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Infest: The Sisterhood of the Rat's Claw
Posted on Wed, June 26, 2002 by Trickster
chatdemon writes "Cryllor, the hub of western Keoland, is rife with intrigue and shady dealings, but few travellers are aware of the evil lurking beneath the city. Under her cobblestone streets and ancient buildings lurk the embodiment of forgotten nightmares, such as a millenia old temple complex built by the servants of the Rat Lord. Most sages would tell you that temple was wiped out when the Royal Armory was built atop it, but sometimes the sages are wrong...

Author: chatdemon

The Sisterhood of the Rat's Claw
By: Chatdemon (corndemon@hotmail.com)
(Used with Permission. Do not repost without obtaining prior permission from the author.)

The city in southwest Keoland now known as Cryllor is built on the site of layer upon layer of the ruins of its predecessors, the ancient, forgotten cities that once stood in its place looking over the mighty Javan river. Most of the cities inhabitants are blissfully ignorant of the ancient secrets sleeping beneath their feet, and the few groups who do have some understanding of what lies beneath Cryllor's cobblestone streets would like to keep it that way. For the entire history of the Kingdom of Keoland, orders such as the Silent Ones have ensured that none dig too deeply into Cryllor's past, but in the reign of Count Ignas Manz, a defiant outsider to Keoish politics who cares little for the edicts of a sect of sorcerors in Niole Dra, many brave or foolish adventurers have delved the endless catacombs and vaults beneath the cities eldest structures. More often than not, these folk are never heard from again, lost to the maddening darkness and silence of the undercity, but at least one lucky group did come back, and brought with them a terrible power that has begun to burrow its way into the heart of the cities life and politics.

The Company of the Shattered Spear was a group of young Yeoman adventurers quickly making a name for themselves rooting monsters, and large amounts of treasure, from the caves and ruined keeps in the eastern reaches of the Jotens, where both Cryllor county and the Yeomanry have been focusing mining activity in recent decades. A detailed journal of their exploits of the group is irrelevant here, and beyond the scope of this document, but one important fact bears discussion.

On one extended foray into the labyrinthine cavern systems of the mountains, the group, mostly young Dwarven and Human warrior types, freed a young Xvart girl from captivity in an extensive Duergar lair. Uninterested in the relatively inexperienced blue skinned girl's skills, the group planned to bid her farewell upon their return to the surface, but time and again as they fought their way back out of the caverns, the aspiring druidess proved herself a valuable asset and it was decided that she would join their ranks and be welcome to travel with them from then on.

The Xvart girl, Loxynth {lock-synth}, had been raised in a small tribe dwelling in a ruined keep in the Jotens, and was justifiably both fascinated and terrified by the teeming masses of Humans and other civilized folk living in Cryllor. In order to conceal her heritage, Loxynth took to wearing voluminous robes and masqueraded as a Halfling to at least some success. During her group's sometimes extended stays in the city between forays into the mountains, Loxynth began to add some rogue-like skills to her repartee and grew into the habit of prying around in the baseme nts and cellars of some of the inns and taverns they frequented, as well as the sublevels of the cities public buildings like the temples, the County government buildings, and the archive. Ilbrysis, the librarian corypheus of the royal archive, was uncomfortable with the idea of letting a Xvart prowl around unwatched in the depths of the archives vaults and cellars, but was intrigued by Loxynth's claims that she believed she had found something down there that would help control the archives rat problem.Ilbrysis had long since tired of fighting the never ending battle against the seemingly endless supply of rats trying to nest within the books and scrolls of the archive's collection, and grudgingly allowed Loxynth to continue her exploration of the archive's depths.

Unbeknownst to Ilbrysis, and perhaps even to the record keepers anywhere in the kingdom, the Cryllor Armory, the building which now houses the royal archive, was built upon the ruins of a large temple complex dating back at least 4000 years to the time when the Flan, Dwarves and Elves of the area first starting settling Cryllor as a trading hub between their small kingdoms. It is whispered in the darkest tales of that time that many depraved and evil gods were invoked in Cryllor at that time, and although the name Raxivort is never mentioned, his faith was well represented in the growing trade city. Known in that time as Girensha, Raxivort's faith was tolerated by the people of Cryllor for one reason, the proper tribute to the god would ensure that the rats of the city did not invade one's cellar or warehouse, and the people were blindly ignorant of the evil and depravity that occurred within the walls of the Master of Rats' temple. In some forgotten uprising against the Rodent Lord's clergy however, his temple was sacked and razed, leaving only a rough field of broken stones to mark its existence. As Lady Fate would have it, this field is where the Keoish Crown decided to construct the Cryllor Armory during the Kingdom's imperialistic phase, when military units were active in the Yeomany and Sea Princes lands.

Burrowing out the myriad tunnels made by the countless rats that live beneath the archive, Loxynth discovered the ancient temple, and the obscene shrine that forms its center. In the middle of a huge chamber which now serves as the nesting ground for thousands of rats, dire rats and osquips is built an immense (20 feet tall by 80 feet long) replica of a rat, constructed entirely of humanoid bones woven together with humanoid hair. Inside the shrine's gaping mouth is a crude altar made of bloodstained granite. It was here that Loxynth felt her race's inborn bond to the Master of Rats awaken, and it was here that she swore an unholy pact with Raxivort himself. Loxynth would restore the buried temple and its clergy to its former glory, and in return, she would rule Cryllor.

Wary of angering or arousing the suspicion of the wizard, Loxynth sealed off the tunnels into the temple from the archive (she had discovered an alternate way into the temple complex from the cities sewers and storm drains anyway) and hid all knowledge of her discovery from Ilbrysis. Loxynth began to secretly send word of her mission to the other Xvart tribes of the area through dire rat messengers, and within 3 or 4 years (by 585 cy) she had built a small but fanatical cult of 100 young Xvart women, along with a dozen or so girls from different humanoid races who were afflicted by lycanthropy, ands a small tribe of Slitheren (Ratmen, see Sword & Sorcery Studio's Creature Collection 1 & 2, and Warrens of the Ratmen for more details) from the Hool marsh. Under Loxynth's guidance, the cultists slowly rebuilt their underground temple and conducted foul rituals in honor of their dark god.

One of the primary goals of the cult was the reclaiming of items and artifacts looted from the temple when it was sacked, among these a prized set of Pipes of the Sewers known to be in the possession of the Order of the Ruby Scepter, Cryllor's sect of Wee Jas' faith. Loxynth herself led the raid into the Ruby Goddesses temple to retrieve the Pipes, but the heist met success with a bloody price. All of the cultists except Loxynth were killed by the Jasidans, and after she had recovered the item, Loxynth was encountered by Matron Shiara, the ranking Jasidan priestess. As Loxynth fled, Shiara cursed her lycanthropy, condeming her to "live like the vermin which ye so love". This was a graver mistake on Shiara's part.

Not only did Loxynth revel in her newfound "oneness" with Raxivort, but her fellow cultists viewed her disease as a gift directly from the god, and they now worship Loxynth as almost an avatar of the god himself, and have grown fanatically loyal to her to the point of giving their own lives to protect and serve her. Over the years since, the cult has grown in power and influence, controlling the thieve's guild of the city, eradicating and replacing the cities small assassin's guild, and forging mutually beneficial relations with the cities government, including Count Manz himself.

Current Plots and Intrigues

The cult is by no means secretive, but a vast majority of Cryllor's people are still unaware of their existence. Loxynth enjoys this blanket of anonymity and uses it to its full capacity to further her cult's power before public outcry leads to angry mobs scouring the sewers. She is confident that when the time comes that a powerful enemy decides to root the cult out of Cryllor's undercity that her cult will be prepared and will find glorious victory in the name of Raxivort. Loxynth is careful to keep up with all the latest events and rumors in the city to further this goal, and the following are an overview of the cult's role in or position on recent developments in the city and surrounding areas.

Lady Regent Larin Manz:
Count Manz' daughter, Larin (LN Female Human Aristocrat 5), has made a daring play for power in the last year, aligning herself with the Ruby Scepter Jasidans and arranging for her father to fall 'ill' and unable to adminster the county. In this time of county "crisis", Larin has appointed herself Lady Regent of Cryllor and essentially seized control of the city and county from her father. Ignas (LN Human Male Fighter 16) himself has no idea his daughter's treachery is to blame for his illness and thus far supports her in tending the counties affairs while he heals.
While the people of the city, and the government of the Kingdom are unaware of Larin's machinations, the rodent spies of the Rat's Claw cult have seen and heard enough to give Loxynth and her privileged cultists a pretty good idea of what is happening. Having forged a solid give and take relationship with Count Manz over the past decade, the cultists are enraged at Larin's bid for power, and have begun leaking rumors about the truth of local events throughout the city. While ignored as jealous hearsay at first, the rumors are starting to fall upon the ears of those who are inclined to believe, and an anti-Larin sentiment is growing slowly.
Larin herself was made brutally aware that the cult knows about her treachery recently. While she lay in bed with one of her many suitors after an evening of amorous revelry, she was horrified to watch as hundreds of rats came forth from the walls of her bedchamber and devoured her suitor alive. After the guards calmed the Lady Regent and escorted her to safer quarters, the only evidence that was found was a small silver amulet in the shape of a rats paw, commonly known to be the symbol of Loxynth's cult.

The Ruby Scepter:
Loxynth's grudge with Matron Shiara (LE Female Human Cleric 20+ (Wee Jas)) has not been forgotten. The two factions have a bloody rivalry that quite often leads to brawls or spellbattles in the cities streets, alleys and sewers. The hatred between the two groups was made even more intense with the kidnapping of Shiara's 4 year old daughter in late 591. The young girl was beaten and sadistically abused by the cultists, then served as the main course in a feast to honor the 30th birthday of their leader. Upon learning of the nature of her birthday feast, Loxynth burst into hideous cruel laughter, and ordered the cult's clerics to animate the girls remains as an undead and send the foul thing back to its mother at the Ruby Temple. Shiara has publicly placed a reward offer of 5,000 gold for the head of Loxynth, and rumors are circulating in the city that the Jasidan's have begun experimenting with Devil summoning to aid them in purging the undercity of the cult, and are said to have help from powerful allies. While such rumors are generally not credible, the name Lashton (LN Male Human Wizard 19) has been circulted in some of the shadier taverns of the city in connection with this research.
On a less bloody note, Loxynth has found friendship of late in the most unlikely of places. Tenshii Vishanta (LE Female Human (Lerara) Wizard 7), the Lerara girl recruited by the Jasidans to help fulfill ancient prophesies and then cast out of the temple when she "failed" them (see my 11 keys of Empire article for more information on this plotline) has become embittered and vengeful toward her Jasidan peers, and while unwilling to risk the Ruby Goddess's wrath by directly acting against the Ruby Scepter faction, she is sympathetic toward Loxynth's goals, and may become more of a player in the conflict as it unfolds.

The Silent Ones:
Though there is no declared grudge or ill will between the cult and the Silent Order, the Silent Ones are none too thrilled about the cult digging around under Cryllor, and have taken some subtle actions to prevent the unearthing of anything too dangerous. Loxynth suspects the Silent Ones' involvement but has no concrete evidence to support her suspicions, so for the time being she is doing nothing overt to dissuade the Silent Ones' meddling.

Ilbrysis and the Royal Academy of Wizardry:
Ilbrysis is justifiably angry about being deceived by Loxynth, and has publicly voiced her dedication to seeing the cult eliminated. In truth though, she has done little, because her curiosity about the secrets buried beneath Cryllor's streets, and her secret pleasure in seeing someone openly defy Shiara. (Ilbrysis is unaware of specifics like the treatment of Shiara's daughter, so she takes a childish pleasure in seeing someone thwart the Ruby Scepter church's bid for power in the city. Were she aware of those horrid specifics, her amusement would end and she would openly aid the Jasidans in defeating the cult.)
The Academy itself (Keoland's national wizards guild), and particularly archmage Lashton, is worried mainly about the possibility that a rival organization having its base of operations somewhere under the archive may jeopardize the archive's security. Loxynth secretly fears Ilbrysis however, and she warns all cultists, and most of her rodent cohorts to avoid the archive and its sublevels, so the threat the Academy percieves is not a real one.

The Dreadwalkers of Keoland:
The Dreadwalkers are a society of rangers, druids and other like-minded woodsmen who patrol the Dreadwood area to ensure that the ancient mysteries and evils buried around the area remain buried. The cult has drawn their ire on two occasions:
First, the cult is attempting to set up a second shrine headquarters outside of Cryllor proper, and have chosen a small clearing in the northwestern Dreadwood to start their digging and construction. The site, known to local Elves as Burning Leaf Glade, is rumored to be the location of an entrance to a vast underground complex dating far into the past to days before any humans dwelled in the Sheldomar. The Dreadwalkers are worried about what sleeping secrets may be awoken by the cult digging around in the glade, and have taken precursory actions to stop such activity. Loxynth has no intention of ordering her people to stop their exploration here however, so conflicts are sure to escalate in the near future.
Second, the depraved rituals the cult conducts to honor the Rodent Lord more often than not require live sacrifice of a humanoid. Wary of attracting too much attention to themselves by preying on the citizens of Cryllor and the outlying towns and villages, the cultists have started kidnapping Elven and Human children from the logging camps and hunting hamlets found on the outskirts of the wood. One group of cultists was slaughtered during such a raid into the forest as a warning by the local Elves and the Dreadwalkers to cease the kidnappings, but the woodsfolk have backed down a bit since the village meant to be targetted in that raid was completely overrun and destroyed by a veritable army of dire rats. It is rumored among the inhabitants of that area of the forest that the Dreadwalkers have sought the council of Grand Druid Yargrove (N Female Human Druid 14) and were displeased by her insistence on divining the true cause of the rat plague before acting, and have gone so far as to travel southeast to seek the aid of the Green Death in the matter. (The Green Death, or The Death that comes on Emerald Wing, is the local honorific for the Great Green Wyrm Aramanthyn (LE Male Great Wyrm Green Dragon, Ranger 20), a reclusive dragon who lairs somewhere in the southeastern reaches of the Dreadwood. The Elves, especially the Grugach tribes, and other woodland folk revere Aramanthyn as a demi-god of sorts, though they do so out of fear and awe, and do not look favorably on the possibility that his intervention is being sought in the matter. If the Dreadwalkers are indeed seeking his help however, Aramanthyn will gladly give it, he is fanatically paranoid of humanoid cults, and will rabidly defend "his" forest from any cults trying to invade it.)

The Village of Haven:
The Keoish Crown and the local government of the Viscounty of Nume-Eor (to the south of Cryllor, along the Javan as it flows south along the Dreadwood into the Hool marsh) has recently set aside the village of Haven, a small, quiet community on the banks of the Hool Marsh as a refuge for the Half-Orcs and other undesirables who have aided in the Kingdom's various military efforts. Along with acting as a buffer against the activities of the Lizardfolk of the marsh however, the people of Haven have begun battling some of the Slitheren tribes of the area. The tribes have sent pleas to both Loxynth and Terent Shelfek of Westkeep LE Human (Wererat) Cleric 10 (Raxivort)). Loxynth has begun sending aid in the form of weapons, money and even minor magic (scrolls and potions) and is considering a full scale motion against the people of Haven in conjunction with Terent's force if the conflict doesn't reach resolution by summer (592 cy, Loxynth wisely realizes that the summer months in the Hool are miserable for the Human and Humanoid people of Haven, and that her rat-kin allies would have a major advantage in that season should the conflict escalate to an all out battle.

Westkeep:
Since Westkeep and Cryllor are the two major ports along the Javan, communication between the two is fairly quick and reliable, especially since the Keoish liberation of Westkeep two years ago. Loxynth has a great deal of respect for Terent and his faction in Westkeep given that cities new reputation as a quagmire of filth, vermin and disease, and generally sends him whatever aid she can muster when he requests it. Terent defers to Loxynth's whims merely because of her race, since Raxivort's followers generally see Xvarts as the chosen people of their god, and has no true love or respect for her. Her course of action in the aforementioned Haven conflict could change that however. Loxynth dreams of a future rat-kin empire dedicated to Raxivort that stretches from Cryllor to Westkeep and south into all the former Sea Princes lands and even the Amedio Jungle beyond, so she is somewhat eager to forge a strong, lasting relationship with Terent and his faction.

The Yeomanry:
Loxynth's cult has little interest or stake in the mining and poaching conflicts between Cryllor and the Yeomanry, and plays no real part in that plotline. Loxynth would like to bring the rat-kin and Raxivort followers of Longspear under her control, but has taken no real action to accomplish that yet, being more concerned with cementing her place in Cryllor and tending to the needs of her allies in the Hool near Haven.

The Cult Itself
The Sisterhood of the Rat's Claw is a hybrid of sorts, part thieves and assassins guild, part political malcontents, and part religious sect. In the eyes of the cultists, their duty to Raxivort, and thereby Loxynth, is their primary concern, but Loxynth's interests in the underculture of Cryllor and the political scene of southwest Keoland drive her followers headlong into the big picture of plotlines in the area.

The Organization:
The cult is divided into informal groups around Cryllor and the outlying towns known as nests. Each nest is overseen by a cleric of the cult, given the nickname title mouse by the cult. The mice are responsible for carrying out Loxynth's plans and seeing to the well being of all cultists and rat-kin in their area, and are generally free to take whatever actions they feel are needed to accomplish those goals. An average mouse is either a Xvart or Slitheren cleric of Raxivort, usually of 4th to 6th level, always female and always LE in alignment.
The mice answer to a circle of ranking cultists, known as claws, who serve as Loxynth's close advisors and confidants. The claws are responsible for organizing the rituals to Raxivort, arranging for communication with the cult's allies in the Hool and Westkeep, and dealing with the cult's enemies in Cryllor. There are usually 8 or 9 claws, and they tend to be Slitheren or Xvart or Human Wererats. They are either Clerics or Druids devoted to Raxivort, are always female, and always LE in alignment.
The claws answer only to Loxynth (LE Female Xvart (Wererat) Druid 16), or her bodygaurd Garikey {g-air-ick-eh} (LE Female Half-Orc (Wererat) Fighter 11, owns a rapier +2 and ring of protection +1). Loxynth's stats are as follows:

Loxynth

Female Xvart Wererat, Druid 16
Abilities
Str 11
Dex 20
Con 15
Int 9
Wis 16
Cha 19

Alignment: Lawful Evil
Religion: Raxivort
Hit Points: 52
Armor Class: 19 (+5 Dex, Amulet of Protection +2, +2 racial (wererat))
Damage Reduction: 15/Silver
Spell Resistance: None
Base Attack Bonus: +12/+7/+2
Attacks: Bite +1 as hybrid, +4 as rat, 1d4 Damage plus curse of lycanthropy;
Skills: Animal Empathy 18, Balance 5, Bluff 5, Gather Information 7, Heal 6, Sense Motive 7, Swim 2, Wilderness Lore (underground) 14
Languages: Common, Xvart, Keolandish
Feats: Lightning Reflexes, Track, Animal Defiance, Animal Control, Natural Spell, Scent, Speaking Wild Shape


Note: Cryllor, Raxivort, Wererats"
 
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