The Reign of Dregoth

The Cadre Forms
The Star

Templar-Nawab Najaf of the House Shuja, high in the esteem of Dregoth’s High Templar, Mon Adderath, was instructed to assemble a team of a half-dozen individuals of compatible skill for a special task on behalf of the King. He called upon his elder sister, Shahzadi, and fellow Thrax Templar Eliphelet bin M’ke. Shahzadi in turn brought the Thri-Kreen gladiator Queri-Sed T’Ka’Cha who had, for reasons fully known only to her, attached herself to the human noblewoman. Shahzadi also purchased the freedom of Tyrian Minstrel Alekel, who had spent the last year as a slave in the arena. Eliphelet brought a half-giant ex-priestess of Badna named Dhaara, and the group was assembled.

Mon Adderath explained that His Royal Majesty, Dregoth, god-King of Raam, was bound by oath not to aggress his “lesser siblings” for a span of ten thousand years. Nevertheless, he had no intention of blinding himself to their machinations lest Raam follow Giustenal into destruction. To that end, Dregoth was assembling cells, teams, of competent individuals who might act covertly in the interests of the King and the city. All six assembled agreed to this service whereupon they were brought into Dregoth’s presence. The King was brusque, having inscribed an arcane sigil into the floor that burned with colorless fire. He seemed to have little personal interest in those assembled before him except to take exception to the inclusion of Queri-Sed. Mon Adderath soothed the testy King and Queri-Sed was permitted to linger at the edges of the ritual that gifted each of them with an unknown power that was both a weapon and a mark of ownership. They then departed the presence of the King with some alacrity.

A few days later, their first mission was given: The unmask that most secretive of organizations, the Night Runners. They were to discover any and all intelligence available on this mysterious elven crime syndicate, and could engage the aid of Nawab Maarham and his House, who were expecting agents of the Templarate to come to them for such aid. The six spent some time discussing methods of beginning their investigation, ultimately deciding on two teams. The first was to make inquiries with Nawab Maarham. The other was to begin in seedy establishments in an attempt to both learn of the Night Runners and possibly lure them out. Having established these outlines of a plan, they left to put it in motion.

XP: 2,000 each.
Total: 28,000

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Leads are Explored
The Sun

Shahzadi, Queri-Sed and Alekel began drinking from tavern to tavern hoping to stumble upon useful information about the Night Runners. Their initial attempts met with uniform failure, but eventually they learned how to ask the right questions to the right people. They learned that it’s not a good time to be an elf in Raam. Dregoth’s Templars have been randomly detaining and arresting elves on any suspicion. The Sky Singers were even considering packing up and heading back to Nibenay… Eventually the trio discovered a tavern where another trio of shady elves were esconced in a back room. Queri-Sed watched the back door from the alley while Alekel watched the common room and Shahzadi headed back to her family’s estate to try to rendezvous with the others.

While this tavern hopping was occurring, Eliphelet, along with the disguised Najaf and Dhaara, paid a visit to Jai Maarham, the Nawab of his house. Nawab Maarham met them accompanied only a single vizier-scribe. He was most cooperative and forthcoming, understanding that he continues to live at the discretion of His Majesty, Dregoth. He preferred, of course, if Dregoth would permit his House to continue influencing the criminal underworld so long as the Night Runner presence could be removed. He told Templar Eliphelet about the Night Runners’ organization, their six clans, and the various specialties each clan participates in. He told them something of their tactics and methodology, and the name of their current leader, Hukaa New Moon. He gave them three leads: 1) A group of Full Moons seeking to hire on in the guise of clanless mercenaries to a House Stel caravan, 2) A New Moon named Alaa who hangs around the Garden of Benevolence listening to rumors and scandals, and 3) A member of the Psiumarkh’s faculty, Ismail, who claims to have information on the Dark Moon clan for sale.

In response to Eliphelet’s inquiry into how House Maarham has kept in the game despite the forces arrayed against him, he grudgingly revealed that he has made a deal with an even shadier, older, more secretive elven group known as the “Khayal,” or “Shadows.” Certain elements of body language etc. led Najaf to believe that the seemingly human vizier at Jai’s shoulder may in fact be just such Khayal. The three parted from House Maarham with great civility.

They arrived back at their temporary base of operations at the Shuja estate, and eventually Shahzadi arrived. All of them then converged on the tavern in the low quarter where these three elves continued to have their clandestine meeting. They decided to track them once they left, and Eliphelet, in the form of a bat, supplemented Queir-Sed’s surveillance in the alley, where both noticed an elven spy on a rooftop, and four others in the vicinity. Alekel, from inside the tavern, eventually noticed another cloaked figure who could well be an elf keeping an eye on the common room. Eventually the elven meeting broke up and the nine total elves slipped into the night. Queri-Sed and Eliphelet tracked them. Queri-Sed was noticed, and the elves scattered. Eliphelet tracked one group of three to Ascetic Row where they entered a small, defunct shrine of Badna and vanished, presumably via concealed tunnel. He marked the location for further use. Queri-Sed picked up some tracks and scents but lost them as they got close to the Ghost City and the tanneries. Meanwhile, Najaf and Shahzadi entered the tavern’s back room in the guise of an amorous couple and Najaf utilized ritual magic to scry into the past and determine the nature of their meeting.

The nine elves were apparently Lone Moon Night Runners planning a burglary of an estate of Dynastic Merchant House Stel. Apparently, a caravan was about to depart, and these nine were going to hit the merchant’s estate a day after his departure. They were to make off with valuables, as well as take the merchant’s wife and children as slaves. This latter detail seemed a bit odd, as thieves don’t normally encumber themselves with kicking, screaming captives.

The six returned to House Shuja to discuss all that they had learned. They considered various avenues of learning more, including talking to the Sky Singer elves and perhaps playing on sympathies since Night Runners commonly infiltrate other elven tribes. They discussed hiring themselves into the Stel caravan to thwart the Full Moons, or alternately thwarting the Lone Moons hitting the Stel estate. They considered being active allies to the Night Runner’s getting in close with them before ultimately betraying them. They all agreed, however, that visiting the telepath Ismail was a top priority, as his loose lips would doubtless bring about assassination before long. They spent some time arranging for more hats of disguise, which require Najaf to speak with his mother and make inquiries of the Templarate via Eliphelet into the fate of the former Nawab Hanafi. Eliphelet was able to learn of Khalid Hanafi’s fate (a post-mortem deal wherein he became a Kaisharga in service to Dregoth to secure the survival of his House) and the matron of House Shuja’s cooperation was secured.

The next day, all six, in their new smuggler’s guises, visited the Psiumarkh and secured an audience with a clearly bemused Ismail. They were all very rough-and-tumble, and not the sort the Telepath commonly had in his lush offices, but it was clear he was used to shady dealings, and engaged with them with gusto. He was clearly a powerful and very amoral individual, and he placed fairly high prices on his knowledge of the Dark Moon clan (the assassins). He also made it clear, however, that he far preferred… non-monetary options. When possible service arose, he indicated that there was a special book he would like, and if the six could procure it, he would knock the price down a bit. The book, it turns out, was owned by Agar Stel, a merchant, who would soon be leaving for Urik. The pieces began to fall into place for the six. It would seem that Ismail’s desire for this book was communicated via his Dark Moon allies to the other two clans, who were engaged in a two-pronged effort to procure it. There were still some niggling things that didn’t make sense however, and Najaf sensed that Ismail was not telling them his real motives. Najaf confronted Ismail and asked the telepath to tell them what he really wanted. Ismail countered, telling Najaf that he would do so if Najaf would “take off his hat” revealing he was aware that disguising magic was being used. Najaf did so, and it was clear that Ismail recognized him. This caused a change in the telepath’s demeanor, and he came clean.

His real motive, it turned out, was Agar Stel’s wife Liese. Ismail, who clearly has a weakness for the ladies, had been carrying out a long-term affair with this merchant’s wife, and he wanted the merchant disposed of and the wife and children “captured as slaves.” The book existed, and Ismail genuinely wanted it, but the woman was his real motivator. He told the six how they could contact AkuNu Dark Moon in the Ghost City near the rendering district, and promised to tell them all should they bring him Liese Stel, her children, and the book (over Agar’s dead body). He then promised to alter his own memories so as not to remember who Najaf really was. He seemed to think this would be in his own best interests, and so the six departed believing he would actually do so.

XP: 3,333
Total: 31,333

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Elves Opposed
The Secret Tryst

After their conversation with Ismail, the group decided that Alekel and Eliphelet should arrange to hire onto Agar Stel’s caravan to see if they might observe the Night Runners’ tactics, and snatch the psionic book if possible leaving the other four to determine what to do about Agar’s estate and his treacherous wife.

Dhaara and Queri-Sed scouted the Stel estate. It was a lovely manor out in the lush fields outside the city. House Urdun-Mor, having most of their interests in gladiatorial combat, leases what little agricultural land they possess to weathy interests who want a luxury home beyond the stink of Raam. Agar Stel’s house was an open two-story affair with large windows made of glass (a rare commodity) and a breezy, open upper “harim” floor with silken hangings instead of walls, designed to permit the breeze to flow through in the heat of the day. This terribly indefensible structure was guarded by at all times by two shifts of eight House Stel guards, who would combine their shift changes with the morning and evening movements of Agar Stel into the city to visit the Stel emporium.

It was determined, after consultation and discussion, that hiring on as guards would be unlikely. They still wanted to be on the premises prior to the elf attack, however, and so decided that speaking once more with Ismail was, perhaps, the route to take. They consulted with Ismail, who informed them that he was in telepathic communication with his lover, and could certainly instruct her to let in a band of “jugglers and entertainers” sent to please the children on the evening in question.

In the few days remaining before the anticipated elven assault, they turned their attention to various researches. Najaf looked into common “gang signs” of the Red Crescent gang, a human and human derivative group of all-purpose criminals who are a major pillar of House Maarham’s underworld support. Najaf procured appropriate clothing or accoutrements to emulate members of this gang, alongside entertainer’s garb, for the double-blind misdirection they wished to play on any witnesses or survivors of the anticipated conflict.

While Queri-Sed kept surveillance on the manor house, Dhaara walked openly to the desecrated shrine to Badna where Eliphelet had seen the Night Runners flee. Najaf and Shahzadi trailed her as backup and support. They noted a scrawny waif tailing Dhaara with some skill. The girl appeared twelve, but on closer inspection was probably older. Malnutrition and poverty had not been kind. They left the girl alone to see what she would do. Dhaara arrived at the shrine and entered. She rapidly noticed a paving stone with a well-worn notch in it and a charred timber that had no purpose being there. The paving stone could be levered up. Before Dhaara could explore further, however, the waif made up her mind to approach.

After some hesitant back and forth, it came out that the waif was a true believer of Badna. She hoped (and wanted to believe) that Dhaara, in her old priestess robes, was also still faithful to the banned deity. Dhaara indicated she was, and the waif believed the lie. Apparently, the remnants of the Temple of Badna were still organized in secret, having made an alliance with “other parties” capable of helping them hide and teaching them clandestine arts. Although the waif did not say as much, Dhaara assumed she meant Night Runner elves. The waif indicated that the passage in the shrine led to an underground temple and meeting area for the dispossessed cult, and although it was currently empty, told Dhaara how to interpret the rubbish left behind to determine when the next meeting would be. The waif then left to gladly inform “Salim” that another member of the faithful had been found.

Dhaara explored the tunnel and the hidden shrine and realized that another exit led to an old, overgrown, walled estate that had no other easy entrance. She then returned and reported what she had found.

More research on the Stel hit revealed some interesting irregularities. According to gossip amongst the nobles, Agar Stel had brought his young new trophy wife Liese to Raam within the last year, just after the aftermath of Dregoth’s conquest settled. She had not been his wife before, nor had she lived in Raam to the knowledge of the gossips. She apparently didn’t much care for Raam, considering it a bit of a shit-hole. That said, she would attend those parties she was invited to, and despite some cultural errors, attempted to conform to caste expectations. This was only odd as her three children were apparently 10, 8, and 5. If Ismail were truly the father of one or more of them, or even if Agar Stel was, they should be much younger.

The night of the purported assault came. The four arrived at the Stel manor as entertainers and put on a show for the children. Najaf, having “borrowed” a book on geneology from his mother as a decoy, arranged for Liese to put it in her husband’s study to distract any elves who might be looking for the supposed telepathic book, and they set in to wait, pretending to get drunk and otherwise pass the evening. Najaf noticed that the house was a well-protected psionic bastion, with pyrokinetic rituals on windows and doors.

The Night Runners attacked! So stealthy was their assault under the cover of a distracting field-fire that even the alert band failed to notice them before they were coming down chimneys and through windows. Strangely, none of the psionic traps activated. The elves were clearly not expecting the four entertainers to be such skilled combatants, but even so, stealthy elves, having poison-darted Liese and her children, nearly managed to abduct them out a back window while the combat raged. The four agents of the King, however, showed their mettle and not only put down the filthy elves, but killed the two remaining House Stel guards for good measure. Taking a brief moment to ransack the house, they prepared to carry the unconscious Liese and her children away…

XP: 3,000
Total: 34,333

Level 12

Loot:

  • 12,000 ceramic pieces in assorted currencies
  • 5,000 ceramic pieces worth of ritual components (intended for psionic rituals, but all-purpose)
  • Agar Stel’s small library of books and private ledgers
  • Agar Stel’s lockbox containing a medallion of a Templar of Hamanu of Urik (Amulet of Protection +3)
  • Assorted small, portable art objects (unknown value)
  • two samples of sleep poison
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Consolidation and Reward
The Whispered Word

Meanwhile…

Eliphelet and Alekel used Alekel’s reputation as a Tyrian traveling minstrel to arrange to travel near the caravan of Agar Stel for mutual aid and protection. After about twelve hours of travel through the night, the “clanless elven outriders” that Agar had hired turned on the caravan along with a concealed force of elven raiders. Eliphelet monitored the battle from the sky while Alekel used his own skills at concealing himself. They noted Agar Stel’s significant skill in pyrokinetic psionics, but the elves were apparently prepared for him, and he eventually fell. The elves made off with everything of value, and burned the rest.

After conferring, the two decided to try to make it back to Raam before the second attack on Liese Stel could be effected. Sadly, travel during the day was too hard on Eliphelet, who was forced to seek shelter from the sun while Alekel traveled on ahead. Alekel arrived at Liese Stel’s manor house just as the other four were absconding with the unconscious Liese and her children. Alekel ran interference while the others dodged rampaging elven arsonists to make it back to the relative safety of the city. Utilizing Najaf’s magic, the reunited group moved, ghost-like, to the Badna cult’s bolthole as a temporary respite while Najaf contacted Ismail via sending ritual to determine a meeting place. On the way to this location, which was apparently the “mistress apartment” where they had conducted their affair, the group was ambushed by members of the Yellow Monastery.

It was clear that the monks were after Liese for some offense. By now she was conscious and able to aid her “kidnappers” in killing and repelling the monks, taking one prisoner. The three children were badly wounded in the fight, however, but the group was able to give them enough medical attention. They reunited Liese with Ismail and it was clear there was some genuine affection there. It was clear to Najaf’s keen, arcane-honed sense of his surroundings that Ismail and Liese were eerily similar in many subtle respects, but kept that to himself. Liese requested back her jewelry, plundered from her house, but cared little for any other spoils. She claimed not to know what was in the sealed box found in Agar’s study.

While Liese looked after the children, Ismail paid the agents with the promised information. He told them that Dregoth’s reign has forced the Night Runners to utilize elaborate methods of communication in a strict cell-structure such that one part could not implicate the rest. The top level of this communication, and the reason why HuKaa New Moon is the leader of the entire tribe, is a psionic telepathic ritual that Ismail himself developed and taught to them. This ritual is a variant on the sending ritual that links a number of foci. Anyone who holds a focus can send a sending message to all other holders of the linked foci. This, coupled with an elaborate system of passwords to confirm the mental identities of the focus holders is how the Night Runners operate not only in Raam, but across the Seven Cities. Ismail offered to teach this ritual to anyone the agents desired, and opined that a suitably powerful or studied psion might be able to adapt this ritual, or build upon it, to compromise the entire communications network of the elves.

Ismail gave them a number of other, less useful leads, including the knowledge of which cities the Night Runners operate in, their botched attempt to take over Nibenay’s underworld, the slaughter of the Sky Singers in Nibenay that has caused the two tribes to hate each other, and the fact that AkuNu Dark Moon, who resides in the Ghost City, may in fact be willing to betray his own tribe. They learned that the Yellow Monastery was angry because Liese had apparently stolen the telepathic book from them, the selfsame book that Ismail was so apparently keen to get. This was revealed for the bluff that it was. Liese had acquired the book, given it to her husband, as the motive to engage the Night Runners to kill him, etc.

The agents left Ismail and Liese with the Yellow Monastery prisoner and returned as dawn approached to the Shuja household to get some much needed sleep. First, though, they opened the sealed box and discovered a medallion in the shape of a stylized Lion’s head… the pendant of a Templar of Hamanu of Urik.

During the day’s slumber, Padme Shuja, matron of the house, woke Shahzadi to inform her that the Shuja estate was being staked out by elves, and that she should “take care of” the problem. Queri’Sed pursued her own interests by entering into a clandestine arrangement with Padme Shuja to get Shahzadi pregnant, or at least interested in a potential husband. Later that afternoon, Najaf awoke from a refreshing slumber to discover blood in his mouth and all over his face and clothes. He tracked blood droplets out the servants’ entrance to a back gate to the compound. He then took some pains to conceal that the blood trail led to his room and cleaned himself up. Alekel used his social skills at Shahzadi’s request to interrogate the servants and guards as to the elven stalkers. In the course of this investigation he found a terrified bed-slave who saw Najaf return to his room covered in blood with a “look of passion, of craving” in his eyes. When Alekel brought this to the group, Najaf admitted to waking up in that state, but had no memory of what might have caused it. They decided that Queri’Sed should watch over him as he sleeps to see if this incident repeats.

They then prioritized their leads. In a few hours, the Cult of Badna would be meeting. This might be a good opportunity to learn of their alliance with the Night Runners. Also, the Sky Singers were a potential lead along with AkuNu Dark Moon. High on the list was finding a new place to meet other than the Shuja estates, preferably a number of locations. With these priorities in mind, they ate a meal and prepared to plan what they would do to or with the Cult of Badna.

3,600 XP
Total: 37,933

View
Loose Ends
The Templar

As evening approached, Dhaara informed the others that this night was a holy night where the Saddhu caste performed rituals on behalf of the populace to propitiate the ancestors. She indicated that she would be spending the night in the Garden of Benevolence taking part in these rituals and that she would be happy to keep her eye out for the Night Runner spy said to work those crowds. This also might explain the Cult of Badna’s choice for that night to meet, as some of their persecutors would be occupied. They opted to put off infiltration of the Badna cult which was just as well, as Najaf received a sending from Mon Adderath to come to the Ivory Palace and report.

The agents arrived in the High Templar’s offices whereupon they were reunited with Eliphelet, and introduced to a young Nawab woman named Safa Maarham. Eliphelet reported that he tracked the Night Runners who had killed Agar Stel and learned that while some of the elves were delivering the psionic book to Ismail, others were delivering Agar Stel’s body to agents of merchant House M’ke. Mon Adderath had decided that, considering Eliphelet’s former family affiliation with House M’ke, that he should be transferred to another group of agents investigating the dynastic merchant houses. To replace Eliphelet, Safa Maarham was assigned.

Safa, it would seem, was volunteered by her father due to recent incidents where the Red Crescents, a client gang, were implicated in stealing a job from the Night Runners. Facing the prospect of hotter antagonism and potential assassination for something they, in truth, had no hand in, Jai Maarham decided his house would be better suited having a member “on the ground” where she might influence such acts in the future. Safa was hardly a famous face in the social circles of Raam, but some of the other agents had heard of her, including the fact that she was a graduate of the Psiumarkh and a skilled pyrokinetic.

The agents then briefed Mon Adderath on their successes thus far (which served also to bring their new associate up to speed). The High Templar was pleased to learn of the telepathic ritual used by the elves, and requested a power stone of the ritual for study. He was even more intrigued to learn that Agar Stel may have been a clandestine templar for King Hamanu of Urik. This increased his interest in learning of House M’ke’s interest, and Eliphelet departed on his new task.

The agents then departed, opting to stay at the luxurious and extravagant Jeweled Scarab establishment, which caters to the higher castes, rather than return to the Shuja compound. Shahzadi sent the bill to her mother. While Safa, Shahzadi and Queri-sed had “girl talk” Najaf got a massage and Alekel went forth into the low quarter to gather news and rent some low-rent flophouses as bolt holes and safe houses for future use. Alekel learned from the (probably Night Runner) shopkeeper of a shop selling illicit arcane components that the elves who were burning the fields as a diversion for the Night Runners the night before were actually Firewind tribe. They had performed that act of arson under the misguided notion that the fields belonged to House Tolon, the Dray house that replaced Shialha in Raam’s nobility, and the arson was an act of vandalism / revenge. The mansabdars had arrested some of the elves who were languishing in the dungeons beneath the Ivory Palace.

Upon reporting this, the agents devised a plan to start turning other elven tribes against the Night Runners. They would start by staging a jailbreak for these imprisoned Firewinds, seeding the notion that they had been set up. In collusion with the palace’s Dray jailor Hazar, they arranged for Alekel to pretend to be an elf pretending to be a human guard. He broke the three Firewinds out and, while insisting he didn’t want to know anything about them, managed to learn a lot about them. They made their daring escape through the silk wyrm caverns and over the palace walls while making it clear that perhaps the Night Runners had set them up. They then returned to the Jeweled Scarab for a well earned early-morning sleep, wherein there were no strange sleepwalking incidents from Najaf.

The next day, they decided to run down the elves staking out the Shuja compound. They made themselves obvious, and sure enough, an elf lad passed a note to Shahzadi with an address in the Coins quarter. Shahzadi, not wishing to give up her gladiatorial career, then led the group to the training grounds where they met Lor Urdun-Mor who seemed most pleased to see that Shahzadi and her fellow gladiatorial team-mates, Alekel and Queri-sed, hadn’t given up the lifestyle for good. He indicated that the next day’s “sunset spectacular” was to be a match pitting a team of gladiators against a small hunting pack of braxat, some of the most dangerous and cunning predators of the wastes. Shahzadi wasted no time volunteering herself and her two fellow gladiators, as well as volunteering Dhaara in-absentia for the job. Safa Maarham was revealed to be quite the afficionado of the games, placing an elaborate bet with Urdun-Mor on the success of Shahzadi and her group while Alekel quietly tried to convince her to use a hat of disguise and enter the arena herself, a “joke” that she seemed to actually take seriously.

After departing, they made their way to the Coins district where they found the address in an old tenement containing a malnourished teenage girl-elf and an elderly elven woman. Some of them had keen enough ears to hear the stealthy tread of others on the floor above. The old woman introduced herself as Utaa Dark Moon, which is the equivalent of her introducing herself as “the assassin of clan assassin.” This meeting was apparently the response to Shahzadi’s recent bar crawl where she and her associates asked pointed questions about the Night Runners. Nothing was said of subsequent shenanigans, but the elves were clearly suspicious. They simply wanted to know what the famous gladiator and her noble friends wanted. She also pointedly made reference to the presence of a Maarham, rivals to the Night Runners. Najaf played their cover story of dilettante nobles trying to set up a smuggling outfit and needing manpower, sounding simultaneously reasonable and insulting. Utaa offered to “think about it” before seeing her guests out.

They returned to the Jeweled Scarab where the three women went on a shopping trip for clothes (and carapace-paint) while Najaf got the power stone with the ritual from Ismail (learning that Utaa is actually of the Half Moon clan, and a powerful wizardess) and delivered it to Mon Adderath.

XP: 3,800
Total: 41,733

Level 13

Loot:
3,000 ceramic pieces each “salary” from Mon Adderath
Bag of Holding

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Braxat!
The Gladiator

Dhaara arrived at the Jewelled Scarab to report that, during the performance of certain filial obligations, she managed to capture the New Moon elf staking out the Garden of Benevolence. The elf in question was being held captive in the cellar of Dhaara’s uncle, a notable of the Saddhu caste.

The group headed out to interview this elf. Dhaara’s uncle, an ageing half-giant named Gaurav Kelas, seemed to be a capable psion who didn’t want to know more than would be good for him. Everyone but Shahzadi and Queri-Sed descended to the cellars to speak to this elf. Najaf, Safa and Alekel engaged in a campaign of social interrogation, charm, and intimidation while Dhaara kept an eye out. The goal was to convince Alaa New Moon that they were a powerful faction desiring to set up a criminal enterprise and wanting the aid and alliance of the Night Runners. They succeeded mostly by subtly capitalizing on Alaa’s own poorly concealed ambitions, and they freed the elf after having exchanged complex methods whereby future cooperation could be arranged. As part of this, Najaf gave Alaa the option to name her victims in an upcoming “Templar purge.” She threw the elves of the Sky Singer and Firewind tribes under the proverbial bus.

Having accomplished these goals, they returned to the Jewelled Scarab to rest up before the “Sunset Spectacular” gladiatorial match that Shahzadi volunteered for. Najaf departed to put his anti-elf pogrom into action while the other five headed to the arena. Dhaara, newly-sensitive to embarrassing caste violations, entered the arena in disguise. Safa Maarham, always a fan of the games, opted to enter the arena also disguised. A Dray sorceress named Arjani who had recently fallen out of Dregoth’s favor was added to their group and they took to the arena to the cheer of the crowd.

Two adult braxat, a mated pair, along with two adolescents were brought into the arena. These hulking, dangerous creatures are rarities in any arena due to their power and difficulty in handling. The battle was joined. The six gladiators took particular effort to play to the crowd, getting various cheers and chants going to inspire their fellows and enrage the braxat further. Although Shahzadi and Queri-Sed took quite a beating, and the others were semi-frequently doused in acid-spray from the adult braxats, they dispatched their monstrous foes with elan and the crowd went wild.

The crowd went even wilder when Safa removed her disguise. Yet another “Noble Gladiatrix” added fuel to the fire, and dramatically altered the betting pools. After having overcome such trials and basking in the acclaim of the crowd, each of the agents-turned-gladiators felt confidence in their abilities wax anew. Najaf made a lot of money, even while absently attending to his affairs, based on the bets he placed on his companions’ victory.

While the victors enjoyed a hedonistic evening, Najaf raided Sky Singer and Firewind market stalls and gatherings. He interviewed each elf one by one taking pains to inform them that they had been sold out by the Night Runners, but that an opportunity to escape Dregoth’s justice may soon come to them. He then left them languishing as dawn approached.

As daylight arrived, the agents were again re-united to discover that the proprietress of the Jewelled Scarab had a message waiting for them. The message was contained in a lovely sandalwood box of exquisite manufacture and was written on high quality, quite expensive paper. The author, who did not name herself, thanked the agents for saving her life and the lives of her three children. She asked that they meet her at the “place you saw me last” to discuss further employment for which the remuneration would be great. They judged the message to be from Liese Stel, and contemplated the various confusing facts they knew about her in preparation for going to see her.

XP: 3,333
Total: 45,066

Loot:

Najaf: 17,000 ceramic pieces

Everyone Else: 2,000 ceramic pieces
Choice of:
Battle-scarred Champion (lvl. 13 boon)
Davros Eldan’s Aerial Step (lvl. 13 boon)
Closed Mind (lvl. 13 boon)
Erathis’s Beacon (lvl. 13 boon, Arcane instead of Divine)
Mystery of the Hidden Veil (lvl. 13 boon)
Mercurial Mind (lvl. 13 boon)

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The Iron Ring
The Son

The assembled agents of Dregoth considered Liese Stel’s invitation, but decided to put off seeing her for a few days while they laid the groundwork to setting up a functioning smuggling enterprise. They used their separate skills to survey the lay of the underworld to identify an available market niche. They learned some interesting things about Dregoth’s strict regulation of slave transactions. They spread the word through rumour of the “Iron Ring,” an influential new smuggling outfit. They traced those rumours to the various other groups who would be either interested in employment or potential rivals. They screened would-be employees. They made contact with criminals with hot good that would need smuggling. They made arrangements with local merchants for transport purposes. They surveyed bolt holes and dead-drops in the surrounding landscape. They hired agents to travel to Tyr to set up a sale-point for smuggled / fenced goods. They enchanted various chests for rapid retrieval of funds from distant locales. In summary, they got a fully functioning smuggling, transport, and fencing network started and set it in motion with an inventory of stolen Draji jewelry and artwork.

As part of the social interactions involved in these activities, the subject of Shahzadi marrying one of Safa’s brothers arose to cement an alliance between Shuja and Maarham. As Safa needed to visit her father to explain her recent gladiatorial endeavors (among other things), she brought her new friends with her. Jai Maarham welcomed the agents to dinner, although only some of them wore their own faces. Safa retired with her father after dinner to explain herself and report various useful bits of intelligence to him. Najaf retired with Jai’s mysterious vizier, who may well be one of the enigmatic Khayal, to discuss an ancient and long-dead but psionically powerful race that once lived in the caverns beneath the ruined city of Giustenal, and whose lingering experiments may well have “touched” Najaf, or cursed him. The rest retired to the lounge where they drank, talked, and met Safa’s brother Aasif, who was reasonably charming and to whom the others kept trying to set up Shahzadi. He did not seem uninterested in her, but some sensed that he felt a stronger, more sexual attraction to Dhaara in her false gladiator’s guise.

Leaving the Maarham house late in the night, they decided to pay a visit, at last, to Liese Stel. When they met her, wearing their “smuggler” guises, she looked quite different, having changed her hair and her makeup and her dress to look more like a reasonably-well-to-do commoner or exotic foreign call-girl than the wealthy trophy wife of a dead merchant lord. Liese spun for them a tale of a poor, pretty woman, married to a powerful merchant prince who abused her and forced her to do things she did not want to do… including using her feminine wiles to seduce a Yellow Monastery monk and steal a certain book on behalf of her husband who hoped to whisk it to far Urik before the monks could retaliate. Another group that he upset with betrayal, the Night Runners, caught up to him in the wastes and butchered him, stealing everything of value. A noble local Telepath named Ismail hired mercenaries to rescue the pretty young wife from Night Runner retribution, and similarly procured from the elves the book, which Liese now hopes the brave mercenaries will return to the Yellow Monastery with her compliments in order to make things right.

The agents of Dregoth saw this to be an elaborately slanted tale, although the factual particulars held up to scrutiny. They were well aware, and Liese made no attempt to hide it, that this was the slanted story she wished them to sell the monks when returning the book. It was clear to Najaf that she had longer-term goals in this than merely getting the monks off her back, but when he inquired into ways this might cause him and his allies to suffer, she assured him that any such difficulty would fall upon her, not upon the innocent mercenaries who were merely messengers and deliverers. She handed them a wooden box with a large, old scroll in it, and another box full of ceramic pieces. They accepted both, and therefore accepted the contract. They immediately set out for the Yellow Monastery, arriving in the dead of night. They rapidly gained admittance and were met by the Abbot, Sandip, himself along with two other monks. Safa Maarham took it upon herself to relay Liese’s tale, with help from Najaf, and spun a narrative so compelling that even her fellow agents nearly believed its absolute veracity. There were some elaborate verifications of the scroll, and the Abbot gave to Safa a set of wooden meditation beads, a mark of favor from the Yellow Monastery representing a favor that could be called in at some future point. Breathing a sigh of relief, they departed to one of their safe houses by the arrival of dawn.

XP: 3,666
Total: 48,732

Level 14

Loot:
6,000 ceramic pieces
Yellow Monastery meditation beads

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Shuja's Skeletons
The Priest

Safa Maarham had to attend a family event and so Shahzadi “wrote” an invitation to Safa’s brother to spend some time with her at some point. What this really meant was Alekel wrote the invitation. Safa departed, invitation in hand, and the rest of the agents of Dregoth discussed how to further their plans.

They decided that the time had come to track down AkuNu Dark Moon in the Ghost City. Donning disguises as random untouchables, Najaf and Alekel ventured beyond the walls to the slum growing like a boil to the side of Raam. The Ghost City is so named because ash from the crematorium coats everything in white and grey. Shahzadi followed them at a distance, with Queri-Sed following Shahzadi stealthily. They found the shack where the untouchable known as Nanda Shatri lived. They gave her the appropriate pass-phrase to be shown to the Dark Moon elf, but she hesitated. She expressed curiosity about Shahzadi, even though Shahzadi had stayed outside the shack and at some remove. She also expressed some concern that Najaf had “too much magic” about his person. Nevertheless, she showed Najaf and Alekel the hovel where AkuNu was living in exchange for a private conversation with Shazadi.

Najaf and Alekel found AkuNu a wasted wreck living in a filthy hovel. He seemed to have given up all care for his life or death. He told them his tale: A few years before he had been in charge of a Night Runner expedition to infiltrate and destabilize the underworld factions of Nibenay. A week into this mission he had been abducted and replaced by one of the Khayal, who in his guise utterly sabotaged the mission. The fake AkuNu gave orders to slaughter the Sky Singer elves who ran Nibenay’s black market sparking a blood feud that has lasted to this day, as well as managing to unify Nibenay’s various criminal guilds against them. After doing all this, the imposter vanished, releasing AkuNu to reap the consequences. Even though the Night Runners eventually learned about the imposter, as the leader of the expedition the blame fell to him. Although permitted to live, he is effectively ostracized. Nobody speaks to him, or includes him, or hires him. He is persona non grata to his clan and to his tribe. Even so, despite all this, he has no particular motivation to betray them to the first people to come along.

Najaf and Alekel considered this poor excuse for an elf and promised to come back once they had come up with ways to motivate him to help them. Meanwhile, Shahzadi and Nanda Shatri were having a conversation, snippets of which were being overheard by Queri-Sed. Shahzadi sensed something about this untouchable woman, some deep, mystical connection she could not explain. In the course of their cautious conversation, Nanda dropped the bombshell that Padme Shuja was not Shahzadi’s mother. Shahzadi was one of the “Offspring,” a daughter of the former sorcerer-queen of Raam, Abalach-Re, and that Nanda herself was also one of the “Grand Vizier’s” children. Apparently the former monarch was fond of… breeding experiments… and Shahzadi was one such experiment. Nanda also warned Shahzadi to stay clear of Usuch-Si, the famous sculptor, who apparently was keeping tabs on the “Offspring” and if he didn’t already know Shahzadi was one, she would be wise to keep it that way.

This, understandably, deeply disturbed Shahzadi. The agents reconvened with Dhaara, who had avoided the Ghost City while preparing for her eventual meeting with the Badna Cultists later that night. It was clear to all that Shahzadi was deeply disturbed, and equally clear that she was mortally terrified of talking about why. This sparked the curiosity of her companions, who were understandably not placated by the argument that their ignorance was for their own good.

Tabling the matter, most of them went to bed while Najaf reported to Mon Adderath and floated the idea of officially sanctioning the Sky Singers as a tool against the Night Runners. Mon Adderath in turn reported that after having studied Ismail’s ritual, he could arrange to kill the Night Runners’ entire psychic communication network. All he needed was an elf ritually bound to that network and the correct timing.

Eventually, the next day, Shahzadi spoke with her “mother” who came clean about it. Apparently Jahandar Shuja was, still, Shahzadi’s father, but he had indeed sired Shahzadi on the Grand Vizier, who then left the infant to be raised a Shuja and had nothing further to do with her. This explained many things, like Shahzadi’s unusual health, stamina, and alcohol tolerance. Shahzadi and her mother actually had a fairly touching bonding moment… as touching as one might expect. Shahzadi then came clean with Najaf in exchange for Najaf telling his own secret, namely the psychic parasite he picked up in Giustenal and its theoretical connection to the Khayal. Both siblings then came clean to Dhaara and Queri-Sed, the latter of whom elaborated upon the prophecy of her people and the true depth and reason for her devotion to Shahzadi and her desires for Shahzadi to reproduce.

After the airing of all these secrets (and Dhaara’s consumption of a lot of wine), they prepared to rest for a few hours before attempting to infiltrate the Badna Cult.

XP: 3,800
Total: 52,532

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The Cult and the Date
The Unclean

Najaf departed for the Ivory Palace to pursue some leads on some wizards knowledgeable in the arcane arts of breeding new races while Safa returned from her cousin’s wedding with a response for Shahzadi from her brother indicating his desire to meet. Shahzadi, seeing no point in keeping Safa in the dark, filled her in on Najaf’s strange psychic parasite as well as her own membership in the “Offspring,” the illegitimate children of Abalach-Re. After some conversation discussing the implications of these things (during which Dhaara continued to drink lots of wine) it became apparent that if their Saddhu was going to be of any use in the meeting with the Cult of Badna in a few hours she would need to sober up a bit.

The agents, sans Najaf (who wasn’t there) and Dhaara, donned convincing laborer-caste guises and ventured to Ascetics Row to join the covert cult in their services. The observant among them noticed others arriving in small groups attempting at stealth. The man at the hatchway into the underground meeting area appeared to recognize Dhaara, and let her and those with her pass.

The underground chamber, which was probably once a large wine cellar, was packed with nearly two-score people. The agents were on highest alert and noticed two elves among the worshipers keeping back and apparently guarding the entrance. Dhaara noticed another man seated near the other exit from the chamber with a degree of stillness and discipline she found vaguely disturbing. The rest of the worshipers seemed ordinary enough. Soon, the priest of this gathering arrived. He was an older man named Salim, dressed in simple, threadbare robes, evincing a powerful charisma. He spoke to the people, preaching about how the decadence and corruption of the former Grand Vizier had so angered the god that she had been cast in the wilderness and her people given into bondage. Only through the steadfast belief of the faithful in this time of trouble and tribulation would demonstrate to the god their worthiness and so Badna would remove the yoke of the dead king and his unbreathing forces from around their necks. He spoke also of the possibility that Abalach-Re may yet repent of her sins and return to her city renewed in her piety and belief in Badna and deliver her people.

At that point, the time came for new members and initiates to come forth and receive the blessings of Badna from Salim. Alekel rushed to be first and spun such a convincing and heartfelt tale of Badna’s mercy and Dhaara’s wisdom and benevolence that none there, even his own companions, doubted his sincerity. All eyes, however, turned to Dhaara, who had some fame in the Cult before Dregoth’s conquest. She was able to convincingly parlay her clear discomfort into modesty, which Salim gladly elaborated upon. It was clear that he knew of her even though, to Dhaara’s recollection, the two of them had never met. Shahzadi, however, recalled hearing of Salim as a renegade Badna priest who used to preach against the Grand Vizier for her indolent, sinful ways. He had apparently not changed his stripes once she was driven into exile.

The other agents eventually received Badna’s blessing. Shahzadi attempted to play the part of a mute beggar woman, but as she began interacting with Salim she felt the same disturbing kinship with him that she had felt with the untouchable tanner Nanda Shatri. With some horror, she realized that Salim, also, felt that connection. It would appear this priest, notwithstanding his doctrine, was one of the Offspring. Queri-Sed was last, and spun a tale about how she felt a kinship with the “four-armed human god”, demonstrating with her own four arms. Salim wasn’t entirely sure what to think of her.

Their ruse appeared to pass Salim’s critical eye, although clearly he was not entirely convinced. He asked Dhaara and her converts to stay after the service. After the other worshipers left, it was the five agents, Salim, the strange, still man, the young girl who first spoke with Dhaara on the street, and the two elves. Salim spoke at length with Dhaara about faith, and about the origins of the Badna cult, claiming that Abalach-Re had discovered the first icon of Badna in an ancient temple ruin, uncovered by a sandstorm in the wastes, and had brought the worship of Badna to Raam. He emphasized that Badna pre-dated the sorcerer-kings and queens, and just because Abalach-Re may have cynically used the faith as a tool of power doesn’t invalidate the faith. He seemed to be speaking to Dhaara but intending his words for Shahzadi. Dhaara asked for an introduction to the strange still man. He was introduced as “Lesan, my bodyguard.” Lesan unfolded himself from the floor to stand at attention. This brought Queri-Sed’s attention to the fact that he did not seem to move in a manner that was entirely… human.

The agents did nothing to further draw suspicion from Salim, however, who bid them a good evening after mentally communicating to Shahzadi “farewell sister.”

The agents departed, paying more attention to street traffic. They noticed that, curiously, for a part of the city renowned for having ascetics meditating at all hours, the street for a block around the secret Badna cult’s meeting place was deserted. Furthermore, there were no patrols of mansabdars for multiple blocks. Alekel made some inquiries with beggars and learned that on certain nights the guards avoid a certain area of Ascetic’s row. The beggars assume that criminals and elves had bought them off for some choice “hits” but no rumour of theft ever resulted. The agents headed toward one of Alekel’s safehouses. Queri-Sed dropped back stealthily to ensure they weren’t being followed and noticed… barely… that Lesan was, in fact, following them. Lesan noticed Queri-Sed as well, and after a bit of a stand-off, gave up the pursuit.

The agents discussed implications before eventually returning to House Shuja for some sleep.

They awoke around noon. Shahzadi’s mother had been in communication with House Maarham and had set up an “after-dinner and sparring” date between Shahzadi and Aasif Maarham. First, though, Shahzadi and Queri-Sed went back to the Ghost City to speak with Nanda Shatri. Shatri indicated that her relationship with AkuNu was purely mercenary, and if the agents wished to interfere with AkuNu, she could be persuaded not to take offense for a reasonable fee. Shahzadi also learned a bit more about the mysterious sculptor Usuch-Si and his apparent interest in the Offspring.

While Shahzadi was gone, Safa, Dhaara, and Alekel visited the home of Gaurav Kelas, Dhaara’s uncle. After all due formality, they asked him about strange movements… or lack thereof… in Ascetic’s Row. Gaurav told them that some four months previously an elf had delivered a message from the “Revered Pandit,” a well-respected Saddhu philosopher, stating that his meditations and studies of the heavens had indicated a subtle cycle where spiritual rituals would be more efficacious, and that he would be happy to send word to any who were interested a few days in advance when one such conjunction was imminent so that the Saddhus could stay indoors in meditation and contemplation. Gaurav further mentioned that when he, an imminent Saddhu, inquired of the Revered Pandit personally, he learned that the Revered Pandit had come to no such breakthrough. Further investigations revealed that these elves would pay him to pretend it was true and stay indoors anyway. He refused, but he got the impression that they amount they were offering him wasn’t substantial because he wasn’t living close enough to their targeted neighborhood. It would seem that in this modern age of moral decline, the other castes do not support the Saddhu as well as they might, and many have fallen on hard times. The “bad parts” of Ascetics Row, theorized Gaurav, are particularly susceptible to this sort of flagrant criminal bribery. He presumed it was some illegal elven night market and thought little of it. Dhaara’s implication that the Cult of Badna was involved was a different matter entirely.

After some discussion, they convinced Gaurav to let them do some more investigation. He made it clear, however, that should they give the word, he and other imminent Saddhu would make it so that Ascetics Row would no longer be a safe place for elves to conduct clandestine business.

Dhaara, Safa, and Alekel departed to go drinking at the Jeweled Scarab, conspicuously avoiding the Shuja household under the theory that leaving Shahzadi alone with Safa’s brother would be more conducive to romance.

The evening arrived. Shahzadi, abandoned by her fellows except for Queri-Sed, awaited the arrival of Aasif Maarham. The courtyard was arrayed, slaves and food and drink and a rack of assorted weapons were provided. Aasif arrived and there was small-talk, mediated by Padme Shuja, who shortly feigned business and left the two alone after promising that Shahzadi’s father would be along shortly. The two had some slightly awkward conversation where Aasif waxed poetic about the savage beauty of the wilderness and his sense of connection to the wild places before Jahandar Shuja arrived to rescue Shahzadi from any further social embarrassment. Soon, however, the time for sparring arrived, and Shahzadi was more in her element.

They danced, Aasif choosing a long-spear. He seemed quite capable, and with Queri-Sed’s verbal encouragement, eventually pulled out all the stops, revealing a very literal connection to the primal spirits of the earth. He gave Shahzadi a run for her money, although Shahzadi eventually bested him. Sweaty, heated, and generally excited, the flirtation came rather more natural under the benign gaze of Shahzadi’s father before Aasif eventually departed, promising a second date sometime soon.

Shahzadi spoke briefly with her father about the true circumstances of her conception and the deceptions required before he, too, took his leave and Shahzadi went to the bar to join her companions in some well-earned debauchery.

XP: 3,400
Total: 55,932

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An Ambush
The Secret Tryst

Safa, Dhaara, and Alekel spoke for some time after Alekel’s performance in the local tavern, mostly expressing their concerns about Najaf’s brain-eating propensity, and their worries that his absence to pursue some studies was giving him an opportunity to continue his unholy hunger. Alekel asked around and learned of an unusual series of murders wherein the victim’s head and face were excessively smashed, presumably to conceal the identity of the dead. Alekel expressed the opinion that a clever brain-eater would change his MO to disguise the object of his attacks and this may well be evidence of Najaf’s activity.

Shahzadi and Queri-Sed arrived after Shahzadi’s date and they continued to converse, Shahzadi coming to the defense of her brother. Dhaara asked for a stronger alcohol and was given a bottle of clear rice-based spirits which she, Safa, and Shahzadi started to drink. Eventually, the bartender brought a new bottle, unasked-for, which Shahzadi immediately reached for. She started to feel… not so good… but brushed it off to a long and hard day.

As the group started to leave the tavern with the aim of heading back to the Shuja estate for some sobering sleep, ten dark-clad elves fired upon them from a number of nearby rooftops while a sickening horde of disturbing rats boiled out of the nearby outhouse. These rats, the result of some ancient psionic experiment gone awry, gained in intelligence the more of them were in the swarm. The drunken agents of Dregoth were peppered with arrows and disoriented by the psychic shriek of the rats when an elven assassin with two obsidian blades whirled into their midst, mixing psychic attacks with dark blade-work. Moments later, another elf entered battle, fogging minds and sending tendrils of his own thoughts into the brains of his foes.

The agents fought back, Queri-sed flying about the battle on diaphanous wings dealing death, Safa conjuring fire, Shahzadi and Alekel utilizing their skills from the arena and Dhaara dealing the sort of death her caste would abhor. The elves, realizing they were overmatched, eventually attempted to flee, but were cut down, the assassin, gravely wounded, was captured.

The agents quickly searched the corpses for clues, and found some tattoos of the Dark Moon clan. Queri-Sed, unseen on a rooftop, gorged herself on elf flesh before wrapping up the prisoner and following her companions as stealthily as possible. Wounded and bleeding, they fled back to the Shuja compound where Padme Shuja fussed over her daughter and had her attendant apothecary see to the wounds of the group. Queri-Sed was given two burly slaves to lead her and the prisoner to House Shuja’s cells, but her hungers got the better of her. She fed upon some fingers and the prisoner’s eyes, and the poor elf bled out before the apothecary got around to seeing to him.

After it became clear that all had been done for them that could be done, Padme Shuja got around to mentioning that there was a slave-messenger waiting for Dhaara, sent apparently by her uncle. This slave indicated that she had been sent to inform Dhaara that the elf that had formerly enjoyed her uncle’s hospitality had returned with dire warnings for Dhaara and her associates. Despite their wounds and weariness, all five of the agents departed for the home of Gaurav Kelas. They arrived to find Alaa New Moon, who had been waiting some hours. She told them of her inner conflict. After she had last left Gaurav’s house, she had been actively advocating for a mercantile alliance between the Night Runners and this new “smuggling ring” run by dilettante nobles. During this time, however, other hints and pieces were being gathered by her Clan. Various individuals affiliated with this noble smuggling ring were seen in company of shady Red Crescent-affiliated members of the Iron Ring. Furthermore, Safa Maarham’s involvement cast the whole thing into doubt. Young Alaa came to warn Dhaara and the rest that her Clan, at higher levels than she, had decided that the agents were a threat, and were even now moving against them. In addition to preparing assassination ambushes against them individually, groups were planning to attack the holdings and employees of the Iron Ring and crush this nascent competition.

Safa’s keen insight into the motives of others determined that the young elf was telling the truth, but was also luring them into a trap. Yes, the Iron Ring’s holdings were being attacked, but her role was not of innocent messenger, but rather of instigator. The agents withdrew to discuss the matter where Alekel and Shahzadi almost came to blows over what was to be done with Alaa New Moon. Safa, moderating, sent a message to her brother, arranging for a group of House Maarham soldiery to come and take the young elf into “protective custody” with instructions that she be treated well. Sadly, this required the group to wait for a bit, worried all the while about the fate of their holdings and employees. Alekel departed in disguise to reconnoiter.

Aasif Maarham arrived with some guards and, with Safa and Shahzadi, tried to sell Alaa on the “protective custody” thing so that she wouldn’t feel compelled to fight for her freedom and spill blood in the house of a Saddhu. While it was clear that Alaa did not buy the “for your own good” argument, and realized fully that she was now a prisoner, she did seem convinced at the assurances that she would be treated well, and resigned to her fate, departed with Aasif while the remaining agents prepared to pursue Alekel and see to their holdings.

XP: 3,400
Total: 59,332

Level 15

Thoughtspike Dagger +3 (Obsidian) (Lvl. 15)
Lifedrinker Dagger +3 (Obsidian) (Lvl. 15)
Orb of Unfailing Concentration +3 (Lvl. 15)
3,000 gp of Ritual Components

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