Bollock's Inquisitives

S01E08 - The Seekers of the Ashen Crown

The PCs fight their way out of a poorly executed ambush by the Emerald Claw, face off against a Kech Shaarat unit and finally reach the Wordbearers.

Therendor 8, 998 YK. As they reach the bottom of the Graywall mountains, the badlands give way to a rocky woodland. Neglected in the recent years, the undergrowth has crept closer to the road where it was once kept clear.

Towards midday, Rampart and Karnak both spot the glint of metal in the heavy foliage next to the road ahead of them. A little over half a dozen humanoids seem to be hidden, waiting. The two adventurers quickly inform their comrades and the group comes to a halt under the pretense of stopping for lunch. Using Maathezar’s telepathy, they consider how to deal with the ambush. After a minute, the matter is settled when the armored warriors step out of their hiding spots. Many of them wear tabards with the symbol of the Emerald Claw. Their leader, a bearded man in chainmail wielding a nasty-looking halberd, yells “Leave none alive! For the glory of the Emerald Claw!”

The warriors charge ahead while two archers hidden in trees send a volley of arrows at their quarries. A necromancer steps out from the underbrush and sends a bolt of necrotic energy at Rampart. The warforged takes the hit and moves to engage the leader in melee. Karnak and Frostbite engage the lesser warriors, cutting them down with their coordinated attacks. Zair uses the distractions to channel her magic to push the Claw fighters into disadvantageous positions and thus giving openings to her allies. Maathezar stands with his back to Rampart, striking at the enemies trying to flank his allies. Basil stays back, helping his companions with well-placed shots to keep them off-balance. The Claw unit is disciplined and well organised. They put up a good fight, but they lack the adventurers’ skill, and soon only the captain and the necromancer remain. The group makes sure to take the captain alive, but show no mercy is shown to the mage.

They loot their foes’ corpses and remove the captain’s weapons and armor. They tie him up and then wake him. They try to press him for information. He talks, but more to gloat about their inevitable defeat than to answer the group’s questions. They threaten him with all manners of gruesome deaths, but he laughs in their face. Maathezar realizes that it is not because he doesn’t believe them, but because he truly has no fear of death. With the religious fanatic’s certainty, only actual torture could pierce his bravado, something the kalashtar is unwilling to even suggest. Without any more use for him, Karnak gives him a quick death.

After actually having lunch, the group gets under way again. The reach the mountains and enter the pass that should lead them to Six Kings. As they emerge from a narrow chasm, the mountain opens in front of them and they see a large lake. On the lake’s other bank are the Six Kings. Taller the Sharn’s towers, carved out of the mountainside, the six gigantic hobgoblins look to the horizon. The group takes a moment to take in the sight. It is a wonder that thousands of year after their construction, the Kings still stand as proud as the day they were completed.

They continue and the path takes them back into the mountains. As they travel through a pass flanked by tall cliffs, they find their path blocked by a group of hobgoblins. The one in the lead is wearing leather and carries two scimitars. The others are wearing chainmail and carrying shields and longswords. From the blade shaped marks on their bodies, the group deduces they are Bladebearers, the Wordbearers’ rivals. The leader says in common: “I am Chib Naersaar. Saw your fight with Claw. Not bad for weak paleskins. Claw not Kech Shaarat, though. You leave blade, maps and all notes on Arkantaash. Crawl back home with your small lives or lose them here.”

The adventurers scoff at the Bladebearer’s proposal and draw their weapons. The hobgoblins surge forward. Three of them charge head on while the others go up to the low plateaus on the group’s sides to try and surround them. Despite Naersaar’s confidence in his martial superiority, the Bladebearers end up proving less of a challenge than the Emerald Claw. Only one of them gets away by fleeing towards the battle’s end. As proof of their victory, Karnak takes the leader’s scimitars, hoping this will help them convince the Wordbearers to accept them as allies.

As Captain Kalaes had told them, they find an outcropping of withe stone at the base of the third king. Near it is a path to a clearing beyond which lies the entrance to a dark cavern. As they approach, a group of 6 hobgoblins and 2 goblins, one of which they recognize as Govaan, emerge from the shadows. From the description the Citadel had given, this group must be the Wordbearers. Their leader, a female with a two-handed sword strapped to her back, steps forward. Just behind her is a male with facial tattoos and a bejeweled longsword; the Citadel agent Tikulti.

The leader speaks with a deep feminine voice. “I am Yeraa, leader of these Kech Volaar seekers. Arkantaash belongs to goblinkind. Six Kings belongs to goblinkind. Name your price for Ashurta’s Blade, which I believe you have acquired. Then leave this place, and if you desire peace, do not return.”
Zair speaks first. “We did not come as rivals or foes. We simply wish to help you in your quest for the Ashen Crown. We have come a long way to meet with you and we believe we could be of great help.”
“We have fought off a band of your enemies, the Kech Sharaat, and also a few groups of the Emerald Claw. You have many enemies, some friends wouldn’t hurt,” adds Maathezar.
“It is true”, says Govaan, “they freed me from the Emerald Claw”.
“Yeah, you sure don’t need more enemies, better take us as allies, keep from that happening”, says Rampart.
“Your threats won’t serve your cause here”, says Yeraa, but she seems to have softened her tone somewhat. “If you’re not after the Crown, what’s in it for you in this?”
“We were hired by a professor at Morgrave University to research Dhakaani ruins”, says Zair, “we’d be content with archaeological finds, mapping the tombs, documents and such other minor artifacts.”
“I’ve been in many an underground complex and know my way around the different hazards that can be found there. I assure you, we won’t slow you down”, adds Karnak.
Rampart glares at the Kech Volaar warriors, hoping to weaken their resolve in opposing the alliance. As it does so, it finds the goblin female is glaring back intensely. Dressed in loose hide armor and wearing a wolfskin cloak, the goblin’s knuckles are turning white as she grips her waraxe. The two lock eyes and start to grumble. “You looking for a fight?” asks the warforged.
“Always”, answers the berserker.
“Enough!” orders Yeraa. “You can fight after this matter is resolved!”
After carefully examining the Kech Volaar’s leader, Maathezar realizes she is hesitating in part because she doesn’t want to seem weak by accepting outside help. “With all the forces arrayed against you, it would be foolish to refuse help given in good faith. There is wisdom and strength to be found in negotiating an alliance. We can follow your leadership if you should decide it would be the best course of action.”
“You seem sincere…” says Yeraa.
Tikulti steps forward and puts his hand on her shoulder. “It is written that the destiny of Arkantaash is bound to those who seek and find its scattered fragments. These folks have claimed Ashurta’s Blade, and they have shown courage, honor, and forthrightness in their actions and in dealing with us. Before we join in this quest, let bus bond in spirit with the amalorkar.”
“Yes!” agrees the goblin warrior, “I would love to test these would-be allies!”
The rest of the group nod their assent.

The goblinoids show the group how to properly pad their weapons for nonlethal combat. As they get ready, Tikulti comes to them alone. “Well done”, he whispers, “I’m glad to see you’re professionals.” He resumes at a normal volume. “Now, to the business at hand, the amalorkar is a honor fight in which two groups of warriors bond through battle.” He points at Yeraa, who is pouring ash in a rough circle. “Two combatants, one from each side, enter the ring. You can win in three ways: knocking your opponent out, pushing him out of the circle or hitting him and not being hit within the next few seconds.”

When Yeraa finishes the circle, the ash ignites and gives off a ring of thin smoke. She then steps inside the circle as the first combatant. Karnak d’Vadalis steps forward for the first round. The two begin circling each other. Counting on his superior reach, Karnak tries to keep obstacles between Yeraa and himself. She moves forward, steel clashes against steel and she retreats. They circle again. She moves again and he slashes with his glaive, landing a solid blow, but she uses the momentum to her advantage, slipping into his defense and landing a blow of her own. Karnak pushes her away and retreats to a better position. Yeraa comes in for another attack, but he fights her off. As she moves in for another strike, he catches her with a thrust and then dives behind a boulder and rolls away. He gets back up quickly and manages to stay away long enough to avoid getting hit, thus giving the first round to his team.

In the second round, Akitani, the wolf warrior, steps forward. “Come on tin man. Let’s see what you can do!” Rampart chuckles as it steps into the ring. “Bring it on, little one!” The goblin roars and charges forward, holding her axe high above her head. Rampart stands its ground, blocking the goblin’s downward strike with its shield. It then slashes low with its longsword, catching the berserker in the ribs. She rolls with the blow then charges again, hitting the warforged in the leg, but the construct takes the blow without flinching. It thrusts at the goblin, landing a glancing blow. She moves in close, grabs its arm and bites down on it. Rampart shakes its arm, trying to dislodge the gnawing goblin, but she holds on, so it brings her close to its chest and lets itself fall, crushing her under its bulk. The force of the blow knocks Akitani out for a minute, granting a second win to the PCs’ team.

The round puts Govaan against Maathezar. The kalashtar moves to the middle of the ring and kneels down, closing his eyes. Sensing a trap, the scout advances slowly in a low stance. As he moves to strike, Maathezar swings at him with his halberd. Govaan dodges and retreats, circling around as his foe kneels back down. Hiding behind boulders and then moving silently ahead, Govaan moves in for another attack, but as soon as he gets close, Maathezar thrusts in his direction landing a solid blow. Govaan staggers back, caught off guard. He recovers too slowly from his surprise, and the victory is given to Maathezar’s team.

Zair steps forward as the fourth fighter. A young hobgoblin warrior steps into the ring for the Kech Volaar. “I am Jezirpa. I was hoping I’d fight the warforged, or perhaps the human with the glaive. You don’t look like a warrior…”
“I’m not”, says Zair. “So try not to hurt me too much.”
Jezirpa scoffs, “Aye, I’ll make it quick.” And with that, he charges forward. Zair blacks the first strikes with her shield, falling back with every hit. As she nears the edge of the circle, she stumbles and falls.
“Pathetic”, says Jezirpa. “I hope I get another round.”
He raises his sword to put an end to the match… and Zair grins and kicks at his legs as she conjures a bolt of force. The bolt strikes Jezirpa in the back, sending him staggering out of the circle.
When he recovers, he his red with fury. “You cheated!” he yells, moving menacingly towards the Zair. Another hobgoblin warrior, older and with only one eye, steps in front of him.
“Place the blame with yourself for not seeing through her deception. You must be prepared for anything the enemy can throw at you. Now, stand down before you bring shame to our clan.”
For a second it looks like it might come to blows, but Jezirpa heeds his elder’s advice and sits down on a boulder, muttering to himself. Four wins for the newcomers.

The fifth and possibly last battle pits Basil Tulsi against Murdaak, a hobgoblin mage. The mage uses his magic to try and force Basil out of the circle, but the shifter proves to cagey. Dodging among the boulders, he stays behind cover and pelts the hobgoblin with padded arrows. Ultimately, he lands a few arrows and then stays out of sight until his victory is confirmed.

When the battle ends, the Wordbearers cheer their new allies’ victory. To them, the Six Kings have blessed their alliance.

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