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Chapter 1 — Epilogue with the Dragon
As promised, Vashti was waiting for them with her magic carpet to ferry them up to the outside. No one made any mention of the earlier argument.

   "Where is Belvin?"

   "He is with his camel," Vashti answered, "being talked to death by the dragon."

   At the top of the sand dune, they came to the dragon and Belvin and his camel. The dragon was laying on his belly, going on and on about the weather patterns over the Shaar. Belvin didn't seem to be paying much attention, as he brushed his camel's hair.

   Sseth sat up when he saw them. "At last!" he said. "You have returned alive. I am bursting with excitement, but your sorceress here refused to share any information until all of you arrived. Come, follow me back to the ruins. I imagine you scale-less folk will desire shade, and we have much to talk about."

   The dragon was delighted when they at last handed him Shunnari's diary. He thumped his tail on the ground excitedly as he took the item with his enormous foreclaw. "How was this preserved?" They explained the magical urn. "What sort of book is it? Can one of you hold it open so I can read a bit?"

   Jayce stepped forward. "It is the diary of a... jhasina. Here, take a look." Jayce flipped open a random page and held the book out at arms length, and the dragon placed his eye closer to him than was exactly comfortable.

   "'Calim was enormous,'" Sseth read aloud. "'I knew that he was said to be large, but I was not expecting him to tower over the other djinni lords. He was at least 20, maybe 25-feet tall, with broad, muscular shoulders and a massive chest. Unlike the other lords present, (and there were nazirs, satraps, and hakkammi in the audience,) the caliph did not feel the need to designate his status with an ornate turban. His head was bald, except for a sharply cut goatee....' By Bahamut! I don't think I've ever seen a first-hand description of Calim himself before. This is amazing!" His wings flapped in excitement, almost blowing them over and throwing sand. "Oh, I'm sorry about that," he said. "How did you find this? Were the ruins well-preserved? You were gone for over twenty-four hours; Kamil and I were growing worried."

   So they began sharing the details of their adventure, and Sseth wanted to know every last detail.

   Sseth had no idea what the gangly creature was. "There are many dark aberrations and abominations in the darkness below the surface of the world," said Sseth. "I am sure it will not be the first unique monster you will find in your future travels."

   He agreed with their conclusions about the wererat. "The ruins have not been open more than six months. The poor soul probably survived by raiding caravans in the desert. Were-creatures tend to take on the outlook of their animal forms. If once a noble human, after contracting lycanthropy, he probably adapted the thieving tendencies of rats."

   In regards to Shunnari, he also agreed with their theory. "You are fortunate that she did not discover your theft of her diary. An angry ghost can be a very formidable opponent. They aren't really fully present in the Material Plane, so unless you can plane shift into the Ethereal Plane, it is almost impossible to defeat them. You likely did her a great service by freeing her spirit to travel at last to the Fugue Plane."

   They showed him the other items they found, the urn, the jar, the lantern, and the razor. The dragon was happy to add these items to his museum as well. Jayce asked the dragon if they counted as a second relic, as Sseth had agreed to let Jayce fly on his back if they brought him more than one relic. "These will suffice," the dragon said.

   After several hours, Leokas said, "Noble dragon, we had an agreement that you would find a band of hobgoblins for us."

   "Yes, yes, I have not forgotten. Here is what I propose: There is a human monastery 20 miles west by north of here, on the other side of the Trade Way. Good people of Ilmater are there. Travel to this monastery to rest, as some of you are clearly injured. From there, if you desire, some of you can travel north in safety along the Trade Way to Memnon to sell or buy goods. In the meantime, I will scout out the whole desert until I find them. When I do find them, I will send message somehow to the monastery, so if you travel to Memnon, keep at least one person behind. What shall I do with the hobgoblins when I find them?"

   "We only need one brought back alive," said Leokas.

   "Of course it will be alive," said Sseth, taken aback. "I am a good dragon; I will not harm a sentient being!"

   Remembering the reward set by Xaros, Mythlos said, "Could you bring them all back?"

   "I only have so many claws," said the dragon.

   "Four then?"

   "I generally need two of my limbs to land," said Sseth, "but I'll see what I can do."

   "The day will end soon," said Belvin. "We should leave soon if we wish to reach the safety of the Trade Way before dark."

   "How sad," said Sseth. "How I have enjoyed our conversations! But then, I have much reading to do at home now, and much flying to do as well, it seems.

   "Ah, one more thing before I depart," said Sseth. "Kamil told me that he does not like carrying the smelly heads, and that he keeps dreaming of what I am guessing are crocodiles."

   "I may have to find us a crocodile then," said Belvin, ignoring the part about the growing collection of heads.

   "You may wish to stand back," said Sseth. "Taking off can throw a lot of sand."

   So the party bid him farewell, and headed off into the west. Looking back, they saw the enormous dragon flapping its powerful wings in a cloud of dust and sand and taking to the air, his wings rippling from his shoulders to the tip of his tail as he sailed off into the horizon, his new relics dangling from his claws.
Session: 12th Game Session - Wednesday, Jul 03 2013 from 1:00 AM to 4:00 AM
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Epic!
Shunnari's Diary
Today was the first time I was summoned to dance before the Great Caliph.
   Sarak selected my clothing. He chose red silks, for it was to be a dance of fire. My skirt was ankle-length with slits on both sides up to my thighs. My chest was bound. I was veiled and wrapped in several layers of translucent silk. All of the cloth had been magically treated to be resistant to fire. Irtemara tied several alchemical sticks into my hair that she said would glow brightly at the proper time. I chose my own jewelry, reflective anklets and bracelets, and a ruby stone for my nose. The stone had been a gift from Saref Majel.
   Sabira had choreographed the dance. I was to take the center position on the floor, joined by three recently captured efreeti females. Beyond that, I did not know what to expect.
   Calim was enormous. I knew that he was said to be large, but I was not expecting him to tower over the other djinni lords. He was at least 20, maybe 25-feet tall, with broad, muscular shoulders and a massive chest. Unlike the other lords present, (and there were nazirs, satraps, and hakkammi in the audience,) the caliph did not feel the need to designate his status with an ornate turban. His head was bald, except for a sharply cut goatee. He wore an intricately sewn open vest, purple trousers, red slippers, and a massive golden belt. His neck was covered in necklaces, and he had two golden bracers and many rings. Tied to his belt was a large, naked falchion.
   The great djinni sat cross-legged, hovering in the air behind his table with his court vizars beside him. The other djinn and a few marid had places hovering at tables along the outskirts of the room. A dozen janni slaves scurried to and fro, conjuring delectable foods and wine for the honored guests with their magics.
   Once the dinner had been served, Calim rose higher above everyone in the room and signaled for silence. He gave a speech welcoming his subjects to celebrate his last victory with him. He was certain that Memnon's forces would be in retreat. As part of the celebration, he had planned a surprise for them, he said. Armed djinn led the three efreeti females forward from the back of the room. They had an otherworldly beauty about them, standing 12-feet tall with lithe builds. They were bound by brass chains to each other and wore simple hempen tunics for their clothing. Calim explained that these females had been taken prisoner from the capital city of Memnonnar itself. This bode well for the djinni army, as they had till now not been able to cross the River Agis. Now, the prisoners would be forced to dance for the guests. The guards gave instructions to the efreet, who knew that disobedience meant death. Calim snapped his fingers, and the lights in great hall were extinguished. At that, the three efreet burst into flames and danced in an ever-growing circle.
   I stood observing all this from behind a curtain. Hala ignited the fire brands in my own hair, and I glided into the center of the hall. I was filled with exhilaration; never had I danced before so many people, let alone so many noble djinn. I tumbled and rolled between two of the burning efreet and under their chains into the middle of their circle. I danced. I danced as I had never danced. I could feel the eyes of the Great Caliph himself upon me. That feeling was stronger to me than the heat of the efreet clothed in fire that were surrounding me. In my dance, I wove in and out of the moving circle of efreeti fire, as human slaves plucked music on their lyres. I spun and swayed, tumbled and leapt. The djinn were cheering me on.
   As the song chosen by Sabira completed, there was a powerful flash of wind, and everything went black for a moment. When I came to, I was alone in one of the side chambers. Sarak, Irtemara, and Sabira rushed into the room, congratulating me. I was somewhat saddened. I knew that I had been magically whisked away in a gust of elemental wind that also extinguished the efreet's flames and slew them, but this meant that I did not get to see the final response from the crowds.
   "You were perfect!" said Sarak. "Absolutely perfect, my girl!"
   "Were the nobles pleased by the finish?" I asked.
   They assured me that the dance was entirely a success. They thanked each other for each of their roles in the matter. Irtemara teased me, claiming that Calim would certainly call for me this night. She and I proceeded to the pool to cool off, as I was covered in sweat from the heat of the flames.
   He did not call me. I am satisfied with that, as I am truly exhausted.
   Sarak, who always pays closer attention to the matters of the military than any of us jhasinnar, told me that Calim planned to strike out immediately at the next efreeti city along the river. One of the prisoners they had taken from Memnonnar brazenly cursed his captors and claimed that Memnon would bring Teshyll to the ground within the year. He was of course summarily executed for such a statement. I do not see how their armies could travel across the plains and forests sixty miles to Teshyll anyhow within a year, but that is why I am not a qayadin I suppose. That, and the fact that I am a woman. I am not afraid.
   So it seems that Calim will be heading north again, and I shall not be called by him nor have opportunity to dance again for him any time soon.
   Tomorrow, I must remind Catahra that she needs to return my earrings.
~S
Session: 12th Game Session - Wednesday, Jul 03 2013 from 1:00 AM to 4:00 AM
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Chapter 1 — Conversations with One of the Dead
"I am called Jayce. What is your name?"

   "I am Shunnari." The ghost curtseyed.

   "Is that what your friends call you?"

   "Do your friends not call you by your name?"

   "Actually, I go by several names. But what do you do here?"

   Vashti elbowed him. "...I mean, in your free time?"

   "I practice dancing. I relax with my sisters. We enjoy the pool."

   "The pool?"

   "Have you never heard of a pool?"

   "No, of course I have. I did not know there was a pool here."

   "Yes, it is in the rooftop garden. I bathe there daily. There are several pools in this jhasinnadah. Have you not seen any?"

   "Jhasinnadah?" asked Jayce. It sounded like it probably meant "beautiful house" in Alzhedo, but he was not certain. Vashti elbowed him again.

   "How did you come to be here?" Shunnari asked.

   Nervous, Jayce avoided her question and changed the subject. "Your dancing was most exquisitely beautiful, by the way! Do you perform often? Who is your audience?"

   Meanwhile, around the corner, Leokas cautioned Mythlos and Belvin, whispering, "Jayce is actually talking to the ghost."

   "Can we slay it?" Mythlos asked.

   "No, she's already dead!"

   The three of them stepped around the corner, distracting the ghost from Jayce's question. "Who are these?" she asked.

   "These are my other companions."

   The ghost gasped, startling all of them. Her wispy finger pointed at Mythlos. "You are covered with blood! What happened?"

   "A mosquito...," started Mythlos, but Leokas covered his mouth. "He fell on his sword; it was an accident," Leokas lied. Thankfully, she seemed to be satisfied with his answer.

   "You should visit the healer downstairs," she said.

   Jayce tried to get her focus away from the elves. "You said you perform. For whom do you dance?"

   "For nobles, guests, whomever I am commanded to dance. On occasion, I have danced for Calim himself."

   "Calim?" answered Jayce, genuinely surprised. "It must be an honor to dance before one so noble as the caliph himself. Where do you perform?"

   "In the great hall."

   "Where is that?"

   "Below us in the main portion of the jhasinnadah. You must have passed it to come here...."

   Mythlos interrupted, before Leokas could do anything about it. "We are looking for things that are shiny. Can you help us?"

   Shunnari looked confused and uncomfortable, "This is a palace," she said. "Everything around you is decorated, polished, and clean. Why are you all here again?"

   "Do you ever think about what lies beyond the grave?" asked Jayce, hoping to change the topic again, and trying to confirm his growing suspicion that Shunnari had no idea that she was dead.

   She frowned. "That sounds like something for the philosophers to discuss. I, however, have not been taught the philosophies; it is not for women to learn."

   Vashti, concerned that this conversation was dangerously close to failing, spoke up in Alzhedo. Jayce understood her to say the following, "How long have you been a jhasina?" (He was fairly certain that jhasina literally meant "beautiful one".)

   "Four years"

   "Were you born here?"

   "Yes, my mother was a jhasina before me."

   "Are you human or jann?"

   "Human."

   "Where is Calim now?"

   "I know not; Calim comes and goes as he pleases."

   "When did you last see him?"

   "I cannot remember."

   "She's a curious one, isn't she?" said Jayce to the elves behind him.

   "Where do you make preparations?" continued Vashti.

   "In my room."

   "Can you take us there?" asked Jayce.

   "No, of course not! You are not a eunuch."

   "But I am a eunuch!"

   Shunnari looked highly suspicious. "Your voice is rather deep for a eunuch. I do not think I believe you. How did you get here? How did you get past the guards? Who are you? I am confused."

   "I am confused too! We were just trying to find our way to speak to Calim in the great hall. We must have gotten lost. But I assure you we are allowed here. I was only jesting about being a eunuch, but see, we were being escorted by this eunuch here." He motioned to Leokas, who had no idea what was being said, as the conversation was still in Alzhedo. "I don't know how he got us lost, since he was supposed to know the way...." He spoke to Leokas in Common. "Isn't it true that you are a eunuch and our guide?"

   "Yes, I am a eunuch and their guide," said Leokas in the highest voice he could manage.

   "Are you an elf?" she asked with wonder, just noticing his pointed ears.

   "No, no, I just have slightly more pointed ears than most folk." He covered them with his long hair.

   Mythlos covered his own ears also, and Belvin simply backed away around the corner.

   "You do lack many masculine features," Shunnari said, "and that is true for eunuchs, but it is also true for elves, so I have been told. I have never, of course, seen any, as they are not permitted to enter the caliphate....

   "In any case," she said, "Men are not allowed in this branch of the jhasinnadah. You should have your eunuch lead you back to the main palace. What time is it?"

   They looked at each other. No one really knew.

   "Perhaps the eleventh hour," suggested Mythlos.

   "I must take my leave then. It is time for my perfuming."

   "How long will that take?"

   "Two hours."

   "Where is that? Is it in the main palace? Perhaps you could lead us as far as that, so that our eunuch can get his bearings again."

   "Follow," she said, "but then you must leave."

   Relieved, the party followed her gliding, ethereal form out of the main, circular chamber down one of the wide halls toward one of the stair columns. She began descending and they followed, but only made it five steps before she floated through the pile of sand and rubble that prevented further passage to the living.

   "So much for that," said Jayce. "All in all, that could have gone a lot worse. I think I rather enjoy talking with one of the dead."

   "We have two hours, perhaps," said Vashti. "We may as well make the most of it and explore this floor."

   "I understand that I had to play that part for the sake of the group," said Leokas, "but I just want to state that I think I am a rather masculine elf."

~~~~


They spent the next hour exploring the current floor. Due to rubble or sand, it did not seem possible to descend any deeper. Four pillars supported the ceiling here, directly under the ones on the floor above. Eleven side rooms surrounded the central chamber, three between each hall, except that the twelfth had been replaced by a passage behind the portcullis. The passage, however, was blocked by fallen rock. A large section of the ceiling had fallen over nearly one quadrant of the circular chamber, which clearly was from the room they had explored above with the collapsed floor.

   In addition to the candelabra that Mythlos had almost tripped over, they found a couple other ancient items: a metal razor, likely used for shaving, and a clay pot. They also found a sack of a couple hundred coins, which could not possibly have been from before the First Age of Calimshan. They surmised that it was a stash belonging to the wererat. They also found some uneaten and fresh rations and assumed them to have belonged to the wererat as well. Magical spells did not reveal any of these items to be magical, but their ideas about the pool of water were confirmed by a faint aura.

   "Now what? We have probably an hour before the ghost returns."

   They remembered that they had not taken one of the useable staircases as high as they could. So they descended past the second ruined floor up into the remains of another tower, which was arranged just like the others.

   One of the three rooms was strangely covered in mold. Belvin, who was an herbalist before setting out on his spirit quest, examined it. "This is not a dangerous mold," he said. "Sometimes, however, the spores are poisonous. We should be careful."

   Another room had a large urn against the wall. It had a metal plug and was sealed somewhat tightly. No one had a crowbar with them, but Mythlos managed to pry it open with his moonblade.

   Inside, there was a leather book.

   He drew it out. It had no markings on the cover. "This could not possibly be thousands of years old," he said. He opened it, hoping to see magical inscriptions. There were none, but the pages were covered in human writing. He handed it to Jayce, who was all too eager to examine it.

   The writing was in Alzhedo, though an older dialect perhaps. He informed the others of this.

   "What does it say?"

   "It appears to be... a diary. The date is meaningless to me. Of course! It was thousands of years before the Dale Reckoning. Here is the actual text: 'Today, Farija, helped me to balance with...,' I do not know this word, '...on my head while standing on one foot.' Odd." He turned a few pages. "'I braided Munan's hair this afternoon. She thanked me, and now she owes me a favor. She was led before mumijn Saril tonight, quite nervous. The mumijn tends to fall asleep quickly, which makes things awkward. I told her not to concern herself with that and suggested she hide a book in her blouse to read if he was too drunk to stay awake. I assured her that he would fall asleep from drunkenness and not boredom. I wish I had the same confidence myself. ~S.'" He stopped. "'S'? Is this Shunnari's diary?" He turned more pages. "Oh.... That's more detail than I expected."

   Vashti pulled the book away from him.

   "How could it have been preserved?" asked Belvin.

   Mythlos chanted one of his memorized cantrips and motioned with his hands. "The urn is magical," he said. "Not strongly so, but there is definitely an aura about it."

   "I think she is bound to this book," said Jayce. "It makes sense now. She stored her diary here, and its continued preservation must have trapped her soul in this realm!"

   "The poor girl does not even know she is dead," said Vashti. "Trapped in life, trapped in death, a slave in both realms."

   "I think we have found our relic for the dragon," said Leokas.

   "What is the last page?" asked Mythlos. "Maybe we can learn how she died."

   Jayce took the book back from Vashti. "'Tonight, I was led before one of the enhirri,'" he read. "'He was new to me....'"

   "Stop," said Vashti.

   "How does the last entry end?"

   "Um," continued Jayce, afraid Vashti might hit him, "it just says, 'I look forward to tomorrow. ~S'"

   "We should leave here," said Vashti. "We have our relic, and the ghost may return, and I do not want to find her angry that we have stolen her possession. She is almost finished her delusional 'treatments'."

~~~~


Back two floors below, another disagreement began about what to do next. Vashti wanted to return to the dragon and leave the ruins as soon as possible, before the ghost returned. Mythlos and Jayce were displeased with the lack of treasure they had found and wanted to try and reach Calim's chambers, which the ghost had indicated were further below.

   "Do you really think anything remains of this palace?" said Vashti. "The ghost is delusional. She sees the whole thing in the Ethereal Plane as a mirror of what it once was."

   "We do not have shovels," said Belvin. "It seems to me that we can't go any deeper without digging."

   That's what Mythlos and Jayce wanted to do. They stood side-by-side in the stair column and tried to dig their way a little further down. Suddenly, Jayce felt a very awkward sensation. Shunnari passed right through his body heading up the stairs past them.

   The ghost noticed all of them. "Why are you standing on the stairs?"

   "Oh, you are back," said Jayce.

   "Have we met?" Shunnari asked.

   "This is our eunuch," he said, pointing back at Leokas, "and I am the bard who has been sent to play for the Caliph. You were leading us to the great hall."

   "I was?"

   Jayce nodded hopefully, thankful that Shunnari did not seem to have the easiest time processing information in her dead state.

   "Follow me, then." She floated toward the spiral stairs, (with Jayce stepping out of the way this time,) descended, and passed through the sand and rubble again.

   "We are leaving," said Vashti. "I do not want to trust her poor memory will save us when she figures out that we are not following her."

   "Vashti!" said Jayce. "Where is your sense of adventure? I thought you loved exploring for treasure. This is a dungeon! Adventurers live for this."

   "This is not a dungeon; it's a harem."

   "You know what I mean."

   "Ordinarily, I would be delighted in exploring, but we are finished here."

   "Why?"

   "I am not comfortable here any longer."

   "Is it the rats?"

   "No, it is not the rats."

   "The ghost? You can be honest with us, Vashti. What is bothering you?"

   "I am bothered by many things, including your nagging questions." She held her hand out. "Give me the diary. I am going back to Sseth. Come when you like."

   "I am going with her," said Belvin. "I miss my camel.

   "Go slowly, Vashti," he said to her. "My light spell is spent and unlike you, I cannot see in the dark."

   "Give us six hours," the others called out to them. "We won't be any longer than that."

~~~~


"What was her problem?" Leokas said when they had gone.

   Things started to make sense to Mythlos. "I think she used to be a harem slave," he said.

   The others looked surprised.

   "Think about it. She hates slavery. She hates men. She is extremely agile. She started getting ever more uncomfortable since we met the ghost and especially when you were reading her diary. I think she escaped and fled to Copper Hill to the mages' enclave where she became a sorceress."

   "And what is she? A janni?" asked Leokas.

   "Maybe she is half-djinni," said Jayce. "In any case, she's angry at me and gone, so let's see what else we can find."

~~~~


They found nothing else and no way of descending any further. Giving up after only another hour, they retrieved the large magic urn from Shunnari's room, thankfully not running into the ghost again, and headed to the surface.
Session: 12th Game Session - Wednesday, Jul 03 2013 from 1:00 AM to 4:00 AM
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Epic!
Chapter 1 — The Harem Palace of Calim, Third Floor
~ second-day, 22nd of Hammer, The Year of Wild Magic, dawn
Harem Palace of Calim, fallen minaret


Mythlos snapped out of his trance to see Belvin meditating and praying for his daily allotment from Thard Harr. He felt rested, but his neck was still in pain. He picked up his sword to heal himself with its magic. (He had left it unsheathed beside him to provide light to whoever was on watch.) Leokas, while rested, was still weakened. Jayce and Belvin each laid hands on him, and he felt positive energy strengthen him.

   They prepared themselves and proceeded again into the darkness of the ruins, up into and through the spiral staircase, along the wall of fallen tower, and down into the floor below, Mythlos leading the way with his pale blue light.

   They checked on the bodies they had moved. Sure enough, only skeletons remained. Jayce was fascinated by the number of bones in what were the "choker"'s arms.

   They went to one of the two spiral staircase columns that they had found clear enough to use the previous day and carefully ascended. They were able to go up a floor before sand blocked further passage up. They stood in what was obviously the base of another minaret, like the one they had passed through before, this one right-side-up. They stood in a pie-shaped room. There were two doorways, one on each wall. Each led to another room with sand flooding in through the arched windows. They searched the sand for a good portion of time, but could find nothing.

   So they descended, continuing down two levels to a new floor they had not explored yet. The stairs were blocked by rubble and sand from further passage down. They stepped out into a more spacious area. There were walls ten feet away on either side of them, a large but short hallway leading forward into a massive circular room. Behind them, on the left and right of the stair column were two doorways, each with sand pouring out of them. In the center of the circular chamber were the walls of what appeared to be a square room, about twenty-feet wide. Through a doorway straight ahead into the square room, the elves could see dimly the shape of a stone basin of some sort and what they guessed to be the continuation of the metal pipe from upstairs.

   As they slowly walked forward, they could see that at least two other twenty-foot wide hallways came off this chamber like spokes on a wheel. They assumed, based on the circular symmetry of the place thus far, that these led to stair columns. Also to the sides, they saw that the walls of this rounded chamber had a series of doorways into side rooms. To their right, between two other open doorways, one of the doorways had a rusted metal portcullis blocking the way.

   But what caught their attention most was the wall in front of them, the outside wall of the square room. It was a massive relief sculpture, portraying dancing girls and what they supposed were genies.

   "This is beautiful work!" said Jayce quietly, admiring it closely in the dim blue light.

   "Can we chisel a portion out for the dragon?" said Belvin.

   "We do not have the tools," said Mythlos. He was looking into the room at what was clearly a pool of water and took a step in. Something darted out the opposite doorway and to the left. "Another giant rat," he cautioned the others, "but it fled. It is safe to follow."

   The twenty-foot square room had a ten-foot-diameter basin. It was filled with crystal clear water that could flow into or out of an opening in the pipe.

   "How is there water down here?"

   Belvin cupped some of the water to his mouth and tasted it. "It is fresh."

   "It must have a magical source," said Mythlos.

   "We could cast a cantrip to find out," suggested Jayce.

   "Or does the water come up through the pipe from deeper below?" Leokas asked aloud. "Is there another floor we can reach below us?"

   They were interrupted by a dreadful sound, a blood-curdling moan that came echoing from through the doorway to their left. Something in the sound was tangible almost, chilling, and every one of them felt irrefutably that they were about to die. They were all filled with unbearable terror and fled.

   Mythlos rushed through the doorway straight ahead, through which the rat had darted, almost tripping on a fallen ancient candelabra on the floor. Belvin rushed out the doorway to the right. The others fled out the doorway through which they had come. Vashti continued straight back to the known exit. Leokas and Jayce fled together toward the wall with the portcullis and entered the open doorway on the right.

   "Ghost!" said Leokas and Jayce simultaneously, trying to regain their composures.

   "Do you know how to fight a ghost?" asked Leokas.

   "I do not think you can without magic. They are incorporeal." Jayce shivered visibly in fear. "It can probably drain the life out of us."

   "In any case, we need to regroup."

   "Stay close;" said Jayce. "I cannot see anything in this darkness."

   Everyone had gathered his or her wits and was cautiously approaching the central chamber again. They heard Mythlos' voice. "Something is in the water room!"

   Leokas and Jayce reached Vashti. "I saw it too," she whispered to them. "Humanoid, but covered in hair."

   Jayce set down his crossbow and unslung his yarting. "We are not your enemy," he called out in the darkness. Then he began strumming. This instilled a little courage in his companions. Perhaps a ghost was not such a bad thing.

   They saw a light appear to their right. Belvin was approaching, his bow glowing magically.

   Then Vashti, Leokas, and Jayce saw another glowing light to their left, out of view to the other two, approaching them from the other large hallway. They could soon make out a simultaneously beautiful and terrifying sight. Whatever hairy creature was in the square room was not the ghost. The ghost was a woman, floating gracefully toward them, with hair and silks blowing by an unseen wind. She was transparent and radiant. As she drew closer, the three felt cold. Vashti spit in her hands, in case she needed to call on any ice magic.

   The dead woman spoke. "Why are you here?" Her voice was pleasant but frightening, though not unbearable.

   "To learn the past," said Jayce.

   "Were you playing music?" she asked.

   "I was."

   "It was beautiful music. Will you play for me again? I would like to dance to it."

   "What sort of song would you like me to play?"

   "Play what you just played." So he did, and she began to twirl and move her hips in a sensual manner with her hands raised above her head and her layered silks blowing about.

   Mythlos, meanwhile, reached the others. "It's a rat monster," he whispered to Leokas.

   Leokas pushed him back around the corner, out of the ghost's line of sight, hoping to keep the ghost calm and afraid of what Mythlos might do to change that. "Handle the ghost," he whispered to Vashti, who looked uncomfortable in several ways at once.

   A "rat monster" it was, essentially a humanoid with a rat's features, covered in shaggy hair. It dashed out the doorway from the square room at the two of them, carrying a jambiya in its paw and hissing. Mythlos swung in reflex, but the rat beast deftly avoided the blow and then slashed at Mythlos, leaving a gash in his studded armor and drawing a little blood. Leokas drew back a short distance and released two arrows, which missed, as Mythlos and the rat clashed blades repeatedly in constant motion. Belvin came up behind the rat unnoticed, having dropped his glowing bow and drawn out his scimitar. He slashed deeply into the rat's hairy naked back, which turned red with blood. However, before his eyes, the wound almost entirely sealed itself up!

   Pinned between Mythlos and Belvin and against the relief-covered wall, the rat beast was essentially trapped. Leokas landed an arrow. The rat squeaked in pain, but snapped the shaft off, and the wound closed up over the arrow head. Mythlos took this moment to land a blow. This gash did not heal. Mythlos realized that this creature must be a lycanthrope, as his blade was coated in alchemical silver, which was known to be deadly to were-creatures. The wererat staggered against the wall, swinging back at Mythlos, but with no success.

   Leokas dropped his bow and drew out his rapier. His blade plunged into the rat, just as the beast swatted away a blow from Belvin with its sharp-clawed paws. The rapier wound also healed, but not entirely. A blow from Mythlos was parried, then one from Bevlin, as the rat monster fought for its life against its three foes with incredible skill. It swung at Mythlos and even snapped at him with its massive incisors. Half a minute passed where none of the combatants could land a blow on the other, except for a few stabs from Leokas that did not even draw blood, so quickly they healed.

   Meanwhile, Vashti continued to stand there uncomfortably as the ghost danced, and Jayce strummed as loud as he could, hoping to Erevan that the ghost would remain unaware of the battle ensuing around the corner and terrified about what might occur to them if the ghost were angered.

   At last, Mythlos struck low and cut at the tendons between the wererat's short shins and elongated feet. It collapsed. Belvin was over its body in an instant and beheaded it, somewhat concerned that it would regrow another head. It did not. Instead, its hairy, headless body began to morph and contort. The hairs receded into its skin, the claws receded into its paws, and the shape of the body began to change, until there on the ground was the headless body of a naked male human, blood pouring out of his neck. Oddly enough, the ugly giant rat head did not change.

   No longer hearing the sound of clashing steel, Jayce ceased strumming. The ghost ceased her slow gyrating and faced him. It felt like she was staring right through him, which was unnerving.

   "What is your name?" she asked.
Session: 12th Game Session - Wednesday, Jul 03 2013 from 1:00 AM to 4:00 AM
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Epic!
Chapter 1 — The "Choker"
~ first-day, 21st of Hammer, The Year of Wild Magic, morning
Harem Palace of Calim, second floor down


They made the bugbear walk ahead of them into each hallway and room as they explored the ruins by the light of Mythlos' sword. Belvin or Leokas kept an arrow nocked and ready in case the goblinoid tried anything.

   They first entered the octagonal room with the metal pipe. It extended from floor to ceiling, and they thought they could hear water being stirred somewhere below. There were four doorways out of this room, one led to where Belvin and Vashti had encountered the rats and another to where they had fought Rhok. This left two directions unexplored. They chose one of the doorways and had Rhok step through.

   He informed them that the floor in this next room had mostly collapsed here, although there was a ledge, such that one could walk around most of the perimeter. They had Rhok climb down into the fallen rubble, while they filed in and gathered around. The layout was the same as the other two hexagonal rooms they had been in, with a column in the center that was still standing.

   They spent nearly an hour carefully exploring in every nook and under every fallen stone in this room and in the sand-filled curved hallway through the other two doorways. They found no items of value or really anything at all. In the outer hallway, there were two more spiral staircase columns, one of which was actually clear of sand. The other they could not reach without a large amount of digging. This staircase led both up and down. Beyond that, they could not travel any further along the hallway from here.

   Once again, they could not agree where to go next. One wanted to go up, another down, and another back to the octagonal room to pass through the final door.

   "Or we could split up," said Mythlos.

   "Haven't we learned yet that it is not wise to split up?"

   "Is anyone else hungry?" asked Jayce. They could agree on that.

   While they satisfied their hunger, Jayce took Leokas aside. "Look, at first I thought you were out of line in wanting to execute our prisoner, but since then, I've been watching him carefully; he's constantly glancing at our weapons. I'm ceasing to trust him; I feel he's going to try and kill us all in our sleep."

   "It's as I said," answered Leokas. "Inherently evil."

~~~~


After lunch, they finally agreed to explore the remaining quarter of this seemingly circular floor. They returned to the octagonal room and sent Rhok through the remaining doorway. This room was just like the other three hexagonal rooms, though part of the ceiling had collapsed in, filling most of the room with sand. They had him continue through the opposite doorway that was still reachable. He looked up as he stepped through, then immediately jumped backwards, knocking into Leokas. "The monster!" said Rhok, visibly terrified, "On the ceiling."

   "Go through and fight it," said Mythlos. "That's why we did not kill you."

   "I cannot reach it," said Rhok. "And I have no weapon."

   "Should we give him his weapon back?"

   "Step aside," said Mythlos. "The creature will have heard us and fled." He pushed by Rhok and stepped through the doorway, sword drawn and glowing. Leokas followed behind him. "Belvin, guard our prisoner," he said.

   Mythlos was correct, the monster was nowhere to be seen. They stood in another portion of the outer, rounded, sand-filled hallway. The only space for them to proceed was counterclockwise, to their left. Proceeding with caution and glancing ever upward at the ceiling, Mythlos squeezed over a slope of sand about 15 feet to the foot of another spiral staircase column. This stair column was also clear, he noted. Straight ahead the hallway continued. It also spoked inward to his left, looking exactly like the passage they had first come through when descending to this floor. At the end of the passage was a staircase going up to where stone had fallen over it, blocking the way. There at the top of the steps, perched with its legs split and pressed against the sides of the wall was the monster. It was an ugly, wrinkled and bony, naked and hairless humanoid about the size of a halfling, with mottled gray skin. As Rhok had said, it had two extraordinarily long arms, as if it had extra bones and joints.

   "I have it cornered!" shouted Mythlos to the others.

   The short aberration mumbled or gurgled something that sounded like it might have been a language. Leokas appeared to the left of Mythlos and raised his bow, and then the creature darted. Its movements were supernaturally fast and strangely fluid. It "ran" along the two walls of the passage, tentacle-like arms dangling, in a gray blur, directly over Mythlos. The monster's arms flailed at him, snapping rapidly like whips. Mythlos dodged the right and parried the left, but then the right arm struck him soundly, and he felt long, spiny-padded fingers around his neck, painfully choking the life out of him as the spiny grip dug into his skin. The creature dropped to the ground nearly atop Mythlos, who struggled with his shield hand to free himself from the monster's tightening grasp. It fell to the opposite side of Mythlos, preventing Leokas from a clear shot. One of his arrows strayed, as Mythlos and the creature grappled, but the second hit. Its hold did not weaken. Instead, the left tentacled arm whipped around Mythlos and struck Leokas soundly in the stomach, knocking the wind out of him and causing him to stagger. Mythlos kicked the thing in the groin, causing it to snarl in pain, but its grip still did not lessen. Mythlos felt light-headed and closed his eyes, about to pass out.

   Having heard the initial shout, Belvin and Jayce had entered the hall. Dropping his crossbow, Jayce rushed toward the battle, waving his arms with urgency, a pinch of wool between his fingers, and calling forth an enchantment. The monster's eyes went wide and it released its grip, swaying oddly as if drunk. Mythlos' free hand went to his own throat as he gasped for air, stepping away.

   Then, out of the darkness from the other end of the hallway, Vashti approached, arm outstretched toward the little monster and chanting. Leokas could hear static in the sleeve of her tunic. She touched the dazed creature, and it convulsed violently as she electrocuted it with her touch. It fell to the floor. Mythlos, having regained his breath, lost no time in beheading the hideous monster.

~~~~


When they had all regained their composures, Mythlos and Leokas thanked Jayce and Vashti for saving their lives.

   "You are most welcome," said Jayce.

   "What was that?" asked Mythlos.

   "Vashti? Do you know?" asked Jayce.

   "I've never seen anything like it," she said.

   "What spell was that? I've never seen you use it before."

   "I like to keep a few secrets up my sleeves," she answered, almost smiling.

   "Was that what they called 'shocking grasp' at the enclave?" asked Mythlos, his hand still holding his damaged neck. "I think Aravilar scribed that evocation in my spellbook."

   Vashti nodded. "Yes, it is one of the traditional elementalist spells."

   Leokas noticed something. "What happened to the bugbear?"

   "The battle started, and I didn't want to get stabbed in the back," said Belvin matter-of-factually. They found Rhok dead back in the other room, an arrow between his eyes. Jayce smirked, understanding what had happened.

~~~~


"We have to go back and rest," said Leokas. They were debating what to do next, having drained themselves of most of their magical power or stamina.

   "It's probably not even mid-afternoon yet!"

   "Even so, I feel like the monster bruised my ribs, and Mythlos' neck is swelling. None of you have any healing magic remaining. I have strong doubts that any of us are in any position to take on any other dangers we might face in these ruins."

   "Thard Harr only grants his power to me at dawn," said Belvin.

   "Then let us set up camp here."

   "No," said Vashti. "Now that there are two new dead bodies, the rats might return."

   "Shall we return to Sseth and report our progress so far?"

   "How will we leave the ruins?" said Vashti. "I do not have the power left in me to levitate myself. We are stuck in the ruins for several more hours at least."

   After further discussion, Leokas convinced them to return up a level to where the tower had fallen over the fountain. Before that, they dragged the bodies of the bugbear and the gangly monster away from their planned path when they would return. The dire rats on the level above continued to ignore them, and they returned the favor. They realized that they needed to build a way of accessing the horizontal spiral staircase column above them later to return back the way they had come, so they spent a few hours gathering fallen rubble and building a sort of pyramid so that they could reach 15 feet up to staircase column. This completed, they proceeded back further to the ruined minaret camp, where they rejoiced at the natural sunlight they found there.

   They lit a fire in the hobgoblins' fire pit and relaxed in their own ways. Mythlos practiced telling a ghost story that involved giant rats, and Jayce gave him constructive criticism on his technique. Jayce spun a humorous yarn about their battle with the "choker" as he called it. Leokas shared a tale he had read as a child about a similar gangly creature that liked to tell riddles before eating its victims. Neither Belvin nor Vashti seemed in the mood for storytelling, the latter spending time trying to mend the many holes in her clothing from the ordeal with the rats. Leokas approached Belvin and tried to make up with him regarding how he had shot at the dire rats earlier. It was not clear to him whether the apology was accepted or not.

   When darkness came, Mythlos and Jayce had the first watch, while the others slept or rested. "My life flashed before my eyes," said Mythlos. "I thought I was through."

   "You should be thankful that you are a good grappler," said Jayce.

   "No, I should be thankful for yours and Vashti's magic. I should learn to use my newly learned spells in combat more, perhaps."

   When his watch was ended, Jayce retired to a spot in the sand, but he had trouble sleeping. His mind was pondering the meaning and purpose of such a creature as the "choker". It was a humanoid, just like him, yet its whole life was spent in the dark, lurking, waiting to steal life from another. It seemed to have had a language; it must have had a mind and a will. Did it have cares and desires? Or was it evil through and through? He would never know.
Session: 12th Game Session - Wednesday, Jul 03 2013 from 1:00 AM to 4:00 AM
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Epic!
Chapter 1 — The Harem Palace of Calim, Second Floor
The stairs led down into a narrow hallway, five-feet wide, that extended for ten more feet before opening into a larger space. Directly in front of them was the column of a spiral staircase, upright this time, but sand came out of the openings, blocking passage up or down. In fact, the whole area was filled with sand, which appeared to come in through the many arched windows on the far wall, which was curved in a giant arc. There appeared to have been a large balcony behind the stair column, and a massive amount of sand had poured through that as well. So much sand filled this area that they could barely maneuver, but it formed two sloped tunnels, one to the left and one to the right. Vashti headed right carefully, sliding over the sand with her hand against the stone wall for balance, and Belvin followed behind her. Mythlos, Leokas, and Jayce proceeded in the other direction.

   "There's a doorway here on the wall in three paces, and the passageway continues to curve ahead around the corner," she called out, voice echoing.

   "It is just the same this way," answered Mythlos.

   Vashti cautiously stood in the doorway and looked into a large room, in the shape of an elongated hexagon, about thirty feet from wall to wall. A large stone pillar supporting the ceiling stood in the center of the room.

   "It appears empty," she said.

   "How can you see anything at all?" asked Belvin. He placed his hand into his pouch and held a holly berry between his fingers, chanting a simple orison softly. He removed his now-glowing fingertip from the pouch and touched the end of his shortbow, which caused it to shine brightly like a torch. The room flooded with light. There was a doorway in the shorter diagonal wall straight across from them and another in the longer wall across from them to the left. Apart from the pillar, the room was empty, just as Vashti had said.

   "Did you not believe me?"

   "What race are you, Vashti?" Belvin asked her, as they stepped into the room.

   "I am... mostly human," she answered sheepishly.

   "How mostly? One half? One quarter?"

   "Does this matter?"

   "Humans tend to be rather boring. What is your other part?"

   "Do you smell that?" she asked.

   Belvin caught a whiff of an awful smell from the doorway ahead of them. "Something died," he said.

~~~~


Meanwhile, Mythlos looked into the other room, which seemed at first to be empty as well. However, when he stepped into it, the shadow of a large creature darted out of one of the other doors to the room. "We aren't alone."

   "What was it?"

   "I didn't get a good look at it."

   Mythlos, Leokas, and Jayce glanced around the room by the light of the moonblade. It was a mirror image of the room that the other two had entered, except that an L-shaped pit was in a corner to their right, where the floor had collapsed to the level below. In another corner was a large sack.

   Suddenly, they heard Vashti shout out from the other room, "Rats!" followed by her screaming.

   Leokas rushed ahead over to the doorway on the small diagonal wall. His vision revealed an octagonal room between the two other rooms. It was about 25 feet in diameter with doorways on every other wall. A narrow metal column or pipe was in the center. Below this lay a humanoid skeleton. In a 20-foot trail from the skeleton were rats — hundreds of rats, literally crawling over each other. By the light of Belvin's spell, he could see this swarm of rats covering Vashti's body in the other room, crawling all over her and biting. She frantically was swinging her curved dagger at them to no avail. Bevlin's voice was speaking in Sylvan again with intermittent squeaks. Leokas loosed an arrow. It may have killed a rat or two but helped nothing.



   Leokas then heard Jayce shout, "Behind you!" as a hulk of a humanoid came through the doorway behind Mythlos and slashed him in the back with a scimitar, drawing blood. The bugbear roared in a gruff voice. Leokas understood him to say, "No, I will not be a slave again!"

   "We are here to send you to your grave, not the slave market!" replied Leokas in Ghukliak, while releasing another arrow at the goblinoid, as Mythlos spun around and swung in defense. The bugbear parried his blow, and the arrow strayed.

   In the other room, Vashti lost the contents of her stomach from the rats crawling over her and into her clothes. But the rats were mostly crawling off her now and had stopped biting. They seemed to be calming down due to Belvin's efforts, but the damage was done; Vashti was bleeding from hundreds of tiny bite wounds and was feeling numb from the loss of blood.

   Belvin cast a healing spell and stepped into the swarm of rats to reach her shoulder with his hand. Positive energy flowed from his hand through her body, and the majority of her wounds closed up, but now the rats were starting to climb up and bite him instead.

   Vashti no longer had rats crawling all over her, but she was still surrounded by them and trapped. She concentrated, and a gust of air lifted her off her feet five feet to where the rats could no longer reach her. Belvin reached out and grabbed her ankle, hovering at chest-level to him. He swung her through the air, over the swarm and through the nearby doorway. She glided with the momentum of his swing over to the metal column in the center of the octagonal room where the skeleton lay. Belvin stepped out of the mass of moving rat bodies, brushing many off of him gently and continuing to vocally calm them. The swarm began to move away across the room.

   The fight with the bugbear continued, as the bugbear and Mythlos continued to exchange swings, and Mythlos left a deep gash in his stomach. Jayce dropped his crossbow and joined the melee with his dagger, trying to feint attacks to help Mythlos land blows. The two of them prevented Leokas from getting a clear shot, so he rushed past them to the bugbear's left side and sent an arrow into the goblinoids side. In a rage, he lunged at Leokas and struck him on the neck. Leokas dropped to his knees as he began to choke on his own blood. Before he passed out, he felt the freezing spray of ice from a magic icicle striking the bugbear. Vashti and Belvin had both entered the room, and each of their shots struck home. Now the bugbear was on his knees, with several wounds and two arrows stuck in his body. He dropped his scimitar and raised his arms in the air. Jayce was at Leokas' side humming gently, and positive energy flowed from hand to neck, sealing the wound. Leokas opened his eyes again to hear the bugbear calling out in Ghukliak the same word over and over again, but it was not one he knew.

   "Do you speak Common?" said Jayce.

   "Yes," said the bugbear. "I lost! I lost! I lost!"

   "We know you lost."

   "I think he means that he surrenders."

   Belvin readied an arrow and pointed it at the bugbear, but he swooned and fell over from loss of blood.

   "We need to bring him back to question him."

   So Belvin cast a simple healing orison and touched the bugbear. It stirred and sat up. (Meanwhile, Mythlos healed his and Belvin's wounds with his sword.)

   "Tell us why you are here if you wish to live," said Mythlos, picking up the bugbear's dropped scimitar.

   "I want to leave this place! There is a slimy monster in this place! It killed Ghur. The rats ate him. I cannot climb out without Ghur's help."

   "Who was Ghur?"

   "What monster?"

   "Don't ask so many questions at once," said Jayce. "Here, have some of my water," he said, offering his waterskin to the bugbear. "What is your name?"

   "I am Rhok."

   "Now, Rhok, why are you in these ruins?"

   "Ghur and I wanted to look around this place. We wanted to find treasure. He is gone. They have left me behind."

   "Did you find any treasure?" asked Mythlos.

   "No. I only have coins. I carried them with me for the others. They are over there." He pointed at the sack in the corner of the room. Mythlos headed over to examine it as the others continued asking questions.

   "Who are 'they'? With whom were you traveling?"

   "Hobgoblins. They were slaves like me. Barlock and Gnish freed us. Barlock and Gnish did not want to take me. Ghur said I would be useful for carrying things. I carried things for the group. I thought they needed me. They left me here. Ghur was my only friend. Now I hate hobgoblins."

   "We hate hobgoblins also," said Leokas.

   "Tell us exactly how Ghur died," said Belvin.

   "Ghur was over there in the other room," said Rhok, pointing toward the octagonal room with the skeleton. "I walked into the room to see him. What was he doing? I saw a black, little monster. It was strangling Ghur. It was stuck to the corner of the ceiling. It had very long arms. It saw me. It let go. It dropped to the floor. It ran. It was very fast."

   "What did this monster look like?" asked Belvin. "How tall was it?"

   "It was this tall," said Rhok, indicating a height of about two and a half feet.

   "Did it have arms and legs?"

   "Yes. It had very long arms."

   "What was it wearing?"

   "It was naked."

   "Where did it go?"

   "I do not know. It hid. It is sneaky. I hid over there by the pit in the dark. Ghur was dead. Then rats ate him today."

   "Tell us more about Barlock and Gnish," said Jayce.

   "Barlock and Gnish told us: Those who survive the desert were chosen by Allu. Allu is their god. Some hobgoblins were weak. They were not chosen. We ate them. Gnish was also eaten. A brown dragon with no wings bit his head off. I guess Gnish was not special after all."

   "I believe we killed that dragon," said Belvin.

   "Or one of its children," said Vashti.

   After discussing amongst themselves, the adventurers decided to allow Rhok to help them find and fight the gangly monster with long arms in exchange for his freedom when they arrived back at the surface. Belvin was concerned that the bugbear might try to eat Kamil, but he thought he would be good to have around, if only for bait. Leokas, however, was strongly opposed to every part of the plan.

   "We don't trust him either," said the others, "but what can he do? He is still badly injured, he has no weapons, and there are five of us."

   "It's not just that I do not trust it," said Leokas. "Goblinoids are inherently evil. They cannot be good or do good; they are like demons and devils. It benefits the whole world if they are destroyed. I cannot permit it to live."

   "But it is also evil to go back on a promise," said Mythlos. "If he helps us, we must keep our end of the bargain and set him free."

   Against Leokas' complaints, Jayce informed Rhok that he would help them if he wanted to be free. The bugbear nodded in agreement.

   "Rhok thanks you," the bugbear said. Leokas was certain he could see deceit in his eyes.
Session: 11th Game Session - Thursday, Jun 20 2013 from 1:30 AM to 4:00 AM
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Chapter 1 — The Harem Palace of Calim, First Floor
~ first-day, 21st of Hammer, The Year of Wild Magic, morning
ruins of Teshyll


The adventurers stood at the edge of the rupture in the stone of the cap of the fallen minaret. "It looks to be about 20 feet down," said Vashti.

   "We have no shortage of rope," said Leokas, "but I do not see anything to which we can tie it."

   "What about your carpet, Vashti?" queried Jayce.

   "It would work, but once we were all down there, I do not want to have to haul it around the ruins; it is heavy."

   "We could just leave it at the entrance."

   "It is magical and costly and of personal value to me. I will not risk that."

   "But we did raise you from the dead...."

   "I am jumping down," said Mythlos, and lowering himself off the edge, he dropped himself down and tumbled unto the sand below. While he did not cry out, it was not a graceful landing, and he quickly touched the flat of his blade to his shoulder to quench
the pain.

   "If I lower myself down, can you catch me?" asked Vashti.

   Mythlos nodded.

   "You will keep your hands to yourself, or I will kill you."

   He nodded again, so she fell backward and he caught her and then set her down gently.

   "What do you see down there?" called Belvin.

   They stood on the sand-covered, curved wall of the minaret. Laying around them were clear signs that they were not the first to climb down into the tower. There was a stone fire circle in the flattest area of what was now floor. There were scattered bone fragments with tooth marks that seemed to come from some sort of humanoid. There were areas were it appeared that a dozen or more medium-sized creatures had slept on the sand. Mythlos and Vashti relayed this information to the others.

   It took them quite a while to decide on a plan to get them all down without being stranded once they got down there. Belvin was especially concerned about getting trapped in the ruins and unable to climb out. Vashti convinced them that on their return, she could float out with her magic, retrieve her carpet from Kamil, and then they could all exit one at a time. Satisfied, Belvin climbed down Leokas' rope as he held it, followed by Jayce, who slipped and tumbled into the sand anyway. Leokas carefully lowered himself off the ledge, and landed soundly and gracefully.

   All of them performed a more thorough search of the inside of the minaret cap. Belvin spotted several footprints, which Leokas confirmed were from hobgoblin feet.

   The slope of the wall of the minaret cap rose up to meet what used to be the floor. Here, the stone had fallen away, leaving an eight-foot opening into the next room, what would have been the next floor down. The tower had fallen in such a way that two former walls at a 45 degree angle now formed a triangular ceiling with two openings (former doorways), one on each ceiling/wall. The old curved wall was now the floor, and in the center of it was the remains of an arched window. Little hills of hand had piled directly below the old doorways in the now ceiling.

   Whoever had been here before them had clearly proceeded further; a pile of rubble — likely from the opening through which they passed — had been piled up to the corner of their ceiling to reach what used to be the entrance to the column of a spiral staircase. It appeared that to continue further into these ruins, they would need to pass through along a spiral staircase sideways.

   With sword drawn, Mythlos began climbing and easily reached the top of the pile of rubble, supporting himself against the wall/floor, and reached his hands up to the ledge of the first sideways step of the spiral staircase. Just then, out of the shadows in one of the old doorways in the now ceiling, a multi-legged horror scurried upside down along the surface and snapped at him with its sharp pincers. It was a giant centipede, about 8-feet long.



   Mythlos stabbed up at the monstrous crawling arthropod and punctured its exoskeleton, squirting green ooze. It fell from the ceiling to the ground, rolled itself into a tight ball, and died.

   Mythlos rubbed his wound. It was only two small puncture marks in his left arm, but he suddenly felt dizzy.

   "Centipedes are venomous," said Belvin. "If we act quickly, I can suck the venom out." Mythlos descended and Belvin put his lips around each of the wounds on Mythlos' bare arm, sucking and then spitting to the floor. "We need to watch you closely for a while," said Belvin.

   "I still feel a bit unstable," said Mythlos, "but I'm not feeling any worse."

   Vashti cut off the head segment of the centipede to ensure it was dead — a nasty task. Belvin cut the large pincers off the second segment, hoping to make use of its poison. They considered searching its stomach, but none of them knew enough about centipede anatomy. Jayce softly sang a magical tune and began looking around carefully for magical auras but saw nothing save for the glow from Mythlos' blade and the two bottles in Leokas' pack.

   Vashti had Mythlos let her step onto his hands so that she could be lifted up to the former doorway in the ceiling from which the centipede had come. She saw a room half-filled with sand and nothing else.

   Jayce got lifted up to look through the other doorway and saw a mirror-image of what Vashti had seen. "All of this sand must have poured in through the tower windows," he postulated.

   With extra caution this time, Mythlos climbed the rubble pile again and pulled himself up into the spiral staircase. Standing on the second sloped step, he was able to assist the others at climbing up. They carefully ascended the first few steps, while leaning against the central column, then hopped onto the column itself and over to the other side, where they carefully lowered themselves by sliding along the bottom side of the stairs that would have gone up to top floor.

   Mythlos dropped himself down about seven and a half feet into the next chamber, which would have looked exactly like the previous room, except that the sideways tower wall had broken apart here, so the floor was the actual floor (or perhaps roof) of a larger structure below. The old floor (now a wall) of this tower level had also broken apart creating a larger room about 20-feet square. The tower appeared to have fallen over a large water fountain, the fragments of which were scattered around in what would have been the floor below.

   The others followed. Sunlight could no longer reach here, and it would have been utterly dark except for the glow of Mythlos' sword, which illuminated things well enough. Upon taking the environment in, Jayce commented, "Was this some sort of plaza?" He scanned the area for magic, but his spell began fading, and he found nothing.

   Vashti had noticed an object in the corner behind them and went to examine it. It appeared to be the corroded remains of an ancient metal lantern.

   "Does that count as a relic for the dragon?" asked Jayce. "It had no aura."

   "Perhaps," said Vashti. "I am keeping it nonetheless."

   Belvin then warned the others. "I hear scuttling and a high-pitched squeaking noise, probably from large rodents."

   "How large?"

   "Large enough for me to hear their squeaks. One cannot usually hear the squeaks of the littler ones, unless they are distressed."

   Feeling somewhat uncomfortable at the thought of giant rats, Jayce pulled out his pipe and asked Leokas for a spark from his tinderbox. "Where are they?"

   "In that direction." Belvin pointed to the far left corner, beyond the ruined fountain and bath. "I will try to calm them." Belvin approached the corner slowly and calmly, making inhuman squeaking and chattering sounds and speaking soothingly in Sylvan.

   "Did those sounds just come from him?" asked Vashti.

   But Belvin ignored her and kept approaching near the left side of the fountain. Beyond this, in the wall/floor of the current tower level, there was another gap, where stone had fallen away. A large creature scurried past the opening from left to right. Leokas followed behind Belvin with an arrow nocked, just in case.

   Peeking through the opening, Belvin spotted two dog-sized, spikey-haired, rat-like rodents with massive incisors. He continued to speak gently to them, and stepped through the opening into the next room. It was a similar room to the previous sideways tower levels. The giant rats were huddled in the corner in the shadows where the blue light from Mythlos' sword could not reach.

   Suddenly an arrow ricocheted off the stone wall above the rats. It came from over Belvin's shoulder. Belvin spun around. Leokas' bow was empty.

   "What are you doing?" he whispered angrily, pushing Leokas back out through the opening into the fountain room.

   "You need to feel what it is like when another tries to kill someone or something you have promised protection to," Leokas replied.

   The two elves began a heated argument once again about the matter of the gang of youth in Keltar.

   "That's enough!" commanded Vashti. "You two are acting like children." But they did not cease. Jayce came over and inserted himself between the two of them and managed to keep them from striking each other.

   They had multiple options to explore at this point. Each former level of the tower seemed to have the same layout. This meant that their sloped ceiling always had two doorways and the column of the spiral staircase to investigate. While the other two elves were fighting, Mythlos was exploring. He poked his head up into the doorways above and saw sand-filled rooms. One of the doorways, however, he could climb up into, due to fallen stone. The former floor of this room had fallen away leading over into another, which would have been a level below had the tower been upright. This second room had less sand and a thick, metal pole ten-feet long. He search around for a few minutes and found that the pole seemed to have once been attached from the floor to the ceiling, but beyond this fact did not find anything else.

   In the room where the rats were hiding, there was a staircase going down into whatever large structure the tower had fallen over. (They found a second staircase on the right side of the fountain as well, but this one was covered in fallen rubble.) Convinced that there was no where else to go except for through the spiral staircase column above their heads or down these new steps, Vashti chose the latter, and the others followed in a line....
Session: 11th Game Session - Thursday, Jun 20 2013 from 1:30 AM to 4:00 AM
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Chapter 1 — A Dungeon and a Dragon
~ ninth-day, 19th of Hammer, The Year of Wild Magic, morning
Teshyllal Wastes


It was now the sixth day of their travels with Asref's caravan. Asref informed them that they were now in the Teshyllal Wastes. What was once a lush and productive land of farms providing for the city of Teshyll was now one of the most dangerous regions of the Calim Desert. Blue dragons were often spotted here, though Asref had never seen any (up close anyhow), in his three trips thus far. Asref had never seen or heard of the "brown dragon" they had fought the day before until it burst from the ground.

   Considering that grueling encounter with the brown dragon wyrmling yesterday, everyone was rather tense, expecting enormous monsters to erupt at their feet again at any moment. Because everyone else was looking down, only Belvin spotted a large shadow fly across the sun high above. It was definitely not a bird; it was too large and the shape had a long neck and tail. It soared overhead and disappeared in the horizon. He didn't tell anyone else what he had seen.

   Asref was now pushing them at a harder pace. He wanted them to make it to the ruins of Teshyll by the next night, where he said there would be springs. Their feet had certainly adapted to walking, but they were always thirsty.

   When the day grew too hot for walking, they once again set up camp under the shade and shelter of three magically-formed trees. This was most fortunate, because at noon, they were woken from trance or nap by Asref. "I've spotted another sandstorm," he said. "Tie everything down."

   The goods were tied down and a tarp wall was set up with the three magic trees as supports. The humans clustered behind its shelter. Then the storm hit. It was a stronger storm than the last they had experienced, but they managed. It lasted roughly an hour.

   Belvin looked up near the end of its passing and dared to open his eyes slightly. In the blowing cloud of dust, he thought he could make out the shape of a humanoid face wailing, before it dissipated into the cloud. This, too, he kept to himself.

~~~~


Day seven came and went without an encounter with storm or beast. The thirst and heat, even in the so-called cooler hours, made it hard to think, so time seemed to pass quickly for everyone. They reached an area with many large boulders among the sand dunes. They did not recognize at first that these massive stones were clearly made by sentient beings, the remains of ancient walls. "Welcome to Teshyll," said Asref, "the city of decadence and hedonism of the Calim Empire." He then spit on the ground. "Somewhere amid these stones, we should be able to find a spring or well. Memnon's crackle hasn't destroyed the earth so much as to eliminate all of the water under the surface."

   It took three-quarters of an hour and multiple search teams to find a pool of water, but at last they did, and there they replenished their waterskins, quenched their thirst, and set up camp, just as the sun was setting.



   Since they only had a short distance to the Trade Way from here, Asref informed the adventurers that they had fulfilled their duties to him. They were welcome to head north to Memnon with the caravan, but if they wished to continue elsewhere, they would be on their own. "Pasha Faruk said you would protect us till the Trade Way. As far as I am concerned, you have more than earned your way to these ruins. It is only a few more hours to the Trade Way from here, where the syl-pasha's minarets will protect us from further harm."

~~~~


For the first time in most of a tenday, the adventurers were able to sleep (or trance) until after sunrise, although they had few ideas of what to do in the morning. Belvin wanted to continue with the caravan, but the others wanted to see if they could find any evidence of the hobgoblins among the ruins.

   From his hammock tied between the remains of two pillars, Jayce rubbed his eyes and looked east toward the rising sun... and saw an enormous dragon lying on its back, wings outspread. Its scales reflected light and were colored like brass. It appeared to be sunning itself.

   Filled with no small amount of trepidation, he quietly lowered himself off his hammock and climbed down to the sand. He gathered up his courage and slowly approached. His bardic curiosity urged him forward. A dragon! What bard would pass up such an opportunity. All of the legends and tales of dragons that he knew would tell him that a dragon with metallic scales was good and noble. Still, the creature was enormous, with at least a 60-foot length from snout to the tip of its tail. "Why am I walking so slowly?" he thought to himself. "It can probably smell me already."

   It could. "Good morning, little man," said the dragon with a deep, pleasant male voice, without moving his head. His left eye opened, revealing a molten white orb.

   "Good morning," replied Jayce.

   The dragon turned his massive head to look toward Jayce with both of his white eyes. He had a unique, curved, bony frill and two dagger-like horns under his chin. He sniffed the air. "Hmm...," he said, taking the smell in. "You have copper hair and two-different colored eyes. What manner of human are you? Are you of the Lantanna? I will guess that you are of the Lantanna. Is that true? Why then do you smell so... familiar?"

   Jayce was taken aback. "Yes," he said, "you guess correctly. Of which smell do I remind you?"

   "I do not remember," said the dragon, somewhat distantly. "It will come to me some day." The huge creature pulled in his outstretched wings and rolled over onto his belly, throwing a cloud of sand. "How did you come to the continent?" he asked.

   "I came seeking a fortune and adventure, the usual tale."

   "Sometimes the usual tale is worth hearing several times," said the dragon. "But how did you end up in the middle of the desert? Surely that is not the usual tale!"

   "I made a poor decision and stole from one I should not have," said Jayce. "He sold me into slavery. I later gained my freedom and now am here."

   "Hmm.... Your story seems... to be missing chapters, I think." The dragon seemed to be frowning. Then he spotted the instrument on Jayce's back and his countenance changed. "Oh, is that a yarting? From Amn? Or is it a local version? You must be a bard then. You must sing me an epic tale. Tell me a Lantanese story." The dragon sat up much like a dog and put his foreclaws together in excitement. "I do love stories. Do you know any with those magical little gnomes in them? Do tell! I am all earholes!"

   So Jayce spun an epic tale about Lantan with a rainbow with a pot of gold at the end and a gnome, accompanied by his strumming. The dragon's eyes were closed as he listened, and his tail thumped in the sand keeping rhythm with Jayce's strumming, while his body swayed back and forth. Jayce thought he was smiling, or hoped so, as the dragon had a vast array of fangs that were now showing.

   Back at the camp, Vashti awoke and rolled out of her hammock. She heard faint music and spotted Jayce performing for the dragon. Concerned, she found Leokas and snapped him out of his trance. "Another dragon," she whispered. "Jayce is playing it a song."

   The two carefully approached as the tale was finishing. The dragon clapped his foreclaws together. "My thanks to you, little bard. That was mighty enjoyable and a new one to me as well. Now I see that you have two friends approaching." He sniffed deeply. "Good morning, forest elf. Good morning,... I am not sure what you are."

   "Uh, Vashti's human," said Jayce.

   "She looks Calishite, yes, but she does not smell Calishite. Perhaps it is one of your lady perfumes. Oh, I must tell you of the time I met an elven adventuress who wore the perfume of a halfling. She had me so confused! It was back in my younger days, when I was quite naïve and young...." So the dragon proceeded to tell his story, which took no less than ten minutes. They began to lose interest, but were cued that his tale had finished by his rumbling laughter at the end of it. "I assure you that I am much older and wiser now.... But here I now know one of your names, and a pretty name it is, but what of you and you? I presume you would prefer not to be called little elf and little man?"

   "I am Leokas Dusktracker."

   "And I am simply Jayce. May we ask your name?"

   "Well met, Leokas Dusktracker, Vashti, and Simply Jayce. My name is Sseth. Only Oghma knows why my mother gave me the same name as a Yuan-ti demigod, but at least it is easier for you little folk to pronounce than some other dragon names, such as Iryklathagra or Sapphiraktar. (Surely, Sapphiraktar's mother knew his siblings would shorten his name to what we call 'tree blood' in Common!) I know those names seem long compared to those in your language, but have you heard the names of genies? I once met a djinni whose name was 16-syllables long! Why does anyone need a name 16 syllables long? It's absurd."

   "The treants in my home forest also have exceptionally long names in their own tongue," said Leokas.

   "Are you from the High Forest?" asked Sseth, excitedly. "Oh, sit down and tell me more. Have you spoken with treants? Do you know any centaurs?"

   Realizing their conversation with Sseth was going to be a long one, they sat down in the sand. Leokas was queried by Sseth for a half hour on the trivia of High Forest and the fey who lived there.

   By now, Belvin (on Kamil) and Mythlos came out to the circle of conversants. Sseth guessed each of their races, asked their names, and expressed his usual delight at hearing all about their homelands of Tethyr and the Chondalwood. Another 30 minutes or so passed.

   Mythlos, as he was apt to do, pulled out his sword and showed it to the dragon. "A moonblade?" said Sseth. "I can see that it must be from the moonstone in the pommel and the fine craftsmanship in the hilt and blade. I have never seen one before; may I hold it?" He held out his large open claws. The claws themselves were frighteningly sharp and there was webbing between each finger much as the brown dragon's had. Mythlos laid the blade out, and Sseth lifted it up closer to his eyes. With that, Mythlos felt a sharp pain in his stomach and contorted slightly in response.

   "Oh, I am so sorry!" said Sseth, handing the sword back to him. "I had forgotten how tightly the swords are said to bind to their masters. How fascinating! How did you get one?" Another story was exchanged.

   "This has been such a pleasant morning of stories," said Sseth. By now it was getting hot. "I wish I had some breakfast to offer you, but I myself have only had cactus dew. It is so good to see you; I have not conversed with elves in a long while."

   "You do not see elves often?" queried Jayce.

   "There are not many elves remaining in these lands and haven't been for my whole life. Plus I do not get to leave the desert often. You see, we brass dragons do not share the magical ability of many of our cousins to polymorph into the forms of other creatures such as yourselves. I am not quite so powerful as the famed Eldenser, of whom you must have heard tale.... No? I must tell you then. Eldenser is one of the most powerful dragons of my race alive today. In his old age, which for a dragon is indeed most old, even for you elven folk, he developed, after years and years of deep study, a way to separate his soul from his body. He placed his soul into a magical sword and arranged for it to be found by an adventurer. He now travels around Toril in various blades, hopping from one to the other when he grows bored."

   Leokas said, "To clarify, are you saying that he polymorphed into a sword?"

   "No, no, his body is still living. It is an empty shell, protected somewhere in his hidden lair. You are correct though that many dragons have and use the ability to change the very layout of the material in their bodies to take on new forms. A very many of my distant dragon kin live among you disguised as humans or elves. Some even have children in those forms! But I am by no means that powerful. Alas, the only way I can experience your worlds is through your books. I am, one might say, a 'book wyrm'." The dragon laughed heartily at his own joke, which caused the ground to rumble.

   "You read books?" asked Jayce.

   "Yes, any books I can get my claws on, though I prefer works from ancient times — well, that is, books in any of the languages I can read."

   "Which languages do you read?"

   "Well, Draconic and Common of course, plus Alzhedo, Elven, Dwarven, Celestial, Auran, Ignan, and Aquan — in the order that I learned them. Have you ever heard Aquan spoken? It is so fun to speak...." Sseth began gurgling an example sentence and then proceeded to give examples and opinions on several of his languages over the next five minutes. Then, he abruptly changed topics; the adventurers almost missed that he was talking about them again.

   "I actually spotted all of you the other day as I was flying overhead. You were with a caravan — I assume as its mercenaries."

   "You assumed correctly."

   "But the caravan left this morning before I arrived for my morning sunbath. And you have ventured far across the desert to be abandoned, and you do not seem concerned about this."

   So Leokas explained their hobgoblin quest to Sseth. "You have not," he then asked, "seen a large group of hobgoblins?"

   "As a matter of fact," said Sseth, "I have. They are about two days ahead of you, traveling by night, heading west. They have crossed the Trade Way and are continuing west."

   This news filled Leokas with renewed hope. "How many were there?"

   "I did not count them, but I would say 15 to 20. I was quite confused as to their presence on the sands. I have not heard of such creatures making such a trip, unless slaves in a caravan. I did not stop them; hobgoblins do not tell good stories in my experience, nor do they like to talk much. Plus, their language is rather unpleasant to my earholes, and I do not like their smell. I just flew about on my business."

   "What is your 'business'?" asked Jayce, wishing he had a book to record everything he was learning about brass dragons.

   "Oh, that was just a figure of speech really. I have no employer or employees; I am 'my own dragon', you might say. I spend most of my time either enjoying the air or enjoying my museum and my books in my home."

   "Your museum?"

   "Yes. I have a large collection of relics and artifacts from ancient days, particularly treasures from the early ages of Calimshan, for this land is very old, and has been the realm of dragons, giants, elves, dwarves, genies, humans, and other fouler creatures."

   "What about other dragons? Do you not spend time with them? Are there many dragons in this desert?"

   "We dragons are very independent creatures. Usually, the older we get, the more we keep to ourselves. You fast-breeding folk would not understand. But yes, there are many dragons in this desert, mostly blue dragons. One must always be careful of blue dragons. I am a somewhat powerful creature of magic, it is true, but I must also admit that I am no match for a blue dragon my size."

   Leokas wanted to get the topic back on something related to their adventure. "Good dragon, might we be able to request your assistance in our quest? We have no means of tracking the hobgoblins further because of the constant storms and shifting sands."

   "Yes, it seems to me that you are in need of an airborne scout with 'the vision of a hawk', as you human folk say, although no hawk can see as far as a dragon, so it is a rather silly figure of speech, if I may say so, no offense to you. It should rather be 'vision of a dragon'. Why do you humans have so many figures of speech? I love to learn new ones."

   "So you can help us?"

   "Yes, yes, I think I would be willing to make a deal with you. About six months ago, Memnon's crackle uncovered a fallen tower among these ruins. Since I was a little wyrmling until now, I am certain that it has remained buried, for I was hatched near these ruins and used them as my playground."

   "How old are you, if it is not rude to ask?" said Jayce.

   "It is not rude to ask. I am a couple centuries old.

   "As I was saying, this tower was now uncovered. Upon studying it more carefully, I am convinced that it is the Harem Palace of Calim himself. Calim was a fickle genie, and he liked variety; the palace is said to have housed nearly 2,000 male and female, human and jann slaves and concubines. Can you believe it? 2,000! It seems to me that there are only so many possible ways.... But I am off-topic again. My apologies. Yes, yes, the architecture was impressive. It had 64 towers and multiple pools and gardens. Were it still standing today, it would surely be one of the wonders of Faerûn, if not all of Toril. I had thought that only wall fragments and pillars remained of anything from Teshyll, let alone this amazing palace, yet there it was! I suppose the magics needed to maintain its bizarre shape helped protect its stones after all these millennia. It has been open to the sun long enough for desert animals to take shelter but not long enough for it to have been raided by adventurers yet."

   "I suppose you want us to bring you back some gold," said Mythlos.

   "Gold coins make for a nice and comfy bed, but I am not in need of more bedding. What I really long for are ancient revelations of the past, objects that I can add to my museum collection or study. Would you be interested in seeing these ruins?"

   The adventurers looked around at each other and then nodded in confirmation. "Allow us to pack up our remaining things first," said Leokas.

   "I will be waiting here," answered the huge dragon.

   They returned with all of their gear and followed behind Sseth as he walked in front of them, talking to no one in particular about the weather or the number of skradda he counted yestermorning. He had a very feline gait, and they had to take care to avoid his swinging tail.

   Leokas picked up his pace to come beside Sseth. "Might I ask you a question?"

   "Yes, of course."

   Leokas described their strange adventure at el Yndhar oasis, particularly the ordeal with the little girl, Rabi. "Do you know what they might have been?"

   "Were I to guess, it sounds like they were jann. There are several tribes of jann still living in this desert, even after all these millennia. Obviously, they still fear revealing themselves to humans."

   Leokas fell back with the others. "He thinks the nomads were 'jann'. What are jann?"

   "Jann are a kind of genie," said Vashti.

   "No one mentioned jann at the enclave," said Jayce.

   "They are the weakest of genies," said Vashti, "and thus, they do not come into many tales. Unlike other genies, they embody all four elements. Because of this, they must dwell on the Material Plane, though they are not human. They can change their size and teleport and fly, for example, and are exceptionally strong."

   "Now it all makes sense," pondered Leokas.

   She nodded.

   "Here we are," said Sseth, after twenty minutes of walking. They stood at the top of a dune, looking down into a bowl-shaped valley. There below them was the top portion of a minaret, fallen on its side and extending into the sand. It had a large hole broken into the onion-shaped cap. "If I am not mistaken, you look upon a fallen tower of the Harem Palace of Calim. Granted, after thousands and thousands of years, not much will have survived the decay of time, even buried under the protection of the sands. However, maybe, just maybe, you can find me some artifact to add to my museum back at my home, something that will reveal a glimpse of what life was like back then, so many ages ago. You see, I am too large to fit through the opening in the roof that you see, and if I were to burrow into the sand, I might cause whatever remains of the structure below to collapse. Would you do this for me, please? I would be so delighted."

   "What about any other treasure we might find?" asked Mythlos.

   "They will be yours to keep," said the dragon.

   "If we bring you back such a relic," said Jayce, "would you permit me to ride on your back to fly? I have always longed to soar in the sky."

   "Asking a dragon for a ride is considered rude, you should know," smiled Sseth. "However, because you played me such a wonderful song this morning, if you bring me back two artifacts, I shall give you a ride."

   "I do not think Kamil will fit through that opening," said Belvin. "Would you be able to watch over my camel for me?" he asked Sseth.

   "Your camel looks delightfully tasty," answered Sseth, sniffing the air as well, "but I see he is your friend, so you do not have to worry. I give you a dragon's word."

   "What do you know about a 'dragon's word'?" whispered Mythlos to Jayce.

   "Nothing at all," he whispered back, "but I do not sense any deceit in him."

   "Please take good care of him," said Belvin.

   "Yes, yes, I will. Now, may your gods go with you and keep you safe. Remember, I will find you your hobgoblins if you can bring me a suitable treasure for my collection."

   So they carefully descended down the steep bank of sand. When they looked back up, they saw Sseth lying on his belly and happily talking to Kamil.
Session: 10th Game Session - Thursday, Jun 06 2013 from 1:00 AM to 3:30 AM
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Chapter 1 — Dragon!
~ eighth-day, 18th of Hammer, The Year of Wild Magic, morning
El Yndhar Oasis


The next day, Rabi had improved considerably, though she was still in bed sick, so they had no opportunities to talk with her more. They did not have much time to rejoice, however, because in the west, they could see a massive cloud of dust approaching, a sandstorm.

   "The legends I heard at the enclave," said Jayce to Leokas, "say that sandstorms in the desert are the result of Calim searching for his imprisoned body."

   "I never knew that part of the story," said Leokas. "What happens if he finds it again?"

   Jayce shrugged.

   Everyone did the best they could to tie down loose objects. The humans all sheltered inside of the large tent, while the camels were huddled in a large circle nearby the palm trees.



   The storm lasted for about an hour, leaving a four-inch cover of sand on everything and turning the pond to mud. All of the animals fared well, thankfully.

   While the caravanners were busy cleaning sand off everything so that none of the humans were nearby, Mythlos approached Leokas. "I think that you are hiding something from us," he said. "You looked like you were avoiding something last night when Shaan asked us not to talk to the humans."

   At first, Leokas denied anything, but when Mythlos continued to pressure him, he said in the presence of Jayce and Vashti, "I am still not happy that you tried to pocket our loot earlier for yourself. But yes, last night, before we set out to find the little girl, I heard Shaan's voice in my head asking me to keep whatever we might discover to ourselves. That is all."

   This new information only served to fan the flame of Jayce's curiosity. He turned to Vashti again, intending to ask her one more time about her conversation with Dobla. "Vashti, I know you don't like me, and I don't like you, but we are a team now...."

   "It's not that I don't like you; I don't trust you... any of you."

   "No, you told me the other day that you didn't like me."

   "I think I have a right to adapt my own opinions, thank you. I'm a woman. You should be thankful too."

   Asref interrupted them to inform them that they would be packing up and heading out within the hour. When he finished, and Jayce looked back to continue the conversation, Vashti had snuck off.

   As they were loading up their gear, they needed to decide what to do with the suit of armor. Mythlos was convinced it would fetch a large sum, but Belvin wasn't sure that Kamil wanted to carry it.

   "Perhaps he'd be more amiable to carrying the suit if you ditched the worthless heads," said Vashti.

   Jayce approached Asref and offered to sell the suit to him, but Asref claimed to not have the coin on hand to give him a fair trade, having spent as much as he had on the five war-camels. Jayce next approached Shaan.

   "Pasha Shaan yn Amahd el Yndhar," he said, looking down at the ground, "I offer my most gracious and humble thanks for the hospitality thou hast offered us, and I pray to Ilmater for the complete and quick healing of thy daughter."

   "I thank you, tabarifi. El Yndhar are in your debt. Ye are always welcome under my tent. Raise thy head; ye are equals in my presence."

   Jayce continued, "Last night, the armor we found — is it of any import to you? We do not wish to sell it to the caravanners if it will endanger your clan."

   "I am honored by thy concern, tabarif, but no, it is of no value to us. I am sure it would fetch a fair price with an armorsmith somewhere, but we have no need for it here. There does not appear to be any historical value to the piece; it appears rather mundane. It is too small to fit any of us, nor would it be practical in the heat. I suppose it is a relic from a bygone era, before the Era of Skyfire, when Calim and Memnon began their war. The sands uproot such things from time to time."

   So in the end, they decided to load the pieces up on Kamil after all.

   As they all headed out in single file from the oasis, the family (except for Rabi) stood and bid them farewell, waving. Shaan called out, "May Shaundakul grant you safe travels across the golden sands."

   But Shaundakul did not seem to heed his blessing....

~~~~


It was now late afternoon, and it had started to cool. They headed west in a train once again. The ground was much sandier here, especially after the storm, and it made stepping difficult and slow. Moreover, it meant that any hope of tracking hobgoblin footprints was dashed. Leokas began to grow concerned that their entire trip across this desert was now pointless. Vashti had even stopped attempting to scout out on her carpet.



   They were walking along, mostly in silence, remembering how nice it felt to be lying in the shade by the oasis pool. Jayce was considering how the nomads at the oasis did not seem to have any livestock. He was pondering where it was that their dinner had come from, when there was a sudden explosive burst in the ground directly below the third camel puller. A sandy-brown, lion-sized, leathery beast erupted from the sand, mouth open, taking the hapless man's leg into its dagger-filled jaws. The monster shook the man violently, then tossed the limp body aside, screaming a horrendous lizard-like hiss and snarl. It had vestigial wings on its shoulders, a knobby hide, a long neck, and a disproportionately large dragon-like head and eyes for the size of its body. Were it not for the razor sharp teeth in its mouth, now dripping blood, its large eyes and head might make it appear somewhat cute.

   As the camel puller tried to crawl away, the monster lunged forward with its neck and bit at him again, then mauled him with both of its claws. The poor human was still.

   "What is that?" exclaimed Jayce, who had been walking by Asref.

   "Dragon!" muttered Asref, in shock, having just witnessed his employee being bitten and mauled to death.

   "It is a wyrmling dragon," guessed Vashti, who was also nearby. She then spit into her palms and began chanting.

   Mythlos, as usual, was the first to respond. He happened to be the closest to the supposed dragon. He yelled out to it in each of the many languages he knew, knowing that dragons were said to speak, commanding it to back down or be killed. It looked directly at Mythlos, when an arrow from Leokas struck it. The wyrmling spun its neck around; its head jerked back, mouth open, and then it spit a thick, green ball of phlegm out of its mouth. Leokas arched backwards, nearly losing his balance, barely avoiding being struck by the dragon's spit. It landed in a puddle 20 feet beyond and sizzled.

   Vashti approached and let fly an ice dagger, but it strayed. The remaining camel pullers began leading their animals away as fast as possible. Jayce handed Asref his crossbow. "Take a shot. I need my hands free." He pulled his yarting from where it dangled over his back and strummed. The magic of his music filled the air almost tangibly. Asref, with new-found courage, to a degree, aimed and fired, but he missed.

   Belvin's shots also missed. Kamil was refusing to move toward the unknown danger and was bucking in fear. More projectiles flew at the dragon from all directions, and Mythlos swung his magic sword. It finally made a small gash in the beast's hide, but the monster did not seem to care, nor so when it was struck soundly by two more arrows from Leokas. It lunged at Mythlos and bit him quickly on the shoulder, causing him to cry out in pain and rage. Mythlos dodged a swipe from the dragon's right webbed claw, then its left claw caught the metal studs on his armor. He used the opportunity to drive his sword into the dragons underarm with a swift upthrust. Red blood squirted from the dragon, which bubbled when it hit the sand. The dragon crouched to the ground, appearing hurt for the first time, while another of Leokas' arrows struck it in the back of the head, near one of its bony knobs.

   "By the Nine Hells," Vashti cursed, when her third magic icicle flew over the shoulders of the injured wyrmling. "I'm as useful as Anachtyr's right eye." She turned and walked back toward Asref, expecting the dragon to be finished, as Asref galloped past her on his camel with his katar raised to the sky, encouraged by the injured crouch of the dragon.

   But the dragon was not finished. It suddenly dove into the sand, and, like a powerful swimmer, with two powerful strokes, burrowed itself below the surface.

   Jayce shouted frantically at the others who stood around wondering what to do next. "I can see it! Mythlos! It's 15 feet behind your left shoulder!" For after finishing his strumming, he had decided to cast a spell of divination he had recently learned that allowed him to see magical auras. He figured that if a dragon is a magical creature, perhaps he might learn something about its weaknesses. He learned no such thing, but what he did learn would prove helpful in more ways than one. When the spell was cast, his eyes dimly glowed, as the world took on a whole new perspective. A faint ethereal glow appeared around the outline of the dragon. Then Leokas had passed before his vision and his backpack had two small but intense glows within. Suddenly, he saw that the dragon had a second glow, emanating from somewhere within its body. He had seen the wyrmling stagger from Mythlos' blow; then, he saw it dive into the sand, and he could see the aura travel beneath the surface, hesitate for a moment and....

   "Move!" he shouted.

   Mythlos threw himself to his back, as the dragon burst once again out of the sand at his feet snapping at the air. Mythlos leapt quickly back to his feet and brought his blade down on the creature's face with both of his hands. It flopped to the ground.

~~~~


"Is it dead?" asked Belvin.

   Leokas shot it between the eyes at point blank range. "It is now."

   "Cut it open," said Jayce, coming over. "There is something magical inside of its body."

   Vashti and Belvin began carefully cutting into the monster's thick hide, while slowly, the camel pullers gathered around the body of their fallen comrade. The two stepped back suddenly when an object tumbled out of the dragon's gullet, covered in thick, sizzling goo. They discussed how to avoid touching the foul stuff. Vashti suggested that they use some cloth torn from their abbar to clean off the goo, but the acidic juices began eating through the cloth.

   "Maybe we can piss it off," said Belvin, as if people often did such things.

   "What? No!"

   "Do we have water?"

   "What good will that do? Don't you think it had water in its belly?"

   In the end, they just had to be exceptionally careful with more cloth and sand to clean the object off. It was a black bottle, seemingly unaffected by the dragon's acidic insides, which happened to look exactly like the efreeti bottle they already bore.

   While the caravanners set about burying their former partner, the adventurers noticed that the sand from where the dragon had first emerged was slowly flowing down as if in a funnel and a tunnel in solid rock 15 feet down was revealed to them. They could see that it was easily big enough for the dragon to have come up through and wide enough for a human or elf to descend.

   "I am going to jump down," said Mythlos.

   "Are you insane? We don't know how deep it is."

   "We could drop the puller's body and count how long it takes to hit," said Belvin.

   "No. It's you who are insane," said Vashti.

   "What? He is dead. He does not need his body anymore. It is the natural way of things...."

   "Use one of your useless heads," she replied.

   "It is too dark to see anything," said Jayce.

   "I have a torch," Mythlos added.

   After still more deliberation, Belvin decided to ignite one of the goblin heads (which by now was quite dry) and drop it into the pit. It fell for a long, long time. They could not even see the light nor hear its landing.

   Their second plan was to lower a rope. They had 150 feet of rope among them, but the shaft was definitely deeper than 150 feet.

   "Vashti's carpet," said Mythlos, when the idea came to him. "Cannot one or two of us lower ourselves into the shaft with that?"

   Jayce arranged with Asref to trade the dragon's hide (minus the head) for one of their sunrods. With the glowing rod in hand, Leokas and Jayce descended deep into the earth. They descended for what Leokas guessed to be nearly a thousand feet. The shaft walls were rough, and they figured that the dragon could easily have climbed its sides to where it had hid at the top just underneath the sands.

   They came into a rounded chamber or cavern about 20 feet in diameter. In the corner, by the bright light of the sunrod, they spotted a pile of shiny objects. The carpet gently set them on the ground. Leokas carefully searched the chamber for danger, while Jayce again empowered his eyes to see the effects of the Weave. A faint glow came from within the pile of what they could now confirm were gold coins, 200 to 300 of them. Within the pile, they found a large blue gem, roughly heart-shaped, on a silver chain. Jayce was not trained enough in spellcraft to recognize anything about the item from its aura, and its glow distracted him from checking over the necklace with his normal vision. He tried the necklace on. Nothing happened. He took it off, somewhat confused. Leokas stood by patiently. When Jayce at last examined the object with his natural eyes, he noticed tiny but very obvious writing on the silver backing of the gem, but he could not read it.

   "This is definitely magical," he said to Leokas, "and it has writing on it that I do not recognize. We should show it to Mythlos. I think he can speak several languages, and he studied a lot more magic than I did back in Copper Hill."

   "May I see it?" asked Leokas. Jayce handed it too him. "The writing is modern Elven, Jayce. It is not anything ancient. It says, 'The wearer of this periapt will never suffer disease.'"

   "That's it? I don't see what use that will be to us. We're more likely to be killed by some monster than die of the flu."

   Vashti felt quite differently about the item, once they had loaded up the carpet with the gold and risen to the surface again. "I would like to wear it."

   "As would I," said Leokas. "I once suffered a rather bad sickness in my travels, after I ate something sold from a food cart."

   "But it's shaped like a heart," said Vashti. "And it's jewelry. Are you not men?"

   "Men can wear necklaces too," said Jayce.

   "I think the stone is azurite," said Mythlos. "I once came across such an amulet for sale in a magic shop in Tethyr. The asking price was over 9,000 gold pieces! We are rich."

   In the end, the gold was divided up among them and the periapt was stashed in one of Kamil's saddlepack compartments for the time being.
Session: 10th Game Session - Thursday, Jun 06 2013 from 1:00 AM to 3:30 AM
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Chapter 1 — Oasis
~ seventh-day, 17th of Hammer, The Year of Wild Magic, afternoon
El Yndhar Oasis


At night on the day of the raid, they had camped in a circle of tents with the camels in the center under the stars. (Vashti and Jayce borrowed some of the walking poles from the camel pushers to set up their hammocks, as there were no trees.) Leokas stared at the stars, dreaming of home and feeling rather disappointed in how many shots he had missed in their last battle when Jayce approached him. "Hey, don't feel bad about your shooting today. I doubt anyone else could have hit men on horseback while kneeling on a floating carpet. I was impressed."

   The next day had passed without incident. They woke well before dawn and began trekking in the cool of the morning. When the temperature got too hot, they set camp again, this time making use of magical feather tokens to create temporary palm trees for shade. At dusk, they broke camp and moved forward again by the light of sunrods. It was eerie walking in the dark with no moon in the sky, but the stars were clear and the path was mostly flat, so it was not difficult to stay on course. They heard the sounds of many night creatures in the dark but fortunately saw none.

   The only concern of the day was that Leokas had not seen any sign of hobgoblin tracks since they had stopped at the caravanserai, even with Jayce helping him.

   They had stopped again for six hours of rest at midnight and were up again before dawn. Near highsun on the second day since the desert raid, they reached the desired oasis.



   There was a scattering of trees around a small but clear pond. To the north of the pond were four large and sturdy round tents.

   A band of nomads lived here, six in all: the patriarch Shaan yn Amahd el Yndhar; his wife, Tora; his brother-in-law, Kyahj yn Kyahj el Gehrim; his son, Amahl; his daughter-in-law, Amahl's wife, Dobla; and their little girl, Rabi. Both Shaan and his brother-in-law Kyahj were extremely large men, each standing over seven-feet-tall with great bulk. The younger male, Amahl, was himself over six-feet-tall and muscular, but looked tiny compared to the older men. He was crippled and walked with a pair of crutches. All three men bore full beards and were dressed in the manner of Calishites as were the women. The little girl, Rabi, looked to be about seven-years-old.

   Pasha Shaan came out of his tent to greet them when they arrived. After a long but cordial discussion with Asref, he permitted the pullers to begin setting up camp and leading the camels to drink from the pond. (The amount of water that the camels drank was quite impressive for the foreigners).

   During the heat of the day, most everyone rested in the shade, except for little Rabi, who scrambled from visitor to visitor asking ceaseless questions. "Why is your hair blue, Syl Mythlos?"

   "I like blue," he replied.

   "I like purple!"

   "One day, when you grow up, you will have purple hair then," he said.

   "What is your camel's name, Syl Belvin?"

   "Kamil."

   "Why are there tiny ugly heads on your camel's pack, Syl Belvin?"

   "Why are you talking to me? Go bother Jayce."

   "Can you play me a song please, Syl Jayce?"

   So Jayce played her a little song on the yarting.

   "Why is your skin so cold, Syl Vashti?"

   "Please do not touch me, little girl."

   "They told me your carpet flies. Why would anyone have a flying carpet? Why don't you just...?"

   Rabi was interrupted by her mother, Dobla, at this question. "Go inside the tent now and play with your toys, Rabi, and leave our guests alone."

   The girl obeyed and ran back to the tent. Jayce asked her mother, "What was she about to say?" but the woman coldly turned and walked away.

   "It is impolite for a man to talk to another man's wife in these lands," Vashti informed him. "I am curious myself, however. I'll go and see what I can learn from her." So Vashti rose from her spot under a palm and followed Dobla into her tent.

   She emerged again shortly, right as Shaan was speaking to Asref and the adventurers and inviting them to dinner. Vashti expressed surprise when she was also invited, as women were not usually present at meals with the men. Jayce intended to ask her about her conversation with Dobla, but before he could, Vashti said to the other four, "It is very important that you always accept food with your left hand and only your left hand. We do not want to offend our hosts."

   The adventurers and Asref followed Shaan into the largest tent, where Kyahj and Amahl were already waiting. They all sat cross-legged on pillows around a short, long table. (The camel pullers remained outside and ate there.) A large array of food, including meat, dates, and wine, was carried into the tent by Tora and Dobla and presented before them, after which, these women departed. While plentiful and filling, the food was not particularly tasty and they could not readily identify the meat, but the visitors were thankful nonetheless, having tired quickly from the simple rations they had been eating for the last several days.

   Having heard Jayce play for Rabi earlier in the day, Kyahj requested that he tell them an epic tale, and soon they were all listening intently to a yarn of adventure, accompanied by an occasional strum on the yarting, involving an epic journey through a desert and a magical oasis.

   Right before the climax of the story, Dobra burst into the tent in tears. "Rabi!" she cried, "I cannot find her!"

   Everyone went outside and began calling for her and searching around. Leokas soon spotted her tiny footprints heading north into the darkness.

   "Please return my granddaughter to me," said Shaan. Then, unexpectedly, Leokas felt Shaan's voice inside his head, "I am trusting you, good elf, because you seem to me to be the most trustworthy of your companions. I implore you to keep secret anything you may find that may reveal what we are to the Calishites." Shaan's eyes met his, pleading. Leokas nodded in understanding — or rather partial understanding — but said nothing of this, even to his companions.

~~~~


The tracks proved rather simple to follow, even in the dark. After 30 minutes, Leokas stopped suddenly, because he noticed a new set of tracks, that looked like stake holes in the ground. He noted that they seemed to come in groupings of four. When he pointed this out to the others, Belvin immediately suspected a giant spider.

   While they were pondering this, they heard a disturbing chattering noise. Leokas spotted a disturbing form in the distant shadows and pointed. "Not a spider, a scorpion."

   Only the elves could see it at this distance in the dark. It had a low flat body about three-feet-wide and six-feet-long with two enormous claws and a tail arched above its form.



   "How big is it? How far can a scorpion see?" asked Jayce.

   "It probably does not need to see us," said Belvin. "Arachnids have other senses."

   But Mythlos was already running toward the monster with glowing sword drawn. "Be careful!" shouted Leokas and followed him.

   So Jayce began playing a magical song to boost their morale, but he intentionally mixed in elements of the children's song he had played for Rabi earlier, hoping that she might hear it and take heart. Next to him, Kamil was refusing to move forward, so Belvin began gesticulating and chanting a spell instead.

   Attracted to the blue glow coming toward it, the scorpion ran more quickly than they anticipated, and its claws snapped out, catching Leokas in the chest, ripping his tunic and leaving a painful gash. Mythlos' sword came down, cutting into the monster's carapace, as Leokas leapt back and loosed an arrow into the top of its flat body. It turned rapidly and clawed a chuck of flesh from Mythlos' left arm. Its tail quivered as if to strike when a rod of jagged ice fell from the sky and struck, spraying cold frost in all directions.

   Suddenly, out of thin air, a monkey appeared between Jayce and the fray, having been summoned by Belvin. The beast shrieked and glanced around. Not seeing any trees nearby and terrified by the chittering noises and the flashing blue glow of Mythlos' sword as he parried the scorpion's claws, it scurried off into the desert night.

   Repositioning to get a clear shot without striking Mythlos, Leokas released two arrows rapidly. The first struck the monster in one of its many eyes; the second entered its complicated mouth. The arachnid twitched and spasmed as it died.

~~~~


When its chitinous form was at last still, they considered what to do with the exoskeleton. Examining its mouth parts they were convinced that if it had eaten the poor girl, they would not find anything recognizable inside its innards. They did hack off the end of its tail in case the stinger contained any useful poison.

   They then began looking around frantically for the girl. Mythlos soon spotted something reflective at the edge of their vision. They approached the object carefully and saw that it was a half-buried full suit of plate armor.

   "Plate armor is extremely valuable," said Jayce. "It can take months to fashion."

   "What is a set doing out here?" asked one of the others.

   "Maybe it's from an ancient time," suggested Jayce. "Isn't this desert said to be constantly changing from the magic of Calim and Memnon?"

   "Let's dig it out," said Mythlos.

   "If it is ancient, it could be magical," cautioned Vashti.

   Mythlos waved his hands and finished a spell he had prepared the night before. "It is not magical," he said. "It has no magical aura."

   "But you've never successfully cast a spell before, Mythlos," said Jayce. "How do you know you can't sense anything because your spell just failed?"

   "We should dig around it without touching it," said Vashti.

   But Mythlos was already on his knees digging into the sand with his hands. He did touch the armor, puling an entire armored leg out of the sand, and when he did, something stirred inside. Belvin immediately nocked an arrow, but Vashti stayed his shot with her hand.

   Mythlos, checking ever so carefully, peered through the opening into the breastplate of the armor. "I see... a tiny foot," he said.

   "Rabi. Rabi, is that you?" asked Jayce. He strummed a little of his song for her. "It's me, Syl Jayce."

   There was no reply.

   They carefully opened the front piece of the breastplate to find Rabi unconscious inside, only she was half the size that she used to be!

   "Was that a magical scorpion?" asked Mythlos, confused. "Did its poison shrink her?"

   "I highly doubt it," said Vashti, as she gently lifted her out of the armor, "but she was stung. See?" It was true. Rabi had a puncture wound in her little belly. Mythlos gently touched the flat of his blade to her tiny, brown skin, and the wound sealed up.

   "Mommy?" she called out, waking. "Where am I?"

   "You are safe now," said Vashti. "We will take you back to your mother."

   Jayce was still very confused about what had happened. "How did you get inside that armor, Rabi?" he asked. "The clasps were closed from the outside."

   "I... I fell in," she answered.

   "But...?"

   "I am taking her back to her family now," said Vashti. "Dig up the rest of the armor if you wish."

   Jayce followed her, wanting to ask more questions, but Vashti silenced him with a stoic glare. "No, let her rest."

~~~~


When they neared the oasis, Shaan and Rabi's parents were there to greet them. "Is she safe?" Vashti placed the miniature form of the girl in his arms. Suddenly, she began growing quickly before their eyes back to her normal form. "Thank you," he said. "What happened?" They informed him of their fight with the scorpion and the strange happenings of how they found her.

   "Please, do not tell the others of this," Shaan said, "These things are of no concern to you."

   "We will remain silent, then," said Jayce, disappointed. "You have my word; I am an honorable man."

   Rabi was carried back to the camp, where Asref offered a vial of antitoxin. She seemed to be sleeping peacefully now, but only the morning would tell for sure.

   Jayce was still curious about the day's events. "Vashti, what did you talk to Dobla about before dinner?"

   She stared at him blankly for a moment and then said, "It was just a woman-to-woman talk."

   Leokas, too, kept his extra knowledge to himself.
Session: 9th Game Session - Thursday, May 30 2013 from 1:00 AM to 3:30 AM
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Chapter 1 — Desert Raid
~ fifth-day, 15th of Hammer, The Year of Wild Magic, afternoon
Calim Desert


It was afternoon on the second day of their trek across the desert. Their bodies were still sore from the previous day's 18 miles, and they had already covered another eight or so this day. They were truly in the desert now, walking on smooth, hardened sand flats in the open with no greenery to be seen except for scattered calim cacti, amazing life-forms that had adapted to a magically-shifting desert. Four hours ago, they had filled their waterskins for what would likely be the last time in as long as two days. Asref informed them that they were aiming for an oasis where they would fill up again, but it was not clear how long it would take to get there, as weather could change suddenly. This was probably to be the last day that they would walk primarily in daylight. The temperature on the sands was beginning to feel scorching to the adventurers. Combined with the endless walking, most of them were beginning to feel fatigued.

   Every hour or so, Vashti would fly out ahead on her carpet, trying to get an aerial view of their prey. The heat seemed to be affecting her especially harshly, and she began offering to scout out more often, as the breeze from flying cooled her off somewhat.

   She was out on such a scouting excursion, when Belvin on his camel spotted her flying quickly toward them. Before she had even landed, she was shouting frantically. "Five raiders! On war-camels. From the south!"

   The adventurers placed themselves between the approaching raiders and the camel train. Sure enough, in the haze to the south, five figures on camel-back appeared, roughly 400 to 500 feet away and approaching. Leokas immediately began loosing arrows, and Jayce took out his yarting and began to strum. Belvin, on Kamil, fingered mistletoe in his hand and waited.

   When the riders were just past 100 yards away, Jayce rushed over to Mythlos, who did not have a bow, and offered his crossbow. "You are likely a better shot than I at this range." So Mythlos took aim and fired, but the bolt strayed, as did all of Leokas' arrows thus far. It was hard to hit the quickly moving riders, and the haze in the air did not help matters.

   Now arrows started striking the sand nearby the adventurers. The riders were firing their own bows now. Leokas finally struck the middle rider, but he kept coming.

   "Leokas," shouted Vashti, "come for a ride on my carpet!" He rushed over.

   Just then, Belvin gave a loud chaotic cry, and the hardened sand burst open in several places around the charging camels, and the massive root systems of several calim cacti began grabbing at camel legs. Belvin's druid magic brought two camels to their knees, and the other riders struggled to avoid entanglement from the grasping, animated roots. The central rider, whom Leokas had already hit, fell off his camel to the ground.

   "Hold on tightly," Vashti said to Leokas. He grabbed tightly to the corners, which curled upwards on their own against gravity. He felt ripples moving through the rug. Then she gave the carpet a vocal command to fly at full speed. (The blast of breeze revealed to Leokas why she was so fond of scouting.) The carpet glided at a straight upward angle to directly over the fallen rider.

   One of the riders broke free from the enchanted cactus roots and charged again, coming to within 100 feet of the party and shooting further arrows, none of which hit their mark, fortunately. Mythlos handed the crossbow back to Jayce, who hurried to reload it again. Then Mythlos, with typical abandon, drew his moonblade and charged directly at the oncoming camel.

   Hovering above the raider on the ground, who had managed to get back to his feet, Leokas said, "Can you hold the carpet more steady? I cannot get a stable shot." Several arrows struck the ground near the feet of the raider, as Leokas tried to shoot from a kneeling position 15 feet above.

   "I'm trying!" she replied, her own ice daggers also missing. "Carpets do not have reigns like horses do!" An arrow shot directly through the carpet just between them as the raider tried to defend himself. An arrow from Leokas struck his buckler.

   Elsewhere on the battlefield, the raider near Mythlos cast his bow aside and drew out his curved sword. Mythlos parried the blow, even with the weight of the camel's charge behind it. He spun around and slashed at the riders back. The camel took several steps forward and the rider tumbled backwards off the saddle, crumbling to the ground. Mythlos' sword glowed briefly at the taste of blood.

   A second rider broke free and charged toward Jayce, who was now loading his crossbow for the second time behind the cover of a small cactus. As he raised it to launch a bolt, an arrow from the raider punctured his right lung. Jayce swooned and passed out.

   The raider on foot finally fell with both an arrow and an icicle in the top of his head. Vashti saw Jayce drop to the ground and ordered the carpet to dash in that direction, almost causing Leokas to fall off.

   Belvin sent an arrow in that direction as well, and while he was focused that way, another raider became untangled and charged toward Belvin, firing. The arrow struck him on the left thigh; then he cast his bow aside and drew out his scimitar.

   Getting a better feel for shooting on his knees from a hovering carpet, Leokas killed the raider who had shot Jayce, just as Mythlos dispatched the last rider to break free. The final raider fell from an arrow from Belvin.

   The battle was ended, and the caravan was safe.

~~~~


"Well done! Well done!" cheered Asref, riding over and clapping. "Pasha Faruk did well to send you with us!" But the others were gathering around Jayce. He was still alive, but his breathing was difficult, and he was coughing up blood.

   With a snarl of pain, Belvin yanked out the arrow in his thigh. He dismounted Kamil and limped over to Jayce, calling out to Thard Harr for healing. He removed the arrow, and as he laid his hands on Jayce, the wound sealed up and Jayce's eyes opened. Mythlos used his magical sword to heal Belvin's leg.

   It took several minutes to round up all of the raiders' camels and gear. Belvin beheaded the raiders, but Jayce talked him out of hanging them in his collection. They divided up the raiders' coins among them. Mythlos took a shortbow for himself. Belvin and Leokas replenished their supply of arrows, and Kamil received a military saddle and five scimitars to hang from his pack to be sold later. Jayce worked out a sale of the five warcamels to Asref for 100 gold pieces each, and they were tied into the other camel files.

   With that, they headed once more along the blaze-less path....
Session: 9th Game Session - Thursday, May 30 2013 from 1:00 AM to 3:30 AM
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Chapter 1 — Toward the Desert
~ fourth-day, 14th of Hammer, The Year of Wild Magic, dawn
west of Keltar


Alongside a train of 31 camels laden with heavy loads of grain and spices, the adventurers trekked through the wilderness and plantation fields west of Keltar. Already the ground appeared sandier and plant life grew sparser. In the distance, they could see a thick haze on the horizon.

   That morning the elves had come out of trance before dark and woken Jayce from his slumber. Vashti had woken up on her own and was ready to go and seemed excited by their new goal, as if she were going on vacation.

   A few of the shops near the inn were setting up their wares, so on the way to the gate the party had hastily acquired a few keffiyehs and abbar for the journey. Belvin could not afford a saddle for his camel, but as he grew up riding elk and deer bareback, he settled for some saddlebags to help carry their extra gear, such as goblin heads.

   Each of the camels in the caravan train was roped to another; each group of five was led by a "puller", a man on foot with a staff who guided his group of beasts in single file. In the middle of the train rode Asref yn Effen el Pashar, the caravan leader, on his own riding camel.

   Jayce and Mythlos were talking with him as Belvin rode behind them happily on Kamil.

   "How many times have you made this route?" they asked.

   "This is my third time into the sands. Only recently have the syl-pasha's efforts at making the Trade Way safe again made this journey from Keltar to Memnon financially feasible."

   "What sort of dangers await us?"

   "Well, there are tales of sandworms, sphinxes, giant insects — all manner of dangers — even dragons! But typically, as far as monsters, the most I have personally seen are desert rats.

   "But I think in truth that the greatest danger are raiders. Fortunately, we have you to defend us. In my experience, once you pass far enough from the eastern edge of the desert and truly enter its dry wastes, you rarely see any further sign of raiders."

   "If it is so dangerous, why do you attempt the journey?"

   "If I live, the trade makes me rich. If I die, I die and feel nothing. I choose the former."

   "Do you pray to any gods for protection?"

   "Shaundakul will protect us."

~~~~


Meanwhile, Leokas willingly drifted off to the left and right of the caravan, searching intently for any sign of the escaped hobgoblins. After several hours of walking, his elven eyes at last spotted clear signs of a large group of footprints, which had passed through soft ground caused by the rains of two days ago. The footprints were certainly those of hobgoblins. They seemed to be passing in roughly the same direction as the caravan, though over the fields and farms as opposed to the road.

   Come highsun, he found another clear track. This time, he estimated the culprit to be a solitary goblinoid. Based on the size and the evidence of sharp foot claws, he suspected a bugbear. These tracks clearly led toward an isolated farmhouse up ahead adjacent to a field of date trees. As he approached his friends and Asref, they were already discussing the farm.

   "This is odd," said Asref. "There are no workers in this field."

   "Perhaps Vashti and I should ride my camel to the farmhouse and investigate," said Belvin.

   Joining the conversation, Leokas spoke up, "I would advise against just sending two of us. I just discovered tracks; it is a bugbear, which could be a match for five of us, let alone two."

   The adventures convinced Asref that it would be safest to stop the caravan until the matter was investigated, in case an ambush was up ahead. So the pullers halted their camels. Belvin left his in their care, and the five of them passed through the shade of date palms up to the little stone house. Belvin crept carefully up to the western window, but he stepped on a twig, giving a loud snap. As he peered through the window, he could see only an empty kitchen with a round wooden table in the center. Likewise, Jayce could spot nothing amiss from the eastern kitchen window either, though it was not necessarily a good sign that they saw no people inside at all.

   As usual, Mythlos grew impatient. Drawing his sword, he began hacking at the wooden door on the southern face of the house.

   "Did you consider knocking first?" asked Leokas.

   "...Or check if it is already unlocked?" said Vashti.

   Of course, it was unlocked and opened easily. Vashti sighed. Mythlos charged right inside, and was just missed by the swing of a club from the bear-sized goblinoid who had been hiding in the corner.

   Vashti rushed to join Jayce at the eastern window, hoping to get a clear shot through the wooden grate. Jayce already had his crossbow out. "The Weave does not reach from me to it across this distance," he said aloud, "and Mythlos is blocking me from getting a clear shot." It was true, Mythlos was deep in melee with the large and hairy humanoid. Neither of them could best the other, being evenly matched in skill. Sword and club continued to meet: swing and parry, swing and parry.

   Leokas could not get through the door at first, but Mythlos at last managed to maneuver the fight away from the doorway. Immediately, a crossbow bolt and a magical icicle struck the wall near the monster's right shoulder. Then Leokas darted inside, narrowly avoiding a powerful blow from the bugbear's club. The bugbear growled. Only Leokas understood this to be a language. "I will eat your pointy ears!" he had said.

   "We wear your head on our belt!" shouted Leokas in Ghukliak, perhaps not with the best grammar, as he loosed an arrow that soared into the bugbear's thick chest.

   A beam of ice narrowly missed the bugbear's head again, followed by a woman's curse from the eastern window. Leokas let loose two more arrows, and at last, Mythlos stuck a blow that bypassed the monster's defenses. He crumbled to the ground with a moan.

   Somewhat late to the fight, one of the bedroom doors to the kitchen burst open. Belvin had come in through one of the bedroom windows, having hacked his way through the grating. Everyone gathered around.

   Belvin checked the bugbear's pulse. "It still lives," he said, as he drew his scimitar to change that.

   "No," said Leokas, "we should interrogate him first. I can speak a little Goblin now. We could learn useful information about the escape."

   And so began another argument among them as to what to do next. Some wanted to kill the beast; others wanted to revive it; others to return it to Keltar for a reward. Mythlos used his magic sword to stop the creature's bleeding, but it remaining unconscious.

   After about a minute of arguing, just before Belvin suggested that urinating on the monster might wake it up, they heard Vashti give a cry of frustration. "You are all unbelievable!" she said. Without warning, she pulled her dagger out and shoved it through the bugbear's neck. Then she wiped the blood off and returned it to its scabbard. "If we are going to succeed as a team," she said. "We are going to have to make decisions more quickly than this. As it is, we do not have time to bring this bugbear back to Keltar nor to interrogate it. Did you not say that you already found tracks for the hobgoblins heading west. What more could this monster have told us? Besides, if you wish to interrogate someone, it generally helps that you do not fill him with arrows and a sword point first."

~~~~


The bugbear had a large sack of roughly 140 gold coins in the house with it, but they found no sign of the original inhabitants, which they sadly assumed had been eaten. Returning to the caravan, they informed Asref that the danger had been averted. Belvin hung a new, much larger ornament off one of Kamil's saddlebags, and they continued onward.

~~~~


The rest of the long day of walking continued without incident. They could now see sand dunes in the distance, but there was still vegetation here. They came to the ruins of a large caravanserai, near a small village on hill, where they camped for the night.

   Mythlos was excitedly preparing some of the spells he had learned from the mages in Copper Hill. "I think I felt the Weave tonight," he excitedly shared with Jayce.

   Vashti approached Belvin, who was relaxing with Kamil near the other two. "You are not very talkative, are you?" she said. "Granted, I am not a very friendly person myself, but if we are to work together as a group...."

   "No, Vashti," chided Jayce, "you have to let conversation come naturally."

   So she walked away without another word and retired to her hammock.

   So the sun set, ending the last day they would see green for many a day.

Session: 8th Game Session - Friday, May 17 2013 from 1:00 AM to 3:30 AM
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Tags: Battle , Chapter 1 , Recap
Chapter 1 — Preparations


"Do we know anything about this shyk?" asked Jayce, as they followed the amlak.

   "I was told at the cloister that he is actually an elf and can be trusted," answered Leokas.

   The guard led them northwest toward the center of the city toward one of the tallest minarets in view. This tower was built at the intersection of two drudach walls and the wall surrounding the palace grounds of the sultan of Keltar. He led them up some steps onto the pathway atop one of the drudach walls and into a small entrance of the minaret, past two spear-carrying guards.

   "Follow me to the 'Amlak Arcane''s office," said the guard. They proceeded up several flights of stairs. Near the top, the guard knocked, opened a door, and led them inside. The shyk of the amlakkar sat behind his desk reading reports. On a t-stand nearby sat a motionless owl. Apart from that, the room was empty, but a series of narrow arched windows provided a breathtaking view of the whole southern half of the city.

   The amlak spoke to his commanding officer in Alzhedo. Jayce understood him to say, roughly, "Sir, these strangers were found in the second precinct. They claim to have been threatened and attacked by a gang of boys and defended themselves. Four of the boys were injured. Abu is looking into their conditions and will bring them here shortly. We responded to a call from several frantic witnesses in the apartments nearby that a fight was underway between five youths and five dangerous strangers. One of the reports claimed the woman here was casting magic and floating, so I thought you should be notified."

   The shyk thanked the guard and dismissed him, standing up to greet the adventurers. "Alae," he said to them in Elven. "I am Xaros Tenseal. It is good to see folk of my kin, both close and far removed." He looked at Mythlos and then the other two elves in turn. Had Leokas not been informed in advance by Stedd Buckman, he would not have recognized Xaros as a fellow elf. While he had the facial structure of an elf, his tanned skin and the turban he wore on his head that covered his pointed ears could pass him for a Calishite.

   "I regret to hear tell of your misfortune on our streets," he continued, now in Common. "Clearly, you managed for yourselves. But that is why my men brought you to me. Your display of magic and bloody rage gave quite a fright to several housewives.

   "Adventurers are rare here in Keltar, and those who do pass through tend to drink their cares away in Sabban East, yet you were in Ashnarti territory...."

   Jayce shivered a little. From what he had heard about the Ashnarti family while in Copper Hill, they were not a criminal element to be trifled with.

   "These were not Ashnarti men, thankfully," said Vashti. "They were city riffraff."

   He looked at Vashti, whose lower face was still veiled. "Your eyes are beautiful, rifa, and blue."

   "I do not think we were brought here to discuss my eye color," she said. "What is it to you?"

   "Levitation is not a spell I myself have yet mastered...." He paused, as if they both understood something unspoken, then he continued. "I assume you are this party's mage, and it seems we have a bard (from Lantan, no doubt) and a ranger and a druid among you."

   Some of the group nodded. Mythlos partly drew out his sword. "Do you know anything about this sword?"

   Xaros seemed somewhat taken aback. "It appears to be an ornate and likely magical sword, but unless I were to examine it in my laboratory...."

   "How is it that you are an elf and yet hold a position of power in this place?" Mythlos asked.

   "I have a small amount of magical ability, with which I have impressed those in power. Magic speaks louder than many words or deeds here in Calimshan. But we are getting off topic; you were taken to me because of this incident with the gang of youth, and it is my duty to look into that.

   "Personally, it is of no concern to me for a group of adventurers such as yourselves to pass through these walls; in fact, you have done the streets a service by clearing it of some of its vermin. But if word of your presence here reaches the sultan or el Ashnarti, they may think differently than I. I would ask that you share your reasons for being here with me."

   So Leokas shared with him most of the key details of their adventures thus far.

   "An intriguing story," said Xaros. "I can update you on the status of the slave escape, and perhaps you, in turn, could assist us.

   "Since the escape, we have rounded up 10 of 12 bugbears — being as large as they are, it is harder for them to hide — and 39 of 47 goblins. Neither group seemed to have any organization; each creature acted on its own. However, we have recovered only one of 23 hobgoblin slaves, one who was crippled during the escape and abandoned by the others. They have acted together as a group and are being led by their two rescuers. We know that they have left the walls of the city and headed into the desert. As far as we and the slavemasters are concerned, this is an irrecoverable loss. We do not have the manpower to risk an excursion into the desert to recover the stolen property, and the odds of their surviving out there are exceptionally low anyhow."

   "Do you think they could survive in the desert?" one of them asked. "How far do you think they could have gone?"

   "Have you not heard the history of the Calim desert?" said Xaros. "Legends say that the desert was formed because of the ongoing war between the spirit of the djinni Calim and the efreeti Memnon. Millennia ago, after the destruction of many beautiful trees and the deaths of many of our people, due to the wars between these two genies, the elves at last had had enough. Joining together, with high magic, they trapped Calim and Memnon forever in a magical prison, yet their spirits are still said to war till this day. Calim is the source of all the sandstorms; Memnon of the earthquakes and sinkholes. So, no, it is not likely they could have gotten far. And if they have, all the more reason to be curious about it."

   "Are there known paths across the desert? Or towns along the way?"

   "There are no remaining towns, only ruins and a few brave Ilmatari monasteries. Centuries ago, the Trade Way was built from Calimport to Memnon. The minarets along the Way magically protected travelers from the powers of Calim and Memnon, but they fell into disarray. The syl-pasha has been trying for the last few years to restore the magic in the minarets, so caravans have recently begun attempting the journey again. Caravans from Keltar now head out west across the desert until they reach the Trade Way, which runs north-south, and then follow it on to Memnon. These caravans make use of various oases and caravanserais.

   "But back to the hobgoblins: You will also want to know that the one beast we recovered was interrogated thoroughly. It seemed to believe that some god had sent the other two hobgoblins, Gnish and Barlock, I think, to rescue them, having chosen them to serve him at his 'holy palace'. It sounded like some nonsense story, particularly since I had never heard the name of this 'god' before: 'Allu'." Neither had any of the others.

   "Where is this prisoner?" one of them asked. "We would like to question him."

   "He has been returned to the slavemasters and will likely be a slave within the next few days," said Xaros.

   "We do not have time for that," said Vashti. "We do not want to lose the trail."

   "A bounty for the heads of Gnish and Barlock is in place," continued Xaros, "if you are so bold as to attempt pursuit over the sands. The price is 50 centarche per head."

   "How much is that?"

   "A centarche is a gold piece here in Keltar, as in Calimport."

   "Surely our services are worth more than that," said Jayce. "You yourself admitted the large danger involved in crossing the desert."

   "Most of the amlakkar are but indentured servants," said the shyk. "Our coffers do not hold much. I had assumed that any extra reward you might receive would be viewed favorably, as you seem already interested in pursuing these hobgoblins regardless of what I have told you. Is that not why you came to Keltar in the first place? In addition, the slavemasters will surely reward you for any slave you return live to them. I would guess that such a reward would be close to a silver trade bar per returned slave."

   "In any case, you are free to go. Do you have any further questions for me?"

   "Where can we find supplies to make it across the desert."

   "I would suggest that you check with the Guild of Caravanners and offer yourselves as mercenaries to protect their wares. They will have supplies for the journey and will know the way. It is almost dark; I suggest you hurry to Sabban West."

   Satisfied for the time being, they turned to leave. The "Amlak Arcane" sent them off with the following benediction in Elven: "Sweet water and light laughter until next we meet."

~~~~


With their new directives, the travelers hurried west through the city, passing over several bridges that crossed canals full of leisure craft and naked brown children swimming. Sabban South smelled much better than the eastern half of the city and was clearly richer as well. They passed a decadent Temple to Sharess and two enormous public bath houses, one for men and one for women. Vashti commented on how she wished they had time to stop there. But they did not if they were to join up with a desert caravan before sundown. It was already starting to get dark.

   Going under an archway into Sabban Southwest, it was immediately clear that this district of the city was more magical than the rest. As they walked, street lamps magically lit themselves with green flames. They pressed on to the northwest, as shopkeepers in the open markets were closing for the night. They saw one hapless shopkeeper chasing down an escaped toy flying bird with a net. "In that direction," noted Vashti, "is the Seminarcane, a university of magic, much much larger than the enclave in Copper Hill."

   "Have you ever been into the desert?" one of them asked her.

   "I have not," she said, "though I quite look forward to it. I grew up in Manshaka, on the coast."

   "Could we use your carpet to search for the hobgoblins from the air?" asked Mythlos.

   "We could," she replied, "though it cannot carry too much weight. I am sure it will come in handy during our trip."

   They entered Sabban West near to the western wall of the city, which, unlike the other city walls, had multiple large gates. Livestock were passing in or out of these gates for the night, mules, donkeys, horses, and... camels.

   It seemed to Belvin that time had stopped.

   Belvin immediately approached the nearest one, a one-humped camel, but it grunted and spit at him.

   "You three elves stay here," said Vashti. "Get to know the camels. We will obtain passage. Jayce, come with me."

   Vashti took Jayce aside and said, "I am sure it is obvious that I do not like you. However, if we are to travel the sands together, we shall need to at least tolerate each other, and there is something I need you to do now for the sake of our party, which also will help improve your standing with me. You are a male, and you speak Alzhedo better than I would have expected, I must admit. You are the only one with a chance of bartering passage for us across the desert with one of the caravans.

   "Inside this khanduq is the guildmaster of the caravanners of Keltar, Pasha Faruk yn Kahlar el Jhotos. Repeat his name to me."

   "Kahduq al Jhotos?"

   Vashti sighed. "This is important. Pay attention. His title is 'pasha'. His name is Faruk. He is the son of Kahlar of the family Jhotos: Pasha Faruk yn Kahlar el Jhotos."

   "Pasha Faruk... yn Kahlar... el Jhotos," repeated Jayce slowly.

   "Good, it is imperative that you address him correctly. It is also crucial that you do not ever look him directly in the eyes. Doing such is an insult to one of higher rank than you.

   "On the second floor of the khanduq you will find the guildhall. Do not let us down. I will wait for you here."

   Jayce entered the khanduq and walked up the steps to the second story overlooking the courtyard where the merchants were closing their shops. The guildhall entrance was two doors down on the left. The guild guards, better outfitted than the amlakkar, questioned his intentions and then one of them escorted him into the room.

   Pasha Faruk was an old, white-bearded Calishite man, richly dressed in white and red. He sat on a pile of pillows on the ground with a small table in front of him. Two male slaves in loincloths were fanning him. A serving girl stood nearby at ready with an earthen jar. When Jayce entered the room, Pasha Faruk did not move; he stared at the ground, having dozed off.

   The guard coughed, and the pasha stirred but did not look up. "Rafayam, an adventurer is here, who has requested to speak with you."

   "Zenobia, wine for our guest," said the pasha. The serving girl approached and poured some red wine into a glass on the table. "Come, sit," said the pasha.

   Jayce came forward and carefully sat down on the ground across from the guildmaster, taking care to look down at the table. He sipped from the glass. "Thank you for your generous hospitality, Pasha Faruk yn Kahlar el Jhotos."

   "And who might you be?"

   "I am simply Jayce, rafayam."

   "Ah, I am always confused by the... simplicity of you... foreigners' names. Alas, it is getting late, and you have come to me as the sun sets. Let us get to the point. What do you have to offer me?"

   "I wish to offer our services to you as mercenaries to defend one of your caravans across the desert."

   "Our? I see but one of you."

   "I am but the lowliest of a powerful band of warriors. We are feared throughout the northern wilds of your country. Goblinoids tremble when they hear the strumming of my yarting. They melt in terror when they see the blue glow of the sword of the mighty fighter Mythlos. The hair on the heads of gnolls raises at the sight of the vicious beast of nature who is Belvin. They laugh in hysterical fright as their bodies are filled with the arrows of the great archer Leokas. And all are turned to ice by the power of the mighty sorceress Vashti."

   "This is grand talk from so little a man as you."

   "I speak the truth, rafayam. Looks can be deceiving."

   "They can, yes, they can." Faruk looked directly at Jayce, examining him. Jayce continued to focus on the table.

   Faruk said, "The caravan being led by Asref yn Effen el Pashar is in need of an escort. They leave for Memnon by way of the Trade Way tomorrow morning at dawn. I will send word of our arrangement through my servants. You will meet them just outside the fifth gate. They will guide you as far as the Trade Way, at which point you can go as you please, for they will be safe on the road until Memnon from that point. Along the way, you will provide for their defense against raiders or other dangers. They will cover your food and water. You will protect their goods."

   "I thank you. You are a wise and honorable pasha. We shall not disappoint you." Jayce carefully rose and walked backwards out of the pasha's chamber, then returned to Vashti with the news.

~~~~


Meanwhile, the camels were being herded from open pens into the stables for the night. Nearby stood a large pen with a single camel within, a seemingly angry camel. Two men in the pen with the beast were trying to direct it into the stables for the night, but the camel was snapping at them and not cooperating.

   Belvin felt Thard Harr's presense heavy upon him and knew then that this animal was his spirit guide in the flesh at last.

   He leapt over the gate to the pen.

   "What are you doing?" called one of the herders, but Belvin ignored him. Approaching the camel carefully, he spoke to it gently. When he got just to within reach of the animal, it looked like it was about to snap at him, but instead, it grunted and trotted off to the other corner of the pen. Leokas and Mythlos stood by, watching. Leokas tossed Belvin some of his rations, and Belvin held some in his hands to offer to the animal. It hesitated and tried to move to the other corner, but then it smelled the food and slowly inched closer until it took the offering from Belvin's hands. It then knelt down on the ground.

   "Amazing! Amazing!" exclaimed the animal herder in Common. "The animal had been nothing but trouble to us. If you had not calmed him down, we'd have put him down. He's yours."

~~~~


Shortly, the other two arrived with news about their assignment to Asref's caravan. They discussed visiting the slavemaster to see about talking with the crippled hobgoblin, but decided against it. It was too late. They would stay at an inn. In the morning, they would purchase some last minute supplies and then join up with the caravan at the fifth gate. Jayce earned some money by playing his yarting and they all purchased rooms and retired for the night, except for Belvin, who spent the night in the stable with his camel, Kamil.
Session: 8th Game Session - Friday, May 17 2013 from 1:00 AM to 3:30 AM
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Chapter 1 — Keltar
~ third-day, 13th of Hammer, The Year of Wild Magic, afternoon
Keltar


There had been no further disturbances during the night. They had all risen early and packed up. The guards dragged the bodies of the gnolls to the fire pit and burned them. They all boarded the barge once again, picking up three more passengers who arrived at the docks at dawn. It was an ugly, drizzly morning, but it cleared up after lunch. The river was clogged with boats now, many of them fishermen. Heading north against the river, many crafts were being towed by beasts of burden on the shore.

   While on the boat, an argument arose among Leokas, Jayce, and Mythlos regarding the distribution of the loot from the previous night's battle. In the end, Mythlos admitted that, yes, he had taken not one but two gems for himself, and Jayce finally agreed to divide up the 170 silver pieces among the five of them once the value of the gems had been ascertained. But Vashti refused her share. "I have a long way to go before I have paid my debt to all of you," she said. Perhaps because he was feeling guilty, Mythlos gave a silver piece each to the three other passengers, none of whom seemed comfortable being on board the craft with the strange group of adventurers.

   Near to dinner time, they saw Keltar in the distance, built right alongside the river, with mud-brick walls and countless minarets. The boaters guided the craft into a large off-shoot canal that led directly to the main northern gate of the city. They stopped among a multitude of other river craft at docks. The canal waters, continuing past the docks, plunged through a massive sluice gate underneath the walls of the city.

   "Welcome to Calimshan, companions," said Vashti. "Now, follow my lead and do try not to get us all killed." She pulled her cloak over her head and veiled her lower face as well. "One of you must lead the way; I'll stay close behind and give directions. We will stand out even more if it appears that a woman is leading a group of males."

   "Well, I am the obvious leader," said Jayce. This resulted in collective eye rolls from everyone else.

   "We will cross all the way to the other side of the city, where the slave market is," continued Vashti, "and see if we can learn any news from the amlakkar there."

   They passed through the ornate archway that served as the gate to the city, bumping shoulders with throngs of brown-skinned, barefoot, shirtless men with baggy pants, vests, and headscarves and fully concealed women in cloaks and veils. They could see that the city was divided by many shorter inner walls into precincts. Along the tops of these walls were walkways, and men and women of clearly richer standing walked along them. They also observed a few litters being carried on the shoulders of slaves, which bore upper class citizens within. All along the walls, in layers two to five stories tall were mud-brick, flat-roofed row houses and larger, domed houses with second floor balconies and gardens. Many of the homes contained high-arched windows with intricately fashioned stone screens.

   Magic seemed everywhere. They saw brooms sweeping the streets of their own accord and ghoulishly carved djinni ornaments on roof corners with eyes that followed them as they walked past. They even spotted a few more flying carpets in the air above.

   They passed into a large open square and beheld a massive work of breathtaking architecture. "The Steps of Istishia," said Vashti. The Steps were a monolithic, flat-topped square pyramid. Water bubbled out of the top and flowed in magically shaped patterns down the stepped sides into a large, clear reflecting pool that surrounded the whole structure.

   "Istishia is the god of water, by the way" said Jayce, mostly directed toward Vashti.

   "Of course, you dolt."

   "She didn't know that until I told her," he said to the others, who ignored him.

   "There to the west," said Vashti, pointing, "you can see the walls and minarets of the House of the Broken God, which fills the entire area of Sabban Northwest and spills outside the city walls proper into the fields. But we are heading southeast; you may wish to plug your noses."

   They soon understood why. In stark contrast to the pristine beauty of the Steps of Istishia was the awful smell of the precincts they soon crossed into.

   "What is that?"

   "That," she said, "is why Keltar, though older than any city in Calimshan except Calimport, will always be one of the smallest Calishite cities. A third of the drudachs in this city contain slaughterhouses and tanneries. And you should thank Akadi and Shaundakul; it would be a far worse smell were it not for all the windmills."



   There were windmills everywhere, but these were not in fact mills at all, nor were they being driven by any wind; there was not a natural breeze to be felt today. In actuality, a series of narrow canals passing through the drudachs of Sabbans Northeast and East powered the spinning blades in an attempt to blow the unpleasant odors of offal and tanning hides out of the city. While a fascinating accomplishment of human engineering, the windmills were clearly only moderately effective.

   Water wheels also drove grinding mills for the production of grains, which Vashti informed them were another of the chief exports of the city.

   Jayce noticed that Mythlos looked a little sick. "The smell is really getting to you?"

   "I hate the smell of meat," he answered. "I only eat plants. It disgusts me that so many animals are being killed."

   "You are aware that you are wearing leather and that leather comes from cows?"

   Mythlos looked shocked. "This armor was passed down to me. I would never kill an animal myself!"

   "But goblins and gnolls are allowed?" asked Belvin.

   After about 15 minutes of walking, they were cut off by a train of cattle being led toward one of the slaughterhouses. "Beshaba's breath," Vashti cursed. "If we wait for all these cows to pass, we won't make it to the slave market before nightfall. Follow me, we'll take the back alleys."



   They hurried through mostly empty, narrow alleyways, which twisted this way and that, at one point taking some stairs down into the ground through a tunnel and then back up again to the surface. A few steps further, and they found themselves in a little square, surrounded by several tall apartments, with laundry hanging out to dry above their heads.

   "By the hells!" Vashti cursed again, because suddenly, five youths, no older than 15 years of age, stepped out from behind barrels or piles of trash, each bearing some improvised weapon in his hands. The party was surrounded.

   "Well, well, well," said the oldest boy, "Not one, not two, but three 'pointy-ears' invading our turf!"

   The other boys laughed.

   "Look, they are the 'rainbow hair guild', black, yellow, blue, and orange," said another, pointing at their heads in turn.

   Vashti threw her cloak to the ground and set her hand on the jambiya at her thigh. "Go back to your mommies, children. You've bitten off more than you can chew."

   One of the boys whistled crudely. "Yeah, she's taking it off!"

   "I'll take your tongue off, orcwit."

   "Ah, I like my women feisty," said the oldest boy. "We'll have fun with you after we hang the elves' ears on these clotheslines. Come on boys! Let's show these barbarians how we deal with intruders!"

   None of the boys had noticed the strange breeze now blowing trash around the little square.

   Jayce also tried to warn them off, but his warnings were also unheeded. "Fine, we'll hang your ears from the line too; your loss."

   As combat seemed inevitable, Jayce rushed to one of the nearby staircases and ascended, as his right hand searched his spell pouch for a pinch of wool. The oldest boy lunged toward Vashti, who easily avoided the punch from his spiked gauntlet, but she took a blow to the shoulder from a second boy's club. There was a rush of wind, and suddenly Vashti shot up into the air, floating a story above everyone else, from where she cast down a beam of frost from her palms, covering the gang leader with icy snow. "Ach!" said the leader, wiping ice from his face and shivering, "She's a witch! Get them, boys. Come on!"

   Mythlos stepped toward the gang member with the club and swung with the side of his blade, hoping to knock him out. When the blade made contact, he heard the familiar humming sound that the sword made when it healed him. Clearly, such a tactic was not going to work with his moonblade.

   A boy with a crowbar threatened Belvin. Without hesitation, he cut him down with his scimitar, leaving a deep gash diagonally across the boy's chest.

   "Belvin!" protested Leokas. "These are just boys. What are you doing?" He then spun and took aim at a boy with a sickle, yelling at him in Common. "Hands in the air!"

   Having seen his friend fall, the youth obeyed.

   "Murderer!" screamed the boy with the club, and he charged toward Belvin, striking him with a blow to the kidneys. Belvin ran him through in response.

   The gang leader, dodging another blast from Vashti, still hovering above the fray, ran at Mythlos but pitifully missed.

   "Why are you just standing there?" the leader shouted at the others. "Avenge your brothers!"

   The one youth was just standing there because he was in a stupor. Unbeknownst to him, Jayce had cast an enchantment spell on him, holding him in a daze. By the time he came out of it, Jayce was beside him, his crossbow pointed at him. "Hands up! On your knees!" He obeyed and laid his katar on the ground.

   "Drop the sickle!" commanded Leokas of the other youth. He also obeyed. "Now turn and run and do not come back." But as the boy turned to run, Belvin swung around the corner and struck him across the lower back. He dropped to his knees and fell forward. "No!" yelled Leokas, and he ran to the boy.

   Mythlos dodged several more feeble swings from the enraged leader, warning him to cease his attack, but his attack was finally stilled by the hovering Vashti, who froze him solid with magic ice.

   Leokas was trying to stop the one boy from bleeding to death by applying pressure to the wound, but Belvin was pushing him away. "What are you doing? His lot in life fell unfairly. He is just a child."

   "No, let him die."

   Mythlos came over and joined the wrestling over the boy's body, trying to pull Belvin away from Leokas.

   From the other side of the square came a firm voice. "Halt! What is going on?" Two armed guards stood at the alley entrance.

   "We were mugged," said Jayce to them in Alzhedo. Vashti had floated back to the ground and was donning her cloak again as the guards had arrived. She turned and joined the conversation, somewhat surprised to hear Jayce speaking in her own language. "These elves... and this man... defended me from this gang," she added.

   "We will have to ask you to follow us back to the shyk.

   "We cannot do that, syl," said Jayce firmly but politely.

   "Where do you think you are heading then?" asked the guard, taken aback.

   But Vashti said, "Um, dear, we were heading to the amlakkar anyway, remember?"

   Looking somewhat embarrassed, Jayce said, "Yes, she is right; we will go with you. But look after the three fallen boys. They are sorely injured."

   The guard shrugged and turned to his fellow officer. "Look after the boys if anything can be done and the situation warrants it."

   "Please," said Jayce. The one boy still conscious began crying quietly.

   Unable to understand the conversation happening behind them, the three elves still struggled together and argued in elven. The second guard strode toward them and called out in Common, "Leave that criminal to me; you are to follow the musar to the shyk."
Session: 7th Game Session - Tuesday, Apr 30 2013 from 1:00 AM to 3:30 AM
Viewable by: Public, Craig, Brian, Mike, Krishna
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Chapter 1 — Down the River
~ second-day, 12th of Hammer, The Year of Wild Magic, morning
The Calim River


   It was a clear, warm, and sunny day as the five adventurers rode upon a barge on the swift Calim River. It was clear from the embankment that the water level was low, but the boaters kept to the middle of the river where it was still deep, even in midwinter. On the barge with them were the boat captain, two armed guards, four men with poles to steer and guide the barge, and two mules.

   Several other vessels dotted the riverway, and more joined them with each hour. They were clearly heading deeper into a more populated region of the country. All along the shore, they could see farmland and plantations, with many nearly naked workers and slaves toiling with sickle or plow. A large number of them were also shoveling mud from the riversides and loading wheelbarrows full. This was for making bricks, they were informed.

   At noon, they roped in at some docks and had lunch on the land. They had come maybe 20 or 25 miles so far with over 75 miles remaining. While here, they picked up two more passengers, a peasant couple who were traveling to one of the villages farther south to visit family. The wife's brother's son was getting married, they were told. They farmed oats, they said, but otherwise did not seem much in the mood for talking. The guards slept for most of this portion of the trip, as they would be keeping watch during the night.

   Several hours before sunset, the captain had them cease travel for the day, so that they would have enough daylight to make camp and prepare dinner. Here, the couple left them and proceeded down one of the country paths. The boaters and guards all set up tents, made a campfire, and roasted some salted game.

   Belvin and Jayce went to the riverside. Jayce watched in amazement as Belvin closed his eyes, held his hands in front of him, and muttered a prayer. Belvin's fingernails grew at an astonishing pace and curved and thickened into long claws. "We're going fishing," Belvin said. Hanging off the docks, he tried to snatch a fish out of the water, but he did not succeed before his spell wore off and the claws receded. Jayce wanted to try with his dagger next, but Leokas called them back. "We have roasted game; why do we need fish?"

   After dinner, Vashti went straight to her hammock beside the river. The men sat round the fire pit. Jayce smoked his pipe and entertained them all with campfire songs and ghost stories. Several hours after sunset, everyone had retired for the night, and the elves tranced, Belvin choosing to do so partly in the water, because it was a cool break from the heat of the day.

   Around midnight, Leokas and Mythlos were startled out of trance by an eerie whooping laugh in the distance, followed by another now closer.

   Mythlos drew his sword from its scabbard and moved toward the sound. By the light of the blue glow of his blade he could see to the southwest three tall furry humanoids in the distance with long snouts and mouths. One bore a shortbow and the others carried battleaxes. To the south, flanking him, he spotted a four-legged animal, looking very similar to the humanoids, running toward the camp. The whole time, it was whooping and cackling and growling the strangest sounds.



   Leokas also moved toward the light of Mythlos' blade. He too could spot the humanoids and guessed them to be gnolls and the animal to be a hyena. He let an arrow fly, which plunged into one of their sides. As Stedd had warned, the monster did not seem to flinch, but instead gave a cackling roar. The two gnolls with axes rushed forward, one toward Mythlos, the other (with the arrow in its side) toward Leokas.

   Mythlos and Leokas both shouted out loudly for the others to wake. The two human guards were already rushing forward into the fray with torches out and scimitars drawn, though they seemed uncertain to where the attackers were, since they could not see in the dark as well as the elves. Belvin and Vashti each woke up. Belvin climbed up the river embankment and looked around. He could see the light of the moonblade to the southwest but could not really make out the gnolls. But he could see a four-legged animal charging at Vashti, who had hopped out of her hammock. "Come on, mutt, bring it!" Vashti shouted. It leapt at her and snapped. She avoided its jaws with a sudden movement, but fell backwards with the beast off the embankment and into the river. Belvin turned around and scrambled back down the embankment and also entered the river, but he tripped on the stones of the river floor and found himself underwater and carried off by the current.

   Mythlos and one of the gnolls were fighting axe to sword. An arrow whizzed by his hair, which distracted him, giving the gnoll an opportunity. The swing nicked Mythlos' arm, but before the gnoll could raise its axe again, Mythlos' swing took its head off and nearly its right arm as well. Leokas released two arrows rapidly at the other gnoll. The second brought him down. The two guards encroached on the gnoll archer. One drew blood and caused it to launch an arrow into the sky. The gnoll deftly leapt back and continued to release a few more arrows, one of which struck a guard in his shield arm.

   Then they all heard the sound of a string instrument, which filled them with a strange sense of courage. Jayce had at last awoken and was running to join the battle, anxious to prove his worth to the others. He swung his yarting over his shoulder while running and drew out his large crossbow.

   Leokas rushed to the west to get a better shot, since the guards were keeping him from a clear shot. As he was about to take aim, he noticed that Mythlos was checking the body of the gnoll Leokas had shot. The distraction caused him to miss his shot.

   Jayce, however, did not miss his. Coming up unexpectedly within range, and by the light of the guard's torches, he fired his best shot. The bolt drove deep into the forehead of the gnoll, ceasing its whooping cackles forever.

   As Mythlos healed himself with the moonblade's magic, Leokas approached him. "I saw you take something from that gnolls pouch," he said. "But I killed that one on my own."

   "Yes, you are right," said Mythlos, as several yards away, Jayce was pocketing the couple hundred silver pieces from the fallen gnoll archer. "Here is the gem it had if you want it."



   "Thank you for your assistance," said the guards. "We apologize that your night was spoiled by such a raid, but you all look to be safe."

   "Where are Belvin and Vashti?" asked Leokas, now noticing that they were not with them.

   They walked over to the riverbank. The boaters were now out of their tents and asking for details about the brief commotion. It was two dark to see any sign of either Belvin or Vashti in the water, and the current was swift.

~~~~


   Belvin had managed to get back to the surface for air and then swam with the current toward where he assumed Vashti must be. He swam for nearly a minute with still no sign of her. Suddenly, her head popped out of the water. She looked at him in the moonlight and nodded. "The beast?" he asked. She lifted the head of the animal out of the water by the scruff of its neck and smiled. "That could have been worse," said Belvin.

   "Yes," said Vashti. "Seemingly, it is easier to drown a hyena than a man... at least in my personal experience."

   The two scrambled out of the water and up the embankment, dragging the carcass of the hyena with them. Belvin noticed that neither the hyena nor Vashti had any markings of blood on them, and her jambiya was still in its sheath. They walked together north back to the campsite, where the others were relieved to see them both alive. Then everyone returned to sleep or trance for the rest of the night.
Session: 7th Game Session - Tuesday, Apr 30 2013 from 1:00 AM to 3:30 AM
Viewable by: Public, Craig, Brian, Mike, Krishna
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Tags: Battle , Chapter 1 , Recap