Claws of the Emperor
Wake up call
One morning trumpets wake the PCs, but for once it is not a call to arms. As they exit their tent they see glittering spear tips and gilded plate armor parade by. First, walking alone in front of them all, is Grand Vizier Alathon of the River, the Emperor's own Mage. Then comes the Imperial Lancers astride their proud stallions, then the Imperial Guard in their impeccable black garb, their cloaks embroidered with a silver scorpion, and finally the red robed Imperial Necromancers, all hundred of them. Finally, following the necromancers are... three old hags, quarreling, muttering and cursing, spit raining freely from their mouths.
After a while it will become obvious that the Imperial Lancers and Imperial Guard are reinforcements, while the Imperial Necromancers and the triplets are here to gather evidence and conduct an investigation into the murder of the Imperial Prince.
Alathon of the River, that boyish looking brat that claims to be Imperial High Mage, ascends the small hill by the Strutting Whore (Makeshift tavern, referenced and described in "A Dark Moon over Sagranz").
Note that the camp, and the tavern, has moved seventy kilometers south during the last five months, as the Empire has lost battle after battle and much ground. Much of this is owed to the inept leadership of the late prince, and the disastrous decisions he made while in command. Had it not been for the intervention of the PCs, the war would have been lost entirely. They should not expect any gratitude for this, and no one but they will know what the Empire owes them.
"Citizens of the Empire!", he begins, "and slaves of the Empire as well", he continues, nodding in reference to the eunuch slave regiments, a rare sign of respect for those considered the property of the emperor. (a few noble officers gasp at this)
"Today salvation has arrived, and doubly so", he pauses dramatically, "for not only has the Imperial Lancers and the Imperial Guard arrived". At this some veterans cheer, though not as enthusiastically as the mage may have expected. "Today justice comes to the battlefield, for the Imperial Necromancers have arrived, and with the Oracles of Devananon they will sniff out he or they who killed our dear Prince Hakeem, the emperors first son with Ahera, his fourteenth wife."
The Imperial Mage then conjures an illusion in which a beautiful woman cries and cannot be comforted, and then rushes to the window of her tower and throws herself over the edge. The crowd gasps.
"Not only is the murderer, or murderers, responsible for our dear prince. He also killed Ahera, who for fifteen years was the Emperors chosen bed-wife. Needless to say, the Emperor is distraught by her death, and his rage has multiplied tenfold with it".
"Thus it is that salvation has come twice today. Once for the fatherland, and the regiments defending it, and once for the Emperor, and the pain that has been caused him. Let us win ourselves a war, gentlemen, and hang ourselves some traitors whilst doing so!", the charismatic mage ends his speech to the cheering of veterans and reinforcements alike.
The Empire is at war, and after having witnessed the arrival of the necromancers, and perhaps after a bit of panicking, the PCs are called by duty. Upon their return they will learn that the necromancers took the corpse of Prince, and oddly enough some of his personal possessions, along with a couple of his female soldier turned concubines.
Inquiries will reveal that they left, supposedly for the Spires of Devananon (false), just a couple of hours ago. The PCs will need to leave the army, without the army knowing so, and they will have to hunt down the necromancers if they desire to remain anonymous.
Alathon will hold a new speech, in which he yet again promises justice for the emperor, for the necromancers and oracles never fail and the sinner will be found, he will be hunted down, and he will be publicly flayed in the Imperial Gardens of the South. This should move the PCs into action if the first speech failed to do so.
Scene of the Investigation
The PCs will have to travel less than a day before reaching the town of Ezen, where the necromancers and oracles have taken residence. The necromancers have acquired the local Temple of the God of Death and Passing of Time, while the oracles have turned a local Inn into their personal residence, with the staff and guests as their servants.
On the floor of the drinking room of the Inn lies the body of the Prince, surrounded by circles and signs drawn in blood and chalk upon the floor. His intestines pulled out, his heart carved out of his chest and nowhere to be seen. On a silver mirror beside his body a single word is drawn in blood on a silver mirror: *insert name of PC Prince-murderer*
The PCs will have to do something about this, and in some way silencing the person that performed the divination is probably in their thoughts.
There are several factions that want to sway their opinion. Trust will be an issue, and they will have to choose which side they want to support, if they want to support any side at all.
The PCs will encounter the hags (oracles), and the hags offer the PCs their freedom if they aid them (they want the PCs to murder Seneschal, master of the Necromancer Cult). To sweeten the deal, the hags also offer some potions in advance and gemstones after they bring Seneschal's pendant (he always wears a certain pendant, which actually houses his soul) to the triplets. The hags will also inform them that Akim of the Necromancer Cult will be a problem, as he is the chief investigator. They will not so subtly hint that he must be disposed, and he cannot be trusted.
Seneschal of the Cult:
The PCs will also encounter Seneschal after they met the hags, or they will meet his whispering shadow messenger, and Seneschal will offer the PCs their freedom if they kill the triplets. In addition he offers them improved physical prowess should they bring the triplets' bloody heads in a bag to him (he will use their heads in a magic ritual, binding their souls to him. They will then become Dead Witches, festering corpses that work their magic in servitude to Seneschal, and certainly the most powerful undead the necromancer cult control).
Akim of the Cult:
Akim is the prime investigator. He will, if given the chance when he encounters the PCs, demand to know what they are doing here. Depending on the circumstances (the PCs might be disguised, or they kill him, etc.), if he gets to know their true selves, he will offer them their freedom should they dispose of Seneschal for him. Note that Akim is treacherous, and will betray and ambush the PCs should they pick up on his offer ("leave no trail" is his motto in situations like these). Akim knows that Seneschal is powerful, and will have eight of his Unthangen Zombies as backup for the PCs. He will not inform the PCs of this (in case they are way too weak, in which case he will wash his hands of them). Should the PCs convince in battle as he spy upon them from his hiding place, he will reveal himself and deploy the zombies to ensure success. Once Seneschal has been slain, the zombies will turn on the PCs. Note that Akim himself is a ritualistic mage, and has no magic defenses other than the enchanted items he carry.
In the end the PCs will have no guarantee that they will not be revealed. However, to remain truly anonymous they must murder the staff and guests turned servants of the Proud Mare Inn, the triplet hags, the elder council of the necromancers and any other that get in their way. So, either they embark on a journey of mass murder, or they choose to make a pact with one of the factions.
Whatever the outcome it can easily create the foundation for later adventures.
- The plot is briefly outlined and what happens is largely dependent on the persons described in the Dramatis Personae, and the actions of the PCs. The Dramatis Personae and roleplaying of characters within is therefore of importance. This is a roleplaying town adventure.
- The plot background is a series of defeats during war. Both in camp, and later in the town of Ezen, there is considerable nervous behaviour in the NPCs, as people fear (and some delight) in the war drawing close. GM NPCs with opportunistic behavior, panic and some desertion.
The town consists of mainly two and three story buildings made of gray natural stone.
Ezen was once part of the Silmarian Kingdom, but was conquered by the Empire fifty years ago. Now it stands on the verge of being reconquered, a fact that people reacts differently to in town. Some, of old Silmarian blood, help the Silmarian armies by providing information and disrupting Imperial lines of supply. Others do nothing, prefering to see what happens before they support anyone.
The town has been historically important as well, as the Temple of the Death God houses the crypt of the royal line of Iberhandt, which ended two hundred years ago with the assassination of young Eric Iberhandt. In the crypt one can find the crypts of the fifteen Iberhandt High Kings, as well as the small child crypt of young Eric Iberhandt, on whose tomb is written: "Murdered in cold blood by Lord Engels Kormak, usurper of the throne". Unbeknownst to anyone, and likely not revealed by the PCs either, the Iberhandt descendants reside in Ezen, and they desperately wish to be reunited with the nation they have claim to.
Ezen itself is on the outskirts of the great Gahruzel forest to the north, and vast tobacco fields to the south - The Ezen Tobacco Fields, from which hails the famed Ezen Leaf, a potent sleep inducing form of tobacco.
Ezen has been left largely unscathed by the war, a fact which is about to change with the frontlines coming ever closer, but for the moment it is safe, which is the reason the necromancers relocated here.
The Ezen dialect is a weird mix between Silmarian and Imperial speech. Some Ezenites even speak old Silmarite (mainly rebels and Iberhandt loyalists).
The Proud Mare
Abode of the Oracles
The Proud Mare is a large inn, and as noted above, the main room is in a horrid state, with the corpse of the Prince on the floor, circled by runes and occult symbols drawn in blood and chalk. By his side is a silver mirror, upon which a name has been written, along with the manner in which he died. ("Kamal and Poisoned" in my game).
Each of the sisters have taken up residence in one of the expensive noble rooms, while the staff and guests sleep in the common sleeping chamber. The guests and staff tend to the sisters needs, washing the floors, making their food and bathing them.
The sisters are prescient and will be extremely hard to kill should the PCs decide to do so. Their magic might not be warlike, but their power is considerable still (see the dramatis personae below).
The rumours are circulating wildly in town. Some say one of the old witches have slept with Old Denech the Veteran, whereupon he lost his sanity and now can be seen walking around town with no pants on, his genitalia smeared in blood. He weeps like a little girl.
Domed Temple of Ezen
Temple of the God of Death
The necromancers approached the High Priest of the local Aahr Temple (death god) and seized it in the name of the Emperor. The High Priest said that the emperor had no power over the god of the dead, whereupon a battle was fought. The High Priest created some sort of plague by cursing them and then breathing on the necromancers before they killed him. Those he breathe upon turned into mindless raging homicidal beasts, attacking everyone with inhuman strength in their arms, whether friend or foe, biting and scratching and screaming.
The necromancers have sealed off the Temple, shutting the plague victims inside. A sinister low chant can also be heard from inside. (The High Priest has risen as a Cardinal Revenant, driven by the need for vengeance for the defilement of his temple. The plague victims lie on their knees in a circle around him, chanting wildly). There are seventeen plague victims. The necromancers have noted, and are rather concerned by, the fact that their zombies seem to contract the curse just like any mortal man. The zombies turn into mindless beasts, and after two of them turned upon their master, tearing him to pieces, they unleashed their magic, pushing the accursed beings inside the temple.
The farmhouse, stable and barn close by the Temple has been seized by the necromancers in the name of the emperor, and is their new base. The infuriated farmer wisely kept his tongue and relocated to his stern, deeply religious elder sister in town.
Beneath the temple are the catacombs of Ezen, wherein the royal line of Iberhandt have been interred.
Possible Temple Side-Quests:
- The Necromancers are willing to hire individuals to cleanse the temple of the accursed.
- The rebels of Ezen, should the PCs chance upon any of them, wants someone to enter the temple and retrieve the Iberhandt Blade and the Shield of Ademar Iberhandt. As the PCs are "the enemy" of the rebels, they will not trust them and will not be told the truth of why the rebels want the Iberhandt family arms. They might even betray the PCs, as "only dead Imperials are good Imperials".
Alathon of the River
Alathon is a fraud.
While the Emperor and his advisors have been taken aback by Alathon and his dazzling power, and the other mages fear him immensly, he has no magical talent whatsoever.
But Alathon possess a singular talent, the talent of persuasion, a silver tongue so skilled he can convince anyone of anything. He also possess a powerful artifact, the Imperial Parchment, the ancient tattoo of Caliph Emperor Dhegras II which was flayed from his body by the usurper Thogros I. It is this artifact that radiates enormous magical energies.
Originally a burglar, Alathon was hired to steal the Imperial Parchment, but was caught red handed as he was leaving the palace. Quick of wit he told the guards he was Alathon of the River and that he had manifested inside the palace to bring the Emperor a warning of war. Coincidentally a messenger arrived two days later with news of war, and Alathon was freed from the dungeons, his property restored to him (the Imperial Parchment is known only to connoisseurs as it is kept hidden away as a gross relic of days bygone).
The Imperial Parchment, was originally made as a tattoo by a powerful shaman to keep the owner healthy and healed. It preserves the owner from harm by regenerating his wounds at an alarmingly quick rate (it was not easy to skin Emperor Dhegras II). However the manner in which the emperor died has perverted the magic, and sometimes the owner will feel pangs of incredible pain down his back.
Although he was once a thief, Alathon is good at heart and extremely loyal to the Emperor. He is mortally afraid of his secret being revealed, which would get him tortured to death in the Imperial Gardens.
Alathon employs an apprentice illusionist Mage to spice up his public appearances.
The Triplets of Devananon
The triplets have lived for years and years. They have loved and they have lost, time and time again, yet it is their curse to live on though their bodies die and new ones are given. The only time they truly know happiness, is that time of bliss from early childhood until puberty, the time before their memories gradually awaken. Upon their death, their souls travel to the Spires of Devananon. There they enter the phylactery statuettes they have in the underground chamber they simply call "The Shrine". Each sister have one statuette, for a total of four, but the fourth is cracked and torn, its head ripped off. For the triplets were four once, but their youngest sister fell in love, and when her beloved fell ill and died, she did not wish to live on, and she destroyed her own phylactery. This was one of the major turning points for the survivors, and the sisters changed, not instantly, but gradually over the years, their humanity becoming less with each passing lifetime.
While the sisters look nearly identical in childhood, they start to grow apart at the age of eighteen, with the features described below becoming more and more distinct.
The triplets were good once, or so the legends say, but over the aeons, witnessing the foolishness of man over and over again, they lost all empathy and now care for nothing but the pursuit of their desires. So, while being innocent and pure prior to adulthood (they regain their memories gradually during puberty), they turn into truly egotistical creatures during puberty. While this is common in many during puberty, the triplets grow exponentially egotistical, and it doesn't stop with that.
The triplets have each their major flaw, and dozens of minor ones to compliment them.
Devola is always a stunning beauty in her youth, but in old age she is truly hideous. She has only one tooth left, she has nearly gone blind on both eyes and her warts are numerous.
Yet she tries to dress properly, vain and self confident, knowing fully well that in a couple of decades men will once again chase her through the spring forest. Beauty is important to her, more so than any other thing, and she desires anyone and anything that is beautiful. Items or persons of great beauty would make a great bargaining chip when dealing with Devola. Indeed, she will become visibly agitated should she see something she craves, stuttering and spitting, reaching with her hands towards the beauty she desire.
Devola is sexually depraved, even in her old age, and will use her Imperial power, or magic if she has to, to force young men and girls to bed her. She will seem like a kind enough old magi, and will ask whoever she has her eyes upon to remain as any others present leave. She will then undress, and in her old and decayed state, her present company is likely to try to leave.
However that plays out: She likes to force herself upon others, she enjoys their fear and she likes to hurt them. She gets erotic pleasure out of bedding people and breaking them forever. She will tie them up, or her shaved female servants will, and she will bathe them in goat blood and do whatever depravity one can mention. (Do not do this to any PC, well, let him believe she will have him, but at least let him escape by throwing himself out a window or something).
Devola favors simple white cotton robes. Her magic is that of prescience, and she will always get a premonition minutes before events actually occur. For all purposes this makes this sister a grand master of close combat, because she always knows where to block and where to cut, even though she is blind.
She wears a silvery sword, with serpentine hilt, in a black leather scabbard around her waist. She has carried this sword ever since it was given to her by High King Jacoros of Silmar five hundred years ago, before the Ardamoth-Silmarian alliance. The sword is exquisite craftsmanship, and throughout the centuries in her possession some of her essence has been imbued in the sword. Thus it is that the carrier of this sword will always seem to know where to strike (increases the chance to hit, and chances to score a critical strike in particular).
Terana is the most mature of the sisters, and in the end her word always carries most weight. Terana has ample features in youth, with bosoms that make men stare and a curvy figure that most women envy. In old age Terana's desire for a life in excess is obvious, as she is quite enormous, with thin, sagging breasts falling over the multiple creases of her huge stomach.
Walking is painful for the old woman, and she breathes laborously whilst doing so, often leaning her head against her walking stick, whispering for her sisters to wait.
Terana's magic is that of prophecy. At times she will enter a trance, and she will deliver a short, imprecise message that is of relevance to someone. Sometimes it is a warning to the women of Uvulerthen of a harsh winter, at other times she simply predicts the coming of nobility, or royalty, several days in advance. Terana can force herself to enter such trances by the help of certain narcotics. Prophecies delivered under such circumstances are often more accurate and detailed.
Due to her prophetic capabilities, Terana is able to make herself scarce should danger come to her door. Indeed, magic would be needed to locate her should anyone attempt to do so with ill attention.
Terana has a serious eating disorder, and food is constantly on her mind. During her last ten lifespans she has been eating human beings, their meat a taste she has learned to savor. She is a cannibalistic glutton, and enjoys the meat of men. Medium rare.
She has seen the coming of the PCs in a trance vision.
Gaunt is a word that perfectly describes Meolden, both in youth and in old age, and there is a cruel glimmer to her eye.
Meolden is a sadist, and she loves to hunt down and kill her prey, prey she will return to Terana as fodder.
Meolden carries out the autopsy of the prince, a task she enjoyed tremendously. She is a medium and summoned the Princely spirit by eating his heart (this is the most potent form of summoning of dead spirits). The Prince told her he did not know who his killer was, so she spirit walked to the scene of the crime and witnessed the murder as it happened.
Meolden favors simple greys and the chill in her eyes is disturbing. She says more without saying anything, than some do using a thousand words.
The sisters desire the help of PCs, will keep quiet in return. Alternative is to kill them (hard, as they will know as soon as the PCs decide).
The Imperial Necromancers
The Imperial Necromancers are gaunt men, for women aren't allowed amongst their ranks. With heads shaved bald and red silken clothing, gilded along the edges of the fabric, these men seem almost feminine to outsiders. They were lots of jewelry, smell of spicy perfume, and sometimes they cast glances at each other that can only be said to be... loving. For these men abhor women, and stick to their fellow necromancers for each and every need.
The necromancers are no less deadly because of this, and keep a steady retinue of ghastly undead servants at all times. Their zombies are particularly intelligent, and obedient to a fault. They also have special zombies, ghasts, that feed upon the dead, sometimes other zombies. These are former necromancers that have willingly risen after their demise. These ghasts are not represented in the necromancer council, though some previous elder councilors are among their ranks. They retain their former intelligence and some of their magic capabilities, though not all. Their magic has, however, been perverted, giving them access to inhumanly dark magics of sinister proportions.
The necromancers are led by an elder council in according to the teachings of Necrotae, the underking of the dead*. This council consists of Merach "The Herald of the Untanghen Cult", Akim "Worm Prophet of the Untanghen Cult", and Seneschal.
*Necrotae is the first recorded necromancer, the creator of the first necromancer cult and, as elder council wisdom will have it - the undead necromancer king in his Undercity. The councilor staff carrier of each cult makes a pilgrimage to the Undercity once each decade, and return not quite the same.
Seneschal is the title given to the the leader of each cult when he ascends to power. In according to the teachings, the seneschals are the stewards of the households of Necrotae. When Senescal first visited Necrotae, Necrotae drained his life-force, turning Seneschal into an undead. While Seneschal seems living, his insides are rotting slowly away. Thus Seneschal is not interested in his fellow necromancers anymore, and his powerful auras cannot be penetrated by the lesser magics of his fellow necromancers. But the triplets know his true nature, and that unsettles him more than a little... He is willing to kill the sisters, but is concerned how the Caliph-Emperor would react should his pet oracles wither and die (he is more than capable to kill them off). Obviously he needs pawns that can be sacrificed. He needs the PCs, so the trail won't lead that pesky Alathon of the River to his doorstep (he is actually a little worried about Alathon's uncanny power, a force he has not sensed in anyone before, and certainly never in anyone so young).
Seneschal has white, parchment-like skin, his irises have begun whitening and his teeth are gone. His tongue is long and cracked, and he prefers a simple white robe, much unlike the rest of the necromancers. He stoops slightly, yet his gait is strong and firm.
The preferred magic of Seneschal is frost magic, and he is quite adept at summoning killer shadows with but a snap of his fingers. Oddly, when he snaps his fingers the resulting sound is thunderous, echoing through the chambers.
Another magic trick of his is to disappear in a swarm of flies, only to reappear as the swarm in another location and then manifest. (Note that the flies can and sometimes do attack targets, crawling through any orifices. Not deadly but quite disturbing, and this will prevent the target from doing anything until Seneschal quits and manifests again (he cannot manifest inside a victim, or he can, but that would destroy him)).
Akim "Worm Prophet of the Untanghen Cult"
Akim, the Worm Prophet, is second in command in the cult, and he hungers for the position of seneschal. With Seneschal getting more and more distant from the rest of the cult, Akim plots and positions, hoping his maneuvering will eventually enable him to dispose of Seneschal and assume his position.
Akim is a devout disciple of the cult, and a literal follower of the book of Necrotae. He is not open for interpretation, and follows each commandment to the letter, perhaps excepting the part which instructs the cult to follow all the biddings of the seneschal.
Akim is old, nearly eighty years of age, and he cannot fathom how Seneschal still lingers. Fifty years ago, when Seneschal was known as Armoussad, Armoussad was his mentor, and thirty years his senior. Though Seneschal looks positively unhealthy, the old bastard simply refuses the kick the bucket.
Akim favors gold trinkets, and have more rings on his fingers than the courtesans of the Emperor's City, or so Seneschal spits in contempt when he disagrees with Akim, which he does regularly. He has a certain fondness for plants, and spend a lot of time nourishing them and even holds small rituals to enhance their nature. He has an excellent collection of pot plants bearing healing herbs and rare poisons.
Akim's magic is not nearly as potent as that of Seneschal, being primarily ritualistic of nature. Though his rituals take time, from several minutes to hours and even days, the results are magnificent. No one binds ghosts as Akim does, and no one seems to conjure hellish beings quite as he. This is the prime reason Seneschal lets him plot and scheme, for Akim has unique skills in ritualistic magic.
Akim is the necromancer prime investigator in the case of the murdered prince.
Merach "The Herald of the Untanghen Cult"
The lesser member of the council, and merely seventy years of age, Merach is the daily administrator of the cult. He has assumed his position through skill and age, though he lacks any ambition. Seneschal simply considers him to be most qualified for the job, while Akim considers him of no consequence and no threat whatsoever.
Merach is a skilled bone mender, and his zombies are truly quality craftsmanship. Indeed he keeps several of his bygone lovers as zombies, their outwardly appearances remarkably preserved. It is known that he increasingly prefers zombies to the real thing when it comes to bedroom activity, and one in particular, Echaim, a young lover he lost four years ago is his favourite. Some even say that Merach is in love with Echaim still, in spite of his condition.
Merach is tall, but stoops down and needs his staff to walk. He favors the traditional necromancer garb, but his sense of smell is failing and consequently he has been slipping in his hygiene, a point that is often made in the acolytes' jokes.
Merach's magic is primarily in the making of zombies and ghasts, but he is also a capable puppeteer, capable of possessing an adversary and orchestrating his movements like a marionette.
Merach's zombies are capable warriors, and Echaim is a ghast in his own right. His mastery of light and shadow is disturbing. (Echaim can use shadows as a telekinetic force, and he can lighten, or darken any room as he sees fit). Fighting Merach's enhanced zombies under the skillful leadership of Echaim would be a tough job indeed.