It was the dead of winter and the city Phlan had basically shut down. The streets of the slums were basically impassable masses of snow, the surrounding farmers had bought their supplies months ago and holed up, the harbor was too choked with ice for the fishermen to work, and the gates were shut more often than not. In one corner of the city, however, seven women were sitting down to breakfast.
Following their success against Noriss the Grey, the Amazons had moved up in public opinion from being oddly-attractive mercenaries to being local heroes. So, today, they found themselves sitting in the drawing rooms of Councilwoman Elissa Bivant-Mondaviak sipping tea, eating scones, and discussing local gossip. It was all very boring until the Councilwoman handed over a flier for the girls to look at.
"WHAT?!" was the general outcry.
"That will be publicly posted tomorrow on the doors of the Council Hall, the Training Hall, the Temple of Tyr, and every gate." Elissa responded.
"But...we just saved them..." Battle Cry said. "Now they are wanted criminals?"
"Yes," Elissa's voice betrayed her calm outer demeanor. "We have been hearing odd rumors from Kryptgarten for some time. Councilman von Urslingen has traveled there numerous times and reported that the Squire had been forcing the people to wash, ordering strange religious accouterments, and even feeding the people the flesh of dead orcs..."
"They eat orcs?! I think I'm going to be sick..." Princess interjected.
"Yes. When we first crossed over from Hillsfar, many people on the boat had the ague." Had Enough, said. "The captain of the ship stopped on Thorn Island to enforce a quarantine, and Grminir and his companions did, in fact, boil the bodies of dead orcs to feed us all..."
"The city watch also caught one of the Squire's wards setting up an illegal gambling operation in the middle of the market, in broad daylight, not once, but three times, including taking bets from the orcs and goblins as to how long it would take them to destroy the city. Then people started turning up with odd wooden coins, saying they were promised free drinks at Kryptgarten..."
"Wait...is that scrip? Are they printing their own money now?" Worthy of Armor looked confused.
"Nothing wrong with free drinks," Hot Flanks said.
"No, there is nothing in the law against offering free drinks. However, it seems that they were offering free drinks to the Orcs...and...other things. Deliberately inviting the most degenerate of the city's enemies to drink at their keep." Elissa took a sip of tea, the cup rattling against the saucer from her hands shaking. "Then there were complains from the fisherman's guild against one, Master Delbar, claiming that he had somehow massively undercut their prices and was creating a monopoly. This Delbar was arrested and admitted to working with the Squire and his companions to establish an agreement with xvarts, kobolds, and bugbears to provide him with fish at criminal rates so as to ruin the economy of our city. This testimony was corroborated by citizens of Kryptgarten, who reported large shipments of fish being delivered to the keep's tavern regular by blue-skinned goblinoids..."
"So, we've got some weird cult activity, illegal gambling, and some economic shenanigans. That hardly seems worthy of a death sentence," Battle Cry said.
"Yes, were that all, I am sure the Council would have called the Squire in to discuss his crimes and arrange reasonable restitution." Elissa put down her cup and looked at the ladies, her face deadly serious. "Two weeks ago, a number of Kryptgarteners came before the council complaining of unfair and torturous treatment at the hands of the squire. What they brought as evidence was truly shocking..."
"What?" asked Hot Flanks, sitting on the edge of her chair and looking excited in precisely the wrong way.
"...the boiled head of a woman." Elissa choked on these last words.
"WHAT?!" Worthy of Armor shouted.
"Apparently the Squire threatened to 'make soap' out of any settler who questioned the Squires arrangements with the cities inhuman enemies. Those that continued to question him were either boiled alive, publicly, or else found dead in their beds with their throats slit..."
There was a long silence before Elissa continued. "The settlers brought many other pieces of evidence--plans for a strange columnar temple with a mass water-heating system that the Squire was forcing them to build, strange plush idols of a great crocodillian monstrosity, and a strand of some fifty human fingers which were part of a collection kept by the Squire's hobgoblin groom. There can be no doubt that the Squire of Kryptgarten is not only a traitor in league with Phlan's enemies, but a brutal and sadistic killer in league with the forces of Hell."
At this point Princess did retch and Worthy of Armor pounded her fists on the table. "Allow me to seek out these murders, Lady Councilwoman."
Battle Cry chimed in, "Yes, Assuran demands that we seek his vengeance against any who would commit such atrocities," and Hot Flanks nodded.
Don't Fail stood up and handed the flyer back to the noblewoman. "It seems that we are all in agreement that these criminals must be stopped. We will go to Kryptgarten at once. If they are there we will bring them to justice. If not, we shall see to the aid of the people they have mistreated and secure the keep until the Squire and his allies should return..."
Elissa nodded, "The Council would be most greatful for your assistance. We are prepared to offer..."
"No," Worthy of Armor said. "Do not even offer. We must do this as penance for aiding and abetting these traitors. Had we known any of this we would have left them to their fate when Noriss the Grey's army attacked them..."
Princess looked up horrified, though whether from the thought of facing the demon-worshipers, or the thought of not getting paid for it was anyone's guess.
Their was a wrap on the door and the girls looked up to see the Councilwoman's young husband walking in. "Forget the Council's posted reward then, ladies." Markos Mondaviak said. "Squire Grimnir's lands are forfeit. The keep and its lands once belonged to my family, and the people of Kryptgarten deserve caring and law-abiding rulers. If you deal with the Squire, all of his lands and possessions are yours." He smiled. "And I will not take no for an answer..."
"Yes," Elissa said, rising and taking his arm. "My husband is quite right. Given the Squire's breech of faith Kryptgarten does need defenders, and I can think of no one better than you girls."
Princess stood up, smiling now, and extended her hand. "Very well. We'll catch this guy for you."
"Dead would be preferable." Markos said, bowing and kissing her hand, "No need to put yourselves at additional risk trying to bring these ruffians in alive."
"May we have a copy of the official, signed notice?" Don't Fail asked. "It may be helpful for encouraging cooperation from the Kryptgarteners."
"By all means," Elissa handed the document back to Don't Fail. "We can have the clerks draw up extras if you need them..."
The ladies asked around the town for more information about Kryptgarten, but heard much of the same--racial tensions, weird cults, angry fishermen, free booze. Had Enough, feeling some kinship for the ex-Hillsfaran settlers in Kryptgarten urged them to move immediately, but Don't Fail managed to hold them in check.
"These are clearly dangerous folk," she said. "The announcement will not be made until the morning, and it will likely take some time to reach them given the snow. There is no reason to rush into it."
"What about those funny coins?" Princess asked. "Maybe we can find some of them floating around and avail ourselves of Kryptgarten's hospitality to get closer and learn more." The others agreed that this was not a bad idea, and so spent the afternoon asking around in the taverns and inns, looking for some of this "Krypt-Scrip". By evening they were able to round up one wooden coin a piece and agreed to set out in the morning.
They slipped out of the city gates just as the first notice was being nailed up, leaving their horses behind in care of the liverer rather than force the creatures to wade through knee-deep snow. The path between Phlan and Kryptgarten was well-marked and well-traveled these days, but still covered in deep drifts in many places.
The walk took all of the morning and it was past noon when they heard the deep echo of Kryptgarten's black-iron church bells, and almost an hour later before they reached the small settlement (for it was now much more than a keep). The tavern and church both appeared to be bustling, even at this early hour, though several guards were posted at the doors of both.
"What kind of a tavern needs chain-clad, sword-wielding soldiers?" Battle Cry asked.
"The kind that has orcs for regulars..." Hot Flanks suggested.
They walked up to the doors of the tavern, flashed their funny-munny to the guards, and strode in. The place was an odd mix. Farmers and settlers kept to the shadows around the edges, huddled in small, quiet groups. The center was taken up by orcs, goblins, and other things, all chatting happily in their strange tongues and drinking heavily, one orc even stood on a table reciting something that seemed like poetry (judging from the meter if not the words). The bar staff all wore armor, seeming to eye the farmers with more suspicion than the rowdy monsters. The bar itself was a tall wooden affair, behind which were three great tuns of mead (it seemed that the bar served nothing else) and a large black board on where were listed all manner of commodities commonly traded in Phlan and their prices.
Hot Flanks looked around then whispered to the others, "There is not a single woman in here..."
"Probably because orcs are serial rapists..." Had Enough whispered back.
Sure enough, the orc poet on the table spotted them and said something very loud, gripping its private parts (which were unfortunately not covered by the orc's short tunic) and drawing the attention of the crowd towards them. A couple of orcs advanced menacingly on the girls.
"Maybe this wasn't such a good idea..." Princess said.
"Really?" Battle Cry grinned. "A bar fight sounds about perfect right now."
Just then, the door behind them opened and a short, scrawny hobgoblin, dressed in robes and bedecked with strings of severed fingers walked in. The hobgoblin glared at the orcs and grunted something in their language and the excitable creatures returned to their drinking.
"My deepest apologies ladies," the hobgoblin said. "If you are here for drinks I'd suggest you visit the keep, we are serving drinks inside for those who would prefer more polite company."
"Are you in charge of this establishment?" Don't Fail asked, trying not to look at the strings of fingers.
"No. I am but a humble priest." The hobgoblin bowed, "My name is Grinkle, priest of the betrayer in battle, chef to Lord Grimnir, and steward of the Kryptgarten."
"Betrayer in Battle?" Battle Cry said, trying to sound polite, "I am not familiar with goblin religion, who is the betrayer in battle?"
"Why our Lord Grimnir, of course."
"Thank you sir," said Don't Fail, "I think that is enough, we will come back for our drinks at a more opportune time."
The girls left quickly and adjourned to the edge of the nearby woods to talk.
"The Squire has priests?!" Worthy of Armor looked appalled.
"So he makes himself out to be a god?" Battle Cry said, "And thus claims power of life and death over his subjects. Cute..."
"Looks pretty cut and dry," Hot Flanks sighed. "Farmers cringing in fear on the edges of a building they built themselves, orcs running amok with their cocks out, hobgoblin stewards sporting chains of severed human fingers, commodities price fixing, creepy churchbells...Fuck!"
Princess's face was white, "They....they...had barbs..." She looked ready to throw up again. "Why do orcs have barbs on their cocks?!"
"Let's not even think about it." Battle Cry suggested. "Let's just go kill them all."
"We've certainly confirmed much of what the Councilwoman said. I presume that their investigation was thorough, and we do have a warrant for the Squire's execution." Don't Fail pulled out the rolled up and sealed notice and tapped it against the back of her hand. "There are too many orcs in there, though. And civilians. And our goal is the Squire and his co-conspirators."
"Yes," said Worthy of Armor, "we need to find a way to get the settlers to safety before we unleash hell."
"Once they are out though," said Hot Flanks. "We torch that faux-church, torch the tavern, and hang that screwy squire by his own entrails in Hoar's name!"
"Hang him by his entrails?!" Princess asked skeptically.
"It's a figure of speech," Battle Cry insisted. "Hoar's will is that we kill him in the manner in which he killed his own victims. Which in this case means that we, literally, boil him in his own pudding..."
"Hey the joke wasn't that bad," Battle Cry said.
(GM) "No...that was the giant white crocodile-scorpion monster standing behind you."
The girls turned to see a massive albino crocodile, easily 20-feet from its nose to the tip of the stinger on its segmented, scorpion-like tail. Long boney spines jutted from the creature's back, decorated with impaled skulls and strung with entrails. The thing reared up on four hind-legs and swiped at Battle Cry with its two fore-claws. The first blow tore open her right shoulder, the second ripped out her throat. Battle Cry fell, bloody and broken, soundlessly into the snow.
Worthy of Armor gave a mighty shout and threw her scimitar at the thing's head. The monster ducked just in time, but the whirling, magically sharpened blade cut off a dozen of the beast's spines, which rained clattering down onto its back. Had Enough charged the thing with her greatsword, hitting hard, but the blade simply struck a ringing note off of the monster's stone-hard hide without leaving a dent.
Don't Fail pulled her elven cloak around herself and dropped down in the snow beside Battle Cry, practically vanishing. Under this cover, she searched through Battle Cry's possession, finding her potion of regeneration it pouring it into the gaping hole that had been her friend's throat.
Hot Flanks quaffed a potion, then glared at the creature, focusing her rage at the death of her friend at the thing and willing it to suffer incredible pain. "Now!" she shouted at Princess, calling on tactics they had used often. Princess, who had maneuvered around to the thing's side, leaped on its back through the opening in the spines that Worthy had made and jabbed the Handsome Prince deep into the creature's neck.
The creature roared in pain and lashed out with its tail, driving the spine clear through Princess's back and out through her chest with her heart still impaled on the point.
Had Enough, more brave than wise as usual, swung again and again failed to penetrate the beast's hide. "Stop that!" Don't Fail yelled, "you clearly need magic to harm that thing." Had Enough nodded grimly, tossed her sword aside, and jumped up on the creature's back, grabbing for the Handsome Prince.
Worthy of Armor threw her scimitar again, this time gouging a bloody line all the way down the creature's left side, nearly severing its foreleg. Don't Fail rolled away from Battle Cry's body and pulled a torch from her pack, lighting it with a simple spell. "Shall we see if fire works?"
Hot Flanks smiled, "YES!" She pulled out her iron club, leveling it in the monster's direction.
"Wait!" Don't Fail yelled, you'll hit Had Enough.
Hot Flanks hesitated just long enough for the beast to strike Had Enough a powerful blow with its tail. While it failed to impale her, the blow was strong enough to send Had Enough flying. She slammed into a tree several feet away.
"Now!" Don't Fail yelled.
"May you burn in the fires of Flandal’s forge!" Hot Flanks screamed in response, and a massive ball of flame blossomed over the monster's shoulder, searing the skin of its back black. "Looks like that works." She said smiling.
The creature, howling in pain, surged forward, lashing out at Hot Flanks with four of its claws, tearing through her leather cuirass and leaving large bloody gouges in the flesh beneath. Hot Flanks, enraged, drew her club and shoved her hand into the beast's mouth. "May you burn in the fires of Flandal’s forge!" she screamed again. The monster happily closed its jaws on her arm, shielding her and the rest from the fiery detonation that followed. The crocodile-monster appeared to expand, slightly, then smoke poured from its nose, ears, and eyes. The thing collapsed into the snow, unmoving.
Hot Flanks collapsed right beside it, cradling her arm which had been severed just below the elbow. Don't Fail rushed to her side, laying hands on the wound to stop the bleeding, while Worthy of Armor walked over and stabbed the thing several times with her magical scimitar for good measure.
"What in Hoar's name was that?" Hot Flanks said once she had composed herself.
"Some sort of demonic mascot I presume," said Worthy of Armor. "The same was depicted on their flag as we came in."
Had Enough walked over and retrieved Princess's body, and pulled the Handsome Prince not at all gently out of the beast's back. "Hot Flanks handless, and Battle Cry and Princess dead, and we haven't even reached the Squire himself yet..."
"Nor dealt with the orcs and goblins." Don't Fail added. "Though, Battle Cry will recover." She pointed to where the wounds on her neck and shoulder were already closing. "Those potions work wonders. As soon as her trachea is repaired she should start breathing again, and be fully functional shortly thereafter. I only wish we had more than just the one..."
"Great, we're still five where we were six, and most of us injured," Worthy of Armor said, fighting back tears. "We should withdraw, see Princess laid to rest, then make a proper plan of assault. Dealing with these treasonous heathen will not be an easy task."
"Yeah, that fireball may have drawn the attention of some in the keep," Don't Fail added, "we'd best move fast."
They gathered up their weapons, made a makeshift stretchers for Princess and Battle Cry from branches and cloaks, and hightailed it back to Phlan.