Fate of the True Empress

Chapter 4-2

Steepcliff was burning. The “miserly old man”, Ferrick Nolas, the governor and founder of Steepcliff was assassinated, and his two sons vie for the rights to succession. Meanwhile, the Lower City is overran by the a branch of the Reaver’s gang – the Razormaw.

Our intrepid band of adventurers come to Steepcliff at such a time, in search of the Broken Circle, who has one shard of the Keystone. They have changed their disguise a few times – first as a merchant caravan, then impersonating as Priests of Jalinidar (colloquially known as the “Healing Hands”) with foul skin-changing magic. What will be their new guise now, as they come to Steepcliff?

Investigation

With the city rioting and non-functional, the usual means of tracking down the Broken Circle are useless. The City Watch can’t provide help and with the townsfolk retreating behind boarded homes, it will be hard to sniff out any trace. However, Koxia was once at Steepcliff with the Sword Sage, and together they built an orphanage in the Lower City. “Old Grandpa” is one who runs the orphanage, and the party agreed to check if he knows anything.

As luck has it, when the party are travelling through the alleyways in the Lower City, Yassar ran into an old ‘friend’ – a fellow bounty hunter, Falcon Swiftarrow. Alas, it wasn’t a joyful meeting as Yassar had stolen a bounty from Falcon before. Falcon threatened the party to turn over 200 gold pieces, or he would kill them and turned in their head as Razormaw gang members. Sethren taunted Falcon to go into an one-on-one duel with Yassar. However, things went poorly for Falcon and the party wizard created a distraction by setting
various junk in the alleyway on fire (Why do wizards always set things on fire?), and the party escaped.

The party arrived in time to find the orphanage surrounded by a band of Razormaw thugs, demanding that Old Grandpa turned over the children and threatening to burn the place down if he did not comply. Without a second thought, Koaxia (with Hayate the monk standing on top of Koaxia’s shield) charges into the fray, and catapulting the monk into the midst of the attackers. After a brutal melee (in which mooks scored a critical twice in a roll against Koaxia), the Razormaw gang was defeated.

The children cheered as the ruffians were driven off, and Old Grandpa shared what he knew with the party. The governor’s death was a surprise to anyone, and according to Old Grandpa “that old fool refused to listen to me and get a will.” Turned out that Old Grandpa was once the accountant for the governor for more than 20 years, before he was sacked about 10 years ago. “That old man is a miser, thinking he could get rich from taxes. I was the one who secretly bought a merchant fleet in his name. That what makes the city rich.”

Old Grandpa believed that the two sons had nothing to do with the old governor’s death. “They like to plan and scheme and move their henchmen into position, but they are afraid of their father and dare not strike. At any rate, if I were planning a conspiracy, I will be ready to move into power once the old man is dead. Those two boys were still in the nightclothes when their father was found dead!”

Hayate, at this point, decided to confirm one thing. “You were saying that there is no will.” Old Grandpa affirmed that. Then they hatched a plan to put Old Grandpa in power – which would required a forged will. The materials needed – “expensive, high grade parchment, glitterdust and silver ink, an exquisite quill and a ring-seal of the ruling family.” (It seemed at this time the party has forgotten about tracking down the Broken Circle).

Vaguely aware that they had some larger goal, Koaxia asked if Old Grandpa saw any priests of the Healing Hands. “Yes, I did. I sent one of the kids to get them here to help with some of the young ones who had fever. The kid followed them and saw them entering into Razormaw territory, and he didn’t dare to follow.”

The party asked for a way into the Governor’s Manor, and Old Grandpa asked them to ask for a Captain Aldwin. “Say Old Grandpa has a message for him,” the old man went on. “Tell him Old Grandpa is collecting a debt from 10 years, 3 months and 47 days ago.” Apparently, Old Grandpa will send a letter to each and everyone who owed him favours every year, reminding them of the kindness he had done for them, and how long the debt has been outstanding.

The Scene of the Crime

With Captain Aldwin in Old Grandpa’s debt, the party had no issue pretending to be Justicars from the Judge investigating the crime. There was signs of struggle, and in the wreck of the study where the murder took place, Yassar found a poison dart. The poison was so strong that Alexius was affected by it while attempting to identify it. Through some asking around, Yassar determined that the dart belonged to an assassin called the “Needler”, an enforcer for the Razormaw Gang.

Meanwhile, Koaxia, while investigating the body of governor, realized that a ring had been removed from the body. Judging from the bruising the finger took, Koaxia deduced that the old governor had grown too fat for the ring, and the ring was stuck in the finger, so it took lots of force to removed it. Guards remarked that the ring was gone by the time they found the body — so the murderer had the ring! The party needed that to complete the forged will.

Now, Yassar, an excellent bounty hunter that he was, knew something about the Needler. The man iike to boast of his kills, usually immediately after the heinous act was done. However, while there had been rampant speculation about who had assassinated the governor, none mentioned the Needler.

The party decided to head down to the Beggar’s District, where an uneasy truce between gangs are enforced – for none dare to go against the Beggar King. At one of the taverns there, Yassar began to cast doubts that the Needler was the one behind the murder. It was so effective (note: Yassar rolled a 1 on his attempt) that the rumours were twisted. Now rumours had it that Yassar was the one who killed the governor and had been bragging about it!

Incensed and furious, the Needler headed down with a band of Razormaw members, intending to “settle matter” with Yassar, regardless that he would be causing a ruckus in the Beggar King’s turf. He burst through the tavern door with his men. Tables were flipped, patrons ran out in fear and the tavern-keeper locked himself in the storage room. Melee was joined but the party prevailed. The Needler was defeated, but escaped with the help of a poisonous smoke bomb.

Interrogating one of the captured gang members revealed that the Needler and his men were tasked with burning down one of the gang’s richer dwellings within the Lower City. Curious as to why the gang would want to burn down one of their asset, they headed off, and found a whole bunch of ruffians lazing about a luxurious walled house. Alexius used Ghost Voice to led the dumb-witted thugs to believe that a whole troop of rioters were coming their way, while Hayate snuck in from the tree-top. Within the building, the party discovered a secret passage behind a fireplace. They followed it down and found…

The skins of various Priests of Jalindar, preserved and enchanted as components for a skin-changing ritual. Scattered around are also various expensive, formal wear of the Aegis Empire. There were also numerous paraphernalia of the Dragon Tyrant’s reign – seals, letterheads, parchments and such. Was the Broken Circle going to impersonate as officers from the Empire? Or are they officers of the Empire?

Meanwhile, Sethren pulled a favour with the Judge, and a company of Justiars from a nearby Temple of Justice were on their way to enforce the newly found (forged) will. Things in the city quickly settled down, and with essential city services restored, the local Artificer Embassy (Steepcliff is under the jurisdiction of the Artificer) was able to confirm that a group of Aegis Empire officers had left just the day before the riots started, boarding the wandering city known as Nomad…

Taking to the Sky
The party had to decide how to get to Nomad. Nomad had left 2 days prior, but its usual speed was a mile per hour (slow, but Nomad was a massive city of ten thousands). It was on its way to the Gleamsteel Mines.

There were three routes – the rich and fast route was to through the sky, on a skyship. The cheap and slow route was to go through the Tumblerock Forest. The desperate but quick route was to make a beeline for the Mines, through the Worldwreck Canyon – the Canyon being the aftermath of the Frostfell when hundreds of icy comets smashed into the land.

After discussion, Hayate had an idea. They would build a hot air balloon, and pay the fees for the right to pilot it – it added up to 200 gold pieces. However, before taking off, they had to wait for a Qitai skyship – the Dragon’s Claw – to take off first. Apparently a Qitai ambassador was in town, and couldn’t leave because he had to wait for escorts. Curious, Koaxia decided to see if he could have an audience with the ambassador, and it turned out that Kang Yi, a scholar-friend of his, was travelling with the Qitai Ambassador.

The party was welcomed to dine with the Ambassador, and to docked their small and very unimpressive hot-air balloon to the side of the Skyship. Over tea and appreciating paintings (drawn by the Sword Sage himself!), the party learnt that the Ambassador, Qin Yi, was on his way to negotiate rights to tap into the Artificer’s node at Mount Tempest. Also, we learnt that Koaxia descended from the sky to earth at Mount Jade, deep inside Qitai. What does that imply? We would only know in the future!

The Dragon’s Claw came to a sudden halt. Kang Yi explained that they had to wait for two more escorts, as the sky was rumoured to be plagued with wyverns (good thing the party didn’t just float along in their hot-air balloon, ah?). However, as the two escort ships approached, Sethren realized something was wrong with them. “They are not flying the usual Qitai formation, and the ships shown signs of being in battle.” The Dragon’s Claw decided to try some evasive maneuvers, but failed. The two ‘escort’ ships pulled up, flying above the Qitai Skyship.

A guard stumbled up from the hold downstairs, and in his dying breath said, “My lord! There has been a mutiny below!” Without much time, the party surrounded the ambassador, while scattering caltrops and creating layer of ice across the deck, supposing that the sky raiders were leapt from their skyships.

They did, in a fashion. As they jumped, they spread their arms and form made-shift gliders with fabrics sewed into their clothes. They glided into the party, their sabres flashing. At the head of the sky raiders came Typhoon Jack, a wanted criminal and well-known sky pirate. “Qin Yi, your head is mine!” he shouted.

With everyone tied up with the pirates, the Qitai Ambassador was left to fend for himself. But, in a world historical first (for this campaign, anyway), Alexius the Wizard intercepted a pirate going after the Ambassador, beating off the miscreant’s attack with his stave. Guess that Self Defense 101 class back at Lorehaven wasn’t a waste of time after all!

With his followers cut down one by one, Typhoon Jack attempted to flee by jumping off the Skyship. But Hayate was there to block his way, and Typhoon Jack was captured! Qin Yi was delighted to be rescued, and promised to help out the party if the chance ever came. That chance came sooner than expected…

At Nomad
The Empress had a embassy at Nomad – most major icons do, except for the Devourer. Once there, the party were greeted by the Sagelord Elrandir, a long-time minister and counsellor of the Empress. Over food and rinks, Elrandir asked the party of their purpose, and when told that they were after some Dragon Tyrant officers, he said, “I do believe a group of them came just yesterday. Of course, now they are at the Aegis Embassy.”

The Embassy, Elrandir explained, was ran by a greedy man with a thirst for violence. Kerlantu was his name, and his embassy, known as the Citadel of the Ironforged Suns, housed an arena. Now the arena was a marvel of artifice, being able to change its form and accommodate all type of battles. Kerlantu then bring gladiators from the Aegis Empire to show off the Dragon Tyrant’s might and prowess in battle.

Of particular interest was the battle going to take place tomorrow night. “That miscreant has the fortune of capturing a Silvermane Gryphon,” Elrandir explained. “This noble beast is sacred to the Holy Order of the Silver Sun, and there are legends that whoever consumes its liver and heart would have the strength and speed of ten men.” It was going to be such a spectacle that many had came to sign up for the tournament to determine who was worthy to face the beast. Nobles and the rich were all paying extravagant price for entry – five hundred gold piece for a seat at the back, a full platinum for the VIP box.

There were also rumours of a group of Silver Sun clerics and paladins who would not stand to see their sacred beast being slaughtered mindlessly. Koaxia sought them out, and found Helien, a friend he made while he was learning divine magic. When asked what her plans were, Helien replied proudly, “Faith, of course!” She was planning to march up with her bands of sisters and brothers and stormed the Ironforged Suns – which, because of the event, had heavy guard set about it.

Knowing that the Silver Sun clerics were going to be slaughtered, Koaxia explained the plan to them – he would go in and fight the other gladiators, and triumph over them so he would be able to face the Silverman Gryphon in one on one combat. Then he would set it free. Helien argued, “No, brother, we should all fight together!” but Koaxia convinced her otherwise.

However, the party had a difficulty. How were they going to get in, with the rest of the SIlver Sun clerics? They decided to ask the Qitai Ambassador for a favor, and Qin Yi agreed, sending his subordinate Kang Yi. The Silver Sun clerics at first refused to go in disguise, insisting that “No! The glory of the Silver Sun must shine for all to see!” but Sethren convinced them to comprise, to just wear Qitai cloaks over their usual garb, and pretending that it was a “religious exchange”.

Hayate and the rest planned to ransack Kerlantu’s office while everyone was distracted by the games. Spellbanes patrol the Citadel, so Alexius couldn’t use flashy magic. How were they going to get pass security? From observation, there were two ways in – through a common rubbish chute (which leads all down, and out of Nomad), or from above, through a lightly guarded watchtower — as the Citadel of the Ironforged Suns are set on the highest platform on Nomad, the guard there wasn’t strong…

So the infiltrators decided to use the hot-air balloon they had, and slowly steer it over the tower. However, anyone could see a hot-air balloon, especially with a crowd at the arena. Hence Alexius asked a favour from an old friend, Merendian, an illusionist. “You owe me for all the homework you have copied from me,” Alexius told him. Merendian agreed, and veiled the balloon as a large floating cloud.

Below, Koaxia breezed through the fights, suffering minor injuries. Finally, it’s show-down between him and the other runner-up, and it turned out to be…Grusak Baneblade, the giant of an half-orc who dual wield two two-handed sword, and was a half dragon! They last fought at the battle of Falcon’s Hollow, where Grusak had to flee in disgrace. Fortunately, Koaxia was wearing a full helmet…

For the final fight, the arena converted to one with moving platforms. All types of weapons, from bola to javelins, catapults and ballista, littered the platforms. Koaxia must put up such an entertaining fight that the crowd —and even the guards, would lax in their concentration.

As Grusak and Koaxia engaged in a life or death melee, the balloon, steered by Alexius with gentle winds, moved slowly but surely to the infiltration spot. They let themselves down (Yassar and Hayate with rope, Alexius with Levitation) onto the tower, and sneaked pass the guards who were too engrossed with watching the fight below. Quietly, they found the office, bypassed its lock, and they began to search.

The most recent document on the Dragon Tyrant Ambassador’s desk was a deed, which passes control of a artifice factory in Nomad to one called “Melkorne Dragoneye”. There were three seals on the document – the Artificer’s, the Embassy’s and a seal that was a match with the one they found at the hideout in Steepcliff.

Meanwhile, the fight went on, with Grusak and Koaxia hanging on the ledge of a rotating platform. They pummelled and kicked at each other, and the crowds were going wild! But halfway, Kerlantu left, with a hand around the waist of a pretty lady, and he was heading up to his office…

Hayate heard someone coming to the office, and as the door opened, he grabbed Kerlantu in and slammed the door shut. The courtesan screamed and ran down the corridor. “What do you want?” the ambassador cried. He explained that about a week ago, the Aegis High Command wanted Kerlantu to transfer ownership of one of his artifice factories to this Melkorne fellow, and he was here yesterday to finalize the paperwork. (Note: This means Melkorne, whoever he was, has the right to operate in Nomad. Very few can get away producing artifacts in Nomad without the Artificer noticing).

The party then demanded Kerlantu to unlock his safe. They found stashes of bank notes inside, and they grabbed it. Then Hayate threw the vile fellow out from the window. “So it would appear he was killed for the money,” he explained.

Meanwhile, the fight below has reached the climax. Koaxia and Grusal were firing ballista at each other! But the time for the fight had came to an end, and through popular vote, Koaxia was the winner and could fight the Gryphon.

Using the distraction below, Hayate, Yassar and Alexius sneaked off on the balloon, even as the alarm in the Citadel was sounded. In the arena, the Gryphon was brought out, and after several rounds of mock combat, Koaxia hacked at the chain holding the Gryphon, and it grabbed him with its talons, and soared upwards into the sky. Merendian was arranged to conjure fireworks in the sky as that happened, and the crowds (and even the guard captain involved) though it was part of the festive events. Meanwhile at the VIP box, Sethren led an awe-struck Kang Yi and the others of the Silver Sun out as quickly as possible…

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