13th Voyage

25 - The Ruins of Tegwali

The tale of salt and storms.

The march out of the desert is as featureless as the march in, but the journey gains a new perspective in the form of Kabotol. The Kholos-Sahar hero has many interesting tales of the centuries-past war against the Shadow Viziers. And if he is disconcerted by the new world he has awakened into, at least the timeless nature of the desert is familiar. He asks about the affairs of the small people as well during the journey.

The journey is also a time to speak about the final prospective marriage match: the jann Burunizha Ten Bronze Mirrors. According to Hashatur, she was bound almost four and a half centuries ago, when she cheated on a bargain with an elven sorcerer-matriarch. The matriarch sealed her into a bronze bell and hung her in a tower in Tegwali, and when the city was abandoned, the jann’s prison was all but forgotten. Burunizha is a possible marriage candidate because she seems to have a fondness for mortals; reputedly she was disowned or ostracized by her household for bearing the child of a fleshly servant. Hashatur hopes that the time spent imprisoned will not have twisted the jann’s feelings into hatred.

The bleached buildings of Tegwali are visible as the group reaches the Silken River. Peculiarly, a few plumes of smoke rise from the southern bank, raising the question of why the ruins are not so abandoned. At Hashatur’s insistence, the travelers cross the river as well before approaching the city. The north side, he explains is not safe — it has become the hunting ground of a great lightning-drake, a behir, known as the Crawling Storm. As they enter the city outskirts, he gestures at two building corners to describe its length — over 80 feet long.

They follow the smoke to one of the many plazas within the ruins. They find a camp of perhaps a hundred people, full of workers — some of them lizardfolk — engaged in harvesting the twisted trees that grow within the saltwater pools and feeding the briny wood into distilling equipment. The camp workers notice the four giants immediately, and the group of camp guards nervously takes up defensive positions. The venturers offer peaceful greeting. After a moment, a scarred and hooded woman looks them over, and focuses her gaze on Wind-of-Embers. “Let them in,” she says.

A squat, bearded man in finer dress than the others nods nervously after a moment. “You heard the Sentinel! These are our guests.” He introduces himself as Ruftal, the head of the camp’s enterprise. Ruftal invites the group to a meal, and is spared when the giants politely excuse themselves and leave to set up their own camp. The venturers accept, with the exception of Abd. The paladin steps aside, lost in conversation with a man in sorcerous robes who does not seem to be a member of the camp. The man fades at the end of their conversation — a sending from the Immortal Sage. Abd excuses himself with four words, and leaves the camp without further explanation.

The women join Ruftal at his table for a midday meal. Over the modest offerings of river fish, rice, and pickles, Ruftal grudges a brief explanation of the camp’s purpose. The camp cuts down the trees that manage to flourish in the salt pools, and distills the salt from the wood. The resulting “lotus salt” is a rare delicacy, one that Aya recognizes. Ruftal offers a touch to each of his guests, but only Wind-of-Embers has the trained palate to pick out its earthen, faintly spicy notes. In return for the gracious hospitality, Wind-of-Embers offers their host a taste of hratzal, a dried pepper carried from the Dragonskull Isles. Raftul accepts with gusto, but the pepper seems to immediately disagree with him. The stricken camp leader politely and vigorously excuses himself, and he does not return to the table before the end of the meal.

The three women find themselves with some free time in the afternoon. Aya tells the others what she knows of jann — the earth-jinn are dour by compare, prone to being very literal in their wording and interpretations. Wind-of-Embers knows mostly of ifrit, and mentions that they can be safely freed by an offering of fire to their metal vessel while speaking the appropriate courtesies. The three reason that the bell where the jann is bound is likely kept from the earth for similar reasons.

Kismet goes scouting through the ruins for the bell tower, and hears it ring dolefully. From the roof of a building she spots a spire in the right place — across the river, on the northern bank where the Crawling Storm hunts.

Aya remains in the camp, where a young man strikes up an interesting conversation with her. The youth, named Raisho, identifies her as a sorceress, and explains that he is waiting for a master who discovered his own talent. He has been following his master on these trade routes, and is waiting for his master’s return so that they will travel together back to a city where he will find an instructor in the arcane. He confirms Aya’s suspicions soon enough — the man who promised him an apprenticeship is Ubarid. Raisho speaks very highly of the Ascending Flame, and paints a picture of Ubarid as a kind fellow who is very interested in his welfare. He even brandishes a diplomatic pouch that will see him into Izir with full privileges.

Aya promptly announces that it’s a trap. She goes into some detail regarding the iniquities of the Flame that the venturers have previously encountered firsthand. Raisho is disbelieving at first, but gradually Aya’s utter guilelessness overcomes him. The young man becomes agitated that he has so nearly entered into the service of cruel tyrants, and he casts down his diplomatic pouch as if it contained vipers. Aya promises that she will introduce him to a wizard in Hamaji who will be able to provide an introduction to a more ethical mentor. She also quietly pockets the diplomatic pouch before it returns to Raisho’s mind.

Wind-of-Embers approaches the lizardmen, who are expectedly standoffish at first. She greets them first in their own language, then adds a turn of phrase in the Serpent’s Tongue, which one of the workers recognizes. The lizardman asks if she is an ally to “the viper who guards the river.” With that opening, she converses with the workers until one of the dwarven overseers becomes irritated and demands that the reptiles return to their labors. The lizardmen regard the overseer with a cold patience until Wind-of-Embers thanks them and promises to return later. That evening, she shares a meal with them and prepares a few dishes that please their reptilian palates.

Also that evening, Aya attempts to give Raisho some basic tutoring in how to use his magic. She is a spectacularly poor teacher.

Abd has still not returned by nightfall, and Attsu has not yet rejoined his companions. Even so, Kismet, Aya, and Wind-of-Embers decide that they can make a move for the bell tomorrow at noon, when the behir will theoretically be asleep.

They find their way across a bridge to northern Tegwali at the following midday. Kismet guides them quickly through the salt-crusted streets to the plaza overlooked by the bell tower. A large section of the tower wall is staved in, but from a distance, the stairs winding around its interior seem to be intact. Also visible is the bell itself — and the three note with some regret that it is the size of a cauldron, rather than a small hand-sized vessel.

Kismet is the first to enter the tower — and as she bounds up the stairs, the first to trigger its guardians. Two elf-sized tornadoes coalesce out of the air about her. Aya recognizes them as minor elementals, no doubt bound to the tower for their impulsive aggression. The two dust devils begin to buffet at Kismet, attempting to entertain themselves by hurling Kismet out of the tower.

A blast of arctic wind and a javelin of fire strike at one of the elementals to aid Kismet. The agitated mini-storm descends to the ground to pursue Aya instead. Kismet takes the opportunity to vault away from the other, marking it as she goes.

Suddenly invisible claws tear across Aya’s back. She twists, and all she sees is a faint shimmering outline, vaguely humanoid but with too many arms — an invisible stalker, assassin to the courts of the djinn. She inhales, and breathes out an explosively cold gale that dissipates the wounded air elemental entirely. But the stalker is scarcely hurt, and it claws at her again and again.

In the tower, Kismet is having a slightly better time of it — another fire javelin from WInd-of-Embers has rattled the dust devil still attempting to throw her to the stones. It whirls her way, erratic and over extended. Kismet darts past it and with a flash of her compass scimitar, cuts it in half.

Wind-of-Embers and Aya manage to wound the invisible stalker, but not before Aya is battered and bleeding. The genasi sorceress tightens her grip on the storm orb, and a freezing cyclone forms around her fist. She throws a strike to the center of the stalker’s torso. The winds explode into a focused twister, disintegrating the stalker’s form and coating the side of the nearby building in ice.

The three women rest for a few minutes. The ruins are still again — and then a new sound echoes through the streets, an electric crackling. The venturers brace themselves just before the azure scales become visible. The monstrous behir erupts into a street and looks down at them.

The three dive into the alleys and race for the river. The Crawling Storm charges after them, a wave of static electricity lifting the hairs on the backs of the women’s necks. A lightning bolt snaps out after them, but Fate is with them, and the bolt collapses part of a stone wall. Kismet helps Wind-of-Embers race up the temporary ramp, and they leap to a new alley.

The river is in sight, and the Crawling Storm drawing close again. Then a massive shape races past them from the south. Kabotol, a massive metal shield in one hand and his spear in the other, slams into the immense behir. He drives his shield into its jaws and flinches as electricity crawls across him. Then Ishurdur and Tarrikis run to his side, with great stone vessels in their hands. The two swing the vessels in the behir’s direction, splashing it with huge gouts of river water. Lightning crackles in all directions. From the safety of the bridge, the venturers and Hashatur — the philosopher-giant nervously holding a filled vessel of his own — watch the Crawling Storm releases its grip on Kabotol’s shield and retreats among the buildings. The giants wait to be sure it’s gone, and then they rejoin their companions.

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