Dust clouds formed outside of the city’s massive walls, which had clearly lost much of their majesty through continual raids by pirates, rebels, the Mulhorandi army, and a foul presence from the Undercity. This foul presence attracted Darasthyr to Unthalass, a presence that drove him mad with anger every time he thought about it. Rumors of undead, lamias, and other evil creatures in the Undercity of Unthalass crept all the way to the Mulhorandi capitol. The mere thought of undead creatures made Darasthyr growl. He often boasted that his scowl would scare the barbs off of a manticore. After a few more steps he found himself at the city gate, where a rather young guard stood idly reading some sort of local publication. The man did not look up as he addressed Darasthyr, apparently too busy to bother.
“May I see your papers, please?”
A scaly, clawed hand, big enough to encompass the guard’s entire head, jutted forth with a neat stack of Mulhorandi citizenship papers. The guard jumped back and immediately looked up when he saw the massive hand. He stopped and stared in fascinated horror at Darasthyr. He stood about nine feet tall, and weighed at least 800 pounds, with thick green and silver scales covering his entire body. Long wings stuck out of his back, and a long tale dragged on the ground behind him. Darasthyr forced the papers into the guard’s hands taking little offense. He understood that most men who encountered a dragonkin didn‘t live to speak about it. His confusion must have been compounded by the fact that the creature possessed Mulhorandi citizenship papers. After perusing the documents for a moment, the sweating guard handed the papers back and called for the gate to be opened.
“Anything unusual going on in the city?” Darasthyr made small talk while he waited for the gate.
The guard regained a little composure. “Just the usual. Crime seems to be up, but the bureaucrats tell us it’s all normal.”
“You don’t believe that. Obviously.”
“Rumor has it that recent robberies and kidnappings have been caused by something in the Undercity. Deep in the Undercity. I don’t know who’s right, but I do know that the bureaucracy will always hide the truth for control.”
“Sometimes deception is necessary. Boring but necessary.” The guard half-laughed at the dragonkin’s joke, clearly calmer and more casual than a few moments prior. The gate squealed open. “Blessings of Osiris,” said the dragonkin, flicking the guard a silver.
From the city’s dilapidated entrance, Darasthyr could see the remains of a guard tower, which had been probably overrun in one of the many raids on the city. He paused for a moment to glance around, noting the overwhelming population of beggars on the streets, and then slowly continued his somber walk. He glanced around for any sort of inn or tavern that looked half way respectable, passing by many that had been badly damaged, or even destroyed, in previous raids.
After a few moments, and a few coin spared to a particularly destitute family, Darasthyr came to a relatively new building. The sign hanging above the door depicted a dwarf leaning back in a sturdy chair with a long pipe and a welcoming look on his face. Appropriately enough “The Lazy Dwarf” was lettered just below the picture, in both Untheric and Common script. The place was in better condition than any he had seen, so Darasthyr entered the narrow doorway.
The dragonkin was greeted with the usual odd stares and gasps from barmaids and the womenfolk, while the men gave him an uneasy look. He saw more than a few thrust a hand into their shirts and coats. He didn’t pay too much attention to the patrons of the bar, as his mind was instinctually focused on something else. He felt a few distinct pulls, like small magnetic forces, coming from certain people in the room. He slowly approached the bar and found a large seat in front of the non-surprisingly, dwarven barkeep, who was polishing some kind of tankard. The keep looked intently at the giant who had just entered the room, but remained calm and collected. In fact, he seemed to be unsurprised at the dragonkin‘s appearance.
“So what’ll it be? Ale? Beer? What you see is what we got.” He indicated to a large shelf of local and imported brews, none of which caught Darasthyr’s fancy.
Darasthyr was about to answer the dwarf when he caught the wiry man next to him staring, either out of sheer amazement or ignorant fear. He looked at the staring fool for a moment and glanced at the barkeep once again. “Wyvern’s blood, piping hot!” The dragonkin roared, then quickly turned and grinned at his neighbor, who jumped up from his chair with a short gasp. The man ran out of the building as if he had just seen Set himself.
Darasthyr smiled at the barkeep, who let out a hardy laugh, slamming a large mug of ale on the counter, one perfectly matched for the creature‘s large size. Taking a sip, he noted the local ale wasn‘t half bad. “I’m looking for accommodations for a larger creature.”
The [[dwarf] reached under the counter and flipped a key to the dragonkin. “Rent is one standard per night, paid full in advance. You’ll get some bread and water in your room, but we also offer supper in the bar for an extra four silver.”
Darasthyr nodded and laid down a few gold coins to cover his room, a meal, and his ale, as well as one to pay for the drink of the man who had fled the building. After a few lighthearted words and a joke or two from the keep, Darasthyr made his way to an empty table, where he awaited his food. He watched the various folk enter and exit the bar, though they all seemed to be common people, and the majority were citizens of Unther, though a Mulhorandi walked in every once in a while. Just as the barmaid was bringing a platter of fresh bread, butter, cheese, and what looked like swine, to his table, someone caught his eye in the doorway. A man not over twenty paused at the door to look around the tavern, and, though the room was shadowy, his features seemed to radiate throughout the place. He appeared to be quite sturdy and muscular. Darasthyr also noticed that the man was dressed more stately than most of the peasants who frequented the bar, though he was not clothed as a gaudy noble. He seemed to wear clothes that had much more of a practical purpose, while not being stained and worn as many common clothes were.
The man passed, and the two exchanged glances and nodded respectfully to one another, recognizing that each was not a typical customer of The Lazy Dwarf. After watching the man at the bar for a few minutes, Darasthyr came to the conclusion that this new arrival and the barkeep must’ve known each other, due to their loose greetings and jovial actions. After the man had said a few words to the keep, he yelled some greeting back at an older man who seemed to be concocting the tavern’s daily supper items. Then the man in white left the bar, without paying, and started to walk toward his table. The man stopped a few feet in front of Darasthyr with an intelligent and unwavering look on his face. “Is this seat taken?”
Darasthyr gestured to the empty seat, “No, by all means sit. I have had an interesting time trying to find anyone to converse with, and the company would be greatly appreciated.” Moments later the older man brought out a plate for the man and patted his shoulder, heading back to his post in the kitchen.
As the man sat down he indicated to the circles painted on Darasthyr’s forehead. “Mulhorandi citizen, I see. Tell me, what brings you to this agitated society, where danger is rumored to grow tenfold daily?”
“Rumor spreads even to Skuld that something evil is festering in the city. I’m here to help stop it.”
“I see. “ It appeared as if the man were sizing Darasthyr up, though there was also some sort of clear intention behind his crystal blue eyes. “Perhaps you would be interested in a little side work, in the meantime that is. I am a merchant here in Unther, though as you could probably tell I am a Mulhorandi citizen. I too want to help ease the transition of Unther to Mulhorand. My business has helped Mulhorand communicate with Unthalass, but I also help the mother country in other ways.” The man indicated to the holy symbol around his neck, which Darasthyr immediately recognized as that of Horus-Re. “But all that aside, I have much work lined up in the next few weeks if you need some coin, or if you just need something to bide the time.”
Darasthyr considered this for a moment. “Well, I will need some coin, and I don‘t really feel like scaring it off the locals. When does the job start?”
Taking the last bites of his breakfast, Darasthyr noticed that the man ate more quickly than he did. “Let’s see, I have a little business to attend to today, but tomorrow I should have some work lined up in the harbor. I suppose we could meet for breakfast, though it would probably be better to meet closer to the harbor. What say we meet at morning in the Green Sphinx. It’s a tavern just down this main road by the docks. There is a large statue of a sphinx in front of it, you can’t miss it.” He rose and bowed a little. “By the way, my name is Aoth Ramaih, merchant and herbalist of Unthalass.”
Aoth continued down the main thoroughfare of Unthalass until he came to a newer looking building, obviously constructed in the wake of the recent destruction in Unthalass. Stepping in he noticed Mulhorandi fashions and decorative elements were strewn about, still waiting to be hung in the cool, blue building. A young man stood behind the makeshift counter, looking over invoices and receipts. He paused a minute and looked Aoth over. He set his papers down and placed his hands on the counter. “Good day, may I help you?”
The young one called back into a storage room. “Father, this man is here about the iron shipment to Cimbar.” The call was immediately followed by the appearance of a much older and more experienced looking man. Aoth knew he was a merchant of some renown in Skuld, and he had been looking forward to doing business with him since he learned of his coming to Unthalass. The man reached the counter and rested on an elbow.
“So you are the merchant who has been so interested in my exports to Chessenta?”
“Yes, I was hoping that I could talk you out of a few shipments, as compensation for a bit of advice and a load of ceramic tile that I have been trying to get rid of for a little while.”
The boy interjected. “What information could possibly be worth even one shipment of iron, ceramics aside!?” Upon hearing this, the boy’s father turned red in the face and apologized for his son’s outburst. He scolded the boy and sent him to check some inventory.
“I apologize, my son doesn’t fully understand the ways of merchants yet, but he is learning quickly.”
“Yes, I’m sure that he will be a fine merchant.”
“I was thinking the same thing, and have heard rumors that the Chessentan people have discovered many iron mines of their own, thereby driving imported iron even further down on their import needs. This is why I have done a little research and decided that the best place to ship iron in these days is Mulhorand.”
The man gave him a look of uncertainty. “Mulhorand? The mother country has never been in short supply of iron in the past, why would they begin to need it now?”
“Well, the army is clearly the largest buyer of iron in Mulhorand, and they have a near monopoly on our country’s mines. Meanwhile, the churches and great houses have had to buy from the north and east, which, for all we know, funds our enemies. If you were to undercut currently imported iron by ten percent, you would still be making a hefty profit. Aside from that, those in the mother country would be much more willing to pay a citizen of the empire, especially over the rabble to the north.”
Scratching his beard, with an intent gaze on the new marble floor, the man pondered this course of action. “It seems that you have done some research indeed. Though I am unaccustomed to Unther and its ways, I will trust a fellow Mulhorandi and listen to what you say. How does a shipment of iron and a shipment of finely crafted Mulhorandi spell books sound?”
“That would be more than sufficient.”
“Good. They should arrive in port tomorrow morning, though you will probably need some help unloading the cargo from the ship. They are fairly large orders.”
“No problem. I have already made the arrangements, and I shall see to it that the shipment of ceramic tile shall be delivered here on seventh-day.”
The two men talked about current trends in trade for a bit longer, until the sun started to dip in the sky. They said their goodbyes and Aoth returned to his home, resting for the big day ahead.
The next morning Darasthyr rose early, leaving the large full blade in his room, but taking his heavy flail, just in case. He exited the tavern and breathed in the dusty air from the inner city. Unthalass was nothing like Skuld. After a walk up the main road of Unthalass, he stopped short in front of the temple of Osiris. The dragonkin decided to pay homage for his safe journey to the city before going on and meeting Aoth at the Green Sphinx.
Upon entering the building, he could tell that it had been recently renovated into a temple, probably from some sort of gathering hall. The temple’s main worship comprised most of the structure. Mulhorandi drawings, paintings, and tapestries were everywhere, and scattered on top of them were books belonging to the temple. Darasthyr stopped short in front of a particular piece of art, depicting two women standing over a mummified corpse with wide, glaring eyes.
“Nepthys and Isis restoring life to the Harvester, Osiris. They mummified his corpse and gifted him with the rod and flail, to symbolize his authority.” A woman of the temple appeared behind Darasthyr.
The story was one of the first that Darasthyr learned in his early life in the temple, long after his brutal childhood among the other dragonkin. The woman spoke in serious, though slightly nervous tone.
“May I help you?”
Darasthyr turned to face the woman, who stood approximately to his lower chest. She had long auburn hair and wore the vestments of a high priestess of Osiris. Her skin was pale, yet bright, and her eyes reminded the dragonkin of the green coast off of the Yeb peninsula. Again she cleared her throat, this time a little less nervously.
“Well met. My name is Darasthyr, and I come from Skuld. I would just like to donate a little money to thank Osiris for my safe journey. I just hope I have come to the city for good reason.” He held out his large hand and offered the woman a small sack of gold standards.
The thin woman took the bag carefully, and closed her eyes. She raised two fingers and placed them on Darasthyr’s forehead, though she had to stand on her toes. Two passing servant girls chuckled at the sight. “Praise be to those who hold dear the teachings of Maat, and even more so to those who follow them in the footsteps of the great harvester of souls, Osiris. May he bless your journeys and keep you true to yourself and your companions. By Justice, Righteousness, Honor, and Order, I pray that Osiris watch over you always.”
The dragonkin nodded and turned to leave, but before he took a step he felt a hand on his arm. He turned back to the woman. Her eyes glowed bright green, as she looked at his holy symbol. “You will do good things here, dragonkin. The harvester of souls has told me this. Remain true in your beliefs.” The priestess’s eyes stopped glowing, and she glanced up to the dragonkin’s face. “My name is Ayda, and I am the high priestess here in Unthalass. If you ever need advice, please ask for me.”
He thanked the woman and departed the temple, heading further down the road until he came to a large building with a great, green statue representing a sphinx in front of it.
“Sorry I’m late, do I still have time to grab a bite to eat?”
Aoth wasn’t the least bothered by his tardiness. “No problem. The shipment is to be delivered just after high sun, which gives us plenty of time.”
Darasthyr walked up to the counter and ordered some breakfast, returning with it to Aoth’s table. They talked of Unther and how the native citizens would be better treated by the Mulhorandi government than the one being proposed by the rebel leaders trying to drive them out. Both seemed to agree that Mulhorand was much better suited to control Unther, since Unther would surely fall to more dangerous nations if the Mulhorandi forces were not present.
“Yes this adoption of Unther will be beneficial for both sides, the locals just have a hard time seeing that. But I feel that once the transition is complete, the people will realize what good things Mulhorand has to offer Unther.”
A bowl crashed behind Darasthyr, followed by a gruff voice with a deep Untheric accent. “Listen to you! How dare you come in here and talk about such things! You use words like adoption and transition, when all that is happening here is a hostile takeover of our land when it is unable to defend itself. I suggest you quiet down if you know what’s good for you.”
Aoth stood. “We mean no offense. Please sit and go about your business.”
Two other men stood behind the first. “Why don’t you quit running your mouth, Mulhorandi scum?”
Darasthyr turned and rose, his eyes narrowed angrily. “My friend asked you to go about your business. Now I’m telling you to.”
“And perhaps you should stay out of it, you savage beast. Where I come from a creature like you wouldn’t stand a dire rat’s chance, but you Mulhorandi ruffians have only one way of doing things: through force.”
Aoth was clearly offended by the man’s remarks. “Now see here, we have tried to reason with you, and you have shown nothing but aggression toward me and my friend here. Please leave us alone.”
“Perhaps you and your friend should be the ones leaving,” the man said, while motioning to the door, “or perhaps we will have to show you the way out?”
Darasthyr put his hand up to where he normally sheathed his fullblade, only to realize that he had left it in his room. He grabbed the hilt of his flail. The men at the table, as now stood four in total, began to get up and taunt the dragonkin and the man. Then they noticed the larger one’s weapon.
“Hey now, that’s not fair. Typical of a Mulhorandi, always eager to get a one up on the weaker man. Perhaps you wouldn’t be so tough if you didn’t have that weapon? We aren’t allowed to use them, why should you be able to?”
“You don’t consider the dagger in your jacket a weapon?” The dragonkin chuckled to himself, and unclipped the flail from his belt, allowing it to drop to the floor. “Even that enchanted hunk of junk won’t help you. But at least yours is magic, right? You’re a bit luckier than your friends here.” Darasthyr assumed the other three had hidden non-magical weapons, but he couldn’t be positive.
Darasthyr pulled a bit of wool out of a pouch and pinched it together in his hand. After muttering an incomprehensible sentence he gestured to the ceiling. There was an eerie silence. Then it started, first as a low moan, but soon a multitude screams and wails that sounded as if the dead were descending upon the tavern. Many of the patrons panicked and ran for the door, but the four thugs and the bartender were not phased by the ghastly screams.
A man at the bar leapt from his stool, eager to join in on the situation. “Get him, he’s possessed!” The four remaining men whipped out concealed rapiers and advanced on the two.
The man on the left rushed at Aoth first, thrusting at him with his rapier, while screaming Untheric curses. The man’s attempt was cut short however, as Aoth twisted and disarmed the clumsy man, following up with a swift blow to the back of the head. He crumpled down into an unconscious state and Aoth checked to make sure he was not seriously hurt.
Two more men rushed at Darasthyr, one driving his sword against the dragonkin’s hard scales. The blow bounced off Darasthyr’s hide and he caught the man by the neck, tossing him back into the other man. The last man looked at Darasthyr, then at Aoth, and ran out of the tavern, dropping his rapier in fear. Aoth stood and confirmed that the fallen man was still alive.
“Darasthyr, stay here and watch over these scoundrels while I go and get the attention of the local guard.”
“Very well,” he said to the paladin, placing his foot on top of the two men who were stacked on top of each other. “I’ll make sure they stay put.”
The bartender, furious at the destruction called after Aoth. “You just take your friend here, and get out. You’ve caused enough trouble as it is!”
The dragonkin grinned at him. “There’s always room for one more.” He tapped the two downed men with his foot. The barkeep glared, but shut his mouth.
A few minutes later, Aoth returned with four Mulhorandi guards, who took the stories of Darasthyr, Aoth, and the barkeep, though he was reluctant at first. When all of the commotion was settled Darasthyr and Aoth were allowed to leave. Aoth noticed that the sun was high set in the sky.
“Well the shipment should be ready at the harbor, maybe we should head down there and see how things are coming along.”
Darasthyr nodded and the two headed down to the docks.