Aldion is a world in upheaval. Everywhere, beings are wrestling with the aftermath of The Arrival - the event that just 77 years ago brought magic, monsters, and extraplanar visitors to roost in a realm that until then had been mundane. Portals to other planes of existence open and close seemingly at random, bringing curious and power-hungry denizens with them. Ancient societies rear their heads in retaliation, existing monarchies attempt (and often fail) to consolidate their power from threats they cannot possibly prepare themselves for, and a select few common folk have begun to show signs of inherent magical talent. Even items and locales that were once mundane are showing signs of magical activity. Aldion is a realm aflame, actively being colonized by outside forces while existing power structures struggle to keep order.

A few powerful individuals could guide this world back to relative peace, or tip it over the edge to damnation.

In Expanse, the adventurers of the F.I.A have been hired by a Janavian princess to locate and recover her brother - the crown prince of Janav - after he went missing while investigating strange behavior among the high Yalban clergy. The party will have to survive the Sea of Teeth, the Great Expanse, and the city of Yalba - a place of both great religious piety and political corruption alike. Meanwhile, from the desert itself, sandstorms begin to brew seemingly out of nowhere, bringing both chaos and destruction in their wake...

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Session 18: The Dragon, the Djinn and the Serpent [Part 2]
Locating Teoshi's estate was a simple enough task. Nestled comfortably in the Gold District, her property stood out from the surrounding golden arches and high spires of the structures that surrounded it. Teoshi’s manor, Zari explained as the party approached it, was commissioned by a famous Yalban architect to resemble as closely as possible an actual Zeharian ruin. Surrounding the complex was a five foot high black wrought iron fence. The courtyard that led to the central building was decorated in lavish topiaries and priceless Zeharian relics that had been scavenged from expeditions out into the Great Expanse. The estate was, for all intents and purposes, as close a re-creation of ancient Zeharian culture as Teoshi could muster. Speaking from personal experience, she had done an honorable job.

The party devised a plan for how they would handle speaking with Teoshi. After some deliberations, they decided that Zari, Midzaynov, Hagar and Thane would enter the estate with the intention of buying one of Teoshi’s many slaves. Meanwhile, Wykeera would assume an animal form and perform reconnaissance on the interior of the building proper. As the F.I.A approached the front gate of the complex, a well-dressed halfling man exited the house to greet them. This man introduced himself as Souz, one of Teoshi’s slaves. The party asked Souz for an audience with his owner so that they could pursue the slaves that she had at her disposal to see if a deal could be made as far as purchasing one. He tentatively agreed to their proposition, and opened the front door to let them inside of the estate.

The interior of Teoshi’s estate was garish and overbearing. Green-colored furniture, gold trim and priceless artifacts kept behind glass containers were carefully arranged inside of the complex. The walls themselves resembled the Zeharian ruins that the party had explored below the Greenbough Oasis during their journey to Yalba, complete with ancient inscriptions, pictographs and other carvings. In other words, it matched the description that Abdul had given to Saadia in the early days of his confinement of a well-decorated Zeharian ruin. Souz asked that Zari, Midzaynov, Hagar and Thane wait in the parlor while he summoned his mistress. They complied.

Meanwhile, Wykeera began scouting the building in the form of a desert beetle. She initially scouted the upper floors, but found nothing other than servants’ quarters while crawling along the outside of the building. Unsatisfied by this, she entered the kitchen area through the servant’s entrance on the side of the house and managed to remain undetected as she entered the main hallway. As she passed by an innocuous-looking section of wall, she felt the slightest breeze emanating from a crack in the bottom of the structure. Investigating further, Wykeera discovered a shrine to Lalwenye without any offering inside it on an adjacent bookshelf. Wkyeera, ever-knowledgeable on the subject of common religious practices, noted that it was considered an offense to have a shrine to the Lady of Coins with no coins inside of it. Searching for an entrance to what Wykeera had deduced was a secret door, Wykeera shifted back into her halfling form to place a coin in the shrine in an attempt to open it, to no avail. At this moment, the rest of the F.I.A could see Wykeera through the open door to the parlor on the opposite side of the hallway. While Wykeera puzzled over what to do next, she heard loud footsteps descending the main staircase in the foyer she now found herself in. Wykeera was alone in the foyer for the moment, but someone was coming. If she didn’t do something soon, she would be discovered. Wykeera, taking another look at the bookshelf, noticed that one of the texts had worn edges around its bound cover. Pulling slightly at it seemed to trigger a mechanism within the wall itself, and a door appeared as if from nowhere on the wall next to her. Wykeera signaled to the rest of the party to follow her, and then disappeared behind the door the moment before Teoshi al-Surai herself reached the bottom step.

Teoshi, a woman with human features in her late forties, wore an elegant emerald raiment with matching eye shadow as she approached the party that waited in the parlor. Upon her entrance, Zari politely stood up, introduced the two parties, and then promptly left the estate, hoping not to draw any suspicion to the rest of the party due to her princess’ views on slavery in the city. Striking up a casual conversation, Thane and Midzaynov remarked on Teoshi’s estate. Almost immediately, Teoshi launched into an exposition on its origins. She explained that her money was not merely old - it was ancient. Teoshi was a direct descendant of the Soakosh, one of the two factions in ancient Zeharian society thousands of years ago before the split that seemingly destroyed their civilization. Both her money and her bloodline had been tightly regulated in the thousands of years since the fall of the Zehari. Teoshi was proud of her ancient Janavian heritage and was unafraid to flaunt it. She spoke of the Rakou - the other Zeharian sect that was created at the same time as the Soakosh thousands of years ago - and informed the party that their descendants had become halflings who roamed the Great Expanse and lived a nomadic lifestyle. When the party offered to buy one of Teoshi’s slaves, she scoffed and left to collect a few. She was cruel and dismissive to her slaves, slapping Souz with her ringed hand when he spoke out of turn, causing a wound above his eye.

While the party waited for slaves to pursue, Wykeera explored the area behind the secret door. Being now in the pitch dark, Wykeera used her druidic magics to create a candle-sized flame on her thumb to help her see. She carefully descended a ladder that was directly behind the door, arriving on a landing in a new room. The air here was stuffy and hot, and Wkyeera could hear a vague shifting noise deeper into the room. Due to the darkness, however, she could not see the noise’s source. Taking stock of her surroundings, Wkyeera took note of the stonework and carvings on the walls of this place. It resembled that of the estate proper, but parts of it had eroded away over time. Wykeera found herself in one of the Zeharian ruins that run beneath Yalba, and it was right beneath Teoshi al-Surai’s estate. Wykeera opted to wait for her companions to join her rather than explore further.

Back in the parlor, the party reviewed the slaves that Teoshi had brought for their consideration. There were three - Souz, the halfling who had greeted them at the door and brought them to the parlor; Kriv, a large red male dragonborn; and Akila, a small blue tiefling girl. Upon questioning the slaves to determine who might actually be helpful in learning new information about Zeharian ruins, the party discovered that Akila had actually worked in the Atheneum before her parents were forced to sell her to put food on the table, and had worked with Sekmet. Kriv was not much of a philosopher, but he was eight feet tall and built like a tower. Teoshi offered to sell Souz for 400 gold pieces and the other two for 1000 gold pieces - a price several times the going rate for even skilled slaves in the city. Before an agreement could be made as to which slave to buy, Thane asked Teoshi how one might go about making someone disappear in Yalba. Teoshi replied with a grin that she would be happy to do it herself. Thane insisted that he was looking for other avenues to make such an exchange happen, and Teoshi asked Thane who he was trying to make disappear. Thane responded by claiming that he needed something from her to prove that she was trustworthy. He was trying to draw a line to the Palace of Pleasure, but he made the error of trying to make a bargain with a powerful figure without offering anything in return, and then implying that she was untrustworthy. Teoshi became visibly annoyed. Thane, Midzaynov and Hagar were unable to decide what their plan was, so they asked Teoshi to leave so that they could deliberate. With a defeated gesture, Teoshi left the parlor and closed the door behind her. When Teoshi left, Midzaynov noticed amongst the Zeharian artifacts in the parlor was a glass panel that seemed to act as a window into the walls of the house. As she examined it, a large green snake slithered behind the glass, seemingly travelling through the walls of the estate.

Meanwhile, Wykeera waited below the manor for her allies to arrive. During her wait, a small black snake made its way towards Wykeera from the darkness in front of her. Using her superior druidic animal handling skills, Wykeera successfully charmed it and gained a temporary serpentine ally. Inspired by her own success, Wykeera pressed on into the darkness, ready to face whatever awaited her below the Surai estate. As she made her way into the darkness with her candlelight, Wykeera became aware of the presence of dozens and dozens of black snakes that filled the large room she now found herself in. Yet again, Wykeera utilized her talents in animal handling to calm the beasts, and was able to move freely without fear of retribution. Wkyeera still could not see very far into the chamber, so she decided to cast a sunlight spell in order to get a better view. Her spell caught on a stained glass motif embedded in the ceiling, causing streams of multicolored light to shine from the ceiling and reveal the horrible visage that stood before her. Wykeera could now see in agonizing detail the centerpiece of this chamber: a massive stone figure with the head of a manticore, the legs of a great spider and the body of a snake that held a black stone slab horizontally in its coils. This was a sacrificial altar to Atriel, the Goddess of Nightmares.

Upstairs, the party invited Teoshi back into the parlor and Midzaynov offered to buy Souz, after some disagreement from Thane. Thane wanted to buy Akila for her supposed knowledge of Zeharian ruins and claimed that Souz was worthless. Midzaynov reasoned that the party could simply visit the Athenaeum or talk to Sekmet to gain more information. Fed up with their bickering, Teoshi asked the party to leave her estate. Midzaynov bought Souz with a small discount from Teoshi, who was seemingly impressed her resolve. The party was escorted out of the estate, and regrouped with Zari outside of the perimeter of the fence. The party wasted little time in questioning Souz as to the contents of the secret door they had seen Wkyeera enter. In return, Souz demanded for money for passage on a ship to Galmran and the promise of safety. Once the deal was struck, he admitted to the existence of the secret door and told the party that there was another entrance to the estate that was activated when certain bricks were pressed in a certain order. Souz went on to tell them that he was fairly certain that six months ago, Kurat left the estate without a scratch. The halfling immediately made a beeline for the north gate of the city, seemingly convinced that Teoshi would have him killed if she knew that he had leaked information about her covert dealings. Midzaynov cast a sending spell to Aldritch to ask him to meet a halfling named Souz at the Attessalian docks in about a month. He was happy to accept.

Wykeera, still alone in Teoshi’s secret basement, heard a noise coming from the secret door behind her. Fearing discovery, she shifted her form into that of a black snake to hide amongst the swarm that now surrounded her. Teoshi al-Surai entered the chamber from the direction of the secret door, took notice of the daylight spell that still lingered in the space, and then promptly left. While Teoshi was gone, Wykeera found another secret door in the back of the chamber that her strange telepathic powers allowed her to activate, similar to her experience beneath the Greenbough Oasis. She travelled down a long, halfling-sized tunnel in her snake form until she arrived into a larger room with even larger snakes inside of it. Wykeera returned to the original room only to find that Teoshi and her slaves were combing the area, searching for her. After searching for about thirty minutes to no avail, they returned upstairs and closed the door behind them.

Meanwhile, the rest of the F.I.A relocated to a building adjacent to Teoshi’s estate to formulate a plan to save their companion. Midzaynov wanted to cast an unseen servant to enter the complex and open the secret door, while Thane wanted to cast suggestion on a slave and ask them to open it that way. Unfortunately, the two of them argued for too long to be of any use.

Wykeera eventually ascended the ladder that led to the entrance to the secret door and decided that she would pull the lever that led to the house proper and immediately shift her form into that of a beetle to abscond from the manor as soon as possible. Immediately after pulling the lever, however, Wykeera heard Teoshi’s voice screech from elsewhere in the house “IT WAS THE FUCKING PONY!”. Teoshi had recalled from the Tournament of Champions that Wkyeera had transformed into a pony for children to ride on during the halftime show, noticed her absence from her party members during the negotiation to purchase one of her slaves, and deduced that Wykeera had taken the form of a snake to avoid detection in the ruin beneath her home. Teoshi ran to the secret door, saw that a beetle was waiting inside the archway, and immediately tried to crush it. Wykeera was faster than Teoshi’s heels, however, and managed to dash outside the front door of the manor and hide inside one of her topiaries. Using the brush as cover, Wykeera managed to make her way to the front gate while remaining hidden from Teoshi and her slaves, who were now combing the courtyard for Wykeera’s beetle form. In order to keep Teoshi distracted, Midzaynov cast an unseen servant to destroy some of Teoshi’s priceless Zeharian pottery by smashing it over Teoshi herself, causing her to wail in rage and confusion.

The F.I.A left the estate in a hurry, hearing the frantic yelling of Teoshi behind them. Fearing immediate retribution, the party decided to permanently vacate the House of Champions. Before they left, however, Hagar punched a hole straight through the one of the house’s interior walls, lashing out at Midzaynov and Thane for letting their egos stand in the way of the mission and putting Wykeera’s life at risk. Feeling tense and frustrated, the F.I.A left for the Temple of Gavriel to find refuge, with Atka in tow …
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Session 18: The Dragon, the Djinn and the Serpent [Part 1]
Spirits of The Maker, I thank you for joining me here at the shores of the Endless Sea. In the Realm of the Endless and the astral sea that lays before you, the limitless possibilities that take form in every realm of existence shape themselves into reality. These currents are fashioned from ever-expanding waters of unfathomable depth, and new events lap onto the shoreline with the tides. In this place, all known history is archived and nothing is forgotten. Every single event that has come to pass has its place in the Endless Sea, adding to the beautiful tapestry that represents the legacy of all that we have created. Who am I, you ask? I am the divine spirit that has been charged with tending to the Endless Sea. The divine light of The Maker still shines in my eyes, all so that I may tell you now of what has come to pass. So sayeth I, the Historian of Eternity, the Keeper of the Endless Sea, the All-Knowing - so sayeth Racha!

The events that occurred on the 29th and 30th of Latea in the year 77 P.A. are as follows. Thaddeus Terroc the Second, the Marquess of Tarsia, the Once-Winged Jade (but known to his friends simply as Hagar) reunited with his friend and mentor - a human man named Bana-Kye - after six long years of separation. Once Hagar’s identity was confirmed, the Yalban gang leader wasted little time before he ushered Hagar to his private box seat above the Leviathan's Pit, where the two of them could find seclusion from the remaining members of the F.I.A and Jade Dragons who awaited in the pit below. Given the fact that Hagar had been banished from Yalba after killing two people in the Levithan's Pit approximately six years ago, Bana-Kye’s emotions fluctuated between love and concern towards the man before him as he asked Hagar why he had decided to return. Hagar was evasive about the details of his mission, but told Bana-Kye that the members of his party were searching for someone. Bana-Kye told Hagar about a place he'd heard only rumors of - a Zeharian ruin masked in mirage and illusion where corrupt Yalban factions sent people whom they wished to make disappear . This place was known as the Palace of Pleasure. Bana-Kye did not know how to find this place, or even if the person that Hagar was seeking would be there. For all Bana-Kye knew, the Palace of Pleasure was naught but legend.

Once Hagar mentioned that the person they were looking for was known as Kurat, Bana-Kye's eyes widened with comprehension. Bana-Kye had remembered the conversation that transpired between the two of them six months ago when Kurat had visited. Bana-Kye told Hagar the same thing that he had told Kurat: not only did no one in his organization have anything to do with the abnormal behavior among the Yalban high clergy, but nobody in their right mind would dare cause such a thing on purpose. Bana-Kye went on to explain that organizations like the Jade Dragons can only thrive between the lines of society if there is a semblance of order to keep things in balance. Bana-Kye reminded Hagar that the clergy of Yalba counter the general corruption of the city itself. His face darkened for a moment as he said "if something is happening to the clergy in this city, it could mean terrible things for everyone who calls it home."

The conversation then briefly turned to Hagar's past adventures in Drasek before Bana-Kye reiterated the danger that Hagar would be in if his true identity were discovered. Six years ago, before the events that have come to be known as Deliverance, Hagar's death was demanded by the leaders of the Pit Vipers and the Bloodbroods after an incident in the Levithan's Pit. Bana-Kye, who had come to love Hagar like a son, traded his territory in Bloodfall Row for Hagar's life. This exchange of territory was known only to the gang leaders and a select few members of the Jade Dragons. If Hagar's true identity were discovered now, it would give the impression that Bana-Kye deceived the Pit Vipers and the Bloodbroods six years ago. This would leave the Jade Dragons open to swift retribution from the rival gangs, the majority of which would require little provocation to unite against a common enemy. Bana-Kye confided in Hagar that while the Jade Dragons have declined in manpower and territory since Hagar’s departure six years ago, the members that they have managed to retain have increased in might. Bana-Kye let slip that he was having success letting certain members of the Jade Dragons near an interdimensional rift in their headquarters in an attempt to increase their power, and that Bana-Kye himself was one of them. As his eyes emitted a glow that demonstrated his new arcane power, Bana-Kye told Hagar that he was devising a plan involving both the Pit Vipers and the Bloodbroods, and that if this plan were successful, Hagar may not have to hide his face in Yalba ever again. Bana-Kye neglected to mention any details, but he did tell Hagar that this plan may involve him and to stay alert. Hagar nodded, and Bana-Kye grinned.

Before their conversation ended, Hagar introduced Bana-Kye to Deductible, Hagar’s squirrel companion. As is recorded in the endless divine annals that make up our shared history, Deductible is objectively adorable.

Meanwhile, in the fighting pit below the box seat where Bana-Kye and Hagar spoke, Midzaynov the bard questioned Lidda Hilltopple as to what she was doing in Yalba and how she had come to be a prisoner of the Jade Dragons. Being a denizen of Kelkenheim, you see, she was quite a long way from home. Lidda explained that she had been captured in Gallius by unknown agents and brought to Yalba. She had been discussing Hagar's true parentage in a tavern in Galmran's capital the day before the abduction. Apparently, Hagar's warning to Lidda to keep his father's identity discreet did not sink in. During this, Thane had attempted to strike up a rapport with the Jade Dragons who watched them while their leader spoke with Hagar - he mostly failed to ease the tension, but he did seem to entertain one particularly dull member of their company.

When Bana-Kye and Hagar descended the stairs of the Leviathan's Pit to rejoin the others, Thane bequeathed a copy of his adventure novel to the gang leader for later perusal. Despite Thane’s best efforts to stop her, Zari was able to give Bana-Kye her ongoing list of truths and falsehoods regarding Thane's character to cross-reference with the often-exaggerated accounts in his novel. It was then that both Thane and Midzaynov began to conjecture the details of Hagar and Bana-Kye's relationship. Thane's tale was tall: he conjectured that Bana-Kye was in actuality the brother of Thaddeus Terroc I. It seemed a plausible theory; after all, Hagar had told the party how his father had most likely had his older brother killed when he was a boy, and it would explain why Hagar had referred to Bana-Kye as "dad" when they met. Bana-Kye laughed so hard he almost cried, and told Thane that if the imagination that went into writing the novel he'd been given was half as outlandish as the theory he had just heard, he was sure that he was in for quite the treat indeed. Midzaynov asked if the situation resembled something more of an adoption. Bana-Kye grinned, nodded, and told them that Hagar could tell the story in his own time later if he so chose. Hagar asked Bana-Kye if Lidda could be released, and he complied without a moment's hesitation. Now free to leave, the party was warned by Bana-Kye that it was important to hide Hagar's identity for the time being for his own safety. Before Hagar left the pit he had spent so much time in at a younger time of his life, he traded in his wooden Fang shield for one with a stronger motif of jade.

The F.I.A left the Leviathan's Pit with Lidda in tow. They told her that she could stay in their abode in the Victory District if she needed a place to stay, and then Midzaynov used her bardic magic to send a message to Lidda's companion Zaeshir to explain her whereabouts and to ask him to retrieve her. Zaeshir was shocked by the news that Lidda was in Yalba, and Lidda set off through the shanty town to her new temporary home in the Victory District. She seemed ashamed that she had allowed herself to be captured and angry that her former employer had seemingly had her kidnapped, and left in a clouded state of mind. As they discussed their next move, a strong breeze tore through the city streets, kicking up sand and forcing the adventuring party to cover their eyes. When the dust settled, Thane found a note sticking out of his pocket from his djinn patron, Moroden. The note asked the group to meet him at Paha's Garden at their earliest convenience. At the same time, Zari received an arcane message from Artificer Saadia, who informed her that if any members of her party did not speak the Firan tongue, to send them to her workshop at once.

The F.I.A visited Artificer Saadia's study in the Sultan's Palace first. When they arrived, she gave both Midzaynov and Thane magically-infused rings made from archalium that allowed them to understand Firan. Saadia was truly proud of her handiwork, and told the party that the future of arcane technology lied in archalium, as the magically-infused ore speeds up the enchanting process tenfold compared to other materials. Thane then offered Saadia a proposition that she could not refuse - she was given the mass of raw archalium that the party had retrieved from the mines beneath Fort Kulpa in the Garden of Deliverance and told that she could experiment with the material as much as she wished, as long as the spoils of her tinkering went directly to them. She happily complied, but warned that the ore may take some time to refine to a usable form. It was then that Thane revealed to Saadia that the man known as Moroden was in actuality a powerful djinn. Saadia was confused, but appreciated the seemingly-random piece of information. Before the party left for their next errand, they asked Saadia about the Palace of Pleasure. She had never even heard of it.

On their way out of the palace, the F.I.A engaged themselves in some truly ... inspired dancing. Rashad walked by them during their foreign ritual, poked fun at Zari for getting along so well with the Gallians in her company, and reminded them to please save the crown prince of his country as soon as they were finished. They complied.

The F.I.A's final trip of the day was to Paha's Garden to meet with Moroden. When they arrived, they realized that Paha's Garden lived up to its name - it was a small park in the Gold District filled with domesticated cats as a tribute to Paha, the God of Cats. Hagar immediately found a familiar cat from his past, while the rest of the party went to find Moroden. They found the djinn at the center of the garden in his human guise; he was facing towards the central fountain and reading a copy of Thane's adventure novel. After some pleasantries, Moroden led the party to an isolated utility closet near the back of the complex, explaining in his airy fashion that he wanted to show them something spectacular. Moroden pushed open the wooden door, demonstrating that behind it was a mundane closet filled with gardening tools. With a specific sequence of knocks applied, however, the door led to something much more.

With the secret knock applied, Moroden and the F.I.A stepped through the archway into a gargantuan, ruined cathedral made of white and black stone. All around them, a constant draft whipped up the bottoms of their cloaks, and dozens of servants wearing gold bangles worked on what appeared to be the reconstruction of the cathedral. Wherever they were, it was certainly no place in Yalba. The party elected to look out the window into the blue sky that surrounded the cathedral to ascertain their surroundings only to realize that the sky continued on in all directions, including downward. As the party began to realize that they were in a place that had been touched by magic, Moroden exclaimed "Welcome to the Plane of Elemental Air!" with a grin and a flourish. Moroden's Domain spread for miles in all directions. Dozens of towering structures huger than anything the party had ever witnessed dotted the cloudscape, most of them in a state of disrepair.

Once their stomachs had settled, the party began to ask Moroden about the leads that they had managed to accumulate thus far in their journey. The F.I.A informed Moroden that they were looking for an ornately-decorated Zeharian ruin based off of the description that Saadia had gleaned from Abdul several months ago after he went missing. Moroden knew of two places that fit that description in the area: a Zeharian ruin called the Palace of Pleasure, and the estate of Teoshi al-Surai, one of the wealthiest people in Yalba. Moroden did not know how to find the Palace of Pleasure, but he did know that it was a place that seedy organizations sent individuals they disprove of to be erased. Once someone is sent there, he explained, they are never heard from again. Then ... interesting. I know that the annals of the recorded history here is absolute and unwavering, but I simply find it unlikely that Moroden would fabricate a ... pit of balls literally out of thin air. Strange are those djinn.

Once the pit of balls had been created and both Wykeera and Zari found themselves busy entertaining themselves with it, Moroden assumed his imposing djinn form, scooped Thane up with a gust of wind and dramatically flew out of a newly-created hole in the ceiling, which sealed up the moment they were out of sight. While Moroden and Thane were flying away to have a private conversation, Midzaynov found one of the workers scattered around the cathedral and began questioning him. The servant that she spoke with was an impressively-aged human man who wore a golden bangle. Midzaynov asked the man about the conditions he worked in and if he was being treated fairly by the djinn. He responded that he quite enjoyed his servitude; he was paid very well, was allowed ample time for sightseeing across Aldion, and suffered none of the effects of old age while in Moroden's Domain. The man went on to explain that he was born in Yalba as a slave, and was eventually bought by Moroden and given a choice of freedom or servitude. The man chose servitude. He seemed happy with his life, and confident in the fact that he could leave whenever he so chose.

Meanwhile, hundreds of feet above the party, Moroden had constructed an ornate room with a glass floor with which to have a discussion with Thane. Thane had several questions for his patron - he asked Moroden about the group known as Iomine, but he was not very helpful in answering. The sorcerer-turned warlock then asked the mighty elemental what had happened to the ruined palaces and cathedrals that now surrounded them. Moroden explained that his domain had been destroyed by none other than Eldamas, the God of the Sky. Moroden was evasive when asked what caused the god to wreak havoc, but did reveal to Thane that he himself could not become a god ... or at least did not wish to. The damage caused by Eldamas prevented Moroden from using his powers to repair it, hence his focus on servant labor. Thane then asked Moroden about the book that he had acquired from Artificer Saadia earlier that week. According to Moroden, the book was written by a close friend of Nimlaser in the time before her ascension. Moroden added with a grin that he knew her while she was still mortal, and implied that he may have helped her on her journey to godhood. Continuing on his mischievous streak, Moroden leaned in very close to Thane and told him of a secret that lies deep within the Atheneum of Yalba: behind the large white door on the second floor of the main building lie secrets to ascension that could help Thane in his quest to achieve godhood. Moroden warned Thane that there was also a great beast that guarded this knowledge, and to be careful if he planned to attain it.

Perhaps tired of being talked at for so long, Thane then turned the conversation to his previous encounter with Phanalan. Thane explained that he was pleased with the power that his pact granted him, but he needed more if he was going to take on the devil from his past. Moroden chuckled and explained that he could not simply bequeath power onto people as he wished - the vessel in question requires refinement and training to be able to receive the highest potential of power that he can grant. One can only place so much water into a glass, after all. Before their conversation ended, Thane asked Moroden if he could try controlling the winds and clouds of Moroden's Domain in a similar way that Moroden was able to. In response, Moroden dissipated one of the walls of the floating room they shared and beckoned Thane to stand near the precipice with him. After a brief explanation of the theory behind controlling the whims of the plane, Moroden shoved Thane out of the floating chamber with little fanfare. It was time to see if Moroden's falcon had yet learned flight.

Thane attempted time and time again to control the clouds around him into something tangible as he fell, but Moroden's constant distractions as he fell proved too challenging. Thane even went as far as to fling off Moroden's bangle, which seemed to grant him a spark of excess power. Alas, Thane was unable to summon the concentration necessary to control the cloudstuff around him, and he impacted the ground at full force. Thankfully, Moroden's Domain is made of cloud-like material, so the only wound dealt was to Thane's pride. Moroden summoned a great gust of wind to lift the changeling back to his feet, and told him that Thane’s next challenge would be to find a strong center in the midst of chaos, and that great power cannot be controlled by passion alone. After all, even the greatest of storms require calm in their center. Moroden and Thane returned to the rest of the party in the cathedral, and Moroden explained to the party as they departed that they were welcome to come back at any time if they wished to peruse any magic items from Naima that were in his shop.

By the time the party left Moroden's Domain, night had fallen on the city of Yalba. The party went home to the House of Champions, partook in a meal prepared by Atka, and discussed their plans for the next day. It is also written here, somehow in bolded script, that Atka was displeased with Thane's table manners. Strange. Anyway, Lidda, who was told to wait for Zaeshir in the House of Champions earlier that day, made it known that she was sleeping in one of the guest rooms on the second floor for the time being. While the rest of the party rested, Midzaynov took the trek through the Duneshadow District to visit Kimbatuul Heskan, where she aided with a soup kitchen that was operating out of the Temple of Gavriel that very night. She took the time to ask him his opinion on slavery in the city. He told her that he disliked it very much, and they continued to distribute food to the poor late into the night.

On the morn, Hagar explained his relationship with Bana-Kye over breakfast. He told his fellow party members that following an incident in Sidun several years ago, he had travelled to Janav in search of new purpose. It was here that he learned the Firan tongue and eventually met Bana-Kye. Hagar acted as an accountant for the Jade Dragons for a time before the incident in the Leviathan's Pit that would lead to the leaders of the Pit Vipers and the Bloodbroods to call for his execution. Once Hagar had finished his tale, the F.I.A decided to start their day by paying a visit to Teoshi al-Surai, one of the wealthiest individuals in all of Janav. After all, Abdul had gone to visit Teoshi while disguised as Kurat several months ago before his disappearance, and Moroden had described her home as sharing aesthetics with the Zeharian ruins that were scattered around the Great Expanse. Perhaps, the F.I.A reasoned, Abdul had been kidnapped and taken to Teoshi. Following their instincts, the F.I.A left to find the complex.
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Session 17: The Investigation
Hey, I’m dictating this to Deductible so that it will more legible because he understands me well and is very articulate. So what happened? I suppose a lot. A lot. A lot. A lot. That sounds funny, doesn’t it, Deductible? Oh, we probably shouldn’t include that in the journal, Deductible. What’s that look for? Why would you say that? Fine. Fine.

So we won the tournament. I didn’t want to take my mask off, but everyone else did so I did, too. Hmm, why do we need to be so formal, Deductible? Ehhh, fine. We won the Tournament of Champions. And then, Midi yelled, “We’re the FIA!” I didn’t of it at the time, but Thane wrote a book about the FIA… And it had my name in it. And I was in a city, where everyone knew about Hagar. No, I’m talking, Deductible. It needs to say me so people know it’s me talking not Hagar. What? I know I’m Hagar. But that’s me. Fine, I’ll keep going.

After that we got paid gold – 300 each. Cool. Oh, and Wykeera got a feather. Just a feather. I don’t know why that’s a prize though. Then, we were told by the tournament announcer that we couldn’t have a stance on slavery in the city cause apparently Midi was like “no no slavery no bad” and he heard her. Then, he showed us our house and there was a slave girl, but she’s not anymore. She’s Atka. She’s 14. She’s a half elf. She’s got strawberry pink hair. She’s not a slave. Yep, those are the things I wrote on my hand about her.

So now we’re living in the House of Champions. Thane tried to teach the girl Fire Bolt, but she was nervous cause she can’t. Well, she can, but she can’t… legally. Then we drank!

Then, Makaria, the tall white skinned Tiefling and leader of the Hellraisers, and her friend, Nurata, a female ebony-skinned Aasimar visited. They wanted to know what we thought about slavery. Nurata loved me so much that she was overwhelmed and tried to leave. Thane was like “But, Iomine???????” No, Deductible, keep adding question marks. ????????????? More. ???????? Hmmm, do you think that’s good?????????? No, Deductible, stop! We don’t need that many for this????????????????? That was a statement, Deductible.?????



Tell them it’s been 20 minutes. They need to know we were arguing and that it threw off our flow. Don’t give me that look!???? Stop! ???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????



Ok… we’re back. And… we don’t need to mention the passing of time…

So, Nurata, decide that despite being taken aback by my beauty, she would reenter to discuss Iomine. Apparently, people like them and they’re well established and that people like them like all well established things in the city. Then, Thane did a hair flip. I guess it was a good hair flip.

We woke up the next morning and Midi told Atka to fuck off. I don’t know what Atka did though. She seemed helpful. Also, she’s so young. C’mon Midi. So, Midi left or tried to, but then she ran into… And you’re not going to believe this. Heskan! I know right. I realized I was disguised so I tried to flirt with him to mess with him. It was funny, but then it wasn’t funny. He gave me a letter that was sitting on our doorstep. It was what I was scared of. It was the invitation. Just like before. I tried to throw it out and kick it away, but eventually I was bested by Wykeera. She has the lightest feet. Man, Wykeera is great. Isn’t she, Deductible? Haha, ya, that was a good time. Haha, remember when she-? Haha, oh I forgot about that. Haha, you’re right, Deductible. Oh whoops. Well I guess we can’t erase it. Try scratching it out. Ehh, that works. Oh whoops, let’s talk about Midi real quick. So she and Heskan talked and Heskan was like “Herdy Terdy doo why do you do what you do?” “What’s your cause?” That was a god impression, Deductible. You just don’t know. Then, he was like “Herdy durdy doo, you’re a leader, pop peep boop.” Hahahahahahahahaha. So, the letter invited us to the Leviathan’s Pit and I started panicking. We would have to see them by the end of the day. Or else. We delayed though.

We went to visit Rashad and Fazil. They’re totally into each other. And they told us about Abdul. But seriously, totally into each other. So facts about Abdul:
- He is a cleric of Laweyne.
- He used a magic disguise and called himself Kurat to investigate the strange behavior among the high clergy
- That is not what I said, Deductible. I said kinky and killer priestly boys!
- Six months ago, he visited the Jade Dragons, Teoshi al-Surai, Farouk al-Fahai, Barakas al-Bay’s wife, and Iomine.
- They can’t scry him
- Messages stopped working after awhile. He started to sound loco and then seemed to go far away
- Before that happened, he described an elegantly-decorated place, maybe a ruin, several days away from Yalba, either vertically or horizontally.

Then, we visited artificer Saadia, who basically told us the same goodies. But she did give Thane a storm sorcerers book with the author crossed out. Mysterious. Draw it creepy like. Mysterious. Oh, then she told us he was avoiding certain words when talking over messages. Idk. I got distracted, then we left.

Then, they were like more errands and I was thinking about the Jade Dragons. I asked Zari how important this guy, Abdul, was and decided it was my responsibility to try and safe him. So I tried thinking of a plan. The Jade Dragons had been visited by Abdul. Maybe they would know something. Specifically, Bana-Kye would. And if I mentioned knowing Hagar was still alive then maybe he would clear the room and I could talk to him and he could give us some info.

While I was refining my plan, we visited Farouk al-Fahai in Qadira Prison. He the killy priest guy. It was his son, I think. Like 6 year old kiddo. Also, apparently, wards in the prison prevent teleportation, in and out. Also, Fiends, Fey, and undead can’t enter. We were like “Cool. We want to talk to the murder priest.” They were like “Nahhhhhhh.” So, Zari was like “Here some g, G.” Then, G, was like “Sho thing, Bae.”

Then, I went poop. But everyone else talked to the guy. Apparently, he wanted to kill his son, but regrets it now. He was worried that his son would take away everything he had worked for. Apparently, he also couldn’t sleep for weeks before he killed. Then, Thane cast Protection from Good and Evil on him and he said he hadn’t felt like himself for months, but that the magic felt good. Maybe he was the kinky priest. I wonder if Dak would like that magic. Then, Zari cast charm person on him and he’ll probably remember that. Then, we said we might try and clear his name. Then, I finished pooping. Then, he asked us to tell his wife that he loved her because they wouldn’t let him send letters.

What do you mean I shouldn’t bring up my poops? Fine, bowel movements. I’m trying to stick to the important details. I want to make sure they know. Fine, well, I’m going to go to the bathroom now and you can’t stop me. Fine! Scratch it out! I don’t care!

Ahhh, I’m good now. Fine! Cross that out, too. Anyways, we visited Farouk’s wife at the Athenium and ran into Sekmet. Farouk’s wife wasn’t happy. Like at all. I just looked at the crown molding the whole time. What do you mean I don’t know what crown molding is? There was totally crown molding! I know I was looking at the ceiling, but I could also see the crown molding.

Anyways, we left there and I brought up my plan that I had refined while -----. Write it, Deductible! Don’t you. Adcadcband;cljkabdvmhaofipandah cgvb hkjnasdjbmh’vnm,abjdfm,n jbvajfdnkv h sdjk ln;sdfhabsdcnm cadncjva v…. while pooping. No! Give it back! Don’t cross it out. Haha! You didn’t get it all. Stop! These are important details!



I’m sorry. No, I’m sorry. Don’t cry. If you cry, then I’ll cry. Oh no *sniffle sniffle*.



So then *clears throat* I told them about my plan, but I lied a little. I told them if we went to visit the Jade Dragons that I could say a phrase to Bana-Kye that would show that I know his son his still alive, which is a fact he wants to be kept secret. I explained to them that when I killed two people in the Leviathan’s Pit, I hadn’t been fighting alone. I had been fighting with Bana-Kye’s son. The only reason I was spared was to help protect his son, who was being exiled. Everyone else in the city, except for those among the heads of the various gangs in the city, believed that he had been executed. That’s why it was a secret. And that’s why he wouldn’t want it out. I then had Midi send a message to Raha saying that “If we died to release the information that Bana-Kye’s son was still alive.” This would be leverage for them to not kill us, but I was pretty sure we wouldn’t need it. I just needed to convince them to let me go to the Leviathan’s Pit with them.

We decided to get lunch before we left. And when we did, Midi cursed out a baker. I don’t know what was going on with her.

Finally, we made our way to Leviathan’s pit. I recognized everyone. They were older, but there weren’t any newbies there. Only the experienced ones. They were clearly suspicious. And then, it happened. Just like the first time. Ro-Zudof met us with two guards at his side. He told us Bana-Kye was sitting up in his box seat watching. Then, he said they were interested in our skills, but more specifically mine. I could feel my stomach turn as he said this. I didn’t want anyone to find out. Either side. FIA or the Jade Dragons. But we needed the information, so I accepted the challenge. My friends buffed me up and no one seemed to care. I met in the middle of the ring. It looked the same. It was oddly comforting to be back.

Then, the gate opened and standing there, Lidda. Her head was shaved and she looked like she had been beaten and bruised. I think she was their prisoner. I didn’t notice though. I was so scared of getting struck down and discovered in this place I unleashed all my strength on her. It was going well, but then she hit me hard and I blacked out.

...

The next thing I knew. I was frozen in place, unable to move an inch. The back of my shirt had been cut open and the whole gang was staring at it. My Jade Dragon tattoo was glowing. Oh god. I was so scared. Thane also had a Jade tattoo on his chest, but everyone was laughing at him. He had tried, but it wasn’t one of our marks. Not even close. Besides they knew, who I was. I was in to deep. I thought we were doomed. Then, I looked down and Lidda was in bad shape. I must have done that. But I don’t remember. Slowly everyone walked out of the stands and circled us. I could see the grin in Ro-Zudof’s eyes. Then, everyone got quiet. You could hear the creak of each step as it made its way down from the top area of the Pit. After moments, his shadow appeared on the steps and then his figure emerged. He looked older. I thought, if I’m going to die, at least, I got to see him one last time. But then, he looked at me, and said, “I missed you.”

I didn’t know what to say. The words just escaped me. “Hi, dad.”

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Epic!
Session 16: Champions
Dear Tanya,
I’m sorry to leave you in suspense for so long, but I ran out of parchment in my last letter. I know you’re just dying to hear about the rest of the tournament. So here it is.
The gates opened and we were greeted by a crowd that had already learned to love us and 8 death dogs. (evil, human-eating, two-headed dogs). At first I was like, “cool, gonna beat up some evil dogs”. And then the officials THREW A PERSON INTO THE RING.
Remember how last time we only saved a dummy? Well apparently Round II means live people. And judging by the chains he was wearing, I doubt he had a choice in the matter. I must say, I’m getting tired of this slave nonsense.
Anyway, there were more than just hell-hounds and humans in the challenge, several bear-traps were laid about the field, disguised in the sand. Lucky Bez got super into hunting that one year or I might not have been able to recognize them and point them out to my friends. So the hounds came at us, and we fought hard. Constantly healing and inspiring this young slave boy. I swear he better be freed after all this. I feel like being bait for rabid death dogs is more than enough service paid to be freed.
I’m getting off-track again, so there we were, aware of the traps and how we had to move to avoid them, and going all out. Thane managed to kill two at once with a spell and Zari, Zari was able to use this powerful, terrifying, amazing power that DISSOLVED one of the dogs. Just erased him!! Wykeera managed to hold her own keeping multiple dogs at bay. Hagar fought as much well as we have ever known him to, which is to say that these dogs were no match.
Unfortunately, glory was not all we had in this fight. I used my lightning breath to get a couple of the dogs and it ripped the lower part of my mask. It’s not the worst thing to happen, since all anyone really got to see was the jaw of yellow dragonborne. But Hagar… you know how we disguised Hagar as a woman named Lisa because apparently the gangs here know him and think he’s dead? Well, his shirt ripped in the fight, and one of his breasts (a melon) fell out. No one in the audience saw when it happened, and thanks to Thane’s quick thinking, the audience thought they saw Lisa’s actual titty. But we have got to be more careful with that. I can’t imagine what will happen if the Jade Dragons ever found out Hagar was here. Oh, we also got poisoned by the death dogs’ bites.

After winning the round, we went back to the waiting area and got some potions to heal our wounds and cure the poison. We met some abolitionists, which was nice, but they didn’t make it through round two, so that wasn’t so nice. In fact, only two teams were left after round two. Fazil’s fighters and the Blank Faces.

All the teams that had made it to round two were brought into the ring for a half time show. Local children were brought out in teams of 5 to “fight” us. It was surprisingly sweet from an otherwise brutal tournament. And call me a sucker, but it was my favorite part. We all played our part, becoming wicked villains for these kids to “defeat”. Except Wykeera. She just turned into a pony and gave the kids rides. They loved it and all left with smiles on their faces. I would’ve been ok with that part lasting a bit longer.

But back to the bloodbath we went.

The final round saw both Fazil’s Fighters and us in a three way match with a DRAGON (wyvern). The wyvern had a trophy on its back, and the first team to claim it also claimed victory. We all quickly began forming plans, trying to determine the best way to sneak up there. I, myself brought out my unseen servant to steal the trophy when no one could see. He was not used.
Hagar had the best plan, in the end. He threw the lightning javelin that Thane bought him right threw the whole of Fazil’s Fighters. This sufficiently weakened them and allowed us the upper hand. Sekhmet, our competitors wizard, cast a spell that allowed Rashad to fly. And then it became a race between Thane’s misty step and Rashad’s flight. Who would reach the dragon first? Thane managed to get on it first, but Rashad was right next to him. They were going to have to fight in the air on a dragon. But Thane, ever a clever bastard, pulled a bead off of his abacus. A 10 foot iron door.

The wyvern slammed into the ground, unable to handle the new weight on it’s back. Thane misty stepped away to protect himself from the damages of gravity. The iron door kept the dragon pinned to the ground for the rest of the fight, allowing the rest of us to run up and fight Rashad on even territory.
However, in our haste and panic over the dragon we forgot about our opponents. Fazil stunned Hagar, leaving him helpless as Sekhmet cast Fireball. Hagar, ever sturdy and every standing, survived the fireball with vitality to spare. He defeated Fazil single-handedly. Wykeera, officially done with letting us get attacked by the opposing team, summoned a wall of water in front of Fazil’s fighters, rendering the rest of their team effectively useless.
At this time I had run up to the dragon and slammed the ground with my hammer, causing a small earthquake that rattled my enemies. Rashad and I then engaged in one on one combat until Zari came over and took out Rashad herself. This allowed Thane and I to grab the trophy and pry it free, effectively winning the Tournament of Champions.

Your Friend and Champion,
Midizaynov
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Session 15: Chapter 3: Cruel Cowards and Competitive Changelings in the City of Silk.
{Hello Frisco,
I left some editing notes in this one, in font like this, because some of the truth is a little bit bent, and I want your advice on if I should make any changes.

Yours mostly truly,
Thane Ilamin}
What we expected when we entered the tavern with our wolfish companion, on that day of trickery, was merriment and celebration. At worst, we expected a harmless prank or two to be set. But Nimlasser herself would be wary to play a trick so cruel as Fate aimed at my party. The mask of a wolf couldn’t be more accurate, for the man who had come before us had hidden himself in plain sight, a wolf in wolf’s clothing. He offered a drink to me in a form of friendly contest, and I was forced to remove my mask to drink it. Although I was unaware of the man’s alliances and cunning at the time, I’m sure this was his exact plan of events. He was hoping that I would expose my identity, and incapacitate my abilities with the drink, which was an especially intoxicating Yalban elixir.
Thankfully, by the blessings of the Gods, my constitution overcame his potent potable, and I was saved from incapacitation. However, the liquor did affect me enough so that my skills were dulled for his nefarious plot to come into action. For right as the drink began to warm my stomach, I saw something that froze my blood. Out from the back of the inn strode the wicked wizard Vorimbor, the one behind my attempted kidnapping in Etir. He exclaimed that he was a conspirator with the man sitting across from me, in one line turning the image of a jovial new companion, to the heartless and calculating monster he truly was.
My hand went to the mask astride my head, but then I decided that I should not cower before the evils of these two men. Even I make mistakes in my adventures, and this, dear readers, was one of them. For I had no idea that when the wolf’s clothing would be removed, I would see the scarred face of one of the most powerful sorcerers and hellish warlords I had ever met, and a ghost of my own past.
His name was Phanalan, and he was once a dark sorcerer in the country of Galmran, who led helpless villagers into the world of the occult, even going so far as to sacrifice children for his own power. I managed to defeat him by calling down a lightning bolt from the heavens, but he apparently survived the attack and had come many years earlier to Janav, no doubt in fear of what may happen if our paths crossed again.
My companions kept their cool at the reveal of this new information, but curse my hot blood, for I could not stand the sight of such evil. I had been a child when I defeated Phanalan, and I was lucky that he did not recognize me when my mask was first removed. {People may figure out who you really are if you give away too much information on your histories} However Vorimbor recognized me rather quickly, and was able to ascertain the identities of most of our party, before he began to threaten us one by one.
I assumed these two ruffians to be wild cards of death and destruction, but they instead turned out to be high-ranking officials in a business corruptly sewn into the fabric of Yalba’s government. The yarns of their business colored many different factions of society in Yalba’s great tapestry, and it quickly became clear that we were out of our element dealing with the two in such a public place. Distracted by thoughts of strategy, and admittedly dulled by the drink, I was suddenly overcome by a force I was too slow to recognize. Phanalan had intruded upon the sanctuary of my mind by some unholy power, and commanded my body to attack the bar and my friends.
Hagar, still disguised as Lisa, managed to restrain me, preventing me from any heinous crimes {Make sure to leave out the part where Phanalan had me kill the barmaid. It would look bad. Make sure you talk to Midi and make sure she leaves it out of any songs she makes.} but not before the combined surprise force of Vorimbor and Phanalan overpowered the other members of our party. They were even able to convince the public that we were the instigators of the attack, though of course, when power like mine is used, it is only natural to be afraid. Phanalan had me break free of Hagar and dash towards himself, striking him and feigning my self control. His little theatre play debuted just in time for his audience, the city guard, to arrive, and have me and my party members arrested.
Once I regained my wits, I struggled to convince my party members that my body was not my own in the bar, and even Midi, as kind as she was, did not believe me at first and was appalled by my behavior. Our new friend Zari was able to convince the palace guard of our innocence later in the today, and we were freed into the open public. However, after my failure as a guardian of peace at the hands of a great foe, I was still feeling very much imprisoned.
We decided that we needed to make preparations for the coming adventure, and set out to first get a map of the city with which to orient ourselves. Zari saved us from the unfortunate irony of being lost in a city and trying to find a map, which makes you more lost in the city, by directing us to the store of who must be the greatest living cartographer. It may seem insignificant to you, my esteemed reader, but as someone who loves only to fight for good and defend the endangered, it does my heart good to see citizens of a caliber as strong as this one. His name was Rafiq al-Ir, and the map he provided us with was clearly one that had taken hours upon hours of slow refinement, careful dying, and a master’s brushstroke. My and my companions hearts were set aflame by this inspiring young man, and swore doubly to protect this city, and this weak, weak boy who had charmed us all so much.
To arm ourselves against the empire of evil infecting the city, we went to a nearby auction, hoping to procure some magic items that would help us to remove those unfit for the power they wielded from their high thrones. However, we found surprisingly stiff financial competition in the form of none other than the Djinni Moroden, the one who had instilled me with even greater power after glimpsing my true character. He had come to the auction to collect more of his magical wares, no doubt to sell at an exorbitant rate later on, and to thwart the efforts of seemingly every other person in the auction hall. He bid hard and fast, especially against my party and I, and a Dao named Calvinia across the room, who appeared to be a scorned lover from his past.
I tell you now dear reader, if it were not for the abilities of our party, we would have struggled to snatch the mystical items at our disposal from the jaw of someone as sly and clever as Moroden. However, with the financial fortitude of our heroic wallets, we managed to come across some beautiful and powerful items. We procured an elegant elemental emerald {Sapphire, whatever, the alliteration is important}, a concealing clandestine cloak, and some persuasively pleasant perfume. Hagar even managed to receive a truly beautiful spear of lightning, which reminds him of me so much that he declares my praises every time he uses it on the battlefield. He is a truly kind man with a beautiful spirit.
Zari then took us to the palace to meet the retainers of the beautiful, charming, and tasteful Raha’s missing brother. They were two incredibly athletic specimen, a sinewy and handsome changeling named Fazil, and a towering brick of a Tiefling named Rashad. The two were fresh off a gripping wrestling match when we entered, and had their full bodies on display, barely covered by matching loincloths so that they could preen themselves in front of our party, I imagine they were attempting to intimidate us, but they had no idea who they were up against. In the arrogance you so often see in the physically powerful, they decided we would need to prove ourselves in battle to earn their trust and information. Wykeera, in her characteristic selflessness, did her best to convince them that it would be best for their prince if we began searching for him sooner, but their skulls, thickened from years of abuse, were unable to pass the message on to their brains.
I realized during the exchange that it was my fault, once again on this trip I had been careless. My presence had begun to make Rashad terribly afraid, and it began to become difficult to tell if the marks on his loincloth were sweat or something even more unsavory. The slimmer Changeling realized this as well, and looked to defuse the situation, ending all further negotiations. We were faced with one option, engage in their paltry games, or endanger the life of the prince. For true heroes like us, there was only once possible option.
One week later we found ourselves at the bloodsport coliseum of Yalba, a sickening architectural blemish of horrible combat where meager slaves fought for an unachievable freedom. {Should I add the part about Midi researching Dragonborn culture? It was kind of a downer what with the priest who seemed depressed an everything. I should definitely leave out the stuff about me losing money gambling…} In spite of the unpalatable atmosphere of the stadium, we knew that we had come for the achievement of a just cause, and forged ahead into the tournament of glory. The tournament was set up simply, our party made up one of the many teams competing to rise to the top. We would fight waves of monsters, and eventually the other teams until the final two remained, and the winner would be rewarded with glory and gold, though such earthly pleasures disinterested are party when compared to the chance to save the prince.
One of the competing teams was Fazil’s Fighters, led by the changeling retainer and his lover Rashad, and they established themselves as the team to beat with ease in the first round. Whereas the first team struggled for a full minute to dispatch their opponents, and even then seemed to escape with barely more than their lives, Fazil’s team struck the monsters down in merely thirty seconds. We clearly had our work cut out for us as we walked up to the entrance of the stadium prepared to meet our first challenge.
Before us lay a mock ruin of the Zeharian people, with a group of Gnolls placed around. There was also a fair maiden in the midst of these gnolls, being held captive as an objective of rescue for our team. {Switching it from a dummy to a real woman is going to make the kiss at the end better, but it might make it less believable…} For those of you readers who have no knowledge of the gnolls, count yourselves blessed, for their grim visage is almost to horrible to recount. Each one of the five stood on spotted and matted haunches, like hyenas learning to beg, with thick and bloodied bodies haphazardly strapped to pieces of metal and stone creating makeshift armor. Their grizzled necks led to lazily hanging jaws with long strands of viscous slobber leaking continuously from their frenzied grins. They turned their smiling faces towards our party and began to growl, looking to protect the terrified woman between them. The ringing voices and thunderous applause of the audience would have been distracting if we hadn’t all become so single-minded in our pursuit of both this rescue and the next.
Hagar ran headfirst into battle, sprinting up to his first opponent and drawing Ostan’s blade from its sheath, preparing to wet it against the neck of the foul monsters before us. Zari brandished her flails and cast two spectral hands that gripped two of them by the neck and began to enshroud them in a dark necrotic energy. Wykeera too leapt forward, sending a knife of ice singing into the throng of enemies, deftly causing shards of ice to hit the targets and miss the maiden. Ever eager to rescue, I teleported to the maiden in a flash of lightning and mist and grabbed her from the gnolls. Midi encouraged me forward, and I was able to frighten two of the gnolls away from me. However, one of them, incredibly brave, or more likely, incredibly stupid, managed to score two heavy strikes against me as I threw myself in front of my new charge. I was buffeted back by the blows and almost thrown into the pit of spikes below, but managed to get cushioned by my favored winds and landed safely on the bridge. The maiden, now unprotected by my frightful presence, was grabbed again by the gnolls, and I kicked myself for not being more careful.
However, it was at that moment that Hagar was suddenly knocked from his position on the bridge onto the spikes below. The crowd gasped in horror, and I too was worried for Hagar’s fate, but I knew that he would want us to continue our rescue. I furiously aimed my next spell at the two gnolls who had knocked my friend in, and vaporized them both in one searing ball of electricity. Wykeera and Zari continued their assault on the other three gnolls while Midi did her best to help Hagar recover from his fall and to exit the pit. Zari grew her necrotic shroud on the two gnolls from before, and Wykeera deftly noticed the weakening constitution of the one on the left, and took him out with a well-placed ice knife.
I was debating if I should attack the remaining gnoll holding the maiden, or the larger gnoll captain who had so deftly struck me with his blade when, suddenly, a thick forearm and sizable hand sprang out of the pit and grabbed ahold of the gnoll captain and pulled it down. Hagar hadn’t been able to spring himself from the spiked pit, but was able to succeed in bringing down one of the enemies to his level. Knowing that no ragged monstrosity like the gnoll could stand up to Hagar in a one on one fight, I turned to the final gnoll on the ruins and blasted them backwards with my magical might. However, my blasts were so strong they managed to cause the maiden to lose her balance as well, and she began to fall backwards. At the last second, in a flash of lightning and mist, I was above her, my arm securely fastened around her shoulders, protecting her from above. The audience went wild with the last minute salvation of the woman, and were only propelled to greater heights of enthusiasm when she passionately embraced and kissed me as thanks for my heroism.
However, there was one thing they wanted to see even more. The battle with the final gnoll had become surprisingly intense, as he was of a sturdier breed, pit bull or some other large dog probably, than the rest of his litter. Even worse, the battle in the pit was too low for anyone in the audience to see, and the sound of shouting, yelping, and metal clanging against stone and metal alike, had driven them into a frenzy of speculation. Hagar, distracted by the audience and his disguise, had made some surprising mistakes, and was having trouble keeping the gnoll at bay. Wykeera in her classically resourceful way, had begun firing her bag of unending water at the mongrel, washing years of grease, blood and decay from its matted fur, and giving Hagar the advantage in the fight. Zari sprung down lithely and managed to hit the gnoll with her flails, sending it stunned and reeling backwards.
However, the true disadvantage was becoming clear, the spikes on the bottom of the pit were hindering Hagar and Zari’s attacks by reducing mobility, while the more animalistic fighting style of the gnoll was unaffected. I realized the best way for them to defeat the beast, was by leaving the pit. So I told the fair maiden to step back, and summoning every ounce of my being, I cast a spell and caused the faux ruins to explode out ward, leaving a method of escape for my teammates. Wykeera followed it up immediately with an especially strong geyser from her bag, sending the gnoll rolling back into view of the audience, battered, wet, and afraid of the hulking warrior now sprinting across the sand towards it. The beast reared up for one final attack, which Hagar easily outmaneuvered, driving his blade through its grinning mouth and out of it matted back. The crowd was silent for a moment, and then erupted into peals of applause and cheers, as the announcer brought it to our attention that we had finished in the same amount of time as our true opponents. Thirty seconds.
An hour later, after rebuilding the stage and testing the other teams, it was time for our second round of the tournament. As we took the field, the thoughts of the previous teams, the ones who had faced this same challenge and been beaten savagely, weighed on our minds, and we prepared ourselves for a battle that would likely not go as easy, as the stadium began to shake from the steps of some monolithic Monster.
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