Drifting Sands, Drifting Souls

A Secret Weapon, Part 3

Upon leaving the fortress garrison outside of Coelin, the party travels into the city proper and views the massive urban sprawl that is Coelin. A city of hardship and vast disparity between the economic classes, they pass through the gates without issue and cross through streets that narrow and widen almost chaotically, as though no plan had been placed into the construction of the town. As Coelin is an Aritikan city, the only temple wherein the heroes can receive healing is a Se’harist Orthodoxy cathedral. They made their way toward it.

Near the steps of the temple was an elderly human who stood on a collapsible speaker’s pulpit, and preached about the Human goddess Oranei of the Divine Pantheon. This particular blasphemy was ignored as the party moved towards the doors. They were immediately stopped as six Temple Guards emerged from the cathedral, intent on stopping the blaspheming preacher, who disappeared with a burst of Arcane magic. After conversing among themselves briefly, the party stepped through the doors.

They met a Se’harist priest that recognized Ghanima immediately as the princess of the Empire, and also looked down upon Lorien for his Elven nature. Haidar remained silent as Faruq negotiated for the price of their healing. Once they reached a decent price, the party was healed by the priest through spell and scroll, cleansing the disease from all of their systems, and clearing the poison from Haidar and Lorien.

As they left the cathedral, they noticed a carrier-crow escape through the doors toward the high tower on the southwestern edge of the city. Lorien knocked an arrow silently and shot it down, as the crow would have brought news of the Princess’ appearance at the cathedral.

The party moved to retrieve the crow and the message it held, and came across a man sitting on a pulpit. He looked completely different from the old man that was preaching outside of the Se’harist temple before, but the pulpit looked the same. The crow had struck the man upon falling, and he was rubbing his head. Shadows passed over the man’s body with a shift in clouds and it showed him to be briefly translucent. Fearing that he may have been undead, Ghanima attempted to fill him wtih positive energy – which simply healed the minor abrasion that he had suffered from the crow’s fall.

This man was a Fetchling – a creature from the Shadow Plane born of the Sikari, a group of humans who have lived on the Shadow Plane since all aberrations, dragons, and the like were thrown out of Thirajin before the beginning of the Mythic Era in the First Age. After questioning him for several minutes in a local tavern that was sparsely populated, they all came to the conclusion that they should find the Elven women that they had freed from the garrison. The Fetchling, Lanith, would join them.

Faruq and Lorien made their way throughout the pubs and brothels in the district in an attempt to learn more about the Elven women through eavesdropping on conversations. The two were not detected as they moved about these circles, and learned that the women had been ushered into the Walled Ghetto, a section of the city of Coelin that had been walled off from the rest of it – only about a mile by one half mile in size, and containing over five thousand residents, all Elves.

They rushed to the walls and found them heavily guarded by Aritikan military. Lanith called upon his familiar, a fey dragon creature that emerged from a tattoo inked upon his back named Shornor, and had her take a rope up to the top of a nearby building. After it was secure, the group scaled the rope and Haidar helped Ghanima when she lost her grip and almost fell. The group managed to work their way down into the streets and Lorien used his status as a Ranger in the Elven Ranger Corps to count coup on several of the residents to gather further information. They learned that the women were staying in a tenement building that was on the western edge of the Walled Ghetto.

The party moved through the snaky streets and among the refuse and waste that lined the cobblestone pathways – little more than alleyways between tall buildings that pushed up against each other – and found a street gang guarding the outside of the tenement. Lorien overheard the men speaking in Elven about their intentions toward the women, and approached them. He offered them the opportunity to move, and the leader of the street gang insulted him. Lorien immediately drew down on him and shot him hard in the chest with an arrow that punched through the man’s padded armor.

A fight broke out, with Haidar rushing forward and striking down another one of the gang members with his blades, Lorien sending two arrows into the leader, and Lanith casting a spell of Grease upon the street to slip up three of the others. Ghanima called upon the celestial fire of her bloodline and struck out at one of them, while Faruq hung back and waited until he understood what was happening – as he did not speak Elven – and then began to recite an inspiring poem for the party. They made quick work of four of the six gang members, and Lorien called for the other two to yield.

Once they did, Ghanima cast a spell of Hold Person on one of the gang members and the group went inside. They had called for a priest, who had come running. The thirty-three Elven women were in the top floor of a dilapidated, awful building. The floor had few walls, was infested with rats and other vermin, and had black mold growing across the ceiling and over the floor. There was little actual water to drink, and none of them had food. The priest began to perform his work at curing the sickness of the women until he ran out of scrolls. He requested to return to his shrine to retrieve more, but was ordered to stay by Lorien.

Faruq was asked by Haidar to go to the temple, and Lanith requested that he go as well – as he had experience in understanding divine scrolls as a preacher of Oranei. The two left the building, and Lorien, Ghanima, and Haidar remained with the priest and the women as they waited for their companions to return.

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A Secret Weapon, Part 2

After a brief rest in the abandoned fortress outside of Coelin’s walls, the adventurers awaken and head out into the fortress itself. They search through several rooms before Faruq stops the group in front of a door. He heard voices from within; it sounded as though there was only one voice. In an attempt to catch whoever was behind the door by surprise, Haidar Vattergard kicked through the door and charged in the direction of the sound, shoving a Cleric of Orthodox Se’harism against the wall, holding him up with his weight, and keeping the sharp side of his falcata against the priest’s throat.

The priest immediately recognized Ghanima as Emperor Basha’s daughter, and thought that the people traveling with her were her entourage. He was not intimidated, and believed that they were sent in response to the outbreak of illness at the fortress – despite that they were traveling with an elf and a barbarian from the Stormraven Tribe. The cleric, a man named Amed, pointed out that the three soldiers who were in a locked, almost petrified position, had been like that when he entered. He was attempting to find some way of revivifying them, but had not been able to find a way.

Noticing that these were the same type of soldiers that they had fought before, Lorien noted that they had been attacked by them in the Great Hall. Amed was unsure of the meaning of that, and the group arranged themselves in such a way to protect one another while Haidar moved forward in an attempt to shake one out of its stupor. As expected, the three soldiers sprung to life and attacked.

One soldier carried the standard fair Aritikan scytheshot – a weapon that is renowned for its killing ability in the hands of a skilled marksman, and deadly in close-quarters combat with its scythe-like bayonet. The other two were in various states of undress. The fighting was fierce and difficult, with Haidar being struck multiple times and Lorien being shot. One of the soldiers charged at Faruq who lifted his staff quickly in defense. The sling-staff pushed through the eye of the warrior and crushed his skull. Meanwhile, Lorien brought down one of the other soldiers through a barrage of arrows and Haidar and Ghanima worked on the marksman with sword and spell.

After, the party conversed among themselves. Amed brought up that there were a group of elves that were being held prisoner. Lorien insisted on finding a way to free the elves held there. They moved through the corridors until they found another room – stately and large – with a locked and trapped door. Faruq made quick worth of both while Lorien and Haidar kept look-out. Lorien noticed that one of the pillars in the far end of the fortress near the door to the prison was covered in a strange ruddy moss. He investigated it and found that it was not growing on anything in particular; the moss seemed to have implanted itself into the stone, which was wholly unnatural.

Faruq finished working on the traps and opened the door for the party. They found rooms that held the Emperor’s personal seal, and Ghanima speculated that they must have been the chambers that her father used when he came to visit. After a thorough search of the room, they found a hidden armory, carefully concealed under the floor and holding a powerful magical trap.

The group traveled on and passed through the gates that blocked the prison from the rest of the garrison. They managed to find a group of about thirty or so Elven women who were being held captive. The prisoners told them of forced breeding programs and dark experimentation. One woman in particular – an elven woman who called herself Alethien – said that her daughter had been taken below the fortress. Ghanima brought up that she had never heard of the fortress having a lower level. As this seemed strange and nefarious to the group, they moved toward the cells that held the Elven men, segregated from the women. Many of them were sick. Faruq went about freeing the Elven women and noticed that one particular cell was covered in that same red moss, and a pile of various types of blue, violet, red, and purple fungus.

At the same time, Lorien interacted with one of the male prisoners who told him that they had been exposed to some kind of plant material and that started getting people sick. Lorien immediately had everyone stand back and told Faruq to get away from the cell with the fungi growing in it.

Perhaps alerted by the sound, a group of small creatures, similar in structure to elves, but obviously some form of plant life, emerged from the doors and hallways surrounding them. They were joined by four massive purple fungoid spores that could move on their own through the use of tentacles that whipped around them like tails. Engaged, a bitter fight ensued wherein Amed lost his life and Haidar nearly lost his. They saw the true horror of the fungi as one of the purple fungus creatures leapt upon Amed’s fallen body and began to infest him with that same moss. Amed’s body exploded in a burst of spores and out came two more of those small elfin creatures made out of that same sickly-green vegetation.

The party managed to beat back their assailants, but not without severe casualties. Amed was dead; Lorien was poisoned; Haidar was incredibly poisoned; and Faruq had exhausted his grasp on magic. They decided to take this information back to town, and to find a healer.

The group turned to Lorien to ask what to do about the men. Considering that they may be infected by whatever it was that happened to Amed, he decided to leave them. The others, understanding that this was a difficult decision for Lorien and also out of respect for his race, obliged. They took Haidar and left the fortress for the streets of Coelin.

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A Secret Weapon, Part 1
Wherein Our Heroes Meet And Are Thrust Into Action

In the Era of Man, the 1826th year, 13th month and 6th day, the daughter of His Holy Majesty, Emperor Bashir, was pronounced dead. Secretly, Princess Ghanima was declared a traitor to the realm as she and her halfling servant, Faruq, fled from the fortress of the border town of Coelin into the trackless wastes beyond. They were followed by four riders of the Emperor’s Chosen, elite light cavalry forces meant to corral and bring the young princess to heel.

Not more than a hundred miles away from Coelin, two travelers – the elven Ranger of the Second Order, Lorien and the Stormraven barbarian known as Haidar Vattergard were traveling back towards Coelin and the border of the Elven Reservation, spending most of the money they earned on their latest caravan guard journey to get back to the border.

Perhaps fate conspired to bring the traveling mercenaries directly in the path of the escaping Ghanima and Faruq: the two fled into a forest, pursued closely by the riders. Seeing trouble, Lorien climbed up and hid in the sparse woodlands of southern Visari while Haidar took a place in the brush. The horsemen followed as best they could, leaving two to hang back while the other two attempted to flush out their prey.

Renowned around the world for their skill at mounted archery, the riders that hung back lobbed arrows at Faruq and Ghanima while the other two thrust spears at them. Dead or alive was the verdict; Faruq had intercepted a missive meant for the capital city of the Holy Empire of Aritika – the strange city of bridges built above an ancient dragon graveyard known simply as The City. Ghanima took a grievous wound to her chest from an arrow and luckily staved off being wounded from the poison coating the arrowheads. Faruq was just as lucky, managing to keep his composure and send sling missiles against the riders from the sling-staff that he kept.

Seeing that the Aritikan riders were attacking these two, Lorien and Haidar sprung into action, with Haidar rushing the rider assaulting Ghanima, cutting into him with his twin blades. Lorien sent a volley of arrows into the riders while Ghanima retreated back to cast spells and Faruq began to use his lute to inspire the others.

The riders were quickly subdued and the two that hung back began to flee in the hope of reaching the Coelin Garrison. They were cut down by the quick Haidar and the arrows of Lorien.

Both groups were initially wary, but Ghanima and Faruq were thankful for the serendipitous rescue. Faruq handed his missive to Lorien, as he had heard the Lord Commander speaking to a Legate named Ja’asir Khan about a weapon that would be used against the Empire’s enemies. Sealed in wax with the Lord Commander’s own personal heraldry, the adventurers learned that the Empire of Aritika was developing a weapon that would allow them to commit widespread genocide against the Elves and, later, upon the Stormraven Tribes, giving them full control over the continent of Visari.

Little did the others know, but Haidar had a bone to pick with Legate Khan, as the man had murdered his father — an Aritikan Centurion — in cold blood to earn a higher title. His mother had been married off to Ja’asir Khan as a blood-price paid, and Haidar had fled to the Stormravens. He was going to Coelin, regardless of what the others wanted.

Lorien knew that the Elves that were at the Reservation Lands to the southwestern peninsula needed to be notified about the potential weapon. He came from a city on a land called the Neck, the closest point to the Visarian mainland, and thus the closest point to the human Empire. He was resolved to push through to Coelin and find a way to deliver the message. They had no messenger crows to send the message themselves, and thus would have to carry it.

Faruq and Ghanima were focused on finding a way of freeing the captive prisoners that were being used for experimentation. They threw in with the other two and began traveling back to Coelin, a three day journey made shorter on horses stolen from the dead soldiers. Lorien filled his quiver with some of the poisoned arrows of the soldiers, and they rifled through their pockets to find anything else of value.

The quartet stopped in a small town along the river that led to Coelin in the floodplains that ran for nearly one thousand miles in either direction to and from the Reservation border, known as the Voiceless Expanse. The village, known as Anodine, had been established close enough to the Reservation that it was used to seeing elves traveling through its lands. Thus, they were not opposed to allowing the group safe passage. In fact, another group of adventurers — the Shadow Sparrows Company — had made Anodine their temporary base of operations between adventures. The Shadow Sparrow Adventuring Company was renowned among the Elves as grave-robbers, breaking into human tombs and stealing the treasures from their deceased occupants.

After attracting the attention of the Shadow Sparrows through an epic poem, Faruq managed to introduce the junior ranger he met, an Elven woman named Irithiel, to Lorien. Meanwhile, Faruq began to recite a poem calling for the uprising of the Elves and the fall of the Holy Empire of Aritika. This provoked a barfight with several patriotic patrons, who were quickly trounced and kicked out by the half-elven barkeeper. After it was solely the adventurers and their new friends, the Shadow Sparrows, the leader of the other Company came down from his rooms upstairs.

Amathiel Gal’asarin had been known as one of the more powerful wizards in recent Elven memory, and had founded the Shadow Sparrows as a means of getting back against the humans that had stolen their land and forced them onto the Reservation. He was from the area known as the Hook, a sultry and hot swamp that bore one large city, known as Earil’gawyn, as well as small settlements and countless rumors of Elven witches roaming the swampland. Agreeing to transport the message back to Earil’gawyn, he entrusted Lorien with informing the Elders of Fil’galas, the largest city of the Neck, of the Empire’s plan.

Resolute after a night of drink and excess, the adventurers made their way to Coelin, away from Anodine and camped out on a small bluff overlooking the Coelin Garrison Fortress — the very place from which Faruq and Ghanima had escaped less than a week before. Over the night, Haidar was on watch and noticed that a large group of Aritikan military, not assembled in any sort of unit, was fleeing the Garrison. He woke the others and brought them up to watch. Ghanima confirmed that it appeared they were retreating. They did not see any prisoners fleeing from the Garrison, and Lorien and Faruq went to investigate. They climbed the sheer iron walls with aid of Lorien’s grappling hook and viewed a vacant, abandoned courtyard.

Opening the gates for the others, the adventurers made their way into the Garrison. The first thing they noticed were the assassin vines that had climbed up along the doors to the inner keep. Managing to sneak their way past them, they entered the garrison’s foyer. They pushed through the doors directly in front of them and found themselves in a large great hall that bore two tables more than eighty feet long with over a hundred chairs each. Clearly, this was a room that was meant for announcements, as no indication of food preparation was in the room – instead, it was covered in various trophies and bedecked with idols to the god Istikar, the monotheistic deity of the Aritikan Empire.

Three soldiers sat slumped against the table and their chairs. They did not respond when the doors opened. They were quite clearly the heavily armored Immortals — the elite infantry of the Empire — but made no attempt at stopping the others from maneuvering through the room. As the group searched, the soldiers jerked up as one and moved as if by wire. First thinking they were undead, Haidar charged into battle. Both Lorien and Faruq recognized the signs of mental compulsion.

In a violent and bloody struggle, they managed to kill the soldiers and were too weak to continue. They barred the doors of the great hall and Ghanima cast what healing spells she knew through her studies as a cleric of the goddess of fate and fortune, Saram — a heretical deity to the Aritikans — before the group camped in the hall for the night.

Who knows what other strangeness lies within the keep? And where is Khan? What is this weapon that the Empire has developed against the Elves? What do the adventurers have to make of this?

All this — and perhaps more — shall be revealed in our next installment.

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