Way of the Wicked

At Last, Aldencross

Arriving late in the town of Aldencross, the Nessian Knot finds it to still have some life in it. This border town seems to serve as a popular stop for merchants and has an active square where all sorts of goods are peddled as well as several well stocked shops. There is but one inn which serves travellers, a large establishment called The Lord’s Dalliance.

The Knot is quickly taken to be some sort of adventurer group, their Oracle assumed to be a Wizard due to the presence of Kiliketz- her “familiar”, their unholy knight passing quite easily as a member of the Alerion knights due to the very convincing and legitimate armor and holy symbol taken from Sir Balin’s corpse and the shocking tiefling using a glamour to pass for an unassuming- and quite mute aasimar healer.

Almost immediately the group sets about gathering information about those residing in the inn, the town, the tower and any other information they can get ahold of. Several snippits of information and rumor are quickly gleaned, it seems the people of Talingarde are all too trusting…

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Last Chances

Looking north, to Aldencross and Balentyne it strikes the Nessian Knot that this is the point of no return…

You are close now. Just a few miles from here sits the small market town of Aldencross and less than a mile from there is the watchtower of Balentyne – your goal. Already Sakkarot’s horde gathers and prepares to move. Within two weeks, they will be in a small valley north of the lake awaiting your signal. Fire the rocket into the air at just the right moment and you will take the first step towards claiming vengeance against Talingarde.

Destiny has taken you here. Destiny has given you a mission. There is no doubt that the future of this green and pleasant land lies in your hands. You could go to that town right now and warn them of the plots of the sinister Cardinal Thorn. You could give yourself up and face the justice you deserve. You could turn back from the horror and the slaughter that you are going to inflict upon these Mitran sheep. This is that moment. This is the turning point. After this, there is no going back. Any one eager for redemption?

With no hesitation they head to the road and begin following it, pausing only to safely bury their pet draugr and send their ogre to hide in the woods.

I thought not. Come, my friends. We have work to do. We must burn Balentyne.

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The Bugbear Camp

Finally the Frosthamar arrives at the ice-choked entrance to the River Taiga. Kargeld proves himself a worthy captain nimbly sailing the heavily laden craft through fields of floating jagged ice. He barks orders in norspik and his sailors scramble to comply. Again and again he turns the boat at just the right moment to pass between the broken shards calved from ancient glaciers.

After nerve-wracking hours of this, the boat pushes through the dangerous headwaters of the Taiga into the clear water of this almost uncharted mighty river.Beyond the headwaters is a land of savage wonders. The Taiga winds through a great northern forest that to the best of anyone’s knowledge has no name.

Miles and miles of picturesque pine trees frosted with new fallen snow pass by before the ship comes to a great mountain range. This river flows through a great rift in the mountains that looks as if some impossible huge primordial giant smashed a pass through the grey slate.

The Nessian Knot is headed south now, though this appears to have no effect on lessening the intense cold. They are headed to the great interior sea of Talingarde – Lake Tarik as it is known. To the south of that lake sits the Watch Wall. And on the northern banks in a wide wooded valley is their destination – the camp of Sakkarot Fire-Axe.

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Thousands of bugbears are already assembled. These savage humanoids are not pleased to see outsiders, especially humans. Worse, there are more than just bugbears here. The occasional polar bear lumbers around the camp untended. Fur-clad goblins scamper here and there, laughing with frenetic glee. Even a few hill giants gather at the camp’s fringes.

There is only one place to dock the boat – a crudely made pier that juts into the river. On that pier are four hulking bugbears. They don’t seem pleased to see the Frosthamar. In fact, these bugbears are bored thugs who notice the Frosthamar’s approach a few moments before Sakkarot can get to the pier. They have the brilliant idea of eating the soft, squishy ‘hummies’ before the Fire-Axe gets here and claims all the tasty bits.

A fight breaks out between these thugs and the Nessian Knot, while the captain and his crew remain on the ship to defend it- or perhaps to make their escape if the situation deteriorates further. It is not long before the bugbears are dispatched or run off and quickly Sakkarot himself arrives, quelling any chance of more of the army attacking these strangers.

“These humans are my guests. I will deal with anyone who harms them. They are our allies!” He walks over to the boat and rips open one of the crates revealing finely made axes with in. He tosses one to a nearby bugbear warrior who until this time only had a crude club to wield. “Behold, they bring us steel!” This earns the Nessian Knot a terrifying chorus of growls and cheers from the monstrous assembly.

The boat is unloaded. Sakkarot’s lieutenants see that each case is distributed and soon our villains can see a visible transformation in the camp. Where once there were a thousand bugbear savages, now there are a thousand bugbear soldiers each with new weapons and shields adorned with the emblem of the fire axe. What a terror the Knot has helped to create.

Sakkarot holds a feast in honor of the weapons shipment and their allies. The feast is a brutal, savage affair with bugbears fighting each other and all manner of monsters in attendance. The highlight of the party is when a great shaggy dire boar recently captured from the northern woods is brought in shackles.

One ton of angry pig is led in by a dozen bugbears who drag the beast before Sakkarot. Sakkarot beheads the already wounded animal in one mighty stroke with his fire axe. The beast is then spitted and roasted in a great open pit. The Nessian Knot sits at the Fire-Axe’s table – a front row seat at this spectacle of savagery.

A Private Audience

Eventually as the raucous bestial festivities of the bugbear tribes die down, Sakkarot wants to speak with the Knot alone. He summons them into his private chambers and dismiss his many followers with a deep growl.

“You are traitors to your own kind. You must know that. When Balentyne falls and my horde pours through its shattered gates, we will slaughter the Talireans by the thousands. Yet I see no regret in your eyes. Tell me, how can this be?”

The Nessian Knot informs him that they hold no love for Talingarde and that they wish to see it burn as much as he does. After showing him their scars from Branderscar Prison, he too reveals he bears a mark though with different purpose. Pulling aside his great breast-plate he shows the holy symbol of Asmodeus burned into his chest, “We all have our scars.”

Sakkarot is not an ordinary bugbear. Well-spoken and intelligent, he is anything but the typical brute. Sakkarot does not look down upon them for betraying their own.

Glutted on dire pork and rotgut and starved for decent conversation he listens as they tell him that they are the ninth knot- the Nessian Knot and reveals that he is the first knot- the Avernian Knot. “I am the only true member of the knot. The rest are only fools.”

As they speak further it turns out that Sakkarot knows a little about Cardinal Thorn’s past. The bugbear chieftain knows that Thorn was not always the Cardinal’s name and that once he was a cardinal of the Mitran faith. What that name was and why Thorn betrayed the faith of the Shining Lord, Sakkarot can only guess.

“Tomorrow you must depart this camp. It will never be truly safe for you here. Over the next week, more tribes will rally to my banner. I will promise them blood and give them steel. Then at last I will be ready to march. A week after that – I will be poised to strike. I will move my horde to the valley just north of Balentyne. There we will wait for your signal. Fire this rocket into the air. Within the hour, we will attack. Make sure that the way is ready.”

“After we gather, my horde will be idle and start to grow anxious. I can hold them together for another two weeks. After that, I expect desertions and squabbling. Get your work done before then. You have one month to infiltrate and destroy Balentyne.”

Sakkarot hands them a single carefully wrapped signal rocket. Suddenly the bugbear warlord gets very serious and stern. He stares straight into their eyes.

“Can you do this? In one month can you break the Watch Wall?”

They all assure him that yes, the are the ones for the job.

He grunts and nods. “Thorn has faith in you. If you weren’t his best, he wouldn’t have sent you. Do this and your names will be legend. Now go. Hail Asmodeus!”

Loose Ends

Once unloaded, Captain Odenkirk is more than anxious to leave the bugbear camp. Already bugbear warriors have been eyeing his ship and though they have not yet built up courage enough to attack, the Captain knows it is only a matter of time. He does not trust Sakkarot and is not shying about saying so. “Look in that one’s eyes. He’s smart — always plotting. Bugbears should not be smart.”

Captain Odenkirk crosses the mist-shrouded Lake Tarik under the cover of darkness, with the intention of depositing the Nessian Knot on the shore a couple hours walk from the Tower Balentyne and the town of Aldencross.

However, as soon as the plank is put across to land, the Nessian Knot strikes! Through careful planning they swiftly take the captain out of the fight with a spell to fatigue him, making him incapable of bringing forth his powerful rage. The sailors are easily dispatched and finally the captain is also separated from his life.

Removing what valuables they can find and then setting the ship aflame and pushing it away from shore, the Nessian Knot now turns their attention to Talingarde, the land they are here to crush.

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To The North!

It takes half a day to sail down the Varnyn River and out into the open ocean. The Frosthamar hugs the coast and from the ship you can see countless farming communities and fishing villages go by. More than a few fishermen wave at the Frosthamar. Kargeld is always sure to wave back. “Wouldn’t want ‘em to get suspicious, eh?” he says with a glower.

The Frosthamar is not swift so heavily-laden and averages about forty eight miles a day. It takes a week for the ship to pass along the settled coast of Talingarde passing the great city of Daveryn, the largest center of civilization along the western coast.

The Blade of St. Martius

Close to the Watch Wall, a single small patrol ship named “The Blade of St. Martius” spots the Frosthamar and sails towards her to investigate.

Kargeld grimly pairs down their options, “She’s seen us, sure as damnation. And there is no way the ‘Frosthamar’ will outrun her loaded like this. One look at our cargo and they’ll know us for exactly what we are – weapon smugglers.”

The Nessian Knot quickly concocts a plan to trick the patrol, posing as a party of Mithran adventurers led by the somewhat known Sir Balin, aided in this as they possess both the knight’s armor and distinctive Alerion order holy symbol.

The Frosthamar and its crew look very suspicious to Captain Edward Sambryl even from afar. They’re a loaded foreign ship headed north. Captain Sambryl is unsure what that means but very sure he wants to find out. As soon as the ship gets close enough, the Talirean sailors begin shouting “Heave to in the name of the king!” Kargeld and his men comply, slowing the ship and awaiting the approach.

Before they can draw fully alongside, “Sir Balin” addresses Captain Sambryl and assures him that he and his Aasimar companions are on a holy mission to the north. He is still slightly suspicious and unsure but ultimately draws his ship away, back toward shore, allowing the Frosthamar to continue.

The Hope of the Haunted

Dark have been Nerianus’ dreams of late. A haunted triton oracle of Mitra, Nerianus has always been regarded as mad by his tribe. He has foreseen that a great evil is coming and has become convinced that only he can stop it. That great evil is of course the Nessian Knot. Nerianus has gathered a small group of triton believers and their dolphin allies and now they moved to intercept the Frosthamar.

The Nessian Knot, aided by the sailors and captain Odenkirk quickly turned the battle against the triton and ultimately killed Nerianus, but not before he spoke to them a prophecy… “The shining sun has seen the wickedness you hide in hearts. And thus it will be the sun who brings your doom.”

Seal Isle

As Odenkirk sails north he knows that he will pass close to one of the richest fur seal harbors in all of Talingarde. Seal Isle is rarely hunted by Talirean fishing boats because it is too far north and too dangerous. And so, the captain approaches the Knot.

“We are a little light on fresh water I think. We are passing Seal Isle and there is a stream that feeds into the bay there. We’ll take on water there. I’ll send a party to the shore. Of course, that means we’ll spend a day in some of the richest fur seal hunting grounds all along this coast. I’m thinking of organizing a hunting expedition. Interested?"

The Nessian Knot agrees, also persuaded by their own greed to this little detour. Once near the isle, they set out in one of the folding canoes while the captain takes the other. For three days they hunt seals, the Knot using the second to plan their eventual betrayal of the captain. Though they had some modest success the Knot’s canoe is attacked by hungry bunyips and a dangerous fight against the creatures takes place though the cultists are ultimately able to kill the creatures and even recover one to be skinned.

Whale-Hunters and the Ice Demon

A small group of Yutak hunters encounter the Frosthamar and bartering ensues. The hunters had a valuable narwhal horn and were willing to trade for some of the metal weapons the Nessian Knot were escorting to the north. Hopefully no one would notice a few missing spears. As they went their seperate ways, the Knot continuing north and the hunters south, a warning was shouted by one of them to watch out for an “Ice Demon”.

This warning turned out to be apt. In the dead of night as the Frostahamar was nearing the river to take them to their final destination, a cold snap hit suddenly. The temperature plummeted well below freezing and ice rime formed on the rigging. It began to snow- flurries giving way to fat flakes and biting winds. The crew lit up torches to provide both light and warmth in the freezing darkness. This proved to be a mistake as a nearby ice spirit named Kiliketz takes offense at the mortals’ interference.

Leading a small band of ice elementals across the barely liquid water towards the intruding ship, the mephit stealthily flew to the top of the ship’s mast while the elementals assaulted from the sides. In the ensuing combat he flung down spells at the crew from his perch.

Unfortunately for the mephit, his minions were no match for the crew and passengers and before he could think to fly away, a lucky sleep spell from the Nessian Knot caused him to fall down to the deck and become their captive.

They kept him in a lantern cage for a time but later would allow him some freedom to move about, Kiliketz seeming to find the company of these cultists interesting enough to stick around, though he turns out to not always strictly helpful.

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The Mission

“Welcome, my children,” he says in a deep resonant voice that has an almost inhuman quality to it. “Training is at an end. You have proven yourself worthy. Now, it is time for you to use that training and take on your first mission.

“Your mission is war, my children. You will bring war to Talingarde.

“You have two objectives. First, you will see a shipment of munitions delivered to a bugbear chieftain named Sakkarot Fire-Axe. He makes his camp on the northern coast of Lake Tarik beyond the Watch Wall. With this shipment, the Fire-Axe will have resources enough to unite the barbarous humanoid tribes of the north and light the fire of war.

“Sitting on the dock as we speak is the longship Frosthamar captained by Kargeld Odenkirk. Tomorrow when the ship is resupplied it will be your transport. The captain is a ruthless mercenary and not to be trusted. He knows nothing of the specifics of our mission and you should keep it that way. He knows he is smuggling cargo to the north beyond the Watch Wall. That is all he need know.

“Once the cargo is safely delivered, he will take you just south across the lake under cover of darkness and land you near the town of Aldencross. There our contract with Captain Odenkirk will be concluded.

“It is shame how greedy he has proven. I had hoped to let the captain serve me again but it seems he is too much of a liability. Kill him. Kill his crew. Burn his ship and leave no survivors. It is crucial that no one suspects our involvement and that loose ends are taken care of. Be sure to reclaim the coin I gave him. Best not to be wasteful.

“That done, you will begin your second task. We will do more still to aid our ally the Fire-axe. The bugbears are mighty warriors but poor siege engineers. You will infiltrate the tower Balentyne, keystone of the Watch Wall, kill its commander and open the gate for Sakkarot’s horde.

“Once the shaggy monstrosities pierce the Watch Wall, the bugbears will pillage and lay waste to the townships of the north and the local garrisons will have no choice but to meet the Fire-Axe in the open field. Sakkarot is the most brilliant, gifted and murderous bugbear of his generation. I expect these battles will go poorly for the knights and yeoman of fair Talingarde.

“Do all of this and then when your task is done, break this clay seal.” He hands them a delicately carved clay seal adorned with a tangled knot of thorns surrounding the holy symbol of Asmodeus. “I will have more instructions then. Succeed and I will see you rewarded handsomely. Fail or betray me and you will pray for the comfort of Hell before I am done with you.

“The mission you start upon today is a holy mission. The people of Talingarde think they have seen the last of the mighty Asmodeus. Soon enough we will remind them that there is no escaping the grasp of Hell. Let us toast our success.”

He pours one glass of deep red wine for each of you and then finally pours one for himself. He raises the glass and offers a toast.

“To war.”

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Forged in Hellfire

The newly forged Nessian Knot spent three months being trained by Adrastus Thorn and Tiadora. They were kept carefully sequestered with all physical needs taken care of.

Thorn turned out to be a genius and a teacher par excellence. His lessons were focused and never wasteful. Drilled both individually and as a team, the Knot gained a greater understanding of the world and their place within it.

Tiadora schooled them in martial arts and tactics, proving to be a cruel sadist who revels in their failure and suffering. Aided by her seemingly endless supply of slaves, the Knot was further honed into a team.

After training was finished, Adrastus pronounced them ready and held a great banquet in their honor. He officially awarded them the title of the Nessian Knot in a ritual involving blood and fire. During the ritual he summoned forth a barbed devil to which he offered one of the slaves. The devil gleefully ripped the slave apart, feasting on the blood. With a silver athame, the Cardinal drew forth some of the devil’s blood and used it to trace the holy symbol of Asmodeus on the forehead of each member.

“Behold” he proclaimed, “The Nessian Knot is forged.”

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The Nessian Knot is Forged

The group of recently escaped Forsaken spent the night plunging into the basement dungeon of Adrastus Thorn. They found their path blocked by nine challenges testing their their skills, wits and sometimes brute force. Throughout the challenges they were given these “lessons”:

“Deception is a tool. Self-deception is death. Deceive always thy enemy but never thyself.”

“Following the herd is for fools. Fear not their icy derision. Instead, fear only thy Infernal Lord.”

“Know your enemy. Shatter all that blinds you and then burn thy adversary to ashes.”

“Cruelty is a tool not a pastime. Be ruthless to thy enemy but reward those who serve thee well.”

“The chosen are revealed by their might. The weak deserve no sympathy.”

“Suffer not the fool. Stupidity is our faith’s cardinal sin.”

“Secrecy is our greatest ally. Exposure brings death.”

“Beware the fallen for they may rise once more to threaten you.”

and finally:

“Serve thy master well and be rewarded.”

In the end, the group accomplished all the required tasks to get them to the final room where they found a captured knight, one of the same which had been part of the order that had taken them prisoner not all that long ago. They slew him and took his holy symbol- the pendant of silver and sapphire that the Cardinal requested.

Upon completing the tests, they were welcomed into the fold at last and now are to be further taught and trained by Adrastus Thorn personally, to turn them into a dangerous force to be unleashed upon Talingarde.

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Prison Break and Into the Knot

After escaping the prison with Grumblejack, surviving the monstrous Lashtongue and crossing the moors with guard patrols at your heels, finding the house on the Old Moor Road pales beside your other accomplishments. As promised, a lonely lantern burned in the upper story. The place otherwise shows little sign of habitation. Old but well-appointed, the house is large, imposing and alone on its hill. Painted a dark green and surrounded by barbed wrought iron fencing, nothing about this place seemed inviting or a sanctuary.

You were “greeted” by the beautiful Tiadora who welcomed you into the manor and had her collection of attractive slaves tend to your every whim before finally bringing you to meet your mysterious benefactor: Cardinal Adrastus Thorn, the last high priest of Asmodeus in Talingarde.

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Thorn offered you the chance to sign a pact, with the promise of bringing destruction to all of Talingarde. All you needed to do was bind yourself to the service of the secret Asmodean cult and power, wealth, revenge… all would be yours for the taking. After some shrewd negotiation the deal was struck, the pact was signed.

For a few days you were treated as honored guests, pampered and lavished upon by the slaves, treated to all the benefits one might expect of nobility and quite the change from your time as forsaken prisoners not so long ago. The group was presented with gifts, Tiadora retrieving requested equipment and supplies for them and also special Iron Circlets allowing them to move more stealthily throughout the kingdom and symbols of your new affiliation: silver unholy symbols of Asmodeus.

During the respite you learned that you are not alone in the manor house. Besides the slaves and Tiadora- there are a few others about. In another wing there are four individuals who seem to have been recruited just as you were, calling themselves “The White Ravens” and hailing from the mainland somewhere outside Talingarde. Their leader is the beautiful Elise Zadaria, some sort of spellcaster who often is accompanied by an albino raven for which the group has taken its name. Alongside her is Dostan Alfson, a Half-Elven barbarian who so far speaks very little. Tallus “Trak” Rackburn, a tracker and hunter of men who took an immediate dislike to Thraden when he began flirting with Elise. Finally, Titus “Trik” Rackburn, the twin brother of Trak and cleric of Asmodeus, he seems quite charming, friendly and approachable- very out of place in the group.

After being allowed to relax and refresh yourselves over the course of three days you were again summoned to meed the Cardinal. Though impressed with your escape from Branderscar it seems he still wishes to test your abilities as a group and has prepared some sort of challenge for you in his basement. He has given you until the following night to complete his tests and retrieve a pendant of silver and sapphire for him.

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Welcome to Branderscar Prison

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In the kingdom of Talingarde, many crimes may send you to Branderscar Prison, but the sentence has but one meaning. You are wicked and irredeemable. Each of you received the same greeting when you arrived. You were held down by rough hands and branded upon the arm with a runic F. The mark signifies ‘forsaken’ and the painful scar is indelible proof that each of you has betrayed the great and eternal love of Mitra and his chosen mortal vassals.

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Condemned, you face at best a life of shackles and servitude in the nearby salt mines. Others might await the “gentle” ministrations of the inquisitors so that co-conspirators may be revealed and confessions extracted. Perhaps, some of you will be spared this ordeal. Perhaps instead you have come to Branderscar to face the final judgment. In three days, the executioner arrives and the axe falls or the pyre will be lit. Through fire or steel, your crimes will be answered.

You have all been chained together in the same communal cell dressed in nothing but filthy, tattered rags. Manhandled and mistreated, any finery you once possessed is either ruined or long lost. No special treatment has been given any prisoner – male or female, commoner or noble – all of the forsaken are bound and imprisoned together. Your feet are secured by iron cuffs tethered by one long chain. Your arms are secured to the wall above by manacles. A guard is posted right outside the cell day and night. Little thought is given to long term accommodations. At Branderscar, Justice comes swift and sure.

Escape seems hopeless. You have all been well searched and every attempt to conceal anything on your person has failed. And if you could somehow slip your bonds and fly out of this prison, where would you go? Who from your former life would want anything to do with the forsaken? Despised, alone and shackled – all that you can do now is await your doom.

For each of you, your old life is over. For each of you, hope is a fading memory. For each of you, justice will be fairly meted. And who can blame fair Talingarde after what each of you has done?

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