Amaranthia

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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Session 28

June 26

Today was spent primarily in preparation for tomorrow. Most of us went to the bazzar to get some supplies while Indria and Sehera purchased another pass to the Vault, then we traveled to the library to meet Basouk Khalinda. There was no sign of him, so some of us began to do some research to see if we could learn anything more about the Tenrashinban or how to slay a blue dragon. But we had little time to accomplish anything, for we heard a shout, then Zia found me, distressed.

The Waving Man had found Indira somehow. Fortunately we arrived quickly and were able to slay him and dispatch his shadow creatures.

Almost immediately after, Basouk arrived, followed closely by a cadre of guards. Thanks chiefly to Nessisus’ music, we led them out of the library and were able to talk them down from arresting us to a relatively moderate bribe. They did not notice that Indira and Basouk did not accompany us out of the library.,.

We returned to the temple of Pelor. Indira did not immediately join us. Assuming she would not return for a while, we readied ourselves, then joining in the spirit of the holiday, enjoyed ourselves. Might as well have some fun before we cross the point of no return…

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Session 27

June 25

After addressing a few other questions, we made plans and split up. Ramal, Cressida, Feng, and Sehera were going to pursue Kong Day Li in East Sefet, while Indira, Nessisus, Lyr and I sought Taja (accompanied by Dendera Seth, who refuses to let me out of her sight).

In East Sefet, Feng located a tea shop frequented by Black Phoenix Syndicate members and, according to Sehera, antagonized a group of them until they shoved him away, at which point he dropped his disguise and slew all but one with a spell. The remaining man, terrified, divulged what little he knew of the reclusive wu jen, which, fortunately, included roughly where he lived.

On our journey to North Point, Lyr communed with Pelor and was, thankfully, able to obtain some leads. We went to the civic center of North Point and tried nosing around a tavern. We found no leads, but I recalled something, a rumor of a bar might be the type of place a Cobalt Crown operative like Taja might frequent; the sort of place that is perfect for shady meetings. I think it was something the same cousin who recommended Al Gehmd to me had mentioned…

I have not heard from Barakat in some time. He used to write to Makram quite frequently; I hope he hasn’t met with a similarly avoidable end as my brother. (So writes the man who plans on plunging into a dragon’s lair.) I’ll have to ask my uncle Fouad if I ever have the opportunity to visit him.

I distracted a group of toughs in front of the bar while the others slipped inside. I don’t think they were bouncers, but we suspected they were somebody’s guards. Fortunately, they were bad at their job.

Unfortunately for the others, Kong Day Li lived in the sewers. They followed the Black Phoneix thug’s directions and, when they found a simple, man-catching snare in what Ramal described as a “garden of filth,” they knew they were on the right track.

They set off the snare and Feng raised a cry as if he had been trapped, summoning the old wu jen, who easily recognized Feng’s disguise for what it was. He led them to his filthy hut and offered them something that could generously be called tea.

As we cased the bar, Indira noticed a familiar man, the same who had given her the slip to her family’s vault. He too noticed Indira and me and summoned us over. In a surprising turn, he was speaking with our quarry, and spoke of us as if we were allies of The Grey Face.

We learned little from Taja, but she left thinking of us as allies, which could be useful in the future. We were much more intrigued by our new friend, whose name we eventually learned was Basouk Khalinda.

Kong Day Li was quite hospitable to Feng and company. It seems his alliance to The Grey Face was one more of convenience than ideology. He seemed convinced that the time of The Burned Crow had passed and that his desperate clinging to power was causing more trouble than benefit.

He had arranged a method for the Burned Crow to enter Azu Makeen’s lair so he can kill Lydra Geb before the dragon finds a way to create his own Ancillae, but it would trap him, forcing the two into a battle neither would survive. The Burned Crow would be taking this action during the Prayer Day of Bahjentipaj, two days hence.

A side-remark revealed that Kong Day Li had known Lyr, when she was in Sefet with the Order of the Golden Sun, searching for The Effulgent One. Through him, we learned that Lyr had nearly been successful in rescuing The Effulgent One.

Noza Oda had been kidnapped by The Cobalt Crown, and a desperate Lyr enlisted the Black Phoenix to rescue her. The rescue was successful but the Burned Crow betrayed Lyr, turing her over to the Cobalt Crown, and ransoming the Effulgent One to the Temple of Pelor. With the ransom paid by the temple, Noza was on her way home from Sefet when pirates struck. By this time, however, Lyr had already somehow fallen into the hands of the Ordo Clavis.

Basouk was surprisingly helpful, though I remain deeply suspicious of his motives. He told us what we needed to know: the location of Azu Makeen’s lair. A vault within the Great Vaults of Al Hafiz. He did something to Indira’s vault slip that would allow her access and told us that, if we purchased another deposit slip from the vault, he would be able to doctor that one as well. As he and Taja said, there is only one way into Azu Makeen’s lair, but there are many ways out. One of these exits is within the library of Sefet. If Indira and another companion sneak inside, they would be able to let us in this back door.

The price for his help? To find amongst Azu Makeen’s hoard the Reliquary of Yaddisunu and give it to him with no questions asked.

We regrouped at the temple of Pelor and were able to obtain a spot on the floor to sleep. We shared our findings of the day (after Feng and the others had a chance to bathe) and made some plans.

My companions are asleep now, except perhaps Dendera Seth who seems to keep one eye on me at all times, and I sit apart from them, inside the quiet temple, so many thoughts and emotions running through my heart that they are like the waterdrops of a river. I could not even begin to separate them.

Some days feel like a thousand years.

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Session 26

June 25

Lyr accompanied me to the al-Saab house. It was a short visit, my aunt Thana received us and reacted as well as I should’ve expected. I hope they remain safe.

I know Lyr would have been willing to reincarnate Maram and my Abd al-Nur—the intricacies of her faith preventing her from raising them—but the al-Saab are adherents of Bahamut, and would not be bound by similar qualms if, indeed, the souls of the departed wanted to return. I hope that Maram is with her father now.

She could also have allowed me to speak to them, what questions could I ask that we do not already know the answers to? What could I say to either of them?

We journeyed to the library to rejoin our companions, who had analyzed, divided, and sold the prizes of the previous night and encountered Dendera Seth. For a cold killer, she turned out to be quite reasonable. After some posturing, she explained that my prize from the Deep Water Courts held a bound efreeti, who could grant three wishes before being released. The similarity to the stories that fascinated me as a child is remarkable…

She wanted the ring and was absolutely unwilling to accept a negative answer, so I strove to reach an agreement. I explained to her our intent—to destroy The Cobalt Crown and the Black Phoenix Syndicate—and a certain degree of the earnestness of our situation. She agreed to help in exchange for the ring, provided it still held at least two of its three wishes. If I have to use two of them, my next action will have to be to kill Dendera before she kills me.

My mind still glitters with the possibilities of the ring. Though even I know the truth of this magic is overshadowed by the legend, a genie’s wish is one of the most powerful magics known. But what do I need of wishes? I have a dream, but it is a dream I must grasp by my own hands for it to mean anything. But what if something happens? If my companions fall in a coming battle, or if something we do has a disastrous consequence? I suppose only time will reveal the true value of this prize.

Eventually, our companions joined us and we began to research.

Feng deciphered Igneen Faheed’s ledger, discovering that the point where he was replaced by a being from the plane of Gehena three years ago. Apparently, this being was not alone; in addition to the entity that replaced Ameen Makara, there was a third being, who was either summoned into or traveled to Mozi-Xu. They call themselves and the organization they created The Grey Face and it seems their goal—in Sefet at least—is to turn the Cobalt Crown and Black Phoenix against each other and sieze the city in the aftermath. They have contacts within both organizations; contacts we can now subvert to our purposes.

I wonder if we can simply enact the first stages of The Grey Face’s plan, turning the two against each other and using that to our advantage?

I explained more of our story to Dendera, which she of course thought was nonsense until I began to show her evidence, such as the shards of the Onyx Artifact. She seemed particularly worried about the concept of Azu Makeen creating his own Ancillae once we convinced her that this was something within the realm of possibility. Unfortunately, she had little knowledge of the type of experiences we have had.

The ledger, however, told us some interesting information about Azu Makeen. Apparently, the dragon had experimented with traveling to different “kafs” and something had gone wrong, causing him to age at a dramatically increased rate. I wonder if these kafs are the parallel universes we encountered? I shall have to press her for more information when we have the time.

I also showed her the Tenrashinban in the hopes that she might be able to help us determine how to use it. Unfortunately, she had little more knowledge than we did, though she did discover an interesting switch on the base that caused some protrusions to emerge. What this means is beyond me, but it may help us learn more. And we must learn more soon, for we are running out of time…

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Session 25
(Updated Quest Log)

June 24

The thing that had been (presumably) masquerading as Igneen Faheed fought viciously, striking us with barbed tentacles and even vomiting forth a disgusting, mobile grey slime, but I and a small elemental summoned by Feng kept it occupied while Sehera, Indira, and Ramal (whose weapons and powers were able to hurt it) cut it down.

In the process, it had infected me with some sort of fungal spores, which rooted in my skin, covering and painfully binding me. Unfortunately, there was little we could do to halt their slow growth at the time, and we continued to explore.

We found the chambers of Igneen Faheed and discovered the remnants of a large summoning circle on the floor, under the rug. I wonder if Igneen Faheed had cast some spell that had gone wrong, or if someone had lain a trap for him. Unfortunately, we found little evidence for that, so we gathered what we did find, including a locked ledger, and continued. We found two doors, one leading to a large chamber where grey-robed, masked figures worked, and the other a barrack.

After dispatching those sleeping in the barracks, we burst into the other room and assaulted the men within. They had been working at large cylinders, each containing a body, and extracting some form of rich, perfumed oil. We had discovered the production of Azu Makeen’s life extension treatment.

We slew the men, though not before they summoned some fierce, armored doglike creatures, but even they could not withstand our combined assault.

As Indira and Sehera scouted ahead, finding a way out, the rest of us examined our surroundings, discovering a reserve of supplies used in the production of this unholy cosmetic.

A way out discovered, we escorted the captives out. We found ourselves in another warehouse, not far from where we entered. I discussed with Ramal and a clever young woman named Saffron what the best course of action would be for the escaped prisoners. We gave them a large sum of money, taken from their captor, escorted them to an inexpensive inn, and encouraged them to go to the temple of Pelor, offering a portion of the gold as a donation. If the temple could help them recover—for some of them were quite malnourished and injured—they could leave Sefet safely and never look back.

As we did this, Ramal destroyed everything he could, cleansing as much of the area with fire. We shall have to come back to tackle the Charnel Hound—we do not know for certain that Igneen Faheed and the men in the masks were the only necromancer involved in their construction and we should not just let those things be.

June 25
My sleep was restless and fraught with horrific and weird nightmares that I shall not discuss here. Suffice to say, I was intensely relieved to have Lyr cure me of this infection and to take a long bath.

As we discussed our next steps—we need to go to the Grand Bazaar to obtain necessary supplies and to deal with the various items and weapons we recovered off our adversaries the night before—Sehera discovered a crate had been delivered to us while we slept.

Inside was a message from The Burned Crow, the burned bodies of Maram and my cousin Abd al-Nur. The meaning of this message was clear: The Burned Crow must die.

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Session 24
(Updated Quest Log)

June 24

As the Black Phoenix closed in, Sehera and I threw Festiz ibn-Hazool on the back of a horse. Once Khegan tore down his barrier, I took off, carrying our quarry to safety, confident in my companinon’s ability to overcome their opponents.

I needn’t have worried, for, by the time I got to the meeting place—the same location we encountered Tu Fan Zui on our first day together—and secured the still-unconscious Festiz, the others arrived, having quickly eliminated our attackers and evading the authorities.

Festiz was carrying quite an array of magical items, which we divided amongst ourselves, a fine, enchanted dagger went to Lyr, some protective bracers went to Feng (who gave the his older pair to Cressida), and Nessisus took a cloak that enhanced his already considerable charisma and the amulet Festiz had used to hurl Lyr into the air.

After healing him slightly, Lyr cast a spell, compelling all those within the room to speak the truth and began to question him. He seemed particularly unnerved by Feng, and so the bird took the lead, pumping him for information.

After some initial confusion, we learned that he did not deal directly with The Cobalt Crown but rather through an intermediary, Igneen Faheed, who he described as one of his primary clients. He had recently sold a shipment of slaves to Faheed—and the next would not be for several weeks—but fortunately our next quarry’s permanent location was known.

We asked him some additional questions as well, discovering that he new about the disappearance of The Effulgent One, but not particularly much more than any in Sefet who knew its criminal underworld. Interestingly, he knew about Lyr and told us that she had become a known entity in her search for The Effulgent One, and had in fact turned to the Black Phoenix Syndicate for help. Evidently, it did not turn out well for her.

When questioned about the plague in Mazooz, he maintained ignorance of Igneen Faheed’s role in the plague and of the Charnel Hound the thing that was Ameen Makara had been creating.

Ultimately we determined that we could obtain no more information from him. Against her objections, I took Lyr from the room while Ramal killed Festiz.

We readied ourselves and promptly traveled to the docks. Though we were tired from our fight—and our spellcasters had cast much of their magic—we could waste no time, for the sake of Igneen Faheed’s captives.

We infiltrated the compound of Faheed’s Delishea Djieda shipping company and, within the warehouse, discovered a curious patch of floor: a trapdoor disguised by illusion magic. It was protected by some form of magical trap and, when we were unable to dispel it, Nessisus used his new amulet to tear the door from its hinges. We ventured into the damp darkness below…

The corridor was below the tideline, and so damp and fetid, but, when it opened into a vast chamber, a greater stench hit us, the stench of death.

In the darkness, we discovered, in various stages of completion, eight Charnel Hounds and one more, which had been finished. Lyr protected us from it with her magic, allowing us to evade it, even when the screech of the exit attracted its attention.

Down a short corridor, we found a grisly room where corpses were repurposed into parts of the charnel hounds and, again, the noise of our environment summoned the animate charnel hound. We escaped through another door just in time.

In this room, we discovered what remained of Festiz’ latest shipment. Whatever else happens, it is good that we came tonight, for there were likely just enough individuals her to complete another one of the hounds…

Nessisus and I talked to the prisoners and calmed them while Ramal started to melt the bars. The others began to scout. To the south were a series of confinement/torture chambers, a dead end. To the north, a corridor. Feng and Indira heard voices, speaking in Harukan on matters of business.

When Ramal finished, we armed the prisoners with surgical implements, admonished them to avoid leaving the way we arrived (and to hide in the rooms to the south if necessary, despite the traumatic memories those chambers may hold), and we hurried to the north.

In a room, we discovered Igneen Faheed himself, at a table with Tu Fan Zui and his barbarian companion Batou. I had forgotten that these men we killed back at the beginning of our journey were not of our world…

We rushed them, taking them by surprise, but then Igneen Faheed took us by surprise, revealing that he was no Daricassan, but a horrific mass of tentacles and weird, alien fungus

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Session 23
(Updated Quest Log)

June 24

After attending to a few final details, we split up, on our various tasks.

Cressida and Sehera were able to cross the city unmolested and found Khegan at his stall. After explaining the situation to him, they were able to hire his services at a hefty, but not unreasonable price. They realized we were asking much of the man, who would likely have to leave Sefet after our work was complete.

At the Grand Bazaar, we obtained new clothes for Feng and Lyr and a few miscellaneous goods such as healing potions. In the Sword Market, I found Bashaa working and, in addition to selling my old, broken sword—the blade would have to be reforged and was little more than scrap, but the fine hilt was worth a few coin—I asked him for his story.

After we parted with his caravan, Kurgu Enusat’s retinue split up, dividing most of the explorer’s possessions. Bashaa, however, stumbled across an overlooked box, which contained a head-sized device constructed of a bronze sphere within a sphere of sliver lattice. He discovered that compressing the silver caused the bronze to expand.

He also discovered that doing so caused him to fall into the sky. After an initial panic, he discovered that he could adjust his falling by pulling the silver sphere outwards—causing him to fall towards the ground again—and by angling the sphere—changing the direction in which he fell.

Falling thus unimpeded by the ground or—in the flat, largely tree-less land crossed by the Path of Prosperity—obstacles he fell horizontally for many hours until, his grip weakening, he attempted to land, crashing in the middle of a small village.

Fortunately, the village had a healer who was able to help him, though sadly there were none who could do the same for the shattered device, which was ultimately sold as scrap (though broken, it was still made of fine metals) to pay the healer’s fees.

After hearing his story, I gave him a note to deliver, along with a shipment, to Mehmet Aurelius, and traveled to East Sefet.

The plan went without a hitch. Festiz ibn-Hazool showed up for the meeting at the appointed time and Feng’s ruse went smoothly. As expected, a group of thugs showed up at the tea house shortly before he arrived, but they behaved themselves.

Once in the carriages, they proceeded until a riotous band of urchins and street people—who had created a bonfire in the middle of the street—forced them to divert down the side street. Things nearly fell apart, as Festiz’ carriage (and that of his bodyguards) spotted the block that Khegan had set up and did not want to proceed. They were having trouble with their horses, however, as they had already begun to turn.

I, simply a helpful passer-by, persuaded the bodyguards to go and help Sehera clear the blockage, for going through would be much easier than backing the carriages out.

At this point, as they began to move, Nessisus sprung to action, compelling the carriage driver into the alley and causing a collision of horses and carriages, allowing us to spring to action, taking out Festiz’ guards and the man himself, though he nearly crippled Lyr by hurling her high into the air with a magic amulet.

However, as we fought, a hit squad from the Black Phoenix Syndicate arrived, dashing our hopes for a quick escape…

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