Don Bassingthwaite

The tyranny of ghosts


As the body of Lhesh Haruuc Shaarat’kor-slain by the traitor Chetiin-was placed in the royal tomb, Geth and his allies faced a dilemma. Although Geth held the throne and the Rod of Kings in trust, a new lhesh would soon be chosen. Any heir, on grasping the rod, would be caught by its curse-memories of the ancient Empire of Dhakaan that sought to make the lhesh into a tyrant and gave the would-be emperor the power of irresistible command.

Yet Geth-immune to both the rod’s curse and its power because of his connection to its sibling artifact, the Sword of Heroes-could not simply steal the rod either. Haruuc had made the rod a symbol of the lhesh’s sovereignty, and without that symbol, the new lhesh’s position would be weakened. With the rod, the new lhesh would lead Darguun into a war with neighboring nations and their allies that it could not win; without it, Darguun would crumble into civil war. In either case, Haruuc’s dream of a homeland for his people would be lost.

An answer presented itself with the return to Rhukaan Draal of the cunning gnome scholar, Midian Mit Davandi. Midian proposed that they have a false rod created and present it to the new lhesh. The false rod would remain as the symbol of authority and unity that Haruuc had initially intended, while they smuggled the true rod out of Darguun and dealt with it in safety.

But Makka, the bugbear chieftain overthrown by Geth and the others during their quest for the Rod of Kings, had also arrived in the city intent on revenge. His attempted ambush of Ashi d’Deneith and Ekhaas of the Kech Volaar ended badly, however, and he was forced to flee. Dying from his wounds, he encountered Pradoor, a blind old goblin woman released from the fortress of Khaar Mbar’ost by Geth in a misguided act of mercy. Pradoor, a priestess of the gods of the Dark Six, believed that she was destined to restore their worship to its proper place in Darguun. Healed by her prayers, Makka became her servant and pledged himself to the Fury, the dark goddess of vengeance.

Meanwhile, Ekhaas, Geth, and the young warlord Dagii slipped out of Khaar Mbar’ost and met with Tenquis, a tiefling artificer. Tenquis agreed to create a false rod in exchange for a chance to study lore preserved by Ekhaas’s clan. In examining the rod and Geth’s sword, Tenquis guessed at something of the rod’s hidden properties and of the heroes’ intentions. He warned Geth that if they sought to destroy the rod, they wouldn’t find it an easy task- such artifacts did not pass out of existence easily.

Leaving Tenquis’s workshop, Geth and the others returned to Khaar Mbar’ost only to be ambushed-by Chetiin! To their amazement, he insisted that he had not been the one who had killed Haruuc. On the day of the assassination, he had himself been attacked and left for dead while someone else-likely another hired assassin of his clan, the shaarat’khesh or Silent Blades-had stolen his unique magical dagger and posed as him. Ekhaas and Dagii believed him but Geth remained doubtful. Only one of their group could have known words spoken by the assassin over Haruuc’s body. If Chetiin’s story were true, Midian was the one behind the hired assassin.

Geth, Ekhaas, and Dagii agreed to keep Chetiin’s survival from both Ashi and Midian, so that Chetiin would be free to look for further evidence of treachery. The goblin vanished into the night and the three continued on to Khaar Mbar’ost, only to receive another surprise. Valenar raiders had attacked and destroyed clanholds in the east of Darguun. Moments before his death, Haruuc had attempted to channel the aggression born of the cursed rod into conflict with the elves of Valenar. Although it had seemed that the threat of war had passed with Haruuc’s death, the elves still sought battle and had chosen to strike first.

Tariic, Haruuc’s nephew and potential heir, roused Darguun’s warlords with an impassioned speech demanding the defense of the nation. He appointed Dagii to lead a small force to confront the raiders. Dagii, bound by honor and duty, accepted the command, and Ekhaas was ordered by Senen Dhakaan, the ambassador of her clan, to accompany him and record the story of the battle. They were also accompanied-in secret and at Geth’s request-by Chetiin. Geth had investigated details of Chetiin’s story and finally had been convinced that it was the truth. Although sending Chetiin away left only Ashi and Midian (his trustworthiness suspect) in Rhukaan Draal, Geth wanted to be certain Dagii and Ekhaas were kept safe.

Soon after, Tariic was chosen as Haruuc’s successor. With Tariic’s coronation imminent and the false rod in hand, Geth felt confident that their scheme would succeed. He was shaken by the appearance of Pradoor and Makka at the coronation ceremony: Tariic had allied himself with the priestess to secure the support of the people in his selection as lhesh. Geth’s confidence was completely shattered, however, when Tariic, taking possession of the false rod during the ceremony, instantly recognized it as a forgery.

While they had all assumed that no one but Haruuc and Geth had ever touched the Rod of Kings, they had forgotten that on the day they had returned to Rhukaan Draal with the rod, Tariic had taken it from Geth and had ceremoniously presented it to his uncle. Even that brief contact had exposed him to the curse. Where Haruuc had resisted the rod, though, Tariic had opened himself to it.

Combined with Tariic’s natural ambition and charisma, the rod would be a greater danger than ever. Tariic could not, however, reveal the rod’s forgery without placing his newly-crowned status in jeopardy, and Geth took advantage of this vulnerability to escape the throne room. With guards in pursuit, he fled for his chamber to retrieve the true rod, intending to flee with it. Bursting into his chamber, however, he surprised Chetiin in the act of stealing the true rod.

Stunned, Geth watched as the goblin traitor escaped with the rod, rappelling down the side of Khaar Mbar’ost, just as the guards reached the chamber. Outnumbered, Geth climbed out the window and plunged to the ground. He survived, thanks to his shifter-granted toughness, but was left badly injured. With his allies trapped in Tariic’s fortress, he turned to the only remaining person he could trust to hide him, passing out on Tenquis’s doorstep.

But at the same time, far away, Chetiin stood with Ekhaas and Dagii in a skirmish against a small group of Valenar. Thanks to Dagii’s tactics and the timely use of Ekhaas’s duur’kala magic, the elves were defeated and the Darguuls discovered that the raiding warbands were only a cover for a larger force: an entire Valenar warclan. Dispatching warnings to Tariic, Dagii commanded his soldiers to make a stand against the Valenar.

Meanwhile, in Rhukaan Draal on the day of the coronation, Ashi had come close to attacking the soldiers sent after Geth, but had been held back by Aruget, a loyal guard assigned to her by Haruuc. Aruget, knowing something of the heroes’ secrets, saw that if Ashi had attacked, Tariic would have been within his rights to arrest her. Vounn d’Deneith, Ashi’s superior and House Deneith’s envoy to the court of Darguun, agreed and kept Ashi isolated for several days. As soon as she deemed it safe, Vounn made arrangements with Pater d’Orien, viceroy of House Orien, to have Ashi magically transported out of Darguun.

While Vounn made her arrangements, though, Ashi was able to meet with Midian for the first time since the coronation. Discovering that Geth had apparently returned and taken to accompanying Tariic everywhere while avoiding them, Ashi and Midian decided that they needed to confront their friend. Their conversation was overheard by Makka, still seeking vengeance and assigned by Tariic to deal with Ashi and Midian without bringing suspicion on the throne. Soon Ashi received a message from Geth arranging a secret meeting on the roof of Khaar Mbar’ost late at night. Though she, Midian, and Aruget were wary, they were unprepared for the attack launched by Makka and “Geth”-in actual fact, a changeling, Ko, ordered to take on Geth’s likeness by Tariic in order to hide the real Geth’s disappearance.

Aruget managed to get Ashi away. Their escape trapped Midian with Makka, but Aruget would not let Ashi go back, saying only that Midian could take care of himself. In the process of escaping, Aruget revealed that he was more than he seemed. He was not a hobgoblin at all, but another changeling, known to Ashi from previous adventures as a half-elf named Benti-an agent of Breland. Ashi and Aruget fled for the compound of House Orien. However, Tariic had sent a messenger ahead with a notice declaring Ashi a wanted criminal. As Aruget, looking out for himself, vanished, Ashi found herself cornered by Tariic’s soldiers and arrested.

The next morning, Dagii’s forces engaged the Valenar near the town of Zarrthec. Though Darguul discipline and tactics initially dominated the battle, elven cavalry and war magic soon turned the tide. The Darguuls seemed

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