Monday, May 5, 2008

Our story so far

Current scenario, first session - February 22 2009 -

Players - Tammy (Yuni)
Nate (Sumara)
Kelly (Sintar)

The party currently consists of Samara, Yuni, and Sintar. Samara and Yuni are both Durshis (a human subrace rather similar both physically and culturally to the Dravidian peoples native to the Indian subcontinent, see for more), while Sintar is a nonhuman, a member of a birdlike race known as the Aven. (Sintar is a skreeaa Aven, which is to say, a member of an Aven subrace that resembles eagles. There are seven other Aven subraces. My race of catmen, the Jeopards, similarly has 8 subraces. See for more on Aven, and for more on Jeopards.)

Samara is a big, hulking, strongly built swordsman type, while Yuni is a Honan archer. (In Durshi culture, male first names tend to end in 'a', while female names end in 'i'). Durshi are not generally a warlike people. They seem to have a sort of affinity to nature making them tend towards more agrarian vocations like farming. Durshi are, according to one particular creation mythos, one of the three proto-races of humanity. Where the Kanqu and the Than (known in modern times as the Sothark and the Sottles) are generally credited with the invention of metalworking and literacy, Durshi's are believed to have invented agriculture and animal husbandry. So Samara tends to stand out amongst his fellow Durshi, being nearly six feet tall, wearing heavy ringmail, and carrying on his back a two handed battlesword that he wields one handed while sporting a tower shield on his other arm.

Yuni is a Honan, which is to say, a member of an elite, universally respected/dreaded mercenary group that is not only intensively trained in their own particularly lethal package of martial skills, but that can also employ various psionic disciplines specifically designed to be devastatingly effective in combat. Most Honan use a sword as their main weapon and get some sort of missile at half level; occasionally, however, a Honan will reverse this, specializing in the use of a bow and relegating their sword skill to half level. As I mentioned above, Yuni is one of these Honan archers. (See for more details on Honan.)

Okay, that's our cast of characters. Our setting is the city of Jeressa, capital of the Realm of Ona-Tengu. Until very recently, there were no 'realms' or 'kingdoms' on the River, there were only fractious, chaotically disorganized cities where the most complex social structure was a gang and the most authoritative title was 'Boss'. Most 'bosses' simply controlled a building; a very few Bosses might have managed to amass enough of a following to control a city block. One of these cities was called Ona-Tengu, and about thirty years ago, a number of Ona-Tengu's bosses got together to hire a mercenary named Jeressa, otherwise known as Commander Crimson, to protect them from being invaded by the Church of the One True God, which had nearly taken over Riva Zand, the city across Lake Rivona from them. (The River is a sort of super-river, rather like the vast river in Jose Farmer's Riverworld series; the 'lakes' on the River are more like inland seas.) Jeressa and her Crimson Cohort managed to successfully organize Ona-Tengu to defeat the invading flotilla, but after the battle was over, Crimson decided to keep the city, rather than let it go back to the customary Riverish urban chaos. She crowned herself Queen and used the Crimson Cohort as the basis for the Knights of Ona-Tengu, awarding Lordships to the city bosses that agreed to bend the knee to her and ruthlessly slaughtering those that didn't. Thus was the realm of Ona Tengu born, which eventually grew to encompass the former city of Ona Tengu, Riva Zand, and another city to the north, Jennaru. When the Empire of Man invaded the River a few years later, Jeressa, now known as the Crimson Queen, died defending the Realm, and the city of Ona Tengu was renamed in her honor.

Thirty years later, Ona Tengu is ruled by a poor sort named Kameron, a rather charismatic but not particularly bright former Knight who succeeded to the throne after the death of his much craftier father Karak, who took it away by assassinating King Kayam, Jeressa's hand picked successor. (Residents of the River respect strength; the status of 'boss' has never been hereditary there, it is always passed from hand to hand on the basis of who is capable of killing the old boss and holding off all other competitors for the title... so Karak assassinating Kayam was not considered scandalous or in any way objectionable.) For political reasons, Kameron was long ago wed to Kayam's widow, a Sothark of some dubiously 'noble' lineage named Kristara. Kameron and Kristara detest each other, though, so twenty years ago they divided Ona Tengu up unofficially into the 'Kingslands' and the 'Queenslands', one to the west of Lake Rivona, the other to the East. Kameron has another wife, Jeressa, who is the Crimson Queen's younger sister. Jeressa is considered to be a 'lesser Monarch', meaning she has no real, legal power but still wields enormous influence on Kameron and, more important, on their children, one of whom will eventually take the throne.

Kristara has never had any other official liaisons besides Kameron; she primarily associates with her Court Mage, a former Cardinal of the now fallen into disgrace and nearly extinct Church of the One True God known as Maraud. She also has a ten year old daughter, the rather spooky Morgraine, whose father is unknown (Kameron denies paternity; many whisper Morgraine must be Maraud's child, but they sure don't whisper it loudly, and there are a few who believe that Morgraine's father is one of the demonic Neverborn... although those that incline to that hypothesis try not to even think about it when Kristara or Morgraine are around.)

Ona-Tengu is centered on the ancient area that was once known as Dusha, a fertile land stretching across the River valley primarily populated by the Durshi. Jeressa and Kayam tried to be decent rulers to every subject of the Realm including the native Durshi who largely dwell outside the cities; Kameron's father and Kameron himself, however, have taxed the rural Durshi heavily, mostly to give them an excuse to impress Durshi youths into the Tengish Navy and Militia. Ona Tengu has prospered since its founding (helped largely by the Tengish Knighthood killing Malefolion the Black, one of the few dragons still surviving into modern times on the River, and turning Malefolion's prodigious horde over to the royal treasury) but Kameron has spent most of it on Ona Tengu's military, leaving the poor Durshi farmers to mostly fend for themselves. This has led to a great deal of grumbling amongst the native Durshi, especially those who live outside the Tengish cities. Rumors of rebellion are in the air... especially since Kameron, facing a mid life crisis, has decided to lead most of the Tengish military up the River to try to annex the distant metropolis of Tharkis City to the Realm.

Okay. Against this backdrop, we begin:

Samara has been sent by a Durshi merchant named Ashara Go to try to secure the services of a Honan archer named Yuni for Ashara. Unfortunately, Yuni has already taken a contract with an Aven named Sintar, so Samara invites both of them to meet with Ashara and see exactly what it is he might want to hire Yuni for... it may be profitable for Sintar to subcontract Yuni to Ashara for a limited time. They all walk across the city to Ashara Go's small, crowded office at the Caravanserai Guild, where Ashara informs them that he is actually just trying to assemble a small group as a favor to another friend of his, a Durshi named Sankara Jin.

Sankara, according to Ashara, was quite a hellraiser when he was younger, but now he's quite old and somewhat disabled. Yet for reasons of his own, he wants to go on an expedition to the Giant Mountains, and due to his infirmities, loathe though he is to admit it, he's going to need some help. He doesn't want to put together a large party, because right now the Tengish Knighthood is watching everything that any Durshi does very carefully and he doesn't need trouble with the Crown. But a group of three, maybe four people to accompany him on his nature hike would be ideal.

The group of PCs agrees to meet Sankara at a nearby dive called the Bucket of Blood. Upon arriving there and asking for Sankara, they are shown into a back room where they meet an aged, leathery, white haired, bright eyed old Durshi who does indeed look as if he was quite a firebrand in his younger days... like most male Riverscum, he clearly prides himself on his warrior skills and his toughness, wearing battered leather armor of a very antiquated design, with a glint of metal underneath it.

Belying his rough, tough facade, however, is a crutch leaning against the wall next to him. He greets the group gruffly, seemingly annoyed at the apparent necessity to ask anyone for help. While the PCs introduce themselves, he keeps glancing at something under the table he is sitting behind, although the PCs never get an opportunity to see what he's looking at.

After a brief discussion, the PCs agree to help him. He instructs them to meet him by the caravan gate at sunrise the next day. Getting up to leave, he gets his crutch under him and the PCs can see why he needs it... one of his legs is terribly withered, like a dried up husk, barely a quarter of the size it should be.

The PCs leave and seek an inn room for the night. As Sintar is extremely rich from a previous adventure, the party decides to repair to Token's, the finest inn/public house on the River, which is very near the caravan gate. For 12 gold a night (a gold is worth roughly $100 in my game) they get one of Token's finest suites.

That's pretty much where we left it. What the PCs do not know (in my scenarios, there is always plenty the PCs do not know) is that Ashara Go is up to his neck in the Durshi underground. A Tengish Knight named Emok (a Northark, another of my human subraces, see [url=][/url] has been investigating Ashara for several seasons now and is about to have him arrested for treason and subversion. Emok has had several of his squires following Ashara and everyone who has any dealings with Ashara for the last several weeks. So now Emok is very interested in the PCs, wondering exactly what they're up to, and first thing next session, he'll be dropping by their suite at Token's to ask them some pointed questions.

Sankara Jin is a colorful old guy. While he has his own reasons for making a pilgrimage to the Giant Mountains which I won't say any more about now, he was once a member of the Crimson Cohort. He couldn't become a Knight due to his injury (the result of a long ago misadventure that has more than a little to do with the current scenario) but he's spent most of the last thirty years hanging around the city of Jeressa. He knows a lot of very powerful people; former Cohort members now high up in the Knighthood or the various Temples, and many of the older City Lords (former 'bosses'). He isn't particularly well liked, but he's very well respected and can call in a lot of favors if he needs to. (A little known provision of the original Charter of Ona-Tengu grants property and a minor lordship to any member of the Crimson Cohort that wants it. Most members took it in the form of a Knighthood; Sankara has never availed himself of the title but he does live off a small amount of the seasonal pension he gets, while letting most of it pile up in the Temple of Silver and Gold.)

Sankara isn't at all political and doesn't really consider himself to be a Durshi, at least, not culturally. He's Riverscum through and through. What loyalty he had was to Commander Crimson; he thinks Kameron has made a right mess out of her Realm, but he's not going to get involved in court intrigues. He has one particular thing he wants to do before he dies... which will probably be soon... and that one goal is the reason behind his trip to the mountains.

Nonetheless, Ashara is aware that Sankara knows about the location of a very powerful magic item in the Giant Mountains, a magic item that the Sottle Merchant's Council ([url=][/url]) would be willing to accept in trade for another very powerful magic item they currently have in their possession, which would greatly help the Durshi in their coming rebellion against Kameron. So he's agreed to help Sankara with his expedition, in return for Sankara agreeing to get this powerful magic item for Ashara.

So the PCs, all unknowing, are at the center of a morass of politics and intrigue.

Pretty much SOP for the World of Empire.

Second session, current scenario - Feb 22 2009
Players Tammy (Yuni)
Nate (Sumara)
Kelly (Sintar)

After going on a mad shopping spree, the PCs settle in for a last night of decadent luxury before hitting the trail. At that point, there is a thunderous knocking on the door and a Tengish Knight named Sir Emok introduces himself, suspiciously demanding to know exactly what sort of business they are conducting for a Durshi named Ashara Go.

Sir Emok's aggressive demeanor abruptly changes when the PCs advise him they are going to be accompanying an old man named Sankara Jin into the wilderness. Obviously chastened and even frightened by the mention of Sankara's name, Emok makes a quick strategic withdrawal, apologizing to the PCs for having troubled them in the first place.

The next morning at dawn, the PCs report to the Caravanserai Gate, where they find Sankara Jin and Ashara Go bustling around completing last minute preparations... Ashara is checking things off a seemingly endless list carried on a lengthy scroll by one of his Frodd secretaries, while Sankara tightens cinches on the various tough little mountain ponies the group will be taking, and opens up saddlebags to make sure the supplies are in good order. Ashara greets the PCs fulsomely, while Sankara snarls something about how it's about gods damned time they hauled their lazy snotnosed arses out of bed and bothered showing up. He adds that if they slow him down like this out in "the weeds", he'll abandon them without a second's thought.

After leaving the city of Jeressa, our intrepid party made their way up the ancient caravan trail past the Inn of the Ford to Fort Kayam, built on the former site of Kayam's Lodge. The party, consisting of Sintar, a female skreea (eagle) Aven, Sumara, a doughty Durshi warrior in scalemail armed with a tower shield and a 2 handed battlesword he uses one handed, and Yuni, a female Durshi Honan archer, all accompanying a gruff, scowling old Durshi warrior with a withered leg, Sankara Jin, on an expedition to the Giant mountains, arrived at Fort Kayam mounted on tough mountain ponies provided by Ashara Go of the Caravansarei Guild towards the end of the day without mishap or untoward incident.

At the Inn of the Ford, a rambling stone and wood structure built around a huge central pit hearth, the player characters had watched with some bemusement as Sankara spent several minutes speaking in whispers with every tavern wench, pot boy, and any local traveler or Durshi farmer seeking to slake their thirst with a tankard of home brewed ale, seeming to be, for the hour or so they remained there, the hub of an endless buzzing hive of folks, each providing him with some small bit of information. Exactly what the nature of the conversations was the player characters were unable to discern, but as he had in the city of Jeressa, Sankara seemed here to be on speaking terms with virtually everyone around him, regardless of relative social stature.

On the subsequent journey to the Fort, Sankara confided that he needed to recover a set of written directions to the old mine in the mountains that was the party's destination, which directions he had buried beneath a certain tree near Kayam's Lodge thirty years before, when he had returned from his first, disastrous, trip to said mine. That was why the party would be spending the night at Fort Kayam, and be off in the morning as soon as Sankara had the papers back in his possession.

On arriving at Fort Kayam in early evening, the party's impression that Sankara apparently knew every living person in the Realm of Ona Tengu was further strengthened when the grey-maned yeelar (lion) Jeopard in Tengish plate mail guarding the gate greeted Sankara by name, with obvious pleasure at seeing an old comrade. Sankara and this knight spoke for a few moments, with the old Jeopard advising Sankara that the fort's commander, another old acquaintance from their Crimson Cohort days, had left word that he expected to see Sankara as soon as possible in his office. Sankara snorted contemptuously at this, stating that the current fort's commander had always been little more than an asskisser and a toady, and he had no time for such nonsense. The Jeopard knight then insisted that the player characters at least go meet with the fort's commander, as he wanted to see who was traveling with Sankara. Sankara waved his hand and allowed that the PCs could go kiss the fort commander's ass if they wanted, but he was going to stable the horses and then see about getting an ale somewhere.

Going into the lodge, the player characters were rather astounded to see a Frodd Tengish Knight in full crimson plate armor seated at a writing desk just inside the front door, apparently acting as the fort commander's secretary. A Frodd is a very short, very wide humanoid with four fully articulated arms; they tend to be extremely agile, dextrous, and smart, but they usually lack physical strength and a great deal of fortitude. The idea of a Frodd strong enough to wear Tengish plate was strange enough, but just the actual sight of a fully articulated set of plate with four fully articulated arms nearly sent the party into gales of laughter.

After checking with the commander of the fort, the Frodd knight sent the party in.

At the meeting, the fort's commander, an unctious, smooth tongued Knight of the Tharkish subrace named Surrono, poured out oily compliments on the player characters, and then displayed a prize he claimed he was very excited about... a sheaf of coded papers and a tiny gem, found wrapped in oilskins inside an old wooden box years before, when an ancient oak tree had been uprooted to make room for the expansion of Kayam's Lodge into Fort Kayam. Sir Surrono said he very much wanted to talk to Sankara about the papers, as he knew Sankara appreciated a mystery as much as he did. As he locked the papers back up again in a wall safe, his meaning was clear... if Sankara did not come meet him him, Sankara would not get these papers. Somehow, Surrono had correctly intuited that the papers most likely belonged to Sankara.

In the nearly empty fort barracks, the player characters reported the meeting to Sankara. Cursing, Sankara fumed that he had no desire to meet with Surrono, whom he had always considered to be a noxious little toad... and he certainly wasn't going to beg Surrono for the return of his own rightful property. The players then formulated a plan... Sankara could meet with Surrono in Surrono's private quarters to keep him busy, while the players snuck into the office and stole the papers. To facilitate this, Sankara and the player characters spent an hour or so creating a creditable forgery of the papers to leave behind in the safe, so that with a little luck, Surrono wouldn't even know he'd been robbed.

After making these plans, Yuni and Sumara snuck out to try and break into Surrono's office. Although they managed to avoid patrolling guards and get into the main building, they were stymied by the locked door leading to Surrono's office, having no lockpicking skills. (This was somewhat ironic, as in the previous party, all of whom had recently retired, all the characters had been thief types.)

Returning to the barracks, Sumara remained behind while Yuni and Sintar went back, Sintar having one level of lock picking (Sintar has one level of all non exotic skills, due to an anniversary item her player acquired during the last anniversary run). On regaining access to the building, though, Sintar decided to search a desk in the hall near the front door, outside the hall leading to Surrono's office, and in that desk, found a set of keys. With these keys they easily accessed the office, where Yuni, having memorized the combination she'd seen Surrono using previously, opened the safe, took out the packet of documents, and substituted the forgeries.

Back in the barracks, as Sumara was lying on a bunk trying to sleep, he heard stealthy movements coming towards him. Striking a light, he sat up with his sword in hand and saw a Frodd... the Frodd Knight who had earlier been acting as Surrono's secretary... not wearing any armor, with one of his four hands buried to the elbow in one of the saddlebags for the expedition. The Frodd smiled and said "Oh... my mistake." Sumara made certain the miserable little four arms hadn't stolen anything, and then told him to get lost. The Frodd promptly scuttled out.

An hour later, when the party was reassembled, Sumara advised of what he'd discovered while they were all gone. Sankara suspiciously searched the saddlebag the Frodd had been messing with, and found a psionic crystal that would have been used to track the party in the wilderness. It was decided to leave the crystal behind in the barracks.

Current scenario, third session - March 8 2009
Players Tammy (Yuni)
Nate (Sumara)
Kelly (Sintar)
Brett (Luka)

Late that evening, Luka, a Romaine (gypsy) warrior, arrived at the barracks, having been hired by Ashara Go to join the expedition and having hurried up the trail, along with a guide from the Caravanserai Guild, to catch them. (Luka had been somewhat bemused to find a Priest from the Temple of Knowledge waiting for him at the docks of Jeressa as he disembarked from his ship. The Priest had greeted him by name, asked if he was 'Luka, whose mother was Jennea', and when Luka confirmed it, had offered him a job and taken him to Ashara Go.)

Upon meeting Luka for the first time, Sankara had confirmed the same information with him... his name, the name of his mother... after looking at something in his journal. He then surreptitiously studied something else he took out of his beltpouch that he kept hidden in his hand, before finally accepting Luka into the party with much apparent ill grace at having yet another 'gods cursed babysitter sent along by Ashara Go'.

The next morning, the slightly expanded party departed, traveling north up the narrow strip of flat, open land between the Great Swamp on the west (left) and the Jeopard Forests to the east (right). Sankara advised the party they were looking for a natural rock formation known as the Sword and Shield, and it would take about three days to get there.

On the second day, from out of the swamp, hidden Swamp Men ambushers hurled hornets' nests at the party. Fortunately, the Honan archer had memorized a discipline allowing her to put up a telekinetic missile shield. Sankara ordered the party to gather close around her while she put it up; this baffled the hornets, who eventually departed. Only one member of the party, Luka, was too slow in getting to Yuni... not having any skill at horsemanship, he clumsily fell off his horse and was stung several times in the face. Fortunately, Sankara had packed full medical supplies, including anti venom, on one of the party's several ponies, and while Luka was in pain from the hornet stings for several subsequent days, he pulled through.

Upon arriving at the Sword and Shield, the party found some wild Tree Jeopards waiting for them, who said that their shaman, Yellow Moon, wished to speak with Sankara and 'his cubs'. (Tree Jeopards are a tribe of mixed Jeopard races who first came to the River as refugees from an invasion by the Empire of Man in their own tribal lands beyond the Giant Mountains almost a quarter of a century ago.)

Sankara fumed at the imposition, but went along with it. Following the Tree Jeopards into the forest along a trail for about ten minutes, the party emerged into a clearing where a small Tree Jeopard tribe had set up camp, with leather and fur tents sporting various different clan banners scattered all around. The largest and most elaborate of these tents bore a white fur banner with a dyed yellow circle in the center. The party was rather shocked to see emerging from this tent a Sottle woman, wearing Jeopard furs and painted like a wild Jeopard. (Sottles are a human subrace in my world; they tend to be obese, have bright golden yellow skin, and are completely hairless, like little Buddhas. They are all born with Magical Talent, and believe themselves to be intended by the Creator to be the brains of the human race, with the rest of the human subraces taking their orders from them.)

Yellow Moon, who was apparently accepted by the Tree Jeopards as one of their own, and respected as one of their most wise and powerful shamans, greeted Sankara Jin as an old friend. The two of them conversed in Jeopard for a few moments, and then Yellow Moon, who has the major psionic gift of clairvoyance, advised each party member of something she had seen in their immediate future. She also advised the party as a whole to trust Sankara Jin, for while it was true that he was keeping a secret from the party, he would never willingly lead them into harm or do them wrong.

The party then returned to the Sword and Shield, a tall, skinny rock sticking up out of the ground next to a shorter, round one. Sankara then went off into the woods on the other side of the rock for a little while by himself, ordering the party not to follow him. Sumara and Yuni attempted to follow him anyway, but lost sight of him quickly in the forest, which puzzled them as Sankara has a withered leg and has to walk with a crutch.

Finally, after a half hour or so, Sankara returned. To keep him from knowing about their disobedience, Yuni and Sumara circled around and came back out of the forest in the opposite direction Sankara had gone. When Sankara asked what they'd been doing, Sumara winked lecherously and gave the strong impression that he and Yuni had snuck off to fool around. He was shocked when Sankara responded furiously to this, striking Sumara in the side of the head with his crutch and ordering him not to touch Yuni under any circumstances. Sumara demanded to know what Sankara's problem was -- "Are you her father or something?" he asked, sarcastically. But he (probably wisely) did not try to challenge Sankara's authority.

Sankara then placed the small gem taken from Surrono's wall safe on his forehead, and advising the party to stay close to him, led them around the Sword and Shield... and to an apparently well hidden gully with a broad stone stairs built into one of its sides. He led them down to the bottom of this gully, where there was a well paved narrow road winding off through the Jeopard Forest towards the Giant Mountains. Without further comment, Sankara set off down the road towards the mountains. The rest of the party followed, a little amazed at their good fortune.

The next several days passed without much incident. Then at one of the small, shallow bends in the road, the party discovered that apparently an earthquake had thrown up a ridge of dirt, scattering the smooth paving stones and cracking a fissure like cave in the side of the gully. Sankara seemed shocked by this. Peering into the new cave in the side of the road, Luka and Sumara were almost certain they saw something jewel like winking back in the shadows. As Luka has the negative attribute Curious, and then failed his Willpower roll, he had to investigate; Sumara decided to go along to keep him safe.

Upon going about twenty yards down the cave passage, they came out into a larger cavern. At first Sumara saw what appeared to be the remains of several previous explorers, whose bodies seemed to have various fine weapons laying near them, and beltpouches and backpacks spilling over with jewelry and coins. Sumara also saw a young woman he'd known previously at the River College, chained up to a rune covered archway. As Yellow Moon had warned the party not to trust anything they saw in the forest that didn't seem like it should belong there, he assumed this must be some magical trap.

When he attempted to stab the girl with his sword, though, , he found he had thrust his arm into a giant spider's web, and looking around, he and Luka now saw that the cave was festooned with webs, and a half dozen Arrakid (giant spider) warriors were scuttling busily down the webs to capture them. (Luka, a Romaine, cannot be targeted by mental spells or illusions, and he had never seen anything but a dark, shadowy cavern.)

Luka hurled the bullseye lantern he was carrying into the webs, where they caught fire. Sumara, who is enormously strong, managed to wrench his arm out of the web holding him. The two of them fled as the cavern burst into flames behind them, and the Arrakids shrieked in rage and scurried into their escape tunnels. Outside, when the two adventurers had emerged, Yuni used a Honan discipline called Bolt to cave in the tunnel.

Current scenario, fourth session - March 22, 2009
Players Tammy (Yuni)
Nate (Sumara)
Kelly (Sintar)
Brett (Luka)
Chris (Makhall)

The party went on. After another day on the hidden road, Sankara took Yuni aside and showed her how to use the small gem to dispel a ward on his journal, so she would be able to read it if anything happened to him before they reached the mountain. (By and large, the vast majority of the population in my game are illiterate. Honan are taught to read, however, so they can study their book to learn further psionic disciplines, and also so they can make written reports when necessary. Sankara seemed to have picked up literacy at some point over the course of his long life.)

The next morning, Sankara warned the party that they were about to emerge in 'the Hinterlands', a strip of land bordering the Giant Mountains to the west, where, due to the shadow of the mountains, days were much shorter than in other areas, and twilights lasted much longer. This was an area, Sankara told the party, where over the last thousand years, all those misfits who could not tolerate, or be tolerated by, the cities or settled lands around the cities of the River, had fled to survive. "It's a place of outlaws and exiles, the ostracised and the accursed," Sankara informed the party in his gritty voice. "It's where the Riverscum who can't get along with all the other Riverscum come to die... and to take as many others with them as they can, too."

Sankara advised that the party could run into nearly anything in the Hinterlands, and all of it would be bad. He said he doubted they'd be in the Hinterlands longer than a day, but while they were, they should keep an even sharper eye out than normal, and trust nothing. "Remember, anything you come across, you're on its home ground. Don't let it lure you or drive you anywhere, and if it's at all possible, kill it from a distance or run the fuck away from it."

No sooner had the party emerged into the Hinterlands and Sintar flown up to scout ahead then she saw a group of about a dozen filthy, nasty, dirty, emaciated wretches about a mile away, wearing some kind of badly tanned, crudely sewn together furs, leaping up and down and chanting in a circle around a tall rock. The rock itself was in a small, recessed clearing in the hilly, sawgrass overgrown, rocky sward leading to the mountains. The clearing was full of shifting shadows and therefore very gloomy; the rock jutted up out of the clearing into bright sunlight. Atop the tall rock were a Sothark (a handsome, albino race of strong, not particularly bright humans) in chain mail with a big metal tipped spear, accompanied by a large mountain goat, who were fighting off a horde of rats that was pouring into the clearing from the surrounding overgrown waste and trying to climb up the sides of the rock.

One of the filthy wretched chanting fur wearing people was obviously leading the chant; where the others were using sharpened bones and leather slings as weapons, he was brandishing some kind of ominous looking black rock that resembled a rat in one hand. At this point, Sintar realized that the nasty looking crew were all wearing badly tanned, crudely stitched together rat hides, too, and having one level of all languages, she also realized that they were chanting "Flesh and bones! Flesh and bones! Strip the flesh from the bones!" over and over.

Following Sankara's orders, the Aven turned and flew back to report what had been seen.

Sankara identified the group as rat cultists, worshippers of the Old God Garuda, deity of rats and famine. Sankara warned that although the rat cultists would look like little more than skin and bones and would have crude weapons at best, they would fight like berserkers and any wounds they inflicted would certainly fester badly if not properly treated. The party, after some debate, then decided they would try to rescue the armored Sothark. (Greatly to the relief of our newest player, who otherwise would have been stuck on top of a rock surrounded by ravenous rats and even more ravenous rat worshippers.)

The Aven took to the air again with orders to kill the shaman leading the chant if possible. Sankara told her that the black stone the shaman was using was probably very old, created at least a thousand years before by the Old God Garuda (only the Old Gods knew the secret of creating such an item) and doubtless passed down from generation to generation of rat cultists since. He also warned her that if the shaman pointed that stone at her, she should get the hell out of the way.

The rest mounted up and galloped towards the site of the rat cult ambush as fast as they could. Sintar stooped from about six hundred feet up, planning to throw a javelin from about sixty feet above the shaman. The shaman saw her coming and gestured with the black rock, chanting something different as she stooped. The shadows shifting around the small clearing then formed into what looked like a giant fanged maw and lunged upwards toward the Aven. She threw her javelin straight through it at the shaman and banked away sharply. The javelin hit the shaman in the head and killed him instantly; the great shadowy maw dissipated just as abruptly.

The horde of rats seemed to become confused as the shadows faded; each rat quickly scrambled back into the grass as the sunlight strengthened in the clearing and the spell binding them vanished. The rat cultists, enraged, spread out to attack the Sothark. Then, seeing the rest of the party riding up at about 120 yards distance, most of them broke off to run out and meet them. Only three remained to use their slings to try to bring down the Sothark. One ran towards where their shaman had died, to try and recover the rat stone.

Yuni rode up to a large rock, dismounted, and climbed up it, so she could shoot down at the rat cultists. The rest of the party took up positions around her, other than the Aven, who was still flying overhead, and Sankara, who, being a skilled horseman, remained on his horse where his crippled leg wouldn't disadvantage him.

The Sothark, whose name was Makhall, climbed down off the rock to face his own three rat-worshippers. His goat, who turned out to be a sentient spiritbeast, attempted a Presence Attack on all three rat cultists, succeeding in making one hesitate for a full combat round. Makhall then engaged the other two. Meanwhile, Sintar had killed the other rat cultist who had been running for the rat stone with a javelin, and then decided to throw at Makhall's fight, where she managed a critical hit that killed one of Makhall's opponents, went straight through him, and hit the other one in the leg.

Out in the tall grass, Sumara and Luka found themselves facing three rat cultists each, after a shot from horseback by Sumara with a crossbow had killed one cultist, and Sankara Jin had ridden another one down. Yuni began to fire her bow, killing or badly wounding a rat cultist with each shot. (Honan archers are usually insanely lethal.) In his scalemail armor, Sumara had little difficulty with his opponents, although he did have trouble drawing his huge battlesword from off his back while trying to dismount his horse at the same time. Luka got his weapon out, but his light leather proved inadequate against the rat cultists' crude weapons and he took several gashes during the fight.

After several rounds of battle, it was obvious to one particular rat cultist that the battle was lost. Dodging out of melee, he tried to flee. Meanwhile, Sintar, having run out of normal javelins, and seeing the cultist attempting to run away, took up one of the powerful blessed javelins she'd acquired in a previous adventure, and throwing it at the cultist, saw it strike like a bolt of natural lightning, blasting the fleeing cultist, and nearly a galloping Sankara Jin, to cinders.

The remaining two rat cultists threw their arms over their heads and groveled at the sudden lightning strike. The party finished off all the wounded rat cultists, killed the two who had surrendered, and set about the business of beheading them and burning the heads and bodies in separate piles, to prevent any nasty rat cultist vorinkalla (the lowest level of Undead, necromantically reanimated bodies without spirits) from rising up and following along behind them.

At which point, we realized it was nearly six o'clock and called it for the day.

Sunday April 5, 2009
Players Tammy (Yuni)
Nate (Sumara)
Kelly (Sintar)
Brett (Luka)
Dan (Elior)

(Player interaction note: Chris didn't make it to this session. We did have a new guy, Dan, set up a character on Saturday and play in Sunday's session. Chris advises he will be at the next session.)

Taking up where we left off: A search of the dead rat cultists turned up little of interest other than two gold rings with the signet of Tengish Rangers on them. Sankara Jin seemed visibly upset to see such in the possession of filthy rat cultists, but didn't say anything about it.

Sankara tended to the only wounded member of the party, Luka, using water from his waterskin to clean Luka's filthy wounds, then bandaging them competently.

After decapitating all the enemy dead and burning them in two separate piles (heads to the left, bodies to the right, with the black rat stone tossed on to the heads pile) the party continued to move, as Sankara wanted to get through the Hinterlands to the edge of the mountains before dark. A random encounter turned out to be the fully saddled, riderless horse of a Tengish Ranger, which caused Sankara to become so visibly upset that Yuni attempted to use her Honan discipline of Telepathy to see what was on his mind. Honan disciplines are meant to work in combat (Telepathy allows a Honan to see what their opponent is planning to do regardless of relative initiative) so I only allowed for the possibility of partial success... after making her roll, she got fragments of a coherent thought, like "None of these kids are set up to head down a rat hole for..." and "no more than a few hours away from", before also catching "hey, can she read my mind?" at which point, it was as if a stone wall came up around Sankara's thoughts.

At the end of the day, the party had reached a cave hidden by a camouflaged tarpulin, which Sankara identified as being a cache used by Tengish Rangers, explaining that he knew of such things because he'd been consulted by the Crown when the Ranger program was being set up, and he occasionally taught a survival course at the Ranger academy.

After getting the party and their mountain ponies ready for the night in the cave, Sankara grouchily stated that he was tired of breakfast being ruined by kids who didn't know how to cook, so he was going to take last watch.

Meanwhile, a wandering River Rogue named Elior who had been prowling the Hinterlands on his own for some time at that point, and who had discovered the cave a few days prior to this, heard all the noise coming from the front parts of the cave and determined to investigate. Upon coming out of the shadows, he was greeted by Sankara, who asked his name. Elior gave it, and Sankara thumbed through his journal, then nodded and named a female name, asking Elior if that had been the name of his mother. He nodded, and at that point the rest of the party demanded to know how it was that Sankara seemed to have a list in his journal of everyone he was going to run into on this mission. Sankara advised them vaguely that the Temple of Time had done an augury on the mission before he left, and had given him a list of people he was likely to meet during the course of it. Then he deftly changed the subject to a discussion of what the party could expect when they reached the mine, probably sometime the next day.

The next morning, Elior, an extremely muscular, very exotic looking Durshi whose wild mane of black hair and savagely graceful movements put anyone watching him in mind of a prowling jungle cat, awoke first to find the fire had burned down to coals and Sankara was missing. Sankara's beltpouch, with a note on top of it, had been placed at the foot of Yuni's bedroll. Elior woke everyone else and Yuni read the note, which said, simply:

"Gone to check rathole for prisoners. Don't follow me. Wait here for me until noon. If I'm not back by then read the letter in my journal to the rest and then you all decide what you want to do. DON'T COME AFTER ME. If I'm not back by noon there's no point in looking for me. Sankara Jin"

Sintar took to the air to see if she could find Sankara, while Elior and Sumara ran outside to see if they could track Sankara. Yuni and Luka began saddling their horses.

Less than a quarter mile along the party's backtrail, Sintar spied Sankara's pony, cropping grass, with a crumpled body several yards away. Elior and Sumara quickly followed the clearly visible tracks (Sankara hadn't tried to hide his trail at all, knowing he needed to cover ground quickly) and within minutes found Sankara's body as well. He was badly battered, broken, and crushed. A few minutes later Yuni and Luka rode up. Yuni made a tracking roll and discerned that some extremely large quadruped had apparently trampled Sankara. As Yuni knows she is being hunted by undead elephants from her home region (looooong story), she assumed Sankara must have encountered one of these in the predawn darkness and been killed by it.

Yuni opened Sankara's journal and, using the small gem as he had previously taught her, read the letter he had written there to the entire party:

[i]"To my children,

Yes, it is true. If you find your name, and your mother's name, on the preceding pages to this letter, you are my child, or my grandchild, and I am your sire.

This will seem impossible to you, that all of those you travel with could be related to you by blood. Or to those of you who think you know who your father was. But I assure you... or, rather, the Elders of the Taduesz have assured me... that it is true.

How can it be possible? How can an elderly Durshi have children, or grandchildren, who are clearly full blooded Sotharks, Northarks, Romaine, and Ulvane, Sottle and Durshi... or Frodds... or Jeopards... or Aven? Or even more exotic things, such as a werelion, or, even more bizarrely, a sentient spiritbeast goat?

I must now confess the worst, and I must tell you beforehand, if you must be ashamed of me, then let it be, but do not be ashamed of yourself as my child. You have nothing to do with my past actions. You are the result of the worst of me, it is true, but you are still the best of me. Some of you I have watched for the last days and weeks so I know this is true. My children and grandchildren are men and women any parent can be proud of. As I am proud of all of you.

You doubtless think me old, my child. I am older than you think. I was born in Do'Samaqel almost one hundred years ago, and chosen early for the Priesthood. That is corrent. Until the death of the Samaqel, I was one of that pernicious and evil creature's Priests.

I know, it is a shock to you, and you are thinking, if you are truly my child, how shameful a thing that is. I am sorry for that. I can only say, long ago I confessed my dark past to the Temples of Ona Tengu, and to Queen Jeressa while she yet lived. I was set tasks to redeem myself, and eventually, judged rehabilitated. I was given trust. I have been told that I have earned my redemption. Some even regard me as a hero, which is foolish, but perhaps that will help you take some pride in the blood that flows through your veins... my blood. I hope it will.

Ask the Temple of Knowledge someday of my services to the Realm. If you identify yourself as my child, they will not deny you. I do not claim nobility or heroism, merely that I am not entirely wicked, and that my life has not been entirely shameful. Ask the Tree Jeopards. Ask the black hearted Sharps of Jennaru, City of Secret Shadows... but have a silver blade to their throats when you ask, for they are treacherous. Ask the shades of the dozens of the Realm's enemies I have gladly sent to Hell in the name of my beloved Commander, the Crimson Queen. There are tales all of them can tell you, stories of my deeds since becoming the man called Sankara Jin, that will show there is more to me than a willing tool of wickedness. And much more to the blood flowing in your veins than that, as well.

While still a child, while still in my training to become a Priest of that hateful god-worm, it was noted that I was very adaptible... not simply emotionally, but that my very basic physical nature, the smallest parts that made up my body, were extremely 'flexible'. Shapeshifting is hard for most living things, even with the power of a Jhareesh to call on it is nearly impossible. But I had a natural gift for it. It was painful, but it was something I could learn, and with the power of the Samaqel aiding me, accomplish. And in time, I grew very adept at it.

So I became the Samaqel's chief spy. Over the course of my life I was sent to gather information in dozens, perhaps hundreds, of different places. I have been every human race known to the River, for a few seasons or a few cycles at a time. I have been many nonhumans, too. And sometimes, during the course of these missions, I have fathered children.

Or I should say I have sired children. While I have been nearly everything a human, or a nonhuman, can be in my long long life, one role I have never played is that of father. I have never tarried in any one place long enough to come to know any of my children, much less aid in the shaping of those children. I regret this now, as I near the end of my long, long life. And so, I have done what I have done to bring my many children together at last, where I can see what sort of men and women they have become, and some of you, at least, are reading this letter, or hearing it read to you, after my death.

Long ago, a few years before Queen Jeressa slew the Child of the Samaqel, causing the Samaqel Itself to perish, I was assigned to get as close to her as possible. The Samaqel, or one of Its Priests, had sensed that she was an important person, a Figure of Destiny, as we used to say, and that her fate was directly related to the Samaqel's welfare. It was not understood how this could be true, but the Priesthood always took such things seriously. So I was assigned to infiltrate those close to her, and became a middle aged Durshi warrior named Sankara Jin who joined the Crimson Cohort.

A year or so after I accomplished this, I reported back that another member of the Cohort, a Grey Giant, had repeatedly spoken of a desire to raid a place in the mountains that the Priesthood had long ago used as a storage place for many cursed objects created by the Samaqel or its Priests over the years. I was told not to worry as the safeguards placed over the storage place would be lethal to any intruders. So it was that when the opportunity arose to travel to that cursed place, I determined to accompany my two friends there. I hoped to somehow dissuade them from entering that place, where I very much feared they would die.

In this, as in being a father to any of my children, I was a miserable failure. I could not abort the mission or save my friends from their folly. In the end, all my efforts did was nearly get me killed as well, and cripple me for life. Even the power of the Samaqel could not heal my withered limb, as the damage was inflicted by a creature holy to the God of Death, and an ancient Covenant forbids Jhareesh from interfering with the Gods, and vice versa. For this reason also, the Temples have not been able to heal my withered limb either. A lifetime of connection to the power of the Samaqel has marked me to the very depths of my being, and the power of these 'gods' they worship cannot touch me.

So over the decades I became what you have beheld... to all intents and purposes and surface appearances, an aging warrior, badly maimed in some ancient misadventure, living by his wits, lost in bitterness and self pity. But there is more to me than that, and always has been, I assure you.

Over a year ago, a physicker friend of mine insisted on examining me. Her findings were then confirmed by the Tasuesz Brotherhood and the Temple of Knowledge. The strains and stresses I have undergone over my long, long life, and especially the necromantic trauma I suffered at the hands of a ghuula so long ago, have taken their final toll. The black rot spreads through me even as I write this... a slow spread, but an inevitable one. I will be dead within the next season at most. Before that, I hope to guide you safely through the dangers of the mine when we arrive there, if indeed you insist on entering. However, if I fall before we reach that destination, you will have this letter, and the information in my journal, to help you.

Long ago, on a mission for Lord Regent Kayam, I prevented the assassinations of all the High Priests of the Temples of Ona Tengu at that time. For that reason the Temples have always believed that they owed me a great favor. Now that I am near the end of my days, I have called on it. I am curious about my children. So I asked the Temples if they could do anything to track them down, to let me see what kind of men and women they are. They went considerably further, creating a blessing that, through the life force we all share, has begun to draw all of you together, to Jeressa. This will not continue to pull on my blood after I die, but still, some of you have come to me in response to this, and others, I am told, are on their way.

To see what you were all made of, I wanted to lead you into the wilderness and observe you under stress. By calling in favors owed me by Ashara Go and others, I have managed to create a ruse that will accomplish this. Of course, I did not wish you to know that I was your father, or that you were related to each other, for fear of distracting you and making you act in ways not natural to yourselves. I wanted to see you as you are.

In my pouch there is a crystal given me by the Taduesz. When held by one of our shared bloodline, it will glow. If you hold it and think of someone, or look at that person, if they are descended from me, it will glow, and you will know who they are, and who their mother was. I hope some of you at least will use this tool to fulfill my last wish for you all, which is that all of my children, or grandchildren, be at least told of their true father, and be offered an opportunity to share in the heritage I will leave you now.

If I perish and you are reading this before we reach the mine together, I would hope you would at least consider attempting to get Zaruman's Seal for Ashara Go. He has done a great deal for me to faciliate my desire to see my children, fully funding this entire expedition, and Zaruman's Seal is all he wishes in return. If you feel you can do it, I hope you will consider it. For what it is worth, from what I have seen, the group of you, if you work together, can accomplish nearly anything. You are a formidable team... a formidable family. If I had sought you out before this I believe we could have accomplished any amount of good... but there is no use stanching a wound that has long since ceased to bleed.

When my friends and I came to the mine thirty years ago, it is my great shame that I let them go in by the 'main' entrance, rather than revealing to them the secret 'back door' built by the Priesthood long ago for easier access. I felt at the time I could not reveal the Priesthood's secrets to outsiders. I have been deeply ashamed of that decision ever since, and will not repeat it. You will find the location of the back door, and notes on how to use it, marked on other pages of this journal.

My priest's gem is probably best employed by Yuni. As a Honan, she has some abilities in focusing her mental energies. I believe it will be of the most aid to her. I plan to speak to her of this in the near future.

I have some small material wealth... an account at the Temple of Silver and Gold, and I own the building the Bucket of Blood is in outright, although few are aware of that. I have some shares in the Caravanseri Guild as well, and a pension from the Realm, and some personal effects. These will be divided by the Temple of Silver and Gold up among those of my children who accompanied me to the Mountains and show up to claim them.

My greatest legacy, though, is the Blessing that all the Temples have crafted for you, my descendents. If you accept the duty to your family and to the ideals of the Crimson Queen I lay on you, then this blessing will become yours, and pass on to your children, if they will also serve our family, and the Commander's dream of a fair, just Realm of free and equal beings.

So to those of my blood who will serve my family and the noble ideals of the Crimson Queen and her Realm, I grant my blessing -- Good health, long life, wisdom, prosperity, and good fortune.

The Temples all have copies of the list preceding this letter; if you present yourself to any of them, and state your willingness to accept the family duty I lay upon you, they will confer my blessing upon you.

Before that time, though, please accept my apology for never being any kind of parent to you, and understand that you have made a tired, broken old man very proud to be

your father,

Sankara Jin"
After some discussion, the party decided to continue on and try to get the Seal of Zarumon for Ashara Go, as Sankara had wished.

At that point, a Priest of Time from the city of Jeressa appeared a hundred yards away and began slowly walking towards the party. Seconds later, a portal opened and Yellow Moon and about thirty Tree Jeopards came through and, chanting mournfully, took up position a respectful distance away.

The Priest of Time advised the party that the Temples were aware that Sankara Jin had passed away, and he had come to collect Sankara's body so that the Tengish Realm could give him the funeral ceremony befitting a Hero of the Realm. Yellow Moon stated that as Sankara Jin had been an adopted member of the Tree Jeopard tribe and was considered a Great Hunter and Warrior by the Jeopards, they wanted to dispose of his body with their own ceremonies. As Sumara was the oldest of Sankara's children present, he was asked to settle the conflict. Sumara said the Realm should put up a statue to Sankara but the Jeopards should dispose of his remains.

The Priest of Time then said that Sankara had wanted him to offer the party an opportunity to return to the city of Jeressa if they chose. Yuni told him that they'd decided to continue on. The Priest of Time accepted this, and vanished. The party asked Yellow Moon if Sankara had had any children among the Tree Jeopard tribe, and Yellow Moon indicated a female Jeopard in her early 20s who had a 4 year old female cub with her, stating that they were Sankara's grand daughter and great grand daughter, respectively. Yuni and Elior spoke with the two briefly.

Yellow Moon then opened another portal and the Tree Jeopards departed, taking Sankara Jin's body with them.

The party continued on, using the map in Sankara's journal as a guide. After several hours travel up a narrow mountain pass, the Aven spotted something yellow gleaming like gold high up in the air ahead of the party, but apparently approaching them. Venturing closer, she saw it was a thirty foot long boat of some sort, made out of gold metal, flying at about a hundred feet above the ground, proceeding down the same pass the party was working its way up. In the boat were five black haired men (one's hair was more grey than black) in some kind of metal armor with long red cloaks wrapped around them, and the boat itself had two cannons mounted on it, plus some sort of long gold metal finger with a large faceted gem at its tip, mounted on a swivel at the back of the craft.

Not sure if she'd been seen or not, Sintar turned and flew back to the party, advising them of what she'd spotted. At the bottom of a steeply walled mountain pass with ten mountain ponies, the party really had no way to hide, so they simply prepared their weapons as best they could and waited to see what would happen... except for Elior, who enigmatically said "You'll see me again in a few minutes, but I'll be... different. Don't be afraid, I'll be in control of myself." He then turned and ran back down the pass until he went around a sharp turn ten yards back and was out of sight of the party.

After a minute or so, the party could see the golden ship descending through the air towards them. Fifteen feet from the ground, just to one side of the party, the ship stopped, and ten hands holding ten pistoloons pointed over the sides of the ship down at the party, while a roughly accented voice demanded that the party surrender or be killed. Looking up, the party could just make out five black haired men wearing very fine looking chainmail with red cloaks around their shoulders, pointing pistoloons down at them.

A few of the party members recognized Imperial Dragoons, the dreaded fighting forces of the Empire of Man, from descriptions they'd heard... the Empire had last tried to invade the River a quarter of a century previous, after the death of the Samaqel, and Ona Tengu's first monarch, Queen Jeressa, had died driving them back.

Grudgingly, the party dropped their weapons. A Dragoon descended by rope ladder and began binding them for transport. Luka had his hands tied behind him first. As the Dragoon walked over to bind Sumara, abruptly a huge black maned lion came bounding around the corner of the pass that Elior had disappeared behind and gave a thunderously menacing roar. The party's horses all bolted at this point, galloping frantically away up the canyon in the opposite direction from the lion. The Dragoon on the ground was overawed by the lion's presence attack and staggered backward, attempting to get his weapons out (Imperial Dragoons don't flee!). The Dragoons in the flying ship were astounded and their attention was, momentarily, riveted on the lion.

Sumara grabbed his two handed battlesword up off the ground and swung it at the Dragoon who was paying no attention to him, cleaving the Dragoon's head from his shoulders. The lion took a running jump and leapt into the flying boat, nearly overturning it in the air. The lion then used the Combat Position option Drive Opponent to force three of the four dragoons back, causing them to fall out of the boat. Two of the three fell to the ground, attempted to get to their feet with weapons out, and were promptly killed by Yuni and Sumara. The third, completely cowed by this entire inexplicable battle, surrendered, as did the other one, a few seconds later, when the lion drove him out of the boat.

Which was where we wrapped it up for the night, as it was nearly seven o'clock and some people had to get up early the next day for work.

Sunday April 19, 2009
Players Tammy (Yuni)
Nate (Sumara)
Kelly (Sintar)
Brett (Luka)
Dan (Elior)
Chris (Makhall)

Elior, in lion form, leapt down from the flying boat and disappeared around a bend in the ravine to change back to his human form.

At that point, the party got down to some serious questioning of the two captured Imperial Dragoons. After extracting a promise that they would be released unharmed, the older of the two, who spoke good Riverish, agreed to tell the party whatever he knew that was of value.

Under questioning, he revealed as much as he knew about the operation of the flying boat... that it had something to do with attuning two 'master crystals' and learning how to do that was something that their wing commander (an older man who by this time was already dead) had been given special training in. He also revealed that once their patrol was missed, other patrols in flying boats would be sent looking for them. Yuni had done her Honan telepathy discipline by this point, and although she could not read the Dragoon's surface thoughts (as he was thinking in another language) she caught a glimpse of a mental image the Dragoon had of another flying boat full of Imperials, powered by an inhumanly tall figure with long grey hair in Dragoon armor. The captive also revealed that the boats could be tracked by adepts in other boats due to the resonance of the master crystals.

While this questioning was going on, various party members were climbing the rope ladder and messing around in the flying boat, currently hovering 15 off the ground. Luka discovered some oddly shaped things, like sealed buckets of some sort, in a pair of lockers near the boat's cannon. In a larger locker at the front of the boat, he discovered two barrels of water and several trays of small, very dense cakes of some kind of fibrous matter that tasted edible, if not appetizing. Each of these dense cakes were wrapped in some kind of oiled parchment or vellum. Other than this, there was nothing aboard the boat, although the armature with the huge gem mounted on it proved to have several smaller gems studding its back panel, including two large gems (about the size of tennis balls), one red, one blue, that could be removed from their housing.

By this time Makhall had also come aboard the ship and was messing around with the two large gems, prying them out of their housings, then trying to switch the slots they went in, just to see what would happen. Perhaps fortunately, each gem was cut to slightly different shapes and would not fit into any housing but their own.

After messing around inconclusively with the gems for a time, Makhall dropped them over the side to Sumara, who was waiting below. He caught the first gem in his hand and took a level one slashing crit, as the gems were extremely sharp, cutting right through his ringmail gauntlets. He let the second gem fall to the ground, where it bounced a few times and finally came to rest unharmed, while tending to his wound.

The cooperating Dragoon confirmed that these were, indeed, the master gems, although he himself knew nothing about attuning them. The only one who did was their wing commander, currently dead.

This led to almost an hour of debate amongst the party members as to what they should do, simply abandon the boat there and make as much distance as they could, or have the Aven fly to the two 'master crystals' as far away as she could. At this point Ashteekva the Goat (Makhall's spiritbeat companion), who has a very high IQ, suggested that perhaps Yuni, being a Honan with some experience with psionics, could try to attune the two master crystals and use the boat herself.

Yuni took the gems back up into the ship, replaced them where they belonged, and concentrated on them. Having had some practice during her Honan training with using crystals as focusing tools, she knew how to project her consciousness into a crystalline lattice. As she had been trained extensively in focusing her will in order to use her various psionic disciplines, she was able to duplicate the attunement feat that an Imperial officer would have needed weeks of training to attempt. She quickly attuned both crystals to herself, and found herself able to both manipulate the armature -- a device designed to draw in electricity from the air and project it as a lightning bolt in any direction -- and to make the ship itself fly and maneuver in any direction. Exhiliarated, she commenced to playing with her new toys, raising and lowering the ship, swiveling the 'lightning cannon' (or 'death ray', as the party called it) back and forth.

Finally bringing the boat down to rest with its keel barely brushing the ground, Yuni and the rest of the party then spent another hour debating what they should do at this point. Eventually, after a few false starts, the Dragoons were released, without weapons or armor. They headed up the canyon, deeper into the mountains, in the same direction as the horses had gone.

At this point, some members of the party claimed some of the Dragoon loot for their own. Sintar took a few pistoloons, while Yuni and Elior each armed themselves with an Imperial [i]tegir[/i], a weapon rather like a katana except that it has no point and cannot be used to thrust. Elior also found a set of Imperial chain mail that fit him well enough and donned it.

After several minutes, the party realized that the Dragoons would almost certainly encounter their horses and easily re equip and rearm themselves from the supplies in the pack saddles. Sintar immediately flew off to try to prevent this, while Makhall, Luka, and Elior pursued the Dragoons at a jog. Yuni and Sumara, along with Steve the Goat, remained at the boat, loading the captured Imperial weaponry into it.

After a few rounds the group on foot easily caught up with and passed the dispirited Dragoons, who were bewildered to find themselves pursued by their former captors, and even more bewildered when their former captors ran right on by them... although they realized what was going on a few minutes later, when their former captors, leading a string of mountain ponies laden down with supplies, came back by them again, the Aven walking in the rear, flapping her wings to encourage the ponies to keep going. Makhall, ever cheerful, waved to the Dragoons as the party went by them both times.

When the party regrouped, having had no random encounters while split into their separate components, they debated what to do. Eventually, it was decided that Yuni, the Aven, Elior, and Steve the Goat would fly in the ship, while Sumara, Makhall, and Luka stayed below with the ponies. They continued on in the direction that Sankara's journal indicated, looking for the fabled 'back door' mentioned therein.

Although they could still see daylight and blue sky high above them, by now it was nearly as dark as night at the base of the ravine they were following through the mountains. Fortunately, Luka had Extremely Good Night Vision as an attribute (he got it as a random) and even in the gloom, he spotted a carving on the wall similar to a drawing Yuni had shown the party in Sankara's journal.

Yuni brought the flying ship down to the ground and the party members inside disembarked, Yuni with a very real twinge of regret as she left a source of near godlike power behind. She had started to feel almost crippled whenever she wasn't on board the boat; being a mere mortal, bound to the ground, able to move in only two dimensions, and without the wrath of the heavens available at a thought, seemed extremely limiting compared to what she had quickly grown accustomed to. Nonetheless, being extremely strong willed, she forced her regrets aside and disembarked with the rest of the party.

Following the directions in the journal, Yuni donned Sankara's brow gem, placed her hand into a handprint carved into the mountainside (which seemed to morph after she put her hand into it, to fit her hand perfectly) and spoke the words Sankara had written out phonetically in his journal, with a note that if these words weren't spoken perfectly, the speaker would die. As she spoke them, Sintar, who is very knowledgeable at many different things, realized the phrase she was speaking meant, in Samaqelian, "We will all gladly die for the glory of the Samaqel".

No lightnings came, no thunder rolled -- unceremoniously, the section of mountain that Yuni had her hand against simply vanished, revealing an opening leading into a small, oval shaped, obviously artificial cave inside the mountain. It was about twenty feet deep and, at its widest, fourteen feet across, and at the far end, the party could see an oval mirror mounted on the wall, with a frame around it that reflected the same floral design they had seen on the wall outside.

As the flying boat was much too large to be taken inside the small cave, it and the horses with most of the supplies was left outside. The party did take several silver weapons Sankara had brought along in case of Undead, though.

At the mirror inside, Yuni took Sankara's brow gem and placed it in a small socket at the top of the mirror. The mirror vanished, leaving apparently a hole in the wall leading into a dimly lit cavern that seemed filled with odd shapes and devices.

One by one the party members stepped through the six foot high, three and a half foot wide oval portal. Each of them discovered three dimensional glyphs in a language they could not read dancing in the air in a circle around the portal's other side as they came through. Several seconds after each of them came through, they heard a crackling sound, as if of a clay mug dropped in the distance.

After they were all in the cavern, the party began to look around. They saw what looked like several large stone hands jutting up out of the cavern floor, holding various strange devices on their palms or in their fingers. Being curious, Luka wandered off by himself to look at what appeared to be a brooch across the chamber, while Yuni walked up to an entranceway to another cavern, planning to draw a circle across it to hopefully keep any Undead that might be beyond it from coming through.

At this point Luka became aware of several cobralike creatures slithering out of a darkened cave mouth in the wall near the brooch he was approaching. He quickly retreated back to the party, while simultaneously, Makhall and Sumara ran forward to engage the group of strange serpentine creatures. A quick count indicated that there was one serpent for each party member; it seemed likely that the crackling sound each party member had heard upon entering the cavern had been an egg hatching.

A quick battle took place. The creatures seemed able to spit poison at a distance, but as Sumara and Makhall were both wearing heavy armor, the spat poison had no effect on them and they easily killed their own opponents. Yuni killed hers with one arrow shot. Luka missed his, but it also missed him, and Sumara came up in the next round and killed Luka's. Elior easily killed his serpentoid. Sintar killed hers with a thrown javelin. Of the party, only Steve the Goat, completely unarmored and not skilled in combat, wound up being bitten by one of the serpents. Fortunately, Sintar had a belt from a previous adventure that endowed her with serpent like abilities, including an immunity to poison; she wrapped it around Steve so Steve took only the first round of minuses from the virulent poison... enough to nearly incapacitate him, but not kill him. Makhall came up and killed Steve's creature, and quiet descended once again on the cavern...

Sunday May 3, 2009
Players Tammy (Yuni)
Nate (Sumara)
Kelly (Sintar)
Brett (Luka)/(some Sottle whose name I can't remember)
Dan (Elior)
Chris (Makhall)

As quiet fell over the eldritch chamber once again, the curious, overconfident Luka reached out to pick up one of the objects, a brooch, from the strange stone hand that was thrusting up out of the floor holding it on display. As Luka's hand broke the plane of the cone of light around the display, a shower of prismatic sparks cascaded around him down to the floor, and transformed into a moving three dimensional diorama depicting the creation and first use and eventual consignment of the brooch to this vault.

Fortunately, the brooch was one of the few in the chamber not marked explicitely as dangerous in Sankara Jin's journal, so nothing further happened to Luka.

Yuni came rushing back into the cave with anti venom for Steve the Goat right about then. After administering some anti-venom to Steve the Goat, Sintar reclaimed her viper's belt. Yuni, angered by Luka's brashness, which she felt had endangered the entire group, snapped at Luka that he should touch nothing further until everyone decided what to do. Luka was cowed by Yuni's wrath, and forbore from making further trouble... for a time...

Now the party fell to bickering as to what the best approach for looting the cavern would be. Sumara was concerned that the longer the party tarried, the greater the chances of more monsters showing up to kill them. Yuni was adamantly opposed to hurrying, she wanted thorough examinations of all objects in the chamber, and she wanted everyone to be aware of what Sankara Jin had written in his journal about each object before anyone touched anything. Eventually, after nearly coming to blows, Sumara and Yuni decided to take a more cautious approach, and simply try to trigger the 'story' of each display, and that information, combined with what Sankara had written, would let the group decide how to proceed.

Sankara's journal made it clear that the name of the chamber the group was in was the Vault of Flawed Items, a place where Priests of the Samaqel had consigned various inventions and powerful devices that did not function safely, or that they themselves could not use and did not want misused by others.

After triggering many of the three dimensional projections, the party eventually decided to take only a few objects -- the brooch already in Luka's possession, a Potion of Charm that apparently made its drinker irresistibly commanding... for a time... a rather phallic staff that had been created by a female Priest of the Samaqel to enhance her athletic performance and allow her to win an important competition, but which had to be worn fully encased within a person's body to work, and a ring that supposedly enabled its wearer to voyage astrally beyond the physical confines of their body; and a bracer studied with psionic amplifying crystals that had once belonged to Romana, God of the River . Everything other Flawed Item was deemed too Flawed to remove.

The specific item the group was looking for, though, the Seal of Zaruman, was not in this particular chamber. In an adjoining chamber, however, a serpentine spiral walkway had been inscribed on the floor, and what looked like a runed seal was pressed into the floor at the center of the pathway. Consulting Sankara's journal, the group discovered that this was the 'Serpent's Maze', and it had originally been invented by a Priest of the Samaqel to 'refine the genetic dross' from the Samaqel's subjects. However, it had never been reliable, often rendering even the Most Highly Favored of those who walked it down to primordial goo.

After 'a sigil of great power over time and space' was discovered by the Priesthood, it was incorporated into the Serpent's Maze. This stabilized the maze and made its function more reliable; anyone who walked the maze and survived would find 'all genetic flaws removed, and all genetic talents focused and idealized'. Also, as a side effect of the seal's incorporation, anyone successfully walking to the center of the Serpent's Maze would be able to open a portal to anywhere they desired to go.

Realizing this 'sigil of great power' must be the seal they were looking for, the party decided they would each walk the path, each of them portaling to Ashara Go when finished. The last one would, on reaching the center of the walkway, pry the seal up out of the maze and bring it with him or her through their own portal.

Before that, however, the group decided to take a look into another cavern adjoining the Maze chamber. Inside, they saw a much less refined cavern full of natural stone stalactite/stalagmite columns, and in between those columns, various platforms on which seemed to be the bodies, or skeletons, of various folks dressed like the Priests they had seen in the previous dioramas. Afraid these were Undead that would somehow be awakened soon, Luka decided to walk out to the center of the spiral by walking on the ground in between the glowing spiral path. Seeing this, Makhall rushed back and attempted to sprint along the path to be the carefully proceeding Luka.

With each step Makhall took on the glowing path, colorful sparks showered up, increasing in intensity the further in he went. When he was about 2/3s of the way to the center, his will proved inadequate... the sparks rose over his head, and then subsided, leaving nothing behind.

Luka, meanwhile, had reached the center area of the maze, but was unable to reach the sigil in the middle of the glowing area, as it was about ten feet across.

Elior then started down the glowing path. Sparks showered up again. When he reached the point where the sparks were over his head, his will proved sufficient to push him forward through the ordeal. His lion form then appeared, bounding for several paces through the sparks as he continued on the path; then he became a great black panther, then a huge sabretoothed tiger, then, finally, he reached the center and was human once again... but he realized that the Maze had given him full conscious control over the kind of shapeshifting ability his father had had, and he would be able to shift his shape in many different ways once he learned how.

He opened a portal to Ashara Go's office and walked through, rather startling poor Ashara Go. Then each member of the group proceeded to walk the path, all of them finding their will sufficient to the task. Each of them also gained their father's basic ability to shapeshift.

As Yuni had started to run down the path, a portal had opened in the original chamber and Imperial Dragoons had begun to pour through in military formation. Just as she reached the center of the maze, where Sumara had decided to wait for her, she heard shouts in Riverish from behind her to come back. Sumara attempted to pry the sigil up from the maze with his sword but did not succeed, and the two of them decided to leave it behind. They leapt through the portal to Ashara Go's office, and it closed behind them.

Astonished by these events, Ashara Go was spluttering with disbelief... but had presence of mind to ask if any of them had brought him the Seal of Zaruman. Upon being told they could not bring it, he gestured the crowd out of his tiny office and into the large market square in front of the Caravanserei Guild for further discussion. To make up for not bringing the Seal of Zaruman, Sumara took the large flask containing the Potion of Charm out of his backpack and presented it to Ashara, explaining what it was. Ashara seemed mollified by this, and expressed his regret to the group as to the death of Sankara Jin.

The group then walked across the City of Jeressa to Temple Street. Initially they want to the Temple of Time, but after a brief conversation with a Priest there, they decided they would be more comfortable at the Temple of Silver and Gold, where they were given use of a suite until Sankara Jin's estate could be settled. This suite already had one inhabitant, another child of Sankara Jin who had arrived in Jeressa too late to take part in the expedition, and who had been waiting for Sankara to return. The Temple had not explained the connection between Sankara and anyone else, so the group had to tell the Sottle that they were all actually children or grandchildren of the same man. The Sottle initially refused to believe it, but was tentatively convinced by the blessed gem that Sankara had had made up to identify those who shared his blood.

The next morning, a foppishly dressed courtier named Mankala arrived, was shown into the group's suite, expressed his sympathies to the group for the death of Sankara Jin, and then attempted to press them on behalf of 'an unnamed court faction' to swear an oath of fealty to the Realm of Ona Tengu, claiming it was 'what their father would have wanted'. The group had him thrown out.

The Priest of Silver and Gold assigned to see to their needs advised them that Mankala almost certainly represented King Kameron's faction, who their father had never wanted anything to do with. In fact, their father had held himself aloof from the snakepit of Tengish politics for years after the death of King Kayam, but over the previous several years, had come to serve Queen Jessara, the original Crimson Queen's younger sister and wife to King Kameron, a 'lesser monarch' with no real authority under Tengish law, but who nonetheless had enormous influence at the court, mostly through the loyalty of followers who vastly preferred her to King Kameron, including the outlaw group of female warriors known as The Sisterhood, whose legitimization Jessara had been working towards for years.

Shortly after Mankala left, a woman named Asher arrived and was shown in. Obviously a warrior from how she carried herself and her visible battle scars, Asher also claimed to represent 'unnamed parties' at court that were very interested in knowing where the loyalties of Sankara Jin's children lay. She explained in some detail that Sankara Jin had been under a great deal of pressure recently to publicly declare whether or not he supported the Durshi underground rebellion... Sankara's general disdain for King Kameron was well known, but he had never openly professed to be in support of the Durshi rebels. Recently, though, his willingless to accept the patronage of Ashara Go, who was strongly rumored to be an influential member of the Durshi underground, had led people to suspect that Sankara supported the rebellion.

Now, of course, Sankara was dead... which had focused attention on Sankara's children, recently returned through mysterious means from an expedition to the mountains to a place reputed to be well stocked with items of power.

Asher advised the group frankly that her patron was the same as Sankara had been loyal to. After some discussion, the group decided to throw in their lot with Queen Jessara, based on their father's support for her. Asher left, promising that the group would soon be summoned to the palace for a formal ceremony where they would take an oath of fealty to the Realm... however, as the oath would be administered by a noble known to be loyal to Queen Jessara, this would be a public declaration of their allegiance to Jessara's faction, as well.

After this, the group decided to accept the duty their father had laid upon them, to be primarily loyal to Sankara Jin's offspring, and to the ideals of the Realm as established by the original Crimson Queen. Upon taking this oath before a Priest of Silver and Gold, the blessing of their father was conferred upon them, bringing them 'good fortune, good health, long life, and wisdom', which, in game terms, allows each of Sankara's children who accept a Duty to Sankara's Bloodline and the Crimson Queen's Ideals of Ona Tengu, a choice of five levels of the following positive Attributes ( Lucky, Pain Resistant, Industrious, Well Organized, Windfall, Ages Well, Quick Thinker, Alert.

After some discussion, it was decided to sell off most of what the group had brought out of the Vault of Flawed Items. The Ring of Voyaging, the Staff of Power, and the brooch were sold to the Temple of Silver and Gold for a total of 60 silver. The group then decided they would go over to the building their father had owned and look through it to see what kind of worldly goods he may have left behind... which is where we will leave them, for this session.

May 31 2009

Players Tammy (Yuni)
Nate (Sumara)
Dan (Elior)
Chris (Garren)

Priest Banafor, a Sottle servant of the Goddess of Silver and Gold, came into the suite to deliver various messages to the group at this point -- namely, that 'strange things' were happening at their father's building, and, also, that a large package had been delivered for Sintar. He also introduced another family member, Garren, a Tengish Ranger. The party informed Garren as to their mutual lineage and the blessing of Sankara Jin that he could accept if he wished to, assuming he also accepted the duties that went with it.

At this point, a Priest of Time appeared in the suite, stated that 'important things' were about to occur, and without warning, transported the entire party, including Priest Banafor, to the temple roof. He pointed to the west, where the party saw a bright light abruptly appear on the horizon, at the edge of the Giant Mountains. A few seconds later, they heard a rumble as of distant thunder, and felt a hot puff of air on their faces. "And so your father's plan comes to fruition," the Priest of Time murmured, and then vanished.

The Priest of Silver and Gold, visibly flustered, said "At this point, I will settle all outstanding matters of your father's estate. Sumara, all your father's property is now in your hands to distribute as you please, as you are his oldest known heir. You will no longer need to reside in the Temple, so we will gather up your things and you can depart to wherever it is you wish to go to."

He then led the party back down through the Temple to the suite they had been staying in. The slaves assigned to the suite packed the party's chattels up quickly, and the Priest showed them to a side door leading out into an alley running between the Temple and the Temple of Time, next door. After arguing for a few minutes about how it would be best to proceed, the party walked out to Temple Street.

Here, a wagonload of barrels broke loose up the street and came thundering down the road towards the party. However, Temple Street was very crowded and the barrels were slowed and deflected by the dozens of bystanders between the party and the wagon itself. The wagon then came rumbling down the street towards the party, but they easily avoided it. Behind the wagon came a group of colorful mercenaries, waving weapons and screaming war cries as they sprinted towards the group of PCs.

One woman, running forward to engage Elior in combat, carried two longswords and she was striking them together in front of her as she ran. A few yards from Elior, the swords burst into flame, at which point, the woman attempted to flourish her weapons and cowe Elior into submission. Unimpressed by this display, Elior swung on her, his powerful swing striking her in the head and lopping it entirely in two. She fell to the ground dead, her brains spilling out and her flaming swords extinguishing as they clattered to the paving stones.

Meanwhile, a [i]zuma[/i] -- a hugely muscled, physically powerful magically mutated type of Sottle; called 'the fists of the race', about 1 in 10,000 male Sottles are born [i]zuma[/i] and trained from early childhood in the arts of war-- in chainmail with a heavy battleaxe was running up to engage Samura, shouting "Come, little Durshi, dance with Warggo's axe!" At the same time, a Northark with a heavy broadsword and shield in well made heavy leather armor was running up to engage Yuni, while a nondescript Thark in excellent armor and with a very well made sword and shield was running up to fight the Sottle mage (Brett's character, being run as an NPC). And, back up the street, a well muscled Sothark could be seen, knocking an arrow to a Sothark greatbow and starting to take aim on the party.

Garren quickdrew a sword, which proved to be a beautifully made sabre, and attempted to intercept the Northark so Yuni would be free to shoot, but the Northark successfully used combat position to keep Garren from interfering in the melee for that round. Sumara then used his own combat position to attempt to intercept both the charging Northark and the Thark with excellent weapons, giving him three opponents for at least one round, but keeping Yuni and the Sottle mage from being engaged in melee combat.

Outside combat, a [i]darokai[/i] (leopard) Jeopard with throwing knives in his hand was circling the melees, waiting for opportunities. Seeing that Elior had already dropped his opponent, this Jeopard hurled a knife at Elior's head, hitting for minimal damage and barely drawing blood.

Sintar (also being run as an NPC) took off into the air, quickdrawing a normal javelin, and then immediately had to move evasively to avoid an arrow from the Sothark's greatbow. Yuni used her Shoot Twice skill to quickdraw an arrow and shoot the Sothark archer in the chest, causing him to go to his knees for several seconds from the pain. The Northark swung on Sumara and fumbled, putting himself into a terrible position for the following round. The Thark swung on Nate and missed. The [i]zuma[/i] then swung his battle axe at Sumara, burying it in his upper chest, smashing his shoulder and incapacitating his arm. Sumara withstood the shock and trauma, but was in a very bad position.

At this point, Yuni got her second shot off, shooting the Northark in the chest, wounding him but not taking him out.

Following this, Elior and Garren leapt into Sumara's melee, Elior manuevering to take the [i]zuma[/i] off of Sumara, and Garren content to make it a 2 on 2 combat. Sintar threw a javelin through the Jeopard knife hurler's torso, taking him out of the combat. Yuni attempted to throw a Bolt around a steel arrowhead and shoot at the Northark, failed to get the discipline off, but did manage to shoot the Northark, taking him out. Garren and the Thark made passes at each other with their swords without hurting each other.

At this point, the Thark asked if the party would accept honorable surrender. Under the eyes of various Priests watching from the Temple doorways, the party agreed. The surviving members of the attacking group dropped their weapons. By Riverish tradition, the party was entitled to any of their possessions they wanted, to they took a few minutes to search the survivors and loot the corpses.

A Knight of Ona Tengu arrived about then, as acolytes from the various Temples came out into the street to provide medical assistance to the wounded. As the Sottle mage (whose name I can't remember) healed his fellow PCs/siblings of their various wounds, the Knight took down the details of the assault. The Thark, who was leading the opposing force, offered to trade information in exchange for his group's freedom, and upon having that deal accepted, told the party that they had all been tossed in the city dungeon for drunk and disorderly and facing a 60 day term in the quarries. They were offered their release and 10 silver apiece to attack and kill the PCs, given a description of the PCs, and told where to find them. However, the Thark could not tell the party who had hired him, as their employer was wearing a killcloak (a bulky garment suspended on a deliberately asymmetrical bamboo or wire rack meant specifically to keep assassins from taking 'aimed shots', and that are also generally used to disguise a person's identity, since few residents of the River will think twice if they see someone out on the street wearing one).

Elior decided at this point to become baptized by the Temple of Silver and Gold, and Garren decided to take the Oath of Duty to Sankara Jin's legacy and receive his blessing. After that, the Sottle mage hired a palanquin to carry him across the city, and the rest of the party proceeded on foot to the Bucket of Blood, an unsavory inn in a building formerly owned by their father, that was now their property.

Arriving at the inn, the party found it had been closed and locked. Pounding on the door, the party was admitted by an ancient white haired Frodd who introduced himself as Ignazioarrianoaraganiorezo, called Ignatz, a silver haired Frodd who had acted as their father's manservant and retainer for most of their father's long life. He showed them the hidden door leading to a flight of stairs which went up to their father's secret fourth floor suite, a large, lushly appointed room filled with odd furnishings, like an elaborately netted, luxurious looking hammock hung about with multicolored sheer sheets of silky material, a built in bathing pool, several shelves of books and scrolls, and several more shelves of crystals which proved to contain holographic information on many subjects, including various famous historical figures, various regions of the River and the Ancient Lands, and various arcane disciplines, including shapeshifting. Each of these crystals would teach their specific skill or discipline to anyone who could access their information, as if the crystal were a Level 12 instructor.

The room was also full of various items of luggage, ranging from canvas bags to battered trunks, each of which contained various items of brick a brack, including a dozen or so glass globes that, upon being shaken vigorously, emitted a bright glow and hovered in the air, continuously following along after whoever had shaken them up. Here the group found Luka, now retired and permanently NPCized, going through their father's possessions, trying to catalog everything he'd had.

Upon being asked what 'strange things' were going on, Luka led the party back downstairs to the bar, then down the cellar steps to show them the Serpent Maze, last seen inscribed on the floor of a cavern in the Giant Mountains, but which had just appeared on the basement floor a few hours before. Appearing along with it was Steve the Goat, whom the party had thought dead. Apparently the glowing maze pattern had appeared while a bar wench was downstairs looking for more glasses, and it had terrified her, and she had run back up screaming about demons, which had cleared the bar out pretty quickly. So Ignatz had locked the doors and Luka had sent a message to the Temple of Silver and Gold.

Upon asking what the design on the cellar floor was, Garren was told it was a mystical pathway that, if one had the will to walk it and survive, it would eliminate all genetic flaws and attune one's most powerful hidden talent. Garren promptly ran through the design, and reached the center, activing his own latent shapeshifting powers.

Having studied some of their father's instructive crystal on shapeshifting, the party members realized that they needed to incorporate other genetic patterns besides their own into themselves in order to be able to shapeshift. Garren squashed a spider and licked some of the goo off his hand, trying to concentrate on absorbing the genetic code into himself, while Samura hunted and killed a rat with his crossbow and took a bite of its raw flesh, doing much the same thing. Each of them felt, after making the attempt, that they had managed to do something to fundamentally alter their own substances.

At this point, Priest Banifor arrived to advise the party on some things he had not wanted to say at his Temple, where he was certain they would be overheard and reported to various of Ona Tengu's court factions. He explained several things:

* The explosion the party had seen in the mountains had been the culmination of Sankara Jin's schemes. He had learned almost a full cycle (year) before that the Durshi rebellion, through the offices of Ashara Go, had made a very ill considered and foolish 'alliance' with the Empire of Man, and that the Empire had assigned a full legion to station itself just outside the borders of Ona-Tengu, to act as support when the Durshi population rose up against the Realm. Of course, the Empire, like Sauron, does not share power, and Sankara was fully aware that if the Durshi's allowed the Empire to 'help' them defeat Kameron's military forces, they would quickly find themselves either swearing fealty to the Empire, or being crushed in turn. So he had hatched a plan to remove the Empire from the board.

Essentially, Sankara had leaked information to Ashara Go about some of the powerful items to be found in the Vault of Flawed Objects, including the massively effective psionics amplifying gem. He knew that the Imperial Noble in charge of the Imperial Expeditionary Force (Ramses Phenarion Illuminuaeus, an old adversary Sankara had thwarted several times in the past) would covet that object greatly, even though it was unstable and extremely dangerous to use. Sankara had then set up an expedition to the vault, solely for the purpose of giving Ramses access to the Vault. And although Sankara had died on the journey, his children had carried out his mission. As predicted, once the portal to the Vault was opened, Ramses had sent in Imperial Dragoons to secure the crystal, and a day or so later, the crystal had exploded while Ramses was using it.

Priest Banafor explained that this was perhaps Sankara's greatest act of heroism on behalf of Ona Tengu, and as his children had helped to carry it out, the court now had a great deal of respect for them, and they would be sought out as adherent to one faction or another.

Unfortunately, the party had been seen giving Ashara Go some kind of potion, and various researches had already been done regarding what might be found in the Vault of Flawed Items. This was unfortunate because early that morning, Ashara Go had presented himself to the palace without having been summoned and with no previous appointment. Instead of being turned away, he had immediately been conducted by the gate guard to the private quarters of King Kameron's chief adviser, Court Vizier Alamane. Then Court Vizier Alamane had conducted Ashara to the private quarters of Prince Walen, Kameron's oldest son, whom Kameron had left in charge of the kingdom while he was organizing the expedition to conquer Tharkis City.

In the private quarters of Prince Walen, Ashara Go had encountered his first real difficulty in the form of an arrow that suddenly appeared transfixing his head. As Priest Banifor explained: "There is something... some force, nobody seems to know the exact nature of it... that protects the blood of the current Monarch. It may be a demon, or some kind of bound spirit... it only seems to function in close proximity to the Throne." Whatever it was, it killed Ashara Go before he could get any further with whatever scheme he was pursuing... but, as there had been reports of the PCs giving Ashara Go some kind of flagon of liquid, and it was known that a Potion of Charm might well be found in the Vault of Flawed Items, the only logical conclusion seemed to be that the PCs had deliberately given a powerful magical item to a prominent member of the rebellion, who had promptly used it to try to overthrow the rightful monarch.

Therefore, obviously, the House of Jin supported the rebellion.

Priest Balafor then told the PCs that he had used sources in the Temple of Knowledge to check on the identity of the killcloaked figure who had signed their mercenary attackers out of the city dungeon. It was... Court Vizier Alamane.

Priest Balafor then said that no potions had been found on the body of Ashara Go, and that if the PCs were concerned at all that the court of Ona Tengu might have gotten the wrong idea about where their loyalties lay, then a wonderful demonstration of their fealty to the Throne would be to recover the Potion of Charm and offer it as a gift to the King... or Queen... or whoever else they wished to be seen to be allied with.

Balafor said he didn't want to know anything about the PC's actual plans, as if he knew anything and he was ordered to do so by any member of the court, he would have to obey. After which, he took his leave.

The PCs spent the rest of the run debating various plans for breaking into Ashara Go's estate and finding the Potion of Charm.

June 14 2009
Tammy (Yuni)
Nate (Sumara)
Kelly (Sintar)
Brett (Jitakuhr)
Chris (Garren)
James (Fulvaga)

After the party had trained in various skills for the day, Lior offered to spend an hour training everyone in the ritual he had been taught by his mother to make shapechanging easier. At the conclusion of this hour of training, the Frodd Ignatz set out plates of food for everyone to eat. Lior took sick from his meal, and retired to his room.

At this point, Priest Banafor from the Temple of Silver and Gold arrived with another of Sankara Jin's scattered offspring, a tiny Ulvane woman named Favulka, in tow. The party welcomed her in and explained that she, like all of them, was a child of Sankara Jin. Afterwards, the Frodd Ignatz offered to give the group a tour of the building they now owned. He showed them around all four floors, and as he did it, he explained that only some elite members of the court and the Temples had been aware that Sankara Jin had owned this building. The Lord of the Quarter, as well as nearly everyone else, thought the building was owned by a fictional Frodd mage named Narmodantes, who supposedly lived on the third and fourth floor of the building.

During the tour, Sintar discovered a large crate that had been delivered to the Bucket of Blood that was addressed "To Sintar, from Y.G.". Afraid that "Y.G." was "Yan Goth", a supposedly dead powerful sorcerer whom had reason to be angry with Sintar, she hesitated, but then opened the crate and discovered a set of golden armor made specifically for an Aven identical to a set last seen when Sintar and some friends had raided Yan Goth's tower. Placing her hands on it, Sintar was surprised to find the armor flowing over her like a liquid, coating her harmlessly in gold aresium. Unfortunately, the armor had the effect of sealing all of Sintar's equipment and weapons to her body, so she willed it off her, took off her equipment and weapons, willed it back onto her, then, looking like a glistening gold statue of an Aven, she put the equipment and weaponry back on over the armor.

While showing the party around the building, Ignatz pointed out the room where regular high stakes [i]chakal[/i] games were held, as well as the inn's bath house, some small meeting rooms, the kitchen, the cold locker, and the dry storage area. He then showed the party how one small meeting room, which Sankara Jin had originally met three of the PCs in to hire them for his mountain expedition, had peepholes and concealed sliding hatches in the walls, so hidden archers could watch a meeting from concealment.

On the second floor, Ignatz showed the party that a feature of nearly every Riverish inn room, a 4' x 7' x 2' stone slab in a corner of the room, would transform into a table with a sink, a hot plate, a built in refrigerator, and an attached bench if a place was pressed on it... something Sankara had discovered some months before. This had apparently been built into every residental room by the Samaqel when It had created the cities thousands of years before. Ignatz pointed out that this transformation was initiated when an emblem pressed into the black stone material of the slab was pressed. He also mentioned that it was possible there were other such symbols in the inn rooms... at least, Sankara Jin had considered it a possiblity, but he had never found time to look. The party showed no interest in following up on Sankara's theories.

Ignatz continued the tour, showing the group Sankara's various trophies and souvenirs from past adventures on the third floor, and then his private quarters on the fourth, which included a training room, an alchemical lab, a greenhouse for growing exotic plants, and a machine shop, as well as Sankara's combination living/bed room.

Throughout the tour, Garren, a heavy drinker, continued to take swigs from a bottle of Sothark ice brandy he had found beneath the bar, where Ignatz kept some much better liquor than the Old Thark Piss that he himself brewed in the kitchen, or the Blue Bolts from Above that he bought from a local brewer across the street. At one point, Garren decided to go back across the city to the Temple of Nature for some reason, and went to the front of the inn where he attempted to summon a palanquin by clapping his hands, as he had seen Priests do on Temple Street. Sankara Jin's neighborhood being a very rough one, though, no palanquin responded, and eventually, the somewhat drunken Garren wandered back up to where his siblings were looking things over in Sankara's bed/sitting room.

While going through their father's effects, a small, greasy leaden coin marked with a Samaqelian image (a serpent wrapped around a mountain) was found. Sumara advised that he would take that, offering to take a reduced share of the other silver and gold coins the party had found there. All unknowing, by doing so Sumara doomed himself, for that was a Samaqelian coin of Ill Luck, all but guaranteeing the worst possible luck to its bearer any time fortune might bear a hand on anything. (DM's NOTE: Nate, running Sumara, almost certainly thought this was a Samaqelian luck coin, something previous characters had encountered, which allowed its holder to reverse the digits of any dice roll, within the normal limits of the die span... for example, a 71 rolled on percentile could become a 17, or an 02 rolled on a d20 could become a 20. This bit of greed on Nate's part doomed his character, although no one knew it at the time.)

The next day, the party decided to reopen the Bucket of Blood as a tavern, not an inn, as the party was now sleeping on the second floor, in the room that had formerly been rented out to transients. The party also met the Bucket's regular employees, a huge, overweight, mangy [i]yeelar[/i] Jeopard named Hogbelly, who apparently works as a bouncer, and an elderly Northark woman who acted as a barmaid who did not give her name. A hungover Garren, stumbling down the stairs from the second floor naked except for his weapon (a beautifully made sabre) expressed derision at Hogbelly's obvious unsuitability as anything but a mattress, and began smacking the fat Jeopard with the flat of his sword. Sumara ordered him to desist, saying that if Hogbelly had been good enough for their father, he was good enough for them.

The party was surprised when a large, somewhat overly hairy Tharkish fellow with obvious Sothark blood in him came down from upstairs and greeted them as 'brothers and sisters'. But they quickly figured out that this was Steve the Goat, shapeshifted into human form. Steve expressed an interest in learning how to use 'those big knife things' that everyone else waved around in battle so ferociously, and Sumara vowed to begin teaching him at the first opportunity.

The party retired to a second floor room to continue exploring options for attempting to recover the Potion of Charm from Ashara Go's villa. After an hour or so of discussion, Ignatz arrived at the door of the room they were in to advise that there were two Durshi downstairs identifying themselves as 'friends of Ashara Go' and asking to see any other 'friends of Ashara Go' that might be on the premises.

After some thought, Ignatz was instructed to place the two Durshi in the original meeting room where the party had first met Sankara Jin. Sumara, Garren, and Fulvaga decided to meet face to face with the Durshis. Steve the Goat and Yuni were placed at the two peep holes to watch; Sintar and Jitakuhr stationed themselves in the tap room, to provide nearby back up, if needed.

Sumara had been angry at what he considered to be the rashness and foolishness of Ashara Go's use of the Potion of Charm, and how it had resulted in implicating himself and his siblings as supporters of the Empire. When he walked into the meeting, he made no attempt to hide his rage. He had also not taken the time to put on his armor or bring his two handed battlesword, as it would not have been useful in the cramped confines of the meeting room.

The two Durshis were, apparently, a father and son, dressed in the colorful turbans, sashes, billowy shirts and pants, and curled toe shoes, of ethnic Durshis, with full beards waxed and forked into two points and dyed in various bright colors to match their respendent outfits. The older Durshi spoke Riverish to the party, while the younger offered occasional comments in Durshi, a language none of the PCs spoke.

The conversation went poorly. The elder started by thanking the PCs, as 'fellow friends of Ashara Go', for their generous gift to 'the cooperative efforts so vital to Ashara Go, and to them all'. Sumara threw this back in his face, saying that the gift had never been intended for such a foolish, wasteful use, and demanding that the Durshi 'give it back'. The two Durshi were obviously surprised by this assertion, and continued to be surprised when Sumara said quite bluntly that while the party was sympathetic to the plight of the Durshis in Ona Tengu, nonetheless, they supported the Realm.

The elder Durshi then apologized, saying that they had come here primarily hoping that the children of Sankara Jin might be well connected enough to tell them what had happened to Ashara Go... all they knew was, he had not appeared for an important meeting the day before, and his friends were worried about him. Sumara advised that Ashara Go was dead, and he had died stupidly, and he wanted the gift he had given him back.

The elder Durshi thought about this for a moment, then said, slowly: "I would hope that, with our beloved friend dead seeking to advance our mutual agendas, those who had been so generous to the cause would not be so ill willed as to seek to reclaim that which they had given. Such attempts would be taken poorly. The results could be... unfortunate."

Sumara repeated, implacably, that he wanted the gift given back.

The elder Durshi nodded and advised that he could convey that message to other 'friends of Ashara Go', but that they were merely footsoldiers, not officers, and could make no decisions. He apologized for wasting the party's time and stood to leave.

Sumara nodded to Yuni, behind the peephole. The elder Durshi, catching the nod, said a word,("Unga") to the younger... as as Suni shot through the peephole at the elder Durshi (not having a good shot at the elder one) both Durshi made throwing gestures at Sumara and Garren.

Being the quickest, the elder Durshi managed to throw what looked like a garish red and yellow cord at Sumara. Yuni then shot him through the neck, pinning him to the wall and killing him instantly. The younger Durshi then threw a similarly colored 'cord' at Garren. While this was happening, Fulvaga, who had no combat skills, threw herself beneath the table and attempted to draw her dagger from her sleeve, while Garren was struggling to get his sabre out in the confined quarters of the small room.

Sumara and Garren both felt something wrap around their necks and tighten, choking them both. With their Exhaustion levels immediately reduced to 0, they found it almost impossible to think of anything except getting whatever it was that was choking them off of their necks. Nonetheless, both managed to summon up their Willpower to ignore the choking sensation for a moment. Garren managed to get his sword out, while Sumara picked up the table in the meeting room and smashed it into the younger Durshi, bashing him soundly against the wall.

Yuni, having slid the hatch back while all this was going on, shot the younger Durshi in the head, hitting him glancingly. Garren then stepped forward and slashed the Durshi's head in two with his sabre. Both Durshi's bowels released upon their violent deaths, filling the small room with the stench of well spiced shit.

Garren and Sumara then turned their attentions to the 'cords' choking them, discovering on examining each other's necks that these were, in fact, brightly colored serpents, wrapped tightly around their throats. Sumara managed to grab the one on Garren's neck and crush its head, easily pulling it off, but Garren could not get the one off Sumara. Fulvaga came up with her knife and tried to cut the snake off Sumara's neck, but that only angered it, and it reared up and struck at Sumara, poisoning him.

At the sounds of the commotion, Sintar and Jitakuhr had rushed into the back, and Sintar quickly took off her belt which protected against poison and wrapped it around Sumara. Sumara, near unconsciousness from the effects already, stopped taking further effects.

Garren, with the help of Steve the Goat, dragged the two dead, stinking Durshis across the hall into one of the downstairs bathroom stalls, where he stripped the bodies, mustering up his willpower to do so. Steve the Goat, having never encountered such brutal, bloody carnage up close, excused himself. Garren found that the two Durshis had been in disguise, wearing expertly applied wigs, face paint, and false beards, and greenish, silken flowing sleeveless robes beneath their outer clothing. Both also had closely shaven heads, and while they were obviously Durshis, were much lighter skinned than they had made themselves up to be. Ignatz, looking on, identified these as belonging to the Seven Serpents Cult, a feared secret society of ideologically fanatical assassins who specialized in stealth, disguise, and the use of poisoned weapons.

Upon searching both bodies, Garren found several vials marked with different glyphs, and several missile weapons (throwing pentacles) encrusted with some substance on their edges. Sintar identified the symbol used by Durshi healers on several of the vials, so one of those was given to Sumara, who drank it. It seemed to cure the effects he had already taken from the poison, so Sintar removed the belt she had placed on him.

Getting a cleaver from the kitchen, Garren removed the heads from the bodies and, at Ignatz' suggestion, threw the bodies out into the street for the afternoon rubbish collection. "It would hardly be the first time a fight broke out here, resulting in a few naked bodies being dragged through the taproom of the Bucket of Blood and tossed into the street without their heads," Ignatz solemnly advised. "It's that kind of place." And, indeed, the half drunken regulars in the taproom expressed no surprise when Garren and Sumara dragged the bodies out, one of them merely noting "I fuckin love the entertainment in this place".

At this point, it was decided that the family would try to use the Serpent's Maze in the basement to teleport to wherever the Potion of Charm was, and recover it. As neither Fulvaga nor Jitaruhk had walked the Maze yet, and Fulvaga hadn't even had Sinkara's blessing placed on her, some of the party decided to accompany her back across the city to the Temple.

On Temple Street, Garren gave all his silver coins to the Temple of Nature. At the Temple of Silver and Gold, Priest Banafore seemed very nervous at having the party on the premises, but was happy to accept Fulvaga's oath of fealty to the Realm and to the family of Sinkara Jin, and to bestow Sankara's blessing on her.

Upon returning to the Bucket of Blood, the party went downstairs. Fulvaga walked the Maze, removing her genetic flaws and bringing her latent shapeshifter's gift out in her, then teleporting to the tap room upstairs. Jitakuhr then walked the Maze with the same result. Samura then walked the Maze. Already having walked it once, he found it much easier, physically, but as he proceeded through it, he discovered it was difficult to keep his mind focused, as the further he proceeded, the more he felt he was becoming 'one' with all of creation. Managing to maintain his mental focus, he reached the end and opened a portal to the current location of the Potion of Charm.

The portal opened, and through it, he saw a luxuriously appointed bedroom, with a set of doors leading out onto a sunlit patio with a swimming pool built into it, and a dead guard dog lying in a pool of bubbling greenish gas right in front of the portal. Emerging from a closet with a cloaked figure that, for some primal, basic reason, sent shudders of atavistic terror up Sumara's spine. The cloaked figure was holding the Potion of Charm in its hands.

Sumara decided that, as someone else was taking the incriminating potion out of Ashara Go's house, he would not interfere. The cloaked figure, seeing Sumara through the open portal, cackled at him, then proceeded out the door onto the patio, and quickly vanished from Sumara's sight.

Sumara then tossed a gold coin through the portal, causing the portal to close. Attempting to retrace his steps back through the maze, Sumara found himself dissolving, and with an effort of will, teleported himself over to the edge of the basement, where the others were waiting.

Garren then attempted to walk the Maze, trying to focus his perceptions on 'wealth' as he walked it. As he became more and more united with the reality around him, his head was filled with stunning visions of hoardes of riches and treasures all around him. Finding his body to be pulled in a million directions at once, he focused his will and also teleported back to where his brothers and sisters were standing by the edge of the maze. Although he tried, he found he could not remember any specifics about the wealth he had been connected to briefly through the Maze.

Sumara reported what he had seen and done. The party debated what they should do for a time. Then Sumara decided to walk the Maze again to try and determine what had happened to the Potion. Halfway through, trying to find a connection to the horrible cloaked figure he had seen, Sumara received a vision of a group of bald men, each subtly disfigured in some disgusting way, in a basement room somewhere, staring gloatingly at the Potion on a table between them. Cloaks such as Sumara had seen through the portal were hung on the wall, and the men, one of whom Sumara knew to be the person he had seen stealing the potion, were cackling victoriously about how they had recovered the Potion for the rebellion, and as the children of Sankara Jin were not friends to that effort, they would use it to incriminate them further with the Realm.

Mustering his will, Sumara teleported into the room, determined to destroy the Potion at all costs. In the midst of the teleport, Sumara felt as if he were passing through some hideously cold, toxic darkness that tried to suck the very life from his essence, giving him an enormous minus. The cackling men shrieked in surprise and fear and scattered as he appeared in their midst, somehow keeping his feet, and staggered over to the table, smashing the flask with his fist. As Sumara turned away from the table, one of the men held up a scroll he had scrabbled out of his robes, open and turned towards Sumara. Weakened and nearly incapacitated with pain, Sumara could not help but look at the scroll, which contained what seemed at first to be merely a random blotching of various grey and black pigments. As Sumara stared at it, though, the image seemed to swirl and coalesce... into a glaring black fanged demonic skull!

Although not killed outright by the deadly glyph, Sumara toppled to the ground, incapacitated.

Garren, seeing Sumara vanish, had knelt and begun to pray, seeking the help of the God of Nature for his vanished brother.

Yuni had begun walking the Maze as soon as Sumara vanished. Reaching the center, she attempted to open a portal to wherever Sumara was, hoping to help him. Due to the Ill Luck Coin Sumara was carrying, the portal opened just below his chest, cutting him in two.

Sumara died instantly, of course, and not being baptized to any God, found his spirit awakening in the Grey Mists of Hell, a place he had never believed in, being a follower of the Old Gods, who did not make promises regarding any afterlife. As a demonic figure approached him, he attempted to flee, only to find the long gray grasses of hell wrapping around his legs and drinking his blood. The demon, which appeared to Sumara to be a 12 foot tall serpent with a bull's head and clusters of clawed tentacles protruding from its body, seized him and, growing a massive male phallus, began to violate him.

Garren finished his prayer and immediately found himself elsewhere, in a beautiful forest glade, in front of an eight foot tall bearded man with glowing eyes dressed as a Priest of Nature. "You have asked my aid for your fallen brother," this figure intoned in a voice of Thunder. "Will you pay the price?"

Garren said, instantly, "Yes".

Sumara abruptly found himself bathed in what seemed to be bright sunlight, causing the demon that was violating him to scream and withdraw in terror and agony. The same figure as had spoken to Garren offered to lead Sumara's spirit to a place of sanctuary. Sumara accepted gladly, and was taken to the Heaven of Nature, despite not being baptized to any God.

Garren found himself in the basement again, with the knowledge that he had saved his brother from an eternity of torment, and that he would no longer have any ability to pray for miracles until he had done a mighty service for the Temple of Nature.

Yuni, meanwhile, had through an effort of will changed the destination of the portal she had disastrously opened to the taproom upstairs, which she then stepped into, badly needing a drink.

Sunday June 28, 2009
Players Tammy (Yuni)
Nate (Fereek)
Kelly (Sintar)
Brett (Jitakuhr)
Dan (Elior)
James (Fulvaga)

In a nutshell, as I won't have much time after this evening, and it's getting late --

A priest of the Temple of Nature showed up to introduce the latest child of Sankara Jin, Fereek, a member the atros, a little known human subrace. Garren traveled back to the Temples with him, to balance the books for the favor debt he owed to the God of Nature.

The following morning, a mysterious hooded figure showed up at the Bucket of Blood, ordering a drink and paying for it with a strange red coin. The learned Sottle mage identified the coin as being cursed Giantish gold, of the sort that had caused the fall of the Holy Lands. After some research in their father's records, the party learned that the curse of the nosferatu was triggered by greed, and determined that the bar's Frodd cook, Ignatz, had fallen prey to it.

Yuni used her Honan discipline of limited telepathy to read the hooded figure's mind. It had been sent by 'the lords of the black tusk' to seemingly apologize for their hunting Yuni, and offer reparations in the form of cursed red gold. Yuni shot the hooded figure through the head with a silver arrow, and its seemingly empty robe fell to the ground, dust spilling out.

The group then closed the Bucket of Blood for the forseeable future, took the robe, which made Jitakuhl feel queasy when he touched it, the red gold, and the Frodd cook over to the Temple of Time so the cursed gold could be cleansed, and, hopefully, the Frodd could be cured.

The Temple priests easily dispelled the curse on the gold, but the Frodd was too deeply infected with the curse to be casually cured. The party left the Frodd there.

It was decided to leave the Bucket of Blood closed until the Frodd's services could be replaced.

While they were there, an acolyte from the Temple of Silver and Gold arrived and gave the news that a Vrang ship had been sighted in the harbor, for the first time in a generation. Curious, the party walked down Temple Street to the waterfront proper. The Vrang ship appeared to be a huge greyish white mass resembling an iceberg floating far out in the water. When two enterprising street kids offered the party a ride out to the Vrang ship on a homemade raft for a bit each, the PCs decided to go out and see what was happening.

The Vrang turned out to be a serpentine race of traders, resembling giant cobras with clusters of tentacles emerging from their body just beneath where their hood swelled out on either side of their heads, carrying long brown metal staves which had jagged points jutting out of them at apparently random intervals.

The party was guided into the Vrang ship, which proved to be made of a tough papyrus like substance, rather than ice, and which apparently was somewhat amenable to the Vrang's mental abilities, as passages opened within the substance of the vessel whenever a Vrang willed it.

Conducting the PCs (as well as dozens or hundreds of other interested buyers from the nearby city, in their own separate groups) into the ship, the Vrang displayed their wares. The Vrang specialize in bioengineering, offering various trade goods such as beetles tailored to attack a specific target and enact certain changes in the target's brain chemistry, with the result of making the target insatiably sexually aroused, or psychotically, murderously aggressive.

There were also bat-like symbiotes that, attached to the face, would give the wearer greatly enhanced, radar like perceptions; sleeping furs that would keep the wearer warm and dry in all climates and temperature extremes; symbiotic robes that, when properly bonded with their wearer, could be transformed by an effort of will to appear to be other garments, or that would camouflage the wearer and greatly enhance stealth capacities; a third eye on an 18" long tendril that, upon being rooted into the wearer's brain, would protrude on a stalk above his or her head, giving the wearer 360 degree vision; and many other wonders.

In the end, Yuni and Sintar purchased living weapons -- Yuni bought 'living arrows', Sintar 'living javelins', made of a material that would bond with the user and, after sufficient practice, would greatly enhance their normal missile attack values, and that would, according to their sellers, be able to shoot around corners and perform other trick shots.

Fulvaga purchased a set of living armor, resembling nothing so much as a body suit made of mushroom like fungus, having been advised that, like so many other items, the armor would have to 'bond' with its wearer for it to achieve its full potential, and there was a chance the wearer could die of shock as the armor attempted to achieve full symbiosis.

Fereek purchased a hand sized spider that would spin a web whenever he squeezed it a particular way.

The entire party purchased six flowers that exuded a perfume that would repel undead, and two new specially grown bioengineered slaves, made to look like Frodds, one a programmed bodyguard imprinted to be subservient to Fulvaga, another designed to be a cook and general servant for the Bucket of Blood, imprinted on Steve the Goat, now in human form.

While attempting to telepathically implant an image of Ignatz the Frodd in the Vrang's mind, so the new servant could be physically identical to him, Fereek went completely catatonic from his exposure to the Vrang's completely alien, inhuman thought processes. Three Vrang, pooling their psychic abilities, managed to restore Fereek's sanity and consciousness, but had to burn out the area of his brain responsible for telepathic capacity.

For the items they purchased, the party traded away several samples of their own tissue -- hair and blood, feathers from the Aven, a few other attributes -- as the Vrang do not accept normal currency, only biomass, or mental abilities.

Returning to the Bucket of Blood, the party retired for the evening, only to awaken to a horrible stench the next day, and to discover that Fulvaga had apparently died of systemic shock during the night, as her new armor tried and failed to fully bond with her. The bioengineered bodyguard Frodd imprinted on her died as well, its newly spawned body melting into a vaguely Frodd shaped, yeastlike mass.

The other Frodd servant, whom the Vrang had imprinted with a 'basic servant template', disposed of the bodies, demonstrating that the various rooms in the buildings created by the Samaqel apparently all had built in 'disposal' features. As it operated while the door to the room was closed, none of the party saw exactly how it worked.

Later, a woman named Asher arrived at the Bucket of Blood, stating that the Queen needed help -- they had heard rumors that Yan Goth the Black might be alive, and needed to have those rumors definitively confirmed or denied. She left, and the party spent the remainder of the session debating strategies for attempting to establish this.

Sunday July 12, 2009
Players Tammy (Yuni)
Nate (Fereek)
Kelly (Sintar)
Brett (Jitaruhk)
Dan (Lior)
James (Grrero)

Know, O Prince, that in those days of which I have been speaking, the men and women who bestrode those Ancient Lands were of a type unknown in these latter, more effete and law-encompassed times, for they were figures that were larger than us, stronger and wilder, with hearts of flame and sinews of iron, for these were times of loathsome evil and high heroics, and in these long gone times, none were more heroic than the House of Jin, in the Kingdom of Ona Tengu.

And thus, after consultations and ponderings long into the morn, it was decided that Yuni, Fereek, and Sintar would hie to the secret apartments once belonging to Sankara Jin, sire of the House of Jin, to do research on puissant sorcerer Yan Goth the Black within Sankara's archives, both parchment and crystalline. And whilst their siblings occupied themselves in such manner, Jitaruhk and Lior wended their way through the crowded taproom of the Bucket of Blood towards their rooms on the second floor. However, as a caravan had of recent moment arrived in the city of Jeressa, the taproom was full to bursting with the most wretched scum, rough roustabouts and vile villains imaginable, and as Jitaruhk made his haughty way through this crowd, it came to pass that he jostled an evil looking, much bescarred Black Giant, which growled at him furiously in a tongue unknown to the dwarfish Sottle mage. Yet the Giant's companion, a sinister looking Northark in a much patched cloak, advised Jitaruhk that "He doesn't like you", and when Jitaruhk expressed indifference, further extrapolated that "I don't like you either". Upon hearing these sentiments voiced towards his brother, Lior shouted at Jitaruhk's assailants and began to make his way through the crowd towards the altercation, however, the sinister cloaked Northark had further explicated that Jitaruhk had best be careful, he and his companion were dangerous men, they had the death sentence in 12 cities. At which point, the Giant reached towards Jitaruhk with his great black scarred hands, obviously yearning in his vicious heart to destroy Jitaruhk. At which occurrence, the remainder of the tap room's occupants pressed backward, huzzahing in excitement and joyful anticipation of witnessing a great monstrous brute dismembering and decapitating one of the hated race of Sottle wizards.

Yet then did Hogbelly, the obese and mangy furred yeelar Jeopard who did work as a guard at the Bucket of Blood, come to intervene, shoving through the avidly staring crowd with his vast and furry belly, cursing the Black Giant and his Northark companion as unruly makers of trouble, and brigands, and louts, and turning them out into the street. At which the other denizens of the Bucket of Blood were saddened, and did console themselves with their ale.

Above, in the secret chambers once belonging to Sankara Jin, Fereek attempted a mental discipline upon one of Sankara's knowledge crystals, and did do so most poorly, and did strain his faculties greatly, and did visit upon himself a vast, pulsing headache, so he did crawl into Sankara's hammock to sleep it off. And then did Yuni do herself a similar psychic injury with another crystal, causing her to feel sick for hours. And thus was Sintar wary of the crystals, and chose to do nothing for the moment.

And yet did Jitaruhk wish to go to the Sottle Embassy, as he was a Sottle, and had hopes that they would provide him with books of arcane lore that he could use to further his sorcerous studies. Having little knowledge of the city, and being wary of traveling alone in his finery, he did request of his brother Lior to accompany him on his journey, who assented to this importuning. Upon going out to the narrow winding street, Jitaruhk and Lior, being attentive to their surroundings, became aware of Jitaruhk's previous accosters in the Bucket of Blood, following behind them at a short distance, infrequently consulting a rolled scroll of parchment the Northark carried within his vest.

Upon reaching the market square just inside the Western Gate, where the compound of the Caravanserei Guild was located, Jitaruhk engaged a large comfortable palanquin operated by a Sottle halfbreed and his team of trained Grey Giant bearers, and he and Lior proceeded in some comfort across the city to the waterfront area, where were located the embassies of the outland kingdoms and satrapies such as Sottli Ban. Keeping watch, the two adventurers noted the continued presence of their two previous assailants, who had apparently followed them across the city.

Entering the building where the Sottle ambassadors to Ona Tengu have their sumptious quarters, Jitaruhk felt a probing of his psyche while he awaited audience, and then, upon being granted audience with a lesser member of the embassy, was chagrined to be told that the truth of his parentage had now become known and did disqualify him for status as a pureblooded member of the Great Race. Fuming in anger and vowing to one day set the Sottle Embassy afire, Jitaruhk did depart with Lior, and upon reaching the street, did see the Sottle Priest Banifor of the Temple of Silver and Gold, in a most resplendently large palanquin with an unknown Ulvane warrior, who upon seeing Jitaruhk and Lior, did cause the palanquin to stop, as he had been about to bring Grrero, the Ulvane, to the Bucket of Blood, as he too was a child of Sankara Jin. And so did the four travel to the Bucket of Blood, where Priest Banafor left the newest member of the House of Jin to come to know his siblings, returning once more to the Temple of Silver and Gold, after advising Jitaruhk and Lior that the now vampiric Frodd, Ignatz, had stolen the blessed Robe of Darkness and escaped the Temple of Time, and was currently at large.

That evening, after the closing of the public areas of the Bucket of Blood, the adventurers were about to retire for the night when there came a knocking at the door leading down to the cellar. Approaching with caution, they inquired as to who was on the other side, only to be told "Asher, with two companions". Cautiously unbolting the door, the group did behold Asher, a woman warrior in the service of Queen Jessara, accompanied by a Frodd in a plain, somewhat bespattered robe and a slender figure enshrouded in the bulk of a killcloak. Entering, Asher introduced the Frodd as Fedolu, an adviser to the Queen, and the cloaked figure revealed itself to be none other than Queen Jessara herself, wearing mail and a sword and an unassuming circlet around her greying temples.

The Queen then informed the group that she had need of their services; a man named Hunter had proven himself a great villain, having come to control absolutely through use of addictive drugs a great, covert network of wealthy and influential people up and down the River, and that this network had been discovered and arrested, yet Hunter had somehow been forewarned, and had vanished. The Queen advised that this sort of impossible mission was exactly what she would have previously entrusted to Sankara Jin, and she hoped that his progeny would be able to find some way to discover the location of the traitor Hunter and bring him in to justice, or at the least, his head.

Then did the Queen and Asher depart, leaving Fedolu to provide the adventurers with such assistance as he could, such as official documents that would give the party access to Hunter's building in the city, and directions, and various and sundry descriptions of Hunter and his past behaviors.

And so the next morning, all of the group except for Jitaruhk did depart to inspect Hunter's holdings in the city, in hopes of finding some clue as to his whereabouts.

Yet no sooner had they set out than they heard a wicked cackling from above and then did a great massive form strike the cobbles in front of them and lay there unmoving, followed by a slighter figure, and these forms proved to be the dead bodies of the Black Giant and elder Northark that had followed Jitaruhk and Lior the previous day, each with two puncture wounds in their necks, and who had obviously been drained of all blood. And upon searching these corpses, did the adventurers find diverse weapons and fiendish devices for subtle assassination, along with a scroll bearing passing likenesses of several members of the family, and notations as to their names, and mentioning a reward of 2 silver pieces for each of their heads.

And then the group did traverse the city following the directions of Fedolu, and came upon Hunter's building in the Ironchains Quarter, guarded by Tengish militiamen. Upon searching the building, they did discover that Hunter had left early that morning by an access in the basement leading into the sewer, and upon inspecting the sewer, they did discover a natural portal there, leading they knew not where. But Fedolu had told them that Hunter was reputed to make great use of such portals, having a reputation of living both in these lands and in distant lands on the other side of the world, somehow managing to survive the shock of teleporting such vast distances. And so Sintar was sent across the city to retrieve Jitaruhk, as the family wished to have their mage with them, and then did all of them pass through the portal into the unknown.

Upon the other side of the portal, the group emerged within a cave, which contained a great mirror like panel hanging in the air next to the opening of the portal they had traveled there through. Looking out from the mouth of the cave, they found they were on the side of a mountain, and some hundred paces below, the mountain side did push outward into a great flat ridge, and upon this ridge was a cabin. About this cabin in the tall unkempt heathery grass of the mountain side they did see various trimmed logs upended and set into the ground, each of which had been riven on all sides by long score marks.

Then did Lior, being of the Malkane, remove his garb and transform into his cat self, a great black maned lion of the veldt, after which he approached the cabin, padding down the slope like a vast, graceful, predatory shadow. And then did his brother, the Ulvane Grrero, circle about the cabin and find a door open on the other side, while Lior's other siblings Fereek and Yuni approach the cabin from the other side, seeing there beyond two great vats of water another open door.

And upon approaching the front of the cabin, then did Lior scent the pungent odor of another great cat like himself. And approaching the front door, Lior made himself go still, and await his siblings, although he greatly desired to smash into the cabin and find his rival cat and do battle with it.

And then did Grrero peer in from one side of the house, and Yuni and Fereek gaze inward from the other side, and they saw a long room, with doorways leading out of it, and comfortable furnishings of an alien design at the far end, and in the far corner a great flat box or pen of some sort on the floor, and something like a great multicolored heap of thick twine curled on the floor in front of the hearth, and many shelves laden with books and scrolls, and heads of various beasts and men mounted on the walls as decorations, and a wooden stairway leading upwards. And Fereek did notice many nuances and details, for he had mastered the arcane lore of the psyche, and had through great mental disciplines prior to leaving the cave of the portal, had increased the functioning and efficiencies of his brain and his senses tenfold, although he was loathe to attempt it at first, for fear of once more doing poorly and once more cursing himself with migraine or worse.

And seeing nothing that affrighted him, then did Grrero enter the house, and see at his right hand a great wooden box some 12 paces by 15 in dimension, filled with a sandy substance and littered with great pats of dung, at which point the great serpent Yugeela, raised from an egg by Hunter, did uncoil itself from in front of the hearth and slither hungrily towards Grrero.

And then did Grrero and Yugeela cast themselves at each other, each greatly desiring the other's destruction, and Grrero did strike Yugeela with the battle axe he wielded in his right hand, and did miss Yugeela with the mace he wielded in his left hand, and Yugeela did attempt to pass her vast serpentine body about Grrero so as to throttle and then devour him, but Grrero did most deftly and fleetly avoid her strike. And so Yugeela coiled again, preparing once more to strike, but then did Yuni the Honan archer shoot from the other side of the chamber, striking Yugeela in the head with an arrow, killing the great snake instantly and sparing her brother Grrero its further voracity.

And then did the entire grouping enter the cabin's front room, and did take counsel of each other whilst inspecting their surroundings, and upon the hearth did Fereek see a golden statue of a goddess, and a strange weapon made of ropes and stones, and a great jeweled crown that closely resembled descriptions of Queen Jeressa's long lost crown and above the hearth a vast war hammer larger than a large man was mounted on great pegs to the wall. And upon looking further, did the members of the group see a well appointed dining room through one doorway, and a lavishly equipped kitchen through the other, and then did Zuuna, a great tiger possessed of enormous razor sharp tusks raised from a cub by Hunter, come silently down the wooden stairs and hurl itself at Lior, who smashed it aside, and defeated it, and killed it, with only the aid of several arrows from Yuni's bow and a well thrown javelin from Sintar.

And then did Fereek, with his vastly increased senses, hear a furtive footstep from the doorway leading into the kitchen, and glancing that way, behold a dark clad person matching the description of Hunter, he being a lithe, powerful appearing man of darkish, ill favored complexion and long black hair worn in a tail behind his head, holding a glass tube of some sort in one hand, and hurling a similar tube from his other hand towards the group of heroes. And upon seeing this did Fereek shriek in terror and spring most fleetly behind the leather sectional sofa, and so too did Sintar, but not so Lior, who leapt towards the villain, as Yuni turned and coolly drew and shot, her arrow striking Hunter in the chest at the same time as the flask he had thrown struck Lior in midleap about his midsection, exploding with a force that would surely have killed any human, but which barely singed Lior's great leonine form.

And then Sintar, ashamed of her cowardice, did come to her feet and hurl a javelin into the torso of Hunter, and as Lior prepared to close with the villain, he did drop the other flask from his hand, and it did detonate at his feet, hurling him backwards into his kitchen.

Sunday July 26, 2009
Players Tammy (Yuni)
Nate (Fereek)
Kelly (Sintar)
Brett (Jitaruhk)
Dan (Lior)
James (Grrero)

And so it was in that unknown place that the thunder of an explosion echoed through the cabin, followed by the stench of burnt powder and the reverberating crashes of the blast shaken kitchen collapsing inward upon itself. Such was the force of the blast that handsome wooden bookshelves were hurled away from the walls they stood against and crashed forward into the far end of the main chamber, scattering their contents across the smoothed pine floorboards.

And after the reeking smoke cleared, Jitaruhk the mage was the first of the assembled company to pick his way across the debris strewn floor to peer within the somewhat misshapen doorway to the kitchen, where he saw a massive hill of blackened, smashed, smoking fragments and shards of what had once been the roof beams and cupboards and table and various appurtenances of the kitchen, heaped up with only the booted feet of Hunter, the fiend the companions had come in search of, protruding mute and still, from the base of that massive barrow of ruin and wreckage.

And as Jitaruhk and his fellow children of Sankara Jin had been set by the Queen of Ona Tengu to the task of retrieving Hunter alive, or else returning his head, in proof of his death, Jitaruhk then set himself resolutely to the task of digging Hunter's body out of the smoking refuse with only his soft Sottle hands.

Without, in the greater part of the cabin, Grerro set about accomplishing the severing of the heads of the foul monstrous beasts from their bodies with his battle axe, as it was customary on the River at that time to dispose of the dead in this way. His siblings stirred about to see what wealth they might recover from that place, and several moments passed in such manner, and then it was noticed by all of them, but first by the sharp eyed Honan archer Yuni, that something strange and arcane was occurring with the bodies of the great cat and the great snake: for in the space between their heads and their bodies, uncanny vinelike tendrils, seemingly pulsing with some vile, unnatural life, had grown outward, some coming from the heads, others from the neck stumps, which had knotted together, and which were slowly drawing the heads back across the floorboards to the monsters' severed necks.

Upon seeing this, Yuni produced the tegir she had taken as spoils from fallen Imperial Dragoons, and she set about these nefarious vines, severing them once more, after which, Fereek, her atros brother, did kick and tumble the great heads out of the cabin onto the bare ground without, where he focused his witchcraft powers and set them afire, after which he leapt and danced savagely about the flames, chanting and screaming in the most brutish manner.

Having witnessed these things, Yuni then strode to the kitchen, where she aided Jitaruhk, whose hands were scored and bleeding from his labors, in clearing rubble from the body of Hunter. Upon doing this, both of them were displeased to see that Yuni's arrow, and Sintar's javelin, both of which had previously passed deeply into Hunter's body, were now lying across his chest, and although his raimant was tattered, burnt, and torn and lay in strips and ribbons across and around his flesh, his flesh itself seemed to bear no mark, no wound, no burn, nary even a bruise, and although his eyes were closed, still it did seem that he but slept.

So Jitaruhk, touching the bare skin of Hunter through a great rent in his clothing, did confirm through magic that Hunter was merely in a trance of regeneration, and then Jitaruhk worked further sorceries on Hunter's life force, to put Hunter into a deeper trance, from which he would not awaken until Jitaruhk allowed. And then Yuni did pull Hunter's body out into the main area.

Meanwhiles, Grerro and Sintar had dragged the headless bodies of the huge cat and the vast snake out to the cleared ground on the other side of the cabin, and Fereek had come to them, and caused another great fire to spring up about those bodies.

And while all this was occurring, Lior had gone away from the cabin on four feet as befitting the form he then wore, and back up the mountainside to the cave in which the family had originally appeared, where he had put off his great lion's seeming and resumed the countenance of man, after which he regarbed himself in his normal raimant, including the armor and weapons he also had won in battle from Imperial Dragoons. Lior noted as he accomplished these tasks that the portal which had brought him and his companions to this place was still present in the cave. And then going on two feet as men do, he returned to his kin at the cabin below, where now two great fires were burning, and Hunter's still body did lay in the front room, awaiting the decisions of the family.

Upon hearing from Lior that the portal which had brought the family here from Jeressa still appeared to be present within the cave, it was decided to sever Hunter's head from his body, as he was clearly a foe of surpassing deviousness and uncanny power, and not to be underestimated. And so that came to be through the agency of Yuni's sharp tegir. And Grerro obtained a covering from one of Hunter's fine furnishings and made of it a crude but usable sack and stowed Hunter's head securely within, securing the bag with its grisly trophy by a stout knot to his weapons belt.

And then Sintar, being of a cautious nature, flew up into the sky to seek for possible hazard to the family, and at a distance of some miles, she spied several figures approaching up the mountainside from the densely forested wilderness below, and with her sharp eyesight she could easily discern that six of these figures were Frodds, covered with daubs of paint in savage signs and symbols, their hair and beards done up in bunches and braids, garbed in skins and leathers, adorned with the skulls of their totem creatures and the scalps of those they had previously defeated in battle, liberally festooned with strange yet dangerous appearing tools and weapons such as curved throwing sticks and hollow reeds from which Sintar was aware could emit sharp, flying thorns smeared with deadly potions.

And of that party, the other six members were all humans of various races, including one atros, all of them ragged and beaten and fastened together neck to neck with chains made of leather links running from one leather collar to another, and Sintar hastily landed to report this to her kin.

And so it was decided that having accomplished their set goal, the companions need not linger for unnecessary violences with these barbarian Frodds, among whose ranks it was feared there might number a shaman.

And it was greatly regretted that there was no way to bring the lost crown of Queen Jeressa, the first monarch of Ona Tengu, through the portal, for it had much silver upon it and silver will not pass through such portals. And so it was that the crown remained behind in the unknown wilderness, in the smashed ruins of Hunter's cabin.

So the children of Sankara Jin then repaired back up the mountainside with no undue haste to the cave from which they had issued, where they found that the swirling blur marking the portal from which they had emerged was now gone.

And Fereek then used his masteries of arcane mental powers to discern that the portal had been in some way linked to Hunter's vital essence, and had doubtless disappeared when Hunter's head was removed from his body.

And then did great arguments rage in that small cavern as to how the group should now proceed. Sintar returned to the sky to spy upon the group of Frodds, where she discovered that they had left their slaves behind and vanished into the tall grasses covering the mountainside.

Returning to the group she reported these things, and so Yuni did raise her Honan discipline called 'Perceive', which let her sense the distant Frodds, five of which were hiding in the grasses some yards apart from each other while one of their number with great stealth approached the cabin of Hunter. And she did continue to utilize this discipline to watch as that scout did approach, then return to his hidden group, and then another of their number did begin to move within his hiding place in a strange and arcane manner.

Then both she and Jitaruhk did feel an alien presence among a breeze that blew into the cavern, and she and Jitaruhk did hypothesize that the shaman had sent an air elemental to scout the party's size and equippage. And then she and Jitaruhk also detected an increase of force in the ground beneath them, and fearing an attack by an earth elemental, the party decided to attempt traveling through the great hanging mirrored surface in the cave, which they believed to be an artificially created portal leading to a distant land where Hunter also lived at times.

This they knew was dangerous, for they had been told that Hunter would not travel by these 'mirrorgates' unless he had first had a chance to 'fortify' himself with alchemical potions, for to travel such great distances through such gates created enormous trauma to the psyches of humans so subjected. Still it was felt this was worth the risk as none of the assembled companions did relish the thought of battling hidden Wild Frodds, especially a Wild Frodd shaman who could command the allegiance of elementals.

And so the party did leap through the mirrorgate into the unknown.

For a timeless time it seemed to each of them they tumbled through an abyss of horror; alternating lights and darknesses, agonizing cascades of unimaginable colors and bitter tastes, blasts of cold and jets of heat, shuddering bouts of intense pain racked them, and yet, all of them emerged again into a chamber, where they saw a Frodd dressed in a strange dresslike raimant kneeling before them, saying unto them something in a foreign tongue, but a welcoming tone.

And then, upon raising his eyes and seeing the group who had emerged from the mirrorgate, this Frodd's visage was altered, and he screamed loudly, and several Stone Giant guards came forth with weapons from behind a nearby doorway, pointing them at the disoriented companions.

So then, the companions, bewildered and disoriented, and in the case of Jitaruhk, unconscious also from the shock of the long extradimensional portage, but still being men and women of the River of that particularly savage and bloodsoaked period, did move their hands towards their weapons, snarling confrontationally, and there might well have been bloodshed there in that place. But Fereek, forcing his mind to clarity, hastily advised that the party had been sent on ahead by 'the master', who would be following them shortly. Hoping as he did so that the Frodd spoke Riverish.

This assertion appeared to bewilder the oddly berobed Frodd, who asserted, somewhat doubtfully, in halting and poorly accented Riverish, that the Master had told him in the past that only he would ever come through these mirrorgates, and if others were to come through, they should be immediately destroyed.

Fereek spoke glibly then, stating that he and his companions had been in a precarious and perilous situation, and the Master had charged all of them a high price for the use of the mirrorgate, and stated that on the other side, they would meet a Frodd, who would direct them to a sanctuary.

Perhaps wishing only to avoid bloodshed, seeing as the Riverish party appeared most villainous and murderous in their full panoply of arms and armor, bespattered as many of them were with flecks of grue and ash, the Frodd allowed as to how this could be so, and led the party to another, adjoining chamber, which had several of what appeared to be naturally occurring portals shimmering within its walls.

The Frodd indicated each gate and uttered several syllables that were meaningless to the party. Fereek asked more details, and was told that one gate led to 'the greatest city in the known world', while another led to 'the lands of the horse lords', and still another to 'beyond the mountains of the northern barbarians, where savages that ride on great hairy man-eating goats will bugger you and then let their goats bugger you and then eat you and feed your bones to their goats'. Wisely, Fereek chose to lead his brothers and sisters to the portal named as going to 'the greatest city in the world'.

Upon stepping through the wavering distortion in the air, the party found itself emerging into a darkened, musty chamber.

Searching about, the party discovered the chamber was empty, and then chanced upon a large door, barred from the inside. Unbarring the door, they emerged, finding themselves on a terrace that ran along the outer wall of a vast building. That outer wall sloped away at an angle behind them, and to the right side, they could see that the terrace ended in stairs leading upward, while to the left, in stairs leading downward.

Looking outwards, the party could see what indeed appeared to be the greatest city in the world stretching out before them and in all directions to either side, consisting of vast buildings beyond the size of anything seen on the River, many of which were of a pyramidal shape, with terraces such as the one the party stood on zigzagging around each of the building's four angled outer surfaces. Although it was darkest night in this land where the group had found themselves, this vast, teeming, and bizarre appearing cityscape was brightly lit by thousands or millions of oddly bluish yellow lanterns and lamps, some of which seemed to be moving through the interior of the city as the party watched.

A great cacaphony of sound comprised of millions of human voices, animal brayings, and strange metallic clatterings and chatterings, arose from this enormous metropolis. Into this din, the party descended, zig zagging down the sides of the pyramid they had found themselves within.

At the base, the party encountered a walled courtyard with a sleeping Jeopard wearing strange armor and armed with a spear. Awakening as the party approached, the Jeopard used the butt of his spear to strike an oddly shaped gong, with the result that within moments, the outer gate had opened and a dozen guards, numbering amongst them several humans of subraces unfamiliar to the party, several Frodds, and a Grey Giant, had rushed in to the courtyard.

After several frustrating moments attempting to communicate, the two groups discovered that the written Giantish language was apparently much the same in both lands, and through the use of a nearby blackboard, the two groups managed rudimentary communication with each other.

It was communicated that the pyramid the party had found itself in was a warehouse owned by a wealthy merchant named Moro, which the party had been told by Queen Jessara was the name Hunter used in those distant lands he sometimes dwelled within. Yuni, literate in the Giant tongue, wrote that the party had simply found themselves in a room that was barred from within in the pyramid, and had no idea how they had gotten there. Although this account seemed unlikely, the Grey Giant seemed to accept it, causing some speculation that perhaps such appearances from nowhere were not completely unknown in that warehouse.

The Grey Giant then said that if the party would allow themselves to be searched, and no contraband was found, they could freely leave the premises; this troubled the party, as they were aware that the head of the man who owned the warehouse was currently hanging in a sofa covering from the belt of Grerro. However, after searching Sintar, and noting her gold aresium armor, and then searching Yuni, and finding a great deal of gold in her belt pouch, as well as a fine Imperial tegir hanging at her waist, the Grey Giant seemed to conclude that the party was of such social and financial substance as to warrant no further interference. He advised that they could go freely.

Yuni asked if there were any Temples nearby, knowing from experience that the Temples of Knowledge in the River were blessed in such a way that any and all languages spoken in their precincts were clearly comprehensible to all who heard them. The Giant allowed as to how he would personally guide them through the streets of the city to the Temple of Knowledge. Taking the party up the street, they mounted a stair to an elevated platform and then boarded a strange flying ship that took them several miles across the city to a great pyramid with the sign of the Temple of Knowledge (an opened book with an eye imprinted across the open pages) above the ground floor portal.

Within, Fereek bargained with a masked Priest of Knowledge for transport back to the River; in exchange for whatever knowledge Fereek possessed, the party would be returned to the city of Jeressa. Upon concluding the bargain, Fereek was led to a small chamber with a metal chair. Climbing in, Fereek found the metal chair changing to conform more closely with the contours of his body, and then elongating to securely imprison his neck, wrists, and ankles, after which, a segmented metal arm with a crystal mounted in the end of it extended down from the ceiling, touching Fereek's forehead, and draining the contents of his memories into the storage capacities of the Temple. Fereek had been warned by the Priest that this procedure would hurt; judging from Fereek's screams, the Priest did not lie. Afterwards, a barely conscious Fereek was carried by his companions to the nearby Temple of Time, where a Priest of Time asked a blessing of the God of Time to transport the party back to the city of their choosing. And so the party found themselves back in front of the Bucket of Blood in Jeressa.

Here they immediately sent word to the palace that they had recovered a package greatly desired by the Queen. Later that evening the Queen, along with an elderly human adviser named Linmer and her faithful companion Asher, came to the Bucket of Blood via the sewers beneath the city, and took possession of the head of Hunter/Moro, which upon inspection was indeed showing small but definite signs of beginning to regrow a body from the stump of its neck.

The Queen advised the party that her gratitude would soon be made manifest, and then Asher imparted the news that the King, wroth at the revelation that his planned invasion of Tharkis City had merely been a ruse to facilitate the arrest and dismantling of Hunter/Moro's network of operatives, had struck the Queen in front of witnesses, and threatened her with murderous bodily harm for what he regarded as a 'cruel deception', which the Queen had responded to as if to a formal challenge, with the result that at year's end, the King and Queen would engage in single battle to the death in the Royal Arena, with the future of the Realm hanging in the balance.

The Queen charged the party to rest, and enjoy the gifts she would send them, for when the day of the great duel approached, she would ask them to travel to the Arena and add their resources and efforts to those of other loyal followers, in securing the arena, and ascertaining that plots and schemes to ensure the King's unfair victory over her did not succeed.

And then she did depart with Asher, leaving Linmer behind to advise the party over the interval. And then the party fell into a flurry of training, practice, and research, during which time, each party member received a token of the Queen's gratitude:

For Fereek, a scroll granting him free access in perpetuity to the archives of the Crown College, and the laboratories there, and the classes taught there, as well as the laboratories and archives of the Royal Palace;

For Lior and Yuni, scrolls granting them appointments with the master Frodd arms smith Heklariano, who was one of three smiths then living on the River with the ability to create weapons crafted specifically to the usage of the individual bearer, weapons so finely honed to the stride and fighting style, and so precisely shaped to the hand and arm and torso of the individual who would wield them, that to that person the blade would seem as responsive as another limb, yet to any other who picked it up, it would seem awkward and ungainly and nearly unusable;

For Sintar, a scroll granting her compensated access to all the facilities of Token's Inn, famed then as it is yet now throughout the Ancient Lands as the finest and most ostentatious public lodging place in existence;

For Jitaruhk, a scroll similar to that given to Fereek, and in addition spellbooks chosen from the archives of the Court Mages of Ona Tengu, including not only all basic spells, but several advanced individual spells researched and created by past master wizards;

For Grerro, a fine set of chain mail of an antique style, hot dyed scarlet during its forging, formerly worn by various members of the Crimson Cohort prior to the founding of Ona Tengu, as well as a newly born dire wolf cub, whom the Queen herself had named Urehk'agar, which in Ulvane means "finger eater", after the pup devoured two digits from the hand of a Royal Groom when that foolish person did unwisely wave his hands vociferously in the wolf pup's face;

For Luka, the Romaine, and Asteevaka, known as The Goat, the Queen sent rare golden coins imprinted with the symbol of Ona Tengu on one side, and a profile of Queen Jeressa on the other, signifying the favor of the Court, which are greatly sought after by the nobility and other elite of the Kingdom, and ambassadors and merchants having business with the Kingdom, and which can generally be exchanged for high favors with any official of the Kingdom or other worthy of the River who knows of their value;

And for each of the other children of Sankara Jin who remain as yet undiscovered, a deposit to the Temple of Silver and Gold of one silver piece, or one hundred gold, each, to be held for them in escrow until such time as they should claim it;

and through all these things, did Queen Jessara, who was at that time yet a lesser monarch of the region of Ona Tengu known as the Kingslands, show her appreciation to the House of Jin for their great service in bringing the traitor Hunter to justice.

So it came to pass that on the fourth day after receiving these presents, Yuni and Lior went forth in the company of an aged retainer of the Court named Odiak, and they rode half a day down the Western Caravan Trail, and then turned off of it onto a track, and followed that track to another, and then another, in ways that would have baffled one not as versed in those obscure paths and ways as Odiak, who had once been poacher on the lands of the Court, and then a bandit of some renown, but who was more recently made a Tengish Ranger, and eventually they came to a nameless Durshi village built in the shadow of one of the ancient ziggurats whose purpose none now know with any certitude, and there, in a smithy built into a cavern hollowed out in the side of a hill, the two children of Sankara Jin presented their scrolls to the ancient and legendary Frodd smith Heklariano.

And that worthy surlily and truculently allowed as to the validity of their provenance.

And yet Yuni, having seen that another of the great smith's apprentices was working on a fine bow, did ask if instead of the legendary sword promised by the scroll, she could have a wondrous bow made for her instead, and so it came to pass that this apprentice, Nuklianoriano, who was specializing in the arts of the bowyer, did agree to make a fine bow for Yuni, so that only Lior had measurements taken for the making of a legendary sword fitted solely to his hand.

So then another apprentice to the master smith took the measurements of Lior, his arms and the length and breadth of his torso and his legs and to make wax impressions of Lior's sword hand and fingers and had Lior move through maneuvers and flourishes and passages of arms in a sandy place where his bootprints could be clearly seen afterward and casts of them made, so that the sword made for him, in the hands of any other than Lior himself, would seem unbalanced and clumsy and all but unusable, but in Lior's hand would seem to be a living thing of nerve and muscle, like unto an extension of Lior's will, as if it were a metal limb answerable directly to his mind.

And while in that place, Yuni's eye did fall across a wondrous set of hard leather armor, which had been made to the order of a warrior who had died after making payment, before the armor was constructed, and to make up the difference in worth between the fine bow she had commissioned and the legendary sword she had given up, the master smith did undertake to alter the fine armor to Yuni's measurements, and send it to Jeressa when it was finished.

And then, having returned to Jeressa and the Bucket of Blood, did the entire House of Jin fall to studying and practicing and schooling themselves in the various arts and disciplines of their choice, and during this time the following events did come to pass:

Fereek made himself obstreperous by self levitating himself about the Bucket of Blood like a great sneering ugly catcalling children's balloon, until Sintar purchased and burned some of the Temple incense that prohibits the use of witchcraft, causing Fereek to fall to the ground upon his misshapen head with bruising force and curse categorically and at great length, to the great and lasting amusement of his kin;

also, Yuni practiced her Honan arts and memorized several other arcane disciplines of Honan from exotic lands that were found among her father's library and increased her already great skill with her bow, gaining some further mastery of the living arrows she had purchased from the Vrang, and when her new armor arrived in a number of days, she donned it, and found it wondrously light and supple and astonishingly well crafted;

and Jitaruhk studied and researched with the aid of his father's library and performed magical experiments in his father's alchemical laboratory with the aid and assistance of Linmer, and the two of them did have long rambling philosophical discussions on the nature of life and origin of humanity and the history of the River and the eternal struggles of life against death and order against chaos;

and Grerro, Lior, Luka, and Steve the Goat practiced much at the passage of arms in the fourth floor training room, giving each other many bruises and then abating their aches and pains by consuming much of their father's finer liquors together late into the night downstairs in the bar after the Bucket of Blood had closed for the day, occasionally joined in these late night drinking sessions by Sintar or Jitaruhk;

and Sintar frequently availed herself of the extensive pleasures available to her at Token's Inn, just off the Caravan Market a quarter mile up the winding Street of Spattered Grue from the Bucket of Blood, and over the course of that autumn, Sintar did take with her on separate occasions each of her kin, and the revels and debaucheries that occurred there were legendary among the serving staff of Token's, and to this day if you go to Token's the old Frodd that greets you at the door will tell you the tale of Sintar and the Seven Woeful Pastry Chefs, or Sintar and Yuni's Hunt For yeeka-birds Among The Bottles of G'kar's Fine Spice Ale, or Sintar and Luka's Nine Day Grooming Marathon;

and Grerro accustomed himself to the weight and mass of his new, fine armor with extensive martial training while wearing it, and also began training his dire wolf pup Urehk'agar in the ways of war and the hunt, and he kept her true spirit name a secret in his heart, lest enemies strike the pup down with distant curses;

and throughout all of this, as the monsoons of winter began to gather beyond the horizon and the days of autumn shortened towards winter and the shadows cast by the sun became thinner and sharper and seemed to bite the ground like teeth, so too were the enemies of the House of Jin and the Realm of Ona Tengu busy as well, scheming and conspiring to wreak chaos and bring every thing the House of Jin and Queen Jessara put a hand towards to wreckage and ruin;

As in an alchemical laboratory in the Royal Palace, all but forgotten by Linmer over the passage of these autumn days, Hunter's severed head was suspended in a tank of nutrients, and a new body for Hunter was steadily and relentlessly growing in strength and vitality with each passing day;

And at the end of autumn, like a great black predatory cat waiting to strike, there loomed the Day of Death...

August 9, 2009
Players Tammy (Yuni)
Nate (Fereek)
Kelly (Sintar)
Dan (Lior)
Tina (Nhori)

And on the day before the Day of Death, as the Bucket of Blood was closing, there came an unusual group into the tavern, comprised of a heavily armed and armored zuma, an expensively robed, extremely arrogant seeming Sottle, and a female Durshi mercenary in a much patched raincloak and battered leather armor, seeming much the worse for wear with careworn features, greying hair, a heavy limp, and a patch over one eye.

(The zuma , of course, are a subrace of the Sottle, just as the Sottle is a subrace of humanity in general. Born of some arcane thaumaturgical manipulation of their own essence, the zuma is the reverse of a normal Sottle... instead of being small, physically unimpressive, and mentally powerful, the zuma is massive, strong, agile, extremely healthy, and not at all smart or strong willed. Trained from birth in the arts of combat, and also indoctrinated from an early age in the necessity of obeying all Sottles slavishly, zuma make fine soldiers for the Great Race. As only one in every thousand or so male Sottles born has the zuma mutation, they are extremely rare, and sought after as bodyguards, as much for the status symbol of having one as for their efficacy at that task.)

As the zuma passed into the bar, his eyes locked with the gaze of Hogbelly, the mangy, obese yeelar Jeopard who acts as door guard and bouncer at the Bucket of Blood, and a look of recognition seemed to pass between them. Then the Sottle was haughtily thrusting himself forward through a path cleared for him by the zuma, and as the Sottle reached the bar and the zuma peremptorily dumped a patron off a bar stool to clear it off for him, the Sottle announced imperiously that he had an important message for the House of Zin.

As it was closing time, the bar was quickly cleared of customers, and the door barred, and then all members of the House of Zin present turned to the Sottle to hear his news.

At which point, the zuma struck the Sottle in the face, knocking him backwards off the stool, and ordered him like a slave into the kitchen to get drinks. Cringing, the Sottle sobbed that he would obey, in the most servile manner imaginable, before scuttling off like a roach.

The zuma then put down his axe and tower shield and removed his armor and battle helm, allowing as to how he hated wearing that ridiculous costume in public, and then gave his name as Fisk, saying he was a businessman from the waterfront, and he had come to introduce Nhori, a woman who had been, prior to the last season or so, the only known and openly acknowledged child of Sankara Jin. Fisk stated that Nhori had often done work for him, and that for the last three seasons, she had been down River, accomplishing an extremely challenging mission on his behalf. Upon her return, Fisk had advised her of the sudden emergence of an entire group of 'children of Sankara Jin', who operated out of the Bucket of Blood, an unsavory inn where, as far as Nhori had known, her father had used to get drunk and play chacal at.

Fisk then stated that he had been one of the few in Ona Tengu who had known the true nature of Sankara Jin's service to the Crown, and that he had owed Sankara Jin a great favor, which he would like to repay to Sankara Jin's children by telling them some valuable information for free... a great dispensation, as normally Fisk would charge highly for such information. Speaking for the family, Lior agreed to this.

Fisk revealed that he had heard through sources that King Kameron had begun an investigation against the family, and was planning to arrest and charge at least one member -- Luka -- in connection with an outbreak of the vampiric plague that had been traced to the Bucket of Blood. He also advised that he had heard rumors that some dark, shadowy figure was hunting the family, in search of some object that the family possessed.

Fisk then summoned his Sottle servant out of the kitchen, who helped him put his distasteful arms and armor back on, upon which they departed, leaving Nhori to acquaint herself with her newly found siblings.

On the way out the door, Fisk commended the family on employing such a formidable bouncer, saying that he had frequently watched and admired Hogg'a Bhaali the Jeopard years before, when 'Hogbelly' had been the longest reigning unarmed gladiatorial champion in the arena of Sottli Ban. He asked them to tell Hogbelly that if ever he was looking for work, Fisk would find him a job at a moment's notice.

The companions barred the door securely after Fisk left, taking even more care in securing the portal than was their normal habit, as the following morning would see the Day of Death dawn, the most evil and malevolent of days in the Riverish calendar, a day when the sun would come up appearing as little more than a full moon, and darkness would lie across the lands for a full 24 hours, and the gates of Hell would yawn open and all the shades of the departed would return to Earth, and would revel there with all the Undead fiends who normally feared the sun, until the next day's dawning. This was a day when the living shut themselves up inside and warded themselves against evil as best they could, praying for the light of the next day's sun to finally dawn.

The family felt well prepared for the Day of Death, as they had obtained from Vrang traders five plants whose perfume repelled undead and placed one on each floor of the Bucket of Blood. To supplement this protection, they consulted with Linmer, who seemed to be something of an expert on mystical matters, and he advised them that Undead also had an aversion to white roses and garlic, both of which could be found in the greenhouse kept by Sankara Jin on the fourth floor. Linmer also stated that he had prepared for the Day of Death by creating a compound of chalk and silver salts using Sankara's alchemical laboratory, which he would use to make wards and runes of protection on all the doors leading to the outside.

At this time, Jitaruhk, who had been in the lab with Linmer all evening, professed to feeling slightly ill and retired to his room, taking a white rose and a few bulbs of garlic with him. The others in the family also armed themselves with garlic and white roses, and Yuni used some silver salts remaining the laboratory to treat half a dozen of her arrowheads, as it is well known that Undead flesh can only be harmed by silver weapons, and that silver struck through an Undead's heart will destroy it instantly.

And after Linmer had warded all the doors in the building, the heroes retired for the night, with Linmer setting a mechanical timepiece he had cobbled together from various clocks and mechanisms in Sankara Jin's tinkerer's shop to awaken them a half hour or so before dawn. Linmer, who had already manipulated his own essence through magical meditations to allow him to remain awake for days on end if necessary, then went to the kitchen, to work with the Frodd homunculus generally referred to as 'Mystery Meat' on the preparation of a breakfast heavy in garlic.

When the alarm sounded, the children of Sankara Jin, grumbling and for the most part still feeling somewhat tired due to their previous late night, assembled in the tap room for breakfast. They had not yet finished that repast when they heard screams of horror and pain as well as malevolent cackling and demonic screeching emanating from outside their building, and realized that the Day of Death must have begun.

Almost immediately after hearing the first screams of those unlucky enough to be caught outside on this most evil of days, there came a pounding at the Bucket of Blood's front door, accompanied by a rasping, evil voice chanting "House of Jin, House of Jin, let us in, let us in". The assembled heroes shouted denials at the door, but from that point forward for the next several hours, the scratching and knockings and requests or demands for invitations to enter from without were nearly unceasing, although sometimes the voices asking entry appeared to be those of poor mortals caught outside, begging succor from demonic or Undead tormenters. As none of the blood of Sankara Jin possessed the insane weakness of altruism, however, they were all ummoved, and in fact Fereek attempted to collect wagers on how long these victims would survive in the supernatural darkness of the Day of Death.

As the members of the family huddled together in the dim, gloomy, shadow-strewn taproom, they practiced various skills, or sang songs, or listened to Yuni (who was an expert with a pan flute) play light airs for them, or played chacal together, the room intermittently lit by the odd luminous orbs that each of them had hovering behind their shoulders they had found in their father's effects, and which his writings had referred to as 'glowbs'.

Several hours later, Lior, somewhat bored, was looking about at the shadows cast by the different glowbs and imagining their shapes as being different things... an antlered elk, a sailing ship, a storm cloud... when he realized one shadow looked very much like the Frodd, Ignatz, who had once been his father's servant, and who had since become Undead and started to haunt the roof of the Bucket of Blood, and who doubtless was outside at that moment trying to find his way within to wreak havoc on the family of his former master. Staring intently at the shadow, Lior was fascinated to see that it truly did resemble Ignatz, even to Lior being able to clearly imagine Ignatz' facial features within the shadow's head... at which point, Lior felt a coldness pass over him, and his mind seemed to draw back deep within the recesses of his being, and it was with icy horror that he watched his own body get up without him willing it.

Drawing his sword, Lior began to stiffly walk up the tap room towards Sintar, his blood kin, his consciousness raging in frustration within his own body.

Spying Lior's oddly graceless approach, Yuni became suspicious, and as he move past her, she lashed out with one foot, using her Honan martial training to kick Lior's feet from under him. Focusing his willpower to a sharp point at the same moment, Lior managed to force the fingers of his sword hand open, so that as he fell, his sword flew across the room. As his body crashed to the ground with a clumsiness completely belying his normal pantherlike agility, Lior felt the cold darkness that had possessed him withdrawing, its purpose baffled for the moment.

Lior then warned the family of what had occurred, telling them he had thought he had seen a shadow that resembled Ignatz in the darkness around them. Limner had then confirmed that while Ignatz could not physically enter the Bucket of Blood without an invitation, it was possible that as the Bucket of Blood had long been his home while living, he might be able to project himself mentally into shadows inside the building, as such 'shadow shifting' was a common ability of more powerful Undead, as was the ability to exert supernatural influence over the living, under certain conditions.

Fereek then began to scan the shifting shadows around the taproom seeking one that resembled Ignatz, and upon finding it, he did stare at it until he, too, felt the cold horror of Ignatz' Undead psyche start to steal over him. At that point, Fereek unleashed his most potent telepathic attack, a psionic technique known as 'the mind sword' in the River College Curriculum of Witchcraft. Normally the 'mind sword' would cause the brain of its victim to overload with psychic energy, inducing several cerebral blood vessels to burst simultaneously in a massive, lethal stroke (occasionally, when done by extremely powerful adepts, the entire brain simply explodes, shattering the victim's head in a powerful detonation of blood, bone, and tissue). Such a result would have little effect on an Undead, whose brain tissue was dead, however, Fereek did sense a mental shriek of pain and felt the cold darkness of Ignatz's mind dissolve, at least temporarily.

Fereek's sense of satisfaction was short lived, however, as an instant after he had successfully launched a psychic attack on the master vampire's mind, the front door to the Bucket of Blood exploded inward, shattering into shards of dark mineral beneath the assault of a great Black Giant's foot. Still unable to pass within the Bucket of Blood without an invitation, nonetheless, Undead, spirits, and demons began gathering outside the open doorway, and the family members within arrayed themselves in defensive formations to await the next developments, Yuni with a silvered arrow nocked to her bowstring, Lior and Nhori with swords out, Sintar with a javelin at the ready, Fereek crouched against a wall out of sight of the doorway, preparing another mental discipline.

Each person in the room felt the building creak around them, and sensed a great, dark evil gathering in the air just outside the doorway, and then Linmer stepped forward, producing from beneath his robes what appeared to be the hilt of a sword with no blade. Holding it before him, he cried out "Scions of shadow and darkness, I am a wielder of the Inner Flame and an Initiate into the Secret Circle of Eternal Light! Your black evil shall not prevail here!" A flickering blade of pure mental force came into being above the hilt he held in his hands, and then blazed up with light as bright as the noon day sun as Linmer poured his own life essence into the "mind sword" he had willed into being using the ancient occult discplines of the all but forgotten Priesthood of Panthea. Stepping into the empty doorway of the Bucket of Blood, the aged paladin shouted "YOU SHALL NOT PASS!"

A great silence descended upon the darkness without then. And then, from out of the shadows, came a deep, booming, malevolent voice: "Ah, child of the Light, it has taken long for me to draw you out. Step into the darkness and let us settle this."

Limner shot one burning glance over his shoulder at the assembled heroes, and said, urgently, "Guard the Queen!"

And then he stepped out, and was swallowed up by the darkness, and was known no more by the men of that time and place.

By this time, Fereek had managed to psychically project his consciousness out of his body, to the outside of the building, and through his mind's eye, he witnessed the great towering darkness encompass Limner and then vanish away, leaving behind only the legion of lesser yet still potent malevolences that haunted the darkness outside the Bucket of Blood. Even as Fereek's mental vision took in the eldritch horrors of the shades, demons, haunts, and revenants converging on the open doorway to the Bucket of Blood, he realized with a shudder of fear that many of them were as psychically aware as he was, and could doubtless perceive him as clearly as he perceived them. Drawing his mental shields about him as best he could, he fled back through the wall into the safety of his body, feeling psychic fangs snapping at his back as he did so.

And now from outside the door a recurrent chanting, like a deep drumbeat of doom, arose: "House of Jin, House of Jin, let us in, let us in!" The effect of this chanting was numbing to the brain, and mesmerizing; sweat sprang out on the face of Lior, and Yuni, and Luka, and Nhori, as they fought the growing urge to invite the darkness without into their walls. Temptation seemed to instill itself in them insidiously, as Yuni found herself thinking it would be better to allow the evil outside to come in, where it could be fought on her home ground... an idea filled with madness and folly, and yet one growing more insistent in her mind with each passing second...

And then, as if stepping from an invisible doorway into the spot within the Bucket of Blood just inside the door, there was an apparation; a huge Durshi, nearly six spans tall and almost as wide again at the shoulders, in metal ringmail with a great shining battlesword in one hand and a tower shield on his other arm, whom Yuni and Sintar and Luka all immediately recognized as their dead brother Sumara. Strangely, he had a wide scarf of some sort bound about his chest, covering the mortal wound where a portal had cut his body in two while he confronted the evil of the Sons of Streepha. "Fear not," his cheerful voice boomed out, "we have this!" And the shade of Sumara stepped forward into the darkness bearing before him the shining blade forged for him by the love of his brother Garren, who had prayed for his rescue from Hell and paid a great price to see that prayer fulfilled.

And then, also stepping forward from darkness into light, came the limping, wasted figure of Sankara Jin, also bearing a glowing sword forged from his devotion to his children.

For it is said in the Holy Books of the Temples, "And on the Day of Death, that one day in each yearly cycle when autumn turns to winter, and Death is supreme over all other powers in the world, then shall the gates to Hell be opened, and those who have passed on from the flesh to the world of spirit will return to walk the Earth again, and to meet with those they have loved or hated, and to do whatever it seems to them is meet to do, for that one day out of all the seasons of the year, this shall be".

And so the shade of Sankara Jin turned and swept all those within the room with one long, searching glance, and growled, "You have all made me proud", and then he, too, stepped outside to confront the darkness that assailed his children.

And all about the taproom, the pieces of the shattered door quivered, and then flew back together in the doorway, reassembling themselves as if they had never been broken.

And from without came Sumara's battle cry, joined by his father's war whoops, and the screams of fleeing spirits and dying Undead were sweet in the ears of the House of Jin.

And so the Day of Dead for the Year of the Cat of that Great Cycle passed away, and all those within the House of Jin came though it alive, if not unscathed. And Fereek, who had shapeshifted into the seeming of a normal Tharkish man for the day, for the convenience of being of normal height, found he enjoyed his new body, and so did he choose never to be an atros again.

And then did Nhori, who felt welcomed and at home amongst her newly found siblings, walk the Serpent Maze, which removed her physical defects, curing her limp and regenerating her lost eye, and bringing forth in her the latent shapeshifting abilities that were her legacy as a child of Sankara Jin. And she also went to the Temple of Silver and Gold, and knelt before Priest Banafore, and took oath to the Realm of Ona Tengu, and to the family of Sankara Jin, and did receive her blessing.

And upon asking at the Temple if there were any excellent shields available for purchase, she was informed that one of the legendary Shields of Banor had long reposed in the Temple, and that with this Shield on her arm she would be all but impossible to hit by a single opponent in melee combat, for that was the gift of this, the medium shield created in the era of Panthea by the master smith Banor, gifted of the gods (the Priests told her that Banor had created three shields, each endowed with a different gift; the small shield, or buckler, would render its wielder invisible to any the wielder raised the shield against, while the large, or tower shield, would make its user unable to be hit by missiles).

This priceless shield was beyond even the wealth of the House of Jin to purchase, but the Temples agreed that Nhori might bear it in her lifetime, if she would agree to perform certain services for the Temple, the first of which was, to guard the Queen's life in the days leading up to the duel with King Kameron, after which, there would be another mission set to Nhori.

And Nhori agreed, and she and her siblings set to training and strengthening themselves against the trials to come, the days of winter crept past, and ten days before the Day of Eternity, which marks the end of winter and the year both, when the Queen and King were to duel to the death to decide the fate of the kingdom, on that day ten days before the Day of Eternity, then Asher did arrive at the Bucket of Blood to bring the children of Sankara Jin to the Royal Arena, where they were to search the maze of passages beneath the arena for conspirators and enemies of the Queen who might be hatching schemes to give the King an unfair advantage in the duel.

And yet, even as Asher was speaking to the family, a wagon driven by Tengish Knights and drawn by a team of Giant slaves rumbled to a halt in front of the Bucket of Blood, and the Knights did disembark from it and move towards the door to the inn, and Sintar, who had gone out into the street to scout as was her wont, did brace herself in the doorway in her golden armor with her wings spread and did offer defiance to the Knights sent on this mission.

Leading this contingent of five Tengish Knights was Sir Emok, who had encountered Sintar almost two seasons before this, and who knew her to be an insolent bird indeed. Seeing her barring the way into the Bucket of Blood, he snapped "She is one of them, take her" and stood aside to let the Knights behind him, one of whom had leg and wrist manacles at the ready, grapple with the defiant Aven. Seeing she was outnumbered, and not being well versed in melee combat, Sintar flapped her great wings and took to the air, jeering as she left her assailants behind.

Bursting in to the tavern, the Knights announced loudly that they were there to conduct an arrest, and Sir Emok shouted out arrogantly that all were to stand back, in the name of the King, to which the shapeshifted Fereek, in his characteristic manner, promptly replied that they should all get out, in the name of the Queen. This being a moment in the history of the Realm when tensions between the King's faction and the Queen's were running especially high, Sir Emok immediately snapped "Arrest that man for sedition and treason!" and Fereek found himself with a pistoloon pointed at his face. Fereek promptly surrendered, and was manacled and taken outside.

The Knights then produced a scroll naming Luka, of the House of Jin, as being responsible for the vampiric plague that had appeared in this quarter of the City over the last two seasons, and calling Luka a 'filthy Rom witch' and a 'dirty Gyppo' and an 'accursed Romaine necromancer', they manacled him and took him out into the wagon as well.

Upon leaving, Sir Emok took great pleasure in telling Yuni that "the bird" would be arrested for "defiance to the King's authority" as soon as she came to ground again, and if she avoided arrest for more than a few hours, he would set patrols to seek her with pistoloons and crossbows. "Shelter an enemy of the King at your own risk," he threw over his shoulder as a final sneering taunt.

Outside, Sintar's always quick temper had cooled somewhat while she flew, and she had realized on reflection that if the King were attempting to provoke her family into an open display of revolt, she had come very close to giving him his wish, and sufficient reason to imprison or execute all her kin. So she came to light on the ground in front of the wagon, and surrendered herself, removing her wondrous golden armor and dropping her myriad weapons, including the blessed Storm Javelins that struck like thunderbolts, as well as many and sundry other charms and magical devices and several pistoloons she had reaped from a battle with Imperial Dragoons. And then, manacled head and foot like Luka and Fereek, she was pushed into the enclosed wagon, and after the guards had gathered up Sintar's armor and weapons and stowed them on the wagon, the three of them were taken to the City Dungeons.

And Fereek, being possessed of several crystallium crystals he used to focus and magnify his psionic abilities, and not wishing them to be confiscated, did use his shapeshifting powers to create a pouch within the flesh of his belly, as in a story he had heard told in his childhood about a race of born thieves who all had such pouches they could hide treasures in. And in this pouch he placed his crystallium, before they arrived at the Dungeon, where they were searched, and taken below, and thrust into a public holding cell with a dozen other miscreants and unfortunates, after which their shackles were removed and they were locked within.

Meanwhile, Asher had taken Yuni, Lior, and Nhori to the arenas to begin their patrols, while promising she would convey the news of the arrests to the Queen. Before leaving, Asher advised that by the rules agreed upon between King and Queen for the duel, from this day forward, no 'partisans' of either King or Queen were allowed into the arena, so the House of Jin had been identified to the Tengish Knights guarding the gates as being neutral parties chosen by the Temples to enforce these rules and keep all partisans out of the arena passages prior to the duel taking place.

"Of course," Asher added, "everyone knows you are really the Queen's men, it's just that you've never publicly sworn fealty to her, so we can get away with this. There are teams of other 'neutral' inspectors that we all know are in the King's pocket, as well."

She also told them that there were strong rumors that the Sons of Streepha, the most extreme elements of the Durshi rebellion, were hatching schemes to ensure the King's victory, out of fear that if the more reasonable Queen Jessara were to take the throne, the Durshi rebellion would fall apart, as she would almost certainly lift the repressive taxes and sanctions that Kameron had imposed on the native Durshi for over a decade.

And so, hoping that Jitaruhk and Grerro would both be able to join them in their search of the warrens beneath the arena, and that Luka, Fereek, and Sintar would soon be freed from their unjust imprisonment, the three children of Sankara Jin began walking down the passage to to the gates leading beneath the Royal Arena.

September 6, 2009
Players Tammy (Yuni)
Nate (Fereek)
Kelly (Sintar)
Dan (Lior)
Tina (Nhori)
Brett (Jitaruhk)
James (Ghrerro)

And as the holding cells of the dungeons of Ona Tengu have upon them an ensorcellment of unknown type that baffles both witchcraft and magic, so were the vast psionic powers of Fereek rendered mute, and as Sintar's armor and weapons had been confiscated by the Knights who arrested her, and Sintar herself, like her Uncle Fereek, was unskilled at unarmed combat, and as Luka, despite much recent training, still was not greatly accomplished at the martial disciplines, so then were the offspring of Sankara Jin determined to keep their own counsel and seek no trouble while imprisoned.

Thus it was that with great relief did they view the return of the Knights which had arrested them, saying to their gaoler, a hunchback named Jumfrey, who was of the eighteenth generation of the line of the original city boss who had founded and operated this dungeon (for, before it was the city gaol and Hall of Justice for Jeressa, capitol of the Realm of Ona Tengu, it was merely a prison, where wealthy bosses might pay a stipend to have imprisoned for a time some person that they did not wish to be at large, but which out of sundry motivations, ransom, or some other, they also did not wish to kill), that they were to move Luka, Fereek, and Sintar to better quarters than the mass holding cell. So Fereek, Sintar and Luka went without resistance, and were taken to a room several floors above the holding cell, where they were interviewed by a man named Lord Umber, who was a servant of King Kameron, being the King's Minister of Law and Contracts. And with Lord Umbar was a black cat, whom Lord Umbar did not name, but whom he frequently seemed to address, and be addressed by in return, during this discourse.

Lord Umber conversed with Sintar, Luka, and Fereek, offering them full pardons for the offenses they were charged with, in exchange for information upon a magical book that of their number, only Sintar had any knowledge of. Yet when Lord Umber showed vellum scrolls ornamented with the seal of the kingdom and hanging ribbons, claiming they were royal pardons, Luka saw him holding nothing, and advised his companions of this, so Fereek and Sintar knew Lord Umber was attempting to deceive them through illusion, and resolved to tell him nothing. And although Sintar strove to remain silent on this subject, Lord Umber did gain access to Sintar's mind through nefarious arts, and did see within Sintar's mind what she knew of this book, and its current location. And then Lord Umbar did hurriedly depart, promising he would have the three captives released. And indeed, within minutes, a Knight, Sir Kandel, did open the door to the room, and say that he would take the three down to have their confiscated property returned, and then escort them out of the civil dungeon, as ordered by Lord Umber.

Yet they had descended only two floors when they found a door barred to them, and although Sir Kandel demanded the door be opened, the Knight on the other side refused this demand, on grounds that he had not received any authority to release Sir Emok's prisoners. So Sir Kandel advised that the captives had been ordered released by Lord Umber, and the Knight on the other side of the door responded that he had received no such command, and Lord Umber had already departed, so Sir Kandel and the captives returned to the room they had come from to await these developments.

When the captives were once more alone in the cell where they had been interviewed by Lord Umber, a door hidden within the wall then revealed itself, opening to show a figure concealed in a killcloak which did gesture to the captives to come along, saying that they would be taken to safe refuge. Fereek, suspecting a trick, at first did refuse, but upon being told that if he remained within the gaol he would be hung, he and his fellows did grudgingly follow the mysterious figure through a passage within the walls, down a secret stair, and eventually into the sewers beneath Jeressa, where, after a lengthy and noisome passage, they emerged into a luxurious subterranean vice den operated by Fisk, a magnate of the Kinship.

Fisk confided that the Queen had contracted with him to secure the freedom of the three from the city gaol, a service that was perfectly legal in Ona Tengu for him to provide, as the activities of the Kinship are legal within the Realm, by terms of the original Charter of Ona Tengu. However, the three adventurers would now be hunted fugitives, so Fisk had arranged for them to have passage on a ship leaving Ona Tengu at dawn. But Sintar, Fereek, and Luka asked only that he return them to the Bucket of Blood by hidden ways, so that they could employ arcane means to to rejoin their brothers and sisters beneath the arena.

So this came to pass, as Fisk had a servant guide them through the sewer tunnels to the basement entrance of the Bucket of Blood, where, after arming and equipping themselves, and transforming themselves into other semblances using their shapeshifting gifts, Fereek and Sintar walked the Serpent Path, thinking of their kin Lior, opening portals upon reaching the heart of the pathway that took them to Lior's side.

While all these events were occurring, a group consisting of Lior, Yuni, Grerro, Jitaruhk, and Nori was taken by Asher to the underground gates leading into the warrens beneath the Royal Arena. Here they saw, in a large entrance area, several Tengish Knights guarding an inner gate, along with an elderly Durshi who was giving instruction to a Frodd positioned atop a wheeled ladder, who was chalking in various descriptive labels on a diagram of the two subterranean levels underlying the arena. Peering carefully, each adventurer could see that beneath the diagram of the second level, in an area that seemed blank upon the wall, there had once been another similar diagram, that had long since been painted over.

Addressing the Knights guarding the gate, Asher requested that the companions, whom she identified as "an inspection team from the Temples", be admitted to the corridors beneath the arena. The leader of the knights on guard, Sir Evanus, a burly Tharkish man with a bushy black beard, sneered at Asher's request, saying he would comply, but all knew who the group truly represented, and they would accomplish nothing, as the King would hardly need any outsider help to beat "that worthless bitch".

A voice was then heard from the shadows of the passage to the rightward, inquiring gently if by "that worthless bitch", Sir Evanus was referring to "our royal mother". Sir Evanus seemed flustered and taken aback, as from the darkness strode Prince Sir Walen, former Lord Regent of the Realm, and his younger sister Jerella; the Prince resplendent in a red silk and velvet full cloak with sable trim, the crowned sword of Ona Tengu worked cunningly in golden thread upon the cloak's back, with the house arms of the Redknight dynasty (a crimson mailed gauntlet clenched on a crumpled scroll and the words "ajunus nosh marvutar exama occudi nora" inscribed around the border, which is, in Old Durshi, "that which you destroy cannot obey you") worked into his red and gold tabard, over the brightly polished crimson plate mail of a Tengish knight, and his sister equally splendid in a purple and blue tabard worked with the symbol of the Sisterhood (an arrowed crown) over one breast, worn over an equally handsome set of fine chain armor that had been hot dyed red during its forging, and which shone like a sunset in the flickering of the torchlight in that place.

Sir Evanus then apologized in a most grudging tone, doing little to conceal his anger at being so rebuked by one many years his junior. Princess Jerella did encourage her brother to challenge and kill Evanus for the affront, and when Walen counseled peace to her, wished loudly she would be allowed to offer the challenge herself, as she would "disarm that jumped up trash, and then have him out of his armor, and flog him on his ass with the flat of her sword in front of his men and the entire realm", but as Walen was eldest, he stood for the family, and accepted Evanus' apology, offering that it was possible he had been mistaken in his perception, and Evanus could feasibly have been referring to some other woman as "that worthless bitch", perhaps even Evanus' own mother, whom Walen understood to be a Durshi charwoman. To which Sir Evanus flushed and glowered beneath his beard, yet held his peace, which may have shown unlooked for wisdom, as even at less than twenty full years, Prince Walen had been renowned throughout the realm as a tourney champion, huntsman, and duellist of surpassing skill, in addition to being a learned scholar of surpassing wit, as well.

After this, Prince Walen prayed Sir Evanus would be good enough to admit the party to the subterranean warrens, as he and his sister wished to accompany them on the first part of their inspection tour. Sir Evanus sullenly complied, taking a master key and opening the inner gates, allowing the group entry, and then securely locking the gates behind them again.

Within, the party could see the oval outer corridor of the warrens stretching away to their right and left, shadowy and dim with only intermittent torches lit here and there along their vast length. Prince Walen addressed them, advising that he had become aware that the Frodd Ventro, his father's court chamberlain, who was something of a mage, had launched a plan to attempt to invoke the protection of a spiritual guardian for King Kameron during the duel. For this invocation to be successful, Ventro would have to place a token, in this case, an arrow of unusual design, within the keystone found in the arena's foundation.

Princess Jerella then interjected, stating that the keystone was doubtless located in the secret third level beneath the arena. Walen disagreed, advising that she had listened to too many of Linmer's romantical tales concerning hidden passages and secret rooms, and there was no longer any such third level; the third level had once existed, to provide housing for the arena's original builders, but when the second level had been constructed on top of it, the first level had been filled in to form a firmer foundation for the arena. The keystone was doubtless part of that now buriedlevel, but as those warrens no longer existed as such, the keystone would have to be accessed from the second level, beneath the level the party was on now.

Princess Jerella hotly disagreed, stating that the third level had never been filled in and still existed, and doubtless Ventro and his party of Knights were already within it, performing the ritual at that very moment. Walen waved her to silence, and asked if the party would consent to seek out Ventro and his group and undertake to "discourage" them from providing any unfair advantage to either of his royal parents in the upcoming duel. He then offered the party a royal pardon without names filled in, stating "what has been done has been done by my will and for the good of the Realm", signed by him when he had been Lord Regent, that they could use to avoid any charges or repercussions for any actions they might take to accomplish this goal.

The party accepted the Prince's charge and pardon. The Prince and Princess then knocked on the gates and, upon having the gates opened for them, they took themselves away out of the inner warrens, leaving the party to seek out King Kameron's court chamberlain Ventro, as well as any others that might be in the passages beneath the arena scheming and conspiring to unfairly affect the coming duel.

At this point, lanterns and torches were lit, and Yuni did activate her Honan discipline of perceive to enhance her senses, while Jitaruhk did similarly enhance his own vision into the infrared range by magically manipulating his own essence.

After much discussion, the oft contentious family of Sankara Jin came to agree that they would descend to the second level and investigate for themselves as to the existence of this much disputed third level. And so they traveled to the leftward, and came around the first bend in the outer corridor, where they discovered a set of stone stairs cut through the floor leading downward, and hearing voices echoing up from the foot of these stairs, they hastily descended, yet the echoes within the warrens had deceived them, and upon emerging on the second level, they saw no one.

Examination in the light of their lanterns of the floor of that corridor, though, revealed an area similar in dimensions to the stairway they had just descended, that had been well sealed at some point in the past with brick and mortar, so Grerro put aside his war axe and took his battle hammer into both his hairy hands and he went to work with a will, and the dust and chips flew, and within a double score of minutes, he had smashed a hole as large as his torso through the upper layer of bricks and the thin wooden screen laid beneath it, and upon shining a light within, the party saw a dusty set of stone stairs leading further downward. And Grerro set about his destructive work again with great enthusiasm, and although he did lose one boot off of his foot down into the hole as he widened it, in less than half the course of an hourglass, he had cleared away a hole large enough for any of his family to descend through, and doing so, he recovered his boot and replaced it on his foot, and they all descended down the now rubble strewn, dust and cobweb covered stair into the darkness of the third level.

The rank smell of sewage was rife in the air there on that level, and the grouping wrinkled their noses and exclaimed in disgust, but most of them having been hardened to such travails and discomforts by past hardships while undertaking often gruesome and unpleasant adventures, they complained but little, other than their brother Jitaruhk, whose sheltered upbringing as a Sottle mage and scholar had done little to prepare him for such assaults upon his sensitive nature, and who shuddered at the offense to his olfactories, and deplored these continued explorations bitterly, yet, when put to the test, mustered his will to accompany his siblings further, into the hideously stench laden darkness.

At the foot of the staircase, the party discovered another oval outer hallway, similarly constructed to the two perimeter hallways they had seen on the levels above. Examining the dust there, they could find no sign of disturbance. Moving slowly down the hall, within fifty paces they came upon a gaping hole broken in the floor stones, beneath which they could see an open sewer tunnel, and from which came the effusive stench of offal and sewage. To bypass this chasm the party took to a narrow ledge of floor remaining along the inner side of the oval hallway, and it was as Yuni tread this narrow ledge carefully, back pressed to the inner wall, that her enhanced Honan senses realized that the wall behind her had a concealed rectangular shaped opening in it, shaped much like a door. Calling the others attention to this, she prodded and poked at it, and guided by her enhanced senses, quickly discovered how to open it.

Meanwhile, at this moment, Fereek and Sintar, shapeshifted into new forms, appeared next to Lior, for they had walked the Serpent Maze while thinking of their brother, and a portal had brought them to his side. And even though they had new forms on them, Fereek being merely a Thark of average appearance and Sintar now being a Jeopard, the family did know them immediately by the bond that they all shared.

Stepping within the newly discovered opening, Yuni was quickly followed by her siblings, each negotiating the ledge once again to enter this concealed passage. Within, the family discovered a vast hall, ornately tiled and decorated with priceless marbles, ivories, and obsidians, the walls, ceiling, and floor enscribed with detailed mosaics showing larger than life figures fighting armies and monsters with magical powers. Scholarly Jitaruhk realized that this hall depicted the mythical occasions of the ancient pantheon of Durshi gods, and pointed out to his brothers and sisters the scene depicting Vakashta, Lord of Battle and the Storm, killing a thousand demons with one lightning bolt, or Mirriti, Goddess of Fire and Beauty, burning the great undead lord Saakrogog to ashes with the flames of her aura, or Marvuta, God of Death and Destruction, drinking the life of entire armies with only his burning gaze, or Woda, the Highfather of all the Gods, wrestling the great Chaos Serpent at the edge of the Eternal Abyss, while his treacherous son Loka, God of Evil and Chaos, was being chained to the Great World Tree by Woda's winged, four armed minions, Haja and Gojaja.

Pressing onward, the party heard a soft splashing, and following that sound, they discovered the source to be a beautiful golden fountain encrusted with jewels, jetting perfumed water into the air to then fall back within its own basin in almost musical notes. This fountain was set back in an alcove, and from that alcove there opened three doors. Fereek boldly stepped forward and opened the door closest to himself, which was fashioned of a slab of beautify mahogany intricately carved into a beautiful scene of entwining vines and flowers with various jungle creatures, and whose ornate brass handle was shaped in the form of an elephant's head with dangling trunk.

Upon swinging open the door, Fereek beheld a vast room with a lushly woven carpet of intricate design depicting many beautifully detailed images of winged tigers and other strange beasts upon the floor, and various marvelous tapestries on the walls, with beautifully wrought alabaster urns in each corner from which wondrously subtle incenses perfumed the air, while the sounds of several unfamiliar instruments were heard playing the eerie wailing music of the Durshi. And the room was brightly lit, but from what source Fereek could not detect, for the lighting seemed to come from everywhere, and cast no shadow.

Within the room was only one personage besides Fereek, a slender figure more than a head taller than a tall man, clad all in red and black, with the dark coppery skin of a Durshi and a Durshi's long black hair gathered into a tail behind his head, yet upon his head coming only halfway across and coming to a high peaked point well above his jutting brows and dark eyebrows. This figure's eyes could not be seen within the deep shadows cast by his prominent brows, yet Fereek noted the twin piercing gleams of a powerful gaze there within the darkness, fixed on him as he stepped within the chamber like burning black coals.

No weapons as such were to be seen about this figure's person; no sword did he openly bear, nor spurs did he wear on his feet, and his garments were of the finest silk, a black sleeveless garment baring much of his chest, and black trousers hanging loosely about his calves in the fashion of the old Durshi, and a blood red sash around his narrow waist, and blood red boots on his feet. On each finger he wore a bejeweled ring, each jewel of each ring being a different color, and one of them shimmering in all the colors of the rainbow, and upon his brow was a great red ruby that seemed to dance there like a living flame, in accompaniment to the ebon fires that seemed to burn within this figure's hidden eyes.

Beyond this figure was a vast and intricate mechanism of brass tubing and copper clockwork gears and gleaming gems, which Fereek's mind could not fully grasp. And as Fereek paused in awe on the doorstep, this figure gazed upon him and said, in a deep sonorous tone, "You have great potential for a mortal. Will you serve me? With but a century's training, you could take your place among the pantheon with the mightiest."

To which Fereek replied, after a moment, with the single uttered syllable: "Glah?"

Yet did Fereek master his awe, and he did recover himself, and follow this utterance with "I? The pantheon? But Lord, I am no Durshi."

To which the personage laughed, briefly, and then replied "Nor am I, little man. Come, it is an offer not often extended to mortals. Will you serve me?"

And Fereek turned the offer within his mind, and said, "My lord, I would do so, but my family has need of me, and also, I am pledged to one of the new Gods."

And then the great being before him seemed to lose interest, muttering "Yea, I thought I smelt the stench of those temples on you," and turned his attention back to the device he stood next to.

And then Fereek, greatly taking his life into his hands, did inquire, "My Lord, are you... Vakashta, God of Battle?"

And the god responded, with a sigh, "I suppose it is better to be mistaken for my brother than to not have my stature acknowledged at all."

And then Fereek said, "My Lord... are you then Marvuta, God of Death and Destruction?

And the god replied, almost absently, "Yea, I am he, now go hence, little man; if ye will not serve me, then leave me to my work here."

And so Fereek did quietly close the door, and advise his kin "He is a god, and it is best we do not trouble him."

Yet Jitaruhk did not wish to bypass this opportunity to converse with a god, and so, after mustering his courage, he knocked softly at the door, and it swung open of its own accord, and the god looked at Jitaruhk, and said "Yes?"

And Jitaruhk responded with great eloquence, saying: "Hnrh?"

And the god did smile, and say "I have never had one of you Than come before me. What would you? Would you worship Death and Destruction?"

And Jitaruhk was awed, and responded: ""Glah?"

And the god said, dryly, "Your people have a reputation for eloquence that is perhaps overstated." And the door swung shut on Jitaruhk. And shamed by his inability to speak coherently in the presence of the god, Jitaruhk did turn away.

And his brothers and sisters jeered and made much sport of him.

Yet Fereek felt the god might help if asked properly, and so he opened the door again and, with a gulp, he did ask, "My Lord, we crave pardon for trespassing here within your precincts, but there is somewhere in this place a villain we seek, would you know if there is a Frodd here doing arcane magics, to give the King an unfair advantage in the coming duel?"

And Marvuta, his eyes glinting with annoyance, said "I know of these things, I know of all things within my temple, yet I leave mortals to their own affairs and do not interfere, unless they offend me, and this little King did craft me this fine temple here, in exchange for the aid of my servants in building the place of combat above in much less time than mere mortals could accomplish the task. Do you wish me to place my thumb in the balance of this conflict between the mortal King and his Queen, little man? For he has dealt fairly with me, and I know naught of her. Weigh your words well, for the fate of a kingdom may lie with what you say next, or, at least, the fate of your own small and fragile flesh certainly does."

And Fereek did now regret disturbing the god at his labors, yet he persevered. "No, Lord, I would not have you intervene in these things, I but crave the boon of your wisdom, as to where these servants of the King may be found."

And then did the god's eyes turn back to Fereek, and he said, loftily, "Those who crave boons from a god shall bring offerings. What have you for me? I sense about you several items of puissant power."

And so Fereek took from his person one of the gems he used to amplify his own psionic abilities and placed it humbly on the floor, and the god nodded. "That is well done," he said. "Lower thy mental shields, that I not hurt thee with this enlightenment." And Fereek did so, and suddenly within his mind appeared the knowledge of where Ventro and his accompanying knights were to be found, and how to reach that place, and Marvuta added, "I can provide a minor distraction for thee and thine, go now." And Fereek said "Our thanks, most mighty Lord!" and he pulled the door closed behind him and said to his brothers, "I know where the Frodd is, we must go there quickly."

Now, while Jitaruhk and Fereek had dallied with the god Marvuta, Yuni and Ghrerro had searched other corridors in the Temple, and Yuni had discovered an oddly shaped room, its walls angled, its roof coming to a point, as if one were within a pyramid. She perceived a force of some sort gathered in this room with her Honan abilities, and as she stepped cautiously into the room, felt the force gather about her brow, and felt her perceptions begin to expand exponentially. Uncertain as to what was occurring, she rapidly retreated, and she and Grerro rejoined the others waiting outside Marvuta's door. And it was then that Fereek emerged and urged them all to combat.

And so, following their brother with weapons in hand, the sons and daughters of Sankara Jin did rush out to battle.

Leading the group to the location Marvuta had placed within his mind, Fereek saw that indeed, with a small room down the hallway from Marvuta's temple, a block had been levered out of the wall and a Frodd, surrounded by Tengish Knights, was kneeling next to the block, which appeared to have been opened along its top, revealing a hollow within. Around the block, both the Frodd and the Knights were batting at the air, as if at a plague of invisible gnats. Distracted thusly, they were not aware of the approach of the group, who burst upon them and took them unawares. Although the knights attempted to draw their weapons, the shock of the sudden attack was such that they were all quickly defeated -- one unfortunate knight having his metal helmet turned molten on his head, and then, as he screamed in agony, being impaled through the groin when Nori charged him with her rapier.

Upon seeing his escort quickly defeated, the Frodd Ventro surrendered, beseeching the group of adventurers to spare his life. Ghrerro then seized one knight, still moaning in pain from his wounds, by the ankle, and dragged him back to Marvuta's temple and into Marvuta's presence, saying that he wished to worship Marvuta and offering the knight as a sacrifice. Marvuta seemed pleased with this, stating that he had never had a 'beastling' as a worshipper before, and advised Ghrerro to kneel. Placing a psychic mark on Ghrerro to bond his mind to that of Marvuta, the Lord of Death and Destruction bid Ghrerro rise again, and gifted him with a gem psionically configured to increase Ghrerro's strength when worn next to his skin. Ghrerro thanked Marvuta and departed; as he did, he heard the knight he had offered Marvuta begin screaming in agony behind him.

The remainder of the dead and defeated knights were thrown down into the sewers through a hole in the passage floor, and Ventro was bound, after the group reflected that Ventro's public confession as to his activities would certainly embarrass King Kameron greatly.

Now the party fell to scheming as to how they would leave the warrens with Ventro in their custody. Fearing the knights on guard would attempt to free the king's chamberlain, several ideas were suggested. Fereek, having studied the basics of opening portals with his mind, considered attempting to do so within the Temple of Marvuta, in the room that Yuni had found, that seemed to in some way amplify her own psionic abilities. So the party returned there, and found that room again, and Fereek strode into it, attempting to focus his mind on the ability to open a portal between one point and another.

With each step he took into the room, Fereek felt his consciousness and sheer mental power expand. Although the task of opening a doorway between one physical location and another was far too difficult for one of his skill, within two strides, he realized that he could indeed do it... not merely between the party's current location and the Bucket of Blood, but to anywhere in the city of Jeressa. With another step, he realized he could open a portal to anywhere within the kingdom of Ona Tengu... with another, he realized the entire Ancient Lands was accessible to his expanded mind... and as he stepped into the center of the room, beneath the apex of the room's roof, the entire universe seemed spread before him.

His mind raced, out of control. Such was his expanded mental power, he could go anywhere. An infinitude of choices baffled and perplexed him. His will was paralyzed by the vastness of his options.

Watching from across the room, Jitaruhk was the first to notice that Fereek's physical form seemed to be growing insubstantial, as if Fereek were fading away, or as if his physical being were being drawn away, absorbed particle by particle into the greater fabric of creation. Rushing forward, the Sottle mage hurled himself at his brother. For a fleeting second, it felt as if Fereek's body were no more than mist and Jitaruhk would pass through him like a cloud... but then both felt solid impact as they collided, and the force sent both sprawling to the floor, away from the center spot in the room.

The rush of mental amplification departed, and Fereek gathered his wits once more. He thanked Jitaruhk for his actions, and admitted with some rue that while the room would give him the power to open a portal to anywhere in creation, he had not yet sufficient control of the ability to do it with any reliability.

So it was decided to find an empty room outside Marvuta's temple, where Fereek, Sintar, and the Frodd Ventro would wait, while the rest of the grouping returned to the Bucket of Blood, and one would walk the Serpent Maze to open a portal to retrieve the three left behind.

And as the party sought such a room, chanting was heard from another region of the third level, chanting of a sort that sent chills through the adventurers and made them all feel vaguely queasy. Proceeding up the outer hallway towards the chanting, the group of adventurers saw a great stream of vermin -- roaches, mice, rats, small lizards, insects of all varieties -- streaming up from out of the sewer and pouring in a vast river around the corner of the oval hallway. Approaching more closely and peering around the corner, the party beheld a horrific sight - several hooded people, chanting and gesticulating, in front of a glowing, asymmetrical glyph scrawled on the wall above them, which was glowing as wavering lines of indistinct energy rose up from the drifts of vermin piling up into heaps all around them. In the nightmarish glow of the disquieting sigil, the adventurers pondered their next move...

September 20, 2009
Players Tammy (Yuni)
Nate (Fereek)
Kelly (Sintar)
Dan (Lior)
Tina (Nhori)
Brett (Jitaruhk)
James (Ghrerro)

So here's what happened, pretty much:

There was all these guys in killcloaks... you know, the big floppy robes with the wire frameworks underneath, so archers can't aim at any part of your body, right?... and they were chanting and dancing around and there was this big glowing sign written on the wall behind them and all these rats and insects and lizards and nasty stuff were coming out of the walls and floor and all this energy was coming out of their bodies and going into the big sign on the wall. Which was pretty freaky.

So Fereek tried to use his witch powers to make the fire from one of the torches shoot out onto the cloaked guys. But it just kind of spattered off some invisible shield they had around them, and Fereek was all like, dude, that totally sucked. And Yuni was all like, no, my brother, it is you who totally suck, and she did one of her Honan things and made a big lightning bolt form around one of her arrowheads, and she shot the arrow into the glowing sign on the wall, and there was a big flash of light and energy, and all the dancing chanting guys in cloaks fell over, and Fereek and Nori, who were both staring real hard at the glowing thingie, grabbed their heads and fell down, totally knocked out.

So then Ghrerro, who is an Ulvane and therefore completely nuts, screamed and pulled out his warhammer and his mace and he went charging up to the cloaked guys, who were all like crawling on the ground and moaning and saying like "Brother Urkhart, Brother Urkhart, do something", and one of them saw him coming and like waved at him and said something groaty, and Ghrerro's weapons turned into water in his hands. And Ghrerro was like, damn, bitchez, I was gonna hit you with those. But then he just ran up and punched the fuck out of the guy in the killcloak who melted his weapons, and the guy's ribs snapped and his teeth flew out and he fell down totally messed up.

And then Lior was up there too and he was totally slaughtering cloaked guys with his sword, and Yuni was shooting with her arrows, and Sintar was throwing javelins, and another cloaked guy waved his hands and said something and the dead bodies of all the rats and insects and lizards kind of shimmered and turned into three big monsters. One of them was like this big eyeball floating in the air surrounded by blue flames, and another was like this three headed rat the size of a bear, and the third was like this horrible black centipede thing 12 feet long with a giant fanged mouth and thousands of claw-feet.

So Jitaruhk tried to cast a spell and the big flaming eyeball didn't like that so it fired this blue bolt at him and like his whole leg dissolved. So Yuni shot it right through the eye and it fell down and smashed into little bits of crystal. And the centipede thing went lightning fast after Lior but it couldn't hit him because he kept dodging out of the way and slicing at it with his sword and eventually it fell into pieces of crystal too. And the big three headed rat thing decided to run up and totally maw on Yuni and Sintar, but they both shot it with arrows and javelins and it fell over and smashed into crystal too.

So then everyone tried to go up and get the cloaked guys, but they were all like, dude, get us OUTTA here, and it was like invisible fire came licking up their bodies from their heads to their toes and they completely vanished.

So then the group heard somebody clear his throat behind them and they turned around and there was this Frodd in weird black and red robes and he was all like, my master the God of Death and Destruction says thanks for cleaning those noisy chanting dudes out of the place, they were totally heinous, so here's a token of his thanks, and then the Frodd handed out little metal headbands to each of the party. And they totally put them on, and the headbands completely wiped out their memories of finding a temple to Marvuta on the secret level under the arena, except for Ghrerro. The headbands also made each member of the group a little smarter, or a little more strong willed, or luckier; whichever they liked best. And nobody but Ghrerro even remembered where the headbands had come from, and he wouldn't tell any of his family what was up.

But then they found that the stupid Frodd they captured trying to do a magic spell on the arena keystone had totally escaped while they were fighting and crap. Which sucked, becaus that Frodd was the Vizier to King Kameron's court, and they wanted to make him admit he had been trying to cheat on King Kameron's behalf to embarrass the King in public.

So they waited for Fereek and Nori to wake up, and then Lior picked up Jitaruh, because Jitaruhk had one of his legs totally dissolved, which sucked, and they all went back upstairs and knocked on the gates and the Knights let them out but guess what? The Frodd was totally there and he accused the group of like murdering all these Tengish Knights and throwing their bodies in a hole to the sewer, and Prince Walen totally had to show up and get that shit sorted out, and he said that if the Frodd wanted to press charges that was cool but then the group would be able to answer those charges by describing what the Frodd had been doing down there and it would all be confirmed by magic, so the Frodd said okay, he wouldn't press charges. And everybody went home.

So Jitaruhk tried to shapeshift into some different bodies to see if he could get his leg back, and it worked, but then he did something wrong and wound up passing out and losing all his magical and shapeshifting powers for 30 days, and he woke up in his original body with one leg missing, which he thought sucked. And Fereek had a real bad headache, and Jitaruhk looked him over, and even without his magic, he diagnosed that Fereek had done some kind of permanent brain damage to himself by using his crystal to amplify his mental functions for so long. So Fereek was really depressed, too.

So the next day the group went back to the arena without Fereek or Jitaruhk, and they found the stairs down to the secret third level had been sealed up again, and Ghrerro smashed a hole through the new bricks, and all these nasty giant bloodsucking moths came out and the party was like, whoa, nasty giant bloodsucking moths, fucking bummer, dudes. So they fought the nasty bloodsucking giant moths and sliced them all to pieces and now they're getting ready to go back downstairs to the third level.

And that is all.

* * * *

March 12 2010

Okay. Everybody says I have to start doing these things again. By 'everybody', I mostly mean, my wife. So I have to.

All right, last we left, they were still fucking around in the arena. So let's whip on through that. They went back down to the secret level and found Hunter skulking around. He'd used his alchemical formulas on the bodies of the knights the party had killed and thrown in the sewers, so the party had to fight Hunter and a couple of alchemically mutated monsters. The Frodd who was King Kameron's vizier was down there, too, accompanying Hunter. Apparently, he was in thrall to Hunter. So the party fought the bad guys and won again. Hunter got away. Lior ripped the Frodd's head off.

The party went back to the Bucket of Blood. Fereek had discovered that the recurring headaches he'd been having were a symptom of a brain tumor, apparently an effect of his frequent abuse of psionics amplifiers. Gherro was offered the chance to join the Dread Guard of Marvuta, God of Death and Destruction, and accepted it. Fereek was recruited by an emissary of the same pantheon. Both of them departed for the Eastern Isles via portals, probably never to return.

After that pretty much the next interesting thing that happened was the big duel between the King and Queen, which the Queen won through the tactic of having one of her covert followers keep the King up all night the night before the duel, drinking and fucking like rabbits. The girl was wearing a perfume/body rub that behaved like a slow acting drug on the King, as well, further debilitating him. So the Queen won fairly easily, as he was way off his game. None of the party was aware of the Queen's cunning strategy at this time, they were just happy she won.

After her coronation, she unveiled a statue to Sankara Jin, father to most of the party members, including the latest addition, Z'Kuhl, a Northark shaman. Z'Kuhl had arrived accompanied by his foster brother, K'shar, a Jeopard of the haraq (Siamese) subrace, who had the Major Psionic Gift of Self Levitation. The Queen appointed Jitaruk her new court sorcerer, Luka the new Lord of the Quarter of Jeressa where the Bucket of Blood stands, assigned a knight named Hamar to be her liaison to the House of Jin.

The Temples asked Nhori to go off to Do'Samaqel to recover something called the Pontifex Orrery, as payment for her shield. The Queen advised the party that she would like to see this done. The Temples could only send the party about 2/3s of the way to Do' Samaqel, as the gods have no power in areas strongly associated with a Jhareesh, even a dead one. So the party ended up on an unnamed island in the Bay of Bones far to the north of the River, but still about 12 days steady sailing from Do'Samaqel. The party traveled to the one city on the island, Freeport, where they attempted to hire a ship. However, no ship can depart Freeport without permission from the Board of Organized Trade (the BOOT) and when the party tried to get letters of transit (cannot be revoked - not even questioned), a member of the BOOT named Gundra advised them that she wanted a favor from them first - she wanted an accident to happen to an agitator who was trying to stir up passive, non violent resistance by the local slave race. The party didn't want to do this, and upon discovering that Gundra had assigned one of her agents, an Yssan Poisoner, to follow them around, they killed him. This necessitated they flee Freeport. They did, making their way by teleport to Vath, another city across the Bay of Bones built within a huge sentient tree of the same name.

Here the party hired a ship called the Red Raven to take them to Do'Samaqel. While in Vath, K'Shar was contacted mentally by the Vath, the vast tree that the city is built in, and asked to bring the Pontifex Orrery to it. K'Shar did not mention this to the rest of the party.

After 12 days sail, the party reached Do'Samaqel. They discovered the city to be entirely empty of habitation except for a strange cluster of hundreds of what looked like enormous snow flakes that floated around the streets, seeming to act as a sort of guardian. After surviving several encounters with this odd entity, Z'Kuhl decided to summon a water elemental to destroy it. The water elemental accepted Z'Kuhl's charge, saying it would "eradicate the connection between the entity and the city". The waters of the Bay of Bones then drew back away from the dock in front of Do'Samqel where the party had taken refuge. The party shapeshifted into Aven and flew high enough to avoid the tidal wave that swamped Do'Samaqel, all but destroying the city. They then flew southeast to the island where the Red Raven was waiting for them.

On the journey back to the River, the Red Raven laid over at Vath for a night. Here the party witnessed what happens in seemingly idyllic Vath when a crime is committed, watching as a fleeing thief was pursued by a pack of flying squirrels the size of cougars. As the thief fled past him, Lior sensed that she was a member of his race, a Malkane. During her escape, a resident of the great tree city was killed, causing all the other residents to seem to come together into some sort of murderously violent collective mind, bent on vengeance. The party watched as the shapeshifted thief, in tiger form, leapt off a limb of the vast tree into the Bay. Disquieted by these revelations as to the true nature of Vath, the party quickly departed. On the way out of the Vath harbor, the Red Raven found a naked woman Lior recognized as the escaped thief drifting in the bay and pulled her aboard. Her name was Chicory, and she quickly befriended Lior.

On the voyage back to Tharkis City, the Red Raven was attacked by a Marrish raiding vessel, apparently hired by Gundra of Freeport's BOOT, to avenge the death of her Yssan Poisoner. During the battle, Z'Kuhl was killed by a Honan archer shooting from the attacking vessel. K'Shar, distraught with grief, flew straight up into the air at maximum speed (something like Mach 4) and then flew straight back down from half a mile or so up, targeting the crow's nest where the Honan Archer was. The impact destroyed the Marrish raiding vessel and nearly swamped the Red Raven.

Upon reaching Tharkis City, the Red Raven encountered a Tengish warpship, stationed there with orders to bring the House of Jin back to Ona Tengu as soon as possible. There they were told that the Queen had been assassinated through an evil spell by the Lord of Jennaru, that Prince Walen was acting Monarch, and as he did not favor the House of Jin, their accounts had been frozen and their property had been confiscated. After a day or so, calmer heads in Walen's court prevailed, and Walen grudgingly offered the House of Jin the opportunity to redeem themselves, if they would work with the Temples to avenge his mother's assassination.

During this short time, Chicory overheard the party discussing their common lineage, and questioned Lior closely on his own parentage. Upon hearing that he was not, in fact, a full blooded Malkane, but was instead the child of a Malkane and an outsider temporarily shapeshifted into Malkane form, she expressed scorn for Lior, calling him an abomination and saying his obvious devotion to his family showed him to be soft and useless, and no true Malkane. She then left, expressing a wish that someday she and Lior might meet 'under the Blood Moon'.

The party, joined by Esseel, Asok, and his eagle pet Goldenwing, went back to the Bucket of Blood to prepare themselves for the mission and to await on the Temples, who had undertaken to prepare the party's weapons by impregnating them with silver, the one metal effective against undead and other creatures of chaos.

Upon being shown the Serpent's Maze enscribed on the floor of the basement, Esseel and Goldenwing decided to walk the pattern. After mustering their wills to pass through the refining ordeal, Esseel found that she could now, through an act of meditation, sink her consciousness into the very matrix of reality and draw forth from it various bits of arcane knowledge, as if she were an expert scholar on any subject. However, she found the feat exhausting.

Similarly, the spirit-eagle Goldenwing found himself more closely aligned with Order, and he felt as if some great power now welled up within him, waiting only to be released by a scream of righteous fury.

On the second night, the newly assembled companions found themselves under attack by a horde of vampiric Undead, apparently under the control of their father's former servant Ignatz, who was seduced by a curse of darkness and transformed into an undead some time before.

Now, with Undead pounding at the front door of the Bucket of Blood demanding invitation within, the malevolent cackling of the triumphant Ignatz echoing eerily through the building, the party huddles together, struggling to evolve some plan or strategy that will get them through the night.

Any of my players who want to go into this thing and add details I've forgotten or glossed over, feel free to quote and then modify the above account.

Sunday March 7 2010
Players Tammy (Yuni)
Nate (Goldenwing)
Kelly (Sintar)
Dan (Lior)
Tina (Nhori)
Brett (Eldrees)
James (Haman)

Okay. So, hordes of vampires

pounding at the Bucket of Blood's door, the Undead Ignatz cackling malevolently from the rooftop, the party huddled together inside the former bar area, lit by a lantern, a few torches, and a few of the PC's glowbes, trying desperately to come up with some kind of plan.

Abruptly, an exhalation of utter cold and darkness seems to breathe through the building, extinguishing all light. The living inhabitants find themselves plunged into freezing blackness -- and then --

-- abruptly, they are elsewhere. They are aching from a season of hard labor in the fields, their skins ruddy from the sun, gleaming with perspiration. Their stomachs are full of fried meats, honeyed pastries, and popped corn; gourds of sweet wine are in their hands. Above them is a vast striped awning shading them from the sun; around them are the thousands of others from their community, all taking a much deserved holiday at the end of the harvest season. They sit, row upon row upon row of them, on the side of a terraced hillside that in other seasons is used for the growing of maize and rice.

And before them on the river flats is spread a wonderful show, a traveling troupe of Romaine performers that has been performing for them all day as they feast upon the largesse of their grateful lords, here in the shade of this vast awning.

They have seen Frodd jugglers performing incredible feats with their four arms, pinwheeling across the ground while keeping fountains of swords, axes, and lit torches constantly circling about them. They have watched beautiful ladies clad only in perfumed oil and gaudy feathers, vaulting and somersaulting on the backs of galloping chargers. They have seen snake charmers and knife throwers, gazed with awe as the world's strongest Giant has lifted a team of oxen over his hairless grey head, watched as teams of apparently indestructible Swamp Men have been hurled from huge catapults to the other side of the River, only to come galloping back minutes later unhurt. Jeopard lion tamers

and Aven aerial acrobats have cavorted before them. They have seen wonders... and now the greatest wonder of all remains just beyond the wall of the huge tent. They can see great tusked shadows on the huge tent's canvas wall, as the Romaine ringmaster whips the crowd into a frenzy of anticipation...

For now, it is time for the famous Black Elephants of the Ebon Marches to take the stage...

Now the audience surges to its feet, chanting "We want the Elephants! Send in the elephants! Bring in the elephants!" Now the player characters find themselves caught up in the frenzy of the crowd, on their feet, swaying in time with the throng around them, their lips moving, their lungs expanding, on the very verge of joining in the chant...

(Now everybody has to make Willpower rolls to restrain themselves from joining in the chant. Everybody but Yuni, that is; her Mortal Fear is elephants, which ties in to her negative attribute Hunted... she is hunted by the Black Elephants of the Ebon Marches, an ancient group of undead, demon possessed pachyderms whom she escaped in her youth, and who have sought her avidly ever since, wherever she has gone.)

So, six failed Willpower rolls later:

As suddenly as they were elsewhere, the party finds themselves back in the bar, standing, horrified, petrified with terror, as they can still hear the echoes of themselves joining the chant, ringing back from the walls, can still feel the words exploding forth from their mouths:

"We want the elephants! Send in the elephants! Bring in the elephants!"

And now, in the distance but coming closer, there is a rumbling they can feel through the soles of their boots, and the triumphant brass trumpet calls of approaching elephants...

Okay. So. Black Elephants. Yeah.

See, here's the deal with them.

Some thousands of years ago (so say the storytellers) a Durshi caliph named Egura the Seventh (or maybe it was Donuga the Fourth, you go back that far, it all gets confused) ruled a region of Dusha known the length and breadth of the River as being the fairest place in the Ancient Lands. Fertile fields, vast green forests, wonderful hunting ranges, rampant wild flowers, sparkling blue lakes and rushing clean rivers, lush grasslands, incredibly talented crafters, some of the most industrious and hard working peasants to be found anywhere.

And, unfortunately, a caliph (Egura, or, maybe, Donuga) with a weakness for games of chance.

Said weakness inevitably (as these things will) attracted the attention of a demonic spirit, for demons love all fleshly vices, and they especially love to find weaknesses in mortals that they may exploit to win access to living bodies, for however brief a time. And so it came to be that this demonic spirit came to the Durshi lord in a dream, and offered him a wager. Now, the details of the wager are somewhat unclear, but, still, demons are only ever interested in one thing, and it is undeniable that this foolish caliph did indeed accept the wager. And, as often happens when mortals wager with demons, the caliph lost the bet, and was, therefore, under its terms, obligated to turn 13 of his followers over to the demon prince, so said bodies could be possessed while living and given over to the uses of the demon and his minions.

Now the caliph thought he was being clever, when he gestured out over his lands and said something like, very well, choose any 13 of the beasts of the fields of my lands, and their bodies shall be yours. But it is a rare mortal who can best an immortal spirit in a test of wits, and the demon prince happily accepted the caliph's terms, taking for himself, and directing 12 of his followers to, the bodies of 13 of the most powerful and regal elephants of the caliph's region.

The palace of the caliph did not long survive the rampages of the possessed elephants. The remains of the caliph resembled nothing so much as a scattered bundle of bloody rags after the elephants' rage was spent. And the vast fertile region that the caliph's family had so proudly ruled for generations quickly became a marshy waste, cut off from the sun as it was by the deep, gloomy shadows that quickly fell across the land as its new, dark lords took control over it.

And some 60 years later, when the possessed elephants finally reached the end of their mortal lifespans, the demonic spirits within them infused those bodies with necromantic energy, making them Undead, and immortal.

And thus were born the Black Elephants of the Ebon Marches, and to this day, only the very brave or the very foolish among living men dare to venture into their domain.

(The Ebon Marches now border the vaster darkness of the Shadowlands, yet it is said that even the vampiric Noble Bloodlines that now rule those Unholy Lands with gore streaked hands view the Black Elephants with dread and awe, and do not willingly interfere with their affairs.)

Yet some mortals do still dwell there in the cursed Ebon Marshes. They are the distant descendants of that long ago caliph's hard working people, cultivated like livestock by their demonic masters, for above all other things, demons love to inflict anguish and torment on those weaker than themselves, and the Black Elephants especially cultivate a taste for live human meat. There is nothing the Black Elephants love better than to chase down a victim, gore them on one or both tusks, and then methodically tear off chunks of still living flesh for a long, leisurely meal.

Now, the Black Elephants rarely leave the deep darkness of the Ebon Marches, but when one of their livestock escapes to the outer world, they tend to take it personally. And so it is that the Black Elephants have pursued Yuni all across the River, seeking to return her to their human herds where she belongs. Long stymied by the limitations of their Undead forms, which prevents them ever entering within the walls of a city inhabited by living folk without an invitation from some living mortal dwelling within, now, at long last, their frustration is at an end.

So it was that within minutes, the walls of the Bucket of Blood began to rock and shudder from the battering of massive Undead elephant forms without.

Okay. So, the party flies into a panic and the three members who can shapeshift (Lior, Sintar, and Nhori) run upstairs, planning to shapeshift into Aven and fly out a window. This will take about ten minutes for Lior and Nhori (Sintar is already an Aven), and they are somewhat surprised to see Yuni already in an upstairs room, already deep in a shapeshifting trance, as she took off at a dead run back when everyone else was in a trance chanting "Send in the elephants".

Meanwhile, Haman and Eldrees have run downstairs to the Serpent Path, planning to walk it again and use its abilities to teleport themselves to safety. None are aware that Goldenwing and Asok have remained behind. Once alone, Goldenwing has his mindless human thrall remove his leather helm, after which Goldenwing tears his throat out, as an act of mercy, to prevent him being killed and possibly raised as a vampire. Following that, Goldenwing flew upstairs, planning to help guard the shapeshifters while they were in the process of changing into Aven.

So the elephants keep smashing into the building, and Goldenwing goes on the attack. Flying out over the vampire infested street, Goldenwing feels a righteous fury welling up inside him at the sight of all these minions of darkness and death. He stoops on them and begins to shriek, and from his open beak there issues forth a blast of pure order, as brilliant as the sun, which routs the evil creatures below, turning some to dust and sending others fleeing in terror. Two of the demonic Black Elephants vanish, becoming elephant shaped shadows that stretch away along the street and vanish into the darkness. However, each use of this ability drains Goldenwing's life force in a painful and tiring fashion. Nonetheless, the heroic spiritbeast continues to fly around harassing and destroying the Undead. At one point, he swoops down on Ignatz and tears away the blessed Cloak of Shadows that has been protecting him, and then destroys the master vampire with another soul draining shriek of pure Order.

During all of this, the two in the basement successfully walk the Serpent Maze and teleport out to the Temples on the other side of the city, while the four upstairs complete their shapeshifts and fly to the Temples in Aven form.

Goldenwing accompanies the shapeshifted Aven, carrying the cursed Cloak of Shadows.

From the Temples, the High Priest of the Temple of Time, Ephesius, does a momentary miracle of Stasis on the area around the Bucket of Blood. As Time is an older and more powerful God than Death, this will completely destroy any Undead minions of Death that may still be lurking there. However, it costs an enormous amount of the Temple's stored favor to do this, so the Temples are not pleased with the House of Jin. They become even more displeased when the House of Jin insists that the Temple of Fire destroy the Cloak of Shadows, for although the Temple of Death is outlawed in the realm of Ona Tengu, Death is a recognized member of the pantheon, and the Priesthood feels they would do better to turn the Cloak over to a representative of the Temple of Death than to destroy it, and that the House of Jin should butt out of the intricacies of complex interTemple politics.
Several of the PCs at this point threaten that if the Temples do not destroy this unholy object, they will make their refusal to do so public, and force the Temples to explain why they are preserving the existence of a necromantic object designed only to protect an Undead wearer from destruction by sunlight, fire, or silver weapon. At this point, with much bad grace, the Temples capitulate, and while the PCs watch, they destroy the Cloak of Shadows with holy fire.

Following this, the Temples announce that as they have had several unanticipated expenditures of favor, they will no longer be able to teleport the PCs to Jennaru, and instead, passage has been arranged for the PCs on a ship called the River Rat. The PCs accept this with much bad grace and return to the Bucket of Blood to await the arrival of their silvered weapons on the morrow.

The next day, several items arrive from the Temples, including the silvered weapons, along with a crate of beautifully made boots for all the members of the party that wear such, a chest of wonderfully made trail rations, and another chest containing the finest physicker/chiurgeon's kit anyone has ever seen. No one in the party wants to carry the two chests around, but no one wants to leave them behind, either, so two mules are purchased from the Caravanserei Guild and the party treks across the city again. They managed to locate the River Rat and, after several mishaps involving a local street gang and the discovery that a mule cannot easily walk up a narrow gangplank, they boarded (leaving the mules behind, one on the dock, the other in the belly of a hungry ungaru beneath the waters of the River) and set out for Jennaru.

On the way to Jennaru, a random encounter with a mist shrouded island led to several brief interactions with the Gods, resulting in the party receiving several blessings, and Nhori sacrificing her Shield of Banor on an altar to the Goddess of Silver and Gold.

Sir Haman attempted to sacrifice a page from the Charter of Ona Tengu on an altar marked with a balance; he received a vision showing the betrayal and murder by the other Gods of the one time God of Justice, and heard a voice asking if he were willing to 'make the ultimate sacrifice, to restore Justice'. Haman agreed instantly, and found himself surrounded by a golden glow, and then drawn into the scale of justice, never to return. A flash of golden light lit the strange island, the waters around it, and the distant shores of the mighty River on either side, clearly delineating for only an instant every detail of every twig, leaf, vine, berry, every animal peering out of the jungle, and every man and woman looking on.

Then the light faded, but everyone present felt that something huge had just occurred... that the very foundations of reality had just shifted around them, and that nothing would ever be the same again...

Next session: Jennaru, City of Shadows!

9:40 AM �

Sunday March 21 2010
Players Tammy (Yuni)
Nate (Goldenwing)
Kelly (Sintar)
Tina (Nhori)
James (Mystery Chick)

Okay. So, after the big thing with the altar of the gods, a listlessness set in. Day after day of river travel, the same clear, hot weather, the cramped shipboard routine, one day blending into the next, humdrum, boring, a sort of sleepiness set in. When Lior and Eldrees became mildly sick from some sort of river fever and fell into a somnolent semi stupor, the rest of the party barely noticed, lost as they were in their own tropical torpor.

It seemed more like some predestined part of a story, or like some ongoing dream, than actual reality when three days later, the ship ran into an underground snag, springing a small leak in the forward deck just below the waterline.

Without excitement, the crew announced they would put in at a nearby island they knew, where there was a small, nameless fishing village. There, they could make the repairs necessary and get back on the River the following day.

Upon arrival at the island, the party was promptly invited to have dinner with the local lord, who dwelt in a keep carved out of the rock of the island's central stone peak. Another presence shadowed their steps up the rock staircase, although all were unaware of it.

When the local lord was wheeled out onto the carved stone veranda by his Frodd manservant, all jaws dropped. Sintar had been half convinced that the party was about to become reacquainted with Yan Goth the Black, so she was startled to see an elderly yellow skinned man with slightly slanted eyes possessing a wild mane of white hair, who introduced himself as Hang'Yot, and who was apparently unable to walk on his own, as he seemed to need to be pushed around in a large wooden chair someone had contrived to fasten wheels to.

Hang'Yot advised the party that near the island, there was an ancient ruin rumored to be filled with treasure and items of power. He hoped to interest the group in an attempt to recover the treasure. He himself wanted only one curio from within the ruin, a small statue of a bloated toad sitting atop a misshapen toadstool. This struck Yuni as peculiar and somewhat ominous; her studies of various unrecovered treasure items had mentioned on occasion such statues being employed in the most nefarious and destructive rituals of chaos worshipping cultists known as "the Old Toad People". Given Sintar's suspicions as to the true identity of Hang'Yot, Yuni thought it probably a very bad idea to turn any such item over to him.

Hang'Yot went on to say that his researches had revealed that the ruin was most likely a tomb for one of the more prominent figures from the Daemonic Interregnum. Waxing rhapsodic, the dotty old man rambled about the Interregnum, and how when 666 Daemons descended upon the River to wreak havoc on the Second Kingdom, the gods who had at that time been dwelling there among their people chose to depart, gathering a few thousand of their most loyal followers and leaving for parts unknown, never to return to the River again.

Of the Old Gods and their most loyal adherents, only two figures remained on the River:

-- Vulga'Ntharia, God/dess of Nightmares and Horror, a transsexual entity largely shunned by his/her fellow gods and most mortal worshippers, a scorned outcast deity whose obscure cult of deviant fanatics suddenly gained respect and prestige from the cruel and powerful Daemons now ruling the River with bloody claw and iron appendage,

-- and Torgana Yal, demi-god and mortal hero, Child of Heaven, the result of one of the few fertile god/mortal matings that occurred much more often in those days. Known as the Great Sun Jester, the Fire Clown, or the Joker of the Universe, Torgana Yar had spent much of his century long existence to that point fighting to protect mortals from evil gods, monsters, and other supernatural forces.

One of these two, Hang'Yot was sure, was entombed in the ancient ruin, although he had been unable to determine specifically who. But as Daemons dislike silver, Hang'Yot was certain that they would have taken the opportunity to bury as much of the metal as they had lying around along side whoever the tomb's guest of honor was. In addition, the various powerful accoutrements belonging to either god or hero would have been interred along with their body, and such would fetch a huge amount at auction... or might give the wielder enormous power.

Hang'Yot also warned that the tomb itself had been designed by a Daemon Lord named Maleknon Vire, the so called Prince of Flesh... a Daemon who specialized in the manipulation of the life essence (what we would call 'genetic engineering'). According to legend, Vire had designed several malefic species still thriving today, including the kreelok (a sort of giant, predatory eel), the ungula (a squidlike horror with one terrible glowing eye, a varying number of powerful tentacles, and a voracious sphincter like maw lined with rows of counter rotating fangs the size of kitchen knives), the Kh'rapas (a phrase unfamiliar to the players, that no one asked about), and something "vast as a mountain, festooned with thousands of grasping appendages and dozens of devouring mouths" known as a 'squamoth'.

The party then went back to the newly repaired ship, resting in drydock while the new wood and resin cured and set. After a brief conference, it was decided that the party wanted nothing to do with this crazy mission, they just wanted to get on to Jennaru and avenge the Queen. Next morning, they set out.

Much to their surprise, the party discovered that after sailing for little more than an hour, the crew of the River Rat guided the ship in to an inlet leading off the River, much like the one that Hang'Yot had described would take them to the ancient tomb. There the Northark crew tied up, insisting that this was where they were supposed to bring the party. Refusing to be argued or reasoned with, the crew took out chacal cards and began listlessly playing. Even when a strange woman suddenly appeared on deck and stabbed the crew's captain in the back, killing him instantly, the rest of the crew ignored the occurrence, merely pushing the old man's body aside so they could continue playing.

Having some skill with ships, the party decided to cast off and sail the River Rat themselves. An impenetrable fog quickly closed in; after sailing for an hour or so, the party was unpleasantly surprised to find the fog clearing... and the ship sliding in to dock at the very same inlet they had sailed away from only an hour before. Clearly, supernatural forces were at work; just as clearly, the party would not be allowed to depart without running Hang'Yot's errand for him.

At this point, the party members who had been present at the altar of the gods all felt strongly that, should they desire to, they could each call on one of the gods for help... but only once.

So the party, accompanied by the new arrival who had apparently stowed away in a most surreptitious fashion, departed the ship, feeling rather disgruntled.

During the trip along the moss encrusted, frequently crumbling walkways next to the inlet, the party had seen on two occasions large land creatures bending down to drink from the inlet, only to have a dozen or so tentacles whip out from beneath the water, grab them, and yank them squalling and kicking into the fetid, slimy depths. "Whatever you do, don't fall in the water," Goldenwing remarked, making sure he himself never came closer to the surface of the inlet than thirty feet above it.

Upon making their way up the inlet, the group eventually found themselves confronted with an obviously ancient, almost completely overgrown ruin, decorated with gargoyle like carvings of various fantastic, horrifying creatures out of nightmare.

Here, Goldenwing was nearly grabbed by vines moving as fast as the tentacles of any lurking ungala, when he settled down upon one of the hideous statues to preen his wings. Letting off a screaming blast of pure order, Goldenwing blew most of the lush overgrowth clinging to the old ruin into dust and blackened cinders, although the dense greenery atop a more distant part of the ruin, shaped like an inverted pyramid, remained largely untouched. Then, mounting the central stairs leading up from the waterway to the front entrance of the ruin, the remainder of the party found themselves staring at an even longer flight of stairs, leading downward from the stairway's apex in to a vast empty sunken amphitheater the size of a football field. At the far end, a similar flight of stone stairs led up, to a door.

Yuni led the way; along with Nori, she descended the inner stairs and moved out onto the empty paving stones of the eerie sunken amphitheater. The new girl, who had not identified herself in any way, remained behind, along with Sintar, on the stairway, waiting to see what might happen, while Goldenwing flew slow circles around the group.

Abruptly, as Yuni and Nori reached a spot perhaps 30 feet from the stairs the rest of the party was still on, those stairs seemed to lurch and tremble... and then begin to very swiftly sink into the ground. As the party watched in horror, water from the inlet began to mount up and then start to pour over the descending stairs. Sintar snatched up the new girl and flew into the air, but Yuni and Nori were 90 yards from the stairway at the far end, with only seconds remaining until a huge comber of ungala infested water rolled over them. Neither could possibly run the distance in the short time they had. They were doomed!

As the wall of water began to surge over the sinking stairway, Yuni prayed "Doros, God of War, lend me strength!" In response, she heard a deep voice within her mind, saying "Use it well, daughter." Feeling godlike strength and speed flow into her small but sturdy form, she grabbed up Nori and sprinted headlong for the distant stairway, barely making it in time as the waters smashed into the wall a few yards below them. Knowing somehow that the godly power would depart after only another few seconds, Yuni rushed up the stairs and delivered a mighty kick to the closed door there, shattering it into pieces.

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