The Reign of Dregoth

A Brave New World
The King

The agents of Oronis teleported into the Ivory Palace along with Eloyas Ardian, who departed to the gardens to safeguard the lives of the citizens of Raam should Safa fail.

The other six met with Mon Adderath in the antechamber to Dregoth’s laboratory, where they were informed that the King awaited to congratulate them on their victory over Hamanu’s champions along with general Khalid Hanafi, the kaisharga who was once Najaf and Shahzadi’s grandfather.

They entered the King’s spacious lab where he, in human form, started with the kind words… he suddenly stopped, as if suspicious… whereupon battle was waged. He almost immediately assumed his true form of an immense undead dragon, while Qhari-Kos immediately ensured that General Hanafi would not be a significant participant in the fight.

Dregoth’s power was immense, but Mon Adderath’s apparent betrayal confused and weakened him. As his defiling energies poured out toward the city, Safa became filled with fire, transforming into a potent being of the Elemental Chaos, Dhaara’s fiery ancestor, and held the dark power at bay, preserving the lives of the citizens of Raam while Shahzadi ultimately was able to pin Dregoth into a corner of his lab, safeguarding the distracted psion.

The Guardian, an ancient Raaig, manifested, but Mon Adderath was able to mostly confuse it into quiescence aside from summoning a few dark shrieking shadows that were easily disposed of. Shahzadi distracted Dregoth by aiming a few blows at his lab equipment which focused his rage even more on her. Ultimately, after a fast but hard-fought battle, Dhaara beat the massive King into a second death. His body dissolved, and Mon Adderath became… somehow more real. It became clear that the High Templar was in some fashion Dregoth’s phylactery, and much was made clear about his conditions for participating in this seeming betrayal.

Oronis was summoned, Dhaara’s ancestor returned to the City of Brass, and Qhari-Kos guarded the chamber from the balcony. Oronis led a group ritual with the aid of Najaf, Alekel, and Safa to resurrect Dregoth. Such resurrection was normally impossible, of course, a feat of immense magical power requiring a fundamental connection to the foundations of the world itself. Oronis, as a twice-refined emergent of the Pristine Tower, was able to, after an hour, bring Dregoth back to life.

The now-living sorcerer-King was… not happy about events, but acknowledged the reason for it. After a few terse words, and the revocation of Najaf’s templar bond, Dregoth and Mon Adderath teleported away, presumably to Tyr, to make use of Kalak’s ziggurat with the goal of transporting to some other space and time and becomeing the god he so wished to be.

Oronis went out upon the balcony, and with the aid of some immense illusion magic, publicly claimed Raam in his name, and delegated it governance to his “High Templar” Najaf and Najaf’s companions. He then spent a few weeks taking audiences to transfer templar-bonds from Dregoth to himself, and then returned to New Kurn.

The now-Regents of Raam spent a year reshaping the city to their interests. They convinced the Cult of the Dragon that their god Dregoth had, in fact, become a god sometime in the past, and was trying to break through the barriers erected by the “old Dragon” to come again unto his people. Najaf set the Cult against the Children of the Dragon who made it clear that their agenda of not paying the Dragon sacrifice put them at odds. The two opposing but similarly named cults were manipulated into a costly shadow war.

Najaf took the service of Dregoth’s powerful undead servants. He met with Jia, whose original name was apparently Theodosia Chandrelina, the undead priestess of Sielba, and she bargained for her continued existence. They let her leave the city but kept her phylactery against future trouble.

Dhaara initiated, along with the Saddhu caste, a “cleansing policy” where the City would front the customary fee for soul-dedication for any now-undead citizen who wished to pass on and join the ancestors. This, along with the lifting of Dregoth’s “death tax”, started the slow decline of undead citizens in Raam.

Alekel walked the streets, the PR face of the new regime, composing catchy ballads of Dregoth’s fate, and the enlightened new policies of the city’s new rulers. He, with Najaf’s help, started social policies aimed at loosening, and perhaps ultimately dissolving, Raam’s caste system, along with the seeds of a public education system.

Shahzadi, after talking with Qhari-Kos, finally permitted herself to become pregnant by her husband Aasif. All the best magic and psionics that money can buy were procured to ensure healthy twin girls with excellent magical or psionic potential.

Qhari-Kos flew throughout the wastelands near Raam, finding solitary clutches and sharing the ancestral memories of the Great Queen that she had become. She spread the prophecy of the coming Green Times, as well as the great human Companions who would soon be born to accompany the Queen, and her successors, throughout the ages. She recruited fanatical thri-kreen “grim guards” to protect Shahzadi and the children at all times.

Najaf ran the city’s bureaucracy. He contacted Sumita, the templar they had plucked from the life of a thief and turned into Raam’s ambassador to Tyr. She told them that Dregoth and Mon Adderath had appeared in her chambers, sharing just a few words before departing to confront King Tithian. They took Narl, the key to the Ziggurat, and entered Kalak’s folly. Nearly two weeks later, an immense surge of arcane energy came from the ziggurat, every soul bound into the edifice was consumed, and the thing collapsed into a mound of mundane (and slightly smoking) brick. This has caused many panicked rumors out of Tyr.

Eloyas Ardian, with the intercession and introduction of Najaf and the others, met with King Tithian and assumed the title of “Lord-Protector” of Tyr, casting the protective mantle of one who has been through the Tower over that city to protect against future aggression by another sorcerer-King. He left Tithian the title of King, as well as most administrative powers, while he himself renewed his ties with the halfling tribes of the forest ridge.

Many other loose ends were wrapped up, old friends spoken to, old enemies co-opted or subverted.

Finally, after a year, the five Regents of Raam met with Eloyas Ardian to discuss passage through the Pristine Tower themselves. Najaf had spent his spare time in Dregoth’s laboratory constructing an elaborate key that would admit all of them should they wish to go. They wanted to know what the experience was like.

Eloyas Ardian told them that passage through the tower was a chrysalis, a vast and alien power deconstructed you, refined you, into your most basic essence, then rebuilds you into what you SHOULD have been, writing you, your essence, into the world itself. Eloyas indicated that the original thirteen Kings and Queens had entered the tower together, under the guidance of the Dragon, with a powerful shared purpose… survival and the defeat of the Enslavers. They were generals in a fight for existence, and the strength of that shared purpose saw them through. Without a singular focus, or strongly held ideals, or a powerful intellectual understanding of the fundamental rules of the universe, you would probably just be obliterated in the process.

They five conferred, and all but Shahzadi decided to enter the Tower. Shahzadi and her husband and daughters would sit vigil, along with other guardians sent from New Kurn and the thri-kreen protectors of the family.

The five traveled to the Tower, the last, greatest enigma. Najaf called forth his key and they entered.

Alekel was deconstructed. He walked in the shoes of endless people, from all walks of life, he saw his purpose as one of endless curiosity, and relentless craving for new experiences. He sought change because stagnation was incredibly boring. He saw himself as a moral counterbalance to the rest of the group, knowing that despite not liking many of them, they could accomplish great things together…

Najaf was deconstructed. He came face to face with the person he used to be, the compassionate, kind, soft-hearted pushover. The moral man he was met the immoral power-hungry creature he became due to the psychic parasite that caused his transformation into a Greater Khayal. The parasite was winnowed away, but the potential, the power, the purpose it gave him merged. Najaf became, more wholly, a fusion of both people…

Qhari-Kos was deconstructed. She came face to face, for the first time, with the possibility of immortality. A creature who expected a mere handful of years, who lived entirely for the benefit of the generations who would come after her, was suddenly faced with the knowledge that she didn’t have to come to an end, that she could guide and guard all the future generations of her people… and she rejected it. The old Kings and Queens became stagnant. Only through constant birth and death would the thri-kreen adapt to the new age that was coming. She embraced her short lifespan, embraced the knowledge that everything she was would be passed on to a new Queen, and in so doing, ensured that the thri-kreen as a people would benefit from the transformation the Tower wrought…

Dhaara was deconstructed. She saw a life of action lived without concern for consequence, a Path of Action that sought to do what was right without concern for the fruits of action, and she was confronted with those fruits. She saw the endless chains of consequence, and had to grasp a balance between pure action without attachment, and right action for better consequences…

Some time later they emerged, transformed, four entirely new beings who had never, previously, existed.

Would they herald the end of the Age of the Kings? Would they, along with King Oronis and Lord-Protector Eloyas Ardian, succeed in making Athas bloom into new life once more?

I like to think, perhaps, they did.

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Preparations for Regicide
The Date Palm

The agents of Oronis of Kurn continued to enjoy the fruits of the hidden city while they planned not only the attack on Dregoth, but also what would come after.

The first obstacle was to find a way to prevent Dregoth from killing everyone in Raam to fuel his own defense. One method was via Dhaara’s great-great-great-great-grandfather, the potent elemental spirit of fire, who could possess someone and utilize his intrinsic connection to the Elemental Chaos to neutralize Dregoth’s death-magic. The problem was finding someone other than Dhaara powerful enough to contain such a spirit before combusting. They suddenly remembered that their old companion Safa was a potent pyrokinetic, and that affinity might come in handy.

Safa grudgingly agreed to allow herself to become possessed. As Dhaara’s ancestor filled Safa’s body, she burst into fire that did not burn her, her eyes became blue coals, and her flesh shifted to that of a powerful-looking male half-giant… although that latter effect had more to do with Safa being of the Khayal-race. The Ancestor seemed bemused by Safa’s shifting form, and indicated that this enabled even greater resistance to being burned up from the inside. He demonstrated Safa’s true appearance, much to her later shame and consternation, and managed to maintain his possession for about 45 minutes before she began to crisp, and he departed.

The second concern was how to prevent Tyr’s fate from happening to Raam once Dregoth was resurrected and had departed the world to become a god. Someone who had passed through the Pristine Tower would be required to rule over Raam. During their stay in Kurn, Oronis’ pupil, Eloyas Ardian, returned from his own sojourn through the Pristine Tower in the company of Kiran, Sa’asha, Aetolos, Banowir, and Kard, the party whose vigil the agents encountered before. At Shahzadi’s urging, Eloyas revealed his true form, that of an elongated, winged humanoid, clearly a much less mature stage of Oronis’ glorious state.

In studying Eloyas and his transformation, coupled with his previous studies, Najaf felt he had a much better understanding of what, exactly, the Tower does to people. It forges and purifies, transforming a person according to their deepest ideologies, and ties them intrinsically to reality itself. They become more real, and the world becomes more like them. In subsequent discussion with Oronis, Eloyas, and the others, Najaf speculated that he and his fellow agents could pass into the Tower as a group, much as the original 13 who became the Kings and Queens did so long ago, so long as they held to a common ideology or goal. Oronis, obviously, wished to present his own belief system, and Najaf made placating noises, but it was clear Najaf intended to forge himself and his companions into something entirely new…

But that all could wait until after Dregoth was dead. Eloyas demonstrated a greater sense of savvy when it came to politics than Oronis, and made it clear that if Raam was to be truly safe, Oronis himself would have to openly claim it, as the other Monarchs know of him, and consider him an equal. But, much like the Shadow King, or Abalach-Re down in New Antalus, Oronis would not actually have to set foot in Raam. He could stay in New Kurn and govern the city through powerful proxies, such as, say, his new Agents who were mostly native to that city.

This plan seemed the best one, and Oronis delegated Eloyas to accompany the Agents in their assassination attempt to provide backup for Dhaara’s Ancestor just to ensure that Dregoth’s ability to turn all of Raam into instant undead was curtailed.

The agents retreated to a carefully prepared room to discuss if there was any ideological common ground at all that they could forge to make a unified attempt at the Pristine Tower. The eventually came up with an ideology of cyclical change, that the world had become too static and decaying, that old needed to be torn down for new growth, new fertility, which in turn should be allowed to mature and die. Cities could fall, and rise and fall again. Change, natural cycles, rise and fall of ordered societies, would permit for a growing new world.

They then departed for the deep desert from which they contacted Mon Adderath, who met them. They reached a tentative final agreement. Mon Adderath gave them some pointers on Dregoth’s capabilities in a straight-up fight, and indicated the ways that he himself could indirectly aid them.

With that, they prepared to be presented to Dregoth as the champions who had advanced his interests in Tyr… as prelude to an attack.

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Duel for Tyr
The Warrior

The Agents of Dregoth gathered with Elytas, a Warlord of Balic, and joined the procession of dignitaries marching into the desert for the ritual duel of champions for the fate of the city-state of Tyr.

On the cracked plain between the four armies, these six champions were led forward by Sadira (representing Tyr), Sumita (representing Raam), and Gosi Kokoros (representing Balic). Meeting them was a group of six champions of Urik led by King Hamanu himself.

The Lion of Urik confirmed the terms of the duel. If his champions should win, Tithian of Tyr would bend the knee and become his templar, ruling Tyr in Hamanu’s name. If his champions should lose, he would march home and not aggress the “free city” for ten thousand years.

Agreement having been reached, the representatives left the field to the champions. Urik’s champions were led by Hamanu’s high templar, filling the role of First Sword of Urik. With him were five well-trained warriors constituting his “Hand.”

As the sun touched the edge of the western mountains, a chime sounded, and battle was engaged. Dhaara moved with amazing speed to deal crushing damage to the foe while Queri-sed rained crystalline death upon all six enemies. Alekel and Najaf tried their own curses to stymie their enemy while Shahzadi charged forward.

The Hand withered and died with surprising rapidity, but the First Sword proved to be made of more resilient stuff, throwing out dark curses in the name of Hamanu and teleporting his foes as will across the field. Those he harmed with his eldrich bolts shared their pain equally with all others cursed by the Templar’s dark magic, and the First Sword shrugged off effects that would daze or incapacitate a normal person, albeit at some weakness to the power of his curses.

Eventually, however, the six champions of the allied cities overwhelmed him. As the First Sword fell bleeding on the cracked earth, Hamanu was suddenly among them. With a gesture his six champions shambled back to their feet, and Hamanu stood, awaiting his counterparts, presenting the victorious champions with a stony facade.

The three other representatives scrambled down to the field of battle, some formalities were voiced, and Hamanu departed. By the next sunrise, his army was on the move back to Urik.

The Champions returned to Tyr to much acclaim and celebration. Tithian granted them honorary citizenship. They opted to quickly retire to their rooms, however, where Mon Adderath awaited them.

He congratulated them on their victory. Something about its decisiveness had aided the ancient being to make up his mind about what to do with his errant servants. He agreed that the Ziggurat of Tyr could grant Dregoth his original goal of living godhood. He also knew that Dregoth would never submit to be in the utter power of another King, even Oronis. This meant that Dregoth would need to be slain, and his body provided to Oronis for resurrection. Mon Adderath also did not trust Oronis, and made a condition of this plan that Oronis perform the resurrection at the Ivory Palace, placing himself at the mercy of Mon Adderath and all of Dregoth’s undead forces. He considered this condition only fair.

The agents of Oronis agreed that they would bring these conditions to their King. Further discussion ensued about how to protect Raam from Dregoth’s power should he seek to consume the life force of the city in self-defense, but specific plans were put off until the agents could get Oronis’ agreement on the core condition.

Mon Adderath departed, and the agents entertained a succession of visitors. It became clear that their victory on the field against such a potent foe had interested, or concerned, a number of other Kings and Queens. The Dictator Andropinis of Balic extended his personal invitation to dine and discuss philosophy via his templar Gosi Kokoros. Shan, the Priest of the Blood conveyed the wish of his goddess, Inanna, Regent of Nibenay, that the five agents not enter her city without advance warning. A similar message was delivered by Osanje, noble of Gulg, although he himself indicated a desire to host them should they visit.

After playing diplomat, they gathered and transported themselves across vast distance to the teleportation circle beneath ancient Kurn. A servant of Oronis met them and led them up through the hidden passes, through the veils of potent magic, to the hidden city of New Kurn and its fertile valley. They presented Mon Adderath’s conditions to Oronis who tentatively accepted them, provided safeguards could be gathered to inhibit Dregoth’s power. Dhaara’s ancestor indicated he could do what was necessary, but would need to possess living flesh, which might not be up to the burden. They discussed druids of their acquaintance, as well as Oronis’ apprentice, Eloyas Ardian, who was set to emerge from the Pristine Tower any day now.

They discussed the problem of what would happen to Raam after Dregoth was gone seeking godhood. Hamanu had demonstrated his willingness to ensure that every city was beholden to an ancient monarch, and therefore beholden to the Dragon Sacrifice. Oronis indicated that Eloyas Ardian, as a changed being of the Pristine Tower, could probably rule Raam without exciting Hamanu over-much, but that would be a fairly dramatic public statement on behalf of Oronis and his faction, who had hitherto striven to remain secret.

The discussions concluded with many possibilities but none decided upon.

Queri-Sed found Najaf and informed him that if he truly wished to expand his mind, he should consume the brain of one of the People, or Kreen, and taste of their ancestral memories. In fact, if he truly wanted to understand the destiny of the thri-kreen, and the prophecy that Queri-Sed had followed through their entire association, he would do best to actually eat the brain of Queri-Sed herself. At Najaf’s surprise, she indicated that her vision, her skills, her power, and her status as queen were eternal, and would pass to the worthiest of her followers upon her death. Najaf, convinced that doing this thing would not rob the agents of their potent ally, cracked open Queri-Sed and ate the nerve-bundles that approximated her brain.

Najaf suddenly understood.

The next day, a new Thri-Kreen naming herself Qhari-Kos appeared with the group. She had the same speech patterns and attitudes toward Shahzadi’s fertility as Queri-Sed, but was clearly a different individual who nevertheless shared in the psychic racial memory imparted to her by Queri-Sed. This new Thri-Kreen was younger, and could look forward to another whole decade of life.

Shahzadi was… flabbergasted.

XP: Level 24

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Champions
The Dead

No more than five minutes after Mon Adderath left the chambers of his former agents, Narl, the Mul avatar of the spirits of the Ziggurat arrived at the door. Upon being let in, his eyes began to glow, and he proclaimed his identity as the “Lion of Urik” and attacked them.

The Lion of Urik was a mighty foe, but the agents ultimately drove him from Narl’s body.

Moving quickly, Najaf, Alekel and Dhaara began a soul-dedication ritual. They recognized that when King Hamanu had infiltrated templars into the Ziggurat, they must have ritually sacrificed one of his champions as a poison pill, an infiltrated spirit working within the Ziggurat. Calling upon the knowledge of Dhaara’s fiery ancestor, as well as their own arcane sensibilities, they successfully pulled the spirit out of the Ziggurat, using Narl’s body as a focus, and cast it into the Elemental Chaos to be transformed in fire.

Templar Sumita ran up, concerned, and was informed about Hamanu’s attempt at assassination without all the details of Narl’s secrets. Mon Adderath emerged near her, much to her shock and surprise, and was similarly briefed.

It would appear that Mon Adderath’s presence in the Ziggurat triggered certain defenses, or at least moved up Hamanu’s timetable. After sending Sumita and Narl away, the agents conferred once more with Mon Adderath on the subject of their new allegiance. He indicated a tentative willingness to accept that, notwithstanding their betrayal, they do in fact hold a means by which Dregoth can achieve his ultimate goals… provided enough trust can be built between Mon Adderath and Oronis of Kurn to permit the plan to be enacted. Najaf agreed to broker a meeting on neutral ground, namely the Pristine Tower, between Oronis and one Second, and Mon Adderath with one Second.

Before that could be arranged, however, the matter of Tyr’s standoff with Urik needed to be resolved. Najaf brokered an agreement, sworn between Gosi Kokoros, Templar of Balic, with Mon Adderath wherein Mon Adderath, on behalf of Dregoth, promised to destroy Proctor Drelto, the undead force protecting New Antalus, in exchange for an army from Balic.

With that agreement solemnified, King Tithian permitted Dregoth’s undead to finally enter Tyr in order to safeguard the city from the army from Balic that was imported via the teleportation circle beneath the Golden Palace.

As Najaf collapsed from holding open a teleportation circle for so long, a representative from New Antalus, famed bard Michaelis Taliodoros, arrived at their suite. In conversation with Queri-Sed, Alekel, Shahzadi, and Dhaara, he learned of the deal with Balic, and the threat to his own city, and mused aloud as to how best to survive what was coming. Either way, he didn’t appear to hold it against them personally.

Later that evening, all the diplomatic luminaries met atop the ziggurat to watch the armies march. There was some discussion as to whom the Champion of the allied force would be should Hamanu sue for trial by champion. The Agents recommended themselves. Alekel, after all, is Tyrian with a vested interest in the city’s future, and the rest were Raamese. Templar Kokoros suggested adding a combatant from Balic to the mix, and to have a six-person team of champions to fight Urik’s six-person team.

A few days later, Hamanu sent formal representatives to negotiate just that. In formalities binding Hamanu, as well as Balic and Raam (and Tyr, but it was clear that Hamanu doesn’t consider Tithian a “real” king), the six-person squads of champions were agreed to. The terms were this:

Should Hamanu’s champions win, the armies of Tyr, Raam, and Balic would stand down, and Tithian would either abdicate his claims, or swear fealty as Templar to Hamanu, who would annex Tyr as part of his territory.

Should the allied champions win, Hamanu is to withdraw to Urik and shall not aggress Tyr, Raam, OR Balic for ten thousand years.

The Agents have three days to prepare to fight to the death for the future of Tyr.

XP: 23rd Level.

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Factions of Tyr
The King

The agents went to a small dinner with King Tithian and the other ambassadors.

Nibenay sent Shan, “Priest of the Blood”, to represent their city. Najaf spoke at some length with him, inquiring into the nature of the Regent of Nibenay, one “Inanna, goddess of Blood.” He discovered that she was apparently an incredibly potent form of undead that Nibenay had created from one of his most loyal wives, filled with the power of millions of souls, who had been granted a shard of an ancient, long-dead goddess. This seemed a bit far-fetched, but Inanna HAD defeated Dregoth’s champion more than a year before…

Gulg sent Osanje, a warrior-noble of that city. Osanje was arrogant, dispensing insult to all and sundry. The agents realized that this was a part of Gulg warrior culture, to advertise one’s personal power and ability by insulting others until someone stronger proved it. Shahzadi challenged him, and they fought a close-fought “duel” with bare fist until Osanje eventually conceded defeat. From then on, he treated Shahzadi with all due respect, although he continued to dispense insult and arrogance to everyone else…

Draj sent Takli, a “Priest of the Two Moons.” Takli also had a religious motivation, as a priest / templar to Tektuktitlay. He relayed the theology of his distant city wherein the King’s propitiations and sacrifices allow for continued fertility across the entire world…

Balic sent Gosi Kokoros, an esteemed Templar to the Dictator Andropinis. Gosi brought his wife, and sundry retainers, apparently disdainful of the danger of walking into an active war. He was the only one the Ambassadors of Dregoth deemed interesting enough to engage in real business, discussing and negotiating what it would take for Balic to field an army in support of Tyr…

Also invited to dinner were two members of the local merchant class, Soren and Lita Cleon, cousins to Alekel. Alekel learned that while some of his family died or fled the city, the younger generations are banking on Tyr’s freedom, mostly out of mercantile opportunity. Since the more established merchant houses are being cautious, they’re stepping into the void. Their goal is to eventually become a dynastic merchant house with a King’s charter. The problem is, the other Kings and Queens won’t respect the charter of Tithian unless he actually manages to beat Hamanu.

King Tithian demonstrated political acumen in having a formal dinner with all these assorted individuals without excessive argument or violence breaking out. The duel between Osanje and Shahzadi took place after the meal, and at the same time, Najaf opted to pull Narl, the Mul, aside. Narl had been the winner of the 200-gladiator melee that consecrated the ziggurat, and Najaf felt that there was something… mystically interesting about the quiet now-vizier to Tithian.

In that conversation, Najaf learned that Narl is now the vessel through which all the souls of the ziggurat may experience brief lives. He spoke with three (or maybe four) different people, all somehow inhabiting Narl. How millions of souls decide who gets the body at any one time remains somewhat mysterious, but “Narl” indicated that Tithian “mediates” somehow in exchange for loyal service.

Dhaara had an internal conversation with her fiery ancestor and learned how he had founded their Saddhu family. Once he had been a mercenary captain from shattered Yaramuke, a cadre of former half-giant slave-soldiers of that city found freedom through its destruction and were the terror of caravans along the King’s Way. Recognizing that this lifestyle would ultimately result in their destruction, he made a powerful display of sacrifice, asceticism and piety in Raam. The very fear with which the populace held him turned to awe, and the Saddhu caste could not deny his ascension into their ranks. This, perhaps, explained his interest in his martially-inclined descendant.

Najaf spoke with ambassador Kokoros and learned that it might be possible to convince Balic to send an army if Dregoth or his people could… resolve a problem for the city. Apparently Balic was concerned about the new city-state of New Antalus that Abalach-Re had built on the ruins of old Kalidnay. While Balic was confident of its ability to crush New Antalus militarily, New Antalus has an ancient power that defends it, potent magic woven in the earth itself and manifested in Proctor Drelto, an ancient undead. If Dregoth or his people could… neutralize Proctor Drelto, Balic would be happy to send an army.

Najaf and the other ambassadors retreated to their rooms, and after extensive ritual magic to secure their privacy, discussed their options. Najaf decided to contact Mon Adderath, who immediately teleported to Tyr via Najaf’s templar connection to the King. In debriefing their superior, some aspect of their words or deeds drew his suspicion, and they ultimately admitted to having met, and possibly entered the service of, King Oronis of Kurn. They allayed Mon Adderath’s anger somewhat by presenting a very real possibility that their actions were also of benefit to Dregoth, in that they now had a potential means to permit him to achieve his original goal of living godhood.

Mon Adderath was skeptical, indicating that if there was any way to resurrect Dregoth from undeath, he would have done so. The agents indicated that they knew a way, but it would require Dregoth to trust Oronis, something Mon Adderath did not believe possible.

Troubled by this potential betrayal, but sufficiently intrigued by what they found within the ziggurat, Mon Adderath departed to visit the edifice for himself and ascertain whether his former agents were telling him the truth…

XP: Level 22

Change in Advancement System: Cards now only provide their die-rolling mechanic. Leveling up will result in achievement of significant story objectives as we move toward the end-game.

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Kalak's Ziggurat
The Moon Ral

After a briefing on the political situation, including the names and political stances of the representatives of the various other cities, Templar Sumita engaged in some existential angst about her rapid rise from gutter-thief to Templar negotiating on behalf of a King. After being reassured, they all went to meet King Tithian of Tyr.

He sat on Kalak’s old throne in Kalak’s old throne room. Beside him, ostentatiously wearing the accoutrements of a slave, was his court wizard Sadira. Tithian welcomed the agents of Dregoth and the two parties engaged in some stilted conversation to feel out each others’ positions. It was mentioned that Tithian could easily become Templar to Dregoth, or for that matter any other King, including Hamanu, and the war would be over. He seemed strongly disinclined to do so. Eventually the reason came out.

Tithian considered Kalak’s disappearance to be a great gift. Tithian revealed that he, as High Templar to the former Sorcerer-King, knew rather more about Kalak’s mysterious fate than most people perhaps assumed. He believed that in that one act, of leaving not only the world, but this time itself, that Kalak had granted the people of Tyr a great boon… freedom. Tithian wasn’t referring to freedom for slaves, he had done that out of economic and military necessity. He meant freedom from the Dragon Sacrifice. The ancient pact between Dragon and Monarchs apparently only extends to those cities rules by parties to that pact. Tyr, as a free city, is outside the mandate of that bargain, and outside of the Dragon’s power to affect directly. So long as Tyr is ruled by someone who is not tied to the symbols and the power of one who has been transformed by the Pristine Tower, his people have effectively broken the shackles that bind them to this “prison of a world.”

It seemed clear that Tithian was feeling out the agents for their own knowledge of the Dragon’s purpose for Athas, and their own intent, or rather Dregoth’s intent.

Najaf, negotiating for the group, made it clear that Dregoth’s aid for Tyr was not contingent on Tithian becoming a templar again, and could certainly continue on the basis of foiling Hamanu. He also made clear his desire to research the interior of Kalak’s ziggurat. Tithian indicated that the ziggurat is tied to the power of the Kings, and that only those bearing symbols of a King’s authority may enter. He himself, no longer a Templar, could not, but the agents of Dregoth, as genuine instruments of that King’s will, could. He insisted that Sadira go along provided they could provide her sufficient temporary “agency” of their own King.

This, it turned out, was not a problem, as Sadira was secretly King Oronis of Kurn’s agent in Tyr, and had been inside the ziggurat, secretly, a number of times.

The agents and Sadira went to the ziggurat, finding a ruse to send Templar Sumita off on some errand. Once inside the ziggurat, they enacted further rituals to foil scrying and spying, and spoke openly of their shared service to Oronis, and discussed the complex geopolitical situation they found themselves in. Sadira led them deeper into the massive pile of brick. Each of the millions of bricks contained a trapped soul, and each of the chambers they passed through bore a different, exotic symbol. They reached the “foundation stone,” a single block of uncut, unformed obsidian.

The agents and Sadira put their respective vast skills and knowledge to bear on figuring out this stone, as well as the ziggurat themselves. They each contributed some knowledge to the whole.

The world, when scarred by violent, unnatural magic, such as powerful defiling, will form a “scab”, typically of obsidian. This is a magical and natural reaction to deeply unnatural acts. Far to the south is a vast plain of obsidian that stretches for uncountable thousands of miles. Entire forests were turned to black glass. Some immense cataclysm in the ancient past nearly destroyed the world, and the Great Obsidian Plain is the scab the world grew to contain that great wrong. Whatever it was, it was far beyond mere defiling magic, and this block of obsidian came from the heart of it. The oldest of legends and most hoary of ruins indicate that once the entire world was ruled by a malign, non-human race known only as the Enslavers, the race that the Dragon and his Champions arose in rebellion against. The runes on the ziggurat floor were reminiscent of old half-effaced symbols in their ancient ruins. It is guessed that in the immense past, the remnants of this race caused the Great Obsidian Plain in an effort to escape the war, to send the remainder of their race scattered backwards in time.

The upshot is: The ziggurat is an immense magical artifact channeling arcane energies into a matrix reminiscent of ancient Enslaver psionic methods, focusing on a block of obsidian infused with the energies of a place where time and space are weak. In short, Kalak spent centuries and the souls of millions to send himself somewhere distantly back in time, before the Dragon, before everything. He had well and truly escaped the prison of the world.

Najaf and Sadira spent the next 24 hours studying the ziggurat. They, and the other agents, discussed a number of ways it could be used. It could, for instance, be used for its intended purpose again, provided they could find another sacrifice of 199 gladiators in the arena at the base of the ziggurat, the blood sacrifice of which, as part of an immense rite, can power the device. They speculated that, if given an opportunity to pursue his original goal of becoming a god in a time where the Dragon wasn’t there to oppose him, perhaps Dregoth could be convinced to permit himself to be resurrected, and more importantly, leave the world behind and no longer oppose Oronis. They also discussed Tyr’s current problems, and ways they might motivate either Andropinis of Balic or the Regent of Nibenay to send an army, using the enticement of the ziggurat. They also discussed ways of changing the ziggurat’s function, altering the world in different ways. Dhaara floated the idea of dedicated all of the millions of trapped souls to the Elemental Fire, freeing them from a fate in the Gray, and maybe even buying the services of an army from the City of Brass against Hamanu.

Dhaara, using religious rites from Raam, summoned up a few of the millions of souls on their way out. They returned to the palace to sleep and contemplate the many earth-shattering possibilities before them.

XP: 4,000
Total: 187,000

View
Trek to Tyr
The Priest
  • Najaf learned from Mon Adderath why Dregoth had been killed in the first place… he had been aspiring to use an (unnamed) artifact, along with the Pristine Tower, to become a god, a divine being capable of bypassing the Black, and therefore challenging the Dragon for cosmic supremacy. The other monarchs killed him because they feared such a confrontation between Dregoth and the Dragon would destroy them all. In the course of the conversation, Najaf learned a lot about what motivates Mon Adderath for future use.
  • There was much discussion about Dhaara’s would-be fiance, who clearly sees her as something of a prophet and divine emissary. Dhaara put off making a decision.
  • They prepared to depart for Tyr. Queri’Sed educated them on an ancient Thri-Kreen proverb that resulted in them drugging her into a stupor for the duration of their travels.
  • Najaf summoned a Cloud Ray, which they rode for the many days and nights across the wastes.
  • They opted to investigate the Dragon’s Bowl, an immense sinkhole within 10 miles of Urik, but which had a dark and mysterious reputation.
  • They met the druid who guards the Dragon’s Bowl, a female Mul named Kel, named in Old Tyrian. She and Alekel had a brief linguistic chat.
  • She expressed interest in Najaf’s strange new magic. While she still clearly considered arcane magic to be “unnatural” she did not disapprove of any such magic that created new life rather than destroying it. She permitted them all to partake of her oasis before moving on. Najaf convinced her to let an emissary of Oronis visit at some later date.
  • The flew wide of the armies encamped to the NE of Tyr.
  • They arrived at Tyr and judged the social and economic climate, and found it… precarious
  • They met Narl, King Tithian’s “High Templar of the Household”
  • They met (again) Sumita, the street-thief they hired to be a smuggler, who by virtue of location, became Dregoth’s Templar and emissary to King Tithian. She debriefed them all on the various factions and politics of this city-under-siege.
  • Narl arrived to tell them that the King would See Them Now…

XP: 4,000
Total: 183,000

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A Garden Party
The Merchant
  • The Agents returned to Raam and managed to report the death of Taxma to Mon Adderath without getting in trouble, or revealing that they were now double-agents working against Dregoth.
  • They learned from their families how things were going with the Children of the Dragon
  • They brought Safa into their double-agency. They warned their respective families to start making plans to flee the city if things should go awry
  • They met with Usuch-Si to discuss their new agenda. They learned that King Tithian of Tyr’s Court Wizard was a life-mage, trained in Kurn, and therefore a secret ally for when they go to Tyr on Dregoth’s behalf… but she may need to try to assassinate them to keep that connection secret… no offense. They got permission to bring Safa in, and to ultimately send her to Kurn, as well as permission to evacuate their families to Kurn if necessary.
  • Queri-Sed told her “husband” that he needed to go on an epic overland quest to fertilize her eggs in a secret paradise-city guarded by an insect-god. She pretty much told him exactly how to get to Kurn.
  • Everyone else became worried about Queri-Sed’s ability to keep a secret, and discovered that her “husband” Dej’kak’s departure had alerted the curiosity of Kalyani Shom
  • Queri’Sed enlisted the aid of Shia Tolon to throw an immense party in the Garden of Benevolence in honor of the unveiling of the statue Queri’Sed had commissioned from Usuch-Si. Everyone was encouraged to bring a date.
    • Alekel brought Sita, the Sitar player he had met at the Jeweled Scarab, making her husband all defensive and jealous
    • Safa brought her eldest brother
    • Najaf brought Fatima Hassan, one of the Offspring, and scion of the Hassan nawab house.
    • Shahzadi brought her husband Aasif
    • Dhaara brought the young Saddhu her family was trying to set her up with, a scrawny young half-giant named Shah Khan.
  • All parties worked to make the party a rousing success, and Alekel started a new fad for Thri-kreen music. Mon Adderath even made an appearance.

XP: 4,000
Total: 179,000

View
The Garden City
The Serpent

Having partaken of the rituals of hospitality, the agents of Dregoth settled in for a conversation with the strange party of clearly potent individuals encamped about the Pristine Tower. Information was traded back and forth in a cagey manner, and in this fashion, knowledge was gained.

They learned from Kiran of Nibenay that the Tower theoretically made anything possible. 124,000 odd years ago, twelve humans met at the tower at the behest of the Dragon where they underwent the transformations that made them immortal and powerful enough to fight their ancient war. These individuals became the Kings and Queens who persist to today. They learned that these Champions of the Dragon have, in the intervening millenia, developed four ideologies.

First is the ideology of the status quo. These Monarchs continue to husband the guttering civilization of the world as a resource for the Dragon’s inscrutable goals, participating in the Dragon Sacrifice, and ensuring that nothing significantly changes. King Hamanu of Urik is chief among such Kings, but others include the Oba of Gulg, the King of Draj, the Dictator of Balic, and the King of Eldaarich (a city none of the agents had ever heard of).

Second is the ideology of flight. These are the monarchs who have tired of doing the duty set for them by the Dragon and who seek to flee the prison that is Athas, to find new worlds, new places where they can rule without being constantly under the Dragon’s thumb. Kalidnay was the first to succeed in this manner five centuries ago, but recently others have discovered their own methods, including Nibenay, Abalach-Re, and in his own fashion, Kalak of Tyr.

Third is the ideology of death. Dregoth of Raam and Sielba, formerly of Yaramuke, being the only two monarchs to achieve undeath, have decided not to husband the guttering life of the world, but rather to extinguish it, eventually ruling over the corpse of Athas and the corpses of all its citizens. These two have ceased the Dragon Sacrifice so as not to rid their future empire of souls to rule, and also to call the Dragon’s bluff, as the act of violently punishing such an errant city would simply play into the hands of this philosophy. This philosophy believes its success is inevitable, and so Dregoth plays games of proxy-war with Hamanu and others with the cold assurance that no matter who wins any war upon the field of battle, Dregoth wins in the end.

Those agents of Dregoth who were counting realized that only one of these ancient champions who had gathered at the Pristine Tower long ago remained unaccounted for, but they were at a loss as to whom that might be. Kiran went on to discuss the last philosophy, that of renewal. One of these ancient champions, filled with grief over the damage wrought upon the world by their ancient war, sought a way to heal Athas. After millenia of study, he returned to the Pristine Tower where he underwent a second transformation. This King works in secret, developing the means to reinvigorate the atrophied connections between the world and the Elemental chaos, so that life might spring anew. This King is well aware of the fragility of his position. He works through spies and agents, keeping tabs especially on Dregoth and his city. This King already possessed dossiers on the agents, and this King’s own agent, Usuch-Si the sculptor, was inferred in the discussion. It was on this King’s behalf that Kiran’s own father was currently engaged in his own trials within the Tower, and it was on this King’s behalf that Kiran and her companions sought to sway the agents of Dregoth into becoming double agents.

They retired to a tent and linked their minds and discussed the matter. Inside her own mind and soul, Dhaara asked her ancestor to burn out the seed of death that Dregoth had planted inside her so long ago as the boon he had promised her. So pleased was he that she chose the path of ritual purity, that he did so without expending the gift he had proferred. Queri-Sed also felt that the prophecy of her people aligned perfectly with the ideology of rebirth as espoused by Kiran, and knew that she would need to remove Dregoth’s boon in order to give birth to her clutch. Najaf, to the surprise of some, expressed a well-reasoned defense of taking Kiran up on her offer, although did bring up some cautions, namely that being caught by Dregoth after such a betrayal would undoubtedly result in the destruction of House Shuja. Alekel expressed strong support for joining Kiran’s cause, and Shahzadi, while indifferent to matters of ideology and philosophy, was hardly going to betray the rest or act counter to their interests.

Having decided to betray their King and their employer, they once more sought out Kiran to discuss how, exactly, this would work out. They told her of Taxma, the apprentice to Dregoth who had sent them. Kiran informed them that she and her companions would not permit one who followed the philosophy of death to enter the Pristine Tower and bolster Dregoth’s faction. It was eventually decided that the Agents formerly of Dregoth would report to Taxma as planned and lure him to the Tower where everyone present would dispose of him. Kiran’s companion Sa’sha indicated that she had awakened the somewhat alien spirits of the land near the tower, and that un-anchored spirits tended to get… consumed… meaning return from death was much more difficult.

Najaf reported to Taxma, and Taxma eventually arrived. He looked dramatically different than he had when he sent the agents off on their mission. In the interim, he had finally completed a complex, year-long ritual to convert himself to one of the more powerful forms of undead. His eyes were pits of blackness, and his flesh hung dead on his frame. It was not altogether unexpected that he brought a number of large, physical undead with him, as well as a host of dozens of enslaved spirits. The fight was brief but savage and arcane power from Taxma, Najaf, and Kiran wracked the battlefield. Taxma himself seemed vaguely disgusted, and perhaps even a little bored. He seemed utterly unconcerned at the prospect of dying.

He was eventually struck down, however, and Najaf leapt upon him and began consuming the necrotic, fetid cranial matter that had once been a living brain. Najaf choked it down, gaining extensive memories and insights into Taxma, the fact that he had actually met Kiran and her companions once before in far off New Antalus, and the details of the ritual he had performed. This led Najaf to believe that Taxma may, in fact, return someday, but that it was unlikely to be immediately, or even particularly soon.

Having sealed their new allegiance in this manner, Kiran informed them that their new patron was King Oronis of Kurn, a city far to the north of Draj. She told them that the Kurn that Draj trades with is a waning shell of its former self, mostly because the King had relocated it to a mountain valley that had once been a battlefield in the ancient war. Defiling magic had blasted this valley in a manner much akin to the land surrounding Giustenal, smoking pits of bubbling black necrotic tar, not only the absence of life, but the anathema of life. Over the millenia, the King had practiced his new rejuvenation arts and had succeeded in turning the valley into a paradise, a garden, an exemplar and symbol of his philosophy, and proof that it was possible. Kiran then had Sa’sha take them there.

Sa’sha utilized some primal form of teleportation, and they all arrived on a ledge on a cliff face in the cold of high altitude. Snow could be seen on the mountain tops. Below, a lush valley spread out, green with crops, orchards, and wild-growth. Docile animals were kept in pens, flowers bloomed in profusion. This was like the most lavishly tended city-garden of a wealthy noble, but on an immense scale. In the center of the valley was a city with no wall, rather a sprawling collection of building arranged in harmony with the flow of the rivers and the lay of the land.

As they descended, the tactically-minded realized that the city was not quite a defenseless as it seemed, but still must rely heavily on both secrecy and the presence of a single mountain pass to enter. The arcane-minded could still feel the ancient ache of the land beneath their feet, but the thrum of living magic bolstered everything around them. Sa’sha casually mentioned that there was no slavery in New Kurn, a prospect that caused much confusion in the caste-minded Raamese.

They found themselves in a garden in the heart of the city even more ridiculously lavish than the rest of the valley. Here they met King Oronis. He appeared as a simple man of middle-years, dressed for gardening, but with opalescent eyes. He greeted them with courtesy and without particular arrogance, and conversed with them, answering their questions. He explained that he could teach a new way of doing arcane magic, a method that didn’t siphon life from the land, but rather reached beneath the land to the Elemental Chaos beneath, drawing power directly from the wellspring of all energy and life. In so doing, his magic actually renewed atrophied channels of power, strengthening the connection between the Land and the Elements. His magic actively renewed the land and could not defile. He could teach this magic to anyone schooled in the arcane. The problem, he explained, was that it was effectively starting over. Wizards would be learning everything anew, and developing their power anew, and the temptation to revert to old methodologies at need was often too strong.

Oronis had a platter of fresh fruit brought. He muttered a complex spell over it, and asked the Agents to eat. As they did so, they felt the boon granted to them by Dregoth, the ability to summon the energies of death into them at need, draining away. Once more they were untainted by death.

King Oronis answered Najaf’s questions which was aimed at the odds of eventual success, namely how someone who encouraged life could hope to succeed against those who could use death and defilement indiscriminately. King Oronis answered that those skilled enough in his form of magic, as well as potent Druids and others connected to the land, had methods to prevent defiling. This not only removes a tool from the enemy, but also potentially could throw them off their guard and make them weak. Finally, amidst various other questions, the question was asked about what to do about Dregoth.

King Oronis indicated that, in his mind, the angle to pursue is Mon Adderath. Mon Adderath was split from Dregoth’s psyche by the long-ago process of transformation wrought by the Pristine Tower. They are, essentially, two halves of the same soul. More than a hundred millenia of separation, however, makes them effectively different people, but they still share a fate. It was Mon Adderath who performed the rite to return Dregoth to corporeal undeath, and it is Dregoth’s continued existenc that permits Mon Adderath to continue to exist. They also, however, embody very different aspects of the psyche. Dregoth is cunning, intelligent, but quite mad and power-hungry. Mon Adderath appears to have an actual, genuine concern for his subjects and the people under Dregoth’s rule. Oronis indicated that long ago, in the great war, Dregoth was actually a very popular general of his men, a tactician and sorcerer of great skill. Much of that charisma and genuine concern for his people remains in Mon Adderath.

Oronis opined that while Mon Adderath would never act against Dregoth, he could be convinced to act in Dregoth’s best interests even if that would mean going against Dregoth’s wishes. The trick is to convince Mon Adderath that the best course of action would be to resurrect Dregoth from the dead. Oronis theorized that a proper resurrection might give Dregoth a new perspective, and even if he did not become a follower of the rebirth philosophy, he may choose to diverge from the philosophy of death.

In answer to the query into how the Agents could hope to fool their former master, Oronis indicated that it wouldn’t be easy, but neither would it be as hard as they seemed to think. Dregoth has the utter arrogance that only a King, millenia old, with absolute conviction that he will eventually rule everything can have. If seven unified Kings and Queens couldn’t kill him for long, why would he consider one of his templars and his friends to be a threat? Oronis indicated that they would have all the support he could provide via Usuch-Si, as well as Raam’s Veiled Alliance in their endeavors, whatever they might be. He suggested a patient, careful approach.

Having given them much to think about, King Oronis left them to wander the garden and converse.

XP: Advance to Level 21
Total: 175,000

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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

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