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.
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.
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.
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.