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