The flickering flame of a lone torch cast its light about a damp chamber below the harbour of Kordova. Grim men sat around a wooden table, concentrating on plans of murder. As the Nemedians sipped strong wine, Thothmekri explained that he had prepared for slaying Castante and his guest. The mysterious Baron rarely left his manor, so those wishing to kill him would need to break into his home. The Stygian had infiltrated the manor with one of his spies, who had provided rough sketch of the mansion and its grounds. The man inside would also leave one of the outer gates and one door inside unlocked for the killers to enter – but he could do little more than that.
An attack on the manor would not go unnoticed, however, no matter how silent the assassins were. Castante’s neighbours might be inclined just to enjoy the show, as many of them were his rivals and would love to see him brought down. However, the city guard would arrive on the scene in strength eventually.Thus a diversion would be necessary, something big that would attract official attention – such as setting a fire on the temple district.
Thothmekri explained that he needed the Nemedians to be one of the two parties – either entering the manor grounds to kill Castante and the Argosean nobleman, or to create a distraction elsewhere in the city. He would take the other role with his men, but the choice was up to the veterans. He promised that the men would be richly rewarded for their service – he was planning to begin the attack once the black galley his master had sent would be ready in the harbour. With these words, the dark-skinned sorcerer left the room to allow the Nemedians to discuss his proposal among themselves.
In an hour, all of the men agreed that they would take the offer and attack the mansion themselves. That way, they could loot the treasures of Baron Castante in the process. The questions of what to ask as a reward was more challenging to decide. Finally, Tyrus and Alcemides convinced the rest that they should ask Thothmekri for Stygian trading permits. That way they could sail straight to Stygia with the black galley, invest their newly found wealth in silk and outfit a caravan to take it back to Nemedia. They reasoned that going back home with a hundred gold coins was fine – but a thousand coins was even better. As the Stygian returned, he was a bit surprised to hear what the men wanted but agreed at once. His master could easily arrange such things for the services rendered.
A few days on intense planning followed. The information provided by the spy inside the manor allowed the Nemedians to draw a rough map of the manor and its surroundings. Castante had over two dozen men in arms, as well as a few bodyguards that were rumored to be exotic and effective. Many options ranging from inciting a slave riot to an explosive entry using flame-powder were examined and discarded. Finally, the men came up with a plan all could agree upon. It was a strange and daring plan, but one that might just work. Thothmekri gave the men two strange and beautiful daggers, which he instructed to leave in the bodies of their two targets. The weapons were decorated with gold and had likeness of a bird – the blade was like its beak, the handle its legs and body. Dionysos recognized that they had resemblance to the Ibis bird – it was obvious that Thothmekri wanted to frame the Cult of Ibis for the murders.
As the Nemedians prepared for the assassination attempt, one of Thothmekri’s men informed them that a group of slaves had been brought to Kordova for sale. Not just any slaves, but the very same Nemedians which the Zingaran mercenaries had captured in the rout from Aquilonia. The Nemedians were pressed with hard decisions – leaving the shelter would be an immense risk, as the cult was surely looking for them now and their attack had been planned to happen that very night. Yet Barathus insisted on seeing what they could do for their former comrades. He came up with a plan to disguise the men as lepers, whose presence everyone would surely avoid.
Thus five lepers dressed in rags appeared in the market square, begging for alms near the slave pens. True enough, each man recognized a few faces among the prisoners – although all the noble-born were missing, likely held for ransom by their families. Returning to their shelter, the men engaged in a heated debate. Barathus wanted to buy all of the prisoners their freedom, but others argued that they would have nowhere to go. The former Adventurer solved the problem by convincing Thothmekri to take the lot aboard the Stygian galley and with it to Messentia. Yet still the others refused to use their wealth for the freedom of their fellows. Finally Barathus alone spent the majority of his fortune on buying freedom for all of the prisoners through a proxy. Moved by his generosity, Alcemides and Tyrus spent some gold each to buy them provisions and equipment – but Noam and Dionysos would not budge.
As darkness fell on Kordova, the Nemedians were already on the move. A tunnel from the Pits allowed them to enter the manor district near their target. Followed by a dozen or so cutthroats hired through Thothmekri’s contacts, they slided from shadow to shadow. The five Nemedians entered through the side gate, which was left open as agreed, while the Zingaran scoundrels stayed to wait outside. Once in the garden, the five men split in two groups, silently wishing each other luck. Dionysos, Alcemides and Noam sneaked towards the manor while Tyrus and Barathus moved towards the animal shelter. Two poisoned arrows weighed heavily in Noam’s quiver. Thothmekri had promised that the dark liquid they had been dipped in would prove to be especially potent against sorcerers.
Tyrus and Barathus reached the animal shelter silently, swiftly striking down a lone guard sipping wine at the rear entrance. Inside, they threw drugged meat to the lions and other beasts held inside. After opening their cages they then raced to climb on the roof of the building. Soon enough, beasts of all kind, unnaturally enraged through the herbal poisons running through their veins bolted forth in the garden. Across the wide grounds, the Zingaran cutthroats entered the manor through an unlocked back door, falling on the surprised guards and servants alike in a whirlwind of bloodthirsty blades. A noisy chaos erupted in the manor grounds, as insane beasts, confused guards and greedy scoundrels hacked down whoever they could reach. In the horizon, the glow of a great fire could be seen against the night sky. Thothmekri and his men had completed their part.
Meanwhile, the two scouts and the sorcerer with Acheronian blood had climbed on the balcony of the second floor. Sneaking ahead, Alcemides peeked inside the windows of the guest suites, locating the Argosean nobleman. He was sitting in one of the rooms illuminated only by a lone candle, talking to a woman dressed in a robe-like outfit. The woman was black as night, from the jungles of the hot south. Neither seemed to notice that they were being watched from outside. The three men moved in to positions behind the open window. Alcemides jumped inside, two shortswords gleaming in the light, while Noam and Dionysos fired at the man, wounding him grievously.
Yet as the element of surprise ran out, both of the two defenders were quick to act. The black woman leaped at Alcemides like a striking serpent, stunning him with a quick kick in the groin and drawing two short, crescent-like blades from her long sleeves. Noam’s arrows narrowly missed the Argosean, as he jumped underneath his bed, pulling hastily the golden mask on his face. Just as the southern woman prepared to slice the half-picts throat, a lucky bolt fired by Dionysos hit her straight through the left eye, killing her instantly.
As Alcemides was returning back to his senses, the Argossean had managed to put the mask on and shouted for help in a familiar, booming voice. The Nemedians felt a strange force compelling them not to harm their target – the strange symbol on the golden mask whirled in the shadows, forcing them to submit before it. As the others stood back, Noam charged the bleeding man blind, stabbing him with a dagger with eyes closed until he did not move. Alcemides and Noam moved to investigate the bedroom that had turned into a slaughterhouse, carefully listening by the door. All they could hear was the sounds of fighting downstairs and the bellowing of the beasts on the grounds. As they stood their backs towards him, Dionysos stripped the golden mask from the dead man and placed it upon his own face.
Alcemides and Noam were surprised as Dionysos suddenly turned on them with his fell sorcery, the symbol of the mask twirling in the darkness. Together, they managed to wrestle the pale sorcerer on the floor and pull the mask off his face by force. Trembling slighty, Dionysos explained that something had taken him under its control through the mask and turned him against his fellows. Throwing the accursed golden item in a sack, the trio moved carefully onward, leaving the first of the Ibis daggers stabbed in the body of their target.
Climbing stairs up to the third floor, the Nemedians faced a new dilemma. Only two routes lead in to the chambers of Baron Castane – and both were blocked, in a different manner. The first route was guarded by a lion, which Alcemides saw through a keyhole – and the second was barricaded from within. Just as the men were preparing to take their chances with the lion, they heard approaching steps from the stairs. As they prepared to spring an ambush, they recogniced Barathus and Tyrus just before landing the first blows. The former Adventurers had managed to elude the chaos in the garden and followed the three men inside the manor. Together, the five men dispatched the lion with ease – the poor beast had no chance, as it was filled with crossbow bolts the moment it charged towards the opening door. Satisfied with their success, the assassins pressed onwards.
Moving quickly but carefully, the intruders entered a well-lit, luxuriously decorated room. Oil lamps and incense burners hanged from the ceiling, the floor was covered with oriental carpets and a beautiful map of Hyboria covered one floor. The desks, drawers and chests made it obvious that this was the study of Baron Castante – yet he was nowhere to be seen. An open hatch on the ceiling hinted where he had gone, perhaps just a moment before. Preparing themselves, the Nemedians started to climb up on the roof. Alcemides raised his head first, only to receive a glancing blow from a tulwar on his head, followed by a bright, burning flash that burned his eyes. Jumping blindly on the roof, he was followed by the other men under the night sky.
On the roof was standing three men – the veiled Baron eyed the Nemedians with nothing but contempt in his burning eyes. Between him and the intruders was standing two men, a young Zingaran wielding a dagger and an arming sword and a massive Shemite wielding an equally massive tulwar in his hands. Steel clashed with steel under starlight, and the men could clearly hear the marching sound of approaching soldiers on the streets below.
The fight ebbed back and forth on the roof. Barathus disarmed the Shemite with a cunning parry from his shield, only to be pushed off the roof by the Zingaran. Tyrus exchanged blows with both bodyguards in vain, while Alcemides recovered from his stunned state only to receive a handful of dust on his face, robbing him of his sight. While the Shemite hacked Alcemides with a handaxe he had pulled from his belt, the Zingaran sent Noam flying over the edge of the roof after Barathus. Yet he did not live long to embrace his victory, for the greatsword of Tyrus and Dionysos brought him down the very next moment.
Bleeding and stinging from the dust in his eyes, Alcemides still managed to charge the Baron blindly, grabbing him in a hold. Yet as Dionysos and Tyrus closed on the remaining bodyguard, Castante gurgled in inhuman voice and belched forth from his throat a torrent of spiders, whose stinging bites brought the blind and wounded half-pict gasping on the ground. Horrified, Tyrus and Dionysos pulled back from the biting swarm. Just as the dark might of the Zingaran warlock was about to smite the remaining Nemedians down, Noam charged back on the roof. His fall had been softened by skillfully sculpted bushes, sparing him of broken bones. Aiming more with instinct than his eyes, he let fly an arrow that hit Baron Castante in the throat, dimming the light from his eyes. The Shemite bodyguard jumped down on the balcony below and ran for his life.
The Nemedians quickly looted the corpse of their mark and left the last dagger stabbed in the cooling corpse. As a badly hurt Barathus finally reached the roof again, he was astonished to notice that badly maimed Alcemides was still breathing. Seeing a squad of Zingaran soldiers approach the manor, the Nemedians quickly climbed downwards. Having no time to pick and choose, Tyrus and Noam grabbed each a locked chest on their arms while Barathus and Dionysos carried their unconscious comrade between them. Now running, the men sprinted across the garden filled with gore just as the soldiers were breaking down the main gate. They ran like men fighting for their lives run, ignoring their wounds and burdens, until they had the black planks of the ominous Stygian galley underneath their feet.