"A Rollicking Band of Adventurers We"

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.”

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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.

View
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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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 3.08: Smoke and Dust
In Which the Heroes Begin Searching for Joram Param.

Posted by zero

10 September 1380 C.E.

As the company left the Colosseum, they found that the sun had set. Nyleth peered up at the gloom with a surprised expression. “I hadn’t realized we’d been in there that long,” she said, placing one hand unconsciously on her stomach.

“I’ll ne’er ken how someone so wee eats so much,” Quinn said to her.

“Someone once told me they thought I might be hollow,” she replied cheerily. “I think they might be right.” The Dalesman nodded in agreement. Moria shook his head at the exchange, surreptitiously keeping Nyleth between himself and Hada.

A crowd had gathered in the lamp-lit streets as the Pleasure District roused itself for the evening, and they all pointed and murmured as Hada’s sailors led Al-Fi away from the Colosseum.

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Session 3.07: A Snake in Shadow
In Which the Heroes are Hoodwinked by a Serpent.

Posted by zero

10 September 1380 C.E.

“Al-Fi, hold!” Nima commanded before moving to support the elves. He barked a short prayer and a spark of sunlight flew from his outstretched hands to scorch the nearest goblin. The Kannite shrieked in pain as it merged from the cell door. Nyleth released the hilt of her rapier and instead pulled her bow from the enchanted haversack. As a second goblin pushed past the first, her arrow caught it in the neck, sending it to the floor. The bard took a step forward, putting herself between the Kannites and Moria.

The small horde of goblins rushed toward the steps out of the pits, and for a moment it seemed as though they intended escape. Before they reached the exit, however, they stopped in a great scrum and began rummaging around on the floor. They screeched at one another in their guttural tongue as they tore into a leather-wrapped bundle. A moment later, they hefted well-used short-swords, and turned to glare at the adventurers.

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Session 3.06: Trap for a Trickster
In Which the Heroes Enter a Dungeon.

Posted by zero

10 September 1380 C.E.

Quinn and the elves met Nima at Al-Fakir wal-Halal around noon, as they’d agreed. “Ah, sadiqi, you are all here! Welcome. Welcome!” the Hammaddin greeted them. “Come and join me. Our food shall be ready soon.

“Aye, an’ I thank ye,” the Dalesman said.

Nyleth clapped excitedly, and smiled broadly at Nima. “How wonderful! Thank you for organizing lunch for us.”

“It is truly my pleasure. Come, sit. Perhaps some wine or maybe qahway?”

“Wine, thanks,” Moria said as he took a seat; Nyleth echoed his order, and Ha’ra sat down beside the bard.

“Whass qahway?” Quinn wanted to know, sitting as well. “Mebbe I should try that.”

“Ah, Qahway is a delightful drink. It clears the mind and sharpens the senses.”

The serving boy brought a platter of eggplant parcels served with flatbread with herb butter, peppercorn-encrusted goat cheese, and honey rolls. He took their drink order from Nima, then departed to fetch the beverages.

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Interlude: Reverance
In Which Nyleth Gives a Gift.

Posted by Elenore

10 September 1380 C.E.

Despite the ugliness at the jail, it was still going to be a lovely morning. The sun was barely peeking over the walls of the city, and there were still pockets of cool shade under awnings and hidden in corners. Ha’ra was winding her way through the crowds like a veiled ghost, dodging between laborers and men holding vast baskets of bread on their heads alike. Behind her, Quinn, Nyleth and Moria followed, trying to ignore the wide-eyed stares that followed in their wake.

The unmistakable smell of the spice merchants preparing their wares wafted across the street, and Nyleth paused to take it in. Inhaling deeply, she couldn’t help but smile. Truly, cinnamon was a gift from the gods themselves.

“Are you quite finished?”

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