The Dim Wastes

Session 17
Who is an organization? An organization has no name.

Our story opened with the party trying to get their bearings after an explosion had flung them all over the upper story of the Ellery, a posh inn and imbibery in the center of Port Miller. The bombs left in their rooms were starkly reminiscent of the ones that Imperial Navy Intelligence agent Stern Viper had used in Hansen, but detailed analysis those implications would have to wait. The party had been seriously injured, but Finn reacted instantly and reached out in all directions with a wave of healing energy, restoring life to a number of the party and several civilians caught in the blast. Realizing at once that a number of others were hurt and the building was on fire in a few places, the rest of the party did what they could to take some load off of their cleric, providing first aid and carrying people out of the structure while Finn conjured up torrents of water to extinguish the blaze.

Seeing an opportunity to make sure their names stayed out of this debacle (and to question the girl at the front desk who had ordered their rooms “prepared”) Teegan focused instead on assaulting the young girl behind the counter and making doubly sure that she could not complete her only job during such a crisis- to make sure the front desk ledgers survived intact so the inn could collect its dues. Shoving the books she was collecting into the flames, Teegan collared her to the ground and cuffed her in short order. With city guards starting to show up, the party created a brief diversion to allow Teegan room to escape with their hostage, and then fled the scene themselves. A few minutes later in a nearby alley, the group learned that the girl behind the counter likely had nothing to do with bombs in their rooms, and the now-destroyed Ellery was the property of the local crimelord, Silas Thorne. Releasing the girl, the party headed for the cover of the local dive to plan their next move and try to figure out who tried to kill them from their top ten list of “people who might try to kill us.”

With no further activity that night, the group headed out for Sindar’s appointment at Port Miller College early the next morning. On arrival, they were escorted as a group into a conspicuously huge assembly hall in the west wing. A small panel of officials soon joined them, along with a number of personnel from the college. While Rector Ignus was formally in charge of the proceedings, the defacto head of the review panel was Kaito Sanders, who laid into Sindar almost immediately. Calling into question Sindar’s fitness to continue as a field agent of the guild, Kaito pulled out Sindar’s personnel file and began publicly detailing a string of incidents that would make anyone but Sindar blush with shame. Instead, he argued vociferously in his own defense. Sensing that Sindar was being railroaded to a poor conclusion to the proceedings, Tarsus decided to push some buttons and try to end things early. Rising to his feet, he collared Sindar while stating that they were leaving, and started walking out of the room. A grin spread across Kaito’s face as he raised his hand in signal and all four sets of doors to the room swung open to reveal two columns each of Imperial Regiment soldiers in full war field armor. As they marched into the room, the party acted on instinct to resist them, but quickly found themselves overwhelmed. For their part, the soldiers seemed professionally stoic after the very brief melee, bearing no obvious grudge on behalf of their bloodied members, but keeping the party contained as Kaito expressed his glee. Rector Ignus was very obviously upset by the intrusion of troops into the hall, surprised at this tun of events.

Elsewhere, Teegan had gained entrance to the second floor of the neighboring building, using a crudely drawn map of the premises furnished by Sindar’s memory of less chaotic days (is that a thing?) at the college. Slipping the notice of the single guard patrolling the upper floor, Teegan made his way through the hall until he came to an office door marked with the name of Kaito Sanders. Knowing the Sanders would likely be out to get him, and would likely get the expulsion of Sindar that he sought, Sindar had enlisted Teegan in pre-preemptive revenge. He had given Teegan a map to Kaito’s office, and a supply of sovereign glue to get in trouble with. Picking the lock was trivial, and Teegan set to work. Before ruining the rest of Kaito’s day by gluing down everything that might otherwise move, he fished through the desk and bookcases for anything interesting. He found some interesting looking documents, including one that had been recently torn into small pieces and thrown under the desk. He quickly pieced the page together, and realized why Kaito was trying so hard to pin Sindar to the wall.

As things were reaching super-serious levels in the west assembly hall, a bird flew through the window, dropping a note in Sindar’s lap before vanishing back outside. The note seemed to explain some grave and timely news to Sindar, and Teegan worked his way into the hall moments later as Kaito was explaining that the party were considered enemies of the state for other crimes yet to be public, and should be arrested and taken away. The rector intervened, insisting the party would be held on the premises until everything was sorted out in this confusing situation. Teegan was rebuffed when he tried to bluff his was past the troops surrounding his compatriots, and settled for passing the reassembled letter he’d found to Sindar via one of the soldiers. The letter made clear that Kaito was in league with someone named “Bishop”, who had ordered him to contrive whatever he needed to in order to hold the party in place until his other agents could arrive. A very high bounty seemed to be on their heads from an unknown source. After recovering from his stunned shock at the just-in-time arrival of a way out of this quagmire, Sindar passed the letter to the rector, and loudly proclaimed Kaito a traitor for all to hear. After his protests fell on angry, deaf ears, Kaito sucker punched Rector Ignus and made a run for it. The steel-clad fist of the regiment captain that stopped his escape barely recoiled as he barreled into it face first, knocking himself cold.

As short time later, the party was escorted to the rector’s quarters for a private meeting. The soldiers guarding them waited outside as they met, and Rector Ignus explained that he was familiar with the author of that letter, and wanted to know more about how the party would be involved with such a man. He knew they must be working for the Council or the Navy in some regard to be mixed up with Bishop and his organization in Riyaqa. Tired of trying to remember who knows what and who might be working for who, the party relented and spilled most of what they knew about what was going on. In response, Ignus explained that they were wrapped up with a group that operates secretly behind the scenes of Empire politics. They originally had good intentions, working to keep back channels open between various entities within the Empire in order to make sure critical negotiations never froze up, and really bad people never got a chance to exert too much influence. Over time, they became corrupted. The group has never taken a name, and maybe only one person knows more than a few names of members. Recruiting is done personally, and promotions are rare. Individual members take on the names of chess pieces and colors. The man who signed the latter to Kaito is formally known as the Black Bishop, not just Bishop, though he would not reveal that detail needlessly to a lackey like Kaito. At one time, Ignus himself had been the Black Bishop, though he hung that title up years ago as the organization moved in a direction he did not like. The man who now served in that role was either Arturo Ducet himself, or a very close lieutenant acting on his behalf.

A bit later the rector left the party alone to deal with the fallout concerning Kaito, advising them to stay in his quarters a while and keep out of sight while things calmed down. Autumn Reilly, the Director of Research at the college, came to see them, then. She had earlier confirmed elements of the party’s story concerning the missing librarian, Rinn Kulanov, and their belief that an imposter had taken up residence at the college. Now she came seeking more information, and to discuss what the party knew of the plague and its implications. As this conversation concluded, she helped clear the way of troops for the party to go about their business. With this, they decided to slip away and head to the Grand Market to finally do what they came to this gods-forsaken tornado of trouble for in the first place.

Their trip to the market was, surprisingly, free from trouble. The market was an opulent affair, with traders hawking luxurious wares from the far corners of the Empire and Riyaqa. Many were focused on the rich textiles that servants would use to tailor fine clothes for their masters in the Merchant District, but a few dealt in more serious goods. At length, Tarsus was able to locate the vendor he had been directed to find by the armorsmith in Aridesa and strike a deal with her to fashion what he required. Other members of the party milled about and made purchases of gear and items they had been looking for. Finn and Teegan both came up empty on important items they had been hoping to locate, but everyone found what they were seeking, for the most part. While deciding what their next move should be, the party agreed it was best to remain in town until the Seachild was ready to depart, and then figure things out from there. They would at least remain one more night, and began making their way back from the market. The rector had offered quarters at the college for the night, if they needed them.

While moving through the busy streets, Sindar was quite suddenly accosted by skilled pickpocket, who cut the strap that held both of his waterproof bags and made away through the crowd before anyone could grab him. Sindar immediately gave chase, and the rest of the party followed suit. The harrowing pursuit wound through the streets, down back alleys, and past a very confusing fruit cart before Teegan was able to cut across a street in front of the pickpocket and close the gap to bring him down in a loading yard behind a merchant building. The lad proved spry, if not very powerful, but revealed that he had accomplices nearby. Teegan had not gotten the upper hand on him, after all. It had been a trap! He found himself covered by two archers as another a pair of thugs armed with nasty-looking bludgeons closed in. Very quickly, the rest of the party arrived to even the odds, and the fight was on.

As the party closed ranks and got to work, the thugs realized they were in far over their heads, and called for backup. “Boss! We need some help out here!” the call went out. Vaulting off the roof and landing in the midst of the fray, the former leader of the Jade Ravens laid into Tarsus and Teegan with ferocity. Accompanying her, a large black wolf circled the field, looking for weak spots to attack. In the early moments of the fight, the party focused on thinning out the mooks a bit to open up some room on the battlefield. Teegan demonstrated his newfound love of defenestration in disposing of one of the archers before joining the battle below, which coaxed the second archer into giving up his elevated perch for terra firma underfoot. Seeing the opening it had been waiting for to get to its assigned target, the wolf charged into combat, transforming into a harder-to-hit swarm of bats as it closed the gap. And that was when the former Onyx Mongrels realized they were in real trouble. This wasn’t just Atala and a gang of street rats. That bitch had brought a vampire with her.

Reaching melee range with Finn, the swarm of bats dropped its transformation and revealed the form of Lana, the vampire thrall that Magister Ducet (an ancient vampire himself) had used as a communication medium aboard the Talia’s Vengeance in the weeks before. Recalling all he could about vampires as quickly as he could, Finn cast daylight on his holy symbol and held it before the charging vampire. The ploy worked, sending her fleeing to the far side of the yard. But he had lost precious time, and Atala’s fists weren’t slowing down on his comrades. The melee rolled across the yard for several seconds, seeming to make progress in no one’s favor as the remaining thugs closed in to complicate matters. In a desperate ploy, Zayn sprayed a series of glitterdust spells into the melee to reduce the effectiveness of the thugs, and on balance, it seemed to work. Though she could not avoid hitting her own teammates a time or two, the thugs were rendered largely ineffective, save for the time it took to put them down.

Meanwhile, Sindar saw the opprtunity he was waiting for, and hurled a tanglefoot bag at Atala with superhuman accuracy, enhanced by his extracts. The bag stuck home, slowing the monk long enough for the party’s members to bracket her in and do some real damage. Momentarily blinded by a glitterdust spell, she had trouble fighting back for a second or two, but was still remarkably adept at defending herself even with attackers on all sides. Finn and Lana entered into a brief spell duel, with Finn trying to dispel the magical darkness protecting Lana from the afternoon sun, and Lana trying to dispel the daylight spell that countered it if she got to close to him. Finally, she landed the right dispel first as Finn chewed through her other magical protections, and once again charged in for the attack. Not ready to burn another spell he might need to preserve his allies, Finn opted for thrusting his symbol of Rustum into the air between them. While it did not send her fleeing, it did seem to momentarily keep her at bay. Summoning her powers of vampiric persuasion, Lana changed tactics. Maybe she could not close in for the kill on this troublesome cleric, but someone else could. Reaching out, she took a firm grip on Teegan’s mind, and ordered him to kill the cleric. Teegan abandoned his attack on Atala, and advanced on Finn.

Recovering her sight, Atala began working on her own to thin out the field a bit. With Reece loitering nearby as a distraction from other attacks, she turned on him. Three rapid strikes fell too quickly for the snake to dodge, and he was dead. She turned her attention to Tarsus, now without nearby allies, and beat him badly enough to force him to retreat. In the same time frame, Finn prepared to receive Teegan’s attack with one of his own, touching his teammate with magic in his fingers and imbuing him with protection from evil, which temporarily suppressed the vampire’s domination. Unamused, Lana immediately seized the mind of Sindar, forcing him to attack Tarsus and giving Atala more room to maneuver. Atala used her temporary freedom to close on Zayn, who was in retreat from an attempted gang-up by the remaining mooks. They given her a savage beating, and a brief encounter with Atala put her nearly off her feet for good.

Interrupting Atala’s plans, Teegan found himself at death’s door within a heartbeat, narrowly pulled back from the brink by a cleric still dealing with a pesky vampire problem as she circled and looked for an opening. Finn knew that Sindar may still have dispelling bombs available for the day, and those bombs were the key to lowering Lana’s defenses against the natural light. He focused his efforts on freeing Sindar from the domination effect, and discharged his last use of his metamagic rod for the day to reach across the gap and imbue Sindar with protection from evil. Playing her last card, Lana leapt onto Tarsus in an attempt to sink her fangs deep and draw out his life force- to burn his essence to make good her escape when the sunlight eventually broke through. But try as she might, he was just too tough. As Sindar’s bombs rained in, her penumbra finally broke. In a final screeching rage, Lana was incinerated as she ran for cover.

Seeing the battle turn badly against them, the remaining thugs nonetheless stuck it out. Atala must have promised them a small fortune to get street criminals so dedicated to killing such dangerous quarry as these adventurers. A final shot of glitterdust closed the book on their usefulness, and the last few went down, leaving Atala alone on the field. Struggling to recover his own sight, Teegan found himself toe to toe with the monk. Both were bleeding badly from numerous wounds, and both were near death. As they leapt at each other, Teegan managed to land the decisive blow against all odds. An unconscious Atala crumpled into him. Finn immediately moved to save her life, if not wake her up right away. The session closed as the rest of the party secured the scene and began seeing to their prodigious injuries.

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

Quote of the Day

“Let’s get her naked…” -Teegan, standing over an unconscious Atala.

Advancement & Rewards

The party advanced to level 7!
Sindar’s player earned 2 inspiration points for awesome prop creation.
Teegan’s player and Finn’s player each earned 1 inspiration point for general badassery during the final encounter.

Loot list

This won’t be in every write up. I’ll include it here since we had no time at the end of our marathon session to go over it, and I don’t want to spend time on it at the beginning of the next one. Just tell me then who is taking what.

Atala
Quickchange cloak
Boots of striding and springing
Amulet of bullet protection +1
Headband of inspired wisdom +2
Potion of spiderclimb (x2)
Potion of cure moderate wounds (x2)
5gp 87sp

Lana
Ring of spell knowledge II
18pp 31gp 4sp
(All other personal effects destroyed during her combustion event)

Thugs
Chain shirt (x5)
Heavy mace (x3)
Shortbow (x3)
Longsword (x2)
Longspear
69gp 8sp

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Session 16
Our Port Miller Shopping Trip

Our story opened as the party disembarked the Seachild and it was stowed in a barn a few miles away from Port Miller, on the very outskirts of the irrigated land the settlers maintain for crops to supply the city. The crew set about prepping the trimaran for the return trip. The walk to the city gates was uneventful, and the party elected to split up a bit to enter the gates, in case anyone was looking for them. Finn entered with Julian Carmeno’s group, receiving a warm welcome to the city and observing a good deal of deference to the paladin and his troop from the city guard. The remainder of the party entered together, with Tarsus magically disguised as a Riyaqan to deflect attention from his arsenal. Although they entered the city without any real trouble, the gate guards had some choice words for the Riyaqan members of the group, making it clear they should be on a short leash.

The party decided to split up for a few hours to get their individual business taken care of, and made plans to meet up later. Teegan had a fairly uneventful shopping trip, much to his surprise. Finn spent several hours handing out food and water to the poor and preaching the gospel of the desert, in direct competition with another cleric just down the street from him. Sindar had a very unpleasant, but not altogether unexpected, welcome at Port Miller College, and talked himself into a review board from the Director of Field Research, his “technical” boss. While at the college, he ran into Rinn Kulanov, who had arrived several days earlier. The math didn’t make sense in his head, and neither did Rinn’s suddenly pleasant demeanor. Not knowing what else to do for the time being, Sindar agreed to return the next morning, and departed before someone slapped handcuffs on him. Tarsus spent a while asking after the man he was looking for, but making no progress. Finally, he was approached by a young man who whispered a message to him: “You are looking for the Tarred Crow. Arrive after 8pm. Do not go alone.” With that, he gave up his search for the moment and headed back to meet his friends.

When everyone found each other near the central market, they realized that Emi was still out in town somewhere, having gone looking for the gunsmith. They decided it best to go looking for her. Using the jailer’s ring, Finn was able to determine that Emi was alive, but unconscious from some kind of poison, and diseased. In short order, they found the ring behind a fish vendor in the seaside market, on the finger of a passed-out-drunk dock worker. A note pinned to his shirt detailed a bounty to retrieve Emi and return her to the company owned by Anton’s family. She was apparently wanted for questioning in relation to the disappearance of their founder’s son. Asking around a bit, the party found that a number of burly gentlemen had nabbed her and put her on a waiting sloop that left immediately. They apparently knew she had friends that would come looking for her quickly, and had already lost three of their number just trying to take Emi while she was alone. Learning the name of the ship and it’s captain, Finn went in search of a scroll of sending. He was able to find what he sought, and sent a message to Arndt and the Talia’s Vengeance to please set out after the Gray Blade and secure Emi before the reach Empire waters. With no other practical ways to get onto the Gray Blade’s trail, the group turned its attention back to matters in Port Miller, confident that Arndt was their best hope.

After a few more hours passed, the remaining party members accompanied Tarsus to the Tarred Crow to meet whatever challenge awaited in order to impress the man named War. Arriving at the tavern, the party took some seats near the front door and waited a while. Soon enough, the same young man Tarsus had met earlier happened through the front door, subtly indicating that Tarsus should follow him to the back rooms. When he tried to follow, Tarsus was intercepted by an older man in a waistcoat before he could get to the tables full of middle-aged Riyaqan men at the very back. After conferring through signals with the men at the back table, the man escorted Tarsus and the party out of the bar. A pretty Riyaqan girl followed them out quietly. The man asked a number of questions about why Tarsus was trying to find his master, War, and what he hoped to accomplish with what he might learn. Satisfied that the answers Tarsus gave were good enough to proceed with the actual test, the man introduced the young woman that followed them, explaining that she would accompany them on a small exercise to test their mettle.

Since Tarsus had indicated that he sought to right wrongs, regardless of the perpetrator, the test involved a small family in the dock town that was being victimized by some city guards that were continuously shaking them down for money. The father of the family had been taken to jail just that morning for refusing (or just being unable) to pay the money they demanded. The man encouraged the party to go and visit the family and find out for themselves if this was a just cause, and determine what should be done. Visiting the family, a brief confrontation with the confused mother was followed by her story of being harassed continuously by two specific guards- one of them named “Mitchell”. While Finn made repairs to their damaged front door, Tarsus asked for details on where her husband was being kept, and what happened next. The woman described the unsavory acts she would normally be expected to commit in order to secure her husband’s release when they had no money to pay, and the party unanimously decided that they had to intervene. There was some trouble coming to a decision of exactly what to do. Charging into a city jail to spring a “criminal” didn’t seem to anyone like the best way to kick off four days in the largest imperial city on the continent, but just turning their heads and walking away wasn’t a good option, either. They opted for just trying to pay off the crooked guards to secure the release, and then smuggling the family out of the city and getting them on the trimaran back to Aridesa.

Approaching the keep, their plan ran into immediate trouble as they spotted a skinny kid in black clothes, a mask, and a cape trying in vain to hide against the very light gray stone wall bathed in moonlight. Upon gently inquiring as to exactly what the holy fuck he was thinking, the lad explained he was also there to break out the unjustly jailed man, and tried and failed to land a grappling hook on the upper edge of the wall. The party unceremoniously told him to get lost before he got himself hurt… but to leave the grappling hook, because that might actually be useful. The boy got an idea about how he could help them out, and rushed off into the night. Everyone briefly considered whether they could quietly hide the boy’s body rather than deal with whatever horrible consequence he was about to bring their way, and then blamed having such thoughts on hanging out with Teegan too long.

After a first attempt to reason with the guards inside failed, the party sent Finn inside with their observer, Zayn. While they were inside, Teegan made use of the grappling hook and shuffled onto the second story, keeping pace with a single roving guard outside. Sindar and Tarsus watched in terror as the boy reappeared with two friends, putting a ladder against the city wall about 40 paces away from them. The trio climbed up and ran along the wall to the next tower. Moments later, the tower alarm bells began to ring out. Instantly, the keep disgorged its compliment of soldiers, with 15-20 of them making their way out of the building and up the hill to the tower calling for help. The city gate nearest them was closing in response, timing the closure of the doors with the arrival of the relief from the outer jail in dock town in a well-practiced maneuver. And suddenly, the group was left alone with maybe 3 or 4 guards in the jail, physically cut off from the support of their fellows in arms. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Zayn and Finn, inside, were in the midst of trying to convince the two guards in the hallway with them that they should be allowed to buy the man they had locked up after the guards spilled that the man would executed at sunrise for assaulting one of them. As that conversation lost momentum, the alarm bells had triggered a flood of bodies rushing past them. Realizing the greed of these two guards might stonewall them long enough for the distraction to fail, the party capitalized on the opportunity and attacked. Teegan and Reece rushed the guard atop the first story and sent him plummeting to the ground, quickly following him down to finish the job.

Inside, Finn and Zayn squared off against the two guards with them. The combined effects of their blinding, stunning, and other head games made the two men trivial targets for Sindar and Tarsus. In seconds, two guards were unconscious and another was bleeding out from an overzealous serpentine paratrooper attack. After Finn wrapped up that detail (dead guards tend to make investigations more vigorous), the party located the jailed man and freed him. As they were making plans with how to deal with their captives, the “all-clear” horn sounded from the hilltop, and the gates began to reopen. Not knowing how long they might have before others began to return, the party satisfied themselves with a quick ransacking of the officers’ rooms and bailed out. After they were all safely away, they saw the man back to his family and gave them instructions on where to find the Seachild. The family began packing up their meager belongings immediately.

A short while later, they were back in the Tarred Crow, now with fewer other customers because of the late hour. The older man they had met before sat with them, inquiring as to how things went. Zayn gave her report, and the party described the hows and whys of the evening. In the end, the man agreed to train Tarsus, revealing in a somewhat roundabout way that he was War. The men at the table earlier were decoys and business partners. War told Zayn she might make herself available to stay with Tarsus and his comrades while they were in town, and see how she could assist them. Knowing the underlying goal was making sure they stayed out of the wrong kind of attention-grabbing trouble, Zayn agreed. With the getaway apparently clean and the goal accomplished, the party turned to the matter of Rinn’s mysterious speed in making her way to Port Miller, and what that might mean for Sindar’s review board with the IGG in the morning. Suspecting foul play, they decided to scry on Rinn to see if they might learn what she is up to, or if the woman Sindar met was even the real Rinn. Finn was shocked when the spell failed entirely, leaving him with a limited number of plausible explanations for that outcome.

The next best thing they could come up with was to arrange to expose whatever no-goo-ness Rinn was up to in front of the academic review and the Senior Librarians in the morning, or to try and spring a trap this evening, if Rinn was, indeed, up to no good. They went to check in to the inn that Sindar had told her they would be using- the Ellery. A somewhat upscale midtown establishment, the Ellery was finely appointed and heavily staffed. After check in, the party asked for some changes to bed layouts to accommodate their desired room arrangements. The staff agreed, saying it should take only a few minutes. Some 15 minutes later, their rooms were ready and the party headed upstairs. Zayn elected to stay behind to see if anything untoward happened after they left the common area. Upstairs, Teegan turned the key in the lock to his room and opened the door. The door ever-so-lightly bumped into something heavy just inside the room, and he just glimpsed the large glass tubes of the alchemical bomb as they hissed and detonated. With others in the hallway right behind him, there was nowhere to dive for cover, and Teegan took the brunt of the blast. The world was silent for several seconds as the initial shock subsided. The stabbing pain in their ears, the debris scattered everywhere, and the somewhat hazy view of the twinkling stars above brought everyone back to reality quickly. Someone had just tried to kill them by setting off a bomb in a crowded inn.

Our story closed as Finn scrambled over debris trying to get to the twitching bodies of people that had been in the room next door.

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

Quote of the Day

“If you touch me, you’ll never find out anything!” -fish shop owner, and the only witness to Emi’s abduction

“I can talk to dead bodies.” -Finn

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Session 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Vote

The vote has been tabled in the Asad while missing delegates are searched for and rescued. An automatic procedural clock of 60 days started when they went missing, with 52 days now remaining before the delegates are declared dead and replaced.

Quote of the Day

“I hope he hits the black guy.” -Emi

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Session 14
Day Zero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Vote

The vote has been tabled in the Asad while missing delegates are searched for and rescued. An automatic procedural clock of 60 days started when they went missing, with 57 days now remaining before the delegates are declared dead and replaced.

Quote of the Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Vote

The vote has been tabled in the Asad while missing delegates are searched for and rescued. An automatic procedural clock of 60 days started when they went missing, with 59 days now remaining before the delegates are declared dead and replaced.

Advancement

The party advanced to level 6!

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Session 12
Out of the frying pan...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Vote

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

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Session 11
Enemies of the State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Vote

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

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Session 10
Just following orders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Vote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XP for session

Progressing toward level 6.

The Vote

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

View
Session 8
That bell don't ring no more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XP for session

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

The Vote

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

View

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