Mundus Novit: Dark Horizons – A “Quiet” Chat

Follows Fifteen: Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner!

Sixteen: A “Quiet” Chat

Rudi the Russian leaned against the wall smoking a cigarette, the assurance of his Yarygin Grach pistol hard against his back. Across the road and down a bit, an attractive woman with an athletic build and fine, fair hair read a paperback and sipped at tea. Boyle called her Cascade. She was an ESPer. Inside the handbag on the table would be her silenced Beretta 96 with an extended magazine. Rudi had never seen her use it, but given that she worked with Boyle, he imagined she had some degree of skill.

His map held loose in his free hand, Rudi flicked the ashes of his cigarette. He should have left Kathmandu long ago. He should never have come. His easy life in Burma was gone. Easy life gone, full stop.

And up the street, walking with a slow and easy grace came a factor of Rudi’s misfortune—at least, the most recent chapter of it. Usually, Boyle’s ethnicity, if not his very short hair, craggy face and cold eyes, would have marked him on that street. These days, the foreigners almost outnumbered the locals. The Thamel was being overrun.

No one seemed to notice Boyle, leather briefcase hanging off his shoulder. He wore a loose fitting, light-coloured suit under which he had done an exceptional job of hiding his SIG Sauer pistol. Inside that briefcase would be further surprises, maybe grenades, definitely his HK53 short assault rifle.

All that artillery and yet this was supposed to be a simple chat with someone named Rajendra, apparently a local and also apparently a source for Tangible Stream.

Even the simplest of chats could turn explosive with the Stream involved. Boyle had said he expected this might “go kinetic.” An interesting turn of phrase, and one Rudi had decided to use at some future date.

Some future date. And what did Rudi’s future hold? With the Burmese trough empty, he’d have to find something else. That wouldn’t take long, not for a man of Rudi’s experience, with his skills. He had begun to wonder, though, if his skills had not atrophied. Had his comfortable time in Burma dulled his edge?

If it had, Kathmandu would certainly sharpen it.

The Thamel was aimed directly at tourists, especially backpackers and mountaineers, but it had its charms. Rudi had appreciated it. He had been there before a few times. The traffic that day was light, though the crowds were not. How many of those foreign faces belonged to journalists? How many were the curious or thrill-seekers? How many were actually dangerous?

Boyle liked the Thamel because it allowed him to blend in. Rudi wasn’t sure how much Boyle would blend in anywhere on the planet. No matter what he wore or what he did, he had a killer’s eyes and a soldier’s gait. The walk, he had worked on. He looked casual, looked at ease. But those eyes–there was nothing he could do about those eyes.

In front of the small restaurant in which he was to meet Rajendra, Boyle paused for a heartbeat, maybe two. Did he mentally catalogue his options should the meet get messy? Was he mapping out escapes? Could he feel the weapons on his body, deciding which should be the first out? Likely, he would be doing all these things. The mind and the body were taught by repetition and experience.

The moment passed, and in Boyle went. Rudi folded up his map and dropped his cigarette, stubbing it out with his toe. He went to peruse the menu on the restaurant, posted on the window. He noted Boyle sitting at a table in the middle of the room, the other occupant being a local.

There was no way Rudi could walk in there without being noticed. The store next door, though, was attached to the restaurant. Unlike the restaurant, the store had other patrons. Rudi slid in, the bell over the door tinkling weakly. No one bothered him as he flipped through foreign magazines on a rack beside the entry into the restaurant.

Nothing in Russian. Of course.

The conversation between Boyle and the local–Rajendra?–had died while the waitress brought tea. It now continued. Boyle looked relaxed. He always looked relaxed. Rajendra leaned forward and spoke quickly. His eyes darted around the restaurant for the third time in the last minute. Boyle said something to him that grabbed his attention. He looked down at his hands on the table. Was he getting a scolding?

This was no professional. This was a nobody. Too many amateurs involved in this game. They didn’t know the rules, didn’t how to play the game. You get amateurs involved, you get bodies. Professionals killed, yes, but never as an opening gambit and only when doing so accrued some advantage.

Lost in his thoughts, leafing through a German mountaineering magazine, Rudi almost missed it. What was that? That twinge? The lightest of touches, but a touch none the less.

Rudi concentrated, tried to isolate it. Nothing. Just a momentary sensation. He put down the magazine. Someone in the store? He walked a slow, perimeter. No one set off his radar.

Could it have been unintentional? No, not in Kathmandu. Only someone with one of those devices could crack the silence. He exited the store.

On the street, Rudi locked eyes with a mass of flesh entering the restaurant. The man had the build of a power-lifter. It would be hell to be hit by such a man, but such a man rarely hit one, if one were careful. He didn’t quite look local. He looked more Indian. Imported muscle?

The man walking beside Mr. Lifter looked vaguely Chinese. Rudi was never good at distinguishing ethnicities, but the shorter fellow didn’t look local. Asian, yes, but north Asian–Chinese, Korean, maybe Japanese.

And then the two were in the restaurant.

Rudi stood, the weight of his pistol at his back, and a nagging suspicion that things were about to go kinetic infusing his nerves. He risked a glance at Cascade. They locked eyes, and then she was back in her paperback. She put down her tea and touched her handbag.


With a steadying breath, Rudi entered the restaurant. As the door swung open, He mentally catalogued his options should the situation get messy–Mr. Lifter could wait, Little Guy got one in the head and two in the chest first, careful of background but very few bystanders. He mapped out escapes–front door was the best with Cascade watching it, but both the restaurant and the store beside it had rear entrances and second floors. He had easy access to the Yarygin Grach at his back, and then there were the knife on his shin and the punch dagger on his forearm. Hopefully, he wouldn’t get in close enough for the knives–two seconds for the Little Guy, two seconds for Mr. Lifter, then a sweep for further targets.

When he had been in the store, he hadn’t noticed the smells, the foods frying, the grease, the stale cigarette smoke. He hadn’t noticed the slightly cooler air. Mr. Lifter and the Little Guy sat at a table against the wall, opposite the entry to the store. Mr. Lifter watched Rudi, but Rudi ignored him. Rudi sat at the table beside the store entrance, back to the kitchen since Boyle’s back was to the front.

The informer and Boyle silently drank their tea. They would have gone quiet when the Little Guy and company had entered. The informer wouldn’t know Rudi, wouldn’t know if he’d just been bracketed by those intending harm. He didn’t look up at Boyle, maybe wondering if Boyle had set this all up.

Rudi noted all that through in his peripheral vision, his eyes on the menu, not really seeing it.

Mr. Lifter moved. He surged up and drew an autoloader pistol from somewhere–Rudi had been certain neither had carried on the street. Three shots into Rajendra. Boyle threw himself back, rolled from the table. Rudi had his weapon out.

The Little Guy’s eyes widened as he looked down the barrel of the Yarygin Grach, his eyes framing the front blade of the sights.

Mr. Lifter was pivoting, his gun–a Browning? A cheap Chinese knockoff of the same?–swinging to Rudi.

Rudi’s finger started to squeeze the trigger. Boyle had his SIG out.

Everything froze.

On the Little Guy’s left ear, one of the devices. That feeling of someone grabbing hold of him, like holding Rudi’s soul. Rudi couldn’t act. Boyle immobile as well. No one in Rudi’s sight moved, except for Mr. Lifter and the Little Guy. Mr. Lifter had his weapon trained on Rudi while the Little Guy smiled.

“You’re getting too close,” the Little Guy said in perfect English with a Californian accent. “Let’s find out how that happened, okay? Then? Well, then you’re just going to be a couple of husks lying on this floor, totally brain-dead, a couple of vegetables.”

The Little Guy took a step toward Boyle. “Let’s start with you.”


Followed by Seventeen: Foibles

Lorestaves: the Adventure, Finale

Part Three – If you could see what I have seen.

The search for the staff is not easy. Incarnos knows that it is somewhere in the Squandering Snail, but it may be under it. The temple in which the staff was produced disappeared centuries ago. Nothing remains of that time, though the locations of the various temples was preserved in an ancient scroll found in the libraries of Highstone which a certain wandering bard, Carylle of Temelburh (listed in the NPC section as the barmaid Cornille). Carylle has mapped out the area, compared it to the ancient maps she copied while in Highstone, and also knows the temple of Kernunnos once stood at the location of the Squandering Snail.

While Incarnos knows the staff is here, he does not know where, and can do little to help the PCs. Further, even if the PCs silenced the Holy Knights-which may have been necessary, as the knights don’t believe in surrender-the loss of these seven will be noted. A larger group of knights will arrive the next day, some twenty in number, and they will not be gentle. They will end up starting a riot, in which they will be consumed. By the evening, Duke Javarre will have released the army to deal with the insurrection, and he will have impounded the galley of the Holy Knights. As usual, the Holy Knights will not accept the command of a secular ruler, and so Duke Javarre will be forced to sink their vessel.

However, it is hoped the PCs will be long gone by that point. The Squandering Snail is not large, and logic dictates the staff will not be in the upper floors unless someone has already found it. Incarnos can verify no mortal hands have touched the staff for centuries. He can sense this.

But the PCs have an edge. After Incarnos speech, Carylle will come and ask to speak to them. She has pieced a few things together, and thinks she may know what is going on.

“My name is Carylle of Temelburh, and I am not a barmaid. I studied at the university here for some years, but then decided to seek out the mysteries hidden from book-bound scholar. I learned much in my travels, and I believe I know who you are.” She looks at Incarnos. “Well, at least who you are. Are you a messenger from the Old Gods?”

Incarnos’ eyes grow wide. He straightens in his chair. “How do you know of the Old Gods?”

Unless the PCs intervene, Carylle will want to tell what she knows, believing she is about to uncover yet another mystery.

Carylle takes a seat at the table and leans over it. “In my travels, I reached Highstone. Forget what you have heard, it is not a dreary place infested with hell-spawned demons. It is the greatest fortress I have ever seen, and it is open to all. It has libraries that beggar anything any king or university can claim.

“It was there that I learned the fairy stories and campfire legends of the old powers were true, in a way. Some treatises of the time before Herotus still exist there. Many of the old scrolls have decayed beyond use, but some remain. One tells of the ancient city-state of Baudus, which is here, Bowden. It spoke of the Temple District which sat close to the docks. I am certain that we now stand on the site of the ancient temple of Kernunnos. I’ve been hoping to find some remnants of that time, but there is nothing. Now, a messenger of the Old Gods has come. What secrets are you sharing?”

Incarnos believes that Carylle’s knowledge will help to find the staff, so he wants to tell her about it. He will, however, at this point defer to the PCs. He believes they are divinely inspired. Carylle, though, has studied, she is a scholar of sorts, though not the type one would find in a university. If the PCs ask for her input, Carylle will offer the following:

“We know that this structure was built overtop of older structures. That’s the way of cities. In order to find the secrets of a city, one needs to dig into its roots. The problem is, I haven’t found a way into the roots of the Snail yet.”

If someone offers the obvious answer of a cellar, Carylle will reply that she has not yet found one. However, early in the morning, after the sun has risen, the building is deserted. The staff is asleep and the patrons have been ushered out of doors, except those with rooms. If someone else does not, Carylle will suggest the PCs rent rooms here and then they can all meet together to search for a cellar. Carylle will warn them that if they get caught, they are likely to end up dead. Murnac’s boys kill first and aren’t smart enough to ask questions.

Part Four – Sweet Oblivion

The staff is, indeed, in the cellar. It is hidden in a wall, part of a collapsed portion. While visibly it is little more than the end of a pole and is hidden amid the other debris created by the collapse, Incarnos will identify it immediately.

Incarnos drops to his knees. He begins to weep. Both he and a small portion of wood protruding out of the debris of the collapsed wall begin to shimmer. A faint, white light seems to envelop them both.

“The Staff of Kernunnos, it is found.” Incarnos reaches toward the ceiling, looking up. “My time has come. Damnation or paradise, I no longer care.” He looks at you. “Take it. Mortal hands must touch the staff.”

While this is a culmination of Carylle’s research and wandering, she fears actually touching the object. It will require one of the PCs to do so.

The staff comes away from the wall easily, as though being drawn from water. There is a flash. When your eyes recover, you see that Incarnos is gone. The staff still glows white, and the wood is covered in strange runes. The runes shine with a deep blue light.

The person holding the staff can read the runes. They state “The arm and mouth of Kernunnos, master of the afterlife and opener of doors. To hold the staff is to find the path.” Whoever holds the staff will feel an irresistible urge to travel north. This urge and sense will lead the bearer of the staff to Vellanti, and the next adventure.

The incorporeal voice of Incarnos fills the cellar. “You have saved me and sent me to redemption. Now you must do so for your entire world. In your hands, you hold fate. Do not waver.”

After this, Carylle decides she must return to Highstone and tell the Magnus of this event. Further, she believes more information will be found there. Should the PCs need her help, she will join them, but only for the moment. Her thirst for knowledge is now stronger than ever.

As for the PCs, she suggests they get out of the Temples as soon as possible. It would probably be better to get out of Bowden. There are more Holy Knights and they won’t be pleased when they hear the PCs have interfered. Now that the PCs act on behalf of the Old Gods, they are the enemies of Herotus and the One True Church.


This ends the free adventure The Lorestaves: At the Sign of the Squandering Snail. If you are interested in more, please drop us a line. If there is enough interest, we will see if we can provide something more for you.

Mundus Novit: Dark Horizons – Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner!

In “The Stream,” Boyle and his team get jumped in Kathmandu by a crew who may work for the Chinese.

In “The Vault,” a special section of Canada’s Communications Security Establishment is monitoring Kathmandu, which has gone dark to all electronic and parapsychic traffic. Madison and Heather, two agents from the Vault, joined their international spec ops team in “Meet & Greet.” While on the trail of Boyle, the team is ambushed  by a group of parapsyches able to break through the Kathmandu silence. The team foiled the ambush, but at the end of “Dirty Hands,” they were facing the business ends of more firearms. The team is faced with Alexander Scott and Rebecca Kim in ” . . . I Would’ve Backed a Cake,” but an agreement is reached. That makes everyone happy, until all the prisoners—and Dyck—are cut down in a hail of gunfire. By the end of “Thicker Than Water,” it looked like Dyck might make it out alive, but that was by no means assured. It also certainly seems like Scott knows something about Mads and the reasons for putting him on the team.

In “Mission Unlikely,” we learn that Boyle and his team have gone missing. Becca meets Alex in Monrovia in order to get him to come with her to Kathmandu to find Boyle. Off the record and off the reservation. Alex then goes to meet a contact in Burma in “The Russian.” Rudi the Russian agrees to supply both equipment and information for Alex’s forway into Nepal. Alex and Becca try to make contact with a prisoner in Kathmandu allegedly connected to Tangible Stream, but in “Target of Opportunity,” they find that someone is watching. That someone isn’t professional, and they capture him with ease. This doesn’t make them feel any better. Later, Gurung pays a visit to Digs, who is trying to pick up the pieces after a visit by Boyle and Rudi left Flick dead on the floor. As “There’s A Mole, and Then There’s A Mole” suggests, Gurung reveals he isn’t exactly above board, but another set of visitors disturbs the discussion.

In “The Bedouin,” Kyle and Meredith from the Prospero Group contract the intelligence broker known as the Bedouin to get them a lead on what is happening in Kathmandu. The Bedouin returns to old haunts in “From Delhi With Indifference,” only to be ambushed by hit teams led by a man with a Nepalese name but an American accent. Rudi the Russian gets sent to Kathmandu to kill the Bedouin, but Boyle and “Cascade” emerge to save Rudi from “the Cat’s Reward.” Boyle, “Cascade,” and Rudi make an unannounced visit on the special ops team sent to hunt down Boyle’s team in “Switch of a Flick.” The visit was not entirely cordial, and left one team member, whom Boyle asserts is a mole, dead.

Now, Becca tries to save Dyck, Heather tries to save her relationship with Mads, and Walker is just trying to save the remains of the team.


Fifteen: Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner!

The safehouse turned out to be a studio on the top floor of a three storey walk-up. The walk-up in question was an exterior staircase that defied any attempt at stealth. Occupants of the flat would know when company came to call.

Comfort did not seem to be a strong consideration when furnishing the flat. Four folding cots sat unfolded against one wall. Two couches were against two other walls. A table was in the centre of the room and a chair that may once have been plush and comfortable, but was now threadbare and worn, was beside the door.

Heather watched Lt. Kim work. Dyck occupied one of the cots, and appeared stable. Somewhere between boarding and leaving the van, he had passed out. His eyes remained closed. The bleeding, at least, seemed under control.

“Should we have given him morphine after so much bleeding?” Mads stood beside her, leaning against the table, and he spoke quietly into her ear. “Doesn’t it lower the blood pressure or something?”

“Something, yeah.” Heather glanced up at Walker, sitting by the door, his MP5K in his hand. “But I’ve seen a lot worse than Dyck. I’d say he’s in good hands, and if Scott really can get a doctor, he’ll be fine.”

“Sounds like you don’t think Scott is coming back with a doc.” Mads had an annoying habit of reading Heather’s tone too well.

“Let’s just say I’m still not convinced it’s all peace and love, okay?” Heather tried to fix Mads with a gaze she would consider withering.

It didn’t work. Mads made a kind of half-grimace, half-sneer. “You think he’s got Walker fooled? That’d really surprise me.” He looked away and scratched the three day’s growth on his jaw. “Listen, what Scott and Becca were saying, about why I was put on the team: do you know anything about that?”

Heather held his eyes. She knew he would read the hesitation, and she knew he would understand it. She could answer his question. If anyone there should tell him, it likely should be her. “Your parapsychic profile turned up something.”

His brow furrowed. “My profile was clean. Totally clean. Exceptional resistance, but that’s it.”

“Here’s the thing, it was too clean.” She cleared her throat. She had known about this for two years now and had never told him. He had always trusted her, always accepted her statements as gospel. What would happen now? “Part of the testing is to have a parapsych root around in your brain. They’re supposed to be pretty discrete about it, but it’s uncovered more than one . . . issue. With you, they couldn’t. Not only were you completely closed, you shut the parapsych down. You project some kind of ESPer null zone.”

Mad’s mouth hung open. His furrowed brow had smoothed out as his eyes widened. He stared at Heather for a few silent heartbeats. He closed his mouth and swallowed loudly. “No one thought to mention this?”

“It was classified, compartmentalized.” The words sounded as hollow in Heather’s ears as they must have in Mads’. “No one really knew what it all meant. No one had ever seen anything like it. You were at a desk; no one ever thought you’d get into the field. It was still being studied.”

Did his eyes go watery, only a bit, before he looked away? “Shit, Heather, I thought you’d have my back if no one else did.”

“You know how this kind of stuff goes down.” She couldn’t think of anything better to say. He was right.

“Yeah, I know.” He pushed himself off the table and went over the empty couch, dropping into it, not meeting her eyes.

She didn’t intend it, but her gaze moved to Walker. Did she see some accusation there? Walker hadn’t known about Mads. Very few people did. So did she just imagine the look? He rose and approached her, taking the space Mads had recently occupied, his eyes fixed on the door, his MP5K held loose, but ready.

“You knew the whole time, eh?” He spoke quietly, almost too quiet for her to hear.

“Yeah, I knew.” She didn’t say what. Everyone in that alley had heard Scott. Everyone would have their own conclusions.

“And he’s pissed you didn’t tell him?”

“Yeah, he’s pissed.”

“You had your orders, right?”

“I had my orders.”

Walker drew out an exhalation, almost a sigh. “That’s the shit we live with. That’s how it goes down. It sucks, but there it is. He’s not used to it. He didn’t need to deal with it in the field, on mission. He’s still thinking of you as a friend on and off the clock. We don’t get to have friends on the clock. We have teammates, we have allegiances, but we don’t get to have friends.”

Heather allowed herself a wry chuckle, a way to emphasis and telegraph her reply. “Maybe you need to tell him.”

“No point,” said Walker. “It wouldn’t register. In a bit, when he’s over the sulk, maybe I will. Right now, it’s the guilt that’s got to go. You can’t regret doing the right thing. It isn’t about being a friend or watching someone’s six. You get an order, you follow it, or you hand in your resignation and take the consequences.”

“Are you my life coach?”

“If necessary. I don’t need you second guessing the right choices. Stay with your gut. There’s more shit coming down the pipe, I can feel it. I need you sharp. You make decisions fast, and you make good decisions. Right now it looks like I’m in command of whatever we have here, so I need you and I need you at peak.”

What could she say to that? It made sense, and it didn’t sound rote. She had known Walker for a few years now, ever since she left the military to take a position in the Vault. He was as trustworthy as an operator working in the black could be.

She checked her watch. “When is Scott due?”

“Five minutes ago.” He spoke at regular volume, for general consumption.

“He’ll be back, and he’ll have a doctor.” Lt. Kim rose and turned from the cot on which Dyck lay.

“Listen, I don’t have time to worry about hurt feelings, so here it is.” Walker paused and glanced at each of the three conscious occupants of the room in turn. “I knew Scott and I’ve worked with him, pretty recently in fact. Someone asks for a character reference, I’ll give it. Right now, this very moment, I’m not in a good frame of mind. Things are not adding up. Scott ain’t here with Drift.”

“He’s here with me.” Kim’s voice had steel and granite in it. No anger though, no aggression. “He’s here to get Boyle out.”

“Ah, Boyle.” Walker rubbed the bridge of his nose. “He’s still a problem. Thing is, we know that our CIA briefer was bogus, but we were all ordered to get Boyle anyway, so we know our target, regardless of anything else. That means that we seem to be working at cross-purposes. I don’t like opposition on my team. Scott comes back with the doc, we’ll get Dyck patched up. That’s cool. That done, you guys are either on board with the mission or you’re out. We’ll figure a way to medevac Dyck out of here, and that’s all the lead time I can get you.”

“We can’t join up if you plan to put the cuffs on Boyle,” Kim said. “Whatever the CIA is feeding you, it’s bullshit. He’s worked for them in the past, and they have a thing with covering their trail that leaves a lot of people unhealthy. Whatever you think you know, Boyle is a white hat if such a thing even exists.”

Walker nodded. “You’ve said your piece. That’s good. I appreciate the honesty. Here’s my piece; we have a mission. We have our orders. We are going to carry those orders out. We do not work for the CIA. The people I do work for have ordered me to grab him, so that’s what I’m going to do. I never said I would hand him over to the spooks.”

Mads shifted on the couch, putting his feet on a crate that acted as a coffee table. “But if ordered to, you will.”

“If ordered to, I will,” Walker said.

“Then I don’t see how we can work together.” Kim’s posture changed only slightly, as though she had dug in to face an oncoming storm.

“We work together until the situation forces us apart,” Walker said. “I’m not saying I’m showing you the door. Scott thinks you’re the real deal, and I’ll accept that until proved otherwise. We can still support each other until . . .”

Walker’s eyes went to the door. Heather registered the sound of someone ascending the staircase. Walker moved to the side, against the wall with the door in it. He had his MP5K ready. Mads took the cue, as did Kim. Heather drew her SIG Sauer P226. They all went to ready, weapons trained on the door.

Scott would have a code, a way of knocking, including pauses. Crude, but they had little time and no resources. Based on the sounds on the landing and stairs, Heather figured two people. Scott and the doctor, she hoped.

Someone tried the doorknob.

Not Scott.

She noted Walker switch the selector on his MP5K to fully automatic.

Her safety came off.


Followed by Sixteen: A “Quiet” Chat

Lorestaves: the Adventure, Part Two

Part Two: The Truth? Can you handle the Truth?

At some point, it is expected the PCs will interact with Incarnos. He longs to tell anyone who will listen about the Lorestaves. If the PCs do not interact with Incarnos, for example, if they allow the Holy Knights to capture Incarnos and do not intervene, another NPC can deliver the following information. Likely, this will be Carylle of Temelburh (listed in the NPC section as the barmaid Cornille), who has learned most of this information. If Incarnos is captured, we can assume that she has learned everything, but has yet been unable to uncover the hiding place of the Lorestaff. Without Incarnos’ help, finding the Lorestaff may prove difficult.

Below is the information delivered by Incarnos. It may be broken up or interrupted by questions. Delivering the following speech exactly and intact is unnecessary, as long as the PCs gain this knowledge somehow. If it is delivered by any agency other than Incarnos, it will need to be altered.

The man rises. Though he moves with stiff caution, you see no marks, neither bruises nor blood. He looks around, as though confused. Finally, his eyes rest on you. He smiles.

“My thanks. I had not expected help in such a place. But I can see that you have good hearts and strong limbs. I wish I could show my appreciation, but all I can offer is the truth of the moment, which I do not believe you would wish to hear.”

Incarnos does not expect that the PCs will be interested in the cause of his beating or in learning what he has to tell. If they exhibit interest, he will certainly be willing to share what he knows.

I have a private room on the second floor of this establishment. I can offer food, drink and a tale that will make you wonder at the very world around you.

If the PCs accept, he will lead them to the room. First, he will stop and speak to the man behind the bar, passing coin.

The room is well appointed, dominated by a large table in its center. Settees and divans rest against the walls while chairs surround the table. Tapestries-perhaps once impressive and vibrant, now dull and uninspiring-cover the walls. Soon after you enter, bearers follow, depositing a variety of food and drink on the table. That done, the man closes the door and locks it. He sits at the table and sighs.

“So, here we are. My name is Incarnos. I am an immortal servant of gods lost centuries ago.”

Incarnos is not here to tell the whole truth, so his story avoids his own responsibility for the ascendancy of Herotus.

Incarnos holds a cup before him, not bothering to drink. “I have troubles calculating the time, but it was centuries ago when other gods watched over the world you call Morvia. Twelve great gods controlled the elements and forces of nature. They cared for mortals as best they could, but left to them age, disease and pain. Some thought this unfair, and in their concern, looked for a way to alleviate the suffering. Herotus offered himself as an alternative, promising to rid the world of care. Many flocked to him, believing him.

“His servants came to the world and set themselves against the servants of the Twelve. The people turned from the Twelve, believing the words of the servants of Herotus. More, in those days, the servants of Herotus could use powerful magics, and so it seemed as though Herotus had more power than the Twelve. In the end, without worship, without the devotion of the people of this world, the Twelve disappeared. It is not known, even among the immortals, if the Twelve had been destroyed, banished or simply left this reality.

“Herotus then betrayed all those who had supported him. Many spirits and demigods were destroyed, others bound with powerful spells. I was banished to the mortal world, to live as an immortal and behold all that I had unwittingly helped bring to pass.

“But in his arrogance, Herotus failed to secure his victory. While his servants attempted to erase all knowledge of the Twelve, some knowledge remains. Even that knowledge is tangled with myth and legend. You know of the twelve swords of Herotus bound knights? A myth. The Temple of the Holy Mount once housed the last relics of the Twelve Gods. Staves, crafted at the dawn of the world, and instilled with a small essence of the Twelve, were hidden in the vaults of the Temple of the Holy Mount. The servants of Herotus were unwilling to destroy such powerful items and may have hoped to one day tap their awesome power. However, greed, as is common, led to an unexpected end.

“Stories tell of the minions of demon lords stealing the twelve swords. Not so. The staves themselves, perhaps sensing their own peril, transported themselves through their own mighty magics. They returned to those temples in which they had first been formed. There they wait.

“Each of the twelve staves holds a key to unlocking the mystery of the Twelve Gods. Each staff will lead the bearer to the next. When all twelve are assembled in the temple of Lugh the Shining, King of the Heavens, the Old Gods will return, to once again lay claim to Morvia and free it from the dominion of Herotus the Deceiver.

“This area is known as the Temples for a good reason. Here was once the Temple District of the ancient city of Baudus. And on this very ground, where this shabby temple of sin stands, once stood the Temple of Kernunnos, the Lord of the Dead, the Master of Change. It is his staff that is the first key. It is his staff that can lead to the resurrection of the true gods of Morvia.

“I am here, in this place, because the staff calls to me. It is time for it to come into the light. The Old Gods are ready to oppose Herotus, but the door must be opened. The fortress’ gates must be opened for the battle to join. I ask for your help in finding this staff. I ask for your help in freeing Morvia from the grip of a deceiver.”

Mundus Novit: He Knows When You’ve Been Sleeping . . .

It’s always tough to fight a villain (or other opposition) who seems to know everything you are doing and is one step ahead. Unfortunately, too often, this looks like GM fiat, like the GM is using the knowledge gleaned from running the game to run the opposition. This isn’t any fun, and leads the players to also adopt meta-game tactics.

Everyone forgets that this isn’t a competitive game–at least, in general . . . your mileage may in fact vary–it’s a cooperative game.

So when you, the GM, are running an opposition that always seems to be that step ahead of the PCs, you need to know why that is. How is the opposition getting this information? And almost as importantly, how can the PCs learn of this so that it can propel the plot, and the fun, forward?

Yes, I do believe the PCs need to get a grip on at least some of the opposition’s methods. For two reasons: 1) it gives them a success while reminding them how good a foe they face and 2) the players realize it isn’t GM fiat. If you have a group that trusts the GM, #2 isn’t totally necessary, but still, show the players how clever you are by revealing some of the gears behind the machine.

How can the opposition get the goods on what the PCs are planning?

In a modern game, there’s SIGINT–signals intelligence. If the PCs discuss anything over a telephone, cell phone, or internet, it can be “overheard.” They may be taking precautions not to be overheard, and that needs to be taken into consideration. How good are their countermeasures? And if it is possible for the opposition to get some SIGINT, how much do they get and what can they deduce from it?

This is a place where it’s tough for the GM not to overstep. You know what the PCs are planning, so even small hints might seem like all the clues that should be needed to tip off the bad guys. But try to dial it back and be realistic regarding what the opposition has actually learned.  One clue that can easily lead to an unravelling is a name or even the recipient of a telephone call.

If the opposition learns about any part of the PCs support network, from their fence to their armourer to their tailor, you can bet the opposition is going to try for a snatch and grab and then some questioning. Will the NPC they’ve got crack? How long will they hold out? And what do they know?

The addition of even small amounts of information from NPCs that support the PCs can help the opposition get a better idea of what the PCs plan, or at least to where they might be destined.

And then there is the big resource, HUMINT–human intelligence. Are the PCs under surveillance? What about the team on the rooftop across from the apartment that are using hyper-sophisticated eavesdropping gear to listen in on the planning session? The neighbours might be worried that the PCs are terrorists and have called the FBI with a complaint . . . a complaint that the opposition has snatched from the FBI’s poorly guarded network.

And then there are the moles. Oh yes, there could be moles. Again, as I mentioned in “The Flick Got Switched,” betrayal from within the group can be tricky. If it’s not handled right, it can bring worse outcomes than suspected GM fiat. But consider this: if one of your players bows out and you’ve got a loose PC that has suddenly become an NPC, do you have a purpose-built mole right there? Depending on the game and its background, perhaps. In a game similar in tenor to Dark Horizons, it might work perfectly.

The Lorestaves: The Adventure, Background and Part One

The Lorestaves Adventure
Background and Part One

The Lorestaves adventure was to takes place in Morvia, the planned default setting for Sword’s Edge Publishing’s Arcane Kingdoms line. In the Lorestaves adventure, the player characters were to find ancient staves, items forgotten even in legend. These staves have the power to release ancient gods imprisoned by the one god now worshipped, Herotus. The PCs could have stumbled onto the secret or may be seeking out stories of the ancient gods, depending on how the GM would have liked to insert them into this storyline.

Morvia as a world was to be detailed elsewhere. This particular adventure supplement details only a small portion of the city of Bowden. What is important to understand is that magic is not accepted by the general populace. In some places, wizards and sorcerers—even clerics—may find themselves the target of abuse or perhaps even violence. The underlying reason for this is explained below. However, there are powers in the world that protect and nurture users of magic. The greatest of these is the Magnus, the master wizards who resides in the massive fortress of Highstone. At this time, Nicodemus Magnus rules in Highstone, sheltering and teaching users of magic.

Outside of Highstone, the attitude toward magic varies. Many rulers and nobles consider magic an important tool, others detest or fear it. The common folk, for the most part, fear magic as something supernatural and uncontrollable. There is no overarching attitude toward magic save that of the One True Church of Herotus. The Church, the only religious body in the known world, opposes magic and its use. It is important to note that the clerics and priests of Herotus do not have access to divine magic.

The legends say that in ages past, twelve great demon lords threatened to plunge the world into darkness. Herotus entered Morvia to save this world and its people from the terror of the demons. Twelve kings of men, the mightiest warriors alive, swore themselves to Herotus. As a symbol of their bond, they carried greatswords, forged in the heavens and each etched with the name of a demon lord. These twelve knight-kings led the armies of righteousness against the evil hordes amassed by the demon lords. Their holiness made these knights invincible.

At last, these twelve great knights, sworn to Herotus, faced the twelve demon lords of the outer void in a great battle lasting twelve days. By the grace of Herotus, his knights triumphed, slaying the corporeal forms of the demon lords. Herotus gave his champions long lives, but all men pass, and the knights died on the same day, a day without sun.

On the night of their deaths, the priests of Herotus took the swords of the twelve knights. These holy blades were placed in the temple of the Holy Mount, where legend insisted Herotus handed down the blades to his chosen knights. The bodies of the knights were likewise interred on the hallowed ground of the Holy Mount. Due to its reputation as both the resting place of the knights and their storied swords, the temple grew in size, wealth and importance.

Soldiers, commoners and knights came from all over the world to live at or near the temple, to protect the relics of the chosen knights of Herotus. These guards formed the Blessed and Loyal Military Order of the Holy Mount, now known in Morvia as the Knights of the Holy Mount. Only 100 knights are accepted into the order, and one may only advance to become a knight on the death of knight. One may become an Initiate of the Order, but not a knight.

While legends insist that the bodies of the twelve holy knights and their swords remain in the Temple of the Holy Mount, there are no tombs and no swords. There have not been in living memory. A prophecy has come to the notice of the One True Church of Herotus that without the swords, the twelve demon lords will return and destroy the world. The Knights of the Holy Mount believe evil minions of the demon lords stole the swords more than a century ago, intending to pave the way for the return of their masters. Scholars believe they have unlocked some of the secrets of the swords’ whereabouts in the writings of the 23rd Abbot of the Blessed Order. He wrote that the minions of the demon lords could not destroy the swords, but hid them, disguising them as simple staves.

For almost fifty years, the Knights of the Holy Mount have searched for these staves, hoping to return them to the temple, where they will once again be revealed as the weapons forged in the heavens, weapons to protect Morvia from the ravages of the demon lords.

This is what the Church of Herotus claims. This is not, however, the truth. Many in the Church, including the Abbot of the Blessed and Loyal Military Order of the Holy Mount, know this story is false. They know the truth about the staves and about the ancient gods, but through faith, belief or self-interest, they have hidden the truth from the world at large.

The truth is that Herotus was once a lesser power. He seduced other lesser immortals, minor deities and demigods, to aid him in overthrowing the ruling pantheon. They schemed and lurked and undid what good the gods offered those beings in their care. Finally, the key to vanquishing the old gods was offered to Herotus.

Take the gods’ worshipers, and you take the gods’ power.

Into the world came the one called the Wanderer, the Divine Voice and the Shining Prophet.

The Wanderer brought word of the One True God—Herotus. Herotus would protect the world from the evils of those demons who masqueraded as the divine. The priests and adherents of the old gods disputed the Wanderer, some even fought him, but the Wanderer could not be dissuaded, could not be harmed, and his magic always proved more powerful. The world turned from the Old Gods and soon Herotus became the One True God.

The world changed. Magic, once a realm of science and philosophy, became a cauldron of superstition. Though the Wanderer had produced wondrous magics, the priests of Herotus lacked the spells of healing and life that had nurtured fragile civilizations for so many centuries. As magic was denied them, the religious powers denied it. Kings and princes followed the dictates of the religious masters. Wizards and sorcerers became bogeymen and scapegoats.

Herotus is a jealous and paranoid god. Soon after he defeated the Old Gods, he destroyed those deities who supported him who were powerful enough to threaten him. The others, he bound to him, using magics that could easily destroy worlds. He offered nothing to his worshippers. He recalls, too well, the fate of those gods generous enough to share their divine power with mortals. As such, the clerics of his religion have no access to divine magic.

What no one knew then was that the Wanderer was Incarnos, a deva—a guardian spirit of the Old Gods. He had seen the suffering of age and disease and wished to save the world from such pain. He had believed this was a curse of the Old Gods. For centuries he studied the Planes of Reality, seeking an answer to his dilemma. Herotus found him, promising to release Morvia from the bondage of the Old Gods. Incarnos believed him, and helped him turn the world against the Old Gods.

He quickly learned Herotus had lied to him.

Trapped in an immortal body, devoid of his powers, Incarnos walked the world. With the same diligence with which he had planned the downfall of the Old Gods, he sought some way to contact them, perhaps release them. Why had they not stood against Herotus? Why had they proved so weak?

Finally, Incarnos has learned the truth, but Herotus—and the Church sworn to him—does not wish this knowledge to survive. The Church has sent its hounds to find Incarnos and kill the unkillable. Incarnos, though, cannot release the Old Gods. Only mortals may. The secrets are trapped in 12 staves created at the dawn of time—the Lorestaves. The Knights of the Holy Mount, sent out to find Incarnos and the staves, believe he is an evil minion of demon lords and that the 12 staves hold the key to finding the lost weapons of the 12 holy knights.

As our story opens, the PCs witness Knights of the Holy Mount questioning Incarnos. They are not gentle, but he will not break. Though he feels pain, Incarnos is immortal.

If the party contains wizards or sorcerers, the Temples is a great place to hide. There is little law enforcement and those who appear capable of defending themselves are left along. The party may also contain clerics. While Herotus does not offer divine magic, a cleric may have tapped into a source of divine magic unknown or forgotten. Remember, it is possible for a cleric to not devote herself to a particular deity, though this restricts access to domains. However, perhaps this cleric will find an Old God, though this adventure, that mirrors her beliefs.

It is important for the party to be good aligned. At least a majority of the party should be good. Many of the prods to action are based on sympathy for fellow creatures and a desire to protect the weak.

The opening of the adventure takes place inside the Squandering Snail. The PCs may have come here to relax, to gamble or even to hide out. If they are seeking ancient knowledge, they may have learned of the great temple to the Old Gods that once stood where the Squandering Snail now stands. Perhaps they have some kind of relationship with Carylle of Temelburh (listed in the NPC section as the barmaid Cornille), who has asked for their help finding an ancient artefact her researches have led her to believe is hidden somewhere in the Squandering Snail. Perhaps the PCs are denizens of the Temples or of Bowden who regularly visit Causens’ Corner for a bit of action.

Part One – The Gentle Hands of these Most Holy Men
Everyone in the Temples knows and despises the Knights of the Holy Mount. These holy warriors have no sympathy for common human frailty, and they consider the Temples a blight on the face of the world that should be removed, preferably with fire. The Abbot’s knowledge of the true history of the Temples may contribute to this. Needless to say, when the Holy Knights came to the Temples, searching for a particular person, they received no help. Their actions drew the ire of Duke Javarre, and they have been forced to restrain their “righteous passions.”

However, even the opposition of the populace of the Temples did not prove enough to foil the Holy Knights. They found their quarry.

Incarnos has been drawn to this place, but he cannot say why. He believes he may be close to finding one of the Lorestaves, but he also knows that even were he to find it, he requires the aid of mortal to unlock the secrets. He has some hope that by doing so, he will earn himself release. He did not realize he had become the target of the Church and the Holy Knights and made no effort to disguise or hide himself. He has learned, through long centuries, how to disappear within the societies of mortals.

When he is found, it is in the Squandering Snail. He has long known the need for currency when surviving in a civilized society, and so he has turned to one of the quickest ways he can make money—gambling. After centuries of practice, he has mastered both dice and cards, and can all but control a cast of dice. When the Holy Knights entered and disrupted the game, Faelan silently thanked the One True God for the blessing. Incarnos had won almost 50 princes (sp), and it didn’t look like his luck would change anytime soon.

The PCs may be in a position to overhear the initial exchange.

Seven Knights of the Holy Mount enter the gambling den. They swagger in, eyeing the patrons of the establishment with disdain. Sneering, they push their way through the crowd to a table at which a knot of people has gathered. They rudely knock these people away. The leader of the group grabs one man and turns him around. The man is tall, standing at least a hand taller than any of the knights. He seems unperturbed when faced with seven armed Holy Knights. He wears simple clothes and is not armed.

“Hello, fiend,” the Holy Knight says. “Your terror is at an end. Now you will tell us where you have hidden the staves.”

“Gentlemen, I believe you are mistaken,” the man replies. “You do not serve the one true god, only a usurper of gentle gods.”

At that the leader of the Holy Knights backhands the man. The man rolls with the blow, but does not appear injured. His face has no mark on it.

The man smiles. “Ah, the gentle word of the supreme deity, yes?”

The leader of the knights spits in the man’s face. “Your words are as twisted as your masters.”

The leader gestures, and the other knights begin to beat on the man. They have daggers in their hands, but they do not stab him. Rather they beat him with the pommels of these daggers. They drive him to ground, striking him mercilessly. The man curls into a ball, flinching and crying out with each blow, yet still there is no mark on him.

One would hope that good-aligned PCs would, at this time, react. They need not actually physically intervene. The PCs might approach the leader of the knights, Heston of Gueste (now known, as all Holy Knights are, as ‘of the Mount’), and ask him to refrain from physically assaulting an unarmed man offering no resistance. They might ask what crime the man has committed. Should the PCs become physically involved, they will take the Holy Knights completely by surprise—at least for the first round. If the PCs speak to Heston, he will react as follows:

The leader of the knights crosses his arms and frowns. “Are you in league with this servant of evil that you would speak on his behalf?”

Unless the PCs protest their innocence and leave the knights to their beating, Heston will become even angrier. No matter how mildly and rationally the PCs may act, any questioning of the “holy mission” of the knights is seen as violent opposition by Heston.

“You dare to question the will of the One True Church?” The lead knight draws his greatsword.

While he does not intend to strike the PCs with his weapon, considering the situation, PCs might consider themselves under attack and act accordingly, if they do not, the scene progresses as follows:

Greatsword in hand, the lead knight’s eyes narrow. “You will surrender yourselves to trial by the Blessed and Loyal Military Order of the Holy Mount in the name of myself, Brother-Captain Heston of the Mount. Divest yourselves of any weapon you may have.”

This is basically a game of chicken. Heston knows that if he shows weakness in this place, he and his men might not walk out alive. The opposition of the PCs has inspired many of the other patrons of the Squandering Snail. The PCs might not notice, but Heston certainly has. His position, with only six knights, could be perilous.

If the PCs do not surrender, Heston has been backed into a corner, and he will need to act.

“As you will,” Heston says. “Your actions betray your intent. Iolan, Metres, we have more servants of the dark ones here.”

Two of the Holy Knights turn away from the continued beating they are inflicting on the unresisting man. They draw their swords.

At this point, the PCs will need to defend themselves or be arrested. If they are arrested, they will be taken to a galley in the harbour. This is the galley the Holy Knights arrived in. Due to Duke Javarre’s lack of cooperation, the Holy Knights have operated from this galley. They will load the PCs and Incarnos on and set sail for the nearest fortified monastery, known as a chapterhouse.

During the trip, Incarnos will relate whatever information the PCs request of him. He will also help them escape. He cannot and will not harm another living being.