Tales from the Inner Sea

What difference a year makes
What the heroes got up to

Once outside the Palace and into the city proper again, the party consider what they plan to do; they have tasks and deeds to do for their Draconic patron and by extension the Empire, but until then a year to put affairs in order and to do as they will. They split up and head in different directions for now, with Cassio of Padiha heading to the Embassy of The Republic of Padiha, given he has a great deal of wealth to drop onto the Account Declaration Desk of the Trade Consul; her also wishes to check on the progress of his ship that had been set to keel by the Eloi Family. He is pleased to see the ship is merely a week away from sea trials, and satisfied with that he heads to his lands embassy in The Gilded Quarter. A surprised and astonished array of embassy staff witness his depositing an enormous amount of wealth on the tables, and only the Consul himself remains professional and inscrutable as he closes the office and begins the accounting.

Meanwhile, Abbas Jalil heads around to the Ludata District to inform his prospective Mistress of his success and safe arrival, and he is received by Adeline Kothui, who doesn’t seem too surprised at his return; indeed, it appears she has the Apprentice Ritual ready to go, like he was expected.

The Altai pair of Czerlai and szletko along with Taturii Asamakiiro head to the House of the Eloi family, and are happily greeted by the servants, slaves and also the family members in residence, Myrha Eloi and her daughter Thenaiis Eloi; young Bastius Eloi is not present when they arrive. Rooms, food and drink are provided as ever (indeed, they have the same rooms still set aside as the last time), and the nomads are overjoyed to see their mounts again.

Bucephala Clangula heads directly to the Hama Encanda, for he has much to do there, as he is now more set than ever upon becoming a Priest to Nerukata. Just outside the temple areas, he encounters his old friend Sunfather Militant Ascaus Medrenna, who somehow seemed to be awaiting him. Their meeting is no accident for the Sunfather was aware of his return, and has many people to introduce him to, both within his Order and also within the clergy as a whole.

Thus the party spend a little time unwinding and visiting old faces and stamping grounds before their separate and personal business’ draw them apart, if but for a time.

They all find out the news and events from their different sources regarding Empire and world events, with the biggest items being the pogroms and purges enecated upon the Quoria, as the Emperor and his regime root out the disloyal and ungodless entrenched within their midst. Evidently the Consul for Quoria Propriety Hiradus Varro has been busy and still is. Word has also trickled onto the streets about the prospective Crusade to retake The Ruins of Velicca from the great evil that nestles there; indeed, Sunfather Medrenna advise Bucephala that he and his Order are in the vanguard of the landings, accompanied by a great many Priests and Templars of Nerukata, Satrom, Sensu and Armanixes.

Also of note is that closer ties between The Armavine Empire and The Vardonne Straits (and Vardonne), for some Knights and soldiers of the famed Western Kingdom have assisted in the raising and training in 2 new Legions, almost exclusively of heavy cavalry. Tied in with this new closeness, the celebrated beauty and wife of one of the Knights (or Chivaux as they are so named) is reported to have become a friend and confidante of the Imparioi herself.

Also, their friend and ally Varediis Eloi has been made the Legate of the 17th Legion in its mission to the north of The Autocracy of Menetia and departs soon, with its mission ostensibly to act as additional protection against the barbarian threats known in the north and west of the Innner Sea region; unofficially it will act as support and assistance if needed when the Army of Liberation sails for Menetia in a years time. His parting is bittersweet, for he will miss his friends and family, but it is a statement that his star is on the rise again in the Empire, despite being once thought as fallen too far to recover.

Soon however, the parting comes to them, and all the heroes scatter to do what they must in the time free to them. Bucephala studies hard and becomes a Priest, or Sunfather of the Nerukata. The ceremony takes place with some other candidates at the Hama Encanda, with available friends and wellwishers in attendance. Getting used to the vestments and trappings of the clergy is one thing, but the newfound deference of people to his station as a Sunfather may take even longer to adapt to. He also returns home to Ateliket, to both see his family but also to return the personal effects of his fallen friend Ketael Minal to his family. It is an emotional return for the newly ordained Priest, but a welcome one, for his mother and father are also priests of the Sun and their pride in his ordination is as radiant as the Sun itself. He is able to give some closure and solace to the Minal family as he tells them the story of his friends heroic and holy fate.

Whilst in Ateliket however, Bucephala hears of the local news, and some of it makes for uneasy listening. The oppressed realm of Cletia seems to be rousing itself in more acts of defiance and revolt against their overlords of Bassur, and this is in part due to the reports coming from the southern Kingdom of attacks, both physical and political against the Clergies and churches of Nerukata, Sensu and other deities; political office denied to the followers of the established deities whilst sorcerors and indeed even Neraka followers ascend, all the while the King of Bassur chalks up unfortunate incidents as merely isolated events, with half hearted follow up by the law. Disquieting news to be sure.

The Altai return to The Altai Territories, accompanied by a curious Taturii who is at a loose end herself, despite making quite a name for herself around Armarissa Invictor in the winter months before shipping could safely travel again, what with her defeating a small street gang, saving a nephew of the formidable Tarrisius Verdaska and her only wish as reward a cessation of the vendetta between Houses Verdaska and Eloi, which the vengeful Tarrisius agreeing to. The Altai make landfall at Port Caros in late spring and quickly locate a horse for an ecstatic Taturii, before heading off to locate the massive encampment of the Great Chieftain in waiting, Bilahkin Vetschza, The Sword of the East. The encampment is huge and made up of many clans, some once known as mortal enemies. They gain admittance to his tent and meet him and his Shaman Szhezarak, and a long talk happens as Szletko relays his knowledge to the Chieftain. He also relays the story of the Dragon to vouch for how he came to this information, and once they have talked and the sun has started to set, Bilahkin considers a moment before offering Szletko a place as one of his Warleaders, to lead a warband and swear himself to the Altai people and by extension himself. Szletko agrees, and his first task is to persuade his own clan the Szenzi to accept the changes happening in the Altai territories and to join their banner alongside the others.

Szletko locates his clan and with clever and sincere words brings around his clanfolks and Chief to the changes, before leading them back to the massed encampment. His celebration of ascension to Warleader is typically Altaic, with great dances, singing, drink and merriment. The first to swear to his warband is his kinswoman Kletka and in time he gathers the oaths of 500 men and women who elect to set their banner behind his. For his part, Czerlai is happy to drink and be a warrior in his own right for now, as his thoughts tend to drift to the woman he has back in the Imperial Capital, for both Altai had formed emotional or at least physical attachments to women before they left; Szletko had begun an affair (a typically discrete Imperial affair) with Myrha Eloi, and Czerlai had fallen for Dyminiqua, the body servant to Maia of Turlavayne. Szletko had an interesting conversation with Varediis before he left for Menetia, in which the Patrician gave his blessing to Szletko and Maia, for she deserves to find her pleasures as her husband does (a very Armavine Patrician attitude to have, in all fairness). Czerlai had bumped into Dymi as her mistress is indeed the famed wife now friends with the Imparioi and a welcome adornment at Court, and the fledgling emotions they had formed during the events Of wolf and man and onwards.

Of amusing note also, is that Bilahkin seems much taken with the statuesque Taturii and spends a great deal of time that night and indeed over subsequent months trying to seduce her, with no apparent luck (that’s Omiskiirans for you).

Abbas spends months in study, learning what distinguishes a sorcery student from an actual Sorceror, even an Apprentice. He takes time out from his studies to aid some of the downtrodden within the city against petty crime and villainy and renews his friendships with some of the other Apprentices and also the benevolent Metellus Sambir. His skills grow and Adeline seems pleased enough that his abilities are coming along at an adequate rate. He is also in the city when the news of the Crusade to Veliccas success is relayed, with news that the Hag Hyldra who ruled there with her demonic minions have been defeated, though at great cost to the crusaders. Indeed, there is a personal element to this, for Sunfather Medrenna died in the slaying of the Hag, martyred bravely in the best traditions of the Nerukatan Faith. On the upside, Abbas experiences the city during racing season and the colourful fervour that grips Armarissa over the summer and autumn months.

Lastly, Cassio spends a fair bit of time travelling between Padiha and the Empire, using his wealth to expand his business holdings and also his political ones. He takes time out to practise his swordsmanship, and also manages to free the soul of the Taryvandyn warrior Indega from the The Large bickering, arguing, Magical Sword with the aid of Varrax Pyrofer who talks to him through a reflection in a basin. Cassio also makes a friend and ally of a Turlavaynian Knight called Arroyo De Zema, and the 2 share some mischief and adventures against some villanous characters.

In time, the party drift back to Armarissa as the year draws on, and they all manage to hear the news and events that have happened in their absence. Bucephala is particularly saddened to hear of the death of his friend and mentor Sunfather Medrenna, and he remembers one of the last conversations they had before they parted, in the Sunfather asking Bucephala to keep an eye out for Mitualla Cybella if he should fall; he also reveals that she is his secret daughter (she doesn’t know) from his days before he became a member of his order (though not before he became a Priest).

On the first night that they are all together gathered around the Eloi dining table, sharing tales and gifts from their travels of the year, they are also advised by Myrha that they shall be meeting on the following night the leaders of the Army of Menetian Liberation and the people they have been charged to protect, namely Burrenos dol UrKhaigen, his sister Ceressa ami UrKhaigen and an old friend and acquaintance, Marle Turgada. With about 2 months before the seas change again sufficiently to allow a large force to travel safely to Menetia, they still have some work to do and as time comes shorter, the forces arrayed against them and their enterprise will surely step up a gear…

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Conversations in a garden and what follows on
The Heroes start to divine their directions

The garden is opulent, and despite the slight wintry tinge to the air quite comfortable. The centrepiece of the garden is a small squarelike arbour with chairs and benches elegantly arrayed about it, and upon one of these sits the third most powerful person in The Armavine Empire, Chancellor Asceppius Diotys. He is currently feeding a swan as they approach, and apart from the various gardeners and servants discretely going about their business in the garden and a pleasant pavilion located nearby, quite alone. His old eyes regard them as they approach and in a melodious voice invites them to sit. All do after bowing (it is good to be mannerly to one such as he), and he politely inquires after their wellbeing, journey and as to whether they need anything.

The formal niceties out of the way, he asks after the scroll and the response from their patron Varrax Pyrofer; Bucephala Clangula hands the scroll across, and the elderly eunuch opens it and reads for a while. He smiles at its conclusion and passes it to a servant who bears it to the nearby pavilion, and makes some more smalltalk with the party. During this, the laughter of a man followed shortly by a woman is heard from the pavilion, and at this, the Master of the Immaculatii asks the party to show the proper respects as they are about to be in the presence of HIS masters. True enough, 2 members of the Fist of Armanixes walk out of the pavilion and wait, to be followed by a man in simple clothing of superlative materials and a young woman in more opulent garb. All servants and staff in the garden immediately prostrate themselves and even the elderly chancellor bows as deeply as his old bones allow. The pair approach (with heavily armed bodyguards watching inscrutably) and the party genuflect and show their respect to the 2 most powerful people in the Inner Sea region, let alone the empire. Emperor Khelsine the Second of the Armavine Empire bids everyone to be as they were in a strong parade ground voice before seating himself next to his daughter, Imparioi Katarivix Armavii. Her beauty and poise is much like the Turlavaynian Courtesan Maia of Turlavayne, but there is something majestic and impressive in her demeanour. Her father by contrast seems much like a career soldier, including the battered and disreputable looking leather bracer on his left forearm.

He greets the party and on behalf of the Empire thanks them for their service, but goes on to advise them that in a years time they have work to do for their Draconic patron, work that shares goals with the Empire. They will be responsible for safeguarding the legitimate heir to the Menetian Throne, as in a years time an army of Empire trained Menetian ex-pats led by the Heir, his sister and the Menetian mercenary captain Marle Turgada will sail to The Autocracy of Menetia with a view to staging a military coup/liberation; before this, the Empire has paved the way by “offering” a legion of the Empire to be based in Northern Menetia to act as a protector against future barbarian assaults (it would seem the Brosengyn threat has been relayed to the Autocracy, with predictable panic and alarm. Unsurprisingly, the Autocracy has accepted (perhaps difficult to refuse for many reasons), and the 17th has been made ready to depart within 6 months. A further stroke of good news is that the party’s old friend Varediis Eloi once again seems to have Imperial favour, for he is to be the Imperial Legate in overall charge of the 17th, no doubt picked for his experience and knowledge of the Brosengyns and their various allies.

The Emperor also advises the party that they have a form of Diplomatic Immunity within the Empire and its holdings due to their being DragonTouched, though he does ask with a wry smile for them not to abuse it too much. As he stands to leave, he advises the party that keeping young Burrenos dol UrKhaigen and his sister Ceressa ami UrKhaigen safe and alive is of paramount importance to the endeavour to free Menetia, as without them it ceases to be an army of liberation and becomes a foreign act of regime change. With that (and a lot more abasing and varied genuflection amongst the gathered staff), the Emperor departs with his daughter to deal with more matters of rulership and Empire. Once he has gone, the party are again in conversation with the Chancellor, who indicates that the business of the day is concluded and they are safe to depart, likely by one of the secret exits from the Palace into the capital. He bids them to walk in the light of their gods (in the case of Cassio of Padiha, Bucephala and Taturii Asamakiiro ), their spirits (in the case of the 2 Altai Czerlai and szletko ) and whomever watches out for Sorcerors (in the case of Abbas Jalil ), and they are escorted from the peace of the garden into the subdued murmur and hubbub of the Palace.

Their contact, Palidus Marcorius awaits them and escorts them to an appropriate exit, one that shall take them by a clever tunnel under the walls to a safehouse in the Peyarca district (where the various Embassies of foreign nations are situated). He advises them all that he is their liason with the Palace now, and should they need to contact, or be contacted, he shall be the voice and face they deal with. At that, he wishes them well and they leave, heading out of the Vaunted Palace and into a year of freedom, planning and great posibilities…

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Transitional times
Where now for the DragonTouched?

The party on their Draconic mount emerge onto the plateau into cold bright sunlight reflecting from the clouds, and the great being moves smoothly forward towards the sheer drop before leaping out into the wind currents and starting a fast easy descent into the clouds towards the shadowed valley where the hags reside. The experience is unlike any the party have experienced before and is both exhilarating and anxiety inducing all at the same time.

They are deposited quietly by the Dragon nearby to the valley ruins, and the dragon uses her own powers to hide her presence, as the party prepare themselves and then head with brave purpose into the shadows. It is not long before they are met by the leader of the Night Sisters, Erikada the Fair; she has come to claim her prize, namely Saressa Valley-Born. He moves towards her as she triumphantly reaches out to him, no doubt to commence her dark plans, but so focused is she upon his face and apparent submission that she does not see the magical silvery glittering blade up his sleeve until he slides it quietly and without fuss into her ribs and so her heart. The party are close enough to see the look of surprise, fear and realisation on her face as her final death takes her. She falls back and shatters into thousands of dark shards that seems to turn into whorls of smoke and vanish forever.

At the same time, they hear the howls of rage and challenge from further in the gloom, but also the sound of their Dragon ally who flies over head, breathing magical energy out into the ruins, as they feel the ruins start to rise out of the valley towards the sunlight world. What follows next is a battle between the 4 remaining Night Sisters and some of their ghoul allies on one side, and the party themselves on the other. Injuries are taken by the heroes, but they vanquish their now vulnerable foes with cleverly aimed missile fire and skilful melee. As the last of the Hags and their allies fall, the party now stand in blazing sunshine amongst the ruins, the last of the evil shadows banished. The dragon approves and advises that she shall now lair in these ruins and may herself act as a guardian along the path to those who seek Varrax Pyrofer. She then once more bears the heroes on her back and takes them back to Cold Eye Water, the western meadows to be precise where there are likely to be few beings (other than herd animals) to note her and the heroes arrival.

Once deposited on the ground again, the Dragon bids them well and leaps into the air again, flying north with great beating wings. The party walk the couple of kilometres down the meadow trail to the township with the familiar winding waters of the fjord to their right. They do see Satroms Bellow moored at the wharfside as they approach, and so know their transportation back to the The Armavine Empire is intact and ready. They greet the Chieftain and the townsfolk who are glad to see them alive and all note that the heroes have all changed in one way or another, but then again the people of The Wyrm Peaks know those who meet the Dragon are always changed, one way or another.

Some gifts are given back and forth between the heroes and the townsfolk, and much goodwill is engendered. Here also is where the party part company with Saressa, who wishes them well and all the best that the gods and spirits have to offer. Karragas welcomes them aboard, and explains what has happened to him and his crew since last they met; he escorted the Quoriente Adileii Qamasque back to the Empire and in return for this (and the making sure the party themselves get back to the Empire when they appear again) he is given much cargo and trade goods, certainly enough for his crew and he to retire upon (theoretically). He advises the party that they can leave on the afternoon tide and this they do, bidding farewell to the Wyrm Peaks for now.

The journey back to Imperial Waters is uneventful, though they do pick up an escort of 2 Armavine warships several days out of the capital, and in fact these ships signal that Satroms Bellow is to fall into formation with them and accompany them. Without the will (or indeed the capability) to refuse, they are escorted to an isolated stretch of coast, looking for all the world like farmland and some small fishing villages. The party do note that as they head up a river inlet that it is in fact a cunningly disguised military encampment with siege engines hidden within fake houses, and soldiers disguised as peasants and workers.

They are ferried by the ships to a cave in a hillside that the river issues from, and within lies a military installation, with Armavine Legionaries (no insignia for unit or legion upon their armour) and sailors going about their business. At the quayside in this place they bid farewell to Karragas and his crew, though by what the Minotaur says, they may well meet him again in future, for he seems to anticipate war and hardship against mutual foes.

They are met at this point by the familiar figure of Palidus Marcorius, flanked by 4 members of the Fist of Armanixes. He greets the party and quickly coinfirms that they have the sealed scroll of reply from Varrax about their person, and is very relieved that they do. He is to escort them to the capital, and indeed into the Vaunted Palace where they are to meet with Palidus’ master, the famous (or infamous if you will) Chancellor Asceppius Diotys and give the scroll to him.

To this end, the party travel to the capital by canal aboard an Imperial transport barge such as used by dignitaries, guaranteeing their anonymity and security against possible threats, for much has happened in the few months since they were last in the Empire; palidus advises them of the quietly efficient purges of corrupt Quorientes and the “questioning” of their families and associates. Unfortunate he advises, but sadly necessary to unearth the dark heart of evil nestling amongst the body politic of the Empire.The old quote “Great Empires are not maintained by timidity” is very much the watchword for now. By the evening, the barge makes its way through the lesser known canals and byways into the Vaunted Palace, one of The 8 Imperial Wonders and the heart of this great empire.

Deposited at a wharfside within the Palace, they are escorted through numerous and thronged hallways, avenues and streets until they are admitted into a large and ornate garden of immense wealth and taste within the Immaculatii Quarter. Within they are gently ushered into the presence of the third most powerful person in the Empire (and arguably the Inner Sea for that matter), Chancellor Asceppius…

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Within the Wyrm Peaks and what happened there.
Into cold and danger go the heroes.

The party alight at Cold Eye Water, and become accustomed to the austere and wary ways of the locals, meeting the Chieftain and his people, all of whom seem accustomed to meeting outlanders with a view to venturing into the interior; they also seem to have a good idea what brings the party to their township. The party quickly establish that they shall need guides for the interior and so meet with members of the Lodge of Storm Hunters (sometimes called Storm Wardens), the renowned and respected (at least within the peaks) messengers, couriers and guides between the various settlements within the Wyrm Peaks. After speaking to them, the pair who the party end up taking on are an odd couple, one being an Orc named Shurmasskhah and the other being a half nymph called Saressa Valley-Born. The guides arrange for them to undergo the Ritual of the Mountain Heart which will allow them to better endure the cold, altitude and rigorous ways of the mountains.

With the day long ritual completed (which leaves the party tired yet feeling like they could take on anything) and various items of equipment sorted, the party are ready to depart. Before they do, Adileii Qamasque asks them for a favour; permission to hire their ship to get him, his family and any of the liberated prisoners back to the Empire, as he has information to relay to the Quoria and the authorities, not to mention safeguarding his own position and property. The party allow this, and know that they have made an indebted man into a firm friend in the doing.

They also manage to sell the captured orcish galley to the Chieftain for a decent price, for such a thing may enhance his own prestige, not to mention be of use within his fjord perched holding. This all being done, they prepare for what they need in the journey ahead, with supplies, appropriate clothing and tools acquired with the advice of their guards.

The party set out the next day, watched by wellwishing townsfolk, and begin their journey. The journey is long, and takes in so much that they see and do; they encounter Giants, the evil forces of the Snake Brother tribes, the threats of the Harrowing Winds that can suck the life and soul from the unprepared, slipping sideways into the Other World and much more. They kill Head Hangers and save souls of the fallen, witness the fall of the corrupted city of Hracen to a coalition of Mountain Orcs and Giants, escape with the aid of Dwarves and make friends along the way with the beleaguered human inhabitants of the Wyrm Peaks. Their Orcish ally parts company with them during the escape from the Orcish Horde that takes Hracen, though Saressa still accompanies them.

In the Slipping Sideways into the Other World, they see spirits, witness battles between Snake Brothers and the Fey Folk, observe the Luathans (the ancient giantlike former inhabitants of the Peaks and builders of the ancient stone settlements humans still cling to in the Mortal Realm) and hear their Singing Down the Sun, hear the battles between a Dragon and a Demon of Hell (thankfully too far away to see), slay a Stoorworm and much more.

The last barrier to their progress is the Fallen City, a Luathan city that had collapsed into a valley thousands of years previously, and now is a place of darkness apart from the world yet still a part of it; here dwell the 5 Night Sisters, Hags who have become powerful and monstrously cruel over the ages, and who must be treated with to continue. The party can only meet Saressa at the other side of the valley, for the Hags would dearly love to get their hands upon a half nymph.

What happens within the darkened city of evil resonates with the party, as they have magical items removed (supposed “gifts”) by the hag known as Black Shap, set life threatening tasks by other hags like fighting a pack of Broo and climbing an ever changing and shifting tower and back and finally one of their number, Taturii Asamakiiro has her right arm bitten off, is scalped of her long red hair and has her face stolen, all by Black Shap. The party try to come to her aid, but the overwhelming power of the Hags will stops them frozen in their tracks. The party would have been slain there and then, but for the intervention of Saressa and some “allies” he had encountered, namely a Dark Troll Matriarch and her Warband of Dark Troll Warrior protectors (who had been tracking the Broo the party had just slain). In exchange for their being spared, Saressa would return of his own free will and surrender himself to Erikada the Fair, foremost of the Hags. This is granted and party press on, gathering up their grievously injured comrade.

With Taturii made ready for travel, the party press on, and spend the night before the ascent of Her Throne (the mountain that the Dragon is supposed to lair atop) around a campfire. There, Solimara appears to them and assists Taturrii by gifting her peaceful sleep with good dreams (so the touch of the Hag would not harm her or corrupt her), and also advising szletko that the curse of Ill Fortune placed on him by Patch has been lifted, largely due to her and Sensu’s persuasion. She wishes them well for the future and departs.

The final ascent to meet the dragon is hazardous, demanding and calls upon all the experience and practice they have earned through the weeks of travel, made all the harder for having to carry an unconscious Taturri. The ascent takes 3 days of danger, bravery and grit, but at the end of the third day, they make it upon to the large ledge near the summit, and as the sun sets, they look back to see the clouds beneath them and the occasional mountain peak thrusting up from the sea of white. They are tired and hungry and so decide to camp overnight, gathering themselves for the next day and the culmination of what they have struggled for.

The sunset and following sunrise are sights that shall live long in their memories as they seem to resemble seas of fire, as the suns light illuminates the clouds. After a breakfast, they turn to face the great yawing cavern that leads to the Dragon, and they enter.

The cavern winds into the mountain, dark and deep but also possessed of a great and welcome heat from the walls and floor, and many tunnels and winding passages twist away from this central area. Large and dimly detected figures move in them as they walk slowly along, and the feeling of watching eyes is ever upon them. The passage continues on for many minutes of slow progress, but it starts to widen out, until it opens into a colossal wide open space, and the way ahead descends into this space; the glitter and glister of an immense mountain of gold, coins and various artifacts raises the ambient light of the room, but the first thing that really catches their eyes is the enormous figure that lies upon this trove, who can only be one being and one being only; Varrax Pyrofer.

Her fathomless and impossibly black eyes gaze down at the gathered party, and welcomes them in a voice trembling with restrained power. She also invites 2 nearby hidden watchers to make themselves known and watch but not speak nor interfere, and at this Solimara and a short stumpy hunchbacked old man appear and sit to watch events unfold.

What follows is the petitioning for gifts and favour, in return for becoming one of the Dragon Touched. They are made aware that to be Dragon Touched means to accept the occasional commands of Varrax to do her will from time to time, largely to confront and oppose evil and other threats to the world; she never asks a person to go against their devotion to their divine or spiritual beliefs, but short of that her will must be heeded.

All this being said, one by one the party approach and are changed by the breath of the dragon.

Abbas Jalil asks for more Intelligence, all the better to become a great Sorceror. At the dragons breath, his Strength and Constitution are lessened, but his Intellect is massively expanded, and the ability for his soul (Power) to increase is enhanced. Still dazed by the rush of new thoughts and ideas in his head, he sits down for a while to allow it to settle in.

The Altai both step forward and ask initially for the ability and opportunity to slay the 5 Night Sisters, to gain revenge for what they and especially Taturrii have suffered. In addition to this, Szletko asks for the means to help lead his people and defend them against their foes, with Czerlai asking for the means to better personally slay and oppose evil. In turn, the dragon breathes upon them, and Szletko is granted information on the movements and ways of the Tarmaki Horse Lords (the sworn enemies of the Altai) , knowledges on how better to lead people, and also made stronger and more commanding. Czerlai is made immune to poison, disease and bolstered against the attacks of spirits, additionally made more skilled at some weapons and tougher against the blows of weapons.

Cassio of Padiha asks for the means to assist and lead within his own peaople of Padiha, and so is granted knowledges and skills to lead, including 1 million lara’s worth of treasure and wealth, all the better to gain votes in Padiha. His appearance and manner also greatly increase, and now Cassio has greater charm and personal charisma than he had previously.

Taturri is healed of her wounds, her body restored, and at this, she pledges herself unconditionally to the will of Varrax. Her only wish was to be a better warrior, the better to slay evil and oppose her new mistress’ enemies. This is granted with the dragons breath, and also one further gift, Kenjaii’s Breath.

Finally, Bucephala Clangula decides to join his comrades in becoming Dragon Touched, and so is granted greater strength and endurance, tirelessness in battle and also great potency in learning the ways of a priest and acquiring the magic a priest would use.

With all of the party seen to, Varrax reads the scroll the party have borne from the Empire to her, and embeds her reply within it. She also advises the party that they are now part of her network of people sworn to oppose the coming evil, as the peoples of the Inner Sea will have to face the combined powers of Thanaxta, The Natri-Bro-Addah Hegemony, The Tarmaki Horse Lords and the Brosengyn Hordes from The Ferocious Northwest, Crucible of War. Varrax also shows them a scene occurring at that very moment in the Armavine Empire (by use of Draconic scrying magic), with the Emperor appearing before the massed Quoria and beginning a thorough purge of spies, agents and corrupted amongst the Quoria.

Lastly, Varrax advises them that she will have use of them within a years time, so they may head back to the world and do what they will in preparation of this. The party are given leave to ride the Dragon Keenorax Aggressifer (one of Varrax’ younger children) back to dispose of the hags, and then onto Cold Eye Water. The party give their thanks and clamber onto the great heated back of a rather ungracious and surly Dragon, and as their “mount” bears them away, Varrax speaks briefly to Saressa before he catches up and climbs on. They exit the cavern onto the great plateau into the open again, and prepare for what happens next; Dragonride!

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Of Orcs, crocs and Gods
Orcs are easy, apparently; not so crocs or Gods.

With their minds set to the task in slaying the orcish pirates and freeing their unfortunate slaves, the party and the crew of “Satroms Bellow” decide on a plan; Karragas advises them that he shall sail his ship as close as he can to the galley and seek to mount a boarding action, whilst the missile armed rain arrows and bolts at the orcs from the cover of the pavise’ he can have erected on the bow of the ship; he has done this sort of thing before and he and his crew are adept at naval ambushes against distracted foes. As the ship moves out, the party notice a couple of large ripples in the water; one is what appears to be large saltwater crocodile shadowing their vessel, and the other is a much larger current of water that seems to be caused by nothing visible.

All take their positions, with Czerlai, Cassio of Padiha, Bucephala Clangula, Abbas Jalil, szletko and Taturii Asamakiiro all take cover behind the large shields erected and wait as their ship rounds the tip of the bay and moves onwards towards the unsuspecting galley, which surprisingly does not detect their approach, intent as its crew are upon their captain and shipmates on the beach. Within 200 metres however this changes as one of the human villains aboard the galley sees them, and though an arrow fired kills him, the alarm is raised.

The volleys of arrow and bolt fire from the party’s ship is withering and the orcs start dying, and though a number of them are able to grab their bows and arrows and return fire, the pavise shields are sufficient for the party to evade any injury. The orcs cannot even bring their loaded ballista to bear upon the oncoming ship as a sublime shot from Taturii’s longbow has pinned one of their number to the large weapon and the orcs cannot remove him in time. Their ship bears down upon the galley which is in no position to evade, and when the ships meet, a load crash is heard as a crow (boarding plank with a pair of large spikes for purchase) dig into the galley and the now armoured and armed Karragas roars his mighty fury and charges aboard, with Abbas and Taturii just ahead of his imposing bulk. The battle is over quickly, for the orcs are unprepared and many unable to pick up their shields to offer better defence. Some orcs leap over the side to the uncertainty of the waters, compared to the certainty of death at the hands of their ferocious attackers.

All who board are able to wet their weapons on orcish blood by the end of the short and vicious battle. Meanwhile, the orcs on the beach and in the 2 rowboats are having other problems, with the boated orcs capsized by the sudden appearance of the crocodile, and the captain and his best (a significant cut above the galley orcs as it turns out) are attacked by a roiling horde of Ghouls from the trees, with the chilling and terrifying cries of the damned beings reaching out to all who listen. At this point, the large ripple seen earlier in the water surges from the surf and waves as a huge Undine and gathers up the captives on the beach and plucks them from the fury of the Ghouls assault, bearing them back into the sea and carrying them, heads above water, towards the ships. The Orcish captain and his best troops fight with surprising skill and bravery, but few can stand against a horde of Ghouls and in time they are all taken alive, poisoned as they are by the venom of the Ghouls bites. The orcs are born away to an uncertain fate within the ruins (uncertain in only how death comes to them, not if).

The presence of several of the mysterious humans seen assisting the orcs on the galley is missed however, as these few are not seen or found despite diligent searching. What does occur is the freeing of the galley slaves by Czerlai during his search, whilst Cassio locates a large chest full of varied coins and treasures at the stern of the ship. Also during this, Bucephala makes the acquaintance of one Adileii Qamasque, the leader and most senior of the captives now deposited upon the deck of the Satroms Bellow. The nobleman informs Bucephala and the others that he, his family and surviving retainers were abducted from their estate to the west of the Imperial Capital some 10 days or so previously by mysterious men and women, who all seemed to be worshippers of the malevolent Night Goddess Neraka and most definitely cohorts to orcs. He owes the life of he, his family, and his retainers to the party’s timely intervention. He suspects these dark hearted people to be involved in a plot against his beloved Empire, given that he is involved in outfitting and equipping the creation of what seem to be new Imperial Legions (something not seen for generations).

With the mystery of the missing humans ongoing (who almost certainly seem to be of the ilk of Adileii’s original kidnappers), the freeing of the galley slaves and the movement of the 2 ships back to the original harbour near the ruined temple of Sensu takes up the next few hours, and with evening approaching, the party are beckoned ashore to the temple by the ragged figure of Selii. They are accompanied by the Quoriente and his wife as they seek spiritual refreshment from any form of Sensu temple. In the temple, they can hear and see the repairs of their ship (using parts and wood from the galley) progressing, but they are more interested to hear that Selii advises them that someone wants to talk to them. She leads them to one of the small pools in the temple which is fed and linked to the sea by a canal, and as they approach it, the large current surges up the canal, and into the pool, roaring up into a large swirling column of water for moments before it shrinks back and turns into the supernaturally beautiful form of a Nereid, a spirit of the Oceans (and often a servant to Sensu). The figure is quite naked and beyond flawless, and advises them all that she is there on behalf of her divine mistress, Sensu.

They are informed by the spirit that they have been favoured by Sensu for previous kind acts they have carried out previously, and that she and other deities (both good and bad) watch their progress with various levels of interest. This accounts for why Loksan and Ba’Ath may have followed the party, especially as the party are off to meet with the beyond mighty Varrax Pyrofer, also bearing missives from the Armavine Empire for her. At this point the Nymph advises Szletko that he has been cursed with poor fortune by the Trickster (who has a notorious mean streak at times), and though neither Sensu nor Ba’Ath could have it lifted, at least it wasn’t as bad as Loksan could (and would) have made it. She advises the brave (if headstrong) Altai that the next time Szletko meets the Trickster may settle the matter, but to be EXTREMELY careful in such a meeting.

The party are also give some useful information, the first being that they have been observed by and known to the source of all Evil Mowta ever since they crossed swords (as it were) with one of his foremost agents in Menetia many months previously; Cruella Vullen. The party were shrewd and fortunate to escape the Autocracy in time, for her revenge was close to fruition on them. The interest of Sensu (and the Gods Peace) have stopped any more determined trouble from the Lord of Hell, but his agents mean them ill. She advises that she has aided the party several times in a small way, by gifts to Bucephala like The Lady’s Grace and the cloaks the Altai wear (The Lady’s Grace) plus other small things not immediately noticeable, and she also gives the party one last gift, [:the-gracious-mirror]].

Before leaving, the Nereid answers one last question from the group about what advice for the Wyrm Peaks she has; she advises them that they must trust only themselves and any they meet in the towns and villages of the peaks, for all outside the settlements are not to be trusted. They also will know one of their 2 guides by the fact that he is the last thing they may have expected to encounter helping them and that they shall know what she means when they meet him. Also, as a last gift to Bucephala, the party are told that their late comrade Ketael Minal is at peace and in Heaven, though somewhere in the wilds of Northern Menetia, something of him lives on.

At this, the spirit disperses into a body of water again and disappears back into the pool and then the sea. The Quoriente and his wife meanwhile have seen nor heard any of this, being only for the party’s eyes. They then decide to spend the night and then in the morning go and see the skeleton of the huge dragon within the city ruins.

This they do, and again the sight is shocking and more than a little terrifying for all, even the ones who have seen it before. On the way back though they are shadowed and stalked by hordes of Ghouls (some Orcish it seems) who howl and jeer at them, though the brightness of the sun overhead halts any serious attempts by the foul monsters at real attack, hurt as they are by the power of Nerukata’s brilliance overhead.

They are advised by Karragas that repairs are finished and that they can depart on the next tide, making it across the 70 or so kilometres of sea to their destination of The Wyrm Peaks. This they do towing the galley behind them, bidding farewell to the mad hermit woman Selii and the cursed and benighted ruins of Velicca. As they approach the fjord that leads to the township, they see 2 small fishing boats checking traps for catches at the mouth of the inlet, and as one departs hastily upstream (no doubt to warn of strangers), the other waits. The 4 fisherfolk aboard it are glad to hear that the newcomers interest is peaceable and may involve trade too, so they are escorted up the steep sided fjord, until around a curve of the valley they first lay eyes upon the unusual and memorable sight of Cold Eye Water…

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An unfortunate disagreement amongst heroes
There will be blood

As rose fingered dawn starts to appear, Cassio of Padiha and Patch are on the last watch, and watch with curiosity as Selii rises quietly and walks away from the campsite. Cassio meets her and he quizzes her as to where she is away to; her response is that she likes to sit at the large fountain nearby and talk to her friend, and unsurprisingly Cassio assumes this to be one of her “friends” and thinks no more on it. The others rise, with Bucephala Clangula first up to greet the sun as it rises. He notes the curious old woman speaking to the largest fountain and wanders over, but all he sees in the waters is the reflection of the old lady. The old lady tells him that the various pools in the temple have other friends in them, but that her favourite is the young woman who is in the biggest one, whose clothes change with the colour of the seasons and whose smile alone is like the first light hitting the waves in a summers morning.

Meanwhile, with the others something that has been simmering for the last week boils over as humorous jests at the expense of the Altai pair of Czerlai and especially szletko reach a tipping point. Some months previously, the pair had enjoyed a night of carnal passion with the Turlavaynian body servant Dyminiqua whilst in the Great Range and the Altai Plains, and since then bedding habits (and indeed sexual preferences) of the Altai had been speculated over by party members like Cassio and Abbas Jalil from time to time; matters had almost reached blows on the ship some days before but Karragas had forbidden duelling aboard his ship, and since then it had been thought the matter had blown over, but one unfortunate jest too far pushes Szletko past his breaking point, and he throws down a challenge of a duel to the next person to offer him insult. Patch and Solimara had sat down to watch events proceed from a comfortable point, and when Szletko uttered an unwitting (and unfortunate) innuendo loaded threat about taking his sword to next man who said anything, Patch was forced to stifle a giggle, with Solimara covering his mouth. Szletko decides that this merits a challenge, and promptly challenges him to a duel to the death. Even despite a (grudging) apology from Patch, Szletko would not be moved, and soon an uncomfortable scene develops as the pair face off against one another. Patch allows Szletko to prepare his spells and whatever he needs to, and as he does so Solimara warns the group that should this go ahead matters will not be reversible and her and her partner shall leave the group.

Undeterred, Szletko steps in and swings a mighty and precise blow with his axe, and inexplicably Patch moves slightly and steps aside, with his daggers still at his side. At the same time, The Odd Topaz Stone around Czerlai’s neck starts to glow warm against his chest, and a curious topaz blue coloured light starts in the eyes of Patch, who now no longer smiles and is emitting a much more ominous and alarming manner about himself. Solimara pleads with Patch to allow no bloodshed “in the Lady’s house, for she shall not like that”, whilst Czerlai (whose chest is hurting now from the scalding heat of the stone) tries to persuade Szletko to let it go.

Abruptly, Patch turns and stalks away, showing his back to the Altai. Szletko follows to continue the matter (to call it a duel now seems curiously inappropriate), but loses him at the first corner they come to. Meanwhile, Solimara speaks to the group who remain, advising that it is a shame their time together is over, and that perhaps she can cheer Patch up and lighten his mood over the next few decades or so. By the way she speaks and the manner about her now, she is, like Patch, obviously more than she seems. Bucephala asks who they are, and all she replies is that he has an idea who they are, and after advising that her friend holds a grudge like few people, fades from view before their very eyes. Before this point, Czerlai has left to find bananas (to act as trade goods for the peoples of the Wyrm Peaks) and is followed out by Abbas. Szletko comes back minus Patch, and decides that scouting for the bananas with Cassio, Selii and Taturii Asamakiiro may be of some use. Bucephala, still musing on what he has seen or heard in this action packed morning, decides to spend some time reading over his religious texts and reflecting.

Czerlai and Abbas find no bananas, but they do find a great overgrown park with a large blasted crater about 500 metres across in the centre. In the centre lies the titanic skeletal remains of what can only be a dragon, measuring over 250 metres from nose to tail; the area sparkles with the coppery brass remains of thousands of large metal like plates, the scales of the dragon. The sight takes their breath away and shakes even the doughty Altai’ heart. They decide to forgo the bananas and head back to the ruined temple. At this point Czerlai notes that the stone that had been causing him discomfort is no longer on the chain and has vanished, much to his annoyance. Elsewhere, Szletko and the others head along the coast to where the supposedly ghoul infested banana trees actually are, but they turn back when they hear orcish voices conversing with the ghouls; Selii tells them that about twice a season Orc pirates (sometimes accompanied by human ones) trade with the ghouls, offering human slaves in exchange for looted treasures of the Veliccan ruins.

During all this, Bucephalas ruminations are interrupted by Karragus and some crew, off on their way to acquire good wood to effect repairs on the ship. The Minotaur and his men advise they are going along the coast to find some good lumber and that they shall be back before too long. After this, the Ateliketian chances upon something he half remembered that seemed pertinent to current events; that one of the forms adopted by the Trickster god Loksan is as a handsome young man with untidy dark hair and shockingly blue topaz eyes, and that he is almost always accompanied by his friend, lover and cohort Ba’Ath the Moon Goddess… It now all seems to fit, and Bucephala realises that for whatever reason and to whatever end, their little group was accompanied for a time by the 2 mercurial and whimsy prone deities; also, that Szletko picked a fight with the more powerful and vengeful of the two.

The other 2 groups return to advise of their different discoveries, and soon all know each others news. Sobering stuff, with each new addition seeming to deepen the mood of confusion and anxiety. They decide to head back to the ship, and Cassio and Taturri head to warn Karragas and his crew. Once warned and back on the comparative safety of the ship, they all decide what to do, with nobody comfortable with the idea of leaving human slaves to the horrific charge of either Orc pirate or Ghoulish monster, and after much musing, they decide to send a small scouting team to see how many orcish pirates are present; too many and the ship may have to flee early to the Wyrm Peaks, but if it is but one ship, it can be taken with clever planning and bold action.

Czerlai and Taturri are (now) the most stealthy members of the party and so they head off quietly, movig about half an hour through forest and jungle up onto the rocky ruined promontory overlooking a bay where the orcs are likely to be. Sure enough, they see a single Orcish galley sat at anchor about 60 metres from the shore, and they also see a band of heavily armed orcs with some human slaves on the shore, obviously parleying with something in the trees. A quick count spies about 6 human traitors and near on 40 Orcish pirates, with the large and forbidding captain on the shore doing the negotiations. A pair of rowboats slowly ferry human prisoners from the galley to shore. Seeing enough, the pair head back to the party and relay the news. It is promptly decided that an attack is not just feasible, it is also desirable, and so plans start being made; more heroics and bravery is in the offing no doubt, and at least this matter is enough to divert their minds from the other issues before them…

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Velicca at last
One turbulent voyage and a chance encounter later...

The party have experienced shipboard life as passengers before, and soon they all settle upon a certain rhythm; some spend time practising their weapon skills, some spend time reading and others find time to spend time gambling with Patch, though the astute Solimara makes sure that her roguish comrade does not play for money nor cheats, so they merely lose beans legitimately. A few days into the journey however, things take a more dangerous tone, as a mighty autumnal storm batters the ship for a day and night, with the captains formidable sailing experience (and more than a few roared prayers to Satrom and Sensu) seeing the ship through. Abbas Jalil, Bucephala Clangula and Cassio of Padiha fare well, with bruises and poor sleep being the worse that they suffer, but the Altai pair of Czerlai and szletko fare poorly, covering their cabin, themselves and each other with vomit and worse. Patch, Solimara and Taturii Asamakiiro bear the conditions with admirable fortitude.

When the storm blows itself out, the battered ship resumes its journey onwards without significant encounter and 9 days after leaving the Empire, the first small islands and shoals of Velicca are seen. The vine, tree and plant covered ruins visible on the first few small islets and islands still bear the signs of the city-states violent end with walls and stone appearing to have melted from great heat. They see signs of life however, from birds and arboreal critters in the trees and on the land, all the way up to the enormous 6 metre saltwater crocodiles that hunt the inlets and waters of the archipelago (the latter cause some concern to all aboard the ship, with good cause). The most important sign of life they encounter appear in the early evening, as they encounter a hide covered canoe paddling slowly towards the main island where Velicca is found. Drawing closer, they see that it is manned by a wizened and ragged old woman, all wild snarled hair, layers of dirt and ragged furs and clothing. Her flimsy canoe is full of fruits, nuts and berries and after some exchanges of words, she is allowed aboard (her canoe is also brought aboard as well). Thus the party and ship encounter Selii.

They talk with the old woman, and quickly establish that she is slightly unhinged and odd, though not dangerous. She reveals that she lives in the old ruins, and the party offer to take her home. She tells them on the way about the ruins and the various threats that dwell within, from the weeping and crying spirits of the dead that still roam at night, to the howls and roars of the Ghouls who serve the powerful and terrifying Hag Hyldra.

Karragas advises that he will anchor the ship off the coast of the ruins and opposite the remains of the Sensu temple, the better to attempt much needed repairs on the ship. The view in the early evening sunset of the ruins is magnificent yet sombre, as the signs of once imperial greatness reverting to nature fall slowly into shadow. The party row their way to the shore and the temple of Sensu with Selii, and make themselves at home in the once splendid temple walls. The signs of Selii’s life are all over the temple, with rattles, wooden chimes and other rude decorations adorning the premises. The pitiful sight of 2 makeshift and old wooden grave markers with a crude man and woman image on each one sits in the former temple garden. Selii soon has a fire lit and is using her best (and indeed only) kettle to prepare a meal of smooshed bananas and berries for the party.

As the meal is eaten and the last light of the day gives way to the night, the sounds of the ruins are heard, and it is harrowing to hear, with the howls of the Ghouls being somehow less sorrowful and terrifying than the multitude of moans, weeping and cries of the dead of Velicca.

A watch is set for the night, and during the watch of Czerlai and Abbas, they note that Selii is sitting bolt upright. What follows is a strange conversation, with her telling them that they shall find the one they seek atop the highest mountain in The Wyrm Peaks, a mountain called Her Throne in the variety of languages. They are also advised that it was Varrax who slew the dragon whose remains lie at the centre of the ruins, apparently punishment for the sack of the city and the death of its people. The possible threats they must watch out for are Wyrms, Dragons, Griffins, Giants, Orcs and worse, according to Selii. The best place to make landfall and seek help is a small port/township called Cold Eye Water within the Peaks, and there they may find help and guides amongst other things.

The rest of the night passes uneasily with what sleep is achieved being troubled. Now, a morning in one of the most haunted and supposedly cursed areas of the Inner Sea follows, and whatever exploration their courage allows…

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The Vagabond Path from the Empire to a Dragon begins
"With pulses a-raging and eyes full of wonder Kicking out behind us again"

With formidable funds and credit from House Eloi to buoy them on, all of the party excepting Bucephala Clangula immediately begin the spending of the reward they have received; he heads to the Hama Encanda for a day of prayers and assisting Sunfather Callus. Cassio of Padiha heads to the Temple of Perang to acquire a spell that may help him in future, Czerlai and szletko head off to sort out their business with the Zevgenya Shaman Szumasz and Abbas Jalil decides to speak to one of the Sorcerors at Adeline Kothui’s residence about getting a Power Spirit bound into an enchantment for him. Before Cassio heads out, he decides to take the Eloi family up on the offer of a ship as his reward, and he spends a little time speaking to the precociously competent Thenaiis Eloi about this; she draws up the papers, and makes sure that within 3 months time he shall be the proud owner of a brand new Uskaris trading vessel, which as she has contacts, will be built at cost, leaving him with 2000 lara left over to use as a fund to hire crew. Delighted with this, he departs on another errand.

Cassio approaches the formidable War Monastery of Perang and crosses across the threshold, however as soon as he enters the temple, time seems to slow for a minute that lasts for moments as what sounds like a multitude of voices (both male and female) speak directly into his mind and soul with a force and irresistibility that drives him to his knees; the voice says “FREE MY SERVANT; FREE HER, FOR IT IS MY WILL”. With that his senses slowly return to him, and a curious WarFather of Perang approaches, asking why he has fallen to his knees. Cassio asks to speak to him over a matter regarding spells but also the message he has received. In a side courtyard, the two talk, with Cassio asking him about The Large bickering, arguing, Magical Sword. The Priest casts a spell (Soul Sight) and determines that it is the soul of a Perang Initiate bound within it. Curious, the Priest prays to his God and casts a Divination, after which the WarFather has a little to tell about it; it was made by a barbarous warrior people called the Taryvandyns who hailed from The Turbulent West over 4000 years previously; they were a people who followed strange and cruel Shamanistic practices, one being the binding of their great heroes souls into the weapons they bore in life so that their skill and knowledge would not be lost to the tribe.

Things changed, and in time many of their people took up the worship of the Gods, and so it was with one Indegga Giantsbane, a woman warrior of great skill, bravery and resourcefulness; she became a devout follower of Perang, and after a life of great and heroic deeds she fell mortally wounded in battle, and it was the foolish and spiteful actions of a Shaman who bound her to her sword, thus stopping her soul from ascending to Heaven. This act acted as the flashpoint that spelt the end of the Taryvandyns who split apart in a religious war between the Priesthood of the various Gods and the Shamans. The Priest also advises Cassio that it is Perangs will that the swords bearer be the one who releases her from her torment and allows her to pass on. Cassio asks how this can be achieved, but typically for The Undefeatable God, he is short on advice; this he leaves for Cassio to discover and then do, and as the WarFather advises, the Ravens Friend does not like to be disobeyed or failed. After this, the Priest agrees to help Cassio, and teaches him the spell Bladesharp 4 for a small donation to both Perang and Sensu.

Meanwhile, the two Altai spend part of the day acquiring a Strengthening Enchantment each and also a spell each from the eccentric Shaman, with Szletko learning Shimmer 4 and Czerlai learning Spirit Screen 4. They pay a great deal in “gifts” for this to be done, but think the money well spent.

Abbas gets a decent Power Spirit enchanted by a sorceror, and is happy with this be4fore meeting up with the others in the early afternoon, for they all (Bucephala aside) wish to shop at Honest Jon‘s Emporium. The 4 accompany their ubiquitous guide Linus and he takes them to meet the enigmatic wheelchair bound sorceror, who listens to their interests and finally sells a number of items to them all (for a large amount of the credit they have received from the Eloi); Czerlai pays much for Countermagic Ring and Kargs Hammer, Szletko pays a lot for The Shield of Biting and The Returning Spear, Abbas buys Jon’s First Tome and Cassio decides to buy nothing. They all club together to pay the huge sum of 15000 lara for The Scroll of Akanimus, for it is easily the best item they have heard of and also one that can hopefully benefit the whole group in time. Much poorer in coin but better fortified in materiel, the party take their leave of the old Sorcerous proprietor and return for the evening meal at the Eloi compound, meeting up with Bucephala there. At the gates they meet a bonded runner who has come from the crew of “Satroms Bellow”, the ship of the mysterious Karragas. They tell him have arrived at the number of 8 to be travelling to The Ruins of Velicca and The Wyrm Peaks, and more information will follow. He departs to inform his client.

Shortly before nightfall as they eat in the stoica overlooking the gates, they see the arrival of the formidable Taturii Asamakiiro, carrying her full compliment of weapons and campaigning gear. She greets them formally and is soon billeted before heading to the bath house to have her evening bath.

Shortly after nightfall, Patch and Solimara sidle into view through the gates, travelling light and carrying no light source at all. The incorrigible pair chat and charm their way around slave, servant and party member alike, before the party are discretely summoned to an ante chamber within the house by the Head Servant, who tells them they have a visitor.

Leaving their 3 new recruits, they enter the room to meet Palidus Marcorius, dressed for travelling in secret and so not in his courtly robes. His escorts this time are not members of the Fist of Armanixes, but 4 ominous, motionless and silent figures in quiet armour made of silk and leather, wearing silk and velvet masks. The party have no need to guess that the Immaculatii’s escorts are Frumentarii, the shadowy and deadly secret police/state assassins. The polite and affable Eunuch greets them, and without much preamble presents them with 2000 Ames to deal with their travel costs and expenses, and an ornate and magically powerful scroll they are to present to the Dragon Varrax Pyrofer. Given he is not here and that the money does not come from the Empire, Palidus must leave quickly, but he wishes them and their quest the best of success. At that, his escorts draw in close to him, and in a moment vanish from view before the very eyes of the party. Perilous people, those Frumentarii.

With transport sorted and a message sent to ask their captain to prepare for departure on the morning tide, the party and their three new recruits spend a happy evening being dined and feted by Varediis Eloi, Myrha Eloi and Thenaiis, as mutual thanks are passed back and forth; truly, Varediis and his family have much to thank the party for, and the party thank them for their great hospitality, friendship and support (both financial and otherwise). The evening passes well with good conversation, the last of the gifted wine from the cellar of Chancellor Asceppius Diotys and the best food that the House can offer. Soon however, bedtime comes, and all turn in.

Before departure early next morning, the party make a generous donation of 60 lara to each of the 30 or so servants and slaves of House Eloi, who they feel have been superb over their stay. This kind gesture is magnificently received, and Szletko gives Linus a further 13 lara over and above, which delights the young snipe. He wishes them all the very best of luck and will light a candle of fortune to all the gods for their safe and successful return.

The 8 then head down to the harbour, passing through the wakening morning streets of the mighty capital, and soon they arrive at the dock housing the unusual and sturdy vessel known as “Satroms Bellow”. They board it, quickly paying their passage to the First Mate who send the money below for safety. Without further ado, the ship casts off in the early morning sun, with the nip of late autumn in the wind that furls the 4 sails of the ship.

Watching the morning sun blaze and shine on the roofs, spires and domes of Armarissa Invictor behind them, they eventually turn to face the appearance on deck of the mysterious Karragas, whom until now only Abbas has seen. The hulking dark furred figure of the Minotaur commands instat notice and respect in the deck, and even the mischievous Patch (who had made some cow based jokes back at the Eloi compound on hearing of the captains nature) feels self preservation stopping cheeky comments. The low deep voice of the captain assures them that now that there is a formal deal in place, he swears by the gods he follows (Satrom as the Storm Bull, and Lady Sensu) that they shall reach their destinations safely. They then watch him head towards the bow of the ship to perform his religious devotions to ask Wind and Sea for favour in the journey…

Epilogue

With the snap of autumnal wind filling the sails, and civilization falling further behind them with each passing moment, the 8 figures face the horizon, knowing that the seas ahead are merely the start of a perilous but exhilarating quest which will ultimately lead, through perils and adventures aplenty, to the meeting with the one being that defines Immortal Power and caprice; Varrax Pyrofer. Before that happens though, there shall be hardship, pain, struggle and more than a few surprises…

This ends the First part of the PC’s journeys, and they shall return, for their path and destiny is greater than they know.

To be Continued

View
On money and how quickly an adventurer can spend it

Abbas Jalil has much to do, with a quick meeting to attend with Thenaiis Eloi over possible ideas on more recruitment opportunities; the Eloi have little to offer in that regard she states as they have not been able to properly acquire the correct guard and men at arm licences for years due to political enemies blocking moves in the Quoria. She does suggest checking with the Temples of Satrom and Perang where out of work soldiers, mercenaries and adventurers (who happen to be Initiates of the same gods) congregate. He thinks on this and visits the Temple of Perang whilst en route to the Ludata District and his meeting with Metellus Sambir and Tyrus over the sale of The Dwarven Book and The Cletian Tome. He speaks to a WarFather of Perang about possible recruits for The Wyrm Peaks quest, and the Priest advises he shall ask around and see who might be interested. Abbas thanks him and departs on his other errand. Once at Metellus’, he manages to sell the Dwarven Book for the princely sum of 500 Ames, and has a tentative offer of 350 Ames for the Cletian Tome; as the deal for the Cletian book is not likely to be formally finalised by the Ludata finance committee for some time, he advises Tyrus that the Tome can be kept with Metellus for safe keeping until the party return from their imminent sojourn. With this business resolved, Abbas takes his leave of the two scholars and returns back to the Eloi House, stopping by the ship of Karragas to advise that he and his friends will be accepting the offer of transport.

Meanwhile, Bucephala Clangula, Czerlai, Cassio of Padiha and szletko head back to the Eloi house after dropping off Patch and Solimara at a bath house to clean up the hapless canal drenched rogue. Bucephala actually decides to head to the Hama Encanda to pray to Nerukata for guidance, and also to acquire his first ever Divine magic; his first steps on joining the Priesthood have begun as he stays overnight in prayer and vigil. The others do different things, with Cassio dealing with political and personal missives from Padiha and the 2 Altai doing what comes naturally to them, aided as they are by slave girls and alcohol.

The next morning, the Altai head off bright and early to meet Amikka Zevgenya Ziisk at the enormous encampment of the 17th Legion just outside the city. Two things they were seeking; one was the fabrication of good quality lamellar barding for their horses, and the other was an audience with the Zevgenya Troopers Shaman Szumasz. After meeting with the Shamans Assistants who tell them that the spirits are upon Szumasz for now and he is unsafe to be near, they speak to the sutler and QM of the Zevgenya who says for the low price of 2500 Lara (the cost for the materials alone, and as such friend prices) he can fit their horses with excellent barding similar to that used by Zevgenya cavalry troopers. The Altai decide to wait until later for they lack total funds. At this point they are summoned to meet Szumasz who in typical enigmatic and unsettling Shaman style pulls out from them what they want, principally new Spirits spells and maybe an enchantment or two. His “gift prices” quoted for the enchantment are high but this is to be expected of non tribe members. They advise that they need to sort out their funds and so depart back to the Eloi house to finally broach the subject of reward with Thenaiis who is handling Varediis Eloi’s financial affairs due to his being at the palace for the day.

Bucephala stops briefly at the Eloi house in the morning after Sunrise prayers at the Temple, and, on the look out for a seller of curios and magical treasures, is directed by the ever resourceful Head Servant of the Eloi house to try “Honest Jon’s”, a selective and discrete seller of the unusual based down by a canal in the Three Canals District. The quick and savvy Linus knows the way and leads the Ateliketian to the premises, and inside the cool and fragrant premises, he meets the wheelchair bound figure of Honest Jon. They talk about what Bucephala is seeking, and Bucephala spends a total of 3000 Lara on two items; one is The Red Glove of Strength and the other is Heartguard. He is delighted wit his purchases, but before he leaves the old Sorceror advises him that both he and his friends have been noted by the great and the good for the company they keep and the exploits they have achieved, and also by the great and “not so good”. Nothing specific is named, but the inference is that the party are starting to be noticed by powerful figures and for them to be careful of this. Bucephala thanks him for this and takes his leave back to the Eloi House.

He meets the others for the mid day meal, and there they catch up, with their finding out from Thenaiis that each party member is entitled to 12000 Lara’s worth of favours, aid and services. This fantastic sum immediately opens doors and possibilities for the heroes, and is a measure of the esteem that the Eloi hold them in. With their day and hour of departure fast approaching, every Ame, Lara and Gritha will come in handy in being prepared for their perilous journey…

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Cassio's dreams and how five became eight

Cassio of Padiha finally manages to finish with the family business that demanded his attention and joins the party for early morning breakfast just as Varediis Eloi departs and heads for the Palace (which does seem to demand much of his time recently). The party are glad to see him again, with Czerlai in particular noting the bags under his eyes showing his lack of sleep; Cassio indicates his work has kept him busy but this is only part of the reasoning;

Cassio has been experiencing a sequence of dreams after the first one, all of them seeming to focus around the life of an unknown woman warrior of an unknown barbarian people. That there is a connection between this woman and his sword is in no doubt, for she wields one exactly like it (maybe even the same one?). The first nights dream involves a single combat played out between the champions of arrayed forces of two large barbarian armies facing one another across a small mist wreathed valley; one is this woman that Cassio sees through the eyes of, and the other being a mighty six metre tall giant. The woman (by dint of shucking off her armour and fighting sky clad and using a Truesword spell) defeats the enormous brute (which was itself armed with a tree trunk) in a fight where she dodges its great sweeping blows and lands powerful blows with her sword on its legs and abdomen. She drops the brute and then administers the coup de grace as it lies bleeding out. At this point the 2 armies rush towards one another with her standing naked but for battle woad and the giants blood, holding her sword and crying defiance at the onrushing horde…

His dreams of her over the next 3 nights seem to follow key scenes from this womans life, from childbirth of a son (where the gathered people outside her dwelling greet her and her child with the cry “Indegga!” repeatedly and triumphantly) through victorious battles against hordes of Broo, to her final moments being mortally wounded in a great battle with strange and wicked seeming foes and suffering some strange ghastly fate at the hands of a mysterious Shaman (which seems to cause enormous consternation and rage with her husband and the by now elderly Perang Priest). All of these dreams become so progressively vivid that he feels like he has lived them. He decides for now not to mention this to his comrades, though he notes that The Large bickering, arguing, Magical Sword seems to be more subdued and slightly more supportive than usual, like it is distracted somehow.

The party decide to split up and do different things with Bucephala Clangula going to the Hama Encanda to try and locate the mischievous rogues Patch and Solimara with a view to asking them if they wish to join the party for the quest to seek Varrax Pyrofer. szletko, Cassio and Czerlai decide to seek out Din Dak Koro Tuk’Vo to see if he would be interested in the adventure, and Abbas Jalil goes to meet Metellus Sambir to see if he has heard of Tyrus’ fundraising for the purchase of The Dwarven Book and The Cletian Tome.

Bucephala arrives at the great temple just after morning services and seeks out SunFather Callus to see if the elderly priest might know of a way to track the down the larcenous pair. In exchange for taking the next class of youngsters for Rhetoric lessons, the SunFather shuffles off to see if any in the Temple might know where the distinctive twosome might frequent. After a less than thrilling lesson with the dutiful children the SunFather returns to tell Bucephala that the pair are sometime seen in an insalubrious establishment within the dubious Metara district (a notorious rookery) called The Bastard Bar and Grill. With this information, he stays to help the SunFather as he had agreed to wait here for the Altai nomads and Cassio after they had seen to their own errand.

The three travel to the parkland area that Din Dak spends much time at, and speak to him about their offer and suggest he accompany them; sadly he must refuse (though he is mightily tempted) for his duties as the Tan Ti Kikkuya cultural observer on The Armavine Empire require his presence in Armarissa (for now). He does suggest that they ask another who might be interested, and mentions Taturii Asamakiiro, the woman warrior of Omiskiira; somewhat of an outsider in her own culture, she would very likely jump at the chance for some new direction and focus. They thank him for his time and head off to seek her at the Hama Salleia (where she often is found, liking the gardens there as she does). Indeed, they do find her there, standing out in her memorable dark leather armour. She greets them in better Armanian than the last time they spoke to her, and is delighted to accept their offer, for it sounds brave, dangerous and worthwhile to her. She agrees to meet them at the Eloi house before sundown the following day, for she must gather her effects and say her farewells to the Omiskiiran Embassy. At this she bows to them and they part company, with them having only a short trip to the nearby Hama Encanda to meet up with Bucephala.

Abbas meets up with Metellus, busy sitting in his garden digesting his morning meal in the cool autumnal air. They talk and exchange pleasantries, and the wily old quoriente advises him that he can have Tyrus (plus funds) meet him in the afternoon, as he has managed to secure 500 Ames funding for the Dwarven Book, though he is still haggling with the Fiscal Commitee of the Magna Ludata over the Cletian Tome. Abbas is sure that the 500 Ames plus the translation will be an acceptable sum of money for the book, and decides to head to the Eloi house to speak with Thenaiis Eloi about further contacts that might help in the forthcoming adventure. He will return to Metellus after this at about 2 pm.

The others meet up at the Hama Encanda and decide to hire one of the pleantiful canal boatmen and their river boat to travel to the Bastard Bar and Grill which is apparently built over the intersection of several canals. They pass through the pleasant Middle class Three Canals district on the way, but know when they enter the Metara district due to the appalling smells in the air (tanneries amongst other things trade here) and the gentle bumping of debris in the canal against the boat hull, one bit of which may very well be a corpse. Little sunlight shines here as the houses and buildings tower and lean over the canal. Soon they see the dubious establishment, squatting like a slowly collapsing wooden spider over the canal with its cheery sign of a violent thug holding a knife in one hand and a severed arm in the other. Charming. After an unlucky patron is forcibly ejected out a window head first into the canal (oh the poor man) the boatmen and Cassio decide to drop them off on the rickety and unsound looking jetty and wait in the middle of the channel whilst Bucephala and the Altai mount the alarmingly iffy stairs to the door. They enter and the stale smell of unwashed bodies, poor wine and worse beer assaults them, being as it is fresher air than that outside (a tannery is actually 50 metres up the canal from here). Inside the murky half lit bar is peopled by a mixture of criminals, thieves, murderers and worse, served by men/and or women who look much like the figure on the sign. All cups and bottles are clay they note; never a good sign in a pub they think. Szletko first sees who they are looking for, as they are also coincidentally the same folks that they gave the 2 spare tickets to for the Blues Banquet the night previously. Curious that. The double act are in the process of playing cards with 3 drunken cut throats, but seem happy to see the approaching party members.

They wrap up the card game (coming away with a goodly number of silver Lara) and repair to the main bar to talk. Coming straight out with it, the party offer a berth on the trip to seek Varrax Pyrofer, and unsurprisingly the pair agree on the spot, providing it is fun, profitable and smells better than their current locale. They agree to leave, though Patch suggests Bucephala and the Altai leave first, as in about a minute or so’s time he’ll be telling the barstaff that A, the drink in this place tastes like urine and B, subsequently they are not paying their tab. The 3 have just gotten to the bottom of the jetty stairs when a large roar and bellow comes from within the pub followed by the loud tinkling of coins on floorboards. The canal boat punts its way towards the jetty as Solimara and Patch come running out of the door, deciding to jump from the top of the steps onto the boat; Solimara is grace personified as she lands lightly on the deck, but Patch fares not so well, overshooting the deck and dropping into the unpleasant water with an “Oh Fu…”. The big and burly thugs try to chase down the stairs but the lead one falls through the rotten planking of the steps into the canal; Czerlai notes that The Odd Topaz Stone glows warmly at this point.

The boatmen punt away up the canal leaving behind the 8th worse pub in the city, and as they enter a much nicer area (taking some of the last with them as it covers a bedraggled and ripe smelling Patch), they decide to drop Solimara and her smelly companion at a bath house, leaving instruction that they shall meet up again the following day; given the moral dubiousness of the pair, they decide that hiring rooms for them, likely at the Measured Response, is a better idea than invites into the Eloi house. Slowly but surely, the expedition is coming together…

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