“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.
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 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.