Our story opened with the party making their way to the Watcher’s Grove alongside Guardian. As they travelled, more and more of the denizens of the valley fell into step with them. It was not often that the Watcher awakened, much less granted an audience to outsiders. When they arrived at the grove, they found the Watcher resting in her dragon form, her metallic scales shimmering in the bright light offered by million of glowing insects flying above. Sindar wasted no time in asking to see his parents, or at least whatever was leafed of them. The Watcher acquiesced, and Caretaker Jailor descended from the tree canopy to transport Sindar to the most protected part of the grove, where his parents lived.
In the meantime, the remainder of the party argued for the fate of the interloper they had captured, revealed to be Robert Pinan. Pinan was on the run from the Children of Ahriman, and was apparently in the valley researching a cure to the plague he had inadvertently helped to create. For the most part, the Watcher and other denizens of the grove were unmoved about how intruders should be punished, and Guardian pointed out that the party’s decision to present themselves at the bottom of the slope rather that barge in secretly was what saved them from a similar fate. Making her own case for the importance of the valley’s sanctity, the Watcher offered a compromise out of respect to the group’s benefactor, who was a more of less open secret to them by this point. She had offered sanctuary to a refugee not long before, and now saw an opportunity to give this person new purpose while allowing Robert to fulfill his.
If the party agreed to take the woman with them, the Watcher would allow Robert to remain, under somewhat strict rules. After a brief introduction, the group agreed to take the woman called Nanda with them, and provide whatever protection they coudl while she accompanied them. Robert would be allowed to live in the old shelter left behind by the IGG mission, and would be allowed periodic entry to the valley to make his studies, but no materials would leave this place until the appointed time. Shortly after, Sindar returned to the grove of trees from his voyage… to a grove of,,, trees. Clutching some journals and books that belonged to his parents, he was ready to leave.
As a parting thought, the group asked if any of the denizens of the valley might be permitted to leave with them. As Dingo had suffered the loss of his pet rat recently, they thought it might be nice to bring him a new pal. The Watcher stated that the valley has a great many of its inhabitants travelling the world around them to serve as eyes and ears. The animals here were special, and not things to be considered “pets.” However, if someone did want to accompany the party, she would not prevent it. As luck would have it, a quiet pig-sized rodent trotted out of the assembled crowd wearing a small pack complete with a bedroll, and sat down before them. Setting off, the party decided to name their new companion “Squeaks,” absent of any input from the creature. Once they made their way back to the Seachild, Dingo and Squeaks became fast friends, and would become inseparable in the days that followed. The ship headed south, back into the desert proper.
A day later, the ship came upon the rim of a massive windstorm. Choosing discretion, they veered to the west to skirt around the storm as it lumbered to the east. After most of another day of travel, they came upon a large group of people walking across the sands. A few minutes of observation confirmed at a distance that these were actual people, and not a horde of shamblers. The ship came to a stop and several of the party disembarked to go out and meet the crowd of people, it being a very curious thing to see such a group wandering the desert as they were. Two leaders separated from the crowd as the party approached.
Upon meeting, they introduced themselves as Falat Hennin (a captain of the guard from Latpasa) and Avendi Volok (high priestess of the church of Anahita in Latpasa). The people with them were refugees from Latpasa, representing everyone they could gather before fleeing the city. They described an attack there that was very similar to the attack some of the party had witnessed in Sutif not even two months ago. The Latpasa attack happened a couple of weeks ago, and they had been holed up in the city for several days while gathering survivors, before finally fleeing. They had heard of Aridesa, but did not know its precise location. Sindar drew them a map, using his superlative pretend land navigation on paper skills, and the party bid them farewell after a bit of news was passed back and forth. It wasn’t until a few hours later that the crew of Seachild realized they were missing Teegan and Reece. A quick search of the ship turned up a brief note from Teegan that he would guide the Latpasa refugees south to the shield wall, where they could turn west to follow an easy trail to Aridesa. One he got them to the wall, he intended to make his way to Qisaga alone, and not drag the party into his unfortunate circumstances surrounding a card he had earlier drawn from the infamous deck.
Back on their way, all was well for the next half-day as the ship turned southwest to continue toward the estimated location of the Tulesti estate. In the wee hours, Sindar was piloting the vessel as the rest of the group slept. Mostly paying attention, he allowed himself the occasional distraction of flipping through the books he had recovered from the grove. Sindar was slammed into the edge of the ship’s wheel as the vessel abruptly lost the “irresistible force vs. immovable object” argument to a very large, mostly buried boulder. Below deck, the rest of the party found themselves the subject of Sindar’s latest unintentional physics experiment as bulkheads came rushing up to meet them.
Somewhat worse for wear, they took to the sand to assess and repair the damage. It wasn’t terrible, but the combined efforts of Finn and Willie would be required to get moving again in a decent amount of time. The pair settled in to start repairs while the rest of the party began taking up watches to ensure they were not surprised while vulnerable, apparently suspicious that some unseen force of fate seemed to draw excitement and danger to them like a magnet, just when it would suck the most. And the fates did not disappoint, for not too long into the process, they spotted a crowd slowly moving toward them in the darkness. Examination through a spyglass this time revealed a much more sinister character to the assembly- an entire horde of the things they called shamblers was closing in on them. It actually seemed they might pass the ship harmlessly if not given reason to attack. Then Sindar realized, thinking back on the map he had made earlier, that this throng would bear directly into the path of the refugees from Latpasa, and had a decent chance of meeting them. With that news, the party sighed collectively from the exhaustion of being the good guys as they unsheathed weapons and prepared spells. At least they would have the upper hand with plenty of time to plan for an unaware enemy.
And need it, they did. The party put their preparation time to good use, but the horde of shamblers was much stronger than they expected. Thus far, they had faced the things a few at a time or singly. In a concentrated mass, their uncoordinated individual attacks took on new danger by sheer numbers, as dozens of arms clutched at anything coming near, trying to drag victims into their press of bodies. The party had to take care not to lose anyone to this fate, eventually whittling the throng one corpse at a time until only a few remained. Mopping up the remaining shamblers took only a few seconds more, and the danger to the party and the refugees behind them had passed. The party resumed their guard as Finn and Willie hastily repaired the ship, and they were off once more. While repairs were rounding out, Nanda discovered the artifact the party was carrying, and became curious of its power. Drawing a card from the Deck of Errant Destinies, she drew the Dry Desert card, summoning the Scaldwind malazephyr seven months early. Her mind was dominated by visions of the great, scouring sandstorm as it gained power in the far northwest. Realizing the damage it might do and the mass casualties that would befall settlements unprepared for the storm, Finn focused his magical energies on warning whatever contacts they had that would answer him. At the very least, he made contact with Rinn, in Port Miller; and General Ghomesh, in Aridesa.
The next morning saw the party in something of a doldrum, lacking any clear course to the exact position of the Tulesti estate. At last, Tarsus sought to call upon the influence of his sword, or possibly its source of power. Setting himself to a ritual he could only guess at, he asked to be shown the way to the estate. At first, nothing happened, and Tarsus went below, figuring he had failed. After a few minutes more, those remaining on deck saw a bright flash of lightning strike the ground to the southeast. Based on the following thunder, it was several miles distant. Based on the otherwise clear sky, they surmised this must be the response Tarsus was looking for, and set off in that direction. After just another hour or so, they saw the rocky crest begin to rise out of the dry, cracked desert floor in the distance. Atop it stood a large stone manor, surrounded by the ruins of other buildings. As the drew nearer to the estate, Dervish pressed itself into Tarsus’ hand, growing hot to the touch. This was the place.
The party disembarked as the cracks in the ground became wide enough to threaten Seachild’s hull and cause a repeat of the Sindar Incident. An odd concentration of insects and arachnids caught their attention, seeming to become more intense the closer they got to the manor. At first, the swarms largely ignored the party. Soon enough, some began to crawl on them. Not long after, the attack began in earnest as a handful of dog-sized spiders and scorpions charged after them. The venom these things carried was the most worrying aspect of the encounter, but it wasn’t anything the party was unprepared to handle. The large, fast-moving spider the size of a horse was a different matter, forcing the group to close ranks to defend themselves as it looked for an opening. Most of the group having spent a long time in each other’s company, their tactics were well-rehearsed and effective by this point. Nanda learned quickly, adapting her tactics to compliment her new teammates. It looked like the fight was going well, save for the troubling tremors coming from the ground around them.
The first sign they were really in trouble was the shower of dirt and sand that fell on them as the ground ruptured and spilled forth a hellish thing- a thorny black spider climbed out of the earth mere yards away from the party. It utterly dwarfed the spiders they had been dealing with so far, individual legs touching the ground with 30 feet or more of clear space between them as it stood ready to pounce. Clear venom dripped slowly from fangs as long a swords as they flashed from underneath, the beast working its barrel-sized mandibles in anticipation of its meal. The party launched themselves at the new threat, as Willie looked on and peed a little. Seeking to end the fight quickly, they poured considerable firepower into the unique beast, and it answered every blow it received. With their good health running out about as fast as their combat options, Nanda cast a spell to deny the creature the ability to breathe air, which it failed to resist. Moments later, Finn summoned a faithful hound archon to battle the spider as the party looked for other options, most of which began with running away.
The had noticed that the carpet of insects and bugs piled up along a line that ran in a circle around a large area of property, with the manor at its center. When this new monstrous specimen arrived, the bugs seemed to retreat. Reasoning that might mean that whatever barrier held them before is gone, the party made their way to the barrier, but found it full in place. The spider closed in behind them, still intent on sating its hunger while being harassed by the archon nipping at its heels. It took precious, tense seconds, but the thing’s legs finally buckled as it succumbed to a prolonged lack of air, and it fell immobile onto the hard-packed and cracked desert floor. Returning cautiously to the corpse, the party prodded a bit at it, discovering what must be a name or label plate of some kind that read, “Gatha.”
A gentle crackling in the air drew their attention up toward the barrier. Far away, atop the manor house, a robed figure observed them from the tower roof. With a wave of its hand, the noise intensified, and then ceased. The humanoid being disappeared back inside the house. Upon checking again, the party found the barrier dissolved. Apparently, they had been invited inside.
The vote has been tabled in the Asad while missing delegates are searched for and rescued. An automatic procedural clock of 60 days started when they went missing, with 41 days now remaining before the delegates are declared dead and replaced.
Quote of the Day
I didn’t write anything down. Feel free to put something here that one of you might have written down. In the meantime, have this instead: “I say everything’s about company. A gourmet meal with an asshole is a horrible meal. A hot dog with an interesting person is an amazing meal.” -Chris Rock
So, thanks for being interesting, I guess.