The companions made their way uphill into "the Machine" - the name attributed to the base of operations for the city's public sector. Once inside, Lana was informed that the Senate was closed to public onlookers as an emergency closed session had been called. Surely, she thought, the senators could only be discussing the gladiatorial fiasco. Her assertions of Karameikan nobility proved inadequate to allow her entry the chamber, however a generous bribe (as was the Thyatian way, after all...) persuaded the guard to avert his gaze long enough for her to slip inside.
It was rumoured that the Emperor planned to return to the city in three days' time to personally oversee the gladiators' trial. Being from a gladiatorial background himself, Thincol wished to extend every possibility of a fair trial to his former peers. Their executions would at the very least be stayed until he returned.
Thanks to a veil of Invisibility granted to her by Lassandra, Lana moved unseen across the Senate viewing gallery. Also a potion of ESP coursed through her mind, enabling her to get a feel for one exceptionally dark mind in the midst of the senators below... A short and podgy individual had mounted the speaker's podium, ready to address his fellow senators, his hair streaked with grease and a charming smile playing upon his rosy-cheeked face. Instantly Lana recognised the man as Helenites.
The enemy in the flesh
Fools, was the foremost thought on the man's mind as he surveyed his fellow senators, while a kindly smile played upon his piggish face. They know nothing of my scheme. Now is not the time to make my stand... too many here of foreign blood. Soon enough, the Emperor’s Throne will be mine.
There came much heated discussion as the other senators questioned Helenites about the previous day's upsets in the Coliseum.
"Why, a good thing my Legion was stationed in the Coliseum that day," came the senator's boisterous and pompous response. "Had those treacherous gladiators been allowed to carry out their evil plans, imagine how many more innocent civilians might have been injured." Lana’s heart boiled – for it had been Helenites himself, she felt certain, who had ordered his legionnaires to attack the civilians in cold blood and without provocation.
As the senators muttered amongst themselves, the senator's mind pondered his own thoughts. I wonder will Friedrich wake up, the senator mused inwardly. Even if he should, he won't be able to get out. So unfortunate that he happened to overhear my conversation with Wustara...
A lump formed in Lana's throat as the ESP potion conveyed the full meaning of the man's thoughts – some unfortunate servant had been buried alive by his treacherous master.
Hellenites cleared his throat noisily before addressing the Senate once more:-
"The Emperor's judgment seems clouded, no doubt because of the stress of the Alphatian negotiations. It is my opinion that we, who are perhaps better informed of events within the city, should bring forward the executions of the gladiators, lest they escape proper justice. Does our Emperor not appear overly sympathetic to the cause of these murderous dogs?"
Hearing this, shocked cries arose from the benches of the assembled senators. Helenites was being impudent enough to question the Emperor's authority! Shocked and enraged by the senator's selfish aspirations, Lana found herself moved to call out from the gallery, perhaps against better judgment.
"Members of the Senate will abide by the supreme decrees of Emperor Thincol," called the woman's voice. A silence dropped. "Those who question his will deserve no place here. Abandon your claim to the Throne, infidel!"
The mystery onlooker
"Not a bad speech," came a whisper in Lana’s right ear.
"Thank you," Lana responded, turning to see who had spoken. She found herself staring into thin air. "What with Hellenites trying to overthrow the Emperor and so forth..." Lana became aware of commotion in the Senate below, "I suppose I felt moved to voice an opinion."
"Ah, so you read his mind too. Well done, young lady! A little naughty, mind, and sneaking in here like you did..." The voice took the tone of a scolding parent, before becoming conversational again. "Still, best to keep an eye on these chaps, eh?"
"Quite..." Lana replied, dazed. "Do you yourself spend much time here?"
"Yes and no," the stranger answered. "Though I find it's best to keep one's finger on the pulse." Down in the main chamber the Senators had grown agitated upon hearing Lana’s voice. Calls were arising of "intruder!", "Guards!", "Sweep the gallery!" and so on.
"Sounds as though it's time for you to make an exit," the voice suggested.
"You read my mind," Lana agreed, nodding in agreement before remembering she was invisible. Likewise, her gaze still passed through her newfound invisible acquaintance. "See you some other time perhaps?"
"Oh you may count upon it," the voice answered. "Goodbye for now, Lana."
It was not until Lana had retreated through the main doors and slunk behind a statue to allow a battalion of guards to rush past that she had time to consider the stranger's parting words... how had he known her name?
She withdrew from the government buildings and went to discuss what she had heard with her companions. Lassandra and Shensu offered to investigate the fate of Friedrich – had a poor servant been buried alive by his cruel master? Whatever information Helenites was hoping to conceal might prove invaluable as evidence against him. The search would begin at dawn, once Lassandra could memorise the spells she would need to locate the unfortunate soul within the crypt complex.
The need to pass word of Helenites' treachery to Thincol seemed paramount, before the Emperor began the trial. Thus Lana returned to the Machine and approached the desk of a bureaucrat who didn't bother to look up as he spoke. Hours were spent completing forms which seemed superfluous to the task at hand. A tall candle on the clerk's desk burned low as Lana repeated her signature time and time again, a stack of papers building by her side. After all the forms were completed, a scowl crossed the clerk's face as he re-read one document. If Lana was applying for an audience with Emperor on the basis of Treason, well... she was in entirely the wrong department. She would need to proceed to the proper department, on down the corridor, take the second passage on the left... Lana sucked in her breath and asked whether she might take the forms she had completed to pass them to the clerk's opposite number in the other department?
"Heavens no," replied the man disapprovingly, "these forms are all now redundant..." With that he ripped apart the stack of parchments before Lana's eyes.
Lana's fist slammed down upon the desk. "Look!" she said loudly, fixing the clerk with an icy glare. "I don't wish to be rude, but the Emperor's wellbeing is at stake and these delays are unacceptable!”
"Unacceptable indeed!" came a familiar voice from behind the clerk as a tall figure materialised behind the desk, clad in long white robes with red trim, and sporting a neatly clipped white beard. The stranger smiled knowingly at Lana. Suddenly she recognised him, as the clerk bowed low before the man.
"You!" Lana exclaimed. "The onlooker from the Senate?"
"Indeed. Allow me to introduce myself," the man smiled. "I am Demetrion Karagenteropolus, magist to Emperor Thincol. I have been monitoring your progress with pleasure for some time, and am pleased to say you satisfy my criteria. You may therefore meet with the Emperor."
"The Emperor is here?" Lana gasped. "In the city?"
"I personally saw to his early return from Alphatia," Demetrion nodded. "And his Imperial Majesty is eager to meet with you, Lady Lana."
Lana was relieved at this news but stated that her companions and witnesses should also attend the audience, so she requested to delay the meeting by one hour.
She flew swiftly down the hillside to seek the others, retrieving Lassandra from the Park, Shensu from the Temple of Tarastia, and an unfortunately-inebriated Antonius from a tavern where he had been lamenting Dallus' passing for several hours. Upon hearing he was to meet the Emperor, the thief soon sobered. Their various witnesses were also rounded up, including Helenites' ex-servant Friedrich who Lassandra and Shensu had managed to locate and set free from a sealed crypt in the catacombs. Needless to say the senator's former assistant was left shaking from the horrendous experience.
This ex-slave had been granted freedom by Helenites to serve as the overseer of the Senator's city home, but after overhearing a conspiracy between his master and a magic-using accomplice named Wustara, Friedrich had gained dangerous knowledge of Helenites' plans to cause a riot in the Coliseum. Helenites had offered his friend a drink, after which Friedrich's memories failed him... he had awoken to find himself entombed alive in the catacombs! After spending some time recovering from his ordeal in the Temple of Tarastia, Friedrich announced that he would be prepared to stand witness against Helenites. And so one hour later the party of nine or so found themselves climbing the steps of the Palace under escort of the Imperial Guard.
An audience with the Emperor
Having been led into a fine marble audience chamber, atop a throne sat the imposing figure of the Emperor. Even seated, he seemed taller than any other in the room, his muscles toned and his physique impeccably maintained despite his being advanced in years. A feeling of sheer authority and power flowed from him. At his side stood Demetrion, a solemn look upon his bearded face however the magist was able to sneak a quick wink in Lana's direction to diffuse the tension just slightly.
Silence was broken as Lana stepped forward, more nervous than any other experience she could recall. Dragons and undead priestesses paled in comparison to the might of the Emperor. Still she forced herself to speak clearly, presenting herself, her companions, and listing the various charges the party felt they could substantiate against Senator Helenites. Knowing the Emperor had been briefed beforehand by Demetrion, Lana was certain much of what she was saying was already known to Thincol. She quickly got the impression she was droning...
"Enough!" boomed the Emperor's voice. Lana's mouth shut itself more forcefully than a Wizard Lock spell could have managed.
By the Emperor's decree all witnesses were to be placed under protection of the Church of Tarastia backed by the Emperor's own guard. There would be a trial in a day's time and Senator Helenites would be placed in custody for the meantime. Impartial judges would be sought (the best money could buy!) and Lana was instructed to act as Prosecutor in the Emperor's name. The mage reeled with shock, not daring question Thincol's decision. She gave the Emperor a nod of acceptance, resolving to simply do the best she could.
That night, all were assigned individual chambers in the Temple of Tarastia.
Sanctuary violated ... intruders in the night
Lana lay asleep though her senses remained alert. Her eyes opened as steel glinted over her sleeping form in the moonlight; instinctively she rolled to one side as a dagger embedded itself in the pillow where her head had rested just a fraction of heartbeat before. With one fluid movement she swiped her own dagger from beneath her pillow, whirled and embedded the blade hilt into her opponent's midsection. A howl escaped the assassin's throat, before the pommel of Lana’s dagger clubbed against his forehead, dazing him enough to make him drop his sword. Kicking the blade to a corner of the room, Lana ran to the doorway of her room where she found the female guard crumpled in a pool of her own blood. Lana called for guards, but as the sound of hobnailed boots echoed along the Temple corridors, there was movement from within the room. The assassin plucked a tiny blade from his sleeve, and lunged at Lana. The knife sliced her shoulder, inflicting a small amount of damage but infecting her with venom also. Thankfully it seemed her run-in with the black widow the previous day had provided her with improved resistance, as she shrugged off the effects of the substance.
Nipping next door to check on Lassandra, the elfmaiden was found to be sleeping peacefully. Lana woke her friend and the pair along with Federa and Saralassu stole out of their chambers toward the men's quarters, eager to check the safety of their companions. The appearance of four scantily-clad females attempting to access the men's dormitory caused the strapping Hinterlander guard to raise his eyebrows but when Lana explained the serious nature of the circumstances, the four were permitted to enter.
Within the dormitory, all the men proved safe and unharmed, no more assassins had revealed themselves. Conor and Antonius were both grumpy at being woken. The ever-alert and charming Shensu faced with Lana leaning over his bedroll managed several suggestive quips despite the gravity of their circumstances.
Ting arrived and agreed with Lana and Lassandra that all the members of the party should spend the night together in a central chamber. Even the foppish and spoiled Pulcher was convinced to relocate, or be left alone to fend for himself against unseen assassins.
The nine witnesses were moved to the Temple's central chamber, where guards were posted at each of the entrances to the large area. The nine settled down to rest once more. All the same, after an hour there came sounds of screaming outside the main doors. A whooshing sound was heard, then the clash of arms, then a sickening squelch as something exploded against the door. All present rose to their feet and reached for weapons to defend themselves. Shensu crept close and opened the door, feeling a breeze of air brush past him.
Focused on casting a defensive spell, Lana left herself open to the creature's first attack. An unseen force barrelled into her, knocking her backwards, and began pummeling her head into the solid stone floor. As Lana feared for the worst, there came a shot of silver and a crossbow bolt from Shensu caused the thing to move away... an invisible stalker, Lana realised as she staggered to her feet, blood flowing freely from a wound at the back of her head. So some high-level magic-user was now involved, wanting to kill off witnesses... A spread of amber shards injured the creature, but not before it lifted Federa off her feet and hurled her across the room, where she landed with a crunch against the marble altar.
Lana waved her wand of enemy detection and the man-shaped being was outlined in flickering flames. Conor swung his massive axe and connected with the stalker, then a trio of magic missiles sealed its demise. There was a sucking motion as the stalker was banished to its plane of origin. Clerics poured into the chamber. Thankfully Federa survived though she was left feeling immensely faint. The tall effigy of Tarastia towered above her. Patriarch Quintus ordered that the murdered guards should be taken to his chamber, where he would see to raising them in morning. He lost no time placing his own protections on the chamber then bid all goodnight. Needless to say the remainder of the night passed peacefully.
The day of the trial
Morning came, and only a short while remained before the trial. Descending the Temple stairs, Lana found herself cut off in mid-sentence to Lassandra as magical silence fell upon the group. As if from nowhere a figure materialised before Shensu and ran the rake through with his sword. The assassin then proceeded toward Pulcher and lopped the fop's head clean off. Lana's dagger hilt impacted against the side of the man's head, but as both Conor and Shensu closed for combat the man drew a small knife from his sleeves and impaled himself. He collapsed. The party was one witness down, but the trial would proceed nevertheless.
The trial took place in the Senate chambers, with three judges presiding over the proceedings. One judge Angelarius was kept in check by his two fellow judges, both Thyatian senators but seemingly less corrupt than he. The Emperor was not present however Demetrion was, to check that no magics were being allowed to interfere with the trial. And so the trial began.
After three lengthy hours of hearing the testimony and cross-examination of each witness, the judges gave their verdict and pronounced sentence. Lana's nerves were worn thin by her involvement in the process but to her joy Helenites had been found guilty on charges of Attempted Murder, Fraud and Treason, with varying degrees of intent ranging from Chronic Self-Interest through to Inhumanity. In any event, the piggish Senator would be stripped to slave status, have his property impounded and be thrown to death in the Arena. Most probably the mob of Thyatis would be invited to watch Helenites combat the orc trainer Yalag who it transpired had survived one-on-one combat with the manticore. Thus the trial proved a success and justice had been upheld.
Justice upheld … Lana’s reward
Returning to the Temple of Tarastia, an overjoyed Lana was congratulated by Patriarch Quintus and was led back into the cleric's private study. Smiling, the man bid Lana enter a back room, where leaning in one corner was a plain walking stick.
The Staff of Lucinius, for this was it, was to be given to Lana. It came under conditions however. Firstly, no instructions had been left as to the item's operation other then three words of magic left by Valentia herself, over a thousand years ago. Lana would need to work hard to discover the Staff's functions, over the course of time. Secondly, the Staff was to remain the property of the Church of Tarastia and would need to be returned when Lana had fulfilled a particular objective - when she had defeated Bargle the Infamous, Karameikos' most evil magic-user who had slain her master Valtanivark, firebombed her home and committed countless other crimes. Lana gladly accepted the Staff on the Order's terms. The Patriarch lifted high the length of wood and presented it to Lana. Cleric and mage exchanged thanks once more, then went their separate ways.
Outside in the streets of Thyatis, Lana's companions regarded the Staff with curiosity. Certainly it did not resemble a great and powerful magical relic. Nor did Lana feel any affinity with it yet. Brimming with curiosity, she unfurled the scrap of parchment Quintus had provided and spoke aloud the words it bore.
"Erris um certo." With a flare of golden light, Lana found herself holding a different Staff. This one was still made of rough wood, but was shod with gold at either end. At the top of its six foot length was a golden disc bearing the initial "L". And so the Staff of Lucinius revealed itself in the streets of Thyatis for the first time in a thousand years.
Demetrion appeared while Lana was being congratulated by her companions. The magist nodded with approval as Lana showed him the Staff but spoke of an important mission he wished the party to undertake. He was concerned with hunting Helenites' accomplice, the magic-user Wustara, but in the meantime the Ylari ambassador to Thyatis had been kidnapped from the Duchy of Tel Akbir by the Storm Soliders - a group of Hattian extremists. Demetrion had tracked the faction to the Isle of Hattias, to where his magic would transport the party if they chose to accept the rescue mission. Their reward would be 1,000gp each, or their choice of any minor magical item the wizard possessed. Suitably tempted, the party accepted.
Demetrion believed the mission might prove of coincidental interest to Lana, since the sword she carried (taken from the white dragon hoard) belonged to a knight whose home was on Hattias – Sir Gustav Schmidt of the Order of the White Drake. The man's previous steed, a resplendent white dragon, had taken off six years ago, turning on its master and crippling the man. He had since recovered and was seeking to become a member of the Knights of the Air once more. Gustav would be eager to have his magical blade returned to him, and as a reward might present Lana with scales from his steed – a white dragon. So the next morning the party met with Demetrion, and prepared to be transported to Hattias.
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