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 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.