The Dim Wastes

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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Session 5
Burn down all the things

The story opened with our heroes recovering from a near-disaster at the entry doors to a deathtrap hallway. They had narrowly survived being split up by the trap and then getting pounded on by a goblin tribe living in the caves. After mending themselves and performing a quick loot search, they cautiously moved back into the now disabled trap hallway. Opening the doors at the other end, they found the first chamber of an underground living complex. A large statue loomed over the chamber, which Anton tenuously identified as an image of Azhi Dahaka, a demi-god often associated with Ahriman. Furniture in the chamber looked like someone had long ago arranged it to facilitate a defensive position of some sort.

Moving cautiously through the complex, the group suspected they had not seen the last of the traps intended to guard the place from intrusion, and made creative use of the dead weight provided by several goblin corpses in order to look for hidden pressure plates. Their suspicions were confirmed as a goblin corpse was further mutilated by a pair of swinging bars intended to trip an intruder and then pound them flat. Careful to avoid the spring-loaded goblin tenderizer, they moved on.

Along the north side of the complex, the party found a meeting room and started fishing around for clues (and maybe loot). No sooner did they disturb the dilapidated remains of the furniture than they were beset by swarms of undead rats intent on their consumption. Though their efforts to combat the rats proved largely ineffective, the party quickly caught on to the vulnerability of swarms as Sindar started throwing firebombs with abandon. Following suit with vials of holy water, the party overcame what remained of the skeletal rat swarms with relative ease.

As the party proceeded into the living quarters, a ghostly rapping sound from under a bed revealed only a left-behind child’s doll, which was summarily bathed in fire by Sindar- a move which was met with praise by the rest of the party as they continued their investigation. One can never place too much trust in a child’s doll found in a questionable location. The rapping sounds continued to point the party at various pieces of furniture, eventually uncovering a ritual dagger and a set of dark priestly robes in what must have been the headmaster’s quarters. A strange black sphere and magic ring were stowed in a hidden compartment of the headmaster’s wardrobe, which Anton collected for later examination. Somewhere, the murderer they had chased down here was still on the loose.

As they returned to the main hallway, a commotion near the hallway through which the party had entered drew their attention. Unnatural darkness had fallen over the entry chamber, and something was obviously afoot. Suspecting their quarry was trying to escape, the group moved to box him in, but a quick search of the room indicated that he had slipped by them after accidentally triggering the hallway trap they had disabled earlier. While he was trying to disable the trap so it could not trigger when he ran through, Tulat‘s manipulation set off the trap due to damage done to the mechanism during the party’s previous escape. Now, with no timer to reset it, the trap was jammed and permanently blocking the hallway as a means of escape. However they were going to get out of here, it wasn’t going to be this way.

After some quick deduction by the party members, Emi and Anton spread some makeup foundation around to try and locate Tulat on the assumption that he was hiding invisibly. They soon spotted some wet footprints with the aid of the makeup, which led back into the residential area. Not wanting to risk another escape, the party blocked both doorways into that area as Sindar tossed firebombs at the rotted furniture in an attempt to smoke him out and force Tulat into their grasp. Two things became evident in rapid succession: Tulat was not coming out willingly, and if they didn’t close those doors soon, the fire would choke the entire complex in smoke and suck up every bit of breathable air. Abandoning Tulat’s fate to a maybe-not-so-well thought out plan, the party closed the doors. After waiting a few moments, the prevailing assumption was the he must have snuck out to somewhere else, so they continued exploring.

The party moved to an area that was evidently a quartermaster’s post of some kind, where a desk with a ledger sat before an iron gate. When they tried a key that they had found earlier in the headmaster’s quarters, the key turned and the grates popped open. Carefully checking the room beyond for invisible occupants, the party moved on to looting anything useful. It was obvious the room had been previously looted, as very little of use remained in a room clearly intended to hold all the valuables. An additional vault lay beyond another set of grates, but their key would not open the way.

The next set of doors down the hall piqued some interest when the group discovered the doors had been barred and nailed shut, but from the outside. After listening closely at the doors, Anton decided to knock to see if anything stirred. The only response was a child’s voice calling for its mother. Strongly suspecting what might be behind that door, Sindar had a minor panic attack as Anton tried to convince the party that they should investigate to make sure a trapped child didn’t need help. Teegan and Tarsus offered the insight that whatever was on the other side of those doors was trapped there roughly 200 years ago, and the party elected to move on to the next room.

The next room proved more that a little underwhelming. Having been storeroom at a previous point in its history, it was now little more than a ransacked husk. Teegan kept checking back in on the doors that held back their manufactured inferno, and after a while they had cooled enough to grasp the heavy handles. Having found no sign of Tulat so far in the south side of the complex, the party opened the doors to the now burnt rooms to see if he might be inside. Sure enough, they found his remains face down in the floor near the entrance to the headmaster’s quarters. Checking him for information, they found him to be in possession of a set of leather-wrapped papers- one of which was a copy of the order he received from abroad to intercept them and steal the book they had carried to Ducet. More than a little worried about Ducet’s reaction to another dead lead, but at least happy he was no longer a threat, they pushed forward to find a way out. Still not wanting to enter the barricaded room, the party moved to the end of the hallway, into a larger room obviously built as a place of worship to a dark and evil god. Adding to the foreboding sense of this ancient ruin, a huge stone altar stood out with its apparently fresh coat of wet and sticky blood.

Investigating the room, Anton found a compartment in the massive, bloodied altar that seemed to be hiding some sort of powerful magic item. Old and wicked murals decorated the thing, and the party picked through them trying to find a way to open the compartment. As they fiddled, the air grew a bit colder and the room turned a bit darker as a presence joined them in the altar room. The shadowy figure claimed to mean them no harm- at least not right now. Telling the party he knew who sent them, the visitor offered help in figuring out how to work the mechanism in the altar. After all, the altar’s contents were a message their employer might find meaningful. The party soon had the altar open, and gained possession of an obviously cursed skull of a human child. Surely grinning, although they could not see its face clearly, the shadow-man informed the party that the keys they needed to unlock the vault and the rear exit to the street were most likely in the galley- the room barred shut. With that, he told them that they could find him in Herlish when they were ready to proceed, and he vanished.

After testing the lock many times on the door that should lead them out of this place, the party conceded that facing whatever was in that room might be their only choice. Reluctantly, they made what preparations they could, tore down the lumber barring the galley door and flung it open. Inside, a decrepit old kitchen and dining room awaited them, air heavy with the smell of rot. No source for the child-like voice was evident. Only scattered piles of bones littered the room- many of them not the bones of full grown humans. As the group readied themselves to start searching bones, the piles began to shift around and bones rolled toward each other, assembling themselves into a small child made entirely of bones. It leapt to the attack, slashing and biting at the group’s front line as they fell back. Tarsus and Teegan did their best to resist the life-draining attacks from the thing, which Anton identified as an attic whisperer. As the fight continued and seemed to be turning in the party’s favor, another attic whisperer rose from the bone pile and desperation started to set in. With one beast whittled down to a fraction of it’s former self, Tarsus scored a solid hit, scattering it against the wall. With one of the attic whisperers still standing and nearly untouched by weapons, Emi leveled her musket from the rear and took aim with a devastating blast that obliterated the thing all at once. Bones ricocheted across the floor in all directions. As the dust settled, they noticed a keyring on the floor, uncovered in the commotion.

Freedom finally in reach, the party made a quick stop by the vault they had seen piled with gold. Unfortunately, they discovered the huge pile of loot to be little more than a tin-plated trap- the site of yet another haunt, but this one intended to force them to give up their own possessions, rather than gain riches. Narrowly resisting the urge to comply, they closed the doors, cursed the evil bastard that would put such a thing before them, and headed for the exit.

The closed emergency exit door revealed a ladder up to the street, which spat them out in an alley nearby the Lacy Death. Hauling up Tulat’s body, the group quickly commandeered the assistance of some passing imperial soldiers as Anton made contact with Tabina Karouk to collect Otto’s body from her establishment. Tabina assured him that her staff had no idea what was going on with Tulat, and promised to cooperate with any further efforts. She further promised the Lacy Death as a refuge for the party, should the need arise.

Crossing the city, the group turned the bodies of the two men over to Ducet, who in an unusual turn met them in the courtyard of the Consulate, albeit in heavy robes that shielded him from the harsh daylight. Making clear his disappointment with their renewed failure to return a live prisoner for interrogation, Ducet made do with what was brought to him and conducted a grotesque ritual to speak with what remained of Tulat’s soul. He spoke quickly with the severed face of the corpse, needing to hurry before the spell ended. After his interrogation was complete, Ducet examined the skull the party had retrieved from the altar, and heard the message from the shadowy man. Anton relayed information he had seen from the large black orb found in the headmaster’s quarters, and at last Ducet understood.

Although the tie was thin, the woman Anton had seen kill a headmaster of the “cradle” was most likely a descendant of Ducet, and the skull-turned-artifact was her daughter, according to Tulat’s corpse. The shadowy communication had come from a man named Oxyr, who apparently awaited their next move in Herlish. What lay ahead was most certainly a trap, and Ducet had many things to prepare. In the meantime, he needed some well-informed volunteers to spring Oxyr’s trap. In return, Ducet offered full membership in the Council Operative’s Guild (including access to their resources). Of course, the group could be held to no further obligation to Ducet and this the rising threat from the Children of Ahriman, and so they were free to turn and walk away from this if they so chose.

Without hesitation, the party voted unanimously to stay this course. For the first time in a very long time, Arturo Ducet felt the slightest swell of pride in these new operatives, and quietly vowed to send them on their way to Herlish with every advantage he could get away with. Knowing the ruin that lay ahead for some of them, it was the least he could do. The story closed with plans underway to induct the newest members of the Operatives’ Guild on the following morning, and the hourglass running out on whatever Oxyr was really planning. In its sheath at the bottom of a darkened pack, Bonefang hummed happily to itself.

XP for Session:

Combat: Spectral vermin haunt – 1600xp
RP: Rapping spirit haunt – 400xp
Combat: The attic whisperers – 2400xp
Combat/Puzzle: Tulat defeated – 2400xp
Story: Oxyr reveals himself – 2000xp
Puzzle: Demanding Dead haunt – 900xp
Story: Return the cursed trophy to Ducet – 1000xo

Session total = 10700xp (2140xp per person)
Campaign total = 9020xp (leveled to 4!)

The vote:

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

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Session 4
You're All Going to Die Down Here

The story opened with our party of Council Operatives making a plan for entry across the street from the Lacy Death. Magister Ducet had acquired intelligence suggesting that at least one member of the elusive Children of Ahriman might be found there, backed up by the fruits of their earlier interrogation of The Hand. Now it was time to go in and find them.

Teegan entered first, and he quickly settled into his cover as a compulsive gambler, trying to start up a game of chance with some adventurers in the front pub area of the establishment. Entering next, Tarsus and Sindar took separate seats at the bar, pretending not to know each other and striking up separate conversations. After a short while Tarsus joined Teegan at the table of adventurers, and Sindar talked his way into access to the inn on the second floor by posing as a drug buyer.

Anton and Emi entered last, gaining access to the rear dining hall through a bit of costume change and subterfuge. Taking a table near the private lounge, they settled in to stake out the traffic through the dining hall.

For the first several hours, the party made various efforts to cover different parts of the huge establishment, spreading out to check as many possibilities as they could. While Tarsus and Sindar made separate efforts to check out the second floor inn, Anton and Emi prodded the guards of a business meeting for information.

While conversing with the adventurers that had invited him to sit down, Teegan managed to learn about the somewhat secret and guarded nature of the Lacy Death’s third floor, where important and not-entirely-above-board business meetings took place in relative safety, thanks to a man named Dezil- known to most simply as “the Broker”.

In the dining room, Anton and Emy came across information about a meeting somewhere upstairs involving a man named Thuli Black. Deciding to take an active approach to the investigation, Anton and Emy ducked upstairs. After passing by the inn, they decided to have a look in on the third floor. Anton put on his best impression of someone late to Mr. Black’s meeting, managing only to get a look at a group of Mr. Black’s associates before the Broker demonstrated the basis for his fearsome reputation at protecting the privacy of his clients. Unclear on what had transpired, Anton found himself on the floor of the dining room a moment later, lapping some delicious liquid from a shallow bowl as other guests looked on in astonishment.

After several long hours of everyone coming up more or less empty, Teegan spotted a man at the front bar that might be their mark. He had been eyeing the ranger a bit nervously for some time, and one of Teegan’s drunken companions hopped up to go introduce himself as soon as Teegan inquired as to the man’s identity. Learning that the man was curious about the origin’s of the black blade Teegan was carrying, Teegan threw caution to the wind and adopted the persona of The Hand, hoping the man would not spot the ruse. His attempt was successful, if slightly awkward, and he learned that this man, Otto, was indeed The Hand’s intended contact. He convinced Otto to meet him upstairs to discuss details away from public view.

In the upstairs inn, Sindar and Tarsus got in on the action of interrogating Otto, as Teegan assumed the mantle of a betrayed assassin who had an attempt made on his life while trying to complete his contract. Otto, it turned out, was a simple smuggler of illicit goods- just another cog in what was shaping up to be a surprisingly big machine. Otto revealed that he just wanted out of this entire affair, and if The Hand was so keen to find who had tried to kill him, they surely had eyes on this very meeting place. Otto doubted it had been selected for them at random, being this far into a city that is was very risky to move in and out of constantly.

Soon, the party made plans to locate Anton and Emi, and retreat from the Lacy Death to deliver Otto to Magister Ducet for some good old fashioned enhanced interrogation. As they made their way to the front tavern and formulated their plan, the front bartender was replaced and the party caught the new one slipping Otto a suspicious flagon. Suspecting it might be an attempt on the life of their best lead so far, the party sprang into action. Sindar quickly dumped a mixture into Otto’s drink while he was distracted- a mixture prepared specifically for Sindar that would undoubtedly make anyone else violently ill. Sure enough, it did it’s job, and Otto decorated the pub with what he had managed to choke down of the suspicious drink. Crowding around him, the party prepared to “get their drunk friend home”. In a brazen move, the new bartender tried to stop them, claiming Otto had a room at the inn. Having none of it, the group took Otto out into the street and tried to come up with a plan to get him across the city safely.

Moments later, an imposing figure emerged on the rooftop and began flinging spells at the party, targeting Otto with vicious spells designed to inflict wounds. Anton immediately realized the grave threat they were facing, having never seen anyone who could cast those spells at such a large range. At the very least, their assailant had a powerful magic item or two up his sleeve. The party returned fire as they tried to get Otto under cover, but it was too late. Otto was quickly beyond hope, and their best lead suddenly became the assassin on the roof above them. Tarsus raced up to the roof through the building, while Teegan decided on a more direct approach and leaped onto the wall, scaling it with surprising grace. Meeting on the roof, they found their quarry gone.

With the staff of the Lacy Death alerted to the attack, it was quickly determined that the assassin was most likely the storekeeper who kept the cellar stocks in order. Entering the cellar with the head barkeep Toberk leading the way, the party made their way into the storekeeper’s apartment in the cellar, and found no trace of the man. They soon located a trap door in the floor. The barkeep had never seen it before, and indicated it must usually be hidden. While the room was being searched, a barrel of some unknown foul agent was discovered. Fearing for the safety of the Lacy Death and its customers and staff, the barkeep returned upstairs to fetch aid and start evacuating. Not wanting to risk the time to wait for his return, the party threw open the trap door and continued to pursue their quarry.

As they dropped into the squat shaft below, the foul environment nearly overcame them. Cautiously moving forward, the party came to a crossroads. To the south, a pair of large iron doors bore signs of recent use despite their obviously advanced age. Ahead of them, to the east, snickering in the darkness and copious smeared shit on the low walls led to one obvious conclusion – goblins. Electing to keep pace with the fleeing assassin, the party opened the door and carefully entered the pristine marble and slate hallway beyond. As the first of the party hit the mid point of the hallway, parts of the ceiling swung down and sealed both ends of the hallway. Emi barely had time to duck clear of one of the swinging panels and wound up in the hallway with Tarsus and Sindar. Teegan and Anton found themselves sealed outside.

Immediately, huge amounts of water began to pour into the sealed hallway from pipes that had been concealed behind the swinging panels. There were two pairs of pipes, one at each end of the hall. One dumped water into each end of the hall, while the other seemed to act as a vent. With terrifying speed, the water rose in the hallway as Teegan and Anton tried desperately to find a purchase point outside and lever a panel out of position. Their efforts proved futile against the rapidly building weight of water behind the panel, and Anton decided to find out whether the goblins might know how to disable the deathtrap. In response to his query, he got a firebomb flung at him from the cover of darkness- a near miss, but the point was made.

Inside the hallway, the water was up to the party’s necks with no progress made in defeating the mechanism and stopping the water. Tarsus made up his mind to start getting out of his armor before it turned into a deadly anchor, and focused his efforts on that as Sindar and Emy explored the exposed parts of the mechanism they could find. They located an odd contraption in one of the vent pipes, and surmised it must be a float valve to stop the flow after the water rose to the proper height. Thinking quickly, the used bedrolls and other odd implements to jam the float valves shut- first one, and then the other. With the air vent cut off, pressure rose in the hallway for a few seconds before finally arresting the water flow. As the party inside the hallway breathed a sigh of relief and earned some time to think, the group outside heard the clacking sounds behind them of approaching goblins. Abandoning their efforts at the door, Teegan and Anton prepared to receive the charge of the angry little monsters, being careful to avoid the grated pit that had just opened behind them at the hallway’s end.

The pair dealt with the first two goblins quickly, but not before the goblins took their pound of flesh. Then things went from bad to worse as another half dozen emerged, and the real fight was on. Ordinarily, this would hardly warrant loading crossbows. But with most of the party isolated on the other side of a stone wall, it was not at all sure how this might go. Meanwhile, inside the hallway, the trapped party members had located a well-hidden panel when it started ticking loudly after the float valves were jammed shut. Forcing it open, they found a difficult-to-understand jumble of mechanical bits whirring in unison. As everyone tried to make heads or tails of it, Emi eventually deduced that the thing was most likely a timer designed to hold the trap closed long enough to drown its prey before resetting the mechanisms, and she believed she spotted a way to force it to reset instantly, but lacked the skill to actually manipulate the innards. Stepping in to put his myriad tool sets to use, Sindar followed Emi’s instructions to hopefully override the timer. Within a few seconds they had their answer, as the stone walls groaned under the force of hidden counterweights and began to slowly swing back to the ceiling and disgorge a rush of water from the hall.

As soon as the walls began to lift, the sounds of a battle going badly invaded the hall, and the trapped adventurers did what they could to prepare to join the battle quickly. Deciding to go with the water flow and chance what was on the other side, Tarsus and Sindar both let themselves get sucked under the edge of the door as soon as there was room. Sindar was able to find footing at the drain pit’s edge and get quickly to his feet. Tarsus was not so lucky, but only suffered some bruised ribs as he slammed into the pit’s edge and then gained his feet. Indeed, the battle outside was going badly. Anton earned the ire of several goblins with his opening attacks, and found himself soon overwhelmed by the surprising amount of punishment the short creatures were dishing out. Teegan held out a bit longer, and took a few more goblins with him, but also soon succumbed to the flailing blades of the little devils.

As the remaining three members of the party joined the battle, things swung decisively against the remaining goblins, and they were easily mopped up. The party rushed to the aid of their fallen comrades and got them sitting up and talking in short order. Searching the remainder of the cave for any straggling goblins, the party found a few trinkets worth keeping, along with a surprisingly valuable blade.

The story closed as the party took stock of their state, and prepared to push beyond the hallway that had almost killed them and catch up to the fleeing assassin.

XP for session:

RP: Stalking the Lacy Death (find The Hand’s contact) – 2800XP
Combat: Confrontation with the assassin – 950XP
Combat: Pursuing the quarry underground (goblin encounter + trap encounter) – 3050XP

Session total: 6800XP : 1360XP each

XP total to date : 6880XP each (9000 needed for level 4)

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Session 3
Probably nobody died

The story opened with the party seated in tiny chairs around a makeshift table in the main room of Gok‘s warren of goblins. Having recently learned that Salia had fled from her home willingly and that they needed to find a way to get Ugess’ notes from her house in the same village without answering a lot of questions, they devised a plan.

While Teegan approached the village under cover, the rest of the party approached in the open and gathered an audience in a grassy field adjacent to the village’s center crossing. Drawing deep on his talent for performance, Anton climbed up on the biggest tree stump he could find and began to weave a dramatic tale of love, loss and intrigue. He told the townsfolk of cheating spouses and murderous plots and of children caught in the middle. At the end of the tale, he put names to the characters, publicly calling out Asif Henich for endangering and brutalizing his daughter to the point that she actually fled to the welcoming embrace of goblins.

A mountain of a man appeared in the midst of this public shaming, hearing his own wife named as the other half of this plot. At his appearance, the clearing off of the townsfolk told Anton and his companions that his tale was about to generate the distraction they were hoping for. As Asif circled and looked for either an exit or an opportunity, the party closed ranks to secure their bard’s safety and the wooing of the crowd continued as the drama unfolded.

Meanwhile, Teegan had made it mostly uneventfully to the home of Ugess, and managed to slip inside. After a close call with a curious member of the town watch, he found the case of books he was after, and managed to pry it open after several failed attempts. Once he had the books he was off again, keeping only an incredibly useful fire poker as a souvenir. Upon leaving the home, Teegan found himself face to face with the same guard that had followed him earlier, and had a quick decision to make. Summoning all of the deceptive prowess he could muster, Teegan ignored the guard’s calls and walked right past him toward the treeline. Somehow seeing through the subterfuge in the midday sun, the guard quickly caught up to him and grabbed him by the shoulder. Admonishments about how bad it would be to kill any of these people resonated in his head as the guard menaced him. Lacking the talent for talking his way out of such things that Anton possessed, Teagan did the only reasonable thing left for him to do. He shoved the guard flat onto his ass and ran for it.

Anton’s rhetoric had successfully ignited a bit of a drama storm in the small village, and had put Asif on the defensive. Looking for a way to defuse several problems at once, Asif agreed that Turnlo Helat should accompany the party back to the goblin warren to obtain some sort of proof of life for young Salia and to determine the truth of the party’s story. The party briefly tried to convince Turnlo that he needed to be blindfolded for the safety of all involved, but his insistence otherwise turned that request up short. The fact that the warhammer he carried with ease looked every bit of 50 pounds of solid steel didn’t hurt his argument either.

The party regrouped at the warren, and brief conversations with Ugess and Salia confirmed what Anton had said in town- even the parts he thought he was making up as he went. In answer, Turnlo told the party he would see their horses and gear brought to the base of the town’s stub lane, and that he never wanted to see any of them in Sevir’s Hill again. Whatever was about to happen when he returned, he promised it would be his town by nightfall, and they were no longer welcome. No sooner had Turnlo taken his leave, than Ugess informed the party of her plan to evacuate not just Salia, but the goblins as well- and it required returning to the village.

Not far to the south, the Juket Quarry had been abandoned years ago by local builders. Fearing that the goblin warren’s nearness to Sevir’s Hill would spell eventual trouble for both communities, Ugess wanted to move the goblins to the quarry, where they should have enough distance to prevent issues anytime soon. The plan was simple enough- she would sneak the goblins through the forest after dark, keeping them far enough from the village to avoid casual detection. But to ensure no stray villagers might be in the woods at night, a massive distracting emergency would be needed. They set a departure time of late evening the next day, and Ugess worked on translating the mysterious book page in the meantime. With the translation complete, Ugess was able to confirm not much more than that the page was describing someone’s attempt to decipher some sort of arcane markings. The page contained copious notes on the nature of the runes involved. With her notes and translation tucked safely away, the party moved out under cover of darkness to complete their part of the goblin relocation plan.

After quick reconnaissance of the barn’s ground floor, Teegan determined the barn to be entirely empty and relayed that to Sindar, who hurled a pair of firebombs in the barn with pinpoint accuracy for maximum effect. Within a couple of minutes, the barn was fully engulfed in flames and the village alarm bells were ringing. The party escaped into the woods and made off to meet up with Ugess and Gok’s Tribe at Juket Quarry. After a brief meeting to ensure that everyone made it to their destination safe and sound, Anton took the opportunity to strike a bargain with Gok, agreeing to ship tools to the goblins so they could tunnel quickly to their heart’s content if they promised to set aside any gems they might find for him.

With business settled at the quarry, the party made for Gol Asad to complete their mission for Magister Ducet. On the second morning of their journey, they came across a woman in distress with an upturned wagon. Sensing something might be amiss, the party approached cautiously and waited for the trap to spring. Sure enough, men on horseback emerged from the woods, flanking them on the road and cutting off clean escape in either direction. Deciding to try an get the upper hand, Sindar responded to a threat from the woman feigning distress with a quick fling of an incendiary bomb, and the fight was joined.

Quickly off his horse, Teegan engaged the woman in melee as the rest of the party dismounted and started covering their options. Tarsus moved to interrupt the heavy crossbow fire from the front, while Emi moved to trade shots with the crossbowman at the rear. An unfortunate weapon malfunction forced her to abandon the musket and switch to a light crossbow. While Teegan and Sindar finished off the woman at the cart, Anton looked for ways to interrupt the withering fire from the heavy crossbows the two remaining attackers wielded. After Anton felled one with a well-placed fit of arcane laughter, Tarsus pressed the advantage offered. A subsequent grease spell removed the heavy crossbow from the man’s hands, so he changed up to a spiked chain as he recovered and Tarsus closed in on him. He had time to get in one good trip on Tarsus and a serious injury to Sindar before they converged to pound him unconscious under a hail of blades and bombs.

Forging ahead against the other crossbowman, Emi absorbed a lot of punishment trying to hold him in place. Anton came to her aid and kept her on her feet for a few extra seconds, but the volume of well-aimed crossbow bolts coming downrange was just too much, and she succumbed to her injuries. Vengeance in their eyes, the remainder of the party turned their attention to last standing would-be thief, who did the one thing at which skilled survivors universally excel- he dropped the crossbow that would only slow him down, and ran as fast as he could go. Opting to let him be and continue on their mission, the party revived Emi, secured their unconscious captive, collected what loot could be salvaged, and continued toward Gol Asad.

Arriving at Gol Asad, two of the party members donned Imperial Regiment uniforms to avoid questions at the gate about their captive, hoping to return him to the Consulate for reward or interrogation. They did make it through without interruption, but received no end of evil looks and unpleasant gestures as they crossed the city in the midnight hours. Upon reaching the Consulate, they were nearly immediately summoned to the rooftop aerie by Ducet.

After briefly inquiring about their captive, and ascertaining that he had no bearing on the matter at hand, Ducet demonstrated to the party just how right Ugess had been in describing their new employer. He swiftly hefted the criminal by his collar, walked the barely conscious man to the roof’s edge, and dropped him three stories down to his death on the paving stones below. After taking the party’s report on their findings and asking after Ugess, Ducet dismissed them to barracks quarters in the consulate so he could consult with colleagues. The party barely had time to heal up at the infirmary and get a night’s rest before they were again summoned.

During the night, imperial intelligence had caught wind of an incident across the city. Two men were found by city guards under the effects of the same gas that had wiped out thousands only a week before. Though the guards believed the men were part of a bungled plot, Ducet believed they might simply be street urchins who had tried to hold up the wrong person. This conclusion was based on an absence of any markings on them related to the Children of Ahriman, and on the fact that their bodies had been found in the alley behind The Lacy Death. The Hand had mentioned The Lacy Death as his meeting point for whomever had hired him to track the party and take back the book they carried, which was somehow related to the initial attacks. Now that Ducet’s operatives had their first real lead, they set out without delay.

XP for session:

RP: Sevir’s Hill (resolving Ducet’s original mission) – 2500XP
RP: Juket Quarry (finding a new home for Gok’s Tribe) – 1500XP
Combat: Highwaymen – 4100XP

Session total: 8100XP : 1620XP each

XP total to date : 5520XP each (9000 needed for level 4)

Party leveled to 3!

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