The Reign of Dregoth

The Pristine Tower
The Defiler

And so the Agents of Dregoth prepared to depart Raam on an extended trek through some of the most dangerous parts of Athas to find the mysterious Pristine Tower for Taxma.

First, Shahzadi had tea with Fatima Hassan. As the only other Offspring among the nobility, and also the eldest daughter of her own house, both ladies confirmed their mutual interest in keeping their bastard parentage a secret, and even had a few bonding moments.

Once all was prepared, the five agents left Safa behind to look after their ongoing affairs in Raam (particularly regarding the shadowy Children of the Dragon) and Najaf called to mind the runic pattern of the teleportation circle Taxma had given him. They appeared in a flare of runic light in an otherwise pitch-black underground building of some sort deep beneath the ruins of Giustenal. In the fading light of arcane runes, Alekel recognized the cyclopean architecture as something similar to an ancient underground ruin he had explored in the Ringing Mountains in his youth, ruins built by a mysterious species who clearly had innate levitation ability and with strange ideas of proper perspective and proportion in their architecture. These ruins clearly predated those of the city-state far above.

They struck a sun-rod only to hear a ghostly moan as a Raaig materialized nearby. The thing radiated power, but seemed placated by Najaf’s symbol of office, and the “mark of Dregoth” upon the rest of them. Their claims to be merely “passing through” and not there to raid the “treasures of Giustenal” further placated the potent undead which faded once more into immateriality.

A voice then spoke in their minds. It identified itself as “Primik the Mover”, a psychic construct of some sort capable of transporting them throughout the complex. They asked to be taken to the main gates of the ruined city above, and the entity obliged.

They found themselves standing at the main south gates of the ruined city, half sunk in the blowing silt. To the south were great bubbling rents in the earth filled with noxious tar, the effluvia of defiling magic so mighty that the earth shuddered and cracked. Alekel and Dhaara recognized that it would be unwise to get too close to the tar rents, as they had mystically entrapped many maddened spirits. The group skirted the danger of the defiled plains, and with the aid of Najaf’s magic permitting them to move unnaturally fast by skirting the edges of the Black, they sped south across the wastes, using a single solitary distant mountain peak as a guide.

Soon, Dhaara’s sense of the wild warned her of a silt scirocco arising from the east, and on the storm’s leading edge were swarms of bloodflies. Alekel invoked a ritual to ward against vermin while Queri-Sed cavorted through the storm snapping up delicious flies that couldn’t burrow into her hard carapace to lay their larvae.

As they skirted around the solitary peak that had been their landmark, they were suddenly attacked! Out of a burrow in the earth erupted one of the most terrifying predators of the wastes, a Nightmare Beast! Those knowledgeable about the natural world realized that these rare but terrifying predators are not actually natural creatures, but rather strangely warped and mutated predators of other varieties. This one was apparently a twisted Braxat. It lashed out with black lightning, rippling with the energies of death, trying to drop the group into unconsciousness to feed on their fears and terrors. The five concentrated their efforts, and while Najaf’s magic was instrumental in preventing the most terrifying capabilities of the beast from badly injuring his companions, Dhaara knew just where to strike the unnatural beast to do the most damage. The creature was dispatched, exploding in a noxious blast of defiling goo that despoiled the land for yards all around.

As they caught their breath, a weird little man crawled from the burrow the Beast had emerged from. He professed confusion and put on airs of having been a captive of some sort. He was just a little… off… however, and Najaf detected a cold, alien intelligence behind the befuddled demeanor. The man invited them to visit his “family” in the solitary mountain, but the agents opted to decline, suspecting that he was not even remotely human. Najaf let slip that he was also an alien shapeshifting construct of some sort and the strange man’s eyes widened in apparent recognition. He withdrew his invitation and scuttled away.

They continued to travel unnaturally fast, skirting the edges of planar travel, when the arcane-inclined among them perceived a strange barrier, or border ahead. They dropped out of the ritual and saw nothing but sand dunes as far as they could see. They recognized that they were approaching the location of the Pristine Tower, and theorized based on Taxma’s description that the Tower’s environs had some sort of twisted magical effects. They debated whether it would be wise to travel near it using ritual magic. They ultimately decided to travel under less potent magic, opting for Alekel’s simpler Traveler’s Chant. This was, apparently, enough to pierce the boundary between layered realities.

They found themselves no longer surrounded by sand dunes, but instead confronting a forbidding forest of black, thorny, dead-seeming trees. There was something odd about the forest. There was no sign of any living thing, no underbrush or plant life at all aside from the thorny petrified trees. Dhaara threw a rock at one to no effect. Queri-sed gave her a small live rodent from one of her many pockets. Dhaara threw the rodent at a tree. Upon being scratched by one of the thorns, the creature violently mutated into an awful mockery of nature before expiring under it’s own uncontrollable changes. Apparently, this forest is why so many creatures in this part of Athas are twisted, obviously unnatural beasts.

The agents began to cautiously move through the forest, careful not to touch the thorns or the trees. Soon, however, rustling and howling could be heard, and they were set upon by a horde of twisted mutations, no two alike! The creatures, although individually weak, were adept and throwing and pulling the hapless agents into thorns. Dhaara especially felt the brunt of near-mutation as her body and soul fought to retain integrity. Queri-Sed got to shine, slaughtering dozens with shards of thrown chatkchas. Soon the rest of the horde retreated and they continued through the trees.

They emerged from the forest to see a gently sloping bowl-like valley, and the most eye and mind boggling thing they had ever seen.

In the center of the valley was an impossible tower. A thin white needle erupting from the ground, disappearing into the silty haze far above. It looked like a painter had, upon finishing his landscape, painted a straight white slash through the center of it. There was no way that it was a natural construction. Where it contacted the ground, smokes and fumes billowed forth. Their eyes could not make sense of the thing’s scale. After a few moments, they noticed a small camp near, but not too near, the base of the impossible edifice. Three individuals were there, watching the agents. One of them, a halfling dressed in fairly ordinary traveler’s wear, teleported nearer so as to greet the agents. At that point, each of them noticed something odd about the others:

Shahzadi’s eyes appeared to glow a strange silver to all who looked upon her

Dhaara seemed wreathed in ghostly flame with endless faces of half-giant ancestors peering out

Queri-Sed radiated a soft golden glow with half-seen gossamer wings as befitting a queen of the Kreen

Najaf was a confusing blur of half-seen identities, hard to focus on. Furthermore, there was an odd gray aura surrounding him.

Alekel gave off a heat-haze like a mirage and seemed covered in half-seen scars.

They noticed that the approaching halfling appeared almost insubstantial as he greeted them in perfectly fluent Common. He invited them using the formal language of travelers met upon the road to share salt and bread at their camp thus invoking ancient hospitality codes. The agents opted to accept and went down to meet the others.

In the camp was a man and a woman. The man was dressed as a hard-bitten warrior, with Balican coloration and features, and appeared to have a strange black aura. The woman appeared utterly normal, and so paradoxically aroused the most suspicion.

The woman greeted them, shared out salt and bread, and in accordance with hospitality codes, introduced herself and her companions. She was Kiran of Nibenay. Her bodyguard was Aetolos Botisaris of Balic. The halfling was Banowir. An immense earth elemental erupted from the ground and transformed into a woman exuding the smell of fresh turned earth with loamy eyes. She was introduced as Sa’sha Derek. Another, smaller earth elemental emerged from the ground and remained in that form. He was introduced as Kard Hin.

Kiran of Nibenay spoke to them in a manner making it clear she knew they worked for Dregoth. She referenced the “seed of death” festering in their souls, and warned Queri-Sed and Shahzadi that they would never bear viable children so long as it was there. Considering Shahzadi’s concerns at the beginning of the journey centered on the suspicion that she might be pregnant following her marriage nights, and Queri-Sed’s intention of fulfilling her personal prophecy through a brood of children, this news was somewhat shocking. Kiran invited them to sit, indicating that while she and her companions were there to guard the tower, she hoped to sway the agents through conversation and revealed truths rather than the application of violence…

XP: 3,400
Total: 138,823

Children of the Dragon

The agents went about investigating Isra’s shadowy organization. Through their own disparate methods, they discovered that the “Children of the Dragon” are cultists who seem able to channel the power of the Black itself in their strange, stygian magic. As a result, they don’t defile, and have access to a source of arcane magic relatively unknown in the world. They’re a relatively recent phenomenon, having arisen in the last two hundred years or so. They tend to infiltrate the city-states, influencing the lowest classes. One famous cultist, Amitabha, founded the Bhikaraya Sabha, or Beggar’s Guild, in Nibenay a hundred years ago, and that organization has influenced the underworld of that notoriously intrigue-riddled city ever since. Similar groups have taken root in Balic and Tyr, and even Urik is rumored to have a few.

They apparently have an ideology of service to the Dragon, a quasi-mythical, thoroughly feared figure to which each city-state sacrifices a percentage of their population annually. They typically see the Sorcerer-Kings and Queens as loyal servants of the Dragon, and work to secure the rule of the monarchs from behind the scenes. Things in Raam, however, were apparently quite different, as Dregoth has decided to call the Dragon’s bluff, refusing the Dragon Sacrifice that year. This refusal, and the appearance and infiltration of the Children seemed to coincide.

The agents seems somewhat confused about the Children’s approach. Isra seemed well aware that Najaf, Shahzadi, and Safa were agents of the King, yet rather openly solicited the alliance of their families, and practically advertised the Children’s agenda. After consulting with Mon Adderath, the agents concluded that the Children were playing a long game, playing relatively straight with Dregoth, and openly letting him and his agents know that they were watching. After consultation with Padme Shuja and Jai Maarham, the two houses decided to tentatively accept the offer of alliance while simultaneously seeking counter-infiltration of the Children’s lower ranks.

Most of this time, Dhaara was alone in the Jeweled Scarab. The experience of psychic combat inside Najaf’s mind once more disturbed her, and she needed time to herself to cleanse and meditate. Lanaya, the Saddhu proprietress of the establishment, came to her private room and told her that her great-great-great-great-grandfather wished to speak with her. Confused about this, Dhaara accompanied the Saddhu into the depths of the establishment to a room of white marble. In the center was a shallow pool full of fire, burning without smoke or fuel. Lanaya calmly walked into it and Dhaara followed…

She found herself on the elemental plane of fire, in a great city of brass. Ships plied the magma sea while the cinder-filled sky radiated uniform heat. Only Lanaya’s touch upon Dhaara prevented her instant incineration. They went into a mansion where bronze-skinned people of many races served and met the master of the house, the aforementioned ancestor. Many of Dhaara’s ancestors chose to be dedicated to Earth or Water, but this one had chosen Fire, and had done rather well for himself. He indicated that he had watched Dhaara perform Shahzadi’s wedding through the ritual fire, and was very proud of her. He saw great potential, and told her that she had his blessing, and that she could call upon his boon at any time. Lanaya returned Dhaara to the world, where she took a bath and thought about these events.

Eventually, they all rendezvoused at the Jeweled Scarab. Alekel did some impromptu performance which wowed the jaded crowd. Shahzadi ran into Fatima Hassan, the scion of her house, and fellow Offspring. They shared some veiled conversation about Abalach-Re’s appearance at the wedding, and agreed to meet for tea sometime.

The agents, having wrapped up their outstanding business, went to the Sepulchre where Taxma made his home. Taxma told them a bit more about Isra and the Children of the Dragon. Apparently he had once traveled with a fairly high-ranking member of the cult named Sorcha, who remained in New Antalus far to the south. Isra was a psychic copy of Sorcha stored in the body of an obsidian golem, capable of self-polymorph. This said to Taxma that the Children were wary of Raam, to send such an expendable agent rather than a real practitioner. He did indicate some of the rather outlandish resources Isra could bring to bear if suitably angered, however.

Taxma revealed the errand he wished them to embark upon. To the south of the ruins of Giustenal, at the borders of a part of Athas renowned for the most savage and unnatural beasts and dangers, there is a place called the Pristine Tower. This place has some connection to the Sorcerer Kings and Queens, and each of them has a “key”, a psychic construct or concept. Taxma has the “keys” from both Abalach-Re and Dregoth, and seeks to find out the significance of the Tower, but although he knows the general geographic location, it is apparently proof against all manner of scrying and long-distance information gathering. He speculates it resides in an otherworldly pocket, much akin to the Land Within the Wind. He charged the agents with physically traveling to the Pristine Tower, and upon verifying its relative safety, contacting him via Planar Sending. Taxma produced a thigh bone, ritually inscribed with lead and arcane powders. He indicated this was the focus that would permit him to teleport to their location regardless of interference. Upon being asked, he confirmed it was, in fact, his own thigh-bone, ritually removed (he got better). He gave them a somewhat crude map and wished them luck.

XP: 3,600
Total: 135,423

A Favored Daughter
The Serpent

The seventh day of Shahzadi’s wedding arrived. The rituals were over, the consummation had occurred, and all was revelry. Again, honored representatives from throughout the city arrived bearing gifts. Shia Tolon taught Queri’Sed how to “dance” while Alekel gave a star performance for the crowd. Suddenly, a hush came over the attendees as Mon Adderath, high templar to Dregoth, made his entrance. Nawab nobility bowed, technically paying more deference than caste-requirements dictated. Mon Adderath came to the newly married couple and, with a great show of courtesy, congratulated them on their union and gave his well-wishes for many years to come. He then parked himself in an out-of-the-way corner so as not to unduly disrupt the rest of the party. He chatted a bit of Usuch-si, and Alekel spent some time ensuring that the High Templar was not overtly avoided.

Just as the party began to tentatively swing back up, a mysterious but lovely woman arrived dressed as minor nobility. Shahzadi recognized her immediately as Nanda Shatri, the Offspring and supposed Untouchable from the ghost city. She looked much better without crematory ash all over her, but it wasn’t her cleaned-up appearance that drew Shahzadi’s immediate notice. There was something… regal… about her posture and Shahzadi thought she caught a glimpse of a silver radiance from her eyes before blinking. The newcomer greeted Shahzadi and complimented her on the wedding, but it rapidly became clear that Abalach-Re, former Sorcerer-Queen of Raam, was somehow possessing the young woman.

“Nanda Shatri” made a beeline for Mon Adderath, and the two had a tense conversation, overheard by Alekel. Mon Adderath was offended at her presence, and indicated that, although hostilities had ceased, there was a certain expectation of distance between the parties. She made vague references to shared minions, but otherwise seemed to take some glee in taunting the High Templar. She enjoyed the party, making no particular effort to hide her mannerisms, but not advertising her identity.

Eventually, once Shahzadi escaped the receiving line, she had a private conversation over by the dessert table with her real mother. Abalach-Re confided in Shahzadi that of all her Offspring, just a handful were what she considered masterpieces, and that of all of those, Shahzadi was her favorite. She confided that Shahzadi was the one who reminded her the most of her own youth as a gladiator-slave long before her rise to power. She told Shahzadi that there were “other worlds” and other options and that if service to Dregoth became too onerous she could come to New Antalus. She departed the party after a strangely tender expression of pride in her daughter’s burgeoning maturity.

Needless to say, Shahzadi glossed over much of this conversation when relaying it to her brother and the others. Mon Adderath eventually left and the party went well into the night. While Safa and Aasif kept an eye on a drunken Padme Shuja, the rest of the agents slipped away via teleportation to the Ivory Palace to report to Mon Adderath both the conversation that Abalach-Re had with Shahzadi, and also the proposition given to Padme by the shadowy and mysterious Isra. Mon Adderath was in a surprisingly garrulous mood, and the conversation spanned eons. He spoke of an ancient empire spanning hundreds of worlds ruled by abominable creatures who enslaved all who stood before them. He spoke of the wars and uprisings that began on Athas and spread from world to world, led by the Dragon and his Champions. Many things of ancient significance, but very little import to the current world were discussed, along with the fact that Abalach-Re and Nibenay had recently concluded a powerful ritual to join Kalidnay… elsewhere. Kalak had also completed his Ziggurat and… vanished. He made it clear that Dregoth’s plan was to simply wait out everything, wait for the guttering flame of life to finally die on Athas, and rule over a world of the dead, a world abandoned by his fellow Champions.

The agents departed the somewhat maudlin High Templar to get some sleep. The next morning, Najaf gathered them all for another ritual to help him extinguish the competing voices in his head. Safa performed the ritual, and the rest allowed their psyches to enter into Najaf’s mind. There, they fought the psychic fragments of the six individuals whose brains Najaf had consumed over the past few months. The first, a mysterious elf eaten when he was still transforming. The second was Naif Walid, the young noble sorcerer he ate as part of the last such ritual to complete his transformation. The third was Salim, the former Offspring and high priest of Badna. The fourth was Whisper, the young girl and acolyte of Badna who had poisoned Dhaara’s family. The fifth was one of the Kuotagha. The sixth and most recent was Nerek, templar to Hamanu. In the psyche-scape of Najaf’s mind, they destroyed and suppressed all except for Naif Walid and the mysterious elf before the ritual concluded. Queri’Sed took the opportunity to attack and destroy other aspects of Najaf’s mind and personality to unknown effect.

The ritual concluded. Shahzadi met with her mother who asked her daughter to look into Isra’s organization and maybe get some advance concessions before committing House Shuja’s resources to mysterious strangers. Dhaara fled to the Jeweled Scarab to recover from the trauma of combat in Najaf’s mind against figures from her past. Najaf, feeling calm and refreshed, prepared for the coming of Taxma to inform them of how they could repay the inconvenience of having killed him…

XP: 3,800
Total: 131,823

Shahzadi's Wedding
The Bride Price

The agents of Dregoth prepared to take the young Khayal, Safa’s sibling, into the desert seeking the Khayal elder who, theoretically, could help her recover from the experiments to which she was subjected. Safa took part in the recovery of her “father” Jai Maarham from whatever arcane safe location he had been hidden, bringing him up to speed on events while Najaf communicated new intelligence on the strange beggars to his mother.

They went forth into the wastes under Dhaara’s guidance, avoiding various dangers, and arriving eventually at the shattered foundations of an ancient, long ruined tower. But as they approached, heat haze arose, wind whipped up, and they found themselves under a different-colored sky, where the sun was a bit more yellow than normal, and the scrub brush and cacti were greener… and the tower was whole and un-ruined. The learned among them realized that they had stumbled upon a pocket of the Land Within the Wind, a strange realm, mostly shattered long ago, that lies alongside the world they knew. They entered the tower and found an elderly elf dressed all in gray. Upon seeing the troubled young Khayal, however, all pretense was dropped and he shifted into a middle-aged, muscular human male. He led them up into the top of the tower, where he asked Safa, Najaf, and Alekel to aid him in a ritual to stabilize the young victim. After completing the ritual, he sat and talked with Najaf and Safa and revealed that he, too, was one of the original constructs back in “The Great War.” He had fled into the Land Within the Wind many millennia ago, spending most of the intervening time in an alternate state that he did not elaborate upon only to be returned to the world three hundred years or so ago by a party of adventurers. He revealed that Najaf could expect immortality, or at least immunity from aging as a result of his conversion process, and they shared notes on purging unnecessary psyches consumed so as to maintain sanity.

Everyone returned to Raam where the last few days of planning for Shahzadi’s wedding were in full swing. Padme Shuja was directing the horde of servants and contractors in setting up the pavilions, arranging the catering, making sure everything would go off fine. She put Alekel in charge of seven days worth of entertainment. In addition to the displays of martial prowess, the jugglers, and the musicians he hired an itinerant band of actors known as the New Antalus Theatre Troupe to perform on the evening of the fifth night of the wedding week. Dhaara had a long talk with Queri-Sed wherein it was made clear that the thri-kreen was not to engage in combat unless Shahzadi herself did, mostly to fend off concerns that Queri-Sed would attack and kill people inappropriately as a result of entertainment or some other stimulus. Dhaara spent most of those days preparing and memorizing ritual specifics, engaging Alekel’s memory for performance and a psychic connection to help prompt her should she stumble.

Alekel was also roped into a private conversation with Aasif Maarham wherein he delicately revealed that Shahzadi was still a virgin, and seeking Aasif’s understanding and care on the subject. This sensitive conversation was almost immediately crashed by Dhaara, upon whom Aasif had a crush, and Queri-Sed who wished to inquire into Aasif’s sexual prowess. This resulted in a bit of a comedy wherein Aasif had to placate the thri-kreen with promises of his sexual potency, while also expressing his desire to sow some pre-wedding wild oats with Dhaara, who turned him down.

This all led Najaf suggesting that perhaps he could hire a professional to educate Shahzadi prior to the wedding, or perhaps engage Alekel’s services, notions that mortified her. Safa, realizing her secret as a Khayal was well and truly out, at least to the group, offered to simply become Aasif or some other male and teach Shahzadi that way, a notion Shahzadi was also not so keen on. Long simmering tensions between Alekel and Najaf rose to the surface bringing out a rare display of Najaf’s ire, but such disagreements were set aside until later. Alekel and Dhaara stayed at the Shuja estates to work on their obligations while the others, alongside Shahzadi’s stable of gladiators, hit the sleazier parts of town engaging in drunken bachelorette party behavior, starting fights, and ultimately having to bribe the undead city guards over the corpses they (mostly Queri-Sed) left in their wake.

The morning of the wedding arrived. Padme Shuja had called in some sort of favor, and the GrandMaster of the Yellow Monastery, along with a number of mid-level monks, were on hand to provide security. Representatives of pretty much every nawab house made their first-day appearances. It was a who’s who of nobles, including another Offspring, and representatives of the new Dray houses. Various dynastic merchant houses sent representatives as well, including Liese Stel, who did an excellent job of pretending not to know the representatives of the Psiumarkh who had been invited, including Ismail. Eliphelet bin M’ke made a brief appearance to congratulate Shahzadi before leaving again, in deference to ritual purity taboos.

All were carefully watching the guests to discover who would be the messenger for the mysterious new cult of beggars. It turned out to be fairly easy to discern as representatives from foreign nobility arrived. Along with a savage-looking noble from Draj, and the official diplomatic envoy from New Antalus, was a delegation from Balic. One of the women in the delegation was a blonde human in an elaborately expensive black silk sari with silver thread. Najaf almost immediately recognized that she was the human spitting image of the mysterious half-elf he had scried upon who had resurrected Taxma. His arcane sight was momentarily confused, as she appeared more like an enchanted item than a person.

This mysterious woman, naming herself Isra, made it clear that she knew secrets about Shahzadi’s Offspring origins that could ruin House Shuja if revealed. This forced a polite confrontation with Padme and Najaf, where Isra laid out her intentions: The nobility of Raam had fallen far, according to Isra, dirtying their hands with beggars, spy networks, thieves guilds and the like. Under Abalach-Re’s near-anarchy, such power-bases were necessary, but the nawab houses ended up more like competing criminal bosses than political forces. Isra suggested that House Shuja enter into a mutually beneficial arrangement wherein Isra and her organization takes over the beggar-network in exchange for helping House Shuja elevate itself into the hall of political power. Both partners would gather information from their respective arenas and pool that information for mutual benefit.

As Padme considered, Najaf asked some pointed questions about the cultic nature of Isra’s organization. She made it clear that she and her people, in some fashion, serve “The Dragon,” an entity that Dregoth was not only defying, but setting himself up in opposition to. She suggested in no uncertain terms that the time may eventually come when Najaf would have to choose whether or not to betray a second Sorcerer-monarch. In the meantime, Isra indicated she had nothing but House Shuja’s health and advancement in mind.

Six days of the seven-day wedding proceeded without difficulty. Despite the multiple opportunities for various conflicting interests and parties to cause a scene, despite the presence of individuals who might or might not be enemies, nobody disturbed the proceedings. Dhaara comported herself marvelously as the officiant, relying on her uncle, Alekel, and some subtle pointers from Najaf to make sure the ceremonies went off without a hitch. The processional on the fifth evening saw various commoners join the dancing and merriment, followed by a private and excellent performance from the New Antalus Theater Troupe.

During those days, Najaf sought out Taxma to ask him about the mysterious Isra. Taxma told Najaf of a mysterious sorceress he once traveled with named Sorcha who could draw her power directly from the Black. He told Najaf that these somewhat rare practitioners seemed able to do what they did through some connection to “The Dragon” but that religious devotion didn’t seem particularly necessary. He revealed that Sorcha had, at some point, had her mind copied into an obsidian golem with the intrinsic enchantment for self-polymorphing, and that this is who Isra likely was. Najaf returned to the wedding with even more to think about.

The evening of the sixth night was the final fire-ceremony where the formal bonding of two souls into one marriage was finalized. The ancestors smiled upon Shahzadi and Aasif as they retired for formally consummate their marriage. Looking at each other through the eyes of their ancestors, secrets could not easily be kept. The two spoke for some time before eventually working their way up to the act itself.

The morning of the seventh day dawned, a day set aside for feasting and celebration of the union of these two souls. If any trouble was to mar the wedding, this would be the last day for it…

XP: 3,666
Total: 128,023

Meanwhile, in Tyr (Part 2)
The Defiler

Meanwhile, in Tyr…

The New Antalus Theatre Troupe rounded the corner in the dark inner labyrinth of the mad King Kalak’s ziggurat to discover a templar to Hamanu of Urik and two of his Obsidian Knights standing in a chamber lit by bizarre geometric signs glowing on the floor. From these glyphs, the templar had summoned black humanoid flames to send against the Troupe. They fought, pursuing their quarry deeper into the ziggurat, finally defeating them in the heart of the monstrous edifice.

Sumita, the templar to Dregoth, seemed to understand at least a little of what the ziggurat represented, demonstrating an ability to call up gray flames of her own during the fight. After the battle was over, she proposed negotiations between herself, representing Raam, and the Troupe, representing New Antalus. Jace Kritikos and Sumita discussed mutual goals and discerned that notwithstanding the potential for enmity between Dregoth and Abalach-Re, realpolitik demanded certain alliances for the benefit of their respective cities when it came to the besieged city of Tyr.

The Troupe investigated the interior of the ziggurat and determined that it had been painstakingly built over the course of centuries, perhaps millenia, and that the humanoid flames that could be called from the runes were actually the souls of the dead. They theorized that millions of souls might be bound into the structure. They had also determined that the glyphs were a runic script corresponding to a language with no verbal component, purely telepathic, as if the script were developed for a species that communicated entirely via concepts transmitted mind to mind.

Keluk Windfall utilized a telepathic technique to “read” the glyphs, and ascertained that the entire ziggurat appeared to be built to channel immense forces for the purpose of opening some sort of portal. The power it could theoretically channel might even be able to punch a hole through time, let alone distant planar boundaries. Whether Kalak’s disappearance represented the success or failure of the ziggurat remained unclear. It was apparent, however, that the dispatched spies of King Hamanu were most interested in determining what became of Kalak and where he might be hiding.

As they investigated and negotiated with Sumita, the obsidian scarab given to the Troupe by the mysterious Sorcha so long ago, the item which permitted them, presumably, to enter the ziggurat and survive in the first place, began to pulse with arcane power. It ultimately disgorged Sorcha herself, who was fascinated by the Ziggurat of King Kalak. The Troupe ran their political agreements by her, which she disinterestedly seemed to agree with. They informed her of the portal theory, which made her eyes light up. With a certain glint of mischief, she told the Troupe, as well as Sumita, an extremely abbreviated form of ancient-history myths.

Sorcha asked them to imagine the world as a green and growing place with abundant water, but a world where all the species and races were enslaved by a psionic species that kept everyone else as slaves and food. According to Sorcha, there was a slave revolt. Certain leaders and champions arose in that revolt, some of which discovered the ability to siphon the life force of the planet itself to render them immensely powerful and immortal and capable of defeating the slavers. The battle was pyrrhic, however, and the world itself was drained of most life, the victorious champions ruling over what pockets remained as kings and queens. As for the enslaving species, they worked an immensely powerful ritual far to the south in the Great Obsidian Plain that permitted them to flee back in time, and to different worlds, leaving Athas the burned out husk it is today.

Sorcha’s theory was that Kalak built the ziggurat to emulate that ancient working. She had no further speculation as to whether he succeeded.

The Troupe, and Sumita, were left with this rather fantastic tale. They returned to King Tithian where they presented the corpses of Hamanu’s Templars, forcing Urik’s diplomats to retire for the evening. They then negotiated Sorcha’s presence in the Ziggurat, promising a share in her discoveries. King Tithian was pleased, granting them the run of the palace and the city. They performed in the public square a great play in three acts with a theme of the common man rising above great adversity and tyranny (to inspire them against Hamanu, presumably) which drew a great crowd, including King Tithian himself, in disguise, and Sorcha.

Eventually, however, they received word that New Antalus was sending proper diplomats with Sorcha’s aid. King Tithian informed them that Hamanu’s armies were once again on the march, and that they may wish to depart before the city became invested.

In a bit of daring, the Troupe decided to travel to Urik, bypassing the warring armies, to see what the stronghold of Hamanu said about the King and the culture he fostered. They discovered a rigidly-ordered city and society with a strict code of law, where the templarate, the nobility, and the military were effectively all one, ruling over the fairly poor commoners. They learned that the common Urikite thought of Tyr with pity, but an expectation of the inevitable victory of Hamanu. They looked upon Raam with fear, as if the sheer speed of Dregoth’s conquest led them to believe that Hamanu’s subsequent stated aims of unifying all the remaining cities against him was an excellent idea. Dissent to Hamanu’s rule was hard to find, but hidden in dark pockets.

Not wishing to push their luck, the Troupe moved on, pausing briefly near the ruins of ancient Yaramuke, before arriving eventually outside of the city of Raam, seeking to learn more, at the behest of their distant patron, about how or why the Lord-High Arcanist of New Antalus could also be Dregoth’s apprentice.

XP: 3,000
Total: 124,357

A Daring Rescue
The Date Palm

Meanwhile, back in Raam…

The agents of Dregoth planned their assault on the disused Stel emporium wherein they had reason to believe Nerek and his awful experiments on Safa’s sister were holed up. Najaf consulted once more with Mon Adderath and met “The Guardian,” the alien Raaig who was capable of mentally directing undead at range. Najaf was linked into the spirit’s mental network, which gave him a cold chill, but no more information on understanding the thing. This permitted Najaf to more directly influence the movements of the undead city guard who would be filling the tunnels, old sewers, and buried streets that they group hoped to use to infiltrate the emporium.

They me in the tunnels beneath the city and discussed what guises to wear to both disconcert Nerek and to comfort the young, tormented khayal. Safa and Najaf adopted forms intrinsic to the khayal’s species and culture and they moved carefully through the tunnels. As they came up into the offices of the old emporium they encountered a door into the main warehouse floor. Concealed by Najaf’s magic, Dhaara carefully opened the door to reveal a large open space in a vaulted warehouse with a balcony/promenade about 25’ up, and crates stacked around like walls. In the center of the open space was a ritual circle, and in the center of that circle, chained to a wooden post with wicked, barbed, iron chains, was an amorphous, ever-changing creature of flesh that spawned smaller seemingly-independent flesh blobs that were still connected via tenuous umbilicals. Also standing in the room was Nerek, who was clearly gazing at the open door with concern.

Realizing their stealth was blown, they rushed in to attack. Nerek wielded psionic ability, but also flagrantly arcane power drawn, no doubt, directly from his new Sorcerer-King patron, Hamanu of Urik. His first act, however, was to break the circle, releasing the maddened flesh-warped khayal while an archer sniped the invaders from the balcony.

Queri-Sed unleashed her gossamer wings to fly to the balcony, assaulting the archer and knocking him to the ground below where Dhaara finished him off. Safa summoned her fires and Najaf summoned his illusions and charms against Nerek, but it was Alekel’s psychic insinuations of comedy that most seemed to cripple the rogue Templar while everyone else fought the aura of entropy that enfolded him to beat him inevitably to unconsciousness. Safa’s mad sister unleashed pain in the form of telekinetically manipulated chains and spawned, exploding flesh blobs, but ultimately, as the fight wore down, Najaf, Alekel, and Safa were able to get through to her, calming her down enough to remove the psionically-invested chains. Upon doing so, she deliquesced into an amorphous pile of gooey flesh. It took great effort of will for her to assume a vaguely humanoid form.

The agents wrapped their captive Nerek in the very barbed chains they recovered off of his victim. Najaf ritually bound him so he could not escape by magic. They summoned a disc of force to bear the rescued khayal, and made their escape after informing Padme Shuja via sending that there was a warehouse full of stuff to plunder. They escaped via the tunnels under cover of undead, using the sending ritual to arrange a palanquin from House Maarham for the concealment of the rescued khayal.

As they agents made their way through the streets to House Maarham, an unusual number of beggars were seen on the route. Their alertness, street-savvyness, and knowledge of the arcane revealed that each of these beggars had been touched by power, and that this was a demonstration of their power to the scions of House Shuja. Najaf approached one such beggar who indicated that they would deliver a message at Shahzadi’s wedding, to which their messenger had already, apparently, been invited.

They arrived at House Maarham where “Jai Maarham” (actually his khayal body double) met them. Najaf, “Jai”, and their prisoner went to a back room to “interrogate” him via brain consumption while the rest of them stopped in to visit with Aasif and make sure all was in readiness for the forthcoming wedding.

Najaf woke the prisoner long enough to taunt him with his imminent doom. Nerek spat the Tyrian word for “shadow,” the name used by the khayal of Tyr, and seemed to think that the mere existence of Najaf’s ability to consume brains and absorb their knowledge was proof-positive that the entire species needed to be wiped out. Najaf cracked open his skull and ate his brain as carefully as he could to ensure that the prisoner lasted… a long time. The plan was to subsequently accompany the young, tormented khayal to an “Elder” of their kind arranged by “Jai Maarham” somewhere out in the desert. Najaf’s brain eating revealed, among other things, that Nerek had made contact with Hamanu’s High Templar, and ultimately Hamanu himself, via a potent psionic ritual used by a member of House Stel that Najaf didn’t recognize named Likud.

XP: 4,000
Total: 121,357

Level 19

Meanwhile, in Tyr...
The Songbird

The New Antalus Theater Troupe at last arrived in the Golden City of Tyr. They had set out from the nascent city-state founded by Abalach-Re a year ago on a mission of entertainment, performance and espionage, spreading culture and the message of recruitment that kept new citizens filtering into the ruins of ancient Kalidnay. The Troupe had been formed by famed playwright and entertainer Michaelis Taliodoros and sent forth to both recruit and to spy on those who would do harm to the fledgeling city.

Events in Tyr were becoming troubled. King Kalak’s mysterious disappearance had sparked a war of invasion. King Hamanu, Lion of Urik, Master of War, had been stalled by a rag-tag army of freed slaves, but most rumors indicated it was only a matter of time before he conquered Tyr. After that it did not take much of a stretch to see New Antalus as his next target. The Troupe had been directed by Michaelis to enter Tyr, perform as they were able, but most importantly to gauge the balance of power and politics in the area and try to get a handle on how long Tyr could withstand their foe.

The troupe began by winning the hearts of Tyr’s military patrols and finding a spacious inn / caravanserai within the city to settle. Warlord and playwright Jace Kritikos, second to Michaelis and head of the Troupe as it traveled, began to inquire amongst the city’s nobility while Keluk Windfall, Master Thespian and cunning telepath, engaged in some impromptu performances on streetcorners to attract the common people. The mysterious Eladrin warlock, Valen, sought pockets of arcane power, spying from rooftops and from shadows. Achaeus, the former Balican soldier-turned-wasteland Ranger, did his best to keep tabs on all his companions lest they fall into trouble. Aukati, the savage halfling sideshow with the curiously erudite accent took to burgling homes in search of information. The rest of the troupe settled into the inn.

Their attempts at information gathering revealed a city on the edge. The first month after Kalak’s disappearance left its scars, the violence of the slave revolts, the murder in the streets and nobles vyed for power, still left their telltale signs. But once Hamanu began to march, Kalak’s former High Templar, Tithian, had seized the throne. His first act was to free all the slaves upon which Tyr’s economy depended. His second act was to create the world’s largest ex-slave army, each member equipped with an iron-tipped weapon from Kalak’s private armory. Those nobles not lynched by mobs supported the new King with their reserves of cash, propping up Tyr’s economy as it struggled to repel the invader. In return, King Tithian promised them political power in the new regime should it survive. Gladiator-slaves, being some of the few skilled in combat, were elevated to officer ranks in the new army, but those few remaining career soldiers were having a hard time instilling proper military tactics and combat methodology into those who had developed rather different habits in the arena.

The city was staggering, but miraculously appeared to be stabilizing… if not for the ever-present threat of Hamanu’s armies. And on that score, the members of the Troupe noticed small patrols of undead, dressed in the military garb of Raam, in the streets. Inquiries revealed that King Dregoth of Raam had sent a significant military force of undead to the succor of Tyr, and that this support had made the crucial difference between victory and defeat in the field of battle.

The members of the theater troupe gathered and shared their information. Keluk Windfall reported what they had learned via Sending ritual. Michaelis, on behalf o Abalach-Re, granted Jace Kritikos official diplomatic powers to proffer the military might of New Antalus to King Tithian, including the promise that Taros, General of the Blood, could have an army in place within a week if necessary. They went forth into the city, found a templar, and communicated their bona fides.

That evening, the leaders of the troupe got dressed in their finest, taking Marissa, their Nibenese acrobat (and outcaste noble) with them, dressed in her finest regalia. Jace Kritikos and Marissa conveyed the impression of noble envoys, while the rest assumed the positions of guards and advisors and they were let into the golden palace of Kalak to meet with the new King. After some pleasantries in the gardens, the various diplomats were shown into the throne room.

King Tithian sat on a simple wooden chair on the dais, flanked by a woman in flowing robes with manacle scars on her wrists and a sullen Mul guard. Representing King Dregoth was the Templar Sumita (formerly a smuggler sent by distant Najaf Shuja and company long ago…) and General Khalid Hanafi, a Kaisharga of palpable power. Representing Nibenay was Naidu, a man dressed in blood-red robes and claiming the titles “Priest of the Blood” and “Envoy of the Regent of the Shadow King.” The newly-minted ambassadors of Abalach-Re comported themselves well. Finally, there were two Templars of Hamanu, there under flag of truce.

Tithian received them all and asked their petitions. Dregoth’s templar conveyed her King’s commitment and support in keeping Hamanu from turning Tyr into another Yaramuke, a desolation with ever-poisoned waters. The Nibenese representative gave flowery words that amounted to “we support you, but not in any tangible way.” The representatives of Hamanu, however, conveyed their King’s assertion that had he wanted to turn Tyr into another Yaramuke, he could easily have done it already. After all, Tyr has no sorcerer-king to stop him from simply destroying the city. Hamanu’s intention, it would seem, is to bring Tyr under his protection specifically to ward off the threat that Dregoth represents. Hamanu’s messengers asserted that Dregoth seeks to turn the world into a dominion of the undead, and that only a strong alliance of the living can see off such a threat. Hamanu’s messengers offered Tithian the High Templarate of Tyr under Hamanu’s rule, and high positions within the new regime should he stop this foolish pretension of Kingship, and provided he send the “serpents you’ve invited into your midst” … the representatives of Dregoth … packing.

Jace Kritikos conveyed to Tithian the support of Abalach-Re’s new city, implying that she was grateful to Dregoth for reinvigorating her interest in the world, and that she could overlook past slights to work in cooperation with his undead forces to defend Tyr from Hamanu. He offered the surprisingly swift time-table for an army led by Taros and received surprising support from the “Priest of the Blood” for Taros’ ability to do as claimed.

As all parties began the diplomatic eyeballing of each other, a Templar to Tithian burst into the room to declare that a number of members of Urik’s envoy had just broken into the mighty ziggurat, known to most as “Kalak’s Folly.” The two diplomats from Hamanu seemed upset, trying to convince everyone that they knew nothing of such plans. Tithian revealed that the ziggurat had been sealed, as only true, empowered Templars to the King could enter and live. As Tithian himself no longer had such powers, he had sealed the edifice. Apparently, however, templars to other Kings or Queens were suitably immune, and Hamanu’s had infiltrated the edifice. As a gesture of diplomatic good-will, a number of the diplomats offered to enter the ziggurat to stop Hamanu’s templars, including the representatives from New Antalus, despite not having any actual, formalized templar connection to their queen. Some study revealed, however, that the obsidian scarab given to them by the mysterious Sorcha, and used as a badge of authenticity earlier in the evening, had sufficient power drawn directly from the black to keep any such doom at bay.

The representatives from New Antalus, along with Dregoth’s templar Sumita and Nibenay’s representative, Naidu, hurried to the ziggurat and cautiously entered. They wound their way deep into the immense pile of stone via twisting, maze-like, claustrophobic tunnels. Only the keen ears and direction-sense of Achaeus kept them wending ever closer to Hamanu’s invaders. Soon they caught up to the invading templars, the light of their torches visible from around a corner. The invaders likewise easily heard the assorted diplomats. Each side prepared for conflict…

XP: 3,400
Total: 117,357

A Turncoat's Prize
The Pyre

As the Shuja siblings and their associates watched Padme Shuja unveal the sculpture commissioned for Shahzadi’s wedding, Safa Maarham quietly returned to rejoin them.

The statue was a masterwork, showing Shahzadi and her husband-to-be, Aasif Maarham, in the traditional wedding poses, but with gender-roles reversed, Aasif embracing her, casting adoring eyes at her, while she looks confidently into the distance, a protective arm around him. It bemused the viewers, but Usuch-Si’s craftsmanship was appreciated for only a moment. Safa had news. She had spent most of the week looking into the last loose end of the conspiracy that attacked both Houses, assassinating Padme and driving her own father, Jai Maarham, into hiding. Nerek, former employee of Dynastic Merchant House Vordon, and theoretical templar to the missing King Kalak of Tyr, was still wealthy, still throwing money around, still hiring muscle and spies and thieves and assassins, even though House Vordon’s coffers were now closed to him. These funds were trickling into the city, being smuggled in by diverse elements, bespeaking the backing of a well-organized group. The Khayal affiliated with House Maarham had put all their cunning and skill to work tracking Nerek and his organization, learning much, but they got careless. A young Khayal was captured by Nerek and being held in an old Dynastic Merchant House Stel Emporium, currently being used as warehouse space.

This caused some consternation and curiosity amongst the agents of Dregoth. House Stel, the militant merchants of Urik, had been the first to lose their Templar infiltrator, Agar Stel, to those very Agents near the very beginning of their service. It had been a fluke that had pitted them against him, a contract on behalf of the telepath Ismail. Stel’s sudden seeming involvement with a renegade from House Vordon, traditional rivals of Stel, could mean nothing good. Speculation as to what Nerek might want with a live Khayal captive led Najaf down darker roads of speculation, especially once later investigation revealed that the Stel agent responsible for that warehouse was none other than Agar’s widow, Liese… Ismail’s lover and co-conspirator. Najaf feared that Ismail had once more become involved, and was seeking to advance his understanding of Khayal psychology and physiology.

Subsequent intelligence given to Safa by House Maarham’s Khayal allies gave credence to the theory that Nerek was seeking to buy his way into the service of King Hamanu of Urik, who was currently at war with Tyr, under the presumption that Hamanu’s victory over that city would be inevitable. The coin of this purchase would be, perhaps, the means to breed Khayal-like spies and servants loyal only to King Hamanu. If Ismail was, in fact, involved, this would be treason against Dregoth.

The Stel warehouse-emporium was surveiled, but it appeared to all the world like an ordinary warehouse, conducting ordinary warehouse levels of business. Intel eventually discovered, however, that the back half of it was heavily ritually warded to obfuscate the attention of the weak-willed such that Nerek could operate there without alerting the warehouse workers to his presence.

Najaf decided that Mon Adderath would need to be informed prior to any action taken. The High Templar revealed that Ismail belonged to a secret society of Psions that regulated their own, and that it was unlikely that he was actually engaged in trying to aid a foreign King. It was more likely that he was manipulating Nerek in some way, but Ismail is notoriously untrustworthy. Mon Adderath put any resources Najaf might need behind him, including a Raaig, a type of ancient, alien-minded, incorporeal undead capable of directing hundreds of lesser, corporeal undead in infiltrating and clogging all the underground tunnels, sewers, and remnants of buried buildings that would permit for secret escape routes from the emporium. Shahzadi and Alekel arranged a show-piece gang-fight to occur in front of the emporium that night between Shahzadi’s stable of gladiators and some Night Runners willing to do this favor under the tentative agreement worked out by Najaf and Alaa New Moon. The fight would be a distraction for the agents to infiltrate the emporium.

Najaf, Safa, and Alekel went, then, to confront Ismail. The telepath, in his usual blithe, arrogant fashion, openly admitted to horrific experiments upon the captured young Khayal, which turned Safa’s eyes into flinty daggers of murder. Clearly bemused at the reaction he was getting from her, Ismail revealed his involvement. Using what he had learned from studying Najaf, this young captive Khayal was his first field-test in using psychic-parasitic constructs to create physical, biological changes. He wanted Khayal-stock, as they are already… flexible… in form. He claimed that this experiment taught him the last things he needed to know to create a creature much like Najaf, a psychic parasite that would transform a human into a shapeshifter, but one with cunning, hidden mental programming to serve and obey Ismail. His plan was to get these spies into Hamanu’s service via Nerek, but to use them for his own purposes (and, he implied, to make that information available to Dregoth).

Najaf expressed admiration for the plan, but indicated it violated certain agreements Dregoth had with Hamanu, and that Ismail would have to pull the plug. Ismail seemed nonplussed, but recognized it was time to cut his losses. He told Najaf that Nerek was a disposable tool, and that he, a few bodyguards, and the still-living remains of the Khayal-experiment, were all that were in the secret laboratory in the back of the emporium… but that the remains of the khayal were probably rather dangerous, as his experiments had rendered the poor young creature into a mass of amorphous, ever-changing flesh that could spawn lesser fleshy units, and that all of them were channeling barely controlled psychic power. This caused Safa to glare at him even further. Safa made it clear that it was her intention to rescue the creature, which Ismail seemed amused by. He offered to “do his best” to undo what had been done to her as a gesture of good-will to “Safa’s Family.”

The three agents left Ismail and went to House Maarham, where they told the Khayal vizier the fate of his young relative. He was distraught, and indicated he would prefer to deliver the poor creature to an elder of his species who, with Najaf’s cooperation, might be able to restore her.

In the course of their conversation with Ismail, and later with the vizier, it became more and more obvious to Alekel that Safa was, in fact, a Khayal herself. Najaf appeared to already know this fact. When the three returned to House Shuja to confer with their other allies, Safa admitted to them all that the young creature, broken and tortured by Ismail’s experiments, was in fact her “sister.”

XP: 4,000
Total: 113,957

A Work Completed
The Unclean

Safa departed to her house to learn what she could about Nerek and his vendetta while Shahzadi was pulled aside by her mother to discuss the details of her upcoming wedding. That left the remaining four agents to look into the mysterious message asking Najaf to come to the Garden of Benevolence.

On the way, they noticed that many of the beggars seemed unusually aggressive in getting their attention. The beggar population of Raam had been steadily declining, as Dregoth’s templars would sweep the streets, conscripting any who could not pay a “squatter’s tax” into the military. Those who were left were typically those beggars who had a patron, such as Padme Shuja, who makes extensive use of them as part of her information network. These beggars, however, seemed specifically to be targeting Najaf and his party, and when Najaf contacted one telepathically, was told: “convey the blessings of Amnuet to your Lady Mother.”

Najaf and Alekel put their heads together and surmised that “Amnuet” was a Kalidnese name, and a historical figure in Balic who had arisen about a century before, unifying the beggars of that city into a single organization / religious cult. Something similar happened at about the same time in Nibenay, under a prophet named Amitabha. The clear implication was that this religious cult had spread to Raam, and may well be a competitor to House Shuja’s dominance in the information trade. They speculated that the only reason such a group would openly call out House Shuja is if they felt absolutely sure that they had secrets that could ruin the house.

Concerned by these speculations, the agents arrived in the Garden of Benevolence. It was near sundown, and the young scions of the moneyed classes were enjoying the opportunity to interact with their betrothed in a chaperoned public setting, often attended by retinues of slaves or servants. A handful of groundskeepers could be seen keeping the Garden and the famous statues by Usuch-Si well-tended.

While Najaf, Alekel and Dhaara engaged in the subterfuges necessary to discover who had asked them there, Queri-Sed noticed the young female Dray Nawab scion Shia Tolon sitting on a bench with her date, a male Dray, and accompanied by their human slaves and servants. Queri-Sed engaged in excited conversation which resulted in Shia getting invited to Shahzadi’s wedding and attracting a great deal of attention. Alekel had to resort to telepathically shouting “Braxat!” in her mind to get her to panic and hide in the bushes.

Najaf and company were approached by a human vizier functionary who, in conversation, made it pretty clear that she was really a disguised Alaa New Moon. The Night Runner Elf proposed to Najaf a bargain. She expressed that much of her tribe still held a great grudge against the city of Raam for expelling them, and that the tribe was seeking to find a path forward. Some sought to dredge up the tribe’s ancient past and return to a nomadic existence, while others sought some way to return to the city legitimately. Alaa proposed that if the Night Runners handed over the Kuotagha currently in their midst, then Najaf could pull strings such that the Night Runners would be treated no differently than any other tribe when it came to securing the necessary permissions to enter and trade in Raam.

Najaf, recognizing that the Night Runners would never again by the power they once were in the city, especially if the Templars in charge of running the elf-licensing regime were competent, and seeing an opportunity to have contrite former criminal masterminds in his pocket as well as an opportunity to resolve the matter of the last extant Kuotagha, agreed.

The ruse, as decided, would be that the elves would tell the Kuotagha that they were dispersing, leaving Raam, but that they had found an Offspring with a grudge against the King willing to take the assassin on. Shahzadi, under the hat of disguise, would be that Offspring. After the handover, Alekel would speak for Shahzadi, convincing the Kuotagha of their legitimacy so that it would agree to be transported via Najaf’s magic straight to the inscribed teleportation circle in the depths of the Ivory Palace, where an alerted templarate would be available to arrest it.

After discussing the matter back at the Shuja household, and warning Padme about the new beggar group in town, they put this plan into motion, which went off pretty much without a hitch. The elves delivered the Kuotagha, Alekel convinced if of their legitimate grievance against the King, and Najaf teleported them all into the Ivory Palace… where Mon Adderath and Dregoth himself were waiting.

With almost casual delight, the King gripped the creature in telekinetic power and left the room, giving very little heed to his agents who had brought it there. Mon Adderath, however, took them back to his offices where he debriefed them on the entire mission, and issued to each of them vouchers against the Palace Treasury to the amount of 120,000 ceramic pieces. Mon Adderath indicated that he had a new mission for them, but in deference to House Shuja’s needs, would delay briefing them on it until after Shahzadi’s wedding.

While the rest of the agents departed, Najaf stayed behind to discuss this strange beggar-cult and learned that the leaders were all members of an unusual group of people capable of channeling power from the mysterious plane known as the Black. In many respects, they considered themselves servants of The Dragon (as opposed to the Cult of the Dragon that venerates Dregoth). Mon Adderath speculated that they had begun to infiltrate Raam as a reaction to Dregoth’s decision not to perform the Dragon Sacrifice in the preceding year. Curiously enough, a high-ranking member of this cult was determined to be the person who Najaf had seen raising Taxma from the dead after their ill-fated altercation, a woman named Sorcha, who resided in Abalach-Re’s new city of New Antalus far to the south.

While Najaf was distracted, Alekel went forth into the city. Now that he had some free time, he was determined to make a splash as a performer. It turns out his recent absence had been noted and had the perverse effect of making speculation as to his activities all the more subject to gossip. The fact that he was commonly seen around town asking questions of strange people about strange subjects led to all manner of speculation, and when he started performing once more, the houses were packed.

Queri-Sed, having seen in the Garden of Benevolence the sheer inefficiency of human mating rituals, decided, with some help from Dhaara, that she should use her monetary reward to commission a statue from the famed scuptor Usuch-Si. The tracked the artist down to his house where Queri-Sed pitched the idea of a life-sized statue of her, engaged in a “risque” Thri-kreen mating posture. This, she reasoned, would inspire humans to be more appropriately aggressive in pursuing their mating opportunities.

Usuch-si was… surprised and clearly amused at the request and didn’t really take it seriously until Queri-Sed pulled out the treasury vouchers before Dhaara could stop her. Realizing suddenly that the Thri-kreen before him had procured treasury vouchers in her name from the templarate, the sculptor took about half of them and accepted the commission, instructing Queri-Sed to return the next day for a “sitting” which would include a lengthy discussion about her culture, her personality, and all the other things he would need to bring a statue “to life.” Queri-Sed then asked how she would go about getting such a statue installed in the Garden of Benevolence, and Usuch-Si referred her to the Templarate, as the Garden was now the King’s land, the nawab house that had previously owned it having been eradicated by Dregoth during the conquest.

Dhaara and Queri-Sed then went back to Mon Adderath where, much to the ancient templar’s amusement, Queri-Sed explained the whole matter. For reasons known only to himself, he approved the installation.

Alekel, with a disguised Najaf acting as the ultimate “wingman,” attended some of the most popular parties in Raam with the goal of increasing Alekel’s fame and visibility. Such were their talents, that Alekel is now the most popular and sought-after performer in the city.

Queri-Sed spent about an hour alone with Usuch-Si, where the sculptor learned… any number of secrets from the indiscreet Thri-kreen.

Some few days later, as Dhaara was explaining Queri-Sed’s fascination with statuary to a horrified Najaf, Usuch-Si arrived at the Shuja household having finished the previous commission of Shahzadi and Aasif. The veiled statue was presented to Padme Shuja, and the rest of the agents waited with bated breath to see it unveiled…

XP: 3,750
Total: 109,957

120,000 ceramic pieces each

Primal Combat
The Erdlu

The agents gathered some supplies for a day trip to the badlands to the northwest of Raam. Utilizing various travel magics to ease their progress, they journeyed past the cultivated lands surrounding the city and into the rocky gullies and ravines wherein the smuggler’s den where Darayavaush of the Dynastic Merchant House Shom was hiding.

Alekel and Dhaara noticed strange paw prints in the sand at various points, but were unable to identify the creature from which they came. They eventually arrive in the ravine where the inconspicuous crack leading into the smuggler’s cave could be found. They detected the primal spirits lurking the scree rock-slide approach and opted to do some rock climbing instead. Even Najaf managed to make it to the narrow ledge near the crack without falling or making too much noise. Their approach, however, was not sufficiently quiet to prevent the three individuals inside the smuggler’s den from hearing them.

Kalyani Shom, observing from a distance, and having a Sending pre-cast, informed Najaf that Darayavaush, a female half-giant, and the Kuotagha were alerted and ready. While the agents debated whether to attack or open negotiations, Queri-sed made the discussion moot by charging in, setting off the trap of lashing thorny vines in the entrance-crack, and slashing into both the half-giants (unable to see where the Kuotagha was lurking). Dhaara charged in afterwards, while everyone else clustered at the entrance, intimidated by the vines. The Kuotagha made his appearance, scuttling down from the ceiling to attack Dhaara, wrapping her in his ropey tendons. Darayavaush demonstrated incredible strength, smashing those who came too close and throwing them across the room.

The female half-giant druid went down first, having never even attacked anyone (aside from the thorny trap). The Kuotagha was rendered helpless by Najaf’s magic, and then rendered dead by Dhaara’s staff. Najaf, seeing a position of diplomatic strength, asked Darayavaush to give up. The half-giant complied, warily. The two parties engaged in negotiation while Alekel healed the fallen druid. Queri-sed ate a piece of the druid, which upset her enough to cause her to shift into the form of a sleek black predatory cat, the origin of the earlier paw prints, and fall through the rocky floor, insubstantial, to make her escape.

In conversation with Darayavaush, the agents learned that he was not technically a templar of the Shadow-King. He had, in fact, been simply recruited as a spy by agents of the Regent of Nibenay. Darayavaush, perhaps due to the influence of his cousin the druid, was readily recruited by the notion that Dregoth was an undead abomination who planned the deaths of all sentient beings so as to someday rule the entire world. He hoped that by spying for the city-state of Nibenay, Dregoth’s power might be at least somewhat checked. This espionage was coordinated by the Regent’s agents, coupled with pressure on high levels of House Shom. He had practically unlimited discretionary spending, but once the cabal of merchant-spies was uncovered by Eliphelet’s cell, he removed himself to this smuggler’s den, keeping an ear to the ground via the Kuotagha delegated to him. He promised that, since his cover was blown, he would never return to Raam, and would depart if they permitted him to live.

They asked Darayavaush about Nerek Vordon. The half-giant indicated that the five spies communicated almost entirely via Kuotagha, and so he didn’t know a lot of the details that might be useful to them. He did say, however, that Nerek seemed well aware of the precise moment when his templar powers from King Kalak of Tyr vanished. At that point, his behavior changed markedly. He started actively drawing heavily on his funds from House Vordon, hiring and bribing all manner of agents in the city. When they were contacted by other disaffected parties via the Kuotagha on the coordinated revenge-strike, Nerek was the one who pushed strongly to attack House Maarham. Darayavaush believed that he has some personal grudge, and once his loyalty to King Kalak evaporated, he turned the funds and resources at his disposal to his personal vendetta.

Najaf checked in with Kalyani, and the agents let Darayavaush live. They departed. Alekel managed to convey an apology to the druid, and they returned to Raam.

Queri-sed scuttled off on a mysterious errand of her own while Alekel and Shahzadi hit the streets and the drinking establishments trying to map out Nerek’s anti-Maarham organization. They found it, and managed to get the names and locations of Nerek’s two lieutenants before returning to House Shuja.

Najaf, Safa and Dhaara had returned to House Shuja already, where they spoke with Padme Shuja who was slowly recovering from her ordeal. Upon mentioning Nerek, Padme indicated that her spy network had ascertained that Nerek Vordon was the survivor of a Khayal assassination / infiltration attempt in Tyr, and that Nerek has a personal vendetta against the shapeshifters. It is possible his attack on House Maarham is an attempt at revenge or extermination due to Maarham’s arrangement with the Khayal.

Eventually all of the agents rendezvoused at House Shuja where they discussed all they had learned and debated plans to draw Nerek out. Padme Shuja mentioned to Najaf that an undead spirit had come looking for him, and awaited him “at his convenience” in the Garden of Benevolence. Also, Shahzadi’s wedding is in just over a week.

XP: 3,000
Total: 106,207


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