Don Bassingthwaite

Word of traitors


Once a savage hunter, now the bearer of a powerful dragonmark, Ashi d’Deneith found herself isolated in the city of Karrlakton and at odds with her mentor, Vounn d’Deneith. Vounn had been tasked with transforming Ashi into an elegant, educated asset of House Deneith, a process which generated considerable resentment between the two women. Storming out of Sentinel Tower after a particularly bad argument, Ashi discovered and fought with a thief attempting to steal an artifact from a Deneith memorial. The thief, however, turned out to be a friend, Ekhaas, a hobgoblin duur’kala, or “dirgesinger.”

Ekhaas was in Karrlakton as part of a delegation to Deneith from Darguun, the goblin nation that was a major source of mercenaries for the house. The leader of the delegation, Tariic-nephew of Lhesh Haruuc Shaarat’kor, high warlord and founder of Darguun-carried an invitation for Vounn, Deneith’s premiere diplomat, to come to Haruuc’s court as a special envoy. Haruuc, a cunning but aging ruler, had seen the need for a closer bond between Darguun and Deneith.

Vounn agreed to allow Ashi to accompany them to Darguun. Their journey took them through the city of Flamekeep, where they discovered that Ekhaas and Tariic had not been entirely truthful. The mission to Karrlakton, while genuine, had served to disguise their real purpose: making contact with the shifter Geth, another friend of Ashi and Ekhaas. Accompanied by Chetiin, an elder of the goblin assassin clan, the shaarat’khesh, Geth joined them. Tariic explained that Haruuc wished the shifter brought into Darguun covertly. The canny lhesh knew that although closer ties between Deneith and Darguun might aid his nation, his eventual successor would need something more. Geth, as the bearer of Wrath, the legendary hobgoblin Sword of Heroes forged thousands of years before when the goblin Empire of Dhakaan ruled the land, was the key to lasting stability in Darguun.

Reaching the goblin nation, Geth, Ashi, Ekhaas and the others-joined now by Midian Mit Davandi, a gnome scholar of the famed Library of Korranberg and an expert on the history of Dhakaan-found themselves caught in simmering unrest as warlords chafed at Haruuc’s commands of peace between Darguun and surrounding nations. One clan, the Gan’duur, moved to open rebellion. In the company of a select group of Haruuc’s allies that included the aged warlord Munta the Gray and Ekhaas’s superior, Senen Dhakaan, ambassador of the traditionalist Kech Volaar clan, Geth, Ashi, and Vounn finally learned the truth behind Haruuc’s need for Geth.

The lhesh understood that whomever he eventually named as his heir would need a strong symbol of power to bring the fractious Darguul clans into line. Haruuc had been in negotiations with the Kech Volaar, for many generations keepers of the lore of fallen Dhakaan, to bring the isolated clan into alliance with Darguun. From their stories, he had learned of an artifact passed down from emperor to emperor during the Dhakaani Age. This artifact, the Rod of Kings, had been forged from the same vein of the purple byeshk as the Sword of Heroes and a third artifact, the Shield of Nobles. The shield had been shattered and the rod and sword lost at different times before the fall of Dhakaan, but Geth’s recovery of the sword offered hope that the rod could be found as well. The rod would provide a potent symbol that could unite Darguun, and Haruuc had asked Geth to undertake the quest to recover it.

Geth accepted. Undergoing a ritual of duur’kala magic to wake the power dormant in the sword, he experienced memories of the great hobgoblin heroes who had wielded it during the time of the empire and found that through the sword he could sense the direction in which the rod lay. He set out from Haruuc’s capital of Rhukaan Draal to find it, accompanied by Ekhaas, Ashi, Chetiin, Midian, and Dagii of Mur Talaan, a young warlord in the service of Haruuc. The sword guided them to a hidden valley in the Seawall Mountains. Bypassing the camp of a savage tribe of Marguul bugbears, they descended into the valley where they discovered an untouched forest and a mysterious stone staircase of pre-Dhakaani design.

Before they could investigate, however, they were attacked by trolls and forced to flee-a flight that resulted in the capture of Ashi, Dagii, and Ekhaas by the bugbear tribe. Invoking the names of Haruuc and House Deneith brought no respect from Makka, the leader of the bugbears, and the trio was held under threat of being either sacrificed or sold as slaves. Geth, Chetiin, and Midian had managed to escape, however, and with the help of Chetiin’s cunning wolf-like mount, Marrow, they rescued the others, burning the bugbears’ camp in the process and leaving the tribe in disarray. Now armed with fire to ward off the trolls, they returned to the valley and descended the stairs to find an ancient shrine.

Within the shrine, a crevice led down to a strange cave where the withered corpse of a richly-dressed hobgoblin sat on a throne, clutching the rune-carved byeshk rod that they sought. As Geth tried to take the Rod of Kings, however, the apparent corpse moved and spoke, revealing that he was Dabrak Riis, the very emperor who had vanished with the rod thousands of years before. The cave was a forgotten place of power, the Uura Odaarii, or “Womb of Eternity,” where time did not pass and to which Dabrak Riis had retreated from the world with no idea of Dhakaan’s fall.

Attempts to persuade the lost emperor to give them the rod only made Dabrak angry, and revealed a power of the Rod of Kings unmentioned in any Kech Volaar legend: commands issued by Dabrak could not be resisted. The Sword of Heroes protected Geth from the power of the rod, but Dabrak had also mastered the strange power of the Uura Odaarii and used it to defeat the shifter. Geth’s heroic resistance gave Ashi the inspiration she needed to invoke her dragonmark, rendering her impervious to any form of mental domination or attack. Dabrak couldn’t affect her with the powers of either the rod or the cavern, but in the timeless place, she couldn’t harm him physically.

She found the answer to her dilemma in the skills that Vounn had driven into her, and struck a bargain with Dabrak for the rod and the release of the others. When Dabrak went back on his word, however, it took a clever trick to make him hurl the rod at Geth in a fit of anger. The heroes fled the cavern with the rod in Geth’s grasp. Dabrak pursued them but burned to ashes when he attempted to pass beyond the shrine.

Geth and the others found that none of them felt comfortable handing the rod over to Haruuc once they knew the terrible power it contained. Not giving it to the lhesh, however, could spell the end of Darguun. They decided on a compromise proposed by Chetiin. Dabrak Riis had said that it had taken generations for the Dhakaani emperors to unravel the full potential of the rod. As the rod now seemed to have fallen into an inactive state, they would give it to Haruuc to act as the symbol he needed, but keep its power a secret, acting only if Haruuc or his successor should discover the rod’s true nature.

In Rhukaan Draal, meanwhile, Vounn also faced danger, kidnapped by a changeling disguised as one of her guards. Although she was rescued, the kidnapping could have embarassed and weakened Haruuc at a time when increased raids by the rebellious Gan’duur had cut off food supplies and left the city starving. Vounn and a loyal guard, Aruget, also discovered that Tariic, expecting to be named as heir by Haruuc, was gathering his own power by making secret alliances with a number of warlords, including the devious Daavn of Marhaan.

The heroes’ return, and the rod they carried, was greeted with celebration. As Tariic took the rod from Geth and presented it to Haruuc in the throne room of Haruuc’s fortress, Khaar Mbar’ost, the heroes waited uneasily in case its power should manifest. But the rod did nothing except lend Haruuc a more majestic presence. Relieved, the heroes accepted Haruuc’s gratitude. The lhesh offered a special reward to Geth, an invitation to become his shava or sacred “sword brother.” Early in his life, Haruuc had taken three warriors as shava, though two of them-Dagii’s father and Tariic’s father-had since died. Geth agreed and joined Vanii, Haruuc’s surviving shava, at his side.

Dagii, meanwhile, was given the glory of leading an attack against the Gan’duur and their wily warlord, Keraal. Backed by an army assembled from loyal clans and accompanied by Vanii for guidance, Dagii defeated the Gan’duur and captured Keraal. Vanii, however, was slain in the attack-a tragedy that brought out an unexpected brutality in Haruuc, who ordered the captive Gan’duur warriors left to die slowly along the road to Rhukaan Draal. When Dagii-who had disagreed with Haruuc’s dishonorable execution of the Gan’duur and secretly given each of them a swift death-presented Keraal to him, the former warlord of the Gan’duur found the strength to taunt Haruuc, accusing him of cowering on the doorstep of humans.

Angered, Haruuc responded that he cowered before no one, that Darguun cowered before no nation, and the

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