The Tale of Sir Loria

Various bits of Pyotr's quest for the Philosopher's Stone that are not seen elsewhere.


Preparations for the journey into the Africas are extensive, and Loxos's Elephants are laden with every sort of supply imaginable. What lies beyond the deserts is unknown, though it is assumed that anything could be there. With the distances involved (some estimates putting the trip beyond a thousand miles each way), the trip is also not going to be a short one - and a sea voyage down African coast of the Red Sea is deemed impossible due to Loxos' Elephants. Pyotr and Parzival arrange for possible maps of the area to be dredged up from markets and traders, and between them and the brief descriptions provided by Vespasian their various inaccuracies are ironed out and a general idea of a route is planned.

As the deserts of Egypt give way to rolling bush and savannah, it becomes clear that this is unknown territory indeed, even for Maha whose expertise in the deserts of Araby and the lands of the Levant has given her exceptional survival and navigation skills. There are many strange creatures here - buzzing insects, calling birds and scurrying vermin flee from the onward march of the Herd. As the trip wends its way into the unknown, the people grow stranger and their odd customs are something of a consternation to the party. Pyotr spends some time preaching the Word and extolling the knightly virtues, but he is able to make little progress before they are called to leave and venture further into the unknown.

It was at one of these villages, where they had stopped briefly and traded some trinkets to the locals in exchange for food and lodging, that they are awoken rudely in the night by a screaming woman who runs crying into the village. Bebur runs to her and tries to calm her, but her hysteria is too great. With some cajoling from the locals, it is determined that she has seen a great monster to the east of the village amongst the hills, stalking the lands in the form of a great winged serpent. This must be one of the fabled Dragons that are reputed to roam these lands!

Leaping atop Basil, Loxos storms out of the village in a rage, with the rest hurrying along behind. Off in the distance a faint but undenyably huge shape looms silhouetted above the horizon, and the group make a beeline towards it, trees in their way uprooted by Basil in a path carved through the undergrowth. The shape stopped and pivoted in the air, as if catching a glimpse of the approaching group, and dropped like a brick from the sky, landing on the hillside. There it crept, cloaked in darkness, towards a shadowy opening in the rocks.

The oddly inaccessible nature of the hillside and the escarpment is plain as the group approaches. Loxos grows nervous and more angry as he realises that he isn't going to be able to take Basil, and dismounts with some soothing words to his friend, whose displeasure is also evident even to the rest of the group who aren't used to reading the emotions of elephants. The rest start to clamber up the rock-face towards the opening which looms large above them.

Maha, lithe and limber, is the first to reach the opening, and strikes a light to a torch which flickers and blazes, and she stands peering into the dark maw of what is clearly a cave in the rock, trying to discern what lies within. Pyotr is next, and reaches down to help Bebur; the veteran grunting as he is hauled up. They drop a rope for Parzival who is struggling in his armour, and finally Loxos who is barely concealing his emotions. Some more torches are lit, and the group ventured into the mouth.

The cave was long, damp and wide. Slime dripped from odd rock formations with a sickening splash, and a cool but humid breeze came from within like the breath of the earth itself. The cave formed a tunnel which wound around, snaking backwards and forwards for a short distance before, rounding a corner, there the party came upon a fantastic sight.

A gigantic open cathedral of quartz lay before them, glittering in the torchlight. Crystals jutted from every surface, though many on the floor were broken and cracked. But even this spectacular light-show couldn't draw the group's rapt attention to what lay in the centre on what appeared to be a wide raised dais of rock. A huge form lay coiled around the centre, muscles rippling under scales of iridescent green. Two huge wings folded up against a row of spines and a single huge eye peered out and blinked impassively.

Loxos screamed with almost irrational rage, and was prompty tackled by Bebur and pinned to a wall before he could launch himself into the dragon's lair. With a promise to think before he acted, he was released and the group stood and stared at the monster before them.

Pyotr dropped to one knee, sword planted firmly in the ground before him, and began to pray. Parzival threw a look over at him and joined in, and they knelt with heads bowed as the serpentine form uncoiled and rose up onto its haunches before them. The full majesty of the dragon reared out, filling the cave, and it bellowed a roar which made the entire cavern shake. One massive claw swung towards the group but was swiftly dodged by all except Maha, who mistimed her leap and was slammed nastily into the wall, narrowly missing being impaled by a large crystal formation. As she slid to the floor, air knocked out of her lungs, Bebur raced over and deflected the dragon's return blow with his shield before it could finish her off.

Immediately Loxos drew his bow and loosed an arrow at the monster, which shattereed against the beast's hide. Parzival and Pyotr raced forward, but dove to the floor as the Dragon returned the favour with a gout of flame belched from its maw. A second arrow sailed over their heads as they stood, but immediately Parzival slipped back to the floor, the Dragon's tail winding around his leg and hoisting him into the air. Pyotr dived to avoid a claw swipe, and hacked the tail's tip from the beast which let out a whelp of pain and dropped the knight with a clatter. Pyotr turned momentarily and shouted to Loxos to strike the beast in the eye. Another arrow was knocked and this one flew true, catching the beast in one of its lizard eyes, and piercing it mightily. The Dragon screamed in pain, its maw gaping wide, and taking the opportunity Pyotr let forth a exultant cry of praise to God and drove his sword through the roof of the beast's mouth. A look of pitiful surprise came over the creature, and it collapsed dead to the floor of the cavern, Pyotr's sword still embedded in its head.

Loxos wasted no time in making preparations for moving the beast's body back to his elephant caravan. Pyotr and Parzival dropped in a prayer of thanks. Maha, recovering from the blow, wandered unsteadily to the back of the cavern where the Dragon had been lying. There, she discovered something strange - a nest made from bones, and in the centre a giant egg coloured a mottled green-ish white.

A great victory feast was held, with the fattest of the village's animals slaughtered in celebration. Then, with everything loaded on the backs of the elephants (it took a pair of the largest to carry the dragon's body slung between them), and the villagers reassured that they were safe from further attacks, they left and continued onwards towards their destination.

A month's further travel, hacking through the denser and denser foliage and navigating further hazards, was reasonably uneventful due to the skills of the travellers. Here, the maps stopped, and intuition together with Vespasian's instructions had to take over.

Travelling with the elephants' usual total lack of subtlety, they were soon accosted by men claiming to be from the guard of Lalibela. Pyotr spoke with them and described his quest, and the men jumped for joy at the news that Christians had come to the kingdom. The men led them down some hidden paths towards where they claimed that city and its namesake king reigned over the Christian Kingdom. Cresting the hilltops, a city lay in the valley below, and it appeared that an array of troops had ridden out to greet them. The group were taken into the city with a fanfare, which Loxos skilfully adapted into a parade which had the residents of the city gawking in amazement.

But the amazement soon was on the faces of the questers as they were led to meet the King - a darkly tanned white man bearing the cross of the Templars upon his breast, surrounded by Nubian warriors carrying the same emblem. He introduced himself as John, and greeted them in the name of God and Saint George. On inviting them into his home, they sat and broke bread and he explained that he was a Templar Knight, now become Patriarch and King of Ethiopia. His realms stretched for a great distance in every direction, and all worshipped God in the Orthodox Christian tradition.

He guided them to the many shrines of the city, and showed them to the great monolithic churches carved directly into the very living rock, and there the Christians in the party prayed, and the elephants showed respect by kneeling before them. [picture]

The party's stay in the city was a long a comfortable one, and Pyotr and Parzival spent many long nights talking theology with Prester John whilst Loxos attempted to tame some of the local pygmy elephants in the kingdom. Maha resisted firmly attempts by the local populace to convert her, but managed to trade some trinkets.

In your last night with John, you explain to him the nature of your quest for Queen Tamar. He looks shocked that anyone could desire after immortality and thus deny themselves the natural order as ordained by the Lord, but speculates that if they were to live long enough, God willing, they would certainly see the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth eventually. He retires for an hour, but returns later with a small glass vial. He informs you that it contains drops fabled to be from the Fountain of Youth, which despite his searches he had never personally found, but was given to him by the previous pagan king of the area. He intimates that it is likely to be useful as a component for the Philosopher's Stone. He congratulates you as a shining paragon of the knightly virtues and presents you before you leave with a letter to give to whoever might be the head of the Templars.

The trip back to the Holy Land is lengthy, but uneventful. Maha maps the journey back on a small discarded piece of dragon skin leather, Loxos is busily taming his elephants, and Pyotr is often found deep in prayer. Tales of their quest have already spread by the time they return, but people are even more astonished to find out the truth.

The Monster of Valsca

The banner of Saint George fluttered brightly in the sunshine as the company of Knights marched to Valsca. Twenty of Prince Basarab's finest men, together with the Prince himself, Pyotr Loria, Bebur and Parzival. High overhead, a hawk circled.

The village was not far now, and there they would camp for the night before heading to confront the monster. As they drew in, a cheering crowd greeted their Prince and his brave knights, and with a wave of his hand Basarab sent servants scurrying hither and yon making preparations for the company to stay.

The next day's weather was not nearly as clement. A beating sleet hammered down, turning the paths to mud - the eminently changable weather of the region doing its best to throw off any plans that had been made. Nevertheless, Basarab gave the order to ride out, and ride out the company did.

After several hours ride, they came upon an extremely thick area of the forest which had no paths. The decision was made to tether the horses and the group advanced on foot, pushing their way bodily through the worst of the undergrowth.

Of a sudden there came a foetid stench, which seemed to rise and permeate everything despite the rain. It grew stronger as they advanced, until finally the company came upon a clearing. The foul smell caused one of the knights to drop to his knees and begin to retch, even as the others fought down that same urge.

The smell, the horrible smell, appeared to be originating from the massive pool in the centre of the clearing. Around it stood an imposing circle of Trilithons, partially overgrown with creeping plants, and a massive stone table occupied the far end. The table was perhaps the most disconcerting sight of all, as the grooves running down to a lip at the bottom, and the chains wrapped around at the corners told of a gruesome function.

The surface of the pool was filthy and covered with a thick layer of slime, which rippled oddly as the raindrops hit. The men spread out around the pool, as Basarab shouted to them to keep their nerve, for the beast they were seeking was undoubtedly in its depths. Pyotr, who had rounded the pool enough that he was approaching the table, noticed a loathsome pagan idol at its base, carved from wood and stained with unimaginable substances. With a swift prayer he raised it high and broke it over the table, shattering it into a hundred pieces.

The pool rumbled, and the ground shook.

All of a sudden, everything happened at once. From the water's surface it seemed a myriad heads burst forth, each with a pair of burning green eyes and a set of vicious fangs. Each head struck out at a different knight - some strikes hitting home, some not. One unfortunate was dragged into the pool itself, and he scrabbled at the edge with his gauntlets before dropping under its surface and out of sight.

The heads withdrew briefly, and then with a wave of slime they burst forth again, this time attached to a body. The great creature made a lunge for Basarab whose sword's runes were glowing with a bright white fire, a lunge which he barely dodged as the great beast's body smashed against one of the stones, toppling it to a ground with a thud and a crack as it broke. Taking cover behind another of the trilithons, he drew it out and away from the pool.

Behind the beast, Parzival was creeping up, until with a leap he was atop the beast's back. The heads turned and struck at him, their fangs trying to rend him asunder. Using the distraction, Basarab clove mightily through two of the beast's heads. Blood, or what looked rather more like a thick slime, spurted madly from the neck stumps, and drained to a trickle. Pyotr raced up and hacked at another head which was about to fling Parzival from its back.

The beast reared up to some twenty or thirty foot high on its hind legs, its full size now revealed out of the water, and fell back upon the ground with such a jolt that Parzival slipped from its back. The brave knight rolled with the impact, but rolled too far - headfirst into the pool! A cry went out from the knights who had encircled the monster, and two men jumped to the side of the pool to see if they could grab the unfortunate Parzival, but to no avail.

Meanwhile, Basarab and Pyotr did not falter in their assault. Basarab's sword gave bursts of light as it chopped through heads left and right, and Pyotr fended off blows with his shield that were threatening to catch the prince unawares. Together they fought, side by side, slowly whittling down the beast's many heads until only two remained. Pyotr and Basarab looked at each other, gave a great roar, and each swung a cleaving strike into a head, finally beheading the polycephalous monstrosity.

The beast's body thrashed and fell, dead, upon the great stone table; its slimy blood trickled down the grooves and pooled upon the surface of the lake. Immediately the knights rushed to the waterside. Where was Parzival? Had he been taken by the dark waters?

As they began to despair for his loss, there came from the opposite side of the pool a bubbling of air, and then a bare fist struck through the surface and clamped itself onto the side. Pyotr ran and grabbed the hand, which became an arm, which became a slime-covered human form, which became Parzival. The knights breathed a heavy sigh of relief, and retreated. A priest was summoned to consecrate the site and men to dispose of the body, and the knights picked their weary and bedraggled way back through the forest to their mounts.

Temple Tunnels

The City Below

The party that ventures into the night is very mixed in its composition; Rasha, the desert rat, swathed in the accoutrements of the explorer of dark tunnels and tombs, Pyotr, the shining beacon, arrayed in his armour and prepared to face the horrors below, Zafir, Arabian hero, Sword in hand ready for anything, Jacob, of Jerusalem, enigmatic, simple and honest where so many are not and Jean Ricard, called by some the Anti-Pope but a pillar of faith against the dark of this night. All seem ready for the tests that the researchs tell are ahead of them.

Twisting Tunnels, Turning Tracks

Slipping into the tunnels is relatively easily, even with the large group you have now formed; given the troubles in the city, though, it is not entirely surprising. The tunnels themselves are though, even those who have been here before find it somehow unnerving, as though your physical form would rather you were not here as much as your mind may wish you to be.

There is no obvious single route within them, something that is a little surprising and a constant breeze through the tunnel seems to constantly move the sandy floor and remove any evidence of another soul's passage. Even those of you who thought they knew the way are confused by the twists and turns and lack of distinguishing markings. It is all you can do to stay together as each of you feels a pull in different directions.

A little light relief

“So. We have the left tunnel, we have the right tunnel, and we have the tunnel which you're fairly sure ends in some kind of trap.”


“Didn't you say, before we came in, that every tunnel was likely to end in some manner of trap?”


“So the left and right tunnels are just as likely as the middle one?”

“Ultimately, yes.”


“Well, it's like this. In truth, only the will of the Merciful Allah guides us to these buried gold, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, diamonds, and other such symbols of opulence, which, I dare say, would look better upon the crown of a future King of Jerusalem than adorning some rampaging Byzantine's bloodstained falchion. And He wants us here. Because He wants these things added to the collections of His fine and loyal followers, where they might better serve His glory. So I thought I'd just follow His advice in my conscience, and no matter which way we went, keep my eye out for concealed pits, unexpected crossbows and any possible sources of water. Alright?”

The Chamber of Secrets

Several hours of exploration leave a thirst on your lips and your latterns guttering slightly as the time nears to refuel it, when you reach a chamber that leaves each of you without breath. There is a chill in the air here that is somehow different from the dark passages beyond and the lighter stone here reflects the light you carry and brightens the gloom.

It is however the centre of the room that holds all of your attentions, where a book rests upon a marble lectern, a book with an ebony binding of what you know within your hearts can only be human flesh. Each step further into the room is a battle against something that is opposing you, trying to resist your presence. It is Rasha who steps forward with the least trepidation as her Moongoose bounces alongside her - the vermin stops though, short of the plinth, almost frozen in fear now. Rasha herself pauses as well an impending sense of doom tickling her spine - it as well she does for a heavy blade descends rapidly from the roof of the chamber slicing the air just in front of her and imbedding itself in the ground in front of you all. It seems there is more to this chamber this time than there was last time any of you came here.

A booming sound from the corridors behind you makes you all half turn and it is with horror that you see the tunnels behind you collapse as a terrible creature, all spines and spikes, teeth and claws, rush down the passage towards the chamber, black and leathery like the book itself. As it charges the group Pyotr and Zafir countercharge, meeting it just inside the room, and a furious battle begins. Tentacles strike out from seemingly nowhere and its maw works hard as it strains and struggles to chomp on those engaging it. The slashes and thrusts of blades seem to do no more than aggravate it and it pushes further into the room, reaching out for Jean Ricard and Jacob especially as it pushes at Zafir and Pyotr.

It is Rasha who changes the game as it becomes more and more desperate. As she snaps out of the reverie she was lost in she sees the threat and something instinctual causes her to throw the flask of fire oil she has on her at the creature. As the flask shatters, her torch arcs through the air and the flames start to flicker on it's wobbling shadowy flash. Jean Ricard and Jacob spot it at the same time, that there is now smoke coming from the book itself, from a small patch and in that instant you all realise the same thing. Flasks fly and those attacking drive back at the creature, pressing their advantage. Jean Ricard calls on the Lord as he thrusts a torch into the snarling jaws of the creature and then all hell breaks loose.

The Voice of God

The Monstrosity seems to shrink back from his voice and the others raise their voices too, crying to God and Allah to aid them in this hour. Each shout drives it back a step and its attacks lessen and weaken as you all drive forwards, into it and then, in a single moment, it shatters into a thousand pieces. An almighty scream strikes from behind you all, your attention stolen by the action from the book and as you turn you see a pained face writhing in agony across its covers, a face clearly not human. And then, like the creature that defended it, it is gone. Nothing left of it at all.

For a second you all pause, shocked by what has happened and realising that several of you have more serious wounds than the blood that coursed through your veins let you know. In fact not one of you is uncut and each of you feels the pain of battle in your very bones.


But it all changes again now. A great cracking sound in the chamber leads to a chasm appearing where the plinth stood it seems as though daylight streams into the room for above. But it is night outside and as the hot burning liquid starts to flow from the roof it is clear this is no longer a place to be. The run starts, for the door that is now obvious on the other side of the room, a headlong rush as you all fight to put your feet under you and move with all alacrity. Rasha leads the way, being furthest across the room. Corners and junctions fly by as you all run, breathless, for safety, the rolling wall of fire chasing you all, never stopping. At last though you can see an exit and the night sky above but as you race for it then with horror you can see a rock rolling across the doorway.

One by one you dive through the gap until it is only Jean Ricard left. He jumps through the diminishing space his hat being knocked off as he does so, landing in the dusty courtyard beyond. His face full of horror as he realises what has happened he turns around to see the stone roll shut as the firey liquid hits it with a hiss, surely destroying anything left inside. As you all stand there, regaining your air, it is the muffled squeaks of Rasha's Mongoose that slowly draw your attention - it appears somehow he is enveloped in a mitre, several sizes too big for him. The laughter of relief rolls around you all.

Investigating the Guildia

Bebur rode resplendent on a large white stallion into the streets of Tblisi. His banner fluttered gently, and eyes turned to greet the returning armsmaster. No-one noticed the younger man riding slightly further behind with the baggage train, shawl covering his face. The arriving party put in at a stable on the outskirts of the city, where they were met by a cowled figure equally disguised. Some words were exchanged, and then the men stepped into an alleyway between two buildings. With a furtive look around them to check no-one was watching, the disguises were dropped. The clean-shaven and youthful Pyotr Loria stared into the eyes of the bearded Brother Basilus. “This way,” Basilus motioned, “we can talk inside.” Bebur bowed courteously to the monk, and left to deal with the baggage.

Basilus led Pyotr down the alleyway, through a door and into a small room lit by the sunlight flooding in through a grimy window. He closed the door and spoke in hushed tones. “I've found someone who has volunteered - he is a member of the Guildia named Orbeli Gelashvili who believes that you are a Rus prince wanting to join the Guildia's ranks. All on the quiet of course, all hush-hush, no-one else to know.”

He walked to the wooden table at the centre of the room, and stood behind the single chair that sat there. With his back to the window, sunlight streaming over his shoulder, he continued. “He'll meet us in this room, at mid-day tomorrow. Meet us here then, I must leave to prepare my magic.” He smiled, and walked to the door. Pyotr, following, nodded in assent and drew his shawl over his face as Basilus opened the door and showed him back into the alleyway.

You arrive at the specified time, taking care not to arrive too early for fear of being noticed loitering around the meeting site and not too late in order to keep Basilus from waiting too long. Ducking down the alleyway you rap a knock on the wooden door.

The door creaks open, and there stands Basilus. Sitting behind him in the chair at the table is a young man with a scrawny beard and a broken nose. You smile warmly at him as you enter, and he looks at you quizzically for a second before returning it.

You stand in silence whilst Basilus scribes runes of oathbinding on the floor in chalk, creating a circle around the man. As he finishes, he walks up to the man and addresses him.

“Orbeli, I must apologise, for I have brought you here under false pretenses - the man who seeks to interview you today is not in fact a Rus prince, but is the great knight Pyotr Loria, favoured of Queen Tamar. Before we proceed, I must insist that you swear an oath to him to answer his questions with nothing but the truth - and that I bind said oath in the traditions of Symbology.”

He looks at you nervously, widening his eyes slightly at the mention of your name. He is clearly thrown by the change in plan, but responds; “Y… yes, I'll agree. I swear to, to answer his questions truthfully.” Basilus smiles. He takes his finger and traces symbols onto Orbeli's cheeks, which welt up in black runic marks immediately after his touch.

“There.” Basilus said, “Done. He should now be bound by that oath to tell you the truth as he understands it.”

Pyotr looked dimly at the man, who was looking more and more nervous by the minute.

“What was your name again?”
“Orbeli Gelashvili.”
“Orbeli. A nice name. Thank you for letting me ask you these questions, Orbeli. It concerns a matter of deep importance to this country and to Queen Tamar. I hope you understand how important that is.”

“I guess,” Pyotr said, looking at Basilus, “we may as well ask the question straight out.” Basilus nodded.

“Orbeli, are the Guildia Simboluri plotting to overthrow the sovereign power of Queen Tamar and seize control of the country?”

The man stared at Pyotr, and a look of fear washed across his face. He looked around himself wildly, eventually staring at the door. By this point, Brother Basilus was standing next to its wooden frame. He cracked it open and peered outside before opening it a little further, allowing a couple of men in monk's robes to enter the room. “Members of my order,” he clarified to Pyotr.

The look of fear turned to one of terror. His eyes widened, and the colour drained from his face.

“I'll ask you again. Are the Guildia Simboluri plotting to depose Queen Tamar and seize control of Georgia?”
“Y… yes.”

The interrogation continued for some time. Twice at awkward moments, the frightened man tried to get up out of his chair but was met with the heavy hand of Brother Basilus on his shoulder. Eventually the plan was laid bare before them - The Guildia had spread symbols across the city and in the court, unnoticable or innocuous to most people, which would influence the minds of the populace and most importantly make the Queen more susceptable to suggestions. As a junior member of the Guildia he was not entitled to know the names of more senior members but he could confirm that the entire Guildia, right up to the top and including their members sent to the Holy Land, was involved in the plot. They disseminated propaganda and disinformation to the citizens of Tblisi and the very highest echelons had the ear of the Queen herself. Near the end he was babbling more than communicating and Pyotr at last decided he had all the useful information he needed.

“You are a traitor to your country. You are a traitor to your Queen. You seek to sow discord amongst our people, and clearly you are doing the work of the Adversary and not that of God. You do not deserve to live.” Pyotr drew a knife from his side as he spoke these words, his voice leaden with solemnity and sadness.

He put the knife to the man's breast. Tears streamed now from Orbeli's eyes.
“Please, it was not my fault… forgive me… spare me…”

“There shall be no forgiveness.” Brother Basilus's voice boomed in the tiny room. “And you shall not be spared.” Basilus's own knife glinted in the sunlight, and the body slumped sideways from the chair, the blade embedded in the side of its neck.

Basilus bid his men remove the body from the room.

“Pyotr, I can begin to work to remove symbols where I can find them, but with the eyes of the Guildia upon me I cannot hope to restore normality on my own. You are going to need to help me, help me do something about them.”

The Libraries

You follow the directions given to you by Gelashvili and end up on the outskirts of Tblisi. The building he gave you the specific details of doesn't appear to be here at all, though this is most definitely where he told you it was. Puzzled, you decide that you will wait around and see what you can scope out in the area. In the evening you enter a nearby inn and note several scholarly types looking out of place in the bar. They look uncomfortable as you walk in and leave shortly afterwards. Deciding to follow them you venture outside and note them heading down an alleyway. You creep over stealthily and in the shadows observe them entering a doorway.

The doorway, you note, has runes carved into the lintel; this must be the place you were looking for even if it is nothing like how it was described to you. The door clicks shut behind them as they enter. You walk to the door and listen, and not hearing anything you jostle the door until the catch snaps open and the door swings inwards.

Inside, a small antechamber leads up some stairs to another door which hangs just ajar. Peering through the gap you can see the two scholarly youths sitting at a table, surrounded by bookshelves. You steel yourself, and unsheathe your sword.

The door bursts open. The two startle, and one falls backwards off his chair. The flat of your sword slams down onto the table making a massive crash. They cower, holding books over their faces as you dominate the room.

“How you boys doing?”

They stare, and shuffle backwards into the bookcases.

“Am I dreaming, or did I just ask you a question?”

“We're… we're doing okay,” one of them manages to blurt out.

“Do you know who I am?”

They shake their heads. “No.”

“I'm Pyotr Loria. I'm a Knight of Queen Tamar. You remember your Queen, don't you?”

There is no answer.

“I'm going to take a wild guess here. You're with the Guildia, right?”

“Yeah, the Guildia,” he nervously looks around, but meets your eyes again.

“I thought so. Well, you remember your Queen, Queen Tamar, right?”

“I… I remember.”

“Good for you. Looks like I caught you boys in the middle of reading.” You sweep the books from the table. “So, what can you tell me about the plot?”

“What plot?”

“Don't think you're going to play innocent with me. You know what plot. Your man told me everything about what your higher-ups are playing at.”

The other one pipes up. “Look, we don't know what you're talking about, we don't get told anything. I just want you to know that we're sorry if they're doing anything, we don't know, when we entered into this thing, we only had the best intentions-”

As he is talking, you bring up your sword and drive it into his shoulder. He screams in pain and fear, and he looks as if he has just soiled himself.

“Oh, I'm sorry? Did I break your concentration? I didn't mean to do that. Please, continue. I believe you were saying something about 'best intentions'?”

He has no answer, and starts to mewl like a baby, tears streaming down his face, clutching his shoulder around your blade still embedded there.

“What's the matter? Oh, you were through anyway. Well, allow me to retort. You will tell me how you are controlling their minds.”


You twist the sword. He screams again. “You. Will tell me. How. You are controlling. Their minds.”

“We- we're not!”

“Yes you are. But clearly you're not going to be telling me anything. Luckily there's a passage I've got memorised, seems appropriate for this situation: Ezekial 25:17. 'And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them.'”

As you finish, and raise your sword, there is a canine howl from outside the room, which stays your hand. Then, there is a scrabbling at the window of avian claws. You check yourself, realising what you are about to do, remorse filling your heart. You look down again at the man under you and see that he looks incredibly young, barely a man. His tears streaming down his cheeks mix with the blood on his shoulder and the overall image is pathetic.

Disgusted with yourself you clean your sword on the hem of your robes and sheathe it.

“Now, you're going to give me a list of all the runes related to controlling people's minds.”

“Th… there…”

The other one pipes up. “There aren't any. You can't do it. People always have the choice, even if you bind their word.”

“I don't believe you.”

“Well look, I'm no expert, but if there's anything about it, it'll be in this book.”

He gets up, slowly, and reaches up to a book at the top of one of the shelves. He brings it down, and proffers it to you.

“This should explain everything. I don't know if you'll understand it, if you don't know much about runes - I don't understand it either, but it's all there. That's all we know. We're just novices, we don't know anything.”

You pause, and take the book. You think about the events of the past years.

“I believe you.”

You walk outside, sick to your stomach. You're going to get to the bottom of this, and you know exactly who to go to.


It is the work of only a few hours the next day to get to the Court. You meet up with Takha who informs you that Court isn't meeting today, but that he can find out where the Count is. After a short delay he returns and tells you that most likely the Count is out at his country estate.

You thank him profusely and leave, deflecting his questions as to why you want to find Lomidze, and playing down his requests for more stories. He implores you to come back after you're done with whatever it is you're up to - there are lots of people who want to meet and talk to you about your near-legendary exploits.

You saddle up your horse and take the northern road towards Lomidze's estate.

It is in the hills, hidden away from the surrounding farmland. Groves of trees line the road towards the great country house, almost palatial in size. As you ride in, avoiding the gate by jumping your mount over a wall, you see very little activity. A small plume of smoke rises from a curious structure in the roof, something you have seen only a couple of times before - called a chimney, you seem to remember. There are no servants outside the front of the house as you draw up and dismount, and you wonder whether anyone has noticed your arrival.

You push open the solid oaken doors, bounded by rune-inscribed metal. Lomidze's symbol, which you are familiar with, sits above the door in gold. They swing inwards to reveal a wide hallway lined with suits of armour and a stairway at the end leading upwards. As you stand there, a servant comes rushing in from a side room. “Uh, hello? Who are you?”

Before you can answer him a deep voice comes from the stairs. “It's okay, Lasha, take care of something else. I've been expecting you, Pyotr.” With a dismissive wave he strides down the stairs, robed and looking much as you last saw him, though perhaps a little better rested. The servant scurries outwards, off to some other task elsewhere.

“Then you know what I'm here for.”

“Yes, indeed I do.”

You take out the book from under your robes.

“That book will tell you nothing, Pyotr. It will prove nothing except to the very highest members of the Guildia, those with mastery over the runes. And, I suspect, you wouldn't take our word for it.”

“So it's true, then?”

“Oh no, every word a lie. You're a fool, Pyotr. You're still no better than a child. It's no wonder that you've not grown out of your ridiculous quest, even if you have made rather more progress than anyone believed you would.”

“Will you go under oath and say that?”

“Of course not, why should I? And who do you think could place me under oath? Certainly no-one else in the Guildia would be able.”

“Then I have no reason to trust you.”

“The Queen trusts me. She does what I tell her to do.”

He has reached the bottom of the stairs and is standing not three paces from you now.

“And that,” you return, “is the heart of the problem.”

“So it would seem. We can't have anyone else interfering with your precious Tamar, can we Pyotr? After all, no other man is worthy of her heart. Certainly not real competition - a man as great as myself - I, who protect the nation; I, who govern half the country; I, who will be a greater husband and King than you could ever hope to become.”

He is trying to make you angry. You catch yourself, and fire back. “You might be all those things, Count. You might be. But you'll never get her hand, because you will never find the Ark. God will not let a man as virtueless as yourself ever recover it.”

He sneers, and from under his robes he draws a dagger. “You and your virtues. You let them cloud your mind and your judgement.”

“The Queen will see that only virtue is worthy of her purity,” you say, unsheathing your sword.

Lomidze casts off his cloak, and it billows to the floor behind him. “Your virtue is only good for one thing; for your family to recall as they lament at your funeral. You will not take my rightful place as King of Georgia from me.”

You stare into each other's eyes. He lunges at you with his dagger raised, but you easily deflect his clumsy blow and retaliate, the near weightlessness of your armour giving you all the mobility you could ever need. Your sword stroke comes down upon his arm, meaning to force him to drop his weapon, but as it does so the rune on his head bursts a bright red and turns the blade aside at the last minute.

You are thrown off balance. After stumbling to regain your feet, you look down at your arm which is burning with the pain of a blow you don't remember taking. You do not have much time to assess the situation, however, as Lomidze makes for a second strike. You dodge and bring the hilt of your sword into his jaw.

You stagger backwards, spitting blood from your mouth, as Lomidze laughs cruelly at you. “You see, Pyotr, your very strengths become your weakness when fighting a Master of the Runes. Your lack of foresight fails you almost as much as your inability to tell when you're being lied to, bavshvi1).”

As he rushes at you for a third time, you turn his headlong rush into a tumble onto the marble floor. Lomidze sprawls out on the floor near the doorway. “You may not consider my strength to be a strength, but the playing field is far from level, mokhutsi2).”

You realise now that the only way to win this fight is through a battle of attrition. Your sword drops to the floor with a ringing clatter as you drop it and advance steadily towards the prostrate Count. As he sits up to rise, pounce upon him and seize his wrists, and twist the dagger from his grasp.

Slowly and carefully, so that his magics will not turn the point aside, you plunge the blade deep into Lomidze's gut. You both cry out, but this is a pain you are ready for. You wrench the blade across and leave it embedded, widening the wound and causing blood to gush from both of you, mingling and pooling on the floor. Pinning him down you grit your teeth and close your eyes, lost in silent but urgent prayer until the struggling beneath you ceases. Barely conscious, you push yourself up and stagger unsteadily through the doors and half pull yourself-half collapse onto your horse. As you bring her loose, everything goes black.

You wake in a hospital bed, and feel incredibly weak. A nurse stands over you, and speaks to you in clear Georgian. “Ah, so you're awake. Excellent. We'd thought we'd lost you.”

“We were so worried.” You turn your head to see Takha sitting at your side. He clearly has not had a lot of sleep recently. “We found you being dragged into the city by your horse. You nearly bled to death. What happened?”

“Lomidze…” You manage to croak out. “Plot… Attacked me… had to…” you stop, weary and pass out again.

When you are more recovered you are summoned before the Queen. The meeting, however, is far from informal. She demands that you explain your actions. You tell her everything; all that you knew of the Guildia's plot, what happened with Lomidze. She seems to recognise that you were acting in Her best interests and those of Georgia as you saw them, and she accepts your explanation of Lomidze's death through self-defence. She admonishes you not to take matters into your own hands without coming to her in future, and reassures you that as far as she knows there is no plot, and that she is more than capable of handling the machinations of the court nobility. She then asks how your quest is progressing, and is pleased at your response. She bids you good luck and good bye. As you leave you notice that the dragon's skeleton occupies price of place, suspended from the ceiling of the throne room.

You leave Tblisi and Georgia suspicious that you had been horribly taken advantage of, but happy in the knowledge that the country and her Queen are safe.

Arresting Aprene

Into the confusion of riots and factional violence that infects Constantinople rides Pyotr Loria, the Georgian knight. He is expected and the guards of Basileopatōr Michael upon the city gates let him pass and provide an escort through the tumultuous to the imperial palace. There he is received by the new royal family – Basileopatōr Michael, Emperor Alexios and the Empress-Consort Lida – as well as Bishop Giannopoulos and General Pavel Korovic.

Pyotr Loria has presented the evidence about the invasion of Georgia to his Queen Tamar and he and she are now convinced by the evidence of Candida's role in the affair. Pyotr Loria has come now to see to her extradition to Georgian justice. It is with some chagrin that the Romans must confess that they do not have her, though they dearly would like to, for the chaos in the city is her handiwork.

The solution is clear. Pyotr Loria may assist with the arrest of the traitor and warmonger Candida Aprene and the imperial court will see that she is brought to Georgian justice. Bishop Giannopoulos has the information required; when she moves to flee the city all will be prepared.

In her hideout upon the docks Candida Aprene supervises the chaos her beggars are sowing, the legitimacy of the Emperor Alexios is becoming ever more precarious. The last shipment of treasure is being stowed in a fast ship too and once it is loaded she will leave Constantinople to become another loyal Byzantine driven to support that pillar of stability and order, the Emperor Lucius. Together they will rule the empire as husband and wife!

In disguise, escorted by some burly beggars and the harder to disguise seven-foot eunuch Priscus, Candida slips out of her hideout. Beyond in the city fires burn illuminating the light. The sailors of the imperial fleet, solidly loyal to Emperor Alexios, are between her and the riots though. Further unwitting assistance for Candida Aprene.

Then, as the first of Candida's party reach the top of the steps down to the quay and the wharf just beyond, there is the sound of running feet and a command to halt. It is Pyotr Loria, a very nervous looking Bishop Giannopoulos and a squad of the Varangian Guard accompanied by certain elite troops of Basileopatōr Michael, led by a Lt. Sarah Greene.

The capable warrior Pytor Loria immediately identifies the eunuch Priscus as the most dangerous opponent and charges into battle. The Varangians engage the beggars and with no little trepidation Bishop Giannopoulos commands Candida to surrender herself. Candida assesses the situation, there are not that many guards and escape is close at hand. Instead of surrendering she pulls a bottle from her belt and applies a salve.

Hair erupts from her hands and then the rest of her body, her shape twists and grows bigger, her clothes splitting and tearing to reveal heavy black fur. In a matter of moments it is a bear with some tattered remnants of Candida's clothes that stands upon the stone quay.

Pyotr Loria is facing a capable opponent in the eunuch Priscus. The man is neither great brawler nor swordsman but he makes up for this with his great size and strength and his uncanny ability to ignore even grevious wounds. Pyotr Loria stabs him through the shoulder and all the hairless giant does is shrug as if discomfited and seek to grab the sword with one hand while the other swings for Pyotr.

The beggars and Varangians brawl and cut at another. They are close to evenly matched leaving Bishop Giannopoulos with only Lt. Greene guarding him to face the ursine Candida. Bishop Giannopoulos has drawn a sword and waves it about in a way which indicates at least some ability but he and the impressively capable Greene are hard-pressed to keep their lives against the onslaught of the ferocious bear.

Pyotr Loria seeing the bishop's distress punches Priscus in the face and with a great bound disengages from his combat. He is behind Candida and reverse his sword plants a mighty blow upon her skull.

Unconscious from Pyotr's blow the bear falls and a near naked Candida slumps to the ground. She is extradited to Georgia under the watchful eye of Pyotr Loria and sentenced to death by the Court of Queen Tamar. In deference to the delicate situation in the Roman Empire however execution of the sentence (and thus of Candida) is deferred.

Priscus finding the beggars cut down and his mistress captured takes the better part of valour and flees. The ship he is on, and the treasure with which it is filled, escapes the harbour and makes it to Emperor Lucius.

A Quest's End

Pyotr accompanies Mansoor to his laboratory. They reach what appears to be a large tent, stuffed with half-unpacked alchemical gear and ingredients. A vicious guard dog stands at the front, growling sharply at Pyotr until Mansoor strokes its head to calm it. They walk inside, and array the collected ingredients out on a folding table. Finally Pyotr retrieves the cup from somewhere on his person and places it gingerly in the middle of the table. Mansoor stares at the collection for a while, raises his eyebrows and turns to Pyotr.

“This may take a while.”

Over the next few weeks Mansoor scours through alchemical texts, experiments with various methods of heating and mixing items which he says have similar properties, and hunches over complicated diagrams and workings. Pyotr keeps a steady watch, but by the end it seems that both of them are getting impatient - Pyotr wondering how long this is going to take, and Mansoor steadily pacing up and down and gazing idly out into the desert every five minutes.

Eventually the ingredients are taken together and the process of mixing them begins. Erected glassware fills the tent and fumes billow from alembics and flasks. Eventually a small boiling concoction sits bubbling away. Mansoor removes the flame from beneath it and stands back.

A few seconds to allow the mixture to cool, and then Pyotr brings forth the Cup of Jamshid. With tongs the elixir is poured into the cup and set upon the table. Mansoor smiles broadly. “We're done, finally!” He picks up the cup to show Pyotr, but then yelps in pain as his fingers burn with the heat from the Cup. It slips from his grasp and drops to the floor. Pyotr dives to catch it, but it is too late. It bounces from the flagstones before being caught, a large crack developed in its side.

Mansoor is frantic, and takes the cup in tongs again to examine it. “It should be fine, just a crack, just a crack.” He turns to Pyotr, “I'm so sorry, but there should still be enough in there. Here, I'll seal it up now before anything else bad happens to it.” He takes a wax tablet from the side and presses it down over the top of the cup to form a seal, so that nothing further can spill from the cup. He then produces a smallish wooden box with the phrase “This Side Up” inscribed on the side in Arabic.

Pyotr and Mansoor ride to Jerusalem and there meet some of the Holy Land's prominent Orthodox faithful, and arrange a procession to Georgia in state. Pyotr intends to travel north through Byzantine lands to Constantinople, where they shall rest for a while, and from there onwards to Georgia. He hints heavily that there is a great and holy announcement that will be made after the completion of his quest. The trip is made with haste and collecting further of the faithful is not a problem for it seems news is spreading faster than the procession and Pyotr's reputation is preceding him.

Eventually they reach Constantinople, and there tumultuous events are coming to a head. Emperor Alexios, Father Giannopoulos, General Aprenos meet him there and he is filled in on the political situation. Candida Aprene is arrested there by Pyotr, but the events of the arrest are a story to be told elsewhere. She is to be extradited to Georgia and tried at the Court of Queen Tamar. After some gathering of a procession, riders are sent to bring advance news to the Court of Pyotr's arrival with the faithful. Then the procession sets off towards Georgia with Pyotr at its head.

The sun streams down, summer tentatively beginning now, and the day is warm and comfortable as a light breeze drifts across the Georgian fields. A great procession stretches back miles into the mountains, but at the front is Pyotr Loria riding out, liveried in the cross of St. George and accompanied by a hunting hound and a hawk hovering above. He has almost reached the gates of Tblisi, when a streak of white comes from the woods. Bounding towards him is a beautiful hind, striking and perfect. It draws up beside him and without a sound or word it trots alongside his horse. The gates swing wide.

Inside the streets are filled with a clamouring throng who shout and scream and cheer as the knight passes, and the rest of the procession enters behind him. He passes through the streets and approaches the palace, where some familiar forms wait for him on the steps. Pope Peter II is there with a bodyguard detail. Joshua waits also along with Michael of Bethlehem and a Rus princess. Takha and Bebur rush down the steps and help him from his horse, congratulating him with expansive hugs. They bid him up the steps and with dignitaries following he enters the palace.

There inside, the great throne room is as packed as the streets outside. A great Dragon skeleton hangs imposingly from the ceiling. The Queen stands at the foot of her throne, and steps forward - a vision in radiant and elegant white, she steps towards Pyotr as he walks down the middle of the room. They meet and Pyotr kneels before his Queen, bowing deeply. She touches his shoulder lightly with a gloved hand and he looks up. From his belt he takes a small box, opens it and brings out a chalice, offering it up to Tamar.

She smiles, takes it and drinks from the liquid within. She takes his arm and motions for him to stand. As he stands before her clad in shining armour - a great and powerful knight before the demure and beautiful Queen, it is if they are reduced again to children in each others' presence - she bids him drink, and he does. The empty cup shatters in his hands, and the shards fall broken to the floor. Both the Knight and the Queen drop to their knees to pick up the pieces and laugh as they look at each other.

The Queen recovers her bearing with a practised ease, and stands again. She looks down upon Pyotr and speaks, addressing the whole room.

“Let it be known throughout the land that Pyotr Loria is a hero and most beloved of Georgia. The tales of his knightly exploits are known to all, and he has upheld the honour of his country, his Queen, and himself, with utmost dedication and humility as befits a true knight. Now he has returned to our homeland and his quest is complete, and I shall take him to be my husband for he has more than proved his worth and his virtue.”

A cheer goes up. Pyotr and the Queen retire for a private audience. For the assembled dignitaries, the rest of the evening is a haze as the taverns are packed fuller than they have ever been in celebration and the Palace puts on a lavish feast with food and drink aplenty.

You are taken for a private audience with the Queen. She shows her appreciation for all you have done in her name, and congratulates you more personally on completing your quest. She never doubted for a second that you would succeed. She understands that you have important things to do this year but she asks you to return and help organise a wedding as soon as possible.

At Her Majesty's request, Takha and Bebur enter and together they conspire to take you out for celebratory drinks.

The next day, Pyotr gathers everyone on the steps of the Palace, prepared for the great announcement that he had half-promised earlier.

He announces that the great and holy monk Brother Ambrose has received a promise of one boon from the heavenly host, so long as it be in God's plan, and that he intends to request that the Host unite the religions under God as is promised in the Revelation of St John, in the most holy Bible. The faithful of every religion should be brought to witness this event, and certainly all of the Orthodox brothers and sisters should be represented. He calls for the assembled masses to join him in pilgrimage to witness and support this great moment, and to show with their faith that those of the Orthodox tradition believe that there should be one true god, and that we revere Him.

This year has been auspicious. The crowd cheers, and cries that they will follow Pyotr wherever he goes, especially if God Wills It.

1) child
2) old man
news/bm/loriasquest.txt · Last modified: 2009/10/12 22:17 by dave
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