Highpass Hold is the largest fortress in Tunaria. It sits in the central mountains of Tunaria and was once the headquarters of Tunaria. Yet when the new frontiers were discovered, Freeport became the new hub. Highpass still has a sizeable population and to be honest, it’s where I find the most reputable warriors. After all, it’s where my father resides.
He moved here long ago, being promoted to the chairman of the Coachman’s Federation, which has its headquarters within the Hold. At the time of his appointment, I was around the age of 30 and was spending most of my time training in the Tea Gardens south of Freeport. Thus, I didn’t move with him.
Soon after his arrival, the goblins started raiding the Eastern Gate. To this day they attack in waves, donning their sashes, swords, keys, and totems. They are never successful thanks to an aggressive offensive by Tunaria’s finest. For there is incentive. The Highpass government agreed to pay each person that helps a set amount of tunar per four sashes they capture. Needless to say, for as many goblins there are at the East Gate, there are equal amounts of Tunarian warriors.
The sun was rising as I came through the Eastern Gate and made my way into the old market square. A friend of mine was standing in a fenced in area trying to sell his family’s livestock. He was smiling at potential customers, waiving to the ones he knew. He was scanning the crowd, looking for interested buyers when he spotted me. His smile quickly faded and a look of despair washed over him. I walked over to the trader.
“How’s business?” I asked.
He was stone faced and turning a pale green as if he was going to be sick.
“Is everything alright, Pwin? You do not look so well. Would you like to grab a drink?” I asked, pointing to the pub in the market courtyard.
He nodded and muttered, “Yes, yes… I think that’d be best.”
We made our way into the pub and took a seat in one of the corner booths. People were staring at me. Most people in Tunaria are ones that I know I have met at some point but seemingly can never remember their names.
“Do I have something on my back?”
“Excuse me?” Pwin asked.
“Everyone seems to be staring at me. And when you noticed me, your salesman smile became a deathly frown,” I said.
Pwin looked down at his pint of beer. He was studying the rising bubbles as if they might lend some sort of prophecy. He didn’t look comfortable.
“Out with it, Mr. Pwin,” I demanded with a friendly but strong tone in my voice.
He lifted his gaze to meet mine. It looked as if the happiness he was known for had been sucked from his soul.
He began, “Sir Keegan, I have troubling news.” I tilted my head. “Sir, your father, the great Coachman… He went missing,” Pwin paused for my response.
My heart began to race and I wondered if I now looked as sick as my friend. I wanted to ask a million questions but Pwin continued in an attempt to fill me in as much as possible.
“Three nights ago, the Hold was experiencing a rather quiet night. Everyone was paying attention to those damn goblins at the East Gate. As you know, your father’s stable is at the West Gate, all the way across the city. At some point in the night, a group of unknown men took out all of our guards and then kidnapped your father. Everything we know is based on what the Spiritmaster said. He had hidden behind his well near your father’s stable. From his account, it looked premeditated. The guys were there for the Coachman. I’m sorry, Sir,” Pwin said. His head was hanging down but he looked relieved to be finished.
I took a deep breath and began to organize my thoughts. Pwin and I exchanged a few more words on the details of the event before I stood up and ran toward my father’s stable. I went right past the banking quarter and through the arches into the courtyard where the Highpass Inn and Stable are. Coachman Billfer, the Qeynos coachman, was covering for my father. He put up a hand to slow me down and I came to a halt. Before we said anything, he pointed to the Spiritmaster standing by his well. Billfer hadn’t been in Highpass when my father was kidnapped and thus, asking him anything would be pointless. I ran to the Spiritmaster.
I fired an array of questions at the man, “What’d they look like? How many were there? Which direction were they headed? Did they say anything? Did they have weapons?”
He answered each one directly as if he had scripted this moment in his head. I didn’t really know the man but I’m sure my father did.
“They were Humans, but they looked evil. Almost like men that had been banished away to a long forgotten prison. There was maybe ten of them and they came in the West Gate and left by the same means. They did call your father a ‘rat’ and they were armed with cheap, makeshift weapons like a rapier molded from leftover metals. Though, I should tell you that a few of them were casters.”
“Where do you think they came from?” I asked, hoping for him to make the same connection I was.
“Well, I can’t be sure, obviously. Yet, they reminded me of the people I have seen in the prison south of Qeynos.”
Bingo. My thoughts exactly. I shook the Spiritmaster’s hand and ran to Billfer.
“Who’s covering for you in Qeynos?” I asked.
“Your brother is holding down the duty for now. Qeynos doesn’t see much traffic these days anyway. He should be fine,” replied Coachman Billfer.
“Look, Coachman Billfer—“
He interrupted me, “Yes, you may have complete access to the network. As long as the chairman of the Coachman Federation is missing, we’re in debt to your family.”
I shook my head and began my journey to Qeynos. I first passed through Darvar Manor. Coachman Darva and Jasper Darvar restocked my food and drink supply. They offered their regards and if I ever need to stay at the Black Swann Inn, it would be free of charge.
The next stop was in Forkwatch. As the cart wheeled up, Coachman Holly was standing in her stable, tucked away in the fortress. I jumped off the cart and ran to the front gate where Captain Drailis was standing. He must have heard me coming because he turned around and began speaking to me before I could get a word out.
“Sir Keegan, I heard about your father.” I nodded. “Not sure who’s behind it.”
After the Second Horseman was killed, we all took a long break. Everyone was exhausted from the travel and we had agreed to meet up in a week from today. Most people went home. Since we hadn’t talked to the Angel of Death about the whereabouts of the Third Horseman, we had planned to meet in Highpass.
“I’m on my way to Qeynos,” I said.
“Then go on now! You take care of this. We’ll wait for you if we have to,” he assured me.
I turned to run back to Coachman Holly and get on a coach to Qeynos. Drailis yelled after me.
“Oh, and Sir Keegan!” I stopped and turned around, standing in the entrance hallway. “We still haven’t heard from Captain Volgo.”
At the last raid, the Barbarian Captain had attempted to run off with the Amulet of Fire. He was stopped by three wolves that forced him to turn it over. I reached into my pocket and felt the outline of Amulet. We needed it in order to talk to the Angel of Death. At least that’s how it worked the first time when Captain Volgo showed the Angel the Amulet of Ice, which he still had.
I pulled the Amulet out of pocket and held it up. Captain Drailis nodded and I made my way back to Coachman Holly.
In a few hours, I was approaching my hometown of Qeynos. The great Western Human city glimmered in the distance. I could see the stables sitting by the Qeynos Inn, well outside the city walls. A small man was walking in and out of the stalls.
I hopped off the coach and sprinted toward the building.
“Get on out here,” I yelled. The only thing wider than my smile were my arms. The Stable Boy poked his head out of the stable door. He came out and met my hug with a strong pat on the back. He had grown up since the last time I had seen him.
“Well, I’ll be…” he said.
“How are things here?” I asked through my smile.
“I’m holding it down just fine. Ready for Ballfor to get back. I haven’t had a drink since he left!” joked my brother.
“That’s probably for the best.”
“What brings you here?” he asked, sounding more like he was thinking aloud than talking to me directly.
“I think I know where to find dad,” I told him.
His head tilted and then began to nod slowly. The excitement in his face washed away into a blank stare.
“Don’t worry, I’ll find him.” I wasn’t sure of this. In my experience, people can go missing in Tunaria and never be found. My father would be no different.
“You better,” he said and he punched my arm.
I stayed for another hour and we caught up before I had to leave. The Stable Boy asked, “When are you coming back?”
“Not sure,” I replied.
“Well I’m just thinking, we could run this place,” he said, pointing at the stable. “You and me, maybe dad comes back home. He’s getting old you know. Ballfor could replace him. I’ve always wanted you to move back here, Keegan.” There was a strange look of hope in his eyes. I couldn’t tell him that I had no plans on sticking around Qeynos. The city was dead and much too boring for a Bard.
“Of course! I’ll be back soon,” I lied for his good and began to head south to the Qeynos Prison.
I approached the gate entrance and saw that there were no longer guards out front. Instead, two prisoners stood on either side of the gate entrance. I could hear a commotion inside. There would be no doubt that the prisoners wouldn’t let me in. If they were behind my father’s kidnapping, they would want me dead.
Outside of the prison is the warden’s tower. It’s on a hill looking over the compound. I ran up to the tower but was stopped by Jimmy the Snitch hiding behind his usual tree.
“What’s happening, Jimmy?” I asked. He was a dirty man who looked to be on too much caffeine. He was always on edge.
“Mr. Quicksteed,” he started, fidgeting his fingers and scratching his neck. A few years back he had taken a plea bargain and that reduced his sentence significantly. He offered incriminating evidence on a few of the convicts and felons. Those men are now serving multiple life sentences. “Where ya headed?” he asked, ignoring my question.
“Up to see Sir Paerin Lyvrie,” I replied. Paerin was the warden of the Prison.
Jimmy laughed and said, “Do ya no good. He done been taken with the rest to the cells. They underground now. Prolly a-dead,” he said.
That explained why there were no more guards. I turned back toward the gate and tried to visualize the layout of the prison. There was a multi-story building in the middle that had an underground section where the worst convicts, felons, and blasphemers were held.
“You say he’s down in the cells?” I asked Jimmy.
“Yeah, that’s just what I heard.”
I wielded my rapiers and began to walk toward the gate, leaving Jimmy standing alone by his tree. His only friends were on the inside and they wanted him dead. No chance he’d be coming along.
I walked up to the entrance with my head down to hide my face. My robe was covering the armor that had guarded me throughout countless battles.
Now, Bards have a ton of tricks that set them apart from other warriors. They are the most unique of Tunarian explorers due to their versatility. I have songs that can make men stronger, can heal wounds, and can even create shields around them that strengthen their armor. Yet, the heal has an interesting effect on any enemy. They seem to notice it more. So when I called for that hymn, the two prison guards left their posts and rushed me. They were armed with some poorly made broadswords. I made quick work of them.
I then walked into the compound and around the back of the middle building. There were rats and a few prison roamers that didn’t notice my presence.
Blocking the entrance to the bottom lair of the prison was a caster by the name of Blasphemer. He had an undead pet that looked as if it was rotting from inside. I had dealt with these types before. They are sick and perverted individuals that are fascinated by dead things. They have no hesitations when it comes to living with a creature covered in fungus.
His pet noticed me first and without order, came running at me. I drove my rapier through its heart and it crumpled to the ground. The Blasphemer began to cast a fire spell at me but he was much too slow. My rapiers had cut off his arms and he fell to the ground in pain. I drove the tip of my blade through his skull.
I made my way down to the next level. The basement was two-floor with cells on both. There were also a ton of convicts down there; evil guys that had killed innocent people all over Tunaria.
I was standing in the corner of the top floor. In the opposite were a few prisoners gathered around one man. They looked to be discussing some sort of strategy. In the cell behind them, I could see Sir Paerin and a few of his guards hunched over. They were beaten and bloodied.
Within thirty seconds, every felon in the basement was either dead or missing limbs. I had no mercy for these men. The last remaining man was the leader of the group. He was an unnamed convict that I had cornered for interrogation.
“Where’s Coachman Quicksteed?” I yelled in a threatening voice that sent fear through the convict. Then a grin appeared on the man’s face as if he had realized who I was.
“We don’t have him. Never did, really.” He let out a gleeful chuckle.
My patience was lost and before he continued my rapier was through his left eye. His body slouched but was held up by my blade. He looked like a fish out of water as he took his last breaths in excruciating pain.
I picked up the keys to Sir Paerin’s cell and opened the door. After a sip of water, the warden was able to talk.
“What happened?” I asked.
He explained that the convicts and prisoners had overpowered the guards and then taken over the warden’s tower.
“But they weren’t alone,” he said, straining to speak after days of abuse. “Some Deathfist clan members were here before it happened. They lead the takeover.”
I was a bit confused. What did the Deathfist Orcs have to do with any of this? They’re clear across Tunaria in the deserts of Ro.
I stood up and looked down at the warden. His clothes were torn and his eyes were purple around the edges. His nose was definitely broken. I picked him up and helped him back to his quarters where he then sent for backup support from the neighboring villages. After the reinforcements had shown up, I made my way to Highbourne, sailed to Arcadin, took the ferry to Freeport, and then took the coach to the Tea Gardens.
Muniel’s Tea Garden is a small trade post on the East Ocean. It sits about an hour south of Freeport and is usually the main hub for all warriors training around the age of 30. As much time as I spent there training, I hardly knew anyone and didn’t bother talking to any of the monks that roamed the town. As soon as the coach arrived, I headed straight west.
As I ran over the first mountain, there was a black wolf standing alone in the valley. In an area that’s full of ghouls, giant worms, crag wisps, and scorpions, it was rare to see any sort of wolf. I kept my distance and continued west.
A few minutes later, I could hear the panting of the wolf behind me. It was following me. Not in a way that suggested it wanted to kill me, but rather just to keep an eye on me. Maybe he was waiting for me to get into a fight with some death rattler and then he’d step in for the free meal.
I stopped and turned around. The panting had stopped and there was no wolf behind me. I scanned the dunes which I had just traveled over and couldn’t see any sort of wolf. It’s not uncommon to have delusional experiences in the Desert Ro. I turned back west and continued to run.
There’s a gigantic mountain that can be seen from the Tea Garden. On the other side, in a valley, sits the Death Fist Citadel. It’s a huge compound that is roaming with centurions, clerics, priests, and more. Their wheeled catapults and shoddy tents line the outter-rim, while the in the middle sits a three-story headquarters building. At the top is the orc king’s throne room.
I began to edge my way around the base of the mountain when I heard the panting again. I turned my head slightly and saw the black wolf, its yellow eyes were glowing as it was running behind me. I turned sharply and once again, my eyes had fooled me. There was no wolf. In a desperate move to prove my sanity, I ran to where I thought I had seen the creature. Sure enough, there were tracks in the sand. I bent down to look at them and could see that I was indeed being followed.
I stood up and turned back to the mountain. When I took a step forward, I bumped into a man wearing a black robe. It was a Human. He was smiling but had his hood pulled over his head to protect his face from the sun and sandy wind of Ro.
“Excuse me, Sir,” he said. His hands came up to his head and he folded back the hood. Snyde Cragsmear was smiling as he reached out his hand to greet me.
“Snyde! You son of a bitch! Was that you following me? I thought I was going crazy!” I was excited to see him.
“Sorry about that, jus’ figured I’d have some fun with ya.”
“Why are you even here?” I asked, dusting off some sand that had gathered in the folds of my robe.
“To help you of course. Word has it these Deathfists are involved in your father’s kidnapping.”
I was about to ask how the Rogue knew about my father but figured it was pretty public news among the big cities. Coachman Quicksteed is the most well-known coachman in the land and he’s also the chairman of the Coachman’s Federation. But how Snyde knew about the Deathfist connection, I had no idea.
“We best get going,” he said.
We made our way around the mountain and stood high up on its face, looking down at the Citadel. By one of the catapults a cleric and centurion were talking in their grunts and moans that sounded more like they were in pain than having a conversation.
“How do you want to do this?” I asked Snyde.
A smirk was on his face that suggested he was up to no good.
“Follow my lead,” he said.
Great. A Rogue with a Bard is an incredibly powerful combo. Moreover, anyone with Snyde Cragsmear is a part of a powerful combo. Unfortunately, Snyde’s methods are usually anything but the usual.
Snyde sauntered up in a confidence that suggested he had just won the lottery. The two Deathfist orcs looked down at him walking up and each raised an eyebrow. I was walking behind him, attempting to pull off the same walk. I looked less confident and more like I had a sword up my ass.
“Well hello there gentlemen!” said Snyde. The cleric was clearly a female. “Fine day it is in this here desert, wouldn’t ya say? Of course it isn’t! Mighty hot and I’m not really a fan of this blowin’ sand but I suppose you two are used to all the wealth of the Ro.” Sarcasm was Snyde’s greatest asset.
The orcs exchanged a glance before the centurion stepped forward took a swing at Snyde. The Rogue stepped forward and the huge fist whiffed. Snyde’s blades were still sheathed.
The centurion was clearly angry and in his frustration, tried another swing. An uppercut came right for Snyde’s head. The Rogue pulled out both of his blades and held them below his chin. As the orc’s fist came up, the wrist went right into the edges of the blade. The orc’s arm continued upwards and he let out a loud yell as his hand was cut off. Blood began to flow from his wrist. His hand was laying in the sand at Snyde’s feet.
Snyde bent down and picked up the hand. He extended the crippled fingers and held it by the wrist.
“My name is Snyde and this is Sir Keegan Quicksteed, pleasure to meet you!” He shook the hand in midair, simulating a handshake. The cleric rushed to help the centurion. The orc was doubled over, holding his arm in his stomach.
“It’s not polite to ignore a greeting. Oh come on, it’s not that bad. Get a hold of yourself,” Snyde remarked. He threw the hand and it hit the centurion in the back of the head. The orc turned his head and glared at the Rogue. “You might need that,” said Snyde.
The cleric was mending the wound. Snyde continued, “Well, maybe you two can help us out. We’re looking for a Human. You might know him. He kind of looks like…” Snyde whirled around and pointed at me. “Well he kind of looks like this one.”
I was trying not to laugh at how ridiculous Snyde was being. Yet, when he pointed, the cleric and centurion looked at me and then at each other. Snyde had struck a chord with them.
“Thank you very much for the help,” Snyde said in a mocking tone. He then casually walked behind the cleric and backstabbed the female cleric. She let out a yelp and fell to the ground, dead in a single shot from the Rogue. The centurion looked afraid and he kept that look because Snyde cut the orc’s head off. Sitting in the sand was an open-mouthed head of an orc. Snyde reached down and picked it up by the hair. He carried it with him as we walked toward the headquarters.
The entrance was protected by two priests and two more powerful orcs. Snyde looked back at me and nodded. I was to follow his lead. Again.
The four Deathfist orcs were staring at Snyde. He lifted the centurion’s severed head.
“I’m looking for a friend of mine. He’s a Human. I asked this guy but he just couldn’t keep himself together to give a response.” A cheesy smile appeared on Snyde’s face. He turned and winked at me.
Then the head was then floating in midair. The hand that had been holding it was no longer there. Snyde had disappeared. The head hit the ground, blood spilling onto the stone walkway.
The Rogue reappeared behind one of the priests. He lunged forward and eliminated the caster in two wounds. I ran into the fight and called forth my hymns. The first orc I came to swung at me but I dodged his assault and lodged my blade into his chest. Before I could get to the second orc, he was dead. Snyde had cleared the other three.
The groans of the Deathfists dying sent an alarm through the compound. Within the three-story building, orcs began to pour out. For the next five minutes, Snyde and I cut apart each wave until everything fell quiet. We made our way up the flights of stairs, ignoring the rooms on the second, and arriving on the top floor. It was a square room with a throne in the back. In the middle was the Deathfist King. Two guards were blocking our path to him. They rushed Snyde and me. We split the work and in a short fight, disarmed and downed the royal guards.
As Snyde ran forward to attack the King, he took on his wolf form and jumped, biting and growling at the King. The orc was knocked back onto his throne and had to defend himself from a sitting position. He was matching Snyde blow for blow. I ran to Snyde’s aid and began to unleash my own assault. It was too much for the King and my rapiers pierced the Deathfist’s breastplate. Snyde decapitated the King.
The rest of the room was empty. Snyde and I walked down the ramp and to the second floor. We had assumed that my father would be with the King but we were clearly wrong. We weren’t sure the Coachman was even in the compound.
The second floor had a long hallway with several doors on each side. We checked every of the room, starting with the closest doors. Each was full of gold and armor undoubtedly taken from fallen Tunarians.
When we got to the last door, a muffled panic was going on in the room. Snyde pushed open the door. Tied down to a chair was my father. His mouth was covered and he was trying to scream. His eyes were wide with fear. I could feel my heart jump and almost lodge itself in my throat. I ran forward. I wanted to free him and take him back home.
Yet, I never made it to my father. I was struck on the back of the head with a huge blunt object. Everything went black.