A brief foreword... This section details Lana's search for the Staff of Lucinius. An object of legend, the magical staff was created by Lucinius Trenzantenbium (otherwise Lucinius I the founding king of Thyatis) a Thyatian-born but Alphatian-trained wizard who defeated many Alphatian wizards to establish the nation of Thyatis. Regrettably Lucinius survived his coronation by only a short while, as he is believed to have been assassinated by his closest friend and co-conspirator General Zendrolion who then became Emperor. Upon Lucinius' death the Staff was taken by his half-sister, Valentia the Justiciar, and laid to rest for a thousand years in a place of safekeeping. What few sources Lana has been able to piece together have led her to Thyatis City, and it is here that she begins her quest for the Staff in earnest.
The party Lana encounters in the Coliseum are in fact our auxiliary Thyatian characters. All except Matthew and Richard were present for play, therefore Lassandra was played by Kathryn (Drewen) and Antonius by Alastair (Karnus). Ironically I was playing Dallus until the point where the hellhound slew him, meaning he and Lana (my two PCs) missed the chance to meet one anothe. Still, Dallus' death proved not to be in vain.
Also for this adventure we were joined by our old buddy Richard P (Canerzon) one of the founding members of our game many years ago. Richard played the charming (and "devastatingly good-looking", apparently) rake Shensu.
The undead threat to Kelvin was no more and the companions found themselves with time to spare as summer arrived. Drewen announced that he would travel to Highforge to continue training with his warhammer. Before he left, Lana presented the dwarf with a box containing the first instalment of his birthday gift - a Potion of Heroism she had obtained in the white dragon's lair. Karnus too had a personal project in mind - a return to the hutaakan ruins of Kizraka and Bixata, to spend time uncovering their mysteries. Threy would venture where the wind blew him, his movements being as erratic and unpredictable as always.
Vasily had been recalled to the Church of Traladara after long absence, and he agreed to accompany Lana on her short trip downstream to Specularum. There Lana hoped to begin researching the Ice Storm spell. The five companions shared breakfast before bidding one other farewell to pursue separate interests for a while.
Arriving in Specularum, Lana no longer had a home (for the Flying Ferret Inn had been fireballed by Bargle the Infamous weeks before) therefore Teldon permitted her to lodge within the Magicians' Guild. The Guild would also serve as her base for researching Ice Storm. She had sufficient quantities of white dragon scales and ice wolf fur for two attempts at the spell's creation; despite a fortnight's hard graft her efforts proved fruitless and her materials went to waste. Seething with frustration, she packed her belongings, deciding that she needed a change of both pace and scenery. Perhaps somewhere outside Karameikos, she mused. None of her companions had agreed a date when they would re-group, therefore she was free to go where she pleased. Her resolve stiffened - she would journey to Thyatis City and resume her search for the fabled Staff of Lucinius.
Passage to Thyatis
She lost no time booking passage aboard a merchant ship bound for Thyatis. It was the height of summer and the Fiermont sun beat upon on her skin as she basked at the rear of the deck. After five days of uneventful sailing the familiar skyline of a sprawling metropolis arose on the horizon - Thyatis City. Lana's heartbeat hastened with anticipation - was Lucinius' Staff truly among those many towers and domes?
As she disembarked the ship and ventured through the packed city streets, she turned over in her mind what scraps of lore she had pieced together in relation to the Staff's whereabouts. According to one account, Lucinius and others had been betrayed by their ally, General Zendrolion who had gone on to become the first Thyatian Emperor. He even took Lucinius' half-sister as his wife. Unknown to most, was the fact Lucinius even had a half-sister - Valentia the Justiciar, who was herself a magic-user of considerable ability. When Lucinius was slain, Valentia bore his staff to a place of rest, away from the clutches of her murderous husband. Lana recalled the dusty tome which had provided this information. The final words of the text had been burned into her memory - "Valentia made the only decision she could - a just one."
Following her gut instinct, Lana found herself gazing up at the columns of a grand marble building - the Temple of Tarastia, Patroness of Justice.
Venturing into the main cloister, young acolytes were bustling to and fro as they attended to daily duties. Lana stopped a dark-skinned young woman. The cleric introduced herself as Ting, an Ochalean member of the Order. When Lana mentioned a Staff, the adept quietly replied that she should seek audience with one of the Elders, Patriarch Quintus. His Lordship was engaged therefore Lana was invited to return the next day. Bowing gratefully, Lana withdrew from the Temple and set out into the City to sample some nightlife.
Returning at noon the next day Lana was met by a smiling Ting at the top of the Temple steps. She was escorted to a waiting room and was informed that his Lordship would not be long. Lana waited patiently. And waited. And waited longer still. She had waited over a year to come here, she reminded herself, a few hours longer would make little difference. Time passed however and nothing changed. Finally, when Lana was about to rise and ask whether Lord Quintus was still engaged, Ting re-appeared. Lord Quintus was ready to meet with Lana.
Audience with the Patriarch
The Patriarch bid Lana enter his private chamber. He was a tall man with hawkish features and neatly trimmed beard. The two enjoyed refreshments of wine, cheese and grapes before Lana voiced her reason for coming to this place - her research into the fate of Lucinius' staff, if it ever had existed, and how what sources she had been able to piece together had led her to the Order of Tarastia. The cleric's forehead furrowed for a short, silent moment.
"You are a determined young woman," the Patriarch stated, his gaze burning into the young woman as he spoke. "I can tell that much from your eyes and words. And I can tell you that indeed the Staff exists, for it sleeps within these very Temple walls."
Lana's eyes shone - the Staff truly did exist! It transpired that the Staff had been entrusted to Quintus' Order over a thousand years ago, with a prophecy that a servant of justice would one day approach the Temple to seek use of the item, to further a deserving cause. In a millennium, the Patriarch explained with a faint smile on his lips, Lana was the only person to have come seeking the Staff.
Walking to a double-handed axe hanging on the wall of the chamber, Quintus pressed a section of its handle. A portion of wall swung aside to reveal a corridor beyond. Illuminating the way ahead with a word of prayer, the Patriarch gestured for Lana to follow him into the passage. She rose and did so willingly.
The two entered a meditation chamber and knelt before an eight-foot statue of a tall female, her expression one of determination with a double-handed axe clasped between her hands. Quintus' lips moved in quiet prayer, touching holy water to Lana's forehead as he beseeched his patroness to visit Lana that night, to instruct her as to how she might serve the Church in some way. Only in this manner, Quintus explained, as a servant of Tarastia could Lana earn the right to wield the Staff. As her heart soared with the desire to prove herself worthy, Lana was shown to a bedchamber to meditate and then sleep.
Tarastia's dream - the vision
That night in the coolness of the guest quarters, Lana received a vision more vivid and lifelike than any dream she had ever experienced. She stood in the arena of the Coliseum, and watched as the light from the sky was blocked by the colossal form of a black spider. A double-handed axe struck at the spider which split into halves and fell apart, revealing a gleaming golden chalice. The chalice tipped forward spilling frothing, green ichor onto the arena floor. Amid the ichor stood a man, his features unidentifiable save for the weapon he bore - an immense, double-handed axe. Lana awoke suddenly, beads of sweat breaking out across her body.
The next morning Lana called with Quintus to relate her vision, which she felt hinted at whatever injustice she was meant to combat. It seemed a dark force was hanging over the Coliseum. To aid her in her task, Quintus assigned Lana a companion by the name of Shensu. From his choice of attire and the equipment he carried, Lana correctly deduced this man to be a rake - a law-abiding Thyatian thief. The two were instructed to perform service in Tarastia's name, and they quickly struck up a friendship.
Heading to the Coliseum that afternoon, a mob had gathered at the gates in anticipation of that day's Games. Hundreds of civilians packed the way between Lana and Shensu and the entrance. Shensu winked at Lana before slipping into the crowd, his slender form weaving effortlessly between those queuing. Lana being less nimble was unable to follow, and found her charm and smiles foiled by those who had been waiting longer than she in the baking heat. Lana murmured words of magic then Levitated above the heads of those surrounding her and began pulling herself across the sea of heads and shoulders. She made good progress and could just about make out Shensu ahead of her, waiting patiently by the main gate, when suddenly - oomph! A brute at the front of the crowd grabbed Lana by her waist, hefted her onto the stone pavement and stood heavily on her ribs. Winded by the impact, Lana found herself unable to cast any spells. She considered drawing her dagger to stab at the thug's leg, then with a flash of steel Shensu's own blade appeared at the man's neck.
"I suggest you release the lady," came the rake's charming but deadly hiss, "if you value keeping your throat intact, that is."
The man's face betrayed an expression of timidity, before his friends began heckling him.
"Hey Griff!" jeered one voice. "You're going to let that little runt talk to you like that?"
The man swallowed painfully, the dagger pressing against the tender flesh beneath his chin, then lifted his boot, allowing Lana to rise. "Keep the little whore," he growled menacingly, though he was backing away all the same. "I didn't want to go to the Games today anyway."
"Whore?!" Lana thundered, dusting herself down as she rose to her feet. "Just you wait..." But the man had disappeared into the thick of the crowd.
A soldier cleared his throat a couple of feet away; Shensu and Lana had reached the front of the queue and were free to enter. As they did so, Shensu asked why the Games were being held that day. The soldier seemed surprised that the pair had not heard; a Senator Helenites Osteropolous was sponsoring the day's events in honour of his XIVth Hattian Legion. The name meant nothing to the pair but was noted for future reference. Lana finished dusting herself off and nodded politely to the guards before Shensu grabbed her wrist and pulled her into the Coliseum.
Emerging into one of the many spectator stands, every seat appeared to have been taken save two. Lana and Shensu settled themselves, munching contentedly on cornsticks they had purchased from a vendor. Mutters arose all around them - evidently the crowd was less pleased - apparently the Games were running late and ought to have started some time ago. The delay was highly unusual as the Games were always punctual. As time pressed on and the arena remained empty, Lana and Shensu exchanged curious glances. At long last, gates opened and a queue of gladiators filed onto the sand of the arena. Yet when combat seemed ready to commence, the men impaled their weapons into the sand and assumed a defiant stance. For some reason, they were refusing to fight.
Moments later, howls filled the air and a troupe of animals poured forth - bears, tigers, lions and worse. Lana's mouth fell open as an adult manticore unfurled its wings at the far end of the stadium. It became apparent from the gladiators' startled reactions that this was not part of the show - somehow the beasts had been released from their pens and were running amok. The gladiators had no choice but to retrieve their weapons and battle to defend themselves. Most of the fifty thousand onlookers rose from their seats and attempted to flee the stands, but were opposed by armed soldiers who were blocking the exits. Cries of terror went up as the soldiers began hacking at the crowds of civilians. Utter pandemonium erupted.
Lana flung out one hand, dumbfounding a nearby troupe of legionnaires through Confusion, then as she concentrated a white dragon rose from the sands of the arena to unleash icy breath upon a second group of soldiers. The men fell to the ground, their limbs seizing with imaginary cold. Then from the floor of the arena came a cry. Amid her concentration, Lana watched a party of adventurers emerge to battle a pair of ferocious hellhounds. Her heart skipped a beat as one of the party members caught her eye, who seemed uncannily familiar - a hulking barbarian whose body rippled with muscle, in whose hands was grasped a double-handed axe. This, she realised, could only be the man from her vision in the Temple of Tarastia.
Suddenly a howl arose as one of the adventurers was overcome by a hellhound - a young blond fighter, clad from head to foot in forest green. His lean form slumped to the ground, charred by innumerable fiery blasts. One of his companions, a slender elfmaiden cried and ran to her companion's side, tears streaming down her beautiful face. Lana needed no further convincing - she would help these people.
Shensu decided to do likewise. The rake somersaulted from the heights of the viewing gallery, his scimitar unsheathing in mid-descent to bury itself hilt-deep in the hellhound before the man's feet even touched the arena floor.
Lana's dragon unleashed a further blast of cold onto the murderous legionnaires, then descended into the arena to rake the barbarian's hellhound apart with tooth and talon. The man reeled for a second at seeing a dragon at such close quarters, and raised his axe in a defensive manner. His blow went wide, but all the same Lana dispelled the dragon and levitated down into the arena to join the strangers.
Up on the spectator level, a hawkish young man wearing leather armour and a dark cape was concentrating. Lana followed the line of his gaze; he seemed focused on a group of beasts a short way off - a lion, a tiger and two bears. These four converged on a nearby owlbear, bore the creature down in seconds, then dispersed. The man atop the gallery smiled with satisfaction and stroked a ring on one hand before dropping nimbly to land in the arena fifteen feet below.
Lana made her way to where the elfmaid was cradling the youth's smouldering form in her arms, sobbing uncontrollably. The man's once-fine blond locks were singed and his torso was a blackened mess, yet it was obvious he had been an athletic and handsome young man.
"I am sorry for your loss," said Lana softly, laying a hand on the elf's shoulder.
The maiden looked up through tear-filled eyes. "Who might you be?"
"My name is Lana, a magic-user from Karameikos. And you?"
"I am Lassandra, daughter of the Diamerak Clan. This is, or was, my companion Dallus, a Forester of the Vyallia Forest..."
Lana's heart sank on hearing this. She informed Lassandra of her own exploits with the Vyalia Foresters, and both females shared a moment of sorrow. The numbers of the spell-wielding forest fighters were already few, less than three hundred in the entire Empire, therefore the loss of even one would be a grave blow to the Order.
"He met a brave end," Lana stated. "He fought valiantly against a foul opponent."
Lassandra nodded. "Come, we would do well to leave this place before more foes arrive. My companions know of secret catacombs beneath the Coliseum." The elfmaiden introduced Lana and Shensu to the remainder of her party - the thief Antonius, wielder of a ring of animal control and the hulking ex-gladiator Conor, son of Fergal. A smile spread across Lana's face as the barbarian crushed her hand in a grasp of friendship - there could be no doubting this was the man Tarastia had shown her in her vision. Lana mentioned this, feeling certain the two parties were meant to have come together this day. She only felt sorry that she had never met the brave Dallus.
Conor spoke of his connections with the Thyatian gladiators - their party had been contacted by an orcish trainer named Yalag, who had hinted at problems within the arena. Slaves who had been saving money for years were being denied their entitlement to purchase freedom. Gifts were being confiscated by slaves' masters, matches were being fixed more routinely than ever, murders were becoming more frequent and rumours abounded that certain gladiators had grown addicted to the soporific Zzonga fruit, known to be of Alphatian origin. Yalag had recruited the party to find out who or what was behind the trouble, however Marcus the Beastmaster had come running into Yalag's chambers to announce that somehow all the beasts had been set free from their pens. Worse still, the party had eavesdropped on two legionnaires discussing orders they had received from their commanding officers - to slaughter everyone they encountered inside the Coliseum and not spare a soul. Some dark force was wreaking havoc within the arena walls.
In any event, Yalag had mentioned the catacombs leading out of the Coliseum, which now offered an escape route. The party tore through ancient tunnels whose walls were lined by stone plinths marking the resting places of those who had died in the arena above. Occasional shouts arose from elsewhere in the tunnels, letting the party know they were not alone in this place. It was even possible that they were being followed. They tore on around endless corners and junctions, until at last they encountered a solitary figure praying before a statue of the Immortal Vanya, an imposing female bearing a long sword in one hand. This was Federa, an employee of Senator Helenites who had sponsored the day's Games, the patron of the XIVth legion. Federa had been praying to Vanya for guidance since she uncovered her master's journal which detailed match fixes and a worrying number of planned murders. The party convinced Federa to join them. It occurred to Lana that if other shrines existed within the catacombs, perhaps other people might be found to provide additional testimony against the corrupt senator. As chanting was heard emanating from a nearby passage, the party uncovered a second shrine, dedicated to Korotiku, the Patron of Trickery and Immortal of the people of the Pearl Islands. Here a second cleric, a Pearl Islander named Saralassu agreed to add her evidence to that of Federa. This cleric had been the senator's mistress but had been cast aside. Nonetheless Saralassu bore vital information as to the senator's evil schemings.
Onward they pressed through the tunnels. Before a statue of Tarastia was knelt a young man with a wide-brimmed hat and a neatly trimmed beard. This was Pulcher, Helenites' disowned son, who had refused his spendthrift son any financial support. Pulcher took little persuading to join the party. At this point three gladiators ran screaming through the shrine, pursued by a giant scorpion. The party fled before the beast could turn on them, down a stairwell and into a section of corridor where cobwebs hung heavy, moreso than anywhere else in the catacombs. Lana remembered her vision from the Temple of Tarastia - the great black spider hanging above the Coliseum. Many emaciated bodies hung in dusty cobwebs whose fibres were like rope. Antonius pried loose an amulet beset with pearls from the fingers of one deceased victim. Then as Conor's torch burned away a section of web, the party was confronted by the weaver itself - a fearsome black widow spider.
Lana was bitten twice in the combat which ensued. She felt poison coursing through her veins but refused to let herself be affected. Mustering all her physical strength she shrugged off the venom's life-draining effect. Amber shards and magical dagger were not enough to fell the spider, until at last from over Lana's shoulder a ten-foot spike of steel shot forth to lance through the beast, leaving it quite dead. Conor's poleaxe!
Lana took time to inspect the lair and even bid Conor hack apart the spider's corpse with his axe. As entrails spilled across the floor, no golden chalice emerged. Lana mentioned the significance of a spider in her dream, and Saralassu's face constricted - the Spider was the symbol of her Holy Order, the followers of the Immortal Korotiku. What could the dream sent by Tarastia signify?
The party pressed on and soon felt fresh air against their faces. Moments later with Shensu leading the way, they emerged into the open space of a market square. Free from the catacombs, Dallus' body was taken to be lain to rest in the Park, a magically created area of woodland within the city walls and home to the city's elven and Forester inhabitants. Lassandra announced that she would spend the night here, and would rejoin her companions in the morning for the funeral.
Lana and Shensu returned to the Temple of Tarastia to consider all they had seen and heard that day, and to seek guidance from Patriarch Quintus. In the morning they decided that they would visit the Senate, to assess the evil Senator Helenites with their own eyes and ears.
Read the concluding instalment HERE
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