"A Rollicking Band of Adventurers We"

Session 5.02: Snakecharming
In Which the Heroes "Lie to a Liar"

17 September 1380 C.E.

The lock clicked open and the door swung outward to reveal four men garbed all in black-dyed shrouds. They shielded their eyes from the magical light emanating from Quinn’s shield, surprised to find anyone inside the perfume shop. Nyleth began to sing her song of courage and Nima prayed for blessings from the spirits. Recognizing them as cultists, Quinn lunged forward and sliced the first man’s throat open. The body went limp and fell face-first onto the floor of the shop.

The priest drew his scimitar and moved up the ladder to support the spellknight against the remaining three cultists. Moria emerged from the cellar next, staff in one hand, wand in the other. His expression was sinister and his wand ready as he spoke in half-broken Hammaddin. “No one move.”

The men stared down at their fallen brother in shock, but they recovered quickly, their expressions turning hostile. “On tae plan B,” growled Quinn, bringing his falcata to bear against the leftmost Settite. The blade bit deeply into the arm the man raised to ward off the attack, and blood splashed against the door frame.

Nyleth took aim and fired, but her target ducked at the sound of the loosed bowstring, narrowly avoiding the shaft. “Poo,” the bard cursed in Faerie, blowing her bangs out of her eyes.

The Settite in the middle hissed at his compatriots, “He’s slain Helwy! Kill them all! RECOVER THE ARTIFACT!!!” All three cultists reached under their garments to produce heavy flanged maces, which they brought to bear against Quinn. Moria’s magic missile cracked against the wounded cultist’s ribs, but he came on with his fellows anyway.

The men assailed the spellknight from all sides. He raised his shield to his left, deflecting the first blow. He swung his falcata up to the right to meet the swing of the cultist with a ringing steel CLANG! As the central opponent raised his weapon with both hands, Quinn served a sharp head-butt to his jaw, staggering him momentarily and sending his swing wide, nearly striking his companions.

Nima uttered a second prayer and the spirits answered. A sizzling arc of electricity fried the wounded cultist, who collapsed twitching to the hard sand of the alley. The priest stepped past Quinn into the alley and took a mace to the ribs for his trouble. He grunted in pain but endured. Relentless, the spellknight advanced on the Settite that had called the others to attack, staggering him backward with blow after blow until he dropped his mace to clutch the vicious gash across his belly. He gurgled in Icatian, “It is over! Return to the wagon! Tell Burgiua the Razeel is LOST!” Then he died.

Nyleth fired an arrow into the survivor, which sank deeply into his side. He clutched at the fey-shaft protruding from his side, but his eyes glazed over after Moria finished the last syllable of a spell of enchantment, looking desperately to the wizard as a potential savior. Moria held his hands out and said in Icatian to everyone, “It’s all fine. We can talk this out.”

“We can talk this out,” said the man. “Thank thee, fey fellow!”

“Pray, come inside, and we shall discuss this as civilized folk.” The wizard spared a sad look for the dead. “It is unfortunate about your companions.” Quinn stepped out of Moria’s way and began examining the fallen, while Nyleth shifted to a song laced with calming enchantments. The wizard approached the cultist and put a soothing, friendly hand on the man’s shoulder.

“But, but … the human…” the Settite glanced fearfully at Quinn. “He slew my fellows!”

“A mistake,” said Moria, turning to Quinn. “One he sorely regrets. Isn’t that right, Quinn.”

“Oh, aye. I dinnae want tae,” the Dalesman said. Nyleth’s song became suggestive, her lyrics about forgiveness and bravery being one in the same.

“He is a knight, you see. His honor is everything to him,” the wizard explained.

“A brutish lout, that one be!” declared the cultist. “Servile crusader to an impotent shade! I can smell the awful chivalry upon him.” He spat.

“His life choices are regrettable, it is true,” Moria said in a placating tone. “Still. I give you my word that I will not allow you to come to harm from him or any of these, my companions.” Quinn’s knuckles whitened on the hilt of his falcata. He took a deep breath and stepped out of sight of the Settite. A moment later he returned, wearing his elf disguise.

The wizard turned to Nima then and asked, “Is there aught that can be done for them?”

“I shall see if they may be helped, Sayyadati Moria,” said Nima.

While the cleric examined them, the wizard explained, “Nima is a priest, you see. He may yet be able to save their lives.”

“These two yet live,” said Nima. “Shall I stabilize them?”

“I think that would be wise,” Nyleth sang quietly.

“Would you like that?” Moria asked the cultist.

He clutched at the wizard’s robes desperately and whispered, “Yes, yes, my mystical friend! You understand! Help my friends, and we will take the hoard back to the wagon. Then, we can collect the girl and slip out the main gate with their bodies hidden in the wagon. I cannot move them all myself.”

Quinn and Nima hesitated at the revelation then set about stabilizing the two dying Settites. Nyleth shot Moria a glance, eyebrow arched, and he gave his companions a meaningful look before turning back to the man. “You speak wisdom, friend. We should move with all haste, and collect the girl.”

Still speaking in a low whisper, the cultist said, “My Blasphemer, Burgiua told us to bring the hoard to the wagon in Harat an-Nukhayla and then to wait outside the As-Sadin gambling den for her arrival. The Icatian girl be within. We saw them take her there last week, and supposedly the Kannites have come to take her out of the city.”

“Anyone ken aboot this As-Sadin den?” Quinn asked in Faerie.

“We could, perhaps, seek it on our own?” said Nyleth. Then she switched to Icatian and addressed the cultist. “Perhaps, brave one, you could lead us there, and we could assist you.”

“Is the Grimorium safe?” Moria asked in a low tone.

The cultist grinned. “Oh, yesss, my friend! Burgiua has it safe and sound. She stole it right out from under the Hammaddins’ noses! Hah!”

“Cunning woman,” said Moria, adopting a wicked grin. “Let us make haste with the hoard.” He led the cultist inside, and he eagerly hastened down into the basement to fetch the chest of coins. He became alarmed when he saw that the magical orb was not inside.

“I admit, my friend, that when I came down, I could not resist holding it,” said Moria. He presented the orb and put it back in the chest with a light pat, trying to look somewhat abashed. “Just for a time. Such power.”

The cultist sighed with relief. “I know, it be the Key to all, we art told.”

“Let us make our way to the wagon, shall we?”

“Canst thou assist me with the chest? It is heavy and shall require four to bring it up the ladder.” Moria nodded to his more physically powerful companions.

They hauled the heavy chest up the creaking ladder into the night of al-Jebail and carry its great unwieldy bulk stealthily through dark palm groves behind the Suq, in the shadow of Tel Buyut. They reached the wide thoroughfare of Harat an-Nukayla (“Street of Palms”), which led straight to the main landward city gate.

“Carrying things is hard,” Nyleth said softly in Faerie.

“You’re doing very well,” Moria told her. She grinned at him and flexed with a soft laugh.

The heretic promised to bring the wagon back to them in the shadow of the palms so that they could load the chest and then return for his companions’ bodies. When he had gone, Quinn asked, “How long’s ‘e gon’ be like this, Moria?”

“Several hours,” said the wizard, to the Dalesman’s visible relief. “Long enough. I hope.”

“If it runs up, I can do the same,” said Nyleth quietly.

Moria nodded and said, “We were very, very fortunate.” He retrieved the orb from the chest and handed it to Nyleth to store in her bag. She replaced it with a rock of similar size, since she had one of those taking up space in the extradimensional sack.

They heard the sound of creaking axles as the cultist brought a mule-drawn wagon alongside the stand of trees. The man opened a hidden compartment into which the chest would fit, along with about six cubic feet of extra space to one side. The adventurers helped carry and load the bodies of the stabilized cultists back to the wagon, to be concealed under a tarp. The conscious Settite was unconcerned about his dead companion. When they loaded the bodies, the adventurers noticed that the hidden compartment contained a bundle of soft bedding and noted it was just about large enough to hold a child.

“Do we know the girl’s purpose, friend?” Moria asked.

He gave the wizard a look as if he only just remembered that he wasn’t among other Settites. “She is part of the plan. Our unholy Lady’s Great Plan. We need all three … the Key, the Gate, and the Right of Passage. I know not why, but it be said that the Icatian girl has the Right of Passage.”

“Fascinating,” said the wizard, earning him a questioning look from Quinn. He waved the Dalesman off.

Once the bodies were concealed, the heretic dusted his palms off and said, “Right. Now we wait for Burgiua and the others.”

“Which building is the As-Sadin gambling den?” asked Moria.

“It be in the Pleasure District. Burgiua showed us earlier today, before the curfew.”

“Ah. Shall we get moving then? Did you not say you were to wait there?”

“Didst I? That art strange. I … mine senses feel odd now. Dulled. I … come then, let us be on our way.”

“Verily.”

The charmed cultist snug across the street, avoiding a City Watch patrol farther down, and the adventurers followed his lead. They made their way through the Pleasure District, which seemed ominous and quiet, though it was clear that the wider streets of the district were meant for throngs of revelers on normal evenings. Slipping from shadow to shadow, the cultist led them to a wall of a courtyard that enclosed a three-story masonry building. Then he motioned for the others to crouch within the shadow and wait.

They waited there in silence for minutes that seemed to stretch on for ages, listening to the silence of a city under lock-down. They could hear the sounds of the wind coming off the ocean beyond the Bath Gate. The occasional patrol passed a nearby street.

“The Kannites were coming for the gilr?” Moria asked softly. “Then they are not with you, I take it.”

The cultist grinned and whispered, “They will pay the Drujji for the girl, saving us the trouble. Then, when they emerge, we cloud their eyes and their minds. We use Settia’s venom to paralyze their limbs, and we wills teal the girl and escape in disguise.”

Quinn fakes a smile. “Oh. Right. Greet.” The cultist gave elf-Quinn a momentary look of suspicion, then shook his head and motioned for quiet.

After a few more minutes, a dark shape partially emerged from a shadow across the alley and hissed, “Eadund! Come here! Quickly!” The cultist motioned for them all to stay down and then hustled across the alley. After a brief exchange, Eadund the Settite returned to the adventurers’ position carrying a burlap bundle and grinning eagerly.

“Success, my friend?” asked Moria.

“This be wondrous, my friend! My Blasphemer hath given us the honor of infiltrating the gambling den! These are disguises for us!

“Wondrous indeed,” said Quinn, grinning at Moria.

“Fantastic.” Moria’s glee was sincere.

“I will unwrap it!” said Eadund. “There is a disguise for each of us…”

Still paranoid, the wizard quickly cast detect magic, noting a low level magical aura very close. “Hold a moment, friend,” he said. The cultist jumped suddenly as the bundle he carried moved.

“Quinn,” said Moria.

“Dinnae drop it!” cried the Dalesman.

A great black serpent in the bundle struck Eadund three times in the face, quick as lightning, before he dropped it with a horrible scream. Quinn jumped back, Nima drew his scimitar, and Moria backpedaled, fumbling for his wand. The man across the alleyway quickly slipped back into the shadows. The serpent slithered down the alleyway and, with a final hiss, disappeared into black mist. The snake-bit cultist collapsed to the ground, his neck rapidly swelling and his breath barely hissing through his mouth.

“Bye, friend,” said Moria.

“Bloody snakes!” cursed Quinn. “Nothin’ I can do f’r ‘im now.”

“We should move on the gambling den,” said the wizard. “Now.”

“I couldnae agree more.” Quinn used his hat of disguise to assume Eadund’s face. “‘Ow’s this?”

Moria inspected him. “Passable. You’re getting better.”

“Ne’er thought I’d be hidin’ like this,” said the paladin. “Still, thanks fer makin’ it possible.”

The wizard nodded. “Let’s move.”

View
Session 5.01: Lockdown
In Which The Heroes Join the City Watch

17 September 1380 C.E.

At the end of the third day at sea, Hada’s crew espied the beacon of the Tower of al-Jebail in the waning light. The crew furled the sail and unshipped the oars to bring the At-Tair-al-Bunni into port. Hada’s first mate clapped and chanted to the oarsmen, while Hada made ready to dock.

“Ohh, land,” sighed Quinn. “E’er so glad am I tae see ye.”

“Perhaps I should make you an Everland Helmet, with a seeming of motionless land to fool your brain into thinking you are not at sea,” Moria suggested to the Dalesman in a neutral tone.

“I’m so glad we made it back,” agreed Nyleth. “Thank you Hada, for a wonderfully … exciting voyage.”

Hada hugged the bard warmly. “Oh, Sayyadati, it was my eternal joy to be of service! If ever you have need of me, to not hesitate to call upon me. I hope your venture was fortunate?”

“Very much so!” Nyleth hugged the captain back. “I hope we will have a chance to sail together again soon!”

“Your relic, you will sell it?” she asked with polite inquisitiveness.

Moria shook his head in the negative. “Indeed not.”

Hada’s expression was incredulous, but she patted the wizard’s head affectionately (and excessively). “I am certain you know what is best.”

Moria frowned and muttered, “I was not joking about it being priceless…”

“Sellin’ it makes it hard tae be its guardian, anyway,” said Quinn.

“Ecoriel insists we will keep it, but if ever we do, I will tell you for how much,” said Nyleth, winking conspiratorially at Hada. She gave Moria’s shoulder a brief squeeze.

One of Hada’s men overheard the conversation and muttered something to a crewmate about “pilgrims” and “indulgences.” The crewmate nodded shrewdly and said, “More profitable in the long-term.”

As Hada had the ship rowed in, the adventurers noted that the quays were nearly full, and a great many ships were milling about. The captain cast her lines in and brought the ship to dock, but there appeared to be a great throng on the docks that evening.

“Right,” said Quinn. “So. Where we goin’?”

“Straight to the perfume shop?” suggested Moria. “I doubt we will find much, but perhaps we will get lucky.”

“I’m fer that,” said the Dalesman, glancing to the other two.

“Then, by all means, let us be on our way,” said the priest. Nyleth nodded at Quinn, but her eyes were drawn to the busy docks.

“Whass goin’ on here, then?” Quinn wanted to know.

“Dockfest?” Moria opines.

“Dockfest used tae be aboot th’ music,” Quinn declared. Nyleth stifled a giggle.

The wizard gestured at the large number of merchant vessels. “Yes, they really sold out.”

Hada called out to the harbormistress, who was accompanied by a host of city guards. As the crew began to unship the plank, the harbormistress rushed to interrupt. In Hammaddi, she called out, “Permission to come aboard, captain!”

Nyleth nudged Quinn. “Are we in trouble?” she whispered.

“Suren, I hope nae,” he muttered.

Exasperated, Hada replied, “I am Hada ar-Ri, captain of the Altair al-Bunni! My dock-fees are paid by the Lady Beyah ad-Dina! We have the right to port!”

The harbormistress replied, “The Bath Gate is closed tonight. Make berth or continue on your trade route! There will be no entrance to the market this night!”

Hada looked confused and enraged. “This is madness! The Bath Gate has not been closed in years! What is the meaning of this?”

Moria made birth by hopping off the boat onto the dock. Quinn jumped down beside his charge. The harbormistress spared them a glance, looking harried and annoyed. Nyleth waved merrily at the woman, her eyes clearly visible. “Hallo! Perhaps you could tell us what is going on?” she said sweetly.

“Indeed. We’ll just be docking then, shall we?” added Moria.

The harbormistress suddenly noticed the fey folk, and made hasty obeisances to the spirit-folk. Her contingent of city watchmen did the same. More amiable, she said, “I am sorry blessed one, but it is by decree of the Naibah. The city is closed until … uh, well … for the time being.”

“Oh, no!” Nyleth said, pained. “Has something happened? Is everyone all right?”

“What word was given, Honored Mistress, that the gates were to be closed?” Nima asked.

The harbormistress, looking about at a small gathering crowd of disgruntled sailors and tradeswomen, smiled apologetically. “There was an … incident, four days past.”

“Hada,” Nyleth said quietly. “Could she come aboard and talk a little more?”

The captain glared at the throng. “You have my permission to come aboard, ‘ukhti. Let us discuss an … arrangement in my cabin.”

“Ohh,” Quinn sighed. “It’s one o’ those kinds o’ deals.”

The harbormistress left her guard on the dock and followed Hada belowdecks. Nyleth followed, unasked and Quinn trailed her. Hada’s crew took up their most aggressive and manly poses to glare at the city watchmen. Mori sighed and followed his companions.

Inside Hada’s opulent quarters, the harbormistress folded her skirts under her legs and sat upon a silk cushion. Nyleth sat nearby, graceful as ever. The captain and her guest exchanged abrupt and casual pleasantries, inquiring each after the other’s family and the state of trade in the city and abroad. Hada cut the chase quickly. “So, have taxes increased in the city?”

The harbormistress made a demure motion with her hand and accepted a dish of shoma brought in by Hada’s second nephew, once removed. “Captain, I’m afraid I have no power to open the gates for you. The city watch has barred _any_from entering. Hada sipped at her milky white beverage in silence, fixing the harbormistress with a firm unblinking stare. “Captain, your … partners have been most inconvenienced, I’m sure. But the city is in a state of peril. It is for their safety as much as our own, that these measures have been taken.

“Something terrible must have happened,” Nyleth said politely. “Is there anything we can do?”

“That is our line o’ work,” added Quinn.

The harbormistress looked to the two hopefully, then drank from her dish, swallowing hard. “It is terrible…” she finally said. “Four evenings ago, a Fomoraig cog docked to trade in the Suq. We permitted the men to enter, once their coin had been weighed and counted, of course. They were told of our laws, that Sons of Mot were prohibited to disembark, but…”

She drained her dish, and Hada refilled it from a steaming carafe. “But the vile beasts attempted to sneak in under cover of darkness,” the captain concluded.

The harbormistress nodded, looking stricken. “Yes, Captain. I’m afraid so. Four of our brave watchmen were slain when the villains were unmasked.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Nyleth said sadly. “How upsetting for you all.”

The harbormistress nodded. “Accounts vary, but there were many of them in hiding, disgusting green-skinned horrors. They drew weapons and attacked the Bab al-Madina. Some of them forced their way in!” Hada sipped her shoma and screwed up her face in disgust.

“Have they been apprehended?” the bard asked.

The harbormistress looked at Nyleth apologetically. “The Naibah has sent for reinforcements to bolster the City Watch, but the gates are barred to all others.”

“I see,” Nyleth said sadly. “I understand, though. It’s best to keep the city safe. Is the cog still docked?”

The woman shook her head and thrust out her chin. “No, blessed one! I commanded the dock-guard to root out all on board and put the ship to the torch, but their captain acted first and cast off before we could apprehend him. We filled his sails with flaming arrows and cast alchemist-fire onto her bulkheads as they fled to sea. They will limp back to Malecor, if they make it at all.”

Hada muttered, “Lobraiders are hardy ships – hulls like elephantine. They are difficult to sink.”

Quinn scratched the back of his head. “Did ye get the name o’ that ship, pray?”

“The lobraider was named Gorga Bulagd,” said the harbormistress.

Nyleth grinned suddenly and turned to the captain. “Perhaps your crew would fancy some … deep sea fishing?” Hada grinned predatorily, and the bard continued. “If we were to bring back evidence that the ship was no more, would that guarantee our landing?”

The harbormistress looked longingly into the mid-distance. “If only it were in my power! Trade has stagnated these four days. The Sayyadahs are near to revolt! But the city watch has placed the city under martial law. I would grant you passage, if I could, but the watchmen have been granted control of the gates.”

“Mebbe we need tae have a palaver wi’ them, then,” said Quinn.

“Would it be possible to speak to the Watch?” Nyleth asked.

The harbormistress shrugged. “I do not see why not. You may try, but they have repelled all who have entreated them thus far.”

Nyleth smiled at the woman. “It is worth a try, yes? And if they say no, then perhaps we can go hunting tonight after all.”

Hada reclined on her lush cushions, fingering the hilt of her shamshir. “Sayyadati, my blade has hungered since we left port!”

“Then I believe we have a plan, yes?” Nyleth turned to Moria. “Shall we?”

“We shall try it your way,” he said.

“I have no doubt that you have a way, as well,” she said in Faerie with a hint of a smile.

“Nothin’ ventured,” Quinn mused, standing to open the door for the others.

The adventurers made their way through the throng of angry sailors and tradeswomen who clamored at the Bath Gate, spitting curses and ridicule on the guardsmen barring the many doors. The crowd called them “sons-of-paupers”, “faithless husbands”, and speculate loudly as to the sizes of their manhoods. Nyleth slipped through the crowd unobtrusively, sidling discreetly up to the sergeant, a middle-aged portly man with a long, bushy mustache.

“Good evening,” she said quietly, pulling the hood of her magic cloak down as she did. “My companions and I were hoping to speak to the captain of the Watch?”

Awestruck, the sergeant makes deep obeisances. “Most blessed traveler! Please forgive this unworthy one, but the captain is attending to matters most urgent! I have command of the Bath Gate this evening, if it pleases your greatness.” He commanded the rest of the guards to reverence, as well. They did so reluctantly.

Nyleth beamed a brilliant smile at them all. “Ahh, I see! He must be very busy with the problems of late.”

“Indeed, Your Radiance! The situation is … um, well, it is … urgent.”

Moria saw one of the guardsmen roll his eyes as he and the others finally made it through the crowd to join Nyleth. “Do you not agree?” he asked the man, who shifted his gaze uncomfortably away. “Come, come,” the wizard pressed. “If you do not agree with your superior, you should be man enough to say it.” The insolent fellow did his best impression of a deaf man, but shifted as if standing on hot coals. Moria shrugged and turned his attention back to Nyleth and the sergeant.

“We were hoping that we might be able to lend the Watch some aid,” Nyleth said, indicating her companions. “We have also had several, shall we say, encounters with the Sons of Mot. We were hoping our expertise might prove useful.”

The sergeant’s eyes gleamed. “Well, well! That is most fortunate indeed! We have need of reinforcements!” The guardsmen looked to each other quizzically, unbelieving.

Men in the throng began shouting at the sergeant. “Yes, yes! We will root out these demons! We will help, too!”

One of the tradeswomen shouted, “OPEN THE GATES! I have a wealth of Galatian grapes withering in my old!”

Nyleth turned to the crowd and smiled at them. “Perhaps we can solve this problem together.” The men cheered her on. “Perhaps, if we work together, we can aid the guards and the city.” The tradeswomen discreetly pull purses and weigh the contents, winking at the bard. Sensing she had inadvertently riled the crowd, Nyleth summoned her lute and began to play a tune, hoping to sooth them.

“So,” said Quinn to the sergeant. “If ye’re in need o’ help, here ‘tis. Care tae let us through?”

Wide-eyed, the sergeant slowly raised his gaze up the Dalesman’s full height and said, “Oh, mighty ghazi! Your valor only can save us from this menace!” He turned to his men. “OPEN THE GATES, YOU CURS! THE DJINN-FOLK HAVE BROUGHT A CHAMPION TO SAVE US!!!”

The guardsmen stare at their sergeant agape. Moria gestured at them with his hand to get on with it. Quinn smiled in spite of himself. “Dinnae worry. Nobody’s gittin’ past me.” Reluctantly, the guardsmen unbarred one of the doors, grumbling.

Nyleth addressed the assembled crowd. “Our champion will slay those responsible for your lost profits! Soon, you will be trading anew.” A raucous cheer went up amongst the throng, and the bard swept her hand in a grand gesture toward the opening door.

“After you, O Champion,” she said in Faerie. Quinn nodded once and led the way inside. Moria shook his head but followed along. The guards held back the throng as the four adventurers entered the city.

They passed through the sacred bath house, which seemed cavernous and desolate without the heavy steam that accompanied them upon their first entry. Nyleth splashed water on her feet and hands anyway. Quinn adjusted the straps of his shield and looked around. Nima checked his prayer beads and the draw on his scimitar. Once inside the city, the streets seemed depressingly empty and forlorn.

“Good. We should make good time,” said Moria.

“Shall we make fer the Citadel first?” asked Quinn.

“Oh, are we going to investigate that, then?” said the wizard.

“I said we’d help,” the paladin said simply, as if that explained everything.

“Of course,” said Moria, sounding resigned.

“If Amirandi’s back, then he ain’t leavin’ ‘til the trouble’s done. And if he ain’t back, he ain’t gettin’ in.”

“Then we shall do what we can to help, Ghazi Quinn,” said Nima.

“Makes sense, I suppose,” said Nyleth.

“Quinn. The man walks through walls, you may recall,” said Moria.

The Dalesman shook his head. “Thass right, damn ye. If’n the Sons o’ Mot were attackin’ the Citadel, thass where we should start.”

“Would they be at the citadel?” Nyleth mused aloud. “Or would they perhaps be laying low? Weren’t they injured?”

“Could be, aye,” said Quinn. “We’ll keep our wits aboot us.”

“Lead on,” said Moria.

The adventurers made their way toward the Citadel on the hill at the center of town. There, they were stopped by a contingent of watchmen asking why they were out after curfew.

“Peace, my friends,” said Nima. “We are tasked with helping to remove the Sons of Mot and helping resolve the issues besetting the City.”

“The sergeant at the Bath Gate conscripted us,” added Quinn.

Gruffly, the watchman replied, “Well, we’ve taken no captives yet. But we have two slain within. You may speak to the lieutenant.”

“Could you direct us, gentlemen?” Nyleth said sweetly.

“Indeed, blessed one. Follow me.” He led them into the courtyard and showed them two small twisted green goblin bodies hanging by the neck. He sent another man to fetch the lieutenant.

“Mm,” Moria said with distaste, eyeing the bodies.

“This does seem like a lot o’ trouble for a buncha redcaps, d’ye think?” asked Quinn. The wizard nodded wordlessly at his behomothian companion.

The lieutenant arrived, looking testy. “Yes? What is the meaning of this intrusion? We are harried enough as it is without Abu Fi’ri’s efforts to aggrandize himself!”

“We’re here tae help, sir,” Quinn said honestly and directly.

“Well, you can help most by observing the curfew! The city is in a state of terror, what with these villains running amok. We can barely keep the peace!”

The paladin held up the hilt of his falcata. “We’re adventurers, sir. This is our kinda business.”

Then Moria interjected, “I beg your pardon, but ‘amok’? The streets are all but deserted.”

Nyleth lay a hand briefly on the wizard’s arm and addressed the lieutenant. “You did well, sir. The city seems very safe.”

The lieutenant glared at Moria with large, fierce almond eyes. “Thanks to us! Just yesterday, there were four freedmen stabbed to death in the warrens! We have urged all to remain inside after dark.”

“So, we should begin our hunt in the Warrens. Many thanks, sirrah,” said the wizard, tipping an imaginary hat.

“‘Less ye ken where else they might be hidin’?” said Quinn.

“We’re not sure,” the lieutenant said in frustration. “They appeared to have split up after slaying their way into the city. Some were seen in the pleasure district, others in the Trade Quarter. We think they are moving through the warrens near the city walls, but some claim that they appear most frequently in the Pleasure District and the Suq, though no incidents have been reported there.”

“The Suq’s where th’ perfume shop is,” mused Quinn. Moria nods, closing his mouth as if he were about to say the same thing.

Nyleth glanced between the two of them briefly. To the lieutenant she said, “Perhaps you would be able to grant your permission for us to investigate the Suq?”

The man sneered. “Fine! Fine, do as you will! But if you are knifed in the street, let it not be said you were not warned against it.”

“I will make sure that nothing such as that happens, sir,” the bard said sincerely. “You all have enough to worry about, I am sure.”

The lieutenant made a curt obeisance to them and left, seeming – for all his bluster – somewhat relieved. “I thank ye fer yer time,” Quinn said with a salute before turning to depart.

The adventurers walked through the deserted streets with only the lamplight from second-story windows to illuminate their way. A cat could be heard crying in the gloom as they found their way to the Suq, which looked much larger without the usual ubiquitous tents and stalls that usually dominated the center. Abah an-Ni Lavender & Perfumes was located at the northeast edge of the Suq al-Madinat. It was part of a series of vending stalls in a sandstone single-story building with circular windows paned with colored glass too small for anyone larger than a child to fit. The door was wooden, of fine make, and secured with an iron lock.

“Do you think that we should let them know we’re here?” asked Nyleth as they considered the locked door. She tried to peer through the window, but it was dark within and the glass was opaque.

“No,” said Moria. Then he cast a spell to detect any magic signatures.

“Well, nae,” Quinn said quietly. “I’m just nae … comfortable with all this breakin’ in.”

“Maybe the back door is open?” Nyleth said softly in Faerie. The Dalesman shrugged and started to make his way around the other side of the shop.

“Hold,” said Moria, voice strained in concentration. “Powerful magic,” he said.

“That shouldnae surprise me,” said Quinn. “Can ye tell what sort?”

The wizard released his spell with a sigh. “No. It lies within the building. I cannot identify the type of magic.”

“Would you like a second pair of eyes? Could we not work together?” Nyleth asked.

“What I need is for the wall to be transparent. Or an open door.”

“Hmm, I can try to open the door for you at least,” said the bard.

“Is there magic on the lock?” asked Quinn. “‘Cos if ye kin open th’ lock, I’ll open the door.”

“No. Only within, it seems,” said Moria, making a face. “Barring some Nystulian chicanery.”

“Nystul, that piker,” said Quinn. “Always confusin’ the rest ‘f us…”

“A prankster and a blackguard,” agreed Moria. “The world is well rid of him. Assuming it is rid of him. How could we ever really know?”

Ignoring the Mystralian banter, Nyleth rummaged around in her bag and produced a handful of hat pins and lockpicks. “All right. I will give it a try, then.”

A few moments of applied thievery later and the lock popped open with a click and the bard smiled. “Ecoriel, I’m going to pull the lock off – and I assume Quinn will open the door. In case, well, something goes … magical.”

The Dalesman’s hand found Nyleth’s shoulder and guided her back from the door. Moria readied his wand as Quinn held up his shield then reached out and opened the shop. The heavy wooden door swung inward easily. The shop was dark within. The wizard repeated his divination, and after a few moments of concentration placed a hand to his head.

“Are ye all right?” Quinn hissed. Nyleth looked at Moria worriedly.

The wizard nodded. “Very. Powerful. Transmutation,” he enunciated. Nyleth gently pulled him out of the direct line of the door.

“Where is this spell, Fakir Moria?” asked Nima.

“Spell or artifact, it lies within. I could not pinpoint it,” said the wizard.

“I’ll lead,” said Quinn. “I need some light, though.”

“Let us grant you light, then,” said the priest, evoking magical light on the spellknight’s shield.

The others readied themselves for trouble, then Quinn led them inside, hugging the front wall with the windows. His shield cast harsh, bright light into the building, illuminating walls filled with glass vials of many different-colored liquids. There was a wooden screen behind a counter in the back. Quinn pointed to it, then made his way around the room in that direction. As he drew closer, he could see that the screen was carved delicately and folded along brass hinges to conceal the back of the shop. Quinn slid the screen aside to reveal a set of balances, mortar, pestles, bowls for mixing, and another wooden door, set into the back of the shop.

Moria peaked around the doorway, trying to pinpoint the magical aura. He tilted his head to one side, then looked down. “Below. Under the floor,” he said softly.

Quinn swung his shield around to shine light on the floor, which was covered by an expensive-looking rug. The spellknight stepped over to move the rug aside. Nyleth moved to cover him, and Moria leveled his wand at it, though from his expression, he felt foolish doing so. When the Dalesman pulled the rug away, it revealed a trapdoor in the wooden planks of the floor.

“Right. We ready?” Quinn asked the others.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” said Nyleth. “But yes, I think we are, Quinn.”

Nima and Moria entered the shop proper, closing the door behind them. Nyleth began humming a tune to bolster he companions, Quinn cast a defensive spell and invoked the divine bond with his falcata, causing it to shimmer with holy light. Then he reached down and pulled on the trapdoor. It lifted easily on oiled hinges, revealing a wooden ladder beneath. They were all overcome by the aroma of countless oils, herbs, and floral scents. He descended swiftly.

“Quinn,” Moria whispered after him. “Be a Settite.”

The Dalesman looked back up with a puzzled expression before realization dawned on his face. He touched the brim of his hat and the wizard nodded. Quinn vanished, replaced with Calum, the cultist he and Moria had encountered back in Icatia. After another nod from his companions, the spellknight turned to inspect the cellar.

It was walled in sandstone, with flagstones for a floor. Ceramic jars were stacked to the ceiling on two of the walls, while various other items were stored along the other walls. One wall had a workbench, and an armor stand bore a beautiful set of ornate full-plate. The trapdoor appeared to be the only way in or out of the cellar. He waved the others down, and Moria was the first to join him.

“Ecoriel, be careful…” said Nyleth.

He quirked an eyebrow back up at her. “Always.” She grinned down at him.

“I dinnae see any other way oot,” said Quinn.

“There may not be one,” said Moria. “And whatever the magic is, it is in the chest yonder,” he added, pointing at a container near the workbench.

Quinn crossed to the chest, checking to see if it was locked. He accidentally kicked a fragment of stone from a dense pile on the floor in the center of the room, which drew everyone’s attention to it. There appeared to be fragments of a broken idol all over the floor. “Weird,” said the spellknight.

“Hmm…” said Nyleth. “This used to be of a Djinnah named Nikkal. She was the Lady of Orchards, lovely and noble. But there are runes all over the fragments of the idol.” Then she sat on the floor at the top of the stairs with her legs hanging down.

“Fascinating,” said Moria. He proceeded to examine the chest Quinn was inspecting. It was made of wood and secured with a stout iron barrel lock. He gestured to Nyleth to come down, and she did so quietly.

“Think you can crack this one?” he asked her.

“Not sure, but I can try,” she said. The lock proved to be more difficult than the one on the door. “Bother,” she said. “This could take some time.”

While she fiddled with the lock, Quinn and Nima took a closer look at the full-plate. The suit of armor was of Hammaddin make, a masterwork of exceptional craftsmanship. It also sat next to a crate full of leather armor parts and two complete hauberks: studded leather and leather, respectively. Behind the armor stand sat a cache of weapons marked with the words “ad-Dawa al-Jadeed”, including a greataxe and a masterwork composite longbow.

Nyleth gave up on opening the chest, grumbling. Quinn picked reached for the greataxe. He lined the blade up with the lock, then took a swing. His blow cleaved off a nice chunk of the lock, sending fragments ricocheting in all directions and popping it off neatly. He set the axe down and made a bow-like gesture toward the chest.

Then he returned to regard the armor. “So, why’s a perfume shop got this in th’ cellar? I mean, I still havenae seen nothin’ that says ‘Bad Guys Are Here’…”

Moria shrugged, removing the remaining lock fragments and opened the chest, Nyleth at his side. The chest was filled with precious coins, mostly copper, but some gold, silver, and the rare glint of platinum. There was a leather pouch, a vial of pale orange liquid, a scroll, and a perfect sphere of polished black marble. The veins of the stone seemed to almost perceptively swirl before the elves’ eyes.

The wizard narrowed his eyes in concentration, and after a moment, plucked the vial and scroll from the chest. He placed them to one side, closed the chest, then turned to regard the two items more closely. “A lesser spell-scroll. And healing in a bottle,” he said after another moment. “Useful.”

Nyleth’s attention was drawn to the workbench. “NIma?”

“Yes, Sayyadati?” said the priest.

“And Ecoriel, when you’re done…” she added, holding up a roll of parchment. “Look at this. It seems to be a bunch of maps of Protea, but they all say Hama bint Alifazza on them. And they’re covered in Fomoraig notes. It looks like they’ve been all over. Doa ny of these places look familiar? Is al Jebail on here anywhere?”

Nima examined the parchment for a few moments, then shrugged and handed it to Moria. “Wasn’t Alifazzah’s name on one of the other books that was stolen?” Nyleth asked him. “The Settites took it, right?”

“The Grimorium, yes,” said the wizard.

“Should we keep these, then?” she asked.

“As you like,” said Moria. Then he took a breath to steel himself and opened the chest once more. He placed one hand on the black orb within, but froze at Nyleth’s hissed: “Ssshhh!” He glanced over with a frown.

“The back door … someone is unlocking it,” she said softly. They all heard the distinctive sound of a key turning in the lock on the back door.

Quinn started to climb back up the ladder, still in his Calum disguise, Nima and Nyleth quietly following him up. Moria scooped up the orb and placed it in a pocket, closing the chest before joining the others back in the shop…

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Interlude: A Visit to Faerie
In Which Quinn Catches Up With Nyleth.

A Visit to Faerie

Posted by Darth Krzysztof, from a conversation with Elenore

1380 C.E.

The Al-Tair al-Bunni lurched again, pulling Quinn out of his troubled sleep by the stomach. He clapped a hand to his mouth, stifling a moan as he rolled out of his bunk and made his way topside, to the spot which Hada’s crew called Quinn’s “post” on the ship. He hugged the rail with both arms, too sleepy and queasy to keep his balance on the rolling deck, and waited for the inevitable. Serves ye right fer eatin’ so much, he told himself as his mouth started to water, as it always did. Findin’ the wee bairn’s cause t’ celebrate, an’ no mistake, but ye knew ye were gettin’ on a blasted boat agin.

Not this time, he thought. Mebbe ye ain’t sea-blooded, but ye’re strong. Stronger’n this. Keep yer food down, Quinn!

He squeezed his eyes shut and thought of calmer harbors, casting his mind ahead to their destination of Balearaeos. The city stood bright and warm in the afternoon sun, the people making way for the Spellknight as he climbed the road to Koritsi Kai Kalukas once more. Sitting beside the well there, Pastanti rose at the sight of him, a simple curtsy and a shy smile failing to hide her happiness at the return of her apsifoppotis. She started toward him as he drew nearer, holding out her arms…

The ship crashed down again, and Quinn opened his eyes to find himself back aboard the Al-Tair al-Bunni in the middle of the night. They were still days away from Balearaeos, from the reunion he ached for. To his surprise, though, the urge to vomit had passed.

“Quinn?” came a quiet voice. “Are you all right?”

He looked over his shoulder to see Nyleth hanging in the rigging above him, wide awake and shoeless, with her hair down. Quinn had encountered her like this before, but hadn’t looked for her this time in his haste. Aye, an’ last time she was upside-doon. ““Oh! Nyleth! I dinnae see ye there. Aye, I’m a’right. Jist tryin’ tae find mah sea legs, still. Honessly, I like th’ sea jist fine. Only from the land, d’ye kennit.”

He turned and stood with his back to the rail, dabbing at the corner of his mouth out of habit. Elves went into a trance instead of sleeping, and Nyleth’s trances had been less restful since she’d learned that her cousin was among the missing Faerie slaves… “An’ ye? Are ye all right?”

“Oh, of course,” she said lightly. “I just like sitting up here. I can feel the wind!” Her toes wiggled in punctuation, just about at Quinn’s eye level. He wondered how feet so dainty could support her, even tiny as she was. He started wondering what Pastanti’s feet looked like, and not for the first time, before Nyleth spoke again: “And, if I want to talk to the stars, no one else will hear me.”

Every star in creation had come out tonight; Quinn couldn’t conceive a better time or place to speak to them. “An’ what d’ye talk to the stars aboot?” I know so little aboot ‘er… mebbe if I keep it light, she’ll share a wee bit.

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Session 4.04: Amphora
In Which the Heroes Claim the Prize

14 September 1380 C.E.

“I have an idea,” said Nima. He explained his thinking and the others agreed that it was worth a try. Each of them retrieved one of the swords from a statue except Quinn, who took two. They were harmed in minor ways by the magic of the swords. Afterward, the priest channeled healing energy to soothe his companions’ hurts.

“All right,” said the paladin, holding the onyx sword aloft. “Here goes nothin’.”

As Quinn reached to pluck the pear from the branch of the gnarled green tree, the dark Magus appeared and assailed him with vile curses. The spellknight raised his shield and warded off the curse…

He placed sword’s pommel into the hands of the lapis lazuli statue. For a long moment, nothing happened. But then, the withered tree in the center of the room creaked and groaned. The bark split up the trunk and the ends of the branches withered, falling into dead dry sticks on the floor.

“Right,” said Quinn. “Mebbe Nima’s on tae somethin’ ‘ere.”

“Often it is darkest before the dawn,” intoned the priest. “Let us continue. Sayyadati Nyleth?”

…but the Magus called up a banshee to howl. Nyleth appeared and sang the spirit to sleep…

The bard placed the sapphire sword in the hands of the jade statue. After another pause, there came a growing smell of ozone a moment before a flash in the center of the room with an accompanying thunderclap. The lightning bolt left the tree in smoldering ruin, replaced with a circular patch of lava deep within the center of the stone floor. “Oh, dear!” she said, looking at the others. “I broke it!”

“Devil’s breath!” Quinn cursed.

“Well, then. There is some reaction,” said Nima, nonplussed.

…but the Magus summoned a shade to devour his soul. Nima appeared and cast the spirit back to Hell…

He took the diamond sword and placed it into the hands of the rose quartz statue. A gout of steam erupted through the lava-filled well in the center, leaving behind a deeper well, filled with obsidian. “Well … some reaction, indeed!”

“Tae say th’ least,” said Quinn.

…but the Magus summoned vipers to bite Quinn’s eyes. Moria appeared and plucked their fangs from Quinn, casting them to the ground where they became mere sticks…

Moria, still concentrating on the illusion that hid the adventurers from the stone guardians, placed the emerald sword into the hands of the alabaster statue. A sound of cracking glass emanated from the well in the floor. Then a tremendous shattering sound came forth, along with thousands of tiny shards of black glass flying out of the deepening hole.

Quinn inched up to the hole and peeked down into it. In the glow of his sunrod, the paladin saw the reflection of black water at the bottom of the well. “Right, then. Guess there’s only one thing for it,” he said.

Finally, the Magus pleaded with Quinn to give him the pear, and the Magus would grant him his heart’s desire, but the spellknight strode forward and plucked the fruit from the tree, freeing the sea-serpent and melting the seas.

He placed the ruby sword into the black mica statue’s hands. They heard the sounds of bubbling and churning from deep within the well, and water began to boil over the rim, spilling out over the floor. Accompanying the sound was another – of stone grinding on stone.

Rising up from the bubbling hole was a large black granite amphora, standing two feet high and covered in eldritch runes. The handles at the shoulders of the vessel were carved in the likeness of sea serpents, and it was stoppered with a stone seal also covered in strange runes. The stone door of the room disappeared with a flash, and the boiling water calmed. Moria stepped forward to inspect the ornate vase. A familiar expression of avarice crossed the wizards face as he examined the runes.

“We’ll need tae open it, I wager,” Quinn said, mostly to himself.

Nyleth bravely reached out and touched it with a finger. Her eyes went very wide. “Ecoriel,” she whispered, “touch it!” Without hesitation, the wizard also placed a hand on the amphora. He closed his eyes, a look of rapture on his face, which made Nyleth smile. She eyed the stopper, then looked over her shoulder at Quinn. “Should I open it?” she asked.

“Um … Can ye?” he asked.

Moria placed his hand on Nyleth’s, shaking his head gently. He gestured at himself, then looked toward the open door, to where Layla – the former guardian of the Black Razeel – awaited them. She smiled at him. “Do what you need to do, Ecoriel,” she said, squeezing his hand.

The wizard then spared a questioning glance at Quinn, who looked uneasy, but approached the amphora anyway. “Does…” the Dalesman began, a bit too loudly. Then, more quietly he said, “Does openin’ it make ye the guardian?” Moria shrugged and nodded. “Oooh,” said Quinn. Nima kept an eye on the stone guardians, which stood motionless.

The paladin reached out and took hold of the stopper, which was as large as his fist. It offered momentary resistance and then popped free. Peering down into the vessel, he saw only water. “Hoo boy,” he said, reaching his hand inside. He could barely squeeze part of his meaty hand through the constricted opening, but his fingers sloshed about in what felt like cool water.

“S’just water…” he said. “Am I to drink it?”

Moria shrugged again without nodding, then took the stopper and looked it over. He saw that it was covered in eldritch runes, but then he noticed Faerie script on the underside. He smirked and handed it to Nyleth.

Quinn lifted the heavy stone vessel out of its cupola in the stone plinth that rose out of the well, hefting it in his hands. He puffed out breaths with the effort. “Any chance this’ll fit in that bag, Nyleth?” he asked.

“Maybe? It depends on the weight. Is it very heavy?” She replaced the stopper.

“Ish,” he said. “I guess this is the Black Razeel. Tho I cannae guess why Amirandi’d want it all that bad.” Moria shurgged and nodded again, gesturing toward the exit.

Quinn hefted the jug up over one shoulder and they started for the door. As he approached, he noticed that the stone stair they climbed to reach the door was now almost entirely above the water, which continued to slowly descend. “Hey, have a look a’ this,” he said.

The cavern they’d had to swim through was now only half under water. They took a seat to wait and see if the waters would recede farther. After a time, it settled about waist height, and Quinn led the others down the steps. The adventurers wound their way back through the twisting maze of passageways, now half-above water until they finally reached the temple chamber, the floor of which was now about five feet above their heads.

“Layla?” Moria called out. There was no response.

“I wonder if she has left to find her way in the world?” mused Nyleth.

“Is she up top?” the wizard asked the taller party members.

“I’ll go check!” said the bard, scrambling up the edge of the lip. She found the temple deserted and the sun setting outside. “There’s no one here,” she said.

The rest clambered up, and reclaimed what possessions they’d left in the temple to make the swim. “Do you think we can make it back to the ship before sundown?” asked Nyleth.

“If we get started now,” said Moria.

“I reckon so,” said Quinn. “Sooner we’re quit o’ this place, the better, aye?”

“I would dislike to camp here,” said the bard. “We should make the attempt.” “Right, then,” said the paladin. “Thanks fer th’ use o’ th’ hall!” he called out to the walls of the temple.

“Thank you, Layla!” Nyleth called cheerily to the temple. “May the oceans always be smooth!”

“I’m still confused about why Amirandi wants this … thing,” said Moria, gesturing at the presumed ‘Black Razeel’. “Oh, I’ll ask ‘im when we find ‘im,” Quinn assured the wizard.

Nyleth started singing a cheery walking song about palm trees, while passing out dates for the others to snack on. They made their way back down to the shore via the desolation caused by the Kannite’s excavation project and walked back to where Hada’s men have made a campfire by the longboat. Night fell as they approached, and the men were grilling fresh red snapper on skewers.

“Welp, we’re back,” said Quinn. He plunked the amphora down in the sand and sat next to it.

The fish was distributed, and everyone ate heartily. Music and singing were accompanied by rhythmic clapping and the stimulating beverage shoma was passed around. Even Moria was convinced to play some music, and Nyleth accompanied him with her voice. The men were full of questions about what they’d seen on the island and especially how much the amphora might be worth.

“Priceless,” the wizard assured them sagely. The men spoke animatedly amongst themselves, speculating vigorously about how much it might actually be worth. Friendly arguments naturally ensued.

Once they’d had their fill of leisure, the men rowed them back to the Altair al-Bunni. Hada greeted them with great joy and relieve, asking many of the same questions as had her men. Nyleth chattered away with her, asserting that it was worth enough for new silk dresses for both of them, and then some. Hada was overjoyed that their fortune had increased, and she instructed the crew to bring up her personal store of sweets and lamb. The crew celebrates a profitable venture well into the night.

* * *

15 September 1380 C.E.

At dawn, Hada set sail, weighed anchor, and the windcaller summoned up a gale to speed the ship back out to sea. The vessel sailed away from Ayna al-Khawthar under clear skies, and the men cried out at the sight of a porpoise off the port bow.

“Oh, lookitthat!” exclaimed Quinn. Moria looked up from his tome, a contented expression on his face.

“How cute!” Nyleth cried happily, holding onto her giant hat to keep it from blowing away.

Well out to sea, they could plainly make out a large serpentine creature cresting and leaping out toward the horizon. “Ahh, look!” said the bard. “Could that be Layla?” asked Quinn, pointing.

“I certainly hope so,” said Nyleth, smiling very widely. “She must be so happy!”

Moria spared a fond glance for his companions. “Could be…”

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Session 4.03: Eternal Guardians
In Which the Place of Protection is Breached

Quinn shook his head and began to remove his armor. “Is there anythin’ doon there tha’ might try an’ kill us?” he asked Layla. The water naga hissed sensuously and leered at him, then made a sibilant tittering that likely approximated giggling. He restrained himself from rolling his eyes, but only barely.

“Nothing daressss approach me in the water,” she said. “But on the other sssside you musssst enter alone.”

The others began to disrobe, keeping only what they thought they might need. Quinn wore only smallclothes and held his falcate. Nima stripped to his loin-cloth, hung his beads around his neck, and strapped on his jambiya. Moria looked self-conscious about removing his robes, but he did so, not wanting them to drag him down to a watery death. Nyleth hedged completely.

They entered the water and began following the naga through a darkened tunnel, lit only by Quinn’s sunrod. Nyleth and Nima fell behind almost immediately, and when the Dalesman tried to go back for them, he nearly lost sight of Moria and Layla. The stragglers waved him on, then swam back to the surface.

“Sayyadati Nyleth, my apologies,” said the priest. “They made it look easy, and I regret that I never spent much time on the shores.”

“Ah, well. It is okay, Nima,” replied the bard. “Perhaps we can rest here while they swim? It was never my strong point, either.”

Moria kept pace with the naga as she turned and swam out of the grasses into a side cavern. Quinn caught them up and they came to a set of algae-coated stone steps that ascended out of the water. They burst forth into the air and filled their lungs deeply, gasping for breath. Layla slithered up the steps to a heavy stone door covered in algae. “Thissss is Ait na Cosanta, the Place of Protection,” she said. “Within lies the Razeel and its eternal guardians.”

Quinn started to wipe himself dry. “Guess I’m waitin on mah fish scales, then,” he said.

“Eternal Guardians?” asked Moria. “I thought you were the guardian, Layla.”

The naga coiled herself upon the upper steps. “Alwayssss there issss a mortal guardian and the guardianssss eternal. The mortal guardian issss never told of the eternalssss. Or elsssse we might be tempted to enlisssst otherssss to defeat them and free ussss.”

“Then … how did you know of them?”

Layla’s cold, pale human face peeked at him guiltily from between heavy limp black tresses. “I have wanted to be free for sssso long, I ssssought out a wisssse woman who told me of the five Razeel.”

“Five?” the wizard prompted.

The serpentine body coiled down in shame. “Indeed, there are five. I am not ssssuppossssed to know of the others.” When Moria stood quietly, she continued as if unburdening herself. “I know only that there are five Razeel, five Places of Protection, and each was assssigned a mortal guardian. This is the Place of the Black Razeel. There yet remains a White, a Blue, a Green, and a Red Razeel.”

A minute or so passed during this exposition, and Quinn looked at the water with some concern. “Ah’m gonna see if I kin help the others make it here,” he said. He returned to where Nima and Nyleth waited patiently, back at the temple.

“There’s Guardians,” he said. “Gonna need mah armor. C’mon, it ain’t that bad.” A minute or so later, they joined Layla and Moria in the Place of Protection.

“Found ‘em right where I left ‘em,” said the Dalesman. He tapped his head with a palm to shake the water out of his ears. Nyleth started pulling everyone’s clothing and armor out of her magic bag. “Yer bag keeps all this stuff dry!” Quinn exclaimed. “I love magic.”

“I … am sorry for the delay,” panted Nyleth, wrapping in a blanket to still her chattering teeth. “I am not a strong swimmer.”

Moria nodded. “Me neither. I pretty much almost drowned.”

“Are you all right, Ecoriel?” she asked, concerned.

He nodded. “So. Immortal Guardians ahead. No big deal.” Quinn goggled.

“Not immortal!” Layla interjected. “They are eternal.”

“How would one slay an immortal?” asked Nima, dressing quickly.

“Slay? Hah! Negotiate. As with the mortal guardian,” said Moria. “Also … possibility of … four other Razeels. Off-topic, I know.”

“Four?” said Nyleth. He nodded, but offered no further explanation.

“When you are ready, sssspeak the wordssss upon the door,” said Layla. “That will grant you entry. I must remain far away when you claim the Razeel, or the magic will not passss to you.”

“All right, then,” said Quinn. “Best be off with ye, Layla. Suren ye’ll know soon enough how we’ve fared.”

“Thank you, Great Lady,” Nyleth said politely. “May the currents of the ocean carry you to your happiness.”

“May the Djinn of the waves bless your house, my Lady,” said Nima.

“Before you go, what are the words?” asked Moria.

The naga looked at the algae on the door and an unseen hand wiped away a section revealing Faerie script upon the surface. “Ah. Well, then,” said the wizard, approaching the door to examine the script. It was written in very ancient Faerie, at least four heights before his time. Nyleth joined him to aid in the translation.

Once they thought they had it, Moria read aloud. “I enter this sacred place to claim what lies within according to that ancient covenant. May I lose my life if I am unworthy.”

There was a vibration within the tiny cavern and a loud rumbling that shook the water below. The Faerie script began to glow and then shone with near-blinding intensity. They shielded their eyes from the glare. A sudden BOOM! Sounded and the light vanished, leaving an empty doorway. Moria entered, and the others followed.

“So it begins,” intoned Nima.

Beyond the doorway, they found themselves in a nearly identical replica of the lake temple. The center of the circular chamber was dominated by a stunted and withered tree that seemed to grow unnaturally out of the stone floor. The walls were ringed with columns carved to resemble Hammaddin women dressed in antique war regalia, holding hand-and-a-half sword before them. Each statue was carved from a different stone: rose quartz, lapis lazuli, jade, alabaster, black mica, yellow granite, and purple granite.

Quinn looked around in awe. “I … I remember this,” he said. He walked around the stunted, gnarled tree, looking at its branches. It looked sickly.

Moria turned toward the Dalesman. “Remember?”

“Well, sorta. The dream. The island, the great black serpent, an’ a tree at the middle, gnarled an’ green. The seas were frozen ‘round it. There was one pear growin’ on it, an’ when I reached ta pluck it, Amirandi appeared.” They saw no fruit on the tree, only twisted twigs. It didn’t feel right. It seemed most unnatural.

“Ever’thin’ he summoned, you all put doon,” continued Quinn. “‘Til I took the pear, which freed the serpent an’ melted the seas.”

“Melted … the sea,” said Moria thoughtfully.

“This statue is alive!” Nima cried, pointing out a more immediate concern. With another BOOM! And a flash, the stone doorway reappeared. The priest jumped back, and the wizard whirled around. “What?!”

“Alive how?” asked Nyleth.

“It moves!” said Nima. As he spoke, the two granite statues ground into motion, raising their swords and advancing. “Djinn of Sun and Wind, grant us your favor!” cried the priest, blessing the party and drawing his scimitar.

Quinn crossed the room to stand by Moria and attacked the purple granite statue with his falcate. His blows struck the stone guardian, sending sparks showering off. He knocked mere chips loose and sent painful vibrations back through his arm. The statue, heedless of Quinn’s vigorous assault, advanced on Moria, bludgeoning the wizard. The yellow granite statue came at Nima. Nyleth stepped into the center, hands raised in parlay, but the animated statues paid her no attention.

Moria’s thoughts whirled. These appeared to be caryatid columns, lesser “cousins” of true golems, constructs created by spellcasters to guard objects or areas. Each was programmed to guard an object or area when created, and once set, this command could not be changed. Caryatid columns were often given specific parameters concerning whom to ignore and whom to attack, but since they had no special form of detection, such restrictions could be overcome with disguises if the parameters were known.

“Stop!” he commanded. “I am the mortal guardian of the Black Razeel!” When the constructs did not react, he took a cautious step back and cast haste on the group with a heavy sigh.

Nima executed a deft disarm only to find the yellow granite statue’s weapon was affixed firmly to the stony being’s hands. Frowning, the priest moved with unnatural swiftness and ducked under the statue’s clumsy swing, hefting at the construct’s “legs” with all his might, knocking it to the ground with a resonating stony clatter. Unsure of what else to do, Quinn hacked at the purple statue again. Sparks flew from the purple statue, and tiny spiderweb cracks formed across its body. It retaliated, raising its sword high overhead before bringing it down hard on the paladin’s shoulder. The yellow column slowly, resolutely regained its feet and attacked Nima again. Nyleth scrambled back and climbed up the tree.

The melee continued in earnest until Moria had a better idea. He cast major image¬, the illusion making every one of the party members appear to be Layla. Then, he picked up a wet twig and glared at the statues defiantly. The two statues, lacking intelligence or senses beyond sight and sound, retreated to their stations by the entrance, resuming their resolute vigil, motionless. Moria concentrated on maintaining the illusion, a little amazed that it seemed to be working.

“We must ha’ gotten too close tae those two,” said Quinn the water naga to the other three.

“Seems,” said Moria. “Stay close so I can keep the disguise up.”

They looked around at the other five statues that had not attacked. Each held a sword with a jeweled pommel. “I dinnae ken what the Black Razeel e’en is,” said the Dalesman.

“Nor I,” said the wizard. “Maybe the colors of the gems are relevant?”

“Onyx is black,” Quinn mused.

Nyleth cautiously approached the lapis lazuli statue, and gently removed the sword from its stony hands. The sword, a diamond in the pommel, was ice cold, but it came free easily, and the statue continued to stare forward impassively.

“Could … could these be t’other Razeels?” asked Quinn. “White, red, green, blue, black? Isn’t that what she said, Moria?”

“They’re the right colors,” agreed the wizard. “But Layla said they were in other locations. To her knowledge.”

Nima retrieved the sword with the onyx from the alabaster statue, and Nyleth placed the diamond sword into the white statue’s hands. Immediately, the sword grew even colder, as it iced over with the screeching sound of freezing metal. “Oh, OH! I’m sorry!” she cried.

She then pulled out the emerald sword from the black mica statue, finding it surprisingly light. Nima placed the onyx sword into the black statue’s hands, and quickly pulled his hands away burned by acid. Quinn retrieved the sapphire sword from the jade statue, which made his arm hair stand on end. Nyleth placed the emerald sword in the green statue’s hands, and pulled back a hand burned by poison. She felt weaker, slumping to the floor. Nima took the ruby sword, then he and Quinn each placed their swords in the color-matched statue. The priest was burned, and the paladin was shocked.

Despite the rearrangement of the swords, nothing happened; the stone door remained.

“Huh. Well, shite,” said Quinn.

Nyleth staggered to her feet and looked at the tree again. It remained as they’d found it, strangely growing out of solid stone. She reached out to touch it, but found it only felt like ordinary wood.

Still maintaining the illusion, Moria moved from one statue to the next touching the stone. The white was cold, the black was slimy, the green was body temperature, the red was warm, and the blue made his black-dyed hair stand up, but he suffered no other ill effects. “Thoughts?” said the wizard.

View
Session 4.02: Stewardship
In Which Al-Khawthar Is Explored

Posted by zero

14 September 1380 C.E.

Hada had her men loot the ship for valuables, lamenting the fact that the lobraider was too large for her smaller, shallow-drafted baghalah to tow. Some of the men went below the hold of the Kannite ship with axes, and the sound of chopping wood resonated up from the dark and fetid hold of the hulk. Nyleth watched the sailors carry things onto the ship, fascinated by the efficiency of the pillaging. Quinn stood vigilant nearby. “So, sinkin’ ‘er, then. Just’s well,” said the Dalesman. Moria nodded absently at the observation.

“Will Hada’s men be able to get out in time?” Nyleth wondered aloud.

The wizard placed a hand on her shoulder. “I doubt this is their first sinking.”

“I suppose so,” she said quietly and absentmindedly reached up to squeeze Moria’s hand very briefly.

“Suren not tae be th’last, either,” said Quinn.

Once the preparations had been made, the captain requested an audience with Nima, suddenly very reserved. “Blessed one, we must destroy this vessel so that it does not carry its taint to ground.”

“Just into the depths,” Moria commented wryly in Faerie undertone.

Hada continued. “We cannot carry the corpses back to shore, and we have little iron, so may we use fire instead?’

“Iron?” Nyleth asked quietly of Moria in Faerie.

“To weight the ship down?” he guessed with a shrug.

“Mmm … that would make sense. I suppose.”

“I can cast my prayers and set fire to the ship to purify the taint of that illness,” Nima assured the captain.

Hada looked extremely relieved. “Oh, thank you, blessed one! Thank you!”

“It will take me a small amount of time to ready myself,” said the priest.

“My men are gathering kindling in the hold as we speak.”

“And a torch, as well. If you please.”

“We will have one lit on a bough of sandalwood.”

“Thank you, my lady,” said Nima. He then removed his weapons and armor and put on his ‘working clothes’. Then he wrapped his prayer beads around his left hand. The men hastily cleared the deck of the lobraider, and Nima was brought a brand of sandalwood. “Is all in readiness, my lady?” he asked.

At her nod, Nima cast at-tahhar on himself and stepped over the rail to the derelict. There, he began prayers for the dead, prayers to the Djinn, and prayers for purity. The men of Hada’s ship went to their knees and prayed for the Djinn to hold them free of guilt in the act. Nima paced to the hold, lit the kindling and paced back out to the railing, all the while continuing his prayers. Smoke rose slowly at first, but after a few minutes, flames began to flicker within the hold.

“Saint Immotion, lend yer cleansin’ tae theirs, I beseech ye,” Quinn said piously.

As soon as Nima was aboard, the men quickly cut the ties and cast the lobraider off, lowering oars and rowing hard to get clear of the listing vessel. As the at-Tair al-Bunni left the lobraider in its wake, the smoke rose like a great black serpent high into the afternoon sky.

Hada turned the ship’s rudder toward the island of al-Khawthar. It was a lonely rocky isle, with palm forests clinging to the steep mountain slopes and treacherous rocks upthrust from the surf. There were no signs of habitation. Hada declared that they had arrived at their destination and asked what the adventurers wanted to do.

“I suppose we should take a dinghy over?” Nyleth said dubiously. “Though I do not know how we will let you know when we are finished.” She squinted at the island for a moment. “Perhaps we could build a fire?”

The captain nodded. “Sayyaddati, I will send two of my men with you to man the dinghy. If you find yourself in peril, light a fire, and we will find you. May the djinn of this island be kind to you.”

Nyleth smiled at Hada and hugged her tightly. “You have been such a help to us, Captain.”

While the men lowered the lone dinghy into the water and then lowered a knotted rope for the two sailors to descend, Quinn helped Nima get back into his armor. “Forbiddin’ though ‘tis, at least it’ll be solid ground under mah feet fer awhile,” said the Dalesman. The adventurers joined Hada’s men in the little boat, and the sailors took up the oars and rowed over the breakers to bring them to shore. Nyleth sang to keep everyone’s spirits up.

Moria frowned anyway. “I have got a bad feeling about this.”

“Me, too,” agreed Quinn. “But it’s th’ way we have tae go.”

Once ashore, the sailors leapt out into the surf to haul the boat up onto the sand. The Dalesman stared up at the rocky slopes. “Suppose th’ best way tae find anythin’ ‘here is from th’ highest point.”

“Crude logic, but I have not better suggestion,” said Moria. It seemed to pain him to admit.

“Thanks,” Quinn said earnestly.

Nyleth looked around for a path of any sort then bustled about the sailors, making sure they were going to be safe. The men were already searching for dry wood with which to make a fire, but were entirely grateful for the bard’s attentions. There did not appear to be a path cut through the trees along the shore, but the thin soils made the woods quite light.

“Should we perhaps search the shores to see if we can find any sign of survivors from the wreck landing upon the island?” asked Moria.

“Aye, that sounds best,” said Quinn.

“That’s a good idea, Ecoriel,” agreed Nyleth, pulling out her bow and adjusting her armor. “Hopefully, it will be quiet, yes?”

“Stranger things ha’ happened,” muttered Quinn. Then he held up a hand and suddenly said, “The tree.”

“What?” said Moria, turning to look at him.

“I dreamed aboot a tree at the cent4er of th’ island.”

“Oh.”

“‘Course, I also dreamed of a sea serpent, an’ I didnae see that…”

“Well, but maybe that means something more metaphorical than a serpent,” said Nyleth. “Or a tree.”

“Aye…” said the Dalesman. “D’ye know what was odd, though? The Magus offered me mah heart’s desire fer the pear … but I ain’t sure what that’d be.”

The bard patted him on the shoulder kindly. “Would you like me to scout ahead?” she offered, hands poised to pull her hood over her head. “I’m a little less … conspicuous?”

Moria nodded and said, “Keep your hood up.”

She nodded back. “I will whistle if I need you to stop.” She demonstrated a trilling birdsong from Faerie. Once sure everyone understood what was expected, she disappeared under the cowl of the elven cloak the wizard had made for her. Its magic let her blend into the rocky backdrop.

The ground ahead was waterlogged, almost inundated, yet there only appeared to be a few weeks’ worth of water-flora growth in the area. It was definitely not a natural or old marsh. She whistled stop, then returned to report.

“So, where’d it all come from, then?” asked Quinn, looking up toward the cliffs again.

“Good question,” said Moria.

“Maybe there was a flood?” suggested Nyleth.

They looked around for anything that might suggest an answer. A short while later, Nyleth called to the others. “Look over there,” she said, pointing at one of the larger tide pools. “See how the water is a different color? The new water is fresh water – the other is salt.” Then she turned toward Moria. “Remember what the poor thing said? That Amirandi was making them dig holes under the sea?”

“There’s a hollow that winds up intae th’ hills,” added Quinn. “Followin’ an old drainage oot of th’ highlands, most like.”

Nyleth nodded, still looking at the water. “Perhaps we should follow the hollow?”

“Hard tae resist when it rhymes,” said Quinn. At Moria’s wince, Nyleth began to giggle, then bit her hand to quiet herself. The Dalesman smiled and shook his head. “I ain’t much fer goin’ under th’ sea, anyways.”

“Nor I,” said Nyleth, “but that is because I am a terrible swimmer.” She took a few steps inland, then reached up a tree trunk. “Look at this,” she said, drawing her fingertips over a scarred patch on the tree. The others dutifully examined the oddity. “It goes a ways – like something pushed through the trees.”

“Ye need a boost there, Nyleth?” asked Quinn.

“Sure. Unless someone else can see better?” No one volunteered, so the burly Dalesman held Nyleth up by the waist for a better vantage point. He aimed a slightly guilty look at Moria as he did so, but the wizard shook his head, narrowly avoiding rolling his eyes.

“I’m positive something really big pushed its way through,” said the bard. “And is this what things look like when you’re tall? Neat!”

Quinn shrugged, which brought Nyleth up another inch or two. “Mah Da an’ brother are both taller’n me,” he said. Then he lowered her back down gently.

“Thank you, Quinn!”

“Forward, then?” asked Moria.

Nyleth took point once more, and the others fell in. They had little difficulty following the giant’s path, now that they knew what to look for, making their way higher and higher into the hills. The ground beneath their feet was saturated until they came upon the remains of a massive excavation – a grand swath of felled and uprooted trees, five-foot earthen berms, wasting piles of excavated stone and boulders all surrounding a great dug trench carved into the top of the hill. The trench led to what used to be a tremendous lake, but was now a nearly empty basin, choked with lake-weeds and dead fish.

Nyleth pulled a scarf from her bag and held it under her nose. “What in the world?” she said. Moria grimaced.

“This’d be where they was lookin’ fer Black Razeel, then?” suggested Quinn.

“They drained the lake!” Nima said incredulously.

“Oh, my goodness,” said Nyleth, crestfallen at the wrecked site. “The poor lake.”

“There’s a path leadin’ doon there,” said Quinn. He pointed to a strangely symmetrical mound of moss and algae at the center of the basin.

“Tree,” Nyleth said absently. “It looks like a tree in the middle.”

“Aye,” said Quinn, a little breathlessly. He started following the path down into the lake.

“Should he go alone?” the bard asked Moria. The wizard shook his head and started after the paladin. The others followed, weapons drawn, just in case.

“I dinnae ken what’s really aboot tae happen,” said Quinn, eyes never wavering from the mass, “but suren I’m glad we’re here t’gether.”

“As am I, Quinn,” said Nyleth.

They made their way to the center, finding the ground increasingly wet and boggy until they were forced to wade through waist-deep lake-water and grasses taller than Quinn. At the center was an algae-coated squat dome with a granite stair leading up to what was a sealed archway. The stone seal had been battered down, leaving only an open doorway, above which was ancient Hammaddi script above the lintel.

“Kin someone read that?” asked Quinn. “I’m still learnin’ th’ Hammaddi alphabet.”

The others inspected the script, but it appeared to be gibberish … not a word of it was Hammaddi.

“Oh, goodness,” said Nyleth, tracing the letters with her fingers.

Quinn tilted his head after a long moment and said, “It’s Faerie, innit?”

“What?” said Moria, cross and puzzled.

“It’s supposed to be,” said Nyleth pointing at the first letters. “If you were to spell out Ait na’Constanta’ using Hammaddian script, that is what it would look like. Sorta. It’s badly transliterated, but I think it’s supposed to say ‘Place of Protection’.”

“Izzit magic? The archway?” asked Quinn.

“I’m not sure,” Nyleth admitted. Moria cast the divination and reported moderate magic within.

“I think whatever we’ve come here tae find is through there,” said Quinn.

“Indeed,” said Moria. “Shall we?”

“Aye. Lemme take point this time, though.” The paladin started up the slippery stairs into the dark structure and the others followed.

The wizard evoked light so the humans could see. The interior was limned with columns, and there was a central pedestal, but the floor was slimy granite, pierced through with tiny holes. Water glimmered beneath the stone floor, and a larger aperture lay between each column. Four humanoid corpses lay on the floor.

“Uh oh,” said Quinn, kneeling for a close look at the nearest corpse. It appeared to have been a man clad in mail and armed with a heavy mace, but his face and arms were badly burned, as if by acid.

Moria cast detect magic again, noting the moderate emanation from beneath the floor, somewhere in the water. Nyleth stuck close to the wizard, looking around the chamber without touching anything. The pedestal in the center had a gold setting upon it, as if it once held something about the size of a melon.

“Lookit this,” he said, pointing to the tattooed head of one corpse which showed the image of a coiled snake. “Settites?”

“The ogre mentioned Settites…” said Moria. The others murmured agreement.

“‘E ain’t as badly burned as t’others,” said Quinn, moving around the periphery to search the Settite. As the paladin moved, they heard something disturb the water below the floor. He paused but a moment before resuming his grisly task.

“I do believe that there is something moving below us,” said Nima.

Moria held up a hand. “I hear whispers,” he said softly.

“Aye, I hear it, too,” said Quinn through gritted teeth. “Tellin’ me I wannae leave. In Hammaddi.” A loud splash sounded just beneath the paladin’s feet. “We need tae find a way doon there, afore I start agreein’.” He reached down and liberated two vials of different-colored liquids and four amethysts from the corpse.

Nyleth gave him a thoughtful look, head tilted. “Ah, I see. Quinn, just think of the little girl when the voice speaks. Ecoriel, if I found something that was close to this size,” she said, pointing at the cavity on the pedestal, “do you think something might happen?”

“It might need to be specific,” said Moria, “but I sense no magic … from there.”

“Near ye, Nyleth!” cried Quinn as something splashed beneath her.

She looked down at the floor. “Huh. The voice told me to go. I decided not to.”

Quinn nodded then stepped up to the pedestal for a better look. “Guess this is where I need a pear,” he said. He reached out and tried to push the pedestal down, but it sat firmly in place.

Nyleth and Nima both called a warning to Moria, who started edging up the stairs. The bard reached out and took his hand in hers, but the wizard shook his head. “I think we should leave. This isn’t the right place.”

“This is silly,” said Nyleth, sounding a little exasperated. Then she began to sing – a silly song about pixies and picnics. Moria shook his head to clear it, blinking rapidly. Nyleth squeezed his hand warmly, and continued her countersong.

“Name yourself! Speak clearly!” Nima demanded.

There was a splash at the north end of the room, and a large creature emerged partially from the water. Slender spines and brightly colored frills stretched back from the human-like face of the massive water snake. Every motion of the serpent’s long form set its brightly patterned scales and glistening fins to flashing like gems. The creature had the face of a Hammaddin woman, and it hissed at them. “Begone, foul thievessss!”

Nyleth looked at the creature and smiled. “I am afraid that we are not the thieves you are looking for. What has happened to your beautiful lake?” She somehow managed to continue her song. The serpent hissed and bristled her spines menacingly. The bard altered the song slightly, segueing into a verse about cool waters and placid ponds.

“There issss nothing left to ssssteal!” the creature insisted. “Begone, or I will kill you like your fellowssss!”

“Someone’s stolen th’ Black Razeel, then,” said Quinn.

“You must be very upset,” Nyleth said sympathetically. “We are upset at the thieves, too. They also stole from us.”

“Liessss!!!” shrieked the serpent. “You are trying to deceive me! There issss nothing left, villainssss! Go! Begone!!!”

“No lies, graceful one,” the bard said soothingly, holding her hand out. “He stole a youngling from us. A child. We will leave you in peace, and we will find him. We can return what he stole.”

“Why? Why do you perssssisssst? Why do you come back? It issss gone. Why do you return? Go!”

“She’s lyin’ aboot there bein’ nothin’ left,” Quinn said softly, in Faerie.

Nyleth nodded, continuing to parlay with the creature. “It was not us who returned, graceful one. We sought him before he stole from you. He cheated us and deceived us. We were too late.”

The sea serpent seems to hesitate. “He? The ssssurvivor? The one that esssscaped with the orb? It issss he you sssspeak of?”

“It is, graceful one. The one and the same.”

“He sssstole from you assss well? Why? Who are you?”

“We seek to retrieve our young one. We can return with the orb, as well> He has done a great evil to many.”

“Why have you come then, if not to ssssteal? You sssspoke of the Razeel! Why have you come, if not for the Razeel?”

“We were told he was seeking it. He hopes to use it to harm our child. We had thought to get ahead of him, to make sure he never arrived.” Nyleth hung her head. “We were too late. I am sorry, graceful one.”

The creature looked confused. “What? Harm a child with the Razeel? That’ssss not possssible!”

“Then you give us hope, graceful one. Perhaps we are not too late to save both the Razeel and the child.”

“Do you not know what the Razeel issss? You are not thosssse who came before, then. You are not thievessss.”

Nyleth smiled. “I must admit, graceful one, we do not know. And indeed, we are not the thieves. But perhaps we can be allies.”

A wide reptilian grin spread across the monstrously large human face, and the creature began to cackle heartily. “Oh, more the foolssss, them! I killed all but one, and they sssstill do not know they are foolssss! Hahaha!”

“Cannae say I care fer th’ sound o’ that,” said Quinn. Moria cast a concerned glance at the paladin.

The serpent calmed, though it continued to grin and sway back and forth excitedly in the water. “I feared that they ssssaw through the russsse, and returned to collect the real Razeel. But you are the enemiessss of my enemiessss, and they sssstill do not know.”

“Then it is still here,” said Quinn.

Nyleth smiled broadly at the serpent. “Indeed we are, graceful one. It was wise of you to deceive them. How can we help you?”

“Forgive me for threatening you. I am Laylah bint-Aynah al-Khawthar, Spirit of the Lake, and Guardian of the Black Razeel. Perhapssss we may help each other!”

“That would be delightful,” Moria said evenly.

“Per’aps,” said Quinn.

“The stars shine on our meeting, Laylah bint-Aynah al-Khawthar. I am Nyleth of the Faerie.”

“The Razeel is ssssafe for now, but they will return oncccce they disssscover that they have a fake! They will return with more Ssssonssss of Mot, and I may die thissss time.”

“How long since they left, I wonder?” said Quinn.

“You will not die, Laylah. We will make sure of it,” said Nyleth

“Perhaps we could lay a trap of our own,” suggested Moria.

The bard nodded at him. “Indeed, if we can do so without harming the lake anymore.” More quietly, she added, “I wish I had the power to make that right.”

“If you wish to find thissss man, you may wait here. He will be back. They took only a charmed bauble, a decoy, nothing more. The Black Razeel is far older than me and liessss within the place of protection, but I alsssso know where they are are going. I heard them sssshout as they fought me, I could tell you and you could sssseek them firsssst.”

“Now that sounds aboot right,” said Quinn.

“I would hate to miss them, but it sounds like a perfect opportunity,” said Moria.

Nyleth nodded. “I would ask your council, Laylah, if you would give it.”

“They return to the mortal city, Medinat-al-Jebail, to a place called ‘Abah an-Ni’. The dying one ssssaid to flee there assss he threw the decoy to the ssssurvivor.” Laylah hissed loudly.

“We are at a crossroads, then,” said the bard. “The thieves will return, no doubt, but I wonder if Amirandi will be among them.”

“Suren he’ll be there when they go tae deliver what they took from ‘ere, though,” said Quinn. “An’ if not, mebbe the thieves’ll ken where ‘e is.”

“I do not know if we can catch up to them,” said the bard. “I believe we should wait for them and protect the Razeel. We know where they were to take it, and we can return there after defeating the thieves.”

“If they return before you do, I will guard thissss place with my life, but if I should fall, they will find the Razeel, and that would be doom for the realmssss of man.”

“Laylah, I do not wish to put you in further danger,” said Nyleth.

“The risk is all of ours,” said Moria. “Can you not take the Razeel elsewhere, Laylah?”

“I may not, for I am bound by an ancient covenant. Sssso long assss the Razeel remainssss in ‘Ait na’ Constanta, sssso must I guard it.”

“So … and hear me out … We could hide it elsewhere, and you would be free to guard it … also elsewhere?”

“You … would become the guardianssss?” asked the naga.

“Oh, I…” Moria looked at the others. “I had not considered that.”

“Thass some vow,” said Quinn, his tone carrying warning.

“I fear we are not strong enough to be so,” Nyleth said sadly. “But we are strong enough to help you keep it safe until the thieves are no more.”

Abruptly, the naga spoke in Faerie. “Whomever shall bear the Razeel upon themselves shall ever be its guardian until another bears it to a place of protection. So shall it sustain them until it passes to another.

Moria quirked an eyebrow, his eyes glittering with interest. A beat later he said, “I accept.”

“If you take the Black Razeel, you become itssss guardian, and I am free to travel this realm!” said Laylah, clearly excited. “Free to ssssee and live, and to bear young, and passss on to the next realm.”

“Then be free. We relieve you of your duty and will take your place as guardians of the Black Razeel.”

“…Aye,” said Quinn, smiling.

Nyleth clapped and bowed. “You are free, Laylah. May the stars bless your many children!”

The naga nodded. “You musssst firsssst retrieve it, with no assssisssstance from me. Only then doessss the burden passss on. I can show you where it liessss, in the Place of Protection, but after that it issss up to you and your companionssss to retrieve it.”

“Then please, show us the place, graceful one,” said the bard.

“Make yoursssselves ready. It issss deep beneath the water.”

View
Session 4.01: Sea-Dreams
In Which Prophecy Looms

Posted by zero

12 September 1380 C.E.

The skies were cloudy and a sharp morning chill accompanied the salty spray. The crew of the At-tair-al-Bunni paid the lightly choppy seas little mind as they readied the ship to set out for the island of Al-Khawthar. By Hada’s estimate, it would be at least a two-and-a-half day journey to the south. The windcaller took her post at the sterncastle and roused a zephyr to launch the ship out to sea. Moria paid academic interest in the windcaller’s efforts from a sunny spot on deck where he’d sat to read. Nyleth hung halfway up the rigging, singing a song about mermaids. Quinn was grateful to Nima for the relief his remove sickness spell provided. Even the stout Dalesman grew weary of his “post” at the ship’s railing.

The windcaller spent her time within a small railed platform on the sterncastle, sitting on a fixed wooden stool, steadied by thick ropes that surrounded her. She paid persistent attention to the sails, the skies, and the state of the ship. Periodically, she chanted in a hoarse voice, negotiating and guiding an invisible elemental force, which could easily capsize the ship with an errant gale. The first cold, damp day passed as the ship tacked southwest along the northern coast of Al-Hammaddi. As the sun set, the crew brought the ship in close enough to drop anchor off a pointe that Hada called the Munaydhar Cliffs.

13 September 1380 C.E.

In the morning, the crew weighed anchor, and the windcaller took up her post. They put the coastline behind them and set out for the deep seas. After Nima cast his anti-nausea spell on Quinn for the day, the Dalesman confessed that he’d had an especially vivid dream and feared what it might portend.

Quinn had dreamed of an island with a great black sea serpent coiled about it. A tree grew from the center of the island, gnarled and green, and the seas around it were frozen. A maelstrom raged in the sky above, but Quinn approached the tree and found a single ripe pear growing from a branch. As he reached to pluck it, the dark Magus appeared and assailed him with vile curses. The spellknight raised his shield and warded off the curse, but the Magus called up a banshee to howl. Nyleth appeared and sang the spirit to sleep, but the Magus summoned a shade to devour his soul. Nima appeared and cast the spirit back to Hell, but the Magus summoned vipers to bite Quinn’s eyes. Moria appeared and plucked their fangs from Quinn, casting them to the ground where they became mere sticks. Finally, the Magus pleaded with Quinn to give him the pear, and the Magus would grant him his heart’s desire, but the spellknight strode forward and plucked the fruit from the tree, freeing the sea-serpent and melting the seas. The Maelstrom grew fiercer, and the Magus howled with rage as the winds came and swept him out to sea. Quinn awoke just as the waters were rising to drown the island, while the four of you huddled together about the tree.

“Quinn, do you never dream of puppies or rainbows?” asked Moria after the tale was complete.

“Ah often dream of Pastanti, but rarely puppies,” said the Dalesman.

“I would assume that she falls under the ‘rainbows’ category of dreams?” said Nima with a smile. Quinn blushed.

“You should get Pastanti a puppy, Quinn!” declared Nyleth.

Nima brought the conversation back on point. “While your dream leaves us much to ponder, it seems that not all of it means woe for us.”

Nyleth nodded. “I think that it means we’re stronger together than apart, and that we can accomplish our goals by working as such,” she said, the gravity of her speech slightly dulled by the fact that she’d delivered it while hanging upside-down from the rigging.

Moria placed a hand over his mouth, his eyes twinkling. “Indeed.”

“That is most certainly true, O Daughter of Sun and Wind,” Nima said with a grin.

“It was a ‘sea-dream’,” the windcaller called out from her post, which seemed too far away for her to have been able to overhear. “A portent from Ashar’atah. It is what shall happen if you allow the winds to carry you along your current course.”

“Oh?” said Nyleth, flipping herself up onto the rigging. “Have you had a dream like that before?”

“Ashar’atah speaks to me often, blessed-one.”

“How lucky you are!” said the bard, smiling broadly.

“And what makes you say that Quinn’s dream was from Ashar’atah?” Moria inquired politely.

“Ashar’atah is the sea, ya Sayyaddi. She lives under all of us and can hear what they whisper to each other. She knows all the secrets of men and beasts, and she whispers to the faithful who sleep upon her waters, to guide us.” Nyleth looked intrigued by this, peering at the sea.

“Ah,” said NIma. “Good ‘Ushti, can you read the dream clearly for us? It is beyond me to read the future thus.”

The windcaller began chanting soothing words in the language of the air elementals as the crew struggled to bring a violently snapping sail under control. Then she turned her attention back out to the horizon and continued. “Two nights ago, I saw a brown falcon dashed upon the stones of a lonely shore, its feathers washing up on a blood-drenched beach. The falcon was this ship, and the feathers her crew. When you chartered us to sail to this distant island, we filled our sails with a new wind … charting a new course, now we are saved. Fortune is with us while you are aboard.”

“Oh!” cried Nyleth. “I am so glad we came aboard, then! I hope we continue to be good luck for each other.”

“Fortuitous, indeed,” said Moria.

“We are pleased, then, to have been of service to the ones that aid us in our quest,” said Nima. “Speak if you have any need that I may address. I will do my best to offer whatever you have need of.”

The windcaller stared intently across the bow of the ship, the very picture of stoic concentration. At Nima’s words, she gave the barest of nods.

The rest of the day passed relatively uneventfully, but as the vessel sailed south, the wind and chop of the sea grew worse. Hada informed the adventurers that the island indicated by Ser Joram lay very close to the mid-sea maelstrom, and that she dared not attempt to navigate it except in broad daylight. Thus, she ordered the ship to move closer to land and drop anchor for the evening.

14 September 1380 C.E.

They awoke the next morning to a thick, chilly haze and overcast skies. The windcaller began the day by lashing herself to the sterncastle.

“Seems extreme, but she is the professional,” Moria commented to no one in particular.

“Enlil be with us this day,” intoned Nima.

“Quinn, should you perhaps stay belowdecks?” Nyleth asked with some concern.

Before he could reply, Hada warned that they would be sailing into the winds, and with a borderline maniacal gleam in her eyes she said, “If we break apart, try not to swim straight down! Hah!”

“Perhaps I should join you below,” said the bard. The priest cast his spell upon the Dalesman, before Quinn and Nyleth went below.

Nima and Moria remained on the deck, exulting in the wind and sea spray. Hada ordered the men to set sail, and the windcaller summoned up a gale that caused the entire ship to lurch forward at great and perilous speed, groaning and creaking violently. Within the hour, a cross-wind buffeted the ship, which shuddered and threatened to list amid the small cyclone that rose up around it. Hada and the crew trimmed sail and steered the ship out of the mini-storm and rode the gale into the turbulent waters.

The entire morning was a stomach-churning battle of woman-vs.-nature but the captain managed to hold her course and saw them all through it safely. A few rays of sunshine pierced the clouds just after mid-day and Hada called “Land Ho!” as the island of Al-Khawthar became visible on the horizon. Nyleth and Quinn emerged from below.

But as they approached, one of the men called out, “Ship off to starboard, Captain!” Listing several miles from the island, they saw a half-wrecked hulk bobbing above the surface of the water.

“Oh no!” said Nyleth. “Do you think there are people still on it?”

Moria frowned. “Can we safely draw near enough to investigate?”

Hada held her ship steady and eyed the wreck warily. “Sayyaddati, you asked me to sail you to Al-Khawthar, and ahead of us is Al-Khawthar, but if you wish to stop and see this vessel, I am at your service.”

The wizard looked to his companions for a moment before turning back to the captain. “No, we have delayed long enough. Our duty is to find the girl.”

“This may be our target’s ship,” suggested Nima. “A quick look may be a wise choice.”

“Hmmm. That is possible,” Moria allowed grudgingly.

“Hada, perhaps we can come alongside to see if there are survivors?” asked Nyleth. “If you think it is not safe, then we can pull away.”

“Sayyaddati, you are never safer than when you are on my ship!” she boasted with a wink, spinning the rudder hard to starboard to come alongside the hulk. As they drew nearer, they could see that the vessel was adrift and was quite large, made of stout black planks. Except for the mast, which was broken about halfway up its length, the ship actually appeared to be undamaged. However, it listed to starboard like it had taken on water.

“Our black serpent, perhaps?” suggested Nima.

“Seems a bit … literal,” Moria replied.

Hada’s expression became uneasy, quietly telling two of her men to bring weapons up, “just in case.”

“Hada, I don’t like this,” said Nyleth. Then she looked back at the windcaller. “Does the sea speak to you of this?” The stoic woman shook her head to indicate that it did not.

“I will bring us around so that our broadside has their forecastle,” the captain reassured Nyleth.  “They will not catch us unawares.”

They could all see that the deck of the hulk was empty save for a single motionless humanoid figure, but its features were indistinct. Nyleth tugged on Moria’s sleeve and said, “There, in the water. I think it’s a hobgoblin?”

“Where?” he asked softly. “I don’t see-” And then he noticed a body floating facedown in the water. A hobgoblin, as the bard has suggested. “Ooh. I don’t think he’s a survivor.”

“More than likely not,” agreed Nyleth. “Do the Kannites have ships?” She looked at the listing hulk and answered her own question. “I suppose they do…”

Hada noticed the body and hissed. “Sons of Mot! Men, arm yourselves! This is a lobraider, a pirate ship. If there are any survivors, we shall remedy their kind condition!”

At the captain’s proclamation, Moria brandished his staff. “Indeed. Recall the Akaarur Tan.”

Nyleth readied her bow and peered keenly at the hulk. It looked abandoned, the dinghies all missing. The lone figure on deck was an emaciated goblin, lying crumpled over a barrel.

“May your dog-god welcome you in hell,” Moria intoned gruffly. The goblin did not react. There were no signs of a struggle and no weapons visible. It appeared to be a ghost ship. The wizard looked between his companions.

“Shall we board and see what we can find?” asked Nima.

“If you wish, I will cover your crossing,” said Nyleth.

Moria nodded. “As you like.”

“By all means, captain. Shall we?” said the priest.

Hada had her men grapple the hulk and begin to pull the ships together. She grinned and shouted, “ibn Ma’mee, you have the helm!” She passed the rudder to a young man and drew a long, gleaming scimitar, loosening her head scarf and pocketing her earrings. The men brought the ships alongsides and while some secured the two vessels, others leapt over the rails, weapons drawn. Nima joined the latter group.

“I don’t think I’ve ever boarded a pirate ship before, but I know a song about it!” said Nyleth. While she broke into a sea shanty, Moria kept an eye out for surprises, his expression troubled.

Hada leapt over the rails deftly and headed straight for the goblin, two bodyguards at her sides. When she was close enough to the inert form, she used the tip of her sword to turn it over, which prompted her bodyguards to recoil and cover their mouths with their keffiyahs. “Sayyaddati … you should see this,” she said gravely.

The adventurers joined Nima and Hada on the hulk. The body’s face was drawn and pallid, its skin drawn back from its eyes and teeth, showing a horrid rictus. The flesh seemed tough, and a fetid stench issued from it. It did not appear to have been touched by seagulls.

“Ecoriel,” breathed Nyleth. “Like before … on Niesa Sidierou.”

“Ghuls,” Moria said darkly.

“Ghuls?” asked NIma.

“They are … diseased,” said Nyleth. “In death. It is best if we do not touch it.”

Hada looked more disappointed than horrified. “I would sooner kiss a dog.”

“The living dead may be about,” added Moria. “Be wary.”

“We have seen these before,” the bard told Hada. “Are there any stories of other such ships? Have you ever seen such a thing?”

The captain looked to the elves. “I have never, in all my years at sea, seen anything this vile. How did they become afflicted?”

The bite of a ghul would do it,” said Moria.

Hada looked pensive. “So, they brought this … thing on board?”

“Ecoriel, do you think one of them might have been on Niesa Sidierou?” Nyleth asked.

“The fate of the Akaarur Tan, another ship hired by Amirandi, was much the same. Perhaps his talents extend to foul necromancy.”

Hada’s lips twisted for a moment. “Is something amiss?” Nyleth asked her.

The captain shook herself. “Hmm? Oh, Sayyaddati, forgive me. I was hoping to decorate my shamshir with some reavers. They appear to have died before obliging me.”

Nyleth grinned at Hada. “Perhaps your blade will find another to take its place, eh?”

Moria quirked an eyebrow. “Indeed. We could search the wreck, but I see little profit in it. I doubt we are so fortunate that Amirandi met his fate aboard this ruin.”

One of the men called out from belowdecks. “Captain! One is alive!” Hada winked at Nyleth and rushed down the steps.

“Should we … try to talk to it first?” the bard asked Moria in Faerie.

“You’re the one encouraging her,” he replied in kind, his tone half-teasing.

She gave him a playful nudge and a wink, then followed Hada belowdecks. The wizard trailed the women, shaking his head. The others followed.

Below, the stench was almost unbearable. It appeared to be where the final stand was had been made, as the Kannites turned one-by-one into ghastly hellspawn, the remaining ones must have fought their way belowdecks to escape the dawn, barricading themselves into the hold. Unfortunately for them, they too had fallen victim to the corruption and then attacked their shipmates. Weapons and rotting bodies were strewn about everywhere, and lying in one corner was a ghoulish ogre, which drew shallow ragged breaths on the floor of the hold. It appeared to be in the midst of its own horrid transformation.

Nyleth addressed the ogre in Fomoraig. “Who are you, survivor?”

The ogre’s pale runny eyes lolled about in its skull as it drew a wet, rattling breath. “Ma … zabit’,” it rasped.

“What did he say?” asked Moria.

“He is asking to die,” said Nyleth.

“It would be a mercy,” Hada said grimly. “But even so, maybe we should anyway.”

“No,” the wizard said coldly. The bard gave him a quizzical glance as he stepped forward and said a single word: “Amirandi.”

The ogre breathed heavily, clenching and unclenching its massive fists. “Amirandi … Amirandi … AMIRANDI!!!” it roared.

Moria said, “Tell it that if it wishes a clean, quick death, it will tell us where to find him.”

Nyleth nodded curtly. “Did he do this to you?” she asked the ogre. “We will grant you release, but please tell us what happened.”

Black bile spurted from the ogre’s mouth as it began to speak in clipped shuddering Fomoraig. A few moments later, it just repeated the same word over and over: “Hady … hady … hady…”

The bard translated. “He says that Amirandi gave his captain a map and told him to dig in water. At the bottom – either there in the water or on an island, was a temple. There was a ‘shiny ball, beautiful’ there, but also man-serpents. He will say no more.”

“What does that word mean? ‘Hady’?” asked Moria.

“‘Serpents.’ In some less well-known circles, there are stories in which Settia is the mother of undeath. It is not common knowledge. Perhaps this curse is Settite-wrought.”

“Let him have his peace,” said Nima. “And my thanks for his help.”

Nyleth turned to Moria. “Ecoriel, may Hada dispatch him?”

He nodded, once. “Do it.”

“Find peace in the halls of your ancestors,” Nyleth told the ogre. “We will avenge your deaths upon him.”

Hada covered her face with her scarf, saying, “Never in my life could I imagine sparing one of these beasts misery.” She raised her scimitar and brought it down, decapitating the ogre with a single blow. “But I have finally seen a fate I would not wish on my worst enemy.”

“This is why we must find Amirandi,” said Moria. “And stop him.”

View
Session 3.09: Lost and Found
In Which Information is Exchanged

Posted by zero

11 September 1380 C.E.

Nima was swiftest, moving to interpose himself between the stranger and the alley. Nyleth called after the man. “Please, wait! Don’t worry, we won’t harm you!” The man glanced over his shoulder but continued toward the priest, spinning on the balls of his kid-skin boots with the grace of a dancer to stay out of reach. When Nima reached for the fleet runner, the man jabbed him in his exposed armpit with a bare fist. The priest staggered from the unexpected pain of the blow, and continued running. So seeing, the bard began to sing an encouraging song to subtle assist her companions’ efforts in the chase.

“Well, shite,” said Quinn, heading toward the alley. Jingling and rattling in his scale hauberk, scarlet cloak flying behind, he trailed in Nima’s dust.

“What? Where? Blast!” cried Moria, jogging after the others. He quickly overtook Quinn and joined up with Nima as the runner sprinted down the alley.

“After him!” the priest shouted, continuing the pursuit.

Nyleth blew her bangs out of her eyes and muttered, “Why don’t they ever want to talk?” Then she sprinted down the alley, deftly padding through the broken pots, remains of old baskets, sodden rags, and filthy piles. The same impediments slowed Quinn down significantly. Moria took advantage of his party’s close proximity to cast a transmutation that made them all move more quickly.

The runner weaved through the garbage-strewn alley as Nima and Nyleth launched forward. He appeared to be running across the next street and making for a different alley, but the path was more crowded, and a donkey cart lay directly ahead. The priest rushed up and leapt for the man, but he evaded the tackle. The bard ran past them both, deftly flipping forward through the air to alight atop the cart, startling the donkey. She weaved her hands and stared the Hammaddin deeply in the eyes to enchant him. He staggered briefly but shook off the sleep spell and, retaining his momentum, slid forward along the ground between the wheels and yoke of the cart, leaping back to his feet on the other side and continuing toward the alley beyond.

Quinn caught up, but opted to go around the cart, which slowed him down some. Moria, farther back, scooped up a small leather pouch he noted in the dirt of the alley then attempted his own enchantment on their quarry. The Hammaddin’s will proved too great for this spell as well, and he headed into a cluster of stalls at the edge of the bazaar near the opposite side of the street.

Nyleth vaulted off the cart, landing and rolling to her feet and catching up with the man once more. “Please stop,” she said, her voice heavily laden with magical suggestion. “We mean you no harm.” At that, the Hammaddin slowed to a standstill. “Thank you,” she said sweetly, stopping in a swirl of skirts.

Now that he’d stopped running, she got a good look at the man, a young Hammaddin. He was dressed very non-descriptly, save for the cream-colored leather girdle about his waist, lined with what could be hidden sheaths for small darts, and other tiny pouches sewn in. On his hands were fingerless leather gloves with iron barbs between the fingers, projecting from the palms – perfect for climbing.

Nima advanced to the man’s flank, drawing his weapon. The others joined caught up as well, Quinn wheezing. “Less try this ag’in,” said the Dalesman. The Hammaddin seemed to have overcome the effects of the suggestion, and stood as if ready to bolt if given the opportunity.

“Peace, friend,” Nyleth said in Hammaddian, her tone soothing.

“Or pieces,” Moria muttered in Faerie.

The bard gave him a tiny, sideways smile. “Do not worry. There is no need for us to be rash,” she said. Then she shifted her hood fully down and casually tucked a strand of hair behind her very pointy ears. A crowd began to gather.

“Shall we step inside for tea, friend?” she asked the man.

“We jist wanna talk,” said Quinn.

“Mainly about why you were shadowing us,” added Moria.

The runner, seeing no escape, wordlessly folded his hands and kneeled in the dirt, bowing his head and staring straight ahead. Nyleth laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Do not be frightened,” she said, though looking at his face, he seemed quite calm, staring straight ahead stoically. The small crowd of onlookers gathered around the perimeter of the scene began to grow.

Nyleth smiled at the man. “Come, let us speak elsewhere. We are drawing a crowd, and I’m sure you would like to tell us why you found us,” she suggested. The man continued to stare straight ahead, yet his stoic façade faltered for a moment as he fought off the enchantment. The crowd began to murmur about the apprehension of … someone. The reports varied wildly.

Nima sheathed his sword and turned to face the crowd, making sure to display his beads. “Peace, good people. We shall deal with this one with all honor and restraint. You need not worry.” The crowd murmured excitedly at the revelation that a djinn-priest was involved. A pair of city guards made its way down the street, calling for the crowd to disperse and let them through.

“If’n ye’ll palaver with us, mebbe we kin help ye,” Quinn said quietly to the man.

“This is a waste of time,” said Moria in disgust. “Forget this fool.”

“Whatever we’re gonna do, we need tae do it fast-like,” said the paladin, noting the guards. He shifted his perception to seek evil within the man’s heart. He felt nothing of that sort, but started as the wizard whipped around suddenly, casting about for a threat. “Moria?” he asked in the same moment that complete darkness fell.

The crowd erupted in panic, screaming and shoving in all different directions. The adventurers could feel the press of humanity all around within the supernatural gloom. Nima calmly created a sphere of dusky light in one hand. He looked for the runner, but saw that the man had already disappeared amongst the riotous press of the crowd dispersing in a panicky mass.

Nyleth ducked into an alleyway, pulling Moria with her. “We should disappear, yes?” she asked softly, speaking Faerie.

The wizard looked up from checking his belongings to make sure nothing had been taken. “What? Yes, right. Where are the others?” Quinn approached a moment later, with Nima following in his wake.

From the alleyway, they saw the city guard move amongst the crowd in the street, restoring order and keeping everyone away from the sphere of magical darkness. Apparently, the adventurers’ exit had gone unnoticed.

“Let us just go,” said Moria, frowning. He held a pouch in one hand as though he’d forgotten about it. It was made of a supple, cream-colored leather, just like the runner’s girdle, and appeared to have been torn along one side as if from a garment.

Nyleth noticed. “Where did that come from, Ecoriel?”

“The alley,” he said absently, opening the bag to reveal its contents: a small glass vial filled with a dusky gray liquid and a tightly folded parchment. The wizard cast a minor divination and pronounced that the vial was possessed of illusion magic. Then he gingerly plucked the parchment from the pouch.

It unfolded to reveal a set of charcoal renderings: one of Nyleth, one of Moria, one of Quinn, and at the bottom a portrait of Joram Param. In the margin was scribbled a set of names: Hada ar-Ri, Muhta al-Fi, abd al-Azhar Nima.

“Wonderful,” Moria groused. “We’re being hunted.”

“That … cannae be good,” said Quinn.

Nyleth looked up from the drawings to the Dalesman. “They didn’t quite get your nose right, Quinn.” He peered at it, scowling, and the bard addressed the others. “We should take this to Hada. And also perhaps warn Joram…”

“I believe that we should perhaps warn Hada and guard al-Fi more closely,” opined Nima.

Nyleth sighed, again wrestling her bangs behind her ears. “How should we approach this, then?”

“Git back t’findin’ Joram?” suggested the Dalesman.

“Aye, Quinn,” agreed Moria. “We’d best find the man and then get back off the streets.”

They began showing the sketch of Joram Param around. Not only did they find people who recognized the man, but he had been seen visiting the Abah an-Ni Lavender & Perfumes shop recently. Of course, the shop had been closed for two days. However, Nyleth met someone who instantly recognized Joram as the man who created a stir in a shoma-house in the Pleasure District the night before. Apparently, the witness had been minding his own business when the strange Westerman walked into the middle of the commons and uttered an incantation which set all the lamps in the room ablaze for a moment. This illuminated a group of four men garbed all in black, who’d been lurking in the shadows, as if by magic. The room had erupted in panic and in the ensuing fray, the Westerman had escaped out a side exit.

“So, then. Pub crawl?” Moria asked drily.

“Might find him or the shadow-men there,” said Quinn, eyes wide.

“With our luck, it will be and-or,” said the wizard.

No one knew exactly where Joram was staying, but he was known to frequent the same shoma house. And so they made their way across town to the Pleasure District. Even this late in the morning, the district was pretty quiet, but the establishment that had been described to them was not far off the main street from the city entrance.

Inside, half a dozen older-looking women sat and smoked sheesha and sipped from bowls of shoma, playing at a popular Hammaddin game called “tawlah”. But they instantly noticed a middle-aged foreigner, dressed in drab grey clothes of otherwise fine Icatian cloth, wearing a purple sash, and smoking a long thin cigar. The man matching the description of Joram Param sat in a corner by himself. The man turned his gaze up toward them as they entered, staring intently with steely grey eyes, his expression … perplexed. They approached.

“Joram Param?” asked Nyleth, in her sweetest voice.

The man’s eyes narrowed. “Yesss?”

“Oh, wonderful!”

“If you say so.”

She smiled broadly and clapped her hands once. “It is indeed. We’ve been looking for you!”

“I can see that…”

“I dinnae suppose ye’ll remember us,” said Quinn, aiming a thumb at Moria.

“Oh, you I remember,” said Param. “But what are you doing … here?”

“Secret mission,” deadpanned Moria, laying a finger alongside his nose.

Nyleth laughed at the wizard, then held out her hand to Param. “A friend sent us.”

The man took her hand gently and shook it while regarding Moria with a wry smile. “Secret mission, eh?” He took a long drag off his cigar. “I don’t suppose you delivered my … message?”

“Actually, we did,” said the wizard. “He sent us looking for you here. He hopes to assist you with your … endeavor.” Nyleth looked between the two, her confusion evident on her face.

A tittering chuckle rattled from the back of Param’s throat. “Well, then. That would explain all the excitement I’ve been having lately.” He chuckled again.

“Additionally … May we sit?” asked Moria.

“Please, I’m sure there is much you could tell me,” said Param with a grin.

“Thank you.” Moira pulled a chair out for Nyleth before seating himself. She smiled broadly at his genteelness, sitting gracefully. Quinn remained standing for an awkward moment, then he sat as well. Param took a long pull on his cigar.

“As I was saying,” the wizard continued, “additionally, we have befriended Captain Hada, who was in charge of transporting some goods for – we believe – you, and her cousin fell afoul of a trap.” He explained the mishap with the clay jar.

Param rolled his eyes backward and dropped his head into his chest, slapping the table loudly. “Of course!” he said when he straightened. “That’s how they connected me!” Moria blinked.

“I’m … sorry?” said Nyleth.

“Let me explain,” said Param, taking another long draw off of his cigar. “My very good friend and protégé Ser Methos greatly desires something of value that I took with me from Icatia.”

“Was it the Grimorium of Ali-Fazzah?” Moria asked bluntly.

“That is the one. When I passed you on the road, I recognized you as Mystralites, which I knew well enough would be irresistible to Methos, who is himself a dabbler in the arcane. I should know. I taught him his art in its entirety.” Nyleth raised an eyebrow at the proclamation. “What I did not expect, was that he would somehow lure you to the other side of the world to search me out.”

“Indeed. We have some bad news about that particular item… We were inclined to come here anyway.”

“Oh, I’m aware of the theft!” said Param sharply. “I sold it to a Lavinian man I knew was an enemy of Shane’s because it was the best place to hide it.”

“Oh, dear,” Nyleth said quietly. “I’m afraid I’m confused, sir.”

“I contracted the lady Ad-Dina to purchase it for me as a way of reclaiming it,” said Param.

“I … see,” said Moria. “We almost recovered it along with the other treasure, but we were outfoxed by a Settite. It frustrates me to admit.”

“Neither Methos nor I could have anticipated the presence of the Settites here, who somehow managed to find out about it. The tome extraordinarily powerful, too powerful to be used by mortals, but Methos is arrogant in his abilities, which are considerable. I had a plot in place to take the Grimorium far from his reach before the Settites convinced the local thieves’ guild to steal it on their behalf. I had heard about the intervention of foreigners in the matter at the Colosseum, but I was accosted here.”

“The man we are seeking had an interest in it, as well,” said Moria. “Amirandi, he was called. Perhaps you know the name?”

Param’s eyes narrowed, and he drew hard on his cigar. “I wish I did not know that name,” he said, stabbing the air with the burning ember.

“We were already seekin’ him for reasons of our own,” said Quinn.

“Oh? And for what reasons would you be seeking Arid Amirandi ad-Dina?”

“He seems to be behind a rather reprehensible kidnapping,” said Nyleth.

“He took a girl,” added Moria. “We mean to take her back.”

“Well,” said Param with carefully measured spite. “Amirandi is no doubt behind the theft of my book, so it appears that we have a common enemy. Thus far, it appears as if you have played right into Ser Methos’ hands.”

Moria frowned. “We care naught for the tome. Only the girl.”

“The wee girl’s mother is stayin’ with him, aye,” said Quinn.

Param’s steely eyes widened in surprise. “Is that so?”

Moria nodded. “But it is not the mother to whom we have pledged service.”

“Also true,” conceded Quinn.

Param puffed on his cigar pensively for a moment, muttering in Icatian. “What are thou playing at?”

“I have no patience for these intrigues,” said Moria. “I have endured the politics of this city to further my investigation. My service is, as you have pointed out, to the Arcane Order, and we do this as a favor for a friend of that Order.”

Param seemed startled out of his reverie. “Oh! Pray excuse me. I was lost in my own thoughts for a moment. I believe I may have some information that could be of use to you, if you would pledge to return the Grimorium to me, and not Methos, if you found it.”

Quinn opened his mouth to speak, but before he could, Moria said, “Fine.” Nyleth gave the Dalesman a sideways glance.

“There is an island along the west coast of Al-Hammaddi. I have it on good authority that Amirandi had mounted an expedition in search of something mentioned in the Grimorium. An ancient and mysterious artifact known as the Black Razeel may be located there, on ‘Ayna al-Khawthar. I believe Amriandi is seeking it.”

Quinn nodded. “We caught wind o’ one o’ his expeditions afore.”

“Very well,” said Moria. “Thank you for the information. Good luck fending off Settites and their ilk.” He spread the parchment with the sketches and names on the table. “They’re looking for us and ours, as well.”

“Alas!” said Param, appearing pained. “I fear the Settites found my associate through me.” He took a final long drag off his cigar and stabbed it out viciously into what remained of his breakfast plate. “He was found tortured to death yesterday morning.” His expression was bitter.

Nyleth’s face fell at the news. “I’m very sorry, Joram,” she said softly.

Param gave her a grateful, haunted look then recovered himself. “I know not for what reason Amirandi wishes to find this artifact, nor what it looks like, but I do know it is one of five in the world that appeared in the most obscure records after the Demon Wars. They are identified by color: Black, Red, Green, Blue, and White. I also know from a close associate in the souk, who is a purveyor of illicit information, that Amirandi has paid for multiple expeditions to this island. But my associate sold the necessary location to me rather than Amirandi.”

“Fortuitous,” said Moria.

“But he foond the location anyway?” asked Quinn. “An’ does he want this Black Razeel bad enough tae go there hisself, d’ye think?”

“After all the trouble that this bastard has gone to, after all the blood he has shed, I imagine there is little he will not be willing to exchange for this ‘Black Razeel’ … including your girl and my book.”

“It would seem that time is of the essence if we hope to catch up,” reasoned Moria. “This Amirandi is a bloody ghost.”

“Aye, thass the truth,” agreed Quinn. “S’like tryin’ tae catch smoke in yer bare hands.”

“This is … not good,” said Nyleth.

“’Fraid not, Nyleth. But Moria’s right. There’s nae time tae lose.”

“Then we should leave at first light,” she said. “To wherever we should be going. Perhaps Hada could take us to the island?”

“Aye, here’s hopin’.”

Param rose from his chair and donned a long heavy grey cloak and wide-brimmed grey pointed hat. “If you would give me your word of honor not to allow Methos to obtain the Grimorium – should you acquire it – and notify me if you should find this ‘Black Razeel’, then I will send Hadar ar-Ri a map my associate marked with the location of ‘Ayna al-Khawthar.”

“Agreed,” said Moria.

Quinn swallowed. “On my oath as a Spellknight, aye.”

Nyleth glanced between the two but said nothing. Param bid them good day and took his leave, grey cape swirling. The bard stood to see him out and offered her thanks.

Once they were alone again, Moria said, “Is there any point in seeing the Beyah? Aside from not offending her?”

Nyleth tapped her lip thoughtfully. “Not offending her would be the main point. We have done her a service, and Hada would be dishonored if we did not appear at our audience.” Moria mumbled something noncommittal. “It would be in our best interest to visit and we can do so with the lightness of heart that we need not attempt to extract information from her.”

“I suppose that is true,” said Moria. Grudgingly.

“Besides,” she said, almost to herself, “I did want to have a chance to wear my new dress.” Moria’s eyes lingered on Nyleth for a moment.

Then Nima, who’d been so quiet throughout the interview that they’d almost forgotten him spoke up. “If the Beya wishes for us to visit her this evening, we should most certainly go. If she does not, we shall not press, even politely?”

“You speak wisely, Nima,” said Nyleth.

“We should tell Hada what we foond oot aboot th’ trapped pots, anyhow,” said Quinn.

“Oh, absolutely,” agreed the bard. “And about the Settites circulating our pictures.”

“Oh, right. Right. C’mon let’s git back,” said the Dalesman.

They returned to Hada’s house and told her all that had transpired that morning. Then they explained to her where they wanted to go and why. Hada was elated that they’d found a way to convince her patron’s client to continue to employ her after the loss of the cargo, and she agreed to make preparations to leave at first light for the island marked on Param’s map. She told them that she would meet with Beyah ad-Dinah herself, brining al-Fi with her to be disposed of as her ladyship saw fit. She assured them that she could make things right with the Beyah if they would pay their respects at a later date. With all that settled, they spent the rest of the day relaxing and preparing for another sea voyage.

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A Bit o' Prophecy
Self Explanatory

In Detva…

Mad Zoila’s good eye begins to steady and lose focus. Her shaking and fidgeting subsides and she stares into the middle distance. She begins to murmur eldritch verses in lofty tones, clutching her throat and making wafting motions with her other hand. Finally, she takes a pinch of grey and white dust from a bowl and casts it into the air, which dissipates as she takes a long drawn out gasp of air.

She then looks at each of you in turn, saying in perfect unaccented Faerie, Icatian, and Hammaddi, “Greetings travelers of distant lands! Come ye to have your fortunes told by Mad Zoila?”

She settles herself on the overgrown mound. Zoila takes a brown leather pouch from under her ragged shawl and shakes it vigorously, clattering the contents within. She pours out a pile of fingerbones etched with runes and stares at their arrangement with her steely grey eye.

“I see… a journey, a winding path… forked, but both ways lead to the same destination. You must choose… the longer safer path, or the short path frought with peril. I see… an evil, a horrible darkness…”, she says her voice quaking, “… this evil looms over and surrounds a victim wearing the guise of an adversary, a hapless pawn of its dark gods, this one.” Her voice sounds sad, “I see an obstacle on your journey… but it lies before the evil… and the victim, barring them from their desires. To achieve what you wish, you have two patrons available to you. You may call upon an old god… or a new one.”

* * *

“Foreigners they were, but they wore the guises of our people. BEAR BAITING!”, Zoila suddenly shrieks, “I saw through their masks. Zoila sees through the mists and fog… she does! They spoke in strange words, like a thousand black ants swarming about the grass. But, to have sight one sees the patterns of their scurrying. Words they make in the dirt, words Zoila can read.”

The old crone rocks back on her heels muttering to herself, “The innkeep will hang, oh yes he will… oh yes!” She breaks into a fit of cackling that ends in ragged wet coughing. Coming to her senses, Zoila recalls the details, “They were speaking of someplace far away… someplace in the west, across the salt seas. They spoke of a woman they were meant to seize. They failed, and their masters were wroth. So they fled, they fled here. They fled from their wrathful masters, because they failed to get the woman. They took her prize, though. Something valuable, something precious to her. More precious was it to their wrathful masters, though. A ‘key’ they called it… a key to a mountain. The ‘Mount of the Seven’, they said.”


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Interlude: Apsifoppotis
In Which Pastanti Has a Visitor.

Posted by Darth Krzysztof

Again, Pastanti’s first waking thought was of Ser Quinn Mac Teague.

She groaned, covering her head with her arms, wishing that the big foreigner would leave her be. Things had been so much simpler before he’d come into her life… less joyful, and less colorful, but simpler.

She’d tried to forget his face by losing herself in her work, but those lovely blue eyes waited for her in every lull. She’d tried to convince herself that he’d never return from Al-Jebail (or was it Port Crorbak?) alive – the Balearaen corsairs spoke highly of Quinn’s skill in battle, but the world was still a dangerous place – though she always chided herself for basically wishing ills on the man.

And she’d told herself, time and again, that Quinn could never persuade Enchrais Noble House to free her. This was known, a certainty, like the rising of the sun; only Quinn’s ignorance of Lavinian ways kept him from seeing it. She longed for the day when he finally gave up, and left her in peace.

Why, then, did she dream of running away with him every night?

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