As our "heroes" continued exploring the basement of the palace, they came face to face with a swirling mass of black smoke that formed into a grayish shade. A wraith! The short battle was inconclusive. They could hurt it but its incorporeality made it difficult and yet its attacks missed their mark. Still, after several attacks, it fled them into the Gray to lick its wounds. They probably haven't heard the last of that one.
They finished making the rounds of the basement, finding nothing more dangerous than a crate. But that crate contained 16 iron helms imprinted with the royal seal. They couldn't leave it behind, so they shouldered it and carried it with them up the stairs back to main level.
They made a circuit of the main level hallway checking out rooms as they went and finding some small treasures in some of them. When they had nearly come full circle, they came to what must be the great hall or throne room. Mark decided to listen at the door to see if anything was in there, but Jeremy was having none of that. He knocked Mark out of the way and shattered the double doors leading in.
The throne room was a very large room, easily 40'x50' and just over two stories tall. But the presence of 5 undead giants made it feel considerably more cramped that it might otherwise have. Arrayed before them were 4 giant zombies standing in front of a dais along the far wall. On that dais, sitting atop a pile of various valuable items obviously gleaned from around the palace sat another giant, not a zombie but not alive either. Its purplish skin and starved-looking features made clear that it had passed beyond mortal life. Along the wall to the … thing's left, three human sized figures stood casting an unseeing gaze across the room. After the primer that Zed had given them about undead, they felt sure that these were ioramh.
The giant seated on the dais chuckled at the intrusion.
"So this is what has been causing such a ruckus in my city. Honestly, you don't seem capable enough to have survived so long.
I am Gorlak and this is my palace. There have been many visitors over the years, but none have ever left. You will fair the same."
Brian, with the gall of a halfling, began trying to chat the thing up, even going so far as to transition into his bardic poetry. The only effect he had was to give the party (and the giants) a round to prepare for the battle to come. Jeremy used magic to hide himself and Mark from the mindless undead so that they could close with the leader without getting held up by the subordinates. Brian readied the elemental stone they had only recently found in order to summon an earth elemental to fight for them and Larry activated his psionic force shield. This was going to get bumpy.
And indeed it was so. The zombies swung their fists with devastating results. The three ioramh used their telekinesis to lob chunks of rubble at targets. And the leader swung a spear the size of a tree trunk. With the help of the summoned earth elemental, they took the fight to the giants and, though the less melee-oriented party members were definitely hurting it looked closed to resolved within a hand of rounds. Then the leader smiled wickedly and burst into immolating flames. Jeremy and Mark fell back initially and the giant felt secure in his reach. But Mark switched over to psionics and Jeremy waded back in, accepting the burns, and together they dealt him the final blow. But as he collapsed, he seemed undefeated.
"Impressive mettle, small ones. But as long as my maker lives, you cannot be rid of me so easily. We shall meet again."
At that point, the ioramh stopped their assault and mopping up the zombies was hazardous but the end not in doubt.
After they finished the zombies, they had the opportunity to study the ioramh more closely. The three were dressed in the decayed remains of fine clothing that was embroidered with the royal crest. One of them seemed to have been a man in young middle age when he died, one was a woman of similar age, and the last couldn't have had his 20th birthday at his death. With no other good options, they destroyed the ioramh. But then again, maybe not. Ioramh are bound to the will of their creator, so they may not be laid to rest yet either.
A sweep of the room yielded a hoard of treasure they couldn't hope to fit into their various cargo conveyances. Sacks, backpacks, the magic saddlebags, and the crate were quickly filled and they had to leave a pile behind. They also needed to rest and heal from their battles. That last one had been closer than they had been willing to admit.
Here began The Argument™ – "can't just leave it. someone might get it." "but it's in a palace still guarded by a n army of undead." "but we know(!) that there are other looters in the city now." "we don't know any such thing." Round and round they went, but eventually decided to check the final floor of the palace once they had rested for a day. Nothing disturbed them the whole time. Could they have finished off the inhabitants of the building?
Upstairs, the found more rooms "decorated" with ancient blood stains and destroyed furniture. One set of rooms appeared to have belonged to a set of children, two older with single rooms and two younger that shared. A single sliver hair comb set with topaz lay amid the rubble.
The rooms set aside for servants yielded nothing until they found a satchel secreted under the remains of a mattress. It contained a few coins, a hat, an amulet, a cloak, some thieves tools, and a garrote. (several magical) A curious set of equipment for a servant.
One set of rooms was obviously the royal chambers. In a ruined chest, Jeremy discovered a secret compartment. When he opened it, he and the others could only stare in wonder, and no little shock, at two exquisite pieces of jewelry – a gold and sapphire tiara and a gold necklace with a very (!) large diamond pendant. On the reverse were markings and a royal crest. Nothing but a true king's ransom could purchase such items.
Lastly, they found what must have been a study and library. It was in awful condition with most of the books and writings decayed or fallen apart. But in the mess, they found a map of the palace tucked between two large folios. On the map, there was a notation of a hidden door in the exterior wall of the city immediately behind the palace gardens. In addition, there were two books in surprisingly good condition. One was titled "Lineage and Genealogy of House Mezik – Founding of Thorlo through the 170th Kings Age". The other was a thick book containing tips for improving instinct and perception – but seemed to offer more than just pointers (borne out by Jeremy's magic detection). Lastly, but by no means least, under the wreckage of a desk, they found a letter. Brian and Jeremy, being the only two who could read, passed it back and forth but couldn't make out the archaic script and turn of phrase. But it looked old.
Feeling assured that they had searched all the places they could in the palace, they made their plans for escape. They had the figurine of wondrous kank to use as a beast of burden at least for some part of the trip home. The front of the palace was literally crawling with undead. Larry had glimpsed some giant zombies in the remains of the gardens behind. With Jeremy's spells replenished, he was able to hide them all, including the kank, from the mindless undead and they decided to head directly for the secret exit in the garden. With the map, they knew exactly where to go and were able to open the door into a space that filled most of the width of the walls in this area. Inside it was dark, so Jeremy activated his flaming axe to illuminate things. The light showed a room with racks where equipment would have been stored. Bits and pieces of backpacks, other standard supplies, and long expired rations were stacked undisturbed. The chamber was obviously used to store emergency equipment. There were even two stalls for animals the size of erdlu. And on the post of one of those pens, a sealed scroll tube hung from a strap that fell apart as soon as they disturbed it.
Inside the tube, they found another letter. Perhaps it was a second exposure, or maybe the handwriting was better, but this time Jeremy and Brian were able to decipher the text.
“My brother. Thank the living stone that I was preparing to leave for Kurn when the attack began. On your orders I ran to the children’s rooms to gather them and escape the palace, but I could only find the twins. I have them and we are riding hard for the mainland. I pray that Sensha and Torvin are with you and that you will be in fast pursuit once your advisors finish flaying your ears off for not having beaten me out the door. I will send the garrisons from the watch towers to hold the gates and allow as many citizens as possible to escape as I pass, but I promise you the boys will reach Kurn alive. I will count myself a lucky man when you arrive to meet us there.
The group stood in silence for a few minutes. Mark said,
"Well I think we know what happened to Torvin."
They sealed the letter back up, closed the inner door behind them, and opened the outer door beyond the walls. They came out in the ruins of the outlying neighborhoods, far off the northern road they entered the city by most recently. The carefully marked the location of the exterior door on their map and then proceeded to make good their escape, hoping that no one was watching this particular piece of ground for them.
Feeling more than a little exposed, they decided to send Larry on ahead. She could reach Kurn by nightfall and arrange to bring a wagon back to meet them on the way. By husbanding their use of the magical kank, they figured they could meet at the first ruined tower they explored in about 3 days time. So Larry took to the air.
She did manage to track down the three (now-former) slaves that had been captains in their little army and convinced them (10CP per day!?!) to go with her back down the road to retrieve the others. Arrangements were made and they left the following morning. The rendezvous happened as planned for once and they were able to ride back to Kurn from the tower.
One the way back, Jeremy and Brian put their heads together to reexamine the first letter they found. With the other letter and some more experience, they made sense out of it. It was addressed to… "King Oronis of Kurn"……
“Thorlo and Kurn have never been more than neutral trading partners. Were it not for House Azeth, there wouldn’t even have been that. Your recent overtures, thus came as very much a surprise, though a welcome one. Would that I could conduct the talks in person and bring my family for a state visit as you suggest. My advisers have put their collective foot down and I have learned to listen to their wisdom even (or especially) when I would normally throw caution to the wind. I will, however, send my brother Hellas as ambassador to Kurn to discuss more open relations between our kingdoms. I look forward to quickly finalizing arrangements for opening a consular residence in Kurn and a summit where we may meet in person.
In the spirit of ongoing collaboration, I include a small matter as a favor to my queen, Amarinth. It seems that disturbing portents have been driving my house priests to distraction for the last week. ‘A dragon chasing giants through the streets of Thorlo.’ They are certain it means something, but I’m a simple man and to me it seems like so much silt mirage. But we would be interested in knowing if your sages and wise-people have any insights that might prove helpful in their interpretation or if indeed any of your own foreseers have received similar visions.
I pray that our peoples may one day share such trivial conversations over a meal and good ale.
Erys Mezik, King of Thorlo
63rd day of Fruitburth
Year of Enemy’s Agitation
171st King’s Age
Stunned into silence just by the implications they could grasp, the party rode many miles before the questions surfaced about all that they couldn't grasp. The letter was OLD. If the tales are true of the fall of Thorlo, nearly 1500 years old. "A dragon chasing giants through the steets of Thorlo" has so many possible interpretations as to boggle. "The" dragon hadn't been seen in a decade, but any child can tell you that another name for the sorcerer kings of the table lands is "dragon king." Maybe Oronis is title rather than a proper name. Or maybe Oronis is another dragon king and was driving the giants in their attack. Or trying to destroy them. Were those giants they fought the remains of the attackers? Or were those what attacked? Was someone threatened by a possible alliance between Thorlo and Kurn with Thorlo the easier target to eliminate?
The letters together weave a chilling story that didn't yet make sense. And in the wrong hands, they could very well cost them their lives. So they decided that no one else would see them until they had a better grasp of what to do.
When they arrived in Kurn, they still didn't know what they were going to do with the hoard of treasure they returned with. They were flooding the market with iron and steel. The makers were starting to look askance at all the low grade magic items cutting into the profits their apprentices needed to finance their instruction. And those unbelievable jewels they returned with
- there was literally no one who could buy them.
While the rest puzzled over their next moves, Mark went to the Library to check in with his pal Zed who he'd tasked with tracking down more information about the Thorlan royal family. Initially he had wanted to know if any of them survived in case they didn't want their ancient family stuff sold on FleaBay. Now, it seemed they needed to know everything they could find out about the family and whether "the twins" made it safely to Kurn as Hellas had sworn they would. Without telling Zed what they'd found, he inquired about the research. Zed was able to corroborate that the family that had ruled Thorlo for the last several King's Ages of its existence was House Mezik. Prior to that, there had been another House but either they ran out of heirs or some other fate befell them leading to a change in succession. Zed hadn't made much progress on discovering specific survivors, but he was able to say that several hundred refugees had sought sanctuary in Kurn, perhaps as many as a thousand. The cast stores of the library will probably yield information about particular individuals in time but he had so far not found those records. Mark asked him to continue his good effort and made another (for them) sizable donation in thanks.
Back at the ranch, the group came to a conclusion that they had only one way forward
- take the letters and the jewels directly to Oronis. Jeremy was one of his Tempars after all. Surely he could get them an audience, even if it lasted only moments. So they bundled up the four priceless artifacts and set off for the administrative quarter. In the Templar Headquarters, they followed Jeremy directly to Andas offices. After passing through a few handlers and waiting on benches, they got to see her to make their case. Jeremy got as far as saying that they had found a letter written by King Erys of Thorlo to King Oronis of Kurn when she cut him off, asked a few clarifying questions, and then took hold of her Templar sigil. Her eyes closed and Jeremy could feel a hum in his own sigil, almost like a conversation happening on the other side of a thick wall. After a few minutes, she said that they would have an audience with Oronis that very afternoon. An aide would lead them through the buildings into Oronis personal area and there they would wait for him to be ready for them.
With that taken care of, she shooed them out of her office where they were acquired by said aide and soon enough found themselves waiting in an antechamber to be called in before the most powerful being any of them had ever met.
They were summoned after a time and ushered into what looked like a private study with windows looking southward from a tower rising out of the Templar buildings. Oronis stood before them as they entered looking just as he had the day they arrived in Kurn almost half a year before. His pale‐blue eyes counseled silence before he thanked his attendant who bowed himself out and shut the door behind him. Now they were alone with him.
Then he looked at Jeremy and simply said, "Report." And so Jeremy did. He laid out their "explorations" of Thorlo and ended his report by saying that they had found some things that only Ornonis could help them understand. He laid out the letters and the jewels on Oronis' desk and stepped back. The king examined each piece carefully and then looked at them.
"Let us tackle the easy things first. These two," pointing at the jewels, "are part of the crown jewels of Thorlo, most recently to be found around the person of Amarinth Mezik. They are almost literally without price and no dealer, honest or otherwise, in my city would be able to pay even the metal cost nor would they when they see the unmistakable marks on the reverse. These two cannot return out into the public square"
Gingerly fingering the letters, "Now these… these are hard. I had learned of the planned attack too late to move to prevent it. But I did try to save the royal family and as many as I could without starting a panic. I thought that if i could get the king and his family here, then fewer lives would be lost trying to defend them. Obviously I failed. But at least now I know why and what happened."
"What do you propose we do with all of this, my Templar?"
To which Jeremy suggested (on the fly but with nods of agreement from the rest), "Excellency, we came originally with the thought of requesting a finders fee for the jewels. My companions and I now think the best way forward would be for you to simply take ownership of them outright. For ourselves, I ask that we have your blessing to bring such other treasures as we have found before your agent for right of first refusal. We imagine the Templar corps could always use additional steel and magic weapons, armor, and other items and will offer our findings up to your agent before anyone else."
This pleased Oronis and it was done. "You may make arrangements with Andas when you have goods that you wish to sell or trade. Now, if you would excuse me, there is much weighing upon my time."
The doors opened and Oronis' attendant appeared to escort them out. But as they were leaving, Oronis asked Jeremy to stay behind for a moment. "It won't take long. Your friends can wait outside."