Assassins of Kings
While Random cleans up a mess in a brothel, Aron continues staking out the palace.
A number of cardinals (including Richelieu) are seen entering and leaving the palace, together with somebody dressed as the Pope (Neither the Pope nor the Eastern Primate, according to Random and Flora)
A crowd gather in the street to see delegations arrive for a state dinner:
– The new “pope”
– A delegation from Kashfa, associated with the King
– A delegation from Kashfa, associated with the King’s elder brother (whose body Random moved to Texorami earlier)
– A delegation from Texiban, including their “crown prince” (poor translation)
Screams go up from the crowd, as the “crown prince” of Texiban is assassinated.
We observe a man in a ruffled shirt slip from the scene into the crowd, presumed to be the assassin.
Random pursues the assassin, while Aron takes advantage of the chaos (and exquisite tailoring) to slip into the palace with the nobles fleeing in that direction.
The assassin checks into our hotel, and enters a room on the 4th floor.
As Random moves to a balcony, intending to climb up that way, the assassin is seen leaving the courtyard dressed like a butcher (city working class)
The assassin knows this city like the back of his hand, and has an escape planned out.
Random is a cheating Prince of Amber, and shifts things into a similar but different enough to mess things up city, giving the chance to catch up.
Rather than pull the man from his horse, he vaults onto the back of the horse and joins him there, shifting the horse onto the path into Arden.
Ambushes in the forest
Random finds himself pursued by a pack of black dogs and a white siamese cat.
His personal revolver knocks back the cat, but doesn’t cause a lasting injury.
It’s effective enough on the dogs, but there are enough of them to overrun and injure the horse.
One emergency trump extraction from Julian later, Random turns over the assassin to Julian for questioning. “We don’t know who he works for, so leave him alive. Also he’s good enough to be useful to us”
Meeting up with Phil (and his newly acquired desert scouts) in the camp, they ride back out to attempt to meet the chaos cat with force.
Now there’s a competent commander on the field, they skirt around an ambush, to take an enemy camp from the flank.
These seem to be Osric/Finndo’s troops, rather than chaos, but they do not respond to parley.
Although random takes one prisoner, they are mindless thralls that are useless for interrogation.
The cat joins the fight, but realising she is outmatched, she sacrifices her dogs to cover an escape.
Phil declined joining Random on the return trip to Begma, he has his own mission.
((I had to bite my tongue during this bit.. but nobody showed sign of recognising a character I was hoping would return in the campaign))
Phil of Arabia
Phil is on a mission from Eric to investigate whether chaos troops are moving through the desert, and whether they have an advantage in survivability and combat in that kind of harsh environment.
After recruiting desert scouts in shadow, he went to the place on the war map.
After sending out scouts, he spotted vultures circling nearby and went to investigate himself.
On a rock by a dried riverbed, a whole village has been slaughtered / sacrificed.
A trickle of blood flows down the parched riverbed, too much even for the slaughter, and not drying up.
He discovers a “spring” where blood is welling up, and snake tracks a foot wide leading away.
When the scouts return, pursued by 300, they identify this as “Lamia”, a creature everyone thought was mythical.
Allowing them to leave to warn their villages “nobody will believe us, but we have to try”, Phil returns to Amber and researches Lamia in the library.
Rivers of poisoned blood, poisoned groundwater, poison in the air downwind of her… lots about poison and drawings of a snake with a woman’s upper body instead of a head.
Deciding this will need “fearless troops”, he set out into shadow to find some, no matter how weird.
A chequered past
While shifting through deep shadow, Phil finds himself shadowed by a black and white figure on a chequerboard horse.
He can’t shake the trail by shadow shifting, and every time he gets close to Arden, he is yanked back to a place where the trees have succulent spiny stalks instead of trunks.
When he tried to approach the figure, it retreated to maintain a distance.
Meanwhile, in Begma
The nobles, gawkers, and spies who fled into the palace are ushered into a ballroom.
With guards on every door, this is a glorified holding cell, to keep everyone until the situation calms down enough to sort out who’s who without causing too much offense.
When Flora starts working the room, all eyes are on her.
Begman Ladies’ fashion probably just got updated to be “like what the princess Flora was wearing”, and there will probably be duels fought over perceived slights on her honour in the morning.
Slipping out a door where the guards are paying more attention to Flora than their duty, Aron makes it quite deep into the palace by being properly dressed and obviously belonging there.
The king’s antechamber is properly guarded by professionals, but around the corner Aron encounters Cardinal Richelieu who insists on introducing him to the king.
“Lord Aron, son of Prince Benedict, of Amber”
The King picks up on the Prince thing and questions if there’s a civil war in Amber over a game of Piquet.
Aron assures him there is not, that we are at war with the banished elder brother.
Then tries to make Osric’s danger clear by putting the Stoke incident in human terms.
“He doesn’t destroy nations by conquering them to rule over, he destroys them by killing every person within them”
The game is interrupted by guards entering the room and insisting to the king that the cardinal summons him. A phrasing that draws immediate suspicion from Aron and the King alike.
Seeing their cover blown, the guards draw weapons and attack.
Porthos comes out of the closet (so to speak), as the king dives into the bolthole behind it.
Between them, they easily dispatch enough “guards” to drive off the rest.
They then relocate to a smaller but more defensible audience chamber with a fortified bedroom behind it.
Porthos decides Aron is trustworthy enough or has earned the information that the visitors to the king were asking him to send an army to the desert beyond Kashfa to deal with a force of destruction there. Not something he’s been willing to agree, since it would look enough like marching on Kashfa to provoke a war.
When Random returned to Begma, he went to revisit the Salon to catch up on news of the assassination.
Shortly, he gets a trump call from Flora wanting emergency extraction from the palace.
She dropped the candle in the palace on the way out, probably setting it on fire.
Before returning to Amber, she puts on her best damsel-in-distress face to call in Benedict.
Random led Benedict to the palace back gate, and tried to bluff his way in using Porthos’ secret knock.
While this is failing to pass visual identification by the guard on duty, Benedict is already climbing the wall and slipping in a window.
They identify which set of guards in a pitched battle they have come up behind by Random saluting the king.
Answer: the rebels.
They cut through the rebels easily enough, Benedict like a wind through grass, Random like a combine harvester.
When pushing aside a barricade, Random uses his pistol to eliminate defenders in as noisy and messy a way as possible – hoping to demoralize and scare the others.
Meanwhile, the defensible audience chamber is under attack by halberdiers.
Porthos: “Do you want the left or the right?”
Aron: “You’ll notice I’m holding my sword in the left hand”
Reading the situation Aron realised they are vastly outnumbered, and Porthos would eventually tire, or the enemy would get lucky; he calls a retreat to the panic room, which has a smaller door they can bolt, bar and barricade.
Random and Benedict reach the audience chamber before the rebels manage to cut through the door. Benedict doesn’t stick around, and goes to find more fighting instead.
On questioning the rebel prisoners, either the king was going to marry a huguenot ((IRL: French protestants that fled to Ireland to escape persecution – possibly some of my ancestors)), or Maximillia of Kashfa.
Mostly they spat a lot and called Random “fils de putain”, which earned that particular rebel the right to die in a duel once he’s recovered enough to walk, instead of on the scaffold tomorrow morning.
Gorrillaphobia immersion therapy
Phil’s fearless soldiers turn out to be red-furred gorillas, giving him an opportunity to get over fear induced by Conrad’s “pet” gorilla.
They are in high spirits, singing and cracking jokes as he leads them to fight Lamia (who has now accumulated a bigger pile of corpses and a stream of blood to replace the trickle)
Hiding upstream in the riverbed, they wait for her to return and attack without warning.
Phil’s arbalest barely chips the stony armour of her face, and he only got a couple of good shots off before she closed the distance. His swords were essentially useless, and she barely noticed the gorrillas on her back trying to get blades between her scales.
However, Phil is a cheating Lord of Amber, and shadow shifted the battle out of the desert and onto a rocky plain where he could lead her into a sinkhole.
((Poisoned groundwater for twelve generations – Phil’s turn to destroy all life in an entire shadow))
The gorrillas are in high spirits, and only arguing about whether to eat their dead now or after they get home.
In any case, they’re very willing to fight for Phil again.
The Sphinx’s treasure
Random and Aron follow up the lead, shadow shifting to the desert beyond Kashfa, with a stop of the way for Random to update Maximillia on where to find the body now.
Maximillia expresses concern that this could rebound on Random, given his association with Texorami.
We arrive at a landmark in the desert, the Sphinx.
“When defeated, he sat down on his treasure and turned to stone out of spite”.
Unexpectedly, there is a thunderstorm and rain over the sphinx – in the middle of a desert, in an otherwise cloudless sky.
The rain dies down as we approach, but this has “Osric” and “Trap” written all over it.
Random calls in to Corwin for a map and we look for a nearby settlement.
The “map” consists of a blank sheet of parchment with “Ha Ha” written on it.
Aron: “Corwin thinks he’s being funny”
The nearest village is busy transferring the unseasonable but very welcome rainwater into storage cisterns. We help out a bit while getting information on the sphinx. Local kids spend the night out there for dares, but nothing ever happens to them. The rain storms are recent, and always start over the sphinx.
Returning to the sphinx, we climb the sunny side (which has dried off a bit), and discover a cave in the ear.
A cave with a strong odour of ozone.
Quite poisonous unless you’re a sorceror with an appropriate spell hung… or Aron.
The cave spirals down into a darkened labyrinth, through which one path has been heavily scorched and burned.
Aron explores with the light of a glowing rock retrieved by Random (because I’m not taking a naked flame down a mineshaft, especially one Osric probably half filled with hydrogen for fun)
At the end of the burned path is a treasure chamber containing several tons of gold, some of it fused or on fire, covering all the interesting artifacts. (Dragon’s egg, ivory statue, weapons…)
((I was half expecting to find a Way to another labyrinth that is definitely only for shape-shifters down there))
This obviously needs a sorceror’s eye, but “she’s busy”, so we get Bleys who joins Random entering the labyrinth with crappy rubber filter masks that perish and fall apart in less than an hour.
The treasure horde is all cursed. Except the gold – the gold is a counterweight that stops the curses triggering. As long as nobody takes the gold away.
Before too long, the storm starts up again, and we retreat to Amber before the treasure chamber turns into an arc furnace.