The Dim Wastes

Sessions 59-61
Last Stand at Latpasa (lvl 8 Explorers' Guide adventure)

Our story opened on a party of four adventurers having gathered in the Explorers’ Guild of Tulesa for a briefing on a rather special mission they had just accepted. The party included a human paladin named Khida, a goblin kineticist named Mud, a human inquisitor named Zakiya, and an odd-looking human kensai named Blade. The four waited in the dining hall of the Explorers’ Guild for the guild master to make his appearance, which came soon enough. Before long, Rufus Blackwell entered the room and addressed the group, indicating they should follow him to a private briefing chamber off the main hall. Following him in, the group took their seats where Rufus indicated that they should sit. He began the briefing for the mission that they had selected, explaining their total payment from the guild would be 3000 gold pieces: half now for equipment and half on completion of the work. They would also each be allotted 100 gold pieces per day for expenses, and they would get the standard deal from the guild that allowed them to keep any loot they found that was not a mission objective. Rufus explained that their work would take them to the now abandoned city of Latpasa, near the desert edge. There, they would be tasked with locating and exterminating the remaining shamblers that infested the city so that people could return. The mission was straightforward but exceedingly dangerous. To get them on task quickly, the leadership of Tulesa had made available for them the desert trimaran Plainsrunner, captained by Zedin Alasan, one of the settlements most gifted pilots. The Plainsrunner would be ready to depart as night fell that evening, and the group would have until then together what supplies they needed and meet the ship at the docks near the base of the hill.

After an afternoon of buying supplies and food for a long journey into the desert, the group met and boarded Plainsrunner at the docks. Following some brief introductions with the crew, the ship departed for the deep desert. The transit for the next three days was relatively uneventful, with Plainsrunner taking up an easterly patrol route from the settlement before a slow turn to the north. At 6 AM on the third day, the ship slowed and began preparing the experimental new deployment sled for the party. The sled would allow the party and their gear to safely depart the ship without the ship stopping, by stepping onto a platform that would be extended from the back of the ship as a line paid out. The party loaded their gear, stepped onto the platform, and were soon dumped unceremoniously off the back of the ship and onto the white sand. The ride was a bit bumpier than they were expecting, but soon enough they came to a stop on a sled with a long rope attached to it that had been dropped from the back of the ship, now slowly disappearing into the distance.

They would have the next 27 days in Latpasa to complete their mission, at which point Plainsrunner would return to pick them up. If they were not ready to leave by that point, they would be assumed dead. Another ship retracing Plainsrunner’s patrol route would be along in 18 days if the party was done early. With a long trek across the desert ahead of them, the party set out. It was only a few hours of early morning hiking before they were stopped and attacked by wildlife in the desert – an enormous pack prowler, a giant hyena that was likely the companion of a Dune giant. A fierce and frenzied fight ensued, the pack prowler leaping from party member to party member trying to take someone down for a neck-breaking killer bite. Alas, he never succeeded, though he did manage to inflict a few wounds that would last before he was laid low by the party.

Weathering the hottest part of the day in their partially buried tents in order to rest, the party departed again as the sun began to dip low on the horizon, marching toward Latpasa. For the next three days, the party trudged, closing the long miles toward the town without marking much excitement. While marching on day six, they observed four bright dots in the sky to the south moving East to West. They never quite figured out what the dots were, and so kept moving toward their goal. By day seven, they were 8 miles out from the city and the tall, legendary walls and road gates of Latpasa were visible in the distance. As they march closer, they observed an explosion in the city, followed by a column of smoke. Other less intense columns of smoke were observed rising from various parts of the city. Blade released his bird, Bolt, to take wing and scout the situation ahead of them, looking for trouble that might be marked by the sighted explosion. Quickly returning, Bolt spotted debris on the far side of the wall near the sight of the explosion, but no movement. He did report that there was lots of movement near the wall, saying he saw many slow-moving people.

As the group moved closer to the wall, they saw that the people Bolt had observed were actually herds of shamblers moving along the outer wall, tracing a path through a trench they had worn walking the circle again and again over many months. The party attacked, easily dispatching the two groups of shamblers closest to their point of approach of the wall, using a series of careful and methodical attacks. As they drew to the wall, the group worked together to get up and over it, landing atop the wide parapet and making their way along to the nearest tower. Arriving at the tower, they entered to commence a search from top to bottom before emerging at the ground level inside the city. Near the very top of the tower, they found the remains of the commander of the city watch, who had apparently died defending the stairs from shamblers, now evidenced only by the piles upon piles of clothes and loose sand that made the stairs down treacherous. They learned this commander’s name was Basren Najafi.

Emerging quietly into the street from the guardhouse at the base of the tower, the group consulted their city map about where they might try first. Settling on a nearby trade compound, they moved out. Sure enough, the trade compound was overrun by shamblers, shuffling to and fro in an endless loop of unimportant activity until they saw their target. When they saw the group, they rushed to the attack, but there simply were not enough of them to properly challenge the party. In short order, the way was cleared and they searched the compound. The trade compound itself was arranged as a pair of large warehouses, with a common yard between them intended for vendor stalls. The trade houses each contained a series of independent compartments, originally intended to separate the goods of specific owners. The group found a few interesting items within the warehouses, but they had mostly been stripped of anything of value. Eventually, the western warehouse yielded the most interesting find of the two buildings: an intact barrel of the compound used to create the shambler disaster. After securing and disposing of the barrel, the party moved on to a pair of strong rooms in the back of the western warehouse. In the strong rooms, they found two large groups of wholly burned bodies. Evidence in the room indicated some of these people had been burned alive and someone had entered the room to search them for valuables after they were murdered. There was a small collection of personal effects left in the corner, apparently collected but found to be of little value. Among the collection, they found several holy symbols of Mahari, several holy symbols of Rustum, and one holy symbol of Ahura Mazda. It seemed this had been the collected clergy that still remained in Latpasa when someone very evil came calling.

The party left the compound, disgusted and somewhat disheartened by their find. Moving north, they came across a larger group of shamblers but were able to pick them apart with careful tactics and patience. Immediately after this group was dispatched, the party was threatened by another group of shamblers, at least 60 strong. This group, unlike the others, did not simply charge in a mad rush. They seem to fragment, coordinating their movements. Some held back until the party showed a weak flank, and then moved to take advantage of that gap in their defense. Through coordination of their own, Blade, Khida, and Zakiya were able to hold various fronts as Mud tore through the groups from afar. This horde took longer to dispatch and it was a close thing, but the party prevailed.

They continued to move carefully through the city, attacking groups of shamblers when they could do so safely, and avoiding others. Eventually, they made their way to the south gatehouse and entered to take a brief respite. The inside of the gatehouse appeared to have been repaired sometime after the initial attack, with new timbers used to shore up damaged walls and some doors replaced. As they rested inside the gatehouse, the party heard noises of a battle nearby. Theorizing this battle may involve cultists, survivors, or both; the party rushed to intervene. They found a small group of Riyaqan people under attack by shamblers in the street. Lending aid, the party was able to help them dispatch the group quickly and end the battle. The man leading the group introduced himself as Salyat Qarda – an officer of the Latpasa city guard and now the leader of a small group of refugees living inside the city and hunted by cultists that took up residence here some time after the first attack. Sizing up the party after a brief interrogation, Salyat agreed to give them a place to sleep for the night in his safe house inside the city. Once they arrived, not everyone at the safe house was happy to see the party, worried they might be cultist infiltrators. This led to some measure of tension the party bedded down for the night and got to know their new friends.

By the following morning, the party learned that Qarda and the other refugees intended to remain in the city until they found a woman named Zari Najafi. Zari was the daughter of Basren Najafi, the guard commander the party had found dead earlier, leaning against a door, when they first entered the city through one of the towers. They knew she was still alive and had been kidnapped by the cultists. Once she was found they would consider leaving, but they did not intend to escape with any living refugees left behind. Reasoning that their goals aligned in this matter (as hunting for her should bring them into close contact with the cultists that were no doubt responsible for maintaining the threat of the shambler presence in Latpasa) the party agreed to add findings Zari to their goals and set off for the last place that she had been seen – being dragged off by cultists toward Queen’s Keep in the middle of the city, months ago.

It was not long before the party came into contact with a large herd of shamblers standing stock still in the streets that would otherwise allow them access to the keep. Blade sent his companion skyward to scout, who quickly located two cultists standing on a nearby roof, easily identified by their black and red robes. The party was simultaneously attacked by the herd of shamblers and the cultists, one of whom seemed to have some measure of control over the shamblers actions. Intelligently focusing their opening efforts and attacks on the cultists, the party fought hard to dispatch the pair. One of them seemed to be a spellcaster, while the other was a skilled melee combatant. He charged the party with blades out, moving with incredible speed as he landed the first of several blows with his jagged black short swords. Meeting his charge had on, Blade and Khida cut him down in short order. Meanwhile, Mud had blasted the spellcaster out of existence while Zakiya held the first of the arriving shamblers at bay. With the cultist dispatched, the party fell into a well-practiced pattern of retreats and attacks in order to dispatch the now leaderless mob. Returning to check the bodies of the cultists, the party found a few items of value and one piece of intelligence – a note scrawled with the numbers “7358”.

The party returned to the safe house to drop off the loot and information that they had located before heading back toward the keep. When they arrived this time, they found several cultists standing on a balcony of the Queen’s Keep. One of them introduced himself as Ibrahim – the new master of the Children of Ahriman. His demand was simple: leave now if you want to live. He claimed that Latpasa now belonged to the Children, and they would enforce that claim with violence if necessary. Hordes of shamblers marched into the streets like highly disciplined infantry in response to Ibrahim’s commands. Sensing that this might not be a fight they could win, the party began looking for options. Soon, Mud found one. At his coaxing, the party began working at an extremely heavy grate that led into the sewer below the street, as the shambler army marched forth. It was a concerted effort over several valuable seconds, but the party eventually dislodged the grate and dove into the sewer below. With a little luck, they could use the sewers to get under the keep itself before anyone caught up to them.

As they navigated the confusing sewer tunnels, they could hear the thumps of the massed footsteps in the streets above them. Shamblers seemed to be spreading out, trying to cover all of the entrances to the sewers to ensure they were there when the party poked their heads above street level again. When the party did not reappear, Ibrahim upped the ante a bit, sending some special surprises into the sewer after the party. As they arrived at an intersection in the sewer, pipes leading in from the street above began to stream wet sand just ahead of the party. It piled onto the floor with a sloppy slapping sound and began to move and slide of its own accord. Within seconds, it had assembled itself into a massive body well over 10 feet tall, with a fist larger than their goblin companion. And as they stood in awe of the size of this new sand shambler, the thing lashed out. The tunnel rumbled and cracked as the beast smashed about, trying to flatten members of the party against the walls or floor. The few times it managed to connect with a blow proved devastating, straining the party’s ability to stay on their feet. From afar, Mud poured hot damage into the thing as the rest of the party attempted to split its attention and prevent it from focusing on any one person. In the end, their tactics worked and the violently motivated pile of sand was dispatched back into just a pile of muddy slime. Moving on, the party soon came to a series of rooms that seemed to have some engineering purpose for the tunnel system.

Hearing faint noises ahead, the party began sneaking as they moved into these rooms. The light was poor and the floor slick. They would need to be cautious in order not to be seen or heard before they were ready. Soon enough, they came across a cultist as he worked alone in a room. Jumping him from stealth, they immediately subdued him. A few moments later, they came across a much more capable cultist. This man was dressed similarly to the martial expert they had faced in the streets above. He moved quickly and with purpose, but was not evenly matched against the party working on his own. Though he connected with a few blows, he was easily dispatched. Checking him, they found a set of keys on his person which would prove invaluable as they moved further in and further up into the keep.

A few hallways later, the party got the drop on a cult librarian named Lelan. He was sleeping when the party approached but woke as they drew near. After a brief parlay that uncovered little, the battle was joined. Immediately learning he was a capable spellcaster, the party went all out trying to kill him quickly. Unfortunately, the fight drew the attention of other cultists nearby in the complex. Within a few seconds, four more showed up and joined the fight. As the fight moved out of the room and down the hallway, Blade bit off a little more than he could chew and fell to the onslaught of two of the cultists. He momentarily regained consciousness, electing to press the attack rather than retreat. His sacrifice was noble and no doubt bought his companions time rally and force a victory, but in the end, Blade paid with his life as he fell a second time. A cruel spell from the librarian struck Zakiya blind moments before the librarian’s life was snuffed out. The party was victorious, but at great cost, and weren’t in any shape to press the attack further into the keep. Collecting their fallen and everything of value they could find, the party retreated back into the sewers. They followed the sewer tunnels as best they could further south into the city, and toward the safe house, before returning to the surface.

Arriving back at the safe house, the party took refuge and arranged a proper cremation for Blade. Distributing what they did not need of the captured equipment to the various refugees, the party arranged a barter of Blade’s valuable armor with a cleric named Javon, in exchange for lifting the curse on Zakiya and restoring her sight. The party had managed to return with a single live captive, whom Salyat questioned aggressively during the night. Awaking in the morning refreshed, the party met a man named Tavor who agreed to accompany them back to the keep, since they were now one shy and the odds were stacked even further against them. They accepted his company, reasoning they would need all the help they could muster. And with that, they set off for another go at Ibrahim and his remaining cultists.

Again taking to the tunnels, the party arrived back the engineering levels below the keep with little trouble, meeting only a couple of large, slime-covered serpents in the sewers. In a room full of mud they had previously cleared, the party found two cultists bathing without their clothes, and attacked while their guard was down. They quickly subdued and knocked out the pair, venturing further into the complex after binding them. As they made their way through the confusing array of halls and rooms, the party eventually came to a door guarding an abnormally cold section of the compound. Proceeding in, they found an eerie subterranean cathedral – long since converted from the wholesome worship for which it was designed into a blasphemous altar of death. 12 cultists knelt in the room facing the altar. The party challenged them, and then investigated when the cultists failed to respond. They found that all their bodies were held in place by creative binding with wire. The entire lot was long dead.

Upon this discovery, the party was immediately confronted by Ibrahim and four seemingly intelligent shamblers. They quickly discovered that Ibrahim was projecting himself via some illusory magic, but that hopefully meant he was at least nearby. The four shamblers were very real and very dangerous. They charged and tore into the party, with the melee spreading about the dank chamber and stirring up a great quantity of dirt that reeked of rot. A couple of the party members narrowly escaped falling during the combat, with Tavor proving his worth as he tore into shamblers with reckless abandon alongside his new comrades. Soon enough, the chamber fell silent as the last of these new shamblers was put down. But even as the party watched, their bodies were slowly reassembling themselves. It was obvious they would not be down for long. Looking around the chambers, the party located four small containers that appeared to be canopic jars. Reasoning that these might serve as phylacteries for whatever foul magic animated the four shamblers, the party did not hesitate to destroy them. With their destruction, the reanimation of the scattered piles ceased. The party was given only a moment to enjoy the victory, as the illusion of Ibrahim taunted them before vanishing. Searching the room, they found piles of clothes – probably the old clothes of converted cultists who no longer needed them. Rooting around in the clothes for suitable bedding material, Mud found a curious circular object, decorated with evenly spaced runes and hieroglyphs. Of little interest to him, he handed it off to the other members of the party as he searched for just the perfect pants to incorporate into a new nest.

Deeper in the complex, the party found what appeared to be a jail block. Hanging in irons, the bodies of several flayed men made for grim decor on the walls. As they examined the men, the party determined one was still barely alive and they did what they could to stabilize him. They learned his name was Silas, and he had been lashed here as punishment for failure to deal with the refugees. In exchange for information about exactly where to find Ibrahim and how to confront him, the party healed and freed Silas. They sent him on his way with a few potions and tools to make his way into the city. Following Silas’s instructions, they struck out upstairs to the courthouse on the keep grounds, and toward their confrontation with Ibrahim.

They found the man waiting for them on the main floor of the courthouse, surrounded by several versions of shamblers that he had created. It was apparent that the man had been hard at work perfecting the craft that Sadeesh had started. As the battle commenced, he sent his minions forward to block the party’s advance as he cast spells from the air in the center of the courthouse. Sandy corpses exploded right and left as the minions threw themselves at the party, each seeking the best advantage for its own sacrifice to serve its master. Ibrahim’s harassing spells eventually turned to direct damage as the party worked their way closer to him, paying for each inch of gain with more bloodshed.

Escalating to ever higher levels of rage, Tavor was knocked low several times. Each time he was brought back to his feet by the party as they continued to advance, rapidly drawing Khida’s healing reserves to dangerous lows. After a couple of solid strikes on Ibrahim, Mud found himself targeted by a particularly nasty spell, which literally drained all the strength from his body. To the horror of his companions, he collapsed like a marionette whose strings had been cut. Together Tavor, Khida, and Zakiya pushed for one final charge and brought Ibrahim down. Knocking him unconscious, they tied his hands and feet and gagged him.

Searching the remainder of the courthouse, the party soon found Zari imprisoned in a chamber on the second floor. Literally collared and chained to the ceiling in the center of a large lab, she had been forced to continue Robert Pinan’s work for Sadeesh. She was surrounded by detailed notes on many versions of the shambler serum, and exact plans for the explosive barrels that had delivered most of the shambler apocalypse. She also had recipes for some of the advanced serums that Ibrahim had her create, and some journals on what things might cure this terrible plague. Collecting Zari and her notes, the party returned to the safe house and made plans to eradicate the rest of the shamblers inhabiting the city, now that the cultist threat had been dispatched. After the refugees removed the magic afflicting Mud, they joined forces and spent the next few weeks completing the mission, street by street and building by building.

Three and half weeks later, the party, Tavor, and Zari made their way back into the desert to rendezvous with Plainsrunner for the trip back to Tulesa. The Explorers’ Guild and the settlement leadership would be very interested indeed in what they had found and accomplished in Latpasa.

Session 58
Absolute power...

Our story opened as the party entered into a dank, bloody dungeon filled with painful looking restraints that had obviously received a lot of use in decades past. They sensed that the environment around them was a powerful illusion, but it took several minutes before they could find a way to penetrate the spell. At length, they were able to reveal a door leaving the room and leading into the rest of the complex, instead of one leading into a void. Pressing forward, the group found a room that must be Arstad’s normal entry and exit from the complex, given the arcane teleportation target etched into the floor. The door beyond was sealed with the magnetic lock of some kind, powered by a small collection of stones on a platform just in front of it. Though they tried for a while, the group just could not come up the combination of stones that would unlock the door. Hefting his weapon, Tarsus decided to engage in an alternative approach to gain the door’s cooperation, quickly smashing it into a pile of junk that could be pulled away from the frame. Normally upset by such antics, the rest of the party accepted the damage from the ensuing lighting trap as the best alternative to turning back now.

The hallway beyond led into a large torus-shaped room guarded by a crypto lock. Having seen these earlier in the complex, the party made short work of this one, even though it was more complex than those they had seen before. In the room beyond, the party was immediately challenged by the charging mass of a large adamantine golem as it tore through them and sent party members flying. The broken ground left in its wake slowly started to mend, but not quickly enough to keep up with the damaged the thing was causing to the ring. This complicated matters, as every place the beast went it was more difficult to move while compensating for the broken and sharply tilted tile. Tarsus did his best to stay in thing’s path and keep its attention while the others rained damage upon it. After a bit, the party realized that no amount of damage they did to this thing was going to win the encounter, as it was repairing itself almost as quickly as they could damage it. Instead, Zayn came up with a new plan and opened a pit beneath the thing large enough for it to fall in. As the golem’s regeneration fought with the constant damage of the Hungry Pit, the group made their escape into the chamber in the center of the torus.

Beyond they found the library, with rows upon rows of shelves full of arcane volumes long forgotten by others. A suspiciously shiny full suit of armor stood just inside the doorway, positioned as if it were a guard for the room. An investigation revealed that it only hid a suit of wizard’s mail, but did not seem to be animated or otherwise magical in its own right. The group did find that many of the bookshelves, instead, were the guardians of the door beyond. They had a strange property of scattering their books around the room if they were not properly stacked and only opening the door if all four shells were properly stacked at the same time. Once they figured this out, the party proceeded through. On the other side of the door was a massive stairway that disappeared down into utter darkness.

At the bottom of the stairs, they found a large circular room, with furniture of fine dark wood and floored with rich red carpet. The floor was arranged as a continuous curving ramp that led to the lowest point of the room at its center. Lit by floating magical lamps, the party could see a single long bookcase that wound around the room again and again as it followed the ramp to the center, covered in tomes that Sindar, Finn, and Zayn had only imagined might exist until now. At the center of the room, far below them, the party could see the frail form of an old man frantically packing what must be his most valuable belongings and books into a bag of holding. He was screaming commands at servants they could not see. All at once, a half dozen tall bronze-skinned men burst into view just in front of the party. Fully 7 feet in height and at least half that in width at the shoulder, the men were decked head to toe in golden armor plate that seemed as thick as a door. Each held the shield that was their full height when set upon the floor, with a shining pike and the other hand. They moved to challenge the party, before the one in the lead spoke, asking them who they were.

Finn and Zayn took turns speaking at first, attempting to explain that they meant the old man no harm and only sought information from him so that they could fight a great evil threatening the world. The armored man speaking to them focused in on Finn, asking more about who he was rather than what he was doing here. Finn explained that he was a priest of Rustum and the six armored men relaxed. Their leader gazed down the sloping room at the old man, telling him, “These are not enemies, and we will not fight.”

The old man was livid, but the armored leader was steadfast in his determination that he would not take up arms against the party. With a wave of his hand, he and his contingent were gone. It took the party a good several minutes to calm the old man, who seemed constantly on the verge of bathing the entire room and destructive magic. At last, he seemed to calm enough that the party could confirm that he was indeed Nathaniel Arstad and he had been running his entire life from Arturo Ducet since a fateful encounter where he learned the truth about the Headmaster of Necromancy. Arstad’s story was long and filled with details that were painful to listen to, but he did, at last, tell the party the exact location of the place that Ducet guards so dearly – the cave that represents a nexus between the Prime Material plane the Shadowfel. In this place, he explained, the hold of Xazat over each of his subjects is weakened to the point that they can decide their own actions freely. They can commit acts of good and evil. Because the realities merge there, what is true and not true can take on entirely different meanings in that place. What is alive and not alive can switch places. What is evil and what is good can do the same.

Having what was available of the old man’s trust, the party asked for a few hours to rest within his refuge before they moved on to confront the Elder Knight in this cave. He allowed them this respite, stating he would need to leave himself soon, as their coming here no doubt had attracted the attention of Arturo Ducet. Before they left, Arstad gave Finn a dark wooden box, telling them that what was inside was extremely precious and should be kept for just the right moment. As soon as they were outside of Arstad’s company, Finn opened the box and revealed a long, sharp-edged black stake. It had a crudely carved handle and the blade just looked cruel in its sharp and jagged angles. A note was included: “Only one of these exists, as hellstone is so very difficult to mine and work. He knows it exists, and will likely kill you without a word to take and destroy it. Make sure he doesn’t know you have it until it is in his chest.” The party made off quickly for the island in Caera Ausa that housed the entry to this nexus they needed to find next.

Unsurprisingly to some members of the party, when they arrived at the threshold of the cave they found Arturo Ducet waiting for them. He warned them against entering into the chambers beyond but did not make any overt moves to stop them. The party persisted that this was what must be done to defeat the Elder Knight and remove his distraction in the battle to come against Sayoni. Ducet gave a final warning as they entered the cave, "You’re not going to find what you think in there.”

As they attempted to enter the cave, the party learned that some of their equipment preferred to stay outside. Dervish refused into the cave entirely, and certain items carried by Sindar seemed to exude dangerously high levels of power this close to the Shadowfel. Doffing the offending items and hiding them safely at the cave’s entrance, the group proceeded inside. Ducet seated himself on a large boulder several feet from the entrance, suppressing a thin smile as he waited for the group to return.

Wandering inside the cave, the group came across what appeared to be an abandoned fountain built within, complete with a worked stone dome that cordoned it off from the environment beyond. The fountain appeared to be derelict, long since empty of any waters that ran from it. Childlike voices and giggles haunted the party from the darkness beyond. At last, they came to the source of the small voices – a trio childlike Shea stood in front of the party in a long cave with a low ceiling. Without further warning, they attacked. Using a combination of rending claws and spell attacks the trio tore at the party. They did some damage before they were dispatched, but seemed no more than a moderate challenge for the experienced adventurers.

Exploring further they found another fountain, very much similar to what they had found before. This fountain, however, was not entirely abandoned. Near the elevated intricately carved stone lip of the fountain, a dead body lay. It was the body of a man, apparently dead only a few weeks, though the robes and dark clothes it wore were in tatters. Turning the body over, the group was shocked to see the face of Arturo Ducet, but a much younger face of the man they despised. Knowing that time flowed differently in this place, they decided to attempt a Speak with Dead spell to see if this corpse could tell them anything. To their horror, they discovered that this man was Arturo Ducet, or at least what was left of him. The man that they knew outside this cave, was apparently Arturo Ducet’s Shea counterpart. When the man the world had known walked into this cave 3200 years ago, he had never walked out. As terrible as this seemed, it was a distraction for the time being. It would need to be dealt with later.

The party delved deeper into the confusing cave complex, constantly getting turned around by twisty passages that changed shape and dimensions as they moved through the cave. At long last, they came to an expansive cavern where the far wall was another worked stone dome – this one with an arched doorway leading into it. As they looked on at it from a distance, Tarsus saw the Elder Knight, Leofren Umberos, step through the arched doorway. With no apparent deception in his voice, he asked, “Why am I here?”

After an all too brief exchange, Tarsus attacked. The rest of the group intended to help him, but as the two men clashed, their figures blurred together. It became impossible in very short order to tell one from the other, like looking through a large pane of frosted glass at something far away on the other side. The group could see them struggling back and forth, blades flashing, but neither slowing. Within that void, Tarsus knew none of this. From his perspective, the universe fell to calm as the two men came together. There was a conversation, but he had difficulty recalling the details. When the diffusing fog lifted from the area, the Elder Knight’s remains lay leaning up against the side of the well the center of the room. Tarsus calmly strode toward the party, power flowing outward in every direction and washing over the four friends. The group asked if he was okay – did he feel all right, was he himself? Tarsus simply replied in a calm voice, “Everything’s fine. Let’s go.”

The entire party felt innervated as they parted from the area, somehow feeling more powerful than they were when they entered here. It took a long while, but they eventually wound their way back to the cave entrance, where Arturo Ducet was waiting for them. Opening his eyes and hopping down off his stone, he told the party that he hoped what was in there had been worth the cost – now he was going to have to kill them and search for new champions of Riyaqa. As he strode toward the party, Sindar snatched up his bag from the ground and held it open toward the advancing vampire primarch. Bidding Ducet to look inside, Sindar summoned his courage and announced, “If you kill us, you’ll have to deal with this on your own.”

Terror gripped the party as Arturo Ducet flew into a visible rage. His skin darkened to coal black as his eyes flashed bright red. His fingernails grew into long sharp claws as his teeth elongated into fangs and he drew back for an attack. Our story closed as Finn leapt into the middle of the party, grabbed collars and pulled everyone close as he whispered his Word of Recall, instantly teleporting the party back to Tulesa and out of danger for now.

Session 57
Heading to Crazy Town

Our story opened as the three-way battle between Imperial ships, Khasif ships, and Blue’s Tulesan fleet wound down on the open surface of the ocean, most of the casualties hidden by the twilight early dawn. Friendly ships were securing the remaining Imperial forces, the Amaxia having surrendered to their now overwhelming presence. Back aboard their own ships, the group arranged a Sending to Willie in Tulesa to have engineers and bodyguards meet them in Hansen, now known as Perstiva, having been renamed to its original regional moniker upon being liberated from Imperial control. Another Sending to Julian Carmeno informed him of Imperial soldiers that were to be released soon near Perstiva, so he could arrange safe passage for them as he deemed necessary. Speaking with the Khasif Commodore, Zayn secured an agreement from her to tow the Amaxia back to Perstiva in hopes that Daso Enna may be interested. A brief Sending to Daso confirmed his interest, but he acknowledged that Khasif possessing such an asset may spark a new war among Riyaqan nations.

After a bit of research, Finn dispelled the Forbiddance affect on the Sealion and the group got the ship underway with the assistance of the sailors still on board. Sindar spent some time underway chatting up the Imperial engineers during transit looking for information or recruits, whichever might be available. Searching the ship for more information, the group came across some research material of Mueller’s that seem to relate to the same puzzles they were pursuing themselves – puzzles that seemed important to the intricate complex Arkeles al Farin had created for Sayoni in the desert. The documents referred to a man named Geffo- a name they not heard before. They also found plans belonging to the Empire detailing an intercept plan for an incoming Quo Lao fleet, documents relating to the hiring of the mercenaries that were dogging the party, and finally a document identifying the source of Mueller’s intelligence on Sayoni’s tomb – Kaito Sanders.

As the fleet slowly made its way toward Perstiva, Sindar broke away for a few moments to send a bird token to Philip Greymonte, the man in charge of the Imperial Geographers’ Guild. Zayn completed a Sending to communicate with Lia Dailan, ruler of the settlement of Qi Lai in western Riyaqa. Zayn asked her for a meeting about the assets that they had taken on the ocean, and Lia informed her that she had a delegation near Perstiva now and they could meet her there soon. That delegation would then decide whether to some Lia. Zayn also completed a Sending with Daso Enna, informing him of the same matters and asking for a similar meeting. He replied that he had people in the city already and that they would find the party when they arrived back in town. Leaving the crews the ships to complete the transit on their own for now, the group completed a series of teleports to drop off some of the invaluable adamantine ingots with their own people, drop off supplies and money in Gol Asad, and make the necessary exchanges for the materials to resurrect their friend Tarsus.

While obtaining the scrolls of resurrection that they would need, the group asked Dezil if he could look up the name “Geffo” and see what relevance this person may have to the puzzles they had yet to locate. Returning to the Sealion, the group chose to resurrect Tarsus in the very spot he had fallen in order to minimize his distress and confusion about the events that had just transpired. The process was protracted and stressful, leaving the man shaken, tired, and quite confused. Finn did what he could to help, but Tarsus would simply need time to recover fully.

As the days wound on the party was eventually ready to teleport to Perstiva to carry out their meetings and decide the fate of the unique ship now making its way to the city. As they made contact with their troops near the north wall, the party discovered that they had captured a pair of Khasif spies near their camps the previous night. The spies were two women, Osana and Kali. Both were being held in custody now, and the soldiers promptly agreed to take the party to interrogate them. Upon meeting the two women, the party quickly determined that these were Daso’s agents, sent to meet the party and negotiate on his behalf. Making their excuses, the party freed the two women and took them to the rendezvous point. They waited briefly at the battered north gates, finally spotting a camel caravan proceeding down the road from Herlish. As caravan drew near, they saw that it was populated by Quo Lao citizens – likely the retinue that Lia had spoken of.

After initial introductions were completed, the group conferred with the Quo Lao retinue on the details of what they were offering. They decided this needed Lia’s personal attention, and so they summoned her magically. A short few hours later, representatives of the three nations had drafted a deal on what to do with the fabled Amaxia. Although the details still needed to be worked out among the rulers, Quo Lao agreed to take the ship back to their settlement in Riyaqa, and eventually on to safer waters. They would provide a share of the profits generated by the vessel back to Tulesa, while using it to better arm themselves and their allies against Imperial aggression abroad. For all of this to work, they would need a supply deal with Khasif for the adamantine ore they now had access to. The Khasif representatives agreed to this in principle but would need to draft a specific deal to be bargained later. The negotiating done, the party returned to their own town for the night.

The party awakened the next morning as Sindar was returning from the open desert, having spent the night on the sand instead of in his bed. Shortly thereafter, Finn and Tarsus met with Briar in the Explorers’ Guild, providing him with the final agreed-upon payment to send the mercenary group back to the dark hole they had crawled out of. As those details were wrapped up, Zayn asked Nadji to help her select a leader for an orphanage and school within the settlement, giving the woman one of the remaining instant fortresses and telling her to select a location to set up the facility. Tarsus conferred with Falat as he returned from the field exchanging reports on the conditions and movements of various troops. Finn asked Squeaks if she might be able to reincarnate Dingo- a request she eventually agreed to perform.

Again unable to resist the draw of the artifact powering the town’s reactor, most of the group drew one more card from the Deck, hoping for some luck. The Deck’s response this time was much more muted than before. The party spent the remainder of the day making preparations for the next task: teleporting to the location that Dyphonaira had shown Zayn to confront the wizard Arstad.

When the next day dawned party was off. Zayn succeeded in targeting the exact location the Dyphonaira had shown her. The landscape around was an exact match for what she had seen before, down to the many waterfalls streaming from the jagged cliffs above them. Making their way up the slopes, the party picked their way along the rocks looking for some hidden entrance. The search was disturbed by the approach of a living mountain – an aggressive elemental Colossus that descended upon them, smashing trees and tearing up ground as a came after the party. As fearsome as the creation looked, the party had little trouble finally defeating it. It managed to tear up equipment and pound out some bruises, but in the end, it fell with a rumbling quake.

Finding the entrance to the cave, the group proceeded inside. There were supplies scattered about, but it did not look like anyone and come this way in a long time. The group called out to Arstad, but received no response. They ventured further into the halls beyond, finding a maze of deadly traps and constructs obviously intended to explain with extreme prejudice that visitors were not welcomed. As they crept ever deeper into the complex, they eventually came to a strange stone in the middle of the hallway. When Tarsus touched the stone to brush away old dirt and real its markings, he was teleported away in an instant. He found himself deep in the earth, trapped on a narrow ledge above a lava seam. As the ashy air and heat began to take their toll, the group above searched frantically for a way to save him. Zayn soon hit upon the idea of changing herself into an earth elemental to reach him. Tarsus was so deep in the earth that it would strain the limits of her endurance to be able to hold the form long enough. Nevertheless, she rushed off, diving with all the speed she could muster through the rock to get her friend. Meanwhile, below, Tarsus was working his way through a doorway that led off of the ledge. Although he found the door went nowhere, he did find that guarded a golden key which obviously seemed to be of some value. He collected the key as Zayn arrived, out of breath from nearly a mile of traveling through solid rock. The two quickly teleported back up to the passage above and safety.

The next serious challenge they faced was a large monster hidden behind a broken wall in a room that contained two powerful magnets, threatening to immobilize anyone in metal armor. Realizing the danger, Finn quickly slipped out of his mail. Such a maneuver was not an option for Tarsus. It took focused effort for Tarsus to free himself from one of the magnets and get back into the fight as the monster started to tear through members of the group. It was a bloody fight, but the group managed to prevail and defeat the monster. Searching the room beyond, they quickly found the mechanism to disable the large magnets and rendered room safe, opening the rest of the complex beyond to further exploration.

Our story ended as the party gathered their wits and their breath in order to press on.

Session 56
Dust to dust

Our story opened as the party climbed the stairs to the command deck of the small ship they now knew to be the Sealion. As they climbed the stairs, Finn felt the force of a field of Forbiddance pass through the party. It seemed Mueller had triggered an effect on board that would prevent anyone from escaping as long as it persisted. For their part, the party considered that to be just fine.

Upstairs, they did not immediately find Mueller in any obvious location, and so commenced to search room by room. In one of the state rooms near the stairs, they searched closets and found a nicely appointed greatcoat of rich blue fabric trimmed in gold. In the pocket was an old letter exchanged between Thura Pelt and what could only be Horace Mueller. The letter was read and passed from person to person, arriving in Sindar’s possession last. As he read it and reread it, his rage began to burn and grow. The letter’s contents were disturbing, to say the least. Sindar wordlessly resumed the search for Mueller, and the party set out in tow.

In short order, they found Mueller on the bridge of the ship. The party launched an attack without hesitation, but Mueller immediately evaporated into some sort of mist form, sinking through the gaps in the pipes and the deck plates to the deck below. The party ran to intercept him, and Sindar led the attack with a barrage of bombs as soon as he saw the misty vapor again. The bombs landed to significant effect, and even in the mist form Mueller was badly hurt. He responded with a defensive spell and then went on the attack, turning Sindar into stone with his opening counterattack. Other members of the Sealion’s crew joined to help Mueller against the group, splitting their efforts as they tried to take on the Imperial High Colonel. Zayn moved to save Sindar from the encroaching stone form as the other members of the group quickly dispatched one marine, forcing surrender from a second. This left Mueller and another spell caster as the only enemies standing against the group as Zayn recovered Sindar and Tarsus charged.

The sorcerer assisting Mueller quickly learned a lesson that many casters had learned before him: do not let Tarsus Thornbane into melee range. Once Tarsus managed to close with sword in hand, the sorcerer quickly ceased to be a factor in the fight. Now free to focus on Mueller, the group went to work. As Tarsus closed with him, Mueller formed a blade of pure energy from the air and engaged him in armed combat. As spells flew between Mueller and the group, Tarsus continued to harry his efforts until Mueller had had enough of the master swordsman. Taking a step back, Mueller let loose with a spell of black energy. As it impacted Tarsus, the large man convulsed and then exploded violently into a cloud of dust. The rest of the group lost a valuable second of the battle as they stood slack-jawed at the disintegration of their friend. Putting all of his remaining power into boosting Zane’s the potency of Zayn’s magic, Finn fell back, clearing the lane of fire for the ruler of Tulesa.

Zayn loosed her own black bolt of energy at Mueller. He was already significantly weakened, Sindar having stripped away many of his magical defenses with specialized bombs. The man never stood a chance as the black bolt hit him squarely in the chest and he erupted into another cloud of dust. A fading scream echoed off the pipes in the cramped middle deck of the ship, and then it was quiet.

The group quickly moved to secure the ship and the rest of the crew, ensuring they would not be attacked from the shadows and the ship would not be purposely sunk with them aboard. Satisfied they had control of the vessel, they turned their attention to carefully collecting the remains of their friend and Horace Mueller. They then ordered the remaining crew to surface the ship. The senior officer left alive on board agreed to pilot the ship on their behalf, in accordance with naval customs requiring his compliance for noncombat tasks when the ship is legitimately captured. But he made it clear that he would not fight the ship for them, and the crew would need to be put off at the first opportunity at a safe harbor. With the ship surfaced, Finn used a Clarion Call to demand the surrender of the Imperial fleet that remained, announcing the death of High Colonel Mueller.

The fight on the ocean seemed to be going badly for the Empire. No longer able to escape without protection, the Amaxia could be seen trading blows with Gyredancer as the smaller ship harassed it from the stern. Only one of the Imperial barques remained, and about half of their sloops had been lost. One of the Khasif dreadnoughts was dead in the water and aflame, and the floating remains of two of Blue’s ships were now supporting survivors that were treading water.

Our story closed as the group considered their next steps, and whether they could move forward without their friend.

Session 55
An a fine Expedition, it was...

Our story opened as the group, hanging mid-air just after the battle with the Imperial mages, paused to survey the scene below where their allies were engaging in a battle of their own. The lead Imperial frigates and the Khasif dreadnoughts were exchanging fire, with several smaller ships still jockeying for position in between their lines. Gyredancer appeared to have taken a few bad hits already. It was on fire, but still keeping up with the main battle line. Sloops from both sides swarmed the larger ships. Having the advantage of numbers, the Khasif ships seem to be slowly edging the early battle to their favor. The majority of the medium-size ships were still moving into engagement range, the group in the air having already sunk the only barque that was close enough to fire with one of the instant fortresses.

Diving to the burning and sinking remains of the Expedition below, the party touched down on the deck and began working their way below, seeking out Horace Mueller. It was only a few seconds before they made contact with the first marines attempting to defend what was left of the ship. The two marines met them on the upper gun deck, and attacked swiftly. They were capable combatants, dealing serious blows, but were hopelessly outclassed by the party as they advanced through ship. The two marines dealt with, the party moved through the gun decks in search of their prey. As the party made contact with more soldiers on the second gun deck, Zayn took the form of a water elemental when she realized these men were not mere human marines. A moment later, the rest of the party realized the danger, as it became obvious these marines were not human, but mermen wearing Imperial armor. They moved with amazing speed and attacked with ferocity, slipping in and out of the gun ports, as the second deck was already completely submerged. One of the mermen made several attempts to dispel the water breathing magic protecting the party, turning to his trident when that failed. The hit and run attacks of the two mermen were proving to be a bit too effective, so Finn turned more powerful magic to deal with the problem. The mermen were routed as a giant octopus summoned by Finn joined the fray, smashing its way into the hull to get at the amphibious soldiers.

Several times, the party had to dispatch Marines left defending ship, but they were encountered in contingents small enough that they provided only brief delays to the group as they continued to search the sinking decks. Finally on the lowest deck of the forward hull, the party found what must be the armory. Crowded with racks of adamantine weapons and armor, the armory also contained several crates large enough to be of interest. Initial attempts to open the crates delicately failed. Feeling the pressure for time, but hoping there was something useful inside to help with their hunt for Mueller, Tarsus did what Tarsus does – he decided to open the crates the fast way. As Dervish crashed through the first crate, he was the first to realize his mistake, spotting the peculiar orange and green vials of the Naval explosive the party had come to know so well. First the armory, and then the passageways outside the armory interrupted in a massive shock wave and momentary fireball that was immediately collapsed by the surrounding water pressure. The force of the shock wave was magnified by the water as it slammed into the party, scattering them around the deck after flinging some of the through bulkheads. Everyone survived- a couple of the party members just barely so. Gathering themselves and their bearings, the party tried to get back on the trail as Finn did everything he could to get them back in fighting shape, nearly exhausting his power. He took out the Revelation cloth again, hoping they were close to their goal. The cloth indicated Mueller must be nearby, and so they continued on.

Pressing forward to explore the lowest deck of the ship, the party finally came across what they thought they were seeking near the remains of the midsection of the ship. A formerly hidden hatch led down. That seemed problematic, seeing that they were already on lowest deck of the ship. Beyond the hatch, now slipping out into the open ocean beneath the remains of the Expedition, the party saw an amazing vessel. Shaped like an enormous fish made of metal, with slowly undulating fins made of solid ribs and heavy fabric, the ship was sinking ever so slightly away from the Expedition and beginning to move away from its stern. Thinking quickly, the party threw a grapnel at the ship and one by one, grabbed onto the line as it paid out behind the unique vessel. They were torn away from the Expedition, and began the slow climb along the rope to reach the hull of this new ship, certain that this must be Mueller’s escape plan and he would be aboard.

Assembling on the alien hull at long last, the party made their way to what appeared to be a door into the vessel hidden on the bottom near the root of one of the massive fins. The hatch was guarded by an array of mechanisms that looked wholly unfamiliar. Fortunately, Sindar’s experience with matters of engineering paid off, and it took him less than a minute to sort out the mess and get the door open. The party crowded into a small room on the other side of the door, learning how a pressure equalization chamber operated as Sindar sped through the mechanisms to close them off from the ocean and drain the seawater. Opening the door to the inside of the vessel, the party began to sneak about, still hot on the trail of their prey. The Revelation cloth indicated that their instincts had been correct and Mueller was close by.

Some members of the party were better at sneaking around than others, as is commonly the case. As always, sneaking worked for a short time, but only a short time. Soon enough, the group came into conflict with the first marine on board. They killed him quickly, but not before being spotted by another guard, and then another. On such a small ship, word spread quickly among the guards and the group was soon swarmed. Not to be put off so close to their goal, the party fought back ruthlessly. They had seen the damage these Marines could inflict if given even the slightest chance, and they were in no condition to weather those types of blows and still face Mueller. Seconds later, eight of the small ship’s complement of marines lay dead around them when a voice crackled from the walls, seeming to come from every direction. It was a voice every member of the group now knew, “A fine show, but perhaps it’s time you came upstairs.”

The story closed as the party slowly made their way along the passageway to the stairs up to the command deck. At last, the battle they sought was at hand.

Session 54
Into the Lion's Den

Our story opened as Finn completed a sending to Lion, stating that the party had no quarrel with the mercenaries, only wanting to deal with Mueller. Lion responded, saying he would agree to a single meeting to discuss the matter, but after that there would be no quarter given if an arrangement could not be reached. Zayn followed up with an additional sending to Lion in order to arrange a meeting place. Lion replied that the Explorers’ Guild in Tulesa was as good a place as any, since he seemed to already be there. The party rested for the evening under the watch of Dyphonaira in Chamber Valley, plotting their next move.

The next morning, Dyphonaira informed the party that she made contact with Nathaniel Arstad. He was unwilling to meet with the party or discuss any details about the Elder Knight and the Shadowfel. Mere mention of the Elder Knight seemed to make him more edgy and less willing to meet than he already was. Recognizing the importance of what the party was trying to accomplish, Dyphonaira agreed to show Zayn the location of Arstad’s hideaway psychically. From there, Zayn could use her expertise to arrange transport for the party herself. Touching Zayn, the Watcher transported both of their psyches to the edge of a brook at the base of a large hill. The hill was covered in tall grass with a few stands of trees scattered up slope. Near its top, jagged rocks marked the lowest reaches of the nearby mountain range. Several tall, slender waterfalls shimmered over the edges of the closest cliffs. Dyphonaira turned to face Zayn and said, “This is as close as you can come magically. His lair lies behind one of these waterfalls. There is no need to announce yourself, but take care to avoid the appearance of hostility.” Shortly after, Zayn found herself again with the party in the Watcher’s valley.

Taking their leave, the party teleported back to Tulesa to meet Lion in the Explorers’ Guild. True to his word, they found the man sitting and waiting at a table. A few of his crew were very obviously nearby, making no attempt really hide themselves from the perceptive searches of the party. Sitting down to negotiate, the party eventually reached a deal with Lion to pay 50,000 gold now in exchange for one week of not being hunted by him and his crew. That would give them time to hunt Mueller, instead. After Mueller was dealt with, the party would have to pay an additional 100,000 gold to complete the terms of Lion’s original contract. At that point, his business with the heroes would be done and they would not have to see him again. As a show good faith, Lion answered some questions to which he knew the answers about the Expedition and the Amaxia. As a party discussed amongst themselves that they needed a better way to track Mueller to get this done quickly, the druid Snow produced a lock of hair from her belongings at Lion’s direction, and gave it to the party. She said this was a lock of Mueller’s hair and should help them. It seemed Lion and his crew may have their own reasons to want Mueller out of the way. Rising to depart, Lion handed over a list of the bombs that they had scattered around the city to set off in the event they needed a distraction after a betrayal by the Tulesans.

After conferring briefly about the tools that they would need to complete tasks ahead of them, the party teleported together to the Lacy Death in Gol Asad to speak with Dezil once again. They asked Dezil to seek out some scrolls a greater teleport for them, as well as an elemental metamagic Rod. They also asked for any physical piece of the AES expedition that he may be able to come across, as component for a spell that Finn was working on to track the well-known vessel. Dezil told them to give him a few hours to contact sources. In the meantime, the party arranged several sendings with Daso Enna, in hopes of coordinating tactics and gaining some naval assistance afloat. They asked if he had a fleet or any ships near Gol Asad, and he replied that he did have some ships returning just now from Qi Lai. Finn explained to Daso that there was an Imperial war fleet to the south and they would need help taking the fleet down. He replied that he would be all too happy to oblige and would have his fleet loiter nearby.

While Dezil continued to work on their requests, the party headed to the docks to check in on some old business of a former associate. There, they mustered the help of some dock employees after they came across some worrying remnants of the original plot the Children of Ahriman to destroy the city. Not long after, Dezil reported that he could get five scrolls of greater teleport for the party if they were willing to pay a little extra. He could also acquire a greater elemental rod of cold, which would fulfill the requirements the party had set to some degree. He was still working on their final request for a piece of the Expedition. The party set off for the Asad building itself, just now being reoccupied by the politicians of the Asad. Meeting with Ahti Ato and Speaker Raha Delina, the party inquired after the possibility of acquiring a small ship for one more mission against the Empire. Speaker Delina agreed to to find them a small sloop with a crew that could be trusted.

Returning to the Lacy Death to touch base with Dezil, the party stopped to communicate with Daso Enna one more time. They told him that they had acquired a ship, they had another fleet in route to assist, and that they would be leaving shortly. He relayed that the Khasifi fleet would be under the command of Aiesta Reselen, and she had been informed of the basics and was ready to assist. Returning their attention to Dezil, the party was happy to learn that he would have their supplies very shortly. Then he surprised them with the last item he had recovered. Dezil explained that it turned out the Expedition had docked twice in Gol Asad during the war, and had required battle repairs one of those two times. Many destroyed timbers were taken off the vessel during that visit. Dockworkers being the thrifty people that they are, many of those timbers have been converted into tools and other implements. He showed the party the handle from just such a tool that had earlier been converted from one of the Expedition’s broken framing timbers. Finn took up the offering and use that to commence his spell, intended to locate the ship to which the wood had originally belonged. Comparing the input that he received from the spell to Sindar’s charts, Finn revealed that the Expedition was a little over 300 miles from shore almost directly to the south of their position. The party communicated a final time with Daso to give him the coordinates of the ship. Daso responded that his fleet was in route, with two dreadnoughts in company.

Returning to the docks, the party boarded their sloop, crewed by two women that they had not met before. They departed quickly and the crew told them it would be two days underway to get to their indicated destination. Their best guess was that the Khasifi fleet was about three days away, and blue was still about four days out. The next day or so passed without trouble. With their ship about a day out from the Empire fleet, the party used magic to spy on the Imperial fleet. From their vantage point above they could see 12 ships in company: the Amaxia, the Expedition, three frigates, four barques, and what appeared to be three sloops.

As they closed with the Imperial fleet, the party decided to initiate the battle from aboard the Gyredancer, Blue’s flagship. Unfortunately, Zayn missed the teleport onto the difficult moving target, dropping the party unceremoniously into the ocean. Finn was able to use a word of recall to return the party instantly to Tulesa, and allowed Zayn a second attempt which was successful. Aboard the Gyredancer, the party learned from Blue that he had four other ships now, all bigger than the ships of the ragtag fleet he had before. Hope peeked ever so slightly over the horizon, as they started to feel like they may have a chance in the battle to come. Many hours later, their fleet rendezvoused with the Khasifi fleet. Boarding the lead dreadnought, the Flaming Wave, the group spoke with Commodore Reselen. After a brief coordination of tactics, they returned to their ships and prepared for battle.

The party took quietly to the air as the two fleets neared engagement range. Below them, Imperial ships began maneuvering against the visible threat. They formed a battle line between Amaxia in the approaching outlaw vessels, allowing the Amaxia room begin maneuvering to escape. From the air high above the ships, the party pulled from a bag one of the Arstad’s Instant Fortresses they had recovered earlier. Pressing the small activation button at its apex, they dropped the tiny object. It tumbled through the air for some time before finally activating, instantly surging outward in all directions to the size of a four-story stone pyramid, mere feet above the rigging of the Expedition. The ship, its crew, and its captain had no chance to react as thousands of tons of stone tore through the rigging, the sails, and the hull in a rush to get to the bottom of the sea beneath it. With a great rending noise and churning of the ocean, the flagship Expedition was no more. The bow section had been left floating, but was sinking fast, as the rest of the hull was either destroyed outright or immediately forced under the surface by the bulk of the pyramid.

A few moments later the party took out a second ship with a similar attack as alarm calls blared below. Finn’s eagle eyes spotted a half dozen figures from the Amaxia lofting into the air below them – no doubt mages of the grand Council sent to counter the unseen threat above. Naval gunfire began to bellow out below as the battle was joined for true.

Reaching the vicinity of the party, the mages spread out and attacked. Blasts of lightning and force projectiles rocketed across the gap as the two groups closed the final yards. The mages were obviously adept at flying, as well as fighting in the air. Zayn released a chain lightning spell into the group to demonstrate her prowess, and was immediately met with twin chain lightning spells from two of the mages in response. Nevertheless, several of the mages began to prove brittle once battle was joined, as mages are wont to do. The group was able to overcome many of them in due course, with Tarsus eventually identifying the leader cutting him from the sky. They caught the body of one or two of the mages before they fell into the sea below, but the rest plummeted into the deep. The threat passed, they turned their attention to the battle unfolding below.

Our story closed as the Flaming Wave and Gyredancer finally closed to gun range with the Imperial fleet, and the massive dreadnought unleashed a torrent of fire and thunder from its facing guns.

Session 53
Know Thine Enemy

Our story opened as the party awaited the arrival of their own troops led by Jirem Nambasa to retrieve the prisoners they had taken in the cave on the palace grounds, within the former city of Hansen. When the soldiers arrived to take custody of the prisoners, the party informed them to be wary of the spell caster among the group. As the party prepared to depart, Intz the Rosaga informed Zayn that his people would like to keep all of the meat from Mason, and any other meat they may have generated while taking the cave. Zayn sadly informed him that he already has all the meat there was to offer. Having collected the loot that they were concerned with, the party gathered together and teleported to the Lacy Death in Gol Asad to speak with their contact, the Broker.

Arriving at the Lacy Death, the party made their way upstairs. Finding no one about, they knocked on Dezil’s office door and his assistant immediately came out, somewhat out of sorts. Telling them to wait downstairs for a few moments, the assistant vanished into another room. Soon enough, Dezil arrived downstairs to speak with the party. They informed him of the assassins that have been dispatched to deal with them and asked for his assistance in researching either the assassins or their employer. Dezil agreed to look into the assassins, informing the party that he would charge them for anything the Sun Council could not cover. Answering further questions from Tarsus and Sindar, Dezil told the party he regretfully did not know much about the Elder Knight or the Shadowfel, though he was able to give them the name of the researcher he believed got the closest to the truth about the nature of that place – Nathaniel Arstad.

Shortly after, the party headed to the former Imperial consulate, now an abandoned building in the South Central area of the city. Using a key provided by Ducet, they were easily able to gain entry to the building, finding it abandoned and mostly devoid of the furniture that had been there previously. A few items remained here and there, but nothing of great value or interest. While exploring the stairs between levels, the party was attacked by a trio of wraiths, apparently left behind by someone as a security measure or a booby-trap. The fight with the wraiths was not a long affair, but was a violent one. Each attack from the wraiths made their victims weaker and weaker, the very life draining from their limbs as they struggled to carry on the fight. Zayn found herself overcome by the deadly power of the wraiths, falling dead to the floor after one attack too many. In an instant, Finn diverted his attention to save her with a Breath of Life as her body fell, bringing her back into the fight. Shortly after the wraiths were defeated, and the party took a few minutes to recover their energy before proceeding.

Reaching the roof, the party found that the brazier they were familiar with is actually an aspect gate – a focus used by powerful spell casters for inter-planar travel. It is an expensive method, but not unheard of, only found among those with the extensive means to acquire one. Atala asked to keep the brazier to assist in her hunt for Ducet and the party agreed. Inspecting the remainder of the roof, Finn saw that the dais upon which the throne stood was not attached, seemingly floating upon some mechanism just over the floor. Enlisting the help of the others to move it, Sindar realized that the mechanism beneath appeared to be a giant clock counting down to some unknown event. Knowing Ducet is they did, the party assumed it must be a device to destroy the building, and them along with it. Operating on this assumption, they placed a time limit on themselves as they finished exploring the structure.

In a basement closet, the party found a secret door to another room. Crossing over the threshold of the door, they realized they were not in another room of the same building, but another copy of the building they just left. The door did not send them to a room in another basement, but rather sent them to a different floor of the building, mostly identical to the one they left. Returning to the secret door in the basement in this new copy of the building, they found yet another building beyond. Again and again they went through this exercise, realizing this must be some sort of multidimensional trap devised by Ducet or one of his ilk to be used against any interlopers in the building. In one of the copies of the building, they found stashed away a bag of small sculptures resembling crude pyramids, and a book entitled “Intermediate Planar Manipulation”. Investigation revealed that the small pyramids were of the work of the mage whose name they had heard only shortly prior – Nathaniel Arstad. These items were called Arstad’s Instant Fortresses, and seemed to be quite powerful, indeed.

Exploring through various versions of the building, the party came across a figure resembling Ducet sitting on the rooftop throne, utterly unresponsive. This figure stared blankly ahead, bleeding from its eyes and mouth. The party theorized for a moment before agreeing that this must be a version of Ducet from earlier in his life, perhaps when he was turned to what he is now, or a version that was killed to power the being that they knew and loathed. In this same version of the building they again found the ghosts they had fought, but these were frightened rather than aggressive, running from the party when they saw them as if the party were frightful monsters.

After playing through some recursive loops of the building, the party finally began backtracking to the version that occupied their own reality. Satisfied they had fully explored the complex, the party left, departing through the front doors onto the street. Leaving just a few minutes ahead of the time Sindar had calculated to be the expiration of the clock, they stopped to examine the box of pyramids that they had retrieved. While in the act of doing this, they witnessed the entire consulate building begin to collapse in on itself, folding and crumpling noiselessly until it reached a tiny point, finally disappearing with a pop. That bastard, he did it again.

Teleporting back to Tulesa, the party relaxed for a few hours to catch up on administrative work. Finn completed a sending to Dyphonaira, asking for an audience. She told him he should come in a few hours. Atala spoke to Balasar about the aspect gate they had retrieved from the consulate. He told her it would still work, needing only to be mounted and refocused, which would cost a crisp copper or two. The party spoke to Nadji, who provided some advice on how to place pressure on these assassins in order to get to Mueller, their assumed employer. Balasar recommended storing the aspect mirror (linked to Mueller’s mirror) somewhere it would not work. After some thought, he settled on the reactor room, which should siphon off the power of anything close enough to it. By way of offhand conversation, he indicated that the reactor should be able to keep the mirror disrupted for another 873 years, until its eventual destruction in a maelstrom that will release both the mirror and the artifact that powers the core now. And with that, the party set off to the reactor room.

Opening their treasure stitching in the reactor room, the party found the hammers of Mason difficult to move once they were made real and whole again. After a few failed attempts, they decided the reactor complex was probably the safest place for the hammers and elected to leave them in place. A quick bit of augury with the aspect mirror discovered that the companion mirror operated by Mueller was currently some 800 miles off the southwestern coast of Riyaqa. They put the mirror away, hoping that their revelation cloth could guide them more precisely once they were at short range to his mirror. Before leaving the reactor complex, the group found themselves drawn to the potential power of the artifact currently supplying the reactor. They decided one more time to draw from that fateful deck before proceeding topside. While most of the party kept their fates relatively private, Tarsus revealed that the card he had drawn, The Compass, was guiding him to a cave entrance on a bleak mountainside somewhere in Caera Ausa.

Still trying to figure out what to do about the hellfire halo they had recovered earlier, Finn finally settled on summoning a planar ally to help him destroy the halo for good. Completing the summoning, he is met with Ayandi, a half-dragon Solar. Speaking to Finn with undue reverence, Ayandi agreed to take the halo from him, promising to destroy it, and observed Finn with a deep bow before departing.

The group then decided to teleport to Chamber Valley to check in with Dyphonaira, per Finn’s earlier request. Arriving, they checked in briefly with Robert Pinan at his residence on the south slope. Robert now enjoyed the company of two young capybara, working with him as assistants. Listening to information from the party and going over the results of a previous blood test supplied by Finn, Robert informed them all that he believed Finn had reptilian markers in his blood, and is probably were-alligator, although he likely does not realize it. Rolling their collective eyes, the party thanked him for the warning and moved on to meet the Watcher.

In conversation with the Watcher, Tarsus found out the truth about what the Elder Knight was and how their two futures were intertwined. In this information, he thought he saw a method he could use to defeat the Elder Knight. Dyphonaira’s explanation left many questions unanswered about the specifics, however. And so, Dyphonaira agreed to reach out to the paranoid and often delusional Nathaniel Arstad. She hoped to pave the way for the party to introduce themselves to him, and acquire his aid in learning what they would need to know to defeat the Elder Knight, even with Xazat’s influence washing over him.

Sitting once again to relax for a bit, the party completed a sending to Blue, asking for his location. He informed them that he and his fleet were four days away from Gol Asad at best speed, and the party asked him to rendezvous with them. Another sending to Arndt informed him that the Amaxia, the newly discovered Imperial vessel of high value but unknown purpose, was somewhere in Riyaqan waters off the south coast. Arndt informed them that the Amaxia was a smelting and manufacturing ship, monstrous in size, and its presence could only indicate that the Empire was not yet done with the war. One last sending to the paladin Julian Carmeno to seek advice did not yield much information. However, it did earn a quick response from Arneta Bladerunner, a druid in Carmeno’s company.

Our story closed as her words sunk in with the party: “The Amaxia is the single most valuable vessel in existence. Its loss would be a crippling blow to the Empire’s ability to project force abroad, setting them back years at the very least.”

Session 52
The Lucky Break

Our story opened as the party arrived back in Tulesa and began contacting local craftsmen with an eye to improving their gear. Finn contracted the mage Selkirk to work on a cloak for him. Sindar and Tarsus negotiated with the local armorsmiths for some needed improvements to their personal protection, especially given the results of recent days of fighting. Finn consulted with a local enchanter about the development of specialized longsword.

Consulting with Nadji, who was now the head of their finances, Finn and Zayn worked at setting up magical protections for the vault deep below the Tulesti estate. Placing a Forbiddance spell on the area of the main crypt, they deposited the bulk of the money and loot recovered from Port Miller there. Graja agreed to head up construction of physical traps to cover the blind spots of the spell, and would be in charge of keeping Nadji informed of the status of the protection of the vault. After several meetings with their resident engineering staff, the group laid out plans for the construction of a construction yard for more efficient repair and construction of the desert trimarans. Sindar further contracted them to begin developing plans for the construction of an academy for the city, to serve as a replacement (and improvement) for the now-defunct IGG in Riyaqa.

Now turning their attention to some of the more specialized loot recovered from Imperial coffers in port Miller, the party began investigating an overly large suit of extremely heavy adamantine armor. Though humanoid in shape, the armor seemed to be sized to cover a large horse. The interlocking adamantine plating was something more extensive than any of them had ever seen, and would certainly turn anyone capable of bearing that weight into an unstoppable juggernaut. Having captured or killed no one yet who would fit such a monstrous suit of armor, Finn elected to scry on the former owner of the suit to see what he could learn.

His spell showed him a dark-skinned male orc with long black hair that was pulled into a greasy ponytail. The dark skin was mottled, the deep gray tone being interrupted by spots and scars of black skin. Finn watched him walk into a cave and attempted to discern additional information about his alignment as he moved. He detected a strong evil aura from the orc, who seemed to be aching to destroy something. The surroundings at the mouth of the cave indicated that it was located somewhere in a tended garden, massive in scale- possibly a palace garden. As the orc walked into the cave, it met a human man who was garbed in blue and gray robes. The man looked at the orc quizzically and then waved his hand to cast a quick spell, then looked directly at the viewpoint Finn had from overhead, as if he were gazing into Finn’s eyes. With another wave of his hand, the scry was cut short and Finn found himself back in his own surroundings.

After Finn filled the rest of the group in on his findings, they elected as a group to teleport directly to Hansen to attempt to get to drop on this obviously dangerous detachment of secret Imperial troops. Deciding that they need more information, the group asked Finn to entreat his god directly for assistance. Finn made his preparations, casting a Divination spell to speak directly with Rustum about this new threat. The information was slow to come to him, but Rustum did answer his call. Rustum showed to him a group of five people led by an imposing human male. The man wore field plate and an array of weapons, and was called Lion by the rest of his group. Beside him stood a smaller man that cut a lithe figure. This man was dressed in black leather, also sporting an array of weapons, though much smaller and more concealable. This man was called Briar. Beside Briar stood a serious looking human woman. She was a bit taller than Briar, light-skinned with nearly white blonde hair. Dressed in layers of hides and leathers, she carried no weapons except for a wooden staff. This woman was called Snow. Standing behind Snow, barely obscured by her presence, was the hulking figure of the orc that Finn had seen earlier. He learned now that this orc was called Mason. Off to one side, standing away a bit from the rest of the group, was a short woman. It was difficult to discern whether she was human or half-elven, but she was dressed in relatively light armor that bore an array of pouches and pockets. She leaned for support on a long firearm that was taller than she was. Her name was Wind.

Deciding to move as quickly as they could, the group wrapped up business at Tulesa before teleporting to their military encampment at the north wall of Hansen. There they met with Jirem Nambasa, their commanding general of troops in the region. He brief them on conditions in the city, telling them that troops were still dealing with a few Imperial stragglers, but the most serious threat was the extensive population shamblers roaming the city. The former Operatives’ Guild agent Atala met with the party here, offering to accompany our heroes into the city on condition that they take her to the abandoned consulate in Gol Asad once the Empire gives back at city. She seemed hopeful she might acquire knowledge there of a weakness she might exploit in Arturo Ducet, and devise a means to kill him. The party agreed, setting off into the city.

Quickly meeting resistance from shamblers wandering through the city, the party elected to divert into the underground sewers. They knew the sewers to be populated by the xenophobic Rosaga, but felt they now stood a better chance against the Rosaga than threat abov,e and it was important that they arrived at their destination ready to fight. Sindar took the lead as they moved through the sewers, using his wayfinding abilities and technological prowess to guide them to their destination near the city center. As they proceeded, Finn could hear the Rosaga alarm calls in the sewer at a distance, announcing their presence, but thus far no attack came.

At length, it became obvious that Rosaga scouts were following them closely. Zayn decided to attempt to communicate the party’s peaceful intent. They were not here to interfere with the Rosaga, but only wished to deal with the threat above and reach it quickly. One of the Rosaga scouts (named Intz), stepped out to treat with the party, asking for details in his broken common about the nature of this threat above. Zayn described to him the orc Mason, and his eyes went wide with fear. He told her that this orc comes into the sewers to hunt Rosaga for fun and has killed many of his friends. The party would have their safe passage and he would help them find the orc they sought. They set off with renewed speed behind their new guide.

Sometime later, the party arrived at the location in the tunnels were Intz told them Mason most often attacked after he entered. A quick Locate spell offered Mason’s exact position and it seemed the party would not have to wait long before he was back in the tunnels to hunt his new favorite quarry- apparently a way to pass the time until he could hunt the quarry he was actually hired to kill. A short time later, as Mason entered the tunnels, the party confronted him. Tarsus charged into the fight, bringing violence to Mason before he could get his weapons ready. Nevertheless, the towering orc proved amazingly fast, apparently accustomed to working in much heavier armor than he was now wearing. As he and Tarsus tore into each other, Mason finally got one of his massive hammers fully deployed, the head of the hammer dropping to the muddy tunnel floor on a length of chain paid out from the handle as he pressed a hidden switch. It converted the bulky hammer into a flail that looked heavy enough to demolish buildings. The first swing of the flail that finally connected with Tarsus convinced him that it wasn’t just for show, bowling him backwards into the mud.

The party’s usual tactics fell into place, with Sindar and Zayn dishing out explosive and electrical damage to the enemy as Finn split his time between harrying the orc and healing Tarsus. With a second shot from one of the twin flails the orc was now wielding, Tarsus felt his power begin to drain away. This was a new challenge, as it seemed this orc’s weapons could temporarily block access to some of the extraordinary powers the party possessed as a result of their interaction Mithras. This made it all the harder to keep Tarsus on his feet long enough to kill an orc that could absorb a seemingly endless amount of punishment. At last the orc’s defenses buckled, and he ran. Surprisingly, he ran deeper into the tunnels instead of running for the exit behind them. Although badly pummeled, the party felt obliged to pursue. What damage might he wreak on the Rosaga in vengeance if he were to get away?

After a lengthy chase, the party cornered the orc as he tried to pound his way through an iron grating blocking the tunnel. He almost succeeded, bending it sharply out of place before the bombs began flying again. Disregarding their own safety, the party fell upon the orc, who was now desperate to escape. Realizing this was fruitless, he turned like a cornered wild animal and attacked with reckless abandon. He smashed hard into several members of the party, sending people flying across the tunnels, but there simply was not much life left in him. He fell in short order. The Rosaga were quick to come out of hiding with offers to deal with the remains, which the party accepted. The group stripped the remains of equipment as the Rosaga made off with the body, but Tarsus found it difficult to even move the massive hammers that the orc had been wielding. To deal with the troublesome mass, the party turned to their oft-used treasure stitching, producing a tapestry that they carried for just such an event.

Using the tunnels to move back to the entrance that Mason used, the party scouted exits into the gardens above before selecting one and climbing through into an emptied decorative pool on the lawns. Nearby, after searching for a bit, they located the entrance to the cave that Finn had seen in his scrying. As they approached the entrance, a rifle shot rang out from the distance, nearly taking Finn to the ground. The rifle shot had come from the nearby tower of the keep, and Zayn dimension doored the party to the top of the tower as they gathered together. Arriving there, they found the gunslinger Wind as she was completing a spell that caused her to dissolve into the breeze, floating off of the exposed floor of the tower and escaping the party’s retribution for now.

The party returned to the cave entrance, with Atala disarming several entry traps as they worked their way inside. Their quiet entry allowed them to get the drop on the Imperial support staff that waited inside the cave. Although there were several them, none seemed capable of presenting a significant threat to the heroes as they rounded up and bound captives. Finn saw among them the mage who had canceled his scry spell earlier, and special measures were taken to secure him. They interrogated the staff, learning that they were there to provide support for the five person party who had been hired to kill these very heroes. Though the support staff did not know the specific identity of their employer, they knew he was an Imperial man of great importance. Finding no true evil among these people, the party elected to turn them over as captives to Jirem’s troops at the north wall. Searching among the supplies in the cave, a magical mirror drew the party’s attention, concealed behind some other supplies. Uncovering the mirror, they discovered it was an aspect mirror used as an instant communications device over large distances with other mirrors to which it was linked. Investigation revealed that the mirror had several companion mirrors: one located at the Gol Asad consulate, one located at the Grand Council’s Splendid Terrace, and the third which activated during their investigation. It was apparently aboard the AES Expedition, as the visage of Horace Mueller came into view. He scowled, saying only “well, then,” before breaking the connection.

Our story ended as the party collected what supplies from the cave they could carry and escorted their captives out toward their own nearby troops.

Session 51
...and PEACE.

Our story opened with the party in Tulesa, conferring on their goals before the coming peace talks. Although they had wished for more time to prepare, the moment was soon upon them, with the Asad guardians arriving to usher them to the talks. The guardians opened a portal to bridge our heroes to the secret location of the talks deep in the desert. The party arrived to find themselves literally in the middle of nowhere, the only feature of the terrain being the large artificial deck obviously built for these talks. Several of the other delegates were already on hand, and with only a few more minutes of waiting everyone was present and talks were ready to begin.

Speaker Delina opened the talks, thanking all of the delegates for the inherent risk they’ve undertaken to arrive at these critical but tense negotiations. With that, the peace talks to end the Second Adamantine War were underway.

The delegates from the Javad opened the talks, stating unequivocally that they wanted the town of Nahran back. Being a critical adamantine or mining hub, Nahran had been a key strategic location during the war. The Javad had taken it from the Benisaga at great cost. Later in the war, the Benisaga had managed to rest it from the control of the Javad, but the Javad were convinced that they would have taken the town back, given a few more days of fighting.

Vilif Almasi, the Benisaga delegate, stated that his people liked the borders as they were and were unwilling to give up Nahran. The town was won fairly under the rules of warfare and if the Javad were unhappy that the war had ended, that was a different matter. As this impasse continued to develop, Daso Enna entered into the fray with a separate claim on part of the territory now held by the Javad. He stated that his people wanted their islands back and stipulated that no incursion would be tolerated for a full century without invitation.

For their part, the Javad were willing to agree to the terms of the Khasif, as they were already suffering the ill effects of trying to occupy Khasif territory without exterminating the Khasif people. This willingness to negotiate by the Javad softened the position of the Benisaga somewhat, and opened the door to some economic dealing. Feeling militarily exposed, given the relative strengths of their own military versus the might of the Javad machine that still waited at their doorstep, the Benisaga sought a solid military alliance before they would agree to any territorial exchanges.

At some length, Vilif Almasi he made an offer to General Tarsus of Tulesa. If General Tarsus would agree to a marriage of nobility, Almasi would consider that to adequately cement the ties between Tulesa and Benisaga, allowing Benisaga to deal freely with the militarily superior Javad. After considering for some time, Tarsus agreed. In two weeks time, Benisaga would send representatives to begin preparations for the marriage between Tarsus Thornbane and Aza Almasi, the daughter of Vilif Almasi. With this diplomatic marriage arranged, Benisaga agreed to give up Nahran to the Javad, provided Javad continues to provide them with 15% of the adamantine ore mined in and around the town for the next five years. As a stipulation, the Javad stated that they wanted everything north the Great Road, agreeing to cede everything south of the Great Road and the adjoining settlements to Benisaga. After some consideration, the Benisaga delegates agreed and it seemed the new political boundaries of Eastern Riyaqa were settled.

As usual, waiting for the key moment to make his interest, Arturo Ducet arrived at the peace talks with his typical flair for the dramatic. Before taking his seat at the table, he asked for private conference the delegation from Tulesa. Warily, our heroes agreed. He offered them a deal. He would immediately begin pulling Empire forces on south coast back to Gol Asad. After the heroes had time to prepare Port Miller for transition, he would agree to trade Port Miller for Gol Asad. This would place Port Miller as the only Empire stronghold on the continent. Making the party suspicious, he openly stated that he needed the next four months to frustrate the Emperor himself into coming to Riyaqa personally, which would make him vulnerable. Though he did not go into detail about what he would do with his vulnerability, such a thing was not hard to imagine, considering the source.

Tulesa would immediately take control of everything south to Nassira, including stewardship of the city of Hansen, or at least its remnants. The most important parts of Tulesa’s new political boundaries established, one final agreement was on the table to restore the strength of Gol Asad security forces. All powers agreed to an equal tithe of troops and funds to rebuild these troops, with the exception of the Empire. With the principal negotiations complete, delegates began saying their goodbyes as the guardians prepared portals to take them back to their places of origin. Coming to shake hands the party from Tulesa, Daso Enna greeted Finn personally, congratulating him on the victory of Tulesa. He told Finn he had a gift for him, drawing out a long beautifully crafted dagger made of pure silver before handing it to the priest of Rustum. As the dagger changed hands, Finn thought he saw something odd about the hand of Daso, but decided to ignore it in present company.

As delegates began to depart, several of the portals were suddenly disrupted, collapsing in series of hard thumps. Attempting to reach out with their individual powers to determine the source of the disruption, many of those present simultaneously arrived at the same conclusion. An anti-magic field of unknown origin had descended over the region. The field seemed stable and huge, the boundary being undetectable from the platform where the talks were held. Several groups decided to separate and walk in different directions to locate the edge of the field, each escorted by a group of guardians. The Benisaga and Asad delegates proceeded south with the representatives of Tulesa. After a long walk they spotted three female figures approaching them from the open desert at a frightening rate of speed. Their arrival coincided with locating the edge of the anti-magic field. At once, the guardians began establishing their transport portals again, telling our heroes that they would need time to evacuate the civilians present. Tarsus drew his sword, Sindar drew his bombs, and the party charged together toward the approaching figures.

One of the three figures was obviously different, being larger and more hideous than the other two, but still bearing enough traces of femininity to be identifiable as such. The other two were smaller, more feminine and very nearly beautiful, if not for their insanely twisted features. As the trio closed to attack, Tarsus did his best to intercept all three, but allowed one to get behind him as it seemed intent on circling around to get to his comrades in the back. The two that he did intercept viciously tore into him as Sindar and Zayn dealt with the third in relatively short order. Finn had quickly identified the smaller two females as succubi, serving as crowd control for the larger of the three, which seemed entirely focused on tearing organic matter into the smallest possible pieces.

Turning their focus on the remaining two, the party was able to disrupt enough attacks to keep Tarsus on his feet. He delivered huge blows to the largest of the creatures, but simply was not able to bring it down on his own. As it tore into him, Finn found himself entirely focused on keeping Tarsus alive, effectively removing any crowd control he could offer. Both Sindar and Zayn fired away with all the power they could muster. A short series of lucky blows from Sindar earned him the temporary focus of the large female avatar, subsequently buying him an unpleasant nap at the hands of the creature, as he was unable to sustain its focus the span for even a few seconds. With Sindar down, the injured avatar turned back to Tarsus to finish the job. Focused fire from Zane was able to disrupt the final succubus and without their support the avatar soon folded, and was banished. Very quickly, Finn was able to get Sindar awake and cursing. The guardians completed evacuation of the civilians as the anti-magic field began to lift from the surrounding region. Signals from the other groups of guardians and delegates confirmed that they were okay and evacuating, as well. With that, the party decided to teleport straight to Port Miller to prepare the city for return to Empire control.

After checking in with their agents in the city the party split up to take care of various odds and ends around Port Miller. Finn sought to provide what relief he could to any temples of Rustum or Mahari that were located in the city, ahead of Imperial occupation. Finding the major temple of Rustum, he met Taj al Sam some, who was the head priest at the temple. Being greedier than Finn would like, Taj failed to impress the man. Nevertheless, Finn agreed to arrange safe passage for any supplicants of the temple that wanted to leave the city.

Sindar went to the IGG headquarters. There, he found evidence that someone was rifling through the former guild college under the cover of darkness. Summoning some assistance from the party, he headed upstairs to confront the interlopers. Upon finding them, he discovered a small band of brigands led by Willie who were rifling through offices and collecting matter they deemed interesting in the corridors. Willie explained that (at least for the moment) he was no longer with the Guild on an official basis, but was collecting material in their interests before it was destroyed or claimed by others. Sindar offered him a job in Tulesa, assisting its fledgling engineering team with widening its war advantage in technology. With no hesitation, Willie accepted the appointment. He agreed that all the materials they were collecting in the Guild would come back to Tulesa with him rather than be left in Port Miller.

Meeting back up, the party made arrangements for a seaborne fleet and what desert trimarans were available to converge upon Port Miller to evacuate personnel and materials ahead of the agreed-upon Empire occupation. Falat, Tulesa’s officer in command of forces in Port Miller, showed the party a hidden Imperial treasury he had located containing over 100,000 platinum pieces. The chests were heavy and would require special transport, but there was enough money here to rebuild an entire city. With a major port city in ruins in their territory, it was a treasure too good to pass up.

As the final arrangements were made to abandon Port Miller, Sindar hired some of Willie’s workers to help him secure the large plaques from the front of the college that had labeled it as a building of the IGG. With the plaques removed, he set fire to the campus, burning the entirety of four city blocks to the ground within an hour.

Our story closed as the first of the desert trimarans arrived at the outskirts of the city to take on personnel and loot.

The Asad

Major negotiations to end the Second Adamantine War are complete.

Session 50

The following was delivered to the players in the days before this session:

Returning to Tulesa, you check in with Falat and introduce him to Nanji. He has two of the house staff arrange to supply her with quarters in the barracks close by, and tells you he can arrange for the old reeve’s office to be updated to a comptroller’s office and find her nearby quarters in the main house if you wish. Going about your business for the rest of the evening, you begin to receive reports of success stories here and there: people being found alive under rubble, valuables being recovered from toppled buildings, and so forth. It’s difficult to know if you should take solace or not in the accuracy of the initial reports, but the tally does not shift much as the moon climbs higher in the sky.

You head to bed for the night, recovering peacefully, each in your own way. Before sunrise, Zayn’s sleep is disturbed by the voice of Ahti Ato. As she wakes, she realizes Ahti has been calling her name for some time. “Yes, Ahti? I am here.”

“Highness, I have disturbing news. We have reports that ships are bombarding coastal towns near Port Miller and Qisaga. We are unable to get reports from either city directly, and are assuming they have both been more subtly captured by the Empire.”
“Not entirely unexpected,” Zayn replies. “Are you safe?”

“For the time being, yes. Guardians have secured the citadel and began preparing something they call ‘escape protocol’, though I do not know its details. Speaker Delina is back in contact with the Khasif, or at least one faction of them, led by Daso Enna. War was underway there already. We have no idea what effect this will have, but it does not appear the Empire has attacked there directly just yet. There is one further complication, however.”

“I’m listening.”

“A Javad patrol on the road near Jaleraba was attacked several days ago by men bearing arms under Benisaga colors. We originally thought the report to be in error, or a small faction from the deep jungle acting independently. Considering the information you presented on the state of Qisaga, it may be more serious. It’s possible the expulsion of Benisaga nobility and merchants from Qisaga has prompted them to more direct resistance, including a renewal of their old feuds about trade route control. Now would be a very bad time for them to attack the Javad, as it is the only principal source of military might the Asad has left.”

As Zayn ponders the news, and the state of Tulesa’s own wounded military, Ahti speaks again. “The emergency alarms! My gods- there are Imperial ships in the sea beyond the harbor wall, firing into the city! Who has guns that reach that far?! My Lady, I must go. I fear we will be recessed for a state of general war within the hour. I will find a way to reach Tulesa, if that happens. Godspeed.”

And then she is gone. Zayn notifies the house staff to rouse the rest of you and the council. Several minutes later, you are all seated around the oblong council table, doors to the room standing open as house staff and senior military officers look on from the adjoining rooms. Clearing her throat, Zayn stands to be heard clearly, “I have, moments ago, received word from our Asadin Ahti Ato. Gol Asad, and other settlements in Riyaqa, are under open attack by Empire forces. Ladies and gentlemen, we are at war.”

Our story opened immediately after the debrief from Zane to her counsel about notifications of war. The party decides to recruit the free children into lesser to assist them in the war effort. Deciding to sue for allies abroad, they sent Teagan and Reese north to talk to the Dune Giants. Soon thereafter, the war began.

3231ER Rannmont 15:
Several Benisaga noble families, living under Empire rule in Qisaga, completed their final “summatint” meeting, coming to an agreement to move forward with their plans to organize rebellion against Empire occupation, and pay back Riyaqan nations that did not come to their aid at the end of the Adamantine War.

3231ER Mishamont 02:
Acting on intelligence received from an unknown ally, Khasif Unified Nobility forces begin a secret march south from Nadju, using old trade roads to enter the northern reaches of the forests.

3231ER Mishmont 10:
Khasif Unified Nobility forces officially become Khasif Republic forces as news spreads that the Regent is dead and the nobility have rallied behind a man named Daso Enna as their new sovereign. He claims that once their borders are secure, the Khasifi shall have a republic of their own, in the model intended for the dysfunctional Asad.

3231ER Mishamont 11:
Empire forces assault Port Miller in what was intended to be a campaign coordinated with the assault on Qisaga. Both attacks were meant to be shows of force without serious bloodshed outside the local nobility, as the Empire held effective control of the local governments already. This action catapults the Benisaga nobles’ plan into action far ahead of their intended schedule, at a fraction of the military strength they had planned. With the first Benisaga counter attack against an Empire formation attempting to secure the road into Qisaga, the Second Adamantine War began in earnest.

3231 Mishamont 28:
Empire assaults in both Qisaga and Port Miller have failed spectacularly. In Qisaga, the open revolt of the nobles gained steam among the populace far more quickly than anyone had imagined, and the several thousand Empire soldiers stationed there found themselves quickly overwhelmed. Many were saved, as the local commanders organized a mass evacuation onto the nearby fleet, but most of the Empire occupation forces perished in this assault as Benisaga re-asserted control over Qisaga.

The planned Khasif Republic assault into Benisaga and Javad lands does not go well in its opening days. Ill-suited for jungle and steppe warfare, they find themselves rebuffed several times, despite inflicting significant losses on defending troops of the Benisaga. Javad forces sidestep their advances almost entirely, intent on advancing to what they thought was the Khasifi border to prevent their civil war from spreading into the rest of Riyaqa. Early in the war, Khasifi forces find themselves landlocked near the edge of the western scrublands that open into the Mah Hari Sea, in control of a series of small settlements.

Acting on intellgence they gathered about the impending assault of Port Miller, Tulesa made a monumental effort to gather allies in the desert for an advance on the city. Their most powerful ally of the war came early, in the first known military alliance between mankind and dune giants as the Garronokka dune giant tribe joined the attack on Port Miller. The Empire had expected only light resistance here, and had already moved the bulk of their troops back onto ships for amphibious assaults further southeast. As a result, the relatively small, if surprising force, took the city quickly. They found many of the Imperial armament shipments still sitting on the docks, and began training everyone who wanted a place in the rapidly growing army.

Empire reinforcements joined the remainder of troops from Qisaga and those dispatched from Port Miller in an amphibious assault of Gol Asad. The intent was a shocking upset of the native political system, which would make diplomatic outreach to isolated states much easier to accomplish. Early reports indicated that nearly all of the Asad members successfully fled the city and returned to their territories, probably enabling rapid mobilization against the Empire threat as control of that narrative spread far and wide out of Empire hands. Within days, the Empire had captured the nearby port capital of Haralin.

3231 Chislmont 28:
Javad forces accomplish something that no one has done in the last aeon as they take military control of the entirety of the Khasif Islands. Now having a solid base of raw materials, they begin expanding their forces and edging south along the mainland coast, taking settlements one at a time as Benisaga and Khasif forces tear each other apart nearby.

Benisaga forces push out from Qisaga, taking much of the nearby countryside and securing vital roads through the region. Their advance is eventually checked by contact with Empire forces operating out of Gol Asad, as well as Khasif forces moving south from the central continent.
The Khasif take early control of every settlement near their forces, eventually mustering enough firepower to enter and capture Tahuk from the Javad.
Empire forces quickly move northwest along the coast from Gol Asad, taking the remnants of Sutif and Hansen, and begin shipping in building materials to build fortresses all along their axis of advance.

Tulesan forces, now mostly concentrated in Port Miller, push outward both east and south, collecting up settlements for their cause and rallying new allies. Briefly, their army fragments into four main divisions to accomplish these goals. The main division, under the leadership of a relatively unknown former mercenary, pushes south across the desert. The other three, smaller division, are each led by an odd assortment of characters with mysterious intent. Rumors abound that they are searching for sources of power in the desert that might help them dominate the continent.

3231ER Bran:
Javad and Khasif forces have their first major battles in the regions between Tahuk and Ghabi. Khasif forces are intent of severing the Javad supply line to check their advance south. It is clear to both the Khasif and the Benisaga that if Javad takes control of the adamantium mines between Nahran and Ghabi, while they still control the natural resources and conscripts of the Khasif Islands, they will be unstoppable. Both nations briefly forget their own skirmishes to focus on disrupting this advance.

Skirmishing begins between the Empire forces near Hansen and the Tulesan forces probing southeast from the desert. Tulesan commanders solidy their control of the western regions of the continent.

Benisaga and Empire forces repeatedly clash in the jungle interior near An Samir and Jaleraba. Thousands more soldiers die, but little territory changes hands.

3231ER Corij:
Benisaga forces take decisive control of everything from Nahran to Jaleraba to Qisaga, very nearly replicating the ancient boundaries of their homeland. Content that they have blocked access to the adamantine mines in the south, they begin focusing on stabilizing their position, rather than further conquest. Benisaga probing assaults against Empire forces continue.

A series of major battles among the east coast finally end with Ghabi in the hands of the Javad, and both Javad and Khasif forces seriously depleted. The Khasif Republic, militarily in control of Tulesa’s original capital settlement, begins building up and rallying forces there to prevent a Tulesan incursion into their territory. There are a series of skirmishes between the two powers in the deserts north of Tulesa, but no major settlements change hands.
Capitalizing on the momentary lapse in eastern hostilities, the exiled Asad government (led by Raha Delina) calls for peace talks. The Javad agree quickly, and Khasif and Benisaga forces follow suit.

In the west, Empire forces clash with Tulesan forces just north of Hansen. In the initial stages of the battle, the Empire apparently underestimates the volume of Tulesan troops bearing down on them, noting the Tulesan commander’s banner is absent on the battlefield and assuming this is a probing assault. As they fail to commit a majority of the their troops to the battle, a ruse is discovered when the Tulesan commander and a small cohort of heroes appears inside the fortress, even inside the anti-teleportation field maintained by Grand Council mages. This interior attack achieves complete surprise, routing the Empire command element as the commanding General is slain in personal combat with the Tulesan commander and his allies. It is not long after that the battle for the north wall of the city is lost. In a complex move and countermove campaign stretching out for several days, Tulesan forces pick apart the Empire defenses before the most serious battle occurs on Corij 15th. Thousands die on both sides, and the Empire is forced into a tactical retreat to Sutif.

3231ER Carjet 09:
Tulesan forces near Tulesa and Hansen continue building up, despite no visible effort by the Empire to recover nearby territory beyond a few probing assaults.

The Khasif begin sending diplomatic warnings to the Tulesan commanders in response, informing them that a military incursion into their former capital would cost many, many lives unnecessarily. The Tulesan commanders signal a willingness to talk, bringing them to the peace table along with the other Riyaqan powers. Attempts to contact the Imperial leadership go unheeded.

3231 Carjet 12:
The peace talks begin in a secret location. All commanders and sovereigns are asked to not leave their current locations, and bring their respective former Asadins to their sides. The peace talks consist of the sovereign of each power, a single Asadin they select, and no more than 5 additional people in retinue. They are contacted at sunrise, and given instructions from there.

The following morning, theTulesan envoy and her cohort are ushered to the site of the secret peace talks. The peace talks largely go expected, except for the surprise arrival of the Imperial envoy, who repeatedly failed to respond to earlier requests to participate in the talks.

With territorial exchanges, movements of troops and refugees planning on the table for the coming weeks, the various nations parted from the talks with an air of hope about them. Final negotiations were scheduled to occur soon. After some administrative tasks back in Tulesa, the party was able to finally get back on to their primary mission after months of delay.

During the war, our heroes were given two pages of key puzzle documents by the Sun Council. Each of these pages contained riddles that were relatively easy to decode, but whose meaning (for now) eluded them. They were sure that the puzzles related to the methods that Arkeles al Farin used long ago to imprison Sayoni. If they were to progress in their mission, the party would need to find a way to locate the remaining riddles, and thereby clear the way to Sayoni, resting deep in her tomb.

Deciding they needed a new audience with one of Arkeles’ former companions, the party ventured into the Tulesti crypts to find a suitable object to assist in scrying on the spirit they had contacted earlier while venturing into the Boneyard. Successfully completing the plane shift to the plane of the wandering dead, the party makes contact with a death demon, who assists them with the ritual of scrying on the spirit of Sanget Denatro. At long last, the party meets the spirit of Sanget, who relays to them all of the information that he has, seeking to assist in their quest.

He tells the party about a family in Khasma. He believed the family name was Korocet. He told the party about a man named Vilago that held one of the pages in Kaleska. Finally, he recalled a family in Latpasa, but could not remember their specific name. Then he regaled the party with a story of a long boat ride to a strange island nation. There he gave a scroll to a tall woman named Cerixa. He described her as the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. She was tall and thin, pale skinned with reddish-brown hair and on the day he met her and wore a sparkling green gown. Sanget could not remember any further details save that the rest of the documents that Arkeles dispersed were taken by his partner, Rhea. When the party describes to him the pages that they have, he tells them that he believes they have the pages from Latpasa and Corix.

Surprising the party, the death demon immediately addressed Sanget as the conversation with the party ended. He informed Sanget that he has finally completed his calling, and it is time for him to be judged and pass into his afterlife. The thing spreads its arms wide and passed judgment upon Sanget Denatro, the brave ally who fought alongside Arkeles al Farin and defended him to the last. He judged the man worthy of passing into the realm of his god and with that, the spirit of the man faded before their eyes as it was ushered into the lands of Rustum.

The death demon told the party, upon their request, that the full name of the woman they sought of whom did not throw spoke was Rhea Narbada. Happily, her spirit had already passed on to the realm of Verethraghna, and so could not be contacted from here by the party. If they wanted to speak with her, they would need to find some other way. Thanking their host, the party departed and completed the plane shift home.

Discussing the matter in their estate, the party was happened upon by Nadji as she sought them for countersignatures in the financial books she was preparing at their request. Overhearing a bit of their conversation as she approached, Nadji spotted familiarities in what they discussed and so was forthcoming with her new employers as they asked her about the lead from Kaleska, where they had rescued her. She knew the name that Sanget had given the party and knew that her former master had already stolen the valuable documents that the party would seek from him. She volunteered that she had also stolen those same documents from her former master, among a few other petty thefts intended to annoy. She turned over the documents in question to the party, bringing the total in their possession to three.

Our story closed as the party, in the privacy of their chambers, poured over the documents to attempt to decode their secret contents. The final peace negotiations loomed just around the corner.

The Asad

The war in Riyaqa has been successfully brought to an armistice, if only temporarily.


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