid agreeableness. These servants are thralls, slaves to the community. It is disturbing to the Tallonites, but the Orodonians regard it as a humane solution.

The next two days sees the Columbia to James Bay, and it is every bit as weed choked as they were warned. The Columbia can approach no nearer than five miles from the shore without her paddle wheels becoming fouled. The River Master has provisions placed aboard the launch and tell the party that they will have to row the remaining distance. The Columbia will do without it's launch during the estimated twenty days the trip will take.

The expedition consists of Tira, Haiku, Gustav, Hank, Persia, Char and Hugin the Crow. Nyra acts as their guide, though she has not been to this specific location before. Hugin flies scout for the party, finding a path through the everglades. After several hours of rowing, the party is horrified to see Hugin felled by an arrow. In their haste to rescue him should he still survive, they are themselves attacked. Shooting Hugin was a ruse to lure them into an ambush. They are quickly assailed by poison darts. The dart shooters are indeed walking on the surface of the water as they were warned. They are small, slightly built, filthy, hairy people with large thick lily pads strapped to their feet. Poles with similar floats on the end double as balance devices and blowguns. After some initial combat, they discover that the launch's sail acts as an effective shield against the darts. Nyra leaps into the water to do combat at one point and succeeds in killing one of the attackers. The party discovers an antidote to the dart poison on the fallen weedwalker. They administer it to those who were hit and proceed with the sail as protection. When they find Hugin they discover he is wounded but can be saved. Hank is chosen to retrieve him, being impervious to the darts.

Once ashore they seem to have left the weedwalkers behind. They hide the boat as best they can and set forth on foot. Nyra cautions them about the many dangers of the Wilds. She tells them that soon they will reach the road she has twice followed to Tallon. And sure enough, they quickly encounter the remains of a raised roadway. The ancients had made a strange road of wooden planks and metal rails that still runs for miles through the Wilds. This is their path. It is a clear guide to their destination, but easily found by predators and unfriendly savages. They travel cautiously.

The first odd thing they encounter is a huge game trail, many yards wide. Nyra informs them that this is the trail of a Bronto, an old trail that she has followed in her trips to Merikia. A Bronto, she explains is a huge worm-like beast, hundreds of feet long. She says they are not aggressive, but to beware their parasites.

After passing a herd of grazing caribou, Persia spots an odd set of shapes in the sky. They look like spiky floating balloons. Nyra warns that they are Hindenbergs, odd gas-filled plant spores that burst into flame on contact. Tira had seen these in her youth in Nunavut, where in the damp jungles they are merely a nuisance. Now they must beware, for these odd seeds could start a wild fire.

Of course, as the day wears on, it becomes evident that this is exactly what has happened. The party is confident that there is enough distance from them and the black smoke on the horizon, but they are soon endangered by the previously spotted herd of caribou. Spooked by the fire, they have stampeded. Taking shelter as best they can, they weather the stampede with no serious injuries.

It is on the eigth night that their worst encounter occurs. They have begun to bed down for the evening when Tira is alerted to an odd charge in the air. Long before the tell-tale hum and electrical crackle appear, she has alerted the party to the imminent arrival of a reaver. She has encountered these strange black renders f the spirit in the past and is confident that if the party stays together, she can send it away. She has done so in the past. Indeed it was the one thing that saved her from being eaten by the gators of Nunavut.

Gustav and Nyra, bith of whom have been victimized by reavers in the past are particularly frightened, but the Reaver at first takes little notice of them, instead mutating a few trees near them. Eventually it does notice them, and despite Tira's best efforts, it attempt to engulf Gustav. Hank places himself in the way, gambling that his animated body cannot be riven. This leaves no room for Tira to interpose herself and the reaver surrounds the giant and the manikin, just as she grabs them, pulling with all her might. Miraculously, she pulls them free unharmed. In the meantime, Nyra and some others have broken ranks, believing the reaver uncontrollable.

As soon as this happens, the reaver arrows off in their direction, but it inexplicably passes them by. That's when they see the reaver's true target. The noise and activity have awakened a nearby sleeping Bronto, the gargantuan creature Nyra had warned them of. The reaver enters the bronto's body, it's strangely immaterial subsance disappearing into the mountain of flesh. The immediate distress of the mammoth creature dislodges it parasites, humanoid insects called bloodsuckers. They normally feed off of the huge herbivores, but when one is in mortal danger they will flee, taking blood from the first victim they find. This is unfortunately the party.

They run, not even bothering to break camp. Only hank stays behind, being bloodless, to pack an secure their belongings. The rest flee until their retreat is blocked by a canyon, over which stretch the rusted remains of a steel trestle. As they begin across, the bloodsuckers are upon them. Persia makes it to the far side with ease, her feline grace lending her speed. Tira is next, but sees that on the far side, the cat companion has new troubles. Some nasty many-headed reptilian chimera makes the canyon its home, preying on those who would use the bridge.

While the rest hold the bridge against the Bloodsuckers, one leaps past and goes for Tira. She inches backward carefully caught between parasite and chimera. Persia creeps down the edge of the canyon, enticing the creature to follow her. She uses her mother's sword on the chimera, managing to wound it enough to dislodge it from the side of the crevasse. It falls to a messy death. This gives Tira enough maneuvering room to allow Haiku to dispath the last bloodsucker.

The party gathers their remaining belongings and leaves the area as quickly as possible. They spend the night resting and tending wounds. As far as can be told, Neither Hank nor Gustav appear to be harmed by their encounter with the Reaver.

Two days later, they reach the nearest camp of the Huron tribe of the Kabekki, at the edge of Lake Abitibi. Here the Huron do some small farming and cure the hides of caribou, turning them into clothing, armor, and other products for use in their campaign against the Ottawa, a rival tribe. Abitibi at one time in the past had a marina, and all of the building materials seem to have been scavenged from things one would expect to find in such a location. They are greeted by the chief, a older man named Dave, and his wife Sarah. They accept the hospitality of the tribe and are invited to spend the night and share dinner. Hank and Gustav find work to do in payment for the kindness, while Tira asks to be taken to the scout, Zachris.

Dave tells them that they were recently attacked by a reaver three days ago, and that Zachris was one of the victims. Most of the riven were driven off or killed, but they saved Zachris, hoping to trade him to Tallon. The scout was oddly affected by the reaver. He looks unchanged, but all of his actions have been slowed, as if his anima was reduced to nearly nothing. He cannot be seen to move, though he changes position. It is like trying to watch the minute hand of a clock. By the description Chief Dave gives of the reaver, it sounds similar to the one that attacked the party. Hank rigs up a harness to transport Zachris. Tira trades for the prisoner, giving Dave seeds used by the farmers of Tallon. If any will grow in the Kabekki soil, it would be a new food crop for them.

That evening, they eat heartily if simply on caribou and vegetables and watch the dances of the Kabekki. In the morning, they leave. Nyra decides to remain behind with her tribe. They bid each other farewell.

For two days, they walk the old rails. Hank and Gustav keep careful watch on Zachris, trying to give him food or water and listening for speech. The best they can make out is an odd clicking noise from the riven man, but they do notice him take several sips of water through the course of the night.

On the second day, Persia and Tira notice that they have been spotted by a party of Rat scouts. There are half a dozen of them riding hard to intercept them on small sturdy ponies. They have little time to prepare, but they stash Zachris in some bushes and take what meager cover they can. The rats stop short and take positions of cover, while preparing their bows. The leader of the rats, a nasty named Captain Redeye of the company of Black Fang, gruffly demands their surrender and is answered by arrows and sling stones. Battle is enjoined until Tira manages to start an actual parley. She is hiding in a tree and uses her knowledge of rats to imitate the speech of one of Norway's followers, trying to intimidate him into believing that a company of Norway's troupes are nearby. Redeye is suspicious, but seems content to parley a while.

During the discussion, They learn many things. Firstly, that Norway is no longer occupying Shakka-Go. Second, they learn that the rats were displaced by armies from the previously unknown adept city of Saginaw. Mention is made of their thunder-beasts, whatever they might be. Eventually, the party realizes that Redeye is stalling while the large army of rats behind him slowly catches up. They can see a cloud of dust on the horizon. Things begin to heat up and suddenly, Redeye perceives Tira in her hiding place. He rushes at her and as he gets closer recognizes her from her days of imprisonment by Black Fang. He claims that there is a bounty on her and that there will be a share for all who help him capture her. At this moment Gustav, who has been using the time to creep up behind a rusted old overturned flatbed rail car, flexes his muscles and throws his mighty frame against it, trying to crush the rats who are using it for cover. He breaks a hole in the corroded car, but fails to overturn it. Nevertheless, the rats behind are briefly cowed believing it to be one of the mysterious “thunder beasts” of the Saginaw. He and Persia then steal the ponies the rats had dismounted.

All combatants break cover and engage in melee. After a few moments, all the rats have been slain, and several of the party are wounded. With very little time to spare, they gather the ponies, all the rats and their weapons, and working together, topple to old rail car down the side of the road bed and bury the rats as best they can. Gustav tells the party to take the ponies and go back the way they came. They can break off the road in an hour or so and make for a distant hill. He will stay behind since he is far too large for the ponies and would slow them down. As they gallop off, he runs away from the road and finds a place where he can watch from hiding. No sooner has he thrown himself into a thicket of bushes, than the rat band comes over the last rise. They are not an army. They have the appearance of an entire displaced community, males females and children. There are slaves, wagons, and pack animals as well as armed warriors. Gutsav watches with held breath as the several hundred strong band passes the area of their fight. He is about to relax when he notices that some rats have discovered the buried bodies. A cry goes up and trackers are called.

In his thicket, Gustav sweats as he sees the trackers pick up his marks and begin to walk directly toward his hiding place. Worse, they stop directly in front of his cover and dismount. They appear to think that some rocks upslope from him would make a good ambush spot. He can stand the suspense no longer. He bursts from his concealment and lays into them with his massive club. The surprised rats are frightened so badly that two of them are dead before they can even get their bearings.

The fight is short and although Gustav is further wounded, he emerges victorious. He retreats to the rocks that they had been observing and calls out to the rats on the road, who are watching all of this. He tells them that they had better leave him alone, and that it would be best for them to keep on their way. Unfortunately, the rat warriors have been issued this ultimatum in front of their females and offspring. They cannot back down and keep face. Another armed band approaches, this time carrying bows and other equipment. The main rat band continues on while these warriors settle down to taking care of this trange giant they believe is responsible for the deaths of not only the trackers, but of the scouting party lying crushed under the flatcar. Arrows prove of little use. Smoking him out is not very effective either. Eventually they surround the makeshift stronghold and begin pelting it with rocks. Gustav returns some of them, but fears to put his head up lest an archer be waiting. Finally, he notices that the barrage has lessened. He listens carefully and realizes that they are planning to rush him from several sides while one keeps chucking stones to cover their approach.

He bounds out and engages the rats in savage melee, roaring like a demon. He swings his mighty club in deadly skull shattering arcs, but the rats are many and armed with cruel-looking scimitars.

Meanwhile, the rest of the party has started toward their rendezvous point. Taking a covered position on a hilltop, they can see that the rat band stops for some time at the site of their confrontation with Captain Redeye. They realize Gustav may be in trouble and they try to work their way back through the hills to come to him from the other side. It takes them hours, for the land is rough with no trails. Halfway through their trek, Tira feels a sharp pain, though no source is visible. She has her suspicions but merely tells the party to hurry as fast as they can.

They arrive in late afternoon. All is quiet. The rat band has long passed. After a brief investigation, they discover Gustav. He is lying on the ground near the bodies of seven dead rats. He has been slain. Mighty as he was, he could not overcome them all, not when he was already wounded. They are shocked and stunned. Gustav had always been the strong pillar of their group. The dependable friendly giant. Bitter tears are shed while a grave is prepared. Haiku says a requiem used by the lawspeakers of Yzlon when no Gothi priest is available. She says that the gatherers of the slain will take him to a great hall where he will feast in plenty till the end of the world. The words are sincere though broken, but bring little comfort. The company travels on until nightfall and pitches camp in silence.

Return to Tallon

The next morning,the party faces the difficult task of transporting Zachris without the might of Gustav. They eventually settle for tying him to one of the captured ponies. It is at this time they discover that the scout has somethin hidden in a pocket built into the lining of his ragged tunic. A quick examination produces a tattered leather-bound journal. The pages are covered with a neat hand, but the words and characters are strange. They guess it to be written in ancient English, a dead language. It seems that several people have written in the journal, though and some recorded in Merrikian Anglish. Zachris wrote some of the entries, and surprisingly, one was even penned by Mranda, the long-lost mother of Persia. They decipher what they can and then carefully pack away the journal for the Archon.
The next day they discover the rotting remains of a Bronto. It is far larger than the one they encountered and seems to have been dead for weeks, but its trail is fresh and matches the trail they saw from the hilltop the day before. They come to the conclusion that this is the very Bronto that was attacked by the reaver. The reaver somehow caused it to age rapidly and die. Even its decomposition seems accelerated. Hank discovers evidence that part of the Bronto was recently butchered by the Rat caravan. Since the rats would not have gathered rotted meat, their hypothesis is confirmed.

Two days later they enter a large stretch of burned land. The landscape around them for days is nothin but ashes of the recent wildfire. Though all but Hank must cover their faces with scarves, the dead lands prove a blessing, for they encounter no dangerous wildlife.

They make good time to James Bay, where again they feel the lack of their giant friend. The boat he carried so far inland must now be transported back to the water. Hank rigs a pair of saplings to the hull of the launch and drag it using the ponies. The launch is soon floated and the ponies released. They make their way cautiously through the Weedwalker territory. Their progress is slow, for they are using the canvas sail as a cover against the blowgun darts of the strange pygmies.

This sail proves of limited protection. Tira warns them of an upcoming ambush well in advance, but since it is the only way they can proceed, they decide to rush it. Sure enough, the sail stops any darts. Unfortunately, the walkers are better prepared this time. Among their number are two archers, armed with very small bows. Arrows pass through the cover as if it were nonexistent. Char is struck and Tira directs them towards one of the ambushers. The boat crashes into the break and Char hauls the diminutive attacker aboard, where the party quickly relieves him of his antidote.

After a hard afternoon of paddling, they reach open water and discover the Columbia waiting for them as promised. The crew is saddened by the death of Gustav and intrigued by the condition of Zachris.

The trip home takes four days and is punctuated only by the crew watching a titanic battle between a sea serpent and a school of sharks, and a small storm.

While the Columbia Churns her way homeward, other events are unfolding back in Tallon. Young Gilead of the household of Elias has been sent with a team to survey sites for a new farm community beyond the developed farmlands. There is a small amount of inherent danger, and they have arranged for a modest militray escort. Stopping at the last fort before their destination, they receive a contingent of five soldiers. The sergeant is familira with the area and leads them to a shallow swampy inlet. It is their plan to see if the area can be dammed and drained for farming. They make good progress the first day and retire for the evening in carefully arranged tents. They are alert, for there have been reports of missing persons in the area.

The Columbia returns to Tallon Harbor just as night is falling. Most of the party decides to retire to their respective homes, but Tira decides she wishes an audience with the Archon this very evening. Hank and Haiku decide to accompany her, and although all three are admitted with relative ease, only Tira decides to actually meet with Ningan.

The Archon is dressed in heavy nightclothes and sitting by a fire, despite the warmth of the night. His age is obvious. Despite his slow movement, he is alert and greets Tira lucidly. She tells him the story of their journey and presents him with the journal. He looks at it and places his hands on the cover. Using his considerable psychometric skill, he confirms that at least four people have written in the journal and that the entries are genuine. He knows that the journal lay untouched for several years and that the final entries were written by someone in distress. The last two entries are written crudely in the blood of a small animal, possibly a rabbit. He tells Tira that he will have it translated and for the expedition members to meet with him upon the morrow after the lunch hour.

Tira asks for directions to the dwelling of General Hannon, for she wishes to inform him of the movement of the Rats and the cryptic references to the adept city of Saginaw. She is admitted by a Paladin named Pyke and greeted in a Spartan foyer by a middle-aged woman who reveals herslef to be the General's wife, Eglantine. Hannonenters and bids his wife to leave. He listens to Tira's story with interest, asking many questions and often referring to maps. He says that he plans to invite himself to the arudience with the Archon tomorrow. Tira returns to the Hall and her room, falling asleep almost immediately.

Meanwhile Persia has returned home to find a strange inscription upon her door. She recognizes it to be one of the symbols used by thieves. Often thieves will mark a place so that other thieves will know if a place is staked out by another thief, if the person it marks is a thief for hire, or if the dwelling in fact belongs to someone who has paid protection. The symbols are in limited use, for Tallon has no central thieves' guild. Nevertheless, the symbol she finds indeed tells all who can read it that a thief lives here. After carefully ensuring that her house is empty, she opens the door and admits Char. She then deliberately removes the mark. The two beasts retire uneasily. Later they are briefly startled by Haiku, returning from the palace.

Hank leaves Tira to continue to the General's home while he goes to the workshop of Mistress Dakota. The good mistress is asleep at her desk. He notices a strange figure bending over her, placing a light cloth over her recumbent form. The figure comes into the light of the entry way and reveals herself to be a manikin. She is made entirely of brightly colored rags. She introduces herself as Raggedy Jane, and tells Hank that she often checks on her “poppet”. She says she is a nanny at the Hall of Art. Han is surprised to learn this, for Dakota as never spoken of Jane, and he did not know the Hall provided any kind of childcare. Nevertheless, the two have a brief but meaningful discussion over the nature of animates. She makes Hank think about the fact that he lacks a true purpose to define his existence. Jane seems to be a deeply compassionate person and asks to speak with him again sometime in the future. She leaves him thoughtful.

After Hank leaves a note for Dakota, he leaves for the Kraken's Head. Here he breaks the news of Gustav's death to the riven Sanyo. Sanyo guesses the news before Hank actually tells him, but asks to know the details. Sanyo is touched by Hank's offer to continue to pay his room and board at the Kraken, and says that Gustav chose his friends well. Hank leaves and after he closes the door hears the room beyond filled with heart-breaking sobs.

Morning breaks over Merikia, and Gilead's party beyond the farmlands awakes to resume their surveying task. Gilead is intrigued to see one of the soldiers directing his attention to a small island in the middle of the waterway. He looks and sees a small Beast tethered to a short tree. It is a rabbit female and she appears to have suffered minor injuries. She is bound hand and foot as well as being gagged. The soldier states that this is obviously a trap and that anyone going to her rescue could be easily ambushed from the high points on either side of the swampy land. He asks if Gilead wants him to put her out of her misery with an arrow. Gilead is careful not to show dismay at the callous suggestion, but directs him to summon the others while he plans a rescue.

The rabbit is obviously trying to warn them of something, but she does not seem to be directing her attention upwards. Sergeant Anders arrives with the other soldiers who station themselves along the bank with swords and bows. They do not find any snipers in the brush. Gilead, being the only mounted fighter, maneuvers his steed into the weed-filled water. When he is halfway across, the suspected ambush occurs. The water erupts with Gators. They are directed by a huge riven commander with four arms. He calls himself Garlok and tells his crew to capture the wealthy one for ransom. By “wealthy one” he means Gilead of course, and the young hero is overborne from his mount by a leaping gator. The battle is short and bloody. Two gators are quickly slain, and when two others are wounded, Garlok calls a retreat. The sergeant has been badly wounded however, and Gilead places him across his horse and rides hard for the fort. Unfortunately, the sergeant dies on the trip. Gilead leaves him with the soldiers at the fort and returns to the city, to make a report on the gator activity.

The trip takes a good portion of the morning and he arrives around lunchtime. While making his way across town, he encounters two of his close comrades, Farralon the adept and Jarrick, a childhood friend now turned soldier. The two are discussing Jarrick's upcoming vestiture. It seems the young man recently proved great loyalty and bravery in the face of danger and General Hannon has decided to reward him with Paladinhood. Although his vestiture begins tomorrow, the actual ceremony will take place Highday next or eight days hence. Since Jarrick has little in the way of family, he asks if Gilead will participate in the ritual. Gilead gives his wholehearted consent. After a brief comparison of funds, they decide that Gilead should treat them all to lunch.

Gilead bids hem good-bye afterwards and returns home to deliver his report to Grandfather Elias. When he gets there, he is informed by the family servant Tandy, that Elias is in a meeting and will be able to talk to him soon. Gilead takes the opportunity to clean the dust of travel and comes back downstairs just as the study doors open. He is surprised to see Mistress Novya emerge. Novya is one of the most powerful Masters in the city. She is incredibly beautiful and shockingly dressed. Gilead realizes that there is little he can do to hide any bawdy thoughts, but manages to be polite and poised on the surface.

Novya smiles and speaks kindly to him. She tells him that his grandfather has spoken highly of his abilities. Gilead places himself at her service as a matter of courtesy and puzzled when she says that she may take him up on his offer soon. She graciously bids him farewell after this cryptic statement.

He is further astonished when he greets his grandfather. Almost overnight the man has undergone a transformation. When Gilead left, Elias showed every one of his sixty-nine years. Now he seems to be barely fifty. He confesses that he has paid a large sum to Mistress Novya for rejuvenation. Gilead knows this to be expensive. Mistress Novya leases her transformations and vestitures. Elias will have to pay a yearly fee to remain young. Since his wife is nearly fifteen years his junior, he has decided to forgo a similar process for her as yet.

Elias tells him to come in and listens to his report. He asks Gilead his opinion of Mistress Novya. Gilead gives the answer any red-blooded eighteen year old lad would give. His grandfather says he expected no less and tells Gilead that he should be more aware of the business side of the family. Novya is probably the richest person in the city, and certainly one of the most powerful. Since her views on politics and law are very sympathetic to the merchant class, Elias has decided to ally his house with the good Mistress. The Archon cannot last forever, and by displaying loyalty now, he hopes to have good relationship with Novya, should she succeed Ningan. He says that Gilead would be well advised to cultivate such a friendship.
He asks what else Gilead has been up to and is disturbed to learn that young man has agreed to be in a ceremony of vestiture for a Paladin of General Hannon, the perceived other front runner for the next Archony. He asks Gilead to back out, but Gilead says he has given his word and it would be dishonorable to break it. Privately, the young man favors Hannon but does not tell his grandfather this. Elias makes a sour face and says that he will leave Gilead to his own conscience on the matter.

Elias seems to have been affected by his own speech, for he then makes an abrupt change of subject. It seems that a messenger came from the Palace this morning asking for Gilead. The old man had truthfully informed the messenger that Gilead was out of the city and not expected back for several days. It seems that if the young man hurries, he might still be able to make the arranged audience time. Elias asks only two things of his grandson before he goes. Firstly, that he observe the Archon's health for himself and draw what conclusions he may. Secondly, he tells Gilead that everything he has done has been out of love for his grandson. This last remark is puzzling, but Gilead can get no more out of him if he wishes to get to the palace in time.

Gilead reaches the meeting late. The Expedition members have already gathered along with the General in the presence of Ningan. The Archon is about to expound upon the revelations of the journal, when his servant Domo announces the young man. Introductions are made all around. Gilead has met the General several times and had seen Tira and Hank, but most of the faces are new to him. He surprises all by speaking to Haiku in her native Yzlondic tongue.

Ningan briefly recounts the exploits of the party members and present the journal to Gilead. Elias' parting words become clear when the Archon reveals that he had informed the old man of the news of Hadrian's expedition. Elias had decided not to tell Gilead, probably so the young man would not dash off into the Wilds and get himself killed.

The Archon is aware of Gilead's training and asks him to translate for the rest of the gathering.

Gilead does so with a little difficulty. When he falters, Ningan supplies the translation from memory, revealing that perhaps the Archon did not really require the services of a translator. The journal is long, and eventually, when Gilead's voice begins to wane, the Archon finishes the reading.

The journal is reproduced here in abstract form, but the basic story is that Hadrian's party left to circumnavigate the Great Kraken Lakes five years ago. They had a last minute addition of Mranda, Persia's mother. Mranda proved a valuable addition, saving Hadrian's life at least twice. Far less useful was the adept Burke, who was lost in a reaver attack near Saginaw. Hadrian reveals Saginaw to be a totalitarian city run by a small group of despotic masters. He believes them to have some Demon-King artifact at their disposal.

They were wounded by Thunder-Beasts, large deadly lizards, but eventually made their way to Tronto with only three surviving members. They were taken prisoner by the Trontans after unwittingly giving offense by telling the Trontans that their standing stones were not the only ones in the world.

Hadrian and Zachris escaped during a coup, but the Mranda is still believed to be a prisoner. They planned to ask help from the Kabekki, but the journal entries end there.

The meeting ends soon afterward. Gilead is given leave to visit his father's friend Zachris. The Archon does not know if his rivening can be reversed, but estimates that for every day that passes, Zachris only experiences five minutes. He plans to let the explorer write as much as he can and be made comfortable in a special room of the palace.

General Hannon makes several inquiries of a military nature and demands access to Zachris as well. This is granted.

Tira remains behind to ask the Archon about Reavers, trying to understand why she was unable to turn their attacker in the wilds. Ningan confirms that some Reavers are to chaotic to be controlled. One never knows, however until one tries. He is impressed, however, that she was able to pull Hank and Gustav free with them coming to harm. Once they are alone, the Archon's manner becomes much less energetic. He begins to show his age and requests that they end the lesson there. Tira bows and leaves.

Interlude: Paladin Play

Note: only the players for Tira and Gilead were available for this adventure

Gilead and Tira discover that they have a class together. The History of Tallon is taught by Teacher Cho. The two hit it off reasonably well, and when the class is assigned to pair off for an assignment, they agree to work together. Their task is to watch a play being performed at the theater, which purports to deal with historical events. They must research the play and find at least five historical inaccuracies with it. They convince Farralon to go along, since he is reasonably well versed in the classics.

  The play is Orion: Paladin of Skerrit. It tells the story of the General Skerrit in the time of the Archon Samuel the Brave. Skerrit was general while the city was new and besieged by the wilds. The play is particularly interesting to Tira, since if features Basarin's first major performance as a dancer.

Act One shows a military campaign against the Barbarians of Mundaba. The General is victorious and orders a celebration on the fields. The barbarian is defeated and Tallon is safe. He toasts Captains Nixon and Benjamin for their loyalty, making promises to them of glory upon their return to Tallon. He makes Orion into a Paladin for having shown great bravery on the field.

Act Two shows the general betrayed by Captain Nixon who is seduced by the Mundaban princess Calliope (played by Basarin, who has no speaking lines). Nixon stabs the General, hoping to take his place. The plot is quickly discovered. There is a battle and Nixon is forced to flee from the camp with his seducer, who promises to show him a place of great power.

Act Three Orion follows Nixon into the wilds, where he must fight terrible chimeras while growing steadily weaker. He succeeds, but is wounded.

Act Four Orion finds the Demon King Court of Wendigo. Here he encounters terrible creatures and inexplicable wonders. Also here is Nixon, who is going to use the secrets of the Demon-Kings against Tallon, where he will set himself up as Archon. Orion is entirely normal at this point and only wins by taking the Demonblade Annihilator from Nixon's newly discovered animate servant and killing the treacherous captain and his seducer Calliope. Leaving with the blade causes Wendigo's Court to fall. Nixon and Calliope are buried forever.

Act Five, Orion returns to Tallon bearing the blade. He presents it to the Archon Samuel who in turn gives it to Benjamin, the Captain from Act One who is elevated to General. Benjamin offers to make Orion his Paladin, but Orion refuses and goes to guard the body of Skerrit on its journey into Cosmos. (He suicides, but this is not expressed openly)

The two spend the remainder of the week investigating. By searching his father's journal, Gilead finds that the Mundabans are not beasts, as the play claims. Tira interviews the author of the play who is old as the hills but still living. He tells her that the ending of the play was changed by order of then-Archon Kanukka, in order to solidify her claim on the sword Annihilator. Most disturbing is a long forgotten memory of Tira's, stimulated by the events of the play. She remembers from her childhood in the Jungles of dark and steaming Nunavut a legend told to her by Garlok and a visit to a strange shrine.

Before they are to deliver their report, both attend the Vestiture ceremony for Jerrick, the newest paladin of Hannon. Tira stands with the adepts, but Gilead is a member of the ceremony itself. Since Jerrick has no family other than an uncle, Gilead is standing for Jerrick's family. He and the uncle are ritually shackled to Jerrick. As a drum beats and music plays, Jerrick flexes his newly enhanced muscles and breaks the chains that tie him to family. As he walks along the promenade to the Standing Stones, he passes three beautiful young women. From each he takes a precious object or coin, throwing it into the assemblage. He then veils each girl and moves on, simultaneously rejecting both worldy possessions and worldly pleasure.

When he reaches the Dancers of Dawn, he stands before General Hannon. A line of soldiers deals a series of twelve punishing blows with wooden swords. Jerrick bears each blow for his new master without flinching or crying out. When he has done so, Hannon kisses him atop the head, sealing the bond between master and paladin.

The cheer that rises at this point is quickly subdued, for it becomes apparent that the Archon has collapsed. He is obviously ill and weak. It takes some time for him to rise, and during this time a curious thing happens to the crowd. It begins to polarize around General Hannon and Mistress Novya. The soldiers gravitate towards the General, while the merchants likewise draw close to Novya. By the time Ningan recovers and feebly waves to the crowd, everyone has had a chance to declare allegiances and see the face of their opposition. Gilead studiously avoids his grandfather's insistent gestures to join him and sneaks out with the adepts through the small north gate. Throughout the confusion, Bishop Thane makes certain the clergy shows no favoritism.

Gilead goes to Jerrick's vestiture party, but has no heart for celebration. Later, Elias discusses with his grandson once again the importance of declaring devotion to Mistress Novya. Hannon, he explains, is no friend of the Guilds.

On Moonday morning, Tira and Gilead receive full marks for their work and cause a bit of a sensation with Tira's claim that the lost Court of Wendigo still stands. The class discuss this for a while but it becomes apparent that Teacher Cho is a strong Hannonist, who has used the assignment to recall the question of the ownership of Annihilator.

Annihilator 1: The Theft   

Hank and Persia have not been idle upon their return to Tallon.

Hank has plunged back into Mistress Dakota's bird golem project. He reveals to her that he knows a talking bird that Dakota can use as a spiritual model for the golem. Hugin agrees to be studied by the grandmistress in return for her investing himself and Haiku with Anglish language skills again.

Persia has investigated the marks upon her door and discovered that they were placed their by a fox named Fingal. Fingal claims to represent a newly established thieves guild. He says that he estimates a thief of her caliber ought to be able to generate enough to pay the guild dues of twenty gold eagles a month. Persia verbally dances with the fox on a darkened rooftop, but makes no commitment. Fingal makes veiled references to e big heist he wanted to share with her, if she joins, but the wily feline does not bite at this bait.

Tira and Char have joined Gilead's athletic team for the afternoon as they run the steps of the Savok Arena. As they return to the Circle, they are shocked to see a strange sight in the sky. A huge bird is flying over the city. Tira's spirit sight quickly discerns Hank sitting in a seat clutched in the claws of the bird. As it wheels about, all realize the bird's golem nature. As much as they wish to follow the bird's flight, they must return to class.

Hank finishes the test flight and lands the bird in Dakota's estate. She is excited to hear Hank's glowing report of the golem's performance. Their exuberance is quickly crushed by a visit from an irate General Hannon. The Hammer reprimands them for reckless behavior. He tells them to cease any future flights until they have heard from the Archon. This is really outside his power, but Dakota reluctantly agrees when Hank explains to her that her craft created for exploration could have military applications. She says she would see it destroyed before it could be used as an instrument of war.

In the meantime, Gilead has received a message from Jerrick. He is told that the new paladin will have a few moments between errands around midnight in a few days. If he and Farralon wish to meet with him, he will stop at the Golden Golem, one of their favorite haunts. The two agree.

Several of Jerrick's old friends are already gathered at the pub when the two students arrive. Gilead steers a barmaid at an overstudious Farralon, who takes a hint and puts away his books. Midnight comes and goes with no sign of Jerrick, and the two friends, now fully inebriated, decide to call it a night and return to the Hall. On the way back, Farralon hears a cry for help over the sound of the wheels of their golem carriage. He breaks a couple of rules and uses his new morphic abilities to purge his system of alcohol. He does the same for Gilead, and the two rush toward the plea.

They find the Museum of Tallon has been broken into by force. Parsee the Curator is wailing and moaning about murder and theft. They quickly determine that the sword Annihilator has been stolen and that its guardian, Winston, Paladin of Ningan, has been slain. Farralon, already weakened by his sobering exercise, stays to see what he can do for Winston, while Gilead rushes off to try and find the thieves. Neither is successful. Winston dies in the arms of a distraught Farralon, while Gilead finds no trace of his quarry. Nevertheless, he runs to every gate of the Old Circle, asking if any party has passed this way and telling the guards to close the way against any suspicious warriors.

When he returns to the Museum, it is surrounded by a crowd, and police officers are doing their best to hold them back and investigate the crime scene. Interviewing Parsee reveals his belief that the perpetrators must have been spiritually enhances, since they were able to kill poor Winston. Also, they were able to smash the block of spirit glass that encased the Demon blade. It would take great strength to do so. He says that one of the attackers wore full body covering, and the others were dressed as soldiers, though he did not see them closely. He also confirms that General Hannon has several times in the last few months made ever-stronger demands for the sword. Enough people are aware of this that a rumor quickly circulates that the General may be behind this crime.

Persia sees the crowd around the museum during her nightly travels and learns of the crime. She decides to try and visit Ningan, who has not been seen since the Vestiture. She believes that Fingal's fledgling thieves guild might be behind the theft, though it seems unlikely. Using tricks and paths learned from her mother, she manages to enter the Palace grounds. There are so many people demanding to see the Archon that she is unable to get any closer. She is noticed by Domo, Ningan's servant, who confides to her that the Archon is ill, but expected to make a full recovery. He hides her within a gardener's shed so that he can sneak her out in the morning. To be caught unbidden on palace grounds is a dire crime.

Tira learns about the crime in the Hall library, where Gilead is trying to console the disheartened Farralon. He is having doubts about becoming a healer. When Tira learns the full scope of the night's activities, she decides to act. She and Gilead try to visit the General and are turned away at the gate. A team of Policemen stand around the compound, which is armed and patrolled. Tira leaves a message of support for Hannon, while Gilead does the same for Jerrick. A quick visit to the grounds of Mistress Novya reveals a similar sight, though she is accepting visitors.

Dawn rises on a troubled city, one of its most revered symbols missing and one of its most prominent citizens slain. In Teacher Cho's history class, it is the only topic of discussion. Some believe Hannon to be the culprit. Others claim that it is the work of Mistress Novya, seeking to discredit her rival. Others believe it is the work of Karkulite spies, or Iron John, or the unquiet spirit of Kanukka. Rumors run rampant and over the next few days tensions grow as people become more polarized in their opinions.

Annihilator 2: The Search   

Domo manages to sneak Persia out of the gardener's shed in the morning. They are seen by Iron John before they get to the gates, however. The manikin is obviously suspicious, but his questions are simple inquiries as to Persia's presence. She claims that she has come to offer support to the Archon. She does not mention the thieves guild or her suspicions regarding the theft of the sword. She leaves the palace grounds unmolested.

Tira, Gilead and Farralon meet for lunch in a public restaurant where they are joined by Char, and oddly enough, Parsee the museum curator. The curator saw the two young men who had helped them the night before and wished to thank them once again for their help. By talking with Parsee, the characters learn a little more about the theft. Parsee remembers an odd odor coming from the attackers: a sweet powerful honeysuckle smell. The party decides to go to the next market day and track down vendors of the perfume. Gilead pretends to be shopping for Tira and under this pretext, they test many odors until they discover that the perfume they seek is a fairly common cologne used primarily by people who wish to disguise a bad body odor, usually due to infrequent bathing.

Meanwhile, Persia has discovered a disturbance of another kind across the harbor. The fishdocks are in a state of near uproar. Someone has broken into the Harbor Master's office and stolen the payroll. This is the monthly pay for everyone from ship captains to dock loaders. The harbor master is at a loss to explain how the money was stolen. Persia's investigation leads her to believe that the job had to have been pulled by a master thief. The mystery of the “big job” that Fingal boasted of is solved. The savvy cat-girl is forced to admit that the job was excellently done. The money was very well guarded. Due to the number of people to be paid, most of it was in coinage as well. Letters of credit would not work. It was undoubtedly the largest collection of currency in the city.

The Harbor Master's office promises that the sum will be made up in a week's time. There is much grumbling and many threats, but the crisis is handled for the moment.

Next Highday sees the funeral of Winston, Paladin of Ningan. All the characters decide to attend the funeral together. The city is tense. There is much speculation whether the General will appear. He is under near self-imposed house arrest, but he has never missed such an event. Many also wonder about the Archon. Will he be well enough to attend?

To make matters worse, the Harbor Master has failed on his promise, and the funds to pay the dock workers have not been made up. The workers have gone on strike and are leaving fish to rot on the docks. The day is warm and the air is heavy with foul odor. People arrive at the funeral in bad tempers. Novya and Dakota are present, each on a high balcony overlooking the ceremony. A carriage arrives which carries the Archon. Ningan does not leave the coach, but is clearly visible seated upright and apparently well. Just before the service begins, Hannon arrives, flanked by Paladins.

There is an uncomfortable service led by Bishop Thane. Winston's preserved body is placed on an animated barge and sent across the short stretch of water to the Mausoleum island. Once arrived, the body is removed by large golems under the direction of the manikin Peter Shroud. Shroud lives in the mausoleum and serves as its caretaker.

The party watches respectfully until Char notices an odd smell otherwise masked by the odor of fish. He detects a faint aroma of honeysuckle. He reports this to the others and they begin to edge away from the crowd, following the odor. They track it to a small alley, several blocks from the ceremony. There is the sound of commotion coming from behind them, but they cannot see what it is from this distance. The commotion rapidly becomes the clamor of weapons. Nevertheless, they follow the odor to a nearly hidden grate in the cobbles of the alley. They remove the grate and decide to enter the sewer shaft. Persia is the last to descend, and from her perch on the roof adjoining the alley she hears a collective gasp from the crowd. The curiosity is nearly irresistible, but she reluctantly follows the others.

At the bottom of the shaft, they discover a narrow transverse gallery. It seems to lead nowhere. Close examination of the walls detects a secret passage. They enter it and discover that it is lit by lamps of lumina. They follow it down, deeper and deeper. Persia and Hank estimate they must be below the level of the harbor floor. Eventually it begins to climb again. Finally, after a long while, they reach another vertical shaft. They ascend carefully and quietly.

They emerge in a chamber, obviously a drawing room or reading room of some kind. There are chairs and a small book case. It is elegantly, if sparsely, furnished. The room is deadly quiet. One by one they climb out of the floor and fill the room. A quiet peek around the corner of the doorway reveals that they have somehow entered the Mausoleum. Peter Shroud can be heard directing golems to carry the body of Winston to the tomb reserved for Ningan. Looking across the pillared hall, they see that they are near to the tomb of Turik the builder. Char still claims he can detect the odor of Honeysuckle, only now it is fresh.

The party cautiously enters the main hall. They pass by the tombs of Archons long dead. Hank briefly detours by the tomb of Kanukka and verifies that there is indeed a charred corpse lying in state.

As they pass the chamber reserved for Tonda the Farmer, a cloaked figure rushes from the next room, sword drawn and combat ready. He address the party as if he recognizes them. In fact as soon as he speaks, they are shocked to hear a voice they had thought never to hear again:

“Well, well. It's a small wowld. You had me kiwwed. Now I shaww have my wevenge.” It is Scorch, who died in the Death Pits.

Annihilator 3: The Recovery   

The characters stand in amazement, all but Gilead, who has never met Scorch, and Hank, who is far across the hall by the tomb of the Red Archon. Scorch gives a signal and two other fighters enter the great mausoleum chamber. Tira's spirit sight quikly reveals that they have had their morphia and anima augmented. They will be fast and strong. Scorch says the penalty for entering the mausoleum is death. Gilead counters by saying that Scorch is obviously not supposed to be trespassing here either, to which the enforcer replies that he is already dead. What can they do to him? Cut off his head?

Battle quickly begins. Scorch's once legendary skill with a blade seems a little tarnished by his death and re-animation. Gilead quickly proves to be his superior. The two henchmen, Char, Haiku and Persia battle savagely. Tira uses her sight to guide them, warning them of subterfuge or surprise maneuvers. Peter Shroud stands on the sidelines, abjuring them to silence and peace. Finally, they pause. Entreaties for a parley seem to have swayed Scorch. Also, Persia has downed one of his henchmen. While they speak, Tira realizes that Scorch is hiding something. By gazing at the emotions of his psyche, she realizes that he is stalling. He wants to delay them.

They quickly realize that there is another player on the field. The golems are escorting a strange, sallow-faced man in odd rich robes toward the secret exit. They hail the man and realize that he is bearing the naked blade Annihilator. At this point, a demolishing blow from Gilead removes Scorch's sword arm at the shoulder. The smell of putrescence reveals his need for the masking cologne. The stranger sees the party as well and advances with the sword. Scorch has gone mad at this point and is attacking Gilead, who throws up a skillful defense.

The party is nervous about engaging the demonblade until they realize that the stranger is not so much engaging them as he is retreating from the drawing room. Yet another person enters the combat as Iron John strides into the room. The bladewielder rushes past the party with blinding speed, obviously enhanced, but a well placed leg sweep from Haiku sends him sprawling. The demon sword skitters across the flagstones, where it is retrieved by Hank. Persia and Char attack the stranger and stun him.

At this point Iron John takes in the scene in the chamber. He spies Annihilator in Hanks hands and rushes him with surprising speed. Hank attempts to reason with the manikin, but the iron one says that they are bearing a stolen blade in a forbidden place. He strikes at Hank with calm ruthlessness. Hank, though broken by Iron John's sword Crystalwind suddenly realizes that Annihilator confers swordsmanship. He swings the blade artfully and shatters three of Iron John's ribs. Tira, who has fruitlessly tried to open the front door, gambles that the metal man will chase whoever has the sword and runs past them, yelling to Hank to give her the blade. Hank is doubtful of the plan, but does so. Tira continues past, using all the running skill learned from the wolves of Ungava. Iron John glances at her, and delivers another blow to Hank, seemingly from pure spite. Hank's barrel chest shatters. Iron John then chases Tira.

Meanwhile the sallow-faced stranger has run toward the trapdoor to freedom. He pauses at the exit to yell a command to those in his service. “Lethe!” he shouts. Instantly, Scorch, the remaining henchman and Peter Shroud go limp and inactive. The stranger disappears down the shaft. Persia dives down after him, using her weight to knock him from the rungs to the passage below. She also falls, but is less hurt due to her incredible agility.

Tira is immediately after her, followed by Haiku, bearing Hank's still aware head, and Char, wounded but moving. Tira makes it to the bottom of the shaft, but Haiku and Char are struck by a plummeting body. Iron John has stepped into the shaft, trusting his heavy metal form to crush those below. The two squeeze tight to the side if the shaft and all are briefly entangled. The heroes right themselves first and follow Tira and Persia down the passage. They carry the body of the sword thief with them. Though some are wounded, they run with great effort as fast as they can through the passage.

Tira, bearing no burden other than the sword, reaches the far end well in advance of the others. While she waits for them to catch up, she feels an odd sensation from the sword. There is a strong psychometric image associated with it. She has no control over the feelings as she is swept in all her senses to another time and place...

If you are a Palyer Character in the Savage Earth and want to maintain a sense of mystery, do not read this link, otherwise to read Tira's vision, click here.

When the others catch up, they find the young adept looking extremely troubled. What she has seen in the sword has deeply disturbed her, but she will not tell the others. Persia and Hank remind Tira that Iron John is hot on their heels. They need to move and move fast. Tira says they need to take the sword directly to Ningan and no one else. Persia says there are no secret routes into the old circle from this side. They need advice and a safe place to discuss their next action. The cat girl uses her cast knowledge of the secret ways of the city to lead them towards the River Master's dock. By travelling under and over the ground, the elude the metal assassin.

Gilead has been left behind, of course. He elects not to follow the others, since Iron John lies between them. Besides, he is intrigued by what has been done to Scorch, Peter and the henchman. They appear to be totally insensible. They do not react when spoken to, but can be easily manipulated or made to walk. He takes them to the front door of the mausoleum and tries asking the doors to “open”. They are animated doors and do so upon the spoken command. He gazes across the water to the shore but has difficulty making out what individual people are doing in the crowd. He begins to remove the bodies from the sacred place. He quickly realizes that he is being observed. Cries of “blasphemer” and “tomb robber” are being hurled across the water. He continues with his task, since the barge is on the far shore. On his last trip, he is surprised to see the Bishop of Tallon flanked by three paladins. He tries to explain what has happened. The bishop listens to his story, but has him arrested anyway. A hood is thrown over his face and he is led onto the barge along with the mind-wiped henchman. A paladin quickly searches the mausoleum and reports to the Bishop that there has been fighting and bloodshed inside. Gilead is transported to the mainland and whisked away by coach. He is protected from the wrath of the crowd by the paladin guard.

Down by the ferry dock, Persia has successfully led the party to the Columbia. They hail Crockett and are allowed to board. Tira and Haiku are taken to be patched up and ship's carpenter Johnwayn is given the task of seeing to Hank. The captive is placed in irons. Once assured they are alone, Tira shows the sword to Crockett. She does not go into detail about her vision, but tells the River Master that the sword contains impressions that would be politically disastrous should they become general knowledge. She tells him that she must get the sword directly to the Archon. Crockett is intrigued, but will not touch the sword.

Once they are attended to, the party summons a coach and ride along with Crockett to the palace. Domo gives them some difficulties at the gate, claiming that Ningan is tired. But once they tell him what they bear, they are allowed entrance. Ningan greets them in his bed chamber. He is tired and weak, but as sharp and alert as ever. He listens to their story. He orders the captive to be placed in a deep pit under the palace.

He tells them that the man is most likely a master, probably a grandmaster, of the city of Mingatok. Mingatok the Wicked,City of Flesh is the farthest and strangest of the cities of the Merikian League. There they practice many forbidden arts, including the reanimation of dead bodies. Scorch is what the Mingatoki call a zombie. The code word “Lethe” that the man shouted was a command that shut down their psyches. What he was doing in the Mauosleum or why he took the sword is still a mystery.

Tira asks to speak to the Archon privately. Ningan, who realizes she has held the blade, agrees. Before leaving, Hank asks the Archon if he would speak to Iron John and ask him to please not kill them. Ningan agrees, though he admits the manikin can be creative in interpretation of orders. Hank also asks the aged ruler if he would tell him the name of his descendant, in case they should not meet again. Ningan tells him that there is a temple in Little Tallon dedicated to the disciple Patha. He should ask for Sister Winninpeg. Hank thanks him. Persia asks to have an audience after Tira. The Archon agrees, and they exit the chamber.

Tira tells her vision to Ningan. who listens and verifies all she has seen and heard. He tells her that she was right. Should the vision of the sword become known, it would destroy his authority as Archon. The political rivalry between the Hannonists and the Novyists would become deadlier. All that he has done during his reign would become suspect; the humanitarian reforms would be ignored. He also tells her that though she has returned the sword to him before any other adept could touch it, a powerful psychist could pluck the secret from her if she were to dwell upon it. She agrees to have the memory expunged from her psyche if the old man is up to the task.

Though Ningan confirms that his illness is fatal, he says he has the strength to comply. A few minutes later, and Tira can remember nothing other than that the sword agve her a disturbing image that the Archon has kindly removed.

Meanwhile, Gilead has been transported to an unknown location by Bishop Thane. He is whisked down into an underground chamber where the minister probes his psyche. After a long time, Thane says that Gilead's story is true. He orders the young man released. He apologizes for the treatment, but says that if he and his paladins had not taken him from the mausoleum in such a manner, he would surely have been torn apart by the crowd. He cautions Gilead about taking high matters into his own hands, and has a paladin escort him to the Hall of Art.

Here he awakens Farallon. The student-morphist is not surprised to hear that Tira is in trouble again, but agrees to help Gilead search for her. They start with the library, her usual haunt. There they find her. She has returned to the library after leaving the palace. They compare notes. Farallon says a few things which make Tira wonder if he ever picked up Annihilator. He denies doing so, but doubts remain.

Across the Old Circle, Haiku has borne Hank's head to Mistress Dakota. The bodiless manikin tells the Grandmaster of his near-fatal encounter with Iron John. Dakota tells him that together they can rebuild his body in a stronger, better engineered fashion. It will require waiting for special wood shipped in from Orodon, but it can be done.

Note; Persia's player had to leave before her interview with Ningan. This will be updated later.