The Dim Wastes

Session 29
Fake it 'til you make it

Our story opened as the party wrapped up with what they could do to help survivors of the attack upstairs, eventually deciding that they had a moral imperative to check in on what Lord Ducet was up to in the remnants of the main dining hall. Upon arrival, they found themselves turned away by mages guarding his endeavors. The mages wore cloaks of varying design and color, but all emblazoned with the unmistakable 9-pointed star of the Grand Council. Firmly denied entry by the army of mages, the group decided to visit the Speaker’s office to get some answers. A later visit back to this hall would uncover that Ducet was using some complex chain of spells that began with infecting the afflicted with vampirism to render them immune to the toxin, then somehow removing the vampirism, en masse.

Sitting with Raha Delina, the party learned that the Gol Asad docks and a few other key areas of the city had been hit at the same time as the Asad with more of the gas bombs. Efforts were underway to isolate the contaminated people and help them, if possible. Then he told them about the attack on Haralin. It had been different in nature than the others. While there was strong evidence from escapees that the Children of Ahriman had led the attack, it was a military occupation, not a gas attack. With their successful surprise attack, the cult now held the most powerful and prolific shipyard and naval dock on the continent. While it was doubtful they could put it to full use for a while, it’s loss would be crippling over the long term, especially if Riyaqa found itself facing a war with the Empire. To worsen the news, there was now very good reason to go hat in hand to the Khasif delegation, as the Khasif Kingdom now held the most powerful shipyard ostensibly under Asad control. With a lot to process, the party found bunks for a few hours after Delina told them an emergency session had been called for that evening.

At the emergency session of the Asad, Delina wasted no time in getting to the point. Seated as his guests in the floor gallery, the party looked on as he made the case for unifying their respective militaries to declare war on the CoA, take back Haralin by force, and hunt down and exterminate the cult and their leaders. As members of the house expressed disbelief at some of Delina’s accounts of previous gas attacks, he asked a member of the party to step up and present evidence. Zayn approached the podium, and relayed a selective transcript of the party’s many run-ins with the cult and the results of their attacks. A clear first hand account from such an influential voice seemed to carry weight as quiet discussion broke out among known blocs of delegates.

A woman at the back rose from her seat, striding forward in a formal request for the floor, which the Speaker acquiesced. She introduced herself as Ahti Ato, representative of the disparate Mah Hari tribes of the desert, though mostly a figurehead. She publicly told the assembly of the many people in the desert flocking toward a new settlement that has sprung up, and that she now knows the purpose of that settlement and its leaders. Having learned that the woman speaking was representing the long-thought-dead House Tulesti, she wished finally to name the sovereign to which she would bind her representation. Recognizing the formality and seriousness of her announcement, Speaker Delina took up the script and asked her to enter her claim into the record. She claimed for House Tulesti. And just like that, the scam they had concocted with the Speaker to get access to the Asad became very real.

A recess was immediately called, there now being a representative on the floor that still needed to confer with her sovereign before casting a vote. Delina offered his office for their meeting, and left them alone. Ahti Ato convinced the party of her sincerity, then briefed Zayn and the others on the political maneuvering she expects to unfold shortly, and gained approval on her plans to deal with some of it. As a final order of business for their first meeting, she asked what the name of their new, yet tiny, capital should be. Preferring to harken to the older desert traditions, they chose the name “Tulesa.” A few hours later, the vote proceeded to the expected result: WAR.

Trying to get word of this development to allies abroad through the use of Sending spells, Finn discovered that Blue, and likely the entire Gyredancer, had been captured in the raid on Haralin and was now in chains. With the docks compromised, there was no other quick way available out of Gol Asad. Finn asked G121 to take him to the remains of the attackers, so that he might use some more disturbing magic to get some answers. Arriving in the morgue and locating the bodies, Finn applied Speak with Dead to learn what they might know about Sadeesh and his plans. The cryptic answers he received indicated a possibility that Sadeesh might be so hard to locate because he usually resided in the Shadowfell. Asked how to locate him there, the corpse responded with a wide grin, “die to a black blade.” Upon further discussion, the party decided they needed to know more about Sadeesh and the eerie shadow entity that briefly appeared during their encounter with him. They came up with only one name that might present significant insight without a heavy price attached- Ugess, the former Order of Alhena priest that had deciphered the original page for them when this all started. As Finn was not familiar with her, he could not reach her with Sending. They would need more mundane help. The party left the Asad, and headed for the Lacy Death.

Arriving, they found the former site of the inn burned to the ground, the rubble still mostly undisturbed. A few questions to passersby pointed them to the nearby, new location of the inn. It still ran under the direction of the same proprietress, Tabina Karouk. After getting seated in the main room, the party eventually gained as audience with Tabina, who took them to a private dining room. She greeted them, provided the party with accommodations, and caught up with them for a bit. Tabina explained that she had ordered the old location destroyed after learning what was beneath it, and they were starting over here, in a somewhat smaller building. The group asked if she could put them in touch with “the Broker” Dezil Calish. He arrived to speak with them a short time later, revealing that he had been waiting to meet them and a wealthy patron had already hired him to assist the party. They made a number of requests for information, which he dutifully noted. Dezil agreed to make contact with Ugess and attempt to provide passage for her into the city. He also agreed to set up a meeting with someone who could transport them quickly and quietly to wherever they needed to go, but didn’t have a habit of asking too many questions.

Dezil discussed with the group what they each knew about the toxin being used and its delivery method. They wanted to track the toxin’s origin to locate the CoA, but were at a dead end. He offered use of a laboratory for Sindar to analyze the compound and try to determine some components that Dezil might track through bookkeeping records. Sindar and Tarsus left for the Sourgrounds slums to take him up on the offer. Meanwhile, after discussing their new method to heal some people of the toxin’s affliction, Dezil gave Finn a lead on another healer working at the docks that was desperately in need of such things. Finn and the remainder of the group went to see him.

Arriving at the docks, Finn located Jano Vativa behind a wall of guards, tending to patients and barking orders for supplies. Explaining his method, Finn settled in to provide as much blood as possible, and heal himself through the ordeal, while the party watched over him and his surroundings. By late morning, Vativa had used samples of Finn’s blood to determine a good minimum dose needed and cure a number of people. Of course, some did die in the attempt, but Jano had some success at improving the odds of survival.

At the lab, Sindar managed to isolate a number of ingredients in the compounds of the toxin. After they returned this information to Dezil, the diminutive man got to work. He also discussed the impending danger of the Black Fleet with them, making the party aware that his information indicated the fleet had split weeks ago, sending a contingent to Khasif waters while the main fleet circled south toward Gol Asad. A number of potential outcomes arose from this development, and few of them were good. While Dezil was able to theorize as to supply sources to investigate for some of the compounds he was at a loss for some, as they were just too common. Hoping for some help, Zayn used a Sending spell to contact Robert Pinan, a primary designer of the compound who was now in hiding at Chamber Valley. He identified a compound in the accelerant as uliun. With a single rare component of the toxin identified as wyroot, and a rare component in the accelerant identified as uliun, Dezil felt it was now just a matter of checking records and greasing a few palms to find the place where requests for these items converged.

The story closed as a hopeful party turned in for some well-earned rest, and pondered a trip to the market in the morning.

The Vote

The vote has been tabled in the Asad while missing delegates are searched for and rescued. An automatic procedural clock of 60 days started when they went missing, with 18 days now remaining before the delegates are declared dead and replaced.

The Asad has just voted to go to war with the Children of Ahriman in an emergency session.

The Black Fleet has been spotted in Riyaqan waters, moving east along the southern coast.

Quote of the Day

Session 28
Desperate measures

The story opened with Sindar facing off alone with the reviled Sadeesh, both men slightly panicked at how long it might take their reinforcements to arrive. In the opening moments of the battle, Sindar struck quickly by shattering a vial of whatever filth was at hand across Sadeesh’s rather expensive robes. Sadeesh responded by encasing Sindar in a block of ice and retreating to invisibility somewhere in the room full of barrels. As seconds ticked by, the rest of the party arrived outside the room and were greeted by a mass of black tentacles wriggling out of the stone floor near the doorway. Braving and/or finding a way around the tentacles, the party eventually stole into the room.

Freeing Sindar as they went, the group posted up near the front of the room and waited for Sadeesh to make a move. Zayn began looking around the room for an invisible opponent, but could not locate the man. Had he seen what she had done, and simply hid, even though he was invisible? The answer to that question came in the form of a flame strike on the party, coinciding with Sadeesh’s backup arriving in the form of two cultists. The attack came in response to the party discovering that not all the barrels in this room had divination triggers- the massive bomb in this room could be relatively easily disarmed, now that it had been discovered. One of the cultists threw Chains of Perdition at Tarsus, trying to bind his defenses to allow the other to get stabbity with him. The rest of the party did their level best to make nuisances of themselves to disrupt this attack, and the pair eventually shifted their focus to Zayn in order to shut down her mental meddling. Nanda arrived in the room, having started off by covering the exits from the outside in case Sadeesh made a break for it. Briefed quickly by the party, she went to work trying to open and disarm barrels.

As the melee moved around the room, Zayn, Sindar, and Finn all found themselves in a tight spot with the two cultists, fighting a fast-moving battle of blood loss until someone went down. Sadeesh capitalized on the opportunity, demonstrating a willingness to attack his own men if it meant disposing of the party. A lighting bolt ripped through the room, severely wounding several of the combatants, including one of the cultists. With the blade-wielding cultist at their backs, things were looking bleak as Zayn died outright from her wounds. Moving quickly, Finn yanked her departing spirit back into the fight with a breath of life, then flooded the area with healing power to get his comrades back on their feet. Sindar managed a lucky grab at the unholy symbol one of the cultists used as a power focus right after he had released a burst of negative energy, and eventually downed the cleric with a well-placed vial of acid after being knocked to the floor himself. Moments after one cultist died, the other went down as well.

Focusing on Sadeesh, the party began trying to strip away his many layers of magical defenses. Sindar ran himself dry of dispelling bombs whittling away spells one by one. At one point, Sadeesh stopped fighting when Sindar hit him with a dispelling bomb. He seemed disoriented for a moment, with no recognition in his eyes. A second later, a shadowy, demonic figure appeared in the room. It did not attack the party directly, nor respond to anything directed at it. It simply focused on Sadeesh, whispering to him. Moments later, Sadeesh was back to fighting, and the creature was simply gone.

Two of the guardian G units arrived presently at the room. The party pleaded with them not to sound the alarm, believing the remaining triggers to be linked to the sound of the bells far overhead in the towers. After all, why would the GM plop you down right beside them during your extradimensional escape if they weren’t going to be important later in the story? Bit of a Chekov’s Gun violation, I should think. The party asked the G units to use their control of dimensional pockets of Mechanus to help get rid of the trigger barrels, instead of going to sound the alarm. Unsure of which course of action to take, the G units elected to do both. One stayed with the PCs to follow their directions, while the other beat feet for the alarm rope.

As Nanda tore through barrels, flinging the lids outside the room where they could not trigger the explosive toxins inside, Sadeesh changed tactics and moved to protect the last barrel. Throwing up a wall of force between the barrel and the party, he sat down calmly, safe behind the wall as he awaited the eventual trigger. Moments later, ome unknown thing caught his attention as the group battered harmlessly on the outside of the force wall. Rising to his feet, he offered a dismissive salutation as he opened a portal to some other place and stepped through. The wall of force collapsed, and the party descended on the last barrel with a trigger. At the last moment, Nanda pulled the lid free, whipping it in a wide arc and tossing it through the door into the hallway beyond. Intent on securing the room, Sindar moved to the open door to close it, only to see Sadeesh standing in the hallway, trappen barrel lid in hand. He flung it at the door as the massive tower alarm bells started their rumbling gongs high overhead. Sindar had only enough time to slam the heavy doors shut as the lid sailed toward him, but not enough time to get away from the doors. Tarsus pulled shut the doors at the other end of the room to block the explosion of the one lid thrown out that exit. The doors rattled hard on their hinges, but held fast. At Sindar’s end of the room, the many lids thrown into the hallway there multiplied the force considerably. The doors buckled, then exploded into the room under the force of the blast. Standing right in the front of the doors to hold them closed, Sindar was caught fully in the explosion and flung backwards into the room, his unconscious and splinter-riddled body sliding to a stop a full twenty feet from the doorway.

Finn quickly brought Sindar back to consciousness, though maybe a bit more deaf than before. It was another full minute before guardians began to arrive en masse, securing the room and its contents. G121 arrived shortly, updating the party on what had happened elsewhere in the compound as he directed his fellows in safe disposal efforts. He informed the party of another massive explosion upstairs in a dining hall, and they asked him to take them to the scene. Shamblers could be rising already in the very center of the Asad! Upon arrival, they group saw many people injured or apparently killed in the initial blast. It seemed a trapped cask had been carted into the dining hall itself. Many more people were being held in the hall by guardians, and some of them already showed symptoms of infection. As the party was informing the guardians of the full measure of the danger here, Arturo Ducet arrived with a small retinue. He told the party they were needed elsewhere, and he would handle things here. Knowing what they did about Ducet, the party was more than a little reticent to leave vulnerable people in his “care”. After a bit of arguing, Finn secured agreement from the guardians present that they would safely store people not showing any symptoms in their pocket dimensional space as a quarantine method, vice allowing them to be butchered “just in case”. With that, they went to seek out Speaker Raha Delina.

They found the Speaker in his office, issuing emergency orders and sending runners every direction available from his crowded office. He took some relief in their arrival, informing the party that a few scattered devices went off throughout the complex, but the situation was controllable thanks in no small part to their efforts. One place that a device had been triggered was particularly sensitive- a caucus meeting of the Khasif Asadins and a few of their colleagues had been underway upstairs in a meeting room. Everyone in the room had come into contact with gas from a device that went off nearby them, including several serving staff. All of the Khasif delegation dying at the same time to something like this would be politically thorny at best, and a complete catastrophe at worst. The party asked to be allowed to see if they could formulate a way to save some of those exposed, and the Speaker agreed. A short time later, they were surveying a gruesome scene at the meeting rooms. A few people were killed immediately by the blast, but most were in varying states of exposure sickness, and all were contained in the room by guardians.

Getting to work quickly, the group tried several method, both magical and mundane, on a few test subjects with no changes to the progress of their illness. Triaging a few folks that were yet to show symptoms, Sindar and Finn asked several people to volunteer to have their blood drawn. They hoped that their blood could be compared to a sample of the toxin Sindar had, to determine if anyone was exposed from those who were asymptomatic. One of the Khasif delegation, Daso Enna, asked a lot of questions about what they were specifically looking for, but eventually allowed his blood to be taken. Curious about his curiosity, Sindar looked carefully at his blood and noted it was quite different-tasting from normal human blood, though it bore no signs of the toxin. The man bore some outward signs of half-elven heritage, but his blood was exotic even for a half-elf. Working on a hunch, Sindar asked Finn for a sample of his blood, now fully transformed by the change brought on by the Deck of Errant Destinies. The oddities matched in both samples. Daso Enna was a full-blooded elf, hiding in plain sight. His complete absence of any symptoms prompted another idea, which took a little convincing to get everyone to agree. Soon, Sindar was hard at work drawing blood from Finn, and injecting small amounts at a time into worsening victims. Over the next tense hours, most people began to recover, but a few died. Notably, those that died from the treatment stayed dead humans, not rising as shamblers. While it wasn’t perfect, it was better than the 100% death rate of the untreated toxin, and it was a good enough chance that everyone present wanted the treatment. The story closed as the party organized the sick by severity, Sindar counted how many jars he could fill with blood at once, and Finn did some mental math of how much of his own blood volume he could replace in the next few hours with what healing power he had left for the day. A dead elven cleric would do nobody any good at all.

The Vote

The vote has been tabled in the Asad while missing delegates are searched for and rescued. An automatic procedural clock of 60 days started when they went missing, with 20 days now remaining before the delegates are declared dead and replaced. The Black Fleet has been spotted in Riyaqan waters, moving south along the west coast.

Quote of the Day

Session 27
The last second

Our story opened with the party fleeing through extradimensional hallways beneath (?) the Asad, from pursuing clockwork soldiers. Ducking into a random room, they found that it was another chamber identical to the one they escaped earlier. Hoping to make the connection across planes, Finn cast Sending to commune with Nohan Lewala and ask for help. She told him there was little she could do from where she was, but that there was an escape room built in for diplomats that get trapped there. They had to pay attention to the markings at the intersections. Stepping back out into the hallway, the party spotted colored marks high at each intersection. Moving somewhat randomly through the halls, they began to deduce patterns through trial and error as the mechanical soldiers slowly closed in on them. Soon enough, they found themselves at a door with different markings from the rest. Plowing through, the group found a room with several pillars in it.

With the guards searching the hallways closing in by the second, the party searched the room, discovering clues to a puzzle designed into the escape mechanisms. Only re-arranging the fixtures in the room a certain way would open the way to escape. After losing precious time solving the puzzle, they completed the required steps and waited. Within a few seconds, the central pillar faded from view, revealing a chute in the floor beneath it. One by one, they dove through and escaped their pursuers. They immediately found themselves staring at a beautiful, large, and strikingly realistic map of the city of Gol Asad. THe rushing air and rapidly growing map forced the realization that this was no map. They were somehow falling through the sky, high above the Seconds later, with panic running through their heads, the party landed quite hard on the wooden platform at the top of one of the Asad’s bell towers. They were unhurt, aside from a few hairs out of place.

After descending the long ladder to the building below them, the group found themselves in a small room that used some sort of scrying effect to reveal the passers-by in the hallway outside. They deduced that it must be a safety measure to allow escapees to avoid running into trouble when leaving the room, and waited here a while to learn the rotation of the guardians patrolling the hallway and the normal dress of people in this part of the building. Working together, they arranged disguises for themselves that would at least hold up under passing inspection, and ventured out onto the upper library floor of the Asad. Stopping a low-ranking scribe for directions, the party learned the location of the offices of Asadin Lewala and set out.

Several floors below, the group came upon her offices and heard arguing inside. Breaking in on the argument, they discovered what appeared to be Lewala arguing with herself. Some very fast sleuthing identified the true Lewala, and the imposter attacked. The fight was short, but brutal. Not being prepared to take on an entire party of adventurers, the cultist fell. An uncomfortable conversation with Lewala yielded her suspicion that the guardians themselves may be compromised in a plot to replace members of the Asad and drive the upcoming historic vote a certain way. Finn decided to use a Speak with Dead spell to interrogate the corpse of the cultist. He discovered that the Children of Ahriman have been shipping gas bombs into the building for weeks, using a perceived weakness of the guardians to hide the plot from them. Although that seemed to exonerate the guardians, it was cold comfort in the face of the impending disaster. Lewala took the party with her to see Speaker Raha Delina, the leader of the voting body of the Asad.

Raha Delina’s office complex, just off the voting chamber itself, was protected not just by several pairs of clockwork guardians, but by an anti-magic field that spanned the entire entry hall. The group waited as Lewala brought him up to speed on everything that had happened, filling in details when asked. At something of a loss for what to do next in the face of such a dangerous enemy so close by, Delina asked for recommendations from the party, owing to their previous experience in dealing with the explosive gas barrels and the cult. They suggested he being vetting everyone remaining within the Asad by calling members to his office, forcing them to walk through the anti-magic field and lose any illusory disguises in the process. If anyone refused, the next course of action became obvious. Delina asked the party to begin a search for the explosives while he worked on figuring out who within the Asad could be trusted. Even if the guardians were not corrupted, they might still be monitored in some way by the cult.

During the course of conversation, Delina learned from the party that one of them was the heir apparent of the ancient Tulesti house, now rising from obscurity once again at its ancient estate. To assuage their doubt concerning Delina’s sincerity in asserting the importance of that resurgence, Delina privately revealed that the man they know as a politician was once a powerful priest of Rustum. He showed Finn the holy symbol he still keeps- it had undergone the same transformation into celestial crystal that had transformed Finn’s own holy symbol. To cement their partnership, and give the party the authority needed to wander the Asad alone, Delina summoned several courtiers and a handful of Asadins to his office, announcing a prospectus committee to admit a new voting member to the Asad to represent the newly reformed House Tulesti and the unclaimed desert territories it once held. The gathered members held a quick but formal vote, accepting the validity of the prospectus committee for House Tulesti. Delina made clear that this did not get them a vote on the floor just yet, but formally opened the process of inducting them, which would eventuate a vote on before the full assembly to accept House Tulesti as a ruling faction representing a population that deserved representation at the Asad. More immediately, it granted their retinue unfettered access to most non-private areas of the complex, allowing them to carry out their part of the plan.

As the room cleared, the party revealed that they had further complicating information about efforts to “adjust” the impending historic vote. They related to Delina their evidence that one of the currently missing delegates was someone they knew Arturo Ducet’s agents had “rescued” from an attack weeks ago. Incensed at this development, Delina took the party to a nearby chamber dotted with assemblies intended to facilitate communication. In moments, they were staring at the misty visage of the back of Ducet’s head as he addressed the Speaker. In a demanding tone, Delina informed Ducet his presence was required immediately to answer some disturbing allegations. When Ducet attempted to politely decline, Delina grew more upset, informing him that refusing the summons would jeopardize the Empire’s standing with the Riyaqan government. Ducet agreed to meet within the hour, and Delina sent the party on their way to find those bombs.

Delina sent one of his personal guards with the party, known as G121. As G121 led them to various locations around the complex, the party asked questions about stores and asked to see the wine storage, knowing that the cult had a practiced proficiency at using casks and wine butts to hide its necrotic concoction. While Sindar negotiated a sommelier showdown with the head butler of the kitchens, the rest of the party began searching barrels. Very quickly they began discovering the hidden bombs. Once the real mission was explained to it, G121 proved very helpful in disposing of the bombs, as it had the ability to move the discovered barrels into what it called an “intercog space” of Mechanus, where they would be held inert until they could be dealt with. Moving quickly between storage areas, the party found and removed barrel after barrel. Then they saw him- a man dressed in cook’s clothing that was paying a bit too much attention to what they were doing, and following them at a distance from area to area. Once he realized he had been seen, the man made a dash for it, triggering a chase through the halls of the complex. Through hallways and stairwells, both crowded and empty in various places, the man ran in desperation to reach some unknown goal.

Pushing hard, a couple of the party members managed to catch up and even push ahead of their quarry, culminating in Sindar tackling the slight man into a door he had been trying to get open. They tumbled into the room, and the cook came to his feet as Sindar realized the room was piled high with barrels that probably should not be here. The story closed as the cook shed his illusory disguise, revealing the familiar face of the man that had taunted them while they sat in jail cells in Herlish. It seemed they were getting their chance at Sadeesh, himself- leader of the Children of Ahriman.

The Vote

The vote has been tabled in the Asad while missing delegates are searched for and rescued. An automatic procedural clock of 60 days started when they went missing, with 21 days now remaining before the delegates are declared dead and replaced. The Black Fleet has been spotted in Riyaqan waters.

Quote of the Day

“It keeps getting bigger.” -Zayn, referring to Tarsus’ most prized possession.

Session 26
Going counterclockwise

Our story opened as the group helped oversee elections in the settlement that had sprung up around the Tulesti Citadel. A day-long process, the elections came to a close with Avendi Volok (head priestess of Anahita from Latpasa), Badri Nasha (a labor leader from Aridesa), Sedina Kaza (a senior Mahari priestess from Aridesa), and Kaso Dern (Latpasa minor noble) elected to seats on the ruling council, and Falat Hennin designated to a seat representing House Tulesti.

Continuing his research into the complex engineering systems that shored up the citadel’s defenses, Sindar came to the startling discovery that the citadel must actually reside in the shadow plane, and is actively held in the material plane by the power of the system. The potential ramifications of this (should they have completely discharged all the system’s power while fighting the shambler hordes before figuring out how to recharge the core) left him with a cold chill in his spine and a new resolve to unravel that particular mystery and undo whatever Ghadir did.

Meanwhile, Finn set about communicating with Julian Carmeno through a series of Sendings, hoping to find a way to dispose of the cursed skulls safely. While Julian was no direct help in the matter, he recommended getting in touch with a man named Jerrod Aliston, a priest of Mishikal in Isamon. As the party prepared to get underway to their next destination, Finn communed with Blue, the captain of their ship at sea, and asked him to meet them at the shore safely west of Hansen in 18 hours. They left Willie behind to carry out his modifications to SeaChild. Instead, the party made use of one of the other skimmers brought by the Aridesa work camp refugees- the Plainsrunner. Kando Daea and a minimal crew accompanied them as the set out to meet Blue on their way to Gol Asad.

Their trip across the dunes was fairly uneventful, save for a brief encounter with a dune giant clan calling themselves the Kannak. The encounter ended without violence, if not entirely without tension. Stopping in the deep desert to bury the twin skulls, the party moved on to their rendezvous with Blue. Along the way, Finn attempted to hire Barqueem to return to the vault room in Aridesa to remove anything remaining before the cultists got to it. Barqueem returned after a while, obviously having been in a battle, to report that the vault room had been opened, and the area was patrolled by beastly sentries that presented him… some challenge. As the Plainsrunner traveled on, they encountered a lone raven high overhead, and summarily executed it before it could report to its assumed master. On a whim, they fed the corpse to a poorly understood organism that Sindar toted about on his voyages like a fashionable handbag.

Reaching the rendezvous early the next day, the ship they found waiting for them was not the small, open-decked barque they had left Blue to command. Awaiting them was a frigate-sized warship called the Gyredancer. Blue now commanded an appreciably larger crew, and quickly brought the party up to speed on his experiences of the past few weeks, giving as precise an estimate as he could of exactly how much piracy and pillaging of Imperial assets had been necessary to acquire their new flagship. Sending the Plainsrunner and its two-man crew back to Tulesti Citadel, the group departed for Nassira to obtain a somewhat less conspicuous transport before heading on to Gol Asad.

Nearly three days later, they pulled within sight of the docks of Nassira. The city was a burning wreck, with shamblers in full command of what remained of the streets. Near the docks, hasty walls had been erected. A quick check through the spyglass revealed 80 or 90 people still holding out on the docks, using the walls they had built to keep the shamblers at bay. A couple of good ships remained close enough for the people to use to escape, but even the cursory inspection of the rigging possible at this distance revealed that these people likely did not have a sailor left among them, and had probably tried and failed to get the ships underway already. Whomever had been the last to leave with an able-bodied seaman aboard had abandoned them.

Slipping close with the Gyredancer, the crew sent over rowboats to start evacuating people from the docks as the party transferred ashore. Asking around about what had happened here, the party soon had their suspicions confirmed- Nassira had been hit some time ago, and was likely one of the early cities to fall. Finding a small sloop that they could operate themselves, the party offered passage to anyone heading to Gol Asad. Their offer was accepted by one middle-aged Riyaqan woman, who said only that it was urgent she get back to the city at once. A quick interrogation and Detect Magic search revealed that she was carrying nothing of ill intent, so the party decided to allow her along. Once they were safely underway, the party started rifling through the flag locker of the Imperial coastal vessel, discovering an assortment of livery. One flag in particular caught their attention- the Empire Pennant. It’s presence indicated that their sloop, the Allesto, had been used to carry either very high ranking members of the Imperial Court, or actual members of the Emperor’s family. Well, whatever… they were on their way now, at least.

The better part of the day later, as Allesto navigated the Haralin Straits, they came upon an Imperial Navy brigantine, which signalled them immediately. Using their burgeoning skills at sailoring, the group deduced that the navy vessel was inquiring what had happened to them with the string of flags it raised, and realized there was probably a hidden challenge in the message. Responding incorrectly might see them boarded, or worse. Chancing it, they responded only that they had taken the ship from an overrun Nassira, and were on route to Gol Asad. The party had discovered the true identity of their travelling companion, a member of the Asad known as Nohan Lewala, but elected not to reveal that to the navy vessel. In response, the vessel took up position with them, announcing its intention to escort them the rest of the way and take possession of the ship at dock.

Upon reaching the docks at Gol Asad the next day, Asadin Nohan Lewala announced her presence and requested immediate passage to the Asad from the dockmaster and the troops present. Taking the party with her as her “retinue”, Lewala and her cohort made their way quickly to the center of the city aboard a coach summoned for them. Lewala explained, as they arrived, about the somewhat unique nature of the guardians of the Asad. Crafted long ago by unknown hands, they were comprised of varied types of clockwork humanoids that drew their essence from the orderly plane of Mechanus. They had steadfastly guarded the proceedings of the original temples on this site, and later the Asad, for centuries. No sooner had she completed her explanation, than they came face to face with their first clockwork guardian. They were escorted to a series of waiting areas while Lewala went her own way, seeking to get to the bottom of troublesome reports from the guardians that she had been present at her post for the entire month she was missing.

After finding themselves waiting in a relatively comfortable suite, the party received a visitor that wasn’t entirely unexpected. Imperial Consul Arturo Ducet greeted them as he entered the room, seating himself for a somewhat tense conversation. Once again, he had come with an offer of work that the party was less than interested in, as a whole. At last accepting that the party was not willfully going to become his agency within the Asad, Ducet left then to find their own way out of the holding room. On his way out, he casually informed them that it might be more difficult than they realized, being that they were in a demi-plane controlled by the guardians. After a lively discussion and a few failed attempts to talk their way past their guard, the party elected to use the protective nature of the guardians against them by setting fire to the room they were in. Sure enough, their guard allowed them out of the room, but immediately attempted to force them into an identical room a bit further down the hall. Rather than allowing that to happen, the party attacked.

Unfortunately, the guardian assigned to their room turned out to be a very tough opponent, and extremely skilled with the weapon attached to it. Zayn’s attempts to disrupt its functions fell somewhat flat as it counter-attacked. While the party was definitely doing damage to the clockwork humanoid, it was coming uncomfortably close to overwhelming Finn’s heroic efforts to keep the front line of the party on their feet. Seeing the writing on the wall and refusing to return to a cell, Sindar dropped a smoke bomb in the hallway to obscure their escape as Finn used one of his precious remaining spells to throw a stone wall up in the path of the guardian. The story closed as the wounded party took flight down a hallway that looked identical to every hallway around it, intersections springing up endlessly as they ran. If they were going to find a way out of this, they were going to need help.

The Vote

The vote has been tabled in the Asad while missing delegates are searched for and rescued. An automatic procedural clock of 60 days started when they went missing, with 21 days now remaining before the delegates are declared dead and replaced. The Black Fleet has been spotted in Riyaqan waters.

Quote of the Day

“If you guys don’t stop, I’m going to wet myself.” -Tarsus, being a little too adept with the code phrase.

Session 25
... and yet, the wind fans the flames.

Several days prior, Nanda’s fateful draw from the Deck of Errant Destinies announced the early return of the Malazephyr, a deadly sandstorm that normally scoured the desert and its people once every two years. It’s sudden return was seven months early, and none would be prepared for it. The party made heroic efforts to get word to everyone they could that would be in its path, and as our story opened, they were at the end of several days spent preparing their fragile new settlement for its arrival.

The question of what to do with the deadly cursed skulls weighed heavily on the party. They could not remain and continue to curse the land so many were beginning to depend on, but where could they be safely sent? Looking for more ideas, the group asked Ghomesh if she might know of any experts among the Aridesa refugees. After all, had they not been searching for powerful artifacts before they fled? Ghomesh knew of a few people, but one in particular was her first choice. After searching tents a while, he was located and brought to the main house. His name was Balasar. He was a blind man, old and somewhat infirm, but still mobile and quite bright of spirit. Asking to see the skulls, he examined them closely and then announced that he knew what they were and could speak at length on them, once he was properly compensated with a better tent and living conditions. The party agreed, and he told them of the Twin Skulls. They had belonged to the last living heirs of House Tulesti that Ghadir was aware of, and were offered on the Shadow Plane as a sacrifice to its master. Ghadir had found a way to travel there with these two living people. Three Shadelords of the plane had attended the sacrifice, demanding days of torture for the two before they finally died. In return, Ghadir was granted further power and the skulls were blessed by the lord of the Shadow Plane himself to become holy artifacts there. When Ghadir brought them back to the material plane, they bore horrendous curses in place of the shadow blessings.

Balasar’s counsel to destroy the skulls was straightforward. Take the skulls to the Shadow Plane, locate the Shadelords that demanded and witnessed the ritual, and destroy them. Once they were all dead, the skulls could simply be smashed to destroy the curse. Until then, they were nigh invulnerable to anything a mortal could do to them. Unwilling to spend the time with so many other matters pressing, the group squirreled the skulls away in the bag of holding until later. In the process of analyzing the skulls, Balasar revealed that even though his natural sight is long gone (by his own hand, no less), he is sensitive to the auras of magic, and can see enchantments clearly in his mind’s eye, even at a distance. The group was quick to hire him to work with the settlement’s security forces, asking him to patrol periodically with a town guard and look for any noteworthy or dangerous magic.

Meanwhile, the trader offering to establish a trade route to nearby Herlish was overjoyed when the group accepted his offer. Finn even sent extra funds with him as a donation for the Church of Rustum there. Once the man and his crew were loaded up, they beat a hasty path out of the settlement, hoping to reach Herlish before the storm’s arrival. As the sandstorm drew closer, the air to the west turned from light blue to gray, and then to a hazy beige color. The wind steadily picked up throughout the day, but it blew toward the sandstorm, instead of away from it. Finn and Dingo worked together to coordinate warning messages for the populace arrayed around them, and to set up a method for Dingo to send messages to Finn at a distance once the group departs the settlement.

With the leading edge of the storm mere hours away, people began to move inside the shield wall and take up shelter in smaller tents. By now, over 1400 people had gathered near the estate, and it was no easy task packing everyone beneath the dome that would protect them from the worst of the Malazephyr. As the move was finishing up, kites appeared on the horizon, racing ahead of the stormfront. Soon, it became clear these were three more of the trimaran ships like the SeaChild. All three flew Aridesa peacetime colors. A quick rally of troops and town watch met the approaching ships at the base of the rocky hill, with Arastea Ghomesh in the lead. She quickly vouched that she was familiar with all of these people. They had been assigned to several dig sites and work camps scattered within a couple of days’ sailing from here, and had received messages her people had dispatched to them. While she knew who they were, Ghomesh made clear that she could not guarantee allegiances after all that had happened at Aridesa. Under orders from the party, Tulesti soldiers and town guards separated and patted down people coming off the ships. Finn and Nanda searched the vessels one by one in the now painful wind as everyone else retreated inside the shield. The rest of the party quickly zeroed in on one individual in the new group. When she realized she was caught, the woman drew and knife and attacked, but the suspicious Tarsus was ready for her. He easily disarmed her, flung her to the ground, and pinned her. She was no assassin, or even a soldier. Knowing little more than that she was to meet someone here and hand off the implements of assassination in her possession, she was not of much value. However, the group noted that she wore another of the prisoner’s rings the cultists were fond of using to track members. A quick check of the ring against their revelation cloth, and the group was off up the hill in pursuit of the linked jailer’s ring. They quickly zeroed in on it, only to find it stuck to the door of the main house by a poisoned dart. Their quarry was aware they were being hunted, and how. At least they now knew for sure there were assassins in their midst.

Now in possession of the jailer’s ring, it was a race against the clock to locate the wearers of the remaining linked rings. One immediately showed up in the infirmary, but checking there revealed a young girl who had found it on the cot. Questioning a cleric in the tent indicated a man named Romi had been on the cot before her. He had been assisting Tarsus with cistern repairs earlier, and had injured his hand. A second lead wound up in a chase through refugee tents on the lower slope of the hill, very near the shield interior. As the man threatened to get away from Tarsus, a town guardsman named Pashar Agosto took careful aim on the fleeing man with his heavy crossbow, firing a shot worthy of an accomplished sniper across 40 paces at a moving target. The bolt lodged squarely in the man’s eye socket, penetrating deeply enough that he likely never knew what killed him. Unfortunately, that turned a potentially useful prisoner into a literal dead end for General Thornbane, who had the body collected and brought back to the house.

The sky had darkened to alternating stripes of black and brown as the first hard lashes of the storm tore at the shield. With the powerful artifact in place driving the arcane core, the shield held strong, humming softly against the strikes from outside. Gathered at the house to quickly surveil the settlement from above, the party spotted trouble at the infirmary below, with people rushing toward the tent. They moved to intervene, but were intercepted in their main hall by a pair of assassins that moved freely between the shadows of the room. The pair moved quickly, striking hard and retreating before the party could reposition. The attackers showed skill not just with blades, but also with rudimentary spells, defending themselves with magic when cornered. Sindar and Zayn focused their efforts on disrupting the magical abilities of the attackers while Tarsus and Nanda tried to pin one down and finish him off. Finn bolstered the the rest of the party, allowing them to push themselves harder than normal while healing wounds to his allies almost as fast as they were inflicted. As the first of the attackers was struck a mortal blow, he triggered a ring he was wearing and immolated several yards around himself in a blast of fire. The fire took his life, and nearly took a couple of heroes with him. With the first assassin down, the second quickly grew desperate. He threw his ring as he fled, but was slammed off his feet by a last-second attack from Nanda. The explosion did more damage still, but no one was out of the fight yet. Cornering him in the sitting parlor, the party soon ended that threat, as well. Unfortunately, the attackers here had delayed them too long to assist with whatever was happening at the field hospital.

Down the slope, a similar attacker made a sudden move against Avendi Volok, attempting to end her life in one motion. Though nearly successful, the strike was not quite enough against the now desert-hardened priestess, and she immediately put distance between herself and her attacker and pushed healing magic into her wounds. Several people nearby came quickly to her aid, including Warden Ghomesh and her ward, a town guard, and Brigadier Hennin. The four warriors descended on the would-be assassin like a pack of dogs, slashing quickly from several directions. The man twisted away from many of the blows, but the sheer volume meant a few got past his agile defenses. He made another play at Avendi, clearly focused on ending her life. The group defending her had to reposition several times to finally corner her attacker away from her, and she was able to turn her attention toward assisting them. Seeing he had missed his chance and was, at worst, about to be captured, the man whispered a word and raised high a ring on his left hand. It glowed brightly for a moment before erupting in flame that torn through the field hospital with explosive force. Although Avendi and her defenders survived, several of her patients perished instantly in the blast, and the hospital was all but destroyed.

In the aftermath, Finn wondered aloud where the rest of the attackers had been. Assuming he had correctly identified the specialists that attacked the settlement, they should have access to additional powers they did not use, not least of which was a murderous familiar made of solidified shadow energy. But if that was the case, then where had those been? Almost on cue, news arrived from the Aridesa camp: Hana Daea, high priestess of Mahari, had been killed minutes earlier by shadowy demons than quickly vanished after the act. She had been the real target all along, with the rest of this being a diversion against targets of opportunity. Of course the Children of Ahriman, worshiping the demon lord himself, would put a high price on the head of the most revered and loved worldly representative of Mahari. Break the will of Mahari’s worshipers, and maybe get a less effective opposition as a reward.

With full honors, Hana Daea’s body was brought to the house, where Finn administered rights in concert with the remaining priestesses of Mahari. After applying spells to ensure her preservation, Finn led a procession to inter her remains in the Tulesti crypts below. At the conclusion of the ceremonies, a teenage boy with a lost look on his face introduced himself to Finn. He was the now orphaned son of the departed, Kando Daea. He asked Finn some mildly troubling questions, clearly needing guidance and bearing the burden of a heart soaked with a volatile need for vengeance. He asked a fateful question of Finn, “How do I learn to do what you do? How do I learn to stand up for people?” In response, Finn handed the boy is personal copy of the Hymn of Heroes, the holy book of Rustum’s faith. “Read this, and then we’ll talk.”

The story closed as the young Kando Daea, by candlelight beside a bunk in the Tulesti Citadel, took his first steps into the Church of Rustum.

The Vote

The vote has been tabled in the Asad while missing delegates are searched for and rescued. An automatic procedural clock of 60 days started when they went missing, with 30 days now remaining before the delegates are declared dead and replaced. The Black Fleet has been spotted in Riyaqan waters.

Quote of the Day

“I should probably check her butt, too.” -Nanda, looking upon Tarsus’ new captive with rapt anticipation.

Assassins’ loot list

(1) medium-size +3 shadow leather armor
(2) +1 short swords
(2) +1 hand crossbow
(21) crossbow bolt
(1) belt of physical might +2 (DEX, CON)
(1) potion of invisibility
(3) potion of cure moderate wounds
(3) ring of retribution (1/day)
(1) cloak of resistance +2
(2) large CoA insignia (mithril with gold inlay) 175 gp value each
(2) handy haversack
850gp total value in rubies of various size
676gp total value in Khasif Nation gold coins (be careful spending this- it will draw attention)

Downtime activity between Sessions 24 & 25
The wind snuffs the candle...

The first day, 4 days until the Malazephyr arrives:

  • Sending results (assuming Finn has Sending x2 per day)
    • From Atala: “Trailing small group of ships on west coast. Think I have found the bombardiers, and think they are in contact with my target. Cannot leave.”
    • From Emi: “Captured by mercenaries from former employer. Mercenaries captured at sea by Black Fleet. In a brig for pirates. Fine. Waiting for opportunity.”
  • Cistern wall damage is 25% repaired. Cistern roof damage is 0% repaired. (Only the wall is needed to run systems, but roof is needed for long term safety and system integrity.)
  • Repairs to SeaChild are complete. Willie is working on plans for a modification to the ship (15% complete).
  • The first meeting of the local council occurred, deciding basic roles for key individuals:
    • Arastea Ghomesh has officially relinquished her military commission, and assumes the title of Town Warden, responsible for organizing a peacekeeping force among the refugees and enforcing order. She requests more formalized laws when practical, and the construction of a guard barracks with jail.
    • Avendi Volok has taken charge of medical care. Donated tent supplies and volunteers have established the Hospital Priory well within the shield boundary, and Avendi is named the prioress.
    • Falat Hennin, previously sworn to direct service of House Tulesti, takes official command of the house garrison as the House Tulesti Garrison Brigadier, reporting directly to General Tarsus Thornbane.
    • Brigadier Hennin and Warden Ghomesh held a special session, at the direction of Lady Zayn Tulesti, to reassign troops to their individual commands. They agreed on an even division of troops, such that the town could not overpower the House, and vice versa. They each exchanged some senior staff and half of their soldiers. The end result is that the Warden’s forces are composed of 43 watch officers, while the house garrison is composed of 42 soliders (not including General Thornbane).
  • Per player discussion in the previous session, a statement was issued to the populace by House Tulesti (statement given by Lady Tulesti), explaining that the dispatched POW was an immediate safety concern for the settlement. In general, the vast majority have accepted this at face value and do not question the decision. There are some grumblings, but they are minor for the time being.
    • To demonstrate future intent, Warden Ghomesh has privately requested that the remaining prisoner be transferred to her custody and prepared for public trial. Avendi Volok has privately expressed reservations about avoiding a show trial, and to ensure that the process is handled fairly- which she does not trust Ghomesh to do on her own.
  • In regards to laws in the settlement, there is some disagreement.
    • Badri Nasha (Aridesa labor leader) wants a set of laws enforced that closely mirror laws common to coastal villages, which rely on representative democratic processes for a variety of tasks, including selection of civic leaders. She has many followers that agree.
    • Opposition to this idea mainly comes from Avendi Volok and Hana Daea, who collectively argue that the reestablishment of House Tulesti is the only reason this settlement is springing up, and so it should follow Jamarrah Dynasty law, which is decidedly more feudal in nature.
  • Attempting to use the revelation cloth to find some source for the toxin vial reveals nothing.

3 days until the Malazephyr arrives:

  • Sending results:
    • Blue: Oi, boss-folk. We been busy bees, we ’ave. I reckon us three days out of Hansen, maybe two if Lady of the Feather has our-
    • Arndt: Nobody smart goes toward the Black Fleet. Tell her to make her way south to Emmet, on coast. I have a man there: Caleb Fisher.
    • Emi: If I can get away, I will. I found things. I know who Deacon and Bishop are, and I know what they are doing.
    • Tabina Karouk: I know someone in the consulate. I will deliver your message. Do tell Anton to drop by when you are in town again. Stay safe.
  • Cistern wall damage is 60% repaired. Cistern roof damage is 5% repaired.
  • Willie’s plans for modifications to SeaChild are 40% complete. He appears to be working on a way to expand its operating envelope (more usable terrain).
  • SeaChild approach lane: 8 minutes of Lesser Planar Ally gets you 10,000 square feet of solid earth converted to terrain granular enough and deep enough to pass the boat without damage. To safely transit to an area within the shield, SeaChild needs an approach lane from sandy terrain across relatively solid earth that is 10 feet wide and 250 feet long (25,000 square feet total). Don’t forget to account for any payments to the planar ally this work incurs.
    • Humans assisting the elemental use large stones that it displaces to mark the boundaries of the lane.
  • The troops of the Tulesti Garrison have begun building semi-permanent frame and canvas structures very near the house to act as barracks while a stone structure is planned.
  • Avendi Volok and several other clerics have a rudimentary hospital up and running, composed of a series of tents. Their main structure, much like the barracks structure, in in progress.
  • A small outdoor market sprung up today near the base of the hill. There are only a few merchants with little to offer, but it’s a start.
  • As your various ideas for governmental structure are discussed with the people who are finding themselves to be leaders in the settlement, the following idea seems to be taking hold most readily:
    • Collective rule is established for the settlement, composed of a council of 4 elected leaders and one representative of House Tulesti. On all civil matters, this council deliberates and votes. Its first order of business will be determining, for itself, what laws best represent the people here. Next, they will determine what level of support to offer the presiding House, in order to best equip it to serve its function in defending the settlement.
    • Warden Ghomesh and her staff of officers are ineligible to serve on the council, and will instead serve to enforce its decisions. Any member of the town guard or house garrison wishing to serve on the council must first resign their post, and may never resume it afterward. The sole exception is:
    • The settlement council defers military matters of defense to fiat of the House Tulesti representative. As such, the House Tulesti representative on the council should be a senior member of its garrison. They request that General Thornbane fill this role. Through his commission, and his fealty to the House, the Lady Tulesti will be able to exert her influence on the settlement.
  • If the above structure is adopted, you perceive a good chance that the populace will readily accept that the remaining POW should be remanded to custody of the house garrison as a military matter. For the time being, he remains in a more or less public stockade.

2 days until the Malazephyr arrives:

  • Sending results:
    • Teegan: no response
    • Emi: Will do what I can. Have to find the Lady first. I heard cannon fire today. A lot of it. Not sure what it means.
    • Julian: Many days from Miller, and well. Black Fleet only ever brings the end of days for someone. Must learn target, timeline, and evacuate innocents.
    • Shortly after the sending with Carmeno, Finn receives a sending spell initiated from someone else: This is Liz McCrae, with Carmeno. Who is in need of help? We are far from Miller, but have people there.
  • Cistern wall is 100% repaired. Cistern floor cleaning will be finished by the morning, and level control can be restored then. Cistern roof damage is 10% complete.
  • Willie’s plans for SeaChild modifications are complete. They are plans to make SeaChild watertight, and install additional alchemical engines. The ship could be rendered nearly weightless for up to 4 hours at a time, allowing transit over flat rock areas, and into the actual sea. There is a chance that attempting the modifications will fail and seriously damage the hull (craft check result dependent). If successful, high power operation to reduce weight will triple fuel depletion rate for that time period.
  • Sindar has made significant progress with the mystery plant. Results will be delivered next session.
  • The field hospital is fully up and running in its major tent complex.
  • House garrison troops began training today, and setting up permanent patrols. Falat is recommending that House Tulesti declare its estate to reach to the shield boundary, with specific permission from the house required to settle within that area.
  • With composition questions concerning the settlement council roughly settled, it only remains to announce the plan to the settlement and set a date to elect the members. The settlement leaders (Ghomesh, Falat, Avendi, etc) recommend these announcements come directly from Lady Tulesti to an assembled crowd.
  • Ghomesh and her officers are facing an increasing number of minor incidents within the settlement, mostly fighting between refugees. She insists it is not cause for concern as yet, and only represents some bumps being ironed out.
  • Zayn’s time among the people is well-received, helping to calm tensions. Troublesome rumors begin to surface that she is a living avatar of Mahari, come to lead her people to salvation. Hana Daea is very uncomfortable with this development, but the people in general are somewhat soothed.
  • Dingo has found a half-dozen goblins among arriving refugees, and has made fast friends with them. He has privately approached the group with an offer to remain in the settlement when they leave, and set up a guild of spies and thieves. He promises to keep the thieving to the minimum needed to keep his goblin buddies happy. In return for being left alone to run his shop, he will actively search for information of dissent among the people here, and stay on the lookout for infiltrators from the CoA.
  • The remaining CoA cultist was formally transferred to the custody of Falat Hennin today, and taken to the top of the hill. He is currently held in a private cell built in the greenhouse from scrap metal framing.

1 day remaining:

  • Sending:
    • War: Have no information on fleet. Were I them, would seek to cut off the head: Gol Asad. Possibly Haralin, too, as a base.
    • A new conversation with Liz: Is she Imperial? May be able to make contact with Order envoys within fleet and negotiate her release, if so. Proper name, more information?
  • The population seems to have taken well to Zayn’s address. Falat is stupendously unhappy that Zayn is taking such risks, even with a few guards in tow.
  • Conflicts within the people stem from high stress, mostly. The issues are varied and minor, but get blown out of proportion by high baseline tensions. There are surprisingly few issues revolving around Latpasa/Aridesa distinction. This is perhaps due to both towns being melting pots, in their own ways, to begin with.
  • Builders working with Tarsus indicate that they can put a much weaker, but much faster, roof on the cistern using lumber. Lumber is running scarce already. Cistern roof stands at 15% complete, and cannot progress until a decision is made. It is ready to be refilled.
    • Banut Ateji says he can take some animals and a few people south and see what can be traded for in Herlish, if some coin can be provided. With 1000 gp or so in coin or tradeables, he believes he can set up goods accounts with a couple of families there for small lumber harvested seasonally from their plantations.
  • Willie has calculated that he needs two weeks to modify SeaChild, and about 2500 gp in supplies.
Session 24
"Work together, or perish together." -desert proverb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Vote

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

Quote of the Day

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

Session 23
A New Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Vote

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

Quote of the Day

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

Session 22.5
A repentant demon is a demon still

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Vote

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

Quote of the Day

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

Session 22
Better the devil you know...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Vote

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

Quote of the Day

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


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