The legionnaires proudly marched back to their commander’s pavilion, dragging behind them a long line of captives, the depraved heretics of the forgotten serpent god, “Vespess, God of Freedom”. The soldiers had little mercy on their doomed prisoners, for all had seen the bloodstained altar upon the village green, the heap of tortured sacrifices littering the ground nearby. The cultists’ doom was certain.

The centurion reported to the Praefect, his sharp salute ruined by a wince of pain. Stabbed in the fighting, he had refused to have it treated. All men knew that a stab in the guts would either kill you or not; there was no point in having some slipshod surgeon meddle with the battlefield dressing he wore. As he presented the troops' captured trophy, the bright banner of the enemy leader, he watched his superiors' faces blanch.

“The cult leader carried that?” asked the Praefect.

“Yes, sir! He put up quite a fight, too!” offered the centurion.

“Ummm… Good Work, centurion. You’d better have that injury looked at; I’d like my personal surgeon to treat you.” The Praefect ordered softly.

Silently thanking the gods that he hadn’t been present when the banner was captured, the Praefect recognized the accursed Banner. Before the sun rose again, the centurion would be among the honored dead.

Vespress’ Banner
The Banner of the Golden Serpent hangs down over eight feet, solidly fastened to a long pole and crossbar crafted of some ancient, unidentifiable wood. Its background a bloody red, an embroidered serpent golden curls along the ancient banner's length. Dark lines spread out from the golden serpent, forming a network of complicated knots and whorls. Looking at the banner, it is unclear whether these lines represent some part of the dreadful serpent or whether they are merely meant as background decoration.

Handicraft of the Heretic
Many conflicting tales are told of this sinister artifact’s origins. All agree that this was the battle standard of the Heretic Corvius, murderous founder of the Cult of Vespess, but its true origins are lost among a morass of conflicting folktales and myths. In some popular folktales, the banner was a gift to the heretic from his appalling serpentine god. Others’ claims are more fanciful or chilling, such as the idea that it was woven of silken threads mystically extracted from the souls of slaughtered infants and dyed in the rare toxin of the Crimson Asps that once were found in the lands of the Empire.

“Master Corvius!” whined “Scorch”, one of the sect’s earliest recruits, as he interrupted Corvius’ study of the ancient tablets yet again. The greasy man had no idea how much his interruptions irritated his sinister leader. “I have completed it! I used the cloth and pole that you found in your chambers after the ritual! Soon, all will see that the People of Freedom have a worthy banner!”

Studying the pole of odd, alien wood and the fabric that the god had provided, Corvius had to admit that the former tailor had served him well. If he had read the tablets correctly, there was only one more step needed to unlock its power. “Good work, Scorch. I will need you tonight, at moonset. You will help with the final ritual.”

“Thank you, master!” replied the little sycophant.

…And then his irritations will trouble me no further, thought the cult leader, as he reviewed the sacrificial rites.

The vile standard was seized by Folcus Severus, Tribune of the Draco Legion, in the wake of his victory over the cultists’ ragtag army. That night, he was strangled by a constricting shadow, a nightmarish thing that choked the life from him even as his men watched helplessly. As they stood in impotent horror, the banner evaporated from before them. Since that day, it has reappeared in the hands of various cultists and madmen, only to vanish again after they, too have fallen.

The Death-Haunted Standard
Legend disagrees whether the banner has any magical virtues in addition to its ability to return to the leaders of Vespess’ sinister cult. One ominous fact that has been observed is that no commander of any force that fought against the bearers of the banner has ever survived beyond the following night. Some have fallen in battle while others have suffered mysterious deaths afterward. Perhaps this is mere chance, but few soldiers would agree. To them, its powers are very real and lethal.

The Shadow of the Banner
Those who have seen the banner have sometimes reported that a dark and serpentine shadow seems to flicker at the edge of vision. This entity, if it is real, may be the agent of the banner’s disappearances and of the commanders’ deaths. Those who witnessed Tribune Severus’ death had no doubt that a supernatural entity was responsible, but if something horrible truly haunts the banner, it has grown more cautious since that time.

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