Excerpt from “The Heroes of Xymor: The Criminal Years Vol. 1, An Introduction,” by Archmage Hannibal Kahnhari, Head Scholar and Headmaster of Ravencraft School of Sorcery and the Dark Arts.
…Throughout the centuries, historians and scholars have accused the heroes of Xymor of many crimes and labeled them with horrific caricatures: murdering sociopathic pirate, necrophiliac assassin, sorceress succubus, child killer, etc. But the single accusation most historians will agree upon is traitor. It is nearly impossible for anyone to avoid such a damning indictment when doing any research on the early years of the heroes of Xymor, particularly during the event commonly known as the Scourging of Burran. But is that accusation fair? Is it really true?
The heroes ran across the roof tops, leaping from building to building and avoiding the warring streets below. Nolo was in the lead followed by Maggie. Roman stayed in the rear but close to Arien. The last few conflicts made Roman suspicious of the current situation and Arien’s involvement. Something was wrong with the aggressive beasts and their attitudes towards Arien.
Nolo and Maggie leapt over a street and on to an adjoining building. As Roman was about to toss Arien over to the other side with their friends, Nolo looked up and pointed to the sky.
“Roman! Look out!” Nolo shouted.
High above the heroes, a bird of prey with the head of a stag dove down towards Roman and Arien. It swooped past Roman and tried to grab Arien with its gnarly talons but missed. It continued to fly by and upwards.
Roman knew he needed to ground the creature and fast. He tried to throw a javelin at it, but the spear did little to impede its flight. Roman growled as he uncoiled his whip. The barbarian pirate rushed forward and leapt up and off the rooftop with a loud roar, lashing his whip at the bird of prey. But Roman’s target was a few inches too far and, to his dismay, his whip wouldn’t hit its mark. He had failed.
Suddenly, time slowed for the savage warrior and all reality seemed adrift as he floated in midair, his arm extended and his whip only inches from the bird.
“Do you want to live forever?” he heard his mother whisper.
A flash of light briefly blinded Roman and then, in utter bewilderment, he saw an ethereal visage of his dead mother floating next to the bird. She was fully dressed in her fancy pirate dress, her sword at her hip and glaive on her back. She looked directly into the eyes of her son, peering into his soul, and gave a smirk and wink. She grabbed the tip of the whip and wrapped it around the bird’s talons and then she was gone. Roman fell to the ground, pulling the whip-entangled bird along with him.
Meanwhile, on the rooftop, a group of goblins jumped out of their hiding spots and rushed towards Nolo and Maggie. The heroes had been ambushed. More goblins crawled on the roof near Arien, particularly one that appeared bigger than the rest and more armored; the goblin leader. The goblins tried to swipe at the heroes with their wicked blades and backed away out of reach. Eventually, Nolo got sick and tired of the little beasts’ childish tactics. He spoke in his strange druidic tongue and his bear totem glowed green. Thick, black hair grew along his skin and his flesh began to contort and morph until he had taken the form of a large black bear. Nolo-bear roared in the face of the little goblin beast that stood next to him, and the goblin peed. The group of goblins that surrounded Nolo and Maggie scurried off in fear, jumping over the street and onto the roof of the building where their leader was assaulting Arien. Now, Arien had the whole mob of goblins pursuing her and she was alone.
Down on the street below, Roman landed on his feet like a cat. He took his glaive, ready to strike at the prone bird, but the creature had quickly disentangled itself and took flight again.
“Oh, no you don’t,” Roman mumbled. He pulled out another of his javelins, tied one end of his magic rope to it, and chucked the mini-spear at the bird. When the javelin was in range, he spoke the command word and the rope detached itself from the javelin and tied itself around the wings of the flying bird. The creature fell back down to earth with a loud screech. Roman quickly took his glaive and speared the bird through the heart, killing the creature.
“Roman!” shouted Arien. He looked up at the building he had jumped off of and began to climb.
“Hold on, Arien! I’m coming!” Roman bellowed.
Arien slowly backed away from the approaching mob of goblins. They watched her with evil intent and cackled in their vile tongue. The leader of the goblins threw a dart and hit her in the arm.
“Roman!” she shouted again. She pulled out the dart and realized it was poisoned.
“Dammit!” Arien yelled. “I’ve had enough of you little mosquito-buggerers!!” She wove her arms in an ancient, mystical pattern, spoke the magic words, and released a fireball at the mob. The glob of magical flame hit the goblin leader and exploded in a massive eruption that engulfed the whole group. They howled in agony as their flesh melted and bones turned to ash. All of them died and very little was left of their existence.
The ambush failed and the heroes were victorious, for now.
When Roman reached the roof, he surveyed the carnage.
“Is everyone alright?” he asked.
Arien was out of breath and visibly exhausted. She nodded. “I got hit by a poison dart, but I don’t think it took,” she said.
“I’m good,” Maggie piped.
Nolo-bear couldn’t speak but grunted in his bear expression.
“Okay, good,” Roman said. “We don’t have much time. Mags, search what you can through these dead goblins.”
Roman started to climb down the building.
“Where you going?” Arien asked.
“Getting myself a trophy,” Roman answered.
Maggie found very little of value among the burnt and melted corpses of goblin. Roman gathered his javelins and rope and then proceeded to decapitate the head of the bird of prey.
Nolo had turned back to his human form. “Roman, are we still heading to the mayor’s manor?” he shouted down.
“Yeah,” Roman responded.
“What do you think we’ll find there?” Nolo asked.
“Hopefully, the mayor and his guards. But most likely trouble.” Blood spattered on Roman’s face as he sawed the head off of the dead bird-thing.
Roman noticed a small creature in the street, burnt to a crisp and dead. It obviously got caught in the crossfire of Arien’s fireball. He took a closer look and, to him, it appeared to be a small fairy-like creature. “A familiar?” Roman thought. He had seen such beasts when he was a child and knew that many of them had the ability to fly, turn invisible, and serve a master. He wondered if this beast had been following them and was the one that set up the ambush. He wondered if this creature belonged to one of the witches. But all of it was a moot point now. The thing was dead and if it had been following and spying on them, it wasn’t anymore.
Maggie looked around and saw nothing but smoke, floating ashes, and burning buildings. “This place is done for,” she whispered to herself. “Why are we still here? What are we doing anymore? This seems pointless.”
“What was that?” Arien asked Maggie.
“Nothing,” Maggie mumbled.
“Traitors!!” the heroes heard someone shout, off in the distance. Roman stopped his operation and looked around. He saw nothing.
“Traitors!! I’ll kill you all!” the heroes heard again.
“Roman!” Nolo shouted. “Behind you!”
Roman stood up and turned around, but before he could react, the butt-end of a battleaxe smashed into his chest. His whole body flew back and slammed against a wall. Standing over the barbarian pirate was Hartik Froth, mayor Gargen’s captain of the guards. He was badly bruised and beaten, covered in soot, mud, and dried blood. Roman recognized the pure hatred in the dwarf’s eyes.
“Hartik!” Arien shouted. “What’re you doing?”
“You betrayed us!” the dwarf roared. “You murdered the mayor! You brought Burran to ash! You killed everyone! Everyone!!”
Roman stood up, rubbed his shoulder, and bent his neck to crack out a kink. He took hold of his glaive, cracking his knuckles, and stared at the raging dwarf with cold eyes.
“Everyone!” Hartik shouted again, readied to strike the barbarian pirate. Roman stood his ground, motionlessly and ready for the attack.
“Hartik!” Arien shouted as she jumped down to the street. It was enough to deter Hartik.
“Stop this nonsense!” she continued. “We’re your friends.”
“Friends? Friends?!” Hartik spat. “Friends don’t kill each other.”
“What are you talking about?” Arien asked, her voice was calm and soothing. “You are our friend. We would never do anything to hurt you.”
“Lies!” Hartik replied. He took a few steps away from Roman with his eyes on Arien.
“Hartik, listen to me,” Arien continued. She moved herself between the dwarf and her lover. “You are a dear friend. I don’t like seeing you like this. Tell us what happened. We don’t know.”
“You don’t know? Truly?” Hartik’s hate began to ebb as he watched the beautiful half-drow, her lush white hair flowing majestically in the wind.
“But whatever happened,” Arien spoke more sweetly, “I tell you the truth, we aren’t responsible. Talk to me, Hartik. We’re your friends.”
“Oh sod it!” Roman gruffed. “He’s a lost cause.”
The dwarf noticed the human brute once more. His body tensed and readied his battleaxe.
“Roman! Be quiet!” Arien scolded her lover. “Hartik, don’t listen to him. Look at me. Keep your eyes on me. Talk to me, hon.”
Hartik looked back at the half-drow and noticed the supple curves at her hips. His anger receded again.
“Are you…truly…friends?” Hartik choked to say. His eyes began to water.
“Oh yes, hon,” Arien said, taking a step towards the dwarf. She brushed his dirty hairy face with her soft hand. “Tell us, what is wrong?”
Hartik fell to his knees and wept. Arien knelt down with him, cuddling his head into her bosom. Roman rolled his eyes. Nolo and Maggie had finally jumped down from the roof.
“What’s wrong with him?” Maggie whispered to Roman.
“He’s broken,” he replied. Arien gave her lover a piercing glare. The barbarian pirate shrugged.
“My lord, Gargen. My men. My family. All dead,” Hartik cried.
Arien allowed Hartik to weep another minute before lifting his head and asking, in a gentle voice, “What happened?”
“A satyr.” He whispered.
“What?” Roman growled.
“Now this is interesting,” Nolo said.
“A satyr, you say?” Arien asked, her voice continued to be sweet as honey.
“Yes, a satyr overtook the manor, slaughtering everyone. But I wasn’t there. I should’ve been there. I should’ve died with them. I have failed.” Hartik began to wail again.
Roman rolled his eyes, his impatience building.
Arien wiped away the dwarf’s tears. “Why do you say that? Where were you? Tell me.”
“I took a handful of my men and we went to the orphanage and tried to climb down the giant hole in the basement. But we didn’t get very far. Most of my men were killed and we had to escape. When we returned…when we…returned….Oh gods, everything was burning. So many dead.”
“Go on,” Arien encouraged. “It’s okay. What did you see?”
“With what men I had left,” Hartik continued, “We marched through the burning city, fighting our way back to the manor. But I was the only one to survive. The rest of my men were killed on the way there. Yet, after all that I went through to get there, it was lost. I hid in the shadows and saw them dragging bodies out of the manor and throwing them on a giant pyre. I saw the satyr. He stood there with his drow entourage, watching the bodies burn and his filthy, little monsters dancing and laughing around the flames.”
“What about the bears?” Nolo asked.
“There was a giant,” Hartik replied. “He took control of my bears.”
“A giant? Really? That’s just great,” Roman groaned.
“Oh, Hartik,” Arien comforted, “I’m sorry. None of this should have happened, but believe me when I say we never intended for this to happen. We had nothing to do with any of this. We saved the mayor, remember? We put our lives at risk to try and save Burran. We still are.”
Hartik looked up at Arien. His eyes were red and his nose running with snot. Arien helped him stand up and brushed off dirt from his battered armor.
“Let us help, Hartik,” Arien continued, her voice beginning to inspire the dwarf. “We’re still here and we still want to help. You need to believe us. You need to trust us.”
“Hartik,” Roman interjected. The dwarf turned to the pirate barbarian with intense eyes. “You are a man of action; a man of the sword. Come with us and find the vengeance you seek.”
“Vengeance?” Hartik whispered.
“Yes, vengeance,” Roman said again. “Do you want it?”
“Yes,” Hartik hissed.
“Then trust us and join our cause,” Roman said.
Hartik looked back and forth between the hulking human and the dazzling half-drow.
“I don’t trust you,” Hartik finally said, growling at Roman, “but I trust her. I will come with you, for her,” he nodded to Arien.
“Fair enough,” Roman countered.
“So now what?” Maggie asked.
“Yes. What do we do next, Roman?” Nolo inquired.
Roman rubbed his chin. “It is as I feared. We shouldn’t go back to the manor, yet. We’re in no state for another fight. We need to regroup, rest, take inventory, plan, and, possibly form a posse. We need to head back to Morgath’s home.”
“Again?” Maggie mumbled.
“Morgath?” Hatrik said. “You mean the bartender at The Krypt?”
“Yes, hon,” Arien said. “He’s been very helpful.”
“But you’ll need to put aside your prejudices,” Roman added.
“What do you mean by that?” Hartik asked.
“You’ll see,” Roman answered. “Let’s get going.”
“What about that thing?” Maggie pointed to the half-decapitated stag-headed bird.
Roman sighed. “Perhaps another time. Pity really. Leave it. There’s no time for it now.”
Once again, the heroes, along with the dwarf captain, headed back to the lair of the vampire.
Fortunately, the heroes were able to avoid further conflicts on the way to Morgath’s home. They entered through the backdoor and were relieved to find no one there, except for the dead displacer beast and duergars from earlier. But to their surprise, they found the door to Morgath’s secret chamber was open and his thrall-gnoll guardian decapitated. Roman growled and rushed down the stairs, followed by Arien who cast a light spell on his glaive to illuminate the way down. The rest of the heroes followed suit.
When they arrived, Morgath was not there. Instead, they saw all of his prisoners dead with their throat slit.
“What happened here?” Nolo asked.
“What in the nine hells is this place? Who are these people?” Hartik asked, shocked, staring at the chained-up dead bodies.
“Someone’s sick sense of a banquet,” Roman commented. “But where the hell is Morgath? Where is that bastard?”
“Um, Roman. You might want to look at this,” Arien said, standing near a wall.
Roman approached her and saw what she was staring at. Smeared on the wall was the word, ‘Arien,’ written in blood.
“What does it mean?” Arien asked.
“Trouble,” Roman said. He turned around and growled. “But where is that coward?”
“Everyone,” Arien said, “I need you to leave this room.”
“What was that Arien?” Nolo asked.
“I know where to find Morgath, but everyone needs to go upstairs,” she responded. She looked at Roman with determination. “You must trust me on this, Roman. Go.”
Roman scowled. “Fine. Everyone, upstairs.”
Roman, Nolo, Maggie, and Hartik walked up the stairs and left Arien by herself in the secret chamber. She stood in the center of the room and stared at the stone floor. She thought long and hard how Morgath opened the floor, but after several minutes, she just couldn’t remember. She fell to her knees and smashed her fist against the floor. To her surprise, blue, glowing glyphs erupted under her fist. She traced her fingers along the glyphs and more of them appeared on the floor. She started to see a pattern and followed her fingers along them. When the glowing glyphs were complete, the ground shook and opened up. A decorative coffin rose from the floor and into the room.
“Well, that was easier than I thought,” Arien said to herself.
Arien knocked on the coffin. There was no response. She tried the lid and discovered it wasn’t locked. Upon opening the coffin, she saw no body. Morgath was gone. The only thing in the coffin was a letter from Morgath to his “friends.”
In it, he explained that he left Burran due to its demise. He warned the group that he was visited by a hag he assumed to be Vermelda and that she supposedly sought Arien to help her open a portal out of Xymor. Morgath refused her offer of betraying the group and even provided some advice on dispatching the crone.
The vampire also related that when he left, the blonde warrior and the group’s other captives were still alive in fulfillment of their bargain. He told them about his desire to avoid Shukalgau and instead head for the rumored Yan-ti settlement of Massar.
Arein stood inside the vampire’s lair clutching the letter and read Morgath’s final words… “I look forward to continuing our lucrative friendship…”