Dusk Riders of Chondath

Pt. 46 - A Monumental Loss

Weary from the unrelenting horrors of the ruined city of Glarandar, The Dusk Riders made their way back to Coyote’s Retreat. Ever present in his watchtower, The Riders were able to witness The Coyote’s astonishment of their return despite being hundreds of yards away. As The Riders made their way into the camp, they could see The Coyote hurriedly make his way down the tower in order to begin badgering them with questions.

Whereas previous conversations between The Coyote and The Dusk Riders were quite dismissive, this time there was a marked difference in how The Coyote spoke to The Riders. After now returning from the lost city three times, it was only too obvious that The Coyote had woefully misjudged the tenacity and ability of The Dusk Riders, so his comments were now far less snide and far more respectful. The Coyote first made mention of not just how shocked he was to see The Riders return, but also a slight complaint regarding the amount of gold coin The Riders were costing him. It seemed that he had made three bets with Terris Halfjaw, Barman of The Dancing Lizard, that the Dusk Riders would never return and obviously he had been spectacularly wrong each time. As a last ditch attempt to invalidate his bet – a tremendously significant “double-or-nothing” offer, The Coyote made certain to count all members of the group so that he could verify that none has “secretly perished.” To the dismay of his coin purse, all Riders were present and they were each eager to complete the deal that they had made prior to last departing The Refuge.

The Coyote quickly ushered The Dusk Riders inside of his shop before Terris could see and come to collect his coin. Once inside, The Coyote expressed his amazement that The Dusk Riders had not just returned, but had also brought with them the item required to complete their trade – an Onyx Shard. Since The Dusk Riders had made good on their word, The Coyote pledged to make better on his – in addition to provision of the Axe to the Dusk Riders, The Coyote also offered, “Thomin’s Fury,” a helm that belonged to Thomin Shattershield, a member of the royal family from the fallen Dwarven kingdom of Shanatar. The Coyote said that he couldn’t stomach separating the Axe and the Helm, so he wanted The Dusk Riders to have both items. Once Baern handled the Helm, it’s great power was subtle to a non-Dwarf, but amazingly obvious to him. While Baern looked over the Helm, Munn further scrutinized the Axe. Like the Helm, the Axe’s prowess in battle was obvious, but when Baern further studied it, he realized that it contained a special power – the Axes could cast forward an immense energy wave called ‘The Heartline Fissure’ which could wreak havoc on enemies and even liquefy rock! After detecting these additional powers, Baern did his best to restrain his astonishment and just wait until the deal was complete so he could alert his fell Riders. With the Onyx Shard surrendered to The Coyote, group exchanged further pleasantries before parting company so that The Dusk Riders could return to both the Watchwall and the kingdom of Aglarond.

As The Riders were making all haste to get back to the Watchwall, Mathis detected that they were all being watched and followed on their way back to the wall. Not wanting to betray their ties to Aglarond, The Riders quickly looked for a location where they could hide and wait until those following them came closer and, ideally, stumbled into their ambush. The Riders quietly waited within their ambush location and prepared themselves as feral searching noises became more audible. When it was finally time to strike with surprise at their side, The Dusk Riders leapt out to strike, but instead of Watch Guards or Mercenaries, The Riders were momentarily aghast to see that no mortal was stalking them, but instead a huge monstrosity baring both a silver mane and long sharp claws. Undaunted, The Dusk Riders joined the creature in combat despite its otherworldly ferocity. Grimly complementing its razor sharp talons, The Beast was also able to assail the Dusk Riders with pockets of darkness that obscured actions contained within them thereby leaving the group vulnerable to further attack. When Mathis later spied during battle a Red Wizard nearby coordinating the attack, Mathis made certain to alert his fellow Riders. Munn wasted no time in trying to discourage the Red Wizard by liberally spraying him with his breath weapon. The Red Wizard cried out in agony as the acid seared his face and robes before he began stumbling away from the fray. The Dusk Riders desperately wanted to pursue the Red Wizard, but numerous bloodying exchanges they had made with the demon made immediately following the Red Wizard impossible. By the time that the creature had finally been killed, it was too late; the acid scarred Red Wizard had run too far away.

When The Riders were able to find the secret cave that allowed them passage back to the underhalls of the Watchwall, they welcomed that dank air versus the stench of sorrow and desperation that permeated the skies of Thay. As they ascended the passages to the top, The Riders were reunited with Vurner Halberd, the Emissary of Aglarond that had brought them all to the Watchwall. Vurner heartily welcomed each of The Dusk Riders back from their treacherous travels and was joined in his jubilant welcome by young Collin Tannerson who was extremely excited to see the Riders again – especially Baern who had shown him nothing but kindness throughout their brief time together. As the The Riders were re-acclimating to an environment devoid of constant threat, the group couldn’t help but pause as what it is like to again see vibrant colors again while not awash in such an atmosphere of desperation. Not wanting the stench or stains of Thay upon them for a single minute more, The Dusk Riders departed in order to further cleanse themselves in preparation of gaining audience with The Simbul.

Freshly cleaned and ready to council one of the most hallowed and celebrated heroes of the land, The Riders entered The Simbul’s chamber ready to explain in detail what they had learned while traversing the accursed land of Thay. They explained to The Simbul that Magmar had not performed any treachery against them, but instead had absconded from Shanatar with numerous Rune Stones lest their great power be perverted to funnel even more demons onto this plane, or, all the worse still, Calastryx the three headed dragon. Upon hearing their full report, The Simbul was quick to emphatically thank The Riders for their bravery and the additional information provided to them by the animal messenger they previously sent. The Simbul especially thanked the Dusk Riders for providing a Runestone to her as its Dwarven origins and Shantar markings fully clears Aglarond from any accusations Thay might fabricate as an excuse for war. Ensuring that any who might question her intent The Simbul, with but a gesture, imprinted a crystal with the image of the Runestone so that any who holds the crystal would see the Runestone and recognize it as an item of Shanatar and NOT of Thay. Following creating this proof of her kingdom’s innocence, The Simbul then requested that the Dusk Riders hold the actual Runestone on her behalf as she does not want any item of such magical power too close to the Red Wizards of Thay lest they seek to steal it. In the hopes of discovering Magmar so that they could alert him and provide additional protections for the remaining Runestones, The Dusk Riders requested some method by which they could more easily seek him out. Agreeing that it would be wise to both notify Magmar and secure the remaining Runestones, The Simbul performed some magic that would cause any Runestone to sing once it became closer to one of its brothers.

Suddenly there was a great stir followed by Aglarondian soldiers rushing into the chamber to alert The Simbul that the Thayan Ambassador was demanding an audience. The fact that such a sudden request for an audience was far from the norm, The Dusk Riders did their best to assist preparations while standing ready to defend The Simbul should the Thayan Ambassador attempt any treachery. In order to allow The Dusk Riders to again stand by her side, The Simbul duplicated her previous spell that made it appear that The Dusk Riders were adorned in traditional Aglarondian garb so that they could be present for what was surely going to be a very delicate meeting with the Thayan Ambassador.

Like before, the door that led to the chamber containing the pulley platform that allowed the Thayan Ambassador to enter the Watchwall was unlocked without being touched. Unlocked before, the door opened with sudden force and the Thayan Ambassador glided through the chamber with an unexpected haste. Once the Ambassador had seated himself at the negotiating table, he wasted no time in sharing baseless accusations. The Ambassador claimed that Aglarondian soldiers had trespassed into Thay and “attacked an innocent man.” The Ambassador made a gesture and then suddenly, a lesser Red Wizard stepped forward from the Pulley Chamber and explained the “crime” perpetrated against him by Aglarondian soldiers. This Red Wizard gave his name as, Harome, and he scornfully showcased the locations where he had been “scarred with acid while pursuing his usual merchant business.” In looking over Harome’ many acid scars, it was obvious to Munn, that this dolt was not just lying, but had also been assailed with far more acid that he ever could have hoped to administer in the heat of battle. With Harome done sharing his false accounting of the exchange, the Thayan Ambassador dismissed him and demanded satisfaction from The Simbul. Knowing full well that the only truth within Harome’s story was that the exchange had indeed occurred in Thay and Harome was struck with acid, The Simbul offered nothing to the Ambassador aside from the promise that no Aglarondian soldier had harmed this man. Pounding the table with an unexpected yet still thunderous force, the Ambassador took to his feet and once again demanded Magmar be turned over to Thay lest war break out. With an even more impressive calm, The Simbul explained she had come across some evidence that clears her kingdom from these accusations while also receiving some additional intelligence that proved it was Thay that was seeking to topple the Realms. The Simbul mentioned that the Council of Nations had already been alerted to this evidence, so if Thay sought war, they would receive it from not just Aglarond, but all nations. The Thayan Ambassador’s hands shook with a subtle fury before he regained his composure. It was obvious that the plot of the Red Wizards had been undone, but he simply could not reconstruct how The Simbul had so perfectly deducted all facets of their plan. Knowing that this day was lost, the Ambassador severely analyzed the room and everyone within it to see if he might still ferret out how Aglarond had outplayed him. With a cold, steely gaze, the Ambassador began inspecting each and every individual within the room. The Ambassador drifted over towards Baern, but seemed ill at being so close to such a devout individual. Munn was next and the Ambassador eyed him carefully and even sniffed at the very air around him before moving past. After that extended, breathless moment, the Ambassador then carefully reviewed Mathis. The Thayan Ambassador raised his hand and the room clattered with multiple armored hands then reaching for their weapons but not drawing them. Undeterred, the Thayan Ambassador appeared to be feeling something in the air around Mathis. While never blinking or breaking off his gaze, the Thayan Ambassador stated, “This man…is….enchanted…” While a common occurrence within the realms, the Ambassador was disgusted since the Thayan – Aglarondian meeting chamber had supposedly been designed to prevent any and all magic from functioning within it. The Ambassador incredulously why this individual, Mathis, was enchanted, but The Simbul said nothing. Things quickly escalated when the Ambassador demanded restitution for such a grievous indiscretion, but again, none of the Thayan Ambassador’s blathering spurred anything but further silence. Exasperated, the Ambassador made his way towards the Pulley Chamber, but prior to leaving, he tosse a small red sphere to Mathis. Not wanting to touch the item, Mathis let the sphere fall at his feet rather than catch it. Once the door bolted itself following the departure of both the Ambassador and Harome, the sphere exploded into an encompassing red crystal that engulfed Mathis and trapped him inside.

A look of horror was frozen upon Mathis’ face and his fellow Dusk Riders immediately made their way over to him in order to attempt to free him. Despite their best efforts to chip away at the crystal and free Mathis, the damaged sections quickly regenerated leaving Mathis trapped within the red crystal. As more severe attempts to free Mathis were being prepared, The Simbul demanded that they stop lest they jeopardize the precious life of the individual inside. With wounded resignation, The Simbul explained that, “This is a powerful curse. One that can only be undone by the bastard that crafted it, which, sadly, mean we cannot help him right now. We can only keep him safe.” Feeling the weight of impending war on her shoulders, The Simbul offer the ultimate gesture, “We can and will pursue the Ambassador if you want…but it will mean war. A vast, bloody and unholy war, but we will pursue it if that is what you desire. Given your sacrifice on our behalf of Aglarond, we could do no less and stand ready to act on your word.” Knowing that Mathis would not want so many innocent lives forced into battle against a freshly summoned demonic horde, The Dusk Riders declined this amazing gesture and explained that Mathis so loved life, a lasting and eternal view of living and perseverance that it was not the time to act without a longer view in mind. While Mathis might be suffering now, they could wait to enact his revenge, but one day, enact it they shall.

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Pt. 45 - Unspeakable Horrors

Sensing threats from the wretched ruin all around them, the Dusk Riders determined it prudent to take a moment, assess their situation, and collect themselves before continuing. Seeking some semblance of protection within a lost city overrun by demons, the Dusk Riders determined that the ground floor of a partially leveled tower was their best bet. As they made their way towards this makeshift shelter, howls of the damned mixed with those of their victims as the Dusk Riders did their best to focus on the tasks at hand. Their immediate goal was to still collect the Oynx Shard for The Coyote so that they may collect the axe of Dwarven legend in return, but that goal felt more and more fleeting with every passing moment. Hoping to better prepare for the challenges that obviously await them, the Dusk Riders began ascending the decrepit tower that, thankfully, was marked with an Onyx Star.

The Riders were quickly surprised to learn that the Tower was not as devoid of live as it first seemed since multiple voices could be easily discerned inside. Seeking to gather more information before revealing themselves, Mathis and Nyria quietly made their way closer to the din. As they both made their way up the stairs, two Red Wizard Acolytes ventured down from an upper floor unaware of Nyria and Mathis’ presence. Nyria and Mathis coordinated a quick strike and dispatched the two sinister mystics with ease. Pausing to gauge whether or not they had made their presence apparent to all, they halted to listen for sudden activity. Still hearing conversational noises above their position, Nyria and Mathis decided to disguise themselves in the cloaks of the Acolytes before venturing further. Now masked as Red Wizard students, the two Riders led the other Riders further up the stairs.

Upon reaching the next floor, Mathis glanced about and quickly recognized that this floor of the Tower was being used as a makeshift academy for dark magical arts. Disgusted by this perversion of the mystic arts, Mathis exchanged a silent agreement with Nyria to move forward with their ruse, so they both subtlety entered the classroom while silently praying that they had blended in undetected amongst the other Red Wizard Acolytes.

The assemblage of Acolytes were receiving instruction from a ominous individual wearing an ornate red robe adorned with highlights created from black silk. Both Mathis and Nyria did their best to make their way into the classroom unnoticed, but just when they both thought it time to somewhat relax, the Instructor boomed out a question to them both. “Done so soon, Klymar?” Without hesitation, Mathis answered, “Yes, Master” and took a seat at the back of the chamber as if nothing were out of the ordinary. Seemingly satisfied, the Instructor collected a small silver bowl which appeared to contain the blood of the innocent. The Instructor liberally dipped three of his fingers into the bowl and then knelt down to begin drawing a summoning circle. Upon completion of the circle, the Instructor then began a chant for the “Servants of the Plague” to join them on this plane and revel in wonton malice. As the other Acolytes rose and began to join in with the uneasy chants, Mathis feared what might be summoned should they pause too much longer and unleashed an attack. Acting in near lockstep with her valued compatriot, Nyria followed Mathis’ attack with a deft arrow strike towards the Instructor. Only too eager to join this fray, Munn barreled into the room administering his devastating acid breath weapon attack. The coordinated attack by the Dusk Riders cleared the room of evil and halted the demonic gate from being realized.

With that class of Red Wizards dismissed permanently, Mathis and Nyria resumed ascending towards the next floor of the tower, but found it masked in darkness – a wholly unnatural and sinister darkness. Cautiously, the Dusk Rider approached the top of the stairs, but suddenly, it was all too obvious that the Riders were being watched. Despite the darkness cloaking all other aspects of the chamber, two hellish eyes could be seen piercing through the blackness. As the Riders realized that they were not alone in this dank room, they reddened eyes narrowed and suddenly bounded towards them. The darkness cloaked this otherworldly horror as it attacked, but it only too quickly became apparent that this abomination was not alone, but paired with another equally foul denizen of the abyss. The other Dusk Riders joined the fierce exchange and worked fast to collectively dispatch the demons. After the exchange had completed, the toxicity of these demons was readily apparent as symptoms of Abyssal Plague became obvious on Mathis. Knowing the horrific pain and madness that could quickly befall him if left untreated, Baern and Mathis worked together to halt the disease and cure Mathis before he could be afflicted any further.

With Mathis cleansed of the plague, The Riders then continued upward towards a steel door. The Dusk Riders paused to listen at the door in hopes of getting a better understanding of what awaited them on the other side. As they did, beyond the reinforced portal, both powerful energy and an evil incantation could be heard. Remembering the earlier summoning circle they had disrupted and the two foul demons they had just overcome, no member of the Riders believed that there was any further time to collect information, but instead mightily forced the door open so they could better assess the threat within the room.

Inside this vast chamber, eight pillars filled the room. Each pillar was bristling with arcane energy that crackled and emitted energy beams which seemed to be suspending two items in the air. From those two suspended items, even greater energy poured forth into the room. The catalyst for this arcane energy stemmed from the two items held aloft – one a stone emblazoned with a rune, the other object appearing to be onyx in composition. Collectively, the two items appeared to be acting as an intensifier which was focusing an overwhelming energy beam towards a large summoning circle. Unlike the previous circle the Riders had disrupted, sadly, this one was not just active, but currently being used as a passage unto this plane by a horrifying three headed dragon. The Riders could not help but gasp at this woeful monstrosity which was feverishly clawing its way through the circle in the hopes of fully entering this plane. As if the presence of the most fearsome wyrm they had ever encountered was not enough, the Dusk Riders quickly learned that the tri-headed dragon was not their sole threat when a wickedly giddy madman called out to them.

An individual devoid of sanity glanced at the Dusk Riders with nary a care and seemed perversely happy over seeing such a monstrous evil pour forth from his summoning circle. With his prideful eyes watering over being the individual that caused this wretched event, the red robed madman hollered out, “YOU’RE TOO LATE! CALASTRYX IS HERE!” Following this confounding statement, the Madman further punctuated the dread by raising his arms and triggering multiple summoning spheres to appear adjacent to each of the pillars. “This is a cause for further celebration, so let us welcome even MORE GUESTS!” Then, from each of the summoning spheres, minor demons began spilling out ready to do the bidding of the fevered mad man that had brought them to Thay.

Seemingly recognizing Baern, the lunatic called out toward him, “You cannot hope to stop me, minion of Corundum! I have PROVEN that I no longer need all rune stones! Go tell Magmar that I have outsmarted him!” Not understanding this statement in the slightest, Nyria gave up on trying to discern his crazed words and instead shot the Runestone out of the air. With the runestone no longer empowering the summoning circle, the disruption immediately caused Calystryx, the three headed dragon, to be trapped between worlds and the ferocious wyrm thrashed about violently as a result. Furious at this attempt to undermine his evil will, the red robed lunatic angrily rushed to the fallen Runestone and lofted it back into the energy field thereby restoring the summoning circle.

Emboldened once more at seeing his circle restored, the crazed Red Wizard then shouted out at The Dusk Riders further gibberish. “THE SHATTERSHIELD BLOODLINE IS DEAD! DEAD! AND ALL TOO SOON, EACH OF YOU WILL JOIN THEM!” The Dusk Riders still were woefully uncertain what this lunatic meant, so they instead focused their attacks on the Rune Stone and Onyx Shard, causing them both to become dislodged multiple times. But despite the momentary success, whenever either or both items became knocked loose, the senseless mage would immediately restore them and continue allowing the dragon Calastryx to move between realms.

Devoutly hating being trapped between worlds, the dragon, Calastryx, signified its massive displeasure by lashing out wildly at any within its grasp. As the Dusk Riders continued to try and thwart the circle, Calastryx would fire its infernal breath weapon, gnash out with its razor sharp teeth or rend a poor victim with its claws. After sustaining horrific damage from Calastryx, Mathis bravely obliterated one of the eight pillars and thereby halted the stream of energy stemming from it thereby destabilizing the arcane portal. Realizing that The Dusk Riders had now recognized the linchpin to his nefarious plan, the possibility of his ultimate undoing became apparent to the Mad Mage causing him to become incensed: “NO! MINIONS OF CORUNDUM, YOU WILL NOT HALT MY EFFORTS TO RELEASE CALASTRYX INTO THIS REALM!”

After hearing this name called out multiple times called out by this crazed wizard, the Dusk Riders finally recalled that ‘Corundum,’ was none other than Corundum Shattershield, the fallen King of the Dwarven kingdom of Shanatar. In fact, Thomin Shattershield, the former owner of the powerful axe held within the Coyote’s Refuge, was a direct descendant of that royal bloodline.

With no time to further pause and reflect upon the meaning of his crazed calls, Nyria instead destroyed two additional pillars causing the wizard to cry out again: “STOP, DISCIPLES OF MAGMAR! STOP!!! YOU WILL NOT UNDO ME!” When Baern finally destroyed the last pillar, an explosive burst of arcane forces filled the room and the blast dislodged Calastryx from this plane and back to the pitiful realm which suffered her unyielding wrath. With Calastryx banished, the Dusk Riders ignored the discomfort from the effort of both casting her away plus the unending onslaught of demons and stood ready to end this Wizard insane torment. Before The Dusk Riders could take the fight directly to that Red Wizard, the mad man soared up into the air while calling out , “FOOLS! KNOW THAT ON THIS DAY YOU HAVE MADE AN ETERNAL ENEMY OF BUHERNAR THE ASCENDANT! BE WARNED THAT I SHALL ULTIMATELY SEND YOU INTO HIDING IN THE SAME WAY I SENT THAT TITANTIC FOOL, MAGMAR, SCURRYING FOR HIS LIFE! TELL THAT FOOLISH GIANT THAT I NOW KNOW THE SECRET OF THE RUNES AND IT IS ONLY A MATTER OF TIME BEFORE I RESTORE CALASTRYX TO THIS PLANE AND ULTIMATELY TOPPLE THE WORLD!” With that, Buhernar flew out of the tower leaving the Onyx Shard and the Rune Stone at the feet of the grievously wounded Dusk Riders.

Once the vile collections of evils had been overwhelmed, the Riders collapsed and did their best to regain their breath and composure. After a brief respite, a quick search uncovered Buhernar’s diary. In between crazed statements and meandering prose, the Riders learned of the relationship between Corundum, Magmar and the Red Wizards. It appeared that Corundum Shattershield feared the loss of his kingdom and began bartering with the Red Wizards of Thay in the hopes of gaining dark magic that could turn his fortune. Instead of being his salvation, Corundum was instead played as a fool. As a result of following a path of misguided treachery, Corundum’s actions caused Magmar to recognize the impending threat to Clan Shattershield and the city of Shanatar. In the hopes that he could avert a larger calamity, Magmar covertly departed Shanatar in the hopes that he could collect the Runestones before they could be jointly activated and release untold horrors on the realms. But despite Magmar’s best efforts, Corundum had provided enough of a lead for Buhernar to begin multiple macabre experiments that allowed the Mad Wizard to create a powerful summoning circle using an Onyx Shard despite not having all of the required Runestones in his possession. As a result of reading the diary, The Dusk Riders learned that the Red Wizards had been lying all along. Magmar had committed no crime but had instead acted on behalf of the realms by collecting the runestones and going into hiding. In fact, the Dusk Riders could then not help but wonder if the giant described within the diary was not the same giant the Riders had discovered when they had ventured into the Underdark through the fissure beneath the Duskholme! Now, with the Onyx Shard in hand, the Riders could collect the great axe of Clan Shattershield and determine how best to negotiate with the unsociable giant they had discovered beneath their home.

More than ready to depart these wretched city, Baern staved off the effects of the Abyssal Plague the Riders had contracted and Munn led the way out of the Tower. Finally they all understood what was afoot and were able to leave Thay and report in person to The Simbul. While it did not feel like victory, on this day the Dusk Riders had ensured that the Red Wizards could no longer use their petty lies as a justification of war.

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Pt. 44 - Blackwhips and Obsidian Spires

The Dusk Riders returned to Coyote’s Refuge slightly at a loss for what they should do next. They had determined to immediately provide the critical information regarding Magmar and Perakline to the Simbul via an enchanted animal messenger, but still something seemed amiss, so the Dusk Riders hoped that returning to Coyote’s Refuge might provide some direction while they coped with an extremely sensitive situation.

Wanting to provoke both a reaction and some respect from those within the Refuge, the Dusk Riders made certain to openly display the craniums of their most recent kills – the Rage Demons. Thankfully, the gesture did exactly as intended and the Coyote made all haste to confer with the Dusk Riders so that he could better learn what they had faced within the ruined city of Glarondar and what their intentions were now. While chatting with the Coyote, the Dusk Riders learned that he had in fact just lost a bet since he had no confidence that any member of the Dusk Riders would return alive from the city, much less appear carrying trophies like the skulls of Rage Demons. Despite losing coin, the Coyote could not help but be visibly impressed and surprised and he had so poorly judged the capabilities of the Dusk Riders. As the Riders and the Coyote exchanged pleasantries, it was noticed that the Refuge seems far less thick with visitors now than previously. With any sense of loss or remorse, the Dusk Riders learned that a larger Dwarven exploration party had been savaged during their last foray into the ruins, so all of their remaining goods within the Refuge had been scavenged once the only surviving member passed on from grievous wounds. So, now that the Dwarves were gone, the Dusk Riders were welcome to have the first chance to rummage through and purchase items that had been scavenged.

While the Dusk Riders looked through the goods, the Coyote generously shared a delicious and sweet wine from Cormyr. As the wine began to loosen tongues, Baern could not help but ask about the Nightmare Forges since that was where the Riders had intended to travel. Upon hearing this, the Coyote asked the Riders if they had a “death wish” since the Demon Circles resided within the very center of this hellish locale and was the spawning point for the onslaught that destroyed the city. At this point, Nyria stumbled across an item of obvious worth within the fallen Dwarves goods. Showing the axe to Munn, the precision of the weapon and its exquisite craftsmanship demanded that they ask about it and learn its likely exorbitant price. The Coyote told the Dusk Riders that the weapon was previously owned by Thomin Shattershield, a member of the royal family from the Dwarven kingdom of Shanatar. Sadly, Shanatar had fallen long ago and, obviously, Thomin’s luck had run out as well given that the axe was now available for sale here is a filthy place like Coyote’s Refuge. So, despite the grand history of the axe and the powers that it bestowed in battle, the Coyote would sell the axe for 34,000 or “a minor favor.” This minor favor involved the Dusk Riders returning to Glarondar to recover an Onyx Shard – a mysterious and enchanted stone that acts as a magical intensifier, something that is extremely popular within Thay. If the Dusk Riders would make their way to the Obsidian Spires, they would be able to search for a Spire marked with an Onyx Star and the Dusk Riders would, likely, recover the Shard at that location. Despite their general lack of trust, the lure of the axe proved too great, so the Dusk Riders agreed to the deal.

The Riders had decided to camp for the night in their own tents given that they actually felt safer doing that than trying to rent a room from the Coyote. But before resting for the night, many Riders felt that the Cormyrian wine not enough for individuals likely undertaking a suicide mission, so the collective Dusk Riders made their way to the Dancing Lizard for a drink. The squalor within the Dancing Lizard was evident upon walking through the door given the filth, smell and clientele. The proprietor of the Lizard was no better given that he had suffered a major wound to his head that forced his lower jaw to be replaced with a makeshift iron version. Within the Dancing Lizard was a woeful mishmash of individuals. Some were outright scavengers, some decimated adventures licking their wounds before moving on or foolishly returning into Glarondar and some that seemed extremely out of place due to a complete lack of filth and a seeming lack of ability to be in such an area without proper equipment. While it is uncertain which was worse, the miserable spirit of the room, or the miserable taste of the drinks, the Riders left more than enough coin to cover their bill and returned to their tents. Rotating watch duties throughout the night, Nyria was alert enough to detect a prying hand attempting to pilfer something from Mathis’ pack, but scare off the miscreant and saw the shadowy figure race back to the Dancing Lizard for protection. Not wanting to escalate matters, Nyria let the slight slide and merely continued protecting her fellow Dusk Riders.

The next morning, the Riders collected their gear and began making their way back into the city with the goal of reaching the section called The Obsidian Spires as quickly as possible. As the Dusk Riders made their way through the ruins, Munn and Nyria made out the frightened cries of ladies pleading for their lives. Carefully covering her steps, Nyria made her way towards the sound and was able to witness four men dressed in ornate leather armor using black whips to intimidate the ladies. Nyria signaled the other Dusk Riders who moved into position just in time to learn that the six individuals on the ground were simply acting as a lure for additional Blackwhip Slavers hiding on the roof with nets punctuated with fish hooks. While some might have fallen to such a ruse, the surprise was actually on these Traffickers of Flesh given that they never expected a collective as ready for battle as the Dusk Riders.

Once the Riders had dispensed with the Blackwhips, the Riders discovered a set of instructions that told the Blackwhips to bring any “caught slaves” to a specific section of the Outer Wards for preparation and sale. Pocketing the note, the Dusk Riders decided instead to continue onward towards the Spires.

Upon reaching the section containing the Obsidian Spires, the Riders first approached a tower that was emitting a green mist that became noticeably thicker as they approached. Persevering the mist as well as they could, the Riders pressed on, but soon the stink of brimstone filled their nostrils and caused their eyes to sting from the stench. Unable to properly search the Spire, the Riders instead moved on to the next one in the hopes of discovering their prize there.

The spire that the Dusk Riders approached next had extremely black smoke emitting from the top in a manner that masked to all except Baern that the interior was ablaze. Once confident that an Onyx Star did not mark this makeshift kiln, the Riders moved-on again.

The next spire looked ragged and was falling apart, but after quick consideration by Mathis, he was confident that this Spire too was missing an Onyx Star. Careful scrutiny of another Spire containing gold and diamond accents proved fruitless too and left the Riders dismayed towards where they should explore next.

Uncertain that they had properly examined the first Spire, the Riders returned to the green mist Spire and entered it despite the mist becoming thicker and thicker as they approached. Quickly, the mist became so caustic that it spurred coughing fits from each of the Dusk Riders. Working hard to catch their breath amidst such terrible vapors, the Riders were surprised by a horrific snake that emerged from the ground to attack. The serpent was enormous and began crushing Munn momentarily, before the massive warrior and his compatriots were able to demonstrate true strength while felling the beast. In the hopes of learning more about this spire and the secrets hidden by the mists, Baern enchanted a stone and dropped it into the mist spilling forth from the hole in the floor. Seeing the now glowing stone strike two or three additional serpents before falling out of site, the Riders quickly vacated the Spire and moved back to the tattered tower for shelter.

But, as the Dusk Riders made their way back to the ruined tower, a pack of Demons out hunting prey approached them unaware of the Riders’ presence. Baern quickly and silently warned the Riders, so that Mathis and Nyria were able to hide themselves before they arrived. The Demons seemed ready to move on until Baern and Munn were unable to as expertly mask their position from the Demons. Sensing their vulnerability, Nyria physically pulled Baern to safety while Mathis tossed over a large ratty cloth to Munn so that he could hide amidst the rubble outside before the demons came too close and spied him. Fortunately, the Demons quickly moved through the Spires onward to fresh prey without spotting the Dusk Riders. After the Demons had passed and the Dusk Riders climbed free of their hiding spots, the Dusk Riders could not help but notice a large piece of the Spire had been dislodged and fallen face down in front of the Spire. Upon overturning this large piece of stone, the Riders were able to easily see the Onyx Star which marked this tower as the location of the shard!

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Pt. 43 - Ladies in Need

After a pitched battle against the Thayan Wights, the Dusk Riders collected themselves for their covert travels within the realm of the Red Wizards. While the Riders had never actually come in contact with any Thayan, all throughout the realms were well versed in their cruelty and magical might. Compounding the complexities was the fact that if the Riders were uncovered, they would not be able to leverage the might of the Simbul or seek the help of King William. Should matters go horribly awry, not only could it mean the obliteration of the Dusk Riders, but also full scale war within the Realms.

When each member of the Riders had collected themselves, they made their way towards the surface. Once the Riders had emerged from the protection of the tunnel and reached the surface, none of them could help but pause and take in the collective blight of the Thayan landscape. While some noticed that the stagnant air within the Dwarven ruins seemed sweet compared to what greeted them on the surface, other scanned the country side in search of color of any type given that none had ever seen such an organic personification of the color grey. Once done with the folly of trying to find beauty within the abused and tortured land, the Dusk Riders made their way toward Glarondar.

As the Riders approached the ruins of Glarondar, they could immediately notice the presence a vast swamp adjacent to the city. The swamp appeared almost as if it were an infection seeping from this once great, but now woefully infected city. And while Glarondar was indeed still quite vast, few signs of life were visible from this distance aside from a few disparate, and perhaps even desperate, wisps of smoke escaping the city. Outside of the city stood a small settlement that did contain some life. The settlement was a tent city that the Riders later learned was called Coyote’s Refuge. While evidence of life could be noticed within this small settlement, it was obvious that it was a hard life given the damage that the elements had done on the tattered tents and lone structure of permanence. After careful study of the city, Mathis was able to get a better sense of the makeshift village and spied a tower, a tavern and a modest store amongst the tents. As the Rider approached closer to the establishment, a diminutive Halfling spied the Riders and began making his way down the tower to confront the Riders for information.

After exchanging careful pleasantries, the Dusk Riders learned that the Halfling’s name was Coyote and this tent city was known as Coyote’s Refuge. The goal of the temporary settlement was to allow individuals foolish enough to venture into the city a chance to resupply, sell goods and heal grievous wounds inflicted by the horrors housed within the city walls of Glarondar. When the Coyote inquired about the Riders and their intended business, the Dusk Riders initially tried to establish a cover ruse that they were all in the employ of Merchants in Thesk, but the Coyote was not swayed in the slighted by the clumsy lie. Obviously unsure of why they were here in the Refuge, the made an offer to purchase anything of value pulled from the ruins. This offer of purchase seemed generous to the Dusk Riders given how obvious it was that the Coyote would not be buying any of their stories.

At a loss for their next gambit, the Dusk Riders did not want to chance any additional half-baked lies in the fear that they would draw unwanted attention to themselves. So in order to ensure that they would not run afoul of any other individuals within the Refuge, the Dusk Riders ventured towards the ominous ruins.

Once inside lost Glarondar, it became obvious both how majestic this city must have been and how terrible the forces were that fell it. Throughout the streets, patches of dried blood were everywhere, dismembered carcasses had been picked clean of meat and obvious signs of monstrous damage were everywhere. Undeterred, the Dusk Riders made their way through the Outer Ward of Glarondar and a careful excursion past the Obsidian Towers towards the Nightmare Forges.

Within the Outer Wards, the Dusk Riders stumbled into a hunting party of Barlgura – vile and enormous demons of Demogorgon. Once the demons had spied the Dusk Riders, they made no hesitation before scaling buildings and obliterating barriers delaying their ability to strike and pummel the Dusk Riders into submission. As the Demons began their attack, they focused their fury upon Baern out of blatant disgust of his tremendous spirituality. Another Demon cornered Banner and sought to rend him with its razor sharp claws. While those two Riders were corned, the third scaled two stories so that it could attack Mathis and Munn. At the end of the fight, more blood was spilled in the streets of Glarondar that day, but thankfully, it was the Demons and not the Dusk Riders.

The din of battle had attracted some individuals brave or foolhardy enough to still call Glarondar home. Baern did his best to converse with these ragged survivors in the hopes of obtaining additional information, but the locals seemed annoyed by the altercation given that avoiding them seems like the wisest choice and attacking them just makes it worse. Angered by so little support, Baern then inquired about Magmar and Perakline, but the individuals, upon hearing these names, made a face worse that those who might face a demon in the street of Glarondar before immediately slamming the door.

As the Dusk Riders continued their careful trek through the city, the group exchanged salutations with another group of survivors that mentioned a collection of Harlots might be inclined to share information, or other skills, for the right price. While circumstances certainly made it seem as if this lead become the most optimal one for Mathis upon learning of the Harlots, when pressed later by the other Riders, Mathis renounced such a claim. Despite the urge that drove this decision, Mathis led the other Dusk Riders to the House of Ill Repute for…information.

Upon arriving, the door to the Harlot House was barred. Mathis gently knocked and exhibited more verbal grace that he had in a decades in order to have the door unlatched so he and the other Riders could enter. The Harlots were so taken with Mathis’ charisma and Baern earthy measure that they quickly led them each into separate chambers for further conversation and, seemingly, negotiation. Once alone, a stunning example of beauty inquired Mathis what it was he wanted more than anything. Mathis replied that complete fulfillment would come in the form of “mastery of the Demons” and two names he desperately needed to learn more about. Upon hearing the names or Magmar and Perakline, the woman became incensed that anyone would seek any individual with the power to “complete the Wretched Circle.” When pillow talk in Baern’s room led to similar matters, Baern was surprised when his lovely companion accused him of being a disciple of Arnastur, the demon lord. While Baern did his best to make sense of such a baseless accusation, Mathis emphatically argued his heartfelt intention to stop Magmar and all demons polluting the city. Fearing that perhaps the Dusk Riders were hoping to gain mastery of the Wretched Circle for their own gain, the lead Madam called out in a shrill and chilling manner which put all ladies at the ready. While poised ready to battle, they were demure ladies no more, but instead, horrific nightmares ready to sap the soul of any individual unfortunate enough to hear their call! Mathis and Baern were joined by Banner in expressing their sincere desire to assist those in need and prevent anyone from commanding the power to unleash the demon Arnaster upon the Realms. Finally, cooler heads prevailed and the Dusk Riders finally learned exactly who Magmar and Perakline truly were. It seemed that Magmar, fearing the Red Wizards mad enough to complete the Wretched Circle, had stolen the various rune stones essential to the ceremony and fled Thay so that no one would be able to foolishly allow Arnaster to reach this plane. Furious to be denied their insane scheme, the Red Wizards were now doing everything they could to track down Magmar and Perakline and retrieve the stones. With this information in hand, the Riders were now significantly more able to deal with the issue despite still having no clue as to the whereabouts of Magmar and Perakline. When Baern next tried to inquire as to why the ladies had remained in Glarondar following the upheaval, the Dusk Riders then learned that the Banshees cannot leave due to a curse tied with their demise at the hands of the demons. But, despite such sorrowful news, the Banshees added that if the Dusk Riders pledge their souls that they will destroy the rune stones which would allow completion of the Wretched Circle and passage of Arnaster into this world, they would all accept a blessing of passage and move onto the “realm or resting.” The Riders accept this exchange without hesitation and immediately dropped to their knees in reverence and prayer. Following the blessing, each Dusk Rider – aside from Mathis, who had wanted to slay these working ladies once he learned that they had risen from the dead – received a kiss of favor and dispersed. As each glorious spirit passed on, the Riders were fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of small childlike hands leading their mothers to a better plane.

Following this tense exchange, the Dusk Riders collected and prepared to escape the city in order to share what they had learned with the Simbul. As they did their best to rest within the house, throughout the night, the anguished catcalls of indescribable abominations haunted their dreams and left them all uneasy the next morning. As a member of the Dusk Riders would stand watch over the rest, they would relate frightful stories of the ravenous beasts and burning demons that ransacked the city each night.

As the Dusk Riders made their way out of the city, they were attack by two Rage Demons that had tracked the group by the stench of their pure deed. Such a matter might fell lesser individuals, but the Dusk Riders, buoyed by the gift of passage they had bestowed upon the Banshees, returned the Demons to their infernal plane and then made their way back towards Coyote’s Refuge.

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Pt. 42 - An Offering of Support

In the time since Gurgan’s fall, the Dusk Riders have been spending the majority of their time at the Duskholme. Some use the time to practice their crafts, hone their skills, research mystical techniques or show further fealty to their Gods. While some becoming more and more comfortable with increased idle time, the Riders were growing pensive and eager to travel on behalf of Chondath once again. As the desire for a new adventure grew, opportunity came calling directly at their front door.

Two emissaries from Arrabar had been sent by King William himself to bring the Dusk Riders home. Yet, as the two soldiers did their best to comply with these instructions, they had been attacked by a splinter force of Orcs that had taken refuge in the Chondalwood. Wandering Orcs had become a common nuisance since Gurgan’s departure from this plan, so while the Orcs had been ready for a small skirmish so as to procure some coin and fresh meat, they had not at all expected to stumble across the doorstep to Chondath’s greatest champions. After quickly dispatching the Orcs, the Dusk Riders accepted the official correspondence from the King, broke the wax seal and read a formal request to return to Arrabar with all haste. Upon hearing that the Dusk Riders would be accompanying them back to Arrabar, both soldiers brightened at the prospect of sharing a journey with such mythic individuals.

These two recent recruits to Chondath’s army, Mikel Greywolf and Collin Tannerson, were overjoyed to interact with such living legends. In fact, for all of his excitement over meeting the fabled company, Collin proved exceptionally knowledgeable of the Dusk Rider’s many accomplishments and admitted too that he had specifically volunteered for this mission in the hopes of learning more of these remarkable leaders and Collin’s goal to always live up to their ideals and examples.

While the Dusk Riders had many questions for Collin and Mikel, neither soldier was able to answer with many specifics towards why the Riders had been summoned. The two were able to detail the growth of the kingdom, the efforts to restore Arrabar and the growing tranquility within the realm, but little towards the motivation of the King. Satisfied with the information shared, the Riders collected their gear, refilled their travel supply of platinum bars and departed for the Capital city.

After emerging from the dense Chondalwood, the Riders immediately noticed that many of the war scars their homeland had suffered were becoming less and less noticeable all the time. Collin Tannerson mentioned that the Emerald Way was safe to travel again aside from the occasionally raiding party from Iljak and the most cities and villages had been restored. Once Arrabar was in sight, the restoration and healing there could not have been more apparent as the dead had been returned to their graves and the pallor had been removed so that the city sparkled with beauty once again. As the Riders made their way into the capital, Holy Leaders continued to sanctify the city and do their best to remove the rot that had existed there for far too long.

As the Riders rode through the streets, they could not help but blush towards they reaction they received. Citizens throughout the streets would stop immediately upon seeing the Riders in order to contribute applause and loud praise for the many boons they Riders had contributed to Chondath and their behalf. The tremendous effect the Riders had on the kingdom was further evident as they rode through the halls of King William’s castle. Lush tapestries showcasing the glories of the Dusk Riders were present throughout and provided a definitive timeline to the Rider’s many adventures and grand contributions (although, it should be noted that one or two tapestries had been augmented to include the Prince despite his contributions to the kingdom being far more debatable).

When the Riders reached the central chamber of the Citadel, they found King William himself, looking healthier than ever along with a royal emissary that Mathis quickly recognized as being from the kingdom of Aglarond. The King confirmed Mathis’ intuition when he introduced the emissary as Vurner Halberd – Emisary of Aglarond and assistant to The Simbul of Aglarond – the ruling authority of this remarkable kingdom adjacent to the dark lands of Thay and their legendary Red Wizards. Recently, the Red Wizards had requested an audience with the Simbul, but their reasons are not at all known. Usually, the Red Wizards will provoke conversation prior to kicking off one of their wretched schemes, but the Simbul is wary and would welcome some covert assistance if possible. As a result of the Simbul’s kinship with King William, the Lion of Chondath wanted to provide his very best soldiers to assist however they could. But while the Simbul wanted the backing of a friendly nation, this assistance needed to come discretely as the Red Wizards were always seeking false breaches in their treaties as an excuse to unleash their dark magic and attempt to expand their borders. The peace between these two nations was tenuous, but the service that Aglarond provides all of the Realms in keeping the Red Wizards in check was far too important to not support however possible. So, in order to assist their ability to operate covertly, the Dusk Riders requested Aglarondian coin and apparel fitting those that occupy that land. King William was prepared to whatever was needed and offered too the services of Karlton Denber to sail the Riders and the Ambassador to Aglarond.

Prior to departing, The Riders had requested an audience with the King so they could speak candidly and he thereby invited them to dinner. Over the most opulent feast the Dusk Riders had ever enjoyed, King William again reiterated the sensitivity of the mission, the value the Simbul provides the Realm and the critical mission of maintaining the peace. While the Simbul has robust power, she is only mortal and cannot be allowed to fall prey to the Red Wizards or provide them any justification to attack. As a final gift of farewell and good fortune, the King provided each Rider armor of even more refined craftsmanship to protect them on their mission.

As the Dusk Riders boarded the good sailing ship, Endeavor, they made welcome with Karlton Denber and got the Ambassador Halberd situated. Watching from the dock was young Collin Tannerson and Baern could not help but notice his eagerness and desire to support the mission. With nary a thought, Baern made the immediate arrangements that got Tannerson assigned to support the Dusk Riders and join them on their mission. Effusive with praise and eager to please, Tannerson nearly wept with joy, but maintained his composure and sought to learn as much as he could from the Dusk Riders and especially Baern.

While they made their way to Aglarond, the Dusk Riders learned from Vurner Halbred that the meeting between the Simbul and the Red Wizards would occur from atop the Watchwall – the enormous stone edifice that separates the two nations. The Watchwall was constructed despite considerable malice and harassment from the Red Wizards, but once in place, has significantly improved the stalemate between the two kingdoms. The Ambassador seemed weighted while discussing the endless issues with Thay, but once reminded by Banner and M’unn that the Riders would be present to help however they could, he seemed quite pleased to have the Dusk Riders present for the meeting given no Thayan Emissary would be expecting such might present on behalf of the Simbul if this meeting proved to be little more than a cruel ruse.

The Dusk Riders made landfall in Taskaunt and made their way inland towards the Watchwall. Despite numerous requests to remain by their side, Collin Tannerson was ordered to remain with the Endeavor and keep it ready for their return. Dejected but faithful to the end, Collin did as instructed yet could not help but watch the Riders intently as they made their way towards the Watchwall. While on the journey, the Dusk Riders learned of the sad fate that befell the city of Glarondar. Previously a shining example of trade and Aglarondian determination, the city had been made victim to the darkest of magic and now sits fallow on the Thayan side of the wall. Rumor was that the city was undone by a pestilence of demons, but few are foolish enough to make their way across the wall and into the Red Wizards lands.

Catching first glimpse of the Watchwall deludes the uninitiated into believing the structure smaller than what it is given that once spies the wall long before one reaches the wall. And, upon reaching the wall, the next test is to ascend it. Thankfully, visiting dignitaries like the Dusk Riders forego the stairs and instead make use of a series of pulley elevators to reach the top. Once atop the wall, the grandeur of Aglarond is fully visible along with the awful sallowness of both Thay and nearby Glarondar. Pausing to soak in the view, the Riders exchange wary glances before taking entering the negotiating chamber. On their way into this curious room where a woefully long rivalry remained quelled, the Riders received an audience with The Simbul herself. Mathis had prepared the Riders towards what they should expect given that the Simbul is said to be one of the most powerful spell casters within the Realms (and was even known as “The Witch Queen of Aglarond”). Above and beyond her mastery of spells and diplomacy, the Simbul had a presence, calm and beauty rivaling Nyria. And like Nyria’s steadfastness within battle, no member of the Riders sensed any kind of trepidation despite dwelling at the very forefront of tenuous line separating her kingdom from one of the greatest evils in the Realms.

The Simbul thanked the Riders for making the journey in support of her cause. The Thayan emissary would arrive in the Meeting Space – a room that was legally shared between Aglarond and Thay to the point that the far door and the passage down to the ground were all considered Thayan soil despite residing within the Watchwall. The night of the meeting would occur on the next Blood Moon – the usual dramatic date the Red Wizards liked to choose for discussions given their heighted abilities on such days. When the Blood Moon reached its apex, the emissary would emerge from the far door in order to exchange words and likely issue demands.

At the exact moment previously expressed by the Simbul, the far door of the Meeting Space began to unbolt (the Aglarondians had no access to the tumblers that operated this door) and open. A single figure shrouded in long, lavish shroud made its way into the room. The shroud hid the individual’s face and body to the point that it seemingly floated into position near the Meeting Table with no visible evidence of physical locomotion. As the figure approached the table, the far chair pulled itself from the table and nestled the figure into position with nary a sound. Once seated, the figure retreated the shroud from its head and revealed a sinewy man with sweaty features and snide smile. Empty pleasantries were exchanged prior to the real reason for the Thayan Ambassador’s visit – Aglarond had “broken the 137th Phrase within the Treaty that maintains order between the two nations and unless corrected, this breach would invalidate the entirety of the treaty.” Not understanding the logic behind such a mad statement, the Simbul asked what constituted “the breach.” The Thayan Ambassador said that two fugitives are being housed within Aglarond – Magmar Felsic and his bride Perakline – along with valuable property of the state. The pair were wanted for heinous and treasonous crimes against Thay and must be surrendered immediately. Should these two fugitives not be returned to Thay within five days time, a “search party” would come to fetch them…by any means necessary… The Simbul reiterated that she had no knowledge of these names or the goods in their possession, but the Ambassador had said his piece and determined it time to move on. As abruptly as he had entered, this moistened affront departed the Meeting Space, passed through the far door while no sound was made aside from the door tumblers resealing.

The Simbul was left at a complete loss towards how best to rectify this issue and reiterated Aglarond’s complete innocence in this matter. Regardless of the realities of the situation, they needed information and needed it quickly. The Riders suggested that while Aglarond might not know of these two names, perhaps an expedition into Thay might provide a lead. The Simbul admired the bravery behind such an offer, but said that she could not accept such an offer as anyone that crosses the border does so without the protection of any nation, lest the slight be used as another method to invalidate the peace treaty. The Riders accepted the considerable risk and said that the best course of action would be to venture to Glarondar and learn what they could once there. The Simbul thanked the Riders for their courage and had Vurner Halbred lead them towards some dwarven ruins that could be traversed into Thay without calling attention to their journey’s origin.

The Riders had been warned by Vurner that while the passage would allow them access, it would not be without some peril. Such words proved wise indeed when a group of Battle Wights attacked the Dusk Riders and offered some tension before the journey to Glarondar could be resumed. Following the battle, the Riders, and especially Baern, were able to marvel at the craftsmanship behind such construction along with the apparent cataclysmic force that undid them. After further traversing the tunnels, the Dusk Riders were able to reach a passage that allowed them to make their way to the surface and into the dark lands of Thay. Few in the group were eager to see what might greet them next…

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pt. 41 - Dawn of the Second Age

In the very plainest of terms, Chondath has been reborn. Gurgan the Reaver no longer draws breath or defiles the throne with his presence. The undead forces of the Necrotic Queen have been laid to rest once more while their creator has return to the shadows, afraid to show her face lest the Dusk Riders finally force her to answer for her crimes once and for all.

Chondath has finally been allowed to heal. Despite a war that tore her in half and left both the land and the capital city of Arrabar ever scarred, or even the multitude of other grievous wounds that she has suffered under Gurgan’s rule, Chondath has never shined brighter. King William the Valiant has returned to his throne and the citizens of Chondath have begun a mission of healing and restoration. Areas that suffered under Orcish rule have since flushed out any occupying forces and have set out to reinvigorate Chondath by fortifying the various cities and moving from a time of peril, to a period of unbridled growth and prosperity.

Driving this rebirth is a collected group of heroes. Born and bred within Chondath, trained by Chondath’s finest battle master and supported without question by King William himself, they comprise the stuff of legend. While they arose as strangers to Chondath’s people, truth be told, they are now better known than the King’s own son. They are the Dusk Riders – a company that is more force of nature than mortal beings. It was the Riders that delivered the killing blow to Gurgan and routed the Necrotic Queen. It was also the Riders that restored life to the King so that he could rule once again. Following those great acts, the Riders then traveled the land to ensure that no token Orcish warlord dared try to retain even the smallest parcel of Chondathian soil, but instead flee the borders of this great land rather than receive death at the hands of the Dusk Riders.

With the land restored, it is said that the King inked each Rider personally with a marking of the highest honor – The Lion’s Pride. Only William himself previously carried this mark, but now each member of the Dusk Riders now carries a marking that connects them to the fighting spirit of each Chondathian so that in a time of need, the Rider may call upon the marking and channel the collective fury of Chondath in order to smite any foe.

With all Chondathians supporting and cherishing their heroes, the Riders have returned to the Chondalwood, the dense and untamed wilderness that houses the Duskholme. From their seat of power, the Riders continue their training and mystical exploration until the time comes again when King William calls them forth to act on behalf of the throne and enjoy victory once again!

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pt. 40 - At Long Last

The Dusk Riders followed the woman into the secret passage beneath the Inn, but after sealing the cask door that hid this tunnel, the Riders wouldn’t go further until they had a chance to regain their breath and composure. The Riders expressed their desire to find their dear friend and mentor, Ashby Hammersmith, as soon as they could, but they knew trouble would face them soon. The girl said that she believed that she knew of a tunnel that could get them close to Ashby’s position and the Riders were pleased as they knew their collective “Dusk Sense” would then allow them to find their friend from there. Despite the protection of the tunnels, the woman seemed uneasy while waiting there but indulged the Riders as they rested and asked her various questions.

Once wounds had been wrapped, arrows knocked and incantations prepared, the Riders continued through the earthen tunnels. The girl, in the lead using a dim torch, did her best to take the Riders towards their friend, but once the air became as foul as the stench above ground, Munn and Banner moved to the lead of the group.

Ultimately, the Rider’s Dusk Sense made their newfound proximity to Ashby palpable. The fact that their friend was so extremely close elated the Riders and made them all the more eager to rejoin with one of the fabled “First Riders.” The Riders pressed forward despite the fact that their enthusiasm was masking that the stench of these passages was worsening with every step. Finally, in a minor cavern, The Riders there found Ashby Hammersmith pummeled and bloodied on the ground.

Baern and Horatio moved close in order to assist Ashby immediately. Covered in a sad, yet extensive timeline of bruises and scars, Ashby fought to raise his head in order to see whether he should be preparing for yet another beating, or if finally he could enjoy a reprieve. Upon seeing his proudest achievements standing before him caused Ashby’s face to shift abruptly from joyous astonishment to one of terror. Pulling tautly at a hidden chain that held him in place, Ashby grabbed Baern’s hand and made an emphatic cry of “RUN!” from his bloodied lips.

Not an instant after Ashby had expressed his concern than did a multitude of undead arms rip through the ceiling of the tunnel and grab for the Dusk Rider’s throats. As the Riders contended with this sudden hazard, seasoned Orcish soldiers spilled forth from connecting tunnels ready to fight. The young girl that had inadvertently led them to this trap let loose a panicked cry that was immediately and permanently muffled by a bolt of necrotic energy from a staff held by none other than Queen Leonare herself. Distraught by the death of the girl, the Riders quickly channeled their grief into a unbridled battle rage once they heard the maniacal laugh of Gurgan the Reaver who was gleefully wielding Ashby’s weapon of choice, “The Justice of Chondath.”

None can truly say which slight it was that day – their excessively battered friend, an innocent girl murdered by the beautiful betrayer, Queen Leonare, the tremendous damage caused to the capital city of Arrabar by Gurgan and Leonare or even just the blasphemy of seeing their most despised foe, Gurgan the Reaver, ironically utilizing “The Justice of Chondath” against them – regardless of what stirred the heart of each Dusk Rider as they faced their gravest challenge, each member of the group was ready to showcase their collective fury and battle readiness once and for all.

The battle between the Riders and The Reaver’s wretched task forced raged for hours. But each time it seemed like Gurgan would land a killing blow or Leonare would syphon the soul of another innocent, the Riders regrouped and rejoined the battle more steadfast than before. Finally, as Gurgan’s forces dwindled, Leonare’s necrotic energies dispersed and the champions of Chondath became ever more convinced that victory would be theirs this day, the Riders pooled their attentions toward the Reaver and collectively felled him. Gurgan’s body fell with a dim thud that struck the room silent. The Riders, each exhausted from expending any and all of their abilities towards this grand goal had finally defeated their Kingdom’s greatest assailant. Sadly, any feeling of achievement was brief as now seeing her fallen beloved, Leonare let forth a combined shriek and piercing bolt of necrotic energy that savaged each Dusk Rider and knocked them prone. While the Dusk Riders were struck from their feet, they slowly collected themselves and stood ready to stop the Necrotic Queen as well, but it quickly became obvious that Leonare had escaped. With Gurgan dead, Leonare now gone, the Riders could finally afford a breath of relief while they removed the shackles which held their dear friend.

With Leonare’s attentions now certainly elsewhere, the living dead that plagued Arrabar vanished. The Orcish forces holding the city, now without their leader, began to be routed and scattered by King William himself (but, it is worth noting, some outlying farmland was “liberated” by Prince Geyar). At long last, the “Lion of Chondath” had returned home! Arrabar was once again the throne of Chondath and the work of restoring the kingdom’s greatness could be done in earnest by all Chondathians. As soldiers and freed citizens rejoiced such an epic victory, the tenor of the evening quickly changed.

As King William presided over Chondath’s makeshift court so that he could celebrate the triumph earned this day by The Dusk Riders, Fandall Jurdek made his way forward demanding satisfaction. Jurdek reminded the Riders that as part of their contract to secure the Eyes of the Mongoose for the Serpent Society, Jurdek had been promised amnesty along with the guarantee that the Riders would not harm either Jurdek or anyone in his employ upon penalty of death. Shockingly, Jurdek produced a contract that he had made with Gurgan the Reaver himself which meant that Gurgan was not just an employee of Jurdek at the time of the deal, but also that much of Gurgan’s raiding had been managed by Jurdek himself! But despite such horrific treachery, as a result of the amnesty deal, Jurdek could never be punished for these crimes against the throne and, under Chondathian law, the Dusk Riders had forfeited their very lives for slaying the Reaver!

Aghast, the King knew not what to do at all with this information. Ashby’s head dipped low over the notion that even on this glorious day of victory, somehow Jurdek had found a way to steal the joy from each and every Chondathian. Then too, was Prince Geyar, who was gleefully biting his lower lip in order to continuously prove to himself that what was transpiring was indeed real and not a dream.

As Jurdek began to make suggestions for the collective execution location, Horatio stepped forward and offered him a deal. Since Jurdek was now without a champion due to Gurgan’s death, perhaps Horatio could step in and act in eternal servitude in exchange for his friend’s lives. Jurdek would spare his fellow Dusk Riders and Horatio would serve and enact Jurdek’s will without question regardless the circumstances. After careful deliberation, a smarmy grin spilled across Jurdek’s fat face as his pleasure towards such an offer was too much for even him to hide discreetly. So, knowing that few could match Horatio’s mettle – and even less outside of the Dusk Riders themselves – Jurdek accepted the offer and ordered Horatio to his side. In his last act of defiance towards Jurdek, Horatio and his dear friends exchanged farewells along with an unspoken promise that somehow, someday the Dusk Riders would find a way to release Horatio from this servitude so that he could rejoin the Dusk Riders once again.

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Pt. 39 - Inn of the Damned

The quiet within the tavern was both heavy and oppressive. The Riders, still fatigued from fighting their way indoors, silently collected their breath while the Orcs that filled this place stared astonished that anyone would be not just foolish enough to enter the fallen city of Arrabar, but also risk the rampant dead that freely walk there at night.

After a moment’s pause and numerous exchanges of glances, the silence was shattered by a ferocious battle cry. Whether the noise was from a Rider or from an Orc is academic as once the sound was made, both sides clashed with a horrific intensity. The Rider tore into the Orcs and made it obvious that this was their last chance to feed off of the carrion that previously comprised Chondath’s glorious capital. The heroes of Chondath had finally returned to Chondath’s seat of power, and while these Orcs would never know whether the Riders would ultimately be successful in their goal of restoring the King, they would certainly know very soon that there exists no better group of adventurers in Chondath than the Dusk Riders.

As Mathis, Munn and Banner locked steel with the Orcs, Nyria, Baern, Amnon, and Mathis secured the flanks and the door to the inn – especially once it was obvious that additional living dead and Hell Hounds were ready to rush indoors. Once the doors were secured, it made the Orcs inside realize that now it was they who were trapped and fighting for their lives. As the Riders exchanged reassured glances that the battle was moving to an end game, windows to the Inn burst open and multiple demons flew through and joined the fray. While no one could be faulted for pausing to speculate just what manner of horror wasn’t currently roaming Arrabar, the Riders never stopped and continued littering the floor with their fallen enemies while Mathis and Baern prepared to not just clean the city, but sanctify it as well.

The Demons unleashed an unholy howl which attracted a ravenous pack of Ghouls to collect indoors and befoul the room. No Orc still stood at this point, so the Riders were able to focus their attentions on providing all of these woeful creatures the peaceful rest that Queen Leonare had previously denied them all. Nyria’s arrows found their way into many skulls, while Horatio and Munn fought harder to outpace each other in kill tallies. Both majestic warriors were greatly assisted by Banner’s tactical mastery and it provided the respite needed by Baern to support his comrades while channeling the divine providence of his savior, Pelor. Equally magnificent in his command of divinity was Mathis as this battle once again proved his unending wisdom and command of overwhelming spectral powers. Finally, there was Amnon, who’s mastery of weaponry made many an Orc long to return outside – amongst the walking dead – given that such a scenario felt far safe to the circumstances they faced now.

At last, this battle was over and the windows and doors of the inn were made secure. Exhausted from the exchange, the Riders collected themselves and begin to examine their location in order to make plans towards how they could first find Ashby and then unseat The Reaver, Gurgan and his Queen Leonare.

As the Riders explored the room, a set of frightened eyes could be seen peering over the bar. Munn, seeing them first, wiped blood from himself without care given that none of it was his own and moved closer. On approaching, a distraught and emaciated serving girl was discovered and Nyria and Baern rushed closer to assist and comfort her.

The girl, long held captive here at the inn in order to serve at the whim of the Orcish occupying army, could not believe that help had finally arrived. Fearing that the makeshift protections would not be enough to protect them all, the girl asked the Riders to follow her into the wine cellar immediately. Once inside the cellar, the ransacked materials make it all the more clear that this girl had been forced to serve the Orcs all night and then recuperate here amongst the garbage all day. As a result of the comfort shown her by both Baern and Nyria, the girl made an awkward smile – much more awkward due to a terrible lack of recent practice than any deceit in her heart – and in her ultimate expression of trust, she triggered a mechanism on a cask that opened a passage. The girl looked back at the Riders and said, “Let me please take you to Chondath’s resistance.”

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Pt. 38 - Sad Return to Arrabar

Filled with a renewed sense of pride – in their nation, their King and themselves, The Dusk Riders departed the Duskholme and made their way towards Arrabar. The Riders wanted to avoid the main road so as not to attract Orcish search parties and instead made their way through the Chondalwood. Their path would have them go through some of the thickest sections of the Chondalwood, but given that King William had recently announced that as the Lords of the Chondalwood, it felt grand to see their new governance. The Riders were making a path that would allow them to exit between Mussum and Arrabar if they rode hard and avoided strife. To no one’s surprise, avoiding strife again proved to be folly.

The Riders discovered a foraging party of Goblins akin to the tribe they had previously fought during an earlier venture within the Chondalwood. The Goblins were numerous and also armed – one even riding the back of a Giant Deathjump Spider. The Goblins seemed preoccupied, so, sensing an advantage, the Riders rode into the Goblin horde to attack. The Riders engaged in combat with a variety of Goblins, Hex Hurlers, Spearmen and even some Cut Throats, but when matters ended, it was the Dusk Riders that stood proud. Following the attack, the Riders searched the Goblins extensively. Examining the remains of the Deathjump Spider, Mathis carefully extracted the poison from the Spider so that he could later provide to Nyria. With some newly acquired wealth in hand, the Dusk Riders continued their ride through the Chondalwood.

Upon exiting the Chondalwood, the normally verdant Chondathian countryside was instead scorched and filled with dead Chondathian soldiers. Signs of ferocious battle were everywhere and shockingly, the remains of the dead only seemed to be those that had been savagely dismember. For whatever reason, whole corpses seemed scarce despite plenty of evidence that hundreds, if not thousands, had met their end at this location. With grim resolve, The Riders continued their approach towards Arrabar. When the shining gem of Chondath was in sight, the Riders immediately saw the awful changes the city had suffered under Orcish rule.

No part of Arrabar seemed spared from the scars of battle. In fact, the city itself suffered pallor in some locations and a dreadful darkness in others. The Riders realized quickly too that the city wall was guarded by Orcish forces while the patrols marching the adjacent land were comprised of the undead. Further assessing what lay before them, the Dusk Riders noticed a black cloud surrounding the castle in the center of the city. While some sections still seemed smoldering from recent fire, the blackness that shrouded the Castle seemed rife with necromancy. Further legitimizing that theory was numerous winged monstrosities flying about above the city. With no other explanation for their existence, it appeared that somehow the Princess had lured forth demons from another plane.

The Dusk Riders remained frozen in place while processing the all too numerous manners in which Arrabar had been ravaged by Princess Leonare and Gurgan the Reaver. Still studying the area around the city, Baern noticed that the cemetery out near the main road that heads northward towards Mussum seemed to have a large open pit which was surrounded by a large number of footprints. While not at all certain of the source of those prints near the gaping hole, The Riders thought it best to wait until dark to enter the city so as to hide from the Orcish warriors. Only as the sun began to fall that it became obvious that even more forces of the dead would begin to rise.

With the moon large and strong in the sky, the graveyard quickly became filled with Ghouls while the dead that previously littered the fields around the city, now rose as zombies and began to mindlessly walk about. Worrying that their location would soon be discovered by either living or lifeless eyes, The Riders looked to find a breach in the wall, charge through and make their way into the city.

The Riders made haste towards a hole in the city’s wall that was near where they previous resided within the city. As the Riders rushed the gap, Zombies made their way towards them seeking to feed upon their living flesh. The Riders were able to outdistance some of the living dead, but others filled in and clogged their path forcing battle. After an extended exchange with the walking dead, four Gravehounds entered the fray and did their best to also tear into the Riders. Reinforced by the devout belief in their Gods, Baern and Mathis inspired the Riders to fight their best and readily defeat these necrotic monsters. As the Riders entered the city grounds, The Riders then noticed that the demons that were previously flying about the Castle were now flying over to investigate this disturbance.

Not quite ready to engage these monsters, The Riders ran to a door inside the city, but found it barred. Undeterred by barrier and motivated by the proximity of Demon, Baern, Horatio and Mathis worked together to break in the door and enter the building. But, to their dismay, upon entering the building, the Riders now found themselves face to face with a garrison of Orcs waiting out the night. Caught between two distinctly dilemmas, the Dusk Riders would have little time to consider options before being forced to defend themselves.

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Pt. 36 - Trial by the Prince and the Thorn of Chondath"

As the Riders were held within a dank and uncomfortable cell in Hlath, things sounded no better within the city. Despite being held on numerous counts from the Prince, the vast majority of soldiers stood firm with the Riders and did what they could to covertly show their support and adoration for the multitude of heroic deeds that Riders had achieved on behalf of Chondath. The gravest news which reached the Riders was the underlying fear that the Prince might try to have the Riders executed before the King could regain his sense of place and power on the throne. It seemed that the Prince was pushing for quick resolution to his fabricated allegations and wanted a cruel example made to anyone foolish enough to cross him.

One evening late, Captain of the Guard, Elliot Tewksbury came to visit with provisions of significantly higher quality than the usual prison fare. Tewksbury provided some comfort along with some harsh words towards Horatio for not being strong enough to keep his anger in check during matters of the throne. Given the insatiable desire for each Rider’s wish to have boxed the Prince’s ears themselves, there was truly nothing more to be said about that subject, so instead the Riders began inquiring about the state of the realm and, namely, Gurgan the Reaver himself. Tewksbury said that Hlath had suffered no new attacks since the Riders had run off the Orc Seige party charged with felling the walls that surround the city. Few words had recently reach Hlath from the south, but it was believed that Gurgan and Leonare still held the throne in Arrabar. As the questions slowed, Tewksbury dismissed the Guard who had joined him and then spoke candidly with the Riders.

Like many, Tewksbury feared that few believed that any trial chaired by the Prince had little if any chance to go fairly on behalf of the Dusk Riders, so it was time to devise an alternative. Tewksbury explained that, if needed, an escape route would make itself available to the Riders, but the goal was still to avoid such an event. Tewksbury said that there was still one possibility of hope. Since the crime was not against Hlath, but against the throne of Chondath, the ranking member of royalty would adjudicate the proceedings – the Prince. But, if the King could somehow regain his senses, he instead would manage the trial. Each member of the Riders thanked Tewksbury for his kindness and advice before then wishing an even quicker return to health for “The Lion of Chondath.” Despite the horrific odds facing them, Tewksbury added, “Look, even if Chondath needed every last feather plucked from The Raven Queen, I’d still venture that you all would return with enough down to fill fifty pillows. I have long known you Dusk Riders; you’ll win the day yet.” Despite Tewksbury’s great faith, none in the Dusk Riders felt as confident. As his last words before leaving, Tewksbury showed a kerchief to the Riders and overtly said that should they see a guard wearing this kerchief, they will need to overcome him and flee the city. But again, it was Tewsbury goal that matters avoid that most dire of resolution.

On the morning of the trial, the Prince’s personal guards came to collect the Riders and march them to Chancellor’s Hall. The effete leader of this group, Ollaff, admonished the Riders as traitors and ordered them marked as treasonous cowards with a thick yellow fluid that smelled woefully foul. As the Riders sought to ignore the repugnant stench and the horrible slight made against them by these petty stable boys, such an act proved difficult given how unceremoniously they were dragged into the Main Hall by the Prince’s forces.

The Prince was dressed in his finest regalia and seemed to revel in the fact that he had both a captive audience and such disadvantaged opponents. Seeing the Riders with that appalling yellow streak was too much for the crowd to bear and gasps began echoing throughout the chamber. Sensing a quick turn in public opinion, the Prince opened the proceedings and sought to regain control of the situation. “Glorious citizens of Hlalth and honored defenders of Chondath, I bring before you today the very worst of our grand society. Here stands before us all, the most woeful sinners against our fair land. Indeed these awful wastes of creation are not just practitioners of treason, but they are also stand guilty of petty thievery too. And these wicked opportunists sought to overcome me following a vast, wild battle in which I was risking my life to save our King, my father. Sadly, they succeeded. And it was while I was momentarily stunned that these individuals absconded away with an heirloom of the throne – a gift provided to me from my departed mother. So, while these individuals may pose as those that work on Chondath’s behalf, their actions have led to murder attempts in Mussum, abhorrent negligence that caused the death of my father, wicked deals with the very worst denizens of Iljak and now an attack against me, your ruler. I stand ready to provide judgment now, but, if there be anything any of you putrid Riders wish to say on your own behalf, I, Prince Geyar, am ready to show mercy if so moved…”

As his shackles, the charges against them all and now the Prince’s words weighed heavy upon him, Baern spoke first on behalf of the Dusk Riders. "All of our actions have been to serve the King,” Baern said. “We hope that the King is now doing well and recovers fully very soon. And with that said, we commend the Prince, as never have we seen such bravery where a son would face such horrors to return King William to the country that so loves him.” Baern collected himself and his thoughts before continuing, “We understand the stated charges. But again, we were only acting on behalf of the King. This attempt to assist was no different from the way we defended these gates here in Hlath, or saved the King from his ghostly fate at the hands of Leonare, Princess of Necromancy. Regardless, we remain resigned to our fates and look forward to justice.” Soft applause filled the room, but the Prince’s face twisted as if some food had suddenly spoiled causing it to stop.

Sensing growing sentiment within the room, Munn then added, "To the charge of theft, I should add to the Prince’s account some additional facts. Despite the Prince’s brave efforts, he was incapacitated from battle for a long time and not yet successful in saving his father, King William. In moments like those, with fierce enemies abounding from every corner, we had to decide what to do in the hopes of saving lives and restoring the Throne. Some may question our tactics, but our goals never wavered from those of the Prince – save the King and return him to his throne. Given those perilous circumstances, we had no decision to make aside from using all tools at our disposal to save the King and allow him to return to us all. One could call use of an item on the battlefield ‘stealing,’ but if our goal was truly to be nothing but rogues, why would we have brought the man that judges us today to safety so that he could now see us slain as traitors? Truly, why would we provide him safety and comfort instead of seeing him dead knowing that this was the fate that faced us? Prince Geyar, you hold our fate in your hand. And there will come a day when your father will pass and you will still have our unyielding support. But, should you put us all to death this day, you then lose these Dusk Riders as a resource and also fail to show the kind of grand leadership that could collectively see us all restore the glory of Chondath.”

The words of Baern and Munn had made a major impact upon the crowd and soldier thunderously alerted their approval of the Riders by striking their own shields or driving the hilts of their weapons onto the ground. This outpouring of support incensed the Prince. “How can you all be so easily duped,” the Prince hissed. “Lain before you all are the depths of their deception and still you all stand blind! These Riders serve not this throne, nor this King. They have shirked their duties and ignore my commands in a worthless attempt to stand between me, the throne and worse still, my father. The Dusk Riders serve only themselves and continuously act as the vilest of wolves amidst all of you blithe sheep. But I see all of you Dusk Riders for what you are – nefarious usurpers to the throne. To a person, all of Chondath was better before you arrived, and all citizens shall be restored once your blood is spilled here today.”

Munn stepped forward again. “My Prince,” Munn said, “I ask you now for leniency and the answer to a single question. Truly, your highness, why are you striving so hard to convince these people? You expending considerable effort to convince these people of a truth known to you, but should you fail in making your case, what loyalty can you expect from your subjects?”

Mathis’ wisdom for a near eternal life let him recognize that the gathered crowd were torn between honoring the wishes of the Prince and seeing the Dusk Riders free. Unable to contain his frustration any further, Mathis spoke. “Prince Geyar, this trial is a waste of time. Forces of justice such as the Prince and the Riders should be united in protecting Chondath, not divided in a court. We have all seen the evil that is our enemy and now is the time for us to work in unison, so be divided against each other.”

“ENOUGH,” the Prince whined. “We’ll suffer no more of your lies. It is now time for me to retire to my chamber and practice my wisdom. Take them back to their pens. When these traitors return to this hallowed hall, it will either be so I can free them, or watch them die…”

Ollaff and his fellow stooges roughly forced the Riders back to their cells and left them to wait. The Riders discussed their options, but a life afoul o the throne felt improper and they collectively decided to accept their fate. Noises at the door left them curious if this might be the start of the escape opportunity that Tewksbury had mentioned, but instead, through the door came Prince Geyar, utterly and completely alone.

The Prince’s tone and demeanor seemed far less emotional now and far more calculated. “I am here now, Riders, to provide you an offer.” Such words left the Riders confused towards the Prince’s motives, but they stayed quiet and allowed him to continue. “I know that I have made my case today and all of Hlath stands ready to see you collectively perish in disgrace, but perhaps you’ll prove useful to me yet. I offer this to you all. Accept guilt for your crimes along with three lashes from me as punishment and you shall be released. Reject this merciful plan and then you shall be left to a fate of death. The choice is yours. But, I should add this…” and with that said, the Prince threw down a kerchief akin to the one that Tewksbury described earlier. Stunned, the Riders immediately recognized that the Prince was on to their possible escape plan. “Little escapes me,” the Prince said. “The inner workings of this nation are always known to me and few secrets evade my ear. Know this too, you’ll not escape me this day, as I have you. Just like I have too each and every slight you’ve ever made against me. Each time you have sought to usurp me or shame me in front of my father, I have that too. None of those shameful acts of treason have eluded me, nor have any of you. So make your choice, but do it without any false sense of hope.” The Prince walked proudly towards the door while continuing to spell out the details behind his offer. “I will send my man, Ollaff the Righteous, so you may see a REAL soldier and have the chance to tell him your answer. After some time for deliberation, Ollaff returned and the Riders said that they would plead guilty and accept the lashes. With a salacious smirk, Ollaff departed to notify the Prince.

Ollaff and his men returned soon enough to collect the Riders and bring them back before the Prince. While in front of the gathered crowd, the Prince said, “I understand that you have all had a change of heart. How do you plead?” The Riders sternly stated the word, “Guilty” and the Prince was off towards his next attempt to debase the Riders. The Prince uncoiled a special whip that was mostly black in color, but contained too a visible gold line throughout it along with cruel barbs on the tip. This vindictive weapon was known as “The Thorn of Chondath,” an no one had ever previously survived being struck by it

The Prince made some practice strikes and then the whip was cracked, it made a sick whine that was audible immediately after the crack. Ollaff then barked out orders to take each Rider and chain them to a pillar. Once each Rider was chained, Ollaff himself ripped this clothes of each Rider in order to bear their backs to the Prince. With each Rider ready for punishment, the Prince prepared himself for exertion by removing his shirt and took entirely too much pleasure in making multiple whip strikes so that the whip could make a sound akin to a pestilence of hornets. Lightly soaked in anticipatory perspiration about his muscular form, the Prince immediately sought out Horatio so that he could gleefully strike him first. Before his first strike against Horatio, the Prince leaned in and whispered, “You’re long overdue for this you simpering cur.” The Prince then stepped back and let loose the fury of the whip three times upon Horatio’s back. But something occurred that the Prince had not expected. Each time the Prince struck Horatio – each blow a tenfold worse than the previous – Horatio made no sound. The flesh on Horatio’s back was rend open horrifically, but Horatio was adamant about providing no satisfaction to Prince Geyar despite the crippling pain. The silence only fueled the Prince’s rage and each Rider gained strikes against their backs equal or worse than Horatio’s, but they too remained silent throughout the ordeal. The Dusk Riders stood defiant and proud throughout the torture, but once the din in the room subsided and the brutality had ended, each Rider had recognized that some of their very vitality had been robbed from them. Each Rider now would not as readily recover from battle as they had previously as a result of the “Thorn of Chondath.”

Immensely pleased with himself, the Prince prepared to leave the chamber, but not before Ollaff toweled the beads of sweat from his liege. The gathered crowd said nothing as the Prince glanced about and ultimately departed with his whelps in tow. Immediately upon the departure of the Prince, the soldiers in the room sprang forth to unlock the Riders, see them free and ease their distress. Given that no one had ever previously survived a single lashing, much less three, the soldiers let the Riders know that their perseverance would only be complemented by the forbearance shown this day. The Riders were help to a lavish chamber where they could recuperate from their ordeal and receive a proper meal. Tewksbury brought in their weapons and equipment while also promising to provide audience with the King as soon as he was able.

Greatly annoyed by his soul being fractured and his essence stolen, Barn consulted the Grand Healer of Hlath, Larimar. Larimar did his best to provide some comfort, but noted too that The Thorn of Chondath was a vile and powerful weapon. Larimar confirmed that no one had previously survived being struck by the whip, but for those stalwart enough to still draw breath following its punishment, the owner of The Thorn could relinquish the essence back to its rightful owner. But, even with that said, Larimar thought it critical for the Riders to know that the individual who wields The Thorn benefits from that essence with additional strength and vivacity. The Prince could indeed show the providence to restore the essence to each Rider, but if the Prince were to sadly perish, that too would release the essence from The Thorn and restore it to each Dusk Rider.

Baern had additional questions for Larimar, but Ander Yurgenson entered to notify the Dusk Riders that the King was recovering and ready to see them. The Dusk Riders eagerly thanked Larimar and followed Yurgenson to the King’s chamber. As the Riders entered the King’s room, William the Valiant meekly smiled at his friends and slowly stood. The King had been adorned with lush robes, but the King’s disdain for such needless niceties became apparent as he let the robes fall to the floor with no effort to catch them. With the robes on the ground, the haggard appearance of the King became obvious and each Rider was silently amazed that this man had persevered death at the hands of Gurgan’s assassins, after death servitude forced by Leonare followed by extensive torture from Paldamar, the lost Mage of Saruun. Yet despite all this, King William the Valiant had returned to Chondath, ready to rule again. Though it pained him to speak, the King addressed his most loyal of warriors. “My dear friends,” the King started, “I truly cannot apologize enough for what you have suffered in my name. I have heard of the “crimes” and the punishment you suffered at a time when you wanted only to assist me and for that too I am now even further in your collective debt. The service you have done this kingdom is both extensive and considerable, so it is only fair that you all now have part of it as a show of thanks. I have decreed that you all are now not just my Dusk Riders, but too you are also The Lords of the Chondalwood – with the Duskholme as your own keep from which to rule.” When the Riders attempted to humbly decree that there was no need for such a reward, the King stopped them by saying, “For all the good that they have provided this land, it was only fitting that they own a piece of it.” The Dusk Riders thanks William the Valiant, but he had a request of them too. In the many dark days that have passed since the wedding, Ashby Hammersmith, the King’s best friend, had gone missing when he attempt reconnaissance on Arrabar. The King was worried about his longest of friends and hoped that the Dusk Riders might check upon him. The King asked the Riders to seek out “The Justice of Chondath” – the hammer that Ashby had wielded when he was a Dusk Rider. By concentrating on that weapon, the Riders should either be able to find Ashby or else some clues towards his whereabouts. With that, the King marked each Rider as Lords of the Chondalwood, thanked them again and sent the Riders on their way. As the Riders prepared to make their way towards the Duskholme, Tewksbury found the riders and provided a gift from Ander Yurgenson and the city of Hlath. Tewksbury had a magnificent black stallion for each Rider while reminding them that regardless of where they went, Hlath too was their home. And with a knowing nod of thanks, the Dusk Riders were off towards the Duskholme.

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