After spending the night on House Baleth’s estate recovering, you are led into the city proper.
Balic lies near the eastern end of the Balican Peninsula, a range of arid hills between the arms of the Estuary of the Forked Tongue. The slopes of the hills are mild and verdant by Athasian standards; grain fields, vineyards, olive groves, and progressively drier pastures extend about thirty miles west of the city-state’s walls before giving way to stony barrens and brown mountain peaks. Large, slave-worked noble estates along the peninsula provide most of Balic’s
Like most travelers bound for the city-state you follow the Road of Legions, the major passage along the spine of the peninsula. Balic’s wall cuts off the tip of the peninsula, running about two miles between the arms of the Estuary. The city-state sits atop an array of hills on a natural harbor formed by high hills ringing a bay of silt. Most of the finer houses are on the leeward side of the hills, providing them protection from the wind driven silt from the sea.
Balic is divided into five administrative precincts plus the Megaleneon, which is the civic center, both literally and figuratively. The other districts include the Arena Precinct, Guidler’s precinct, Harbor Precinct, Market Precinct, and Villa Precinct.
You are led to the Megaleneon, a high, rocky hill overlooking the harbor. Andropinis rules from the White Palace, a majestic structure at the top of the hill. The Chamber of Patricians and the barracks of the First Legion sit farther down the slope of the Megaleneon. Near the Chamber of Patricians you see a large structure identified as the Praetorium, your apparent destination. Your guide explains that the Praetorium is the center of civic business in Balic, and where you can request audience with the king.
Once in the Praetorium, your guide speaks to a clerk at the main desk who then runs down a hall to a large office. A few minutes later he returns and speaks to your guide. Your guide turns and tells you, "you have been granted an audience with the Chamberlain, he will be able to schedule your audience with the King if he deems you worthy. Your guide leaves and you are lead into a large room with a large opulent desk, where a young templar is seated. There is a large window behind the desk looking out onto the harbor.
The young templar looks up from his work and says, “I am Maurus, Praetor of Balic and Chamberlain to his majesty Andropinis, King of Balic. What is your business in Balic?”
Balderdash looks around the room and sees he is are standing in a wide double doorway, in which three of you can stand abreast easily. The doors open inward and block your view to your sides, focusing your eyes to the alabaster white desk where the Chamberlain sits. Besides the large window behind him you see no other entrances to the room. On either side of the window and spaced equidistant around the perimeter of the room are large Ionic columns made from gleaming white marble easily standing 25-30 feet high. Behind the thick, tall, ornate doors you can faintly hear calm breathing.
Balderdash then says, “Tithian sent us here to be the emissaries to Balik and to garner favor from the sorcerer king Andrupinise. He has given us a scroll to personally deliver to Andrupinis.”
“Ah, emissaries of the Usurper. I’m sure it must be a matter of supreme importance for the King of Tyr to send the likes of you to garner favor with His Majesty.” (You can detect a not so subtle hint of sarcasm and derision in Maurus’s tone). “I would have thought Tithian would have sent his noble confidant Agis, or even the Mul Slave, Rikus, to deliver such a request.”
“Please step into my office, and explain why Andropinis should grant you an audience. He has a very busy schedule, running a prosperous city-state such as Balic takes a lot of attention.”
Balderdash replies, “Maurus, I realize our appearance doesn’t invoke extreme importance but do not judge the weight of the message on our appearance. We were not Tithian’s first or second choice. Avis and Rikus we’re sent by Tithian on a task of far greater importance. We would not be hear if Tithian did not think it wasn’t life altering for his city and other prosperous cities. With that said, he would also not send this mere group without a significant value(holding up the scroll and shaking it)to garner favor with Andropinis.”
As you enter the room to speak to Maurus, the doors close. At first it seems as if by magic, but quickly, you realize they were pushed closed by the enormous hulking hill giants who were standing quietly behind them.
“Ah, it’s good for those such as yourselves to understand their station in life. You could probably teach your king a thing or two about it. Tithian and Tyr must be in quite dire straits if he has come to Balic looking for help. Even if Andropinis honors his request, the payment may be more than your king can handle. I suspect if you had a true Sorcerer King running Tyr still, you would not be in this predicament. So why is Tithian so desperate for Andropinis’s support anyway?”
The hill giants let out a quiet huff behind you.
Balderdash impatiently replies, “With all do respect to you Maurus and your title, as emissaries to the King of Tyr we must speak to the king with all do haste!!!”
Maurus scowls, "“If you DID respect my title, you would understand that my duty is to review all those wishing an audience with the King. You are in no position to make demands. For all I know you could be assassins sent to kill the King. If you are unwilling to provide me at least some basic insight into WHY you want audience with the King, beyond ‘Tithian told us it was important’ you are wasting my time. So tell me why Tithian needs the King’s support, or leave.”
The hill giants shift there enormous clubs in their now tense hands.
Balderdash replies, “Our apologizes Maurus. We are not authorized to give details to anyone besides Andropinus on this manner. The danger from the north is not something your scouts and informants would have missed. We believe you already know why we are here and it is not to assassinate the king. We are willing to leave our weapons here to speak with the king.”
Maurus scowls at you and the giants begin to lift their enormous clubs. Maurus’s face is then overcome by a devilish grin as he waves off his guards.
“So the reports are true, Urik has indeed moved against Tyr. The Lion of the Desert has always been ambitious. Control over Urik and Tyr would give him a significant advantage and could make him a threat to even the Dragon. I understand why Tithian is so desperate now, there is little chance Hamanu would let him survive a siege.”
“Tithian was wise or lucky to send you here instead of Gulg, Lalali-Puy is so self absorbed she’d be as likely to assist Urik as you, assuming she didn’t just kill you for assuming you could beg for her favor. King Andropinis is wise, and understands there is importance in the balance of power, and the need of mutual trade for profit.”
“If you wish audience with King Andropinis, you will meet with him in the Chamber of Patricians. No one from outside Balic is granted lone audience with the King, the Patricians will have their say in how Balic reacts to this. You may leave your weapons here with my guards, you may may take a meal while I inform the Chamber of your request. Hopefully they will be able to fit you in their schedule soon.”
After you disarm, one of Maurus’s aids takes you to a small banquet hall where a meal is ready and waiting. Various olives and citrus fruits are served in large bowls with platters of lamb and silt crab were provided as protein along with flat breads and aromatic sauces. A large carafe of wine is also on the table for refreshment.
After the relaxing meal Maurus enters the room and asks you to follow him. “You are in luck, as Andropinis was already planning to meet with the Patricians this afternoon, and your request has been added to the schedule. Apparently you’ve peaked our King’s curiosity as well as my own.”
Maurus and a few guardslead you down a corridor lined by lifelike statues of ancient Balican statesmen, then across a courtyard to the white marble faced assembly hall, Chamber of Patricians. The building was perfectly square, with a colonnade of fluted pillars supporting an ornate tablature. Maurus opens the door and waves you into the building. You pass into a small anteroom, where a halfgiant sentry stands in front of a pair of massive doors. After raising his hand to salute the chamberlain, the guard pulls the doors open and steps aside.
“It is important that you be respectful to the King and follow proper decorum while in the Chamber. Do not address the King until he acknowledges you. We have little tolerance for those who would scoff at our ways.”
In the next chamber is murky and dark, and the air feels hot and moist against your skin and reeks of perfumed flesh. Save for the soft scrapes of your own feet on the marble floors, the room is dead quiet.
As your eyes adjust to the dim light in the chamber you realize you are not along at all. A gallery of marble benches runs down both sides of the huge chamber, partially concealed by two lines of marble pillars that support the ceiling. Several hundred men and women of various races wait patiently in the tiers, all dressed in white togas hemmed with silver and gold. All remained absolutely motionless and quiet.
At the far end of the chamber stood an empty throne, constructed of translucent alabaster and stationed upon a pedestal of pink jade. Inlays of blue tinted stone decorated the back of the magnificent seat, while the arms have been shaped from solid blocks of chalcedony, and the legs from limpid citrine. All of the light that passed through the narrow windows in the room seems to flow directly into the chair, which casts a radiance back into the chamber as a muted white glow.
Maurus points you to a group of open seats in front of the throne, a half dozen rows from it. Patricians sit on either side of your group, while Maurus takes a seat just behind you. Looking closer at the Patricians you notice they have no eyes, and their ears seem malformed. Maurus notices you attention on them and place his finger on one’s lower lip. The patrician, startled at first, then opens her mouth, revealing a useless stump of a tongue.
“King Andropinis values the advise of his patricians, but he also wishes to be certain anything occurring here is never discussed outside the Chamber.”
As Maurus finishes his explanation you hear a booming voice in your heads “We are in chamber my advisors.” As one all the patricians stand and bow. Before you can even decide to do the same, you feel yourself stand involuntarily, followed by a huge weight on your shoulders, forcing you into a bow.
As the weight lifts, you look to the throne and see a huge man standing before the pedestal. Standing taller than a half giant and as heavily muscled as a mul gladiator. On his head, a fringe of chalk colored hair hung from beneath a jagged crown of silver. He has a slender face and a long nose with dark egg shaped nostrils. His cracked lips are pulled back revealing a mouth full of teeth filed as sharp as daggers. Unlike the patricians, he did not dress in a toga. Instead he wore a sleeveless tunic of white silk, a breechcloth of silver fabric,and soft leather boots. It is King Andropinis.
As the King takes his throne you hear in your mind “Advisors, we have guests from Tyr with us today. Allow our guests to introduce themselves, and explain what brings them to the Great City of Balic.”
Felegar replies, “Great King Andropinis of Balic, we are The Brotherhood of the Sun and we humbly seek your audience as emissaries of King Tithian of Tyr. It is with great fortitude and urgency that we have trekked across the wastes for this opportunity. We are humbled by your greatness and very grateful for your generous hospitality. We will never forget the generosity of Balic. Please great King, will you hear what we have to say?”
After your initial request, you hear Andropinis’s voice in your mind repeating repeating your request for audience to the Patricians. With a nod and a smile he grants you audience and to continue.
“Tithian has requested that we deliver this [presenting the scroll] to you, and you alone. He holds nothing but respect for you, great King, and hopes that you will hear his plea for aide. Hamanu leads a force from Urik and means to sack Tyr. We cannot allow him to control the iron mines; Hamanu could rival the power of the Dragon and create an imbalance of power in the world that King Tithian is certain that you, in all your wisdom, will know to be true. King Tithian sent us to request two legions of your forces to aide Tyr’s efforts to turn back the Urikites.” [holding the scroll up again] “Tithian presented us this scroll detailing his proposal. We would never presume to know the ways of a King, just that we are Tithian’s humble emissaries and he believes this accord to be favorable for you, should you as ruler of the great city state of Balic, choose to review it. We have also brought with us a chest, from King Tithian, to be delivered to you, we can only presume to further illustrate Tithian’s intention to work with you as an ally, in a mutually beneficial arrangement.”
Maurus, following a gesture from the King takes the offered scroll from you and presents it to Andropinis.
Before opening the scroll he allows you to finish and summarizes your request telepathically for the Patricians.
Andropinis then announces telepathically and with his voice, “Tithian was wise to request aid in defending Tyr, Hamanu is an ambitious man with much power. Tithian was also wise to send servants as humble and respectful as yourselves. Many are under the impression Tyr is now under the rule of slaves and barbaric gladiators, not civilized folk such as yourselves. Maybe it is worth saving. Tithian’s request for two full legions is a large one though. As you are apparently aware, Giants constantly plague our city, and sending two legions could cost us dearly. Let us look at Tithians offer and see if it is truly worth it for Balic.”
With that, Andropinis breaks open the scroll and motions for a pair of Templar to bring the chest forward. They open the chest while Andropinis is still reading silently revealing it contains an obsidian orb as large as a mul’s head and several steel rods covered in strange patterns that appear ingrained in the metal.
Andropinis looks up from his reading to inspect the interior of the chest, then looks at the group with an eyebrow raised. “While Tithian has been very generous with his offer, it is still a lot to ask me to give up two legions. If you are willing to perform a small task for me, Brotherhood of the Sun, in order to seal this pact, and I will send my legions to assist Tyr. Are you interested?”
Balderdash replies, “Thank you, Great King Andropinis. We are committed to completing our mission for our King and Tyr. We humbly accept your offer and are at your command, gracious king.”
Andropinis smiles and speaks, “Very well then. Patricians, if any of you oppose providing the assistance to Tyr that I have so graciously offered, please let it be known now.” Though you hear a few robes shuffle, no Patricians answer Andropinis’s request.
“Realize that this task I ask you perform is for Balic, not Tyr, and is for us to know alone. Tithian and Tyr have no need to concern themselves with this part of our bargain, as they will profit greatly from it, as will you, Brotherhood of the Sun.”
“In the rear ranks of the Urikite caravan is a war wagon that I want for Balic. It is lightly defended and should not be too much trouble for a group such as yourselves. I will send along a small detachment of Balican soldiers to assist in harrying the war wagons protectors while you board it, over power the crew and bring it to me.”
“This must be done without Tyrian knowledge or interference, so you must complete your task before the war wagon engages Rikus’s army at sundown in 2 days. Before you concern yourself with the distance that must be travelled, trust me when I tell you I have ways to get you there in time.”
“I have already moved the 2 legions Tithian requested via silt skiff to a forward base near Altaruk, and I will send word to them to meet up with Tithian’s forces. Hamanu’s generals will be in for much more than they bargained for.” Andropinis finishes with a devilish grin.
“Do you have any questions before we adjourn this session? Afterward Maurus will assist you with stocking your supplies and preparing you for the journey.”
Balderdash replies, “Yes, Great King, we do have some questions we hope your grace would be willing to address.
Do you have any of your troops engaged with this covert operation, and if so how will they be commanded? How will we know we have the correct caravan and what is the cargo so we are certain to deliver what you desire?
Any additional information you can give us regarding the asset will surely enhance our ability to retrieve it for you with haste. Will you be on the battlefield, Great King, or should we return to Balic?”
“As I mentioned, I will be sending a detachment of Balican soldiers to assist you by drawing the attention of the war wagon’s guards so you can attempt to board and take it over. I will be sending Maurus with you to supervise the detachment, he will ensure you engage the correct war wagon.” Maurus’s eyes open widely, and turns a bit green. “It should be well separated from the main Urikite forces, otherwise you’d have little hope of breaching their defenses with such a small group. Do not worry yourselves about what I want, just complete the task. My appearance on a Tyrian-Urikite Battlefield could lead to a true multi-national war, so I will be here in Balic, waiting for your return. Maurus will take you to get your belongings and get prepared for your trip. This meeting is adjourned.” Andropinis stands and leaves the chamber. As if on queue the Patricians all stand up and begin filing out.
Maurus leads you back to his office to retrieve your belongings, though he seems a bit consumed in thought. After retrieving your things, and Maurus retrieving his own from a trunk near his desk, he hands each of you a small shimmering crystal that seems to almost vibrate in your hand. Then he leads you to a small domed building near the White Palace.
Maurus explains, “This building is very ancient and can be used as a focus for arcane and psionic power. Andropinis has been able to use it to transport small groups of people and items over great distances in the blink of an eye. That is what he intends to do with us now.”
Inside the building it is very dark, lit only by a few torches. On the far wall you see what appears to be a large frame for a painting or mirror, but with no picture in it. You then notice Andropinis and a small group of people entering from a door that most likely leads to the White Palace.
“Brotherhood of the Sun, I will be opening a portal for you to travel to a staging area not too far from the Urikite war wagon. You will be able to resupply there and carryout your mission. Once the portal is open you must cross through it quickly as it cannot be held open long, as it may attract the attention of Hamanu. Make sure you carry the crystals Maurus gave you on your person, or you may end up somewhere…. much less pleasant.”
Andropnis moves to the center of the room with his six follower circling him. As he focuses his power and chants in a strange language you see the space in what you thought was a picture frame begin to shimmer and become cloudy and opaque. The people with Andropinis show looks of strain and beig to groan, one even falls to his knees. After a few more moments you can see what looks to be a blurry veiw of a rocky desert. The portal has been opened.
Urgently Maurus says to you “We must go now!” and steps through the portal.