AD&D - New World

48: A Wedding, A Birth, A Death
our heroes turn toward the infinite...

With two weeks to spend in Huzuz, the Revengers put their affairs in order.

Ervendio arranges for the ritual that could cure Proteus’s lycanthropy. He travels to the Mosque of Hilal, a dwarven god of punishment, demons, and the Moon. He confers with an imam, who considers Proteus’s condition to be a blessing — a gift from the moon itself — but who ultimately agrees to deliver a scroll of Atonement to the Revengers in exchange for a donation of 6,000 dinar.

Meanwhile, many of the Revengers take classes in basic spellcasting at the university. Teks learns waterbane and Ervendio featherfall. Proteus and Minja take their courses, but fail to learn their studied spells; Jongle signs up, but stops going after the first class — instead, he commits to making a name for himself as a performer, and to planning a surprise wedding for Minja.

Bertram takes to the libraries. He translates the tome they discovered in Azaltin’s temple, called The Kingdom of Lions. It reveals a secret history of al-Anwhar, and intimates a vizier to Azaltin’s brother advised him to make war against the returned lich. Bertram realizes that Nemir, the strange hermit of al-Anwhar, was Azaltin himself. And though the record shows that Zeenab, the vizier, went on to live an unnaturally long life, he disappeared from history several hundred years ago. Any further information could only exist in Muluk itself.

The Kingdom of Lions ends with Azaltin’s words:

Too late have I come to realize Zeenab’s venomous hold on my misguided brother. Even as I write this, his army plunders the palace and I must hide this history where Zeenab will never find it, so that future generations will know the truth behind my brother’s treachery, and my kingdom’s proud history.

Meanwhile, Jongle pulls together an impressive wedding celebration. A wandering band of bards called A Tribe of Bugbears performs at the wedding, a boar (with an apple in its mouth!) is served, and the flower arrangements are impeccable. A … passable portrait of Proteus is shared, just in case the warrior of the Twelve Barrows does not survive the ritual. An even worse portrait of Minja is commissioned by Teks, which Minja graciously (?) insists is someone else’s mother. Teks regurgitates bracelets and matching wedding rings when Jongle misplaces/never procures/has the real things disappeared by Bea the actual rings. Proteus makes a necklace of the scales of the serpent lord he ate. Bertram delivers a best man’s speech for the ages, and Bea reluctantly gives a maid-of-honor speech that is, in Minja’s estimation, “almost not offensive.”

But he excitement of the surprise wedding — and, perhaps, Proteus’s looming ritual — causes Minja to go into labor. She spends the night — and the next day! — engaged in a suddenly complicated, and early, birth, just as Proteus is due to transform.

Ervendio and Bertram accompany Proteus to the university, where Nari awaits them. She has Proteus sign over his body, should he die, to her and the university. Her cage does not contain Proteus once he turns into a tiger, and his animalistic rage causes the proud warrior to attack his friends — under the light of the moon, they are only meat. Proteus attacks! But with Nari’s help, Ervendio administers the necessary spells as Bertram’s illusions keep Proteus from raking his friends.

Unfortunately, it is not enough to save the proud warrior of the Twelve Barrows. As Nari recites the necessary incantation, Proteus is fed the deadly nightshade … and, though his body is cured of the lycanthropic disease, his soul does not survive the ritual. Proteus suffers an agonizing death, reaching out with his claws for one final rake. Ervendio says a quiet prayer, and sheds a quiet tear, over Proteus’s body — transformed, in death, back into his human form.

Meanwhile, Jongle, Teks, and Bea (!) see to Minja during her difficult birthing process. The weakened Minja nearly succumbs to the birthing process, but Bea saves her with Ervendio’s borrowed staff of healing. Minja gives birth to a girl — Valeria Janglemancer, named for the Last Knight of the Twelve Barrows.

A wedding, a fallen friend, a new life. Nothing is certain in Amara, the Land of Fate. Ruat, the First Key, left in Proteus’s backpack, demands a new master….

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XP
Group Awards
The Mosque of the Moon, 1200
A Surprise Wedding, 6000
A Child Is Born, 12000
Weretiger Remiss, 975

Group Total 20175, Individual Awards 3363

Individual Totals
Bea 4113 (Midwife 750, Group 3363)
Bertram 4113 (Private Librarian 750, Group 3363)
Ervendio 4113 (Wedding Officiant 750, Group 3363)
Jongle 4313 (Wedding Planner 750, Proud Father 200, Group 3363)
Proteus 4113 (Consumed by the Beast Within 750, Group 3363)
Teks 4113 (Ringblorker 750, Group 3363)

LOOT
wedding rings (Jongle + Minja)
wedding bracelets (Jongle + Minja)
necklace of serpent lord scales (Minja)

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47: A Dream of Genie
our heroes meet a genie, a dwarf, and a spelljammer

The Revengers arrive in Huzuz, City of Delights — perhaps the largest city in the world. They head to al-Bidir Sallah, the Home of the Seekers of Knowledge, the world’s largest university, in search of a cure for Proteus’s lycanthropy.

En route the college, the party boards a ferry run by two dao to cross the al-Sarif river. As a number of students swim the river rather than pay the 5 copper to cross on the ferry, Bea pays for a number of them to ride for free. The two dao — tasked genies commanded to push the ferry for centuries as penance for some long-forgotten offense — gossip with the Revengers as they cross, telling them of a weeping dwarven sailor who has recently returned to Huzuz as well as a spelljamming ship docked in the harbor.

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Arriving on the north beach, Bertram spies a bottle partially buried in the sand. Filled with a roiling smoke, the Revengers suspect it holds a trapped genie — Teks manages to uncork it, releasing a slayer genie that has gone mad due to centuries of imprisonment. As onlookers gather (including some city guards who never make it across the river), the Revengers distract and battle the genie. Bea causes the genie to think he is still in a dream, while Bertram and Jongle’s illusions nearly cause the genie to climb back inside of his prison. Ervendio, who could possibly heal the genie’s madness, can’t make contact with his divine staff. Teks gets the genie in a leglock, and the mad creature is ultimately destroyed.

The party is steered toward the College of Alchemy, where they meet Nari al-Fanif, an alchemist and researcher of lycanthropy. She knows of two potential cures for Proteus’s affliction — both require the priestly spells Atonement, Cure Disease, and Remove Curse, all cast on the lycanthrope while in beast-form. The first, arguably safer cure, would require the destruction of the curse’s progenitor — in this case, the halfling Ajiht of Sri Raji. The second would require Proteus to consume the flower of the poisonous nightshade — after which he would either be cured of his curse, or he would die.

Proteus chose the latter path, though it could not be performed for two weeks. Nari said she would arrange for a cage and the nightshade, leaving the procurement of the spells to the Revengers.

With two weeks before Proteus’s transformation (unless they discovered some new way to force his transformation), the Revengers returned to Huzuz proper. At an inn in the warehouse district called The Home of the Humble Dolphin they meet the infamous Weeping Dwarf, a sailor who accompanied Jad, the Myrikhan to the Steaming Isles of the Crowded Sea. The dwarf was traumatized by what he saw there, which included the slaughter of an entire island of intelligent animals. He told the Revengers that he witnessed Jad’s retrieval of Fiat, the third key and the third piece of the Rod of 7 Parts. Afterward, Jad began his journey home to Gith — and the Weeping Dwarf left the crew and made his way back to Huzuz.

After enduring some of Jongle’s bad poetry, Teks convinced the dwarf to commit himself to helping the downtrodden children of Huzuz rather than wallow in self-pity.

The next morning, the Revengers visited the docks of Huzuz where they boarded Skyrunner, a spelljamming vessel. Met by Bo’sunGulug, they were introduced to Captain Jon Tobart, a human looking to crew Skyrunner. Captain Tobart told the Revengers he had discovered an asteroid-sized beholder in distant space, that it was headed for Urth, but that he believed he could destroy it. The Revengers were unwilling to commit to helping him until after Proteus was cured.

Bea intimated — loudly and repeatedly — that perhaps they should simply steal the ship from its current crew. Gulug told the Revengers their return to Skyrunner would not be welcome, and made sure the rest of the crew — including the hulkingly silent Stonecrop — knew it….

XP
Group Awards
Tasked Slayer Genie, 11000
A Cure for Lycanthropy, 1200
Weep No More, 6000
The Crew of Skyrunner, 0

Group Total, 18,200. Individual Awards, 3034

Individual Totals
Bea 3784 (Tis But A Dream 750, Group 3034)
Bertram 3784 (Gibbering Bottle 750, Group 3034)
Ervendio 3784 (Spelljam Explorer 750, Group 3034)
Jongle 3784 (Working the Crowd 750, Group 3034)
Proteus 3784 (Bug Slicer 750, Group 3034)
Teks 3784 (Leglock 750, Group 3034)

LOOT
none

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46.1 The Ghost Path
our heroes join a caravan to Huzuz...

Two weeks have passed since Proteus’s last transformation. The Revengers have completed their crossing of the Great Anvil, have entered and left Halwa, and have arrived at Huzuz, City of Delights, and the heart of Amara itself.

The Ghost Path is the name of the caravan route from Halwa, City of Solitude, to Huzuz, City of Delights.

The first 150 miles is pleasant enough, especially for travelers out of the Haunted Lands. The caravan moves alongside the Al-Malih River, the land is green, and water is plentiful.

Then comes 200 miles of parched scrublands. This is a dangerous time of heat, little water, and a high chance of sandstorm, desert monster attacks, and jann encounters.

The scrublands end suddenly at the Oasis of Solitude, a place of rest and recuperation no matter what direction you travel — to Halwa or to Huzuz. Another two days of travel brings the caravan to Zarif, a small town that can be a caravan master’s nightmare. It is the only place to stock up on supplies between the two cities, and the merchants of Zarif are well aware of it.

The caravans feel the people of Zarif cheat them at every opportunity, and the people of Zarif feel the caravans take as much advantage of their kindness as they can. The result is a spirited atmosphere of bargaining and haggling, laced with tension, usually broken at night by lively celebrations and shared meals.

After Zarif, there is another hundred miles of open desert. Here there is less danger of animal attacks and jann, and a higher likelihood of bandits. In particular, the Riders of Blood — a large bandit group numbering nearly 300 dwarves — take great delight in targeting caravans going to and from Huzuz. They attack like a whirlwind and, with blade and magic, are happy to relieve caravans and caravan guards of gold and their lives.

After that stretch of desert, the caravan route turns green again as it follows the Al-Sarif River for the last 90-mile stretch to Huzuz itself. Long before reaching the city walls, the caravans pass through farms, fields, and broad streets of private dwellings. The walls of Huzuz itself are more of a nuisance than a protective barrier — they are designed to aid the bureaucracy of the Grand Caliph and to prevent large-scale smuggling. Aside from the major city gates, there are countless open-air doorways, windows, and shimmies one can squeeze through.

But the Ghost Route itself passes through the Gate of the Ghosts, Huzuz’s largest and most well traveled gate. The number of bureaucrats and mamluks (and paperwork) to pass through this gate are more than double the other major city gates. Taxes are collected, wagons are searched for contraband or false-bottoms, and merchants await — just inside the city gates — to welcome all to Huzuz, City of Delights, home to nearly one-million Amarans.

Huzuz itself is the jewel of the land. Cosmopolitan, arcane, wonderful and strange, Huzuz is home to magicians, priests, merchants, spies, jann, yak-people, and other creatures of shadow and light. The world’s biggest university is located here — Al-Bidir Sallah, “The Home of the Seekers of Knowledge,” as well as a number of smaller colleges. Any number of mundane classes may be taken here, as well as courses designed to teach even non-spellcasters how to wield just a little bit of magic.

The Grand Bazaar is an overwhelming and ever-shifting square of shops containing anything a traveler could possibly want to buy — if they have the time to shop and the dinars to spend. Pilgrims come from all over Amara to visit the city’s great mosques, and of course Huzuz houses the home of the Grand Caliph, the Seat of the Enlightened Throne.

Powerful individuals, secretive groups, and countless mysteries await the Revengers here. They may go in any direction they choose, and they may tug on any number of tempting strings — so long as they are prepared for what they might unravel….

huzuz.png

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46: A Marriage Renewed
our heroes cross the great anvil...

Jongle and Minja back away from a room full of dwarven guards, hill giants, and ogres. They find a balcony that overlooks the castle courtyard just as the rest of the Revengers finished up the guards at the two guard towers. Bertram lasso-nooses one, another is killed by Teks’s blades and Bea’s magic missiles, and the third is cut down by Proteus and Ervendio.

Reunited, the Revengers escape with Minja rather than press further into the mysterious castle.

With a week or more of travel to reach Halwa, and a full moon quickly approaching, the party decides to ride out the next three nights of Proteus’s lycanthropic transformation in the desert. They dig a sand pit hoping to contain him, but Proteus easily escapes it on his first night as a tiger. Proteus kills and eats an antelope, stumbling back to camp the next morning covered in blood.

On the second night, the Revengers themselves hide in the pit (except Bertram, who stays topside to conceal the camels). As a tiger, Proteus stalks and kills a manscorpion in the night — returning to camp with a new scar and again covered in ichor and blood — but feeling rejuvenated and alive.

On the third night, the Revengers again hide themselves. Tiger-Proteus finds a calm oasis and kills and eats the peaceful serpent lord who lives there. Undoubtedly a sentient (and good-aligned) creature, Proteus has murdered an innocent.

The Revengers press on to Halwa. Using their crystal ball to find Jad, they spy him sailing the open seas on his vessel. Proteus uses Ruat to discover the direction of the second rod — presumably still in Jad’s possession — is due east of their current location. The party surmises this places Jad in the Foreigner’s Sea. When the Revengers and Jad parted ways, several months previous, he had left them floating in a rowboat in the Great Sea to Amara’s northwest. It appears Jad has circuited around Amara and the Crowded Sea to the south, and perhaps is now traveling north and eastward.

The group arrives in Halwa, City of Solitude, greeted with a hero’s welcome! They are outlanders who have crossed the Great Anvil, the world’s most inhospitable desert — all for the sake of sacred love. They are given free lodging at the Inn of the Violet Plum where they bathe, are given food and drink, and can rest indoors and with a comfortable bed. Jongle & Minja renew their marital commitment to one another — and agree to raise their child together, as equal members of Mildred’s Revengers.

The Revengers have passed out of the desert, having rediscovered a love thought lost and having returned a dear comrade to life. Bea tells the others of her in-death conversation with Mildred, their namesake, and that Mildred told Bea to travel to The Wild Storm itself.

For now, our heroes join with a caravan headed southwest to Huzuz, City of Delights, and the jewel of Amara itself….

XP
Group Awards
Minja’s Rescue, 4000
Scrying Jad, 600
Crossed the Great Anvil, 8000
3 Fedayeen, 405

Group Total: 13,005 Individual Award: 2168

Individual Totals
Bea 2918 (Chaos Confession 750, Group 2168)
Bertram 2918 (How’s Your Noose 750, Group 2168)
Ervendio 2918 (Battle Cleric 750, Group 2168)
Jongle 2918 (Renewed Vows 750, Group 2168)
Proteus 2918 (Ate a Guy 750, Group 2168)
Teks 2918 (Digging a Hole 750, Group 2168)

BONUS: Minja has rejoined the party as a henchman henchperson

LOOT
identified the following…

short bow +3

bronze plate mail +2

scarab amulet — unknown curse

Zephyr of the Winter Moon, a dancing scimitar

on the first round of use, this sword is +1; on the 2nd +2, the 3rd +3, the 4th +4. On the 5th it goes back to +1 and the cycle begins again.

After four rounds of melee, the wielder can allow it to “dance” — fighting on its own as the same level of the wielder. After four rounds of dancing, the sword must return to its wielder who must use if for another four founds before loosing it again.

While dancing, the Zephyr can move 30’ away from its wielder. At the end of 4 rounds it will automatically move to its wielders hand. The sword cannot be physically hit, but can be effected by certain magical attacks, such as fireball, lightning bolt, transmute wood to metal, and others.

Bards can release the Zephyr on any round that is not a +1.

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45: Krak al-Niraan
our heroes infiltrate a desert castle...

The Revengers continue their trek across the Great Anvil. Searingly hot in the day and freezing cold at night, even with the help of both arcane and priestly spells, the trip starts to take a toll on them.

The desert takes a toll on Proteus’s mind, as well. He dreams of life as a tiger, but even in dreams he is unable to eat. He wakes up each morning to find Ruat, the First Key and the first piece of the Rod of 7 Parts, has somehow moved away from him. On Teks’s recommendation, Proteus meditates on the rod and attempts to speak to it. Ruat seems unable — or unwilling — to converse with him for long, telling him that he is unwell in both body and mind.

After more than three weeks of travel, he party comes upon the remains of a a burned and ruined caravan. It matches the size of the caravan they have scried traveling with Minja. There are no survivors and no remaining loot. The wagons, dwarves, and camels that once made up the caravan have all been horribly burned. Even the sand under the caravan has been burned, so hotly that it has turned to glass.

Teks and Proteus bury what remains they can find. They are joined by an ethereal band of djinn, genies of the wind, who do not speak to or even acknowledge the Revengers. As the last of the burnt bones are buried, the djinn disappear without a word.

Continuing on, Teks’s wayfinding and Ervendio’s spells guide the group ever southward. Jongle peers into the crystal ball again and finds Minja alive — in a room now, surrounded by pillows and silks.

After a few more days of travel, the party spies a bluff rising from the desert. It is topped by a great castle with fires burning at the watchtowers. There is only one switchbacked path leading up the bluff. Believing Minja to be held prisoner inside, Jongle and Bea send a message to her via whispering wind, telling her that Jongle will come to rescue her that evening. He will come to her window, as a bat. The rest of the party ascend the trail, keeping themselves hidden until Jongle can signal them.

Jongle circles the castle walls, spying a courtyard and great fortress inside. It is inhabited by dwarves wearing white abas. He finds Minja in a well-furnished room on the fourth floor — but all of the castle windows are little more than defensive arrow slits. As a bat, Jongle flies in — but as he transforms back into a goblin, he is unable to escape again.

Jongle and Minja are reunited! Surprised to see her estranged husband, Minja says she is en route to the orphanage where Khalid was reared, and where she hopes her unborn child may be raised. She says she prayed to her maharajah for guidance and was surprised when Khalid spored in front of her, telling her of his youth under the strict
command of a Holy Order. It is possible she has misunderstood Khalid’s intent in telling this story, and in so doing, has decided to cross sea and desert to drop off her baby there.

Jongle, having been raised in a horrifying goblin orphanage in Skullcap, declares that he will raise his baby himself — and that Minja is to come with him. They quarrel (they kiss) and Minja steals the crystal ball used to spy on her from Jongle. They agree to discuss the finer points of their relationship (and its future) later, as Minja’s fate at the castle appears to include being added to the harem of Jamal, a flame wizard who commands this castle. Jongle and Minja dispatch the guard at her door, Jongle disguises himself (poorly) in the guard’s robes, and they attempt to find their way out of the castle.

Unable to receive a message from Jongle, the Revengers decide to sneak into the castle. Ervendio’s moonbridge gives them access to one of two guard towers at the gate, by they are spied by the watchdwarves. Teks bum rushes one of the guards off of the tower and Ervendio silences the alarm bell, but one other guard remains on the tower — he throws some sort of fiery, explosive ball at Teks, which misses. Two other guards, on the other tower, have also spied the intruding Revengers.

Meanwhile, moving floor by floor, Jongle and Minja have been unable to find an exit. As the signal bell begins to sound elsewhere in the castle, they open the doors to a staircase — and run right into a veritable legion of guardsmen, made of dwarves, ogres, and several hill giants….

XP
Group Awards
Djinn Burial,1200
Storming the Castle, 600

2 Fedayeen, 270

Group Total: 2070 Individual Awards: 345

Individual Totals
Bea 1095 (Whispering Wind 750, Group 345)
Bertram 1095 (Holding His Action 750, Group 345)
Ervendio 1095 (Moonbeam Bridge 750, Group 345)
Jongle 1095 (Couples Counseling 750, Group 345)
Proteus 1095 (Talking to the Rod 750, Group 345)
Teks 1095 (Bug Rush 750, Group 345)

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Scorched Earth

MantisLotus2.jpg

Things are looking grim for the Revengers as they decide to cross the Great Avil. Only Bertram knows the truth, that they are not prepared for such a trek. He has never experienced heat such as this. The sun pounds his now brown and leathery skin, and the sand whips and fills every crevice of his plump bottom. Each day they travel; each day they march closer to certain doom, the Bertram that he became— the soft and tender fellow, afraid, constantly worrying and griping. That Bertram was dying, yet this new Bertram, lost in the infinite desert—this new Bertram— was not afraid to die anymore.

“I’ve seen what mad kings will do to cheat death. Death is a contract. It’s a deal you make with Creation when the first breath of life is blown into your lungs! I’ve spent all my life being afraid to die, and watching those I’ve loved—those I’ve tried to save— pass into oblivion! If this is my time, so be it. And if there’s any shard of my fragmented soul left to salvage, I hope the Creator can manage with that.

Oh the wonders I’ve witnessed! Some of the most fantastic beasts and beings on the Urth have been revealed to me. I have seen things many gnomes have never known. I have been Her Majesty’s Most Faithful Servant, and bussed tables in the dankest piss-smelling taverns the Middlemarsh has to offer. I’ve lived many lives, under many different false pretenses. Looking around, I take in the Revengers that now surround me:

Teks is grooming himself, I think. There is an intelligence behind his eyes, a wit that I cannot explain. Often, I catch him staring off into the horizon, hat cocked low, and I know he’s thinking of the same thing I am: home. Hernia, the land across the sea. He talks about his clutch, about the thri-kreens. It is a fraught existence on the edge of the world. Sticky goo, chitin, and egg sacks are their purview. A constant cycle of breeding, hatching, feeding, and dying.

Jongle is riding a couple clicks ahead of the rest of us, occasionally we’ll catch him before he disappears over the next horizon. He’s pushing himself to death, and we all know why. Minja is out there, with child. She and the baby could be in danger, sure, but he won’t be any good to them dead. I sent a message to him on the wind and over the dunes to turn back and make camp, but he won’t listen. We press on.

Bea is humming to herself as she snacks on a portion of salted dates I’ve set aside. Salt is a commodity here too, and Bertram now knew why. Both Bea and Bertram have never experienced the desert before they landed in Amarra, and with all the water they were consuming (and the amount of sweat they were subsequently producing), they began to feel dizzy and lethargic. Bertram noticed after he started adding the salt he gathered from the salt flats to their meals the feeling subsided.
In Bea too, seemed a calm. She had already died once, but how many more lives would this big-faced round-headed girl have left in her? If he were to have any partner in death, he would prefer no one else.
Proteus is still finding bits of fur in his clothes, cleaning blood out of his cuticles, and picking his teeth. They don’t tell you about that bit when you read about lycanthropes in the books. His appetite is voracious. The…changing… it must have taken this piss out of him for a few days— he wouldn’t eat, he could only sleep. Now he won’t sleep, only eat! I have been trying to manage it, but I know he’s been sneaking meals. I’ve asked Khanufasa to keep an eye on him. Our food stores are looking dire indeed given the journey ahead. I can only do so much, I’m afraid. But magic can do many things in these heady times…and it might yet keep us alive.

…and Ervendio. Something dark had overtaken him in the Azaltine’s palace. It had been far too easy for him to take command over the bone brigade. I can’t help but feel responsible, I had warned him, but his curiosity was tempted him so! Foolish elf! I couldn’t let him take that horrible loop just to be used again on some other unsuspecting manc. I watch as a crease forms in his forehead. There is a battle raging within him. I sleep now with a blade at the ready. There was a time when we would have killed each other on sight. Who’s to say he won’t act on it again? If I were to fall, would he save me? His lonely sighs make me shift in my saddle. I want to confide in him again. I find that even though I no longer fear death, I now fear conversation. "

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Up a Tree, a Little Madder
Bea's Diary, Entry 3

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So this’ll be my first post-mortem diary entry. Uh huh, you read that right, true Bealievers: your heroine of yore did not in fact live even to see the twilight of her teens. Barely nubile and bit through the neck by a putrid rotgob, a disgusting, stinking undead ghast. A thing that should not exist at all anywhere – indeed a situation which I may now just have to go out of my way to arrange.

It fucking hurt, if you want to know. For posterity or whatever. I used to think pain and memory were sort of at odds, that you could remember the fact of its intensity but you couldn’t actually recall the sensation, know what I mean? For obvious practical reasons, I figure the knowing of it is enough to encourage one to energetically avoid any such thing in the future. But when I think of that repugnant, slimy, bloated thing bearing down on me, its wretched gases poisoning the air so that I can’t breathe, my throat closes, and there is pain, that horrific tearing comes back…

Well. Death by ghast. I can’t recommend it, neither for even the most morbidly curious nor the curiously moribund. With dear Bertram’s help, I’ve now really begun to double down on protective spells. I’m even working on one that leaves a nice twinge of lemon zest in the air.

And you have the dogged efforts of my beloved, clever companions to thank for my resurrection. Yes, I write not from within the comforting shimmer of the afterlife but abask in the familiar warmth and glow of a terrestrial campfire, once again in the jovial, snorzy company of good ol’ Mildred’s Revengers. This hallowed party of saints embarked upon a quest specifically to rez me, intent on tracking down a certain dwarven monk or hermit or someone, a guy who purportedly knew how to bring folks back from the great beyond. Ervendio charmed up my corpse to keep it from going bad and off they went. The new bug guy even had the presence of mind to sever a choice finger and bring it along for reference. I guess he figured I wouldn’t need it later…

It wasn’t long before things fell apart, as they are wont, something having to do with a hostile genie and the solving of a ridiculous riddle. Right?! I can’t believe I missed a riddle. Something finally happens requiring some actual intellect in this party and I’m too dead to participate. Sigh. They did just fine without me, though. In fact ironically the solving of the riddle almost cost me my metempsychosis, but this being the land of genies, after all, a fresh set of wishes was always in the cards (more on that later!) and proved sufficient to conjure up a perfectly serviceable replacement me, blipping back into existence fully equipped and seemingly none the worse for wear, at least so far.

Where would this party be without those diabolical wishes, you ask? Off the top of my head: Khalid would have wasted away in some dark mystery dungeon instead of becoming a huge mushroom deity, Bertram would have lost all of his stuff including his spellbook, and Jongle would be an entirely different sort of idiot.

I don’t believe I ever actually made it as far as an afterrealm, actually. I remember dying, pain receding, replaced with a black cold solid to the core, then a complete absence of sensation and thought, and then:

“Hello, dear.”

It’s a voice I recognize instantly, but having just been violently yanked from the material plane, I place it only after my eyes slowly focus and the following sequence of information reveals itself to me:

1. Nothing hurts anymore.
2. No more death smell. Everything smells like marzipan and soil.
3. I’m in a tree.
4. There’s a frumpy old kobold in this tree, eating flowers and smiling at me.
5. That kobold is none other than our own dearly departed kindly swampwitch,

“Mildred!” I shout, a lot louder than I mean to.

Lips speckled with pollen, treeflower bits tumbling out of her mouth, she climbs over and offers me a great twiggy gray hand. A cozy warmth rushes into my bones at her touch, and she gives me a giant hug that feels just spectacular.

“Deary, weary me,” she says, spitting out some petals, “look what they’ve gone and done to our little honeybee!” She leans me back. “Well, let’s have a look at you. My my, pretty as ever, my my my. Coming along nicely, aren’t you? What a vision. And can’t you just smell the power wafting out of you!”

She helps me down into a surprisingly wide niche at the base of the tree’s crown, and lets me take a second to shake off the shivers. I’m a bit weepy, I mean, apart from the fact that violent death isn’t any fun, I never expected to see poor Mildred the Frowzywig again. She looks amazing, I don’t know, like a goddess of sorts. Frazzled clumps of her hair hover on a light updraft, glowing in patches of the sun that dance over her like little luminous butterflies. Wherever the hell we are, it’s a nice day, at least. Beyond the tree I can’t make out much, just vast folds of wavy plains. Looking down, I can see that this is one big fucking tree, though. The ground can’t be any less than half a mile below, so far I can’t really see where the trunk meets the earth.

I tuck myself a little deeper in my niche and peer up through the canopy of flowers. It seems endless. “This is the world tree, isn’t it. Yggdrasil.” I can’t help but to release a disappointed sigh. There are a lot of old powers in the world. There was always the long chance that someone/thing else intervened on my behalf to bring me here. “Guess I’m really dead.”

“Beyond doubt, dearie. Weren’t you always a bright thing.” She touches the trunk to let a bug crawl onto her finger, peering in close as it races over her knuckles. “The World Ash Tree, upon it an old witch and a neophyte spirit petitioner. Two motes in the eyes of the gods. Bugs on a leaf on a twig on a limb on the trunk of a tree in the deep of the forest…”

I stifle a laugh, though not quite sure why. I had forgotten how musical and wonderfully mad conversing with Mildred was. “It’s blooming,” I say. I grab a closer look at one of the flowers, and a sniff – ah, there’s that marzipan scent. “That must mean…”

She flips up her hands, sending the bug flying off somewhere. “Aha! Life on Urd, on the ascent!” She relaxes, gives a wise old chuckle. “Or it shall be, or was. It’s your paradigm, honeybee. Time is a fickle brook in these here middlebit planes, in between places. Omens of home an’ some portents important to scry away days, fore, mid, aft, port, starboard…”

“I guess,” I say, letting the subject rest. Outerplane logic can really screw with your head. If you’re not careful, you can wind up as batty as Mildred.

She gives me some kind of sweet licoricey root to chill me out and we chat a bit, catching up as if this were all perfectly ordinary. She wants to know what I thought I was doing fighting ghasts, I tell her that’s a good question, and that I seem to be a magnet for them. She asks me about my romantic life and I think about Jongle, and get really sad all of a sudden, but I don’t really know what to tell her, so I don’t say anything. Kind of a messed up thing to ask a dead person, actually. We end up getting into more about what the revengers have been up to. She’s finds it particularly interesting when I tell her that even apart from the actual party deaths, signing on with the revengers, willingly or otherwise, is more or less a prescription for a hideous demise. Here and maybe once or twice more I get an odd feeling from her, I don’t know. Like she has some kind of unspoken agenda.

“Wait,” I say, “if I’m a petitioner, how come I’m still me and not mindwiped and all boring and daft?”

At this she makes a show of shrugging, as if to say, Don’t look at me, I’m just a passenger. “Who can say?” she says. Then she smiles. “Well now I suppose I can.”

She pulls down a branch of the tree, stripping it of all its leaves and blossoms, so that when the naked branch whips away she’s holding what looks like a dense, festive bouquet.

“I’m afraid our time together in this place of waiting is near spent, bumblebee,” she says. “I’ve taken measures. In fact I’ve been waiting for you, dearie lou. The Chaos Storm is calling you.”

As she speaks, the leaves of her bouquet begin to glow, at first as if spotlit by the sun but then clearly with a light their own, bathing us both in brilliant green and sending tiny yellow sparks into the air.

“I don’t… What? The Chaos Storm?”

“Just like you said, precious, there are a lot of old, curious powers across the planes.”

Fairly certain I did not say that aloud…

The leaves separate, floating into the space between us, then whirl into a circle. Mildred opens her hands, releasing the flowers that remained behind to rush inside to fill it. They collect and condense, and then slowly form a word.

“‘LIAR’?”

“Look.”

The flowers now conform to the shape of a man’s head, the word stamped over his brow. The scene shifts, revealing the head now at the feet of a group of adventurers. I recognize the unmistakeable insectoid silhouette of Teks.

“Dead is as dead does, now isn’t it, dear? I haven’t spent these long months sitting in a tree, I had some shifting through the planes of my own to do, yes. The liar was an adversary, a defeated foe, you could say. He is my creature now, and I have sent him into the material plane, into that desert for your companions to find, and so they have! He’ll take the form of something that within the rules of Urd can set you to rights, and there you will return. And then you will seek out the chaos storm, and remember me!”

Even as she is telling me this, the pinhole is closing around the world. The green glow is soon all I can see before that shifts into blackness as well.

“Goodbye dear. Do say hello to our good friends from me, especially that one!”

“What? Wait, who, wha-?!”

And that was that. As abruptly as I had been snatched by fetid, snarling fate from the material plane, so was I returned, albeit a bit more screamy. The “liar” turned out to be a dao that Teks and Jongle freed from confinement. He granted them three wishes, and they used two of them to bring me back into the fold. I haven’t told the party yet about Mildred and all that stuff about the Chaos Storm. I probably will once I spend a few weeks unpacking it all in my head.

Finally, in my absence: Bertram’s secret past was revealed to him. It was nuts! So nuts he’d arranged to have himself forget it. Ervendio was freed from a geas by the same dao that brought me back. Gluteus (ha) is a weretiger now, which is excellent. Teks eviscerated a harpy with his mouth. He also gifted to me my own mummified old finger. At this moment, all my digits are accounted for, I’m wiggling them right now. I suppose that makes me a clone of some kind? I’ll have to look into it.

Oh and Jongle is a father.

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44: Tiger in a Sinkhole
our heroes wrestle the ghosts of Sri Raji...

The Revengers leave Azaltin’s temple after much discussion regarding how much of the (now revealed to be copper) treasure they can possibly gather from the Gate of Avarice. Ervendio commands the skeletal warriors of the tomb to rest eternally, and one by one their bones collapse — finally at peace.

But upon boarding the pulleyed cart to begin the journey to the surface, a strange transformation overtakes Proteus — his skin becomes clammy and fur sprouts from it. His nails turn long, black, and sharp. His eyes become cat eyes. Finally, the curse bestowed upon him in Sri Raji comes back to bite — under the light of the full moon, Proteus transforms into a weretiger!

His body expands and he shreds through his clothes and even his leather armor. Ruat, the first key and the first part of the rod, falls ineffectively the floor of the cart. Trapped with him on the cart, the Revengers can only watch in surprise and horror.

Proteus feels the last vestiges of control leave him as he becomes, body and mind, a vicious tiger. Ready to turn on his comrades, Proteus-the-Tiger is suddenly transfixed by a bobbing, twirling, hypnotic ball — Jongle has cast hypnotic pattern. The jester stays up all night, keeping Proteus entranced. In the morning, Proteus returns to his human form.

The heroes return to the jann’s camp to seek help from Paqi. But instead of humility, compassion, and friendship, they meet their former henchman with derision and distrust. Paqi refuses to help them, and the Sheik Sheyisha ultimately casts them from the camp, telling them not to return.

The Revengers go back to the sinkhole, knowing Proteus is fated to transform into a tiger for the next two nights. They initially bind him with chains, but Proteus’s great tiger-strength easily breaks them. Still, Proteus is unable to scale the sheer walls of the sinkhole.

Over two nights keeping watch over their friend, the Revengers discuss what direction to take their quest: will they return to Haroushin, even without the scroll of The Eleven Baneful Gates, in hopes the priest will still tell them the location of the next key? Will they pursue Minja across the desert? Will they return to Sri Raji to find a cure for — or control over — Proteus’s curse?

Ultimately, the bounds of fatherhood win out. They decide to track Minja across the desert. Jongle again peers into the crystal ball and sees that she has joined a modest caravan of desert folk, and that she seemingly is crossing the Great Anvil — – the legendary heart of the desert and nigh-uninhabitable by non-magical beings.

Their guide Khanufasa, though unable to see Minja in the crystal ball, surmises that anyone crossing the Great Anvil would either be heading to the fabled Lost Kingdoms to the south, or to Halwa, the City of Solitude to the southwest.

Rather than take the longer, but safer, route back to Muluk and then over sea and land routes to Halwa, the Revengers opt to travel directly after Minja and across the Great Anvil. Khanufasa tells them (again) they are being dangerously foolish, and that he cannot travel with them in that direction. Khanufasa parts ways with the Revengers.

The party sets out across the great and dangerous desert, under-supplied and relying on Teks’s desert survival skills and the water and food-creating spells of Ervendio, Bea, and Bertram….

XP
Group Awards
A Weretiger Among Us, 1800
Negotiating with the Jann, 0
The Great Anvil, 1200

Group Total: 3000 Individual Award: 500

Individual Totals
Bea: 1250 (Dead Diarist 750, Group 500)
Bertram: 1250 (Holding a Grudge 750, Group 500)
Ervendio 1250 (Putting the Past to Rest 750, Group 500)
Jongle: 1250 (A Father’s Duty 750, Group 500)
Proteus 1250 (Mind of the Beast 750, Group 500)
Teks: 1250 (Desert Wayfinder 750, Group 500)

LOOT
none
(Proteus loses his clothing + leather armor)

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43: Touch, But Don't Taste
our heroes complete the baneful gates...

Before confronting the remaining Baneful Gates of Azaltin, the Revengers explore other rooms of the temple. They encounter the nest of a cockatrice and send some of their loyal skeletal legion in to destroy it, and Teks — in a fit of thri’kreenian rage, eviscerates a harpy with his bare mandibles.

They also encounter an imprisoned sphinx named Mayram. She cannot remember how long she has been imprisoned, but she has not seen her captors in some time — perhaps years. She believes they were bandits who intended to explore the rest of the tomb. After a hangry interaction with Bertram, Maryam becomes friends with the gnome over a shared meal. Maryam departs the Revengers in good spirits, intending to return to her husband and, if he has shacked up with her sister in her absence, murder them both.

The heroes pass the Gate of Gluttony when Ervendio commands the skeletons to destroy the sumptuous feast, even as Teks holds back a ravenous Bertram. They do not fare as well against the Gate of Knowledge when Teks attempts to read a cursed scroll and begins turning to stone. Again, it is Ervendio who saves his comrade. The remaining books and scrolls in the temple library are tax records, census reports, and other mundane — but no doubt valuable — records of this lost city.

Entering the Gate of Profane Love, the Revengers encounter a strange strange but beautiful dwarf who claims to be a member of Azaltin’s harem. They ignore her entreaties (and her advice to backtrack and re-enter the gates they had passed through) as well as her final request for a kiss for good luck. They leave her behind as spits a curse after them, disappearing into whatever nether-plane she emerged from.

The Revengers face the final gate — the Gate of Sacred Love — and the good among them discover a hidden vault of treasures. They find Azaltin’s inner chamber, which contains a scroll revealing that the Eleven Baneful Gates has been destroyed by the undead Azaltin himself, who was heartbroken to have been separated by centuries from his wife. Translated from ancient chun, the scroll read,

Too late have I realized the Loregiver’s warnings. Immortality is a curse, not a treasure. No man should be separated from his wife by the ravages of time. This is a burden I shouldered through youthful pride. Rest assured that The Eleven Baneful Gates has been destroyed. It can tempt mortals no further.

Bea was unimpressed by Azaltin’s supposed-lesson, arguing that, if you lived forever, you could fall in love over and over again, with lots of people.

Though they did not find the scroll they were sent to recover by Haroushin, the party recovers several items of treasure from Azaltin’s sanctum, including a book called The History of Lions, which purports to be the true history of al-Anwahr.

The Revengers prepare to depart the temple, loaded with treasure — though not with the scroll they were sent to recover….

XP
Group Awards
Cockatrice: 650
Harpy: 975
Gate of Gluttony: 1600
Gate of Knowledge: 0
Gate of Profane Love: 2900
Gate of Sacred Love: 3500
Group Total: 9625 Individual Total: 1925

Individual Awards
Bea 2675 (Lesson Unlearned 750, Group 1925)
Bertram 2675 (Sphinxfriend 750, Group 1925)
Ervendio 2675 (Cursebreaker 750, Group 1925)
Jongle 2675 (Slippered Feet 750, Group 1925)
Teks 2675 (A Taste of Harpy 750, Group 1925)

LOOT
- gems worth a total of 8500 gp
- harpy feathers
- cockatrice feathers
- gilded scroll case (empty)
- books & scrolls from the library of al-Anwhar (tax records, etc)
- a plate

contents of the final room:
- scimitar
- short bow
- a golden scarab
- suit of bronze plate mail
- purple, silk slippers (I think Jongle already put these on?)
- a book

- Azaltin’s scroll
- book, The Kingdom of Lions

View
42: Time is the Fire in Which We Burn
our heroes pass through six baneful gates...

After burying the bodies of the fallen archaeologists, the Revengers pass through the Lion’s Gate. They encounter a room of skeletal guards, who salute Teks — the bearer of the lion rod — and the Revengers pass by peacefully.

Next, the Revengers pass through the Gate of Forgetfulness. They avoid a seemingly-mystical fountain and rose garden, but there is no effect when Bea attempts to dispel whatever magic is there. The Revengers stick to the perimeter of the room.

The Revengers pass through the Gate of Piety and discover a long-dead priest clutching a jar of unknown oil. They are unable to force the jar from the priest’s skeletal hand, and eventually they move on.

Entering Vanity’s Gate, Teks becomes transfixed by his own mirrored reflection. Unable to move — except to step deeper into the room — Proteus attempts to blindly smash the mirrors while Bertram creates an illusory meadow, obscuring the mirrors and allowing the Revengers to safely pass on.

Passing the Gate of Violence, the Revengers destroy a pair of copper automatons left for centuries to guard this palace. The automatons had initially ignored the party — one even helped Proteus to his feet after the warrior knocked through the door by way of his meaty shoulder — but when Ervendio drew the lion rod, they attacked. Later, encountering another pair of automatons, the Revengers avoid combat when they draw no weapons.

The Revengers than pass through the Gate of Avarice, finding a room stacking with a quarter of a million gold pieces. Jongle and Proteus go through the treasure, with Proteus filling a sack with as many as he can carry. But when Bertram attempts to search the room for traps, something terrible occurs — and then, never occurred. Touching the gold coins seemingly ages Bertram by decades — in a matter of moments, he ages more than 70 years — until Bea, casting alternate reality, undoes the effect.

The group, not having rested for more than a day, retreats and seeks a safe space to rest. They have passed through seven of the 11 Baneful Gates — some successfully, some with no effect, and some that nearly doomed them — and there are four tests yet to come….

XP
Group Awards
Lion’s Gate, 1300
Gate of Forgetfulness, 300
Gate of Piety, 0
Vanity’s Gate, 500
Gate of Violence, 1300
Gate of Avarice, 0

Group Total, 3400. Individual Total, 567

Individual Totals
Bea 1317 (Fizzled Dispel 750 , Group 567)
Bertram 1317 (Peaceful Meadow 750 , Group 567)
Ervendio 1317 (Hall Lurker 750 , Group 567)
Jongle 1317 (Goldfinger 750 , Group 567)
Proteus 1317 (Blind Fighter 750 , Group 567)
Teks 1317 (Bone Captain 750, Group 567)

LOOT
2 scimitars (Proteus)
1,000 gp (Proteus)
automaton arm (Proteus)

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