Under the Shadow
Fleeing Jared with Naamah on a single small wagon we soon encounter the bulk of Noah's small band of mercenaries heading out for Jared themselves. Naamah is surprised, assuming that Noah sent them out to rescue her and wondering that he'd take such action that would clearly be construed as an attack on the city. When we pull up to the men she soon finds they've abandoned their contract with Noah to seek employment in Jared. It would seem a messenger came to inform them that the city was hiring mercenaries to expand their army for some major upcoming military action. As they're offering more than Noah pays them and they're sick of working for "that lunatic" Noah, they're marching for Jared to take up the offer.
Naamah immediately lights into them for abandoning her husband and for violating their contract (a serious insult for professional mercenaries). When some of them take umbrage and step toward her, despite the fact that her accusations are perfectly true, we're forced to intervene. Drawing weapons and leaping in front of Naamah we find the mercs draw up short and we're a little surprised we've gathered that kind of reputation already.
Though they grumble and curse Naamah they eventually shove off and head for Jared, clearly unwilling to take us on. Naamah is practically beside herself as she knows once those mercenaries reach Jared the whole city will know Noah is without protection. Far too many people there despise him enough to move against him if they feel they can get away with it. Her father none the least of them. We then whipped the wagon into a trot and made for Noah's land as quickly as we can.
Once we arrive we're treated to Noah and Naamah clinging to one another desperately for a while, each clearly having feared for the other while they were apart. We find Noah's sons are all arming and preparing to march for Jared as well, having come to the conclusion that something has happened to their mother there.
When everyone is assured Naamah is safe they turn their attention to their current situation. Without any mercenaries or so much as any hired workers on hand, Noah and his family are largely defenseless against Lamech's coming assault. Not to mention, now that they've lost their mercenaries many of Noah's other enemies in Jared may well be emboldened to move against him.
While the boat he's building has largely been completed and all the animals are on board, he likewise doesn't know when the Flood will be coming nor how well the boat will fare against an armed assault. We're all a little shocked to find all this has occurred while we were away and feel all the more pressed for time.
In due course it becomes apparent that we haven't a very good idea of what's going on in Jared, despite having just come from there. It seems unlikely that the whole city is hiring mercenaries just to assault Noah's small lands and there must be something else in the works as well. Naamah's father Lamech is certainly intending to move against Noah...but with the whole city's army? It's unlikely the captain of the guard could ever arrange that, nor would he considering the utter overkill that would represent.
Eventually it occurs to Noah to ask if we would be willing to hire on and we immediately agree. At this point we're still hoping to ingratiate ourselves with these kooks, not to mention maybe securing a position on the boat should this "great flood" thing turn out to be something other than lunatic ravings. With that we're asked if we'd be willing to head back to Jared, pretend to hire on as mercenaries and discover just what kind of threat we're looking at. We naturally aren't too thrilled at all with that idea but it nonetheless seems wise to know just who's planning what and how large a force is expected to come. After dithering a bit and discussing the plan a bit more we're finally convinced and agree. Deciding we really don't know how much time we have we decide not to waste any of it and turn right around for Jared.
Still, though we haven't yet decided if we even believe Noah's story about a coming flood we're nonetheless a bit anxious at leaving the proximity of the huge boat he's built.
We reach Jared without any trouble and make straight for the center of town, having already detected a lot of noise from that direction. There we find a horde of mercenaries gathered, probably every merc in the city and likely the surrounding towns as well. Asking around we're told that the lord of the city is forcing contracts on the mercenaries in the area, something he apparently has the power to do but rarely does. From the town's people we speak to we find this hasn't been done in well over a hundred years. Most interestingly is that the army being formed is to be part of a larger army, gathered from all the cities and towns of Seth. Such an army hasn't been raised since the last war with the Nod. Which is ironic in the extreme considering the army seems to be taking in units from Nod as well.
Moreover there are rumors that Hamish himself has left Nod to lead his part of the army and still other rumors claiming Hamish is the one organizing the whole thing in the first place. As if all that weren't enough the ultimate objective of this army seems to be to march on Eden, drive up the pass through the mountains there and seize the wellspring within. Apparently the drought has finally gone on long enough that the leaders of all the people, children of Seth and Cain alike, have decide at last to take action. While the citizenry seem jubilant at the prospect that the rivers might flow again sometime soon, it's clear no one particularly fancies the idea of joining the army and marching on Eden. It would seem the legends concerning the giant spirit warrior guarding the path into Eden still strikes terror in the heart of the locals.
From the arms and armor we're sporting it's naturally assumed we're mercenaries and we're warned to make ourselves scarce if we don't want to get drafted. Jobina's charm also manages to elicit the information that Lamech, the city guard captain, is hiring a small force of his own for a separate mission. It is said that joining his band will exempt us from being drafted into the larger army, though the pay is smaller. Still, we're advised to hurry if that's the option we choose as many of the mercs have likewise made that choice and we might soon find ourselves hedged out, if we haven't been already.
Tracking down the band Lamech is organizing while avoiding the three drafters we spot closing in from the crowd proves difficult but we manage it with a couple of Plot Points and some strategic distractions (namely Talman spooking a horse and Eisig bribing an urchin to run interference). Once we reach the smaller crowd we find Lamech himself recruiting from the crowd and apparently being quite picky about it. Already he has some twenty or so men and they seem the cream of the crop. We decide then that we'd better catch his eye before it's too late.
Jobina takes the lead here and manages to raise her voice above the din to draw Lamech's attention. We're hopeful at first that our previous encounter with him will have scored us some point. Unfortunately it seems that a large portion of Noah's ex-mercenaries are in the crowd as well and it's soon shouted aloud to all that we're in Noah's employ. When Lamech's eye turns toward us, not at all in a complimentary fashion, we're quick to put on airs as if we completed our contract and left his employment on good terms. And naturally tossing accusations right back at our accusers pointing out that they abandoned their contract, so who are they to talk? All of which quickly leads to a large brawl breaking out in the crowd, most of it aimed our way.
The first couple of round go our way, with Talman and Beckah proving especially talented at rendering people unconscious. In short order though we find just about everyone is fighting everyone else at random, which leaves us fighting roughly half the people around us. In due course Eisig and Beckah are both knocked out and Talman and Jobina change tactics to try to drag the two of us to safety. Both are pummeled in the process until only Talman is standing, who manages to hang on for another very impressive four turns and drop three more of the mob before biting the dust himself.
By then it had finally occurred to us that if there are Noah's ex-mercenaries in the crowd speaking against us then Lamech already knows or soon will know that we escorted Naamah out of the city. Naturally then we are not surprised to wake in the city pits as prisoners.
With no immediate opportunity to escape presenting itself once we're all awake again, we spend the next three days resting, healing and taking our daily Second Winds until we're all in good shape again. By then Jobina has managed to forge acquaintances with some of the guards and we find that Lamech is expected to march against Noah within a day or two. The larger army which indeed seems to be under the command of Hamish has already moved upriver to Obehel, the only other major city along the river to Eden. It is expected he'll gather the last of his forces there before striking out for the mountains.
Once it's clear we've all recovered we're informed that Lamech is coming down to see us personally and we figure it's about to get ugly. Sure enough when he arrives we learn that he was indeed informed that we had aided Naameh in escaping the city and we're surprised that he seems to know quite a lot about what we've been up to. This calls to mind a few other odd things we noticed about Lamech, especially concerning his apparent ability to track Naamah’s every move and even identify all those she encountered during her many escapes. It would seem he's privy to just about everything we've done since we first encountered her as well.
Already having that against us as well as our awareness that he's behind the string of murders recently (having delivered the murder weapon to him personally), Lamech makes no bones about his intentions for us. We then learn the purpose of the large amphitheater dug into the grounds on the west side of the city. And it seems we're to be the next to provide the city folk entertainment there. With the drought only getting worse and fearful rumors running rampant concerning the army marching on Eden, the lord of the city is eager to distract the locals.
As if things haven't gone from bad to worse in quick time we're almost but not quite surprised to find none other than the golden hair-pin woman appear at Lamech's elbow to give us another "Look at the trouble I've gotten you into" smirk. With her smirking aimed mostly Beckah's way we deduce the Black Widow is still smarting from her challenge way back in Enoch. Beckah drops a couple of Plot Points taunting the woman again and soon has her in a full fury, ready to enter the pit and take her on personally. Unfortunately Beckah's plans to use that to arm herself with the woman's hairpins (which we've been assuming are weapons of some sort) are dashed when Lamech refuses outright. Still, it's clear this woman has some sort of personal grudge against Beckah and we make note of that. Beckah contents herself with jeering after the woman as Lamech leads her away.
The following morning we're led out to the amphitheater with no preamble. Though we consider taking on the group of armed guards around us when we're first unshackled we finally decide against it, though we're not at all eager to be thrown down into the arena. We're a little surprised when we're tossed in right away without so much as a dagger and find we're already regretting our hesitation. Down in the arena we're surrounded by throngs of spectators from the city, all likely seeking the promised diversion from all their worries on the drought and the upcoming assault on Eden. Naturally we can't spot a single soul rooting for us and the lot seem quite excited about seeing us killed.
After enduring the hissing and insults from the crowd for a while we don't waste any time before checking out the arena for anything that might prove useful. The walls are of course too high and smooth to scale and there doesn't seem to be so much as small rock in the sand to use as a weapon. Eventually Lamech appears, quiets the crowd (somewhat) and announces the morning's entertainment. At which point we're introduced to the golden hairpin woman being tossed down into the sand with us, to our utter surprise. From the speech that follows it would seem Lamech is quite familiar with the Black Widows in Enoch and spotted the woman for what she was from the beginning. Judging from the black eye she's sporting it would seem things haven't gone well between the two recently.
While she's clearly enraged at her treatment and takes a moment to glare at the crowd jeering at the "Nodder" down in the sands, she soon turns her attention to us. With a little evil grin directed our way it would seem she's willing to salve her injured pride by taking us on. Up until this point of course we had been quite eager to do that ourselves. Judging from the confidence she was displaying at that moment however it finally began to occur to us that we might have underestimated this Black Widow enforcer all along.
When Initiative rolls are called it's of course too late to do anything about that.
Talman thankfully takes the initiative and we all follow his example in moving just close enough to force her to close in on her turn. She likewise proves a cool customer and move in just close enough to tempt Talman to engage her.
Talman takes the bait and jumps forward to attempt to grapple the woman. Our hopes of getting out of this fight unbloodied fail when she dodges all three grapple attempts easily. Moreover she takes her Initiative point and stabs two of her hairpins into Talman, both in his chest. He's a bit dismayed to find she's pierced him quite precisely at specific nerve clusters and he's suddenly unable to move either of his arms!
Beckah recognizes the danger we're all in and decides she's going to prove herself every bit the threat she's promised to be before. With most of the woman's actions very wisely having been focused on removing Talman from the fight, Beckah figures she's wide open now. Still, she's surprised that it take three attempts and four Plot Point tokens to land the called shot to the eyes she going for and even that was an extremely lucky shot. As Beckah was aiming to blind the woman it doesn't do a hideous amount of damage but it does leave the woman screaming in fury and lashing out blindly for a moment.
Jobina and Eisig are able to jump in then with Eisig diving low to knock her off her feet while Jobina kicks her a couple of times on the ground before dashing a double-handful of sand in her already clawed eyes.
Talman is still paralyzed at the arms but it doesn't stop him from stomping on the woman, who's now in possession of her senses enough to try to crawl away to clear her eyes. He manages to tag her a bit but is surprised when she follows up on her turn by pulling and tossing three hairpins blindly in his direction, all of which score a hit. Though the damage is slight he's beginning to feel like a pin cushion.
Beckah yells for Eisig to yank the pins out of Talman's chest (hoping this will free him up again) before she makes a stunning attack of her own, dropping her last two Plot Point tokens on the attempt. She simply jumps into the air and drives both her feet at the woman's head, landing a stunning blow that has the woman reeling on the ground (though it lands Beckah on her back in the sand as well).
[Beckah also determines Coppertail is in the crowd during this turn, after asking the GM about him and hearing him screeching nearby. He doesn't actually take to the arena floor to pitch in though and Beckah hasn't any more Plot Points to control him with.]
Eisig dashes over to Talman and snatches out the pins from his chest, inadvertently doing a little more damage to Talman in the process. He tries to make up for it by tossing all three as weapons in the Black Widow enforcer's direction but doesn't land a single one.
Jobina risks herself a bit by making a flurry of attacks on the downed enforcer while she's still blind, even though it doesn't leave her any action to retreat on. She manages to pummel the woman fairly well in the process.
With his arms now free Talman runs up to take vengeance on the Black Widow for humiliating him. He kneels and grabs up one of the golden hairpins to stab her with and does his level best to do so. He finds that she's one squirmy target in the process and can't land a hit despite practically having her at his mercy. The hairpin woman shows Talman the folly of closing in with her by grappling him soundly this turn, which will leave him open to Easy attacks next turn. To make matters worse he's now more or less providing her cover from attacks as she got him practically laid out on top of her.
Beckah doesn't bother taking to her feet and simply starts delivering kicks to her head as she's within range and her angle of attack defeats Talman as cover. She pours on the foot power and does a significant amount of Stun damage in the process. Still, we're all getting a bit discouraged at how tough this woman is proving to be.
Eisig and Jobina are still on the same initiative point so they work together trying to pull Talman free of the woman's death grip before she can attack him next turn. We both fail and it's not looking good at all for Talman.
Talman makes use of his top spot on the Initiative by dropping the last of his Plot Point tokens to get free of the deadly hairpin wielding Black Widow assassin before she can pincushion him again. He manages barely after quite a bit of effort and is forced to simply roll out of range rather than take to his feet.
This doesn't stop the woman from taking to her feet herself though and she up rubbing at her eyes in an instant. From her squinted glares it clear she's got her eyesight back a little bit and considering how well she's done without it this does not bode well for us.
Nevertheless Beckah takes to her feet and presses on with an aggressive attack, hoping the enforcer has little left to counter with. She manages to clip her a blow to the eyes a second time, causing a good bit of damage and hopefully reducing her eyesight still more. When Eisig and Jobina both pour everything they have into attacking the woman they soon confirm this, managing at last to drop her unconscious to the sand.
Beckah isn't as Vengeful as Talman and Jobina so she shows her coldly practical personality by stripping the woman of her golden hairpins to arm the rest of the group. That doesn't stop Talman and Jobina from stomping on the unconscious woman a bit afterward though. Beckah immediately spends the Plot Point she earns from surviving the battle to take control of Coppertail, sending him through the crowd looking for a loose weapon to toss down to her.
Once it's clear we've won we're treated to the cheers of the crowd, though it quickly becomes apparent they merely enjoyed watching the Black Widow enforcer getting beat down. It's soon obvious that they're still expecting to watch the rest of us die and we haven't actually earned any points with them in that regard.
After the crowd has had a chance to express their jubilation Lamech again cuts in to quiet things down enough for him to speak. At which point we find out the warm up is over and things are about to get into full swing. The thick wooden gates around us that we examined earlier all slide up and we're greeted with the sight of four slightly larger than man-sized lizards stepping out onto the sand. Each sports a mouthful of very sharp teeth and walks on two legs, each with an intimidating large, curved talon jutting from one toe. The four large lizards are wearing collars with long iron chains attached, each held by two of the very same hook-wielding savages we encountered in Enoch before. Interestingly, we note that the huge curved talons the lizards have on their feet match those the savages were wielding in the Crooked Inn. From the reaction of the crowd it's clear they recognize these creatures and fully expect they're about to get the slaughter they came here to see.
Eisig finally takes the Initiative for a change and pools his Plot Points with Jobina, spending them all to purchase a plot twist. He spots an anomaly in the stones on one spot of the arena wall near the ground and recognizes that someone has scratched a faint "T" in the stone there. Reasoning that this might mark one of the legendary thief Timora's secret entrances to the tunnels under the city, he makes for it at a sprint yelling for the others to follow. Making a daring homerun slide feet first into the stone he knocks it loose and plunges knee deep into the expected hole in the earth within before coming to a halt.
Beckah follow suit and dashes for the hole to take up position to defend it while the others escape. Jobina doesn't waste any time either but finds she has to dodge attacks from a couple of the huge lizards before she can break away. She doesn't reach the hole but does at least get out of range of any further attacks. Before she can get away completely Talman finds himself wrestling with the desire to take advantage of what seems like his Death Wish come true. In the end he reluctantly decides this isn't quite good enough. Facing giant lizards with nothing but a couple of hairpins doesn't seem a particularly glorious end so he half-heartedly sprints for the hole without bothering to dodge the attack coming his way. Fortunately it misses and he reaches Beckah, taking her place so she can enter the tunnel behind Eisig.
When Jobina finally catches up he lets her dive in ahead of him. He then spends a turn wildly dodging the two giant lizards that have dashed over the nip at him before diving in as well.
The hurried climb straight down to the tunnels beneath proves nearly as treacherous as the giant lizards however. Without adequate handholds down the length and what few there are being rotted all four of us fail to climb down quickly without falling. We're all injured in the fall with Talman naturally knocked unconscious. After taking his Second Wind for the day he's able to shake it off but we're all still beat up a good bit. We decided to feel our way down the dark tunnel as quickly as we can to locate the central chamber and the tunnel up beneath the house where we first discovered this place. Figuring it won't take our enemies long to come after us, we move as quickly as we can.
In due course, despite having no light and our surroundings being completely obscured by darkness, we manage to find the central chamber and figure out where to go from there. Unfortunately once we arrive we realize we haven't so much as a rope or any way to scale up the vertical tunnel in the first place. With that we backtrack quickly and head for the chamber where we encountered Naamah for the first time. With Lamech busy at the amphitheatre we figure his compound is likely the far safer place for us to be.
[Beckah also takes a moment to convince the GM that Coppertail would have followed if at all possible and she's delighted when she hears him screeching down the tunnel somewhere. In moments he's joined us and scurried back up to her shoulder again.]
At the vertical tunnel we scale up without anyone else falling. Eisig takes the lead this time, peeking stealthily out through the trapdoor above to spy out any witnesses. He finds the room thankfully empty and we all climb up into it as quietly as we can. Once inside we find the door is locked when Eisig attempts to sneak a peek beyond. Using two of the golden hairpins as makeshift lock picks (and dropping a couple of Plot Point tokens to make up for the penalty) he manages to spring the lock after a minute or two of effort.
Beyond the door we find a circular two-story chamber of prison cells capped by a wooden overhang, presumably a guard post of some kind. Thankfully the two guards we can see seated up on the ledge have their backs to us and haven't hear us scuffling around so far. After Eisig shushes everyone else and points out the guards he moves stealthily up the stairway enough to get a peek up onto the ledge. There he sees three guards engaged in a card game at a small table there.
Armed with nothing but a couple of sturdy hairpins each but at least afforded the element of surprise we figure our options are limited to jumping the guards or taking our chances back down in the tunnels. While the possibility of anyone pursuing us in the tunnels now seems slight (considering the bad luck we had in scaling down the vertical tunnel) we are nevertheless quite aware that we desperately need to arm ourselves. With that we decide that jumping the guards is our best option, despite the poor shape we're currently in. Unfortunately the ever-impulsive Eisig decides to take matters in his own hands and springs forward without waiting for the others first.
Eisig moves swiftly up the stairs and onto the ledge, grabbing the nearest guard by the helmet and jabbing his hairpin against his throat. Without any Influence skill to speak of and relying solely on Willpower, I drop my last two Plot Points (plus the one I just got for being Impulsive) on an attempt to intimidate the other two guards as well as the one I'm grappling.
Surprisingly I roll an extraordinary success and manage to shock the three men, forcing them to hesitate long enough for Jobina and Beckah to move on their Initiative and disarm the other two guards without opposition. Talman takes the one I have firmly in hand and we both disarm him as well. Jobina and Beckah are then able to properly terrify the three guards with some rather blood-curling threats. Within minutes we have the lot of them stripped of gear and tossed in one of the lower cells. Rooting a round a little we manage to find and loot the guard room nearby and find gear for the last of us. Though we're still fairly beat up we're at least sporting some nice blades and leather armor. Feeling a good bit more confident we decide to make a play at moving through and out of Lamech's estate.
Interestingly we find the estate largely empty and only a couple of rooms seem to hold any people, both of those being small groups of guards lounging around who are easy to avoid without detection. Once we've found the main staircase up and made the ground floor we find the front doors of the building practically right at hand. Considering how easily we managed our escape we stop and rethink our goals for a moment. After a short deliberation we double back and start checking the nearby empty rooms and offices for anything interesting, figuring most of Lamech's men seem to be elsewhere. We haven't seen so much as a house servant yet.
Once we've found what we assume to be Lamech's office that changes. While rooting around in there for any intelligence that might prove useful (and anything valuable for that matter) Eisig, who's at the door as lookout, spies two unarmed men approaching down the hall. When they enter the room, unaware that we are there, we're glad we took the precaution of flanking the door just in case. Talman and Beckah are able to drop the two men unconscious with a vigorous assault the moment they step inside. Once we've stripped their shirts off and used them to fashion some makeshift bonds and gags we leave the two unconscious in the office. Figuring we've taken all the chances we should and haven't found anything of interest anyway we make for the front door again and exit the building.
Outside on Lamech's open compound we can see the walls surrounding his estate aren't as sparsely guarded as the estate itself. Several men patrol the walls and a small group is standing only yards away at the main gate. They spot us right away but don't seem especially concerned, though they are all looking at us curiously. Deciding to bluff our way through as best we can since we've already been spotted, we make for the gate at a casual pace. Almost immediately one of the gate guards calls out, chewing us out for straggling and ordering us to get a move on so he and his men can close the gate behind us. Hustling forward we move on through the gate as they open it for us and are relieved when it clangs swiftly shut behind us.
Now on the streets of Jared again we find the midday crowd is a bit more sparse than usual but we figure this is probably due to the fact that most of them are still at the amphitheater. Deciding we've still managed to outrun the alarm from that quarter we decide to make for the city gate as quickly as we can, hopefully avoiding those who are undoubtedly already looking for us.
With that we lope off for the nearest city gate and end the session.
[Jobina purchases 2 Skill Points and increases her Sword general skill to d6]
[Beckah purchases 2 Skill Points and increases her Knife specialty skill to d10]
[Eisig purchases 2 Skill Points and increases his Short Sword specialty skill to d12+d2]
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