The Dim Wastes

Session 15

Our story opened with our band of decidedly former Council Operatives standing in the street moments after Atala made her escape. Briefly, Tarsus was able to make contact with her through the cloak he had been given. She told him he had maybe a week to live, as Sparrow herself handled operatives that went off the reservation, and there was no coming back from that. After filling him in on a little more of what the armor made them vulnerable to, Atala signed off by warning Tarsus to seek more information from Oxyr about his family ties, hinting that they had put themselves in the middle of a family feud, not a crusade for justice.

Carmeno as his people arrived moments later, giving Tarsus only a moment to fill the rest of the part in on what she had said. The entire group was escorted back to the administrative hall through an increasingly unruly crowd by several town guards that worked for General Ghomesh. After a while, Oxyr and the general resurfaced, having gone to a secured hiding spot after the assassination attempt. After some discussion, everyone arrived at the conclusion that not much had changed from their original intentions, and so the original plan stood. The only significant change was a dire need to shed all of their council-issued equipment, now rather than later.

The residents of the settlement stepped in to help where they could, eager both to help the people that had saved their leader, and to move them along so the less rational elements of the settlement did not start trouble without thinking it through. An old armorer named Hershel (a rare Riyaqan slave that kept his imperial name after being freed and returning home) offered to rally his compatriots to fit existing stock armor quickly for the party, in exchange for the suits they had to leave behind. The party explained to Hershel that the armor was potentially dangerous to anyone near it, but he only seemed to become more excited as they described what might be done to anyone wearing it. Hershel, it seemed, had a plan. Nevertheless, the exchange was completed, and by mid morning the next day, a staff of armorers had fitted out the party in nice new gear, though it was not magical in nature. Hershel gave them the name of a friend in Port Miller who might give them a discount on enchantments. Preparations complete, the party and Carmeno’s group boarded the desert trimaran “Seachild” and headed north.

With some winding around to avoid known problem spots, Seachild needed about four days to reach Port Miller. Periodic stops were required to change out depleted alchemical cells for new ones, as Seachild depended on hot gas discharges to help it cut a path through the rough sand without destroying the hull. On such a stop a few days in to the journey, the party heard one of the crew scream out in pain. Rushing to see what happened, they found two of crew backed against the hull of the trimaran by a large, heavily armored scorpion. Acting quickly, the party leapt to their aid. Teegan and reptile-Reece took the brunt of attack from the scorpion, learning that the sting wasn’t that bad, but the poison that came with it was moderately terrible. Without too much trouble, the scorpion was dispatched. But before the injured crewman could be healed and the process of changing cells finished, more scorpions joined the attack.

Now with a real threat on their hands, the Mongrels rallied as blades and bullets rained on the scorpions. The beasts responded in kind with flurries of relatively minor attacks, but the pain of that poison withering the damage that Teegan could inflict. A bit of maneuvering allowed the group to get the scorpions surrounded, and the battle ended as the last beast was slain. Up on deck, the captain spotted more scorpions emerging from the nearby rocks and winding their way across the sand toward the fresh corpses of their fallen. Finn quickly healed the injured crewman as Sindar and Emi rushed to help the crew finish the cell change-out. With mere moments to spare, the last of the crew and company climbed aboard and the Seachild began sliding forward as the kite sail was deployed, crushing more than a few of the incoming dog-sized scorpions.

The trimaran sped forward without incident through the night and into the next day. With the crew going about normal work and the two groups of adventurers aboard discussing plans in Port Miller, everyone on deck was suddenly thrown forward as the vessel came to a halt, rising up a bit before slamming down into the sand. Some people on board managed to brace themselves in time to avoid injury, while others were less fortunate. Looking to the front of the ship, they saw several large tendrils of sand wrapping themselves into the rigging at the bow as a larger one secured its grip on the hull. A moment later, a flat piece of rock the size of a table whizzed through the lines that still held tension on the large kite that served as a sail, snapping three of the four and allowing the massive canvas to flutter to the ground. In the distance, their assailant revealed himself. This was the first time they’d seen one of these things up close, and this was a moment they had been dreading. Travel in the desert enough, and eventually you will have to deal with a dune giant. It seemed this one had laid a trap for them.

As the crew and most of Carmeno’s people recovered from the surprise attack, the Mongrels found themselves facing a decision. If they stayed with the ship, there might be more people to help face the giant, but the ship would likely be damaged heavily or destroyed, stranding them in the middle of nowhere. If they ran out to meet the giant, the ship might well survive, but they might not. Deciding it was better to die for the ship than on the ship, the group leapt the rail and ran headlong into trouble. Moving quickly, Teegan and Reece were the first to close with the dune giant. As the party crossed the threshold into the final 100 ft before melee, the giant unleashed an earthquake spell, knocking several of the group off their feet and nearly swallowing a couple of them in huge cracks that opened up in the desert floor. With that, the giant rushed for Teegan, out ahead of the party and making his way around a massive boulder, and brained him with a club the size of a ship mast. Teegan kept his feet under the terrifying force of that blow, but was under no misconceptions about his ability to take another one like it.

Hoping to hold the thing in place long enough for Emi and Sindar to draw a bead on it, Tarsus tried to close with the giant. After a brief exchange, the damage it took from the gunslinger convinced the giant to get moving again. It briefly took cover behind another cluster of boulders, flinging “small” rocks the size of wardrobe chests at the ranged combatants. Tarsus finally managed to engage the giant in melee as Finn took steps to get Teegan back into the fight. At the edge of the battle, Julian Carmeno and a cleric from his group had recovered, ran after the party, and now engaged the giant as well. Turning his full attention to Tarsus, the giant delivered a crushing series of attacks that would have outright killed any other member of the group. By all rights, he should have been an unconscious, bleeding mess, yet Tarsus stood his ground. In a panic, Finn pushed as much healing magic as he could into the battle. It was clear this giant was every bit the nightmare they had imagined it would be. Julian charged into melee, casting a spell as he ran that transformed him into a hulking, black-armored behemoth with dark wings trailing behind him. He delivered a smashing blow from his radiant greatsword, taking some pressure off the group for a moment. The giant turned its attention to the paladin as Teegan moved in behind it, and Emi and Sindar moved into good ranged positions.

Even with the terrifying damage it could deal, the giant was unable to overcome Finn’s healing and claim a life before the damage coming in was too much for it. Seconds later, the massive thing fell, much to the relief of a battered and strained collection of adventurers. After a few moments to patch themselves up a bit the group looked around for other obvious traps and impediments to getting underway again, and found the lair of their assailant. Though not much of value was inside, they did find a series of drawings of the ship they were riding on, with progressive details added over several drawings. It had most likely seen this ship or one like it many times before, and was aiming to catch one. The tendrils entrapping the ship had failed and collapsed when the giant died, and repairs took a few more hours, but they were underway for Port Miller again soon enough.

While stopped the next evening for another cell change (and now on high alert during such changes), the party saw a lone rider approach from the darkness. Apparently in a bad way and in need of water for himself and his horse, the man asked if they could spare any help. The party cautiously obliged him, asking how he came to be out here on his own without supplies. They recognized the man after a few moments as the same one they had seen outside Aridesa, full of dire and cryptic warnings. After asking him about the connection, the man apologized and told them he had difficulty sometimes remembering what happened when. With that, he asked them what they had learned, and what they thought they should do. The party laid everything out for him, with more than a few questions attached about what they were involved in. So the man told them that he could shed a great deal of light on the confusing morass of intrigue involving the various factions in play, but there were rules, and that information came with a cost. He could only intervene so directly a very limited number of times- if he told them what he knew, this was their problem to solve- if they failed, the world paid for it. Reluctantly, the party agreed. The man revealed that he was the source of the visions plaguing their dreams, and that their belief that the visions were related was quite true. As they listened, he filled in the gaps and told them the story of Sayoni of House Tanje.

As the party sat recovering from the gravity of the situation now before them, the man thanked them for the water for himself and his mount, arranged his goods, and headed into the night. As morning came, the ship made off once again for Port Miller, reaching the outskirts of the transition to its irrigated farmland a few hours later, where it could proceed no further. The session closed as the two groups crested the last rise along a trade trail into Port Miller and saw the city walls come into view a mile or so distant.

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 52 days now remaining before the delegates are declared dead and replaced.

Quote of the Day

“I hope he hits the black guy.” -Emi

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Session 14
Day Zero

Our story opened with the Onyx Mongrels debating at the bottom of a recently discovered tomb. They had in there custody an historical artifact so powerful it could potentially change the course of history for an entire people, and reunite a long-scattered society. Steal it, or deliver it into the hands of a man they did not know very well? In the end, they decided to chance it an see if Oxyr was a good as his promise to pay them a fair share of the value of what was found down here, and that would tell them a lot about his trustworthiness to handle the Blazing Sun. They headed back up with their new pet mirror man in tow.

Topside, they quickly devised a way to use the jailor’s ring they had found to identify a spy for Sadeesh amoung the General’s entourage, and asked that Oxyr be summoned for an important discovery. When he arrived, Finn wordlessly gave him the jailor’s ring. Oxyr understood as he took it, did his own search, and then rendered the man (Dusa Kovin) helpless. After a terrifying (but brief and fruitless) interrogation, Oxyr immolated him and handed the ring to General Ghomesh to hunt the remaining traitors. He then bid the party to show him the way to their discovery.

As they passed the various chambers and artwork in the tomb, Oxyr explained the history of the woman he knew as the missing high priestess of Mahari, and how the various symbols figured into her story of salvation, being cast out, and eventual redemption. Once in the tomb proper, Oxyr wept as he examined the sarcophagus. He reverently took up the Blazing Sun, and an ominous chorus briefly filled the air and fell silent. The group returned to the surface and very soon preparations were underway for a celebration.

Teegan did not quite feel up to celebrating with others, choosing instead to load up a few skins of wine and head into the cooling night desert to be alone and reflect on his lost companion. Meanwhile, Finn and Tarsus decided to spend the evening trying to collect information about accusations of slavery they had heard from earlier, and came across enough to further pique their interest.

As Teegan returned the next morning, somewhat confused as the spiny serpent he found cuddled up to him when he woke, the party received news that the remaining conspirators had been captured. Only two had survived their initial interrogation at Gomesh’s hands, and the prisoners were available to the party at Oxyr’s direction for whatever questioning was needed. After some creative violence on Teegan’s part, one of the men let slip that he had a surprise for the encampment. Having seen some of the previous “surprises” the Children of Ahriman had unleashed, the party sprang into action quickly. With a combination of magic and crushing body weight, the man was quickly subdued before he could do anything, Finn having located his “surprise” hidden within his body. After a quick drawing of straws and some faces tightly scrunched in disgust, the hidden vial was out, and was confirmed to be a dose of the toxic “sand shambler” substance unleashed elsewhere.

With the interrogation winding down, and what little information the party got from it tucked safely away, they were summoned to Oxyr’s dining tent with news that special guests had arrived that they simply must meet. The Mongrels arrived to find a contingent of paladins and clerics from the Order of Alhena. The group had followed the stream of refugees here, having witnessed first hand an Imperial Navy ship bombarding and eventually destroying a nearby galley town. The contingent was led by Paladin Julian Carmeno of Paladine. Before that encounter began in earnest, Oxyr presented the Mongrels with their pay for the tomb, as promised – a large chest of platinum pieces was set before them.

Julian had a fair number of questions for the party, suspicious at finding obvious (to his eye) Council operatives at the end of this particular trail, and taking pay from the inhabitants of the town. Once he was satisfied with what her heard, Julian stated that his new mission would be to hunt down and bring to justice whatever captain thought it was justifiable to put civilian fishing villages to the cannon. But to do that, he needed a ship. The Mongrels had a myriad of paths before them, but all relied on one crucial first step after Julian had revealed some additional information about the powers of council armor- they had to get rid of their issued equipment, and buy good replacements of their own. To do that, they needed access to markets. Otherwise, that chest of platinum pieces may as well be made of lead.

After accusations, explanations, and eventual agreement, the Onyx Mongrels, Carmeno’s Mission, and Mahari’s Children came to an accord: so long as mutual benefit persisted, the three would work together to right the wrongs. Carmeno’s mission would hitch a ride to Port Miller aboard Oxyr’s transport, along with the Mongrels. From there, they would buy or hire a ship and head off seeking those responsible for bombarding villages while the Mongrels resupplied and headed back to Aridesa. From there, they would head back into the desert to meet their own vessel and carry the fight to the Children of Ahriman (with maybe a diversion or two along the way to investigate and secure potential sources of power). With the accord finished, Oxyr bid them all to enjoy the night in town, as the celebration festival was about to get underway and it would take several hours to load and prepare the dune skiff for travel.

After a few hours of feasting and merriment, the crowd outside hushed as Oxyr approached the balcony above them and gave his speech. Showing the crowd the artifact he now possessed, Oxyr called upon them to set aside petty differences and unite in the face of injustices done to them to take their rightful place in Riyaqa’s history. Rousing the crowd to imagery of striking back those who had dismissed them as trivial, Oxyr ended his speech and came down to the crowd to be with his people. As he approached the street, an assassin struck from the shadows. Several members of the Mongrels found themselves in position to see the assassin a moment before she struck, and called out warning to Oxyr. Acting on their call, General Ghomesh moved quickly enough to halt a deadly strike and shatter the assassin’s weapon. The attack foiled, the woman bolted. In that moment, Tarsus recognized her as she darted past- this was Atala, the missing leader of the Jade Ravens that they were supposed to meet when they first came to Aridesa. Not know what else to do, Tarsus gave chase, and his compatriots joined.

After a minute or so of charging through the makeshift streets and alleys, the party was strung out trying to keep up with the nimble woman. A stroke of luck in finding a shortcut allowed Emi to bolt past Atala, guessing at her path. Emi guessed right, and was just able to grab the woman and bring her down in a section of tents near the edge of Aridesa. For a few moments, Emi and Atala traded blows. Unable to get any distance from the woman to get her gun up, Emi was taking a serious beating from this very skilled close-in combatant. Most importantly, though, she was stopping the woman from fleeing as the rest of the party caught up. Emi was momentarily distracted when she glance to see the first of her teammates arriving, and Atala capitalized on the opening, pummeling Emi unconscious.

Cornered by Emi’s arriving allies, Atala stopped pulling punches and started looking for options. Twice she hammered Teegan to the point he was barely on his feet, but both times Finn poured healing into him to keep him in the fight. Atala frustrated the party as she dodged, ducked, dipped, dived and dodged amongst them, avoiding nearly every swing they made. Once Finn had Emi back on her feet, she joined the fight with her musket, but fared no better against the woman. As the party rallied, the tactician in Atala took over, and she realized this was a losing proposition, for now. She disengaged and fled the scene.

On a whim, Tarsus threw on his council cloak, wondering if Atala’s voice would be there. Indeed, she was waiting for him…

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 57 days now remaining before the delegates are declared dead and replaced.

Quote of the Day

“I just want to take off its face and see if it can still walk.” -Finn

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Session 13
Don't. Touch. My. Fucking. Dog.

The story opened with Teegan tailing General Ghomesh and her entourage through the camp as they searched for the jailor’s dungeon ring attached to the prisoner’s ring the Mongrels had supplied her with. It was slow going using the Revelation Cloth, but after a short while they found themselves in a ruin with no obvious target in sight. Teegan made a tentative attempt at contact, but was rebuffed as they continued their search. He retreated to a position nearby where he could listen without being seen, and heard the three locate something of interest under a pile of rubble. As they began to dig, a juvenile sea-snake attacked them, and Teegan jumped in to help when it became clear the General’s comrades could not help her out of a deadlock with the beast.

Grateful for Teegan’s assistance, the General brought him back to Oxyr’s discussion with her when she reported that the ring had led them to an undiscovered staircase into some ruins. Oxyr thanked Teegan for his assistance, inviting him to refresh himself as he continued his audience with the Imperials in front of him. Oxyr elaborated on his position, and his attempts to reunite a people cast to the corners of the Mah Hari Sea. He told the party of the ancient high priestess of Mahari, from a time before the desert swallowed this land, and how many thousands of people adhered to her direction. Now, he suspected that many times their original number still survived in the desert, and could be unified into a nation if the artifacts of the high priestess office were recovered, enabling a new high priestess of Mahari to be named.

To that end, Oxyr was leading a comprehensive effort across the desert to search every ruin of significance. Thus far, they had come up empty-handed. Aridesa had been founded anew here specifically because it held the highest probability to be the priestess’ final resting place. Until today, they thought they had exhausted all their options. A map found in an earlier dig pointed out dozens of underground structures which they had explored, so they had assumed the map to be complete, even though it showed nothing in the area of the discovered stairs. This new discovery might well be her tomb.

The presence of the Mongrels, still deciding if they could trust the man in front of them, presented a unique opportunity to dodge a thorny problem for Oxyr. Any native Riyaqan he sent into that tomb might be able to name themselves high priest or priestess before he could stop them if they recovered the proper artifacts. But Imperials would never be able to double-cross him that way. All he had to do was find a way to guarantee they stole nothing from the place. In return, the party would get a shot at the person wearing that ring, who was already down there ahead of them. The sides quickly agreed, and Teegan revealed to Oxyr that he was with the Imperials, in the interest of not getting caught in a needless deception.

The party had their weapons returned as they reached the staircase, by now exposed fully as workers carted stone out of the entrance, and carefully descended. Inside, they found a small network of rooms that ended in a chamber with a resplendent carved stone statue of a woman. Finn suspected this to be an image of Mahari. After a bit of searching for any secret doors, Sindar used an extract to assist in the effort and quickly realized there was a shaft leading down beneath the statue. A search for a way to open the mechanism settled on a pair of metal handles submerged in two fountains, each in separate rooms. As Sindar reached for one of the handles, the water came to life and grabbed him, yanking him under and attempting to suffocate him. The weird, watery beast was no match for the Mongrels, and was quickly subdued. Pulling the handle did nothing, though. And so, the party reasoned they must vanquish the other font to reach that handle, and pull both together. A quick bout later, in which Teegan nearly drowned, and they were ready to pull that handle. It was then that they discovered these beasts recovered quickly, as Sindar was once again grappled and pulled under the water. This time, the thing meant business and Sindar found water being forcibly pushed into his lungs almost immediately. A well-placed shot from Emi disrupted the creature’s grasp on Sindar and stunned it long enough to reach the handle in it’s basin. They pulled both together, and the statue slid upwards on its base to reveal a vertical shaft leading down.

The group set a rope, finding the latch to lock the statue extended upwards, and made their way to the next level. With only a couple of fumbles while climbing that resulted in embarrassing spills, they were safely in a stark white marble complex, again of just a few rooms. Here, the party found a pair of iron bull statues guarding either hallway that would allow them to navigate the complex. The bulls began to rapidly heat up and glow at their presence, and the scorched remains of a body plastered to the floor spoke volumes of what would come next if they did not figure out how to disable this trap soon. Drawing on his natural investigative talents as a nascent inquisitor, Tarsus carefully examined the hallways leading to the bulls, and spotted a number of pressure plates that blanketed the halls. After some deliberation, Emi braced herself carefully and took aim at an eye of one bull, drawing divine support from Finn. Her first shot connected, shattered one massive gem eye and partially dislodging the other. A follow-up shot disabled the bull completely, and it exploded under its own energy when the pressure plates were triggered by the advancing party.

Greed momentarily getting the better of him, Teegan tried to remove the gem eyes from the still-intact bull, and got a deafening explosion as his reward that hurled him backward and burned him badly. But that_, he thought as he composed himself on the floor, is what healing wands are for._ The group spent a few minutes perusing paintings of what could only be the lost priestess before a quick search turned up an entrance to a secret room. Within the room, debris from some sort of constructs littered the floor where they found a concealed staircase that led them further downwards.

At the bottom of the stairs, an opulent hallway stretched out before them, filled with richly carved columns and huge statues of semi-precious stone. At the far end, a dead body was sprawled out before a jeweled door- surely a bad portent. The Onyx Mongrels very carefully made their way through the obviously deadly hallway, unsure from which direction death may come for them. Reaching the far end without incident, they examined the body. They found the jailor’s ring they sought- this had been their target. His remains were wet and sandy, an odd condition for a place like this. Not wanting to touch the obviously trapped door, the party rigged a complicated method to open it from a distance, and Emi threw a grappling line at the latch. The moment the grapnel made contact, the familiar sound of rushing air filled their ears. All manner of curses rebounded from the walls as water and sand rushed into the hall. Though this trap might turn any other party of adventurers into panicked idiots, the Mongrels had seen this before and knew exactly how to prepare for what came next. As they made their preparations, the flow of the trap petered out to nothing with only a few feet of sand and water slurry on the floor. They reasoned that the trap must be malfunctioning or had possibly not yet fully reset from when their quarry had triggered it. Bad luck for him, but good luck for them- for a change.

A methodical search of the hallway revealed a section of wall that was not quite normal. A further search found the nearby latch on a statue, and the party moved forward once again. They found themselves in a massive communal burial chamber with 14 stone sarcophagi set deep into the floor. Moments after entering the chamber, the group saw an odd,slender figure with a mirror for a face standing outside looking in at them. Sindar recognized the construct as a mirror man- a security system often employed by those with something very valuable to protect, able to act as a mobile scrying target for a sufficiently powerful host. This one did not seem responsive to anything the party did, so they thought best to leave it alone for now and continue.

With no obvious threats or further exits, the group spread out and began to search, being careful not to disturb the slumbering and hallowed dead. As soon as the found what might be the exit, they found what was definitely the threat. A massive humanoid, armored hulk dropped from the shadowy upper reaches of the chamber into the center of its floor. Whatever this thing was, it was not quite human, and bore traits resembling the rumored shadow soldiers from very ancient wars. It paused for a moment, then lunged as the party made a move on the hidden door. Tarsus had positioned himself closest to the thing and took its initial charge and attacks. He realized immediately this was going to be a hard fight as the beast dealt blistering amounts of damage and strained his defenses. After a few short seconds, the thing let out an ear-piercing scream that sent half the party bolting for the exit just as the door closed to seal them in.

The party rained acid, lead and steel onto the thing. Though shots were landing regularly, it just seemed to shrug off the incoming damage, unfazed in its desire to break Tarsus. Without the support of the recovering members of his party, Tarsus was staggered and forced to retreat from battle with the tomb guardian. As most of the party recovered and rejoined the fray, the beast bellowed out another roar. Fewer adventurers succumbed to this new cry of rage, but those that did were utterly frozen with fear and unable to fight or flee. Taking up the momentary slack as Tarsus and Finn worked together to mend Tarsus’ wounds, Reece dove in to attack the behemoth as his master sought to distract it. Reece managed a good latch onto the thing’s arm that might have torn a human arm from its socket. The guardian responded with a crushing blow that drove the wolf unconscious and left him badly injured. As the paralyzing effect faded from the rest of the party, the guardian let fly with a truly thunderous cry that shook the very room. Falling stone and debris broke loose from the ceiling, hitting those below with heavy stones and rattling their resolve. Unable to prepare himself for the impact, Reece was hit by falling debris and succumbed to his already grievous injuries. The party responded with all the ferocity they could muster, though some were severely hampered by lingering debilitation from that last scream. In short order, the tomb guardian was finally overcome, its energy spent.

After a moment of silence for the wolf that had bought them all just enough time for salvation, the party turned back to finding that secret door. Without an 8-foot shadow warrior bearing down on them, it proved remarkably easy to locate the door. Tarsus reasoned out that the key to opening it might be with the tomb guardian, and located the gemstone sewn into the guardian’s chest the unlocked the door and opened the final chamber.

Inside, the group found a somewhat smaller room piled with a significantly large amount of gold, gems and jewelry. In the center, a massive sarcophagus dominated the room. It was decorated with the reclining image of a beautiful woman wearing nothing but a massive ornamental choker. On a table behind the sarcophagus, that very choker rested on a large silken pillow. Sindar took several minutes to note down details about the sarcophagus and decipher the runes on its rim, which apparently confirmed that this was, indeed, the tomb of the missing high priestess of Mahari, and her name (once lost to antiquity) was Aitura Mahari. That discovery raised interesting questions about the relationship between the goddess and her chief disciple, but those would have to wait.

Finn used his divine magic to confirm the identity of the choker- it was the artifact Oxyr had spoken of that could unify the Mahari people under one flag and make them a force to be reckoned with in Riyaqa. Another, exceptionally evil artifact was also present. Shaped like a small effigy of Ahriman, it promised the power the speak with the dead, or even reanimate them if needed. It was here that significant debate broke out about what to do next. Should they turn over the choker to Oxyr and give a man they did not fully trust nearly total control of the desert tribes? Should they hide it until they learn more about his intentions, and risk getting caught? Should they use an obvously evil artifact to get potentially valuable information from the dead body in the hall?

And who the hell was controlling the creepy chrome dome in the other room? The story closed as the party pondered these questions and plotted their next move.

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 59 days now remaining before the delegates are declared dead and replaced.

Advancement

The party advanced to level 6!

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Session 12
Out of the frying pan...

The story opened as the imperial cutter commandeered by the Onyx Mongrels neared the west coast of the gulf it was crossing to deliver them to the desert. In transit, the party conferred with Captain Blue to determine a better place to put to shore, where they might off-load some unneeded gear and pick up supplies and camels to cross into the deep desert. To hide their identity as they approached the coastal shipping lanes, the crew fished a Thrush Islands merchanteer flag from the previous captain’s quarters (who knew why she would have that), and sent someone over the stern to re-name the ship – The Wandering Bard.

With that done, the ship sailed into a small desert village without incident. The Mongrels debarked and spread out to find vendors for their various needs. Selling a large quantity of their unwanted equipment, they made a good chunk of cash to spend on desert supplies. Seeing the clear benefit of a more capable musketeer, the party agreed to front a large amount of gold and equipment to Emi to allow her to make needed repairs to recommission the Crimson Lady.

Rinn decided to leave the ship as well, intending to make her way along the Great Rim Road to Port Miller. Lending some of her expertise to the party, she helped them select good camels to enter into the high desert of the Mah Hari Sea. For the first day and a half of travel, Rinn accompanied the Mongrels, splitting off to the south as they reached the road. The Mongrels continued inland, following their rough map and the guidance of the Revelation Cloth. Much of the journey was uneventful.

On their second night, near the shield wall mountain range that defined the southern edge of the Mah Hari Sea, a movement in the darkness alerted Finn that something was out there. In the absence of an attack, the party held their position and continued to recover their strength. In the morning sun, all appeared well so the party prepared to move out. As their camels stirred for the first time of the day, the stalker of the previous night struck. A massive serpentine creature exploded from the sand. Dark brown scales and large spines covered a body nearly 30 feet long, coiled into a spring that lunged forward a moment later. The party struggled to get off their camels in time to meet the threat, fearful of what non-combat-trained camels might do when faced with such a threat. The serpent made a straight shot for Sindar with a vicious attack that ended in a constricting grapple. The rest of the party moved to surround the creature, trying to stay out of a strike range they were unsure of. As the party closed in, the thing momentarily released Sindar to take advantage of the opportunities to take strikes and swipes at new targets. Finn strained to heal Sindar and top off his comrades as the beast lashed out. As the party reached their positions and the damage began to pour in at last, the serpent re-focused on Sindar, nearly killing him in its death grip before the rest of the party finally laid it low.

After taking a bit to compose themselves and their intrepid mounts, the party slowly moved out for their destination. In the distance, a low ridge eventually appeared on an otherwise featureless landscape. The Revelation Cloth pointed straight toward the ridge, but no town was in view. Earlier attempts to contact members of the Jade Ravens had come up empty for Tarsus, indicating their contacts were dead at worst, or separated from their gear, at best. Captured, either way. Moving forward carefully, the Mongrels took up positions in cover on the ridge. Below they saw a massive tent settlement in the wind shadow of the ridge. A few old stone buildings near the center indicated that the tent city had been erected at the site of a previous city, long lost to the ravages of the desert. There were at least many hundreds, if not thousands of people moving around below them. Dozens upon dozens of people moved openly in the settlement wearing the livery of the Children of Ahriman.

Electing not to move on the town until they had a better plan, the group bedded down for the night (on solid rock this time) to keep an eye on the settlement. In the early morning hours, Finn roused the entire party as a man approached them. Coming up the far side of the ride at a slow trot on a massive warhorse, the man held his hands in plain view as he drew near and the party braced themselves for combat. He waved a greeting and hailed them, bringing his mount to a stop a dozen feet from them. The conversation was fairly confusing for the party as the man asked them detailed questions about their plan when they enter the town below. Expressing concern for their success, he enjoined them recognize that things were not what they seemed, and it would be important soon to pay close attention to what was happening. The man running this settlement had information important to the bigger picture, and they should give him time to speak, if not necessarily believe everything they hear. As the party grappled with what was in front of them, the man wished them well and told them that what was happening mattered more than they knew, and their role might well be pivotal. He turned his horse to leave, and Tarsus was struck with sudden realization at seeing the arrangement of the man’s supply pack. The greatsword hanging over a bundle of torches may as well have been shining in bright gold- this must be an avatar of the demigod Mithras, if not Mithras himself. What. The. Actual. Fuck.

With renewed determination, the party hatched a plan to infiltrate the camp and find out what was going on. Teegan entered first on his own, making his way openly into the streets. He was greeted politely, if not warmly, and led to the center district where an overseer spoke with him and assigned him quarters. There he met General Gomesh, the apparent military leader of the soldiers wandering the streets here. As Teegan continued to gather intelligence on the town, he spoke with many of the settlers, determining that they had come from many nearby places that had been barraged to ruin by the Empire Navy. So far as he could determine, people here seemed truly happy to have found some place new to belong.

As Teegan’s investigation ran dry of leads into wrongdoing, the rest of the party tired of waiting for his return and entered the encamped town on their own. Their reception was far less than the lukewarm one Teegan had received. They were met by force of arms just beyond the edge of town, disarmed, and led under guard to a mess tent. They only got that far by professing their genuine interest in hearing Oxyr’s narrative about what this place was, rather than assuming him to be the villain they had first believed. At length, the man named Oxyr arrived. He looked much as they remembered from Herlish, but it seemed he had aged decades since then- he was a good 15-20 years older than the man they met there. Oxyr seated himself and his senior leadership around the table with the party, and told them a tale of his organization.

They called themselves Marhari’s Children, after the old goddess of the desert. All they wanted was a place to call their own beyond the Asad’s politics and the Empire’s interests. With little resources to call its own, the desert ruins of an old civilization seemed a good place to start. Of course, elements within the Children soon grew restless, believing that the Empire would come for them soon enough, and would have the help of the Asad once it was fully under the boot. And so some parted company with the leadership, electing to fight their own, more direct war. And they were led by a former confidant named Sadeesh. Sadeesh was a snake and a terrorist of the first order- very cunning, frighteningly intelligent, and utterly cold-blooded in his attempts to scare Empire commerce away from Riyaqan cities. It was him, Oxyr said, that had orchestrated much of the ruin of the past month. It was him that had led the Mongrel’s to the camp’s door, apparently hoping for bloodshed that would spark anger like his in the rest of the Children and rally them to his way of thinking.

The party had only one point they remained stuck on. If the Revelation Cloth led them here tracking a Jailor’s Ring that had been linked to a Prisoner’s Ring they took off one of Oxyr’s (Sadeesh’s?) cultists, then there must be at least one of his men in this camp somewhere. At least one enemy agent was nearby, with information that may lead them to Sadeesh. Begging favor from the party Oxyr turned the Revelation Cloth over the General Gomesh, who took a few soldiers and set about tracking at once. Teegan, by now curious and lurking about outside the tent, picked up her trail quickly and followed at a distance, curious where she might be going.

The story closed with the party still in parlay with Oxyr, and Teegan on the General’s trail, anticipating trouble.

The Vote

The Asad’s vote should have been the morning of the last day of Session 12. Oxyr has informed the party that his agents elsewhere have sent news of the vote being delayed due to kidnapping of several members of the Asad.

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Session 11
Enemies of the State

The story opened aboard Talia’s Vengeance, with the Onyx Mongrels debating the best way forward through the ever-spreading web of half-truths coming into view around them. Everyone seemed to be in agreement that staying under Magister Ducet’s thumb for the long term was a bad idea, but some disagreement remained on the particulars of when and how to part company with him. They settled for staying the course under Ducet’s command for the time being. Preparing to finally bed down after far too long on their feet, the party headed below deck, they heard a gurgled scream from the hold. A crewman was staggering up the ladder, clutching his throat tightly in an attempt to slow the spurting blood. The party steeled themselves, fearing the worst. Ducet’s vampire thrall was down there in her grave soil chest.

Tarsus swept quickly into the lower hold with Sindar right behind him. The rest of the party stayed on the main deck. Finn attended to the mortally wounded sailor to save him, while the others watched the passageway, intent on keeping whatever was happening in the hold from spilling into the rest of the ship. In the hold, Tarsus found the thrall’s chest locked up tight- whatever this was, it probably wasn’t her. Only glances of movement could be seen as something dodged it’s way from shadow to shadow down the length of the hold. At the far end, the hatch popped open and several blurs escaped into the light above. The party still on the main deck saw immediately what they were facing as two rosaga scouts popped out of the far hatch and charged down the passage. At an unseen command, Reece bounded forward and cut them off at midship, trapping them in the narrow corridor as Tarsus and Sindar came up from behind them. The battle proceeded at a furious pace, but only Reece was dealt a serious blow from a poisoned weapon and he retreated to safety at Teegan’s command. A third rosaga popped into view- one of the female spellcasters. She hurled a vial at on of her compatriots, but otherwise barely managed to get a spell off before being cut down by Sindar.

The vial’s purpose was revealed as the rosaga hit by it began to bulge in odd places and swell to several times its normal size. With the other two dead, the party poured everything it had into the ogre-sized rat and brought it low before it could wreck the ship. Once dead, it’s corpse began to putrefy quickly so the crew brought it to the weather deck along with the other bodies. Catching their breath, the part and the crew briefed the captain on what just happened below as others made a thorough search of the ship. The Vengeance had apparently come a bit too close to the sewers to pick up the party, and a few stowaways had slipped aboard to cause trouble for the people that had accidentally invaded their home. As the searched ran its course, the body of the enlarged rosaga continued to mutate and break down, becoming a mass of disorganized flesh that spoke of an alchemist somewhere that needed to scrap her formula and start over. Without warning, the quivering mass rolled over onto the body next to it, a huge maw opening where there should be none and swallowing the body in one gulp. Before any of the stunned crew could react, it swallowed the body of the second rosaga whole. Then the party members still above deck saw that the back edge of the thing wasn’t moving as it slid forward to consume the bodies- the thing was actually growing to consume them. As the damnable alarm bell sounded again, the rest of the party assembled on deck alongside the crew to fight whatever the hell this thing was.

With the Mongrels on deck to lead the effort, the crew was careful to not give the thing any sailors to feed on. It hit hard, dealing severe damage with every swing of its club-like lumpy limbs covered in gnashing teeth. Nevertheless, the defenders persisted and eventually overcame the thing- or at least subdued it. How do you tell if something like that is truly dead? Not taking any more chances, the remains of the beast were quickly shoveled over the side as the Vengeance cruised to its destination. At long last, the group made it to their various sleeping quarters for some well-deserved rest and recovery.

After waking later, Tarsus found himself hearing faint whispers on the wind, but unable to locate a source. Seeking refuge in a quiet area of the ship, he was able to focus enough to work the magic of his cloak as it tried to help him link with the leader of another cell of the Operatives’ Guild. Vivian Torro, the leader of the Bloodborne, had been trying to contact the Onyx Mongrels for a while. There was not as much time as they thought they would have, and at least one of their contracts was under immediate threat. She needed the Mongrels to get closer as quickly as they could, so she could teleport herself and Fari Sivoi aboard their ship and out of range of assassins. After exchanging a few more cryptic comments, the connection was broken. Talia’s Vengeance was soon making best speed toward the coast to get within the specified range. After many hours, Tarsus contacted Vivian again when Emile Harker informed the party they were now within the specified range. A moment later, Vivian and Fari Sivoi burst into existence on the deck amid a cloud of ashy smoke. Fari was bleeding badly from an abdominal stab wound, and Finn acted instantly, adding another saved life to his tally. Although she stabilized and her wounds closed, Sivoi was still deathly ill from an obvious poison coursing through her.

Sindar took a quick blood sample and went to work, determining in a few minutes that the poison was an especially deadly variety called Widow’s Kiss. It would not only eventually kill the victim, but would enable a period of will domination first, being crafted of tiny spiderlings that could infest the host’s nervous system. Worse, the poison should be impossible to create in modern times, being dependent on the eggs of a race of monstrous creatures long ago driven extinct. Yet here it was, slowly killing their charge. Unsure of how to proceed, the party decided to call home for any help that could be offered.

Consulting Ducet through Lana (his thrall on board their ship), the party received precious little help in relieving the poison. Ducet’s only available solution was to render her undead, and therefore immune to its effects. Unwilling to make such a decision for her, the party elected to expend resources to stave off the ravages of the poison until they could find a proper antidote. Then the conversation turned to Oxyr. The party learned a bit more about Ducet’s logic in sending them to rescue members of the Asad from assassination rather than going directly after Oxyr. He considered this wave of attacks just an opening move in a much deeper game. If assassinations against Riyaqan representatives known to favor the Empire succeeded, commoners would see the Empire as likely to retaliate. Then the Children could strike at the true conservative Riyaqan members of the Asad and easily frame the Empire for those attacks. At that point, cities all across Riyaqa would be tinderboxes of unrest against the Empire, the slightest nudge could ignite a full scale insurgent war. If this assassination plan could be interrupted in its infancy, then the setback may cause the Children to miss a step and buy additional time to hunt Oxyr, rendering the time lost to save these lives essentially neutral. Now, that plan seemed at risk of failure from a simple poisoned blade. Ducet promised to see what other help he could summon and get back in touch.

The Vengeance turned back out to sea to get further from the coastline and navy patrol lanes. Word would be travelling through the fleet even now that the Vengeance had defied its fleet commander while under flag of war- they were fugitives as far as the navy was concerned.

Just after dawn the next day, the wind turned, forcing the Vengeance to tack for several hours to maintain its course. Soon after, they spotted the sail of another ship- an imperial cutter. Since the Vengeance was a bit larger than the cutter, with taller sails, it was a safe bet the cutter had already spotted the ship’s unique sail plan on the horizon. Sure enough, it turned to intercept and the Vengeance quarterdeck watch began pounding the low drums that announced the coming battle. Although the Vengeance was normally a bit faster than even a fleet cutter, the other ship was in better position to take advantage of the wind and would easily close the gap to take at least one gun pass at them. It was a foregone conclusion to Arndt that Mueller would be seeking his head, and had doubtless ordered the Vengeance captured. As much as it pained him to do so, there was no way forward but to fight their way out again imperial sailors. Giving up would place Sivoi in too much danger, and Arndt had little doubt that Ducet’s orders were more important than anything the navy might have in mind.

Taking command from the officer on watch, Arndt asked the Mongrels to assist his ballista crews. Vengeance carried eight ballistae, but only enough crew to load and fire half of them at a time. With their help, ballistae could be manned on both sides and the Vengeance might gain an advantage if he could force the other ship into a turning fight. Thinking tactically, the party split up on different mounts to ensure each weapon still had a proficient sailor as part of its two-person crew. Sindar made rounds to quickly pass out true strike elixirs and Finn said some words of prayer for everyone on deck as the ships closed. Arndt’s maneuvering brought the Vengeance across the cutter’s path just as the ship came in range of the Long Arm ballistae, and the crew downed their true strike extracts and fired the first volley into the cutter’s lateral rigging. Arndt took a quick circle to bring the other side’s mounts to bear before the cutter could turn its own guns to face, and another salvo of ballista bolts soared across the gap. The cutter made the Vengeance pay dealer for that opening attack as the guns got their chance and obliterated two of the ballista mounts and their crews. As the remaining mounts were reloaded, Arndt struggled to keep the Vengeance out of the cutter’s gun arc. Thinking quickly, Finn drew his rod of reach and stepped to the railing. With a clear view of the other ship’s deck, he used the rod to cast a hold person spell on the other ship’s helmsman, locking the cutter into a tight turn that the Vengeance used to quickly re-establish position and fire. The bolts tore into the cutter’s rigging stays. The sails lost their tension and fluttered harmlessly in the wind as the cutter slowed.

The crew of the Vengeance knew what was coming as soon as Arndt turned toward the cutter’s port quarter, abandoning the ballistae and unsheathing swords as they produced boarding grapnels from the deck lockers. The crew of the cutter was arming themselves, as well. Moments later, the ships crunched together as the Vengeance scraped along the cutter’s side and grapnels were thrown over to make way for the hooked runner planks. Sailors poured over the planks onto the cutter as the boarding action began.

As Emi claimed first blood with her musket, the captain of the cutter produced a similar weapon and fired at Emi, hitting her hard with the shot. The rest of the party moved to impede the cutter’s crew and went to work. The battle came at high cost for both sides, but was thankfully short. Emi and the cutter’s captain exchanged fire for several seconds before the rest of the party was able to help put the captain down. When that happened, the cutter’s remaining crewmen surrendered. Arndt had his men at work immediately restoring the cutter’s rigging and moving supplies between the ships. He had a plan, it seemed. He assigned Blue to be captain of the cutter, and sent a skeleton crew aboard with him. Arndt kept several of his best men and took the cutter’s entire crew aboard the Vengeance. After moving their things to the cutter, Arndt bid the Mongrels fairwell and told them to take the smaller ship and continue their hunt. He would use the cutter’s doctor to care for Sivoi and continue with Ducet’s rescue mission. Only the cutter’s cook remained aboard as the ships parted ways and the Mongrels sailed for the gulf’s western coast.

Many hours later, Tarsus attempted to use his newfound cloak ability to contact someone from the Jade Ravens, who should be in the process of locating Oxyr’s camp. After a while he succeeded in raising their leader. She informed him that the camp was not a camp, but a small tent city of thousands of refugees from surrounding areas, with several hundred cultists moving freely among them. The rumor was that the Empire had been bombarding their villages for some time, and the Children had offered them haven here, far out of range of Empire guns. And somewhere in there, Oxyr had her partner in a prison cell, knowing that a rescue attempt was coming.

The story closed as the cutter continued sailing toward the coast, delivering the Mongrels into a situation far more complex than they first thought. But then again, that didn’t seem to make today special.

The Vote

Two and a half days remain until the Asad votes on whether to accept imperial presence in Riyaqa.

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Session 10
Just following orders

The story opened with our adventurers having just fought off an onslaught of the diminutive rat-like Rosaga in the labyrinthine sewer tunnels beneath the remains of Hansen. Wandering a bit in the area, they came across some hastily laid poisoned caltrops, which Teegan carefully plucked from the mud and bagged up for later. Unfortunately, no exit was apparent that they could use. A quick trip back to the site of a murder hole ambush found the trash berm the Rosaga had made still burning. As the party considered their options, the tenders behind the berm began to push it somehow, rolling a flaming mountain of trash down the hallway toward them, albeit slowly.

Seeing no good option to get over or around that berm, the party backtracked north to another west-leading passage they had passed earlier. There, another murder hole trap lay in wait. This time, the Mongrels were prepared and pushed through mostly unscathed, with just a few good scratches. They passed through a strangely quiet section of tunnels, finding only a few adamantine arrows and the tell-tale pock-marking of the stone wall that related the story of a battle with a gunslinger, but otherwise making fast progress due to a lack of traps in this section. The reprieve was short-lived as Tarsus took a bath in acid from fragile glass globes dropped onto his head via tripwire. At this the party decided to change up their order a bit, putting someone at the front with a better chance of detecting ambushes and traps before they were sprung.

Just ahead, the entrance of a chamber was clogged with the bodies of dozens of the Rosaga. Many had shattered skulls, and their ripeness of the lot suggested they had not died too long ago, but the incident that killed them wasn’t exactly recent, either. Beyond the low pile of corpses, the room contained the obvious remnants of a campsite. Nothing of real value remained, but a few odds and ends were strewn about. It seemed they had found both the camp, and possibly the last stand, of the gunslinger evinced by the earlier damage they found to the tunnel wall. Deciding they may be about to miss something important, they gave the room a thorough search. Sure enough, Teegan and Tarsus hit upon a section of wall that had been somewhat recently re-bricked. They dug out the grout and pulled away the new section. Inside they found a nice backpack with a few useful items inside, and an oilcloth roll containing a musket of superb craftsmanship. Emi hefted the weapon, noting its solid weight and expert balance. A number of pieces seemed to be missing, but given time to work out the design, she should be able to cobble together workable replacements. The weapon pulsed with energy, announcing to her that she held something truly special- at least it would be, once it was working again.

They party decided to take the opportunity of a mostly dry surface to find out what exactly was left behind in the bag they took from Stern Viper, and turned it out onto the floor. Not too many surprised waited inside. Leftovers of the explosives they used earlier, a few nice items of interest, the logs they had collected before they blew up the building, and a map. On the back of the map, orders to Viper were left by someone named Deacon. Meet someone named Tullen, make a drop of some kind, and then ‘dispose of baggage’. Were they the baggage? It seemed difficult to know. Emi recognized the name from dim memory and began fitting pieces together, with Sindar filling in a few gaps. Tullen could be a reference to Ailo Tullen, a well-known mercenary gunslinger in the Empire. Emi thought that the last she’d heard was something about Tullen working for the government, and Sindar was able to confirm that Tullen often provided security for IGG expeditions. It seemed at least likely that the gunslinger that had been camping down in these tunnels was Tullen. Any more deduction than that would have to wait for later. Collecting up everything of value, the group moved on, searching for a way out of these tunnels, or maybe for further clues about the gunslinger whose stash they had found.

More quiet runs of tunnels pay ahead of them as the group picked their way further south and west. Before too long,. chanting could be heard. Following the noise, they came to a large group of the rat-people gathered around one of their own. A ceremony was in progress as they poured some elixir into its mouth. As it choked down the oily liquid, it coughed, squeaked, then roared; its size doubling, then tripling in seconds. In moments, the hulking thing was on its still-growing feet, and charging straight at the party. They dove into a small southerly passage to get away, and by the time the beast had reached them it had too much bulk to follow easily into the cramped tunnel. Howling with fury, it took off in a different direction. It had obviously not given up the chase, and would know these tunnels far better than they. If they were going to get away, it was time to get moving.

The party charged further south, blasting through a murder hole trap without even breaking stride. They easily spotted and dodged a thick wire strung at a human’s neck level. It was followed up by a hidden pressure plate, which they spotted at the last moment before the party barreled over top of it. And then there it was. A large drainage grate was just ahead of them in the terminus of the south passageway. That water had to be going somewhere, and it was hopefully not a place with raging rats the size of bears. Working together, it took the party several precious seconds to get the massive grate pulled clear of the hole. A wall of the nearby cross passage thundered as mortar crumbled rock chips flew. The thing had found a new way to them, minus one interfering wall that it would shortly remove. The Mongrels quickly re-purposed the combined rope they had used to enter in the first place, tying it off to the grate and slipping down the hole one after the other.

At the bottom, they found an utterly massive drainage tunnel leading out to sea. The fast-moving water here was over three feet deep, but the tunnel was lined with walkways on each side. The gods gave them a glimmer of hope as they laid eyes on the two small boats tied up nearby at a set of bollards. As the rest of the party clambered through the mucky water toward the boats, Finn rocketed past as he slid along the rope moments after Teegan affixed the end to a bollard. Flipping deftly onto the walkway, he started helping Teegan ready to boats as the cacophony above them intensified and debris began to shake loose from the ceiling.

The party had to split up between the boats, being a bit too massive and armor-plated to share just one. They were soon off, rowing for all they were worth and putting distance between themselves and the menaces of those sewers. It seemed, however, the Rosaga were not done seeing them off just yet. As they raced down the waterway toward the distant gleam of sunlight, the little rat-men starting spilling out of drains and ditch-pipes, peppering them with arrows from the walkways. Each boat returned fire as they moved, with Emi and Sindar dropping several of the things as they came into range. For their part, the rats seemed to be pretty lousy shots. Another spell casting Rosaga came into view, but was dispatched before it could do much damage. The party had nearly made good their escape when the mouth of the tunnel crumpled before them as the hugely mutated rat ogre cut them off and crashed through from above. Deciding it would be folly to try and face the thing from the boats, the party quickly made their way to the walkways and scrambled up as the thing closed. A fierce, but quick battle ensued. As the rat ogre crashed into the wall named Tarsus, the rest of the party hammered away, with Finn doing his best to stop his new meat shield from giving way under the beast’s onslaught. Despite its fearsome nature, the thing simply never had a chance against their combined might, and it was over in seconds, though Tarsus was seriously hurt in the process. In the same moment they breathed a sigh of relief, two more of the monstrosities dropped through the hole left by the first.

The party resigned themselves to the horrible fight ahead when the mechanical thunking noises chattered away from somewhere beyond the tunnel mouth. Massive ballista bolts the size of fence posts soared into the tunnel, laying new beasts low almost instantly. Talia’s Vengeance, seeing the commotion, had opened fire. Quickly rushing back to their rowboats, the party crossed the distance to the Vengeance as quickly as they could, and climbed aboard. As they boarded, the first officer and captain questioned them about what had happened ashore. Very soon, naval signals relayed through the fleet indicated that the embarked commander wanted a briefing on his ship right away. But having found orders potentially ordering their death, the Mongrels were none to eager to set foot on the Expedition. Whoever authored those orders was aboard that ship- maybe even Mueller himself- and boarding it was asking for trouble. They relayed some of their concerns to Arndt, and asked what he would do if they refused and the flotilla admiral insisted. “You and I have the same boss right now,” he said, “and it’s not Horace Mueller.”

But insist, the embarked commander did. Before long, a boat containing two more navy intelligence officers was on its way. As a debate raged aboard the Vengeance on how far they could push things in trying to track down Oxyr, the boat closed up with the Vengeance and the men came aboard. After a brief introduction on the weather deck, the senior of the two men recommended taking the conversation to a more secluded location and the group retired to the wardroom. As the Mongrels made it clear they had no intention of returning to the Expedition, the officers made it clear they would impound the vessel and arrest them if necessary. There were important people with important questions waiting, after all. Deciding this was only going to have one outcome, Teegan moved to strike the closer of the two men and overpower them quickly. Seeing his intention, the two Vengeance crewmen standing nearby took their cue and moved like fast water. In a single fluid and impossibly fast motion, they each drew a deck sword, drove it deep into the back of the man closest to them, pulled it up, out and flipped the blade over their victim’s shoulder with a deep, driving slash into the side of the neck. The swords were sheathed in time for the crewmen to catch their kills before they fell to the deck, and quietly drag them into the passageway and toward the aft ladder. As assassinations went, it was a work of synchronized art. Dumbstruck, the party stared in shock for a moment before spurring to action. Whatever this was, they were in it now.

Whistles sounded through the Vengeance, and men began scurrying onto the deck as if it were the surface of an anthill just disturbed by an interloping foot. Sails unfurled into the wind as the ballistae were loaded with fouling beams. Arndt had apparently planned for this eventuality, and the Vengeance was already prepared to make a run for it. And once the full measure of canvas that the ship could keep hold of was flying from the yards, run she did. Only one or two ships in the entire flotilla had time to even attempt a shot before the Vengeance was well beyond long gun range and disappearing on the horizon. As they opened to a safe distance, Arndt mentioned that Ducet had entrusted him with a beacon device that could be used to report an update if things got desperate, but they needed to take great care to ensure no one saw the thing being set up. So the ship would run to open sea until well into the night, set up the device to get a message back to Gol Asad, then change course back for land. It presented a good opportunity for the party to get some much-needed rest.

All too soon, they were being roused by the crew. It was time to bring up the device and set it up. The large crate was brought onto the deck and opened. Inside, there was only dirt and a gold chain about three feet long. After a long while considering it, someone took hold of the chain and pulled with a sickening feeling that they already knew what was at the other end of it. As the dirt crested and parted, a beautiful young woman sat up from under the surface. As she got to her feet, the caked dirt fell away from her naked body, her overly pale skin seeming to shimmer in the moonlight. She was given something to cover herself, and sat down. She spoke only briefly as herself, and was very soon inhabited by another being that made it crystal clear to all what this was. Ducet had made some sort of a thrall and set her with them, to be a conduit for him to speak and listen through. For the magic to work this well on even a young vampire, she must have allowed this to happen willingly.

After some awkward initial conversation, Ducet took reports from the party and from Arndt. Initially he ordered them to continue tracking Oxyr, and informed the group that the Jade Ravens had duped Oxyr. The captive he had taken was right where he wanted to be, and was being tracked across the desert trek by the rest of his cell to learn the locations of the camp and any safehouses the Children might have. The party was to rendezvous with them in accordance with later instructions, and provide whatever assistance the Ravens needed.

Interspersed between these events, the Mongrels were each learning uncomfortable facts about the world around them, and becoming ever more restless under Ducet’s command. After Ducet learned the group had kept the two intelligence officers, one of whom still drew breath, his thrall unceremoniously carved open the chests of both men to go fishing for a scrying crystal hidden inside them. The only consolation offered was a warning that came in time to allow Finn to heal the living man from the horrific experience. With the communication ended, the young vampire retired below to regain strength for a while and hushed, worried rumors passed among the crew and the party. Just what had they gotten involved with here?

A while later, Ducet resumed communication and ordered the Vengeance to make for Nassira. His operatives elsewhere had learned of a plot to kidnap or assassinate key members of the Asad expected to side with the Empire in the coming vote. The third Operatives’ Guild cell in country, the Bloodborne, were already in route to intercept an assassin, but would need to evacuate the targets to safe custody while they dealt with the problem. The Vengeance was to get the Mongrels close enough to make the hand off as quickly as possible.

This new order caused a spirited debate to spring up almost immediately once the communication ended. Turn away from stopping a bloodthirsty terrorist organization to play political babysitter? Seriously? The Children of Ahriman had already proven they had the means and the will to bring mass destruction to the continent if not stopped soon. Could this vote really be on the same scale as that? The story closed with our adventurers pondering this question, and how they might extricate themselves from being Ducet’s lapdogs.

The Vote

Four days remain until the Asad votes on whether to accept imperial presence in Riyaqa.

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Session 9
Wait... was the second flare red smoke? Shit.

Our story opened as the party boarded the Vengeance, having just completed their audience with the acting admiral of the Imperial Navy flotilla shelling the remains of Hansen. Having struck a deal to gain time ashore to investigate a lead, they prepared for a dangerous trek into the city, now crawling with sand shamblers. Once their preparations were complete, they departed for shore on the captain’s rowing yacht. As they neared shore, a flurry of flag signals relayed from the Vengeance indicated they were to stand fast once reaching shore. The admiral was sending an envoy with them into the city. Even now, they could see the gargantuan AES Expedition putting a launch in the water.

After a bit of waiting, their guest arrived. A slender, attractive woman joined them ashore as an officer in the Expedition’s launch explained that she was to be escorted to the Intelligence Archives building in the middle of the city, where she would complete her mission. In return, their two hours ashore would be extended to 24 if she successfully secured the material that most concerned the admiral. Without a word, the woman unrolled her kit and began lashing on a number of weapons as Tarsus stared on with only the slightest drop of drool at the corner of his mouth. She introduced herself as Stern Viper (an obvious code name), an agent with some imperial intelligence service or another.

With that, they lit their first smoke flare set off into the city as the shelling dwindled to nothing. The large concentrations of shamblers seemed to have been dealt with by the business ends of an entire fleet of cannons. Only scattered shamblers wandered the streets here and there. Nonetheless, they moved cautiously. Drawing the attention of one might mean drawing others to the noise of dispatching it. Waiting at the intersections of piles of rubble that were once streets and buildings, they timed their dashes between cover to avoid detection. It worked, for a while. All too quickly, they attracted the attention of a handful of shamblers ahead of them, and had to dispatch them quickly.

Those few proved no match for the party. Unfortunately, the noise of the engagement had the predicted effect, and they were soon dealing with waves of the things coming at them from every direction. For her part, Viper was dropping shamblers with her bow at an incredible rate, though Emi and Sindar were giving her a run for her money while using their noisiest weapons. As the thrid wave descended on them, the party drew close together and made a concerted effort to dispatch the things quietly. It took a bit more before their efforts had an effect, but they caught a break in the rush and ran for it. Making it back into cover as the shamblers continued to converge on the spot they had fought in, the party caught their breath and continued on.

Soon enough, they were at the Intelligence Archives. After breaking in, the party helped Viper ransack the place for the target files and anything else of value. Viper handed an enchanted bag to Sindar that was full of charges, asking that they be scattered around walls and bookshelves while the rest searched. The files they had come for were in hand within 30 minutes or so. During the search, Teegan came across a number of files for other operations that looked interesting, including one that contained a prominent entry for a name he had not heard in a long time. A name his mother had mentioned only a few times before she was taken from him. He stuffed the files in a pack and caught up to the group as they departed to head for the office of the Imperial Geographers’ Guild- or at least what remained of it.

Seeking a more expeditious means to reach the guild office, the group made a line for the outer city wall and scaled up with grapnels and ropes. Movement along the wall was quick and uninterrupted. When they arrived near the guild office. they descended the wall and slipped across a few blocks quickly with no difficulty. The office was barely standing, having been shelled heavily. After finding a way through a window to bypass the smashed front door, the group set about searching the office for clues to the whereabouts of the person Oxyr had mentioned. Sindar suspected this might be a lead for another matter very personal to him. Unfortunately, nothing obvious turned up. They did find a hidden floor safe, and quickly found the coded mechanism to open it. Their first attempt at opening it set off a trap Sindar recognized- red marking dye exploded inside the safe. Deep red haze poured from the edges of its door, the dye pack apparently burning from a misfired ignition charge. Within a few seconds, the party managed to pry open the damaged safe. Inside they found coded journals of some sort and a few other trinkets.

As Sindar pondered whether there was time to attempt to decode the journals there, a rumble shook the floor under his feet. Then another, and another. Slow realization dawned on the party as they wondered what had prompted the fleet to start shelling again. The second flare was supposed to be red smoke. The smoke from the safe’s trap had been mistaken for the flare that would tell the fleet to resume their cannon fire. As the shelling began to walk its way across the city, the group decided their best bet was to head underground to get across the city. They may find the rumored ultra-violent rat men down there, but at least they could fight that more than they could fight with a cannon ball. Vipe led them quickly to the nearest entrance.

This far up the hill, the drain shaft from the street to the sewer passages was very long, and very vertical. Tying together several of their ropes, the group tied off the end to the heavy rectangular grate that they pulled from the drain’s opening, turning it sideways to anchor their descent. Then, one by one, they made their way down the rope to the sewer far below them. After the last of them left the street, the two remaining on the rope felt a couple of hard jerks on it before the tension melted away and they were in free fall. Thankfully, Tarsus was close to the sewer bottom already, and suffered only a few bruises as his armored behind slammed into the wet floor near his comrades. Viper, the last person on the rope, was not so lucky. She lost her grip far up the pipe, and hit the floor with a sickening crunch, the massive grate landing on her a moment later. It was still attached to the rope, and perfectly intact. Someone above had pried it loose and tossed it down behind them.

After a bit of back and forth about what their best options were, the party decided to take a short break to wrap Viper’s body and put her into her own bag of holding, taking most of her equipment and the files she had been after. Then they moved on into the sewers, seeking either a way out or to find any refugees from above ground that might still be in the city. Not even 40 feet down the first passage, they caught a glimpse of how these Rosaga rat-people earned their terrifying reputation as they narrowly avoided falling victim to a vicious pit trap cleverly hidden in the semi-solid mud that covered the ground. The pit was deep enough to cause real injury and possibly trap a lone interloper down here. Skirting around it, they were quickly swarmed by a large pack of rats marauding through the corridors. Thankfully, the rats were not a herald for something worse- at least not immediately. Easily dispatching them, the Mongrels pushed forward through the maze of criss-crossing damp passages.

Further into the sewers, they began to come across small, filthy bedchambers, one after another. Each had space for a dozen or so rosaga. There would be more than a few of them down here. Another obvious trap soon blocked their path, with several globes of an unknown agent suspended overhead and ready to be dropped by a tripwire. Disarming it, they collected the globes for potential use later. The cramped passages they had been travelling in opened into a comparative grand hall- a passage running south a full 15 feet wide. A curious side passage garnered their attention. It had a vertical chute at the back leading up and away into darkness. The faintest tinkling sound preceded a dropped firebomb, which they avoided. Evil giggling echoed quietly through the tunnels.

Moving further south, and hopefully away from danger, the group moved down another passage that headed west, roughly the direction they wanted to go. They met the first trap to truly catch them unawares. Tiny mud plugs popped out of concealed holes a moment before dozens of little spears were being repeatedly jabbed into the passage. Several members of the party were stabbed by the nasty little implements, At the same moment, a large berm of trash in the darkness ahead of them was lit aflame, blocking further progress. With no choice but to turn back for now, the party fled back into the large hall. To the north, they saw a rosaga in the open for the first time. It was fairly small for a humanoid, and definitely rat-like in appearance. Wearing clothes and standing on its hind legs, the thing was tipping a full barrel of something into the thin stream of water that ran beneath their feet. As it swung a lit torch above its greasy head, they realized the fluid was a flammable oil and dove down a side passage as Sindar took the initiative away from the little vermin by flinging a fire bomb at it. Though they were not caught directly in the flames, the blast of expanding hot air slammed them into the side passage, worsening their earlier injuries.

The party resolved not to make the mistake of walking by any more of the barrels and leaving them intact- they were everywhere, it seemed. The large passages, though more comfortable to move through, made them easy targets for the rat-men. At the south end of the large passage, they ducked back into one of the cramped tunnels and continued moving south and west. Very quickly, they came across another hidden panel in the floor- obviously another pit trap. Hoping they might find advantage in a close investigation of the trap, Finn pulled the cover aside. To his surprise, he found himself face to face with one of the rosaga, who was just as startled as he was. They had been waiting in a bolt hole to ambush the party after they went by.

After some startled yelps, the fight was engaged as rosaga began pouring into the intersection from nearby similar bolt holes. A bloody battle ensued. The rosaga fell quickly, but inflicted grievous injuries as they fought with poisoned blades. A little rat mage joined the fray, casting harassing magic at the party as her compatriots attacked them from several directions. Finding purpose in the melee, Tarsus charged for the caster. By shear will, he forced himself across an intense magical cold spot in the hallway, front forming on his armor and weapons, and piled into the female rat mage. Deftly dodging his attempts to smack her out of her casting, she opened the floor beneath him. But no sooner did Tarsus plummet into a pit just deep enough to hurt his pride, than the sharp report of Emi’s musket heralded the last few seconds of the rat mage’s life.

As the remaining rats fell, others nearby broke off their assault. Within seconds, the party was once again along in the tunnels. The only sound was the steady trickling of water at their feet, and the ever-more-distant sloshing of water as the rats made their escape. For all they had been through so far down here, it was nowhere near certain they had made any progress at all.

XP for session

Progressing toward level 6.

The Vote

Five days still remain until the Asad votes to accept or reject imperial presence in Riyaqa.

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Session 8
That bell don't ring no more

The story opened amid the smoking ruin of the storeroom in Herlish‘s town guard house. Having just been broken out of jail by another cell of the Operatives’ Guild, the Mongrels were figuring out the logistics of tracking down the bell they were sure Oxyr planned to use to trigger dozens of poison gas barrels hidden all over town. Checking the town hall to see if the bell was in the tower already seemed the most obvious starting point, so they set off. Dodging the main roads, the party wound through side alleys until the town hall and its new bell tower were in view – no bell, but the rigging was there. It might be on its way here already.

Reasoning that they should cross paths with the bell if they head directly to the Harnem farmstead, the party set off to the north out of town. They were thankful for what distance they had put behind them as shrill bells sounded and the alarm was raised in town, the jailbreak having been discovered quickly. With few people on the road at this hour, the party was at the Harnem farmhouse before they knew it. All seemed peaceful on the property. Anywhere else, that might not be unusual this time of day. On a farm, such serenity even a few minutes after sunrise was out of place. The party elected to check on Bodi’s workshop first, and found the doors locked with a merchant stall lock and chain from the market stalls in town. What’s more, the door appeared to be trapped with a fine tripwire. Very suspicious now, Teegan scouted the perimeter of the building until he found a loading access to the loft, and methodically scaled the exterior wall to reach it. He popped inside the access after scanning quickly for traps. The workshop in the barn now stood empty- the bell was gone. The plans, however, were still there. Reasoning that they might make for useful evidence later, or help in some other way, Teegan collected them.

It was then that he saw there were two sets of plans, for two completely different bells. Scanning the workshop more carefully, he saw the signs. Two pallets, bronze chips and shavings in two places, and two sets of drag marks from being loaded into wagons. Then he saw the bundles stashed under the loft. One of them was bloody. So this was why everything was quiet on the Harnem farm. It looked like Bodi and his daughter had been dispatched in an effort to tie up loose ends. Noticing a pungent residue on the bronze chips, Teegan snatched up the container of cutting oil on the workbench and beat a hasty retreat. Outside, he set Reese about tracking the aromatic oil. The wolf had no trouble until he came to the main thoroughfare of the Deep Road. The trail was lost there in the dust of the road, but it wasn’t hard to reason it headed back to town. Given that the party hadn’t run into the wagons on the way here, the couriers must have had a huge lead on them, and the bells had probably already been in town when they left. Breaking into the other barn, the party helped themselves to a few of Bodi’s remaining horses and sped back to town.

The trip back to town went by as fast as they could make it as the sun crept ever skyward. Cresting the last rise before town, the team saw that the guards combing the streets were obvious and plentiful. They would need a plan to re-enter without being slowed or detained by well-meaning members of the town watch. The party found a shady spot to tie up their horses and entered on foot. Near the north edge of town they passed a collection of tents belonging to seasonal workers that had not yet moved on to other work. Tied outside a tent at the outer perimeter, Finn spotted a horse he had seen many times before. It belonged to Bodi Harnem and was his usual favorite when he made trips into town. It had been missing from the barn earlier, and now here it was. Listening in at the tent where the horse was tied, the party overheard only mundane conversation about a dice game. Perhaps the horse had been tied there as a ruse, or in a hurry by someone on their way elsewhere. Bringing out the cutting oil can once again, Teegan sent Reese to work on the tent compound. Almost immediately, the wolf had a trail. It did not lead to a tent, but to the rear door of the nearby market building that now sat empty until next harvest.

Collectively making short work of the lock, the party shuffled inside. They found a mostly empty building, as anyone else might have expected. One stall near the front held the only pile of tarped goods. Uncovering it, the Mongrels yet another stash of the poison gas barrels. It was becoming more clear with each encounter that there was no chance of finding every place these were stashed before the worst happened. Reese led them to a stall on the opposite side of the walkway, which sat empty. Close inspection showed oil rings on the floor, one of which matched the bell they had seen before. They supposed the other belonged to the second bell. Both were gone, but one of the rings was still very fresh. They were not far behind now. Perhaps more clues were on the other side of the stall door leading outside. They opened the door from the inside and headed out, almost running into the back of a wooden cart attached to a horse. Two men sat in the cart’s seat, and a sizable bell-sized lump in the back was covered by a tarp. The men in the cart cursed as the party sprang on them.

Before the two could react, Tarsus and Teegan had the cart between them, with the rest of the party getting into positions to clear lines of fire and hopefully cut off escape. Sensing it was show time, Sindar gulped down his mutagen as Emi resigned herself to using a less powerful but much quieter crossbow to help bring down the pair. Finding his footing quickly, one of the men jumped off the cart and loosed a dazzlingly bright rainbow of flashing colors in front of Teegan and Reese, blinding both of them temporarily and stopping them in their tracks. Tarsus and the other man traded blows. Emi peppered the man with crossbow bolts and Sindar rained acid on him, being careful to not hit the horse and cause a spectacle of the animal bolting into the street. Finn focused on trying to blunt the edge of the attacks from the two men as the rest of the party worked them over, then moved in to help.

In short order, the sword-wielding cultist was overwhelmed and looking for an exit. As he opened the gap from Tarsus, the fighter took another good swing but missed, and then threw his sword at the man like it was a dagger. To everyone’s surprise, it sailed true across the 25 foot gap and skewered the man, putting him on death;s doorstep. The rest of the party continued to press the attack, focused now on the remaining cultist. As he realized his defeat was inevitable, he loosed a final volley of magic at Sindar in the form of magic missiles, and then fled. Unfortunately for him, he did not get far as Finn infused Emi with energy to steady her aim as she moved around the wagon to get a clear shot, drew up, and fired. Finn stabilized the two as they were manacled, and the party dragged them back inside the abandoned building. Digging through his varied collection of vials, Sindar produced some powerful acids to damage the bronze of the bell beyond repair, eating a massive hole and scar into the inside surface.

Waking the non-caster after staging a frightening little display for him, the party allowed Teegan to ask him a few very hard and very scary questions. He resisted at first, but soon collapsed and begged to be freed. He wanted nothing more to do with his new compatriots, and told the party everything he knew: where the other bell was stored, where both had been headed; everything. Leaving him bound with his comrade, the party moved quickly to the warehouse he had indicated. Ducking from building to building, being careful not to attract attention, they were most of the way there when they saw it- the other bell was already being lifted into position on the town hall bell tower and workers were all over it. It seemed their options had run out. If that bell was the trigger, and it made it into the saddle at the top of the bell tower, it could be struck at any time.

Throwing to the wind what caution they had left, the party broke cover and ran for it. Almost immediately, guards in the street saw them and gave chase, whistles blowing. Others were alerted to what was happening, and the few guards between them and the bell tower began moving to block their path. Moving as a unit, the party managed to clear one group closing on them before deliberately plowing into the next trio at full speed and knocking them flat. As the path opened up in front of them, they saw one of the captains directing nearby guards. Deciding it may well be him or the whole town, they cut him down as they advanced, hoping an apothecary would get to him in time.

As they reached the area under the bell tower, the party saw that the huge thing was well clear of the ground already, just shy of half the distance to the top as it was hoisted by hand on ropes and pulleys. Eight workers were scattered between the tower and the ground beneath it. The party began to spread out around the area under the bell and explored options to prevent its rise to the apex. Emi and Sindar began attacking the ropes and the rigging yoke that were hoisting the bell, banking that they could do enough damage to break the harness more quickly than they could disable the bell. Just as they were getting started, a trio of guards appeared at the opposite corner and charged them. In an effort to put as many bodies as possible between the guards and his people trying to bring the bell down, Tarsus downed a potion that instantly quadrupled his size and bull rushed the workers into the path of the guards. In the fray, one of the workers fell prone beneath the bell just as the first of two ropes gave way. A moment later, the second rope parted under the strain and the bell tumbled toward the prostrate man.

Tarsus considered his options as he saw the bell begin to fall in seeming slow motion, knowing already what he was going to do, but taking the last possible second to come to grips with the risk involved. Then he leapt, sprawling over the man in hopes of saving him from the impact. The crushing weight of the bell crashed into his back and tumbled off, doing tremendous damage to Tarsus. He had no idea whether he had shielded the man under him successfully, and rolled off the worker to at least somewhat good news. While he wasn’t in great shape, he was alive. The rest of the party fought back against the three guards, forcing the last to flee as Finn began pushing out all the healing power he could to save Tarsus from the bell’s damage, Reese from a savage beating from one of the guards, and the worker that Tarsus had dived to protect. As it looked like things were turning in their favor at last, the party watched the massive bell slowly begin to rise into the air. Looking up, they realized the two workers at the very top of the bell tower were members of the Children in disguise and were slowly raising the bell with magic.

Within moments, everyone in the party had a plan to deal with the men at the top of the tower, and though they didn’t exactly work in concert, they at least did not interfere with each other. Teegan set Reese after the men immediately, as Finn turned a previous tactic against them and blinded the two with a brilliant flash of light right in front of their faces. For his part, Tarsus put his massive size to use by jumping onto the bell before it got too high. Whether it was the staggering light or the additional strain, their concentration was broken and the bell slammed back into the ground with an armored behemoth attached.

A heartbeat later, the guards were everywhere, and more were piling in by the second. The guard commander, Dana, gave them a single opportunity to surrender. To avoid having to take up further arms against the guards, the party relented. As they were taken into custody once again, they pressed their case with the guard commander and implored him to look into the evidence. Leading him to the market house, they showed him the barrels and the captives they had subdued. Dana decided to put them in the catacombs beneath the temple of Anahita, being the only serviceable place left in town that was close to being a jail cell after the morning’s breakout.

In the cell they were interrogated by Ambo, head priest of the temple, with the assistance of magical truth-seeking that they were warned not to resist. For their part, the party answered honestly everything they could, and learned from Ambo that he was familiar with the man they knew as Wils. It seemed Wils had come through Herlish not long before meeting them that fateful day in Sutif, and had received much needed help from Ambo. Now understanding much more about who the Mongrels were, and the importance of what they were doing, Ambo ordered food and drink be brought to them to ease their stay. Hours later, the guard shift changed again. Something seemed off as the new guard began walking around the room outside the cell, testing bars on other enclosures and inspecting their equipment. When he addressed the party with familiarity, they understood the game being played. Just to be sure, Tarsus tossed a pebble at the man to make sure he was real. This time around it looked like Oxyr had gone with domination instead of illusion.

He congratulated them on their capital effort in destroying both bells, and conceded the future of Herlish and its inhabitants to their victory. Then he claimed to have subdued the other Guild team and captured one of its members, promising that it would be his new plaything for the time being. He told them they could inspect some of the ruins in Hansen for some leads on where to find him next, unaware they had already gotten solid information on the location of the Children’s nearby camp several days’ ride away. As he drew close to twist the knife on them a little more, Finn reached through the bars and touched his hand. The protection spell shot through the guard like a bolt of lightning, expelling Oxyr’s influence violently. Finn told the confused guard to run and get help quickly, before the spell faded and Oxyr returned. The man ran away, and was replaced by a team of guards.

They began advancing on the cell, one of them clearly believing the party had injured their comrade and looking for a little payback. Almost before he was aware of the thought in his head, the longsword that had been taken from Tarsus and locked in the cell near theirs was in his hand, his white knuckles announcing his death grip on the hilt. Taken aback, the guards thought better and went back upstairs to see to their friend. Not long after, Ambo appeared, and he was in a hurry. Opinion among the town leaders was split. Although it was obvious the party had been truthful in their assertions, there were those that felt this had all been brought upon the town by imperial presence to begin with, and in that sense it was their fault that this had happened to them. Seeing the potential crimes yet to be committed, Ambo was compelled by his beliefs to take action and had arranged to help the party escape the town- but they had to leave right now.

He released them, helped to collect their belongings, and shuttled them to the Khalid market warehouse, where the brothers were waiting. Their cart was prepped with some basic supplies and their olive shipment. Two fresh horses were lashed on, rather than the ponies they’d had originally. In thanks, the party gave the olives back to the brothers, letting them keep the money the olives were originally bought with. Myev gave them a small box, saying it was something from the temple that might help them. “Lay it out flat and put it on top,” he said as they left. And then they were off toward Hansen.

Stopping the next night to camp, the party pulled out he box to explore its contents. They found the prisoner’s dungeon ring they had found on one of their captives from earlier, but thrown away. They also found a very fine looking handkerchief. Unfolding it on the ground, they put the ring on top. After a few moments, a glow surrounded the ring on the handkerchief. A moment later, the faintest of thin wisps of energy reached out from the ring to the southwest. They immediately understood. They now had a way to find the jailor’s ring that was linked to this prisoner’s ring. They had a way to track Oxyr directly, and he had no idea they had it. It would take some debate to figure out how best to exploit this advantage, and that was best left for later when they had a chance to talk to their allies.

As they closed in on Hansen, the ground rumbled and the air grew heavy with smoke. Rounding the last of the bluffs that shielded the city from the desert, they found more imperial ships than any of them had ever seen in one place, and they were pounding the city with heavy cannon fire. Acting as fast as they could the get the attention of the crew of the Vengeance, the party was on board their ship within the hour and making their case to Arndt to get the bombardment stopped. Entertained at the prospect of seeing them convince the acting flotilla admiral, Arndt gave orders to break the Vengeance’s position on the fleet perimeter and move in to come alongside the AES Expedition, the admiral’s flagship. Arndt explained that the Expedition, and several of the ships present, were the personal property of the admiral (properly ranked a High Colonel). He was well-placed with the Emperor’s family, and a good portion of the empire’s overseas business depended on his company, the Mueller Trading Company. As such, the man was not easily swayed once his mind was made up.

Nevertheless, within the hour, the Mongrels were standing on the weather deck of his staggeringly massive vessel as dozens of guns thundered away under their feet. The party made their case with the impatient man, explaining that they needed a few hours in the city to search for important evidence and possible survivors. He explained that it was possible there was still crippling intelligence present within the city, and the best they could do for now was to pound it flat to make sure at least most of it was destroyed, and the rest would be so difficult to get to that the sand shamblers would tear apart any would-be spies long before they got to it. When all was said and done, the party finally put the Seal of Service on the table to explain that they were personal envoys of the Emperor. Mueller pulled his out in response, and then relented. “You’re fools, but I’ll not disrespect the Seal,” he said.

Mueller gave them two flares. He would continue shelling the city until he saw the first one, and then give them either two hours or until they lit the second one, signalling they were clear of the city. Whichever came first, he would recommence the bombardment. With that, he put them off, and the Vengeance began making its way to put them ashore. The story closed as they prepped themselves for a trip into the warzone that was once Hansen, and the deck officer signalled, “Captain’s yacht over the side!” It was time to go.

XP for session

Halt individual XP tracks. As the party hands the Children of Ahriman their first real defeat, party advances to level 5.

The Vote

Five days remain until the Asad votes on whether to accept or reject imperial presence in Riyaqa.

View
Session 7
By fire, be purged

Our story opened with 4 of 5 members of the Onyx Mongrels making their way into Herlish alongside two local merchants. Needing someplace safe to stash their new olive shipment, the party agreed to leave the merchandise in the nearby market warehouse belonging to the Khalid family, from whom the shipment had been purchased on the road. The Khalid brothers also offered up a bunkroom attached to the warehouse, normally used by seasonal merchants. Since it was currently the off-season, the bunkroom sat empty otherwise.

With storage and a bed for the night settled, the Mongrels headed to the local temple of Anahita in hopes of seeing to their departed comrade. The story of their exploits on the road into town were already spreading, thanks to the Khalid brothers. The party gained a brief audience with Ambo Dubash, the head priest of the temple. After they explained how their friend had died, Ambo offered basic funerary services free of charge. His priests took custody of Anton’s body and began preparing for the moonrise sky burial ritual at the uppermost parapets of the temple. In what the priests interpreted as a solemn last look at the body of their lost friend, the party collectively looked him over to make sure they had everything of value.

Wiping away a tear or two, the group set about their mission in town: find Oxyr. Not knowing quite where to start, they headed for the only local tavern to see if they could scare up a lead. Inside, they found the Khalid brothers in the middle of the epic tale of how these new (mostly) imperials had managed to best not only a pack of sand devils, but the gods-forsaken queen herself. They were damned heroes to the people who depended on that road for survival, and they received a heroes’ welcome at the bar. The revelry was in full swing when the front door opened and the mood died instantly at the sight of a tall, thin Riyaqan man in fine-quality desert dress. He invited himself to the party’s table, introducing himself as the mayor of Herlish. The man inquired as to the party’s business in Herlish, and offered his congratulations on besting the sand devils and their brood queen. The other patrons of the bar remained silent and averted their eyes from the “mayor’s” intrusion. With their tense but polite meeting concluded, the man left. Quickly, the bar came back to life. It struck members of the party as a bit odd that everyone would react to the mayor’s presence the way they did, given that the Khalid brothers had actually spoken well of him. Things only became more odd when a few enquiries revealed that no one else in the bar had a clear memory of anyone coming in and sitting down with the party. Not even the barmaid remembered seeing him, though the drink she served him still sat at an empty place at the table. Though not convinced, the party became suspicious that the man they just met was not actually the mayor. That left a very short list of who in town might want to lie to them about his identity, but still be brazen enough to seek them out for a face to face meeting.

Pondering what had just happened, the party left the tavern to head over to the town hall and get a look at the real mayor, if only to confirm their suspicions. Upon leaving, they happened across a small caravan returning to town from the north, and discovered it was transporting back the bodies of two teenage boys. They had been missing since the night before, and a search had been convened at first light. After a short while, the bodies of the murdered boys had been discovered near the road, only rudimentary efforts having been made to hide them. Among the group escorting the bodies back to town, the party spotted a priest who was clearly of imperial descent- an unusual find in a small town far from shore. Seeing their interest (and being a bit curious himself about their presence), the man approached them as the caravan passed into the Church of Rustum. He introduced himself as Finn, and asked the group what their business was in town.

At first, the party tried to deflect Finn’s questions and stick with their story of being in town to trade olives and enjoy the scenery. For his part, Finn wasn’t too forthcoming with answers to their questions about the mayor and the local traders. It took a while, but eventually the two sides opened up enough to get some real dialogue going, and the party gave Finn a description of a local man they were trying to find- the man that had come to them in the tavern. They suspected the man of being involved in some very shady dealings, and being a potentially serious danger to the town. The man they were describing was familiar to Finn, but was also a well-liked and dependable member of the community. He was a trader named Osram who had been here for a couple of years, and many of the farmers had come to depend on him. Finn finally agreed to take the party to find him, and clear all this up.

Heading first to Osram’s warehouse, they found the place deserted. While searching for a view inside to see if anyone was there, the group found a leaking puddle of vile liquid coming out from under the wall. For the Mongrels, it looked a lot like the liquid they had seen in questionable containers in Tulat‘s quarters below the Lacy Death, and all but confirmed that Osram was at least a step in the right direction. For Finn, it meant something might not be right inside the warehouse, and Osram might be in trouble. For different reasons, everyone agreed the warehouse now had to be entered. While Teegan scrambled up to enter through a second floor ventilation opening, the rest of the party attempted entry through the main doors. Soon enough, Tarsus lopped through the chain on the doors, and everyone was inside. A quick search of the warehouse turned up no one. As the party focused on the area the leak was coming from, they found several suspicious barrels. Seeking some confirmation of the crazy claims the party was making, Finn searched the barrels for signs of magic. He found that some of them had magical triggering glyphs inscribed on the covers, and was able to tell that the glyphs had clairaudience spells attached- they were listening for their trigger. What that trigger sound might be was anyone’s guess.

Upstairs, Tarsus had found an office and begun ransacking the place for clues. Finding nothing in most of the office, he came across a single locked drawer. If the man that owned this warehouse was the same shadowy man that they had communicated with in the small compound beneath the streets of Gol Asad, there was no way this drawer was not trapped. Tarsus knew it. But he also knew they had no easy way to disarm a small and intricate trap, so he might as well get it over with. He gave a hard jerk, and the entire front of the drawer came off in his hand. Seeing only a leather bound journal inside, Tarsus grabbed it even as he heard the clicks and pops running through the desk’s frame. He dove from the office as the fireball engulfed the room and lost only a little hair for the trouble. But even as the fire began to reach out like a wild animal, the rest of the party was coming to terms with the second half of the trap. Tarsus warned them of the fire as he got to his feet and ran for the door, and everyone else did the same. The sound of breaking glass ampules echoed across the upper and lower floors, and jets of resin and goo began spurting out of many of the floorboards as they were stepped on, threatening to anchor the fleeing party in place before they could make good their escape.

After several lucky dodges by the party to narrowly avoid getting locked to the floor, Reese was finally the first to get held fast as his four chances to get stuck with every step caught up to him. The party converged to cut him free as the flames lapped through the upper story and threatened to come crashing through the weakening timbers. Deciding to rescue a barrel of the poisonous substance as evidence, the party made a leapfrogging movement toward the door as everyone tried to get a hand on the barrel as if it were the last available seat in a game of musical chairs where the losers had to hug the inferno closing in around them. And not a moment too soon, the party was in the open, with Finn just barely managing a dive through the doorway as half of the second story collapsed down on it.

Now thoroughly convinced something was afoot, Finn agreed to take the Mongrels to the only other place he could think of to look for Osram. Finn knew Osram had business at the Harnem farm north of town and might be out there today. And with that, the party was off in search of Osram again. After a trek across and out of town along the northern access to the Deep Road, the group arrived at the Harnem family house at the road access of the farm. Briefly speaking to Sadani at the front door, they were directed to the workshop behind the house to speak with her father, Bodi. They found Bodi hard at work engraving the large bell that Osram had brought him. Bodi explained that the bell was for a ceremony for the mayor, and was being donated to the town in his honor by Osram. Once completed, it would be hung at the top of the town hall before the ceremony, so it could be used for the first time there. Osram was not due back at the farm for some time. Realization struck the party… well, like the ringing of a bell… as they realized they were most likely looking at the mysterious audible trigger the barrels were waiting for. The bell would be loud enough that the barrels could probably detect it no matter where in town they were. Hoping that mucking up the engraving might change the sound of the bell enough to thwart the plan, the party engaged in some brief subterfuge to try and change the plan Bodi was working from before heading out again in search of the elusive Osram.

With their best lead starting to dry up before their eyes, Teegan searched for something that might put Reese on a trail – any trail – that Osram may have left. After a moment of thinking, someone produced the journal from Osram’s destroyed warehouse. Reese took a minute to acquaint himself with the scent, and began to search. After just a few moments, he had something, and was off down the road with the party in pursuit. The wolf brought them to a grisly scene near the road a ways south, where something or someone had lost a lot of blood in the tall grass. Already familiar with this site, Finn explained that this was where the two boys had been found that morning with their throats cut. It had obviously not been an animal attack, or sand devils. They had been murdered by someone. From this point, Reece was having trouble differentiating between two trails that both seemed relatively recent. One continued to town, and the other led into the sorghum fields to the west. Opting for the more curious of the two, Teegan put Reese onto the trail into the fields, and the Mongrels followed the wolf into the unknown.

After trekking through the shortened post-harvest grasses for a little more than a mile, the party caught sight of what they suspected was the end of the trail- the Harnem field hand houses were not far ahead. The houses were normally only occupied during high activity times of the year, when migrant workers came through to collect pay for work in the fields. It now being a few weeks post-harvest, they should be sitting empty. A search of the first building turned up nothing of interest. It was empty and unused, as expected. The second building was furnished much the same as the first, but the first good look inside the darkened interior revealed the reason Osram had come here. Nearly every spare bit of floor space in the house was holding a suspicious barrel, each bearing the same arcane trigger glyphs Finn had spotted earlier. There was enough of the stuff here to take out a city much larger than Herlish. As the party considered their options, a noise from the first house they’d searched drew their attention. Wasting little time, the party surrounded the house a moment before they kicked the door in. There was no one inside.

A second later, they knew why. Shadows flitted overhead and Tarsus had barely registered that someone had jumped off the roof and landed behind him before twin blades sank deep into his back. The rest of the party watched in horror as Tarsus absorbed blows from two assailants that might well have killed any one of them outright. Their response was fast and vicious. Teegan and Reese counter-attacked as Emi and Sindar repositioned to more or less rain fire on the attackers. As the party got a look at them, they suspected the two men were cultists with the Children of Ahriman, as nothing else really made sense. Finn realized that their cloaks matched the fabric found at the scene of the boys’ murder, and could even see the missing patch in one of their hoods. At last, it made sense to him. The fleeing boys must have come across these houses, seen something they should not have, and then fled for the road. These men probably caught up to them just before they reach the road, and the rest was obvious. And somehow Osram was involved in all of this.

Miraculously, the two cultists survived a brutal riposte from the party, and split their attacks between Tarsus and Teegan. It quickly became apparent that the two were skilled finesse fighters, feinting before their attacks to open up the opponent’s guard. More devastating short sword stabs poured into the party as a result. After a few seconds of this back and forth, with Tarsus taking ever more steps to simply defend himself rather than dish out effective strikes and the remainder of the party laying hard into the cultists, one of the men faltered. A combined attack from several directions made him pay for that immediately, and he was brought down. Seeing his partner drop, the second man decided to flee the scene through a crowd of blades and teeth. After a series of dips and somersaults, he was safely through that gauntlet and began to open distance rapidly with the party when a vial of acid caught him in the back of the head. Unceremoniously, he fell face first into the dirt. The party bound and stabilized their new star witnesses and, after much deliberation, torched the entire building containing the questionable barrels of death.

With a column of thick black smoke rising into the sky behind them, the party made their way back to their wagon hidden along the road. As they loaded up their captives to head back to town, Herlish’s guard commander and a dozen guards arrived from the south on horseback. Having found the party, he announced the warrant for their arrest in connection to a destroyed warehouse in town where they were seen moments after the calamity. As the party began to protest their involvement in that mysterious fire, the commander pointed at the other mysterious fire that had just sprung up near them, and ordered them to come along peacefully while promising to lock up their captives until he could investigate claims the party was making. Wanting to avoid further aggravating their circumstances, the party acquiesced. An hour or so later, they were split up two to a cell in the town’s guard house, with the two men that attacked them still unconscious but patched up in the two cells at the back of the cell block.

For quite some time, their efforts to get the attention of the guards went ignored, and the frustration grew. They might well be the only hope the town had for surviving the impending catastrophe, and they were sitting there with no one listening to their pleas. They could each imagine what Ducet might have to say about this. After several hours had passed, the main doors into the guard house opened and Osram strode in. He had a brief conversation with the guard on duty, and the party’s hearts sank as they saw money exchange hands and the guard excused himself. Now alone with the party, Osram pulled up a stool and sat down between their cell doors in the narrow hallway. He immediately dispensed with his earlier aggravations couched in polite banter, and showed his true colors and intentions. He had planned all of this. Of course he had wanted the party, or maybe Ducet himself, to come to Herlish looking for him. He had wanted them to get on his trail, though not too close. He had wanted them to find the barrels, get suspicious, and take matters into their own hands. He had waited for just the right moment to call on the authorities, and then sprung his trap. His true quarry was not the town or its people. They would simply be another test in a long series of tests while he refined his compounds. His real target had been the party of Operatives themselves. Imprison a strong mind, he explained, and force it to witness utterly mind-bending horrors, and in a small minority of cases, you might create the right circumstances to forge an undead being of terrifying power. You could create an apparition so consumed by rage and hate that it sought relentlessly to kill and terrify. And every time it killed, it hoped to create a spawn that would soon carry on its cause. To consume an entire city with the things, all you needed was one. Even one success would prove so much more potent a weapon than hordes of the sand shamblers that almost any expense was justifiable.

The party protested, pointing out that if his cause were to simply destabilize the imperial occupation, this scorched earth approached seemed to be a pretty foolhardy way to go about it. It might certainly be possible that citizens would come to blame the occupation for such horrors, but this approach would likely bring down the Asad as well, and leave very few people to pick up the pieces and start over. As Osram/Oxyr smiled at the revelation, his true motives were made clear with a single remark: “I intend to set this whole continent free. Not just from your empire, but from the government that accepted their occupation in the first place.” He spoke of visions his god had given him, and how those would be brought to pass by his followers. Then he got out of the chair and sat in the floor. The party inquired as to what terrible thing he was doing now, and Oxyr parted from the classic villain monologue. “Surely, you did not think I was going to explain my master plan to you, and then leave you the opportunity to escape and ruin it? We will all sit here together until that bell is delivered, and then we will all hear its ring as the town falls to ruin around us. And then you shall see.”

Apparently making good on his promise, Oxyr sat in meditation for hours with not so much as a stir. In a bid to disrupt him, some of the party made noise and threw bits of straw at him, but to no effect. As the darkness outside began to fade into the first dim light of morning, an angry guard commander stormed into the guard house demanding to know where the rest of his guards were. As he scolded the one remaining guard, the party tried to get his attention to explain that the man in the floor was responsible for bribing them. Entering the hallway, the commander said he saw no one sitting here and had no time for games. Oxyr calmly rose to his feet, chuckling to himself as he walked straight through the wall and out of sight. That bastard had done it to them again. He had not actually been there for some time, if he was ever there at all. The commander stormed out, leaving the guards he had brought with him and carting off the unfortunate soul he had found there alone. A moment later, Tarsus felt a warning call that was unfamiliar to him. Something was about to happen.

On cue, a loud bang from the next room drew the two guards to the doorway just as the wall blasted in on them. The room filled instantly with a heavy white haze. As it cascaded across metal, the metal began to dissolve rapidly. Within a few seconds, the bars of the cells were weak enough to kick the doors of the hinges, and the group was free. Knowing roughly where their gear was stored, they made their way toward that room. A figure brushed past them in the haze, headed for the cell block. As they entered the storeroom the attack had come from, they met a small-framed woman in the garb of a Council Operative. Behind them, a large man in the same clothing walked up with one of the captives they party had taken earlier slung over his shoulder. The woman introduced them as Atala and Bran, of the Jade Ravens. The Ravens were one of the other two cells the Mongrels had been told were operating in Riyaqa, but they had had no idea that the Ravens were so close by. Atala explained that they had diverted from their current mission when they had heard the Mongrels lost a member (an apparently unexplained feature of the council operative outfit- it can report to someone somewhere something about the wearer’s status). It had taken a few days to track them down, and if they sat in a cell any longer they risked exposure in a way that would be very bad for the organization. At this point, the lesser of two evils would be breaking them out the old-fashioned way, and so the Ravens intervened.

As Tarsus brought Atala up to speed on what they had learned, the party cracked open chests and collected their gear once the mist dissipated. The story closed with Atala’s concise command: you go after that bell, and the Ravens will handle Oxyr.

XP for Session:

RP: Meeting Oxyr for the first time – 1200xp
RP: A new face joins the party – 800xp (1600xp for Finn)
COMBAT/TRAP: Burning down the warehouse – 2000xp
RP: Preparing the bell – 1200xp
COMBAT: Dispatching the cultist babysitters & burning down another house – 3200xp
RP: Getting to know the bad guy – 1200xp

Session total = 9600xp = 1920xp per person

Campaign total = 12680xp (15000xp for level 5)
Finn total = 11720xp (15000xp for level 5)

The Vote

8 days remain until the Asad’s vote to accept or reject Empire of Alhena presence in Riyaqa.

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Session 6
The Day the Music Died

The story opened with our party of heroes preparing to become fully vested members of the Council Operatives’ Guild, at the behest of their benefactor, Consul Arturo Ducet. As they stood in audience with Ducet and the guild visitors, the Consul introduced them to Sparrow- leader of the guild and their new ultimate commanding authority. Her presence heavily obscured by a magical cloak of some kind, Sparrow explained their induction process as Ducet took his leave. After being fitted for their armor and given some indoctrination training, they would face a trial process, where each would be thoroughly interrogated as to their past and their purpose for seeking guild membership. This revelation left some in the group quite on edge as the guild armorer arrived.

A stout, older man, Casper the armorer explained to everyone how the fitting process would work, and what the armor could do for them once worn. The armor could be fitted to whatever type and shape the wearer desired as it formed around them, locking to that shape for good once chosen. In its final shape, the armor became +1 armor of its chosen type, with the Comfort special ability. Their armoring process complete, the party was given some indoctrination training about the guild, its mission, and its members. They were then taught the guild’s operational creed:

When called upon, we act.
Where power has corrupted, we act.
While others debate, we act.
We are the focused will of all people, brought to a cutting edge.
The time is now.

With that, they were given a meal and some soup with a mild agent to allow them to rest and gain their strength quickly. In a few hours, their trials would begin as soon as the guild interrogators teleported in from the Grand Terrace.

The party members were roused from sleep by an explosion rumbling through the building. Soldiers’ yelling sounded from the hallways, and the party was quickly on their feet, weapons in hand, and into the hallway. Stopping a passing soldier, they found out someone had breached the Consulate and stolen the artifact book that they had brought to Ducet when they first arrived here. The building was under attack, possibly by allies of the thief. They had tried to escape through the front door, and the guard captain had triggered the emergency blocking spells intended to protect the Consulate from outside attack, collapsing stone blocks in front of the doors and sealing the thief in the building.

Rushing to the action on the ground floor, the party encountered the guard captain in the stairwell, commanding a group of soldiers as they fought back a literal mob of the shambling sand things that many members of the garrison had been turned into. The captain told the party that the best way they could help was to find and subdue the thief. He suspected the thief’s power to do all this came from the book he had stolen, and getting it back quickly might end the crisis. Lacking a better option, the party rushed back upstairs to search the rest of the building for the thief.

Thinking quickly, Anton began scanning for any residual trails of magic the use of the book might be leaving behind. He found what he was looking for, and surmised the thief had escaped to the roof- the last option for getting out of the sealed building. They opened the secret staircase to the roof, and headed up. What they found there took their breath away. They found their thief standing at the roof’s edge, casting hellish spells at the people in the streets below. He was making no attempt to escape at all. Heavy, roiling storm clouds cast a twilight pall over the city as panicked civilians ran from the sand shamblers chasing them through the streets. Seemingly aware of their arrival, the man spoke as he turned to face them, “You are too late. Even this incredible being was easy to subjugate with enough time. What hope do you have?” It was then that they saw it was Ducet himself, holding the evil tome in his hand. With that, the fight was joined, and the party leapt to action.

Ducet opened by tearing bones from his throne to form a phalanx of skeletal defenders. With a wave of his hand, he sent them to fall upon the party. The haste of their summoning made for weak defenders, though, and the party very quickly tore through them as Ducet re-positioned. Emi scored a solid hit with her musket, only to learn Ducet already had a bullet shield spell in place which foiled the shot. Preparing to charge and tear the book out of Ducet’s hands, Tarsus found himself the object of a wind blades spell, turning the very air around him into sharp shards that resisted his every movement. Ignoring his own safety, he charged anyway in the hopes that being in close combat with Ducet might slow his casting. The gambit worked, but Tarsus was bleeding badly by the time he closed the distance. As the rest of the party moved in support and started closing the gap with the necromancer, Teegan sent his companion (a massive wolf named Reese) straight at Ducet to make a play for the book. Bolstered by enhancement provided by Anton, Reese barely managed to grab the book, and tore it from Ducet’s hands. The furor of the storm above them instantly abated as a feminine voice yelled, “Enough!” Their trial had come to an end.

Sparrow explained that this had always been the true nature of the trial. None came to the guild except by way of a sponsor of one form or another, and the trial always posed the same question: Will you do what must be done, even if your sponsor is the threat that must be removed? Having answered that question to the satisfaction of their new commander, the party was inducted into the Council Operatives’ Guild. Their cell was given the designation Onyx Mongrels, and Tarsus was named Captain. As their first assignment, the Mongrels were attached to the mission authority of Consul Ducet for the purposes of tracking and destroying the cult known as the Children of Ahriman, and recovering or destroying any dangerous artifacts or items found in their possession. After that, they would return to the Grand Terrace for extended training and more thorough indoctrination. With that, they were given their cloaks, which functioned in two special regards. The cloaks improved their ability to resist a number of detrimental effects, and those resistances could be weighted as needed for different enemies. Additionally, the wearer could select an alternative appearance each day, and the cloak could shift their entire ensemble from their normal appearance to that guise and back essentially at will, requiring only that they remain still for a few seconds for the process to complete each time.

As the guild officers departed for the Grand Terrace through their portal, Ducet told the party to rendezvous with their assigned transport and its captain at the imperial navy piers and make all speed for Hansen, and then to continue to Herlish and the trap certainly waiting for them there.

At the pier, the Onyx Mongrels embarked on Talia’s Vengeance, recently outfitted in support of their hunt for Oxyr and the Children of Ahriman. They met briefly with the captain of the Vengeance, whom they already knew well as the impromptu commander of the skiff that originally rescued them from the horror in Sutif- Arndt Jungson. They were shown the layout of the ship and assigned to staterooms by the first officer, and very soon the Vengeance was on its way. After a couple of days of shakedown and training, the ship turned north toward Hansen, making amazing speed for the journey.

When they got close enough to see Hansen on their seventh evening at sea, the Vengeance and its embarked Mongrels found the city in cinders. Smoke billowed from ruined buildings, and sand shamblers crowded the docks and streets. What had happened in Sutif was a small affair compared to this. The Empire’s only major military settlement in Riyaqa was in ruins. A good deal of the imperial military might in Riyaqa may have been lost in the attack, and it was almost certain that the fleet had taken a crippling blow if there had been no warning. Either way, the possibility of acquiring horses and gear in Hansen for their trek to Herlish was gone. They would have to disembark somewhere nearby (but far enough from Hansen to avoid the interest of a legion of shamblers) and set out on foot.

Making their way along the coast, the ship spotted what appeared to be an imperial woman moving along the coast with a horse and cart- possibly a refugee from Hansen. Moving in with rowboats, the party made contact with Librarian Rinn Kulanov of the Imperial Geographers’ Guild. She was indeed a refugee from Hansen, having hidden out there for a couple of days after the attack before rescuing whatever she could carry of the archives from her office and slipping out of town between roving mobs of sand shamblers. After a quick conversation and some bargaining, the Mongrels cut a deal with her: they would offer safe passage aboard the Vengeance in exchange for her gas mask, which had protected her from the effects of the mutagenic gas attack, and a promise to make more of them.

Taking Rinn’s now-empty cart and pony as part of a disguise should they meet curious travelers on the route to Herlish, the party set off overland until they could safely reach the road north. Within the day, they were on the road and headed toward Herlish, moving at night to avoid the worst of the heat. On their first early morning on the road, the party came across a pair of local traders getting ready to set out for the day with their horse and wagon. After a tense greeting, they found out the traders were two brothers ( Myev and Ovak Khalid) from Herlish, on their way to Hansen to sell a batch of olives from their farm. The party broke the news to them that no one in Hansen was not going to be buying olives any time soon, and convinced them to travel back to Herlish with the party accompanying them. This did require buying the brothers’ olive shipment for a substantial amount, but at least the party wouldn’t run out of food any time soon.

After a bit more travel on the road, the party’s new companions stopped and pointed up ahead, indicating two symmetrical mounds flanking the road a hundred paces away. They explained that this was a common trap of creatures called Sand Devils- humanoid in appearance at a distance, but close up bore more in common with scorpions or spiders. They walked on two legs that ended in short, clawed feet. Their two arms had extended forearms, each ending in a vicious hooked claw that dripped paralytic venom. The things were smart, and often hid to spring traps such as this along the roads, but might move off after a day or so, or when someone else happened by to spring the trap. Unable to spare the time to wait it out, the party opted to go around, when the brothers explained that was just part of the trap. The two you see are not alone- stray off the road and others attack on rougher ground. Better to wait it out, or take them on the road. With time definitely not on their side as Herlish waited beyond, the Mongrels opted to spring the trap.

Moving cautiously, the party denied the beasts the benefits of their ambush as they burst through the dirt that hid them. Springing forward almost immediately, one of the sand devils landed a heavy slashing blow on Teegan as the other fell back and raised its arms. The wind moving over its bristles created a haunting tune as its arms and claws spread out, and a few members of the party found themselves swayed by the beauty of the music. All thoughts of violence left their minds, and they desired only to be closer to the beautiful music that they might hear more of it. The Khalid brothers, however, had told them this was coming, and Anton was ready for it. Falling to the rear of the party, he began his own performance almost immediately and drowned out the gentle enchanting tune of the sand devil. The spell was broken. And with that, the party advanced.

Devastating shots boomed forth from Emi‘s newly improved musket, as Sindar’s chemically enhanced physique starting slinging acid bombs like they were party favors. Tarsus, Teegan, and Reese closed for the attack. Under the combined onslaught, one of the creatures was felled quickly, but not before it did substantial damage that Anton, who was not quite able to keep the pace with healing as he kept his countersong going. Finding itself cornered, the remaining sand devil began to wail. Approaching lumps in the sand had escaped the party’s notice, and when the wail commenced, two more of the things burst forth from the ground, ready to attack. One of the two new arrivals was bigger than the others, and actually using a vicious-looking short spear. Having appeared on the party’s flank, it immediately fell upon Anton, seeking to interrupt his countersong and the healing being supplied to the party. Predicting the result of Anton being left alone against that thing, Tarsus quickly moved to try and insinuate himself into that melee. The rest of the party focused on bringing another of the beasts down, and succeeded within a few seconds. Only the big one and one other beast were left now, and the regular sand devil was already badly wounded. Unable to fight on its own, but unwilling to abandon its leader, the wounded devil dashed to join the fray at the party’s rear. The bigger devil was not only stronger than the others, but much faster, jabbing with its slimy spear too quickly for Anton to keep up. Thankfully, Tarsus was able to intercept a number of the attacks from the thing as the party circled and laid into it. But try as he might, he could not stop them all, and the thing was just too fast and too single-minded in its pursuit of Anton for him to slip away.

With a terrible cracking sound, a spear thrust that found its mark drove Anton into the dirt. Just a few seconds later, the remaining creatures were downed along with him. When the danger was past, Tarsus checked on Anton only to learn the worst. This wasn’t his first foray into the field as a soldier, and certainly wasn’t the first time he’d lost a friend in battle. But it was the first time he had lost someone under his command, and the weight of it felt heavy. Emi looked on in mild shock. She had actually grown a bit fond of Anton. He had certainly not been the worst employer she’d ever had, and this was not going to look good on the curriculum vitae of a bodyguard. The party resolved to shroud his body and take it with them into Herlish to seek proper interment. The Khalid brothers informed the party they had apparently now slain the mother of the sand devil colony that had been plaguing this area, though she was not seen often. That should at least buy them a heroes’ welcome in Herlish. After salvaging what useful bits could be had from the sand devil corpses, the impromptu caravan continued on for Herlish, mostly in silence.

XP for Session:

Combat: the Guild Trials – 1900xp
RP: Induction and assignment – 2000xp
RP/Combat: Avoiding Hansen – 800xp
RP: Hansen refugee – 800xp
Combat: Sand devils – 3200xp

Session total = 8700xp (1740xp per person)
Campaign total = 10760xp (15000 for level 5)

The vote:

10 days remain until the Asad’s vote to accept or reject Empire of Alhena presence in Riyaqa.

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