Amaranthia

Session 38

Akkarid; July 21

Sehera and I wound our way back to Uncle’s house, nearly unmolested; a group of guards confused Sherea with some rioters and we had to bribe our way out. I’m sure this will be a profitable day for the city guard.

Our route was long and circuitous and, as we had had no breakfast save a sweet roll hastily shoved in my mouth on the way out the door, we eventually stopped for an early lunch. Most of the city was shut down due to the riot, even once we had walked a fair distance away, but Sehera caught a scent of food and we found a little shop, barely more than a kitchen with a couple tables, run by a garrulous and stubborn old woman who boasted at having never closed one day in fourty years.

It was a slow day for her, so she piled our plates high enough that, after several minutes of quiet eating, there was still plenty of food to pick at.

Both of us had something on their minds, and I encouraged Sehera to go first. She had been talking to Cressida, who remains quite concerned about the Ushtarak, despite their violent rejection of her. She might be a stranger to them, but she is unable to see them as strangers in turn. That makes sense, I suppose. I can’t help but think of Marid and wonder what sort of reception he will get, if he ever returns to Hazred.

Cressida wants to help the Ushtarak, to free them from the grip of Keergai’im. This seems like a wise goal to me. Sehera agrees, of course, but I don’t think she sees this in the same way I do; she sees him as just another usurper of a tribe’s power, who will eventually be overthrown or be the cause of a splintering of his tribe, as has happened so often throughout Zythu history. I think Keergai’im may be the beginning of something more.

I recall my mentor speaking one night, after drinking much wine, of the Terashal’s firearms. They were the future, he said. If the Terashal ever loosed their grip on the weapons, when the armies of nations began to arm their masses with these weapons, it would change the face of war as much as the longbow or the combat mage had. The day of the sword, he said wistfully, would end as surely as the day of the pointy stick had. He indented it, I think, as an encouragement for me to make the most of my life in the time I had but, when I think of powerful weapons in the hands of a man like Keergai’im, I begin to wonder what the future might hold.

In any case, Keergai’im is not the end of the world, but yes, if we can help the Ushtarak, we should. It is the right thing to do.

Additionally, Sehera has an additional motivation for this course of action; Keergai’im may have this world’s copy of the Karabelataniec. We suspect that he was supposed to trade it with Al Haddid Jalut for his weapons, but to him it is just a sword. If the Terashal did not take it, he would likely still be wielding it for its symbolic importance. But if we can get it, and unbind both swords from Khegan, perhaps we could bind them both to Sehera, who recently perfected the technique of wielding dual scimitars…

A chance to do some good and get two legendary blades? I was sold.

When it was my turn, I found myself delaying. I told Sehera about my plans for my immanent birthday—which prompted a bit of explanation of birthday traditions; the Zythu celebrate surviving every day, and don’t see anything particularly special about a birthday after childhood—but eventually I got to the point and told her that I was going to ask Dendera to marry me.

After I persuaded her that, no, I was not joking, she was remarkably supportive. Apparently, Zuthu don’t really have much of an engagement tradition—marriage seems fast and direct for them—so she might not have understood the breadth of what engagement means to a Sultan’s son, but still, it was good to know she had my back. It was strange saying it out loud for the first time, as if it had suddenly become real.

The others had made it back fairly quickly, though Cressida struggled to stay airborne, and by the time we had returned, the Shula’s had settled in somewhat, though formality hid a their shock. My uncle would host them for a few days, while the public furor calmed down.

I found Fazia on the roof and Indira as well, both alone in their thoughts. Fazia was, understandably, furious, but I think her anger and aggression hides some deep-rooted pain. I told her about our progress with the Tenrashinban and, I think she was pleased, though really it is difficult to tell with Fazia. She seems very concerned about the construction of the Mashket. This isn’t just a thing she wants because it is rare or valuable, I suspect; she’s putting a lot on the Mashket’s completion. I suppose we’ll find out eventually, when it is complete.

I asked her about Jalal Ére, who was also working with the Shogun in her world. When I explained some our interest in him—that he was partially responsible for what we have experienced—the connection between him and Indira struck her.

She got up, approached Indira, and uttered something very close to an apology: an acknowledgement that the bounty hunters pursuing Indira are partially due to her actions; if she had not stolen the Tenrashinban, the Shogun would not have needed the Ére family, and he would not have needed to put a bounty on Indira’s head.

Indira, who had already seemed distressed, bore this news silently and asked me to leave her be after Fazia departed.

Next came another conversation I had been dreading somewhat. I took my uncle aside and told him about Dendera. He took the news surprisingly well, as he had my new face. I also told him of my desire to host a party for my birthday and, within moments, I was racing him to Abu, so I could put in some requests for normal food before he could get… creative.

I also sent a message to my brother, Salih al-Wasim, to meet me that evening; I hope he will attend the party, but there are things I must tell him beforehand.

We regrouped and, finally, had a moment to see what Lazar and Maqsood had accomplished with Al-Muhqtebel. Their work was impressive.

After our exploits, there had been only a few rooms left of Al-Muhqtebel. The room we had exited from, which had been some sort of storeroom, had been converted into a well-lit entryway (still accessed by a portal in the guest bedroom). The cells were still there, filled with much of the detritus from construction and supplies. The large, main chamber was now divided into three rooms, a large multi-purpose room, a small bedroom that Lazar and Maqsood were using (with one bed which… sheds some light), and a barrack. The small room down the long hall had been turned into a small kitchen area.

They had discovered a source of water—a small portal to the Elemental Plane of Water—in a small chamber hidden beneath the floor and discovered a series of tiny portals, barely the size of a coin, to the Elemental Plane of Air, which kept the air in here clean and breathable.

They had also done some magical experimentation with Seb Rashidi’s mechanisms and built some crystal key-like devices to activate the portals and some sort of freestanding door, which opens into some sort of empty pocket of space. Lazar called it a “Chamber of Holding” and said that time did not flow normally in there; one could put a piece of fruit in there and it would never go bad. We stored Kage Okosa’s sword in there for now, so Lazar could find a way of destroying it safely.

They also gave us the Key Disc, which apparently can open a gate to Al-Muhqtebel from anywhere. Sehera pointed out that we could use it to get back from Zarjasz Al-Ulaq quickly.

Most of us spent that afternoon at the market, which was slowly getting back to business after the chaos of the morning. We had loot to sell, armor to enchant, and I had some dowry gifts to purchase. It was pleasant to spend some time with Dendera doing something normal, walking through a market, arm-in-arm. We didn’t talk about much, but I think this is one of the first times where we’ve felt just like two normal people, taking a walk…

We sought out a book store—which was doing a brisk business with the destruction of the library—and I purchased a volume of Terashal poetry; I have heard it said that, to understand Terashal poetry is to understand the Terashal language. But I bought a primer on Terashal as well, to be thorough. Dendera gave a quick smile when she saw what I was buying and has offered to help, though she cautioned that she is a stern teacher. I thought she was making some sort of innuendo, but no, she was not. This will be interesting.

As the others made their way back, Sehera and I met with Salih. It was good to see him—he seems much more comfortable here in Akkarid than he does at home—and the meeting went surprisingly smoothly. My face did not overly disturb him. I wonder if the differences are less stark to others than what I see in the mirror? I suppose I’ve only spent a mater of weeks with Salih over the past ten years, so he is surely not as used to my face as I am…

Sehera was a great help, as I found myself lost for words a few times. I had played so many possible scenarios in my head that I wasn’t sure where to start. I was not following my mentor’s teachings of thought through action.

He was more shocked about the engagement. My father had, of course, promised my hand long ago to, oh, what was her name… Sara, the daughter of some minor family; though we are not technically engaged, that is but a trivial detail to my family.

I remember her, vaguely. We met once, when I was eight or nine. She would have been the same age. I recall her being sweet, kind, and well behaved and having no more understanding of what was going on than I did. We have exchanged a few formal letters over the years, but truthfully I have no more knowledge of her than that she is alive and lives near the Kohonman border.

Dendera is here, now, and she needs me. And today I found myself thinking that, perhaps I could see myself with her in the future. I can scarcely imagine being alive ten years from now, but maybe…

Salih will be coming to the party, if only to see what happens. I hope to have a little more time to talk to him then.

It was growing late by the time we returned to my Uncle’s house and it seems that nobody slept well last night, so we turned in a little early. Several of us slept in the barracks in Al-Muhqtebel.

July 22

We were awoken early by Lyr, who ran out of Al-Muhqtebel, shouting something about becoming a Radiant Servant of Pelor. After we woke up again at a saner hour, we found that Lyr was still on the roof, praying. Sartaj explained that the Radiant Servants are sort of the elect of Pelor. The glow on her head had been a sign of this transformation; it had now become a permanent, tattoo-like mark. I don’t really understand it; Lyr still seems like, well, Lyr, but I understand this is very important to her.

If ever there was a sign that Pelor was watching over us in some way, I suppose this qualifies. Something to think about…

We spent most of the day engaged in various labors. Cressida, Indira and I went out to get supplies for our travels, getting some good deals. It is an interesting edge at the bartering table when you have friends who can actually talk to the camels…

We purchased enough supplies for about a week of travel, but little enough to maintain mobility. With Lyr and Cressida’s magic to create additional food and water and to restore the animals if they are overworked, we should be able to travel without stopping for as long as we need.

We returned to my uncle’s house and spent most of the night in Al-Muqutebel with our friends, plotting our course through the desert. Indira, Feng, Lyr, Cressida, Sehera, Dendera, and myself will be making the trip.

Sartaj was originally planning on coming with us at least part of the way, but those plans were superseded by the need to rescue the Effulgent One. I believe he will stay here and get things ready for our return; if we do not return, he will reach out to the Radiant One and seek the aid of Amaranthia’s militant orders of Pelor.

Lazar and Maqsood seem to enjoy living in Akkarid and will remain, working on Al-Muhqtebel and doing what they can to help Claudia Lestoue. Ramal and Lydra seemed uncertain of what to do next; I know they want to return to their work in Sefet, but there is much to do in Akkarid as well.

Dendera seemed amenable to the idea of helping the Ushtarak, provided it was not too much of a distraction. Fortunately, it sounds like they might still be near Al Hadid Jalut who, she explained, would still be supplying Keergai’im with supplies for his new weapon.

July 23

After a leisurely morning, we went to the baths; if we are to leave tomorrow, this would likely be the last chance we would have to do something like this for a while. I believe this is the first time I have had an opportunity to just talk with Ramal, Lazar, and Maqsood like normal people.

The party began shortly after we returned, with various appetizers and beverages provided in Uncle’s house before moving to Al-Muhqtebel, where tables, chairs, and the buffet were set up. I had hired a few musicians, who earned their keep, and purchased an abundance of wine and liquor, so spirits were high. My brother came late, of course, but he did come.

I gave a quick speech of thanks to my friends and was preparing to ask Dendera to marry me, when I realized she was not there. I am really bad at this “getting engaged thing.” Though, in fairness, she can be very quiet.

She came a bit later, wearing a stunning dress, accompanied by Maqsood. I was somewhat confused for a moment, until she reminded me that her father was not present…

In Terashal custom, engagement is arranged in a formalized negation/drinking contest called zestre wherein the hopeful groom drinks copious amounts of zlatechimze with the father and argues his case. Maqsood would be playing the role of the father…

I introduced Dendera to my brother. I’m afraid I made a blunder and had mentioned that Dendera was a half-Terashal—I was very tired when she explained things to me; she is just tall, apparently—so that resulted in an awkward moment…

After everyone had had time to eat, we went up to the roof, where Feng produced an elaborate fireworks display. I’m sure he would’ve like to use his magic, but all the same he seemed quite content. He’s been on edge the past few days, so it was good to see him in a positive mood.

We went back to Al-Muhqtebel, where a variety of deserts had been arranged—my uncle’s sweet tooth in full display—and the dancing began. It seemed as if everyone was having fun. I think I even saw Fazia nodding to the music as she glowered in the corner. After Barlan put Lillian to bed, and the wine began flowing at an even greater pace, I grabbed a bottle of zivania—we had no zlatechimze—found Maqsood and a we sequestered ourselves.

My memory of our zestre is vague but I was surprised by the forcefulness with which Maqsood embraced his role. We argued loudly and drank heavily for a long time. I’m not really sure where more bottles came from, nor the tray of pastries, but a closed door never seems to stop Abu…

July 24

Like a burst of desert sun throughout my body, I next became aware standing in my room, Lyr having just purged me of the effects of my night of excess. I had, it seemed, succeeded and made it to sunrise, zestre complete. I don’t think I need to drink zivania ever again…

Lyr explained quickly that there had been an explosion last night and another just now, somewhere nearby. We found my brother and he realized that the closer explosion was at the temple of Pelor and, to his horror, the previous night’s may have been at the stables.

We hurried to the temple, most of my companions still hurting from the night before. I myself began to feel the effects of the alcohol still in my stomach, but Lyr’s spell had purged my body of most of the alcohol.

The temple of Pelor in Akkarid is a far smaller than that of Bahamut, but it is renowned for its beauty, particularly its gleaming walls of polished stone, flecked with golden mica, and an extravagance of gold on every possible surface. Something incredibly hot had exploded at dawn, blackening those walls and killing several. I helped Lyr tend to the wounded while Sehera and Feng snuck in for a closer look.

It appeared as if it had been attack by effriti and the heat and strange markings in the temple seemed to point the blame at some source from the Plane of Fire, probably a Salamander. Many reported seeing figures that looked like they could be effriti leaving the temple.

Feng and Sehera found a sheet of brass, inscribed with a message that seemed particularly damning, though knowing the truth as we did of what happened to the library, we instantly became suspicious. It declared:

For the Honor of the First King of the City of Brass, your moaning prayers shall not be heard on this or any future morning. Despair before the might of our flame. The mute dance of the unfaithful idolaters, those who play at being kings by the will of fools, more valuable than the lives they mock, shall never know life, but shall witness a death without pity before your broken God wails above.

Finding little else, we made haste to the stables, where we found a similar scene. Some of the finest horses in Raqaejah had been murdered in an explosion at midnight, including Al-Almzariah, my brother’s finest and favorite horse. When I overcame my initial rage and disgust, it occurred to me that these were excellent targets to get people angry without doing a lot of damage. Perhaps that is why whoever was really behind this chose the temple of Pelor. Destroying the famed golden walls and the stables of some of the city’s most popular champions would be a great insult; attacks on the stables of the king and the temple of Bahamut would have been a declaration of war.

We found another sheet of brass, which proclaimed:

For the Honor of the First King of the City of Brass, the most base among you have been shown the glory of our might. When next your four golden walls raise a roof of fire, even your tears shall burn bright with our vengeance, as you shall know what it is to weep in despair.

We realized this was a warning of the attack on the temple of Pelor, which meant the other sheet may have been a warning as well. From the content of the message, it seemed as if the likely target would be

The attack’s like target seemed to be the famed Khaymeshab Bazi Theatre with its golem puppets and the attack would probably occur at noon, which was fast approaching.

On our way back in the direction of the theater, we saw many rioters headed towards the docks, and we were forced to go through Uncle’s neighborhood and we encountered a roadblock. Travel between districts of the city was being severely restricted. As we argued with the guards, we saw Fazia and our other friends. The target of the riot, it seemed, was the Mashket.

Claudia’s presence and the information we had for the guards allowed us not only to pass through the block, but resulted in us getting an escort to the theater. With the guards’ help, we cleared the theater and made our way backstage, to where the golems were kept.

It was very eerie walking among those silent, nude giants…

We had arrived just in time, for the arsonists showed up moments later. It seemed indeed that they were assailants from the Plane of Fire as they looked like efriti, but they moved like automatons. They were accompanied, however, by a very real Salamander.

And following them was a woman who was a stranger, but at the same time seemed vaguely familiar. When she saw us, she seemed vaguely pleased to see us. She explained that her name was Xea Rashidi and that she was looking forward to avenging her brother.

Then she turned into a dragon…

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Session 37

Akkarid; July 19

We gathered the necessary materials for Lyr’s ritual and set to work in the middle of my uncle’s stables. This seemed like maybe not the best location to do this at the time, but we did not want to risk the neighbors spying us (as they surely were). We did not know what to expect. Reincarnation is an inherently unpredictable process, but I do not think any of expected the phoera to come back as a true Phoenix. It seems obvious in retrospect, but when the enormous bird sprung forth from the matter we assembled for the spell, we were all for a moment struck dumb by the power and fury of the being before us.

Any doubt about the justice of trapping spirits in the Tenrashinban was quickly set aside as the creature turned its anger on us and the stables. Feng was, thankfully, on hand to abate the fire, but had I not rushed forward and bound the creature, things would have become quite challenging… In the end, it was good that we did this ritual in the stables, otherwise I am quite certain it would have flown away as soon as it came back to life!

At this point, my poisoned flesh could no longer support itself. Abu helped me to the guest room and I promptly fell asleep, though the next several hours were far from the most restful night I have had. Whatever was in Kage Okosa’s poison inflicted upon me hideous dreams from which I could not awake.

Sehera, Indira, and Lydra meanwhile were finding getting attention at the Grand Temple of Bahamut to be a challenge; many in the aftermath of the library’s fire, chiefly from the rioting. It did not help, I suspect, that the friend they sought aid for appeared not as an injured individual but as a huge, black egg.

After Indira lost patience and began to create a scene, some attention was finally paid to my friends and they were left in a small courtyard, where they were promptly ignored again. Sehera tells me that Lydra was growing quite upset; sunrise was approaching and she feared that, with it, Ramal would be forever lost.

Eventually a priest came, but he seemed reluctant to help, or even to take the problem with the seriousness that it warranted. Sehera said the man appeared exhausted and overworked; Indira had less kind words for him.

However, something peculiar began to happen and a powerful vibration began to fill the air. The priest seemed to truly notice Lydra and was struck by her appearance. We have learned that the Ancillae are made in the image of Yadisunu and he may have recognized the Herald’s visage.

The egg became hot, too hot to touch, and when Lydra laid her hand on it, a fire that did not burn ran up her arms, covering her. She touched the egg with both hands and, in a great burst of heat and light, the egg disappeared and, in it’s place stood Ramal.

July 20

In the morning, Lyr cured me of the aftereffects of Kage Okosa’s poison which, combined with the joy of seeing Ramal standing and uninjured, restored my vigor. We ate heartily and set to work. The task ahead would be hard and likely grim, but we could not leave the library uninvestigated.

Sehera had examined the ruins on the way back from the temple of Bahamut, and had mentioned that they were a flurry of activity, with guards forming a tight perimeter to keep out looters and to ward off gawkers. She had also found, surrounding the library, a ring of six massive rubies, each the size of a cart, the mark of magic from the Ruby Mountain and, possibly, the signature of Izznaar-Al-Sara. Was the murder of the Zythu and Anari dignitaries we observed when we met Cressida also his magic?

We found the ruins of the library as Sehera had described. Much was still smoldering, but work had already begun in earnest. Sehera and Cressida set off to find the Feshtarken, whose labor would be a great boon to this operation, and the rest of us appraised the situation before us. The entire library was destroyed. I had hoped that the overall damage was not as sever as it had first appeared, but if anything it was worse. So much knowledge lost…

Several survivors had been rescued, and Lyr set to work. Among them was Captain Belsharuzza Hunzuu, who was brutally wounded. The fire had a supernatural quality to it and efforts to repair the damage done to him did not seem promising. Claudia conferred briefly with him; though he was verging on delirium, his concern was for Lillian. He did not know what had befallen her, which at least meant that there was still a glimmer of hope.

Claudia immediately set to work, ordering the work crews, and I did my best to aid. It was exhausting work, but the Feshtarken arrived quickly. With the increase in manpower—and Cressida’s ability to transform into an elephant—we were able to start making progress, carefully removing large segments of rubble. Sadly, all we found were bodies.

Indira and Feng, both resistant to the effects of smoke, scoured the ruins for unusual signs. Eventually they found a crevice, possibly an old stairwell that was not entirely filled with rubble, and Feng was able to weasel down into the rubble.

The way below was treacherous and many times he feared that he would be trapped under the rubble, but he pressed on. Perhaps it was simply a way of venting frustration—apparently Sifu Ling Huo had taken his spell book—but I think all of us were surprised by Feng’s determination. His behavior was highly commendable.

Eventually, he noticed a strange light emanating from below. He pushed onward until he found the edge of a large dome of magical energy. Within—though the dome was difficult to see through—was Chaim.

As soon as we learned of what was found, we immediately refocused our efforts to dig down, into the spot Feng indicated. After many hours of back-breaking labor, we found the dome. After many more anxious hours, we were able to clear the rubble piling around it.

At nearly the instant we finished, the dome collapsed and we could see Chaim clearly. He knelt, unmoving, and underneath him were Lillian and Creature. As loose rubble began to slide back into the pit, Indira grabbed Lillian and levitated up, where we could pull them to safety.

Lillian was badly injured, though her wounds were not life-threatening. Creature was sitting upon her, purring, an act that seemed to put them both into a trance. Lyr healed Lillian who was joyously reunited with her exhausted parents.

Chaim, however, was not moving, and the glow had gone from his eyes and the symbol on his chest. We pulled him from the rubble, though many seemed to wonder why we were saving what seemed only to be a statue.

Chaim had given his life to protect Lillian, converting the very lifeforce that animated him into the magical dome.

Captain Hunzuu, dying of his wounds, was crushed to hear this, though he was deeply relieved to hear of Lillian’s rescue, gave up his own life to reanimate the golem, the second time in under a month that I have seen such an incredible act of selflessness. Captain Belsharuzza Hunzuu was a hero, a paragon of loyalty and service, and his name should never be forgotten.

Chaim was able to detect more life within the ruins and, as the day turned into night, we were able to extract three more people from the ruins.

We went back to my uncle’s house, completely exhausted, but we did not have a quiet night.

Lyr and Sartaj, who were sharing a sitting room that receives the first of the morning sun, had a lengthy and loud theological debate. Sartaj feels resurrection, even in circumstances as extraordinary as Ramal’s, to be unquestionable blasphemy. Lyr, however, is less zealous in this regard, and so a confusing argument of theological minutiae was begun. In the course of this discussion, Lyr implied that one of our group had been resurrected, but she did not tell him it was Indira, no matter how vehemently he badgered her.

Eventually I lost patience and went to their room to yell at them for a bit.

As I tried to get back to sleep, Dendera entered my room, dressed to leave, and moving with a portentous deliberateness that banished all thought of sleep. She sat at the foot of my bed and began to speak, for the first time sharing details of herself in a rush, as if she was suddenly completing a dozen conversations.

She is one hundred and twenty four years old. I know Terashal live longer and slower lives than humans, but to hear her say this drove that home hard.

She is a widow. She has a son.

She began to speak slower after the initial rush and, when I finally asked what had happened to her, a narrative emerged.

See Dendera’s page for the whole story!

In Terashal custom, it is taboo for a grieving widow to be allowed near a child; they are raised by the community until the widow has remarried, completing an out of balance equation. And, as she has been exiled from Al Haddid Jalut and, by extension, her community, there is little hope of being able to rejoin her community. She had sought the Khatam Mahib Ghaza not on behalf of Al Haddid Jalut as we had initially thought, but in order to get back into their graces, to atone for threatening the life of the Arajnord’s son. If she could find a husband on the way, she would be reunited with her son.

When presented with such a story, what else could I do?

July 21

Sehera was awoken early by the noise of an angry mob, and she awoke us early in turn by hammering on our doors. The city was in chaos; angry people of many races were proceeding towards the Muqelefah District, chanting “Kill the djinn.”

The people were scared, the attack of Iznaar al-Sara would have appeared to everyone save us as an assault from the City of Brass and they were lashing out at the descendants of the effriti, the city’s fire genasi… and any other genasi who got in their way.

Recognizing that Fazia and her family were in immediate danger, Cressida transformed into a giant eagle and carried Sehera, Lyr, Feng and I as fast as she could. The mob was huge, and coming from all directions; by the time we arrived, it was already there.

Unfortunately, none of us knew which house was the Shula’s estate, but there were three homes that, by their design and the focus of the mob, were clearly fire genasi. We split up, Feng and Sehera taking one, and Lyr, Cressida and I another.

Cressida transformed into a gorilla and smashed down the door to the roof garden and we entered the house quickly. Looters were at work, and we could hear the sound of screaming children.

A man was standing over a dead fire genasi, bloody knife in hand, and I slew him, chasing off his companions. We could hear the sounds of screaming children—Fazia is an only child, so clearly we were in the wrong house—and we ran towards the sound. A group of people were beating several children violently; we chassed them off, Lyr healed the children, and we made sure they were able to find a hiding place before we went to the third house.

Meanwhile, Sehera and Feng had also infiltrated the wrong house. They rescued the family within, chased off some looters; after Cressida dropped us on the roof from of the Shula home, she took that family to safety. We broke into the Shula house—their door was reinforced so Feng had to take several tense moments to pick the lock—and quickly found Fazia and her family, cornered by an angry mob.

Lyr pacified them with her magic and we got the Shula’s to the roof. Unfortunately, Cressida had not yet returned and the door did not stand up to the force of the rioters. We hid ourselves within a wall of blades and I did my best to talk down the citizens. Unfortunately, they were only able to listen to reason to a point, but it was enough to allow Sehera and I to hold them back when the blades fell.

Eventually Cressida returned. Bolstering her strength with magic, she took the Shula family, Feng, and Lyr and flew off while Sehera and I fended of the mob. Our friends clear, we jumped down the side of the building, into the top floor windows, and escaped the house.

Finally, the city guard was approaching, banging their shields, blaring their horns, and dispersing the crowd. Sehera and I slipped away…

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Session 36

July 19

Kage Okosa held forth his hands, releasing six familiar round rubies which orbited around a brilliant Saramite stone. The stones spun up into the sky, tearing open a hole in the clouds.

We drew our weapons and rushed at our foes, but Kage Okosa summoned forth a mass of tentacles that bound us in place, leaving Ramal on his own momentarily as Kage Okosa’s minions, humanoid figures of shadow who moved with flickering, impossible to follow steps, sliced at him with poisoned blades. Miyuki No-Shi, meanwhile, summoned a large creature, seemingly made of ice.

We broke free of the tentacles in time to see Ramal cut down my Kage Okosa’s blade.

The battle was short, but fierce, as a great portal began to form in the sky above us.

A few times, the battle nearly seemed lost, but the power of Lyr’s faith destroyed many of the shadow-men while Dendera and Feng destroyed the ice monster, giving us an opportunity to turn the tide. A moment of chaos struck when Ramal’s body exploded, flames striking friend and foe alike; left behind was a giant, black egg. We recalled what he said of the phoera, that it was what remained of his people after their deaths… Finally, Sehera struck the killing blow on Kage Okosa. Quickly, Dendera and I bound Miyuki No-Shi, who had been rendered unconscious.

Then the most remarkable thing happened. Kage Okosa’s body began to swell rapidly, bright light pouring from his wounds, and burst open. In a column of brilliant light, a man emerged, as if he had been imprisoned within Kage Okosa’s skin. An older Harukan man, though in peak health and condition. None of us recognized him save for Feng, who denied what he saw as impossible.

Standing before us was Feng’s master, Sifu Ling Huo, who had been slain by Kage Okosa weeks before our paths crossed with Feng’s.

The man radiated peaceful goodness and Feng soon came to realize that this man was who he appeared to be, not a trick by Kage Okosa. Ling Huo explained in Harukan and, for our benefit, scattered Amaranthian, that Kage Okosa was, in a very literal sense, his own dark side, given form and terrible will by the Ruby Mountain.

There was still the sounds of combat coming from below, and once I regained my breath, I began to race downstairs, until Ling Huo said to do so would be death. Above us, the portal had grown to tremendous size. Something was about to happen.

We gathered around Ramal’s remains, dragging Miyuki No-Shi, whom Ling Huo told us could not be allowed to die, and teleported from the tower.

From a distance, we watched as a titanic form descended from the portal, a being of fire and darkness who was unmistakably Izznaar-Al-Sara, the undead effriti we encountered on the Path of Prosperity. We watched in impotent horror as the monster smashed the tower, tore the roof from the library, and vomited fire inside, pouring all its force into the building until both collapsed in an explosion of ash and dust.

All we could do was hope our allies made it to Al-Mhuqtebel. We recalled that there should be a connection to my uncle’s home. The streets were in chaos, rioting and looting had already begun. We stole a wagon and piled into it.

Just in time, too, for poison from Kage Okosa’s blade struck me, draining me of nearly all my strength.

And so it was that I did nothing but sit and listen to Ling Huo talk with Feng. It occurred to me, early in our trip, that Dendera had uttered Izznar-Al-Sara’s name, but she had not been with us when we encountered him. I didn’t have the energy, however, to confront her about this. I barely had the energy to remain conscious.

Listening to Ling Huo and Feng talk, however, was something of a revelation. I realized that, to this point, the vast majority of individuals I have heard speak Harukan are kenku. Hearing, watching a human such as myself speak, in a calm, measured voice suddenly made all of the things I have had trouble with in Feng’s language lessons slide into place. I had not only been trying to speak Harukan, I had been trying to speak it like someone with a beak. Now I understand what I was doing wrong.

Eventually we arrived at my uncle’s house. Abu obstinately did not recognize me, covered in soot as I was, but my companions are much harder to miss. We cleaned off before coming inside and brought the wagon—with the egg—around the back of the house while Sehera dumped the still-bound Miyuki No-Shi behind a nearby abandoned house. Apparently, her destiny and Feng’s are intertwined, more of that prophecy stuff that seems to follow the Fireborn…

My uncle seemed well enough, though older, and he showed the effects of stress and a challenging two months. He would later explain that the court was in turmoil as individuals, likely backed by the Ordo Clavis have been aggressively jockeying for power.

They had company, our friends had made it out, but not all. Lillian and Chaim were missing. As we entered the house, we could hear Claudia and Barlan arguing, the distress in their voices palpable.

We took a moment to regroup, and to explain to my uncle what had occurred. In particular, I had to explain the change in my appearance. He seemed receptive, if confused by the situation.

I could not help but notice the sidelong glances to Dendera, but it was difficult enough to remain upright; I was in no state or mood to bring up my questions about the connection between my uncle and her.

Eventually, we could put it off no longer, and we went to tell Lydra what had happened to Ramal. We brought her out to the egg and after a moment, she began to sign frantically. She wanted to bring him to a priest for resurrection before sunrise. Not having realized resurrection was an option at this point, we quickly pooled our money and watched as Lydra rode off with Sehera and Indira to find a priest of Bahamut.

We had brought the body of the phoera as well. Looking at it, Cressida realized that, maybe the Suzaku was not lost to us; if the spirit of the south wind was still tied to this body, perhaps reincarnating it would allow us to capture it now…

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Session 35

The Widow’s Blade; July 6

Cressida and Sehera took the first steps to bringing the crew of The Widow’s Blade and the Feshtarken together that night.

In celebration of our victory–and due to fact that the ship was dead in the water for the moment—the pirates broke out the grog. Feng and a crew-woman, Nanouriza made a huge pot of stew, using Iskaalu’s meat, several of the crew brought out instruments to play, and soon all work had ground to a halt and we enjoyed, for a moment, that we had survived.

The Feshtarken, however, stayed below, though they were not bound by locks or chains, until Cressida fired them up. The moment when they came above deck was a tense one, but they began to dance, the rhythm of their feet and clapping the only music until one adventurous crewwoman, then another, picked up the dance. Soon, all were spinning and laughing and drinking and drinking.

Later that night, I went below to my hammock and saw Lyr’s forehead glowing brightly. Though I was still somewhat unsteady, I copied the mandala as accurately as I could and attempted to sleep.

A short time later, though, Dendera came to me, straddling me. We talked, briefly, and kissed, aggressive, passionate. Her lips seemed to burn and, later, I couldn’t help but wonder again how the poison that courses through her works, but such thoughts were the furthest from my mind.

She broke off after a moment and left. Spinning from alcohol, dance, blood loss, and emotion, I quickly fell into fitful sleep.

July 7

Today was spent primarily in heavy labor. Much water still needed to be pumped from below and nearly everyone needed to take a turn at the bilge. Lyr used her magic to help the crew stabilize the hull, patching the most threatening breaks. Snapped lines required mending, sails required stitching, water-damaged cargo was repaired or tossed overboard. A somber moment, a funeral dirge for the fallen crew.

O’Kalon was not pleased, but it was easy enough to persuade her to allow the Feshtarken to assist, though I noted they were primarily given the most menial of tasks. Still, they were strong and capable and, in no small part due to the efforts of Cressida and Sehera, all major conflicts with the pirate crew were avoided.

I was not idle either. It was easy enough to apply much of my training to the tasks of a sailor and I spent much of my time laboring along with the Feshtarken. When I could, I talked at great length with Nanouriza about the sailor’s trade. She had been to nearly every place I could name, and was thus also a great source of information on the world at large, kindling a neglected interest in geography.

When we had a moment to talk, Lyr examined my sketch and recognized it as a protective seal, possibly a spell warning against evil. Peculiar, but apparently nothing we need to worry about, which is a bit of a relief.

As she is now, The Widow’s Blade will be unable to bring us to Akkarid. We are bound toward the nearest port, the island fortress Kyr Limani, a former customs and resupply point on the slave trade which has been rendered largely irrelevant with the Raqaejan emancipation and the development of longer-range ships. While still formally a Milesian outpost, it is in reality a lawless port, haven to smugglers and pirates. There, O’Kalon assures us, we will be able to find passage to Akkarid.

July 8

The Widow’s Blade performed better today, though she creaks and groans beneath us in agony, and springs new leaks at an alarming rate. It was an exhausting, but informative day. I have seen surprisingly little of Dendera; she has been hard at work helping the crew maintain the various complex mechanisms that keep a ship like The Widow’s Blade working. I feel like we should talk about what happened the other night, but I’m not sure what to say.

Kyr Limani; July 9

Today, late in the afternoon, we arrived at Kyr Limani. The place was everything I could’ve hoped from a pirate stronghold.

A massive, cyclopean structure of grey stone, it is like a small city encased within a singe building, a warren of corridors and rooms and titanic halls chopped up with shoddy, improvised architecture. It smells of the sea and the waste of sentients and dreams.

O’Kalon led us to a tavern—it seems to me that every third establishment here is a tavern of some sort—and we encountered a familiar face, Captain Nafuna of The Majnoon, whom we had sought to hire in Akkarid several months ago. We negotiated for her services and she eventually agreed to take on us and the Feshtarken for a fairly exorbitant price. If her ship is as fast as she claims, however, it could be worth it; she says she can get us to Akkarid in eight days, which seems laughable but I’m fairly certain she wasn’t exaggerating.

We had until around midnight to prepare for our journey, so we gave, Murcarth, the leader of the Feshtarken money to equip his people (they had only what was on their backs) and set off to the chaotic market.

We found buyers for the loot we plundered from Azu-Makeen’s lair and reequipped ourselves. We all needed new clothing and other equipment. I was able to cut into my debt to the group and to Indira a bit. I’m still uncertain how I will repay her in full at this rate. Hopefully a solution will present itself soon, for I grow weary of living under this weight.

As the evening drew on, we began to hear rumors coming from the docks, The Mara was coming to Kyr Limani and it would be bringing a storm with it.

We regrouped in a tavern, trying to avoid the notice of a noisy gang of trolls, when Nanouriza approached us, holding a scroll case. I thought she might have some message from O’Kalon, but instead, with a strange expression, she gestured towards Indira with the scroll case. Cursing with shock, Indira was pulled towards the scroll case, her legs transforming into vapor, and she was sucked inside.

I rushed forward as Nanouriza stepped back into the shadows and struck. My rapier hit, but the pirate’s skin was shockingly dense. As she vanished into the shadows, I saw her form twist into something monstrous and feline, with twisted, backwards hands. She was gone, and Indira with her.

The trolls thought this a great amusement and attacked us, thinking that a barfight has begun. But a barfight with trolls is a matter of life or death…

Two of them fell quickly, for they attacked Dendara who defended herself with her needles. Both fell, burning to death from the inside. The others were harder to slay; the battle was vicious, but short.

In the aftermath, we looked about for sign of Indira and the shadowy panther thing that Nanouriza had become to no avail. It had used some sort of magic to teleport through the shadows, and could be anywhere in Kyr Limani.

Our hopes quickly faded until I described the true appearance of the abductor; Cressida recognized it as a Rakshasa, a creature of evil and shadow. Dendera recalled that The Mara was helmed by a Rakshasa and it became clear that Nanouriza—or the thing that had replaced her—was likely a servant of this captain. The Shogun’s bounty on Indira must have grown to an astronomical amount to attract such attention.

A moment of confusion prevailed; the bounty hunter would likely teleport back to The Mara as soon as the ship came in range. We had to stop it at the docks, but how could we get there in time?

Fortunately, Feng had been using his time aboard The Widow’s Blade to study, and had learned to teleport. In a disorienting flash, he brought Sehera, Lyr, and I to the docks, near the Widow’s Blade.

It was late and there were long shadows everywhere. Lyr cast a spell upon Sehera’s blade to make is shine like the sunlight and Feng began to set things aflame. The gods were with us, it seems, and Feng immediately turned the Rakshasa’s hiding place into a bonfire. Sehera chased it down with her brilliant sword and Feng encircled us with a wall of flame. Cornered between the fire and us, the bounty hunter fought savagely, but seemed severely handicapped by the light. When it dove through the flames, Lyr caught it with a wall of flying blades, and we cut it down.

The scroll case fell from its belt and tumbled towards the blades. I dove for it, missed, and for a moment my heart stopped as the blades shattered it. But Pelor would not be so cruel; the destruction of the scroll case freed Indira, who was unharmed, save for a sudden haircut…

We found a contract on the bounty hunter, which Indira read silently, with a scowl.

Shortly, the others joined us and one of Captain Nafuna’s crew found us as well; we needed to leave now. The Mara was turning back out to sea and very soon the port would be struck by the storm that follows the black ship’s wake.

The Manjoon is a remarkable vessel. Made mostly of metal, it sits very low in the water, with no sails, and no oars save those few needed to move it about in port. We climbed down into the ship, through a peculiarly designed hatch and were sealed inside.

All labor is done within the cramped inner decks of the ship, and we were soon to discover why. With a shudder and a vibrating moan, the ship moved, angling down, and dived under the surface of the water.

Dendera was ecstatic, Feng was terrified, and most of us were some mix of the two.

We were escorted by an awful little man to a small, cramped room, far too small for the seven of us. After he shut us in the room, Indira—understandably claustrophobic—agreed to pay his extortionary sum for another, larger room. Feng and I took the smaller room for our berth and the ladies shared the other, Cressida keeping in the form of a small, desert cat to save space.

The Majoon; July10

The Majoon is not a passenger ship. With us and the Feshtarken (who sleep in shifts in the cargo holds) this miraculous, sub-marine vessel is cramped and tempers are high. We have little to do save for stay out of the crew’s way; Juma, the troll bosun, found some work to keep the Feshtarken (and myself) occupied some of the time, but it is simply something to keep us from getting drunk and fighting each other. I’ve not met many trolls in my life, but Juma is far more intelligent and capable than any I have heard of…

July 11

Feng has spent most of his time studying and doing his best to ignore that we are under water. This has put me in something of an academic mind as well, and I’ve been pouring over a few battered old books I bought in Kyr Limani. Otherwise, nothing of note to report.

July 12

Feng snores, or more accurately squawks and chirps in his sleep. It is annoying, but not so trying as Lyr has been, according to Sehera. We have little room to properly spar—the body and mind must be kept sharper than one’s blade—so we have fallen to gossip during our practice bouts. I enjoy talking to Shera; in many ways our temperaments are similar, but her Zythu outlook on life is refreshingly different from my own.

Deprived of the sun, Lyr has grown grouchy and despondent, finding fault with everything and suffering from bouts of anxiety. She contests this, evidently, with a nearly constant stream of chatter and questions, but her naivety—as much a foundation of her personality it seems as a product of her cloistered upbringing—prevents her from fully grasping the answers.

From what Sehera tells me, I suspect Lyr is also needling her on purpose…

July 13

This really is a fascinating vessel. It is propelled through the water by a single member of the crew: a water elemental. This entity is not bound or enslaved in any way; the crew speak of it with all the respect they afford a technical officer, or perhaps even more, and it is paid a share, though what a water elemental is paid is beyond me and nobody would explain. They do not like answering questions about the water elemental and only limited crew are even allowed into a section, which seems to be its station. Dendera has tried to get in many times to no avail, though she has been able to talk her way into other restricted areas.

Every few minutes, the ship seems to breathe, a burst of cool, fresh air coming through a series of ducts. I wonder if they also have an air elemental in their crew?

July 14

I feel like I should write about this, but I don’t know what to say. The other night, Dendera came to my room. She administered some sort of sedative to Feng (something I wish I had thought of before), then injected me with something, some sort of anti-venom. Then we…

Well, a cousin once boasted that it isn’t a good night if you don’t come away with a few bruises. It was a good night.

I don’t know what to make of this, what to think. My mind and heart and body are at war with each other. I do not trust Dendera entirely, but there is an attraction that transcends that. If she would open up about herself, it might be easier to think but I can tell she doesn’t want to. I will respect that because what else can I do? But it is frustrating. She is frustrating. But also enticing in a way I have never encountered.

To make it all the better, I am entirely certain my father would not approve.

July 15

Being aboard The Majnoon, imprisoned in its narrow halls, has made me get creative in my training. A rapier is a narrow weapon, I must fight in straight lines, as opposed to Sehera’s curves and turns. One would think this would be an ideal weapon for these corridors, but the length is a problem. The crew carry short blades, slightly curved with a single, heavy cutting edge, a blade that can be swung freely in the closest quarters. It has been instructive to think more on the limitation of my weapon, a reminder that I am not bound to one style of combat.

The greatest challenge, though, has been the limitation on movement. But, as I grow accustomed to them and the random shudders of the ship, I find moving easier, ways of turning corners faster, incorporating the walls in my movement. I look forward to getting off this ship and applying what I am learning.

July 16

I am so tired of this ship.

July 17

Tomorrow, Akkarid. The excitement among us and the Feshtarken is palpable, and the crew is looking forward to being rid of us. Lyr sent a message ahead to Ramal that we were coming in on the evening tide. It is good to know that he made it back intact. I look forward to seeing him and Lydra and our other friends. The Majnoon was as good as the Captain’s word and we have shaved four days off our intended journey. This is good. Hopefully we have a little time in Akkarid to prepare ourselves for a journey to Zarjasz Al-Ulaq, maybe enough to actually enjoy being in the city for a few days.

But, of course, I cannot forget that we have a deadline. We will need most of Chalazias’ four months for our mission, and to get back. We cannot count on having a ship as fast as The Widow’s Blade, let alone the Majnoon, for our return.

I have spoken much to Dendera the past few days. We have a common interest in history and stories of the strange and unusual and it has been fun to share tales. She speaks so little of herself which, as Sehera bluntly pointed out, is the opposite of me. I don’t think of my stories as being about myself so much as they are about my family but contrasted to Dendera—I don’t even know her parents’ names, or even where she was raised—I am an open book…

July 18

Akkarid at last!

After debarking, we gave a short farewell to the Feshtarken. They plan on living in Akkarid for a time, working at the docks. I’m sure this will be a challenging existence for them, but if they work together, I hope they will be able to afford a ship soon. Maybe their time amongst other races who are not keeping them in cages will help curb some of their aggression and make them accustomed to the hierarchical life a ship demands.

Or maybe they’ll steal the first ship they get their hands on and set out to sea, never to be heard from again.

Our first stop, where I write this now, is a bathhouse, the best we could find at this hour near the docks. For what was a reasonable enough cost, we are being treated luxuriously. After the tension and headaches of the cramped Majnoon quarters, this is exactly what we needed.

While we were luxuriating, some of the city guard came for us. From the description, it sounded as if they were Honor Guard, likely in service to the Provost, but we kept them waiting for a few minutes. If there was to be trouble, we would be in control of the situation.

In the end, there was no trouble and the guards were what they seemed. We were led to the library—and allowed to keep our arms—then to the Provost’s tower. Sehera and Cressida raced each other to the top, but the rest of us proceeded at a more leisurely pace.

At the top, the doors were opened by Barlan, Claudia Lestoue’s husband, and Lyrda. It was good to see Lyrda, though slightly jarring to see her out of armor. A moment later, Sartaj, looking as healthy and full of life as ever, came barging through us and made off with Indira.

Chaim was there as well, and he was speaking clearly and intelligently, far more that we had anticipated, and clambering over him was Lillian, Claudia’s precocious daughter. Though we had barely the time to get to know Chaim or Claudia and her family, it was good to see them.

We settled quickly into our story, letting Claudia know, in rough detail, the events since parting with Ramal and Lydra. We were far more interested in what they had discovered from the records taken from the Cobalt Crown.

I have made notes and will try to come back and reorganize them when I am able.

link: Asha Druj’s Journal

Our heads spinning from these revelations, we sat in silence for a moment. Not silence, there was a whirring noise from my pack. I pulled out the Tenrashinban and it was spinning. After some confusion we realized what was happening. The needle indicating the southern spirit of the winds was unable to determine where to point. Apparently, it can tell us the locations of the spirits, or at least the direction they are in. This will be useful. But there could only be one reason it did not know where to point; the incarnation of Suzaku, the red phoenix spirit of the south wind, was right above us.

We ran to the top of the tower and in the garden, there it sat, larger than a peacock and radiant in the dark, a phoera it was called. Not a true phoenix, but something else, what becomes, apparently, of Ramal’s people after they die. We were entranced by the creature’s magnificence.

A voice spoke from the shadows, a glint of steel, and before we could react the bird fell and died.

A man stepped forward from the shadows, clad in the colors of night, and taunted him. We have heard Feng speak his name in the bitterest curses, Kage Okosa and with him a familiar face, a white kenku, Miyuki No-Shi, the Silent Snow of Death…

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Session 34

The Widow’s Blade; July 6

It is truly unfortunate that Nessisus is no longer accompanying us, for surely he could have composed an excellent poem recounting the battle. We are weary and sore, but my companions all live still, though sadly there were losses among the crew.

As Iskaalu closed in from the East, a pair of towering storm elementals approached from the west, and glowing entities, Iskaalu’s “children” rose up from the deeps.

The dragon eel’s hide was like iron, and even the ships cannon had difficulty injuring it as it rammed the ship, intending to sink us. As it rounded to ram us again, Cressida dove into the water, transforming into a large shark and engaging the beast. Meanwhile, the elementals closed in, striking the crew and ship with lightning and shattering their teeth with the power of their thunder, killing several of the crew and nearly slaying Indira as well.

Before we could fully recover from the intial assault, Iskaalu’s children climed to the deck, ghostly beings, like sheets draped over a man made of water. They sought to engulf us, drowning them within themselves. Most of the crew, wielding only mundane weapons, were unable to counter them, and so Sehera, O’Kalon, and I were occupied with these things as Iskaalu rammed us again. We could hear cries below deck and it became clear the ship could not long withstand this torment.

Our first great break came when Lyr banished one of the elementals, weakening the storm that had hindered our movement and aim. The second would fall too, once the children were dealt with, but by this time the ship was in a severely damaged state. It could not stand another blow from Iskaalu.

Sehera leapt overboard, onto the beast’s back, in one of the most courageous if foolhardy actions I have seen, stabbing at it until it dragged her underwater, shook her off, and swallowed her. Crushed by its acidic gizzard and drowning, she flew into a mighty rage, hacking her way out of Iskaalu from within.

A few seconds later as Sehera struggled back to the ship, it apparently finished with Cressida—whom we feared for several moments to be dead—and rammed us from below. The crew attempted to drop the anchors on it to little avail and, as the ship began to founder, it came around again, but this time we were ready for it and the beast fell to a combined assault.

The ship was taking on water at a great rate, until Lyr patched the largest breach temporarily. We collected again on deck, to gain our breath, as the dragon eel was pulled up on deck and gutted like a true fish.

The few crew that were not immediately put to task bailing, making repairs, and tending to the wounded and fallen set about butchering the thing. Though we are not all still alive, most of us are; if the hull breach had been worse, we could have all drowned, even after the beast was slain. As is, our journey is sure to be delayed. The ship is damaged and may need serious repairs to remain seaworthy. Furthermore, the losses to the crew could be the source of serious delays.

I wonder how deep her hate goes? There are many able sailors imprisoned below; will she be willing to use them. I hope she will be able to see reason in this time of necessity. This is no time for any hand to be idle, let alone barred from work…

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Session 33

The Sidero Lykos; July 4

Lyr did indeed want to speak to Chalazias and immediately launched into long-held-back tirade, laying at this feet not only the reasons his course of action—as we understood it—was wrong, but a list of all the hardships she experienced in her search to reclaim the Effulgent One. There was… a lot to unpack in her statement. Lyr is an impassioned speaker, but rarely the most focused.

As she talked, I surveyed the dark room. It seemed to be kept deliberately dark and smoky, creating an oppressive, ominous air and hiding the guards and Chalazias’ pet direwolves from my view. Any thought of rushing the throne to assassinate the Pirate King was discarded; Chalazias (or one of his advisors at least) appears to have a keen understanding of the mental side of battle.

Chalazias accepted her words with little more than an unsympathetic smirk and he countered with an elaboration on his plans. A region of Rastahl was devastated decades ago by an orcish horde, who exterminated most of the non-orcish peoples of the area, establishing the only true orcish city in Rastahl; he would turn his united forces on the orcs, purging them from the land, and then use the Effulgent One’s power, augmented by twelve saramite stones and the blood sacrifice of the orcish prisoners to enact a mass resurrection of all those slain by the orcs and during the, past and present. The ease with which he discussed the plan, an atrocity on a grand scale, was chilling.

We raised objections, from the ethical implications, to the unknown consequences of a mass resurrection, but he was unswayed. We were in the presence of a zealot and no words were going to change his mind; we weren’t going to get back the Effulgent One no matter how nicely we asked, let alone prevent a war.

A zealot, leading troops with no fear of death, seeking revenge. Such a force would fight brutally; their lack of training as a true army (a naval force with sufficient marines could conquer a city perhaps, but Chalazias intends not only to hold it, but to launch a massive ground campaign against the population of the region) compensated for in determination. Even if they fail, the slaughter will be terrible.

Feng prodded the pirate in what was, I think, an attempt to find some kink in his mental defenses to no avail, until Nessisus brought the subject back to the Effulgent One, mentioning that we had the Elemental Cube. While Feng may have left Chalazias considering throwing us overboard or to his direwolves, Nessisus’ declaration that only he could carry the Cube seemed to be the first sign to Chalazias that we be of use to him, rather than a nuisance.

This thought may have been furthered when Sehera stepped forward, complaining of a pain in her face. She asked to take a closer look at the iron wolf because she felt as if she was being pulled towards it by something under the bridge of her nose. Amused by this Chalazias allowed her to approach the statue, restraining his attendant direwolves. She knelt, touched her head to it, and suddenly what was sitting there was not a statue, but a real animal.

This seemed to brighten Chalazias’ attitude considerably, his joy at seeing “Pringle” alive and well breaking momentarily through his grim façade. He spoke to Sehera in High Elvish, and she responded, completing a poem. (Apparently, Sehera’s non-Zythu parent was a High Elf. I would never have guessed, but now that I know what to look for, I can see it…) He immediately took this as a revelation, declaring that Sehera was “of leaf and sand” and “something the Orcs would never allow to exist,” and ordered his Zythu prisoners remanded to Sehera’s custody.

His attitude on the rest of his orc prisoners was unchanged.

It was Dendera that broke the stalemate by offering an alternative to the Effulgent One’s power: if we could retrieve the Philosopher’s Stone, he could use that for his ritual rather than the effulgent one. With the power of an Al-Exir made with the stone, virtually any cleric could cast this spell, rather than sacrificing the power of the Effulgent One.

Setting aside our collective shock at Dendera’s confidence that Philospher’s Stone was real this seemed an acceptable alternative, with the implied understanding between us that we could not allow Chalazias to have the Philosopher’s Stone any more than we could allow him to have the Effulgent One.

Dendera explained that her organization Al Haddid Jalut was confident that the Philosopher’s Stone, or at least something matching certain descriptions of the stone, was hidden in Zarjasz Al-Ulaq. Chalazias would give us four months to journey there, get the stone, and return. As we are about eighteen days travel to Akkarid, this is not terribly much time, but it is the length of time it would take the Company of the Iron Wolf to obtain a twelfth saramite stone. At that point, they would enact their ritual, using the Effulgent One or the Al-Exir.

A man stepped from the shadows and conferred briefly with Chalazias, confirming to the pirate that this would be a viable plan. I did not recognize him but, later, Indira revealed that she had; the man appeared to somehow be Umaran Comashio, the famous and long-dead alchemist. It seems ridiculous, but I have seen portraits and his features are distinctive. If he was not the same man, he is eerily similar. It is said by some that Umaran Comashio created the Philosopher’s Stone. It would seem he is not able to recreate it or he likely already would have.

After we reached agreement, we requested to see Noza Oda, to assess her health. Lyr and Nessisus went, while the rest of us were escorted to a room where we would be spending the evening, a storeroom that had been converted to temporary quarters.

We had a brief conversation with O’Kalon, covering some basic details of our immanent trip. She seemed less than pleased to be transporting us again. Chalazias’ stated reason was due to his trust in O’Kalon, but I suspect he is punishing her for failing to bring the twelfth saramite stone. Judging by her recalcitrance she might feel the same; there was more than her justified dislike of us in her eyes.

Meanwhile, Lyr and Nessisus were led to the officers’ quarters, where the Effulgent One was being imprisoned in the manner befitting her station.

Upon meeting her, Lyr was profoundly relieved and Nessisus had another fit. Lyr says that he barely spoke afterwards, but seemed entirely distracted afterwards, lost in thought. Lyr tells us that Noza Oda was well, properly fed and cared for, pleased to have her cube returned, and more concerned for the safety of Maram than herself.

They rejoined us, but Nessisus did not enter the room. With little ceremony, he informed us that he was staying on the Sidero Lykos, and left. We were all shocked, confused, and a little hurt. Was he being forced to stay to serve as a hostage? Was he so flattered by O’Kalon’s grudging compliments of his voice? But when Lyr mentioned his seizure, it occurred to me that the reason he was staying was at least in part influenced by a vision. He must feel he has something important to do here, or more accurately, something worthy of his time. I wish him the best.

The Widow’s Blade; July 5

We rose early to catch the tide. The Widow’s Blade’s crew had already transferred the Zythu—still kept in chains—to her hold, resupplied, and recrewed, so we left promptly and with no fanfare.

The day passed with little event. As before, our presence was unwelcome, though they seem to have grown slightly more accustomed to our presence. Maybe by the end of the trip, they will say more to us than “get out of the way,” though I’m not holding my breath.

When my mind is idle, I am consumed with melancholy thoughts. Thoughts of those I know who have died, and not only Maram, Indira, and Lazar.

The priests of Bahamut hold no taboo against restoring true life to the dead, though the costs of such magic are prohibitive to most. The priests counsel the bereaved to be cautious about going into debt to pay for such services, though many an inmate at a debtor’s prison has just such a debt hanging over their lives. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be forced into such a choice.

Despite being able to afford it, my family has a complicated relationship with resurrection. Of my brothers, several have died.

Umar’s death was something of a relief, an end to a life of pain and resurrecting him was never discussed.

Zahi died in combat. Resurrection was attempted but, as the priests explained, one must be willing to return. He is fighting in the armies of Bahamut now.

Hanif died as a youth in a fire; he had raced into a building to rescue several children who had been trapped. They survived, he did not, but the family voluntarily paid for him to be raised, though it put them into debt. He has been insufferably good ever since.

For Latif resurrection was never an option. That truth, their crimes, scattered across the desert with their ashes.

Makram sparked much debate. It was ultimately decided his death was suicide and he was thus not restored.

Salih was slain once, the first time he jousted, in a freak failure of his armor. He was raised from the dead, and has never lost another fight.

And then there is me.

I do not remember my rescue. One could forgive a child for forgetting a traumatic memory, but I remember so much else from that ordeal. Why would I forget that? Why would there be that gap, awaking in my bed, a priest by my side, a healer my mother said. My father has embraced me only a few times in my life, and never with tears in his eyes.

I should eliminate these paragraphs when this journal is copied.

And so I have spent most of my time exhausting my body and mind with training and study. It has been effective.

Sehera and Lyr spent many hours with the Feshtarken, the unusual tribe of Zythu in the hold. One of their number, Murcarth gar’chem proved particularly talkative and spent a good amount of time telling her of their unusual life.

It is a shame the Iron Wolf ended their travels; it would have been interesting to see what became of them in a few generations. One of my tutors often spoke of the adaptability of the races of Soleria. Most peoples have a niche, as he called it, and they do not expand out of it. It is part, he said, of what keeps the world from falling into all-out, continual war. Humans are the exception; humans live everywhere and, aside for some slight variations, are all the same. Variability is in our blood. The other races must change, and do so dramatically, to the point that an anari and a high elf are nearly as different from each other as they are from a gnome. I don’t know how true this is, but it was an intriguing concept.

Would the Feshtarken, in time, have become a new bloodline of orc? It is an interesting exercise of thought…

The Widow’s Blade; July 6

Today has passed with little event, though it began with a strange incident.

When she awoke yesterday morning, Lyr said there was a peculiar light, emanating from her forehead, but that it dimmed by the time she realized what was happening. Today, she woke Sehera as soon as she arose to great the sun. Sehera verified what Lyr suspected, a glowing symbol had appeared on her forehead, where she says the Effulgent One touched her. Tomorrow, we should attempt to transcribe the symbol, so we can determine its meaning.

I write this later, for that evening, the day became interesting indeed. A storm, clearly unnatural, arose suddenly, bearing down on us, fierce with lightning and waterspouts. A great, serpentine being arose from the water and spoke to us. The Dragon Eel Iskaalu, the Pale Water, had come for us.

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Session 32

Qu’ah Qi Jazeera; day 2 continued

Muhadarac Hasidar proved too capable and quickly negotiated his way out of Cressida, Sehera, and Feng’s ambush, though it helped make the point that they were no longer willing to tolerate his equivocations. By telling him of the bodies the found (and the thing that inhabited the pit) they were finally able to get him to open up.

He explained that, three years ago, pirates came to this island and encountered Muhadarac. They discovered that, because of his relationship with the [[Qu’ah Qi]], he was uniquely situated to provide them with Saramite stones from the island’s Saramite Tree. If he could provide them with stones—and not ask any questions—they would provide him with luxuries and equipment from the outside world and, when they had “all the Saramite they needed,” they would take him back to Akkarid.

Over the three years that followed, they have come eleven times, bearing groups of prisoners to sacrifice to the tree, ninety-two people in total, a number Muhadarac has kept as a tally of scars on his chest. They are expected to return any day.

The pirate he made this arrangement, a woman who calls herself O’Kalon sails under the flag of the Company of the Iron Wolf, fleet of the Dread Pirate Chalazias. The same dread pirate who currently holds the Effulgent One captive. If this is Pelor’s doing (as Lyr would surely conclude) he certainly has a roundabout way of doing things…

When pressed about the corpse-eating creature, Muhadarac pled ignorance. They appeared only a few months ago from quarters unknown. One attacked him several weeks ago, but the Qu’ah Qi defended him. They do not come out in the day and they do not approach the temple and so he has remained unmolested.

Reasonably satisfied, my companions did not pressure the man much more, and slept.

Qu’ah Qi Jazeera; day 3

In the morning, Cressida, Sehera, and Feng shared the knowledge they had obtained the night before.

We attempted to communicate with the Qu’ah Qi again and Lyr discovered that the Beegowh was, in fact, sapient and capable of communicating telepathically with her. It was aware of the dark creatures and informed us that there were five of them, and that he felt responsible for their appearance, though whether that was simply guilt or an indication of actual fault remains uncertain.

While Nessisus stayed behind to assist experimenting with the crystalline structure, we searched the island for a sign of the creatures for most of the day and found nothing, though we did find more peculiar, ancient ruins. As the day drew on, it became apparent that we would not be able to ambush them in any sort of lair, and returned to the body pit. Lyr consecrated the ground and we waited…

When night fell, the creatures showed us why our search was fruitless as one of them rose out of the ground. Unable to feed upon the consecrated corpses, it cried out, summoning two more spectral beings, and we attacked.

They were incorporeal and capable of slipping into the earth, emerging only to strike us. One attacked Indira, passing through her, and she collapsed to the ground. We found the rhythm of the combat, waiting until the instant they emerged from the ground to strike, and defeated the things, even after two more appeared.

Battle over, we discovered, to our absolute horror, that Indira had been slain.

We returned to the temple with Indira’s body. None of our skill or magic could help her and, due to the restrictions of her faith, Lyr would only have been able to reincarnate Indira in another body. As such a spell would depend on willingness of the soul to be subjected to a roll of the cosmic dice, we were concerned that Indira would not accept such an option.

As Lyr prayed for guidance, Nessisus performed a dirge for Indira, a powerful song that helped sooth our souls even as we grieved.

After a time, Lyr tells me that the Beegowh spoke to her mind, then it entered the ancient temple. It held Indiria’s head and feet with its massive paws and turned to crystal, bringing Indira to life with an act of mortal magic.

Muhadarac did not know, would never have guessed, that the Beegowh was capable of such workings, but in that instant several questions were answered for him.

The first was that the crystal structure below us was not just carved to look like humanoid figures, it is the crystalized bodies of several Beegowhs, and that, considering that they may have voluntarily sacrificed themselves—as our nameless friend had just done for Indira—they may have had very good reason to seal off whatever was contained within.

It also helped confirm certain theories he had about the nature of the Beegowhs. These gentle giants are born of the Qu’ah Qi, “born” whole from—seemingly—a single parent, though that parent does not survive. The body of the parent is treated with the utmost respect by the Qu’ah Qi and given a form of funeral. We realized then that this was the source of the mummies in the chamber below.

But as interesting as these factors were, we were all quite exhausted and went to sleep.

Qu’ah Qi Jazeera; day 4

In the morning, we were all immensely relieved to see that Indira seemed to be in good health, and suffering no ill effect save for some confusion.

Lyr, however, was less well off, for she was stricken by a nightmare of fearsome omen, in which the sun did not rise with the dawn. I don’t think I’ve seen her quite that shaken before…

Fortunately, this meant that she was awake particularly early, and was able to see a speck on the horizon, an approaching ship.

The pirates were coming.

Debate over how to respond ensued. Feng advocated an extreme approach, taking their boat. Some of us advocated making a deal for passage off the island, but we had nothing to offer save for the treasure we had taken from Azu-Makeen, and if they wanted that they would seem to be more likely to kill us and make off with it. It seemed that, if we wanted to get off the island—and hopefully to find out if they knew anything of the location of the Effulgent One—we would need leverage, perhaps obtained by kidnapping their captain or another officer.

However, we realized one important factor; they were not expecting us but were instead continuing their standing arrangement with Muhadarac, to sacrifice prisoners to the saramite tree. This we could not stand by and allow and so our course of action became clear.

We would establish an ambush for the pirates along the trail to the tree. If we could capture an officer in the ensuing fight, then so much the better. If not, we would use the saramite to augment the power of our spellcasters to overcome the remaining pirates.

Muhadarac remained behind to show that nothing was amiss and he warned us beforehand that the leader, O’Kalon was a powerful enchantress; so much so that their prisoners willingly enter the tree’s sphere of effect.

Knowing the way—and Muhadarac’s trails—the journey back to the saramite tree was much faster, but the pirates would know these paths as well, so we had only a little time to set up some traps and find poitions.

The pirates came, moving in narrow file with several prisoners who, as Muhadarac had said, were not bound, but clearly enthralled by O’Kalon. The pirate captain walked at the back of the column but when we could see her, we discovered who she really was; this reality’s Janna Rejahl. We (well, aside from Lyr) had seen the power of her voice before, and knew we needed to strike hard and fast. Unfortunately, she had another prisoner, Muhadarac, who clearly had been coerced into accompanying them. He must have been less successful at not acting suspicious than he had hoped…

There was no time to change our plans, however, so Dendera and I struck, tying down the front of the column. Indira, feeling much revived, poured out her anger at having died with her bow, raining death from her treetop perch. Feng divided their numbers with a wall of fire and Sehera and Cressida engaged those from the back of the column as they pushed through the forest to join their companions, Cressida taking the form of an elephant.

Yes, you heard me. An elephant. It was glorious.

The fight was difficult, but we held the upper hand. Janna attempted to threaten us through Muhadarac, but he called her bluff; they could not harvest the saramite without him. As powerful as she was, she proved no match for an angry elephant…

The spell holding the prisoners was broken and they fled. One of the pirates picked out an older woman from their numbers and shot her dead, before she could escape, but the others were rescued.

The pirates slain—and Janna unconscious and bound—we tended to the prisoners. One of them was Asim Maah-Adwuld, father of Maram. He did not recognize me, but I accidentally let slip that I knew Maram. I… I had to lie to him. I could not tell him that Maram had died. That she had died because of me. Not now when he was so far from hope.

Feng spotted a kenku, Tasi amongst the prisoners and spoke to him in Harukan. I have been listening in on Sehera’s lessons and trying to remember what little remains of what my tutors taught me, and so was able to discern that the man knew Feng, and knew of his deeds. This was a relief as, along with Maram’s father’s presence, this confirms that we are probably still in the same <http: />universe we call home, though we seem to have slipped forward in time slightly. I retain a nagging uncertainty that our world is our world, but this treads on existential quandaries that I am ill prepared to contemplate.

For example, what if, at the instant we activated the teleportation machine in Sefet, what if that universe had been destroyed, and we were transported to a universe where the machine had, instead, exploded and killed us all. If all other aspects of the world were the same as they had been to that point, what would be the difference from a world where the machine had simply teleported us elsewhere, save for a few more mangled bodies buried under Sefet?

In any case, I digress. “O’Kalon” was waking up and interrogated, the threat of being tossed to the tree proving an effective motivator.

She believed firmly that she was in the moral right in sacrificing her prisoners and easily volunteered an explanation. In her eyes, at least, she was executing criminals. Tasi, for example, had been a slaver. The woman who had been shot Ano Skobelov was a member of the Blue Lotus, a group of assassins. While her position could be arguably called just—my father would not have hesitated to have such criminals executed—she took this too far. Maram’s father was on their list because he had been transporting Skobelov, even though he knew her only as a paying customer. (An offence worth, at most, a lashing and retraction of his captaincy.)

When pressed on the Effulgent One, she was more vague, but from her we learned that he planned on using her—and the saramite—for some form of mass resurrection. Lyr was enraged by this concept—to her the greatest blasphemy—and demanded to see Chalazias. When she later told me of her omenous dream, I could tell she felt there was a connection between this planned ritual and the vision.

Seeing an opportunity to both get off the island and to possibly rescue the Effulgent One, we bargained with Janna. Ultimately, we agreed that, if we let her live, she would take us to Chalazias, free the prisoners, and get Muhadarac back to Akkarid.

Muhadarac gathered his few belongings—mostly his extensive collection of observations and research notes—and bit a sad farewell to the Qu’ah Qi. One would not leave him, and so accompanied on the man’s journey. Judging by Creature, Muhadarac will be in good paws…

The women of The Widow’s Blade were not what I would call welcoming, but they took us aboard and we departed.

The Widow’s Blade; five days after leaving Sefet

Our first day aboard the Widow’s Blade was a tense experience. Any time we wandered out a narrow area, we were greeted with, at best, quiet hostility. They did not want our help or camaraderie. Considering that we had killed several of their shipmates and taken their captain prisoner, this is the best we could expect.

Still, I am travelling aboard a pirate ship! There is a certain charm to this that I will not deny, a (partial) realization of childhood fantasy. Iskandar would have been proud, though perhaps disappointed that I was not engaging in a heated affair with the beautiful pirate captain.

Then again, I suspect he would not have found this a pleasant experience at all. It seems that the war that left most of these women widowed was fought against the orcs of Rastahl, Danu, and other lands. Sehera was the target of far more hostility than the rest of us, to the extent that we tried to ensure she was never left on her own. The crew had been ordered to leave us unmolested, but I suspect the none of the crew would have objected if she met with an accident.

We spent most of the day adapting to the sea—still somewhat choppy after the sudden storm of the pervious night—and recuperating. We first arrived in Sefet only twelve days ago, and it has been a week and a half of nearly continuous battle and stress. I still have aches from the tournament alone, let alone all the various other injuries to my body and soul. And this new body of mine continues to be a strange experience. On almost every level, it is the same, but now and then there is a strange, slight difference that catches me off guard. It is difficult to explain; I’m not entirely sure I can give a meaningful example apart from the obvious strangeness of catching my face in a mirror.

Imagine if, in your sleep, somebody broke into your house and moved some of your stuff. There is an initial feeling of violation and strangeness, but as time goes on and that subsides, you keep finding something not quite where you left it and, even stranger, they replaced a few of your possessions with ones that are almost the same. A cushion that one had tassels now has fringe. A rug with camels at the border now has horses. Like I said, it is difficult to explain.

Fortunately, my body forgot nothing of my training. After a few hours sparring with Sehera and Dendera, I feel like any kinks in my art have been addressed.

Other time has been spent listening to Muhadarac speak on his experiences and insights from the island and telling him of the changes to the world in his absence. He is quite distracted by leaving his Qu’ah Qi friends and anxious at returning to the world, but Raquejah will profit greatly from having his mind returned to the world.

The Widow’s Blade; six days after leaving Sefet

This morning, someone left a pig’s head next to Sehera as she slept. She took the slight in admirable humor and the head proved to be a good meal; the insult would have been better targeted, I suspect, against an orc of Restahl, who I have often heard compared unfavorably to pigs, than against a Zythu, but the intent was clear.

It seems that it is not just the Widow’s Blade, but the majority of the Company of the Iron Wolf who deeply prejudiced against orcs; beyond the skill and charisma of Chalazias, anti-orc sentiment seems to be one of the binding elements of the fleet. My uncle Sajjad, under whom I squired as a youth, spoke of such men and women, for whom war never ended but raged forever in their hearts. Considering the aggressive ways of many orcish peoples, I suspect there are many in the world who wage war against them in their hearts…

The act cast a pallor over the day, which we spent largely in continued recuperation, training, and study.

The Widow’s Blade; seven days after leaving Sefet

Nothing of note transpired for most of the day, which was spent largely watching a coastline grow closer. Eventually, the ship became a hive of activity. We were approaching the territory of the Company of the Iron Wolf. When we saw the first patrol ship, we too prepared ourselves. We hadn’t been cast overboard in the night, but we had little confidence at receiving a warm welcome.

The fleet itself eventually came into view, like a floating island of wood and metal. The greatest of these was the infamous Sidero Lykos, flagship of Chalazias. One of the fiercest, largest ships on the seas, it is a beast of a vessel and must be made with strong magic to float, let alone move. The source of its name was immediately clear, as its massive, iron figurehead gives the ship the head of a snarling wolf.

The Widows’ Blade weighed up beside the flagship and we were brought aboard after parting with Muhadarac. O’Kalon kept her word, informing the crew that we were under her protection and here to see Chalazias. That last calmed them somewhat; all are so certain of Chalazias’ strength that we are treated as something of an amusement.

We were led below decks and down a corridor lined with prison cells, most of them filled with orcs (and some Zythu), no doubt an attempt to intimidate us, and stowed in a waiting room for a time. We were allowed to keep our weapons and equipment in a further expression of the crew’s confidence in our status as a negligible threat. While I take some offence to this, I am also not eager to get thrown into the prison cells, so perhaps the implied threat worked…

After giving us enough time to get nervous or frustrated—my father is fond of the same technique—we were brought to an audience chamber, containing a large iron throne with wolf-like accents beside a very lifelike iron statue of a wolf, perhaps a casting. I am detecting a theme…

Shortly thereafter, the pirate king himself arrived. An older, weather beaten man of heroic proportions, like a barbarian. He wore heavy, iron-shod boots and heavy, fine clothes, no doubt lined with concealed plates or padding. Both of his hands were made of living crystal, quartz that flexed and moved like stiff flesh. He sat, stroked the ear of the iron wolf, and in a deep voice declared “I am Chalazias. You wished to speak with me.”

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Session 31

Location unknown Qu’ah Qi Jazeera; day 1

I awoke to Creature starring at me, to the sounds of mounting confusion, and tiny voices asking “cookie?” It took me several moments to realize that we were all being observed by Creatures. Dozens of them.

They had already found our supplies, what little we had on hand at our abrupt departure from Sefet, and after a brief flurry of activity to reclaim our belongings, we realized that we were in something of a situation. Even Lyr’s magic couldn’t feed us, for the creatures ate the food as fast as she could summon it.

Stomachs grumbling, we decided to scout our surroundings. After picking our Creature out of the crowd—Cressida had, it seems, actually managed to teach him some manners over the years—she transformed into a dire eagle and flew off to the southwest, while Dendera, Sehera and I went to the northwest.

The beach transitioned abruptly into jungle, but the ground soon became rocky and the vegetation smaller as we went inland and up hill. There was little sign of animal life save for small birds and insects and little food except coconuts. The creatures probably eat it all…

Eventually we found a stream, which led in turn to a slightly larger stream, which we followed up into the rocky hills. Eventually we found a large pool, a natural spring of some sort. Lined by a gravelly beach and light foliage, it seemed as idyllic a spot as one would be likely to find. A vantage point showed us a long view of the landscape, a mix of rocky scrub and tropical foliage, dotted with small ponds like this one. We spotted some small, fat deer-like creatures—the largest animals we had seen so far—but no obvious signs of civilization.

Dendera spotted fish in the pond and suggested that we catch some, then bring the others here, where we could eat, free of the creatures. I have very little fishing experience and Sehera is from the desert, so Dendera had to show us how. I guess I had never realized one could fish with a spear before; once the method became clear, it became an easy extension of my training, an exercise in focus and precision.

We gathered many hand-sized fish and set them over a cookfire, then Sehera went to find the others. On the beach, Lyr, had been trying to instruct the creatures in morality. Time will tell if she succeeded, I suppose. Feng worked at learning a new spell. Nessisus says he was composing a new song, but for him that process seems to involve a lot of sleeping.

Being left alone with Dendera was interesting. I am still not sure what to make of her; it is all of a few days since she threatened to murder my entire family. I still do not know why she came with us, or even what she needed the Khatam Mahib Ghaza, for she never talks about her self. She doesn’t even make small talk. She is a woman of action and, lately, her actions towards me have been… very friendly.

The others eventually joined us one by one, having escaped the creatures. Cressida and Indira found us as well by our cookfire. We are indeed on a small island, maybe a day’s walk in diameter. By the environment and vegetation, it seems likely we are north of Mileisia. Unfortunately, even from the sky, they could not see any neighboring islands. They reported seeing only one structure, on roughly the opposite side of the island from where we arrived. It was old, but is seemed the best option to explore.

But that would have to wait until tomorrow. The day had passed quickly—we had slept through most of the morning and were in no particular hurry—and so we made camp.

The only other event of note of that night was something Sehera found, a group of six stone posts, set deep into the ground, in a circle or hexagon. They seemed very old, but we could ascertain little from them save that, at some point, there had indeed been intelligent beings on this island.

Qu’ah Qi Jazeera; day 2

When we woke, the creatures had found us again, though fewer this time. Probably another troop of them. Lyr created some food for them as a distraction, allowing us to slip away, for they seemed determined to follow us, otherwise.

After several hours of walking, it started to rain. We took shelter, ate some of Lyr’s magically created food (bland, but nonetheless still food). It was a brief downpour and unfortunately provided little relief from the humidity and insects. Our brief time in Kohonma was far, far worse, but nonetheless, this has been a bit of a shock after having just been in Sefet’s early-summer dry period. We continued for a while longer, until, at roughly the center of the island, we came to a large clearing, devoid of life save for one large, strange tree. A Saramite Tree.

Dendera, Cressida and Lyr had never seen one of these things before and did not realize the danger,until they saw the corpses of birds and insects littered around the tree’s serpentine roots. Sehera skirted as close as she dared to the edge of the tree’s effect, helping us circumnavigate it safely. Strangely, a group of Creatures were frolicking amongst the tree’s branches, showing no ill effect at all.

Sehera found drag marks—as from a body—stretching from inside the tree’s sphere of influence and down a path, leading in the direction we intended to travel. For the rest of the day we followed this path, occasionally noting signs of drag marks, which were probably a few weeks old.

Along the path, we saw more of the same: a mix of rocky scrub and stands of tropical trees, small streams and ponds, few trustworthy natural food sources apart from coconuts, and few animals save for the creatures, the fat little deer (I am told they are water chevrotains), birds, and insects and more troops of Creatures.

Near sundown, we found a pleasant, Creature-free pond and decided to set camp. Lyr summoned a magical feast the likes of which would do a great household proud; there was enough food even for the creatures who caught its scent. Feeling refreshed, we began to prepare for the night when a massive, low sound rumbled through the night, sending all of the wild Creatures into a frenzy, dashing towards the sound. As the noise was coming from the direction we had been heading, we decided to investigate.

A short walk later, we saw the ancient structure, some sort of temple, in the bright, moonlit night. We could see a light inside, but of greater interest was the roiling mass of creatures nearby. As we approached, a massive figure rose up, a creature bigger than a man. Cressida’s Creature responded ecstatically to the bone-shaking rumbles of what he called “Beegowh.”

As we took in this strange scene, a voice called to us, the resident of the ancient structure; an old man who claimed to be Muhadarac Hasidar, the famed naturalist who was thought to have been lost at sea two decades ago. Evidently, he had been lost at sea, and we had just found him.

He escorted us inside, talking quite excitedly at having company after twenty years of solitary, island life. He rambled for a time about the creatures, which he called Qu’ah Qi, who had been his company for isolation on Qu’ah Qi Jazeera, as he had dubbed the island. He never did explain where the name “Qu’ah Qu” came from…

Where other men would’ve given into despair, Muhadarac had used his exile to pursue his studies. He claimed to have reached a great breakthrough in the nature of life on Soleria through his discovery of a method of dating things in relation to the Lacunar Event called “Radiant Decay Chronodetermination.” Fascinating, but far beyond our level of understanding.

He explained a great deal, and I shall try to summarize it later*. But his research became far more understandable when he showed us to the basement. It was a small, hexagonal catacomb, and the bodies contained within were mummified Qu’ah Qi. He explained that, by his Radiant Decay Chronodetermination, he was able to ascertain that the Qu’ah Qi not only predated the Lacunar Event, but are native lifeforms to Soleria. As far as I know, this would make them the most complex, native life known, suggesting a vastly more complicated picture of pre-Lacunar Soleria than my tutors ever did. No other known life is intelligent and, while the Qu’ah Qi do not seem to be at the same level of intelligence as, say, humans or elves, they are undeniably intelligent creatures with at least a limited function of language.

*For articles relevant to Muhadarac’s infodump, see: x

But even with this amazing revelation, the truly captivating sight stood at the center of the room, a massive, crystalline formation that seemed to be made of petrified bodies of tall, humanoid creatures. What it was, Muhadarac had no idea, though he suspected it was either some sort of sarcophagus or gate; he had studied it for years to no avail.

Nessisus cast a spell to examine it (which necessitated singing) and the structure resonated with his voice, humming and glowing. In the twenty years Muhadarac had been on the island, he said, it had never done anything like this. Nessisus collapsed, possibly having another of his visions or strokes and so, as soon as I could, I encouraged him and Muhadarac to cease examining the structure and come upstairs with us.

At this point, Cressida had already left, the presence of the mummified Qu’ah Qi unnerving her too much. I felt it would be valuable for all of us to share our tale with Muhadarac—for we have seen so much that could coincide with his knowledge—so Nessisus and I started from the beginning…

Several hours later, he had gone from skepticism through confusion to amazement. The concept of the kafs intrigued Muhadarac, as he immediately saw them as a source of endless resources. Objectively, he is correct, but anything taken from one kaf deprives another, even if it is possible not to destroy a kaf when leaving it, as the Glass Artifact seemed to do. I do not believe that the infinity of the universe overrides the immorality of this sort of inter-kaf piracy. I think. I suppose, on another Qu’ah Qi island, there may be another Hasan who agrees with Muhadarac…

Our conversation turned to more convivial matters and he brought out some food and wine he had saved and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly…

As this was occurring, Cressida, Sehera, and Feng had left the temple to explore and found a poorly preserved ship, which Muhadarac had mentioned (for, as he told us, there had been others stranded people in the decades he had been here, but none had survived long). It was in heavily damaged condition, but if we are here indefinitely, we may be able to repair it, if we can find resources.

Then, following an unpleasant scent and a strange noise, they found something horrific, a massive pit, filled with bodies, far more than Muhadarac’s stories of other stranded people implied, and some of them seemed quite recent. Though there were signs of injury on the body, the probable cause of death was seemed to be the Saramite Tree… They saw a massive thing, whose profile was indistinct in the darkness, strip a corpse to the bone in a grisly gulp.

Now deeply suspicious of our host and his Qu’ah Qi friends (who, as you will recall, are immune to the tree’s effects), they returned to the temple, where Muhadarac was watching Nessisus sing to the crystalline structure. Not planning on giving him a chance to talk (and, perhaps cast a spell), they descended upon him…

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Session 30

June 27

The Burned Crow stood between us and, we suspected, Lydra Geb. We had hoped to use the Black Phoenix as a distraction for longer, but Azu-Makeen had not revealed himself; if we let him continue his rampage, it seemed increasingly likely that he would get to Lydra before us, so we engaged him and his men.

The Crow was accompanied by many powerful minions, but was himself the greatest threat; a powerful monk, his fists struck like hammers at our pressure points, leaving us shaken and weaken. We seemed to start at a tragic loss when he struck Lyr with a quivering palm strike; even though her fall filled us with righteous fury, the fight seemed hopeless until a miracle occurred. By the grace of Pelor, an error on the part of our foe, or some strange effect none of us comprehended, she rose and struck at our foe with divine rage. Balance was, for now, restored to the fight and, as the Phoneix henchmen fell, the odds shifted to our favor.

By this time, however, the Cobalt Crown’s security systems had taken note of the fight and a pair of glass golems joined the fray, viewing all of us as foes and lashing out with their jagged, razorlike fists.

We fought on despite poison and blood loss and the Crow’s debilitating strikes until his strength was nearly spent and he attempted to flee. Kong Day Li’s treachery revealed itself and the Crow knew he had been betrayed as I ran him through with my rapier.

As Cressida and Indira felled the last of the golems, Feng cut the Burned Crow’s head from his body; now crumbling with the loss of the magic and will that had sustained it. Suddenly, we were again surrounded, as Kong Day Li arrived with several squads of Black Phoenix warriors. He and Feng exchanged terse words and we were introduced to Sheng Ying, a hawk-headed kenku who would now be the master of the Black Phoenix. It became quite clear that, though we had just dispatched their twisted master, we would not be seen as allies in future encounters.

After they departed, we investigated further, encountering several small groups of Cobalt Crown agents who proved no match for our combined strength. We discovered some potentially valuable sources of information, such as an apparently unfinished counterpart to the Glass Artifact and a strange magical apparatus that we suspected may have been a prototype of these artifacts. Additionally, we collected pages of an experimental journal and some correspondence involving a “JE”.

We freed a fire elemental that had been entrapped for use as a sort of magical battery; after its release it communed with Feng. He explained that it had tested him, though what that meant, none of us truly understood.

Most importantly, we found Lydra, apparently well and nearly unharmed.

We continued our search, hitting dead ends, until Sehera, frustrated at milling about, flew into a rage and obliterated one of the doors that stood in our way. We had discovered a treasure room and we pillaged it accordingly as Sehera caught her breath. Within, we discovered a peculiar key, which was able to open the other door that barred our exploration, a large, ceremonial door.

Within was a spiraling staircase, which lead to a large, ceremonial chamber, filled with Cobalt Crown agents, the great blue dragon Azu Makeen himself, and an Ancilla, apparently, his first successful creation.

The time had come to use the Tenrashinban, but still we had no understanding of its use. Fortunately, Nessisus had a moment of insight; it had been prophesized to us that “the blood of the king” would be the key, but the Tenrashinban was Harukan and in Haruka, there are no kings. There are, however, Shoguns, such as Shogun Norio Hokoru, the creator of the device.

Seeing no other choice, I used a wish from the Khatam Mahib Ghaza to give me the “ability to bind the four cardinal spirits with the Tenrashinban,” though I feared what that might mean. The power of the efreeti’s coursed through me and, when it was gone, I felt no change. However, I no longer looked the same; I was now of the bloodline of the Shogun.

I am no longer an heir to Hazred. My friends say that I mostly look the same, but I wonder if even my mother would recognize me? I am certain my father would not.

We burst into the ceremonial chamber, cutting through the Cobalt Crown agents surrounding the great beast. Up close, the dragon was a terror-inducing sight and I knew we were doomed if this encounter did not play out as we had hoped. The dragon mocked us and snatched me up in his jaws. The look of surprise that filled in his huge reptilian eyes when I jammed the Tenrashinban down his throat was a sight I will cherish.

In a cloud of magic, he was sucked into the compass and his agents immediately ceased their struggle, resigning themselves to die. A rumbling filled the structure and mud began to flood the room from dragon-mouthed spigots that we had seen lining all of the walls. The new Ancilla, however, did not give up; though her strength was fearsome and we were exhausted, she was no match for our combined might. As Lydra reclaimed her belongings from this woman, we located the Reliquary of Yadisunu, lying in a mandala on the floor that was rapidly being submerged by mud.

There seemed to be no exit, for the Warp Ring we had would not carry us all away and Ramal’s had been taken from him by his captors. We ran through the halls, looking for a way out, but the mud was growing so deep in places that Lyr had to be carried. The exquisite statuary that lined the halls was all coming to life, all golems.

It was Dendera who first suggested the magical array, the apparent protoype portal device. We investigated it and, when we felt we understood at least roughly how to use it, gave Ramal and Lydra our warp ring and much of what we had found of the Artifact, as well as my previous journal, to give to Claudia Lestoue (fortunately, I had grabbed a blank journal out of some sort of accounting office, since my old book had been filling up). Hopefully they will be able to get some use of the knowledge we have acquired.

Dendera seemed uncertain what to do, so I persuaded her to go with Ramal and Lydra; she had a mission to accomplish with the Khatam Mahib Ghaza and we did not even know if this device would work, let alone where it would take us. But, at the last second, she pushed away from Ramal and Lydra as they teleported to safety and joined us in our journey into the unknown…

Date and location unknown; the first night

We found ourselves on a beach at night, though it was barely midday when we had entered the portal array. We were all exhausted, however, and after washing the mud off in the warm ocean, we ate, set watch, and tried to catch some sleep.

Thoughts flit through my mind, as insubstantial as the warm breeze and the susurrus of the ocean. I am distracted by my own reflection; by the ramifications of the face that looks back at me. When I try to rub the exhaustion from my eyes, they feel wrong, no longer the same shape. I should learn Harukan. I should stay awake. Maybe if I just close my eyes for a few minutes.

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Session 29

June 27

In the morning, we proceeded as planned, Sehera and Indira heading to the Vaults while we proceeded to the library. Unfortunately, someone was looking for us and, not long after we arrived, a large group of city guard arrived, led by the Daricassan we thought had been named Isik Hiriz, the man we had seen attempting to purchase child slaves. He claimed to be an officer of the guard, that we had interfered in an operation, that Feng, Ramal and I were suspects in the death of Festiz ibn-Hazool, and that we were to come with him.

Very quickly, things got out of hand. I should’ve stepped in and spoke for peace, but I was angry, tired, slightly hungover, and my mind was on battle. And so a battle began, a short, brutal encounter that left all but a few of the guards dead.

We scattered through the library, giving me enough time to be struck with a powerful sense of regret, but also a lingering curiosity. How did they know of our involvement with Festiz ibn-Hazool? Did they know we would be at the library? Have we just been careless, or was someone trying to set us up?

As this was occurring, Sehera and Indira found themselves in a network of rooms and corridors. After fighting some agents of The Cobalt Crown, they discovered a secret door into the library and, very quickly, we were all in the lair of the Cobalt Crown. We passed through rooms containing gruesome experiments, probably their efforts in creating their own Ancillae.

We followed distant sounds of battle to a trail of bodies which, in turn, led to The Burned Crow

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