SAVAGE: LEGACY OF FIRE
Running the Legacy of Fire adventure path, converted to Savage Worlds Adventure Edition. The four player party consists of;
Beautiful and athletic young human woman, with long black hair and smouldering red eyes. Pale skin that resists the burning gaze of the desert sun.
Elven wizard. Dark complexion, grey ponytail and grey eyes. Searching for lost ruins swallowed by the desert. Unfailingly polite & courteous, even to his enemies.
Tall and muscular human man, devoted to the sun goddess Sarenrae. Bald with sun tattoo forehead head. Slow to anger, but fearsome when roused. Wields an enormous hammer.
Sandy skinned desert goblin. Bit of a loner. Likes to catch and eat small vermin that live in the desert (lizards, scorpions, ect...)
Chapter One: Sultan's Claw
The Legacy of Fire adventure path opens as the party travel into the desert. They were approached in Solku by a gruff old man called Garavel and hired to accompany him to Sultan's Claw, an oasis in the shadow of an ancient, withered tree.
Each PC has been provided with a riding camel for the journey. To the surprise of all, the beasts are possessed of uncharacteristically pleasant dispositions. Nadiyya names her camel Blaze and its attitude (randomly determined by rolling 2d6 on the Reactions table) is Cooperative. Misfar's mount is Uncooperative and he has named it Geminara, after a former lover with a similarly disobliging nature. Zain has named his Sonny and it is Friendly. Fuk has not bothered naming his mount. Mirroring its rider's indifference, the beast is Neutral.
Misfar spots a column of dark smoke rising from beyond the next dune. Nadiyya and Zain rush ahead. Misfar and Fuk follow warily. A half dozen wagons are drawn up around the Sultan's Claw. One of the wagons is on fire and the flames have set the old tree ablaze! Nadiyya feels drawn toward the inferno, as she is to any open flame. She urges Blaze onward, with Zain and Sonny hot on their hooves.
Nadiyya can understand the language of flame. She speaks directly into the fire, calming the flames. Fuk dismounts and offerers first aid to those already injured battling the blaze. The nomads are alarmed by the sudden appearance of the goblin, but Garavel gestures for Fuk to continue and the nomads step aside. Meanwhile, Zain lifts a barrel of drinking water from one of the other wagons and pours it over the fire. Misfar consults his spellbook and summons a cloud of swirling sand to smother the flames. At this point, the fire is practically out. Fuk whacks out his (impressively proportioned) goblin willy* and emits a long, steaming stream of bright yellow piss to finally extinguish the blaze.
* Fuk's player insisted on rolling 2D6 to determine the length of his character's junk = 9 inches.
A beautiful young woman approaches the heroes. Garavel sinks to his knees reverently and indicates the party should follow his example. They do so. Fuk goes one better and prostrates himself in the sand at the woman's feet. She steps over him and addresses the heroes directly;
"I am Almah Roveshki. You must be the trouble-shooters Garavel hired in Solku. You arrived in the nick of time and have my thanks for saving the camp. Impress me further by finding out how the fire began. Garavel will introduce you to the other members of the caravan, any one of whom could be responsible."
Almah ducks back into her tent, leaving the heroes with her grizzled major-domo. Garavel nods respectfully and enquires who they would like to speak to first?
Q: "What was in the burning wagon?"
A: "It belonged to Eloais, an astrologer and Almah's personal fortune teller. He was trapped inside when the wagon caught fire and was burnt to death."
Q: "So this is a murder investigation?"
A: "That is for you to determine."
Q: "Did Eloais have any enemies, here in the camp?" (Persuasion)
A: "Dashki, the scout / gnoll expert harbours strong feelings for Almah and may have been jealous of the time and attention the merchant princess gave to Eloais."
The party decide they would like to interview/interrogate Dashki. They find the alleged "gnoll expert" skulking behind Almah's tent, trying to perv on the princess. He is a filthy and nigh feral individual with long, greasy hair and bad teeth. Garavel is outraged and draws his sword. Nadiyya persuades the makor-domo to sheath his weapon and let her deal with Dirty Dashki. Dashki himself is immediately smitten with Nadiyya, who is just as Attractive as Almah (literally, she has the Edge to prove it).
Q: "What were you doing behind Almah's tent?"
A: "Nothing. I was checking the camp for hidden dangers."
Q: "Don't lie to us, Dashki!!" (Intimidation, failed)
"Where were you before / during the fire?"
A: "I was eating by the campfire. When I saw the flames, I rushed to help."
Zain does remember seeing Dashki beating ineffectually at a burning shrub, but is pretty sure he was not among the nomads gathered around the fire, as he and Nadiyya first galloped into the camp.
Q: "What was your opinion of Eloais the astrologer?"
A: "He was a fool, always looking up at the stars - or down his nose at me. Burning to death is a nasty way to go, but I shan't be shedding any tears for him."
The party are reasonably convinced that Dashki is telling the truth.
Q: "Who else might have wanted to kill Eloais?"
A: "Don't know. Maybe it was pugwampis."
Q: "WTF is a pugwampi?!"
A: "It's a type of gremlin. Wherever you find gnolls, you'll also find pugwampis - and this whole desert is lousy with both."
Q: "Why would pugwampis burn Eloais' wagon?"
A: "They wouldn't, but their presence alone is enough to cause unhappy accidents. They act like Bad Luck magnets for anyone nearby."
So, according to Dashki, the astrologer's fiery demise was an accident, triggered by the proximity of tiny Bad Luck monsters. That sounds like a hard sell. Fuk suggests that it might be easier just to frame Dashki as the arsonist, kind-of-joking-but-not-really. Before Almah will accept the party's explanation, she demands to see an actual pugwampi, with her own eyes. The party are dispatched into the darkening dunes to capture a living specimen.
Fuk pokes around the charred ruin of the astrologer's wagon and does find evidence of tiny, humanoid creatures in the vicinity. The heroes also meet Father Zastoran (cleric of Nethys), who laments the disappearance of his favourite goat, but has little of value to add to their investigation. He does offer the party some Healing Potions if they find his precious Rombard. The heroes scour the area around the camp but cannot find any more tracks. They can, however, hear the distant bleating of a distressed goat.
The party follow the sound and soon reach the edge of a dense cactus forest. Rombard's helpless bleating beckons them into the prickly copse. Nadiyya decides to cut a path through the thorny jungle. She focuses her power - and nothing happens. Her player tries to spend a Benny to re-roll the failed Focus check, but something stops her. It doesn't take the players long to realise the pugwampi's bad luck aura is suppressing their ability to spend Bennies to re-roll. The party enter the cactus forest. Zain and Fuk weave between the cacti without getting prickled, however Nadiyya is Fatigued and Misfar (Critical Fail) is Fatigued and Wounded.
"Cursed pugwampis!" the wizard cries, as he trips over his own feet and falls head-first into a clump of particularly prickly plants. Someone (or something) sniggers quietly, amused by the wizard's misfortune.
The party find Rombard tied to the thorny trunk of a huge cactus in the centre of a clearing. Nadiyya, Zain and Fuk sense movement all around them. Only Misfar is surprised when the pugwampis attack!
Six tiny creatures appear from among the cacti. Fuk draws a bead on the closest gremlin, only for the bowstring to snap! Cursed pugwampis!! Again, Nadiyya focuses on her sword, willing the blade to burst into flame. Nothing happens, then suddenly the huge cactus in the centre of the clearing is ablaze! Nadiyya is Shaken by the arcane backlash.
(Seriously, two Critical Fails in a row? Cursed Pugwampis!!!)
On the plus side, the burning cactus negates the Dim Lighting penalty! Zain swings his battle hammer with wild abandon and pulverizes a gremlin. The other pugwampis find this hilarious. The gremlins taunt the heroes. Nadiyya fails to remove Shaken condition, spends a Benny to recover (it seems the pugwampis bad luck aura only prevents Bennies being spent on re-rolls).
"We need an intact body to show Almah!" Nadiyyah screams, as Zain smears another pugwampi into the ground.
The gremlins attack - and all miss. Fuk grapples a gremlin and manages to hold onto it!
"Fuk got one! Let's go!!"
Nadiyya cuts the rope tethering Rombard to the burning cactus. Misfar (finally!) casts Burst and flays the remaining pugwampis with a cone of burning sand! The heroes (carefully) exit the burning cactus forest, dragging Rombard and their captive pugwampi. They return to the camp at Sultan's Claw.
Fuk presents the squirming pugwampi to Almah and her court. The rest of the party describe their experiences with the bad luck aura. Her curiosity satisfied, Almah orders Garavel to wring the creatures neck and dispose of it away from the camp. He takes the writhing pugwampi from Fuk and ducks out of the tent. Once her major-domo has returned, the merchant princess continues;
"Twice now, you have demonstrated your value and I would share with you the details of my mission. The Pactmasters of Katapesh have tasked me with reclaiming the town of Kelmarane from the savage gnoll tribe occupying the ruins. I need strong and resourceful allies to assist me in this undertaking. Once trade begins to flow through Kelmarane once more, you will find yourselves generously compensated. Can I count on you to seize this unique opportunity?"
The heroes are interested! Killing some gnolls for a fat payday sounds good to them!
"Excellent! Garavel chose you well, it seems!"
"Thankyou, princess." answers the major-domo, "However, we have a small problem. We had planned on staging our assault on Kelmarane from here, but recent events have highlighted how vulnerable we would be in the event of a counter-attack. My map shows an abandoned monastery to the north-east. It would serve us well as a temporary headquarters.
"My men are needed here, to protect the princess. Can you heroes be relied upon to scout the ruins and deal with any dangerous inhabitants?"
The party agree to clear out the old monastery.
Chapter Two: The Old Monastery
Misfar is still plucking cactus spines out of his face the next morning, as the party prepare to break camp. After reuniting Father Zastoran with his beloved Rombard, each hero is rewarded with a healing potion.
"You'll find the monastery several miles to the north-east," Garavel says, squinting off toward the horizon, "Beyond the monastery lies the town of Kelmarane. Try not to advertise your presence. We don't want the gnolls to know we're there until we're ready for them."
The heroes leave their camels behind and continue afoot. Fuk takes the lead, he has years of experience navigating the trackless desert and the party reach the old monastery before noon. A half dozen giant vultures circle the ruin. The kettle (no, really, Google it) spot the party approaching their crumbling eyrie and swoop to attack!
Misfar is raked by razor-sharp talons and suffers a second wound! Ignoring the pain, Misfar casts Sand Blast and shreds his feathered assailant in a flurry of burning sand. Another vulture attempts to grapple Fuk and carry him off, but the wily goblin drops prone to evade the attack. Fuk rolls to his feet with his bow drawn and fires an arrow through the vulture's leathery wing. He puts a second arrow in the shaken vulture, killing it. The big black bird crumples at the goblin's feet. Zain casts Dazzling Aura (with a Raise) and the sunburst tattoo on his head begins to glow, blindingly bright. Nadiyya's sword bursts into flame and she skewers another vulture with the burning blade!
A dark shadow falls across the party. An enormous vulture drops out of the clear blue sky, its 60ft wingspan eclipsing the sun!
The two remaining not-actually-that-giant-after-all vultures attack first, followed by the mega-vulture. Fuk shoots & kills one of the smaller birds. Nadiyya swings her flaming sword at the mega-vulture, it is both singed and Shaken. Misfar gambles half his remaining Power Points on an empowered Burst and delivers 27 damage to the mega-vulture, more than enough to kill it! The wizard's spell scours the flesh off the vultures head, leaving a surprised looking skull bobbing on the end of its long, scrawny neck. Zain batters the final vulture out of the air and the battle is won!
The sand around the old monastery is littered with dead vultures. Fuk begins stuffing giant black feathers into his pack, for some weird goblin reason. The party head into the ruin. It's about now that Zain remembers he can cast Healing and heals Nadiyya's and Misfar's wounds. The nave is a long, shady chamber strewn with broken masonry from the collapsed ceiling. A large tree has fallen through the western wall, beyond which can be seen an overgrown garden, home to a family of surly baboons. A door in the eastern wall opens into a large library, half buried by sand blown in by the wind. The heroes approach the chapel. Faded tapestries flanking the stone altar depict the golden sunburst of Sarenrae. Zain kneels before the altar and offers a quick prayer to his Goddess.
Having secured the monastery, the party set a watch and wait for the rest of the caravan to arrive.
Nadiyya and Misfar search the library. Most of the books are badly damaged, but one old tome has held up against the elements; Courts of Stone and Flame. Together, Nadiyya and Misfar translate the ancient text; it recounts the battle between the Templars of the Five Winds and a rogue genie called Jhavul.
Meanwhile, Fuk climbs onto the roof of the chapel, where the giant vultures laired. The nests are full of old bones and also three large eggs.
'Well, that's breakfast sorted,' Fuk thinks, stuffing the eggs into his pack.
Fuk also gets a roll on the random treasure table! He has a 1% chance of finding something good! Fuk rolls 100%. Fuk finds nothing good. Fuk stares off to the north and sees the ruined town of Kelmarane, beyond a sea of gently swaying pesh fields.
Back in the chapel, Zain is scrubbing crusty vulture s*%@ off the altar, when he feels the whole thing shift slightly.
'I hope Sarenrae's not watching this,' he thinks, pushing the altar aside.
The altar covered a hidden trapdoor! Zain opens it and sees a dark, dusty chamber, wherein five stone statues stand in a half-circle. Zain drops down to investigate. Almost immediately, he hears a voice in his head.
"Warrior of God. Approach."
The voice seems to be coming from the statue of a tall, bearded man resting against a massive, two-handed hammer.
"I am Vardishal. Once I was known as the Templar of the North Wind, general of Nefeshti's armies and scourge of Jhavul. Now, I am forgotten. In the garden above, buried beneath the roots off the great tree, you will find my weapon. Take it, warrior. Wield it in battle and rekindle the embers of my legacy."
"For the glory of Sarenrae, I will honour your memory!" Zain promises.
Zain clambers out of the pit, returns the altar to its rightful place, then heads to the garden. The baboons hoot and howl in protest, largely ignored by the brawny fighter. Zain digs among the roots of the fallen tree and excavates a massive, two-handed hammer * wrapped in a fine, blue cloak **.
* Tempest is a +1 genie-bane maul that deals +1d6 damage to elemental creatures (including genies)
** Cloak of the North Wind, grants the Fleet Footed Edge (+2 Pace, running die increases one die type)
Chapter Three: Kelmarane
By sunset, the merchant princess and her retinue have reached the monastery and begun fortifying the ruins. The heroes convene in the chapel to strategize. Garavel spreads a map across the altar, weighing the edges down with a pair of ornate daggers.
"We need to gather more more information, before we attack," Garavel explains, "We know the gnolls hold Kelmarane, but we don't know who leads them, how many there are or what kind of reinforcements they can call upon. I propose that a small group infiltrate the gnoll camp to assess what we're up against."
"That'll be us then?" Misfar surmises.
He's not wrong.
"There is more," Almah adds, her expression uncharacteristically pensive , "Before Kelmarane fell to ruin, its people succumbed to a demon, spreading madness and destruction. The Pactmasters sealed the demon in the crypt beneath the church. This evil must also be vanquished, once and for all."
The heroes bed down for the night, anticipating an early start. Fuk opts to sleep in the empty nest atop the chapel. Nobody in camp rests easy, their sleep is disturbed by a ghoulish howling from the ruins of Kelmarane. The call is answered from among the foothills of Pale Mountain. Fuk notices lights in the distance, far beyond the pesh fields and the ruined town.
The heroes head out at first light, using the arid pesh fields to cover their approach. Nadiyya notices an odd trembling underfoot. Moments later, a pair of huge, centipede-like creatures erupt from beneath the ground!
Only Nadiyya gets an action card in the first round, but at least her high Notice prevented the dustdiggers from getting The Drop.
The first digger rises up and lunges for Nadiyya! Her shield does nothing to deter the monster's crushing mandibles! 25 damage = Shaken + 5 wounds!!! The optional Wound Cap rule is in effect, reducing that to 4 wounds, which is still plenty dangerous! Nadiyya soaks some of that damage, but is still grievously injured! The second digger goes for Misfar and seems determined to swallow the elven mage whole. Nadiyya does not recover from Shaken, but is able to gulp down a healing potion as a free action.
Zain is dealt the Joker, everyone gets a Benny! Moving with unnatural grace (thanks to his new magical cloak), Zain moves up alongside Misfar to defend the wounded wizard. He swings Tempest with such force that the digger's chitinous armour shatters like a old pot! The second digger burrows into the sand. Nadiyya gets an Opportunity Attack, but her blade bounces off its hardened carapace. The monster resurfaces beside Misfar. Fuk gets the other Joker and finishes off the second digger before it can finish off the wizard.
The heroes wipe the monster blood from their weapons and continue through the pesh fields, wary of further attacks from underground. They reach the outskirts of Kelmarane unmolested. There is not a soul in sight, but the heroes can hear the barking of gnolls among the ruins. The abandoned church stands among a desolate and windswept cemetery. Zain is eager to cleanse the demonic corruption gestating in the shrine's undercroft. The party attempt to move unseen, darting between ruined buildings. Turning a corner, the heroes come face to face with a gnoll patrol.
Fuk ducks into the cover provided by a ruined shop front as the two gnoll marksmen raise their bows. Fuk fires first and one of the archers is punched of his feet by an arrow to the chest. Zain casts Deflection and the sun tattoo on his head burst into light, dazzling the remaining gnolls. The gnolls stab blindly with their short spears but miss. The four hyenas accompanying the patrol split up to attack Nadiyya and Misfar. Nadiyya's sword bursts into flame and she cuts a hyena in half!
Nadiyya twists aside as the gnoll archer takes a shot, smoothly decapitating the second hyena as she pivots around.
Misfar defends himself against the other two hyenas.
(Rules question, if anyone reading wants to chime in: does using the Burrow power in melee range of an opponent trigger an Opportunity Attack?)
Zain sweeps his new hammer at the two foes attacking him, one is shaken, the other is killed. He finishes the shaken gnoll off in the next round.
Nadiyya charges the gnoll archer and brings her flaming sword down upon him with calamitous effect. The two surviving hyenas flees into the desert.
"We should have taken on alive," Nadiyya suggests, somewhat belatedly, as Zain moves the bodies out of sight, "Wait, are any of them still alive? Did anyone check?"
Queue Vigour rolls at -2 for the 4x gnolls. It turns out that yes, one of them is still clinging to life. The heroes interrogate the wounded gnoll.
Q: "What's your name, gnoll?"
Q: "Alright... Narg. Answer our questions truthfully and we'll let you go.
"Who's in charge here, and where do we find them?"
A: "Kulldis tribe have new Alpha, a human warrior called Kardswann! He killed the old chieftain and took over the tribe. He is in the Battle Market - that large, domed building in the centre of town."
Q: "Tell us more about this Kardswann!"
A: "He is very strong! Very powerful to have defeated the old chieftain. He fights with a big axe and uses magic!"
Q: "How do we get into this Battle Market?"
A: "Doors are always open! Visitors are welcome!"
Q: "Know anything about a demon under the church?"
A: "I don't know anything about that!"
The heroes run out of questions. Narg looks up at them hopefully.
"Are we actually going to let him go?" Fuk asks.
The party decide to tie Narg up for now, and release him after they have murdered the rest of his tribe, leaving him to wander the desert alone and plan his revenge. Fuk plays along, even though his own plan is to sneak back here and murder the helpless gnoll while the rest of the party are occupied elsewhere.
Chapter Four: Xulthos the Defiler
The midday sun hangs over the ruined town of Kelmarane, its oppressive heat beating down on the heroes like an open furnace. Despite the sweat trickling down his bald head and stinging his eyes, Zain Al-Sahli interprets this as a promising omen, indicative that his goddess is watching over him.
"The light of Sarenrae shows us the path!" he cries, "We have a sacred duty to purge this church of demonic corruption!"
"Easy there, big fella. It's on our to-do list." Fuk grumbles.
The interior of the church has been gutted and skeletons litter the ground, remnants of the battle between the Pactmasters Guard and the corrupted priests of Sarenrae. A magical barrier obstructs the entrance to the crypt beneath the church. Before the party left the monastery, Almah disclosed the ritual for deactivating the barrier, but warned them that to do so would release a powerful demon trapped below.
"Once I read from this scroll, there's no going back," Misfar says, "We must defeat whatever evil lies beyond, or it will spread its foulness across the land once more."
Zain nods. He is totally up for this. Nadiyya and Fuk exchange a worried glance. What if they are biting off more than they can chew?
Too late for that now! Misfar speaks the magic words to dispel the barrier. Steeling themselves for the battle ahead, the party descend into a large, rough-hewn chamber, the walls of which are lined with shallow niches, where the shrouded corpses of the faithful were laid to rest.
There is no sign of the alleged demon, but the heroes do hear an evil voice whispering in the darkness.
"Many years have I languished in this prison, endless decades have I waited for the seal to be broken. Now, thanks to you, my captivity is at an end. But before I depart, I will kill you one by one, until the last of you begs to be made my slave. Which one of you, I wonder, will that be?"
"You are going nowhere, save back to Hell!" Zain cries, "Show yourself, demon, so that I may end your reign of terror!"
Fuk squints into the gloom and discerns a large, invisible creature clinging to the ceiling of the crypt.
"There! It's there!" the goblin squeals, firing an arrow at the unseen horror. His aim is true, but the demon is resistant to mundane weapons (half damage).
The thing on the ceiling scuttles forward. Misfar screams as invisible claws close on his torso, slashing through his dusty robes and breaking skin. He struggles free before the demon can cut him in half (Misfar spent his last Benny to Soak a truckload of damage).
Zain casts Solar Flare and the demon shrieks as it is blinded. The demon counters with Hypnotic Pattern, but the heroes shield their eyes and resist the mesmerising assault on their senses.
(Another rules question: does the penalty from Blind affect Parry? We ruled yes, but the rules as written aren't awfully clear on that point. Zain's argument was that a blind person can't defend as effectively against an attack they can't see coming.)
Zain swings Tempest, inflicting a wound on the demon and dislodging it from the ceiling. The invisibility effect fails and the heroes get their first good look at what they're fighting. Their adversary is a large, demonic spider monster with huge, snapping claws! It is so g*&$+@n-awful-looking that it triggers an immediate Fear test from all who gaze upon it! The whole party fails! Nadiyya is frightened and gains the Hesitant hindrance for the rest of the battle (act on the worst of two action cards). Misfar is panicked and flees from the crypt, before his lifeless corpse joins the dead interred therein. Zain is Distracted (after a Critical Fail on his Spirit roll, everyone agreed he got off lightly). Fuk is horrified and gains a Major phobia of all demons (- 2 to all rolls while in their presence)!
"Cowardly wizard! Stay and die with honour!" Zain hollers at Misfar's back.
Misfar keeps running.
Nadiyya is dealt a much needed Joker (and everyone gets a Benny - even with the Hesitant hindrance, a Joker still counts). She screams and drives her flaming sword into the belly of the prone demon! It suffers another two wounds and squeals like a pig being forced through a mangle.
"You have not seen the last of Xulthos the Defiler!" the demon hisses.
It rights itself and attempts to flee, leaving a trail of acidic demon blood in its wake. Nadiyya and Zain get attacks of opportunity on the retreating monster. Nadiyya swings her flaming sword and hacks off one of the demon's spider legs, hindering its escape.
"Defile this!!" Zain roars, bringing Tempest down on the demon's head and splattering demon brains across the floor!
Chapter 5: Battle for the Battle Market
With a bit of GM prompting, the party remember they have heard the names Vardishal and Kardswann before. Misfar pulls his copy of Courts of Stone and Flame from his pack and flips forward to the bit about the Genie War. Both Vardishal and Kardswann were Templars of the Five Winds, along with three others: Davashuum, Pazhvann and Zayifid. All five templars were powerful jann in the service of a djinni princess called Nefeshti.
"Why would a powerful jann be leading a pack of degenerate gnolls?" Misfar muses.
"At the monastery, I spoke to a spirit calling himself Vardishal." Zain adds, "He told me where to find this sweet magic hammer."
"These Templars have been in-active for centuries," Misfar says, "Yet we have crossed paths with two of them in the space of as many days. It is most peculiar indeed!"
Peculiarities aside, the party still have a job to do! It's about 3pm and the party are only lightly wounded. According to Narg, Kardswann can be found in the Battle Market, a large, domed structure in the centre of Kelmarane. If the gnoll can be trusted (lol), they should be able to swan in through the front door.
The heroes advance up the main thoroughfare toward the Battle Market. The front doors are wide open and a colorfully costumed goblin waits to greet them.
"Be welcome travellers! Welcome to the Kelmarane Battle Market!" the strange creature simpers, prancing this way and that as though in dire need of a lavatory, "Kardsw - sorry, Ugruk, master of the Kullid tribe welcomes you! Come in! Come in!"
Q: "Ugruk? We heard Kardswann was in charge here."
A: "Ugruk is new-new chieftain."
Q: "So what happened to the old-new chieftain?"
A: "Old-new chieftain is indisposed right now."
"Indisposed is a pretty big word," Zain rumbles, menacingly, "How about you explain a little more clearly, for those of us with only d4 Smarts."
The goblin greeter explains that about an hour ago, Kardswann fell into a deep sleep and Ugruk, his second in command, seized his chance to take control of the tribe. The party realise that Kardswann's incapacitation must have occured around the same time that they were finishing up with Xulthos the Defiler. Could the two incidents be connected?
The heroes enter the Battle Market. The centre of the building is dominated by a raised, blood-stained stage, overlooked by balconies on the higher levels. A crowd of gnolls, orcs and human brigands gather around the battle stage, baying for the next death-match to begin. Several seedy looking smugglers are seated at a long counter, where a one-eyed gnoll bartender is serving drinks.
The heroes sidle up to the bar and order drinks. Meanwhile, two human prisoners are being dragged up onto the battle stage.
"New in Kelmarane?" one of the smugglers enquires, "Must be, if I've not seen you before. If you need weapons or armour and have the coin to pay for quality, then I'm your man. Gorundal's the name."
"Nadiyya Emberstorm." Nadiyya replies, "What's going on over there?"
"Savages!" the merchant mutters, quietly enough that he wont be overheard, "The Kulldis captured a group of adventurers several days back. They've been making them fight in the arena. They call it spirt, but it's a death sentence. Oh, look, here we go again."
"Hurvank!! Hurvank!!" chant the crowd.
"Who or what is Hurvank?" Misfar asks.
"Arena champion," Gorundal answers, "Big bastard. Nasty too. I don't think I can watch...."
A large, brutish ogre stomps onto the stage, dragging a studded greatclub.
At the same time, a tough-looking gnoll warrior with grey streaks in his fur appears on the balcony overlooking the arena.
"That's Chief Ugruk," Gorundal explains, following Nadiyya's gaze, "The top dog. He calls the shots, for now at least."
Nadiyya does not like the odds stacked against the two unarmed prisoners. Misfar does not like the odds stacked against the party if they aggro the entire Battle Market all at once. Unable to sit drinking while two defenceless men get smashed into jelly, Nadiyya vaults onto the battle stage. She swings her flaming sword and severs Hurvank's arm above the elbow! The crowd are shocked into silence as blood gushes from the wound! Hurvank gawps at his severed arm, flopping around at his feet like some kind of horrible fish.
Chief Ugruk is the first to recover his wits.
"One thousand gold to whoever brings me her corpse!"
The gnolls and orcs and human brigands clustered around the battle stage exchange looks. That's a lot of gold and no-one wants to share! Misfar off-loads a Burst spell into the tightly-packed crowd, obliterating two gnolls and a human mercenary. The surviving bad guys look pissed, so he takes cover behind the bar. The one-eyed gnoll bartender smashes a bottle against the counter and menaces Misfar with the jagged end. Misfar cracks the gnoll bartender over the head with his staff, knocking him out cold.
Zain charges into the crowd and starts swinging Tempest, taking advantage of his new Sweep edge. Chief Ugruk makes a Support/Intimidation roll to motivate Hurvank (+1). The wounded ogre retrieves his greatclub and swings it clumsily in his left hand. Nadiyya ducks and rolls under the attack. Three gnolls gang up on Zain, three more climb onto the battle stage to claim the bounty on Nadiyya's corpse.
The two prisoners are not as helpless as first thought, the smaller man screams encouragement (Boost Trait) and the larger man bravely grapples one of Nadiyya's assailants in a vice-like headlock.
"Who are you guys?" Nadiyya asks.
"I'm Felliped - you can call me Fel." the little guy answers, "The big guy is Ox."
"Less talking, more fighting!" Ox grunts, breaking the gnolls neck for emphasis and kicking its sword over to Fel.
The bard scoops up the weapon. He's not much of a fighter, but his incompetent flailing does take some of the pressure off Nadiyya.
Hurvank makes another clumsy sweep with his greatclub, heedless of his gnoll 'allies' on the battle stage. Nadiyya and Fel continue hacking at the ogre champion, but cannot seem to put him down for good.
Fuk hears a crazed shout and turns to see the goblin greeter from the main entrance bearing down on him with a knife raised! Fuk buries his axe in the goblins' skull and leaves it there, switching back to his bow.
Chief Ugruk summons his personal bodyguards onto the balcony. A few of them have bows.
Zain spends his last Benny soaking damage from the three gnolls ganging up on him.
Misfar grabs a bottle of liqueur from behind the bar. He takes a swig to steady his nerves, then throws the bottle at the ogre. It shatters against Hurvank's broad back, drenching the ogre in alcohol. Nadiyya snaps her fingers (re: Elemental Manipulation) and ignites the ogre's alcohol soaked loincloth. Hurvank goes up like a bonfire (and starts taking on-going fire damage every round). Hurvank stops, drops and rolls to extinguish the flames.
Chief Ugruk barks a command and the gnoll archers on the balcony open fire. Nadiyya is shot twice, but has no Bennies left to soak. Oxvard is shot in the spine, he convulses and falls prone, the arrow protruding from his back.
Fell scrambles over to his dying companion and tells him (tearfully) that everything is going to be OK.
"Won't you sing for me, Fel?" Ox whispers, blood tricking from the corners of his mouth, "Just this one last time...."
Nadiyya crawls away, wincing at the two arrows in her side. Behind her, Hurvank has beaten out the last of the flames and regained his feet, a mask of dull witted fury twisting his burnt-ass face. Being a vindictive sort, Chieft Ugruk holds up a paw - ordering his retinue to hold fire (they are essentially on Hold). Hurvank looms over the wounded woman. Understanding Nadiyya's predicament, but unable to reach her, Zain hurls Tempest at the ogre. The hammer hits Hurvank in the face! The ogre is shaken! The GM awards Zain a Benny for heroism and he immediately uses it to re-roll his damage. The new total is enough to explode Hurvank's thick skull like an over-ripe melon!! The ogre goes down in a shower of bone fragments and matted hair! Chief Ugruk is so stunned he forgets to give his bodyguards the order to fire.
Nadiyya takes cover behind Hurvank's slumped corpse, shielding her from the archers on the balcony. Arrows thud into the dead ogre's back. Chief Ugruk leaves two archers to provide cover and leads his other two bodyguards down to join the battle. Felliped applies pressure to Oxvard's wound, sobbing as the light fades from his old friends eyes. Zain vaults up onto the battle stage, big hands glowing with the healing power of his goddess.
"No!" Nadiyya cries, pointing to Oxvard, "Help him!"
Unfortunately, Zain rolls a Critical Failure on his Faith roll. Sarenrae rejects his prayer to save Ox. The light in Zain's hands abruptly dies.
"He's gone!" Felliped cries, cradling his dead friend, "Oxvard is gone!"
"But why?!" Zain stammers, his faith in Sarenrae shaken to the bedrock.
A red mist descends on the bereaved bard. Fell grabs his sword and charges Chief Ugruk. One of the gnoll bodyguards gets in the way and the raging bard cuts him down!
Zain tries to heal Nadiyya. She is healed! Several arrows thud into the cleric's back and he is driven to his knees. Fuk shoots and kills one of the archers. Misfar crit fails his Spellcasting roll and is Fatigued. He starts peering around suspiciously, expecting to see a pugwampi.
Felliped kills the second bodyguard! Wow, he sure is mad about his dead friend! Only Ugruk is left standing. Nadiyya stabs the chieftain in the back, then decapitates him on the back-swing.
After eight (exhausting) combat rounds, the battle for Kelmarane is won!
Chapter Six: A Prelude to War
After the deafeat of Chief Ugruk, the surviving members of the Kullid tribe slink away, tails tucked between their legs. Fuk clambers onto the roof of the Battle Market and flourishes a colourful rag to signal the all clear. Almah and her retinue abandon the old monastery and head into town. Almah claims the suite of rooms overlooking the Battle Market, which she renames the Victory Market. Garavel, Zastoran and Dashki are assigned quarters nearby. The merchant princess grants the party the deed to a large (albeit ruined) mansion near the waterfront.
A large, powerfully built man is found sleeping within a locked storeroom. The party assume this is Kardswann, former Templar of the Five Winds and more recently, usurped leader of the Kullid tribe. Misfar and Father Zastoran both examine the sleeper, but nothing they attempt will rouse the slumbering janni. Misfar has Kardswann moved to the party's new headquarters, where he poses less of an immediate threat to the merchant princess.
As word spreads that Kelmarane has been made safe, travellers begin trickling into the town. These travellers bring coin and their coin attracts merchants. Soon, the Victory Market is flourishing and the road to Kelmarane is thick with caravans, carrying goods to and from the town.
Once their wounds have healed, the heroes have the opportunity to enjoy some downtime and pursue their own personal goals.
Nadiyya is driven to learn about her ifreeti heritage. Every day, she visits Kardswann's room, in the hope that the comatose templar has woken up. Every day, she is disappointed. Instead, she pores over the party's copy of Courts of Stone and Flame and visits the market to look for rare book vendors recently arrived in Kelmarane.
Meanwhile, Misfar fills his hours with painstaking research into other ruins swallowed by the desert. He uncovers references to a lost temple called Marudshar, located somewhere to the north. Could this be the site he's been looking for? He scribbles frantically in his journal.
The death of Oxvard weighs heavily on Zane's conscience. He returns to the old monastery to meditate on his failure to save the warrior. He receives a vision from the goddess, showing how the Lions of Senara looted a shrine to Sarenrae and disturbed the bodies of the priests interred therein. Zain approaches Fel, demanding the location of the desecrated shrine and that they travel there together to lay the dead to rest. Zain asks Fuk to come along, knowing the goblin's survival skills will make it easier to locate the shrine. Fuk is just happy to be included!
(This side-quest was treated as a Quick Encounter.) Between Felliped's recollections and Fuk's desert lore, the trio find their way back to the ruined temple. Skeletons of the restless dead wander the darkened halls. Zain brandishes his holy symbol and compels the old bones return to their graves. This is enough to lift the curse on Felliped and restore Zain's faith in Sarenrae.
Meanwhile, a travelling priest comes to Kelmarane, looking for the heroes. He is tall, bald and gaunt, dressed in colourful robes that do little to soften his grim demeanour. He sits cross-legged on what used to be the battle stage and waits for the heroes to come to him. Almah, Garavel, Nadiyya and Misfar approach. Who is this mysterious holy man and what does he want?
Q: "Who are you and what do you want?"
A: "I am Zayifid the Wanderer. I heard tales of the mighty heroes who reclaimed Kelmarane for the Pactmasters of Katapesh and wanted to see them for myself.
"However, as I walked in the shadow of Pale Mountain, I noticed a great gathering of the other gnoll tribes. The Al'Chorhaiv, the Broken Jaw, the Wormhollow clan - those and many more. All have answered the call of the Carrion King and gathered in the House of the Beast.
"It is my fear that word of your victory has reached Ghartok's ear. Now he gathers an army to retake Kelmarane with an overwhelming show of force - and slay the heroes who dared to oppose his will."
Q: "Hold on. Zayifid? As in Zayifid-Templar-of-the-Five-Winds-Zayifid?"
A: "Er... no. I don't know who that is."
Nadiyya is convinced, but Misfar is not so easily swayed from his suspicions.
Q: "Are you sure you're not THAT Zayifid? I mean, it seems unlikely that another, totally different Zayifid would turn up in the story at this moment."
A: "I'm not THAT Zayifid!! Can we get back to the gnoll army, please?"
"For now...." Misfar mutters.
Q: "So who is this Carrion King?"
A: "Ghartok. A monstrous gnoll pledged to Rovagug, god of destruction. He commands all the other tribes in the Pale Mountain region. He lairs in the House of the Beast, a huge temple complex built long ago by evil priests, as a place to conduct their wicked rituals."
Q: "And you want us to kill him?"
A: "It is in your own interests to bring the King low, before his army descends from the mountain to wipe your town from the map. I only bring you this warning as a courtesy, for I abhor death and bloodshed and would not see the people of Kelmarane suffer needlessly. What you do with this information is now up to you."
Having delivered his warning, Not-THAT-Zayifid vanishes in a puff of smoke.
"Yeah, that was totally THAT Zayifid." Misfar says, "But why would he lie about his identity? Can we believe anything else that he said?"
"It would be foolish to disregard his warning." Garavel says, "Perhaps when your companions return, the four of you could search for this House of the Beast. If the holy man spoke true and there is an army of gnolls gathering there, it should not be too hard to find."
"I will instruct Dashki to accompany you," Almah adds, "He thinks like a gnoll and could be of use to you."
"... smells like a gnoll too. ..." Garavel mutters, but he is glad to have Dashki out of town and away from the princess.
Chapter Seven: Into the Brazen Peaks
The party are now Seasoned!
The heroes are reunited with their camels, which have been largely ignored for the majority of book one. The steadfast beasts don't appear to have taken this personally, apart from Geminara, but she was always a b++~&. She goes for Misfar's fingers as he tries to fit her bridle.
Dashki reckons that if the party travel quickly and quietly, they could reach Pale Mountain within four days. He is not enthused with the idea of leading strangers so deep into gnoll territory, but he will do as the princess commands. Felliped is also travelling with the party.
Father Zastoran gives each hero a healing potion. Zain approaches Gorundal the merchant/smuggler (who now has a semi-permanent store front in the Victory Market) to buy a platemail corselet to cover his torso (Zain makes a Wealth roll; he gets the item but goes broke).
As per the Travel rules in SWADE, a playing card is drawn for each day that the party are on the road. A face card (Jack > Ace) results in an encounter, with the card's suit determining the nature of the encounter: enemies, strangers, treasure or an obstacle.
Day One (Four of Clubs): With Fuk and Dashki leading the way, the party ride out of Kelmarane and into the foothills. The spire of Pale Mountain is visible in the distance, towering over the lesser peaks. Fel sings to keep everyone's spirits up, until Dashki hushes the bard into silence. This is gnoll territory and you never know who is listening....
Day Two (Queen of Clubs): The distant roar of a waterfall grows louder as the party resume their trek through the mountains. They reach the base of the Anvil at midday, where the Pale River plunges 150ft into a deep pool of churning water.
"We must climb." Dashki states, "Who has rope?"
Climbing the waterfall requires 3x Athletics checks, each one representing a third of the ascent. Everyone in the party has d6 Athletics - except Dashki, who has d8 but no Wild Die. Nadiyya volunteers to go first and secure a rope to assist the others.
"Wait!" Misfar says, doing some quick mental arithmetic in his head, "I can burrow through the rock by spending three Power Points. I can move 15ft per round, or 30ft with a Raise. If the waterfall is 150ft tall, it will take 10 rounds for me to reach the top, or 5 with a Raise. The duration of the spell is five rounds. I can take additional recipients for another 1 point per head. Theoretically, I can take half the party - including the camels - to the top, assuming I roll a Raise on my Spellcasting die, for 13 Power Points. After a short rest to recover, I can bring up the other half of the party!"
"Are you sure you've worked that out right?" Nadiyya asks, doubtfully.
"Sounds complicated..." Fuk agrees, "Fuk not want to get stuck in rock if you mess up."
"I don't think the camels are going to like this plan either." Zain adds.
"They'll like falling 150ft when a rope frays a lot less!" Misfar snaps.
The heroes have to blindfold their mounts before they will follow Misfar into the wall of solid rock. It takes two Bennies, but the wizard gets his Raise and burrows to the top of the waterfall, taking Geminara, Nadiyya & Blaze, Zain & Sonny and one of the other two unnamed camels. They emerge safely and wave down to the others, stranded at the bottom of the cliff.
It takes two more trips and another five hours, but Misfar eventually ferries everyone to the top of the Anvil. The sun is setting and the party make camp, wishing they had just taken their chances with the rope.
Day Three (Red Joker):
A Joker means two different encounters occur simultaneously, in this case: obstacle + stranger/s.
The mountain path is blocked by a landslide. A wounded lion is trapped, pinned down by a heavy rock. The helpless beast snarls when it spots the party approaching.
"Kill the beast!" Dashki urges, "We cannot clear the path while it is alive. It will certainly attack us the moment it is free."
Fuk raises his bow, but Zain motions for him to lower the weapon. Zain lays Tempest down and approaches the lion unarmed. He is able to calm the beast, so that it does not attack as he lifts the boulder. The injured lion limps clear and Zain calls upon Sarenrae to heal this noble beast. The lion is so grateful, it follows the party! Zain names the beast Mufasa, because of course he does. The party clear the road and continue their journey toward Pale Mountain.
Day Four (King of Clubs): Early the next morning, the rest of Mufasa's pride come sniffing around the camp, looking for an easy meal. They are scrawny beasts and desperately hungry. The party spend a Benny to influence the story! According to Nadiyya, Mufasa was the leader of this pack, but was left for dead after he was trapped beneath the rock-fall. His brother Scar (sigh) has taken over th pride and the two lions must fight for dominance! The heroes cannot interfere in this combat!
It's not much of a contest. Mufasa pounces on Scar and utterly wrecks his opponent in a flurry of savage claw attacks. It's all over in seconds.
"Wow, Fuk glad we didn't have to fight that guy!" Fuk says.
Mufasa nods respecrfully to Zain and leads his pack away, presumably back to Pride Rock for some hot lion loving. Mayhaps one day they will meet again (assuming someone takes the requisite edge to get a permanent animal companion).
Chapter Eight: Doorstep of the Beast
Mid-afternoon, the party arrive outside the House of the Beast. They would have arrived sooner, only Fuk decided he wanted to skin the dead lion and craft its pelt into a cool cloak (so his face is framed by the beasts jaws). He does look pretty badass.
An enormous temple nestles amidst the crags of Pale Mountain. It is ominously quiet. Gnolls mounted astride giant hyenas patrol near the ruins, but there is no sign of the army Zayifid claimed was gathering here. Misfar notices that these gnolls look much bigger than the ones from the Kullid tribe. The party are suspicious. Why did Zayifid lure them here, if there is no threat to Kelmarane?
Against their better judgement, the party approach the temple. They leave Fel to look after the camels. They reach the outer wall without attracting any attention. The main entrance is guarded by a squad of huge, armoured gnolls, so the heroes give that a wide berth. Fortunately, a section of wall has collapsed, creating a back door into the inner compound.
Beyond the wall lies a large courtyard, choked by a forest of tall limestone pillars. A half-dozen gargoyles carved from chalky white stone perch watchfully atop several of the columns. The gargoyles don't appear to be alive or dangerous, but the party are immediately suspicious. Unfortunately, there is no other way of reaching the main temple building, besides fighting the gnoll guards on the front gate.
Sure enough, the gargoyles animate as soon as the party enter the compound. Rather than attacking, the gargoyles pair up and attempt to grapple intruders. Misfar is Entangled (bad), while Fuk is Bound (worse). both victims are hoisted up into the air! Fuk crit fails his Athletics roll and drops his bow. Misfar wriggles out of his robe and falls back to the ground, leaving the two gargoyles to fight over his travel-stained rags.
The two gargoyles holding Fuk ascend, until they are above the huge domed temple. Part of the dome has collapsed. The gargoyles release Fuk, dropping him through the hole in the roof. Fuk reaches out and grabs onto the edge! Below him, a giant scorpion circles restlessly, venomous stinger poised to strike at anyone dropping into its lair. Fuk tries to pull himself up, but just doesn't possess the upper body strength. The last two gargoyles circle the struggling goblin, waiting for his fingers to slip.
The others saw Fuk fall, but aren't aware of his current predicament, dangling 50ft above the den of a massive scorpion! They race toward the temple. Zain unbars the door and charges the scorpion! He bats the questing pincers aside and smacks it upside the head. Nadiyya puts a flaming arrow between the giant scorpion's eyes, killing it!
Zain looks up, he can see Fuk dangling from the edge of the roof.
"Jump!" Zain roars, "I will catch you!"
Zain catches him!
The last few gargoyles are driven away. The party find stairs leading down into the sub-levels beneath the temple. The familiar stench of gnolls wafts up from below, as well as something far fouler....
Chapter Nine: Digging for Secrets
Steeling their resolve, the party descend into the belly of the (House of the) Beast. Sickly green flames flicker from smoky braziers and the air is thick with the stench of carrion. The dungeon beneath the temple was once a tomb, but the industrious gnolls have transformed it into a sprawling excavation site. Wretched slaves toil beneath the whips of their gnoll overlords, piling wooden barrows high with ancient bones and hauling them deeper into the complex.
"What are they digging for?" Nadiyya asks.
"Fuk ask!" Fuk offers, slipping away before anyone can grab him.
Stealthily, Fuk approaches a pair of human slaves, too busy with their back-breaking labour to notice the lightfooted little goblin.
"Hey! What you dig for?" Fuk asks.
A roll on the Reaction table determines these slaves are Cooperative. They are prepared to exchange information for a promise that the party will break their chains. The slaves know the gnolls are expanding this level of the dungeon, but there are whispers that Rokova - Ghartok's second in command - is using the excavation work to conceal his own search for something else entirely. The slaves don't know what the sneaky gnoll mystic is really after.
Q: "Where do we find Ghartok?"
A: "The Carrion King is usually lounging on his Maggot Throne, below. Follow your nose, you can't miss it - although you may wish that you could."
Q: "What about this Rokova?"
A: "He has a room on this floor, although he rarely uses it. He can usually be found with the King."
Q: "What are you doing with all the bones?"
A: "We take them from the crypts and empty them into a hole."
(they don't know why, only that the gnolls told them to do it)
Q: "How did you end up here?"
A: "We were attached to a merchant caravan bound for Katapesh. The caravan master took a shortcut that skirted the Brazen Peaks and we were ambushed by gnolls. Those of us that survived the attack were chained together, dragged here and put to work."
Fuk assures the slaves he will be back to free them after the party have dealt with the Carrion King. The prisoners agree to bide their time.
A gnoll patrol passes. They snarl at the slaves, but fail to notice Fuk.
"Fuk come back soon!" the goblin promises, melting into the shadows.
The party consider their options. If Rokova is working against the Carrion King, it could be worth checking his room, but they don't know where it is, nor do they want to blow their cover searching for it. However, if they can dig up some dirt on the treacherous mystic, he could be a useful ally against the King. Also, they really want to know what he's looking for beneath the temple.
The party try to sneak passed the gnoll overseers guarding the mine (using the Quick Encounter rules). The heroes (and Dashki) remain unseen. Fuk spots two hulking gnolls (the slaves called them Unchosen) guarding a door.
'That has to lead somewhere interesting', the goblin reckons.
But how to bypass the guards without alerting the rest of the dungeon? Can gnolls see in the dark? Dashki says they can. The party recall that Dashki is some kind of self-proclaimed gnoll whisperer. Rather than attempt anything too convoluted, Misfar hits the Unchosen with a Slumber spell. The huge gnolls yawn, then slump to the ground, dozing peacefully. Fuk ensures they never wake again.
"Fuk check for traps!" Fuk announces, after wiping the blood off his axe.
"Wait!" Misfar cries, pulling the goblin back, "I sense something...."
The wizard detects a magical trap on the door, but cannot discern its exact nature, nor can he dispel it without the Dispel power. Instead, he casts Burrow on himself and Fuk. The two of them sink into the floor and emerge on the other side of the trapped portal.
They are in a study, of sorts. A large magnifying lens has been affixed to the edge of a makeshift desk, the surface of which is covered by ancient scrolls and faded maps. A bright orange robe has been discarded in one corner of the room. Misfar recalls Zayifid the Wanderer wearing something similar when he visited Kelmarane. Rifling through the notes strewn across the desk, the wizard finds a journal written by Rokova or Zayifid or whoever actually uses this chamber.
'Several weeks have passed since I came to this loathsone place, yet I am no closer to finding the Tomb of Shirak than the day I arrived! All the clues point me toward the Maggot Throne, but I cannot get close while that brutish mongrel Ghartok occupies it.
'Rumours circulate of a group of heroes reclaiming Kelmarane from the Kullid tribe. With a small nudge in the right direction, perhaps they can be manipulated into taking out another petty warlord. With any luck, they'll destroy each other and save me the trouble of tying off any loose ends.
'I visited Kelmarane in the guise of a travelling priest. In hindsight, I should have come up with a better alias than Zayifid. I baited the hook, now I have to wait and see if they bite.... Once Ghartok is defeated and I crown myself the new Carrion King, there will be nobody to stop me unlocking the secrets of the tomb and claiming the great treasure that lies within!'
"Son of a witch!" Misfar curses, tossing the journal across the room, "That bald bastard lied my face! There was never any army! He just wanted us to do his dirty work!"
Misfar converts a Benny into five Power Points and uses them to burrow out. He describes to the others what he and Fuk found inside the sealed room. Zain feels an overwhelming sense of unease emanating from his magical hammer, almost as though the spirit of Vardishal is trying to tell him something. The party decide to stick with the original plan to take down the Carrion King, with a side objective of murdering this Rokova clown while they're about it.
Chapter Ten: Hail to the King
The party are low on Power Points, but every hour they spend loitering in the dungeon increases the risk of discovery. The heroes decide to take the fight to Ghartok, while they still have the element of surprise.
Following the stench of death, the party descend into the throne room of the Carrion King. The air here is foul beyond belief, but the heroes all pass their Vigour rolls to resist Fatigue. The southern half of the chamber is separated from the northern side by a deep pit, half-filled with the bones and the bodies of the dead. More bones clatter through a hole in the ceiling every few minutes, most likely dumped there by the slaves on the floor above. Narrow walkways along the east and west walls of the chamber traverse the pit, but these walkways are guarded by the Unchosen.
A huge, scarred gnoll sprawls across a seat fashioned from shattered bones and held together by lengths of ropey sinew. At his side stands a aged, grey-furred gnoll leaning heavily on a staff. These two must be Ghartok and Rokova, the party assume.
The heroes stealthily advance to the edge of the pit, using the columns for cover. They are close enough to eavesdrop on the conversation taking place between the two gnolls.
"How much longer must I wait?" growls the Carrion King.
"Difficult to say, your highness." Rokova answers, "My spies report the Heroes of Kelmarane have infiltrated the temple, but we seem to have lost track of them. Why degrade yourself hunting them down, when we know they will come to us? They are here to assassinate you, after all."
"A fools endeavour!" snarls the King, "I am blessed by Rovagug the Destroyer. All who oppose me feed the worms."
The heroes initiate hostilities with a surprise round! Zain bullrushes the nearest Unchosen and buries Tempest in its neck. Fuk pops out from behind a pillar and shoots the King. Ghartok soaks the damage, but goes Berserk!! The audacity of these cursed heroes, to oppose him here, in his throne room!! Misfar casts Sandstorm, centred on the Maggot Throne. Ghartok and Rokova emerge unscathed due to a less than stellar damage roll.
Rokova takes a step back and casts Armour on himself (+4). Two more Unchosen lumber forward to defend their king. Misfar casts a spear-sized shard of glass at the one charging towards Fuk. The Unchosen is Shaken, and Misfar is all out of Power Points. He spends a Benny to get some more. Fuk shoots the shaken gnoll in the eye, killing him outright. Ghartok leaps across the carrion pit, landing amongst the heroes! He swings his axe in a ruinous arc, both Nadiyya and Fuk must spend Bennies to avoid being wounded. Zain sweeps his own axe in a circle, disembowling the two Unchosen trying to gang up on him. They both topple into the carrion pit, clutching handfuls of their own spilt guts.
"Rovoka! Aid your king!" Ghartok commands, as the last of the Unchosen fall.
The treacherous mystic raises his staff and casts a bolt of flame at his master! The Carrion King is wounded!
"Treacherous cur!!" Ghartok roars, "So bit it! Die alongside these infidels! Awaken, avatar of Rovagug! Awaken, Thkot Tal!!"
The surface of the carrion pit ripples as a gigantic centipede monster
emerges from the loathsome depths! It is over 30ft long and covered with spikes!
The gnoll mystic shimmers and is replaced by a young, athletic man with fiery red hair.
"Help me kill it, then I'll explain!" the stranger cries.
Dashki takes a shot at the abomination, his arrow bounces off its hardened, carapace. Zain braves the spikes to attack, he practically cuts the thing in half, but it refuses to die! Misfar casts a magical spear into the centipede and finishes the job! Thkot Tal collapses across the battlefield. Not to be disheartened by the fact his monstrous pet got taken out before it could act, Ghartok sweeps his axe at Nadiyya and Fuk, hitting them both. They are seriously wounded.
The Carrion King is dealt a Joker! That is super bad news for the good guys! He is all done playing around and makes a Wild Attack against Fuk! The goblin is incapacitated! Fuk's Vigour is permanently reduced to d4 and he is Bleeding Out! Zain would just love to attack the King, but if he doesn't stabilize Fuk, the goblin will definitely die. Zain heals Fuk. Misfar tries to put the King to sleep, but Ghartok resists.
Rovoka holds his action. He seems content to let the heroes exhaust their resources battling the gnoll king. Dashki shoots Ghartok in the back, but does so little damage the King doesn't notice. Ghartok resists Slumber again. He is full of energy and not at all ready for bed!
"More healing please!" Fuk cries, after his lingering wound penalties cause another attack to sail wide of the mark.
"Drink your damn potions!!" Zain bellows, charging into melee with the King.
Misfar casts Slumber again.
"Sooner or later, this will work!" he says.
(Not this round, it doesn't. Keeping wasting your Power Points, wizard. Hahaha!)
Ghartok cleaves! He leaves a scratch across Zain's new breastplate that won't polish out anytime soon. Zain casts Dazzling Aura to blind the King (at least temporarily). Ghartok staggers back a step, shielding his eyes. Another step and he will be on the edge of the pit....
Seeing that the Carrion King is on his last legs, Rokova casts Bolt and finishes him off. A fireball burns a smoking hole in his chest! Ghartok falls to his knees and Zain kicks him into the pit. The King lies still, smoke, sprawled across the body of the dead centipede.
"Wow! You guys were lucky I was here to save your asses!" the red-headed stranger says, smiling broadly, "No need to thank me! It's all in a days work for a Templar of the Five Winds!"
Chapter Eleven: Deals with Djinn
The Carrion King is slain, betrayed by his own treacherous vizier, who it transpires is more than he seems. Shedding his disguise, the gnoll mystic is revealed as Zayifid, one of the Templars of the Five Winds.
"So is this your true form, djinn?" Misfar demands, "Or just another layer in your rich and creamy lasagne of deception?"
"You see me as I am," Zayifid replies, "I must apologise for my subterfuge. It seemed prudent to keep my real identity a secret, at least until we had dealt with Ghartok. Bravo, by the way. Yes, I dealt the killing stroke, but you all helped tremendously!"
"We've read your journal, Zayifid." Misfar interjects, 'We know you lied to us. There was never any army. You just needed to get us here to kill your boss."
"Oh, there would have been an army," Zayifid answers, "In my guise as Rokova, it was all I could do to delay Ghartok sounding the call to arms. The moment he heard how you defeated the Kullid tribe, he became obsessed with your destruction - but I convinced him I could bring you here, saving countless lives in the process. You're welcome!
"Now that Ghartok is out of the picture, I can take his place."
Zayifid's outline shimmers as he assumes the likeness of the Carrion King.
"The fine people of Kelmarane need not worry about the gnolls of Pale Mountain ever again! Job well done! Bravo all round! I imagine you're keen to get back and let the princess know how you saved the town! Safe journey, my friends!"
"We're not going anywhere until you tell us what you're searching for." Nadiyya states, crossing her arms in defiance of Zayifid's dismissal.
"In the Tomb of Shirak." Misfar adds.
"You got me!" the djinn chuckles ruefully, "Long before this place was claimed by servants of the Destroyer, it was the palace of an elemental prince. Shirak served the prince and was entombed below with many powerful artifacts. A magical barrier prevents me accessing the tomb, hence the search for the secret entrance. Help me find the entrance and I will share the loot!"
The heroes go into a huddle to discuss Zayifid's proposition. They don't trust the capricious djinn any further than they could throw the lamp he crawled out of. Nadiyya believes the relic hidden beneath the temple could help her understand her ifreeti heritage. Misfar has developed a powerful dislike for Zayifid and wants nothing more to do with him. If there are still servants of the Destroyer occupying the House of the Beast, Zain is compelled to burn them from existence. Fuk abstains, he doesn't really mind either way.
When the party turn back to the Maggot Throne, it is unoccupied. Zayifid has turned ethereal and disappeared while they were talking.
"Son of a witch!" Misfar cries.
The party search the throne room for the secret entrance to Shirak's Tomb. Misfar notices that the Maggot Throne rotates on its base and that turning it 90' opens a secret door! The party descend into the Tomb of Shirak....
Chapter Twelve: Tomb Raider/s
The heroes start down a flight of granite-hewn stairs, spiralling into darkness. A faint light appears, growing ever brighter as they descend. They emerge into an elaborate underground garden illuminated by large, glowing crystals. The verdant foliage rustles gently, caressed by cool breeze that seems to come from nowhere. A shallow stream gurgles across a pebbly streambed. The scene would be perfectly idyllic, if not for the four sandstone sculptures throughout the garden, each one chiseled into the form of a huge, angry face.
The water is refreshing and the fruit growing upon the trees is ripe. The party enjoy a short break to recover their Power Points. The stone heads are a little disconcerting and the heroes decide not to linger. An arch in the western wall leads to a smaller chamber. A heavy bronze plug seals the entrance to a lower level. Zain manages to get a good grip on the edge of the immense disc and lifts it up, revealing a deep, dark pit. Unsettling whispers emanate from the dark, tiny voices skittering about on the edge of hearing.
The heroes all pass their Fear checks.
"Let's get this over with." Nadiyya suggests, uncoiling a length of rope from her pack.
The heroes tie several ropes together and knot one end around the almond tree in the garden. The pit is 100ft deep and crawling with illusory spiders that the heroes do their best to ignore. Nadiyya almost loses her grip when several spiders seem to become tangled in her hair.
"Nadiyya, don't panic!" Misfar calls down to her, "It's only an illusion, they're not real!"
Nadiyya calms down and reaches the bottom safely, as do the rest of the heroes. Fuk is disappointed that he could not eat any of the illusory vermin.
The rope ends above a tall stone pillar, rising from the centre of a huge, subterranean cavern. Surrounding the pillar on all sides is a sea of treasure! Gold and silver pieces glitter in the light from Zain's torch and giant gemstones rise from the surface like icebergs in an ocean of coin. The hoard is vast beyond belief!
"Fuk rich!" Fuk sings, dancing on the spot, "Fuk wealthiest goblin in all world!"
"A person could not hope to spend even a share of this treasure," Nadiyya marvels, "Not even in a hundred lifetimes...."
"We can rebuild the ruined temple in Kelmarane, bigger and better than the one in Katapesh." Zain says excitedly, imagining the glory of such an undertaking.
Misfar is silent, staring hard at the golden hoard.
"Something about this seems off...." he murmurs.
Misfar casts Dispel, but does not roll high enough to change anything. Not to be deterred, he stirs the surface of the treasure pile with his staff. He smears the image, as though he were tracing a brush across the surface of wet paint. The gold appears to have no physical presence whatsoever.
"As I suspected!" Misfar states, looking pretty pleased with himself, "Another illusion."
The other heroes are less pleased with this development.
"What wizard do to gold?!" Fuk demands, "Still spend good, right? Still legal tender?!"
"I'm afraid not, my smelly friend. No merchants will accept counterfeit coin, let alone illusory gold."
"Gaaaaaagghhh!!!" Fuk shrieks, writhing on the floor in anguish.
Nadiyya and Zain are a little better at masking their disappointment.
Misfar pokes around the edge of the pillar and finds a narrow bridge of solid stone that crosses the cavern. He leads the party carefully, tapping his staff ahead of him to stay on the path. It's unknown what lies to either side of the bridge and the heroes are none too eager too find out. The party reach what appears to be a wall of solid rock, but they have noticed a trend and Misfar pokes the wall with his staff. Sure enough, it passes right through, as though the wall weren't even there.
Passing through the illusory wall, the heroes enter a sunken temple with a sandy floor. In the centre of the chamber looms a horrific statue of a multi-tentacled abomination. A string of runes around the base of the statue reads; 'And lo, those who speak not the truths of Rovagug shall be the first to be consumed by the Waiting Beast'.
The party put their heads together, but cannot determine what the 'truths of Rovagug' might be.
"Destroyers gonna' destroy?" Nadiyya guesses.
Wrong! Without warning, the statue surges into motion, covering the distance to the heroes so suddenly that it enjoys a Surprise round!
One tentacle whips out and sends Misfar flying into the cavern wall with a bone-jarring thud. A second tentacle coils around Fuk's scrawny body and wrenches him into the air. Fuk cries out, bloody spittle staining his pointy teeth, as the (no longer) Waiting Beast begins to squeeze....
Fuk struggles to escape the Waiting Beast's rib-splinteringly tight embrace, but he is securely Bound. Zain weaves between the writhing tentacles and makes a Wild Attack against the appendage grappling Fuk. Tempest strikes true and severs the tentacle, soaking Zain in a geyser of foul black ichor from the stump. The Waiting Beast howls in fury! A tentacle whips out and sweeps the warrior's legs out from under him. Zain rolls away as a second tentacle spears the ground where he had just fallen. Dashki cries out as he is snatched up by another of the monster's questing limbs. Misfar picks himself up and hurls a handful of sand toward the beast. It transforms into a scything blade of glass that cuts clean through the tentacle holding the gnoll whisperer aloft.
Zain staggers to his feet and continues carving into the Waiting Beast.
Misfar casts Slumber on the injured monster. It immediately falls limp and begins to snore loud, monstery snores. Misfar urgently gestures that the rest of the party should be really ****ing quiet. Zain gingerly edges away from the sleeping horror.
"Search the tomb, but be quick and be quiet!" Misfar whispers.
The only item of much interest is a sinister black sarcophagus, marred by crude carvings of a nine legged spider with a gaping maw. The party have spent enough time in the House of the Beast to recognise this as being the unholy symbol of Rovagug.
"Do you really want to open that?" Dashki asks, fearfully.
"Not really." Zain shrugs, but he does it anyway.
Working together, the party try to lift the heavy lid without waking the Beast. With agonising care, they slide the lid to one side, revealing the skeletal remains of a long dead gnoll priestess. A plain looking scroll case is clutched in her bony fingers. There is no other treasure in the box.
"Is this it?" Nadiyya asks, prising the scroll out of the dead gnoll's grasp, "Is this what Zayifid is looking for?"
She begins to unroll the scroll, but Misfar reaches out to stop her.
"Maybe we should pull back to the garden before we open that?" the wizard suggests, with a meaningful glance toward the Waiting Beast.
Chapter Thirteen: Scroll with the Punches
The party retreat to the garden of the stone heads. Zain moves the heavy bronze disc back into position above the pit. Nadiyya unrolls the scroll, while Misfar cranes to peer over her shoulder. The ancient papyrus is marked by a single, sprawling rune. Neither Nadiyya or Misfar can comprehend or draw any conclusions about the nature of this rune or the purpose of the scroll.
"Zayifid might know more." Nadiyya suggests, "We could - "
Her train of thought is derailed by the sound of something huge crashing against the underside of the bronze disc covering the pit.
Zain (who had been enjoying a quick power nap) leaps to his feet and reaches for Tempest. Fuk staggers upright, still moving stiffly from his injuries.
"By the Starstone! What was that?!" Zain cries.
"The beast from the crypt!" Misfar shouts, hastily shouldering his pack, "It must have woken up and followed us up the shaft! Nadiyya, secure that scroll! We must flee!"
Abandoning their camp, the heroes race for the staircase ascending to the Carrion King's throne room.
BONG!!! BONG!!! SMASH!!!
The bronze seal succumbs to the Waiting Beast's onslaught, releasing the horror from the pit! Zain glances over his shoulder and glimpses the Beast emerging into the garden. A tentacle coils around the trunk of the almond tree and tears it out of the ground. The Beast spots its prey fleeing into the stairwell and surges after them!
This scene was treated as a Quick Encounter. Each player decided which skill their hero would use during the escape. As long as there were as many successes/raises as there were players involved in the scene (so in this instance, 4), the scene is a success and the party escape.
Muscles screaming in protest, the heroes sprint headlong up the long, spiral staircase. The Beast howls behind them, shaking the walls. Nadiyya rolls Athletics and outpaces the rest of the party. Misfar rolls Spellcasting to create barriers of solid stone behind them as they flee, slowing the Beasts' pursuit as it stops to smash through each wall the wizard raises in their wake. But he can only keep that up for so long and soon runs out of magical juice. The Beast begins to gain ground, writhing tentacles reaching for the flagging heroes.... Zain rolls Faith to blind the Beast with a flash of Sarenrae's radiant aura. The Beast shrieks, retracting its tentacles to shield its eyes from the light. The party keep running. They can see torchlight from the throne room up ahead, they're nearly there!! But the Beast has not given up the chase! As the heroes spill into the throne room, serpentine tentacles reach after them. The Beast is too huge to fit through the secret door, but its beaked maw fills the portal, waiting to rip apart anyone it can pull back into its mouth. Fuk rolls Shooting and fires arrow after arrow in rapid succession, straight down the Waiting Beast's yawning gullet! The Beast howls in frustration and withdraws back down into its lair.
The heroes take a moment to dust themselves off and catch their breath. That was altogether too close!
"Tell me you still have the scroll...?" Misfar gasps, looking to Nadiyya.
"Yes," interrupts a deep, guttural voice, "Do tell us you have the scroll."
The Carrion King steps out from behind the Maggot Throne, slowly clapping his furry paws in mock applause. Only, the heroes know the real Carrion King is dead, so this must be Zayifid, the treacherous and shapeshifting djinn. Along with their faux King, a half dozen gnolls emerge from hiding around the throne room; half are regular sized gnolls armed with bows, the other half are the hulking Unchosen.
"Hand over the scroll and you might yet leave this place alive," offers Ghartok/Zayifid, "Frankly, you've saved me a lot of time and effort and I'm feeling magnanimous."
The gnolls glance at each other. Magnaniwhatnow? Was their chieftain always this loquacious?
"So, this scrap of old papyrus is pretty important to you?" Nadiyya asks, holding up the scroll, "It must be, considering all the lies you've spun. Wouldn't it be just awful if it were destroyed now, when you were so close to getting your hands on it?"
Nadiyya snaps her fingers and a tiny flame appeared in her other hand. She holds the scroll inches above the fire and arches an eyebrow toward the King.
Ghartok/Zayifid grins back at her. Nadiyya feels her confidence waver.
"Go ahead. Try and burn it. I suspect you'll find it quite indestructible."
Misfar gasps as Nadiyya drives the scroll into the flame. True to the King's prediction, nothing happens. The scroll is impervious to fire.
"You have absolutely no concept of what you hold, do you?" Ghartok/Zayifid says, condescendingly, "How precious. I could tell you. It would blow your tiny minds - but why waste breath talking to the dead? Kill them!! Bring me the scroll!!"
Zain charges the nearest two Unchosen and kills them both in a single Sweep of his magical axe. He can hear the spirit of Vardishal whispering in his mind, insisting the scroll not fall into Zayifid's possession! The final Unchosen batters Nadiyya, she raises her shield to block the blow, but the force behind it still drives her to her knees. The huge gnoll raises its fist for a second blow, but Fuk shoots it in the armpit and it reels away. Nadiyya lunges forward and drives her sword into the Unchosen's groin!
Misfar advances on the Maggot Throne. A gnoll archer pops out and looses his bow at the wizard. Misfar ducks and obliterates the wretched creature in a burst of burning sand. Ghartok/Zayifid is caught in the damage field, but ducks behind his big chair to avoid the worst of it.
"No more hiding, djinn!" Misfar cries, stepping over the bleached bones of the dead archer.
He reaches the throne, but Zayifid has turned ethereal and escaped!
"Coward!!" the wizard shouts, not caring whether his enemy can even hear.
Noting that their King has vanished into thin air, the last few gnolls slink away.
"That treacherous lamp donkey might have escaped, but we still have the scroll," Misfar states, after the dust has settled, "I doubt we've seen the last of him, so stay alert! We should head back to Kelmarane and report to the Princess."
"If I had but the strength, I would bring this unholy place to ruin afore we leave," Zain muttered, piously, "No matter, we have slain many servants of the Destroyer this day. Praise be unto Sarenrae!"
"Fuk still a little sad about the not-gold," admits the little goblin, "But Fuk got to fight a big monster and that was fun!"
"Let's get out of here," Nadiyya agrees, stuffing the mystery scroll back into her pack.
Chapter Fourteen: The Plot Thickens
Having defeated the Carrion King, the heroes return to Kelmarane. Felliped and the camels are relieved to see them all alive and well. We glossed over the return journey using the Quick Encounter rules.
Almost immediately, the heroes are summoned by Almah, who receives them in her luxurious suite overlooking the Victory Market. Garavel and Father Zastoran are also present, to offer their counsel. The heroes kneel before the Merchant Princess, who bestows a kiss unto each of their brows - even Fuk, which is a bit like kissing a camel's leathery ballsack.
"The sight of you all returned safely lifts a great weight from my heart," Almah says, "Tell me, what did you learn of this Carrion King and his intent toward our new home?"
"The Carrion King was a mighty gnoll warlord and follower of Rovagug the Destroyer," Nadiyya explains, "We fought and killed him in his throne room beneath the House of the Beast."
"Then he and his gnoll army pose no further threat to my citizens?"
"There was no army," Misfar says, "The Carrion King had many warriors, but their orders were to find the entrance to a hidden tomb beneath his lair. We discovered that Zayifid is a shape-changing djinn and part of an ancient order called the Templars of the Five Winds. He lied to us and to the Carrion King, pitting us against each other so that he could claim the contents of the tomb while we were fighting.
The Carrion King poses no further threat to Kelmarane, but I am concerned about these Templars and what their plans may be."
"Perhaps I can allay a few of those concerns."
A tall, muscular man stands framed in the doorway to Alnah's suite. It is Kardswann, the djinn who previously ruled the Kullid tribe from this very room! Until now, he had been lying comatose in the heroes waterfront mansion.
"Princess, stand back!" Garavel growls, reaching for his sword, "How did you get passed the guards?"
"Peace, friends." Kardswann says, "I mean you no harm. In fact, I offer my gratitude for breaking the control that foul demon Xulthos had over me.
You speak of Zayifid and the Templars of the Five Winds. I am also part of that order. We served the djinni princess Nefeshti in her war against a wicked djinn called Jhavul. After Jhavul and his army were defeated, we five Templars went our separate ways. Zayifid was always a trickster, but the behaviour you describe gives me pause. You mention that he sought the contents of a hidden tomb?"
"Why should we trust you?" Misfar demands.
"Because I was there, fighting alongside Zayifid and the other Templars when Jhavul fell. If this prize Zayifid seeks is a relic of that war, it could be very dangerous in the wrong hands."
"He sought a scroll, in the Tomb of Shirak." Misfar says, warily.
"That could be very bad," Kardswann answers, "As well as her Templars, Nefeshti was allied with a human wizard called Andrathi. Andrathi possessed a powerful relic called the Scroll of Kakishon. In the final battle, Andrathi used the scroll to weaken Jhavul, but was destroyed in the process. Without his sacrifice, we would likely have been defeated. If Zayifid is seeking the scroll, he is seeking the power of Jhavul sealed within the relic. It is vitally important that he does not get his hands on it."
"What would you do, if you had the scroll?" Misfar asks.
"Deliver it to my mistress Nefeshti," Kardswann answers.
"What would you do if I told you we have the scroll?"
"Do you have the scroll?"
"If you did have the Scroll of Kakishon, I would advise you to share that information with no-one outside of this room. Zayifid is not the only person with an interest in claiming Jhavul's power. I would encourage you to use your most powerful magic to hide the scroll, until I can contact my mistress.
Do you have the scroll?"
"Yes." Misfar admits, "But we have no magic powerful enough to conceal the scroll."
"There is a magi in Katapesh called Rayhan," Almah says, "He is a close friend and I would trust him with my life. If he cannot weave a spell powerful enough to conceal the Scroll of Kakishon, nobody can.
Garavel, I charge you with escorting the heroes safely to Katapesh and introducing them to Rayhan."
"As you will, Princess." Garavel agrees.
"I will attempt to contact my mistress and notify her that the Scroll has been found and that Zayifid can no longer be trusted." Kardswann adds, "I will seek you in Katapesh, once I have her answer."
The party prepare for the journey to Katapesh.
Chapter Fifteen: The Long Road to Katapesh
Having learnt that possession of the Scroll of Kakishon brings great peril along with it, the party journey to the city of Katapesh, to consult archmage Rayhan; re: containing the threat. The heroes are to be escorted by Garavel and a small contingent of the merchant princess' guard. Dashki volunteers to stay behind and protect the princess until her major domo returns. Garavel grinds his teeth in frustration at the thought of leaving the filthy gnoll whisperer alone with his mistress. Felliped will accompany the party to Katapesh, to deliver the sad news of Oxvard's death to his next of kin.
The camel train sets out at dawn, as the first rays of sunlight illuminate the gilded dome of the Victory Market. The party follow the bank of the Pale River east to the town of Hookford. Around midday, Nadiyya notices a body caught in the reeds on the opposite bank. Fuk creates a crude grappling hook and Zain manages to snag the corpse and reel it in. Two arrows protrude from the poor fellow's back. Fuk searches the body and finds a small pouch of precious rubies stitched into the lining of his robe (one character's Wealth die increases one die type). Zain burns the body and intones a prayer to Sarenrae over the ashes.
The party reach Hookford at dusk, but decide to camp outside the walls, rather than seek lodgings within. Garavel has already warned them that since Almah forbade the sale of slaves in Kelmarane, flesh peddlers seeking to trade with the gnoll tribes gravitate to Hookford instead. The mournful cries of their 'merchandise' can be heard into the night. Zain decides he is not cool with that. Garavel warns him that as distasteful as slave trading may be, it is still a legal enterprise governed and taxed by the Pactmasters of Katapesh. If the heroes interfere with or outright attack the flesh peddlers, the heroes would be in the wrong.
"You and I have very different beliefs on the concepts of right and wrong," Zain replies. He has already decided that he is going to sneak out and help the slaves when the major domo is not looking. He manages to get the rest of the party on board with his plan.
Misfar casts Slumber on Garavel and his guards as they gather around the campfire, putting them soundly to sleep. The party head into Hookford. The slave pens are lightly guarded, but there are more men carousing in a nearby tavern. Fuk throws the bag of rubies into the taproom. Blood red gemstones are scattered across the floor and a brawl immediately erupts as the slavers fight over the spoils. Zain and Nadiyya stealthily incapacitate the few guards still watching the merchandise and unlock the pens, urging the escaping slaves to head west to Kelmarane. Having completed their mission, the heroes return to their camp, wake the sleeping guards to take watch, then head to their bedrolls.
Rather than crossing the desert, the heroes wanted to get a boat ride down the Pale River, which would carry them all the way to Katapesh. A friendly NPC regretfully informed them that following a particularly dry spell, parts of the riverbed were impassable by boat. Grumbling, the party follow Garavel into the desert.
Fuk spots vultures circling up ahead and the party investigate. They find the wreckage of a merchant's caravan. The vultures feast on a pair of dead camels lying nearby. Nadiyya notices something hiding beneath the wagon. An injured man crawls out, pleading for his life.
"Please don't hurt me! Take whatever you want, just let me go!"
"Calm down, friend. We're not brigands!" Zain says, "What happened here?"
The man introduces himself as Radi Hamdi, a travelling merchant who was on the road to Katapesh when his wagon was attacked by bandits. They slaughtered his camels, stole his goods and left him for dead. Fuk looks for tracks, but can't find anything.
"Which way did the thieves go?" Nadiyya asks.
Radi doesn't know. Nadiyya doesn't think the merchant is being entirely truthful.
"We should keep moving." Garavel says, shielding his eyes from the sun, "If we linger here, we won't make it to the next oasis before dusk."
"Please, take me with you - at least as far as the oasis!" Radi begs.
"I don't trust this guy!" Nadiyya whispers.
"We can't just leave him to the vultures," Misfar answers, "We'll escort him to the next oasis and leave him there. I'll help you keep an eye on him until then."
The heroes continue eastward with Radi riding double with one of Garavel's men. Nadiyya manoeuvres Blaze close enough to listen to their conversation. Radi seems very interested in why the party are heading to Katapesh.
"What kind of merchant are you?" Nadiyya asks, suddenly.
"Mostly dates and other dried fruits." Radi replies.
Again, Nadiyya gets the impression that the merchant is lying to her. Before she can act on her suspicions, the ground rumbles underfoot. The dunes around the caravan erupt, as a gigantic worm-like monster explodes from beneath the desert floor.
"Death Worm!!!" Garavel shouts, struggling with the reins of his terrified mount, "We can't fight that thing!! Ride for the oasis!!"
The heroes spur their camels into desperate flight from the monstrous worm. Misfar turns in the saddle and hurls an arcane bolt at the pursuing behemoth. Miraculously, he beats its toughness and the worm is Shaken. The injured beast burrows back beneath the sand.
"You drove it off!" Radi exults, "Thank the gods! I thought we were done for!"
The worm reappears directly beneath the rear-most rider, rising from the sand and swallowing both the man and his camel whole!
"Arrgghhhhh!! We are done for!!!"
Sensing the tremors of hooves across sand, the worm turbs its blind head after the riders and vomits forth a cone of acidic bile. Garavel's yanks on the reigns of his mount to avoid the toxic spew, but his camel stumbles and breaks a leg! Garavel is tossed from his mount as the injured beast goes down. The brave old warrior staggers to his feet and draws his sword, for all the good it will do against the monster bearing down on him.
Nadiyya turns her mount and races to reach Garavel before the Death Worm.
"Garavel!" she screams, reaching down to the old warrior. Garavel grabs her hand and allows himself to be pulled onto the back of her speeding camel. The Death Worm crashes into the sand where he had stood.
"Take my bow and keep it off us!" Nadiyya cries, thrusting the weapon into the old man's hands.
The Death Worm devours another of Garavel's men and begins to slow down. The surviving riders put some real distance between themselves and the monster. When they look back, the worm has given up the chase and disappeared back beneath the sand.
Chapter Sixteen: Oasis Interlude
The heroes reach the oasis sanctuary, although not without casualties. Two of Garavel's outriders are dead, swallowed whole by a hungry Death Worm. The camels are exhausted and drink deeply from the natural spring bubbling up from beneath the arid earth. The party won't reach Katapesh for another day and they are all too drained to continue tonight. The heroes begin setting up camp, while Fuk climbs a palm tree to keep watch over the darkening dunes. The rest of the party gather around the cook fire to eat.
This presented the opportunity to run an Interlude!
Nadiyya stares into the flame, listening to its song. She has understood the language of fire since before she spoke her first word of Common. Her thoughts drift to the past, when a young Nadiyya plunged her hand into the hearth in her family home. She remembers her mother screaming and pulling her back, how her expression changed from maternal concern to bleak terror as the flames danced along her baby daughter's arms. Nothing was ever the same again, after that day. Nadiyya joined the party hoping to discover the truth about her strange elemental affinity, but is no closer to the answers now than the day she left Solku.
Misfar sits opposite the troubled young woman, lost in his own memories.
"You seem distracted, friend." Felliped says, lowering himself onto the sand next to the elven mage, "A burden shared is a burden halved, as a good friend of mine used to say."
"I was thinking about someone I knew, a long time ago." Misfar replied, "A woman. Brilliant and beautiful, but so stubborn! Her name was Geminara and she was my teacher. I admired her even before I realised that I loved her, but she never saw me as anything more than a student. I did everything I could to impress her, but her mind could not be changed.
"I did something reckless. Stupid, even. I attempted to perform a ritual that was much too advanced for me. I was trying to prove something. The spell got out of control and Geminara was... hurt, trying to save me."
Felliped listens in solemn silence, waiting for Misfar to continue. For the first time since being rescued from the Kullid tribe, the bard is struck dumb.
"She doesn't teach anymore and she refuses to see me, or listen to any more of my futile apologies. I didn't know what else to do, so I left. One day, I just started walking and I've not stopped since. Maybe one day I'll find something to lessen her pain, or relieve my guilt."
While the wizard bares his blee ding heart, Zain Al-Sahli reflects on his own sad story. Many years ago, his village was attacked by murderous brigands. Zain's father was cut down trying to defend his family. Zain and his mother were taken by the bandits and sold into slavery. They became separated at auction and Zain has not seen his mother since, those he has searched for her throughout the land.
Each player who participated in the Interlude is awarded a Benny.
The party settle down for the night. Fuk maintains his vigil over the sleeping camp. The watchful goblin spots dark figures skulking in the shadows surrounding the oasis and raises the alarm. Battle-crazed gnolls charge into the firelight, as the heroes and their entourage frantically scrabble to arm themselves.
Thanks to Fuk's keen night eyes, the heroes are not taken unawares. Misfar rolls out of his bedroll and points an accusing finger toward the nearest cluster of gnolls, conjuring a burst of scalding sand to scour the meat from their mangy bones. Zain charges into the fray, cutting down a pair of gnolls in a single swing of his magical axe. Felliped runs his shortsword through a raiders chest, while the cowardly Radi hides beneath a wagon. While the majority of the gnolls are fighting tooth and nail, Fuk spots a half dozen archers hanging back to better pick their targets. One of Garavel's two remaining guards is shot in the throat and killed.
A huge shadow looms out of the desert, a pot-bellied ettin spinning a pair of spiky flails! The two-headed brute lumbers towards Zain and brings his weapons down with bone-breaking power. Zain is wounded.
Nadiyya is slowest to react. There are two gnoll raiders upon her before she can take up her sword! Felliped moves to back her up and is Shaken. Nadiyya draws her sword and the blade bursts into flame. Nadiyya drives her burning blade through a gnoll's heart.
Ignoring the pain (he took the Nerves of Steel Edge for this very reason), Zain disembowels the ettin! The two heads wails disharmoniously as their guts spill out across the sand. Zain revels in his victory and does not notice the gnoll skulking up behind him. Zain is incapacitated by a devastating stealth attack! His Strength is temporary reduced one die type and he falls unconscious.
The heroes drive off the few remaining gnolls. Zain regains consciousness, but is still weak and groggy from blood loss.
Chapter Sixteen: Katapesh, Bazaar of the Bizarre
The heroes are now Veteran rank.
The party limp into Katapesh the following day. Of all the characters, only Zain has been to the city previously - and the last time he wore a slave collar around his neck. As the second largest city in the Inner Sea, Katapesh is impressive in its sprawling immensity. The ramshackle shanty town that has sprung up outside the city gates is larger than Kelmarane in its entirety. Tall sandstone walls enclose the city proper, beyond which can be seen the colourful spires of a thousand different temples and palaces.
"Welcome to Katapesh, Bazaar of the Bizarre!" cries Radi, who is still with the party, despite Nadiyya's misgivings, "They say anything that can be bought or sold - and even some things that can't - can be bought or sold here!
Thankyou for your protection on the road, but now I must take my leave. Ask for me in the Lower City if you ever need anything! Farewell, my friends! Farewell!"
"Good riddance!" Nadiyya mutters, as the strange merchant melts into the crowd, "Let's find Archmage Rayhan and get rid of this cursed relic...."
A look of concern settles on Nadiyya's face as she pats herself down frantically. The Scroll of Kakishon is gone, lifted from her inner pocket without her noticing the theft!
"Radi! That snake!" Nadiyya curses, leaping to the most obvious conclusion, "He must have taken it! Did anyone see where he went?"
Garavel shrugs helplessly. Felliped looks nonplussed. Radi has vanished!
"He mentioned the Lower City," Misfar says, "Although that could have been a ploy to throw us off track."
Garavel heads to Rayhan's estate, to lay the groundwork for the heroes visit. The party will rendezvous with him there, after dealing with Radi and recovering the stolen scroll. Felliped departs to deliver his grim tidings to Oxvard's kin, leaving the party to fend for themselves in the (mostly) unfamiliar city.
To gather information on Radi's whereabouts, the party must make a Networking check, rolling Intimidation or Persuasion to find out what's what.
Zain is still too banged up from his fight with the ettin to be either persuasive or intimidating. Nadiyya takes the lead with Misfar supporting. Several hours and a few bribes later, the party learn that Radi is meeting with a representative of the One Source merchant guild to negotiate the sale of a valuable artifact. The meeting is scheduled for dusk and is taking place in the back room of a large, well guarded pesh den/brothel.
"Let's watch the entrance and snatch the thieving serpent when he crawls out of his hole." suggests Nadiyya.
"We can't just abduct a man in the middle of the street," Misfar says, "There will be witnesses and we'll be branded as criminals."
The party formulate a plan. Nadiyya will keep lookout for Radi approaching the pesh den (Notivce). Misfar will cover his face and approach the thief, pretending to be a beggar (Stealth). Once he is close enough to touch the target, he will cast Teleport on the thief, magically transporting him to a nearby alley (Spellcasting), where Zain will be waiting to grapple him (Fighting). Fuk will cause a distraction, to minimize the risk of being spotted (Performance). Their plan is played out as a Quick Encounter.
Nadiyya spots their target approaching the pesh den from the direction of the Lower City. Unfortunately, Radi is not alone, he is surrounded by a group of ruffians hired for protection. With no way of warning the wizard of this development, Nadiyya gives the signal. Fuk starts capering to draw the crowd's attention away from what's about to go down. He's an incompetent juggler, but a few people pause to watch. Radi's guards swagger on by. Swathed in rags, Misfar emerges from an alley, sees the wall of thugs between him and his target and does an immediate u-turn back into the alley. Instead, Misfar casts Burrow to sink into the street, moves into position beneath the group and sticks his hand out of the ground to grab Radi's ankle! The merchant trips and shrieks as he sees the disembodied claw groping at his leg! Radi's guards are too stunned to react. Misfar gets a good grip then casts Teleport, sending the target to the alley where Zain is waiting. Before Radi can get his bearings, Zain has grappled him in an unbreakable headlock! Despite his wounds, Zain is able to hold onto the squirming merchant.
The hired goons begin bickering over whose fault it is that their employer has disappeared. The party quietly withdraw with their prisoner, staying off the streets to avoid any unwanted attention.
Lies start spilling from Radi's mouth the moment Zain uncovers it.
"My friends! It is good to see you again so soon! But why - "
"Enough of your b*%*#$$&, thief." Nadiyya cuts him off with a back-handed slap that rattles the merchant's teeth, "Give back the scroll you took from me, or I'll burn you until you'll wish you had."
Nadiyya takes an arrow from her quiver and blows softly on the metal head. Warmed by her ifreeti magic, the point begins to glow red hot. Radi's eyes bulge in fear and he struggles helplessly in Zain's arms. The big man looks troubled and exchanges a glance with Misfar, who is also concerned by the sudden slide toward torture and mutilation. Even Fuk has turned a slightly greener shade of green.
"Nadiyya, maybe I should take over...." the wizard suggests.
"The Roof Market!" Radi suddenly blurts out, "I have a shop! I hid the scroll there! I can go get it for you right now, just please don't burn me!!"
"Let's all go," Nadiyya says sweetly, "We wouldn't want anything bad to happen to you, now would we?"
Chapter Seventeen: Rooftop Rumble - Part One
Sufficiently cowed to deter any foolish attempts to escape, Radi leads the party through the bustling streets of Katapesh. The city comes alive as the sun sets and the temperature drops, huge crowds gathering around storefronts illuminated by colourful lanterns, like moths drawn toward a flame. A makeshift ladder ascends onto a low, flat roof overlooking the street. Wooden planks have been lain between buildings to create a precarious rooftop thoroughfare across the city. An eclectic range of vendors have set up shop along this route, selling everything from esoteric texts to candied scorpion tails. Fuk lingers beside the latter, salivating greedily, until Misfar beckons for him to catch up. Radi stops beside a crude canvas shelter and motions toward the flap.
"This is my place. The scroll is inside. I'll get it for - Stop!!"
Radi yelps as Nadiyya shoves him aside and ducks into the tent. Mundane (and most likely stolen) goods have been discarded haphazardly around the interior. A small, dark-skinned girl sits counting copper pieces into a small purse. Long, dirty brown hair hides her face.
"Brother?" the child says, "That was quick. How was your meeting?"
"I'm not your brother, girl." Nadiyya replies.
The child looks up with milky white eyes and Nadiyya realises she is blind.
"I'm sorry, but we're closed right now. My brother will be back shortly, he will be happy to assist you."
"Your brother is a thief who stole something precious from me," Nadiyya answers, "Things will go very badly for both of you if it is not returned immediately."
"You don't frighten me." the girl lies, her voice quavering, "Radi doesn't steal. It's wrong to steal." Nadiyya laughs.
"Rumi!" Radi cries, bursting into the tent, followed by Misfar and Fuk (Zain is just too big to fit inside comfortably), "I'll give you your whispering scroll back, just leave my sister alone!"
"Best be quick about it," Nadiyya says, summoning fire into her hand.
Radi scrabbles on his hands and knees and produces a small, battered lockbox from beneath a small mountain of junk. Nadiyta reaches over to snatch the Scroll of Kakishon from within.
"There!" Radi cries, casting the empty box aside, "You have your scroll, now leave us alone!"
"Oh, I can't leave before making sure you've learned your lesson...." Nadiyya says. Radi's gaze flickers fearfully to the flame still dancing in the palm of her free hand. "I should brand you as a thief, so that everyone who meets you will know your crime."
"Nadiyya, no!" Misfar roars, grabbing her by the arm, "What are you saying? Stop this, now!"
Nadiyya spins on the old elf, eyes blazing. Flames erupt over her entire body and Misfar must snatch his hand away to avoid burning his fingers. Radi and Rumi cry out, retreating against the far wall of the tent, eyes screwed shut in terror. Despite the fierce heat, Nadiyya retains enough control to stop the flames spreading any further.
Just as things are getting out of hand, a new voice calls from outside;
"Radi! Radi Hamdi! Come out, Radi Hamdi, or we will have to come in!"
"Another satisfied customer?" Fuk asks.
"That sounds like Tamir, from the One Source guild." Radi says, "He must have come looking for me when I didn't show up for our meeting."
"He was interested in buying the scroll?" Misfar asks.
"Yes! He offered me 30,000 gold, more than enough for Rumi and me to get away from this whispering cesspit once and for all!"
"You're making deals with the Jackal now?" Rumi shrieks, beating her tiny fists against her brother's chest, "Radi, you idiot! You know what those One Source creeps are involved in! How could you be so stupid?!"
"Radi Hamdi, you are testing my patience," Tamir shouts from without, "We had a deal, Radi Hamdi. Deliver the relic or we will burn this entire slum to the ground."
"Oh, so he wants to play with fire?" Nadiyya grins, "Well then, lets play."
Chapter Eighteen: Rooftop Rumble - Part Two
I've picked up a copy of Dark Markets: A Guide to Katapesh and will try to digest and incorporate some of the information / adventure hooks it contains, before the adventurers moves elsewhere.
Flames writhe cross her alabaster skin, as Nadiyya Emberstorm emerges from Radi's rooftop squat to confront the One Source guild. Night has descended upon the city of Katapesh and a pallid moon silhouettes the distant peak of Pale Mountain against the starry sky. A dozen or so armed ruffians are arrayed across the adjacent rooftops. Tamir is a disreputable looking halfling wearing a dirty grey robe.
"Who in the whispering dark are you?!" Tamir exclaims, as Nadiyya and her companions file out of Radi's tent. "No matter! We're here for the merchant, so step aside unless you want a share in his misfortune."
"We also have a grievance to settle with Master Hamdi - and we were here first." Nadiyya replies, "You'll have to wait your turn."
"I think not." Tamir smirks, waving his men forward, "Kill the strangers and bring me the relic!"
Nadiyya whips up her bow and looses an arrow at the halfling as he gives the order to attack. The arrow bursts into flame as it passes through her fiery aura and catches Tamir in his open mouth, punching a hole through his fat cheek. Fuk shoots (and kills) the two archers flanking the wounded halfling.
There are five One Source goons on each of the two adjacent rooftops, they rush across the wobbly plank bridges spanning the busy streets below. Unfortunately for them, there's only so much room on any one rooftop and a few thugs are left feeling very exposed. Fuk avoids an arrow Matrix-style and Nadiyya (who has not invested in the Dodge edge) is Shaken. A One Source swordsman runs screaming at Fuk! He misses and Fuk counters (another Edge!) by sinking his sharp goblin fangs into the man's throat! Blood goes everywhere! In such close quarters, Zain couldn't hope to swing a cat - let alone a +1 magical battleaxe - without hitting one or more One Source thugs. As a free action, Zain kicks aside one of the two plank bridges, sending another enemy tumbling to the ground.
Seeing that half of his goon squad are out of the fight before the end of the first round, Tamir opines that it is time for him to withdraw. He screams something unintelligible (he does, after all, still have an arrow sticking out of his face), then teleports himself away - or tries to. Due to his -3 wound penalty, Tamir fails his Spellcasting roll - presumably because he can't form the magic words correctly through his ruined mouth. Misfar goes on Hold, ready to dispel any other tricks the halfling might have up his sleeve. Tamir tries to Teleport again at the start of round 2. Misfar comes off Hold to cast Dispel, but his magic isn't strong enough to negate Tamir's. The hafling flips Misfar the bird as he disappears.
An arrow plinks off Zain's breastplate. He can't reach the archer, who is standing on another roof. Zain eyeballs the gap between the two buildings, he does not fancy making that jump while rolling a d6-2 for Athletics. Instead, Zain picks up a brick and throws it at the archer. He misses. The archer sniggers. He stops sniggering abruptly as Fuk shoots him in the knee. The thug hops backward, trips over the edge of the roof and falls from sight. Someone in the street below shrieks as an injured man crashes through the roof of their stall.
Misfar taps a thug on the shoulder (touch attack) and teleports him 12" into the air. Falling damage in SWADE is 1d6+1 for every 2" fallen, so falling 12" causes 6d6+6 damage! Misfar takes a step back, as the screaming thug collides with the roof for 30+ damage, beaking every bone in his body.
'That seems frightfully overpowered!' Misfar thinks, looking around for another victim.
Suddenly, Fuk is shot in the back!
"Merciful Sarenrae, save this goblin!" Zain exults, healing one of Fuk's three wounds.
Nadiyya sprints toward the last two archers, cutting one down but leaving herself exposed to the second. The last thug switches to his sword and prepares to drive the blade through her back...! There is a whoosh! The thug drops his weapon and looks down. Oh! He is impaled on one of Misfar's magical spears. The last thug dies.
"What do the One Source guild want with the Scroll of Kakishon?" Misfar ponders, once the dust has settled, "It seems they are prepared to kill to get their hands on it."
"Let them try, I'll be ready for them." Nadiyya says, surveying her grim handiwork. The flames of her wrath have dulled somewhat, doused by the blood spilled by her blade.
"Fuk has arrow in his back!" Fuk declares, pointing proudly to the shaft.
"Yes. Well done, Fuk." Misfar replies absently, then; "But how do they even know about the relic? Could they be allied with Zayifid? We should get the scroll to Archmage Rayhan as soon as possible, it will be safer with him than anywhere else in this city."
"What about them?" Zain asks, nodding at Radi and his sister.
All eyes (except for Rumi's) swivel slowly toward Nadiyya.
"Do as you like with them," she says, turning her own gaze to the stars, "We have the scroll back. We should get going."
Misfar releases a relieved breath he didn't know he'd been holding. Nadiyya's erratic behaviour of late has the old elf worried, but he's not sure what to do about it, yet.
"The guild will come looking for us now," Radi says, "We have nowhere to go where they won't find us."
"Travel north-west to Kelmarane," Zain suggests, "Princess Almah Roveshki is a benevolent ruler. Tell her we sent you and she will find you both a place to start over."
"No more stealing!" Fuk adds.
"A new beginning!" Radi cries, tears of joy glistening on his cheeks, "Thankyou, my friends! May all the gods bless you - except for the evil ones, of course!"
Nadiyya feels a small hand close around her own. She looks down to find little Rumi clinging to her arm.
"Thankyou for not burning my brother," she says.
Nadiyya grunts, which seems to satisfy the blind girl. Nadiyya looks away. She doesn't deserve Rumi's gratitude. She had wanted to do it, wanted to burn the child and her thieving brother, then watch their ashes blow away on the desert wind. If it hadn't been for the interruption from those One Source idiots, she would have done it.
"What is happening to me?" Nadiyya whispers. She doesn't know. She just hopes she works it out before someone gets hurt....
Chapter Nineteen: The Scholar's Villa
Archmage Rayhan resides in a modest, three-storey villa perched on a cliff overlooking the Obari Ocean. When the party arrive, they find their camels stabled nearby and Garavel waiting to introduce them to their esteemed host. The archmage greets them in a lavish reception room decorated with expensive silk rugs and overstuffed divans. Paintings on the walls depict scenes from the many planes Rayhan has visited on his extra-planar exploits.
The archmage is a tall, bald man wearing sky blue robes and the stern expression of a patient - but disappointed - tutor.
"Here you are at last. Well, better late than never. No, no - I don't care to hear your excuses, lets just get this over with. Over the last fifty years, countless frauds and forgers have claimed to have found the fabled Scroll of Kakishon, each imitation poorer than the last. The only reason I have agreed to see you at all is because Almah requests it. I have known the princess a long time. For that, I will grant you five minutes and the promise not to report you to the Pactmasters when this scroll turns out to be a fake."
Nadiyya hands the relic over and Rayhan performs a cursory examination.
"Hmmmm. Well it's certainly old enough, or has been artificially aged to appear so. Where do you claim to have found it?"
"In the Tomb of Shirak, beneath The House of the Beast." Misfar answers. He is feeling a little starstruck in the presence of such a formidable wizard.
"Hmmmm. A curious detail. Some historians name Shirak as a servant of the ifreeti warlord Jhavul and even speculate she would have been present at the final battle between Jhavul's army and the Templars of the Five Winds - who I am to understand you claim to have met."
"We have encountered two djinn claiming to serve Nefeshti," Misfar confirms.
"Kardswann was alright," Nadiyya adds, "But Zayifid was a bit of a prick. He's also after the Scroll, by the way - as well as the One Source guild here in Katapesh."
"In a ruined monastery outside Kelmarane, I communed with the spirit of Vardishal," Zain rumbles, "He told me where to find this cool axe."
Zain presents Tempest for inspection. Rayhan frowns thoughtfully.
"Hmmm. This is either the most elaborate hoax yet, or you may have stumbled upon something truly wondrous. Let's take a look inside."
With painstaking care, Rayhan unfurls the ancient scroll. A single rune has been inked onto the parchment, staggering in its complexity. Looking at it for to long causes a dizzying sense of vertigo. The archmage grows even more excited, tracing the contours of the labyrinthine glyph with his finger.
"Long ago, there were two rival sorcerers called Geb and Nex. You've likely heard the names, the lands they ruled over are still recovering from the fallout of their many battles. There are few things in this world more devastating than a feud between wizards.
Nex created his own private demi-plane, an unassailable sanctuary where he could retreat and recover his strength before his next battle with Geb. Several scholars - myself foremost among them - speculate this demi-plane also served as a secure vault for all of Nex's most storied artifacts.
Nex called his sanctuary Kakishon and if I am correct, this scroll is the only existing way of reaching it."
"Kardswann told us that Jhavul's power was sealed within the scroll," Misfar says, "We assumed that was why everyone was after it."
"It's certainly possible that some fragment of Jhavul's power is contained within the relic," Rayhan muses, "There is evidence that Nex occasionally used Kakishon as a prison for his enemies.
"My friends, I apologise for doubting you. The authenticity of this item is beyond question. If it is your intention to open the way to Kakishon and explore its wonders, I can help you. This is undoubtedly the most complex rune I have ever seen, but I can decipher it, given time. You are welcome guests in my home for as long as you care to stay.
"Alternatively, you could auction the relic off to he highest bidder. I trust that I've impressed on you the value of this artifact. You could all become unimaginably wealthy, but you would be forfeiting the chance to experience the wonders of Kakishon first-hand.
"I will leave you to discuss among yourselves. Please take as long as you need. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and your decision should not be made in haste."
Though she will not admit it to her companions, Nadiyya is desperate to learn more about the ifreeti warlord Jhavul. She votes to visit Kakishon.
Being Curious, Misfar cannot pass on the opportunity to explore another world, he also votes to visit Kakishon.
Zain has two goals in his life; to serve Sarenrae and find/free his mother. He doubts either objective will be fulfilled in Nex's private party plane. He votes against visiting Kakishon.
"What if we help you find your mother first?" Nadiyya suggests, "It's going to take time for Rayhan to decipher the scroll anyway and we can look for information in the meantime."
Fuk votes yes. He doesn't really understand what's going on, but he kinda' likes not being by himself all the time and wants to stick with his new friends.
The decision is made. The party will stay in Katapesh and search for Zain's mother, while Rayhan labours to unlock the secrets of the scroll.
Chapter Twenty: Under the Hammer
While Rayhan studies the Scroll of Kakashon, the heroes scour Katapesh for clues regarding the whereabouts of Zain's lost mother. He last saw her twenty-five years ago, when they were captured and separated by wicked slavers. The heroes know that people trafficking is semi-legal throughout Katapesh and auctions are held daily at Slavers Block in the Lower City. The heroes also hear gossip about a group of vigilantes called the Steel Falcons, who have been targeting prominent slave traders for assassination.
Zain remembers that the men who attacked his village travelled aboard a black sailed ship. It is common knowledge that Lord Oslynn Clarion commands a fleet of black sailed slave ships, which have terrorised the coastal settlements north of Katpesh for many years. Unfortunately, Lord Clarion is nigh untouchable, favoured by the Pactmasters and protected by the Zephyr Guard.
Zain reveals that the sun tattoo on his forehead covers the slave brand that had previously been stamped there.
The party devise a strategem. If Zain's mother was sold on the slaver's block, a record of the transaction should be held by the Auctioneers Guild. The party will infiltrate the guild headquarters and find the bill of sale. In the worst case scenario, they will try to hook up with the Steel Falcons for an (likely doomed) assault on Castle Clarion.
The auctioneers guildhall is in the Inner City, where squads of Zephyr Guard patrol frequently and keep a keen eye on anyone acting suspiciously. Misfar is the only party member with skill points in Research, so the plan is to sneak him into the auctioneer's archive. The party debate several plans, each more outlandish than the last, before eventually deciding just to break in under the cover of darkness. Misfar remembers that the Burrow power allows him to walk through walls and by spending extra Power Points, the rest of the party can too! Nadiyya opts to stay outside and act as a lookout.
The guildhall is dark and quiet, all of the staff have gone home for the night. Or have they...? The heroes hear footsteps nearby; slow, heavy and deliberate. It's about now that Zain remembers he can't see in the dark and spends a Benny to ret-con a visit to a merchant earlier that day to purchase a potion of Darksight. The heroes creep forward, eyes peeled for either the archive room or the unseen guard. Up ahead, where the corridor intersects with another passage, they spot a door labelled ARCHIVE.
Suddenly, a towering figure stomps into view. It is humanoid, but taller even than Zain. Its eyes gleam with ghostly blue fire and an azure gemstone pulses in its chest. Misfar knows that this strange sentinel is an Aluum; a golem powered by the souls of dead slaves. The anti-magic glyphs etched into the golem's metal frame make the wizard feel light-headed. Misfar staggers, knocking over a decorative cactus. The aluum's eye blaze as it charges toward the sound!
Misfar rolled snake-eyes on his Stealth die, so... yeah.
Unfortunately for Fuk, he was at the head of the marching order when the aluum attacked. The golem lands a glancing blow, but Fuk soaks the damage and resists the aluum's paralyzing touch. The goblin's eyes are drawn to the glowing crystal set in the golem's chest and he tries to grab it (opposed Athletics-4 vs the aluum). The crystal is shockingly cold to the touch. Fuk rolls Vigour D4 -4 and somehow manages to get a Raise! He resists being paralyzed, but is not strong enough to wrench the gemstone from its metal casing.
"Move!!" Zain roars, swinging his axe at the golem. Fuk ducks as Tempest collides with the aluum's chest, shattering its crystal heart. The trapped souls within escape with a ghostly wail, as the golem falls over, lifeless and inert.
Fortunately, the heroes disabled the aluum quickly and without making much noise. A squad of Zephyr Guard march passed the dark guildhall, oblivious to what is going on inside. Nadiyya watches them until they are out of sight, then breaths a sigh of relief.
The heroes enter the archive. Thousands of thick, dusty ledgers are stacked and shelved around the room. Misfar gets stuck in while Zain and Fuk stand around feeling a bit useless. It takes until dawn, but the wizard is able to narrow their search to three candidates; all three are women in the correct age bracket, sold by Lord Clarion, within three months of the day Zain and his mother were captured.
The first was sold to the Gladiatior's Guild, right here in Katapesh.
The second was sold to a pesh farmer on the outskirts of Okeno.
The third was sold to the captain of a pirate vessel named the Wormwood.
Not much to go on, but better than nothing. The heroes burrow out of the guildhall and rejoin Nadiyya on the street. The party retire to Rayhan's villa to get some rest and discuss which of the three slave women to liberate first.
Monster Notes: Aluum: metal golem (Fantasy Companion), powered by the souls of dead slaves. Greater Arcane Resistance, paralyzing touch and soul scream (stun, blast template centred on the aluum). Crystal is weak spot.
Chapter Twenty One: Ruk & Roll - Part One
Rayhan is no closer to unlocking the secrets of the scroll, leaving the party with plenty of time to investigate the clues they uncovered in the auctioneers guildhall.
One of the three women who could be Zain's mother was sold to the Gladiator's Guild, so the heroes head to the Grand Coliseum, an immense stadium in the centre of the city. A long line of people are queuing up outside the entrance, jostling and cheering excitedly as the line inches forward. The heroes join the end of the queue.
"What's going on here?" Misfar asks the man in front of him.
"Have you been living under a rock?" the man answers, "It's the first day of the Ruk season! Go Scorpions!! Woot!!"
Ruk is a popular sport, where two teams of ten unarmed athletes compete to throw a ball through the other team's hoop. Outright murdering another player on the field is frowned on, but pretty much anything else goes. Today, the Solku Scorpions face off against the Bug Harbour Behirs. Each team in the league is sponsored by one of the major guilds.
Eventually, the heroes reach the front of the queue, purchase tickets for the match and find their seats. The roar of the crowd is deafening as the two teams take the field. The Scorpions stand out in their bright orange tunics, whereas the Behirs are garbed in muted shades of blue and brown. A mangy gnoll is taking bets on the outcome of the match. Nadiyya places a wager on the Scorpions winning the game.
A whistle blows and the match begins! Players throw, kick and roll the ball between each other and every time someone scores, a loud gong sounds across the arena, barely audible over the cheering of the crowd. Several players have to be carried off the pitch after they are knobbled by the opposing team. After thirty minutes, another whistle sounds and the game pauses for an interval. The score is Behirs 3 / Scorpions 2. Food vendors move amidst the spectators, selling nibbles and drinks. Fuk buys a bag of deep fried tarantula legs and enjoys them very much! Play resumes and continues for another half hour. Each team scores another goal and the final score is Behirs 4 / Scorpions 3. Nadiyya curses and tears up her betting slip, she is now Broke.
The crowd begins to disperse, but the heroes linger, looking for someone they can ask about Zain's mother. A bored groundskeeper points them toward the locker rooms and suggests they talk to Zari.
The heroes follow the sound of screaming to the player's locker room. They walk in on two burly men struggling to hold down a third, while a dark skinned woman attempts to splint his broken leg.
"Hold still Roone, you big baby!" the woman cries out in exasperation, "I can't help you while you're flopping about like a whispering jellyfish!"
Misfar steps forward and casts Slumber on the injured man. He immediately lies still, snoring gently. The woman nods her thanks and finishes setting the broken limb. Once she is done, she washes the blood from her hands, then turns to the heroes.
"My thanks, magi. I feared I would have to knock Roone out myself before he would stop shrieking and let me work. He's a cry baby, but he's also our star player - and out of commission until that whispering leg heals.
"My name is Zari - how can I help you?"
Zain steps forward.
"My name is Zain Al-Sahli and I am looking for my mother."
Zari's eyes widen with wonder as she stares up into the big man's face.
"Little Zain, but how can this be? After all this time, I thought you must be dead."
"Mother?" Zain whispers, reaching down to take her hand.
"I'm sorry Zain. No. I am your aunt."
"What happened?" Zain asks, "Where is my mother? Anything you can tell me would be helpful. I.. I don't even remember her name."
"Your mother's name is Zeri Al-Sahli," Zari answers, "She had two sisters, Zuri and myself. On that whispering day, when the slavers came and killed your father, all four of us were taken. I don't know what happened to either of my sisters. I was sold to the Gladiators Guild and forced to fight. I am no stranger to the spear and survived long enough to be promoted to trainer. When Ruk became fashionable, I was asked to coach the Solku Scorpions."
Nadiyya spits on the locker room floor. Zari snorts.
"Yes, we're not winning many games and are close to being relegated to the provincial league," Zari says sadly, "With Roone out of action, I don't see how we can win our next match. No doubt i'll lose my position and be sent back to the fighting pits."
"No." Zain states, folding his arms across his chest, "I will not stand for it. You are family and I will not see you sent to the pits. If there is anything I can do, you have but to name it - and by the will of Sarenrae, I will see it done!"
"Well, there is one thing...." Zari says, eyeing her nephew's brawny physique, "Tell me, what size tunic do you wear?"
Chapter Twenty Two: Ruk & Roll - Part Two
The Solku Scorpions' next match is two days later, versus the Okeno Raptors. Once again, the Grand Coliseum is packed with spectators, cheering loudly and brandishing banners in their team's colours.
The muted roar of the crowd is audible from the locker rooms, where the heroes prepare to make their sporting debut. Fuk, Nadiyya and Zain exchange their armour for the bright orange tunics worn by their side. Misfar, being too old and bookish for such larks, is sitting this one out.
"Good luck out there, nephew!" Zari says, handing Zain his helmet, "Play rough and play dirty, but above all, play well!"
The Scorpions jog out onto the playing field and the fans go wild.
"Fuk could get used to this!" the goblin says, basking in their adoration.
"Fame is a fickle friend," Zain warns, "They cheer for us now, but if we lose, they will curse our names and a tenday from now, we will be forgotten."
"Pah!" Fuk snorts, "Fuk will give them something to remember!"
The Okeno Raptors emerge from their own locker room, wearing powder blue tunics. The two teams line up opposite one another and the two captains shake hands. Nadiyya stares at the other side's line-up and her eyes widen.
"They have a cave troll!" she cries, "Wait, are they allowed a cave troll? Why don't we have a cave troll?"
"The rules don't say they can't have a cave troll," says the referee, "Get ready, the match is about to begin."
The whistle blows and the game is afoot!
Rules for Ruk: A game of Ruk is played in two halves, each lasting thirty minutes. Each team has a Ruk skill. Each team can have a number of signature players up to to half their Ruk die. Each signature players is dealt an initiative card and makes a Skill roll (usually Athletics, but other Skills may be substituted) to either Attack, Defend or Foul.
Attack: every Sucess and Raise the player gets adds +1 to the team's Ruk roll at the end of the current half.
Defend: rolls to Defend are made with a +1 modifier, every Sucess and Raise the player gets subtracts -1 from the other team's Ruk roll at the end of the current half.
Foul: you attempt to knobble a player on the other team so they can no longer play, make an opposed Fighting roll; on a Success, the target player suffers a -2 penalty for the rest of the current half, with a Raise, the target player is knobbled and no longer participates in the game.
A critical failure on any of the above rolls results in the player being either knobbled themself or sent off by the referee. You may allow a Persuasion roll at -2 to change the referee's mind. Bribes are not unheard of.
After every signature player has acted, each team rolls their Ruk die (with a Wild Die) and applies any modifiers from the signature players individual actions. Each Sucess/Raise on this roll represents a goal scored during the current half. Repeat this process for the second half and to determine the final score.
The Solku Scorpions, Ruk D8
1: Captain Zain Al-Sahli
2: Nadiyya Emberstorm
3: Fuk the Goblin
The Okeno Raptors, Ruk D8
1: Captain Javid Dames
2: Nemaril Nevershot
3: Arjen Alba
4: Pogba the Cave Troll
"There goes the whistle, signifying the start of today's match. The Scorpions have a lot riding on the outcome of this game, a victory here could secure their position in the league tables.
I'm seeing a lot of new faces in the Scorpions line-up. Coach Zari has decided to mix things up after their recent loss against the Bug Harbour Behirs.
Nadiyya Emberstorm has taken possession of the ball and is making a bee-line for the Raptor's goal! Look at her go! Wait, is she on fire?! It certainly looks that way from up here in the commentator's box. Nobody can get close to her! She shoots...! She scores!! The Scorpions take an early lead, but there's still a lot of time to go.
Pogba is on the move! He's going after Emberstorm! Wait, she doesn't even have the ball anymore! She dodges what could have been a career ending injury! Pogba had better watch out, Emberstorm does not look happy!
It looks as though Captain Zain Al-Sahli - replacing Roone after a nasty tackle took him out during his last match - is adopting a more defensive role here. He's certainly big, but he's slow and Nemaril is through! Raptors equalize!!
Fuk... just Fuk, apparently, takes the ball! He ducks between Arjen's legs and scores!! Two-One to the Scorpions!!
Captain Javid does not look impressed. He cuts through the Scorpions' defensive line and scores! He's not finished yet though - another goal for the Raptors! Captain Zain seems unable to stop his counterpart getting around him!
There goes the whistle, signifying the end of the first round. The current score is Raptors 3 / Scorpions 2. Can the Scorpions recover, or are they already on the slippery slope toward another humiliating defeat? I'll be back after the break - but first, a word from our sponsor...."
"Here come the teams, returning to the pitch for the second half. What's this? It seems coach Zari has substituted in a new player. Is that an old elven dude?
It looks like the Raptors are taking a more defensive approach to the second half, with both Arjen and Pogba guarding their goal. Emberstorm is going for it anyway... No! She"s going for Pogba! The cave troll goes down hard! But look, he's getting back up! Pogba definitely felt that tackle, but he's still in the game!
Captain Zain is still in defence - and he still can't stop the tag team of Javid and Nemaril dancing round him. The Raptors score another two goals in quick succession!
Fuk the Goblin attacks! He's light on his feet, but will that be enough to save the day? The Scorpions of 5/2 down at this point and the final whistle is only moments away. What's this?! Fuk has just split into three identical goblins and they're all running in different directions! Arjen and Pogba have no idea what to do! Is this some kind of illusion magic? Is that allowed? We just received a decision from the ref. The rules don't say you can't use illusion magic. Fuk scores once! He scores again! One more goal and the Scorpions equalize!! He's going for it... he shoots...! The final whistle goes! The game is over!! The final score is Raptors 5 / Scorpions 4! Wow! What a game!!"
In the Scorpions' locker room, a group of tired, sweaty heroes flop across the benches and shared dismayed glances with one another as they gulp for breath. They played their socks off, but it wasn't enough.
"I'm sorry, Aunt Zari," Zain says sadly, "I have failed you."
"You did your best," she answers, "That's the most I could have asked for. The fighting pits aren't so bad. At least I won't have to listen to Roone whining any more.
Don't you worry about me, I'll be fine. You worry about finding your mother. When you do, tell her that Zari is proud of the man her nephew has grown into."
The party may have failed to save Zain's aunt from the pits, but on the plus side, they do get to keep their team tunics.
Chapter Twenty Three: Fields of Battle - Part One
The heroes head next to the island of Okeno. The second of three women from Zain's village was bought by a pesh farmer on the island and there is a 50/50 chance that this time will be Zain's mother. The party hitch a ride with the Okeno Raptors, returning home as champions after their victory in the coliseum.
"No hard feelings." Pogba the Cave Troll grunts, while helping the party stow their luggage below deck, "It's just a game, after all."
With the wind in their sails, the voyage to Okeno lasts two days. The party disembark and bid farewell to the Raptors. After finding somewhere to stay, they ask for directions to the nearest pesh fields. They are told that a large farm is situated north of the harbour, on the foothills of Mount Stonespine. The farm is well defended, but this far from Katapesh, at least the heroes don't have to worry about the Zephyr Guard. Mounted mercenaries patrol the fields, a deterrent to the gnoll raiders skulking in the rocky highlands.
"There must be hundreds of slaves working those fields," Misfar mutters, as the party surveil the farm from afar, "How are we going to establish if your mother is amongst them?"
The party opt to sneak in after dark. There are twelve stone dormitories, each housing fifty or so exhausted and malnourished slaves. The dorms are locked and guarded overnight. Unfortunately, Zain is just too darn big to go unnoticed for long and a sharp eared sentry hears him blundering through the pesh fields.
Again, the human heroes forgot they can't see in the dark.
The slavers can though, as it would be too dangerous to carry torches into the fields and risk the merchandise catching fire. A posse of mounted guards descend upon the party, a-whooping and a-hollering as they close in on what they believe to be a group of escaped slaves.
Nadiyya can hear the riders crashing through the fields, she calls on the fire in her blood and projects a cone of flame in their direction. One rider is caught in the burst and the fire quickly spreads into the pesh as the burning horse rears in terror. Fearing that the fire will endanger their own lives, Misfar dispels the flames before they get out of control.
"No more fire!" the wizard screams at Nadiyya, "You'll kill us all!"
"Fire is kinda' my whole deal!" she snaps back angrily, "What if told you 'no more magic'?!" Nevertheless, she switches to her shortsword.
This kinda' sucked as I had planned for the smoke from the burning pesh to cause the combatants on both sides to experience weird hallucinations.
Fuk can see in the dark just fine, but he's too short to find targets amidst the towering cacti. A rider approaches and Fuk tries to scale the horse, giving him a better view of the battlefield. He slips and narrowly avoids being trampled beneath the beast's thundering hooves. The beast rears, but the rider manages to stay in the saddle.
Zain swings Tempest at a passing rider and chops him in half at the waist. The top bit falls to the ground, leaving the bloody legs dangling from the stirrups.
"These ain't no 'scaped slaves!" one of the other eleven riders yells, "We's being raided, boys! Yee-haw!!"
One rider wheels his horse around and gallops back toward the farm to raise the alarm. The other ten attack from horseback. They are accustomed to mounted combat and aren't hindered by the Unstable Platform penalty.
Zain is surrounded by a trio of armed horsemen. He sweeps Tempest around, but misses all three targets. For five Power Points, Misfar can cast Slumber over a small burst template and not effect his friend. Two of the riders surrounding Zain suddenly fall asleep in the saddle.
The rider of the shaken horse hops down and stabs toward the prone goblin beneath his horse. Fuk bites his hand and the shaken guard drops his sword.
"You done bit me, boy!" the rider shrieks, holding up his bloodied fingers.
Fuk scrambles out from underneath the man's horse and lops off the entire arm. He scrambles up onto the horse's back, finally Fuk can see what's going on! He opens fire on the mounted archers; killing one and leaving a second Shaken.
More arrows whistle through the dark and Nadiyya is struck in the shoulder. She suffers two wounds and is Shaken.
"I got you, girlie!" the archer heckles, "I got you good!"
Misfar places his hand against the flank of the horse adjacent to him. It disappears!! The rider falls prone, staring up at the wizard, all bug-eyed and befuddled.
"Whut you done with my horse, boy?!"
There is a meaty splat as the aforementioned mount falls 12" and lands atop its helpless rider.
"So OP." the wizard chuckles.
An arrow whips passed Misfar's head as he turns away from the mess he has just made. He is Shaken. Another arrow hits Nadiyya and she suffers a third wound. Seeing that his friend is grievously injured, Zain calls upon his goddess to heal Nadiyya. With dawn still hours away, the power of Sarenrae wanes and only one wound is healed. An instant later Misfar is hit again, now he is wounded also!
"By the Starstone, find cover!" Zain yells, "I only have one pair of hands!"
"Perhaps we should consider a tactical withdrawal?" Misfar suggests.
"Piss on this!" Nadiyya yells, toasting a pair of riders in a burst of fire, "They can't chase us and save their pesh! Time to go!!"
"Don't breathe the smoke!" Misfar warns, "It will dull your wits!"
The party retreat through a haze of hallucinogenic smoke, leaving the surviving riders to fight the fire spreading across their fields.
Chapter Twenty Four: Fields of Battle - Part Two
The heroes return to their lodgings, weary and reeking of smoke. Despite the lateness of the hour, there is a visitor waiting for them; a bespectacled half-elf who introduces himself as H'kul Mushain.
"Late night?" Mushain asks, eyeballing their bloodied weapons and armour, "I hear the Clarion farm was raided a few hours back. You could see the flames from the edge of town. You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?"
"Clarion? As in Oslynn Clarion?" Nadiyya asks, " Haha... do we look that stupid?"
"You look like you just lost a fight you were ill prepared for," Mushain states, "Let's not waste any more time. The farm you so recklessly assaulted is owned by Lord Clarion's uncle Calvin. Fortunately, for you, the two of them don't get on.
You can't stay here. Calvin won't call on the Zephyr Guard, but he has allies among the Stonespine gnolls and they will be tracking you. Burning the pesh fields was smart, that will slow them down, but they will be coming."
"Why should we trust you?" Misfar asks.
"You don't have to trust me, but I believe we can help each other," Mushain answers, "I can take you somewhere safe, or you can stay here and wait for Calvin's dogs to pick up your scent. It's entirely your choice, but choose quickly. I can't jeopardise my own mission and I'm already taking too great a risk being seen with you."
"Wait! Are you with the Steel Falcons?" Nadiyya asks.
"We can't talk here," Mushain says, "I have a ship. Come with me and I'll tell you all I can."
The party follow the half-elf vigilante to his ship; the Cloud Dancer. Mushain introduces them to the rest of the Falcons, a rag-tag crew of Andoran freedom fighters and escaped slaves.
"We've been watching the farm for some time," Mushain explains, "We were working on a convoluted scheme to masquerade as mandingo trainers, but your actions last night suggest a straightforward assault could succeed, if we work together."
"We didn't come here to assassinate Calvin Clarion," Zain states, "My mother is being forced to work in the pesh fields. We came to Okeno to free her."
"Your mother is one of six hundred slaves being worked to death on Calvin's farm," Mushain answers, "We plan to free all of them, but Calvin will just buy more if we leave him alive.
"Are you with us?"
The heroes decide to stand with the Steel Falcons. Calvin Clarion had thirty mercenaries guarding the farm; the heroes killed six and several more were injured fighting the fire in the burning fields. Gnoll reinforcements have been summoned, but are not suffered to enter the farmhouse. Zain and Misfar will lead a squad of eight Falcons in a diversionary assault on the bunk houses, while Nadiyya, Fuk and Mushain infiltrate the farmhouse to kill Calvin.
Rather than run a huge, drawn-out tactical combat, I treated this scene as a Quick Encounter.
Misfar causes a distraction with magic (Spellcasting, success), firing off multi-coloured fireworks to draw the guards away from the farmhouse. About half of Calvin's men mount up to investigate. Zain and the Steel Falcons engage the mercenaries (Fighting, Raise). Even outnumbered, the freedom fighters hold their ground. More guards are drawn away from the farmhouse to join the battle, leaving the way clear for Nadiyya and Fuk to get inside. Fuk sneaks ahead (Stealth, success) and reaches Calvin's study undetected. The slave owner is left with only a handful of bodyguards. Even wounded, Nadiyya is able to best them in combat (Fighting, success). Calvin Clarion sits behind his desk, reaching for a box of fine Cheliaxian cigars as Nadiyya cuts down the last of his men.
"Any of you sons of b*%+#es got a light?" he asks.
Nadiyya holds out her bloody sword. The blade glows brightly then burst into flame. Calvin leans forward and holds his cigar over the burning blade.
"Calvin Clarion," Mushain says, raising his crossbow to point at the slave owner's chest, "You are found guilty of perpetuating a system of unwilful servitude. On the authority of His Excellency Codwin of - "
"If you're planning to kill me, just get it done," Calvin growls, blowing smoke into the half-elf's face, "Don't bore me with your Andoran politics."
"So be it." Mushain says, pulling the trigger. Calvin grunts as the crossbolt knocks him out of his chair. A pair of legs stick up from behind the desk, twitching feebly as the life leaves the slaver's body.
"Bad man has nice shoes!" Fuk observes.
Calvin may be dead, but the mercenaries who took his coin are still fighting around the bunk houses. Zain and the Falcons drew the majority of the slaver's men away, but now they are grossly outnumbered and surrounded by enemies.
"We've got to go help the others," Nadiyya says urgently.
"Fuk coming!" the goblin cries, struggling with the laces on Calvin's boots. They're a bit too big, but he'll grow into them, maybe. Fuk follows Nadiyya and Mushain out of the room. A moment later, he returns to snatch the box of cigars from Calvin's desk.
The sellswords are caught fighting on two fronts and the tide of battle turns against them. Some flee into the mountains, but most are slain. The Steel Falcons don't extend mercy to those who profit from slavery. One of the dead mercenaries was carrying the keys needed to unlock the bunk houses and release the slaves.
Zain moves among the throng, desperately searching for his mother. He can't remember her face, but he does spot one woman bearing a familial resemblance to his Aunt Zari. Zain feels his stomach lurch. Somehow - he doesn't understand how, but somehow - he knows that his long search is over.
The small, dark-skinned woman looks to him, recognition coming slowly to eyes dulled by decades of hardship.
"Zain? My little lion. Is it really you?"
"It is me, mother. By the grace of Sarenrae, I have finally found you."
For the first time since he was a child, Zain Al-Sahli embraces his mother. Fuk stumbles around in Calvin's oversized boots, handing out cigars to celebrate this momentous occasion.
"We must go!" Mushain cries, cutting short their joyous reunion, "The Cloud Dancer is waiting to carry these good people to their new lives in Andoran."
The heroes escort the freed slaves to the ship and guard the docks as they are all bought aboard. It seems cruel to Zain that he and his mother must part ways so soon after finding each other, but she cannot remain in Katapesh. As an escaped slave, she would be hunted, until someone else put another collar around her neck.
"You could have gone with them," Nadiyya says, as she and Zain stand together on the dockside, watching the Cloud Dancer cast off, "To Andoran, I mean. You could have been a family again."
"When all this is over, perhaps I will do that." Zain says, "But my work here is not yet done. The slave trade is abhorrent to Sarenrae and it runs through Katapesh like a poison in the blood. My mother is free, but what of the others who still bear the yoke of slavery? My work will not be done until every last chain has been broken and all the peoples of this sacred land stand together, free and united against evil."
"You set yourself an impossible task." Nadiyya says sadly, "You would sooner soak up all the oceans of the Inner Sea with a sponge."
"Have faith, my friend." Zain says, turning his face to the glorious sunrise, "Sometimes, faith is all we have."
Chapter Twenty Five: The Jackal's Price
The heroes return to Katapesh, eager to check on Rayhan's progress deciphering the Scroll of Kakishon. They have been away from the city for six days and much has changed in their absence.
"I have been awaiting your return," the archmage says, "I have unlocked the secrets of the Scroll and you can open a gateway to Kakishon at any time. However, this message came for you this morning...."
'To the Heroes of Kelmarane.
'Radi Hamda and his sister are now my guests. If you would see them again, you will agree to my price. I want the Scroll of Kakishon - you will surely agree their lives are more than fair trade for such a treasure? Bring the relic to the One Source warehouse at sunset. Once I have the Scroll, my guests will be released unharmed. Fail to deliver the Scroll and their blood will be on your hands.
"Whispering Zayifid, that son of a witch!" Misfar curses, screwing the missive into a ball and casting it aside, "Hiding behind innocent hostages, that jackal!"
"What do we do?" Zain asks, "We can't give him the Scroll."
"And we can't let him hurt Rumi!" Nadiyya says, surprised to find she actually cares what happens to the little blind girl.
"Or Radi." Misfar reminds her.
Nadiyya shrugs. She's less concerned about Radi's fate.
As is becoming par for the course for this party, they decide to attend the rendezvous with no plan and no contingency, hoping that good fortune and exploding damage rolls will carry the day. To be fair to the players, it has worked in the past and probably will again.
The party head to the One Source warehouse as the sun is going down. They are expecting a fight and are armed for bear. An open space has been created in the centre of the warehouse floor, surrounded by a wall of precariously balanced crates. Zayifid, Tamir and the Hamda siblings are waiting for them. The heroes don't doubt there are more enemies hidden nearby.
"My friends, you came to rescue me!" Radi cries happily.
"Lets not get ahead of ourselves," Zayifid says, "Did you bring the relic?"
"Release the prisoners, then you'll get what's coming to you." Nadiyya replies.
"Now that answer strikes me as purposefully ambiguous and vaguely threatening." Zayifid observes, "To save us all some time, I think I'll just have my men kill you and go through your pockets once you're dead."
Several large, brutish gnolls loom out of the dark corners of the warehouse, dragging their furry knuckles along the ground.
"After you killed the Carrion King, his Unchosen were left without anyone to serve," Zayifid says, "They serve me now."
Tamir hurls a burst of flame towards the party, who are bunched up like a group of idiots. Their armour is a little scorched, but nobody is hurt. Nadiyya counters with a burst of her own, but the halfling wizard is protected by his magical ring. Misfar spends four Power Points on an empowered burst of abrasive sand, killing two Unchosen and grievously injuring Tamir. The halfling wizard claws at his face, half of which has been flayed of all flesh and muscle by Misfar's attack.
"Kill the wizard!!" Zayifid screams.
There are One Source goons armed with crossbows clambering amongst the stacked boxes. Zain moves to shield Misfar with his own body; most of the bolts bounce harmlessly of his breastplate, but one particularly well aimed shot finds a chink in his armour. Zain grunts as the bolt punches into his torso.
"Do I have to have to do everything myself?" Zayifid cries. He prepares to unleash a devastating magical attack, rolls snake eyes on his casting roll and overloads the crystal set into the end of his staff!! The crystal explodes and everyone within a small burst template is hit by flying shards of broken glass! Zayifid is Shaken and Wounded!
Tamir looses his nerve and turns tail. Fuk shoots him in the back and the halfling wizard does not get up.
Zain recalls that Tempest is a genie-bane weapon and he is presently in combat with a rogue djinni. He makes a Wild Attack, hits with a Raise and does a truck-load of exploding damage, far more than Zayifid can Soak with his remaining Bennies.
With Zayifid and Tamir both defeated, the remaining One Source thugs cut their losses and retreat. The Unchosen fight on, eager to join their late king in gnoll hell. The heroes are only too happy to oblige.
The heroes loot the bodies. Tamir was wearing a Ring of Defence that boosted his Toughness. Fuk claims the ring to offset the loss of Vigour when he was incapacitated in Book 2. Misfar recognises Zayifid's broken weapon as a Polar Staff, which enables the user to apply ice trappings to his spells at no additional cost. He reckons that the weapon can be repaired by replacing the shattered crystal. The party also raid the One Source coffers and bump up their Wealth die.
Radi and Rumi Hamda are safe and resume their journey to Kelmarane, accompanied by Felliped the Bard, who has concluded his own business in Katapesh.
The heroes return to Rayhan's villa. Nadiyya, Misfar and Zain are all injured from the fight in the warehouse and opt to rest before activating the portal to Kakishon. Fuk is left to his own devices.
"I hear the Sunset Ship has returned to the city," Rayhan tells the goblin, "It last came through Katapesh over a decade ago. I'm going to pop over and see what the good captain has to trade. Under no circumstances should you mess with the Scroll in my absence!!"
Rayhan pauses on his way out the door and turns back to Fuk.
"I really cannot stress that point strongly enough. Do not tamper with the relic! Don't even look at it while I'm gone, and definitely don't do anything weird, like lick it, or something."
Fuk tries his best, he truly does. He takes all the arrows out of his quiver and organises them by length. He goes through Rayhan's magic food preservation chest and makes an awesome sandwich. He even starts the first draft of his hard-hitting autobiography.
He lasts nineteen minutes and fifty-three seconds.
Misfar shoots up in bed, overwhelmed with the feeling that something awful is about to happen.
Then something awful happens.
With a sudden explosion of light and sound, the world is engulfed in fire. The ground itself seems to give way and suddenly the wizard is plunging through a vortex of fire, plummeting into the throat of a volcano. Zain, Nadiyya and Fuk fall beside him, their expressions almost comically horror-struck. A sense of vertigo overwhelms even the fire and noise, as the sensation of falling grows into a tempest of burning wind.
Shapes begin to emerge from the firestorm; warriors formed from smoke and fire, adorned with glittering jewellery and wielding scimitars of fire. They surge upwards, roaring a collective battle-cry, oblivious to the heroes tumbling passed them.
Then comes the last of them; a towering warlord with curling horns and an enormous, burning sword. This figure does notice the party and bows mockingly as the they plummet toward him. Then he is gone, rocketing upwards in a plume of choking black smoke and bright cinders.
The violent firestorm ends as suddenly as it began. For a moment, the heroes can see nothing, hear nothing. Slowly, sensation returns; the sound of waves breaking on a sandbar, the cool sea breeze against exposed skin. The heroes rise unsteadily and take in their surroundings. They stand on a tropical beach, a sandy wedge positioned betwixt the azure sea and lush green junglescape. The only sign of civilization is a simple hut erected beside a low stone jetty. Tropical birds squawk from the dense foliage, a disharmonious welcome to this strange paradise.
"Fuk not do anything!" Fuk cries, a little suspiciously.
Welcome to Kakishon.
Chapter Twenty Six: Welcome to the Jungle
"So let me get this straight..." Nadiyya says, "Not only are we now trapped inside a piece of magic paper, we also released a power hungry warlord and his army of vengeful djinn back into our world?"
"That's an accurate summary of recent events," Misfar replies, glowering at Fuk, "And since someone who shall remain nameless decided to mess with the relic while everyone else was resting, we haven't even got all of our equipment."
Each player was allowed to pick two items from their character sheet that they carried with them into Kakishon. Nadiyya picked her sword and her armour. Misfar picked his new staff and his spellbook. Zain picked Tempest and his holy symbol. Fuk picked his bow and his armour.
"What's that in the water?" Zain says, peering toward a dark shape moving toward the beach, "Ready your weapons!"
Seven serpentine heads rise from beneath the tropical surf; each head is connected to the body of a single monster by a long, scaly neck. The hungry beast looms over the party as it splashes clumsily through the shallows.
Nadiyya projects a cone of fire at the hydra, catching three of the seven heads in the burst. Those three heads hiss as their scales blacken and turn to ash, the other four heads turn toward the young woman. Fuk shoots two of the unharmed heads, drawing their attention away from Nadiyya. Zain can't reach the heads, so he focuses on the torso. He swings Tempest into the hydra's flank, hard enough to crack a few ribs. The hydra's many heads snap at the heroes, one exhales a gout of flame over the party. Misfar is severely scorched by the beasts' burning breath.
Fuk shoots one of the heads between the eyes, piercing its thick skull and killing it dead. The head dangles limp and listless as an old man's wrinkly bell-end. The goblin disables another head - and because he isn't severing them, they don't regenerate. Misfar unleashes an empowered Burst at the hydra. He rolls snake-eyes!! Misfar suffers Backlash and a level of Fatigue. Zain delivers a mighty blow to the monster's chest, crushing several important monster organs and finally slaying the beast!
Before the dying hydra has stopped thrashing, the heroes hear a soggy clapping sound and spot a giant sea turtle applauding their victory. The turtle looks very old and very wise. It coughs, as though clearing its voice before saying something thought-provoking, but instead retches up a golden scroll case entwined with lengths of partially digested seaweed.
"Gross" Nadiyya observes, "I am not touching that."
Misfar gingerly collects the slimy message;
'Greetings and welcome to the Serpent Isles, great hunters!
'Here, you will find a challenge to satisfy your thirst for adventure! Your task is simple, you must hunt down the Golden Ram and claim its horn. The islands of the Kakishon archipelago contain many wonders, but you will need a ship to ferry you between them. Blowing the golden horn will summon such a vessel.
The Imprisoner is gone now, but his world remains - a world that we created. You have only just arrived and we don't yet know whether you are allies or enemies. Complete the hunt and we will have more tasks for you. Present the egg to the boatman and he will bring you directly to us. We have much to discuss.'
"What egg?" Misfar asks.
More retching from the turtle. It vomits up a large blue egg marked by brown spots.
Fuk grabs the egg greedily; that's his breakfast sorted. Misfar takes the egg off him.
"Maybe these mysterious world builders know of a way to escape Kakishon." the wizard suggests, "Completing their tasks might be the quickest way out of here."