After the battle, we explained what we had learned to the guards and remade camp in a better position in case the falmohib infiltrators had allies ready to retaliate.
In the morning we prepared to leave, but we knew it would be difficult to get Lyr away from the camp, an understanding that was reinforced when it was revealed that the woman she had treated had recovered her faculties. Somehow, word had escaped the tent and the gathered, thirsty people thought that a cure had been discovered and was being withheld from them.
After talking to the woman, I assisted Lyr in documenting her discoveries about the nature of the affliction. It seemed that, in addition to causing the woman to become younger, it caused her to simultaneously perceive all the possibilities of her life, all the “what ifs” and missed chances and avoided events played out in her mind. Perhaps ingesting a piece of the Ruby Mountain caused this by connecting her with the kafs in which she led other lives, overwhelming her mind.
Lyr sent a magical message to Barlan, explaining the situation in as concise detail as we could while imparting a sense of urgency. Hopefully they will be able to send help quickly and by magic or the consequences of this could be dire. It seems unlikely the contamination in the water will quickly fade and the people here are very close to rioting.
If we were not on such a crucial timetable, I am sure Lyr would have demanded to stay and help these people, but this had to be a lower priority that stopping Chalazias.
While the others readied the camels, Lyr and I snuck out the back of the medical tent. Feng transformed himself with magic and went out to speak with the crowd. We were successful and got away from the camp quickly and unrecognized. We waited up the road some distance, half expecting to see an eruption of flames, but Feng was somehow able to talk his way out of the situation; he teleported to our side and we continued up the Road of Peace.
Late that night, Lyr reported an unsettling sensation, as if she was being watched. We saw no sign of trouble, but remained on careful watch all the same.
The last several days have been entirely without notable event, so I have cut those entries for the sake of narrative. We have settled into a steady rhythm of travel. Cressida and Sehera are absolutely in their element; the rest of us are handling our circumstances with varying dignity but so far there have been no difficulties that could not be solved by periodically changing our marching order to give each other some room.
When I remarked upon this to Sehera one evening, she something peculiar; Feng has not started a single fruitless quarrel since Muhqhayim. Has the firebird abandoned his favorite hobby? We decided it best to not ask him about it, lest we tempt fate.
This afternoon, we diverged from the Road of Peace and have begun to delve into the Sheel Khali Desert. At this time of year, even the living desert has been largely overrun by the sand as plants and animals sleep as best as they can beneath the soil to weather the fearsome heat. Going is slow and will likely grow more challenging as we head into dunes but the camels are bearing up well. With a steady supply of water and food and the occasional burst of divine magic to refresh their weary muscles and to ward off saddle sores, the well-trained beasts seem willing to march on forever.
Lyr has periodically reported the same sensation of being watched, but with no sign of trouble there is little we can do. Feng noted the possibility that someone was scrying on us, but we have no capacity to shield ourselves from this to any meaningful degree.
Late this afternoon, Cressida reported seeing a solitary rider paralleling us to the south. Perhaps this individual was the cause of Lyr’s concerns?
Feng and Sehera waited for nightfall and ventured into the desert to find our follower. Later, Sehera described what happened. As they neared the rider’s camp, following the faint glimmer of his campfire, they felt an ominous presence and discovered fresh tracks in the sand, like the prints of a lion of massive size. An odor of brimstone clung to them. They followed the tracks and realized the mysterious creature was circling them. Feng sent up magical fireworks and, when we saw these, we quickly rode to catch up.
The thing was gone by the time we arrived, as was the mysterious rider.
The rider has continued to parallel us and Lyr has again reported the sensation of being watched, though we have seen no more sign of any giant lions. We try to go nowhere alone; Feng has taken to periodically riding atop Cressida—transformed into a giant eagle—in case our mysterious friend makes a move or some other trouble appears.
When I went into the tent tonight, Dendera was lying, unconscious, with a needle and a vial of dark liquid beside her. When I could not rouse her, I called Lyr, but Dendera bolted up and vomited violently outside the tent, the contents of her stomach corrupted by something black and vile.
She had explained that she had injected herself with fermented Mind Flayer blood to temporarily give herself powerful telepathic abilities. She had contacted an ally in Al Haddid Jalut and marked the place the group was camped on our map. I had known she was not sure of their exact location; I had no idea she would do something like this to find out. After ensuring that she appeared to be otherwise unharmed, we embarked on a frustratingly circular argument.
I wish she had told me before doing this. She needs to learn that not every detail of her life needs to be a secret.
We are getting close now; according to our map, we should reach Al-Haddid Jalut—and the Ushtarak—in a matter of days. Dendera says my Tereshal is better, that I have moved from hopeless to sounding like a brain-addled child, but she smiled when she said it, so… progress?
At about midday, Feng and Cressida spotted riders waiting in our path, four anari apparently, and descended to greet them. Feng says that they spoke of thanking us for our help against the falmohib and gave him a talisman they called the Eye of Penitence. At this moment, one of them was struck by an arrow; the mysterious rider had caught up to them and called out to not trust them. Feng surrounded himself and the anari with a wall of flames. When we saw the flames in the distance, we rode hard to catch up.
Feng described a man, who called himself Arsalan El-Chalen Al-Velom, walking through the flames, unharmed, and threatening them, stating that Feng’s destiny could still be met if he was in the thrall of another. At this time, the anari revealed themselves to be Lamias and attacked Feng and Cressida. Their initial assault was brutal, Arsalan demonstrating great and deadly power, but Cressida was able to fly her and Feng out of the wall of fire. Unfortunately, the lamias’ magic enamored Feng, causing him to drop the wall and freeing them from entrapment.
By this time, we had dismounted and encountered resistance outside of the flames; a great, demonic lion, a jarilith was turning its attention upon the mysterious rider. Sehera raced after the beast, savaging it with her scimitars. When the flames vanished, the rest of us engaged the lamias; here too, Sehera struck more than her share of killing blows. She is truly in her element here in the desert.
Meanwhile, Arsalan proved to be more than any of us could handle. He seemed untouchable and it looked as if he would eventually whittle us down to nothing when Lyr, calling upon the might of her faith, struck him with her mace, causing him to bleed.
This seemed to unnerve him—he seemed to not realize that he could be injured and he retreated from the field of battle. Before he left, he spoke of a “master” whom he served. It seems we have attracted yet more unwanted attention.
The rider revealed himself to be Rana Tutwaiaf Al-Ghalan, the anari who helped us in Mazooz and ordered us to destroy the Eye of Penitence before we talked.
He had been following us since the oasis, though he was cagy as to whether he was following us or using us as bait. He cautioned us not to proceed on our path. It seems the Ushtarak have transformed their society, absorbing or wiping out other tribes and staking out the territory surrounding Al-Haddid Jalut. Rather than simply serving as guards, Keergai’im has much grander ambitions.
Though Rana told us this to caution us, the knowledge makes me certain that we must strike him down while his power is raw. The zythu are tolerated by Raqaejah because of their nomadic culture; though many regard them as little more than bandits, their decentralized nature keeps them from being declared as both a significant threat and a suitable target. If they were to band together under a leader as aggressive as Keergai’im, I can see little future other than all-out war.