Wednesday, 3rd October, 2012, 10:05 PM #1
Trench's Legacy of Fire (A Ptolus Gestalt): The Trouble With Pugwampis (Updated 1/27)
A few notes.
The campaign has been running PbP for nearly three years now and we're close to wrapping up. The message board is actually where a large group of us that have known each other online for nearly fifteen years come to commiserate. Many of us are writers, either pro, semi-pro or amateur, so we focus a lot more on story and PC interaction than most. Being play by post, this lends itself well.
The campaign started with one friend doing an old school 1E feel campaign set in the world of Monte Cook's Ptolus, although not in the city itself. A couple years later, I decided to run my own campaign within Ptolus (a police procedural, which some day I may get to archiving. It's... gotten enormously twisty and complicated.) Not long after that, I decided to give Legacy of Fire a shot set within the same world. Many of the gods and country names have been changed in order to fit the world, and to keep within continuity of the shared universe we have going on. I'll probably post stuff in spoiler boxes that diverge greatly.
There's a LOT of PM's that go on that the players never see. This is a group of PC's that often play against each other, to very entertaining results.
Last edited by Trench; Monday, 28th January, 2013 at 06:33 AM.
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Let's meet our cast.
Jadid Ahad: Monk
Jadid is not particularly tall nor handsome. His face, along with ritual scarring, shows the effects of hundreds of hours of sparring, fighting, and broken bones. His grey eyes are penetrating, especially offset by his deep, golden-brown skin. He is wide, though not quite stocky. A lifetime of training has led his body to be quite fit and muscular.
Jadid is customarily clad in his ceremonial temple clothing. he wears loose white pants tucked into taped-up soft boots on his feet. A white sash serves as a rudimentary belt. His torso is often unclad, displaying the ritual scarring through burns that adorn his chest and back (serpents on the back, sun imagery on the front). When training or expecting combat, he often wraps his forearms in white linen tightly, but otherwise more burned tattoos show there. As is traditional for his order, scarves also cover his mouth and nose in all but the most intimate settings. His hair is kept long, as he is only to cut it when defeated in combat. It is a huge disgrace to see one of his order with short hair.
The man now known as Jadid Ahad was the son of Bedouin pilgrims lost in the Wastes. They stumbled up on the fabled Bayt Min Uf"uwan min Raml, the home of an ancient order of mystical desert fighters. While the parents did not survive much longer, the ascetics raised the infant in the ways of their order. He has since been trained in their unique fighting style that relies much on both acrobatics, devastating quick strikes, and painful grapples. He was taught from a very early age where weak joints are, what parts of the body can be easily exploited or hurt, etc.
Though those that find this temple on their own often live the rest of their lives there, it is customary for someone raised there to be sent into the world in order to learn what life outside is like. It is desired, but not required, for them to return at some time to update the temple on the ways of the outside world.
Training in the arcane is often common for these monks, but while Jadid has learned of magic, he has displayed no ability to produce it on his own. Now 17, a man of his order, he was sent out with his first name (which means "New One," as all other such orphans are named when they first leave the temple) in order to find his path. He knows of good and of evil, he knows of many things intellectually, but it is now his time to experience them. He seeks knowledge, experience, and to further his abilities.
Gerber Loewe: Knight
Gerber was born to a pair of travelling Prustan merchants in the town of Kartare under somewhat mysterious circumstances, in that his mother was not known to have been with child. His parents tended not to stay in one place very long, though they seemed to be well-known with certain elements wherever they went.
Gerber was treated well by the Loewes, and by their friends, but their bustling lifestyle left the boy with a feeling of inconstancy. He took an early interest in religion, much to his family's chagrin. He left them at 15 and became a page boy for a knight of Lothian he'd met in Tarsis.
The knight insisted that (the physically adept and strong of heart) Gerber train to someday join the order. And so he did train. And so he did join. At age 22, his initiation was the proudest day of his short life.
Surprising to Gerber, knighthood was mostly uneventful. It was ninety-nine percent training and tedium punctuated with brief moments of excitement and terror. Still, he enjoyed his life and his work...he remained physically adept and remained strong of heart. Until the politics crept in.
Control of Gerber's order fell to a new liege, Commander Rajali, and a new group of knights assumed leadership. His mentor vanished suddenly in the night one summer, and no actions were taken to look for him. Those who spoke up were punished and eventually fell in line or quit to be replaced by new recruits. Naive young Gerber kept quiet, hoping for the whole thing to blow over.
It did not blow over. Eventually, during a quest that was morally dubious to begin with, Gerber was given an order so distasteful that he could not in good conscience comply. He was ejected from the order and banished from the Empire to the land of Uraq over the sea to the south, where he lived in poverty and drunkenness until Garavel recruited him to help liberate and reestablish the city of Kelmarane.
Gerber is 6'3" and 220 lbs., but most people don't realize it because of the way he carries himself, usually hunched over in tattered robes. His dark brown hair has grown to his shoulders and his beard is embarrassingly unkempt.
Mahjub Mutawalli: Rogue
Mahjub stands at 5'10", tanned of skin despite his life in the city, and is on the thinner side but not without his fair share of muscle. He has a handsome face, one that barely betrays his half-elven ancestry but for his slightly pointed ears. He is often clean shaven, both on his face and head, and those few close to him judge how busy he's been by the length of stubble he's grown, as he's become accustomed to spoiling himself with the comfort of a paid shave by a trusted hand whenever he can. Those who've met and/or employed Mahjub consider him charming and witty, the quintessential city man. He makes a decently profitable living offering himself out as a guide to city newcomers, a go-between among the traders, a bargainer/procurer of items ranging from the mundane to the rare, as well as a man connected with the shady underbelly of the city.
Mahjub grew up orphan-like on the streets of the city, and despite most people assuming a human man raped an elven woman when noticing his features, the truth was his mother was a human whore used and paid for by an elven noble (or so his mother claimed, but few believed.) She considered the child a burden and rarely cared for him, which left him no choice but to fend for himself on the streets, spending many of his formative years in and around the city and its most infamous market, begging and stealing to survive. The strange and often horrific sights he saw there forced him to grow up fast.
Once Mahjub reached his teenage years he often liked to offer his services out merchants, facilitating deals and offering up protection. It was in this capacity that he was often beheld as the de facto leader of a group of young rogues angrily referred to as "Karam's Street Rats", most assuming that he himself was the elusive Karam and posing as his own spokesman. Though he has never admitted to such an identity or affiliation, most merchants in the city would not deny that a kind word and a few coins slipped into Mahjub's palm seemed to uncannily protect their goods from ceaseless minor thefts that can wear away at profits. Mahjub even claims to have been employed on occasion by Lucky Farouq himself, one of the most popular and reputable merchants in the city.
A man of young (half-elven) age and experience, Mahjub makes a decent living offering these same services and more to all visitors and residents of the city. His mother, long since retired from whoring once word of Mahjub's successes as an essential contact about town reached her ears, lives in a modest home and wants for little, though it could hardly be said that her son spoils her, to her own chagrin.
Abud al-Jabiri: Beguiler
Abud is 45 years old, 5'7 inches and weighs 130 pounds. His pale skin is always covered by a robe that has been harshly punished by the sun. His eyes are green, his smile ingratiating and his manners composite and fine. His skin sports several scars and tattoos, but that does not mean they are real.
A 45 year old desert half-elf, Abud likes to live a fine life. The harsh, punishing desert only intrigues him, as he wonders how many secrets ths silent sands hold.
He left his family several years ago and travelled the deserts until he found Uraqi. He has a gift for languages and for arcane magic. He believes an honest day's pay for another day's work is something that should happen to other people. He likes a good story, a great tale and to see how far he can take a lie.
He's been passing himself as a sorcerer and is always on the look-out for adventuring parties going to the desert, so he can get his share of gold without too much trouble.
He's friendly, easy-going and always manages to duck out of any heavy labor. Folks never seem to mind.
Dima Ughruda al'Badiya: Sorceress
While her parents are well established in Rashadar, Dima's family come from a tribe that settled at a large oasis on a desert trading route. Her Grandfather is still there as the current patriarch of a permanent community. There's a favourite story they love to tell from many, many generations back; of a Djinn, an Efreet, and a Marid who found the oasis during a sandstorm and blessed it and the family for their hospitality. The tradition of welcoming travellers and trading goods continues, with the proceeds sent to town and sold at the family's market stalls. The suspicion of jinn ancestry might have something to do with the occasional appearance of a child with magical abilities; Dima was the only one currently known in the tribe, but her sister Mehri has now discovered her own abilities as well. When the twins were born, Mehri came first, and then as Dima was delivered the heavens opened with the annual rains. Grandfather has indulged the girls perhaps a bit too much after such an auspicious beginning; they're the apples of his eyes and he hasn't been as quick as he might to try and arrange husbands. He knows they'd never agree to it anyway.
Dima left Rashadar to search for her twin who had vanished. Rumours of a girl fighting in the battle markets led her to joining an expedition for the Pactmasters to retake Kelmarane.
Dima and her twin, Mehri were well known in the markets of Rashadar and now Kelmarane; identical brunettes with large dark eyes, prone to impromptu dancing outside their family perfume and silks stalls bringing traffic to a standstill. Unwanted attention is quickly rebuffed, as Dima is a sorceress of some ability and not afraid of enforcing a "back off!" She exudes a very outgoing girlie-girl demeanor.
Abu'l-Faraj Muhammad bin Is'haq al-Nadim: Cleric of Hannan
Abu'l is a quiet, stern imam of Hanan, coming to spread the word of his lord.
Let's start the show.
Uraq 1: The Trouble with Pugwampis
The year is 720 in the last week of Birth.
These months it is relatively cool in Uraq. But even then the trip southwest from Rashadar was hard. They skirted far from Ra'ad the Blue's claimed territory, instead following the almost forgotten Obelisk Trail. Dozens of twelve foot black pillars of obsidian rose out of the sand, the word "trail" inscribed on it in ten different languages: Dwarven, Gnomish, Halfling, Uraqi, Imperial, and Elven being the only recognizable ones. The others were in the strange languages of cuneoform Panogolan and Buneir. Even the odd sweeping kanji of Kellisan was present.
Scrawled on almost half of these obelisks were the words "death" in Gnoll.
They took the long way around the Trackless Storm, the several mile system of near constant sandstorms requiring the detour- even if the fabled pesh fields were true. They skirted quickly past the Slithering Cove as sand eels hissed among the bones of travelers and slow, stupid camels. They walked warily past the Crouching Jackal as it stared at them, keeping eye on the Creeping Watcher miles away.
Until finally the sands hardened and turned into cracked, dry earth and the occasional cactus multiplied and was joined by thorny scrub brush and the massive Scorched Peaks were visible in the distance. The eerie Pale Mountain loomed over the mid-evening horizon like a tombstone.
They were all collected by a lantern-jawed man named Garavel Imaad-Isaam. He has said little on the long journey southwest toward the far-off mountain range, instead leading the camel caravan steadily toward its goal, where their employer supposedly waits.
A dry wind blows Garavel's keffiyeh in the wind. "Over the next hill," he says simply.
"May the Gods preserve you and your master, Garavel Imaad-Isaam." Abud says loudly. His face is still covered by a strip of cloth coming from his turban. "I eagerly await to hear what he has to propose to us."
Garavel turns slightly to Abud.
Gerber Loewe remains stony and silent as he has for most of the journey. Apparently detoxing in the desert from over a year of alcohol abuse has not done much to improve his disposition. At least he's not hunched over his camel and dry heaving today. Still, he's a sickly color and he sweats far more than his travelling companions.
"Ah..." Abud says, his voice dripping with honey. "A Flower of the desert. May her family be blessed and plentiful. What can you tell us, in the little time we have, about your most noble mistress?"
Dima shifts on her camel at the mention of their employer.
"She is the eldest daughter from a respected merchant family in Rashadar. She is ambitious and determined," Garavel says matter-of-factly.
"Ah..." Abud says, his voice dripping with honey. "A Flower of the desert. May her family be blessed and plentiful. What can you tell us, in the little time we have, about your most noble mistress?"
"She is the eldest daughter from a respected merchant family in Rashadar. She is ambitious and determined," Garavel says matter-of-factly.
Jadid rides silently.
"Thrice blessed, I can tell." Abud grins. "We can be sure an enterprise put together by such a woman will be gifted by the most potent auguries."
"May I ask if your mistress has taken a husband?"
Garavel keeps his eyes straight ahead. "You may ask."
"Hahaha! We're in the middle of the desert and your only thoughts are if she's a rich heiress?" Dima laughs.
"You misunderstand me, fair one. I have been separated from her for many moons, but I am firmly committed to my mate." Abud says. "I merely wanted to know if she has a family, so I could offer my services as a teacher. If she has not taken a husband, I would limit myself to the mission at hand and move on. Adventuring is fine, but I would like to stay in one place for a year or two."
Abud turn back to Garavel "Has she and is she blessed with children? Are they interested in a teacher of arts and elven lore?"
Garavel nods at something as he taps the reins. The camel spits petulantly.
"She is not married, so of course she has no children."
"And your purpose here is not to teach, but to do as she wishes."
"Ah, no children...." he says, trying to hide his disappointment. "No use for a teacher where there are no students. Fine, let us see what your mistress wishes."
"Your mistress," Mahjub begins, having absorbed the information presented thus far, "would she be Almah Roveshki, by any chance?"
"Excellent," Mahjub says with a satisfied smile. "Are we to play some small part in her stuggle to return her family's name to its former glory? No small feat, but I admire her tenacity."
"As do I," Garavel answers.
"Do you really?" Mahjub asks, casually tapping his own left temple as he meets Garavel's gaze.
Garavel meets Mahjub's gaze evenly and without emotion.
"Yes. I do."
Mahjub simply shrugs and smiles, turning slightly to focus his attention on the rider behind him. "So Dima, any word from your sister? Has Mehri been talking about me?"
Dima studies Mahjub carefully for a moment. "Weren't you the street rat Mehri pulled the awning down upon, once upon a time? She laughed at that a lot."
Mahjub laughs a little. "I was hoping for something a little more complimentary, but i'll take what I can get."
Dima adjusts her shawl slightly, allowing the tiny fox draped around her shoulders to stretch and yawn somewhat, as she considers her words.
"I haven't heard from her in a while myself."
"Oh? Has there been a falling-out?"
Before Dima can answer, Garavel speaks."We are here. The Sultan's Claw."
As soon as the craggy tree begins to appear over the next hill, it becomes obvious why it is called as such. With five immense, leafless branches, the tree looks more like a skeletal hand than a meager tree.
But as the party tops the last rise of the hill, they see a caravan of a half-dozen wagons and a large tent clustered around the distinctive tree. Normally a welcome sight after their long journey... except for the fire.
Lush orange and red flames engulf an elaborate wooden wagon decorated with painted moons and stars. A gout of smoke pours from an open door. A wind blows and a number of fortune telling cards fly out from inside of the wagon, one of the singed cards catching Jadid directly into his chest in a burst of orange cinders. Suddenly, the whole wagon erupts into flame.
The camp is in chaos. Camels in pens near the tree dance in agitation and a clutch of confused and bleating goats and livestock careen around the wagon as a man and a woman frantically try to chase them down. Four soldiers in the distinctive red chitin-plate armor of the Pactmaster Guard begin shouting at each other as they surround the wagon. Four burly mercenaries struggle to pull an enclosed wagon just feet within the burning wagon out of the flame's reach. An older man frantically attempts to calm a moaning man as he tries to bandage his wounds, blood beginning to drench the cracked earth below. Another burnt figure lies still next to them.
The central flap of the elaborate tent flies open and a regal woman who can only be Almah steps out into the firelit dusk. "Douse that flame!"she shouts to the men surrounding the wagon before turning toward the party. "Ah, Garavel!" she says. "Just a moment later than the nick of time as usual." Looking specifically past her major domo, she barks a simple order before running off toward the fire.
"Find some way to help!"
Last edited by Trench; Thursday, 4th October, 2012 at 01:15 AM.
Abud tethers his camel and runs to assist those trying to douse the flames of the caravan. He moves to get a bucket brigade started.
Dima urges her camel to sit, throwing the reins to Abu'l-Faraj as she lightly dismounts and runs the rest of the way to the camp. If there are any more who appear injured near the flames she'll attempt to help them move to a safe distance.
Gerber dismounts and runs to help the mercenaries pull the cart out of the way.
"Is anyone in there?" he shouts in Imperial, nodding towards the flaming wagon.
Jadid runs down as well. "The pale one asks if anyone is in there."
"Eloais was," says one of the mercenaries to Jadid. "But he's dead now."
Mahjub merely observes the action with interest and makes no move to help. Seeing no tasks lacking or undermanned, he feels no compulsion to join in just for the sake of joining in.
Gerber and Jadid grab the unhitched wagon and strain. The other four mercenaries do so as well and for one agonizing second it appears as if the wagon is about to move as the wheels begin turning. And then they are pulled back as the wheel stubbornly falls back from the weight.
"Almost had it! Keep trying!" shouts one of the mercenaries.
"It just went up out of nowhere!" shouts the old man in a well worn cleric's vestment and threadbare skullcap. Writing and letters of various kinds line the edges of the robe. Dima helps him pull the two bodies out of harms way. "These two tried to save him but- Oh Heavenly Writer!" he snaps as the man he carried coughs profusely, blood splattering the edges of his robes. The man quickly rips a portion of his robe off and begins to bandage the seeping wounds.
Dima almost jumps as she hears the rattling wheeze of the body she carried- so badly burnt she can't tell the gender of the victim and in fact thought they were dead.
Abud hurries over and a bucket is thrown into his hands by one of the Pactmaster guards, who nods quickly in thanks. These four, Almah, and Garavel begin a fire brigade, dipping their pails and bowls into the large water bucket in the open cart twenty feet away from the fire and passing it down.
Meanwhile, the two camel drivers are frantically trying to catch and grab the hysterical camels, goats, and other livestock as they bleat and stampede around the camp.
Mahjub watches all of this comfortably on his camel.
"You up there!" Gerber growls at Mahjub in his northern tongue as he tries to coordinate the group in another attempt. "Down here and help us with this! NOW!"
Mahjub half-frowns as he reaches into his belongings and produces a rope. He tosses one end toward the knight and begins to tie the other around his camel's neck (with a loose noose, he's not trying to choke it.)
Gerber catches the drift and hitches the animal up before resuming his position and directing the others in another attempt.
"Bring the injured to me!" the imam shouts, dismounting. "They may yet live to feel the blessed light of Hannan upon them once more."
Looking around for a blanket, he orders some of the faithful to bring one to him and spread it out, so that he may attend to the injured on it. One hand goes to the sun disk of Hannan, the only symbol permitted by his faith.
Dima obliges and rushes over to place the horribly burnt mercenary on the blanket. Abu'l's expert hands quickly find the source of the worst of the victim's pain and it isn't long before she breathes easier again. The older man attending the other victim looks toward Abu'l thankfully.
Dima carefully lays her charge on the blanket, horrified at the extend of their burns. "You can heal even this?" she asks in quiet consternation. As Abu'l-Faraj calls upon his God, she shakes her head to dispell the images of the injuries, and goes back to find more.
Gerber shouts to the other men in incomprehensible gibberish, but they seem to get the gist. Nodding once to Jadid, Gerber roars and pulls forward. The other men groan as well, which slowly builds to a red-faced roar as they feel the wheels moving. Veins bulging and throats hoarse, the roar turns into a joyous cry as the wheels turn and their momentum carries them forward. It's just a short six-second burst of speed until the weight of the wagon forces them to drop it, but it's far enough to be well out of reach of the flames. Muhjab's camel eagerly trots forward as well, although keen eyes will notice the camel started pulling just seconds after the cart had already started moving.
Dima looks around the scene and sees no other bodies or injured around, but it's hard to notice with the frenzied cries of the camel drivers trying to calm the hysterical animals. Abu'l nods at the other cleric and helps him bind the lesser injured man's wounds easily.
"I think they'll live Dawnfather," the man says.
"Praise Hannan, they will live to see another sun rise," the imam says. "Fires do not start on their own."
He looks around, looking for either someone who looks like they might be fleeing the scene or some clue as to the origin of the fire.
Abud keeps tossing water onto the flames as they keep the bucket brigade moving. Gerber and Jadid join the bucket-wielding ranks, much to the thankful looks of the Pactmaster guards.
Mahjub whispers a word of thanks to his camel as he pats its neck, then gracefully dropping to stand at its side. Looking around at the chaos, the rogue jogs over to the two camel drivers trying to recapture the livestock to give them a hand.
Not seeing any more injured, Dima begins trying to control the camels, leading them back one-by-one and tethering them near the rescued carts.
"Oh thank you sir!" the female camel driver blurts out as he tries to calm a squealing pig from running out into the night. Mahjub nods as he coos to the pig, having spent too many a night in pig stalls when he was growing up, it seems to work.
Dima, however, gets spit on by her camel. A lot. The male camel driver is running around the camp crying out "Rombard! ROMBAAARD!"
Abu'l looks around the camp for anything out of the ordinary, but in the chaos of the night doesn't see much.
As the seconds pass, Mahjub manages to calm most of the animals as Dima gets nearly kicked by a camel at one point. For some reason, Mahjub is reasonably capable of calming the beasts.
"Best leave this one to me," Mahjub says to Dima, though you'd wouldn't know it by his focus on the camel, holding it by the bridle and leading it's head down to the side of his own so that he can calmly whisper to it. "Perhaps you could see to that fellow yelling for 'Rombard', find out why he's on course to wake half the desert."
Dima soaks a handkerchief in water and uses it to wash off any trace of the animals. Then she wanders over to the female camel driver, and points at her male counterpart. "Who is this 'Rombard' he calls for?"
The woman snaps a switch at the camel and the beast reluctantly moves forward toward the tent. The rest of the camp's members begin the clean up.
"His favorite goat," the woman says to Dima. "He is very upset."
Mahjub ushers the camel over to the tents. As he does so, he sees a filthy man near the edge of the camp watching the clean-up, crouching with his hands on the ground.
The bucket brigade keeps working for at least another half a minute before the last sputtering flames are put out. A relieved cheer goes up through the camp.
"Well done, my friends, well done." Abud says as he re-adjusts his robe and checks if his turban has become undone. "What happened here? Was this an alchemist's caravan?"
"No, this is caravan is mine," Almah replies to Abud. Garavel slides up next to her as they consider the burnt remains of the wagon.
"We lost Eloais," she says.
Garavel nods. "We lost Eloais."
She lets out a frustrated sigh. "The dawnfather is right. Fires don't start by themselves. Find out if this was set by someone in camp," she whispers to Garavel.
Garavel looks over to Abud, as Gerber, Jadid and Abu'l join them, and then back. Almah nods. "They weren't here when it started. It's unlikely they're arsonists."
"As you wish Almah-Haanim," Garavel nods.
Almah finally turns to the party. "I would ask you to help my man here find out the truth of this."
"All is well, my friend?" Mahjub asks as he approaches the crouched man.
He looks up suddenly, as if noticing Mahjub for the first time. He sniffs the air.
"Yet you seem ill at ease," Mahjub responds, kneeling to partake in the same view as the crouched man. "My companions and I came upon the chaos in the thick of it, did you see what started the fire?"
Mahjub does a good job hiding the fact that he has a hard time breathing next to this man, who obviously has a very loose relationship with hygiene. The man seems startled at Mahjub's demeanor, as if he isn't used to being addressed in such a kindly fashion. His crouch tightens before loosening, ever so slightly.
"No," he says.
After a moment, his eyes dart over to Mahjub, still uncertain but clearly trying to work up to the act of speaking. "It... it has been a while since I have smelled burnt flesh. You?"
"It's never long enough, is it?" Mahjub empathizes. "As a child I witnessed many a dispute between rivaling merchants, one in particular seemed to enjoy the smell as searing the flesh was a favored punishment of his for betrayal or theft. This," he says, jutting his chin out to the scene before them, "is almost merciful in comparison."
"Where are my manners? I'm Mahjub, Mahjub Mutawalli," he announces, giving the filthy man a comforting pat on the shoulder. "Who might you be, my friend?"
"Dashki," he replies. He looks at the hand inquisitively, sniffing it before turning away, unsure what to do with it.
"Almah hired me about a month ago to tell her all about the gnolls living in these hills. Gnolls killed my mother and grandfather when I was a boy. They put fire to our village and slew hundreds. Somehow... I escaped with my father to the town of Al'Jahar, not far from here. It was a long time ago. I've forgotten most of what I saw. Terrible things."
Dashki stares off into the campsite but Mahujb gets the dinstinct impression he isn't seeing it any more. "I find it's the sounds that stay with me. The shrill howls and barks, hundreds of them at once. They sounded close to an audience. Laughing at us."
"Well Dashki, even one struck by blindness could see that you're reliving those horrific events as if it were yesterday. I must confess to a certain degree of detachment, I had to fend for myself on the streets of Rashadar from an early age, the scent of brunt flesh was not the only, or even the worst, of what I had to suppress to survive," Mahjub replies, trying to figure out Dashki's approximate age through the filth. "I apologize if my inquisitiveness has aided in bringing these harsh memories of yours to the forefront."
"You spoke of gnolls in these hills," Mahjub presses on. "Do you think they could have had anything to do with the caravan fire? I've had no experience with their sort, but I don't imagine them to be a naturally stealthy race. Surely there would be some trace of them to be found."
As far as Mahjub can tell, Dashki can be anywhere from twenty to thrity years old.
"Oh they can quiet as the night Mahjub."
"Father raised me to know everything about the gnolls, their customs, their language. So as better to track them and wipe them all out. All of them. Together we scouted their lairs, studied their tribes, listened to them speak until we can understand what they were saying."
"They're not dumb animals you know," Dashki says eagerly to Mahjub. "Not like you might think. In some ways they're even smarter than us."
"Father would have done well to remember that," he says bitterly.
"No, a well-trained gnoll could have easily snuck up and set the fire, but they wouldn't have stopped there. We would have been under attack while we were fighting the fire and much easier to slaughter. It is what I would do."
"I, of course, defer to your knowledge of gnolls," Mahjub replies, genuinely impressed. "You clearly know much more about them than I ever could."
"What say we make a sweep around the outskirts of the camp, see if we can find a trace of whatever caused the fire?" Mahjub offers. "A minor distraction, but perhaps it will give you a brief respite from the thoughts and smells that assault your senses."
Dashki nods after a time.
"The animals will have likely ruined anything near the camp," he stands. "But we can try."
Jadid walks around pensively, looking about. He doesn't notice much out of the ordinary, aside from perhaps a filthy man and Mahjub talking intently as they look at the campsite.
Jadid steps over charred divinatory cards that litter the ground outside the burned-out wagon. Inside the wagon reveals sooty ashes, a few broken bottles, a cracked crystal ball, and several pools of melted wax where candles must have stood. A charred skeletal form remains near the center of the wagon.
Garavel looks toward Gerber, Abud, and Abu'l as Jadid wanders off on his own.
"We should perhaps start with questioning the camp."
He turns to Gerber and speaks in his northern tongue, "We must question the others, yes? About flames."
Jadid goes back to the leaders of the camp. "The wagon burnt . . .it contained a mystic?"
Almah walks away to direct her guards in the cleanup as Garavel turns to Jadid. "The wagon belonged to Almah's personal fortuneteller Eloais."
"Hm. Portentous. Was he true? Had he real sight? Or mere showmanship?"
Garavel shrugs. "I do not know. His sessions with Almah were often private."
"Hm," Jadid says simply. He begins walking around the camp. The camp has begun to get back to some normalcy. The mercenaries have sunk down around the firepit, finishing the last of their interrupted meal, while the Pactmaster guards get to work as ordered by Almah cleaning up the debris and making sure her tent isn't damaged. Father Zafir tends quietly to the injured mercenaries as another looks over them. Jadid sees Mahjub wandering around the perimeter of the camp talking quietly, and Dima listens to the camel driver explain to her about their favorite goat.
One of the three remaining mercenaries raises a jug of wine as he sees Jadid approach. Some of the disreputable lot's feature look about as well worn as Jadid's.
"Fancy a drink stranger? Least we can do after your help."
"I don't--," Jadid begins but stops. "Yes, I will try it. What is it?"
"Hannan's piss," he says and the other two laugh uproariously.
"Burns about as much, I'll give you that!" says one woman with a hairlip.
Jadid takes a drink. "Indeed, there is a burning. Not altogether unpleasant. Did you see anything before the fire, anything unusual or untoward?"
"We were finishing up dinner when it went up. Didn't see much."
"Wouldn't be able to see much anyway with how much you were hogging the bottle."
The woman punches the other man in the arm and he laughs as he takes the jug back from Jadid for his own pull.
"If Eloais had actually done more than lift his damn cards then maybe he could've gotten out of there alive. As it is, Lady Almah's going to have to find another mystic to diddle."
The three chuckle and elbow each other.
"They were known to have sexual relations?"
"What else could they have been doing in that tent of hers all those hours?"
"'Oh'", one of the mercenaries hands shake and his jaw drops slightly in an approximation of a serious look. "'This card... it is very... very full of portent. The Rutting Dog means that you must take off your clothes! Quickly! Before it is too late!'"
They laugh loudly at this.
"Sunspit, wouldn't surprise me if Dirty Dashki started the fire himself just to get rid of the competition," says one as he takes a pull of the jug before handing it to Jadid.
"Ah, the sex was suspected but not proven. Who is this Dashki? A suitor?"
"All but. He always came out with a smile on his face."
"Nah, Dashki is her 'gnoll' expert." another spits. "He was probably spying on her when the fire broke out. Bit of an open secret, his little crush is."
"Like she'd let him touch her."
"Like she'd let ANYONE touch her if they weren't clothed in platinum and smelling of perfume. Even then maybe not."
"Dashki's over there with your buddy. You can't miss the smell."
"Thank you for your Hannan's piss and your words. I will see you again, I am sure."
"We aren't going anywhere."
"Send your foreign friend over some time soon. We owe him some of this as well," one says, shaking the quickly emptying jug.
"I suspect he will like it. Ah, another thing. You are warriors by trade?"
"Yep. Hired in Al'Jahar when Almah passed through with her guards."
"It would be an honor to spar with you at some time, then. I do not wish to lose the skills I have trained long and hard to acquire."
There's a deep laugh at this from all the mercenaries. "If by 'sparring' you mean, 'throwing your ass in the dirt' then yeah we can do that."
Jadid's eyes narrow for an almost imperceptible moment. "Yes, we shall see. I do hope your skills provide the sort of challenge you believe they will."
The mercenaries laugh in response to Jadid's rather ominous statement and continue their drinking.
Last edited by Trench; Sunday, 7th October, 2012 at 05:58 AM.
Garavel looks toward Gerber, Abud, and Abu'l as Jadid wanders off on his own.
"We should perhaps start with questioning the camp," Garavel says in the northern tongue.
"Not sure how much assistance I can be with that, Garavel," Gerber answers. "Does anyone around here speak the Emperor's Prustan?"
"Father Zafir." Garavel motions toward the cleric tending the injured mercenaries. "As does Almah and I if you wish to ask the questions." He shrugs. "The rest, yes and no. But not good, yes?"
"Thank you, I'll start with him," Gerber says, motioning to Zafir and walking off.
"Father," he says to the cleric, "My name is Gerber Loewe. I've been hired by Almah. What do you think happened here?"
((Translated from the Imperial))
"Ah! Gerber Loewe!" Zafir nods, somewhat distractedly. "Just a moment."
He mutters an incantation and traces script across the chest of the badly burned woman. Her blistered and blackened skin puckers and fades turning into a deep red shade like a bad sunburn.
"Sabah. Next time don't rush so brainlessly into the fire."
The mercenary scowls and rubs her temples as Zafir turns back to Loewe. "Yes, Gerber. Apologies," he says with just the faintest trace of an accent.
"I do not know. I was reading a book by the fire, but these mercenaries were being too loud for me. I had just stood up to return to my wagon when the fire started."
"And which wagon is yours?" Gerber asks the cleric.
"Here." Zafir leads Gerber to a simple covered wagon about twenty feet from the camp fire, the inside of which looks as if a library and alchemist's workshop exploded inside covering it with papers, books, and beakers. "Almah hired me long ago to keep her and everyone else on this little journey healthy. A task they do their best to make difficult."
"And so, returning here, you saw nothing?"
"Nothing worth noting." Zafir sighs. "Truth be told, Almah is likely better off without Eloais's attention. We could do better than to have charlatans direct our course."
Zafir closes an open trunk of potions and looks across the camp. His gaze darkens as he sees Dashki and Mahjub walk into view around the perimeter of the camp. "We could do without those types, certainly."
Gerber frowns at the pair.
"Do you have any reason to believe the fire was anything more than an accident?
"Aside from the fact that fires don't start themselves?" Father Zafir sighs and waves his hands. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to corrupt your investigation. I simply find Dashki... disturbing. No one with healthy desires skulks around a pretty woman the way he does. And he's entirely too familiar with gnolls for my comfort."
"Thank you, Father," Gerber says, dipping his head slightly and excusing himself.
"Your very welcome son. Whenever you have a spare moment, I would love to transcribe any legends or stories you may have from your country."
"That's all they are, Father, is stories," Gerber answers without turning around.
Eloais? She was inside your caravan, yes?" Abud looks at the burnt ruins, trying to find the source of the fire. "How long ago did you see Eloais?” he asks Almah. “Was she sleepy? Inebriated? Who saw her last?"
"He," Almah says as she walks off to direct her guards in the cleanup. "I hired him in Rashadar months ago to read cards for me. I haven't visited the islands of my ancestors in quite some time, but something about his presence... just felt right." She looks toward Abud. "I'm not convinced the fire was arson, but if it was, I hope you find the culprit quickly. I saw him just hours ago. He gave another reading. He was as normal."
"Eloise....Heloise....Eloaise..." Abud sounds off. "I beg your pardon, friends, for in my community a slight change in the name's pronunciation makes it a female name. I have an aunt named thus.”
"He was a foreigner. Their names can be odd."
“Eloais gave a reading...to you? Was that his last reading?"
Almah seems reluctant for a moment before she whispers to Abud.
"His readings have been... increasingly grim. His last reading centered on an auspicious card. It portended death by fire and schemes by powerful evils."
"I asked if it had something to do with Kelmarane, and he said yes- but that it was part of something much larger."
"Garavel hasn't said much has he? He often doesn't. Good. He follows orders well."
"Kelmarane is the village we are close to, and the reason we are here."
"Long ago, the village was one of several in the highlands by the Scorched Peaks situated around a battle market, a huge arcade that attracted merchants, gladiators, actors, musicians, and customers not only from Uraq- but from neighboring Panagolan and Buneir. It was a vital stop in trade with those southern countries."
"About twenty years ago... it fell, and the Pactmasters abandoned it to ruin. Rumors of curses and plagues abound, but in truth no one really seems to know why the village died. About two years ago, a pack of gnolls called the Kulldis tribe inhabited the battle market and claimed it as their own."
"Now the Pactmasters want it back, and it's up to us to deliver it to them."
"After 20 years of bleaching sun and corroding sand? Thrice blessed Pactmasters" Abud makes a traditional elven gesture of blessing. "will be lucky to find two stones together. What happened? Why do they want Kelmarane back? What changed?"
Almah looks around the camp. "Let me show you something."
She leads Abud to her tent, an elaborate affair heavily perfumed and decorated in gold and red thread. Lush carpets are laid on the ground and plush pillows are thrown about, giving Abud's feet a much needed respite from the long journey. Almah walks over to a table and idly pours herself a glass of thin wine from a silver decanter. She rolls out a large map that takes up most of the table.
"Rashadar," Almah points to a dot on the northern border of Uraq against the sea. "Mazin," she points to another dot a few inches to the west of Rashadar, also on the coast.
He finger traces down across the wide white expanse of the map for almost a foot. She lands at a small dot against the Scorched Peaks, almost directly south of Rashadar. "Al'Jahar." She then traces the curve of the mountain range that curves like a crescent moon all the way from the south and almost toward the northern coast of Uraq again.
"The Scorched Peaks are effectively the border of Uraq. Beyond these mountains, lie the southern countries. Panogolan, Buneir, and even Kellisan - who have their own empire to rival that of the Lion-Guarded Throne. I doubt anyone north of Uraq have even heard of such places. It's all just 'The South' to them. And even we don't go past the Scorched Peaks very often. The mountains are nearly twenty to fifty miles thick in places, through terrain that makes what we see here look small by comparison. Red dragons war with each other, claiming mountaintops from each other in ever-shifting border wars. There are rocs that can snatch a camel in its claws for a meal and giants that keep those birds as pets. Even without that, there is the journey itself through punishing terrain which is long, hard, and bitter."
Almah smiles despite this. "But those that can make the trip..."
"In Panogolan, there is The Silverback King. The gorilla lord sends his minions across the expanse to forage for treasures. Some he trades. Darkwood from the Screaming Jungle, sunken gold from Lake Ocota, and magical glass from the Ruins of Kho. And if you feel brave, or just suicidal, you can try to trade with the King of Biting Ants- who still knows some of the old magics of Old-Mage Jatembe that haven't been seen since the Wars of Fire. Even the natives can often find something worth giving in their town of Witbe."
"Buneir is the land of the cactus men, fighting a never-ending war with the mosquito women to keep another Malarial Queendom from rising. There are thri-kreen, the mantis-men who prowl across the savannah carving mountains into strange shapes and wielding weapons of crystallized saliva sharper than any tempered steel. Their minds are... indecipherable to us, but those that can communicate find mechanical items that rival the height of the Empire's technological prowess."
"And there's Kellisan. They ruled Uraq long, long ago. This is a land where their strange dragon philosophers sit side by side with emperors of age-old dynasties. Where the veil between the world of dreams and waking is supposedly so thin you can cross it simply by learning how to breathe a certain way. Where men master elements as easily as we can talk and can turn into animals."
"Entire worlds hidden behind those mountains. And the great, great country of Uraq- may Hannan always shine on it and Abadar bring it wealth- is the crossroads."
"Al'Jahar is tiny, compared to Rashadar. But it's purpose is simply to be a rest point for traders from these countries to exchange goods and services here before caravans go north," here Almah traces her finger back up the white desert of the map. "But even then, over six hundred miles across the Great Desert is a long, long way."
"And now it feels longer," says Garavel as he enters the tent.
Almah nods bitterly. "Here," she traces a circle in the middle of the Great Desert, "is where Ra'ad the Blue rules. As long as you pay him fealty and respect, you can pass. But... it is not a given."
"For the past five years, the Kellisani have refused to deal with him. Even refusing to bring their goods to hand off to us at Al'Jahar. Kellisani notions of honor are a strange thing."
"But," Almah traces her finger back north west up the mountain range. "Here is Kelmarane. If this village came back, traders can, instead, travel along the highlands from Al'Jahar, keeping the mountains to their left- trading their wagons for camels here and then cut across to Rashadar that way, all but bypassing the dragon's territory. Even without Al'Jahar, it is possible for brave traders to come east from the northern expanses of Panogolan, if they can pass the Fever Swamps and come directly to Kelmarane."
Almah leans back. "Of course, instead of a capricious dragon, there will now be gnoll tribes eager to raid passing caravans- but no journey is entirely without its own dangers."
She looks up. "This. This is the great work we will do."
Dima nods understandingly as she helps the camel drivers get their animals calmed down. "Our goats too, were part of the family. I was very upset as a young girl when we made the great journey to the markets, Grandfather insisted they stayed at the tents."
She looks out into the night, as Jadid comes over to the camel drivers. "He was right of course. That was no place for a goat. But right now, I am no tracker, and there are gnolls in the darkness. I am not sure what to do?"
Almost without prompting the two camel drivers begin to speak.
"I first noticed the fire," she says.
'She always notices things. Oh Rombard..." he sniffles.
"But after that we were busy."
"The animals of course."
"They went everywhere!"
"And Rombard went missing! It is terrible!"
Dima places a comforting hand on the woman's shoulder. "My name is Dima Ughruda al'Badiya. I and my associates will do everything we can to help. Can you tell me about the fire? Who was nearby when you first saw it?"
"I am Hadrah. My husband is Hadrod."
"No one that we can tell."
"Eloais was nice enough for a foreigner."
"Didn't really understand his talk Cyclones and Uprisings and all that."
"Still, Almah was fond of him."
"Her trust in him was good enough for us."
"But we weren't paying attention to the fire once it started. Just our animals."
"Oh Rombard..." Hadrod seems on the verge of tears.
As Gerber walks, he sees the mercenaries around the camp fire try to wave him over, laughing.
Gerber joins them, intent on forgetting about the mystery of the fire, the hardships of the journey, and the rest of his misery.
The mercenaries slap Gerber on the back as they laugh and babble unintelligibly to him as they hand him the jug.
"Good, yes?" one laughs in heavily accented Imperial. He thumps his chest. "Fire."
Gerber nearly coughs up a lung after taking a drink. "Wonderful," he replies, somber but sincere.
The guards talk to Gerber and proceed to make further questionable assertions about Lady Almah’s character. It’s then that Abu’l walks up.
"Gentlemen," the imam growls, after holding his tongue as long as he was able, "Hannan's light does not shine on false slander and innuendo, and it is written that he who defames a woman defames all women, including his blessed mother. Answer the questions without speculating on the lusts of others, lest it raise suspicions about your own."
The mercenaries look up suddenly to the imam that has snuck up behind them as they share their drink with Gerber. They look at each other awkwardly.
"You hear that?" shouts the leader to the band as he walks up, his wounds mostly healed by Father Zafir. "You treat this man with respect got it?"
The other mercenary woman that Abu'l saved nods along with this as she joins the camp as well.
"Apologies Holy One," one of the mercenaries says.
"No offense was meant Dawnfather," grumbles another.
Jadid wanders over to the four personal guards of Almah. They wear the red chitin armor familiar to those from Rashadar and wear stony expressions as they go about their work. A pair break off to carefully guard Almah's tent and the other two clean up.
One nods at Jadid as he approaches. "Yes?"
"I don't suppose you saw anything before the fire?"
The guard shakes his head. "We were all standing guard at Almah's tent."
Another walks up. "I did see Dashki trying to hide behind a tree nearby. It was clear he was trying to look into her tent."
The other guard grimaces. "He's obsessed with her."
"Hm," Jadid muses. "He lacks discipline."
"Great work indeed." Abud says sincerely. "A project of such undertaking would reap enormous benefits to some and that may also mean a lot of greed and envy. Any disagreements about rebuilding Kelmarane? Feet-dragging?"
Almah shakes her head. "Everyone sees that this is important work. It needs to happen soon or we'll be even more reliant on any trade we get from the North. Given the fighting over the Lion-Guarded Throne, that could easily dry up in moments if they start to actually war with one another. We need to expand our options quickly."
"Yes, that makes sense." Abud thinks for a bit. "If there is no dissent, perhaps the neighboring tribes? Rivals? Even stupid or silly creatures that do not think but only revel in causing mischief?"
"I expect the gnolls we're about to evict from Kelmarane will likely protest," Almah says dryly.
"Garavel," Almah turns to her major domo. "Could you assemble the rest of your hires? I think they've had enough time to get an idea of what might have happened."
Garavel hesitates slightly. He nods and walks outside the tent.
((Thanks Azkorra. I can't take the a lot of credit for either the writing or the present tense, it must be said. I'm copying years of PbP logs on a private message board and posting it here, after doing some cleaning up and streamlining. The bulk of the text is mine, and the written descriptive text I often copy from the adventure itself, but the player actions and lines are all their own. You might notice subtle differences in the writing styles as each PC speaks. And I'm not overly fond of present tense myself, but changing tenses would take... a very very long time. It takes me long enough just to clip out all the sigs from every player's post.))
Last edited by Trench; Wednesday, 10th October, 2012 at 08:18 AM.
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