Amaranthia

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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Session 42

July 30

After the battle, we explained what we had learned to the guards and remade camp in a better position in case the falmohib infiltrators had allies ready to retaliate.

July 31

In the morning we prepared to leave, but we knew it would be difficult to get Lyr away from the camp, an understanding that was reinforced when it was revealed that the woman she had treated had recovered her faculties. Somehow, word had escaped the tent and the gathered, thirsty people thought that a cure had been discovered and was being withheld from them.

After talking to the woman, I assisted Lyr in documenting her discoveries about the nature of the affliction. It seemed that, in addition to causing the woman to become younger, it caused her to simultaneously perceive all the possibilities of her life, all the “what ifs” and missed chances and avoided events played out in her mind. Perhaps ingesting a piece of the Ruby Mountain caused this by connecting her with the kafs in which she led other lives, overwhelming her mind.

Lyr sent a magical message to Barlan, explaining the situation in as concise detail as we could while imparting a sense of urgency. Hopefully they will be able to send help quickly and by magic or the consequences of this could be dire. It seems unlikely the contamination in the water will quickly fade and the people here are very close to rioting.

If we were not on such a crucial timetable, I am sure Lyr would have demanded to stay and help these people, but this had to be a lower priority that stopping Chalazias.

While the others readied the camels, Lyr and I snuck out the back of the medical tent. Feng transformed himself with magic and went out to speak with the crowd. We were successful and got away from the camp quickly and unrecognized. We waited up the road some distance, half expecting to see an eruption of flames, but Feng was somehow able to talk his way out of the situation; he teleported to our side and we continued up the Road of Peace.

Late that night, Lyr reported an unsettling sensation, as if she was being watched. We saw no sign of trouble, but remained on careful watch all the same.

August 6

The last several days have been entirely without notable event, so I have cut those entries for the sake of narrative. We have settled into a steady rhythm of travel. Cressida and Sehera are absolutely in their element; the rest of us are handling our circumstances with varying dignity but so far there have been no difficulties that could not be solved by periodically changing our marching order to give each other some room.

When I remarked upon this to Sehera one evening, she something peculiar; Feng has not started a single fruitless quarrel since Muhqhayim. Has the firebird abandoned his favorite hobby? We decided it best to not ask him about it, lest we tempt fate.

This afternoon, we diverged from the Road of Peace and have begun to delve into the Sheel Khali Desert. At this time of year, even the living desert has been largely overrun by the sand as plants and animals sleep as best as they can beneath the soil to weather the fearsome heat. Going is slow and will likely grow more challenging as we head into dunes but the camels are bearing up well. With a steady supply of water and food and the occasional burst of divine magic to refresh their weary muscles and to ward off saddle sores, the well-trained beasts seem willing to march on forever.

Lyr has periodically reported the same sensation of being watched, but with no sign of trouble there is little we can do. Feng noted the possibility that someone was scrying on us, but we have no capacity to shield ourselves from this to any meaningful degree.

Late this afternoon, Cressida reported seeing a solitary rider paralleling us to the south. Perhaps this individual was the cause of Lyr’s concerns?

Feng and Sehera waited for nightfall and ventured into the desert to find our follower. Later, Sehera described what happened. As they neared the rider’s camp, following the faint glimmer of his campfire, they felt an ominous presence and discovered fresh tracks in the sand, like the prints of a lion of massive size. An odor of brimstone clung to them. They followed the tracks and realized the mysterious creature was circling them. Feng sent up magical fireworks and, when we saw these, we quickly rode to catch up.

The thing was gone by the time we arrived, as was the mysterious rider.

August 8

The rider has continued to parallel us and Lyr has again reported the sensation of being watched, though we have seen no more sign of any giant lions. We try to go nowhere alone; Feng has taken to periodically riding atop Cressida—transformed into a giant eagle—in case our mysterious friend makes a move or some other trouble appears.

When I went into the tent tonight, Dendera was lying, unconscious, with a needle and a vial of dark liquid beside her. When I could not rouse her, I called Lyr, but Dendera bolted up and vomited violently outside the tent, the contents of her stomach corrupted by something black and vile.

She had explained that she had injected herself with fermented Mind Flayer blood to temporarily give herself powerful telepathic abilities. She had contacted an ally in Al Haddid Jalut and marked the place the group was camped on our map. I had known she was not sure of their exact location; I had no idea she would do something like this to find out. After ensuring that she appeared to be otherwise unharmed, we embarked on a frustratingly circular argument.

I wish she had told me before doing this. She needs to learn that not every detail of her life needs to be a secret.

August 13

We are getting close now; according to our map, we should reach Al-Haddid Jalut—and the Ushtarak—in a matter of days. Dendera says my Tereshal is better, that I have moved from hopeless to sounding like a brain-addled child, but she smiled when she said it, so… progress?

At about midday, Feng and Cressida spotted riders waiting in our path, four anari apparently, and descended to greet them. Feng says that they spoke of thanking us for our help against the falmohib and gave him a talisman they called the Eye of Penitence. At this moment, one of them was struck by an arrow; the mysterious rider had caught up to them and called out to not trust them. Feng surrounded himself and the anari with a wall of flames. When we saw the flames in the distance, we rode hard to catch up.

Feng described a man, who called himself Arsalan El-Chalen Al-Velom, walking through the flames, unharmed, and threatening them, stating that Feng’s destiny could still be met if he was in the thrall of another. At this time, the anari revealed themselves to be Lamias and attacked Feng and Cressida. Their initial assault was brutal, Arsalan demonstrating great and deadly power, but Cressida was able to fly her and Feng out of the wall of fire. Unfortunately, the lamias’ magic enamored Feng, causing him to drop the wall and freeing them from entrapment.

By this time, we had dismounted and encountered resistance outside of the flames; a great, demonic lion, a jarilith was turning its attention upon the mysterious rider. Sehera raced after the beast, savaging it with her scimitars. When the flames vanished, the rest of us engaged the lamias; here too, Sehera struck more than her share of killing blows. She is truly in her element here in the desert.

Meanwhile, Arsalan proved to be more than any of us could handle. He seemed untouchable and it looked as if he would eventually whittle us down to nothing when Lyr, calling upon the might of her faith, struck him with her mace, causing him to bleed.

This seemed to unnerve him—he seemed to not realize that he could be injured and he retreated from the field of battle. Before he left, he spoke of a “master” whom he served. It seems we have attracted yet more unwanted attention.

The rider revealed himself to be Rana Tutwaiaf Al-Ghalan, the anari who helped us in Mazooz and ordered us to destroy the Eye of Penitence before we talked.
He had been following us since the oasis, though he was cagy as to whether he was following us or using us as bait. He cautioned us not to proceed on our path. It seems the Ushtarak have transformed their society, absorbing or wiping out other tribes and staking out the territory surrounding Al-Haddid Jalut. Rather than simply serving as guards, Keergai’im has much grander ambitions.

Though Rana told us this to caution us, the knowledge makes me certain that we must strike him down while his power is raw. The zythu are tolerated by Raqaejah because of their nomadic culture; though many regard them as little more than bandits, their decentralized nature keeps them from being declared as both a significant threat and a suitable target. If they were to band together under a leader as aggressive as Keergai’im, I can see little future other than all-out war.

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Session 41

July 25

As planned, we made it out of the city early in the morning, not too long after sunrise, and started on the Road of Peace. With the sea winds blowing inland, the weather was pleasant and we passed the first part of the day in peace. Little traffic was headed along the northern path and the open roads allowed for us to keep a good pace.

We mostly traveled in silence. Indira seemed more distracted than usual; I noticed that she and Sartaj had avoided each other in the morning. We did not pry, as much as we would like to. It took Lyr quite a bit of readjustment to find a comfortable position on her camel—xamuss-sized camel saddles are essentially saddles made for human children and not necessarily made for long rides—but she eventually made it work and spent most of the day studying scripture. Dendera and I began to crack into my Tereshal primer, Feng studied his spells, and Cressida and Sehera spent much of their time scouting ahead, largely unnecessary on this safe length of road, but both had been very eager to leave the confines of the city. Sehera is slightly more accepting of using camels this time around, but it’s obvious to all that she would prefer to use her own power; relying too much on the beasts wears her temper down quickly I fear…

July 26

Today, we began to encounter significant southerly traffic, forcing us into single file and often off of the path. With the city closed off the other day—and with it much of the southerly traffic—the road was now clogged with merchants doing their best to make up for lost time and get into Akkarid as quickly as possible for the feast days.

We seem to be adequately stocked for our journey, though we have yet to encounter the fiercer weather of the deserts. I have heard that portions of the Road of Peace pass through sandy desert, which I fear will put our preparedness to the test, but for now it has largely been easy travel.

July 27

In the middle of the day, we passed through Da’hamis. As our camels were still fresh, we passed through the bustling city without event, save for purchasing a few small supplies and some snacks. As Sehera was quick to point out, we are working against a deadline. From here, the Road turns north, into the desert.

The roads have continued to be crowded with south-bound traffic; traveling in single file stymies conversation, so I have been attempting to teach myself the Tereshal alphabet. My tutors ensured that I was familiar with it as a child, but taught me little of the actual language, so most of those lessons are long-forgotten.

July 28

Today was a largely uneventful day of travel. The Road continues to be quite busy, as caravans attempt to complete their journey before both the feast days and the peak temperatures of August.

Periodically, the subject of what to do once we find the Philosopher’s Stone comes up, but frankly there are so many unknowns we have been unable to do any more than speculate. Feng occasionally suggests allowing him to use it and “see what happens” and it is somewhat disheartening that this is the closest we have been able to come to a workable plan. Lyr has also reminded us of conflicting reports that suggest that what lies in Zarjasz Al-Ulaq may be the Cintamani, not the Stone. If it is, then this whole situation may be Pelor’s will.

I will leave the theological conundrums to Lyr. I’m having enough trouble recognizing the difference between an “E” and an “M” in this blasted alphabet.

July 29

The heat of the desert is oppressive. With my cloak and the shade of a parasol, I am kept safe from the brunt of it, but the camels are not so lucky. Fortunately we do not have to restrict their water or I would fear for their health. As it is, we must pause a few times a day to give them a drink.

As we sheltered from the peak sun today, Cressida noticed something strange in the desert some distance away from us. She said she had found several suspicious bodies in buried in the desert.

After some debate, we decided to go check it out. Buried to the necks in sand were several bodies. At first it seemed as if they had been mummified, but they had clearly were recently buried. On closer examination, their flesh had been flayed off their heads, probably by some sort of swarm of insects, probably summoned by magic.

It was a grisly sight, but we learned little from this. Sehera felt that this was confirmation that this was a waste of time. And, in fairness “watch out for murderous wizards” isn’t much of a unique lesson. I still maintain, however, that this knowledge might prove useful. And if not, we have only lost a few hours.

At night, however, a powerful, cold wind began to blow, that grew stronger through the night, abating suddenly in the morning. An ominous omen, perhaps.

July 30

Today we reached the oasis village of Muhqhayim. It became immediately clear that something was very wrong. The area was overrun by guards and caravans and the people seemed ready to riot. The oasis was closed off.

We learned quickly that the oasis had been tainted. We had enough water and did not need to stop, but it was clear to me that we had to do something, even if some of the others felt we could move on.

Lyr volunteered her services and learned that some sort of curse had been set upon the water that was causing people to rapidly age in reverse. One woman, one of the first to be stricken but a few days ago, had been a grandmother but now had the body of a teenager. The process had, apparently, destroyed her mind.

It seemed that any humanoid that drank the water was stricken by this effect; it did not seem to affect beasts, but few were willing to risk it.

As this was transpiring, Indira shared some water with a young boy, who whispered rumors to her that there was more to this effect than it seemed…

Dendera was having her ears talked off by a strange old man, apparently a resident of the village, who shared some local ghost stories that mostly seemed uninformative. However, he did mention that sometimes locals left offerings for the spirits of the oasis at the center of the shallow pool.

While Lyr created enough water to give to the elderly and children, we ran across Sifu Ling Huo. He cagily admitted to following us, but would not explain how or why.

We were granted access through the blockade around the oasis and Sehera and Indira walked out over the surface, using the magic of Sehera’s Sandals of the Light Step. When she noticed a suspicious glimmer near the center of the water, Indira dove in and found tiny red particles, like the dust of a ruby, were throughout the water.

I brought one of these back to Dendera, who was still talking with the strange old man. We redirected the old man’s attention to Cressida—still in beast form—since it seemed the only way to break his conversation, but Creature immediately began to his and snarl at the man. None of us had ever seen him react in this way to a stranger who was not an imminent threat. In the momentary confusion, the old man disappeared.

Dendera confirmed that it appeared to be a fleck of ruby. There was nothing obviously magical though about the water or the ruby. It seemed strange to me, that these fines would be ruby. I couldn’t help but think of the Ruby Mountain stones that we have repeatedly encountered.

As Feng spent the afternoon in conversation with Ling Huo, we investigated more and found little. While Sehera had a brief encounter with the mother of the child Indira had met, I heard a tale that some had seen an Anari on a nearby ridge. We went to investigate and found some recently-planted Anari brush seedlings buried in the sand. We couldn’t be sure what that meant, however, for the reasons the Anari plant are many.

That night, we made camp near the water, a short distance away from the delayed travelers. After night fell, the three individuals we had encountered earlier, the child, the woman, and the old man, approached our camp, clad in robes not unlike what the Anari wear, only in black and silver. They taunted us, put on twisted masks, and attacked. The woman, with a gesture, caused the sand to swallow up Dendera to her neck. The child spat forth a swarm of carnivorous locusts. We had found the source of the bodies we had seen earlier. The old man radiated evil, but Feng quickly cast a spell that paralyzed him.

As Feng sawed off the old man’s head—their bodies were imbued with dark magic, making their flesh strangely resilient to harm—we battled the other two. The child called forth more locusts, but was taken down by a barrage of magic. Indira drove the remaining swarm into confusion with her Stormfire Ring. The woman seemed more resilient however, and our blades seemed to do little against her and her sand magic kept us at bay. Even after Cressida transformed into a giant feathered serpent and constricted her, it required our combined efforts to hammer her down.

Lyr summoned the guard by casting a spell of daylight as we searched the bodies. On one, we found a peculiar mithral file and half of a ruby, a Ruby Mountain gem…

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Session 40

July 24

We examined the remains of the dragon and the salamander, verifying that they were indeed dead, then examined the dozen or so large pots that Xea’s minions had been placing. They were packed with about a gallon of alchemist’s fire each, doctored to be even more explosive than normal. Spaced out properly, it would have been easily enough to send the building crashing down.

I rushed to get the guards, giving me a moment to catch my bearings after the battle; I was still furious at myself for letting the dragon’s breath weapon affect me like it did, and didn’t particularly want company.

Outside, a large crowd had begun to gather, though it had only been a few minutes since we entered the building. The sight of so many guards arriving, in the wake of the two earlier attacks, must have been an unmistakable clue to all in the area. I found the most senior guard and told him about the explosives, though I gave him few details about anything else that had transpired, save for making it clear that this was not an attack from the Plane of Fire.

I went inside, retrieved my companions, who had filled a bottle with blood from the dragon and prevented Feng from messing around with the alchemist’s fire too much, and we got out of there quickly. They had found another brass tablet, but this one seemed blank, and so we needed to investigate it further.

We got some falafel and made our way back to my uncle’s house.

The others had not yet returned from their tasks in the city, only Barlan, Lillian and Abu were in the house, the other servants had gone home due to the chaos. However, there was an additional guest, Feng’s sifu had returned, and he took Feng aside to talk. Feng did not share details of their conversation, but fortunately Ling Huo had brought with him a new spellbook for Feng. This was something of a relief; I had been concerned that this problem would not be solved before we headed into the desert, for Feng had not asked for our help.

We found Lazar in Al-Mhuqtebel; he had been attempting to destroy Kage Okosa’s black sword but had so far not been successful.

He examined the brass plate and verified that its magic seemed unfinished; exposure to heat only caused a jumble of letters to appear briefly, then fade. However, he discovered that, if he concentrated while blasting it with fire magic, he could cause messages to appear. Whatever note Xea Rashidi would have left at the scene had existed only in her mind.

Fearing that she might not have been working alone, I found Barlan and explained the situation to him. After some thought, it occurred to him that another prominent target could be the famous Serpent Market of Akkarid. It seemed to fit the previous pattern and Xea’s personality so well that I had no doubt he was correct. I gave Abu a note to have delivered to a local magistrate—an administrator of the city guard whose name I recalled seeing on formal notices in the markets—and gathered my companions.

The city was still in chaos, but life was resuming some normalcy. Travel restrictions between districts were being lifted and, though there was still much congestion, we were able to make good time to the Serpent Market, arriving in the late afternoon with, hopefully, a couple hours to find any sign of collaborators.

Lazar had given me the name of the merchant to whom he had sold Seb Rashidi’s blood, and so I found him. As it turned out, this merchant was directly in the employ of Arunar Thandantis, the Vizier of Markets. My note had been passed to him, and he was waiting for us. I suppose sapphire dragon blood is a rare enough thing that our destination would have been easy enough to guess…

He spoke mysteriously and I quickly realized he knew exactly what had transpired. A member of the Ordo Clavis, Thandantis, likely had enough contacts within the city guard that, as soon as he received my note, he likely also was given a full description of our actions at the theater. He assured me that Xea Rashidi was, as far as he knew, working alone. He encouraged me to distort the truth of the tale, leaving out any connection with the Sodalitas Comperio, and paid me for the dragon’s blood… and our silence.

Of course, it is not my problem that Barlan already knew everything that transpired and might share that knowledge with the Provost and the royal family…

The fabulous gemstone that we were paid with would have been a challenge to actually sell, but Dendera knew of a Tereshal jeweler and gem trader who would be able to handle the exchange. It was a good lesson in Tereshal etiquette to observe the elaborate ritual of negotiating such a large exchange.

I was able to pay back Indira for her loan in Sefet and to pick up a few additional supplies for our trip.

After the sun set and the market was not destroyed, we headed back to my uncle’s house for dinner. Our friends had returned; they had succeeded in protecting the Mashket, but were somewhat cryptic about the experience. Claudia felt it was Fazia’s story to share, and she was off on her own, as usual.

We discussed our travel plans some more, and divided up some of Thandantis’ payment, giving some to Ramal and Lydra, some to Sartaj, and some to Maqsood and Lazar. I’m not entirely sure what Ramal and Lydra are going to do in the next few weeks. I think Ramal wants to get back to his work and I’m sure Lydra would accompany him. Sartaj will stay in Akkarid and obtain what help he can from the Radiant One and any militant orders of Pelor that he can get in touch with. Lazar and Maqsood seem to be fairly content to remain in Akkarid, and will keep doing what they can with Al-Mhuqtebel and to aide Claudia and her family.

We shall travel along the Road of Peace for a time, then we will need to delve east into the Sheel Khali Desert. Dendera still has a contact within Al Haddid Jalut; the group has found a way to halt Zarjasz Al-Ulaq in its course through the desert, but is unable to access it; the ring should solve that problem for us. Dendera also expects the Ushtarak to be nearby.

Over desert, conversation turned to casual topics, and I took the moment to finally properly propose to Dendera. She said yes. The reaction from some of the others was priceless.

She also gave me a fine gift for my birthday, an enchanted scabbard, worthy of Nesr.

We made it an early night. We are going to try to leave the city at dawn, so we can get a good distance from the city before the midday heat. It will be good to be on the road again.

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Session 39

July 24

We defeated Xea Rashidi and her minions, that’s the important part. I… don’t really know what else to say. I’ve been, it sounds kind of silly, but I’ve been wanting to fight a dragon since I was a child, but…

I’m just glad none of my friends got hurt when I wasn’t there.

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Session 38

Akkarid; July 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We found another sheet of brass, which proclaimed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then she turned into a dragon…

View
Session 37

Akkarid; July 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She is a widow. She has a son.

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

See Dendera’s page for the whole story!

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

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

July 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View
Session 36

July 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Session 35

The Widow’s Blade; July 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 7

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

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

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

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

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

July 8

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

Kyr Limani; July 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Majoon; July10

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

July 11

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

July 12

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

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

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

July 13

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

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

July 14

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

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

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

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

July 15

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

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

July 16

I am so tired of this ship.

July 17

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

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

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

July 18

Akkarid at last!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

link: Asha Druj’s Journal

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

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

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

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

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Session 34

The Widow’s Blade; July 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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