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To Catch a Predator

Summary

At the behest of Joey the Sorcadin you arrange to meet with Praetor Aelia Nacii in the militia yard to discuss a possible excursion to the western settlements. You leave the city center, a bustling mass of traders, craftsmen, preachers, and hawkers and head north. This area was chosen for its wide expanse of open land far from the settlement core but now is overrun with work camps, lodgings, and other tidings of the rising civilization of this land. The militia yard spreads out next to the lake, the two barracks for the men permanently deployed here abutted by small shops and trade houses that ply their wares and influence with the men of the army.  

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  Praetor Aelia Nacii is waiting for you beneath a shallow canopy at the far end of the yard with a few of the militia, but as you move to cross the yard one of the young recruits, a boy named Patch , comes riding up to you. "Ajax the Bear-barian , look.... horses! A man from Ravenwood brought them, a gift from Salinger , five horses finest I ever seen." The horses are magnificent, large beasts bred to carry armored men into battle - not the kind of beast to scare easily. Some of the other soldiers, the regulars you've come to befriend, come to bond with the majestic creatures. "Been a while since I've seen anything like this." The boy tosses you a bag of feed, and for a moment you and the soldiers are happy, taking turns riding the horses.   The Praetor waves you over after some time, her face impatient. You have never had a good relationship with the Praetor, not even after she was appointed Commander - and it looks like this is not bound to change. She scowls, her not altogether handsome face taken to its severe limit, gesturing to a scrawled map spread out on the table setup beneath the canopy.  
"I never took you for a fool, yet here we are on an errand fit for one"
  "The settlements suffering attacks that have somehow drawn our mutual friends attention are as far from Hampsterdam as can be, almost two weeks for an infantry march. They paid 461 bushels in taxes, but the sole taxman who made it that far had very little to say on their population, defenses, or organization. What we know is that they claim several farms have been wiped out completely, by unknown assailants." She sighs "Distant, of no strategic worth, and difficult to defend even with a real force."   "We have 100 of our regulars here" she nods towards the men in the center of the yard, spearmen equipped with leather, being trained by the recent appointment Sansari Andrelle , a woman you are not familiar with. "Still in training, but reliable to not break under attack I'd say. Still though, they're just spearmen, meant to hold a center while supported by other forces, of which we have none." Aside from them a small collection of veterans who have joined the militia, men you have become friendly with. Unlike the militia they have chainmail and assorted swords and shields and are training with Saben Woustel . "A few dozen experienced warriors, good for small raids but not in sufficient number to mount an effective defense to hold an area."   "There's over 800 conscripts securing the grain harvests and docks, but they're spread far and thin as is - also they've been promised to return to their homes at the end of harvest time. It would take some incentive, punishment or otherwise, to get them far from Hampsterdam."   THE MAP HAS BEEN UPDATED WITH TERRITORIAL CLAIMS - just click on the upper right layers button and pick claimed territory   She leans back over the map, pointing her fingers at various landmarks. "Here, across the bay, in the Bone Hills - Meggido has occupied what was once settlements that exported ore to us. To the south, at the edge of Sagouri they have more reinforcements. To the north Ravenwood bursts at the seems with mercenary companies. Over the seas numberless enemies." Finally she points at the city itself "And here, the city rots, a pit of snakes...."   While leaning her body further over the map, she leans up to give you a long, hard look. "That's our situation.... Guardian. Do you really want to take these men, the only soldiers this city has, to the rough edges of society for months to fail to capture whatever it is that's killed a dozen farmers."   WHAT DO WARDEN?  
  You tell your Commander, Praetor Aelia Nacii , the kind of men you want and work with her to create a cross-section of social classes, ethnicities, and personalities. "The very recipe for success" Aelia says sarcastically. Some of the men are excited to be adventuring with the legendary Ajax the Bear-barian but even those brimming with enthusiasm have their expectations checked upon seeing their companions. You leave the men to get prepared and go off to meet with Tatius Silica , Captain of the Town Guard.  

peacekeepr

  The Captain of the Town Guard meets with you in his chambers, you haven't been to this quarter of the town in some time and you are surprised to see how well appointed it is, the ward built almost like the tangled halls you would expect in a siegeworks, tiny gaps in between buildings leading to open squares surrounded by turretted windows in the neighoring structures perfect for an ambush. The local population, you notice, is principally Van Myr nationalists, and the flag flies proudly all about.   You lay out your plan to the Captain, who receives you honorably. "The city needs the town guard, now more than ever, look to the people outside, see their fear, and their anger. It's time now for leaders to be present, not wandering about trying to save fools who ran miles from civilization to endanger themselves." Using your bearbarian persistence you explain your intent to bring together various cultures, the look on his face shifts for a moment. "Alright, a noble goal. I'll send one of my finest with you, he'll help you keep discipline in your ranks." Brachen Holler joins your group.  

Truth_Woman

  You return to Dendara who greets you warmly. You discuss your upcoming mission and while she expresses an interest in exploring further inland she is in the midst of an underwater dredging and has to remain focused on the task at hand. "Fast travels Ajax the Bear-barian " she says with a smile.  

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  Returning to the Training Yard you meet with your newly formed specialist task force you find that things have proceeded apace, it appears that the training you have been instilling on the men for the past year has paid off - they look almost a proper fighting force. With a last farewell for your brother Teucer the Lesser you pack your gear, mount your horse (a feeling you have missed), and head out west.   Interested eyes greet you at every turn, so rarely are the forces of Hampsterdam present outside of the city except for tax collectors. The occasional cry and wave from a passerby as they recognize you lightens your spirit, and occasional. throngs of children form to run with the troops for a time, begging for treats or a chance to swing one of the soldier's swords. Here, in the inner settlements near enough to the bay, their exists some semblance of roads, well-worn paths that stretch between the numerous smaller settlements that dominate the area. It makes the journey easier, and tensions in your group diminish as the discipline instilled in the soldiers takes over - your confidence in the mission grows and early doubts begin to vanish.   You arrive at one of the outlying watch towers a week into your journey, it flies the Hampsterdam flag (whatever that is) and the militia men come out to meet with you.  
"An honor sir, I never thought to meet you myself."
  You rest and have a fine meal, it appears the hunting here is good and the militia men seem well off. The local captain tells you what he knows of the lands beyond, what are called the Outer Settlements. "We don't patrol past the towers sir, not enough men, and there's been dangers reported. Bandits ay, but other things - the red eyed horrors plague the nights to the southwest, near the Van settlements, and to the Northwest I hear things are even worse." When you tell the man you are heading NW he swallows audibly "Ay lord, I'm sure ya'll have no problems then."   During the night you hear stories of the strange dismemberments and eviscerations that the men have heard of in the nearby settlements, people being left with organs torn out or with strange parts of foreign beasts left inside them. You hear also of those who try to commune with the red-eyed spirits, believing that they are those who were lost in the ash, hoping to meet their lost loved ones. A fight breaks out during the night, two of your men are apparently followers of the Blessed Leaf, and some of your other men don't take kindly to it. You stop the fight, but a lingering bitterness remains.  

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"Your aid could help break this stalemate, end this unnecessary suffering."
  As you leave and head out, you ask about local adventurers and receive a solid lead bringing you to the town of Valmont, a palisaded village inhabited by locals of all type, it appears it must be a hub of the Western Plains - many traders are setup around the village and a small local militia has a notable presence. The people are wary of you at first but warm quickly to your tales and reputation. You meet with some of the people who have been helping to organize the defenses - Bellasera Viadocii , Axle , and Lliln Kof'nar . They tell you that the troubles here are worse then you had heard, the bandits here are more organized than the rabble they had fought in the Old World. They could really use your help here, instead of you heading all the way up to the Northwest to the edge of the Outer Settlements.   WHAT DO?   1) Help the adventurers and hunt down the bandits, leaving the Northwest Settlements to their fate   2) "SO SORRRRRY" - leave the bandits alone and continue on your mission   3) Convince the adventurers to come with you and that you will return after to help hunt down bandits   4) Split your men, leaving some here to help and taking the rest with you   5) WHATEVER YOU WANT TO DO ITS ALL YOU  

Status Report

  Horses - 1   Soldiers - 25   Morale - 4   Companions - Brachen Holler , Sansari Andrelle , Patch  
 
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  You gather with the adventures in a local tavern, its sights and smells reminding you of the Old World and the many haunts you had spent your nights in while on the road. You and your soldiers make for a colorful scene and locals filter in and out of the establishment gawking and whispering all about. You speak late into the night, warmed by fire and ale, and find yourself kindred spirits with Bellasera Viadocii and Lliln Kof'nar though Axle proves less willing to concede to your arguments.   Bellasera Viadocii tells you that the bandits themselves are hard to find, spread thin as the settlements in the region are, but they draw numbers from some of the villages towards the southwest. While people have so far been reluctant to surrender some of these members of the group perhaps with your influence, and the presence of some troops, people might feel confident to spill some information. You speak with Brachen Holler about bandit suppression, but he tells you that in his experience it takes hundreds if not thousands of troops to root out even a small band of brigands, and that is with knowing the lay of the land and having the support of locals.  
"With what we have here, in a land as foreign as any other to us - you'll need some kind of heroics to make progress here"
  Heroics being your specialty you head out in pursuit of the bandits, bringing with you both your men and the pledge of the Adventurers to aid you in your mission to the Northwest Settlements. You send Patch to go in advance and let them know you have some business to handle prior to your arrival. "SURE THING MR. AJAX SIR" he says, happy to be of help and also be alive, god how he loves being alive.  
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  You choose to seek out the leader of the bandits and hopefully make him listen to reason, a goal Brachen Holler scoffs at but your new friends among the adventurers listen to your plan with idealistic approval. The inclusion of the adventures lightens the spirits of your chaotic crew, new stories filter through the campfires bringing fire to the soldiers in the hopes of building their own legends. Axle proves a capable cook, utilizing strange spices from around the world that he somehow has accumulated, an additional benefit to the heroes presence.   By the campfire you get to know your new friends better, dueling with Bellasera Viadocii both with blades and words - always with laughter at the end, and engaging Lliln Kof'nar on matters philosophical and religious. Lliln Kof'nar confesses to you that she encountered a strange fey creature in the North woods, which seems curious but friendly, and taught her secrets of the woods. Axle tells you a far darker tale, of the Grovekeepers seeking to grow their Tree in a village named Estbruk, of the villagers who resisted, and of he horrific... change.. that came over the Grovekeeper, its form warping, tearing, into something like a nightmare. The men, hearing this story, are disheartened and silent, only the recent camraderie keeping violence from erupting with the believers in the group.  
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  Your skills do not fail you and an almost miraculous discovery sets you on the path of the bandits, a small series of villages situated on the edge of a ravine - somewhat north of The Academy Ruins . At night you note the abundance of the red eyes that continue to plague the settlement, they drift slowly towards the south, haunting in the shadow of purpose they seem to display. The men harken to your stories of danger engaged with the red eyed spirits, and wonder about their background. Still, it is the mortal threat that worries you this day and you continue on to the villages.   You arrive at a poor subsistence settlement overlooking a starkly jagged ravine, a strangely greenish brook winding its way about the bottom. The farmers are poor and look to be struggling. Many shut their door, unwilling to speak with you, but a small family recognizes your name and upon believing that it truly is the legendary Ajax the Bear-barian tells you something of what has been occuring. It seems that some kid of group has been killing livestock, raiding farms, and generally causing problems - they have also been recruiting young men to join them. He doesn't know who leads them, but he points you towards another settlement on the side of the ravine where the bandits are said to gather.  
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  You fail to avoid the ambush along an inclined rim of the wide ravine. It seems some of the villagers were interested in your plans only to hinder them. Arrows were the first sign of danger, and the screams of Bolo, one of the soldiers, a former mason from distant Elgas, as he collapsed clutching at his leg. Fortunately your training and the bandits lack of competence allowed your men to huddle up and get some cover but the terrain and numbers favors the ambushers. Their is a sound of horses behind you, a number of riders bearing down on you.   RUH ROH WHAT DO?   SO MUCH DANGER  

Status Report

  Horses - 1   Soldiers - 30   Morale - 12   Companions - Brachen Holler , Sansari Andrelle , Patch, Axle , Bellasera Viadocii , Lliln Kof'nar  
 
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  Combat is inevitable but your keen eyed senses and barbarian instincts are enough to tilt the scales back towards your favor. With a roar you grab your wounded man and bring him in line behind your fellows, and you bark out orders to ensure the quickly identified archers are met with raised shields, Brachen Holler ensuring that the men stand in acceptable formation. Bellasera Viadocii loosens her sword and steps up next to you, ready for battle - Lliln Kof'nar unleashes a hail of magical frost at the archers causing their aim to stagger even further, the next two volleys streak erratically around your men, the few coming close deflected off shields.  
"Bandits are cowards, we need to hit them hard and fast and they'll break"
  Bellasera's bold words fall flat as the horsemen arrive on the scene, no mere country lads with swords but armored raiders riding horses made for battle - swords and voices raised. Your men, trained as best you were able, waver - Brachen Holler shouts for them to hold the line but you see it already crumbling. However, just then, you recognize the warrior at the front of the charge, Sjunt Vakujall , an old companion of yours, who seems to recognize you at almost the same time.   " Ajax the Bear-barian , the fuck are you doing here?" he says with a roar, leaping down to clasp you tightly. His men, confused, wait, their horses dancing nervously as their charge is halted. Your men look no less surprised, glancing about to wait for some kind of hammer to fall.   You speak with Sjunt Vakujall for some time, he tells you that some of the villagers told him some men were coming from Hampsterdam to hunt bandits - he was hoping to run you off and make the city think twice. "Never thought I'd see you running errands for some lordlings merchants" he scoffs, laughing, handing you some locally made spirits, they taste terrible but remind you of home. Sjunt Vakujall isn't subtle and lacks the spirit for deception, he openly speaks of the situation in the area, that a warrior named Quill runs a village named Rivers End to the west, across the ravine, that much the villagers told the truth about. It is something of a waystation for the local 'criminal element' (he grins), a place where you can sell grain, food, and really any loot - and also rest your back and get some 'entertainment' (another grin). 'You'd like it, hell, I'll take you and your men there myself. You want to talk to Quill fuck it who doesn't want to talk to Ajax the Bear-barian ."  
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  You maintain with dogged conviction your diplomatic approach and head with Sjunt Vakujall and his men towards Rivers End. The bandits you are with are a strange mix, some of them seasoned mercenaries or at least combatatnts like Sjunt but many of them are also young boys, novices to the life who seem ill at ease with the place they've found themself. "These boys have been conscripted into the life by bandits like your friend" Bellasera Viadocii scowls "If they don't fight, if they run, then their families will be killed."  
"I hope you know what you're doing, out here my family will never even hear how I died"
  Brachen Holler 's words remind you of the risk you have placed you and your men in, and while you are treated well by Sjunt your men are given at best a cold welcome. In time you pass the ravine and arrive at the village known as Rivers End, a hodgepodge complex of settler homes and woodwork forts built with some care. You note the many armed men here, killers your experience tells you, and with more concern the abundance of tarp covered bushels containing grains and other dry goods, no doubt seized from innocent villages - if what Sjunt tells you is true their reach could be as far as the Inner Settlements. Near the center a simple wooden keep has been constructed, an impressive feat given the abbreviated time frame they must have had.   SPOT - you note the swords and armor of the men here, fine quality - forged back home, not made here   SPOT - A delegation of orcs are being fetted near the keep itself, they bear the markings of the Dry Gulch   You and your men spend the night in a local inn that Sjunt pays for happily, glad again to spend time speaking of your past adventures and all that has come in between. He seems eager to recruit you into the life he has found here, a freedom he says recalls your youthful glories. "Now, after all this, the whole world is a frontier - no one here to keep us from living life as was meant to be lived." Your adventurer friends are none-too-pleased with recent developments, but with your ABSURD ROLLS believe you must be perpetrating some ruse and go along with the plan so far.   You observe through the night various informal groups of mercenaries, hunters, and even traders who appear legitimate meeting inside the village - this place, whatever its morality, is clearly a focal point for trade in the region, and perhaps for the entire SW Outer Settlements. You make notes of what information you can glean, that the bandits seem to be having trouble with a man named Gareth Nemens who has a claim SW of here, in and around The Academy Ruins , that they appear to be dealing with some figure to the north whose name goes unmentioned, and that they have regular trade with ports around Hampsterdam and even in the city itself. There is talk of the strange mutilations occuring about the settlements, about the orc traders and the threat of their conflict spilling over, and of strange sightings of shadowy figures in the woods to the west. They also speak of Strange Dreams that seem to be plaguing people, shared experiences no matter how far from one another.  
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  In the morning you meet with Quill in the small keep at the center of town, where a small group of soldiers waits to escort you inside, without your companions. Sjunt Vakujall goes with you, eager to have you talk with Quill after seeing your reluctance to accept his recruitment speech. The keep is fairly bare, but every so often a piece of treasure is on display, heirlooms from travellers no doubt seized on the open road or from poorly defended homes.  
"We take what we need to grow stronger, if not us then another"
  Quill listens to your proposal calmly, he is not what you expected from a bandit. His one dead eye moves shifts listlessly in its socket, an oddity unfamiliar to you, occasionally distracting from your earnest appeal. As you speak the murmurings from the assembled soldiers occasionally rises to soft chuckles, or even a stiff laugh. As it comes to an end Quill speaks.   "Do you know why I exist?" He stands, running his hands through the coins piled on his table "I exist..." he takes a coin in his hands "because you are weak." he bends the golden coin, then throws it to you. "I know who you are Ajax the Bear-barian , a brave face for the cowards of Hampsterdam - the quivering stewards of a crumbling kingdom, fearful of doing what is possible, doing what is necessary, to thrive."   "You made me. Your... weakness... nourished me, and a thousand others like me, we feast on your kindness, your ineptitude, your lack of will." He steps closer, as if daring you to strike. "While yours are coddled mine are hunted, and the best of us rises until he is cast down."   "Keep your words, take mine back to your lords and see what comes of it."   UH OH THAT DIDNT WORK AS PLANNED?   WHAT DO?  

Status Report

  Horses - 1   Soldiers - 30 (1 Wounded)   Morale - 4   Companions - Brachen Holler , Sansari Andrelle , Axle , Bellasera Viadocii , Lliln Kof'nar  
  You complete your speech complete with decent rolls and high theatrics - the assembled bandits seem at first confused at how to react, keeping an eye on Quill to get an idea how he will respond. The bandit chief, silent at first, responds with a slim grin, and an outstretched hand. Sjunt Vakujall relaxes his hand from his axe and laughs, clapping you on the back as you take the outstretched hand "AY thought we were gunna have to kill all these bandits for a second."   Quill informs you he will do 'what he can' to keep the raiding to a reasonable taxable amount, and he takes your written agreement for him to have a "seat at the table" at Hampsterdam. He sends you and your men off with some food and water, your soldiers are overjoyed at not being cut to pieces, and Brachen Holler is impressed with how you handled the situation.  
"The men were scared, but ready to fight - you've done good training them."
  The adventures are less enthused by your actions. Bellasera Viadocii looks with sadness on your decision "Now they'll raid under the banner of law, and spirits will fall further." They decide they can't go with you, and must remain to keep an eye on what is happening here. Still, they wish you well, and say they respect your decision even if they don't agree with it.   Sjunt Vakujall decides to come with you, bringing some of his men along "just the cream of the crop."  
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  Your mission resumes, heading northwest past even the most remote of villages - here not even the semblance of roads exist, you navigate by encountering random farmers and travellers who direct you further and further from safety and civilization. The men seem to have bonded somewhat, the dangerous affair of the bandit village has put aside, for now, their differences and the constant training has only helped. Here in the small farms you also find local food, herbs, and liquors - homemade delights, and sometime horrors, but all things that make the men feel like they are on a real adventure.   It takes almost another week before you finally start to see civilization again. Here, far from Hampsterdam and apart from all other traces of settlements, villages and farmland are flourishing. A group of armored men ride out to meet you, cautious at first but soon ecstatic to hear of your mission. They take you to the central town, where you meet with Hippolita . She is a stoic woman with a firm expression, its hard to tell if she is pleased at your presence or displseased at the amount of troops. Regardless, the people are excited to see you, and quickly tell you of their troubles.   You hear that several of the outyling farms have been attacked in the last month, 11 families have been killed, some brutally massacred with their bodies left dangling about the holdsteads, others missing and presumed taken captive. The homes are looted and then burned, sometimes fully sometimes with larger pieces left in tact. Signs of passage are observed but they are confusing, not human feet. They've had no luck finding who is doing this and they have lost 10 soldiers on patrol already.  
Hippolita
  Hippolita hopes you can help, but isn't sure sure how you should spend your time.   UH OH WHAT DO?  

Status Report

  Horses - 6   Soldiers - 40 (1 Wounded)   Morale - 21   Companions - Brachen Holler , Sansari Andrelle , Axle , Bellasera Viadocii , Lliln Kof'nar, Sjunt Vakujall , Patch  
 
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  You gather round with your former allies, the adventurers who asked for your help to disband the bandits assaulting the Outer Settlements. You see the disappointment in their eyes, the tinge of betrayal in the eyes of Bellasera Viadocii , and the absolute unsurprised smirk on the face of Axle . Your speech is moving, and 20s the shit out of Bellasera Viadocii who decides to join with you - Axle begrudgingly agrees to seek out the grovekeeper and Lliln Kof'nar says she will go with him after helping your injured man.  
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  Your confusing group of soldiers, bandits, and a single adventurer make haste out from Anara with the information you gather. It seems the raids originally were on the furthest settlements to the north and west, with little information to be gleaned from them. Later they came further in, the attacks seem to happen at dawn or dusk - showing that the raiders are experienced and not simple brigands or animals. The settlement did not truly grow fearful until the patrol went missing, 10 men, all at once, taken in the middle of the day so it seems as they had not made camp.  
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"Devils sir, they was devils"
  You interview the children who survived the attack, they tell you that demons rimmed in flame came for their parents because they were not faithful to the church - you can tell they are traumatized and their information be worthless. You proceed to the most recent sight and examine the signs of struggle. You reach, deep inside yourself, calling on your past with the Na'Viene, but it is something else that answers, something that fills you with a euphoria you have come to know too well.   From within you surges forth a roaring spirit, a Minotaur that a figment of your past remembers, a victim of the rage in your shadowed self. It bellows and roars, striking at its enemies, swatting at the elves that flit around its edges - what is that, another form, 'ghost', you think to yourself, snorting - this is the Aelfinn allies that have emboldened them, just another to be crushed - you swing, but the ghost is too fast, he strikes with bearlike strength, cutting you down, spilling your blood onto the fields. Your last thought is of your people, pushed south by the Drakari - how will they suffer now if we fail.  
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"MOOOOO"
  You come back to yourself, having pulled some new strength from the Bone Helmet - 'Gravebiter' - you feel a sense of loss, and almost find yourself pulling for the helmet's power yet again. How many souls now dwell inside it, how many lives did you take while lost to your shadowed self with the Na'Viene. The knowledge of the beast fills you - the signs about you are now clear. This was a raid by a minotaur warband.   UH OH WHAT DO?  

Status Report

  Horses - 6   Soldiers - 40   Morale - 34   Companions - Brachen Holler , Sansari Andrelle , Bellasera Viadocii , Sjunt Vakujall , Patch  
 
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  You return to Anara to help prepare the defenses of Anara to the best of your ability, rallying the professional soldiers you have brought with you and what men the settlers of the region possess. Hippolita hears your news of the Minotaurs with calm, simply asking what it is we must do to stop them - she accepts your reccomendations without complaint and sets to the task of organizing more settlers to defend the town itself. She introduces you to Leonakas Trachi who has long been commanding the militia here. You find him as somber as his patron but quick to the task of preparing for any possible attacks.   Bellasera Viadocii is honored that you have chosen her to come with you and she prepares herself accordingly. You depart the next morning back towards the ambush site, leaving behind your soldiers and other allies, carrying enough supplies for a long journey as you have no idea how far these creatures range. Your travel is pleasant as Bellasera Viadocii makes for good company - you take comfort in your shared ideals and your mutual determination to accomplish the great feats you long for.  
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  After returning to the latest ambush site you set about tracking the creatures as best you are able, and fortunately you are easily up to the task. The warband is clever and hides its tracks well but you quickly discern a path which takes you days to the north west - they travel fast, rarely stopping to rest, and are as swift as a man on horseback. You catch occasional signs of human feet, clearly moving with difficulty. "They take captives, for slavery or some other purpose? I have always despired slavers, even more than murderers and bandits - there is something compeltely evil in a man for him to be able to chain another sentient creature"   They travel almost in a straight line with some destination in mind and in another two days that destination nears. You enter the Northern Woods which stretch miles east and west, almost as far as Hampsterdam itself. These woods are thick - wild and tangled, with an abundance of verdant wealth any settler would love to possess. "Look at these flowers" Bellasera Viadocii says, picking up a particularly heavy looking bud in a rainbow of colors. The air is thick with pollen and dizzying scents, loud with the buzz of insects and the distant crunching leaves. The tracks continue inward, but cautious now, no longer swift and confident but tentative.   SPOT - Ajax the Bear-barian notices that moisture dots the ground at regular intervals, pooled about leaves carefully bent together like a crude bowl. You taste the water, it is salty.   You camp in the North Woods for a day, the foreign land drawing the two adventurers close together. You speak of the past, of your hopes and fears, and keep eachother company while the fire illuminates strange shadows in the periphery. The next night a cairn of stones sits on the edge of your campsite, similar to one you once seized Black and Silver Framed Mirror from several years ago. Its presence is unexplained and it lacks any hole in the center as the other one did.   Finally you arrive at the edge of an overgrown ruin, jagged peaks cutting at the vines that grip it tightly. Here the Minotaurs stopped their journey, and you see what their mission was about immediately. At the base of the wall, before a bramble-filled opening to a cracked bridge, a pile of skulls has been built in a strange crescent shape, along the top two human bodies have been placed, one over the other to make an X, a large horn, possibly from a deer or elk, has been stuck through the middle. Their blood has run out to the ground, though the ground itself shows no sign of it, as if the blood simply ceased to exist when it struck the moist earth. Bellasera Viadocii blanches and then grips her sword in anger "Monsters...".  
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  The minotaurs hustle back out of the forest and head SW, within a day you have caught up to them. 30 of the creatures form a small camp, among them a minotaur more decorated than the others, and one bedecked in furs, skulls, and pelts, older than the others. They appear in good spirits, and battle with one another constantly. No human captives are evident, but the blood-stained ropes dangling from their shoulders tells you they once did transport captives.   UH OH WHAT DO?  

Status Report

  Companions - Bellasera Viadocii  

FINAL BATTTTTTLE

 
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  You gather round the assorted forces that make up your ragtag defenders of the frontier - the unruly recruits from the Hampsterdam Militia, lead by Brachen Holler and still apprehensive of one another through now grown much closer, the mercenary brigands of Sjunt Vakujall fed story after story of your past exploits and eager to put their name in the legends, and the local guards of Anara lead by Leonakas Trachi scared of what might come but refusing to yield this last chance their people have for leading a good life. They understand what your intention are, everyone agrees that this is the only way to secure the settlement. You admire their enthusiasm, but being the only one who has battled minotaurs in the past you worry that they aren't fully up to the task.   You find the perfect spot, a narrow tangle of roots and boulders directly across from a narrow stream - conveniently located on the way to one of the settlers farms. You assign the men as best you feel suits their abilities. All you can do now is hope for the best.   As you leave for the task Bellasera Viadocii gives you a kiss, and tells you to return safe. Everybody loves a hero.  
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  The first thing you realize is that their hounds are faster than your horse. Shit. You cut back and forth madly, hoping to make it back to the site but you have completely misjudged the speed of these creatures. The horns sound behind you, biting at your heels as surely as the beasts that send saliva spitting onto your horses hide. It's no use, you take out your sword and turn to strike at the creature - knowing that if they take down your horse you'll be stuck far from friends and surrounded by enemies. The first beast goes down, but the second lunges.
"FOR AJAX AND HAMPSTERDAM"
  It's Patch - you told the boy to stay behind but he got that suicidal pluck and a bad case of hero worship. He slams his spear into the second hound sending it, and his splintered spear, staggering off center - it turns viciously, hurt but not dead, and leaps at his throat. He closes his eyes and thinks "At least I died a true Hampsterdamian" but he is WHOOSHED to safety by Ajax's fine rolling abilities and beefy meatpaws - you grasp him and go flying away on the horse, the wounded beasts now no longer to catch you.   Finally you lure the minotaurs into the ambush site - arrows fly, spears raise, and cowmen moo. Back to back Sjunt Vakujall and Ajax the Bear-barian take the brunt of the offensive, but the minotaurs are monstrous combatants, their strength far beyond that of man and their hides as thick as armor. The men know fear, but the line holds - none wants to abandon his brother in combat.   You see the first of the local soldiers go down, then another - two of the men of Hampsterdam are cleaved in a single blow from the chief of the raid. Sjunt Vakujall nods, tells you he has this, and you charge off to push the chief back. You hear another horn, and note the bone clad shaman off to one side with several other minotaurs, who watch the fight keenly. While the battle rages around you, no other minotaurs intervene in your duel.   You put up a good fight, but you can't possibly compete with the raw power of this creature. Its blows hammer down on you, sending your shield flying, your arms burn as they haven't in years of struggle. Suddenly Bellasera Viadocii is there, leaping over your crouched form and striking the beast, Patch leaps on its back, and Brachen Holler sends a volley of arrows into its hide. The minotaur learns that friendship pierces even the hardest of hearts... literally.  
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"This.... is only.... the start...."
  As the deathmoo rattles out of the chieftain the minotaurs suffer their final defeat, though the shaman vanishes never having joined the battle. Your men, tired and covered in blood, let out a cheer quickly muffled by the sight of the many dead and wounded. It was a victory, but a costly one. Even as highly advantaged as you were in this battle you barely came out ahead, you shudder to think of what an army of these monsters could do on an open field.   Hippolita takes word of your victory with an even gaze, looking off to the horizon. "How many more are out there?" she asks, expecting no answer. "Will they be back...." You cannot give her any answer, nor can you spend any more time on this bizarre side-adventure. You give her men all the information you have on the creatures, train them to ambush and stalk their prey, and then bid them farewell.   She tells you that a man named Gareth Nemens is said to be holding a demon in Keresk to the south, she wonders if that demon is in fact one of the minotaurs. She also tells you that if there is every anything she can do for you, just return - you will always be greeted as a hero here.   Bellasera Viadocii is sad to see you go, but she knows she has to return to keep an eye on the bandits. You say your farewells and head back to Hampsterdam, mission bloody but accomplished.   Patch lived! MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!!


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