15 February 2004
Near the town of Mani in northern Thrace, three wanderers meet. Each walks down one of three roads, that meet in a glade in the thick woods. One is a young hunter, skilled with the bow, returning to visit her hometown for the Summer Solstice. One is monster slayer, visiting a friend in Mani. And one is a thief, heading for the Solstice festival, for the ripe pickings... Each one on their way to Mani, but each on a different road. The old signpost is burned, unreadable. Maybe hit by lightning...
Since each one swears the road their on does not come from Mani, they pick a direction at random, and head on through the woods... But they have hardly left the road when they hear someone running on it. A young farmer, wounded, crying for help. He is from the nearby village of Trakia, which he says is near Mani. So the three can only accompany him back, and see what they can do. On the way Rhadamanthus, the hardened warrior, senses something is very wrong. He hears the sound of many hooves behind them, and turns to see a host of riders, rough mercenaries, ride towards them. But they are transparent, little more than shadows, and pass right through the adventurers, not even aware of them...
The village is deserted, and looks ancient. In the village square they see what has terrified the young farmer: a dragon. Young and small, but deadly. It greets them with a jet of fire that burns Trophonius the thief, but not before he has struck a sharp blow at the creature with his sword. Eirene, the girl from Mani, pierces the monster with her arrows, and Rhadamanthus, ducking a mighty blow from its claws, strikes it violently with his two axes. It suddenly begins to fade into nothing... Rhadamanthus, again sensing something is terribly wrong, for a moment sees a young man, playing a harp, in the midst of the square, surrounded by many dead bodies. They are all transparent. Just ghosts... And then the farmer man clutches his throat, and begins to fade as well...
Suddenly, as if waking from a dream, the three find them back at the crossroads. Tracks lead towards Trakia. Tracks of many horses... Maybe the host was real after all? Or is this just a dream? They follow the road back to Trakia. There is no sign of the dragon, but there are corpses everywhere in the square. Most have no marks of violence on them, except for a few with marks from sword or knife wounds. The young farmer is here, his throat slit. There are horse tracks everywhere, the place has been looted. The tracks lead out of the village, along a small woodland path... Following the tracks the three spy a camp in a nearby valley. a fire is burning, and two mercenaries stand guard. Trophonius steals into the camp, as silently as only the best of thieves can. There are several more soldiers in the three tents. Their leader is a woman. Not tall, but beautiful, dark and powerful, the commander of the band. The three hide in the woods, and observe. They rest there through the night.
At dawn they see a man approaching: the minstrel they had seen in Trakia. Trophonius tries to sneak up behind him, and knock him out cold... The blow falls on the man's head, as intended, but the he just turns around, smiling, and says: "I wish you hadn't done that..." He calls out, suddenly: "Maeve!" The soldiers in the camp stir, and begin to approach, the warrior woman at their lead. But as they reach the point, Rhadamanthus ready to face them, axes in hand, one of them calls out to Troph: "Klatharius? Is that you?" Trophonius sees his chance and plays along. Klatharius, it appears, was a childhood friend of the soldier, and Trophonius feigns now to recognize him. Maeve, the leader, says: "Well, we are busy, and don't wish company. Please leave now." The warband heads back to their camp, but the minstrel eyes the adventurers suspiciously as he leaves...
The three decide to head on to Mani. It is Solstice eve, and the town is full of people. After meeting up with his friend, Dhasarius the innkeeper, Rhadamanthus heads to the king's keep, and speaks with the captain of the guard. He seems aware of Trakia being attacked by a warband, but is certain their guard force will stand any threat to the town. He does not believe in any talk of a dragon... As night falls all the people gather in the town square for the festivities. suddenly, the minstrel appears on the stage, and playing his harp... The beautiful melody lures all the people to sleep. Rhadamanthus, resisting, throws an axe at him. It strikes the harp, and a string breaks with a twang. But it is too late, and the warrior too is ensnared by the dream...
The three find themselves in a nightmarish dreamscape, facing the minstrel who laughs at them. Rhadamanthus tuns to run, but finds himself facing a dozen mesomorphs, the creatures which he despises, which caused him to leave his place as the crown prince of Stagira to live the life of a monster hunter... But there is an old man here now, white bearded and robed, who tells him that these creatures are merely his nightmares, that they cannot harm him if if he doesn't fear them. Rhadamanthus concentrates, and the monsters fade away. The minstrel is enraged, and leaves.
And they are back in the town square. All around them people are waking up from their own nightmares, confused. Thunder cracks in the distance, soon the rain will fall heavily. There can be no chance of tracking the warband, or the minstrel. But they are safe now, the creature driven off by the old man...
(No villagers were physically harmed during the creation of this roleplaying adventure. However, many of them still suffer from nightmares. Please support their therapy by making a donation to the Morpheus Fund. Call: 555-DREAMWEAVER.)
25 February 2004
A couple of days after the solstice the three meet in the tavern in Mani. It is a quiet night, and they sit, drink and talk about their strange adventure. Suddenly a man steps in: around fifty, greying hair, dark skin, dressed in old, worn robes. And about his person, on his belt and on straps, are hanging various, colourful masks, carved of wood. He peers through one of them. (This is Mahgse Khera, Heart's Sight). Then he walks to the three, saying: "You could be just the heroes I am looking for."
The man, Dherses, is on a treasure hunt. He says he only wants one object, another mask. Any other treasure they find the three adventurers may share. Having no other plans, they agree, and embark the next day... The journey is long. From Thrace they journey eastwards, and south, through Asia Minor (stopping at Troy on the way) and on through Syria to the fabled lands of Mesopotamia. In Assur, the capital of Assyria, by the river Tigrit, they find a room in a inn. "This is the first step," explains Dherses. He reveals he does not actually know the whereabouts of the treasure. But there is a map... hanging in the kings treasury. Well, with no other options, the three scale the castle walls at midnight. It is no great task for Trophonius the master thief (even though he repeatedly fails to achieve a hold with his grappling hook...), but Eirene, however, slips and almost breaks her back...
It is silent in the courtyard. They find a back door, the lock easily picked by Troffie. The palace is riddled with small hallways and rooms, but luckily they only run into one guard. The thief sneaks up behind him and... Tied up and taken into a nearby storeroom, and with Rhadamanthus gently swinging an axe above his head, gradually lowering the blade, the guard is more than happy to reveal the whereabouts of the treasury. They find the heavy wooden door nearby. The lock opens easily at the hands of the thief, but... As he tries to open it, the hinges suddenly snap, and the massive slab of wood begins to fall on top of the helpless vagabond, squashing him. Luckily no one appears to have heard the bang and the gently "oof!", so they venture into the treasury. There are many chests, and the map, just as Dherses had said, hanging on the wall. But just as the thief is beginning to work on the treasure chests, Eirene, standing at the door, warns them... A patrol is coming up the corridor, they have spotted the fallen door!
No chance to run, they take cover in the treasury. The battle is short, but fierce. Eirene's arrows pierce the first arrival, and the men jump out to bash those who follow... But the sounds of battle have alerted the whole palace. It is time to run... Back outside through the back door, they don't run for the main gate, guards only just behind them. Eirene's arrow takes down a guard by the gate, but there are more outside. Rhadamanthus whirls around with his axe, knocking down their new acquaintances, and they run for the city. A hurled spear gives Eirene, the slowest of the three, a nasty nick on the temple. But as they approach the city streets, a hail of arrows meets the guards, driving them back. Shadowy figures disappear into the night... In the inn they meet Dherses, who gladly accepts the map. "Yes, yes... Yes, I see," he says, studying it eagerly. They decide to flee the city as fast as they can. There is only one guard at the main gate. Rhadamanthus attempts to fast talk him into letting them by, but it turns out a quick punch is much more effective...
Next stop, Babylon. The journey continues for many days to the south. They reach a land of wide marshes. As far as the three are concerned, they appear to be wandering aimlessly, but Dherses seems to know where he is going... An finally they stumble upon the ruins of an old temple. They have not ventured very far when Rhaddy senses that something is badly wrong. Eirene, holding the rear, hears footsteps behind them. Suddenly something strikes Troffie, who is at the lead, out of thin air. He thrashes aimlessly with his sword, and seems to strike them. Gherses hands a mask to Eirene, saying "Here, use this!" (This is Mahgse Droha, True Sight.) She holds the mask to her face, and... through the eyes she sees dead creatures, one behind them, one in front of them. She points at the one nearest to her, and Rhadamanthus tries to whack it with his axes. But as Eirene attempts to hit it with her own sword, she stumbles, and the mask falls to the floor... where Rhadamanthus seizes it, and now, being able to see the creature, delivers a series of devastating blows with his axe, pulverizing it. Trophonius flees as fast as he can. Fighting invisible dead is too much... The creature that attacked him turns its attention to Eirene, and delivers a blow, badly wounding her... It too, however, soon falls before the fearless monster slayer. Regrouped and bandaged, they find themselves in the inner chamber... which turns out to be utterly empty, except for a stone mask hanging on the wall...
"What is this? Where is the treasure?", the three angrily question Dherses. "You don't understand..." he replies. "This mask is the key to the real treasure... We must go south, to the ocean..." The three grudgingly agree to still accompany the man further... And several days later they find themselves on a high rocky cliff facing the ocean. There is an old place of worship here, stone statues gaze eternally towards the sea. "Yes, this is it," says Dherses, and tuns to Eirene. "You have the best sight. You look through the mask, and tell me all that you see." She does as is told... (This is Mahgse Arthun, Far Sight.) She speaks: "I see the ocean, a boat, and a boatman, robed in black... An island, a spring and a lake. A man by the lake, speaking..." But as this happens, fist her feet, then upwards, steadily, she begins to turn to stone.
Rhadamanthus tries to intervene, but Dherses steps between them. "No!" he exclaims. "I must... I must have the secret of immortality!" Rhadamanthus starts to strike him, but feints, knocking Eirene down instead. The mask drops from her hands, and she is all living flesh again. Rhadamanthus goes for the mask. But Dherses gives a loud whistle... A horde of mercenaries appear from the nearby woods! Before they can attack, Rhadamanthus holds the mask over the cliff edge... "No!" cries the old man. "You mustn't! Please, I'll let you go, just give me the mask..." But Rhadamanthus hesitates... "Give it to me!" Dherses cries, lunging towards the warrior, who immediately throws the mask out to the sea. The old man slips, falls, grasps for hold... His madness seems to pass, he laughs.
"I failed, but at least I had a damned good time trying! Rhadamanthus... I gazed into your heart when we first met... And I saw... Mesomorph. You must find... the Monster's Mask... seek the land of Kharandah, in the north..." Then his grip fails, and he falls... Leaderless, the mercenaries leave, one by one. It is a long way back to Greece.
(No brave huntresses were petrified during the creation of this roleplaying adventure. A priceless mask, however, was forever lost. The reports of petrified fish found by divers near the coast of Babylon are not related to this incident in any way.)
GM's note: The idea of the magical masks came from the Mythago novels by Robert Holdstock. Some aspects of the story were also inspired by the Mesopotamian epic of Gilgamesh.
12 June 2004
A gloomy hall somewhere on Mt. Olympus. Ares, bored, sits by a fire, absently twirling a dagger in his hand. Athena is sitting nearby. Ares says: "Sister dearest... What would you bet that I couldn't win a war with sheep?"
After their long journey through Mesopotamia, the three adventurers return to Greece across the Mediterranean. Summer is well on its way, harvest time approaching. Their destination is... north. They now seek any information they can find about the mysterious land of Kharandah. However, they are not far into southern Greece when they happen upon a large camp. A whole village, fled from their homes. The village elder greets them, and says they look like experienced adventurers. "Our village is haunted," he says. "Won't you please help us? The harvest will be ruined if we cannot return to our homes soon."
What choice do the three have? They arrive in the nearby village. It looks deserted. Strangely, though the houses look to be in good shape, only recently vacated, here and there they notice a plank or two missing... And suddenly they hear a flapping noise. Something is flying towards them. It looks like a large bird, but as it draws closer they see it is made of wood, with cloth wings. It is coming in fast, and out of control, and crashes, not ten yards from the adventurers. I voice is heard from the wreckage: "Rats! Every darn time..." Something crawls out... A sheep, in a leather hat and goggles. "Barbarians! We've got you now!" Rhadamanthus takes a step nearer, just as Eirene, at the rear, sees a barely noticeable line in the sand, a square that surrounds them all... "No!" she cries, just as the trap door opens and they fall...
They find themselves in a wooden cage, dug into the ground. A cover slides on top. Faces appear around the edge... Sheep faces. "Baa!" they call. "Baa! We got them! Baa! The barbarians!". A basket is lowered in, with a rope. "Put in your weapons. Baa," calls down the first sheep. The adventurers don't quite agree, though. Trophonius, used to scaling walls, climbs up the rope, fast as lightning. He pops his head through the hatch at the top... and is staring at a miniature catapult, trained right between his eyes. "Baa. Fire!", someone calls. The thief rolls on the cage roof, barely dodging the rock, and scraping his knee. He stands on top off the grill, and draws his sword. Rhadamanthus and Eirene follow. "Baa. you'll never escape. You are surrounded. We have traps everywhere. Baa. We have won the barbarians, just as the Man said we would."
However they try to explain, the sheep cannot seem to grasp the idea that the three trapped adventurers might not be barbarians. "Baa. You came. Just as the Man said." And how did they come to speak? "Baa. Nice Man taught us. Nice Man said we will win a war against barbarians. Baa." And what might this "Man" have looked like? "Baa. Nice Man. Tall, dark, lots of leather. Baa." Ah, well... Ain't that just swell... Just then a sheep runs in from the opposite end of the town. "There's riders approaching! Baa! They look like barbarians!" The lead sheep exclaims: "But we've already beaten the... baa... barbarians!"
"That's what we've been trying to tell you! We're not barbarians! But we can help you beat the real barbarians!" the three cry out. The lead sheep looks at them, puzzled. "You sure you're not barbarians? Baa?" After been reassured even more, he says: "Well then. Baa. Let them go! Hi, my name is Haroldus. Who are you?"
It is late afternoon. Trophonius sneaks out to have a look at the newcomers, who have apparently camped near the village, waiting for nightfall. He sees almost a dozen men, tough looking warriors. Back in town, the others look around. Sounds of work are coming from a yard. It is hard to describe the scene they see. Sheep... building, a machine of sorts. "It is a flying machine. For as long as I can remember my dream has been to fly..." Then they rest, waiting for the attack that is sure to come... Soon after dark they are awoken by cries of "Baa! Here they come! Baa!" They peer through the windows of the house chosen as their strongpoint. The invaders advance, and gather in the centre of the town. Their leader sends them to search the houses in pairs. Two head towards the house where the three are hiding, along with Haroldus and a couple other sheep.
While the others hide, Rhadamanthus leans on a table in the centre of the room. "Hello there, boys!" he says as the door opens. One of them cries: "Boss, someone's here!" The leader runs over, and the three men file into the room. He is just asking: "Now what in Tartaros is going on here?", as an axe flies through the room, striking one of the warriors in the chest. Almost as quickly a table is flung at the other warrior. The axe is not enough, though, as the first warrior charges, his sword glancing off Rhadamanthus's armour. The monster slayer swiftly draws another axe, and, like scissors, his two lethal weapons swing to decapitate the poor man. Simultaneously Eirene has sprung up to put an arrow through the other warriors chest. Trophonius springs out from behind the door to stab the leader in the back, and leaves him writhing in agony on the floor, being gnawed by sheep. Two more men, alerted by the sounds of combat, approach... and the ground falls from under their feet. Screams are heard from other buildings.
The survivors are all tossed into the cage in the ground, and the adventurers sleep the rest of the night soundly. Only to awaken to the news, that an army is approaching. Dozens of warriors on horseback. "Darn it! Baa. How many armies do we have to beat to win this war!" Haroldus exclaims. They can hear the hoof beats now. "Um... Run!" the three adventurers all agree. Haroldus follows them, as do several other sheep. Trophonius stays for a moment, in order to catch a glimpse of the approaching threat. Warriors, heavily armed. Maybe a hundred strong. Lead by a man with a... crown?
Back in the camp of the villagers they try to explain the events to the village elder, who seems to have great difficulty in grasping that talking sheep aren't monsters. He is interested in the man with the crown though. "A tall man? Gray beard? A boar's head on his coat of arms? That... That is our king!" Haroldus says, meekly, behind them: "Baa. Oops. Baa. Back in the village a king impatiently listens to various confusing accounts. He can't quite gather what killed part of his scouting group, sent to investigate the rumours of the village being haunted. Monsters? Talking animals? Barbarians? Around the town sheep are standing, innocently. Too innocently. "Well, say something!" says Rhadamanthus. "Baa? Baa..." is all he can get for an answer. At last the king sighs, and says: "Why don't we just pretend this night never happened..."
As the three walk on, glad to leave the village behind, a roaring sound is suddenly heard. Something crashes through the roof of a shed. It is long, roughly conical, flames bursting from one end. They hear a cry: "Baaa! Cowabungaaaa!" fading into the distance...
Sparks fly up as the dagger is violently flung into the fireplace. Composed, Ares whispers: "Well, you can't win 'em all..." Athena watches silently as he strolls away. "I'm not exactly sure who did win," she says to herself.
(No sheep were harmed during the creation of this roleplaying adventure, but a Monty Python sketch was shamelessly exploited.)
19 June 2004
Stagira castle, many years ago. Prince Rhadamanthus arrives home after a long journey, only to find everything in turmoil. There are dead guards along the corridors as he runs to the living quarters. In his brother's room he finds his father, looking out of the window, face pale, a million miles away. On the bed lies his brother, throat slit. His father whispers: "A... mesomorph... of Ares..."
The journey north is long and hard. Here and there the three adventurers hear small rumours, little pieces of information that guides them onward. Until one autumn day in village among the ancient conifer woods, on the very borders of Thule, an old shaman whispers that the land of Kharandah is only a few days ride north... A couple of days later, as dusk draws near, they smell smoke. There is a ruined cottage nearby, still smouldering. The bodies of the elderly owners lay dead, eaten... They salvage what ever food they can and head on. Tracks can be seen near the cottage. A creature on two feet, but the prints are huge, unhuman.
Not far into the woods they smell smoke again. This time it is a small camp fire. The three sneak up to it... A young man is huddled by the fire, cooking a small supper. He is thin, almost scrawny, unshaven, and wearing thick spectacles. He is startled as the adventurers walk up to him, but quickly greets them, and seems glad to have the company. His name is Huxeus. "You're Greek aren't you? What in the world are you doing here?" The adventurers join him for supper, and tell him about their quest. "Kharandah? Well, this is it. You've found your destination. As for the 'Monster's Mask'... I have heard legends of it. In times so ancient even the gods don't remember, several masks where made, reflecting the different elements of the world. There was a mask of stone, with the power to see all of the world. But it would turn its user to stone. And the mask of bone, which would bring out the true form of the heart of whoever used it. That's the Monster's Mask."
But what was Huxeus himself doing here? "Well, I'm observing. You see, I'm a scientist. This wood fascinates me. It is the oldest wood I have ever seen. And it is more alive than most. It is somehow connected to our very souls... You see, in our souls we carry the memories of all the great hopes and sorrows of men, all the heroes and monsters who have been. But we don't know it. We only see them in dreams. But this wood is in touch with our souls. And it can make these memories come alive... That cottage back there... I think it was destroyed by what I call a Protomorph. You know of the mesomorphs?" Rhadamanthus winces as he hears the name. "They were once warriors, changed into monsters by Ares. But there have been many similar legends before... This Protomorph is the first man who was ever turned into a monster, the first myth of shape changing, thousands of years ago. And it has come alive... Out of our memories..."
They sleep the night, and carry on in the morning. Huxeus is glad to join them. The tracks of the monster are still easy to follow... Suddenly there is a rustle in the bushes ahead. A warrior leaps out as they approach, clad in rough garments of fur, brandishing a spear with a stone tip. "Agar! Nahregh khai?" he cries out, in a guttural voice. He clearly does not understand Greek, but Huxeus speaks to him, apparently in his own language. "It is hard to understand him, his dialect is very ancient. But apparently he is a monster hunter. I think I have heard his tale before. He is hunting a man changed into a monster. And his destiny is to win. This could be lucky for us..."
The newcomer leads the way, sniffing, apparently glad to have the warriors with great shiny weapons as backup. Not long after they notice the scent of rotting flesh. There is an entrance to a cave nearby... They are just about to investigate, and are preparing torches, as a dreadful roar fills the air. The creature is standing in the entrance, at least eight feet tall, covered with scales and fur, and teeth and nails... It has a heavy club in its hand, which it suddenly flings at the stone age hunter, with amazing accuracy. There is a mighty crack, and the man falls, stone dead. "Shit. So much for that legend!"
The three fight of course, while Huxeus hides in the shrubs. Trophonius tries to strike the creature from behind, but his sword glances of its scales. Rhadamanthus is luckier, dealing a mighty blow with an axe in both hands. The monster staggers backwards, and falls... on top of poor Trophonius! It is back on its feet though, quicker than could be expected from a creature of its bulk. The same cannot be said of the poor thief... Eirene stands some way back and manages to hit the creature with several arrows, while Rhadamanthus attempts another strike with his axes. But the creature strikes back with one mighty fist, hitting the man square in the face... When Rhadamanthus opens his eyes Eirene is caring for his wounds. He quickly takes over the medical operations, though, as the most battle hardened member of the party. The Protomorph, sufficiently wounded, had turned tail and run... But even in its weakened state it appeared to be far superior to them... However, they decide to follow. They do not have to go for long when they stumble into a large clearing, before a great castle. Rhadamanthus stands shocked for an instant. It is the castle of Stagira...
There is nothing to do but go in and investigate... The castle appears empty, full of dust. But not too far in they see a guard. Dead, but still warm... They wander about the place, memories flooding into Rhadamanthus's mind. But he is cool, and doesn't share his secrets with the others. Then there is a noise from a room, in the living quarters. It is the room of the monster slayer's brother. He smashes the door in, only to see his brother, looking up from his work at his desk. Then suddenly the others don't see a hardened warrior by them, but a fearsome mesomorph! It darts into the room, a dagger in hand, which it thrusts through the throat of the prince. And then Rhadamanthus opens his eyes, only to see his hand holding the dagger, blood spewing from his brothers neck...
He steps outside of the room, only to find himself in a forest glade. There is an altar here, a simple structure made of wood. A mask, carved of bone, is laid on top of it. He takes it, and places it on his face. The others, at his heels, suddenly see the Protomorph emerging from the trees. Wounded, but vicious. Looking back to the warrior, they see him change... Grow, muscled and hideous. He is becoming a mesomorph! The Protomorph charges... Eirene is the nearest. But suddenly the thing that was Rhadamnthus leaps, over the young woman, who, seeing what he is trying, flings up her arms to give him an extra boost. Drawing his axes in mid-air, he strikes down, landing heavily on top of the monster. The other monster... They roll on the ground, but only Rhadamanthus gets up. The other lays, twitching for a while, then silent. The man stares around for a while, confused, then reaches up to take off the mask. And he is Rhadamanthus again. "Well, that was neat... Now lets get out of here!"
(One monster was seriously harmed during the making of this roleplaying adventure, but since it was just a figment of imagination, we don't really care.)
GM's note: The idea of Kharandah Wood was much inspired by the Mythago novels by Robert Holdstock.
26 June 2004
Winter is drawing near, and the way south is long. However, the three adventurers are only half way back to Greece, crossing the Alps, when they see a great host coming up towards them. At the front are a dozen heavily armed riders. Following them, dozens of people, maybe a hundred, walking. Their hands are chained, their eyes downcast, mostly young men and women. And by the looks of them, they are Greek. The three stand by silently as they pass, and after the last trailing guards are well on their way, they decide to follow, and see what they can do for the prisoners, slaves, or whatever the people are.
It isn't a very long time to nightfall, and after some miles the band descends into a nearby to make camp. The guards, around thirty in total, put up tents. For the prisoners there are barely enough blankets to go around. After supper, most of the guards retire into their tents. Five remain guarding the prisoners, three others patrol around the camp. Our three heroes stay put for a while, discussing what to do. They decide to attempt a rescue, but they must do it very silently, not to alert the sleeping guards. The three outer guards are easy. Eirene and Rhadamanthus wait silently while Trophonius stealthily sneaks up to them, one by one... Then it's just a matter of getting the other five as swiftly as possible. The guards are tired after a long ride, and Trophonius and Rhadamanthus have no trouble sneaking up behind two of them. Eirene, in a show of remarkable archery, takes care of the other three. The poor mercenaries never knew what hit them....
As quickly as they can, they start to release the thankful prisoners from their chains. Everything is going well, until suddenly they hear the sound of someone approaching. More than someone: an army. Several hundred horsemen are approaching, all heavily armed. "Run!", the three adventurers cry. Into the thickets, glancing behind it would appear there's no pursuit. But just then they burst into a clearing and almost run into a score of soldiers, crossbows lifted to greet the newcomers...
The journey continues back north, but this time more to the east, towards Gaul. The three are put in a cage on a cart, from which they view a dreadful site around them. The army is several hundred strong. They appear to have rounded up most of the released prisoners, and there a several other groups like them. Many days pass, and they as they descend from the mountain passes into Gaul proper. One day the prison cart is riding along in a small caravan of wagons, only five guards accompanying them, the main army is on some other errand further south. Suddenly the wheels of the cart get stuck in mud. The guards hustle around, and in the confusion Trophonius manages to pick the keys off a guard standing near the cage.
The rest is a piece of cake. Rhadamanthus swings the door open, grabs a sword from one of the guards, and somersaults, springing up to strike another guard. Who happens to have a nice, heavy morningstar, which the monster slayer aptly uses to disable a couple more guards. Eirene grabs a hidden breast dagger that the guards had missed, and leaps out to strike at a guard, while Trophonius swings from the beams of the cage to kick another square in the chest, sending him sprawling on the ground. The few remaining guards swarm on Eirene, who is standing nearest, but they are soon taken care of... Rhadamanthus questions one of the survivors. He doesn't know much, but it is clear that this army belongs to Maeve, the female warlord who was terrorizing the vicinity of Mani when the three first met. After getting their own equipment back, the three run of into the woods.
They have hardly had time to rest, when they see three riders approaching. They hide. Or at lest, attempt to hide, as Eirene steps on the tail of a squirrel. Both Eirene and the poor creature make sufficient noise for the riders to stop and cry: "Halt! Who goes there?" These look different than Maeve's men, though, so they step out of the thicket, and are greeted by one of the men, apparently higher in value than the other two. He introduces himself as Vercingetorix. One of the others is Valarix, his second in command. It is a grave time, apparently, as Julius Caesar's forces are gathering for attack. Vercingetorix is leading his own small army against them, and invites the three to join him. They accept, not least because they feel they'd be safe from Maeve's army this way...
But just then Rhadamanthus has a very clear feeling that something is wrong... And only a few seconds later a bolt from a crossbow comes whistling through the woods, striking the Gallic leader in the shoulder. They hear a woman's voice from the trees, saying: "That's one. And Trophonius, you're on my list as well!" The surprised thief has no time to react as another dart come flying, and strikes him... Rhadamanthus rushes to tend to the wounded man. The bolt smells strange... Poison! "Quick!" says Vercingetorix's guard. "We must get back to our camp!"
The way is not very long. They rush to the chieftain's tent, calling in doctors, hardly having time to take in the scene: an army preparing for battle. Thousands, maybe tens of thousands strong. The doctors see to the wounds, and give them medicines. "They will probably pull through, if they are strong. But they will be sick for many days..." Rhadamanthus and Eirene are shown into a tent where they can rest. Night falls, but they have not slept for long, when Rhadamanthus gets a feeling that something is wrong again. His sixth sense is seldom wrong... It is too quiet. As he looks about outside, he notices there are no guards around the chieftains tent. He has polished his axe just before going to bed, and now he, carefully, puts the head of the axe through the flap of the tent. In the reflection he sees a figure poised over Vercingetorix, a knife in hand...
And naturally he charges in, throwing an axe as he does so. It strikes the intruder in the shoulder, who, startled and wounded, throws the knife at the warrior, but misses. It is a woman. Her skin is black, her hair short. She is not tall, but looks fast and agile. And heavily armed. As Rhadamanthus leaps to strike her, she extends her arm to punch him square in the face. But he dodges, and sweeps with his feet to knock her down, jumping on top of her. "Enough," she whispers. "You've beat me. But you were just lucky!" Guards are coming in now, and the intruder is tied down securely. "Who hired you?" Rhadamanthus inquires, but she is not talkative. A close shave with an axe makes her feel slightly different though... "Well, it is not that hard to guess. Julius Caesar wanted Vercingetorix dead." What about the Greek thief? "Him? There's a rich man in Greece who would love to see his head on a platter..."
There is nothing more to do, although it is still unclear why the chieftain's tent was not guarded. Valarix, though, is nowhere to be seen... The adventurers go to sleep. Only to wake up at dawn to cries of: "The Roman's are coming!" Vercingetorix, on his feet but very weak, invites them to climb a nearby hill that commands a good view of the area... Beneath them the armies of the Celts are encamped. From the south-west great ordered lines of Roman footmen are approaching. And as they turn around they see a horde of riders and footmen in black approaching from the south-east.
To be continued...
(No animals were harmed during the creation of this roleplaying adventure, but several sausages were brutally slaughtered before the play session.)