The Legend of the Broken Blade begins amidst the cold stones of Solemnus, capital city of the Solemn Kingdom at the end of their long and losing war with the Thantil Ascendancy.
The Companions of the Broken Blade began as a disparate set of mercenaries in the employ of The Laughing Blades, one of several mercenary companies hired by the Solemn Kingdom to aid in their defense against the Ascendancy. For three years the war raged. Each of those who would become the Companions distinguished themselves in service, but it was not until the Siege of Solemnus that they were brought together and bound by common purpose.
To the flickering torch lit confines of his command tent, Tulius Half-Man, captain of The Laughing Blades, summoned the Companions. There Lady Selia, Attache to the Blades, laid out a last desperate gamble for the survival of Solemnus, The Knights Repentant, the Laughing Blades, and indeed the Sorrowful Kingdom as a whole.
Built into the side of a mountain, and at the end of a long and costly war, Solemnus had limited supplies. Given enough time, the besieging legion of the ascendancy could simply starve them out, taking the city without losing a single life. However, the army had a weakness. There was only a single source of fresh water accessible by the Ascendancy’s forces, an ancient cistern that once provided water to the city before being rendered obsolete. If the cistern could be poisoned, compromising the supplies of White Legion, they could be forced to attack, at the very least giving the defenders a fighting chance at survival.
Lady Selia provided the Companions with potent poison, and somewhat sparse plans of the enemy encampment. Under cover of darkness, the party made their way past watchful pickets and behind enemy lines. They navigated the sprawling encampment, bluffing their way past various checkpoints before reaching one of the access wells of the cistern. There they stealthily fed the poison into the well before beginning their trek back towards the city.
Unfortunately, they were spotted on their way out of the camp by one of the mercenaries in the employ of the White Legion. Their lies didn’t stand up to the questions posed by the mercenary, and they were forced to make a break for it, bursting past the pickets into the no-man’s land between the besieging army and the Walls of Solemnus. Large groups of soldiers pursued, but the Companions managed to outdistance them, gaining the walls and making it back into the relative safety of Solemnus.
The plan worked as desired, and the next morning, clearly having discovered the state of their water supplies, The White Legion launched an all out assault on Solemnus. The Companions stood stalwart on the walls, shield to shield with the Solumn Army and their compatriots in the Laughing Blades, as wave after wave of Kobold Auxiliaries launched themselves against the defenders and fire and stone rained down around them. The defense seemed to be going well until the magical and physical bombardment of Solemnus’ walls finally had its desired affect. As the Companions gazed in horror, a large section of the wall they defended was brought crashing down, and into this gap the forces of the Ascendancy poured.
Despite the disaster, the party found itself spurred to truly heroic heights, as it leaped from the walls into the yawning gap and began to single handedly turn the tide. It was then that the commander of the Legion chose to make his presence felt. Amidst a guard of heavily armored elite legionnaires, a scarred warrior whose very presence was terror strode into the gap, the air crackling with cold around him, and the ground freezing beneath his very step. He seemed equally adept at both wielding his immense greatsword and utilizing magic. Before long, the last remaining vestiges of the defense were crushed, and the party, clearly faced with an opponent far beyond them, was forced to flee into the city.
For days they hid amidst the stone buildings of Solemnus, fighting a guerrilla defense even as the Ascendancy solidified its grip on the city, but eventually they were cornered and captured.
From Solemnus they and many other captives were taken on a long and grueling march away from the mountains and toward the Sheltered Sea. Exhausted and starving they were loaded onto a ship and manacled in a dark and damp hold. It was there that The Companions, for all they knew the last surviving Blades, made their first attempt to escape and first met the dragonborn who would become their nemesis. Displaying an impressive resourcefulness and dexterity, Demi Morefoot managed to release herself, and then the other Companions, from their manacles, along with one of the prisoners who shared the hold with them. Unfortunately, one of the other prisoners mind seemed to have cracked under the strain, and, unable to keep him quiet, enough of a ruckus was raised to alert the guards. A brawl followed, with the party subduing the first several guards, but more show up, along with an unusually thin dragonborn in exquisite robes. He applauds their tenacity, but calmly explains the impossibility of their escape. Kherze Tor, filled with rage and unwilling to listen to reason, launches himself in an attack, but the thin dragonborn quickly casts a spell that paralyzes the raging barbarian, rendering him impotent. With the odds severely against them, the party once again surrenders. This time they are led to a different hold, where they are chained with thin, delicate looking spellsilver, a material that quickly proves resistant to their most tenacious attempts to remove it.
After a short and uneventful voyage, the Companions were led above deck, were they beheld a city unlike anything they’d ever seen, shining with gleaming white marble and polished silver. Souring towers pierced the sky and dragon motifs were everywhere. Estuar, The Silver Citadel, a monument to the wealth and glory of the Thantil Ascendancy. While they stood gawking, the guards informed them that they were bound for The Grand Arena.
The Companions, along with lines of other prisoners, were marched into the city were they were greeted by crowds of jeering and cursing residents of the city, not just dragonborn, but all the civilized races. Food and worse are tossed at them and the other prisoners. Lorenzo, always aware of his appearance, was hit right in the face with thick brown substance that smelled as though it could only possibly have been produced in the bowels of an ancient dragon.
On one particularly crowded street, several rowdier members of the crowd pushed past the guards, stabbing one prisoner and landing several blows on the Companions before order was restored by the guards. After order was restored, the guards marched the party up several main thoroughfares, always heading in the direction of the Grand Arena, but just before they reached it they turned off onto a side street. They were then marched through a twisting series of alleys before arriving at the back entrance of what was clearly a great palace. They entered the palace and made their way through servants quarters and storage rooms, passing a blacksmiths workshop and an exotic stable, eventually arriving at a large stark stone room. A brazier burned within with cold blue fire. A long steel bar ran along the center of the room, great rings welded into it a regular intervals. The companions, bruised and exhausted, were chained to the bar by neck and wrists. The White Dragonborn Sorcerer they recognized from the ship then entered. He looked over the prisoners, then moved to the brazier, from which he removes a long brand. Runes carved into the side of the brand glowed with the same cold flame as the brazier.
He introduced himself as Thurkesh Khorental, Slavemaster of House Khorendath and advisor to The Drakus of Clan Khor, Dhorash Khorendath. As he did so he began to approach the prisoners, raising the brand and touching it to the prisoners forehead. The blue light flared, and the screams that escaped the mouths of those branded were horrific, far worse than would be expected from a normal brand. Thurkesh held the brand for a moment at each forehead, and when removed, there was the faintest flicker of blue flame on each which quickly faded, leaving no visible mark.
Thurkesh explained that the brand would mark them as property of House Khorendath, and that they would have a chance to prove themselves valuable within the Arena, winning rewards and glory or dying. Verath realized that these were the infamous Thantil Mind Brands, magical bonds that would tie the branded to the one who branded them, giving him power over them and an ability to track them unerringly.
Once all the prisoners were branded, and those who had fallen unconscious from the pain regained consciousness, the guards returned. They unchained the party from the bar before leading them through the palace grounds and into an underground passage. They marched through a winding and maze like series of passages before ascending, eventually arriving at a a huge, round, pillared room topped with a copper half dome and filled with groups of gladiators engaged in training. Sunlight streamed through the open ceiling, gleaming on the mosaics of gladiatorial combat that covered the walls and pillars. The gate slammed shut behind them, and from a guarded balcony above the room their new owner, Dhorash Khorendath, presented himself to the newly arrived gladiators. The party recognized him as the fearsome scarred warrior from the Battle of Solemnus. Thurkesh stood at his side. He welcomed the gladiators, explaining that their lives and deaths were now his to do with as he would, and that if they fought well they would earn endless glory. He then bade them eat and rest, for they would fight on the morrow.
The Companions explored their new home and fought several battles in the arena, where they took the name they would become known by, The Broken Blades, and won glory for themselves. They met several notable characters within the Ludus, including Faemon Festerfoot, a priest of the goddess of disease Eflorexia, Kromtagh Necksnapper, an ogre gladiator of prodigious might, and Allesandra Destoliano, Champion of House Khorendath. They also made the acquaintance of a brilliant gnomish doctor, gambled with a goblin beastmaster, and had several of their party temporarily turned to stone in a battle with basilisks.
Eventually the party, partly at the urging of a secret note Demi somehow acquired
at some point, made a deal with the Eflorexian priest to acquire weapons made from some form of noxious stone and made their way into the sewers beneath the Ludus. Their absence was discovered not long after escaping, and they were chased through the maze of tunnels by parties of guards and hunting drake hounds. They discovered the lair of a hidden necromancer, Morag ChozAstul an outcast from Dragonborn society, and helped him acquire corpses for his experiments. In return he gave them a map of the sewers, showing a way out, as well as a coin which might let them contact him in the future.
The exit in question turned out to be a section of wall in the sewers which had collapsed in disrepair, revealing an entrance to a series of tunnels buried beneath the city far older, and far stranger, than the city or the sewers they had heretofore traversed.
The tunnels they found themselves in were made of a strange stone, smooth and glass like and covered in strange carvings and writings, many of which prominently featured chained figures of many races supplicating before some type of tentacled fish-like things. Some of the angles and geometries of the carvings struck the party as subtly wrong, but they couldn’t quite put their finger on why. In addition, each of them experienced the occasional disturbing sensation of motion within the stone out of the corner of their eye when they were not looking at it. The party had no idea how old the tunnels were, but while they bore the weight of great age, the stonework itself seemed brand new, free from the ravages of time.
Through this weird maze the party fled, fighting strange creatures and fishy cultists as they went, throwbacks of a bygone age, insane worshipers of the unspeakable things that once called the tunnels home, creatures from even deeper within the earth, and hungry oozes. In one cave Vereth and Demi stole the gemstone eye from a sculpture of a demon toad god from his foul disciples. In another chamber Kherze fought a great demon of shadows amidst an inferno of black flame while the party struggled to rescue him. He emerged bearing a dark weapon of great power, the Shadestyl.
Finally, after an unknown amount of time, the party discovered a flaw in the stonework and crawled towards fresh air. As soon as they were out of the tunnels the stone weapons given to them by Faemon burst into swirling fungal spores which swirled in the air around them before coalescing into the form of the plague priest, who thanked them for freeing him and then vanished.
The party found itself on the edge of the Sheltered Sea to the north of Estuar, overlooking the picturesque fishing village Illmaara. Following the cryptic directions of Demi’s mysterious note, they found a safehouse of The Fist of the Open Palm, The Laughing Blade’s covert ops division. Within they were met by a shrouded man who introduced himself as Jung Carolus, onetime spymaster of the Blades. He said that he would help them to escape and get them to the Nailor Republics, where the order of monks to which he belonged might free them of the Mind Brands. In return he asked for their aid, as there was “something big coming” and he needed allies.
After eating and resting briefly, with several in the party having strange dreams, Jung lead them down several paths through the village, until somehow they found themselves in an utterly different world. The Grey Road, he called it. A path through the Shadenthiyll, Home of the Shadeth Daemon Lords. It was an endless landscape of barren mores drawn in monochromatic shades of grey, utterly different from the pastoral landscape they had passed through to get to Illmaara. A silvery grey road cut straight across it, shimmering in the diffused light of an alien sky dominated by a swirling storm of light and shadow dancing in whorls and eddies caused by some undetectable current. Lightning flashed regularly from it, but no thunder ever came. In the far distance, almost at the edge of sight, there was what appeared to be an impossibly large fortress of pure black, so dark it hurt ones eyes to look at for too long and yet was difficult to turn away from. Somehow the black fortress seemed to float in the sky itself.
Jung led the party through the Shadenthiyll, warning them not to leave the Grey Road under any circumstances, and as much as possible to travel quietly and stick to the light of a strange golden lantern he carried. Each step they took seemed to subtly shift the landscape about them, in a way that made their heads swim. The feeling was that somehow the earth itself was shifting like smoke when weren’t looking at it. They would top a hill, and suddenly there’d be a grove of trees that they hadn’t seen from the previous hill. They’d pass through the grove and suddenly a river would be running parallel to the road where there was none before. The only thing that stayed constant were the road itself and the Black Fortress, always floating in the distance at the edge of their vision.
Along the way they fought trolls that seemed carved from pure shadow and weeping banshees. As they made across a grim mountain range Jung was forced to send them on ahead when the great Mastiffs of Gruthsmarn the Huntsman, a Shadeth Lord with a particularly viscous reputation, picked up their scent. He gave them the lantern, telling them to follow the road, that it would take them where they must go, before turning back to hold off their pursuers.
The road led them to a strange but welcoming inn. Within “The Halfway Home” they made the acquaintance of Insectoid bards and Frog minstrels, played dragonchess with devils, shared the warmth of a fire with the Lamian Queen of a distant world, arm wrestled ogres, had a game of riddles with shadow sprites, shared wine with dimension hopping sorcerers and another strange libation shadows, all before getting a wonderful nights sleep. When they awoke the inn was gone, and they were once again on the silver road through an endless stretch of wilderness.
As they continued on they passed beneath the shadow of the Still Mountain, a great volcanic mountain turned into a fortress by Mistress Teroumous, one of the most powerful of the Shadeth Lords. There they fought and killed a young shadow dragon, and were forced to pay a toll to Teroumous’ servents in order to pass peacefully through her lands.
Finally they passed back out of the grey road, emerging in Crisenza in the Nailor Republics. Demi immediately slipped away, while the rest of the party made their way to the home of Jung’s ally Illio Contosto who arranged passage for them to the Monasterium De Umbra. As they waited, they met an elven Bladesinger, who also had business at the monastery and so joined them. They foiled an assassination attempt on Lord Contosto. They made contact with the Shadow Whispers, a guild of spies and power brokers who offered them information in return for their service, though they promptly refused to fulfill their end of the bargain when it became clear doing so would mean killing a man they saw as innocent. They averted a bread riot, saving a family of bakers and learning of massive grain shortages in Crisenza caused by blight and banditry, and heard rumors of a plague starting in the Narrows.
Finally they boarded a ship to the hidden monastery, where the monks they met engaged them in several weeks of training, explaining only that it would be necessary to complete the ritual that would free them of the Brands. Once this training was complete they were taken to a strange room with a glowing maze carved into the floor. They walked the maze one by one, their bodies and minds seemingly broken down and rebuilt by the magics suffusing it, transported once they reached the center to what appeared to be a version of the monestary that existed on the Shadenthiyl. They traversed halls filled with oily black tentacles and haunted by whispering balls of shadowy madness. They found carvings which told of a hidden history of the world. They passed through the Seal of Methalstempholis, making a deal with it’s bound guardian, Iycarium the Shifter, promising his release in return for safe passage. They traversed an invisible maze as shadowy waters rose around them. And eventually they found themselves back in the normal world, within a hidden vault, the archives of the Shadow Monks. There they were confronted by Thurkesh, seemingly betrayed by the monks, who unleashed him Mind Hunters on them, twisted creatures bound and dominated by his magics, empty husks of slaves left with nothing but a hunger for magic and intelligence. The Companions were slain entirely as Thurkesh looked on laughing.
They were then resurrected by the monks, all but Kherze, whose body had disappeared along with The Shadow’s Touch. The monks revealed that their deaths had been necessary in order to complete the breaking of the Mind Brand, and that they had used Thurkesh to facilitate this so that he would believe them dead. With the Shadowkeeper, leader of the monks, was Jung Carolus. He had survived his travails in the Shadenthiyll and asked them now to complete their end of the bargain, to be his allies in the coming days. He asked them to return to Crisenza, to aid Illio Contosto in his attempts to keep Crisenza free and independent in the face of increased manipulation by the Thantil Ascendancy.
The party agreed, setting out after recovering from their ordeal in a ship bound for Crisenza. Unfortunately the ship they were in was attacked in route by pirates, who captured them, along with a monk, and took them via portal to a hidden underground fortress. They became prisoners of Captain Zalitha, the Queen of Storms, a powerful genasii sorceress. They were kept prisoner for days before finally making their an escape attempt, charming, fighting, and sneaking their way through the sprawling fortress to Zalitha’s throne room. Impressed, she offered to set them free on two conditions. One, that they agree not to interfere with her operations in the future, and two, that they agree to owe her a favor, which she would collect at some point. The Broken Blades agreed, and, after Vereth engaged in a duel of honor with Yllor the Red, Zalitha’s first mate, slaying him and taking his magical paired long swords, Zalitha sent them through a magic portal back to Crisenza.
Once again on the island of Crisenza, Elistan, the elven blade singer, bid the party farewell, leaving to pursue his own ends. They began making their way back to the Crisenza City, along the way encountering a group of bandits. They chased the bandits back to their hideout, encountering a mercenary monk who quickly joined forces with them when it was revealed he had been hired by Contosto to track down and slay said bandits.
Once inside they engaged in a fierce combat with the bandits. One of them, a rather uncouth dwarf, turned against the rest. It turned out he was a survivor of the Laughing Blades himself and recognized the party from their time there. They discovered a note indicating that the bandits had been hired to high jack grain shipments into the city by someone from within the city itself.
They return to the city to find it much changed, marred by plague and fire, overcome by riots and conflict. The guards escort them through what feels like a warzone taking them to the walled and guarded Garden Quarter where Contosto lives. There he tells them all that has happened while they were gone, and sweeps them into his carriage bound for a hearing at the Ducal Palace. The grain shortages had gotten dire, sparking massive bread riots. Plague had swept through the city, killing an estimated one in 10 citizens, and continuing to rage. Fires had broken out, most of the Narrows burning down in one of the more intense one, leaving much of the poorer populace without shelter in addition to the lack of food, which only sparked more riots. The other Nailor Republics had issued a quarantine, creating a cordon of war ships around the entire island, allowing no one to leave, and choking off trade. Some type of creature had landed in the midst of the city, going on a rampage, soaking itself in blood and lives, and then rising on great shadowy wings and flying to the north. Fear was rampant that it would return. The Thantil Ambassador had offered his people’s aid to Duke Crisenza, but Lord Contosto feared it was little more than a thinly veiled attempt to seize control of the Republic during the crisis. It was on the matter of this aid that the Duke now summoned the powerful of the Republic to consult.
Amidst the insane opulence of the Ducal Palace, Lord Contosto and the party listened to the powerful of the city make their speeches. The Ascendancy Ambassador, Arkosh Estulnoth, once again presented his offer of aid. The Trademaster of the Merchants Guild, Gerardo Ventossa, spoke in favor of The Ascendancy’s offer. An infernal prince of The Court of Lies abstained from expressing an opinion, although he did make it clear that The Court of Lies would be happy to assist with the problems facing Crisenza, for a price. During this process one of the Broken Blades snuck onto the floor of the hall and overheard a hushed conversation among the Thantil contingent about keeping "the documents safe and secret. Lord Daveed Sonostro, speaking on behalf of his own house, as well as the Houses Ennorio, Fidelius, and Dourgia, spoke in favor of the ascendancy. Illio Contosto then spoke, speaking on behalf of his house and the Houses Alto and Syntello, against accepting the aid, calling it a trap. Duke Crisenza then called the meeting over, promising to reconvene in three days time to render a verdict.
From the Ducal Palace the party and Lord Contosto returned to his home, there to plan their actions. They gave him the letter showing someone within the city had been funding the bandits, as well as the location of the bandit hideout which still contained a large amount of grain. They also mentioned the overheard conversation about secret Ascendancy documents. Lord Contosto suggests that they break into the Thantil Embassy and steal these documents, which may contain proof of long term plans to subvert the independence of Crisenza.
A plan is made. Knowing the routine of one of the Ascendancy officers from the embassy, Lorenzo, in disguise as a female dragonborn, and with coaching by Verath, planned to seduce the officer, luring him to a room in an inn, where he would drug him and steal the magical pass stone that allowed access to the embassy, hopefully returning it before the officer awoke so none would know that anything had been stolen. Then, with the help of a local farmer, they planned to cause a distraction among the patrolling guards so that they could approach a side entrance unseen. They also set up a wagon to roll into the side of the building to use as a contingency escape plan in case they needed to beat a hasty retreat. They acquired several magical scrolls and prepared a set of spells they thought would provide them with the most versatile set of abilities to deal with the unknown dangers within the warehouse. For the most part the plan went off without a hitch, until they reached the central office.
In the waiting room in front of the office they encountered a beautiful silver sculpture of a slumbering dragon, along with what appeared to be some type of magical password lock. They cast silence on the room, then made an attempt to crack the lock. They guessed the password wrong, and the sculpture in the room transformed into a living silver dragon. The party fought it in silence, before figuring out how to pass the door.
In the central office they found The Ambassador in consultation with none other than Thurkesh. The thin dragonborn seemed shocked to see them alive, but recovered his senses quickly, shouting at Arkosh to take care of them, for “nothing can be allowed to interfere with our master’s plans!”, then he cast a fireball at them and seemed to disappear into thin air. The party engaged in a difficult battle with the ambassador, a mighty wizard in his own right. They finally managed to cut him down, but his essence seemed to collapse into itself, then exploded out in a shadowy demonic shape, the wizards staff Arkosh had been carrying transformed into a mighty black axe. They fought the Shadeth, managing finally to bring it down, and upon searching the room discovered a secret door leading to a chamber in which the real Arkosh was imprisoned. The ambassador explained that Thurkesh had come to him several weeks before with orders to use the ongoing chaos to engender a political takeover of Crisenza. When Arkosh had demanded to contact his superiors on Thantalos to confirm the orders Thurkesh had summoned that Shadeth Demon and used it to usurp his position, thereby ensuring the Ascendency’s complicity in a takeover plot of Crisenza. Arkosh leads the party to papers and records showing Thurkeshs plans to replace the ranking members of the Merchants Guild with Ascendant merchants, and to reduce the power of the Noble Houses within Crisenza until they and their duke were little more than puppets of the Ascendancy. He provides these to them, promising to be in attendance at the council in two days time and explain the situation to the duke and collected nobles. He then escorted them out of the building, and bid them good evening.