13th Voyage

16 - The City of Blades
The tale of the first steps in the tracks of a Behemoth.

Abd waits at the foot of the cliff for the others. Not long after they began their ascent, a ghul plummets from above, smashing through one of the ramshackle structures of the port town. Abd checks on the undead monster, but its form has been torn apart and impaled, and it lies very still. He nods to himself and waits patiently. Eventually, Aya and Kismet descend with the kidnapped Savandra, with Attsu carefully picking out a path downwards after them.

Widow’s Harbor erupts in celebration soon afterward. Razira and her daughters excitedly reunite with Savandra, while the crew of the Twist of Fate and the venturers of the forthcoming Fire-Eater honor their comrades by amplifying the festivities.

The venturers opt to spend a week in the port town and wait for the Fire-Eater refit to be complete. Razira’s daughter Yashti sets her workers to focus on the ship to speed the conversion. She also helps show the family’s gratitude by delivering extra supplies to the Twist of Fate and throwing in more for the Fire-Eater. Ramjat, now plumed in hues of orange and purple, spends much of his time puffed out indignantly on Aya’s shoulder, fixing passerby — and Attsu and Kismet in particular — with a surly eye.

The first day, they turn their attention to the youth they found in the ghul’s zaratan vessel. Abd examines the glass coffin in detail. The coffin is sealed with wax that gives off a smell of certain soporific concoctions. Deciding that the occupant must be sealed under an enchantment of slumber, he takes a knife, cuts away the wax, and opens the coffin. The youth’s eyes open, and he sits up.

The odd youth has no memory of the ghuls. He gives his name as Gemel, and tells the venturers that he was dispatched by his “father” — the Immortal Sage himself — to gather information and lore. He ventured first to Hamaji, where he overindulged in local pleasures, and fell into a dead sleep. He surmises that he was mistaken for dead, as he does not quite have to breathe, and that the ghuls must have captured him while he slept at the morgue.

Aya notes that the youth has no navel, and with a few meaningful glances in that direction draws Abd’s attention. Abd’s careful eye had also discerned that the youth seemed to take a breath only to speak — it appears that Gemel is a homunculus.

Gemel also nonchalantly shares what he knows of the four Ascending Flame sorcerers who are searching for the Zodiac Jewels. In return, he asks that the venturers return him to Hamaji if they are able, so that he might reclaim the armor and weapons his father gave him.

Once the venturers are satisfied with the homunculus’ report, they discuss which jewel to pursue next, and which to designate the target of the Fire-Eater and its crew. They settle on the Behemoth jewel, reputedly in the deep desert in the hands of giants, given the potential ties to Captain Tairasha’s curse. Perhaps having had their fill of ghuls, they ask Zan and Katifa to pursue the Crow stone, which seems to lie in a parched oasis under the control of the ghul Pergu. Zan displays no particular enthusiasm for the task, but accepts the duty. Jisan adds that he knows the Beasts of Stone that likely have sway there, which may give them an advantage. That settled, Abd hands the jade death-mask taken from Tabruz to Zan, as its enchantment to disguise oneself as one of the undead might prove useful for their quest.

Not long after that conversation, Kismet drops by the cabin of Captain Tairasha. She relates their plans to visit the desert giants, and inquires if his curse and theirs might be tied together. Tairasha admits that in his youth, he once ventured into the deep deserts where the giants’ tracks lie. When there, he rashly plundered one of the offering-shrines that he discovered, and was afflicted with a form of the giants’ curse. He had no choice but to seek out the sea, where the curse could be held in check if not broken. Kismet promises that if they find a way to lift his curse, they will do so. She says that she’s lucky that way, and Tairasha says that’s why he worries about her — she is too aware of her luck.

No sooner does Kismet leave than Abd stops to speak with the captain. Tairasha offers him wine, and he accepts, before he tells Tairasha that he should not let his personal relationship with Kismet affect his judgment. The captain seems a little confused as to the “personal relationship” Abd describes, but assures the paladin that he does not intend to act irrationally towards the detriment of either the crew nor Kismet. Abd nods, and excuses himself — walking past Kismet, who had been eavesdropping on the whole conversation.

Kismet follows Abd, and begins to take him to task for speaking to Tairasha about her like that. Abd responds curtly, and soon the two are exchanging harsh words, Abd claiming that he doesn’t care about the others while Kismet lambastes him as cold-hearted. The two part in an uneasy, angry truce.

The week winds on and the venturers keep busy. An incautious ship falls victim to the sharpened rocks of the Cape of the Fatted Ghul, and the Twist of Fate crew witnesses for themselves how the Widow’s Harbor natives play at both rescuers and salvagers. They take the opportunity to find some of the rescued sailors a new home, recruiting extra hands for the Fire-Eater. Kismet enjoys excellent fortune in a card game that week, and winds up the owner of a select piece of goods taken from an elven crypt — a fine suit of light armor, still as sturdy as the day it was entombed and perfectly crafted to suit her speed and agility.

Aya notices at one point that Ramjat has gone missing. She scans the harbor for him, and sees him fluttering up and down by a stall in the market, making agitated motions at her. As she walks over to him, he drops down and sets his claws on the handle of a small valise, and tries to take off, but is not strong enough to lift it. When she takes it for him, she discovers a pair of potions inside. The huffy Ramjat settles back on her shoulder, his payload of emergency healing delivered, and the merchant at the nearby booth smiles in some bemusement.

At the end of the week, Yashti summons the venturers. The transformation of the Scorn is complete — it still has the lines of the fire-ship, but even they have had some extraneous woodwork added to modify the silhouette. The figurehead of the rechristened Fire-Eater shows a fierce marida, holding half of a broken torch in either hand. Zan crackles with intense excitement at the sight, and immediately begins gathering the crew.

Finally both the Twist of Fate and Fire-Eater sail to Hamaji, the City of Blades. The city greets them as gladly as it would any band of adventurers or mercenaries. Gemel thanks the crew and heads off in search of his bequest. Kismet wanders in the market until she’s seduced by book stalls, and purchases fine copies of the astrological and philosophical treatise Fifteen Oracles and the famed love manual, the Suran al-Qalir.

Abd seeks out the Mosque of Bright Steel, a grand temple dedicated to the triple war gods Jalisa, Koread, and Mahazach. Dust rises from the sparring grounds outside, but Abd enters the main hall and visits the wing dedicated to the Defender. He kneels before the statue of the armored maiden and meditates on his path.

The walls of the temple slowly fall away into darkness. Abd senses nothing, then feels warmth. A pair of swords hang before him, but the bright shining sword of Honor is much farther, and the bloodslicked, notched blade of Necessity much closer. Past the swords, he sees the back of a humanoid figure. The figure turns, and Abd sees his own face, twisted in anger, and a hand falls on his shoulder—

Abd snaps back into the waking world. A woman with a scarred face and twin scimitars on her waist, wearing the vestments of Jalisa, looks down on him and removes her hand from his shoulder. “Your pardon, brother,” she says, “but you seemed troubled.”

Abd speaks with the priestess, who names herself as Tassani al-Jalisa. He tells her something of his struggle, and admits that he seems to need conflict to understand himself. She asks him if a practice bout would help, and he accepts.

The two exchange several passes in the training yard. Abd comports himself very well, impressing the Jalisan priestess. Now that he seems to be “fresh from the forge,” he offers his ongoing support to the temple, however she might need it. She accepts his offer, and tells him to return when he needs to hone himself again.

On her way back to the inn, Kismet notes a pair of rugged-looking sorts who appear to be following her. She quietly sets herself at a streetside cafe and keeps an eye on them, pretending to read the Suran al-Qalir until she becomes too embarrassed and has to exchange it for her other book. The two eventually give up and leave.

Kismet rejoins the Abd over a fine meal. She mentions her would-be “admirers,” in time for Aya to arrive and overhear. Aya presents her companions with a sheaf of posters, collected from all over Hamaji — posters bearing rough images of Abd, Kismet, Aya, and Attsu. The posters offer a comfortable reward for their capture: the hiring party, the government of Izir, City of Flame.

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15 - The Ghuls and the Harpy's Tomb
The tale of the desperate crypt-scholar.

Kismet willingly takes to the task to distract Tabruz while the others search his quarters. She finds him in the Monkey and the Pearl wineshop, introduces herself, and offers to tell him a variety of stories about the drowned for his census. The scholar assents, and soon finds he has completely failed to anticipate the amount of stories contained in the elven sailor, or even to determine which of them are true and which are spontaneous. She confuses him and corrects him until finally he sets down his quill and declares he’s out of ink.

Tabruz attempts to excuse himself to get more supplies from his home, but Kismet insists on coming along with him. She shifts to more comical stories of death at sea during the stroll. “And the baboon remained wrapped around his head as he sank beneath the waves, its hips still moving—”

Kismet’s story halts abruptly as sharp nails rake across her lower back. A cold numbness locks up her muscles and she falls forward, only to be caught by a lean and powerful arm. She feels herself lifted across the shoulder of a thin creature that smells of the tomb, and then it clambers up the cliff with her dangling helpless in its grasp. She hears the chains rattle as Tabruz climbs up after them.

After far too great a height, Kismet feels her captor clamber over a ledge and drop her face-down onto a rough stone floor. The cliffside cavern is lit by a few candles, and it smells faintly of cinnamon and myrrh. Tabruz and the ghul exchange a brief conversation — they are aware that intruders have found the zaratan, and Hagaman is dead. Tabruz insists he needs to make preparations, and he and the ghul Vekmeer head deeper into the cavern. But Kismet still hears the scrape of nails on stone as two other ghuls take up a sentinel position at the cavern opening.

The numbness begins to leave Kismet’s limbs. She slowly uncoils, quiet enough that the ghul sentries don’t notice. The two carrion-eating beasts continue to keep watch out the cave opening, talking about the distant fire in grating whispers. Kismet scans the cavern opening — long-disused, but with mosaics of a harpy queen picked out in seashell on the walls and tunnels leading further in. Her attention snaps back to the ghuls — they’ve noticed that someone is climbing the cliff from below.

The ghuls discuss dropping something from above, or cutting the chain, before Kismet cries out. The two corpse-eaters immediately whirl around to her. She backs away, making a grand show of being terrified and pleading for her life. The ghuls creep closer to her as she continues to crawl backward, pleading for her life with the same garrulous excess that she used to distract Tabruz.

“Perhaps… we will spare you if you give us a taste.” The ghul that speaks licks its fangs with a long, strong tongue, the sort that scrapes marrow from cracked bones. “Give us a finger. You will survive the loss of a finger or two…”

Kismet’s quailing rivets the ghuls, who are still staring at her like hungry cobras when the mechanical cat-form of Attsu climbs over the edge and slinks into the cavern. Then the wind changes, and Aya flies in on a blast of sea air that overpowers the musty smell of the cavern.

Attsu shifts back into his humanoid shape, detaching his tail into its whip form and lashing out at the ghul with it. An old memory surfaces of his escape from the collection of Hayr Charike, when he caught one of her minions and pulled him from a balcony with his whip. But the ghul drops to all fours and digs in its claws with a hiss. Aya sends an arctic bolt into the other ghul, and Kismet takes the opportunity to draw a blade and strike.

Attsu shifts again into his beast form to attack, and draws long bloodless rents in a ghul’s torso. One of the ghuls rushes for Aya, but she lifts the storm orb and calls on the winds trapped within. A sudden gale blasts the ghul out of the cavern and into the night sky, where it’s visible for just a moment before it plummets to the timber buildings a hundred feet below. The other ghul dodges away from Attsu’s claws and flees into the tunnels.

The three venturers quickly pursue. The tunnels smell even more strongly of cinnamon and myrrh, and for good reason — the mummified corpses of harpies rest in niches carved into the wall, adorned in funeral decorations. As the three round a corner in pursuit, Aya sees the telltale traces of a magical glyph drawn onto the stone floor. She cries out for Attsu to halt, but the clockwork warrior is a trace too slow. He skids to a halt just atop the glyph. A spectral, wild keening erupts from the harpy corpses, and for a moment Attsu is overcome by the impulses of the offended dead. He straightens up, and as Aya and Kismet draw near, he turns and rakes Aya across the torso. Aya shrieks in surprise and pain, and Ramjat flies in quick, panicked circles shouting in alarm. Like that, the possessing force is gone, and Attsu recoils. He apologizes heavily, and the three take a moment to rest while Aya binds her wounds and Ramjat scouts quietly ahead. “And don’t step on any more glyphs,” says Aya.

The genasi’s familiar returns in a few minutes, and guides them through the funerary tunnels to an opening in the floor, large enough for a harpy to fly in and out. They drop down into a tomb chamber, with a particularly well-adorned and splendid-seeming mummy in the far wall. Vekmeer and the wounded ghul hunch near a woman with white-streaked hair who lies curled like a child, bound in a few flimsy strips of linen adorned with odd calligraphy. Tabruz holds a perfumed cloth over his mouth with one hand and with the other brandishes a bone wand honeycombed with small holes. “There is no reason that this must end in violence!” he cries.

The three venturers disagree entirely. Tabruz insists that he would be happy to vanish and never trouble them again, and even offers grand riches looted from tombs forgotten to all but the Ghul Queen. But Attsu and Kismet are in no temper to bargain with kidnappers and ghuls. Even Aya is in a bad temper, and when Tabruz draws on a jade funeral mask in frustration, she is first to attack with another bolt of frost.

Vekmeer lunges at Attsu, who matches him claw for claw. Kismet joins the struggle, and the wounded ghul leaps in and attempts to rend her elven flesh. Tabruz, like Aya, keeps well away from the melee. He waves his wand through the air, and the wind passing through the holes in the bone magnifies into a cacophony of voices from the crypt. Kismet feels herself strangely affected by the voices, her senses blurring and suggesting a frightening new world to her.

Aya freezes the wounded ghul solid. Attsu drops away from Vekmeer, and corners Tabruz against a wall. And in the confusion, the enspelled Kismet lunges in a panic at Aya, striking her with an expert slash. Like the scavenger he is, Vekmeer leaps to the wounded genasi and strikes her down.

Attsu pays little attention to the sudden blow. He claws Tabruz again and again, keeping the desperate mage in a corner of the harpy’s tomb while Ramjat flies in tight circles above his fallen mistress, screaming alarm. Kismet returns to her senses, and before Vekmeer can lean down to finish Aya off, she strikes with elven swiftness. Her first cut opens the front of his neck, and with a quick pirouette, she slashes again at the back of his neck, completing the strike that severs the ghul’s head. At the same time, Tabruz screams as Attsu forces him to the floor, and with a rake of steely talons, opens the mage’s ribcage.

Vekmeer’s head is still rolling across the floor as Kismet drops to her knees. She immediately reaches into one of Aya’s pouches and withdraws a potion. Kismet pours the potion into Aya’s mouth, and suddenly the bleeding genasi’s wounds draw together. She coughs and sits up, much to Kismet and particularly Ramjat’s relief. Attsu rummages through the belongings of Tabruz’s corpse, and sets a small skeletal mole in Aya’s lap with an abashed metallic purr.

Attsu also claims the jade funerary mask from Tabruz’s body. The group break the thin linen straps on the corpse-skinned woman, and she comes awake. She snatches up an antique bronze mace that was lying by her person and rolls to her feet in a fighting stance, then pauses as she surveys the scene. The butchered ghuls and remains of Tabruz help clarify the situation. After a few hasty introductions, Savandra offers her thanks. Once Aya’s strength has returned and she’s walking again without any light-headedness, the group returns to the cavern mouth to descend, leaving Tabruz and the ghuls in the tomb of the harpy queen.

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14 - The Belly of the Zaratan
The tale of the ghuls' secret conveyance.

A peculiar letter emerges from among Tabruz’s papers. The venturers examine the crabbed writing:

Favored Servant Tabruz:

Commendations from the Court on your recent success in collecting Abn-Kha’s Lantern. Remain in the Harbor, for our Queen has further interests there. We require two more items:

The figurehead of the Sultana’s Remorse
The oldest daughter Savadra

The bearers of this missive, Hagwaan and Vekmeer, will aid you in this. In return you will act as their hand among the living. Savadra is not to be slain — but pacified, that she may come to accept her rightful Queen.

May your senses be keen and your belly full!
—Pergu

The three take the letter and the map and exit Tabruz’s apartment. They quickly hunt down an authority and find Zalil, the youngest daughter of the Widow Razira. They give her Tabruz’s letter, and the girl is immediately alarmed to see the reference to abducting her older sister. She gives the letter to one of her men, ordering him to run it to her mother. She then agrees to take the venturers out to the edge of the cove, where the turtle emblem is marked on Tabruz’s map.

Zalil recruits a pair of rowers, and loads the three aboard. She takes a single lantern at the prow of the boat and finds the way through the dark. As the craft is nearly free of the jagged stone teeth, Zalil aims a thin beam of light at a large shape like a small mountain, the farthest of the spars.

“There,” she says. “That rock. That shouldn’t be there.”

Flute music rises above the sound of the surf. They spy a pale figure crouched on a small spar near the unfamiliar rock. The venturers brace as the boat draws nearer. Suddenly, the already nervous rowers cry out — something has taken hold of the oars. Drowned men emerge from the water, pulling themselves up over the rim of the launch.

Aya immediately blasts two of the corpses with lightning. Abd calls on the sacred wards of Jalisa, and two more are disintegrated in a pulse of light. Attsu leaps wholly from the boat, changing in midair, and lands on the spar next to the pale flutist. His claws tear cold flesh from the musician’s torso, and he recognizes the bestial frame and talons of a ghul. It scampers away from him and plays a strange series of notes on its bone flute, but the hypnotic tones fail to entrance any of the venturers. With a hiss, the ghul dives into the sea, Attsu’s claw just missing it.

Attsu dives into the water after it, shifted into his cat’s form. Beneath the ocean’s surface, the nature of the foreign “rock” is revealed — it is a portion of the shell of an unliving zaratan. The immense turtle is the size of a warship, and flesh has clearly fallen away from much of its bones; what skin remains on the flippers appears to have been preserved and stitched in place. A handful of humanoid forms float in the water around it. Attsu spots the ghul musician swimming into the skeletal beak and down the zaratan’s throat. He surfaces to warn the others, then dives below and follows the ghul inside.

The interior of the zaratan is more like a vehicle, or even a residence, than the guts of an undead beast. The flesh of the giant turtle is mostly gone, and what remains is taut and preserved. A ship’s steering wheel has been lashed to the “floor” near where the heart might once have been, tied into some peculiar pulley system with ropes that go running away. An ocean chart stretched on a framework stands by the wheel, a plumb hanging by a thin chain over it. The rear part of the cavernous chamber is taken up more with living quarters and storage, lit by lanterns of curious make.

Attsu spends little time examining the details. He scans for the ghul musician, and quickly spots it above. The creature has taken refuge on one of the detached ribs that serve almost as rafters. As Attsu scans for the best way to reach it, it cuts a line — and a mass of flesh hung in a net drops from the ceiling. The decaying bulk bounces once, then uncoils limbs and staggers to its feet. Attsu stares up into the filmed-over eyes of an undead ogre.

With the last of the animated corpses cut apart and thrown back into the sea, Aya and Abd make to follow Attsu. Abd takes the Dolphin Jewel in hand, and swims as naturally as a fish. They find their way through the zaratan’s throat and emerge into the stale, preservative-scented air of the hollow. They ready their weapons as they see Attsu leaping up to rake at the ghul.

Aya and Abd focus on the animated ogre carcass. He closes with it, drawing its attention with a scimitar slash. Aya also lashes out with her aeromancy, but as she does, the water in the zaratan’s throat churns behind her. More of the drowned men pull themselves out of the sea and stumble toward her.

Attsu runs to the side where the ribs of the shell meet the floor, and begins climbing up one of the ribs after the ghul musician. Abd cuts again into the undead ogre, but his shield arm isn’t strong enough to deflect its massive swing. He staggers and nearly drops to a knee from the impact. Aya freezes several of the drowned men, and rolls with their blows as best she can.

The ghul flutist scrabbles farther up, attempting to flatten itself against the shell. It whistles, and Abd feels the unsettling presence caress his mind. But the paladin’s will is far too strong, particularly with the distraction of the pain. He shakes it away as Aya sends another freezing wind into the ogre, stiffening its flesh. The power of Jalisa fills him a second time, renewing his flesh and strengthening his arm. His strike severs half of the ogre’s torso, and the immense cadaver crashes to the floor.

Abd and Aya then turn their attention to the remaining drowned sailors. Just as they are cutting the last apart, the ghul drops down behind Abd. But the shapeshifted Attsu is right behind it. The mechanical cat-monster leaps, and when it lands on all fours, it has the ghul’s severed head in its jaws. Attsu spits out the noisome morsel, and the venturers make short work of the remaining undead minions.

After a brief discussion about the importance of setting the undead hulk on fire, the venturers check for objects of interest. They find a coffer of valuable currency, even if many of the coins seem a little antique. A pot of enspelled grave earth comes to their attention, and Abd and Aya deduce that it is likely a transportation device for one to reach through to another tomb — or the inhabitant of said tomb to reach through. With no sign of the lantern mentioned in Pergu’s letter, it seems likely that the ghuls used the pot to send it away.

Also among the various goods is an egg the size of Aya’s torso. Its shell is whorled and striated, seeming as much a precious stone as anything. They determine that this is likely the zaratan’s egg that Sessuun requested, albeit magically altered to a more portable size. More curious is a glass coffin, containing a strikingly beautiful young person that is perhaps asleep, dead, or somewhere between the two. Abd notes a glyph on the sleeper’s skin that he has seen before — a token of the Immortal Sage himself.

The venturers take the coffer of money, the egg, the coffin, and the pot, moving them to Zalil’s boat before they set the remainder of the goods on fire. They then row back to the docks, where they find a commotion has enlivened the evening.

An agitated local tells them that The residents are hunting Tabruz. He vanished from sight not long ago, and both Kismet and the Widow’s daughter Savadra have gone missing along with him. The three are about to split apart to aid the search when Ramjat Azmeil Hashaban Fazim Omnibus Prismatica jin Ramjat jin Ramjat puffs out, and tells Aya that an ally is close at hand who might know more.

The gentleman in question is a dark-skinned man with proud and slightly cruel features, with a tassel of feathers attached to his fine cloak. Aya recognizes him as one of the shrike officers in the Queen’s service, and he reintroduces himself as Impalement of Glory. He informs Aya that their prey has gone above, taking refuge in the abandoned eyrie of the harpies that once plagued the cape. He wishes them luck in rescuing the captives and taking fine trophies.

They find the headwoman Razira and tell her that they know where her daughter has been taken. The three volunteer to lead the charge to the harpy eyrie, if there’s a way up. Razira points out an old pulley system that was used to move goods out of the cliffside lair during the town’s founding, and intermittently by the occasional group needing to temporarily place goods somewhere out of the way.

A light comes over the water — the hollow zaratan’s shell has cracked, and the fires set by the three are now venting into the night sky. The venturers brace themselves to scale the cliff in the dark.

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13 - Widow's Harbor
The tale of new ventures launched in a dead man’s port.

Two ships sail for Widow’s Harbor. The Twist of Fate, scorched but still proud, leads the captured Scorn and its prize crew. Captain Tairasha exercises caution as they approach the Cape of the Fatted Ghul. Both ships pass a more luckless wreck among the stone “teeth” of the cape, already being picked over by the salvagers from town.

A pair of pilot boats row out to meet the ships. The lead pilot, a young girl with a touch of elven blood in her features, takes command to see the Twist of Fate safely to the docks. The Scorn berths in the settlement’s surprisingly expansive shipyard instead. Tairasha presents the venturers with a letter of introduction to the headwoman Razira, telling them that if the Scorn is theirs, then they should see to its outfitting and remodel personally.

Aya, Abd, and Attsu take charge of the operation; Kismet still intends to stay with the Twist of Fate. The three go to the drydock and begin the initial conversation with the head shipbuilder, an older man accompanied by a goblin that carries a selection of replacement prostheses for his missing arm and leg. They tell him that the ship should betray as little of its Izir origins as possible, and that its new name will be the Fire-Eater.

Razira the Widow arrives during the negotiations. She tabulates the venturers’ needs and offers them an initial quote for the modifications, with the note that the fireship’s flame cannons will likely help finance part of the work if they’re willing to sell. The group accepts her terms. Abd then subtly encourages Kismet to find the local gambling houses and procure a little extra coin to help with the shipbuilder’s bill.

The next step is to visit the weapons merchant Yashti, the red-headed middle daughter of Yazira. Her establishment is filled with both personal armaments and shipboard weaponry, representative of at least a dozen cultures that touch the Jadesea. Attsu and Abd take to a pair of trebuchet-like weapons that hurl chain-linked weights from above. After some deliberation, the venturers choose to trade the Scorn’s firethrowers for a pair of the chain-smashers to be set in the rearward emplacements, a harpoon-thrower for the port bow and an alchemical catapult for the starboard. They also require a new figurehead to match the Fire-Eater’s new name. They leave it to the carvers to decide, though Lightning Zan suggests a few improbably ornate scenes for their inspiration.

Once the ship’s refit plans are settled, the next step is acquiring a full crew. Widow’s Harbor provides enough human flotsam that the venturers are able to pick and choose a reasonably trustworthy complement of sailors. The presence of the shipboard weapons does require more specialists as well, though — preferably an alchemist to provide ammunition for the catapult, and an artificer or carpenter to keep things in fine working order.

That evening, Aya discovers a lead to the former. She reunites with a distant colleague by the name of Sessuun, a charming young alchemist with diamond-like tattoos across her back and shoulders. Sessuun displays interest in the enterprise; her focus is on antitoxins, medicines, and other such philtres, but she has a solid grounding in other alchemical concoctions. The price for her services is commensurate, though — she requires a refined zaratan egg.

Sessuun explains that the egg in question is more petrified than anything, and indeed much smaller than a viable egg would be; it would be only the size of a cauldron, rather than the eggs of fable that would rival a sailing ship. She has attempted to purchase one from the scholar Tabruz, who has spent his days in Widow’s Harbor conducting a census of the dead, but the man has refused to barter with her. The venturers dispatch Kismet to the House of Salt where he holds court, with instructions to distract him to the best of her loquacity.

Under the cover of darkness, the three go to investigate the cliffside building that Tabruz has rented for his personal use. Aya sets her avian familiar, Ramjat Azmeil Hashaban Fazim Omnibus Prismatica jin Ramjat jin Ramjat, to stand watch. They investigate the exterior for traps, and the thing of note they discover is a faint magical aura by the door that Aya determines is necromantic.

Attsu folds down into his scouting-cat form, and leaps through a window. He glances over the scholar’s personal effects, notes that the object by the door is a dried, severed tongue, and finally discovers a trap door in the floor that is somewhat discolored by salt stains and small scrape marks. He returns to the others to inform them. They decide to continue avoiding the odd dead fetish by the door. Attsu moves a level down and finds the section of alleyway where the trap door in the floor leads. The three then use the trap door to enter Tabruz’s quarters.

Most of the personal effects are what one might expect from a traveling scholar, but one item in particular catches their interest — a detailed chart of the waters around Widow’s Harbor, with one section of sea marked with a pictogram in the shape of a turtle.

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12 - The Vengeful Fireship
The tale of the confrontation with the Scorn.

The Scorn bears down on the Twist of Fate, and it is clear that the privateer fireship is the source of the gale keeping the venturers’ ship pinned and helpless in the cover. Aya, Abd, and Kismet race for the boat, followed by Katifa and Lightning Zan. With the Fatted Swan’s abandoned sailors crowding the launch, it takes Aya’s own mastery of the winds to bring the boat alongside the Twist of Fate. They quickly climb aboard to assess the situation.

The Twist of Fate’s crew have already drawn weapons, though the winds are keeping them from maneuvering into place. The gnoll Notch snarls into the gale with an arrow on his bow, but has nothing close to a shot. The Scorn continues to draw closer, close enough that the burn-scars on most of its crew are visible. Captain Shagadiz stands near its prow, one hand on a large ceramic pot that continuously exhales the winds racing before it.

The wind carries Shagadiz’s voice, amplified somehow among the rush. “You have in your holding the Zodiac gem. Send it to us, in the hand of your wind priestess, and we will spare your vessel. If you do not, we will burn your ship to the last and dive for the jewel among its sunken ashes.”

Captain Tairasha glances back to the venturers, and shakes his head. Abd pulls the Dolphin gem from his sash, and focuses his will into it for the first time. An eddy of power spirals out into the sea, and a portion of the water rises up near the prow of the fireship. The water forms half-choate limbs and surges onto the deck of the Scorn. Abd wills the elemental to flood the nearest fire cannon, and it pours into the piping. Shagadiz turns to regard the glowing gem in Abd’s hand, and his face lights up with a mixture of covetousness and dread.

At that moment Aya focuses her power and directs a wind of her own directly into the gale. She splits it open, creating a small tunnel of less turbulent air from the Twist of Fate to Shagadiz. The storm winds roar to left and right, with a gap of less than five feet width.

“Shoot the pot, Notch,” she says.

The gnoll sights along the length of his arrow, and growls a low promise.

“I am Chaniwhur. I am Iokani, the people who have always hunted, who crack bones and devour poison. If my sheikh tells me to hunt the west wind — then I will kill it and eat it.”

Notch looses his arrow, and it strikes the ceramic pot of winds dead-on.

The explosion is like loosing a tornado. Shagadiz flies half the length of the deck. The winds tear apart the jib, snap a number of lines, and hurl a pair of hapless crewmen into the cove’s waters. A moment of pure calm descends before Aya conjures more winds to fill the Twist of Fate’s sails.

“What will it be?” asks Tairasha from the helm. “Do we flee or do we fight?”

Aya shrugs, and Abd says “I am tired of fleeing.”

The Twist of Fate leaps in the water towards the Scorn. Several of the scarred crewmen run for the flame cannons on the near side, but the closer cannon suddenly erupts in seawater as the elemental forces its way free. Abd directs the waveling to run wild on the fireship’s deck, and then lowers the jewel and prepares to board. Aya sends a protective wind to coil around the paladin and ward away fire, and the ships pull alongside one another.

Shagadiz pulls himself to his feet and spits out a word of power. A nearby pot, marked with sigils, explodes. A bonfire shaped roughly like a man emerges, and the Scorn captain directs it to attack all boarders.

Abd hands the Dolphin jewel to Katifa as the ships grind against one another. “Keep it safe,” he says, and then he leaps aboard the fireship. Aya follows, sending a wintry blast at the newly loosed fire elemental. Kismet stays aboard the Twist of Fate, keeping near Captain Tairasha to help ward off enemy boarders.

Abd immediately locks his blade with the rods of the Scorn half-orc master of discipline. The burly, scarred sailor fights in a particularly honorless fashion, striking for the most debilitating and painful shots at joints and vitals. Abd keeps his shield in place, though, and gradually shows himself the superior swordsman.

Aya dodges the firebolts from the loosed flame elemental, retaliating with icy bolts of her own. A small knot of sailors charges her, and freeze in their tracks when she exhales a killing winter wind over them. By the confused looks on their faces, they perish feeling the very unfamiliar sensation of true, deep cold.

Shagadiz finds himself beset by Lightning Zan, whose quick, nimble footwork keeps him always a step ahead of the fireship captain’s blazing flail. Shagadiz lets loose an arc of fire from the trail of his flail’s head, and Zan nimbly evades it, letting it wash instead over nearby sailors of the Scorn. The storm genasi offers a few taunts, following them with steelier jabs, before Shagadiz manages to strike a more solid blow.

The Scorn crew may have been sorely out of practice dealing with enemies who refuse to wisely surrender in the face of potential incineration. The fireship’s sailors are largely overwhelmed by the infuriated crew of the Twist of Fate, and Notch’s arrows have a tendency to find the flesh of their officers. But the survivors rally when they fire the surviving port-side firecannon directly into the Twist of Fate, and several of the Fate crew must give up the battle to fight the flames..

Aya’s wind sorcery overmatches the elemental, extinguishing its conjured form. She turns her attention to Shagadiz, buffeting him with cutting winds and purchasing some reprieve for the staggered Zan. At the same time, Abd knocks the half-orc senseless and leaves the unconscious enforcer on the deck, charging the Scorn captain as well. Shagadiz is quickly set on the defensive. He manages another attack before Aya’s winds frost over his weapon arm. Abd takes the opening and cuts the rival captain down.

A wave of panic sweeps through the crew of the Scorn. Aya calls out for them to surrender, and they begin to comply.

The Twist of Fate crew begin the process of commandeering the Scorn. While the crew carry off a portion of the fireship’s supplies, particularly some of the incendiary containers, Abd and Aya investigate Shagadiz’s cabin. They find a number of books and charts, and leaf through his personal log, which contains a litany of expected frustration.

…This is a gift worthy of the tales. Eight fine white cows and not a black hair on one of them! I have been dreading the thought of the marid’s wrath, but I shall be proud indeed to delight it…

…Where could the cows have gone? The hatch was sealed until we left the port! We cannot face the marid without an offering! We must turn back…

…Truly my first offering was irreplacable, and I am infuriated by it. Nonetheless, now I have fine grey cows as tribute to this jinn, and surely they will be pleasing. They are not perfect, though, and I still wish a terrible fate on the trickster who vanished my white cows into nothing…

…A thousand thousand damnations on the curs! Those venturers who approached me at the temple. They are the ones who gave an offering to the marid, and visited Vorun Tsaa, and stole away the Dolphin jewel! No doubt they are the ones responsible for the loss of the cows! But Shahzada Warralash has accepted the grey cows, and named these Twist of Fate mongrels for me. I must return to Izir. Lord Akhmal will not be happy…

…My redemption is upon me. If I have the genasi strumpet as well as the Dolphin jewel, all will be forgiven. The diviner says the Crown of Thunder, and so that is where we will travel. We are making excellent time. I shall avenge these humiliations….

Among the captain’s paraphernalia, the two also find a chart listing the fifteen Zodiac Jewels, with notations of particular interest. According to the handwriting, the Thunderbolt and Phoenix jewels are already in the hands of Akhmal al-Ifrim, the Antelope stone is held by Hadlaq the All-Seeing, and the Hunter gem is marked with the unfamiliar name of Abd jin Abd.

The two venturers reconvene with Kismet, Captain Tairasha, and Lightning Zan. They decide to take the Scorn as a proper prize. Once repainted, refitted and renamed, it might make an excellent second hunter to join in the search for the celestial jewels. Abd offers the captaincy to Lightning Zan, for the duration of the hunt. The genasi zigs and zags through the offer, until Abd finally says, “You are taking a long time to say yes or no.”

“Well, it’s flattering….”

“Yes or no?”

“…Yes.”

They transfer the surviving crew from the Fatted Swan over to the Scorn, along with a few spare sailors from the Twist of Fate to round out the prize crew. Both ships make ready to sail, to find a port disreputable enough to disguise a former Izir privateer and more sailors brave enough to crew it.

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11 - The Fatted Swan’s Cygnets
The tale of a worm's perfumed pleasure-cavern.

The storm-serpent circles the island at a distance rather than returning immediately. It makes three circuits, then flies back to the tower. As it pours itself through one of the open archways, Aya steps forward to address it, Abd beside her.

The creature gives its name as Azhipasa. It seems to assign some respect to its liberators, although it clearly thinks more like a storm-spirit and is less concerned with mortal concepts such as “justice,” to Abd’s slight disgruntlement. They tell Azhipasa that they are searching for the mage who bound him into the sphere, and the serpent seems mollified.

Lightning Zan asks if Azhipasa had seen his missing crewmates during the spirit’s flight, but the spirit tells him there were no other mortals visible. A perturbed Zan wonders where on the island they might be, and Aya suggests that perhaps there’s a secret cavern. Azhipasa roils up into a darker, more lightning-shot aspect at the word. “Maaldwa!” it hisses. “A crawling, liar-faced parasite, whisperer, and blandisher! Dark, cold, wet thing!”

From the tempestuous spirit’s ranting, the adventurers glean that Maaldwa is some other servant of the fallen mage, conjured from an earthen court. The “lowly worm” keeps a cave on the island, where their master Al-Assamai would go to indulge in leisure, and even with him gone Maaldwa is prone to playing host to visitors. But before they can gather any more specific information, the spirit fixes its gaze on Aya. It inquires about her sorcerous proficiency, and whether or not she might be able to return it to its home. With no previous experience opening elemental portals, she off-handedly agrees to do her best.

Aya and the others begin searching the tower for any remaining books that might have elemental knowledge that the Ascending Flame looters overlooked. By a stroke of chance, it’s Lightning Zan who finds an interesting sheet of notes on elemental resonances tucked into a rather more mundane and salacious volume. Aya examines it, and determines that they might be able to get what they need by repurposing the lightning rods that guard the path.

And so they gather four lightning rods, prop them up in an interlocking pattern, and mark the area with sigils of air. Aya conjures lightning of her own, and strikes the rods with bolt after bolt to charge the resonance. It’s enough to open a small portal above the makeshift structure, and the air that pours out is almost impossibly pure. With delight, Azhipasa quickly squeezes its form through the gate, just pulling the tip of its tail through before it closes. All that is left of the storm-spirit’s presence is a single feather made of nimbus and faintly electric to the touch, that drifts into Aya’s hands.

With that done, the adventurers set out to find the cavern of Maaldwa. Abd finds a trail soon enough, with vines cut wide enough in places to allow the passage of two abreast. The trail connects with an older stone path — one that seems to lead from the tower road — and they follow it to a sharp slope at the mountain’s base. A great stone rests against the wall, and a hulking earthen figure stands by it with arms folded. The elemental seems to have been only roughly shaped into humanlike form, and regards them from a blank absence where its face might have been placed. Aya says “We would like to come inside,” and the elemental rolls away the stone in response. The cavern mouth beyond is dimly lit, and strains of music and perfume mingle as if it exhales. The group steps through, though Abd is careful to place a dagger in the gateway to hopefully prevent the stone from being closed all the way after them.

The cavern is indeed worthy of a powerful mage’s pleasure. A gentle ramp winds down a spiral to a grand room lit by dim lamps. Rich cloth hangings obscure the stone of the walls, muffling sound, and fine cushions spread across the floor. A number of sailors lie among the pillows, listening to the strains of music, taking pulls on elaborate hookahs, or accepting dainties from platters carried by indistinct, smoky figures with womanlike outlines. Lightning Zan is immediately among them, kicking at the drowsy sailors and cursing them for their irresponsible indolence. He attempts to pull several to their senses, but they seem to be under the fog of intoxication or enchantment.

As Zan continues to berate his errant crewmates, a head emerges from the pile of cushions on the central dais. The pale, jowly features are almost at odds with the sweet, deep voice that cajoles them and asks them to stay in peace. He acknowledges that he is Maaldwa, and invites the adventurers to stay and enjoy the ample fruits of his hospitality. Abd is very swift to refuse, and even Aya joins in with solemn resolve.

They ask to take the Fatted Swan’s crew with them. Maaldwa is most reluctant, pointing out that they are staying of their own free will. As he speaks, he rises further from the cushions — the pale human head supported on a thick, dark-scaled snake’s body. The adventurers courageously argue for freedom and the snake-thing argues for contentment, until Aya points out that by the laws of hospitality, guests are free to leave after three days. This gives Maaldwa some pause. Abd emphasizes the importance of the request with raw intimidating presence, while Kismet offers to play a game for it.

Maaldwa pays more attention to the paladin, and finally relents. He tells them to gather the crew and depart in peace. Zan starts herding the Swan’s crew towards the exit over their weak complaints. As they’re preparing to leave, Kismet notes the one person not yet moving — a elven man with odd beast-form pictographs tattooed across his bare chest, still lying on the dais before Maaldwa. Kismet demands his release as well, but a massive serpentine coil slides between her and the captive elf. “He is not one of this crew,” comes the response, clearly iron beneath the velvety diplomatic tone. “He stays.”

Abd immediately steps back up to confront the snake-thing. He and Maaldwa exchange terse threats, until the snake-thing rears up with a hiss. A pair of crude earthen manikins push up from the cavern floor, tumbling a few of the dazed sailors. And from the ramp to the exit, the heavy footfalls of the elemental doorkeeper echo down.

Maaldwa’s thick body and jowly face conceal a preternatural speed. The creature begins to sing, a hypnotic chant that threatens to cloud the senses. The sailors of the Fatted Swan rise up at Maaldwa’s song, clutching at Lightning Zan. Whether unwilling to strike them with his blade or with lightning, or simply taken off-guard, the genasi is pulled down to the cushioned floor and struggles to free himself.

Abd places his shield firmly in front of himself to challenge Maaldwa. The snake-thing bites at him repeatedly, and although his shield protects him from the long fangs jutting from the humanlike jaw, the poison dripping from them splashes across him and sears him even through his armor. The elemental gatekeeper closes in from behind, and Katifa moves to flank it.

Aya and Kismet engage the smaller elementals called from the cavern floor. Aya defends herself with a few quick thrusts of her spear, forcing room between herself and the muddy manikin. She follows up with lightning of her own, and steam erupts as the bolts do the work of a fiery kiln on the wet earth. Kismet relies instead on luck, skill, and steel. She comes away from the brawl victorious but wounded — and the elf on Maaldwa’s dais raises a hand toward her, whispers unfamiliar words, and her injuries fade.

Once the lesser conjurations are dispelled, they turn to the greater. Aya’s arctic winds freeze the gatekeeper, and its animating force leaves it. Katifa moves to help Zan pull free of his crewmates, but she is incautious, and a clutching hand at her ankle causes her to topple forward with a shriek.

Maaldwa’s venom has splashed Abd several times, but the paladin’s shield arm remains strong. He jams the rim of his shield in Maaldwa’s mouth, braces, and then swings his scimitar like a comet falling from the sky. Maaldwa’s pale head lands among the cushions, and the massive dark-scaled body thrashes atop the dais until it grows still.

With the spell gone, the Fatted Swan’s crew come to their senses, aided by several kicks and curses from the very flustered Lightning Zan. The venturers scout the room for potential valuables; certainly there are some very fine hookahs crafted from rare crystal, rich cloth aplenty even discounting the stuff soaked with Maaldwa’s blood, and a silver bowl filled with fine amethysts. Kismet helps the elf free and asks him his name. “Jisan,” he replies.

Among the various oddments, Abd finds a scroll with a familiar seal — the mark of the Prophetess herself. He considers for a moment, then breaks the seal and unrolls the scroll. The message inside is short and simple, addressed to nobody.

“Scorn comes for you, with the wind at its back.”

Abd shares the words, and the venturers move with increased speed. They finish their business with haste and set out for the beach with equal haste. As they march down the cut path, a single flare rises atop the treeline, one they recognize as typical of the Twist of Fate — one of Notch’s arrows, lit with alchemical incandescence.

They emerge onto the beach, and the wind is in their faces. A powerful gale bears down directly into the cove, pinning the Twist of Fate at anchor. The wind rides down with — or perhaps from — a squat ship with unmistakable orange sails: Shagadiz’s fireship, the Scorn.

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10 - The Storm, the Chariot, and the Jewel
The tale of the tower beneath the thundercloud.

“How about we leave the gambling to you and the determination of whether the universe is good or evil to me.” — Abd Al-Rustam

When the Twist of Fate reaches the open skies again, the trip back to Adwa is pleasant and calm. The only trouble is a trouble for Kismet alone, when Zisha climbs aboard the swiftly moving ship and gives her a golden hairpin. “Give this to your captain,” the Bani Murjaan says. “Tell him to put it in his pretty hair.” Then the shark-shifter dives overboard and is gone.

Kismet debates throwing the pin in the sea, giving it to someone else, or even just keeping it, but ultimately decides on honesty. She delivers it to Tairasha and tells him it’s from the shark-girl.

“Zisha?”

Kismet flushes. “You know her name?”

“Yes. She introduced herself.”

“Well, yes, I was there. I heard her name, too. I just immediately forgot it. She didn’t seem… relevant. Anyway, that’s from her. She said to put it in your hair. I don’t know. It might be cursed. I’m not sure you can trust the shark people, or her at least. It might have been somewhere awful—”

“Thank you, Kismet.” Tairasha tucks the pin into a pocket, and Kismet dismisses herself with a sigh.


In the City of Sails, Abd, Aya and Kismet are roaming the bazaar when a particularly unexpected thing happens. A young woman, her exposed face and hands adorned with astrological tattoos, lunges from a crowd to enthusiastically embrace Abd. The stoic paladin awkwardly responds, and then introduces her to the others as Katifa the Lucky Star, someone he rescued a year ago from a gruesome conjunction.

Katifa immediately alarms Abd and Kismet by announcing that she knows about the Zodiac Gems. The Immortal Sage, she explains, was performing a divination on the Ouroboros stone when it displayed a curious reaction. According to his scrying, the most that he can tell is that Abd is somehow tied to the Hunter stone and the Dolphin stone. Abd considers the possibility, and doesn’t like the idea it suggests.

The young tiefling (for tiefling she is) offers whatever assistance she can — she has studied astromancy for some time, and read what she could on the fifteen gems. She volunteers to come along with them, or to act as an advisor if she’s not allowed. Abd and Kismet dicker for a moment, then Abd agrees that she can join them.

Following a conversation about the remaining stones, they devise a plan of priority. Any stone most likely to fall into the Ascending Flame’s hands must be sought first. They settle on the Thunderbolt jewel, for it seems likely that a wizard’s tower would be among the first places the Flame would search out. But the tower stands on the Crown of Thunder, and that will require a brave ship.

They go to Mashaar to ask permission to use the Twist of Fate, without telling her the particulars. Abd does mention that it’s best, perhaps for all concerned, that the errand remains a mystery. Mashaar contemplates for a moment, then tells them they’ve earned a little leeway, and she will simply guess.

Soon the Twist of Fate is underway to the Crown of Thunder. The crew begins to grow tense as they sight the thundercloud, and as Katifa regales them with the tale of Takmah al-Assamai, the sorcerer who was the last known possessor of the Thunderbolt Jewel. Tairasha holds the course true, and they pass into the shadow of the cloud.

The principal cove of the Crown of Thunder is not a welcoming sight. Several shipwrecks, their timbers charred and split, sit half-submerged in the cove’s waters. While most of the wrecks are clearly long years old, one is still smoldering and shot with embers. The adventurers discuss the possibility of very recent survivors when they hear a shout from the beach.

Abd, Aya, Katifa and Kismet take a boat out to the shore, and meet the apparent castaway. The young genasi is dressed as a swordsman, and introduces himself as Lightning Zan. He says that he came to the island on an errand to prove himself to his father, the famed mage Zufar al-Calsir, by bringing back some of Takmah Al-Assamai’s more impressive works. Zufar refuses to acknowledge him as his son, outright claiming he’s not the right age, but Zan is clearly undeterred and certain that he must be the fourth of the jinn-wise sorcerer’s elemental children.

Zan goes on to explain that he was a part-owner of the Fatted Swan, the still-smoldering wreck in the cove. Those who survived the lightning strikes fled inland, despite Zan’s warnings. He worries that they ran into trouble, such as the lightning mephits that plague the island.

As the group investigates the stone road leading to the tower, they note that it has been cleared before; perhaps two years’ worth of growth obscure what seems to have been a fire that scorched the path down to the stones. The road pulls free of the jungle before long and stretches around the mountain’s side to a stair leading to the tall, slim tower. Along the path they find a shrine of a stone hand painted silver, a star in the palm — the mark of Sindra, goddess of magic — with a scorched warrior’s helm left on one of the fingers as a contemptuous offering. Lightning stabs from the skies more frequently along the open road, but the lightning rods set to the side of the road catch the thunderbolts.

Just as Lightning Zan had warned, lightning mephits come diving down from the storm clouds to harass the visitors. They send tiny electrical bolts to singe the adventurers, until Kismet has had enough. She hurls a dagger at one, and the fight begins in earnest. Abd and Kismet have some trouble with thrown weapons, though Aya reaches the airborne pests with her wind-magic easily enough. Katifa draws a chain from her waist, ties it around her knife’s pommel, loops the other end around a lightning rod, and hurls it at a mephit. The grounding effect seems to injure it. The mephits throw larger bolts, but after Aya scorches one badly and Katifa drags another one down with her chain-dagger to where Abd can cut it in half, the elemental imps take to the skies.

Once they’ve caught their breath, the five adventurers proceed to the tower of drawn stone and lightning-split wood. A smashed lock in the shape of a face with puffed cheeks lies on the porch, kicked to one side. Opening the doors, the group discover that the first lower level of the tower is filled with bookshelves. Regrettably, the library has already been plundered, and the tomes that remain are common, introductory works or concern themselves with rather mundane topics. The second floor is in a similar state, with a number of charts and maps and globes added to the collection. Again, the bookcases are so numerous it seems evident Takmah al-Assamai not only took his former master’s library, but must have conjured spirits to bring him books from around the continent. Again, none of the finer works remain.

The group steps cautiously up the stairs, and Abd and Kismet hear bickering from above. Unfortunately, they can’t distinguish any real meaning, being distracted by the similar bickering between Aya and Zan. They arrive at the next floor, which appears to be a grand workshop lit by an immense storm-glass sphere crackling with lightning. A few odd devices and empty suits of armor stand among the various work tables and cabinets, and a lightning mephit with a silver chain around its neck regards the five from its perch atop a bookcase. Two genasi in robes — one a thin, waspish woman with fiery eyes and smokelike hair, the other a broad, dark-skinned man with mica-like fingernails and no hair aside from a golden braid of a mustache — stop their quarreling over a remarkable-looking chariot and stare back at the group.

The adventurers and the genasi carefully take each other’s measure in the conversation that follows. The genasi (who reveal their names in chiding one another as Siyeka and Rhuduum) argue that they have complete rights to the tower, and the visitors should leave. The venturers counter that they’re looking for Takmah. With a sneer, Siyeka gestures to a chair nearby, where a shriveled lich of a corpse sits staring blindly before it. “He’s already dead,” the fire genasi says. “Our master has given us this tower to govern.”

“Which of you is in charge?” asks Abd. The two wizards nearly fall for it. They argue between themselves, but neither is apparently willing to turn on the other with potentially dangerous enemies present. As Abd subtly encourages their rivalry, he learns the name of their master — Akhman al-Ifrim. All the while, Aya studies the glass sphere overhead, and determines that something lives within it.

When Siyeka and Rhuduum begin more openly threatening Abd with the wrath of their master, he retaliates. “I know your master,” he says with grim intent. “I am going to kill him, and I will go through you if I must.” The two Ascending Flame genasi falter, and agree to let the others have the run of the place, so long as they behave themselves. Abd accepts the terms, and he leads the others to the top of the tower.

The personal quarters of Takmah al-Assamai have, of course, also been sacked. The group notes scuff marks at one point, indicating that the chair where Takmah’s corpse sits was dragged to the stairs and down to the laboratory below, for a purpose that is unclear unless it is simply childish spite. The chair once sat before a small pedestal, where perhaps Takmah studied the object atop it. Unfortunately, the pedestal is empty — the Thunderbolt jewel must already be in the brazen grasp of Akhman al-Ifrim.

“I want to free the spirit,” Aya says abruptly.

“The spirit?”

“The one that helped build this tower. It’s in the sphere.”

The five adventurers descend the stairs back to the work floor. When Abd announces their intention, the Ascending Flame wizards go on the offensive. Siyeka and Rhuduum summon animated fire and earth into the suits of empty armor, which immediately attack the intruders. The captive mephit also joins in, firing a thunderbolt into the ranks.

Abd braces himself against the earth guardian while Zan engages its fiery counterpart. Kismet begins to work her way carefully around the room, positioning herself for an unexpected strike on the wizards. Siyeka breathes fire on the party, while Rhuduum stamps the floor and sends a jarring tremor to wash over them. Rather than duel her counterparts, Aya focuses on the sphere above, heating the glass with a scorching wind.

Abd blocks the earth guardian’s blows, and brings down a heavy cut on the elemental’s arm, severing it at the shoulder. The limb breaks into clods as it hits the floor, and Katifa takes the opportunity to drive her dagger into the exposed earth. She twists the blade, prying out a small gem, and the guardian collapses into armor and inert soil.

As Zan cuts away part of the fire guardian’s vital flame, Aya conjures a freezing wind to strike the heated glass of the sphere. The glass contracts and cracks, fractures beginning to run half its length. The earth genasi Rhuduum looks up at the sphere with alarm, and leaps for the chariot.

Kismet is on top of Siyeka before she can follow her partner, scoring a pair of wounds. The fire genasi chooses to duck away from Kismet, and leaps into the chariot as well. Electricity crackles over its frame as Rhuduum and Siyeka both grasp a control bar, injuring the two genasi further, and the vehicle suddenly lurches forward. The chariot skids out the doorway and launches off one of the room’s adjoining balconies, veering awkwardly and still throwing off sparks as it flies southeast, away from the tower and the island.

The sphere trembles violently, and fragments of glass begin to fall from it. The adventurers move to take what cover they can, save Aya, who turns to freeze the lightning mephit’s chain, in an attempt to free it.

The crack in the sphere becomes too large, and the glass and metal fly apart with a thunderous crash. Chunks of shrapnel rain around the room, one pulverizing the unfortunate lightning mephit. Through it all, Aya stands calmly on the floor, wind and glass whipping harmlessly around her.

Thundercloud wings unfold, and a huge winged serpent formed of wind and cloud and lightning looks about the room. “Where is the one who bound me?” it rumbles.

“Dead,” comes the response, as the group shows the storm-serpent the withered corpse of al-Assamai.

“Not that one! The one who bound me! The one with the brass mask!”

“Ah,” says Abd, as the image of Akhman al-Ifrim’s mask sits plainly in his memory. “He is not here, but his minions went that way.” The storm serpent follows his gesture out the door, and is off like a thunderbolt in pursuit of the chariot. A peace falls over the tower under the cloud, interrupted only once by the crash of thunder to the southeast.

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09 - The War of the Sharks
The tale of those who live in the city that was abandoned.

The crew of the Twist of Fate and its heroic passengers drag the corpses of the sea-raiders onto drier ground to take a look at them. The creatures are strange — part human, part fish, but not quite symmetrical, as if they were not a proper species. The raiders wore web-pouches that contained fresh rations and a few oddments, but most notably each one owned a greenish pearl with a faintly eldritch luster. Abd and Aya recognize them as a magical gift allowing air-breathers to function underwater if swallowed. The reason for these net-bearing raiders to carry such pearls that they did not need themselves is sadly obvious. A head-count reveals that three of the crew are missing, likely dragged away in the melee.

Abd immediately volunteers to pursue the kidnappers and liberate their comrades.Several members of the _Fate_’s crew volunteer to come along, but Abd and Aya reason that they’ll need only three, and the spare pearls may be necessary to bring back their kidnapped companions. Tairasha and his crew wish them all good luck. Abd, Aya and Kismet swallow the pearls, and slide into the water.

The sensation is remarkable. They move as easily as fish through the water, and can see well even though the light is limited. They emerge from the colosseum-like structure into what appears to be a temple district. Complicated buildings and regal statues of powerful figures, all crusted with coral or shells, line either side of a large highway. They quickly spot a small blood trail leading through the water, and quickly pursue it. To their good fortune, the sharks visible high in the waters overhead seem to be ignoring the blood.

The trail leads through the temple district, at the level of most of the rooftops. In the distance, they see what appears to be red ribbons spiraling outward — and then they recognize trails of freshly spilled blood. They draw near to a terrible fight between half a dozen of the strange fish-people and what seems to be a massive cross between human and shark, with a terrible bull shark’s head and heavy tail. The lesser creatures cast net after net on their outnumbered prey, attempting to subdue it as it fights to tear at their flesh.

Though they cannot tell if the shark-beast is a friend, certainly the lesser beasts are enemies. The three dive into the melee to even the odds. Unfortunately, even with the pearls’ magic reducing water resistance, Abd and Kismet have trouble adapting at first to using their swords in the sea. Happily, they are quick learners. An injured sea-raider freezes solid as Aya channels her icy winds into deadly cold currents. Kismet snaps from awkward to murderously lethal in an eyeblink, finding her footing (so to speak) and neatly executing an enemy before it can feel her strikes. Abd hacks at the ropes holding the nets in place, helping to free the shark-monster. It tears into their mutual enemies, and the surviving sea-raiders flee for it.

The shark-creature pulls the last of the nets free. It surveys the adventurers without any discernable expression, then looks to the shark-tooth necklace around Aya’s neck. It performs an odd bow, then gestures for them to follow. Its form blurs into that of a large bull shark, and then it swims away. The three follow it down to a ramshackle, coral-encrusted shipwreck of apparent goblin construction. It guides them to a small pocket of air trapped in the hull, and as it breaks the surface, it changes form again, into a sleekly built young man of predatory intensity.

He introduces himself as Shazal, and thanks the three for their aid. He describes himself as one of the Bani Murjaan, the people of the reefs. He knows the raiders by name as well — the saha-jin, once-men who were mutated by the manipulation of one of the Fonts of Rebirth.

Shazal is clearly no storyteller by trade or passion. But he tells the three a bare story: that of the great Tsirithian cities that once plied the Jadesea, all three sank in a war with the pale elves, a war fought over the Fonts of Rebirth. One of the cities died, one was abandoned, and one… changed. The city they stand in, Vorun Tsaa, was abandoned. The saha-jin are children of Abloth Tsaa, the city that changed, and they have a hunger for capturing live mortals to take to their fonts and swell their numbers.

In return, the adventurers explain their quest for the Dolphin Jewel. Shazal says that his grandfather owns a stone of that description. He will help them, but first he must settle affairs with the traitor Maqua who joined with the saha-jin, and captured Shazal’s sister. The three offer to assist him with that matter first, as it seems likely their crewmates and Shazal’s sister will be held in the same place. Shazal leads them back into the water, soothing the morays in the reef as they extend themselves curiously.

He guides them to a tower standing alone in the city, a strange sorcerer’s abode. The building’s walls teem with sea urchins of remarkable size. The top of the tower was once carved to resemble a lotus, but now with great sea-worms combing the water around them, it looks more like an anemone.

Shazal points out two entrances: the ground-level doors, and a balcony leading into an upper story. They choose the balcony, and swim into an upper balcony that must have been luxurious back its day. Barnacles cluster on a mirror, tatters of peculiar cloth wave in the currents, and fish dart through a broken wardrobe. As they leave the room, something comes undone on a vanity-table, and a small shell-encrusted silver jewelry box slides free. Kismet catches it without thinking, and tucks it away to examine her lucky windfall later.

They swim downstairs, passing through another long-abandoned room of luxury, and then push through a “skin” of water into a pocket of air. The large room that the stairs wind into is still full of fresh air, clearly the work of some magic that keeps the water at bay above and below. In this ruined laboratory, a glowing font stands at one wall — a living thing, something like a nautilus, its shell full of a luminescent fluid. A saha-jin with more ornate ornaments and a peculiar knife-staff looks up from its attentions to the Font. With this… priest or wizard or scholar, perhaps, stand not only a smattering of saha-jin — including one of those badly wounded in their initial skirmish — but a bald Bani Murjaan man who spits out Shazal’s name. Shazal replies “Maqua!”, and shifts as he leaps down.

As the two Bani Murjaan take on their sharkbeast forms and brawl, the three adventurers pursue the saha-jin. Abd is clearly more comfortable in air, to say nothing of the wind-born Aya, and they swiftly cut through the sea raiders. The priest conjures the very blood spilled from his fallen comrades, shaping it into claret knives to stab into the surface-dwellers, but it is not enough. Kismet channels another bout of inspired bladeswomanship, with results not so very different from a Bani Murjaan’s feeding frenzy. Soon there is nothing left but Maqua, and the traitor cannot endure.

As Shazal takes a moment to calm down, wiping the blood from his mouth, Kismet notices that there’s a largish jewel in the font itself. She carefully modifies a saha-jin harpoon to be more like a three-pronged spear, and carefully fishes out the jewel while keeping well clear of the font’s fluids. The gem is an emerald of rare quality, though sadly it does not match the description of the sapphire-blue Dolphin Stone.

They pass down from the font level, back into the water. They swim through a room where the unnamed sorcerer once entertained guests, and into the lowest level. There, in the foyer beyond the main doors, they find a small group of saha-jin watching over the captives — three air-breathers, and an unconscious young woman who bears no small resemblance to Shazal. If the beast that stands over her was ever once a living man or woman, then it drank far too deeply of a Font of Rebirth, for it has become a crustacean-like hulk with urchinlike spines on its shelled back and an outsized claw to balance its far too humanlike arm.

But the hulking thing is not particularly fast or clever, despite its strength, and Shazal still fights with the fury of a bloodthirsty shark. It is a telling advantage, and with the Bani Murjaan man’s assistance, the three tear through the saha-jin raiders.

They cut the captives free, and Shazal frees his sister. As she comes to, they gesture for the stairs. The two Bani Murjaan lead the others into the font’s room, where they’re free to talk. The rescued crewmates proclaim gratitude and their confidence that they’d be rescued, as well as some lower-voiced appreciation of the sleek, tattooed young woman. Kismet is very clear to them that she’s as much shark as her brother.

The Bani Murjaan woman introduces herself as Zisha, and offers her thanks as well. Her manners, like Shazal’s, are not quite refined, but show some measure of surface-culture awareness. The two Bani Murjaan invite the adventurers to follow them to their home, where their grandfather can tell them about the stone.

The three follow the shark-shifters to the heart of the sunken city, and into the overgrown ruins of the grand palace. Inside, they find that old enchantments have kept a measure of fresh air, and the Bani Murjaan seem comfortable enough walking and talking in human form. Shazal and Zisha lead them to a portion of the royal apartments that is replete with the trappings of the adventurers’ world — maps, charts, furniture and finer that seems to have been gathered from a dozen well-travelled ships. There they meet Shazal and Zisha’s grandfather, a clearly Khavayish old fellow who seems delighted to meet countrymen. A Bani Murjaan woman stays in his company and watches the visitors. She seems possessive enough to be his wife — though if she is indeed the grandmother to the young siblings, then the Bani Murjaan must age very well.

Abd introduces the venturers respectfully, and offers that they had the honor of coming to Shazal’s aid against the saha-jin raiders. “He will tell you the story,” he says.

Shazal nods. They all look at him expectantly for a long moment before he decides they mean for him to tell the story now. “They fought the saha-jin who were attempting to capture me,” he says. “They stood alongside me when I fought the traitor Maqua, and they aided me in freeing Zisha. Three times they have come to my aid.”

“Well,” says Farid, “my grandchildren are certainly worth the jewel. Take it, with my thanks.” He reaches into his tunic and removes a brilliant round jewel, deep sapphire in color. As he passes it to Abd, a starry outline of a dolphin stirs in its depths, then resolves itself into a zodiacal sigil.

Abd nods, and the old man chuckles at the recognition in the three venturers’ eyes. “Yes, you have guessed correctly. I am Farid of the Horizon, once quite the seafarer and explorer. I have known many great people in my time, even the Immortal Sage himself. Now I live among the Bani Murjaan.”

Aya glances at the Dolphin jewel. “We don’t mean to remove your ability to go home.”

“Oh, that!” He laughs. “No, no, I live here now. It’s probably about time I allowed her to turn me, anyway,” he says with a glance at the older Bani Murjaan woman.

“You should have bared your neck to me long ago,” she replies.

He laughs away the suggestion, and pours cups of a strange sour drink for the visitors. “Please, before you go, I would love to hear what news you have of the world above.”

They easily spend two hours talking with the old explorer before they excuse themselves to return to the Twist of Fate. Shazal and Zisha insist on escorting them there for safety’s sake. They are rewarded with quite the awe and admiration when they return, not just with their rescued comrades, but in the presence of two beautiful and terrifying shark-shifters. Kismet is somewhat perturbed to note that Zisha eyes Captain Tairasha appraisingly upon their introduction. “After all,” says Aya carelessly, “it wouldn’t matter to her if he can’t set foot on land.”

Kismet makes a sour noise. “But that’s my captain.”

Later, Kismet opens the jewelry box and finds a dancer’s anklet within, one that has a minor enchantment to protect its wearer against unwanted attentions. She also notes that the emerald she retrieved from the font of life seems to have movement within it — a small, shadowy form.

Aya also finally devotes enough of her focus to the odd wind-lock on her tiny coffer to solve the puzzle. Inside she finds an orb made of lightning-glass that seems to contain a storm. The power feels… correct in her hand.

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08 - The Hungry Marid
The tale of a wondrous voyage beneath the waves.

Kismet goes to meet her contact at a wineshop occupied by a tough and less than welcoming crowd. Hasra, crewmate aboard the Scorn and member of the City of Thieves, detaches herself from her drinking partners and joins Kismet. The elf explains that she needs to talk to Captain Shagadiz, and Hasra agrees to see what she can do. She departs, and returns after half an hour, informing Kismet that Shagadiz answers the call to prayer at the Throne of the Waters, temple to the ocean-god Qaalun.

Abd and Aya join Kismet in visiting the temple for sunset services. Upon finishing his prayer, Captain Shagadiz politely greets them. When they tell him that the pots delivered to Rabeyah the Quill from his ship contained a lethal ambush, he acts surprised. Abd asks him under whose orders the pots were placed on board. The captain shrugs, and says they were loaded in Izir, at the direction of Akhman al-Ifrim.

The name catches Abd by surprise. Akhman al-Ifrim. The Brazen. A memory returns to him, of a bleeding mage spitting a name at him between curses. “And little good will it do you. He is Uncrowned.” Uncrowned. One of the ruling council of the Ascending Flame. A vizier, sorcerer, and summoner, a master of conjurations who would also be master of a throne.

Shagadiz regards Abd thoughtfully as the paladin returns from his reverie. “I hope I didn’t drown your ambition,” comments the sea-captain.

“No. You gave me somewhere to look.”

The fire-ship’s captain inclines his head with an intrigued expression, and then makes his polite farewells.

Shortly thereafter, the group meets again with Hasra. The sailor reports that Captain Shagadiz has purchased six fatted white cows of splendid bloodline, and moved them aboard the Scorn. He has also plotted an unusual destination to go with his unusual cargo — the Eye of Hunger, a famous whirlpool that has a penchant for moving about the Jadesea. Kismet recognizes the location, and says it’s home to a powerful sea-jinn — a marid called Shahzada Warralash the Engulfing.

Pooling their knowledge of the sea, of jinn, and of magic, the three conclude that it seems likely that Shagadiz is attempting to barter for passage to a sunken city. Recalling that the gem of the Dolphin was reputedly lost with an explorer that tried much the same thing, they theorize that Shagadiz must be pursuing the Zodiac Gem. Of course, a sea battle with the Scorn is perhaps best avoided — the Twist of Fate has no particular defenses against a dedicated fire-ship. It seems more prudent to beat Shagadiz to the destination, bribe the marid before he can, and — with luck — seize the Dolphin jewel.

The first thing required is a bribe. Aya explains that jinn are not easily impressed by wealth alone; they require art, or the satiation of their other epicurean desires. Without the funds to purchase a spectacular treasure, they decide to visit the Silent Quarter, where Kismet might inquire about ways to acquire a rarity that are both cheaper and… less honest.

The trail of potential informants leads to an old fez dealer who brokers information from his cramped stall. When Kismet queries him about the most fabulous treasures that might be left in the least guarded places, for she needs to impress a mighty patron, he narrows his eyes and asks whose tastes are being catered to.

“Someone who’s fascinated by art and treasure.”

“That’s everybody,” he retorts.

After a bit more haggling, Kismet admits that they need to placate a marid. The fez dealer is suitably impressed, and closes his stall in order to make inquiries. He chides them to take nothing.

As they wait in the Silent Quarter, Aya takes note of a beggar hunched against the wall. The poor man scratches at his skin until a strip of the skin comes off, revealing a stretch of scales like deep, shining emeralds. The beggar looks up and grins, and she recognizes Prince Taskasha. The two greet one another, and he asks her what brings her to such a disreputable part of town.

Aya tells the prince of their current target, and he cheerfully offers a solution. He could steal the treasures Shagadiz has gathered for Shahzada Warralash, if she would be willing to do him a favor at a later time. He can also dispose of the six fatted cows, which he would do purely out of friendship. Aya gladly agrees to the terms, and the beggar-dressed prince excuses himself.

The fez dealer returns to the stall shortly thereafter, and is both crestfallen and perturbed to learn his services are no longer necessary. He demands to know if they’re even going to buy a fez. Kismet obliges by purchasing a tiny fez for her pet fennec, and tells the others that she may go investigate the rumor of this treasure anyway.

Abd and Aya return to the Twist of Fate, and pass the time watching the Scorn bob at its dock. An hour passes before they see something moving up the fire-ship’s anchor chain — long, glistening, limbless forms. The serpentine shadows push through the opening, and disappear into the ship’s hold.

An hour later, four people dressed in fine clothing stagger down the dock toward the Twist of Fate. Aya and Abd go out to meet them, noting that the leader appears to be none other than Prince Taskasha, who appears to be very sleepy indeed. He drowsily announces success, and has a very large friend produce the other treasures — a fine fishing net with ties of gold, and a goblet filled with high-quality pearls. Aya thanks Taskasha graciously, and the prince among serpents leads his colleagues away, presumably to have a very long nap.

The Scorn departs with the tide first thing in the morning. For the Golden Venture adventurers, the first item of business is to purchase a replacement offering of food for the marid. The group settles on a boar carcass the size of a barrel-cart, brought to the city by gnoll hunters. They hire several strong workers to load the slaughtered beast aboard the Twist of Fate, and make ready to sail with the next high tide. Before they leave, a pair of strong porters bring a very large basket to the ship to be loaded aboard. Kismet peeps out from beneath the lid, a finger to her lips, and Abd notes a number of rather frustrated-looking mamluks stalking around the docks, stopping any passerby who seems to have the build comparable to that of a lithe elven woman.

The Twist of Fate departs without further entanglements. Captain Tairasha sets a course anticipating the Eye of Hunger’s movement. At one point they spot the Scorn in the distance, but with Aya conjuring a wind to fill the sails from any direction needed, it is child’s play to outdistance the fire-ship without being noticed.

A lookout calls when a circle of birds and faint white line of foam come into view on the horizon. The ship draws carefully closer. Aya pays particular attention to the favorable wind, as the roar of the Eye of Hunger grows louder. Tairasha guides his ship into a holding pattern, circling the rim of the whirlpool without descending into it, and calls for the boar carcass to be hung from hooks over the side.

The marid rises up from the whirlpool’s center like a geyser. The jinn is a giant with slick jade skin, gleaming tusks in a wide mouth, a tangled topknot, and a belly like a wine jar. He eyes the ship with a proud expression, rotating to face it as it circles the vortex, and demands to know why mortals have come calling.

Aya bows with courtly deference. “We have brought you gifts, great Shahzada Warralash, the Engulfing, in hopes of winning a favor.” She gestures for the net, and unrolls it for the marid’s interested eye. “Behold this fine net, woven with ties of purest gold.” She drops the net over the side of the ship, and then takes the goblet. “Also, this beautiful goblet filled with the finest pearls.” She spills the pearls into the ocean, and they go swirling around in a line to the bottom of the whirlpool, followed by the cup. The current bears the gifts down to where the marid reaches with a hand and scoops them from the water, examining them carefully.

“Very well,” rumbles the jinn. “What is this favor you ask?”

“We need the way opened to Vorun Tsaa. If you would grant us passage, we would even give you this fine boar,” she says with an elegant gesture toward the carcass, “a delight that cannot be found in the ocean.”

The marid eyes the boar with naked want. “Your terms are agreeable, small one,” he responds. “…Have you others?”

“Only the one, but perhaps we could bring you a second if all goes well.”

“So be it!” The marid draws himself up, and gestures. The waters pull the Twist of Fate closer alongside it, and then the water bears the ship at a rapid speed, heedless of wind. The crew keep the ship secured for half an hour of unprecedented swift sailing, before the water current carrying it goes down, completely under the waves. The ship goes coasting down a long tunnel of air beneath the ocean, toward the darkened spires of a sunken city.

The tunnel ends in a large temple, the size of a coliseum, which somehow has breathable air trapped within it. A portion of the floor has fallen away into the ocean, leaving enough open water for the Twist of Fate to drop anchor. Across the cavernous hall sits a massive statue of a god, trident in hand, and strange curls descending from his nautilus-like helm.

At Tairasha’s order, the crew gathers their senses enough to loose the boar into the hands of the waiting marid. Warralash devours it in three noisy bites, then belches in satisfaction. He bends over and lowers a conch shell to Aya, holding it delicately in his long and terrible nails. “Summon me when you are ready to return,” he rumbles, and then he pours himself underwater and is gone.

Most of the ship’s crew takes to settling into their new environment as Abd and Aya begin to explore the temple. Suddenly, one of the sailors on the floor near the water cries out in pain and alarm. A small band of strange fish-like humans, or perhaps human-life fish, have emerged from the water surrounding the ship, and are hurling nets to drag sailors down.

Resistance is immediate and vicious. Abd leads a charge, while Aya stirs up the temple’s stale air and sends it against the attackers. With the help of the Twist of Fate’s crew, particularly the vicious fighters such as Kismet and Notch, soon six of the amphibious creatures lie dead in the shallows or on the stones. They drag the carcasses out onto drier stone open, hoping to discover some clue as to their attackers’ purpose.

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07 - The Three Pots and the Scholar
The tale of a beleaguered recorder of wizardly evils.

Mashaar indulges Abd’s desire to visit Saramanda and look into the affair of the skeletons hidden in oil vessels. She assigns Abd, Aya, and Attsu to the Twist of Fate, specifically to escort a noblewoman who paid extra for “exotic defenders.” The woman, Aruna al-Keydir, is a garrulous sort prone to mentioning her influential relatives, but she takes a different tone around Captain Tairasha. She quickly becomes enamored of the handsome yet tragically cursed sea captain, much to Kismet’s vexation.

“Oh, he told me about his curse,” says Kismet during one casual conversation. “If he were to fall in love, it would just make it worse. She would share his curse. She could never return to land.”

“Really?” says Aruna al-Keydir, her eyes beginning to glisten. “So tragic… and yet, they could—”

“Or was it that she could never go to sea?” Kismet nods. “That might have been it. He would be at sea and she’d be on land. They could never be together. Or she’d get warts all over her face. That was it. She could never be at sea, they’d be forever apart, and she’d have green warts all over her face. Yeah. If he fell in love it’d be bad. He told me so.”

Notch finds the whole affair completely hilarious, to Kismet’s increased irritation. But her stories seem to keep the noblewoman admiring the captain from afar until they reach Saramanda.

Once docked at the City of Songs, and once al-Keydir has reached her quarters safely, the four take some leave time to roam the city. Abd retells the story of the caravanserai and the skeletons, and notes that the delivery of murderous undead was slated for an address on Philosopher’s Row. His three companions gamely go along with him. They soon find the street in question, which seems peaceful and subdued save for the occasional coffee-house argument — until they hear three sharp reports like explosions.

They rush down Philosopher’s Row to the address, and happen across a strange sight indeed. Wounded and terrified porters lie in the street among the broken shards of three large pots, and three angry elementals run riot around them — a mass of living earth, a vaguely human-shaped bonfire, and a clearly incensed dust devil. An older woman in the garb of a scholar stands in the doorway of a home that seems very likely to be their destination. She looks on the elementals with a mix of fear and anger, and says “Not again!”

The four immediately leap to the assistance of the woman and porters, with great effect. Kismet takes a light searing from the fire spirit before Abd channels the protective might of Jalisa and hews the elemental in half. Attsu takes his warbeast form, and exchanges blows with the earth elemental before Kismet appears seemingly from nowhere and drives a blade deep into its animating core. Aya turns wind on wind, chilling and slowing the air spirit until Attsu tears it apart with his claws.

Abd pauses to heal the porters’ wounds as best he can. The grateful laborers tell him that they had no idea their burden was so dangerous; they were simply directed to bring the vessels to this address, and raise the lids to show the recipient their contents. At that point, everything went wrong. Abd asks who hired them, and they tell him they unloaded the vessels from an impressive red ship with a lamia figurehead, under the gaze of a dashing sea-captain.

The scholar introduces herself as Rabeyah, called the Quill. She admits that this is the second time she’s been attacked; the previous time, a false delivery carried scorpions that grew rapidly to dangerous size. She was thankfully assisted at the last moment by a powerful warrior who claimed to have been sent to visit her by the Prophetess. Her description of the warrior matches that of Rafa.

Abd tells her that there was a third attempt that never reached Saramanda. He also describes the ship and captain, and Aya recognizes it by reputation immediately. The fire-ship Scorn, and its captain Shagadiz, have been sailing on commissions from Izir, City of Flame for some time. Rabeyah sighs, and invites them in.

The scholar’s home is bedecked with scrolls and books and letters. Rabeyah serves the four coffee, and says it must be that she’s irritated the Ascending Flame. The flamboyant attempts on her life or property would suggest they want to make a public spectacle of her ruin. “Why not just poison my coffee?” she asks, taking a sip.

Rabeyah explains that she has been working on a project that compiles stories of the weapons, methods, experiments, and atrocities of the Shadow Viziers, the secret cabal of mages revealed to have been manipulating the city-states a century ago. Something she’s found must be information the Ascending Flame wishes to remain hidden, or perhaps parallels their own secret research. She offers permission for the group to look through her notes, and they take her up on the offer.

After an hour of sifting, they find something very promising. Rabeyah has assembled a chapter discussing Zodiac Gems, fifteen enchanted stones that the Viziers had tried to assemble for a grand conjunction. Abd notes that he’s seen jewels of similar cut in the keeping of an Ascending Flame lapidary mage; Aya remembers a person in the Queen of Birds’ court, proposing a trade for the stone of the Owl.

The four make copies of the relevant notes. They recommend that Rabeyah continue her work, but put out advance copies with false information to dissuade the Ascending Flame. For their part, they’ll also give the Ascending Flame to think about — Captain Shagadiz should still be in the city, and it might do to send the wizards a message via their corsair agent. Kismet worries about the legality of simply attacking him and seizing the ship; she has no desire to engage in actual piracy. That said, she might have a lead on other options. She tells the others she knows someone currently sailing on the Scorn, who might be able to provide them with useful information regarding the fire-ship’s itinerary.

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