The Water Margin

Dinner Guests

City-State of Nibenay, along a northwest trail to Bremil Pass; 190th King’s Age, Year of Priest’s Defiance, Day 1

Participants:
Melmoth the Merciless
Tikka Greenteeth
Qhorin
Arlianothas
Mouse

With some of Melmoth’s tribe rescued from the clutches of slavery, the group starts to discuss their next action. Qhorin proposes returning to the city to engage in a bit more trade and to earn some extra money by sponsoring Melmoth in the illegal fights in the warrens, but the group’s discussion is interrupted by a massive explosion from the city itself. In the distance, miles away, the group can see a large cloud of smoke and dust rising from one of the buildings, and a great stone tower falls.

The chaos in Nibenay silences the group, who peer as best they can to see what’s happening. Shortly thereafter, another explosion erupts, then a gigantic illusory visage of Nibenay himself appears over the city. From this distance, the party cannot hear what it says, but clearly if the sorcerer-king himself is making an appearance, bad things are afoot. Tikka casts an augury and determines that heading back toward the city will lead to woe.

The group quickly decides that it’s best to hide out away from the city, at least until the current chaos settles down, and they make their way over the rocky hills and into the Crescent Forest. There, just a few feet from the edge of the hills, they set up camp to hunker down and wait out the disaster.

With a few hours’ work the group establishes a fairly sedate encampment at the base of a large agafari tree. Tikka shows one of her fantastic powers as a priestess when she conjures water into existence in her wooden bowl! With such bounty, the team mulls over the possibility of simply living in the woods, away from the nonsense of the noble houses and sorcerer-kings . . .

As the group settles in they catch sight of a pair of dust clouds moving along the road through the hills at the base of the mountains. Investigation shows that it’s a small band of elves, running — with all their possessions on their backs — to outdistance a group of city guard mounted on crodlu. While the guards are persistent, they are falling behind the elves; their persistence is likely the result of knowing that if they come back without making a serious effort, they will likely suffer punishment.

A short time after the elves and guards pass, a small group of refugees passes along the road as well — this one, a trio; one male mul, one male human, and one female human. The mul, carrying a huge basket of supplies and an impaler, is clearly forging forward while the two humans are keeping up as best they can. Qhorin signals the group from a safe distance to ask questions about the happenings in Nibenay. The impatient mul, occasionally interrupted by one of the humans, answers that chaos has struck the city, rioting is rampant in the streets, and the sorcerer-king himself is calling out offenders and sending his templar-wives to arrest or kill them.

The party lets the refugee group pass; soon, another group arrives as well — a much less well-equipped group of humans led by a dwarf. Again, Qhorin calls out to them for news; the dwarf explains that a magical battle erupted in the noble quarter after a strange prophet climbed atop one of the high buildings and started making proclamations about the death of Kalak and the fall of the city-state of Tyr. People began to riot, templars arrived and engaged in a magical battle with a wizard, and the image of Nibenay appeared to strike fear into the populace and reinforce order. Some people, seeing the devastation in progress, grabbed their possessions and fled the city as best they could. The dwarf acquired a focus of shepherding this sad and sorry group of human refugees away from the city and escaped by the western gate before the city militia and guard became organized enough to seal it off.

Better informed, the party lets the sobbing and despondent refugees pass, then hunkers down for the night.

I Love the Smell of Bacon in the Morning

In the morning, the party wakes up and starts to plan their activities, but Melmoth announces that he plans to join his tribe and help them in re-settling in a safer part of the forest. Only a short time after Melmoth leaves and the group finishes packing, they hear strange bird-like noises from the forest, and Tikka realizes that they aren’t bird calls — they’re a halfling hunting party. Sure enough, only a few minutes later, several small faces peer out from the foliage, many of them pointing sharp and dangerous weapons at the party members.

Fortunately, the halflings approach Tikka in a friendly fashion. In a few moments they establish that Tikka is keeping the tall folk with her to have a ready supply of food for her travels, and the halfling woodsmen and women helpfully bind the party with vines and lead Tikka and the prisoners to their hunting camp a few miles away.

The halfling hunting camp is a sparse affair hidden in the woods, barely noticeable even while the party is standing in the middle of it, except for the tree with several more prisoners tied around it — including the wailing, sobbing human refugees that the party saw earlier on the road. (There’s no sign of the dwarf.) In addition, the halflings appear to have captured an elf, a confident-looking human who isn’t a refugee, and a sickly human who looks like he’s on the edge of death. One of the human refugees has already been skinned and spitted and is roasting over a large cooking fire.

The halflings offer Tikka their hospitality, and after some careful discussion they even offer some of the local flavor to the party’s curious vulture. The festivities are interrupted, however, by two halfling scouts who arrive breathless and exclaim that there’s a force of shambling, walking dead things approaching the camp. Something has been tracking the halflings — or one of their captives — and now a small force of undead are on their way. Whether it’s Nibenay or a renegade defiler, nobody knows, but it’s clear that even with two dozen skilled halfling trackers and warriors at hand, this force of zombies and worse may be a serious problem.

Aware of the problems of their situation, the halflings give the party an ultimatum: Fight alongside them and be freed, or refuse and be cut down before they can cause any more problems!

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Horrid Circles

City-State of Nibenay, 190th King’s Age, Year of Desert’s Slumber, Month of Wind, Day 30

Participants:
Melmoth the Merciless
Tikka Greenteeth
Qhorin
Arlianothas
Mouse

With their mission in the house of Norihirwat complete, and the sorcerer-king absent from his home in the Naggaramakam, the team has an opportunity to sneak in and steal away Tikka’s ancestral spirit-water bowl. The night is still young — it’s only a few hours after midnight — so, against their better judgment, the adventurers decide to help the feral halfling in her personal quest!

With Mouse’s athletic skills, the group is able to get a rope up and over the outer wall of the Naggaramakam. Then, to avoid crossing the intervening plaza and alerting the guards, Arlianothas glides across to the second floor of the building itself and secures the giant hair line. The group carefully makes their way over to a second-floor window of the huge structure and climbs inside.

The room they enter is clearly some kind of personal quarters for a low-ranking official, maybe a young templar-wife with limited station. A quick search shows only personal effects and a bed, with no sign of Tikka’s bowl. Kirlat, to speed the task, casts locate object to search out halfling-crafted wooden bowls, and points unerringly in the direction of the bowl. It must be close!

The group sneaks through darkened corridors to avoid guards, and at one point barely avoids a patrol with a cilops on a leash. Knowing that it will smell their passage, they elect to make a difficult jump from a balcony over an audience chamber to another balcony on a corner, thereby breaking their trail over air.

Following Kirlat’s magical sense, the team passes a bath area, a barracks room, and a scribing chamber, and they arrive in what seems to be a magical reasearch room — a chamber with a table holding several odd items, including Tikka’s bowl. At the far end of the room, though, is some kind of magical barricade, and inside is an awful, huge, worm-bodied humanoid. (DM’s note: A psurlon — though none of the players made a Knowledge: Psionics check sufficient to recognize that!)

The creature in the circle greets the party telepathically and offers to make a deal with them, but they refuse. It then warns that it will gladly tell anyone who comes that it saw them, and be happy to describe them in detail, unless it is appeased. About this time, though, another patrol arrives, this time two guards with a robed man. As the patrol closes in, the group exits via a window, but Mouse, ever curious, is in a corner of the room too far away to reach the exit in time. He hides in the shadowy corners near a wall tapestry and listens.

An argument ensues between the man and the creature, with the man making demands and threats, and the creature taunting him. Mouse realizes that the man must be a defiler or psion who summoned the creature, and that he was not supposed to. The creature is unhelpful because it knows that its summoner will eventually slip up, as he was not authorized to invoke such dangerous magics.

Seeing no alternative, Mouse suddenly darts across the room. He vanishes across intervening space and bolts out the window, falls, and sprints to rejoin the team.

Leaving the horrors that they saw behind, the party flees from the Naggaramakam and from the city as well, unwilling to stay behind and risk capture by staying too close to the scene of the crime.

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Stalking the Sky

City-State of Nibenay, 190th King’s Age, Year of Desert’s Slumber, Month of Wind, Day 30

Participants:
Melmoth the Merciless
Tikka Greenteeth
Qhorin
Arlianothas
Mouse

With the final night of the lunar festival rapidly approaching, the adventurers have all of their plans in place.

Swikt, assistant diviner of House Shom, has agreed to accept a bribe in order to go to House Norihirwat and convince them that he has foreseen three great troubles that will befall them on this night: An altercation with a half-giant at the gates, a mysterious murder due to a shadow over the house, and an explosion among the foodstuffs. With House Norihirwat convinced that they know what will happen, they will lack their guard against the true plans of the infiltrators.

The team sets it plan in motion as the afternoon wears on. Melmoth loiters drunkenly near the front gates, to start a disturbance when night falls. Arlianothas waits at a nearby building, ready to take wing once the opportunity arises to draw the guards’ attention. Tikka prepares to sneak in and use elemental spells to create chaos in the kitchen.

As the party grows in size and fervor, the plans take off without a hitch. Melmoth’s drunken antics distract the guards at the gate, several of whom decide to drink with the half-giant, simply to avoid angering him. Arlianothas flies overhead, creating a noticeable silhouette that causes confusion below, as Kirlat and Mouse wait for their chance. Mouse manages to clamber part way up the back outer wall, then uses his psionic talent to dimension hop the rest of the way across — bypassing the canvas sheeting on poles designed to hinder climbers, and avoiding a potentially injurious drop on the far side. He sneaks into the house and helps Tikka in, and the two manage to head to one of the large sitting rooms and leave a poorly-hidden bag of spell components behind. From there Tikka returns to hide in the kitchen and casts a sound burst that detonates a large watermelon on the table of rare fruits and delectables outside in the garden. The sudden explosion causes panic and guards run to see what is happening while guests shriek and flee the garden. One woman, a regal templar-wife, immediately takes command of several guards and begins examining the area for traces of magic.

Inside the house, Tikka and Mouse discover that their hiding place is less than optimal, as guards move to the doorway that they were looking through (the servants’ door leading from the kitchen to the garden) and block it. With no other way out and the guard captain ordering a search of the premises, the two sneak their way to the kitchen cellar stairs and head down. Below, they manage to sneak through the cellar proper and discover an exit to the street out back — but they also find a secret door leading to a research laboratory full of alchemical equipment and magical devices! Mouse swipes some of the valuable paraphernalia, then the two hide again as they hear voices. A pair of nobles enter the chamber, arguing in whispered tones about what they are going to do: Their argument reveals that they are members of the Veiled Alliance, and they are planning a show of magical power to undermine the rule of Nibenay!

Bigger Problems

Meanwhile, upstairs, a large coach leaves the Naggarammakam. Nibenay, the sorcerer-king, has decided that on this night of all nights he shall tour the city and visit the estates of his noble vassals.

The carriage makes its way across several streets, and Nibenay and several of his wives visit each festival in turn. The nobles cower and quake as the tall, regal sorcerer-king glances at their petty estates and yawns in boredom. Safely on a perch several blocks away, Arlianothas sees the danger coming, and alerts Kirlat through his mindlink. He spreads the message to the other members of the team, and realizes that Mouse and Tikka are trapped in the cellar, because the door is stuck! He rushes to the back alleyway and forces the door open so that the pair can escape.

Nibenay’s coach rolls on and finally the sorcerer-king arrives at the festivities. He disembarks and, in concert with his wives, he arrives and receives the fear and adulation of his subjects. The templar-wife investigating the exploding watermelon explains that someone attempted to disrupt the festival with magic; Nibenay frowns and orders a search, just as the two noble preservers arrive from downstairs. Spotting Nibenay, they freeze in place, but the gig is up: The templars and guards are already alerted, looking for suspicious people and searching for magical auras. Nibenay strolls over to the two and a brief argument ensures — the woman heatedly shouting that his reign will finally end when the people know that he cannot afford to kill them all. She defiantly casts a spell at him, and the plants in the garden shiver momentarily but do not die. The magic missiles bounce off of Nibenay’s omnipresent protection, and he leans in and whispers a single word. The entire garden withers and turns to ash as she suddenly falls over, dead.

Bored now, Nibenay strolls over to fraternize with some visitors from abroad in order to gather news, while the templar-wives start ordering a clean-up of the premises. The group quickly flees the area in order to regroup far, far away from the disaster — although their mission is accomplished.

In the distance, only a few lamplights flicker in the Naggarammakam, where Tikka’s ancestral spirit-bowl is secreted away in the chambers of a templar who is likely out for the evening in the entourage of her king.

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Overthrow

City-State of Tyr, 190th King’s Age, Year of Priest’s Defiance, Month of Sorrow, day 1

Participants:
Tarkas – JohnThompson
Joani Render – Adrianne
Rissa – ChristineThompson
Adon – Andrewkrowe
Valara – Aylaa

Having broken several of Kalak’s obsidian spheres, the party is now confronted by the angry and wounded sorcerer-king himself!

As Kalak staggers into the chamber, his illusionary visage falls away and reveals his serpentine, semi-transformed body. Behind him, templars and enforcers rush into the room to protect him.

The party closes ranks, sure that they are soon to be killed, but Kalak doesn’t seem terribly interested in fighting them. He lets loose with a finger-snap that blossoms into a fireball, injuring several members of the party — some gravely — but he brushes, unconcerned, past several of the party to reach his remaining four obsidian spheres. He distends his jaw like a snake and swallows one of the large spheres whole. Where does it go? There’s no bulge in his abdomen . . .

Soon enough, the templars and enforcers rush in. Rissa, still wearing a stolen cassock, begins shouting orders as if she’s one of the sorcerer-king’s priests, and amazingly, some of the enforcers seem to believe her. The templars let loose with spiritual weapons and hold person spells, while Valara launches bolts of unstable ectoplasm into the enforcers and Adon launches magical missiles from his wand. Blood is spilled, Rissa manages to envenom a widow’s knife and send one of the enforcers into slumber (quickly followed by slitting his throat), and Kalak continues to consume his orbs while launching quickened spells to support his minions. When his minions fall, he re-animates them as undead to keep fighting!

From up the main staircase comes a tussle, and three unknowns join the fray — a human nobleman in fine robes, wielding a metal scimitar; a black-cassocked templar who seems to have betrayed his king; and a famous mul gladiator, Rikus. The gladiator carries a long hardwood spear, and he takes a chance and hurls it at Kalak — and misses! (Rikus rolled a 2 on his attack roll, and Kalak’s magical defenses cause the spear to glance off!)

Tarkas, seeing how the fight is going, picks up the Heartwood Spear and stabs Kalak with it. His blow is glancing, though, and though the sorcerer-king is injured, he is not killed — but with a spark, his magical defenses start to fail, due to the strike of the artifact. Desperation starts to set in, though the human nobleman concentrates and suddenly several of the still-surviving enforcers look confused and wander away.

Kalak finishes consuming the last orb, but desperation is in the party’s attacks now. Tarkas braces himself and jams the spear into Kalak’s abdomen, lifting the sorcerer-king off the ground with the force of the blow. Black bile dribbles from Kalak’s distended snake-like snout as he chokes and finally dies.

An eerie silence permeates the chamber temporarily. Then, the black-cassocked templar renegade steps forward through the gore and debris, and lightly plucks the silver diadem from Kalak’s head.

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Too Much Trouble

City-State of Nibenay, 190th King’s Age, Year of Desert’s Slumber, Month of Wind, day 29

Participants:
Melmoth the Merciless — Arkayne
Tikka Greenteeth
Qhorin

With pasty-skinned cultists surrounding the crooked house, the group does its best to defend the domicile. In other parts of the slums, they can hear the slavering, clawed monsters breaking into homes and gobbling up the people inside. The situation would seem almost comical if it were not so pressing.

As the cultists swarm the front door, Melmoth the Merciless swings his heavy weapon, doing his best to devastate every one that gets too close. Grasping talons keep digging into his flesh wherever the creatures can find purchase, but his blows continue to crush them as they press forward.

Qhorin, ever practical, flees upstairs and leans out the window, firing his bow at the creatures, to little effect.

Tikka Greenteeth uses rocks and a sling to injure the creatures, but her attacks seem to inflict very little damage on their rotting, graying flesh.

As the situation seems desperate, Kirlat holds forth a strange sigil and intones odd words. Beams of light blast out and scorch two of the creatures, causing them to fall into dessicated heaps. Then, as some of the beasts manage to scramble under a cracked corner of the house, he holds the sigil out and shouts, “In the name of Oronis, I return you to the earth from whence you came!” A wave of silver light pulses outward, and wherever it touches the creatures, they crumble to dust.

Breather

With the diseased cultists destroyed, the group has a chance to catch its breath. Kirlat’s unexpected magic display draws many questions, and he is at least somewhat forthcoming. He explains that he is a templar from a distant city-state, called Kurn, from far to the northeast. He is, essentially, a spy for Oronis, the sorcerer-king of Kurn, here to look in on the city-states of the Tablelands and eventually report back home. His mission will take him across much of the Tablelands and will not be done for years; his stay in Nibenay is simply a chance for him to experience the current tenor of the city.

The group removes the remaining corpses to another house, and they loot the possessions from a dead family across the alleyway. Finally, they drift off to sleep.

Back and Forth

The next day, Qhorin returns to the merchant house of Kuwahiro, in order to glean more information about their employer. While Qhorin speaks with Beyrak, the young noble, Tikka slips off to spy on the kitchen and Melmoth, posing as an agent of Qhorin, examines the stock of slaves in the house’s pits.

Qhorin makes small talk with Beyrak, and comes to understand that Beyrak is a likely contender for the inheritance of the house’s massive estates and wealth. Beyrak is working, of course, to undermine the rival house Norihirwat, but Qhorin susses out that Beyrak is not only working to raise his own house’s fortunes in this fashion, but to impress his elders with his resourcefulness in order to cement his hold on the inheritance.

Melmoth notes that the slave pits hold only a few humans, a pair of dwarves and a single half-giant. None of them are known to him, but after talking to them for a while (under the guise of learning whether his master might be interested in buying them), he learns that they had seen members of his tribe only a few days past! His half-giant brethren, it seems, were taken to one of the many quarries to the west of the city proper, about five miles distant, there to work on pulling rocks out of the cliff face to make new buildings in the city.

Tikka sneaks through the house and hides in the kitchen where she listens in on various rumors and conversations. Among others, she hears a rumor that Nibenay himself may visit the final night’s festivites for the house’s masquerade ball, and that the cultists of the spiritual orders are harboring a new leader who wields an artifact called the Stygian Lance with which he can supposedly command the dead. None of the rumors center on her lost relic, though, so she is only marginally interested.

Finally, the group escapes the merchant estate with many pleasantries, and they return to the crooked house to conspire for their next move. This night they have to sabotage the second night of the festival of House Norihirwat, which will take much of their imagination as they won’t be able to enter the grounds without being recognized this time.

Unexpectedly, someone comes calling at the house. Qhorin answers the door, only to discover a young templar — a wife of Nibenay. Imperiously, she demands to speak to Qhorin. She indicates that she has heard that he is a skilled trader, and she insists that he come visit her in the Nagarrammakam that night two hours after midnight for a business proposal. And with that, the diaphanously-gowned woman, Siyaad, vanishes back into the night.

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Co-Conspirators

City-State of Tyr, 190th King’s Age, Year of Desert’s Slumber, Month of Wind, day 28

Participants:
Tarkas – JohnThompson
Joani Render – Adrianne
Rissa – ChristineThompson
Adon – Andrewkrowe
Valara – Aylaa

Urged on by their interactions at the School of Thought, the team travels to the Shadow Square, there to seek out the Drunken Giant — a low-class traveler’s tavern and one of six wineshops in that plaza. As it’s still early in the morning, the wineshop is largely devoid of customers, except for one reeking and unconscious fellow passed out against the far wall. After a brief interaction with the tavernkeeper, the group decides to settle in and wait for a chance to talk to someone who might know more.

As evening approaches, the wineshop fills with rowdy customers. Most of the group rests upstairs to wait out the punishing afternoon sun, while Rissa takes the opportunity to play some music downstairs for money and to press the audience for information.

Eventually, the group manages to get a bit of sleep, but during the late evening hours, an unknown person suddenly appears in their room with a burst of ectoplasmic displacement. The stranger looks startled, drops a body off of one shoulder, and vanishes again. Not long after, a local templar, Gorevik, arrives with two enforcers, looking for the body and the teleporter. Adon manages to convince the templar that the two of them can work together at a common purpose; in this case, Gorevik seems convinced that the body, that of a young aristocrat from the noble Acrisius family, is an indication of a deeper plot and that the body must be quietly returned to the family without raising suspicions.

In the dead of night, the group heads to the noble quarter and, with a bit of distraction by Rissa, Tarkas manages to make his way to the top of the wall surrounding the estate of House Acrisius and unceremoniously dumps the body. The group scampers back off, mission complete and templar averted, and returns to the Drunken Giant, only to find another person desperate to speak with them: a woman named Romilaand her dwarf companion, known only as “Nugget”. Romila explains that she was looking to make contact with the gith who had the bracelet that Adon now carries, and after some hemming and hawing, she explains its purpose: The bracelet conceals its own magical power from detection and can be used to scry on the obsidian orbs used by sorcerer-kings. Romila tells the group that Kalak is soon to complete some sort of powerful and dangerous ritual — hence his obsession with the ziggurat — and that she and the other members of the Veiled Alliance mean to stop him. She also points out that now that the group has carried the bracelet for some time and talked with her, any templar will believe that the party are co-conspirators of the Alliance; they gain nothing by trying to turn her in.

With the complications of the situation settling in, the group reluctantly follows Romila the next morning to the Warrens, where they enter a dilapidated and abandoned bathhouse.

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Boneshiver

Boneshiver

City-State of Tyr, 190th King’s Age, Year of Desert’s Slumber, Month of Wind, day 27

Participants:
Tarkas – JohnThompson
Joani Render – Adrianne
Rissa – ChristineThompson
Adon – Andrewkrowe
Karru
Valara – Aylaa

The water line winds through Tyr like a snake, growing longer as the sun rises, as if to absorb the heat of the day. This morning, only a lowly lone templar and his mul slave work the well. The line is slow and ponderous, the templar snapping at people who try to finagle a bit of extra water or bring overlarge casks in an attempt to exploit the sorcerer-king’s rule: one hand-carried container of water drawn from a public well.

A terrible stench assaults the nostrils as the slop-cart, overseen by Andra and hauled by two muls, wends its way past the buildings of this neighborhood. People come out to empty their chamberpots so that the waste can be hauled to the fields south of the city for fertilizer.

Rissa and her mul guardian, Tarkas, reach the head of the well just as a commotion starts. Behind them are a pair of the vulture-people from the north – uncommon curiosities in the city. A man swathed in desert garb comes charging down the road from the direction of the caravan gate, riding atop a crodlu. Four soldiers follow him – city watch who would normally be posted near the gates, but are now in pursuit of the criminal. “Stop him! Stop that criminal!” the soldiers shout.

As the rider approaches the well, people scatter. Nobody wants to be tangled up in the pursuit of a criminal. The templar overseeing the slop card – Andra – frowns, but this is not her department. Her muls are unarmed, little more than beasts of burden.

The rider’s erratic course takes him crashing through the line of people by the well. He struggles with his garb, trying to reach his belt-knife, and as he draws the bone dagger it cuts across his bandolier and sends pouches flying off his person to smash on the ground. One of the pouches splits open, spilling out ceramic coins. Some people dive for the coins; others want nothing to do with the criminal affair.

The templar at the well raises his hand and presents the sigil of the sorcerer-king, Kalak the Tyrant. “In the name of the sorcerer-king,” the templar commands, “Halt!” Compelled by the power of the sorcerer-king, the rider falls from his crodlu. The lizard-bird shrieks and howls as its rider tumbles to the ground. Amidst the commotion, Adon deftly picks up one of the pouches, but his movements are not so subtle as to go unnoticed by Rissa or the bird-people. The soldiers rush up to grab the man and discover his identity, and they unwrap his head-scarf. To their surprise, he has a sloping forehead, bony protrusions instead of teeth, and slits for a nose – a gith! Inside the city, and riding a crodlu, no less!

The soldiers wrack their brains for what to do about the gith. “Should we take him back to the sergeant-at-arms?” says one. “Of course, mekillot brain!” says another, “he’s a fugitive, and the sergeant will know what to do!” One of the soldiers turns to the templar by the well, but the templar has already returned to distributing water. Now, the templar also shakes down people for money. “I saw you pick up those coins,” he says to a potter who reaches the head of the line. “Pay the sorcerer-king his due.” The potter grumbles but puts two cermaic pieces in the templar’s outstretched hand. Business, it seems, trumps law.

As the soldiers start to carry the gith back toward the gate, Rissa slips up to intervene. “You know,” she mentions off-handedly, “this fellow is probably not worth your effort. The sergeant will just turn him over to the gate-templars, who will ask all kinds of questions, like why you didn’t stop him in the first place. Better just to tell everyone he’s dead, no?”

The dwarf leading the group of soldiers scratches his bare chin. “And where would we hide the body?” he asks. “The sergeant would wonder if we come back with bloody but empty hands.”

“Oh,” says Rissa, “just put him on the slop-cart. I’m sure he won’t be the first corpse there.”

The gith starts to stir, but the dwarf expertly smashes him on the head with a cudgel, and he lies still again.

“That sounds reasonable,” says the dwarf. “Boys! Help me get him up on the cart.” The soldiers take the body over to the cart, but the templar wants none of it. Andra gestures negatively to the dwarf. “You can’t leave him,” she says. “Bodies only go on the cart if they have been executed and properly prepared.”

The dwarf grumbles. “I can cut him into pieces,” he says, although this seems unlikely since the dwarf has only a short spear for armament.

Andra shakes her head. “No.”

Rissa mentions off-handedly, “I know some of the folks in this quarter. We could take the body off your hands.”

The dwarf thinks for a moment, then shrugs. “Better your problem than mine.” The soldiers drop the unconscious gith, and Rissa gestures toward him. Tarkas bends slightly to pick the gith up and effortlessly drapes the unconscious fellow over his shoulder.

“Come on,” says Rissa to Tarkas. “Let’s see how we can earn a coin from this turn of events.” They scamper into the Golden Inix, a famous tavern on the caravan way.

Defiled

Inside the Golden Inix, business is slow. This early in the morning, most merchants are setting up shop at the end of the Caravan Way, not stopping for drinks. Their caravan guards are making arrangements for new jobs and places to stay. Only a pair of people frequent the establishment – a hardened laborer and a young girl with a ragged but proud look.

Rissa waves to the proprietor, whom she knows – as a bard, Rissa has done her share of entertaining at the Golden Inix. “I have an associate here who’s having a rough day. Mind if I give him a seat?” she asks. The innkeeper looks dubious. “Not if there’s going to be trouble with the templars,” comes the reply. Rissa shakes her head with a smile. “Nope. Already dealt with.” The innkeeper assents, and Tarkas puts the slumped figure into a chair in the corner.

“Now, let’s see what you’re about,” says Rissa, just as the bird-people enter the building, hot on the heels of Adon. Rissa shakes down the unconscious renegade, only to discover that it’s not a human at all — it’s a gith!

“Why would a gith be riding a crodlu and trying to charge into the city? This doesn’t make any sense,” Rissa mutters. Sadly, the gith doesn’t seem to have any possessions that weren’t already lost when his pouches were scattered.

Only a few moments later the door creaks open and a figure in a ragged cape enters. He glances about, then strides toward the unconscious gith in the chair. Tarkas is about to block him in order to protect Rissa, but Adon stops them both as the gaunt man approaches. “That’s Dote Mal Payne — King Kalak’s chief necromancer! Don’t get in his way!”

Payne approaches the chair as people draw back, doing their best not to be noticed. The necromancer lurks over the unconscious gith for a short while, lost in thought. Then, he extends his index finger, and pushes it through the gith’s forehead, through the skull and into his brain.

“Come, my friend,” croons Payne. He withdraws his dripping finger as the gith spasms and dies. “Come answer some questions for me.” The necromancer clenches his fist and mutters arcane syllables, and a burst of stabbing pain shoots through everyone in the room. The gith lurches to its feet, dead eyes opening, and follows Payne out of the establishment.

Once Payne is gone, a collective sigh of relief comes from the few patrons. The innkeeper is furious with Rissa, who didn’t mention Payne, but she had no idea that the necromancer was anywhere nearby. Regardless, with both Payne and the gith gone, there’s no further reason for people to worry, but some tension remains in the air.

Rissa asks the innkeeper for news and a drink, and the innkeeper obliges with a mug of water-bory and strange tales from around the city. Templars chasing fugitive elves, people turning up with their minds erased, power struggles between nobles and templars — life is busy in Tyr.

The old man leaning against the bar turns and sighs. He opens a pouch from his belt and turns it inside-out, and a fine cloud of gray ash falls out — the result of some plant killed by Payne’s defiling spell that turned the gith into an undead minion. “No wonder nobody crosses the sorcerer-kings,” Ander muses, “it’s just not worth losing your life.” He finishes his water-broy and heads back out the door, wandering toward his home near the edge of the Warrens.

“Well,” says Adon, “at least Payne didn’t decide to kill anyone else. Maybe it’s best just to let it lie.”

Karru, one of the aarakocra, squawks at this. “We saw you take something from the gith!” he says. “How do we know that it’s not dangerous? Or that you’re not dangerous? Or that you won’t get us all in trouble?”

Adon hems and haws uncomfortably, but has no good answer. Finally he withdraws the gith’s pouch and says, “I don’t know what’s in it. Should we find out?”

Rissa returns from dealing with the innkeeper. “All right, but Tarkas and I carried the gith in here, so we want in, too. I need to get paid for my trouble!”

Adon nods reluctantly and opens the pouch. Inside he finds a strange crystal bracelet. He turns it over in his hands, but is unable to ascertain its purpose.

Valara lets out a whistle and a click. “It has psychic power,” she observes.

Adon nods slowly. “It’s obviously something powerful. Maybe it’s valuable.”

Lurking Thoughts

The unwitting team decides that they need more information about the bracelet. At the very least, if they’re going to sell it, they should know what it can do, so that they know what it’s worth.

The group decides to visit the School of Thought in order to plumb the knowledge of the psionic masters there. Adon has some rudimentary training in the Way, and as a nobleman of Tyr he has connections. Valara is curious to see the School of Thought and compare it to her own training.

It’s a short trip to the School, and the group is taken by the immaculate grounds. The School itself is not large, but the grounds are manicured and bear stone-slab walking paths with small garden areas bearing desert plants. Wealthy students meditate on patches of dry ground, supervised by stern mentors.

With some finesse, Adon and Rissa convince one of the psionic adepts to examine the bracelet. The psion does not recognize it, and brings one of the instructors to look. After further examination, the instructor seems a bit exasperated and returns it to Adon. “This item is not entirely within our ken. Also, it is likely dangerous to keep it here. I’d recommend asking around in Shadow Square, at the Drunken Giant or the Rats’ Nest. They may be able to help you,” the instructor says.

With no other options immediately coming to mind, the group traipses off to the Shadow Square.

View
Bitter Wages

Bitter Wages

City-State of Tyr, 190th King’s Age, Year of Desert’s Slumber, Month of Wind, day 26

Participants:
Alatariel the Burning – parcelbombsmurf
Joani Render – Adrianne
Jorne – terriblefrog
Leros – lemarcos
MalekNPC

Early in the morning, a long line stretches from the public well near the Elven Market of Tyr. Folk have waited for an hour or more past sunrise to claim their one guaranteed single hand-held container of free water from the wells — a gift of the merciful, benevolent, mighty and omnipotent King Kalak, the Tyrant of Tyr. At the well, a pair of watchful templars keep an eye out for trouble, cheats, or thefts, with a half-giant enforcer ready to crush anyone who steps out of line. A mul slave repeatedly draws the well-bucket up, fills the containers handed to him, and repeats the process for each citizen who arrives.

At the head of the line, a sleek woman with short red hair, blue-green cactus juice under her eyes, and a wicker-and-hide basket on her back passes her waterskin to the mul. The mul diligently fills it, then returns it to her. She steps to one side to unlimber the basket and place the waterskin carefully inside, and fragments of bone stitched carefully to a leather backing are visible — a rolled-up piece of armor stowed in the basket. A spear hangs from a loop on the side of the basket, its tip covered with a small piece of cloth tied with a string.

Leros steps to the well and hands over his waterskin. The mul dutifully fills it and hands it back, but as he does so a black-cassocked templar with a retinue of enforcers approaches. His face is crossed by a deep scar that disfigures his mouth and folds one of his ears into an awkward angle — he is known to the people on the streets of Tyr as Rictus because of this deformity, which he is rumored to have earned by killing another templar in order to secure a promotion. He points with a hardwood stick at the woman and at Leros, then sweeps his stick down the line. “You. You. You, you, and you. You’re being conscripted. Come with me.”

Dread runs through the crowd. It is well known that King Kalak’s obsession with the completion of his grand ziggurat has reached manic proportions. Craftsmen of all sorts, laborers, slaves, even random people on the streets who lack the clout or money to pay off the templars are all being dragooned into work on the ziggurat. A quick glance toward the monumental structure shows that it is already swarming with slaves under the lash, so many that managing them and giving them all something productive to do must be an equally monumental task, but the templars have their orders and they will find meat for the grinder.

Rictus’ choice of words, though, is odd. He says nothing about the ziggurat. He does not inform people that they are being enslaved for some falsified crime. Rather, conscripted: trapped in the king’s service, but not necessarily as slaves.

Warily, the people indicated step out of the line. Rictus’ enforcers take up positions and usher them away from the well. As they step away, Alatariel takes the opportunity to swap her empty waterskin with the full one in the basket of the woman who was at the head of the line — a quick swish of her desert robe, a twist of the hand, and the two are exchanged. Nobody notices, too consumed as they are with their new predicament. To the elf dancer, it is merely pragmatism: She was pulled from the line before she received her daily ration of water, after all.

“The sorcerer-king’s levies are taxed with the business of the ziggurat’s construction, and able-bodied citizens must aid in the defense of the city. For this reason I am charging you, in the name of the king, to assist in the capture of a dangerous fugitive, as our own security forces are occupied with more onerous tasks at this time.” Rictus and his entourage set a brisk pace, prodding the selected few to follow, occasionally giving the cripple Leros a small shove to show that they had no intention of leaving him behind simply due to his makeshift crutches and lame legs.

The templar leads his makeshift group to a small neighborhood in the Warrens — a collection of ramshackle huts, adobe buildings, and ruined structures that have been built over and inhabited and abandoned so many times in a never-ending cycle that they form a contiguous maze of narrow alleys, crumbled walls, and creaky rooftops.

“Our fugitive is an elf woman by the name of Namrah,” the templar says, “and she has been traced to this neighborhood of the Warrens. Find her and return her to me alive. She has black hair and desert garb, and is . . . just a bit shorter than you.” He points with his swagger stick to indicate Alatariel. “You have two hours.” His men start handing wooden clubs to the assembled rag-tag group.

“What if we just leave?” Alatariel asks, somewhat brashly.

“Then you’ll be fugitives, just like her. We’ll find you, like we did her, and we’ll clap the thong on you and send you to work on the ziggurat. Don’t think you can escape so easily. The mindbenders associated with the templarate can find you wherever you go.” Rictus makes something resembling a smile. Perhaps the templar’s lying; perhaps he doesn’t have the authority in his Bureau to conduct such a manhunt, or the mindbenders might not waste their time with petty cases — but the risk is too great. The five take the clubs somberly.

“I’m expected at the Academy of the Unseen Way,” says Jorne. “I’m a student there. I have studies with the masters.” The young man perhaps hopes that the implication — that he knows powerful psions at the city’s most prestigious academy for psychic study — will free him from Rictus’ conscription. The templars are, after all, often hesitant to move against people with political protection.

Rictus, though, is not impressed. “I’ll send a messenger. You’re going to be late. Perhaps it’s time to test your skills in the real world.” The templar is obviously not in the mood to brook any disputes.

“My men and I will wait here, in case anyone else tries to escape the area. Don’t keep me waiting,” Rictus says. “Get in there.” He gestures to a crumbled archway next to a rickety exterior staircase; the archway surmounts a narrow adobe alley, while the staircase (little more than wooden pegs set into an adobe wall) leads up onto a rooftop of uncertain provenance.

Into the Maze

The group ducks under the remnants of the partially-collapsed archway and into the narrow alley. A dozen feet away, far enough to keep out of eavesdropping by Rictus, they pause to take stock of their sorry situation. Of the five, only Alatariel and Leros even know one another. They are all simply unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The woman with the basket sets it down. “I have armor. Someone should help me into it.” Leros volunteers. She explains, “I was in the army for two years. Leader of a stand. Saw some action against raiders, gith, the occasional monster. I was pushed out recently — looking to make a new start.” Leros helps her to belt on her leather-backed bone scale armor. She withdraws a worn wooden shield from the basket and unhooks the short spear from its side. With a deft motion she unwraps the string and reveals the iron-tipped head on the spear. “Every experienced soldier in Tyr’s army uses one of these,” she explains. “The amount of iron is actually quite small, so it’s not very valuable, but it’s still superior to the weapons and armor of any of the other city-states.” She hefts her wicker basket back on with a sigh. “We don’t know each other, but we’re all in this together, and we’ll only get out of it by working together.”

Introductions are made. Leros reveals that he’s not actually a cripple, but implies that he is a novice mindbender — though Jorne seems unconvinced. Alatariel says little about her talents, revealing only that she is a dancer and a runner, like all elves. Joani, the teenage human girl, simply says that she is the daughter of a merchant and has never fallen into this sort of danger before.

The group forms back into a narrow line and squeezes down the alley. To the left, they spot a hole, perhaps three feet in diameter, which leads to a crumbled tiny room. Huddled in the corner of the room is a young human child (younger even than Joani) atop a small pile of rags.

Leros clambers through the hole into the small room. The child shrinks away from him, but he takes a small piece of flatbread and dips it in water and tosses it toward the child. “We’re not going to hurt you. We just want to talk,” he says.

“Why are you wasting food and water?” Alatariel asks crossly.

“We need to know this maze, and this boy might know something useful,” Leros replies. “Can you tell us about this place? Have you seen an elven woman with dark hair here?” he asks after turning to face the boy again.

The boy looks dubiously at the piece of moist flatbread on the ground, then pats around it with his hand, as if checking for wires or tricks. He snatches up the morsel and consumes it. “The elf woman? She’s running from everyone. Headed toward the middle.”

Leros asks, “Who’s following her? Other templars?”

The boy shakes his head. “No,” he says, “Toothcutters.”

Alatariel knows of the Toothcutters by name — an elven tribe that has taken up residence in the Warrens. They claim most of the ramshackle abandoned hovels and streets as their territory, and are more than happy to extort lone travelers. A group of armed and armored trespassers in their territory, including an elf not of their tribe, would be seen as a threat and likely attacked.

“Where is the middle? Why is she going there?” Leros asks.

“The Toothcutters have her boxed in. Nowhere else to go. But you shouldn’t go there. It’s haunted,” says the boy.

“Haunted? How?” asks Leros.

The boy shifts uncomfortably and says, “People who go there hear voices. The voices make you do things. Sometimes right then, sometimes later. Sometimes people hear the voices, go home, act all normal for days, then suddenly wake up later, leave the city, kill themselves.”

Leros nods and glances back at Jorne. “Mindbender, possibly?”

Jorne frowns as he thinks. “It’s possible for a telepath to do that . . . but why? Why would a powerful telepath closet himself in the Warrens and drive people crazy? Doesn’t make sense.”

Leros thanks the boy and crawls back out of the hole.

Toothcutters

Continuing past the bolthole, the group comes to a crumbled down building that has collapsed and filled the area with rubble. While they could climb over it, a spur of the alley runs off to their right, and it isn’t so choked with difficult chunks of masonry. The group turns to head in that direction, and they just barely spot a face peering at them from a rooftop nearby.

Jorne, having seen the elf for only a moment, closes his eyes and replays the moment over and over again in his mind. His eyes seem to flicker behind closed lids and his voice becomes slightly monotone. “Narrow face, long nose. Elvish. Dark hair, chopped. A necklace of teeth.” The necklace is the give-away — a Toothcutter.

The group confers briefly about what to do. The Toothcutter lookout, having already spotted them, is likely on his way back to his associates. Jorne removes a small crystal from a pocket and tosses it into the air. The crystal, formed like a strange symmetrical design of great complexity and delicacy, floats upward briefly, and Jorne recites what he sees: The elf is crawling across the rooftop toward the other side, where three more elves loiter. The elves are carrying clubs and bone daggers, and all of them wear necklaces of teeth.

The group hasn’t much time. Alatariel pulls herself silently onto the rooftop and fires her blowgun at the Toothcutter elf, and her dart sinks into his neck. As a scout, Alatariel gains bonus skirmish damage. She inflicts 5 points of damage; the Toothcutter is a levelless commoner with 2 hit points, so the attack strikes the carotid artery and leaves him unconscious and bleeding.

The rest of the group clambers up onto the rooftop, and remains flat on the surface. Glancing about the ruined neighborhood, they spot three more elves some distance to the west of them, investigating another building. Alatariel decides to make a distraction while the group circles to the west.

Alatariel stands and starts to run. Her swift-footed speed carries her to the edge of the roof in three steps, then she bounces to a wooden post, then leaps 15’ from that post to the roof of a building on the far side. As a dark-haired elf woman in desert garb, moving at speed away from the Toothcutters, she’s easily mistaken for their quarry, and sure enough, the three Toothcutters nearest the group shout and start chasing after her as she vanishes off to the north.

The team slips down to the other side of the building and makes their way somewhat west. Leros spots a window into what looks like some kind of small storeroom, which has a small pile of dry, rotting firewood in the bottom. The group curves around the storeroom to the west, and they press flat against the wall as they see the other three Toothcutters examining a large ramshackle structure near some kind of ruined tower.

Deciding to get the drop on the Toothcutters, the group prepares for a scuffle. Malek couches her shortspear and charges with a battle cry. Her blow drives the spear under the ribs of the first elf to turn around, pushes up under his rib cage and lifts him off of his feat. Malek hits with the shortspear, and with the Powerful Charge feat, her Strength bonus, and her marshal aura giving her a bonus to charging damage, she inflicts 21 points of damage – enough to take the elf out of the fight immediately.

Leros raises one of his shabby crutches and reveals that it is actually a crossbow cleverly disguised by the application of various bits of random trash. He advances to get a closer shot, just a few steps behind Malek. His shot goes wide, though, and fails to strike any of the elves.

The Toothcutters descend upon Malek with their clubs. One of them gets past her defenses for a moment. One Toothcutter’s attack misses, but the second one hits and inflicts 4 points of damage — barely anything to a veteran like Malek.

Jorne concentrates for a moment and the blue tattoos on his body take on a shifting hue. Blasts of unstable ectoplasm erupt from his fingers and coalesce into chilling swirls of frost that scream toward the elves and slam into them. Jorne manifests Energy Missile and hits two of the Toothcutters; one fails his saving throw and takes 14 points of damage, which drops him as he’s just a commoner. The other, a rogue, saves and takes 7 points of damage. Normally the Toothcutter rogue’s Evasion ability would negate the damage, but cold manifestations use a Fortitude save instead, so the Evasion ability is not allowed!

Joani springs toward Malek and stays back just far enough to make a quick plea to the spirits of the rain and the storm. She raises her hand, showing a bracelet of hollow glass filled with sparkling water. A low rumble sounds. Joani casts Bull’s Strength on herself.

“Take one of them alive!” shouts Leros. Malek hears his call and she bashes the quick rogue with her shield. Her swing catches him in the jaw and leaves a bruise. Malek attacks for nonlethal damage and hits for 4 points with her shield bash — not much, but enough to make sure that he’s more likely to fall unconscious than to die with the next few hits.

Leros reloads his crossbow and raises it to the elf again. “Your friends are dead. Surrender now and I won’t shoot you.” The elf pauses, then grins and slides his bone dagger back into his belt and raises his empty hands.

We Want Information

With the skirmish concluded, the group circles around the Toothcutter. Leros pauses, and there’s a sudden pressure in the air. The Toothcutter smiles. “Listen, my friends, this is an obvious misunderstanding. How can we work this out?” Leros manifests his innate half-elf power of Psionic Charm, and the elf fails his Will save. The Toothcutter decides that he is willing to work with Leros – for now.

“We’re looking for the dark-haired elven woman that came in here,” Leros says to his new “friend.”

The Toothcutter nods. “Yeah. She’s in that large building there, headed to the center. We didn’t want to follow, because of the haunting. She had to come out sooner or later — if she did die from whatever’s in there.”

Leros asks, “What were you going to do with her?”

The Toothcutter shrugs. “Turn her over to the templars for a reward, maybe. But they’re stingy. Maybe ransom her back to her family. She’s from a small tribe that comes to Tyr twice a year, the Skypledge tribe. Itinerant traders and smugglers. Not exactly rich, but they could cough up some ceramic for her safety.”

Leros rubs his chin. This seems like a reasonably sound strategy for the Toothcutters.

Alatariel appears from the north, having led her pursuers on a merry chase. Her excellent knowledge of the city streets, her elvish speed, and her acrobatic skills have allowed her to evade them.

With the group re-assembled, Malek brings up an uncomfortable point. “Look. I’ve worked for templars before, while in the army. Rictus is using us, and the trick is going to be getting out of this alive.”

“What do you mean?” asks Leros. “We recover the woman, hand her over, and we’re done.”

Malek shakes her head. “No. Think about it. If Rictus wanted her so badly, why didn’t he just come in here with his troops and get her?”

Leros interrupts her. “Ah, of course — he knew about the haunting, and he didn’t want to risk it. So he sent us, because we’re expendable.”

“Maybe,” says Malek. “But consider: why does he want her so bad? And why does he insist on getting her alive? She has something that she wants — an item, or a piece of information. If it’s information that he wants, then we’re just a means to that end. If we fail and we die, it’s no loss to him. If we succeed and we bring her back, he gets what he wants, but he can’t risk us knowing about it. We become a loose end. So he has to have us killed, to keep us from talking.”

Alatariel looks suspicious, and she says nothing but she is nodding slowly. This paranoid turn of thought makes sense to her.

“Let’s say we do find her,” Malek says, “then we have to figure out how we escape. If we turn her over to Rictus, maybe he’ll just let us go on our way — but maybe he’ll have a secret that he can’t let out. He might kill us.”

“He might not,” Leros says dubiously. “It could just be that she’s just a fugitive and we’re easy muscle, that wasting us costs him nothing.”

“Are you willing to take that risk?” Malek asks.

There is silence for a moment.

Leros turns to face the charmed Toothcutter. “What can you tell us about the haunting?”

“Not too much,” the elf says with a shrug. “This place has been haunted for years. Something makes people go mad. Voices in their heads. Mindbending, maybe, or a spirit. We don’t know. My tribe stays away from here.”

Leros nods and says, “I guess we don’t have much choice. We have to go in and see for ourselves.”

Malek pushes open the rickety door, and the group enters the decrepit structure.

Mind Chemistry

The building is some kind of workshop, perhaps, which has fallen into great disrepair. A few bits of broken pottery and shards of brick are scattered on the dusty floor, and hot orange sunlight streams through cracks and holes in the walls and ceiling.

In one corner, a rickety staircase descends to a landing, then to a cellar. The staircase is dark, so Leros heads back to the small windowed nook with the dry firewood and picks up some rotting sticks for a makeshift flame. Amid the sticks, a poisonous, ridge-backed snake has taken up residence, and he barely manages to draw his hand back in time to avoid being bitten. He kills the snake with his crossbow and returns to the team, carcass in hand. “Got some firewood, and tonight’s dinner,” he explains. By the time he has returned, though, Joani has whispered to her bottled lightning and coaxed forth a small nimbus of light. Joani casts a Light spell on her hollow glass bracelet.

The team proceeds down to the landing, then to the cellar below. The cellar is a circular room, cool and dry, with the creaky remnants of heavy shelves. Across from the staircase are three large cocoons, all leaning against the wall.

As the group reaches the bottom of the stairs, Malek steps into the cellar and a faint wave of force seems to stretch across the air for a moment. Jorne purses his lips. “You’ve tripped a psychic alarm,” he explains. “Someone has been alerted to our presence.”

In front of the cocoons, a tiny crystal lodged in the floor begins to glow. Jorne wastes no time; he coalesces unstable ectoplasm that turns into a vibrating, screaming bolt that leaves distorted air in its wake as it lances out toward the crystal. The crystal explodes in a shower of dust. Jorne manifests Energy Missile as a sonic attack and destroys the psicrystal.

It seems too late, though: Malek kneels down suddenly and drops her shield and her spear. After a moment she stands again and says, “This body will do nicely.”

The ad hoc team is not made up entirely of fools: Jorne immediately suspects telepathic control. Leros brings his crossbow to bear and unleashes a bolt at one of the strange cocoons; the bolt sticks in the gray webbing but does not have any visible effect.

As Malek shifts and flexes her hands, Jorne recognizes the signature of telepathy from the central cocoon, and the team focuses their meager powers on destroying whatever inhabits that wrapping. Jorne blasts waves of flame repeatedly into the cocoon. Malek turns and attempts to bring the other members of the party to the ground with her physical strength, but whoever is in her body is obviously not yet used to it and lacks some competence as a warrior. Telepathic energies surge through the chamber, and Leros finds himself gasping for breath; Joani does her best to keep him from dying as his body refuses to breathe without a conscious effort. At length, Jorne’s ectoplasmic fire burns away the cocoon and reveals a dessicated humanoid figure. Alatariel cuts away one of the other cocoons and finds the drained but still living body of Namrah, the elven fugitive, and drags the woman up the stairs and out of the chamber while the party recovers after annihilating the immobile but still mentally powerful psion that lurked in the husk of the cocoon. As the ancient body thief’s head collapses into ashes, Malek shakes herself as if awakening from a dream.

With Namrah secured, the group learns that she was trying to escape Rictus and fled to this dim and unused cellar in the Warrens, where she fell prey to a body leech, who drained her essence to fuel his psionic power.

Skullduggery

With Namrah freed, the group engages in heated discussion of their next move. Should they simply kill Namrah and tell the templar that she was dead when they found her? Abandon her limp and drained body in the Warrens? Try to flee? At length, they grudgingly decide to try to escape with her. Leros reasons that her tribe, however small, must have some money and may well ransom her back to them. This will, however, make them fugitives.

During questioning, Namrah reveals that the real reason that Rictus pursued her was to kidnap her and force her family to reveal their connections among the Veiled Alliance. As far as she can tell — or so she claims — Rictus means to blackmail the Alliance into working for him. By gaining the power of a secretive cabal of wizards at his command, Rictus hopes to gain greater station in the city, with the wizards as his coerced pawns.

Leros re-assembles his disguise and exits the Warrens to talk to Rictus. The templar is impatient and unsympathetic. Leros, lying through his teeth with all the skill that he’s learned, convinces Rictus that they have Namrah cornered, but they must marshal their power to face down the evil spirit that inhabits the cellar. (The best lies, of course, have a bit of truth to them.)

Rictus is impatient, but he needs Namrah. He tells Leros that failure will result in a short tenure as a slave on the ziggurat, followed by an even shorter stint as a gladiator, for those who survive the construction project. He orders one of his soldiers to go fetch reinforcements so that his prize quarry can’t slip away in the night or be stolen away by Toothcutters — thus giving the lie to his initial claims that the templarate was too understaffed to complete this task — then leaves with a scowl.

Leros returns to the group and they hunker down in the ruined neighborhood for the night. Joani calls upon the blessings of rain to create water to sustain everyone, and Leros skins and cooks up the snake that he previously killed. The next day, Joani uses her magic to restore Namrah enough so that the elf woman can walk. To cover their escape, the group sets the remains of the central building and its cellar on fire, and they leave some of the corpses of the Toothcutters there to provide a convincing illusion of their death. They quietly flee to the northwest side of the Warrens, then arc around toward the caravan gate until they can slip across the city without passing too close to Rictus’ cordon of enforcers.

Having escaped from the templar’s grasp for the moment, the team heads to the elven market to find the Skypledged. An hour’s search finally brings them in touch with Namrah’s relatives, who quickly bundle her out of sight in a tent behind their market stall. One of the elven men mutters curses, and explains that with Namrah retrieved — or presumed dead — Rictus will simply return later to lean on them again and seek another means of finding the elves’ presumed contacts among the Veiled Alliance. Leros asks a bit about the elves’ business selling components to wizards, but the elf man simply gives a hissing sound of disgust. Namrah, lying on a rug and still weak, explains that she and her family don’t practice wizardry, they simply sell materials to the despicable mages.

Alatariel pushes for compensation, and the elf gives them a small amount of money and instructs them to meet him under the Elven Bridge an hour after sunset.

After Dark

The team decides to hunker down out of sight for a few days and they spend some of their precious coins to secure a room where they can stay. When evening comes, they head back out to the Elven Bridge, and wait there; sure enough, three elves from the Skypledge tribe arrive, hissing at the party and gesturing for them to get down — as the foolish troupe had loitered about atop the ancient bridge, drawing attention needlessly to themselves. The elves explain that they will be leaving the city that night, and they pass a large sack to Leros. One of the elves tells Leros that if he’s that desperate to find a supplier for wizardly things, he should ask at the Drunken Giant.

Satisfied for the moment, the team returns to bed. Alatariel earns a few extra bits by spending the early evening hours dancing while the rest of the party sleeps.

Seeking Sanctuary

The next day, Leros pushes for the group to follow his lead. His examination of the bag reveals several enchanted potion-fruits, a crystal wand (a dorje) with unknown psychic properties, and three small sacks of odds and ends that he declares confidently must be materials used by wizards for their spells. The group goes to the Drunken Giant to try to pawn the materials.

At the Drunken Giant, Leros encounters a half-elf bartender who shows little sign of knowing anything about the Veiled Alliance and makes it clear that he has no desire to become involved in anything having to do with wizards. He directs Leros to the Rats’ Nest, a bar just across the Shadow Square, where the proprietor will happily fence goods with no questions asked.

At the Rats’ Nest, Leros manages to have the dorje appraised, but he suspects that the offer he’s given is too low and he chooses not to sell it. He offers to sell the material components to the proprietor, but the barkeep refuses them, stating that he has no connections with wizards.

Leros returns to the party and tells them what transpired. After conferring for a bit, they are uncertain of their next move, but Leros remembers that his “uncle” Skaren is supposedly in contact with the Alliance. He returns to the Drunken Giant and tells them that Skaren sent him, while using an Alliance contact sign that he saw his “uncle” use once. The half-elf tells him that he’s being too blatant and quickly bustles the party through a stone trapdoor and into a secluded room beneath the inn, where he tells them that they can lie low for a day or two while they avoid the templarate.

Safely hidden away (they hope), the party wonders how they will survive being fugitives — assuming that Rictus saw through their faked deaths.

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