Session 52

August 18, Zarjasz al-Ulaq

I rushed the Dread Reliquary, moving as quickly as I could so to give our spellcasters room to work. I damaged the mechanisms in its head, but it grabbed me in its huge claws, all but crushing the life out of me. I tried to break its grip with my hammer to no avail. The others assaulted vigorously and it dropped me, changing is fighting stance.

By Lady Laracroix was ready for it, and unleashed her fury upon it. Her previous attacks had allowed her magical sword to attune to the Reliquary’s armor, and now her attacks cut through as it was not there at all. The construct shuddered and collapsed.

Victory, though, was not yet at hand, for the crystal sarcophagus opened and the remains of Bennura rose, a lich of no doubt fearsome power. But such might was naught before the will of Pelor. Lyr admonished the creature and it was destroyed utterly in a burst of holy light.

A glowing object, about the size of a large pomegranate, tumbled from where the lich’s heart should have been. We had found the Cintamani.

Searching the room, we found a shaft leading down into another room. Some of my companions descended to investigate, while I planned to ascend, for we had heard shouts of triumph and relief when the Reliquary was destroyed. The Guardian had failed instantly. One of the Marut descended first, simply jumping down. I explained what he was looking at, that the pile of dust was all that remained of Bennura. Eframostis verified this and, once the other remaining Marut were satisfied, they left.

I ascended to inform the other groups what was happening. I made my explanation quick, for the others were calling for me.

In the chamber below was a peculiar apparatus, the teleportation device Mudu had told us about. Feng had tried the apparatus first. While none of us were sure what, exactly, happened, he did disappear… Sehera, determined to reunite Khegan with his sword, tried the apparatus next, taking the key to Al-Mhuqtebel.

The other parties arrived shortly thereafter and we all evacuated the fortress-temple.

In the camp, we were greeted with much excitement, which Asha Druj cut short. With yet another of her peculiar rings, she summoned forth a titanic creature, like an armored jellyfish the size of a ship that hovered in the air. This thing struck Zarjasz al-Ulaq with powerful magic and, suddenly, the entire structure was gone.

The disruption momentarily liquefied the sand and nearly everybody was sent tumbling down into the pit or just vanishing beneath the surface. Feng, in a stroke of luck, had taken a staff from Bennura’s sarcophagus that allowed him to control earth; with a great effort, he caused those buried beneath the sand to be ejected. Many received minor injuries, but none were killed. I do not think that Asha Druj was concerned about violating the contract, though…

Our portal to Al Mhuqtebel was now quite a distance up in the air. Indira and I rallied a few hands and we quickly erected a large net, using some destroyed canopies, to ready for Sehera’s return.

Exhausted, we went to bed.

Later, Sehera described her meeting with Khegan. He had been travelling across the desert, having had some form of vision commanding him to return to his people. He was all too happy for the shortcut Sehera provided. They met with Cressida, who seemed busy but well, and enjoyed themselves for a few hours. Apparently, the Zythu encampment was being broken apart, the tribes separating again and resuming their nomadic way of life.

Session 51

August 18, Zarjasz al-Ulaq

The effect of the trap, fortunately, lasted only a few seconds. Freeing myself, I rushed back to the flying boat and revived Dendera with a potion, and she was then healed by Lyr.

Feng, Lyr, Eframostis, and Indira dispatched the dragons that were harassing us, as Sehera slew the remaining dragons that were overwhelming Lady Laracroix and Syla.

We surveyed the locking mechanisms. There were six, three locked, three unlocked, and we needed to unlock all six. Eframostis found a button on the boat that did something, apparently unlocking the traps. The switches were linked in such a way that throwing them would throw two others, so we had to work together, yelling over the sounds of battle and the racket of the engine, throwing them in the right order.

When complete, a shaft opened in the floor, leading below. We secured a rope to the boat and descended. There, we found the dread reliquary. Or it found us, for it was a massive construct, a gargantuan metal scorpion, with the remains of Bennura cast in a crystal sarcophagus upon its back.

Have I mentioned how much I hate scorpions?

Session 50

August 18, Zarjasz al-Ulaq

The other groups remained unimpressed by our revelation about The Nameless Philosopher and changed the subject. Eframostis took the golden skull, citing his “high tolerance for social interaction.” It seems safer for the skull to be stored in his metal body than in my bag of holding too.

After enough time to catch our breath and for injuries to be treated, we proceeded down the stairs to the engine room. The trip was largely silent, as our fellow explorers girded themselves for battle and considered their lost comrades.

The engine room is a large, open, domed chamber, with a polished, glasslike floor. Hanging in the center was a complicated, massive contraption, the “frictionless double pendulum” that powers Zarjasz al-Ulaq. Periodically, it sent out a massive discharge of lightning, sometimes striking large metal plates that seemed designed for the purpose, but sometimes arcing randomly across the chamber.

Asha Druj’s perfect composure slipped for a moment, and I was reminded that this was what she sought to see. Unfortunately for her, there was no time to examine it.

In the center of the room, under the engine, was a wide, low dome, ringed by devices that appeared to be the locking mechanisms Mudu had warned us about. Near us was a stone boat-like apparatus, which hovered above the floor.

The Guardian of Zarjasz al-Ulaq emerged and launched stone feathers from its wings. Where these landed, dragons of many different appeared. My companions and I piled into the boat and I piloted it towards the center, while the other groups held back the Guardian.

Lady Laracroix and Syla leapt off as we approached the screen of dragons, as did Sehera a moment later. The boat was capable of motion in all three dimensions, and I steered us as quickly as I could towards the center. We did not make the trip unscathed, for Dendera was paralyzed by one of the dragon’s magic, but we made it to the center all the same, with several of the dragons in hot pursuit.

The slick floor, nearly as frictionless as the space occupied by the engine, proved to be a boon for Sehera; shockingly fast in the most mundane circumstances, she glided along the floor at incredible speeds, a spinning engine of destruction. By the battles’ end she slew half of the dragons, several of them entirely by herself, a feat the likes of which I had never heard, let alone witnessed.

With Dendera paralyzed and the others engaged with the dragons—those around us remained airborne, rendering me somewhat useless—I braved the locks. We had been warned they were trapped, but I had not expected anything like what happened. When I grabbed the lock’s handle, I suddenly found myself falling upwards, towards the incandescent engine.

I grabbed on with all my strength, looped the strap of a bag around the handle, and watched as one of the dragons struck down my paralyzed wife.

Session 49

August 18, Zarjasz al-Ulaq

As The Nameless Philosopher narrated the approach of the Adav Nejmakohn, Lyr cast a warding spell. When the ward fell, we braced ourselves. The creature emerged—a tall, fearsome thing, covered in bands of metal that may have been part of its skin, not armor—demanding we surrender Lyr to him. This, of course, was not an option, and so we entered battle with the alien entity.

A mighty foe in its own right, massive, densely armored, and possessing powerful magics, it was accompanied by a peculiar golem, constructed of scrolls, broken magical items, and mold. The two foes bombarded us with devastating magics, but we recovered our balance and fought back.

As Indira peppered the golem with arrows, I did my best to tangle up the Adav Nejmakohn, allowing our companions to assault the thing. It was a brutal combatant, wielding a polearm with a blade of pure energy. It savaged me, but Lyr was able to keep me standing while we whittled away at it.

After nearly a minute of being pounded on by this alien warrior, I realized the golem’s magical assaults were too much to be ignored. I rushed it, holding it back from Indira as she finished it off.

The Adav Nejmakohn did not last much longer against our combined assault. When its armored body was finally broken open, its insides were revealed to be pure blackness. With a horrific howl, it collapsed in on itself until it vanished.

The “King of the Stars” left behind no trace of itself save its weapon. The magic of the polearm was so strong, however, that none of us could wield it save Indiria, who is not inclined to use such weapons.

Most of the components of the golem were destroyed by time and mold, though we pillaged a few potentially useful things from it. We sealed a few of the scrolls in an oilskin bag for later examination. This was Bennura’s workshop, and they may contain information of interest.

The Nameless Philosopher directed us to the forge, and Mudu joined us shortly thereafter. It worked with Sehera to bind one of her swords—the one given to her—to herself. She wishes to return the other blade to Khegan, and asked if there was anything in the fortress that could help her do so. Mudu explained that, one the ninth basement, there is a teleportation device, an untested invention that should allow the user to go anywhere they wish. However, it sounds like it does require an active user; she cannot just send the sword somewhere.

Afterwards, some of the compounds used by the forge remained; one could enhance existing enchantments, the other could remove them. I enhanced Nesr, sacrificing an enchanted dagger as a source of power. We considered removing the dangerous enchantments on the polearm, but decided there was neither time nor necessity to do so. In any case, we may need this power later, perhaps to break the protections of The Dread Reliquary.

Mudu confirmed our suspicions by informing us the Guardian was in conflict with Ahsa Druj’s party. We dared not risk becoming a more tempting target by recklessly experimenting with magic. Fortunately, her group had succeeded in their assignment—as had the other—and were retreating to the safety of the floor above. We hurried through the desolate workshop and beat the others to safety. We had enough time to discuss matters further with The Nameless Philosopher.

By the time the others arrived, we were all so growing so weary of his wandering, contradictory, and often deliberately aggravating personality, that we were ready to pass him on to the others, for he is as close to the true Philosopher’s Stone as we are likely to find. He will be a vital font of knowledge to those with more patience. Of course, he chose that moment to stop talking…

Session 48

Zarjasz al-Ulaq, August 17

Mudu is a peculiar entity, some sort of construct, but lacking in a physical form beyond light. It is intelligent, sentient, but utterly lacking in emotion, even an urge to self-preservation. It did not even make a move to defend itself as the marut attacked it, mistaking it for Bennura.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Before the other groups arrived, we asked it questions about the prophetic mural. It explained that the mural depicted The High Host, a race of Celestials called the Halbiru being freed of their prison and laying waste to the world, as a halbiru “youth” sings “The Void Song”. If, Mudu reasoned, our companion was the singer depicted, he must be a halbiru himself. I never really believed that he was an elf, as he sometimes claimed…

Any questions asked of Mudu seemed to only raise further questions, and my head is still spinning from the revelations he imparted. The High Host seek the Pure Breath, which is a power drawn from Ruby Mountain. The Pure Breath is the power that transformed Bahamut into a god from whatever he was before. I wager many would find that statement sacrilegious, but Mudu does not seem to be capable of lying, meaning it is either mistaken or absolutely correct.

The other groups, wearied, joined us. Mudu welcomed all to his floor and declared it to be safe from The Guardian. We were welcome to use this as an opportunity to rest, which all of our groups appeared to need.

This is when the marut attacked, their thunderous fists simply passing through the entity’s form. Fortunately, none were injured, even though the marut continued attacking after it became clear their attacks did nothing.

Mudu explained that it is not Bennura, but it is a part of the ancient scholar, specifically his wisdom and knowledge. The Guardian is Bennura’s courage, and a third part, The Dread Reliquary, Bennura’s desire, dwells at the lowest floor of the fortress-temple. Bennura cheated death by dividing himself between these three constructs, in order to ensure the survival of Zarjasz al-Ulaq.

It is the third part, the Dread Reliquary, that acts as a lynchpin to the other two. To complete their mission, the Marut will need to descend to the lowest level and destroy it. However, much to their chagrin, none of the other groups were prepared to continue as of yet. Though our contract does not protect one group from accidentally endangering the others, it does prevent knowingly endangering the others. In our current state, continuing would mean death.

The groups, primarily myself, Asha Druj, Bacarhim Zdadegan, and Lady Laracroix, discussed our strategy for proceeding. According to Mudu, the floor below ours holds a deadly threat, an Adav Nejmakohn—one of the creatures we encountered beneath Tamba Khoya—but also holds Bennura’s forge. Now that Cashara has been restored to her proper place, that floor can be unsealed, and we shall have to brave this fearsome foe in order to see Sehera’s contractual interest completed.

Meanwhile, the Al Haddid Jalut group and Lady Laracroix will brave the seventh floor, which holds a wild collection of savage natural lifeforms, in an attempt to reach a seal. Asha Druj’s group will attempt to reach a second seal on the eighth floor. We will join Asha’s company when we are finished on the sixth floor. The marut will split their number. Efarmostis Berit will accompany us, to both the forge and the eighth floor.

By undoing these seals, we can access the ninth floor, where the magical engines that drive Zarjasz al-Ulaq lie. The only access to the lowest floor, the vaults containing the reliquary, is through this engine room.

We go their not only to satisfy the Marut, but other contracts as well. Asha Druj’s group seems quite keen on seeing the engine room, while Mudu indicated the Cintanami is kept in the vaults. Unfortunately for Al Hadid Jalut and Lady Laracroix, Mudu claims the Philopher’s Stone is not housed here. Indeed, he indicated that the Philosopher’s Stone does not exist in a physical sense. It is a concept, a chaotic, unknowable magical formula. However, both groups hope that some more information on this formula is housed below.

If the Philosopher’s Stone does not exist, we cannot give it to Chalazias. Though we never intended to surrender its power to Chalazias, we had hoped that knowledge would provide us with the key to halting his plans. So far, this information has not presented itself. We have learned too that Umaran Comashio was a student of The Nameless Philosopher, the only known mortal to comprehend the Philosopher’s Stone. Comashino has seen the Al-Iksir, and thus it seems unlikely that a ruse will work.

Fortunately, it we may have help. Syla has requested to join us on our return to the Dread Pirate’s fleet. She seems to know more about Chalazias than she has let on…

Our groups separated and slept as best as we could on the hard floors.

August 18

All groups arose and readied themselves in what I assume was the next morning. Mudu repeatedly warned us that we would not be safe from the Guardian below this floor, but this knowledge did nothing to deter us. While the other groups descended the great staircases to the floors below, Mudu unlocked the sixth floor for us.

The sixth floor proved as devoid of life as the rest of the fortress-temple, but was cluttered with broken furniture and equipment. The Adav Nejmakohn contained within for so many centuries had long to rage, and left little unaffected.

Then, to our surprise, a voice began to speak to us, bright and sarcastic. After much confusion—for this was clearly not the feared Star King—we realized the noise came from Feng’s bags. He had, at some point in the previous day, found a gold-coated kenku skull lying on the ground and had picked it up.

It was this skull that now spoke to us, revealing himself to be The Nameless Philosopher, or rather the consciousness of that fabled alchemist. This peculiar entity sought to dissuade us from our path, as it was aware of what awaited us on this floor. The Nameless Philosopher prattled on, speaking at great length to Feng about the Fireborn and the Frostborn, for he had been his time’s Frostborn. He had, apparently, found some way of breaking the usual cycle of these entities and that had allowed him to discover the Philosopher’s Stone.

We may have to surrender this head to the other groups as, if it still contains the formula, it is, essentially, the Philosopher’s Stone. Hopefully, before then, it can provide knowledge that will help us diffuse Chalazias’ scheme. Unfortunately, nine centuries as a disembodied consciousness have also rendered it a little off…

The Nameless Philosopher warned us that the Star King was coming, so we went on, following its directions towards the forge, until we found a suitable room to battle…

Session 47

Zarjasz al-Ulaq, August 17

Indira took cover behind a sarcophagus and the rest of us moved into position to tackle the two massive stone golems. Incredibly durable, it took a tremendous effort to whittle them down, durability we were only able to match thanks to Lyr’s healing magic. During the fight, several animate mummies shambled out of the darkness towards us. Lyr was able to destroy them with the power of her faith, but their appearance prevented us from outmaneuvering the golems.

The battle won, we investigated the peculiar dais at the other end of the room; the platform held five sarcophagai, four that had contained the mummies and a fifth of different construction, which was still occupied.

The body within was skeletonized, but resembled an efreeti. I did not know efreeti have skeletons. It wore a crown and was clearly an honored corpse. But, from the magical inscriptions around it, it may have been an honored foe.

It seems we discovered the remains of Izznaar-Al-Sara, once king of The City of Brass, the being that cursed Dendera, sought to possess Feng, and destroyed the Great Library. We had understood that he had been transformed into the thing we have encountered by attempting to reach Ruby Mountain, so what exactly these remains are and what they are doing here is a mystery.

We continued on, finding a vast chamber filled with more sarcophagi. We crossed this chamber cautiously and found another room, containing a statue of Yadisunu, standing over a large basin, containing posed and mummified corpses, enacting religious stations of Bahamut. The vapors emerging from the mouth of the statue seemed to be affecting some of our party, so we sought to leave quickly. Faced with two doors, Lyr cast a spell of augury and told us one door led to danger. We took the other.

We passed through another large catacomb until we encountered an unusual door, massive and fiercely inscribed with various iconography. Within was a smallish chamber containing a statue of Tiamat. Before her were two blocks of incense and an inscription:

“The Dark Ocean Of Scales seeks to claim the stirring child
The pure breather descends with pillars that each
Shall burn one year to blind the fangs of the reviled
To overcome she, The Salt of The Abyss, those of faith we beseech
Let not the pillars burn or remain of any trace
When the Herald is born, let not the breath touch her face.”

This was no prayer any of us had heard and the wording was peculiar. After investigating the room and finding the other door was sealed, with no visible means of opening, we reasoned this was a puzzle. If each brick of incense was to burn for “one year,” but both were to burn by the end of “nine months,” we reasoned out a method of burning the incense so that both would be consumed in three quarters of the normal time. In three quarters of an hour, both bricks were gone and the door opened.

On the other side, Lady Laracroix and the water elemental Cashara were dispatching a stone golem like the ones we had encountered earlier. Though our group was tired and in need of rest, Syla urged us to continue on with them quickly.

We learned that Cashara is one of four elemental weirds who dwelt in Zarjasz al-Ulaq. When Bennura sunk this fortress-temple, she was trapped outside. Her absence may have been partly responsible for the current condition of the structure.

We descended to the next floor and encountered one of her fellow elementals, who urged Cashara to return to her pool as quickly as possible.

So we pushed on, escorting her through darkened hallways until we came to a conjunction. The great, multi-winged construct that had attacked us burst through the ceiling, threatening to destroy us all. I distracted the thing as the others ran past and was nearly blasted by a powerful beam shot from its eye, an attack I probably would not have survived.

At this point, the other parties arrived and entered the fray, holding back the eye. Evidentially, they all knew the purpose of Cashara already, and had neglected to tell the late additions to the expedition.

We found Cashara’s pool, but some sort of creature, like a humanoid mass of poison, had fallen in. It was extracted magically and Cashara shed a transparent membrane, sinking into her water with profound relief.

We heard the fighting down the hall cease, and lights on the wall began to glow.

We continued to the next floor and saw a magnificent fresco, depicting an apocalyptic scene as the world was burned by angelic fire. Standing amidst the destruction was a figure unmistakably similar to Nessisus. A legend read:

“Dread the Herald of the Spider, face of the false light which wreathes the doom that shall break the crowns of the stars. He is the singer of the void song which silences the wind and lays the willful asunder.”

In the next room, we encountered a spectral figure, who introduced himself as Mudu

Session 46

Zarjasz al-Ulaq, August 17*

An explosion of air from the portal, as if a protective field being broken, afforded us a window for attack. We rushed in, engaging the clockwork horrors in fierce combat.

During the fight, somebody came to our aid, hurling a magical dagger from the cover of invisibility. With this mysterious assistance, we soon cut down the constructs. Our assistant revealed herself, one of Lady Laracroix’s party, Syla Dhalnios.

Syla had been separated from the Lady in the chaos above. Using her powerful invisibility cloak and ability to move on the ceiling, she evaded the constructs and found a room containing a magical furnace, the source of mechanical menaces. She saw a significant door in that room, but it was so swarmed with constructs—and blazingly hot—that she did not want to press forward alone. Two ducts led into the room, supplying the furnace with air; following one of these led her to us. She had destroyed the barrier channeling most of the elemental air into the duct, hoping to disrupt the furnace’s operations.

We agreed with her assessment that the furnace must be destroyed or the constructs will keep coming. Surely the other parties are facing a similar struggle against their endless numbers. Stopping their ability to repair themselves will open the way for all. (Hypothetically, if there is more than one furnace on this floor, this may even help guide the others to our path; for we will create break in the pressure these things exert on us all.)

Syla set off to find the other portal and we ventured to the furnace room, racing through rooms filled with constructs. Now that we knew for certain that the things were repairing themselves, we did not bother to fight them, we simply pushed through.

We found the furnace room. The furnace itself was a massive cauldron, inscribed with runes and filled with molten metal. The room was filled with the metal insects. Most were the weaker electrum constructs, but there were also several of the stronger gold and platinum ones. One appeared to be made of adamantine, a king’s ransom of metal.

We planned our actions. The heat in the room was lethal, so we were to wait for Syla to succeed, but the things noticed us first. We tried to shut the door, but it was dissolved by a blast of magic.

After several tense seconds as the things swarmed towards us, Syla succeeded. The air in the room changed almost immediately, the furnace rapidly failing as its ventilation was cut off. An air elemental summoned by Indira carried the casks of gunpowder we took from the Ushtarak, depositing them by a base of the furnace. A fire elemental summoned by Feng followed, igniting the casks. The powerful explosion shook the room and broke the leg of the furnace, which fell, destroying most of the horrors with molten metal.

The adamantium horror, among the survivors, hit me with some sort of fearsome magic, a weakness filling my bones, my breath coming short, before it passed. I knew that I had avoided death by the narrowest margin. Having revealed the magnitude of its threat, we focused on the adamantine horror, destroyed it, then made good work of the remaining things.

When destroyed, the horrors collapse in on themselves in a tangled, rapidly cooling mess of metal that would be difficult to salvage. We had thus far left behind these large lumps of metal to evade pursuit, but adamantine is so rare, it was not to be passed on. While it still cooled, Dendera and I hacked off as large a piece as could fit in my bag of holding.

Syla joined us and, as there seemed to be little advantage in holding our ground, we ventured on.

Through the door were stairs descending to the next floor, so down we went. The halls below did not share the maze-like construction of the previous floor, and we were led to a single door, behind which we heard the stomping of massive feet.

Indira slipped inside to investigate, finding a catacomb patrolled by golems. As she wound through the large room, she found some peculiar sarcophagi and an open coffin, holding a body wearing a crown. Before could investigate further, she had to hide from the golems, but accidentally made some small noise. The golems alerted to her presence, she fled the room, her pursuers headed towards us…

Session 45

Al Haddid Jalut Encampment, August 16

Today, Dendera and I were wed.

Today, I met my new son.

It was all a blur, but scattered throughout with crystal clear images. Dendera, resplendent. Dendera, alive in a way I’ve never seen before as she was reunited. Lyr, covered in paint.

I’m not sure how I can ever encapsulate today.

August 17

We awoke fairly early and breakfasted with Al Haddid Jalut. The tension and excitement in the encampment was palpable.

Eventually, the signatories of The Contract gathered. The time had finally come for Dendera to use the Khatam Mahib Ghaza.

With her first wish, Hashtaram emerged from the ring and the desert erupted. In a chaos of trembling earth, the desert opened up, then erupted. Amidst a torrent of sand, Zarjasz al-Ulaq erupted from the ground, or, more accurately, a portion of it. A large, squat, domed tower, wrapped in spinning bands of ensorcelled metal. It stopped for a moment, then began to sink again. Quickly, Dendera recovered herself and shouted the second wish. Hashtaram stopped the spinning fortress, then became whole, no longer tethered to the ring.

He gloated in his freedom, refusing to unlock the doors, claiming that was not covered by the second wish. Considering his response to the first wish was hardly “safe,” for several were swallowed by the desert in the confusion, his recalcitrance should not have been a surprise.

Asha Druj, clearly expecting this sort of difficulty, strode forward and attempted to bargain with the efreeti. When her request was predictably rebuffed, she held forth a ring, with a single, skull-like stone, and intoned a wish for the doors to open. A light arced between the ring and the efreeti, who wailed horrifically. The patter of his spent ashes on the sand was simultaneous to the sound of Zarjasz al-Ulaq’s great doors unlocking.

The marut led the way, easily opening the doors, followed by the group from Al Haddid Jalut, then Lady Lacroix’s party, ourselves, Asha Druj’s party—it seemed wise to put Lyr in front of Druj, so she would not have to glare, boiling in rage, at Druj’s back—and finally Eframostis Barit.

A massive staircase led down, beneath the surface of the sand. Going was slow, for all, save the marut, were drawn to the writings and engravings on the walls. Al Haddid Jalut will find years worth of study in these walls, I suspect.

We eventually reached an antechamber, with another massive door that could not withstand the marut. Through this door was a great chamber, so vast that even Lyr’s brilliant light could not catch all the walls. Uneasily, we trekked across this expanse in the wake of the marut.

At one point, I happened to look up, and beheld a titanic symbol of Bahamut, a great eye wreathed in wings. But this was no inert statue, for the thing quickly sprang to motion, descending on us and blasting beams from its eye. My shouted warning saved Lady Lacroix from a beam, but the floor beneath her fell away. The signatory groups scattered.

As we approached a wall, with more great doors, the floor fell beneath us and we tumbled into a room below. The fallen floor tiles then tumbled back up the wall, sealing us in. Not a chance collapse, but a trap.

Within the room lurked several large mechanical scarabs, which attacked us. We quickly destroyed them, but many more were coming. We fled into another room, much like the one we had just left, carved our way through more construct insects, and raced on through connected rooms.

A faint noise and strange character to the air our only guide, we found ourselves at a large chamber, filled with the metal fiends and a stable portal, apparently to the Plane of Air, the source of the breathable atmosphere within this fortress.

Session 44

August 13

As we left Cressida and Kahmuth, we detonated the powder magazine. Amidst the titanic explosion, Cressida rose to the sky as a giant, feathered serpent, and—amplifying her voice with magic—proclaimed the death of Keergai’im to all in earshot who could still hear. It was an impressive entrance.

Rana helped us return to our camp and we settled in for the night

I was quite insensate at the time. After the rush of battle died down, I was left to confront what had happened to me. While undressing, I received a great shock.

Though Lyr’s magic had healed my wounds with minimal scaring, my chest was another matter, it was emblazoned with a fresh, angry scar, a circle. The meaning of this to me was clear, it was a symbol from Pelor. Lyr seemed quite amazed by it and also feels that this is a sign. But of what?

I slept, though my dreams were fragmented and troubling. Dendera says I kept her up most of the night, turning and thrashing, but there was a deep undercurrent of concern to her remark.

August 14

In the morning, Rana had left us. Feng informed us that he had departed shortly before the sunrise, that he would aid Cressida for a time before continuing to follow the mandates of his god. I hope our paths cross again as friends.

Walking, the Al Haddid Jalut camp was a few days away, for we had been forced to abandon our camels and most of our gear to avoid detection. As we sought to avoid the Ushtarak camp, which was still in chaos, we made our way across the desert, following Dendera’s advice, in the hopes of heading off a supply caravan.

As luck would have it, we did see one, and waved it down. As we approached, however, a great rumbling came from beneath the sand and a massive purple worm erupted from the ground, attacking the caravan.

We rushed in to assist. It made a grave mistake when it swallowed fleet-footed Sehera, who dealt a tremendous blow to it as she cut herself out. Between Feng and Lyr’s magic, Indira’s arrows, and Sehera’s desperate gambit, I barely got in a single blow before the beast was dispatched.

Though I was foremost relieved to see Sehera alive, if stinking and acid-burnt, in the back of my mind, I could not help but feel dissatisfied, to think that, as of late, I have not been able to hold my own, to contribute to our efforts in the face of danger. Why would Pelor save me? Lyr says that her magic is Pelor acting through her, but is that truly the case, or is it just power granted, to be used at her discretion? While I am not one to decry the strength and generosity of my friends, the debt I owe Lyr—who has snatched me from the jaws of death on at least three occasions now—is one I can never repay if I live a thousand years. Or do I owe that debt to Pelor?

The caravan-master, Teanko, had survived the fight and, grateful for our assistance, gave us time to explain. She had not heard of the tumult at the Ushtarak encampment and declared there was no need for them to continue on their path. They allowed us to accompany them back to their base of operations.

Curiously, this was not the first purple worm attack on a caravan. These beasts are not normally a threat to the surface, for the mindless creatures typically dwell far below ground. Something has driven them to the surface. Perhaps whatever geomancy Al Haddid Jalut is using to restrain Zarjaz al-Ulaq is causing this.

For the rest of the day, as we helped compensate for the wounded and slain caravaneers, we kept our eyes alert, in case any more unpleasant surprises lurked beneath the sands.

Al Haddid Jalut Encampment, August 15

At around noon, we arrived at a flat, dry, salt lake, a peculiar feature to find in the middle of high desert. The area was home to an abundance of large tents and equipment, the encampment of Al Haddid Jalut.

We were led to a particularly grand tent and presented to Bacarhim Zdadegan, Arajnord of Al Haddid Jalut. After making an introduction, Dendera explained why she had come back, showing the ring in triumph.

We explained that, in recompense for assisting Dendera to bring the ring, we too wished to join the expedition. A strange being, a singular construct, or construct-like entity, identified as Efarmostis Berit joined us, presenting The Contract we had to sign. Other parties were involved in this expedition, and the contract sought to preemptively settle any conflicts.

An addendum was detailed for Dendera, allowing her to rejoin Al Haddid Jalut if she used the ring for two specific wishes.

Reviewing the contract, we discovered the identities of the other parties. Two were not a surprise: Al-Haddid Jalut themselves and the party of Lady Sisi Laracroix, the primary funder of this operation. Both seek the Philosopher’s Stone, with Lady Laracroix seeking to use it once, then to give it to Al-Haddid Jalut. This will be a problem, as the wording of the contract was such that, under no uncertain terms will we be able to abscond with it unfairly, at least until the contract’s term of amnesty expires a week from the expedition.

Another party were “the Marut”, a name that meant nothing to us. They seek to determine if Bennura, legendary creator of Zarjaz al-Ulaq, still lives.

The final was worrying coincidence, for it was none other than Asha Druj and a party. They wish to study the inner workings of the legendary fortress. It seems a reasonable cover, but I have trouble believing this madwoman is not after the Philosopher’s Stone. She has already shown she is willing to do anything to further her goals. Lying on a contract seems like child’s play compared to some of the things she has done.

Lyr was, understandably, unwilling to enter into any sort of contract with Asha Druj. We took a moment aside to discuss this, eventually persuading Lyr that there was no other option in this case. We need to proceed with our plan, as uncertain its end may be, in order to preserve the life of the Effulgent One. Visually agitated, she ultimately conceded.

We signed our group in under Lyr’s name. Formally, we seek the Cintamani, a Peloric relic which is rumored to lie within the fortress. If this relic is not the Philosopher’s Stone, it is ours. If it is, Al Haddid Jalut has prior claim.

My hope is that the Cintamani is the real artifact, not the Stone, and that the relic may help us stop Chalazias’ mad plan. Even if both are real, perhaps we can trick him into believing the Cintamani is the Stone, and it will allow us to stop him. It is still a risk, for I imagine he is as capable of perverting the relic’s magic as he is Noza Oda’s. If there is no Cintamani, only the Stone, or they are one in the same, we will be faced with a serious problem, but I still see no other way out of this, despite weeks of pondering.

If we had been able to use the Khatam Mahib Ghaza, perhaps we could have stopped this months ago, but that is behind us now.

If the Cintamani is real, perhaps this is why I was kept alive, to guard Lyr until she obtains the relic.

Sehera signed on separately, she is a party of one and seeks to unbind the Karabelataniec and its duplicate from its former wielders and bind them to herself. Her ownership not only of Keergai’im’s blade but of an exact duplicate raised eyebrows, but signed to the contract, there was naught any other could do.

Contract signed, with Efarmostis Berit as both arbiter and enforcer, there was but one thing that needed doing before the expedition, for me to wed Dendera.

My head spun. I knew this was immanent, but so soon? We had not settled on a date. Dendera, being unsure what awaited us at this encampment, had tended towards “we’ll see” and changing the subject whenever it came up. And, I think she just wanted to see my face when she said the word “tomorrow.” I think I kept my composure, but I saw that twinkle in her eye, the closest she usually ever gets to laughter.

We were escorted to our tents—I have one to myself—then she separated from us to see to her own business and we went shopping. We sold off some loot, bought new clothes and a few other goods. I was fortunate to find something suitably elegant in human size. I’m sure my mother would decree this totally inadequate for a wedding, let alone my own, but it will have to do.

We joined a communal meal and got our first look at Asha Druj and Lady Lacroix. I mingled, attempting to gather some information, but soon found myself surrounded by what must have been every man in the camp. They began chanting, strapped me to a chair, and carried me of.

Everything is a haze after that.

Later, the others filled me in on some details of what happened with them.

Lyr was the first to leave the meal tent. Still distressed at the contract and the presence of Asha Druj, so close but out of reach, she was totally unready for one of Druj’s party to whisper something in her ear. Recognizing someone trying to start a fight, Feng escorted Lyr out and back to the tent.

They were enjoying “an innocent puff of his hookah,” as Feng innocently described it, when the men found him and dragged him off. Alone, Lyr finished off Feng’s entire supply. It was not simply tobacco…

Indira described a disconcerting experience of being watched and discovered Lady Lacroix’s half-elven son, Alophin, staring at her with more than usual interest. So intent was he, that Sehera recognized her discomfort and escorted her from the tent.

Sehera had previously been pulled aside by Eframostis Berit, who asked to meet in private, so, with Indira, stealthily made her way to the meeting place.

Berit was waiting for them there. He cautioned them that he suspected the Marut would break the contract after meeting their goals. They, like him, are beings called “Inevitable”, the inhabitants of the plane of Nirvana, also known as Mechanus. Their mandate: to seek out those who break the laws of death. In the cosmic accounting of Mechanus, Bennura’s soul remains unaccounted for. Berit was unsure why the Marut come for him now—perhaps Bennura designed his fortress to keep them out as well as the rest of the world—but he suspects more is at work than simply their typical mandate.

If the Philospher’s Stone is what it is, it has the potential to circumvent the same rules the Marut embody. They will not be willing to leave it be and will be willing to break the contract to destroy it. He suspects they will endeavor to not leave any survivors of such an attack.

He made an agreement—a rider to main the contract—with Sehera for mutual support in the face of such a breech. I wonder if he approached Sehera because she was to not have interest in the Philosopher’s Stone. Aside from Asha Druj, that is, who as I said, is hardly without subtextual interest in the Stone.

As they left, Alophin was waiting for Indira. She did not share his words.

On return to the tent, they found Lyr insensate, speaking only in vague mysteries. Could she have entered an oracular state? I suppose only time will tell.

Session 43

August 13

With Rana accompanying us, we continued on our journey, for despite his admonitions, we could not turn back.

As we rode on, we told Rana of our journeys, which helped him open up to us about what he knew. He told us much about Arsalan who, as a man, had been his brother. Now, he had become something else. Not even Rana is sure what he has become, nor who he serves. Rana had been hunting Arsalan for years, since he murdered Rana’s family.

In a strange coincidence, Rana’s wife was named Shesel Arnvara, the same name as Cressida’s birth mother, though Rana was not Cressida’s father in her native kaf. I can only wonder what strange fate brought us all together. Why the six of us? Why those twelve individuals? (And Creature.) I wish Maisha had traveled with us for a little while longer. I would’ve liked to ask her more about Anansi, how he seemed to know what was happening, what may have happened to him since.

Questions for another day.

Rana seemed strangely interested in Qessab, and warned us that Arsalan may have a particular interest in the ettercap, that Quessab should be kept alive. Lyr has resolved to contact it tomorrow.

August 14

When Lyr contacted Qessab, she received only a terse, aggressively ungrateful reply. Hardly a surprise, though Lyr seemed insulted. I’m always amazed that one who has witnessed such horrors can retain so much innocence.

I hope it doesn’t eat anyone, and stays alive. If its destiny is oppose Arsalan… well, we will need all the help we can get.

August 15

Tomorrow we will reach the territory of the Ushtarak. Unfortunately, we still have very little in terms of plans; though both Dendera and Rana seem confident we are headed to Keergai’im’s camp, we cannot scout too far ahead. Even as a vulture or some unremarkable bird, Cressida may be spotted and identified as a threat.

August 16

When we saw warning signs for the camp, we diverged from the path and found a rocky bluff. We dared not venture closer during the day. We would not be coming back this way, so we fed and watered our camels and set them off towards the camp. I had some hope they may prove to be enough of a curiosity to be a distraction, that perhaps scouts would be dispatched to find traces of the riders, lessening the guard for our ingress. At the very least, they would fall into the hands of Al Haddid Jalut. (Or the zythu might eat them…)

Dendera felt confident she would be able to talk her way past the guards, but she would not be able to get all of us through. Of course, sneaking past wouldn’t address the problem of Keergai’im and rescue Khamuth, but we reasoned that she could at least scout around.

After nightfall, we moved as close into the camp as we dared, and she and Feng, disguised, infiltrated the camp.

And so, we wait. It has been some time now, and I grow concerned…

Later, Dendera and Feng described their experience. After a tense excursion into the camp, they were granted entry into Keergai’im’s tent. An old woman investigated them, seeing through Feng’s disguise. Though Keergai’im seemed to take their “warning”—that the existence of the second Karabelataniec was evidence that Al Haddid Jalut was poised to betray him—into consideration, he was not grateful, imprisoning the two of them.

With Cressida’s assistance, they dispatched their guards and escaped. As Cressida created a distraction in the camp, Feng and Dendera found the powder magazine linked it to the the Key Disc, and teleported back to us.

They explained that Keergai’im had Khamuth in his custody and was planning on enacting some sort of ritual. He had thus far been unable to procure an heir, and was turning to desperate, dangerous measures.

As a group, we made our way to the magazine, borrowed several casks of powder, and, following Creature, descended upon Keergai’im’s tent.

As Rana erected a field, protecting us from reinforcements, we engaged Keergai’im, who was accompanied by several guards and powerful retainers. Lyr threw up a wall of blades to control the battlefield. As Sehera and Dendera tied down Keergai’im’s daleel, Dashkano and his two massive lieutenants, I rushed forward to handle Keergai’im, who was firing upon us with a Tereshal firearm.

Like a twisted mirror of Cressida, Keergai’im’s shaman transformed into a frost-breathing, many-headed beast.

After this point, my recollection of the battle becomes hazy. While pulling back from the melee, needing healing, I left myself exposed and the beast struck me with a powerful breath weapon, freezing my body, tearing it into thousands of lifeless pieces.

At least, that is what I recall happening. The next moment, I was lying on the ground, alive and intact, Lyr standing over me in a nimbus of brilliant sunlight, her mandala burning into my mind.

Later, she explained that the spell she cast healed me at the last possible second, before my spirit could flee, as if repairing a shattered bottle before the water had time to leak out. I died, but I did not die.

Cressida joined the fray as a giant serpent, occupying the hydra long enough for the others to defeat her, then turning their full might on Keergai’im. Even though Dashkano, who had fled the battlefield, returned with reinforcements, they were not enough. Cressida wrapped the warlord in her scaled coils and Sehera loped off his head.

Though he had apparently been slain, Dashkano rose up after the battle and surrendered, revealing himself to be a doppelganger, who had infiltrated Keergai’im’s camp for reasons he would not explain. Though vexingly vague, it was clear he was no threat—and we did not have the time nor stomach for further conflict—and we allowed him—it—to flee.

Khamuth was frightened and confused and we were yet again reminded that, in this iteration, she did not know Cressida, but she seemed grateful enough for the rescue.

Dendera was shocked and a little disgusted to realize that Keergai’im’s firearm belonged to her husband Mubariz.

As we made ready to leave, Cressida informed us that she would be staying. Though saddened, we were not particularly surprised. Her reason for journeying with us was achieved, and somebody needed to ensure the vacuum left by Keergai’im was not filled by someone equally bad. As a parting gift, I gave her the magic gem I wore. The time ahead will be difficult for her, and hopefully the magic of this artifact will help protect her from manipulation and treachery. Though the Zythu are new to imperial politics, they seem to be fast learners.


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