13th Voyage

04 - The Dwarf’s Riding Crop
The tale of a green-eyed youth caged as a beast.

In Adwa, City of Sails, one Master Voor throws a banquet. The feast is to celebrate the safe return of the Faithful Ox, and of course the heroes responsible are invited. Aya and Abd Al-Rashid accept the invitation; Attsu Tsarran declines, as it is impossible for him to eat and therefore it might be impolite for him to sit quietly and not partake of his host’s provender. Captain Tairasha of the Twist of Fate is also invited, but he sends his regrets, and his crewmembers Kismet and Notch in his place. It is a magnificent repast, with pumpkin stuffed with swordfish, rice and dates as one of the highlights. At the meal’s conclusion, Master Voor gives the heroic guests a presend, sacred oils of Koread.

During the banquet, one of the servant girls gives a pleading expression to Abd. Once the party breaks up to enjoy sherbets and dessert wines, he searches her out. Kismet quietly eavesdrops as the girl, Tafina, asks for the paladin’s help. Her brother Zamad was kidnapped recently, and she longs for his rescue. She describes him as green-eyed, prettier than she is, and wearing a ring with a crab motif that matches her own. Abd agrees to help, as does Kismet. The two of them go to pick up Aya from the wine-tasting — Notch having already departed, as a gnoll’s endurance for rarefied civilities is typically limited — and the wind-sorceress blithely agrees to come along.

The abductor in question is allegedly Doryaduun, a dwarven beast-seller who was impressed by the lad’s beauty while visiting the wineship where Zamad worked. The group knows roughly where the animal merchant has set up his tents, and Aya sends her avian familiar off to scout the property. It returns and reports that it’s seen tents and corrals with nothing more remarkable than white oxen, and that Doryaduun is there with four other employees.

To gather more information about the beast-seller, Abd recommends a visit to the information-broker Bubaas the Barber. Bubaas is delighted to meet Abd’s friends, and shares what he knows of Doryaduun. The dwarf apparently carries both an enchanted sword and an enchanted riding crop, though the barber doesn’t know specifics. He also likely has some sort of hidden storage area where he can transport less legal merchandise. Bubaas says the Immortal Sage might well be interested in the crop, and Abd agrees to consider that.

The three then go for a more first-hand look at the property. Kismet scouts the tents, and notes Doryaduun discussing matters with a regal-looking fellow in green. The conversation apparently goes poorly, with the dwarf spitting in the dust, as the gentleman in green leaves. To Kismet’s surprise, the visitor then makes a direct line for the ally where Aya and Abd are waiting. She must choose between speed and stealth, and she opts for speed to arrive in the alley before the stranger does.

The man in green acts as though he was entirely expecting to see the three of them there. “Hello, Aya,” he smiles. “Do you have an embrace for me?”

“Of course!”

Aya introduces him as Mirza Taskasha, a prince of her acquaintance. The Mirza is very courteous, and discusses the business with Doryaduun. He says he would like to assist the group, in return for the riding crop. Kismet shoots alarmed glances at Abd, but the paladin is very serene about the offer, and simply nods. Taskasha agreeably informs the group of a secret entrance into the pumped tunnels below Adwa, reached through a cheese-seller’s shop. If one were to take the tunnel below, the third entrance on the right would lead to an old drydock that Doryaduun has repurposed. Aya thanks the Mirza, and they head for the shop.

It’s late enough at night that the cheese-seller is closed, and it’s quick work to undo the latch and let themselves in. The tunnels lead to a balcony overlooking the drydock, just as Taskasha had said. Below they see more animals, including beasts of prey, kept in cages. A pair of burly thugs stand watch, wearing Doryaduun’s black scarves with red clasps. A third man is puttering at a small work-table. Abd recognizes the alchemist — a fugitive ally of the Ascending Flame. There are no human captives visible, however — merely wagons for moving cargo.

The three leap from the balcony and rush the guards. The alchemist barely turns around before he’s knocked half to one knee by Aya’s storm breath. The thugs pursue her, and the alchemist shouts to take her alive — she’s very valuable to the Flame. But Abd and Kismet are right beside the genasi, and they make short work of the muscle. They swiftly pummel the alchemist near to senselessness and throw him in one of the empty cages after removing his weapon and potion belt.

Kismet focuses on the alchemist. “Where’s the green-eyed man, the pretty one?” Their captive’s response is to point at a nearby cage, where a mournful-looking green-furred monkey is clasping the bars and watching the proceedings. They look over the monkey and note that it has green eyes, and is even wearing a ring with a crab decoration. The three surmise that this is likely why everyone’s interested in Doryaduun’s riding crop.

The three then hide themselves among the wagons, reasoning that the beast-seller and his men will have little left to do up above. Sure enough, Doryaduun and his black-scarved muscle descend the exit ramp before too long. But the alchemist shouts a warning, spoiling the ambush.

Doryaduun is quick to respond, and he lashes the three men with his riding crop. One falls to all fours, becoming a lion — still wearing its scarf — and the other two become large, long-fanged baboons. Abd engages the lion, while the women fight against the apes. It’s a tense struggle, even more when Doryaduun becomes involved. He lashes Aya with the crop, and although she doesn’t instantly transform, she feels woozy and vulnerable. She makes for the cover of the wagons.

Abd turns his full attention to the dwarf. He smites the beast-seller again and again, weathering a strike from the crop as well. Before the lion can get a proper grip on him, he cuts Doryaduun down. Kismet then shouts for the animals to surrender, if they ever want to regain their human forms. The beasts are apparently intelligent and still remember human speech, and they obediently withdraw.

The three examine the crop, and Aya deduces how it probably works. They strike the monkey with it, and he becomes a charming green-eyed youth. They then use the crop on every other animal, and discover that each one was a cursed person — an eagle becomes a fierce-eyed warrior woman, a cheetah’s skin falls away to an acrobats, a fennec becomes a dancer and a python a wrestler, and so on.

Finally, they restore the lion and baboons to human form. Abd then turns and addresses the former captives. “These men were instrumental in taking you captive and preparing to sell you into worse fates. I leave it to your judgment to determine what to do with them.” He then strides up the ramp, followed by Aya and Kismet and a nervous Zamad, leaving the slavers to face mob justice.

Though Kismet is still unsure it’s the proper thing to do, they give the crop to Mirza Taskasha; as Abd points out, he didn’t actually promise the crop to the Immortal Sage, while Aya did promise it to the Mirza. The elegantly dressed prince tha

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03 - The Estate of the Horseshoe Crab
The tale of the mutinous wizard's fate.

Once aboard the Faithful Ox, the venturers take stock of the situation. The goblins appear to be recent arrivals, and the ship’s boats are missing — apparently dragged up on land and lightly concealed. The group heads down belowdecks to take further stock, and to perhaps find the carpet containing Mashaar’s relic.

In the hold, they find a wounded man — a tall warrior, braced against possible invaders and suffering from a nasty burn. He says he traveled on the ship to keep an eye on the wizard Jabdal Honeybeard, and was taken by surprise when the mage suddenly turned mutinous. Abd invokes the blessings of Valysa to heal the man’s wound. The grateful and surprised warrior introduces himself as Rafa al-Rustan. He describes a mutiny led by Honeybeard, with the loyal crew being overpowered and taken prisoner. Rafa offers to lead the group inland, to find the wizard — and the carpet, which he took with him.

Kismet takes the rowers back to the Twist of Fate, to arrange for possible cargo transferral. Abd asks Rafa if he would rather go to the ship as well. After a moment of thought, Rafa declares he would rather see the affair through.

The Faithful Ox’s men have left a fairly obvious trail hacked through the jungle. The adventurers follow without having to use blades of their own, to the noise of birds and monkeys that seem to have little fear of humans and their ilk. But the trail eventually comes across a wider path, one with overgrown paving stones. The only sign of the builders’ identity is the occasional pair of stone pillars flanking the path, adorned with sculptures of horseshoe crabs.

The trail leads through a tangled stretch of mixed jungle and forest filled with the smell of ripe fruit. Orange, lemon and other fruit trees cluster together in what appears to be an orchard gone wild. Aya and Abd hear a chuckle from under the trees, and Abd immediately recognizes it as the laugh of a drunkard.

The group finds a pair of sailors taking their leisure under a strange tree with red coconut-like fruits. Several of the the broken shells lie nearby, giving off a potent odor of wine. Abd kicks at one of the sots until the wastrel admits that he was part of the crew that sided with the wizard Honeybeard. He tells the group that the wizard is likely in the main house nearby. The adventurers confiscate the drunken sailors’ machetes and move more carefully toward the central grounds.

The “main house” turns out to be part of a small estate, lost perhaps twenty, thirty years to the jungle. The adventurers carefully scout out the area, and see the larger manse, what appears to be a smaller “guest house” (guarded by a number of sailors), a central fountain with a statue of a woman in crustacean-seeming armor, and a watchtower overlooking the whole. The smaller, guarded house turns out to have a number of sailors and officers inside — likely the Faithful Ox’s crew who refused to mutiny. As best as the adventurers can figure, the estate was likely home to a wealthy political exile, banished to the Necklace but allowed to build a comfortable place of solitude.

The Orphans decide to strike quickly and flamboyantly. Aya conjures a series of lambent lights that float and dance among the estate, and by that light they charge the guards. A few of the mutineers run into the main house, while others take cover by the fountain only to run into a fork of Aya’s lightning. Abd and Attsu quickly overpower the guards outside the guest house, and Rafa charges in to free the prisoners.

Jabdal Honeybeard himself arrives, clearly upset by the chaos. His angry gaze settles on Attsu Tsarran, and he lets out an exclamation of surprise and recognition — a valuable prize indeed, considering what Hayr Charike might offer for him! Attsu shifts his focus at that point, noting that apparently the treacherous mage must have contacts in the City of Thieves. As the jinn-forged clockwork lunges for the wizard, Honeybeard conjures a powerful spell, and the statue of the shell-armored woman atop the fountain animates and strides for Attsu.

Attsu, in full panther-man mode, cuts into the mutineers protecting Jabdal Honeybeard. The largest and canniest of the sailors intercepts Abd, and they come to blows. The rogue wizard conjures a magical bolt resembling a swarm of stinging insects, and hurls at Aya. Several of the mutineers charge after it.

Honeybeard’s next tactic is to conjure a magical web to pin Attsu in place, leaving the clockwork warrior to the sailors and animated statue. The genasi aeromancer returns fire with a potent chilling wind. Abd and the mutinous brute remain locked, when Rafa reappears and joins in on Abd’s side. Jabdal continues to flee Attsu, reaching the cover of the fountain. But before the mutineers can subdue Aya, the loyal sailors charge from the guest house to her defense.

Attsu strikes down his flesh opponents, but has difficulty evading the statue. Fortunately for him, Honeybeard seems to be a conjurer of not quite the first order, for the spirit animating the stone is a clumsy fighter. When the wizard’s second falls, Abd pursues. The mage runs for a second time, throwing another magical web over the paladin. But Aya has had enough time to gather her power, and she sends another howling bolt of wind colder than any found in the Khavayish skies. Jabdal is frozen in his tracks, the rime coating him to the points of his yellow beard.

With such a decisive strike, the remaining mutineers lose their taste for the fight as quickly as the statue loses its animating spirit. The loyal sailors bind the captives, both those who’ve surrendered and those who were merely beaten senseless.

The adventurers enter the house, which appears to have once been home to a water genasi noble of some sort. There they find plenty of food supplies looted from the Faithful Ox and the white carpet, still rolled and still with its relic inside. They also find the remants of some ritual working. Although her study of the arcane arts was never that diligent, Aya still recognizes it as the trappings of a ritual of sending — likely Honeybeard alerting his employer or cohorts, whoever that may have been.

Another unusual discovery in the house is a small vault with a complicated lock. As Attsu studies the oddly familiar workings, one of his fingertips comes away, and a slender key emerges. The surprised clockwork tests the key, and the vault comes open. Inside they find an aquamarine clasp sculpted in a soothing wave pattern, such as might hold a cloak in place or even latch into Attsu’s own body. Upon learning that it has some form of protective magic laid on it, the group decides it might be best put to use protecting Aya.

They make preparations to leave, sending a portion of the Twisted Fate’s crew over to help the loyal Faithful Ox sailors guide the ship home. Along the way, Rafa speaks privately with Abd. He confesses that he’s finally recognized Al-Rashid, and that he’s glad it took so long; otherwise, he might not have been as quick to trust the paladin. The large warrior reveals that he owes a great debt to the Prophetess, and he is aware of her pronouncement concerning Abd Al-Rashid — that the man without a soul has a heavy destiny lying on him, but it’s impossible to tell if he will bring about a great good or a terrible disaster.

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02 - The Fate of the Faithful Ox
The tale of a ship gone missing in the Necklace.

In bustling Sithwa, City of Sails, Mashaar the Golden-Fingered sends her youngest messengers on an errand to collect certain of her allies.

Attsu Tsarran, the ancient warrior with the body of a jinn-crafted clockwork, favors meditation in the high places. The young messenger scales a way through the sail-and-rigging-draped rooftops before finally finding the metallic cat that is Attsu in one of his forms.

A child pushes her way through the crowd at a pit fight to deliver another invitation. Abd al-Rashid, the soldier who lost his soul, stands there as an overseer, stepping in whenever the contestants look prone to get carried away and injure one another more seriously than intended.

Aya, daughter of a djinn and late of the court of the Queen of Birds, reclines in a small plaza where poets gather, listening to one young fellow proclaim ode after ode of romantic verse. A few more of the verses seem to be aimed directly at her before the urchin arrives with a message.

The three meet Mashaar for the midday meal. The Golden-Fingered merchant queen explains that the trade ship Faithful Ox has failed to arrive in port, which is cause for concern; the ship is not one of hers, but it was carrying a special item for her. It most likely ran aground or was captured in the Necklace, the archipelago stretching north of the coast. She asks the three to board the Twist of Fate and locate the Faithful Ox, in particular to bring back the rolled white carpet within. The relic inside the carpet was earmarked to travel upriver to Umal Baat, where it would be put to good use against the evils there. The three accept the commission.

Abd, Aya and Attsu board the Twist of Fate the next morning. They meet Captain Tairasha, famed for the curse that has stricken him, and stone below his right knee. A gregarious desert elf sailor named Kismet attaches herself to the three, and shows them around the ship, also introducing them to the gnoll archer Notch and the orcish pearl diver Ruska.

The ship’s first stop is Rakhmal’s Hold, a drakhan fortress on the eastern edge of the Necklace that provides some protection against corsairs. Kismet talks with Captain Huthrakh, a blue-scaled drakh who admits that they never saw the Faithful Ox. If it reached the Necklace, it clearly didn’t exit the archipelago along its expected route.

The Twist of Fate then sails to Children’s Reef, an island farther west where only children are active by the day. Abd is most concerned about the curse that compels the adults to sleep during the day, but the children seem to have things well in hand. Attsu spends time in his full cat-form, fascinating many of the children. A few inquiries reveal that they saw the Faithful Ox pass by; it made it around the three-peaked island called the Trident without issue. Based on the time that the children saw the ship and the timing of a bad storm that recently tore through the Necklace, the group calculates that the Ox was probably passing through the heavily jungled islands called the Ogre’s Comb when the storm hit.

A morning’s search reveals the Faithful Ox half-listing in a small cove, on one of the Ogre’s Comb islands. The ship is not alone, though, as a goblin outrigger sits next to it. The adventurers recognize the heraldry of the Rotten Tooth, a would-be corsair tribe of scavengers, plunderers and raiders.

Abd, Aya, Attsu and Kismet take one of the boats out toward the ship, the elf shouting threats at the goblins as they advance. Arrows fly back and forth between both parties, including a few from the Twist of Fate, and a commotion comes from within the ship itself. As the boat draws near enough, Aya focuses for a moment, and then lightning leaps from her fingers, electrocuting the outrigger’s occupants.

The four clamber on board the Ox, and more goblins come running out from within. Attsu’s cogs whirr, and he unfolds into his larger, half-cat humanoid war form, tearing into the goblins with newly extended claw. Abd stands beside him, striking down the weaker combatants as Attsu blocks the stronger ones. Aya joins in, exhaling a blast of cold unlike anything felt in the desert.

Some of the goblins scramble after Aya as a larger warrior bears down on Abd. Kismet flickers in and out of the fight, her blade licking at the goblins’ backs. A brutal back-and-forth ends when Attsu takes both of his opponent’s wrists and bites out his neck, hurling the corpse aside. Another howling exhalation of frost from Aya, and the large goblin goes stiff, sliding down the incline and tumbling over the rail. A lone goblin flees the fight, diving overboard.

The adventurers move to the railing after the goblin. They see it swimming for the outrigger, when suddenly it jerks down underwater with a squeal. The water churns viciously, and a flow of blood rises to the surface.

“So… keep out of the water,” says Kismet.

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01 - The Vultures and the Oil Merchant
The tale of the cursed caravanserai.

News of trouble reaches the Golden Venture headquarters in Adwa. A caravanserai on the Beggar’s Table badland has fallen under a curse, or so go the stories. Stragglers arrived in the nearby village of Sedwani, talking of murders in the night. As the trade route it sits on is not as valuable, the emir is not prioritizing its resolution. Mashaar, on the other hand, has a valuable ally on the other end of the route, and therefore requests that the holy warrior Abd Al-Rashid and the genasi sorceress Aya investigate the matter.

They set out for Sedwani, where they find a number of displaced people from the caravanserai. A little inquiry reveals that the “curse” set in the night after a nasty brawl in which an oil merchant was lethally stabbed. Most assume it was his ghost. On the first night following, a stablehand and three guests were killed; on the second night, a visiting caravan carrying linens and fine porcelain lost four guards, with the other residents and merchants fleeing during the melee.
The caravanserai’s master, Jedar the Flint, made it safely to Sedwani, but there has been no sign of his son Rufiya.

However, a harness-seller admits that the oil merchant turned out to have the paraphernalia of a wizard on him — clearly disobeying the edict that all wizards must openly dress the part — and in fear, the caravanserai’s staff hastily buried the body and stored his goods away. In addition, a scarred woman named Jasta contacts Aya, claiming to recognize someone else who’s crossed the Ascending Flame. She mentions that she suspects the oil merchant was a covert member of the Flame, and she counsels caution.

Aya and Abd react the caravanserai the next evening. Dozens of vultures are roosting on the structure’s roof, facing inward to its courtyard. Aya sends her familiar, currently in a mustard yellow plumage, to fly over the site and report. It comes back with a tale of bodies lying in the courtyard, and with great saluki-sized scorpions feeding on them.

Her familiar attracts the attention of the vultures. Three of them detach and approach her, an old blind vulture and two younger ones that flank and assist it. The old one speaks in a human tongue, greeting Aya as one of the Queen of Birds’ notables. He requests her assistance — if she and her companion remove the scorpions so that his clan may eat, he will tell her what they know of the disturbance. She and Abd agree, and enter the courtyard. The scorpions are aggressive enough to attack new intruders, but there are only two, and Abd and Aya have more intelligent teamwork (to say nothing of a fine sharp scimitar and elemental sorcery).

The elder vulture thanks them and recounts the story. The killings were carried out by “inedible ones” that emerged from a hidden cellar where the false oil merchant’s goods were stored. The vultures show the two adventurers the location of the cellar, and Abd is able to make out thin, fleshless footprints leading in and out. They also notice, in a depression behind the caravanserai, a small white object hovering over the earth — a skull, by the look of it. They choose to ignore for the time being and proceed to the oil merchant’s wares.

The sun is setting by the time they open the cellar. In the far corner sit a dozen oil jugs, each one about four feet high. As the sun sinks out of sight, the stoppers of several jugs come open. Out of the jugs come a band of animated skeletons, with scimitars in their hands, save for the one that has a crossbow. The undead immediately fixate on the two living people, and rush to the attack.

Abd speaks an invocation against the unliving, and his faith surges through him. Several skeletons fall to pieces as the holy wave washes over them, and the others quail for a moment. With the numbers now more even, Aya and Abd dispatch the unliving assassins.

They also destroy the hovering skull, which turns out to have been watching over the wizard’s shallow grave. They find that the wizard carried a unopened satchel marked with runes, though clearly they have no enchantment. WIthin the satchel are two potions of healing, a small locked box with intricate decoration, and a small scroll containing an address in Saramanda. Abd theorizes that the address must have been an assassination target — the skeletons were likely enspelled to leave their jars at nightfall and slay the first person they found, unless they received a countermanding order from the wizard transporting them. When the sorcerer died in the brawl, he could no longer compel the skeletons to remain safely within, and they carried out their duties.

A quick survey of the caravanserai reveals a survivor — Rufiya, the missing son, who’d barricaded himself in the pantry and survived the last few days and nights on the stores. They escort Rufiya to Sedwani the next day, and from there set out back to Adwa. Abd resolves to visit the address in the slain wizard’s possession, and find out just who was marked for death.

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