The Dim Wastes

Session 24
"Work together, or perish together." -desert proverb

The story opened as Avendi Volok negotiated for settlement area with Zayn, now Lady Tulesti. With the area for most domiciles established at the foot of the hill and outside the shield boundary, Avendi requested that she be allowed to erect the field hospital within the boundary, so that it would be available inside if things came to the worst. Zayn and her compatriots agreed, and Avendi’s people went to work on its construction. In the meantime, Tarsus and Falat were having a similar conversation about how to lay out barracks and soldiers’ tents, all of which they agreed should stay close to the main house and well inside the shield. Sindar busied himself catching up on some supervision and experimentation time with Willie, going over new discoveries on the mystery plant, among other things.

At the same time, Nanda and Finn worked on the issue of the massive demonic statue illusions in the house’s main hall. Close investigation revealed subtle differences in a few of floor tiles they sat upon. Gouging these up, they found ceremonial boxes that contained human remains beneath each statue. When the boxes were disturbed, the illusions failed. Powerful evil magic emanated from both corpses, and the party made a concerted effort to determine exactly what magic had been used upon them. Finally, it paid off, but not with good news. The skulls of both corpses had somehow been cursed with very powerful Cursed Earth spells, one causing famine, and the other threatening to revive any creature killed near it as an undead. The group thought back to all the deaths that had happened here recently, and terror struck them. These things had to go, and it had to be right now. Finn ran outside in a near panic, to discover what he feared- the gargantuan spider corpse they had slain a couple of days prior was missing, and a fresh patch of disturbed earth nearby indicated recent digging.

Nanda and Zayn checked on the black scorpion in the cistern, avoiding a trap laid by the beast only through their superior intellect. It was definitely still there, claiming their needed water tank as its own. Meanwhile, Finn and Tarsus had traveled down the hill to check on the new hole dug by the now undead ginormous spider, hoping they might be able to figure out which direction it had burrowed and whether or not it was safer to be inside or outside the shield right now. Looking closely, they backed away slowly upon the realization that the spider had gone nowhere. It was there, just below the surface, watching them.

Elsewhere, construction of tents and temporary shelters proceeded on schedule around the settlement. Falat’s men, in building their barracks and command tents, had discovered some strange items and returned them to the group. Sindar instantly recognized these as the missing command crystals for the house systems, and set about determining their proper use in the most effective manner his years of experience had yielded: wildly irresponsible and dangerous experimentation. While one of them yielded a somewhat boring remote viewing capability from the house tower, the other bodily teleported the entire house and its attached crypts to the Plane of Shadow- very much to the surprise of everyone standing nearby at the time. During his brief stay, Sindar watched from the tower roof in horror as hundreds of shadow beings, scattered across a landscape reminiscent of the desert, slowly took notice of his arrival. They did not advance on the house, but they did stare. He quickly reversed the process, knocking several people down in the burst of air pressure as the house returned to its place when the crystal was removed. As night fell, the group decided to move everyone inside the shield until the undead remnant of Gatha was somehow dealt with.

During the night, tensions mounted when the watch noted that Squeaks had slipped outside the shield at some point, and was sitting at the edge of Gatha’s hole. She stayed there the entire night. As dawn broke, bad news continued to mount in a seemingly endless stream when the last watch spotted a large black bird in the distance, most likely a raven. As they were not native to these parts, it seemed a safe assumption that the bird was likely a harbinger of Consul Ducet, and was likely looking for them. As moments slipped by, the bird managed a glancing collision with the house’s invisible force wall, but continued past, evidently headed elsewhere. At the bottom of the hill, Squeaks was awaiting re-entry to the shield and the house. When the party went down to meet her and ask after her actions, she delivered some interesting news. She had spent the night in conversation with Gatha, one druid to another.

Gatha was not an undead monstrosity, but was undergoing a natural process for an avatar of the sleeping nature goddess, Mahari. While the party had defeated her, it simply was not possible to kill her, and thus she was not vulnerable to the magic of the skulls. She was, however, ready to move on. The evil that Gatha had come here to contain had been vanquished, and the limited resources of Mahari were needed elsewhere now that House Tulesti was rising again in what was once the South Plains. She was apologetic about having to oppose them, but anyone getting past her risked releasing Ghadir, and so she had maintained her vigil even against the emissaries of Mithras. To right the scales, Gatha wished to provide them with a story that would become legend in time. They had a few minutes to prepare themselves to defend their people and their estate against her final assault. She would draw blood, but they would prevail in the end, and all the people here would see them as saviors, yet again. The group sprinted back to the house as seconds ticked by, sounding the alarm among the gathered people to get to shelter. The ground shook beneath them as Gatha tunneled at frightful speed.

Zayn ran for the tower as the rest of the party got themselves ready, remembering their last fight against the massive Gatha. As the rumbling of her digging quieted, they waited in silence for a few minutes before the creature struck. The group had not realized the scale of the favor she was planning to do for them until they heard a huge crash from the cistern, followed by several more, and punctuated by a high-pitched screaming noise. Gatha was going after the black scorpion in the cistern. In less than a minute, that fight ended in spectacular fashion when Gatha threw the monstrous scorpion into the roof of the cistern. Finn began mentally counting off Mending and Make Whole spells as the center of the roof collapsed into the cistern, and the hole slowly grew until most of the roof had fallen, nearly sweeping Nanda into the cavernous container. The silver lining to that particular cloud was that the scorpion’s body was stretched out and lying limply over the side of the cistern wall, unmoving. With the stage set, Gatha turned her attention to the party. Sindar tossed a serum to Nanda to allow her to rescue herself from her precarious perch, while Zayn used the lightning weapon from the tower to rain death into the open cistern. Gatha lashed out from the cistern bottom, doing more damage to the walls and nearly toppling several heroes into the abyss with her. Another strike from the weapon still did not finish her off. Finally overcoming his apprehension of the situation below, Tarsus jumped into the makeshift arena with the gigantic beast, much to the awe of the assembled citizens. As he squared off and traded his first blows with Gatha, she was laid low by a final strike from the house weapon, and a cheer went up across the estate. The cistern was nearly in ruins, but a major problem had been dealt with, without a loss of life. It was time to get to work on settlement issues.

But first, the group needed to finish up their dealings in Port Miller, so Finn summoned his faithful ally, the hound archon Barqueem. Another quick negotiation saw the stately dog-man off the pick up their goods, returning shortly with their bag of holding before departing for home. He would have to make up some stories for his fellow archons about epic battles if this delivery boy routine kept up. The day wore on as the party divided up their purchased supplies and worked with settlers and soldiers on issues as they arose to get the place more organized over the course of the next day. A somewhat regular guard rotation was developed to help carry the load of tower watches, heretofore borne by our heroes. It seemed this happened just in the nick of time, as one of the soldiers spotted a tell-tale cloud from the west that meant approaching people- a lot of them.

The people from the west drew near, and the familiar banners of Aridesa came into view. Shortly, the large contingent dispatched a few of their number on mounts to come forward, and the Lady Tulesti and her cohorts went out to meet them. In the lead was the familiar face of General Arastea Ghomesh, along with a few people that most of the party had met previously at Oxyr’s table in Aridesa. The general greeted the party, and asked if her people might make camp and rest here for a short while. The group agreed to this request, and the refugees of Aridesa set about making camp nearby those from Latpasa. Privately, Ghomesh told the party of Children of Ahriman followers that had dogged them since they escaped from Aridesa, picking off leaders and sowing fear until she and her fellow leaders had laid a trap for them and routed them. They had managed to capture two of the cultists, and still held them as prisoners. She agreed to turn them over to the party for questioning.

After the pair were sequestered within the main house, the party alternately tried soft and hard questioning techniques to extract information from the prisoners. Zayn discovered she actually knew one of the men from her days within the cult. His name was Azan Rasi, and she knew him to be a reconnaissance and spycraft expert, not exactly a soldier or assassin. He provided little information at first, and Zayn tried hard to convince him that her presence here was a ruse and she was still loyal to his cause. He seemed to believe her, and let a few tidbits slip that hinted at some strife within the organization and big plans in Gol Asad. The other man with him was quickly discovered to be hiding a vial of the shambler toxin in a rather inconvenient place. He was immobilized by the party as Nanda retrieved the vial with her animated hair, fueling the man’s future nightmares in the process. The party agonized over what to do with the men, particularly the dangerous Azan. He might be in constant contact with someone else within the cult, through any of a number of magical means they had already seen the cult employ, yet just killing him without some sort of due process would set a dangerous precedent that might put people on edge in the fledgling settlement. Growing tired of what seemed an obvious situation, Sindar had enough and went to see Azan. Quickly seeing this was no mere “bad cop” routine, Azan spilled some beans about a plot moving against the Asad assembly itself, but Sindar was unmoved. When he left the room, Azan was no more. When the rest of the party discovered what he had done, tensions mounted about how to spin this for the settlement leaders. General Ghomesh was summoned so that she would hear the news from them first. Her take was rather direct- if he posed a clear and present threat, then they had done the only thing they could do, acting in defense of their people.

The story closed as the party weighed the implications of their growing responsibilities to these misfits coming together at the foot of their new citadel. The political consequences of their actions could stack up quickly if not carefully controlled, but no one mourned the death of the cult member Azan Rasi.

The Vote

The vote has been tabled in the Asad while missing delegates are searched for and rescued. An automatic procedural clock of 60 days started when they went missing, with 35 days now remaining before the delegates are declared dead and replaced. The Black Fleet has been spotted in Riyaqan waters.

Quote of the Day

“I reach into his ass and pull this vial out. With my hair.” -Nanda, delicately recovering a dangerous weapon.

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Session 23
A New Hope

The story opened as Finn reached out with Sending to various allies in an attempt to rally those in need to the newly liberated Tulesti Citadel. Arndt Jungson replied, stating that he had confirmed the ship Emi was aboard had been taken by the Black Fleet, and they were currently 4 days from Port Miller. General Ghomesh also replied, informing him that Aridesa had fallen and Oxyr was in hiding. She had been heading toward Herlish with survivors, and would divert to the citadel, but was several days travel away.

As the party contemplated the gravity of these disparate bits of news, alarm went up from the nearby SeaChild, directing the party’s attention into the desert. In the distance, hundreds of people were advancing toward them from the south. A quick check of the spyglass revealed it was not people, but the remnants of such they had taken to calling shamblers. Now better versed in operating the magical defenses of the main house, the party quickly created a force barrier between themselves and the advancing horde. Soon, they were at the shield and piling up against it. The group quickly cycled the shield and blasted what made it through with the lightning weapon commanded from the tower. Everything worked surprisingly well, so they went for another round of it. This time, the shield was slower to respond, allowing more shamblers inside. Still able to wipe out what shamblers entered using the lightning, the party pressed forward, as so many remained they feared they might have little chance facing off on the ground.

After a few more cycles, urgent bells began sounding from the room below, where the crystals driving the various house systems were located. A complicated array of dials and gears was alternately spinning and stopping, arranging itself to display letters that spelled out worrisome messages. Outside, the shield began to change from clear to cloudy as it stopped responding to commands to drop. The lightning weapon stopped working altogether as shamblers piled against the shield from outside. A plume of steam from the ground nearby the house coincided with a warning message from the control room: “core overheat – core access open”. Tarsus and Zayn ran for the hatch that had opened, with Sindar close behind them. Below ground, the found a massive vertical chamber that housed a very large, and now very hot, glowing blue shard of crystal. Tube carved through its long axis ran from the top of the chamber to the bottom, and belched steam into the air. After some quick exploration, they determined that the entire chamber seemed to be intended as a cooling system of some kind for the crystal, which was obviously the “core”. The group was able to find a set of manuals on the same level of the room as a bank of switches, but the books would take time and some measure of engineering knowledge to decode.

Quickly able to at least determine the core needed water right now, Finn was summoned to the core chamber, only to be reduced to a human water well for the next several days, on and off. For now, he heroically washed the top of the crystal in divine wetness as Sindar and Zayn worked to make progress decoding the operating manuals. Eventually figuring out which switches do what, the pair also figure out that the core is not a source of power, but extracts it from a magical item stored within it. They briefly opened the chamber at the bottom and determined it was currently powered by a shield of some sort before panicked yells from above reminded them that there were hordes of shamblers still being held back by the ailing system. They restored power and started devising a plan. Finn’s additional cooling restored some power to the core for the time being, but a long-term solution would need to be found.

With some power back, they regained control of the shield and weapon. It cycled too slowly, allowing a massive amount of shamblers in at once, and not blasting them quickly enough as they climbed the rocky hill to the house. Meeting the horde at the house’s front hall, the party made their stand to try and keep the horde from entering the house and costing them control of the systems and the estate. The battle was bloody, but quick. Willie nearly died as he was grappled into the horde, but scrambled away just in time. As the party found a withdrawing battle of attrition against the remnants of the shamblers, one of the house’s defensive constructs arrived to help finish off stragglers. It was clear from this very close call that they needed something more powerful driving the house’s defenses if they were going to deal with the rest of the shamblers still outside before the refugees from Aridesa began to arrive. The party had a good selection of magic items handy, and the manuals so far decoded made obvious that the more powerful the item was, the better things worked. They did have one item with them that had immense power, and had so far brought roughly equal measures of boon and ruin- the Deck of Errant Destinies that Rinn had stolen in Port Miller, and given to the party when they rescued her.

Making their way back to the bottom of the core chamber, several members of the group could not resist one last draw from the deck as a sort of farewell. Tarsus was hardest hit, saved from embarrassment only by the modest enchantments on his armor as all of his non-magical gear instantly disintegrated into dust. Nanda and Finn underwent somewhat significant changes (or possibly revelations) to their heritage. In the end, the deck went into the core, and the shield came out. Tarsus had been hopeful there might be a physical shield called Ironwall after all, but it was not to be. At least the shield retrieved from the core was a useful, if somewhat belligerent, magical shield. As the system was restarted, power coursed into the defenses with a vengeance. Although the lapse had allowed all of the remaining shamblers to rush the house, Zayn was easily able to wipe them out with the new power in the lightning weapon before they were even within bow-shot of the front door.

After a brief rest, the group turned their attention to a proper troubleshooting and repair of the highly engineered system. After a few hours, they determined the location of a massive water cistern meant to supply the core and a number of other supply taps around the estate. It seemed the cistern was not delivering water, and they surmised it to be related to the water damaged walls in the crypts below the house. Locating the entrance to the cistern, they opened it an entered. Te interior was cavernous, and the broken open wall was easy to spot. While surveying it to determine how long it might take to repair, the group was rushed by a pair of horse-sized scorpions that had been using the empty cistern as a lair. Sindar identified the attackers as deadfall scorpions, named for their potent venom. The scorpions were capable hunters working as a pair, and the party had to focus to score the first kill after Nanda took a direct hit from venom. While they squared off against the second scorpion, a much more massive specimen did further damage to the wall as it broke into the chamber and immediately killed the remaining deadfall scorpion. This was easily identifiable as a legendary black scorpion. Sindar’s identification of this specimen left room for only one plan of action – run. While their casters fought a delaying action against the beast, the rest of the party scrambled for the ladder. Tarsus brought up the rear, barely escaping the hatch as the stinger slammed into the stone at the ladder’s top.

Needing more rest, and more supplies, before facing off against that thing and reclaiming the cistern, the party made a list of needed items and money available. Finn summoned the hound archon he normally counted on in times of battle, with an unusual request to travel to Port Miller and seek out the IGG. He was to deliver their requests and their funds, and then return in two days’ time to collect whatever they could procure. After negotiating his fee for such a mission, Barqueem departed and the party settled in for some much needed rest.

Early the next day, they were awakened when the watch spotted people approaching from the east. Arming their defenses, they waited as the small army approached. It stopped at the bottom of the hill, unfurling banners with the colors of Latpasa. These were the refugees they had met in the desert a few days earlier. Going out to meet the group, leaders the party had spoken to on their first meeting walked out to speak for the people behind them. After some niceties and discussion, Zayn was put forward as the living heir of House Tulesti, and the priestess Avendi officially asked permission for her people to stay. Zayn agreed, and offered them the protection of the House Tulesti, such as it was. Seeing this, and already wondering how he and his men might fit into this rapidly changing social landscape, Falat Hennin offered the service of himself and his men to the newly reformed house. Zayn asked Tarsus to step in as the commanding general of House Tulesti’s forces, and introduced Falat to his new commanding officer.

Our story closed as 36 armed and armored soldiers removed their Latpasa Guard sashes and filed into an inspection formation at Falat’s back. Far away, in the deep desert, a powerful enemy snarled quietly at the renewed energy in its ancient enemy.

The Vote

The vote has been tabled in the Asad while missing delegates are searched for and rescued. An automatic procedural clock of 60 days started when they went missing, with 37 days now remaining before the delegates are declared dead and replaced. The Black Fleet has been spotted in Riyaqan waters.

Quote of the Day

Did somebody write one down? Help me out here. One of you should take charge of tracking the quote. I’m terrible at it.

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Session 22.5
A repentant demon is a demon still

Our session opened with the party awaking from a needed rest, having fortified themselves in the tower of the Tulesti estate manor. After gathering themselves, they checked their seal on the secret door into the crypts below the house, and were satisfied it had not been disturbed. At length, they discussed and discarded the idea of calling for outside help to deal with Ghadir. After all, the only person they might call to deal with a powerful vampire was another powerful vampire who would be none too happy to hear from them.

Exploring the idea of locating Ghadir’s “maker” that the spirits in the house referred to, the group took a sample of the blood writing left for them in the lower story of the tower. They assumed this maker to be Ducet, as he was the only more powerful vampire they knew of. They also suspected the blood writing to have been left by the original owner of the stash of treasure Tarsus had inadvertently summoned to the estate through use of the Deck of Errant Destinies. Taking our their revelation cloth, they placed a piece of paper stained with the blood on it. A very weak link appeared that seemed to point in the rough direction of Gol Asad, if Sindar figured their position correctly, seeming to confirm their suspicions. This did not raise confidence that Ducet would be willing to help in the destruction of his progeny, so they group made plans to re-enter the crypts alone and deal with Ghadir themselves.

Their strategy set, spells specifically prepared to deal with the threat before them, and supplies at the ready, the party unsealed the crypt and headed down. Finding the first several chambers empty, they continued on. At the bottom of a second set of stairs, Tarsus noticed a piece of timber lying in the floor that had no been there before, which was old and rotten. After ensuring the timber was not, itself, a trap, he continued on, almost falling into the hidden pit just beyond it and only just catching himself in time. The timber had apparently been a brace to stop the trap opening, which was now removed- by Ghadir, no doubt. The pit below was wedge-shaped, with smooth stone walls that narrowed to a mere crack at the bottom, and promising to tightly catch anything falling in for whatever fate might wander by. Able to safely skirt the trap now that it was tripped, the party moved on.

Listening carefully at the array of doors before them, they all seemed to be full of one sort of undead scourge or another that was just itching to get to them. Only the third door seemed to contain unknown noises, and a scrap of Ghadir’s blood from their earlier fight, along with the revelation cloth, pointed beyond the same door. Nanda called upon her shadow minion to explore the room, and it reported only a lone figure, kneeling and crying before a single statue among many statues. Satisfied they had located their quarry, the party prepared their magical augmentations and burst into the room.

Sure enough, Ghadir was there, prostrate on the floor in front of one of the statues in the room, sobbing and asking it, “why?” A moment later he was on his feet and moving with supernatural speed. The party pressed in on him, with Tarsus at the front and Nanda close behind, attempting to bracket him in and keep him busy while Finn and Sindar started to put a few holy nails in his coffin. Ghadir tore into the party with abandon, with claws and blood flying everywhere. With his maneuverability hampered under Nanda’s continued attempts to grapple him, Ghadir tried a few times to turn members of the party to fight for him. But they were prepared for such tactics, and Ghadir failed. Hurting from the continuous pummeling of holy magic, fire, acid, and stink eye, Ghadir was finally caught off guard by Nanda’s silky strands of grabby hair. Sensing a quick end if he did not change his circumstance, Ghadir shifted in gaseous form and drifted toward the door. Crowding through the door after the cloud, the group followed into the hallway, where Sindar attacked the cloud with a splash of liquid fire that momentarily stunned Ghadir back into his solid form. In that moment Zayn struck home with a crude wooden stake carved from the remnants of a coffin they found on the main floor of the house. Ghadir’s body turned to hot ash in front of them, collapsing to the ground.

With the defeat of the vampire behind them, a detailed exploration of the room he had been hiding in revealed rows of statues, each bearing plaques of some member of the Tulesti house, or presumed relatives in a few cases. Some names were familiar, but most were not. Of special note was a single statue dedicated to a member of the Arkeles family- a name the party knew that loomed large in the history of the lich beneath the desert. Alas, no other passages were to be found here, so the party turned their attention to the last door in the crypt. After forcing it open, the found a huge, rocky golem that immediately began to march toward the open door. Thick moss and tiny flowers filled the cracks between the boulders that formed its body. They closed the door, and the construct did not try to break through. Assuming it was moving to attack them for their intrusion, Finn had a spark of an idea that it might be linked to the magical defensive systems, and raced upstairs to shut down everything but the outer protective shell. Returning to the room, they found the golem unmoving- it had worked. The room was mostly destroyed by some sort of cave-in, with the floor partially destroyed by falling debris. Water trickled into the room from elsewhere, funneling through the hole into the floor into a room below with dim light.

Unfortunately, the hole was a bit tight for an armored behemoth to fit through, forcing Tarsus to doff his armor before crawling through. With a few minutes of wet squirming, the party found themselves in a chamber lit by fairly simple, but permanent, illusionary images of birds circling overhead. 3 ornate sarcophagi here named 3 women of the Tulesti household from different points of its history. A moderate amount of treasure stored in chests by each tomb and fragrant oil censers long since empty rounded out the room’s decor. After a quick look around, the party tried the massive double doors leading elsewhere, finding them uncooperative at first, but eventually yielding to their efforts. Beyond was a massive chamber, lit by similar magic as the room they had just left. This room appeared to be a proper crypt for a number of obvious heroes of Tulesti history. Stairs led up from the far corner, and other sets of doors led off of the room.

As they made their way through the chamber, a beam of magic leapt to each of them in turn from an alcove on the far wall. It finally settled on Tarsus before fading. Moments later, a massive black scorpion burst into the room from the alcove, charging straight for Tarsus. It was easily twice the size of the beast that had once butchered his entire unit around him. This time, he knew he could not run even if he wanted to- Dervish would not allow it. To all appearances, the thought never crossed his mind, as he immediately charged forward to get between the scorpion and his comrades. In a flash, the thing was gone. A familiar voice chuckled from behind them- the Journeyman stood in the chamber with them now. He announced that the visage was just one final check of Tarsus’ character before they proceeded further.

In the dialogue that followed, the Journeyman finally confirmed that he was Mithras, to some. He told the party that Mithras is a title, not a name, and the full version translates to “unyielding wall” or “unbroken wall”, depending on the time period. It has also sometimes been translated as the “iron wall.” He thanked them for the great favor of clearing this place of the evil presence that stained it, and revealed that he had a personal stake in this favor. He was only the latest in a long line of brave souls who had become Mithras, having once been known as Anjar Tulesti – the same man Tarsus had been told was Dervish’s original owner. Mithras informed Tarsus that he did not create the sword, but it was given to him to test him, just as it had tested Tarsus. The sword was the property of Rustum himself, imbued with a small fraction of his consciousness and power, and tasked with forever scouring the world for the next candidate, and then guiding them to fulfill their duty and destiny. It was on such a journey that it had learned of Tarsus and his fellows, and insinuated itself into their company.

Mithras explained the timing of this revelation as being no accident. The laws that keep peace among the gods precluded any very direct action to defeat Sayoni, but he feared her power to already be beyond the reach of even the best mortal heroes. He hoped that a brand new demi-god might be able to skirt the rules long enough to destroy her, and claim ignorance later while begging forgiveness. The strategy would not earn him any friends in high places, but it would have to do. As such, the transition would need to begin more quickly than normally prescribed. As burdening Tarsus with too much divine power too quickly might cause severe adjustment issues, an intermediate strategy would be adopted. Until Sayoni was defeated, Tarsus’ companions would share in carrying the power that Mithras already began to shed. With time and effort, they would learn to wield their new gifts expertly enough to face and finally defeat the undying threat beneath the Dim Wastes.

The Vote

The vote has been tabled in the Asad while missing delegates are searched for and rescued. An automatic procedural clock of 60 days started when they went missing, with 39 days now remaining before the delegates are declared dead and replaced.

Quote of the Day

For some reason there is a Chaucer quote in my notes. I know none of you tools said it, so I don’t know why it’s there. Somebody else fill this in if you remember something funny from the game.

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Session 22
Better the devil you know...

Our story opened with the party edging toward the estate before them, which sat atop a large hill of rock jutting from the flat desert floor. As they moved closer, they passed through the skeleton ruins of other, smaller buildings. Though the ravages of time had all but erased the hamlet that had once surrounded the main house, the house itself stood relatively untouched by the wind and sand. As they were about to enter, the group was met by the Journeyman, once again. He seemed pleased with their progress, but offered a few last words of warning. The being they saw on the roof was Ghadir Tulesti, in one of his more human moments. He was nearly a millennium old by now, and was responsible for the final liquidation of House Tulesti. All the ruin here happened at his hands, and the curse of it wracks him with such agony that very little of the man remains. The beast had to be put down to quench the evil pall over the property, and the Journeyman would consider it a person favor to do so. Cunning, agile, and extremely dangerous within the confines of his home, it would take special care to remove him.

With this warning, the party moved inside. They pleasantly discovered that every inch of the place was not crawling with deathtraps, but did find a ruined house within. Much of the furniture was not destroyed by rot, but had been smashed outright in some past rage. In the center of the main hall stood a pair of large statues. One showed the visage of a rather attractive human male in resplendent battle armor with a viper coiled around one arm. The other was a twisted visage of a vaguely humanoid reptilian creature with three heads. The same viper appeared here coiled in a single loop around all three necks. Searching his memory, Finn recognized this as an altar to Ahzi Dahaka, the demon prince. Often worshiped by those that feel betrayed by the world or who find virtue in embracing “the beast within,” the presence if his worshipers was rarely good news.

Exploring the first floor of the house brought the group under attack by ghosts of dead soldiers in short order. Contact with the ghosts proved unusually horrific and painful ,but the party managed to dispatch the pair. As the last fell, a shadowy reflection was seen in a large mirror in the room, but was gone quickly after, leaving no trace of any presence. Further exploration yielded a set of keys to the house hidden in the desk of the former steward, and a series of paintings of prominent family members, which Sindar promptly cut out of the frames and bagged up before anyone else could see them, Finding the hallway into the greenhouse blocked with trash and broken furnishings, Tarsus busied himself clearing the passage while others explored. After a short while, the way was cleared and the party checked the greenhouse. Some level of self-sustained growing continued here, even after ages of disuse. It was obvious moisture was coming from somewhere, however slowly. A badly rotted corpse in the room clutched a brass plaque with some verse on it. It apparently referred to a lock of some kind, and involved light. A look about revealed what must be the mechanism, which depended on a mirror, a shield to block part of the mirror’s reflected light, and a shape high on the wall. It seemed, however, that the lock could only be opened at noon each day, and only for a few minutes. This left the party with some time to continue exploring first.

They headed to another set of rooms at the far side of the first floor, and soon came upon the kitchens. Upon their entry, the stoves fired to life, belching smoke into the room and making it unusually hot. The further they entered into the room, the hotter the stoves got, even with obviously empty coal bins beneath them. Supposing this to be some sort of a haunt, Finn took a guess and conjured water into the coal bins, quenching a fire that no longer burned. The heat in the room subsided, allowing the stoves to be inspected. Sure enough, they were filled with skeletal remains, and brought the sickening revelation that the remains belonged to small children. Apparently Ghadir’s magnum opus had included locking Tulesti children into ovens. Others of the group encountered less deadly, but more puzzling haunts scattered around the first floor, with one ghost in particular seemingly so entranced by Zayn’s presence that he pulled her into an enraptured waltz around his parlor.

At last, the time was right to attempt to open the lock and see what it might be protecting. Sindar, having worked out the math presented in the riddle, set the mirror and shield in what he supposed to be the correct positions. Sure enough, when the reflected light reached the noon position on the wall, part of the symbol it touched flashed, and a dull thump echoed from the north of the greenhouse. Some digging was required to pull away the overgrown moss and pry up floorboards, but the thump had come from a hidden metal door about 5 ft on a side. After expending a bit of effort to try and lift it by hand, the group realized some cleverly hidden pulleys were set up to rig a rope to the door. Once they did so, pulling it open was relatively easy. As they moved down the steps it revealed, they heard a panicked scream from upstairs in the house. No sooner had they made it to the bottom of the narrow, wet stone steps than a figure appeared before them, well inside the crypt. Only the slightest brush of wind past them signaled that the thing came from behind, possibly following them down the steps.

As the party tried to make an overture to the being, believing this to be the Ghadir they were warned about, and who’s handiwork was all over the house upstairs, the thing attacked them. The first few seconds of combat confirmed their many suspicions. This was definitely Ghadir, and Ghadir was definitely a vampire. After failing in his initial attempts to dominate one member or another of the party, he turned to all out brutality, bringing several members of the party to within seconds of death. He wanted something very badly that was down in these catacombs, and these adventurers had, at last, opened a way that had eluded his increasingly feral intellect over the centuries. So he was so close to his goal, and no one would stop him. As hopelessness began to grip the party, Finn loosed every bit of holy energy he could muster at Ghadir, and gave the vampire pause. Ghadir re-positioned to put plenty of space between himself and Finn, gave the cleric a moment’s consideration, and then fled deeper into the crypt’s passageways. The party took the respite to heal wounds and prepare for another assault from the vampire and his vicious magical weapons. Seeking some way to defeat this monster, or summon the revenants of Ghadir’s massacre to their aid, several party members gifted in such arts attempted their own individual brands of communing with the spirits lurking in the house. Universally, the same response was received, “seek his maker.”

Unsure of the meaning of that, the party headed back upstairs to plan a more organized assault on Ghadir. They closed and carefully sealed the trap door to make it even vapor-proof, and eventually placed a great weight upon the door in the form of an immovable rod they found. Exploring upstairs, several members of the party were burned badly when they entered a hallway gutted by fire that turned out to be a haunt of some past conflagration. Sindar was blinded (temporarily, thanks to the party) as he greedily snapped up books from a bookshelf that were guarded by a ghostly librarian. Some of the tomes he uncovered detailed a bit of the family history of the Tulesti’s, and offered clues to the former power of the family. Finally, the party found a panel of crystal rods and holders in the house’s only tower. Through some experimentation, they determined this to be linked to very powerful defensive magic centered on the house, and worked out much of how the system operated. Reading through the volumes Sindar had collected stirred memories that Finn had of classes on the hidden society of vampires, some of which might prove useful for defeating Ghadir. Or any other powerful vampire enemies they might someday find a need to kill.

The Vote

The vote has been tabled in the Asad while missing delegates are searched for and rescued. An automatic procedural clock of 60 days started when they went missing, with 40 days now remaining before the delegates are declared dead and replaced.

Quote of the Day

“I’m going to channel into my pants.” -Finn, upon his first career encounter with a truly dangerous ghostly haunt.

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Session 21
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind.

Our story opened with the party making their way to the Watcher’s Grove alongside Guardian. As they travelled, more and more of the denizens of the valley fell into step with them. It was not often that the Watcher awakened, much less granted an audience to outsiders. When they arrived at the grove, they found the Watcher resting in her dragon form, her metallic scales shimmering in the bright light offered by million of glowing insects flying above. Sindar wasted no time in asking to see his parents, or at least whatever was leafed of them. The Watcher acquiesced, and Caretaker Jailor descended from the tree canopy to transport Sindar to the most protected part of the grove, where his parents lived.

In the meantime, the remainder of the party argued for the fate of the interloper they had captured, revealed to be Robert Pinan. Pinan was on the run from the Children of Ahriman, and was apparently in the valley researching a cure to the plague he had inadvertently helped to create. For the most part, the Watcher and other denizens of the grove were unmoved about how intruders should be punished, and Guardian pointed out that the party’s decision to present themselves at the bottom of the slope rather that barge in secretly was what saved them from a similar fate. Making her own case for the importance of the valley’s sanctity, the Watcher offered a compromise out of respect to the group’s benefactor, who was a more of less open secret to them by this point. She had offered sanctuary to a refugee not long before, and now saw an opportunity to give this person new purpose while allowing Robert to fulfill his.

If the party agreed to take the woman with them, the Watcher would allow Robert to remain, under somewhat strict rules. After a brief introduction, the group agreed to take the woman called Nanda with them, and provide whatever protection they coudl while she accompanied them. Robert would be allowed to live in the old shelter left behind by the IGG mission, and would be allowed periodic entry to the valley to make his studies, but no materials would leave this place until the appointed time. Shortly after, Sindar returned to the grove of trees from his voyage… to a grove of,,, trees. Clutching some journals and books that belonged to his parents, he was ready to leave.

As a parting thought, the group asked if any of the denizens of the valley might be permitted to leave with them. As Dingo had suffered the loss of his pet rat recently, they thought it might be nice to bring him a new pal. The Watcher stated that the valley has a great many of its inhabitants travelling the world around them to serve as eyes and ears. The animals here were special, and not things to be considered “pets.” However, if someone did want to accompany the party, she would not prevent it. As luck would have it, a quiet pig-sized rodent trotted out of the assembled crowd wearing a small pack complete with a bedroll, and sat down before them. Setting off, the party decided to name their new companion “Squeaks,” absent of any input from the creature. Once they made their way back to the Seachild, Dingo and Squeaks became fast friends, and would become inseparable in the days that followed. The ship headed south, back into the desert proper.

A day later, the ship came upon the rim of a massive windstorm. Choosing discretion, they veered to the west to skirt around the storm as it lumbered to the east. After most of another day of travel, they came upon a large group of people walking across the sands. A few minutes of observation confirmed at a distance that these were actual people, and not a horde of shamblers. The ship came to a stop and several of the party disembarked to go out and meet the crowd of people, it being a very curious thing to see such a group wandering the desert as they were. Two leaders separated from the crowd as the party approached.

Upon meeting, they introduced themselves as Falat Hennin (a captain of the guard from Latpasa) and Avendi Volok (high priestess of the church of Anahita in Latpasa). The people with them were refugees from Latpasa, representing everyone they could gather before fleeing the city. They described an attack there that was very similar to the attack some of the party had witnessed in Sutif not even two months ago. The Latpasa attack happened a couple of weeks ago, and they had been holed up in the city for several days while gathering survivors, before finally fleeing. They had heard of Aridesa, but did not know its precise location. Sindar drew them a map, using his superlative pretend land navigation on paper skills, and the party bid them farewell after a bit of news was passed back and forth. It wasn’t until a few hours later that the crew of Seachild realized they were missing Teegan and Reece. A quick search of the ship turned up a brief note from Teegan that he would guide the Latpasa refugees south to the shield wall, where they could turn west to follow an easy trail to Aridesa. One he got them to the wall, he intended to make his way to Qisaga alone, and not drag the party into his unfortunate circumstances surrounding a card he had earlier drawn from the infamous deck.

Back on their way, all was well for the next half-day as the ship turned southwest to continue toward the estimated location of the Tulesti estate. In the wee hours, Sindar was piloting the vessel as the rest of the group slept. Mostly paying attention, he allowed himself the occasional distraction of flipping through the books he had recovered from the grove. Sindar was slammed into the edge of the ship’s wheel as the vessel abruptly lost the “irresistible force vs. immovable object” argument to a very large, mostly buried boulder. Below deck, the rest of the party found themselves the subject of Sindar’s latest unintentional physics experiment as bulkheads came rushing up to meet them.

Somewhat worse for wear, they took to the sand to assess and repair the damage. It wasn’t terrible, but the combined efforts of Finn and Willie would be required to get moving again in a decent amount of time. The pair settled in to start repairs while the rest of the party began taking up watches to ensure they were not surprised while vulnerable, apparently suspicious that some unseen force of fate seemed to draw excitement and danger to them like a magnet, just when it would suck the most. And the fates did not disappoint, for not too long into the process, they spotted a crowd slowly moving toward them in the darkness. Examination through a spyglass this time revealed a much more sinister character to the assembly- an entire horde of the things they called shamblers was closing in on them. It actually seemed they might pass the ship harmlessly if not given reason to attack. Then Sindar realized, thinking back on the map he had made earlier, that this throng would bear directly into the path of the refugees from Latpasa, and had a decent chance of meeting them. With that news, the party sighed collectively from the exhaustion of being the good guys as they unsheathed weapons and prepared spells. At least they would have the upper hand with plenty of time to plan for an unaware enemy.

And need it, they did. The party put their preparation time to good use, but the horde of shamblers was much stronger than they expected. Thus far, they had faced the things a few at a time or singly. In a concentrated mass, their uncoordinated individual attacks took on new danger by sheer numbers, as dozens of arms clutched at anything coming near, trying to drag victims into their press of bodies. The party had to take care not to lose anyone to this fate, eventually whittling the throng one corpse at a time until only a few remained. Mopping up the remaining shamblers took only a few seconds more, and the danger to the party and the refugees behind them had passed. The party resumed their guard as Finn and Willie hastily repaired the ship, and they were off once more. While repairs were rounding out, Nanda discovered the artifact the party was carrying, and became curious of its power. Drawing a card from the Deck of Errant Destinies, she drew the Dry Desert card, summoning the Scaldwind malazephyr seven months early. Her mind was dominated by visions of the great, scouring sandstorm as it gained power in the far northwest. Realizing the damage it might do and the mass casualties that would befall settlements unprepared for the storm, Finn focused his magical energies on warning whatever contacts they had that would answer him. At the very least, he made contact with Rinn, in Port Miller; and General Ghomesh, in Aridesa.

The next morning saw the party in something of a doldrum, lacking any clear course to the exact position of the Tulesti estate. At last, Tarsus sought to call upon the influence of his sword, or possibly its source of power. Setting himself to a ritual he could only guess at, he asked to be shown the way to the estate. At first, nothing happened, and Tarsus went below, figuring he had failed. After a few minutes more, those remaining on deck saw a bright flash of lightning strike the ground to the southeast. Based on the following thunder, it was several miles distant. Based on the otherwise clear sky, they surmised this must be the response Tarsus was looking for, and set off in that direction. After just another hour or so, they saw the rocky crest begin to rise out of the dry, cracked desert floor in the distance. Atop it stood a large stone manor, surrounded by the ruins of other buildings. As the drew nearer to the estate, Dervish pressed itself into Tarsus’ hand, growing hot to the touch. This was the place.

The party disembarked as the cracks in the ground became wide enough to threaten Seachild’s hull and cause a repeat of the Sindar Incident. An odd concentration of insects and arachnids caught their attention, seeming to become more intense the closer they got to the manor. At first, the swarms largely ignored the party. Soon enough, some began to crawl on them. Not long after, the attack began in earnest as a handful of dog-sized spiders and scorpions charged after them. The venom these things carried was the most worrying aspect of the encounter, but it wasn’t anything the party was unprepared to handle. The large, fast-moving spider the size of a horse was a different matter, forcing the group to close ranks to defend themselves as it looked for an opening. Most of the group having spent a long time in each other’s company, their tactics were well-rehearsed and effective by this point. Nanda learned quickly, adapting her tactics to compliment her new teammates. It looked like the fight was going well, save for the troubling tremors coming from the ground around them.

The first sign they were really in trouble was the shower of dirt and sand that fell on them as the ground ruptured and spilled forth a hellish thing- a thorny black spider climbed out of the earth mere yards away from the party. It utterly dwarfed the spiders they had been dealing with so far, individual legs touching the ground with 30 feet or more of clear space between them as it stood ready to pounce. Clear venom dripped slowly from fangs as long a swords as they flashed from underneath, the beast working its barrel-sized mandibles in anticipation of its meal. The party launched themselves at the new threat, as Willie looked on and peed a little. Seeking to end the fight quickly, they poured considerable firepower into the unique beast, and it answered every blow it received. With their good health running out about as fast as their combat options, Nanda cast a spell to deny the creature the ability to breathe air, which it failed to resist. Moments later, Finn summoned a faithful hound archon to battle the spider as the party looked for other options, most of which began with running away.

The had noticed that the carpet of insects and bugs piled up along a line that ran in a circle around a large area of property, with the manor at its center. When this new monstrous specimen arrived, the bugs seemed to retreat. Reasoning that might mean that whatever barrier held them before is gone, the party made their way to the barrier, but found it full in place. The spider closed in behind them, still intent on sating its hunger while being harassed by the archon nipping at its heels. It took precious, tense seconds, but the thing’s legs finally buckled as it succumbed to a prolonged lack of air, and it fell immobile onto the hard-packed and cracked desert floor. Returning cautiously to the corpse, the party prodded a bit at it, discovering what must be a name or label plate of some kind that read, “Gatha.”

A gentle crackling in the air drew their attention up toward the barrier. Far away, atop the manor house, a robed figure observed them from the tower roof. With a wave of its hand, the noise intensified, and then ceased. The humanoid being disappeared back inside the house. Upon checking again, the party found the barrier dissolved. Apparently, they had been invited inside.

The Vote

The vote has been tabled in the Asad while missing delegates are searched for and rescued. An automatic procedural clock of 60 days started when they went missing, with 41 days now remaining before the delegates are declared dead and replaced.

Quote of the Day

I didn’t write anything down. Feel free to put something here that one of you might have written down. In the meantime, have this instead: “I say everything’s about company. A gourmet meal with an asshole is a horrible meal. A hot dog with an interesting person is an amazing meal.” -Chris Rock

So, thanks for being interesting, I guess.

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Session 20
Into the Valley of the Shadow of Life

Our story opened with Teegan isolated in an arena created by a dune giant, facing down an enormous hyena that was hungry for some lightly browned ranger. After the pair circled each other a bit, the hyena lunged to attack. The hyena grabbed Teegan, biting deep into his flesh with teeth the size of small daggers. Teegan slashed away with abandon. Outside the ring, Finn began to draw amusement and then threatening gestures from the giants as his attempts to magically interfere with the match impacted on the arena’s protective measures. More subtle efforts by others in the party seemed to work well enough, so he left it alone. Tarsus angrily destroyed his own weapons in the background.

Inside the ring, Teegan reckoned he was one more bite away from death, though the hyena was looking none too good, either. In an all or nothing gambit, the ranger piled onto the beast in a flurry of stabbing. The hyena caught only sleeve with what would have been a bone-snapping chomp, and then bolted away from the onslaught. That was it- the fight was over. The giants’ hunting party kept their word, leaving a young hyena handler with the group for another day while she taught Teegan how to handle the beast and operate its restraints. By the middle of the next day, she had left to rejoin her people, taking all of her hunting companions with her except the one now bound to Teegan. The party made their way back to the Seachild, and were underway again within the hour.

Not long after, the calm aboard was interrupted by Dingo‘s pained cries. Investigating, the group found him searching for a pet rat named Mr. Beans that they had not known he had until now. The party made a good faith effort to help him search, with Teegan even spurring his new companion to attempt a search of the ship to find any vermin aboard. While the new Reese did locate a possible trail, it ended abruptly at the workbench where Sindar’s pet project was located. A few hairs that could be from a rat were found on the tabletop, and Sindar and Willie noticed that the plant was now considerably larger- ceramic mug pot and all. Willie weighed it, finding it had gained a bit over a pound. A creepy realization set over the assembled people as Dingo stood doe-eyed, waiting for any sign that his friend might return. Finn took him topside and tried his best to explain what had likely happened, laying on a big helping of how the circle of life includes us all. Still dejected, but understanding, Dingo sullenly returned to his post.

Much later in the day, after making a fuel change, the Seachild came close enough to a wreck in the desert to see sprays of sand being blasted into the air from it as it was impacted by the high wind. Venturing a bit closer, they discovered it to be a wrecked wagon of some kind, and decided to stop for a look. Damage to the wagon made it obvious that it had come under attack by a dune giant, possibly a member of the same tribe they had just interacted with. A nearby rocky crag looked like a possible hideout where they might find survivors, as no bodies remained at the crash site.

The crag indeed had a cave, and exploration yielded a grisly scene. The remains of the camels that had been pulling the cart were piled in one corner. Near the entrance, the corpse of a dune giant sat with its back to the wall. Its head had been blasted open by something powerful. Some tattered remains of human-sized clothes were left behind, but the driver of the wagon had either been eaten whole or had escaped. Ever the pragmatist, Teegan whipped out a blade and started sawing his way into the thing’s stomach. He confirmed that no human remains were inside, though he did find quite a bit of rotten camel. Among the clothing left behind, Zayn found a single leather bracer that she recognized. It bore the markings of someone within Sadeesh’s inner circle inside the Children of Ahriman. The party suspected they might be on the trail of Robert Pinan, but moved on toward their destination when they were unable to turn up any other clues. When they returned to the ship, the party met Willie, who was excited to tell Sindar all about his discovery. The plant, it seemed, could respond to nearby threats by turning itself into something more difficult to damage, like a large padlock.

Continuing east, the remainder of that day and the next fuel change went smoothly. It was nearly midday the next day when a massive canyon ahead loomed into view far ahead of Seachild’s bow. Drawing closer cautiously, the party and crew were able to see over the side into the yawning chasm. It was filled with a dense canopy of trees, and the bottom was impossible to see. Along the walls, large clusters of assassin vines lay in the open, dormant but ready to rip any would-be climbers from the wall and fling them into the canyon below. Intelligence Teegan had received from the Deck of Errant Destinies pointed to an easier entry point on the south edge of the canyon, where the original IGG expedition had entered, so the group decided to keep a healthy distance from the edge and skirt south until they found it. While in transit, Sindar set about mixing new fuel to refill the alchemical cells they had used thus far.

Eventually, they found the southern slope that marked the base camp of the original mission. Almost as soon as it came into view, the party spotted a decrepit shelter, which Sindar identified as a standard pattern for IGG temporary shelters. Approaching cautiously, the group found the shelter empty, with much of what might have been left behind piled up and burned some time ago. A careful search revealed that someone had camped there very recently, no more than a few days or possibly weeks ago. After a short rest, the party decided to leave the Seachild in the hands of Willie and Dingo, and descended into the valley proper. It was not long before they came under attack by archer bushes and assassin vines as they picked their way down the boulder-strewn slopes. The attack was vicious, but brief, and coordinated action by the party saw them through the deathtrap relatively intact.

Reaching the valley floor, the party stood in the tall grasses outside the edge of the forest cover. For a short while, they tried announcing their intentions into the valley, hoping for a response from the “caretakers” they had learned about. The only response they received for a long time was the slow gathering of creatures to them. Though they could observe movement in the grass, they could not see the sources- they only observed that the masses of animals drew ever closer. A discussion about how to proceed further was interrupted by a voice behind them as a monstrous snake slithered into view. It introduced itself as the Caretaker Guardian, responsible for the entrances into the valley.

Guardian was initially uninterested in Sindar’s pleas to be allowed to investigate the circumstances of his parents’ disappearance, repeatedly stonewalling in response to his requests. Guardian explained that time flowed differently within the valley, and that the incidents described as happening only months ago seemed in here to have happened many years ago. He was not forthcoming with details about the Watcher, but did mention that she currently slept, and therefore could not grant them the passage they sought. The caretakers would not awaken her for something as trivial as this. Further questioning by the party, however, revealed that there was trouble afoot in the valley. An interloper was somewhere within, using advanced magic to avoid the efforts of the caretakers to expel him. Discussing among themselves, the party came to the conclusion that the interloper was most likely Robert Pinan, and he was probably searching for a way to reverse what he had inadvertently helped Sadeesh do to the local populace.

Seeing an opportunity, the party offered to track and apprehend the interloper. Guardian was intrigued by the offer, but unwilling to give them free reign within the sacred valley. He offered a compromise, giving the party 1 hour of their time to locate the man and bring him before the caretakers. If they failed, they would have to leave. If they succeeded, it was very likely that the Watcher’s interest in the matter would be sufficient for her to wake, and they might be granted an audience. Not certain of how time in the valley scaled to time outside, they knew that they had longer than an actual hour, but not how much longer. Guardian promised the party that no creature of the valley would harm them so long as they were present with his permission, but they should still keep an eye out for Caretaker Stalker deeper in the valley. He could be a little creepy sometimes.

Venturing into the valley, the group soon passed under the tree canopy proper, where light on the forest floor was reduced to a dim haze. It was hot and damp, and the party followed a brook. Assuming that it was Robert Pinan they were tracking, they concluded that he would be after the same rare specimen that Sindar’s parents had likely found- an aquatic blue lotus flower with incredible herbological uses. They knew from Teegan’s brush with the Deck of Errant Destinies (and from hints of confirmation from Guardian) that the place where the flower had been found was a small round lake somewhere in the valley, with a slow creek leading into it. After a very long and creepy walk, they found such a place, and Teegan was able to confirm its familiarity. Unfortunately, neither their quarry nor the blue flower was anywhere to be seen. What they could see were scores of large arachnids hiding in the trees and in the shadows of the forest floor. They were obscured from normal sight, but visible to those with the right talents. They watched, and they waited- for something.

Poking around for a while yielded no results, until the group had an idea. The flower was aquatic, right? But how aquatic? Teegan used his magic to give Sindar an air supply, and the alchemist dove into the dark pool. Far below the surface, he discovered that the lake flared outward and back up a bit from its shores, giving rise to a toroidal air space underground. It was in this gap, guided by the soft glow of luminescent plants and fungi, that Sindar found the flower. Heeding Guardian’s warnings not to attempt to take any specimens from the valley, Sindar satisfied himself with notes and observations before returning to the surface. Meanwhile, the remainder of the party topside were looking for any signs of the interloper. At first, nothing at all was apparent. Finn decided to try using detect magic to search the area again. The effort took a while, but eventually yielded a pair of alarm spells spanning several trees. They seemed to hem in an area near the bank. As the party focused their investigation there, Sindar surfaced near them and swam over. Grabbing clusters of vines to pull himself free of the water, he was surprised to find one far more pliable than the rest, almost falling back into the lake as a result. The vine was, in fact, a cleverly hidden rope among the vines. It ended a fraction of an inch below the large tree branch supporting many of the real vines, terminating in mid-air, but held fast to something. The party immediately identified this as the effect left behind by a rope trick spell. It was very likely someone was hiding at the top of the rope.

Tarsus shed a bit of unneeded gear, arranging his weapons to have them at the ready while climbing. He grabbed hold of the rope and climbed cautiously. As he reached the top, he disappeared from view inside the small dimensional space. Expecting to be attacked immediately, he instead found a smallish man curled up and snoring softly in the corner. Tarsus had used an invisibility effect to hide himself visually, but his clanking armor and weapons still made enough noise that he woke the occupant as he pulled himself to his feet. The man peered around the space, and seeing nothing, quickly crawled over to the portal looking down on the rest of the party. As he paused to examine the people below, Tarsus charged.

The party was taken by surprise when a small man in ragged clothed tumbled out of empty air and thumped into the soft ground below, followed immediately by Tarsus. The man was alive, but hurt by the fall and the impact of the steel-laden bulk of their comrade. Tarsus rolled off of him, tossing the man’s backpack aside as he did. Before anyone could move, the swarms of spiders descended. They were not after the party- they were after the man Tarsus had thrown out of his hiding place. One spider much larger than the rest came quickly forward as the man was cocooned in silk. It took possession of the imprisoned interloper from the other spiders. Turning its attention to the party, the thing thanked them in scratchy common for their efforts to catch the “criminal”, and introduced himself as Caretaker Stalker. He told them that the Watcher would be waking soon, and they would do well to check in with Guardian. With that, he slowly vanished from sight, fading into some sort of invisibility as he rushed away.

The party made their way back to the clearing at the foot of the south slope. As they moved beneath the canopy, a massive shadow momentarily blotted out the sun as it moved from north to south- the same direction they traveled. As the party moved, they accumulated a small escort of curious creatures that stayed at a distance. Arriving at the clearing, they found Guardian sitting atop a huge boulder, in conversation with a beautiful woman. Her features were like those of half-elves, but sharper and more defined. It slowly dawned on the party that she resembled ancient art of actual elves, now thought long extinct from the world. She was adorned in white silk and wore many gold bangles, bracelets, and necklaces, all finely crafted.

The woman introduced herself as the Watcher, and thanked the party for their generous offer and creative methods to help capture the man sneaking about in the valley. She announced her intention to interrogate him fully to discover his intentions. The Watcher revealed in conversation that the valley must be protected from widespread discovery and that no measure was too drastic to stop any of the plants here from actually leaving the valley until the appointed time. Much of the life was tied irrevocably to the magic of the valley, and the entire place was intended by Mahari to be a sort of vault to preserve the life that once thrived in Riyaqa before Ahriman’s influence seeped into the desert. The desert now expanded under the influence of his agents, and might engulf the entire continent before it stopped. She would not allow the lotus flowers here to leave the valley under any circumstances, regardless of what they might prove to be useful for, until Ahriman’s grip faltered. Only then would she unleash the power of the valley to help drive him back. Until then, a slip might draw his attention too early, and all of this effort would be for naught.

Sindar asked the Watcher about the previous IGG mission and what had happened to his parents. She reluctantly agreed to allow the party access to the Watcher’s Grove, where Sindar’s parents’ spirits live on in her personal gardens. They would also be allowed a chance to talk to Pinan before he was judged and possibly disposed of. As she departed, the Watcher instructed Guardian to see the party through the valley the grove, where she would meet them. She conspicuously ignored questions about when the party might be able to leave the valley. Leaping off the boulder on which she sat, the woman transformed in mid-air, taking wing as a massive dragon. Her pale gold scales reflected sunlight painfully into the party’s eyes for a moment before the downbeat of her wings bathed them in a gust of wind. Then she was gone.

The story closed as Guardian slithered off the rock, enjoining the party to follow him and offering his congratulations on what they were about to witness.

Advancement

The party has advanced to level 8!

The Vote

The vote has been tabled in the Asad while missing delegates are searched for and rescued. An automatic procedural clock of 60 days started when they went missing, with 44 days now remaining before the delegates are declared dead and replaced.

Quote of the Day

“What happens if you feed it a whole person?” -Zayn, as Dingo sat crying in a corner upon realizing a plant had eaten Mr. Beans.

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Session 19
It's just a big cow...

Our story opened as Finn and Willie were hard at work making repairs to the Seachild. The rest of the party divided up to either guard their efforts or retrieve supplies from Port Miller, the ship’s stores having been mostly looted by the thieves’ guild in their earlier attack. Once the trimaran was ready to depart, the group decided to tempt fate a bit with the Deck of Errant Destinies that Rinn had given them.

Finn drew the Deep Freeze card.
Tarsus drew the Protecting Treasure card.
Teegan used his Wizard of Awareness card from earlier to gain thorough knowledge of the fate of the SR-7 mission, then drew again, drawing the Compass card.
Zayn drew the Balancing Act card.
Sindar drew the Details, Details card.

Most of the party dodged any serious consequences for the time being. Teegan’s new card filled him with a compulsion to travel to Qisaga, on the far coast, that drained his energy when he tried to resist. With that destination added to their growing list of objectives, the group set off into the desert. After travelling much of the day, the Seachild began to show signs of faltering fuel cells. Sindar was piloting at the time, and selected a somewhat shielded outcropping of rock as a fuel change location, bringing the ship to a stop in its shadow. The party divided their efforts between helping with the fuel change and keeping watch into the distant desert. As the operation was nearing completion, a man leading a horse appeared in the distance. The party was somewhat accustomed by now the the Journeyman appearing to them this way as they traveled the desert, and knew him not to be an enemy. Still, they were cautious of his approach.

As he drew near, the group offered the man some water for himself and his horse. He pulled down a few bits of gear and sat down to eat a bite as he talked with the party. Ever the mystery man, he finally directly addressed the question of his identity by asking who the party thought he was. Although he confirmed his identity as Mithras, he told them they understood very little of the truth behind the myths. They may know his name, but they knew nothing of his motives or designs. The sky grew dim as he spoke, and an impossibly chill wind kicked up across the desert sands. He expressed some doubt that they were really ready for what loomed ahead of them, and offered a test for Tarsus, companion of Dervish. A shadowy visage drifted into view, carrying a box. The test, Mithras said, was a simple one. Take what is in the box, ingest it and survive; or die here and now. Tarsus and the rest of the group went with option A, and seemed to suffer no ill effects. After nodding his approval, Mithras sat a little while longer with them before packing up and moving on. He offered a small piece of advice after learning that the group was bound for giant country to try and locate a pack prowler for Teegan: “Whatever terms they offer, honor them. Honor is the code that drives their people.”

Several hours after the ship was underway again, a screaming crewman fleeing the main hold drew the party’s attention. Investigating, they found the hold apparently empty, but showing signs of a stowaway. After a quick search, the discovered a goblin dressed like a pirate, his pockets fat with food from the ship’s stores. The goblin was not interested in a direct fight, and surrendered quickly. His name was Dingo, and he belonged to the guildmaster of the thieves’ guild in Port Miller- the same man they had slain just a couple of days prior. Dingo had been with him when his people attacked the Seachild at the behest of a possessed Atala. He claimed he had been planning to kill his master during the attack, but things went wrong and he ran for cover after losing his chance. Fearing to return to the guild, he hid out aboard the ship. With the ship now in the middle of the desert, Dingo offered a deal for his life. He had worked before on fishing vessels, which weren’t entirely different. He could teach some sailing and navigation skills to the party in exchange for food and a place to sleep. He could totter off when they next stopped in a town. The party agreed, and Dingo set to work barking orders to teach his new “pupils” how a proper crew works.

After the better part of the day, the ship was ready to stop again for a fuel cell change. A long strip of an oasis near a rock outcropping was visible in the distance, so the party elected to stop there in the prospect of picking up some fresh meat. The ship stopped a few hundred feet from the grassy edges of the oasis, and Teegan and Zayn went in for some exploring and hunting. In short order, they found a massive herbivore drinking at the trickling water near the rock. A quick attempt to mentally subdue the beast (to allow Teegan to kill it quickly) failed, and it charged. The ground shook as the horned giant closed with them, and their initial response seemed to do nothing to slow it down. Zayn turned and ran for the ship to get help, while Teegan dove into the sizeable burrow for… something. Above him the animal stamped a lunged at the ground, shaking down rock and dust. Seeing the commotion and hearing Zayn’s yells, the rest of the party was already off the boat and running toward them.

A few seconds later, a celestial being in the shape of a canid archon formed in the air near the catoblepas and leapt to the attack at Finn’s command. As the two sparred, Teegan clambered back out of the hole and tried to help. Although the beast was formidable when facing only one or two party members, it was no match for the entire group. Teegan was badly wounded, but managed to stay in close to the beast until its last moments. As he set about carving up their prize, the others noticed the beast they slew was not alone. Two others were staring intently at them from the water’s edge, and had begun trotting toward them. As quickly as he could, Teegan separated the “easy” meat from the corpse and caught up to his fleeing comrades. The beasts did not pursue into the sands. A short while later, Seachild was ready to head deeper into the far north desert- known home territory of the dune giants.

As the fuel cells began to get low again, the group looked for a place that might offer a bit of safety. Finding nothing perfect, they settled on an open area near a ridge. As the fuel cell change progressed, Teegan caught a faint sound on the wind. Odd barking, or maybe a laugh? Within seconds, the source was visible at the top of the ridge- a pair of massive hyenas were bounding toward the ship. A warning was called out, and the party dismounted- if this was going to be a fight, they needed to lead it away from possibly damaging their only quick escape. Within a minute, several more hyenas were in view, as well as a few dune giants. Remembering the difficulty they had a couple of weeks back with just one, the party wasn’t looking forward to what was coming. In a bit to avoid getting stomped and chewed to death, the party requested a parlay with the giants, and stated they were only here to find and tame one of the giant beasts native to this region. The giants collectively chortled (giant-giggled? I don’t know.)

Their apparent leader stated, in slow and careful Riyaqan common, that no one passed through here without providing tribute or blood, regardless of purpose. The party offered up their meat from the recent catoblepas kill, and this surprised the giants. They had not expected such a small group of humans to be capable of killing a beast like that. The leader accepted their gift, and told them that these beast only follow those deserving of their respect. He asked who would tame such a thing, and Teegan stepped forward. One of the hyenas stepped closer to him as another giant began to incant a spell. At her command, a wall of stone and sand rose from the desert floor in the shape of a ring that surrounded both Teegan and the huge hyena he now faced. Teegan was feeling the effects of the Compass card- his arms and legs seemed filled with lead as he reached for his weapons, since they had been traveling in the wrong direction for over a day.

The leader of the giants spoke to Teegan, “Let us seem if you are worthy of Den’khan.” With that, he gestured, and the collar around the hyena’s next unbuckled and fell to the ground of its own volition. Before his eyes, the beast doubled, then doubled again in size. And then it lunged.

The Vote

The vote has been tabled in the Asad while missing delegates are searched for and rescued. An automatic procedural clock of 60 days started when they went missing, with 47 days now remaining before the delegates are declared dead and replaced.

Quote of the Day

“This can’t go anywhere good.” -Teegan, reaching the bottom of his hidey hole

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Session 18
This is just a Tuesday for us...

Our story opened as the party stood in a stock yard off a main street in Port Miller, surrounding the unconscious body of Atala and trying the decide what to do next. Having searched her and removed everything on consequence, the party found a key on her person that seemed to be from one of the local establishments. Zayn recognized its markings as those of the Thorne’s Rose. The Rose was an establishment in the north end of the Merchant district, and would be guarded behind locked gates come sundown. Doing their best to disguise the unconscious Atala, they party made their way to what they hoped would be her room and answers to a few questions.

Only a few of the city guards showed any curiosity as they moved through the streets, and the party dealt quickly with their questions as they explained the drunken evening their “friend” had, and how they were getting her back to her room. Soon enough, they were at Thorne’s Rose and decided to enter a few at a time to allay suspicion. Getting to the room required moving past a large gathering of hired swords and mercenaries. It looked like Thorne was collecting an army for something, and a few moments of eavesdropping bore the bad news that he intended to hunt down whomever had taken out some of his guys very recently- in the same area they had just dispatched a number of thugs helping Alata. Nevertheless, the party was paid little mind as they regrouped inside the room that the key opened. It seemed mostly barren, required a detailed Teegan-style search to reveal a carefully hidden sack on top of the wardrobe. The sack contained several small bags of coins marked with a mysterious wax seal on the cords, and a small vial of unknown liquid.

As soon as the vial was pulled from the bag, it began to softly glow. Within a few seconds it was obvious that the glow was getting brighter- it was building up to something. Tarsus went for the window to throw it out, but the curtains were sealed to the wall. Piecing that together with the dirt in the tub, the group deduced that both Atala and Lana had probably stayed here together and the curtain was sealed to protect the young vampire from the intrusion of daylight. It offered no protection against the intrusion of a sword blade as Tarsus began to frantically hack it to pieces. As he was about to shatter the window, the vial flashed, and the glow faded. Everything seemed to be alright for a moment before the party realized what the vial had done. Atala leapt to her feet from the bed she had been laid upon, ready to fight. It took her a moment to get her bearings, and she was greatly confused by what she was seeing. As best anyone could tell, she seemed to be free of the grip of domination she had been under during their earlier fight. Slowly, the party brought her up to speed on recent events. They agreed it was best to part ways again. Atala gave the party a small share of the mystery gold as an apology for unwillingly breaking her promise not to hunt them, and sent them on their way. As the party left the inn, a coach pulled up carrying a man that had to be Thorne himself. The party decided it might be best to set Thorne off on a wild goose chase for a bit and slow down whatever Atala might be planning. To that end, Tarsus donned a magical disguise with Zayn‘s help to look like Atala, and launched an arrow at the man. It missed, but only just. Instantly, Thorne sent rays of scorching white heat from his hands across the road in Tarsus’ general direction, but his aim was sloppy. Tarsus and the rest of the party escaped the fat man and his guards easily.

The group made their way to Port Miller College to check up on the research into the serum causing people to be “”/wikis/sand-shamblers" class=“wiki-page-link”> shamblerized" and to inquire about progress in the search for Rinn. Arriving at the College, the party was quickly shuffled to the rector’s office. He was waiting to speak with them as soon as they returned. After exchanging a few words with the rector’s assistant, the group was brought into the meeting currently in progress between Rector Ignus and Senior Librarian Reilly. She repeated some bad news she had just given the rector, confirming that the toxin they had brought back to her contained strong indicators directly linking it with the research of a guild member named Robert Pinan. Robert had disappeared while in the field in Riyaqa some time ago, and had been presumed dead. His research had been focused on creating a defoliant that would not persist in damaging flora after the initial effect. Somehow, it seemed his research had been put into the hands of the Children of Ahriman and used to develop the weapon now being unleashed across the continent.

Zayn was able to fill in some details, confirming that a man matching Pinan’s description was working for Sadeesh for a time, and was developing the agent used in the attacks. She reported that they had a falling out over how the compound was being used, and Pinan had fled some months ago. At least partially, Pinan seemed to bear some responsibility for what was happening, even if he had a crisis of conscience in the end. The search for Rinn seemed to be going nowhere. Scouts had been dispatched along nearby roads, but had so far turned up nothing. With the identity of the imposter Rinn still unknown, finding her might be nearly impossible. The party decided their best option for the moment might be to get some distance from the city and Thorne’s manhunt ,and then re-evaluate their options. Sindar asked the rector for permission to re-open investigation into the SR-7 site where his parents disappeared. In response, Rector Ignus informed him that such a request must come from a Librarian or above, with approval of their department head. He then handed Sindar a letter of promotion, setting his new rank within the guild as Librarian, and placing him under assignment with the special projects department headed up by Sr. Librarian Reilly. Of course, librarians are responsible for tutoring others within the guild, and so Sindar was immediately introduced to Willie, who was to be his shadow in the coming weeks to learn fieldcraft from a member of the well-known Pelt family. With a smile on his face, the rector informed Miss Reilly that he would like her department to look into a re-evaluation of the dangers present at SR-7, and shuffled everyone out of his office.

Sindar now had the assignment he had been hoping for, an apprentice he had not been looking for, and a decent chunk of guild expedition funding to boot. The party got their things together to go in search of some camels and hit the open desert. On the way out of the building, they were stopped by a desk clerk in a panic about an irate woman looking for them at the front counter. Cringing, they followed the boy back to find Atala. She was a bit confrontational about her missing memories, but finally got to the point of her arrival: She thinks she may have been the one that kidnapped Rinn, and that the gold they found in her room was marked for the local thieves’ guild. She may have given Rinn to them for safe keeping. Now the only problem was how to find the thieves’ guild when all memory of hiring them has been wiped away.

On a hunch, Zayn suggested that War might know someone in the guild, or know where to find them. The party visited his local haunt, the Tarred Crow, and asked for his help. After catching up with them briefly, he asked the group to wait a while for his contacts to fish up what they could. Several hours later, they caught their break. War’s people were not certain where to find the guild, but they did find information indicating that the local guards were being paid well to keep patrols away from a small warehouse near the west edge of docktown. The kind of money changing hands usually meant Thorne or the thieves’ guild was involved, so it was a good place to start looking for them. A short time later, the group was across the street from the warehouse. As Atala was supposed to meet the thieves’ guild and give them their payment anyway, it made sense that she should approach alone and try to just complete the transaction. But as she moved to knock on the heavy door, she was held fast by magic. Even the street lamp nearest her stopped flickering as time slowed to a stop in the vicinity of the door. A dark-robed, thin figure walked off the roof of the warehouse into empty air- Ducet had found them.

The Imperial Consul to Riyaqa seemed to be at least a little amused at the circumstances, if not entirely happy that his prized thrall had been destroyed in an encounter with the party the day before. He told them that they had caused quite a mess back at the Grand Terrace with their “little armor stunt”, but had mostly fulfilled his hopes of critically disabling the operatives’ guild for a time. What his plans were that depended on such a goal, he did not say. But he did wax on for a bit about how the group were pawns in a much bigger game being played- valuable pawns, but pawns. Then he dropped the bombshell- he would allow the party to continue on their way and chase their goals unhindered any further by him after one last loose end was all tied up. Atala was a threat that needed to be dealt with. In his typical fashion, Ducet offered the group a choice. They could kill Atala for him, now, while she was helpless to resist; or he could kill her himself and make her his new plaything in undeath. He genuinely seemed excited to see what she might be capable of as a vampire.

While the rest of the party turned over the ramifications in their minds, Teegan quickly arrived at the conclusion the others simply did not want to face. He drew his blade and advanced quickly on Atala. Finn immediately rushed to stop him. Regardless of the consequences, whether it cost him his companions or even his life, a priest of Rustum could not stand by and watch a helpless person be butchered. Teegan gritted his teeth and told Finn to stand aside. Facing even a formidable cleric was a better bet than facing the thing that stood watching this display as if it were a stage play for his own amusement. Finn took a deep breath and planted his feet, preparing to do what he had to do. One by one, the rest of the party sided with Finn, placing themselves in front of Atala. Teegan sighed to himself- better to stand and die with his comrades than die fighting them. He, too, turned to face Ducet.

The old vampire advanced on them, rage flashing in his eyes. As he drew near, he lunged to move past Finn and grab Atala. Searing heat penetrated Finn to his core as light bloomed from the holy symbol on his chest. The blazing light burned Ducet’s skin badly, and he recoiled. As he worked the magic required to open a teleport portal with one hand, he grabbed for Atala with the other. The rest of the party grabbed at her arms, anchoring her. A moment later, Ducet was gone, the street was quiet, and Atala was recovering from the effects of Ducet’s spell. Finn’s holy symbol was slowly cooling down from whatever had happened, and he could see now that it has transformed. Though still shaped as it was before, it now seemed to be intricately carved from a translucent, gently glowing stone. It almost looked like slightly cloudy glass, with wisps of blue and green twisting slowly through the stone.

After they had a few moments to recover and discuss what had just happened, the party moved forward with the original plan. Atala knocked on the door of the warehouse. A pair of regular-looking ruffians answered the door, claiming no knowledge of the person they were looking for. The party made a few colorful threats, and the men moved to close the door. Taking this as a sign of failed negotiations, Teegan and Tarsus smashed the door open and sent one of the men flying. The other dove for a concealed button on the wall, which sent a wave of force through the warehouse in some sort of apparently magical alarm system. A moment later, the first floor of the small warehouse began flooding with mooks from upstairs. The party and Atala went to work. As fast as they could knock out goons, more came pouring down the stairs at both ends of the building. Zayn did her best to continuously disrupt the tactics of the rushing horde. Willie mostly stuck to the wall, trying to stay out of the way before finally getting in on the action and lobbing a firebomb or two. After a minute or so, the main entrance to the warehouse was darkened by a pair of women wearing light armor and wielding rapiers. They spread out and began circling Teegan, nearest the door. A sudden sharp, stabbing pain announced a third attacker that seemed to be invisible. The party pulled in from the melee and put their backs to each other to try and combat the new threat, focusing in the short term on clearing out the mooks to free up space to move around in the crowded entryway. Ineffective vials on nothing rained into the melee from Sindar for several seconds before one finally found its mark. The tide turned sharply the moment the now-exposed guild master lost his invisibility to Sindar’s dispelling bomb.

Moments later, the guild master fell to the combined might of the party as Atala mopped up the last of his employees that had any fight left in them. The remaining guild members surrendered, and the party searched the premises for Rinn. They found her locked in a cramped cell upstairs with a few others, freeing everyone who would leave. One of the surviving guild members (presumably now in charge) mentioned that the group should get some distance, as Thorne wasn’t going to be too happy about the death of his boy. She pointed to the body of the guild master on the floor as she spoke. Going through the guild master’s pockets as they departed, Tarsus found a note on him that looked like a intelligence on a particular farmhouse outside of town. As realization struck, the party made their best speed for the farmhouse in the note. It was the place they had left the Seachild and her crew. Arriving, they found they were far too late. The trimaran was badly damaged and the crew were all murdered.

Since the normally-ensuing revenge killing had already been carried out, the party was at a momentary loss for how to respond to this development, aside from tending to the bodies of the crew. They might still make use of Seachild to quickly get away from Port Miller before Thorne learned their identities if it could be repaired, since Sindar had picked up some sailing lessons on the ship on their trip to the city. To everyone’s surprise, the heretofore useless Willie piped up, “I used to work in the dock yards fixing up ships. I can fix that in a few days.”

Finn replied, “If you show me what goes where, we can fix it together in a few hours.” Power began to hum to life in his hands as he called mending magic to the surface. Preparing to return to Port Miller College, Rinn had shown the party a powerful artifact she found in the care of the guild master, which she had stolen in the confusion of their release. It contained a truly unique deck of cards, from which Teegan drew and examined a card before he had even heard the full extent of her warnings about the power of the deck. He seemed to suffer no ill effects, however, and Rinn set off soon after. With Rinn safely back at the College, and Atala parting company to begin a quest for vengeance against Ducet, the story closed as the party set to work preparing to return to the Mah Hari Sea.

The Vote

The vote has been tabled in the Asad while missing delegates are searched for and rescued. An automatic procedural clock of 60 days started when they went missing, with 49 days now remaining before the delegates are declared dead and replaced.

Quote of the Day

“Why yes Rinn, I would love to see inside your box” – Teegan.

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Session 17
Who is an organization? An organization has no name.

Our story opened with the party trying to get their bearings after an explosion had flung them all over the upper story of the Ellery, a posh inn and imbibery in the center of Port Miller. The bombs left in their rooms were starkly reminiscent of the ones that Imperial Navy Intelligence agent Stern Viper had used in Hansen, but detailed analysis those implications would have to wait. The party had been seriously injured, but Finn reacted instantly and reached out in all directions with a wave of healing energy, restoring life to a number of the party and several civilians caught in the blast. Realizing at once that a number of others were hurt and the building was on fire in a few places, the rest of the party did what they could to take some load off of their cleric, providing first aid and carrying people out of the structure while Finn conjured up torrents of water to extinguish the blaze.

Seeing an opportunity to make sure their names stayed out of this debacle (and to question the girl at the front desk who had ordered their rooms “prepared”) Teegan focused instead on assaulting the young girl behind the counter and making doubly sure that she could not complete her only job during such a crisis- to make sure the front desk ledgers survived intact so the inn could collect its dues. Shoving the books she was collecting into the flames, Teegan collared her to the ground and cuffed her in short order. With city guards starting to show up, the party created a brief diversion to allow Teegan room to escape with their hostage, and then fled the scene themselves. A few minutes later in a nearby alley, the group learned that the girl behind the counter likely had nothing to do with bombs in their rooms, and the now-destroyed Ellery was the property of the local crimelord, Silas Thorne. Releasing the girl, the party headed for the cover of the local dive to plan their next move and try to figure out who tried to kill them from their top ten list of “people who might try to kill us.”

With no further activity that night, the group headed out for Sindar’s appointment at Port Miller College early the next morning. On arrival, they were escorted as a group into a conspicuously huge assembly hall in the west wing. A small panel of officials soon joined them, along with a number of personnel from the college. While Rector Ignus was formally in charge of the proceedings, the defacto head of the review panel was Kaito Sanders, who laid into Sindar almost immediately. Calling into question Sindar’s fitness to continue as a field agent of the guild, Kaito pulled out Sindar’s personnel file and began publicly detailing a string of incidents that would make anyone but Sindar blush with shame. Instead, he argued vociferously in his own defense. Sensing that Sindar was being railroaded to a poor conclusion to the proceedings, Tarsus decided to push some buttons and try to end things early. Rising to his feet, he collared Sindar while stating that they were leaving, and started walking out of the room. A grin spread across Kaito’s face as he raised his hand in signal and all four sets of doors to the room swung open to reveal two columns each of Imperial Regiment soldiers in full war field armor. As they marched into the room, the party acted on instinct to resist them, but quickly found themselves overwhelmed. For their part, the soldiers seemed professionally stoic after the very brief melee, bearing no obvious grudge on behalf of their bloodied members, but keeping the party contained as Kaito expressed his glee. Rector Ignus was very obviously upset by the intrusion of troops into the hall, surprised at this tun of events.

Elsewhere, Teegan had gained entrance to the second floor of the neighboring building, using a crudely drawn map of the premises furnished by Sindar’s memory of less chaotic days (is that a thing?) at the college. Slipping the notice of the single guard patrolling the upper floor, Teegan made his way through the hall until he came to an office door marked with the name of Kaito Sanders. Knowing the Sanders would likely be out to get him, and would likely get the expulsion of Sindar that he sought, Sindar had enlisted Teegan in pre-preemptive revenge. He had given Teegan a map to Kaito’s office, and a supply of sovereign glue to get in trouble with. Picking the lock was trivial, and Teegan set to work. Before ruining the rest of Kaito’s day by gluing down everything that might otherwise move, he fished through the desk and bookcases for anything interesting. He found some interesting looking documents, including one that had been recently torn into small pieces and thrown under the desk. He quickly pieced the page together, and realized why Kaito was trying so hard to pin Sindar to the wall.

As things were reaching super-serious levels in the west assembly hall, a bird flew through the window, dropping a note in Sindar’s lap before vanishing back outside. The note seemed to explain some grave and timely news to Sindar, and Teegan worked his way into the hall moments later as Kaito was explaining that the party were considered enemies of the state for other crimes yet to be public, and should be arrested and taken away. The rector intervened, insisting the party would be held on the premises until everything was sorted out in this confusing situation. Teegan was rebuffed when he tried to bluff his was past the troops surrounding his compatriots, and settled for passing the reassembled letter he’d found to Sindar via one of the soldiers. The letter made clear that Kaito was in league with someone named “Bishop”, who had ordered him to contrive whatever he needed to in order to hold the party in place until his other agents could arrive. A very high bounty seemed to be on their heads from an unknown source. After recovering from his stunned shock at the just-in-time arrival of a way out of this quagmire, Sindar passed the letter to the rector, and loudly proclaimed Kaito a traitor for all to hear. After his protests fell on angry, deaf ears, Kaito sucker punched Rector Ignus and made a run for it. The steel-clad fist of the regiment captain that stopped his escape barely recoiled as he barreled into it face first, knocking himself cold.

As short time later, the party was escorted to the rector’s quarters for a private meeting. The soldiers guarding them waited outside as they met, and Rector Ignus explained that he was familiar with the author of that letter, and wanted to know more about how the party would be involved with such a man. He knew they must be working for the Council or the Navy in some regard to be mixed up with Bishop and his organization in Riyaqa. Tired of trying to remember who knows what and who might be working for who, the party relented and spilled most of what they knew about what was going on. In response, Ignus explained that they were wrapped up with a group that operates secretly behind the scenes of Empire politics. They originally had good intentions, working to keep back channels open between various entities within the Empire in order to make sure critical negotiations never froze up, and really bad people never got a chance to exert too much influence. Over time, they became corrupted. The group has never taken a name, and maybe only one person knows more than a few names of members. Recruiting is done personally, and promotions are rare. Individual members take on the names of chess pieces and colors. The man who signed the latter to Kaito is formally known as the Black Bishop, not just Bishop, though he would not reveal that detail needlessly to a lackey like Kaito. At one time, Ignus himself had been the Black Bishop, though he hung that title up years ago as the organization moved in a direction he did not like. The man who now served in that role was either Arturo Ducet himself, or a very close lieutenant acting on his behalf.

A bit later the rector left the party alone to deal with the fallout concerning Kaito, advising them to stay in his quarters a while and keep out of sight while things calmed down. Autumn Reilly, the Director of Research at the college, came to see them, then. She had earlier confirmed elements of the party’s story concerning the missing librarian, Rinn Kulanov, and their belief that an imposter had taken up residence at the college. Now she came seeking more information, and to discuss what the party knew of the plague and its implications. As this conversation concluded, she helped clear the way of troops for the party to go about their business. With this, they decided to slip away and head to the Grand Market to finally do what they came to this gods-forsaken tornado of trouble for in the first place.

Their trip to the market was, surprisingly, free from trouble. The market was an opulent affair, with traders hawking luxurious wares from the far corners of the Empire and Riyaqa. Many were focused on the rich textiles that servants would use to tailor fine clothes for their masters in the Merchant District, but a few dealt in more serious goods. At length, Tarsus was able to locate the vendor he had been directed to find by the armorsmith in Aridesa and strike a deal with her to fashion what he required. Other members of the party milled about and made purchases of gear and items they had been looking for. Finn and Teegan both came up empty on important items they had been hoping to locate, but everyone found what they were seeking, for the most part. While deciding what their next move should be, the party agreed it was best to remain in town until the Seachild was ready to depart, and then figure things out from there. They would at least remain one more night, and began making their way back from the market. The rector had offered quarters at the college for the night, if they needed them.

While moving through the busy streets, Sindar was quite suddenly accosted by skilled pickpocket, who cut the strap that held both of his waterproof bags and made away through the crowd before anyone could grab him. Sindar immediately gave chase, and the rest of the party followed suit. The harrowing pursuit wound through the streets, down back alleys, and past a very confusing fruit cart before Teegan was able to cut across a street in front of the pickpocket and close the gap to bring him down in a loading yard behind a merchant building. The lad proved spry, if not very powerful, but revealed that he had accomplices nearby. Teegan had not gotten the upper hand on him, after all. It had been a trap! He found himself covered by two archers as another a pair of thugs armed with nasty-looking bludgeons closed in. Very quickly, the rest of the party arrived to even the odds, and the fight was on.

As the party closed ranks and got to work, the thugs realized they were in far over their heads, and called for backup. “Boss! We need some help out here!” the call went out. Vaulting off the roof and landing in the midst of the fray, the former leader of the Jade Ravens laid into Tarsus and Teegan with ferocity. Accompanying her, a large black wolf circled the field, looking for weak spots to attack. In the early moments of the fight, the party focused on thinning out the mooks a bit to open up some room on the battlefield. Teegan demonstrated his newfound love of defenestration in disposing of one of the archers before joining the battle below, which coaxed the second archer into giving up his elevated perch for terra firma underfoot. Seeing the opening it had been waiting for to get to its assigned target, the wolf charged into combat, transforming into a harder-to-hit swarm of bats as it closed the gap. And that was when the former Onyx Mongrels realized they were in real trouble. This wasn’t just Atala and a gang of street rats. That bitch had brought a vampire with her.

Reaching melee range with Finn, the swarm of bats dropped its transformation and revealed the form of Lana, the vampire thrall that Magister Ducet (an ancient vampire himself) had used as a communication medium aboard the Talia’s Vengeance in the weeks before. Recalling all he could about vampires as quickly as he could, Finn cast daylight on his holy symbol and held it before the charging vampire. The ploy worked, sending her fleeing to the far side of the yard. But he had lost precious time, and Atala’s fists weren’t slowing down on his comrades. The melee rolled across the yard for several seconds, seeming to make progress in no one’s favor as the remaining thugs closed in to complicate matters. In a desperate ploy, Zayn sprayed a series of glitterdust spells into the melee to reduce the effectiveness of the thugs, and on balance, it seemed to work. Though she could not avoid hitting her own teammates a time or two, the thugs were rendered largely ineffective, save for the time it took to put them down.

Meanwhile, Sindar saw the opprtunity he was waiting for, and hurled a tanglefoot bag at Atala with superhuman accuracy, enhanced by his extracts. The bag stuck home, slowing the monk long enough for the party’s members to bracket her in and do some real damage. Momentarily blinded by a glitterdust spell, she had trouble fighting back for a second or two, but was still remarkably adept at defending herself even with attackers on all sides. Finn and Lana entered into a brief spell duel, with Finn trying to dispel the magical darkness protecting Lana from the afternoon sun, and Lana trying to dispel the daylight spell that countered it if she got to close to him. Finally, she landed the right dispel first as Finn chewed through her other magical protections, and once again charged in for the attack. Not ready to burn another spell he might need to preserve his allies, Finn opted for thrusting his symbol of Rustum into the air between them. While it did not send her fleeing, it did seem to momentarily keep her at bay. Summoning her powers of vampiric persuasion, Lana changed tactics. Maybe she could not close in for the kill on this troublesome cleric, but someone else could. Reaching out, she took a firm grip on Teegan’s mind, and ordered him to kill the cleric. Teegan abandoned his attack on Atala, and advanced on Finn.

Recovering her sight, Atala began working on her own to thin out the field a bit. With Reece loitering nearby as a distraction from other attacks, she turned on him. Three rapid strikes fell too quickly for the snake to dodge, and he was dead. She turned her attention to Tarsus, now without nearby allies, and beat him badly enough to force him to retreat. In the same time frame, Finn prepared to receive Teegan’s attack with one of his own, touching his teammate with magic in his fingers and imbuing him with protection from evil, which temporarily suppressed the vampire’s domination. Unamused, Lana immediately seized the mind of Sindar, forcing him to attack Tarsus and giving Atala more room to maneuver. Atala used her temporary freedom to close on Zayn, who was in retreat from an attempted gang-up by the remaining mooks. They given her a savage beating, and a brief encounter with Atala put her nearly off her feet for good.

Interrupting Atala’s plans, Teegan found himself at death’s door within a heartbeat, narrowly pulled back from the brink by a cleric still dealing with a pesky vampire problem as she circled and looked for an opening. Finn knew that Sindar may still have dispelling bombs available for the day, and those bombs were the key to lowering Lana’s defenses against the natural light. He focused his efforts on freeing Sindar from the domination effect, and discharged his last use of his metamagic rod for the day to reach across the gap and imbue Sindar with protection from evil. Playing her last card, Lana leapt onto Tarsus in an attempt to sink her fangs deep and draw out his life force- to burn his essence to make good her escape when the sunlight eventually broke through. But try as she might, he was just too tough. As Sindar’s bombs rained in, her penumbra finally broke. In a final screeching rage, Lana was incinerated as she ran for cover.

Seeing the battle turn badly against them, the remaining thugs nonetheless stuck it out. Atala must have promised them a small fortune to get street criminals so dedicated to killing such dangerous quarry as these adventurers. A final shot of glitterdust closed the book on their usefulness, and the last few went down, leaving Atala alone on the field. Struggling to recover his own sight, Teegan found himself toe to toe with the monk. Both were bleeding badly from numerous wounds, and both were near death. As they leapt at each other, Teegan managed to land the decisive blow against all odds. An unconscious Atala crumpled into him. Finn immediately moved to save her life, if not wake her up right away. The session closed as the rest of the party secured the scene and began seeing to their prodigious injuries.

The Vote

The vote has been tabled in the Asad while missing delegates are searched for and rescued. An automatic procedural clock of 60 days started when they went missing, with 50 days now remaining before the delegates are declared dead and replaced.

Quote of the Day

“Let’s get her naked…” -Teegan, standing over an unconscious Atala.

Advancement & Rewards

The party advanced to level 7!
Sindar’s player earned 2 inspiration points for awesome prop creation.
Teegan’s player and Finn’s player each earned 1 inspiration point for general badassery during the final encounter.

Loot list

This won’t be in every write up. I’ll include it here since we had no time at the end of our marathon session to go over it, and I don’t want to spend time on it at the beginning of the next one. Just tell me then who is taking what.

Atala
Quickchange cloak
Boots of striding and springing
Amulet of bullet protection +1
Headband of inspired wisdom +2
Potion of spiderclimb (x2)
Potion of cure moderate wounds (x2)
5gp 87sp

Lana
Ring of spell knowledge II
18pp 31gp 4sp
(All other personal effects destroyed during her combustion event)

Thugs
Chain shirt (x5)
Heavy mace (x3)
Shortbow (x3)
Longsword (x2)
Longspear
69gp 8sp

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Session 16
Our Port Miller Shopping Trip

Our story opened as the party disembarked the Seachild and it was stowed in a barn a few miles away from Port Miller, on the very outskirts of the irrigated land the settlers maintain for crops to supply the city. The crew set about prepping the trimaran for the return trip. The walk to the city gates was uneventful, and the party elected to split up a bit to enter the gates, in case anyone was looking for them. Finn entered with Julian Carmeno’s group, receiving a warm welcome to the city and observing a good deal of deference to the paladin and his troop from the city guard. The remainder of the party entered together, with Tarsus magically disguised as a Riyaqan to deflect attention from his arsenal. Although they entered the city without any real trouble, the gate guards had some choice words for the Riyaqan members of the group, making it clear they should be on a short leash.

The party decided to split up for a few hours to get their individual business taken care of, and made plans to meet up later. Teegan had a fairly uneventful shopping trip, much to his surprise. Finn spent several hours handing out food and water to the poor and preaching the gospel of the desert, in direct competition with another cleric just down the street from him. Sindar had a very unpleasant, but not altogether unexpected, welcome at Port Miller College, and talked himself into a review board from the Director of Field Research, his “technical” boss. While at the college, he ran into Rinn Kulanov, who had arrived several days earlier. The math didn’t make sense in his head, and neither did Rinn’s suddenly pleasant demeanor. Not knowing what else to do for the time being, Sindar agreed to return the next morning, and departed before someone slapped handcuffs on him. Tarsus spent a while asking after the man he was looking for, but making no progress. Finally, he was approached by a young man who whispered a message to him: “You are looking for the Tarred Crow. Arrive after 8pm. Do not go alone.” With that, he gave up his search for the moment and headed back to meet his friends.

When everyone found each other near the central market, they realized that Emi was still out in town somewhere, having gone looking for the gunsmith. They decided it best to go looking for her. Using the jailer’s ring, Finn was able to determine that Emi was alive, but unconscious from some kind of poison, and diseased. In short order, they found the ring behind a fish vendor in the seaside market, on the finger of a passed-out-drunk dock worker. A note pinned to his shirt detailed a bounty to retrieve Emi and return her to the company owned by Anton’s family. She was apparently wanted for questioning in relation to the disappearance of their founder’s son. Asking around a bit, the party found that a number of burly gentlemen had nabbed her and put her on a waiting sloop that left immediately. They apparently knew she had friends that would come looking for her quickly, and had already lost three of their number just trying to take Emi while she was alone. Learning the name of the ship and it’s captain, Finn went in search of a scroll of sending. He was able to find what he sought, and sent a message to Arndt and the Talia’s Vengeance to please set out after the Gray Blade and secure Emi before the reach Empire waters. With no other practical ways to get onto the Gray Blade’s trail, the group turned its attention back to matters in Port Miller, confident that Arndt was their best hope.

After a few more hours passed, the remaining party members accompanied Tarsus to the Tarred Crow to meet whatever challenge awaited in order to impress the man named War. Arriving at the tavern, the party took some seats near the front door and waited a while. Soon enough, the same young man Tarsus had met earlier happened through the front door, subtly indicating that Tarsus should follow him to the back rooms. When he tried to follow, Tarsus was intercepted by an older man in a waistcoat before he could get to the tables full of middle-aged Riyaqan men at the very back. After conferring through signals with the men at the back table, the man escorted Tarsus and the party out of the bar. A pretty Riyaqan girl followed them out quietly. The man asked a number of questions about why Tarsus was trying to find his master, War, and what he hoped to accomplish with what he might learn. Satisfied that the answers Tarsus gave were good enough to proceed with the actual test, the man introduced the young woman that followed them, explaining that she would accompany them on a small exercise to test their mettle.

Since Tarsus had indicated that he sought to right wrongs, regardless of the perpetrator, the test involved a small family in the dock town that was being victimized by some city guards that were continuously shaking them down for money. The father of the family had been taken to jail just that morning for refusing (or just being unable) to pay the money they demanded. The man encouraged the party to go and visit the family and find out for themselves if this was a just cause, and determine what should be done. Visiting the family, a brief confrontation with the confused mother was followed by her story of being harassed continuously by two specific guards- one of them named “Mitchell”. While Finn made repairs to their damaged front door, Tarsus asked for details on where her husband was being kept, and what happened next. The woman described the unsavory acts she would normally be expected to commit in order to secure her husband’s release when they had no money to pay, and the party unanimously decided that they had to intervene. There was some trouble coming to a decision of exactly what to do. Charging into a city jail to spring a “criminal” didn’t seem to anyone like the best way to kick off four days in the largest imperial city on the continent, but just turning their heads and walking away wasn’t a good option, either. They opted for just trying to pay off the crooked guards to secure the release, and then smuggling the family out of the city and getting them on the trimaran back to Aridesa.

Approaching the keep, their plan ran into immediate trouble as they spotted a skinny kid in black clothes, a mask, and a cape trying in vain to hide against the very light gray stone wall bathed in moonlight. Upon gently inquiring as to exactly what the holy fuck he was thinking, the lad explained he was also there to break out the unjustly jailed man, and tried and failed to land a grappling hook on the upper edge of the wall. The party unceremoniously told him to get lost before he got himself hurt… but to leave the grappling hook, because that might actually be useful. The boy got an idea about how he could help them out, and rushed off into the night. Everyone briefly considered whether they could quietly hide the boy’s body rather than deal with whatever horrible consequence he was about to bring their way, and then blamed having such thoughts on hanging out with Teegan too long.

After a first attempt to reason with the guards inside failed, the party sent Finn inside with their observer, Zayn. While they were inside, Teegan made use of the grappling hook and shuffled onto the second story, keeping pace with a single roving guard outside. Sindar and Tarsus watched in terror as the boy reappeared with two friends, putting a ladder against the city wall about 40 paces away from them. The trio climbed up and ran along the wall to the next tower. Moments later, the tower alarm bells began to ring out. Instantly, the keep disgorged its compliment of soldiers, with 15-20 of them making their way out of the building and up the hill to the tower calling for help. The city gate nearest them was closing in response, timing the closure of the doors with the arrival of the relief from the outer jail in dock town in a well-practiced maneuver. And suddenly, the group was left alone with maybe 3 or 4 guards in the jail, physically cut off from the support of their fellows in arms. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Zayn and Finn, inside, were in the midst of trying to convince the two guards in the hallway with them that they should be allowed to buy the man they had locked up after the guards spilled that the man would executed at sunrise for assaulting one of them. As that conversation lost momentum, the alarm bells had triggered a flood of bodies rushing past them. Realizing the greed of these two guards might stonewall them long enough for the distraction to fail, the party capitalized on the opportunity and attacked. Teegan and Reece rushed the guard atop the first story and sent him plummeting to the ground, quickly following him down to finish the job.

Inside, Finn and Zayn squared off against the two guards with them. The combined effects of their blinding, stunning, and other head games made the two men trivial targets for Sindar and Tarsus. In seconds, two guards were unconscious and another was bleeding out from an overzealous serpentine paratrooper attack. After Finn wrapped up that detail (dead guards tend to make investigations more vigorous), the party located the jailed man and freed him. As they were making plans with how to deal with their captives, the “all-clear” horn sounded from the hilltop, and the gates began to reopen. Not knowing how long they might have before others began to return, the party satisfied themselves with a quick ransacking of the officers’ rooms and bailed out. After they were all safely away, they saw the man back to his family and gave them instructions on where to find the Seachild. The family began packing up their meager belongings immediately.

A short while later, they were back in the Tarred Crow, now with fewer other customers because of the late hour. The older man they had met before sat with them, inquiring as to how things went. Zayn gave her report, and the party described the hows and whys of the evening. In the end, the man agreed to train Tarsus, revealing in a somewhat roundabout way that he was War. The men at the table earlier were decoys and business partners. War told Zayn she might make herself available to stay with Tarsus and his comrades while they were in town, and see how she could assist them. Knowing the underlying goal was making sure they stayed out of the wrong kind of attention-grabbing trouble, Zayn agreed. With the getaway apparently clean and the goal accomplished, the party turned to the matter of Rinn’s mysterious speed in making her way to Port Miller, and what that might mean for Sindar’s review board with the IGG in the morning. Suspecting foul play, they decided to scry on Rinn to see if they might learn what she is up to, or if the woman Sindar met was even the real Rinn. Finn was shocked when the spell failed entirely, leaving him with a limited number of plausible explanations for that outcome.

The next best thing they could come up with was to arrange to expose whatever no-goo-ness Rinn was up to in front of the academic review and the Senior Librarians in the morning, or to try and spring a trap this evening, if Rinn was, indeed, up to no good. They went to check in to the inn that Sindar had told her they would be using- the Ellery. A somewhat upscale midtown establishment, the Ellery was finely appointed and heavily staffed. After check in, the party asked for some changes to bed layouts to accommodate their desired room arrangements. The staff agreed, saying it should take only a few minutes. Some 15 minutes later, their rooms were ready and the party headed upstairs. Zayn elected to stay behind to see if anything untoward happened after they left the common area. Upstairs, Teegan turned the key in the lock to his room and opened the door. The door ever-so-lightly bumped into something heavy just inside the room, and he just glimpsed the large glass tubes of the alchemical bomb as they hissed and detonated. With others in the hallway right behind him, there was nowhere to dive for cover, and Teegan took the brunt of the blast. The world was silent for several seconds as the initial shock subsided. The stabbing pain in their ears, the debris scattered everywhere, and the somewhat hazy view of the twinkling stars above brought everyone back to reality quickly. Someone had just tried to kill them by setting off a bomb in a crowded inn.

Our story closed as Finn scrambled over debris trying to get to the twitching bodies of people that had been in the room next door.

The Vote

The vote has been tabled in the Asad while missing delegates are searched for and rescued. An automatic procedural clock of 60 days started when they went missing, with 51 days now remaining before the delegates are declared dead and replaced.

Quote of the Day

“If you touch me, you’ll never find out anything!” -fish shop owner, and the only witness to Emi’s abduction

“I can talk to dead bodies.” -Finn

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