Paths of Vengeance

The Nine Lessons

When Adrastus took over this manor house some years ago, he had the basement transformed into a training area for his new agents. Since then, several groups have been tested by the Nine Lessons. The PCs were only the most recent to face its perils.

The purpose of this gauntlet was two-fold.

First, it weeds out the weak. Adrastus’ plan for Talingarde is a carefully crafted clockwork of conspiracy. He can ill afford failure. He wants to be sure that anyone he sends on a mission is capable of the task. Here is where he makes sure.

Second, it gives him an opportunity to see his pawns in action. He can appraise their fighting style, their strengths and weaknesses. He wants to know what his knots are capable of.

He sends them into the Lessons with what ever they need, as well as a simple request. Return in 24 hours and find the hidden pendant of silver and sapphire. "Recover the pendant and bring it to me. Let nothing and no one stand in your way.”

20 hours later and barely escaping with their lives at the cost of deception, torture and battle, the PCs emerge from the Lessons with the pendant. Adrastus sits in his study seeming almost as he has moved not an inch from where he gave them their orders at dusk yesterday. “You’ve returned.”

“Remember this symbol. This is the mark of those who destroyed our faith and sought to banish all trace of the worship of our Father from these shores. These, my friends, are your enemies.”

He tosses the holy symbol to whoever gave it to him. “Keep it. It may aid you in disguising yourself.”

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Meeting the Master

At the door of the manor house, they are met by Tiadora the beautiful green-eyed woman. She no longer looks like she is destined for a funeral. Instead she wears a diaphanous white gown that makes her look almost angelic. When she speaks, any illusions about her angelic character are quickly dispelled.

“Dearest, you took long enough,” she says pitilessly. “We were beginning to wonder if you’d ever make it. Oh, and you brought friends. The master commands all of you to appear before him but before that, you must be made presentable. Slaves!” She claps her hands. A dozen young attractive men and women all wearing very traditional servant’s livery appear quickly, their heads bowed. “These people are our guests,” she commands imperiously. “See them to their rooms. I want them cleaned, dressed and refreshed. Quickly.” There is something in that last word that sounds like a threat. Certainly the slaves take it that way, hustling to perform their duties.

The group are led up to their rooms. The accommodations are comfortable and the slaves are silent and efficient. There are fresh clothes perfectly sized to each character in their rooms and there is opportunity to wash up. Every questions they ask is met with silence. Each also receives a platter full of hot, delicious food and fresh water.

Eventually the group will be ready to meet the master. Having escaped, our would-be villains have passed Cardinal Thorn’s first test. The question now is will they join his organization and become his agents?

At last Tiadora lead them to a beautifully appointed office richly decorated with dark wood and sumptuous brocade tapestry. Sitting in a leather high-backed chair is a devilishly handsome fellow who smiles as you enter. “I believe you to be the first to ever escape from Branderscar Prison. Well done! Of course, you had help from the outside,” he says with a wicked smile.

“But enough with the pleasantries. You must be curious why I’ve helped you. Rest assured this is no random act of altruism. I have brought you here for a reason. My name is Cardinal Adrastus Thorn. I am the last high priest of Asmodeus left on the island of Talingarde. Once the Prince of Nessus was rightly revered alongside the other great powers. Now, the king of Talingarde has become a puppet to Mitran fanatics who wish to destroy any religion that does not bow to their insipid sun god.

“For their blasphemy, I will see the same people who imprisoned and condemned you suffer. I understand what you went through for I have faced it myself.” With that, he pulls down the sleeve of his robe and reveals his own runic ‘F’ brand. “I am going to burn Talingarde to the ground and from the ashes I will build a new nation that knows its rightful master. I cannot do this alone. I seek servants worthy of our Infernal Father’s majesty. Have I found them in you?”

He rises and his eyes flash with hellfire and divine purpose. “Join me! Serve me well in this holy endeavor and I will raise you up in the eyes of gods and men. I will make you princes of the new Talingarde. Today, swear fealty to me and to Asmodeus.

“Put aside forgiveness and I shall give you vengeance. Put aside mercy and be made powerful. Put aside peace and become my harbingers of war. What say you? Will you swear your allegiance or will you burn with the rest of the blind fools?”

Cardinal Thorn is a wily negotiator who has already researched a great deal about these prospective agents. He tailors his offer to each member of the party so that refusal is unlikely. Greed, revenge, ambition, devotion to Asmodeus — he is prepared to cater to all these desires to ensure that these escapees become his servitors.

Finally, when each of the group accepts, Cardinal Thorn smiles. “Excellent. Let us make it official. Signing in blood is traditional.” He brings out a quill, a silver ritual knife and two copies of a contract written on some unidentifiable leather and written in dark red ink – The Pact of Thorns. He lets the PCs keep one copy of the contract. The other, he takes.

“Well done. Your first command: prepare yourselves. Stay within the manor. You are still hunted by the Talirean soldiery. In three days we begin your training.”

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Across the brackish moors

The 3 day hike from the prison took longer than expected, but the group still managed to out pace guards and bounty hunters alike. The party Ranger, Rook, noticed a beast was stalking the group. Spending time to create a poison from the belladonna harvested from the prison gardens (most likely used to subdue unruly prisoners), he took some of his potted meat and created a trap.

The next day Rook and Toben left the group to hunt the beast. Following the tracks to a blackish salty pond where they stalked the area using stealth and group tactics. Thinking back to tales of the region, Toben recalled tales of giant toads with poison skin and tongues that lash and swallow men whole.

Tossing some more meat to the shore they lay in wait. Unaware that the toad itself is more intelligent than expected, it also waits for them. Rook approaches the shore to kick the lure closer, the toad knows he’s within reach and lashes forth. Rook is quick to react and manages to jump back just in time. Him and Toben unleash their arrows upon the toad and send it reeling back into its home inside the pond.

The two mock fight in their victory, pushing each other around and ultimately into the pond itself. There they happen to notice a mud cave that leads up under the shore on another side of the pond. After they dry off they walk around to the side where it must have been. Determined to finish the job and get some fresh meat in the process, they begin peeling layers of organic material from the earth. Suddenly it caves in and they land upon the toad, slashing it and slaying the monster. Inside the cave they find trinkets and gold from those less capable.

Catching up to the rest of the team with giant toad legs in hand (skinned of the poisonous layers) they make way to the manor on the old moor road. Another half day’s travel reveals the road and as promised, a lonely lantern burns 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 seems inviting or a sanctuary.

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Prison Break!

The forsaken managed to take down the guards and their dogs, but not without great expense. The majority of the team lay in great pain, only the Doctor and Olar remained standing.

The Ogre they had saved from the prisons, Grumblejack, is badly wounded and ready to run. Olar placed a magical window in the wall and peered out to see they are two stories up, a garden, and an island surrounded by high walls. They begin to regroup and devise a new plan.

Heading downstairs they see no guards left in the building. Heading into the kitchen our prisoners find the servant staff working on a large meal for the night rotation. The forsaken are dressed in the garb of the slain guards, the staff pay no attention. The doctor attempts to persuade the staff to turn over provisions for a “hunt” for the escaped prisoners, but the staff seems on edge. They demand to speak to the guard lieutenant and as such meet their own demise.

Our prisoners pile every scrap of wood they can find upon the large double doors, and strike it to flame. This they know will serve as a distraction! Back up stairs and clumsily down the rope, for their wounds are painful.

Grumblejack sees his own opportunity (smarter than he seems) and takes the rope back with him. As they call back to him, he disappears. They don’t see him again.

Noticing the guard towers are empty save for a light in each, they head to the front gate. The gate house echos with sounds of laughter. This must be the appropriate time! The guards are enjoying a game of cards and some drink!

The forsaken sound the horn. Slowly, in a drunken stupor the guards come forth, one by one, slowly noticing the fire. Eventually with the lieutenant’s command they run to the fountain in the courtyard and take buckets back to the doors. With this, our prisoners make their escape. Into the gate house, past the cards and ales, eventually out the main gate and out to the bridge.

From here they take their chances with the ocean rather than with the guard house at the end of the bridge. They dive, dive deep into their freedom. Some drink it in too soon, and must be carried to shore. There they regroup, ring out their clothes, toss the guard uniforms into the ocean and begin their journey into the moorlands.

Perhaps they’ll find their way to the Old Moor Road or perhaps they’ll be struck down by the evils that make the tales of these lands. For the moors harbor many sort of primeval creature. Or perhaps, they are the evil which these tales are about.

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Two guards down, a prison to go.
Body side chat #1

Rook
(in hushed tones to the group):

“While we don the equipment these fine gentlemen have left us I would like to get to know a little about each of you, and more importantly tell you about myself.

I dismissed my link with the Blood Crows earlier. However I now feel that they may be playing some part in this plot to free us.

One does not sign up for the Blood Crows, one is selected for service.

When I was approached for membership I was in a dark alley. My greeting was a dagger in my back. I heard nothing prior to the attack, and felt only the sting of the blade as it slid into my ribs.

Thankfully I was able to spin around and land a stunning blow to by assailant, which saved my life and ensured my membership into the group.

No single member of our group was placed in direct command of any of our missions. Each time I was sent out I was allocated a different team. At the beginning of each mission we quickly calculated our strengths and weaknesses, and devised a basic framework of a plan. I believe this approach could help us now.

Our mission: Escape.

I excel at stealth, ranged weapons, and I enjoy staying out of direct combat if at all possible. I have studied humans and I know where I can hit them to do the most damage. I would like to serve as a scout as we make our escape. I should be able to sneak up to the doors and see what is beyond.

I am not terribly good with a sword, axe or mace. Daggers are best thrown from my hands rather than held. I know no magic of my own.

Could someone check the walls and floor to see if there is a chance of a way out through our portable window? The Bruce of Vein, perhaps you could rely on you dwarven heritage to help us out? Perhaps we’re above a tunnel or on an outside wall? I would hate to create a window into a wall keeping the ocean out, or perhaps worse open a window into the barracks.

Good doctor could you see to Toben’s feet while I look around. I would hate to have him slow us down."

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An Overheard Conversation
A bit of the guard's discussion that was overheard while trying to create an escape plan

“That Blackerly is a damned thief! That game was rigged last night!”

“If it’s rigged, why do you keep going back to the gatehouse then?”

“The beer’s passable.”

A laugh is heard. “Drinkin’ on duty! Damn, this place has gone to hell. Captain Callidan would have never tolerated that crap. That’s for sure!”

“Captain Callidan … he left, what? Two years ago?”

“Almost three and since then the place has been straight down the shitter. That old wizard never leaves his tower. He stays up there reading his books and petting his owl!”

“Petting his owl? Is that what they call it these days?”

The guards enjoy a bit of a laugh.

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A visit from a stranger

Our villains sit in a cold dark cell, shackled together with complete strangers. Three days left to look forward to, they bide their time discussing what actions branded them “Forsaken”.

These are some of the worst of the worst, and they know it. None of them apologetic, most regret only that they were caught.

Doctor Claudius Pitch explains that he will be beheaded in three days time. He is a surgeon convicted of grave robbery, but the lack of elaboration does not help to explain if it was for business or pleasure.

Seemingly unworried, Toben states that he was convicted of fraud, and will be serving out his time in the salt mines. He doesn’t say much else.

Rook, a half-elf, states that he is convicted of murder. The coin was right, but the job was not. Things went badly during an assassination for The Blood Crows, his previous employer. Something in his voice says that he believes this to have simply been bad luck. Now he will lose his head if chance does not fall in his favor.

The Bruce of Vein, a Dwarven man of strong stature, was once a mighty paladin in the order of the Knights of the Alerion. He has been sentenced to burn at the stake for his crimes of blasphemy, though that was only the worst of his crimes.

Finally, Olar who is rather thin for a Half-Orc, was imprisoned for arson. It’s apparent from his many burn scars of differing ages and severity that this was no accidental fire. Now he will be punished for his crime by facing the fire himself.

At that moment a man in charge of 5 guards burst into the room. Everyone knows that this is the man responsible for the searing pain inflicted upon their left forearm. They were branded as “Forsaken” at the hand of Sergeant Tomas Blackerly.

Blackerly points to Doctor Pitch and states that he has a visitor, much to Pitch’s surprise. Our dear doctor is escorted out by all 5 guards while Blackerly watches. He’s brought to a room where he is shackeled to a chair opposite a grieving woman. The woman drops her grieving tone and dismisses Blackerly, and it’s apparent to Pitch that he is under her influence.

The woman introduces herself as Tiadora and says that they have a mutual friend. She does not divulge much information, skillfully dodging questions. She only says that they must break free from the prison. “Don’t be so dour. Just because it hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean you can’t be the first”, she says. “Cross the moors on the outskirts of town. On the old Moor Road you will see a manor house with a single lantern burning in the second story. There our mutual friend waits.”

Her message delivered, she is impatient to leave and does little to answer questions. After a short time and conversation going no where, she removes her veil. She dabs up the last of her false tears, and presents it to Pitch. She states that it may be useful to which Pitch stuffs it down his shirt.

Once the doctor is brought back, and only after all of the unposted guards have left does he procure the veil. Olar takes a look at it, studies it and finds strong auras of magic present. After some time he’s able to identify it as a patchwork of useful items. Each patch can be removed to reveal magically hidden items. They immediately begin using the thieves tools to free themselves from their bonds.

Rook works his shackles, attempting to stay quiet. Unfortunately Toben manages to cause enough noise to draw the guard’s attention. The guard gives him a rap across the feet, demanding he stay quiet. Rook’s deception holds true, and the guard is oblivious that he has one of his hands free. Rook manages to break all of his locks, and after many intense minutes, he is able to spring everyone.

They all stay in place, pretending they’re still locked up. They quietly discuss their plan, or perhaps lack there of… Eventually Toben starts drawing the guard’s attention on purpose. Quickly, Olar attempts to daze him with a spell, but the guard is on alert and manages to slough off the spells affects. Obvious that Olar’s hands are freed, the guard spins around. Rook jumps to action and stabs with a dagger from the veil, but misses. Prompted into action Toben gathers the chains to club the guard, but the guard strikes the chains down the the ground.

Obvious that this is too much, the guard drops his club and begins to go for his sword. Secondly, his companion at the door moves to come in. The two guards are no match for our five convicts, who all spring to action. Before the guards can even retrieve their horns to sound for backup, they are both smite to the ground by an onslaught of spells, dagger blows and slashes.

The group of outlaws raid the bodies, equiping swords, bows and chain shirts. Now they must flee. But what awaits for them? kept blindfolded most of the time, they are unfamiliar with this prison. The only way to go is out. Out to the moors.

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Guilty.

You are a lawbreaker – the worst of the worst. Too dangerous to live amongst the good people of Talengarde, they dragged you in chains before a magistrate and condemned you. They sent you to the worst prison in the land and there they forever marked you. They held you down and branded you with a runic F. You are forsaken. You won’t be at Branderscar Prison for long. Branderscar is only a holding pen. In three days – justice comes. In three days – everything ends.

What a pity. If only there was a way out of this stinking rat-hole. If only there was a way to escape. If only…

No. No one has ever escaped from Branderscar Prison. This is where your story ends.

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