Day One of the Month of the Lion
My name is Jion Vius, paladin and newly inducted member of the Order of Griffon Knights and I write these words to make some sense of my distress and confusion.
It has been two days since my companions and I were tasked with seeking aid for the besieged city of Stallia, my home and the home of all I hold dear. In the late afternoon of yesterday we came across the remnants of a caravan that most likely had been bringing welcome relief to our burdened city. The supplies had been pillaged and of those who had ridden with them there was no immediate sign. We found them a ways down the road, every man, woman, and child hung or impaled upon a single, great oak tree.
At first all we could do was stare in shock, our minds unable to comprehend the senseless slaughter and how it came to be. I thought it had to be the work of the undead but that was impossible, they were secured on the other side of the pass by the walls of Stallia. It was naïve of me to believe that men were incapable of such atrocity and I thought such naivety had been hammered out of me after seven years of staving off the undead.
We began the grim task of giving the dead their last rites by pyre when it came to us that whomever had done this dark deed might still be nearby; the slain had not been dead long. As we laid the bodies out to burn we also toiled to erect defenses to use incase the murderers came to investigate the light of the fire. As night fell and the flames licked at the sky we waited with weapons ready and were eventually roused by the sound of jackals wearing the skins of men. We spied four of them from our cover but heard a fifth bellowing orders and berating the others.
We looked to Karde Innehaver of House Innehaver for leadership, of noble birth he was used to giving commands and had often taken the lead when we were mere city watchmen. In this instance though it seemed he was just as adverse to the thought of fighting living, breathing people as the rest of us as he called out to the marauders. During their exchange we learned that these bandits fancied themselves knights under the banner of the scorpion and that the lands of the Griffon were now theirs. As they continued to fire verbal barbs the rest of us grew restless to see justice met out.
Karde began to lose control of the situation as Zachary, an initiate in the mystical art of Wu Jen, attempted to gain the upper hand by sending the four we could see into a magic slumber. Unfortunately only one of their number succumbed to his spell, but it did give us a proper measurement of their mettle as they dispatched their fallen comrade without hesitation at the command from their leader.
Seeing that they possessed not even a shred of decency or morality I itched to take one of our cart horses and ride out to meet them in battle but Karde would not have it, insisting that we wait to take action until he gave us a signal. Meanwhile their commander had revealed himself as a monster of a man, both in form and spirit. He towered over all of us and impossibly wielded two halberds as he laughed at the slaughter he and his men had committed. He ordered his men to set our defenses ablaze and as they approached with torches in hand I could stand idle no longer. I leapt atop the cart horse and charged the trio, the other members of our party battering them with spells and crossbow bolts. They had no choice but to scatter before me and as I managed to turn my steed back to face them again I found most of them dispatched by my comrades. I then turned my attention then to the villain who led them, but he was nowhere in sight. He then appeared before me and I charged without hesitation, only to swing at an illusion. I called him a craven and was proven right when I felt the sting of a dart upon my person; it was covered in a dark ichor, no doubt an attempt to poison me. He treated this all as if it were a game for his amusement despite clearly being capable of great violence once the others joined me in facing him. He laughed even as the final blow was struck and left me with the disturbing thought that perhaps, after seven years of facing the relentless undead, I had yet to come face to face with evil.
Day Three of the Month of the Lion
We came across a small farming community yesterday, everything seemed in order until Delorean’s keen hearing detected the cries of a woman from a small garrison outpost. We rushed to the scene and came upon three men in various states of undress attempting to rape a young maiden. Surprised and outnumbered we quickly put them down and saw to the woman, covering her in a blanket. We began an interrogation of the three to learn what we could of these “Scorpion Knights”. They told us that they were part of a larger group but had been left behind to hold this area while the others scouted the land for dissidents who still held loyalty to the Griffon Knights. When we showed them the unique weapons taken from the man we had slain the night before they paled in recognition, we had bested their leader and second in command of all the so called Scorpion Knights.
By then the girl’s father had arrived and informed us of the crimes these and the others had committed, leaving us no choice but to pronounce judgment on them and leave their punishment in the hands of those they had wronged. Their deaths were quicker than they deserved.
From there we spoke with the people of the hamlet to learn what news we could. In trade for weapons training they promised to take what little food that had been left by the bandits and transport it to Stallia to help relieve the city’s straining food problem. We also learned the fate of our former captain’s, Venlan Jeth, uncle. The Scorpions had come to his cottage, murdered his wife and child, and finally dragged him to his death, but not before he slew them innumerable. We found his severed arm among the dead, strangely preserved despite the years since his death, and took it with us to give him an honorable burial.
We left the farmers in good spirits, it lightened their hearts to see Griffon Knights riding out to see to the safety and I admit it felt good to know we made people feel safe again.
Day Four of the Month of the Lion
We decided to make quicker time to the city of Wotenhall yesterday by riding all night and encountered Scorpions posing as tollmen. We tried to dissuade them from their task but they were adamant and we were forced to dispatch them, well almost all of them. One of them surrendered after suffering a grievous injury to his arm. Though injured he was hardly cooperative, until our Wu Jen attempted to alter his state of mind with a spell. Whether it was his injury, the strength of the spell, or some combination of the two, his mind seemed almost rewritten and he viewed us as close friends, especially as we treated his injury. He called himself Gustavo and having severely handicapped him, we recognized our responsibility to him, so we took him with us to Wotenhall.
This morning we encountered a travelling merchant on the roadside and stopped more to dispel our mounting paranoia than to examine his wares. It was fortunate we did so because Zac’s attunement to magic turned up a small trove of items that the merchant was unaware he possessed, including a griffon’s egg. Realizing we could make good use of these items Delorean and Zac brokered a deal with him that wouldn’t drain the funds provided to us by our commanders, lest we need them for provisions or more dire emergencies later on.
We are nearing the gates of Wotenhall as I write this and we spy no sign of guards, entry shouldn’t be an issue.
Day Six of the Month of the Lion
The day is ours but I find very little to cheer about. Entering Wotenhall was easy enough, we simply had to hide ourselves beneath travelling cloaks so no one could spy the Griffon emblems we wore. Delorean had spoken of Wotenhall during our travels, that it was a fair and bustling city famous for its mead halls and, of course, mead, but as we rode down the streets all we saw was squalor and despair. Many shops, taverns, and inns had been closed down and boarded up, leaving great stretches of nothing. The people, what few that left their homes, either moved in fearful hurry or despondently dragged themselves from place to place. Those of us with a knack for getting people to open up quickly set about gathering intel from the locals while I procured us a place to stay for the evening.
With the majority of the inns closed I resorted to finding any establishment with room to spare and wound up in one of the few shops still open. The proprietor, Artis, was cautious of me at first, inquiring where we had come from, clearly trying to determine if we more scorpions come to nest in Wotenhall. Unable to lie I merely said we had travelled from the west. He fixed his gaze on me and lamented the state of his city, saying how he wished there were still Griffon Knights within the walls of Wotenhall. Though it was a major risk to our group’s safety I felt I could trust him and so threw back my cloak to display the Griffon emblem and colors. Artis was quiet for a moment before stepping around the counter of his shop to move several sacks of grain aside to reveal a hidden door behind which was a veritable armory of exquisitely crafted weapons. With a smile he told me to take whatever I and my comrades needed and that the second floor of his shop was ours to use.
Better equipped than we had been in years we sat down to discuss what the others had found while investigating the city. The leader of the “Scorpion Knights”, Anton, had killed Wotenhall’s governor and turned the largest mead hall in the city into his seat of power. The Scorpions had also been shipping merchants and their wares east to other cities outside the Griffin Protectorate which troublingly implied that they were at least partially recognized by the other knightly orders. Delorean further confirmed this by informing us that Anton was personally protected by a knight from the Order of the Dragon. He also had managed to arrange a performance before this Anton under the name Quailune the Alluring, gaining us entrance to the mead hall as his retinue. Unfortunately Anton wouldn’t be there for this show but his men would be, giving us the chance to remove them from the board before we toppled this drunken tyrant.
The work was more butchery than true combat, taken by surprise by Delorean and Zac’s magic they were hardly able to put up a fight but their crimes almost innumerable demanded no mercy be shown. We sat amongst the dead, waiting for Anton and soon he and his Dragon Knight bodyguard entered. His outrage over the slaughter of his men left him almost too incensed to understand Karde’s demands that he surrender and face charges for his crimes. Once he realized who we were he seemed unable to control his laughter and rained insults on us with abandon until Karde issued him a challenge of single combat. He proved just as craven as every scorpion before him by gesturing to the knight at his side and demanding he fight in his place. I stepped forward to take Karde’s place if it came to that but this Dragon Knight, Sir Paras, still possessed some shred of honor and dignity and refused on the grounds that he was only ordered to protect Anton, not fight his battles for him.
Left with no choice Anton begrudgingly accepted and leapt atop one of the long table, awaiting Karde. We gathered around to insure that the challenge was carried out honorably and were not surprised when things fell apart immediately as Anton lashed at Karde with a magical whip that entrapped him within living vines. We ran to Karde’s defense and pushed Anton back but before we could do much more he was struck down from behind, Sir Paras’s blade protruding from his chest.
As we freed Karde, Paras told us he was glad to have met us, to see that there were still noble men in the world before he died. Confused, I asked why he would be dying, he seemed in good health to me. He then explained he would fall on his blade to answer for the crime of working with such evil men. Before the others could respond I strode forth and took hold of him, or at least so I was told, truthfully all I recall of that moment was seeing a flash of red before my eyes and things becoming hazy. Delorean later said I spoke powerfully and recounted my words to me, which I now transcribe:
‘Do you think your death will solve anything? That it will fix what was has been done? There are men, women, and children dying to protect this land, to protect all the lands beyond it and you have the nerve to place your honor before them? If you want to make things right then take up your sword and march to the western gate of Stallia and defend her people! Until the day comes that all are no longer under threat from the hordes of undead at our doorstep you don’t have permission to die!’
Paras fell to one knee then and there, renouncing the Dragon Knights and swore to take up the Griffon’s cause. Afterwards he gave us a great deal of insight into the maneuverings of the other knightly orders, most importantly that one Viscount from the Lion territory seemed responsible for the Scorpions recognition and usurpation of our lands. With Anton and the Scorpions slain we turned to stabilizing Wotenhall. We asked Artis to gather the other merchants who had been waiting for the Griffons’ return and granted them the authority to run the city as a council, tasking them with delivering food, weapons, and whatever other supplies could be gathered back to Stallia with Sir Paras to make sure they reached their destination. They informed us of several things that had been going on ever since the Scorpions had seized control of the city, and we will see to them in due time but something else draws my attention.
It came to me as I held the griffon egg that this could have only come from one place, the Aerie where the Griffon Knights raise such creatures for mounts. For it to have fallen into the hands of a merchant implies dark tidings and requires action immediately. Fortune smiles on me in that regard as I have just been blessed with my own mount. It was strange, one moment everything was as it had been and then the next there was a presence in my mind. When I focused on the presence a horse manifested before me out of thin air. The creature is strong and possesses an intelligence I have yet to see in another of its kind. With it by my side I will be able to pursue that merchant and discover the truth of his wares, no matter how dark they may be.
Day Nine of the Month of the Lion
My resolve in being tested, whether by some higher power or simply fate I do not know, and either way I must steel myself for the days to come.
My intention to pursue the merchant was met with resistance by the others and I was eventually dissuaded by Karde. Rather than simply pull rank and order me to remain he spoke to me personably and persuasively, I think he may yet have hope as a leader of men.
Our tasks then became the investigations of several Scorpion activities that had been carried out during their occupation of Wotenhal. We’d been informed that the city’s graveyards had been raided and the dead were being shipped off elsewhere, a dire situation in our current predicament. There was also the matter of a mining site not far outside Wotenhall that had been taken over by the Dragon Knights and Lion Knights. Finally there were rumors of a storehouse filled with the many treasures that had been stolen from our people, and that it was simply waiting for someone to find it.
The reports of grave robbing sounded like the more pressing matter so we began our investigation there and found cart tracks leading back west. The trail they made was strange, it carved a straight line through forest and mountain alike and as we neared the sea we found carts from all the civilized lands lining the pass, their numbers almost innumerable. We searched one at random and found it filled with the putrid odor of rot and decay, not to mention the floor was covered in grave dirt. Further down the path we finally encountered another living soul though he seemed to be taking great pains to remain hidden as he slipped from cart to cart, watching us intently. We saw no weapon readied in his hands and so did not acknowledge his presence, though we did loosen our blades in their sheaths and made crossbows ready, just in case.
We found the rest of his companions camped at the end of the trail, five justicars of the Lion Knights. They clearly seemed surprised by our appearance but answered our questions. I grew increasingly frustrated as they displayed complete ignorance of what the carts had contained, claiming they were shipping supplies to one of the other knightly orders via barges. My anger finally got the best of me as I questioned the presence of a number of carts marked with the Griffon emblem and their leader made an offhand comment about ‘them not needing them anymore, what with being dead and all’. I struck him and our two parties nearly came to blows right then. The more tactful members of our party took control of the conversation then, giving me time to collect myself and offer a sincere apology, which was fortunately accepted though now the Lions didn’t believe we were who we said we were.
We offered every piece of evidence we had, from our emblems to Karde’s noble heritage and even the magical marks several of us had been granted but none of it convinced them we were anything more than bandits trying to fool them. I quickly grew tired of their obstinance but before my temper could be loosed again Zac wisely befuddled my senses with a spell, avoiding further conflict. Finally, the one who had been watching our approach spoke up, claiming to be a cleric of Apollo he said he could cast a spell that would discern the truth. We gladly accepted his offer to cast the spell but his commanding officer demanded he stop as his men took hold of their weapons. We pleaded for a chance to prove our word and the cleric finished the spell despite his orders. Encircled within his truth spell there could be no denying our words any longer and now that we stood on equal footing we demanded from their leader the reason why he had been so adamant in keeping the truth from coming to light. Caught within the same spell as we, he was forced to divulge that he’d been paid off to ignore the carts contents by the same Viscount who was responsible for the Scorpions rise to power and been given orders to kill his comrades after the final cart had been delivered. His comrades were shocked by this revelation but several still stood with him, especially after he stated that those who obeyed his commands would live. Two of the justicars and the cleric joined our numbers as the others came at us with axes. After a short and bloody battle that left their leader dead by the hand of the cleric and one by my hand after he refused to surrender peacefully, the survivor swore on his honor to obey our commands and those who had sided with us during the fight were entrusted with watching him should his word prove wanting. After dealing with the dead and tending to our wounds we decided to camp there for the night and make for Wotenhall in the morning.
As we sat around our campfires we shared stories and learned more about each other. The cleric was known as Rai of House Malloren and seemed quite the cheerful sort, which we tried to appreciate but after so long a time spent fighting we were becoming a dour lot. He also explained to us that he was no true Lion Knight but had been sent to gather information on them regarding their dealings with the Scorpions and Dragons. We shared our story and he was so moved by our tale he asked to join us a proper member of the Griffons.
In the morning we hurried back to Wotenhall to see to the matter of the mine since it was close and the most easily rectifiable of our remaining tasks. We found the mine and surrounding quarry guarded, with access only being granted to workers and members of the Lion and Dragon orders. Rai was quick to volunteer his noble lineage as means of gaining entrance with us posing as bodyguards. Inside we found the workers were all people from the territories of the Lion or Dragon, all the native workers had either been driven off or killed by the Scorpions. Beyond that they were paid an abominable amount for the work that was being demanded of them and being so far from their homes they felt they had little choice but to stay and work the mines.
Zac and Delorean got to work talking to people and quickly began to sow seeds of dissent among the workers as part of the plan we had devised during our inspection of the facilities. After only a few short hours the commander of the Dragon Knights who guarded the mines found his way to us. He demanded to know who we were that we could promise to pay the workers a greater share of the precious metals they pulled from the earth and we answered simply that we were the owners of the mine as we showed our Griffon emblems. The commander scoffed at us and said that the Griffons were no more and that he had been there when the last Griffon knight had fallen.
A chill crept over us as we demanded to know what he meant by that and he went on to explain that he had been there when Venlan Jeth’s uncle had fallen and had even participated in dragging him to his death. He sneered at us as more of his men arrived but before it came to blows between our two forces I issued a challenge of single combat to him. He gazed upon us contemptuously but before he could order his men to attack Delorean whipped the onlooking workers into a frenzy and it became clear that if he didn’t face me then he would likely face a worker’s revolt.
I would like to say that despite the evil deeds he seemed so proud of that the commander fought well and nobly but that was not the case. Armed with a spiked chain he attempted to batter me about but my shield held firm and he tasted the righteous fury of my blade as the taint in his heart made it so I could channel my holy fire against him. I roared his crimes to the world so all would know that when he fell it was not simply a result of the duel but punishment for his dark deeds, and then I gave his soul one last chance for salvation by reciting the Code of the Griffon Knights, hoping to remind him that he once swore to uphold a similar code.
With Zac’s help we routed several others who had also taken part in dark deeds and punished them accordingly when they tried to flee. The rest of the Dragon Knights have sworn to function as simple guards for the mine, no longer entitled to the greater share of the riches it produced. We’ve decided to spend the rest of the day recovering and investigating potential locations.
Day Eleven of the Month of the Lion
We find ourselves victorious in retrieving the stolen treasure of our honored dead but I write these words with trepidation. Our investigation turned up a trail into the nearby mountains and after making our way up the often perilous path we found ourselves before a tomb. It was ancient, several of us noting that there were markings dating it back to the time of the Progenitors while Rai and myself had to pause as waves of evil radiated from it. Prepared for the worst Karde and myself readied ourselves before the doors and had Zac and Rai open them so that they might also use them for cover while Delorean waited behind us with crossbow at the ready. Karde’s plan proved wise because no sooner were the doors pulled open then we were nearly skewered by bony claws. Their wielders stepped into the light and we found ourselves facing three undead monsters. They towered over all of us, each of them ten feet tall with arms even longer than that with spear-like fingers. Karde and I engaged a creature apiece while we left the third to the others. They proved exceptionally tough to bring down, even with Rai and myself channeling our holy powers against them almost to the point of exhaustion and once we did manage to bring one down the two remaining horrors flew into a rage and forced Karde and I all the way back to the cart we had ridden in on, a distance of nearly forty feet.
As we struggled to bring down the last two the others became distracted by the appearance of another cart coming up the trail. It was loaded with men bearing the scorpion banner and every one of them must have been carved from stone for all the notice they gave to Zac, Delorean, and Rai as they rained spells down on them during their approach. From what I could tell while slaying the last of the undead monsters, several men, including the commander, entered the tomb while a small number remained outside with the cart. They continued to pay the rest of our party little heed even as they did all within their power to fool them into leaving, to no avail.
Finally the undead were finished and I help free Karde from where one of the massive creatures had collapsed atop him. He seemed possessed of the same righteous fury that often took hold of me as he called out to the scorpion soldiers and began to march towards them. I sensed that things would not be settled so easily and summoned my steed from the celestial realm it resided in and mounted up, readying myself for action. The commander, returned with the rest of his men and a great haul of treasure being transported on a Tenser’s disk, sent one of his soldiers to deal with Karde, who promptly slew the underling without stopping. The commander seemed more annoyed than anything by this turn of events and ordered those who had loaded the treasure to take off, prompting me to take action. I charged the cart but knew I stood little chance of doing anything crippling to the cart itself, being heavily armored as it was, and did not trust my aim well enough to cut the horse free of the harness in a single pass so I took the only course of action left to me and struck down their steed. The animal fell to my blade and it seemed their only mode of transportation had been rendered useless until the horse’s corpse began to stir as it was reanimated by a necromancer in their midst.
Their commander once more ordered them to leave while Karde ordered me to do whatever was necessary to stop the cart. I turned to pursue and was nearly unhorsed by a blow from behind. Looking over my shoulder showed the commander holding a fist in my direction as if he had just thrown a punch. I hesitated to leave my comrades to face such a clearly dangerous threat but Karde issued my orders once more as he approached the commander with weapon drawn. I spurred my steed after the cart and quickly closed the distance between us but found myself faced with a dilemma. The road was too narrow for me to get past them or even ride alongside them and strike at them with my blade so it seemed all I could do was follow them until a bold, and possibly reckless, course of action took hold of me. I let some distance build between the cart and myself before whipping my horse into a charge. As we came upon the cart once more I spurred my steed to an even greater speed and gave the command to jump. We soared magnificently through the air before landing in the bed of the wagon. Several soldiers were trampled beneath my horse’s hooves while a couple more lost their balance in the suddenly confined space and fell to their deaths over the sheer drop. Perched in the wagon bed precariously with treasure hampering his movements I decided not to further risk my steed’s safety and dismissed him, using the sudden drop to drive my blade through the back of the driver while simultaneously resting control of the reins from him. During the struggle I nearly lost control of the cart and almost sent us all off the edge before recovering enough to keep all but one wheel on solid ground.
Caught in a precarious situation with several more soldiers still to deal with I tried to see which was stronger, their fear of their commander or their sense of self preservation by threatening to pitch the cart off the edge. He must have been a truly fearsome man because they fell upon me with their blades. I managed to roll off the side of the cart and draw my throwing axe, this time strengthening my threat by aim my weapon at the girding that connected the undead horse to the cart, the only thing keeping the cart from slipping over the side on its own. One seemed to come to his senses and tried to surrender but was struck down by his fellow who fell to my axe with a well placed throw. I gave a merciful end to the last soldier who I had impaled with my sword at the start. I wished for nothing more right then to take a rest as I was bloodied and worn from extensive fighting but I knew my comrades must still be fighting the scorpion commander and so with sword and axe in hand I began to run back up the trail. I’ve yet to receive a full account of the fight but from the scene I came upon when I reached the end of the trail I could tell that had the commander taken the fight seriously he might have slain everyone there. Instead it seemed he had focused on toying with Karde by shattering his weapons and battering him about, seeking a victory by demoralization, a foolish tactic to use against someone who fought the undead at the gates of Stallia. We’d been fighting for so many years and run so low on supplies that we’d almost resorted to sticks and stones so no amount of hardship could break us.
We burned the bodies of the undead and scorpion soldiers before loading the treasure into our cart and making it down the mountain trail where we made camp. The fighting had taken its toll on all of us so we waited until morning to examine what had been looted. In the morning light we found a veritable trove of magical artifacts and weapons, some of which we equipped ourselves with to better aid us on our journey while the rest would go back to Stallia to better supply them. Among the things we found was a particular axe which is the cause for my concern. Zac was able to discern that it was a legendary weapon that belonged to one of the founding members of the Griffon order and one of the men who threw off the shackles of the Progenitors. As we sat around gazing upon the weapon it occurred to me that for the weapon to be in our hands his grave had to have been disturbed and my mind filled with the memory of empty carts lining a trail to the sea. We had his axe but the necromancer who had raised the army of undead had his bones.
Our goal now is to seek aid from the Wyvern Knights of the north, but first we ride for nearby Shadow Valley as we saw smoke rising from there during our trip up the mountain. I can only hope there will be something for us to do beyond burning the dead when we arrive.