Black Spire III: A Twisted King

The Crimson Sand tribe

After Calin had introduced herself and her pet wolf, hidden as they were in the cave, the heroes decided to go west toward the plains, where human barbarians wander. Red directed them to a well-hidden flight of dwarven stairs, carved into the mountainside. Two dwarven corpses stirred there, old explorers, but they were swiftly struck down. No other trouble befell them as they made their way down the ancient stairs, possibly the only way into the mountains from this side.

The plains were vast, windswept, and bordering the desert. As they went to rest, a monotonous drum rhythm rolled up from a group of horse-people barbarians. They were engaging in some mysterious ritual.

The next day, the ritual became clear. The barbarians were summoning a Sand Worm, doing battle with it for glory and honor and to take its skin as a trophy. Out of sixteen warriors, eight survived. The heroes witnessed the battle from afar, deciding to travel further north and meet the warriors there.

The ridden warriors introduced themselves the Crimson Sand tribe, a member of the Al-Kharth riders. Two heroes were among them, who had done most of the damage to the worm: Skarsh the Ranger and Shurgath the Barbarian. Shurgath was a follower of some new religion worshiping a coming god called the Bonelord, whose prophets name was Arackus.

Shurgath was most suspicious of elves, as the religion of the Bonelord preaches the destruction of mankind’s ancient enemy. Nonetheless, the heroes came to the camp of the Crimson Sands to celebrate the victory against the Sand Worm with them. They were impressed with Alice’s name, as among their people, only leaders were permitted to be named after Emperor Alister.

Apparently, the necromancer Narackamus had posed as the prophet Arackus to preach of the coming of a lich – the Bonelord – who would lead the Al-Kharth riders to glory and restoration of the Alkerathi Empire, the ancient Empire of Man. Narackamus, now lich, had abandoned his prophet persona and gone to lead the northern tribes to the capital.

In the Crimson Sands’ camp, the heroes met Alessa, the leader, and Orgoth, the wise-man. Calin spoke to Orgoth, and learned that he was a druid who in his youth had known the wood elves as friends. Over the last generation, though, the religion of the Bonelord had spread, preaching the resurrection of human Empire, and another war against the elves. Young Al-Kharth tribesmen, especially the northern ones, now considered elves their mortal enemy. Calin also learned that Alessa’s greatest goal in life was to win honor and an immortal name.

Alice, Red, and Alishia spoke to Alessa. Alice learned that her homeland was likely already invaded by the northern tribes, who worship the Bonelord fervently. The Crimson Sands tribe was yet unsure whether to join the Bonelord or not. For now, they fought dangerous beasts to prove their strength to the other tribes, to keep from being taken as slaves by the Bonelord worshipers. Shurgath had married into the tribe and come as an ambassador from the northern tribes.

Red and Alice warned Alessa of Narackamus’ plans.

After a bath, and after Calin had helped heal two of the injured warriors from the mighty hunt, a celebration was thrown in honor of Skarsh, Shurgath, and their companions. During this celebration, many contests were held for the honor of participating in next years’ monster hunting party. Alice participated and won the climbing contest.

Alessa seemed troubled by Alice’s prowess, unwilling to lose face and jealous of this mighty warrior with a royal name.

The next contest was one of archery. Red and Calin both participated and Calin won. The Bonelord worshipers were disgruntled that an elf – the ancient enemy – had won. Shurgath grumbled, and Alice called him out on it.

An enraged Shurgath challenged Alice to wrestling. He threatened Alessa into permitting it, making Alessa lose face before her people and the Bonelord worshipers get riled up. Alice kindly asked Alessa’s permission, showing submission before the leader and gaining some of Alessa’s approval.

The wrestling match was brutal. Shurgath sustained heavy injuries but eventually won. Having challenged Alessas’ authority, he now held a position of power and respect, and had won much honor for those who worship the Bonelord. Alessa, meanwhile, was shaken and with a damaged reputation, having caved to Shurgath’s demands, but with a greater respect for Alice, who was both strong and honorable.

Red spoke carefully with Skarsh, and spied upon Shurgath in the night. He convinced Skarsh to support them if they should seem like winners; Skarsh did not like to gamble. He learned that Narackamus’ minions communicated with his worshipers by using the corpses of their departed as mouthpieces, impersonating dead loved ones. Apparently Shurgath had been duped into believing the honored dead would rise again and be fully restored to true life once the new Emperor sat on the throne. The heroes hatched a plan to oppose authority with authority – the heroes would claim Alice had Imperial lineage, countering this false Emperor.

The morning thereafter, they begun to move. Shurgath was still waiting on advice from the “honored dead”, who seemed to have recognized Alice’s name, and during the ride, he and his men dawdled to pay their respects at a cairn and speak to another corpse. Narackamus’ minion told them that an assassin had been sent after Alice. Just as he was finished, Alice and the leader Alessa rode up to question him.

Alice brazenly stated that his religion was a false one that would only lead to death and destruction. Shurgath, outraged, threw a punch at her. Calin interfered, shooting him before the blow had time to connect. Shurgath shouted for the men to attack, Alessa shouted for them to hold, and Alishia shouted that Alice was the true Empress.

Chaos ensued, in which most tribesmen were unsure how to act. Six men tried to kill Calin and her wolf, but she teleported away before they succeeded. Shurgath drew his axe ready to kill the elf, but Alice attacked him first and killed him, very nearly getting slain in retaliation though, especially as Shurgath’s life-bane axe hit her.

In the aftermath of the fight, Skarsh rode in and shot the stragglers, calming down the situation. He asked Alice whether or not she was the Empress; Alice proudly stated “My sister knows my family lineage better than me.” This was interpreted as a humble way to confirm Skarsh’s question, and the tribe became convinced a new Empress was risen, one who would oppose the Bonelord.

With that, the Red Sands tribe began to ride north, fearful of the dread assassin that would come for their new Empress. After burying Shurgath and the other fallen men, Skarsh told the heroes of a sacred spring, where they could camp out and prepare for the assassins, away from the children and horses of the tribe. Alice agreed, and with a small retinue of Red, Calin and Alishia, she set out to the spring.

Four dread assassins, horrific undead creatures forged at Narackamus’ torture rack, came for them. Thankfully, the ambush failed due to a trap laid down by Red. The sacred water of the spring burned the hideous creatures, and with the help of the magical spring, they were readily defeated… but at a dread cost, for the souls of all four heroes had been scarred.

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