The Dim Wastes

Session 5
Burn down all the things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XP for Session:

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

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

The vote:

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

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Session 4
You're All Going to Die Down Here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XP for session:

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

Session total: 6800XP : 1360XP each

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

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Session 3
Probably nobody died

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XP for session:

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

Session total: 8100XP : 1620XP each

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

Party leveled to 3!

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Session 2
In the Service of the Council

The story opened with the group of new acquaintances pulling into the harbor of Gol Asad on an imperial skiff that had seen better days. The harbor was crowded with ships, but was quiet at this time of morning. They could see the markets on shore-side streets beginning to open, and decided to disembark after a brief discussion about the safety of the civilians on board. Arndt parted company with the party, taking his skiff to see about repairs and boarding a proper crew.

A young Riyaqan boy that had befriended Emi aboard the skiff gave the party what directions he could about the city before departing for his aunt’s home, and the group headed for the Citadel district in search of the Grand Council Consulate.

About two thirds of the way there, Anton spotted what he believed to be someone tailing them through the streets, and the party ducked into a local arms shop to go over their options. Watching from the shadows of the shop entry, Teegan confirmed that a tough-looking guy had posted himself up across the street from the shop, and appeared to be waiting for them. They hatched a collective plan, where most of the party would act as bait and lead the man into an alley, where Teegan would cut off his escape from behind.

As they departed, their tail seemed to go for the bait, and Teegan fell in behind. The party selected an alley that would give them room to fight and ducked in, rapidly getting into defensive positions. Teegan closed in the spring the trap, and they knew they’d been had when he came face-to-face with Tarsus still waiting for the man that was following them. Quickly deducing that their quarry might have gone invisible while briefly out of sight, Sindar made an educated guess about where the man might be and hurled a bag of chalk dust into the nearby wall. As the cloud settled, it revealed their invisible attacker before he could spring a sneak attack on Tarsus.

The battle was brief, but loud – including a musket shot, several firebombs, and some melodious singing before spilling into the street as the man tried to make his escape. The party sealed off his exit and subdued him, with Imperial Regiment soldiers closing in on the fracas. After a brief exchange with the soldiers to explain that they were attacked first, the party found themselves and their captive being taken to the closest garrison, which turned out to be the consulate they had been looking for in the first place.

After a brief runaround at the consulate while their story and identities were checked over, the group was sent before the Consul-in-Residence Arturo Ducet, the Headmaster of Necromancy of the Grand Council of Alhena. His presence and is attendants were… unsettling, to say the least. It was easy to understand why he was reputed to be the most reclusive member of the Council. The headmaster informed the party that the man who had attacked them was known locally as The Hand, and was a wanted fugitive assassin and thief for hire. He expressed surprise and more than a little admiration that this lot had managed to capture such an elusive target. That the Hand had been hired to track the party and recover that book they carried meant that the enemy, whoever they were, were already several steps ahead.

Ducet’s initial investigation of the artifact the party brought to him unleashed a psychic attack that he quickly brought under control. Realizing that although he could discern the general purpose of the book, he could not translate much of its text, Ducet asked the party to continue the mission of the agents they had come across at Sutif. Time was of the essence, and if they could get the book this far on their own, they were his best bet to stay ahead of the people looking to get it back.

Formally inducting the group into the Council service, Ducet named them Council Operatives. After a brief (and generous) resupply, he arranged for short-lived simulacrums of the party to leave the compound by the front entrance while the real party made their escape from the rear courtyard with a page from the book that had been rendered inert. They were to make best speed for the nearby settlement of Sevir’s Hill – a small Riyaqan farming community that was home to a cleric named Ugess. She was retired from the Order of Alhena, and lived among the locals now, but was still the foremost authority Ducet could think of on the ancient Mahari language used to write this book.

Before they left the compound, Anton and Teegan took a few minutes to interrogate The Hand in a holding room deep within the compound. Though the interrogation was not terribly productive, he did eventually give up that he’d been meeting his contacts for the latest round of jobs at a tavern in the city called The Lacy Death. After he’d made some ill-advised threats about recovering his equipment, Teegan stabbed him enough with his own sword that healing intervention was required to preserve him for further interrogation, and the team’s access to the prisoner was revoked.

A day and a half of uneventful travel saw the party arrive at Sevir’s Hill with the community in turmoil. The leader of the community was trying to organize a mob to go after his eldest daughter, who had been kidnapped by nearby goblins two days ago. As the party debated whether they should even get involved (given the urgency of Ducet’s orders), they realized the gods of the realm might have pre-ordained their involvement when they were told that Ugess had gone looking for the girl yesterday, and not returned.

Talking their way into the loan of a dog from the farms, the party pressed the dog into tracking the girl by way of Teegan’s skillful handling of the decrepit beast. Within an hour, they found themselves before the diminutive entrance of an obvious goblin warren. Descending carefully, they made it not five feet before the first trap was found and avoided. Only a little ways farther, they found a pair of goblins passed out drunk. Not the best guards for the goblin stronghold hidden beyond.

Having gotten the drop on the two goblins, the party quickly subdued them and then tried to press them to reveal the location of the missing girl and cleric. The two cried and struggled and repeatedly denied all knowledge, until Tarsus finally had enough. Dragging one of the goblins back to the sunlit entrance of the cave, Tarsus began beating him. And beat him. And beat him. The goblin’s cries fell on deaf ears—

“Hey, that’s not what happened at all. Teegan was going to kill them just to be safe. That guy’s pretty vicious. I decided to knock them out so he wouldn’t see them as a threat. Bad idea, and after I hit him once I decided I didn’t really have the stomach for it.”

As I was saying, the goblin’s cries fell on deaf ears as Tarsus administered a mercenary’s brand of interrogation until the mewling lump of pity—

“Drop it or I’ll demonstrate some mercenary diplomacy for you firsthand.”

Ahem. Well. Mistakes were made, and there’s no sense dwelling on it. So. About the same time, the remainder of the party finally located the latch for the secret entrance to the warren.

Entering the twisty passages below, the party found themselves in a standoff at a hastily erected barricade. Electing to try to reason with the goblins instead of resorting to extermination, the party eventually won an audience with Gok, their leader. Eventually, Gok allowed them to speak with the missing girl, and explained they had taken her to spare her from her father’s rage. The girl confirmed this, and announced her intention not to return home. Gok claimed that the attacks on the town were limited to the holdings of Salia’s father, because he was a terrible person.

Shortly after, Ugess appeared and confirmed what she could of Salia life at home and her father’s temper. She made vague reference that led the party to conclude that she is not actually retired, but serves some hidden purpose here, and said she intended to find a way to see Salia safely away from there. Tabling that discussion for the time being, the party inquired about the page they had been given and their instructions from Ducet.

Ugess explained that she could tell that the page diagrammed a barrier of some kind, but needed to translate the notes around it to discern more, as it had been transcribed from another source by someone who did not understand the spells they were copying. Unfortunately, all her notes and journals needed to perform such work were back at her home in town, and any appearance there by her or the party members would raise questions concerning the whereabouts of Salia, and possibly precipitate an attack on the warren.

The story closed as the party pondered possible solutions to this problem, with Salia’s father inching closer to a bad decision every moment.

XP for the session

Combat: The Hand – 5.000XP
RP: Arturo Ducet – 1,800XP
Combat/RP: Gok’s Warren – 3,300XP

Total for session – 10,100XP: 2,020XP each

XP total to date: 3,900XP each (5,000XP needed for lvl 3)

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Session 1
Encounter at Sutif

The story opened on a line of hundreds of people waiting to enter the coastal town of Sutif. The Imperial Navy was providing free passage to Gol Asad aboard their ships for Imperial citizens needing transit to arrive in time for the most important vote in the Asad since the empire arrived in Riyaqa decades ago. City guards and regimental soldiers shared the duties of inspecting the many arrivals, searching for insurgents and saboteurs.

A brief commotion announced the beginning of a coordinated assault on both the town and the many people waiting to gain entrance. Attackers flung globes of poisonous gas into the crowds, killing many instantly. In just a few seconds, the dead began to rise again as enraged, mutated creatures that seemed to be more sand than flesh. Most people ran for their lives. A few stood their ground and tried to halt the attack before more people died. At first, the battle was chaotic as everyone fighting back tried to tell friend from foe. The attack was eventually halted, but not without heavy civilian casualties.

After a far-too-brief respite, the true scale of the attack revealed itself as entire blocks of Sutif erupted in massive clouds of the poisonous and mutagenic gas. His partner fallen, Wils Jenil and a handful of adventurers bolted for the nearby skiff docks, well outside the town walls.

Reaching the docks just ahead of a crashing wave of civilians-turned-sand-monsters, Wils shoved a heavy package into the hands of a young alchemist named Sindar, and handed his Seal of Imperial Service to Anton, a bard. He instructed them to stick with their new found friends and get themselves to Gol Asad as quickly as possible. There, they were to find the Grand Council Consulate at contact Magister Ducet. He alone could be trusted with the contents of the pack.

Sindar and Anton boarded a waiting skiff, along with Emine (Anton’s gunslinger bodyguard), Teegan (a wandering ranger), and Tarsus (a soldier turned mercenary). A few other civilians boarded with them, and the skiff departed. After a brief bit of convincing, the commander of the skiff agreed to take the group the Gol Asad despite his own desire to meet up with the Imperial Fleet.

En route, a pair of saboteurs were forced into revealing themselves earlier than planned, and were quickly subdued by the party, now coalescing into a formidable team. Unfortunately, they had already planted a pair of fairly advanced alchemical bombs on the deck of the ship that were thoroughly tangled into the framing. The party’s struggle to work the bombs loose lasted for a few tense minutes before they succeeded – if you count hacking away significant parts of the the decking as a success.

With a few minor repairs, the skiff was underway again. Twice along the voyage, the skiff dipped in close to shore to check on coastal settlements, hoping for a safe place to set ashore the civilians left on board. Both settlements were found in disarray – the results of separate attacks on each. Whoever was behind this plot, it was wide-spread and well-timed. Thus far, the only clue uncovered by the party pointed toward a fringe cult called the Children of Ahriman.

The story closed on the morning of the skiff’s fourth day of sailing, as the tall spires of Gol Asad crested the horizon.

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