As the group approached the city of Xix,- a host of outriders fast approached.
The riders stopped their approach before smashing into the group, so it looked like diplomacy would be the best approach.
The riders’ captain informed the Knights that the city was on high alert, as infiltrators and assassins were attempting to destabilize the city for possible invasion. Thus entry to the city was restricted.
After some terse negotiations (kobolds and warforged were not often seen in the city), Etaine managed to convince the riders of their benign intentions. The cover story being opening a new trade agreement between Nubereg and Xix.
It took a few more hours before the group was admitted into the city proper. All spells known were registered with the Arcane Enforcement Agency (the better to trace any errant magic), and weapons were given enchanted peace knots.
The unexpectedly, Etaine and her “retinue” were given access to an embassy specifically set aside for Nubereg diplomats. Left empty for decades, a tireless invisible servant kept the place free of dust and vermin.
Apparently, one of Etaine’s ancestors did engage in trade with the city. At least 200 years had passed since the last visit, which coincided with the last great orc horde foray into the lands of the south.
Things got more complicated after the group settle into the abandoned embassy. A summons from the First Citizen Venothrax was delivered. Apparently the long-lived head of state remembered the last Lord Nubereg to visit.
Evening came, and the group split up. Etaine, Fossil, Sir Henry, and Halsaephus were to attend First Citizen Venothrax’s summons, while Damien, Aki, Kleeth, and Sha’Riven would set about looking for hints of the Order of Io.
Not long into their search, Damien and his company were set upon by a large press gang.
Led by a half-iron golem and a shapechanged ogre magi, the group was dearly outmatched. Soon they found themselves chained belowdecks on an outgoing ship to parts unknown…
Etaine and company were received at the City Hall by the First Citizen’s secretary, Weden; who was surprisingly a half-orc.
Due to the proximity of the Red Steppe, orcs have passed through the gates time and again. Sometimes as invaders, sometimes as refugees, sometimes as traders. Weden’s family had been part of the civil service of Xix since the times of Thruk Skullcaver and his Great Horde.
They were then ushered into an audience with First Citizen Venothrax. The elf archmage was delighted to make acquaintance with Etaine and Sir Henry particularly, suggesting he knew of both their ancestors and was surprised to see Nubereg suddenly re-establishing ties after such a long absence.
A game of evasion and empty platitudes punctuated the state dinner held in the Knights’ honour. Sir Henry was getting very anxious have not heard from Sha’Riven and the rest for several hours, but Venothrax assured him he would dispatch city watch agents to find them.
As dinner wrapped up, Weden came and whispered into Venothrax’s ear. Excusing himself, the elflord stepped out onto the adjacent balcony. He bade the goup join him.
From the east they could see small shapes in the sky. Ten, twenty, more. And the were getting closer.
A fleet of Thenesian airships were approaching Xix in formation.
“Thenes is playing their hand, my friends. Strange they arrive just after you did.” he notes with some amusement. “Oh no, I would not dream to accuse you of being a invasion’s vanguard. But I would APPRECIATE the real reason you’ve passed through my fine city.”
With some omissions (i.e. Fossil currently holding the Brass Orb of Dragonkind within his chest cavity), Etaine disclosed the attack on Nubereg, the discovery of the purpose of gathering the Orbs, and their seeking of the Order of Io.
Venothrax took all the new in stride. Over the past few months, ambassadors from Thenes made overtures towards Xix and Venothrax to peacefully reunite with the Empire. Each subsequent request was more and more overtly threatening, culminating with this display of force.
The airships stopped outside of range of Xix’s considerable siege defenses, and generally floating in an ominous manner.
The First Citizen asked his guests if they could accompany him in greeting this emissary of the Empire, and they were obliged to agree, not really having a choice.
Finally one airship broke formation and approached the City Hall. A single green-clad person floated down towards the waiting group.
The figure introduced herself as Ambassador Camille Linin, of the Second Empire of Thenes. She relayed that Emperor Thenacus II, May He Live Thousand Years was greatly saddened by the loss of the Empire’s prodigal city of Xix. The time for diplomacy was at an end, submission or annihilation were the only options remaining.
This was of course the first time any of the Knights of Nubereg met one of the architects of the whole Orbs-Godhood scheme. First dismissing them as exotic minions of the First Citizen, but then did a double take.
She demanded Venothrax surrender the group to her. But Venothrax instead with a mere word of power knocked the Thenesian off the balcony. She recovered, and flew back to the airship.
The ships began to disgorged troops like those that attacked Nubereg those many weeks ago. However, Xix was prepared for such an attack.
Air cavalry mounted on griffons tore into the enchanted soldiers as the floated vulnerably to the ground.
Venothrax again asked the Knights to accompany him, this time to meet the invaders in battle. Magical siege weaponry assailed the airships, and the Knights of Nubereg joined the battle in the streets of Xix against the Thenesian soldiers.
Not a mere insertion force, these soldiers were a much more formidable adversary for the group. The aid from Xix’s own armed forces, and the sustantial power of Venothrax helped turn the tide.
At last only the airship of Dinin remained, which quickly turned and fled eastward. The First battle of Xix was won.
Venothrax was not pleased. This skirmish would be just the beginning. His city had prepared for this inevitability for decades, but tough times would be ahead. With the orcs on the march to the north of the Red Steppe, the city’s defenses were split.
He knew their quest’s success would help divert Thenes from his gates, but as well he knew spies and assassins will have infiltrated all levels of the city by now.
Summarily, he took four of the surviving invaders, magically disguised them to looks like Etaine, Henry, Fossil and Hal, and had them very quickly and very publically denounced as Thenesian spies.
Then each was executed gruesome fashion.
Time was of the essence, now. Venothrax’s agents could find no sign of the others, scrying came up empty and no word was left at the Nubereg Embassy. The time bought with the mock execution could not be squandered.
Venothrax gave assurances that once found, he would speed the rest of the group along. They now needed at all haste to get out of the city. Giving each a magical disguise, he directed them to the slums under the Bridge, to seek out a Thenesian exile named Dr. Petr Ceracis.
The scholar wanted little to do with them until they pointed out they wanted to prevent the Emperor of Thenes from ascending to godhood. His extensive study of religious dogma proved useful, as he knew of the ancient signs and secret symbols of the Order of Io.
The group was troubled by Aki, Sha’Riven, Kleeth and Damien’s disappearance, but they didn’t have the luxury of searching for them now. Ceracis told them their next destination would have to be the Great Library of the Free City, far up in the Unclaimed North.
Dawn the next morning, Dr. Ceracis and four inconspicuous dawrf companions boarded a modest fishing vessel; its destination, the Free City of Septereve.