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Company of the Black Swordby Geoff Gander
This rather innocuously-named mercenary band operates out of an undiscovered (by the surrounding nations, at least) abandoned keep - not very far from the Darokinian town of Reedle. They have performed tasks for the governments of Thyatis, Darokin, and Ylaruam over their 20-year history, only rarely refusing an offer of employment.
The Company varies in size, depending on the difficulty of the task offered to it (only for the biggest jobs will the entire group mobilise), and the fatality rate of previous missions. Generally speaking, it ranges in size from 30 to 50 members.
Led by the fighter known as Zorrim, the Company has raided caravans, assaulted keeps, terrorised farms and villages, and assassinated important political figures; every task they perform is stipulated precisely by a contract, even to the extent of a probable deadline. Not once has Zorrim and his band failed to fulfil a mission. The Company also makes it clear to potential customers that, regardless of how much business has been conducted with them in the past, there is nothing to prevent it from carrying out activities that may harm that customer's person, or his or her interests, should a subsequent contract demand it. This code of utter professionalism, though daunting to some, is accepted by many others who know the ins and outs of the mercenary trade.
At any given time, the Company will consist of Zorrim himself (a 15th level fighter), 2-4 10th level lieutenants, 4-8 5th level sergeants, 10-20 fighters of levels 1-4, 3-6 clerics of levels 3-7, 1-3 magic users of levels 3-7, and up to 10 support personnel (armourers, leatherworkers, engineers, etc.). The price of any task undertaken is determined by Zorrim himself, based on how many people he will need. He considers the nature of the task (including the estimated level of danger), its duration, which Company members will be involved (hiring his magic users, for example, will increase fees considerably), the expected deadline and other extenuating circumstances. There is neither a minimum nor a maximum fee.
What is not known about the Company, however, is that not all of its members are what they appear to be! Zorrim and his lieutenants are in fact Zhochal infiltrators, who have studied humans and their habits for almost 100 years. As such, they have become adept at imitating human behaviour - so much so that no one else in the Company (even the veterans) are aware of their true identities. Zorrim and his associates are loyal to the cause of the Outer Beings, and have used the Company as a front operation to push various elements of their agenda. Impressionable or "suitable" recruits are quickly isolated and, if possible, converted to their cause - becoming Outer Being worshippers in the process. Currently, roughly half of the Company's members adhere to this dark faith. Those deemed unsuitable, or likely to learn too much, are quickly eliminated, either through murder or "convenient" deployment in a highly dangerous mission. The worshippers count at least one cleric and one mage among their number, thus bolstering their strength.