Alahazra

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The warriors guide you past the thickets and into Osibu proper. Inside, you behold a magnificent sight. Stories describe Osibu as a city of gold, and it lives up to the tales. Much like other cities, Osibu has cobblestone streets, but the cobbles are large chunks of gold. Buildings are made from bricks of gold, and even more mundane features, like planters, are inset with gold. The brilliance glinting off what light peeks through the jungle canopy gives the entire city an almost ethereal appearance as it shimmers with a dim golden glow.

The warriors escort you to an open plaza just within the city walls where a halfling woman stands waiting. She takes her time studying each of you, shushing anyone who tries to speak before she completes her inspection. After several minutes of pacing and observation, the halfling poses a single question: “How did you find us?”


I've been dealing with the fallout from Hurricane Ian passing through our area. Our house is fine but just got power back this morning and still have lots to do. I'll post as soon as things calm down.


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"The Pallid Princess is a goddess, yes. Her name is Urgathoa. And as you said, faith is a very personal journey. I'd rather not discuss mine further at this time," Jaethel says to Vesi, politely rebuffing the druid.

***

Amiri grins at Russ'ruk. "I claimed my blade as a trophy from the frost giant chieftain who once wielded it, after I disemboweled him! I would be happy to test your might against my own!" The barbarian drops her elbow on the table and prepares to arm wrestle the kobold.

The two seem evenly matched at first, muscles bulging as they struggle to achieve victory over the other. Finally, Russ'ruk manages to slam Amiri's arm to the table! Amiri laughs uproariously. "Ha! You are stronger than I had expected, scaly one! Well done!"

She pulls an ornate dagger out of a scabbard at her belt and offers it to Russ'ruk. "A victory like that deserves a gift! Take it. I ask only that you used it to kill something bigger than yourself someday. I'm sure that won't be too hard to accomplish!"

You have gained 2 Influence points with Amiri and reached her maximum threshold! She gifts Russ'ruk with a +1 dagger.

Blaze and Pekk may still make rolls for the final round.


At first, Harrim seems pleased when Tandri tries to talk to him. But the mention of Larrad causes his expression to sour. "I hail from Larrad as well. But like you, I did not fit in there, and so I left long ago. I will shed no tears when that city is consumed by oblivion, as all things will be in the end."

The dwarf becomes lost in his distant memories, ignoring Tandri's further attempts to get him to open up.

***

"Besides the bandits, there are all sorts of dangers in the Stolen Lands," Valerie says to Deregar. "Vicious beasts, wily fey, and other threats both mundane and supernatural. We will need all of our wits about us if we hope to tame those lands and settle them."

Deregar's good nature and polite manners continue to win the warrior woman over.

You have gained 1 Influence Point with Valerie.

***

Amiri seems less impressed by Sariana's latest boast. "Bah! Horses are one thing, but let me tell you about the time I escaped from a mammoth stampede!" The barbarian launches into another exciting tale of derring-do, outshining Sariana's attempt to impress her.

***

Linzi politely listens to Floare's knowledge of rituals, but the halfling seems a bit disappointed. She makes a few remarks, such as, "Oh, I've heard of that one before," and "Hmm, yes, I think that's in a book I already own."

Everybody may make rolls for the sixth and final social round!


Palzu shakes his head. <"There are all sorts of strange mutant beings in this place. I would not let your guard down around that creature.">


<"Yes. I am Palzu. If you will allow me, I will escort you through these lands to ensure your safety,"> the gnoll says.


"Doubtful," Sadiki says. "But I'm glad you're enjoying yourself!"

Finding nothing of value, you continue on your way. After a few more days of travel, the mists of the Screaming Jungle part, giving way to a mass of brambles, colorful flowers, and thick underbrush. Beyond the oppressive thicket stands an enormous statue made of gold in the shape of a woman. The statue is dozens of feet tall, seeming to watch anyone approaching the thicket, though that might just be a trick of the light reflecting off it’s brilliant surface. Just behind the statue lies a wall of gold, rising to it’s waist. Golden buildings poke above the walls, giving only a hint of a fabulous city within. The most striking feature of the area, however, is the silence. The jungle here is still. No chirps or growls echo through the air, and even the leaves of the plants seem to keep still so as to not disturb the area’s tranquility.

The sight of Osibu is awe-inspiring. Unfortunately, this moment is short lived as hundreds of warriors emerge from the thickets around you, weapons drawn and demanding you surrender!


With the battle over, Elias emerges from the sand. They examine the gnoll curiously. "No longer danger. Toy? Food?" they inquire.

The gnoll looks to Eva. <"This is Jax. We patrol the Spellscar Desert, hunting demon worshippers and bandits. We assumed you were one or the other based on the strange creature you travel with."> He winces, growls, and says, <"Sorry.">


Downtime:
The party has 4 days until they need to retrieve Gattlebee from his house in Steamhaven. They can attempt to retrieve him sooner if they like, but after 4 days, Mugland and Loveless abscond with Gattlebee, jeopardizing the grand duchess’s plans.

Dunsmith suggested the party use some of their downtime to scout the best route from Gattlebee’s house to the Barrel & Bullet. Otherwise, they’re free to spend their downtime as they wish.

SCOUTING A ROUTE
Each character can spend some or all of their downtime casing the streets of Alkenstar. To Scout a Route, a character can use the following downtime activity.

SCOUT A ROUTE
DOWNTIME
You spend half a day scouting a route from Vashon Gattlebee’s house to the Barrel & Bullet Saloon. Roll a DC 15 Athletics, Perception, Society, or Survival check.

Critical Success: You climb to a great vantage point, spot noteworthy details, learn interesting info from locals, or find useful clues related to your escort route. You earn 2 Preparation Points.
Success: You earn 1 Preparation Point.
Failure: You fail to discover any useful information about the route.

Crafting: The workshop called the Bulletworks in the Barrel & Bullet has basic tools for crafting most equipment, including tools necessary for gunsmithing and a small but adequate alchemist’s lab. Dunsmith can send runners to pick up any inexpensive raw materials the characters need.

Gathering Information: The Barrel & Bullet is full of chatty patrons willing to blab about the latest in Alkenstar. A character can attempt a DC 15 Diplomacy check to Gather Information up to twice per day. Characters who come up with creative means of learning rumors can use a different skill for these checks; for example, a character who leads their fellow bar-goers in a shanty can use Performance, a character who tends bar under Dunsmith’s direction can use Crafting, and so on.


Jaethal seems uncomfortable by Blaze's boisterous approach. "I am a champion of the Pallid Princess," Jaethal says quietly. "I know little of necromancy itself." She turns to Tartuccio. "Master sorcerer, surely you have some knowledge of the dark arts?"

Tartuccio sneers imperiously. "Of course, I have knowledge of necromantic magic, as I am a master of magic of all kinds! The gnomes may have not been the first to invent the dark arts, but we have taken great strides to refine and perfect it. It all began many centuries ago, when..."

Tartuccio speaks at length about gnomish necromancy, and Jaethal is content to recede from the conversation.

***

"I am Harrim," the dwarf says to Russ'ruk. He fiddles with his gray beard as he speaks. "Indeed, I have found my stay here in Restov pleasant thus far. I hope it will be among the last places to be destroyed when all of creation inevitably ends." He says this calmly and pleasantly.

"I am looking forward to the exploration of the Stolen Lands. They have been broken many times by conquerors who would then be conquered. Traditions lost, cities burned, lives destroyed, cultures buried, over and over... At last, a place where I might fit in. And there are rumors of dwarven ruins in the region, ruins with a legacy of erosion. I should very much like to see them."

You have gained 1 Influence Point with Harrim.

***

Linzi returns Pekk's smile and happily shows him her sketches. "I think you'll find your likeness most striking, Master Pekk! Of course, if you don't mind holding a dashing pose for a few minutes, I can create an even more detailed depiction of you!"

The halfling laughs and banters with the gnome for several minutes as she sketches him in her journal anew.

You have gained 1 Influence Point with Linzi.

Everybody may make rolls for the sixth and final social round!


The gnoll shakes his head. It seems he only speaks his native tongue.

The strange rifle remains quiescent. Its golden glow has faded away.


Eva Punch: 1d20 + 15 ⇒ (7) + 15 = 221d20 + 10 ⇒ (8) + 10 = 181d20 + 5 ⇒ (13) + 5 = 18
Damage: 2d6 + 5 ⇒ (2, 2) + 5 = 9

Lora scores a glancing blow on the gnoll. Eva punches him again and Bleach zaps him with an icy beam.

The rifle's golden glow suddenly flares brightly, and the injured gnoll gets an odd look in his eyes. He lowers his weapon and gets on his knees, barking a surrender in his native language.


With the manor secured, you settle down to rest and recover. The next day, Berline Haldoli shows up at the manor in a zombie-steed-drawn carriage laden with celebratory victuals. "I got word of your victory and came to help warm your new house! One of the perks of being the only Blood Lord in Graydirge is any bit of significant news reaches my ears in short order. Sure, some people might try to kill you—but all the rest scramble to please."

Berline brings numerous delectable dishes, and she’s done her best to modify this meal based on your responses to your initial feast with her. She insists on sharing a meal with you and spends a good deal of time giving you advice on how to remodel your kitchen.

After the meal, Berline tells you that she has begun investigating the strange clues you found on her own now that the farm is clear of danger. She still needs to ask around Graydirge and see what else she can learn, and she hopes you will do the same once you've settled in.

In the meantime, you've earned a bit of downtime! Additionally, your recent experiences have left you feeling stronger and better prepared for what may lie ahead...

Everybody gains 1 Hero Point and may level up to 2!


Fortitude vs Shove: 1d20 + 39 ⇒ (5) + 39 = 44

Syndara grunts with the impact of Hotcha's blow. The force sends him stumbling a few feet away from the invisible sprite, back into the position of being flanked by Esh and Xin!


Fortitude vs Harm: 1d20 + 35 ⇒ (19) + 35 = 541d20 + 35 ⇒ (16) + 35 = 51
Fortitude vs Master Strike: 1d20 + 35 ⇒ (19) + 35 = 54

Syndara's reflection ignores the first of Yog's harm spells, but the second one injures him somewhat. Esh, Xin, and Hotcha all converge on the reflection and land some telling blows, and with the final hit, it shatters into glass shards that then crumble to dust!

From his throne, Syndara himself growls angrily. He accelerates the flow of time around himself to hasten his movements and rushes to engage Esh, attacking the elf with a flurry of time-bending strikes!

Planar Restructuring Recharge: 1d4 ⇒ 3
Temporal Flurry: 1d20 + 41 ⇒ (19) + 41 = 601d20 + 37 ⇒ (9) + 37 = 461d20 + 33 ⇒ (1) + 33 = 34
Damage: 7d8 + 18 ⇒ (6, 5, 4, 2, 7, 1, 3) + 18 = 466d6 + 18 ⇒ (3, 5, 3, 2, 6, 6) + 18 = 43

The time-dilating worldsphere returns to sky as a new worldsphere descends over the melee. The natural elements of a thousand harsh landscapes roil continuously through this worldsphere!

Damage Type: 1d4 ⇒ 4
Damage: 10d8 ⇒ (6, 3, 8, 4, 8, 3, 5, 3, 6, 2) = 48

135 damage to Esh. He must succeed on a DC 46 Fortitude save or become enfeebled 1 for 1 minute. Esh, Xin, and Yog each take 48 points of electricity damage (DC 42 basic Reflex save). Everybody may act!


Volcanic Eruption: 14d6 ⇒ (6, 5, 5, 3, 3, 4, 3, 1, 5, 4, 2, 5, 3, 1) = 501d20 + 27 ⇒ (4) + 27 = 313d6 ⇒ (5, 6, 6) = 17

Sadiki hits the tree with another volcanic eruption, then Issi flies in and lays about with her flaming blade, her fiery body setting the leaves of the tree aflame! Within a matter of moments, the malevolent plant's fronds droop as the fire engulfs its body. The threat has been neutralized.


Bleach's summoned skull lands a hit on the gnoll, scorching his fur. The wizard himself scores a critical hit with a ray of frost, wounding and slowing down the sniper with clinging ice.

Royken charges into melee range, the gnoll narrowly avoiding his powerful swing! Eva moves around to flank the gnoll, getting a good punch in!

The gnoll brings the blade attached to his rifle to bear, slashing at Eva!

Jax: 1d20 + 18 + 1 ⇒ (9) + 18 + 1 = 281d20 + 13 + 1 ⇒ (3) + 13 + 1 = 171d20 + 8 + 1 ⇒ (9) + 8 + 1 = 18
Damage: 2d4 + 7 ⇒ (2, 3) + 7 = 12

12 slashing damage to Eva.

Enemy Status:
-46


"For the past few years, I have served at times as either a mercenary for the Swordlords or a freelance bounty hunter," Valerie says to Deregar. "With Lady Jamandi's call for heroes, I thought I might put my fighting talents to better use in pursuit of this worthy cause. And alongside worthy people." She nods respectfully to the summoner.

You have gained 1 Influence Point with Valerie.

***

Linzi smiles up at Floare. "I enjoy all types of books, but I'm mostly interested in chronicles of history and gazetteers of the world. In fact, I'm hoping that I have the opportunity to chronicle the heroic establishment of a brand new nation in the Stolen Lands!"

She talks at length with the witch about her excitement for the upcoming expedition. Tandri watches the interaction from afar, but doesn't come away with any new insights about Linzi.

You have gained 1 Influence Point with Linzi.

***

"The Realm of the Mammoth Lords are filled with truly enormous beasts!" Amiri says to Sariana. "Have you ever seen a giant land sloth? I took one down once with my bare hands!"

She goes on to re-enact the dramatic battle with much enthusiasm!

You have gained 1 Influence Point with Amiri.

Everybody may now make rolls for the fifth social round!


Smoke sniffs the key and lets out a huff. It seems the jackal doesn't know.


The soldiers and technicians put up no further protest, quickly evacuating the facility!


Arcana raises a magical shield to deflect the bullets away from 86! Crimson Tide comes charging in, and as the soldiers prepare to open fire, Tumbler reaches out with her powers to break and jam the guns!

The soldiers scowl and resort to using their guns as clubs, beating on Megan relentlessly. It seems for a moment that she has bitten off more than she can chew! But then Ziss begins to blast the soldiers, holding the stolen hard drive in her off-hand. The distraction she provides is enough to give Megan an opening to break free of the dogpile, sending the soldiers flying as she swats and bites! Shaken and wounded, the soldiers wisely choose to surrender!

***

Wendy:
Carbine winces as Wendy demonstrates her ability to destroy the facility without batting an eye. "Okay! I can't tell you where they are , but I'll tell you what I know! Whoever is paying for all of this has a lot of money and technological resources at their disposal. I've never met them--they always contact me and Shell through subsidiaries. But they call themselves 'Vanquish.' That's all I know, I swear!"


Fortitude: 1d20 + 6 ⇒ (4) + 6 = 10

Telvir amps up his psychic abilities and rips the skull fairy apart! The tiny monster explodes into shadowy, noxious tissue like a burst bubble, splattering the fallen Mithralline. You are able to stabilize the sprite before she is too far gone.

Once things have calmed down, you investigate the headless corpse. The body belongs to a male human with numerous piercings, tattoos, and intentional scarring. Based on the state of decay, the body has likely been here between one and two years. Those trained in religion recognize symbols among the body modifications indicating the man was a devout worshipper of Zon-Kuthon.

Searching the corpse reveals that his robes once had concealed pocket, but the pocket has recently rotted through, spilling its contents onto the ground. The most significant item in these contents is an ornate key carved from obsidian. The shank and bow form a forked tongue, such that they’d stick out of a lock after the key is inserted. The key is wrapped in a scrap of leathery skin with the phrase “Death and Secrets” tattooed on it in faded green ink.

The spilled pocket contents also include a minor oil of unlife, a lesser focus cathartic, and 2 gp.


"I am a follower of Urgathoa, the Pallid Princess," Jaethal states plainly. She quirks an eyebrow and waits a moment to see if any of you takes umbrage at her devotion to an evil deity. "I've known many Calistrians in my time. But don't worry, I won't hold that against you, Tandri. We're all about fresh starts here, it would seem. So I'll reserve my judgment until you give me a reason to judge you."

The pale elf smirks and turns back to Floare. "I left my home a long time ago. I have been without one for quite some time. It would please me to help you achieve the goals you speak of, young one."

You have gained 2 Influence points with Jaethal!

***

Amiri's bicep flexes as she locks grips with Sariana. "Aye! I took this blade from the cold, dead hands of a frost giant chieftain! It is my greatest trophy, my pride and joy. I have slain many more monsters and villains with it since that fateful day. And I plan to slay many more yet! Let the Stolen Lands throw their worst at me. It will be no match for the mighty Amiri!"

You have gained 1 Influence Point with Amiri.

Everybody may make rolls for the fourth social round now.


Royken feels the Elias is genuinely afraid and probably didn't deliberately lead the group into a trap...

Lora's bullet and the skull's flames miss the gnoll. He calmly reloads his rifle and fires at Royken again before dropping back behind cover.

Jax: 1d20 + 18 + 1 ⇒ (10) + 18 + 1 = 29
Damage: 2d6 + 4 ⇒ (5, 5) + 4 = 14

14 damage to Royken.


Mental Damage: 1d6 ⇒ 5

The skull fairy shrieks, refusing to kneel. The backlash leaves her reeling, allowing Mithralline to score a critical hit!

Badly wounded, the creature swings on Mithralline again. It gets past her shield, pummeling her twice. Even blocking the first blow with her shield, the second strike is powerful enough to drop Mithralline!

Fist: 1d20 + 11 ⇒ (9) + 11 = 201d20 + 7 ⇒ (14) + 7 = 21
Damage: 1d10 + 4 ⇒ (1) + 4 = 51d10 + 4 ⇒ (6) + 4 = 10

The skull fairy shrieks triumphantly and grabs the sides of Mithralline's head, preparing to try to rip it off of her body!

15 damage to Mithralline. Even if she uses Shield Block to reduce the damage by 5, the 10 damage is still enough to drop her to 0 HP and leave her at dying 1. Everybody may act!


Will: 1d20 + 22 ⇒ (12) + 22 = 34

Issi is a little shaken by the tree's aura, but she still has the presence of mind to try to kill it with fire, creating a volcanic eruption beneath it!

Volcanic Eruption: 14d6 ⇒ (1, 3, 6, 1, 3, 5, 3, 1, 3, 3, 2, 3, 3, 3) = 401d20 + 27 ⇒ (1) + 27 = 283d6 ⇒ (6, 6, 5) = 17

It's super effective! The tree is unable to avoid the blast of lava, which burns its badly and then rapidly cools to encase it and slow its movements!

The tree seems reluctant to attack Issi's burning body. Instead, it fires several thorns at her. The magus dodges them all!

Thorns: 1d20 + 26 - 1 ⇒ (3) + 26 - 1 = 281d20 + 21 - 1 ⇒ (11) + 21 - 1 = 311d20 + 16 - 1 ⇒ (12) + 16 - 1 = 27

Enemy Status:
Tree -127


"No flying metal monster. But Elias takes you to tasty food!" The tentacled being begins to pull themself along the riverbed, leading you onward. Once you get back to open desert, they dive into the sand and begin swimming through it like it was water, occasionally glancing back to make sure you are still following them.

You travel for a few miles. The desert sun beats down, with no wind and no shade for respite. Ahead, a ridge of hills offers the promise of at least some shelter from the blistering sun. Suddenly, a small plume of sand erupts from the ground a few feet ahead, followed almost immediately by the crack of a rifle shot, arriving just after the projectile!

"Danger!" Elias says, burrowing into the sand to hide. Looking to the hills ahead, you spot a lone gnoll holding a long gun that glow with golden light! The gnoll slides a new round into the gun's chamber and raises it once more!

Initiative:
Bleach: 1d20 + 10 ⇒ (3) + 10 = 13
Eva: 1d20 + 7 ⇒ (6) + 7 = 13
Lora: 1d20 + 10 + 2 ⇒ (8) + 10 + 2 = 20
Royken: 1d20 + 10 ⇒ (6) + 10 = 16
Enemies: 1d20 + 17 ⇒ (10) + 17 = 27

Before you can react, the gnoll lets loose a blood-curdling howl and fires, making the report sound unearthly and disturbing! The round slams into Royken's leg.

Howling Bullet: 1d20 + 18 ⇒ (11) + 18 = 29
Damage: 2d6 + 4 ⇒ (1, 6) + 4 = 11

The gun's glow then intensifies, surrounding the gnoll and inspiring him!

11 damage to Royken. Everybody must attempt a DC 26 Will save or become frightened 1. Everybody may act! The gnoll is 40 feet away and has cover.


Fortitude vs Shove: 1d20 + 39 ⇒ (15) + 39 = 54

As Esh and Yog focus on healing themselves, Xin and Hotcha attack Syndara's reflection. Xin misses with his attacks, but Hotcha manages to land one telling blow. However, the reflection still seems quite hale and hearty!

Syndara continues to hang back and hurl energy at Yog, this time striking him with a sonic blast.

Elemental Gateway: 1d20 + 39 ⇒ (8) + 39 = 471d20 + 34 ⇒ (2) + 34 = 361d20 + 29 ⇒ (10) + 29 = 39
Sonic Damage: 4d10 + 19 ⇒ (4, 5, 2, 4) + 19 = 34

Syndara's reflection pummels the hobgoblin over and over again, leaving him barely standing on his feet!

Temporal Flurry: 1d20 + 41 ⇒ (7) + 41 = 481d20 + 37 ⇒ (8) + 37 = 451d20 + 33 ⇒ (11) + 33 = 44
Damage: 7d8 + 18 ⇒ (4, 1, 4, 1, 3, 6, 7) + 18 = 446d6 + 18 ⇒ (4, 1, 6, 4, 2, 5) + 18 = 406d6 + 18 ⇒ (1, 1, 1, 4, 6, 3) + 18 = 34
Strike: 1d20 + 33 ⇒ (13) + 33 = 46
Damage: 6d6 + 18 ⇒ (4, 1, 3, 2, 4, 3) + 18 = 35

The worldsphere remains in place around Esh.

187 total damage to Yog (34 sonic, the rest physical). Esh must succeed at a DC 42 Will save or be stunned 1 for 1 round.

Enemy Status:
-85


You turn the thugs over to the Chime-Ringers, who dutifully take them into custody. Janatimo is pleased to hear that the gang responsible for the robberies has been dealt with, trusting the authorities will follow up further if need be.

With no more tasks immediately clamoring for your attention, you return to your studies.

Everybody may make an academia roll!

***

About six weeks pass as you focus once more on your magical studies. Soon enough, though, a few more opportunities arise that require your attention. You can choose the order in which you tend to them:

* Janatimo asks you to meet him at the exclusive Black-Crowned Crane restaurant. The note politely suggests you dress up.

* You receive an invitation to meet with Teacher Lesedi, a Cascade Bearer and specialist on extraplanar portals and creatures, to assist her with a task.

* A third request summons you to Teacher Zuma’s office in the Magaambya’s Elephant Museum.


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Amiri returns Vesi's salute with her own boar rib. "Indeed! In the Realm of the Mammoth Lords, where I come from, the ability to get along in the wild is what separates the strong from the dead. Survival skills are essential. It pleases me to know that you have some skill in that area."

Amiri then grins at Blaze. "Yes! Exactly! You are a woman after my own heart, fiery one! I have the feeling that we are fated to be good friends!"

You have gained 3 Influence Points with Amiri!

***

Tartuccio's eyes widen at Pekk's challenge. The sorcerer shrinks slightly for the first time, raising his hands in mollification.

Gnomish:
"Alright, alright! No need to resort to violence! Perhaps I was a bit out of line with my disparaging comments. I apologize, Master Pekk. Truly, I meant no harm. Let there not be any bad blood between fellow gnomes, yes?"

You have gained 1 Influence Point with Tartuccio.

Everybody may now act in the fifth social round!


Telvir's magic missiles batter the skull fairy, but Caraid and Ceceka refrain from interfering. The skull fairy flies at Mithralline and attacks!

Fist: 1d20 + 11 ⇒ (7) + 11 = 181d20 + 7 ⇒ (18) + 7 = 25

Its fist clangs off of her shield at first, but then it lands a good blow!

Damage: 1d10 + 4 ⇒ (3) + 4 = 7

7 damage to Mithralline.


Smoke barks once and then leads you through the rest of the crypt. The adjacent room contains only four empty coffins. Across the way are four locked cells, though the keys you found upstairs unlock them. The far wall is made of skulls, and a search reveals that several of them tiny holes in the back, lined up with the eye sockets, that would allow someone on the other side of the wall to observe the cell.

The last room is a torture chamber filled with stone tables bearing leather straps, chains, and other restraints. Racks of rusted blades, clamps, and other tools line the walls. Refuse lies in heaps in the southeast corner.

A trio of giant rats lair here. They squeak angrily and move to attack, but with Smoke fighting by your side, you make short work of them.

Smoke then leads you to a hole in the wall south of the cells. The bone lever you found fits in the hole, opening a secret passage that runs behind the skulls. From this side, the peepholes are obvious.

At the end of the passage, another door opens into a large room. Skulls and other bones comprise every inch of the walls and ceiling of this room. The floor is smooth stone. A stone altar piled with skulls, many of which still have bits of flesh clinging to them, stands against the east wall. A robed corpse lies on the floor at the base of the altar. Its skull seems to have burst open, as skull fragments litter the floor around it.

A tiny fairy-like creature flits around the room, wearing a skull over its bulbous, oversized head. When it sees you, it shrieks in rage and charges towards you in a feral fury!

Initiative:
Aily: 1d20 + 7 ⇒ (7) + 7 = 14
Caraid: 1d20 + 5 ⇒ (18) + 5 = 23
Ceceka: 1d20 + 5 ⇒ (13) + 5 = 18
Mithralline: 1d20 + 4 ⇒ (8) + 4 = 12
Telvir: 1d20 + 5 ⇒ (17) + 5 = 22
Skull Fairy: 1d20 + 10 ⇒ (6) + 10 = 16

Caraid, Ceceka, and Telvir may act!


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"Hungry, yes. You look tasty. But...good friends not food, yes? Not Brighite or socks either."

Elias seems confused by the mention of time. "Time is new word. Elias does not know. Many meals eaten. Many more than number of appendages."

They turn back to Eva. "Scary glass castle. Scary being lives there. Eyes that rip, teeth that tear. Not friend like Lora Drowne or Metal Appendage."


"Metal! Not socks." Elias wriggles their tentacles and holds up the helm they are holding. "This metal, too? Likes feeling it. Many moving parts. Very interesting!"

They then answer Eva's questions. "Only Elias lives here. Leaves to eat creatures around here. Many different creatures in desert. Some tastier than others! Lots of tasty bugs in soft rock. Not many in scary glass castle."


"Elias" extends a tentacle. It fondles Eva's metallic hand, seemingly fascinated by the feeling of it. "Good friends! Interesting appendage! What made of? Socks?"


The onyx figuring grows as it transforms into a full-sized jackal. The jackal sits obediently at Mithralline's feet, tongue lolling happily.


Royken identifies the gun-studded helmet as a helmet studded with guns.

I blinks their many eyes at Royken. "I," they answer, as if that explains everything. They turn back to Lora.

"Rations! Socks! New words! I eats with mouth as well. I does not speak, but thinks nice thoughts at Lora Drowne. Thoughts like Brighite and socks! I ambulates with many appendages." They wiggle their tentacles in demonstration.

I turns to Eva. "Friend! New word! Is nice word? Means not food?" Their tentacles writhe happily. "Give I name!"


The creature's limbs twist with glee when Lora speaks to it. "Lora Drowne! Brighite! New words feel nice!"

When asked about itself, the creature points one of its many limbs towards its body. "I. From unknown. Going unknown. I lives, and I learns, and I eats."

The being points to Lora again. "Lora Drowne. Lora Drowne eats? How eats? How speaks? How ambulates?"

Two of the beings tentacles caress and fondle a strange cylindrical iron helmet adorned with a crown-like display of gun barrels extending out in all directions.


You approach the spring to refresh yourself and fill your waterskins. As you are doing so, though, a strange creature emerges from a small cave on the south side of the canyon. The alien being resembles something like a human-sized octopus, pulling itself across the ground with nine tentacled arms. Five smaller eyes surround an enormous central eye in its forehead, and its mouthparts quiver as it approaches. You can hear telepathic words forming in your minds.

"Greetings! Welcomes! Salutations! New beings come, new words to speak? What are names? Where are from? Where are going?"


Mithralline misses the scrabbling ribcage, but Aily expertly slices as its central joint, severing the spine in half and destroying the construct!

With the threat neutralized, you can see there is something else inside the coffin--a figurine of a jackal carved of smoky quartz. The name "Smoke" is engraved on the figurine's carved collar.

Smoke is an onyx dog wondrous figurine.


Valerie smiles at Deregar. "Thank you for asking me first. No, I would not mind that. I am pleased to meet you, Deregar. I overheard you say that your family has fallen on hard times. I am sorry to hear that. I hope you will find what you are looking for in the Stolen Lands."

The tall woman makes small talk with the summoner. She appears quite impressed by Deregar's manners and decorum.

You have gained 2 Influence Points with Valerie. Everybody else may still act.


"Yay!" Sadiki gives her sister an enthusiastic kiss!

***

The next morning, you part ways with the rest of the Magaambyan delegation. They will return to the academy to report your success as you head off to find Osibu! The trip to Osibu takes you deep into the heart of the Screaming Jungle, located to the northeast of Mzali. The Screaming Jungle is a dangerous place covered in disorienting mists and filled with the howls of countless jungle creatures. Fortunately, you are capable adventurers by this point, and many of the jungle’s dangers pose little threat to you.

The journey takes several weeks as you follow the map on the golden plate. Soon, though, you draw near the city. Before you can get there, though, one of the surrounding trees suddenly steps out on its roots to block your progress! The lush, green tree sports brightly colored and appealing seedpods. But the wind blowing through the hollow seedpods creates an eerie, forlorn wail that generates feelings of sadness and despair!

Issi: 1d20 + 19 ⇒ (1) + 19 = 20
Sadiki: 1d20 + 22 ⇒ (14) + 22 = 36
Tree: 1d20 + 26 ⇒ (18) + 26 = 44

The tree assaults Issi with psychic power, attempting to feed on the intense negative emotions that she has been experiencing!

Issi must succeed at a DC DC 34 Will save or increase its drained condition value by 1 (by 2 on a critical failure), to a maximum of drained 4.

The creature emanates an aura of despair. A creature that enters the emanation or starts its turn within it tumbles down a deep well of dread and must attempt a DC 31 Will save.

Despairing Presence:
Critical Success The target is unaffected.
Success The target becomes frightened 1.
Failure The target becomes frightened 2.
Critical Failure The target becomes frightened 3 and immobilized until it's no longer frightened.


Lazarus successfully scares away some of the leaping animals, allowing you to make forward progress.

Chase Points: 1d4 + 2 ⇒ (2) + 2 = 41d4 + 2 ⇒ (3) + 2 = 51d4 + 2 ⇒ (4) + 2 = 6

You maintain your lead against the other teams as the Lightkeepers and Tino's Toughest make headway in catching up to the Steps of the Sun.

You need 6 more Chase Points to proceed to the next obstacle. Everybody may act!


Aily doesn't find any traps on the coffin. When you are ready, you open it. Immediately, a scorpion-like creature made out of a ribcage attached to vertebrae leaps out to attack!

Initiative:
Aily: 1d20 + 7 ⇒ (9) + 7 = 16
Caraid: 1d20 + 5 ⇒ (19) + 5 = 24
Ceceka: 1d20 + 5 ⇒ (11) + 5 = 16
Mithralline: 1d20 + 4 ⇒ (15) + 4 = 19
Telvir: 1d20 + 5 ⇒ (9) + 5 = 14
Ribcage: 1d20 + 6 ⇒ (6) + 6 = 12

Fortunately, you react quickly!

Everybody may act!


Valerie listens carefully to what Vesi says, then nods in agreement. "Well said. A community based on law and order will have a much better chance at surviving the dangers of the Stolen Lands--bandits, monsters, or worse."

You have gained 1 Influence Point with Valerie.

***

Tartuccio looks Pekk up and down, noting his clothes and equipment. He scoffs.

Gnomish:
"I'd tell you where I'm staying, but there wouldn't be much point. The cost to stay there is likely far more than you could afford, anyway."

The sorcerer turns away to trade a few barbs with the dwarf Harrim, leaving Pekk unable to glean anything useful.

***

Maegar Varn smiles at Russ'ruk. "Indeed. There is no reason we needs be anything but allies. After we have finished our explorations and established our respective communities, we will discuss details further, I am sure."

You have gained 1 Influence Point with Maegar Varn.

Valerie nods at Russ'ruk's further musings. "I agree. It is only right and proper for those who create the laws to follow them, as well."

You have gained 1 Influence Point with Valerie.

It is now the 4th social round of 6. Russ'ruk already took his action, but everybody else may do so now.


Amiri takes the plate from Sariana with a nod of thanks. She takes a big bite of the boar shank, chewing loudly. "Don't know the Stolen Lands," she says around a mouthful of food, "but I know the wilds. I am from the Realm of the Mammoth Lords, a member of the Six Bears following. But they were too weak for me, so I left in search of people who could match my strength." She gives the half-elf an appraising look. "Perhaps you might be one of those people."

You have gained 1 Influence point with Amiri.

***

"Perhaps you will find a life of adventure more exciting than that of a lawyer," Linzi offers helpfully to Tandri. They make small talk for several minutes, but Tandri can't quite get a good read on the chatty halfling.

***

Despite Jaethal's reticence, Floare's friendly demeanor eventually breaks through the elf's hard shell. She smiles faintly. "That does sound nice. Choosing one's own destiny. I'd... I'd like to hear more about those plans of yours," she says.

You have gained 1 Influence point with Jaethal. Future Diplomacy checks to Influence her now have a significantly lower DC.

***

"I've a few places in mind," Maegar says to Deregar. "Of course, it will all depend on what we discover during our exploration. But I'm confident that my men and I will be able to handle anything we come up against."

The charming noble continues to chat with Deregar for several minutes, but the summoner realizes he isn't making much more headway in leaving a lasting impression on Maegar.

Everybody may make rolls for the third social round now.


The blonde woman, who briefly introduced herself as simply Valerie, holds herself with poise and dignity. Vesi gets a good read on her, intuiting that displays of honor and lawfulness would appeal to the warrior.

***

Maegar Varn inclines his head to Russ'ruk. "Of course. I, myself, and impatient to put these formalities behind us so I can get to exploring the Stolen Lands. I've already learned that I've been assigned to Nomen Heights. I've made plans for a new village called Varnhold."

Maegar chats with the kobold for a while about the plans for Varnhold, and though he remains friendly, its clear that he is not all that impressed with Russ'ruk's diplomatic overtures. Russ will have to try hard to win over the nobleman.

***

Tartuccio chuckles and takes another sip of his wine.

Gnomish:
"You have no idea. To hold such power at your fingertips. The power to alter reality itself! I first realized my power when I was just a wee lad. Back in those days..."

The gnome rambles on at length about discovering his magical abilities and learning to harness them. Pekk continues to stroke the sorcerer's ego the whole time. Tartuccio seems to be acting friendlier towards Pekk by the time he finally finishes his rant.

You have gained 1 Influence Point with Tartuccio.

***

Both Amiri and Linzi listen with rapt attention as Blaze tells her definitely true story. Amiri laughs and cheers boisterously at the appropriate points, while Linzi furiously scribbles notes in her journal as the sorceress spins her tale. Once it has concluded, Amiri claps Blaze on the back, the force of her enthusiasm nearly knocking the fiery woman over. "Ha! A fine tale, indeed! Most entertaining!"

Linzi's eyes sparkle with admiration. "Spoken like a true hero!" the halfling says.

Some of the other adventurers at the table react to the story as well. As soon as Blaze mentions Kyonin, the elf Jaethal scowls and seems to become more withdrawn. Tartuccio scoffs and rolls his eyes. "What a ridiculous farce," he mutters under his breath.

You have gained 1 Influence Point with Amiri and Linzi. Blaze's story took up her action for the third social round, but everybody else may make a Discovery or Influence check now.


Phera sighs. "I'll give you a day's worth of food to get you started, Miss Prissy-pants. But then you're on your own," she grumbles.

***

After resting to recover from the fight with the manticore, you set out on foot across the Spellscar Desert. From the air, it’s easy to mistake the Spellscar Desert’s dry, rocky badlands for lumpy but easily traversable hills. On foot and up close, the wasteland is a tangle of dry riverbeds, jagged basins, and small but steep mountain ranges. Fields of hoodoos—rock columns naturally carved by flash floods or mana storms—punctuate the arid landscape. Dust devils are common, with less-common flash floods following just about any amount of precipitation.

About 10 miles into your 40 mile journey, you come upon a dry riverbed that slowly descends into a narrow, winding canyon with twenty‑foot walls of sandstone on either side. A trickle of water cascades from a small natural spring about halfway up the western wall, near the mouth of the canyon. The canyon walls offer a rare spot of shade and shelter from the hot sun.

Evan and Lora spot strange, sliding marks in the sandy bed of the river, as if several large snakes slithered through the sand while it was wet.


Foebe eyes Drexa warily. "Clearly, you didn’t see the demonstration. Gattlebee blew up an entire building, practically, with a dose of the stuff no bigger than a musket ball. It's just too dangerous. If there's any pyronite there, you'd do best to confiscate it and bring it me for safe disposal."


The bartender shrugs. "It only happened the one time. Everybody's paid their tab since."

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