Eberron - Dreams of Xen'drik

Menechtarun – City of the Damned
Session Twenty-One

Returning to Al Shiraz, the group consulted immediately with the Sheik, telling him and his remaining generals everything that had transpired in Ghammas. They noted that the Asherati had not returned, nor had Amhapar. The Sheik told them that the Asherati all left at once, rather suddenly, and nothing had been heard from them since. He worried that their underground cities had been overrun by the Harssaf, who were their old enemies, but he worried even more that Amhapar himself had either fallen in battle or been taken prisoner. The loss of Amhapar would be disastrous for all desert dwellers.

The group also asked the Sheik about Malaxder, and whether one of his advisors or court magicians could perhaps allow them to speak to his shade, which seemed to be following them. The Sheik took them to yet another room in the palace, this one filled with scholars, wizards and mystics of all kinds. The desks and tables they sat at seemed to be constantly floating around the room, each on their own level of gravity, while the various servants and messengers stumbled from level to level, adjusting their balance carefully as they stepped from table to table. Moving up to one of the sages, a tall green-skinned man, the Sheik addressed him in an unfamiliar tongue before turning to the group and announcing that he could help them.

They followed the odd green-skinned sage outside the palace walls, to a small garden within the city. There, he cast a ritual spell around a candle, and after a short time Malaxder appeared within the light cast by the candle. He told them what he had endured since his death, and told them he would follow them ethereally and try to continue helping them. He was slowly getting better at forcing himself to become material, and he would try to participate as much as possible.

Returning to the palace, the Sheik asked them if they would go into the desert and try to determine what had become of Amhapar. The absence of the Asherati was disturbing enough, and if anyone could bring them back to Al Shiraz as allies, he could. The next day, the group left to try and find the surface markers for the city of Ansena, and perhaps find a way into the city. Only a few short hours after heading into the desert, they encountered Ahnkeru, Amhapar’s ashworm mount, who seemed to want them to follow her. Taking the hint, they set off into the wastes with Ahnkeru in the lead.

After a few days travel, Anton realized they were heading in the direction of a dangerous ruin they had been warned to avoid – the ruined temple city of Dendera. As they grew closer to the cyclopean ruins, it became more and more clear that Ahnkeru was leading them directly there. Anton immediately cast his protective magics, while the sky overheard darkened at their approach.

Coming closer to the city, the air around them seemed to grow darker, and Anton’s magical light grew dim as they crossed the gigantic threshold. Within the city it was constantly black as night, and odd noises could be heard all around. Storm informed Ral that she could almost pick up the scent of Amhapar, but it seemed to be vanishing and reappearing at random, which she couldn’t explain. As they passed though a hallway lined with massive stone pillars, Tierel and Baph noticed that the carvings on the pillars depicted massive sacrifices, terrible atrocities perpetrated by the ancient giants. Some of them still seemed to have blood on them, somehow, and as they grew closer the sound of weeping could be heard.

Investigating the weeping sounds, they were suddenly ambushed by a trio of demons, the skin flayed from their bodies by a constant halo of sand that scraped the flesh from anyone they got close to, as well as their own regenerating bodies. The group fought back with all their strength, but the demons were powerful as well, and the battle was very difficult. Finally striking them down, the group gathered their courage and continued into the ruins.

As they went further in, more strange smells and sounds attracted them into more traps, and the sense of terrible evil grew stronger and stronger. Demons ambushed them repeatedly, their unholy power making them harder and harder to fight off. Mal remembered that the ancient Giants used to sacrifice their elf slaves to power their magics, especially the epic spells that allowed them to lock the plane of Dal Quor permanently away from the material plane. He and Anton both suggested that this city must have been a nexus of those sacrifices, and the evil taint had not lessened over the millennia, continuing to attract the most foul creatures from across the worlds.

Storm picked up Amhapar’s scent once again, and they followed it to a small ziggurat. On top, a large demon had placed Amhapar’s unconscious form on an altar, and was clearly preparing to sacrifice him, while two other demons guarded the foul ceremony. The group quickly advanced on the unholy rite, Anton, Tierel and Arsen distracting the guards while Baph focused the full power of his mind on the leader, shattering him with a single powerful thought and saving Amhapar. With the leader down, the remaining demons were easily dispatched and the group took Amhapar’s still unconscious form and fled from the terrible city with all speed.

Escaping from the city, they traveled as far as they could into the surrounding desert, trying to put as much distance between themselves and the evil within as possible. After some rest and a bit of healing magic, Amhapar recovered well enough to express his eternal gratitude, and tell them a bit of what happened. He explained that he left his people to wander the desert when a political shift happened within the Asherati community. Several members of his order were murdered, and the people turned against them, driving them out. Only Amhapar survived. He knew that something terrible had happened to his people somehow, but he did not have the strength to fight it off alone.

When Montu Chezzak returned, Stikuchi told him they would probably need to consult with the great dragon that laired in the City of Glass. The dragon normally broached no visitors, but Amhapar knew his people had a map to the City, and a token that might allow it’s bearer to get an audience with the ancient beast. When he returned to the underground city, he found the map and token, but he also discovered that the city leaders were possessed by fiends, which explains the actions taken against his order. Unable to simply leave, he attacked the fiends who summoned the Asherati warriors back to the city to defend them. During the battle, Amhapar convinced the other Asherati of the threat, and the people united to drive the demons out. The battle was successful, but Amhapar himself fell in the conflict and was drug away from the city by the demons, who no doubt planned to sacrifice him to some dark power.

Reaching into his pack, he produced a small leather roll. Unfurling it, he explained the map to Shackleton and passed the token to Anton – a shard of glass, supposedly taken from the walls of the city itself. The map would led them to the city’s location in the desert, and the shard would allow them to see the ancient ruin, and perhaps gain an audience with the great dragon Sunataderapophis.

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Menechtarun – Malaxder’s Ghost Story

When the fireballs sprang from Montu Chezzak’s open hands, Mal knew he was in trouble. A moment later, he was dead. He stood in the Ethereal Plane, looking at the events taking place in the temple in the Valley of the Marru. He watched as Ral approached him, wand in hand, and managed to push some positive energy between the planes. After that, the barriers between worlds became too strong, and he could no longer see out. Looking down, he found himself alone between the worlds, with only his own dead body as company.

After several hours, Mal managed to summon the strength of will to peer into the material plane again. He found that the temple was now swarming with Marru, and more were pouring out of the dimensional rift where they were “stored”. No sign remained of either his allies or of Montu Chezzak, but the Marru seemed entirely unaware of his presence. Looking around all he could, he finally decided to try and leave the Valley and head back to Al Shiraz. Unable to bear leaving his poor body behind, he shouldered the heavy burden and began to walk.

He found several unusual things during his long trip back to the city. Firstly, while his body had weight, he never got tired while carrying it. He never felt the need to eat or sleep, and the heat of the desert didn’t bother him at all. He could easily pass through solid objects, which meant as long as he knew where to go, he could just walk in a straight line as long as he wanted.

While it was convenient, being a ghost wasn’t all fun. When he arrived in Al Shiraz, he was able to easily pass through the city walls, and the guards didn’t notice him at all. However, no one else noticed him either. For a Halfling like Mal, this was hellish. He spent a great deal of time wandering the city, constantly trying to force himself to become material. When he finally did so, the poor cleaning woman who saw his horribly burned form in the empty tavern nearly passed out from fright. When Mal realized he was officially haunting someone, he set aside his efforts to become solid and took to sulking in the ethereal plane.

His spirits lifted one day when he saw his allies come walking back into the city. He tried to follow them into the Sheik’s palace, only to find that the palace was apparently warded against astral intrusion and he was unable to set foot inside. After a time, they came out again and left in the company of several dozen soldiers, back into the desert. He followed the group across the sands, unable to match their pace but not having to spend any time resting which let him catch up each night. When they approached the city of Ghammas, he followed them astrally while they fought Montu Chezzak’s sandy constructs and his Harssaf allies. Finally, the battle won, he spent the evening lurking in their quarters, lonely for some companionship. He managed to make himself material long enough to wake Tierel who responded with her usual grace, but he vanished almost immediately. Heartened by this achievement, the next morning he once again forced his way into the real world, this time in front of everyone, but still only for a moment. As he listened, the group promised to return to Al Shiraz and find a way to communicate with him, and possibly bring him back. His hopes restored, he gladly followed them back through the desert as they returned to the city.

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Menechtarun – Battle in Ghammas
Session Twenty

Fleeing the mountains, the group made their way back through the desert to Al Shiraz. One evening as they rested, Anton brought up some interesting points: they learned from Ilivolin Hunrrett that Tierel’s mother abandoned them in the deep caves nearly twenty years ago. However, Ghyrra Khan said that Melraevel had left for the desert only a few years prior to their arrival in Pra’Xirek, significantly less than twenty. And Tierel was only 28 years old, meaning that her mother had done these things only a few short years after escaping from Morgrave University. All in all, it seemed that the timelines weren’t matching up. Arsen suggested that it might be an effect of the Traveler’s Curse, but the others were less sure. Clearly, something inexplicable was going on.

Returning to Al Shiraz, they found the Sheik once again holding court in his chambers. They immediately noted that the Asherati commanders that had been present were now gone, and Amahapar was also absent from the proceedings. The Sheik seemed once again intensely bored, and pleased to see the group arrive for the distraction they would bring. When they gave their report on the corruption that had overcome the Drow, his brow furrowed in concern. He promised he would spread the word to the rest of the desert that the Drow of the Skyraker Claws could not be trusted, and then asked them if they would undertake another task for him.

The city of Ghammas was a vital point in the desert, being a natural source of clean water and a strongly defended fortress. Ghammas and Al Shiraz were allies, but they had not heard from the city in some time, and the silence was concerning to the Sheik. He knew that the city would be a strong staging ground for Montu Chezzak’s forces to move closer to Al Shiraz, and he did not want it to fall. To support his neighbor, he wanted to send a platoon of his troops led by his daughter Makarim, and he asked the group to join her on the trip and make sure the leaders of Ghammas understood the threat that Montu Chezzak presented. After a short time resting and preparing for the journey, they met Makarim and headed back into the desert.

Approaching the city, it seemed nearly abandoned from a distance. No sentries walked the thick walls, and the gates were closed but unattended. All around the city were scattered stones of various sizes in an attempt to prevent a charging mount from getting a clear run at the walls. Tierel snuck as close as she could to try and find out what was happening, and was unable to spot any kind of presence within the walls. Returning to the group to give her report, the whole party was suddenly ambushed by the desert sands themselves – animated mounds of sand leapt up and attempted to engulf them whole. The party easily beat them back, but it was apparent the element of surprise was gone – in a matter of moments, a massive sandstorm appeared above the city, and a spiraling tornado dropped down into the middle of the town.

As the sandstorm spread from the city, Anton told Makarim to direct her troops around the opposite side of the city, and they would come from the other direction and attempt to break through the front gate. Being made of wood and metal, Baph could disintegrate it with his mental powers. Makarim led the troops around the city and the group made their way directly towards the walls, trying to move as stealthily as possible.

As they approached the city, the sands themselves seemed to come to life again, this time taking the shape of creatures and monsters. They were assailed by attacks from giant sand lizards, scorpions made of dust, and even a pair of massive sandy lions as they reached the walls themselves. Their magic and resources running low, they finally made their way to the doors and Baph easily disintegrated the hinges, allowing them entrance to the city.

Moving into the city, they found it strangely empty. Listening to the sounds of battle elsewhere, they moved carefully towards the center of town where they had seen the now absent funnel cloud and where they knew the well to be. Reaching the center, they were set upon once again by Montu Chezzak’s Harssaf minions, who fought viciously to bring them down, blasting them with sand and fire and repeated blows from their curved kukri blades. Anton channeled his divine power into his blade, while Arsen ducked among them distracting and harrying them at every turn. Baph and Ral kept to the back, using their powers and spells to hammer away at the group while Tierel snuck up on the Harssaf and planted her daggers in their back. Finally, they defeated the Harssaf champion and struck down his retainers, at the same time Makarim’s forces finally got the upper hand against the sandy constructs they were facing across the city.

Exploring the city, they quickly found the remaining citizens imprisoned within. They explained that Montu’s forces had come down upon them suddenly, many coming right over the walls or appearing unexpectedly from within the city. They slew most of the defenders and imprisoned the others, overwhelming them and taking the city almost without a fight. Montu’s Harssaf allies made off with the city’s treasures, and Montu himself fled when the attack began. The city had little to offer the group aside from a bed for the night, so they took their rest before returning to Al Shiraz.

That night, Tierel woke from her sleep to see the ghostly form of Malaxder staring down at her. Grabbing her dagger, Mal suddenly realized she could see him, but when he went to speak he vanished from sight. The next morning, Tierel told the group what she’d seen. They tried speaking to Malaxder, and he appeared again for just a moment, unable to maintain his physical form. Knowing that the Sheik had access to greater magics than they, they decided to return to Al Shiraz as quickly as possible and see if someone there could make extended contact with Malaxder’s shade.

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Menechtarun – Desert Drow
Session Nineteen

Returning to Al Shiraz, they met again with the Sheik and his commanders. They were seated on the floor in a long room, with dozens of beings from all across the desert gathered together and loudly discussing the problem of Montu Chezzak. The Sheik looked utterly bored, and was pleased to see the group arrive and bring the arguing to an end. They reported what they had found in the Valley of the Marru, their battle with Montu and the apparent death of Malaxder, and their solution to the problem of the Marru. All present agreed that this was a relief, but the threat still remained to the free people of the desert. The Sheik suggested that, while there were many allies present, more hands would not be objectionable. Montu would undoubtedly seek out new allies since losing the Marru, and they would have to do likewise.

Examining the map, the Sheik remembered that Teirel had wanted to find out more about the Drow of the desert. While they were few in number, he did say that those Drow that remained lived in or near the Skyraker Claws, a mountain range north of the desert bordering the ocean beyond. If the Drow could be convinced of the threat, they could prove valuable allies against Montu Chezzak. The Sheik pointed out that no one had heard much from them in many years, but if Tierel had some connection to them then there was no one better suited to be an emissary. The group agreed, and after taking some rest and re-supplying they made their way north to the mountains.

Exploring the mountains, the group found them to be mysteriously lifeless. Few plants grew here, and no animals or insects could be found at all. The heat was less oppressive, but the barrenness of the area made it seem nearly as bad as the desert, if not worse. After quite a bit of searching, they came across a small cave with a chill breeze blowing from it. Ral announced that this was very odd, air this cold coming from a vent heading underground. Shackleton slipped inside and announced that it was free of traps or residents, and might very well house the Drow if they still lived.

The group made their way through the caves, finding that they extended deep underground. The deeper they went, the colder and darker it grew. As they traveled they encountered a swarm of ice mephitis, and further down they were ambushed by horrible creatures known as Chraals, humanoid creatures made of black ice that burned from within with cold fire.

After defeating the Chraals, Tierel spotted Drow watching them from the darkness, given away by a ghostly blue light shining from their eyes. She approached them carefully, asking as politely as possible if they would be willing to talk, and possibly give their aid to the battle against Montu Chezzak. She also explained that she was searching for her mother, Melraevel Pilarkah, and asked if the Drow had seen her. After a few tense moments, the sentries agreed to take the group to speak to the Matron and plead their case to her personally.

Entering the camp, the area was entirely lightless. The Drow needed no light to see by, so the group had to light torches to follow their “hosts.”, with the exception of Baph. As they entered the encampment, the drow glared at them through the freezing cold, seemingly unaffected by the temperature. Many of the Drow had the strange glowing eyes that the scouts had, and the whole clan seemed to be fairly few in number.

They were led into the presence of Ilivolin Hunrret, the Matron in command of the small encampment. The room she was in was dominated by a tremendous hole, leading deep into the earth. Anton sensed a terrible power here, and the cold and darkness throughout the entire cave system seemed to be emanating directly from the hole. The Matron seemed very interested in Tierel, and when Tierel asked about her mother Melraevel, Ilivolin explained that Melraevel had led them all down beneath the mountain in search of power, more than 20 years ago. When Melraevel discovered the source of the power, they claimed she fled in terror, being too weak to take the power for herself. Ilivolin, once Melraevel’s lieutenant, was now the leader of a new clan, and they had taken upon themselves the power of their dark master. But, she said, their master had insisted that to gain his true favor she needed to hunt down Melraevel and sacrifice her. Her eyes glowing with power, she declared that Melraevel’s daughter would probably do just as well.

As the Matron and her rogues moved in to attack, and the group fought them off. Ilivolin fired blasts of icy magic from her hands, seemingly empowered by the terrible being trapped beneath the earth near her. The group cut her and her assassins down quickly, and as each died their souls were visibly drawn into the hole, feeding the rakshasa rajah trapped there. Realizing the terrible danger they were in, the group turned to flee the encampment as quickly as possible. As they fled into the halls, a wave of frozen darkness swept out of the hole and over them, snuffing out even the magical lights they held.

Trapped in utter darkness which even Baph’s darkvision could not penetrate, the group found each other and quickly tied themselves together to avoid becoming lost. Shackleton tried to lead them back the way they came through the utter blackness, but they were attacked almost immediately by the Drow, who seemed unaffected by the evil darkness. Desperately swinging their weapons into the darkness, they fought off waves of Drow attackers as they crawled through the pitch blackness. Each time they slew one, the slain Drow’s soul was drawn back towards the terrible pit, feeding the evil that was held there.

Finally, they pulled themselves out of the depths of the Drow caverns and began the long trek back to the surface. As they ascended, the cold receded and the darkness drew back, allowing the magical lights to begin working again. When they finally pulled themselves from the frozen caves and into the warm darkness of a desert evening, they made their way back to Al Shiraz as fast as possible, putting as much distance between themselves and the tainted Drow as possible.

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Menechtarun – The Valley of the Marru
Session Eighteen

With the sun just beginning to head into the sky above, the group began a long trek across the desert towards the city of Al-Shiraz. They had more than enough magic to protect them from the desert heat, and Anton had plenty of spells to keep them watered, but they still found the going difficult. The sand was hard to cross, and what appeared to be firm ground would often collapse under their feet. Dunes of sand would sometimes give way under foot, sending those walking above tumbling down on the ones behind. The only person not having a problem was Baph, who had taken the magical sandals from Montu Chezzak’s tomb when they accidentally released him.

As they traveled, Tierel kept feeling the sensation of being watched. She informed the others and they kept a wary eye on the horizon, while Shackelton did his best to navigate through the desert. After a few days of travel, they suddenly felt the ground underneath them shudder and give way, and a bullette emerged from the ground to attack the group. Shackleton kept it at bay for a few moments while Anton donned his armor and Tierel maneuvered for position. Finally they dealt it enough damage to drive it off, and it dove beneath the sands once again.

Traveling for a few more days, Tierel managed to catch an occasional glimpse of their strange follower. He appeared to be red-skinned, with horns and wicked sharp teeth. A few days later, Baph also spotted him, but when the being realized it had been seen, it suddenly transformed into sand and vanished into the ground, frustrating any efforts to track it.

One evening, as the group sat sheltered in some stones with a fire to keep them warm through the night, they were suddenly attacked by a group of quick-moving lizards. The creatures ran though the camp and spouted flammable gas across everyone where it was ignited by the campfire and burned for a few moments afterward. As everyone got to their feet to fight, more lizards joined the fray spewing more flammable gas and shooting arcs of fire. Baph managed to time-hop one of them while Anton and Shackleton cut them down as fast as possible. Once the attack had cleared, the group decided that their mysterious pursuer was sending these creatures after them somehow, and they would have to be even more careful while traveling.

Finally, after a few more days of travel, they were finally in sight of Al Shiraz. As they walked up to the city, one of the dunes ahead of them sprang to life and became a humongous dragon made of sand. Spreading it’s wings and letting loose a fearsome roar, it moved forward and attacked the group. They prepared their most powerful protections and moved into the fray, slashing desperately at the creature. Malaxder hung back and watched it, slowly realizing that despite appearances, this was not a real dragon, or even based on one. Finally Tierel managed to catch it off guard and struck it a powerful blow with her enchanted dagger, causing it’s form to collapse and spraying sand across everyone else. Wary of facing another challenge, the group made their way quickly into the city.

Once inside the city, they noticed that where there had been scores of merchants and traders before, there were now scores of mercenaries and adventuring groups in the city, many of them guarding the merchants and traders. They were escorted into the Sheik’s presence, where they found him and several generals and advisers conferring in a large meeting room. The Sheik looked eternally bored while the advisers and leaders bickered among each other, but he gestured the group forward when he saw them. As they approached they saw Stikuchi and several other Bhuka goblins, but they did not see Amhapar. They told the Sheik what little they had found in the Sunken Library, the fate of the nomads and druids, and of the attacks they had faced on their journey back. They also described their mysterious stalker, and the Asherati present began to whisper furiously to each other. Pressed for information, they finally revealed that the description of the stalker they had seen matched that of the Harssaf, who were raiders that normally dwelled only in the deepest section of the desert. While they were dangerous, they rarely ventured out of the deep deserts, preferring to prey on those foolish enough to venture in. The Asherati also mentioned that the Harssaf had been allies of Montu Chezzak while he lived, and the two may be working together again.

Meanwhile, the Bhuka goblins were conferring among themselves as well, led by Stikuchi. She turned and told the group that her people had guarded the location of the Valley of the Marru for generations, making sure that the Marru remained dormant in their extraplanar prisons in the ruins. She also knew that the group was searching for Dream Stones, as mentioned by Ral, and that her tribe possessed one of these stones. She offered to tell them the location of the Valley if they would go there and prevent the Marru from being used, and furthermore she would give them the Dream Stone if they would find a way to defeat Montu Chezzak. This clearly angered and upset the other Bhuka present, but Stikuchi stood her ground. The group agreed to the conditions, and Stikuchi showed Shackleton how to find the hidden valley.

The group quickly restocked their supplies and gear for the trip, and set out as quickly as they could. Journeying across the desert again was no easier, but Shackleton led them unerringly towards the hidden valley, and they made good time. Two nights before they entered the valley, they were ambushed around their fire by dagger-wielding Harssaf warriors, while their mysterious stalker stood in the shadows and watched the fray. They repelled the attackers easily enough, who turned into sand and fled when the fight started going badly. Anton was certain that the attack was not meant to kill them, but was only a feint to test their strength. The next night, the Harssaf stalker approached their fire with a warning. While Tierel snuck around behind him unseen, he warned Shackleton to leave the valley, or face his death within. Arsen rebuffed his warnings, and the Harssaf fled when Tierel’s attack missed him by mere inches.

Proceeding into the valley, they were stunned to find a veritable jungle within, and Ral confirmed that the area must have some coterminous properties with Lamannia, as predicted. Life was abundant, and even the presence of the desert seemed unable to hold it back. Looking within, Baph spotted some ruined structures partially overcome by the strange jungle, and the group made their way further in. As they approached they saw a large main hall, clearly sized for giants, and determined that that must be where they would find some method of controlling or destroying the Marru.

Entering the giant hall, they saw a large throne at the far end and a pair of permanent magic circles carved into the floor, their sigils still active. As they approached, several Marru stepped from thin air within the circles and challenged them. Mal spoke to them in Giantish, and they stepped back, lowering their weapons. They gestured towards the throne, and Mal began making his way towards it.

Suddenly, the doors at the far end of the hall burst open and a terrible sandstorm blew in, forcing everyone to dive for cover. The sands swirled around the room violently for a moment, until finally coalescing into a humanoid form already seated on the throne – Montu Chezzak had arrived. He spoke politely enough to the group, thanking them for freeing him while Tierel hid and Anton donned his armor and began casting his protective spells. Seeing the magical power being prepared, Montu asked the group to abandon their loyalty to the “lesser” peoples of the desert and join him. In return, he promised to give them anything they desired, once he had achieved his dream of conquering the entire Menechtarun. When they refused, he shrugged resignedly and with a sudden and terrible force, threw two fireballs into the middle of the massed group. Baph was knocked unconscious and Shackleton was nearly thrown from his feet, but it was Mal who suffered the worst. As Ral looked on behind the protection of a pillar, the halfling was blasted backwards and suddenly vanished in mid-air, his body and belongings apparently completely destroyed by the incredible attack.

While Montu commanded the Marru to kill the rest of them, Shackleton and Anton moved forward to try and engage him. Some of the Marru fell back to guard Montu from Shackleton, and the rest pressed forward to finish off Anton and Ral. Ral meanwhile, activated his dream-touched state, and suddenly was able to see what seemed to be the shade of Malaxder, standing where he would have fallen, looking stunned at his state. Ral moved towards the shade and tried to use his wand of healing magic on it, and was only just able to touch him. The magic seemed to work, but then Mal’s ghost vanished from sight. Anton healed Baph enough to let him rejoin the fight, and he managed to hop several of the Marru forward in time, although they took down Shackleton before they left. Seeing his advantages disappearing quickly, Montu shifted back into sand form and fled the great hall, leaving the Marru to finish the battle.

Anton, Baph and Ral finished fighting off the remaining Marru, and then headed towards the throne to try and take control. Anton’s will proved too weak, and he was overcome by the power of the throne and knocked unconscious. Baph, however, had had luck sitting on giantish thrones before, and his luck held out again. The knowledge of the Marru flooded into his brain, allowing him to command the Marru that began coming out of the planar rift to reinforce their fallen numbers.

After stopping the attacking Marru, the group pondered what to do next. Malaxder was completely gone, and could only be assumed to have been utterly disintegrated by the fireballs. They knew they could not allow Montu to return and retake the Marru, so after some discussion they commanded the Marru to guard the valley and the temple from anyone else who might attempt to enter, and allow no one except them access to the throne. If nothing else, Montu Chezzak would have to slaughter the troops he wanted to use to get access to them again. Hoping this would be enough to keep the sorcerer at bay, they left the Valley of the Marru to return to Al Shiraz once again.

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Menechtarun - Al-Shiraz and the Sunken Library
Session Seventeen

Climbing their way past the giant sand pile in the doorway of the tomb, the group pulled themselves to their feet and surveyed their surroundings. They were in a small ravine, which they remembered entering, and the desert sun was already high overhead. They had been underground for more than a day, and the heat was immediately intolerable. Scouting around, Ral found something disturbing – they were nowhere near the edge of the desert where they started. The sandstorm seemed to have somehow transported them to this area, perhaps even dropping them here on purpose. Given the nature of the being they had released, they suspected that Montu Chezzak had somehow influenced the sands from within his tomb. Shackleton spotted what might be a settlement far off in the distance, so they began to make their way towards it. Malaxder told the entire group that no matter what happened, they should not admit to releasing Montu Chezzak, or tell anyone what happened.

As they traveled, they began to notice someone coming towards them from a distance. Walking along, they finally saw a figure riding what appeared to be a giant worm come up from beneath the sands several feet ahead of them, and step off is mount. The figure appeared to be clad in heavy armor, and was wielding a lance. As they approached, he set down his lance and removed his helmet, revealing the face of an Asherati, one of the desert dwellers Mal had read about.

The figure approached very politely and introduced himself as Amhapar Nadeeha, a paladin of Dol Arrah. He asked them where they had come from and how they came to be in the middle of the desert. Malaxder maintained his stance of revealing nothing of what happened, and the rest of the group was very non-committal in their answers. Amhapar accepted their odd story, including the tale of the mysterious sandstorm, and offered to give them a ride to the nearest settlement, the city of Al Shiraz. Although Tierel was very creeped out by his mount, an ashworm named Ahnkeru, they gladly accepted his help and together they made their way to the city.

Along the way, they stopped for the night to rest and Amhapar used a magic item he had to create a very comfortable shelter for all, complete with food and drink. Tierel chose to sleep outside, feeling very uncomfortable in Amhapar’s presence and with the odd looks he was giving her from time to time. During the evening, Amhapar asked again about how they came to be in that part of the desert, and Malaxder once again deflected the conversation away from that subject. After a while, Amhapar let the subject drop and the next morning they continued on their way to Al Shiraz.

Arriving in the city, Amhapar guided them to a small tavern where they could be comfortable. Seeing all the odd races, Tierel asked if any Drow lived in the area, and Amhapar said that some lived in the Skyraker Claws far to the north, but he did not know of any others. He offered to try and find a guide for the group, if they were willing to wait at the tavern.

After he left, Mal and Tierel told the group that they were certain Amhapar knew what had happened, and was probably going to get the city guards to throw them in prison. Anton felt that was unlikely, and Shackleton declared that no guards could possibly overcome them all together. Mal told the group that fighting an entire city was unwise, but that if they told the truth they might be able to bargain down to a lower sentence. They bickered back and forth until the tavern door opened again, and Amhapar returned with a small goblinoid behind him, and no city guards.

He introduced the goblin woman as Stikuchi Niski, a druid of the Niski clan of Bhuka goblinoids. Stikuchi stepped boldly up to the group, but before she could speak, Mal told them that they had a confession to make. He then told the entire story of their adventure in the Tomb of Montu Chezzak, and confessed that they thought they might have released him accidentally. Stikuchi and Amhapar listened quietly during the entire tale, taking in everything Mal and the others said. Finally, Amhapar looked down at the small goblin woman and told her that he was right, they weren’t bad people after all. Stikuchi grunted and said she agreed with him, and told the group that if they wanted to prove their good character they would help the desert peoples defend themselves from this threat. The group quickly agreed, and Amhapar escorted them to the palace of Sheik Nezami-ye Ganjavi, Ruler of Al Shiraz.

The Sheik’s court was a place of constant distractions and entertainments, and they found the sheik in the middle of it all. When they told him they were here to bring bad news, the sheik escorted them to a different room, with different distractions, and settled down in a large overstuffed chair to hear what they had to say. Telling the tale of the tomb and the monsters within seemed to offer him some amusement, but when they mentioned that they might have released Montu Chezzak, the sheik actually raised an eyebrow in concern. When the group offered to try and find him and stop him, he was perfectly happy to let them confront him, and offered what aid he could. Stikuchi told them that there were several locations he might travel to first to rebuild his power. They could try and find the Sunken Library, they could journey into the desert and attempt to find the Mirage Tower, or they could try and locate the Valley of the Marru, and stop him from raising an army once again. After much consideration, the group decided to go to the Sunken Library and see what knowledge they could gain from the ancient secrets of the giants. Stikuchi told them that while the precise location of the Library was unknown, the area it was once in was thick with caves and tunnels beneath the sands, and one of those would likely lead to it.

While the others did some shopping and prepping for the journey, Ral went and made contact with the local desert druids, hiring them as guides for the long trip. His generous “donation” to them made the druids even more friendly, and the when the group left they traveled in relative comfort on camelback, with the druids expending their spells to keep them all cool, fed and watered. The druids led them to the camp of a nomad clan, who gladly gave their hospitality when they druids told them how rich the group was. Speaking with the clan head, he asked them for their help against a group of monsters that had recently been raiding the camp, and had killed some of their strongest warriors. The group agreed to help, and spent the night watching carefully around the camp.

Early in the morning before the sun came up, a trio of jet-black trolls attacked the camp, but were driven off by Mal and Anton. The group took a few moments to gear up and cast protective spells before pursuing the trolls into the nearby foothills. After some searching, they found a cavern guarded by trained basilisks, and fought their way inside. While inside, they were ambushed from below ground by ankhegs, and Anton was nearly drug under the sands to his death. Finally, after defeating the guardian creatures, the group ambushed the trolls in their deep lair and reclaimed the nomad’s treasure that had been stolen.

While searching the cavern, Malaxder noticed a strange decoration on the back wall. It appeared to be a picture of an archway, with a design of flowers flowing up and around the arch. At the bottom of the arch on either side of what would have been a portal was a pair of pots. Investigating, Anton decided to pour some water into the pots, and the design on the wall came to life, growing colorful and sprouting small berries from the design. Eating a berry, Mal found that the doorway was suddenly visible and tangible to him, and he was able to enter the room beyond. Taking their cue from him, the others ate a berry from the design and entered the chamber beyond.

Within, they found themselves in a tremendous library, with stacks and shelves of books and scrolls all around them. Unfortunately, most of the books were too fragile to read as Baph discovered when he tried to take one off the shelf and it disintegrated in his hands. Baph continued pulling books off the shelf, hoping to find one that would stay intact, while Malaxder gritted his teeth at the wanton destruction he was causing. Finally, Tierel discovered a corridor leading deeper within, the walls covered with images of warriors wielding weapons in combat. Shackleton translated an inscription on the floor: “_If you name me, you break me. You need me to pass._”

After much discussion, the group decided that Silence was the answer to the riddle, and Tierel snuck through the hallway as quietly as she could. On the far side, she found a face carved in bas-relief into the wall. Experimenting for a moment, she found if she covered the face’s ears, the magic of the hall was suppressed. Covering the ears, the rest of the party made their way through and into the chambers beyond.

Exploring some more and examining the area, the group began to hear strange whispers at the edge of their hearing. Ghostly sounds and a supernatural chill permeated everywhere they went, although Anton was not able to pinpoint a precise source of the strange manifestations. Looking around, they found another room with four stone pillars in it, each with carvings of open books on top of them. Malaxder magically enlarged Shackleton so he could lift him onto the pillars, and the group entered the room. As they did, a field of force sprung up over both doorways, trapping Ral & Storm outside. Magic missiles began to fire from each pillar at everyone in the room, and Malaxder determined that each carved book had a word puzzle on it, that needed to be solved to deactivate the trap. Shackleton and Mal raced around the room as fast as they could while the others tried in vain to ward off the magic missiles. Finally, Mal solved the last puzzle and the magic deactivated, as did the force fields over the doors.

Proceeding into the next room, there were more shelves and books but many of them were locked behind grates, both protecting them and preventing access to them. The locks were no match for Shackleton and Tierel, and Malaxder took several of the books down and examined their contents. They were still fragile with age, but Mal was experienced in handling old books carefully and had few problems reading them.

The books told a strange story: they spoke of the giants learning magic from the dragons, and the age of enlightenment and magical discovery that followed. They also told of an invasion from another plane, and of terrible beings called the Quori. The wars that followed were terrible and destructive, as the giants and the Quori fought for control of Xen’drik itself. The book’s tone was somewhat propaganda-like, painting the giants as noble defenders and the Quori as nightmarish outsiders. Ral identified the Quori as the “evil spirits” of his faith, the Path of Enlightenment.

Meanwhile, Shackleton and Tierel continued exploring the library. They finally came upon a doorway with a cold, dry breeze blowing from it. On the floor before the doorway was another riddle: “_Some say I am unfair. I am everywhere you look, and even in the depths of the desert you will find me. The giants shaped me, though any fool can create me. I was given to you long ago, and you need me to pass._”

After more debate and discussion, Ral finally declared that he thought the answer was Life, although that didn’t make a lot of sense to him, that you would just need to be alive to pass the wards. Anton suspected that undead of some kind must be imprisoned within, and the wards were not to keep others out, but to keep them in. Finally Tierel snuck her way carefully in, and beyond found a massive chamber crammed with magical tomes, scrolls and other artifacts. In the middle on a raised dias, a solitary humanoid sat slumped in its throne, its eyes glowing with a strange green light. She slipped quickly back out and reported what she had found to the others, allowing them to brace themselves for what Anton thought might be a lich.

Entering the room again, they addressed the lich and it acknowledged them, asking if they were slaves of the giants or free. They declared they were slaves to no one, and the lich bade them partake of the trove of magic if they chose. There was a price however – every item they took would be a drain upon their souls, as the price for maintaining this vault against the giants. When the group tried to explain that the giants were long dead, the guardian did not seem to understand. Mal asked the guardian about Montu Chezzak, and it explained that it had taught the secrets of the sand shapers to him, as he had asked. It offered to teach them as well, but they declined. Tierel asked if there was a way to defeat him, as he had started serving the giants, and the guardian said it did not know of a way, but that others might. The guardian advised them to seek out the dragons, as they knew more of the ways of magic than any other beings.

Malaxder, unable to resist the lure of the powerful magic within, asked the rest of the group to help him gather as much as they could. While each person grabbed an item or two, Mal took on far more than he could sustain, and collapsed under the effect of the magical drain. Anton carried him and his treasures back to the surface, and they spent the evening recovering the in troll’s cave before going back to the nomad camp.

The next morning, they successfully shook off the effects of the energy drain and returned to the nomads camp. Climbing out of the foothills and back towards the campground, they could already see the cloud of smoke rising from it. Girding themselves for battle, they arrived to find the camp utterly destroyed, every tent a smoking ruin. They at first blamed the trolls, until they found the smoldering remains of two trolls in the camp as well. Ral noticed that the sand in the area had shifted dramatically, and while Mal suspected that Montu Chezzak had been trying to find them, Shackleton pointed out that no one in the camp had been tortured. None of the bodies were tied up, no one appeared to have been taken prisoner – this was simply a slaughter. Not a scrap of useful equipment or treasure was found in the camp, he had apparently taken everything after the battle and carried on into to the desert, or perhaps into the Library…no one knew. They gathered up what little they could find and began the long trek on foot back across the desert to Al Shiraz.

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Menechtarun - The Tomb of Montu Chezzak
Session Sixteen

While Shackleton and the others shopped for desert travel gear, Malaxder went and tried to research something about Montu Chezzak. Little information was available in Stormreach, but the few sources he was able to find told him that Montu Chezzak was a desert warlord from more than 1000 years ago. Supposedly, he was defeated and buried in the desert sands in a hidden tomb. Some of the legends mentioned that he had found some kind of immortality in the desert, but nothing more could be found. Gathering their supplies together and taking their leave of Erel and Andraste, they began the long trek west into the desert.

After walking for several days, they found themselves at the edge of the wastes. They camped the night, and then in the morning donned their desert gear, and Malaxder and Ral used their magic to further protect them from the searing desert heat. Entering the desert, they found it as hot as expected but tolerable because of the protection they had thought to bring. Anton used his magic to make sure the group had plenty of water, and Shackleton began leading the long march into the desert sands.

After several hours of walking, the group began to notice that they were being watched. Strange figures hidden on the distant dunes were monitoring their approach, but had not yet taken any action against them. Shackleton decided that as long as they maintained a respectful distance, they would pose no threat. Mal wondered if they were the mysterious Asherati he had read about, beings able to swim beneath the surface of the sands.

After a few more hours of walking, Tierel noticed a huge cloud of dust headed their way. Shackleton quickly identified it as a sandstorm, and tied everyone together with his rope for safety. He began making his way towards the nearest shelter he could see, a grouping of stones near the edge of the foothills. The sandstorm was on them incredibly fast, and Ral commented that there had been clear skies just a few hours before the storm hit. Trying to find their way through the blowing sand was nearly impossible, as the group could only see a few feet ahead of themselves. Malaxder looked up into the sky, attempting to get his bearings from the sun, and noticed a gigantic face shaped from the blowing sands, hanging in the air above them, it’s pupil-less eyes staring down at them.

Pushing ahead, Anton finally noticed a shape in the blowing sand ahead, and began to pull everyone toward it. As they got closer, they found themselves in a small valley with a bit of protection from the storm. Pushing deeper inside, they found a sandstone doorway, ornately carved and set into the side of the valley. Caught between the wicked sandstorm and the mystery on the other side of the door, they opted to try and get inside and claim whatever shelter they could. Tierel spotted a magical trap on the door, and disarmed it with Mal’s help while Shackleton picked the extremely complex lock. The door rolled aside with a grinding of stone, and the group shuffled within, brushing the sand from their clothes.

Inside, they pass through a long narrow hallway and into a antechamber that seemed to have once contained plant life. As Ral approached the withered tree in the corner, it came to life and attacked him with thorny tendrils that cut deep into his flesh. When the others moved forward to help him, they triggered another trap and three gigantic sandstone blocks came down in the narrow hallway behind them, trapping them within the tomb. Defeating the plant creature, they determined that the only chance to get out was by pressing through.

Entering the next room, they were attacked by desiccated undead, beings who seemed to have died from thirst and dehydration in the tomb. Baph attacked with his Rod of Wonders, and caused a rain to fall throughout the tomb, distracting the undead and allowing the group to make short work of them. Carved into the wall, Malaxder found a phrase scratched into the stone: Within death lies the gate.

As they moved into deeper chambers, they were attacked by mummy warriors who pulled themselves out of the walls, attacking with terrible ferocity. As Tierel snuck out of the room, she found a round sepulcher, which was overflowing with tiny scarabs. As she watched, the scarabs overflowed their temporary prison and began to swarm into the room with the mummies, creating an even greater danger. Baph once again used his Rod of Wonders, and summoned a Slaad from a distant plane to fight for him. The Slaad made short work of the mummies, and then turned it’s attention towards the swarm of undead scarabs. After pushing them back into the other room, Ral created a lid for the sepulcher with his powers, and the Slaad used it’s telekinesis ability to force the deadly scarabs back into their new prison.

Carefully exploring the rest of the tomb, they found a pair of hidden doors, which lead to more mummies and a few scraps of treasure. However, nothing seemed to be leading them out. After more careful searching, Tierel finally noticed a hidden door they had missed, leading to a chamber deep within the tomb. Inside, they found another larger fountain, this one filled with more of the deadly scarabs. However, these scarabs seemed content to stay in their fountain, and the group took some time to rest in this room. Carefully examining the fountain, Malaxder and Tierel found that it was enchanted somehow, and that the scarabs might be illusions. Testing their theory, Baph stepped forward and into the fountain, and the scarabs immediately swarmed across him, covering him entirely. A few moments later, Baph was gone. Although it appeared that he was eaten, Mal was certain that he had been transported somewhere, and that this fountain was the meaning of the inscription they found earlier. Stepping within, the scarabs flowed over their bodies, and they found themselves transported to another room even deeper inside the tomb.

In this room, another fountain of scarabs served as the portal through which they exited. This room seemed entirely undisturbed since it had been built, and showed images of a conquering magician leading troops across the sands. In the next room, Tierel spotted more mummies entombed in the walls, waiting for interlopers to advance beyond. In the far room they guarded, a sealed stone sarcophagus wrapped in metal bands lay waiting.

Moving into the room, the mummies immediately moved to attack, but Anton held them at bay with holy power, freezing them in place. As the group moved through the room, they found the sand underfoot concealed traps that set off pulses of negative energy, which would damage them but heal the undead. Sliding carefully through the room, Shackleton and Tierel disarmed what they could, while the others beat down the frozen mummies. Finally having cleared the room, they proceeded into the burial chamber beyond.

In this chamber, several treasures were displayed on the wall behind the sarcophagus, and the lid of the coffin was emblazoned with a crest bearing a hawk’s head. The coffin itself was wrapped in steel bands and locked, clearly sealing something inside. At this juncture, all evidence pointed to this being the Tomb of Montu Chezzak, although what they should do now was less clear. Anton felt that given the stories of his immortality and the presence of so many mummies, the coffin might contain a lich or similar powerful undead. Malaxder was uncertain what to do, and Ral felt that opening the coffin was a bad idea. Shackleton made the good point that the only other options were slow death by starvation in this tomb, and that while they may unleash some horrible terror, they could certainly defeat it easily enough. At last, the decision was made to pry open the sarcophagus and see what they could find within that might allow them to escape.

Breaking the bands and prying open the coffin, they were surprised to find only sand and dust within. After a moment, the sand leapt up out of it’s former prison, swirled madly around the room for a few moments, and then shot straight down the hallway and back towards the scarab portal. The group followed as quickly as they could, Tierel taking the time to pocket as many treasures as she could carry, and then dashed back out of the empty chamber.

The sand flew faster than they could travel, leaving gouges and grooves in the walls and floor where it passed. Following the trail, the group made their way back to the entrance, and found that the sandstone blocks preventing their exit had now become mere sand, and the light of the sun could be seen beyond. They had freed themselves, but they had also freed something that had been penned up for more than 1000 years…

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Pra-Xirek - Return to Stormreach
Session Fifteen

Dragging themselves back through the caverns and back to the surface, the group stopped a few times to heal their wounds and try to recover some of their strength after the titanic battle. Tierel and Mal wasted no time finding whatever treasure they could in the mind flayer’s lair, and Malaxder was pleased to note that it dropped a Dream Stone during the battle – the one that had been stolen from them when they first arrived in Pra-Xirek.

Emerging into the temple, they could hear the sounds of battle taking place overhead in the city. Moving carefully upward, they found that the giants that had occupied the temple had begun fighting amongst themselves. Ral guessed that they had been controlled by the mind flayer, and lacking it’s presence they reverted to their old alliances and grudges. The group made their way as quietly as possible back to the underground tunnels to head back to the Drow encampment.

As they traveled through the tunnels, they began to notice that the city had somehow changed, although very subtly. The ruins seemed more crumbled now, and the jungle plants seemed to have encroached on the city while they were underground – every surface was swarming with plants and life where none had been present before. The plants they had seen were larger and stronger now, and the stone of the ruins seemed somehow faded, as though it had lost color.

Exiting the tunnels and approaching the Drow encampment, they saw that the dark elves were in the process of moving their homes. As they approached, they were challenged by the guards, who called the Matron to come receive the gourd of potion from Tierel. As the Matron approached, they noticed a dramatic difference in her – there was a terrible scar down the side of her face, and she moved slowly as though she were wounded somehow. The scar on her face was not new, it looked as though it had been inflicted long ago, but the group had never seen it before.

The Matron explained that the Drow were moving because the giants had once again become aware of their location, and it was no longer safe. She smiled when she received the gourd from Tierel, and explained freely that the Blood of Vulkoor had probably worked it’s way out of their systems by now, as it only lasted a short while anyway. Seeing the look on Anton’s face, she smiled again.

Turning to Tierel, she remembered that she had promised to tell her more of her mother. She told her that Melraevel had come to Pra-Xirek at the head of a great army. According to the stories she heard, Melraevel had fled her previous clan when her attempt to usurp power had failed. However, out in the wild she managed to gather to her a great many followers, and was traveling across Xen’drik looking for powerful weapons and ancient magic. Pra-Xirek seemed only a natural place for her to end up, but she found that the city’s occupying giants were too powerful for even her forces, and eventually left to try and find easier pickings. Ghyrra told the group that she thought Melraevel’s forces headed west, towards the desert, following rumors of some hidden power there. She then waved her hand, declaring that the group had freed themselves from her servitude and could now leave, as long as they never returned. As she turned and walked away, the group noticed a terrible scar down the back of her left leg, that they were certain had not been there before.

Finally freed from the Matron’s hold over them, the group decided to leave Pra-Xirek behind. They had found another Dream Stone in the ruined city, and Tierel had learned more about her mother. Arsen and Anton had both grown in strength and skill during their time within, and Ral, Malaxder and Baph had all mastered their magics to an even greater degree. As they left the city, the mystery of why things changed the way they did plagued them, but they could not puzzle out the meaning behind it. Not yet…

After several days travel back through the jungle, they finally returned to Stormreach. The city had not changed much since they left it, and they found that Erel was still doing a fair business from their small house. Erel told Mal that Andraste had been around occasionally, but he hadn’t seen her for a few days. Mal sent her a message through House Sivis, and she met them later that day at the house. To celebrate their successful return, the group went up onto the roof to drink a toast to themselves, and their success. While up there, Malaxder looked down into the street and caught a glimpse of the mysterious silver-eyed woman, watching them from the streets. She vanished almost as quickly as she appeared, leaving the others no chance to spot her. Andraste offered to take the group out to dinner at the Chapterhouse later that night to celebrate their return, and the group eagerly agreed. While some set out to purchase nice clothing for the evening meal, others took the opportunity to have a nap before the festivities.

Later that evening, the group met Andraste at the entrance to the Chapterhouse, and led them inside. The richness of the furnishings and the finery surrounding them was offset by a kind of strangeness. The restaurant seemed mostly empty, but there were voices everywhere, and a sense of being “crowded” they couldn’t explain, almost like half the diners were somehow invisible. A strange music emanated from somewhere, although no band was visible. As they passed one table, a large fat man was dining on a plate of scorpions, the insects scrambling to get off the plate and being swept back on. At another table, the server was pouring from a wine bottle into a fine glass, only what she poured from the bottle was not wine but sand, and she smiled as it tumbled into the glass. Passing the half-full glass to a seated man, he smiled and sniffed the contents, the dust from the sand stirring up around his face as he raised his glass to drink.

The group found themselves seated then, and their orders were taken. Malaxder looked across at Andraste as she spoke, raising her glass for a toast to the heroes. As she drained her glass and set it down, Mal noticed that her eyes were solid silver orbs. As she set the glass down again, she asked him where he was going next. Mal replied that he didn’t know yet, they hadn’t made a plan. He looked down as she played with the rim of her wine glass, running her finger around the edge. When he looked back up, the silver-eyed woman sat across from him, and suggested that the group should head into the desert and seek out the Tomb of Montu Chezzak. Mal looked at her, stunned, and a brilliant flash of light from her eyes nearly blinded him.

He awoke then, along with the rest of the group, still in their quarters at the house in Stormreach. It was almost time to leave for dinner, it hadn’t happened yet, it had all been a dream. As they got ready, they shared what they remembered with each other and realized they had all had the same dream, dreaming together. Leaving for the restaurant, they met Andraste again, dressed just as she had been in the dream. This time, however, the restaurant was much more crowded, the atmosphere noisier and more social, and no mysterious visions appeared to them. When they were seated and had placed their orders, just as they had in the dream, Andraste picked up her wine glass, looked at Malaxder, and asked where they planned to head next. The color draining from Mal’s face alarmed her, and she didn’t ask again the rest of the night.

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Pra-Xirek - The City's Depths
Session Fourteen

Taking their leave of the Matron, the group made their way across the city to the temple of Arawai, as directed by the mysterious voice. Arsen led them expertly through the tunnels beneath the city, getting them as close as possible underground before they were forced to emerge onto the city streets.

As they emerged, Tierel quickly spotted the temple not far from their exit point, bu there was a problem: the entryway was guarded by a pair of giants. Far from being ordinary giants, these were geared up in full plate armor and massive clubs, and their gazes constantly swept the streets in front of the temple. Scouting the rest of the structure, she found that the front entrance was the only way in or out, which presented them with a quandry. Anton knew that they did not have the strength or skill to battle one unarmored giant, much less two so well equipped. Getting past the guards was going to be a very difficult and dangerous task, which is why everyone reacted so badly when Baph simply walked up to the giants and started walking past them.

The groups initial panic gave way to surprise when the giants looked at Baph, stirred for a moment, and then looked away, apparently allowing him to pass. Tierel noticed that they seemed to stop and think for a moment, and then stare into space as if receiving instructions from some distant source. Ral surmised that the powerful being they had spoken to in the yuan-ti temple was somehow controlling the giants, and was allowing them to pass. The rest of the group made their way cautiously past the guards, and into the temple.

Within, other giants walked around the temple seemingly in a daze. One of them was dressed in the finery of a priest, similar to how his ancient ancestors must have dressed, but he could give no coherent answers to any questions put to him. Exploring the temple found almost nothing – a bit of food, some simple bedding, but no great treasures or powerful magic. Ral surmised that the being controlling the guards was probably using this place as a front, to keep other giants and agents out of the temple. If the fountain really lay below, he suggested they find it quickly and get what they came for.

Exploring below the temple yielded almost the same results – empty rooms filled with dust and trash. One room, however, finally held the fountain they sought. Filled to the brim with a pinkish liquid, it was clearly magical in nature. As they approached, they were disturbed to see a pair of Drow corpses laying next to the fountain, apparently killed by drinking what it contained. Examining them they found that they did not recognize these drow, and they could determine no clear cause of death.

Examining the fountain, they were unsure at first whether or not to drink of it. Finally, in his usual impetuous fashion, Baph stuck his head into the liquid and took a deep drink. He seemed fine for a moment, and then clutched his stomach in pain, a terrible grimace on his face. However, the effect passed quickly and Baph reported that he felt fine once it passed. After more debate and discussion, the rest of the group reluctantly tried a sip, reporting various stomach cramps but then no further ill effects. Mal carefully filled the gourd that the Matron asked for, and they proceeded into the depths of the tunnels beneath the temple.

Walking down into the depths, Mal realized that they were now well beneath even the level of the street tunnels, and were probably headed into Khyber itself. Traveling down into the hallways of raw, unworked stone, they finally happened upon a tunnel of shaped stone tiles which seemed to have been shattered by some geological movements. As they entered a doorway, a feeling of terrible foreboding hit everyone, especially Tierel. Making their way even more carefully in into the hallways, they found that part of whatever underground structure they were in had collapsed in ages past, and now nothing but a bottomless chasm remained. As Tierel and Arsen scouted ahead, Tierel spotted tentacle shapes lurking around the corners, and nearly froze in terror. Anton bravely scouted ahead, but found nothing but an empty hallway when he arrived. As the group pushed through the the mysterious halls, they noted that size and distance didn’t seem to match everywhere they went, and the geometry of the halls seemed alien and disturbing.

Continuing forward, they came into a large room with a balcony at the back. To the right the stone wall was intact, but to the left the abyss they had seen earlier had swallowed whatever was there, and now stretched down into infinite blackness. As they entered, a humanoid figure in a heavy cloak floated out of the abyss and landed on the balcony above. It’s hands were barely visible beneath the heavy robe, and it appeared very gaunt. Mal addressed it, and informed it that they had brought the Dream Stone, as promised. The being asked Mal to bring it up to him, and against the advice of some of the others, Mal climbed the staircase and approached the figure. As he drew closer, the mind flayer pulled back it’s hood and unleashed a powerful mental blast against the party members on the lower level, stunning Baph, Tierel, Ral and Storm. Arsen, however, was unaffected and raced to the balcony to put himself between the horrid creature and Malaxder who, though terrified, was preparing to cast a spell.

While Arsen ducked and dodged around the mind flayer’s attacks, Anton turned to face the two gibbering mouthers that attacked from the doorway where they entered, doing all he could to hold them at bay and protect the other party members that were still stunned from the mind blast. After a few painfully long moments, they finally shook off their stupor and joined the fight. Baph attacked the creature with powerful mental attacks, although it easily shrugged them off. Tierel climbed the stairs and tried to get a flanking position against the mind flayer, but it nimbly stepped off the balcony and on to thin air. Arsen leapt out acrobatically, attempting to attack it as he did, but had no luck. Malaxder, meanwhile, got hit with another mind blast and was stunned. Realizing that Tierel was now alone on the balcony, the mind flayer moved back and grappled her with it’s tentacles, intending to make her it’s next meal. She slipped nimbly out of it’s grasp, but was caught again a moment later. Mere seconds before she was devoured by the horrid creature, Arsen slipped in and dealt it a powerful blow across the neck, severing two tentacles and freeing Tierel. Mortally wounded, the creature plane-shifted away, leaving the group to mop up the two surviving mouthers and escape from the city’s depths.

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Meanwhile, back in Stormreach ...

The Journal of Teras Malaxder: Entry #4

So I’ve finally caught up to the rest of the group. They’re making their base inside a drow encampment after being fed some kind of poison by the matron and are now being forced to work for her. But while these guys were out getting lost in the jungle and poisoned by dark elves I was having the real adventure back in Stormreach …

When the guys left I started helping Erel by running a magic shop out of the bottom floor of the house. It was nice having some else there in the house with me; especially a wizard I could learn a few things from.

The shop had its group of average customers, but since Erel is a diviner we had a few VIPs who came specifically to get information from Erel. One was a gruff dwarf whose name I never learned, but Erel told me was from House Kunderark. I didn’t know what his business was as he would never speak to me about it, but that was fine. Another one of our special guests was a strange person called The Eel. I could never tell The Eel’s race or gender as it always came in cloaked and hooded, but there was a kind of air that followed The Eel and it was plain that this person was dangerous. For all that, The Eel was actually quite friendly, and although we never spoke much I got the feeling that The Eel might be a nice person … until Erel told me that The Eel is an assassin. After learning that, I continued to be friendly towards him/her, but made sure to keep my distance. And the last of our prestigious guests was a woman named Andraste; a paladin to no god, and seeker only of justice … and really hot. We shared a few nice conversations before going out for a meal and spending some time together. I really like her a lot. She’s very kind and warm hearted, funny and, of course, beautiful. I really liked spending time with her.

At the same time I was seeing Andraste, however, I was also spending some time in Little Cyre at a bar called Dannel’s Pride. It was there that I met Samuel Gompers. He seemed like a nice guy and after chatting with him over a few brews and a few nights I told him that I’m a wizard and he asked me if I would like to help the people of Little Cyre … naturally, I said yes. The people of Little Cyre are in a bad way even today and a lot of that comes from the fact that they get very little representation from any of the Storm Lords. It seems no one wants to take responsibility. Anyways, Samuel asked me to gather up a bunch of magical components; it was clear that they were planning to make something, but I couldn’t tell what they were up to.

I brought it up to Erel because I didn’t know what was going on, and his demeanor became quite grave as he explained to me that there is a terrorist organization called Dannel’s Wrath who are known “freedom fighters” for the people of Little Cyre and that it seemed I was being dragged into their organization. Erel told me that I might be able to get out now, but if I did so we would never know what they were up to, and Erel judged by the list of ingredients they were after that whatever it was it would be dangerous. So I decided to infiltrate the organization to find out what they were doing and then stop it. Of course, I didn’t tell my paladin girlfriend about this as I thought it might upset her.

I gathered what components from the list I could find and took them to Samuel, and he was so pleased to have them that he gave me a part in an upcoming mission of theirs. I was told to meet him near a dockside warehouse late that night. When I arrived Samuel had two other men with him whose names, I was told, were unimportant. The two men were obviously thugs looking to squeeze the blood from something, so I made sure to keep it together so that the something wouldn’t be me. Twidly Dumb picked the lock and we went inside, and I’ll admit here that I was really quite scared … I’ve never really broken the law before. We stalked through the dark halls for a while and I felt like this must be how Tierel sees the world … that is until two guards came from the shadows. Twidly Dumb and Twidly Dumber went moved to go put a knife into the guard’s backs, but I was quick enough to cast a Charm spell on one of them and convince him that it was ok for us to be here. The charmed guard convinced his friend to stand aside and we were able to collect what we came for without shedding any blood. I wasn’t able to see what the item was and when I asked Samuel refused to show me.

After the job I went home and slept. As I slept I dreamt of Andraste lurking in the shadows watching me, Samuel and the thugs break into the warehouse and when I woke I was sure that she knew what had happened. That day I sent her a Sivvis message asking her to meet me for lunch and, thankfully, she did. My suspicions were confirmed as soon as I saw her; she looked very upset with me and clearly didn’t want to be there. So, over lunch, I told her the truth of everything that was happening, even the strange dreams I’ve been receiving. This last part was a little hard for her to swallow, but I was able to convince of its truth. After all was told she was very happy to learn that I wasn’t a bad guy, but more than that she told me the reason that she came to Stormreach: it seems that Andraste has been hunting a changeling for some time that has gone by many names, and she believed was now heading Dannel’s Wrath. I was able to convince her further that I now had two reasons to continue my infiltration: so that I could stop the terrorist’s scheme and to try to learn more about this changeling. She was quite worried about me, but agreed that this would be the best thing to do.

After I had gathered almost all of the components Samuel requested of me I was told that I would go and meet some of the higher level members of Dannel’s Wrath. From within Little Cyre, Samuel led me around town purposely trying to mislead my sense of direction so that I would not know where we were, but I did my best to stay alert. I was led into a building where Samuel gave a password to some merchant who then let us inside his home and we went down a ladder and through some halls until we came to a laboratory. Inside there was a human female artificer running around mixing and stirring all manor of concoctions. Her workplace was extremely messy and disorganized. With my limited knowledge of alchemy I wasn’t sure of what she was creating, but I know her disorganized set up couldn’t possibly be safe; something that bothered me more though, was the large warforged guard standing in the corner watching me. The artificer was rather rude and seemed angry about something, but I was able to work my charms on her (not the magical kind) and she took to me quite well. After making the delivery and doing a short meet and greet Samuel took me back upstairs and we went back to the bar for a few drinks.

As I arrived back home I was about to step through the door when it came open before me and The Eel swiftly strode out. I gave him/her a nod and walked inside to find Erel putting away his gold pouch. It seemed to me that Erel had just made a deal, but he had a strange look on his face. I asked him what just happened and he told me not to worry about it. Erel and I had become quite good friends as of late, but we still had our secrets; because of this I didn’t push him on the topic. I told Erel of all that had occurred and we made a plan. Erel fashioned a scrying stone while I got the remaining components from the list Samuel had given me. We decided that I would tell Samuel that I needed to take these items to the artificer myself, and while there I would place the stone. It was a dangerous plan, but we needed to know more of what they were planning.

The next day, before seeing Samuel, I decided to see Andraste to tell her I was about to do something dangerous just in case it went badly. Using the power of the moment, I was able to steal a kiss from Andraste, and it was wonderful. She was surprised, but I think it’s a surprise she wouldn’t mind repeating. I took myself, the components and the scrying stone to Samuel and told him exactly what I had planned to tell him. He was a little suspicious, but I told him that it would be too much to explain to him the magical phrases and contexts and that it would be much easier for their artificer if I saw her myself. Fortunately, Samuel seemed to believe my lies. He took me down below again where I met the artificer once more. She was in a foul mood again, but was did make some chit chat with her that, sadly, revealed nothing of their plan. Though the warforged still stood in the corner it was obvious to me that it had no idea what any of these magical do-dads were so when the artificer’s back was turned I took out the stone and placed it on her table. I figured that the stone would be lost in the chaos of that “workplace” for days before anyone noticed it, if not longer. With my mission complete, Samuel led me out once again and I eventually made my way home.

The next morning I was quite pleased with myself at the success of my work, and Erel was very busy scrying trying to learn what he could. He hadn’t learned much when I received a message telling me that I had a new mission and that I should meet Samuel shortly, and I did so. When I met him he had that warforged with him and he told me that we would be meeting an even higher level member today. I was so excited that it would be the changeling Andraste was hunting that I completely forgot to cast my protectives. They led me down into the tunnels under Stormreach again, Samuel in front and the warforged behind me. We traveled for a long time, maybe hours. Naturally, I started to get a little worried that they were going to try to kill me.

After a time we found ourselves in an underground hallway divided by some kind of aqueduct, and it was there that Samuel made his move. He stopped and turned to me and said, “Well, Mal, this is it” and as he did so he pulled a knife, lightening quick, and slashed me with it. It was the first time anyone had ever done anything like that to me. I had no idea anything could hurt so much, nor could I believe that it was my blood I suddenly saw splattered against the wall. And my first thought wasn’t I’m going to die, or Oh no! or anything of the sort, my first thought was, How do Arsen and Anton do this?!? When I came to my senses I saw the big warforged drawing its weapon and knew I couldn’t stay put. I leapt across the water separating us, as I did so I felt the swish of air as Samuel took another swing at me. Once on the other side I tried a charm spell on Samuel, but he was able to resist it. The warforged had finished drawing its sword and moved through the water, but I thought it must have tripped or something because its whole body fell into the water and I was sure the duct wasn’t deep enough to swallow him; still I was happy for the small favor, at least this way I would have a little more time. As I was thinking that I felt an exquisite pain wrack through me. Samuel had thrown the dagger and struck me near the shoulder…I, once again, thought of Arsen and Anton taking hits far worse than this and shrugging them off as if nothing had happened; I just didn’t understand how they could do it. I tried once more to charm Samuel, but he resisted again and at that moment I was almost certain that I was going to die. For a moment I wondered where that warforged had gone, but that ceased to matter when Samuel drew his short sword and leapt across the water.

That’s when something strange happened. In one moment, Samuel was leaping across the water to finish me and then something erupted from the water underneath Samuel, grabbed him and took him down into the water, and the only thing that came up were bubbles.

I staggered backwards and fell on my behind in shock. I’m not sure how long I sat there, probably only a few seconds, but they felt like hours. Once I got a hold of myself I realized that I had been saved by The Eel, and that I was now safe. I had to get home. I cast an Alter Self spell to give myself gills and fins and jumped into the water. Though I didn’t think I would like what I found, I had to look and see what was in there, but I found nothing except for the warforged’s great sword. It was far too much for me to take back so I left it and swam downstream to where the duct emptied.

I eventually stumbled home to find Erel and Andraste. She wasted no time in healing me and I was amazed how quickly I went from Death’s Door to feeling perfectly fine; and then we kissed again. Erel didn’t have to tell me the secret he had withheld from me; I now knew that he had hired The Eel to watch after me, which it did quite well. I offered to compensate Erel, but he refused. I spent the night telling them all that had transpired, and was happy to go to bed early that night.

The next day we learned, through Erel’s scrying, that Dannel’s Wrath had picked up and moved base. It seems that we were able to stop what plot they had cooking for now, but we also knew that they now had all of the component’s they needed to complete their evil task. And , to make things worse, it seems we drove them deeper underground, further complicating Andraste’s mission, I could tell she was upset, but she saw the bright side and told me, “Well, at least now we can be together longer”. That made me smile, but it wasn’t totally true; though we spent the rest of that day together having a small celebration, it was only the next day that Topkapi arrived to take me to Pra’Xirek.

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