May 11, 2011

Secret of the Emerald Isle

A Hyborian Age adventure, for any system. I found this adventure in my archives yesterday, having almost forgotten its existence. It was intended for a game of Conan using FUDGE, but was never run due to scheduling difficulties.  Here’s the intro story below, and a download link to the adventure in PDF.

Our story begins with a battle on the Vilayet Sea

A catapult-launched stone splashed beside the desperately fleeing corsair galley, sending up a great spout of water that sparkled like diamonds under the Hyrkanian sun. Racing flat-out like a hare with the hound-pack snapping at its heels, a lone corsair galley fled before a squadron of Turanian warships. A mile behind, the wreckage of another ship lay scattered across the water, all that remained of another corsair galley. It was a black day for the freebooters of the Vilayet coast.

"Row, may the gods bite you for the dogs that you are, row!" Yarilo Akmedov, the captain, screamed. "Bend your backs to it, dog-brothers, or its the Turanian salt mines for any of us Yazdigird's jackals leave alive! Tashko, make your damned kozaki useful and help with the bailing! The water we're shipping from catapult hits is slowing us down."

“The devil take you, you impetuous fool! You’ve no right to command my men!” Tashko roared. “If it hadn’t been for your haste to attack, we’d never have run into that patrol. Now my kozaks will die and without a shred of booty to show for it!”

“Like it or not we’re still all on a piece of wood that’s as a worm on this wide sea,” growled Akmedov. “Either every free hand bails, or we do go down. Fight the sea with me first, and we’ll settle this later!”

Tashko Redbreeks snarled a grudging assent and turned to give the orders to his men. The rowing master struck up a faster rhythm on his drum, setting the beat for the new stroke. With a collective grunt of pain the oarsmen summoned what reserves of strength they had left and tried to pull harder; the galley put on a new burst of speed, then suddenly heeled to a hammerlike impact, vibrating like a gong as a Turanian catapult scored a direct hit. The stroke faltered, went ragged, stopped. The drum that had coordinated the oarsmen's efforts had fallen silent - as had the salty exhortations from Yarilo Akmedov.

"Mitra! The captain's down!" There was a rush to the quarterdeck, where even hardened pirates and their kozaki allies blenched at the sight that met their eyes; the rowing master was an irrecognizable ruin of blood and brains, never to beat out another stroke in this world. Tashko Redbreeks was gone, all that was left of him a single leg, still in the silken breeks that gave him his name and the tall horseman's boot. Yarilo Akmedov was also down, pierced with many splinters of both stone and wood.

"Captain! Here, drink this," a burly seaman tried to revive the fallen corsair chief with a dipper of water, cradling him as tenderly as though a babe in arms; Akmedov was a popular captain, beloved even by the wolf-like corsairs that he led.

Yarilo Akmedov opened his eyes and weakly tried to sit erect, but failed. His eyes closed again. "What are ye doing, dogs?" he whispered hoarsely. "Do ye abandon the oars at the sight of a little blood? Back to the benches, and row! Danko, you – you set the beat. And bring me the wizard." He convulsed and coughed blood. "Move, you Vilayet wharf rats!"

The pirates leapt to obey. Within minutes the galley was underway again, oars flashing to the desperate rhythm of flight. Still, the Turanian catapults had wrought irreparable mayhem; too many oarsmen were dead or injured, and valuable time had been lost with the silencing of the rowing master. The Turanian galleys had narrowed the gap by a dangerous margin, and now flight after hissing flight of arrows sent from the mighty Turanian hornbows were smacking into the decks and rigging.

A man in black robes - a conspicuous contrast to the gaudy vests and breeks of the corsairs and kozaki - hustled from the forecastle to the quarterdeck, a hand raised in mystical gesture; unlike the kozak who had fetched him, who was bent low and zigzagging madly for his life, the robed man strode erect, and all arrows went wide of him. Reaching the quarterdeck, he knelt beside the captain.

"So, Yarilo Akmedov," the robed one sibilated in a strong Stygian accent, "was there not a trap as I foretold?"

"There was," grated the captain. "And yet, what is a man to do? A chief of the Red Brotherhood does not let his daughter be taken into a Hyrkanian harem without lifting a finger in her aid!"

"And so your attachment was turned into a weakness," hissed the Stygian.

"Son of snakes!" the captain spat, then broke into another round of coughing. "You owe me your life, Menephthes - t'was I who saved you from being stoned to death in that Turanian village, and for the past two years you have been of my crew, earning a full share of all our booty though I seldom ask your services. Now `tis time to repay the debt once and for all." A bloodied hand clutched at the black robes. "Save my crew! Surely you have a spell for it - raise a fog, or a squall - something ... " he fell into an uncontrollable fit of coughing, then his back arched in agony - and was still.

Menephthes bowed. "I do owe you my life, Captain. And for that, and because it was your last request in life, I shall do as you ask. Though the enemy is now too close for a fog or squall to do any good - such take time to raise. I must resort to more desperate measures." He bowed again to the dead man, then whispered, "If I succeed, though, I think it would be safe to say that my debt is fully paid, and more - that the tables are turned and you now owe me." With an enigmatic expression he turned away.

The sorcerer returned to the prow of the galley, removing a scroll hidden within his robe. Undoing its ties of what appeared to be human hair, he unrolled it and began to read, his voice rising and falling in chant. The crew and the kozaki gave him a wide berth, their simple natures eternally suspicious of sorcery even as they now placed all their hopes for deliverance in it.

In the skies above, the sorcerer's chanting seemed to be taking effect. Black clouds were beginning to gather above the ship, suffused with violet lightning. An eerie greenish glow bathed the waves around the ship, seeming to come from the very depths of the sea. The very air seemed heavy, with that tingling feeling as if lightning were about to strike.

"Mitra! Look! The Turanian ships - they waver and fade, like windblown smoke!" Even the oarsmen stopped and rose to stare; the sea around their ship had turned glassy smooth, and the Turanian galleys were wavering like a desert mirage.

Dimly they could hear a great shout of consternation from the Turanians. "Listen! They can't see us! We're vanishing from their sight!" a pirate with keen hearing cried.

But if they were vanishing from the enemy's eyes, total immunity had yet to be achieved. A last volley of arrows came whistling in, just before the Turanian ships disappeared. There was a dull thump on the foredeck. All eyes turned, horrified, from the sea to the deck; there on the planks, his face contorted in agony, lay Menephthes, an arrow buried deep in his side.

With the sorcerer's fall sea and sky quickly returned to normalcy. Once again the heavens were bright and blue, with only the wispiest of clouds, and sunlight shattered in near-blinding glints from the tops of sapphire waves. A fresh breeze with absolutely no hint of smoke or the smells of blood and fear washed over the decks, ruffling the tattered sail and flag. Of their Turanian pursuers there was absolutely no sign.

But now to their ears came a sound they had not thought to hear out in the open sea; the crash of surf on rock. Basalt cliffs rising black against the sky, an island reared where there had been only the Vilayet's waves mere minutes before. From what could be seen of it, the island was covered in emerald green jungle, a verdancy that had not been seen on the Vilayet for centuries. Birds of a kind no one could recognize wheeled over the treetops.

"Mother of Mitra," a pirate breathed, "where are we?"

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