After sleeping on the issue, the party decides to enter town under cover of an invisibility to undead spell, and carefully trace their way along the river past Drumarch’s ancestral home and toward the high temples downtown.
Just through the main walls of town, the group disturbed a flock of stirges perched on a stack of corpses.
When they passed Hordraegu (the Saleleh family keep), the party saw skeleton archers lining the battlements, and no discernible signs of life. Rather than risk assaulting the keep, the party continued along the river until they approached the great temple of the Sisters of Plenty. There they found a priestess of the Green Sisters (dedicated to Thessta, goddess of pears), who offered them hospitality and news.
The necromancer Hedelgu Moldrech came two weeks ago from his keep in the wilds near Shalay. He marches with an entourage of vampires, ghouls, and other willful undead, as well as a host of mindless minions. They (at least ostensibly) follow Jithra, god of death and judgment. Their claimed agenda is rooting out the foreign necromancers that they believe are responsible for the rumored plagues of undead in the south and east of Durju lands.
Dire Lord Moldrech gives his entourage broad latitude interrogating and terrorizing the locals, and has vowed to continue his crusade at all costs until he vanquishes the heretic necromancer(s).
When he arrived at the gates of Kimenta, he clashed with the town guard, and quickly overwhelmed their unprepared forces. In the chaos that ensued, the king of the Durju lost his divine backing and was slain. The bulk of his servants and priesthood have retreated into the king’s keep, to await the coronation of a new king. The noble families have all fled, fallen, or gone into hiding. Many of the townsfolk have sought refuge in the high temples.
The priests feel varying degrees of powerlessness: as long as the Dire Lord has Jithra’s backing, to move against the necromancer could offend the death god, whose backing they need to crown a new king. Nobody who has any chance of kingship would dare cross Jithra’s chosen, even most of Jithra’s priests do not think Dire Lord Moldrech has a good chance of claiming the crown.
Drumarch asked the party whether the Three would have the firepower to take down the Dire Lord. Perhaps if they could get Moldrech to attack Feery’s Leap, they’d succeed both in freeing Kimenta from the clutches of undead overlords, but also lead the necromancer and his entourage to their demise.
The real challenge will be in working out the details of the trap…
Sender and Shegger did some scouting, enough to rough in a map of Kimenta and identify useful points of entry. The main roads on the north side of town are guarded, with prominent bands of undead roaming the northwest walls.
Just as the scouts returned, the party saved a young mage from a messy altercation with fearful peasants. The wizard (Hadoon) explained that he was trying to get out of town, even without his friends, because it wasn’t safe to be a wizard in Kimenta. Spellcasters and those carrying magic items are prime targets for the undead occupiers “interviewing” and “inspecting” them for signs of allegiance to some as-yet-undetermined foreign necromancer.
The party decides they should approach the city at dawn, possibly hiding their magic items beforehand.
The party worked swiftly toward Kimenta, making most of the trip along the steppes before descending into the rainy lowlands. While in the steppes, they fought off a pack of ghouls, but had no particularly noteworthy encounters until descending into the lowlands.
Near the headwaters of the River Edjekiu (“Pleasure’s Plenty”), the party encountered some zombies (?) being chased by the animated remains of a campsite. One of the zombies had a long and segmented tongue, and was much tougher than the others. No sooner had they defeated the zombies, but they heard shouting, clanging, and lightning-strikes nearby. Following the sound, they found Nattuk and a young Durju man fighting some more undead in the wreckage of a campsite.
The lad, Drumarch Saleleh, is the heir to a noble house in Kimenta, who fled with his (now deceased) servants when a necromancer brought an army of undead to town. Drumarch had as many magical trinkets and family heirlooms as he could carry, hoping to get to Feery’s Leap to buy their assistance in reclaiming Kimenta.
The party offered to travel with him back to Kimenta, and sort out the situation right away.
These items are Drumarch’s mememtos of his beloved grandmother, who was a potent wizard. He would like to hold onto some of these items, but is willing to put them to the cause of freeing his homeland and paying adventurers to help.
- Spellbook (mostly full, up to 6th-level wizard spells)
- Wand of Animate Object (14th level)
- Potion of heroism
- Wand of grease
- Potion of feather fall
- Potion of mage armor (10th level)
- Robe of useful items
- Wind fan
- Salve of slipperiness
- Wand of magic missile (9th level)
Loot from the undead:
The undead who attacked Drumarch’s campsite had these goods.
- Bone wand [This is a wand of unholy blight (8th level), identified by a cleric of the Sisters of Plenty in Kimenta]
- Sack of fresh eyes [stored in a patch of leather enchanted with a mildly preserving effect]
- Rune-adorned skull
- Feather token (fan) [Edane claimed this item]
- Various bones, entrails, and … bone dice
The skull is the sort of scrying device that the party has seen before; Sender destroyed it quickly, making sure it didn’t “look” at anyone’s faces.
This spellbook bears notes in crude Draconic with notes in Nekhmarti (written in Draconic script). It is not a magical tradition any of the party is familiar with, but some of the diagrams are clearly necromantic in nature, and the structure of some of the spells suggests the spellbook contains at least a few 5th level spells. The ink does not appear fresh.
The party left with all due haste, reaching the outskirts of Hurickta just after sunset. There, a fetching lass begged them to help her. She said she was out collecting herbs and lost track of the time, and when she went back to town the town was gone – just a clearing in the trees with a dolmen (standing stone) in the middle, guarded by a gigantic monster.
The party checked it out, though they probed the girl’s story as they approached, and discovered strange inconsistencies. “My gran is so old and sweet… so many teeth, I love her so!”
There was, indeed, no village. An ancient-looking stone stood where the square should have been, guarded by a massive and taciturn tree-ogre. When Sender openly challenged the girl’s story and Edane approached the tree-ogre for conversation, the girl clapped her hands in delight and summoned her friends for a fight.
The fey girl and her allies (undead?) molested the party, and it would have been a long slog, but a gold-haired and gold-eyed elf showed up and lanced the fey with holy light. When they realized how the battle had turned, the fey tried to flee, but did not succeed.
Anthaeron introduced himself to the party, and asked to travel with them to Feery’s Leap. They camped in the clearing until just before dawn, when the tree-ogre guardian told them to clear out. At dawn, the town emerged from the fog, none the worse for wear.
The party socialized with the residents to make sure they were alright, then proceeded to Feery’s Leap without further incident.
Feery’s Leap was more heavily fortified than they’d last left it, and small detachments of men monitored their approach. The Three greeted them upon their return, and welcomed them back. Debriefing (including the new members) waited until the following day.
The Three suggested three possible tasks for the party:
- revisit the subterranean ruins they found in the spring;
- locate a profane temple in the north, rumored to have something to do with destroying holy sites; or
- travel to Kimenta to pursue rumors of undead (a necromancer?) there.
The group decided to visit Kimenta, and look for the temple on the way back.
Oervind worked out a temporary binding for water elementals to propel the ship, allowing them to surge ahead to Sitoon despite the perpetually unfavorable winds and currents. A few insignificant skirmishes later, they arrived in a Sitoon full of refugee families – from inland and from the town of Kimenta in the north. Everyone’s worried about undead. Packs of shadows are rumored to roam the steppes, and perhaps come down into the lowlands at night. Several inland farms have succumbed to ghoul attacks. Farmers have abandoned their fields to find sanctuary in the larger towns and villages. Refugees from Kimenta claim that the undead have already attacked, but maybe Sitoon is too far away and insignificant to attract them.
Though there had never been an abundance of clerics in Sitoon, the priesthoods of Amala, the Green Sisters, and Ganesh have each produced at least one person capable of conjuring food. It is all they can do to keep the populace fed and moderately free from disease.
Endzela Thiessen offers to stay and help the local cult of Thída to tend to the masses. She will stay in Sitoon until the party sends for her (when they have a suitable location for her husband to teleport).
[A bit off course, but relatively sure of location; stopping on an island of shipwrecked Antillians. Something fishy… maybe wererats? Fled, found a goblin stow-away who claimed to be the last member of the tribe that previously inhabited the island. Shegger Gork joins the party.]
[The Eyetalon comes across a patch of fog, that gets progressively denser, until there’s a brief shudder of magic, and the fog clears. The water is a different color, the weather clear but cooler, and the nearby island is clearly not a part of the Archipelago. A little exploration confirms they’re north of Tarantis. Beeline home.]
[Sailing NW from Tula into the Stormdashed Archipelago toward the Straits of Oricha. Vicious night storm with storm-wraiths.]
Edane paid a clerk at the Port Authority of Tula to watch for Gux, Sender, or Feordin entering the city, then went about making tentative arrangements to leave Tula aboard another ship (she’d join the crew, the others would be paid passengers).
Lord Efrigul’s principal wife, Endzela Thiessen, notified Edane that she had almost completed preparations for part of her husband’s entourage to leave port, and would be ready in three days. Later that day, Edane received a visitor at home – Sender!
When the ship was under attack, Sender had grabbed a few items and jumped overboard. Once he was clear of the scavengers, he pulled out the Eyetalon(the mage’s ship they liberated in Session 33), and clumsily sailed out of the warped-space area and back into open sea near the Silver Skein. He recuperated among some Skeinish people, and eventually booked passage on a ship bringing breadfruit to Tula. The passage was pleasantly uneventful, and the Port Authority officials who filled out his entry forms delivered Edane’s message as instructed. Sender reported to the Free School for the entrance exam, where he scored well enough to gain access to the Lowlands district – Edane’s neighborhood.
The ship that was a burden to Sender was a boon to Edane. She collected money from the party to finish outfitting the ship, so they could take their own ship back to Sitoon, rather than book (expensive) passage from others. She bought waterclear sails, good rigging rope, food, and ample everclean furnishings to make the trip in Tulani style.
Lord Efrigul’s wife reported with her demi-entourage: her maidservant, her husband’s manservant, and her protégé. Technically part of her entourage, Oervind had spent the last few days on the Eyetalon, reading the captain’s log and studying the ship to the best of his ability.
The group set sail under ideal weather, and made good progress into the Silver Skein, where they encountered a flock of tropical harridans. Oervind summoned several elementals to occupy most of the flock, greatly improving their odds. Oervind and Seth-Durrash took heavy damage (especially the bugbear), but after felling a few harridans they chased the rest off.
For their efforts, the group scavenged from the harridans a ring of protection +1, a suit of studded leather armor +3, a composite frost longbow +1, and a composite fire longbow +2.
After the harrowing encounter with the cultists, the party and its hosts managed to reach the tumbling city of Vertigo without further calamity. While exploring the teeming markets, Edane encountered a familiar face, who introduced himself as Gâsh ab Jurash, a mortal servant to the trade prince Tchai Schavil.
After exchanging pleasantries, Edane explained her predicament to Gâsh, and asked how difficult it would be to get home. His master, he assured her, was one of the few souls who could get her (and her friends) home before the plane claimed them. It would be expensive, though. The trade prince would accept payment in goods or services, but services had a way of getting… complicated.
The group had collected some goods, including various coins of the realm: pearls, lotuses, and sand. Chief among these was the crystal salvaged from the cultists, which turned out to be an adamantine aspect. Aspects, as Gâsh explained, are specific qualities of items that survive after the item is reduced to sand. This particular aspect could be incorporated into a weapon or armor to make it effectively adamantium.
Unfortunately, the party simply did not have enough money to secure passage for everyone. Gâsh offered to keep their petrified companions, who should last a month or two before crumbling to sand and pearls. If the party could secure 1000 pearls per person (or 100,000gp), that would be enough for him to persuade his master to convey their petrified companions, assuming the statues are still in revivable condition. Edane, Sefu, and Seth-Durrash had a lively discussion about what to do with their petrified comrades, but ultimately pragmatism won out.
Gâsh took the trio to meet his master. Tchai Shavil immediately recognized Edane, and greeted her by (last) name. This was almost surely the merchant prince that long ago conveyed letters between her parents.
Once payment was made, the trade prince urged all parties to hold hands, and they “fell” up. After a moment of panic, they landed in the Quayside district of Tula. Tchai Schavill bid goodbye (for now), and slipped back to his home plane.
Edane dropped her companions off at the gates of the Free School for their orientation exams, and ran off for a bath and refreshments at her mother’s flat. Her mother was not home, so she left a tantalizingly brief note before returning to wait for her friends.
She had just finished reading the newspaper and started on its puzzle section when Sefu emerged from the school offices (Seth followed soon after). They both passed orientation, and obtained clearance to the Gardens district.
With a bit of research in the Gardens, Edane discovered that neither the_Swiftthistle_ nor the Bonnie Vixen had cleared the Port Authority since their disaster. Assuming they made it through the passage with a skeleton crew, she could have beaten her shipmates home, but the odds were against it.
When she emerged from her research, she found Sefu and Seth-Durrash watching some golem fights, which prompted Sefu to approach one of the golmers with some of the parts the party had salvaged back in the steppes. After a bit of negotiation, she decided they’d be better off treating the parts as historical relics, so they proceeded to the College of Memory.
At the College they found themselves arguing with an obstinate clerk about the possibility of their claims being valid. One of the college associates, the gray elf Oervind, interceded when he heard that they were ancient Orichalan artifacts. When he couldn’t refute her claims with a brief inspection, he was even more intrigued.
The party had been tasked with traveling to Tula to retrieve a scholar of the School of Memory, the professor Kadri Efrigül, and his entourage. Oervind had worked with lord Efrigül before, and decided to insinuate himself into the research venture — both as a matter of scholastic advancement and sheer curiosity. Efrigül’s office said it may take up to two weeks for the professor to complete his affairs and assemble his entourage.
Having secured mounts, Edaine persuaded Iyver and his lot that it would be exciting and interesting to aid them on their quest for more information, and perhaps a lead toward a way home. Perhaps someone in a larger settlement might conduct trade with Tula, for example, and allow them to buy their way home, or at least pass a message to their friends. The careening city of Vertigo seemed like the most likely candidate for such a contact — definitely better than their chances with the mysterious but presumably bustling city of Sigil, which is as difficult to find as it is to leave.
Settled on a course of action, the giant bird and its passengers began the trek toward mighty Vertigo.
On the way, they encountered a band of hell-scented basilisks and “cultists,” who attacked on sight. As near as the foursome could gather, these cultists followed some mad doctrine that apparently demanded the destruction of nonbelievers. They attacked with abandon and fought to the death. In the process, they petrified Nattuk and Serku
For their troubles, the group managed to scavenge a +1 scimitar of returning, a +1 composite longbow, 32 arrows, 3 arrows of accuracy +3, 12 pearls, one lotus, and a strange amber shard the size of a large cucumber.
Wuerle mounted a wyvern-like beast, and the four adventurers climbed aboard as best they could. Though their route seemed circuitous as they dodged debris, ominous beasts, balls of fire, and spots of bright and shadow, they eventually drew close to a gargantuan bird whose body was covered with barnacle-like woven “nests.” These, Wuerle explained, were the homes of his friends, and the great bird (whose wingspan stretched about 80’) was their home.
Upon their vertiginous arrival on the “deck” built on the bird’s stomach, the occupants came out to jeer at Wuerle, mocking him for his cowardice and avarice, and amazed that something “useful” seemed to have come from his skulking around the “pearl divers.” Their language was very difficult to understand, even with Sefu’s surreptitious manifestation of a tongues effect. Their speech freely borrowed from many languages in a riddle-like patois, further corrupted by abundant slang and obscure references. Still, she shared what she could of her communication skills with her friends.
The leader of the group presented himself, appearing to be a 5-year-old boy named Iyver. He and his lot, he explained, were adventurers and thrillseekers, who reveled in the wonders that the world had to offer, and delighted in getting into and out of minor trouble. Though he did not expect them to believe him, he explained, they should seriously consider joining his band, for they would never make it home with their wits intact.
As Iyver explained it, folks come from terra firma, but they don’t go back. Only a highly-skilled few had the ability to slip into other planes, and they were all either pirates of the most rapacious sort, or merchants specializing in interplanar trade, mostly slaves. Slaves, he went on to explain, were cleansed of their inconvenient memories before sale. Even if they were able to find a merchant interested in taking them home, they would be hard-pressed to find the means to pay him. The coin of the land is not gold, or platinum, but memories (blossoming lotuses of light or collapsed into pearls) and sand.
The group glibly refuted his pessimism, and Iyver would not belabor the point. “You’re welcome to hang with us for as long as you like,” he explained. “Eventually, you’ll see what I mean. If you can survive here long enough, you’ll be welcome among us as an equal. If you could actually find a way back while you still have all that sand in your heads, then you’ll have given us all some memories to share and savor for a long time to come.”
The lot then helped the foursome to get mounts for themselves: a giant wasp for Nattuk, a dire bat for Sefu, a winged serpent for Serku, and a hippogryph for Edaine.
Nattuk followed the Swiftthistle mostly in the shape of a tern, widely circling the boat and foraging on nearby islands. She occasionally communicated through Sefu’s link, but mostly kept to herself. The boat sailed from Gathran to a minor port near Malikarr, then south toward Warwick and the Pagan Coast.
While they sailed not far from the mouth of the Roglaron, Nattuk spotted a ravenous cloud of locusts whose spread and sound suggested that at least part of the swarm was of otherworldly origins (infernal?). She decided that the swarm was a danger to the ship, and alerted Sefu to the danger. The captain, trusting the advice of a seasoned adventurer, steered the ship into a strange region of still waters and twisted field lines.
Entering the unnaturally still and tense space, the air hummed more with restrained power than the drone of locusts. The captain explained that this was a dangerous but useful “shortcut” through the sea, by which seasoned sailors could cross great distances. Unfortunately, the mouths of these passages were often patrolled by pirates, brigands, and Ralluvans.
The ship’s mage Hoarfrost divined that there were no ships at either end of the passage, so under threat of locusts they pushed deeper into the unsettled stillness, until the world of well-behaved waters (and the threat of insect attack) disappeared in the gathering shadows. They estimated the transit to take six hours of what more resembled drifting than sailing.
About half-way through the transit, they drew upon another ship, apparently in distress. As they approached, they could hear some signs of commotion. About as soon as they were within earshot, the Swiftthistle was suddenly beset with teleporting brigands who seemed intent to grab goods, and incapacitate and grapple sailors, before teleporting away to points unknown. Though the captain activated some kind of teleportation shield and urged his crew to gather around him, they lost some valuable cargo and crew. When Nattuk saw some of her friends taken, she waited in bird form until one of the assailants was about to depart, and hitched a ride with him.
Once teleported, Nattuk flew to a safe distance to apprise the situation. The brigands had withdrawn to an exotic plane littered with debris and apparently subject to oddly arbitrary gravity. The brigands called out to their peers and to winged mounts of various sorts, and together they collected the plunder from both ships. They then made their way through the debris-strewn skies toward what could be generously described as a tent market on an asteroid.
Chattel, livestock, and goods were sorted separately, and Nattuk watched as crews of “merchants” scrutinized the salvage, including about two dozen assorted humanoids, all unconscious. About 10 minutes after her arrival, the merchants began auctioning the slaves to several dozen buyers. The merchants, brigands, and buyers were all bedecked in curiously mismatched gear, much of it threadbare finery. Though there seemed to be representatives of a dizzying variety of races and ages, they all appeared slightly blurry, as if each individual were many phantom figures that occupied the same space and moved in unison.
Without warning, some brigands dropped in from the sky, staging an attack on the market. The auction broke up in a panic, as the attackers pulled up the tents, grabbed goods, and even stole chunks of soil and stone from the flesh of the asteroid. Nattuk took that opportunity to approach the area where the chattel were gathered, and she quickly awoke all of her friends that she could find (Serku, Sefu, Edaine, and two shipmen from the Swiftthistle).
As they hunted for their possessions, they noticed some merchants, buyers, and raiders fighting over some chests. When Nattuk recognized that the merchant ringleader was among the combatants, they decided to join in the fight. They made off with two of the chests, and the ringleader fled with the third. In the commotion, they lost track of the shipmen, and the asteroid had been almost entirely denuded. A buyer approached them and introduced himself as Wuerle, indicating that they were in great danger if they stayed, and urged them to come with him to his ship. They reluctantly agreed, seeing no better option for finding their way in this strange, strange place.
The group boarded the Swiftthistle and returned to the island. The Wraithslayer and Mithanalay made it safely home, so the sea-king released the orchard of sailors. Repairs took another day to complete, at which point the Bonnie Vixen and the Swiftthistle returned to Gathran with the former captain’s blessing. They claimed the reward, though captain Tur’ant claimed the +1 dagger of returning. Each share of the treasure came to 3593 gp.
The _Swiftthistle_’s captain asked for 800 gp each for passage to Tula, which he estimated to take one month. Serku and Nattuk balked at the price, and Nattuk decided to find her own way there (or perhaps not go at all?). Under sail for Tula, the Swiftthistle encountered a savvy band of harridans, who gave them a difficult time. The Windless Ring managed to slay the harridans’ ringleader and claim her body, yielding an Avalonian frost composite longbow 1d6 cold damage per hit), a ring of protection +1, +3 studded leather armor of Tarantine manufacture, an Avalonian cloak of resistance +2 and a potion of cat’s grace.
The adventurers quickly examined the ship, and helped the Wraithslayer free his bride from the wards binding her. They were awestruck at the variety of spell components, exotic woods and spices, creature parts, petrified creatures, and magic items (or parts thereof). They found several outsiders, probably elementals, bound to various objects in an especially sturdy section of the hold.
On deck, the adventurers quibbled among themselves about how to interrogate and what to do with the Alryan mage. Feordin conducted a short interrogation, at the end of which the mage uttered a command word, causing the ship to shrink and fly into his hand. As we was falling, he tried casting a teleport, but the group interrupted him. Once ashore, Sefu took the mage aside, and conducted a private “session” that involved altering his memories. The revised statement of events is thus: they boarded the ship with the Wraithslayer, but he was too bloodthirsty for their tastes. They saved the mage from the Wraithslayer and allowed him to leave with the contents of the ship. To settle his blood-debt, the mage declared Gux to be his successor as master of the ship.
As soon as ship succession was sorted out, the Wraithslayer and the fey princess Mithanalay declared they were leaving. She turned him into merfolk and made him fey. Just before they left to return to her father’s court, the Wraithslayer threw them his signet ring and his handy haversack.
The haversack contains the following: three lengths of invisible 50’ hemp rope, invisible alchemical oil of grease (4 doses), nearly-invisible winch-loading grappling gun (30’ silk rope), goggles of night vision, alchemical bandages of minor healing (20 doses), invisible arrows (10), invisible incendiary arrows (5), alchemical powder of un-scent (enough to cover 9 cubic feet), alchemical powder of fire extinguishing (enough for 6 square feet) and three invisible masterwork daggers.
The mage left behind a few scraps, including his apprentice’s spellbook.
- 0: arcane mark, caltrops, light, launch item, mage hand, mending
- 1: animate rope, command flotsam, expeditious retreat, swift expeditious retreat, grease, greater mage hand, mage armor, magic missile, power word push, unseen servant
- 2: protection from arrows, sink, swim
Tucked into the apprentice’s spellbook is a scrap of parchment containing an invisibility spell and a cipher that mimics the effect of a quickened dimension door (requiring familiarity with Alryan arcane magic and a CL at least 3).
While Sefu was still interrogating the mage, Hoarfrost contacted the _Swiftthistle_’s captain, and requested a pick-up. The adventurers reconstituted the boat, secured the Wraithslayer’s small boat, and returned the ship to miniature form, then took turns sleeping unobtrusively in the relative safety of the beach. Their rescue arrived shortly before dawn.
The group studied Hoarfrost’s navigation maps carefully, and decided that the best option for finding the Wraithslayer was to try to track down the Alryan mage. The clay pits lay at the back of a narrow-mouthed bay, so they sailed to the mouth under cover of darkness. There, they found the harrowed and bitter Wraithslayer. Feordin wore him down with cheerful charm, until the Wraithslayer agreed to allow them to help him. His wife, the sea-lord’s daughter, was supposedly aboard the mage’s ship, and he was determined to rescue her or die trying. He’d secured invisible rope across the narrow channel. Once caught, he’d board the ship and wreak carnage. They had mere minutes to reformulate plans, as the mage’s sail-less ship was already gliding toward the channel. Sefu told the Wraithslayer and Edane about its mental link, and asked them to join for the duration of combat. They agreed, and then the boat hit the line.
The Wraithslayer grappled himself aboard, Serku ran across the water, Gux flew, and Nattuk became a bird. The others joined as best they could. Once on the ship, Feordin announced that anyone who jumped overboard would be free to swim away, and anyone who remained would be considered an enemy. There were only a few hardened mercenaries, the mage, his apprentice, and a half dozen common sailors. A few of the sailors were scared into a moment of resistance, but their resolve only lasted as long as they found themselves between their employers and the invaders. Gux and Nattuk teamed up on the spellcasters, and Feordin, Edane, Sender, and Serku took care of the mercenaries. The Wraithslayer went below decks, and Sender slipped into the master’s quarters. There, he had a few seconds to glimpse some open books (one of them a spell book, the other large and cumbersome). The mage shouted something in an elemental-sounding language, and around the corner from Sender a rather large air elemental suddenly burst forth. It bashed and battered several of the characters before it did enough damage to rip a passable hole through the ship (with Gux’s help). Then it flew off.
The sailors all fled, and only the mage hung on to the edge of his life. Nattuk broke and mis-mended his fingers, to discourage his spellcasting. In the span of a minute, they had overrun the mage’s ship. What had they gotten themselves into?
Navigating the famously treacherous waters around the isles and bays of Shalay requires attention during the best of times, much less when the waters are frothing with a sea lord’s wrath. Hoarfrost plotted their course carefully using all the divination and wind magic at his disposal, and delivered them to one of the shipyards. There, they found a bar to whet their whistles and scrounge for gossip.
Gux stayed behind to study the Bonnie Vixen‘s mage’s spellbook. He read several entries, but did not have time to scribe them all (strikeouts are scribed).
launch bolt, cleanse of alcohol, public whisper, stick
- 1: anchor, endure elements, grease, greater mage hand, rouse
- 2: balancing lorecall, vertigo
- 3: curse of arrow attraction,
Feordin found some news about the Wraithslayer, and Serku slipped away to the docks to investigate. Then Feordin and Nattuk started a brawl. After a few minutes of mopping the floors with the locals, they left a generous tip and went looking for the boy.
They boy, as it turned out, was just walking up the street toward them — and he was apparently oblivious to being followed by a pair of well-armed men in black cloaks. Another nearby figure, wearing a similar cloak, cast a spell that put the boy to sleep. The party rushed forward, Sefu did a quick dimension swap to get the boy out of harm’s way, but they were not quick enough to prevent the spellcaster from teleporting away with the two armed men.
Feordin and Serku compared notes, and pieced together the story of the Wraithslayer, who had come to Shalay recently, having lost his ship in a wreck and looking for a new ship and crew. Apparently, somebody stole something from him that sent him into a violent and vindictive rampage, stalking people, attacking them in the streets, and generally making a nuisance of himself. He suspected an Alryan wizard (?) of a grave crime against his honor, and nothing would stand in the way of his vengeance. There was an Alryan craft spotted around the nearby clay pits recently, and the black-clad Alryan and his guards/ minions have been skulking around town for six weeks or so, acquiring exotic materials. After months of nonchalant dealings, over the last week they’ve been wrapping up their affairs in town. They just made a large purchase of supplies that morning, hinting that they would not be back for some time.
Sailing toward the first of the possible ports, the crew encountered some exotic wood adrift in the water — the same type of wood that the Bonnie Vixen had been carrying when it left Gathran. Hoarfrost traced the sea currents, and that led them to an island south of the pirate haven of Shalay.
The fey-dominated island (local name: Hallowood) was little more than a steep spire of tree-covered rock. The entire area was swamped in unseasonably harsh storms, stretching north all the way to Shalay. On the beaches of Hallowood lay a careened ship, much of its cargo strewn across the beach and washing out with the tides. They inspected the ship, which appeared to have suffered a massive blow that almost tossed it onto the beach, perhaps three weeks ago. The crew were nowhere to be found, until the party realized that a nearby grove of crab apple trees bore a suspicious resemblance to human forms. Nattuk found a local sylph to interview, who laid blame not on the rulers of the island, but the fey ruler of the local waters, who was raising a most unseemly fuss.
While the rest of the party and the crew explored the beach, collected debris, and began salvaging the ship, Nattuk journeyed to the court of the sea-lord Galiol the Undertow (she took Seth-Durrash along for the ride). She won an audience with the Undertow, who raged that his daughter Mithanalay had been stolen from him by a mortal. Though he punished the crew and ruined the ship, the mortal escaped with his daughter, traveling north where his influence waned. Still, he sent his agents to hunt for them. While he ascertained that his daughter was in the region of Shalay, she disappeared under a “cloud” before he could fetch her. In his rage, he has raised storms in the normally calm summer waters, and has claimed quite a few ships (mostly poor fishermen who do not have the luxury of waiting out the storms).
Nattuk brokered an agreement with the Undertow: in exchange for the princess’s safe return, the Undertow will release the crab apple crew and return the skies and waters to their normal course. Unless they make an agreement with the island fey, though, they’d best be careful repairing the Bonnie Vixen. Abusing the bounty of the island could unleash the wrath of at least one fey lord, already rankled by the Undertow dropping an orchard on their shores. Rather than reaching out to the land fey, Nattuk just told the Swiftthistle not to use materials from the island.
They then repaired the Bonnie Vixen’s longboat to take to Shalay, with a small complement of crew and party.
Gathran, a port on the edge of Durju cultural influence, is a shady port, where money speaks louder than principles, and pirates and merchants are essentially equal in the eyes of the law. In this dubious setting the Swiftthistle and the Windless Ring came, asking after Reythul the Unflagging — who the party quickly realized was Runaway Reythul, a sailor who as a youth had so embarrassed himself during a Skandik raid, that he fled Sitoon in shame, never to be heard from again. Reythul had risen to prominence under Aishel Canning Wraithslayer aboard the Bonny Vixen before he attained a ship of his own. The Bonny Vixen and her captain left port a month ago, going west to unload some scavenged cargo, never to be heard from again. Reythul is offering a chest of coins, gems, and jewelry (easily 10k gp value), for the safe return of the Bonny Vixen with the captain’s signet ring. Should the Wraithslayer himself be returned, Reythul offers a +1 dagger of returning. If the ship is destroyed, proof of its destruction (and the signet ring) will also win the chest. Without the captain or the ring, no treasure will pass hands.
The Swiftthistle and the Windless Ring pumped Reythul and the locals for information, identifying the most likely course and ports of call for the Bonny Vixen, learning about Reythul and his crew, and the Wraithslayer and his crew. Then they set sail to the west.
h2. Session 28
Luckily for our heroes, a Tulani merchant-escort ship had been in Sitoon for the last week, having escorted a merchant’s daughter and her new husband, who were setting up shop in Sitoon. This escort ship, the Swiftthistle, was looking for work to defray the cost of their return home. Though the party did not have sufficient funds to buy the _Swiftthistle_’s services to Tula, the ship’s officers did have a compromise proposal.
Captain Mendoril Tur’ant had heard through his contacts that there was an individual in the fence port of Gathran, offering a chest of treasure in hopes of finding a lost ship captain. The _Swiftthistle_’s crew was certainly up to the challenge of navigating the treacherous waters of the northern seas, but they were escorts, not detectives. He proposed that the Windless Ring accompany them to Gathran, and that they team up to win the treasure, then split it in half. Then the party would have enough to fund the trip to Tula.
It seemed iffy and expensive, but less expensive and quicker than chartering a local ship to go to Tula, or waiting for another suitable ship to arrive. While Tur’ant’s business decorum flew in the face of northern sensibilities, the Windless Ring accepted the offer. They sailed for Gathran shortly thereafter, encountering good weather and enjoying the prowess of a fine Tulani vessel. Gux befriended the ship’s mage (Arthul “Hoarfrost” Gethrin), and Feordin got to know the ship’s bard (their windsinger, Anaris “The Ace”). Another officer, Edane Sildoah, expressed strong interest in the party — it was she, after all, who had brought them to her captain’s attention, and the success of this venture meant much for her standing among the officers.
Gux and Hoarfrost began trading arcane lore, each learning enough of the other’s tradition to allow them to share spells. Feordin and the Ace swapped some tales, and Feordin regaled both the Ace and Edane with some of the Skandik literature’s most rousing tales.
Most of the party had never been shipboard before, but they performed admirably (though Seth-Durrash struggled with sea sickness, and his horse was miserable). A day’s sail outside of Gathran, the ship encountered a flock of harridans (sea-coast harpies). The party handled itself with aplomb, and earned the respect of the crew. Instead of a rag-tag band of bumpkins, they were clearly a demonstrably competent group of explorers and adventurers.
The voyage back was uneventful, and when they approached Feery’s Leap, a party was under way. Manudhar had taken it upon himself to transform the basic shrine into one with alcoves and altars to various gods, featuring a large altar to Mitra. The party had just begun, at the culmination of his efforts to consecrate Mitra’s altar. When the group entered, the brazier at the center of Mitra’s altar hosted a foot-wide floating orb of light. The Three, their students, and most of the other denizens of Feery’s Leap were there, enjoying the food and refreshments.
The party gave the Three a short description of their findings at the party, and also spoke with Manudhar when they found one of the alcoves in the shrine bore a more-than-passing resemblance to the frosty apparition. He explained to them that she was worshiped in the “dream city” where he’d spent some time [per Session 20]. He described her as being a goddess of curses and retribution, her ear turned toward those who have been wronged and have no recourse. She was an old goddess then, widely acknowledged but quietly venerated.
The Three conducted a more detailed briefing the following day, and particularly appreciated the metal samples. They confirmed that the metal was analogous to the crystal-rimed metal they’d encountered before [per Session 12]. It was iron alloyed with adamantine, tungsten, lead, nickel, and traces of other metals, including very rare metals like hyrcanite. The manufacture of this metal is beyond all known technology, and they couldn’t even begin to imagine why ancient sources would use it for such ordinary applications as trap-door lids and ship anchors.
The Three offered a large reward for the metal findings, though they were once again unable to provide cash. Feordin suggested the party could undertake some efforts to help Feery’s Leap to gain more funds. As it turns out, they’ve reached out to several scholars abroad, notably in Tula. A formalized arrangement with a cabal of scholars there could yield great benefits to Feery’s Leap: better arcane study potential, greater exchange of knowledge and expertise, and a trickle of Tula’s prodigious wealth. The Three prepared a letter of introduction and some “teaser” research to deliver to one of their Tulani contacts, who has indicated that he would travel to Feery’s Leap. The Three just need the party to act as couriers and escorts — for the time being, on their own dime. They gave the group some ideas of what to expect in Tula, and how best to position themselves in the famously-expensive City of Mages.
The party, interested in the adventure but not appreciating the financial arrangement, agreed to the task and headed for Sitoon to find themselves a ship to Tula. To protect the secret of their people, Sefu’s elders transformed it into a Durju female.
Having dispatched the monstrous spiders, the group set about examining the site more carefully. They found a partial dig site, with a rusting anchor in a thick crystal rime. The area around the anchor was thick with a strange arcane feeling, like a foreboding marsh-fog. As they approached the anchor, ghost-like shadows of Gux and Sefu emerged. The party tried to parley, but after a minute or so, the phantoms attacked.
The phantoms were not nearly as difficult to defeat as expected. Once their bodies were disrupted, the energy condensed into an altar-like structure, which enclosed a wagon-sized space. As the party approached to investigate, the fragmented and dream-like image of a woman appeared in the space. The presence beckoned with gestures and empathic emanations, but her message remained unclear. She wanted something, and expected the party to do something, but what? The altar space grew thick with hoarfrost, and the figure seemed to suck the sound from the area.
Finally, Mac’Ka stepped forward and “agreed” to whatever the woman wanted — something about being lost, promises, answering prayers, and always an almost inchoate dread that they would find her.
Once Mac’Ka submitted herself to the figure, it turned into a pattern of light (some arcane sigil?), and it and the altar-structure crumbled into nothing. The space still had a strange feel to it, but much subdued.
The group examined the “anchor” for a while. It was definitely not made of gold as some rumors had suggested. It was, however, several times larger than any anchor ought to be. It seemed reasonable to conclude that its manufacture resembled the crystal-encrusted metal they’d encountered in earlier ruins [per Session 12]. Sender cleaved some of the metal to take back to the Three.
Mac’Ka grew bored of mewing kits, so she grabbed one of her horses to check up on her friends at Feery’s Leap. Though she had a brief scuffle with some wildlife, it only slightly slowed her down. Once at the mages’ compound, she encountered Sender, a passing acquaintance, and he updated her on some recent events. Sender also introduced her to Seth-Durrash, and suggested they go off to inspect this anchor that the Three had heard about. They “let” Sefu come along, and it was very glad to see Mac’Ka again.
While traveling the muggy tangles of the Jade River watershed is never comfortable, they were all glad for a change of scenery. It was the first time any of them had traveled these “backwaters” of Durju lands, and they were surprised by the stark contrast even to sleepy Hurickta. After a brief scuffle with a giant praying mantis, the quartet spent the better part of a day talking with the residents of various homesteads and thorpes, tracking down the rumored site of this giant anchor. The locals warned them that the region was known for producing large and dangerous animals, in addition to the sporadic rumors of strange things unearthed in the fields.
Eventually, they reached the Thanishta homestead, where the anchor was said to lie. As they settled down for a night with the Thanishta, they heard that large spiders had been drawn to the digging site, and the farmers hastily abandoned that field. Though they were clearly suspicious of the strangers, they welcomed the opportunity to reclaim the abandoned field.
The party set out for the field in the morning, where they found a mass of webs around the anchor site. As they approached, they saw a dire boar freshly ensnared in the webbing, and an assortment of spiders closing in for the kill. The party entered stealth mode and approached — until they saw an obscene bat-winged spider monster the size of Mac’Ka’s wagon. The flying spider shooed away the other spiders to sting the boar with its… tail? Melee ensued. Sender took the brunt of the damage, but the group coordinated efforts well, and made short work of the spiders, even the horrid flying beast (thanks largely to a spectacular fire blast from Sefu). Against all odds, Seth-Durrash managed to cast calm animals on the boar before it turned its attention to the party, and they stepped aside to let it leave peacefully (and lick their wounds and tend to the lingering effects of Sender’s poisoning).
After licking their wounds, the group went back into the ruins. During a brief inspection of the spherical crystal chamber, Serku directed his crystal familiar to try to channel energy from the blue-glowing stones on the chamber wall. A surge of power almost shattered his familiar, and rendered it inert.
Undeterred, the group went around the other tunnel, to the descending shaft that had spawned the crystal-crusted humanoids. Nattuk took the lead, so it was she who discovered more of the small crystal elemental-beasts. A long fight ensued, during which one of them almost made off with Serku’s familiar. It teleported away, but he grappled it and joined it in the teleport to its nest. A few moments later, a similar jaunt brought him back out into the tunnels, where a combination of smashing blows, grease, crystal swarm and aversion destroyed four of the five critters. The fifth they managed to incapacitate and subdue, for later… interrogation?
Seth-Durrash, Nattuk, Serku, and Sefu went out to the ruins where they’d fought the crystal-crusted beasts. They found and fought three of the monstrous crystal-studded humanoids, and emerged victorious.
It took a while to sort through the wreckage of the goblin camp, but the party managed to free Nanien’s brother. For compensation, she gave Manudhar a potion of heal. She took the 8 gnomish infants away, to remit to her fey patron. The goblin children, on the other hand, Sefu offered to leave for its people to collect. The crew accepted this, and scavenged the rest of the site, which yielded a horde of cold iron weapons: 52 arrows, 6 morningstars, 8 short swords, and 10 javelins.
Feordin boned up on his goblin-speak (courtesy of Sefu), and approached the bugbear (Seth-Durrash), who was making a pyre for the remains of his master. They got along pretty well, and Feordin helped him raise the pyre, after which the bugbear would be pleased to piss on the ashes of his domitor. He gave Feordin a few names and titles, and explained that his master had enslaved him several years ago, and lulled this band into lowering its defenses, at which point he enslaved their leader, too. He was using the band specifically to hunt fey much more than they would otherwise, and he worked to make them more effective at doing so. His death will help all the fey in the area breathe a little easier.
Sefu was horrified to discover one of the goblins with its skull cracked open and the brains missing, since brain-eating can be a sign of sophisticated corporeal undead — never a good thing for the living. Gux pooh-poohed his concerns.
Sefu indicated that its people would tackle the “shadow cloud” they’d seen earlier, but there may be some psychic effects (mind-erasing, memory alteration) used by the combattants to shield the populace from understanding the nature of the battle. Sefu’s people will go to inordinate lengths to protect the secrecy of their existence, power, and reach. Let everyone else see it as a night-time lightning storm, nothing more. Only those who share in a mental network are spared the “nothing-going-on-here” aura.
That night, while they supped on mutton stew, a storm flashed in the distance. Soon, they were overrun by a band of incorporeal undead, apparently lead by the one Gux had conversed with weeks ago. Manudhar saved the day with an invocation of Mitra’s cleansing light, obliterating most of the shadowy assailants. Gux, now well-equipped to fight untouchable foes, breathed a blast of ice on the shade. It tried to draw power from its dread liege, but it was unable to draw enough to escape. With a stutter of amazement, its tattered form dissipated forever into the ether.
Still itching for a “real” fight, Seth-Durrash and Nattuk sought out more critters to fight, and found a zombie bugbear, some wights, and some shadows. It took a little whacking, and Seth-Durrash suffered a level drain, but they otherwise escaped with no irrecoverable injuries.
In the bleary gloaming hours, Sefu suddenly and urgently roused the party from their well-earned rest. It said simply, “Shadows march. We must go.” It acted strangely, filled with deep power that allowed it to replenish the spell-stores of its comrades. It seemed preoccupied, almost possessed. It goaded them to the goblin camp, where they saw a black fog and heard the sounds of goblins in pitched battle. A dim buzz hung in the air, like the sound of a distant bullroarer.
Sender peered through his rod of farseeing, and Sefu reached out to share his senses — and boost them. Through the looking-glass he saw the fog was composed of hundreds of shadows, teeming and scrambling across the camp, heading north. Sefu communed briefly with a powerful distant presence, then seemed to return to normal.
Seizing the opportunity, the party attacked the remains of the goblin camp, picking their way through the fortifications while the goblins were distracted. Serku and Sender snuck down a southern path to a clutch of goblins who appeared to be guarding some tents, while the others dispatched the guards and proceeded to attack the apparent leaders of the operation.
Once the goblin arcanist was dead (no mean feat, despite a massive gout of fire from Sefu and ice from Gux), his bugbear defender started cutting down all the goblins within reach, before turning his attention to mutilating the remains of his former master. The remaining goblins fled or fell to Feordin’s arrows without further incident. The southern guards could not flee, for even as they tried to extract themselves from a stealthily placed grease spell, Nanien ensorceled them to sleep.
In the southern clutch, the group found several gnomish and goblin infants and toddlers, and the cold-iron-chained form of Nanien’s battered brother Voralein — beaten, but unbroken.
Hurring to the aid of their erstwhile comrade, the party found that Nattuk had handily dispatched the goblin riders. The second wave, though, was armed with weapons that had a deeper bite (cold iron). The crew handily defeated five more riders. While inspecting the goblin-guarded wound in the barren earth, the party noticed the extensive crude fortifications (palisades & minor earthworks) that the goblins had built. As they inspected, the goblins watched them intently, but took no further action.
Out of thin air, Manudhar appeared, clad in strange clothes and accompanied by an elfin lass. She had persuaded him to rescue her brother, who was held prisoner in the goblin camp. The party agreed to investigate the camp, but refused to take any immediate action. Disappointed, the fey woman (Nanien) slipped away from the material plane again, to await their return.
Later, while they made camp nearby, Manudhar told his companions about the last few weeks (months, for him).
While the rest of the group had gone to Sitoon to attend Shyala’s birthing, Manudhar had encountered a woman lurking in his dreams, whom he tried to chase and question. She “pushed” him with some talisman, and he found himself in a mysterious dream-city from which he could not escape. The city, larger than any he had heard of, was full of people who spoke a language that distantly resembled his own, but their lifestyle was completely alien to him. The denizens ignored him at first, though he discovered that he could get their attention if he behaved like them. If he acted in ways they would expect, they would treat him as if he belonged — so long as he stuck to the script. In this way, he found food and lodging.
The city was vast, on a scale that escaped Manudhar’s reckoning, and was organized around an austere walled enclave. The city and the enclave were called Silent Reflections. He tried at one point to use one of the “wagon golems” to travel to another city, but after a bit of travel, the construct “arrived” back in Silent Reflections. At that point, he decided to make the best of the strange situation, and found work at a shrine to the Mother of the Seven Springs (Hmámil Môdron), which seemed the most amenable to his strangely-silent patron.
After what felt like three months living in the city, he had become accustomed to the company of the mindless dream-actors, and feared he might eventually become one himself. One day, while idly listening to the chatter at the shop-shrine of the Light of Discovery, he noticed that one of the fey emissaries was actually fey, and she approached him. This was Nanien, who revealed a little about the place, and offered to return him to the material world in exchange for help freeing her brother from the goblin camp.
That night, another half-dozen goblin riders threatened their camp, but after the party dispatched three, the others fled.
With Gux still fuming, the party set off on horseback to return to Feery’s Leap. Along the way, they realized that the aloof Nattuk was a fey half-orc. She did not offer much explanation for accompanying them, but they welcomed the idea of a druid amongst them — especially with the continued absence of Manudhar. Nattuk shunned Sefu’s mental link, and thus was not privvy to most of their conversation. Feordin attempted to bridge the gap, perhaps more out of boredom than actual interest.
Along their route to the Charm Tree, as they passed near a taboo site, they spotted some goblin scouts guarding a depression in the earth. Without offering an explanation, Nattuk surged forward to engage them. She had her badger Tuka lure two of the dog-riders toward her, and dispatched the goblins handily. The party was closing in to meet her, even as a larger goblin response rushed to avenge their comrades.
The group spent some time investigating one of the batteries, and they used Serku’s spellthief power to tap the battery, allowing Serku, Sender, Sefu, and Gux to draw off an over-abundance of mana for their personal reserves. Feordin looked at the device, and impulsively flipped a switch, which seemed to improve the functioning of that particular battery.
After a little more exploring, they found another construct, a little bigger than before, and were forced to engage in combat again. In the course of combat, there was a “burp” in the out-of-sync batteries, releasing enough additional energy to trigger a mana burst. Shortly thereafter, the construct fizzled out for almost a minute, allowing them to more closely inspect it. They dispatched it, attempting to do as little irreparable damage as possible.
Using some of the extra energy skimmed from the battery, Sender procured Gux’s help in safely over-casting Tenser’s floating disc to bring the construct remains back out of the tomb. When they returned to the surface, they discovered that the blast had dealt substantial damage to the surface structures and civillians. Gux scolded them for building on such an unsafe site, although they insisted they had no prior indication of the danger involved.
Nattuk conjured a bird to deliver a message to the Three, who responded by teleporting in (while the party helped stabilize the wounded and shore up the remains of the buildings). The party gave the Three a tour of the tomb, and impressed them with their acumen and efficacy. The Three made short work of several slimes and oozes they encountered during the tour of the previously-untouched portions of the tomb.
The crystal in the middle of the tomb had a generously-edited biography of the “owner,” called the White Jackal (no gender attributed). The engraving claimed that the White Jackal was a student of the mind, and unlocked some secrets of longevity before placing itself in suspended animation. It worked to build the tomb with the assistance of its long-time companion, the Silver Manacle, a prodigious artisan who belonged to the Society of the Graven Hammer. There was mention of a cataclysm, which prompted them to build the tomb under the foundation of their summer home.
The Three were delighted to find a significant “crystal library,” with two mostly-intact “reader” devices. With a small investment of energy, the readers were capable of decoding information stored in each crystal, displaying the information in a crystal block mounted into the “reader” desk. The display could present pages of text, fine diagrams, or moving images with feeble sound.
There was also a construct in the library, vastly more complex and attenuated than the others, complete with sliding plates for facial expressions. It held a crystal in one hand, and almost seemed to be staring at it in a look of confusion, frustration, and despondence. Unlike the other constructs, there was no sign of an animating presence, or even the normal lattice that would hold one. It seemed more like… a puppet? A vessel? The Three did not seem to notice, since they were so excited about the library. According to Saynat, it was the most intact library they had found on the Steppes thus far, and an incredible find.
The group laid claim to the disabled constructs, hoping perhaps to someday repair and reanimate them. The disabled constructs will remain at the Desert Lotus outpost until they can retrieve them. They also have a claim on the articulated construct, but have chosen to leave it in situ. Sefu grabbed a device that resembled the Rods of Farseeing it was familiar with, though this is entirely mundane. It is a periscope that stretches from 8" to 30", and has a maximum magnification of 60×.
The Windspinners reported that it would take them some time and expense to repair the damage wrought by the mana burst, which Gux maintained was entirely their fault for having chosen the building site. Gux was also livid at the Three for allowing people to explore and build on the Steppes with so little preparation and investigation. The others could not talk him down, but were able to mitigate some of the venom of his tirades.
Nattuk offered to establish a new building site near the oasis, using her druidic abilities to create a strong foundation. As she was fortifying a suitable site at the edge of the oasis-pool, Gux noticed an energy line running from the north and stopping in the middle of the pool. He also found another line, and a truncated line coming off those two, forming what would have been a Y-juncture. The truncated limb pointed in the direction of the White Jackal’s tomb, and the northern line pointed toward Sihan’s Fall or the nearby ruin-site. The energy signature of these lines resembled what he found at the site south of Sihan’s Fall. He called Sefu and Sender into the water to explain his findings, and Sefu confirmed that the lines contained both arcane and psionic energies.
The Three flew back to Feery’s Leap to analyze some of the team’s findings. Before they left, they moved the stone block back into place, agreeing to keep it sealed and only accessing it via teleportation, to keep it safer from interlopers and bandits. The Three may eventually choose to awaken the White Jackal, but for now they’re content to tune the batteries to minimize their disruption of the environment. [Properly tuned, the batteries draw off 1-4 spell points from each mana-sensitive person per night, no more than 1/10 their total pool. They also draw off one point of ambient energy per round.]
The intrepid explorers decided to carefully study the whole foundation slab, which required some excavation. The Windspinners had not bothered to fully excavate the site, and paid little attention to the slab beyond its rough dimensions. As the crew dug, studied, wiped, and diagrammed, they discovered that the slab was pentagonal, with a jog out of the middle of one side. The Windspinners had erected all of their buildings on the slab, and the floor of one of them harbored the only detectable flaw in the stone: a fine seam, outlining a 5’ square patch.
After some deliberation, Gux had the resident blacksmith make an iron loop, and Dilrouk used stone shape to embed it in the stone. With a carefully-constructed hoist and several of the horses, they lifted the stone. In addition to being heavier than expected, the stone was much thicker, and they had to re-construct the hoist to accommodate a 5’ cube of solid basalt.
Setting the block aside, the party gathered their equipment for a foray into the depths, when a breeze carried the ripe odor of a newcomer, the half-orc druid Nattuk (with her giant badger ally, Taku). Although Songjoy greeted her warmly, the Windless Ring was not particularly interested in her company, and left for the depths without her.
Lowering themselves down a rope, the party navigated two flights of stairs guided by the light from Serku’s eyes. They then found themselves in a foyer of sorts, lined with human-sized statues in fairly good shape. Serku touched a crystal wall sconce, and channeled energy into it in an attempt to stir it to light. It briefly lit, but he could not stop channeling energy for almost a minute. The sconce briefly animated to swat at him.
They followed an eerie glow down a short passage to a large, purple crystal (4’ high, 8’ wide) that floated above the surface of a circular room, the floor of which was inset with glassy crystals. The floating crystal was inscribed with twin lines of text, in Classic Orichalan and an unknown language. The text was both a biography and a mysical inscription, part of a larger working. The crystal throbbed with light in time with the mana pulse, but it was not the source of the pulse. Rather, it emanated from the walls of the room, beyond which the party could sense some powerful devices humming in sync.
Feordin inspected one of the other four passages out of the crystal room, and he encountered a humanoid construct that attacked them. The spellcasters and manifesters found it difficult to use their powers, both because of the powerful draining influence of the pulsing devices, and because of the mana drought they induced. While Feordin took the brunt of the construct’s attack, Sefu launched some gouts of fire, and Gux slipped down a side passage. Luckily for him, he found not more constructs, but an access panel to one of the pulse generators. Gux crawled through the panel, and successfully wrested some energy from the corroded crystal bank that he found there. Once he tapped its energy, its pulse fell out of sync, and the mana-sucking presence weakened. Serku then tumbled past the construct, and slipped into another panel, where he used his spellthief abilities to draw energy out.
About that time, while the rest of the party fought tooth-and-nail with the construct, a cleaned and groomed Nattuk came down to inspect the commotion. While she and her badger did not inflcit much damage, the party benefitted greatly from another front-line combattant, and the construct fell shortly thereafter.
They spent about a half-hour prying open the construct to extract and explore salvageable parts.
Among the “postings” at Feery’s Leap, the group noticed a request for help from a newly-founded outpost. Another company, the Windspinners, built Desert Lotus as an inn and waystation for other companies in the employ of the Three. They have encountered difficulties, and request the assistance of a group with a capable arcane investigator. They offer 1000gp reward, plus 5000gp against future earnings, to any company that can save their outpost before their funds run out.
Feordin worked the resting adventurers for the locations of a few minor shrines to visit along their journey to Desert Lotus. The group purchased a large tent, another horse, and ample supplies to make the journey without recourse to a cleric. They plotted a course that would take them to a minor shrine, the small village of Shumash, and finally to the Desert Lotus.
Their journey to the shrine of the Dancing Rose was uneventful (aside from hunting game). They gossipped with the Utuni who tended the shrine, who warned them that the folk of Shumash “hunger for flesh.” After camping for the night, Serku found a giant scorpion in his boot. He blasted it with fire, but the killing blow came from Sender. Before leaving the shrine, Serku spotted an undead songbird, which fell to Gux’s wand. Later, another bird fell to Sender’s flying blade.
Approaching the village, they saw a band of several score Nittarach tending their dogs alongside the river. In Shumash itself, they discovered a bustling trade in Utuni slaves, and trade goods from Karak. In the village, goblins were almost as common as humans. The company stopped only to replenish their water supplies, and moved on.
They found the outpost atop a small rise, a three-storey building with two outbuildings. As they approached, someone ran to greet them, carrying a child on his shoulders. It turned out that the greeter was female, of giantish stock, and the “child” was a half-elf. They were two of the three surviving members of the Windspinners. They took the group inside for refreshments, where they found an inn built for seven-foot-tall folk and their guests.
The group spoke with the Windspinners (Songjoy the giantess, Dilrouk the half-elf, Nurzhan the Karakhan). They worked for the Three for almost two years before founding the outpost on a promising slab (the ancient foundation of some long-lost building) beside an oasis. About a month after they’d completed the first two floors of the main building, they noticed that spell energy did not renew as readily while they slept on the first floor. The spellcasters started sleeping upstairs, and they began building another structure on the edge of the slab. When the spellcasters noticed the “difficulties” had spread to the second floor, they posted a request for help with the Three.
Gux detected a strange “pulse” in the ambient energy. He bled a spell point into the air, and watched it become trapped in the pulse, drawing it away. The group agreed to conduct further studies in the morning.
The kobold settlement north of town lay nestled in the ruins of a centuries-old keep just inside the the Atalvane Woods. A flutter of rainbow color (dragonfly? fey?) alerted them to the presence of a kobold in a tree, waiting in ambush. The crew heard the sound of a baby crying ahead, and Serku snuck forward to investigate. Two hidden kobold spellcasters attempted to ensorcel him, but failed. He spotted a pit trap, which he deliberately set off, feigning falling in. He climbed into a tree to watch his plan unfold… but there was a kobold in the tree. His psychic attack unbalanced the kobold, and it fell to its death. He ran back to the group amidst a hail of crossbow bolts.
The kobolds seemed content to take sniping shots at the group, and the company was loathe to directly confront so many foes. They moved toward the center of the encampment, seeking out the source of the crying. Eventually, they spotted a swaddled human babe at the feet of a pair of kobold crones stirring a cooking pot. Serku also noticed a trip-wire, and suspected that several traps had been lain throughout the camp.
Sefu granted Feordin Gux’s fluency in Draconic, and bolstered his charm. Feordin parleyed with one of the crones (the second one was actually a zombie, and stared intently at him, possibly at his amulet). The crone claimed that the child was a gift from her son, purchased in town. A bit of dialog revealed that the kobolds had assumed that Karavi and the party were behind the recent attacks on their people, which the party attributed to the “grey kobold” they had killed. Feordin convinced the crone that they were not the responsible party, but may have slain it. He purchased the child, and vowed to return in several days’ time to see if the problem had recurred.
They made it back to Sitoon without further incident, and busied themselves for several days, during which there were no more reports of skulking kobolds or dream-hunters. They checked in on the kobolds, updated their company charter, and returned to Feery’s Leap. Mac’Ka stayed in town for a while to help her sister with the newborns.
When they reached Feery’s Leap, the group found that Manudhar had disappeared, leaving all his possessions. There was no sign of struggle, and no psychic echo of anything untoward happening in the room. Feordin packed the cleric’s possessions into the haversack, for safekeeping until further notice.
The company arranged for a suite of their own in one of the buildings behind the visitor’s center, providing them ample space to work, study, and rest (as well as a fairly safe place to store goods). Their quarters cost 40gp per month. After consulting with the Three, they took on another companion, the halfling Sender.
After debriefing at Feery’s Leap (where Sefu spent a very long time with the Three), the Three offered the party 3,000gp worth of enchantment. Gux opted for Cleymarch to make him a wand of magic missile (at CL5), Feordin chose a +1 enchantment on one of his weapons. Mac’Ka asked for the creation of some oils (potions) of magic weapon.
While Manudhar tended to some of the keep’s guards, the rest of the troupe took Mac’Ka back to Sitoon to await her sister’s labor. Alyssiya and Saynat flew to Sitoon on their own.
Stopping over in Hurickta, the old gnomish soothsayer talked to them as if she’d been expecting them, and made a passing comment about them “dreaming like goblins.” She told them that they’d be back soon, and then dismissed them.
Arriving in Sitoon, they found the town as lively as ever. When they entered the Three Comely Maidens, Shyala was already in labor, with Malou, Saynat, and Alyssiya at hand.
Serku, a human wharf waif, was in the inn at Shyala’s request, when he sensed a ripple of psicraft. It turned out to be something of a grey quasi-kobold with a few psionic tricks up its sleeve. It seemed intent on harming Shyala and her kits, so Serku and the troupe interrupted it. At the cost of a raucous bar brawl, they succeeded.
Serku sweet-talked Karavi into contacting the nearest kobold camp (in exchange for a pending favor), but Karavi ran into a bit of difficulty, and barely escaped with his life. Though Karavi refused to see them face-to-face (presumably because of his wounded pride), he gave them directions to the camp. Serku, Sefu, Gux, and Feordin then set out to find the kobolds.
The troupe studied the journals, which indicated the explorers had magically reassembled a number of artifacts during their digs, and hid them somewhere. Gux recognized illustrations of inscriptions in a dialect of Classic Orichalan, including illustrations of signage found in the subterranean ruins. The inscriptions on-site indicated that the crystal chamber was a dangerous “radiation laboratory,” and that technical manuscripts and a “crystal technical library” had once been several floors above.
Sefu’s meditations revealed that the explorers had pried open the door of the crystal chamber, and entered to bask in the fascinating blue light. Then the light flashed, and the crystals discharged into them, twisting them into the abominations that the party had faced earlier. One of their number was not transformed into a monster; he fought his former comrades and fled.
The troupe found a band of Nittarach, and between psionic language enhancement and Feordin’s natural charm, they quickly persuaded the goblins to reveal that a band of mantis warriors had been past about a day ago, bizarrely enough in the company of a Durju male, headed west. The goblins assumed they were headed to the charm tree, like most travelers seem to do (though why mantis warriors would care about the tree, and especially why they would travel with a human, escaped them). The troupe thanked them, choked down some horrid goblin ale, and rode immediately toward the tree.
Along the way, they found a skeleton walking the wilderness, with a backpack. They interrupted its journey, and found it particularly tough. It wore an amulet, which it immediately tore off. The amulet crumbled to dust, creating a mana-sapping aura. It shrugged off most of their attacks. Finally, a ray of searing light from Manudhar and some undead-disrupting blasts from Gux caused it to crumble to dust (though the aura did not subside). They took away the bag, which contained three of the now-familiar “scrying skulls,” which made good kindling that evening.
The following day brought them to the Charm Tree, a tree larger than any they’d ever seen. It was guarded by secretive fey, and bedecked with at least decades of gifts and trinkets on almost every branch. Much to their surprise for a supposed shrine, not a soul appeared to greet them, and the only signs of passage were the tracks of eight mantis warriors and a human. The mantids approached with the human in their midst, and left without him.
Feordin climbed the tree, Mac’Ka harvested the forest bounty, Gux read, Manudhar masturbated, and Sefu meditated. Feordin found a half dozen vine-covered figures in the tree, one of which seemed recent and could have been Durju. When he climbed down and fell asleep at the base of the tree, he dreamt, and experienced Sefu’s meditation-vision. The mantis warriors brought their man to the tree (the missing member of the explorer party, wearing only tar-like armor). They gave him some bone-and-sinew charms to hang on the tree, and he climbed up — after which they all left. The tree covered him in vines. They got the impression that the mantids had brought the Durju man to the tree to answer his questions, and he would come down from the tree only when his questions were answered.
After resting at the Charm Tree, the troup returned to Feery’s Leap without significant event, and made their report to the Three. The Three, in payment for their work and the goods they returned, offered to forge an enchanted weapon (+1). Gux found enough time to study and transcribe many of the spells from the salvaged spellbook, and Mac’Ka made her way back to Sitoon to check on Malou’s pregnancy.
While Feordin and Manudhar excavated the collapsed passage, Mac’Ka, Gux, and Sefu explored the rest of the intact tunnels. They came across a hole that had once been covered by a large disc (metal, with a frost-like coating of crystal). Gux felt a course of mana flowing below, much like at the dig site, and they saw a faint blue light coming from the hole. Looking down the hole, Mac’Ka saw metal rungs lining a tunnel going down — and several strange figures racing up. The creatures immediately launched a manic attack. They looked like badly deformed and twisted humanoids, covered with a thin skin of crystal, and they exuded an aura that interfered with magic and psionics. Sefu managed to frighten one away, and the commotion of combat brought Feordin and Manudhar in to help — which was good, because these crystal critters dealt a lot of damage, and nearly killed Mac’Ka. It will take a while for the fur on her stomach to grow back.
After defeating the abominations, the group moved the lid back into place, and locked it with a bit of stone shape. Then they went back to digging, with no further interruptions.
Once they’d broken through the cave-in, they found a small room where another band had recently made camp (before the cave-in). The camp had been disturbed somewhat, presumably from the cave-in. While searching the site, they attracted the attention of some crystalline spider-crab beasts, one of which stole Manudhar’s holy symbol. Much to Gux’s consternation, they proved to be immune to cold, and Manudhar was similarly disappointed when he summoned a fire elemental, but Manudhar’s morningstar was quite effective. Feordin found a cook-pot to be just as effective. When one of the crystal creatures stole Manudhar’s holy symbol, Mac’Ka lept after it, following it into the adjacent room. By the time the rest of the group had taken care of the other one, she’d grappled it and smashed it to pieces against the wall.
The room that Mac’Ka found was a large polyhedron, accessible via a partially-opened round door. The room was carpeted on every surface with thumb-sized crystals. On the far wall, some of the crystals gave off that same blue glow. With some work, they chipped a bit of a (non-glowing) crystal to take home.
Also in this room were the personal effects of a band of adventurers, and their armor seemed to have been burst from within. The magic items had been destroyed (all gems and crystals pried out, and a wand trampled), but a spellbook and two journals were partially intact. While there were goods from five people scattered on the ground, there were only four sets of clothing. Presumably, these were the remains of four of the five explorers they’d been sent to find. But what of the fifth?
In the debris, they managed to salvage the following:
- Crystal “sculpture” (A clump of gems and crystals, which were being “welded” into the shape of one of the crystalline creatures. Were they reproducing?)
- Gold and silver totaling 257gp
- Ruined magical weapons (still masterwork, though) that might fetch 750gp
- A partially-salvageable wizard’s spellbook with the following spells (Spellcraft roll suffers a DC of +1d20 due to damage to the text; strikeouts have been scribed): (0)
caltrops, launch bolt, stick, breeze, slapping hand, simple bed-, (1)-unseen servant, true strike, featherfall, master’s touch, spontaneous search, cutting hand, repel water, dead man’s eyes, switch outfits, law of simplification,(2) knock, locate object, battering ram, force ladder, surefooted stride, read history, (3) heroism, regal procession, amorphous form, reverse missile, (4) know vulnerabilities, time to act
- The wizard’s journal, mostly in Gishmesh and Elvish, with musings, diagrams, a little magic theory, and some inscriptions transcribed from artifacts.
- The bard’s journal, with character sketches, illustrations, drawings of artifacts, and cryptic notes that may be trade secrets.
Sefu returned from its visit to the enclave… and all did not go well. Apparently, they were offended that Sefu was consorting with outsiders, in violation of their interpretation of the Bleak Thresholds (detailed on Sefu’s character page). They declared that Sefu’s Elders were in error, and started something called a Dissent, which sounds like some kind of cold war. They punished Sefu for having a child, too — even though that happened a year ago, and it already received punishment from its own Elders. They cut out Sefu’s reproductive organs, healed the wound, and told it that the Windless Ring are trespassers, to be turned away with all due force.
Sefu’s Elders provided it with a little more information about the boundaries around taboo sites, including how to recognize the difference between a posted boundary and one that is actually dangerous. Sefu was not in a condition to go into greater detail at this time.
Manudhar had a pre-dawn dream/ vision/ visitation of a celestial lion, which showed him how to summon some celestial creatures with his summon monster spells, in addition to fire elementals.
Sefu’s contact with the local enclave wasn’t all bad. Before they got all uppity, they revealed that there had been monitoring the digging crew, and had noted several nomad bands in the area before and since the crew disappeared. There are two bands of nittarach, one of ‘ummarkka, one of humans, and one of mantis-folk. At Feordin’s urging, the troupe rode back to the river, figuring that any nomadic bands would be likely to come that way for food/ trade/ water/ wood. Sure enough, they found an ‘ummarkka band. Borrowing Sefu’s psionic-empowered fluency in ’ummarkka language, Feordin befriended the band, and one of their young warriors (Shits-When-He-Giggles) led the troupe to a dig site, where a group had made camp for weeks, until maybe a month ago.
At the site they found an 80′×80′ hole, which went down through many layers of soil until it struck a large, grey slab of stone. The excavated soil carried a faint whiff of transmutation magic, but the rest of the site was dead. The slab at the bottom looked almost as if the stone had been welded to form a massive, unbroken piece. Six feet or so beneath the stone, Gux could sense some kind of conduit that hummed with magic. Unfortunately, there was no apparent way to get to it.
While Sefu and Gux were scratching their heads at the bottom of the dig, Mac’Ka noticed a pole sticking from the earth nearby (maybe 400’ distant). They gathered the troupe to inspect, and found another camp, used briefly, probably about as old. At this site, they found an old, dry well, with a sturdy knotted rope running down, clearly for climbing. At the base of the well, an underground tunnel had been broken through to reveal a tight shaft down (where a rope ladder had recently been affixed). They climbed down the ladder, to arrive in the middle of a narrow access tunnel of what was once clean-polished stone, much like the slab at the neighboring site.
The access tunnel was about 5’ wide and 6’ tall, unadorned save for some corroded metal bars at approximately waist-level. Following the tunnel west and then south, they found a region where the stone had eroded, shedding sand and flakes, and some tunnels suffered collapse. They came to a large room that was still mostly passable, and at the far end of the room they found a very recent cave-in, blocking further progress. Feordin determined that they could build some buttresses, and dig out the tunnel — given several days of work and ample materials. They agreed to scour the campsite for materials, and excavate.
The Windless Ring and its tag-alongs cleaned up the ghouls and camped in Norikhan. While on watch, Feordin spotted a strange bird flitting around in the gloaming. On closer inspection, it appeared to be undead. He clubbed it, and burned the remains. After that strange encounter, they decided to watch very carefully for undead weirdness as they followed the river on their approach to the shrine of Sihan’s Fall.
Sihan’s Fall is a few miles north of the river, and there’s a path from the stony rapids to the shrine. Tucked in the crook of a tree and facing the crossing, Mac’Ka noticed a humanoid skull. Manudhar detected a faint whiff of necromantic energy around it, so Feordin threw a stone to knock it out of the tree. It fell with a crash, shattering into hundreds of pieces. Gux spent the better part of an hour investigating the pieces and using Mending magic to reconstruct most of the skull, while Sefu meditated to read psychic impressions on the space, looking for images of how the skull got there.
Gux discovered that text had been painted in mud or something on the outside of the skull, and carved into the inside. The carving on the inside had a strange quality to it, almost like the rasp pattern of bugs gnawing on wood. Both were in a very concise hand of Classic Orichalan, part of an arcane effect (necromancy/ divination). Gux opted to take the partly-reconstructed skull back to Feery’s Leap for the Three to inspect.
Sefu’s investigation gave it a collection of hazy images, among them a glimpse of a skeleton approaching from the south, with a bulging sack slung over its shoulder. It took a skull from the sack, put it in the tree, and continued north. It appeared to be traveling alone.
Feordin and Mac’Ka scouted ahead to the shrine, which they found thankfully intact. They did find, however, another skull in the trees. This one had been roughly covered with vines and swaddled in mud (dweomer-suppressing mud, no less). They introduced themselves to the tenants of the shrine, gathered the rest of the party, and spent the afternoon speaking with the locals in more detail.
The shrine/ settlement of Sihan’s Fall is the site of a centuries-old tower keep, once home to a wizard named Sihan. A stalwart collection of herbalists, healers, and huntsmen have made a village in the shadow of the ruins, where they produce special poultices, potions, and handcrafts. Two above-ground floors of the tower have been restored, and part of the cellar is still navigable. The fortifications are intact enough to ward off the occasional raids, and several magical defenses still function (the Three once helped to repair the lightning-ballista). They communicate with traders in the local (Durju-like) tongue, or in Hobbit.
The shrine keepers reported that the band of explorers had come about 6 months ago, and would make forays to the south for a week or two at a time. They found something of interest, but they expressed frustration that their expedition was yielding only items of scholastic interest, nothing that they could parlay into significant wealth. They didn’t even encounter many creatures, mostly just rock and dust. They spent much of their time and effort digging and sifting through the dirt, and became increasingly dispirited as time went on. About 6 weeks ago, they left for one last dig before returning to Feery’s Leap, and they did not come back.
Feordin told the shrine folks about the skulls, and they brought down the camouflaged skull from its hiding place. When Manudhar belatedly thought to cast Hide from Undead, Gux decided to give their “watcher” a message:
- We are on your trail… your hold on this area is coming to an end. This influence on this region’s natural timeline is no longer acceptable.
Then they hid themselves, inspected the device carefully, and smashed the snot out of it when they were done. Gux kept just a fragment of the skull, to be reconstructed later for the Three to review. The troupe did not stage a full performance, but Feordin sang some songs to entertain the shrine folk, and he taught their bard a Skandik song. They gave the shrine 47gp and most of the salvaged food, Manudhar picked up some silver powder for making holy water. The shrine folk gave them some itch-balm salve, and powder to keep away fire ticks and golden chiggers.
In the morning, the troupe headed south, to the location the explorers were supposed to be excavating. As they drew near, Sefu pointed out that they were drawing close to another taboo site, and they were also close to an enclave of its people. It asked that they take a 5-mile diversion, so it could make an overnight stop at the enclave. It left the group near sunset. A few hours later, while Gux was journaling on first watch, he spotted shadowy figures. The group was assaulted by a half-dozen shadows under the direction of a wraith, who had a personal message for Gux: “My master has received your message, and shall soon give you the opportunity to serve at his side.”
Manudhar had more trouble than usual with the shadows, and the wraith was pulling its punches — until Gux hit it with a few strong spells. Then it attacked the horses for some cheap hit points, driving the horses to a fear-frenzy. Mac’Ka set the horses free, so they could escape the wraith, while Manudhar nearly died from shadow attacks. Finally, he managed to turn most of them, and the wraith fled into the ground, vowing to see Gux again soon. Manudhar managed to heal the damage from the attacks, though it took him much of the evening.
The party reached the fords of Norikhan, where they found that all the rafts were on the other side, and nobody was present to help them across. Mac’Ka walked across the rope, and poled a raft back. They conveyed their horses and their wagon to the other side, before inspecting the encampment.
The encampment had clearly been in use until very recently, and a disturbing silence hung upon the huts. Closer inspection revealed the smell of sickness, and a formidable number of ghouls (and a ghast). They made it through the encounter, but several of the party were bitten, and may have contracted ghoul fever. Perhaps someone at Sihan’s Fall might be able to provide assistance?
After searching the encampment for bodies, the party noticed that the ghouls had sigils carved in their undead flesh. After careful analysis, Gux was able to reconstruct the letters of an ancient Orichalan poem/ prayer, in which Vassarin offers homage and veneration to the Devouring Darkness, Whose Touch Dissolves All Bonds. Gux made note of the text, after which they promptly cremated the bodies, ground the bones to dust, turned the dust into the soil, and sprinkled it with holy water.
While the ghouls had destroyed much of value in the encampment, the party salvaged the following:
- 25 servings moonshine (strong and harsh)
- 30 servings dried fish
- 60 servings dried figs
- 17 fresh eggs
- 1 gold ring with garnet (25gp)
- 1 potion of cure moderate wounds
At the fords of Norikhan, the intrepid adventurers made camp for the night. In the wee hours before dawn, during Manudhar’s watch, they were beset by a pack of ghouls. Manudhar managed to rebuke them, but one of them channeled power from somewhere, and the ghouls were no longer intimidated. Manudhar brought them back to heel, but they were emitting some strange dark fog, which seemed to wither their undead flesh. After the ghouls were dispatched, the fog coalesced into several shadows, which proved to be a tough fight. Manudhar’s fire elementals saved the day. The shadows were loath to touch them, and were more susceptible to their attacks than those of the rest of the party. Sefu felt particularly helpless dealing with the shadows, though it did absorb some of the Strength damage intended for other party members. Manudhar was able to undo most of the Strength damage, though his energy will be somewhat depleted for the next day, when they reach the seasonal encampment of Norikhan.
After the struggle, the party noticed freshly-scribed Draconic or Orichalan runes scribed into the ground, almost as if they were impressed into the soil by an impact. While the experience was somewhat harrowing, the party emerged without serious damage to their sanity.
The merry quintet struck off again for a journey to the trading village of Norikhan, and along the way found a band of goblins rummaging through the ruins of a nomadic camp. The goblins, mounted on dogs, presented significant resistance. Only one of the eight goblins escaped. Most of the “treasure” from the encounter was the nomads’ food supply, though the goblin leader had a few notable goods.
- 15 days’ rations
- 10 servings bad ale
- 8 servings nasty goat cheese
- 8 servings dried goat
- 80 preserved eggs
Goblin Leader’s goodies:
- 1 potion of extra healing, Sefu
- masterwork alchemical silver dagger
- bag of 6 gold teeth (4gp)
- eye amulet (strong arcane aura of divination, faint aura of enchantment), Feordin
Gux studied the amulet, a mummified eye on a necklace of sinew. The eye turns to look at things, though does not seem inclined to move more than that. Simply handling the eye makes the user more aware of the environment, and that’s clearly not the full extent of its utility. The goblin leader wore it around his neck over his armor.
The crew made the rest of the journey to the fords of Norikhan without incident.
The company +2 set off to find the lost explorers. They’d have to cross a large river, but Mac’Ka remembered a seasonal village at the fork in the river (it’s on a halfling trade route). They spotted a small band of goblins, paused at the shrine of Fair Corru the Martyr, then proceeded northeast. They found a gravesite with crude Gishmesh-scribed markers, but the bodies had dug themselves up. Runes carved into the earth nearby implied divine magic. Sefu and Manudhar made a warning-marker, Sefu left a wind chime, and they followed the corpse-trail north.
The next day, the trail suddenly veered southwest, and they turned to follow. They quickly realized where the trail was leading. Feordin (with Sefu’s help) tracked admirably, but there was too much ground to cover. They encountered signs of a scuffle, which looked like the walking dead had acquired some dog-riding goblins (no bodies left behind, just more runes — this time, blood soaked and with bits of marrow). They rode faster, trying to catch up. Night fell, and still they continued. Just as they approached the martyr’s shrine, they were overcome by ripping pain, nausea, nosebleeds, and migraines. Mac’Ka snuck ahead to investigate, but she too was overcome when she reached the site of destruction, where once the shrine had stood. When the others arrived, they too succumbed to another wave of nausea, then carefully investigated the site. They found a crater about 20’ wide and 6’ deep, with a patch of vague nothingness in the middle, maybe 12’ wide and at least 10’ tall. The crater was lined with ashes, crumbling-dry corpses, and strangely undisturbed runes soaked in blood and adorned with bits of marrow. After several hours investigating, they raced back to Feery’s Leap to find the Three and make an urgent report.
The Three flew them to the shrine site, and indulged in several hours of investigation and discussion. The runes, seemed to be very specialized ancient Orichalan. One rune echoed with divine magic, the rest were arcane. The divine-magic rune seemed slightly at odds with the arcane set, but why? The dessicated or disintegrated remains found onsite may account for all the undead. The runes quickly faded, the Three cordoned off the site and assigned guards, and the wound started to close. Meanwhile, the company spent two days resting and reflecting as the Three studied and discussed. The Three told them that further research was needed before they could recommend any course of action. Meanwhile, they still needed to know about the missing explorers…
Gux recommended establishing some kind of tracking magic be used on all the explorers, that would at least indicate whether they were still alive (and a direction/ distance would be nice). Alissiya said that was more of a clerical gig, and they didn’t have anyone to foot the bill. Feordin suggested that he might be able to track down a Skandik priest, if given some time and swift transit. Nothing was decided yet, but everyone wants to make it a little safer to keep track of the explorers.
The Three may not be ready to take substantive action regarding the “undead menace,” but they have issued a decree that all mortal remains on the steppes must be protected from undeath or burned to ash, and any bodies found must be treated as needed.
The company, Sefu, and Manudhar returned to Feery’s Leap, and consulted with the Three. They introduced Manudhar and Sefu to the Three, and explained the demise of the ranger Feridian. The Three were pleased with the group’s success, and found Sefu intriguing. Alissiya flew Mac’Ka to Sitoon, to enchant her wagon to ride more smoothly, Gux wrote a few scrolls, Manudhar made himself useful in Feery’s Leap, and Feordin familiarized himself with Feridian’s bow. After selling most of Feridian’s possessions, the group divvied up 1500gp (300 each). Aside from the bow and some nice arrows, all they kept from the ranger’s effects were two masterwork daggers (which Mac’Ka took), and some healing potions and bandages.
The Three asked the group to very carefully check out the last-known location of a band of explorers. They were supposed to have returned with preliminary maps of a “site of interest” several weeks ago. Whatever thwarted the explorers may still be there, so the utmost caution is advised. The site lies just past the threshold of the Chitinous Waste, and Sefu indicated that it is near a dromite settlement and a taboo site.
The company and Sefu trekked back toward Feery’s Leap, and encountered a pair of dire weasels on the way, which fought to the death. Feordin skinned them expertly, and prepared the hides for further treatment. Mac’Ka suffered significant damage in the scuffle, and Sefu initiated a telepathic link with her, to channel some of her injuries to itself and apply healing. It asked her to explain the link to the others, but she needed time to think about it before acting on this strange revelation.
The following day, they veered slightly off course to visit the shrine of the White Briar Rose (shrine of Fair Corru the Martyr), an utuni-dominated shrine of healing. They exchanged hospitality tea, and Sefu brought the priest and most of the group into the mindlink to communicate more effectively. They complained about assaults from some unusually brave kobolds, and suggested that a traveling cleric, Manudhar, might assist them in clearing the kobold camp. The group set off immediately, with Feordin and Mac’Ka scouting ahead.
Though Feordin and Mac’Ka failed to detect anything amiss, Sefu smelled trouble just in time to avoid being surprised by a kobold ambush. They made quick work of all eight. Manudhar frightened one away with Cause Fear, and Feordin skewered one on the end of his sword, using it to intimidate the rest. Gux tossed some very impressive snowballs, and Sefu did a dimension swap to trade places with Mac’Ka for a good attack setup. Unfortunately, though combat ended quickly, they made enough of a disturbance that they were sure the kobold camp would be prepared for them.
Still, Feordin and Mac’Ka managed to sneak around the camp, and Mac’Ka stationed herself at the back for a sneaky attack on the Nekhmarti boss. Then Feordin gathered the rest of the party, and charged screaming into battle with the boss. With the camp focused on the rest of the gang, Mac’Ka launched herself onto the boss’s back, successfully grappling him and raking him viciously with her feet. Swarms of kobolds piled on Feordin and Mac’Ka, while Gux tossed snowballs, Sefu tossed a bolt of fire and a little fear, and Manudhar summoned a sword of force and channeled some healing magic through the link to Feordin and Mac’Ka. The tide of battle swung wildly, but the heroes emerged victorious, taking one prisoner for interrogation.
As it turns out, the Nekhmarti boss was trying to turn the kobolds into an effective band of brigands, filling their heads with tales of draconic heritage and riches. Several kobold men, and most of their women and children, escaped the camp before the company arrived. Though they took most items of value, some supplies and the personal effects of the fallen can be traded at the shrine for 300gp worth of healing supplies and potions, though they do not have the goods to offer anything further. The company is welcome to return to the shrine for healing at any point in their travels.
The winsome trio met with Cleymarch, the outward-facing member of the Three. From his explanation: Feery’s Leap is not just the redoubt of three powerful magi, but also a research center, from which they send explorers to study the interior of the Steppes. There seems to have been an Orichalan presence in the Steppes millennia ago, and some scant evidence remains to this day. The Three seek a deeper understanding of the history and present condition of the Steppes. Unfortunately, sometimes their best explorers go astray (or come to bad ends), and they must send others to investigate. The lost ranger, Feridian Mulhollar Shail, was last known to be scouting a mound a day’s ride east of Feery’s Leap, and is believed dead.
Gux suggested equipping explorers with an enchantment that would convey some information to the keep (living, direction, distance?).
The troupe performed in the evening, which garnered them some soft rations and hard beverages (6 servings and 8, respectively). Feordin tried to woo the mage Alissiya, and was gently rebuked. Gux engaged Saynat in conversation, and exchanged a little background. Mac’Ka experimented with adding tumbling to her dance routine, but found balancing moves much more suitable to her style. Gux traded healing potions for spell access.
They left with fresh horses in the morning, and made a fairly uneventful trek across the savanna. They camped for the evening, and Mac’Ka scouted under cover of darkness. She noted a pack of hyenas devouring something, and led the group back in the morning. The carcass had been burned, and the bones crushed, and the tracks lead to the mound nearby. There, they found a cold campsite, and tracked the dromite Sefu Mannech to its hiding spot. It engaged them in conversation, offered the remains of the ranger, and agreed to accompany them back to Feery’s Leap.
All the ranger’s effects (on person and on horse) are with Sefu. He had a masterwork longbow +1 with a collection of arrows (normal, non-magical piercing, magical fire). His masterwork leather armor is damaged beyond mundane repair, and his masterwork short sword is broken (with a piece missing). His masterwork daggers (2) are intact, and his pack and saddlebags contain healing potions, enchanted bandages, pouches of medicinal herbs, vinegar-water, ale, rations, enchanted flint arrowheads (for fire damage), and a partial sketch of the area. Two pounds of ash include one gold tooth. He also carried gold and gems worth 1100gp.
The acrobat, the arcanist, and the orator made it to Hurickta by nightfall, where they procured a space at the inn. Feordin went to see the village elder, Hallarane (and met his comely granddaughter, Marissa). Hallarane said he’d send out some men at first light to collect the lead ingots. The next time the company comes through Hurickta, Hallarane will have a reward for them.
By the time Feordin returned to the inn, Mac’Ka was warming up with a little contortion to amuse the (four) guests at the inn. Upon Feordin’s arrival, the performance morphed into the tale of their journey — Feordin spoke the tale, Mac’Ka interpreted it in acrobatic dance, and Gux lent a little sparkle with magic. The collection tray passed around, and their rousing performance led the innkeeper to summon Bayani the fortune-teller, who healed their wounds. [lodging 3s 20c, tips 4s, healing 4s]
The trip from Hurickta to Feery’s Leap went pretty smoothly, until they began the climb to the plateau. There, in the confining space between boulders, they found the corpse of a pack-horse, covered in a swarm of centipedes. The battle was especially tough for Mac’Ka and two of the horses, but they emerged victorious, and made it to Feery’s Leap without further incidents.
At the citadel, they secured lodging (complimentary because of their contract), and paid 3g for horse healing. The lizardfolk druid Shimah healed them from the centipede poison, and Gux realized that the oasis is a magical node. They have been ushered into the tower to meet with the Three.
Gux, Feordin, and Mac’Ka won a contract from Feery’s Leap to find a ranger lost in the Glow Worm Steppes. Due to time constraints, they decided to leave Mac’Ka’s wagon behind, and travel on horseback. Feordin wooed his contact (the wife of Three Comely Maidens’ stablemaster), and secured horses for the two men. The three followed the river from Sitoon to Hurickta. Along the way, Mac’Ka narrowly avoided a snare set by a trio of forest gnolls. The adventurers fought awkwardly, but were ultimately successful. At the gnolls’ camp they found a handful of silver (36sp) and a large pile of lead ingots bearing Hurickta’s seal (too many to carry).
A few days’ sail north of Edominar lies the mighty city of Tarantis, the major Gishmesh city and heart of a major network of pirates. A few days farther, just off the major trade routes, the booming town of Sitoon sits at the mouth of the Jade River. Once a sleepy fishing villiage, Sitoon has tripled in size in the last decade, due to the efforts of a trio of mages who have founded a settlement nearby. The mages needed ready access to supplies, research assistants, and field workers to further their research. To that end, they have worked to make Sitoon into a port town large enough to support their needs.
The resultant town is a rowdy mix of treasure-seekers, entrepreneurs, and con artists, who have all but overwhelmed the original local population. Many of the 1800 people in the village live in inns and tenements, and subsist on fishing, shipbuilding, small farming, and hunting. Even the innkeepers and business people seem to be biding their time, waiting for some special opportunity to land in their laps.
Just upriver from Sitoon is Hurickta, a mining village that hews lead from the Cliffside, which forms the boundary of the great plateau known as the Glowworm Steppes. The forests and grasslands below give way to dry savannah and desert on the plateau, and legend has it that vast and mysterious worms lumber along the steppes at night. Just atop the plateau, overlooking the village of Hurickta, three mages have built a tower on a site called Feery’s Leap. The Three (a wizard, a sage, and a sorcerer) have collected enough souls to their cause to build a settlement around their tower, composed of soldiers and artisans from below, and some of the strange bug-people that inhabit the steppes. The mages and their people frequently appear in town, hiring rangers and explorers to map, chart, and describe the steppes. What they seek, none will say.
The characters have probably come to Sitoon to make a name for themselves. Most of them have probably been in town no more than a few weeks, during which time they may have done odd (and decidedly un-glamorous) jobs. They may all stay at the same boarding house or inn, but they at least know each other by name.
Periodically, the town crier appears on the square and reads a charter of employment (usually from Feery’s Leap, but possibly from the elders of Sitoon or Hurickta). After reading the charter, town officials accept bids for the work. Whoever offers the most money for the job often wins the bid and signs the charter, which outlines the task, and how and when they must complete it. Those who perform well enough on these tasks may be approached directly for future tasks, and given more broadly-written charters.
The characters have agreed to pool their resources to bid on a charter and, to their surprise, they won it. Now if they can just complete the job, they’ll be on their way to greatness!
Charter of Emploi from Feery’s Leap
The right honorable council of Sitoon presents this charter on behalf of Cleymarch Winedrawn, lord wizard of Feery’s Leap. The signatories of this document agree to complete Lord Winedrawn’s task in the allotted time, or forfeit all right to spoils.
bq. The lord has provided a map, specifying a hillock to explore and document, one day’s ride from the tower. The ranger who previously visited this site has not returned, and is presumed dead. The bearers of this charter agree to investigate the site, and report all findings to the lords of Feery’s Leap within one week. They consent to truth verification. The bearers have right only to the financial value of any treasure, chattel, and artifacts they find. The lords may allow the bearers to retain their findings, or pay the bearers fair value for their findings in coin or other goods.
An agent from Feery’s Leap is available to discuss any further questions the company may have.