Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Chapter 3: Lady of the Stars

This is a continuation of the King Thadar's Catacombs Campaign (Chapter 2: War).

Summary: Our adventurers' travels have taken them from Városa to Kerthaz and then back down that familiar road to the valley of Kékhegi. The party finds its way to the town of Kékhegi, where Lady Ilka is waiting. Ubykh's writ or Berzeg's silver coin will win the Lady's audience. Upon offering the map or information concerning Kerthaz she will be most grateful and offer a room in the castle. The adventurers' arrival, however, will trigger a series of disconcerting events that begins with a dead servant and seven possible suspects. The adventurers must race to discover the culprit or Lady Ilka may die and the region of Vale become entrenched in a prolonged war.



The Setting: Kékhegi is a fully intact dunaelf castle. The castle is built on a high ridge overlooking the town. Its towers reach hundreds of feet into the air. A well-groomed forest girdles the town, which is exceptionally well defended, but small. Trade between coastal towns and Kékhegi is necessary to maintain even a few hundred residents. In the past decade the lady of Kékhegi has built a strong relationship with the coastal villages and the town of Erd in particular. The Countess is named Ilka. She is a Blue noble with strong connection to the Veres family. Her late husband was cousin of Queen Etelka. Ilka relies on a small elite force of hussars and rangers to protect her territory. She has no slave soldiers and  any that come into her domain become free folk by law.

Upon entering the town, two lit torches should catch the adventurers' eyes. Their fires emanate a sapphire blue. If any of the adventurers are hussars or they cast an illusion spell (or an illusion spell is active), the torches suddenly erupt into a violent blaze and do one of two things. If they activate due to an illusion, the illusion is burned away in a blaze of blue embers. If they activate due to a hussar, the fires erupt into a heatless wall of flame. You may cross, but the hussar and his phantom may not. Only when the sergeant of the guard gifts the adventurer a medallion and it is donned, can the hussar pass the fire.

Timeline

Day 1: Servant dies.
Day 2: Ilka falls ill after the first dose of poison.
Day 3: Ilka is dead. The Eloszor army arrives but will not pass into Vale without Ilka.

Clues
 
Clue: A plain nondescript knife is left in the servant's belly and there are bruises on her face where her mouth was held tightly shut. Whoever did it was strong.
Clue: Lady Ilka's wine and food is poisoned by ground sweetwood (three doses within a week's time will cause organ failure in an adult). Sweetwood in small doses will give the appearance of an illness and death by natural causes.
Clue: Lady Ilka has a strong relationship with Queen Etelka Veres. Her brother is Duke Gaspar, lord of Városa. When our adventurers left Városa they may have heard rumors about murders in the city.
Clue: Two tanned men in golden scale armor (Kolos and Vilmos) speak with Lady Ilka in thick strange accents. Apparently, they are also staying at the castle, but they come and go frequently.
Clue: Erik prays each night. While not strange in and of itself, the Veres family is not particularly pious and unlikely to employ or confide in such a person.
Clue: The poison is on Erik's person. He is otherwise very careful. He keeps nothing in writing or objects that would incriminate him. After the unfortunate need to kill the servant girl, Erik will attempt to cast suspicions on other members in the castle. If the fact that Ilka is being poisoned is discovered, he will prepare a much stronger dose of poison. Doing so may be revealing as grinding sweetwood into power requires one be careful not to inhale. It causes sneezing fits and smells like molasses.
Clue: Erik's note to Ilka from the Queen. The first half of the note is in code. It means that the army is marching to Kerthaz. The end is peculiar. The Queen states that Erik has some special talents, including the ability to manipulate shadows. Nothing that you have noticed, however, indicates that he has this power.

The Assassin's Goal: The assassin is tasked with killing Lady Ilka, much the same as he was tasked with killing the Queen's allies in Városa. War has been brewing for some time and Count Filip of Erod is prepared. He has placed assassins in the towns of likely enemies across Vale. His goal is to isolate Városa and prevent it from seizing the entire valley entrance of Vale.

If in 3 consecutive days she dies, the symptoms appear as a disease. If the poison is ever discovered, then the tactic changes, a different poison will kill her with one dose.

Ilka's Goal: The ultimate goal of Ilka and the other Blue nobles is to crush Erod and consolidate power in Városa. There is a sense of urgency for the Blues as the need to counter the rise of Vadas in the north is becoming more apparent. Ilka is very close to the Queen. She is tasked with raising an army in Eloszor and surprising the Green's forces likely to siege Városa, since the bulk of its own forces are camped outside Kerthaz. Caught between hammer and anvil, the city guard in Városa and Ilka's army will crush them and then march north, pinning the Erod forces between two huge armies. Once conquered they will take Kerthaz and turn to Erod where Berzeg is attempting to undermine Lord Filip. If the two places are taken, half of Vale will be Városa's.

If Ilka is killed, the trust built between her and their leaders will be for nothing and Vale will be drawn into a prolonged war.

The front gate and Kékhegi Castle


The town of Kékhegi (with the castle on its north side and the gates on its south side). The town is circled by a dense hedge, a dry moat, and walls.


Characters in the Castle

Lady Ilka: Lady Ilka is a strong middle-aged woman (she is, however, very well kept and fit). She is also secretly a wizard. It is immediately apparent that Ilka is a leader. Widowed only a year into her marriage to Queen Etelka's cousin, Kovacs Kékhegi, Ilka never remarried. The Queen once tried to arrange a strategic marriage between her and her brother, Gaspar but she refused. Despite this, the Queen and Ilka are good friends. Ilka is headstrong and smart. Once she sets her mind to something, nothing can stop her. She is instrumental to the Queen and her brother's plans to unite Vale so to be ready if the Vadas family attempts a power grab, in fact, Ilka planned much of it herself. She has long campaigned against slavery and for that, she has gained a good reputation in the coastal towns of Eloszor, where slavery was once a problem not relegated to just the thrymm and half-blooded. In just a few years she has gained their trust and raised an army unbeknownst to the Green nobles of Vale. If her plan succeeds, eight thousand soldiers will march out of the valley and catch the Greens at complete unawares.

Kirantukh Ilka's faithful thrymm captain: Kirantukh is nearly three times Ilka's age, but answers to her with complete deference. A scar runs from his collar bone to his cheek. He is a huge thrymm, larger even than Berzeg and Ubykh. This is not a person to be crossed. He speaks very little in company, but in private he is much more in open. He fought in the Aelf War and was later taken as a slave soldier. He escaped after decades of service and finally made his way to Kekhegi. He has served as captain of the guard for nearly twenty years and has been Ilka's secret love for most of that time.

Lázár, Ilka's wizened teacher: Lázár is an old man. He spends most his time puttering around the castle library. He is Ilka's old teacher. He is also a wizard. In his heyday he was a talented magician. His particular expertise is in enchantments. He is also well-read. His interests are in the history of Vale and the old dunaelf kingdoms.
 
Kolos and Vilmos, visitors from Eloszor: These visitors are from Erd, a town on the coastal region of Eloszor. They speak Keleti in thick accents and it's extremely difficult to understand them. Their garb is also strange. They are often clad in golden scale mail. The two come and go from the castle often. In one week's time, the Eloszor army will arrive at Kekhegi's gates. There are dozens of Eloszor people within the town. Both men are capable warriors, but if the adventurers are unable to communicate with them they may appear very suspicious.

Anikó, Ilka's cousin: Ilka's cousin has lived with her for a little over a year. He is much younger and plumper than Ilka and prone to bouts of debauchery. He enjoys spending time with Lázár, but his idle chatter and tendency to expound on philosophy (to an annoying degree) makes him easy to overlook. Occasionally, he displays a sharp wit, sarcasm, and a surprising self-awareness. He's not nearly as big a doofus as he appears. If the adventurers don't find the assassin in a day's time, Anikó will likely become a target as he will be quick to investigate.

Erzsi, Ilka's lady in waiting: Erzsi is a composed, pretty woman. Ilka confides in her and she, in turn, feels free to express her thoughts. Erzsi is also a well-trained warrior. She keeps a long knife strapped horizontally across her back. She is very slow to trust anyone and therefore will confide only in Ilka and Kirantukh. Erzsi will also be quick to investigate and she will keep a careful eye on Ilka.

Erik, the Queen's man: Erik was sent by Etelka with a special note, signed and sealed. Erik has special talents that may be of use to her. But Erik is dead, killed by Zander. Zander has been posing as Erik for nearly two weeks now. He is a magpie. He keeps his weapons and poisons in his hidden pockets. He rarely walks around armed. He is quick, intelligent, and very careful. He tries to not stand out but is careful to add a supporting voice when Ilka wants input from the room. He is a native Keleti but was raised in Crocáno. If any of the party members are from Crocáno they may pick up on this. Zander will keep a close eye on any newcomers. He will do everything in his power to push suspicions on others, but will not hesitate to either dispatch anyone who confronts him.

This ends Chapter 3. See what's next for you in Chapter 4: The Marble Throne.