The outrage and shock was great - prince Lothrann was assaulted at an inn while resting, by a mysterious woman of ill intent, and her viciousness cost him his royal manhood. Who was she to dare such a heinous deed, and what her reason for assaulting a hero of three wars, and the ladies’ favourite at the tournaments?
Since then, he was but a shadow of himself, wasting away, pale like death himself, and not even the strongest magic was able to restore what the mad wench took.
This shocking occurence was not the only one though - several young men, adventurous bold nobles, have suffered the same fate, and the culprit remains unknown.
Of less outrage, but still instilling fear was another series of bloody occurences - men murdered in their beds, pimps hung by their innards dangling from lanterns like obscene fruit, slavers strangled with chains or lashed to death with whips, girls abducted from brothels and orphanages never to be seen again.
A veil of suspense shrouds the city of Andor. Where will the unknown slayer strike next?
Let us look back, two dozen years, into the chambers of lord Harwan. Follow me.
Truly, he was to be considered a man blessed - tall of build and strong of arm, he was the king’s champion, undefeated for twoscore years; noble he was, and his soul was pure, his vision bright, his word just and kind.
As if Mother Earth wanted to show her favor, his mines spewed forth gold and gems, and his lands were ripe with wheat and fruit. Still, happiness could not take root in his heart, for one thing was barren - his wife, Senri, could not bear a child, regardless of medicine and prayer, of magic and love.
Corre Harwan was desperate, and every night, he went to his citadel’s private chapel, even though he lost all faith, and prayed there, every night, before he joined his wife in their chambers.
There upon the altar, he lay his tears and shed his blood, offered milk and honey, silver and jade, even sliced the throat of his favorite stallion, to sway the merciless gods.
That night, he only wept.
In this hour of darkest despair, he heard a voice from the chapel entrance, smooth as silk, and sweet as honey, yet noble as an unicorn…
“What a bright soul yours is, so strong and valliant, and still able to shed an honest tear!”
Surprised, for nobody except for him and his wife held the keys to the chapel, the lord turned around, only to meet the gaze of a woman almost surreal - hair like raven feathers cascading down from her head, eyes radiant and sparkling with the mysterious light of distant stars, lips full and luscious… Her stance was that of a wild cat, as was her tread, and while her velvet skin, the color of summer honey, covered decidedly feminine curves, well-formed muscles rippled with her every move. Clad was she in but a robe white as snow, and sandals light and fine - which came as a surprise, for outside, the winds howled with unbound fury, burying the roads under cushions of snow.
“May I come in?” her voice purred, and the lord, still surprised, nodded.
“I did not hear you” she grinned, a playful smile flitting across her lips.
“Yes, you may enter”, Corre replied, still confused.
Towards him she strode, until she stood but a step away, her scent, an sensual musk, filling his nostrils.
“Who are you, mylady? And what brings you to my humble abode?” the lord asked, only to recieve an answer he truly did not expect.
“Moved by your pligh I was, mylord, for injustice was worked upon you, by the very gods in whose name you lived a life of nobelty and goodness, that is what brought me here.”
His eyes went wide, the hope he almost did not dare to admit flared up again. “Are you fey, having come to my aid? Or do my eyes betray me, and my foolish hopes play mirages upon my tortured soul?”
Her hand, tender as a summer breeze, wiped one tear off his cheek. “No, I am real, not some phantasm sent to torment you. No man should have suffered as you did.”
“So - you could heal Senri, relieve that barren spell? Is that within your reach? You would have my undying gratitude!”
A sad shadow streaked across her face. “Like the gods that failed you, neither I may cure what ails her, yet I may help you still. If you wish so.” Having thus spoken, she looked up to him again.
“So speak, do not torment me in my uncertainty anymore!”
“Even though you love her with all of your heart, she will never concieve a child from you… still, she might carry one. Plant the seed of life in my loins, and she shall give birth - thus we can fool the curse.”
The look of shock was apparent on Corre’s face, and she averted her gaze swiftly, but not swiftly enough for the lord not to notice the two streams of tears running down her face. “Why have I come?” she spoke in a muted voice, broken and hollow “I know you love her too much to even consider such an act! I was such a fool - forgive me. Yet… ” she turned to him “I .. I was envious of such a bright love you felt toward her, a blazing flame of passion and loyalty. I hoped to be near such a flame only once, to recieve but a spark of its warmth! Never would I ask you to betray her trust, yet this is the only way I can help you - and would it be wrong if, by accident, I got what I longed for in return?”
A sad smile adorned her lips, like a broken crown on the head of a queen dead in her prime. “Forgive me my intrusion, mylord. I shall make my leave.”
Corre stood there, as if struck by lightning, until he stretched out his hand, and called: “No! Don’t go!”
Her head demurely lowered, she turned around. “So, if you permit, I shall aid you. Do not feel guilt - let my body be the altar upon which you testify your love to her, my curves be the instrument upon which you play the most beautiful sonata of love, see my loins as a gate towards a happier tomorrow. Any kiss you plant on my flesh shall just fuel her joy, any caress strengthen your bond with the gift of life. You… you do not have to love me - I love you enough for the both of us.”
Corre stepped closer, and placed one of his huge hands hesitatingly on her shoulder, feeling her heat and a tingling sensation ascend his forearm. Almost as by itself, the clasp holding her robe gave way, and the light garment slid to the ground, revealing a body that must have been forged by a deity after a night of sensual dreams.
Her hands slung around his neck, Corre lifted the surreal stranger and carried her to the altar, her bare flesh pressing gainst his robes, and laid her there, as if it was the softest of beds. Finally, his restrains broke, and he took her, with her endless legs slung around his waist like flaming belt, her voluptous chest tracing circles around his skin, while her nails left scratches of love on his back, and her kisses seemed to sear him wherever they fell.
After what seemed like an endless tempest of passion, she stood up, leaving the lord gasping on the floor of the chapel, and strode out, giving him one last sensual glance. “I shall keep my promise, my love.”
And indeed, Senri grew heavy with child, her face joyful like the sun, eyes as sparkling as the stars, and the belly round as the full moon.
Though she haunted his dreams for months to come, much to Corre’s relief the enigmatic beauty never showed up at his mansion again.
When her time came, Senri gave birth to not one, but three healthy children, and the halls of castle Harwan were filled with fanfares, and the skies above it flashed with fireworks for three nights.
They were given the names Yarna (meaning Rose), Enneth (Petal) and Carond (Lancebearer), after famous saints of history.
Winters came and went away, the cherry trees bloomed a score times, when Senri passed away.
The triplet had grown tall and beautiful, loyal to each other without question, excelling on many fields, certainly more than sufficient to make any parent proud.
The winter lady Senri died, Corre was called to defend the honor of the king once more, and so he went.
His trusty blade, the Justicar, in hand, Corre went to confront the rebellious lord Jystev, challenge him to a test of arms in the name of the king, a challenge nobody could refuse.
So it was, and they met in the arena of equals, blades drawn, their eyes piercing the adversary.
A very different pair of adversaries they were - Corre well beyond his sixties, his face covered with a network of wrinkles, his hair a shining silver, a seasoned warrior with nothing to fear, a master of the sword like no other; Janil Jystev was in his prime, a bold and talented knight.
Sparks flew as their blades met, tracing circles around each other in the white sand of the arena, sand soon to be stained red.
While Janil battered away at his foe with fury unbound, each blow able to cut an anvil, the old lord but defended himself and stuck a well-calculated blow when the opportunity presented itself.
So it went on for several minutes, and the tension amongst the audience was almost palpable. Corre did not make a single mistake, and his foe showed no sight of running out of his tremendous strength.
Then, under the strain of deflecting an especially mighty blow, the old lord’s shoulder locked up. Before he could withdraw, his adversary used the opportunity to full extent, and removed Corre’s head from his shoulders with one playful strike.
All those present gasped as one, for the Iron Man, lord Harwan, was ingrained in their minds as undefeatable. Yet, Janil’s triumphant smile was broken by a call from the first row: ‘I challenge you to the death, betrayer!”
A youth, almost girlish in apearance, with long raven hair and clad not in the heavy armor of the duelists, but in but a light breast plate, lept over the banister, lifting up the old lord’s blade.
It was Carond.
“Foolish child!” the voice of the victorious Janil thundered. “What lunacy leads you to provoke the ire of the conqueror of thy sire?”
“It is but what honor and justice demand… two things that mean nothing to you” the youngster cockily replied.
Upon this, no more words were spoken, as the diplomacy of steel was due then.
Furious, Janil strived to smash the whelp opposing him as soon as possible, as not to lose face due to taking too long to defeat a man not even knighted, yet it proved a task of no little difficulty. Dashing hence and forth, Carond never stood where the blows landed, and struck through the smallest openings in his foe’s defense. Soon, several streaks of blood were running from cracks in the rebel lord’s plate, and with them, his strength fled. Upon having suffered three dozen wounds, he finally fell to the ground, breathing heavily. That was when Carond cleaved the tendons of his knee, and struck against his shoulders.
“Will you leave me a cripple, you cruel kid?” Janil Jystev shouted.
“Fear not” Carond replied, as he lifted the now crimson-stained blade to catch the last rays of the setting sun, to plunge it into Janil’s visor slit a second later.
“Do you accept the post that once was your father’s, and the duties of a knight?” the voice of the sovereign resonated through the vast audience hall of the Palace of the Seven Suns at Andor. “Yes, I do, your majesty” Carond spoke solemnly, and raised his gaze.
Thus the son of Corre Harwan took up the mantle of his sire, and became the protector of his honor.
Ah, Arendor. What a wondrous place it is! From the Razorback mountains, five great rivers cascade down into the valleys, giving life to the land. Forests older than the gods extend their branches towards the sun, sheltering ageless shadows in their hearts. Caves larger than royal halls lead to veins of wondrous ores, glittering like the midnight sky, while the highest peaks are bathed in constant lightning.
Carved out of feral wilderness by the Ordo Misericordiae Deorum, they brought the rule of man to the once haunted woods and mountains, to claim it in the name of their king.
Over the years, the realm prospered, and became the Star of the North, superior to their homeland in power and wealth. This was mainly due to a crossing, not of roads but of rifts, gates leading to six other realms beyond this space. At their crossing, a city was founded, a jewel-to-be, Andor, with the Palace of the Seven Suns as the symbol of royal power.
The realm has ruled its provinces beyond the gates with an iron fist, and likewise, at home, all was well-governed, a patriarchal society led by the king and his vassals.
The Order became the right hand of the king, reinforcing his rule with steel and flame.
Under their citadel of Witches’ Tomb, they contained the Deviants - strange creatures having come through the rifts, witches and warlocks, dragons and hellspawn - for all times to come.
Carond, as their eldest (and only) male relative, was to choose suitable husbands for his sisters - while their skills with the blade, command over astral energies and keenness of mind certainly were superior to most of the suitors, the role of the woman was firmly set in Arendor, as a keeper of the hearth and mother to children.
So the halls of castle Harwan were the site of festivities once more - a great ball for young nobles and valliant knights, with tournaments, hunts and art contests to prove their worth.
Filled with desire to unveil two of the supposedly most beautiful ladies in the kingdom, nobles flocked to Harwan, tested their mettle on the jousting grounds, or strolled down the hallways, lost in thought, trying to come up with yet another romantic verse.
Try they did, some truly excelled, but none of them caught the ladies’ interest. Again and again, requests for marriage were met with a polite refusal.
When the bells tolled midnight, Carond commanded the festivities to end, and the ladies and gentlemen to seek out the privcy of their rooms.
Yarna wished to pray first, before entering sleep’s embrace. Unbeknowst, a malicious shadow followed her, reeking of wine.
Having looked too deep into the bottle, young Gemal was furious. How dared those wenches refuse him, the winner of three tournaments and best singer in the realm? He would make them suffer, oh yes he would. One of the arrogant spoilt brats was heading off alone. Perfect…
His lust and fury having overruled reason, he snuck behind Yarna, inhaling the scent of her hair and perfume making him only wilder.
As she leaned over the altar to light the sacred candles he was upon her, pressing her against the cold marble, and burying his sinful flesh between her thighs, her struggling and cries of pain and defiance only fuelling his fire of unholy passion.
As he neared the peak of his lust, Gemal pressed her neck stronger and stronger, to squeeze all life out of his victim so that no witness to his depravity would remain.
The heartbeat throbbing in Yarna’s ears and her vision turning milky, she heard a voice very distant, sweet and tender: “Gather your will, my child, for you shall belong to no man - they all shall be yours, through good or through ill!”
Her hatred and defiance flared up, her stare no longer timid but cruel, her hands, previously helplessly flailing around, dug their nails into her violator’s neck and her loins moved.
A scream of bestial pain escaped Gemal’s lips, one not justified by a few scratches, and he recoiled from his victim, clutching his crotch and the gaping wound where once his manhood was. With a look of utter terror he watched a tongue slide from between her lower lips and clean the jagged teeth that had so suddenly protruded from the soft flesh of her loins.
Yarna, still in pain, yet filled with the pleasant ferrous taste of the blood, of which some tricked down her thighs, she raised her haze to meet that of her terrified assailant. “You sought to take all that was mine - innocence, choice, and life. Justice shall prevail, Gemal, for I will take what is yours - your strength, vigor and life itself” she spoke slowly, focusing on the link she felt between the shredded tatters of flesh she felt inside her, and the quivering fool before her, and pulled…
Gemal collapsed, shaking, his skin becoming wrinked and dry as paper, burstung in laces to reveal shriveled and dessicated tissue, to fall finally into a pile of bones and dust.
Traumatized, Yarna staggered out of the chapel, weeping and smeared in blood, her garments ripped and trailing behind her like veils of smoke behind a burning ship.
This is how Carond found her as he came searching, for she was not to be found in her chambers. After lifting her, that was where he carried Yarna, kissing her into sleep.
No-one besides the three siblings knew of the incident, and Yarna seemed to have recovered, superficially.
Still, everything changed, for everywhere she went, she was able to percieve the spark of hopelessness in the women’s eyes, hinting at abuse and mistreatment. While at first she silently suffered with them, no childe of the Harwan house would sit idly by.
Finally, she smiled, for a plan appeared befre her, as if out of the blue. All had to change, everything.
At first, all she and her sister did was to lash out at abusers, either slaying them under the shroud of the night,
or bedding them and binding them to their will through the inherent magic of their bodies, or, if angered too much, or the victim withstood their enchantment, they would unsheath their fangs, bite deep, and then flee, to slowly leech the culprit dry from a distance, his fate the same as that of Gemal.
Those who fell prey to their enchantment would serve them faithfully, called the Thorns of the Roses, used to sting their enemies. Though the binding seemed to fade with time, Yarna and Enneth were diligent in reinforcing it.
Still, this took a heavy toll on both Yarna and Enneth, filling them with sadness, and they would go to the only man they fully trusted, the only one truly loyal, Carond, to seek solace in his arms.
Despite their crusade of vengeance, little in the society changed, except for it being slightly tinted with fear.
It was then that Yarna understood - fear was not sufficient. To free the women, they would have to change as well.
The vast wealth of Harwan more than up to the task, aided by the contributions of the Thorns, they founded orphanages and schools for girls, as well as secret institutions to educate mature women, both in the terms of knowledge and craft, as well as martial skills; also, hidden shelters for those abused enough to flee and freed slaves sprang into being.
The spouses and children of nobles and peasants alikefound themselves led blindfolded at night, to be asked a single question: “Do you wish to go on with your life, or to change it?”
Then, the day came when the prince himself slaked his lust on a tavern wench, leaving her behind with but one eye and broken bones. Fury flared in Yarna’s heart, and her vision went red. Next eve, she had her revenge upon the miscreant, the prince’s manhood sating the hunger of her loins.
The Harwan family crest depicts a lion with sword and book. And she’d use both to bring down the system she hated.
This is the status quo of today: the Roses recruit new members, while punishing the vile and the wicked.
Yarna longs for more, though - she seeks to overthrow the old order, especially the Ordo Misericordiae Deorum, the armored fist of misogyny, as she calls it, put fire to their proud citadel, or even better, have them evicted in shame.
The PCs may be on either side, either seeking to uncover the mysterious assailant of the prince, or furthering the goals of the Roses. Also, they might first serve the crown, only to be presented the Choice later: will they switch sides, to aid those who use wrong tools to do the right thing?
Both as adversaries and allies, the Harwan family is formiddable: their wealth is great and allies many; Carond is a swordsman without peer, with Corre’s blood strong in his veins. Yarna is also surprisingly strong for a woman, especially after having sapped the strength of numerous men, and can weave sorcery on a decent level. Her ‘little sister’ Enneth is an able sorceress, capable of concealing her identity with glamers with ease.
Other than that, PCs will find it difficult to trust anyone, as men might be in their thrall, and women their sympathisants.
Unbeknowst to all, there is a further layer of intrigue, one few know about.
The mother of the three siblings has also interests of her own.
A mighty sorceress of old, dead, and her spirit chained down in the deepest vaults of the citadel of Witches’ Tomb, she has not given up. Having drawn the spirit of Corre Harwan towards herself, she caresses him, and waits patiently for the day her daughters to slay her jailors, the Order. As soon as their Keymasters fall, the sigils will decay and she will be free to walk the world again - her daughters, barren until then, will give life to her and her beloved again! She cares little abut them dying in the process - their own life as well as that absorbed will be consumed in the effort to bring to life once more what should reside in the Halls of the Dead.
Whether the PCs can spare Yarna and Enneth this fate is uncertain - as the sigils start to weaken, strange hallucinations and feelings will assault the two. Who might have a clue? The library of the order, or one of the old Keymasters; the patron spirit of the Harwan chapel altar; the Spirit of Senri…
And if they fail? Then Kealraine the Witch will plague the world once more, a foe truly worthy of a hero’s blade.