Having passed his test, Cardinal Thorn sequesters the villains for three grueling months. His training is intense, but his lessons are pointed and focused. When finally complete, Cardinal Thorn puts the villains through one more ritual. Sacrificing a servant to a summoned devil. Thorn forges our villains into what he calls his Nessian Knot. The ritual empowers the villains, their wounds healing with a near magical rate and a profane resistance to magic empowering them.
With their training complete, Cardinal Thorn summons his Nessian Knot and gives them their first task. “Welcome, my children,” he says in a deep resonant voice that has an almost inhuman quality to it. “Training is at an end. You have proven yourself worthy. Now, it is time for you to use that training and take on your first mission."
“Your mission is war, my children. You will bring war to Talingarde."
“You have two objectives. First, you will see a shipment of munitions delivered to a bugbear chieftain named Sakkarot Fire-Axe. He makes his camp on the northern coast of Lake Tarik beyond the Watch Wall. With this shipment, the Fire-Axe will have resources enough to unite the barbarous humanoid tribes of the north and light the fire of war."
“Sitting on the dock as we speak is the longship Frosthamar captained by Kargeld Odenkirk. Tomorrow when the ship is resupplied it will be your transport. The captain is a ruthless mercenary and not to be trusted. He knows nothing of the specifics of our mission and you should keep it that way. He knows he is smuggling cargo to the north beyond the Watch Wall. That is all he need know. "
“Once the cargo is safely delivered, he will take you just south across the lake under cover of darkness and land you near the town of Aldencross. There our contract with Captain Odenkirk will be concluded."
“It is shame how greedy he has proven. I had hoped to let the captain serve me again but it seems he is too much of a liability. Kill him. Kill his crew. Burn his ship and leave no survivors. It is crucial that no one suspects our involvement and that loose ends are taken care of. Be sure to reclaim the coin I gave him. Best not to be wasteful."
“That done, you will begin your second task. We will do more still to aid our ally the Fire-axe. The bugbears are mighty warriors but poor siege engineers. You will infiltrate the tower Balentyne, keystone of the Watch Wall, kill its commander and open the gate for Sakkarot’s horde."
“Once the shaggy monstrosities pierce the Watch Wall, the bugbears will pillage and lay waste to the townships of the north and the local garrisons will have no choice but to
meet the Fire-Axe in the open field. Sakkarot is the most brilliant, gifted and murderous bugbear of his generation.
I expect these battles will go poorly for the knights and yeoman of fair Talingarde. “Do all of this and then when your task is done, break this clay seal.” He hands them a delicately carved clay seal adorned with a tangled knot of thorns surrounding the holy symbol of Asmodeus. “I will have more instructions then. Succeed and I will see you rewarded handsomely.
Fail or betray me and you will pray for the comfort of Hell before I am done with you. “The mission you start upon today is a holy mission. The people of Talingarde think they have seen the last of the mighty Asmodeus. Soon enough we will remind them that there is no escaping the grasp of Hell. Let us toast our success.” He pours one glass of deep red
wine for each of the PCs and then finally pours one for himself. He raises the glass and offers a toast.
The journey north began uneventful. The sailing remained smooth until north of the watch wall where The Frosthammer was spoted by a Mitran Navy patrol. The Blade of St. Martius overtook The Frosthammer and after a failed attempt to talk their way past the patrol the ship was searched. The sailors quickly found the weapons and placed the villains under arrest. The villains killed every sailor on board, searched The Blade of St. Martius and stole their valuables before leaving the ship and the crew at the bottom of the ocean.
Continuing north, the villains are ambushed in the night by Triton Mitra fanatics. After a hard battle, they finally kill the Mitras and hear his dying breath, “The shining sun has seen the wickedness of your deeds, and thus it will be the son who brings your doom.” Back on your path, Captain Odinkirk informs you that he will be detouring to Seal Isle to restock on water. He also invites the villains to join him on a sealing expedition. After two days on the island, Jeir insisted they move on, and he finally convinces the Captain to leave. As they entered the cold north and began to work inland to the river, the crew spotted a group of Yutak whale hunters. They stopped and traded with the hunters. Finally able to unload the stole gear of the Talrean military for valuable magic items and ivory as well as a very nice narwhal horn. They were even given a warning of how to avoid a powerful outsider that roamed the area.
Using advice from the Yutak, the villains were able to avoid confrontation with an ice mephit and started their journey down the River Taiga. Kargeld proves himself a worthy captain nimbly sailing the heavily laden craft through fields of floating jagged ice. He barks orders in Norspik and his sailors scramble to comply. Again and again he turns the boat at just the right moment to pass between the broken shards calved from ancient glaciers.
Finally, after nerve-wracking hours of this, the boat pushes through the dangerous headwaters of the Taiga into the clear water of this almost uncharted mighty river.Beyond the headwaters is a land of savage wonders. The Taiga winds through a great northern forest that to the best of anyone’s knowledge has no name.
After miles and miles of picturesque pine trees frosted with new fallen snow, the ship comes to a great mountain range. This river flows through a great rift in the mountains
that looks as if some impossible huge primordial giant smashed a pass through the grey slate.
The villains are headed south now, though this appears to have no effect on lessening the intense cold. They are headed to the great interior sea of Talingarde – Lake Tarik as it is known. To the south of that lake sits the Watch Wall. And on the northern banks in a wide wooded valley is your destination – the camp of Sakkarot Fire-Axe.
Thousands of bugbears are already assembled. These savage humanoids are not pleased to see outsiders, especially humans. Worse, there are more than just bugbears here. The occasional polar bear lumbers around the camp untended. Fur-clad goblins scamper here and there, laughing with frenetic glee. Even a few hill giants gather at the camp’s fringes.
There is only one place to dock the boat – a crudely made pier that juts into the river. On that pier are four hulking bugbears. They don’t seem pleased to see the Frosthamar. In fact, these bugbears are bored thugs who notice the Frosthamar’s approach a few moments before Sakkarot can get to the pier. They have the brilliant idea of eating the soft, squishy ‘hummies’ before the Fire-Axe gets here and claims all the tasty bits.
The villains were able to intimidate the bugbears and stall them long enough for Sakkarot to arrive. Once Sakkarot does arrive, any fight is quickly quelled. The great black-furred bugbear is a fearsome beast wielding an axe of flame. He points the axe at the villians. “Who sent you?” Sakkarot demands in unaccented common. When they claimed their allegiance to the Cardinal, he smiles a toothy grin. “Then you are welcome here.” He turns to the somewhat stunned throng of bugbears who were getting ready to storm the boat and eat the occupants.
“These humans are my guests. I will deal with anyone who harms them. They are our allies!” He walks over to the boat and rips open one of the crates revealing finely made axes with in. He tosses one to a nearby bugbear warrior who until this time only had a crude club to wield. “Behold, they bring us steel!” This earns the villains a terrifying chorus of growls and cheers from the monstrous assembly.
The boat is unloaded. Sakkarot’s lieutenants see that each case is distributed and soon our villains can see a visible transformation in the camp. Where once there were a thousand bugbear savages, now there are a thousand bugbear soldiers each with new weapons and shields adorned with the emblem of the fire axe. What a terror the PCs have helped to create.
Sakkarot holds a feast in honor of the weapons shipment and their allies. The feast is a brutal, savage affair with bugbears fighting each other and all manner of monsters in attendance. The highlight of the party is when a great shaggy dire boar recently captured from the northern woods is brought in shackles.
One ton of angry pig is led in by a dozen bugbears who drag the beast before Sakkarot. Sakkarot beheads the already wounded animal in one mighty stroke with his fire axe. The beast is then spitted and roasted in a great open pit. The villains sit at the Fire-Axe’s table – a front row seat at this spectacle of savagery.
The Fire-Axe’s horde includes a few ogres and one of them is a gigantic bone-through-the-nose almost shockingly ugly female ogre named Karlotta Bonegrinder. It is love at first sight. Karlotta expresses her interest in Grumblejack by hissing like a cornered tigress and throwing a spear at him. Grumblejack continues the courtship by pulling the spear out of his minor flesh wound, licking the blood off the stone spear-head and breaking it over his knee. They then attack one another, wrestling fiercely until finally Grumblejack (who is fairly beaten up by this point) gets the upper hand and Karlotta flees. Grumblejack purrs as Karlotta departs the fray, “What a woman!”
Eventually as the raucous bestial festivities of the bugbear tribes die down, Sakkarot will want to speak with the Villains alone. He summons them into his private chambers and dismiss his many followers with a deep growl. “You are traitors to your own kind. You must knowthat. When Balentyne falls and my horde pours through its shattered gates, we will slaughter the Talireans by the thousands. Yet I see no regret in your eyes. Tell me, how can this be?”
Sakkarot is not an ordinary bugbear. Well-spoken and intelligent, he is anything but the typical brute. Sakkarot does not look down upon the Villains for betraying their own. Indeed, Sakkarot is planning the exact same sort of betrayal to his own people. Sakkarot Fire-Axe is as much an outsider and an outcast as the Villians are. He just wants to know more about them.
He does reveal that he leads the first knot – the Avernian Knot. “I am the only true member of the knot. The rest are only fools.”
Once finished, Sakkarot has one last thing to say: “Tomorrowyou must depart this camp. It will never be truly safe for you here. Over the next week, more tribes will rally to my banner. I will promise them blood and give them steel. Then at last I will be ready to march. A week after that – I will be poised to strike. I will move my horde to the valley just north of Balentyne. There we will wait for your signal. Fire this rocket into the air. Within the hour,
we will attack. Make sure that the way is ready.
“After we gather, my horde will be idle and start to grow anxious. I can hold them together for another two weeks. After that, I expect desertions and squabbling. Get your work done before then. You have one month to infiltrate and destroy Balentyne.” Sakkarot hands them a single carefully wrapped signal rocket. Suddenly the bugbear warlord gets very serious and stern. He stares straight into your eyes.
“Can you do this? In one month can you break the Watch Wall?”
He grunts and nods. “Thorn has faith in you. If you weren’t his best, he wouldn’t have sent you. Do this and your names will be legend. Now go. Hail Asmodeus!”
The villians departed early, leaving the same night at the request of Captain Odinkirk. They cross the mist shrouded Lake Tarik under the cover of darkness and deposit you on the southern shore no closer than a couple hours walk from the Tower Balentyne and the small town of Aldencross. The villains convince him to rest the night on the shore. Ambushing him and his crew in the night. They quickly overwhelmed the Frosthammer’s crew and killed them all. They burned the boat.
You are close now. Just a few miles from here sits the small market town of Aldencross and less than a mile from there is the watchtower of Balentyne – your goal. Already Sakkarot’s horde gathers and prepares to move. Within two weeks, they will be in a small valley north of the lake awaiting your signal. Fire the rocket into the air at just the right moment and you will take the first step towards claiming vengeance against Talingarde.
Destiny has taken you here. Destiny has given you a mission. There is no doubt that the future of this green and pleasant land lies in your hands. You could go to that town right now and warn them of the plots of the sinister Cardinal Thorn. You could give yourself up and face the justice you deserve. You could turn back from the horror and the slaughter that you are going to inflict upon these Mitran sheep. This is that moment. This is the turning point. After this, there is no going back. Any one eager for redemption?
I thought not. Come, my friends. We have work to do. We must burn Balentyne.