Dark Sun 3.5 - The Lost North

Episode 25 Recap

In the respite that followed the PCs entrance into the pitched battle with the halflings, the expedition members regrouped and tended their wounded.  They had lost a handful of people in the chaotic early moments of the attack when halflings just seemed to boil up out of the sand all around them.  But all of the animals and wagons were unharmed thus far so they could still fulfill their mission.  If the halflings gave them time to finish it.

Frinan and Betram had been a bit more than halfway through the task of slicing up the meteor when the attack began.  At the current rate of cutting, they would need another two days or so to finish.  No one had any hope of the cease fire lasting that long, but they started in again immediately to try and carve what they could.  The others were loading the slabs into wagons in case they needed to try and make a break for it with whatever they had managed to get.  

As they were discussing options with the leadership, Larry suddenly found a scroll tube in her outstretched hand. Adjusting to this new reality, she found a tag strapped to one end.  

"Zuniga,
I cannot get away to assist at this time, but definitely want to talk to you and your companions about this outpost and what you learned from the entity you spoke with.
Give this scroll to Bertram.  Hopefully it will speed up the process greatly and allow a quick resolution to your current predicament.
Cunnet"

How did he know about their current predicament?  Larry had sent the message when they were trying to save Emcee inside the outpost.  They didn't even know the battle was going on then. 

But she gave the scroll to Bertram and his eyes flared wide.  "If this does what I think it does, it will most certainly speed things up.  I need to study it and make sure I understand all the details because I'll only get one shot at using the scroll.  But if it works, we may be done with the cutting by tomorrow morning."  Then he went off to study the scroll while Frinan continued to drive a heat wedge through the body of the meteor.

Bertram's study was productive.  He explained that the spell on the scroll would turn a weapon he held into a two dimensional object.  (Mark: "What's that?"  Bertram: "Really, really thin…")  Then he should be able to just slice his way through the meteor without needing to heat it first.  Captain Dargat let him use his steel sword for the task, because steel is always better.  After casting, the sword did shrink down to nothing in one direction while looking normal from the other.  And Bertram was able to slide the blade through the meteor slowly.  It was hard work, but it was much quicker than they were going before.  He'd be up all night but it would be done by dawn.

So then.  Everyone else just had to make sure he didn't have to worry about anything else until then.  As if the halflings weren't going to stage another full-out assault before morning came.

But they didn't.  What could they have planned?

Morning arrived and an exhausted Bertram pulled the sword through the last few inches of iron and stone.  When the last two pieces fell apart, he collapsed on the ground and released the sword.  It immediately returned to normal.  While Bertram caught his breath, and drank long and hard from his waterskin, slaves and others loaded up the last slabs into wagons and got the animals hitched.  Bertram would ride in the back of the middle wagon and probably be unconscious before they cleared the ramp.  The rest of the outfit would be riding the wagons as well since all of their crodlu had to be conscripted to pull them.  Only the PCs were left with their mounts to act as outriders and protection.

The whole night and into the morning, the fog cloud that surrounded the crater had not faltered.  They halfling druids who rode the giant dragonflies must have been taking it in turns to keep it going or else they had some other way of making it long-lived.  They group decided that they would get the wagons moving towards the ramp, then Larry would fire a gust of wind to carve a gap in the fog and expose anyone waiting there in ambush.  Then the wagons would high tail it while the PCs protected the flanks and rode down any attackers.

And it all started exactly as planned.  The wagons charged the ramp and Larry's gust of wind sent the fog (and a number of small forms) tumbling off out of their way.  But as the last wagon was cresting the crater wall, they heard a thunderous roar sound from behind them, across the crater and beyond the norther fog barrier.  Turning, the PCs saw a giant humanoid shape formed of sand and stone rear up out of the desert a few hundred feet beyond the fog cloud to the north-northeast.  

Knowing that the wagons would be no match for such a thing, Brian sent his earth elemental coursing through the ground to slow it down.  It was almost as big and packed quite a punch so their battle was titanic indeed.  But after a few round it seemed clear that it was not going to be able to defeat the behemoth so Jeremy broke away and circled back to confront it.  Larry had been getting strange sensations from the monster and finally put the meaning of them together.  That was an aspect of a spirit of the land!  She decided to fly back and try to communicate with it in order to avoid having to engage it in battle.

As Jeremy entered the fray, the SotL let loose the killing blow against the elemental and started once again toward the crater.  Jeremy's attacks seemed to hurt it but never by a large amount and it appeared to heal some back each round.  At one point, the SotL simply brushed him aside and headed for the crater.  Never one to be put in a corner, Jeremy hit it with one of his magical axe attacks and was rewarded with its attention and a world of hurt.  Larry, unable to communicate with it for some reason, and fearing what would happen if they came to blows, dropped an obscurement spell on top of Jeremy so that he could fly in and heal him.  Jeremy was bound and determined to kill the thing and was not pleased at being delayed while he thought it was getting away.  

So imagine their surprise when shortly thereafter they experienced both an earthquake and the beginnings of a fierce windstorm come upon them in the same round.  Larry had finished healing and was flying back to the caravan to establish a mindlink with the rest of the party when she was flung violently about by heavy winds.  Jeremy was on the ground and just dug his blades into the sand to stabilize himself against the blowing sand.  This went on for many minutes.  Larry flew up and out of the storm and eventually Jeremy found his way out the side and reconnected with the party at the edge of the winds in the south.  After about half an hour of continuous blowing, the winds subsided.  In the place where there had been a crater (and a tunnel down to the deserted outpost) there was now a featureless plain of sand.  And standing in the midst of that sand was a halfling.  An old halfling.  Dressed in garb that Larry recognized as belonging to a highly decorated druid.  As the winds died completely, the halfling simply turned his back to them and began walking off to the north-northeast.

Jeremy called after it to stop and answer some questions.  The halfling ignored him completely and kept walking.  When Jeremy began to chase after him, the halfling spun and in a fluid motion (which Larry recognized as a druid's wild shape ability) became the giant incarnation of the local spirit of the land they had seen before.  It roared its challenge but when Jeremy skidded to a halt and seemed uninterested in continuing his approach, the giant harumphed and dissolved into falling sand out of which the halfling strode unconcerned.

Larry, sensing an opportunity, flew ahead of the halfling and landed.  Then she seated herself in a posture of learning and attempted to engage the halfling as he reached her.  He altered his course to go around her and said "One does not converse with food." but did not attack.  Professional courtesy?

Lastly, Brian flew from his perch on the rear wagon using his winged boots to try one final intercept.  He landed in the other halfling's path and he finally did stop.  Brian wanted to know if the druid knew about the buried outpost and why the halflings had attacked, but all the druid would say was, "You are not of my tribe.  Do not waste my time or you will be food like the rest.  I have healed the wound in our land.  Now take your plundered rock and be gone before I decide that the price of stopping you is not too high to pay."  Then he shouldered past Brian and continued on.  After another hundred feet of walking his form shifted again into a kes'trekel and he flew away.

Somewhat put out by the encounter, the PCs rejoined the wagon caravan and began the journey southward.  It would be five days getting back to the oasis where they would need to rest and restock.  Then another 5 days or so back around the northern edge of the White Mountains and back to Kurn.   And home.

XP: 3500

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Episode 24 Recap

Upon reaching the control center of Outpost 4827BAZ, the party (of geckos) were introduced to Emcee, the voice that had been in their heads for the last several minutes.  The entity that was speaking to them consisted of a mass of brain tissue floating in a liquid inside a glass bell jar atop a cabinet adorned with lights, levers, buttons, and wheels.

Emcee said a lot of things that didn't make any sense to them ("… the last of the drones expired after extricating your bodies from the rubble…"; "…emergency protocols dictated…"; "…I am not able to override my programming…") but they managed to gather the gist of their situation.  

  • There had been a cave in.  That much they remembered for sure.
  • That cave in had deposited them (and several tons of rock and sand) in an underground outpost constructed during the Green Age of ancient history by the first race: the rhulisti.  The ancient ancestors of all the races, but a direct line back from halflings.  
  • They had been badly damaged in the cave in and would almost certainly have died if Emcee had not been "awake" and had some sort of minion capable of digging them out.
  • Those minions had dragged the PCs to the "sick bay" and gotten them into "healing pods" before they themselves collapsed, having burned up their internal energy stores.
  • The PCs' consciousnesses had been transposed into the only other suitable vessels available to Emcee: a group of arrowhead geckos that had nested in the outpost for centuries if not longer.  
  • The emergency protocols had been triggered because Emcee had sensed a rhulisti descendent (Brian) amongst the group.  These protocols mandated that the group be given access to functional bodies during the repair of their own.  
  • Unfortunately, the reason that Emcee was awake in the first place was because the meteor impact had destroyed most of the outpost including "the hangar", the "main power generators", and the "photosynthetic reserve chargers."  The outpost only had a limited supply of emergency power stored over the eons in large tuberous roots near the surface.  
  • There was not currently enough energy available to complete the healing of the PCs' bodies and transfer their consciousnesses back into them.  
  • Emcee was barred by its "programming" from interrupting the healing cycle when a rhulisti was involved.  So it was adamant that the PCs only hope was to do it themselves.
  • They only had about 12 hours before the energy levels dropped to the point where they would no longer be able to return to their bodies.

After letting some of this sink in, Emcee told them that the only way to save themselves was to cut the main line bringing in chemical energy fluid from those root stores.  There was a junction down the hall in the ruins of the "hangar" where the line came into the outpost before diving into the innards of the station.  Emcee also pointed out that there was a storage room just off the control center where they might be able to find something to help.  But it cautioned that the junction point was also the nesting site of a ber-ethern: a giant wasp with a 6' wingspan.  It, like the arrowhead geckos, had been "lifeshaped" to serve a desired purpose by the rhulisti, in this case to serve as a aerial mount.  It was a formidable opponent considering their current situation.

In the store room, the group found a number of things that might be useful.  There was some rope that was sticky at one end and would release when you squeezed the other.  There was some fine thread that was much stronger than giant's hair rope.  There was a club that Emcee said released an static electrical charge when used as a weapon.  There were some spear/lance sort of weapons that would nearly double in length, almost instantaneously, when the handle was squeezed then return to normal length just as quickly.  And there was a large barrel-like item with a wand of some sort attached by a fibrous cable.  Emcee said that the "lightning generator" was capable of discharging a powerful (6d6) stroke of lightning once every 15 minutes if left alone to recharge.

While they were hashing out a number of different plans for how to accomplish their task, Mark came to the realization that he was not alone in his rented brain.  The gecko who normally lived there was still present, just pushed back into the spare room.  He was not able to communicate with that consciousness so much as get impressions from it.  He learned that there were tunnels all over the outpost that the geckos had dug and made use of.  There was a set off to the north from the control room that led to the geckos' nesting cave.  There was a set to the south that eventually wound their way to the surface.  And there was another set of tunnels that got within a foot or so of the power line where it came into the hangar.

Adding this new knowledge to the plans, they devised a way to (hopefully) sequester the ber-ethern without getting anyone killed.  The doors in the outpost were activated by pressure sensors on the wall.  If one of them geckoed their way up the wall to a pressure plate, they could generate just enough force in pushing themselves off the wall to activate the door.  The doors opened and stayed open for about 10 seconds before closing again.  Someone would be bait, to draw the wasp away from its nest and into the hallway between the hangar and the control room.  If the timing was good, they could trap it in there without having to try and kill it.  Someone else would be waiting up in the gecko tunnels to start digging once the wasp was otherwise occupied.  

Surprisingly, everything went off just about as they had planned.  The only kink was that when Brian bit into the pulsing root-tube of energy fluid and got a mouth full of the goop he immediately started to wretch all over.  He was able to keep going after a few rounds but it was not fun and there was more puking.  Eventually though, the hole in the tube was large enough to cause a shutdown of whatever pump was sending the fluid along and it dried up completely.  As that happened, all four of them felt a pulling sensation and a disorientation and then they all blacked out.  

When they came to, they were staring up at the same ceiling they had seen upon awaking the last time.  But this time, a quick look at themselves revealed that they had been returned to their own bodies.  All around them, the light was only a dim glow and the healing pods no long pulsed with life but appeared to be as dead as the lifeless drones that lay beside them.  Now everything was too small for most of the group, with only Brian feeling like everything was sized appropriately. 

They made their way back to the control room to find it dark.  Inside the glass jar, the liquid no longer bubbled with air and the brain that was Emcee had drifted towards the bottom.  It spoke weakly to them.  

"There was no other way.  My programming requires that rhulisti life be preserved at all costs and this was the only path available to ensure it.  Were it not for the meteor, I would still be in hibernation awaiting my masters' return.  Now I will sleep without waking."

The party felt strangely stirred by the imminent passing of this incredibly ancient sentience.  Emcee had a wealth of knowledge about a long bygone era that few if any possessed in the world today.  It had also just sacrificed itself to save them.  Larry sent a message back to Kurn via his ring gate to try and get Cunnet to come and do something.  Brian hit upon using his wand of polymorph to transform Emcee into a form that could survive outside the nutrient bath that the brain required.  It was a temporary measure at best, but Emcee acquiesced.  Brian had one thing in mind, but when the transformation occurred,  the brain was now a female halfling although one with a manner and bearing far less savage than any halfling known to live on Athas today.

They asked Emcee about its origin.  It had been grown right here in the outpost and had no direct contact with the outside world, but it knew what its progenitors had known.  Athas had once been an ocean world but had been broken and changed by a struggle between different factions of the rhulisti.  Thus ended the Blue Age and began the Green Age where oceans and seas rolled back exposing land.  A powerful attempt to thwart this transformation instead turned the sun from blue to yellow and caused The Rebirth – the creation of all the other races from those who had once been rhulisti (halflings) and the awakening of psionics on Athas.

Outpost 4827BAZ and many others were established to watch and study the newly created races without exposing the rhulisti doing it.  Rhulisti civilization was crumbling but some continued to study and learn even as their home institutions fell to ruin.  Emcee had a "network connection" to other outposts in the region but was never given knowledge of where they were.  Once they all went into hibernation there was no way to tell if they had survived or had fallen to worse fates over the millenia.  

Also, with some coaxing, the four arrowhead geckos came to the PCs and allowed themselves to be carried which reminded Mark of the nesting cave where there had to be many of the arrowheads for which they are named just laying around.  With magic and psionics they devised a way for him to find them and bring them back.  (They had about a thousand organic arrowheads now and the means to produce four new ones a week).

As time wore on with no response from Cunnet (if their messenger had even been able to find him), Brian was forced to use the wand again.  Emcee told them that it remembered less of its store of knowledge with each successive polymorph and asked that it be allowed to die while it still remembered who it was and that it had served its purpose.  After learning whatever else they could think to ask, Brian gave Emcee a dose of poison that would make it go to sleep before the end of the shapechange.  When the time came, the brain that was Emcee pulsed for a short while outside of its chamber and then stilled.  With it, went the last of the lighting.

After the passing, the group turned it attention to how to escape their confines. Mark began searching the rock fall in the hangar trying to find how the ber-ethern got in and out.  He did but ended up getting stuck in the passage.  Brian was then able to reconnect with his earth elemental who came to them and craved a pathway for them (freeing Mark in the process).  He brought their tunnel out into the crater…

Where there was a battle raging!

It took a mew moments to understand what was going on.  There was apparently a large body of savage halflings attacking the Kurnan expedition force all around the crater rim with others riding giant dragonflies (?!) and shooting from the air.  Some of the expedition's forces were down but it wasn't possible to see how badly.  

So the PCs dove in to a section of the rim that seemed in danger of collapsing under the assault and then did what they do best: kill, maim, destroy. 

They did it so well that they enemy created a fog cloud encircling the whole crater and pulled back out of melee.  Apparently a stalemate had been reached.

XP (already given):
As geckos – 1500 (nice work, I was really impressed that you managed to work together)
Against the halflings – 4000

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Session 23 Recap

After destroying the bandit attack force, things became really quiet for the party at the crater.  They were undisturbed for two nights and a day straight.  They must have killed everything within striking distance…

But on the second day, Larry noticed a group of riders coming in from the east.  After a few quick minutes of "kill them first, ask questions later," the group looked closely enough and saw that this group wore the same uniforms as the Black Brethren outriders who had come in from the west right before the bandits. 

It turned out that, indeed, this was the eastern search party and they came bearing news that the main camp back at the oasis had received Brian's feather message and had used similar one-way magic to contact the group.  They had been instructed to head west immediately to help protect the meteorite until the wagons could come north to meet them.  They were were getting underway when they sent the missive so, if they hadn't run into any trouble, they should be pulling up to the crater in a day or two.

Not used to the absence of action, the Black Brethren started organizing the rubble around the rim of the crater into something resembling a defensive barrier.  It was too big to defend all of it with their small numbers, but they could make part of it hard to assault.  By turns, the party members either helped or laid around on their butts.

After an appropriate number of days, Larry did spot a line of 5 wagons coming in from the south and flew out to greet and scout them.  Everything seemed to be in order so she flew back to the crater to inform the rest.  As the wagons approached the crater and greetings were called between the troops, Larry,  Brian, and Mark noticed ripples moving in the sand and swellings like something was coming up through it.  

Suddenly 5 long eels reared up out of the sand and spat fire at the teams of crodlu pulling the wagons.  The fire eels were hoping to kill and cook the largest concentrations of meat available.  The party (with help from Bertram the Black Brethren mage riding in the wagons) managed to engage them long enough for the handlers and merchants to get the crodlu safely into the crater where the eels could not burrow, although several of them took significant damage.  With the non-combatants out of the way, they were able to deal with the eels although one escaped.

Jeremy and Larry helped heal the damaged crodlu after the battle since they were critical to the success of the mission.  Then Jessen and Dargat met the PCs in the crater and asked for a full report, which they got.  Afterwards, Dargat told the PCs that they had done a great job and service to Kurn and that Oronis had authorized to grant boons in such cases.  Looking at the pile of meteor chips and shards that the group had gathered with the help of Brian's indentured Earth elemental, he told them that they would be permitted to divide that pile between them as a reward (amounting to about 25# of material each containing something like 12-13# of iron).

After all the feel-good stuff was out of the way, it was back to business.  Dargat commanded his troops to continue building their fortifications and now man them.  The House Azeth merchants set about unpacking the parts and assembling the 5 additional wagons that they brought with them.  Frinan the Earth cleric and Bertram the mage consulted the meteor and began to execute their plan for making the meteor transportable.  Curious as to how they were going to manage that, the PCs shirked other duties to watch.  As the day closed in to evening, everyone else gathered to watch as well.  Frinan cast a spell that they recognized as heat metal, only it was either a variant or something that Frinan had developed particular skill in wielding.  In the gathering dusk, the heat from the spell made  the surface of the meteor glow red but only along a line across the top of the body.  That red line stretched across the width of the meteor near one side.  When the heat line had reached the other side, the dwarf grunted in his concentration, and Bertram cast his own spell.  An intense blast of cold struck the top of the iron releasing steam from the day's heat and a sharp #CRACK# as the superheated metal broke along the heat line and a slap of the meteor about 3' wide, 10' long and 6" thick pulled loose form the main body and keeled over onto the fused sand below.  There was a great shout and cheer from the assembled Kurnans. 

It was going to work!  The strain on Frinan was evident.  He was not going to be able to manage that feat more than a handful of times per day.  But it could be done.  Each of the 10 wagons would carry two of the slabs and any loose chunks that were gathered.  It would be a heavy load for the crodlu, and it would take longer getting back than getting to the crater, but the task could be accomplished.  

So the next day, the work continued.  Dargat assigned the PCs to patrol around the exterior perimeter of the crater.  "You've been so successful at eliminating threats, that I'd rather you were all out there stopping things before they get close to interfering with the work."  This, of course, made Jeremy's blood boil, being given orders and all.  But they sucked it up and did the job.  

Around midday, Larry spotted a procession coming from the northwest — traveling relatively slowly and on a string of mounts larger than heavy crodlu.  On closer inspection, he could see the large inix lizards being riden by… other lizards?  Humanoid lizards.  Most of the inix bore riders but several were simply bearing loads of sacks full to bursting.  He told the PCs and then went to inform Jessen and Dargat in the crater.  Jessen responded, "Ssurrans!  What luck!" and sprang onto a crodlu to reach them, hopefully before the party did.  As luck would have it, they all converged about the same time, with the ssurrans slowing to a halt still a ways from the Kurnan party.  

One of the ssurrans continued forward and Jessen rode to meet it.  (Jeremy wasn't about to be out of earshot and tagged along.)  Jessen began making a hissing, clicking sort of noise as he came to a halt with a few yards between his crodlu and the inix rider.  The ssurran respond in accented but clear common, "…and may the heat of the sun slow the wits of your opponents."  The ssurran seemed to linger on the sibilant consonants but otherwise spoke better common than many inhabitants of the slave quarters.  

A round of introductions followed during which the ssurran introduced himself as Stasslan Shimmerman, leader of this trade caravan.  His people had, of course, witnessed the fall of the meteor and knew that this would almost certainly bring one or more groups wishing to possess anything that survived the impact.  So he mobilized his band to bring commerce to the victors.  #capitalist

Jessen invited the ssurrans to set up their bazaar and they began to do so where they stood, away from the crater so as not to make any claim (and so that they weren't in the crossfire should another interested party happen by).  Stasslan told them that they could have the marketplace up by evening and would welcome any who wished to bargain.  

The PCs went that evening (along with shifts from the rest of the expedition) to survey the wonders brought in from far distant lands.  Much of what was for sale was ordinary items and tools but done either in a form that was abjectly foreign or bearing markings, designs, and decorations that were new to the PCs.  Stasslan also showed them items he had in his personal stores that he called "empowered" items, no making any distinction between "magic" and "psionics" for the purposes of making the items do what they do.  The PCs were itchy to dig through his wares (and were supposed to have sent me things they wanted to see if he had them).  The evening passed in wonder and excitement and exploration of foreign cultures.   

As the party made their way back to the crater afterwards, they were enjoying themselves and for once not thinking about the fact that their whole planet wanted to kill them.  That is, of course, when it tried to do precisely that.  As they passed over a stretch of stone, it collapsed underneath them.  They were all caught up in the rockfall and even with their powers of flight, neither Larry nor Brian were able to escape the cave in.  They were all pummeled unconscious and buried in the rubble.

One by one they slowly became conscious again hearing a voice.

“Can you hear me, masters?  Has the transfer been successful?  The whole remaining stock of <untranslatable> was destroyed so I had to use whatever was at hand.”  The voice seemed to be in their heads, and while they understood what was being said, they knew instinctively that it was not speaking a language that they knew.

They in what appeared to be a massive room, stretching far above their heads.  In the room there were a number of not quite as massive plantlike pods that seemed to thrum with life and energy.  On the floor next to some of these pods were yet again not quite so large, inert forms – vaguely humanoid in format, but apparently composed of plant materials.  These forms did not exude the same energy of life as the pods. 

That's when they looked around at each other.  Each of the 4 companions saw three lizards looking back at them.  When they examined themselves, they saw that that were currently residing in a lizard body.  LIZARDS!?!

“Geckos, I’m afraid, masters.” The voice says again.  “Arrowhead geckos.  They have been living here since I went into hibernation and seem to have survived quite well.  They have even bred true which was only given a 12.4% probability at the time.  The last of the <theresthatuntranslatablewordagain> were depleted bringing your forms to the medical bay so I was forced to improvise.  These bodies should suffice for the time being."

Mentally addressing Brian, "If you would bring your people to the control room, sir, it will make explanations easier.  Simply go through the door and follow the hallway."

As the four gecko-PCs got their bearings and started moving in the direction of the door, they each tested out their bodies.  Magic and psionics were gone.  They had none of their gear because, well, geckos.  It seemed that they had no tools but those attached to their 12" long forms.

They reached the door and knew there was no way for them to open it – but there were gaps dug into the walls that allowed them to pass into the hallway.  At the end of the hallway there was another door with similar bypass methods.  In the next room, the dim illumination revealed a bank of cabinets in the center of the room with lights and levers and switches.  Atop this setup there was a clear glass(?) dome inside of which floated a mass of what appeared be brain tissue of some sort suspended in a mostly clear liquid.  There were fine root-like structures connecting the tissue to ports at the base of the glass.  The voice, when it came again, came clearly from this assemblage.

"Welcome, masters, to Outpost 4827BAZ.  I am Emcee and we do not have much time."

XP: 500

 

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Session 22 Recap

After getting their feather message off to Jessen and Dargat back at the oasis and having the earth elemental gather up any small fragments of the meteor it could find in the crater, the group settled in for the night.  They decided that at least two people should be awake at any time so they just slept or stayed up as they felt the need.  

In the middle of the night, both Larry and Mark happened to be the ones awake, they heard the tinkling of a bell off in the desert.  Mark's thick dwarven skull probably gave him some resistance to its call, but Larry got up from her crouch atop the meteorite, spread her wings and flew to the crater rim.  Getting no response to his "WTF" inquiries, Mark quickly woke the others.  Brian used his boots to fly to the rim after her using a potion of invisibility as he went, but the other two had to hoof it.  

Brian got really creative to try and block Larry's path but nothing seemed to shake her out of whatever trance had hold of her.  In one of his moments of contemplating another tactic, Brian noticed that there were humanoid forms coming steadily up the dunes toward them.  Since he was invisible, and couldn't stop Larry from going towards the oncomers, he took to the sky again and rained down alchemist fire.  He got lucky in his initial volley and the darkness was suddenly alive with flailing candles that soon wouldn't be.  Then he set to, pincushioning as many as possible with his crossbows.  The attackers were a larger party of the belgoi that they had seen fighting with the dwarves earlier in the day. 

Not able to get at Brian, the belgoi concentrated their attacks on Larry.  Unable to move, she was subject to several of their strength draining attacks before she was able to throw off the mental domination.  She was not in great condition so she changed into her canine form and fled away from the battle.  Soon, Mark and Jeremy joined the fray with predictable, bloody results.

But the belgoi had some more psionic tricks up their collective sleeves.  While a few of them kept the others busy several of them combined their efforts to dominate Jeremy.  They succeeded through sheer numbers and then left him alone.  They had succeeded in removing him from the battle and would figure out a way to deal with him when the others were dead.  The tactic very nearly worked too.  But eventually, the other three were able to turn the table and winnow the pack down to a single individual.  They wanted to take it alive and try to get information about the tribe and what they were doing here.  But faced with capture (and probably torture), the belgoi drew its dagger and stabbed itself in the throat.

After such a restful night, the fact that the next day went by quietly was a good thing.  Larry (who had taken charisma as well as strength damage) sulked and snapped and generally made everyone else as miserable as she was (until she had a chance to get the Lesser Restorations pumping).  Indeed, the group was beginning to believe that luck was with them when the next night flew past with no interruptions. 

The second full day at the crater, everyone was feeling something like their normal selves.  They knew that the main group from the oasis was on their way by now and that they would arrive in a matter of days.  Larry spent much time aloft watching for threats as well as friends.  

That's when she spied figures approaching from the west.  After watching them for a time, it appeared to be 5 dwarf-sized figures accompanied by 3 human-sized ones riding crodlu and leading two more mounts.

The party decided immediately that the dwarfs from Foul Puddle had thought better of leaving the meteor and had decided to come back to take more of the precious metal from the rightful owners — them.  They laid plans to ambush and destroy the group and hid in the crater in a Rope Trick to allow them to watch the meteor below and spring out to attack.  Hours ticked by and still no one showed their face near the meteor.  Eventually, Larry took one of Brian's invisibility potions and flew out to see what was going on.

He found the group on the western rim of the crater apparently pulling boulders together to make a barricade of sorts behind which to fortify themselves.  Against who or what was unclear.  The group did indeed include the 5 dwarfs from foul puddle, still with their sacks of metal and rock fragments, but also 3 humans dressed in the livery of the Black Brethren.  They looked like they had been through a pitched battle.

Reporting all this via the mindlink to the others caused Jeremy to drop out of hiding and approach the group.  The 3 humans were part of one of the teams of outriders that went searching for the crater at the same time as the PCs.  This group had gone to the west and run into an attack party from the Bandit State of Plunder.  The dwarves had come along at a fortunate point.  Normally, they would not have risked their lives for others not of their clan, but Plunder had long been a source of aggravation for them.  Helping the humans escape was just a way of sticking it to the bandits.  It worked too.  They made a distracting feint to the flank of the bandit attackers which allowed the humans to make a break for it, but not before losing two of their number.

Together they had been able to travel more quickly than the bandits through rough terrain.  But only just.  The dwarves knew of the crater and that Kurnan folk had claimed it as they had left the previous day.  So together they high tailed for the crater – a defensible position and potential allies.

The group kept watch through the day and the night but no bandits appeared.  The following morning, however, they appeared a few dunes away.  

Let's just say that the PCs took the poor bandits apart like they were toy soldiers.  It was really awful to watch.  But it certainly impressed the 3 Black Brethren and maybe even earned a little respect from the dwarves.

Following the slaughter, the dwarves once again bid the group farewell.  They had a long walk home and didn't want to get distracted from their journey again.  The Kurnans settled in at the crater with the PCs to await the rest of their group.

XP: 2000

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Session 21 Recap

After the Dune Reaper encounter, Jeremy was ill and spent his time semiconscious, strapped to his crodlu.  But the party made pretty good time, with Larry scouting from above and the others forced marching below.  As they entered the region on the map showing the highest probability, Larry began to see something at the far horizon.  It would take them a couple days yet to reach it but he got more and more certain that it was a large crater.

On the way, Larry, Brian, and mark had to fend off an attack from a pack of Dagorrans (large, frog-like beasts with golden hide and a wide, fanged mouth with a growth of green crystals clustered between their shoulder blades) that attacked with teeth and psionics.  They also had to contend with a large Desert Mysterial (a deep brown scorpion the size of a man).  No one in the party died, which was victory in itself.

Eventually they got close enough that Larry could make out details of the crater.  It seemed to be about 100' across with a central rise where something was embedded.  Surrounding the crater was a ring of ejecta forming a ridge around the rim.

When they were about a day's travel out from the crater, Larry could pick out forms moving in the western portion of the crater.  There also seemed to be another group of figures outside the crater and they may have been fighting. Larry could have been mistaken by the distance, but she thought that the party outside the crater was blue. Before midday, Larry came down to ride so that she wouldn't be spotted and the group continued toward the crater fast.  

When they got within sight of the southern rim of the crater, they decided to try approaching cautiously, lest they be pulled into whatever was going on with no warning.  They left their mounts and crawled up the ridge to peer over.  Around the western side of the crater, they saw a party of 5 dwarves (!) in the process of cleaning and stowing their gear.  They each carried sacks and/or backpacks that looked lumpy and heavy.

The party was conducting a hushed argument about how to proceed: attack immediately for the offense of taking some of the meteor?  talk and see what's going on with that other group?  say nothing and just let them leave?   In the end, that last option disappeared, because the dwarves noted Brian's mohawk sticking up above the rim of the crater and instantly went on guard.  While the other two remained hidden, Brian bluffed his way through staking a claim on the whole of the site.  The lead dwarf basically laughed at him (in the dwarvish way of not actually laughing at all…) saying, "We have what we came for.  Good luck defending your claim."

Managing to move things into a more conversational tone, Brian learns:

  • The five dwarves are the dwarven village of Foul Puddle.  They are journeyman smiths and had been traveling toward the Trembling Plains to obtain metal.  They have taken the opportunity presented by the meteor's fall to obtain enough sky iron for each of them to attempt their masterwork weapon crafting.  The spokesdwarf for the group is named Meklen.
  • They didn't need to try to take any of the main body of the meteor.  They simply gathered up large chunks that broke off during reentry and impact.  They took many of the largest chunks but there are a number of smaller ones remaining. 
  • The other party that Larry had seen were a scouting party of Belgoi.  Belgoi are a race of savage humanoids that live in the most desolate of places, since no other race will allow them nearby. Belgoi seem to revel in destruction, and are considered to be second only to the defilers in the damage they do to the world around them.  In response to questions, Meklen says "We didn't destroy them, only chased them off.  They scare easily, but will soon return and in greater numbers."  

After the brief chat, Meklen and his companions shoulder their load and head off to the west.  

Knowing they were now in tenuous possession of the meteor site, they knew they needed to get word back to the main expedition and get them there as soon as possible.  One of Brian's wacky purchases came in very handy.  The feather token would be able to carry a message back to Jessen and Dargat in only a few hours.  Then it would take a few days for anyone to reach them unless some contact with the other search teams could be established.

The meteor itself turned out to be about 10' on a side and something like 2' tall but it was difficult to tell because it was imbedded in the central rise of the crater.  It was massive and, like the chunks they had found on the journey in, it was a mixture of iron and some sort of stone.  In the present circumstances, it was not possible to determine how much of the meteor overall was iron but even a 50/50 split would make this more metal of any sort than most Athasians saw in their entire lives.

They considered several outlandish ideas related to using their pet earth elemental to pull the meteor underground or cover the whole area with sand to hide it.  In the end, they simply used the elemental to gather up the various chunks of meteorite littering the crater and immediate area.  This resulted in a decent sized pile of nodules containing varying compositions of metal and rock.  Some of the chunks had been sheered and heat polished in such a way as to show the metal matrix and what appeared to be gem quality stones imbedded in it.

XP: 1000

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Session 20 Recap

Making their way back to Kurn from their latest adventures in the ruins of Thorlo, the party was formulating plans for how they would spend the season of Flamesky "cooped up" in the city.  In about two and a half weeks, the season would be upon them and the herds of mekilot and the hordes of the insectoid trin hunting them would descend upon the Trembling Plains until the onset of Fruitbirth.  Most of the population of the Trembling Plains headed for secure shelter during Flamesky and the party had decided to return now with their spoils rather than risk getting caught out in the open.

In fact, many people and animals were already on the move.  The trade road, though never busy was much more populated on this trip than on any previous one.  Some traders and herder clans were headed south for Fort Azeth, either hoping to shelter in that walled compound or perhaps to continue far enough south to be safe.  Many more  were streaming northward towards the sure shelter of Kurn's strong walls.  The southernmost client villages of Kurn (Stonegate Cascade, Fort Stench, and Conack Rock) were in the process of being disassembled and moved inside the city, except for the few truly permanent buildings that were substantial enough, and uninteresting enough, to survive.

Kurn's population seemed to double as the days would down toward Flamesky.  They felt certain that only about 2000 people normally lived in the large city and now there were many more.  Still there were many empty parts of the city.  Though care is taken to search and question people as they enter, it was basically impossible to keep "undesirable elements" from making their way into the city along with the simple herdspeople and farmers.  The party learns that incidents of assault, rape, petty larceny, and murder all rise during a typical Flamesky, but the citizens know that the authorities do all they can and most take precautions not to be near the visitor encampments after dark.  Citizens also are less likely to travel alone at any time of day while the visitors are in town.  In fact, the militia called up twice as many citizen soldiers during Flamesky as during  any other season to help deal with the influx.  And while most of the Black Brethren retreat to Fort Protector, a fair number of squads are deployed in the City to assist with peace keeping and crowd control.  Oronis' Templars are also out in numbers to act as  trusted liaisons with the populace.  That said, the process of absorbing the extra people ran very smoothly.  This had been done in this fashion for centuries.  The patterns were known, and only the individuals changed.  There was no panic but only deep competence.

With some much space available, it is generally possible to put large groups sufficiently far away from each other to quell most of the hot heads.  The Mirage Makers tribe of elves always makes a stop of a few weeks in Kurn on their yearly pass northward out of the Plains.  This is good for the tribe and good for the city, but soon the press of so many bodies and the presence of so many walls set the Mirage Makers on edge and they take their leave.  So they are always sited by North Gate where they will depart as they wish for their tribal lands northeast of Fort Protector.  The herders and their herds are established in the Arena with separate spaces for each.  Thought technically outside the city walls, they are sheltered and still protected by all that Kurn can bring to bear.  Many temporary inns spring up, run by the city or by enterprising citizens, to handle small families and individuals finding themselves in Kurn for the duration.

With time on their hands, the party turns to some more individual pursuits.  

  • Brian works a deal with a Nomad Psion named Burgin that Mark introduces him to at the House of the Mind to send a care package of sorts back to his village.  He boxes up a number of interesting plants and items that he feels they will find useful and includes a letter explaining that, no, he is not dead but traveling further than he planned.  He had also fallen in with some <s>food </s>humanoids who actually seemed to be interested in reversing the environmental damage wrought on the world.  He also included some feather tokens in the package as a way for his family and people to be able to contact him in return.
    He really wanted to go back for a visit, but the psion was reluctant to agree.  Burgin agrees that Brian is a nice enough fellow and Mark seemed to trust him, but halflings do have a particular reputation for eating sentient beings.  If Burgin were to transport Brian home, he would be leaving almost immediately, with or without Brian.  So the in-person visit would have to wait.
    After that was taken care of, Brian spent many hours working with Shetek the poisonmaster in the marketplace, turning his finds into new concoctions and learning all sorts of interesting things about Kurn and its people.
  • Larry was able to put his plans in motion for a house/sanctuary/orchard/monastery near the town of Rockfell.  House Marque Verdant was going to be quite the place when finished.  As the first stage of the work, after acquiring some unused land a few miles south of town, Larry hired the services of a Maker – one Baazil Mason – to create a small mesa to put the compound onto.  No big deal.  
    Actually a fairly huge deal, especially in a small community like Rockfell.  It's not everyday they 1) got to see a real Maker in action or 2) watch him pull together a 250'x250'x20' mound of rock, dirt, and sand and then turn it all into sandstone over the course of a few weeks.  The house and compound would be built atop the mesa to protect it from the marauding wilde thinges, particularly during Flamesky and could be used as a sanctuary by the people of the town should the need arise.
    Larry made frequent flights to the site over the course of the mesa's construction to watch for any dangers and to see the progress.  But Selbin the Grove Master of Kurn also asked her for help in insuring that the pockets of grove spread around the city were not over-utilized by all the visitors.  She usually only had to remind people to use only what they needed and not all of anything, but she could only be in one place at a time.
  • Mark had not really developed any interests in town outside of the House of the Mind, so he decided to spend most of his time there.
  • Being "trapped" in the city made Jeremy available for many of the low-level Templar duties that he had managed to evade by leaving every few days or weeks.  The organization took the opportunity to remind him that as a part of their ranks he had responsibilities to them commensurate with the benefits he received from such membership.  He spent many days shuttling messages and parcels between the Templar Headquarters in Kurn and the Black Brethren military command at Fort Protector.  ("It's a perfect job for you.  You still get to be on the move, you get more exposure to the templars and Black Brethren, and most importantly it needs doing.")  After a few weeks, he knew every rock, cactus, and omnivore along the stretch of road between the two parts of Kurns power.
    It turns out that he did get one very interesting thing out of the drudgery of the job.  On his 17th trip to Fort Protector, he was sitting in a room with numerous pages awaiting the packet that he would return with to his superiors when through the open interior windows he saw something… someone???… that defied his experience.  A tall, lean draconic being with scaly skin, hairless body, and clawed limbs walked through the main offices wearing, of all things, a set of metal full plate armor emblazoned with the symbol of Oroins as well as a Templar's sigil.  Jeremy was stunned by both the being and the armor and grabbed a page next to him to explain what sorcery this was.  The page explained that that was Templar General Raxis, the military leader of the Black Brethren and second only to Oronis in commanding the loyalty of the military forces.  He was of a race called the Dray and he was from far to the south.  He had apparently been a templar in the service of another sorcerer king but had fled.  when he found Kurn and Oronis, he swore fealty and became one of Oronis' closest advisors.  Not much else was generally known.
    (When Jeremy related this tale to his party members later, Larry felt a tug of memory but couldn't put the pieces together.)

Life continued this way for almost a month of Flamesky.  But on a night at the end of the third week, everything changed.  The PCs were sitting about their compound sharing their day's discoveries (Jeremy had found the remains of a critic lizard beside rock #4,632 on the way back from Fort Protector…) when the darkness outside was lit up as bright as daylight.  The ever-burning street lights of the city never let it get completely dark but they also never burned this brightly.  The PCs ran for the outside to find out what was going on.  When Larry headed for the roof, she got the best view.  But they all saw it.

A meteor was streaking across the sky, south to north, not directly over the city but its fiery trail lit the night bright white.  And the sonic booms of its passing left no one sleeping.  Jeremy ran for the Templar HQ.  Larry flew to the Grove Master's sanctuary.  Mark headed for the walls.  Brian just stayed put at the compound to keep the whole of Phoenix Inc. from freaking out like everyone else in town.  The meteor passed beyond the Trembling Plains and beyond the White Mountains.

Jeremy arrived at the HQ and placed himself to help and learn as much as possible about what was going on. 

 "get so and so from the Library!" "bring Frinan from the Earth Temple!" "I need to know what that weasponsmith Zeek knows about sky iron!" "Guards on the wall are reporting a rumble like an earthquake and a flash."  "Probably means it impacted somewhere between here at the Lava Gorge."

It became clear that there would be an official expedition to see if anything remained of the meteor and obtain it if so.  The librarians insisted that many previous meteorites had contained significant amounts of iron, steel, or even other kinds of metals. Oronis' reasoning for the expedition was less about acquiring the raw materials it could provide and more about keeping those materials out of the hands of bad actors in the region or even across the Tablelands if one of the major trade houses or sorcerer kings had been watching when it blazed across the sky.  Everyone felt sure that Eldaarich would be sending an expedition since they had even less access to metals than anyone else due to the closed off nature of their society.  

After denying Jeremy's extreme requests to go after it immediately, Oronis assigned Jeremy and his friends in Phoenix, Inc., to the expedition as "irregulars."  The expedition would be co-lead by Second Agent Jessen of House Azeth in Kurn and Captain Dargat of the Black Brethren.  The group would include 2 squads of Black Lancers on heavy crodlu, a squad of Black Mindbows, a squad of Azeth Caravan Outriders, and 10 Azeth indentured as well as Frinan, the dwarven lead Earth cleric in Kurn and a half-elven Black Signet (a preserver in the Black Brethren) named Bertram.  There would be 5 wagons full of supplies and tools on the way out, but each wagon also carried the parts for another wagon so that there would be 10 wagons to bring back whatever they found (using some of the outriders' crodlu to pull the new wagons). 

The librarians had furnished Oronis with a map of the area where they believe the meteor fell on the other side of the White Mountains.  There was an oasis at the edge of the probability zone that the group would make its base camp for the search.  Since it would take 5 days just to reach the oasis, the expedition was pulled together very quickly and left at dawn the following day.

The 5 day journey to the oasis where they would set up their base camp went by mostly without incident.  The only exception went completely unnoticed to those on the ground as Larry found herself facing off alone at altitude with a Sun paralemental beast.  The two-headed firebird took a beating from Larry's bow during free-fall and retreated.

Once the oasis had been reached, the whole group set to establishing a defensible camp.  Everyone except our heroes, of course.  They were agitating to start the search immediately and to be one of the groups sent out.  As a means of not having to listen to their arguments any further, Jessen and Dargat agreed that they could go.  They would head to the middle of the red zone on the "heat map" for the search, while two other groups would head to the east and west ends of it respectively.  The PCs grabbed water and food then jumped on their crodlu and left. 

The first day out from the oasis was clear, hot, and uneventful.  But after dark when they had gone to sleep, Larry was surprised on his watch when a pack of Dune Reapers swept into the camp.  The horrendous leathery quadrupeds had no discernable features on their long head except for a fanged orifice flanked by a pair of snapping
mandibles. It front two limbs end in scythe-like blades and they had a scattering of short spines across their backs and down their twitching tails.  5 of the dune reapers jumped into melee while one slightly larger one hung back.  

The drones in melee were formidable, even for our heroes.  They were surprised when the one hanging back began to pummel them with psionics like concussion blast and ego whip.  That evened things up quite a bit.  Jeremy even took damage!  But the party eventually succeeded in defeating their would be predators. 

XP (Already Awarded): 1500 + 500 bonus to Larry for his solo fight.

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Session 19 Recap

Rejoining the main time stream continuity….

When last we saw our heroes, they were in the earth temple in Thorlo.  Jeremy had tied a rope to Brian and then thrown him down the hole they found in the floor at the back of the temple.  About 75 below the temple, Brian found a sizable cavern mostly filled with silt.  There was a ledge (10' wide and 20' long) along the wall beneath the crude ladder/stair that had been carved into the wall of the hole.  As Brian was getting pulled up, he saw the surface of the silt heave and shift as if something swan within it.

After pulling him all the way up, the group decided to check it out (i.e. "we gotta kill that thing…").  So they started down the ladder.  While Brian, Jeremy, and Mark climbed down, Larry waited upstairs.  Once the others had reached the bottom, she stepped off into the hole and fell the full length.  At the bottom the tunnel, she spread her wings and can to an almost immediate stop.  She was just showing off.

The cavern itself was about 100' across before the ceiling came down to meet the surface of the silt on the far wall.  It seemed likely that there was an opening of some sort out into the Sea of Silt from this cavern, but if so it was below the surface.  as they stood there looking, a whirlpool began to form in the silt.  It deepened and intensified and began sloshing silt up onto the ledge in more forceful waves.  Everyone struggled to hang on and keep their footing, but Mark was swept away into the silt and began to sink and swirl towards the center.

At the center of the whirlpool was a great squid-like beast made of silt.  The beast had eight tentacles, the two largest of which sported horned and fanged heads. The remaining six writhed around, grasping and beating the surface of the silt.  And Mark was headed straight for it.  Not content to wait, the silt beast reached outwith its tentacles to speed his progress. 

The whole party let loose and sorely damaged the beast, so much so that it ceased creating the whirlpool and released Mark.  They threw him a rope and dragged him back to the ledge.  But Jeremy wasn't about to let the beast get away.  As soon as Mark was untied, he tied the rope around himself, readied his new ioun stone that allowed him not to breathe, and dove into the silt.  The beast was able to land a few blows against the blind combatant but in the end it fell to Jeremy's axe.   He stayed submerged for a while feeling around for any treasure or remains of past victims but found none.  After they hauled him out, the party reascended to the main temple. 

Having cleared the earth temple, the party decided to pick through the rest of the temple district that was not covered and then move along to the merchants quarter.   They found an sculptor's shop with some surviving works as well as a set of steel carving tools.  They also found a very small water shrine, obviously much reduced since the ancient days of ocean trade, and discovered a set of tourmaline bowls secreted inside the altar.  There were many other small shrines devoted to an array unrecognizable (and probably fictional) divine personages.  Under a table in one of these, they discovered a very fresh corpse.  It looked like a rogue of some sort had crawled under the table wounded and never left.  He had been dead only a few weeks and the group felt justified in believing that others had followed them to the ruins and were trying to "steal their stuff!" On the corpse they found normal equipment as well as a ring of invisibility.

The last intact building in the temple district turned out to be the ruins of a butcher shop and it would have been unremarkable except that the collapse of one wall had revealed a hollow where there was a narrow staircase going underground.  Following the stairs down into the dark, they came to a basement.  By striking a torch, they were able to see the bone golem moving toward them to attack.  The battle was short and brutal.  After the golem was dealt with, they got a chance to look around.  They discovered a charnel house of gruesomeness. There were a dozen cages lining the walls, in which were small, child sized corpses.  There was also a table/altar in the center of the room, stained black-brown from blood.  On a tray beside the table, there was a set of finely made obsidian scalpels. Everyone recoiled from the place and wanted to leave pretty much immediately without touching anything else.  (Although Larry decided she wanted those obsidian knives and slipped them into her backpack.)

Moving on into the merchant's district, they found a few shops intact.  An armorer (finding a magical wooden shield with shards of obsidian around the edge and a star carved onto its face). A weaponsmith (finding raw weapon materials and a magical bone trident).  A jewelry shop with some sparklies.  A collapsed moneychangers house with a magical mace in the guard post at the door.  They also found a few items that seemed to have been dropped or discarded for no apparent reason: a wand stuck in an otherwise barren planter, a new (not ancient) steel scimitar and scabbard buried in shallow silt on the sidewalk, and a well-sealed glass vial in a gutter.  Gruesomely, they also found a severed hand at the entrance to an alley with a magical ring on it.  Like the thief in the temple district, the hand had not been separated from it's previous owner for more than a few weeks.

As they were winding up their searches, the mound in front of them erupted and a giant sink worm crashed into their midst, grabbing Mark up in its mouth.  The worm was pale white in color,
resembling a huge maggot, about 30 feet long and it looked poised to swallow Mark in one gulp.  But the battle was pretty much over as soon as Jeremy joined the battle with his axes.  The worm tried to flee but never made it back into the silt from which it came.  Given the attack tactics, the group decided to cut it open and see if there was anything in its gullet.  Brian also wanted to see if there was anything useful like poison as they went.  Alas, all they found was a magical obsidian sword.

It was nearing evening and the party tried to figure out what to do next.  In the end, they decided that they wanted to head back to Kurn.  They had a lot of items to get identified (and most likely sell).  They also knew that the season of Flamesky was approaching, so if they went back now they wouldn't be caught out in the open for sure but also would likely not be able to return until after the mekilot herds and trin hordes had taken their leave of the Trembling Plains.  So they made camp and prepared to head back the following day.  

In the night, after midnight during Mark's watch, an arrow landed with a thud right in the middle of the party's sleeping rolls.  The arrow spewed for a poisonous gas but everyone saved… almost.  Brian didn't wake up choking like the others, but rather seemed rigid in his bed.  The others came awake and searched around for the source, but could find nothing.  After a few moments, more arrows flew in from the night without scoring any significant hits, and still the party could see no source.  Larry created a sphere of darkness and dragged Brian into it to use an ointment to remove the poison.  More arrows followed and scored a hit on Mark, who fell paralyzed himself.  Still they were not able to see the sniper.  Brian emerged from the darkness and summoned some earth-spiders to search for their attacker.  More arrows against Jeremy and they finally got a break.  Jeremy saw a halfling-sized form atop a building next to where they had set up camp.  Pretending not to see until he was in position, Jeremy unleashed a ray of brilliance from his axe and burned the sniper badly.  In the light of the fire, and burning halfling, they could se that indeed it was the same halfling they had been searching for.  Cuthir, the one that had caused them no end of trouble.  The halfling glared a Jeremy and Brian with particular hatred.  Then touched a tatoo on his arm and disappeared.  

They party searched for several rounds.  Now unpoisoned, Mark climbed to where the halfling had been and made sure that he wasn't just standing there invisible.  The tremorsense of the spiders could find nothing.  Then all of a sudden, the halfling was back – exactly where he had been.  He seemed a little surprised to find Mark right on top of him.  Mark got a hit in but then Cuthir grabbed a large topaz out of a pouch and smashed it in his hand.  With a burning look at Jeremy and Brian, Cuthir winked out of existence again.  This time it seemed more permanent.  

After cleaning up and passing the rest of the night, the group was able to make their way back to Kurn and start their capitalist bacchanalia. 

XP: 2576

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Session 18 Recap

[This session is a wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey interlude and takes place during the two-and-a-half weeks the team spent in Kurn at the beginning of Session 17.  Mark was in his self-imposed psionic retreat and Brian was busy making his poisons.  (I.e. only Larry and Jeremy were available to play that week…)]

As Jeremy was dropping off his fancy metal breastplate and one of his axes with Cunet to be further ensorceled, Cunet mentioned that he had a simple job that needed doing. 

"It's just an errand, really.  There is a person on their way to Kurn to bring me something I need.  He has contracted for guards as far as Azeth's Rest, and I have promised him attendants the rest of the way.  He is traveling by wagon, so I just need you to accompany him back along the road to the city and insure his safety."

Having nothing better to do until his equipment was upgraded, Jeremy agreed and Cunet gave him a pass phrase to give the traveler to prove their provenance.  Then he grabbed Larry, who was only going to be lining up architects and supervising construction at the compound when he wasn't flower-childing around in the groves anyway, and got their stuff together.  It was still early, so they grabbed mounts (Larry on his traditional kank and Jeremy astride one of their crodlu) and set out for Azeth's rest.  Traveling light and fast, they arrive in only three days, knowing that the traveler would arrive any day from the south.  

This was the pair's first time back to Azeth's Rest since they had pass through on their way north more than half-a-year previous.  They were greet at the gates by guards and questioned about their reason for coming.  They were also asked if they had tokens and (when the DM reminded them about the trust tokens they carried) who had given them.  When their story checked out, they were directed to the main Trade House to inquire about the traveler.

In the main room at the Trade House, they asked if a traveler had arrived expecting an escort on to Kurn.  Belatedly, they realized that Cunet never gave them a name or description of the person they were to meet.  Luckily, there was such a person (and only one) meeting that description.  They were informed that he had arrived some hours before and was in one of the private rooms resting and getting cleaned up.  They were welcome to wait and the desk agent would sent a runner to let him know they were there.

After about a half hour of waiting, a tall man in a hooded cloak came into the main room and walked up to the two of them.  He looked to be in the prime of late middle age, with shoulder length blonde hair, tinging towards grey in some places, a similar short beard, and brown eyes.

"I understand you are here to see me the rest of the way into Kurn."

The two affirmed and provided the pass phrase as they had been instructed and the man introduced himself as Fellis.  He asked if they wanted to depart for the city now or wait until morning.  With still a few hours of good light left, they decided to leave and get back to Kurn that much sooner.  The three parted as Fellis went to see to his wagon and the two PCs retrieved their mounts from the beast pens.  They met up by the north gate shortly after and departed Azeth's Rest headed home.

The next several days of journeying were most enlightening.  Fellis claimed to have traveled over much of the Tablelands and many lands beyond. 

  • He told them of The Crimson Savannah ruled by the Kreen Empire, far to the west of the Tablelands beyond the Ringing Mountains, the Forest Ridge, and the miles-high Jagged Cliffs. 
  • He spoke of the Dead Lands far to the south, where many hundreds of miles of plains were inundated by obsidian from the paraelemental plane of magma after some horrible incident during the Cleansing wars.  Populated by the undead remains of people and animals that had died in the deluge, it is a true land of horror.
  • He told them of plans to one day explore what lay across the Silt Sea to the east and the Burning Planes far to the north that blocked passage to whatever lay beyond.  There are other lands and other civilizations to explore. 
  • He spoke of rumors that there still existed a few large bodies of water, big enough to be called seas, that remained.  Every body of water connected to what was once The Sunrise Sea had been transformed by the evil Champion's epic spell but some survived because they were isolated.
  • He told them of places such as the Lava Gorge and Troll Grave Chasm far to the north, the island of Euripis in the far southeast of the Silt Sea populated by half-elemental philosophers and artisans, the valley of the Cerulean Storm in the heart of the Silt Sea that spawned the raging Tyr Storms that swept across the Tablelands with little warning.  
  • Though he had not traveled to Kurn before, he knew its reputation as well as that of its neighbor Eldaarich.  He had been corresponding with Cunet for some time but they had never met in person until now and he was looking forward to exploring the area following the visit.  But he made it very clear that Eldaarich was not going to be one of his visits.  The horror of that nightmare kingdom could wait for some other time.
  • Over the entire trip back to Kurn, Jeremy kept asking what was in the chest secured in the back of the wagon…  It became somewhat of a game.

After listening to all these stories, Jeremy was moved to ask just how old Fellis was and where he was from.  He claimed not to know how old he was exactly and claimed no ties to a homeland.  He did say that the last time he had been close to the Trembling Planes, the Champion Manu of Deche (now Hamanu, the Sorcerer King of Urik) had recently succeed in driving the last band of trolls over the cliffs into the Troll Grave Chasm and killing the last troll chieftain, Windreaver, in single combat.  A battle that happened just over 2000 years ago.  

Eventually, they crossed the threshold back into Kurn and escorted Fellis to Cunet's tower.  As they drew up, Cunet emerged from the tower to greet them.  He extended a welcoming hand to the traveler and they exchanged the warm embrace of friends, though they had never met in person.  Then Fellis threw back the tarp covering the bed of the wagon, revealing a small chest – little more than a foot long on its longest side – strapped to the floor of the bed.  After undoing the straps, he began to slide the chest towards the back of the wagon.  As he did so, the front end of the wagon began to rise up and would have left the ground had it not still been tied to the team of crodlu that pulled it.  The chest was small, but mighty indeed.

Carrying it toward the tower, Cunet and Fellis finally took pity on Jeremy's hang dog expression and motioned him over.  Deftly opening the latch, Cunet opened the lid of the chest revealing a deep red gem, its round cut top measuring a full 10" in diameter.  Then Cunet closed and relatched the chest and, with a nod of thanks, the two moved into the tower leaving the PCs with as many new questions as answers.  In fact, the first stop they made before even returning to their compound was the Great Library.  Jeremy sought out the librarian that Mark had been working with and set him to researching anything he could find on an almost-certainly magical gem of that size, color, and proportion…

Upon returning home, they were met at the entrance to the compound by one of their captains.

"Thank Oronis you've returned.  The workers were knocking out walls in one of the unused buildings to enlarge the space when a chunk of flooring collapsed.  There's a room below the building's basement!"

Leaving their animals with attendants, the two went straight to the building to investigate.  Down in the basement, there was a group of their armed men distributed around the hole in the floor, guarding should anything try to come up from below.  Jeremy and Larry dropped a torch down into the hole and revealed a room about 30×40 feet.  They decided to drop the 10 feet down and explore.  Jeremy called up an Elfsight spell so that they wouldn't need to have a light source.

Once in the room, the torch showed the walls to be covered in old (very old!) murals and depictions of the wildest fantasy.  They showed city and civic scenes with tree lined streets and green spaces – and it was all populated by ELVES!  With the exception of one tribe of elves living in Kurn, they had never known any elf that wasn't a nomad surviving with only whatever he could carry while running the wastes.  The thought of an entire city of elves stretched their brains past credulity.  There was also a scene of a procession from some sort of temple bearing a shrouded body on a litter into an underground vault.  In addition, one of the panels showed elves working a field planted with some sort of vine, which sported strings of deep purple berries or fruits that they'd never seen before.  It was all too strange.  There was a single door leading from the room.

Through that door lay another chamber of similar size with more scenes of a world they didn't recognize.  There were doors, one each on the left and right walls and a pair of double doors on the wall in front of them.  Opening the double doors, they found a stairway leading down and they decided to check out the others before descending.  Behind each of the two side doors were chambers filled with wooden casks and racks of finely made glass bottles.  All of the wooden casks had failed, draining their contents onto the floor, but a handful of the bottles in each room had somehow stayed sealed.  These bottles contained some sort of deep red liquid.  All told, they found 10 intact bottles but left them in place while they explored further.

The staircase turned back on itself a few times during the descent.  The level they had left was about the same depth as the sewer system in the city, and now they were another 25 feet below that.  At the base of the stairs, Jeremy's augmented eyesight detected a secret door in the wall to their left.  When they opened it, the discovered a tomb with a single body lying in an alcove.  Oh and a man-sized earth elemental that was guarding it.  They defeated it and found that the body a female elf dressed in robes similar to what they'd seen earth clerics wear.  She was wearing a pendant on a gold chain and clasped a staff (both of which glowed with magic).

As they left the tomb and started down the hallway, they discovered that the 6 niches along its length emitted a single magic missile whenever they stepped on the tile in front of them.  They took a decent gouging but figured out that removing the box of cremains from the niches neutralized the traps.  Also, for some reason, after being hit with these missiles, Larry can't seem to utter Jeremy's name and Jeremy freaks out whenever he sees anyone who has been injured.  Very peculiar.

At the other end of the hallway, adjacent to more stairs going down, Jeremy detected another secret door.  Behind this one was another tomb bearing a single body and a single guardian – this time a lesser golem made of wood.  Again, they bested the sentry and found the body to be an elven male dressed in a way that Larry recognized immediately as being druidic in nature though very old.  He clasped a copper sickle in one hand and a staff in the other (again both showed the glow of magic).

Continuing further down, now a good 50 feet below street level, they reached another level.  Yet again, Jeremy spied a secret door, but they also noticed movement in the large room at the end of the hallway and went to investigate.  When they entered the room they found an enormous spider composed entirely of obsidian scuttling towards them, lambent energies playing within its faceted eyes.  One eye shown a bright read and another an icy blue.  Two other eyes did not glow at all.  The obsidian beast was a serious challenge (FINALLY!) especially since Jeremy didn't have his full compliment of gear.  But they did prevail eventually.

When the final blow landed the spider beast shattered into uncountable bits of obsidian.  On a dais behind the spider was what looked like a beautifully inlaid sarcophagus.  They approached and threw the top open, triggering the fireball trap inside which blew them both across the room and destroyed the fake sarcophagus.

Remembering the secret door, the two limped over and opened it revealing a 3' tall tunnel they could crawl through for about 20'.  At the end was a small room, only 20' on a side.  In this room, there was another dais and this one also had a sarcophagus on it, but in plain (though very well crafted) wood.  Opening this one revealed an elven male, dressed in a suit of copper halfplate that still shone and bearing a large sapphire pendant around his neck which glowed to Jeremy's detect magic.

After stuffing all of their treasures in the bag of holding, they returned to the surface.  When they got back to the hole into their subbasement, they discovered that during their absence, four of their men had simply vanished.  There one moment, gone the next.  Very peculiar indeed.  

They decided to trust one one of Cunet's apprentices with identifying what they had found.  Staves of earth and stone and the woodlands respectively, and ioun stone that allows its bearer not to have to breathe, and a copper sickle +2.  The copper halfplate, while technically not magical, was treated so as to be everbrite

But the sapphire pendant… that was something truly special.  The mage called it an Elven Memory Stone.  It is a magical item that allowed the psychic recording and reading of knowledge using psionics.  They were very rare and the magic of their creation had been lost when elves were driven from their homes and became a nomadic race.

The apprentice just looked at the two of them and asked where they had found such a trove of ancient elven items.  When they explained the tombs, the apprentice told them that it made perfect sense.  Kurn had been an elven city before it was sacked and destroyed by Albeorn the Slayer of Elves during the Cleansing Wars.  The current city of Kurn was built on those foundations and it wasn't unheard of for this kind of ancient spaces to be discovered every now and again.  The library would be very keen to learn of this tomb and to document everything they could.

XP: 1200

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Session 17 Recap

When the door had closed and only Jeremy remained, Oronis looked at him for a few moments then said, 
"I'm sure you have questions.  Let me see if I can guess a few.  Like, how did my sigil come to be a part of your axe.  I'm sure you have figured out that such things do not happen by accident.  It was a small thing to try and stack the deck in your favor.  As formidable as you all are, you face unknown challenges here.  

"You should know that you are not as invisible as you feel that you are.  My people are good, but after so many years being forgotten by the world they are slow to welcome outsiders.  I have trained my tmplars to be good judges of people and I concurred with Baelon's choice of you lot.  When you entered my service I knew that we were correct about your mettle.  You are proving by your actions that you and your companions deserve to be here.  The rest will see.  Just know that when you call for a spell, as with every one of my templars, I hear it and grant it.  I see where you are and why you call. 
 
"Next, yes it was I who ruled in Kurn when Thorlo fell.  I had ruled Kurn for over a 1000 years already by that time.  It was a period of great change and I could not save them even though I saw what was coming.  I did what was possible at the time but I have lived with that failure for one-and-a-half millennia.  You are one of only a very few living who know of it. None others have held the proof in their hands.  I cannot ask forgiveness when I can't forgive myself, but I swear to you that the Work is in part an attempt at atonement.  For that and so much more.  If we succeed, it may even be enough.

"I have told you of our plans for Kurn and the lands around it – a return to a greener age.  Indeed, THE Green Age.  But such a transformation, were it on a small scale, could only be temporary.  An isolated pocket of green can be destroyed as easily by a passing defiler as a year without rain.  My plan is to perfect our work here and then send my people out into the wider world to spread the transformation.  If a tipping point can be reached then the change will take hold and become self sustaining.  This is the Work.  I hope that you and your friends will find a place in it.

"But I have kept your friends waiting long enough.  Go and see if you can reclaim another piece of the lost past for us."
Oronis smiled and the door opened.  Jeremy left his Lord's rooms with much to consider.

With Oronis' blessing to offer their finds to the Templarate for purchase, they set about getting their loot identified and figuring out what to sell and what to keep.   In the end the sold almost everything to Jeremy's Templar brethren and set about commissioning the items they actually wanted.  They spent about 2 and a half weeks in town having the work done.  In that time, Mark decided he needed a break from the constant battles and went to stay at the House of the Mind for quiet contemplation and solitude, promising that he would return when he had regained his bearings.

Larry began the process of acquiring more of the buildings around their house to create a proper compound as well as bringing on board the three former slaves that they had put in charge of their small army when they went after Akive.  These three would form the leadership cohort of their new corporate venture – Phoenix, Inc.  Explorations and second chances.  She also started planning a outpost/orchard/dojo she wanted to establish near Rockfell. 

Jeremy and Brian, spent a lot of cash on custom and generic magic items.  That attracted no attention or interest whatsoever.  Nope.  Nada.  Not a bit.

After the capitalist bacchanalia, they decided to take the captains and the wagons south to grab all that obsidian they had found in the pirates' lair (assuming it was still there) as well as the residue of the treasure they had to leave behind in the palace.  

As they were in the process of saddling up to depart, who should walk up but Cunet the mage.  He was kitted out for the road (and battle) as well, more extensively equipped than they had ever seen him in the past.  He greeted them warmly and asked if it was true that they were headed south back to Thorlo.  When they confirmed that as their destination, he asked if he could accompany them.  Knowing full well that they really couldn't say no to the man who gave them such a good discount on ensorceling their nifty magic items, Jeremy inquired what interest Cunet had in Thorlo.  

"I have been in conference with Oronis and he has charged me with looking into this 'Gorlak' person who seems to be behind so much of the suffering there, and also with trying to figure out how to free the undead Thorlan royal family from their torment.  I thought that accompanying you all to the south would offer a nice change of pace
and maybe even give me a chance to see my handiwork in action" as his eyes raked almost lasciviously across the giant metal-cum-crystal axe that Jeremy carried.  Of course the group acquiesced to his presence and set out heading south from the city.  

Still watching for anyone following but not really making an effort to hide their trail anymore, they made good time back to Thorlo.  They drove the wagons up to the outside of the walls behind the palace where they marked the location of the secret passage.  It took a considerable time to find the release on this side, which came as no surprise.  They left the captains with the wagons under orders to fall back to the pirates' tower if they came under attack.  Then the group plus Cunet proceeded into the wall passage.  Cunet looked around very interestedly in the interior chamber, taking in all the little details.  Then they opened the other door into the palace gardens.  As they opened the door, they belatedly remembered the three giant zombies that had been stationed there on their previous trip through the wall.  There they were and they began to move into attack formation.  As the party began unlimbering their fighting gear, Cunet stepped forward.  "Allow me."  In the blink of an eye, literally, he had apparently cast three separate spells and three identical rays of white-cold destruction leapt from his hand.  Each ray connected with one of the zombies and it turned completely to ice and then shattered.

Jeremy, ever the XP whore, said "Thanks…" and the party moved through the gardens toward the collapsed section of wall into the throne room.  

When they arrived and began to move into the cavernous room, the dusky-skinned face of Gorlak met their gaze as he sat atop what was left of his throne of plunder.  "I told you that you would not be so easily rid of me."  He smiled a fang-toothed grin.  Arrayed along the wall beside him were the three ioramh that was all the remained of the King, Queen, and Prince of Thorlo – as if they had never felt the party's blades.  "I see you have brought a true spell caster with you this time.  No matter.  There have been others."

Cunet stepped forward apparently intent on conversing with the creature.  Gorlak seemed uninterested for the first few moments, but then it began to answer Cunet's questions though it struggled against the strength of the compulsion. Cunet stood firm and in calm command simply said "Recount."  Gorlak began to relate the events that brought him to this point.

On the 32nd day of Fruitbirth, Year of Enemy’s Agitation of the 171st Kings Age (Free Year -1469, 1481 years ago), a templar of Daskinor from the city of Eldaarich stepped out of the Gray onto the island Gorlak and his tribe had inhabited in the Silt Sea.  Her name ("Be it cursed to the deepest recesses of the Black") was Gudra and she was a high ranking templar of the Takrits order in Eldaarich.  She was very old but had a powerful presence about her.  She walked right into the chieftain's tent and proclaimed that she had an offer of great reward that only the bravest and strongest of the giants could hope to complete.  Gorlak met her gaze without fear and informed her that she had come to the right tribe.  He bade her speak her offer before he had second thoughts and had her cooked up for his snack. 

Smiling, she simply replied, "My king, Daskinor, wishes that the city of Thorlo be destroyed.  Take the city and its riches are yours for reward.  I will go before you to insure that you will only face martial opposition.  Your force of arms can surely triumph over theirs without the aid of their psions."

Gorlak conferred with his trusted lieutenants.  It seemed too good to be true, but he was consumed with greed for the treasures hoarded on the mainland by the puny humanoids.  He realized that he had no choice but to take the city and scrape it clean of valuables to bring back to the island.  Or better yet!  He would take the city and remake it for his own people.  He gave his assent to Gudra and set plans in motion.  He gathered all of his warriors, 50 in all, and supplied them with every lethal piece of equipment available.  They would attack in the night of the 64th day of Fruitbirth.  The humans would not see them wading up out of the Silt Sea until it was too late to do anything about the boulders falling out of the sky!

When the day came, they were in place and began their assault in the deepest part of the night.  Rocks took out watch towers along the Port as the giant's surged up out of the silt and onto the docks.  Given the layout of the city by Gudra, they knew where to strike in the first minutes of surprise to cripple as much of the royal army as possible.  They met only physical resistance which put him at ease that Gudra was keeping up her end of the bargain.  Still, as they fought their way through the city, they took many losses.  By the time they had breached the palace and slain the royal family, only Gorlak and his strongest warriors remained able to fight.  But they had done it!  They had taken the city and all of its riches now belonged to them!  He would set some of his giants to rooting out the last of the survivors and the rest to finding any wounded giants that still lived to bring them to the palace.

That was when the 77-times damned witch reappeared.  Visibly younger than she had been just a few days before when they had made their final plans, Gudra immobilized Gorlak and his warriors with her powers.  Over the next several days, Gorlak watched as Gudra used some sort of blood red stone to suck the life force from his lieutenants.  They aged decades at a time until they each collapsed as little more than shriveled husks; while she grew younger –  more slowly for sure, but inexorably.  When she had finished with his men, Gudra turned her eye on him.  He fought the bindings her magic had placed on him.  They all had.  And they all had failed.  Looking like a young woman in the fullness of her prime, Gudra lay the gem on his heart and began the chants he almost knew now by heart.  As his life was drained away, he wanted desperately to crush her in his once-powerful grip, but his cry of rage dried up in his throat as he breathed his last.  

But, even in death, she was not going to let him go so easily.  He opened his eyes again and beheld his creator.  As she burned brightly with the life energy she had stolen from them, his hatred for her flared to an even greater height. But he was powerless to lift a hand to her even as he was no longer bound by her spell.  He watched as his warriors were brought back to "life" as a mockery of their former selves and given over into his service once again.

"You will serve.  You and your 'men' will make sure that no one returns to Thorlo.  All the plunder of the city is yours as promised.  But as long as I live, and that will be a very long time, you are bound to this place.  Enjoy your kingdom."  Then she strode out of the palace laughing.

Gorlak found that he could animate the dead of the city in his new form, a Namech.  So he had his zombie lieutenants spread out through the city and return with any bodies they found.  He also animated some of the dead royal guardsmen to go through the palace where his giants could not.  Some of the bodies they brought back were freshly dead.   A few not even completely dead.  They all became grist for his mill of undeath.  The royal family were the finishing touch on his first weeks as a Namech.  If he could not hurt Gudra, he would burn out his lust for vengeance on them.  After all the years it still burned as brightly as ever.

And so they existed.  Years, decades, centuries.  Occasional stragglers wandered into the city and were added to the menagerie.  The silt came and swallowed much of the city, but no matter.  Gudra had endured, he would know if she hadn't, and so he was trapped.  

At the end of the account, Gorlak seemed exhausted but no less angry or dangerous.  

"I have everything I came to hear," Cunet said.  "Time to end this, once and for all."

Gorlak laughed.  "This is beyond your ken, mageling."  

Then Cunet began casting a spell.  Larry felt the now-familiar tingle of epic magic being raised, though Gorlak still smiled.  That smile disappeared in unbelief when the spell was finished.  "I have severed the link between this one and its creator.  This time when it is destroyed, it will be final.  I imagine you three want to do the honors?"

The battle was short and fierce.  Fighting as if its existence depended on it, Gorlak led with his immolation and burned Jeremy significantly.  But with no guards to distract the attackers, it didn't stand a chance.  As the killing blow fell, the fires of its immolation consumed the Namech and left behind only a pile of ash that quickly dispersed.  With its death, the three ioramh collapsed into nothingness as well.  

"Be free, friends." Cunet whispered.

With that settled, Cunet took his leave.  "I have to report this all to Oronis and see if I can get some other work done before you all return wanting more enchantments created."  With a wink, he disappeared.

With the help of their captains, the party moved the remainder of the palace goods to the wagons.  They then accompanied the wagons to the pirates' tower and found it exactly as they had left it.  They managed to load up all of the obsidian (21 crates) and a few crates of giant's hair before all the wagons were completely full.  After yet another discussion (during which the DM zoned out a bit) they decided to trust their captains with getting the wagons back to the compound in Kurn and returned themselves to explore more of the ruined city.

In making a sweep through the Warehouse District to insure they had searched everywhere, Brian managed to find a deep crevasse filled with silt.  The hard way.  If not for his trusty winged boots to fly him out, he would have been buried deep in silt with precious little time for his friends to devise a way to help get him out before he suffocated.

Elsewhere, during their final explorations of the Noble's Quarter, they ran across a dwarven banshee in a house.  Their librarian friend Zed had told them that banshees are the remains of dwarves that died with their life's focus unfulfilled.  This banshee was guarding a house  that seemed to have been mostly destroyed by two giant's
boulders that caved in one wall.  Given the body fragments they found in the rubble after dispatching the undead, it seems that the original occupants had died in the attack, 1500 years prior.

After clearing those two sections of town, they decided to check out the small slice of the Temple District that was largely silt-free.  Most of the buildings in the area seemed to have suffered ravages of war and time and most were in rubble.  But at the end of the clear space, by the looks of things right along the former coastline, there was an octagonal temple that looked very much intact.  It was domed and had a covered entryway at the top of a short set of steps.  The exterior of the building had once been decorated with symbols and glyphs (Brian recognized a few of them as similar to ones on the Earth shrine in Kurn), but they had all been defaced or destroyed.  Brian took a few moments to make charcoal rubbings of several panels in hopes of being able to find out more back in Kurn.

Under the overhang, there were four doors leading in, one each left and right and two more forward.  The group chose to enter the left-most door and found themselves in a gathering area.  There were the remains of benches and wall hangings.  Here again, anything that might have once been a symbol of earth had been destroyed.  Searching through the room, they found a ceramic jar that had been sealed very tightly inside a layer of wax.  Despite their better sense, they broke away the wax and opened the jar.  Inside, they found some sort of ointment or unguent that radiated magic but they didn't know what it was.

Continuing clockwise through the door at the far end of the room, the entered a lobby area or transitional space.  There was a door that led back outside, as well as two others.  They tried the left door and found a stairway going down.  They decided to explore that area before clearing the main level, and went down the stairs.

At the bottom, there was a communal space with no intact furnishings in it that was about 30 feet square.  Off this space, there were two short arcs of hallway going clockwise and counterclockwise along each of which were four doors.  In addition there was a set of double doors in the wall directly across the common room from the stairs.  Once again choosing to go left (definitely a pattern, there…), they busted open the first door they came to.  It opened into a small monastic cell, and they were confronted with a skeletal humanoid figure wreathed in silt.  The fine powder seems to flow out of the mouth and eye sockets and then swirl around it endlessly.   This one didn't look like anything from Zed's list of undead.  It shrieked and lunged in to attack.  Whereupon it is smacked down summarily.  But its shriek draws answering calls from the other rooms and soon 7 more of the things come boiling out of the other cells to attack.  Fortunately for the group, they were just as easily put down as the first.  Of course all the commotion drew a shriek from upstairs and soon another figure came running down the stairs.  This creature looked more human, but its dry leathery skin was not right nor the choking dust constantly falling from its mouth, nose, and ears.  It was dressed in the remains of clerical robes that they felt once bore Earth symbols.  However this creature, too, soon fell prey to their attacks.  Again it did not resemble anything from Zed's list.

When nothing else came running to try and slay them, the group combed through the temple looking for anything of value.  They found a number of interesting things, many with a similar Stone theme – two gems that both radiated magic, along with a polished gray granite sphere that was also magical, and a magical mace with an onyx head,
among other things.  

Most interestingly, in their search they also came upon a room at the rear of the temple with a large hole in the floor.  The hole itself was odd enough, but it looked as though a very crude ladder/stair had been cut into the side of the shaft that ran down into the darkness below the temple.  Jeremy, figuring to go fishing, surprised the halfling by tying a rope around his midsection, handing him a lit torch, and then toppling him over the edge.  After the cursing cleared, Brian communicated that the shaft went down about 75 feet below the temple floor before opening up into a large cavern that was mostly filled with silt.  The cavern went off to the northwest and so probably opened into the silt sea itself.  At the base of the wall where the shaft opened up into the cavern, there was a small rock ledge that acted as a "shore", approximately 50' long and 20' wide.  Brian managed to grab a hold of one of the steps cut into the bedrock and examined the room before tugging on the rope to be pulled up. As he was rising up through the bottom end of the shaft, he saw an undulation in the surface of the silt as if something very large had shifted its position.

XP: 2,250

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Session 16 Recap

As our "heroes" continued exploring the basement of the palace, they came face to face with a swirling mass of black smoke that formed into a grayish shade.  A wraith!  The short battle was inconclusive.  They could hurt it but its incorporeality made it difficult and yet its attacks missed their mark.  Still, after several attacks, it fled them into the Gray to lick its wounds.  They probably haven't heard the last of that one.

They finished making the rounds of the basement, finding nothing more dangerous than a crate.  But that crate contained 16 iron helms imprinted with the royal seal. They couldn't leave it behind, so they shouldered it and carried it with them up the stairs back to main level. 

They made a circuit of the main level hallway checking out rooms as they went and finding some small treasures in some of them.  When they had nearly come full circle, they came to what must be the great hall or throne room.  Mark decided to listen at the door to see if anything was in there, but Jeremy was having none of that.  He knocked Mark out of the way and shattered the double doors leading in.

The throne room was a very large room, easily 40'x50' and just over two stories tall. But the presence of 5 undead giants made it feel considerably more cramped that it might otherwise have.  Arrayed before them were 4 giant zombies standing in front of a dais along the far wall.  On that dais, sitting atop a pile of various valuable items obviously gleaned from around the palace sat another giant, not a zombie but not alive either.  Its purplish skin and starved-looking features made clear that it had passed beyond mortal life.  Along the wall to the … thing's left, three human sized figures stood casting an unseeing gaze across the room.  After the primer that Zed had given them about undead, they felt sure that these were ioramh.

The giant seated on the dais chuckled at the intrusion.

"So this is what has been causing such a ruckus in my city.  Honestly, you don't seem capable enough to have survived so long. 

I am Gorlak and this is my palace.  There have been many visitors over the years, but none have ever left.  You will fair the same."

Brian, with the gall of a halfling, began trying to chat the thing up, even going so far as to transition into his bardic poetry.  The only effect he had was to give the party (and the giants) a round to prepare for the battle to come.  Jeremy used magic to hide himself and Mark from the mindless undead so that they could close with the leader without getting held up by the subordinates.  Brian readied the elemental stone they had only recently found in order to summon an earth elemental to fight for them and Larry activated his psionic force shield.  This was going to get bumpy. 

And indeed it was so.  The zombies swung their fists with devastating results.  The three ioramh used their telekinesis to lob chunks of rubble at targets.  And the leader swung a spear the size of a tree trunk.  With the help of the summoned earth elemental, they took the fight to the giants and, though the less melee-oriented party members were definitely hurting it looked closed to resolved within a hand of rounds.  Then the leader smiled wickedly and burst into immolating flames.  Jeremy and Mark fell back initially and the giant felt secure in his reach.  But Mark switched over to psionics and Jeremy waded back in, accepting the burns, and together they dealt him the final blow.  But as he collapsed, he seemed undefeated. 

"Impressive mettle, small ones.  But as long as my maker lives, you cannot be rid of me so easily.  We shall meet again."

At that point, the ioramh stopped their assault and mopping up the zombies was hazardous but the end not in doubt. 

After they finished the zombies, they had the opportunity to study the ioramh more closely.  The three were dressed in the decayed remains of fine clothing that was embroidered with the royal crest.  One of them seemed to have been a man in young  middle age when he died, one was a woman of similar age, and the last couldn't have had his 20th birthday at his death.  With no other good options, they destroyed the ioramh.  But then again, maybe not.  Ioramh are bound to the will of their creator, so they may not be laid to rest yet either.

A sweep of the room yielded a hoard of treasure they couldn't hope to fit into their various cargo conveyances.  Sacks, backpacks, the magic saddlebags, and the crate were quickly filled and they had to leave a pile behind.  They also needed to rest and heal from their battles.  That last one had been closer than they had been willing to admit.

Here began The Argument™ – "can't just leave it.  someone might get it." "but it's in a palace still guarded by a n army of undead."  "but we know(!) that there are other looters in the city now."  "we don't know any such thing."  Round and round they went, but eventually decided to check the final floor of the palace once they had rested for a day.  Nothing disturbed them the whole time.  Could they have finished off the inhabitants of the building?

Upstairs, the found more rooms "decorated" with ancient blood stains and destroyed furniture.  One set of rooms appeared to have belonged to a set of children, two older with single rooms and two younger that shared.  A single sliver hair comb set with topaz lay amid the rubble.

The rooms set aside for servants yielded nothing until they found a satchel secreted under the remains of a mattress.  It contained a few coins, a hat, an amulet, a cloak, some thieves tools, and a garrote.  (several magical)  A curious set of equipment for a servant.

One set of rooms was obviously the royal chambers.  In a ruined chest, Jeremy discovered a secret compartment.  When he opened it, he and the others could only stare in wonder, and no little shock, at two exquisite pieces of jewelry – a gold and sapphire tiara and a gold necklace with a very (!) large diamond pendant.  On the reverse were markings and a royal crest.  Nothing but a true king's ransom could purchase such items.

Lastly, they found what must have been a study and library.  It was in awful condition with most of the books and writings decayed or fallen apart.  But in the mess, they found a map of the palace tucked between two large folios.  On the map, there was a notation of a hidden door in the exterior wall of the city immediately behind the palace gardens.  In addition, there were two books in surprisingly good condition.  One was titled "Lineage and Genealogy of House Mezik – Founding of Thorlo through the 170th Kings Age".  The other was a thick book containing tips for improving instinct and perception – but seemed to offer more than just pointers (borne out by Jeremy's magic detection).  Lastly, but by no means least, under the wreckage of a desk, they found a letter.  Brian and Jeremy, being the only two who could read, passed it back and forth but couldn't make out the archaic script and turn of phrase.  But it looked old.

Feeling assured that they had searched all the places they could in the palace, they made their plans for escape.  They had the figurine of wondrous kank to use as a beast of burden at least for some part of the trip home.  The front of the palace was literally crawling with undead.  Larry had glimpsed some giant zombies in the remains of the gardens behind.  With Jeremy's spells replenished, he was able to hide them all, including the kank, from the mindless undead and they decided to head directly for the secret exit in the garden.  With the map, they knew exactly where to go and were able to open the door into a space that filled most of the width of the walls in this area.  Inside it was dark, so Jeremy activated his flaming axe to illuminate things.  The light showed a room with racks where equipment would have been stored.  Bits and pieces of backpacks, other standard supplies, and long expired rations were stacked undisturbed.  The chamber was obviously used to store emergency equipment.  There were even two stalls for animals the size of erdlu.  And on the post of one of those pens, a sealed scroll tube hung from a strap that fell apart as soon as they disturbed it.

Inside the tube, they found another letter.  Perhaps it was a second exposure, or maybe the handwriting was better, but this time Jeremy and Brian were able to decipher the text.  (Hellas Mezik Letter)

“My brother. Thank the living stone that I was preparing to leave for Kurn when the attack began.  On your orders I ran to the children’s rooms to gather them and escape the palace, but I could only find the twins.  I have them and we are riding hard for the mainland.  I pray that Sensha and Torvin are with you and that you will be in fast pursuit once your advisors finish flaying your ears off for not having beaten me out the door.  I will send the garrisons from the watch towers to hold the gates and allow as many citizens as possible to escape as I pass, but I promise you the boys will reach Kurn alive.  I will count myself a lucky man when you arrive to meet us there.
— H”

The group stood in silence for a few minutes.  Mark said,

"Well I think we know what happened to Torvin."

They sealed the letter back up, closed the inner door behind them, and opened the outer door beyond the walls.  They came out in the ruins of the outlying neighborhoods, far off the northern road they entered the city by most recently.  The carefully marked the location of the exterior door on their map and then proceeded to make good their escape, hoping that no one was watching this particular piece of ground for them.  

Feeling more than a little exposed, they decided to send Larry on ahead.  She could reach Kurn by nightfall and arrange to bring a wagon back to meet them on the way.  By husbanding their use of the magical kank, they figured they could meet at the first ruined tower they explored in about 3 days time.  So Larry took to the air.

She did manage to track down the three (now-former) slaves that had been captains in their little army and convinced them (10CP per day!?!) to go with her back down the road to retrieve the others.  Arrangements were made and they left the following morning.  The rendezvous happened as planned for once and they were able to ride back to Kurn from the tower.

One the way back, Jeremy and Brian put their heads together to reexamine the first letter they found.  With the other letter and some more experience, they made sense out of it.  It was addressed to… "King Oronis of Kurn"……

“Thorlo and Kurn have never been more than neutral trading partners.  Were it not for House Azeth, there wouldn’t even have been that.  Your recent overtures, thus came as very much a surprise, though a welcome one.  Would that I could conduct the talks in person and bring my family for a state visit as you suggest.  My advisers have put their collective foot down and I have learned to listen to their wisdom even (or especially) when I would normally throw caution to the wind.  I will, however, send my brother Hellas as ambassador to Kurn to discuss more open relations between our kingdoms.  I look forward to quickly finalizing arrangements for opening a consular residence in Kurn and a summit where we may meet in person. 

In the spirit of ongoing collaboration, I include a small matter as a favor to my queen, Amarinth.  It seems that disturbing portents have been driving my house priests to distraction for the last week.  ‘A dragon chasing giants through the streets of Thorlo.’   They are certain it means something, but I’m a simple man and to me it seems like so much silt mirage.  But we would be interested in knowing if your sages and wise-people have any insights that might prove helpful in their interpretation or if indeed any of your own foreseers have received similar visions.

I pray that our peoples may one day share such trivial conversations over a meal and good ale. 

Erys Mezik, King of Thorlo
63rd day of Fruitburth
Year of Enemy’s Agitation
171st King’s Age

Stunned into silence just by the implications they could grasp, the party rode many miles before the questions surfaced about all that they couldn't grasp.  The letter was OLD.  If the tales are true of the fall of Thorlo, nearly 1500 years old.  "A dragon chasing giants through the steets of Thorlo" has so many possible interpretations as to boggle.  "The" dragon hadn't been seen in a decade, but any child can tell you that another name for the sorcerer kings of the table lands is "dragon king."  Maybe Oronis is title rather than a proper name.  Or maybe Oronis is another dragon king and was driving the giants in their attack.  Or trying to destroy them.  Were those giants they fought the remains of the attackers?  Or were those what attacked?  Was someone threatened by a possible alliance between Thorlo and Kurn with Thorlo the easier target to eliminate?  

The letters together weave a chilling story that didn't yet make sense.  And in the wrong hands, they could very well cost them their lives.  So they decided that no one else would see them until they had a better grasp of what to do.

When they arrived in Kurn, they still didn't know what they were going to do with the hoard of treasure they returned with.  They were flooding the market with iron and steel.  The makers were starting to look askance at all the low grade magic items cutting into the profits their apprentices needed to finance their instruction.  And those unbelievable jewels they returned with - there was literally no one who could buy them.  

While the rest puzzled over their next moves, Mark went to the Library to check in with his pal Zed who he'd tasked with tracking down more information about the Thorlan royal family.  Initially he had wanted to know if any of them survived in case they didn't want their ancient family stuff sold on FleaBay.  Now, it seemed they needed to know everything they could find out about the family and whether "the twins" made it safely to Kurn as Hellas had sworn they would.  Without telling Zed what they'd found, he inquired about the research.  Zed was able to corroborate that the family that had ruled Thorlo for the last several King's Ages of its existence was House Mezik.  Prior to that, there had been another House but either they ran out of heirs or some other fate befell them leading to a change in succession.  Zed hadn't made much progress on discovering specific survivors, but he was able to say that several hundred refugees had sought sanctuary in Kurn, perhaps as many as a thousand.  The cast stores of the library will probably yield information about particular individuals in time but he had so far not found those records.  Mark asked him to continue his good effort and made another (for them) sizable donation in thanks.

Back at the ranch, the group came to a conclusion that they had only one way forward - take the letters and the jewels directly to Oronis.  Jeremy was one of his Tempars after all.  Surely he could get them an audience, even if it lasted only moments.  So they bundled up the four priceless artifacts and set off for the administrative quarter.  In the Templar Headquarters, they followed Jeremy directly to Andas offices.  After passing through a few handlers and waiting on benches, they got to see her to make their case.  Jeremy got as far as saying that they had found a letter written by King Erys of Thorlo to King Oronis of Kurn when she cut him off, asked a few clarifying questions, and then took hold of her Templar sigil.  Her eyes closed and Jeremy could feel a hum in his own sigil, almost like a conversation happening on the other side of a thick wall.  After a few minutes, she said that they would have an audience with Oronis that very afternoon.  An aide would lead them through the buildings into Oronis personal area and there they would wait for him to be ready for them.

With that taken care of, she shooed them out of her office where they were acquired by said aide and soon enough found themselves waiting in an antechamber to be called in before the most powerful being any of them had ever met.  

They were summoned after a time and ushered into what looked like a private study with windows looking southward from a tower rising out of the Templar buildings.  Oronis stood before them as they entered looking just as he had the day they arrived in Kurn almost half a year before.  His pale‐blue eyes counseled silence before he thanked his attendant who bowed himself out and shut the door behind him.  Now they were alone with him.

Then he looked at Jeremy and simply said, "Report."  And so Jeremy did.  He laid out their "explorations" of Thorlo and ended his report by saying that they had found some things that only Ornonis could help them understand.  He laid out the letters and the jewels on Oronis' desk and stepped back.  The king examined each piece carefully and then looked at them.

"Let us tackle the easy things first.  These two," pointing at the jewels, "are part of the crown jewels of Thorlo, most recently to be found around the person of Amarinth Mezik.  They are almost literally without price and no dealer, honest or otherwise, in my city would be able to pay even the metal cost nor would they when they see the unmistakable marks on the reverse.  These two cannot return out into the public square"

Gingerly fingering the letters, "Now these… these are hard.  I had learned of the planned attack too late to move to prevent it.  But I did try to save the royal family and as many as I could without starting a panic.  I thought that if i could get the king and his family here, then fewer lives would be lost trying to defend them.  Obviously I failed.  But at least now I know why and what happened."

"What do you propose we do with all of this, my Templar?"

To which Jeremy suggested (on the fly but with nods of agreement from the rest), "Excellency, we came originally with the thought of requesting a finders fee for the jewels.  My companions and I now think the best way forward would be for you to simply take ownership of them outright.  For ourselves, I ask that we have your blessing to bring such other treasures as we have found before your agent for right of first refusal.  We imagine the Templar corps could always use additional steel and magic weapons, armor, and other items and will offer our findings up to your agent before anyone else."

This pleased Oronis and it was done.  "You may make arrangements with Andas when you have goods that you wish to sell or trade.  Now, if you would excuse me, there is much weighing upon my time."

The doors opened and Oronis' attendant appeared to escort them out.  But as they were leaving, Oronis asked Jeremy to stay behind for a moment.  "It won't take long.  Your friends can wait outside."

XP: 4500

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