At the door of the manor house, they are met by Tiadora - the green-eyed woman from the prison. The only difference is her dress. She no longer looks like she is destined for a funeral. Instead she wears a diaphanous white gown that makes her look almost angelic.
When she speaks, any illusions about her angelic character are quickly dispelled.
“Dearest, you took long enough,” she says pitilessly.
“We were beginning to wonder if you’d ever make it. Oh, and you brought friends. The master commands all of you to appear before him but before that, you must be made presentable. Slaves!”
She claps her hands. A dozen young attractive men and women all wearing very traditional servant’s livery appear quickly, their heads bowed.
“These people are our guests,” she commands imperiously. “See them to their rooms. I want them cleaned, dressed and refreshed. Quickly.”
There is something in that last word that sounds like a threat. Certainly the slaves take it that way, hustling to perform their duties.
The PCs are led up to their rooms. The accommodations are comfortable and the slaves are silent and efficient. There are fresh clothes perfectly sized to each character in their rooms and there is opportunity to wash up. When the attendants notice the wounds one nods and comes back with a decanter full of velvety red wine. The wine is mixed with healing herbs and holds six glasses of wine - each equivalent to a potion of cure light wounds. This one decanter is shared between all the wounded... and Grumblejack. Each PC also receives a platter full of hot, delicious food and fresh water.
At last Tiadora leads you to a beautifully appointed office richly decorated with dark wood and sumptuous brocade tapestry. Sitting in a leather high-backed chair is a devilishly handsome fellow who smiles as you enter. “I believe you to be the first to ever escape from Branderscar Prison. Well done! Of course, you had help from the outside,” he says with a wicked smile.
“But enough with the pleasantries. You must be curious why I’ve helped you. Rest assured this is no random act of altruism. I have brought you here for a reason. My name is Cardinal Adrastus Thorn. I am the last high priest of Asmodeus left on the island of Talingarde. Once the Prince of Nessus was rightly revered alongside the other great powers. Now, the king of Talingarde has become a puppet to Mitran fanatics who wish to destroy any religion that does not bow to their insipid sun god.
“For their blasphemy, I will see the same people who imprisoned and condemned you suffer. I understand what you went through for I have faced it myself.” With that, he pulls down the sleeve of his robe and reveals his own runic ‘F’ brand. “I am going to burn Talingarde to the ground and from the ashes I will build a new nation that knows its rightful master. I cannot do this alone. I seek servants
worthy of our Infernal Father’s majesty. Have I found them in you?”
He rises and his eyes flash with hellfire and divine purpose. “Join me! Serve me well in this holy endeavor and I will raise you up in the eyes of gods and men. I will make you princes of the new Talingarde. Today, swear fealty to me and to Asmodeus.
“Put aside forgiveness and I shall give you vengeance. Put aside mercy and be made powerful. Put aside peace and become my harbingers of war. What say you? Will you swear your allegiance or will you burn with the rest of the blind fools?”
The party is quick to agree, and already looking forward to some more payback - and looting.
Cardinal Thorn smiles. “Excellent. Let us make it official. Signing in blood is traditional.”
He brings out a quill, a silver ritual knife and two copies of a contract written on some unidentifiable leather and written in dark red ink – the Pact of Thorns. He lets the PCs keep one copy of the contract. The other, he takes.
(Onyx probeert slim te zijn met zijn contract en het hele "tekenen in bloed" idee. Tiadora laat hem even voelen dat dit niet acceptabel is.)
“Well done. Your first command: prepare yourselves. Stay within the manor. You are still hunted by the Talirean soldiery. In three days we begin your training.”
The escapees are fed, fully rested, bathed and clothed in garments more befitting nobility than prisoners on the lam. For three days they live a life of luxury and ease in the manor house. Tiadora offers them each one of the slaves as a ‘companion’. During the three days each PC receives 200 gp worth of gear appropriate to their class. A slave approaches each PC and meekly asks what equipment they require. The slave then takes the requests to Tiadora who somehow arranges for everything to be bought.
Each PC also receives a silver medallion and an iron circlet. The silver medallion is a holy symbol of Asmodeus (worth 25 gp if you could find a buyer). The iron circlet is magical, and Tiadora explains its power.
Aura faint illusion; Slot head; Weight –
This circlet of wrought iron alters itself to comfortably fit any wearer. It allows the wearer to alter their appearance as with a disguise self spell. As part of the disguise, the circlet can be changed to appear as any sort of hat, headgear, or hairstyle the wearer desires.
During the three days the party also meets a few other guests - an adventuring group known as the White Ravens (named after the white raven familiar of their leader - Elise Zadaria.
Elise Zadaria, human winter witch – As beautiful as she is deadly, Elise is nominally the
leader of the group.
Dostan Alfson, half-elf barbarian – Fanatically dedicated to Elise for reasons he will not talk
about, this brooding hulk is rarely far from his great sword.
Tallus “Trak” Rackburn, human ranger – Trak is the slightly older (by a minute) and taller of the
two identical twins who serve in “The White Ravens”. His favorite prey is humans and he is a hunter of men both by profession and inclination.
Titus “Trik” Rackburn, human cleric – Trik is the younger twin and so friendly and approachable that he seems completely out of place in this wicked band.
The White Ravens have also received Iron Circlets and holy symbols.
After the three days, the PCs are once again summoned by Cardinal Thorn:
“Have you enjoyed your gifts? The iron circlets allow you to move amongst your enemies as one of them. The silver amulets will remind you of your true loyalties. And the other items – well, you need them now.
“You have done well to escape from Branderscar and to accept my offer. However, you are still not ready for my service. Tiadora will lead you to the basement of this domicile. There you will find nine chambers each more dangerous than the last. Somewhere hidden within these chambers is a pendant of silver and sapphire. Recover the pendant and bring it to me. Let nothing and no one stand in your way.”
He stands up and looks out of the manor house window across the grey moor. “It’s almost dusk. You have until dusk tomorrow to bring me my prize. Do not fail me.”
Cardinal Thorn takes a seat at his desk. Tiadora arrives right on cue. “This way,” is all she says.
Thorn answers no questions. Tiadora answers a few.
Question: “What does this pendant look like?”
Answer: “You will know it.”
Question: “Should we be ready for a fight?”
Answer: “You are servants of Asmodeus in Talingarde. You should always be ready for battle.”
Question: “What is down there?”
Answer: “The master has already told you all you need to know.”
Question: “No, really. What’s down there?”
Answer: “Monsters. Death. Worse.”
Question: “Can we bring Grumblejack?”
Answer: “Use whatever resources you wish.”
Question: “Can we leave the basement to rest and come back later?”
Answer: “You may go wherever you wish within the manor. But the pendant is in the basement, not in your bed chambers. I will warn you -- our master takes failure … poorly.”
Tiadora leads them to a set of stairs. “Below you will find the Nine Lessons.” She leaves without any further explanation.