13th Voyage

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.

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.

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.

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 thanks the group graciously, and offers his hopes that he may be of service to them again in future.

05 - The Spider-Merchant’s Funeral
The tale of the assassins and the spider-mage.

In Naas, City of Silks, locals mourn the death of Addafir of the Jewels, a kindly merchant and breeder of prize silk-spiders. Addafir and his wife had no children, so instead he chose to build a different sort of legacy. The spider-merchant became a patron of adventurers, paying out rewards for heroes who helped those who couldn’t afford to reward their saviors. Among those invited to his funeral are former associates Aya and Abd Al-Rashid.

Aya and Abd take the Twist of Fate to Naas with Mashaar’s blessing. They arrive the night before Addafir’s funeral. Kismet joins them ashore, interested in taking a little leave in the City fo Silks. Abd spends the evening in sober contemplation, while Aya wanders off to listen to the web-harps peculiar to the city. Kismet cannot resist gambling, and spends four or five hands at a couple of games — long enough to arouse suspicion, but leaving before knives are drawn. She then takes her winnings to the midnight markets to see what silken goods she might purchase.

The next morning, the three visit Addafir’s manse before the funeral. They mingle with some of the other guests, many of them other adventurers, plenty retired. Addafir’s widow Ilmiri remembers each of them, and politely thanks them for their attendance.

The funeral is held on one of the larger and more lavish terraces of Naas. Several members of the public also show up to pay their respects. Trouble breaks out, though, when the veiled funeral dancers draw knives, and then leap into the crowd, lashing out indiscriminately!

Many of the adventurers in attendance still carry arms, and fight back against the dancers. Abd gets into a melee with two of them that dance back and forth, striking at him and then retreating to allow their partner an opening. Kismet vanishes into the crowd as a knife thrower targets her, and the two exchange hurled blades.

Abd manages to strike down one of the elusive dancers first. After a pair of small bolts of lightning, Aya breathes out a bitter northern wind, freezing the knife-thrower. Kismet then reemerges from the crowd, feinting at the other dancer and then following with a decisive stab between the ribs.

The battle dies down. The dancers clearly picked a fight with a dangerous crowd; most lie slain, though a few are unconscious or otherwise subdued. Abd looks them over, and finds some hints that they’ve been enspelled. The dancers also carry tattoos that mark them as members of Naas’ local assassin brotherhood, the Doomspinners. But such a suicidal attack on a funeral is very out of character for them.

Aya, Kismet, and Abd talk again with the widow Ilmiri. She suspects it’s likely someone is trying to drive her away from her husband’s former practice of spending coin to bankroll heroic efforts — he did make a number of enemies. The Doomspinners shouldn’t be among them, however. And if anyone was ensorcelling their members and driving them to such a suicidal attack, they probably will want to talk about it.

Kismet volunteers to make contact with the assassins. Her street-savvy does win her an audience with a Doomspinner — but unfortunately, he recognizes her in a poor way. She ends up sitting at a table while he aims a concealed dart-thrower at her. “I remember you from that game last night.”

The elf does her best to explain that she didn’t cheat, she’s just supernaturally lucky. She manages to convince him, and he does admit that an audience is possible. But she’ll have to do something for him — win a game of his choice, at a time of his choice. She agrees, and he puts together a quick contract to seal the bargain.

The three adventurers meet that evening in a library, where the Doomspinner spokeswoman is going through a number of scrolls. She acts clearly irritated by the recent events. The “employer” who enchanted her assassins was one Talyesha of the Emerald Veil, a local spider-mage who attempted to obscure her tracks to no avail. Talyesha, she notes, is likely sympathetic to the Ascending Flame, who had lost a few schemes to Addafir’s meddling. Abd requests that the Doomspinners not intervene, and he won’t hurt any of their people. Though unimpressed by the implied threat, the assassin matron agrees — they’re short-handed now, and why not let some others take the risk first?

They proceed to the address provided, to a fine house on a higher tier on one of Naas’ steeper cliffs. Abd kicks in the door without ceremony, and the three file into the home. They find her on the balcony — a tall, stiff woman with a green veil, flanked by a spider the size of a saluki and a lumpy form obscured by robes.

Abd opens with a threat, demanding an explanation. The affronted spider-mage concedes only a bit, admitting that she was ordered to carry out the attack.

“I’ll destroy the person who gave the order,” promises Abd.

She scoffs. “You?”

The paladin lunges forward at that, his temper past its limit. She throws out an arcane web, slowing him but not stopping him from engaging. Aya hurls a thunderbolt after them, and the figure to Talyesha’s right disrobes, revealing the misshapen arachnid features of an ettercap. It bounds after the genasi, fangs slavering.

Aya hurts the ettercap with a handful of storm, despite the nasty bite. Kismet takes her blade to the giant spider. Talyesha, still reeling from Abd’s strike, attempts to get away from him; but he interposes his blade, and strikes her from the balcony. She falls away into the Naas evening. The ettercap starts at the loss, and leaps away from Aya to scramble up onto the roof. The spider also flees after a brutal stab from Kismet, skittering over the balcony and down the fliff. Aya freezes it before it can get too far, and the icy shell clings to the wall for some time.

Abd spends hours searching for Talyesha’s body, but is deeply unhappy when he can’t find it. Before they flee her house, the others manage to bring away a letter from her correspondence, referring to the funeral. There is no name on the signature — simply an arcane sigil. Aya and Abd find it most likely that this is the private mark of one of the Ascending Flame’s elite.

06 - The Game of Six Treasures
The tale of a fated game of fox’s tail.

The time has come for the Moon of a Thousand Horses, a gathering of desert tribes turned festival. The Moon lasts for three days at the marid-touched Oasis of the Blue Queen, where the tribes barter horses, court, arrange marriages, pledge friendship, settle rivalries, and indulge in games of skill. The festival is also very popular with merchants who come to purchase fine desert geldings, and with gamblers who come to bet on the spectacles.

Kismet and Abd walk the festival, Aya meandering off on her own, discussing the latest turn of events. Kismet had no interest in horses herself, but she’s here to complete an agreement — as guest and contracted employee. The Doomspinner assassins of Naas have called in their bargain with her. This evening she’ll have to play a game and win — and in such a manner that she can’t be accused of cheating.

The veiled Savaas, her representative and employer, joins the two of them. He explains that the game chosen is fox’s tail, a table game that requires skill at moving the “fox” and “hens” pieces as well as luck with the dice. Given Kismet’s inability to lose at games of chance, it would be easier for her to play a game with turns and moves of skill. If she plays badly — but not terribly — she should be able to win without dominating. He notifies her that the grand game will take place in the large tent with the blue and gold banners, and then leaves her to make whatever preparations she requires.

Nearby, Aya runs out of things to say in her conversation with the water genasi Vashma al-Korand, the keeper of the oasis’ waters. As she drifts back among the tents, she notices Mashaar the Golden-Fingered, somewhat to her surprise. Mashaar genially greets her, and mentions that she’s participating in the grand fox’s tail game this evening; Aya should come and watch. Aya considers for a moment, and asks what the stakes are. “Treasures,” responds Mashaar. “I wouldn’t wager anything I can’t afford to lose, but the stakes are too intriguing this year.” Aya smiles, excuses herself, and finds Kismet.

Kismet is less than pleased to find out she’ll be gaming against her employer. She seeks out Mashaar’s tent, and once in private, tells the merchant queen about the situation. She explains that she simply can’t lose at games of chance, but she can’t withdraw from the game; she’s associating with people who could easily kill her. Mashaar calmly invites Kismet to prove it, providing a pair of dice. The two throw dice for a few rounds, Kismet winning each one until Mashaar cheats.

Mashaar contemplates for a moment, then says that she can’t back out from the game. She’ll play, and she won’t reveal Kismet’s secret, and she expects that Kismet will be able to make it up to her somehow. Much relieved, the elven sailor thanks her and retreats to prepare for the game.

Late that evening, a number of wealthy travelers gather in the grand tent with the blue and gold banners. There is room for only six at the table, but the tent is crowded with observers fascinated by the players and the stakes. Abd stands at attention, one part guard for Mashaar and one part security for the game. Aya breezes through the crowd, the picture of the vaguely curious exotic beauty. Kismet takes one of the six seats, along with her opponents.

“I am Zezit,” says a sour-looking lean man in headdress, veil and robes, revealing a demon-faced helm, “and this is my stake.”

“I am Rudask,” says a weathered Og-Negun sheik, holding up an oddly decorated bridle, “and this is my stake.”

“I am Mashaar,” says the venturer-magnate, drawing a veil made of flowing sand from a box, “and this is my stake.”

“I am Kirazta,” says a dashing young woman in swordswoman’s clothing, motioning to a clockwork standing by her, “and this is my stake.”

“I am Captain Glory of Perception,” says a beautiful man in a uniform resembling a peacock’s coat, with a distasteful wave to an ugly leaden washbasin, “and this is my stake.”

“I am Savaas,” Kismet’s patron says, gesturing to her and opening a casket to show a jeweled orrery, “and this is my champion, and this is my stake.”

The game begins, and all attention is on the first throws. Abd surreptitiously looks over the staked treasures. His suspicions land on the helm and the basin in particular. The helm seems clearly to be a relic of the Slumbering King and his shaitan court; the basin has odd scratch marks in it, as if an iron-clawed beast washed its hands in it, and smells faintly of rot.

The game unfolds as it must. Kismet expertly masks her ideal rolls by making suboptimal plays, until a streak of excellent dice and clever moves takes her to victory. Each of her opponents congratulates her in turn, with variable sincerity; they range from the sour-eyed Zezit to the almost relieved-seeming Captain Glory of Perception.

As refreshments make the rounds, Mashaar introduces Kismet more formally to Kirazta, sister to the sultana of Hamaji. Kismet is somewhat taken with the dashing royal adventurer. Abd continues to stand guard, surveying the crowd for anyone who might make a poor decision regarding the stakes.

Aya and Captain Glory of Perception recognize one another, and fall to chatting. The captain, one of the various lesser courtiers of the Queen of Birds, seems not to regret his loss at all. Although it would have been grand to bring many presents back to Her Majesty, the basin is a distasteful thing. It once belonged to a ghul princess, and has a reputation for leveling curses when filled. The talk turns to assassins, as the captain seems aware that Zezit is from a rival organization to Savaas — and a stronger one, at that. “Spiders taste delicious,” he says, “but snakes eat eggs.” He mentions that the assassins are likely both trying for the construct, which was designed to instruct nobles in swordplay. With a little adjusting, perhaps it could cause an unfortunate “accident.”

Aya carries the news to Abd, and Kismet soon joins them. The genasi tells the others that Zezit is almost certainly one of the Brotherhood of Vipers, and he may attempt to claim his stake in another, deadlier fashion. She then moves to Vashma al-Korand, to warn the keeper that there’s a dangerous washbasin around that must be kept from the oasis’ waters.

Kismet quickly returns to Savaas’ tent, where the Doomspinner is arranging further security for the winnings. She tells him of the Viper presence. After some back-and-forth, the two negotiate a new contract: if she and her friends defend him from the Brotherhood, and are instrumental in protecting the prizes, she may select one of the treasures as her recompense. Savaas agrees, and places an odd eyepatch over one eye, marked with four small rubies like a spider’s eyes. He then dismisses Kismet, and begins setting things in order for a departure in the morning.

Kismet, Abd and Aya conceal themselves around the tents of Savaas’ caravan. As the night deepens, Abd and Aya notice a man cautiously sneaking up to the water barrels; Kismet is sadly distracted by a hunting fennec. Abd moves with uncanny stealth and strikes the intruder unconscious. While the paladin drags his quarry into the tent, Aya sees another man that was lingering by the camels slip quietly away. She scans for other watchers, and finds a drunkard under a palm suspicious. At her command, a conjured wind throws sand into the sot’s face, but he sleeps through it, or pretends to.

Savaas and Abd examine the flask on the person of their captive. Savaas recognizes it as poison, one that would make them exceptionally sick over time, most likely in the middle of the journey. “I can give you specifics if they wouldn’t be wasted on you,” he says.

“They would be wasted on me.”

“I appreciate your honesty.”

The Doomspinner and his caravan pack up and leave early in the morning, the venturers alongside them. Not many are leaving the festival early, so their wagons have the trail to themselves. Abd and Kismet doze during the day, to be more alert at night. The first night passes with no sign of the Brotherhood of Vipers at their camp.

On the second day, the small caravan passes through some low stony hills. Abd notes that one particular stretch of trail would be an ideal ambush spot; the rising slope to their right and the falling slope to their left leave a fairly narrow trail. As they near a natural bridge stretching over the trail, rocks come bouncing down the higher slope, disturbed by some hidden movement. The venturers loosen their blades in their scabbards.

A small group of masked archers in weatherbeaten gear scurry out onto the bridge. More men and women pour out onto the trail. Abd races forward to engage them, backed by Savaas’ men, as Aya gathers and looses elemental power at the archers. Savass produces a crossbow and fires at the ambushers as well.

Before Kismet can join the fray, the earth buckles near her. An immense worm tears free of the soil near the second wagon, catching one of the rear guards and crushing his torso in its mandibles. Kismet draws her blade to defend herself, alone against the beast.

At the front of the caravan, Abd fights resolutely against the would-be robbers. His presence in the battle inspires the other guards, and helps them gain the momentum against the bandits. Aya turns her attention to the worm, striking it with the storm’s fury. The creature then surges after her, prompting Kismet to pursue it.

Abd leaves the guards to continue the battle and rides back to join in the fight against the worm. As he does so, Aya’s familiar spits something into the worm’s wounds, poisoning it. Abd and Kismet fence for a round with the wriggling predator, then Abd spots a man dressed in stealthy clothing slipping into the rear wagon, unknown to Savass. He breaks free of the melee, leaps onto the wagon’s buckboard, dives past Savass and brings an avenging strike into the intruder. The cloaked man responds with a jambiya, but Abd easily deflects the counter with his shield. A crossbow’s string sings, and a bolt from Savass whistles past Abd into the intruder’s thigh.

The worm convulses, succumbing to the poison. Aya returns her attention to the archers on the natural bridge. She summons a howling, fiery wind like a jinn’s wrath, and scorches the remaining archers to a swift death.

Kismet, intent on not being outdone, races after the last brigand. He lashes out at her, but stumbles on an unlucky stone, and catches her blade in his sternum. It’s still lodged in his breast as he falls away from her, tumbling down the slope. “I’ll get another one!” she shouts after him in angry tones.

Abd fixates the wounded assassin with a fierce glare and demands his siurrender. Perhaps to his own surprise, the intruder complies. Abd raises his shield to guard his new charge from Savaas’ next bolt. The Doomspinner pauses, then lowers his crossbow.

They take stock of the damage. The treasures are safe and sound. Six of the guards perished in the battle, though the bandits lost twice that number. The captive assassin tells his captors that Zezit is waiting at the caravanserai ahead; he has “buried himself” in preparation for finishing the job. After a short conference, Savaas agrees that it would be prudent to take a longer way around, avoiding the caravanserai.

Abd takes charge of his captive, and is sure to tell Savaas and the surviving guards that the Viper is under his protection. “If a man lays a hand on him,” he says, “I’ll take that hand.”

The extended route around the caravanserai is a success; though water runs a bit short, they at least have fewer guards to nourish. They reach Adwa safely. Savaas pronounces the contract complete, and as promised, gives the venturers their choice of prize. Kismet chooses the sand-bride’s veil, formerly in Mashaar’s keeping.

Abd takes the assassin to the temple of Jalisa. There he sees the killer sworn in as an acolyte of the Defending Shield, his former name forgotten and the new temple name of Kassan al-Jalisa laid upon him. Kassan begins training for his new life.

Kismet returns the veil to Mashaar, who is delighted. She not only accepts the gift as ending Kismet’s obligation, but she retrieves a fine blade from her stores as a present for the elven sailor.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.


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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